“Ugh,” Poe says. He sits down heavily at the table Rey staked out for their group in the back of the bar. “Thank God that’s over.”
“Seriously,” Finn says. He sits down next to Poe and reaches across him for the pitcher their server just brought. “That last question? On the Fourteenth Amendment?” He grabs some glasses and starts to pour, making a face when he realizes Poe ordered the cheap stuff. “You guys, that last question killed me. I’m pouring this shitty beer from beyond the grave.”
Everybody laughs at that except Ben, who just shakes his head.
“The class is graded on a curve,” he reminds them, sounding more than a little haughty. Of course, that’s usually how Ben sounds. Even when he doesn’t mean to. He grabs one of the pints Finn just poured and takes a long swallow. “I’m sure we all missed that one. You have nothing to worry about.”
Rey – who’s been sitting here for twenty minutes, waiting for her friends to arrive, and is already halfway through her second beer – can’t help but roll her eyes at Ben’s transparent, fake attempt at modesty.
It’s the worst kept secret in the school that Ben Solo is top in their class.
“Oh, sure,” Rose says, very loudly. “Ben says we all probably missed that question. So we have nothing to worry about.”
She winks at him, letting him know she’s only teasing. The tips of Ben’s ears go pink all the same.
“The class is graded on a curve,” he mutters defensively. But that just makes everyone laugh again.
This is the first time Rey and her friends have had a chance to really sit down and relax in weeks. The first year of law school has been every bit as brutal as everyone said it would be. Especially for her. Everything about this place – from the way you’re supposed to study for law school exams, to the pomp and circumstance expected in internship interviews – has been brand new to her.
After all, she’s a first generation college graduate. She’d had no idea what she was getting into when she started here last August. And the learning curve has been steep.
If it hadn’t been for this group of friends she isn’t sure how she would have stayed sane.
Ben’s the only one who doesn’t really fit in with the rest of them. Ben Solo, son of an important New York senator, and fifth in a long line of family members to attend law school, has seemed to know what to do here from day one with an effortless grace Rey would kill to have.
Ben Solo, who’ll be spending the summer at Snoke & Associates, one of the most prestigious firms in the city, while the rest of them clerk at a legal aid office on the south side
Not that any of it seems to make Ben happy. He’s always been courteous enough to her, if not exactly what one would call friendly . He’s shared his meticulous, handwritten class notes with her a couple of times and helped her a lot in the lead up to final exams. But he’s also prone to long periods of sullenness and outrageous temper tantrums -- to the point where Rose has asked Rey, more than once, exactly why it is they hang out with him in the first place.
Rey doesn’t really know the answer to that question. Because there’s no denying that Ben Solo is… a bit off-putting, most of the time. Maybe it’s because she suspects he feels lost here too, somehow, despite the ease with which he handles the academic aspects of law school.
Feeling lost is something Rey can relate to all too well.
“Another round?” Finn asks the group. Rey looks from her empty glass to the pitcher at the center of the table. The cheap beer Poe bought is already gone.
Her friends are really going to town tonight, Rey thinks, amused. Which, given that exams and their first year of law school are all finally behind them, makes sense.
“Yes! Let’s get another pitcher.” Rose agrees. “But good beer this time, please.”
Finn gives her a wink and a salute.
“I’ll be back in five minutes,” he says, before making his way to the bar.
By the time their group finishes their fifth pitcher, the crowd in the bar – made up mostly of other law students celebrating the end of the school year – is starting to thin out considerably.
Rey isn’t surprised. If there’s anything she’s learned this past year (other than random things having to do with contracts, and what the different constitutional amendments are) it’s that the only thing grad students seem to like to do more than drink is have casual, semi-drunken hookups after finals are over.
Not that Rey ever joins in on that.
Rose is the first of their group to leave. She shows up to their table, the beer she’s been drinking all night painted as an adorable rosy flush on her cheeks, holding hands with a really cute second year Rey knows she’s been interested in since last semester.
“See you all later,” she says meaningfully, before turning on her heels and following the guy out the door.
Poe watches as she leaves, smirking a little.
“Good for Rosie,” he says.
Finn punches him playfully on the shoulder. “Should we get going as well?”
Poe yawns, and pretends to stretch, wrapping his arm very tightly around Finn in the process.
Smooth, Poe , Rey thinks, amused. Really smooth.
“Sure,” Poe says, grinning up at his boyfriend. “Let’s get out of here.”
Finn nods at Rey and Ben. “See you two later.”
As Finn and Poe leave the bar, Rey glances over at Ben from across the table. Sure enough, there it is – the wistful look he always seems to get whenever people start to couple up and head home for the night.
Feeling a bit awkward now that it’s just the two of them left, and not really sober enough to have much of a filter anymore, Rey says the first random thing that pops into her head.
“Nothing like a good fuck to get the stress of finals out of your system, I guess.”
She was trying for sarcastic, trying for funny. But when she sees the thunderstruck look on Ben’s face she realizes, immediately, that she just made a huge mistake.
He shakes his head ruefully and gives a hollow bark of laughter.
“I wouldn’t know the first thing about that,” he mutters.
Rey’s eyes go wide.
“Wait. What did you say?”
He takes another sip of his beer, not looking at her. “Nothing.”
Rey takes the glass he’s holding out of his hands and turns his chin so he has to look at her. “No, I mean it. What did you say?”
He huffs, getting annoyed now. “Clearly I shouldn’t have said anything at all.”
“But you did,” Rey points out.
“Um. Yeah. I guess I did.” The unflappable confidence Ben usually shows in classes and whenever they hang out as a group is gone now. He’s starting to look, and sound, like a man who would very much like it if the earth just opened up beneath him and swallowed him whole.
Suddenly, the pieces all fit together in Rey’s mind.
“You’re a virgin,” she says, matter-of-factly.
That has to be what he’s telling her.
She’s pretty sure she’s never thought about Ben Solo’s sex life before, but now that she is thinking about it she supposes his being a virgin makes some sense. He’s not exactly the easiest person in the world to be around. It’s not hard to see how people might not exactly be lining up around the block to throw themselves at him.
For one thing, he studies constantly. On the rare occasions he’s not studying, he’s usually being surly at someone or throwing things.
Probably not the sort of person you’d likely chat up in a bar. Or even find in a bar in the first place, most of the time.
Ben sighs, and closes his eyes.
“I suppose I am,” he admits, very quietly, to the floor. “I’ve never even… uh. Kissed… someone before. Not a real kiss, anyway.” His cheeks go red at the admission, and Rey wonders if perhaps she’s not the only one operating without a filter right now.
“Oh,” she says. What else can she say? “Really?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Really. But like – it’s fine. I’m fine. It’s not a big deal.” He swallows, and looks like he’s searching for the right words to say. “It’s just… I don’t know. Occasionally a little awkward, I guess. Not to have any idea what… it’s all about.”
“But…” Rey begins. But she stops herself because honestly, if Ben is fine with having no sexual experience what business is it of hers?
It’s just she can’t help but feel he’d rather not have no experience. She doesn’t know him super well – certainly not as well as her other friends – but she does have eyes. She saw the look he had on his face when their friends all left tonight. She thinks back on how… sad, for lack of a better word, Ben always seems to be when it’s time for everybody to go home at the end of an evening.
Suddenly, a ridiculous plan begins to take shape in her mind.
In truth, it’s probably one of the worst ideas she’s ever had, and she isn’t quite sure what causes it pop into her head. Maybe it’s the little pang of wistfulness she felt herself when all their friends left with someone tonight. Or maybe it’s just the giddy relief she’s felt all day over this hellish school year finally being over.
Maybe it can all be blamed on the alcohol she’s had tonight.
Either way, Rey is definitely on the wrong side of tipsy right now, and that’s all it takes for the words to come flying out of her mouth before she can stop them.
“I could teach you,” she says, very matter-of-fact. “What it’s all about, I mean. What to do.”
Ben stares at her blankly for a very long moment, her meaning clearly not registering.
When he finally does get what she’s saying, the effect is immediate and explosive.
“ What ?” he sputters, eyes wide. His hands have gone spastic, clenching and unclenching rapidly and uncontrollably at his sides. “What? Rey, no. No. Absolutely not. I… I don’t… I don’t need your charity .”
He’s misunderstood her. “Oh, it wouldn’t be charity,” she rushes to reassure him. She puts her hand on top of one of his. He stares at it, his eyes still very wide. “I think it would be… you know.” She shrugs. “Fun. I’m single, I haven’t had sex in a really long time, and…”
She trails off, shrugging again.
“Fun,” Ben repeats, looking, and sounding, stunned. He’s still staring down at their hands.
“Yeah.” She gives his hand a squeeze. His free hand clenches into a fist again at his side. “I’ll teach you what to do so you’ll know what you’re doing when you meet someone down the line you actually want to have sex with.”
Because despite all his awkwardness and sullen idiosyncrasies, Rey likes Ben. He’s a friend. She would hate for his first real sexual experience to be awkward or embarrassing because of nerves and a lack of knowing what to expect.
Better to get the kinks out first – so to speak – with an acquaintance in a completely no-pressure situation.
And besides – without his help, there’s literally no way she would have survived her first year of law school. Teaching him what she knows about sex seems like the least she can do. A quid pro quo , as their contracts professor might say.
Ben doesn’t say anything in response to any of this for a very long time. He eventually shifts his focus from their touching hands to his half-finished beer, staring at it like he might be able to find the answers to all the questions in the universe in it if he only stares hard enough.
Eventually, he sighs, and runs his free hand through his hair.
“Okay,” he says. He shrugs, going for casual, trying to give off the vibe that none of this is any big deal at all. Only the riotous blush on his cheeks and the hand that trembles beneath hers suggest that he’s nervous about this. Maybe even more than nervous.
Rey smiles, and gives his hand another squeeze. “Okay,” she says. “Shall we start… tomorrow? I’m a little too drunk to start tonight, I think.”
Ben closes his eyes. He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.
“Tomorrow,” he agrees.
Still smiling, on impulse Rey lifts their linked hands and presses a gentle kiss to the back of his. It’s perfectly chaste – just a quick peck of the lips, and over almost as soon as it begins – but the effect on Ben is electric. His whole body stiffens, and his eyes go very wide before fluttering closed again on a quiet sigh.
“Tomorrow, then,” Rey repeats, murmuring the word against the back of his hand.
He opens his eyes, and then looks at her with such adulaton and wonder in his eyes it takes her breath away and causes her heart to stutter uncomfortably in her chest..
This is either gonna be a lot of fun or the worst mistake I’ve ever made, Rey thinks to herself, as they finish their beers in silence.