Rey should not turn the volume all the way up.
It’s not good for her ears, and with her headphones she also doesn’t realize it when the small movements of her head make her chair squeak to the rhythm of the music -although when that happens she can count on Sanchez to come and wordlessly yank on the cord.
If she doesn’t make a conscious effort to just mouth them, she often catches herself muttering along the very repetitive lyrics of the late 90’s-early 2000’s European house music she’s particularly fond of. Which means her colleagues have to put up with her whisper-singing that she can’t waaaait for the week! end! to! begin! - since they all work in the same open space, save for the manager, of course, who has an actual office down the hall.
Rey’s job title is operation analyst . It means she’s in charge of technical support -for sixteen employees total, manager included. She’s not in any danger of getting overwhelmed.
Even so, her mission in life is to do as little as possible without getting fired.
The forty-something year old man she replaced a year and a half ago, was let go by people higher up for taking too much sick leave -due to pretty debilitating depressive episodes, she was told. Rey’s never been absent once. But she’ll be damn if she actually makes an effort.
And it’s no secret around the office either. Most of her coworkers have identified her as a self-indulging half-asser within the two months following the end of her trial period.
She can’t imagine anyone working here for a reason other than that they couldn’t get a job anywhere else. But she could be wrong. Some people are alienated to this system enough that they believe they’re playing an important role no matter what they do for a living , her inner emo teen self scoffs.
She takes twice as long as she should to complete a task, no matter what task, because she takes many breaks. Doodling, checking twitter, eating, checking reddit, making herself a coffee, or clicking on one suggested youtube video after the other until she forgets what she was looking for in the first place.
When she’s not at her desk, which happens more often than not, she’s hiding in the break room, the copy room, the bathroom -or the stairs.
The office life turns you into a parody of yourself. You might not like it, but you’ll always end up being labeled as one archetype or another. Rey has her own index cards about her coworkers.
Susmita Warsi, for instance, is always cold, no matter what the room’s temperature is. Her face is permanently schooled in a blasé expression. She will silently hold a grudge without ever confronting anyone about it. Has a much higher IQ than average. Will tell you she’s too old for this shit, despite being twenty-nine.
…Or Jordan Taylor, thirty-one. Always late. Clumsy as fuck. Has been in trouble for accidentally damaging company’s property. Is often enthusiastic about things that aren’t worth being excited about, like team-building exercises. Misunderstands directives fifty percent of the time. Means well.
They are the two top sellers of the office, and Rey mainly hangs with them. But she’s not complicated. She’ll chat with anyone if it means she’ll get paid doing it.
...anyone with the exception of Solo, of course -because Solo is painfully awkward and secretive, and not in an endearing way. Talking about turning into a parody of yourself.
He’s an accountant -every office needs at least one of those- and he’s very dedicated to his job, god knows why. It doesn’t seem like his identity is defined by anything else other than his work, which is preoccupying, as everyone knows how accountants generally have colorful personalities to begin with.
Solo comes into work not one minute early, not one minute late, and leaves the same way at five.
He wears a white dress shirt, and a navy blue or black tie with dark slacks every. Single. Day -not that she should judge, since herself usually wears the same type of plain, ugly skirt and blouse the company dress code forces her to wear. He’s tall, stiff, and overall just graceless, because he doesn’t seem to have ever learned how to deal with how large his frame is. She’s never seen him without his thermos; and he always eats at his perfectly clean and organized desk, away from the kitchen or the break room.
A furtive nod of his head is how he says hello. Then for the rest of the day he’ll typically hide behind his hair and avoid eye contact at all cost.
Her colleagues have repeatedly tried to include him, but she’s never seen him show up for anything outside of the office. Some who have worked with him for years don’t know shit about his private life.
The only time she can remember him ever talking to her, is when the update of a software on his computer went wrong, six months ago. He lets her sit in his chair, then, and very quietly thanks her once she's done. “...thank you, Jones.”
So he’s polite. He politely ignores people, and politely avoids them.
Either way, Solo shares the same fate as the rest of them: stuck in a dead-end job in a very small branch of what used to be the top cardboard boxes manufacturer of 1992 in the state: BBox Inc .
Thirty years later, BBox is barely worth anything. Here at the office, the manager herself, Deborah, is very relaxed, because there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Everyone is low-key aware of the whole situation, and of how precarious the future of the branch is.
Not that Rey personally gives a shit. At least she hasn’t wasted ten years in this building like Solo has.
Who she works for, and who she works with ultimately doesn’t matter to her. Those people aren’t meant to stay in her life, and they aren’t a family substitute.
None of them would bat an eye if she disappeared from their lives.
Milo’s birthday is on Thursday.
Everyone in the office knows about it, because Milo has made it very clear that he’ll be drinking his head off at a karaoke club in town, if anyone wants to come. As per usual when there’s a birthday, people are free to participate to a money pot and sign the card Sanchez bought with his pack of cigarettes.
Rey is sitting between Warsi and Taylor in the kitchen. She’s eating her lunch while the other two are complaining about the birthday party happening on a Thursday, when Solo comes in. Rey distractedly chomps on her sandwich, her eyes following him.
At lunch, his sleeves are always rolled up to his elbows, to make sure he doesn’t stain them while eating. The plain tin lunch box he takes out of the fridge looks comically small in his hand. Before leaving, he stops by the counter to take two paper napkins; then exits the room to go eat at his desk.
It doesn’t look like Warsi and Taylor take notice of his very brief presence, at first, because they don’t pause at all in their conversation. However, the second he’s out of earshot, Warsi asks while moving the rice around in her dabba with her fork, as if bored by her own question:
“Should we invite Benny? ---I mean he’ll say no, but someone should invite him anyway.”
Warsi has taken the habit of calling Solo Benny behind his back a long time ago, before Rey even worked here. It had initially led her to believe that they were close friends, before she learned soon enough that Solo isn’t close with anyone.
“Why bother,” Taylor replies just as flatly.
Rey zones out, slow-chewing a bite, half-listening to the back and forth between the two.
“He gave more money than anyone, you know.”
“Okay but he won’t come.”
“More money than Milo deserves.”
“Can’t fight you on this.”
“It’s just a matter of being polite.”
“He didn’t even sign the card.”
“He never does.”
“I don’t think he’ll notice if we invite him or not,” Taylor sighs, before adding: “or care.”
“I think he’d come if Jones was the one inviting him.”
Rey frowns at the sound of her name, but her eyes remain zoned out, staring at nothing. She still grunts a Uh? that neither of the other two pay attention to.
Warsi’s statement comes from absolutely nowhere, yet she says it like she thought about it. “A hunch I have,” she shrugs, before Taylor dispassionately and very matter-of-factly dismisses her hunch :
“...no he wouldn’t.”
“I don’t remember him ever saying a full sentence to me,” Rey mutters with a slack jaw, “I don’t know if I could identify his voice.”
“Doesn’t discredit my theory,” Warsi goes on with a mouth full.
“It does, actually.” Taylor calmly puts his fork down, then proceeds to explain with an even voice: “It’s very cute that you’re trying this hard to save this man from himself, but him coming on Thursday is not happening, no matter who asks, and certainly not if Jones asks him.”
“So mean, but so true,” Rey mutters again.
“He’s talked to me a handful of times ---”
“That’s so many more times than me-” Rey comments.
“--and we’ve worked together for years. I don’t know if I should pity him or feel insulted. Probably both.”
Ignoring all of that, Warsi narrows her eyes, as if thinking hard about a deep, philosophical problem. “Now that I think about it, he’d say yes to a date with her, sure, but probably not to a night out with all of us, you’re right.”
Taylor’s eyes narrow too. “...is this a bit, or what?”
“I think a group of people intimidates him more than a single person does.”
“You think wrong. That would also heavily depends on the person.”
“He’s uncomfortable when in presence of several people at once.”
“He’s uncomfortable when in presence of anything that breathes.”
What happens next is a spur of the moment thing. Something inconsequential. It barely has the potential of becoming a fun anecdote later. Rey pushes on her hands and gets up, the chair sliding back behind her.
“Let’s not wonder any longer,” she boldly announces, a finger in her mouth to remove some bread stuck between two molars. “I’ll settle this for you.”
“Jon--” Taylor starts, about to shake his head, but Rey stops him by pressing her index on his lips with a tired shhhhhhhhh . She hiccups, like a drunk, then burps in her mouth, like a drunk, before blowing the air in his face, like a drunk frat boy -making him close his eyes and grit his teeth.
“...thank me later,” she winks, leaving them.
“...see what I mean?” She hears behind her. “How can you say that’s someone Solo would be comfortable around?”
The walk between the kitchen and Solo’s desk is a relatively short one.
He’s standing not far from it, looking down at a binder, his back to her.
Most of her colleagues haven’t taken their lunch break yet; they’re at their desks, finishing one thing or another before they do; typing a quick email, checking their appointments, and essentially not paying attention to her -yet.
She’s almost nervous, she snorts inwardly, to be about to talk to him, even if the exchange is bound to be very brief. The outcome is a foregone conclusion, but the point of this for her isn’t really to prove Warsi wrong.
It’ll be quite entertaining, in and of itself, to see the face Solo will make when she, a coworker he’s never looked in the eyes, asks him out on a date. He’s shown early signs of a meltdown for far less than that.
Let’s just say she wouldn’t mind someone recording the scene.
If her colleagues aren’t too focused on their work, some might witness the conversation too, and that, is another reason why this is so worth it. She just can’t wait to catch the face Sanchez will make when he hears her, if he’s not on the phone right when it happens.
Solo’s lunch is untouched on his desk. She approaches him from behind, stands there for a few seconds, smacking her lips. She’s never stood that close to him.
When he doesn’t react, she taps on his shoulder: “Solo.”
He flinches, and immediately turns around, the binder still in his hands.
His eyes meet hers for a total of two seconds before he brings them back down on the binder. She takes a deep breath.
“Are you free this Thursday after work?”
Predictably, he’s wary. There’s progress, though, because he’s staring at her collarbone when he asks:
Here it comes. She glances at Sanchez, who’s just sitting at his desk and writing something down on a post-it.
“...Would you like to go on a date with me?”
Solo’s knuckles turn white, his hands suddenly gripping the binder tight .
What passes on his face is difficult to identify, and it’s probably a mix of many things, but if she had to guess what it is that has the upper hand on the rest, she’d say it’s sheer panic .
A blush slowly creeps up his neck, turning his ears a lovely shade of pink. She cannot look away.
His discomfort is equally captivating and painful to watch. She should just drop it, reassure him and tell him to breathe, that it’s a joke. She should. But she doesn’t get to really consider the idea.
Very softly, Solo unexpectedly gives her an answer.
Precisely because it’s unexpected, she doesn’t register it immediately.
When she does, her thoughts come to a dramatic halt.
What was that?
Her mouth opens, ready to be of use, but her brain doesn’t provide any word.
Slowly, Solo looks up from his binder, probably because her stunned silence is leaving him hanging, and she knows she should school her face back into her usual nonchalance, or speak , or do something, but she can’t .
Her eyes stare wide at him. She can’t fucking make sense of what’s happening.
On her left, Sanchez’s chair creaks, and in her peripheral vision, she catches enough movements to understand that he’s slowly pivoting on his chair to face them.
“ What.” She finally croaks.
He’s uttered a very low and very shy yes, but it seems quite a few people still heard him, because the soft clatter of keyboards around them slows down.
Solo’s blush intensifies when he murmurs: “I’m… I’m sorry, what was the question? I must have misheard.”
Relief washes over her. “Right. Of course .” She swallows, nodding, then lets out a nervous laugh. “...I think you misheard too. I said ,” she shakes her head, articulating the words more than is necessary: “Do-you-want-to-go-on-a- date ? With me ,” she adds, pointing at her chest.
Hard to say what reaction she expects, then. Maybe not for him to go oh, right! Good one… How grotesque! Why would I date you? But she imagines he’ll be confused, at least, perplexed.
...well if he is those things, his answer remains the same.
“Oh,” he breathes. “...yes?”
This time, she doesn’t need to ask again. She still manages to be as shocked as the first time.
He blinks down at his binder, his hair falling across his eyes. “...I heard correctly.”
Arms at her sides, she stands there.
Solo, fucking Solo , who avoids the most mundane interactions with people, is currently able to form actual sentences, and it’s more than she can say.
“Ok,” she finally rasps. “Nice. I’ll---” She nods once at him. “I’ll send you... the info.”
“Alright,” he practically whispers.
When she turns away from him, she catches sight of several heads hastily stooping down to hide behind their monitors, while others precipitately look the other way.
In her effort to process what happened, she doesn’t even return to the kitchen.
She sits at her desk, then leans forward to get her face close, real close to her computer. Once she’s hidden, she mouths a silent what the fuck??? at the screen.
When she straightens up, her eyes find Warsi, who’s standing in the kitchen doorway.
The petite woman is simply looking at her -her collected expression one of an almighty puppet master.
Chapter 3: A good compromise
Your comments made me smile like an idiot
Thank you so much for reading <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rey puts her headphones on, and turns the volume all the way up. She needs to calm down -and apparently, not even house music can do the fucking trick.
A switch has been flipped. Since Rey asked Solo out, everything around her looks and feels uncannily different, like she fell into a parallel universe. She doesn’t like it.
To think she had the audacity to come into work this morning with the confidence it’d be a regular shitty day, like the others.
The afternoon is going to go by excruciatingly slow. There’s no way she’ll get any work done today.
A date. With Solo. Solo. On a date with her.
She tests the words out, tries to visualize it in her mind’s eye while looking at him from afar, but all she sees is a way too quiet accountant who doesn’t seem to have any hobby. If she was curious about him, is there even anything to be curious about?
God, this is not helping. She’s just sweating.
On his end, Solo seems to be going through an existential shift of his own. Two different times she catches him staring at the screen, but he’s clearly not analyzing any spreadsheet on there. His chest is slowly rising and falling. His hand is on the mouse, but he’s not moving it .
If she kept quiet, never brought it up again and acted like nothing happened, would he forget about it? Would he even dare to remind her of it? Thursday is tomorrow.
She’s never felt that stressed out at work . Fuck.
He doesn’t even look her way once -not that she wants him to. It is her understanding, after a while, that he’s in fact actively trying not to.
Two hours go by before she finally yanks her headphones off her head and abruptly stands up. She slaloms between her coworkers’ desks in direction to the kitchen, in need of a break from not working.
What other options could she have besides going on that date?
She can’t fake an emergency, it would only postpone it. And she can’t just act like she forgot about it, she’s not that cruel, is she?
But then what? Should she go to him, and explain what happened? Tell him that she had no intention to go on a date with him, and that she was sure he had no interest in her, and that now she feels cornered, that they just wouldn’t be a good match, because his work seems to be everything to him, and she, on the other hand, just hates this place, couldn’t possibly imagine having a lasting relationship with a colleague, and where is this coming from anyway? Why the fuck did he say yes ?
She should probably tell him all of that, but she won’t, because she’s a coward.
And she doesn’t feel better about that when Solo, who’s actually officially afraid of people, chooses this moment to gather all the courage herself could use, to enter the kitchen.
Well, not quite. He comes to stand in the doorway, then stays there, and she can’t help but tense. Hopefully, he doesn’t notice, but she wouldn’t bet on it.
At the way he seems to be looking for words, for a brief instant she thinks he’s suspecting something and is about to confront her. But no.
“I… I know a few restaurants in town, you--”
He sounds like he’s apologizing for bothering her, and she doesn’t make it better by having a quasi fight-or-flight response, cutting him off and stammering: “I had something in mind. Already.”
“Oh,” he quietly says to that. “...okay.”
She expects him to retreat, so as to emotionally recover from this ten second long exchange -but he stays there, his hands slowly clenching at his sides.
As softly as ever, he asks: “...Should I take your phone number?”
“What for?” She squeaks without thinking.
Obviously lost for words, Solo just opens his mouth, confused, until she realizes what she just said and backpedals full speed. “I mean, I just meant ---gimme yours. I’ll send you… the address and everything.”
He swallows, and nods once, cautious. And then, because she doesn’t take her phone out, she realizes later, he informs her that he’ll send her an email, because his personal phone number is in his signature block.
His personal phone number is in his signature block. Not uncommon by any means among her colleagues, but a choice she still can’t fathom.
“Okay then!” She cringes, hoping he’ll take that as his cue to leave.
He does leave, and when she’s alone again she sighs, her shoulders dropping.
When she returns to her desk, she finds a new email in her inbox, from Benjamin Solo, no subject. She opens it and finds it empty, except for his signature block.
For the next fifteen minutes or so, she stares at that empty email, stuck, her hands sweating. She stares, and stares, and stares.
Finally, a rush of what feels like panic pushes her to reply with a time and an address, and what she feels is a good compromise . She doesn’t include her personal phone number.
He doesn’t reply, and because of that she immediately starts fantasizing about him standing her up -because he’s too nervous and changes his mind last minute, or because he gets lost and can’t find the place- so she can have a good reason to refuse going on another date with him.
Before leaving the office at five, however, Solo walks by her desk, his fingers clenched tight around the handle of his briefcase, and softly says goodbye to her.
This time she’s the one unable to meet his eyes. She utters a rushed heybyeseeyoutomorrow -then grabs a random piece of paper and intensely frowns at it, as if in the throes of a highly complicated task.
She watches him from the corner of her eye as he calls the elevator, then disappears in it.
All evening, she thinks about her date . She’s nervous about what will happen, a feeling she doesn’t usually experience, but she still feels better now that she made a definite decision to fix the situation.
The next day, though, Solo doesn’t make her feel great about that decision, when he repeatedly tries to overcome his lack of social skills and interact with her, even vaguely. At eight, he very hesitantly slows down on his way to his desk to offer her a shy hello, that she curtly acknowledges with a tense and rushed hey .
Three times throughout the day, he makes a deliberate effort to be in the same room as her, twice in the kitchen, and once in the break room, even as she makes sure that he never finds her alone. He doesn’t go as far as to interrupt any conversation and demand her attention, or even just participate in them, but he leans against the counter and listens, his eyes briefly finding her before he lowers them back to the floor -exposing himself to the attention of others like he never would have done not twenty-four hours earlier.
Each time, she pretends to be too enthralled by whatever Sanchez or Tran are saying to even notice he’s there, despite being in fact acutely aware that he is, and of how unusual this behavior is for him.
Guilt is already rising in the pit of her stomach, but it doesn’t grow strong enough to get her to rethink her decision.
She’s so anxious for tonight to arrive, and for it all to be over, that she leaves the office early, without a word to anyone, or to Solo, although she’s sure he must have watched her leave.
Anyone would have found her behavior odd by now, and maybe he does, but while he doesn’t strike her as the persistent kind at all , she suspects that he’s desperate to find a kindred spirit enough that he might be mistaking her sudden cold demeanor for timidity.
The sun is already low in the sky when she gets in her car, and after stopping at a gas station to buy herself a beer, she parks somewhere quiet to watch it set on the industrial park. Then, she drinks her alcohol and lets herself get sucked into Reddit’s infinite scrolling until it’s time to go. It relaxes her enough that she’s almost in the mood to be around people again.
When she arrives, it’s early, and after going down a spiral staircase she finds a fairly empty bar. It’s almost as dark downstairs as it would be in a nightclub. The music is already louder than it should, and the decoration essentially consists of framed vintage liquor ads.
She didn’t pick the place, obviously.
Milo, the birthday boy, is so characteristically impatient to get everyone to buy him drinks and get shitfaced, that he’s the first to arrive. Then, the few brave ones who’ve accepted to go out on a weeknight show up: Sanchez of course, Warsi more surprisingly, Taylor, Tran, Giselle and Chloe; then later Lincoln, Patrice and Kellman.
They all get there before Solo does, because she told Solo to be there at nine to make sure she wouldn’t be alone by then.
They all sit in a corner booth and start yelling at each other over the music in an attempt to have casual conversations , and they’ll keep doing that until one of them eventually gets drunk enough to dance.
It’ll do Solo good to hang with everyone. She knows it will. And if she repeats that to herself enough times, she’ll believe it. The alcohol certainly helps. A first rum and coke already convinces her that really, all of them can have a good time tonight.
If she had prepared better, she would have made sure to sit with her back to the staircase. As it is, she’s facing it, trapped between Sanchez and Kellman, unable to look away when two long legs slowly go down the steps, then stops half-way.
From where she is, and with how dark it is, it’s hard to identify Solo’s reaction to what he’s seeing. Hard to tell what he thinks of the place, of its atmosphere, or the music.
Or what he thinks of the presence here of ten of his coworkers, in addition to Rey.
She gulps down her drink, then stares at Giselle, even though she can’t hear anything she’s saying. Right then, Milo practically jumps over Tran and Chloe to get out of the booth -and what he shouts as he jogs toward the staircase is pretty clear, even through the music.
“Ben Solo!! Fuck me! I can’t believe you came?!”
Milo, who's already drunk enough to treat him like he’s his childhood friend, pulls a very stiff and unresponsive Solo into his arms.
Rey looks around the table. Nobody seems to be losing their minds over Solo’s presence like Milo, but she doesn’t miss the meaningful look Warsi gives Taylor while sipping on her martini.
It’s only when Rey hears Milo exclaim a shocked “ For me?? ” that she sees the modest bouquet of what looks to be white daisies in Solo’s hand.
Is it hot in here, or she’s having a fucking stroke? She’s not feeling too good.
Milo takes the flowers from Solo, who lets him. Beaming, Milo then drapes an arm over his shoulders to lead him to the table. He sits Solo at the end of the booth, offers him a drink, then jogs to the bar before Solo can decline. There’s not enough room for him to comfortably fit both his legs under the table, and despite Giselle’s best effort to scoot over to accommodate his frame, he barely fits on the seat, but he still awkwardly stays there, his back stiff against the leather, his eyes fixed on the table.
Rey decides to stare at Milo at the bar, at the dude’s bald scalp behind Chloe, at Tran’s fucking tie , at anything , anyone but Solo.
Then when Sanchez slams his drink on the table and slurs “ Who wants to daaaance ,” unknowingly giving her an out, she yells “ Me!! ” without even thinking, and abruptly stands, almost pushing Sanchez out of the way.
The next forty minutes, she spends them on a nearly empty dance floor, jumping and shaking with her drink in hand to the rhythm of a music she doesn’t like. Sanchez dances with her for some time, then leaves her to it, and she’s barely aware of Giselle joining her later.
At times, her eyes fall on Solo, on his white dress shirt buttoned all the way up, and she turns away to dance harder.
After forty minutes of that, her eyes don’t find him anymore.
She stops, and pants, staring at the empty spot in the booth, then slowly scans the room. He’s nowhere.
She stands there for some time, blinking.
Eventually, she returns to the booth and allows herself to sit down, her legs trembling.
She stays quiet for a good while. It’s very quiet in her head too. The alcohol is doing its job. Her face is burning.
When Lincoln comes back from the bar and asks her to scoot over, she clears her throat and tries to casually ask him where Solo went. Lincoln leans in, so she can hear him over the music: “Don’t know, he left without saying anything.” He leans back. “Typical,” he shrugs.
Rey can tell it’s not intended to be mean in any way, but she still feels the hypocritical impulse to defend Solo, so she hurries to down the rest of her drink instead.
She winces. Her eyes find Warsi’s, who’s sitting across the table.
Susmita doesn’t react when their eyes meet. Her expression remains perfectly neutral.
Rey can’t know for sure if Warsi can guess what happened, but she feels herself getting defensive anyway.
What , she thinks.
She huffs, looking away.
Solo’s a big boy.
Rey manages to act like what happened with Solo isn’t the only thing on her mind for a good hour or so, then gives up.
Like him, she leaves without saying goodbye to anyone -but at this point everyone is either dancing or too drunk to notice.
Kellman, who’s smoking outside, tries to stop her from driving, without success. She needs to be home now ; she’ll be fine, and if not, she doesn’t care enough to go through the trouble of coming back here tomorrow to get her car.
Either way, she’s not thinking about what could happen on the road. In the car, she’s still thinking about Solo, and when she gets home to her empty apartment, she thinks about him some more.
She shouldn’t. First, it’s useless: obsessing over it won’t change what happened or make anything better. What is done is done. She could have gone on that date and rejected him afterward, but that’s not any better than what happened, is it?
“No it isn’t ,” she mutters somewhat tightly, dropping her purse on her kitchen counter. She’ll need another glass of vodka if she wants to sleep tonight.
Second, Solo is grown man , she huffs.
He could have still enjoyed his night, and made an effort to get to know the people he’s been working with every day, in some cases for years.
Those very good points should be enough to stop the daisies Milo threw on the table in the middle of everybody’s half-empty drinks from popping into her mind. They should be enough, but apparently they aren’t.
On top of everything, she just knows that Milo will be too wasted to remember that bouquet and take it with him when he’ll leave. Her heart clenches at the thought, but she chooses to take that as a sign that she needs more vodka.
She’s an emotional drunk. When she lets herself fall on her bed, she numbly thinks that tomorrow, she’ll be more rational about all of this, and that her mind will be clear enough to assess the situation.
When she wakes up, though, her first thought is that she was wrong about that.
Her head is pounding, naturally, and her stomach is in knots, but she’s painfully aware that that’s not just a symptom of her hangover.
Despite a less than cooperative brain, she’s ready in record time, equally anxious to go to work and impatient to find that Solo is indeed perfectly fine, and that everything is in fact back to normal. Only then will she finally be able to put all of that behind her.
So she gulps down a cup of coffee, brushes her hair into a ponytail, and leaves.
At eight, she’s at the office -the earliest she’s ever shown up at work, by far. Everything is silent, only a few of the suspended lights are on, and Maltès is the only one behind her desk, sipping her tea.
Herself sits at her own desk, turns her computer on, then opens all her usual tabs: Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and even Tik Tok.
However, after ten seconds of scrolling down on Reddit, she checks the time on her screen.
Unfortunately for her, Ben Solo is punctual: he’s never late, but he’s never early either. She doesn’t know much about him, but she does know that.
Yet, to her mild shame, and even though she keeps an eye on the lower right corner of her screen counting down the minutes until nine, she still furtively looks above her monitor every time the elevator doors open on the other side of the room.
A few of her colleagues get there before nine, including Tran, Chloe, and Kellman.
By 8:50, her heart beats louder. She can’t really explain it, or care to explain it; she just wants this to be over. She huffs, loudly before she can stop herself, when Taylor walks out of that elevator at 8:58. Thankfully, nobody seems to notice.
At nine, she pushes against her desk and rolls to the left on her chair to have a better view of those goddamn elevator doors. Any second now. She waits.
At 9:01, the elevator doors do open, and one by one walk out Warsi, Sanchez, Giselle, Milo and Perry.
Rey remains very still in her chair. But no one follows.
The doors close.
She stares for some time, and when her eyes go back on her screen, it’s 9:04.
Her colleagues don’t seem to notice anything different. They’re quiet, not fully awake yet, especially not the ones who, like her, are dealing with a hangover. Slowly, she pivots on her chair until she can see Solo’s desk.
Not a pen out of place, not a post-it in sight. No pictures, no small cactus or figurine, nothing. No trace of Ben Solo. Based on what that desk has to stay, it looks like he’s never worked here.
Only the chair gives a poor clue of his presence in this office. Too small for him, he’s adjusted its height to the maximum unlike everyone else, not that it’s that obvious. You have to look for it to notice it.
At 9:09, the elevator chime makes her jump in her chair. She strains her neck to see who walks out of it.
Deborah, the manager. Lincoln, right after her.
But no matter how hard Rey stares at the empty space they leave behind, Solo just doesn’t appear. The doors smoothly close, and she slowly lets herself sit back in her chair.
Well then he’s late ! It happens. She thought it would never happen, not in her lifetime, well joke’s on her , because it’s happening.
Solo’s late. She won’t get to say that everything is back to normal for another few minutes. Fine. Big fucking deal.
She crosses her arms, then uncrosses them and decides to scroll aggressively, her eyes on the screen. For the next ten minutes, she’s able to pretend like she’s simply annoyed to be here, which isn’t out of character for her at all anyway.
Past that point, though…
The more time passes, the less likely it seems that Solo will show up at all.
She’d like to ask someone, anyone, if they know anything about him not coming into work at 9am sharp for the first time ever, but she’s just certain that no one does, because nobody knows shit about that man, and even if they did, she wouldn’t ask them anyway because she doesn’t want anybody to think she actually cares , because she doesn’t.
So she checks the time again, and occasionally looks at Solo’s desk in the hope that it’ll make him materialize out of nowhere.
At ten, however, Solo’s chair is still empty, and Rey has stopped waiting for the elevator doors to open.
What this means is that now , she has plenty of time to speculate about why he’s absent, meaning that she tries to come up with plausible reasons other than the most obvious one : that this morning, he was simply too hurt and ashamed to face any of them.
To face her.
That thought makes her want to pull at the skin around her nails, and the skin of her lips, so she clings to other scenarios.
His car couldn’t start; he was called to meet with someone from headquarters; he’s on jury duty starting today; he has the flu; he asked for a day off before the weekend to travel across state and get in time to his cousin’s wedding; his mother had a stroke, and he had to drive her to the hospital; he’s a Russian spy, and finally got arrested by the FBI this morning--
That’s what so convenient with people you don’t know anything about: there is no limit to what you can imagine is true about them. The possibilities are endless.
At eleven, she leaves her desk to make herself a coffee -but the conversation Tran, Giselle and Perry are having near the coffee machine is about last night and what Perry supposedly missed. That party is a curse Rey will apparently never be able to escape.
It gets worse, though, when Giselle mentions Solo.
Perry is predictably surprised. “ No?? ”
“Yeah,” Tran confirms, “but he stayed like, ten minutes.”
Giselle purses her lips. “A bit more than that, come on.”
“Well,” Perry chuckles, “baby steps, right?”
An innocent conversation, no wrong intentions. But Rey leaves her mug on the counter and immediately exits the kitchen without a word.
Not one minute later, she’s walking down the hall armed with her last pay slip, heading to her manager’s office. That piece of paper won’t be particularly useful, it’s simply a prop to help her be in character.
She knocks at the door, and when Deborah tells her to come in, she casually, very casually asks her if Solo will come into work later today.
Deborah barely lifts her eyes from her planning: “Uh, no, why?”
Rey clears her throat, and tries to remain as vague as possible. “Oh, nothing, just a question I had about pay slips in general,” she says with a wave of her hand that Deborah doesn’t see.
“So he won’t be there this afternoon either?” she cautiously asks again, ignoring the confused look on her manager’s face.
“No, he called in sick… you have an issue with your pay slip?”
“Oh,” Rey stammers, “no, not at all. I just had a dumb question for him.”
“You can ask me.”
“Oh, no! I’m good, it’s really nothing.”
“Certain,” Rey insists, already stepping out of her manager’s office and about to close the door. “Thank you, Deb, it’s… thanks for the info.”
She closes the door.
Then, she stands just outside, staring at the floor, biting the inside of cheek. So she was right then. He's sick. No need to lose her mind over this.
He’s just sick.
On her way back to her desk, she thinks that he’ll have to be back to work eventually. And all she has to do to see that happen, is wait for the weekend to be over.
She doesn’t mind waiting, not one bit. Rey loves weekends.
She loves them.
Several times that Friday, Rey tries not to get caught staring at Solo’s desk.
On her way home, she’s sure of one thing: whether he now hates her or not, she needs Solo to be back at the office on Monday.
For someone whose presence is so hushed and reserved, his absence was sure impossible to ignore. For her, at least. Her coworkers have been behaving like it’s just another normal day under the sun.
But Rey cannot work in these conditions. She needs Solo to be his usual, quiet self, back at his desk where he’s supposed to be, right in her line of sight, so she can ensure that he keeps being unnecessarily delicate with everything he touches, that he’ll keep handling his pens, notebooks and paper clips with outrageous care, along with the rest of his office supplies.
She never would have thought his absence at work could have any impact on her. Now she finds that it actually kind of fucks everything up a little bit.
The weekend, to Rey, is the only horizon she turns to, the only silver lining of the human condition. It’s what she waits for all week, and it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Pretty much her entire existence consists in listing all the things she wants or needs to do when she’s at work and can’t do them. At home, there’s so little time, so little willpower left.
She understands life like a purgatory: places she wants to visit and books she wants to read are always out of reach, chores are left to sit for weeks -and because her mind and her body are rented by a company she hates, she finds herself forced to eternally procrastinate and postpone for later small pleasures of life and basic, necessary errands.
This time, however, Rey, who hates Mondays, thinks that Monday can’t come fast enough. She feels restless, and can’t even focus on any of the mini-series she had planned on watching. To try and shake it off, she goes out on Saturday night, but after drinking too much she’s back home at 11:30 -all because she’s thinking of Solo and his stupid daisies.
An insufferable, whiny little voice inside her head keeps wondering if he’s okay, and she’s impatient to have him follow his rigid habits again so it will shut the hell up.
Time goes slow, but eventually, it’s Monday again.
She sits at her desk and wipes her palms on her skirt. She can’t say what makes her more nervous; the thought of him not coming into work again, or seeing him for the first time since what happened on Thursday?
At 9, Betty is reminding her of the issues she’s had with her display driver, and Rey nods, but she’s not listening.
The elevator doors open --and Solo’s there.
Pale, but not any paler than usual. His hair is the same length; they hide the tip of his ears and curl around his temples. He’s wearing his usual dark slacks and a white dress shirt. He picked a blue tie today.
His expression appears --neutral. He walks to his desk at a normal, unremarkable pace, casting his eyes down. He doesn’t look at her, or at anyone.
Usually, she wouldn’t think anything of it. And she shouldn’t think anything of it now either, really.
He looks fine. Perfectly fine .
Of course, he doesn’t stop to say hello to her, or anybody, but that’s good, because it means everything is back to how it was before, and that’s great .
The whole morning unfolds just like any other morning. He dutifully completes one assigned task after another, and they don’t acknowledge each other; so she gets what she wanted, and it’s great.
Should she go and say hello to him , she wonders out of nowhere.
She’s thirty, though, and that’s too young to have a stroke, isn’t it? So what the fuck is she thinking?
Hypothetically, though: how would she approach him now? Taylor, Warsi and her are always eating in the kitchen when he comes to take his lunchbox. Couldn’t he join them? Is that inconceivable now, any more than it was before?
It’s stupid of her to think she alone ruined the possibility of him socializing, considering he’s never shown any interest in doing so ever in the past.
How would it happen? Before she realizes it, she rehearses the scene in her head.
A casual: Solo? ...Want to sit with us?
Sure. To remind him of junior high and the good memories she bets he has from that time.
Would he like her to call him Benjamin? Hello Benjamin. Benny, want to sit with us?
At 11:55, she’s in the kitchen with Warsi and Taylor, and despite her heart beating like she’s about to send a rocket into space, she’s not quite decided yet on how to proceed, or even if she should proceed at all. She shouldn’t, she really shouldn’t, she decides.
However, when she sits down at Warsi’s left, she just unwraps her cold sandwich then puts it down without taking a bite.
Thursday is behind them. What’s the worst that could happen? If she suggests he eats with them, and he refuses?
Well then he would eat his lunch alone at his desk, and the three of them would stay in the kitchen -like every other day. The ball would be in his court.
Taylor and Warsi are chatting back and forth, oblivious. It’s almost 12:15, and she can’t eat.
But she finds that she was right all along pretty soon: there was no use in working herself up so much. At 12:15, no one comes in.
Because she still hasn’t touched her sandwich, Taylor asks her if she’s alright and she just assures that yes of course!
Warsi calmly keeps eating.
Rey doesn’t know much about Solo or really anything , but his lunch habits? She knows them. And he’s never taken his lunch break before or after 12:15.
Hard to believe it, but she eats extra slow, waiting for Solo , knowing that Warsi and Taylor will stay and wait for her too even if they’re done eating.
Eating a goddamn sandwich can only take so long, though.
Could he be on the phone, maybe?
She can’t really check with Taylor and Warsi there. So she pretends she has something to look at on her phone.
Unnecessary: Deborah calls Taylor from the other end of the hallway, and Warsi blessedly leaves after him with a sigh. She doesn’t really know why she’s waiting anymore, but she is. It’s 12:35, and there is still no sign of Solo
Could he be eating at his desk already?
She gets up and opens the fridge. The small tin lunch box that she knows to be his stares back at her, on the third shelf, where he always puts it.
So she approaches the doorway, then discreetly cranes her neck to see the side of his face. He’s looking down at… something.
Why is she doing this? It’s not exactly like he’ll want to sit with her, or like she would know what to do if he did accept to sit with her.
It just doesn’t feel right. He usually enters the kitchen while she’s already eating, his sleeves neatly rolled up to his elbows. He washes his hands for a total of three minutes. He takes his lunchbox and his two paper napkins with him, then returns later to wash it in the sink -and that’s it, really, but it’s a strangely domestic scene that she’s grown to appreciate and expect.
At 12:45, still, his lunch is untouched, and when she checks from the doorway a second time, he’s still at his desk. Her mouth twists, and her eyes fall on Tran, who’s frowning at her from his side of the room, perplexed. What , she mouths at him. She hides back inside.
She can’t wait forever, though. Whatever is keeping Solo at his desk, he might be too conscientious to eat before he’s done with it, apparently, and that might be another hour, and no matter how low the standards she sets for herself are she actually has to get back to work. So she does.
She returns to her desk, and she resists looking at Solo again on her way there.
It takes for her to simply sit, and roll her chair closer to her desk, to hear another chair creak a few desks away from her.
She looks up. It’s Solo’s.
He’s standing up, somewhat hesitant, his eyes down and his arms a bit stiff, close to his body. She watches as he carefully and patiently gathers the documents on his desk. He pauses, briefly. Then, he leaves his desk.
Her eyes follow him as he crosses the room, the rest of her body sitting very still.
He disappears into the kitchen.
Faintly, she hears the fridge door open, then close.
She sits there, her hands immobile on the keyboard, trying to process what happened, and what to make of it.
Something in her throat tightens, so she swallows -then clears it, insistently. She shrugs, although it feels forced.
Well. Okay then. Solo’s habits aren’t so rigid after all.
In an office as small as this one, it’s not like he’ll be able to avoid her forever, but he can try.
As soon as she thinks that, though, she allows herself the quiet admission that she wouldn’t exactly love it if he proved her wrong.
Rey was wrong.
There is nothing that can stand in Solo’s way, when it comes to avoiding her -and she’s proved that time and time again over the course of the following week.
The smaller the room, the more evident it is, the worst part being that his whole demeanor hasn’t changed.
He’s not being passive aggressive, or trying to make a point. She feels it in the way he walks, the way he moves. He’s just as unassuming as before, not malicious or vindictive -not even a little bit.
He hasn’t told anyone the details of what happened. Just generally, he hasn’t talked about her behind her back, nor has he mentioned his feelings at all to anyone, whatever those may be. She would have known if it had happened. Gossips of that nature in an office as small as this one spreads faster than the rumor of a layoff does.
Solo just keeps to himself, and no one is attentive enough to him to notice how much more subdued he’s been during the past week.
If he was actively trying to make her feel terrible, she would ironically feel a bit better. But no. It’s just painfully obvious that his only intention is to shelter himself from any interaction with her.
She’d like nothing more than to snort about it, shake her head and move on, but she can’t.
Her nights are shorter. Despite hating every second of it, more so than before, she comes into work early, now.
How on earth did their relationship or lack thereof possibly get worse, considering that they never truly spoke to each other or hung out? She wouldn’t have thought it was possible, and yet.
She could stay hours in the kitchen, and he wouldn’t eat his lunch until she leaves the room. The sudden change in habit hasn’t been subtle at all, and everyday she gets a new confirmation of that change -but after a few days, a masochistic part of her demands that she gets a better proof of it anyway.
When Warsi stops at her desk a bit before noon, later that week, Rey claims that she can’t take her lunch break right away. She squints at her computer’s screen with a concerned frown on her face, as if confronted with a very serious issue.
Susmita is well aware that Rey would never, under any circumstances, let work delay her lunch break. As a result, Warsi’s disbelief is apparent; still, she doesn’t question it, and just purses her lips before walking away. “Alright.”
Taylor and Warsi disappear in the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, what Rey hoped wouldn’t happen happens, further establishing what she already knew.
Solo leaves his desk, albeit with some hesitation, but still -looking down, deliberately, it seems, as if to make sure, maybe, that he won’t accidentally glance her way.
The ache sits in her chest and presses her lips into a frown. Even if she wanted to fix what she did to him, how is she supposed to do that if he can’t be in the same room as her?
That additional proof she didn’t need but still asked for, leaves a bitter taste on her tongue. Yet, the moment she hears the water run in the kitchen sink, and before she can think better of it, she stands up and heads to the kitchen.
Before she enters the room, she hears Warsi’s voice, and her feet slowly come to a stop. Rey has to focus to understand what she says.
“Whatcha eating, Benny?”
The water stops running, but aside from the chair creaking under Taylor or Warsi’s weight, she assumes, she can’t hear anything else, so she presumes Solo replied but spoke too low for Rey to hear.
“How about you eat with us? It’s just us two, today.”
Rey flinches, listening closely. Again, she can’t hear anything of what Solo says to that, if he’s speaking at all. Despite herself, she takes two hesitant steps, and stops in the doorway, her right shoulder against the wall.
Solo is standing by the counter, his back to her and half-facing Warsi. His hands are busy with something in front of him that Rey can’t see, although she supposes it’s his lunch box. It’s not long before Warsi’s eyes flick up to her. “Oh,” she just says with her mouth full.
That small syllable is enough to get Solo to quickly look over his shoulder.
As soon as he sees her, he turns back, and echoes a much more quiet oh -a sound from his mouth that Rey catches this time.
“...Nevermind,” Warsi chews.
Solo is not anywhere close to her, but it’s still the closest they’ve stood from each other in days.
She wants to say something, maybe reiterate Warsi’s invitation -one she had the idea of giving him a few days ago- but her mouth is so dry, she loses a few precious seconds trying to swallow some spit that isn’t there, while Solo is still his back to her, his hands quickly finishing their task.
“I--thank you,” he suddenly says before she has the chance to pronounce a word. She freezes and watches as he closes his lunchbox, then grabs several paper napkins -more than he usually takes. “Susmita,” he turns to Warsi with a tentative nod, “But, I--need to go back to my desk.”
Rey tries to hide her shame as best she can when he very obviously flees from her.
When he’s about to pass the doorway, she steps aside. As he passes, without stopping or hesitating, she hears a thank you so faint she can’t be sure she didn’t imagine it.
“Thought you had something to finish before taking your break?” Warsi asks her when she finally steps inside. Given her blank expression, it’s hard to say if it’s a very subtle kind of sarcasm, or a genuine question.
“I do,” Rey mutters, pulling up a chair, “but who gives a fuck.”
Lunch break is over quickly, and Rey thinks she should leave it at that, at this point.
There’s nothing she can really do to change the situation. Even in a world where she would have enough courage to apologize, she wouldn’t truly know how to explain what happened. Solo can run away from her forever, she decides. How he feels is ultimately beyond her control.
Those thoughts somewhat pacifies her, and this time, the whole situation seems to finally come to an end in her mind. An hour passes. She just watches him staple tens of documents, exactly the type of task she cannot stand, and that his fastidious ass typically has unlimited patience for -and she thinks to herself that sometimes, getting over something really is that easy.
...why then, does she snatch Solo’s stapler from his desk when he goes to the bathroom not ten minutes later? Hard to say.
She boldly tells Tran, who always seems to be looking her way when he shouldn’t, to shut up before he can utter a single word about the crime he’s just witnessed.
She nearly runs to the break room, hiding the stapler against her thigh, her arms stiff along her sides, and her heart pounding like one of a teenager who stole a bottle of liquor.
Who knows what cell of her body thought it was a good idea to use a stapler as a bait to get Solo to interact with her -if that’s even the goal, here.
As if Solo wouldn’t just borrow someone else’s.
--now that she thinks of it, he wouldn’t. He’s the type to be very particular with his belongings. What will more likely happen, she corrects, is that he’ll pull another stapler out of his ass, and just carry on, unperturbed.
Her own behavior dumbfounds her. Is that what desperate feels like? She can’t be desperate already , it’s only been a few days.
She hears Sanchez’s voice before she enters the break room. “Betty, come on.” Oh, Betty’s with him?
Rey’ll gladly join them, and act as if she was there all along if Solo comes to ask where his stapler went -which he won’t, but that’s apparently what she thought stealing it would bring her: the accountant it belongs to.
She’s never had any problems to just directly speak to someone before. What in god’s name is she doing?
She rushes to the couch and awkwardly sits on the stapler, next to Betty, another seller. Sanchez is standing, a mug in his hand, a frown on his face, and he doesn’t spare Rey a glance. What they’re discussing sounds important. Not important enough to distract her from what she’s sitting on.
Her heart beats fast at first; then ten minutes later, she’s already bored. Solo, predictably, hasn’t shown up. And Sanchez isn’t in a fun mood.
“--let’s not pretend like we give a fuck whether or not they stay with us now. You really want to deal with those assholes for the next few months until this boat sinks?”
Rey’s eyes are unfocused, her mind drifting as she thinks about what she ’ll do when this company does sink -and because of that she feels Solo’s presence before she sees him. Her shoulders immediately tense.
“We’re not a few months away from that,” Betty protests.
“We don’t have two years.”
“Still not worth it. I don’t want them on the phone. Fuck them.”
“Did… any of you used my stapler by mistake?”
The three of them turn their heads.
Solo hasn’t put a foot inside. It’s clear he doesn’t have the intention to stay for a chat, and most probably just wants an answer so he can go back to work.
Yet Rey’s mouth blurts out the words -causing her whole body to wince at the sound of her own voice:
“Solo, you want to sit with us?”
This isn’t weird, right? Does it sound weird? Does it feel forced? Are Sanchez and Betty able to tell? Probably. But it’s not like she’ll get many occasions to speak to Solo, given how determined he is to avoid her.
Solo’s eyes find the floor. “I… I have work to do,” he murmurs.
Not a lie, but she still tries to come up with something else fast that might convince him to stay anyway. She blinks, quickly looking between Betty and Sanchez, who are sipping their teas.
“...You heard about the layoffs?” She tries weakly.
Solo winces, his eyes still down. His hand comes up to somewhat loosen his tie -enough, maybe, that he’s able to speak again.
Not to her, though.
“Miguel, uh... may I borrow your stapler? If that’s alright?”
Sanchez nods. “Sure, man.”
As soon as those words are out, Solo is gone.
Rey is left to try to maintain a casual façade. Like she didn’t really mean to talk to Solo anyway.
Like she didn’t actively try to get him to talk ---to her.
“Why is Solo’s stapler under your ass?”
She gapes at Sanchez, embarrassment making her stutter: “I--it’s-”
He doesn’t seem to be interested in knowing why , and just remarks: “Isn’t that dangerous?”
She nearly cuts him off: “It’s my stapler.” Thankfully, Betty doesn’t seem to care in the slightest about what’s going on.
“All his shit is color-coded, Jones,” Sanchez states, bored by her attitude. “It’s Solo we’re talking about.”
She abruptly stands up and huffs, muttering before she leaves the room -not without the stapler: “Mind your own fucking business.”
When she strides out of the room, she has in mind to go back to her desk, and spend the rest of her afternoon judging people on Reddit. She goes around her colleagues’ desks until her own is in sight.
For the second time today, however, her body refuses to spare her. She doesn’t stop walking.
Approaching Solo’s desk, she doesn’t leave him the time to turn on his chair when he hears her. She thinks she’s squaring her shoulders, which is uncalled-for, given how harmless her opponent is. But she needs to look determined, if not be it.
She puts the stapler down in front of him.
“Found it,” she lies, while managing to blush only a little. Who cares: he’s sitting straight, but he’s not able to meet her eyes anyway.
He pauses, looking down at it, then gingerly takes it in his hand.
“On the ground,” she says with an even voice.
He keeps looking at it, she supposes to avoid looking at her , and for a second there it feels like he’s about to call her out on her bullshit, or maybe say something sarcastic enough to let her know he’s not charmed by her quirky ways, giving her the drop of confrontation she needs to finally explain her point of view -because who can defend themselves if they’re not accused in the first place?
But Solo doesn’t give her that.
Worse, for the first time it occurs to her that in his eyes, she might not have anything to apologize for.
All she hears coming out of his mouth, is a soft “thank you, Rey.”
Nothing less, nothing more.
Her dream of a heated back and forth from ten seconds ago vanishes.
She stands there, gives him an awkward nod -then turns around.
Back at her desk, she feels shameful, but is unable to exactly pinpoint where that shame comes from.
She hides behind her computer, and soon contemplates the possibility that it might do everyone some good if she simply forgot about Solo.
Chapter 7: It's a misunderstanding, oh no!
This chapter was supposed to be twice as long, but I chose to post half of it, so the next one is ready and will be posted very soon. After that, I’ll only post again once I’ve updated Cream, so probably in a week or so.
I read each and every one of your comments. It means a lot to me that you would take the time to post them. Bless you for reading (ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wage labor takes a lot from a person.
Social interactions, energy, drive, sleep, time, purpose -anything life is worth living for and that a person needs , wage labor takes from you. If the tasks assigned are meaningless or pointless, on a small or larger scale; or worse, if they are harmful, directly or indirectly; if you fix a computer in an office somewhere in the US to make sure a company that relies on slavery will get enough cardboard boxes in time -then it’s easy to lose touch with your humanity completely.
Rey has a solution for that, and that solution is: “pretend it’s not happening”. Simply abstain from any type of critical thinking.
The office feels like a mental and physical prison? Life is passing her by? Happiness is an illusion? Don’t care, doesn’t matter .
Anything that is asked of her she eventually does, and without thinking twice. What she wants from life she put in a box and flushed it down the toilets at age eighteen, and she certainly isn’t sad about it.
Since Milo’s birthday, though, she’s come to understand that some things might have played a more important role in keeping her afloat than she previously thought. And now things have changed.
Rey can’t peacefully appreciate how delicate and soft-spoken Ben Solo is anymore.
Observing him, unbothered, sometimes absently, was one of her preferred activities to do instead of working; now she’s just reminded of the effort he makes to not be in the same rooms as her.
Week-ends are just extra free time she spends thinking of this, and no amount of thinking brings her any solution or comfort. She knows none of this matters, so it would be much simpler if she stopped caring about any of this altogether.
And she wants to not care very badly . She tries to forget about all this, and about him, she really does. But it’s not happening.
She’s joked about not knowing the sound of his voice several times since she’s worked here, but that’s all it is: a joke. The truth is, any time she’s had the occasion to catch the sound of that voice, she’s paid extra attention to it. Opportunities have been rare, so she’s known not to waste them. It’d happened because Sanchez didn’t Cc Solo again, or because Giselle parked behind him -whatever the reason, Solo would be nearby, and Rey would hear the sound of his voice.
She would hear how gentle and considerate he was, if a bit stiff and inhibited; how restrained but also mindful of others; and it would make her think of how she approaches people herself, and how people have treated her in the past.
She sits in the break room, in the kitchen, at her desk, next to Sanchez, Warsi, or Taylor; and while her colleagues are chatting about one thing or another, instead of participating she turns into a very quiet version of herself, and simply imagines what Solo would think of what’s being said, if he was in the room to hear it.
He would likely just… listen.
That he's the type to listen rather than speak is hardly breaking news. But she used to think of it as a sign of crippling self-doubt or impassivity.
Now, she’s starting to wonder if it couldn’t mean that he is, in a way, simply --better than the rest of them.
Even while being determined to at least act like she doesn’t think about him all the time, she still tries to casually bring him up one way or another in the conversations she has -not with Warsi and Taylor, she wouldn’t dare, but with people she doesn’t often talk to, like Kellman, and later Chloe.
God knows why she brings him up at all, because no one is close to Solo any more than she is, and so both times, she fails to get any type of information about him. Thankfully, neither of them seem to pick up on her sudden interest, or to care at least, even though herself can tell she’s not being smooth.
One morning, before it’s even nine yet, Tran finds her near the vending machine in the break room. When he mentions that he’ll probably do a barbecue at his place in two weeks, and that she’s invited along with several colleagues, the image of Solo sitting on a small garden chair with a plate on his knees immediately pops into her mind.
Stirring her coffee, she fakes a chuckle to force with Tran a connivance that isn’t there: “And you probably… have no intention of inviting Solo, right?”
Tran shakes a packet of sugar. “Why is that funny?”
“Uh, it’s not,” she frowns, “I just mean, that, you know, he never shows up for anything.”
“He showed up for Milo’s birthday.”
She can’t help the full body wince. “...Right.”
After pouring the sugar in his coffee, Tran turns to her, pausing: “Do you want me to invite him?”
His detached tone contrasts painfully with how she reacts: blinking way too much, the words rushing out of her mouth. When she realizes she’s overdone it, it’s already too late.
“ Nooo . Invite him, don’t invite him,” she shrugs. “Who cares? I mean maybe you do, but I don’t. I don’t even know if I’ll be there, so it makes no difference to me.”
Tran shrugs back at her, his nose in his mug: “M’okay.”
This should be the perfect moment to shut up, but to try and mirror his indifference, she keeps talking: “But you know what I meant… it’s… God help him, right? He never goes out, or talk to anyone, it’s just sad .”
Tran shrugs -again . “I don’t know, he seems pretty fine to me.”
She cocks her head, skeptic, pursing her lips. “...I don’t think being systematically excluded does any good to anyone.”
“We don’t exclude him --you just said that he excludes himself, that he has no social life.”
“Well he can’t have a social life, if he’s never invited,” she huffs.
But Tran only seems more confused than before. “Oh okay, so you do want me to invite him, then?”
She throws her half empty cup in the bin next to the vending machine. “I don’t care,” she snaps, storming out of the room.
She returns to her desk, lets herself fall in her chair and promptly pretends to work, not sparing anyone a glance.
Solo arrives at nine o’clock sharp, but she doesn’t turn her head this time at the elevator chime, and ridiculously, she’s proud of herself for that.
Fuck this. Fuck all of it. She doesn’t feel okay. She hates this. What on earth is she doing here?
At noon, she seriously considers asking Deborah if she can go home. Honestly, given how sleep deprived she is and looks, it won’t be hard for her manager to believe that she’s coming down with something.
Today is the day, though, she later understands. For some reason, when Warsi waves at her from the kitchen doorway, Rey rolls backward on her chair, sighing through her nose, and does as usual. Taylor is already eating when she enters the kitchen; she takes her cold, bland sandwich from the fridge and sits down.
Warsi and Taylor aren’t talking, for once. The kitchen is filled with the sounds of them chewing their food, when Solo comes in.
It’s 12:15, and she wasn’t sure it would happen eventually, but holy shit, she’s relieved. With enough time, even Solo can overcome his discomfort around her.
It’s a relief, but she tenses up as he enters the room, and she barely dares to look up from her sandwich, afraid she’ll scare him away if she does.
He takes three steps toward the fridge before Deborah calls him from her side of the hallway. “Where’s Benjamin?”
Rey has rarely seen someone respond to their superior’s voice as instantly as Solo does -like he’s been programmed to. He stops right in his track, immediately turns around and leaves the room.
Then, everything happens really fast; too fast for her to have any control at all over the situation.
“How your date went, I never asked you?”
Behind Taylor, through the doorway, Rey can see Deborah and Solo -he’s nodding, his eyes down, and Deborah is her back to her.
Rey blinks at Taylor. “What.”
“ How did your date with Solo go? ” He repeats.
Blood rushes to her cheeks, she can feel it; teeth gritting and her eyes down, she hesitates before lying: “He said no .”
Her irritation can easily be read as embarrassment for having been turned down, so for once, her shame works in her favor.
“Oh---really?” Taylor frowns, with genuine confusion, turning to Warsi, who doesn’t react at all, her eyes not leaving her lentils. “But I thought…?”
“ I don’t know what you thought ,” Rey insists, interrupting him, “but Solo said no. Like you said, he’s not the type to date.” She’s about to add to the story, make it more convincing, but Deborah is returning to her office -and Solo is approaching. Even though he’s not within earshot yet, she whispers: “Listen, he’s coming back, so can we not?”
“Right, right, right, sorrysorrysorry ,” Taylor whispers back.
The room is silent again when Solo comes in, without looking their way, a document in hand -clearly intending to just take his lunchbox and leave.
He doesn’t have the time to open the fridge, that Warsi asks him, loud and clear:
“Benny, why did you refuse to go on a date with Jones?”
Rey’s stomach drops, and her head snaps up: “Sus’!!”
Solo, again, stops right in his track. He turns around, dread apparent on his face -whether it’s because he now has to talk to someone, to talk about Rey, or to deny a blatant lie that isn’t his own, Rey can’t say. It’s evident he’s heard correctly, but a small what still falls from his lips.
“Sus’,” Rey protests again, feeling like a teenage girl stomping her foot at the mall -but Warsi’s attention stays on Solo: “Hold on, I want to hear what he has to say --so is that true?”
Equally furious and ashamed, Rey waits for Solo expose her lie. But even briefly, Solo’s eyes fall on her, for the first time in a long time, and then he looks at Warsi, then her again, as if trying to find out what he’s expected to say. She wouldn’t have thought he would hesitate to tell the truth.
In the end, he goes with honesty, blushing, his hands holding the document tight. “I didn’t… refuse,” he admits softly.
Warsi opens her mouth in mock surprise, before she flatly comments: “ Ohmygod , it was a misunderstanding, ohno .” Then, without missing a beat: “Well then it’s settled, you’re going on a date with her, right?”
Rey’s anger dissolves pretty suddenly at that question. Her hands in her lap, she lets the ache in her chest silence her this time.
Tran’s desk is one of the closest to the kitchen doorway, close enough that they can hear his voice from inside when he chimes in: “ Oooh… I get it now.”
Frozen, Taylor has stopped eating: “...what is going on.”
And Rey doesn’t reply to either of them.
She should intervene; ultimately, she doesn’t care if Taylor and Warsi finds out the truth, and Solo certainly shouldn’t be the one to explain what happened either. But she just can’t speak. Nothing she could say would be a good explanation, when herself doesn’t understand half of why she does the things she does.
Meanwhile, Solo is standing there, his hands gripping his piece of paper. He swallows, but still doesn’t utter a word, as if looking for the right ones. Solo, who hasn’t told anyone what happened, now knows that she really hasn’t told anyone either.
“You’re free tonight, right?” Warsi insists. “You seem unsure.”
“I don’t think,” he finally says, quiet and careful, his face flushed, “...that she wants to.”
“Oh, why would you think that?”
He looks paralyzed, but Warsi waits for his answer. It’s shocking that he hasn’t left already. Rey’s heart is beating so loud that she hardly hears him when he finally speaks.
“Just… a feeling I have.”
This should happen under her terms. Nothing involving her and Solo should escape her control. He’s not comfortable, and she’s fucking dying inside, how are they in this situation? Can’t an immature woman get some time to figure out her mistakes in this world?
Her eyes are burning -still, no word comes out of her mouth.
It’s Warsi again, who gets to snort at Solo’s words: “ She asked you , don’t be silly!” -but this time, Solo doesn’t politely stand there. He leaves, without his lunch.
Warsi is calling after him, and Taylor says something too, Rey thinks, but she doesn’t really hear what, because she gets up right after Solo. She’s in the hallway just in time to see him disappear inside the copy room.
Rey turns her head to Tran, who’s leaning against his desk, his phone in his hand.
“I’ll invite him to the barbecue,” he winks, “don’t worry about it.”
“Shut up ,” she whines. She quickly grabs a random sheet of paper on Susan’s desk, because Susan isn’t there to stop her -then rushes away from Tran. “...I’m not going to your fucking barbecue Tran.”
“...I’m confused,” she hears behind her.
Rey is not so confused for once. She knows what she wants, and she’s heading to the copy room.
That’s the first thing that makes sense to her in a long time -and if Solo doesn’t want her there, well it’s too fucking bad.
Chapter 8: A sensible, level-headed adult
Again, LOVED reading your comments, thank you so so much for taking the time to post them
Just a reminder, this fic won't be updated until Cream is updated <3
here ya go, an update (ﾉ◕ヮ◕)ﾉ*:･ﾟ✧
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The copy room is small. It’s essentially a closet, with a photocopier inside and shelves on every wall. It can get unbearably hot in there, and it's too dark for comfort.
Solo never gets physically closer to anyone than what is strictly professional, but two is a crowd in the copy room, and he’ll just have to be close to her this time.
She shouldn’t be this bold, and herself is surprised that this is how she’s acting after everything --but not as surprised as Solo is when she comes in.
Who knows why he came here instead of going to the restroom if he wanted to be alone -unless he's checked, and there was someone in there already? He didn’t expect anyone to follow him, that much is clear.
The copy room is usually empty, and he’s the one who uses it the most in the entire office. How many times has he possibly run there to collect himself before? ...and for how long, without anyone knowing?
Her heart already beats so much faster the moment she sees him.
Solo is standing in the corner, his head low, pushing his hair out of his face when she opens the door on him.
“I’m--” he just gasps when she steps inside, the door closing. While she stands there, looking up at him, no other sound follows.
She takes a sudden step back when he slams the piece of paper he was holding on the glass of the copier, then presses the green button. He comes to stand against it and simply stares down at the sheet, waiting as the machine groans. A bright light soon repeatedly moves across his face. “I’m ---making copies,” he explains, his eyes not leaving the machine, his ears pink -justifying his presence here, as if she just caught him jerking off in the middle of the paper reams.
“Me too,” she lies, waving the nearly blank sheet of paper Susan had on her desk.
Her eyes fall on the screen between his hands, then. He’s likely repeated a previous operation by accident, because a total of seventy-five copies are about to be printed. She clears her throat. “I’ll wait.”
For a whole minute maybe, there’s just the patterned sound of the copier doing what it’s meant to do.
Now, having him standing there, so close that she could reach and touch him, so close that she can catch the details of his profile or even the faint scent of his laundry detergent, her courage is slipping away. She’s not truly aware of that until she feels the slight tremor in her voice.
She blinks at the absence of hesitation from him -although it makes sense that he was waiting for her to speak.
There’s a long silence during which she tries to figure out what she even wants to say. The intention of finally having a conversation with him was clear in her mind, but she’s neglected to decide what she wanted that conversation to be about in the first place.
His eyes are fixed on the glass, and he doesn’t urge her, probably because he wouldn’t mind it if their exchange ended there. Still, he seems to be expecting her to continue.
“Can we talk?”
That, causes her to nearly flinch. She shouldn’t interpret it as anything else than discomfort for a situation he wasn’t ready for. But even while probably being the person who can sympathize with him the best, it still hits her right where it hurts, and she can’t help but deflates a little.
She holds her piece of paper with both hands, unable to add another word yet looking for something to say nonetheless. She still doesn’t have a plan. She still doesn’t exactly know what she came here for, however determined she was.
But he turns his head just so, not quite to look at her, yet enough to acknowledge her attempt. His eyes still down, he throws her a line.
“What is it?”
It’s said very softly. There it is, Solo's patience, even with her, even while he's as nervous as her, and even though he has every reason to feel he's the vulnerable one after everything; he still treats her as if she’s the one who needs kindness the most.
It’s all she needs to go ahead, even if her voice is somewhat uneven:
“I… I’ve heard of a restaurant, that I think you would like.”
His hands tighten around the keyboard of the copier. She wouldn’t be able to exactly tell what goes on in his head, but there’s no sign of anger, so it doesn't stop her.
“Can’t remember the name. I’ve never been, but I thought you might like to go there, or... maybe you’ve been already, but -if you haven’t, or if you’d like to go again--” She’s rambling. “We can go together. I saw you eat a Tajine, once, so I think--” She blushes furiously hearing herself, feeling grotesque for basing her choice of restaurant on something he ate once, and that he might not even remember eating.
“I thought, if you like Moroccan food, you…” she trails off, her mouth dry. “It’s a Moroccan restaurant,” she explains, immediately feeling even stupider than a second ago. This is excruciating.
Solo doesn’t react. It almost seems like he hasn’t heard a single word she said, or like he’s not aware that he’s expected to respond. Her throat tightens.
“We’d go... just the two of us,” she pitifully adds. This time, she spoke so low she honestly can’t be sure he’s heard her, especially over the machine.
For what feels like a long moment, the copier keeps on copying, and he stares at the sheet on the glass. The whole time, she has to stand there like she doesn’t want to disintegrate into thin air; like she’s a sensible, level-headed adult who can endure that type of situation with no problem at all.
Without turning to her, but still softly, he asks:
“Can I think about it?”
“Yes,” she nods with a small voice, “yes you can.”
He can’t meet her eyes, and his shoulders are visibly stiff. But he goes around her to the door calmly -and leaves the room.
The machine is still going, and she’s left alone with it, pushing out a sigh. She pulls on her top. Her fingers are trembling a bit. Her face is burning.
It’s reasonable, perfectly reasonable. This is a better outcome than she could have hoped for. Everyone’s entitled to think about it before they accept to go on a date, it’s perfectly fine , she thinks again. The copier’s light is still going back and forth. She cancels the operation. With great care, she removes the original and the copies, as if he really actually intended to make them, and finally steps out.
Fresh air. Well, as fresh as it can be in here.
Getting to the main area, it’s not any more quiet than usual, she’s sure, but it feels like it. Nobody is spying on her, she’s sure.
But it feels like it.
Still, she holds the sheets carefully to her chest, and walks with a straight face to Solo’s desk. He’s in his chair. She approaches, and leaves the copies on his desk, without a word.
She doesn’t look around to see if anyone has been watching her, for her sanity's sake, and walks back to her desk, convinced that her face alone can be read like a book. Fuck it, she doesn’t regret anything.
Sitting at her desk, she feels more serene than she’s been in two weeks -maybe more serene than she’s been in months. Or rather, it’s a strange state, really. She’s anxious, undeniably, yet also at peace. What she did matches her feelings, and it doesn't happen often. She’s also a little bit dying inside, but that’s okay.
This time, when she imagines what a date between her and Solo would be like, she’s not worried about his lack of conversation. The restaurant she thought about is really small, the tables are small, and they would be sitting very close to each other. She imagines he’d prefer to sit in the back, because everything about him points to his inclination to hide and shelter himself, his frame and his ideas, as much as possible.
He wouldn’t talk much. But maybe, just maybe, she has things to say that he wouldn’t mind hearing about.
She won’t lie and say her anxiety doesn’t increase steadily during the next four hours. Many times she glances at Solo, but the more she finds him just typing, or sitting immobile in his chair, the more she feels anxious looking at him, and soon she makes the conscious effort to not look at him at all.
She gets some work done on Chloe’s computer, expecting it’ll distract her, but not really. The afternoon is going to come to an end, and she kind of regrets giving him some time to reply. If he’s sitting on a rejection, it might hurt her more the longer he delays it. How long is he about to make her wait? Until the end of the day? Tomorrow? A week?
How will he do it? Is he about to approach her desk any minute now, and quietly let her down? In front of the others? It doesn’t sound like him, but she can’t help imagining it. God, she’s sweating so much.
She’s prepared to stay at her desk until he leaves to be sure she’s available if he wants to tell her today, but also, fucking running away from here is a really, really tempting option. She doesn’t even need to grab her vest, she could just sprint to the elevator, and leave everything as is. Later, she could call Deborah and come up with an excuse, doesn’t matter what, she’d find something. She’s never missed a single day of work, her manager would let that one slide, surely ---or maybe not, but even losing her job doesn’t as terrible as facing the current situation.
...God, Solo doesn’t even have her phone number! She didn’t give it to him. If she went home, she’d definitely have to wait until tomorrow before getting a response.
It’s delusion to think he’s hesitating to go on a date with her, even that would be too good to be true. He just doesn’t know how to tell her he doesn’t want to.
The idea of him leaving the office without addressing their secret elephant in the room is crushing her. She tries to convince herself it’s not the end of the fucking world if it happens, but then, she starts staring at the time on her screen.
Ten whole minutes before five, what she feared would happen happens -and Solo stands up.
Her eyes stay on him very briefly, but enough time to see he’s grabbing his briefcase, then his thermos. She bites her tongue, and pretends she doesn’t notice.
Even from the corner of her eye, she can tell he’s heading to the elevator at a faster pace than usual, without pausing at any point. She hears the elevator open, and it gets really uncomfortable for her to swallow. No one else seems to notice Solo's early exit.
She zones out, not even facing her computer’s screen.
What is left to do now except go home?
After a few minutes, some people around her are already packing their stuff, chatting quietly, while some will stay another hour. She’s not in a hurry to go home herself, today. Nothing's waiting for her there.
Blinking back to the present, she moves her mouse and her screensaver vanishes. One by one, she closes her tabs, checking if she has any message on Reddit or Twitter, like a loser -then freezes right before she closes her inbox.
At the top of all the emails she hasn’t read, sits an email from Benjamin Solo with no subject. It was sent eight minutes ago.
Beryl Brown, from the HR department, has also been cc’d.
Rey’s heart skips a beat, but she immediately opens it.
It’s fairly short. She reads it several times.
“ Good afternoon, Beryl.
I’m sending you and Rey Jones an email you should only read when you’re free to do so. It is not an urgent or crucial matter, and it does not require a response. I want to thank you both for taking the time to read this when you do.
Rey Jones is a colleague I have nothing but respect and admiration for. Anyone can attest of her competence in her field, and I’ve observed her expertise on many occasions myself. Her professionalism is an inspiration, and I also share some of her personal beliefs.
Recently, she has expressed interest in seeing me outside of the workplace, and I’ve reciprocated that interest. We’ve met once after office hours with several other colleagues.
Her invitation to repeat that experience is what prompts this email. I no longer feel comfortable with the idea of engaging in any type of social activities with a coworker outside of the office, and I’m informing you both of this today.
To clarify, there hasn’t been any misconduct on Rey Jones’ part. She has always behaved appropriately with me, and will always be someone I esteem. I hope we can maintain a good relationship, even if it must remain a professional one.
Benjamin Solo. “