“You’re still covering my shift today?” Rey asks before she leaves the house. She’s not wearing her diner uniform, not wearing her greasy coveralls. She’s wearing what could pass for a nice blouse in Jakku and denim shorts. On Taungsdays, she’s usually at the diner, but not today. Today, she has her followup.
“Yeah,” Finn calls. “Unless you show up and want it after.”
“Yeah,” Rey says. “I’ll see how it goes.” She does her best to sound cheerful. She really does.
“Hey,” Finn says, grabbing her arm as she passes him on her way out of the house. His brown eyes are gentle, his face soft. “Deep breaths.”
Of course, her trying her best to sound cheerful never works on Finn.
She takes one, in for three, out for three.
“And no matter what they say, we love you,” he says firmly.
“Yeah,” she replies. She knows it’s true—she does. But sometimes when Finn says it, this gnawing feeling fills her gut, and this bitter thought invades her mind. Easy for you to say. You found your soulmate. You didn’t have to pinch pennies for four years to afford the testing.
And then guilt spikes—every time—because it’s not that she doesn’t want Finn to have a soulmate—it’s that she wants one of her own too. It’s not his fault that he found Rose—or rather, Rose found him. And it wasn’t as though Finn didn’t have his fair share of hospital bills he was paying off, either.
“See you later. Hope the diner’s not too busy,” and she goes.
Rey hates hospitals. She hates them. Hospitals are only for bad things.
Hospitals are for when they find you on the street, starving and alone and bring you in and ask you who your parents are and you tell them but your parents never come to get you.
Hospitals are for when Maz’s breathing is too weak, her grip is failing in your hand, and everything gets blurry because there are tears in your eyes.
Hospitals are for when Finn gets in a transport accident and he’s in hours of surgery and Rose is sitting there numb next to you and you don’t have a right to be numb —he’s not your soulmate but you can’t stop staring at the door that he’d disappeared through and wondering if—should he die, your life will end too.
She’s sitting in a waiting area. She’d taken the test a week ago, and they’d processed it and now she’s waiting for results.
Not everyone has a soulmate. And Rey sort of assumes she doesn’t, because she’s never had that frisson, that moment of connection, and everyone says that having a soulmate means you get thrown across your soulmate’s path somehow. Her eyes haven’t changed colors to match someone else’s, and no one else’s eyes have changed colors to match hers.
It’ll be fine if she doesn’t have a soulmate—really. It’ll be fine. She’ll still have Finn, she’ll always have Finn. He’s her best friend in the world, her thick-as-thieves friend, her brother in arms. But she just needs to know. (And if she does, maybe they’ll be in the record bank, maybe they’ll have left a DNA swab just in case and then she won’t be alone anymore.)
“Ms. Johnson?” comes a man’s voice and Rey looks up. He’s tall, with curling dark hair, and a white lab coat. “I’m Dr. Dameron.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rey says, getting to her feet slowly. She doesn’t comment on the fact that Dr. Dameron is not the same doctor whose name she’s already forgotten who had taken her samples. She assumes something about different shifts.
He leads her into the same cluttered office space she’d come to last time and sits down behind the desk.
“So,” he says. “We have your test results.”
“Yes,” she says.
“Ordinarily we do this by phone,” he says slowly and Rey feels her stomach tighten as he continues. “Ordinarily, when someone comes in for testing, they...aren’t predisposed.”
“Am I to take it that I am then?” she asks, forcing her voice not to be small, forcing herself to be brave and ask the question whose answer could well crush her.
Dr. Dameron shifts and slides a manilla folder across the desk to her. “Under ordinary circumstances, I’d let you keep the folder. I hope you’ll understand why I can’t do that this time around.”
She opens it and stares.
She stares and stares and stares.
Dr. Dameron has to be kidding. There have to be hidden cameras here, this has to be some elaborate prank. That’s why it’s him here and not Dr. Wexley—that was his name. Dr. Wexley.
But instead of getting to her feet and tossing her hair and saying he was cruel for playing with her heart like this, all she does is ask, blankly, “So...Ben Solo is my soulmate? Our new president is my…”
And Dr. Dameron nods.
The Department of Health announced earlier today that President Solo’s soulmate had been identified using the Soulmate Testing Database.
Rey Johnson, 27, a mechanic and waitress from Jakku will be flying into Coruscant today to meet with the President for the first time.
The Glass Palace has yet to make an official statement beyond stating that Ms. Johnson will be coming, instead asking for the nation’s patience while President Solo and Ms. Johnson work to establish a relationship, and give them the privacy they deserve.
Unkar Plutt, Ms. Johnson’s Manager at Plutt’s Body Parts in Jakku—
Rey puts the newspaper down.
Her heart is in her throat and her hands are trembling. The shuttle is very nice. Very nice. The seats are leather and squashy and a stewardess comes by every four seconds asking her if she wants some champagne.
Rey shakes her head every time. She feels like she’s going to be sick. She’s wearing the nicest dress she owns and it’s not presidential material in the slightest. She’d gotten it on sale at the Credit Store. But at least it’s not covered in grease.
She hadn’t had enough money in her bank account to get anything nicer.
For the fourth time since she’d gotten on the shuttle, she opens the letter that the Chief of Staff—a soft spoken man named Dopheld Mitaka—had handed her when Airforce Three (she hadn’t known there even was an Airforce Three) had landed in her tiny town. It is typed on the presidential letterhead and there’s a printed—not written—signature at the bottom. “The President isn’t in Coruscant at the moment,” Mitaka had told her. “But he asked that I give you this.”
I am sorry I cannot be there to pick you up in person. I truly am. But this will mean we get to meet sooner. Naturally this news comes when I am out of the country and in possibly the most boring trade negotiations I have ever been part of in my life.
(Rey had smiled at that. She’d had the sense that this was supposed to make her smile, even if she didn’t know how boring trade negotiations actually were. Somehow she thought that Unkar Plutt manhandling opposing gang members in the back of the garage didn’t count.)
I cannot wait to meet you. Please make yourself at home when you arrive. I will hopefully not be there too long after you.
And then the squiggly printed signature.
She can’t tell if the letter is making her nervousness better or worse, but it is there, in her hand, proof that this is really happening.
What happens if, when you meet him, your eyes don’t change and you don’t get a glimpse of your future together? What if this is all some hoax, some lie?
Nothing can make that thought go away. It’ll be there, firmly rooted in her mind, until everything is different. Visions of Ben Solo shoving her away, calling her a liar, the press hounding her, everyone thinking she was just some gold digger because of course some Jakku waitress-slash-mechanic is a gold digger
“Champagne?” the stewardess asks again.
“No thank you,” she says weakly, folding the letter back up again.
The paper had been so crisp when Dopheld had handed it to her. Now she can see the signs of her own fingerprints on it. She’d been so careful. She’d showered twice since she had known this was happening, but maybe there’s no real way to get rid of signs of Jakku. Even if she didn’t work in the recycling plants and garbage processors, even if her scavenging days were—thankfully—signs of the dirt and dust and garbage that Jakku was so well known for still covered her.
What must he have thought when he’d learned that he had someone from Jakku as his soulmate? She’d gone to the library to check the HoloNet about him. Only about thirty percent of what she’d seen on the desktop there had actually stuck in her mind. She’d been in far too much a daze but she’d been overcome with a panic and had to do something to make herself feel better about everything. She didn’t know anything about politics. She didn’t pay attention to the news, she hadn’t voted in either the primaries or the general election—oh god, she had not voted for her soulmate—she had only known that there even was an election because the holovisions in Dex’s diner had talked about them sometimes. She’d known who Ben Solo was by the time the election was close because his face was always on the screen.
A cursory search on the HoloNet had told her that the President was nine years older than her. That he was the youngest president to ever be elected. That he’d scraped a narrow victory over Senator Armitage Hux in the primaries, and that he’d won the electoral vote, but lost the popular vote—which Rey doesn’t understand how that works. The article had only vaguely referenced infighting on the left dividing the vote from the Party of the Republic’s candidate, a man whose name she has already forgotten because she’d been trying to make sure she remembered everything else. Ben had served in the senate for two terms, and in every picture she’s found of him, he looks perfectly put together.
She’s never been in a shuttle before. She’s never seen the clouds from this angle.
She’s going to try and focus on that for a little while.
The Glass Palace is...everything she’d seen on holos and more. Great windows that are several stories tall let the setting sunlight filter in to illuminate wide, richly-carpeted hallways. Rey feels very small standing here. Does it feel natural for Ben?
She follows Mitaka through the hallways until she’s standing in a beautiful bedroom—too beautiful.
“There’s a bathroom through there,” he says. “And the terrace overlooks the gardens. You like gardens, yes?”
Rey remembers posting on her Codex account how much she loves gardens when she, Finn, and Rose had gone to the botanical gardens in Jakku City. She’d never seen that much green ever in one place in her whole life, and had wondered, biting back tears, how it was that Maz had gone from some place as beautiful as Takodana to someplace as desolate as Jakku. It wouldn’t surprise her if whoever was responsible for making her comfortable here had combed through her entire social media presence. That was probably required for anyone who was supposed to come within ten feet of the president, now that she thought of it.
“Is this my room?” she asks him. Mitaka cocks his head, confused. “Or is this—his?”
And he nods, understanding. “This is your room,” he says firmly. “The President asked that we make you comfortable and—ah.”
A woman comes through the door. She’s taller than Rey, and so thin that she looks like she, too, has spent most of her life scrambling to make meals happen. Except Rey is quite confident that that’s not true. Her slimness looks purposeful where Rey’s has always been accidental.
“This is Bazine Netal, the Glass Palace Media Strategist,” Mitaka says, and Bazine extends a hand. Rey shakes it and Bazine raises her eyebrows.
“We’ll need to get her a manicure,” Bazine says at once, her lips—colored with a lipstick that’s closer to black than to red—pursing into a thin line and Rey tries not to pull her hand away too rudely. “And a facial. And probably a waxing, and—”
“Comfortable, Baz,” Mitaka says to her, his eyes on Rey.
“Yes, but if there are going to be pictures of her, she can’t look like she just came out of a Jakku dumpster. Sorry,” she says, not sounding as though she’s actually sorry.
“Let’s start with a dress and go from there,” Mitaka says. “There won’t be any photos tonight, anyway.”
“We want her to make a good first impression,” Bazine replies.
“I’m sure she will just by existing,” Mitaka says and that’s when Rey decides to go out on the balcony. She really feels as though she’s going to be sick. She really and truly does. She’s going to puke her guts out right into the lovely garden three floors below and then she’ll definitely need Bazine to help her with one of her dresses because she’ll have gotten vomit over her Credit Store one. It’s nice. It has flowers on it. Rey likes flowers.
She wraps her arms around her stomach, staring out over the gardens to the city beyond. It’s like a diamond glittering in the night.
She can’t see the stars at all.
She wishes Finn and Rose were here. She wishes she weren’t alone.
Ben will be here soon. Then you won’t be alone.
Rey swallows and squares her shoulders and returns to the room. Bazine Netal has brought out several dresses, all of which look nice, demure, and far too fine for Rey.
But I’m going to have to get used to it, right?
“I’m going to shower,” she says. “Then…” she looks at a blue dress with white flowers dotting it. “Then that one.”
Rey is waiting in a private dining room in the Residence, as Mitaka keeps calling it. It’s just her, and empty plates, and a lit candle with a lovely bouquet of flowers. Her heart is hammering.
Mitaka had told her that the President had landed safely, that he was going to freshen up (people apparently use that phrase still) and then he’d join Rey for a late dinner.
That feels like a year ago. This morning feels like ten years ago. Sitting in that hospital with Dr. Dameron feels like a lifetime ago.
She looks down at her hands.
Bazine Netal had had her way and she’d had a manicure. And pedicure. And the only reason her legs hadn’t been waxed was because, in a fit of anxiety, Rey had bought a razor the night before and shaved them for the first time in years herself. She misses the hair there. She doesn’t feel like herself right now. Not even a little bit.
How can he like me if I don’t feel like I’m myself, she wonders. She blinks back more tears.
Get it together, she snaps at herself, trying to recover some of her Jakku spitfire. She has cursed out some of Plutt’s nastier associates when they get too familiar with them, she’s kept the Teedos away from an out-of-towner who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and had had no idea about that. But it’s gone. She feels so alone.
The door opens behind her and her head snaps around.
He’s taller than she expected, and she’d expected him to be tall. He’d dwarfed the redheaded person he’d beaten during the presidential primaries from what she’d seen on the front page newspaper in the diner the following day. But not this tall. And not this broad.
She doesn’t realize she’d gotten to her feet until he’s right next to her. “Rey,” he’s saying and how had she never noticed in all the radio ads that had cut into her music at the body shop that his voice is like music?
She doesn’t really know what to do? Should she hug him? Kiss him? Wave?
She holds out her hand and he takes it, and that is when their eyes lock.
People describe it as seeing clearly for the first time, or catching a glimpse of your future—hindsight-is-twenty-twenty turned forward instead of back. Rey feels lighter than air, she feels his lips against hers even though they aren’t kissing, his arms around her waist even though they aren’t hugging. She feels her whole body shaking in a way that she only feels when her fingers are between her legs and feels her heart beating so fast that she doesn’t know how it hasn’t exhausted itself at all.
There’s a tear dripping down her face and his eyes are bright as well.
Bright and changing.
Where they had been so dark they were nearly black, they are lightening. Streaks of hazel are emerging in his irises and Rey’s throat closes over a sob at the sight of it.
She’s not alone.
And neither is he.