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The North Shore

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The North Shore

 

Chapter 1

Resistance

 

“A woman’s place is in the resistance.”

- Hayley Gilmore

 

The broad Tennessee River cuts a deep groove through the center of Chattanooga, leaving the southern, mountainous residents distanced from their northern neighbors. Ironically, even a hundred and fifty years later, somehow the city which hosted some of the most extreme battles of the American Civil War still finds comfort in labeling itself north and south ends.

 

The southern parts of Chattanooga, home to the tourist sites of Ruby Falls and Rock City, houses the posh families of Lookout Mountain, old Atlanta Coca-Cola money families who built their summer homes atop the picturesque mountain ridge bordering Georgia, the crumbling, charming suburbs skirting downtown curling beneath the mountain’s shoulders.

 

Urban sprawl from the city center had crept outward, leading a vibrant swath of varied demographics towards every edge of town, every direction until city eased into suburbs, which blended further into the rural.  

 

Nestled against the opposite border of the Tennessee River lay the North Shore, a quaint, two-lane shopping and dining district which boasted the quirky, artsy collection of shops and eateries normally found in a college town like Chattanooga. Four bridges spanned the Tennessee River, connecting the northern and southern banks, including a walking bridge descending from the Arts District, home of the museum and aquarium, where you could meander along the wooden planked bridge leisurely, above a classic restored carousel in the green, expansive park below.

 

In summer, you could watch dozens of children of every race and size run squealing through the shooting water cannons, surrounded by picnic-lunchers and kite-fliers galore.

 

Everything about the North Shore shouted easy enjoyability, an ever-expanding collection of amusements, its citizens welcoming visitors and their money, offering everything from hand-scooped ice cream to running shoes and party dresses.

 

At the furthest, least exciting-looking edge of North Shore, behind a far more attractive two-story gingerbread restored house though, sits a low, concrete-colored, flat-topped building with a lilac door, brightly announcing it’s proud single sign under its awning, the owners of Resistance Video having never had the means to paint the door anything less whimsical than soft purple in favor of something more cinematic like red or black.

 

“It looks like a preschool,” Finn had reported to Rey when he first took stock of the building with its pastel door.

 

“It was a preschool,” Rey reminded him.

 

“It’s not very edgy,” he sighed at her, raising an eyebrow.

 

“It’s free,” she smiled back at him, knowing she’d won the debate.

The purple door stayed.

 

Rey knew Finn would have preferred a more James Dean-esque stamp on their joint business venture but, secretly she didn’t hate the overtly feminine touch of a purple door. She may not be some delicate prima donna but, that doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate a good pastel hue.

 For a vintage VHS and DVD rental storefront, there were far more financial demands to be considered than paint cans and rock-and-roll aesthetic details.

 

The classic poster announcing “A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance”, the white-robed, dual-bunned, iconic heroine of Cosmic Battles wielding a blaster gun displayed behind the cash register proudly conveyed the heart behind Resistance Video.

No one was about to put the struggling repository of archaic, beloved cinema out of business, not even streaming services like Netflix, not if Rey Lowood had anything to say about it. This vault of aging, under-appreciated movies might be among the last of its kind but, it wouldn’t go down without a fight and what better way to express that than to emulate the original girl Rebel general herself.

 

Rey tattooed “I don’t need rescuing” on her left inner wrist, inspired by the princess and added a garland of red rosebuds beneath it, to remind herself thorns can be beautiful.

It was a life lesson she had started learning during a childhood of shitty foster homes and continued to master into adulthood as she navigated business ownership as a single woman.

None of those elements made for a pushover, and Rey was mostly proud of herself she could still appreciate sweetness in life, could still remember to tell herself true things most of the time, could still reach for the little things that mattered like friendship and carousel rides and vintage noir films and coffee.

Which sounded perfect right about now.

 

“Hey, want a mocha?” Rey shouted to the storeroom where Finn was working on the books.

 

It’s quiet in the shop. Not like “don’t say it’s quiet, you’ll jinx it and we’ll be packed in five minutes, knock on wood” but, literally, quiet as in “no customers yet today”.

“Yes. God, yes,” he shouted back, “iced. And a biscotti.”


Finn is good at handling the accounting, maybe even gifted at it but, it’s not the most exciting job and it tends to make both Finn and Rey crabby since they come close to being in the red most months. There may not be much market for classic films but, there are still some people with good taste around and a grungy corner of a artistic community is the surest place to find a horde of those movies to rent.

Or buy.

Rey and Finn aren’t choosy.

 

“K, back in a jif,” she hollered to him, locking the cash drawer and hopping off the three-legged wooden stool, grabbing her clutch. She had a punch card to use at Maz’s Mug a few doors down, and hopefully, she was due for a free latte.

“Wait! Peanut!” he called, using their shared nickname for one another, his head around the doorframe before she could walk out the door. “Get me a bagel, too!” he added.

Rey rolled her eyes at him and headed out, immediately squinting in the bright sunshine of the July midmorning.

 

North Shore is bubbling on this Saturday, just the sort of activity level the shopkeepers' associations report about on their quarterly fliers while encouraging owners with expectations like pressure washing their buildings and sidewalk repair.

Bicyclists, walkers, and drivers share the roadway, parallel parking filling in along the storefronts, and as Rey steps into Maz’s coffee shop under the jingling bell, she takes her place behind no less than seven customers.

 

Good for Maz, Rey thinks charitably, good for all of North Shore, knowing, the people who opt for locally-crafted goods like coffee from Maz’s Mug instead of Starbucks on the southern end of town will likely be the same type to search for Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart films.

 

Rey scrolls through Instagram on her phone and wastes time texting Rose and Paige, a pair of sisters who are her best friends, about Rose’s seventh date tonight with her new love interest, and slowly creeps along behind the people in front of her, keeping pace without looking up as she approaches the counter.

 

“I don’t care!” she hears the man in front of her nearly scream into his phone.

I don’t care” he repeats, getting incrementally louder with each repetition, “I don’t care! Do you hear me? Do you speak English? I. Don’t. Fucking. Care! You’ve had the time to get this right and yet you haven’t ! I do not care what it takes, get it right or you’re out !”

He would be impossible not to overhear at this volume and proximity, so it’s not so much that Rey is eavesdropping so much as it is he’s breaking the sound barrier.

The back of his neck is strained, tight and flushed as he yells angrily into his phone, his skin tone nearly blending seamlessly into his red hair. Rey takes a minute step backward, distancing herself from the drama instinctively. Her body retreats at the sound of impending storms every time she’s faced with fight-or-flight and this man is a walking tornado.

 

“Double espresso,” he curtly orders as soon as he steps close enough to the counter to be at the front of the line. He busies himself on the phone, moving his fingers as tensely as he used his voice on the prior phone call and drops a five dollar bill on the counter, waiting for change. Kaydel, Maz’s barista, rings him up.

 

“Um, that’s $5.21,” she tentatively informs him, picking up his five dollar bill.

Rey can see him glare at Kaydel from where she stands over his shoulder.

“What?! Are you fucking kidding me? For one shitty double espresso from Podunk U.S.A.?” he demands, incredulously. Kaydel just looks at him, dumbstruck, still holding his five.

“Here,” Rey says, reaching around the irate redhead, dropping a quarter on the counter beside Kaydel’s hand, “I got it.” She wants this dude to shut up and move along.He’s clearly upsetting Kaydel, as well as Rey, not to mention potentially anyone within a two-mile radius.

The man turns to Rey to see who deposited the change on the counter. He looks her up and down with a sneer and rolls his eyes. If Rey thought he would thank her she was sorely mistaken as he merely groans and responds with a haughty, “good God.”

 

Rey moves towards Kaydel as the man walks away to the end of the counter awaiting his pricey coffee, and she heaves a noisy exhale accompanying a knowing eye roll towards Kaydel who smiles appreciatively in return as Rey orders herself an iced vanilla latte, a mocha for Finn, biscotti for them both and the bonus bagel.

“You ok?” she asks Kaydel, quietly.

 

“Oh yeah, fine,” the barista answers her while making change.

“We’ve just been busy here. Somebody is shooting a movie downtown and we’ve had a major influx of people today. Crazy busy,” Kaydel tells her.

 

“Sweet! Maybe they’ll bring in lots of business all along North Shore,” Rey enthuses. “If anyone needs a movie for inspiration, you know where to tell them to head,” she reminds her with a wink.

“You got it, girl,” Kaydel tells her with a smile, handing her change.

 

Rey keeps a wide berth of the redhead with the anger management problem while she waits for her drinks and treats in the shop, answering the last six texts from Rose and Paige she’s missed in the last four minutes. Rose is really excited to be going out with Gun again tonight and wants both her sister and Rey weighing in on clothing options.

Rose is a petite, Asian sweetheart of a girl, blessed with sweet curves with a divine smile, Rey’s closest friend since the fourth grade, and Gun, a former Marine with a rifle tattoo that spans his entire right forearm is exactly her type.

Rose is downright swooning over him and it makes Rey simultaneously thrilled for her best friend and a touch envious.

 

To: Rose, Paige

From: Rey

11:40 am

OMG that looks incredible. I vote YES.

 

Rey sends a thumbs-up emoji, replying to the photo Rose sent of herself in a sundress under a cross-body bag and turned her phone off as she reached for her coffees and snacks. It was only about three blocks back to Resistance and Rey knew this route by heart, traveling it every day, give or take.

It occurred to her often enough if she’d forgo the daily take-out coffee habit, she may break more than even every month on expenses for the store but, you only live once and it’s the little things in life and the secret to a happy life is continual, small treats, she reminded herself.

Having grown up without a permanent set of parents meant Rey relied on way too many platitudes to coach her through life but, they helped her keep her chin up. That had to be better than the alternative, right? Whatever that may be?

 

To: Rey, Paige

From: Rose

11: 48 am

Squee! K! Will wear. Cannot deal, so excited.

May finally put out tonight.

GAH!

 

Rey stopped right in front of the door at Resistance, facing away from the glaring sun to read her text from Rose. Rose had been thinking about sleeping with Gun for a couple weeks now and that text deserved a prompt reply.

She balanced the coffees, the food, her clutch and her phone, and prepared to respond to Rose while reaching for the door handle. She was so adept at this routine, she didn’t even look up, barely thought about the process which was why she was unprepared for the crash of the door swinging into her body, effectively sending her flying.

Her body collided with a solid figure, more a wall than a human, as the coffees went flying, splashing herself and the other person attempting to use the door at the same time.

He must have been exiting while she was entering, and neither of them had seen the other. Rey stammered and gasped with the chill of the icy coffee as it splattered her tank top and arms generously, dropping her phone and clutch to the ground, left holding nothing but the empty disposable, cardboard tray in her hand, and the paper bag of food under the crook of her arm.

 

She was still catching her breath from the chill of the splattered coffee, and the shock of the strike when she pulled back to see who or what she had crashed into.

Looking up, she realized it was neither a wall nor a regular person, but a living, breathing, beautiful human man and she felt herself revert immediately to her middle school self, stammering and forgetting how to be graceful.

Looking further, she realized he was covered in dark chocolate mocha sauce from Finn’s spilled drink.

A second after that, she realized he wasn’t just any beautiful man, which would have been bad enough, he was a goddamn famous, beautiful, human man.

 

Oh dear God,” Rey whispered, “I am so sorry.”

She reached to help him clean his shirt but really, what was her plan here? How do you clean coffee out of someone’s shirt while they’re wearing it and it’s all but absorbed?

She blushed deep magenta, felt her entire face burning with immense embarrassment and decided she would be okay with dying on the spot, right then and there.

 

Shit, I’m sorry,” her partner in the debacle said, helping her retrieve the dropped items, handing her phone back to her with a grimace, both of them realizing the glass was completely intact but wholly shattered.

 

“Aw, fuck, I’m sorry about that,” he said, tsking at her phone.

“Oh, it’s fine - it’s fine,” she lied. She had been on a payment plan to the phone company for this phone for 11 months already and had no insurance on it.

Damn it, she thought.

 

“Oh God,” she held the door open for him, “come in and at least let me get you, like, a paper towel or something,” she waved him inside behind her, propping the door open with her free hand, still juggling empty cups and a bag of smooshed pastries, “God, I am so sorry, again,” she assured him.

“No, no, it was my fault. I wasn’t looking,” he argued gently.

 

He followed her inside Resistance, the shop seeming entirely too small a space for him immediately, Rey realized, as she walked behind the small counter to find a towel to help the man clean up.

 

He was one very tall, dark, incredibly handsome drink of water, that’s for damn sure, but, he was no stranger to Rey.

She knew immediately upon taking him in, head-to-toe, he was definitely Ben Solo, in the flesh, golden It boy of Hollywood, third generation cinematic dynastic royalty, A-list star of the Kylo Ren movie trilogy.

 

Ben fucking Solo was in Rey’s video store.

Someone needed to show up and shake her out of this dream because she was sure that must be what was happening.

On second thought, never mind.

Dreaming is fine.

“Here,” she said, handing him a roll of paper towels, “use this.”

 

She pushed her hair out of her eyes and ripped one off to use herself, wiping at her bare arms and cream colored tank top, mopping up what she could off her jeans below that, none of her ministrations making much of a difference now that she was more latte-colored than anything else, and saw him use a paper towel to do the same.

 

Looking up, she saw his hands slow as his gaze shifted behind her, over the top of her head to the poster of the princess announcing where a woman’s place rightfully was.

He stared emotionless at it, still absently scrubbing at the coffee staining his black v-neck t-shirt, nothing but a splotchy area and a lingering coffee scent to whisper to anyone about the mishap.

“There she is,” he said, eyes trained on the princess on the poster behind Rey's head.

 “Yeah, she’s…uh, there,” Rey replied inelegantly, letting the gravity of it all settle on her.

 

Shit, that’s his mom, he realized. His real-life mom, Leia Organa, and he now gets why this store is called Resistance Video. And that I’m her fan. And shit. Ugh, awkward.

 

“You’re a fan, huh?” he lets his molten eyes land on Rey and she forgets English is her first language.

 

Deflection is easier than being direct, answer questions with a question, she coaches herself.

 

“Aren’t we all?” she answers, tossing her paper towel in the trash can and reaching for his, uncharitably making a humorous side note to herself she could make a pretty penny on eBay with Ben Solo’s discarded paper towel if she were so inclined. There would be some fangirls who would pay top dollar for that shit.

 

He smiled at her but didn’t respond, just looked around, turning to scan the shelves stocked floor to ceiling with VHS boxes and DVD cases.

 

“This is something else,” he said distractedly, surveying the stash of movies and the walls lined with memorabilia posters.

 

“Yeah,” Rey said, moving out from behind the narrow countertop. “I love movies, I’m sort of a buff.”

 

“You own this place?” he asked her, running his hand over the cases.

 

“Yep,” she smiled, proudly. “Well, I mean, me and my partner do. Own it,” she stuttered.

 

Smooth, idiot, she reprimanded herself.

 

“Huh,” he nodded slowly, still perusing the shelves. “I was in here a minute ago, wondered if you have any Marx Brothers.”

 

“Oh yeah, sure, look…,” she motioned to a shelf two cases away. “Here’s Duck Soup and Horse Feathers. Personally, I recommend A Night at the Opera though,” she said, professionally, handing him the title.

 

“You own this place and you give personalized viewing advice,” he mused, raising his eyebrows.

 

“Well, I mean, what sort of movie buff would I be if I didn’t?” she defended herself.

 

Is he offended? Amused? He’s a movie star, he makes these for a living, he doesn’t want my stupid opinions on movies, shut up, Rey, she insisted. 

This was more like an out-of-body experience than a dream she was stuck in.

 

“You a big Marx Brothers fan?” he asked.

 

Be adorable, bat your eyelashes, he’s used to Hollywood starlets and big tits, she coached herself, but, she immediately overrode that instinct, knowing she was out of her depth, no chance at beguiling a Hollywood movie star by batting her stupid, non-starlet eyelashes.

She just went with honesty instead.

 

“Honestly, I’m more the Hepburn type,” she admitted.

 

“Which one?” he asked, a smile changing his lips.

 

“Both,” she told him unashamedly. “Katherine and Audrey. I’m a completist.”

 

It was the legitimate truth, too.

She’d seen and nearly knew by heart every, single Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn movie ever made.

 

He was definitely smirking. “Are you now?” he asked, his eyes twinkling a little at her, something playful behind them.

 

God damn, this is why they make all those gifs and memes about him, she thought. He’s fucking magical.

 

Rey turned around on her heel, her face heating up again, her armpits starting to sweat, her mouth going dry.

She headed back to the safety behind the counter, trying to put some distance between herself and the hulking, stupidly good-looking man in her store when she remembered she had a business partner and best friend as he rounded the corner and laid eyes on their singular customer.

 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Finn gasped, wide-eyed and dead in his tracks.

 

“Finn,” Rey cut in, jumping to grab him by the forearm, eager to dissuade him from being overtly dramatic.

This was a small space, after all, and there was no need to make everyone here even more uncomfortable than they already were. Besides, she had just been having a nice, normal conversation with the famous handsome man, no need to get all weird about it all of a sudden.

She felt a surge of possession and protective instinct sweep through her, hoping she could disarm the moment for the actor’s sake as well as her own.

“Hey, um, Peanut, our coffees spilled, can you get another round, please? From down at Maz’s?” she stood directly in front of Finn, bobbing in front of his eyes, holding his biceps in her hands, making sure to engage his line of sight directly, before shoving him unceremoniously out the door while he sputtered and argued.

 

Once she had closed the door behind Finn, she turned to see Ben Solo looking at the wall behind her again, at the princess poster.

 

"So, uh, do you want that Marx Brothers movie?” she asked, hopeful to reestablish the conversation or at least redirect it somewhere less tense.

 

“Actually, do you have any ‘Cosmic Battles’?” he asked, still looking at the poster. Of his mom, her brain finished.

 

“Yeah, of course,” she said, grabbing a copy of Rebound of the Star Knights off the furthest shelf.


Shaking his head gently, she glimpses a cloud of something unnamable passed in front of his expressive eyes.

Still looking at the DVD case he said, “Something to be said for figuring out what you’re good at and sticking with it, I guess.”

 

He sounded…blue? Was that it? Rey wondered.

 

“Well, you know what they say, ‘love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life’,” she couldn’t stop herself from using her old crutch, spouting off a proverb instead of vulnerably engaging a conversation.

"Is that what they say?" he asked, catching her eyes and holding them there in that sticky way he had, Rey jolting, all cute proverbs and smart adages floating up above her head, inaccessible.

"That's what I hear," she breathed, falling, falling, falling.

“Hey, thanks,” he said, his eyes returning to normal, friendly and composed. He handed her a $20 bill and pushed her hand further towards herself when she offered change, telling her, “keep it.”

 

His hand stilled on her skin before letting go, catching her wrist and turning it over so he could examine her tattoo.

 

“Don’t need rescuing, huh?” he asked her, his thumb moving slightly so he could see the edges of the entire artwork.

 

Rey was speechless, her wrist caught and dwarfed in his hand.

She met his eyes, her heart striking so hard she could feel it in the changing rhythm.

 

She nodded, very much feeling like she was a liar, she did indeed need saving and right this very minute, actually.

This man was a love wizard, a love demon, a love sorcerer with his fucking bottomless eyes and his imploring gaze.

 

Holy hell, she thought.

 

“Lucky,” he told her, right into her eyes, right into her soul. “Don’t need rescuing,” he repeated, still holding her wrist.

 

Something like the pull of a wave, the drag of a magnet passed between them.

 

A second after it dawned on her just how long he’d been touching her, he released her wrist and stepped towards the door.

He reached for the door handle and Rey felt panic strike her heart.

He’s leaving, her mind hammered.

 

“Oh,” he said, turning around before opening the door, “sorry, again. About the phone. Really. That was my bad.”

“Seriously, don’t worry,” Rey said, and then, anxious to communicating sincerely with him, knowing it to be her last chance to do so, she added bravely, directly, “‘let the past die'. Isn’t that what they say? ‘Kill it, if you have to’ ?”

 

His smile spread slowly. It was the Kylo Ren line. The famous one.

He got it. He understood her.

His eyes sparked with acknowledgment.

 

She knew he was Ben Solo.

He knew he was Ben Solo.

He knew that she knew he was Ben Solo.

 

“Yeah,” that was his real smile he was sending her before moving to leave, unguarded, raw, one she'd never seen on screen, “that’s what they say…”

 

“Rey,” she supplied.

 

“Rey,” he repeated.

 

He stood there a second more, dissolving her with his hypnotic eyes, and then turned to leave, opened the door and stepped through, pulled it closed tightly behind him and walked away.

 

Rey held her breath till he was out of sight and then she fucking collapsed onto the floor, flat on her back, arms splayed wide, staring blankly at the ceiling until Finn returned and crouched at her side and screamed his head off, shaking her by the shoulders while she laughed hysterically, both finally releasing all the pent-up drama they’d stored.

They danced around the shop yelling like that for 10 solid minutes, repeating every single word of Rey’s conversation with Ben Solo at least four times, insisting to one another what a dreamboat he was, deciding who they needed to call and text and in what order and then they unanimously turned on the first Kylo Ren movie in the trilogy on the mounted TV above the front corner near the wide window at the front of the shop and decided to order in lunch while they binge-watched all three movies till closing.  

 

This was a cinematic emergency event.  

Shut it down, shut it all down, everything else, this was a once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true, honest-to-God, miraculous moment.

It was a real-life fairy tale but, better.

No movie could top this.

No John Hughes, no JJ Abrams, no Steven Spielberg could have directed that scene better than destiny itself had.

 

Looking at the TV above, Rey knew by heart what would happen in every scene they were about to watch on film but, she knew it would in no way hold a candle to what she had just lived through.

Ben Solo had come to her shop.

 

Ben Solo had come to The Resistance.

 

******