A wisp of smoke curls up towards the sky hovering before slowly disappearing into nothing, haunting the air with the smell of tobacco.
Taking another hit before stubbing out the cigarette on the cool steel of the railing, Rey lets the smoke swirl in her lungs before finally exhaling. Feeling appropriately numb she braves a glance at her phone, the home screen illuminating her face in the dark.
“Fuck,” she whispers as notification after a notification pops up on her screen.
18 missed calls, 28 unopened text messages and 3 voice messages.
“Fuck,” Rey repeats as she slides open the lock screen and slowly, forcefully punches in her passcode.
Dutifully ignoring the angry text notifications she opens up the voice messages, turning up the volume, cupping her hand around the speaker and gingerly bringing it up to her ear, wincing in anticipation before she even hits the play button.
Two tones ring out from her phone when she hits play, one long one followed by a shorter one, high and then low, a birdsong that is too sweet for the demise that will inevitably follow.
“Hi, this is a dirty phone call,” a voice drawls in a manner that indicates that he is entirely too amused by a joke that only he understands. “Mara and I will be in the country so we’ll miss any birthday celebration.” She can almost hear Luke rolling his eyes, hands waving around in exasperation. “Anyway you’re 33, who wants to celebrate being that old . A deep sigh crackles the phone and Rey recoils turning the phone away from her slightly. “Well, I only hope I’ll look as good as you when I’m your age.”
“Hi…,” a tentative voice rumbles through the speaker and a shiver runs up her spine. With his deep voice vibrating so close to her ear she can almost feel the soft brush of his mouth against her ear lobe, the sharp nip of his teeth and his breath, warm, gently caressing her skin. “Listen, I know we haven’t spoken in a while I just thought that someone should tell you that-”
Rey cuts the recording off with a definitive punch, pausing and then deleting the memory of him from her phone.
“Hi Reyby, it’s Poe. a voice bubbles at high speed to the point where grammar is more grounded in the abstract than reality. I’m just calling to say that if I’m late for the surprise birthday party tonight please tell Hugsy- fucking love that man but you know how he is about punctuality- that I’m run-” “Shit,” his voice hisses before settling into a contemplative silence. Rey barks out a laugh when Poe without an ounce of hesitation calls out in a lyrical sing-song “Tallie…? Tallie?!? Oh goodness I called the wrong number. Sorry just ignore this phone call.”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Dropping the phone from her ear so it dangles limply by her side Rey takes a moment to survey the city lights allowing the sirens, honks, the chatter and the tyre screeches to wash over and overwhelm her senses.
She was never a birthday person. Probably because she doesn’t have one. In a technical sense, she does of course, but she doesn’t know. Know when it is. The day that Rey Jackson came into existence was when the old lady at the cashier (who in retrospect was a gangly teenager) asked tiny, three-bunned Rey who had just finished her thirteenth lap of a foreign grocery store where her parents were. And she’d rather not be forced to recall that memory every year by marking it as her birthday. So she just plucked a random date from thin air and chose it as being hers. A day that is unique to her, predetermined by no one but her. And she likes it that way.
But it doesn’t mean she likes being reminded that it was that way. And a party is a planned, organized, ‘mark it down in your calendar’ reminder of that way .
Another heavy sigh leaves her mouth, curling up into fog in the chilly air.
She knows her friends mean well. And she adores them for it. But it doesn’t stop her from regretting that one extra tequila shot that left her loose enough to proudly announce her chosen day of birth to them.
She should’ve known. She should’ve known that they’d make an event out of it.
The love and affection that she craved in childhood- she has it now. They give it to her freely and willingly. But she is tired. So very tired.
Letting another sigh leave her chest (best to get it all out now) she forces her cheek muscles to contract to some facsimile of a grin, attuning her face to the mask that will be fixed on her face throughout the evening.
With a smile plastered on her face, she trundles down the fire escape her heavy footsteps down the metal rails sounding like the drums of the gallows.
Fishing her keys from the depths of her bag, with surprisingly steady hands she unlocks her door with a satisfying click. Opening it a fraction a cacophony of chatter hits her- snarky banter, voices full of affection, the occasional declaration of love- and a genuine smile replaces the phoney.
The chatter comes to stop when one by one, each head turns to face her as she drops her keys, lighter and cigarette in the hastily crafted bowl she made post-mental breakdown.
Hux without breaking eye contact with her hastily removes the silver banner that is inscribed with ‘BIRTHDAY GIRL’ in hot pink glittery cursive from his shoulder letting it slowly float to the floor.
Rey takes a step and stifles a laugh when Finn holds his hands up as if to soothe a startled animal.
So they are aware that she hates celebrating her birthday. God her friends have guts.
“I...This is a surprise,” the lie rolls of her tongue and she sees Poe’s shoulder’s sag a little in relief. “You know I don’t do much for my birthday and I didn’t really expect anything. Just another day. And what kind of friends would even surprise you on your thirty third birthday anyway?"
From the corner of her eye, she sees Rose’s body tense.
With as much warmth and affection she can inflict in her tone she breathes out simply, “Mine.”
Rose’s body relaxes.
“Then again how many times do you get to turn thirty-three? Oh come on,” she goads, rolling her eyes. “Just say it, get it over with, it’s embarrassing. Honestly.”
There is a large collective intake of breath before a chorus of voices chimes in a dissonant sing-song that to Rey is more perfect than any four-part harmony, ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY REY”.
“Hey, Rey sweetie do you think we could maybe go to the beach next Fri-”
“Rey god I just have to tell you about how Hux dragged me to the opera last week, I’m still dreaming in Italia-”
“Rey, do you mind if I-”
“Is this a new vintage? Oh my god, we should totally play scrabble next sun-.”
“How are you?”
Voices overlap each other as she is pulled from one set of arms and into the arms of another only really being able to distinguish the bodies that are embracing her from the scents that cling to their clothes.
She is currently surrounded by the smell of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar. All scents that are cloyingly sweet but it feels like home because-
“Rose,” she breathes. “I’m...okay. I’m okay. How are you doing?”
“Good, good. I’m good.” Rose draws back to meet her eyes, scanning her face. Lowering her voice she murmurs a gentle “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t your thing. The boys just got it stuck in their head and you know how they get when there’s an idea planted in their head. They’re very single-minded like that. I’ll make it up to you,” Rose squeezes her shoulder gently. “Come around for dinner next Tuesday. Just the three of us. ”
“Yeah, yeah of course.” Rey couldn’t deny Rose anything if she tried.
And then just like that Rey is pulled away from Rose’s sweet embrace and thrust into the embrace of another. The scent is familiar. Smoky and woody in a way that drips with money.
“I’ve already hugged you,” she chuckles her voice muffled by a sequined blazer. If she nudged her face to the left by a millimetre her nose would be brushing against the cool bare chest of a seething Armitage Hux.
“Don’t think I’m going to let you get away with wearing that on your birthday. I fucking decorated your apartment, Rey,” he sniffs. “Do you know how hard it was to find tasteful pieces that wouldn’t clash with your appealing decor? I’m not letting your outfit ruin the aesthetic I curated for tonight.”
“It was a surprise party, how the fuck was I supposed to know what would fit your aesthetic?”
“I’ve been dressing as the aesthetic for the past month. I thought it would rub off on you.”
“That’s uncharacteristically optimistic of you,” Rey snarks back.
Poe chimes in his hand wrapping around Hux’s hip tugging him closer as Hux with very little success tries to wriggle away from Poe’s grasp.
“Awwwww is engagement making my Hugs all soft?” Poe turns to her giving her a soft smile. “Leia texted. She can’t come tonight but she sends her warm wishes and regards.”
Realizing this is her out before Hux handcuffs her and wrangles her into wearing a too-tight tiny number that fits his aesthetic, Rey excuses herself to call Leia and Han.
The dial tone rings, once, twice before Leia’s wry but warm “hello” rings out from her phone.
“Hey, it’s Rey.”
Leia lurches into a babble of chatter that Rey can barely hear over the sounds of Poe and Hux arguing, Rose instructing Finn on how to ice the cake with increasing irritation, and Kaydel and Jannah’s drunken giggles as they squish into an armchair that can barely seat Rey’s cat.
“Sorry,” Rey cuts off Leia mid ramble fumbling with the door. “I can’t hear a word so I’m just going to-”
The cool air that hits her when she opens her door is a shock to her system, the biting chill waking her up from the warm stuffy
The air that hits her when she opens the door is cool, much chillier than her apartment which is warm, stuffy, overcrowded in the best way possible and the juxtaposition is a shock to her system.
Though it's not the rush of cool air is not that causes Rey’s sentence to trail off into nothing. It is not what makes Rey mumble a weak excuse about calling later and hanging up the phone. It is-
He’s shed his uniform, no longer dressed in sharply tailored suits that cost more than her rent. Instead, he’s clothed in a navy jumper that screams ‘your mum would love me’ and there’s a tiny hole that teases a slither of his eight pack and Rey is torn between tugging on that hole so that it reveals more skin and learning how to sew so she can patch the hole up with bright red thread in the shape of a little heart.
But that’s not-
They don’t do that anymore.
Ben’s eyes scan her face wildly, fluttering between her eyes, her lips, the ground, back to her eyes before settling just above her head.
In any other circumstance, Rey would’ve been tempted to laugh.
“Oh,” she repeats.
Ben -for lack of better word- scrambles. Not physically. Verbally. A string of potential beginnings of sentences streams out of Ben’s mouth in syncopated bursts, before he inhales sharply, closing his eyes, centring himself.
Rumpled sheets, warm sunlight trickling through the curtains, moans muffled between kiss-swollen lips in fear that any noise would break the spell of the moment .
Shaking herself out of whatever that was she clears her throat. “Right,” she mumbles throat suddenly dry. “Thank you.”
“I don’t know if you got my voice message, but-”
“I did,” she says cutting him off curtly.
“I just thought you should know...you never really liked birthdays.” His voice is soft, gentle and it’s an odd mix of reverence and caution.
‘Yeah...well,” she swallows. “Poe kinda ruined the surprise.”
Ben’s lips quirk up at that and Rey resists the sudden urge to cling onto the door handle behind her to steady herself because he was always hot, the very definition of sex, but who the fuck gave him the right to also be cute?.
He takes a step towards her, looking down at her but his gaze is full of such warmth and admiration that the height difference she loved so much feels nonexistent. As if he’s looking up to her even though it’s a physical impossibility.
His hand twitches towards her before moving back to his side.
“How are you?”
“I don’t feel like I know you anymore,” she blurts out her lips moving before her brain could process anything.
“That’s not true,” he says slowly his gaze catching hers, forcing her to meet his painfully sincere gaze. “You’ve always known me.” His Adam’s apple bops. “Better than anyone else.”
“Okay, let me rephrase that.” She lets out a shaky breath. “I don’t feel like I know me anymore.”
Ben smiles at that. A tiny thing that manages to be sad, tired, nostalgic, bright, and shy.
“Oh Rey,” he murmurs and this time his hands move with purpose to her shoulder where he gently squeezes once, twice before letting go. “We should-,”
“REYANA TALLULAH SMITHERITHERSON HAUL YOUR ARSE BACK IN HERE.” Poe’s voice is slightly muffled by the door but carries through with an impressive amount of clarity.
“You should-,” Ben clears his throat, taking a step back away from her and even though it’s not like he was touching her or was particularly close to her, she feels colder. “You should probably head back in there.”
“Right.” She nods slowly eyes drinking in the contours of his face- his plush lips that are parted ever so slightly, the eyes that always reveal too much, and the scar that bisects his eyebrow in a way that on anybody else would look intimidating but on him looks soft and boyish. “Right,” she repeats more to herself. "I'll just-". She motions towards the door behind her.
Her hand clutches at the door behind her but she makes no effort to move, and neither does he.
"Happy Birthday Rey," he murmurs lips barely moving and it seems like too much of a final goodbye and she's really tired of him saying goodbye so she turns away from him, hand twisting the doorknob open, rushing in and slamming the door shut behind her before he has the opportunity to say goodbye to her again.
She lets the cacophony of chatter- the snarky banter, voices full of affection, the occasional declaration of love- wash over her. And she repeats her mantra to herself: one is impossible, two is dreary and three is company. The more the merrier..