Rey twisted her engagement ring around her second-longest finger, frowning at it. It was a little big. She’d had it resized in a hurry. She’d been in a hurry to wear it.
She’d been in a hurry to marry the man who had purchased it.
“Would you like something to drink?” The cart’s wheels creaked as the air hostess pulled it short next to her row of seats. Rey blinked up at her. They were somewhere over the North Atlantic, and she’d been lost in thought.
She knew should request a hot tea – decaffeinated, so she could sleep. She opened her mouth to ask for one, and then shut it abruptly, shaking her head at her own folly. She wasn’t going to be able to sleep.
“Do you have whiskey?”
The stewardess’ eyebrows rose. Fumbling, Rey went on. “Like – those little bottles. Do you have any of those?”
“We have Jack Daniels.”
A little laugh bubbled up in Rey’s throat at the irony of it. She hadn’t drunk Jack Daniels since the night of her eighteenth birthday. Her fiancé was a wine connoisseur; she wasn’t, but she let him order for her.
“I’ll have two of those.”
“We can only serve one alcoholic beverage at a time, ma’am.”
“One, then.” Rey amended, flushing. The person next to her gave her an odd look.
“On ice?” The hostess smoothed out her expression – quite professionally – and reached for a disposable glass. They didn’t have glass glasses in-flight, but then again, Rey had never drunk Jack Daniels out of a glass glass.
“Neat.” Rey cleared her throat. “I don’t need a glass. Just – just the little bottle is fine.”
She gripped the little bottle when it was procured. It was plastic, too. It bulged with the force of her grip. Her knuckles where white against the amber liquid. When she downed it, it tasted like an old friend or a first love.
When she was a little buzzed – after asking for a second little bottle of Jack Daniels and being gently informed that there was a two-drink limit – Rey remembered her first love.
He’d been lanky and long-limbed, a baseball star only by virtue of the deceptive strength of his skinny arm. He couldn’t hit the ball to save his life. The coach planted his bony backside on the bench for half of every inning. He’d chew gum and squint through the fencing at the field, his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes.
Sometimes, his eyes would catch hers, and he’d grin, his crooked teeth and the pink of his bubble gum flashing against the tan of his face. She’d lean, anxiously, against the metal wire fencing. It would leave marks on her sweaty forehead.
Rey had been equally coltish, but because she hadn’t been a star athlete – or athletic at all, really – she hadn’t been popular. They hadn’t orbited around each other. They’d been aware of each other for years, peripherally, but he’d been, if unconventional looking, well-liked enough to sit with the jocks and the cheerleaders at lunch. She’d sat with a motley crew of theatre kids, band geeks, and loners. Unlike him, she hadn’t had peers. She was the only foster kid, and the only kid with a funny accent.
Besides being the starting pitcher, he’d been two years older. He’d been hopelessly cool and unattainable.
The summer before her sophomore year – it would have been his senior year – Rey had crept onto the porch as he’d mowed her next-door neighbor’s lawn. He did lawn work, she knew, for extra money. He did it shirtless. At the beginning of the summer, his lean chest had been pale.
By August, his chest had been as brown as his arms and neck and face. He’d caught sight of her eating a raspberry creamsicle on the porch. It was the kind of popsicle with two parallel wooden sticks. It was meant to be shared.
He’d approached the porch, wiping sweat off of his forehead and ducking in a silent, awkward greeting. She’d stood on shaky legs, snapping the creamsicle in half. The juice of it melted down her hands, making them sticky. When he took his half, wordlessly, she’d wiped her palm on her short denim shorts.
His eyes had flicked to her thighs. They’d been nearly completely exposed. The shorts were short. Very short. They were out of dress code. Sometime between May and August, her legs had gotten golden-brown and less skinny. Her backside filled out the narrow cut-offs. She was barefoot and her shirt rode a little high, exposing a strip of skin between the belt-loops of the denim shorts and its hem.
He’d licked the raspberry juice off of his lower lip, still studying her.
Those fucking denim shorts had been the beginning and end of everything.
It was a jolt to Rey’s system to land in New York and be surrounded with the jammer of a thousand American accents. She’d nearly lost her English accent during her adolescent tenure in America; it was back in full-force now. She’d spent five years in London cutting her teeth as a journalist and now American accents sounded foreign.
New York City felt familiar, in a way. It was like London – crowded, rude, exhilarating.
Upstate New York should have felt familiar – she’d lived there for ten years, after all. Her Londoner parents had hauled her unceremoniously across the Atlantic when she was five years old. Four years later, they’d died in a car accident on the Brooklyn Expressway. Rey’ earliest memories were of the sun-drenched apartment on the Upper West Side where a social worker had come to collect her. She barely remembered the cities from whence she’d come.
New Alderaan didn’t feel familiar, though. It felt as unfamiliar as driving on the right side of the roadway. White knuckled, Rey had nearly killed two people as she wound up the Hudson Valley and veered into the Catskills. When her rental car passed under the first of exactly three stoplights in the hamlet, she slowed even further, this time not out of a sense of self-preservation, but to peer at the old drugstore with a faded orange and white striped awning, the grimy diner that served cheeseburgers and meatloaf and little else palatable, the stinky laundromat, the tiny lending-library, the sturdy, reassuring firehouse, the cheerful if peeling green and white sign that read: New Alderaan, pop. 4,032.
The squat, square white house with a red door and a fruit tree on the postage-stamp sized front lawn was nondescript. It was, perhaps, slightly better kept than Rey expected it to be. The grass was manicured. The mailbox was straight. The paint wasn’t drab.
The bungalow – one bathroom, two bedrooms, twelve-hundred and four square feet exactly, she remembered bizarrely – had been shabby and overgrown five years ago. That was why it had been so cheap. Seventy-six thousand dollars.
She wondered whether she was still named on the mortgage. After all, she still had a key. It was worn and smooth in her palm. She’d fished it out of her jewelry box in London. She’d kept it for years, for no real reason.
The front steps were worn and uneven, just as she remembered them being. The second was wider than the first and third. The key fit smoothly in the lock, as if it was well-greased.
For a brief, panicked moment, Rey wondered if someone else lived in the little house now – someone who was handy, who kept the red paint on the door fresh and oiled the locks and owned a lawnmower. That would explain why he’d never responded to the papers she’d sent him in the mail – though, those three broad, flat manila envelopes hadn’t been returned to her by the post, either.
When the door swung open, she knew that the house hadn’t changed hands. There was more furniture – a mission-style coffee table, a rubbed bronze lamp, a recliner. Five years ago, there had been only a lonely, stark gray couch and two milk-crates covered in a blanket, posing as a poor man’s coffee-table.
Rey knew that he still lived there because the front blinds were the same. They were still crooked.
She remembered hanging those curtains. The window was broad and looked over the busy road. She was sick of people staring at her around town. She was sick of the gossip. She didn’t want people to be able to see into their house. She’d bought fabric on sale and clumsily hemmed it. Standing on a chair, she’d hung the handmade curtains on a wooden rod she’d mounted crookedly, and improperly, without using a stud-finder.
It was a miracle the nails hadn’t fallen out of the dry-wall, really. Rey touched the rough fabric. It was floral, and rough under her manicured fingers. It was a little feminine. She had picked a girlish print on purpose. It would be a woman’s touch, she’d thought. Hanging curtains was something the woman of the house would do.
Rey hadn’t been a woman. She’d been a kid. He had been, too. He’d come up behind her ordered her down off the precarious chair with his hands on his narrow hips. When she’d refused, giggling and clutching the floral blue and yellow fabric, he’d scooped her up like a bride in his skinny arms, carried her off of the chair, and carried her off to bed.
Their bed. He hadn’t just carried her like a bride. She’d been a bride, albeit one without a flouncy dress or a two-tiered cake or church bells.
A choking, sputtering noise drew Rey from her reverie. She turned, sharply.
Ben stood in the narrow doorframe of the kitchen, choking on a mouthful of beer. He still drank Yuengling. His eyes bulged as he spat the amber liquid out and it dribbled down his chin and onto his plaid flannel. As his arm came up, instinctively, to wipe at his chin, she realized that his arms weren’t skinny anymore.
“The… the fuck?” He managed, finally. His voice was as deep as she remembered it being. It had been a bit incongruous with his youth. It fit him in his manhood. All of his features did. He’d grown into them – his big ears, his crooked nose, his hooded brow, his unruly hair.
Changed as he was, he still swore like a sailor.
Rey had had a monologue prepared. She’d practiced it as a soliloquy in the mirror in the bathroom of her flat in London. It failed her, now. In a small, reedy voice, she said, “Hello, Ben.”
“I… hello, Ben?” His knuckles went white on the neck of his beer bottle. “That’s all you can fucking say after five fucking years?”
No, she decided, focusing on that one detail rather than the issue at hand, Ben swore even more now.
Rey swallowed hard. Her monologue – her apologies, her explanations, her bargaining – escaped her, but the punch-line didn’t. Her mouth was as dry as cotton. “I want a divorce.”
It's me! I'm back! It's true! Tell your friends! Tell your internet friends!
P.S. Yes, this is a Sweet Home Alabama AU. Yes, this is my second modern rom-com AU. No, I'm not embarassed.
Rey expected Ben to sigh, resigned, or to rage and curse, or to ask her what had taken her so long – maybe he hadn’t gotten the divorce papers she’d sent him by post at intervals over the last three months?
Instead, he laughed. It was an abrupt, choppy bark of laugh, as if he was startled. Flustered, she fished in her purse and found a pen and the folded divorce papers she’d brought with her, creasing and re-creasing them over and over on her tray-table over the Atlantic.
Awkwardly, she held the papers out in one hand and the pen in the other.
Ben reached out and took them. He held them up, taking a long, slow draw of beer as his eyes scanned left to right. Rey considered asking him whether this was really the right time to be day-drinking, but she didn’t want to risk his ire. She couldn’t resist wiggling the pen a little between her fingers. She was still extending it to him. Her elbow was locked so that she could stand as far away from him as possible.
Ben lowered the papers and blinked at the pen. His mouth twisted as if he was trying not to smile or not to cry – she couldn’t tell which it was. He folded the papers along their well-worn creased and tucked them into the back pocket of his jeans, hitching his flannel up. “No.”
Rey’s jaw dropped open. She snapped it closed and narrowed her eyes at the boy – man – she’d married at eighteen. “What do you mean, no?”
“I mean no.”
“N-o.” Ben said, slowly, as if she wasn’t quite bright. “No.”
“No.” Rey repeated, faintly.
“No.” Ben said, with an air of finality. He tucked his hands into the pockets of his Levi’s and rocked back on his heels.
A hopeless, sputtering noise erupted from Rey’s lips. His mouth creased tightly, as if he was sealing it shut so he couldn’t change his mind or negotiate with her. She recognized the set of his jaw. It was his mother’s, through and through. He had always been stubborn. When he made up his mind – to pursue her, even though she was too young, to marry her, even though they were both too young for that – he made it up for good.
Rey turned on her heel and stalked towards the door, intending to be haughty and furious. She stopped short of the brass handle, thinking better of storming out dramatically. It made her look a little silly to backtrack, but it was better strategy.
Rey sat down primly on the couch – on the very edge of it. She remembered having sex on the very article of furniture, her arm draping lazily onto the creaky wood floor and his hand bracing itself on it, the Chinese takeout getting cold on the makeshift crate coffee table perfuming the air and the squeak of the springs loud. She wondered whether the sofa was still stained and, irrationally, she didn’t want to lean deep into its cushions.
“I’m not going to offer you a beer.” Ben told her, roughly.
“I don’t drink beer.”
A flicker of a smile crossed his face, as if he was remembering nights that began around rowdy bonfires in empty farm fields and ended in the narrow backseat of his rusted Chevrolet pick-up truck’s cab. “You used to.”
“Any more.” Rey amended, frostily. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not leaving until you sign the papers, Ben.”
Ben tilted his bottle back, draining the beer. He didn’t take his eyes off her. They drifted down her body, and then settled around her ribs. For a moment, Rey thought he was staring at her breasts. She almost scolded him. He wasn't eighteen anymore and she wasn’t sixteen anymore, but it was still just as inappropriate. Then, she realized that she’d crossed her arms so that her left hand was on top of her right elbow, her diamond ring prominently displayed. It winked in the afternoon sun. He seemed entranced by it.
Inexplicably, Rey felt ashamed. She switched the positions of her arms, hiding the evidence of her recent engagement. His eyes flickered to her again. He wasn't scrutinizing her, now. He looked disappointed.
“So that’s why you’re here.” His voice cracked. That sound was so familiar to her – his voice hadn’t quite settled into the timbre of adulthood five years ago. It had cracked hilariously and randomly. Now it cracked with emotion. “After all these years.”
Rey flushed. She’d put this confrontation off for five years. She could have asked him for a divorce a year ago, or two years ago. She could have asked for a divorce the night she left him, her suitcase half-packed and her face tearstained. She could have asked when she’d left him a voicemail a week later, just to hear his voice on the answering machine. She hadn’t, and then Armie Hux had come into her life in a cloud of expensive cologne and a tailored suit.
“I’m getting married.” Her voice sounded very small.
Ben’s jaw twisted. “We are married.”
Rey bit into her lip so hard she tasted blood to keep from losing her temper. The next thing she said was still cruel. She didn’t realize how cruel it was until she said it. “We had to get married, Ben. I want to marry him.”
Ben’s cheeks went red, and his knuckles, wrapped around his empty bottle of Yuengling, went white. He stood up, abruptly, and walked into the kitchen. She heard the refrigerator door rattle and then slam with altogether too much force. He was speaking in a low voice, as if to himself – except he wasn’t using profanity or yelling. She frowned, confused.
When he came back into the living room, Ben was holding another beer. He sunk heavily into the recliner and braced his elbows on his knees, taking slow, meditative sips. They sat in silence for ten or fifteen minutes, and then there was a knock at the door.
Rey almost shouted for the interloper to come in, by force of habit. She stopped herself – this wasn’t her house anymore, even if she had hung those curtains and painted the walls. Ben polished off the second beer and stood, going to the door in two long steps, the empty bottle held loosely between two fingers.
Poe Dameron had been the most popular boy in school. If Ben had had athletic talent but not conventional good looks, Poe had had both talent and looks. All the girls swooned over him. He politely picked one and took her to homecoming and prom, but Rey had known the truth about him since she was fourteen. She’d seen him holding hands with another boy – a boy who played trumpet in the band – in the woods behind the high school. Poe had given her furtive looks for weeks, flushing scarlet, as if he was sure she was just biding her time and would ruin his reputation any day.
She never had, and they’d become unlikely friends.
“Rey!” Poe’s sunburnt face split in a handsome grin. He stepped forward abruptly, side-stepping Ben, and crushed her in a hug, lifting her briefly off the ground despite that there was a scant inch or two of difference in their heights. “What are you doing here, kid?”
“She’s breaking and entering.” Ben interjected, leaning on the open door.
Confused, Rey looked between the two men. She looked down at Poe’s chest. A starched police uniform was stretched across it, blue and proud. Stitched on the breast was the word sheriff. Her head whipped back and forth between Ben and Poe and she asked them in turn, incredulous, “You’re the sheriff? You called the sheriff on me?”
“You’re breaking and entering!” Ben gestured wildly, still holding his empty beer bottle. Poe frowned at it. “She’s breaking and entering.”
Rey exhaled in a wheezing laugh. “I have a key, Poe.”
“I should have changed the fucking locks.” Ben muttered into the empty bottle. He frowned at it, as if he’d been trying to drink more and had forgotten it was all gone. A look of confusion crossed Poe’s face. By way of explanation, Ben said, “We’re still married.”
“We’re getting a divorce.” Rey added.
“We’re still married.” Ben repeated, mulishly.
Poe looked between them. He seemed almost as if he was trying not to laugh. “You’re still married.”
“And you want her arrested for breaking and entering?” Poe asked, carefully.
“You want your wife arrested for breaking and entering.”
“I’m not his wife!” Rey protested.
“Yes, you are.” Ben snapped at her.
“Ben,” Poe said, almost gently. “You can’t have your wife arrested for breaking and entering.”
Ben opened his mouth to argue, and Rey’s temper boiled over, finally. She’d been trying to be conciliatory. She’d been trying to be efficient. If she and Ben could both be adults, she could get back on a plane to England, divorced, with her new fiancé none the wiser.
“For fuck’s sake, Ben, the dog didn’t even bark!” There was a long, awkward silence. Rey suddenly realized how silent it was. She looked around. “Wait – where’s Bear?”
Ben gave her a pained look. “Bear’s dead.”
“No.” The single syllable came out in an agonized squeak. Bear had been her dog, a squirmy bundle of fur Ben’s father had given her after his own retriever, Chewie, had had an amorous encounter with a neighbor’s hunting dog, with a gruff word: practice. “What happened?”
“He got hit by a car.” Ben cleared his throat. He sounded almost resentful. He had the right to be, Rey thought. She should have been there. Bear was her dog. “A year and a half ago.”
Rey’s tears spilled onto her cheeks before she realized they’d filled her eyes. She choked on them, making an ugly, unintelligible sound of protest and regret. Poe shifted on his heels, awkwardly, and Ben reached for her with one hand, for the briefest of moments. His fingers brushed her bicep, and then he seemed to think better of comforting her and dropped his arm back to his side.
“Do you want me to take you to a hotel?” Poe asked, gently, after a long moment.
Rey sniffed, rubbing her eyes on her sweater sleeve. She suddenly felt very tired and discouraged and guilty. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ben shift, and she knew – she just knew – that he was thinking the same thing she was.
There was only one hotel in town. It was more properly described as a motel. She’d lost her virginity to him at that motel, the night of her eighteenth birthday. His parents had been home and they had sharp eyes and ears. His bed, where they’d made out countless times, was off-limits. Her bed was only a paper-thin wall away from her foster father’s recliner, where he watched television late into the night, and besides, it was a single bed.
He’d insisted that they have sex on a bed – not in his truck, or in a nest of grass behind a barn – and he didn’t want to wait another night. It was her eighteenth birthday. He’d waited long enough, under threat of violence by his mother and amid lectures about underage girls. They’d touched and kissed each other all over and they’d come within an inch – literally, an inch of him had been inside of her, accidentally or on purpose, she wasn’t sure – of having sex in the last few months of her seventeenth year. But they’d waited to have sex properly.
Rey remembered every detail of the motel room, from the shiny maroon comforter that his semen had stained to the rust ring on the toilet. It was a dirty old motel, but that wasn’t why she didn’t want to stay there now. She didn’t want to remember that night.
Ben cleared his throat, awkwardly. “When is your flight?”
“You…” Ben flailed for words, for a moment. “You can stay in the second bedroom.”
Rey swallowed hard, feeling a little light-headed all the sudden. The second bedroom – that was what he was calling that room, now – was the only place on Earth she was more afraid to sleep than the hotel where she’d lost her virginity. She hadn’t gone in that room in more than five years. It was too painful. She wondered whether it was empty, a blank slate in memorium, or whether he’d redecorated it, in an effort to move on. “The couch is fine.”
“I leave at five in the morning. I’ll just wake you up.”
Rey couldn’t resist lashing out in her grief and self-pity. “You still work construction?”
She knew it was a low blow. Ben hadn’t lacked ambition or intelligence. He just hadn’t been able to go to college. He'd been waiting on her - waiting for her to graduate - and then they she was going to come with him, only he'd never gone. He’d had responsibilities. Responsibilities of his own making – of their own making – that had kept him in this little town, working a job his father had gotten him building hospitals and schools up and down the Hudson Valley.
What she couldn’t fathom was why he hadn’t made something of himself now that he didn’t have any responsibilities.
Ben’s cheeks darkened. He gestured to her ring finger. “Your fiancé works in finance or some bullshit, right? He makes a lot of money?”
Rey hid her hand in her armpit, flushing. She was self-conscious of the ring, suddenly. It was ostentatious, but so was her fiancé. He wasn’t ashamed of it. He knew who he was and he wasn’t ashamed of it.
Ben had always been like that. He knew who he was as certainly as Armie did. He’d been unashamed of their circumstances. He’d been unembarrassed that the only ring he could give her was his grandmother's quarter-carat solitare, the night before they went to the courthouse. They’d already been engaged for a week – if you could call it being engaged. He hadn’t proposed on one knee. It hadn’t been romantic. She’d cried, and he’d tried to be strong for her. To be a man. To prove he could take care of her.
They’d had to get married. It was the truth, but remembering the look on his face when she’d blurted it out, she regretted saying it aloud.
All aboard the angst train!
P.S. I'm so touched by my welcome back. To answer your questions - I've been here, lurking and reading. I haven't had the emotional energy to write. I've been dealing with some stuff. In this story, Rey and Ben are dealing with some stuff, too, so hopefully writing it will be therapeutic.
P.S.S. This is a poll - do we want true flashback scenes, in detail, or just callbacks like I have used so far?
Rey had forgotten how thin the walls were in the house Ben’s parents had loaned them the down payment for. Loan was a loose term – red-faced, Ben had insisted he’d pay them back with interest and Han had waved him off. She heard Ben getting ready for bed – the clunk of his shoes on the floor, one after the other, the swishing of the sink running, the click of the bedside lamp. The noises were domestic and familiar and would have been comforting if she hadn’t felt like such an interloper.
She hadn’t forgotten than Ben snored. That rhythmic sound had haunted her sleep for too long to be forgotten. Yet, somehow, she didn’t hear any snoring as she lay on the couch, contorted awkwardly under the afghan blanket Ben’s mother had knitted.
Ben wasn’t asleep, she surmised. If he was, she’d have heard him snoring. Glowering up at the dark ceiling, she couldn’t sleep, either.
It seemed Ben had also forgotten how thin the walls and paperboard doors were. Alternately, Rey decided, hot-cheeked, he’d lived alone for so long that he had become a creature of habit and didn’t care who knew it, or, in his sleep-deprived delirium, he had walked right past her huddled form on the sofa on his way to the shower and entirely forgotten she was there.
Ben was masturbating in the postage stamp sized bathroom first thing in the morning. She was sure of it. The rhythmic slap slap slap of his wet hand echoed off the faded white tiles on the walls. His wheezing, breathy noises weren’t stifled. She recognized those noises.
Before she’d been eighteen, and before she’d had the courage to touch his penis herself – it was intimidating, foreign, and unwieldy – he’d touched it in front of her, sitting reclined in the driver’s seat while she leaned over the center divide and nuzzled his neck, watching fascinated, or he’d hovered over her in the backseat of the double-cab truck on his knees, tugging her shirt up over her breasts and staring at them, open-mouthed, as he masturbated. In that position, he’d never had a free hand to yank her bra off, and she wasn’t bold enough to. She’d always had to wash it off in the sink, but not until after sniffing it. She’d liked that smell on his fingers, too, almost as much as she liked the smell of her own cum on his fingers. She’d always made him rub her off – clumsily at first, and then with practiced ease - before he jerked off, so his semen didn’t get inside her.
Sex education had scared the shit out of her.
Rey felt her throat close painfully when she remembered how careful they’d been before she was eighteen. They’d been careful on her eighteenth birthday, too, but they’d been nervous and inexperienced, and they’d never used a condom before. It had been a cheap purple-blue condom, bought with coins in a gas station bathroom from a sort of vending machine. It had been too small, stretched tightly over his erection. She wondered now whether it had been expired.
If Rey had gotten a bit hot, bothered, and nostalgic about the naughtiness they’d gotten up to in the backseat of his hand-me-down truck – and she’d never admit it if she had – listening to Ben fuck his own hand, she wasn’t anymore. She felt a little nauseous.
She heard his orgasm – it was a cracked, rumbling grunt totally different than the noisy nose-breathing punctuating his fast-temped tugging. She could see his orgasm in her mind’s eye. Her girlfriends in London whispered, or, if they were tipsy, giggled about what they called men’s ridiculous O faces. Rey had never thought Ben’s face was ridiculous during orgasm. It wasn’t contorted in ecstasy, the way the romance novels she’d snuck into her bedroom as a teenager had described. It wasn’t humorous, the way her friends described.
No matter how many times they had sex, Ben’s look of pure concentration always broke into an expression of beautiful relief, as if, in time with his last few thrusts, he might start mouthing finally, finally, finally, she’s mine. As he made that face, he always made a certain noise – the growl of a predator who’d caught his prey and sunk his teeth into it. That was the noise she’d just heard through the wall.
A satisfied, tired-sounding ah, fuck from the other side of the plaster reminded Rey to be sufficiently embarrassed. They weren’t teenagers any more, for Christ’s sake. He had no business jacking off within one-hundred meters of her. Yanking the afghan over her head, she muffled a little noise of despair into it, crossing her legs at the ankles as if to keep them closed. She felt hot again, although she told herself that was from second-hand embarrassment.
Altogether faster than she expected, Ben opened the bathroom door and stepped into the narrow hall. She realized too late that he hadn’t taken any time to get dressed.
Toweling off his hair with a frayed, too-tiny-to-wear white towel, he stopped short. Exhilaration, and then annoyance, and then horror crossed his face in rapid succession, as if he’d been elated to see her, then, had remembered why she was there, and then had realized she’d just overheard him grunting as he ejaculated onto the tile wall of the shower.
Rey wasn’t sure whether he was more embarrassed about that, or his nudity. At least, she decided, she could pretend she didn’t know what he’d been doing. She couldn’t pretend his penis wasn’t flopping, lazy and satisfied and still somehow huge, against his thigh. Turning her eyes to the ceiling, she said, in a strangled voice,
“Don’t you have a towel or something you could put on?”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ben take the white towel from around his neck and flick it out. It was perhaps twenty-four by twelve inches. The idea that it could span the breadth of his massive waist was frankly ridiculous.
Rey hazarded a glance at his face. He raised his brows and waved the towel as if in surrender.
“At least ball it up and put it – put your dick away.”
Stubbornly, Ben lifted the towel back up to his head and rubbed it along his messy, wet curls. “But we’re married.”
“Ben – ”
“How long – uh, how long have you been awake?”
So now he was embarrassed. Rey huffed, unable to resist snarking. “Long enough – for fuck’s sake, put some clothes on, Ben.”
Ben made a disgruntled noise and moved into the bedroom, his pale, rounded backside as familiar to her as his front side. She felt a little less guilty for staring at it.
Still shirtless, her erstwhile husband emerged from the bedroom, jeans unbuttoned on his hips. Now that she could hazard a glance, she saw something different – the snake of dark, coarse hair from his belly button into the deep ingress of his unzipped zipper was thicker and darker. He hadn’t gotten any more hair on his chest, but apparently, he’d gotten hairier elsewhere.
Ben cleared his throat, and Rey realized she’d been staring. She knew that, considering that she’d been staring, she had no right to lecture him, but she did, anyways. “Did you just forget I was here?”
“Just a habit.” Ben said, defensively. He seemed to realize what he’d said and pinked, his eyes darting away. “Uh…”
“You’re not dating anyone?” Rey asked, surprised. Surely if he was he wouldn’t make a habit of masturbating in the shower every morning.
Ben exhaled through pursed lips. “No, I haven’t found myself a wealthy British financier.”
“I’m married, Rey.” He interrupted. “Why would I be dating?”
The way he said that was clearly accusatory. Rey tightened her grip on the afghan, as if she could disappear within it. “If you sign the papers, you can start… dating.”
Ben snorted. “In New Alderaan?”
Rey shrugged. She knew what he meant. Everyone they’d known in high school was gone, or sad and faded, living ordinary, lower-middle class lives with their spouses and used minivans. “Why don’t you leave this shit town?”
Ben gave her a long, inscrutable look. “I have a job here.”
“It’s a shit job.”
Ben’s jaw went tight, and for a moment she thought he would yell at her. He didn’t. He yanked the t-shirt he’d been holding over his head. “Leave the door unlocked when you go. At least no one in this shit town is going to break in while I’m at my shit job.”
“Ben, sign the fucking papers.” Rey rose off the couch, but he was too fast for her. He was jamming his feet into worn out brown work boots and slamming the door. “Ben!”
Rey realized, when she went to the donut shop for coffee and an unhealthy, therapeutic helping of glazed pastries, that she was broke. Her credit card was maxed out. Swearing, she dug through her purse and found the sleek black credit card Armie had given her. It was linked to his account, which was considerably more substantial than hers.
She had never used it. She wasn’t sure what was stopping her – pride, perhaps? It was stupid. They were going to be married. What was his would be hers. She had never taken issue with sharing money with her first husband, and he’d had much less of it.
With a heavy sigh, Rey trudged down Main Street to the Upstate Bank and Trust. She knew the tellers there would probably be old high school classmates of hers. She dreaded having to face them, but it was a necessary evil. She had only a hundred pounds on her, and no American dollars. Seeing as how her credit card was maxed out – she’d called the airline and cried about a funeral she hadn’t really been to and gotten her ticket sorted and her flight delayed, for a fee – she would have to exchange her British money for American money.
“Rey?” The cashier looked familiar. “I didn’t know you were back.”
“Uh… hi.” Rey floundered trying and failing to remember the woman’s name. “Hello. I need – ”
“You haven’t changed a bit, but your account balance has.” The woman cut her off.
“My what?” Rey blinked.
“Your account.” The woman raised her brows, as if she was telling a secret. “Your husband makes a deposit every Friday. Sometimes a big one.”
“My account.” Rey repeated. She barely had time to wonder where Ben was getting the money in question. They’d been barely scraping by five years prior.
“Your joint account.” The woman clarified, in a loud voice, as if she was concerned Rey might be hard of hearing. She wasn’t; she was just dazed and struck by a brilliant idea. If Ben wanted to insist that they were married, then so be it. She would make him pay for his stubbornness. Literally.
“My joint account.” Rey breathed, smiling for the first time in days.
When Ben came home, his truck engine sputtering to a stop in the gravel driveway, Rey was prepared. As he ducked through the back door and made a beeline for the refrigerator, she cocked her hip, resting her hand on it and waiting for him to notice that she was in fact still there.
The first thing he noticed, instead, was that she’d stocked his fridge with light beer. He spat out a mouthful, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his flannel and saying to himself, “The fuck is this shit?”
“It’s light beer.” Rey said, primly. “Less calories.”
Ben turned around, brow creasing, scowling. “What are you still doing here?”
“I’m making dinner.”
Ben glowered at her, as if she was telling an very unfunny joke, and then turned and bent double, rooting through the refrigerator. “Where the fuck is my – is this salad? You bought salad?”
“Vegetables are good for you.”
Shutting the refrigerator very deliberately, he turned around and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes narrowed as he took in the polka dot navy dress she’d bought specifically because it made her look like a nineteen-fifties housewife, the spatula she was wielding. “Rey, what are you doing?”
Rey ignored the question, innocently twirling the spatula. “I couldn’t get the stain out of that old couch.” Ben’s lips twitched, as if he was remembering how that stain got there. “So I bought a new one.”
Ben choked. “What?”
“Oh, and the sheets were threadbare, so I got some new ones.” Rey didn’t mention that she’d been taken aback by the fact that Ben hadn’t bought new sheets in five years. The same sheets they’d shared had been draped on his bed like a funeral shroud. It had unnerved her. It had felt almost good to strip them off and bin them. Like a fresh start. “Eight-hundred count. So soft.”
Ben’s jaw twitched. With great effort, he said, tightly, “It’s your money, I guess.”
“My money?” Rey made her eyes wide. “I thought you said we should think of it as our money.”
Ben’s face turned red, and then puce. “Our what?”
Mimicking him, Rey said, “We’re married.”
“I swear to God, woman – ”
“Don’t those two words mean anything to you?” Rey interrupted him, throwing his own sentiment back in his face. He’d clung to it so stubbornly, attaching some meaning to their marriage that she didn’t fully comprehend. “Then maybe these two do. Joint checking, Ben.”
Ben made an unintelligible choking sound, turning in tight circles and clenching his fists as if he was trying not to put one through a wall. She’d seen him do that before – once. It was a bad memory. When his fists unclenched, they ran, one by one, over and over, through his hair.
Finally, he turned on her. His eyes were absolutely wild under his mussed hair. He was breathing hard. “Okay, sweetheart. You want to be fucking married? You want to act like we’re married? Then let’s act like it.”
Before she could retort that she was and he didn’t like it, Ben lunged for her, grabbed her arm, and yanked her close to him, crushing his mouth to hers. Her mouth was open so she could argue with him; his was open, it seemed, so he could devour her.
P.S. This chapter references a sexual relationship between Rey, aged seventeen, and Ben, aged nineteen or twenty. While Rey is not eighteen, such a relationship is not illegal - in the state of New York a seventeen year old can consent to sex acts. Further, no crime is commited when a sixteen year old engages in sex acts with a partner who is less than four years older. Ergo, all of the underage sex acts described in this story (Ben and Rey got together when she was sixteen and he was eighteen, almost nineteen) are legal and consensual. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
Rey jerked away a split-second after she’d have liked to. She’d have liked to feel just the barest brush of his lips – oh, all right, his tongue, too – before she slapped him across the face, breathless with righteous fury and not breathless for any other reason.
As it was, his tongue was halfway down her throat and her knees were a bit wobbly before she had the good sense to yank him away by his hair – she’d been aiming for his ear, but God, his hair was soft – and smack his cheek with an open palm. He still kissed like a teenager, artlessly and aggressively.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Her voice sounded too high-pitched to really be hers.
Ben cupped his red cheek, scowling at her. “What the fuck is wrong with me? Does your fiancé know why you’re here, Rey?”
Rey’s mouth opened and shut like a guppy’s. He’d caught her, and he knew it. For a brief moment, she wondered how he’d realized that she was sneaking around behind Armie’s back. Instead of looking smug, he just looked disgusted.
“He doesn’t even know you’re married, does he?” When she didn’t say anything, Ben half-turned away, rubbing his spit-slick lips with one hand as if to rub her off of them. “Shit, Rey…”
Rey clenched her fists by her side. She deserved his disgust; she was disgusted with herself. She’d meant to tell Armie. She really had. In London, she used her maiden name and kept her ring – Ben’s grandmother’s ring – in an envelope in her bedside drawer, hidden away. She rented a single-room flat and went to happy hours where she made friends and flirted. No one would have guessed she was married. Armie certainly hadn’t. By the time he’d whispered that he loved her, his spicy aftershave filling her nostrils, it had seemed too late to tell him.
Stiffly, Rey said, to inspire guilt in Ben and deflect from her own guilt, Rey said, “I suppose you kissing me is one more secret I’ll have to keep from him.”
Ben gave her a sharp look. “I married you so I could kiss you whenever I want.”
Rey felt her stomach tighten into a knot. She suddenly didn’t have the emotional energy to be indignant about his possessive posturing. “We both know that isn’t why you married me.”
Some emotion he’d been guarding was suddenly naked on Ben’s face. He made to move towards her, perhaps to kiss her, perhaps to comfort her the way only someone who’d shared her grief could, and Rey held up her hands, instinctively. It would be unbearable to cry in his arms, and even more unbearable if he kissed her again. If he did, she wouldn’t be able to blame it on him entirely. She’d have known it was about to happen. “Ben, don’t – ”
A muscle in his jaw twitched. He stopped short, his hands flexing by his thighs. “I drove by the Roadway Inn today. There’s still a vacancy.”
“That’s because no one sleeps at that motel.” Rey didn’t consider the full implication of her words until after she spoke. She felt her cheeks heat.
“Maybe…” Ben’s throat bobbed. “Maybe you should tonight.”
Rey didn’t go to the Roadway Inn right away. She drove past it, scowling at the neon blue sign which read no vacancy but was only partially lit up, indicating that there was indeed a vacancy, and turned onto a wide, tree-shaded road. It was dappled in fading sunlight – it would be dark, soon, which meant Han would be home from the construction site.
She wanted to mount the pleasantly creaky front porch steps before he got home. Leia was formidable, but she had tact. She wouldn’t say the first thing that came to mind. But seeing Han – Han – would make her cry. He was just like Ben. He would say something too honest and raw and she’d sob on their front porch.
It hadn’t been her intention to pay a visit to her parents-in-law. She had brought his grandmother’s engagement ring, secure in its rectangular manila envelope, intending to return it to Ben. Somehow, she couldn’t. She couldn’t hand it to him. He’d likely refuse to take it, holding his big hands up in the air where she couldn’t reach them and force the ring into them, or throw it back in her face, narrowly missing her right eye, or something equally childish. She’d briefly contemplated leaving it on the kitchen counter, but he’d been standing in the kitchen as she’d left. He’d have seen her, and she didn’t want to see his face when he saw her discard something that had meant so much to his grandmother, his mother, and finally her.
The ring ought to be returned to Leia, anyways, Rey reasoned. She knocked on the door, tentatively. In a split second, Chewie began barking. His bark wasn’t aggressive; it was a joyous cacophony, as if he knew there was nothing to be afraid of in this small town.
Except, perhaps –
Leia Organa was shorter than Rey remembered her being. She wore her hair the same way – in a braided bun – but it was grayer. She didn’t bother with feigning surprise; they both knew news travelled fast. “I heard you were back.”
Chewie barreled towards her knees, sparing Rey for a brief moment. When she straightened from rubbing his equally gray ears, she said, lamely, in case Ben’s mother was holding onto the same misguided hope that he was, “I’m not back.”
“Back in town.” Leia corrected herself. “Have you eaten dinner?”
That was the first question she’d always asked when Rey had crept, wide-eyed and clinging to Ben’s hand, into their clean, quiet house. It wasn’t always the first thing out of her mouth – usually that was a lecture about kissing in the truck in the driveway, or a dry comment about the lip gloss smeared on Ben’s neck – but it was always the first question, as if she knew Rey subsisted on canned spaghetti and stale crackers at her foster home.
A shy teenager, Rey had tried to mumble excuses. Ben, rolling his eyes, had told his mother they were going to get pizza, later and tried to tug his girlfriend by the hand up the stairs and to the relative privacy of his bedroom (there was a no-closed-doors rule). But Leia always got her way. She made six-inch-thick lasagna, sinful chicken cacciatore, steaming vegetable pot pie, simmering mushroom and cheese casseroles, and million-calories cakes. When Rey had married Ben, she’d been incredibly self-conscious that she was disappointing to him. She couldn’t cook – they lived on Chinese takeout, ramen noodles, and, occasionally, burnt chicken. His mother’s kitchen was an embarrassment of riches. Ben didn’t seem to mind, more preoccupied with fucking her on the kitchen counter than her cooking on it.
Now, from Leia’s kitchen, Rey could smell something Italian – perhaps spaghetti with homemade meatballs. Out of habit, she lied. “I already ate.”
Of course, as always, Leia got her way. The meatballs were delicious – Rey didn’t really like salad, she’d just bought it to provoke Ben – and she’d scarfed four down before Leia asked, “You didn’t just miss my cooking, did you?”
Rey swallowed, with effort. “No, I – I mean, I did.” She pushed the manila envelope across the table, awkwardly. “I wanted to return this to you.”
To avoid saying anything else, she speared another meatball with her fork and stuck it in her mouth. Leia’s elegant, slim fingers unfastened the manila envelope and drew out the gold band, mounted with a small, glittery diamond. She examined it for a moment, lips pursed. “Ben gave this to you.”
Rey made a muffled noise through her meatballs. She remembered. They’d been sitting silently in his truck outside of her foster home, at eleven-fifty. Her curfew was at midnight. It seemed ridiculous to have a curfew the night before getting married, but, then again, her foster father didn’t know she was getting married, or why she was getting married. Only Han and Leia knew.
Ben had exhaled heavily, fogging the windshield. “I…”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Rey said, bravely, cutting him off. It was the same sort of thing she always said as she snuck one last kiss and then slid out of the truck to run inside just in the nick of time, only usually, she meant in the cafeteria, or behind the field house, where they could be alone for the scant few moments between classes. Not at the altar – or at the judge’s bench, as it were.
“Rey.” Ben had caught her hand. His palms had been sweaty. “I have to ask you a question.”
Rey had swallowed hard, wondering, irrationally, if his feet were cold. “What?”
“Will you marry me?” His voice had cracked, plaintively.
“You already asked me.”
“I didn’t really…” He’d run his hand through his hair, looking for all the world just like his father. “Not – not down on one knee or anything.”
“You’re not down on one knee now.” She’d reminded him. She would have laughed if she could have.
Ben’s gaze was very intense. He pressed something into her hand. “I’m asking because I don’t want to just hand you the ring.”
“What ring?” She’d asked, faintly.
He’d closed her fingers around it. “Marry me.”
“Ben, you can’t afford – ” She’d protested, weakly.
“We can’t afford it.” Ben had interrupted her. “And we didn’t. I asked my mother for grandma’s ring. You deserve… you deserve a ring. You deserve… so much more than – than I can give you. But I’m going to try.”
For a brief moment, Rey’s affection for that boy had swelled like the sun, blotting out her anxiety and fear. She’d leaned across the truck, curfew be damned, and kissed him fiercely, the way she knew she’d be too embarrassed to in front of his parents at the courthouse the next day.
Clearing her throat, Rey looked down at her meatballs. She’d suddenly lost her appetite. “It was yours first.”
Leia smiled, sadly. “It was my mother’s first.”
“You should have it.” Rey nodded, relieved.
Leia put the ring back in the envelope and slid it across the table. She repeated herself. “Ben gave this to you. Not me. You should give it back to him.”
Rey looked down at her half-full plate – for all she’d eaten, it was still half-full. Leia was nothing if not generous. She felt like the worst sort of coward. In a small voice, she said, “All right.”
They sat in silence for a moment, and then Leia asked, delicately, “How are you?”
Rey leapt to change the subject. “I work for an advertising firm. I have a flat.”
Leia’s eyes flickered to the much bigger ring on her finger. “You have a fiancé.”
“Yes.” Rey managed to keep her voice steady. “London is wonderful.”
“I didn’t ask how London was.” Leia remarked. She covered Rey’s hand with her own. “I asked how you are. I never got to ask, after… ”
Rey had been wrong. Han wasn’t the only one who could make her cry. Leia could, too. No one had ever asked her – ever – how she was, after she’d left New Alderaan. She’d left that awful night, leaving Ben to pick up the pieces and explain to his parents why she’d left. No one in England knew why she’d left, either. By now, she was sure, all of New Alderaan knew. But that was water under the bridge, or they were just too polite to ask.
“I’m…” Rey exhaled sharply, trying not to let the tears that had filled her eyes spill over. “I’m…”
Happy. Happy was the word she would have used, but she knew exactly what Leia was referring to, and she couldn’t lie. Her flat made her happy. Her job made her happy. Her fiancé made her happy. But she wasn’t entirely happy. There was a hole in her happiness.
The headlights of Han’s truck – the one he had bought when Ben was sixteen, bequeathing the older one to his son – flashed through the windows of the kitchen. He slammed the door, tromped up the back steps, and barged into the house, sunburnt and smelling like fresh-poured concrete.
“Hello, princess – hey, kid.” He didn’t seem surprised to see her. Ben must have told him she was in New Alderaan, Rey surmised, or, like Leia, he’d heard it through the grapevine.
Leia leaned across the table and tucked the manila envelope containing the engagement ring into Rey’s purse, as if to say that was that. “Rey came by for dinner, Han.”
Grinning – he was incapable of ill will towards her, it seemed – Han swept her into a bear hug. He smelled comforting and fatherly and Rey had to resist the urge to hold on for longer than was strictly appropriate when hugging her soon-to-be ex-father-in-law.
“Good. You look too skinny.” Han helped himself to a monstrous portion of meatballs. “How long are you in town for, kid? Leia needs at least a few weeks to fatten you up.”
Rey flushed, remembering how distinctly not skinny she’d been the last time she’d seen him. She wondered whether Ben had told his father that she was back, but had conveniently forgotten to mention that she was only back to secure his signature of divorce papers, stubborn ass that he was. “Ben didn’t tell you?”
“Ben doesn’t tell me much of anything.” Han sat down, heavily, cracking his knuckles. “Haven’t seen him in a week.”
That would have been strange in such a small town; considering that Han was Ben’s foreman, it was even stranger. “He didn’t come to work today?”
Han gave her an odd look. “Ben doesn’t work for me anymore, kid.”
dun dun DUN
P.S. Some smutty goodness up next, awkward teenagers style. My specialty.
The Roadside Inn was exactly as Rey remembered it. She fidgeted in front of the grimy, linoleum-topped check-in desk. She’d fidgeted in the passenger seat of Ben’s truck, the last time she’d been there. He’d been twenty, scruffy-faced already, and very much passable as an adult. She’d been eighteen, as of that night, but she looked younger. They hadn’t wanted to rouse suspicion.
She wasn’t sure if the bored-looking lady behind the counter, smacking her gum and sporting wrinkles wrought by a tanning bed, would have cared whether she was renting a room to a minor or not. She dangled the key out on one finger. “You’re number thirteen.”
“Oh.” Rey cleared her throat. “Uh.”
The woman smacked her gum. Her name tag read Charlene. “Superstitious?”
“No.” Rey gritted her teeth. “Just… ironic.”
The room looked exactly as she remembered it, but, then again, she imagined every room in the outdated motel would have looked exactly as she remembered number thirteen looking. It was a somewhat comforting thought. There was nothing different about this room than any other room, she told herself. Every room in this long, narrow stucco strip of a motel would have a shiny floral comforter, a ragged gray carpet, a dripping sink, a chipped, groaning air conditioning unit.
She twirled the key around one finger, biting her lip and scuffing her foot along the carpet. Even the smell of the room was familiar. It had smelled like must and, faintly, cigarette smoke. Then, t had smelled like sex and sweat.
Rey stood in the doorway, just as she had on the night of her eighteenth birthday, feeling simultaneously very old and very unchanged.
“I’m going to go – uh, go to the bathroom.” Ben had said, awkwardly jamming his hands into his pockets. That had the effect of disguising the bulge in his jeans. She still hadn’t put two and two together.
“Should I – too?” Bizarrely, she’d worried, suddenly that she might pee on him during intercourse if she didn’t relieve herself first.
Ben’s ears had turned pink. He’d just cut his hair, at his mother’s insistence. “Uh – do you need to go?”
Rey had fumbled, embarrassed. “I just thought maybe I should pee before – you know, before…”
She’d trailed off, and Ben had stared at her, confused, for a long moment. “I’m going to jerk off.”
“Oh.” Rey had choked out. “Why – ”
“I don’t want to cum too fast once we – ”
“Right.” Flustered, she’d interrupted him, just as he’d interrupted her, before either of them could say those two words: have sex.
In hindsight, Rey thought, ruefully, flopping down on the bed and kicking off her shoes, they should have realized that if they were too embarrassed to admit out loud to each other what they were about to do, they shouldn’t have done it.
She closed her eyes and resolved to think of something else. She ought to call Armie – he’d be worried – but it felt wrong to call him from this motel. From this room, in particular.
It was difficult to think of something – anything – else once the inconsiderate person in number twelve started watching porn, or perhaps it was HBO. Whatever it was, it was obscene. The words – doubtlessly vulgar – weren’t quite intelligible, but the moans and grunts were.
Rey colored, staring up at the ceiling. She had never been particularly vocal during sex – she wasn’t much of a moaner or groaner, and she certainly wasn’t a talker. The only exception to that rule had been the first time; she’d been so nervous she’d babbled breathlessly the whole time. The only exception to that rule was when Ben had been kissing her, likely to shut her up so he could focus on what he was doing.
She’d laid back on this same bed, in this same manner, and waited for him. She’d started to undress, thinking that it would be sexy if he came out of the bathroom and she was already naked, and then she’d chickened out. She’d toed off her flip-flops and crossed her big toes over her next-biggest toes, biting her lip and listening to the soft slap of his hand on his dick in the bathroom, just as she was listening to the exaggerated sounds of intercourse from her neighbor’s television now.
She and Ben should have put music on, if the walls were this thin, Rey reflected, wincing when she heard the unmistakable sound of a porn star’s orgasm. In retrospect, she was somehow glad they hadn’t. They had a song. It was a song she associated with driving in his truck with the windows down, with summer nights in the Catskills, with picking wildflowers, with making out like teenagers. As teenagers. She was glad they didn’t have a sex song, too. It would be even more uncomfortable to hear that over the speakers on throwback night at nightclubs or on the radio.
The ceiling above her was water damaged. She hadn’t noticed that before. Before long, Ben had loomed over her, blotting out the weak orange-filtered light and breathing through his mouth. His cheeks had been a healthy pink, just like his ears.
Not knowing what else to do, Rey had spread her legs, slowly, her knees bent and her legs dangling over the edge of the mattress. He’d stood between them. She’d worn a sundress, as if there was somewhere to go for a special occasion in New Alderaan. There wasn’t. They’d gone to their usual haunt, the pizza place. Leia had offered to cook a special dinner – steak, mashed potatoes, the works – but they’d been too afraid she’d see smell their guilt over the scent of garlic and seared beef.
Subconsciously, she spread her legs now. The sounds from her neighbor’s television were louder, as if he’d punched some button on the remote, unabashed
Ben had had his fingers – and his mouth, on occasions when she’d showered and shaved felt particularly brave – up her bunched skirts and jammed into her shorts or jeans. Those sexual encounters had always felt cramped and rushed, in the old truck or in a blind panic that his parents would come home early.
The night of her eighteenth birthday, Ben had been utterly unhurried – perhaps because he’d just jerked off – as he’d trailed his index and finger and thumb along the crotch of her cotton panties, notching his knuckle into the indent of her cunt and then rubbing the pad of his thumb against her clit through the fabric. She’d had on her cleanest and prettiest pair – pink, with lace trim. They weren’t sexy. She’d been too embarrassed to buy sexy underwear. She’d wondered, as he petted her through the fabric, whether he’d been embarrassed to buy a condom.
Ben had already been completely naked at the foot of the bed. He hadn’t chickened out in the bathroom, like Rey had, waiting for him. She’d never seen him fully naked until that night. She’d seen and touched and tasted his dick, but always through the opened flap of his jeans and underwear, or after bunching his pants around his creamy upper thighs. Somehow it had seemed terribly intimate to see mundane things like his kneecaps, or the place where the hair on his leg thinned out and disappeared before becoming thick and wiry pubic hair at the apex of his thighs, or the equal proportion of his waist to his chest.
Rey became aware, absently at first, that she was touching herself through her jeans. She was retracing Ben’s footprints, rubbing her knuckles into her body and then swirling around the top of her sex through the rough denim. Armie had never touched her through her clothes – they’d been adults, for Christ’ sake, since they’d been having sex. She wore silky lingerie and he took it off of her. There was no breathless exploration through denim and cotton. The friction of fingers through clothes was unfamiliar now. It felt… nice. As forbidden and exciting as she remembered it being.
Face flaming, Rey yanked her hand away from her crotch and sat up straight. After a moment, she bolted off the bed, unable to trust herself on it.
The porn sounds would not stop. Rubbing her forehead, she paced in circles for a moment, wondering whether she could entirely blame her indiscretion on them, rather than being in this room, on this bed –
Something occurred to her and she yanked the off the bed and examined it, irrationally expecting to see a bloodstain. Intellectually, she knew it wouldn’t be there. No matter how disgusting of a motel it was, it had been almost six years since her eighteenth birthday.
“Remember,” Rey had huffed, in a moment of sanity and clarity – in the midst of her nervous nonsense ramblings of slow down, I didn’t expect it to feel like this, does it feel good for you? Are you sure I’m doing it right? Do you think we’re going to leave a stain? – “You have to pull out. Ben, you have to – ”
He’d raised his head from the crook of her neck, looking dazed. His voice had been a low croak. “I’m wearing a condom.”
“Just in case – ” Her hands had fluttered anxiously on his shoulders. “I want you to.”
“Rey.” He’d stopped thrusting for a moment, resting his forehead on her shoulder and breathing hard. “You want me to pull out?”
Swallowing hard, Rey had made one of the stupidest decisions of her life. “I – no, just go on, it’s all right, it’s okay.”
“Are you sure?” He’d been moving again, his face scrunched up and his words equally scrunched. “I can pull out.”
“No, it’s fine.” Her voice had been a squeak. She’d wrapped her legs clumsily around his waist, as if he could anchor her in a sea of insecurity and nerves. One of his hands had wrapped around her calf, hitching it up, and a low growl that she didn’t recognize as being from her sweet boy had come from within his chest.
“I’m about to cum.” She hadn’t been sure if that was what it meant to talk dirty or if he’d told her that to give her one last chance to change her mind. She didn’t change her mind.
“You can.” She’d mouthed at the web of muscle between his shoulder and his neck. “I’m not going to, but it’s okay, it doesn’t hurt anymore – ”
“Shut up.” Ben had had the patience of a saint, but it snapped at the last moment. Those two words, usually rude, had sounded, somehow, affectionate and exhiliarated. He’d pressed a vicious kiss to her mouth, his hips jerking and grinding into her bottom. “Rey, just shut up.”
“Shut up!” Rey shouted, now, smacking the wall between her and the gentleman – if she could call him that – in number twelve. The television switched off, and it was blissfully quiet.
It reminded her of the quiet moments after the first time, when Ben suddenly hadn’t been a man anymore, but a boy again, lax and sweaty in the cradle of her hips. She’d felt something hot trickle between their bodies, from between her thighs. Alarmed, she’d shoved Ben’s limp, heavy shoulder. She’d known was his semen felt like. It was hot and viscous and ample enough, at his age. That should all be in the condom, she’d known. “Ben. Ben, what is that?”
Ben had groaned, sounding deeply satisfied and sleepy, and pecked the corner of her mouth the way she saw his parents kiss each other. It seemed terribly grown up. “It’s probably just blood.”
“Blood?” She’d yelped.
Ben had propped himself up on one elbow with some effort, reaching down between their bodies to pull himself out of her. For a moment, the sting had distracted Rey. “You knew there’d be blood, right?”
“But that’s a lot of blood.” Rey had said, faintly, as he reared up on his haunches between her thighs to see what she was sure would be a veritable bloodbath. She started breathing heavily. It had hurt – she’d known it would – but it hadn’t hurt that much. She’d wondered whether he’d done something wrong, torn something he shouldn’t have.
But there hadn’t been very much blood at all. There had been just a few drops, mixed pink with the creamy white of his semen. That was what she’d felt. Semen. His cock was a mess of pink fluid and torn latex. He’d stared at it, thumbing the base of the softening shaft, where the torn sheath of a brightly colored condom had bunched up. Sticky, naked, and proud, the head of his penis had poked right through it.
He hadn't had to tell her to shut up. She hadn’t been able to stop talking while he’d fucked her, but she had nothing to say.
All he said, under his breath, was, “Shit.”
Rey rubbed the bridge of her nose. To herself, she said, “Shit.”
She crossed the room, picked up the telephone, and after a bit of fumbling, called the front desk. “Can I get a different room, please?”
Darlene – or was her name Charlene? – sighed deeply, as if she knew what was coming. “Bugs?”
Rey seized on the excuse. She hadn’t had one ready, even for herself. She certainly wouldn’t have one if Armie called and heard how breathless she was. “Yes. Yes, there are – roaches.”
Ah, young love. The worst. And the best.
P.S. Most of this chapter is told in callbacks - the past tense. Let me know if switching from past to present tenses is too confusing!
“What are you doing out here?” Ben’s posture was hostile when he spotted Rey leaning against the door of her rental car on the side of the road. He approached her on long, dusty-denim clad legs, his arms crossed over his chest. She’d been driving east – having checked out of that fucking hotel – her hands white knuckled on the steering wheel, when she’d seen his truck parked on the side of the road, at the end of a gravel driveway, surrounded by other trucks.
Something had compelled her to pull over. She jerked her chin in the direction of the expansive construction site. “It’s a nice house.” Ben scowled and didn’t dignify her lame small talk with an answer. “You don’t work for your dad anymore?”
“No.” The word was clipped. He was, Rey realized, uncomfortable. She wondered whether he was embarrassed to still be working construction all these years later, as defensive as he’d been about it when she insulted him – although, admittedly, it was a nice house. A million-dollar house, if she had to guess. It was a far cry from building prisons and public schools like he had when he’d worked for Han, freshly dropped out of community college.
“Hey, Boss – ”
“Not now, Wedge.” Ben didn’t even turn to address the portly, mustached man behind him.
Rey blinked. She’d assumed he’d left his father’s business over some falling out or another – God knew her erstwhile husband was a stubborn asshole – but she hadn’t anticipated a promotion, however modest. “You’re the foreman?”
Ben’s mouth twisted. “…no.”
Rey looked back at the house, and then at him, confused. “You…”
“This is my business.” He sounded almost hurt, as if he hated that she thought so little of him.
“You build houses?” Rey looked back at the house.
“I build custom homes for out-of-towners and rich assholes.” Ben paused. “So, yeah, I build houses.”
“It’s a beautiful house, Ben.” Rey couldn’t keep the strange pride she felt that he’d made something of himself out of her voice. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
The humor disappeared from Ben’s mouth. It flattened again. “You didn’t exactly ask, hey, honey, how’s work? Did you have a good day at the office?”
Rey snorted. “You’ve never worked in an office.”
“There’s something to be said for working with your hands.” Ben volleyed back, his ears flushed. “Making something. This something – ” He jerked his thumb at the worksite. “ – is worth one point four million dollars. But I guess that’s small change to you and your fiancé.”
It was Rey’s turn to flush. “You think you have me figured out, don’t you?”
Ben’s lips twisted. “You thought you had me all figured out, didn’t you? You thought I was a drop-out stuck in a dead-end job, living in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere –”
“That part is true.” Rey interjected, defensive. After a beat, Ben snorted, to her surprise.
“Okay.” He conceded. “It is.”
They were quiet for a long time. Finally, Rey asked, thick-throated, “Why didn’t you ever leave?”
“Yes.” Rey crossed her arms over her chest. “Move to the city.”
“I hate the city.” Ben mumbled, toeing a hunk of gravel.
Rey persisted, thinking of him, morose and lonely, living in their modest marital home. “You build these beautiful houses. Why don’t you build yourself one?”
A muscle in Ben’s temple twitched. His throat bobbed. “I…” A large hand crept up to stroke his jaw, covering his mouth briefly as if to stop him from saying something he’d regret. “I thought you might come back.”
For a moment, Rey couldn’t breathe. He looked like a puppy who’d been kicked, even though she hadn’t laughed yet or scoffed or snapped at him that she was never coming back except to serve him divorce papers. He was waiting to be kicked, she knew.
She decided not to kick him. Turning, she reached for the handle of her driver’s side door.
“Rey.” Ben’s voice cracked behind her, reminding her of his youth. When she turned, she knew that he knew she was leaving town; that she’d stopped to say goodbye but hadn’t had the courage to. If he hadn’t known, he wouldn’t have said what he said next. “Do you ever think – do you ever wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t lost the baby?”
Those words were like a gut punch. It took Rey a moment to recover from them. Her voice came out warbled. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think we would still be married?”
Rey almost used his line. She almost told him that they were still married, because he was a stubborn jackass who wouldn’t sign divorce papers. But she knew what he meant. She answered honestly. “Yes.”
He bit his lip, and then asked, hoarsely, “Would we have been happy?”
Rey wiped at her suddenly snotty, drippy nose with the back of her hand, gripping her key in white-knuckle grip in the other hand. She wasn’t sure when she’d started crying – probably when he’d said the word baby. She didn’t say that word. She hadn’t said it since that night.
She’d been in the shower. Their water pressure left much to be desired – it was an old house – but she’d hummed happily, anyways, scrubbing up with dollar-store soap.
“Get dressed up.” Ben had told her, grinning boyishly. “I’m taking my girls out to celebrate.”
The baby had been a girl. They’d found out that morning, as the ultrasound technician, a bored, fire-engine red-haired woman, had lackadaisically rubbed the wand through the cold gel on Rey’s belly. The baby had been a girl. She’d had ten fingers and ten toes. Leia, sitting nervously in the waiting room, had cried. Han had shaken Ben’s hand, looking, for the first time since they got pregnant, terribly proud.
It didn’t matter that they couldn’t afford to go anywhere nice to celebrate, or that Rey couldn’t throw back a few drinks to celebrate, like she had in high school. She was happy. She was nineteen weeks pregnant.
She’d looked down at the suds surrounding her bare feet, her toes painted a juvenile blue, and seen, instead of blue, red. Bright, coagulated red.
Rey had screamed and screamed and screamed, until Ben had broken down the locked door of the bathroom – she locked it by habit, after being in foster care. She’d never forget the words that came out of his mouth. “What did you do? What did you do?”
She hadn’t answered him. Those words hadn’t registered in the moment. That moment had been a blur. He’d wrestled her into the car, sobbing and slick with blood and bathwater, and driven like a madman to the hospital.
When Rey had come out of general anesthesia, the baby was gone. Lost didn’t seem an apt word. Taken seemed better. The baby had been taken from within her in an operating theatre. Neither did the words the doctor used to describe the procedure they’d performed seem right – surgical abortion. Rey could have had an abortion, fourteen weeks prior. She’d considered it. She’d decided against it.
It wasn’t until Ben was driving her home, two days later, his face wan, that she’d remembered what he’d said to her in the bathroom when she’d been covered in blood.
“I didn’t do anything.” She’d said, stiffly.
“What?” His voice was scratchy from crying. He hadn’t cried in front of her, but she knew he’d cried.
“I didn’t do anything.” Rey repeated.
“Then why did you say – ”
“I don’t know.” Her husband had cut her off, brusquely. They were silent until the old truck rumbled into the driveway. Twisting in his seat, Ben turned to her. “Rey – ”
She’d slammed the truck door behind her, walked into their house, shut the door to the room that would have been the nursery, and started packing. He hadn’t tried to stop her, probably wracked by guilt. Probably, he thought she just needed some time.
Probably, he didn’t think she’d be gone for years.
Rey knew what Ben was asking her, now, years later. He was asking her if she had really loved him. He was asking her if she’d only left because of that terrible night or if she would have left eventually, anyways.
She might have, Rey thought. They had fought plenty. They’d been too young to handle their own finances and to be parents, let alone to be married. But there had been good times, too. He’d woken her up with sloppy kisses in the crook of her neck most mornings. She’d ironed his shirts for him, even though he worked in construction and didn’t need to look presentable. It just seemed like something a wife would do. They’d laughed a lot.
“Yes.” Rey said, finally. “I think we would have been.”
It was too painful to imagine what their daughter would look like or what her name would be, had she lived. But she could imagine her life with Ben these past years, and she imagined it would have been happy. They would still be in love. After all, she’d still been in love with him the night she’d left. She’d been hurt and hurting but she’d still been in love. She’d only stopped loving him later, she supposed, although she wasn’t sure when.
Slowly, Ben nodded. “I’ll sign the papers.”
“What?” Rey’s head snapped up.
“I’ll sign the papers.” Ben gestured to the rental car. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
Rey didn’t bother to deny it. “I have to go back to London.”
Ben’s jaw twisted. “I…” He repeated himself a third time, as if he couldn’t quite believe he was saying them. “I’ll sign the papers. Come by the house tonight and I’ll sign the papers.”
Rey had time to kill and too much on her mind. She didn’t want to drive aimlessly – she didn’t trust herself not to cry and blur her vision and crash the car that wasn’t even hers. She didn’t want to go visit Poe or any other old friends for the same reason. She didn’t want them to see her cry.
She wanted to be numb. She wanted to drink.
Trigger warning - pregnancy loss.
P.S. It's been a minute. I was very sick for a few weeks and have been in and out of the hospital. If you're still here - hi! Thank you for your patience. If you're new - welcome!
They’d always called it their spot, although, realistically Rey knew many couples came up to the top of the hill to park under the shadows of the trees and, well, park. Ben’s truck had idled here many a night.
This was the first place he’d kissed her. They’d gone to the pizza parlor, sitting awkwardly across from each other in a grubby booth. It had been her first date and she’d thought it a disaster. She hadn’t known what to say to him. She’d thought that her experiment with drugstore makeup had been an absolute failure. She’d regretted wearing those denim cutoffs that had first made him notice her instead of a skirt. Surely, she’d thought, he’d prefer someone who could apply glittery eyeshadow and wear swingy skirts with aplomb. Another senior – maybe a cheerleader.
Ben had borrowed his father’s truck to take her on that date. That had been before it had been handed down to him. It smelled like the leather of a worn toolbelt and sweaty boots. Instead of driving her home, he’d turned onto the dirt road that wound up the hillside behind the high school.
There had been a horrible moment when Rey had wondered whether he – a boy, an older boy – was going to do what she’d heard of so many boys doing. Cop a feel, pressure her, grope her. He hadn’t. He’d parked the truck at a bend in the road where they could look out over the modest lights of the town and slammed the door behind him. Standing in the bed of the truck, he’d shown her the stars. He’d admitted to owning a telescope and keeping it a secret from his jock friends. Suddenly, he hadn’t seemed like a cool, intimidating senior. He’d seemed like a dork. She’d finally been able to breathe around him, and it turned out she had plenty of say. They’d kissed, and somehow it hadn’t been nervous or awkward. Their second kiss, on her doorstep, had been. But the first hadn’t.
When they’d become boyfriend and girlfriend – words that made his father roll his eyes – they had frequently lied to his parents and her foster father and said they were going to get pizza, or ice cream, or to see a movie. They’d kept the hillside a secret, in part because it was a sacred, private place and it part because they knew what his parents would think.
His parents wouldn’t have been completely wrong. The hillside was where he’d touched her breasts for the first time, his hands dwarfing them and making her feel self-conscious. It was where she’d first seen her first penis – his.
“What is that?” She’d blurted out, in the backseat, naïvely. Ben had lifted his head from the crook of her neck where he was worrying a bruise that only a turtleneck would hide from her foster father, sweat sticking his hair to his brow.
“It’s – uh.” He’d adjusted his belt, on his hands and knees over her in the cramped back seat of the truck’s double cab. “It’s… my… penis.”
“Oh.” Rey had squeaked. That word sounded very clinical. Most boys said dick or something equally crass. She’d blinked down at the offending bulge in his jeans. “Can I…”
“Jesus, yes, please.” He’d stammered with nervousness as he unzipped his jeans. That was how she’d known that she was the first for him, too.
Her favorite nights, though, had been the nights they’d sprawled on the grass and counted the stars, their hands entwined in the dewy long grass. They’d sip pilfered booze, feeling very grown up, and make out until curfew, their bodies leaving a warm indent in the ground.
She plopped down on that same grass now, a twelve-pack of beer under one arm. She never drank beer anymore – it made Armie wrinkle his nose. She was embarrassed to admit she liked beer – worse, cheap beer. It was a throwback to yesteryear. Sometimes, she and Ben had snuck sips from his parent’s liquor cabinet, and sometimes they’d charmed a friend’s older sibling to buy them beer. Cheap beer.
Rey crushed her second beer can and threw it down the hillside, regretting, briefly, not eating dinner. That was a rookie mistake. She knew better. She’d known better since the night Ben had brought her to a senior party and she’d thrown up in his truck and all over his lap.
Rey frowned down at her third beer. She wished she could say all her youthful mistakes were alcohol-fueled. She wished she had been drunk when they’d gotten pregnant. But she hadn’t – just stupid.
A drop of clear liquid landed on the top of her beer can and she realized she was crying. She downed it in three huge gulps, snuffling and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Her mouth tasted salty. She washed it away with more beer.
Two and a half weeks after her eighteenth birthday – six days after she’d graduated from high school – Rey had called Ben from her home phone. She hadn’t had a cell phone, like he had, and she hadn’t wanted her foster father to listen in. She’d asked him to meet her that night.
She hadn’t needed to say where. He’d parked his truck at the base of the hill and snuck up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and kissing the back of her neck sloppily. His hands had snuck under the hem of her blouse. She hadn’t blamed him. He couldn’t see the look on her face and besides, this was where they’d always come to fool around.
“Ben, my period– ”
“I don’t care.” He’d said, into her hair, his hands kneading her hips. He’d been gun-shy the second time they’d had sex – he’d pulled out, without her asking, even though he was wearing a condom – but not that gun-shy. His erection had been pressed into her bottom.
“What?” Rey had asked, confused.
“I don’t care if you’re on your period.” He’d reached around and cupped a breast, crooning and rocking a little. “We can still – ”
“I’m not on my period.” Rey had interrupted, turning in his arms and planting her hands flat on his pectorals. “I’m still not on my period.”
He’d put her bicycle in the bed of his truck and driven her to the Rite Aid one town over, for secrecy’s sake. An eye-rolling employee had unlocked the employee’s only bathroom for her and she’d peed on a plastic stick while Ben paced the vitamins and supplements aisle.
“Go! Just go!” She’d shouted at him from inside the bathroom. He’d gone to wait in his truck. As if throwing away the positive pregnancy test would make the two little lines on it a secret she could keep forever, Rey had buried it in the overflowing trash can.
“It was positive.” She had said. They’d been easier words to say than I’m pregnant but she still heard them as if someone else was saying them. As if this weren’t happening to her.
It had taken Ben a moment to react, and he hadn’t reacted the way she’d expected. He’d blinked, and then his jaw had set. She’d thought he was angry, but he’d said taken her hand and said, sounding very young and earnest, “I’ll make this right.”
Rey had looked at her hands, a dull, low ache settling in her belly. “There’s a clinic in Kingston – ”
“No, I mean – I mean I’ll marry you.” Ben had blurted the words out, as if he were about to lose his nerve. “If – if you want. You don’t have to. Marry me. Or keep the baby. You don’t have to do either. But I’ll marry you.”
If the moment had been surreal, it had become even moreso after his garbled proposal. Rey didn’t remember ever giving him an answer, but she’d squeezed his hand affirmatively after they’d sat in the empty parking lot for a long time, long after the Rite Aid had closed for the night. “Then we had better tell your parents.”
They’d missed curfew that night. Furious and bathrobe-clad, Ben’s mother had been sitting at their kitchen table, her arms crossed over her chest. His father had been slouched, half-asleep and decidedly less stern, across from her.
“Benjamin Charles Solo – ” Leia Organa had risen from the kitchen table, ready to rail at them for being out until two in the morning, when some expression on Ben’s face had stopped her tirade before it began.
“I need your help, Mom.” Ben had taken Rey’s hand. Rey had been curious why he hadn’t say they needed her help, but in retrospect, she thought she understood. He’d seen the mistake as his own. He’d shouldered the responsibility.
Leia’s eyes had flickered to Rey’s face. It shouldn’t have surprised Rey that she’d guessed right away, considering how often she’d caught them making out in the driveway or his bedroom. “Is she – ”
“Rey’s pregnant.” Even Han had sat up straight when Ben had said that. He suddenly looked angrier than Rey had ever seen him. He always had an affable smirk on his face.
Leia’s face was white. “There’s a clinic in Kingston.”
Rey had almost laughed at the absurdity of Leia saying the exact thing she had said. Jaw tight, Ben had shaken his head. “I need to borrow some money.”
Leia and Han had exchanged a look. In a low rumble, Han had said, “We’ll pay for it, Ben.”
“No, I need to borrow some money.” Ben had repeated himself. “I’ll pay you back with interest once I get a job and we get settled – ”
“What?” Leia had looked baffled.
Han, less so. In a slow, measured voice, he’d said, “How much do you need?”
“What?” Leia had repeated, looking between her husband and her son. Rey had remained silent, as if she was just a bystander and not a central figure in this drama. After all, this wasn’t her family.
“We’re getting married, Mom.” Ben’s voice had faltered for the first time, as if he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought except for his mother.
Leia’s jaw had dropped. She had seemed at a complete loss for words. “But… but you’re transferring to Rensselaer in the fall.”
Ben didn’t say anything, and for the first time, Rey felt guilty. She hadn’t had any plans. He had. Not anymore.
Han had spoken up. “I could use you on my crew, kid. Thirteen an hour.”
Ben had squared his shoulders. “I’ll take it.”
Godamnit, Rey still felt guilty, after all these years. She felt guilty for ruining his life, for losing the baby, for running away. He'd been so good to her. He'd said stupid things the night she'd lost the baby. He hadn't known how to comfort her. But he'd been so good to her. He'd sacrificed so much for her. Before she knew it, she was sobbing into her ninth beer, rocking back and forth in the grass. She felt guilty for Ben’s loneliness, for his parent’s disappointment, for having thoughts an engaged woman shouldn’t have.
She felt guilty that she hadn’t called Armie in three days.
By rights she should have wanted call Armie. He should have been the one to comfort her when she remembered the blood and the bright lights of the operating room before she was put under anesthesia. He should be the one to hold her and tell her it hadn’t been her fault, that she’d have another baby, that he’d missed her, that he was sorry, too.
Rey sucked in her breath. It wasn’t Armie she was imagining. It was Ben. She wasn’t sure whether her judgment was more clouded by alcohol or anguish, but Armie had no right to her grief. Only Ben would understand it. He’d blamed her for losing their baby. Only he could absolve her of that.
Rey got to her feet on shaky, drunk legs, and toppled over. She lay there for a moment, wondering whether this was a sign from the universe that she shouldn’t make the monumentally stupid decision she was about to make.
At length, she climbed to her feet, stood still until she’d regained her balance, and then set off down the hill. At least this mistake she could blame on alcohol.
ruh roh. rey whatchu doin'.
It occurred to Rey, in a brief moment of lucidity, that the reason the formerly ramshackle bungalow was so well kept was because Ben built houses for a living. Of course, he knew how to fix gutters and lacquer doors and mount shutters.
And, in his own words, he’d been hoping she would come home.
Rey was not that drunk, but just drunk enough that that made her angry. She lifted her fist and pounded on the door. When her knock was met with silence, she fumbled in her pocket for her key and then fumbled some more trying to open the door.
When it swung open of its own accord, she nearly fell into the house and into Ben. His hands braced her arms and righted her, but he was anything but steady himself. She could tell when she straightened up and looked him in the eye.
He’d been drinking, too. His eyes were a bit red and his hair was a mess. Behind him, on the coffee table, was a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey and a solitary glass. The bottle of liquor was atop the divorce paperwork, as if to keep it from blowing away in the wind.
“I n-need you to forgive me.” Rey blurted out, not slurring but stuttering with adrenaline.
Ben opened a closed his mouth several times, glassy-eyed. He seemed almost surprised to see her, even though he’d been expecting her – clearly – steeling himself with whiskey. “Forgive you for what?”
“For – for losing the baby. For getting pregnant in the first place.” Rey swallowed hard, her voice cracking as she finally stated the obvious: “For leaving.”
Ben’s hand rubbed at his jaw, a little clumsily. He stared at his dirty work boots. She had never let him wear those in the house. When he spoke he sounded almost sober. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
“I need you to forgive me.” Rey repeated, somewhat hysterically, reaching forward and shoving his flannel-clad chest in impotent frustration. “I forgive you.”
“For what I said?” Ben didn’t defend himself. “The night you left – ”
A dry little sob escaped her. She swung one more time, for emphasis, and missed. “For not coming after me when I left.”
Ben made a little noise in the back of his throat. He caught her hand as she flailed at his chest. Suddenly, Rey wasn’t sure that his eyes were glassy from alcohol alone. “I didn’t know you wanted me to.”
Rey tried to tug her hand away, crying in a drunk, irrational sort of way. “Let me go.”
“Rey – ” He was drunk; his grip wasn’t as strong as it usual. She escaped and stumbled backwards down the steps. She turned to run away. She didn’t make it far.
This time, he came after her. He kissed her as aggressively as she’d struck at him, holding her cheeks in his hands and smushing her face against his. It reminded her of the first time they’d kissed: she’d wondered where his nose would fit. It didn’t; it crushed up against her cheek.
Ben was breathing hard when rested his forehead against hers, his hands leaving indents on her cheeks. His breath smelled like bourbon. “Don’t leave. Not again.”
Dizzy with drink and adrenaline, Rey tilted her head back and stood on her tip-toes and kissed him back. He exhaled, surprised, into her lips, and then wrapped his hands around her ribs, spanning her back with his palms. The kiss was a far cry from the standard peck she gave Armie. It was sloppy and raw and wet. As he kissed her, Ben turned, forcing her to shuffle her feet, awkwardly. He backed her towards the front stoop, and, when she tripped on it, scooped her up in his arms.
His boots left a muddy footprint on the slick-painted red door when he kicked it shut behind him. Swaying on his feet but somehow still holding her aloft, he crossed the room in rambling, sidestepping strides. He’d lived in the little house long enough to traverse it with his eyes shut – even drunk – as Rey kissed him, pulling his ears out from under his hair and gripping them.
If Rey hadn’t been intoxicated, she might have remembered that this wasn’t the first time he’d carried her over the threshold and to bed. He’d laid her down gently then, mindful of what – who – she was carrying. Now, he threw her down and crawled over her, pining her arms at right angles and pressing his open mouth to her jugular.
They kissed like teenagers, rolling over and over in the threadbare old sheets. Each time Rey thought she had the upper hand, Ben’s heavy, reassuring weight crushed her into bed as he wriggled his knees one by one in between her thighs and spread them apart. His long limbs were unwieldy and jerky, but she only fought back half-heartedly.
Panting, he looked down at her in triumph. His eyes were still red, and now, so were his lips. He traced the length of her with his gaze, and she was reminded of the first time he’d see her naked, in that hotel room on her eighteenth birthday –
“Wait.” Rey blurted out. “I’m not even naked.”
Ben blinked down at her. He exhaled in a huff. “Huh.”
“Let’s – take your – wait, where are you going?”
On hands and knees, Ben clumsily turned back around and faced her. He pressed a hurried, reassuring kiss to the corner of her mouth. Into her lips, he mumbled, “Don’t have a condom.”
Rey scrabbled at his shoulders briefly. She didn’t take chances; not anymore. Condoms could break. “I’m on – ”
Holding her wrists, Ben reared up onto his haunches and held her off. “Don’t… tell me that.”
“What?” Rey traced his lower lip with her thumb, distracted by its plumpness and the way it rebounded against the pressure of her digit. It was pink and slick, pink and slick as she remembered the bulbous, blunt head of his dick to be. She wanted it inside her, just it. Alcohol made her more honest, and she could admit that to herself. She could admit it to him, too, apparently. She heard herself saying it.
Ben made a croaking, disbelieving noise deep in his throat. He closed his eyes, breathing hard through his nose.
“It’s okay.” She nibbled the edge of his ear. “I love these. Your ears. It’s okay. I’m on the pill.”
“Don’t – Jesus, Rey.” Ben’s temper was always worse when he was drunk. He pushed her off of him, forcefully, and ran a hand through his hair. His other hand was clenched in a fist. “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to think about you fucking someone else. I don’t want… I don’t want to think about you being married to someone else.”
“You haven’t fucked anyone else?” Apparently, alcohol not only made her more honest, it also made her less sensitive.
Ben’s mouth set in a mulish line. He didn’t say anything.
That was her answer. He looked angry, and somehow that turned her on. She needed him to be angry at her, and then to forgive her. She needed to use his body to process what she had stuffed down and avoided thinking about for five years.
“I’m engaged.” She said, to bait him.
His jaw grinded out a slow rhythm, but he was stubbornly silent, his fists curling and uncurling. He was still poised on his haunches, as if he might, at any moment, either throw her onto her back and fuck her senseless or rise off the bed and tell her to get the hell out of his house.
“You’ll fuck me anyways.” Rey realized, aloud. His voice was a harsh crackle but he was still – still – hard and bulging under the zipper of his jeans. He wasn’t making any effort to hide it either, his knees splayed, even though he was clearly making an effort not to speak. She traced the bump on the bridge of his nose, and the dip between his lips and his nostrils. When she touched his lips, he parted them and sucked for a brief, dizzying moment on the pad of her finger, as if he couldn’t help himself. “Because you’re drunk and it’s been five years – ”
Ben lunged forward and knocked her flat on her back. When, on instinct, she tried to roll away, he wrapped his arms around her midsection and pulled her back into his chest, saying in a half-growl, half-whisper, “Because I still love you.”
The words would have been sweet if they weren’t accompanied by a roll of his hips against her backside and the graze of his teeth on her neck. He wasn’t sweet as he unbuckled his belt and climbed on top of her, fumbling at the buttons of her jeans like a teenager.
Rey cried, anyways, the first tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes as she lifted her bottom so Ben could yank her jeans and underwear down in one movement that was somehow both brutally efficient and hopelessly clumsy. His hips barely fit between her thighs. Her muscles ached as they were overextended. The ache was punctuated by sharp pain when his cock pressed into her, guided by his dominant hand. He braced himself with his other hand, and, just as the head of his member bumped up against her cervix, he lost his balance, falling half-atop her with a muffled curse.
They’d never had sloppy, rough sex before. He’d always been so careful with her – first, because it was all so new, and then, because she’d been pregnant.
Ben grinned, a loopy, misplaced, giddy grin, when he lifted his head from the pillow and he was still inside of her. His smile faded when he saw that Rey was crying. When he tried to pull out – his hips wedged between hers at an awkward angle – she tangled her hands in his hair and pulled him closer with her arms and legs. “I’m not… I’m not crying because of you.”
She was crying because of him, in a way, but not in the way he had been worried about. He understood, and he understood what she needed. She closed her eyes and drifted as he moved in her, kissing and licking the tears from her cheeks. She dug her fingernails deep into the meat of his biceps, turning her head back and forth to rub the tears on her cheeks off onto his flannel-clad shoulder.
Ben was still wearing his shirt, Rey realized. She unbuttoned it, her arms wedged in between his biceps. He watched her, ducking his head as he thrust back and forth, causing the mattress to squeak and the headboard to knock gently against the wall. He pushed up her t-shirt in turn, bending to kiss each breast, probably aiming for the nipples, but missing. In frustration, he bit into the flesh on the bottom of her right breast, sending a shiver down her spine.
As Ben snaked a hand down to flick and finger her clit, Rey couldn’t stop shivering. She made embarrassing, water-logged noises as she orgasmed, squeezing her eyes tightly shut and marveling at how well he remembered her body – how to use the tip of his finger and his nail, not the soft pad, how to rub just slightly to the side of her nerve center, how to stop before she finished coming but after she got too sensitive.
“Do you want me to pull out?” His breath ghosted along her sternum as she hitched her legs higher around his hips with great effort. Her legs felt like jelly. Her abdomen felt like jelly, still wiggling with the aftershocks of her orgasm.
“No.” Rey wound her hands into the sleeves of his flannel shirt, still covering his arms, and closed her eyes. She’d been crying from relief and release. Now her body was limp with relief and release.
Ben was anything but limp. The muscles of his arms bunched under her hands, his stomach flexed against hers, and he wheezed out a half-laugh, half-groan as his thrusts sputtered out and his cum splattered out and into her, warm and sticky.
When he rolled off of her, laying on his back and breathing harshly, Rey let herself imagine that she wasn’t on the pill. She let herself imagine that they had just made another life-changing mistake. She let herself imagine they had made another baby.
She started crying again, and with a gusty sigh, Ben rolled over and onto her, holding her close.
Content warning: dubious consent (two equally intoxicated adults have sex).
Rey woke up to the meaty, salty smell of bacon. If she listened hard enough, one ear pressed into the pillow, eyes squeezed tightly shut, she could hear the sizzle of grease in a pan.
That was odd, she reflected, opening her eyes and staring at the ceiling. She didn’t smell anything burning. Ben had always burned breakfast – pancakes, eggs, French toast – when he’d endeavored to make it for her. She had begged off tasting anything he’d cooked, lying and saying she had morning sickness. It was a lucky thing he had never tried to cook dinner. He’d fussed and squawked over her long after her so-called morning sickness had subsided, never the wiser, but even he knew evening sickness wasn’t real.
Rey sat up slowly, touching the top of her head, gingerly. It was sore. She must have smacked it against the headboard. Or – her stomach churned – she was hung over. Very, very hung over. And naked. Very, very, very naked.
Her clothes were littered on the floor like puzzle pieces. She put them back together as she wobbled around, her eyes crusty and her mouth dry. Not even the smell of bacon could make it water. Gradually, she became conscious of the fact that the buzzing in her head wasn’t just in her head. Her phone was vibrating on the floor, in the back pocket of the jeans Ben had stripped off her.
Armie’s grin – a smirk she’d always found sexy – and well-coifed red hair were adorned with the words call incoming. The little green circle vibrated as her finger hovered above it. What could she say, though, if she pressed that green circle? That she was naked, with sex-hair and love-bites, in the house she used to share with her husband – oh, yes, by the way, she had a husband. She could plead for forgiveness. She could make excuses. She had been drunk when she’d fallen into bed with Ben.
Falling. That word made it seem like an accident. If Rey were honest with herself – and truly, what better time was there to be honest with herself than in the cold bare light of day – it had not been an accident. She had known it would happen. She hadn’t exactly expected Ben to cook her bacon afterwards. She certainly hadn’t expected to cry before, during, and after sex. But the sex part – she’d expected that.
Rey sent the call to voicemail and stood up, her knees knocking for a moment. She found Ben’s shirt on the floor and sniffed it for a moment. It was very soft and worn; she was tempted to slip it on. She started half-laughing, half-choking when she realized that that – putting on Ben’s shirt – would cross the line she had tripped right over the night before. She’d fucked Ben but wearing his shirt and nothing but his shirt seemed to her the ultimate betrayal of Armie. It was ludicrous.
As Rey collected each article of her clothing, she realized that Ben’s clothing was all still on the floor – pants, socks, shirt, belt. He hadn’t bothered to get dressed. She found him standing in the kitchen, the broad span of his bare back blocking the stove. His left hand was extended above his head, braced on the oak cabinets. His other wielded a spatula, the same one she had swished at him. He was prodding a piece of bacon.
His neck elongated and straightened when he heard her. He turned, quickly, nearly knocking into the handle of frying pan with his hip. His hip was bare. Below it, slung low, was a pair of white briefs. In high school, Ben would never have been secure enough in his masculinity to wear tighty-whities – especially not just tighty-whities.
They stared at each other for a long moment. The air was thick with tension and – smoke.
The bacon was burning.
“Oh, shit. Fuck. Fuck.” Ben fumbled with the pan, taking it off the heat and waving his arms frantically over it to disperse the smoke. When he turned around, looking abashed, Rey couldn’t help but smile.
“Some things never change.”
“No.” He breathed the syllable in agreement. The look in his eyes was unnerving. It was as if the way he felt about her hadn’t changed and never would. His drunken words to that effect she could dismiss as, well, drunken, but the look in his eyes was unmistakable. It was a look of naked longing – as naked as he was.
“Maybe you should put some pants on.” Rey said, weakly. His thighs, thick and pale, were distracting her. Compared to the coltish, lanky legs he’d had in high school, they were tree trunks. Hairy tree-trunks. She didn’t dare look at their undergrowth, as it were.
Ben’s face changed in an instant. He suddenly looked petulant, instead of hopeful. “No.”
“What?” Rey blinked.
Ben put his hands on his hips. It would have been an intimidating posture but because he was only wearing briefs it just looked ridiculous. His logic was just as ridiculous. “If I put pants on, we’re going to have to have a conversation I don’t want to have.”
“Please put pants on, Ben.” Rey ignored the punch of guilt in her gut. “You’re… distracting me.”
That caught him off guard. A slow, pleased smile teased his mouth. He looked down at his own crotch, seeming to evaluate the bulge tucked nearly away in his thin cotton underwear. “This is distracting you?”
Rey exhaled through her teeth. “From what I’m trying to say. What I’m supposed to say and what I’m supposed to feel.”
The humor evaporated from Ben’s face. He crossed his arms over his chest, making his muscles bulge in an even more distracting way. Very seriously, he told her, “You’re allowed to feel how you feel, Rey. You’re not supposed to feel anything.”
Rey didn’t feel the need to name the elephant in the room – she was engaged. She was supposed to love her fiancé. She was supposed to regret what she’d done. She didn’t feel regret, though, because it had seemed inevitable – she felt only gnawing guilt. “I fucked you because I felt guilty about leaving, and now I feel guilty about fucking you. I fuck everything up.”
Ben stopped savagely poking the burned bacon and braced himself on the worn Formica countertop, his arms taut. “Is that the only reason you fucked me?”
“No.” Rey whispered, seeing every muscle in his back loosen incrementally. “And I feel guilty about that, too.”
Ben turned around, wiping his hands on his bare thighs. He circled the perimeter of the little kitchen until he was directly in front of her, forcing her to tilt her head back and stumble a little, bumping into the doorframe.
His hands steadied her hips just as his kiss made her knees wobble. His breath was still a little sour from whiskey and stale from sleeping. Her arms curled around his neck of their own accord as she swayed, anchored only by his massive frame. When his teeth dug into her lower lip, she made a disgruntled noise into his mouth and he shushed into hers.
When his tongue pressed past her lips and into her mouth, her answering squeak of indignation became an mmmm.
It took Rey a moment to realize that particular wordless noise – an exaggerated, exasperated one – wasn’t one of passion. She pressed her hands to Ben’s pectorals, pushing him away, as he craned his neck to look behind him, his hands gripping her wrists as if he wanted to hold onto her if he had to take his eyes off of her for even a moment.
“You two never could keep your hands off each other.” Poe observed, wryly, examining the burnt remains of the bacon cooling in the frying pan.
“Jesus Christ, Poe.” Ben turned around, bowing up protectively, as if Rey was the one who was naked, and not him.
Poe’s brows rose incrementally. “Hey, Ben. And, ah, Little Ben.”
Ben took a step closer to him as if to say, who’s little now? “I gave you that key for emergencies, asshole.”
“This is an emergency.” Poe said, flatly. It was only then that Rey realized he was in his crisp blue uniform. “Rey, someone named Armitage Hugs showed up at the station looking for you.”
“Hux.” Rey said, faintly.
“Armitage Hugs?” Ben sounded incredulous. “You’re engaged to some guy named Armitage Hugs?”
“Hux!” Rey snapped. “And Armie – Armie is a wonderful man.”
“He’d better be wonderful.” Ben snarked. “Wonderful and forgiving – ”
“Boys and girls!” Poe waved his arms between them like a referee. “You can rip each other’s clothes – er, heads – off later. I gave him the address – I mean, it was before I put two and two together – ”
“He has an English accent, you idiot!” Rey wailed. “How hard could it be to put two and two together?”
“You gave him this address?” Ben choked.
“Put some damn pants on.” Rey rounded on Ben. “He could be here any minute – ”
“I’m not putting pants on in my own fucking house.” Ben snarled.
“I gave him your parents’ address.” Poe interrupted their spat.
“Wait, what?” Ben stopped short in his blustering. “Why?”
“He asked where the Solos live. Plural.”
“You…” Ben’s gaze burned into Rey’s cheek. She stared at the floor, suddenly unable to look at him. “You kept my name?”
“Yes.” Rey toed the threadbare rug under the kitchen sink. She did have an explanation for why she had kept the name Rey Solo, but she had a feeling it wouldn’t satisfy him. He’d want to know if there was some ulterior motive, some lingering feeling that had prompted her to cling to her married name. “Your parents always felt like… like they were mine, too. It just seemed easier to pretend they really were and not tell him about...”
“About me.” Ben said, flatly. When Rey was mute, he went on, his voice a rusty croak, “And you’re still not going to tell him about me. You – you show up, make love to me – ”
“Still here.” Poe muttered. “I’m still here.”
“ – and then run back to your perfect, fake life with Armitage Hugs.”
“Hux.” Rey bleated, too ashamed of herself to be too angry at him. She wished he’d used the word fuck instead of make love. It made her infidelity seem more detached, less intimate.
“Fuck him!” Ben’s voice reached a fever pitch rapidly. There it was – that word. It wasn’t the context she’d been hoping for. But now he that he’d started saying it, he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He was breathing hard, his nostrils flaring. “Fuck him. And fuck you. Just – fuck!”
“Ben.” Rey didn’t even try to defend herself as he kicked at the base of the dingy refrigerator. Poe looked like he’d rather be anywhere else. She’d rather be anywhere else.
Because Ben was right. After all this time, he knew her better than anyone. He knew what a horrible person she was. She hadn’t deserved him, she hadn’t deserved to be a mother, and she sure as hell didn’t deserve Armie.
“Rey.” Poe said, after a long silence punctuated only by Ben’s labored breathing. “Let’s go.”
“Wait.” Ben said, raggedly. He stalked into the living room, and in the deafening silence, the scratch of pen on paper was loud and clear. He came back into the kitchen, thrusting the manila paperwork and divorce petition into her hands. The papers were wrinkled as if he’d fretted over them for hours. Now, he was signing them – just like that. He wouldn’t even look at her. “There.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Rey managed, sniffling, and taking the papers. “He’s not going to want to marry me now.”
Ben’s throat bobbed. “What?”
“I’m going to tell him.” Rey folded the papers over and over in her hands. “About you, about the baby, about last night – all of it.”
Ben considered her for a long moment, and he when he finally spoke, she realized that she’d subconsciously wanted him to think that she was a good person. She wanted him to love her. She wanted to be worthy of him loving her. That was why his reaction – or lack thereof – hurt so badly.
His words were a defeated wheeze. “Rey, I don’t fucking care.”
BUCKLE UP MOTHERFUCKERS
P.S. Ben might hate Rey right now but you shouldn't! She probably would have jumped back into bed with Ben - sober! - if Armie hadn't shown up and she hadn't panicked. And of course Ben, with his abandonment issues, jumped to conclusions and assumed she would drop him like a hot potato for Armie. Would she have, though? Hmmmm.
Rey had always suspected that Leia and Han were each possessed of a poker face. After all, all those years ago, they’d been able to serve her chicken and dumplings with a straight face and ask how she’d done on her calculus test mere minutes after finding their son cramming his fingers into her panties on his twin bed.
She’d also always known that Han and Leia would do anything for her. They would have taken her to a clinic to have an abortion, no questions asked. They would have footed the bill. They’d served as witnesses for her wedding, co-signed the mortgage on their ramshackle, foreclosed house, fixed her old car when it broke down, and paid the hospital bills when she’d lost the baby.
Rey would never have dreamed of asking Han and Leia to pretend to be her parents. She’d described them in loving terms to Armie and thanked her lucky stars he’d believed her when she’d said they were afraid of airplanes.
As it turned out, she didn’t have to ask.
“Darling,” Armitage Hux rose fluidly from the table – he moved so differently than huge, lumbering Ben – and kissed her cheek. He didn’t miss her mouth, he just didn’t aim for it. “Your mum made proper tea at the drop of a hat – in a pot and saucers. I thought Americans only drank out of chipped coffee mugs. The scones are lovely.”
Rey froze in the crook of his arm, looking desperately between Han and Leia. Leia arched a brow, as if daring her to speak. With a horrible sinking feeling, Rey realized that Han and Leia had played along, not simply out of the kindness of their hearts, but because they wanted her to squirm.
“Darling,” Armie repeated. “Are you quite all right?”
“I… I’m a bit shocked you’re here.” Rey bleated, feebly.
“It was very rude of me to come here unannounced. I hope you don’t mind.” Armie’s lips twitched fondly. “I was worried when you didn’t answer your mobile.”
Rey faltered, speechless. How long had been since she had answered his messages or returned his calls? Days? A week?
“No cell service around here.” Han grunted, supplying her with an excuse. It was a lie, of course. Another lie. “We all use landlines and carrier pigeons.”
Hux laughed, looking at Rey as if expecting her to laugh with equal abandon. She managed a weak smile. “It is remote, isn’t it? It’s brilliant.”
“Brilliant.” Rey echoed.
“Rey,” Leia narrowed her eyes. “Be a dear and get a bottle of champagne from the basement.”
Rey flushed; she knew where the booze was. Leia knew she knew where the booze was. She and Ben had snuck plenty of it.
“Oh, not on my account – ” Hux protested. “It’s only – good Lord, it is only eleven?”
“Nonsense.” Leia’s eyes never left Rey’s. “We’re celebrating.”
Rey had barely had a moment to rest her spinning head against the cool concrete wall of the basement, her heart thundering in her ears, when Han’s heavy, lumbering steps resounded on the wooden steps. For a moment, she thought she heard Ben coming down into the cool, dark basement. Their gaits were so similar.
Han crossed his arms over his chest, frowning at her. Bluntly, he asked, “Did you lie and say we were your parents because you were embarrassed?”
“Yes.” Rey said, in a small voice.
Han seemed inexplicably disappointed. “Why?”
“I didn’t want him to know that my parents were drunks and that I grew up in a foster home.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Han’s brow creased even deeper, if that was possible. “Did you lie because you were embarrassed that you were married to my son?”
Rey exhaled in a rush, understanding. “No.”
“Then why didn’t you want him to know?”
“Because….” Rey sucked in a breath. She felt cornered. She wished she were anywhere but here, with the man she could never lie too, no matter how much she’d lied to herself over the years. “Because I didn’t want him to know that – ” Rey caught herself, her cheeks burning. “I didn’t want him to think that I still... Ben was my – my first love. That sounds like I was protecting Armie but really I was protecting myself. I didn’t want him to know that I was damaged goods.”
Han regarded her thoughtfully, as if her stumbled, stuttered explanation had made perfect sense. “Do you love him?”
These words came out even more fractured. “I’m – I do, but I’m not I’m still in love with him, but I – ”
“I don’t mean Ben.” Han interrupted, wryly.
“Oh.” Rey flushed at her Freudian slip. “You mean Armie. Yes. He’s a wonderful man. He’s so kind.” She wasn’t sure why she resisted saying the words I love him aloud.
Han nodded, slowly, and then abruptly changed the conversation. “Pick a bottle yet?”
“I’ve always had cheap taste in alcohol.” Rey admitted, looking at the wine rack.
“That’s not true.” Han smirked. “You two stole a sixty-dollar bottle we’d been saving for our anniversary, once.”
“Oh, God.” Rey covered her eyes. “I’m sorry.” Han laughed, but the pang of guilt ran deeper than just the bottle of wine. Lowering her hands, Rey said, soberly, “I’m so sorry, Han.”
Han picked up a curvaceous, dusty bottle, seemingly at random. “You need to tell him the truth. We’re not going to do it for you.”
Han nodded, as if he’d expected nothing less of her. “Sometimes being an adult means having tough conversations.”
Rey almost laughed. It felt oddly familiar to be on the receiving end of Han’s advice. She’d rolled her eyes at it more often than not in her youth. “I’m twenty-three, Han.”
“You’re still my kid.” Han looked like he wanted to ruffle her hair, and then thought better of it. It was already mussed from sex and being slept on at an odd angle. Instead, he offered her his arm, almost gallantly. “No matter what. You’re always my kid.”
Overwhelmed, Rey turned her face into his bicep, hiding it for a moment, and squeezed his forearm. In step, the climbed the wooden stairs.
“Armie,” Rey said, with the kind of quiet dignity she’d never thought she had, and the air of a woman headed to the gallows, “Can we speak privately?”
Leia exhaled, slowly, her whole body deflating with relief. Armie gamely followed Rey onto the front porch. She sat on the stoop, feeling for all the world like a sixteen-year-old again, and remembered how she used to sit in that very spot and watch Ben mow his father’s lawn. Han made him do it for free. Ben always grumbled but complied.
As a teenager, Rey had sat on the worn steps and imagined that this house, with its fresh-baked-spaghetti smell and sprawling porch, was her home. It was so different than the dank foster home she’d grown up, full of awkward silences and television dinners. When she and Ben had moved into their own house, she’d wanted it to be like Leia and Han’s house – hanging curtains, trying and failing to cook Italian food, and laughing a lot.
“You never call me Armitage. This must be serious.”
“Yes.” Rey didn’t mince words. She knew she’d lose her nerve if she did. “Han and Leia are my father and mother – ”
When she faltered, her throat catching, Armie prompted, “Yes?”
“In law.” Rey cleared her throat. “They’re my father and mother in law. I was – I am married to their son.”
There was a long, awful silence, and then, in a shockingly mild tone, Armie said, “Hold the phone. You’re married?”
“I’m married.” The next words tasted like chalk in light of the fact that she’d revisited her marital bed the night before. “Technically.”
“I see.” Armie sounded almost cold. It panicked her.
“We’ve been separated for – for five years.”
“Five years?” Armie’s brow furrowed. “But… you’re very young.”
Rey burst into near-hysterical laughter. “Is that really the most scandalous part of this?”
Armie huffed a half-laugh. “No.”
They sat in silence for a moment, almost companionably, and Rey realized that he – the dear, patient man – was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This was the hardest part. “We were very young. I got – I was pregnant. When I was eighteen.”
“Rey – ”
Rey cut her fiancé off before he could ask the question. She didn’t want to even hear the words do you have a child? It hurt too much to say that no, she didn’t, when she should. “I lost the baby, but we’d already gotten married for appearances sake.”
Hux looked at his smooth, uncalloused hands – another part of him so different from Ben. “Just for appearances sake?”
Rey had said, over and over, that they had only married out of necessity. She’d said it to hurt Ben, but also to make herself feel better. It made her feel less guilty for leaving after she’d lost the baby. It helped her convince herself that there had been no reason to stay.
Since she was baring her guilty soul, she couldn’t keep up the charade. “No. We were in love. We were very much in love.”
“I see.” Armie looked out over the quiet street, his lower lip twisting between his teeth. She had just made up her mind to tell him the rest – the worst – of it when he asked, “Did you have sex with him?”
For a moment, Rey thought he was asking a question he already knew the answer to – of course they’d had sex. They’d gotten pregnant, after all. Then, she realized that he was cleverer than she gave him credit for. “It was an accident.”
Armie hummed. “You just tripped and fell into bed, is that it?”
Rey made an awkward sobbing noise in her throat. “I came here to make him sign a divorce petition so that I could marry you. I love you.”
In that moment, it was entirely true. He hadn’t stormed off. He hadn’t screamed or called her a slut. He just looked sad. “Do you still love him?”
“It’s been five years, Armie.”
“That wasn’t the answer I was hoping for.”
“I left him.”
“That still isn’t the answer I was hoping for.”
Rey exhaled slowly. “I can’t give you the answer you’re hoping for, Armie. Part of me – part of me will always love him.”
She fully expected Armitage to walk down the path, get into his rental car, drive to the airport, and fly back to London. He did stand up, and her heart seized. Then, he turned on his heel. “Can I have the rest of you?”
“What?” Rey asked, blearily.
“The answer I was hoping for wasn’t no, Rey.”
Rey took a deep breath, realizing what he meant. He wanted her to be honest with him. “Yes, I love him.”
When he didn’t say anything, Rey thought she’d made an awful miscalculation. She began to wriggle her engagement ring off of her finger. Kneeling, Armie stopped her. “You love him. You love me. Chose me.”
Rey gaped. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am completely serious.” Armie deadpanned. “I am not an unrealistic man. I’ve been in love before. Very much in love. I never told you because I was afraid you’d think I still loved her.”
“And I would be right?” Rey guessed, suddenly feeling hopeful that he did understand her.
“Yes.” Armie admitted. He was still holding her hand, kneeling on the front path. “I haven’t gone and had sex with her, but – ”
“God, I’m so sorry, Armie.”
“She destroyed me, when she left. It was three years ago, and my heart still isn’t whole. But what’s left of my heart, you can have.” Armie kissed the back of her hand. “I chose you. Will you chose me?”
Ok, so in keeping with Sweet Home Alabama, Hux is A Saint. I tried very hard to make him sympathetic and to make you believe that they love each other, in a way that's totally different from how Ben and Rey loved and love each other. So if you were expecting Hux to be evil and make Rey's decision to leap back into Ben's bed - er, arms, easier... I'm sorry.
Rey opened her mouth, rounding it to say no. She did. She knew she ought to. She knew it was unfair to Armie to say anything but no.
In Poe’s patrol car, she’d folded and unfolded the divorce petition, examining Ben’s signature. It was a messy scrawl made messier by emotion. Or maybe it had just been made messier by the fact that her husband had been in a hurry – in a hurry to be rid of her. I don’t fucking care, he’d said.
Rey swallowed hard, looking searchingly at her fiance’s earnest face. His brow was creased. His breath was baited. He cared.
“Okay.” She said, lamely, and then, remembering what he’d said and not just the general gist of it, she elaborated, almost fiercely, as if she were convincing Armie and herself both, “I chose you. I will. I do.”
Armie grinned. “I do. I like the sound of that.”
Rey blinked at him, disarmed. She hadn’t ever said those words. She’d said yes, when the judge had asked whether she took Benjamen Charles Solo to be her lawfully wedded husband. She’d stammered yes, more like. She’d been so nervous. Ben’s lips had twitched at her misstep – the first smile that had reached his eyes all week – and the kindly judge hadn’t corrected her.
Ben had said I do, in a sonorous, formal sounding voice. He hadn’t gotten nervous and fucked their vows all up. He’d been so sure of himself and sure he was doing right by her.
Armie was still speaking, Rey became distantly aware. She forced herself to nod and smile. It was only after she had that she realized he had used the word elopement.
“I don’t want to wait, Rey.” Armie squeezed her hand. “I’d marry you tomorrow, at a magistrate, wearing a wrinkled business suit – ”
“No.” Rey heard herself interject. Elopement was the fancy-sounding sister of what she and Ben had done. They’d run off to a courthouse. They hadn’t painstakingly addressed invitations or tasted cake or gone to a florist’s shop. She’d worn a pink floral dress – peach, really – because she didn’t own anything white and it didn’t seem quite right to wear white when she’d gone and gotten pregnant, in any case. Ben had borrowed his father’s suit – the one he’d worn to his bar mitzvah had been too short by then. They hadn’t told a soul of their plans, save his parents. “I want – I want a great big wedding. I want a bloody tiered cake and a white dress I can hardly sit in and a three-piece string quartet. I’m not sure what the Anglican Church’s stance is on divorce but – ”
Armie was kissing her, so she shut up. If he tasted salt when he kissed her, he didn’t say anything.
Over the next two months, it became abundantly clear to Rey that she did not, in fact, want a great big wedding. She told herself that it was because she hated the details and appointments and lace, but in reality, she just didn’t want a great big wedding. She never had.
A great big wedding had only seemed like a brilliant idea because it was so different from her wedding to Ben. She had thought planning a great big wedding would help her forget her modest first wedding. The word wedding didn’t even seem appropriate for what she and Ben had had. It had been a marriage, but hardly a wedding.
Rey had intended to do something different to forget her first marriage but everything – frills and fluff and fondant – reminded her of her first marriage. Appointments with potential caterers didn’t help her forget that Ben’s mother had made a pork loin roast and a chocolate cake after her first wedding. Picking wedding bands made her twist her ring finger between her thumb and index finger, remembering how Ben had never had a wedding ring, and she’d only ever had a borrowed ring. Leia hadn’t ever let her return it, so she would be borrowing it for the rest of her days. Browsing honeymoon destinations made her smile almost fondly as she remembered the two weeks they’d spent in Ben’s narrow single bed before they had closed on the bungalow. Like true saints, Han and Leia had cosigned the mortgage on the bungalow and even pretended to be deaf for two weeks with newlyweds living under their roof. It must had been a hard habit to break, scolding them for fooling around.
Things came to a head when Rey tried on her wedding gown two days before her wedding, a blustery day in late March. It was a lacy, gorgeous confection of a thing. She burst into tears.
“You’re English.” The tailor told her, handing her a pressed kerchief. “Stiff upper lip, darling.”
Rey nodded, choking into the kerchief. “It really is beautiful.”
She had never been the type of girl to envision herself in a white dress. If she had been, this was what she would have envisioned. She looked, somehow, equally innocent and sophisticated. She was neither, but she looked the part.
“Very lovely.” Armie’s sister, an Amazonian woman with short hair, a penchant for smart suits for all occasions, and a girlfriend who played in the London Symphony Orchestra, personified the concept of stiff upper lip. Even her compliments were reserved and crisp. “Old, new, borrowed… what have you borrowed?”
A piece of heirloom lace from Armie’s late mother’s wedding veil was sewed into Rey’s skirts, buried in chiffon. That was her something old. Her shoes were silk, white, and somehow, completely clean – because they were new. This, her wedding day, was their debut. A robin’s egg blue ribbon gathered her bouquet of pink and peach flowers.
On her right hand, Rey wriggled on her – Leia’s mother’s – engagement ring. The modest diamond winked at her. It was small and mounted on burnished yellow gold. It almost comically mismatched her platinum, haloed engagement ring from Armie. She’d fished it out of her luggage and hidden it away for two months while she planned the most extravagant wedding that could reasonably be planned on such a short timeline.
If she spent a lot of money on cakes and flowers and table settings, she’d reasoned, she couldn’t possibly get cold feet, no matter how many nights she’d spent sobbing in the shower where Armie couldn’t hear her. She’d feel too guilty.
She felt guilty, now as she twisted the slim, worn yellow gold band. She wanted to wear it today, against all reason. She had spent years trying to forget her first marriage. Now, she knew she would never could or would. “This was my – my grandmother’s ring.”
It was an easy lie. She’d lied to Armie, after all, and told him that Leia was her mother. Following that lie’s logic, Padme had been her grandmother.
Gwen smiled tightly. She repeated, “Lovely.”
There came a knock at the door. “Gwennie, are you girls in there?”
Sounding almost bored, Gwen shot back, “Go away, Arm, it’s bad luck.”
“Bother, I don’t believe in all that.” Armitage came in, looking dapper in his white smoking jacket. “You look very lovely, Rey.”
Rey wondered, for a brief, hysterical, moment, whether British people knew any other adjectives. “Thank you.”
“Gwennie,” Armie didn’t look away from Rey, beaming. “You look lovely, too.”
“Oh bugger off, you haven’t even looked at me.” Gwen laughed. She kissed each of their cheeks in turn and went to the door to make herself scarce. “Oh, hullo, you can’t come in here.”
Rey craned past her tall future sister-in-law. Her lawyer was awkwardly lingering in the door. His business suit was rumpled and shabby. She hadn’t had the funds to pay for a posh lawyer and hadn’t wanted to dip into Armie’s to divorce her then-secret ex-husband.
“It’s all right, Gwen.” Rey glanced nervously at Armitage. “Hello, Richard.”
“Ms. Solo – Mrs. Hux – Ms. Solo.” Her lawyer seemed perpetually out-of-breath. “So sorry – there’s been a mistake – so, so sorry.”
Rey’s blood turned to ice. “What mistake?”
Her attorney made a terribly embarrassed noise. “Er – the papers – the signature – well, it wasn’t. It wasn’t signed.”
Rey felt her cheeks burn. “He… he signed.”
She gestured, awkwardly, at the wrinkled divorce petition her attorney clutched in his sweaty, meaty hands, not wanting to say exactly what Ben had signed. Even though Armie knew about her divorce – and prior marriage – she hated the word divorce.
When her lawyer just blinked at her dumbly, she clarified, through gritted teeth, remembering Ben’s anger and indifference towards her, “He signed the papers.”
“He did.” The attorney furrowed his brow. “You didn’t.”
Rey froze. Her flush must have spread from her cheeks, down her throat, and under the delicate lace neckline of her wedding gown. Her ears buzzed.
“Oh.” Rey heard herself say.
“So if you’ll – I’m so glad I got here in time – congratulations, by the way, massive congratulations.” Her lawyer was rambling and she realized, distantly, that he was holding out the wrinkled petition and a fountain pen.
Her arm was heavy as concrete by her side. No matter how awkwardly the attorney shifted on his feet or wiggled the pen enticingly, she couldn’t take it. She didn't want to take it, to feel its heaviness in her hand, the same hand that wore her wedding ring. She stared at it dumbly.
“I… I didn’t sign.” Her voice sounded funny. Almost relieved that she hadn't done what couldn't be undone. She hadn't closed that door for good. This wedding to Armitage wasn't a foregone conclusion.
After another agonizingly long silence that could have lasted a moment or an era, Armie reached over and lifted her veil, tucking it back and exposing her bright-red face. Rey nearly stammered that they weren’t to that part yet when he leaned in and kissed her cheeks in an almost brotherly way. First her left, then her right.
When he pulled away, he said, with a sad, half-smile, completely ignoring her befuddled attorney and the pen he was brandishing, “That’s how the French say goodbye, isn’t it?”
All that’s left is the epilogue - would you rather see it in Ben’s POV or Rey’s?
“You want people to be able to see the sign, Ben.” Han commented, dryly.
Ben paused, looking down at the wooden stake he’d been hammering into the ground. Mounted on it was a stark red and white sign: for sale. He’d driven the stake so deep that the sign was nearly imbedded in the lawn.
He didn’t tell his father, but he didn’t want people to see the sign. Not yet. He just wanted to put the sign out to prove something. To prove he wasn’t the pathetic, hung-up guy Rey saw him as, eager to jump back into bed with her and easy to walk out on when the whim struck her –
Han cleared his throat, as if sensing his son’s train of thought. “How much are you listing it for?”
Ben glanced at the bungalow. He’d improved it since they bought with a check made out by Han and Leia for a down payment. He’d fixed the gutters, replaced the siding, power-washed the concrete steps, painted the door a glossy red, ripped up the linoleum in the kitchen and laid tile, refinished the wood floors, splashed fresh white paint on the walls, and scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed until his arms were sore. It had been a labor of love, as if he were preparing for her arrival, week after week, year after year.
“Two-hundred.” Ben heard himself say, very seriously, as he counted the neat shingles on the roof.
Han choked. “Thousand?”
“You’re right.” Ben conceded. “One-ninety.”
Han blinked at him. “You think it’s worth one-ninety?”
The bungalow would never sell for one-hundred and ninety thousand dollars. It would never sell for ninety-thousand dollars. That was – or wasn’t, depending on one’s point of view – the point. Ben kicked a clod of dirt. “I think… I think it’s worth two-hundred. I’ll let it go for one-ninety.”
Han sighed, heavily. He slapped him between the shoulder blades, making him jump. He humored his son, very, very kindly. “So what about when it sells? Should we make up your old room?”
Ben laughed humorlessly. “I don’t fit in that bed anymore.”
“You never did.”
“I’m building my own house.” Ben said, by roundabout way of answering. “Out on the old Miller property, off of forty-two. I just poured the foundation.”
Han frowned. “Miller sold you his lot?”
“Colon cancer.” Ben tucked his hands in his pockets. “It’s twelve acres. You know, so I don’t have to be around anyone.”
Han touched his shoulder again, almost gently, as if he sensed the bitterness behind Ben’s joke. “I’m proud of you, son.”
Ben looked down at his work boots. They matched his father’s almost exactly – crusted in loam and grass clippings and sawdust. When he’d decided to marry Rey rather than go to college, he’d hoped to become his father – a provider, a father, married, for the most part happily, a business owner, a homeowner, with a few gray hairs to show for it all.
Building his own home had been a dream, but one he’d held at arm’s length for years despite having the skills and funds to pursue it. He hadn’t wanted to build a house that would sit empty. He had wanted to build a home for his family – one like his father had built.
Ben studied the for sale sign. Maybe in a week, he’d find it in himself to lower the price by twenty-thousand. Then, another twenty-thousand, and another, until he was honestly ready to sell it and let go of what he’d thought his life would be.
Leia had insisted, lately, that Ben eat dinner with them more often than not. She made his favorites, ad nauseum. He ate politely and tried to ignore the anxious looks his parents exchanged over meatloaf. He rumbled home in his truck and slept on the couch. Every week, he lowered the price on the bungalow and worked after hours and on weekends out on the old Miller land. One weekend he was particularly ambitious and put up the rough framework and lowered the price by forty-thousand, in one fell swoop of manic activity.
On the day Ben started insulating the rough framework, having winced and paid the plumber to lay pipes, and wrestled with the wiring himself, risking electrocution, it began to rain in great sheets. He had checked the forecast, like any contractor worth his salt, but stubbornly ignored the red swirling towards New Alderaan on the radar. Building his house was therapeutic, even after a long day building other people’s houses. The alternative was sitting numbly on the sofa and staring at the television, and that was just depressing.
So Ben had ignored the ominious forecast.
Swearing, he ran around the slab of the house, all twenty-eight hundred square feet of it, dodging timbers and grabbing tarps and tools, his staple-gun in hand. He stopped short when he heard his name through the dull roar of the rain falling on exposed concrete.
Rey was standing in between the pine framework, her arms wrapped around herself, soaked to the skin. “Hello.”
Ben realized, too late, that he was brandishing his staple-gun like an actual gun, pointing it right at her. She flinched. Reflexively, he lowered the tool.
“I deserved that.” Rey rubbed her biceps. She wasn’t dressed for the weather – no anorak or scarf or hat. Stupid leather boots that were supposed to look nice, not keep her feet dry or protected from nails or gravel. She looked like a drowned rat. She was completely out of place in a construction zone. Ben hated that he found that endearing, after everything that had happened.
“What are you doing here?” Ben winced as soon as he spoke. His question sounded harsher than he’d intended it to, and, in conjunction with the staple-gun, more threatening.
“I wanted to tell you that I know – I know you didn’t blame me for what happened. To the baby.” Rey squared her shoulders.
“Rey – ”
“Just shut up and let me say this, all right? Then we can scream at each other like we always do. I know you didn’t blame me for what happened to the baby or for getting pregnant in the first place. I know that you loved me just for me and not just because I was pregnant. I know you only ever wanted to take care of me and I didn’t let you."
“I don’t want to scream at you.” Ben said, by way of responding. Because he was emotionally constipated, he added, “I’m selling our – the house.”
“I know.” Rey blinked rainwater furiously out of her eyes. “I saw the sign. I think you’ve underpriced it.”
“I – oh.” Disarmed, Ben pushed his wet hair out of his face, retreating beneath an overhand despite the fact that his flannel jacket was already completely soaked. “You’re joking.”
“Yes.” Rey looked as if she wasn’t sure whether she were allowed to joke.
Taking a deep breath, Ben forced himself to be – shit, what did his father always say? The bigger man. Rey wasn’t a man – God, even now, he was so aware of that – but he tried his damnest to be the bigger man. “I don’t want it to sell too fast. I won’t have anywhere to live.”
Rey bit her lip, looking around. She seemed, oddly, completely unhurried. It was a stark contrast to how frantic she’d been to make amends and make their divorce final when she’d come back to New Alderaan two months prior. “Why are you out working in this weather?”
“Oh…” Ben rubbed the back of his neck, trying not to feel the warmth in his belly that he still, still felt when he saw concern crease her brow. She always fretted when he worked late, or in the ice and snow, or in the rain, or on a weekend. He secretly loved it. “Important… client.”
Rey swung herself slowly around a pine post, looking around at the maze of framed walls. Realization dawned on her face. “Are you – is this house yours?”
Ruefully, Ben looked around at the sopping insulation. “I don’t know if it’s really a house, yet.”
“It’s beautiful.” Rey said, sincerely. Her sincerity was something he’d always admired about her. Even if she was wrong – and she was, a lot – she really meant what she said.
“I needed to build something new. I kept fixing up that old house.” Ben heard himself saying, as he stroked the pine framing almost lovingly. “Like I was hoping you’d come back. I wanted to make it better and better – but not change too much – so you – you’d… so when you figured out that I didn't blame you, I never blamed you, you'd... ah, fuck it.”
Bene stopped rambling; Rey’s eyes were red-rimmed. If it hadn’t been raining, he suspected her cheeks would have been wet with tears anyways. Haltingly, she said, “Have you met someone? Someone… else?”
“What?” Ben grunted. The thought had hardly occurred to him, though it probably should have. “No.”
“I thought – the house…” Rey gestured around.
“No.” Ben shook his head. “It’s just for me. I just needed to do it for me.”
“I’m glad.” Rey croaked. “Because I’m married.”
Ben had been trying to be polite and distant, the way he would be with a stranger, the way his mother had raised him to be, but something inside him just crumpled when she said that. He’d been lulled into believing, just as he had that night two months ago when she’d come to him and made love to him, that she was as stuck in his orbit as he was in hers. “Christ – why the fuck are you – ?”
“To you.” Rey blurted out. “I’m married to you.”
Ben worked his mouth for a moment, silently. He had to chew his words so that they didn’t come out too profane. “I… I signed the divorce papers.”
In a completely surreal moment, Rey smiled, the rain dripping off her chin. “I didn’t.”
The first thing Ben did was pinch his own arm. When he didn’t wake up, he punched the framing of the house, hard. It was sturdy. It could take the force of his fist. He’d built it, after all.
When he turned back to Rey, she looked almost afraid. Very slowly, Ben repeated, “You didn’t.”
“You didn’t sign.”
“I didn’t.” Rey looked like she was almost daring him to ask why she hadn’t. Her face was full of naked longing. “I don’t want to.”
“Why… why not?”
Rey didn’t answer the question. She looked almost confused, herself, for a moment. “Do you know why I married you, Ben?”
Ben furrowed his brow. As much as he wished that the answer was because they had been madly in love, he needed to be realistic. Even if this felt like a dream, he needed to be realistic. She wasn’t here because she still wanted to be married to him. There must have been some sort of mistake. “Because you were pregnant.”
“Yes, but also so I could kiss you whenever I wanted.” Rey stuck out her chin. “Ask me again. Ask me why I’m here.”
Ben shifted on his feet, something like hope making him lightheaded. “Why… why are you here?”
Rey stood up on her tiptoes, gripping his face between her two wet hands. “So I can kiss you.”
When he didn’t move, stunned, she said, in a half-whisper, as if they were still kids sneaking around, “Kiss me, Ben.”
“I thought…” Ben closed his eyes for a moment, and then made a strangled noise. He realized, after a moment, that it was an absurd laugh. “But I thought you were going to kiss me.”
Rey grinned up at him, mascara running, hair stringy, clothes clinging, and when she did, she looked eighteen again.
So was this the last chapter or the epilogue? I can't decide. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye.
P.S. Am I writing a Christmas story? You bet your butts I am. Stay tuned.
Two days after her sixth wedding anniversary, Rey had a miscarriage. It was a mere four days after she’d taken a pregnancy test. She sat on the toilet in the bathroom, naked from the waist down, feeling numb. She could have used a maxi-pad and gone about her day, but she didn’t want to move. She wanted to sit and mourn, if only for a moment. It seemed silly to mourn something she’d only known about for four days – she’d hardly had time to get attached – but she wanted to. She hadn’t gotten to mourn the loss of her first child. Even if this – whatever it was – didn’t feel like a child yet, she wanted to mourn… it.
When Ben came home, he shouted through the house, in a sing-song voice that meant he’d had a good day on the job, “Hon-ey?”
“I’m in the bathroom.” Rey yelled back, leaning against the white porcelain toilet water tank. Her husband’s heavy footsteps approached the doors. They echoed on the wide-planked flooring. She loved that flooring. She’d picked it herself. The lumber had been rescued from an old barn.
“You want some ginger ale?” Ben spoke through the door. He sounded almost giddy at the prospect that she was sick to her stomach.
Rey looked down at her feet. She stubbornly refused to look between her thighs into the toilet. She didn’t want to see the joltingly red blood. “I’m having a miscarriage.”
There was a long, awful silence. Ben cleared his throat. “Are you sure?”
Rey felt the gentle spasm of a cramp. If she hadn’t taken a pregnancy test already – and shown it to Ben, who’d grinned ear-to-ear, picked her up, set her on the bathroom counter, and kissed her tummy – she would have thought this was her period, and that it was late. “Yes.”
She heard the weight of his palm settle on the closed door. “Can I do anything – I know I can’t, but can I do anything to make you feel better?”
Rey blinked at the mirror. She looked strangely stoic in it. “No.”
Ben retreated; Rey found him in the kitchen later, when she’d showered and gotten dressed and splashed cold water on her face. He was clumsily chopping tomatoes to make tomato sauce. He was a terrible cook so it touched her that he would try to follow in his mother’s footsteps of making Italian food to comfort her.
“I’m sorry.” Rey leaned on the kitchen island, watching the tense muscles of his back move under his t-shirt. They hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, but they hadn’t gotten pregnant by accident, either. They knew better than anyone that all it took was one time to make a baby. They’d known exactly what they were doing that one time they had unprotected sex – and the two or three times after that. They’d had too many drinks at Poe’s wedding – the first gay wedding in the county, Poe had proudly, drunkenly, and, Rey hoped, jokingly proclaimed at the reception – and snuck away from the Sheraton ballroom to their hotel room. Ben had taken the proffered condom from between her fingers, tossed it across the room very dramatically, and fucked her raw between the cake-cutting and the garter toss.
Ben set down the knife and leaned heavily on the poured-concrete countertop. His arms were outspread and taut. “Are you going to leave?”
The guilt that lanced through Rey was worse than the grief over the miscarriage. It was worse than the niggling fear that she would never be a mother. She felt her eyes prick and suddenly she wasn’t numb anymore. “No.”
Ben exhaled loudly. He turned, crossed the kitchen in three long strides, and kissed her forehead. “Then don’t be sorry.”
A week later, when they were lying in bed, listening to the wonderfully deafening silence of the woods with the windows opens, Ben rumbled, “I don’t want to use condoms anymore.”
Rey blinked at the ceiling. She’d wondered whether they would be adults and talk about this before the next time they fell into bed after a few drinks. Ben was, as always, the one to act like an adult. “You don’t have to.”
“If I know you aren’t going to leave, no matter what, then I’m not afraid of – whatever happens, happens.”
Rey looked over at him in the dark. He was watching her very intently, as if waiting for her answer. Reaching over, she squeezed his hand. “I’m not going to leave.”
“Whatever happens?” Ben prodded, his voice thick as if he’d been crying.
Rey felt, somehow, like she was making a deeper commitment to him than she had on their wedding day, as it were. “Whatever happens. For better or for worse.”
Two more miscarriages happened. Things got worse before they got better. But a week shy of their eighth anniversary, at four-thirty in the morning, on the first day of Spring, something magical happened. Their boy was born, squalling, red-faced, and, to everyone’s surprise, completely bald.
The first time that Rey held him, staring at his scrunched-up face under the bright lights of the operating theatre while her obstetrician sewed her up behind a surgical drape and Ben held her hand, Rey let go of the fears that had curdled in her belly month after month, year after year – the fear that she didn’t deserve a baby, that Ben would leave her if she never had a baby, that she wasn’t meant to be a mother.
She looked at her boy and knew she was meant to be a mother – this boy’s mother.
I’m sorry this was not the happy, sexy romp of an epilogue that many of you were hoping for. But I think it was important to show them coming, in a sense, full circle - which is to say that they experienced more loss and Rey didn’t run away. If anything, it brought them closer.
Also, I started a new story! It’s a Christmas story because I’m a sap and kind of off-beat, because, well. It’s called Home (for Christmas) and it would be aces if you checked it out.