Democratic National Convention, Dallas, TX
The largest luxury suite at the Ritz-Carlton still managed to feel cramped as Rey pushed her way through makeshift desks, tables, balloons, and campaign staffers bustling around. Someone talking into a headset spun on her heels, crashing right into Rey and nearly knocking the coffee she held right out of her hand.
It hadn’t been Rey’s fault, but she still felt compelled to apologize timidly as she slipped away.
She was only a junior staffer, after all.
That term was generous in the first place, given that she was an unpaid intern, allowed in this temporary campaign headquarters by a sheer stroke of good luck.
She finally made her way over to the man who had given her this amazing opportunity and waited for a chance to interrupt.
Luckily, Poe spotted her out of the corner of his eye and reached out for the coffee.
“Thank you, Rey,” he said. Turning to the two women in the front of him, he gently nudged Rey forward to present her. “Have you guys met my assistant, Rey Niima? She TA’d for me last year and I knew I had to have her along on this campaign.”
Both of the women smiled at Rey. Her heart stuttered anxiously. Despite the fact that Poe worked directly with them, she had never expected to actually meet these two amazing women whom she looked up to.
Amilyn Holdo, Campaign Manager, was the first to stick her hand out.
“It’s great to have you, Rey,” she said warmly.
That left the woman herself. The main event. The reason they were all in this stuffy room in Texas in July.
Leia Organa, the governor of California, and the person who would accept the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States that very evening.
“Thank you for the support,” she said, also extending her hand. Rey shook it and nodded in her direction.
Poe, Amilyn, and Leia all faced each other again and resumed their conversation. They had important things to do, after all. She was certain that both women had already forgotten her name.
Rey, however, had nothing to do. She had spent the last couple of days flitting around between the American Airlines Center to see various speakers, and the Ritz-Carlton to help Poe with whatever innocuous task that he was too busy and important to do himself. Now that he had his coffee, her work was done.
Poe Dameron, professor of political science at UCLA, was Amilyn Holdo’s right hand man. And because Rey had been his TA through sophomore and junior years, he had offered her this position. She would have continued as his TA through senior year had he not taken his sabbatical to work on this campaign.
Poe promised her that he would work as hard as he could to find her a full-time, paid position as soon as possible. Tonight’s official nomination, he had sworn, would give him the funding and opening he needed to get it all done.
Rey always told him not to worry, thrilled as she was that he had even thought of her for this role.
She was too nervous to tell him how desperately she needed a real position.
Now that she was facing graduation in a couple of weeks, having added a minor to buy herself a couple more months, the emails were coming in. They warned her that her student visa would expire soon.
Perhaps in retrospect, majoring in political science wasn’t the most genius move if she wanted to guarantee a position in the States following graduation.
But she loved politics. This was where she wanted to be. She loved the stress, the ever-changing nature, the strategizing, and the twists and turns. Just being here at this convention was a dream come true, even if she was slumming it up across town in a motel with Rose, her new friend from the campaign. While Poe had paid her entry fees, she had had to dangerously lower her meager savings just to pay for her flight and expenses.
It was all worth it. And tonight she was going to personally witness her hero take the stage and accept the party’s nomination like the queen she was.
Right now, though, Leia Organa was acting less like a queen and more like a petulant teenager, arms crossed and eyes rolling.
Against her better judgment, Rey repositioned herself so she could listen in to Poe, Amilyn, and Leia better.
“It’s absurd,” Leia ranted. “It’s anti-feminist.”
“Obviously I complete agree,” said Amilyn quickly, “but last week Senator Mothma had her husband and three kids smiling behind her when she accepted the Republican nomination. If Ben’s not there, it will stick out. The media will be all over it.”
Leia snorted. “I’ve known Mon for years. It’s not like she has this great marriage, no matter what people see.”
“But that’s just it,” cut in Poe. “What matters is what people see. They’re sympathetic you’re a widow, but they want to see you as a good mother. They need you to be likeable…”
“Poe,” said Leia firmly. “Shut up.” She turned fully to Amilyn. “So anyway, I’m tired of fighting my idiot son.”
“But if you could just try him again. I know it’s all backwards, but people are going to wonder what kind of a mother has a son who won’t show up to the most important night of her life.”
“And not what kind of son he is,” Leia grumbled. “It’s all on me. Bad mother. I’m going to give a speech tonight about how I’m going to make America a better place for the entire world and all anyone will care about is whether my son is there with me.”
Leia sighed, but pulled out her phone and made a call. After a minute, she hung up.
“No answer. Surprise, surprise. Look, I’m running out of time. I’ll stop by his room later but if he doesn’t want to show up, that’s his prerogative. At least I’ll have you all cheering me on.”
She and Amilyn took off for a bedroom, presumably to continue prepping for the big speech. Poe pulled out his phone and scrolled through some emails.
“Hey, Poe,” said Rey, a little worried to be caught eavesdropping but too intrigued to let it go. “Why won’t Ben come to the speech?”
Poe didn’t look up from his phone but shook his head. “That punk. I’m sure he’ll be there in the end. He just wants to make his mom sweat. Sometimes I want to punch him for what he puts his mom through.”
“But he’s shown up at other events during the campaign, hasn’t he?”
She tried to picture him in photos she’d seen before joining the campaign, standing darkly behind his mother as she waved to the cameras, towering over her with long black hair and brown eyes to match his mom’s. She had never seen him in person, but had read bits and pieces about his background on Leia’s campaign website and Wikipedia page. Nothing was very detailed. Just that he was thirty years old, had attended Stanford for both undergrad and law school, and now practiced law as a litigator in LA.
She had never had a reason to dislike him until this moment. But every word that she had heard exchanged just now filled her with rage.
“Yes,” said Poe. “Sometimes he comes, and sometimes he doesn’t. Wherever the wind blows him. And here, he’s been treated like a king - by us, by the hotel, by the DNC. And still, he does what he damn well pleases. He floated in to our fundraiser breakfast this morning ten minutes before it ended, despite the fact his firm put it on. Anyway, Amilyn told me that Leia sort of blew up at him after, and now it seems like he’s trying to punish her.” Poe paused, and looked up from his phone, horrified at his mindless ranting. “Obviously, you know that this can’t get out.”
“Of course,” said Rey, nodding. Poe seemed relieved and returned to his phone.
Rey knew she had implicitly been dismissed, but the image of a whiny fully-grown man who fought with his mother about punctuality was infiltrating some subconscious part of her brain, the one she tried to tuck away, the one no university therapist could ever fully heal.
“Do you know where he’s staying?”
Her voice came out in a low tone. It seemed to surprise Poe because he locked his phone and scowled at her.
“Do you know where he’s staying?” She managed to adjust her tone to not sound quite so murderous.
“He’s two floors below us, same number,” said Poe. “But we’ve sent three staffers there already today. He won’t open the door.”
Rey spun on her heels before Poe had a chance to tell her she couldn’t go. This was such a stupid idea, but her blood was boiling too hot in her ears to stop now.
Rey was lucky to find a finished room service tray in the hallway near Ben’s room, despite it being the odd hours between lunch and dinner. She picked it up, shook her head at the uneaten fries, and attempted to make the tray look new and unused, or at least as much as it needed to be when Ben looked through his door’s fisheye lens.
She found what must be Ben’s room, took a deep breath, and knocked the door.
“Room service!” she called out. She had never ordered room service, but she had seen it done in movies and TV shows, and only hoped it was accurate.
She stayed still as she listened for shuffling on the other side of the door. Eventually she heard the telltale squeak of the security chain sliding across metal and the door opened a smidge.
It was now or never. Using the tray as a wedge, she pushed the door open and stepped right in, crashing right into a wall and knocking the dishes askew.
Only it wasn’t a wall.
“Hey, what –“ The giant man she had smashed into was sputtering but still managed to reach out and prevent the dishes, tray, and Rey herself from tumbling straight to the ground.
Seizing the moment of his confusion, she set the tray on the ground and shut the door behind her.
They were in a bottleneck hallway that led to his spacious suite. She tried to push her way back towards the living area, but the man who must be Ben Solo collected himself and reached out his arms to block her.
His chest breadth and wingspan made it so he reached both walls, completely blocking her path.
“Mind telling me what’s going on?” he asked, eyeing the half-eaten food on the floor before scanning her from feet to face. He was hunched over a bit, but she still had to look up to try to meet his eyes.
She had seen him in various photos and videos, and had always attributed his perceived tall height to the fact that he stood behind his extremely petite mother. But Rey herself was not short and yet he still hovered over her in a way that she was sure he felt like was intimidating.
From inside the suite, a woman’s voice called out.
“What’s taking so long?”
Ben looked back over his shoulder for half a moment, and Rey immediately ducked and slipped right under his arm into the expanse of the living room.
There was a thankfully clothed woman sitting on the couch, mindlessly flipping through the newspaper the hotel delivered every morning. Her suit was sharp, crisp, and expensive, and her hair looked professionally blown out.
She looked up and scowled at Rey.
“I’m sorry, do you need something?” she asked, glaring disdainfully.
Rey was used to other women looking at her like this.
“Yeah, I need you to leave so I can talk to Ben. I’m here on behalf of the campaign.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out her all-access security badge. She flashed it at the woman and then back at Ben.
“Looks like your mom sent another one,” called out the woman. She looked back at Rey. “Ben doesn’t want to talk. You can go now.” She did a little dismissive finger wave with her long nails and returned to her newspaper.
“I think Ben can speak for himself,” said Rey, turning back to see Ben leaning in the hallway, watching everything with a bemused expression. “And by the way, Governor Organa has no idea I’m here.”
Rey spotted a large iPhone in a rose gold case on the coffee table in front of the woman and grabbed it. The woman leaned forward with wide eyes.
“What are you doing, you crazy – ”
Rey wrenched opened the patio door and stepped onto it, dangling the phone over the barrier.
“If you don’t leave, this phone’s going in the pool.”
“Excuse me?” The woman had leaped to her feet. She whipped around to face Ben. “Are you going to stand for this? Call security!”
Rey began a countdown. “5, 4, 3…”
“You wouldn’t dare,” hissed the woman, approaching her like a wild animal.
“Oh, wouldn’t I?” Rey loosened and released her fingers so she was only holding on with her thumb and index finger. “2, 1 and three quarters, 1 and half, 1 and a quarter…”
Ben finally spoke up.
“I think you should go, Baz,” he said. “And you, give her back her phone.”
Rey reluctantly handed the woman her phone, who took it and clutched it to her chest like she had just had her kidnapped baby returned to her.
In the room, Ben picked up the woman’s purse and shoes and held them out. She took them from him, sparing a moment to look viciously back at Rey before schooling her expression and looking up at Ben. She dug in her purse and slid a business card into his white Oxford shirt pocket.
“When you’ve handled all your responsibilities, call me,” she cooed. “I’ll be up late after the convention ends.”
He didn’t say anything, just stood there as she got settled and left the room, stepping over the used room service tray with a loud huff.
Rey walked back in from the balcony.
“You did it, you got in, congratulations,” said Ben. “Now I’m giving you thirty seconds to explain yourself before I actually do call security.”
“Fine, you want to know why I’m here? It’s because you’ve got some nerve,” said Rey, pointing at him threateningly. “Blowing off your own mother.”
“Oh, I have some nerve?” Ben cut her off. “What about the girl who dresses up as hotel staff to break into a guy’s hotel room?”
For a second, Rey was thrown off. “What? I’m not dressed as…” She glanced at her plain black suit and white blouse and back up at Ben, who looked her up and down with a cocked eyebrow. “Oh.”
She had been thrilled to find the suit at a consignment shop, but under Ben’s scrutiny she might as well have been wearing a trash bag.
“So you scavenged a tray of food from, where?”
“Gross. And you barged into my room, to tell me I’m letting my mother down. Guess what, Scavenger?” He took a step closer and looked right in her eye. “I’ve heard it all before.”
“Well maybe you need to hear it again, you snobby, entitled prince. I heard about the little stunt you pulled this morning, practically skipping an entire event your own firm threw.”
“Believe me, you don’t know anything about it,” shot back Ben. “But you? Oh, I’ve got you pegged. Let me guess. This is your first campaign. Hmm…” He tapped his chin. “Poly sci major. My mother is your hero and it’s a dream come true for you to be here.” He rolled his eyes and scoffed.
Rey refused to allow his admittedly perfect assessment get to her.
“Yes, she is, and if I had a mother like that, I’d be proud.”
“You know why I know everything about you?” He leaned in even closer, so they were eye level. “Because I’ve met you, hundreds of times. My mom’s been in politics since I was a child. I’ve had a long stream of bright-eyed interns telling me where to be and what to do for my entire life.” He straightened back up. “You’re a newbie, but believe me, this isn’t my first rodeo, sweetheart.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Rey sarcastically. “I wasn’t aware that you had been building up vacation time that allows you to take off the single most important night of your mom’s career. But, I don’t have parents, so maybe I just don’t know how it works.”
He didn’t have a response, and she took the opportunity to continue.
“You don’t know the first thing about me,” she spat out. “I’ve fought and scraped since I was five years old to get here. When I heard that the governor’s man child baby was refusing to talk to his mommy today, thus endangering this entire campaign, I knew I had to do something, even if it meant talking to that prick myself.”
“The cockblocking was just a bonus for you, huh?”
She looked up at him to see a little smirk on his face.
“Is this all a joke to you?”
“Why do you care so much about all this, anyway? You’re British. Don’t you guys have your own screwed up politics to deal with?”
“I left there for school and I am never going back,” she said confidently, even as she thought guiltily about the threatening visa emails she had been getting. “I care about this country, and your mom is the best person for the job. It’s too bad her own son doesn’t agree.”
“Must be nice to have ideals.”
“Must be nice to have none.”
“Oh, it is.”
She threw her hands up in the air. “You are the worst. Seriously, just show up tonight, stand behind your mom for a few minutes, look excited, don’t say a word, give her a hug. That’s all we want. Then you can shack up with what’s-her-face for the rest of the night.”
He smirked again, and plucked the woman’s business card out of his pocket. He walked out on the balcony and flicked it into the air.
“Nah, she wasn’t my type.”
“You’re a child.”
“That was right out of your playbook from five minutes ago.” He winked at her, and came back into the room.
“Who was she, anyway?”
“Curious, are you?” He put his hands on his hips and leaned down to leer at her.
“Guess I was just wondering why it was so important for you to get laid on this day of all days.”
“She’s on of the associates at the Dallas office of my firm. I met her this morning at the breakfast. I was networking.”
“And that’s why you threw her business card out the window.”
“The only contact info I’d need for work purposes is in our directory. In case I need to confer on a case.”
Rey snorted. “Trust me, she wasn’t looking to confer on cases.”
He pulled back to lean easily against the wall and crossed his arms. “You’re awfully interested in this.”
She couldn’t handle the smug look on his face.
“You’re the one who said cockblock…you know what? I can’t take another minute of this. You know where you need to be. Stop being an arse and get there.”
“You know I can take whatever I want, right?”
She looked up at him. His face and postured were unchanged.
“I can get you kicked right off this campaign, Scavenger. There’s no way you’re anyone important. And you know, I could easily get Bazine to back me up on some harassment charges.”
Suddenly, the reality of everything that Rey had said and done came flooding into her conscience. What was she thinking?
“You…you don’t even know my name,” she said, trying to sound confident.
“I told you, I know everything about you.”
She rolled her eyes and turned to get out of the room as fast as she could.
She stopped hard before she reached the door.
“Next time you want to stay incognito, don’t wave your personal security badge around.”
Rey broke out of her frozen state and ran out into the hallway, back up to the campaign headquarters.
“How did you do it?”
Rey was killing time, talking to some of the other staffers before they all needed to move to the arena, when Poe came up and grabbed her by the shoulders.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“How did you get Ben to come apologize to his mom and start prepping for the evening?”
“H-how do you know it was me?”
“Are there many British Reys running around here? He said you came and reminded him he needed to be at Leia’s prep meeting. But I know him. It couldn’t have just been a ‘reminder.’”
“Oh, um, we just had a little chat in his hotel room.” Rey was flustered. How much had Ben shared about their encounter? But Poe didn’t look upset. He looked thrilled.
“Rey, I promised you I’d find you a full-time position on this campaign. And I think we just found one.”