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The Long Summer

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“Incoming!”

Rey hears the obnoxious shout over the music streaming through her earbuds, but by then it’s far too late. Cold water sprays all over her bare back, every inch from her shoulders down to her calves are doused as goosebumps breakout all over her sun-hot skin.

“Ben!” she shrieks, tearing out her earbuds and turning to glare over her shoulder just as a dark head of hair emerges from the pool’s surface, a lopsided grin peeking out from beneath the messy mop plastered over his shining, mischievous eyes.

One giant palm swipes the hair back from his forehead. The half-grin stays firmly in place as he shrugs his massive, dripping shoulders. “Oops.”

“God, you are such an asshole,” Rey mutters as she pushes up awkwardly, knowing full-well that in order to get up from the lounge laying on her belly she has to come up on all fours, momentarily giving her older brother’s best friend -- and royal pain in the ass -- a perfect view of… well, her ass. Rey moves quickly and sits back down on the towel-covered lounge, glaring at the hulking body in the center of the pool.

“What?” he asks, false-innocence dripping from his tongue as he quirks an eyebrow at her. He raises his hand to block the sun’s glare. “You looked hot. I was cooling you off.”

Behind her sunglasses, Rey rolls her eyes. She crosses her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling super exposed in her bikini. Something about the words you looked hot coming out of Ben’s mouth draws a reaction from her. Her skin prickles, and she feels her nipples tighten beneath the scrap of material that makes up her triangle top. 

“Bite me,” she mumbles weakly before grabbing her book and lowering back down, using it to shield her face from the grinning boy in the pool.

“It’s gonna be a long-ass summer if you two keep it up.”

Rey glances over to see her older brother approach, tossing his towel on the chaise next to hers his sunglasses quickly following. She watches as Poe kicks off his flip-flops and takes three long strides toward the middle of the pool before his body curves into a perfect arc as he dives toward the deep end.

Poe’s dark curls emerge from the water’s surface and he shakes his head once, sending water flying nearly to where Rey is lounging. “He started it,” Rey mutters. She hears herself and realizes how childish she sounds.

Now it’s Poe’s turn to roll his eyes. “Yeah, and knowing you, you’ll probably finish it. Now get in damn pool, Rey. It’s a bajillion degrees out.”

Her brother is right. It’s barely eleven-thirty in the morning and the thermometer is already creeping past ninety-two degrees. It’ll be a scorcher. Taking a dip does sound refreshing after the twenty minutes she’s been out lounging before the boys emerged from the house. She shrugs, sliding her bookmark in place and slipping her sunglasses off her face. “Okay.”

She knows with the way her skin is heated, she’ll need to jump in all at once. Wading in from the shallow end would be pure torture. Just the thought of the cool water lapping at her bare belly gives her the shivers. So she stands and walks to the deep end before mimicking her brother’s move, pressing off the concrete edge into a perfect, effortless dive. She swims beneath the surface until she’s skimming up her brother’s back, then wrapping her arms around his bronze shoulders as she climbs his back like a monkey.

“I’m glad we’re both home now, bro,” she says with a smile as Poe pats her forearms. Her college had finished the semester a week earlier than Poe and Ben’s state university, and the week home alone had been boring as hell.

“Me too,” he replies with a grin. “But get the hell off of me, your tits are freezing on my back.” Poe spins and shoves Rey off of him, pushing her into the water and toward Ben.

“Hey!” she objects, her cheeks flaming at the mention of her boobs in front of Ben.

It’s not like it hasn’t happened before -- Ben and Poe have been best friends for far too long for anything to be sacred anymore -- but Rey still feels a flicker of self-consciousness. After all, Ben’s known her since long before she had any boobs at all. Since she had a gap in her teeth and the years of braces to fix it… since she wore pigtails in her hair instead of messy buns.

“Go climb on Ben. He’s a fucking tree anyway.” Poe dives under the surface, swimming effortlessly underwater toward the shallow end, leaving Rey staring slack-jawed at Ben. Ben, with the Cheshire grin.

“C’mon, Rabies,” Ben says, using his insulting childhood nickname for her in a silly voice as he pats his shoulders. His grin turns wolfish as his dark eyes brighten beneath the glaring sun. “I’ll give you a ride.”

The double meaning isn’t lost on her, and she knows Ben is just teasing her mercilessly the same way he’s done for the last fifteen years, when she was four and Poe was seven and they moved next door to the Solos. The two boys became inseparable immediately, and since Ben was an only child and his parents’ jobs had them traveling over half of the year, Ben became a fixture in the Dameron household. But now that she’s nineteen and Ben just turned twenty-two last month, things are… different.

Rey shoves a wave of water at Ben’s face and he giggles, swiping his fingers across his eyes to clear them. “C’mon,” he says, turning to put his massive back toward her. “I’ll be your taxi to the shallow end. Like always.”

Hesitating for a moment, Rey can’t decide if she should wrap her arms around his broad shoulders and let him ferry her to the other end of the pool the same way he’s done countless times since they were kids, or if she should jump out of the pool and run far, far away. Because her skin itches and her pulse has kicked up to something like a tribal drumbeat and saliva is gathering in her mouth.

But her hands slide in the water before her without her brain's consent, her fingertips skimming the taut skin across Ben's shoulders. He’s pale and she knows he’ll burn to a crisp beneath this sun before a sheen of freckles will emerge on golden skin. Rey knows this because she’s seen it happen year after year, just as she knows the feel of the smooth skin of his back brushing against her belly as he begins to swim to the shallow end with her holding on to his shoulders.

Except this time, something’s different. Ben doesn’t feel like the boy she grew up with. Poe’s right: sometime over their junior year, Ben’s body has changed -- muscles and sinew emerging where long, lanky limbs had once been. Between her slim thumbs, Ben’s neck feels thicker. Beneath her palms, his traps feel massive.

Now, he’s a man now.

And as Ben deposits her on the steps at the shallow end of the pool with a toothy grin, Rey’s never felt more like a girl. A girl with a sudden, helpless crush on her older brother’s best friend.

Poe’s right. It’s going to be a long-ass summer.






“Are you guys seriously trying to get the band back together?” Rey asks, staring at the drum kit Poe hauled up from the basement into the garage.

“Why the hell not?” he replies, rolling out an old rug over the center of the concrete floor, covering the electrical cords trailing to the amps. “We’re all just working part time this summer, and next year we graduate. When else are we gonna get to play together again?”

Rey watches her brother situate the stool behind the kit. He sits and grabs the sticks, gently drumming before doing a little run on the cymbals.

“Just like old times.” His voice is deep, its baritone thrumming behind her. Slowly, Rey turns to see Ben looming at the entrance to the garage, his guitar case in hand. “Where’s the couch?”

Poe stands from the drums. “Did you think I was going to move it up from the basement all by myself? I was waiting for you, muscles.” Poe runs his hand through his dark curls, wiping sweat from his brow. They’ll need to get some fans set up in here if they have any hope of surviving the summer. Rey watches as her brother looks around, cocking his head to the side. “Anyway, do we really need the couch?”

“Of course we need the couch,” Ben bellows as he steps further into the garage and sets down his guitar case. He stands and flings his tree-limb arms out, nearly bumping into Rey where she stands sweating like it's her job. “Where’s Rabies gonna sit?”

She's heard the nickname so many times over so many years, she hears it and remains completely nonplussed. Instead she just blinks, raising her brows in curiosity as the boys talk about her like she’s not even there.  

“I could, um, just sit in a chair?”

Ben whips his head over his shoulder and stares at her. “Bullshit. Finn's drums go there,” he says, pointing to where Poe has set up the kit, “you go here,” he points to the left, “And I go right there,” he says, pointing to the ground a few feet to his right. Then, he points to an empty spot on the far wall of the garage. “And Rey’s couch goes there.”

Poe laughs, shaking his head. “Man, you're a creature of habit, you know that?”

“No. I’m just right ,” Ben mumbles. “Let’s go get the couch.”

Rey watches them leave, walking along the side of the house toward the walk-out basement door, heads bowed toward one another deep in discussion. She wonders why she feels like she just downed a triple shot of espresso. Yet another drop of sweat slips from between her breasts and rolls down her abdomen to pool in her belly button.

She’d better go find those damn fans.

 

 


 

 

It’s been three days since they set up the garage and Rey has yet to see the boys play. She’s been working at the bookstore the last two afternoons, and shortly after they got the couch moved up from the basement Poe got called in to cover another lifeguard’s shift at the rec center.  But now, Rey’s home for the night and towel-drying her hair, all fresh from the shower, when she hears the unmistakable thumping of drums echo through the drywall. She runs a brush through her tresses and grins at her reflection in the dresser mirror as a giddy excitement settles in her chest.

She dresses quickly in a t-shirt and cutoffs before heading downstairs, stopping in the kitchen to pour herself a glass of sweet tea. The deep resonance of a bass guitar reverberates from the other side of the kitchen door, followed by a quick guitar riff. Rey schools her grin and heads out into the garage, unsurprised to see not just two, but three boys at their spots, instruments in hand.

“Hey, Rey!” Finn calls over from behind his drum set, eyes bright. “Just like old times, huh?”

“What a time warp!” Rey says with a giggle as she flops down on the old tweed couch. It’s orange and brown and hideous and it itches like the dickens, but it’s tradition—so she sits and curls her legs beneath her. “Seriously, Finny. Have you guys aged a day beyond fifteen?” She asks, teasing them good-naturedly.

“Poe had zits all over his face at fifteen,” Ben states, not missing a beat.

Laughing and shaking his head, Poe retaliates. “And you were a lanky beanpole with a permanent scowl, Solo.” He widens his eyes and taps his chin. “Oh, wait! You still are!”

Finn drums out a classic zinger’s buh-dum-shah on the drums and cymbals. “Oooh,” he says, wrinkling his nose, “ sick burn!”

“See?” Poe exclaims, pointing at Ben with his left hand. “He is a scowling son of a bitch!”

Ben rolls his eyes and his lips twitch as he fights a grin. “Kiss my ass, Dameron.”

Poe snickers. “Um, hairy. No, thank you.”

Rey almost chokes on her sip of iced tea. She’s coughing, shocked by the image of what Poe just said as it crosses her mind, creating a visual she was not expecting.

“You okay there Rey?” Poe asks, smirking.

Nodding, Rey wipes a dribble of tea from her chin. She feels her cheeks flame. She’s a moron. “Fine, fine.”

Finn taps his sticks on the snare. “So, shall we do this boys?”

“Hell, yes,” Poe says with a nod before glancing over each of his shoulders in turn as he asks, “Some old school DMB?”

And then Finn’s counting out the intro and Poe’s strumming, and Rey’s taken back to the simmering emotions and excitement of her twelve year old body’s puberty prison. Their music is languid and mellow as the sound seeps from the amps.

At first, it feels like nothing’s changed.

She still gets a ripple of excitement deep in her abdomen when the boys play, as if the music is tethered to her very soul. She still watches her brother strum the chords on his guitar, effortlessly tapping his foot as his black curls bounce to the beat. She still loves the way her heart beats like the very kick drum Finn’s working, the way the percussion works through her, making her head move just like Poe’s.

And then the sensual, deep bass of Ben’s powerful fingers begin plucking his strings, working in tandem with Finn’s drumming to set the groove, and, good God, she wants to scream yes ! It’s like no time has passed at all. Rey still watches Ben Solo as his fingers work the neck of his bass, rooting the trio’s music in something equally fathomless and vital.

She watches his forearm flex, the veins on the top of his hand popping and her mouth waters. She feels the bass in her belly, between her legs.

It’s a heartbeat.

And then, Rey realizes everything has changed.

This goes on for a full hour, each minute ticking away with another drop of sweat dripping beneath her breast. She sips what's left of her tea and tries to keep the blush from her cheeks, despite the way her eyes are stuck on Ben. The humid heat of the summer night as it slips into the garage like a fog certainly isn't helping. Rey’s sticky, her skin damp and itchy against the tweed. She’s uncomfortable and feeling awkward and yet there's not enough money in the world a living soul could pay her to move off that fucking couch.

She’s pulled from her stupor as a song ends and Finn speaks. “I gotta go, guys. I have work at the golf course like, before sunrise.”

“Yeah,” Poe agrees with a heavy sigh. “I’m opening the pool tomorrow.”

Ben lifts his head and squints at Poe, then Finn. “Dude,” he says to no one in particular, “that sucks.”

A few minutes pass and suddenly, goodnights are said and it’s just Rey and Ben left. He’s packing up his bass as Rey switches on the old radio, eager for something to fill the awkward silence that hangs heavy between them. Or is it just her? Maybe she’s imaging it. Maybe Ben doesn’t feel it at all. Maybe Ben doesn’t even remember she’s still in the garage with him.

The radio tunes and it’s set to the local rock station. Rey catches the last of the deejay announcing the Thursday night retro new-wave playlist. Then electronic keyboards kick in, and Rey squeals. “God this song is a classic!" She shakes her head, giving Ben a shy smile. "Half the kids at my school wouldn’t even know who this was. It’s a travesty.”

Ben shakes his shaggy hair from his face and looks up at her. “Well, it is pretty old.”

“It’s as old as I am, you turd,” Rey counters with a giggle. “They released it in 1990. Besides,” she says, crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes at him, “those Dave Matthews songs you guys jammed to aren’t much newer, you know.”

He grins. “I know. But you were always way more into emo rock and synth stuff.” He locks his case and then stands, walking over to the wall to grab Poe’s old skateboard off the wall hooks. The light is dim, the overheads in the garage off now that they’re shutting down for the night. There’s only a corner lamp lighting the space with a dim, yellow glow.

Ben places the board at his feet and steps on, balancing his giant, tree-like body with a long-practiced, smooth ease. He starts to distractedly hum along to the song’s chorus as he shimmies and rocks on the old skateboard, his deep baritone echoing in the almost empty space.

Gooseflesh. It’s on every inch of Rey’s skin.

Her pulse quickens. Something thrums deep in her center -- like a heartbeat -- the same way the sonorous rhythm of Ben’s bass had her feeling earlier. The sensation is heady, thick like syrup, and Rey almost feels intoxicated by the way her body is responding to his voice.

Ben doesn’t sing with the band. Ever. Not even backup harmony to Poe; it’s always Finn.

The sound of his baritone is practically profound. Rey’s throat tightens and her mouth goes dry. She averts her eyes, staring down at her flip-flop feet because she can’t stand the thought of him noticing the effect he’s having on her right now in this moment.

The song ends and she forces down a swallow wishing for more iced tea. Another song begins. Ben doesn’t sing, just furrows his brow and stares at his Converse as he rocks on the skateboard. She can’t help but feel like he wants to say something? It’s awkward again, but Rey finds that the crazed spell is thankfully broken.

She takes a deep breath and decides a joke is the only thing that can alleviate the haze of tension hanging between them. “Is your ass really hairy?”

Ben doesn’t miss a beat. He flicks his gaze to her and answers without hesitation, completely deadpan. “No. It’s smooth, like a newborn baby’s.”

Rey bites her bottom lip as she grins, trying not to crack up. “Hmm. Prove it.”

“What?” Ben scoffs, “You want me to drop trou, right here?”

This time, she can’t hold in her grin or her laugh. She giggles and asks, “And what if I did?”

He steps off the skateboard, popping it up with the toe of one foot and catching the lip in his palm. “I’d say I’m in if you’re in.”

“Well, my ass certainly isn’t hairy!”

“I’m sure it’s like porcelain. But if I’m taking off my pants, so are you.”

Rey’s mouth drops open in surprise. “Since when?”

“Since forever,” Ben replies with a shrug and a smirk. “Those are just the rules, Rey.”

“Okay,” she says with a nod. She watches as his eyes go wide in surprise at her boldness. “Let’s go skinny dip.”

Ben shakes his head, a little grin still tugging at his lips. “It’s dark. You won’t be able to see a thing.”

“So? It’ll be playing by the rules. And anyway, I have very good eyesight.”

Two minutes later, they’ve snuck through the damp grass around the side of the house. Their feet are silent on the pool deck, the water still and lit only by a pale sliver of the moon. Rey goes to the far corner, near the deep end. Ben sticks to the shallow end and chooses the corner on the diagonal. They face each other in the shadows, the dark pool an unknown chasm between them.

The silence is thick, but unlike when they were in the garage, it’s no longer awkward. Instead, the pool acts almost as a whisper dish, transmitting the smallest of sounds over the water’s surface. Rey can hear Ben’s rhythmic breaths as he eyes her in silence, giving her one last out.

Since her t-shirt is so long, Rey decides to send a clear message by shoving her panties and cutoffs down and off her ankles, letting the shirt cover her modesty. She kicks the clothes to the side, cocking her hip, and looks at Ben expectantly.

To his credit, Ben doesn’t hesitate. She watches as his arms cross in front of his waist and grab the hem of his black t-shirt. He pulls it up and over, exposing his massive torso. Even from her spot across the pool from him, Rey can see his pec muscles twitch. Maybe it’s from the heat of her gaze, or maybe it’s simply from the warm night air. The shirt collar slips over his head, further messing his already unruly dark locks. Then, he pivots, turning his broad back to her as he pushes his gym shorts and boxers down and off. In the moonlight, Rey can easily see the dimples above his ass sitting above his low back, and white skin below resembles perfectly sculpted marble more than anything else.

Definitely not hairy.

Rey sees Ben reach around to cup his junk before he turns and jumps feet first into the water. He emerges and shakes out his hair like a dog. He squints up at her, now standing in the middle of the pool. “Did you bring your night vision goggles?”

Rey grins before she takes Ben’s lead and turns, putting her back to him as she pulls her t-shirt up over her head. Her bralette is next, adding to the pile now forming on the deck. She crosses her arms over as much of her bits as possible before curling into a ball and jumping into the deep end, eager for full cover.

When she breaks the surface, Rey’s only about five feet away from Ben, treading water though he’s tall enough to reach the bottom and still stand. She gives him a mischievous smile before answering his question. “Don’t need ‘em”

Ben’s lips twitch right before his cheeks pull into a gleeful smile, equally devilish. “Yeah, me either.”