From across the shop, behind her counter, she smiled at him again.
It was nauseating; the dazzling quality of her smile, and knowing gleam in her hazel eyes.
Precariously, she adjusted her cap higher on her head, more of her face visible at the new angle.
Glancing around the virtually empty bookstore to the coffeeshop set up on the other side of the room, he checked to make sure no one was looking.
The only patrons in the room were a jittery, stubborn faced man, with piles of notebooks—a student, though older than most—and a woman with bright lilac hair, skimming through a book at a leisurely pace. Regulars who’d keep their heads down with the occasional sneaking glance towards each other. They wouldn’t noticed Ben and his… co-worker .
Ben threw her the middle finger.
She stuck her tongue out.
He rolled his eyes.
Someone entered the store; Ben immediately went back to looking busy, instead of making faces at his co-worker, while the barista went back to scrubbing at nothing on the counter.
A short woman with large glasses perused the books on the shelves, picking out a few on mysticism—a genre Ben insisted Luke excavate and downsize; however his uncle had stronger opinions.
“Ben, we have a good handful of regulars who like the genre—”
The nephew huffed, squinting at the titles lining the second to last shelf. “Yeah, a handful. That is not going to help your finances in the long run.”
“We cater to the regulars and locals, not what’s hip and trendy,” Luke ended the brief argument, handing him another box of inventory to sort.
She placed her purchase on the table, Ben ringing up her items with mild pleasantries. Maz, another regular, watched him with her sharp all-seeing eyes.
“Boy, when will Skywalker bring in the newer editions?”
“They will be here on the fifteenth—like I told you last week,” Ben stated monotonously, putting her new books in a paper bag. “We will contact you when they come in, promise,” he reminded her, passing the bag down to her.
Sniffing slightly at his tone, she turned on her heel and marched straight to the barista on the other side of the store. Though he could not make out what the two women were chatting about, Ben heard the barista release a guffaw, almost a belly laugh, mid-conversation.
She smiled again. While most often annoying, her chatter with patrons distracting and her constant need to make eye contact with him from across the room, her smile seemed to light up even the grayest of days.
With some quick flourish and practiced ease, the girl served Maz her usual herbal tea. When their customer left, the girl made direct eye contact with him, catching Ben staring.
Ben choked a bit on air.
Quickly, she ducked back to cleaning before Ben could come up with a response.
The day continued with its usual drag, locals and regulars coming in for coffee or a book to ease their souls from the weary October weather. The jittery man never introduced himself to the lilac-haired woman, as per usual. Then as by routine, the lilac-haired woman smiled gratefully at both Ben and the barista girl, and called out how she’d see them tomorrow afternoon.
The girl cleaned up her space while Ben locked up and reorganized the disordered books. Barista girl was out the door no less than an hour later, finished with her duties.
From the window, Ben watched her amble down the rainy street, her bright smile fading with every step.
When Ben finished grad school with a degree in 18th Century Literature and Romanticism, he wasn’t too sure what the next step would be.
His options were broad and limited; an odd mix he did not think of when he applied to programs his senior year of undergrad. He could be a professor, though he’d have to be working his way to a doctrine if that were the case. He could write literary criticism; however he had written enough criticism to last a lifetime. He could just author a book, something his advisor suggested based on Ben having his B.A. in Creative Writing.
Yet he was managing and working full time at his uncle’s small town bookstore in the middle of nowhere northwest.
His mother did not know how to process the news.
“We spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on your education, and you’re not going to do anything?” Leia asked, astonished the turn of events.
Ben shrugged, “Luke needs help, and bookstore hasn’t been the same since dad died.”
She remained silent after his rather truthful statement.
Millennium Books & Coffee—the simple and to the point name Luke and Han coined their shop in the eighties—had been a labor of love and friendship. Sitting in the center of town, the bookstore and coffeeshop became a town favorite, many locals and newcomers finding their little slice of peace in the brick building.
Ben spent many days and nights of his childhood at one of the little circular tables on the main floor and worked the register for most of his high school years. Han joked the place would become Ben’s when he was old enough, not expecting Ben to come back home once finishing his degrees.
You’re made for something more than this , his father would state as if it were as true as the time.
A freak accident with slick roads and old tires caused Ben to completely reconsider leaving his hometown to the dust.
A year and a half later, and now Ben was pretty sure he made the somewhat right decision. Millennium Books & Coffee had a basic routine—Ben showed up, unlocked, and inspected for the day. While double checking inventory and marking numbers down, the barista would barrel in thirty minute before opening. With flourished ease, she’d get the drip coffee brewing and start to turn on the machines. They’d open and then slug through the rest of the day, with their regulars coming in for their coffee, or purchasing a new book or a used books.
Throughout the day, Ben would act like he did not see the barista and become annoyed with her, while she tried with every fiber of her being to get him to notice her and wiggle herself under his skin.
The bright barista was already working at the shop before Ben decided to return home. Luke mentioned her name once in passing, though Ben forgot it immediately, his brain fogged with mourning and understanding the unorganized chaos the book portion of the shop happened to be in.
Leave it to Luke to not take inventory or actually cash out the register every night…and to fall behind on taxes.
All Ben knew was the girl had been working the coffee bar for a little over two years and happened to be Han’s favorite employee before his passing. Which wasn’t saying much considering only he and Luke manned the store with the occasional help from Chewie during the holiday season. He also knew her hours were from 7am to 7pm, the only one in working in the little sectioned off area. She was young …younger than he might even believe. However, he wasn’t too sure if she went to school. Not to mention he could not quite place her accent, sounding more British on some days while occasionally speaking with a slower drawl, similar to Northwesterners.
She was odd, yet simple.
He wasn’t too sure about much of her.
“Dear god, look at it pour,” Luke muttered, leaning against the counter beside Ben.
It been raining the last couple of days off and on, but it seemed the big storm the news had been preaching about had come to fruition. Rain pelted against the window violently, the curbs of the road began to flood. The grey clouds hung darkly, dimming the natural light.
Most residents were at home on the Saturday afternoon, only small shops and eateries were open at 11am. As per usual, the barista stood at her counter wiping at nothing, while the lilac-haired woman and the man read silently, sneaking peeks at each other. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Frowning out the window, Luke pushed himself off, and began to head towards the backroom. “I’m going to go get the radio; there might be a flash flood.”
As Luke disappeared behind the door, a loud clap of thunder sounded in the distance. A startled yelp escaped jittery Stubborn Face. His book clattered clumsily to the floor, Lilac-Hair finally looking up from her…copy of Zen and the Art of Happiness .
Ben refrained a grimace at the selection.
From behind the counter, the barista skimmed her phone.
“Parts of town are already flooded,” she muttered, the rest of the room giving her their attention. “Looks like we might be stuck here for a while.”
Just then the dimmed lights then brightened, Ben snapping his head up at the lights. Was the damn power going to go out too? Shaking his head, he charged off to the front door. Quickly, he flipped the sign to closed, and locked up the doors. He noticed other shops along the street following the same pattern.
From behind him, he heard the girl start shutting off the blender and other equipment, muttering about not surging if the power went out. Smart girl , Ben considered. Over his shoulder he peeked over to see her pour the remaining coffee in a large thermos and bring it over to the table between Lilac Hair and Stubborn Face.
“Since it looks like we might be here for a while, feel free to have some of the drip coffee,” she informed the other two, the woman smiling pleasantly at the offer while the man merely forced a smile.
Normally, Ben would object to the handout and complimentary coffee, but since mother nature decided to be a bitch that afternoon he’d let it go. Anyways, Luke was more invested in the coffeeshop aspect than Ben.
“Thank you, Rey,” the woman gleamed, taking up the offer.
He tried not to perk up too much at the mention of the girl’s name— Rey . Like a rey of sunshine; he suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at his own childish connection. Somehow the name fit the beaming and somewhat pleasant barista, better than any convoluted name he often dubbed her in his mind. Her hair was also more of a chestnut and her eyes a wickedly smart hazel, details Ben could never quite account for from the other side of the room.
Sensing him staring, Rey turned around with concern.
Before she could speak, Ben spun back around, embarrassed at being caught. He busied himself with lowering the blinds of the front windows, clearing his throat every two seconds.
When the hell did he become such an awkward teenager? He was twenty-seven for god-sakes; he didn’t need to be a bumbling idiot around a mildly- incredibly -attractive girl. It was stupid—he was stupid .
“Took some digging, but I found the radio!” Luke declared, entering the main shop once more. “It needs some sprucing, but it can work!”
An worn and dinged eighties pocket radio was held under his uncle’s arm while he struggled to open a new pack of AA batteries. The antenna was bent wonky and the plastic faded, Ben recalling the radio once tucked into Luke’s corner of the bookshop counter, fiddling with its wires and whatnot.
Taking the packet from Luke, Ben was able to swiftly tear open the thin cardboard back packaging.
“I could have done it,” Luke defended lightly, but continued with his little project. From the other side of Luke, Rey curiously watched him, biting on her thumbnail. Glancing at the two, Luke grumbled. “Both of you sit down and stop hovering! I got this,” he attempted to reassure with a grin.
Ben found it hard to believe, and apparently Rey agreed by the way she hesitantly sat at the next available seat. She tugged off her apron, crumpling it into a ball and took off her hat. Both were set down on the available seat on her left.
Giving his uncle the benefit of the doubt, Ben sat down beside Stubborn Face. Best to give Luke some space to work.
A flash of lightning shined out in the distance, followed by a shaking clap of thunder. Lights flickered once again, the man beside Ben tensing. Of course, they’d be stuck with someone who’d never experienced the flash floods.
Wincing as she observed the faces, Rey smiled tightly at the other occupants. She did not seem too thrilled about the turn of events either. “Um, since it seems like we might be here for a while, maybe we should all get to know one another?”
“Oo,” Luke agreed, “We can make it a little game, where you state a truth and a fact about yourself!”
Ben’s eyebrow knitted together, lips quirking at the excited suggestion. “That’s a drinking game Uncle; ‘Two Truths and a Lie’.”
Luke shook his head good naturedly, “Not at the church camps,” he countered.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Rey encouraged, “I mean, there isn’t much else to do except…” she waved to the stacks and shelves filled with books. “Well, reading, and I think we all might read quite a bit here.”
A sound of muttered agreements followed the small group. Lilac Hair’s eyes blinked widely, suddenly awake at the prospect of interacting with others…or maybe just interacting with Stubborn Face. Ben was sure the woman had been setting her sights on the man for the last couple of months, just never finding the nerve or reason to talk to him.
Leaning back, Ben crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for Rey to make her own introductions.
“I’m Rey Johnson,” she grinned lightly, “I was born in Westminster, I have a dog, and my favorite author is Agatha Christie.”
“I’m going to take a guess and say you don’t have a dog?” Stubborn Face tried first, his defeated and tried voice telling everyone exactly how he felt about their little sharing circle.
“Nope, I do have a dog. His name is Watson and he’s a rescue,” her face brightened at the mention of her dog, her love for her pet shining brightly.
Ben frowned thinking for a moment, before answering. “Your favorite author isn’t Agatha Christie.”
Her eyebrows flew up, surprised at the observation. “Oh, really?” She mirrored his stance, arms crossed. “Who is my favorite author?”
“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” Ben spoke simply, “Your dog’s name is Watson , and I am pretty sure I have seen you read A Study in Scarlet several times in the last month, let alone who knows how many times this year.” A battered, dog eared copy of A Study in Scarlet she’d read during down times in the shop and wasn’t interested in making faces at him. He assumed it must have been an older edition in the fraying, sixties aged binding were anything to go by. The other stories cycled in and out of her routine, however A Study in Scarlet always found its way to be her constant companion.
A part of him desired to strike up a conversation about Sherlock Holmes with her, but lost the will and ability to speak whenever she came in less than ten feet of distance.
A flush brushed her freckled cheekbones, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re right . Conan Doyle is my favorite. I, uh, didn’t know you paid attention—you always seem so busy—”
“He’s not, it’s all a façade,” Luke interrupted as he set the radio down. The device popped and crackled a moment before faint radio chatter came through the speakers. “Ben’s mostly just sitting around, reading some Jane Austen —”
“I read more than Jane Austen,” Ben interjected quickly at the pikes of interest from Stubborn Face and Lilac Hair, suddenly embarrassed at how casually Luke threw about the phrase. Apparently, a Master’s degree on the subject meant little to his uncle. Using the attention as a segway, Ben sat up. “I’m Ben Solo,” he waved awkwardly, expecting everyone to answer back ‘Hi, Ben’ like an AA meeting. They didn’t. He huffed, unable to think of truths and lies, and wishing he had more than coffee to drink. “I uh, have my Master’s in 18th Century Literature and Romanticism, I like tea, and my favorite music is classical.”
The three others seemed stumped, Ben feeling ridiculously triumphant for duping them. A sliver of him hoped Rey would answer right, but knew she would not know the right answer. She opened her mouth a few times, before shaking her head resolute. Rey did not have an inkling. Meanwhile, Stubborn Face appeared completely disinterested, switching off between staring at Lilac Hair and his closed textbook.
Lilac Hair’s face pinched, “You do have a Master’s in 18 th Century Literature and Romanticism; your mother brags about it at city hall.” Ben became stunned for a moment, not knowing a regular was familiar with his mother in a work capacity. “You don’t like tea, but you do like classical music.”
“Correct,” Ben nodded once, “I loathe tea; it’s leaf water and that’s all I can say on that matter.”
“But you like classical music?” Rey asked, chin resting in her palm, fascinated…Fascinated by him of all people. “You seem like a punk rock guy to me—or at least melancholy, sadness type sounds.”
His nose scrunched, Ben stared her down, “Do you think I am a sad human being?”
“I think you have….such qualities and your being does not support otherwise,” Rey claimed acutely, ending the mild disagreement with a subtle twitch of the lips.
She was teasing him.
Or maybe she was flirting with him.
He wasn’t quite sure, but he’d take both options.
“I see,” he stated. And then shut his mouth; he had something witty and charming on the tip of his tongue, but it somehow upped and disappeared when he noticed Rey slyly flutter her eyelashes at him.
Static came from the radio; Luke cursed quietly.
“Just use your phone, Uncle,” Ben implored, rubbing at his eyes. “It will save you time.”
Luke waved him off, “You always need a working radio in these situations, Ben.”
“It says the storm’s going to last a couple of hours,” Rey announced, swiping through her phone. A blue glow cast over her features, highlighting the shadows and marks of sleepless night under her eyes. She shut off the screen, looking back up at Luke. “You don’t need to fuss with that.”
Head snapped back and forth between the two, “What will you do when your phone has died and the power is out, hmm ?”
“We can turn on the generator.”
“Turn on the generator.”
Rey and Ben found themselves chorusing back, their words overlapping seconds apart. They shared a glance, Ben feeling his ears burn, and fought off a smile.
Luke harrumphed, tucking the radio back under his arm. “I liked it better when you two didn’t team up on me and stayed in your own corners.”
The older man sat down, shut off his radio, and served himself a cup of coffee. Another rumble of thunder thrashed overhead, Luke rolling his eyes, “Damn pacific northwest.”
“I’m Poe Dameron,” Stubborn Face decided to announce, plastering on a well-practiced grin. Charming if one were to glance; annoying and fake if within a five feet radius.
Which they all were.
Understandably so, Ben found himself not liking the man once he opened his mouth. A common occurrence for Ben once anyone opened their mouth and their personality decided to come fully shining through. A shitty personality, or an overbearing personality, or simply a personality he wasn’t quite fond of at the time. Like Poe’s.
The only person who did not fall into the criteria was the girl. Rey seemed to be the exception to this rule.
“I was in the Air Force, my mother is Guatemalan, and I am studying Philosophy.”
Okay…Ben had to hand it to him—Poe was damn good at his game, his poker face unbreakable or failing. But Ben was better .
“You’re not studying Philosophy,” Rey guessed confidently, beating Ben to the punch. “You’ve been studying the Byzantine Empire for the last couple of weeks—you’re studying History.”
“Technically, Political Thought, but sure I’ll take ‘history’,” Poe shrugged, completely missing Rey’s annoyed eye roll.
Ben stifled his snort into his fist. Rey’s eyes gleamed mischievously to him across the way. As though begging him to agree with her through her tell-all eyes. Slightly, Ben nodded, tilting his head to the side.
“I thought you guys would have gone for the Air Force one?” Poe eyed the surrounding group curiously.
Ben frowned, toeing Poe’s bag laying haphazardly on the floor, “You have a standard issue Air Force pack— not that hard .”
Before anymore remarks could be made, Lilac Hair cleared her throat, “I’m Amilyn Holdo, I—”
Thunder bombed above them repeatedly, the rain suddenly pouring down harder becoming a symphony of it own on the roof tops.
Beside him, Poe’s face crumpled, while Rey gazed up in wonder. Luke and Amilyn, on the other hand, who were lifelong residents, were not amused.
“Honestly, it’s not going to get—”
Luke’s next thought remained unfinished as the power surged out, the group cascaded in dim darkness.
“You just had to open your mouth, didn’t you Uncle ?”
What appeared to be an average, everyday storm became worse as the day proceeded. Occasional thunder continued to startle Poe, and Amilyn started to get some cabin fever. Without missing her beat and pattern, she began pacing the room and bookshelves. Not to mention, Luke became adamant about fixing his radio and only turning the generator on once it became an absolute emergency. A flash flood was apparently not Luke’s standards of an ‘emergency’.
As the only one with common sense in the blasted shop, Ben went to find the first aid kit and flashlights in the back room.
Well, he thought he’d been the only one with common sense.
“I think the flashlights might be in the desk drawer,” a gentle nudging voice chimed behind him.
“Shit,” Ben breathed, holding his chest. “You scared the crap out of me. I thought I was back here alone.”
Rey stared up at him apologetically, lips worried between her teeth. “I wanted to help,” she explained, “since everyone out there is kind of…”
“Losing it?” Ben supplied.
She nodded greatly, crossing then uncrossing her arms over her chest. “Yeah, and I don’t think I can listen to the static from Luke’s radio anymore,” she shook her shoulders, uncomfortable by the sound.
“Don’t blame you,” Ben said, using the light on his cell phone to illuminate their path, “Luke can be…very grumpy and Lukeish .”
The two shuffled around the room, pulling out different unlabeled boxes. None of them housed anything they actually needed; old catalogs, cords and wires, receipt tape.
“He wasn’t always that grumpy,” Ben admitted, “I think he changed when my da— Han passed away.”
“He did,” Rey spoke up clearly, “But I think we all did—at least I am assuming with you, since I didn’t—don’t really know you.”
She winced at her wording; Ben decided it best to save her from embarrassment.
“I can accept that,” Ben shrugged, pulling out another box from the top shelf. He set it down on the desk. “Hell, this is the first time I’ve ever really spoke to you so…” Reaching up, he scratched behind his neck. Was the room getting warmer? It felt like the room was getting warmer the longer she stared at him as though he were the greatest mystery to mankind.
He really wasn’t. Han would chuckle and say ‘ Ben’s just doesn’t know how to be personable. It’s nothing serious .’ Or maybe more along the lines of ‘ Don’t worry, that’s just his face, he is not going to plot world destruction’ .
Rey chuckled, lifting the lid off the box, “Why don’t you talk to me?” she questioned bluntly, holding the lid to her chest. “We’ve worked in the same little shop for about a year…and hardly ever a word.”
“I—” All air left his lungs as she continued to blink up at him in the dark room. His cell phone flashlight was dimming the longer he left it on, no doubt the battery dying. “I—uh, we talk. I know for a fact we talk.”
“‘Hello’ and ‘goodbye’ do not count,” she remarked immediately, as though anticipating his next move, “And making faces at me is not a conversation.”
“I like to think our nonverbal communication is some of the most riveting conversation I’ve ever had,” Ben informed her, a cheeky grin forming on his lips.
She gaped for a moment, before shaking her head. The three little buns lining her scalp bounced floppily, but added a certain charm that continued to fill the silhouette of the girl his thoughts often lingered on. “I can wholeheartedly say the same,” she pursed her lips, “However, I know you have a big, stuffy brain and an intelligent and crude sense of humor.” She snorted a bit, her nose scrunching adorably as she twisted about on the spot. Nervous energy waved out of her steadily, somehow calming his own turbulent anxiety around her. “But it would be a nice change of pace, if you’d speak to me…maybe even grab something to eat and—”
“Yes,” Ben breathed, “I would…I would like all that .”
“Oh,” she nodded, gravitating relief echoing in her eyes. “Uh, great…because I was really starting to wonder what the hell I’d have to do to get your attention.”
“You always have my attention,” he inwardly cringed, yet his mouth kept yapping, “It’s less lonely here whenever I see you.”
Her lips did their little twitch, before a bright, soft smile graced her lips.
It was sweet felicity; the dazzling quality of her smile, and knowing gleam in her hazel eyes.