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Between the Lines

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It was a windy day in April, but the sun was shining. It was still cold, but at least there wasn’t any snow on the ground.

Pulling into his usual spot behind the restaurant, Ben shifted his beat-up Toyota Camry into park. He groaned and slumped back in his seat, wanting to do anything but go to work.

Ben had been working at that restaurant for three, almost four years now, and every day seemed to drag on. He started there as a cook, but when one of the usual bartenders called off one evening, they asked him to take over. After seeing how knowledgeable of wine and liquor he was, management made the change permanent. Serving turned out to be more money than cooking anyway.

Of course he knew booze. That’s how he occupied his time when he wasn’t on the clock. It was the only way he could tolerate his life. Drinking it away made him forget that he was stuck in a dead-end job, in a nowhere town, with no plans for the future.

Except that he was going to marry Alyx at the end of August. They had known each other since high school and started dating in college. Ben thought he was lucky. She was one of the most intelligent people he had ever met, and she was fairly pretty too. Prettier than he deserved anyway. She was petite; her cheekbones protruding from her face; long blond hair. But she was a giant bitch, which kind of worked out in a way because he was just as big of an asshole.

They had their arguments, sure, and some were worse than others, but all couples fought. They probably wouldn’t have, but she was just so fucking lazy sometimes. When she was in college, she didn’t work, and Ben pulled doubles so they had enough money to keep a roof over their head and food in their bellies. He didn’t mind; grants paid for her schooling, and she was pulling a 4.0 every semester, and she kept the house clean. When money was tight against her will, he made her work weekends at the restaurant with him.

After she graduated though, Alyx couldn’t get enough grant money to pay for graduate school, and she couldn’t find a job with her liberal arts degree. Ben made her start working at the restaurant full-time, scoring her a spot as a host so she wouldn’t have to wash dishes anymore. She was pissed, but at least he didn’t have to work doubles five days a week anymore.

They usually didn’t have any extra money after the bills were paid, but when they did, it usually went to alcohol and drugs. In high school, Ben got caught selling her a dime bag; they were both suspended and had to go to court. The two had bonded together in their teenage rebellion.

In a way, it was like nothing had ever changed. They still smoked together, eventually graduating to painkillers when the realization of their general failures as adults smacked them in the face, and weed couldn’t make it go away.

Over a year ago, he proposed to her. He loved her, even if she got on his nerves. Alyx was the only one who had stuck around this long, even when he was a douche. Most girls had broken it off with him within a couple months, unable to handle him. So he figured he might as well marry her; no one else was going to love him.

Serving hadn’t been all bad though. Ben met some really awesome people at the restaurant, and after they closed the bar down after a shift, his coworkers usually all went back to his apartment, to drink and bitch about their day before they went home; the next day, the cycle repeated.

Thrusting his door open, Ben got out of his car and slammed the door behind him. Hopefully today wouldn’t be slow; he couldn’t afford to have another $20 night. He nodded at Matthew, the other opening server, as he went to the computer to clock in.

In the booth around the corner, he heard his manager’s voice. When he peeked his head around the corner, he saw Tom talking to four new trainees. He overheard that they were going to be following other servers tonight.

Fuck. As if this day wasn’t already bad enough, now he would have to deal with some moron getting in his way the entire shift. He grumbled unhappily under his breath as he helped Matthew set up the restaurant to open.

“Rey, you’re with Ben,” Tom said as a slim, brown-haired girl dressed in black dress pants and a long-sleeved button down shirt walked past him and smiled.

At least she was cute.

After they had finished setting up, they unlocked the doors to the restaurant.

It was going to be another slow one. No one had come in yet, but he had learned a decent bit about Rey. She was a college student, foreign languages, worked in restaurants since she was 16, now 20. She was quiet but funny and smart and didn’t need any direction; she knew the ropes as good as any restaurant veteran who worked here for years.

She laughed at all his lewd jokes, but Ben was unsure if she was laughing because it was her first day and didn’t want to come off the wrong way or if she knew restaurant culture. All restaurants, at least those privately owned and small enough not to have an HR department, were breeding grounds for crude humor and playful sexual harassment. That was just how restaurants were. Hell, one of the servers had slept with half the line cooks before she finally got knocked up.

It started to pick up. Rey did everything so flawlessly, that one of the customers had asked if she was training me. She giggled and said it was the other way around before they slid her an extra twenty.

When it died down, Ben couldn’t find her. Giving up, he went outside to smoke and found her there, taking a long drag of her cigarette. Yeah, she knew restaurant culture all right. He sat down beside her.

“Hey, after we’re done, do wanna come over to my place and hang out?” Ben asked her. She looked up at him, startled at his question.

Fuck. She thought he was a creep. A giant fucking creep. A guy asking her to come over after ten at night; she didn’t know he was engaged. Fuck.

“A bunch of the coworkers come and hang out, blow of some steam. Finn, Matthew, and Hux are coming.” He quickly sputtered out.

“Um, I didn’t bring any other clothes with me,” Rey said, staring down at what she was wearing.

“No one else does, either,” he reassured her. “We usually sit around in our uniforms anyway.”

“Well, sure then,” Rey said, a beautiful smile on her face.

 

Rey hit it off with everyone, even Alyx seemed to enjoy her company, happy to have another girl around, someone else to dish out sharp jabs at her fellow coworker’s expense. They were drinking, although Rey wasn’t, being underage and all, and playing Fuck, Marry, Kill. They had moved from well-known celebrities to people working in the restaurant. It was one of the line cook’s, Hux’s, turn to answer.

Ben grinned as he named off his choices. “Alyx, Rey, and Valentina.” The last was the server who got knocked up.

“Shit,” Hux said, slamming his drink down on the table. “Well fuck or marry is out for Alyx, you’d murder me, so it’s going to have to be kill Alyx, fuck Rey, marry Valentina.” Ben watched his eyes sweep over Rey, and he felt heat on his face. He couldn’t tell if it was from the alcohol or not.

“It’s not considered fucking if you’re a two pump chump,” Rey said, rolling her eyes. The room roared with laughter. Her words struck deep; his ego wounded. About two months ago, Hux had slept with Jesse, one of the other hosts, and the entire restaurant heard her bitch that he didn’t even last a minute. How she knew that information already was beyond Ben, but it was still fucking hilarious.

They all crammed into the couch, and Ben picked up a glass bowl and a lighter from the couch and handed them to Rey.

“All right, newbie, you get the greenie,” Ben coaxed. She said that she wasn’t drinking, that she had to drive home because she had class at nine, but she took it and held it to her lips. He was surprised, watching her flick on the lighter, igniting the weed, inhaling the smoke before she released the choke of the bowl and handed it to Alyx sitting beside her still holding her breath. She coughed out an exhale and leaned her back into the couch.

They went on all talking until about one in the morning. Most of the coworkers had left, but Rey, Ben, and Alyx sat together, laughing and talking like they had been friends forever.

“All right guys, I’m going to bed. G’night,” Alyx said as she peeled herself from the couch and walked into her bedroom. “You coming, Ben?”

“Oh?” Rey whispered, confused. The weed made her mind work a little slower than usual. Ben got the sense that she hadn’t known him and Alyx were together. “Right, I’m gonna head home, gotta be up early for class.” She smiled softly and gathered her bag, twirling her car keys in her finger as she waved goodbye to Ben.

He watched the door close behind her. He had a lot of fun that night, and he was happy to have another friend, a pretty one at that, to hang out with after work, distracting him from his life, his present situation.

Ben started to worry about Rey driving home high. He didn’t have her number to text her, making sure she got home okay. He wouldn’t know until the next time he saw her at work.

Fuck.

He sighed, pushing through his bedroom door. The TV was turned on to Netflix, but nothing was playing; Alyx already fast asleep with the controller in her hand.

 

It was May, and Rey was around a lot more because she didn’t have class.

Rey, Ben, and Alyx were practically inseparable, and she spent most of her days and nights with them. When they weren’t working, they would all go out to eat together, or stay home and smoke weed and watch Shameless. After work, she would shoot whisky and play card games with them before she crashed on the couch. Ben loved having her around; she broke up the monotony of their life. However, why she wasn’t hanging out with her college friends or a boyfriend, he couldn’t figure out.

It wasn’t like Rey was ugly; she was fucking gorgeous. Every man in the restaurant pined for her, and she made it a joke out of it. Together her and Alyx would torment their male coworkers. Anytime one of them tried to take her home, she would laugh; walking behind Alyx and her hands would slid over her breasts and squeeze them and she would nuzzle Alyx’s neck with her face. It was fucking hot, and both of the girls enjoyed watching them squirm as their imaginations wandered to dark places, their blood rushing south.

But it sure as hell confused the hell out of Ben. Rey had never talked about her love life; he couldn’t even tell if she was actually gay or just toying with her coworkers. She was impossible to read.

Come to think of it, Ben didn’t really know much of her past at all. It wasn’t like she never talked about herself, but whenever she told her own stories, they seemed to skirt around certain details; ones that you wouldn’t realize were missing unless you were looking. Like if she had, or even ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend for example.

One night around midnight, Rey’s phone buzzed while they were watching Futurama for the umpteenth time. She picked it up, texted back, and it vibrated again. Standing up, she grabbed her bag.

“Hey guys, I’m gonna head out. I’ll be back tomorrow!” Rey said, and before Ben or Alyx could ask why or where she was going so late, she was already out the door.

After about an hour, Ben was fighting the urge not to text her. He was bored, and Alyx was on her computer scrolling through Buzzfeed, not paying any attention to him. He decided against it and forced himself to bed.

Time passed slower than usual. It was almost three in the afternoon the next day before Ben finally decided to text her. He didn’t want to be that clingy friend. She was scheduled off from the restaurant that day, so he knew she wouldn’t be there when he went to work at four.

BEN: Hey when are you coming back its boring here without you
REY: Don’t get your granny panties in a bunch, I’ll be down later. I’ll stop down at the restaurant before you get done. I’m starving anyway tbh.

At nine that evening, the restaurant was a disaster. They had got hit with an unexpected amount of walk-ins, and he ended up taking double the tables he normally would at once on a regular day. The day had been especially hot, and people didn’t want to heat up their house cooking their own meals. Everyone was gone now, but the tables still needed cleaned.

Rey walked in and looked at the disarray. “What the hell happened here?” Ben smiled.

“You came just in time to help clean everything up. If you help bus the tables, we’ll get out of here faster,” Ben said cheerfully, handing her a serving tray. Rey rolled her eyes.

“Are you going to tip me out, Solo?” She asked playfully and leaned over the table and started loading the dirty silverware onto the tray.

Ben couldn’t help but stare. Her hair was down, curly, beautiful. She was in a tight-fitting tank top and shorts that barely covered her firm ass. The way it looked when she bent over the table, it was fucking sinful.

Yeah, I’ll give you the tip.

Blood rushed south. He wanted to bend her over right then and there and fuck her in the middle of the restaurant; he didn’t care who saw.

When she looked back at him, he flushed trying to pretend he was cleaning the table next to him, but it was already reset. She eyed him curiously.

Fuck. He was such a goddamn creep. He had no chance with her; she was miles out of his league. Thank god his pants were black so she couldn’t see his raging hard-on.

“Uh, think that one’s good, Ben,” she said before she walked past him unassumingly, carrying a tray full of silverware and dishes to the dish pit.

God fucking damn did he want her. But he would never have her. She was perfect, and he wasn’t. He didn’t stand a chance. Besides, it wasn’t worth risking their friendship or making it weird; she had become his best friend. With his luck, he’d try something and scare her off.

And there was also the glaring fact that he was marrying Alyx in less than three months.

Chapter Text

June was something else.

Rey stayed at Ben and Alyx’s most nights, except for the few nights a month she disappeared into nowhere. Luckily, they had gotten a second bed for the spare bedroom considering how many times people crashed at their house. It had worked out; Rey hated her roommates, so instead she stayed there and chipped in for food and part of the bills for their apartment. Which in turn resulted in them having extra money.

Ben was always surprised by Rey. When he first met her, she had the air of innocence and naivety, but it was just a facade. Her lewd sense of humor could make a sailor blush. Ben and Alyx took turns saying absolutely awful things to her, and Rey would laugh, brush it off, and fire back an even snarkier remark. Nothing could make her blush, and she was always down for anything.

A new opportunity presented itself. The neighbor downstairs wanted to trade her script of Tramadol for weed; said it worked better than anything Big Pharma could give her. Ben was happy to make the trade, giving her an eighth for 45 pills. It would make for a fun evening anyway.

It was eleven at night before Ben, Alyx, and Rey got back to the apartment. Ben was excited; he hadn’t had painkillers in about four months. He didn’t even tell Alyx; he wanted to surprise both of them.

“Gotta surprise,” Ben said, setting the sandwich bag of pills on the coffee table. Alyx clearly knew what they were, having taken them before. Rey’s eyes narrowed.

“What are they?” She asked inquisitively. She hadn’t said it, but her tone indicated that she had never experimented with anything outside of alcohol and weed.

“Tramadol, a painkiller” Alyx said, opening the bag up, grabbing six pills, and tossing them in her mouth like candy. She grabbed the water bottle on the end table next to her and swallowed.

“What’ll it do to me?” Rey asked before she grabbed her phone and started looking up information on the drug.

“It’s an opiate, but it’s not like it’s heroin or morphine. It’s hard to explain. It’s a downer, in the same sense that alcohol is, but it’s almost... I don’t know euphoric? It’s a nice buzz,” Ben said. Her face was still glued to her phone, but she nodded at his response. She was looking up possible side effects. She was smart; she wanted to know exactly what to expect before she jumped right in.

But her hesitance made Ben feel guilty, like he was peer pressuring to do something she didn’t want.

“You don’t have to do it with us though, it’s not a big deal,” Ben reassured her. Alyx nodded. She probably would prefer Rey not take them; it meant more drugs for her.

Locking her phone, Rey looked at the bag of pills on the coffee table. She thought for silence in a minute, as Ben pulled seven out of the bag and swallowed them.

“How many should I take?” Rey asked, and Ben handed the bag of white pills to her.

“I’d start with four, and see how you feel,” Ben said, surprised. She’d try anything once. He couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad one.

They all sat on the couch together and watched some more Shameless, passing the bowl between them until it was cashed, waiting for the drugs to take effect. Even though he was the biggest out of the three of them, the drugs normally hit him first.

About half an hour into the show, he felt his eyelids grow heavy and his body sink into the couch. He was peaceful, happy even; feelings he hadn’t felt sober in years, only when he took drugs. Ben could tell the drugs were working because he started to feel itchy and ran his fingernails over his arms. When he looked over at Alyx and Rey, their eyelids had started to droop too.

Once the drugs had taken full effect, they each ate another two pills to keep the buzz going. They turned off Shameless and went to something lighter, Futurama, something they wouldn’t have to pay attention to as they enjoyed their high, drifting in and out of consciousness.

It was like floating on a cloud high in the sky. Nothing mattered. Everything that was bad didn’t matter. Ben didn’t feel the aches of his muscles after a long day of work; the glaring idea that he had failed in his adult life; his living in a dingy two bedroom apartment in the middle of nowhere. He only felt the beauty and good around him, dopamine coursing through his veins. He was with his fiancée and his best friend, and he wished he could feel this way forever.

Opiates inhibit the transmission of pain signals to the brain, but honestly, it was just an awesome side benefit compared what other feelings painkillers engendered. The pills softened the world, laying a film over his vision preventing him from seeing all the rough edges; he saw only what he wanted to see.

Not to mention it was the only time Alyx was ever cuddly. They were different from most couples in that respect. There was an instance that one of the servers worked at the restaurant with them for nearly six months before she realized they were together. That’s just how they were. They didn’t hold hands; didn’t kiss in public; the cutesy couple thing just wasn’t them. Well, it wasn’t Alyx anyway. Ben didn’t mind the small public displays of affection.

Alyx slid off the couch in front of Rey and pulled her t-shirt over her head. Her upper back was exposed, but she was wearing a black cami underneath. Rey edged forward and ran the tips of her fingernails down Alyx’s skin, and then back up, past her hairline and rolled her fingers through her scalp. Alyx’s eyes rolled into the back of her head; small noises of enjoyment sneaking through her lips.

That was the thing about opiates; every touch was better than sex, better than any orgasm Ben had ever had. Most drugs like molly or shrooms made sex more fun, but it did the opposite here. Most of the time, Ben couldn’t ever manage to get it up even if he wanted to. Regardless, nothing was more euphoric than just laying next to someone, feeling the heat of their skin, and cuddling before drifting away in blissful unconsciousness.

Alyx was complaining about how much her lower back itched, and Rey’s hand drifted down and tugged at the seam of her cami. “Take this off so I can get it then,” Rey said. Alyx did without question, sliding it over her head, now in nothing more than a bra and shorts; her uncovered skin completely pale, untouched by summer’s rays.

Fuck.

Rey’s fingernails traced red lines down her back before her fingers inched under the band of her bra and massaged the area where the fabric dug too deep. Alyx moaned. When Rey finally pulled her hands back, sore from working, Alyx laid her head on her knee and smiled softly at her.

“Your turn,” Alyx said, pulling at the bottom of Rey’s shirt, leaving her in nothing but a black lacy bra and yoga pants; the planes of her stomach, flat and smooth against her unblemished skin.

Fuck.

In the eyes of anyone else, this situation would be fucking weird; too intimate to be shared even between close friends. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t. They were just enjoying and taking full advantage of the effects of the drugs. It was strangely beautiful.

Alyx and Rey switched spots; Rey on the floor in front of Alyx now seated on the couch. Alyx’s hands slid up and down her back, squeezing out soft little noises from Rey’s mouth. When Alyx was done, her arms slipped around Rey’s neck and pulled her close; both of their eyes closed, sighing in happiness.

“I can hardly sit up,” Alyx said, readjusting herself on the couch. “I wanna go lay down in bed.” She moved her legs around Rey before standing up, and Rey nodded, using her hands to push herself up from the floor.

“Right, guess I’ll head off to bed then,” Rey replied with heavy eyes. Alyx shook her head.

“I’m not ready to go to bed yet,” Alyx said, pulling three more pills from the bag and handing one to Ben and Rey. “Let’s watch TV in our bedroom.” Rey nodded and swallowed her pill.

Alyx opened the door to the bedroom, Rey behind her, and Ben followed. Alyx adjusted the pillows and the blankets on the bed before climbing in the middle. Rey slipped in front of her, and Alyx’s arms encircled her, pulling her still bare skin against hers. Ben grabbed the remote, put on Shameless again before he crawled behind Alyx, wrapping his long arm around the two girls.

If heaven was a feeling or even a place, right now this was it. Ben felt the warmth of Alyx’s skin against him and the smoothness of Rey’s on his hands. Despite how their situation looked from the outside, it wasn’t weird; it was perfect. Together, they melted into the bed, and the drugs swept them away into unconsciousness.

 

 

The Camry finally died, so thank god Rey was around because they didn’t have a second vehicle. Alyx had a license but didn’t care to drive, so she didn’t. Anytime they needed to go to work, the grocery store, or the laundromat, Rey took them in her little blue Honda Civic. It worked out considering the three spent nearly every waking moment together.

Rey was at work, and Ben and Alyx had the day off, so they stayed at home, smoking weed, watching the crime drama Lie to Me on Netflix until Rey got home so they could figure out what they were doing that night.

There were whispers around the restaurant speculating why Rey was with them all the time. Naturally, working in a restaurant environment, they all assumed something sexual; whether it was Rey and Alyx, Rey and Ben, or all three, they didn’t know.

It wasn’t terribly far off considering what they knew of Ben and Alyx’s relationship. During his short stint in college, Ben had a different girl every other month, and he talked about his sexual escapades with no filter. The funniest and most fucked up story he told was the night he was fucking Nadia, a pharmacy student, in the ass bareback when he was shit-faced. He did what he called the Bucking Bronco.

Everyone had heard the story at some point. “We didn’t have a condom, and she wasn’t on the pill then, so she let me fuck her in the ass. So doggy style, right, I’m holding onto her hips, and I say ‘I have AIDS.’ Now watch her freak the fuck out and see how long you can hold on.” It was fucked, sure, but it was a joke, even if it was a cruel one.

Ben’s number for girls he had sex with was somewhere in the double digits. He wasn’t sure of the exact number. On the other hand, Alyx had only slept with one person other than Ben. When they got together, Alyx wanted a relationship with him but still wanted to explore her options sexually before she tied herself down to one partner for the rest of her life. They agreed to an open relationship; that as long as they were going to fuck someone, they had to be completely honest and have no attachments to the other person. It wasn’t for everyone, but it worked for them, and it was fun.

One night after a crazy busy shift, about ten of the coworkers came over to their apartment. Between them, they drank five 750’s of whisky and vodka until the wee hours of the morning. In their drunken stupor, egged on by eight less than sexually satisfied male coworkers, Alyx and Valentina fucked each other on the couch while the rest of them watched.

Even if they didn’t say anything directly to him or Alyx about Rey, Ben knew what they were saying, walking in on conversations that were swiftly ended when he came into the room. It wasn’t true, but Ben found it humorous nonetheless.

Since Rey was working that night, Ben brought up the rumor to Alyx. She didn’t hate the idea; in fact, she had always wanted to try a threesome.

“Yeah, but she already thinks we’re fucking weird,” Alyx said before she took another hit from the bowl, holding her breath. “There’s also the possibility she won’t come around anymore afterwards,” she exhaled; oddly smelling smoke filling the room.

“True,” Ben remarked, taking the bowl from her. He thought of how he could ease Rey into the idea without scaring her off. They were already indescribably close, and Alyx was actually on board with it. He decided he would think about it later and focused his attention on the show.

Dr. Cal Lightman, a deception researcher specializing in facial expression, watched a screen of two people, a female homicide detective and a male detainee in a room. The detective was asking questions about a recent murder, about a girl who the detainee had known. His answers were solid, quick, saddened by loss, and the detective believed him.

Cal paused the recording and flicked back a few frames. When the detective had asked a question regarding his relationship to the deceased, the man’s face had contorted into something other than shock or sadness but self-satisfaction. It was quick, nearly impossible to see. It was what the researcher referred to as a micro expression, how the face reacts before the brain has a chance to process and adjust to what had been asked. The detainee had lied well, even fooling the detective, but he had lied.

Rey would have done well if she was in the detainee’s place. Cal wouldn’t have caught her. She was absolutely impossible to read. Ben could say the most awful or sexual things to her, and she wouldn’t react. There was neither disgust nor interest, and sometimes it was fucking infuriating. When they first started hanging out together, he couldn’t really tell if she actually enjoyed being around or if it was something else. It made Ben nervous and unsure and question everything about her. He couldn’t wrap his head around how he could feel so close to someone and simultaneously know nothing about them. How was that even possible?

There was just something different about Rey; a certain personality trait that he could see but not remotely begin to explain. She was so confident and sure of herself without flouting an ego. It was like she had already seen what would happen that day and plotted out how she would react; her words and actions carefully constructed to be perfect without missing a beat.

Despite Ben and Alyx spending so much time with her, they still knew next to nothing about her. Perhaps it was because she always enjoyed listening to Ben tell stories of his experiences, even if she had listened to them three times over. It wasn’t like she never spoke of herself, but in speaking of her past experiences, characters were nameless and somehow that was ultimately unimportant in relation to the story she told.

Rey didn’t speak of her parents, siblings, friends, or otherwise. Even though Alyx said she hadn’t really noticed it, Ben had. He wasn’t entirely sure though if it was intentional; if she was purposefully leaving those details out or if they just never came up, never relevant to the story. She concurrently hid behind an invisible guard and laid herself bare. If something bad had happened to her, she never showed it. She was happy, careless, free, unhindered by past’s burdens. However it would explain how she so seamlessly skirted around those missing details.

She was careless yet careful; trusting yet guarded; completely open yet closed off.

She was a paradox.

Which only made what Ben wanted to ask much more difficult.

Chapter Text

July was a blur.

Ben was marrying Alyx next month, and it felt like nothing was ready. If it wasn’t for Rey, who sat down and helped hand write the invitations, pick centerpieces, building the seating chart for the reception, and numerous other smaller things, they would have had to postpone the wedding.

When Ben and Alyx couldn’t agree on something, they asked Rey. She was close with both of them and didn’t choose sides. She was the unbiased voice of reason when they got into a shouting match and often found a compromise to placate both parties. Ben didn’t know how she did it, but she was a godsend.

It was the first of the month. They still had mountains of things to do to get ready for the wedding, but they still had bills to pay, so they went to work.

Rey was sitting on top of the counter in the kitchen, waiting to get her first table. She was talking to Finn across the line who was smiling brightly but awkwardly at her, laughing at everything she said. When the host came back and said she got her first table, their conversation ended and she walked away. Finn’s eyes followed her a little too long, even with the ticket machine loudly printing a ticket reminding him he had food to cook.

Ben walked out with her into the dining room, matching her pace. “What’s up with Finn?” Ben asked Rey curiously. She rolled her eyes.

“I don’t know how, but he managed to get my number. He’s been texting me nonstop.”

“Aww, I think he likes you!” Ben laughed at her. “He’s been single for awhile now hasn’t he?”

“No shit, and try forever. He’s a virgin, and I don’t particularly care for collecting V-cards. Too much work to put in before they actually figure out how to use their dicks.” Rey smiled and walked off to greet her table.

Finn hadn’t been the first to try his luck with her. In fact, most of the guys they worked with had tried, all unsuccessful. Who could blame them? Rey was smart, funny, and beautiful, but she wasn’t interested. She brushed off all their advances, trying not to hurt their feelings or bruise their pride. She was sweet to a fault for that. When Hux slapped her ass in passerby, Rey didn’t respond, but Ben nearly lunged at his throat for his boldness and knowing Rey didn’t want it. One by one, their advances and flirtations would become increasingly more obvious until Rey would finally shut them down.

Rey could see their blossoming adoration before her before Ben or Alyx could see it. She could see through people; look past their exterior straight into their souls. Even in silence, she knew if something was weighing on them or bothering them. They kept it together well enough, but Rey just knew. It was like she could read their minds.

Matthew had come into his shift, chipper as always, never missing a beat. Ben had walked out back with him and Rey for a smoke when almost every customer in the restaurant had left. Matthew was bitching about a table asking for ketchup for their well-done steak at a white-tablecloth restaurant, the usual gripes, when Rey interrupted him.

“Matthew?” Rey called out. “I’m sorry.” Ben looked at her confused, and Matthew fell into her shoulder crying. She wrapped her arms around him. He told them his mother had passed away earlier that morning, but he couldn’t afford to call off, especially now that he was going to have to pay for a funeral.

Later that night, Ben asked her how she knew. Matthew was his usual happy self his entire shift. There was nothing to indicate that he was coping with the loss of his mother.

“He told me a month or so ago that his mother wasn’t doing so well. She was in and out of rehab, but—” Rey shrugged her shoulders. “It didn’t do much good. I couldn’t place it, but—I don’t know—he was off today. I saw him go into one of the storage rooms to take a phone call. I didn’t hear anything, but from what I saw, I could tell it wasn’t good.”

She was intelligent and incredibly observant; her mind sponging the world around her for even the most insignificant of details; weaving together fragmented pieces of information and observations to see a larger picture.

“You know that’s not normal, right?” Ben said. “It’s like some shit straight out of Lie to Me.”

“I don’t know, Ben.” She laughed. “Most people are open books just begging to be read, but sometimes you have to read between the lines.”

 

For someone who could read people so easily, Rey certainly didn’t read Ben. He doubted that she couldn’t read him; he had made his interest in her blatantly obvious. Before the restaurant would open, he would wet the end of a dish towel, wind it, and flick it at her ass. She would see him coming, armed and ready to strike, and she would bolt out into the dining room. He chased her around the restaurant until he caught her. Whenever new trainees started at the restaurant, they always assumed Ben and Rey were together; not Ben and Alyx.

When they were at the apartment, Ben would sneak up behind her and pull down her shorts around her ankles. Other times he managed to unhook the back of her bra or, if he was lucky, in one swift motion he could pull the straps of her bra and cami down and expose her boob.

Ben didn’t know how to make his advances any more obvious. Perhaps because he was getting married next month, and Alyx was always there, Rey chose not to believe he wanted her. Restaurant workers always sexually harassed each other, but he pushed it to the next level, hoping she would get the hint. They were always playfully joking, so she probably wasn’t taking him seriously, not even remotely entertaining the idea of fucking a-soon-to-be-married man. It was like she didn’t even make it an option.

The problem was he didn’t want to make it weird. Rey would think they were a bunch of creeps, and she wouldn’t be around anymore. Ben didn’t know if that was a chance he was willing to take, to lose her because of his fucked up fantasy of sleeping with both his fiancée and his best friend.

It shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. They were almost there. Taking painkillers and cuddling half-naked was, at minimum, a thrice weekly thing now. What was removing one more layer of clothing? Why did it have to be so damn difficult?

After working an unbearably slow shift, they went back to the apartment. Ben grabbed a baggy of weed and walked downstairs, trading for some more Trams. When he came back, Alyx was out of her uniform and in a t-shirt and shorts; Rey was in the bathroom changing. Both Ben and Alyx had seen her mostly naked, but she still changed her clothes behind closed doors when she was sober.

When she came out, they all took their first dose. Alyx ate nine at once; Ben seven; Rey six. They turned on Netflix and scrolled through, trying to find something new to watch. The drugs took longer to kick in than normal, and the buzz wasn’t as strong. They could usually tell by how itchy they were. What used to be a desperate need to satisfy an aching itch was now just a slight irritation. It sucked, but at least there was still a buzz. The three of them each ate four more pills and waited until their skin crawled.

Getting high on painkillers usually did one of two things: either you become anti-social and don’t want to talk to anyone but rather fade into the music or whatever noise playing in the background, or you’re happy and want to talk endlessly about everything and nothing until the drugs lulled you to sleep. There was no rhyme or reason that decided which high you would have that time; it was a gamble.

Usually Ben, Alyx, and Rey were on the same wavelength. Sometimes they stayed up until the sun rose talking and laughing and other times they cuddled on the bed in silence and watched Netflix.

Ben was talking happily while Rey listened intently, hanging on his every word; Alyx scrolled her phone disinterestedly, occasionally texting when her phone would vibrate.

“So a few years back after I graduated high school, a few friends and I went to the Ledges—it’s kinda comparable to a modern-day Woodstock I guess?—I spent two days trying to find acid. Two fucking days around stinky hippies that didn’t have the damndest idea where to find any psychedelic drugs. When I had finally given up and drank a fifth of vodka and cranberry juice, then someone tripping balls pointed me in the direction of where I could find some acid. The guy’s name selling it was Woohoo. Yeah, fucking Woohoo. I bought four stamps and ate them all in one go.

“Okay, so I’m walking around and two hours pass by, and nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was about to go find the fucker and get my money back because the drugs were fake. On my way, I found someone who was tripping out of their fucking skull so I figured I would ask him where he got his because he was having the time of his life.

“He said, ‘man, my brother fucked up the dose by a decimal point! I took two hits, but it was really twenty!’ I asked him who his brother was and where I could find him. He said ‘his name’s Woohoo,’ and then ran off screaming something about gnomes coming to kill him.

“The acid hit me right then and there. I spent the next four hours, crawling around the campground in the freezing rain, trying to find my friend’s tent out of the hundreds that were there. I was shivering and gave up, falling into whatever tent was closest. I have no idea how, but I had fallen into the right tent.

“The problem with acid though is you can’t shut it off or go to sleep. You’re tripping balls for at least the next twelve hours. I tried to keep calm and hide in the tent, but my friends were fucking off outside, messing with me. They zipped the tent from the outside and locked it. Tripping and being drunk at the same time was awful, and I tried to open the tent to throw up, but I couldn’t. Freaking out, I pulled out my hunting knife and sliced through the fabric of the tent before I projectile vomited everywhere.”

Rey laughed at his story. “You’re a fucking idiot. Why the hell would you not just take one and wait?” Ben shrugged. She didn’t have a lot of experience with drugs, but she knew enough not to take everything in one go.

Alyx yawned and stretched her legs. “Hey guys, I’m tired. I’m gonna go to bed and lay down.”

“Want me to come?” Ben asked her, looking concerned. She shook her head.

“Nah, stay out here and have a good time. I’m just not feeling it right now.” Alyx closed the door to the bedroom.

Ben and Rey had hardly spent anytime alone together, but surprisingly it wasn’t awkward. He thought he might come off as creepy if Alyx wasn’t around, given how much time the three of them spent together. But it wasn’t. There was no need for small talk or any unnecessary fillers to keep the conversation going. It was as easy as breathing; Ben didn’t have to put up a facade around her, pretending to be something he wasn’t. Even when he told her stories about the awful things he had done, she didn’t treat him any differently.

Their conversation ebbed and flowed through different topics as the night went on. They had been talking for hours; it was already five in the morning. Ben didn’t know where the last six hours went. They broached the topic of past relationships. Besides his small stints with a number of girls, he had only seriously dated one other person before he was with Alyx.

“And what about you?” Ben asked her. Apparently the only way to get her to talk about missing details was to address them head on. Rey was silent at first; the question caught her off guard. She didn’t have an answer immediately at her disposal. Ben saw something change in her demeanor for a split second. Something glimmered behind her eyes that came as quickly as it went: sadness.

“I don’t know; there’s not much to say about him I guess. We dated for like four years, I was in high school for most of it. Then I went off to college. We tried the long distance thing, but it didn’t work out.” She had answered, but Ben wasn’t stepping down. He wanted answers.

“Why didn’t it work out?” Rey hadn’t been ready for that question either. She wasn’t looking at him anymore. She picked out something in the room that wasn’t in his direction and focused on it for a few seconds before she was able to conjure whatever explanation she thought was acceptable.

“I don’t know,” Rey shrugged her shoulders. “It just happens. I went to college. He stayed home. We grew apart. I hardly expected that I would actually marry my high school sweetheart.” She could prevaricate expertly apropos to anything, but Ben was stubborn.

“That’s not a real answer,” he told her. She nodded, realizing he wasn’t going to let her skirt around the truth anymore. She sighed.

“Last October, I was a mess. I hadn’t quite adjusted to living on my own and being so far away from everything I knew. I was constantly tired. I quit going to class, and I stayed in my room all day. It seemed like every time I left, something, anything would send me over the edge, and I would get these intense feelings that I couldn’t control. It felt like someone was standing on my chest, and I couldn’t breath. The only way I know how to describe it is what you feel when you tip too far back in a chair, but the feeling keeps going and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I occasionally had episodes like this when I was still in high school, but I was having them every day now.

“One of my friends came over and convinced me that what was happening to me wasn’t normal, even if I had dealt with it my whole life. So I went to my family doctor, who referred me to a psychologist, who referred me to a psychiatrist. They diagnosed me with depression, general anxiety disorder, and major panic disorder, gave me a script for some Ativan and Zoloft and sent me on my way.

“When I told him my diagnoses, something changed between us. I can’t explain it, but things were never the same after that. We had been together for four years, but he looked at me differently than he had before. Like I was broken. Like something was wrong with me. I tried to ignore it, but it was hard.

“The beginning of November he told me he couldn’t do it anymore. He didn’t know how to fix me. He felt like he had to police everything he said and did so I wouldn’t freak out or break down. He couldn’t take it anymore, so he left.”

“He didn’t deserve you anyway,” Ben said. “You know it’s not your fault right?” It wasn’t. The fact that some boy left her over that pissed him off to no end. If she had even mentioned any detail about who he was other than her boyfriend, Ben would have tracked him down and beat the ever living fuck out of him.

Rey laughed, a wide smile spreading across her face. “I’m well aware, Solo.”

Ben looked at her, really looked at her and saw her for the first time. She was still the same person but now so incredibly different. On the outside, she was as he had always known her; happy, carefree, and funny. But it wasn’t fake; not a mask she put on for others as she went through life. She genuinely was all those things, but Ben had cracked her open, exposing a new layer, a piece of her she kept close and didn’t let others see. It was raw and beautiful and unlike anything Ben had ever experienced. He never knew anyone to have so much depth, to be so many different things all at once.

They sat in comfortable silence for some time before Ben broke it.

“You know you’re my favorite right?” That was the best thing he could come up with. Saying I love you wasn’t appropriate, but he felt the need to say something, anything that would show Rey that he cared about her, that she was his best friend. She smiled softly.

“You’re my favorite too.”

Chapter Text

If there was a time period, a month, that Ben could freeze in time and play it over and over until he died, August was it.

It was crunch time for the wedding, but everything was going smoothly. The wedding and the reception was at the last weekend of August, less than four weeks away.

Rey had disappeared again. She was scheduled off from the restaurant for two days in a row, and she was nowhere to be found for those 48 hours.

It worried Ben.

Normally Rey would respond to his texts, but she had gone radio silent. Ben would check his phone every ten minutes, even while he was working against store policy. He didn’t particularly care if he got a write up for it; he was already only partly there, more occupied with where his friend could be rather than the third side of ranch table five wanted for their side salad.

It wasn’t like her to disappear for this long, especially because she knew that Ben and Alyx depended on her to get to work since the Camry died. Luckily all their coworkers lived closed and were more than willing to take them to the restaurant when he asked.

His shift had finally ended; his last table finally left, but the restaurant was still open and his ride was still working. Ben unbuttoned his black button down and sat down on a seat in the bar. Matthew was bartending that night and sensed Ben’s uneasiness without saying a word, and with a quick glance to make sure he wouldn’t be caught by the manager, he poured Ben a tall glass of Crown Royal and refused to let him pay. The booze took the edge off, but he still wasn’t his normal self.

The restaurant finally locked the doors, and Ben and Alyx piled into Hux’s car to go home. He lived just up the hill from them, so it was only a couple minutes out of his way.

Ben didn’t think he would ever be so happy to see her little blue Civic parked outside his apartment. He nearly jumped out the car and raced up the stairs. The door was unlocked; Rey had let herself in with the key he had given her. She was sitting on the couch taking a hit from a bowl. She looked up and smiled in a way that made Ben’s heart melt.

He wanted so badly to be mad at her, but he couldn’t. His relief that she was okay and sitting in his living room overshadowed any anger he had harbored while she was away.

“Sorry I didn’t text you guys. My phone shit the bed. I got a new one, but I lost all my contacts.” Rey said as Alyx walked through the door. The penetrating smell of smoke made Alyx close her eyes and inhale happily, and she sat down next to Rey and took a hit.

Ben thought himself stupid for a moment. Of course she didn’t know Ben’s number offhand; no one knew anyone’s phone number. He scrolled through his texts and realized he hadn’t texted her. So there was no way for her to get in touch with them. He was an idiot.

“Holy hell when did you get that?” Alyx exhaled, pushing smoke from her lungs. “It’s beautiful.” Ben’s attention turned to what his fiancée was referring, and he saw Rey had a tattoo, her first. It didn’t have color, but it was black against her white skin; beautiful magnolia flowers in a half sleeve to her elbow and reached out to her collarbone and behind to her shoulder blade.

Ben had grown to hate tattoos, partly because he hated Alyx’s. She had one on her ankle, a tombstone in some off-the-wall reference to one of her favorite authors, and it looked like a toddler designed it. All of his friends had tattoos, but they were similarly styled. He thought they were tacky and tasteless, inexpensive and ugly scribblings on skin.

But Rey’s, they were nothing like that. It was like Claude Monet, instead painting Water Lillies in color, painted magnolias on her skin in black and white. Her tattoo was a work of art; her body the canvas.

“I got it earlier today at a tattoo studio near where I grew up,” Rey said as she looked down her shoulder to her newly inked skin. “It sure as hell wasn’t cheap. I paid almost four hundred for it.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” Alyx said. “I only spent fifty on mine.” She pulled up her pant leg to reveal her tattoo. The price didn’t surprise Ben; you get what you pay for.

Alyx passed the bowl to Ben as he sat down on the couch with them. He didn’t take a hit immediately. He was still mesmerized by the way the ink contoured her skin. It didn’t look foreign in the slightest, but almost as if it had always been there; like it belonged on her skin. Unlike so many other tattoos he had seen, Rey’s didn’t detract from her natural beauty but complemented it instead.

When Rey motioned for him to pass the bowl, he took a deep hit and handed it to her. He held his breath until he gagged out a cough and let the gentle high sweep him away.

 

Two Saturday’s before the wedding, Ben and Alyx decided to throw a party after the night shift at the apartment with all their coworkers, a last hurrah before they tied the knot. Somehow Rey and Alyx had the night off, so they stayed and cleaned up before everyone showed up.

After the restaurant closed, Ben rode with Hux, Finn, and Matthew. Jesse, Valentina, and two other female servers, whose names Ben couldn’t ever remember, rode separately. They had taken too long changing their clothes in the restaurant’s bathroom, and Ben was more than ready for a drink.

Walking up the stairs, the four of them joked about the girls, wondering if they were bright enough to follow the directions Ben had given them to his apartment. Their jaws all simultaneously dropped when they opened the door and saw Alyx and Rey.

Alyx was in a shirt he had never seen before. It was black, tight-fitting, shaped to every curve of her skin, and low cut; the line of her cleavage visible. She wore the shortest skirt he had ever seen; Ben didn’t know how the cheeks of her ass weren’t showing. Her long blonde hair was down, draped over her shoulders. Ben was used to seeing her in sweatpants and one of his old t-shirts. When she went anywhere in public, regardless of the destination, she wore jeans and a band t-shirt, so he was hardly expecting what he saw when he walked into his apartment.

Rey stood beside Alyx, laughing at something she had said before they had walked in. Her brown locks waved gently to her shoulders, and her blue eyes sparkled. She didn’t wear any makeup, but she didn’t need it. Her eye lashes were naturally long; her skin was perfectly clear, only flushing a gentle pink on her cheeks. She was wearing her trademark skinny jeans with a sleeveless black shirt that showed off her new tattoo. The neck rose higher than most of the shirts she normally wore, but in the middle, see through mesh dipped down almost to her navel, revealing the skin below the fabric. Though most of her chest was covered, the mesh created a deep v-neck that divided her cleavage, exposing the inner outlines of her breasts.

The sight of Alyx and Rey was enough to make any man drool, and the four of them nearly did. Rey smiled at them before she walked over to the fridge and tossed them each a beer. The guys finally tore themselves away and went back to joking together.

Jesse, Valentina, and the two other servers were dressed in the same way as Alyx and Rey, and Ben laughed when he saw the other guys squirm uncomfortably when they walked in.

They all sat around the dining room table and played Cards Against Humanity. Playing with a bunch of restaurant workers always made the game a good time. Rey surprised everyone but Ben and Alyx when she won. She was normally quiet at work, sweet, and friendly. No one realized her sense of humor rivaled even the worst of them.

It must have attracted Hux even more to Rey because when she would get up to grab more drinks, he would follow her. In their drunken banter, no one except Ben seemed to notice how hungry his eyes were when they looked at her, how he would try to guide her into his lap at the table. Rey declined playfully before she went and sat on Alyx’s lap; her arm curled around Alyx’s neck as she took another swig of her beer, and Alyx’s hands wrapped around her waist.

As the night wore on, Hux didn’t stop when Rey brushed him off, and Ben found himself physically putting himself between him and Rey to try to ward off his attempts. He couldn’t help it; he could feel the discomfort resonating from Rey each time Hux would follow her to another room, when his hand drifted under the table to her thigh, when he tried to whisper sweet nothings in her ear.

It was nearly four in the morning. Jesse had stayed sober so she could take the girls home, knowing that Ben and Alyx’s apartment only had a bed and a couch. Finn, Hux, and Matthew were sloshed, and they were crashing there for the night, even if it meant sleeping on the floor.

When the night came to a close, Ben said, “Rey has first dibs on the bed in the guest bedroom.” Rey seemed relieved to not have to share a bed or a room with any of her sexually depraved coworkers. Rey had quit drinking early in the night; her desire to drink and have fun spoiled by Hux. The bed was big enough for two, but since Rey stayed there most often, it was hers. Ben looked over at Hux, awful thoughts painted clearly on his face while he watched Rey close the door behind her.

The door to the guest bedroom didn’t have a lock, and it made Ben uncomfortable knowing that there was an entire kitchen and living room between them. He wouldn’t be able to hear if Hux was going to try his luck again. He opened her bedroom door.

“Hey Rey, on second thought, why don’t you crash with us and two of the guys can take the bed?” Ben improvised. “It’s a queen, so it’ll be big enough for one night.” She nodded, thankful she wouldn’t have to spend the night warding off unwanted sexual advances.

Ben couldn’t hide the smirk growing on his face as Rey walked past him and into his bedroom. Hux tried to hide his irritation at being cock-blocked, but it was failing.

Alyx didn’t need an explanation; she hadn’t said anything about it, but she had caught glimpses of Hux flirting with Rey. She was drunk and tired, lazily moving to the edge of the bed. Ben crawled in the middle and opened his arms, and Rey climbed in between them as he pulled the blanket over them. She used the inside of his arm as a pillow, and he let his other arm wrap around her.

Even though Ben dwarfed Rey in size, it was like her body was made for him. Each of her curves were so perfectly shaped that there was hardly any space between their touching bodies. He closed his eyes; the sweet smell of the lavender shampoo she used on his nose. He listened to her soft breathing; eyes closed but not quite asleep yet. His large fingers twirled he hair at the back of her neck, and she smiled and nestled back into him. He moved his hips back from her, aware of the arousal growing between his hips.

This was his shot. His opportunity.

If it wasn’t for the liquid courage coursing through his veins, he probably wouldn’t have tried anything then. But at least if she told him no, the alcohol could be his excuse, regardless of how shitty of an excuse it was. If she said no, at least they could still salvage their friendship afterward, and he wouldn’t try his luck ever again.

He let his hand drift down her side and slip into her pants, nervously grazing the shaved skin between her legs.

He knew Alyx was on board with his idea, but he was still absolutely fucking terrified.

Ben felt his fingers meet her slit and kissed the back of her neck. He felt her pulse quicken and her body tense up at his touch, but she didn’t respond.

Fuck. She didn’t want this. He had fucked up. He destroyed everything. There was no way he was going to get out of this.

To his surprise, Rey parted her legs, and let his fingers glide between her slit. She was wet.

She was actually fucking wet. A feeling of relief washed over him.

He pushed his hips into hers, letting her feel the pulsing bulge he pressed against her as he continued to work his fingers up and down her sex. He let his free hand slip up her shirt and under her bra, fingers gently pinching her nipple. Rey let out a muffled whimper.

Ben slipped two fingers inside her, and holy fuck was she tight. He could feel her walls pulsing on his fingers, and she bucked her hips back into him, pressing her ass against his dick.

It had taken Alyx a minute to realize what was happening, but when she did. She moved herself on the bed so that Rey was now in the middle, and she pulled Rey’s shirt over her head and undid the back of her bra. Alyx smiled down at her, and she tilted Rey’s head up and kissed her, catching the stifled moans that Ben pushed out of her.

Alyx took off her own shirt and bra and laid down against Rey; their skin touching. Her long fingers trailing through her hair as she kissed her again; her tongue parting her lips and meeting Rey’s.

Rey motioned for Alyx to move upwards, and her tongue traced over Alyx’s nipple and sucked. Alyx’s eyes closed, and she took Rey’s hand and guided it down her pajama shorts. Rey’s teeth gently tugged at her nipple as she used her free hand to pull her pants and underwear down. The tips of Rey’s fingers swirled around Alyx’s clit before they thrusted inside her. Alyx wrapped her arms around Rey’s head, pulling her closer to her chest, and let out a moan.

Ben was so invested in watching Alyx and Rey he had almost forgotten he was a part of it when he felt Rey’s hand move between them. He could feel her fingers wrap around him through the fabric of his pants and he groaned.

He couldn’t believe this was actually happening.

He sat up in the bed and pulled Rey’s pants to her ankles while her hands still worked Alyx. He threw his shirt over his head before he undid his own pants. He slid back behind Rey, his member throbbing desperately. He lifted one of Rey’s legs, and let his length slide in the wetness between Rey’s folds. Her eyes closed, and she moaned; the hand not still in Alyx grabbed at the dick between her legs and guided it over her clit.

Ben heard Alyx release a guttural moan and he looked up. Alyx gushed on Rey’s hand, and Rey lifted her hand to her face and licked her fingers. Just the sight of it made his dick throb.

“You like that, you little whore?” Alyx growled; Rey smirked. Alyx pushed Ben aside so Rey could lay flat on her back. She climbed over top of her, her knees on either side of Rey’s head as she lowered herself onto her face. Alyx whined happily as Rey’s tongue danced over her clit, Rey’s hair balled in fists pulling her closer.

Ben couldn’t take it anymore. He needed her. He parted Rey’s legs and looked down at the soft pink of her sex, his throbbing cock at her entrance, and pushed himself inside her.

Rey cringed on the first thrust; her walls protesting every inch of him. Ben wasn’t gigantic, but what he lacked in length he more than made up for in thickness, and Rey was just so fucking tight. It felt like fucking a virgin. After a few gentler thrusts, she didn’t tense up when he entered her.

The sweet whimpers that escaped her lips even when they were busy working Alyx’s pussy made him thrust harder, bed squeaking beneath them with each thrust. If it wasn’t for the booze, he probably would have came right there.

There was no way Finn, Hux, and Matthew hadn’t heard anything, but Ben didn’t care if they heard, didn’t care who knew. He smirked at the thought of Hux sulking while he fucked the girl he tried so hard to take to bed with him that night.

Alyx’s hand gripped the headboard, and her body shook; her second orgasm taking hold as she cried out. Breathing heavily, she slid from her seat on Rey’s face; the insides of her thighs still quivering as she held them open, ready for Ben to take her now.

He obliged and was far less gentle than he was with Rey. He thrusted himself inside her; his hands pinching her nipples hard between his fingers. Her hands fisted the bed sheets and her back arched the further he slammed his dick into her.

Rey’s hands drifted over Alyx’s body, leaning into kiss her. Alyx pulled back and her hand cupped around Rey’s chin, forcing her to look down at Ben fucking her.

“You like watching him fuck me?” Alyx said, eyes dark. Rey nodded unreservedly. “I bet you wish he’d fuck you just as hard,” she said as her fingers slipped teasingly between Rey’s slit. Rey whined. “You better show him how bad you want it.”

Rey positioned herself behind him and one of her hands came around him and wrapped around his cock, guiding it into Alyx while the other hand rubbed his balls. It nearly sent him over the edge, but he didn’t want to finish. Alyx came for a third time, and he pulled himself out of her and over to Rey, slamming her back into the bed. Her eyes were dark; she wanted every bit of him inside her.

Ben pulled her legs up, and she wrapped them around his neck, giving him a better angle to fit all of him inside. He slipped the tip in and then thrusted his entire length into her over and over until her eyes rolled back into her head and her hands gripped the bed, crying out her release. A few thrusts more and Ben met Rey in her euphoria, his cock erupting inside her, filling her with his essence before he collapsed between Rey and Alyx.

Even though they were all sticky, covered in each other, there wasn’t anything around to clean up with, and the only bathroom was across the apartment past their male coworkers, but they were all too exhausted to care. Not even bothering to put clothes back on, they fell asleep that way; their naked bodies intertwined.

 

There was definitely a certain awkwardness when they all woke up the morning after. Finn, Hux, and Matthew tried to play it cool, but they failed miserably. They didn’t mention anything about the night before, but Ben could tell they all knew, all heard what happened in his bedroom.

They knew, so that meant everyone in the restaurant knew too. That was just the way their industry worked. There were no secrets among restaurant workers. At some point over the next week, Ben, Alyx, and Rey had walked in on hushed conversations about them. Luckily, they all had thick skin, completely unfazed by their coworkers comments. It didn’t really bother any of them.

A little over a week passed, and their threesome wasn’t the hot subject of gossip anymore. The rumors and hushed conversations stopped, but the sex certainly hadn’t.

To be honest, it was the best thing Ben could have asked for.

Alyx was actually interested in sex now and put in more effort as to not be outdone by Rey. She had gone from being a doormat when they fucked to a dominatrix of sorts, telling Ben and Rey what to do, where to put what, and when. Sex was actually fun; not some primal urge Ben begged Alyx to satisfy a couple times a week.

Not to mention Ben got to fuck both his fiancée and his best friend. Even though their dynamic had changed, Rey still acted the same around them. After they slept together, Ben wasn’t sure if it was going to be a one time thing, and he was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. The three of them would fuck almost every day, sometimes twice a day.

When they ate a bunch of Trams, they still had sex even when the painkillers stifled Ben’s ability to get hard. Heightened by the high of the drugs, their hands would explore each other’s bodies, learning every curve, every imperfection. Despite not being able to get off himself, Ben made sure both Rey and Alyx did, over and over through the night, using his hand and fingers where his dick failed him.

Ben had everything he wanted, and it was perfect. The three of them had melted together, and he couldn’t begin to imagine a life without them in it.

Chapter Text

It was September. The summer exhaled its last breath of life, and the nights went cold. The world around was changing.

The wedding had gone off without a hitch. His parents, who had protested his marriage every step of the way, saying him and Alyx were too young, were happy and supportive during the ceremony and reception. Two families became one that day, and they celebrated without reservation.

Ben was so busy with Alyx thanking everyone, greeting new faces, his new family of in-laws, that he didn’t realize Rey faded from view. The last he saw her, she was sitting at a table with their coworkers, toasting the union of her closest friends, but she wasn’t there.

He scanned the crowd until he found her standing next to the bar with a glass of wine in her hand. A taller, slim man, good-looking, one of Alyx’s cousins if he remembered correctly, wrap one his arms around Rey, bringing her close to him as he bent his head to kiss her cheek. She laughed through a smile, her fingers intertwined with his as she brought her glass to her face and took another drink.

What Ben saw sent a surge of hot jealousy through him. He knew he shouldn’t have felt the way he did. He had just married Alyx; Rey was free to be with whoever she chose, and he couldn’t say a damn thing about it. She wasn’t his, regardless of whatever he felt.

In some way, he had secretly hoped that what they had would go on forever, even though he knew deep down it wouldn’t. Alyx had set boundaries: just sex, no strings, no attachments. Rey said she wasn’t looking for a relationship or expecting anything more than their friendship in return, so it worked out in that way. They had once talked about all moving in together permanently. Rey said it was rare to find roommates she knew she could always get along with, and Ben was more than agreeable to the suggestion, and Alyx didn’t immediately reject the idea.

Ben was relieved when Rey declined the man’s offer to come back to his hotel. He couldn’t blame him for trying. Even though Alyx, in her corseted white wedding dress, was gorgeous, Rey was absolutely stunning. She was wearing a strapless dark blue dress that hugged her womanly shape in all the right places; her hair loosely braided to one side; her long eyelashes fluttering above her bright, blue eyes; her smile alone was enough to drive a man insane. It gave Ben a twisted sense of pride when he watched her walk past the men in the room, their eyes fixated on her until she faded from view. Out of everyone in the room, he was the only one who had ever had her.

The reception was over, but the party wasn’t. They all piled into the car of whoever was sober and went back to their apartment. They stayed up until four in the morning, drinking whatever beer and liquor they could find, laughing and making jokes. Ben couldn’t remember a time where he had this much fun without illegal drugs.

When Ben and Alyx woke up to the first Sunday of September, everyone had left except Rey who had already begun the arduous task of cleaning up empty beer bottles and drink glasses that littered the apartment. As weird as it would be to someone who didn’t know their situation, Rey was coming with them on their honeymoon. Partly because they still didn’t have a car, partly because Ben wanted her to come. They weren’t going far; an hour away to the lake where his parents had a cabin. It was just for a night; none of them could afford to be off work for more than a couple days.

Alyx didn’t object to Rey coming, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled either. Not that it mattered; they wouldn’t have enough money to get a car until they cashed the checks they had received from the wedding, so if she didn’t come, they wouldn’t have a honeymoon at all.

Although the cash was appreciated, Matthew had gotten them the best gift. A baggie full of pills, painkillers of every kind. There were Trams, Vicodin, Percocet, methadone, and morphine. Thankfully he had given them something harder; the Trams weren’t giving the same buzz as they used to.

Ben lived by a code when it came to drugs; a set of rules he followed so he wouldn’t become a addicted. The first rule was no needles under any circumstance, either eat the pills or snort them. The second was to never take the same drug two days in a row; variety is the spice of life after all, and it helps the body not become dependent on one particular substance. The third was no stealing, no matter how bad he wanted to get high. Only addicts stole.

Those three rules kept him in check all these years, and he made sure Alyx followed them too. Though they often indulged their habit, they always held a steady job, and they didn’t get high at work. It wasn’t the most perfect system, but it worked for them.

As soon as they pulled up to the cabin, before they even got out of the car, Ben reached into the baggie and grabbed the orange ones, the Percocet, tossed them in his mouth and washed them down with a bottle of water that was sitting in the center console. Rey ignored the Trams too and grabbed a few percs. She couldn’t take the Vicodin; she was allergic. Ben tossed the bag back to Alyx who was sitting in the backseat, and she fished out the Vicodin.

They went inside and watched TV while they waited for the drugs to take over. When they only felt a dull itch, they ate a few more. Within minutes, their first round of drugs hit them and then the second. They were soaring higher than they ever had, but they hadn’t planned for it. Rather than enjoying each other’s company and talking and cuddling like they normally did, Ben and Alyx drifted in and out of consciousness and their breathing slowed.

Rey, on the other hand, wasn’t as lucky. Her body was doing what it instinctually does when it realizes she ingested too much of something bad. Usually the reaction goes hand and hand with drinking too much alcohol; the stomach pushes out any booze that remains in attempt to sober its host up. It generally holds true for painkillers too as Rey would realize after spending a solid twenty minutes with her face in the toilet.

In a brief moment of lucidity, Ben called out, “are you okay in there?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll come out whenever I can stand up and not feel nauseous.” Ben heard the water from the sink running and the sound of Rey brushing her teeth before she came back into the room. She practically fell into the bed beside Ben joining him and Alyx in their high now that she was feeling better.

The night went on, and together they slipped in and out of silent consciousness, only finally falling asleep when the sun peered over the horizon.

Ben opened his eyes. Alyx was still sleeping next to him, but Rey wasn’t there. His eyes found a clock; it was nearly two in the afternoon. When he looked around the room, he found the bathroom door closed. He sat up quickly, worried because he didn’t hear any noise. He assumed the worst, and then he heard Rey throw up whatever was left in her stomach.

Rey opened the door, her hands on her stomach as she stumbled through the room until she found the couch and laid down. She didn’t open her eyes again until Ben woke her at six, saying it was time to leave.

On the drive home, Rey had to pull over on the side of the highway twice to dry heave. She didn’t have anything in her stomach, but she was still lightheaded from the drugs even though they wore off hours ago. She was fine at the cabin as long as she stayed to one spot and didn’t move. The motion from the car brought back her nausea full force.

An hour drive took nearly two hours before they finally made it back to the apartment. She parked the car in the driveway but didn’t get out.

“I’m gonna head back to my place,” Rey said. “I have class tomorrow.”

Ben cocked his head at her before what she said registered. He had forgotten that she was still in college, that she had her own apartment, that she had an entire world outside of theirs. He nodded, and Ben and Alyx got out of the car and watched her drive off.

 

Even though Rey wasn’t there in the mornings anymore, she was still around whenever she didn’t have class or she wasn’t working. Ben missed having her around all the time. The apartment just seemed empty without her in it, and frankly, sex was tedious without her. Whenever she didn’t have someone to compete against, Alyx went back to being a doormat when they fucked. If he wanted to do everything, he would have just used his hand in the shower.

His relationship with Alyx was also strained when Rey wasn’t around. Rey was their mediator. If they hadn’t noticed it before, they certainly had now. They hadn’t had a fight in months when she was around, but within the first week of Rey being gone in the morning, they had gotten into a shouting match. Alyx had thrown a glass at him in anger, and it shattered against the wall. Ben wanted to punch her, but instead he punched a hole through the wall before he stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him. He just needed to get away from her before he did something he would regret.

It wasn’t the first heated argument they had gotten into, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but he wasn’t going to hit her, even if she was completely wrong and too goddamn stubborn to see it. When he got to the end of the sidewalk, he had forgotten what they were even fighting about. Whose turn it was to do the dishes, he remembered. What a stupid reason to get into a screaming match over.

When Ben had calmed down enough that he wasn’t seeing red, he went back into the apartment to talk to her. It was hard, spending every waking moment with someone; sleeping with them; living with them; working with them. They both agreed that they needed to spend some time apart. They couldn’t be up each other’s asses for their entire lives. That was no way to lead a happy marriage.

They both said sorry and cleaned up the mess they had made. Ben grabbed a picture and nailed it above the hole in the wall, just like he had done with everything else hanging on the walls in the apartment. There wasn’t use in trying to patch the hole; it wasn’t like they were going to get their deposit back from the slum lord who owned the property anyway.

Alyx had just thrown the last bit of glass in the trash when Rey walked through the door, all smiles. When she felt the lingering tension between Ben and Alyx, she sat on the couch and kept quiet until one of them broke the silence.

“So how was class?” Alyx asked her.

“Boring but good. I bought my plane ticket to Spain today,” Rey replied; a smile breaking across her face. “I leave in January.”

“That’s awesome!” Alyx exclaimed. “How long are you going to be there?”

“Until May. I’m going there to study abroad. I’m so pumped to get away from this shit-hole town.”

Ben felt his heart in his throat. He couldn’t say anything; he was speechless. He had known since her first day of training at the restaurant that she studied foreign languages. It never once dawned on him that she would be leaving the country, leaving them, leaving him, to study abroad.

Alyx was talking about the time she spent almost a year in Korea. It was after high school when she went with her sister who was teaching English there. She had no shortage of stories about the food she ate, what they did while they were there, how insane their night life was. Rey listened to Alyx’s stories intently, and Ben remained silent.

He wouldn’t have called it heartbreak, but that’s what it felt like. While Rey wasn’t around all the time now that she was back at college, she was still there, never more than a text away and then she was there at a drop of a hat. He had never imagined a time when she wouldn’t be around anymore, an ocean between them. He couldn’t fathom not hearing her adorable laugh, not smelling the sweet aroma of her lavender shampoo, not feeling his skin against hers.

The pain of his heart torn in two was unbearable, and Ben desperately needed it to go away. He grabbed the box on the coffee table that hid their drugs and pulled out an empty plastic bag. Three weeks ago Matthew had given them over a hundred pills, and now there were none. He frantically grabbed his phone and texted his connections, asking if they had anything. They didn’t.

It was only four in the afternoon on a Monday, but Ben didn’t care. He raided the medicine cabinet for anything that would make him numb. When he didn’t find anything, he went to the kitchen and cracked open a beer, chugging it before he tossed it in the trash and looked for something stronger.

He found what he was looking for: an unopened bottle of whisky. He didn’t bother to grab a glass; he twisted the cap and drank straight from the bottle; fire burning his throat with each swallow.

The girls were too engrossed in conversation to even realize Ben had left the room. He took another swallow before he capped it and returned to the couch.

He wasn’t supposed to feel this way about Rey. So he didn’t. The alcohol in his empty stomach was quickly absorbed into his bloodstream as the pain slipped from his mind. He was married. They were just fuck buddies, friends with benefits, nothing more than friends. This wasn’t going to last forever; they all knew that. It was always going to be just him and Alyx; Rey was just their toy, a plaything.

Perhaps Rey was that for Alyx, but not for him. She was something else he couldn’t quite put into words. He sighed and opened the door to his bedroom before he collapsed on his bed with the bottle in his hand, taking one last swig before he closed his eyes and took a drunk nap.

 

It took nearly six hours at the dealship, but Ben finally had a new car, a black Lincoln. It was nice not having to depend on Rey now that she was back at school. He was speeding to work, barely making it in time to clock before his scheduled time.

Ben and Alyx had gotten into it again at the dealership. They had good days and bad days, but lately they were mostly bad. He had wanted the Lincoln, and she wanted something more practical.

“Why the hell do you care if you’re not the one driving it?” Ben yelled at her, pulling her outside when their argument got heated, and people started to stare.

“Because it’s a waste of money!” Alyx spat angrily.

“You can have an opinion when you start actually using your fucking license.” Alyx stormed off. He was right, and she didn’t want to admit it. She hated driving, blamed it on her eyesight or some garbage. She preferred having someone else chauffeur her around, treat her like a princess.

Ben wasn’t having it.

She decided she was going to spend the night at a friend’s house after work; they still needed time away from each other. She already had a ride there, so he didn’t have to worry about taking her. He could just go home and relax in peace.

At the end of his shift, he didn’t even say goodbye to her. He just got in his Lincoln and left. When he pulled into his driveway, he was half expecting to see Rey’s Civic there, but it wasn’t.

He was happy to have the night away from Alyx, but he was terrible at being alone. He pulled out his phone and texted Rey.

BEN: hey wyd
REY: Finishing up some homework. What’s up?
BEN: Alyx and i got into it again. She’s staying at a friends. Wanna come over and watch a movie or something
REY: Sure be over in a bit

And there she was at his doorstep in less than half an hour. Despite how awful his day had been, having her around made it better. There was just something about her that made it impossible to have a bad time when she was in the same room. It was almost like being high without the drugs.

They were watching Bad Grandpa. It was a comedy, something he couldn’t watch with Alyx.

“It’s not even funny,” she would say. “It’s just stupid.”

She said that about every movie Ben liked. So instead of taking turns who would pick movies, he would always let her pick. It was always something that was rated really high on Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic, but in all honesty, someone had to have paid off the critics because they were absolutely awful. Most of the time he just fell asleep during them.

Rey didn’t mind watching silly movies with him though. They laughed at all the same parts. She was really big into sci-fi, but a mindless comedy was a nice change for her.

That was how a relationship was supposed to be. Even if you didn’t like what your partner liked, you would suffer through it for their sake because they enjoyed it. Alyx didn’t particularly care what Ben liked.

“I’m can feel my IQ dropping,” she’d say. He would just shut it off, tired of her complaining. He would pretend to like the movies Alyx liked even though he fell asleep through them. He couldn’t help but feel like he was doing that with every aspect of his life. Doing what she wanted even if it gave him no joy.

It wasn’t like that with Rey. Being around her was so easy. He didn’t have to pretend that he liked something when he didn’t; didn’t have to put a mask on to be something he wasn’t. She was like the first breath of fresh air in his lungs after being locked away in a musty room for so long.

When the movie ended, they sat and talked. Ben decided he had avoided the issue long enough; he wanted to know her plans. He had forced himself to zone out, forcing the idea she was leaving out of his head so he wouldn’t have to deal with it. When he asked her what day in January she was leaving, he heard the sadness in his voice, and Rey heard it too. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

“Don’t worry, Ben. I’m not leaving forever,” Rey assured him. “It’s four months. You won’t even realize I’m gone.”

He wished that was true. Four months wasn’t a long time, but it was an eternity when you missed someone.

When she talked about her future, she exuded certainty and confidence. Her future was bright and clear; she was going places. She wouldn’t be permanently sucked into the hell that was this god forsaken town. Not like Ben was anyway.

They talked about what they were going to do when she came home in May. Her lease at her apartment would be up a few weeks after she came home, so she needed to find somewhere to live. They tossed around the idea of moving in together again. Rey wanted to move in with Ben but was no longer entertaining it as a viable option. She needed a place to go when she needed to get away from everyone.

“Where do you go when you disappear?” Ben asked her. Rey flushed furiously, stammering over her words.

“I—uh—it’s complicated? Can we just leave it at that?”

“You know you can tell me anything right?” Ben watched her shift uncomfortably.

“Yeah, I’m aware, but you aren’t going to like it,” Rey said, avoiding his gaze. Now he had to know. He raised an eyebrow at her, and she looked ashamed. “I’ve been going to Obran’s,” she whispered.

Obran. Obran Vandergroff. It took some digging, but he had found him on Facebook after Rey had first mentioned him, and he was curious what kind of guys she was into. She hid his existence well, all but deleting him from her life. He had to search through years of posts before he found him on her timeline, a post she must have missed.

He was her ex. The boy she said dumped her because he “couldn’t deal” with her depression and anxiety. The more Rey talked about him, the angrier he got. He was a fuckboy, barely passed high school, cared more about his appearance and his car than anything else. He would openly flirt with girls, and when Rey would say something about it, he would say she was being too clingy and that they needed space. He wanted to scream at her, berate her for going back to that idiot, but that wasn’t what she needed right now. She needed a friend to listen. So he did.

“Rey, why would you go back to him?” Ben asked her. “He doesn’t deserve you.” She shrugged.

“I don’t know. It’s just hard I guess. He was my first love, and we were together for a long time. I’m not sure if I just missed him or the idea of him.”

“Would you take him if he wanted you back?” Ben asked. He could see her eyes blinking back tears as she thought about her answer. It ripped Ben apart.

“I don’t know. I’d like to think I wouldn’t, but I really don’t know.”

He wanted so desperately to hold her, kiss her, tell her that she was loved and she didn’t need that asshole.

Rey pulled her leg up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her shin. She rested her cheek on her knee. “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours, but if it doesn’t, it never was.”

Chapter Text

It was October, and there was more changing than the colors of the trees.

The drugs weren’t working like they used to. No matter how many percs or Trams they take—Ben, Alyx, and Rey usually end up getting sick before the high is what it’s supposed to be. At least for Rey anyway; she nearly always threw up. They needed something else.

Ben managed to get ahold of roxycodone; blues they’re called. Basically they’re a step below OxyContin, that is before they quit making them because drug addicts kept robbing pharmacies. It’s one of the strongest prescription painkillers out there and the street price shows it. $30 for one pill; upwards of $50 if the market’s dry. Luckily, only one or two pills does the same job as 10 Trams.

Blues also didn’t have a ton of acetaminophen like other painkillers, so snorting them wasn’t god awful. The effects of the drugs also came a lot quicker than eating them; having to wait for digestion and absorption into the blood stream and all that. Instead you take the drugs straight to where you want them to go: the brain.

Not to mention the high felt cleaner than other painkillers. It didn’t have all the extra garbage pharmaceutical companies add to Percocet and Vicodin to keep addicts from using the drugs to get high, as if that would actually stop them. It just prevents them from putting them up their nose.

Even though the high was better, at $30 a pop, their habit wasn’t cheap. Between the three of them, they would usually split five blues. Ben and Rey would each do one and split a half, and Alyx would do two. When five pills wasn’t enough, they started mixing Rey’s Ativan with the blues.

Every doctor in the word would have a conniption if you told them you were mixing opioids with benzodiazepines, benzos. They’d tell you it’s a recipe for addiction, and in most cases and for most people, it’s usually how to graduate from being a casual drug user to an addict, but Ben always made sure that they could never be completely dependent on the drugs: by occasionally switching up the painkillers for something else or by not doing them for a couple days. As long as they didn’t do it for three days in a row, they would be fine.

They couldn’t afford to do them three days in a row regardless. The three of them were dropping $300 a week on them. If they did them a third day, there wasn’t any possible way to pay rent. Luckily business was picking up at the restaurant. If it was the slow season, this wouldn’t happen at all.

Rey was supposed to be saving for her trip, but any money she had left over after she paid her bills went to blues. One night while they were working, Ben asked her how many blues she wanted him to pick up for afterwards, she pulled up the bank app on her phone and sighed.

“Ben, there’s no way I can keep doing this. I have $800 to my name, and I’m leaving in three months.” Rey shoved her phone back in the pocket of her apron. “Just go ahead without me. I have some homework I should probably do back at my apartment anyway.”

“But, Rey, I don’t wanna get high without you,” Ben pouted. He thought for a minute thinking over his options. “Listen, I’ve got you. Don’t you worry about it.” He smiled widely.

“That isn’t what—”

“La la la, I can’t hear you,” he said as he covered his ears. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and Rey knew that, so she didn’t argue. “But shh, it’s our little secret.” He winked before nodding over in Alyx’s general direction. Rey smiled and nodded.

Alyx would have freaked the fuck out if she knew Ben was paying for her drugs, but Ben and Rey were both good at keeping secrets. Ben didn’t want to get high without Rey, and honestly, if he had the choice, he would have rather been fucked up with only Rey, but there was no way to pull that off without starting the screaming match of the century.

Ben couldn’t help but relish in his small act of rebellion at the dealer’s house, knowing that the money he was using to pay for the drugs was all his; a secret no one else would ever know except him and Rey.

 

One Tuesday night Alyx was working, and Ben and Rey were not. He told Rey to come over around four, after he had dropped Alyx off at work, and they would hang out.

Ben had a plan. He had found a NERF gun that he apparently stowed away that was just begging to be used. It was one of the giant ones that held over ten foam darts he got in college to irritate his roommates. He thought he lost it when he moved out of his apartment.

He loaded the clip and hid behind the door and waited to ambush Rey. When she walked through the door, he shot the toy gun at her and one of the darts hit her square in the cheek, and she nearly startled into the wall. Ben laughed maniacally and took off on the other side of the room, and she chased after him as he kept firing in her direction.

Even though Ben had longer legs than Rey, she was faster, and the apartment was too small to be able to keep a safe distance while still keeping his target in view. She nearly pounced on him, laughing, and trying to wrestle the NERF gun from his grasp. With one arm he lifted the toy above his head and out of her reach and used his other arm to block her from stepping up onto the couch behind them to close the gap for what she lacked in height.

Trying to step up, Rey stumbled and lost her balance. Arms intertwined with Ben’s, she fell backwards onto the couch, and he fell with her, dropping the toy gun. He landed on top of her, hardly able to breath from laughing, and she was laughing just as hard.

Propping himself up on his hands and trying to keep his weight from crushing the tiny body beneath him, Ben looked down at Rey. Her bright blue eyes smiled back; her hair disheveled; her hands still clasped around him. She was in a hoodie and jeans, and she didn’t have any makeup on, wearing only the darkened circles under her eyes from lack of sleep.

She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He lowered his face to hers and kissed her. She must’ve not expected it because she jumped ever so slightly when his lips touched hers, but a second later she let her hands slide up his back and through his long, black hair, sending shivers down his spine.

When his lips parted, she did the same, and their tongues met in the middle. She tasted like spearmint and everything he ever wanted. His heart was racing, and he could feel it beating through his chest. It felt like he was a teenager again, kissing a girl for the first time. He was stark sober but higher than any drug had ever taken him.

Using his hands to push his body up, Ben broke their kiss long enough for Rey to roll on her side so he could lay beside her. His hands now free, one wrapped behind her neck to bring her face to his and the other slid into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled her body closer to his.

She tugged gently on his bottom lip, and he could feel the hair rise on the back of his neck and his arousal growing beneath his pants. When she kissed him again, he couldn’t help but feel the smirk pulling at the corner of her lip.

“Doesn’t take much to get you worked up, does it?” Rey whispered into his ear before her lips kissed the shell of his ear and down his neck. Ben’s hand tightened its grip on her ass, and he pushed his hips into her belly, letting her feel the extent of his excitement.

His hand slid from the pocket of her jeans and up to her waistband and let a finger drift under the fabric from her back and around to the front of her hips. When it reached the delicate skin between her hipbones, she shivered, and Ben could feel the goosebumps rise on her skin. How she reacted when he touched her only made him more excited, and his hand pushed its way past her still-buttoned jeans and under her pants to her center. When his finger parted her slit, she gasped. Ben swallowed hard. She was wet, drenched actually, and it drove him insane. She wanted him as bad as he wanted her.

“Apparently it doesn’t take much for you either,” Ben growled, letting his finger glide down her slit, pushing sweet little noises from her mouth and catching them in his. Her fingers tangled through his hair as the tips of his index finger drew circles around her clit, and she bucked her hips into his hand, pleading for more.

Just as he was about to slip a finger inside her, he realized there was something hard and uncomfortable between his fingers.

His wedding ring.

He pulled his hand from the inside of her pants and sat up on the edge of the couch. “Anything we do, you know we have to tell Alyx right? That’s the deal.” She sat up too and gave him a sultry smile.

“Sounds like a personal problem to me,” she giggled. “You’re the one who has to deal with any repercussions, not me.”

Rey was right. She wasn’t with anyone; she didn’t have to worry about her significant other throwing a fit or being jealous. However, that was the deal he had made with Alyx when they first started dating. They could fuck anyone they wanted as long as they were honest about it.

If he was being completely honest, he would have shouted it shamelessly to the world, to everyone he knew if it meant he could have her.

He didn’t want to wait anymore. His hands guided her hoodie over her head and tossed it to the other side of the room and immediately unclasped her bra. She had hardly gotten the straps past her arms when his hands and lips were on her, pushing her back into the couch, cupping her breast and flicking her nipple with his tongue.

He brought his face up to hers, his breathing hot and heavy as his fingers fumbled with the button of her pants. Her eyes were darkened with desire watching him as he pulled her jeans and underwear past her ankles. The room was dark now that the sun was setting, but her skin glowed in the fading evening light.

Head propped up against the arm of the couch, she watched hungrily as he slipped his index finger inside her, and she closed her eyes. He went slowly, pushing his finger into her and slipping it completely out, using his thumb to graze over her clit with each movement. She whined, nipples hard, and she reached her hand around his hand, begging for more.

“Please,” Rey pleaded. Ben could feel himself throb and slammed two fingers inside her. Her hands struggled to find something to grasp as he thrusted the entire length of his fingers to the knuckles deep into her. She moaned, panting heavy. He curved his fingers slightly upward, and he felt her walls tighten on his hand.

“Fuck, Ben,” she breathed, and her back arched. Her entire body shuddered under his hand, her essence dripping into his palm. He licked his palm up to the tips of his two fingers and sucked her away from them. She bit her lip, the insides of her things still twitching from her release.

Rey sat up and pulled his shirt over his head, and he pulled his pants and boxers off, his arousal throbbing upright as soon as it was no longer constricted by fabric. She pushed him against the back of the couch and straddled herself on his lap, her arms wrapped around his neck. She let his member part the wetness of her slit as she guided herself up and down his length. When she was at the base of him, he saw how deep he would go, almost to her navel. He swallowed hard. When she rose up to the tip, Ben’s hands grabbed her hips and tried to push her entrance down on him. She didn’t let him, smiling knowing what she was doing to him.

“Stop teasing,” Ben breathed his words into her mouth, tightening his grasp on her hips. “Or I’m going to fuck you until you can’t walk straight.”

“I’d like to see you try, Ben Solo.”

Hearing his name on her lips sent electricity through his body, and in a minute, he lifted himself and her from the couch, her arms and legs wrapped around him as he carried her to his bed. He dropped her down to the edge of his bed, her legs hanging off the edge. He pulled her so her ass was hanging off, her hips level with his, and he brought her ankles to his shoulders.

He wanted to show her exactly how far he was going to be inside her, so he lined himself up to her, pushing his length above her sex. Her gasp and realization when his tip almost touched her navel made him bite his lip, and he pulled back, positioning himself at her entrance. She swallowed, her hands already balling the bed sheets in her fists, and he slowly thrusted himself inside.

He let herself adjust to his length, being gentle before he quickened his pace. She was so tiny, and the inside of her protested every bit of him. He couldn’t help but look down, watching his member disappear into her sex inch by inch.

“Don’t tell me that’s all you’ve got?” Rey taunted. He didn’t want to hurt her, but she made it clear he wasn’t.

He wasn’t going to be gentle anymore. His hands gripped the backs of her knees and pushed them into her chest, giving him the best angle to fit his entire length into her, and pumped furiously, squeezing out moans and whimpers each time he slammed himself into her.

He let one hand fall between them and rub her clit, and she clawed at the bed. “Ben, I’m close,” she moaned. A moment later, her eyes closed and he felt her body squeeze around him, thick, warm liquid oozing down down his thigh. Watching her cum pushed him to the edge.

“Rey,” Ben groaned, his member pulsing his release inside her, filling her with his seed. He pulled himself out and leaned over to kiss her through heavy breaths.

She smiled up at him, her hand touching his cheek and the other pulling him closer to her.

“You’re my favorite,” she said with sleepy, satisfied eyes before she kissed him again.

 

The next morning when Rey left for class, Ben told Alyx about what he had done with her. He was completely uncertain of how she would react, so he made himself nervous thinking about every possibility; none of them good.

She just shrugged.

“I thought you already had, so no, it doesn’t surprise me,” she said, turning her attention back to the article she was reading on her laptop. A rush of relief washed over him.

Rey was going to be coming over later that night, but they didn’t have anything to do. Their dealer had been out of blues for over a week and wasn’t going to have another script for the foreseeable future. Ben had decided they were going to go to one of his friend Dylan’s a town over.

Ben and Dylan had started cooking at the restaurant together and became really close friends. They worked together for nearly two years before he no-call, no-showed one night, and the manager had to fire him. Dylan wouldn’t admit it, but the reason he didn’t show up that day is because he was so high he would have dozed off and smashed his face into the grill. Dylan was always doped up on something.

He told Ben when they came over that night, he would have a surprise for him. Ben didn’t have to think to hard to guess what it would be. Dylan knew that Ben and Alyx usually did painkillers, so when something they normally wouldn’t come across came along, he would invite them out. But knowing Dylan and his past, it was definitely going to be harder than anything he usually did.

So when Rey pulled up in her car, they all climbed into Ben’s Lincoln, sitting in their usual spots. Rey always called shotgun because she got sick in the backseat. It wasn’t an issue when she was driving, Alyx wouldn’t say anything and willingly gave Ben the front seat while she sat in the back. But when Ben was driving, well, Alyx wouldn’t say anything but you could tell she was irritated that she wasn’t sitting up front.

Ben didn’t think it was that big of a deal; Rey got sick in the backseat and Alyx didn’t. And if he was going to be honest, he liked when Rey was in charge of the radio. Alyx listened to the most awful screaming, head bashing crap, and Rey always put on something with a decent beat but mellow. Alyx’s music set him on edge, and Rey’s was soothing. If he listened closely, he sometimes catch her singing. Listening to her music was, in a way, like looking into her feelings. She played whatever song that matched her mood. Given that it was so hard to tell what she was feeling, what she was thinking, the music made it a little easier.

He was paying attention to the road when he caught the tail-end of Alyx’s snide, passive aggressive remark to Rey. He couldn’t tell exactly what it was about, but if he had to guess from her tone, it was more than likely about Rey sitting shotgun beside him.

“Sounds like a personal problem to me,” Rey said nonchalantly, changing the song that was playing. Ben thought he saw fumes coming from Alyx, but she just crossed her arms and shut up.

When they got to Dylan’s, they both acted like nothing ever happened and everything was fine. It made Ben shake his head. He couldn’t understand how girls could go from being at each other’s throats to being totally okay.

Before Ben even knocked on the door, the door flung open and a scrawny 20-something stood in the doorway, pupils dilated.

“Ben! Alyx!” Dylan shouted, hugging Ben and then hugging Alyx.

“Dylan!” Ben returned. “This is Rey,” he introduced. “She works at the restaurant with us.” Dylan’s dark eyes flitted over to Rey, and it looked like he was absorbing her.

“Hi, Dylan,” Rey smiled. He tried to stammer out a reply, but it came out garbled before he motioned an invite inside.

They sat on a couch in a dimly lit room and caught up. Rey listened to Ben and Dylan intently, laughing at the stories they told. Dylan had taken over a sous chef position at a new restaurant, a position he tried at the restaurant he worked at before but wasn’t quite qualified for. Ben congratulated him on his promotion; he deserved it. Dylan was one of the most talented, hardworking chefs he had ever met, and he had met a fair number.

When Ben told Dylan what they had been up to, they had gotten married. Dylan apologized for not coming; he couldn’t get off work. At the restaurant, Ben told him who was still there and who had left, and so on. Ben occasionally caught Dylan staring at Rey before she would look over and catch him.

“I’m gonna go to the bathroom,” Rey said as she stood up and walked out of the room. Dylan’s gaze followed her until she was out of sight.

“Jesus fuck is she single?” Dylan said just barely above a whisper so she wouldn’t hear. Alyx laughed.

“She’s Ben’s latest fuck buddy,” she scoffed. Dylan looked confused for a moment, but then remembered the night at his place with Valentina and nodded. They had told them that they were in an open relationship, but he didn’t know the entire extent of it. He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.

“Do you think I’d have a chance with her?” Dylan asked; Alyx rolled her eyes. Ben couldn’t help but feel a pang of searing rage at the suggestion.

Absolutely fucking not. She’s mine, he hissed in his head. He was almost surprised at his own jealousy.

“I don’t know, dude. I don’t know what she’s into,” Ben said quietly, right before she walked back into the room.

“Oh! That reminds me,” Dylan said, darting out of the living room and into the kitchen. When he came back, he was carrying a number of things in his hands. He shut the ceiling fan off before he put the items on mirrored coffee table: a folded up piece of paper, a spoon, a lighter, a razor, and a water bottle. Dylan unfolded the piece of paper and emptied out a whitish yellow powder on the table. Rey looked rather confused, unsure what the purpose was of everything he had out. Her naivety was cute sometimes.

“Nah, dude. We don’t do needles,” Ben said. Rey’s eyes went wide when she realized what the powder was.

“Says you,” Alyx said. “It takes less with Dylan’s way. Cheaper too.” Ben shot her a dirty look, and she rolled her eyes again.

“Up the nose or no go,” Ben said sternly, and Alyx huffed at him. “Dylan, I’d rather not see you do that to yourself either.”

Seven of his classmates in high school had overdosed. All heroin. Even when Ben told him the rules, the rules how to not become an addict, they didn’t listen. They all started doing the same drug every day, and when it got to be too expensive, they shot up instead. They lost their jobs because they were too fucked to go to work, and they would spend their lives chasing the dragon, the high that was always one hit, one pill, one score away from being where they wanted to be, until it was too much, and their bodies just gave up. The brain would forget to communicate to the lungs to remember to breath, or they would aspirate in their sleep and be too out of it to wake up.

“No biggie, guys,” Dylan replied. He pulled out his wallet and pulled out a crisp hundred dollar bill and set it on the table before he picked up the razor and started cutting the powder into lines. When Alyx reached for the bill, Ben stopped her.

“No,” Ben said. “We don’t know what we’re getting into. Let me guinea pig first.”

That’s just what he did. Every time they were dealing with something that wasn’t made in a factory, Ben would always be the guinea pig, testing the drug first and waiting to make sure it was safe. It usually was, but sometimes powder was cut with something else, and you could never be entirely sure what it was. Ben was bigger than all of them, and frankly nothing had been bad enough to kill him yet.

He rolled the hundred dollar bill until it was a tight little tube and held it to his nose, leaning over and sucking the powder in through his nose. When the line was gone, he pulled back still inhaling, and then pulled the bill from his nostril.

“And now we wait,” Ben said. Rey looked terrified, like he was going to overdose. She had heard him tell enough horror stories about his classmates overdosing. He tasted the distinctive chemical flavor drip from his sinuses into back of his throat and he smiled, letting himself sink down into the feeling that was washing over him. “All good,” he said, and Alyx snatched the bill from his hand, holding it to her nose and inhaling just the same, and then passing the bill off to Rey.

Dylan could feel Rey’s discomfort resonating through the room. “Don’t worry. We won’t let anything bad happen to you,” he assured her. She looked over at Ben who nodded at her, and she took the bill. Hands trembling, she rewrapped the bill, put it in her nose, and breathed in the powder.

Ben watched Dylan slip away into the bathroom. He knew what he was leaving to do. Normally he would care, but it was his life. Ben couldn’t make his decisions for him. He felt warm and fuzzy and like nothing could reach him. It was like floating in a pool on a cool summer night; one of the ones where the water is warmer than the air, so you never want to leave, and there’s nothing making you leave. Nothing can bother you there. Any anxiety or qualms about your life don’t exist, and everything is perfect and beautiful. If only for a few hours.

Alyx had walked off to find Dylan, and Ben wrapped around his arm around Rey; her eyes closed and smiling softly when he touched her. He pulled her close and kissed the top of her forehead. She wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled her face against his chest, melting into him.

He had never felt so close to her. In fact, he had never felt so close to anyone as he did right then. They were alone in the living room, cuddled together, fading into their heaven. She had reached him in places he never thought anyone could. She touched his mind, his heart, his very soul. He knew she would be leaving in a few months, but that didn’t matter right then. The only thing that mattered was that she was there, in his arms, and he wasn’t ever going to let her go. 

Chapter Text

November changed everything.

Ben, Alyx, and Rey drove back to the apartment the next morning after they had spent the night at Dylan’s. The whole ride, Rey had to keep her eyes shut otherwise Ben would have to pull over so she could throw up. He already had to twice, but luckily she was throwing up so often, she knew exactly when she was going to, so he had at least thirty seconds to warn him before she did.

Thankfully Ben and Rey didn’t work that night, but Alyx did. She seemed to be in the best shape out of all of them despite what she had done last night. Ben was still floating. The effects of the drugs hadn’t quite worn off, but he wasn’t completely oblivious to detail. He couldn’t help but notice when Alyx put on her coat, she was trying to cover a slightly bruised red spot on the inside of her elbow, a track mark. She had broken one of the rules, arguably one of the most important ones, but there was no sense in yelling at her now. She did what she wanted; there was nothing he could do to change that.

One of their coworkers was coming to take Alyx to work, so when they finally got back to the apartment, Ben and Rey didn’t have to leave again. After she left, they crawled into bed and fell asleep in each other’s arms, happy and content.

When Ben woke, Alyx was still at work, and she wouldn’t be home for another two hours or so, so he wanted to make the most of what time left he had alone with Rey. The gentle pulse of blood south of his body let him know that the drugs wore off enough that he could do what he normally couldn’t on painkillers.

Rey was still sleeping, her breathing soft and slow, chest rising and falling with each breath. Ben tightened his arms around her waist and kissed the nape of her neck. She stirred, not entirely conscious but somewhere between sleep and wakefulness.

She smiled and pressed her body into him, now fully aware of his intent, feeling the warm bulge against her. His hand glided to the center of her hips and unbuttoned her jeans before slipping under her panties.

One thing that drove Ben insane was that she was always ready for him. When his fingers drifted over the wetness of her slit, he felt fire ignite between his legs. He swirled the tips of his fingers slowly around her clit, bucking his hips into her with each circle.

She turned her face back to him and kissed the shell of his ear and moaned sweetly into it when he found her tender spot. He kept his pace steady until she came undone; her back arched and eyes rolling back into her head.

He pulled her jeans and underwear down and off and kissed up the inside of her thigh, his hands exploring the way. When his face was at her center, he inhaled the sweet scent of her. Her sex was soft and pink and perfect. Everything about her made him dizzy.

“I need to taste you,” he breathed into her.

“Ben I don’t think I—” She gasped as he pressed his tongue between her folds, her fingers tangling in his hair. She canted her hips into his face, and his tongue trailed up and down her slit, occasionally stopping to suckle on her clit when he reached the top. He dipped a finger inside her and then a second. Ben could feel her walls clench down on him, her breathing growing heavier with each pump of his hand alerting him she was close.

Her walls tightened on his hand as well as her grasp on his hair, and her muscles fluttered around him and breathed his name.

“Ben.”

He didn’t stop immediately. He kept pumping his hand into her, squeezing out every last bit of her release into his mouth until she wrapped her thighs around his head, pushing him away from her now hyper-sensitive sex.

Licking his lips, he looked up at her, and her eyes were dark with passion, still trying to even her breathing. He could feel himself throbbing almost painfully. He slid off the bed and pulled her to the edge, wrapping her ankles around his neck as he dropped his pants to the floor.

“Shirt. Off,” Ben said, and she listened, writhing out of her top and bra and throwing them across the room. He reached out and he took each of her mounds in his hand, thumbing over her nipples as he lined himself up to her center and slid his length between her slit, wetting it in her warmth before dipping his tip inside.

She let out a breathy gasp as he pushed his member inside her, slowly and then all at once. Her hands grabbed at the bed sheets as he pumped into her. He could feel her walls clench around him, and he pushed harder. He watched Rey below him; her breasts jiggling up and down each time he entered her; her eyes watching him hungrily.

She was beautiful.

The sight of her was almost enough to push him over the edge. He brought his hand down to her clit and rubbed it, and she was unable to stifle her moans, now loud and heavy. He felt her walls tighten impossibly around him, her mouth open into a small O, and she slipped into euphoria for a third time. He could feel his climax coming too.

“I’m gonna—” Ben grunted.

“Come inside me,” Rey begged, and he let go, feeling himself throb his seed inside her, filling her with his essence. He pulled himself out, wincing at how sensitive he was, and bent down to kiss her and falling beside her.

He wrapped his arms around her and brought her as close as he possibly could to him. She sighed happily.

She was so fucking perfect without even trying.

And he was so beyond fucked.

 

“Like what the actual fuck, Ben!” Alyx screamed at him.

Rey wasn’t there, which was probably a good thing; she wouldn’t have to deal with Alyx’s tirade. She was less than thrilled when Ben told her that he had eaten Rey out. Ben was doing what he was supposed to: telling her exactly what the two of them did while she was gone. That was the deal, the agreement they made when she said she wanted an open relationship.

“She’s supposed to be your fucking sex toy. For you to get off so I don’t have to deal with it,” Alyx hissed. Ben shook his head.

“It’s not fun when only one of us gets off,” Ben replied. She launched a glass at his head, and he ducked, missing him only by inches before it shattered on the wall behind him.

Alyx saw the situation differently than he did. In her eyes, Ben was only supposed to fuck her and nothing more. Their sex was supposed to be only for his benefit; him getting off. Making sure Rey got off too, and multiple times nonetheless, was selfless. And that was unacceptable to Alyx.

But honestly, Ben didn’t really care what she thought. If it wasn’t for Rey, he wouldn’t be having sex at all. Ben and Alyx hadn’t had sex alone since the beginning of September. She wasn’t ever interested, so he didn’t push it. He just had more sex with Rey; he liked fucking her better anyway.

Ben had made a habit of waking up early before Rey went to class, and he would crawl into her bed to cuddle and fuck. Alyx couldn’t be bothered to be awake before noon most days, and there was just something thrilling about having sex with Rey in the next room, even if he told her about it later. He didn’t need an alarm to wake up in time before she would leave. It was the one thing that excited him about waking up every morning.

“I don’t feel like dealing with this right now,” Alyx said angrily as she stormed off into the bedroom. He heard her slam the dresser drawers open and closed as she packed a bag. Ben rolled his eyes. This wasn’t new. Alyx got pissed at least twice a week and one of her friends would pick her up and she would stay there for the night. She would be back in the morning.

She left without saying goodbye, slamming the door to the apartment behind her, and Ben flicked through Netflix to find something to watch. It was eleven at night, and Rey hadn’t stopped by after class. He sighed deeply and then picked up his phone to text her.

BEN: Hey are you coming down
REY: No, I’m heading down to Obran’s tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.

His heart sank. Not only did Alyx leave, there was no chance for Rey coming down. He hated being alone. He tried to distract himself by watching a movie, but it didn’t work. He sucked at picking movies; Rey was adept at finding great movies, so she was the one who usually picked.

Midnight came, and he decided to text Rey again to see if she knew of any good movies for him to watch. She normally responded instantly, but tonight she did not. His mind couldn’t help but think of reasons why as the night went on.

He couldn’t get the images out of his head. Obran’s hands on Rey. As he kissed her. As he fucked her. He wondered if he gave a shit enough to care about Rey getting off too. He probably didn’t, the unappreciative fuck. He didn’t deserve her.

One in the morning came and went and he texted her again. Still no response. His heart ached, and the images playing in his head made him sick to his stomach. He couldn’t deal with his feelings anymore.

He tore through the apartment searching every nook and cranny for release, something to numb him. He found it, in the shape of four small blue pills.

He had forgotten that he had taken them from his dad. His father had a prescription for his terrible back pain. Something about a disc being out of place, Ben couldn’t remember exactly what. He had absolutely refused surgery, despite his mother begging him. What pain the alcohol couldn’t take away, he numbed with those little blue pills. When Ben swiped them, he knew his father wouldn’t realize any were missing. His dad would just think that he had taken to many one day.

Ben sat at the table and crushed the four blues with a spoon before he cut them into one big line. He wasn’t taking a chance of the drugs not working; he was taking all of them so he wouldn’t have to feel anything. He didn’t have any hundreds, so he wrapped a twenty into a small tube and inhaled the light blue powder.

 

He could hear voices, but they sounded far away, like he was in a bubble. His eyes were closed, but he could feel the heat of the sun shining down on him. He didn’t know what day it was, and he didn’t want to. He just wanted to stay in the darkness forever.

“Will you come home? Ben’s losing his shit.” It was Alyx’s voice. “What do you mean why?—You didn’t text him back, and he’s losing his fucking mind. He won’t shut up about someone’s hands on you and some other bullshit.—Just come back ASAP.” He heard her end the call and her footsteps come toward him. He felt something wet and ice cold on his face, and he jerked awake.

Alyx had dumped ice water on him.

“What the fuck?” Ben screamed, wiping the liquid away from his eyes. Alyx glared at him before she walked into the bedroom and slammed the door. He struggled to stand up, steadying himself with the arm of the couch before he made his way to the bathroom.

He felt lightheaded and felt saliva pooling on his tongue, warning him he was about to throw up, and he made it to the toilet just in time. When he finished emptying what little contents he had in his stomach, he stood in front of the sink and turned it on, splashing warm water in his face. When he looked up into the mirror, he hardly recognized the man standing in front of him.

His eyes were bloodshot, and sweat pasted his hair to his forehead. He looked fucking awful; he didn’t want Rey to see him like this. He had to make himself look presentable otherwise she would feel guilty. That isn’t what he wanted. She wasn’t his; she was free to do her own thing.

He turned on the hot water to the shower and slipped out of his clothes. He let the steam fill the room before he stepped in, letting the scalding hot water rain over him as he held himself up on the wall with his hands. When he couldn’t feel his skin anymore, he stepped out, drying himself off with a towel.

Rey was back by the time he was dressed, but she didn’t say anything when she came in. She just sat down on the couch and watched him. The corners of her mouth were turned down, and Ben could feel the guilt radiating from her.

“Are you okay?” She whispered. He nodded. He didn’t want to look at her. Her eyes would say what she wouldn’t.

Alyx came out of the bedroom and sat with them on the couch. She put on Shameless, and they sat in silence for a few episodes before Rey finally spoke.

“Hey, so I need to go to New York City in a couple weeks to get my student visa. Any chance you guys want to tag along?” Rey said.

Ben hadn’t been to NYC since his parents took him when he was five, and he wanted to experience it as an adult, and Alyx loved traveling and going to new places, so she was excited about going. When they both agreed, Rey squealed with joy, and she immediately started looking for hotels and things for them to do while they were there.

If anything, taking this trip would be a blessing, just to get away from this shit hole for a night or two.

 

Rey prepared nearly the entire trip. Ben and Alyx didn’t have to do anything. When she told them how much the hotel would cost for two double beds, they gave her the money and she booked it. They couldn’t afford to fly, so they were going to be taking her Civic because it was better on gas. At least it was only a seven hour drive.

They couldn’t afford to spend more than two nights there, but it was better than nothing. The first full day they had there, they would explore the city and go out to eat, and the second day they would go to Manhattan for Rey to get her visa before they made the trip home.

Ben tried to find some blues for their trip, but all he could get was Trams. They hardly did anything to them anymore, but they still ate them when they got to the hotel anyway. They only had thirty pills. Not enough to numb them, but enough to take the edge off. It was like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

They all got up early the next morning. Ben and Rey wanted to visit the natural history museum, and Alyx wanted to go to the aquarium. So they went to the aquarium. Ben wouldn’t have minded going there, if it wasn’t a two-hour subway trip across the city followed by a three mile walk. He tried not to be irritated, but his blistered feet made it difficult.

Not to mention the aquarium was just downright terrible. The fish were cool, but the mammals were all in too-small enclosures and very obviously dissatisfied with their present situation. Even the otters were unhappy; they were always playful, swimming around on their backs watching people pass by. The feeling seeped into Ben, and he was ready to leave.

When Alyx was done, they took a cab to Chinatown and walked around. There were a ton of people everywhere, and the sidewalks were rather small. Rey was using her phone for directions, and Ben walked beside her; Alyx following behind. Every now and then, she would grab his hand and make him walk beside her until they walked into a shop, and something distracted him.

They had dinner reservations at the Elm in Brooklyn later that night. One of Ben’s wealthy regulars, CEO of an international company, had recommended it to him when he said they were going to New York and got them a reservation. They had been saving especially for that dinner knowing he had good but very expensive taste.

His regular had been quite generous when booking their dinner reservation. When they arrived, there was a $400 bottle of champagne waiting for them, a wedding gift for Ben and Alyx’s marriage. It tasted like bubbly heaven. Working in a fine-dining restaurant, the three of them could perfectly describe any wine on the menu, but the only time they ever got to taste it was when one of the guest’s offered it to them. Most of the bottles they had were just too far out of their price range.

They finished the bottle, and Ben searched through the wine list for a second while deciding what they were going to eat.

The restaurant specialty was shared plates, so they decided together what they were going to eat. Eating at restaurants with Alyx was always especially difficult because she was vegetarian, and Ben was not. At home, she would expect him to cater to her diet, and usually he would. If it wasn’t for him cooking for her, she wouldn’t eat at all; she would just live off Swedish Fish and Monster energy drinks.

But luckily Rey was with him, so Alyx could order whatever she wanted, and he could split multiple things with Rey. When he and Rey decided what they were going to eat, Ben started looking through the wine list to pair a wine with their meal. A Pinot Noir was going to go best with what they were having.

When he ordered the bottle from the server, Alyx glared at him. She only drank Cabernet, and it was one of Rey’s favorites. He shrugged. Him and Rey were going to drink Pinot; Alyx could order her own wine if she wanted something else.

They finished their meal and dessert and started heading back to the hotel. When they got outside, Rey pulled out her phone, finding directions to where they needed to go.

“My phone’s on 10%, so we gotta be fast. It looks like we need to walk four blocks down this street until we hit a subway station which will drop us off near our hotel,” Rey said, tucking her phone back in her pocket. Ben walked beside her, keeping her pace, listening and memorizing the directions Rey spouted so they could find their way back if her phone died.

“Why don’t you walk with your fucking wife?” Alyx’s voice came from behind them. Ben and Rey stopped and looked back. Alyx was fuming, her hands balled into tight fists. “You keep fucking leaving me behind for her. I’m fucking tired of it.” She was in Ben’s face, screaming at him.

“Will you calm the hell down? Rey is the only one with a smartphone to get us back to the hotel. We were figuring out the directions in case her phone dies,” Ben said, trying to keep her quiet. People walking around them were starting to stare.

“Bull shit!” Alyx hissed. “You cling to your slut like a lost fucking puppy while you leave your wife—you need to choose.”

“We weren’t leaving you behind,” Ben replied.

“You need to fucking choose,” Alyx snarled. “Your wife or your whore.”

And just like that, Rey ran off down a side alley.

“Rey, wait!” Ben called after her. He didn’t know where she was going. It wasn’t in the direction of the subway. Her phone was almost dead, and she had given the rest of her money to Ben for the tab at the Elm. When she didn’t stop, Ben chased after her.

“That’s right! Go get your whore!” Alyx screamed after him. She could think what she wanted, it didn’t matter. It was getting late, and he wasn’t going to let his friend walk around the city in the dark by herself, with no money and no phone. He ran and finally caught up to her.

“Rey, please,” Ben pleaded, grabbing her arm and turning her around to face him. Her eyes were red and wet with tears streaming down her face. She looked miserable and broken and it was all his fault. He had never seen Rey vulnerable like this. She never cried, never once hinted at any sort of weakness. She was the strongest, most resilient person Ben had ever known.

Seeing her this way broke his heart.

“Rey, please don’t cry. Everything will be okay,” Ben pulled her into his chest, and he felt her head shake against him.

“I can’t do this anymore, Ben,” she sobbed. He wiped the tears from her eyes with his thumb.

“Hey, no, listen. Let’s go back, and we’ll go back to the hotel and figure this out, okay?” Ben said, and she nodded. They walked back to the sidewalk to where they were before Rey had run off, but Alyx was nowhere to be found.

Ben looked down the street and saw familiar blonde hair a few blocks up, and the two chased after. Even if everything was broken, it was best if they stuck together. None of them knew where they were.

When they caught up to Alyx, Ben didn’t try to apologize. She wouldn’t have heard it anyway. Instead they found their way in awkward silence to the subway that would lead back to their hotel. It took over an hour, but they made it. Alyx hadn’t said anything since Ben ran off after Rey, she just sat with her arms crossed and refusing to acknowledge their existence.

They opened the door to the hotel room, and Rey crawled into her bed and Alyx into the other.

“Go ahead, asshole. Go sleep with your whore. You’re not sleeping here. You already chose her,” Alyx snapped.

Ben immediately turned out of the hotel room and made his way down to the bar. He wasn’t going to choose between his wife and his best friend. His spirit was broken, and he wanted to be far, far away.

He sat down on a bar stool, and the bartender poured him a double of bottom-shelf whisky. He drank it in almost a single gulp before he motioned for another. He couldn’t do this anymore; he was going to finish this drink and leave; take the next flight home unless Alyx came down and apologized for how ridiculously she was acting.

It was unnecessary. Ben had married her. He had been with her for the past four years, and she still thought that he was going to choose Rey over her. He was close with Rey, but all she had to do was say something, and he would have stopped. She didn’t need to blow up the way she did. That was the deal. Tell your partner everything, and if the other doesn’t like it, then you stop. She had never told him to stop. Not until now.

So unless she realized what a bitch she was being, Ben was going to leave unless she came down and stopped him.

Ben felt a small hand touch his shoulder. He looked back. It was Rey.

“Are you okay?” Rey asked as she slid into the seat beside him. He shook his head. He couldn’t say anything without bursting into tears. She rubbed her hand up and down his back, gently massaging the aching knots as she went. “I was worried about you, and I hoped you hadn’t run off.”

He looked at her, her eyes red and puffy, still wet from tears. She was sweet and genuine and the only person in the world who gave a damn about him. Not even his wife cared enough to check on him.

“I don’t know how things will ever be okay,” Ben whispered, taking another drink from his glass.

“Give it time. Things’ll blow over,” she replied. “Come outside with me. I need a cigarette.” He followed her outside. Rey sat down on a bench near the door and pulled a crumpled pack and a lighter from her pocket.

She was tinier than when they first started hanging out. It looked like her skin was stretched over her bones. Since they started doing drugs, she quit eating almost entirely.

“Why bother when it’s just gonna come back up again?” She would always say, knowing the painkillers would always make her throw up. She stopped getting hungry after awhile. Got used to not eating, Ben figured.

Her skin was colorless, almost translucent, pale under the fluorescent light outside the hotel. Her only coloration was the dark circles under her eyes. Her fingers trembled while holding her cigarette. She smiled slightly when she caught Ben staring at her.

Everything was terrible, and everything was broken. He didn’t see how he could fix it, and if he was by himself, he probably would’ve just ended it all right there. There were plenty of bridges in the city, plenty of tall buildings he could just conveniently lose his footing on. Ending it wouldn’t be hard; his entire life was a joke. He had amounted to nothing more than a server living in the middle of nowhere, married to someone who only cared about herself. He didn’t have any friends he could run away to. Nowhere to start over even if he could afford it.

But when he looked at Rey, he felt his entire world change.

She had been there with him through everything. She was more than just his best friend. She was the only one in the world who cared about him. He had tried to ignore his feelings for her for so long because he was with Alyx and then he was married to her, but looking at her now, there was no way for him to deny it.

Ben was in love with her.

He didn’t know how he couldn’t see it before, whether it was because he was with Alyx or he was just an idiot. He let himself believe that Alyx was the only one that was ever going to tolerate him for the rest of his life. She had stuck around the longest, but she didn’t love him. Ben didn’t know if she ever did. She only stuck around because it benefitted her. He always made sure that there was food on the table, a roof over their heads, and drugs in their systems, and that was all she wanted. She never cared about anything else before so why would she have cared about him?

He married the wrong girl. His parents had been right; they definitely were too young to be jumping into this. He just couldn’t fathom why he didn’t call off the wedding when his feelings blossomed for Rey. How is it possible to make such a bad decision when the right one is staring you plain in the face?

He just couldn’t tell what she wanted, and he was always too scared to ask. On one hand, she was sleeping with him regularly, but on the other... she was still going back to Obran. There was no way for him to know what she actually wanted.

Rey was everything to him. She was the reason for him being excited to wake up in the morning. Every second with her was nothing short of perfect. She was beautiful and kind and funny and everything Ben could ever dream of. She was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.

He would follow her to the ends of the earth just to be near her. There was no other way to describe it. It was like he had been drifting in space all these years, and now her gravity was pulling him in, and he had purpose.

He would give her the world if that’s what she wanted. And if she wanted to destroy it, Ben would burn every city to the ground in her name, damn the consequences.

If that’s what she wanted.

That was always the kicker. He couldn’t know her feelings. She never revealed anything she didn’t want to. She wasn’t the type to wear her heart on her sleeve. If he wanted to know, he had to ask. He just had to find the right time.

They sat outside in the cold while she puffed at her cigarette, and they just talked about anything and everything. When Rey asked him what he was going to do, about her, Alyx, all of it. He didn’t have an answer to give her. He shrugged. She told him she would stay away if that would help. He didn’t want that, didn’t want to lose his best friend.

“And what do you want?” Ben asked her. She looked surprised at his question at first, not entirely sure what he was getting at. He didn’t want to confess his feelings and let her guilt sway her decision. If she wanted him, she needed to say it now. He would choose her in a heartbeat if she would have him. “What’s going on with you and Obran?”

“I don’t know, Ben. I just go and see him every now and again. It’s complicated. It’s hard to be with someone for so long, and then suddenly they aren’t a part of your life anymore,” Rey said. Ben knew the feeling.

“What do you want? Would you get back with him if he asked?” Ben asked. She shrugged, flicking the butt of her finished cigarette and lighting another, trying to hide the tears pooling in her eyes.

“I don’t know—but—probably,” Rey said defeatedly. “I still love him, and I hate him at the same time.”

There was his answer. It isn’t the one he wanted, but there it was. He could feel his heart and his soul crushed to pieces. He had to stand up and walk away; he couldn’t let Rey see his own tears. He couldn’t make her feel bad. That isn’t what he wanted.

It was as he expected: Alyx was the only one in the world who would ever be with him, and he had fucked that up too. Him and Rey were best friends, nothing more; she had said so. No matter how much he loved her, she didn’t feel the same way. He was back where he started, but now with a crumbling marriage to try to repair. If he didn’t fix it, there was no one else could handle him. As bad as his relationship with Alyx was, having someone there was better than having no one.

And Ben was terrified of being alone.

Chapter Text

December was the worst.

They had all made it back without from New York without killing each other. They had agreed that they would pretend nothing happened for the remainder of the trip. When Ben and Rey came back to the room, Alyx was already asleep. He wasn’t going to try to crawl into bed with her, and he wasn’t going to sleep beside Rey either, so he slept on the floor instead, further proving to Alyx he wasn’t going to choose between his wife and his best friend.

He went to the bathroom, and it looked like a murder scene. Rey’s shaving razor had been ripped apart, and blood had been lazily cleaned up with the white hotel washcloth now stained pink laying on the counter. He sighed, picking up a towel and the bar of soap and wiping away the last of the smeared blood before he hid the soiled towels behind the trash can.

It wasn’t the first time Alyx had done this, and she obviously wanted Ben to see it, wanted to make him hurt, to feel guilty about what he had done. Whatever he was supposed to feel, he didn’t want Rey to see it. After this trip, there was no possible way she would be still friends with either of them anymore. They were a fucking disaster and miserable to be around.

When Rey was inside the Spanish embassy the next morning applying for her visa, Ben talked to Alyx while they waited. They agreed they would try to work to fix their marriage, even as broken as it was. They would deal with it when they got home.

Rey dropped them off at the apartment and then went back to her own. Ben’s heart broke as she drove away; he didn’t know if she would ever speak to him again.

Surprisingly, she came back a couple days later, but it was short lived. Alyx freaked out when Ben sat beside her, and she grabbed the closest thing to her, which this time happened to be a glass bong, and smashed it into the coffee table sending shards of glass in every direction. She didn’t come around when Alyx was home anymore.

Ben was happy that she still talked to him. That had been his biggest worry; that he would lose his best friend because of Alyx. He didn’t care if they never had fucked again. He just wanted her around. It was the only thing that kept him going. He was still constantly fighting with Alyx, and each time she disappeared to her friend’s house. Talking to Rey was the only thing he looked forward to.

Business at the restaurant had been especially bad, so they didn’t have enough money for drugs, and there was nothing to numb the pain. In addition to the drinks he had after work, he was also drinking the whisky he had stashed in his car. He was averaging about a fifth a day, but no one seemed to notice. Ben could hide it well; he was a seasoned drunk after all.

No one noticed except Rey, of course.

“Ben, why are you yellow?” She asked one night at work. Alyx wasn’t working, so they could talk freely without having her explode. He didn’t answer her, and she stole his car keys from the pocket he always kept them in and ran out of the building into the parking lot. It was a long couple minutes, and he felt shame creeping over him. She walked back in, shaking her head at him. “You know, there’s this fantastic thing that exists called water. It looks a lot like the vodka you have hidden under your seat, but it doesn’t burn when you drink it. You should try it sometime. Considering your liver is probably failing.”

She wasn’t wrong. He was drinking when as soon as he woke up in the morning, at work, and to force himself to sleep at night. He could feel that something was wrong, but that was beside the point. He didn’t really care about his health or well-being. Any future that awaited him was dark and bleak. He hated his life. He hated his job, his wife, where he lived, just everything except Rey, who he rarely saw now unless they were both off and Alyx was working.

It was slow, so they closed the restaurant early. Rey finished her side work before he did, and by the time he finished his, she wasn’t there. He was the last one to leave the restaurant, stalling as much as he could so he wouldn’t have to go back to his apartment. He walked out in the parking lot, and there were no other cars but his. She was long gone, and the parking lot was as empty as his heart.

So Ben drove home even though that was the last place he wanted to be.

He pulled into the driveway and put the Lincoln in park. There was a car parked outside, a beat-up pick up truck, that he didn’t normally see, but it was the same one that usually picked up Alyx whenever she went spent the night at a friend’s house. They had never stopped in before, at least not while Ben was home. He was curious to see who it was. He climbed the stairs as quietly as he could and pressed his ear against the door.

“I’ll be fine. Just do it,” he heard Alyx’s voice.

“I’ll take care of you anyway,” a second voice said, a man’s. It sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. He gently twisted the doorknob and pushed it open.

At the kitchen table, Alyx sat with her arm outstretched, bound by a tourniquet. A red-haired man that sat across from her had his back to Ben and held her arm up with one hand and pressed a hypodermic needle into her arm with the other.

“What the fuck are you doing?!” Ben bellowed. Alyx and the man both jumped and looked over at him. Ben instantly recognized the guy she was shooting up with as one of his coworkers, Hux. It took a moment before he was able to connect the dots, to understand fully the situation that was unfolding before him.

He didn’t know how he didn’t notice it before. He knew they texted a bit, that they were friends. But the way Hux’s eyes followed Alyx every time she would walk into the kitchen at work, the way their conversations would abruptly end whenever Ben came over to talk to her—it all made sense now.

It didn’t stop him from seeing red. He was still shooting up his wife. In his apartment nonetheless.

And then Ben was across the room, and Hux was lying on the floor unconscious, somehow still holding onto the unused needle full of a dark yellow liquid.

“What the actual fuck is wrong with you?” Ben screamed at Alyx, his hands raised above his head.

“Fuck you! Don’t act like you give a shit about me,” Alyx yelled back, angry tears welling in her eyes, and her fists clenched. “You didn’t give a damn anytime I left as long as you got to fuck your whore!”

She lunged at Ben, and he tried to hold her back. He was stronger than her, but she was quicker, and she knew how to fight. She tried to jab her fingers into his pressure points to cripple him, but he grabbed her wrists and held her back. She used her other limbs instead, ramming his knee into crotch so hard it knocked the air out of him, and he buckled over.

“You were too busy with that skank that you didn’t see that someone else was fucking your wife,” she snarled, kicking him in the chest. “We’ve been fucking since September and you had no idea, you fucking clueless dickhead.”

Alyx had called him a plethora of names before and said some absolutely awful things, but anything she said never hurt him before. This was the first that actually stung.

He struggled to pull himself from the floor, and Alyx grabbed a chef’s knife from the counter and charged. Before he realized what she was doing, it was too late. She whipped the knife through the air, and Ben could feel the sharp edge of the blade slice through his cheek and down his neck to his shoulder and then the warm oozing red gush from the wound.

Before she could whip the knife around again, with all the strength he could muster he pushed Alyx in the chest, and she went tumbling back into the table. He grabbed his keys and bolted out of the apartment before she could get back up.

He turned the ignition to the Lincoln and peeled out of the driveway, stopping at along a side street to calm down and assess the damage. He pulled down the visor mirror and saw nothing but red. He grabbed his apron and pushed it against his face to try to staunch the bleeding, and then he picked up the phone to text Rey.

BEN: Hey are you home
REY: Yeah, what’s up?
BEN: I need your help be there in five

The car whined in protest as he sped to Rey’s. He didn’t know what to do, but he had to get away, and there was only one place he knew to go. He parked outside of her apartment.

BEN: Meet me outside

He sat on a bench outside and waited, apron still pressed against his face.

“Oh my god, Ben. What the hell happened?” Rey ran over to him, seeing that he was hurt, drenched in his own blood.

“I—Alyx—” he stammered before she interrupted him. She grabbed his hand and tried to pull him up from the bench.

“Come on, you need to go to the hospital. That cut is really deep.”

“Rey, I can’t. I don’t have health insurance,” Ben managed to say. She looked at him puzzled; she knew a trip to the emergency room would cost him thousands, and honestly, he would rather die at this point. She sighed deeply.

“Let’s go to Walmart. I’ll drive. I’ll get a needle and some thread. I won’t promise it’ll be pretty, but it’ll have to do.” He listened to her, and she ran back into her apartment to grab her keys, and they got into her car.

Luckily the Walmart they went to was in the shady part of town. Even though Ben was covered in blood, no one even batted an eyelash at the sight of him. Rey had grabbed some hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, paper towels, and a sewing kit, and they were out within minutes.

“Are you sure we can’t wait until we get back to your apartment?” Ben asked as they walked back to her car. Rey shook her head.

“Not unless you want to bleed out before we make it back,” she said. “It hasn’t stopped bleeding yet.”

“Better than the alternative,” he said. She dropped the plastic bag on the hood of her trunk and pulled out the brown bottle of peroxide and uncapped it.

“This is going to hurt like hell,” Rey said as she poured the chemical onto the paper towel she wrapped around her hand.

“Are you sure you just don’t want to let me bleed out?” Ben joked. “It’ll be easier.”

“Shut up and come here.” He tilted his head forward and let Rey dab the cut across his face, and he winced each time the paper towel made contact with his open wound. It took nearly the whole roll of paper towels and the entire bottle of peroxide, but Rey could finally work on stitching.

While Rey threaded the needle, Ben edged his fingers along the gash assessing the damage. He hadn’t seen himself in a mirror, but he was certain no amount of ointment would make the scar disappear. He would wear the scar for the rest of his life.

“Stop touching it, asshole.” Rey slapped his hand away from his face. “Don’t make me go back and get another bottle of peroxide.” He wrinkled his nose at her. She started stitching the top of his cheek and worked her way down. It wasn’t as painful as he had anticipated; she managed to find a really small needle so it only felt like a pinch whenever it penetrated skin.

“Not gonna ask what happened?” Ben asked her, and then he felt a sharp pain. His talking caused Rey to miss, stabbing him in the cheek. She glared at him.

“After,” she said sternly and went back to stitching.

Twenty minutes passed, and Rey lifted his chin, inspecting the wound to make sure that the stitches were close enough together. They were. She took the tube of ointment out of the plastic bag and set it on top of the car and tossed the rest of the garbage into a trash can a few parking spots over.

“Okay, so now what the fuck happened?” Rey said, popping the cap to the tub and spreading the clear ointment over the cut.

“I fell?” Ben snickered.

“Cut the shit.” She stopped and her eyes were penetrating into his very soul, demanding answers. He nodded, and when she was finished dabbing the ointment, they sat in the car. He told her every detail of what happened before he showed up on her doorstep, and she listened without interrupting. When he finished, she lit a cigarette.

“This wasn’t the first time she’s done something like this?” Rey said. Ben couldn’t tell if what she said was a question or a statement. Regardless, she already knew the answer.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“How long?”

“Rey, it was only—”

“Don’t give me that bull shit, Ben. I’ve seen enough broken glass and the holes in the wall. When did it first start?”

He swallowed.

It started at the very beginning, when him and Alyx first got together. They had known each other for years but just recently starting dating. It was the first week they were official, and she was spending the night at his house. Ben couldn’t remember what they were fighting over, but it wasn’t anything major, but she had punched him so hard in the chest it left a bruise.

“So, it happened in the first week, and you didn’t think that was a red flag?” Rey asked. Ben shrugged.

“She said she was sorry, and it wouldn’t happen again,” Ben replied.

“And I’m sure she said that the second time and the third,” Rey said inhaling deeply on her cigarette before she exhaled. “In what scenario is that ever actually the last time?”

When things were good with him and Alyx, they were fantastic, but when things got rough, they were an absolute nightmare. Ben had been with other people before, but Alyx was the first one he was serious with; the one who stuck with him the longest; the first he moved in with; the first person he thought he could marry. She was his first for a lot of things.

Alyx always seemed genuine that it would never happen again, and Ben believed her. What she did was never enough to physically hurt him, and whatever she had hit him for, it was usually his fault anyway or at least that’s how it felt. He had done something stupid or something to piss her off. Maybe that’s why he stayed with her for as long as he did. He thought he deserved her punishment.

“Ben, you don’t deserve to be treated that way,” Rey said placing her hand on his knee. “She’s a piece of shit, and she doesn’t deserve you.” He grimaced. It was one thing to hear that you didn’t deserve it, but it was another to actually believe it yourself. “So, what are you going to do?” She asked, throwing her cigarette butt out the window. He shrugged.

“Beats me,” Ben whispered. “But I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Can we just go back to your place?”

Rey nodded, lit another cigarette, and shifted the car into drive. They rode in silence the whole way back to the apartment. It wasn’t the uncomfortable silence like you feel after saying the wrong thing, but the kind where nothing else needs to be said.

Rey parked the car behind her apartment, but she didn’t turn off the engine. She plugged her phone into the auxiliary port and scrolled through her playlist.

“What about you?” Ben asked. “What’s going on with you and Obran?” He wanted to know, but then again he didn’t. At this point, he was desperate for any topic of conversation that wasn’t about him and Alyx or what he was going to do.

“Dunno. Haven’t talked to him.” Rey reclined her seat back and closed her eyes.

“I thought you wanted to get back together with him?”

“I thought I did too,” Rey said coolly. “But I’ve had some time to think, and—I don’t know. With me leaving next month and everything, what’s the point?”

“You don’t think he’d wait for you?”

“It’s not that.” Her eyes blinked open, and she looked over at Ben. “I guess I was just hanging onto the past. I invested so much of my time into him, into that relationship, that when we broke up it felt like a part of me was missing. I didn’t know how to move on.”

Ben watched her closely. Her tone was different than any other time he heard her talk about Obran. When she talked about him before, he could hear her sadness, but now it was something completely different, and he couldn’t quite place what it was. It made him happy to know that she wasn’t going to go back to him.

“You know he doesn’t deserve you right?” Ben smiled.

“Alyx doesn’t deserve you either,” Rey smiled back.

“Eh, she’s the only person in the world who loves me,” Ben chuckled. “And look how that turned out.” He pointed to his face.

“That’s not true,” she said, sitting back up in her seat.

“My mom doesn’t count, Rey,” he jested.

“Well no shit.” She laughed, clutching her stomach and shaking her head.

“Then who?” Ben questioned, eyebrows raised. Rey closed her eyes and sighed deeply. Her hands trembled ever so slightly in her lap.

“Me, Ben. I love you. I have always loved you.”

He tried to say something, but he kept stammering over his words, unable to form a proper sentence.

“Why?” Ben finally managed to say.

“Uh why what?” Rey looked confused. She fidgeted uncomfortably in her seat, looking anywhere and everywhere but toward him. “Fuck, I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m such an idiot.”

“Why didn’t you say anything before?” He spurted out. He could hardly control his emotions. He was overcome with happiness and nervousness and so many other things he couldn’t describe.

“That would’ve went awfully well,” she rolled her eyes. “Oh, hey, we’ve known each other for a couple months, and you’re getting married and all, but I kinda got this thing for you, so you should call off your wedding.”

“Honestly, I probably would have,” Ben said. Rey’s eyes widened and her eyebrows furrowed, and her lips contorted in a way that made it clear she didn’t believe him.

“Why? Why would you call off your wedding? For someone you hardly knew?”

“Because I love you, Rey.” He grabbed her hand, and his fingers intertwined with hers. His heart was beating out of his chest.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” She smiled and squeezed his hand.

“You’re joking right?” Ben said. Rey shook her head. “Because you’re miles out of my league—”

“—Not really—“

“—And I’m not your type. Your boyfriends were all skinny, pretty fuckboys.”

“Yeah, and those worked out so well,” Rey laughed. “And I’m not out of your league.”

“Bull shit!” Ben laughed. “You’re smart and pretty and funny, and you’re going places, and I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict and boring, and all I’m ever going to be is a server in the middle of nowhere, and you deserve so much better.” His sentences were running together, and Rey held a finger to his lips.

“First of all, you’re hardly boring. You’re one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Sure, you drink a lot and do a lot of drugs, but so do I,” she giggled. “I’m also a server too, asshat. And you don’t get to tell me what I deserve, Ben Sol—” Ben leaned over and kissed her, and his fingers threaded through her hair and pulled her closer to him. Her eyelashes fluttered and tickled his cheeks.

He broke the kiss and pressed his forehead against hers.

“I love you, Rey,” he whispered. The words dripped from his mouth like honey, and the sweetness filled the air. He had waited so long to say them, and it felt so damn good to hear him say them. There wasn’t a weight on his chest holding him back anymore. He could speak freely.

“I love you too,” she grinned.

Chapter Text

January went by faster than Ben wanted it to.

Alyx was spending most nights at Hux’s now, and Ben rarely ever saw her outside of work. Most of the time, they avoided each other, but when they happened to be in the same room together, the tension was so thick you could cut could it with a knife.

Ben did his best to pretend nothing had happened, that everything was normal, but Alyx certainly didn’t. She did everything in her power to depict Ben as the bad guy, that he was the reason for their failing marriage. To anyone on the outside looking in, her story was nothing short of the truth. Everyone in the restaurant had seen the way Ben acted around Rey, the way he would go out of the way to help her if she was in the weeds, the way he talked to her, the way he looked at her, so it wasn’t far-fetched to believe that he had abandoned her for Rey.

At first it bothered Ben. It was hard to watch his coworkers turn against him without knowing the whole story. He desperately wanted to explain his side of the story, but he didn’t want to waste his breath. He wasn’t planning on being there for much longer anyway.

If they held anything against Rey, they hid it better than they had with him. Maybe his coworkers didn’t hold her accountable in the same way. Sure, she was the other girl, but she was single, unmarried. It was common knowledge now that Ben first initiated the relationship with Rey, and Alyx just went along with it.

Occasionally his coworkers would offer unwarranted advice on how to repair their broken marriage. He would humor them by listening even though he knew that their relationship was beyond saving, nodding or agreeing with them whenever they expected a response. Their intentions were good, but they didn’t care to listen to Ben’s side of the story.

New Years Eve was one of the busiest nights at the restaurant, so it was an all-hands-on-deck kind of night. Despite falling behind most of the night, it was one of the best shifts Ben had in awhile; everyone was too busy with their own tables to butt into his personal business.

It was almost midnight, and a few tables were still around drinking champagne and waiting for the ball to drop. Rey went outside for a cigarette, and Ben followed her out. She pulled a cigarette from the pack and handed it to him. When he pressed it between his lips, she flicked on the lighter and ignited the end.

Being near her was like breathing the sweet, piney, country air for the first time after living in an entire lifetime in a smoggy city. She was the one thing that kept him going, the light at the end of the tunnel. Things were bad right now, but they wouldn’t be that way forever.

Ben could hear everyone in side shouting the countdown to new year. When the clock struck midnight, he kissed her, his first New Years kiss. It was silly, but it was something he never did before, something he had never shared with anyone else.

Rey would be second for a lot of things, but she wouldn’t be for this.

 

The next morning Rey went with Ben to his parents’ for dinner. He wasn’t sure how he was going to explain to his parents what was going on. Telling them exactly what happened was out of the question. They had their fair share of outlandish experiences, but he was almost positive his situation wasn’t one of them.

Usually holidays are reserved for spending time with family, but it was completely normal for Ben to bring a friend or his current girlfriend along. If his parents knew that one of his friends didn’t have a family to celebrate with, they would always have an open invitation to their home.

It certainly made things less awkward when Ben showed up with Rey. Though Han and Leia didn’t know the entire story, they knew Ben and Alyx were having some serious problems. They welcomed her and treated her like she was his childhood friend, like they had known her for years. Granted they did know that Rey was close friends with Ben and Alyx, and they did meet her at the wedding, so it wasn’t like he was bringing home some random girl.

They didn’t say anything about Rey being there in Alyx’s place, but then again, they didn’t have to. Somehow they always knew. Then again, it could be the stitches in his cheek.

“Things that bad, huh?” Han asked Ben in the living room while Rey and Leia were washing dishes. Ben nodded, biting his lip.

“Gonna say you told me so?”

Han took a deep breath. “We didn’t particularly care for her to begin with. Always thought she was better than everyone else and talked down to everyone.” He flicked through the channels on the television.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Ben cocked his head.

“Would you have listened?”

His father was right. Even if his parents had said anything about her, it wouldn’t have changed anything. He was always the rebellious child. If anything, it would have just brought him closer to Alyx. He was already so angry at them for telling him he was too young to get married.

The men dropped the conversation when his mother and Rey walked back into the room. Leia was talking about living in London and traveling across Europe. Ben always forgot that she didn’t grow up in the states. She had grown up in a well-off family; he always wondered why she drifted away from that life.

It certainly wasn’t for his father. At least not at first. The first ten years of Ben’s life, their house was a constant battlefield. If they loved each other, it was damn near impossible to tell. They could never agree on even the simplest of things, and when things got especially bad, his father would take off. Sometimes he would be gone for a few days, sometimes a few months. Ben never knew where he went. Things didn’t seem to get any better until Ben finally moved out of the house.

Rey started talking about what she was doing and where she was going while she was spending a semester in Spain, and it broke Ben’s heart. He had tried so hard to shove the thought out of his mind, but she was leaving in three weeks. He was living day to day, only worrying about the next twenty-four hours; it was the only way for him to cope with his life. When he would start thinking about the future, he knew the only thing that was waiting for him there was loneliness.

His parents and Rey sat around the living room and talked for a little while more. Rey noticed Ben had retreated into his own head, and she decided it was time to leave. They said their goodbyes, and Han and Leia wished Rey the best of luck.

“Are you okay?” Rey asked when they got into his car. “You were awfully quiet in there.”

“I really wish you didn’t have to go,” Ben said softly. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.” She put her hand on his knee and smiled sweetly.

“You’ve managed to live your entire life before you met me. I’m sure you can manage a few more months.”

Yes, he had lived over twenty years without ever knowing her, but to lose her now... it was too much to bear.

It was ironic. Ben had spent his entire life living by his code, the set of rules that kept him from being dependent on anything. He never did the same drugs multiple days in a row; never injected; never stole. Of all the drugs he had taken, booze, painkillers, heroin—nothing even compared to how he felt when he was with Rey. His addiction wasn’t in the form of a substance but a person, and his rules never could have prepared him for what she did to him.

She was his reason for waking up in the morning. He always believed he would live in his shit-hole town at a mediocre job for the rest of his life, so he settled and didn’t plan for the future. But Rey had changed something in him. She inspired him to be better, and he wanted to be better for her. He could no longer be complacent with how he was living so long as she was around.

“Four months is a long time, Rey,” Ben began. “A lot can change. You’re going to be thousands of miles away, and you shouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on with me back here. You should be out having the time of your life. I don’t expect you to wait for me.”

“So what, you think I’m just gonna fuck a bunch of people and not give a damn about you? I thought you knew me better than that, Ben.”

“I just don’t want to hold you back,” he whispered.

“You’re not holding me back. This is what I want. It doesn’t matter if there’s an ocean between us. There could be an entire universe dividing us, and I wouldn’t care. I’d still want you.”

Ben’s heart fluttered, and he leaned over the center console to kiss her. His fingers tangled in her hair, and he could smell her lavender shampoo.

He would miss how she smelled; how soft and smooth her skin was; how her eyes would crease at the corners when he said something funny; how she glowed whenever he told her he loved her.

He would miss the nights they stayed up late and talked for hours on end; the mornings when he woke up before her and she was still there in his arms; the days they spend entirely cuddling in bed and watching Netflix.

But most of all, he would miss who he was when she was around.

 

One of the few nights Alyx and Ben were home at the same time, it didn’t end well.

Rey had a doctor’s appointment the next morning, so Ben had went back to his apartment. It was the first night they had spent apart in almost a month. If Alyx was spending the night at the apartment and not at Hux’s, Ben would spend the night at Rey’s. After a while her roommates started getting annoyed with him always being there. They never saw him, but they could hear him and Rey because they laughed and talked until the early hours of the morning.

So the nights that they couldn’t spend at either of their apartments, they went to a hotel. Luckily since they lived in the middle of nowhere, the price per night wasn’t that ridiculous, and some nights they even splurged on the jacuzzi suite.

Ben had left her apartment not even an hour ago, and he was already starting to miss her.

From the driveway, he could see his apartment light on, and he sighed. Alyx was the last person he wanted to see right now. If he wasn’t so broke, he would’ve just gotten a hotel room. He walked up the steps and winced as he opened the door.

Alyx was sitting on the couch watching Netflix, and she looked back at him when he came in. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her once tight-fitting clothes were baggy.

“Oh, cool. You’re home,” she said. “I missed you.”

Ben didn’t acknowledge her. She was the last person he wanted to talk to. He stepped toward the bedroom, and she jumped from her seat.

“Listen,” she started. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m an awful human being, but I love you, and I want to make this work. Please, Ben, I can’t lose you.” Tears swelled in her eyes. “I’m such a fuck up—you didn’t deserve any of that. I’m so sorry. I just need you back.”

He raised an eyebrow. He heard this before; nothing ever changed.

“Not this time. It’s over, Alyx. It’s been over.” He wouldn’t be swayed this time.

“I promise things will get better, really. I love you, and I can’t be without you. You’re the only thing holding me together,” she sobbed. “I don’t wanna live without you.”

This is what she always did. It was like watching the same movie over and over again and expecting the ending to change. When Alyx would realize that Ben was at his breaking point, she would try to smooth things over. She’d tell him that she loved him, that it would never happen again. When her love and promises weren’t enough, she’d turn on him. She’d convince him that no one in the world could ever possibly love him, that she was the only one who would stick it out with him. It was a vicious cycle Ben went through for four years, but he was breaking the loop.

“I don’t love you anymore,” Ben said coolly. “I don’t know what else to say to you, but we’re through.” Her face twisted in disgust and anger.

“You actually think your whore won’t leave you?” She snarled. “She’s going to go away and forget all about poor wittle Ben with all your problems. She’ll forget about you as soon as she gets on that plane.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “I’d rather be single than be with you.”

She looked like he had shot her right through the heart. The rage drained from her face and was replaced by defeat. “I give up,” she whispered, and she ran to the bathroom and slammed the door shut. Ben heard the click of the lock and then her scavenge through the cabinet under the sink.

“Alyx don’t do this.” Ben yelled through the closed door.

“Like you actually give a damn about me,” she hissed. The rummaging stopped, and he heard her inhale deeply. She had found what she was looking for. “I won’t live without you, Ben. There’s no point.”

“That’s it. I can’t sit around and watch you do this to yourself. I’m calling your parents, and we’re getting you committed.” He walked away and pulled his phone from his pocket. The door flung open behind him.

“Don’t you fucking dare!” She screamed and then lunged at the phone in Ben’s hand. Blood streamed down her arm and onto the carpet and onto his clothes as he held his phone above his head. It was the only threat she ever took seriously. In her parents’ eyes, she was a perfect angel. She graduated top of her class; she was pretty and funny. They didn’t know she was into hard drugs, or the fact that she was absolutely batshit. He wasn’t sure the exact reason, but whenever either of them needed help, whether it be because they were short on rent money or if they needed someone to talk to, her parents were never an option.

“You need fucking help, Alyx.”

She flailed her fists into his chest as hard as she could, but when her punches didn’t have the effect she wanted, she started digging her nails into him and ripping apart his skin. He did his best to hold her back, but she was relentless. She ripped open his stitches, and he could feel his own blood dripping down his face.

“That’s enough!” Ben yelled. He pushed her away from him as hard as he could, and she flew backwards until she tripped over her feet and fell, her forehead grazing the edge of the coffee table.

Alyx laid on the floor and sobbed hysterically. “I just want it to be over.”

Once he made sure she wasn’t hurt too badly, Ben went around the house and collected everything she could possibly use to end her life. He took every pill, the ibuprofen, the Trams, the Ativan, even the vitamins and flushed them down the toilet. He grabbed his backpack from the closet and piled everything sharp he could find, from his chef knives to shaving razors, and pulled the two zippers together and locked it with a coded padlock. If she was going to try again, Ben wasn’t going to let it be easy.

“I won’t call your parents on the grounds that you get help, a shrink, a psychiatrist, whatever.” Ben said, standing over her as she curled up into a ball on the floor. She nodded weakly, and Ben sighed in relief.

Even if he didn’t love her, he was happy she was going to get help.

 

It was almost time.

Rey was leaving tomorrow morning, and Ben could feel his heart breaking. They were going to spend the last night together in his apartment. They got some Trams, one last hurrah before she left for four months.

She had given her two weeks at the restaurant earlier in the month and gave herself a few days off before she left to get the last things she needed and say her goodbyes. She had gotten everything she needed. Her suitcase was packed and ready to go; she had a number of books to keep her occupied in her down time; all that was left was to say farewell, and that was the hardest part.

They didn’t watch anything on Netflix that night. They weren’t their usual happy selves. They weren’t joking or laughing or even talking. All either of them could think about was how little time they had left together, the clock ticking the countdown to her departure. Time was passing by so fast but yet impossibly slow at the same time.

“I’m scared, Ben,” Rey said as she cuddled up against him in his bed, nuzzling her face into his chest. “I—I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, you can,” Ben assured her, his hand gently rubbing her back. It pained him to do so. He wanted nothing more than to beg her to stay, but he didn’t want to hold her back. “You’re going to have so much fun.” She shook her head.

“How can I when I’m missing you?” She looked up with him, her eyes wet with tears. He kissed her forehead.

“Hey, I’ll trade you spots. I’ll go in your place, and you can deal with my divorce,” Ben grinned, and Rey chuckled. He pulled her closer to him. “I wish I would have married you instead.”

“I doubt you’ll ever want to get married after all this is said and done.”

“Hmm, that might be true if it were anyone else but you. Seriously, Rey, I would marry you in a heartbeat. I’d marry you right now if I could.”

“We can talk about it when your divorce goes through. Even if you file for a no-fault divorce, it usually takes at least six months before it’s official.”

“Figures,” Ben rolled his eyes. “It literally only took twenty minutes for us to be married at the courthouse, and now it’ll take forever to fix my dumb ass mistake.”

“Shoulda called off the wedding,” she smirked.

“Maybe if I had any idea you were interested,” Ben growled and started tickling her until she squealed.

“Why do you think I hung around you all the time? For my health?” She chortled. “I’ve always liked you, asshole.”

“I don’t know. I never thought there would be any chance in hell.” Rey rolled her eyes at him. “No, Rey, really. You’re absolutely gorgeous, and you could have any guy you wanted, no problem.”

“Figures I go after the one that’s married.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation, I’m glad you did,” Ben smiled and kissed her cheek.

“Me too,” she sighed happily.

They cuddled together for some time in comfortable silence, and Rey’s phone started buzzing. It was her alarm. She needed to leave in an hour.

“Rey, I don’t know how I’m gonna do this without you. I’m an absolute mess; I’m broken. You’re the only one who’s gotten me through this hell,” Ben choked out. His face was hot, and he felt tears pooling in his eyes.

“I’m not falling off the face of the earth for four months, love.” Her fingers threaded through his hair and brought his face to hers. “I may not be here physically, but I’m always with you. We’ll talk every day.”

“Promise?” He sniffled, tears streaming from his eyes.

“Promise,” she said as the corners of her lips turned upward. Ben couldn’t see them, but he felt her tears on his cheek, and he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her as close to him as he could.

“I don’t ever want to let go,” he said.

“I wish you didn’t have to.”

It was time for Rey to get dressed and leave, and now they were both crying hysterically. Ben could feel his heart ache painfully in his chest. He felt so many intense emotions at once it was indescribable. He was so deeply in love with her, and she loved him back. He had never been happier than when they were together. She wasn’t leaving because she didn’t love him. That might have made it easier for him to bear. She was leaving because she had to, even if she didn’t want to, and it tore Ben to pieces.

He walked her to her car, his tears freezing in the icy January air, but he couldn’t waste any moment he had left with her. He looked at her, and her eyes were bloodshot and wet. He wrapped his arms around her, and she did the same.

“I love you more than anything in this world, Rey,” he sobbed.

“I love you too,” she cried into his chest. “Goodbye my love.” Newly formed tears streamed in rivers down her face.

“Goodbye.”

Rey got into her Civic and waved a last goodbye through the window. When her car was out of sight, Ben walked back up the stairs and opened the door to the apartment. Too exhausted to make it to the bed, he put his back to the door behind him and slid down to the floor. He wrapped his arms around his knees.

He had never felt anything so painful in his entire life. It felt like someone actually ripped his heart out, and the feeling resonated into his stomach and out to his limbs. He cried violently now, barely able to get in a breath between desperate sobs, and he thought he was suffocating.

Trying to gasp for air, but it was too late. The edges of his vision turned blurry and then dark until he couldn’t see anything.

 

He heard the angry buzzing of his phone vibrating, and he tried to open his eyes. They were crusted together from the salt from his tears, and he struggled to pry his lids apart. He didn’t have even the slightest idea of what time it was. The phone fumbled between his hands, and he answered the call.

“Ben,” Rey’s voice sobbed. A surge of adrenaline surged through his veins.

“Rey, what happened? Is everything okay?”

“My first flight was delayed, and I’m lost, and I have no idea where I’m supposed to go. I’m gonna miss my flight.”

Rey’s first layover was in Chicago, and O’Hare was notorious for being impossible to navigate in addition to just being a general shit show. She had spent weeks worrying about if she was going to have enough time to get between gates, and now her worst fears came to life.

“Hey, hey just calm down, okay?” Ben cooed. “If you miss your flight, I will drive out there and come get you.”

“I can’t do this,” she cried. “I just wanna go home.”

Ben sat down at his computer and pulled up a map of the airport. He asked her where she was and which gate she needed and then where she was. She had less than fifteen minutes to get from one side of the airport to the other, and he gave her step-by-step directions on how to get there. He could hear her huffing through the phone as she raced to her gate.

“Ben, the flight is supposed to be departing now. I’m not gonna make it.”

“Just keep going, love. You’re almost there.”

He heard Rey talking to someone, but it was too muffled for him to make anything out.

“Well, I made it. They’re spraying ice off the plane. It won’t be boarding for another hour. I’m shaking so bad right now. I just want to come home.”

Ben sat back in his chair and sighed. As much as he secretly wanted to drive to Chicago to get her, he had to stay strong for her. Rey’s resolve was wavering, and if he even hinted that he wanted her to stay, she more than likely would. She needed to do this.

“I’m always here for you,” Ben said. “Everything will be all right.”

They sat and talked for the hour that she waited to board her flight. He let her do most of the talking. She told him about how her first flight was delayed almost an hour because of snow, the people she talked to along the way, and how much she was going to miss him. She was absolutely terrified. She was leaving everything and everyone she had ever known. It made his heart ache.

“I’m boarding now, Ben. I won’t have a phone until I get to my hotel, so I won’t be able to talk to you until I’m on wifi.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Ben told her. “I love you so fucking much, Rey.”

“I love you too,” she sobbed. She was crying again. “I’ll talk to you as soon as I can. Goodbye, my love.”

“Goodbye,” he managed to choke out, tears streaming down his face. This was it. She was actually leaving. Even until that very moment, he still believed that she wasn’t going to be half a world away. All this time he had tried to prepare himself, but it wasn’t enough. His chest ached as his heart broke all over again. He didn’t know how he was going to make it without her.

And with a click, the phone call ended, and she was gone.

Chapter Text

Time passed differently while Rey was gone.

Some days, it lulled. Ben practically counted down the minutes until he knew Rey would be awake. She had kept her promise to him and made it a point to talk to him every single day through either texting or video calling, but sometimes it was hard. She was about seven hours ahead of him, so when she would finally fall asleep at one in the morning her time, he was still wide awake and alone hours on end until he could force himself to sleep.

Other days lurched forward. He had finally moved out of his shitty apartment and back in with his parents. They were a little reluctant at first to him moving back in, but Ben finally told them everything awful that Alyx had done. It was certainly challenging; he had moved out before he was eighteen and never came back.

But he had a new job now, still serving at a restaurant just a few minutes from his parents’ house, and it kept him busy. The money was extraordinarily better than it was at his last job, and it was strange having money left over at the end of every month. Money that wasn’t being spent on an exorbitant amount of drugs.

Not to say that none of his money went to drugs, but they definitely weren’t the same kind he did before. His new restaurant worked him fourteen hours straight, five days a week without a break, and he had a hard time keeping his focus for that long. Even though the hours were long, the money was well worth it. After a long day, he would always come home with a minimum of two hundred dollars in cash and sometimes more, but that was if he kept on his a-game.

Normal people would just drink a lot of coffee or a Red Bull, but Ben was far from normal. He found scripts for Adderall XR which would keep his concentration, and when that wasn’t around, he would buy cocaine from one of the cooks on the line.

If the managers at the restaurant suspected anything, they never said a word. Maybe because Ben was holding his own with even the strongest of servers there or maybe they just didn’t care. Regardless of the pills he swallowed or the powder he put up his nose, the job was always done and done well nonetheless.

One night talking to Rey, she told him she had her spring break coming up, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Her friends were going to go traveling, but she was concerned that she wouldn’t have enough money to do anything or go anywhere.

“Or, you know,” Rey said, her smile shining brightly through the computer screen. “You could always come here and visit me in April.”

The question caught him off guard at first, and then the thought of seeing her again made his heart swell. Not to mention since he was living with his parents and not a drug addict anymore, he could stash enough money away to actually do it.

“You actually want me to come to Spain?” Ben said slowly, barely believing the words he heard.

“Of course I do, you ass,” Rey chirped. “Second week in April, book your flight to Madrid, and I’ll meet you at the airport.”

 

Before he even had time to blink, it was April, and he was on his way to see Rey. He was slated to arrive at around ten in the morning, where Rey would meet him before they started their trip. She had planned the whole itinerary; they were going to spend a couple days in the same city as her university before they traveled to Rioja, one of the best wine regions in Europe, and then head south to Cadiz.

What they were doing didn’t matter. The only thing Ben cared about was seeing Rey. It had been so long since he had seen her, he started to get anxious on the plane. The past few months they had talked every day, but somehow, she was different and so was he. He wasn’t sure if things would be exactly as they were the last time he saw her. He wondered if the distance changed her feelings toward him.

Ben shifted in his seat and looked out the window at the sun rising above the clouds. People around him were starting to wake up as the flight attendants bustled around preparing the passengers for landing. He wished he could have slept, but his nervousness in combination with the occasional turbulence made it impossible to sleep.

The airplane made its descent, and as the plane emerged from the clouds, Ben could see the beautiful city below. It seemed surreal to finally be here, knowing that Rey was somewhere down below. Even if they were miles apart now, it was the closest he had been to her in months.

His stomach churned as the plane landed on the tarmac and wheeled its way to the boarding platform, and he unbuckled his seatbelt and gathered his things before he disembarked. Rey had warned him in advance that the airport could be a bit of a nightmare to navigate if you don’t know your way, so he memorized the map before he left. From what he saw, where the plane had landed was a little ways off from where he was set to meet Rey, but she had told him where she would meet him.

The distance was less than a mile, but it felt immensely longer. Perhaps it was because he was taking in everything around him or maybe it was just the anticipation, but it felt like forever before he found his way to baggage claim and then out to the arrival dock.

The sliding doors opened, and Ben almost didn’t recognize the small, brunette girl waiting for him. He had seen her countless times over video chat, but she looked so different. Her face wasn’t as gaunt and she wasn’t as thin as she was when she left. Her eyes weren’t sunken in and jaundiced from the drugs. He didn’t know how she could be even more beautiful than when he last saw her.

Before he could even say hello, Rey had her arms wrapped around him and kissed him. With her soft lips pressed against his, Ben’s worries washed away.

“God, have I missed you,” Rey whispered happily in his ear, and he hugged her a little tighter. “Come on, let’s go get the rental car.” He listened and followed her through the airport.

As much as Ben wanted to take in the sights of the new world around him, this new Rey was mesmerizing. She was still the person he had always known, but now she was something more. She was light and airy, carefree and unburdened by the problems that would still await them when they went back to the states.

They picked up the rental car, a little Fiat Panda, and started heading towards Salamanca where they would stay for the first part of their trip.

Spain was certainly different than any place in the United States. Small suburbs existed, but they weren’t as common, so the exits for towns were few and far between, but that didn’t make the journey any less enjoyable. Snowy capped mountains touched the clouds in the distance and leftover stones from long-forgotten castles littered the highway. The highways were nearly completely empty, most Spaniards having access to subways, trains, and buses in their cities made having a personal car more of a burden than a luxury.

Any time Ben asked Rey to take a picture, she laughed. She had grown accustomed to seeing this beauty every day. She had already been on this highway a number of times, visiting Segovia, Toledo, and Sevilla. She still took the pictures anyway.

After about two hours of driving, they had finally made it. Rey guided him through the city streets to one of the closest parking garages to their hotel. They would still have to walk about a mile with their luggage, but Rey assured him that was going to happen no matter where they went.

Ben parked the car in an underground parking garage, and they rolled their luggage up the ramp and started walking in the direction of the hotel.

Salamanca was beautiful. He had been to some of the nicest cities in America, and they paled in comparison to this. Everything around them felt like it had been built with such intent that no stone felt out of place. Each building they passed looked old but yet as perfect as the day it was constructed. It was a completely different feel from the quickly built steel skyscrapers that he was used to seeing. Every stone, every brick of this city felt like it was planned and had a purpose.

They walked across the Plaza Mayor to the hotel where they were staying. From the street, Ben couldn’t even tell it was a hotel. The ground floor was a bar, and Rey walked in and took the keys from the bartender before they walked back outside to a door to the left of the entrance and climbed the stairs.

It wasn’t a huge hotel room, but it was clean and had a bed. There was also a balcony on the far side, and Rey pushed aside the drapes and opened the sliding glass door, letting the afternoon sunshine pour into the room before she lit her cigarette. A breeze rolled through, and Rey’s hair flowed in harmony, accompanied by the comforting smell of her tobacco and food from the restaurant next door.

If Ben didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought he was dreaming.

 

Over the next couple days, Rey showed him everything her city had to offer. He met some of her friends from university and visited all the places she liked to hang out. She was so excited to show him what her life was like over the past few months, and Ben was happy just to be with her.

He finally pinpointed what was different about her. He couldn’t place it before, but it seemed so obvious to him now. For the first time since he met her, Rey was genuinely happy. Something about living out of a single suitcase and traveling just resonated with her and made her glow. There was no stress of wondering what life was going to be like when she returned home. She was living in the present and loving every second of it, and she was all the more beautiful for it.

They rolled their luggage across the Plaza Mayor once more and walked toward the parking garage where they had left the rental car. The drive to Rioja would take about five hours. Even spending every second together since he arrived in Spain, they still hadn’t run out of things to talk about. Rey told him little silly stories that she had forgotten to tell him before, and Ben told her how things were going with the divorce with Alyx and how things were working at the new restaurant.

They were going to spend about five days in Logrono visiting nearby wineries and exploring the city. When they weren’t eating tapas or drinking, they would watch pirated movies from Rey’s laptop and cuddle in the hotel room. It wasn’t exciting, but it was perfect regardless.

 

And in no time at all, the day came where they would travel to the southernmost part of the country for the last leg of their trip.

It felt like Ben blinked, and it was time to go back to the airport. The drive to the airport was unusually quiet; Ben’s impending departure looming between them. He could see Rey fighting back tears, and the sight tore at his heart.

“Don’t worry. You’ll see me in less than a month,” he reassured her. She nodded slowly.

“I know, but leaving you is still just so hard.”

He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tightly while she silently sobbed. He kissed the top of her head and curled his fingers around the base of her neck. He kissed her one last time before he walked toward the security gate.

The line wasn’t that long, and it only took a few minutes to get through. Ben took one last look back before turning the corner, but Rey was already gone.