Rey’s dream job wasn’t to sit in an underground parking station booth. No one ever dreamed of smelling exhaust fumes all day, or sitting in a box that sweltered in the summer and froze in the winter. From 7 A.M. to 7 P.M. she never knew if it was sunny or raining except for the state of the steady stream of cars that came and went from the busy downtown skyscraper. There was no shortage of well-to-do business people who wasted their money driving in a city that had perfectly good public transport.
Most didn’t spare her a glance as they passed by, mainly the regulars she knew by sight. Some were argumentative over her boss’s outrageous fees, or demanded compensation for a bumper scratch caused by a careless parking attendant. Rey never paid attention to any of them – they might talk a big game but they probably earned five times what she did and could afford it. Besides, if they threatened legal action Unkar Plutt had goons who could convince them to drop the matter. Those customers were just ignored, like all the others. There was only one she looked forward to seeing.
Ben Solo. Even his name brought a faint smile to her lips. It wasn’t his looks – when she thought about it objectively he was handsome, but not conventionally handsome like the archetypal male model. If she saw him on the news representing his family’s multinational conglomerate whose local office took up 25 floors in the building above her head, he was always impeccably dressed in designer suits looking dark and brooding. He usually came across that way, too – smart, if aloof; charming, if coolly arrogant. She could’ve been forgiven for assuming he was just another rich asshole the first day he had roared into the parking garage in his black Interceptor over a year ago.
But instead of just tossing her his keys for a parking attendant, he’d lowered his window and smiled at her instead. It was his first day working at that location, he’d said, and introduced himself in such an unassuming way that Rey was barely able to remember her own name when she replied.
Sure, he had probably said a combined three dozen words to her since then. He was usually on a call when he arrived at work, if he wasn’t traveling all over the world. He was a busy guy, running a whole arm of the family business now. Rey didn’t mind, and it had done nothing to lessen her undeniable crush that had formed on that first day. She still waited for every nod of acknowledgment when he drove past, or the wave of his long fingers when he left at night. The best part of her day was pretending she was working upstairs alongside him on some international deal. And she wasn’t ashamed to admit that at night she’d thought about what else those long fingers could do.
Rey let herself indulge in the harmless fantasy. There had to be something else in her life than working for a tyrant boss in a dank booth where she was denied fresh air and sunshine. If nothing else it served as a welcome study break when she was nose-deep in a textbook. One benefit of being stuck underground for 12 hours a day meant she could study during quieter periods. It was the trade off she’d made with Plutt. In return for doing his bookkeeping for no additional wages he let her keep up with her distance education subjects. She’d managed to get her business administration diploma that way, and now was working on her accounting diploma.
Rey had a plan for her life and it didn’t involve working for Unkar Plutt for the rest of her existence. She wanted to travel. She wanted to move out of her one room basement apartment that she was grateful for because it was hers alone after the group home, but it wasn’t exactly salubrious accommodation. She still wanted to go to college and get an undergraduate degree, maybe even a Master’s. She wanted to be successful, and above all she wanted to be free of every past burden.
She had no doubt she would get there. But for now, the customers kept driving into the parking garage, she kept studying, and the bright spot in Rey Smith’s week was when Ben Solo said good morning to her.
Looking back on it all, Rey wasn’t sure where she got the nerve. The day had started out like any other. Customers in, customers out. Plutt was in a particularly foul mood over the latest accounts. She tried not to look at the clock which she swore at one point felt like it was going backwards, the day was so long. She had just finished packing up at the end of her shift when Ben stopped at her window.
The rumble of his sports car was loud in the enclosed space, but Rey still worried he could hear the nervous tapping of her foot as she opened the booth window wider.
“Hey. Happy Holidays,” he said, as the engine idled powerfully.
“Uh, you too.”
She planted a smile on her face to hide a grimace. That’s it, she thought miserably, that was the best reply you could come up with? Rey wished she wasn’t wearing the hi-vis vest that all of the parking attendants wore, or the beanie she’d shoved on her head that morning because she’d snoozed her alarm and didn’t have time to wash her hair. Of all the days he’d bothered to say something to her, he had to pick today.
“Have a good night,” Ben added before blasting the volume on the hip hop he was listening to and he drove off.
“You too,” she replied to no one. Rey slid her window closed and knocked her forehead against it a few times for good measure. “Shit.”
She wished she had asked him if he was leaving early for the holidays. It was still a couple of weeks until Christmas – was he going somewhere fun? Was he taking someone with him? Did he, er, have someone to take with him when he went somewhere fun for the holidays? Rey moaned in self pity, imagining jet-setting off to a tropical island with Ben Solo for a beach Christmas, instead of the reality of the lonely, not-so-festive day that she was facing.
She tugged off the hated vest and replaced it with her bag that sat heavy over her shoulder. As she did, her eye was drawn to the small bank of screens above her counter and she watched his elegant car weave its way out of the garage. It paused at street level for a few seconds while he took a call or checked his reflection, or did something that distracted him long enough for him not to see the four thugs that surrounded the vehicle.
“Oh shit!” she said again, louder this time.
In hindsight it was stupid. One of the guys had a gun and was holding it up to the open driver’s side window, she’d clearly seen it on the security footage. Still, Rey grabbed the baseball bat from the corner of the booth – the just-in-case method of self protection she kept there – and was running up the ramp before she knew what was happening. By the time she got to him they had hauled Ben out of the car and were stealing his wallet and watch, then stripped off his coat. She supposed she surprised more than frightened them when she brandished the bat with a guttural yell. Rey managed to kneecap one of the men before they scrambled into the car, falling over themselves to try and fit into the tiny back seat.
Ben, unfortunately, decided in that moment to fight back and pulled one of them out of the driver’s seat. Though he was big and clearly in shape Ben was suddenly no match for the guy who slugged him hard in the jaw. Then, while Ben was bent over, the butt of the gun was smashed into his skull as a parting gesture, causing his head to hit the concrete with a sickening thud. The others shouted at the guy to get in the car and though Rey tried to stop them by smashing her bat into the windshield, the Interceptor screeched off into the night, leaving behind the stench of burnt rubber and a bleeding, unconscious Ben Solo.
Rey knew basic first aid. She also knew head injuries bled like a son of a bitch. But she wasn’t prepared for the amount of blood that seeped onto the ground beneath his matted black hair. She called 911 as she applied as much pressure to the wound as she dared, pleading with him not to die. While she waited the few minutes it took for the paramedics to arrive she used her jacket to try and keep him warm, not feeling the temperature herself as she knelt beside him on the freezing concrete. He was still breathing, and that was all she cared about.
The trip to the hospital was a blur. The deafening sirens and the flashing lights were overwhelming, and she soon found herself in a corner of the emergency room where police officers questioned her about what had happened. Rey told them everything she could, her focus never fully off Ben as she waited to hear of his prognosis. Frustratingly they told her very little, just that the doctors were working on him and not to worry. The officers wanted to take her to the station so she could give a proper witness statement. Rey looked down at his blood all over her hands and clothes and shook her head, and told them she wasn’t going.
“I’m not leaving until I know he’s alright,” she stated adamantly.
“I’m sure his family will appreciate that. They’ll be here soon to look out for him.”
Rey shook her head again. “I’m staying too. He’s my boyfriend.”
She didn’t know where the lie came from, or how she could say it so calmly to an officer of the law. But once it was said out loud she had new resolve – she would stay until she knew Ben was going to survive, and worry about clearing up the small falsehood later. And just as she’d hoped, there was no more talk of making her go to the station after that.
When he was taken from the ER for tests and the officers let her clean off the blood from her hands, Rey was taken to another room in the hospital where two detectives asked the same questions and she gave the same account. They gave her coffee, the hot liquid churning uncomfortably in her empty stomach.
“Where is she?”
Rey looked up at the sound of the imposing voice outside moments before the door burst open and Leia Organa stood there in a velvet gown. She ignored the detectives and crossed the small space to stand before Rey who rose hesitantly to her feet. Leia was shorter than she was but no less intimidating. An icon in the business world, she was one of the few female CEO's of a company the size and scale of Alderaan Inc.
Leia looked her up and down, her dark gaze settling on Rey’s blood-stained clothes, before meeting her eyes again.
“They said you called the paramedics. That you saved my son.”
“I… I just—”
Rey was cut off when Leia pulled her into a crushing hug.
“Thank you.” She let Rey go after a few seconds but kept hold of her shoulders. “He never told me about you. I’m not surprised, what 30-year-old tells his mother about every woman he sees? But still, I’m very glad to meet you…?”
“Rey,” she offered meekly in response. “Rey Smith.”
“Rey.” Leia touched her hand to Rey’s cheek as a brief but unmissable puzzled look flashed in her eyes. “Lovely.”
A lump formed in her throat and Rey wondered if it was the motherly physical gesture, something she was wholly unfamiliar with, or her own concern for Ben that caused it. “How is he?” she asked.
“He’s in surgery. The head injury is… quite serious, they say. But it will be a while before we know anything.” Leia glanced at the detectives for the first time. “Gentlemen, do you need any more from Ms. Smith right now? This is a time for family.”
“We have enough to go on with now, Ms. Organa. We’ll keep you informed as soon as we have any information on the suspects.”
“Good. Someone from my office is waiting at the precinct, you can coordinate directly with them.” Business done, Leia’s expression softened as she took hold of Rey’s hands. “You’re freezing, dear. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Rey let herself be led to a private waiting room where a number of others were gathered. Before she knew what was happening, Leia was introducing her as not only Ben’s savior but as his girlfriend. Rey wanted to refute both titles but she could barely stammer a response to their greetings and gratitude. She knew some of them already by their business profiles – Leia’s twin brother and Ben’s uncle Luke Skywalker was a legend in his own right, then there was Lando Calrissian, long-time associate of the family and head of PR for the company, and Amilyn Holdo, their Chief Operating Officer, and various others whose names and faces were soon a blur.
“I’ve arranged for some clothes…” Leia said to her then trailed off when two more men arrived.
Rey recognized Han Solo from articles about the family, but not the extremely tall man behind him. It suddenly felt like the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.
“Leia,” Han said gruffly.
“Thank you for coming,” she replied.
“Of course I came. Where is he?”
Rey watched the emotion play out on Ben’s father’s face, as hard as he tried to hide it.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Leia said with quiet sincerity.
Han covered the distance between them slowly then wrapped his arms around his wife. His chin came to rest on top of her head as they held each other. Rey looked away and noticed that most of the others did too, not wanting to intrude on what was obviously a private moment.
“This is Ben’s girlfriend, Rey,” Leia murmured, catching her attention again in the worst way. “The ER doctor said her quick thinking meant the blood loss wasn’t as bad as it could have been. And she called the ambulance that got him here so quickly.”
Han reached out his hand to her and Rey shook it. “I’m glad to meet you.”
“You too, Mr. Solo.”
Rey couldn’t bring herself to call him that and looked awkwardly around the room, realizing all eyes were on her again. She felt her face grow hot with shame. All she’d wanted was to stay at the hospital to find out how Ben was, and now she was stuck in a stupid lie she was too embarrassed to explain her way out of. To make matters worse, the adrenaline was wearing off, emotion was catching up with her, and she felt tears forming. Rey was not a crier and yet she felt like she was about to start sobbing.
Leia picked up on her distress and gathered her up in another warm hug, just as a harried young woman entered the room with an overnight bag slung over her shoulder.
“Perfect timing, Kay,” Leia said then turned back to Rey. “Here’s that change of clothes for you, dear, after you’ve had a nice hot shower.”
She did feel better after she’d cleaned up properly, even washing her greasy hair. Rey stood in the steamy bathroom – she had no idea hospitals even had private bathrooms this nice – and contemplated her reflection for a moment. She made a deal with herself. She’d keep up the pretense until she knew Ben was okay. Then she could just crawl back to her booth in the parking garage. She’d scared off his attackers, after all. She’d called for the paramedics and given him first aid. Rey didn’t think it was too much to ask to wait with his loved ones to find out if he would make it.
Maybe they could even laugh about it once he was better. At least, that’s what she told herself. It could be a joke they shared when he passed by her window. ‘Remember that time you pretended to be my girlfriend and my parents actually believed it?’ he’d say with a wink, and she would laugh.
“Idiot,” Rey muttered to her hazy reflection in the bathroom mirror.
She looked at the neatly folded clothes that Leia had placed in her arms. The soft pants and matching sweater were not exactly her usual attire but it was better than dried blood. Rey’s eyes bugged out when she saw Hermès on the labels. She didn’t know how but they were a perfect fit, and so soft she wanted to cry again. She thought she probably would, if she saw what they cost. Rey pulled herself together and scraped up her still damp shoulder-length hair into a few clips. Before returning to the waiting room she stuffed her soiled clothes into her bag to deal with later.
A platter of thick deli sandwiches had appeared and her stomach rumbled in response. No one paid her any attention, thankfully, as Leia was talking with her husband, Lando and another dark-haired man she hadn’t met yet, and the others were eating or looking at their phones. She wondered if it would be impolite to help herself – she hadn’t eaten since lunchtime and it was well past 10 P.M.
“I recommend the Reuben,” Luke said after he appeared at Rey’s side. He gave her shoulder a gentle nudge towards the table when she still didn’t move.
“Oh. Thank you.” She made her way over there, trying not to look too eager.
Luke followed her and watched as she selected the smallest sandwich on the platter. After hesitating for a moment she added a pickle as well. Rey heard him huff and he dropped another generously-sized sandwich onto her plate, then chose a turkey on rye. Finally he grabbed a bottle of green juice and motioned her over to some empty seats.
“Is there any word on Ben?” she asked.
“Eat,” Luke ordered. Once her mouth was full of corned beef he deigned to answer. “They’ve stopped the subdural bleed, but there’s still too much swelling to know more at this stage.”
Rey swallowed, not tasting much of anything anymore.
”These things take time. We need to be patient,” Luke went on. “He’s a tough kid. He’ll pull through. Eat.”
Rey went through the motions, grateful to have something in her stomach.
“He’ll get a surprise seeing his old man here when he wakes up,” Luke said.
She felt him looking at her but she concentrated on her plate and didn’t meet his eyes.
“I guess he told you all about that.”
“He doesn’t really talk about his family, not to me,” Rey murmured. It felt good not to lie about that small detail, at least.
Luke’s face settled into an inscrutable expression. “No, I suppose he wouldn’t.”
She was relieved when he didn’t question her further. Rey finished eating just as Leia motioned her over to where she stood with the dark haired man alone now. He looked weary while Leia was anything but. She had also changed clothes from her evening gown and had new energy judging by her sharp expression.
“Rey, this is Poe Dameron, he runs our in-house legal division.” She turned her attention back to him. “I’m telling you, we need better security cameras in the parking garage. If Rey hadn’t been there they could have killed Ben.”
“There are security cameras,” Rey spoke up. “That’s how I saw what was happening.”
“Where were you?” Poe asked her when Leia looked confused.
Rey glanced between them. “In the booth... in the parking garage.”
Leia shook her head, her lips pursed. “I’m sorry. I thought you were with Ben. Why were you in a booth in the parking garage under our building?”
“Because I work there.” Rey’s hands twisted the hem of the loaned designer sweater.
“You work in the parking garage under our building.” Leia repeated it slowly, as if she was trying to understand the basic concept. “Ben’s girlfriend works in the parking garage under our building.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Han demanded from his seat a few feet away.
“Nothing.” Leia looked swiftly at Rey. “Nothing, dear, of course. I’m just surprised. It’s very… what do they say? Woke? Ben always did like to keep me on my toes.”
Leia sat down next to her husband with an audible sigh.
“I’ve been studying business... and accounting,” Rey felt compelled to say, then wished she hadn’t.
She hoped her cheeks weren’t as pink as they felt, but they burned hotter when she saw that Poe was staring at her in a not entirely friendly way. She knew it was the perfect time to tell them the truth yet the obstinate part of her wanted to rub their snobbish faces in it a while longer. Was it really out of the realm of possibility that Ben would look twice at her? Sure, he was rich and handsome and could no doubt have anyone he wanted. Stranger things had happened. There was a whole rom-com subgenre dedicated to the trope, she wanted to argue.
Rey planted a fake smile on her face and backed away from them when it didn’t appear as if the conversation would continue. Neither Han nor Leia looked up so she turned and walked out of the room, not too quickly as to draw attention, but fast enough to get herself the hell out of there before she said something she regretted.
The hospital corridor was surprisingly empty at that time of night and Rey wondered if they were in some special wing reserved for the wealthy. At least she could breathe a little better away from them all, and she found a secluded nook with a window to look out of. There wasn’t much more to see than inky blackness and the twinkling lights of the city. It had rained at some point, she didn’t know when. Rey took in long, even breaths, counting to five, before exhaling for the same length of time until she felt calmer.
“They can be a bit much.”
Any peace she felt was lost at the sudden sound of a male voice and she whirled around to find Poe standing a short distance from her.
“Sneak up on me, why don’t you,” she snapped.
He held up his hands in an apologetic gesture. “I just wanted to check you were okay. I heard about what you did from the police. They said you hit one of the carjackers with a baseball bat.”
Rey gave him a half shrug. It somehow felt like a distant memory even though it had only happened a few hours ago.
“I guess you’re pretty tough,” he said.
“I guess so.”
“You’ve already given them a full statement?”
Poe reached out and handed her a business card. “If they call you again. It’s better if you have legal counsel with you.”
“In case the one you injured decides to press charges. Assuming they find them.”
“Press charges against me ?” she spluttered. “He could do that?”
“Don’t worry, it’s just a bullshit defense lawyer tactic before they try and sue for damages. That’s why you call me, okay? Leia insists. We’ll look after it. Make sure it goes away.”
“As if this day couldn’t get any worse.” Rey pocketed the card then scrubbed her hands down her face. “Thank you,” she remembered to add.
Poe walked closer and leaned against the wall opposite her. He wore a suit and tie as if he’d come from the office, despite the late hour. He tilted his head back and stared at her again through hooded eyes. She recognized his appraising gaze as more clinical than unkind now, though it hardly made her feel better.
“So, how long have you known Ben?” he asked.
“We met a year ago.” Rey chalked up one more truth against the lie.
“He never mentioned you.”
She scoffed. “What are you, best friends or something?”
“Yeah,” Poe replied. “We’ve known each other since we were kids. We practically grew up together.”
“Oh.” ‘Shit’, she added silently.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not exactly his type.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Rey shot back. “That’s been made pretty clear tonight.”
Poe looked down at his feet for a moment. “Listen. I’m just going to say this once. I’m used to dealing with Ben’s shit. If it’s money he owes you, just tell me how much and I’ll get it to you.”
She frowned. “Money?”
“If you two have an arrangement and you’re waiting around to get paid, I’d rather you talk to me than his parents or uncle.”
“An arrangement? Do you think I’m a hooker or something?”
“You call yourself whatever you want, you’re a grown up. Like I said, I’ve dealt with this stuff for him before.”
Rey squared her shoulders. “I’m not a prostitute.”
Poe rubbed his forehead tiredly. “Fine. If it’s drugs just tell me. It’s late, I have work tomorrow.”
“I’m not his drug dealer either,” she said with mounting anger. “The only reason I’m here is to make sure Ben’s okay. I saw what that asshole did to him. I heard the sound his head made… I watched the color drain out of his face—”
Rey let out a frustrated breath when she felt emotional again, as the events from earlier that evening threatened to overwhelm her. She ignored Poe’s look of concern. The last thing she wanted was his sympathy.
“I just need to know he’ll be alright. I’m not after anything more. From any of you.” She raised her chin before walking away to return to the waiting room.
“Oh, and Poe?” Rey paused briefly to look back at him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but fuck you.”
Though she didn’t wait around to see it, Poe broke out in a bemused grin.