“The fundraiser event for Skywalker House will be Friday, October 30 at 6pm. I expect you all to be there and in costume.” Leia’s voice left no room for discussion, their biggest contributors had suggested a costume party and they were going to get one. There is a mixture of groans, grins and chuckles from around the boardroom table, but the department heads wisely kept their comments to themselves. “Any questions? Good. That will be all.” She knows better than to give them a chance to respond.
Ben watches as the others gather their things and leave the room, leaving him with his mother. She looks tired. “How are you today?”
Leia looks up at her only son, startled by his question. “Ready for this event to be over. Have you gotten a costume yet?”
His mother leans back in her chair, looking at him intently. “Let me guess. You are planning on wearing a tuxedo and saying you’re James Bond.”
Ben can’t help himself, he laughs. “You know me well.”
She shakes her head, rising to place a hand on his shoulder. “The kids would be disappointed if you did, or have you forgotten that they will be there for the first 90 minutes or so. No. I have a costume worked out for you, I’m sending someone to your penthouse at noon to help you get ready.”
It’s Ben’s turn to shake his head. “No. I am not doing it and why would I need 6 hours to get ready?”
Leia sighs with exhaustion, “Ben you are going to be the CEO this time next year, that means you will also be the head of the charity. Those kids will be your responsibility.”
Ben had volunteered at the Children’s Home for most of his life. His Nana had started the 501-c3 and it was a “family project” giving back to the community. “I was actually thinking of naming someone else to head the charity after I take over here.”
“Benjamin,” Leia protests. “It has to be a family member. It’s our charity. Listen, there is an assigned Operations Officer that handles the day to day, but You. Are. Going. To. Take. Care. Of. Those. Kids!”
Ben humphs, looking away, not seeing a way out of this. “I’ll have to approve the costume.”
“I already have approved it, the children have a favorite movie at the moment.”
Ben’s eyes go wide, “Please don’t tell me it’s animated.”
“Actually it is, Mr. Solo.” Rey Johnson says from the door. “Actually all of the staff and volunteers that work at Skywalker House will be dressing from the movie that evening.”
Ben stands, trying not to stare inappropriately. “ Miss Johnson, I thought we had agreed to not be so formal. Please, call me Ben.” He holds out his hand to shake hers, gently, his eyes tracing the freckles across her nose. She was in the office frequently and had a standing lunch date with his mother every Tuesday, dropping off papers several times a week. “You work at Skywalker House?”
“She runs Skywalker House for us, Ben. The responsibility is still ours though.” Leia is looking between them, a gleam in her eyes. “Perhaps you’d like to join us for lunch?”
“I have a meeting with Hux.” Ben follows them as they head towards the elevator, stopping at the door to his office to gather his messages from his assistant, trying not to be obvious as he watches her walk away.
“Oh Ben.” He looks up to see a smile on her face, “I’ll see you Friday at noon.”
“You? Surely we can meet at the event early and just do it there.”
Rey looks at his feet, her eyes traveling up his long body, searching his face and then smiling at his hair. “Make-up will take 2-3 hours, depending on how much of a fuss you give me. I have your costume ready, but you might want to try it on before we start in case I need to have it adjusted.”
“I hate Halloween,” he mutters.
“Of course you do,” Rey smirks back, coming closer. “It’s my favorite holiday Ben,” she whispers. “You are going to be CEO, I would never embarrass you. Trust me.”
She looks up into his face and he flexes his fingers to keep from touching her and nods his acceptance before retreating into his office.
Hux is already there, leaning against his desk. “You like her.”
“Did you bring the financial report?” Ben deflects, half-hoping that Hux will drop it. “There were some irregularities in aquisitions.” He glances down at the open folder on his desk, the irregularities highlighted and a report attached. He sits to read, mentality checking off his previous concerns. Everything is accounted for, good.
When he looks up, Hux still has a knowing smirk on his face. “She watches you when you aren’t looking too, you know. She used to work here, one of the managers in the IT Department. She lateraled over to the nonprofit about the time your mother brought you home from Europe. Curious move on your mother’s part, we all thought… watching the two of you eyeball each other, while amusing, is getting old.”
Ben sighs, “She has a boyfriend.” She had looked beautiful in her green dress on Friday when he had spotted her across the restaurant, and Casian Andor is a wealthy, good man. He would take care of her, not as good as Ben would like to, but still.
A look of amazement crosses Hux’s face, “No, she doesn’t. Rose has been trying to get her to date for for over a year.”
“She was at Marcelli’s with Andor on Friday night.” Ben refuses to look up again, shuffling the papers of the report, looking for… something.
“You are an idiot.”
Ben crams the papers back into the folder, handing them back to Hux before calling out, “Mitaka. What’s next?”
Hux takes the folder, turning to leave but steps aside as Mitaka enters the room. “Andor declined the invitation to Friday’s event, but wanted to give a donation anyway. Friday’s dinner was Rey fundraising.” Hux leaves before Ben can tell him to shut up.
Mitaka, accurately assessing his mood, just hands him a folder and leaves, closing the door behind him.
‘Skywalker House Halloween’ says the label, and he opens to scan the financial summary before turning to the donor page… and there it is. Andor’s donation was 5 figures and over ten times what he would have paid for tickets to the event. Humph. The overall expenditure to income ratio was fantastic, this event alone might just cover the House’s operating costs for the entire year. Intelligent, resourceful and gorgeous.
Within two breaths the door opens, “Yes, sir.”
“I will be working from home Friday morning. Make sure Miss Johnson has my address and inform the doorman she is to be let up.”
The man is huge. Rey pastes a smile on her face as he opens the door, trying not to drool at his casual dark jeans and tshirt look. “Hi, Ben. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this for the kids.” He steps back, shaking his head and she enters, followed by Mitaka… both of their hands full. “Okay, I need the garment bags out of the car too and the red case.”
She strides right into the living room, setting down the bag from Manelli’s. “First things first, we are going to eat. Trust me, you will not get anytime to sit later.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you are a force of nature?” Ben looks amused at her invasion of his space, but sits on the sofa and accepts the hot container, gasping when he opens it. “Crab Linguine is my favorite.”
“I know.” Rey reaches for his remote, searching his streaming services. “What? No Disney+?” She quickly downloads the app and inputs her account and password settings. “You get to do research while you eat. This is the favorite movie at the House right now.”
The Disney theme comes up and he’s already rolling his eyes, but then he sees ‘Tim Burton’s’ and he laughs. “I remember this one. Wait… tell me I get to be the Goblin King.”
Rey laughs around her bite of pasta. “Actually, Jack is the PUMPKIN King.”
Mitaka comes in, placing 2 garment bags over the chairs at the breakfast bar, the red case on the counter. “Do you require anything else, Miss Rey?”
“The car needs to be here by 5. We will be ready by then.” Ben, she notices, waves his fingers towards the door, dismissing his assistant. “Eager to get me alone, Ben?”
Instead of answering, he raises his eyebrows and takes another bite. They watch the movie, Rey occasionally telling him who will be wearing what costume. They are both wearing wide smiles as snow starts to fall in Halloween land… to the final refrain.
My dearest friend, if you don’t mind
I’d like to join you, by your side
Where we can gaze into the stars
And sit together, now and forever
For it is plain, as anyone can see
We’re simply meant to be.
As the credits roll she turns to see him looking at her. “Rey, are you dressing like Sally?”
She stands, moving the garment bags to the couch as she lays out her makeup kits across the counter. “Come sit and…” her eyes travel the expanse of his shoulders, “take off that shirt.”
As he comes around the couch he notices his name on a very familiar garment bag. “This is one of my suits. You made a Tom Ford into a costume?”
Rey laughs, “It’s the one you gave your mom last month to donate because the cuffs were worn. You are going to be the best dressed Jack there has ever been. Now,” she crooks her fingers, motioning him to the stool. “Sit. Please.”
The moment he sits, her hands are in his hair, clipping it away from his face, ears and neck. She then grasps his shirt, lifting it up with her eyebrow raised. “Are you going to wear this under your suit?”
He smirks at her, reaching behind his head to grab the back of his shirt, then pulls it forward… dislodging the clips she put in his hair, then drops the shirt to the floor.
Rey looks at his hair, she can’t take his broad chest yet, pulling it back from his face… again. She then runs her fingers over his face… fingers tracing his brows, cheeks, jaw and neck. She takes a step back, bending to pull a large mirror out of her bag, flipping out the stand and angling it to where Ben could see. “Okay, I am going to have to work in layers, so I’ll be working on us both at the same time to give each color a chance to set.”
She starts with a deep purple on the sides of his neck, gently patting the paste into his skin.
“Rey? I thought Jack’s head was white?” Ben looks suspicious at her in the mirror, twisting away to look at the other side.
Rey grabs the back of his head, her fingers pulling his head straight then tilting it back. “Jack’s neck is a skeleton, I’m defining the edges so that your neck will pop under the black light.” She continues up under his ears, her brow furrowing in concentration. She bumps his knee and he moves it out, giving her room to stand closer and she tries to concentrate on his neck, but his eyes are obviously on her lips and she fights to not smile.
“You said Halloween is your favorite holiday,” he mutters as he leans in, inhaling her hair.
Rey shakes her head, pushing him back so she has room to work. “I grew up in foster care, I would have killed for a place like Skywalker House. I bounced from place to place for several years before I was finally placed with my mom. Halloween is the one holiday where I could be anyone… and for a little girl that often felt like she was no one, it helped.”
She finishes where the shadows will hit Ben and turns the mirror, dropping her sweater into a bag to darken the dips above and below her clavicle and hollow at the base of her neck, and the top swell of her breast. She then grabs a brush, laying the lines that will be the rag doll stitching across her neck and straight down her sternum.
When she leans back and twists to check how the light plays across her, she chances a glance at him, “What’s wrong?”
Ben’s face is scowling and she perks as an idea flashes across her mind. “Don’t move! That’s perfect.” She takes another brush, dips it in a light grey and traces the set of his brow, the slant of his mouth. It should be illegal for a man to have lips like that. She takes a big step back, checking his angles with the tentative lines and nods in approval.
“Okay, white is next for you and then I’ll detail you out when I finish my base. You ready?” She grabs a new sponge, and steps back into the open space between his knees.
She is driving him crazy. She steps in close, dipping her brush in the white paste and starts outlining the edges of his face, right up into the hairline. “I thought Jack was bald?”
She shakes her head, lip curling in disgust, “Ben, it would be a crime to hide your hair. I am going to white it out instead.” She continues around to the other side of his face, stepping closer as she covers the shell of his ear, then works her way down his jawline. “Okay, last chance.”
Ben blinks. I obviously missed something. “For?”
She smiles secretively, eyes dropping to his lips then returning to his eyes. Surely she can’t mean, he slowly moves one hand from his thigh to her hip, enjoying the gasp that escapes from her throat. He pulls her closer, hoping he wasn’t reading her wrong. “Why last chance, what if I want to do it again.” He runs his nose over hers, nuzzling her face.
She places her lips on his, looking into his eyes until he kisses her and they close with a moan. She twists her face to kiss the other side of his lips, then playfully nibbles his lower lip. “I need to finish this , so you’ll have to wait if you want to do it again.” She pushes him back, tracing the line of where his mouth and eyes will be defined.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.” Ben says plainly, as if volleying an idea to a client, leaning back further when she laughs.
“I’m not a member of your board Ben, don’t use that tactic with me.” She continues to fill in all the areas of his face, an amused smile on her face and Ben can not place why her comment bothers him, but it does.
He glances between the mirror and her face, watching as the blank canvas of the Pumpkin King appears on his face. “Hux said you moved from IT to the House when I moved back from Europe.”
Her smile falls, eyebrows dropping in consternation. “Leia asked it of me. I told her I didn't have any experience with fundraising, but she just said that…”
“You could learn.” Ben’s voice is soft, “She’s mentored you into the roll.”
Rey chuckles as she fills in the black of his eyes. “Yes. I was a bit panicked at the time, the only thing I knew for sure was that I couldn’t work for you.”
What the fuck
“Rey? Why?” He stands, pushing the stool back and starts pacing the room. “What’d I do?” His fingers come away white when he runs them through his hair and he stares at them, at a loss… not at the make up, but at her… she didn't want to work for him. “I take over the company and the charity next year, are you going to quit?”
She places her brush and pot of makeup down on the counter then motions for him to sit, grabbing a wipe to clean his fingers. What bothers him most is that she’s avoiding his eyes, his mind racing to find something in his memory that could explain… her.
“Do you remember when you flew in with that client from Bonn?”
He rolls his eyes, “Emeric Pryde. I have never been so happy to have a deal fall apart. That guy had me jumping through hoops for months and then he comes over to sign the contract and assaults one of our employees in the women’s bathroo…” He blinks as she falls completely still. “Rey, look at me.”
She looks up into his concerned face, her cheeks flushed. “I’m okay now, but 3 years ago I was still…” her eyes drift, looking for a word.
“Afraid?” He can’t touch her, he wants to pull her to him and promise that nothing will ever hurt her again.
Her eyes jerk back to his with a fierceness that startles him. “I have never been afraid of you. Ben, you knocked the guy unconscious with one punch. I was so afraid he was going to press charges.” She steps into him, laying her hands on his shoulders.
“Can I hold you, please?”
At her nod, he wraps her in his arms leaning his head towards her until she’s pushing him away with a laugh. “Your makeup, keep your face away.”
Ben can’t help the growl that escapes his throat. “How do I get this stuff off?”
She shakes her head, amused, reaching for her brush. “You can take it off after the event.” She finishes the contrast of white to black then turns to her own makeup.
He watches intently, mesmerized as she transforms into Sally, his hand running up and down her back. “Rey, can I take you to dinner?”
“They are serving food at the event, does that count?” She asks with a smile, obviously flirting now.
He hums, exaggerating his movements to mimic Jack, pleased at her delight. “No. How about breakfast?”
She stops, lays her brush down and turns to look at him in the eye, “Are you asking me to sleep over?”
He grips her hips and squeezes, “I am going to need help getting out of my make up.”
She shakes her head, sighing dramatically. “What am I going to do with you?”
Ben smiles broadly, “I like Jack’s idea… My dearest friend, if you don’t mind, I’d like to join you, by your side, Where we can gaze into the stars.’”
He can see the kids waiting as the car pulls up and he tugs on the gloves that make the back of his hands look skeletal, then tugs on his large bat tie.
“Is it too tight? I can adjust it.” Rey leans towards him, reaching for his neck.
He grasps her hand, turning it over to place a peck of a kiss to her palm, smiling when he doesn’t see any makeup transferring.
Rey laughs, “Yes, it’s dry… that doesn’t mean you can’t mess it up.”
He’s saved from having to make a reply by Mitaka opening the door. “Showtime!” Ben leaves the car, waving dramatically to the kids as they surround him. “Hold on, hold on… let’s get Sally out of the car too.”
She places her hand in his and steps out gingerly in her heels, taking tiny steps as she approaches her kids.
“Miss Rey. Miss Rey. You look beautiful.”
“Thank you, Timri. What do you think of our Pumpkin King?”
The kids all look at them together in awe and glee, one little girl comes up and tugs on the bottom of Ben’s jacket with it’s white lines embroidered down the entire length.
“Mr Jack?” She’s dressed in a flowing, ghost like white shift with a red glowing globe on her little nose. She holds out her hand, blinking in disbelief.
Ben stoops down on one knee, putting out his hand for hers.
The kids all fall down laughing at the shock on Ben’s face, the little girl running to hide behind Rey, peaking around her patchwork dress with a smile.
Ben shakes a bony finger at her, “That was a FANTASTIC trick. Good job!” He then scoops her up and places her on his shoulder, offering Rey the opposite arm as they enter the event.
The contributors all rave at the costumes as Rey introduces them. Some comment on Ben’s tolerance for the children that all want their turn with their Pumpkin King. Ben takes it all in stride, reminding everyone of his work at the Home in his youth.
“Nana only ever had Mom and Uncle Luke. She once told me they had wanted more children, but it was medically impossible… so she went and found children to love. Everyone deserves love.”
“Even you,” Amilyn asks softly, eyes shimmering with amusement.
Ben looks across the room at Rey. “That would depend on her.”
His godmother follows his eyes and nods in approval. “She was so embarrassed 4 years ago. Leia and I knew she was more than capable and with her background, she’d definitely advocate for the betterment of the children at Skywalker House.”
He keeps his eyes on Rey, but lowers his voice as he leans down to whisper, “I am going to name her Director.”
Amilyn shakes her head, “You know how your mother feels about the head of the charity.”
Ben laughs as he winks and moves away, “Mom’ll agree wholeheartedly. I have a year to get Rey to change her name.”
An hour later the children have been rounded up and are heading home to get ready for bed. The lighting changes, the black light bringing out a mystical quality to the costumes and makeup as the bar opens for the now all adult audience. Ben travels around the room, thanking everyone for participating and trying to decide who he thinks has the best costume, an award Rey told him he had to give.
He’s lost sight of her as the nighttime guests continue to arrive, all in costume. The DJ has turned up the volume and the dance floor is full. The waitstaff, all dressed as vampires and witches, are passing out drinks and dessert to the tables that surround the edges of the room.
Up towards the stage he finds his mother, dressed like Mrs Santa Claus, talking to his Uncle Lando. “Have either of you seen a rag doll around here anywhere?”
They both point to one side of the stage and there she is, talking to a man in a headset, pointing at something he can not see. The man nods, speaks into his microphone then speaks to Rey before heading into the shadows.
Rey smiles brightly when she sees him approaching, “Are you having fun, Jack?”
He takes her hand, spinning her around, then leans her down into a dramatic dip, “It’s later.”
She shakes her head, “We have at least another hour before you can disappear.”
“How much longer until you can leave?” Ben sneers grumpily, bringing her back up to her feet.
She leans against him, batting her eyelashes, “at least 90 minutes.” She rubs against him before moving away with a smirk over her shoulder.
“You are just going to torture me for the rest of the night, aren’t you? You know Jack kisses Sally in the movie.”
“Not until the very end,” Rey is trying so hard to not laugh. “Do you want to know the totals ongoing or wait until the end?”
He shakes his head in disappointment, slumping forward as if crushed. “Tell me before my speech.”
He watches her walk away, working the room. The black light illuminating her face and costume, accentuating her movements. He forces himself to walk in the opposite direction, so that none of their guests are neglected. The night is a huge success and he beams as he leads his mother to the stage to say a few words expressing her gratitude for the funding raised.
Ben ends up awarding Jannah Calrissian the best costume prize for her post apocalyptic steampunk outlaw and then he raises a hand towards Rey.
“Tonight would not have been possible without Miss Rey Johnson. For those who complimented me on my costume, this is one of her many hidden talents, and I am most grateful.”
Rey gracefully drops a curtsy, and “drops” her hand before acting embarrassed and pulling her glove back on. She hugs Leia and his mother wraps her arm around Rey, leading her back to her table where she has a plate of food waiting for both of them.
They eat, steal looks at each other and smile in anticipation. Leia and Lando stand guard to deflect the crowd for 10 minutes of peace. When they finish, Ben helps Rey to her feet, steadying her when she wobbles on her heels.
She looks up at him then runs her hands up his chest, pulling him down for a kiss. Giggling at the tint of red she leaves on him, she moves to talk to her staff about winding down the event.
He looks up to see a smirk on Lando’s face, while his mother looks astonished. “She’s too good for you.”
He hugs her gently, whispering into her ear, “I know mom, but I’m keeping her anyway, if she’ll have me.”
He does another lap of the room, stopping to chat with friends of the family and old friends. He doesn’t stop his conversation when Rey comes to stand beside him, simply puts an arm around her waist and pulls her into his side. Something loosening in his chest when she leans into him.
“We need to move to the door so everyone can say goodbye,” she whispers into his ear and he allows her to guide him to the exit, nodding to couples as they pass.
An hour later, she has kicked her shoes off, pulling her leg warmers down over her toes as they say goodbye to the last of their guests.
The clean up crew descends, Rey’s assistant, a young woman named Kaydel, takes point and Rey nods in satisfaction.
Ben wraps his arms around her from behind, bending to her ear. “You never answered my question.”
She turns, lifting her lips to his. “What’s that?”
He covers her mouth with his, coaxing her lips open to plunder as he pulls her in tight. She looks dazed when he lifts his head, but smiles up at him.
“How do I get this stuff off?”