“I just don’t know how I managed to raise a son who doesn’t know the difference between a lug nut and a wheel bolt.”
Ben Solo sank lower in his chair, clenching his fists and slowly breathing in and out while his father continued to berate him in front of the entire board of Solo Tire and Lube Inc. The board members chuckled and Han Solo carried on with his rant.
“I mean, it’s not like I didn’t try you know. Tried to get the kid out in my garage with me on Saturday mornings, working on my old Falcon, but he would always rather be holed up in his downstairs dungeon, doing who knows what on his computer and reading comic books. Then I don’t think he ever stepped foot out of his dorm room in college. Hell, I don’t think the kid even got laid until well into his 20s…”
“All right, all right,” piped in Chewie, Han’s longtime colleague and best friend, cutting him off, holding up a large hand and fighting a tiny smile.
Ben looked in Chewie’s direction and accidentally caught the eye of his young assistant seated beside him. She gave him a sympathetic grin, and he felt his neck flush an even darker color than it was before. He ducked his head and clenched his jaw, staying silent even as the anger filled every part of him and threatened to rise and spill over. Breathe in, breathe out. He knew he couldn’t afford an outburst. The board was already wary of him, his past, and his nepotistic hiring.
After the incident at First Order Corp, Ben couldn’t find a single financial company willing to take a chance on him, despite his impressive resume. So, after seven years of barely speaking to his parents, he drove home with his tail between his legs and begged for help. That was how he ended up in this conference room working for the company he had built his entire career on trying to avoid.
Not that Solo Tire and Lube was anything to scoff at. The well-known race car driver Han Solo had built a successful garage using his fame early in his career and the company really took off when his then-fiance’s father made a sizable investment in its growth. Now the company spanned thirty states with over 500 locations. When Ben was a child, Han used to sweep him up and tell him how someday they would work together and he’d eventually leave the company to his son. Once Ben hit adolescence, though, Han became more distant and it became clear to Ben that he wasn’t the type of son Han had hoped to have. He much preferred talking politics with his mother, or reading quietly in his room. By the time he left for Harvard, he told his father he wanted nothing to do with Solo Tire and planned to major in whatever would help him find a job doing anything else.
When he had returned home a few months earlier, Han gruffly patted him on the back and told him he’d find a role for him in the company. His mom whispered to him later how thrilled he had made Han and that one of the reasons he had never gone public was he was always hoping Ben would return someday and join him at work.
But it was clear that Han was determined to put Ben through the ringer first.
Han laughed off Chewie’s intervention and folded his arms, leaning over the conference table.
“Fine, fine, so anyway, it’s probably best that old Benny learn a few things about cars before we continue to entrust him with any grand roles in this company. Any thoughts?” He looked around the large table at his associates.
Alvin Ackbar, the company’s COO, lifted a hand.
“Seems to me that Ben just needs exposure to the workings of a garage. I mean, your previous employer dealt with…” He pointed at Ben, looking for an answer.
Ben cleared his throat, surprised anyone was letting him get a word in.
“Um, stocks and bonds.”
“Stocks and bonds.” Ackbar leaned back and rolled his eyes. “No wonder the kid knows nothing about what we do.”
At this, Ben felt a little defensive. He had been working directly under Ackbar for two months and felt like his contributions to the everyday business dealings of Solo Tire were worthwhile. He was even starting to develop an investment initiative to bring Solo overseas. He may not have known how to change a tire without calling AAA, but he had an MBA and years of business experience.
“You’re right,” said Han. He paused, thinking for a long moment, and then turned to look directly at his son. “Hey Ben, you ever seen that show Undercover Boss?”
Ben had a bad feeling about this.
That evening, Ben stormed into his parents’ home, nearly knocking over their butler Threeprio.
“Dad! DAD!” he yelled into the entryway. He stomped into the kitchen where he saw both of his parents hovering over the island, snacking on some pita chips and hummus.
His mother glanced up with a wary expression but his dad gave him a crooked smile and bit of a head nod. It made Ben even more furious.
“What the hell was that today in the boardroom?” he thundered. “I thought you wanted me here. All these years, ‘Ben, when are you going to come work for me,’ or ‘Ben, there’s always a place for you at Solo Tire,’ and the second I accept, BOOM! Thrown under the bus by my own father!”
“I’m only doing this because I want you to last here. It’s for your own good. It’s done, Ben,” said his father calmly. “We’ve already made the arrangements. You’ll begin work on Monday as an entry-level mechanic at one of our locations in Coruscant Hills.”
“Do people there even own cars? Can they even afford a mechanic? I bet Mitaka won’t even drive me there!”
“Don’t be a snob, Ben,” said Han, rolling his eyes. “It’s a well-regarded garage. I had Chewie look into it. Plus, they were the only franchise in the area with an immediate opening that they were willing to fill with a novice. You’ll be incognito. I told them your name was Kylo Ren.”
Of-freaking-course. Ben wanted to punch the smug smirk clean off his dad’s face. He even saw his mom crack a smile before wiping it off.
“What?” Han said in mock defense in response to Ben’s expression. “I’m not the one who came up with the name.”
“Dad I was THIRTEEN YEARS OLD!”
He took a threatening step closer before his mom stepped between him and his dad, holding out both of her hands.
“That’s enough you two,” she said in her best politician voice. “Ben, your dad had to placate the board somehow, and the experience should do you well in the long run. Just try to have a good experience. And Han, please stop antagonizing our son.”
Han stepped back.
“Look, kid. It’ll do you some good and build goodwill with everyone in the company, not just the board. Besides, we’re leaving your compensation package as it is and keeping your seat warm in the boardroom. It’s not like I’m asking you to move there. It’s only six months of good, honest, 9-5 work. You’ll learn a thing or two, and perhaps help us better understand the inner workings of the company when you return. Just think of it as a bit of corporate research.”
“But why does it have to be undercover anyway?” Ben felt himself start to whine. He knew how pathetic he was going to seem on his first day, and wouldn’t mind everyone knowing the circumstances of his ignorance.
“That was my doing. It’d be best if the employees acted like they would normally without feeling the pressure of the owner’s son there. Also, it wouldn’t hurt you to get knocked down a few pegs, experience some hard work. This is my company, Ben, and my rules. I hope someday it will be yours, but for now, I’m in charge. I never had a fancy trust fund to fall back on when I was young…”
This again. Ben held up in hand in supplication before he was given his dad’s full speech on being a self-made man (and carefully avoided a screaming match when he reminded his dad how his father-in-law had given him a leg up).
“All right, all right, I’ll do it. Six months. Not a day more.”
Monday morning came before Ben was ready. Mitaka pulled up to his apartment complex at 7:20 sharp to begin their voyage to the borough of Coruscant Hills. Ben slid into the backseat and took the coffee Mitaka handed to him like a lifeline after his long and restless night. He remembered getting teased in school for his ears and overall awkwardness and had enjoyed the past few years where he commanded respect from everyone he associated with. He was not looking forward to spending his day looking like a complete idiot.
As they drove off, Mitaka looked into the rearview mirror.
“There’s a package here your dad asked me to give you this morning.”
He handed back a small box. Ben opened it warily. Inside was a hideous blonde wig and coke bottle glasses that should never have left the seventies. He tossed them to the side angrily and pulled out his phone.
Very funny, Dad. I am not wearing those.
A few minutes later his phone chirped.
Would you have preferred I send you a Kylo Ren mask and cape?
Ben chucked his phone at the seat in front of you before he grabbed it back up, carefully checking it over for cracks.
No one is going to know who I am. I’ve only been with the company two months. I’m not wearing any disguise.
Ben saw the three little dots appearing but he locked his phone and put it in his pocket to avoid seeing his father’s response. He watched out the window as the streets got a bit grimier, and the shiny skyscrapers morphed into signs for shady dealerships and payday loan establishments. They finally pulled in front of a clean enough looking Solo Tire and Lube storefront and garage.
He sighed, and leaned forward.
“Mitaka, I get off at five. Don’t be late.”
He climbed out and knocked on the locked front door.
“Oy!” Ben heard a voice call from one of the open garage bays. “Are you the new guy? Come on back here. We don’t unlock the front door until we open.”
Ben followed the voice to the open garage door and walked in. There were a couple mechanics setting up and organizing tools. He was able to match the voice he had heard to the black man waving him over in a friendly manner.
“Hey mate,” said the man once Ben had approached. “My name’s Finn. Welcome aboard. I’m sorry but remind me of your name? It was one I hadn’t heard before.”
Ben took his offered hand and shook it.
“It’s, um, Ren. Kylo Ren. Just call me Ren.”
“Ren. Got it man. K, well, Ren, we’ve got a lot of appointments scheduled this morning for routine maintenance, but with a holiday weekend coming, we tend to have a lot of drop ins getting their car into shape before their road trips. We’ll be pretty swamped back here so it’d be great if you could man the front any time you hear a customer come in.”
Ben was immediately relieved.
“Yeah, yeah, okay I can do that.”
“Plutt, the owner, sometimes does intake, but honestly, the less he’s in front of customers, the better.” Finn gave Ben a dark look. “Plus, Plutt owns three other locations in the area and is always in and out of his office anyway. He usually just sits back there and does financials, and trust me, none of us complain about that.”
Ben could only nod along. Outgoing people like Finn always made him a bit uncomfortable. He would never have their easy manner with strangers.
“Well speaking of, you should probably head into Plutt’s office now. He’ll set you up with your paperwork and uniform.”
Finn pointed Ben in the direction of a door that lead right into the storefront. Ben walked in and found Plutt’s office. He knocked and was acknowledged by the grunt of a very large, older man.
“Hi, I’m Kylo Ren. This is my first day…”
“Ah yes, I already got your paperwork in from corporate. They pushed you through. Must be related to some bigwig, eh?”
“Look, I don’t care who you are as long as you get your work done and don’t cause me trouble. Now take your uniform and leave me alone. My guys can tell you what to do.”
He tossed a jumpsuit in Ben’s direction and turned right back to his computer. Ben, grateful for the quick interaction, slinked out the door and went back to find Finn again. As Finn had predicted, the garage had a constant slew of customers and Ben kept busy acting as liaison between the garage and the storefront. So far, he was lucky enough to avoid exposing any of his actual automotive ignorance. A little before lunch, a man came into the store and Ben greeted him just as Finn had told him.
“Welcome to Solo Tire. What can we help you with today?”
“I don’t really know,” said the man. “Something’s up with my truck. A friend told me to come here and ask for Ray.”
Ben hadn’t met a Ray yet, but he also hadn’t spent a lot of time in the bay.
“K sir, let me see what I can do.” He left him to walk back and find Finn.
“Hey, Finn, um, some guy showed up asking for a Ray?”
“That happens all the time. You’d think none of the rest of us even work here.” He turned and hollered into the lot behind the garage. “Hey! Ray! C’mere!”
Ben was startled when a young woman came into sight, wiping her hands off on a rag.
“What’s up?” she asked, not even looking in Ben’s direction.
“Hey, do you have a minute? Someone up front is asking for you. Ren here will show you who.”
Finn tilted his head towards Ben, and the woman’s eyes noticed Ben for the first time. Ben felt himself gulp involuntarily and he shifted his feet slightly. He looked down at her nametag and flicked his eyes right back up, aware that she could misconstrue his looking at her chest.
“You must be new. I’m Rey. Welcome to Solo.”
Her British accent threw him off even more. She stuck out her hand and offered him a bright smile. Ben stuttered for just a minute before he remembered himself and took her offered hand.
“Yeah, um, thanks. I’ll show you inside.”
Ben spun on his heels to avoid showing Rey and Finn any more of his beet red features. He had been caught totally unaware that there was a woman working here, much less a pretty one. His mother would definitely lecture him on assuming that mechanics were only men, but here they were. As he strutted quickly back inside, he chanced a glance behind him and saw the woman following right behind. When they got to the desk, Ben gestured awkwardly at the waiting man and ducked to the side.
That afternoon, the moment came that Ben had been dreading. The bay got so overwhelmed with cars that one of the mechanics came and grabbed Ben to do a few “simple tire rotations and oil changes, no big deal, you can handle that right?” Ben silently cursed his father, the board, and the entire automobile industry before stiffly following the mechanic out into the bay. He had spent some time watching Youtube tutorials over the weekend and felt like he understood basic mechanics from a textbook perspective. However, looking at the car in front of him, he felt like David facing Goliath.
His hands shook as he popped the hood and peered at the intimidating array of gadgets within. He looked around nervously but everyone was either underneath a vehicle or busy under a hood. Picking up a wrench, he made a move back towards the car. Suddenly, he felt a warm hand grasp his wrist gently and carefully nudge the wrench from his grasp. He looked down to see a pair of bright hazel eyes smiling back up at him.
“Let me help you out. Forgive me, but it seems like you’re not quite sure what you’re doing.”
“Yeah, I, uh, just changed industries. I’m new to all this.”
Rey nodded understandingly and smiled, and her nose crinkled up in this process. Ben noticed the array of tiny freckles sprinkling her nose and cheeks. Her messy bun bounced a little, and her hand dropped from Ben’s wrist. He wanted to grab it back.
“Don’t you have your own work to be doing?” He spoke softly, and his eyes darted to the side.
“I’ve got a couple cars whose owners have left them for the night. I’ll stay late or come early tomorrow and finish them up. In the end, it will benefit us much more if you know what you’re doing.”
Ben nodded slowly, still in a bit of shock. She immediately got to work, explaining everything she was doing as she did it. He tried as hard as he could to focus on her words and instructions, and not just the soothing sound of her voice or the curve of her hips in the silly jumpsuit. He was painfully aware of how he looked in his, far too tall with his ankles peeking out like when he went through his growth spurt in middle school.
By the end of the hour, he had successfully changed two tires and was starting to get the knack of an oil change. Rey acted like he was a genius in the making and encouraged him every step of the way. After he started picking up some basic skills, she began making light conversation.
“So Ren, do you live near here?”
“Um, yeah…” Ren scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. “I’m new to the area, so I’m just trying to figure it all out.”
“Got it. It takes a while for sure. Obviously I’m not from here either. I moved here when I was thirteen, but I’m a pro at the bus routes now, if you need any help with that. Finn said you had a friend or Uber drop you off this morning. I don’t know if they’re picking you up again when we’re done, but I catch the 520 headed east after this if you’re going in that direction.”
“Yeah, I think that would take me home too. Thanks, Rey. That’d be great.”
She grinned back at him and reached back down to grab another tool. Quickly, Ben grabbed his phone and shot a text to Mitaka.
Taking the bus after work. Will send a pin with my location when I decide to get off.