Leia’s Birthday Bash
1/7 - 7/7
At the Beach House
Please come to my birthday party so I get to see you before I die.
Rey looked up from the invitation card, her eyes wide.
“Is she ill?” she said.
I opened my mouth to explain that no, that was just my mom’s way of saying she was displeased with how long it had been since I’d been to see her. And the glossy card, professionally printed, but with that less than formal message on it, that was just my mom’s sense of humor.
But then an idea occurred to me.
“Yes,” I said.
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry.”
I nodded a little, not sure exactly how someone with a dying mother was supposed to look.
“Maybe you would like to come?”
She looked up from the card, which she had placed with care on my desk. I wondered if Mom had sent it to my office in the hope that someone might see it and I would therefore feel more pressured to go. At home I could have just thrown it in the trash right away and put it out of mind. Would I have?
“Me?” Rey said.
Okay, so maybe it was a bit weird to ask her. She was my P.A. She came with me to meetings, occasionally to lunch if it was a business lunch, but we never socialized outside of work. Outside regular office hours, yes, sometimes, but that was when I made her work late. Although, after that one time when she fell asleep in my office, I tried not to do that as often, or as late.
“It’s by the coast,” I said. “It’s a nice place. You’d probably like it.”
She was quiet for a few seconds, her expression a tad bewildered, maybe even a little suspicious.
“So, would it be like work, or a vacation?” There was a small frown between her eyebrows and I could see her mind churning, trying to work out what I was asking her.
What was I asking her?
“You don’t have to take time off, so you’d get your usual salary. Room and board is included, obviously. And you’ll be compensated for the extra hours, of course.”
I really wanted her to come. The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me. I already knew I had to go and I could arrive alone, like I always did, or I could show up with this gorgeous woman.
“I guess I’m just a little confused…” Rey said. “Do you actually need me to be there, or are you asking me to… I don’t know… Because, you know, you’re my boss and...”
I began to sweat a little. I searched for the right response. I didn’t need a secretary for a visit to my family’s beach house. But I knew exactly what it was going to be like. Mom and her worrying, which she tried and failed to conceal, was actually the least irking, even though it made my skin crawl.
“You would get paid,” I said.
“Yes, but would you be paying me to be your… escort?”
Shit, she was not going to go for this. She might actually quit after this conversation. And I might find myself slapped with a sexual harassment suit on top of that. The irony was not lost on me. I’d overheard my former P.A., she didn’t realize the door to my office wasn’t quite shut, when she was on the phone with someone, presumably a girlfriend. She’d said that she actually liked working here, because even though I had a bit of a temper problem, at least I was completely oblivious to the fact that she had boobs.
She was wrong. I was aware of her breasts. But I wasn’t interested in her in that way, at all. I fired her soon after that phone call.
I didn’t want to fire Rey, nor did I want her to quit. She was a good P.A. and I liked her. I liked her a lot, actually. So much in fact that I didn’t yell at her that time she forgot to make reservations for a lunch meeting, or when she accidentally killed her computer and lost my entire calendar.
“I’m asking you to come as a friend,” I said.
The truth of the matter was, she was the closest thing I had to a friend. I certainly spent more time with her than I did with anyone else. And yes, I liked her more than I wanted to admit, but the most amazing thing of all was that she seemed to actually like me. Every morning when she came to the office, she acted like she was happy to see me. Sometimes she told me a few tidbits about something she’d seen on her way to work, or what she’d done last night and sometimes she even asked me what I had done last night or over the weekend. I usually made something up.
“We could be,” I said. I was aware that we weren’t friends in the real sense of the word. She had actual friends, she would mention them sometimes and I wanted to throttle them.
She looked at me and I realized I was practically holding my breath.
“I just don’t want there to be any confusion,” she said. “If I come with you…”
She drifted off.
“If I come with you, it would be as moral support.”
Because my mom was sick.
“Yes,” I said. “Exactly.”
Judging by her expression she was still hesitating, but she was probably going to say yes. I didn’t know her all that well, but I knew her well enough to know that she was a good person, a nice person. I felt a twinge of guilt about lying to her. But it didn’t really matter, I told myself. She would never know.
Mom had talked me into driving up on Saturday. She said she wanted to have some time with just the family, before the other guests arrived. Normally I would have refused, I would have said I was too busy, but now that Rey was coming, two more days didn’t seem all that bad.
I picked up Rey at ten-thirty. She lived in an awful building, in an awful part of town. Maybe I should consider giving her a raise, this didn’t look like a safe neighborhood.
Rey on the other hand looked amazing. At the office she wore black or gray pencil skirts or slacks and white blouses. Now she wore a summer dress, blue with white polka dots. It wasn’t any more revealing than her other clothes, except her arms and shoulders were bare, but I felt my throat go dry.
“Is this okay?” she asked, tugging a little on the skirt of her dress. “I didn’t know what to wear, how formal it’s going to be?”
I swallowed, trying to get my throat to work.
“It’s fine,” I said.
I should say something more, but my mind was blank. I opened the trunk of the car, so she could put her bag in.
“You look great,” I said and regretted it immediately. It was too late, too awkward.
But she smiled up at me. “Thanks,” she said. “You don’t look bad yourself.”
I was wearing black jeans and a dark gray Henley. I’d put my sports coat in the back of the car because it was too warm.
I smiled a little back at her.
When I closed the trunk again I noticed a guy standing in the doorway to her building. He was frowning in our direction and his arms were crossed over his chest.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“That’s Finn, my roommate.” Rey waved at him. “See you in a week!”
The Finn guy gave a small nod in response. Okay, so he was what, jealous? Suspicious of my intentions? The looks he were giving me were dark enough. Rey lived on the fifth floor. I knew this, because she had once complained about how often the elevator was out of order. So apparently this Finn had thought it worth it to come all the way down here, just to glare at me. Or maybe he’d done it just to get a look at me, so he’d be able to give a good description to the cops, in case I kidnapped Rey and murdered her?
I opened the door on the passenger side for Rey, and when she was settled in and I had closed it again, I turned my head and smiled a little in Finn’s direction. It worked like a charm, he positively bristled.
Okay, so maybe he was jealous. I didn’t know anything about him, but I knew he didn’t own a Lexus, no one living around here did, and I knew he didn’t have a beach house in Chandrila. But as satisfying as that small moment of victory was, when I got in behind the wheel, it had already faded away.
She’d said ‘roommate’, but maybe he was her boyfriend? She had mentioned him a few times before and always called him ‘my friend’, but that could be just for the sake of privacy. Maybe she didn’t want anyone in the office to know anything about her love life. A dark feeling spread through my chest. No, I decided, he couldn’t be her boyfriend. A boyfriend wouldn’t let her go away for a week with another guy, even if it was just as friends, and for moral support, and whatever else she might have told him.
The sun was shining from a clear blue sky. Rey slipped a pair of sunglasses from her purse and put them on.
“Could you… I think there’s a pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment,” I said.
I could reach it myself, but that would put me in too close proximity to her legs, her bare knees. She opened the glove compartment and found the sunglasses. She handed them to me.
“Ray-Bans,” she said. “Nice.”
I shot her a glance. Hers were the aviator kind, with mirrored lenses. Not Ray-Bans.
“Wanna switch?” I said.
She laughed and I felt pleased. I liked the sound of her laugh.
“I don’t think you want to do that,” she said. “I bought these at a gas station.”
“I don’t care.”
It was true, I didn’t. Sure, I bought designer clothes and stuff, because I could and because I wanted people to know I could. But she worked for me, she already knew I made a lot of money and I was much more concerned with making her smile.
“Okay,” she said after a moment. “I can borrow yours, and you can borrow mine.”
I took off my sunglasses again and we traded. It felt oddly intimate, putting on her pair, just as it felt seeing her wearing mine.
“They look good on you,” she said.
I knew it was just something you said, and I knew I was far from good-looking, but I felt good hearing her say that anyway.
“Those look good on you,” I replied.
She smiled. God, her dimples did things to me. All of her did, actually, but she was so cute and her smile made her even cuter. I turned my attention back to the road, because I had to, but also because I was worried I might actually get an erection if I kept thinking about how hot she was.
“So, are there a lot of people coming?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Probably.”
“No.” Pretty much all our relatives were dead and both of my parents were only children so I’d never had any cousins. “My brother is probably coming.”
“You have a brother?”
She sounded surprised. I wasn’t sure why. I’d probably never mentioned Hux to her, but then I hardly ever saw him and there was no reason I would mention him to anyone.
“Is he older or younger than you?” she asked.
“How much older?”
“Five years. Do you have any siblings?”
I shot her a glance.
It was quiet for a few seconds and I tried to think of something more to say.
“But Finn is like a brother,” she said.
So, definitely not boyfriend then. A wave of relief surged through me.
I knew her statement was meant as a positive thing, a way to describe how close they were, so most likely he wasn’t anything like my brother. She wouldn’t want Hux for a brother. I didn’t think anyone would. I certainly didn’t.
“Are you close, you and your brother?” she asked.
She didn’t ask any more questions about Hux, which was a bit of a relief. She’d be meeting him soon enough, so she would see for herself. We talked about other things, work, a new TV series, which I had seen, but she hadn’t, so that subject died down pretty fast.
I’d found her easy to talk to, that was part of why I liked her, but we’d never talked this much about non work related things and I realized that what I had thought of as friendly moments in the office, really boiled down to maybe just a few minutes a day.
The next thing she said hammered that home.
“Should I call you Ben or Mr Solo? I mean, while we’re here?”
I could hear the uncertainty in her voice and I kept my gaze on the road, trying to push down something that felt sort of like disappointment.
“Ben is fine.”
My family’s beach house was a two-story house, painted white, a little weather beaten. It was right by the water - the windows facing the back offered an ocean view. It was out of sight from the road, hidden by trees, until you were almost upon it, and there were no immediate neighbors, because Mom owned the surrounding land.
Rey leaned forward to peer out through the windshield when we cleared the trees.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Maybe it was. I had never really thought about it. It was old, Mom had inherited it from her parents, and nothing like the modern houses people built along the coast nowadays. I had been here a lot as a child during the summers.
“My mom doesn’t really want to talk about her illness,” I said. “So it’d be best if you don’t mention it.”
“Of course. I won’t.”
Stepping out of the car I was met by the salty breeze and the distant cries of seagulls cut through the air. I recognized both Mom’s and Amilyn’s cars, so I assumed the bright red jeep was Hux’s. He’d never had any taste.
I grabbed both mine and Rey’s bag from the trunk. She held her hand out for hers.
“I got it,” I said.
“Okay.” She smiled a little. “Thanks.”
Mom came to greet us in the foyer. Sometimes I almost thought she got smaller and smaller every time I saw her. She gave me a hug.
“Mom, this is Rey. Rey, this is my mother, Leia.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rey said, smiling and holding out her hand.
Mom smiled back at her. “It’s so nice to meet you.”
They shook hands and then Amilyn drifted in from the kitchen, as tall and willowy as always.
“Hi,” she said, smiling. She gave me a hug too.
“This is Amilyn, my mom’s girlfriend.”
Rey blinked, the only sign that she was surprised. Right, maybe I should have told her about that. I didn’t think she was a homophobe, she really didn’t seem the type, but lesbian moms had a tendency to catch people off guard.
Rey shook Amilyn’s hand too. “Hi, I’m Rey.”
“Was the drive up okay?” Mom asked. She was trying to act like there was nothing unusual about me bringing someone home and she pulled it off pretty well, but I knew her.
“Okay, good. We’re gonna have a pretty full house, but I’ve put the two of you in your old room.”
I saw Rey’s alarmed expression. Oh, shit.
“No, Mom, we’re just friends,” I hurried to say.
For a second Mom looked a tad surprised, but she recovered within a blink of an eye.
“Oh, okay. Well, you can sleep in the library then, and Rey can have your room.”
I stole a glance at Rey. I thought she looked a bit uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable. I’d told Mom I was bringing a friend, I hadn’t said ‘girlfriend’, but maybe now Rey thought that I had.
Hux and Phasma were in the living room. Hux was wearing white shorts and a navy polo shirt with an anchor embroidered on the left side of the chest. He looked like an idiot, especially considering that he was afraid of water and had never set foot on a boat.
“Little brother,” he said, in that annoying, haughty way of his.
We were both adults, what did it matter who was oldest? Maybe it was because I was taller that he felt such a need to point out that I was, in fact, younger than him.
“This is my brother, Hux,” I said.
Hux threw me a dark look, but then he hoisted his smile back up as he turned to Rey.
“Armitage Solo,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Hi. Rey. Nice to meet you.”
“And this is my wife, Phasma.”
Most people stared when they first met Phasma because of her height, she was as tall as I was, but Rey just smiled and shook her hand. I had nothing against Phasma, she was just boring, which was probably why she and Hux liked each other.
“Lunch is almost ready,” Amilyn said. “It’s just the six of us, the others won’t arrive until dinner, so we thought we could just eat in the kitchen?”
“That’s fine, Amilyn,” Phasma said.
“So, where did you two meet?” Hux asked then, looking from me to Rey.
“Um, work,” Rey said, before I had a chance to reply.
She looked at me. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I thought maybe she didn’t want me to tell them she was my P.A. At any rate, I decided not to clarify that and she didn’t either.
“But we’re just friends,” Rey said.
I wished I could have kept her from clarifying that in return.
“Right, of course,” Hux said.
I shot him a look. Why was that ‘of course’? And now he looked all smug, too. Bastard.
“Food!” came Mom’s voice from the kitchen, so the conversation was cut short.
We filed into the kitchen. The table was big enough to easily seat six people. I had lots of childhood memories of the dining room table being piled high with Mom’s work papers, so we often ate in the kitchen, even when we had guests.
“White wine?” Mom asked, holding up a bottle. “There’s red too, if anyone wants, but it’s a Ceasar salad, so.”
“I think I’ll have rosé,” Amilyn said.
I saw Hux and Phasma exchange a look.
“I’ll just have water, please,” she said then.
There was a pause, a second when nobody spoke, and then both Mom and Amilyn were screaming.
“Oh?” Amilyn said. “You’re expecting?”
Phasma nodded, smiling widely, and Hux was smiling too. Amilyn gave them both a hug and then Mom did. And I just felt something black swirling inside. Maybe my uncle was right, when he told me once that there was something wrong with me. Even if Hux and I didn’t get along, I should have been able to feel happy for him, but I didn’t.
“Congratulations,” Rey said. She was smiling too, looking happy, even though she didn’t even know them.
“Congratulations,” I said.
“Thank you,” Hux said.
He looked pleased with himself. I felt like rolling my eyes. He’d managed to come inside his wife, it wasn’t exactly a huge accomplishment. But now he was going to be a father. To be honest, I couldn’t picture it.
“Oh, this is such wonderful news,” Amilyn said.
“It sure is,” Mom said.
They were so genuinely happy, their faces were glowing with it. Just as they had been when Hux and Phasma got married. These were the things that people cared about, that they really cared about, and I was outside it all. I’d done none of it, I had none of it.
We sat down to eat and as expected, it was mostly talk about babies and due dates and whatnot. But then Mom turned to Rey.
“Are you from Coruscant?” she asked.
“No, I’m from Jakku, originally. It’s kind of a small place.”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“But I moved to Coruscant a few years ago.”
“Does your family still live in Jakku?”
“Um, I’m an orphan, actually, so I don’t have any family.”
I turned my head. She was an orphan? I had no idea.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up a sensitive subject,” Mom said.
“We live in Hosnian,” Mom said, indicating herself and Amilyn. “When we’re not up here.”
“I could live here all year round,” Amilyn said.
“I couldn’t,” Mom said, with a meaningful glance at Rey.
Rey smiled. Mom did that very nicely, smoothing out her inadvertent faux pas, to make everyone feel comfortable again.
“Where do you live?” Rey said, turning to Hux and Phasma.
“Hosnian,” Hux said.
“They live in Cardota,” I said, “which is a small town outside Hosnian.”
“That is irrelevant,” Hux said.
“How is that irrelevant? That’s where you actually live.”
“It’s close enough to Hosnian to be informally considered a part of the larger metropolitan area…”
“It’s a different city.”
“Technically, yes, but…”
“It’ll be the perfect place to raise the baby,” Phasma cut in.
“Yes, lots of space and green places,” Amilyn said.
After dinner, Rey, Hux, Phasma and I lounged in the shade in the backyard. I really wished I’d noticed that Rey kept glancing at the ocean before she said:
“Could we go down to the water?”
I had already opened my mouth to reply when Phasma said:
“Oh, I’d love a swim.”
She got up from her seat.
Shit. I would have liked to go down to the beach, with Rey, but actual swimming meant wearing swimwear. I never wore shorts because shorts were a stupid-looking piece of clothing, but if I were to swim I would have to. I worked out, so I wasn’t lanky anymore, like I’d been in my teens, and I felt pretty okay about my body actually, but I was a bit insecure about my legs. Someone once told me I was bow legged and that had stuck with me.
“Do you want to down to the beach, darling?” Phasma said to Hux.
“I’ll think I’ll stay here,” Hux said, as I knew he would, since otherwise he’d have to admit that he couldn’t swim.
“I’ll stay too,” I said, even though that meant staying here with Hux.
“Looks as if it’s just us girls, then,” Phasma said to Rey.
“I think I forgot to pack sunscreen,” Rey said.
“Oh, I have,” Phasma said. “You can have some of mine.”
Rey looked at me, as if to ask if it was okay that she went down to the beach with Phasma, so I smiled at her.
The two of them disappeared into the house and emerged only moments later, in swimwear. I tried very hard not to stare. Rey had a high waisted bikini, like something from the 1950s, but the fact that it wasn’t very revealing only made it sexier. Judging from her expression, she felt a bit self-conscious, so I averted my gaze.
Phasma had a silver bathing suit. It was pretty awful.
“Be careful,” Hux said to her.
She smiled. “I’m a strong swimmer.”
“I know you are.”
Hux and I watched them leave. When they were out of earshot, Hux said:
“You’re hoping to get into her pants?” He chuckled. “You have clearly misjudged your chances.”
I glared at him.
“She’s here, isn’t she?” I said.
“You’re in separate rooms, I think that says it all. She’s out of your league.”
That struck a nerve, but I’d be damned if I’d let it show.
“And you’re such an expert?”
“I clearly know more than you. And we both know it.”
“You married a Terminator. I’m guessing because either she was the only one who would have you, or you didn’t know how to say no.”
Hux face turned read.
“What did you call my wife?”
I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t need to.
“Take that back!” he shouted. “You traitorous bastard, saying things like that behind her back!”
“I wouldn’t dare say it to her face.”
Mom came out onto the patio.
“Both of you, stop it, right now!”
“But…” Hux began.
“I don’t want to hear it. You’re grown men. I won’t have you ruining my birthday.”
“It’s not your birthday today,” I said.
She hit me over the head with an oven mitt.
She glared at us and then she went back inside. Hux got up from his seat.
“I won’t forget this,” he said.
I was sure he wouldn’t.
My dad had a new girlfriend. Her name was Qi’ra and she looked to be about my age, or a couple of years younger. Wasn’t that lovely. She smiled and shook hands with everyone, but it was clear she was a bit nervous. I supposed anyone would have been in her place. But Mom didn’t bat an eye, so I guessed she already knew.
Dad shook my hand and gave my upper arm a light slap.
“How you been?” he asked.
“Working out?” He patted my arm again.
He nodded. He cast a glance in Rey’s direction.
“Seems like a nice girl,” he said.
He clearly thought she was my girlfriend and judging by his smile, he was very pleased with that. Maybe he wanted to have a moment of male bonding. Maybe he thought I had finally accomplished something.
“We’re friends,” I said.
“Ah, oh, okay.”
He nodded. He still thought she was my girlfriend.
“Your girlfriend seems nice,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, she is.”
I shot a glance at Qi’ra, who was talking to Rey now. They could have been sisters. I didn’t really care, it was just… pathetic.
“Is that your Lexus out there?” he asked.
A short while later Luke arrived. He was wearing his clerical collar, as usual. He greeted everyone the same way he greeted his congregation, with a warm handshake and a warm smile, except for Mom, whom he hugged.
“How is the birthday girl?” he asked her.
“Perfect,” she replied.
We all went into the dining room. I very nearly ended up next to Hux, but then he did a sort of dance around Phasma, so she ended up between us. That wasn’t very gentlemanly of him, I thought. Rey was on my other side.
“I thought, before we eat, we could say a prayer,” Luke said when everyone was seated.
This wasn’t even his house, did he have to be a Jesus freak here too? But Mom seemed happy to oblige him. She actually went to church sometimes and she wore a cross on a necklace, but she wasn’t obsessive. Dad thought it was all mumbo-jumbo, his own words. Amilyn… well, she believed in pretty much all religions.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Rey dutifully clasp her hands. She was sitting very straight in her seat.
Luke reached for Mom’s hand and then for Amilyn’s, he was sitting between them.
“Everybody, take the hand of your neighbor,” he said.
Oh fuck, I thought. No one liked doing this shit. But we all did it anyway. I took Phasma’s offered hand and then Rey’s. I met her gaze briefly, she was smiling a little, like maybe she thought this a bit weird. I didn’t blame her.
Luke closed his eyes, and so did Amilyn.
“Dear Lord…” he began.
I zoned him out. That was my usual tactic whenever he spoke, but now it was mostly due to the fact that I couldn’t focus on anything other than Rey’s tiny hand in mine. I felt as if there was a small bird, flapping its wings inside my chest. I tried to swallow down the emotions that seemed to stick like a lump in my throat.
“Amen,” Luke finished.
Amilyn’s and Mom’s, and Qi’ra’s, responding ‘Amen’ were clear, the rest were murmured. We let go of each other’s hands. Under the table, I rubbed my thumb against my fingers. What would it have been like if it was real?
After dinner, when we had cleared away the dishes, Mom declared that she wanted us all to play a board game.
“Mom, nobody wants to play a board game,” Hux said.
“I want to,” Mom said.
“I want to play,” Phasma said.
Mom gave Hux a triumphant look.
“And it’s my birthday,” she said, “so I get to decide.”
“You’re going to use that argument all week, aren’t you?” Hux said.
Mom decided, because it was her birthday, that we should play in teams of two. That was probably because there were too many of us otherwise. She also decided that she got to make the teams. Hux and I were one team. I could see what she was doing there, making us play together. She was keeping us from arguing, which we might have done if we were playing against each other, accusing each other of cheating, or of not knowing the rules, or of willfully misunderstanding them, and so on. Rey and Amilyn was one team, Dad and Phasma one, and Qi’ra and Luke and Mom one.
The board game was one that had been in the beach house for as long as I could remember. Judging by the state of the box, it had probably been there since Mom was a child. That meant everyone in the family had played it a bazillion times. Even so, once we got started it was impossible not to get caught up in it. If there was one thing everyone in my family had in common, it was that no one liked to lose.
I kept stealing glances at Rey. She looked as if she was really enjoying herself, maybe more than I had expected her to, considering she was playing a stupid board game with my family, but it made me feel all warm inside. I thought of how it had felt to hold her hand and I felt that lump in my throat again.
Hux and I won. He grinned and I had to smile too, because it felt pretty good. Phasma patted him on the leg.
“Well played, love,” she said.
“I feel like an evening swim,” she said. “Would anyone care to join me?”
Everyone did, except for Hux, and Phasma who said she’d stay and keep him company. I knew I couldn’t avoid swimming for a whole week, not without appearing like a dork, kind of like Hux, so I said I’d come too.
We all went to our respective rooms to change. I hadn’t packed a towel and I grabbed one from the cupboard in the mud room.
“Can I have one too?”
It was Qi’ra. She smiled a little apologetically at me. She was wearing a small bikini, not so small it was tasteless, but still. It was just weird that she looked like that and she was my dad’s girlfriend. What did she even see in him?
I handed her a towel.
We all walked down to the beach together. Mom and Amilyn were holding hands.
“You don’t mind going for another swim?” I asked Rey.
“No, not at all.” She looked at me. “Actually, I only learned how to swim a couple of years ago.”
“Yeah. I took classes.” She laughed a little.
“That’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah. That shows determination.”
She smiled. “Yeah, I guess it does.”
The water was warm, but refreshing. It felt smooth against my skin.
“You were here every summer?” Rey asked.
“That must have been wonderful.”
When I was little I thought it was pretty great. There were always lots to do and fun places to play. I had some friends here then, kids who lived in the other houses along the coast. But then when we got older they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore and that hurt.
“You’re a good swimmer,” I said.
She smiled that lovely smile of hers, dimples and all.
“Thank you,” she said.
The library was a rather small room, admittedly with a lot of bookshelves, as the name suggested, although ‘library’ rather implied something grander, or at least bigger. It also had a fold-out couch. I opened the window, lest I’d die of suffocation during the night, then I stripped down to my briefs and got into bed.
Sleep felt very far away. I was hyper-aware of Rey’s presence in the next room. What did she wear to bed? At home I slept in the nude, but you never knew who might come barging in here, so that’s why I’d kept my underwear on. She probably had a nightgown or something, or maybe an oversize T-shirt. She had great legs and an even greater ass. The skirts she wore to work were tight, so I’d had plenty of opportunity to study it.
Was she awake? She was just a few feet away; the bed was against the wall on the other side. But she might as well have been on the moon. Hux was right, she was out of my league. She was so beautiful and twenty-two and she had a life, while I was thirty-one and strange looking and I didn’t even have any friends. I had a shitload of money, but she wasn’t the type to fall for that, and even if she had been, that wasn’t what I wanted. That said, if she would have had me, because she wanted me to buy her expensive things and whatnot, I wouldn’t have said no.
I heard a sound. It was an old house, it was always creaking and full of strange noises, especially at night. But the one sound soon turned into a series of sounds. That was the bed upstairs squeaking, and then I heard moans. Was it Hux and Phasma? No, his room faced the ocean. It had to be Dad and Qi’ra. I did not want to hear that shit! I grabbed a pillow and put it over my head. There were guests in the house, for fuck’s sake. Come to think of it, he was a guest here too, this wasn’t his house, it was Mom’s.
I was alone in the kitchen the next morning when Hux walked in.
“Sleep well?” he asked and picked up the coffee pot.
“Not really,” I said. I looked up from the paper I was reading. “You didn’t hear them?”
“Dad and Qi’ra.”
Hux frowned a little.
“I wasn’t listening for it,” he said, sneering a little.
I turned back to the paper.
“Where’s your friend?” he asked. He used a special intonation on the word ‘friend’.
“Swimming with Mom and Amilyn.”
He took a grape from the plate of fruit on the table and popped it in his mouth.
“It’s almost like she doesn’t care very much about spending time with you at all,” he said.
“Is there a point to this or do I have to listen to you drone on forever?”
“It just seems to me, that a week on the coast in Chandrila might have been the major attraction.”
He wasn’t entirely wrong, which made it even worse to hear. Although it was more complicated than that, including a big fat lie about Mom’s health.
He took another grape and then he walked out of there, looking smug. I glared darkly at him until he’d left the room. Then I felt deflated. As ridiculous as Hux was, he was actually married, and he had a baby on the way. Everyone had someone, even my old as fuck dad had a girlfriend. While I had tricked someone into coming here with me, just so I wouldn’t feel so fucking pathetic. I very nearly threw my coffee cup against the wall, but stopped myself at the last moment.
It was Sunday so we got rid of Luke for a couple of hours. Everyone was doing something, so I got a chance to be alone with Rey for a while. We sat on the patio.
“Your mom is great,” she said.
I hoped she wasn’t about to bring up my mom’s ‘illness’, but she didn’t.
“How long has she and Amilyn been together?” she asked.
“Um…” I had to think. “Since I was six, so twenty-five years.”
“Yeah.” I looked at her. “Why?”
“No, nothing. I just thought you were a couple of years younger.”
Was that good or bad? I couldn’t tell.
“You and your brother don’t look much alike,” she said.
I nodded. It wasn’t a secret, everyone knew. Hux was really sensitive about it, though, he didn’t like to talk about it.
It was quiet for a moment. Rey was fiddling with the cuff on the right leg of her capri pants. It took me a few seconds, but then I realized what it was she wasn’t asking.
“I’m not,” I said.
“Oh.” She smiled a little. “I didn’t want to ask, it seemed rude.” She looked at me. “I probably could have figured that out on my own, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“You look like your parents.”
I actually huffed out a laugh.
“No, I don’t.”
“Yeah, you’ve got your mother’s eyes and there’s something of your dad around the mouth.”
I looked at her. Unsurprisingly she didn’t say anything about my ears or my nose. Mom was actually also adopted, so it was possible I’d gotten those traits from some unknown relative.
“You never knew your family?” I asked.
She shook her head. I wished I hadn’t brought it up, because her smile vanished. I tried to think of something else to say. I couldn’t think of anything.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s okay.” She shrugged a little.
“You wanna go for another swim, before lunch?”
Her smile returned. “Yeah.”
She didn’t stare at my legs, or any other part of me either, and I tried very hard not to stare at her and pretty soon we were in the water. She looked so happy, swimming, it made my stomach lurch.
“Were you being serious when you said I was a good swimmer?” she asked.
She smiled and I smiled back. I felt as if my heart was melting and it hurt and there was nothing I could do about it. It had been a mistake, bringing her here. While it was wonderful and amazing, spending time with her like this, I was constantly aware that this wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
After a while we headed back to the shore and picked up our towels. She wiped her face.
“Is this a private beach?” she asked.
I watched her out of the corner of my eye. I could buy a house like this, I thought, except newer and better, with a private beach, for you. But I didn’t say it. Even I could see how creepy that would have been.
The next day the guests started to arrive. No one but the family were staying overnight, but it was basically an open house, every day, the whole week. My mom knew a lot of people. There was a lot of small talk and empty pleasantries, which I didn’t care for, nor was I any good at it.
In the afternoon it started raining, which meant everyone had to cram into the house and it felt almost claustrophobic. I escaped it for a while by volunteering to help out in the kitchen. I was putting away leftovers when Hux came in with a pile of plates.
“Seems like your friend is enjoying herself,” he said.
Through the open doorway I could see into the dining room. Rey was talking to someone whom I didn’t know who he was, but he was in his early thirties perhaps and kind of good looking.
I opted not to reply to Hux’s comment.
“Seems there are things money can’t buy,” he went on.
“You would know all about that, wouldn’t you, considering you don’t have any.”
“I make a perfectly good living…”
“I am a dentist, it makes very little difference where.”
“That is actually a very suitable profession for you.”
“What do you mean?”
God, he was so easy sometimes.
“No one liked you to begin with,” I said, “so you might as well become a dentist.”
“Very clever.” He gave me a sardonic smile.
I threw another glance at the doorway, I didn’t see Rey this time, but I saw Phasma, laughing at something Gial Ackbar had just said. He was ancient, and he looked it, but I leaned close to Hux and said:
“Sure that baby’s yours?”
He made a grab for me, but I jumped out of the way, to the other side of the kitchen island.
“Fuck you!” he hissed, pointing at me.
I made my way into the throng of guests. Being tall meant I could see over most people’s heads, but I didn’t see Rey anywhere.
“There you are.” Mom looped her arm through mine. “Come and say hi to some people, they haven’t seen you since you were little.”
I really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t come up with a good excuse not to.
I found Rey a little later, in the library, studying the shelves.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She smiled. “I just… Everyone’s super nice. I just don’t actually know anyone.”
“I don’t know all these people either.”
I glanced at the books.
“I’ll leave you you to it,” I said.
I wanted to stay and talk more with her, but at the same time I was afraid that I would give it away, what I really felt, and she’d realize how utterly pathetic I was. She’d made it very clear she had agreed to come here as a friend only. She wasn’t interested in anything more. And friends was good, I didn’t want to ruin that.
The next day was a repeat of the day before, except there were slightly fewer guests and the weather was better, so everyone didn’t have to be inside.
I lounged in a chair on the patio, Rey was sitting next to me, and people came and said hi. I introduced Rey, and they said hi to her. Then they asked me what I did these days, or if they were slightly better informed, how my business was doing. I said very well and then they drifted away.
I'd never understood how Mom could know so many people. Where did she meet them? There were people of all ages among the guests, but quite a lot of them were older, people Mom had known for years.
My gaze lingered on a couple in their early forties or thereabouts. He wore a Hawaii shirt and a straw fedora, and she was rail thin and had crocs on her feet. It was a bizarre thought that, in all likelihood, those two were having sex with each other.
Larma D'Acy, one of Mom's colleagues, spilled her drink.
"Oh, crap. Sorry."
Others came rushing with napkins.
I met people through work, but no one ever suggested socializing outside of that. I was aware people didn't like me and I usually didn't like them either. They only ever talked about stupid shit like golf, or Ibiza, or other people they knew.
If I had thrown a birthday party, not that I had any plans to do so, no one aside from my parents would have shown up. Maybe Hux. Of course, my birthday was on Christmas Day, so everyone were busy celebrating the birth of Christ anyway.
I turned my head. Rey was smiling at me.
“You looked like you were far away,” she said.
I smiled a little.
She squinted a little at me. My Ray-Bans were pushed up on top of her head. She’d asked me if she could borrow them a while longer and I’d said ‘Sure’, not sure why she wanted to, but secretly enjoying that she did.
“Thinking about the TIE-contract?” she said.
I laughed a little.
“Are you thinking about the TIE-contract?” I asked.
Her smile was gorgeous.
“I’m thinking about getting out of here,” I said.
“And go where?”
I looked at two old ladies wearing identical dresses with flowers printed on them.
“Anywhere. Wanna go for a walk?”
She got up and so did I and then we snuck out of there. We headed north, following the coast. It didn’t really matter where we went; I was alone with her. We talked about about Chandrila and we talked a bit about the other guests. She too had noticed the women with identical dresses. Then we talked a little about books. She’d borrowed one from the library yesterday and had started reading it last night. I had read it too, but it was years ago.
The landscape was rocky so we kept a pretty slow pace. I loved talking to her. Listening to her voice and hearing the things that were in her head, her thoughts.
“This must have been the perfect place to play as a kid,” she said when she had climbed up onto a large boulder.
“Yeah. There are caves over there.” I nodded in the right direction.
“Really? Can we go and have a look?”
As a kid I could walk straight into the opening, now I had to duck, but a little further in the ceiling was high enough that I could stand upright again.
“It goes further back,” I said, “but it’ll be too dark without flashlights.”
“This is cool.”
She gazed around.
“You’ve never heard about these caves?” I said.
“No, should I have?”
“Well, it was a pretty long time ago.”
I told her what was basically the plot of ‘Child of God’ by Cormac McCarthy. Even as I did so, I remembered that telling stories like this was partly why kids stopped wanting to hang out with me. Or at least I thought it was.
But Rey listened with an expression that was equal parts fascination and and horror. She didn’t seem to have read the book, because she showed no signs of recognizing any of it.
“Oh my God,” she said when I had finished. “That is so disgusting!”
She turned her head, her gaze traveling around the space again, as if seeing it for the first time. Then she paused.
“And you’re totally lying to me,” she said, turning back to me.
I couldn’t keep a completely straight face.
“Oh my God,” she said. “I totally believed you!”
But she wasn’t angry. She was laughing. I laughed too. She playfully punched my arm.
“I’m so gonna get back at you for that,” she said.
I felt light inside as we begun making our way back. I was pathetically pleased that she had touched me. Just like that, a light bump of her fist. Physical contact.
“Did you make that story up?” she asked.
“It’s a book,” I said. “‘Child of God’.”
“I can’t believe I fell for it.”
“Let’s go down to the beach,” Mom said.
“I’m too tired,” Hux said.
He was leaning his head against the backrest of the couch. It was Wednesday evening, the last of the guests had left and the kitchen looked like a war zone.
“I should start to clean up in the kitchen,” Phasma said.
“We can do that later,” Mom said. “Come on, I wanna go for a walk.”
Hux glanced up at her. “And it’s your birthday?”
She smiled. “Precisely.”
“Tomorrow,” Hux said as he heaved himself off the couch. “It’s your birthday tomorrow.”
We strolled down to the beach. It was beautiful, the light of the setting sun glittering on the water like fire and the sky tinted in shades of gold, orange, pink and even purple. We stopped near the shoreline. Luke walked ahead. The dickhead had brought his Bible. What was he going to do, preach to the fishes?
Mom turned to Amilyn.
“What do you say, hon?” she said.
Amilyn smiled. “Seems as good a time as any.”
Oh my God.
They turned and looked at the rest of us, both of them smiling.
“We figured that since you’re all here, anyway,” Mom said, “this would be a good time to finally get married.”
I glanced at Hux, but he looked as surprised as I felt. He hadn’t known anything about this either.
“We wanted you all here, together, with us,” Amilyn said.
Dad looked shocked too, but then he smiled.
Luke officiated the wedding. Mom and Amilyn looked so happy. Twenty-five years together and they still looked at each other like that. They were holding each other’s hands and smiling.
“I’m trying very hard not to drop these,” Luke said as he took the rings out of his pocket.
Everyone laughed. I did too.
When the ceremony was done, I had to wipe at the corners of my eyes. I glanced at Rey. She was wiping her cheeks, it looked as if she had really been crying. She saw me looking and smiled.
“It was so beautiful,” she said.
She was right, it was.
I hugged Amilyn and then Mom. Everyone hugged them.
“Oh, we didn’t bring the champagne,” Amilyn said.
“It would have been a dead giveaway,” Mom said. “Let’s go back and have some now.”
On the way back, Dad ended up walking next to me.
“They really did it, huh?” he said.
“They’re good together,” he said and I glanced at him. He was nodding a little, as if almost to himself.
“Yeah,” I said.
We all headed to the kitchen and Amilyn popped open the bottle of champagne.
“If you want to have one glass,” she said to Phasma, “it’s perfectly safe, but if you want something else...”
“I can have a sip,” Phasma said.
Dad and Qi’ra brought out glasses from the cupboard and then we toasted, right there among the piles of dirty dishes.
Later that evening I was alone in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher. There was a long line to the bathroom, the house only had one, so I was going to have to wait anyway.
“Do you need any help?” It was Rey.
“Thanks, but I’m done.”
“You don’t think they minded that I was here? Leia and Amilyn, I mean.”
“No. Why would they?”
“Oh, just that… You know, it was just the family and then me…” She lifted her shoulders a little.
“No, not at all.”
“I was honored to be here. It was beautiful.”
“I’m sure they didn’t mind, at all,” I said.
It got quiet. I looked at her.
What if I said something? What if I just told her that I liked her? It would be an understatement, but still, a step closer to the truth. But I had never told a girl I liked her. I was thirty-one years old and I had no idea how to do it.
The old water pipes clanged.
“The bathroom is probably available now,” I said. “If you hurry you might beat someone else to it.”
“See you tomorrow,” she said.
She left and I was alone again. Fuck. I threw the dishrag into the sink.
Hux was waiting outside the bathroom door when I opened it the next morning.
“Finished jerking off?” he said.
I had been jerking off in the shower, but he didn’t know that.
“No, but I saw some tweezers in there, if you were planning to,” I said.
“You really are pathetic,” he said.
“Yeah, well, I’m not the one who has pics of, I don’t know what they are, female wrestlers, on my phone.”
He shoved me. “Stay the fuck away from my phone!”
Dad came down the stairs just then.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
Hux looked like he wanted to kill me.
“I’m warning you,” he said.
“Hey, knock it off,” Dad said.
Hux shot one last dark look at me and then he went into the bathroom and closed the door.
“What’s that about?” Dad asked.
Dad raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t look like nothing.”
“It’s none of your business,” I said. “Just like it’s never been any of your business, because you weren’t here, were you?”
I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth.
Dad looked like he didn’t know what to say. And then he sighed.
“Yeah… You have a point,” he said.
Now I didn’t know what to say.
“I guess I worked a lot,” he said.
Qi’ra was on her way down the stairs. This was hardly the time, nor the place, for this conversation. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have this conversation at all. But right now I was standing here with a damn towel around my hips and a house full of people.
“Yeah,” I said.
Qi’ra smiled when she reached the bottom of the stairs. She gestured at the bathroom door.
“Is it vacant, or is this the queue?” she asked.
“No, Hux is in there,” Dad said. “I mean, Armitage.”
She headed towards the kitchen.
Dad looked at me again. “If I could go back and do things differently… I would have been around more.”
I felt a burning in my eyes that I definitely didn’t want or need right now.
“It’s too late,” I said.
He met my gaze.
Shit. I blinked to get rid of the tears.
I saw Luke at the top of the stairs and then Mom’s voice came from somewhere else up there:
“No, I found it!”
“Okay,” Luke replied. “I’m just gonna go see if I left mine in the car.”
Dad smiled a little at me, but it looked kind of sad. I still didn’t know what to say, so I just sort of nodded a little, and then I went to get dressed.
I felt a bit off all throughout that morning. Talking with Dad like that, although in truth neither of us had said much, I’d never done that before. We never talked about anything, other than the most superficial subjects. Like what kind of car I was currently driving. Or he would ask me if I was seeing someone, to which I was always forced to reply ‘No’, or make up some kind of vague answer.
There were just a handful of guests today, even though today was Mom’s actual birthday. Hopefully they would all leave early. I was beginning to think that this weeklong birthday celebration was a horrible idea. Actually, I’d thought so all along and the only thing that had made it less so was Rey.
One of the guests had brought a cake with a whole bunch of candles.
“Make a wish!” someone trilled before Mom blew them out.
“Too bad,” Hux said, “you should have asked if you could blow them out.”
“What the fuck do you want?”
“You could have used the wish. You could have wished for a chance to finally lose your virginity.”
I glared at him. “Shut up.”
“Ah, I knew it!”
“You don’t know shit.”
“You honestly think she would be interested in you? A girl like that?”
My chest felt tight.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, don’t I?” His mouth quirked in a sneer. “You’ve never had a girlfriend. You don’t even have any friends.”
I felt as if there was a nest of snakes inside me, squirming and snapping.
“How did you think this was going to play out?” he said. “I assume she already knows you’re rich, so if she doesn’t even want you for your money…”
“You’re nothing but a mediocre, suburban bore…”
“And you’re a freak. You’ve always been a freak!”
“Shut up!” I wanted to throttle him.
“I’m not going to shut up, I’ve had it with your shit!”
“That’s fucking rich, coming from you!”
“Poor little rich boy, always so misunderstood. But it’s not that complicated. Nobody likes you!”
“Fine, nobody likes me! What’s your fucking excuse? Being found in a dumpster?”
Hux’s face turned white.
“You… Fucking asshole!”
“Fuck you! I have a family! Of my own! You have nothing that you haven’t bought!”
“Fine, I paid her to come here! Is that what you wanna hear? Does that make you feel better about yourself?”
We were in each other’s faces. My pulse was beating loudly in my ears. But I became aware then that Mom was there, yelling at us to stop.
And I realized Rey was in the room. There was a whole bunch of people in the room, actually, but I really only cared about her. She was staring at me, her face a white mask, and then she ran outside.
I ran after her. I caught up with her by the sweet-brier bushes that marked the border of the garden.
She turned away from me.
“No! Leave me alone!”
“Rey, I’m sorry.”
“How could you say that?” She turned suddenly to face me. There were tears in her eyes. It made me feel gut-wrenchingly guilty. “You made me sound like some sort of… call-girl!”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“But it’s true.” Her expression turned into something that looked like remorse. “You did pay me.”
“No, not like that.”
“And your mom isn’t sick, is she? I haven’t heard a single person ask about her health, or even talk about it when she isn’t in the room. You lied to me!”
I searched for something to say.
“Yes, but…” I began. She turned away from me again, but I walked around her. “... I only did it because I wanted you to come.”
She lifted her gaze. “You need help,” she said. “I thought you were just a bit awkward, but you need professional help.”
I felt like all the air had been punched out of my lungs.
“I quit,” she said.
“Don’t.” This couldn’t be happening. “Please.”
“Stay away from me.”
She stalked off and there was nothing I could do to stop her. Every breath seemed to burn in my lungs. For a few seconds I just stood there, trying to grasp what had happened. And then I felt as if my head felt was boiling.
I headed back to the living room and I walked straight up to Hux and punched him in the face. Someone screamed. We grappled. He hit me in the side. I tried to land a punch to his stomach, but he was trying to knee me in the balls, the bastard.
“Han, do something!” someone yelled.
Then my leg connected with something, I lost my balance, and fell face first through the window.
It didn’t hurt very much. That was my first thought. I managed to get my hands under me and I pushed myself up. That’s when I saw the blood, it was dripping onto the ground.
Someone grabbed my arm.
I could feel something warm, all over my cheek. Shit, I was bleeding.
“He needs to go to the hospital.”
Mom and Amilyn were crouching next to me.
“Get some towels!” Amilyn called.
“Maybe we should call an ambulance,” someone I couldn’t see said.
“It’s faster if we drive ourselves,” Mom said. “I’ll get the car.”
“You’ve been drinking.”
“I don’t fucking care,” Mom said.
“I haven’t. I’ll drive,” someone else said.
“Can you stand up?” Amilyn said, to me.
Someone helped me to my feet. Dad, I realized. There was something in my right eye and I blinked. It took me a second to figure out that it was blood.
I walked to the car and it was a bizarre experience. I could see the blood, all over my T-shirt, and could feel it, warm and sticky, but I felt like it wasn’t really me who was bleeding. It couldn’t be me.
“Maybe you should stay,” Amilyn said to Mom. “Hux.”
“Yes, you’re right. Call me as soon as you get there.”
Qi’ra drove and Amilyn sat in the backseat with me.
It hadn’t hurt earlier, but it did now.
“It’s okay,” Amilyn said. “You’re gonna be fine.”
I was scared. How bad was it? There was a lot of blood. She had blood all over her. I had blood in my mouth, the taste coppery and sickly.
“How bad is it?”
She was a doctor, she would know.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “They’re gonna fix you right up.”
She took my hand.
“Take a right up here,” Amilyn said to Qi’ra, “and then it’s straight on to the town.” She turned to me again. “We’re almost there.”
The car ride felt simultaneously very long and very short. I kept thinking about how I had fucked things up with Rey. I fucked it up from the start. I never had a chance and I knew it, I had known it all along, and now she hated me, no worse, she despised me. Tears were spilling out of my eyes and I couldn’t make them stop.
At the hospital they gave me painkillers and probably some kind of sedative. It was almost easy to just lie there while they did whatever they were going to do.
“I’ve got this,” a doctor said.
“But I was just about to…”
The doctor spoke again, almost without moving his lips, in a quiet voice, but I heard him.
“His mother is Dr. Amilyn Holdo and she’s just outside, in the hallway.”
She wasn’t my mom, but whatever. Close enough. And if them thinking so got me the best care, well that was just a plus.
I wondered if Rey was still at the house, or if she had already left. I wondered how fucked up I was going to look after this. Maybe it didn’t fucking matter.
So, after this chapter it will be a while before Rey makes another appearance, but don't worry, she'll be back :)
They moved me to another room. The walls were painted a pale blue color and there was a generic picture of a beach on the wall, a lonely red parasol stuck in the sand. It was a single room, though, just one bed.
Amilyn walked in. She had washed her hands, but her blouse was ruined. The bloodstains had turned a rusty color and I felt ashamed.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
They had stitched me up. I had a bunch of small cuts, just nicks really, but a long gash along the right side of my face, my neck and down my chest. Another pretty deep cut on my right arm, and one on my left shoulder and the side of my stomach. The doctor had told me how many stitches I had, like that was something to be proud of. Or maybe he was proud of himself.
It didn’t hurt very much now. Maybe they had given me something. I felt tired.
“I talked to mom, so she knows you’re alright,” Amilyn said.
“He’s fine. He’s got a black eye. He was pretty scared there for a while, thinking he’d killed his little brother.”
I couldn’t manage a smile.
She moved my hair away from a forehead with a gentle gesture and then she put her hand on the uninjured side of my face.
“It’s not a crime to be lonely,” she said, meeting my gaze.
I looked away.
I didn’t deserve it, whatever understanding, or kindness she was offering.
“Get some rest, sweetheart,” she said. She stroked the back of my hand and then she left.
I was alone with my thoughts. They went round and round and round in a never ending circle of self-loathing and regret, interrupted only briefly when a nurse brought me some soup. But in a way it was a relief to be hidden away in a hospital room, where I didn’t have to face anyone. I wondered if I could go straight back to Coruscant from here.
The next day Mom showed up. And Dad.
“How you doing, kid?” he said.
He looked at me like he was taking it all in.
“I’d say you should see the other guy, but…”
Mom looked as if she didn’t find that particularly funny, or clever. At all.
“They’re discharging you,” she said to me. “You got the bag, Han?”
“Yep, right here.”
“I should call my insurance company,” I said.
“They’re already on it,” Mom said. “I had a look in your wallet, found your insurance card.”
“I’ll go see how they’re getting on with the paperwork,” Dad said, gesturing with his thumb over his shoulder.
He left and then it was just Mom and me.
“I have to get home,” I said. “I have to get back to work.”
“You need to rest for a couple of days.”
She was not happy with me. That was plain to see. I didn’t know what to say.
“Rey has gone home,” she said. “Dad drove her to the train station this morning.”
I still didn’t know what to say. I felt such shame. About everything. I couldn’t meet Mom’s gaze.
“She’s not a call girl,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I said that in defense of Rey or myself.
“I got that, I talked a little with her. She’s your P.A.?”
I nodded a little.
“Not anymore,” I said then.
“You need to learn that if you want something, you have to give something too. There are things you can’t buy.”
“I wasn’t trying to buy her!”
I glared at her, but she wasn’t cowed.
“Don’t bite my head off,” she said. “I know that.”
“Let’s get you home,” she said.
“I need to get back to Coruscant.”
“You’re not driving all the way to Coruscant today.”
“Then I’ll take a cab!”
For a second I almost thought she was going to slap me.
“You’re my son and I love you, but you need to get your shit together,” she said. “You’re thirty-one years old, not a teenager.”
She looked at me with a stern gaze, but then her expression softened.
“We’ll talk more at home,” she said.
She unzipped the bag they had brought. I got dressed and moving pulled on my stitches, but I could do it. They had packed a button-down shirt, so that made it easier. Mom only had to help me tie my shoes, because leaning over hurt too much.
We walked to the reception, where I had to sign some papers, and then we headed out to the car. It was another sunny day and the dressings on my face made me feel like a mummy. Lying in the hospital bed, I’d felt pretty okay, but being outside made me aware I really wasn’t.
“As good as new, huh?” Dad said.
The doctors had told me the injuries I had sustained would leave scars. I already felt too miserable for that information to have much impact. I’d probably feel worse about it later.
We stopped at the pharmacy to pick up the prescription and then we drove back to the beach house.
There were no guests today, I guessed Mom had cancelled the rest of the celebrations and the house seemed almost eerily silent. I walked as far as to the couch in the living room and sat down. I felt exhausted. And sore.
After a little while Hux and Phasma came downstairs. He really had a black eye, it was all swollen and purple. They stopped in front of me.
Hux cleared his throat.
“Amilyn says you’re going to be fine,” he said.
He looked uncomfortable, kind of like how I felt.
“Yeah,” I said.
He gave a curt nod.
“Well, we’re heading back home,” he said then.
I nodded a little.
“Well. Get better,” he said then.
It was strange, but after things had gotten so out of hand, it was almost as if we were okay. Or at least more or less back to where we had been. Phasma on the other hand wouldn’t be too quick to forgive me, judging by the look she gave me.
I felt really bad about what I had said about Hux being found in a dumpster. It was a low blow and I’d known I had crossed a line the moment I said it.
After they had left, I reached for the remote control and turned on the TV. There was nothing worth watching, but I watched it anyway. Then Dad came into the room.
“Qi’ra and I are heading home,” he said.
“You need anything?”
“No, I’m good.”
Dad nodded a little.
“Well, you rest and do what Amilyn tells you, huh?” He smiled a little.
I thought about that conversation we’d almost had.
He nodded again. “See you, kid.”
Luke came and watched TV with me. He didn’t say much. Maybe Mom had forbidden him to. I sure as hell didn’t want to hear anything about God’s plan or whatever else he might sprout along those lines.
I went to bed early, after Amilyn made sure I didn’t have any fever. I felt like a little kid.
I had my old room back. There wasn’t much in there that showed it had been mine, just a few books on a shelf and the table by the window on which - if you looked closely, because it had been painted over - you could see ‘BEN’ scratched into the surface in the top right corner.
The bedsheets were new and crisp, but I still thought about how Rey had lain right here. My eyes stung. I was in love with her and now I was never going to see her again. My face contorted and it pulled on the stitches on my cheek, but I welcomed the pain.
I’d never been in love before her. Not really, not like that. I wanted it to stop. It was tearing me apart; it felt like literal heartache. The look on her face when she realized what I had done… I kept seeing it for my inner eye, over and over in an endless loop, and it was too much to bear. The things she’d said, the things Hux had said echoed in my mind. Hux was an asshole, but what he’d said was true. It was all true. I didn’t have anything. I was alone.
I returned to work looking like Frankenstein’s monster. Rita, one of my employees, gasped when she saw me.
“Oh, my,” she said. “Mr Solo, what happened?”
“I had an accident. It’s fine.”
She was an older woman. Aside from her, very few people said anything. The sutures on my face were to be removed in a couple of days, but I couldn’t wait that long to get back to work. Maybe when the stitches were out it wouldn’t look quite as bad. I hoped.
I knew they were all whispering behind my back. No doubt the gossip was made all the more juicy by the fact that Rey hadn’t returned, after the mysterious ‘business trip’. I felt guilty about that, for her sake, remembering how appalled she’d been when my family thought she was some sort of call girl. But it was embarrassing for me, too. The only solace was that no one dared say anything to my face.
There was an overtime form that Rey filled out at the end of each month, then gave to me to sign, before sending it to the clerk who handled the salaries. I did that now and then I took care of the paperwork necessary to end her employment. I signed my name at the bottom of a letter that would be sent home to her, confirming her her resignation. It was a standard letter, impersonal and business-like.
I should have written her a letter of recommendation. She deserved one. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt too self-conscious and there was also a small part of me that resented her, for leaving, for not giving me a chance to explain, for breaking my heart.
I hired a new P.A. This one was a guy and he was very obviously gay. In fact, he reminded me a little of of my mom’s P.A., who was incredibly camp, but seemed to be completely oblivious about it; he had no idea people noticed.
For some inexplicable reason, Dave, my new P.A., decided he had to tell me he was gay.
We were in my office, we were talking about the upcoming month and he was taking notes. Then he suddenly put down his Ipad.
“Mr Solo, there is something I feel I should say,” he said.
I thought he was going to quit, citing all the overtime, or maybe personal reasons, which was code for ‘I can’t stand you’.
“We’re kind of in the middle of something,” I said.
“I know, but…”
“Okay, fine, what is it?”
He straightened a little in his seat.
“I feel I should let you know that I am gay.”
I stared at him.
“Okay,” I said then.
“I hope that isn’t going to be a problem.”
Why the hell did he feel he had to tell me that? It wasn’t as if I hadn’t noticed.
“Is that it?” I said.
He gave a curt nod. I could tell he was uncomfortable, which made it even more of a mystery why he’d said anything in the first place.
“Yes,” he said.
“Okay, fine. Can we get back to the schedule then?”
“Yes, of course.” He picked up his Ipad.
It wasn’t until later, when he got up to leave, that I realized someone else in the office could have been giving him grief about it.
I was too young to remember, or to take notice of it at the time, but Mom had told me that when she and Amilyn got together, there were a bunch of neighbors who stopped talking to her. It was before we moved, so we were still living in our old house. Either those people were incredibly fond of my dad, or they took offense at two women living together.
I was a kid, I didn’t understand that there was anything unusual about it. I was upset my dad had left, and I wondered if it was somehow because of me, but I liked Amilyn from the start. I had never met anyone who had two moms or two dads, but I was really naive and didn’t think about that. Until a kid in my class said something.
I didn’t even understand some of the words he said, I had never heard them before, but I understood that it was insulting. So I got into a fight with him, and I had to go to the principal’s office and then they called my mom. I was just six years old and worried because I was in trouble, but then Mom told the principal to go fuck herself. That amazed me. I’d seen my mom angry, plenty of times, but I had never heard her say anything like that.
Thinking back now, I couldn’t remember what the principal had said. It was probably too subtle for me to fully understand at the time. I was utterly bewildered when Mom took my hand and marched us out of there. We moved not long after that.
“Has anyone said anything?” I asked.
He turned back to me.
“To you,” I said. “Has anyone made any comments or harassed you?”
“No, not at all.”
He nodded and smiled a little.
“Goodnight,” he said.
I drove home. There wasn’t much traffic. I stopped at one of my favorite restaurants and picked up some food. When I got home I looked through my mail. There was a padded brown envelope, my name and address written by hand on the front with roundish letters. I tried to remembered if I had ordered anything online. There was a bookstore, a small one, but they could get hold of almost anything, whose packages looked homemade, and I sometimes ordered drawing materials from another place, but this didn’t feel like a book and I hadn’t ordered anything.
I ripped it open. There was money inside. Not a whole lot and the bills weren’t new, just ordinary crumpled ones. What the hell was this? I checked the envelope again, even though I already had, but it was definitely my name and address and there was nothing written on the back.
I counted the money. Why would anyone send me money? Was it a joke? And then it hit me. The total amount was roughly consistent with the payment for that week. Actually, it was probably the exact sum, down to the last cent. Rey had sent this.
Something began to squirm and press against the insides of my ribs. I tugged at my tie until I could pull it off. I felt rotten. More than that, I felt like a fucking creep and I hated it. I grabbed the money and threw it, but of course it weighed close to nothing so the bills just scattered in the air. I swept my arm across the kitchen island instead, pushing everything to the floor.
The powerlessness was crippling.
The phone rang. One signal, two…
“What a greeting.” It was Mom.
“It’s not a good time right now.”
“Okay, call me back later.”
For a while I just stood there, until I had calmed down. I had nothing to eat now, my dinner was on the floor.
I wasn’t hungry anyway. Actually, that wasn’t true, I was starving. I went to one of the kitchen drawers and rummaged through it. I always got menus from fast food joints in the mail and my maid put them in here. There was a whole pile of them. I picked one at random and ordered a pizza.
Then I looked at the mess. I should clean that up. It didn’t seem quite right to leave it to the maid, but then I left it anyway.
I got an email from Hux in the middle of November. He asked if we should pitch in together and get Mom and Amilyn something for Christmas, since we hadn’t gotten them anything for their wedding. I wrote back that it sounded like a good idea.
The next day he had emailed me again. Did I have any ideas about what we could buy? No, I didn’t.
We emailed back and forth, bickering about the other’s lack of ideas. Phasma suggests a spa weekend, Hux wrote.
Amilyn would probably like that, but Mom wasn’t a huge fan. What about a regular trip somewhere, I suggested.
Where to? he wrote.
I didn’t know.
Phasma says there is a castle, outside Naboo, Hux wrote. It’s a hotel, but you get a whole experience, gala dinner, string quartet concert and the whole nine yards.
I looked it up online. It looked nice. It wasn’t too pricey either. I could easily afford it of course, but it wouldn’t be hard for Hux and Phasma to pay half either. Which was the whole idea.
I wrote back that it was a good idea, go for it, I’ll send you my half of the money.
I didn’t hear from him after that. Time seemed to move oddly, in leaps and bounds. It trickled by painfully slow when I thought a lot about Rey. I thought about contacting her, a million times, but she’d made it very clear she wanted nothing more to do with me.
Then it was Christmas and I drove up to Hosnian. The weather was pretty bad so it took a while. Mom and Amilyn lived in a three-story town house. We’d moved there shortly after Mom and Amilyn got together. Most of my childhood memories were from here. The place we lived before had been a standalone house, in a sleepy suburban area. My memories from before the move were mostly fragmented and hazy. I remembered Dad in the garage, working on one of his cars. I remembered going to the playground with Mom, I was very young, and she had this white winter coat. I remembered feeling so proud of her, I wasn’t sure exactly why, except I knew that my mom was prettier and better than everyone else’s.
I parked on the street in front of the house. The snowy street was silent. There were Christmas lights twinkling among the bare branches of the trees lining the street and the windows all along the street were lit up with warm, yellow light.
I had a key, in case of an emergency. Although Hux lived much closer. Of course, he had one too. I put down my bags and hung up my coat in the foyer. I took off my shoes too, or I would have trailed snow all over the floors.
It was an old house, but unlike the beach house, which was a little shabby, this one was very well taken cared of. The mix of old and new blended seamlessly. The kitchen was empty and so was the living room. The Christmas tree was purple. That had to be Amilyn’s doing. I went back to the bottom of the stairs.
“Come on up!” came Mom’s voice.
I picked up my bag and headed upstairs. They were in their bedroom, getting ready to go out, by the looks of things.
“Oh, good, you made it,” Mom said. “I’ve been calling you.”
I took out my phone. I had a couple of missed calls.
“Sorry, I had it on silent.”
“Let me see you,” Mom said.
She came up to me and looked intently at my face. Way to go to not make me feel like a freak, Mom.
“It doesn’t look so bad,” she said.
Amilyn joined her.
“No,” she said, “it has healed nicely. The scar will fade a bit in time, but…” She smiled. “I think it makes you look a bit more devil-may-care.”
I smiled a little back at her. I wondered if she meant that. But she usually did mean the things she said. The scar on my face bothered me more than the others, because it was my face, it was constantly on display wherever I went. And I certainly wasn’t handsome to begin with, so I could have done without it.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“A colleague of Amilyn’s is throwing a party,” Mom said, stepping away to put on her shoes. “Did you bring a suit? Other than the one you’re wearing?”
“I don’t wanna go to a party.”
I hated parties and considering my latest performance at one, I really wasn’t in the mood for it.
“It’s a big do,” Mom said. “There will be people of all ages there.”
“I really don’t want to.”
“Please come,” Amilyn said. “I wanna dance with you, because you’re so tall.”
“Hurry up and get changed,” Mom said, “the car is gonna be here any minute.”
It was like talking to a wall. I went and fetched my bags and brought them up to the guest room.
Amilyn’s colleague, whomever he or she was, lived in an enormous house. It was practically a mansion. It was lit up like a Christmas tree and as soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear music, drifting out through the open front door.
“Is your colleague Jay Gatsby?” I asked Amilyn.
She laughed. “He’d like to think he is,” she said. “But he’s a very nice man.”
The very nice man was called Lando and he greeted us at the door. He was old, but he had an almost movie star quality about him. He kissed Amilyn’s hand and then Mom’s and then he shook my hand.
“This is your son?” he said.
He directed his question at Amilyn. A lot of people made that mistake, simply because she was tall.
Amilyn caught my gaze for a second.
“Almost,” she said, smiling.
I was touched by that, actually.
“He’s Leia’s son,” she said.
“Ah,” Lando said, smiling at Mom. “Strapping young man.” Then he turned to me again. “I hope you’ll have a good time here tonight.”
We went inside. There was a fountain in the entrance hall and two wide staircases curved up to the second floor. A huge chandelier, with pink prisms hung from the roof. I thought about the Christmas gift Hux and I had gotten for Mom and Amilyn and figured it was going to be pretty spot on, except less tacky than this place.
There were lots of people, flowing through the rooms. There were two separate bars, a dance floor and lounge seats where people in beautiful clothes sat and sipped their drinks. Actual disco balls were twirling slowly beneath the ceiling.
“Is this guy really a doctor?” I asked.
Both Mom and Amilyn chuckled.
“Yes, he is,” Amilyn said.
Then they both burst out laughing.
“He’s a gynecologist,” Amilyn said and then they laughed some more.
“I’m gonna go get a drink,” I said.
“Dance with me first,” Amilyn said. “Then you can dump us if you want.”
I danced with Amilyn. I wasn’t very good at it, because I hardly ever did it, but she and Mom had taught me and Hux in the living room, when Hux was going to his high school prom. I didn’t go to prom.
When I had danced with Amilyn I asked Mom if she wanted to dance too. I figured she probably did and I was right. Dancing with Mom was different, because the top of her head barely came up to my shoulder.
“Jesus, you’re small, Mom,” I said.
“That’s why no one ever sees me coming,” she said.
I didn’t precisely dump them after that, but they wanted to mingle and say hi to people they were acquainted with and I most definitely didn’t want to do that. So I headed to the bar and ordered a drink.
I’d been sitting there for maybe an hour when a woman showed up.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked, pointing to the bar stool next to me.
She smiled and hopped up on the stool. She was wearing a horrible, apricot colored dress that looked like a loofah.
None of the seats along the bar were taken, apart from the one I sat on. The bartender strolled over.
“What can I get you?” he asked her.
“Um, a Cosmopolitan.”
She shot me another smile. Then she held her hand out.
I shook her hand. It was small.
“Wow, big hands. I guess because you’re pretty tall.”
She laughed a little.
I had no idea what to say. “Yeah.”
“Some party, huh?” she said. “So, do you know Lando?”
“He throws parties like this all the time.”
I threw her a glance. She was wearing such a thick layer of makeup, it was almost difficult to tell what she looked like, but she was sort of pretty. Maybe twenty-five, but that too was difficult to say for sure.
“Are you from around here?” she asked.
Then I thought, monosyllabic answers were usually considered rude, so I added:
“I live in Coruscant.”
“Oh. I like that city.” She smiled. “I travel quite a bit, but Coruscant is actually one of the places where I could see myself living some day.”
The bartender arrived with her drink and I signaled him to fill up my glass. Angela raised her glass to me, smiling over the rim.
“Cheers,” she said.
She’d been sitting there for just a few minutes, but already she seemed like one of the most insipid people I had ever met.
Why was she sitting there?
“That’s a nice suit,” she said. “Is that Saint Laurent?”
That was pretty well spotted.
“So, what do you do in Coruscant?”
It suddenly occurred to me why she might be sitting there and the thought felt almost like an epiphany. Her dress, although creative, politely put, was cheap. I’d grown up with two women who liked clothes, Amilyn especially, and who both dressed really well, so I could tell. Despite that, she’d known exactly what suit I was wearing.
“I have my own company,” I said. “What do you do?”
“Oh, I model a bit.”
She seemed on the short side to be a model of any repute.
“It’s just for a bit of fun, you know?” she said. “See the world a bit, before I settle down.”
If I wasn’t mistaken, she was scoping me out, trying to figure out how much I was worth. Even knowing that, and I was actually pretty sure I had read this right, I had no idea what to do. I wasn’t interested. If she wanted to marry rich, she would have to find someone else. Maybe I should just up and leave.
“You look a little dangerous,” she said, leaning a bit closer. “How’d you get that scar?”
Or maybe I should stay right where I was.
“Um, race car accident.”
Dad had been a race car driver when he was young, that’s why I thought of it. And I wasn’t going to say I was fighting with my brother and fell through a window.
“Oh, you’re a race car driver?”
“It’s just a hobby.”
She was so close now, I could smell her perfume. I felt like a complete idiot, because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I cast a glance around, aware that Mom and Amilyn were around here somewhere. But I didn’t see them.
Then I felt Angela’s hand on my thigh and I startled.
“I have to say,” she said, her glossy lips close to my face, “that you fill out that suit very nicely.”
Her hand traveled up my leg, slowly inching closer to my crotch. Jesus Christ. I could feel myself grow hard, just from the proximity of her hand.
“Do you want to go somewhere more private?” she asked. She had brown eyes and they were holding my gaze.
Was this really happening? Could it be so easy?
I had given a lot of thought to how to get laid. I didn’t want to die a virgin. I had considered paying for it, but just the thought of doing so made me feel dirty. That wasn’t what I wanted.
To be honest, this wasn’t really what I wanted either. But on the off-chance that I ever met someone I cared about, I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself by being an oddball that had never had sex. So a stranger, whom I was never going to see again, was pretty much perfect. I just hadn’t known how to go about making it happen.
Now it was happening. Angela dragged me into a large bathroom upstairs and started kissing me. I kissed her back. Her lips were sticky and tasted sweet. She felt small and a little bony in my arms.
“Do you have a condom?” she asked, her lips hardly leaving my mouth.
I didn’t even have to say it. The way I froze probably said it all.
“Maybe I have one,” she said, and it sounded a little rehearsed. She had a small clutch and she rummaged through it. “Fuck, no. I don’t!”
She looked somewhat taken aback.
Fuck. I’d been so close to actually doing this.
“Maybe they have some here,” she said, her gaze going to the bathroom cabinets. “I mean, this whole place looks kinda like a brothel.”
I smiled. She had a point. And more than that, that was the first thing she’d said that showed an ounce of an actual personality.
We searched through the cabinets and drawers and actually found condoms.
“Put me on the counter,” she said.
I picked her up and sat her on the counter. She pulled down her panties and I pulled them down further, until she could get one high-heeled foot out of them. I had no idea how to do this, but I put my hand between her legs. It was an odd sensation to touch her there. She was shaved completely smooth. I slid a finger inside her and I was surprised by how warm it was. Warm and slick.
We kept kissing while I did that, but after just a moment she said:
“I need you inside me.”
I unbuckled my pants. I rolled the condom on with what felt like fumbling fingers, then I stepped back between her legs. It took a couple of tries, that made me feel pretty stupid, but then I slid inside her.
So that’s what it feels like, I thought. It felt pretty damn good. She was clutching my back and I moved my hips, pushing into her, again and again. I couldn’t think of anything but the sensation in my cock and the mind-blowing fact that I was actually doing this and I came, embarrassingly soon.
It took me a second to catch my breath and then I pulled out.
“Help me down?” she said.
I did, although she must have been able to jump down from that counter herself. I threw the condom in the trash and I could have wiped myself off, we were in a bathroom, but I just pulled my pants up.
Angela had slipped her panties back on and straightened her dress.
“That was great,” she said, smiling at me.
It had felt pretty good for me, but the longevity of it, or rather lack thereof, and the fact that I hadn’t known what I was doing, sort of implicated that she was lying. Still, I’d rather take that than obvious disappointment. I was using her and knowing that alleviated the embarrassment I felt about my performance, for some reason.
She took out a piece of paper and a pen from her clutch and wrote her number on it.
“Call me,” she said and slipped the paper into my pocket.
I didn’t reply. I wasn’t going to call her. She was still smiling, but it faltered a little. I could see on her face that she knew she had done this for nothing.
I felt like a jerk. Then again, she was going to keep doing this, with guys in designer suits, until she found one who did call her back.
She left and I locked the door again behind her. I washed my hands and my face. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I looked exactly the same. I felt exactly the same. I had put my cock in someone, but that didn’t change anything.
I threw away her number and then I stepped out of the bathroom. I didn’t see her anywhere, but I kept an eye out for her apricot dress, because I didn’t want to run into her again. I didn’t see Mom or Amilyn anywhere either. I thought about having another drink, but then I called a cab instead. I sent a text to Mom, telling her I had gone home.
“I think you should cut your hair,” Mom said.
We were sitting on the bar stools on opposite sides of the kitchen island.
“No,” Amilyn said behind me. “I like it that long.”
Then her hands were all of a sudden in my hair.
“This is good hair,” she said.
“Just a little shorter,” Mom said.
I was trying to eat breakfast. I had lost my virginity yesterday, two days before my thirty-second birthday. But they didn’t know that and I sure as hell wasn’t about to tell them. It just seemed strange that I knew, that I remembered it happening. It almost didn’t seem real and in a way I was grateful for that.
“Maybe you should cut your hair,” I said to Mom.
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” she said.
“Maybe I will,” Mom said. “One day when you least expect it.”
“When is Hux and Phasma getting here?” I asked.
Mom looked at her watch. “They said around noon.”
“Is Dad coming?”
“Yes.” She frowned. “Haven’t you talked to him?”
“Well, he said he was coming, he and Qi’ra.”
“They’re still together?”
“Yeah. When was the last time you talked to him?”
“I don’t know.”
Mom made a face that was almost, but not quite, an eye-roll. I took a sip of coffee to wash down the last of my breakfast.
“Well, I should be getting ready,” Mom said and got down from the stool.
“Don’t cut your hair,” Amilyn said when she had left the room.
I looked at her. “I’m gonna cut it a little.”
“Just a little?”
She smiled and I smiled back.
Hux and Phasma arrived at noon and I was surprised to see how pregnant she looked. I hadn’t seen her since this summer and it didn’t show then. It sure did now. I knew how pregnancies worked, so I should have expected it of course.
Hux made an odd, constipated face when he saw me.
“It doesn’t look… too bad,” he said.
He felt guilty, I realized. But I had started the fight and he didn’t push me out the window.
I shrugged a little.
“It healed okay,” I said.
“Hello,” Phasma said.
“Hi.” I glanced at her belly. It was hard not to, it was so big. “You doing okay?”
“Yes, surprisingly well. People talk about how difficult the last trimester is, but I feel fine.”
“That’s good.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“Oh, I have to show you…” Hux said.
He moved to the side to allow Phasma, and Mom and Amilyn, to walk past. He was scrolling through pictures on his phone.
“It’s here somewhere,” he said.
“I thought you told me to stay away from your phone.”
He shot me a pointed look, but didn’t say anything.
“Here it is. Look.”
He showed me a grainy picture of a foetus, an ultrasound image. It might just as well have been an alien. But he looked so proud, excited even.
“That’s pretty cool,” I said.
He smiled, looking at the picture himself.
“I just got a text from dad,” Mom said. “He’s running late.”
“He and Qi’ra are still together,” I said to Hux.
He made that sound he did that was somewhere between a scoff and ‘Hah!’.
“Yes, can you believe it?” he said. “Who would have thought?”
Luke arrived not long after that, then Dad and Qi’ra eventually showed up and we had dinner. Everyone ate too much. We moved into the living room and half-dozed while Luke read from the Bible about the birth of Christ. He usually did that on Christmas Day, not on Christmas Eve, but he wasn’t going to be here tomorrow, so I supposed he wanted to cram it in.
Luke closed his Bible carefully when he was done and smiled.
“Thank you, Luke,” Mom said.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Qi’ra looking intently at Dad. I was just starting to wonder what that was about, when Dad cleared his throat.
“While we’re on the subject, so to speak.” He smiled a little, but he looked kind of nervous. “Qi’ra and I have something to tell you all.” He shot her a glance and then he took a deep breath. “We’re having a baby.”
You could have heard a pin drop. I gaped. Everyone did.
Then Hux rose. “This is unbelievable!” he said.
And then he stormed out of the room.
“Hux!” Mom called.
Phasma got to her feet and went after him. It was kind of impressive actually, I’d never seen a pregnant woman move like that.
“Armitage,” she called after him, “wait!”
Mom had gotten up too, but now she turned to Dad and gave him a pointed look.
“Maybe you should go after him?” she said.
Dad had a stunned look on his face, but he got to his feet. Qi’ra started crying. At least none of it was my fault this time.
They were having a baby? Jesus. Dad was too old.
Luke went to sit next to Qi’ra, talking to her in a hushed voice. I got up from my seat.
“Where are you going?” Mom said.
“To put on some coffee.”
“Oh, okay, that’s a good idea.”
Hux had locked himself in one of the rooms upstairs and wouldn’t come out. He refused to open the door for Phasma, Dad, or Mom.
“You go and have a try,” Mom said to me.
If he wouldn’t even let his wife in, he sure as hell wasn’t going to open the door for me. But I went upstairs. I knocked on the door.
Okay, that was it. I had tried. But I stayed where I was. I didn’t know what to say. I leaned my forehead against the door. I stared down at the carpet.
“Hux? Fuck him.”
This was my old room. And that’s when I remembered that one of the panels in the closet was loose, so you could get in there via the closet in the next room. So that’s what I did. It was a much tighter fit than when I was a kid, but I got through.
Hux was leaning against the closet door, trying to keep it closed, but I was stronger than he was.
“What the hell are you doing?” he said through gritted teeth.
I put my weight against the door and he couldn’t hold it and I stumbled into the room.
“What is wrong with you?” he said.
His eyes were red-rimmed.
Okay, so I had made it in here. Now what?
“Fuck him,” I said again.
Hux’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. He wouldn’t meet my gaze. He pursed his lips together, but then he spoke anyway, like he couldn’t help himself.
“He had to go and do this now? When we’re having a baby?”
“What does it matter?”
It was quiet for a moment.
“Maybe he wants a second chance, to get it right, you know?” I said then.
“You mean he wants another real child?” Hux said, his voice dripping with something that might have been contempt, but it could also have been despair.
I was so not qualified to have this conversation. It should have been Mom, or Phasma.
“You know that out of the two of us, I’m the real disappointment,” I said.
He glanced at me.
“You got it all,” I said. “He likes my car better than he likes me.”
Hux swallowed again and then he wiped a hand across his face.
“You have a very nice car,” he said then.
I smiled a little.
He took a deep breath. He looked as if he was pulling himself together. Then he looked at me.
“You know… I’m sorry.”
He was talking about me falling out the window now. Or maybe that whole week.
“Yeah, me too,” I said.
Neither of us spoke for a little while, then Hux took another deep breath and went and opened the door.
Downstairs everyone was sitting in silence, except Luke who had had left, probably because he had to get to the church. Phasma went straight for Hux and hugged him. Mom caught my gaze and smiled a little and nodded at me.
Dad talked a bit with Hux, while Phasma stood next to Hux like a bodyguard. Then Dad talked to me.
“You okay?” he asked.
“You know, we didn’t plan this, but…” He drifted off.
“It’s fine. I’m fine.”
I didn’t really care. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. It struck me more as comical than anything else, which was probably not the right reaction.
A while later it was time to leave for Mass. I rode in the back with Mom and Amilyn, because there was no reason for me to take my own car.
“So, you’re gonna be a big brother,” Mom said.
“Yeah, can we not talk anymore about that? We’ve kind of talked about it to death.”
“I just feel sorry for Hux,” Mom said. “He took it so hard. Han is just so clueless! He tries, and he means well, but…"
I checked my phone, more out of habit than anything else, but it was Christmas Eve, of course I didn't have any messages.
We survived Mass and when we got back to the house, sans Dad and Qi'ra, who were going to her parents' house tomorrow, everyone went straight to bed.
I ran into Phasma on my way to the bathroom on Christmas Day morning. She looked very pale without makeup.
“Happy birthday,” she said.
“Perhaps... you might want to use the bathroom on the third floor.”
This was probably the closest I had ever seen her to being embarrassed.
“Okay,” I said.
I turned and headed for the stairs. As I showered I thought about how exciting this day had been when I was a kid. I resented being born on Christmas Day, because I felt that nobody cared enough about my birthday, but at the same time there were Christmas presents awaiting and it all just seemed so magical.
We had stopped buying presents for each other when both Hux and I reached adulthood. I didn’t miss it, it was a drag trying to come up with what to buy. I hoped Mom and Amilyn would like our gift this year though.
When I got down to the kitchen, Mom and Phasma were talking about childbirth and it was far, far too much details for me, so I took my breakfast into the living room. I turned on the TV and Hux came downstairs and took a seat on the opposite couch.
“What kind of Christmas spirit is this?” Amilyn said a short while later, when she came downstairs. “Shouldn’t we have breakfast together?”
Hux looked up from his phone. “Oh, well…”
Amilyn picked up the remote and turned off the TV.
“I was watching that,” I said.
“And now you’re not.” She smiled happily at me. “Come on, let’s all sit down together.”
It was a good opportunity though, after we had finished eating, for us to give Mom and Amilyn their gift. I exchanged a look with Hux and he excused himself for a moment. Soon he returned with a gold colored envelope.
He remained standing by the side of the table and turned to Mom and Amilyn.
“Since you surprised us this summer, we didn’t get a chance to properly congratulate you,” he said. “So we thought, the three of us, that this would be a good time to give you this.”
He handed over the envelope. Mom and Amilyn looked happily surprised and put their heads close together to open the envelope.
“Oh, wow, you shouldn’t have.”
“This looks amazing.”
Hux looked so pleased with himself. Phasma was smiling too.
“I’ve only heard good things about the place,” she said.
“I can imagine,” Mom said. “Thank you.”
Her gaze went to each of us in turn.
“Yes, thank you,” Amilyn said.
I was happy they liked it, even though none of it had actually been my idea.
We had a pretty standard Christmas Day after that. We played a game and we ate too much, again. Hux and I managed to not get into a fight, verbal or otherwise.
He and Phasma left pretty early the next day and then I got ready to leave too.
“Sure you don’t want to stay over New Year’s?” Mom asked.
“Thanks, but I have plans,” I said.
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“Yeah.” It would have been if it had been true.
Life returned to its usual rhythm. I worked. I worked out. I drew - pencil and charcoal. I watched TV - I had all the streaming services. I read books. I jerked off.
Then Hux called me. It was the third week of January. The weather was gray, everything was gray, from the colorless sky to the slosh in the streets.
“Hello, little brother,” he said when I picked up.
I was a bit surprised that he called. We didn’t exactly call each other on regular basis to chit-chat, so I assumed there was something in particular he wanted, but I had no idea what.
“Um, look,” he said. “I’m going to Coruscant next week, for a three day conference, and I was wondering if I could stay with you?”
That was even more surprising.
“If it’s a conference, isn’t hotel included?” I asked.
“Well, yes, but I would appreciate if I could stay at your place.”
“What does it matter?”
I pressed pause on the movie I was watching, because I didn’t want to miss any of the plot.
“I just think it’s a strange request,” I said.
“Are you busy or not?”
I wasn’t. I wasn’t doing anything next week, except working.
“Why don’t you want to stay at the hotel?” I asked.
I could hear Hux’s frustrated sigh. It sounded as if he was moving and then he said, in a slightly hushed voice:
“Look,” he said and his reluctance was easy to hear, “Phasma has read that… It’s very common, apparently, for men to be unfaithful, during the last stages of a pregnancy.”
“Are you planning on cheating on her?”
“No! She’s not quite herself right now. It would make her feel better if I stayed with you, rather than at a hotel with a lot of people and where there will be a lot of alcohol involved.”
There was an implicit insult in that. If Hux was staying with me, there was zero chance of him meeting any women. But I knew he was unaware of it, he was asking for a favor and was clearly embarrassed about the whole thing.
“Alright,” I said.
When we had hung up I resumed the movie. I’d never thought of Phasma as jealous. Not to mention that Hux cheating on her, or cheating on anyone, was nothing short of ludicrous. But maybe it was true what Hux said, that she wasn’t herself right now because of the pregnancy. He obviously knew her a lot better than I did. I’d never imagined she might feel insecure about anything either.
I tried to imagine what their life together was like, what they talked about at home, or the things they did, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine them having sex with each other either, but they obviously had. I thought about the pictures of the wrestlers I’d seen on his phone. Phasma was a pretty big woman. Was that what he liked? What did she do, pin him down and sit on him?
I decided I didn’t want to think about that, so I focused on the movie.
Hux arrived on Monday evening, after the first day of his conference, we ordered food and then we watched a movie, sitting mostly quiet on the couch. It felt pretty odd to have him here. I never had guests. Mom and Amilyn had been here, Dad had been here once or twice, but he’d never stayed over.
I was always alone in my apartment. The maid came once a week, but always while I was at work. It was so very much mine that someone else’s presence here seemed incongruous. The mere fact that he was sitting there on the couch, where I usually lounged, and occasionally jerked off, although I wasn’t about to tell him that, felt weird.
The next morning I gave him a spare key and showed him the alarm.
“It’ll start to beep when you open the door,” I said, “but you have plenty of time to punch in the code.”
Hux frowned, looking a little hesitant.
“What time will you be home?” he asked.
“I don’t know. But it’s not complicated, you just punch in the code.”
“What if I don’t do it in time, what happens then?”
“The men in masks show up and you are never seen or heard from again.”
Hux made a frustrated face.
“Just punch in the code,” I said.
“What if I don’t remember it?”
“It’s 010392,” I said. “It’s Tolkien’s birthday. Easy to remember.”
“Tolkien’s birthday? That’s not easy to remember!”
I opened the door and then he had no choice but to follow me out.
“Maybe for a geek,” he said.
I started down the stairs. There was an elevator, of course, but I usually took the stairs.
“Tell me the code again,” he said.
“Maybe I should write it down.”
“Don’t write it down.”
“I could just put it in my phone, under something else.”
He texted me that afternoon and asked if I wanted to go for a drink after work.
I thought you weren’t allowed any alcohol, I wrote back.
Ha-ha. I’ll pick you up after work.
Maybe going for a drink wasn’t such a bad idea. Better than sitting in my apartment. But why did he have to pick me up?
I’ll meet you. Where are we going?
He wrote back. I don’t know yet, that’s why I’m picking you up.
He was waiting in his car, on the street outside my office, when I came outside later. I opened the door on the passenger side and leaned down to look at him.
“You know, you’re just gonna have to drive me back here, so I can pick up my car,” I said.
“Will you get in? I’m not actually allowed to stop here.”
I sighed and got into the car.
We had stopped at a red light when I happened to turn my head, I looked out the side window and saw her. Rey. But it wasn’t just her, it was also her roommate, Finn, and they were kissing. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. And then all the blood in my body seemed to rush to my head, burning hot like lava.
I reached for the door handle, but Hux was faster - all the car doors locked with a click.
“Open the door!” I yelled.
“Open the fucking door!”
I reached for the button that would unlock the doors, but then Hux stepped on the gas. He ran a red light! And immediately after made a right turn at an alarmingly high speed, nearly putting us in the line of oncoming traffic. My stomach lurched.
“What the hell are you doing?!”
“Saving you from ending up in jail!”
“Stop the car!”
“Stop the fucking car!”
“No! You’re insane!”
“Hux, for fuck’s sake…”
“Are you out of your mind?”
He wasn’t a very good driver. He always drove in a jerky manner and he had a antagonistic relationship with the gear shift.
“No, you’re not going back there!”
“Pull over!” I practically yelled right in his ear. “Before you kill us!”
He finally stopped and pulled into an empty parking space along the curb. I felt like I’d been running, not sitting in a car.
“What were you thinking?” Hux said. “What were you going to do?”
I didn’t know. I hadn’t been thinking, I just… I felt so angry, seeing her kiss that guy.
“Honestly,” Hux said, “you need to get over her.”
I probably did, but how?
“She’s not the only woman in the world,” he said.
But it felt as if she was.
“And you should seriously consider anger management classes,” Hux said.
“Get out of the car.”
“We’re not going back there.”
I wasn’t planning to.
“Fine. But I’m driving.”
“It’s my car.”
“I don’t give a shit, you can’t fucking drive.”
He sighed, but he got out of the car, so did I, and we switched places.
It was gut-wrenching, I thought as I turned the key in the ignition, seeing her. Seeing her kiss someone else. I had never even kissed her. I’d wanted to, so much.
I was not in the mood to have a drink, but it wasn’t as if I could get rid of him anyway. We stopped at some bar, a pretty quiet place. We each bought a beer and grabbed a table.
I stared down at my glass.
“Seriously,” Hux said, “you really need to get over her.”
“I really need you to stay out of my fucking business.”
“It’s not normal. You’re obsessed. You should try to meet other women. Women your own age, I might add.”
I felt too tired to even argue with him. I was grateful he'd stopped me. I felt mortified, just thinking about making an even bigger fool out of myself in front of Rey.
“There are women here,” Hux said.
I looked at him. Technically that was true.
“What, and I should just go up to someone?” I said.
“That’s what I did. That’s how I met Phasma.”
Really? I didn’t know that, I’d assumed they’d met through friends.
“So, what, you just… started talking to her?”
“Yes. I was out for drinks with some colleagues and she was there with a couple of friends. And I saw her and I went up and talked to her at the bar.”
Wow. My brother, the smooth-talker.
But as easy as that sounded, in theory, I couldn’t imagine myself doing that. What was I supposed to say? It wasn’t as if I hadn’t thought about it, especially since Christmas. There were a lot of Angelas in the world, there was even a word for it: Gold-diggers.
But even if I would somehow manage to find someone else like that, it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted someone who liked me. And that just didn’t seem possible.
I put my head in my hand and pressed the heel of it against my forehead.
“You know…” Hux said. “I know I’ve said that you’re ugly, but you’re not, actually.”
I threw him a glance.
“I just thought you should know,” he said, looking slightly uncomfortable.
I leaned back in my seat and sighed. It was quiet for a while.
“Have you talked to Dad?” I asked.
I looked at him. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything more about it? But then I did anyway.
“So, are you guys okay?”
He nodded a little, somewhat curtly.
“Yes.” He cleared his throat, probably embarrassed about his reaction when Dad broke the news about the baby. “I believe so. Have you talked to him?”
“No.” I shook my head a little. “I think he calls Mom, and she keeps him updated.”
“He calls Mom?”
“Yeah. You know, he wishes he could get back together with her.”
Hux made an incredulous face.
“You think he wants to get back together with her?” he said.
“Yeah.” I looked at him. “Isn’t that obvious?”
“Not to me.” Hux still looked like he didn’t quite believe it.
Of course, Dad had never said anything about it, not to me and apparently neither to Hux. That would have been very unlike him.
“After twenty-five years?” Hux said. “What about Amilyn? And Qi’ra?”
“I don’t think he thinks it’s going to happen.”
Hux really hadn’t noticed? Huh.
“He’s probably right about that,” Hux said. “Do you think Mom wants to?”
“Huh.” Hux looked thoughtful for a moment.
I was hungry. “Do you want to get something to eat?”
“Sure, why not.”
I never thought it was going to happen, but by some miracle I did meet someone.
I was waiting for the valet to bring my car around. I’d been to lunch with some business associates. It was taking forever and I thought, standing there on the sidewalk, that it was kind of pointless to have valet parking if it was going to take this long.
There was a woman waiting there on the sidewalk next to me. She caught my gaze and smiled a little and I looked away, because I felt as if I’d been caught staring. I hadn’t been staring.
“Waiting for your car?” she said.
“I wonder what’s taking so long,” she said.
“The valet probably stole your car.”
She laughed. I hadn’t been expecting that, so I turned my head and looked at her, for real this time. She was wearing a smart business suit and high heels. Her hair was curly and pulled back from her face in some sort of updo. She was holding a briefcase. Her smile was very pretty. Actually, all of her was.
“Business lunch?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yeah.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say. Where the hell was my car?
“Korr Sella,” she said then, holding her hand out for me to shake.
I had my hands in my pockets, but I got my right hand out and shook hers.
Her eyebrows rose. “You’re Ben Solo?”
She was still holding my hand. Wait, what did she mean by that?
She laughed a little and let go of my hand, as if she’d realized she was holding on too long.
“I know your mother,” she said.
“Yes, well, a little bit. I interned at her firm once.”
“You’re a lawyer?”
“I am one now.”
She smiled and I smiled back a little.
“So you’re from Hosnian?” I said, feeling kind of pleased I could come up with something to say.
“I went to school there. I had thought I might stay there, but then I got a job here, and it was a good opportunity, so…”
I nodded a little.
“Do you live here, or are you just in town for business?” she asked.
“I live here.”
“It’s a pretty nice city.”
“Except for the valet parking.”
I smiled. “Except for that.”
A silver sedan pulled up in front of us then.
“That’s mine,” she said. “Good luck getting yours.”
I smiled and nodded.
She was just about to get into the car when she turned around again.
“Maybe you’ll find this terribly forward, and if you do I’m sorry, but would you like to go out for a drink some time?” she said.
I was floored. I’d thought I’d done pretty okay, making small talk with her, but I had not expected this. I gaped like an idiot. Was she actually asking me out?
“Um, yeah, sure.”
I couldn’t quite interpret the look on her face, relief maybe? But she was smiling.
“Great,” she said. “Um… Wednesday?”
“The Mirrorbright, on Verity Street?” she said. “Do you know it?”
I didn’t, but I knew the street.
“Eight o’clock, is that okay?”
I sounded like an idiot, but I didn’t know what else to say.
“Okay,” she said. “See you there.”
I almost said ‘Yeah’ again, but stopped myself and smiled and nodded instead. I wasn’t sure if that was any better.
On Thursday evening I was horribly nervous when I stepped into The Mirrorbright. It was a pretty hip place, according to what I’d read online, but not very expensive. There were lots of people there and the music was kind of loud.
She wasn’t going to be here. I had practically convinced myself of that, so I was surprised when I spotted her, waving from a table further into the room. An odd mixture of relief and even more nervousness surged through me.
I made my way over to the table.
“Hi,” she said, smiling.
Her hair was hanging free and it curled down past her shoulders.
She was very pretty.
“I grabbed a table when I got here,” she said. “It’s pretty crowded tonight.”
There was nothing on the table, I noticed, no glass.
“Um, what would you like to drink?” I asked.
The question seemed to take her a little by surprise. Shouldn’t I have asked that? But then she smiled.
“A beer,” she said.
I went to the bar and I bought two beers and then I went back to the table.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll get the next round.”
I smiled a little and nodded. Was there going to be a next round? I sat down opposite her. Our knees bumped together under the table.
“Sorry,” I said.
She laughed a little. It was quiet for a couple of seconds. Except it wasn’t, because there were lots of people talking all around us, but I felt as if I was in this bubble. Shit, I had to say something.
“What kind of law do you practice?” I asked.
What did I knew about corporate law? My mind was completely blank, even though I had lawyers.
“What do you do?” she asked.
“Um… I’ve got my own business.”
“What kind of business? What do you do?”
I told her a little bit about it, but I felt like I couldn’t even form proper sentences.
“Sounds interesting,” she said.
The conversation continued, somewhat haltingly. I was sweating through my shirt and I prayed she wouldn’t notice since I had my jacket on. I felt like a big oaf. I was too quiet and hyper-aware of it.
She bought us another round. She was very, very beautiful and she seemed like someone who had their life together, unlike me who was just pretending. She seemed nice, like she was a good person.
I walked her to her car later and I felt disappointed with myself. Other people did this all the time, why was it so difficult for me?
We stopped next to her car. She smiled up at me.
“So…” she said. “Do you wanna do this again?”
She was still smiling, but I thought she looked almost nervous. She was nervous? Wow. And she wanted to see me again? I couldn’t believe it, I was so sure I’d made a terrible impression.
Did I want to see her again? Yes. Definitely.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling back at her.
Her smile widened.
“So, do you wanna exchange numbers?” she said.
I got my phone out of my pocket and she took her out of her purse. She told me her number and I saved it in my phone, then pressed dial.
“There’s mine,” I said.
She smiled. I felt as if I had somehow been transported to an alternate reality.
“I’ll see you then,” she said.
“Yeah, see you.”
She got into her car. When she had fastened her seatbelt, she smiled at me again, through the window and gave a little wave. I raised my hand in return, smiling back at her, and then she drove off.
I stood there on the sidewalk, almost in a state of shock. This was nothing like what had happened with Angela. Korr was a lawyer, she had her own career, she was smart and beautiful, and for some bizarre reason she wanted to see me again. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, but I felt light inside.
I was probably supposed to call her, right? I stared at her name in my phone, Korr Sella, when really I should have been focusing on the spreadsheets on my computer screen. I didn’t even really know what I thought about her, except she seemed nice. I did want to see her again. Actually, the whole thing made me so nervous, I felt ill at ease. But no, I did want to see her.
So, when I was I supposed to call her? I hadn’t called her yesterday, because I hadn’t even begun to work out what I was going to say. I still hadn’t. There were rules about these things, weren’t there? How soon to call and all that. It was too complicated, but I didn’t want to fuck this up, whatever this was.
Maybe I should just text her. Or was that stupid? I started typing, but erased it again, because it looked fucking retarded. I wrote and erased several tries and then, somehow, I accidentally pressed ‘send’. Shit!
No! What did I just send? I stared at the screen. Hey. That was all I had written.
The door to my office opened and Dave’s face appeared in the gap.
“Did you call for me?” he asked.
He made a sort of apologetic face and closed the door again. The phone buzzed in my hand.
Hey yourself :)
I looked at it for a long moment. She had replied. So maybe it wasn’t a complete disaster. I tried very hard to come up with something else to write, but I couldn’t think of anything clever, so I just ended up asking her if she wanted to have dinner tonight.
I’d love to, she wrote back, but I probably have to work pretty late. But if that’s okay, I can call you when I’m finished?
That sounded as if she really did want to see me, didn’t it? I sent her another text, saying that was fine.
It wasn’t that late when she called. 8.30. I was still at the office because I’d figured I might as well work late too.
“Do you still want to have dinner?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’m still at work too.”
“So where is your office? Maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle?”
We decided on a place and I had nervous butterflies in my stomach when I left the office. This was a date. It was a second date even.
I arrived before her. It was Friday night so there were lots of people out and about. On their way to the movies, or to dinner, or on dates. My phone buzzed and I thought it would be Korr, but it was a text from Hux; a picture, of a squashed, red baby face, and the caption read She’s here! Everyone is doing fine. I smiled. That was one ugly baby. I was an uncle. How mind-blowing was that?
I texted him back. Congratulations! Then I saw Korr coming around the corner.
“Hi, sorry, have you been waiting long?”
She was smiling. She looked great. She did not look like someone who had been staying late at the office.
We found an Italian place, pretty small and low-key, that had a vacant table. We ordered wine and then we had a look at the menu. I glanced at Korr across the table.
“I just became an uncle,” I said.
“Yeah, I just found out. My brother texted me.”
“That’s amazing! Boy or girl?”
She smiled. “Do you have more than one brother, or a sister?”
“Just one brother.”
For now, I thought.
“Do you have any siblings?” I asked.
“Yes, a sister. She’s two years older than I am.”
We talked about our respective families for while. She already knew my mom, but not that well. Then we talked about other stuff. I thought I did a bit better than last time, or at least so I hoped. I was still nervous, but not quite as bad.
By the end of the evening I had worked up the nerve to ask her if she wanting to go out again next week. And she said yes.
Our third date was at the movies. That was what I had suggested. We had dinner first and then we walked to a nearby movie theater. It was warm in there, compared to the chill outside and I unbuttoned my coat.
We stood in line to get tickets and I scanned the list of movies that were playing.
“You know,” Korr said, “there’s something I really, really want to do.”
I looked at her. “What?”
She smiled a little and reached for my tie. I kept looking at her, at that small smile, as she untied my tie and pulled it off. She unbuttoned the top button of my shirt and my breath caught in my throat. Then she neatly rolled up the tie and put it in my coat pocket.
“There,” she said.
I smiled a little. I felt a bit self-conscious, but also pretty good. She smiled at me. My stomach did a funny lurch.
I felt like a silly schoolboy, sitting in the dark a later, wondering if I should take her hand or not. It was right there, in her lap. Did she want me to do that, or not?
Fuck it, I was just going to do it. I reached over and took her hand in mine. When I glanced at her she was smiling, her face lit up in bluish colors from the screen. She glanced back at me and her smile widened. She looked happy. Could she really be happy? Because I was holding her hand? I smiled back at her. I felt happy too.
Her hand was small. She changed the grip and interlaced our fingers. Something warm melted inside my chest. I turned my head to look at her again. It was pretty dark, but I could still see her. She looked back at me, meeting my gaze. We were going to kiss. I was pretty sure we were. She angled her face up, leaning a little closer and then I closed the distance, putting my lips against hers. It was a soft kiss. It was nice. She smiled at me again afterwards. I wouldn’t have minded kissing her again, but she leaned her head against my shoulder instead. That was nice too.
Hux had sent me an email with nearly two dozen pictures of the baby. I told Korr about it. We were walking, holding hands, along the sidewalk in the old part of town. We had been to an art gallery. It was pretty crap, but it was her idea and she seemed to like it, so I didn’t tell her that.
“Have they decided on a name?” she asked.
“That’s a pretty name.”
“It was our grandma’s name. My mom is pretty pleased about it.”
“You don’t think it’s a good name?”
“No, it’s fine. I didn’t know my grandma, she died before I was born.”
“My grandmother used to buy me and my sister Christmas sweaters every year.”
“You should report her,” I said.
“To whom? Santa?”
We stopped outside the door to her building.
“So, do you wanna come up?” she asked.
I looked at her. Was that code for ‘Did I want to have sex with her’? We’d kissed a lot, but I hadn’t been to her place, nor had she been to mine. I wanted to have sex with her, but the thought was also mildly terrifying. I probably shouldn’t assume anything. She might be inviting me up for a cup of coffee.
“Yeah,” I said, hoping that it sounded casual enough so she didn’t think I was replying to something she wasn’t actually asking.
Her apartment was small, but cozy. The decor, the colors, and her things, had a decidedly female touch to them.
“Nice place,” I said.
She looked around. “Yeah, I like it.”
Then she stepped closer and took my hands. “So… I’m ready to take things further.” She smiled and looked up at me. “I feel ready to sleep with you.”
Wow, that cleared things up.
“If you want?” she added.
I did. I really did. But, shit, I was so inexperienced and I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself. I was afraid she would laugh at me and then she wouldn’t want to see me anymore.
She smiled. “Okay,” she said.
Her smile was cute. We kissed. That at least was familiar territory. Then we ended up on her bed, still fully clothed. I squeezed her breasts through her shirt. They were soft and felt really great. We kissed some more and she had her arms around me and she was running her fingers through my hair. Her tongue was caressing mine.
I was hard and I was lying between her legs and on instinct, more than anything else, I pressed my groin against hers. She made a noise, like something between a sigh and a moan.
We made it out of our clothes and being naked together was awkward and amazing at the same time. She was beautiful and the feeling of her warm skin underneath my hands was pretty fantastic. I loved the feeling of her hands on me too, touching me and caressing me like no one ever had before. She stroked my cock, which felt great.
I watched her face as I slid my hand down between her legs, aware that I didn’t know what I was doing and worried that she would notice. I noticed that she was a lot wetter than my one previous experience touching a woman down there. I slipped a finger inside her. I could smell her sex.
Even if I had never done this before, I wasn’t born yesterday, so I tried touching her clit next. I probably wasn’t doing this right. She more or less confirmed it when she put her hand on mine and guided my fingers.
“Yeah, like that,” she said.
So I did that for a little while, like she had showed me, rubbing her clit with my finger in small, circular movements, and watched her chest rising and falling, her beautiful breasts, and the way she was biting her lower lip. My cock was leaking pre-cum. She had her eyes closed, but then she opened them and looked at me.
“Do you have a condom?” she asked.
I took that as a sign that I should put it on and I reached over the edge of the bed. I rolled the condom on and then I turned to her again. She put her arms around me as I lay down on top of her.
I lasted a bit longer this time, maybe because the sensation didn’t surprise me as much. But even though the physical experience was more or less the same as my first time, it didn’t feel the same. Because I liked her and she liked me. She actually wanted to be here with me.
I grunted when I came, the pleasure surging through my cock and my groin. For a couple of breaths I didn’t move.
We had really done this. But I felt insecure about how I’d done, I wished I hadn’t made that noise, and maybe I should have done something more, not just pumped my hips back and forth like that. And she hadn’t come. At least I didn’t think so. I turned my head and looked at her and she smiled, so she probably didn’t hate it at least. I moved off her and pulled the condom off.
“Just tie it up and leave it on the floor,” she said.
I did that and then we were still naked, in her bed. She took my arm and pulled me close again. We kissed. It felt good to hold her like this. She pushed my hair away from the side of my face, then she traced the line of the scar over my collarbone and up to my face.
“What did you do there?” she asked.
She had never mentioned it before, even though she’d seen my face enough times. I’d figured she was too polite. I hadn’t brought it up either, because the memory wasn’t exactly one I cherished.
“I fell through a window,” I said.
“Oh, that must have hurt.”
She caressed my right arm, just below the shoulder. “That one too?” she asked.
“Yeah. And the other two.” They were on my left side, so she couldn’t see them the way we were lying now, but she had seen them earlier.
“Don’t fall through anymore windows,” she said and then she kissed me.
I thought she might say something, ask me if it was my first time or something, but she didn’t. It only occured to me later that a thirty-two-year-old almost-virgin was such an odd thing that she never actually thought I might be one.
Hux kept sending me emails with pictures of the baby. It was as if he genuinely thought I wanted them. I had been to visit and seen her in real life, a couple of weeks after she was born, Mom said I had to, and she looked like a pink frog. I didn’t need to see fifteen new photos of her every week, she was a baby, she didn’t do anything, but he kept sending them, and I watched her grow fatter and fatter. Admittedly, she also got a bit cuter. Occasionally I wrote him back. I didn’t really want to encourage him, but it was his kid, so it seemed rude not to.
I hadn’t told anyone in my family about Korr. I didn’t want them to know, in case it all blew up in my face. She hadn’t said anything about meeting each other’s families or anything like that, so I guessed that was okay.
But then we had an argument. It started so innocently. We were at her place and she was making tea. We’d had dinner at a restaurant earlier and I thought there was a pretty good chance we were going to have sex. That was really the only time she asked me to come up. In return I’d invited her to my place as well, as code for ‘I’d like to have sex, do you want to?’.
But now she asked me if I liked her friends, Roger and Olivia. We’d met them for drinks the other night.
“They were alright,” I said.
They were not. I’d met some other friends of hers too and I didn’t really like them either, but I didn’t want to tell her that. Well, her friend Greer was okay.
“I was just wondering, because I don’t know if it’s my friends, or if you just don’t like to socialize.”
She looked at me. Was that a question?
“Your friends are fine,” I said.
“Okay, because it seems to me like you’re not very interested in meeting them.”
“Do I have to like everyone you like?”
For a moment she just looked at me.
“I guess you don’t,” she said then. “But this is what people do, you know, they meet other people for drinks and dinner and things.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t really understand what this was about. Did she think I had been rude to Roger and Olivia? I had made an effort, for her sake. I didn’t think I’d said anything offensive, but maybe I had?
“It feels as if you want it to be just the two of us,” she continued. “Like you want to keep me in a box, separate from the rest of your life.”
Now I definitely didn’t know what to say.
“What are you talking about?”
She had tears in her eyes. She was clearly upset and I felt like I was on trial for something I didn’t even know what it was.
“I don’t want to be your ‘something on the side’”, she said.
“You think I have someone else?!”
Jesus Christ. She thought I was cheating on her?
“No! But you never take me anywhere!”
“Yes, I do!”
“No, you don’t! It’s always just us! You haven’t introduced me to any of your friends!”
“I don’t have any friends!”
The look on her face was one of skepticism, like she didn’t believe me.
“You must have some friends,” she said.
We looked at each other.
I’d never thought my lack of social life would become an issue, not like this. It had always been just my problem, something that marked me as different from everybody else. I wasn’t any good at socializing and there were few people I liked. Meeting Korr’s friends had only highlighted that, but I had tried. I didn't know how to explain to her that people generally didn't like me, because for some bizarre reason she actually did.
Anyway, I couldn’t magically conjure up friends just so I could provide her with proof that I didn’t want to keep her in a box, or however she had put it.
“We could visit my brother, if you want,” I said.
She sucked on her lower lip for a second.
“Yeah,” she said then. “That would be nice.”
I couldn’t really read her expression. She looked at me.
“You really don’t have any friends?” she said.
I felt like a freak. Everybody had friends. Except me.
“No, I don’t.”
Judging by her expression she had a hard time grasping that.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“No, it’s not. I yelled at you, for…”
It dawned on me then. She felt guilty. I pulled her to me and held her and she slipped her arms around my waist. We stood like that for a moment. She smelled really nice.
“I thought maybe you were ashamed of me, or something,” she said.
“I feel really horrible now.”
“Don’t. Maybe I should have told you… I didn’t want you to think I was weird.”
“You are totally weird. But it’s a good weird.”
She hugged me tighter. I didn’t even mind being called ‘weird’. But I thought maybe she was feeling sorry for me and for some reason that chafed a bit.
We drove up to Cardota on a Saturday. Hux had been very surprised when I called him and asked if we could come and visit. I couldn’t really fault him for that. ‘A girlfriend?’ he’d said. And then: ‘See, that’s what I told you.’
The weather was pretty good and there wasn’t a lot of traffic.
"You're driving too fast," Korr remarked.
"But I have a lawyer with me."
"You think that's gonna help, if the cops pull you over?"
"No, I was thinking if I run someone over, you can help me get rid of the body."
"That's not funny."
I'd thought that was pretty funny, but she wasn't laughing.
"You shouldn't joke about things like that," she said.
Hux and Phasma lived in a house not that unlike the one where Hux and I had lived when we were small. It was a two-story house on a street lined with trees and plenty of white-picket fences.
Korr had brought a cake. She'd made it herself and she held the container in front of her as I pressed the doorbell.
"Are you nervous?" I asked.
She looked at me.
"A little. It's your brother."
"He's an idiot."
The door opened and the idiot stood in front of us, smiling.
"Hello," he said.
"Hi," Korr said.
"Come in, come in."
He moved back so we could come inside.
"This is Korr," I said. "Korr, this is Hux."
"Armitage," he said, shooting me a displeased look.
They shook hands.
"I made a cake," Korr said. "It's not perfect, but…"
Hux accepted the container.
"Ah, how nice."
"I hope you're not allergic to chocolate."
"No, not at all."
Phasma came out from the living room to greet us.
"Hi," she said. "You must be Korr. I'm Phasma."
They shook hands too.
"I hope you're hungry," Hux said. "Lunch is almost ready."
It was a bit of an odd experience, because last year I had brought Rey to meet my family and I had wanted her to be my girlfriend so bad, I had settled for a charade. Now I was doing it for real.
I didn't feel about Korr the way I had felt about Rey. I knew that. But Rey was gone. I wasn't going to be like my dad and spend the rest of my life pining for someone who didn't want me. I couldn't stand the thought of doing that. And I liked Korr. I liked her a lot.
"Where did you meet?" Phasma asked when we had sat down for lunch.
Korr and I exchanged a look. The strangest thing wasn’t that she was my girlfriend, but the fact that I was her boyfriend. It was like wearing a new coat and being constantly aware of it. I’d thought about that before, when she looked at me sometimes, or when she touched me.
"On the sidewalk," she said with a smile, turning to Phasma again. "Outside a restaurant. It was the world's slowest valet parking, I think."
She looked at me again, still smiling. I smiled back a little at her.
Everybody explained what they did for a living and then we talked about Cardota and this neighborhood. We discussed property prices for a while.
We had almost finished eating when there was a noise from the baby monitor.
"Ha! Almost a full meal," Hux said. "No, you finish, I'll go."
He patted Phasma’s arm.
By the time he got back, with Breha on his arm, we had emptied our plates.
"Oh, she's so cute," Korr said.
Hux and Phasma smiled proudly.
"Look," Hux said to the baby, "you're uncle is here."
Breha didn't look particularly impressed.
"Do you want to hold her?" he asked me.
I thought Korr gave me a slightly odd look.
"Maybe you would like to hold her?" he asked Korr.
"Yeah.” She smiled. “If that's alright?"
I wasn't sure he asked her that just to screw with me, I mean he was immensely proud and happy to be a father, and he no doubt wanted to show off his kid, but the pointed look and small smile he gave me, after he had handed Breha to Korr, was definitely meant to rankle me.
I wanted to tell him to go fuck himself, but I didn’t want to say it in front of Korr.
Something shifted uncomfortably inside my chest. It was as if that new coat suddenly not fit quite right. I couldn’t help but to feel that there were expectations, like maybe Korr was expecting things of me, things I couldn’t deliver.
We hadn’t talked about children, obviously, but maybe that was what she wanted eventually. I was far from sure I wanted to have kids, to be honest I hadn’t given it much thought, but it wasn’t even really about that. Even the conversation that had brought us here in the first place suggested she wanted something that I didn’t really know how to do.
Or maybe I was just freaking out, because she was cooing at a baby and Hux was a little shit.
I helped Hux clear away the dishes and put on coffee a little later. We were alone in the kitchen.
"I'm impressed," he said.
"I'm serious. She's stunning. I don’t know how you managed to catch a woman like that."
She really was, and I didn't understand it either.
“Great job, putting ideas in her head,” I said to him.
He scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous. What do you expect? It’s obviously still too soon, but at some point that is something that is going to come up. You’re thirty-two. How old is she?”
She was also thirty-two. The unease I felt blossomed into something resembling panic. I glanced at the door to the dining area, which in turn led to the living room, where Korr and Phasma were.
“You think she wants to have kids?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said in an exasperated tone of voice. “She’s your girlfriend.”
He looked at me.
“Don’t you want kids?” he said and now he sounded incredulous.
“I don’t know!”
Just the thought of being a father… I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, it was too alien a concept.
“Most people do,” Hux said.
They probably did. Hux, pompous dickhead that he was, he knew how to do all this. Visiting here was a sharp reminder that I didn’t. More than that, he clearly wanted it, this life, a family, all of it. I didn’t know what I wanted.
He made an impatient noise.
“Look, there’s no need to get ahead of yourself,” he said. “You’ve met someone and she’s obviously too good for you, but it seems as if she really likes you.”
“Maybe she has brain damage,” I said sourly.
“Maybe she does,” he agreed. “But I wouldn’t say that to her, if I were you.”
“Ben, you’re being too rough.”
“I don’t like it.”
Afterwards we lay side by side, catching our breaths. I stared up at Korr’s eggshell colored ceiling.
“Do you wanna go to a car race?” I asked.
Even though she hadn’t brought it up again, probably because I confessed to not having any friends, what she’d said about me not taking her anywhere had stayed with me. Dad had called me the other day and said that he would be in town for a race and he wondered if I wanted to have a beer or something.
“A car race?” Korr said.
I wasn’t all that interested. I’d been to quite a lot of races as a kid and I thought it was cool because my dad was one of the drivers. But I wasn’t interested in racing myself and I certainly wasn’t interested in the inner workings of cars. But going meant taking her someplace, where she would meet people. That was what she wanted, right?
“Is it one of your dad’s?” she asked.
“Yeah. I mean, he doesn’t drive anymore, but he manages a team.”
“Yeah, sure.” She smiled. “I’ve never been to a car race before.”
I smiled back at her.
It was a good day for a race, the sky was clear and the ground was dry. Dad had arranged passes to the paddock for us that we picked up at the back entrance.
“This is like going backstage at a concert,” Korr said.
I smiled. I had my hands in my jean pockets and she slipped her arm under mine. The smell of gasoline in the air brought back childhood memories.
“So, is this like Formula 1?” Korr asked.
“No, this is stock car racing.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Everybody pretends it’s not actually race cars. Hence the term ‘stock car’.”
There were lots of trailers and people milling about. Each team had a big truck, that they brought the cars in, and they were parked in a colorful row.
“Your dad never remarried?” Korr asked.
“No. He’s got a girlfriend. I don’t know if she’s here today, though, their baby is due pretty soon.”
“Your dad is having a baby?” She sounded surprised. “Why haven’t you told me that?”
I looked at her.
“You never asked.”
She raised her eyebrows and then she shook her head a little.
“So how do you feel about that?” she asked.
I shrugged. “It’s fine.”
I thought about Hux and how he’d felt that Dad was stealing his thunder with the baby, but perhaps more than that, how he’d felt - I don’t know - replaced or something. I didn’t feel any of that, but then I wasn’t adopted.
I’d always felt that I was in Hux’s shadow, growing up. He did everything right, everything you were supposed to, and I didn’t. Maybe that was why it didn’t matter to me that Dad was having another kid, I had already lost that race.
“Doesn’t it feel odd, though?” Korr asked. “To get a baby brother or sister when you’re in your thirties?”
“I guess. But at least now maybe he won’t have a heart-attack fucking his twenty-eight year old girlfriend.”
“But you don’t say things like that. You don’t want your dad to die.”
“I said it was a good thing! You know, they probably won’t have time, because they’ll have a baby in the house.”
“So you don’t like her, is that it?”
“I don’t really have an opinion about her.”
“But he’s your dad, this is your family!”
“What do you want me to say? I don’t know her that well. She seems fine and if he’s happy…”
Korr sighed. I looked at her. Why were we arguing about this?
“I don’t want to argue,” she said.
“I don’t want to argue either.”
But she had started it, I thought. Or had she? I didn’t even know.
The first person I saw when we reached the place where Dad’s team was set up was Chewie. He was hard to miss.
“Ben!” He smiled.
I had to look up to meet his gaze, something I wasn’t generally accustomed to. He’d been Dad’s mechanic since forever and I guessed he was dad’s best friend. Maybe his only friend.
“Good to see you,” he said. “Come to see the race?”
“Yeah, or some of it at least.” I glanced at Korr. I figured we’d stay for as long as she had fun.
Korr and Chewie shook hands and said hello.
“Han is back there,” Chewie said and jerked his head in the direction of a tent that had been set up to offer some shade from the sun.
“Hey, kid,” Dad said when he spotted me and Korr.
It was dark in the tent, compared to the sunlight outside, and I took off my sunglasses.
“Hey,” I said. “Korr, this is my dad, Han.”
They shook hands. Dad looked pleased to see her. This was something he understood: a beautiful girlfriend. He’d had his fair share of them, after all. Although, standing there I realized, for the first time, that maybe he just wanted me to be happy. He didn’t want to be lonely, so he asked me if I was seeing someone. Beautiful cars made him happy, so he talked about mine.
“There’s coffee, if you want,” Dad said.
I looked at Korr and she shook her head.
“First time at a race?” Dad asked her.
“Don’t worry, you’re gonna love it. Although, it has to be said that this isn’t the same thing as a street race in the middle of the night.”
I smiled a little.
“You’ve done that?” Korr asked.
Dad was pretty busy, so after a while he had to get back to work. We met some of the drivers.
“Your old man is a legend,” they told me.
It was pretty warm so we bought ourselves something to drink and then we found a good spot to watch the race.
“Okay, so you wanna explain the rules?” Korr said.
I explained the rules.
“Here.” I handed her a pair of earplugs.
“Do I need those?”
“It’s your choice, but it gets loud.”
I’d nabbed a pair of binoculars from the tent.
We had a pretty good time. Korr liked watching the races and I liked watching Korr. I liked seeing her happy. Although, part of my mind was already worried about coming up with something else she might like.
Dad and Qi’ra’s baby arrived. It was a boy and they were going to call him Jacob. I talked to Dad on the phone, he called me to tell me the news, and after a couple of weeks I went up to Hosnian to visit. Unsurprisingly, just like Breha, Jacob looked like a pink frog. It was difficult to grasp that he was actually my brother. I was used to Hux, Hux I had known my entire life, but this was someone new. And he was a baby.
I took Korr to the beach house for Mom’s birthday. It was not the big do it had been last year, just Hux and his family and me and Korr. Mom was very happy to see her and to hear about her career. Korr got along with everyone, but something was slightly off between us. I could feel it, intangible yet obstinate. No matter how much I tried to ignore it, it wouldn’t go away.
A week after Mom’s birthday, Korr and I were having dinner at a newly opened restaurant. About halfway through the meal, Korr put her fork down and I knew. I knew what she was going to say.
No, I thought. Don’t say it.
“I don’t think this is going to work out,” she said.
She looked at me across the table. She looked sad. I swallowed.
“I can do better,” I said.
“It’s not about ‘doing better’. I just don’t think we’re right for each other.”
I stared at the table cloth for a moment. The worst thing was, I knew she was right. But she was the only girlfriend I’d ever had, even though I had never told her that, and I had been trying so hard, because I didn’t want to be alone. I could live with not having any friends, in fact there was some abnormal part of me who didn’t mind the solitude, but having no one?
“Please, say something,” she said.
I turned my gaze to her again. Her eyes were shiny. I didn’t know what to say. Her lower lip trembled and a couple of tears escaped from the corners of her eyes. I reached over the table and took her hand.
“It’s okay,” I said.
She took a shaky breath. Fuck, my eyes were stinging too.
“It was good while it lasted, right?” she said with an attempt at a smile.
Neither of us said anything for a while, then she pulled her hand free and wiped her cheeks with her fingers.
There was a weight inside my chest. I didn’t love her, but I did care about her. We’d been in a relationship for six months and that was six months longer than I had ever really believed I’d be in a relationship. The fact that this was the end, no matter how inevitable, made me feel sad.
“Do you wanna finish your food?” I asked when the silence had lasted so long I realized there wasn’t much more to say.
“No, I think I’m done.”
I got the check and then we walked out to my car. I drove her home. On the street outside her house I got the odd feeling that this couldn’t be our last goodbye. It didn’t feel real.
She looked at me and smiled. It looked slightly brittle.
“I really wish you all the best,” she said.
I nodded a little. I felt like a failure. I couldn’t be what she wanted me to be. But at the same time, I knew she wasn’t actually what I wanted either. She had this perfect life and I didn’t fit into it, but somewhere, deep down, I didn’t really want to.
“Take care of yourself,” she said.
She got out of the car and I waited until she was inside, like I had done so many times before, and then I drove home.
I had a rough couple of weeks. I felt pretty down. And it was strange to suddenly have so much time to myself again. I missed her. But I didn't miss going out for drinks with her friends and having to force myself to engage in conversations about shit I didn't care about. And to be honest, I didn't miss having to pretend to be interested in a bunch of stuff she talked about either.
Then, as time passed, I started to feel okay. In some respect that was the most unexpected thing of all.
I wondered if I was ever going to meet someone else. I wanted to. And I actually went on a date. It was a friend of Phasma's and that really should have been warning enough, but I agreed to it anyway, because I still didn’t know how to get my own dates. But we both left that restaurant knowing we never wanted to see each other again. There wasn't even any point in pretending. I didn't like her and she certainly didn't like me.
Maybe I was just too weird. The things I liked. The things I didn't like.
I had a meeting in Hosnian, it was late December, but the weather was still pretty mild and there was no snow. After the meeting I drove over to Mom and Amilyn's house. I let myself in. The radio was on in the kitchen, but there was no one downstairs.
I went back to the hallway.
She showed up at the top of the stairs.
“Ben, what are you doing here?”
"Am I bow legged?"
She started down the stairs.
"Am I bow legged?"
She looked at my legs.
"A little, maybe," she said. "But a lot of men are. It doesn't look strange. What are you doing here?"
"I had a meeting."
She pulled me into a hug.
"Is Amilyn home?"
"No, she's at work. Do you want to stay for dinner?"
"Um…" It was a bit of a drive home, but maybe I could stay a while, now that I was here. She always said I didn’t visit often enough. "Yeah, sure."
I followed her into the kitchen.
“What was your meeting about?” she asked as she opened the fridge.
“Do you really wanna know, or are you just asking to be polite?”
She shot me a look over her shoulder.
“I wanna know!”
“Okay.” I told her about the meeting.
“Are you just gonna sit there?” she said when we were done talking about my work.
“I can’t cook.”
“You can make a salad.”
Amilyn came home and the three of us had dinner.
“I have to get going,” I said when we had finished eating.
“Can’t you stay? You can sleep here,” Amilyn said.
It was a weeknight and I hadn’t brought any clothes or anything. Besides, I didn’t want to.
“I have work tomorrow.”
“Aren’t you the boss?” She smiled.
“Yeah, but I have a meeting tomorrow morning.”
I smiled a little back at her.
They both hugged me goodbye.
“It was good seeing you,” Amilyn said.
“You should come more often,” Mom said.
At a little past nine o’clock the next morning, I was in the west-facing conference room in the office. The sky outside the wide windows was gray and threatening rain.
“Fuck, he’s making us wait,” I said.
“Classic power play,” Dave said, tapping away at his Ipad.
“Get up,” I said.
“Hm?” He turned his head.
“I’m gonna leave and you’re gonna stand outside this door and when they get here, you’re gonna come get me.”
“Oh, right.” He got up from his seat.
But he had no more than risen to his feet, when Rita appeared.
“Right through here,” she said, smiling at someone still out of sight.
And then Wilhuff Tarkin stepped through the door. He was a very slim man, with sharp-looking cheekbones, but his back was ramrod straight. We shook hands. His handshake was firm, but so was mine.
And then my stomach dropped all the way down to my feet, because after him, Rey stepped into the room. A rush of emotion, everything I’d thought I’d buried, welled up inside me like a tsunami. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. She briefly met my gaze. I thought she looked uncomfortable.
“Please, have a seat,” I heard Dave say.
Oh, shit. Fuck. No, no, no, no. Not now, I thought.
I moved to sit down, but I felt like I was underwater.
“Would you like something to drink?” Dave said. “Coffee, water?”
“No, thank you,” Tarkin said.
Tarkin was a known hard-ass, a tough negotiator and it was not for nothing he was the lead player in his field. I wanted to close this deal. Failing was not an option. But that was exactly what I did.
I very purposefully did not look at Rey, but I felt completely off-balance. I said the things I was supposed to say, but my timing was off and my heart was pounding. I was sweating underneath my jacket.
“Hm,” Tarkin said in response to what I had just said. “But as you can see…” He made a small gesture in Rey’s direction.
My gaze flickered briefly to her and I felt like everything else disappeared and I was just seeing her. She slid an Ipad across the table. I looked at the screen, but it was as if I didn’t know what I was looking at. What was she thinking? Did she hate me? Despise me? Or worse of all, did she feel nothing at all?
Dave’s foot nudged mine under the table and he handed me his own Ipad. Fuck, I had to get a grip!
“I have seen other numbers,” I said, but not with the assuredness I had been aiming for.
I showed Tarkin what Dave had pulled up on the Ipad. Tarkin made a dismissive face.
“Clearly you are not as well-informed as you think,” he said.
Normally, I was good at this. I was good at delivering counterarguments, at getting the other person to lose their footing and making what they said seem insignificant. Business dealings were the one place where I didn’t get tongue-tied, where I was in control, where my brand of unpleasantness worked in my favor. But not today.
The meeting came to an end a while later and a deal had not been struck. In fact, it seemed unlikely that it ever would. We all rose from our seats. Tarkin nodded a little and then he left the room, Rey following in his wake. She shot me the briefest look before she, too, disappeared through the door.
I stared at nothing for a moment. Fuck. Fuck! I grabbed the Ipad on the table and threw it against the wall. Dave, although standing on the other side of me, jumped back a pace.
“I… have backups,” he said.
I had to get out of here. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. I stalked out of the room and headed towards the exit.
As I came around the corner, I saw Rey. She was standing alone, close to the doors. I froze. She turned her head and looked at me. I could feel my own breathing. Her face was unreadable.
Tarkin had to be in the men’s room.
She was right there. She was probably still with that Finn guy, but I had to ask. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. So I walked up to her. Her gaze stayed on me, until I was right in front of her and she had to raise her head a little.
“Will you have dinner with me?” I said.
Her expression was hesitant. She looked away for a second and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. I wished that I’d had the ability to look into her head and see what she was thinking.
“Please?” I said.
“Alright,” she finally said.
I breathed a sigh of relief. And hope.
“Now, will you go away, before he comes back?” she said, shooting a look at the door to the men’s room.
I glanced in that same direction.
“Yeah,” I said.
I took a step back. She’d said yes. I could scarcely believe it. God, she was beautiful. I didn’t want to turn around, because I didn’t want to stop looking at her, but did and headed back to the office. My heart was beating at triple speed.
I met up with Rey by the entrance to Uscru Park. I’d figured we go to some nearby restaurant, but she suggested we’d go for a walk. There was frost on the ground and the lawns were tinted white. The bare branches of the trees were dark against a white sky. I bought us each a cup of coffee from a street vendor.
“Thanks,” Rey said when I handed her the cup.
“You’ve fetched me coffee often enough,” I said and scolded myself mentally. That was a lame joke.
She smiled a little, out of politeness.
“Do you like working for Tarkin?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s okay.”
There was a note in her voice that suggested she didn’t want to talk about her job.
I thought about what else to say. There was so much and yet my mind felt blank.
“So, are you seeing anyone?” I asked.
The questions seemed to catch her a little off guard.
“Um, no,” she said.
No Finn? I wanted to ask, but she didn’t know I had seen her that time.
“Are you?” she asked.
We walked in silence for a moment. There were not a lot of visitors in the park. I guessed they were probably more numerous in the summer.
“Is that from when you went through the window?” she asked, her gaze trailing the scar across my face.
I felt uncomfortable, in part because I felt self-conscious about my looks, but mostly because I was embarrassed about that whole week. How I had behaved and the fact that I lied to her. I had made a complete fool out of myself.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “For what I did.”
She looked down at the ground and shook her head a little.
“It’s in the past now,” she said.
“Yeah, but I treated you badly. I never thought of you as… some kind of escort, or anything like that. I just…”
I sounded like an idiot. I knew I did.
“I wanted to spend some time with you,” I finished.
“I shouldn’t have agreed to go with you in the first place. The whole situation was not ideal.” She looked at me. “But I’m not angry anymore. I forgive you.”
She smiled a little. I kept looking at her. I couldn’t not look at her. Butterfly wings were beating softly against my ribs.
“You could have asked me out,” she said then.
“Would you have said yes?”
At the time I’d thought there wasn’t a chance, and maybe I would have been right, but now I thought I should have taken that chance, instead of doing what I did.
“Probably not, because you were my boss,” she said, but she smiled as she said it.
I smiled back.
Ducks were milling about at the edge of a pond to our right, an old woman was feeding them. We both watched them for a couple of steps.
“I’m not your boss anymore,” I said.
I glanced at her.
“So, will you go out with me?” I asked.
I felt as if I was holding my breath. She looked at me.
“I really like you,” I said. I was baring myself and it made me feel really vulnerable.
She smiled a little and pulled her hair behind her ear in a gesture that looked a bit self-conscious.
“I like you too,” she said. “But I don’t really know you.”
“Yes, you do.”
She met my gaze.
“Alright, I do, a little,” she said. She took a deep breath and then she nodded. “Yes, I’d like to out with you.”
I smiled, joy erupting inside of me.
“Is this our first date?” she said.
“It can be.”
I felt as if I was floating on clouds. Maybe that was stupid, but I couldn’t help myself.
“So, what have you been up to?” she said. “It’s been… God, a year and a half.”
She looked like she found that almost hard to believe. I found it hard to believe too, a year and a half later, and here we were. I thought about what to tell her. There was probably some code of conduct about whether or not to mention other people you had dated.
“Have you got a new P.A.?” she asked before I had a chance to say anything.
“Yes. His name is Dave.”
She laughed, looking at me with glittering eyes.
“Is he cute?” she said.
I laughed too. “Yeah, he is,” I said.
She was still smiling. She had the best smile.
“My Dad and Qi’ra had a baby,” I said. “His name is Jacob.”
“What?” She laughed again and then she covered her mouth with her hand. “Sorry. That’s not funny.”
She made a mortified face, but I gave her an amused look.
“It is kinda funny,” I said.
“So you have another brother now?”
“Yeah. But I can’t argue with him and he’s a baby. So I don’t know what to do with him.”
“He’ll probably get better, in time.”
I turned my head a little and looked at her. She looked back at me, smiling. Her hair was a little longer, but otherwise she looked the same. She drank from her coffee mug.
“Your dad told me that you were shy,” she said.
“What? When did he say that?”
“When he drove me to the train station.” She turned her head and looked at me.
I found it astonishing that Dad had said anything to her at all, and of all the things he could have said, he said that I was shy?
“I think he was trying to come to your defense,” she said.
“He shouldn’t have.” I didn’t deserve that. Dad had really done that?
“But I thought a lot about it, afterwards. I figured he knew you were lonely.”
I looked at the ground ahead of us. I didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t have any friends,” I said then, thinking about Korr and the misunderstanding that fact had caused.
“I kind of knew that already,” Rey said.
I turned my gaze back to her and she held it. There was no judgment on her face. A small smile curved her lips. Something inside me felt almost tender, but mostly in a good way.
“You have your family,” she said.
I took a deep breath, facing forward again.
“Yeah,” I said.
We walked the entire length of the park, until we reached the other end, where the big opera house was visible beyond the trees, then we walked back again. After a while she took my hand. Her hand was small in mine. It was perfect.
I walked her to her car later. It was the same one she’d had before - a small, cheap model. I looked at her, I couldn’t get enough of doing that, and she met my gaze.
“Can I kiss you?” I asked.
She smiled. “Yeah.”
So I did. I felt her soft lips against mine and they were warm in the chilly air, the side of her face delicate and smooth under my hand. My heart was fluttering in my chest. I wanted to kiss her more, deeper, but I didn’t. We looked at each other.
“That was really nice,” she said, her face still close to mine.
I’d thought so too. I smiled. I felt so happy.
“Do you want to do this again tomorrow?” she asked.
I saw Rey nearly every day. We talked and we kissed. It was amazing. The only reason I managed not to leave the office early each day was because she was working too. But I had a hard time focusing on anything, I could only think about her and I longed to see her again.
“What are you doing for Christmas?” I asked her one evening.
We were at a coffee shop where the entire menu was in Italian, so I didn’t really know what I had ordered. The coffee was really good, though.
“I’m not really sure,” she said.
“Wanna celebrate with me?”
She made a hesitant face.
“I don’t know…”
“I don’t mean with my family. We could do something else, just you and me.”
She looked at me for a few seconds.
“Do you mean that?” she said.
“But don’t you want to be with your family?”
I shrugged. “I can see them some other time.”
She still looked hesitant. “I have friends I can be with, I won’t be alone…”
“No, no, I’m not feeling sorry for you, I want to spend Christmas with you.”
I took her hand across the table and met her gaze.
“Okay,” she said and a smile spread across her face.
I felt elated.
“I should warn you, though,” I said. “I can’t cook, so I can’t make, like, cookies or anything like that.”
“We can order takeout.”
She sounded excited now. I was excited too.
“You could come to my place?” I said.
“Yes. And I can bring the food!”
She smiled and I smiled back.
“Do you like Christmas movies?” she asked.
“No, I hate them.”
“Me too, actually.”
“We can watch something else.”
“Yeah. You have Netflix right?”
“Do you have HBO?”
I smiled a little. “Yeah.”
She squinted at me. “Can I have the remote control?”
I tried not to smile. “Maybe.”
Mom wasn’t at all as thrilled that I wasn’t coming home for Christmas when I called to tell her. Especially when I wouldn’t tell her why, then she got downright irritated.
“Did you and Hux get into something again?” she said.
I didn’t want to tell her about Rey, because I wasn’t ready to do that yet. Not only because o our history, which of course Mom knew all about, although that was part of it, but because it was too amazing and still so new.
“Are you going to Han and Qi’ra’s house?” Mom said. “Because if you are, you can tell me.”
“Aren’t they coming to you?”
“No, not this year. It’s easier for them to stay at home, because of Jacob.”
“So, why won’t you come? What are you doing?”
“No! Christmas is one of the few times when I get to have both my children here. One of these days, I’m gonna be dead and then you’ll wish you’d been here for Christmas.”
Oh, my God.
“I’m not coming.”
“Why won’t you tell me what you’re doing? Are you just going to sit home alone?” She was quiet for a beat. “Are you and Korr back together? Are you staying with her family?”
“No, we’re not. I’m hanging up now.”
“Can you at least…”
I hung up.
My apartment was usually pretty neat, so it wasn’t as if I had a lot of tidying up to do come Christmas morning. I made sure there was stuff to drink, different kinds, because I didn’t know what Rey might want and I put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. That was it.
I felt nervous and excited. Rey had said she’d be here around noon, but she was early. The doorbell rang at 11.30.
“Hi.” She was smiling.
I smiled back. “Hi.”
She got up on tiptoes and kissed me. She had a plastic bag in one hand and a bunch of papers in the other.
“I realized, I couldn’t bring all the food at once, because it would get cold,” she said as she kicked off her shoes. “So this is lunch…” She held up the plastic bag. “... and this is dinner.” She held up the papers. They were takeaway menus.
She smiled. She turned her head, her gaze roaming around as we went inside, like she was excited to see where I lived.
“Wow,” she said, “this is some apartment.”
I looked around too.
Her gaze turned to me and she grimaced.
“I live in a shoe box compared to this,” she said.
“I don’t care.”
We looked at each other. I smiled at little at her and she smiled back.
We decided to eat in front of the TV and watch a movie at the same time. So we did that and when the food was gone she snuggled up close to me and I put my arm around her. The movie was pretty good, but we could have watched whatever crap, it didn’t matter, not when I was holding her and she was leaning her head against my chest. I could smell her hair and I could touch it. It was soft against my fingers.
When the movie was over we kissed for a bit. The kisses soon grew deeper, our tongues moving together. I slid my hands over her back and her sides, feeling her warm body through her clothes. Not before long I was lying on top of her and we were kissing like we were never going to stop. I had my tongue in her mouth, then hers was in mine, our lips moved together. We were breathing the same air.
I had a raging hard-on, there was nothing I could do about that, and she pressed her groin against the bulge in my jeans. Oh, God. We were grinding against each other, kissing, clutching at each other, I was fondling her breast. I felt like my whole body was electrified and she was writhing underneath me, every inch of her pressing close.
“Do you have condoms?” she asked.
I looked at her. “Yeah.”
“Can you go get one?”
“Are you sure?”
I got up.
When I came back she hadn’t moved and she started unbuttoning her pants.
“Hurry up,” she said.
She didn’t have to ask twice. I unbuttoned my jeans too and pushed both them and my underwear down to my ankles and pulled them off. She kicked off her pants and I rolled the condom onto my erection. She hadn’t taken anything else off, just her pants, so I didn’t either. I kneeled between her legs. Her thighs were pale and at their apex was her mound of dark hair.
“Do you want me to..?” I asked.
“Just do it.” She reached for my shoulders.
I moved to lie on top of her, keeping my weight on my elbows. I looked at her as I positioned myself. We were actually doing this. I pushed inside. Fuck, that felt great. She arched her back a little, gasping. I tried to set a steady pace, but she slid her hands down my back and grabbed my ass, urging me on.
It got as frenzied as before, only now I was inside her body, and she was making these noises that were halfway between moans and squeaks. I was trying to hold back my orgasm, because I didn’t want it to be over too soon. She moved her hips to meet mine and we were moving together, feverishly.
And then her squeaks came faster and faster, and her fingers were digging into my asscheeks, until she cried out and her whole body convulsed underneath me. Holy fuck, she was coming! I was pounding into her and then I came too. I groaned, the sensation all-consuming.
I breathed, my pulse slowly returning to normal. Jesus Christ. Fuck, that felt good.
I felt her hands caressing my back and I lifted my head to look at her. She gave me a dreamy smile.
We’d had sex. I’d had sex with Rey and it was amazing.
“Did you like it?” I asked, because maybe it was only in my head, in my body, even though it certainly felt as if she felt it too.
“Yeah,” she said, smiling. “Did you?”
“Yeah.” I smiled back.
We looked at each other and then I kissed her. I was still inside her. She’d had an orgasm while I was inside her, that was a first for me. And going that fast, and hard, well, I’d been told not to do that, so the whole experience was a bit different, very intense.
I moved back and pulled out of her. I took the condom off. She didn’t move. I could see her sex, pink and glistening.
“You okay?” I asked.
She nodded. “Just boneless.”
“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked.
“Through there.” I nodded in the direction.
She still didn’t move and I got the idea then to just pick her up, so I did. She laughed. I headed towards the bathroom.
“This is the best Christmas ever,” she said, her arms around my neck.
That made me laugh. I nodded.
We cleaned up and got dressed, then we lay back down on the couch, me on my back and she on top of me. We kissed; soft, sweet kisses.
Then my phone rang. I had left it on the coffee table and the buzzing was an annoying interruption, but I was feeling so good it couldn’t really impinge on my mood. I reached for the phone, holding on to Rey with my other arm so she wouldn’t fall off me. The display said ‘Mom’.
I was planning on dismissing the call, but then Rey said:
“Aren’t you going to answer?”
So I did.
“Merry Christmas.” I was looking at Rey, she was smiling at me, and I stroked her back a little.
“And happy birthday,” Mom said.
‘It’s your birthday?’ Rey mouthed, eyebrows raised, apparently able to hear what my mother was saying.
“Thanks,” I said.
Rey was making an outraged face at me. It made me smile.
“I’m worried about you,” Mom said.
Rey lightly punched my shoulder, I supposed as payback for not telling her it was my birthday. ‘Ow’, I mouthed at her.
Mom sighed. “You’re home alone, aren’t you?” she said. “I wished you would have just come here…”
“I’m not alone. I’m being beat up right now.”
Rey put a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. I felt laughter bubbling inside my chest too.
“What?” Mom said.
And although Rey hadn’t made a sound, the next thing Mom said was:
“Oh, there’s a girl, isn’t there?” She made a frustrated sound. “And here I was, worrying that you were getting depressed again!”
Depressed? I had never been depressed.
“You infuriating boy,” Mom said. “Okay, tell her Merry Christmas from me.”
We said bye and hung up.
“It’s your birthday?” Rey said.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not important.”
“Yes, it is. Now I’m not telling you when my birthday is.”
“I already know when your birthday is.”
She frowned at me, like she was trying to look angry, but it really only looked cute.
“Your mom is worried about you,” she said then.
“Yeah. She does that.”
I pushed her hair behind her ear, then caressed the side of her head and her face, reveling in the fact that I could touch her. I met her gaze again. Meeting her gaze was like nothing else in the world.
“They love you,” she said. “Your family.”
I nodded a little.
And I loved her. My heart was bursting with it. But it was too soon to say it, even in this moment, when everything felt perfect.
But I knew what she was talking about. She didn’t have a family and I had seen how sensitive she was about that, when I stupidly, callously, asked her about it up at the beach house.
I pulled her closer and held her, and she held me in return. I kissed the top of her head.
“What do you want to do now?” I asked.
“Right now?” Her head was still resting on my chest.
“That’s what I meant, but if you want to tell me in general…”
She lifted her head so I could see her face.
“In general,” she said, smiling, “I want to have sex with you again, and again, and again.”
Wow. I really liked the sound of that, and I loved the fact that she said it.
“That’s not going to be a problem,” I said.
I was so happy she had liked it, that she liked having sex with me. I felt enraptured by her.
She kept smiling at me. “But right now, could I have some coffee?”
We ordered sushi later, for dinner, and then we did have sex again, in my bed this time. The feeling of her naked body against mine and the taste of her skin was intoxicating. The sounds she made, her hands on me, the sheer intimacy of it, all of it made my head spin and I was so turned on I felt as if I might combust.
Rey stayed the night so I got to wake up with her next to me in the bed. It was like a dream, but better, so much better, because it was real. She was curled up on her side, her cheek pressed against the pillow. Her mouth was slightly open and her hair was in her face.
I reached over and brushed her hair away from her face and she jerked awake. She actually scared me, because it was so sudden.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I said. I felt guilty about startling her.
She looked at me. “It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry I startled you.”
She smiled and shook her head a little. She scooted closer and slipped an arm around me and put the side of her face against my chest.
“Is this okay?” she asked.
It was more than okay. I felt happier than I could remember ever feeling. I gently traced the line of her back. Her skin was so smooth and soft. And having her warm body alongside mine was lovely.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
“I’m happy you’re here.”
I could almost feel her smile.
“I’m happy I’m here too.”
After a while we got up and we took a shower together. I washed her hair and then I ducked my head so she could wash mine.
“Your hair is so thick,” she said and it felt like the best compliment I’d ever received.
We washed each other’s bodies. I had an erection, because we were naked and touching, so I couldn’t help it. I hadn’t planned on doing anything, but then she wrapped her hand around my cock. She stroked it a little. Okay, so that felt nice.
She looked up at me and there was a twinkle in her eyes. I smiled, because I felt a tad self-conscious; I couldn’t exactly hide my arousal, especially not when I didn’t have any clothes on.
She tightened her grip a little and moved her hand faster. That felt even better.
“Like this?” she asked.
Yeah, it felt really good. I nodded. I looked at her. She was looking at me, watching me, and I felt watched, which was oddly enticing. I put a hand against the wall. God, her hand on my cock…
I reached down between her legs and, wow, she was really wet. Not wet because we were in the shower, but slick against my fingers. I moved a finger inside her, then two fingers. She was breathing through her mouth.
“Let’s fuck,” she said.
We didn’t even dry ourselves off and left a trail of water behind us as we headed to the bedroom. I ripped open a condom packet and rolled it on. I didn’t care if we made a mess of the bed, but she jumped into my arms before we made it that far, wrapping her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck. And then we fucked against the wall. It felt awesome. I was thrusting into her, gripping her soft butt and pressing her against the wall. My hair fell wetly into my face, but I had no hands free to push it away.
Maybe I was crushing her?
“Is this too hard?” I asked, feeling breathless.
“No… Don’t stop. Oh, God… I’m gonna come…”
Hearing her say that nearly made me come. She was making keening noises and her fingers were gripping my shoulders so tightly. I was breathing hard. I could hear her moans begin to increase in pace, just like they had last night, but it felt so good, I couldn’t hold back, and I came, groaning with pleasure.
“Sorry,” I said when I could speak again.
“It’s okay,” she said.
I put her down. I felt embarrassed, maybe even a little ashamed.
“Do you want me to… I could..?”
“Yeah,” she said. “You can use your hand?”
I nodded. I took the condom off and then I had to go wash my hands. Better safe than sorry. I hurried back to the bedroom.
“Do you want to lie down?” I asked.
“I’m all wet.” And then she grinned at the pun and I couldn’t help but to smile back.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said.
She lay down on her back and I crawled onto the bed next to her. I touched her clit and watched her face, trying to gauge her reactions. I wanted to make her feel good, no, more than good, I wanted to make her feel as amazing as I felt.
“Is this good?” I asked.
“Yeah, but if you could…” She took my hand to show me. “Put your fingers inside, and then your thumb on… Yeah, that feels really good.” She smiled.
It was great to watch her and see the way she scrunched up her face, almost like she was in pain. She looked cute. After a little while she started making those noises again, God I loved them, and then I got to watch her, really watch her, as she had an orgasm. It was beautiful; she was beautiful.
She caught her breath and then she smiled at me.
“You’re beautiful,” I said.
Her smile widened.
“I love your hands,” she said.
I smiled back at her.
We showered again. Rey picked up her clothes from the floor in the bedroom.
“I didn’t bring any clothes,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to stay over…”
“Do you want to borrow something of mine?” I nodded at her clothes. “I can put those in the machine, if you want? I mean, if you want to stay a while longer..?”
She smiled. “Yeah, I wanna stay.”
Nothing I had would fit her, but I took a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants from my wardrobe.
“You wanna borrow underwear too?” I asked.
“I’ll go commando.”
She pulled the drawstrings on the pants as tight as they would go, her waist was really tiny, and folded up the legs to shorten them.
We had breakfast and that too felt like a new and remarkable invention when I was having it with her, and then I taught her to play sabacc. We stayed in for most of the day and only ventured out when Rey suggested we’d go and buy chocolate, which I didn’t have any, but I did make a mental note to put it on the shopping list for the maid in the future.
Rey had come straight from work to my place. She looked great in her pencil skirt and white blouse. I thought about how Tarkin got to look at her all day and black tendrils seemed to spread through my chest. Did he stare at her ass? I had stared at her ass. Not openly, but I had. He probably did. I wanted to beat his scrawny ass to a pulp.
I turned my gaze to her face.
“I said, if you want to spend New Year’s with your family, that’s okay.”
I looked at her for a few seconds, trying to reel my mind back from murder and focus on what she’d said.
“No,” I said.
Then I mentally kicked myself. I was being presumptuous, assuming she wanted to spend New Year’s with me. We had spent every evening since Christmas together. She had friends, she probably already had plans and this was her way of telling me.
“Do you have plans?” I asked.
“Um, not really, I mean, some friends of mine are having a party.”
I nodded. I tried to not feel disappointed.
“Okay,” I said.
There was a pause.
“Do you want to come?” she asked.
Oh… shit. I wanted to be with her, but I didn’t like parties.
“I don’t really like parties,” I said.
Right, she did know.
“We could do something else,” she said.
I wanted that. But…
“You should go to the party,” I said.
“What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know.”
She kept looking at me.
“I wanna spend New Year’s Eve with you,” she said.
Fuck, I had to go to that party.
“We can go to the party,” I said.
“We don’t have to.”
I was lying, but I didn’t want to disappoint her. And I would be with her, so that was worth going.
The party was just a couple of blocks away from Rey’s place, she had told me. She didn’t live in the shitty neighborhood where she’d lived before. This was probably safer, I thought when I parked on the street outside her building. Maybe Tarkin paid her better than I had. That thought didn’t sit well with me.
I headed up the stairs, there was no elevator, to the third floor and knocked on the door. Rey opened it, wearing a green dress and more makeup than she usually wore. She was putting on a pair of dangly earrings.
She smiled. I would never stop being amazed by that smile, especially when she was smiling at me. It was dazzling.
I gave her a kiss.
“We have to wait for Rose,” she said, “Paige’s sister. Come in.”
Paige was Rey’s roommate. I knew her by name only. Rey and I had only been at my place. I’d been here once before though, when I came to pick her up.
The apartment was tiny. The front door led straight to a combined kitchen and living room that was probably half the size of my living room. The furniture was a mix of styles and there were lots of nick-nacks that I suspected Rey had bought at flea markets. She’d told me once, back when she was still my P.A., that she liked going to flea markets.
“We started early,” Rey said, nodding at two wine glasses on the kitchen table. She was still fiddling with her earring. “Do you want some?”
“Is this yours?” I pointed at the glass that still had some wine in it.
I picked up the glass and emptied it. Rey made a scandalized face.
“That was mine,” she said.
“You can’t have it back.”
She smiled. Then she swore and stopped with the earring.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I haven’t worn earrings for ages and I think it’s healed.” She started towards the bathroom door. “Oh fuck, Paige is in there. Can you try?”
She handed me the earring. It was the kind with a pin.
“Your ear is red,” I said.
“That’s because I’ve been trying to put that on.” She gestured at the earring I was now holding.
She tilted her head to the side, to give me better access. Her earlobe was small and the fucking pin thing even smaller, not to mention the miniscule dot that was the hole where the earring was supposed to go.
“It won’t go in,” I said.
“Pretend it’s your cock.” She kept her head still, but moved her eyes to look at me.
“In your ear?”
She started laughing.
“Give it another try,” she said then, keeping still again.
“I think it’s healed,” I said then. “It only goes in like, halfway.”
“Push it through.”
I wasn’t going to do that.
“Just do it.”
“No, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You won’t! Please, I want my ear to stop being red before we get there.”
Fuck. I pushed the pin through her earlobe but I felt absolutely fucking horrible when I did it. That was her ear!
“It’s through. Shit, it’s bleeding!”
She grabbed a tissue and held it against her ear. I felt so guilty.
“I’m never doing that again,” I said.
She looked at me.
“I’m okay,” she said. “Look, it’s already stopped.”
It didn’t matter what she said, I had hated doing that.
She threw away the tissue and then she stepped close to me.
“I’ll wear earrings more often from now on,” she said, looking up at me. “So it doesn’t heal again. Okay?”
Maybe I could buy her some earrings. Not just to keep her from forcing me to jab her with sharp objects again, but because I would like to do that.
She got up on tiptoes, placed her hand against my neck and put her lips against mine in a soft kiss.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her mouth still close to mine. She gave me another kiss. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I kissed her again.
The bathroom door opened. The woman who stepped through it was about Rey’s age, pretty, although no one compared to Rey in my eyes.
“Hi,” she said. “You must be Ben. I’m Paige.”
She held her hand out.
“Hi.” I shook her hand.
She didn’t give me the sort of appraising look that some of Korr’s friends had done, nor did she exchange one of those knowing glances with Rey, the ones that made me wonder what might have been said about me, or if I was uglier than expected or something. The fact that she didn’t do either of those things made me feel more well disposed to her. Although, without even having met her, I’d already liked her far better than that Finn guy.
“Rose just texted me,” Paige said, holding her phone up. “She’ll be here any minute, so we can go down.”
We did. Rose arrived and then I was walking down the street with three beautiful girls. I had never done that before in my life. I put my arm around Rey and kissed her temple.
“You look beautiful,” I said, because I hadn’t said it earlier and she really did.
“And you’re very handsome,” she said.
I gave her a skeptical look. I knew I wasn’t.
“You are,” she said.
“You really are,” Rose chimed in.
And then she got a look of mortification on her face.
“And that was a private conversation,” she said, “which I had no business being in.”
I felt embarrassed too, but I couldn’t help but to feel a little bit flattered. Did she really think so? Maybe her eyesight was bad and she needed glasses.
Rey eyed me. ‘You see?’ she mouthed.
I didn’t really want to stay on the subject, so I was grateful when Paige said:
“Should we buy some wine?” She gestured at the lit up window of a store. It was one of those small, open-all-night-long places.
“We already have wine,” Rey said.
“Yes, but I mean more wine.” Paige smiled.
They had a brief discussion about it, then decided they didn’t need any more wine.
The party was in an apartment that was only marginally larger than the one Rey and Paige shared. It had a separate kitchen, but it was tiny. I had figured I would be the oldest person there, since Rey was ten years younger than me, and that I would stand out because of it, and most of the guests were in their early or mid-twenties, but there were some who looked as if they might be in their thirties too.
I didn’t want Rey to get angry with me for being unfriendly or unsociable, but I didn’t know what to talk about with these people. I grabbed a beer and did my best not to look like I wanted to leave. I said ‘hi’ to people who said ‘hi’ to me. There weren’t enough places to sit, so I ended up with Rey sitting sideways on my lap. She had no difficulties talking to anyone and of course she knew many of the guests already.
I did talk to Rose for a bit. She was a software engineer and she told me about that. She said her dream job would have been to work with CGI, but the movie industry was hard to get into, even the geeky jobs, her word, were so sought after. We talked about movies for a little while. She was nice actually.
“Am I too heavy?” Rey asked me after a while. Her hand was on my neck, her fingers playing with my hair.
“Are you being stoic?”
“No, you’re really thin.” I put my hands on her waist. “Look at how tiny that waist is.”
“You have huge hands.”
“Even so, that is a small waist.”
She turned to face me better.
“Okay, I didn’t want to tell you this, but I sold all my organs.”
“Did you get good money for them?”
“Yeah, the black market is booming.”
“Maybe I should sell something.”
“Yeah, a kidney at least.”
She smiled and I smiled back at her. She gave me a kiss.
“Do you think I’m too thin?” she asked then, a small frown appearing between her brows.
“No, you’re perfect.”
She looked at me. “So are you.”
A little before the clock struck midnight, everyone filed outside to see the fireworks. Someone dropped their champagne glass on the sidewalk and there was a bout of shrieking. I hadn’t bothered to bring a glass, I wasn’t a huge fan of champagne. I had my arms around Rey instead, her back pressed against my chest. She was shivering a little. There still wasn’t any snow, but it had gotten colder in the past few days. I held her closer.
Fireworks erupted in the sky, glittering like jewels, the noise deafening.
“Happy New Year!” someone yelled and others responded.
Rey turned to face me.
“Happy New Year,” she said.
“Happy New Year.”
We kissed, a long kiss, with tongue, and it felt as if we were the only two people in the world.
The fireworks kept lighting up the night. Then Paige showed up.
“Are you guys staying?” she asked.
Rey looked at me.
“You decide,” I said.
“I’ve had my fill,” she said.
I met her gaze, trying to gauge if she was only saying so for my sake. She could probably tell, because she said:
“I really don’t need to stay.” She turned to Paige. “We’re gonna head home.”
“Oh, good, because I’m exhausted, but I don’t wanna walk home alone. I’ll just go get Rose. Don’t leave without us.”
On the first day of the new year I was awoken by Rey as she snuggled close and pressed a nose that felt pretty cold against my back. Her hand, not cold, caressed my stomach a little.
“How much does Tarkin pay you?” I asked after a while.
“What’s your salary?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“I just do.”
“What if I don’t want to tell you?”
“Because it’s actually none of your business.”
I stared at a collection of small glass bottles in various colors, lined up on one of her shelves.
“Does he pay you better than I did?” I asked.
I turned around and she looked at me.
“I don’t work for you anymore,” she said, frowning a little.
“I know. I just…”
“Okay.” She threw her hand up in what looked like an exasperated gesture. “I get about two dollars more an hour.”
So, I could have paid her better.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You’re not my boss, you’re my boyfriend.”
“I’m your boyfriend?”
“Yes.” She paused. “Aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I mean, if you want me to be.”
There was something vulnerable in her expression.
“Yes,” she said.
There was nothing I wanted more in the world than to be her boyfriend. I smiled a little at her and then she started smiling too. I kissed her.
“Forget about Tarkin,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
We got up and Rey put on coffee. The door to Paige’s room was closed. It was quiet.
“I thought Rose was staying over,” I said.
“She is, but she’s in Paige’s room. We have a camp bed. That way no one hogs the living room."
"Glad I didn't have to sleep on that."
“You like my bed?” she said, tracing a line up my sternum with her finger. Maybe she was going for a femme fatale kind of look, but her smile ruined it. This was better, though. She was gorgeous.
“I like your bed with you in it,” I said.
We drank our coffee and then we went back to bed. I went down on her. I told her truthfully that I had never done it before. She said she'd never had it done to her either, but she was more than willing to let me try.
It was immensely intimate, maybe even more so than being inside her. The feeling of her against my lips and my tongue, the taste of her. I liked it, maybe in part because it felt so dirty. She seemed to like it too. Then we fucked and she resolutely grabbed my head and kissed me, sliding her tongue into my mouth, and that felt even dirtier.
Afterwards we lay side by side, catching our breaths.
"Do you want to go to Hosnian?" I asked.
I knew Mom and Amilyn would be home. They would listen to Bach and have lentils for dinner and pomegranate for dessert. They did that every year. It was supposed to be lucky food or something, according to Amilyn.
Rey looked at me.
"And visit your family?"
"Only if you want to."
She was quiet for a few seconds.
"Yeah, I'd like that," she said then.
Some time during the night the weather had turned milder again. Maybe it wouldn't snow this winter at all. The street was deserted and quiet, aside from an old man walking his dog.
"Let's take my car," Rey said.
"I wanna drive."
Her car was likely to break down halfway to Hosnian. At any rate, there would be no leg room in it. I took my car key out of my pocket and tossed it to her.
"You want me to drive your car?" she said, raising her eyebrows.
"Okay," she said, playing it cool, but I saw the small smile tugging at her lips as she turned towards the car.
I got in on the passenger side. Rey adjusted the seat and the mirrors. At first she drove as if I was her driving teacher, hands placed ten to two on the steering wheel, but after a while I could sense her relax, and she sped up when we were out of the city.
“This is like driving a dream!” she said.
I smiled, enjoying her enjoyment. She drove fast and assuredly; she was a good driver.
There were no available parking spaces outside Mom and Amilyn’s house, so we parked a block away. I took Rey’s hand as we walked towards the house.
“Did you call ahead?” she asked.
“What if they’re not home?”
“They’re always home on New Year’s Day.”
“What if they’re busy?”
“What if they don’t want guests?”
“Then I guess they’ll have to tell us to leave.”
I thought about that for a second. “Probably not.”
I looked at her.
“They’ll be happy to see us,” I said. I was pretty sure they would be. They were always telling me to visit more.
“I don’t have that,” she finally said. “I don’t have anyone who - has - to see me if I just show up.”
“You have me.”
She smiled a wan smile.
“You’re very sweet,” she said, “but it’s not the same thing.”
“No, I don’t mean it like that.” She squeezed my hand a little. “I mean… technically you could dump me…”
I stared at her.
“No,” I said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
“But you could.”
It was an outlandish suggestion. I had a hard time fathoming that she might even think along those lines. She might break up with me, I was aware of that, but not the other way around.
“No, I couldn’t.”
She looked at me as if she was studying my face.
“I love you,” I said.
For a split second she just stared at me, then her face split into a huge smile and she jumped into my arms, wrapping her legs and arms around me. I put my arms around her and she kissed me.
“I love you too,” she said and then we kissed some more.
She really loved me? I felt as if I could have run to the end of the world and back, without even breaking a sweat.
There were tears in her eyes when we finally pulled apart. My eyes felt wet too.
“I’ve never been this happy,” she said.
“Neither have I.”
I kissed her again and then I put her down.
“And I love that you’re so big and strong…” she said, smiling, a twinkle in her eye.
I laughed a little. Being desired was such an odd feeling, unfathomable, but really, really nice.
I took her hand again. I thought about what she’d said, about how she didn’t have anyone whose house she could just show up unannounced at. I wanted to give her that. I wasn’t sure I could, like she’d said, what we had wasn’t the same thing, but I still wanted to.
“Let’s go see two old ladies,” I said and we started walking again.
She laughed a little. “I almost thought you were going to say something else there.”
“You thought I was going to say ‘two old dykes’, weren’t you?”
“Ben! Oh, my God…” She was quiet for a beat. “Yes,” she said then.
“You have a key?” Rey said when we reached the door.
“Aren’t you afraid you’re gonna… walk in on something?”
I looked at her.
“No, my mom has only had sex once, for my conception, that’s it.”
When we stepped through the door I could hear the trilling sound of Bach.
“Hello?” I called out.
Mom appeared in the doorway to the living room, a look of surprise on her face.
“We weren’t expecting to see you today,” she said.
Then she spotted Rey. For a brief moment she looked even more surprised, then she smiled.
“Hi,” Rey said, a little shyly.
“It’s lovely to see you, dear,” Mom said and smiled.
She gave Rey a hug, a longer hug than she usually gave me, but I didn’t mind. Then she hugged me.
“Well done,” she said in my ear.
It made me feel a little embarrassed, but I was too happy to care.
We followed Mom into the living room.
“Where’s Amilyn?” I asked.
“She’s just taking a shower, she got pomegranate juice in her hair. Don’t ask.”
Rey was holding my hand.
“You’re staying for dinner?” Mom said.
“Yeah.” I looked at Rey. “You want dinner?”
She nodded. “Yeah, that would be great.”
Mom smiled. “Well, the food won’t be ready for some time. Do you want coffee?”
We both wanted coffee.
“I’ll go put it on,” Mom said.
Rey and I sat down on the couch. Her gaze wandered around the room.
“Is this where you grew up?” she asked.
“Mm, we moved here when I was six.”
She’d told me very little about her childhood. It was obviously something she found difficult to talk about. It actually made me think of how few things my dad had ever shared about his childhood. I knew his parents had been poor and the few stories he had told always involved him causing trouble on the streets. I realized didn’t really know a whole lot about my dad.
I kissed Rey’s temple and nuzzled her hair.
“Not as amazing as you,” I said.
“You can’t live inside me.”
“Um, well, I can try.”
“I love it when you try,” she said.
Mom showed up with the coffee tray and it seemed like a good time to stop with the sexual innuendos. Amilyn came downstairs, her hair showing no sign of pomegranates, and she gave both me and Rey a hug, too.
We had a nice time. We played a game of sabacc and then we had dinner. Rey looked happy. I watched her across the table and a thought came into my head, sudden and unexpected, but loud and crystal clear, like an undeniable truth: I am going to marry her.
It amazed me that Rey seemed perfectly content to just spend time in my apartment. We went for walks and we went out to eat, but we stayed in a lot, watching movies, reading, playing cards and chess. We went running together. I bought a yoga mat, because she did yoga, and then she could do that while I worked out. And the sex was fantastic.
I hadn’t realized, when I was with Korr, that while not bad, the sex we’d had was a bit bland. I didn’t feel resentful about it, if anything I felt grateful to her, because she was nice about the fact that I wasn’t very good and she was patient while I figured out how to satisfy her.
But with Rey it was so much easier, like we were more in tune. She gave me my first ever blow-job and it was amazing, just as amazing as doing that for her. It felt as if we were discovering all these things together, even though I was pretty sure she was more experienced than I was.
I turned around. Rey had picked up the sketch pad from the kitchen table. No! I’d forgotten to put that away.
But she had already opened it.
“Oh, my God,” she said and then she looked at me with amazement. “Did you draw this? I had no idea you could draw!”
The first page was a self-portrait. But there were drawings of her in there, nudes that I had drawn from memory.
I held out my hand. “Give it here.”
“This is really good,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me you could draw?”
It was just a hobby, but I could spend hours doing it. No one ever saw the things I drew, though, not since I was in school.
I really didn’t want her to turn the pages.
“Can I have it back?” I was still holding out my hand.
She looked at the sketch pad again and I felt a surge of panic.
“I’m really impressed,” she said and then she turned her gaze back to me. “Can I look?”
I shook my head.
She cocked her head a little. “Have you ever drawn me?”
“Oh, you have!” she said. “I wanna see.”
“No, can I have it back?”
I shook my head a little again.
“Why, is it unflattering?” she said.
“No. I just…” I didn’t know what to say.
She made no attempts to turn the pages, but I felt as if she was holding something explosive. It was too private. The drawings of her perhaps most of all.
“Is it a nude portrait?” she said, a smile playing on the edge of her lips.
Shit. How could she guess that so accurately? My face felt hot.
“I wanna see it even more now,” she said, but at long last she handed over the sketch pad.
I breathed out. She’d only seen one drawing. That wasn’t so bad.
“Are you embarrassed?” she asked.
She reached for my arm, but I turned to go put the damn thing away.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she said. “You have talent! And I’m flattered you’ve drawn me.”
“It’s private, okay?!”
She looked at me for a couple of seconds.
“Okay,” she said then. “I’m sorry.”
Now I felt bad.
Drawing was sort of a geeky hobby. And it was something I did, alone, because I had nothing better to do. I had liked it since I was a kid, but over time, I had begun to think of it as an oddity. I was a grown man who sat in my apartment drawing pictures, that was pathetic, no matter how much I liked it.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” I said.
“I should have respected your privacy. I do respect it.”
I felt awkward.
“I’ve just never shown anyone,” I said.
“That’s okay. You don’t have to show me.”
“Maybe some other time.”
I wasn’t sure I would want to show her, but maybe I would feel comfortable doing so at some point.
“Are we okay?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She smiled and nodded.
We hugged and she kissed my cheek.
I genuinely thought that would be our last argument, if it could even be called that, but then a couple of months later, something happened that was the starting point of a problem I never would have predicted. Maybe I should have.
I had stopped by a restaurant and picked up some food on my way home from the office and Rey came directly to my place after work. I liked hearing the sound of her key in the lock; it reminded me, every time, that she wanted to be here, like she belonged here.
“Dinner’s ready,” I said, gesturing at the table, but she walked straight up to me and put her arms around me. She leaned her head against me.
“I got fired,” she said.
She hugged me tightly and I hugged her back. She’d been fired?!
“It seems someone at work must have seen you and me and told Tarkin about it. He said it was a conflict of interest.”
I pushed her back a little so I could look at her. Even as I did so, in the back of my mind, I thought that must mean he still intended to do business with me, otherwise there wouldn’t be a conflict of interests. But that was not the right thing to focus on when my girlfriend had just lost her job. And she was obviously sad, it was written all over her face. I could feel my pulse pick up speed. Fucking Tarkin.
“There’s no conflict of interest,” I said. “You can sue him for wrongful termination.”
“I’m not going to sue him. I don’t have a lawyer.”
“I do. I can make a call…”
“No.” She shook her head.
“Alright, let me talk to Tarkin.”
“He can’t fire you and cite that as a reason, when it’s not true! I’m gonna fucking…”
“You are not helping! This is not helping!” She stared angrily at me. “I just want you to comfort me!”
“Okay.” I reached for her. “But you have grounds for suing that piece of…”
“No!” She took a step back, away from me. “I don’t want you to solve my problems for me!”
“I can take care of myself!”
“I know that.”
“Clearly you don’t!”
I felt at a loss. She would win a lawsuit! And Tarkin deserved to get his ass kicked, for doing this to her.
“I just want to help.”
“I don’t want your help!”
That felt like a slap to the face.
“Fine,” I said.
We sat down to eat, but we didn’t speak. I was supporting her and she got angry with me for it? I was hurt she didn’t want my help, because wasn’t I supposed to help her?
I glanced at her. She was focusing on her food, but there were tears in her eyes. It made my heart ache.
She shot me a glance.
“Tell me what you want me to do,” I said.
“I told you, I want you to comfort me.”
We looked at each other and then she leaned over and hugged me. It was a weird angle, because we were sitting by the table, and she got up and sat down on my lap instead. She buried her face against my shoulder.
“He was such a jerk,” she said. I could hear in her voice that she was crying. “Made me feel so stupid!”
I held her tighter. I thought about ways I could destroy him.
“I’d never talk about work-related things with anyone I’m not supposed to,” she said.
I’d toyed with the idea of asking her. As Tarkin’s P.A. she was bound to learn a lot of interesting things. But I hadn’t. I didn’t want to put her in that position. He was still wrong to fire her and I wanted to kill him for making her sad. But deep down, I knew I would have fired her too. Except I would have been smarter, and not cited ‘conflict of interest’ as the reason for it.
“It’s my fault,” I said.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Yes, it is. Tarkin knows who I am.”
She lifted her head and I gently wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“I don’t think it’s your fault,” she said.
She looked at me.
“Promise me you won’t do anything,” she said.
She shook her head a little.
“I used to work for you. When you thought someone had wronged you, you would make sure they went bankrupt, or you would buy up their shares and force them out of their company, or something.”
Okay, so I had been thinking exactly along those lines.
“This isn’t your fight,” she said.
But it felt like my fight. She was my girlfriend. I would do anything for her. Which, I supposed, included doing exactly what she wanted.
“Okay,” I said. “I promise.”
We looked at each other.
“I feel guilty,” I said, “because this wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for me.”
“It’s not anyone’s fault,” she said. “If it happened because of you and me, then it’s on both of us, isn’t it?”
She touched my hair a little, pushing it back from my forehead.
“You’re more important than a job,” she said.
I still felt bad.
“I’ll find something else,” she said.
I kept my promise and I didn't go after Tarkin, even though I wanted to. I hoped for a situation to arise - one where any action on my part would simply be beneficial to me on a professional level, and very detrimental to him, but it didn’t.
Rey looked for a new job, but one month passed, then another, then a third, and she still hadn't found one. She didn't want to talk about it, but I could tell it weighed on her. And because it weighed on her, it weighed on me.
I asked her if she needed money. I knew she couldn't have much savings and it felt wrong not to do anything, especially since it would have been so easy for me to do it. But she told me 'No!' and got angry, so I let it drop.
Ironically, my business was doing great. We were expanding and I had to hire an assistant for Dave, so my assistant now had an assistant. I also gave Dave a significant raise. I was worried he might quit and I didn't want him to; I was used to him.
Rey's job hunt was going nowhere and then one day she, reluctantly, told me she was moving.
"Paige has covered my half of the rent for the past two months, as a loan, but she can't do that anymore, nor should she," she said.
We were at my place, on the couch, waiting for the latest episode of a TV series on HBO to drop.
"Where are you moving?" I asked, trying to keep my tone of voice neutral.
"Kaydel has a spare room and I can live there…"
Kaydel was a friend of hers, I had met her. But this was getting stupid.
"You don't have to move," I said. "I can pay your rent."
She started protesting, but I kept talking.
"I know you've sold your car, even though you pretend you haven't! I have the money. Would you please just let me pay your rent?"
"I don't want you to!"
"I know that. But are you gonna move to some room, just to prove a point?"
"The fact that you think I'm doing it to prove a point is really astonishing."
She was angry, it was obvious, but she was being too stubborn, she had to realize that.
"And quite frankly, condescending," she said.
"I can't just do nothing!" I said.
"I don't want you to pay my rent!"
"Move here then."
"And pay half of the rent on this place?"
She gave me a look as if I was insane, but I was not the one acting crazy, not this time.
"I don't expect you to pay rent."
"I don't want to sponge off you! Why is that so hard to understand? I don't want it to be an issue that you have so much more money than I do!"
"You are making it an issue!"
It was mind-blowing to me that she didn't see that.
"I want us to live together," I said, "I thought you wanted that too!"
"I don't want to move in with you because I have to!" she replied, anger, and maybe hurt, returning to her face.
"I know! But how did you think it was going to work, if we moved in together? You think we're gonna pay half of everything? We’re gonna keep pretending I don’t have any money? Where did you think we were gonna live?"
She was quiet. She looked down at the floor.
"I can't even buy you a gift, because you get all bothered by it," I said.
I'd bought her a pair of earrings, and she said she liked them, and she wore them, but I could tell she felt awkward about it.
"You expect me to just stand by and watch you become homeless?" I said.
She kept her gaze on the floor, then she took a deep breath.
"I'm gonna go home," she said.
"I don't want to talk more about this right now."
But she didn't want to stay, even though I said we didn't have to talk about it anymore.
I lay awake later that night, my thoughts going round and round in circles. I regretted some of the things I'd said, but I was right. If our roles had been reversed, there was no way she would have stood by and done nothing. She could accept Kaydel's help, but not mine?
I glanced at the clock. It was much too late to call. But then I did anyway.
"Ben?" She didn't sound as if she'd been asleep, but she did sound a little worried. Probably because I was calling at this hour.
"Did I wake you?"
She sighed. "I know you mean well."
"I want to make you happy."
"You do. But I don't want to feel indebted to you."
I could sort of see what she meant, to a degree. But there was no real solution to the problem and that scared me. What if we couldn’t get past this? At the same time, not working this out, when it could be so easy, seemed ludicrous.
"I understand if you don't want me to pay your rent," I said. "But I do want to live together."
"I do too. But I don't want to live off you."
"You have to."
She was quiet.
"I make much more money than you do," I said. "That's not an insult, that's just a fact, and at some point you're gonna have to let go of that."
"I don't know how."
"We'll figure it out. Move in with me."
"Just say yes."
I heard her take a breath.
"It's two o'clock in the morning."
"Would it make you feel better if we were married?" I asked.
"If that’s a proposal, you get a big fat F minus."
She had a point.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'll do it properly and be so nervous I almost throw up. If you want."
I could hear her chuckle a little.
"I'm just scared,” she said then.
"What are you scared of?"
"I don't know!" She sounded sad, rather than angry now. “I…”
I heard her take a shaky breath.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t want you to get tired of me and then you’ll start to resent me. And if I have everything I’ve ever wanted, I’m scared it’s gonna disappear!”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Talking on the phone, her voice so near but still so far away, suddenly felt horribly inadequate.
“I’m coming over,” I said and got out of bed.
“It’s in the middle of the night.”
“I don’t care.”
I started putting on some clothes.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I said. “We’re gonna work this out.”
“I know I’m acting crazy. And I can’t really explain it.”
I made my way down to the garage.
There was virtually no traffic at all and the drive didn’t take long. I found a parking space just a short distance from her door and then I took the stairs two steps at a time up to the third floor.
I knocked and the door opened quickly. I folded her in my arms. She was wearing a T-shirt and she felt warm underneath it. I felt better holding her and I wanted so bad to make her feel better. I kissed her head.
“I can’t believe you drove over here in the middle of the night,” she said, her voice slightly muffled against my jacket.
I took her head in my hands and looked at her.
“You’re beautiful,” I said.
“I’m all red and puffy,” she said.
I could see that she had been crying.
“I love you red and puffy.”
She smiled a small smile.
We went into her room and lay down on the bed, holding each other.
“I feel so stupid for making such a big deal out of this,” she said.
I leaned my cheek against her hair. Maybe it was me, because I didn’t really understand, maybe I handled it all wrong.
“I’m just used to taking care of myself,” she said.
She moved her head so she could look at me.
“Getting my first job and…” She swallowed. “... moving out of the orphanage and just… having my own life…”
She’d told me she’d grown up in an orphanage, but not much else. I didn’t ask about it, because it was clear she didn’t want to talk about it, just as it was clear she found it difficult to talk about now.
“For the first time I felt as if I was like everybody else,” she said. “And I didn’t have to depend on anyone else…”
A couple of tears escaped from the corner of her eye and she wiped them away. She stared at my chin for a moment and then she met my gaze again.
“If I take care of myself, no one can take that away,” she said.
I looked at her and then I caressed her cheek, it was damp.
“No one can take away the things you can do,” I said. “Your brain, that’s yours.”
She smiled a little. We looked at each other.
“Think of it like this,” I said then, “if it was the other way around, would you have hoarded everything you had and guard it like Smaug, not wanting to share it with anyone else?”
She smiled and her fingers fiddled a little with the neckline of my T-shirt.
“Am I Bilbo in this simile?” she asked.
“You can be Bilbo.”
She sniffled and rubbed at her nosetip.
“I want to move in with you,” she said. “I really do.”
I wanted that too.
“But I want to make my own money,” she said, “even if it’s just a fraction of what you make.”
“You will. You’ll find a new job.”
She took a deep breath. She nodded.
“I know,” she said.
Rey moved in with me the following week. She even agreed to let me pay Paige what she owed in rent, so Paige would be able to keep the apartment until she found a new roommate.
Rey didn’t have very many cumbersome things, she wasn’t taking her bed, so it was mostly boxes and there wasn’t any need to hire movers. She and I and Paige carried her stuff down the stairs and into a hired van.
It was a sunny day and the weather reflected my mood. I knew the circumstances weren’t ideal. I had imagined the prelude to us moving in together differently, but we were taking this step and it was huge and amazing, but at the same time it felt natural.
“I’ll drive after you,” Paige said.
“Okay.” Rey smiled.
Paige smiled back and headed towards her car. I put my hand on Rey’s back.
“You okay?” I asked.
She nodded. She turned her head and looked at me, squinting a little against the sun.
“It feels good,” she said. “You know, it feels right.”
“Okay,” she said, “you drive first, and then I follow with the van. It’ll be easier for Paige to follow the van.”
At the other end the process went faster, because there was an elevator. We didn’t technically need Paige’s help, but I figured Rey wanted her to be there.
“Wow, what a place,” Paige said when all of Rey’s things were upstairs and we went inside. “Ben, if you ever feel like you need a third roommate, you know where to find me.”
“Should we order some pizza?” Rey said.
“Do you want help unpacking, or..?” Paige said.
“No, I think we’ll do that later.” Rey looked at me a little questioningly.
“Sure,” I said.
“Okay,” Paige said, “then pizza sounds great.”
We ordered pizza and ate in the kitchen. I made coffee and then Paige got up from her seat and said that she was going home because she had a date tonight.
Then Rey and I were alone.
“Do you want my help unpacking?” I asked.
“Yeah. I don’t know where to put my stuff.”
“Anywhere you like.”
“No, you gotta have an opinion.”
“Okay, let’s go have a look.”
I was used to Rey’s presence here and she’d kept a few things here, a toothbrush and a deodorant in the bathroom cabinet, a few items of clothing and I’d liked that, they were constant reminders even when she wasn’t here that she was coming back and that she had a place in my life. Now all her things were here.
“I don’t have to unpack all of it,” she said.
“There’s plenty of room,” I said.
“I know, but you have a very specific style here, it’s very… stylish.”
It was true. The decor was mostly black and white, which set off the muted colors of the pieces of art I had on the walls. I’d chosen all of it and I did like it. But I had seen Rey’s place and her things and I knew she had a very different taste.
“No, you should have your stuff,” I said. “Just… maybe stay out of my home office?”
I gave her a small smile and she smiled back.
“Okay,” she said.
When all her clothes were in the closet, we took a break and had sex, me sitting on the edge of the bed while she straddled me. I reveled in the feeling of her in my arms and the warmth of being inside her.
We had figured out, or I had, that I couldn’t come when she was on top. It still felt good, but not so intensely I could climax. I’d felt embarrassed about it at first, I thought she would feel insulted, but then it became this other kind of thing, like I would do it for her, and she would come, sometimes more than once. And then, when she felt done, we would turn around.
We did that now. She scrambled on her hands and knees on the bed and I kneeled behind her and pushed back inside. Holding her by her hips, I began thrusting into her, pulling her to me, onto my cock.
“I’m gonna fuck you so hard,” I said.
“Yeah…” she breathed.
“It’s my fucking turn now.”
I was driving into her; God, it felt good. The sensation in my cock was so intense. The feeling of her around me, the warmth and the friction. And then I was coming, hard, my whole body tensing. I groaned. Holy fuck!
After a few, heavy breaths I pulled out of her and she collapsed onto her stomach. I flopped down next to her. After a moment I turned my head and looked at her. She smiled.
We lay there for a little while, I was on my way to drift off when she nudged me.
“Are you sleeping?” she said.
“You almost are.”
“You wiped me out.”
She giggled and then she gave my now soft cock a light squeeze. We had stopped using condoms, she was on the pill instead. It was her suggestion. I didn’t really mind condoms, although it was practical to not have to bother with them. I’d discovered I kind of liked coming inside her though, just the knowledge of it was a bit of an extra turn-on.
We got up and got cleaned up.
“Do you want to go on a vacation?” I asked when we were putting her books on the shelves, next to mine.
“More or less.”
It was kind of the time for vacations and the weather was good. I’d given this some thought, though. I knew that me paying for stuff was still an issue for her, so I wasn’t going to suggest a trip to some exotic place. I’d never been to those type of places anyway. I hadn’t been on a whole lot of vacations, aside from the ones we’d gone on as a family when I was a kid.
“I thought we could head up to Chandrila,” I said. “If you want. Mom and Amilyn aren’t there now, so it would be just you and me.”
“Yeah… Can you take time off?”
“I can take a couple of weeks. We can go somewhere else if you want.”
“No, that sounds nice.”
“Okay, then I’ll give Mom a call and get the keys.”
Rey smiled and I smiled back.