Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - [Filter Applied: <$500]
"Your account balance is six hundred, fifty-eight dollars and twenty-one cents. For more information, login to the—”
Rey hit the 'End Call' button and groaned. A few customers at the run-down diner tossed her sidelong glances, and she sunk deeper into the booth. She nursed the chicken noodle soup in front of her a bit more carefully, took a long sip of her water, and stashed the saltines in her thrift-store acquired backpack.
She needed to find a place to live. Fast. The seedy motel she called home was hemorrhaging money out of her checking account, and her part-time job at the reception desk of a local art museum wasn't paying nearly enough to make up the difference. Now that she’d paid her start of term tuition fee, the only money she had to her name had just been relayed to her by a robot.
If she didn’t find somewhere to live soon, she’d end up sleeping under a desk in the university library.
Biting her lip, she crossed her fingers and hopped onto Cragslist. When applying filters, she selected [<$500], snorting. As if…
Hitting ‘search’, she waited for the error message ‘ Sorry, we couldn’t find any results. Try expanding your search.’
She watched the page load, sitting straighter in her seat when a listing popped up.
Room for Rent !!NOT A JOKE. REAL INQUIRIES ONLY!!
She clicked the link. As her eyes scanned its contents, they grew wider and wider. Scrolling back up to the top of the listing, she read it again, slower this time.
Two brothers, 29, looking for a roommate for the third bedroom of their apartment on 7 East 7th St. East Village. Roommate would have their own bedroom and bathroom. 132 square feet in a 1,200 SF apartment. Rent is $500 a month, due at the first of the month (includes utilities). Room is furnished with bed, side tables, rug, and lamp. Serious applicants only!!
Under the description was a bubble where the lister had requested that interested applicants come to the apartment anytime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. today . Right above the address were pictures of the exterior of the building, the kitchen, living room, and the room for rent. Everything seemed to be in peak condition.
But where was the catch?
There was no bloody way that a room of that size, furnished, in that location was being rented out for only five hundred goddamn dollars a month. This had to be some sort of trap, or scam, or... Something.
Under normal circumstances, she would have passed by a listing like that with a scoff. But... It was too perfect. The location was on the same street as her university! Even if there was a 95% chance this was a scam, she had to take a chance. The second a red flag popped up, she’d be out of there.
Checking her watch, she saw it was already 2:46 p.m. The flat was about a half hour away. She'd need to hustle, though a sinking feeling told her someone else had probably been chosen already.
Still, she had to try.
Racing to the subway, she endured the smelly, crowded ride as nervous energy licked at her bones. Each minute passed with excruciatingly slowness until, finally, she stood at the door. Raising a tentative hand, she knocked three times.
"What have you done?"
"Hello to you too," Kylo snorted as he pushed past his brother to step into their apartment. Ben followed after him into the kitchen, where Kylo searched for his usual after-work drink.
"Three people stopped by. Three very weird people," Ben said, crossing his arms.
"Aw, I missed it?" Kylo glanced back at him with an exaggerated pout before grabbing the boxed wine from the fridge, along with a coffee mug to pour it in.
"They said we were renting a room for five hundred dollars a month! Do you realize where we live? Even if we'd agreed to get a roommate, what the hell were you--"
"Relax! We're not actually getting a roommate.” Kylo leaned against the counter as he faced his twin. "It’s just the guest room's been empty since we moved here, and I thought it'd be funny to post a stupidly cheap offer and see who showed."
"You thought it'd be funny," Ben deadpanned.
"Yeah. Make you laugh, you know," Kylo's eyes shifted as he cleared his throat. "You haven't exactly been the same, since--”
"You thought inviting strangers to our home would cheer me up?"
Kylo shrugged, and Ben rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help but crack a smile as moment from a few hours ago came back to him.
"Okay, one of them was pretty funny," he admitted with a snort. "Looked like she slept on the subway rails...oh, and she reeked of rubbing alcohol. When I said she had the wrong place, she thought that meant 'blow me'."
Kylo almost choked on his laughter.
"Seriously? Oh man, I wish I could've seen that...but hey, who are you to turn anyone down, even if she does look like roadkill--"
"Oh, fuck off..."
Three knocks echoed through the apartment, and both twin's heads turned sharply to the door. A grin overtook Kylo’s expression as he rushed to answer it.
"Are you here for the listing?" he asked before the door was fully open.
Ben caught up just in time to see a striking young woman. Oh God, if only. She had to be lost, or selling something. Girls who looked like this rented upscale studio apartments or roomed with their bougie friends, not with strange, sketchy men posting ads that were obviously too good to be true.
Or so he thought.
"Um, yeah. I'm Rey. I take it that, uh, the room is still available?" she asked, adjusting the strap of her bag and shuffling her feet.
While Ben’s jaw hung open, Kylo raked his eyes up and down her form, in as much if not more disbelief than his brother.
"Uh...yeah, yeah it is,” he said without hesitation. Ben shot him a look, which was promptly ignored. After a long, awkward pause, he remembered his manners, and held out his hand to shake Rey’s.
"Nice to meet you, Rey. I'm Ben, this is Kylo.”
His insides twisted as she shook his hand, but he tried not to let it show. Until about thirty seconds ago, he would've said absolutely not to the prospect of rooming with anyone other than his brother, not unless they paid top dollar. Even Kylo was too much most of the time. But Ben had never thought a single, decent woman would show up on their doorstep looking for a place to stay.
Maybe it was shallow. Maybe it was her lack of trackmarks, or her accent, or her adorable hairstyle. But knowing she was desperate enough to risk such a sketchy offer made him more sympathetic than suspicious.
Stepping back, he motioned for her to come inside, tugging his brother back by the collar when he didn't move. Kylo choked a bit, spinning on his heel to glare at Ben. But as Rey stepped inside, his smile returned, and he closed the door behind her without locking it.
Both twins watched her reaction as she took a look around. Kylo seemed completely unfazed, but Ben wrung his hands together as he eyed the overflowing trash can.
After peeking over the kitchen, she squared her shoulders and said, "Look, if this is a scam or something, I'm not going to waste my time. I only came because it seemed too good to pass up even if there was a major chance it was a ripoff, so...you guys aren't criminals or con artists, are you?"
The brothers shared a wide-eyed glance. Ben was about to reassure her as sincerely as possible when Kylo barked out a laugh.
“You expect criminals and con artists to tell you the truth?” he asked her, tilting his head. “Also depends on what you mean by criminal ...”
She raised a brow, apparently unamused.
“What he means to say is we can give you our word, but we kind of have to trust each other, here,” Ben said. “But don’t buy his boasting. He’s not half as much of a rebel as he thinks he is...”
A slight smirk curled Rey’s lips and she gave Kylo a once-over. "Yeah, he looks the type."
Kylo’s smirk faded at their jabs. Before he could form a clever comeback, Rey spoke up again.
"I have a job nearby, and I go to the University down the street. I don't have the money to give you a first and last up front, but I can give you the first month's rent and get a last month by my next paycheck, in about two weeks."
Ben listened closely and nodded.
“That’s fine with me if it’s fine with Kylo. Though, full disclosure, it should be fine with him considering he posted the ad as a joke...” Ben said through gritted teeth, side-eying his brother.
“A joke?” Rey parroted, her cheeks reddening.
"Or a social experiment, or whatever...but in any case, sounds like you need the space more than we do. That room’s just been gathering dust, so...”
"What do you guys do, anyway?” she asked. “If you're offering a room for this cheap, then I know you're not exactly looking for someone to share the burden of the rent."
Kylo chimed in before Ben could even open his mouth. “He’s a lawyer. Boring, I know. But I’m in the entertainment industry.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “By that, he means he pushes around set pieces all day.”
“Hey, I build them and paint them, sometimes even design them—and I’m not going to stay backstage forever. I’ll have you know I have an audition Friday.”
“Mmhm, and I’m sure it’ll go as well as the last ten auditions,” Ben sighed.
If Rey could deal with this, she could deal with anything. But what did that say about him? He could’ve lived alone if he really wanted to. Instead, he willingly spent the majority of his life with his twin. Two grown brothers living together had to look strange to at least a few people...his colleagues certainly thought so. But maybe, it wouldn’t seem so weird if they shared their space with a pretty girl.
"Well, break a leg," Rey told Kylo. While his grin nearly split his face in two, she turned to Ben. "Law can be pretty interesting, I think. I'd like to hear more about it."
Ben swallowed and nodded quickly. “Yes, absolutely, it’s uh...it’s more interesting than people think---well, some parts of it, others not so much…”
Rey rocked on her heels as she looked between them. "So, uh, when do you want me to move in? Since you're a lawyer and all, I guess you won't have too hard a time getting rental agreement papers. I can get the first $500 to you today, if you want."
Ben rubbed the back of his neck as his thoughts flew with all the papers they'd need to fill out. God, was this actually happening? He'd meant what he said, but he half expected her to change her mind once he disclosed the real purpose of the ad.
"Uh...yeah I can get them," he said. "If you can give us the five hundred now, I guess you can move in whenever you want… though you might want to give us a day to clean--"
"Clean what?” Kylo scoffed, palms outstretched as his gaze swung about the room. “This whole place is spotless! Nothing's even in the guest room except furniture.”
“Dusty furniture,” Ben muttered.
“If she's willing to pay five hundred, I don't think a little dust will kill her."
"Everything can be a liability. Besides, it'd hardly encourage a friendly roommate relationship…” Remembering Rey, Ben stopped himself with a tight smile. He hated bickering in front of guests—but Kylo made it damn near impossible to avoid.
"I, uh...I’d actually be happy moving in tonight, if that’s okay,” Rey said. “I'm staying in a motel right now, so I'd appreciate not having to pay for that anymore.”
“You would?” Ben’s eyes widened. He’d said she could move in today, but he didn’t think she’d accept. Alright, this was happening, no big deal…
She nodded, her cheeks glowing pink again, “I can go grab my stuff and then bring you the cash. I don't have that much to carry."
“Sure, okay...I’ll uh...get those rental papers while you’re out.”
“You sure you don’t need help carrying anything?” Kylo asked, leaning against the doorframe. “Or a ride so you can skip the subway scum?”
Ben bit his lip hard as a ball of jealousy formed in his gut, but he wasn’t sure who it was directed towards.
“That’s...unusually nice of you, Kylo,” he said under his breath. “But I think she’d rather not be in a car alone with you ....
“Why not? I’m just trying to be helpful, like you‘re always nagging me to—“
Rey cut him off, shaking her head. “No, thanks. Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, but uh...really, it’s not much stuff. It shouldn’t take me more than one trip.”
Kylo chewed on the inside of his lip with a curt nod, eyes dropping to the floor.
“So I’ll be back in a couple hours, then,” she said.
“See you soon.” Ben gave her little wave as she left. As soon as the door closed, he let out a deep breath, heading straight to his office to print out the papers. Halfway there, he noticed footsteps behind him.
“What?” he sighed as he faced his brother. Kylo narrowed his eyes and stepped closer, invading his space.
“Why are you agreeing to this so easily?”
“It was your idea, dumbass. You posted the ad!”
“Yeah, but...I didn’t think you’d actually want to live with anyone else...”
“I didn’t , but she needs help, and doesn’t look like she’s going to wreck the place, so she’d make a perfect cover. And besides, I didn’t see you protesting.”
Turning on his heel, Ben took a seat at his desk to print out the rental documents, but Kylo wasn’t quite finished.
“Just think she’d be a nice distraction, that’s all,” he huffed. “Might be nice to have a roommate who acknowledges my existence without sneering...”
Looking up sharply, Ben opened his mouth to fire back, but Kylo had already stalked off to his own room and slammed the door.
This is crazy. You’re crazy. You can’t actually be doing this. You don’t know for sure this isn’t a scam. Or some human trafficking ploy. You don’t know if they work where they say they work. You don’t even know if their names are actually Ben and Kylo!
Those thoughts, and many more, raced through Rey’s mind the entire smelly subway ride to the motel and back. Despite her paranoia, she kept telling herself that she needed this. Ben and Kylo seemed normal enough. As for her, she was disease-free, unaddicted, as mentally sound as most could hope for, and didn't carry any baggage that would turn up at their doorstep at two in the morning. She knew she could be a good roommate.
She would prove it.
It took her less than fifteen minutes to pack. Her meager belongings ended up in a ratty backpack, two duffel bags and two Costco-sized plastic bags. Not wanting to face Plutt’s leer, she called the front desk to check out, and left through the back door.
No one on the subway paid attention to the stick-thin tomboy drowning in bags. Sweat broke out on her brow as she made her way up to the flat, her new home, and her heart thundered in her ears as she approached the door.
Praying that it would open, she knocked.
A moment passed, and then another. Her anxiety spiked, but was immediately tempered when Ben swung open the door. She could have dropped to the ground right then and there out of relief. What a cruel joke it would have been for her to bring everything all the way here to have that door stay locked.
Eyes landing on her, his lips parted in surprise. "Oh-! Shit, I should've let Kylo help you…you said it wasn't that much…can I get some of those for you?"
“Really, it’s not that much. Considering...” Considering it was her entire life on her shoulders?
Just close your mouth. No need to announce what a charity case you are.
Biting her tongue, she smiled and nodded. “That would be great, thank you.”
Passing him the two plastic bags, her cramped fingers sung their thanks.
As they walked inside, her eyes landed on the papers stacked on the coffee table. It was the rental agreement. Once again, a swirling concoction of disbelief and excitement welled in her chest.
Ben led the way to her room, and once he’d deposited her bags on the bed, she fished out her wallet. Pulling out five hundred dollar bills, she held them out for him. “Thank you, again. For all of this. I know it’s all happening super fast, but I really appreciate it.”
He blinked owlishly, as if he’d forgotten this was a transaction and not merely a good deed. After a moment of hesitation, he took the money and pocketed it with a faint smile.
“It’s no problem...let me get those papers,” he said, stepping out to grab the rental agreement from the living room.
She’d smiled and took a good look around the room. It was huge , and beautiful. Plenty of natural light shone in from the window, the closet was spacious (not that she ever expected to fill it), the bed full-sized, and the furniture looked new. Even the sheets felt luxurious, and she had to pinch her thigh through the thin material of her pants to convince herself that this was all real .
When Ben returned with the papers, he handed them over, along with a pen.
“It's a pretty standard contract,” he said. She pretended to know exactly what was in it, though she had never seen one before. “Rent’s due the first of the month, and I’d rather you not paint or drill holes in the walls…looks like the ‘no pets’ part won’t be a problem… Oh, and no smoking—cigarettes.“
A smirk curled the corner of her mouth, not missing his clarification. She had recognized a familiar, dank smell as she’d passed what she assumed to be Kylo’s room. It didn’t bother her.
“As for noise, cleaning, and so on, I think we can just discuss those things as they come up,” he said with a shrug.
“Yeah, all sounds good to me.”
Walking over to one of the side tables, she flipped through the contract and signed everywhere he’d marked. He took the contract when she was finished with it, flipping through quickly to make sure they didn't miss anything.
Rocking back and forth on her heels as she waited, she said, “I can cook a bit. I’m a little out of practice, but I’ve always been good at following recipes. I’m very clean, so that won’t be a problem. I like to think I’m pretty quiet, too, so...I won’t be too much of a bother, I promise.”
His eyes raised from the pages as she spoke, looking at her under his lashes with an arched brow.
How can he possibly be that tall and still manage to look at me all shyly like that? she wondered, her lips quirking.
“Don't worry, I wouldn't have let you stay here if I thought you'd be trouble. I meant more on our end than yours,” he assured her.
A smirk appeared on her lips as she thought about how Ben had begun to make a fuss over ensuring everything was sparkly clean before she moved in, and how Kylo had protested that a bit of dust wouldn’t kill her.
"I hope you like metal. You're going to hear a lot of it," he added as an afterthought.
“I wouldn’t have guessed you were a fan.” When his brows furrowed, she grinned wide and rushed to say, “Kidding. I’m gonna guess that you’re referring to your brother’s music. Though I wouldn’t blame you for liking it. There are worse genres out there.”
Was it right to say a full-grown man who was at least a head taller than her could look cute? Probably not, but that was the only descriptor she could think of to fit the way a blush rose all the way from Ben's cheeks to the tips of his sizeable ears.
"Yeah...he hasn't quite moved past the garage band stage...even though we haven't had a garage since he was actually young enough for the angsty teen thing," he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I wish I could say that I was surprised, but..." She shrugged and shook her head, grinning widely up at him.
"I know. If there was a wiki page for what a 'garage band person' looks like, he'd be the reference picture," he muttered with a lopsided grin. "If your ears start to bleed, noise cancelling headphones help. And Mozart, at full volume."
"Mozart? Really? I’m stunned..." Her facade broke as his eyes went wide, and she reached out to gently tap his arm. "I'm sorry. I promise I won't tease you anymore."
Just as it had begun to recede, his blush flared back to life.
"No, no, my fault for being so gullible..." he said, eyes darting every which way as a light laugh escaped him. "In any case, your teasing is much more endearing than what I usually get..."
Endearing . No one had ever called anything she did endearing in her life. It made her feel strange, but a good kind of strange, and her cheeks warmed.
Ben, on the other hand, looked mortified. "Sorry, um, I'll uh....I should let you get settled…”
She gave him a little wave as he rushed out, then looked around her room. Time to unpack, then.
Ben’s fingers shook at his sides as he strode to his room, silently berating himself the whole way. The girl had just agreed to live with them, assuming she'd be safe in their presence, and he'd gone and hit on her . God. He hadn't meant to, but it still came across that way.
The door beside Ben's cracked open just as he passed by on the way to his room. Peering out into the hall after him, Kylo narrowed his eyes, wondering what he was so flustered about. Whatever. Why should he care? Ben threw him under the bus as soon as a pretty girl showed up to make himself look better.
Speaking of the pretty girl...how much would it piss off Ben if Rey ended up liking Kylo better, despite all of his oh-so-horrible flaws? Who'd look like the asshole then?
Padding to the kitchen, he grabbed the mug of wine he'd forgotten on the counter and chugged it, then dug in the fridge for a bottle of Guinness. He didn't pop it open, though. Instead, he carried it down the hall and knocked on the open doorway of the guest room— no— Rey’s room.
She flinched and spun around with wide eyes, like he'd caught her doing something naughty instead of just hanging her clothes up. Ben had a similar, adorably frightened expression whenever Kylo snuck up on him...hence why he did it so much. But he wasn't thinking about his brother right now— Ben could go drown in his own superiority for all Kylo cared.
"I come in peace.” He stepped inside, lips curved into a half-smile as he held out the bottle. "This is as much of a welcome gift as I could manage on short notice."
Chuckling, she set aside the piece of clothing she’d been working on a hanger and took the ice-cold beer. "That's really nice of you, thanks," she said.
Realizing he'd forgotten to grab a bottle opener, he was about to offer to get the cap off, when she lifted the bottom of her shirt to do it herself. His eyes widened at the flash of a freckled tan over hard, flat muscle. As the cap popped off, he forced himself to look back up, thinking it would distract him from the thoughts creeping into the back of his mind. It didn't.
Goddammit, why did she have to drink so eagerly? Wait, what was he complaining about? It was hardly the first time he'd fixated on something enticing, knowing it'd only tease him without satisfaction. He was a glutton for punishment that way. His only concern was her seeing the evidence.
Alas, she saved him from the embarrassment by embarrassing herself instead. When her cheeks blew out with a muffled belch, and her face went lobster-red, he couldn't help but snicker. Her scrambled apologies only made him laugh harder.
"I'm...really sorry about that. I uh-- I didn't realize how parched I was."
"Guess I should've brought you a water first," he chuckled, trying very hard not to crack a certain joke— but it was impossible not to say it. "I can grab you one, if you're that uh...thirsty."
Cheeks still stained with a deep flush, she laughed and shook her head. "You got me there."
God, she was cute. He was tempted to tease her again, to keep that blush on her cheeks and the smile in her eyes, but he didn't want to cross the line. His particular brand of 'charm' was best enjoyed in small doses until one built up a tolerance.
Taking a smaller swig of beer, she stepped closer to the door. "I didn't actually look too closely at the kitchen earlier. I'll take you up on that water if you’d be kind enough to show me around a bit."
Odd... Who accepted living somewhere without seeing the whole place? For all she knew, there were giant holes in the walls and water that ran black and a family of rats living under the sink...but then he remembered. Five hundred dollars. Right, she couldn't afford to care about those things. And luckily for them, she didn't have to.
"Sure, sure,” he finally said, leading the way into the hall.
When they reached the kitchen kitchen, he gave a little gesture as if to say 'behold', then pushed aside the take-out boxes accumulating on the counter. Leaning against it, he surveyed the room with fresh eyes. Black marble countertops, stainless steel appliances, clean-ish...that had to be more than good enough for her.
As she looked around, she asked, "Did Ben tell you I can cook a bit? I'd be happy to make you guys something once in a while. Since you're helping me out so much, and all."
His expression soured at the mention of Ben, but only for an instant.
"No, he didn't...but that would be awesome."
Ben was probably too polite to accept her offer, but again— five hundred dollars. If she was offering extra help, Kylo wasn't about to say no. Reaching to the fridge, he grabbed a bottle of water and tossed it to her. "For your unquenchable thirst."
She glanced over just in time for the bottle to slap into her open palm. "Thanks!"
"Nice catch.” His eyes followed her as she finished her beer and looked around, brow raising when she started opening the cabinets. What was she looking for?
"Oh, wow. There's an unopened box of pans in here!"
He spared a dull glance to the box. The label read Williams Sonoma, a pretty standard brand for his parent’s kitchen. "Yeah, our mom gave us a lot of stuff we never use when we first moved in here…”
He cursed himself a second later for mentioning it. Now, she'd ask about their mom, and he'd have to give a sanitized, roundabout explanation, and deal with all the awkward pity that would ensue...
Instead of pestering, Rey just went quiet for a moment. Her lips pursed slightly and she averted her eyes. When she did finally comment, all she said was, "That was nice of her.”
Looking back to the stack of takeout boxes, she let out a long sigh. "Bloody hell, you two should have hired a cook, not rented out for a roommate.”
"Ah, but hiring a cook meant losing money, not gaining . This way, we get a cook and a roommate.”
She chuckled and shook her head. "You know, if you had put it in your ad that you were looking for a chef and a roommate, all for $500 rent, I probably still would’ve come knocking...But it's not part of the rental agreement, so don't go getting picky on me."
"I'll remember that next time I go posting roommate ads online. And don't worry— years of trying to cook has made me immune to burnt, undercooked, oversalted, undersalted, or otherwise barely edible food. I'm as un-picky as it gets."
Ben was a bit more fussy, but Kylo chalked it up to him needing less food. Only one of them did manual labor every day. The biggest thing Ben ever had to carry was a briefcase.
Holding out his hand for a shake, he said, "So you have yourself a deal. I’d appreciate having a home cooked meal for a change. Ben will, too—but fair warning, he's super annoying about favors. He has to reach a certain quota of saying 'its too much', or 'you shouldn't have', before he'll accept anything."
Her grin grew as she took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Noted. It's a good thing you don't have any qualms about it. So do you guys have any allergies or diet restrictions?”
“Like I said, I'll eat anything, and we don't have any allergies. But Ben's a vegetarian."
"Vegetarian, okay...” Sipping at her water, she tilted her head. “Is milk and cheese okay? Fish? How about eggs? I think I heard something about some vegetarians eating eggs."
“Fish would be…pescatarian, so no.” He had to take a second to remember the right word. “He’s always saying he’ll go full vegan and quit the eggs and dairy, but keeps making exceptions for Dunkin Donuts and yum-yum sauce, so-o-o I’d say anything that isn’t a corpse won’t make him queasy.”
He does like one kind of meat, though , Kylo thought as soon as he said it, biting back a grin. Ah, too bad he couldn't share those kinds of jokes with people.
"Again, he probably won't even let you cook for him,” he added. “But if you insist on it, just give him French fries and he's happy.”
"French fries, got it," she noted.
Glancing to the living room, his gaze landed on one of Ben’s old textbooks, and his chest tightened. “Shit, I didn’t even ask you what you studied....and you said you worked somewhere nearby, right?”
She had to be so irritated with him, going on and on about himself and Ben without asking the most basic question from her. Normally, he didn’t give a damn if he gave enough in a conversation, but he really wanted her to like him—and not just to spite Ben.
"I go to Cooper Union, just down the street,” she said. “I’m in the art school, focused in digital photography. And I work at a little indie gallery on Mercer Street.”
While he nodded, struggling for what to ask next, she turned a question on him. "So you said you had an audition coming up. What's it for?"
His eyes lit up and he shifted closer, shaking his hair out of his face as he spoke, " Heathers: The Musical . I'm a terrible singer, and not much of a dancer either, so I normally don't bother with musicals...but I've been working my ass off trying to get better at it, just for this one part. I know no one can do this character justice more than me."
"That's awesome. I've never seen it, but if you want any help I could read lines with you or something," she offered, then held up her hands with a little grin. "Though please don't ask me to try and help you with your dancing or singing. I can't do either of those things at all .”
He barely heard the second part of her statement, too distracted by her offer. Not even Ben would read lines with him. "You would? That would...that’d be great. A lot of the lines are sung, but there's this one solo, where you'd just have to say a couple of lines to give me something to react to— but I should probably show you the whole thing first, though, so you know what it's even about...if you want to, and have the time, that is."
She nodded along through his rambling, then hummed at his mention of her having enough time.
"I can make time between school and work. Though travelling all the way down the hall to meet you at your room is going to be tough." Miming taking a look at a watch, she sucked air through her teeth sharply. "Oof. And with traffic… I don't know…”
His nose wrinkled with a little snort, a smile creasing the corners of his eyes. “You’ll have to beat the rush hour when Ben goes to work and comes home—he’ll run you over.”
She covered her mouth to hide her laugh. "I'll be sure to look both ways before crossing the hall."
Thank you so much to everyone who left comments and kudos on the first chapter! Julia and I were not expecting such a strong positive first reaction. We hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Living with Rey had thus far been the most confusing, fun, yet miserable month of Ben’s life.
Rey herself was a joy to be around. Not only did she cook for them, but apparently she’d taken the time to ask his brother about their restrictions.
The first time she made dinner, Ben had thanked her with the same tight smile he gave every other acquaintance who offered him food. He fully expected to find nothing but a charred, glazed corpse on the table. Instead, she’d actually bothered to make a full, vegetarian meal for him. If he hadn’t liked her before, he certainly did now.
Beyond the occasional shared meals, he tried to have one-on-one conversations with her whenever Kylo was away, but between his own busy schedule and hers, that was easier said than done.
And speaking of Kylo...Ben barely spoke to him. As soon as Rey showed up, something between them shifted. They were happy on their own, but bitter together, either ignoring each other or flinging passive-aggressive jabs. Ben hated it. But since Rey was here, he wasn’t about to go “make up” with his brother the only way they knew how.
Therapeutic talks weren’t their style. If anything, it just lead to more misunderstandings and arguments, unless it came right after they’d already “bonded”.
One night, Ben had just managed to sleep soundly after a long day of work when a scream made him nearly fall out of bed. He grabbed the edge of the mattress to catch himself as his bleary eyes adjusted to the dark.
What the hell was that? It sounded like it came from inside the apartment— and it was too high pitched to come from Kylo.
He sucked in a breath and staggered to his feet as fast as his groggy brain would allow. As he forced himself out into the hall, the glare of the streetlamps streaming in through the windows hurt his eyes, but helped to wake him up a bit faster.
He reached to open Rey’s door, but only halfway turned the knob before stopping himself. What if the shriek wasn’t real? What if he’d just dreamed it? What if she was safe and sound, and he burst in on her while she slept, giving her a real reason to scream?
Another muffled cry gave him his answer. Heart pounding, he rushed into the room, fists raised before his face as his eyes darted in every direction for an intruder. No grim shadow loomed over Rey’s bed, no hooded figures lurked in the corner. There was only Rey, tangled in her own sheets.
He took a step back from the bed, fists uncurling to rake his fingers through his hair. He hadn’t been the one dreaming--she had. As hard as it was to watch her thrash, she wasn’t in any real danger, and he wasn’t nearly a close enough friend to shake her awake. That’d just scare her more.
The more he thought about it, the more stupid his initial fear of an intruder seemed. Why would anyone go to the trouble of getting past all that security downstairs to get to one, random apartment on the tenth floor?
Holding his breath, he turned slowly to sneak out before he woke her up, but it was too late. He flinched as she sat bolt upright with a cry, then gasped his name.
Swallowing, he held his hands up, hoping she didn’t think he was here to hurt her.
“Shhh, shh....it’s okay, I-I heard you scream and thought you were in trouble,” he whispered. Since she was already awake, he tentatively sat at the edge of the bed, but was careful not to touch her. “You were having a nightmare, weren’t you?”
“I’m sorry...” She trembled and hung her head, her hair shielding her face.
His lips parted to say something when he noticed his hand sliding a bit too close to hers. Even if it wasn’t the middle of the night, and he had on more than just a T-shirt and boxers, he would’ve been awkward with touching. He usually was. Did she want physical comfort? Would it help, or would it scare her?
Usually, no matter how much he ached to just relax around Rey, he figured it was better safe than sorry.
He couldn’t conclude anything else until she let him catch a glimpse of her face. When she lifted her head, something in his chest cracked a little. Her cheeks were wet, her eyes wide, her lip quivering. He couldn’t help himself—he reached out.
His fingers glided over where hers had fisted in the sheets. Even through the thin material, her skin felt feverish. His breath halted in his throat when her eyes darted down at his hand, but when her fingers intertwined with his rather than recoiling, he exhaled with a shy smile.
Her warmth spread through his fingertips and up his arm until every ounce of tension melted away. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed being touched. His brother usually satisfied that need— even if half of those touches were surprise tackles and shoves— but with this strange, unspoken rivalry, Ben just had to go without...until now.
“The nightmares, they...they started again a couple nights ago. I thought—I thought I outgrew them.” She clenched her jaw, eyes fixed on a single spot on the wall.
“I’m sorry,” he breathed, looking down to their hands. “From...from what it sounded like, they must be really awful.“
“It’s— I should be used to them by now. But I always wake up scared and— and alone. And when I fall back to sleep they just come back again. I just— I don’t understand why they have to come back when I’m finally happy.”
"I don't think you can get used to a dream. Every time you're in it, you forget you were there before," he murmured. Thankfully, he hadn't had his own nightmares in a while, and none terrible enough to wake up screaming. That was more Kylo's problem than his. "Maybe they're coming back because you're happy— you're not used to it, so you're afraid something will ruin it. So your mind gives you a nightmare as practice for what it expects will be the real thing.”
Her brows twitched together, and she slowly nodded. “I...I think you’re right. The first time I remember having them was when my parents left and I was put in the system. They would go away when I was placed into a new home or had just come back into custody and then..they’d start up again when I was finally feeling normal.”
Given how she never spoke of a family before, he’d assumed her parents were dead. Like his and Kylo's. Without ever voicing their trauma, he’d felt somewhat bonded to her. But her parents weren't taken away by external forces. They left , voluntarily.
Somehow, that seemed so much worse.
Her cough interrupted his thoughts, and she looked to him with wide eyes. “I— uh— sorry, I just realized I never told you about that...the foster-system part...”
He shook his head, swallowing the lump in his throat as he gave her hand another squeeze. "No, no, I...I mean, why would you? I imagine it's not an easy thing to talk about, and we haven't known each other that long, so I'm just glad you're comfortable enough to tell me now…”
“My parents are coming back for me, though,” she rushed to say. “They didn’t mean to leave me for so long. If a nosy neighbor hadn’t called CPS...”
She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “The system is messed up. Children are lost in paperwork all the time. I didn’t know my personal information, not even my last name, so I got lost in the system. My parents have been looking for me this entire time, I know it. We’ll find each other again.”
He tried to keep his expression as neutral as possible, mind spinning to make sense of her conflicting story. Rey was what, twenty now? Who knew when her parents left her, but it had to have been ages ago. But here she was, telling him they were coming back, that it was someone else's fault...
He kept trying to remind himself that he didn't know anything about her situation, that he had no right to refute what she was saying— but from his position on the outside, far away enough to see the picture clearly, it looked pretty damn black and white.
His eyes flitted over her features, taking in the faint smile on her lips and the wideness of her eyes. Like her story, they didn't match up. She knew. Somewhere, deep down, she knew it was a lie. But he'd ruin everything if he pointed it out.
Forcing another small smile in return, he nodded, not trusting himself enough to speak until she changed the subject.
“Anyway… I should let you get to bed. I’m sorry for waking you up.” Squeezing his hand, her smile turned tender. “Thank you, though, for checking on me. You’re really too kind.”
"It's alright, you couldn't help it...and really, it's nothing. Um...if you need me, well...you know where to find me," he muttered, free hand moving to rub the back of his neck as he glanced between their joined fingers and the door. "Are you sure you'll be alright?"
Quickly nodding, she withdrew her hand and scooted back into her pillows. “I’ll be fine, Ben. Thank you again. Go rest up. I won’t forgive myself if you mess up a case tomorrow because of me.”
A strange ache settled in his chest. His fingers twitched around hers as if to keep them there, but he had enough sense to let go, clearing his throat as he stood from the bed and bid her goodnight.
The next morning, Rey rose bright and early to brew a fresh pot of coffee and make a big breakfast of chopped fruit, pancakes, and soy sausage for Ben. Without saying anything about last night, she hoped he’d understand her gratitude.
Right on schedule, she heard his bedroom door open and close, and the patter of his feet coming down the hallway.
Rey smiled, glancing over her shoulder from where she stood over the frying pan. She winced internally at Ben’s appearance, kicking herself for messing up his sleep so badly that he looked like death warmed over this morning.
“Is this all for me?” he asked, hesitantly taking the plate and silverware she’d set out for him. Before she could reply, Kylo spoke up from behind him, making him almost drop his fork.
“Of course it’s for you. Rey didn’t have a bunch of vegetarian friends coming over for breakfast, last time I checked...”
“It’s for both of you,” Rey lied easily. “Well, now that you’re awake, Kylo. I can throw on some bacon, if you like.”
Smiling at both of them over the rim of her mug, she took a sip and went back to finishing breakfast. Had Kylo had heard her screaming last night..? God, she hoped not...
Kylo leaned against the doorway, arching a brow at Rey’s words. He hadn’t done anything to deserve some fancy breakfast. Given it was all of Ben’s favorite food, he didn’t buy her words for a second. Why was she lying? And more importantly, what had his brother done to butter her up so much?
On any other day, he wouldn’t have made Rey go to the trouble of making more food when there was already plenty to go around. And though he didn’t refrain from eating the occasional deli sandwich in front of Ben, Kylo knew exactly where the “line” was as far as what would and wouldn’t bother him. Bacon was way past that line. The smell would linger for hours in a small space like this. So even if he could cook, that was one thing he’d never make if Ben was nearby.
“Yes, Rey, I would love some bacon,” he said, brushing past her with a wide smile.
Ben’s glare burned into his skin, but didn’t look up as he moved to prepare his coffee, humming to himself as he stirred in an obnoxious amount of cream. No more than ten seconds later, behind him came the clatter of a fork against a plate. He bit back a smirk as he sipped his coffee without turning around. No doubt Ben was calculating an excuse to leave.
“I just remembered...”
Like fucking clockwork.
“...I forgot something at the office, I have to be there in uh...well, right now,” Ben slammed his empty plate on the counter next to Kylo. “Sorry you went to the trouble, Rey. See you later.”
Well. That was easy.
Kylo turned to watch his brother leave before looking to Rey with an innocent half-shrug.
She looked miffed, and a bit disappointed. She’d only cooked for them a handful of times, and he guessed that she hadn’t thought about how the smell of bacon would drive Ben from the room.
“Busy Ben, always up to something boring or another...” he muttered before shifting an inch closer to her. “So...how’d you sleep?”
“Uh— not well, honestly.” She took Ben’s plate and sighed, putting it back in the cupboard.
Kylo only asked the question to be conversational, and to distract her from Ben. But her admittance had his eyes narrowing. He wondered if he should be concerned. Everyone had a hard time sleeping now and then. But considering how nice she had been to his brother, and how tired Ben had seemed, Kylo couldn’t help but conflate the two in a picture he really didn’t want to think about. But now that the thought was there, he couldn’t ignore it.
How the fuck had Ben done it? He couldn’t even look at Rey without blushing like some twat at an eighth grade dance. Kylo, meanwhile, had been systematically pushing further and further into her personal space, getting her used to his closeness so that when the time came, he could make his move with less risk of getting slapped.
But here they were. Rey and Ben, sleep deprived after doing god only knew what while Kylo was passed out cold and alone...
“I just uh, well, I’ve been having...bad dreams lately,” she said.
Nightmares....huh. That still didn’t explain why Ben was a zombie today, so he wasn’t sure he could buy it.
“I used to get those a lot,” he admitted. “Awful ones.”
“You did?” she asked, pushing food around her own plate now. Strange. Usually, she ate like an animal. A cute, savage little animal.
“Yeah...” His eyes shifted uncomfortably, but he tried to hide it by reaching above her to grab a plate from the pantry. Shifting to the skillet, he piled on half of what was left, leaving just enough for Rey if she wanted more, but not Ben.
“When did they stop?” she asked.
He could hear the hope in her tone before even meeting her eyes. Swallowing as he looked down at her, he gave a limp shrug.
“I don’t know when, exactly, I sort of just...grew out of it, I guess,” he said, unsure how much or how little information she wanted. “I don’t know of a magic cure, unfortunately.”
“Ah, yeah. Well, it would be too easy if there was one…”
“Yeah, it would,” he agreed with a half hearted laugh, trying not to think about all the therapists he’d been sent to in pursuit of a “cure”. All that cognitive bullshit probably just made the nightmares last longer.
He wished he could give her a better answer, since the fact that she wanted one made him believe her a bit more. Maybe she wasn’t lying about the nightmares. Maybe Ben lost sleep just because he was a masochistic workaholic. Made more sense than Ben suddenly growing a pair and seducing Rey.
“So why are you up so early, anyway?” she asked, raising her brows in the direction of the clock.
“Oh—just heard you in the kitchen and smelled the coffee, you know...wasn’t about to pass up on your fantastic cooking.”
A soft smile appeared on her lips. Taking a step closer, she bumped her shoulder against his and said, “I guess I should make breakfast in the morning more often, then. Actually wake you up at a decent hour.”
Kylo nodded eagerly at that suggestion. “It’d be a lot less dangerous than the usual methods people employ to wake me up.”
Turning back around, she grabbed a number of containers and began storing away the leftovers. That was another little quirk of her’s that he’d noticed over the weeks; she never let anything go to waste.
“What are your plans today?” she asked. “I have to be at work in a couple hours.”
He snuck one more pancake before taking his full plate to the table, where he finally started to dig in. She caught him mid-mouthful with her question, and he had to chew extra fast to answer her.
“I don’t have work until later in the afternoon. Tech rehearsal,” he said, mind now shifting back to the audition she’d helped him with. He still hadn’t heard back about casting decisions. “If you don’t have any plans, uh—“
Kylo sighed, glad Ben was already out the door. “Anyway...if you don’t have plans, I could show you this song I’ve been working on...”
“Sure, I’d love to hear it!”
After breakfast, he played his song for her in the den. There were no lyrics yet, only guitar, but Rey sat through it like a parent at a school recital. She was polite, of course, but he could tell when praise was genuine and when it wasn’t. He could always tell. Somehow, her tight smile stung more than open criticism.
Fuck. Maybe he really did belong behind the scenes.
100 kudos after only two chapters?! Julia and I are floored! Thank you so much for all the love you are showing this story. We hope you enjoyed this chapter!