You were sort of punk rock
I grew up on hip hop
But you fit me better than my favorite sweater
I will love you 'til the end of time
I would wait a million years
Promise you'll remember that you're mine
Baby, can you see through the tears?
Love you more
Than those bitches before
“Blue Jeans” by Lana Del Rey
It’s mid-July, the days stretched out long as waves of heat shimmer above cars and pavement like a mirage. Cicadas pulse in the trees surrounding the Solo’s backyard swimming pool, potted ferns jutting out everywhere in a facsimile of a jungle in an upper-middle-class Californian suburb.
Rey’s sitting on the cool slab of stone around the pool, idly kicking her feet in the water as she watches the sun glint on the turquoise waves. Her best friend since third grade is stretched out on the white lounge chair behind her, flipping through Cosmo as she sips from a straw in her Diet Coke.
It’s been a month and a half since school let out, and this is all they do all day. It’s an endless loop of monotony—of Diet Coke and splashes of cranberry in vodka and vanilla blunts, of ashes in cups and gunk at the bottom of the pool, of chlorine clinging to skin and hair, and the unrelenting, vague sense of wanting more—the heat making everything hazy around the edges, the days bleeding together like multiple exposures on film.
At least they do it with style. Rey’s black bikini might not be as glamorous or sexy as Kaydel’s tiny gold lamé one, but it’s classic. An Audrey Hepburn to Kaydel’s Marilyn. While Rey’s wearing denim shorts, Kaydel’s got no such qualms of modesty, her bikini clearly worn more for the off-chance of catching Rey’s cousin than actually swimming.
“Listen to this,” Kaydel says from behind her red heart-shaped sunglasses. “‘The best blowjobs are given by surprise. When your man comes home from work, saunter over to him, unbuckle his belt, and kneel like a bad girl in a Sunday pew.’”
Rey rolls her eyes.
“‘Suck on an ice cube beforehand for maximum moans.’” Kaydel tilts her head, lowering her magazine. “Hey, do you think Ben has ever gotten a blow-job?”
“Jesus Kaydel, I don’t know,” Rey mutters to the water.
“Do you think he’d let me blow him?”
“Um… he has a girlfriend, remember?”
“I doubt Bazine ever went down on him. And ruin her lipstick? Maybe that’s why they broke up.” She goes back to her magazine. “…Or didn’t you know?”
This is the first time Rey’s heard about it. Ben hadn’t mentioned it. Then again… why would he? It’s not like they're really close anymore. “Oh! Um…”
“Thank fuck too. She’s such a bitch.”
“She’s okay,” Rey defends, for some unknown reason. After all, it’s not like Bazine has ever been nice to her.
Kaydel scoffs. “She’s a cunt and you know it. I’m so glad she left for Yale or Harvard or whatever early.”
Rey doesn’t respond, because secretly she’s glad too.
The crinkling sound of pages turning. Rey can practically hear the question before Kaydel even speaks it. “So… do you think Ben misses her? Has he been moping around the house or whatever?”
Rey shrugs one shoulder. “He mopes all the time. That’s kind of his thing.”
“So… no difference?” There’s a tinge of hopefulness in her otherwise blasé tone.
“I don’t know. He’s, like, never home. He’s always out with his friends somewhere.”
Kaydel hums. “I saw him at a party a few weeks ago. He didn’t look like he was missing her. He was talking to some slutty girl in the kitchen.”
Rey feels mildly betrayed, for more than one reason. “How come you didn’t tell me?”
“About Ben and Baz? I thought you knew…”
“No, about the party. We always go together.”
Kaydel shrugs. “It was kind of last minute. Jess told me about it.”
“Sorry,” she tacks on, not sounding sorry at all.
A few minutes pass in silence. It’s not exactly awkward, but it’s not completely comfortable, either.
“So do you think Ben only fucks Omegas?”
“Jesus, Kaydel.” Rey turns around again. “You do remember he’s my cousin, right?”
“Oh come on, like you haven’t thought about it. He’s so fucking hot. I’d fuck my cousin if he looked like Ben.”
Rey’s thankful for the Wayfarers covering half her face, because she has, in fact, thought about it. Way more times than she’ll ever admit, even to herself. She stares hard at the water.
Kaydel laughs. “God, you’re such a prude.”
“And you’re such a virgin.”
“Well, I won’t be for much longer,” she says. “Just watch.”
It almost sounds like a threat.
The next day, they’re lying out poolside again, the sun at the highest point in the sky, beating down relentlessly. Kaydel’s painting her toes red, bobbing along to Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck” as it plays on Han’s old boombox in the corner.
Rey sometimes wonders if Kaydel only comes by to catch a glimpse of Ben. If Kaydel even likes her anymore.
Or if she even likes Kaydel.
“Your mom’s going to be gone all week, right?”
“Not my mom,” Rey says. “And yeah, Leia’s got a conference up in Hanna City.”
Kaydel smiles. Rey’s learned from nine years of friendship that whenever Kaydel smiles, trouble follows.
She gets up from the lounge chair, waddling like a slutty duck to avoid smearing her nail polish, over to the sliding glass door leading into the house. She pulls it open.
Rey follows her, like she always does.
Stepping into the house is like stepping into another world, from somewhere hot and dry to the sharp Arctic of the AC. It wakes Rey up from her heat-induced stupor like a slap in the face.
Kaydel’s bent over, rooting around in the fridge. Rey sits down at the marble island, then spies a black hoodie slung over one of the leather chairs.
She grabs it and slips it on, pulling her arms through it like it’s always been hers, the cotton slouchy around her small frame. She makes fists around the sleeves. God, fuck, it even smells like him.
Spicy, earthy, heady—and not just because of the faint smell of weed. A smell uniquely Ben Solo, like campfires and woods and petrichor. And something else…
Something sharp and clean. Citrus?
“What are you doing?” she hears Kaydel ask.
Rey looks up at her and the two bottles of Smirnoff Ice in her hands. “What do you mean?”
“It looks like you were inhaling your sweatshirt for a second there. Feeling okay?”
Red nods casually. “Yeah, I just felt nauseous for a sec. Didn’t eat much today.”
“God, don’t turn into Paige. I swear, this is like, her fifth time at the eating disorder clinic. She’s going all Girl, Interrupted on us. Instead of a college dorm, she’s going to be hanging posters in a room in a psych ward.”
Usually Rey would defend Paige—if not out of compassion, than just to disagree with Kaydel. Small, minor things that aren’t enough to put her on the outs with the most popular girl in 12th grade, but just enough to show discontent. A revolutionary, Rey is.
But Rey doesn’t say anything. After all, Kaydel just caught her sniffing her cousin’s hoodie like a freak.
Kaydel hands her one of the Smirnoffs. Rey takes a long swig, then nearly chokes on it. She senses him. She doesn’t know how, but she does. It’s like she see can feel him. Like he’s under her skin.
A few seconds later, Ben is walking past the threshold, black basketball shorts slung low on his hips and a black sleeveless tee showing off his biceps. Rey has to rip her gaze away from the expanse of his bare skin, slick and gleaming with sweat from his run.
“Hey,” she hears him say in that low, deep voice she definitely does not fantasize about late at night.
A shiver runs down her spine. She blames it on the AC.
“Hey,” Kaydel says in her most attractive voice, drawn out and lowered in pitch as she pops her chest out. Her gold bikini glows against her bronzed skin and yellow gold chains.
Ben gives her a tight-lipped smile as goes to the fridge.
“So when are you leaving for Brown?” Kaydel asks casually.
“August 21st,” he replies, pulling out a bottled water and proceeding to down half of it. Rey tries not to watch the beads of sweat dripping down his neck. Tries not to think that this might be what his skin looks like during sex.
His eyes shoot over to Rey.
When he lowers his water, his gaze is still locked on her. She watches his eyes drift down, then up again.
Rey crosses her arms. “What?”
“Is that mine?”
Rey pulls the hoodie off her like it’s contagious. “Do you wear anything other than black?”
“Says the girl wearing a black bikini.”
Kaydel puts the Smirnoff against her chest, wiping the condensation against her skin, down over her breasts. “It’s so hot.”
Rey rolls her eyes so hard into her head, it gives her a headache. God, could she be any more obvious? Surely Ben wouldn’t fall for this.
With a sinking dread, Rey watches as Ben watches Kaydel, his eyes roaming down her body in a way he’s never done—will never do—to Rey.
“Careful Leia doesn’t catch you drinking,” he says as he continues to stare at Kaydel, though Rey gets the feeling he’s talking more to her.
“She’s gone for the weekend. Another conference,” Rey says, her voice hollow even to her own ears. Sometimes it amazes her how unaffected she can pretend to be, that she almost manages to convince herself. “And let’s not pretend Han would even care.”
Ben doesn’t respond. Doesn't even nod. It’s like Rey doesn’t even exist.
She should be used to it by now. Kaydel’s always been more than Rey—prettier, curvier, bubblier, shinier. Boys don’t even see Rey when Kaydel stands next to her. Even Alpha boys.
It doesn’t even matter that Kaydel’s a Beta. She’s gorgeous. She’s perfect. She’s prettier than most Omegas at their school—including Rey.
Not that designations really matter much, when everyone is on suppressants. It’s a requirement to attend school, along with vaccination records and birth certificates. Though every once in a while, when a breakthrough heat or rut is triggered… Well, there’s a reason Mr. Nicholls lost his teaching license last year.
Ben puts his earbuds back in, then without a word, turns and walks back out of the kitchen. They both listen to his footsteps up the stairs, then his door open and close a few seconds later.
“Did you see that?” Kaydel asks. “He was totally checking me out.”
Rey takes another swig of the Smirnoff. “Or he’s wondering why you’re dressed like Mr. T.”
Kaydel grins, still staring at the doorway as if Ben’s going to magically appear again. “Well, it looks like Ben’s into it. Maybe I’ll wear the chains when he’s fucking me.” She begins pounding on the counter in an imitation of it, humping the cabinet, tossing her head back and forth. “Yes, yes, yes, I pity the fool!”
Rey laughs, despite the mental image, through the pain.
The late afternoon sun pours golden through the lush green leaves, the sky a cotton-candy swirl of pinks, blues, purples, and oranges. As Rey lies on an inflatable yellow raft in the pool, she watches a plane fly overhead, streaking across the sky. She wonders where it’s going. Probably East, maybe New York or Boston. Maybe it just keeps going, to Dublin or Paris or Morocco. She imagines something Old Hollywood—sees herself through a camera lens fresh off the plane, sauntering into a 1940s noir in icy whites and deep blacks, draped in silk and dangling a cigarette.
Maybe the plane goes even further. Budapest. Prague. Moscow.
She imagines going to each place, leaving a lover behind in every city or port. Stay with me, they’d beg. I can’t live without you. I’ll die, I swear I will.
She imagines them begging to sink their teeth into her mating gland as they fuck her into the mattress. And every time she’d say no, because even in her fantasies where she could be with anyone, she’s only ever wanted to be with one man. He’d track her down somewhere, maybe a smoky lounge or in her hotel room, and upon seeing her with another man—another Alpha—he’d grow so insanely jealous, he’d be a storm of rage and desire. It would rip him apart, watching from the shadows. The way she’s always felt whenever she’s seen him with Bazine, or any other girl in the hallways at school. He’d snarl at her faceless lover, and then he’d pick her up and throw her over his shoulder, and then… and then…
She needs to stop thinking of Ben this way.
It’s wrong. It’s sick. He’s her cousin, for fuck’s sake. And even if that’s never been something that’s bothered her (she blames Jane Austen), he clearly doesn’t feel the same way.
Soon he’ll be gone, and she’ll still be here. And no amount of fantasizing will change that.
She’s trapped, like the bugs floating on the water, struggling to get out until they eventually drown.
She’s not going to college, not with her grades. She’s not the worst student, but she’s not on the honor roll, either. At least Kaydel and her have that in common. But Kaydel is convinced she’s going to be a model/actress, even though she’s only done local catalogue work and hasn’t ever been cast in any of the school plays. She’ll probably end up marrying some ex-football player and have 2.5 kids and Instagram every moment of her entire life, with everything having a heavy filter over it.
Rey has no idea what she’s going to do. She knows she’s still got one year of high school left, and that’s plenty of time to change things around. To pull her grades up. To reinvent herself. But does anybody really change?
She thinks of Uncle Han. Of how many times he’s crawled back to Aunt Leia after the affairs, after getting drunk every time he gets handed a one-month or two-month sobriety chip, after disappearing for days or weeks or even months on end. And Aunt Leia, who swears this time is going to be the last. Who leaves his stuff outside on the lawn, only to take everything back inside hours later before it gets wet or stolen.
As Rey reaches out and skims the water with her hand, her thoughts drift back to Ben, as they always do.
Will he change once he goes off to Brown?
Why did he have to pick a college all the way on the other side of the country? She can understand the need to get away from the never-ending shit show of Leia and Han, but is it to get away from her too?
They used to be so close, ever since she moved in with the Solos when she was nine and he was ten. After Mara died in that car crash on the 101 and Luke fucked off shortly after to some hippy commune in Oregon. He still sends her a birthday card every year, though it’s always weeks late and something kiddish, and doesn’t contain anything other than wildflower seeds. Not even a measly twenty bucks, like what Kaydel’s father at least sends her.
We’re a generation without fathers, she thinks as she watches the sun continue to set behind the trees.
Every man in her life leaves her. Luke, Uncle Han—though at least his abandonment isn’t personal. And now, in a little over a month, Ben.
Sure, there’s always the holidays and summer break. But he’ll probably spend them as he always does—either out with his friends or holed up in his room, avoiding everyone, including her.
Rey screws her eyes shut, willing herself not to think of what happened two years ago. The day she stupidly messed up her suppressant schedule and went into heat early. The day she crawled into Ben’s bed and begged him to—
No, she’s not going to dwell on this again. It happened. It happened and she can’t go back. She needs to go on pretending it never happened, just like everyone else does. Even if not talking about it means not talking at all.
As it grows more dim, the crickets begin their night song and the world is cast in a shade of pale blue.
Rey never takes her sunglasses off.
The underwater lights turn the water neon as night falls and fireflies glow and fade in the thickets.
Rey floats in the water, her hair spread out in all directions as she stares up at the few stars she can see through all the lights and smog. She imagines herself as Ophelia. Her father dead, her brother gone, her lover no longer in love with her. All alone, nothing left, the agony driving her mad until all she could hear was the call of the water, the void.
Rey thinks she can understand it.
Especially now, as her pruned fingers finally slide the kitchen door open—her body chilly and damp and dripping water everywhere—to hear voices carry from another room.
Ben’s low murmur. Kaydel’s laugh. Private, intimate. A conversation Rey hasn’t been invited to, has no part in.
She walks through the kitchen, her bare feet padding upon the tile, trailing fat drops of water. She walks past the living room in what she imagines is in a noble way, past Ben and Kaydel on the couch, willing herself not to look at them. Not even a glance. She keeps her eyes straight ahead, her face a monotonous mask as she pads up the carpeted steps and through the hallway and into her room, shutting the door behind her and locking it, just for good measure.
A few minutes later, after she’s pulled on yoga pants, a soft cotton tee, and a ratty, old Technical College of Tattooine sweatshirt she had stolen from her dad years ago, she hears knocking.
Rey ignores it at first, but she knows how Kaydel can get when she feels ignored.
“What?” Rey sighs after unlocking the door.
“I’m sleeping over.” Kaydel pushes past her, her bag slung over her shoulder. “Linda’s got a date and there’s nothing in the fridge except leftover egg rolls.” She flops down on Rey’s bed.
Rey wishes she could just say no for once in her life. “Whatever. You can sleep on the couch.”
“But your bed is so comfy,” Kaydel whines and pouts, already pulling the covers out.
“Why don’t you go sleep in Ben’s bed? You talk about it all the fucking time.”
Kaydel raises an eyebrow. “Maybe I will. Jealous much?”
“Don’t be gross.”
Kaydel bounces up and down on the bed. “You’re totally jealous. Holy shit. I never knew you felt that way, Rey-bear.”
Rey can feel her cheeks burning, despite the indifferent air she’s usually adept at affecting. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says in her crispest voice, her English accent from her mother long faded, but still coming out at her coldest.
“You have a thing for me.” Kaydel laughs, then bites her pink lipgloss-stained lip. “I kind of figured. I mean, you call me all the time, you hate it when I hang out with Jess…”
Rey hits her with her pillow. “You’re such a bitch.”
“But seriously, do you think I should sneak into his bed naked while he’s asleep?”
“I think they call that assault, Kay.”
“I think he’d like it. You should have seen the way he was downstairs. He couldn’t stop staring at my tits.”
Rey rolls her eyes. “I don’t know why you didn’t just take off your halter right in front of him.”
Kaydel snuggles further into Rey’s bed. “Me neither.”
A thump wakes Rey up from dreams of car accidents and water.
She’s on the floor, a pile of pillows and blankets from the closet piled onto the shag cream carpet like pretend camping. As she reaches up to her nightstand table, she pulls her iPhone down and checks the time.
Rhythmic now, against the wall, behind her bed.
Where Ben’s room is.
Rey looks up at her bed to find it empty, the covers askew. She moves the bed out a few inches, then climbs into it, pulls her headphones on, pulls the covers over her head, and tries desperately to go back to sleep, praying for oblivion, for the closest thing next to death.