Rey unlocked her phone and noticed she’d missed five calls from Rose. She really couldn’t fathom what possibly could be so urgent, as they’d had brunch together this morning, and Rose knew Rey had work to do in the afternoon. Her thumb hovered over the display and she contemplated whether she should call back now or later, after she’d had something to eat, when the screen lit up with another incoming call from her friend.
“Hey girl, what’s up?” she said questioningly, and maybe a tad impatient.
“Rey, you have to help me. You’re literally my only hope.” Rose sounded desperate.
“You remember the charity auction Finn and I are in charge of organizing? Of course you do. You contributed those beautiful necklaces. But do you remember the date auction part of it?”
“Yes –,” Rey answered warily.
“I need you to you fill in for Paige. She can’t make it that day.”
“No way. Rose, you know I’d do nearly everything for you, but not that!”
“It’s crazy, Rose!”
“Of course it is! But it’s also exciting! And it’s for charity! It’s such a great opportunity to raise money for children.”
“Yes, I know, but who would bid for me anyway? I’ve read whom you have on your list, and I’m going to look like a fool standing on stage next to Bazine Netal, Jess Pava or Kaydel Connix. I mean, those are IT girls, Instagram stars, a model and an actress. Prices for them will go through the roof. And then there would be boring old me, and people would just think ‘Who the hell is she?’ and I would be lucky to even get a bid for the opening price, and –”
“Rey, please. I can’t think of anyone else who would be able to fill in on such a short notice.” Rose whined. “You are perfect for that auction. Why do you even think nobody would bid on you? And -”
“Do you even know me?” Rey asked jokingly, but Rose continued as if she hadn’t said a word.
“– besides, it’s a silent auction. So no awkwardly standing around on stage while the MC tries to raise the bids.”
“I have nothing to wear!” Rey threw in what she thought was her trump card.
“Oh, that’s no problem. Paige will lend you one of her dresses. The one I have in mind even matches the necklace you were working on last week. It would be a perfect opportunity to self-advertise.”
“Rey, think about the children! About how much good could be done with the money you are going to raise.”
“You’re evil, Rose!”
“Is that a yes?”
“No, it’s a I’ll think about it.”
“Finn, she said she’ll do it!” Rey heard Rose shout, before the connection went dead.
Of course Finn and Rose managed to wear her down. In the end Rey agreed to participate in the charity auction, just so they would finally shut up and she could continue to work on her latest line of jewelry in peace. Whenever she questioned the wisdom of this decision, she consoled herself that it at least was for a good cause. She was going to help raise money for underprivileged children; money, which would make many a kid’s upbringing so much safer and easier than her own had been.
That is how Rey found herself on stage, wearing a beautiful borrowed dress in a shade of green that really let her eyes shine, standing in a line with the other bachelors and bachelorettes who had volunteered to be part of the charity auction. Blinded by the spotlights illuminating the stage, she listened as the MC – Poe Dameron, Rose’s and Finn’s very charming work colleague – presented the participants. As if Bazine Netal, a self-proclaimed Instagram influencer and IT girl; or Kaydel Connix, lingerie model and party girl with a cult-like Instagram and Facebook following; or Jess Pava, the very attractive actress at Coruscant’s theatre, who currently made headlines with her performance as Ophelia, even needed to be introduced.
“And now ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you a real ladies’ man, heck a man’s man, the man about town, the one and only - Ben Solo,” Rey heard Poe announce.
Rey had tried not to think about the fact that he would be here as well. Ben Solo, son of car race legend Han Solo and former mayor Leia Organa. Not to forget he was the nephew of Luke Skywalker, who incidentally was Rose’s and Finn’s boss and ran the event planning company responsible for organizing this charity auction, and most likely the reason why Solo had even agreed to participate in the auction. Ben Solo, who was a known hedonist and playboy, who frequently spiced up society columns with his many and ever-changing affairs and managed to be one of the most successful lawyers in Coruscant. Ben Solo, who starred in Rey’s daydreams on a regular basis – not that she ever would admit to it. Ben Solo, who was perhaps the most beautiful man Rey had ever laid eyes upon, if a man should be called beautiful. Standing at 6’3” he easily towered over most people in attendance. Not only did his height draw everyone’s looks, but also his broad, muscular frame, emphasized by the form-fitting shirt he wore, his long dark locks and his very interesting face. Strictly speaking his features were a bit off. His face was a tad too long, lips too plush to be called manly, but in combination with a rather aquiline nose, wonderful expressive brown eyes and the beauty marks dotting his skin, his face could only be called handsome. Even when he was sporting a goatee, like today, it didn’t make him look ridiculously hipster-like, but it only enhanced his appeal. Rey had met him once, nearly 10 years ago, when he accompanied his mother, the mayor, on a visitation of the group home she had been living at. Back then he had not yet grown into his features and had worn his hair short, which had his ears stick out in the most endearing way – and young Rey’s heart had been a goner upon noticing his awkward appearance. From there on she had followed every mention of him in the local papers, only to be very dismayed with how frequently he started to appear in the society columns with ever rotating - and interchangeable - women adorning his arm. The many pictures prevented her latent crush on him from waning, as they provided constant material for her daydreams - and nighttime fantasies.
“Ladies, you better open your checkbook, for you never know, maybe that date with you might make him go down with love !” Poe finished with a wink. Rey inwardly groaned at the bad reference most likely nobody understood; Ewan McGregor starring in a movie didn’t automatically make it quote-worthy.
Ben Solo took a step back into the line and turned his head in her direction with a pained expression on his face. When his eyes found her, his lips quirked up in his famous crooked smile, and he mouthed ‘Good luck’ to her. Rey blinked and wondered whether she was hallucinating, for it definitely was not a daily occurrence for her to have her celebrity crush standing on a stage with her, and even acknowledge her by wishing her well. She was so lost in thought that she nearly missed her turn to step forward.
“Gentlemen, now listen good. This lady is not only stunning –“ Rey had to suppress the urge to roll her eyes. ‘Poe, please, who are you kidding? ’ With her boring brown hair, wide forehead and pixie-ish face she could be called cute on a good day, and Rey was quite sure no man would look twice at her athletic, almost boyish, figure next to a curvy beauty like Bazine or a long-limbed gazelle like Kaydel.
“– but she is also very talented! Notice that necklace and the earrings she is wearing? She designed and made them herself! Make sure you go and bid on the pieces of her collection she donated to this auction, to enhance the chance of being at least able to take a piece she designed home, should you not be the lucky winner of a date with her.”
Rey tried to smile and wave, as she saw the other participants do, but she was sure she looked ridiculous doing it. Her cheeks were warm, her face surely was flushed and blotchy, and the forced smile probably looked like a grimace. She hoped that at least her jewelry line would get good advertising out of these minutes of endless humiliation.
As soon as Poe had finished introducing everybody, and they were allowed to leave the stage, Rey made a beeline for the refreshments table. She desperately needed something to drink – and something to hold onto, for she was supposed to mingle and solicit bids; she needed something to occupy her hands with, or she would be waving them in the face of everybody she talked to. She quickly gulped down a tall glass of water before she reached for a flute filled with champagne, but then her hands collided with the fingers of someone reaching for the same glass. Rey’s hand jerked back, as if hit by an electric current, and she whipped her head around, and found herself staring at a dark clad, wide and distinctly male chest.
“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed.
“No, no, please excuse me,” a deep voice answered her. “Here, take it.”
Rey vigorously shook her head, and formed a voiceless “No,” with her lips, as her ability to speak seemed to have left the building when she noticed who was handing her the last flute of champagne.
“I insist,” he said and smiled down on her with the same crooked smile that had caught her attention together with his endearing ears all those years ago, and made her search for it in every picture of him she stumbled upon. “I’m Ben, by the way.”
“I know,” she squeaked, then cleared her throat. “I’m Rey.”
“I know,” he deadpanned. “I was looking at your necklaces before the auction, and they are all very pretty, but the one you are wearing is really stunning. It really compliments your beauty.”
He lifted his hand to her throat and let his fingers trail over the stones of the necklace, an assortment of gemstones set on intertwined wires of sterling silver. When his fingers brushed her skin, she snapped out of the trance-like state she had been in since they accidentally brushed hands over the champagne flute, and suddenly she felt indignation. Who did he think she was? Just a naive girl, who would sink into his arms without resistance because he deigned to grace her with his attention? Or was he amusing himself by flirting with the wallflower of the event? She could picture him laughing with some of his friends, telling them how she foolishly believed he could be interested in a mousy girl like her. She deserved better than that; better than being a pity flirt, or whatever he thought he was doing here with her. Rey took a deep breath, lifted her chin, stepped back, and shrouded herself in the indignation she felt.
“It’s part of my latest jewelry line. If you are interested in acquiring something from that line for one of your –” she made significant pause here and tried to lift her eyebrow meaningfully, “– friends, you are welcome to browse my online store. Or we could arrange a meeting at my workshop, where I can incorporate something special to make it a more personalized gift,” she said in a cool, yet businesslike tone; at least that was the effect she was aiming for.
Having said this, Rey nodded and smiled briefly, stepped around him and took a glass from one of the freshly arrived trays with drinks. She tried to not read too much into the flicker of emotion she saw shadowing his expressive eyes, which suspiciously looked like hurt.
Mingling was hard on her. Sure, she could be bubbly, witty and outgoing once she knew someone, but the getting to know people was hard for her, as she never mastered the art of making meaningless conversation with people she didn’t know. Rey had no idea how to even begin to approach one of the small groups of guests clustering together, introduce herself and appear interesting enough for someone to actually want to make bid for a date with her. She desperately let her eyes wander around the room, praying to find Rose or Finn so she could join them, but she had no luck.
“It can be overwhelming, can’t it?” she heard a gravelly voice say next to her.
“Yes, it can. I don’t even know where to start,” Rey answered, appraising the man.
“You get used to it after a while. At least I did, although I always have to steel myself before I throw myself in the lion’s den once again. I’m Han,” he said and held out his hand to her.
“Rey,” she offered, as she took his hand. “But parties and racing belong together. So weren’t they basically part of your job?”
“Yeah, the part I didn’t like, but had to get used to nonetheless. I loved the racing and enjoyed good booze, but would have preferred to have the latter in peace with just a few real friends, not with a gaggle of asskissers in my shadow. That’s what you get when you don’t read the fine print on the employment contract,” he winked at her.
“Good thing I’m self-employed then. But should I ever have to seek employment somewhere, I’ll make sure to find the party clause in the contract.”
“You better do that, kid, as you don’t seem to be the party-hard kind of girl. But with your talent I don’t think you ever would have to worry about that. Need help working the room?”
“Am I that obvious?”
“Only to someone who has walked the same scary path once. Come on, I’ll introduce you to my princess. She’s been fawning over your collection since she got here,” Han Solo consoled her and leaned down to offer her his arm. Rey smiled up at him, and took in his features. He was tall, although not as tall as his son, and didn’t have his broad fame, but was built wirier; she recognized the nose and long face – and the same charmingly crooked grin.
“That would be very nice of you, thank you,” she said and took his arm with a graceful curtsy, which made him playfully bow to her in return.
True to his word, he introduced her to his wife Leia Organa and her group, who were all very interested in her work and asked where she’d learned her craft. Rey told them the tamed version of it, that her guardian passed on his knowledge to her and that they worked together until she had aged out of the system. Finn and Rose were the only ones who knew the truth about her guardian having forced her to dismantle stolen necklaces and create new ones out of the stones, until she managed to get away from him.
From there on, the evening passed by in a blur. Friends of Leia wanted to introduce her to their sons, nephews or other relatives and acquaintances, and she found herself being dragged from group to group. Whenever she felt herself drifting, Han appeared at her side and introduced her to new people. The only constant in this sea of ever-changing faces and names was that whenever she happened to see Ben Solo, his eyes were trained on her. At first she’d thought she was imagining things. Why would he watch her, when around him was a gaggle of beautiful women, who all vied for his attention by batting their eyelashes, tossing their hair or gracing his arm with fleeting touches? Throughout the evening, whenever Rey would get that tingling in her neck she always felt when she thought someone was staring at her, and she looked around, she noticed his gaze on her, dark and intent – and this confused her to no end.
By the time Poe called for the final bids, Rey was being talked to by a tall man with red hair, who invaded her personal space entirely too much for her to feel comfortable. She repeatedly stepped back, but he kept coming closer again and again. He could have been handsome, Rey thought, if only he would smile more, but instead his face was set in a near constant expression of disdain, and he continued to rattle on about his successes in the courtroom, despite Rey’s frequent attempts to change the subject. Of all the people she had met this evening, he was the most disagreeable one, and she decided that she would refuse to go out on a date with him, no matter how high the bid. Thankfully they had been given the option to bow out of the dates. The winner of the bid then would get the voucher for whatever restaurant or event was tied to the date with her.
“Hux, a word please.” Rey was pulled out of her thoughts by Ben Solo’s deep baritone, his voice devoid of any friendliness. Rey looked up at him in surprise. He stared at Hux coldly and worked his jaw.
“What is it, Solo?” the red-haired bore replied irritably. “I really don’t have time for your dramatics right now. I’m busy.”
“Too busy even for Snoke?” Ben sneered, and Hux’s already pale face blanched further. “You’d better check your phone.”
At that Hux quickly excused himself and hurriedly walked away, scrolling through his messages.
“Ready to face the music?” Ben Solo turned to Rey and vaguely gestured towards the stage. “I think it is time for us to learn who has won an evening with us.”
Rey looked up to where Poe was tapping on the microphone to test whether it was turned on.
“You’re right,” she said and they started to walk across the room side by side. “Was Hux really needed, or was that a ruse?” she asked curiously.
“You looked very uncomfortable, and I can relate. I work with him and know how boring he can be.”
“Thank you, I guess? But won’t he be mad when he finds out that you lied?”
“Trust me, he will find a message from our boss at his phone, I’m sure of that. As would I, if I checked mine right now. There are always urgent messages from our boss.” His lips quirked downward.
Meanwhile they had reached the room where all the candidates for the auction were supposed to gather before entering the stage together. Ben smiled briefly at her, and then turned to take his place in line.
Once they were up on the stage, Rey started to become nervous again. She could hear the laughter of the crowd over the MC’s words, louder now than it was in the beginning, as alcohol had loosened tongues and lowered barriers in the time that has passed. Dimly she registered that the amount of money bid on a date with them would not be announced. This relieved some of the anxiety felt, for she would be spared the embarrassment of having the lowest bid. She just hoped anybody had bid on a date with her at all.
Poe called the bachelors and bachelorettes in the same order he had introduced them, chatted a bit with them, and then announced who placed the highest bid on the date with them. The bidder then came up on stage to stand beside their prospective dates. Rey eyed them suspiciously, with a heavy feeling growing in her stomach. Sure, there were nice looking young people among the bidders, but Kaydel had to go on a date with an elderly man, who looked at her as if he wanted to devour her right on the spot. Rey took deep breaths and tried to calm down, telling herself that she always had the option of bowing out of the date if push came to shove, when Poe called Ben Solo forward.
“Going on a date with Ben Solo will be,” Poe called in his best MC voice, and made a pause for dramatic effect. “– Leia Organa!”
Rey heard shouts of “What!” and “No way!” from the audience, and then Leia’s raspy laughter, as she climbed on stage and waved.
“Sometimes a mother must take drastic actions to get to go and have dinner with her son,” she said jokingly, but the way her eyes darted up to her son’s, Rey got the feeling that some time might have passed since the two of them had spent some quality time together.
When it was her turn to step forward, Poe must have sensed her nervousness and dread, for he put his arm around her shoulder and asked her, whether she was nervous.
“Not just nervous,” she answered with a nervous laugh. “Terrified. I’ve never done this before.”
“Don’t worry,” Poe consoled her, “just think what a wonderful story you will have to tell your grandchildren, if it actually were Mr. Right who’s about to go on a date with you to the Palazzo .”
Rey heard whistles and whooping from the audience, and then Poe continued.
“The lucky man going on a date with our Rey is ... Mr. Kylo Ren!”
Rey furrowed her brow and tried to remember if she met someone with that name, but came up empty. When nobody came forward after Poe had called the name a second time, and Rey noticed that people down in the audience had started to laugh and whisper, tears welled up in her eyes and her cheeks burned with shame.
“I know Kylo Ren,” Rey heard Leia call. “He had to leave earlier, but I can vouch for him.”
Rey’s head whipped around to Leia, as did Ben’s.
“You can?” Rey heard Ben ask his mother. Leia glanced up to him and nodded.
“He is a very nice young man, and Rey doesn’t have to be worried at all. In fact, I’m sure she is going to like him.”
“You don’t have to do this, peanut,” Finn told her for the umpteenth time as she sat in a quiet room behind the stage and tried to calm down. Through the closed door she heard music, laughter and the buzzing of many voices mixed together.
“I know. You’ve already said that. But Mrs. Organa vouched for him, and I feel like I should trust her judgment on this.”
Rey looked up to Rose and Finn, who sat next to her, and were holding her hands, and then her eyes fell on Luke Skywalker, who leaned against a desk and did not look happy at all.
“I don’t agree with my sister. I wouldn’t vouch for him,” he said.
“So, you know him?” Rose asked him.
“You could say that, yes.”
“And you don’t like him? Why?”
“My reasons are my own, but I’d advise Rey to be very cautious with this man.”
“You heard Luke. You can bow out of this,” Finn urged her.
“I felt as if I’d be cheating if I did. If I knew he were that redhead that chatted me up out there, I totally would bow out, but his name was different.”
“Kylo Ren is not his real name. I think you should know that,” Luke told her.
“So, he could be that redhead?” Rey looked at him, searching for reassurance in his face.
“No, he’s not that weasel Hux, don’t worry.”
Rey nodded and took a deep breath. Apart from Hux she hadn’t met anyone at the auction she thought she couldn’t bear spending an evening with.
“I’m going to do it,” she stated, at which Rose beamed, Finn buried his face in his hands and Luke looked even grimmer than before.