Rey watches as Finn wades through the bar; he reminds her of a cross between Atlas, holding up the weight of the sky, and a malnourished zombie who’d just failed to catch his meal. When he finally reaches the stool next to her own, Finn melts onto the worn wooden counter of the Resistance. His hand waves lazily, gesturing vaguely. Poe catches his eye, then nods and winks. Rey shakes her head and rolls her eyes. One day those boys will realize the truth. Meanwhile, she takes a sip of her riesling and then turns to Finn.
“I give up.”
“Just this family I’m working with… Especially their demon of a son…”
“Teenage tantrums?” Rey teases. She takes another sip and nods a greeting to Poe as he sidles up to them. Poe smirks and points to Finn. She shrugs. Poe nods and dances to the tap. Pressing down, he fills a glass with amber beer and sashays back to Finn. Wordlessly, Finn grasps the glass, gulps down half of its contents, wipes his mouth, and bangs his head on the counter. Rose hovers by Finn’s elbow with concern shining in her eyes and a menu clutched to her chest. Staring at the three, Rey bites back a laugh.
“Hah, he’s technically no longer a teenanger. Look, I can’t give details… But..” Finn shudders dramatically, then continues, “But I think I’ll have to just give up. I just don’t know any counselor I can recommend to them… I don’t hate anyone enough to do that. They’re like this terrible hybrid of medieval royal family and a telenovela… All secret twins, incestuous explorations, and I’ll-slap-you-then-make-out-with-you romance… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Finn rants with his cheek squished against the counter.
Poe gently pats him on the shoulder. Finn finally pushes himself up and leans back on his stool. Rey takes another sip of her drink. Then curiosity and liquid courage spur her forward.
“I could take them off your hands, if you’d like?”
“Really?” Finn’s eyes light up like a young child celebrating Christmas in some Hallmark channel movie. Rey wonders idly if children really look that excited during the holiday, or if it’s just Hallmark magic again. She bites back the acrid disappointment and forces a smile.
“Sure, I like a challenge.”
Whistling, she turns to walk down the supermarket aisle. She glances at the sign, double-checking that it has pasta, then pushes her cart forward. The wheel, a finicky thing, twists and she skids to the right and smashes into something solid. Rey hears a spitfire swear and glances up at the hulking mass of a man whose bent over his foot with a stormy scowl and fire flaring in his eyes. Eyes widening in horror, Rey rushes forward.
“I’m so sorry! Are you alright?” she asks, already reaching out to offer aid.
“Watch where you’re fucking going,” he growls.
He glares at her and swats her hand away. His ebony eyes sear her. A witch’s brew of emotions bubble in her stomach. Rey’s jaw snaps shut and she glares back. She’s kept her fury on a tight leash for the entirety of the day. She hasn’t snapped at the abusive foster parents who push their unruly foster children into her hands. She hasn’t growled at the indifferent and threadbare rag-tag assortment of social workers who meekly shrug and nod before wordlessly passing their charges to her and ducking out the door. She’s exorcised her ghosts with sheer tenacity, but each time she notes a bruise jutting out from the bottom of a kid’s shirt or she sees a child flinch when she leans towards them, Rey’s vanquished ghosts revive and loom over her shoulder. Now, after a day of holding back her snarls and swears, she feels weary and the glint in this giant’s eyes pushes her over the edge. The leash snaps.
“Look, I’m just trying to be nice. It was obviously an accident. Don’t be a dick about it,” she spits.
“Accident? You practically fucking plowed into me.” He leans forward with his teeth bared and his eyes knife-sharp; it reminds Rey of a predator about to strike. Rey meets his gaze, tilts her chin, and takes an appraising glance: bruised knuckles, a hint of a faded tattoo, a slight bump on the top of his aquiline nose, a scar that stretches from his forehead to his collarbone, a tailored suit, and ink-stained fingers. Rey smirks.
Then she does her damn job.
“You are incapable of processing your own complex emotions due to a strained, or possibly non-existent, relationship with your parents. Your mother wasn’t particularly nurturing and your father proved uncommunicative and absent-minded. In fact, I’d bet that both of your parents were workaholics, right? Which is why you got that tattoo as a teenager. You probably went to a sketchy place with a shit fake ID and just got something you felt was badass out of the desperate hope that either of your parents would notice and care. Of course, neither did, yeah?” She pauses to give him time to process. His jaw tightens and he reaches absently towards his tattoo.
Bingo, she smirks. Never mess with a psychologist.
"So here you are, late-twenties or early thirties, emotionally stunted and either picking fights at bars or punching walls. You have a high-stress job that lets you vent, but it’s not enough. Probably something that lets you scream and argue. Maybe a prosecutor? Or a defender? Your boss probably encourages your fury. Sick bastard. Anyway, you probably hero-worship one or both of your grandparents and are convinced that if you’d just lived with them, you’d be happier. Fact check, you wouldn’t be… Since obviously this cycle of emotional abuse is multi-generational. Oh, and you should seriously consider seeing someone about your anger management problem. It’s tough to hold onto a job when you’re lashing out like a teenager. Your current boss is probably a sick fuck who likes threatening people with his rabid dog of an employee, but most employers won’t hire someone like you. So fix your act or keep being manipulated and used.” Rey stands with her hip cocked and one hand resting on it sassily. She raises a brow and smirks.
He tenses and juts his shoulders back. One hand forms a fist at his side, and Rey notes how his shoulders brace against the tight fabric of his tailored black suit. She squints up at him and widens her stance. Then he blinks and an emotion she cannot decipher flashes in his eyes. Rey stands rooted to the spot, transfixed.
He leans towards her. She bristles and her hands tighten into fists. His gaze gains a magnetic quality, and she cannot pull herself away. He swallows. His Adam’s apple bobs. Rey waits with bated breath. Then, he blinks, and she remembers how to breathe again. He shakes his head, like a damp dog drying off, and stumbles away. Rey’s eyes follow him as he rushes down the aisle with an empty, steel-mesh basket.
Ben turns the corner, forcing himself to stay upright. His heart stutters and his legs feel like taffy. He leans against the display of chips, and a metallic shelf digs into his lower back. His mind keeps flickering to the girl’s hazel eyes and how they practically shimmered like gold while she dissected him with a smile. It sends a shiver down his spine and tugs a smile across his face. He wipes his face and runs a hand through his hair.
Glancing down at his empty basket, he sighs. He twists and sneaks a peek down the aisle. She’s standing there, comparing two different packets of pasta. Ben whirls around. An electric jolt buzzes through his brain. His face feels warm, and he can’t quite remember how to breathe. Ben sighs, banging his head against a metal shelf, and then biting back a swear.
Rubbing the back of his throbbing head, he brainstorms his options: he could go back and ask for her number, but then he’d probably seem like a freak; he could “accidentally” bump into her in another part of the store, apologize, and offer to make it up for her, but if she spots him trailing along after her, then he’ll seem like a stalker; he could just leave, but then he may never see her again.
Anxiety squeezes his heart, so he stands there with a metal shelf digging into his lower back, taking deep breaths and trying to decide how to proceed. His mind keeps flickering between each frantic half-assed option, but the list of cons keeps outweighing the potential pros, so his vision keeps lighting up with glaring crimson X’s. Ben sighs, tugs at his hair, and shakes his head.
Eventually, the outside world trickles into his perception and he notices the murmurs and odd looks passerby keep giving him. His face feels feverish. He snarls and glares at a young couple who move across the aisle to avoid him. Then, he pulls himself up, and slinks away from her aisle. Ben glances at his basket, but he can’t seem to recall why he even came here in the first place. Absently, he walks out of the grocery store with the empty basket loosely held in his right hand. A store clerk races out, pointing to the basket and muttering something that Ben can’t quite catch. Blushing, Ben hands him back the basket and glances at the sign: Takodana’s Supermarket. He nods to himself, and a birdbrained scheme that’s about as well thought out as the outline of some desperate, procrastinating undergrad’s caffeine fueled essay starts to form.