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Sister of Pearl

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Ben had always liked rainy days.

They were inconvenient in every way possible, but he couldn’t help it. He liked the sound the droplets made when they hit the glass, the way the ground smelled, the faint hint of cold travelling in the air. It made him feel strangely at home.

It was a Thursday afternoon, and he was sitting at the station, waiting for the next bus. There were fewer buses on Thursdays, and Ben worked out of town, so he had to wait almost an hour for it to arrive. It was okay though. Every week, Ben brought a different book with him to read as he waited, and continued reading it on the bus as well. By the time he got home, he’d finished a good part of his novel.

There was something special about reading in public. He became invested in his book, and all his surroundings disappeared, people included. Of course, usually there weren’t any people in this part of town.

This Thursday was different.

Ben was about halfway through his novel when someone sat next to him on the station. He instinctively scooted further away from them, to give them and himself some space. It was no big deal; he preferred sitting on the side of the bench anyway.

The person placed their tote bag between the two of them and sighed deeply as they leaned back. Curiosity got the best of Ben, then, and he took a quick glance at his side.

The woman sitting next to him was black, dressed in blue harem pants and a white shirt, her curly hair pulled up in space buns. She was currently wiping the rain off her glasses with her sleeve, also wet. In fact, she was soaked with water from head to toe.

“Bad day?”

Ben barely registered that the words came out of his mouth, until she turned and looked at him. Their eyes locked, and Ben couldn’t help but notice what a nice shade of brown they were; almond-like, almost enchanting.

“Not really, no,” she said with a smile, breaking eye-contact and putting on her glasses.

Well, that was about the most awkward social interaction Ben had ever had.

He tried to go back to his book, but he couldn’t focus. Letters turned into symbols, words turned into sounds robbed of their meaning, paragraphs became insignificant. He couldn’t even remember what had last happened in the novel, or how many pages he’d turned without taking anything in.

This was exactly why he left the small-talk to Klaus. He always managed to say the wrong thing and make a fool out of himself. All he wanted was for the bus to show up already, but that would mean having to share it with the woman, so what was the point? He just had to accept the fact that he’d spend the next hour and a half caught in awkward silence.

“So, are you from around here, or…?”

The question caught Ben by surprise. He glanced at her again, happy he didn’t have to stare at seemingly empty pages for a bit, and forced a smile. “No, I’m… no.” If slapping himself wouldn’t have made him look even more ridiculous, he would have done it in a heartbeat. “I live in the city center, I just work here.”

The girl stared at him for a little while longer, a smile forming in the corners of her lips, and eventually nodded, as if giving Ben the cue to continue. Idiot, idiot, idiot—

“Bookstore!” Ben practically yelled. It really wasn’t his day. “At the, um, bookstore. I work at the bookstore, just around the corner,” he said and pointed towards it.

“Oh, I live two streets away from there!” the woman said, the smile never leaving her face. How was her mouth not hurting? Ben couldn’t help but think that she would get along great with Klaus. “Haven’t checked it out yet, though. I just moved here a week ago.”

Ben shifted a bit in his seat so he could look at her better. “Really?”

She nodded. “I’m from California,” she said. “Just got my English degree from Berkeley.”

“Berkeley,” Ben repeated. He’d been to California once before, for the premiere of one of Allison’s movies, and if he could afford it, he would have packed everything up and rented an apartment there in a heartbeat. He smiled, a playful tone finding its way in his voice. “And you moved here why…?”

The girl chuckled, and Ben couldn’t help but join her. Maybe things weren’t that awkward after all.

“I’m writing my book,” she said, once they had stopped laughing. “And, well… it’s a quiet neighborhood.”

Ben chuckled again—when was the last time he’d casually laughed like this? “That it is,” he said. It was one of the reasons he had accepted a job that far from home, after all. He realised he had been silent for a while, leaving her with no room to answer, and scooted a bit closer, so he could extend his hand. “I’m Ben.”

She took it in a firm hold and shook it. “Jill.”

Jill.

The name suited her.

They kept talking after that, about anything and everything. Ben told her about how he’d also just finished his English degree a year ago, about his semi-functional apartment with Klaus, about the bookstore… He purposefully let out the part where he survived a family of seven, or his crazy-rich abusive father and how he had disowned all of them. He only wanted to break the ice, not destroy it.

At the same time, Jill told him about her studies and how she got a scholarship to Berkeley, about moving to the suburbs to get away from the fuss of the city and focus on writing her book, about how she didn’t have any roommates, but she did have a cat named Prophet.

They talked and talked until the bus arrived, only for them to get on board and continue their talk inside. They did have another twenty minutes, after all.

“So,” Ben said as they sat down in the back of the bus. “Are you gonna tell me how you ended up soaked like this or…?”

Jill groaned but rolled her eyes playfully at him. “I was in a hurry, and I thought I’d miss the bus,” she explained.

Ben laughed. “Trust me, it’s literally impossible to miss the bus here.”

“In my defense, I did just move here,” Jill said. “I’m supposed to be meeting my friend Keechie downtown and—actually, I should text him.” She took out her phone from her pocket, which had somehow survived the rain. “No idea how I’m going to excuse being an hour late, but…”

Ben chuckled and shook his head, looking out the window and letting Jill type. The rain had actually gotten worse, and Ben hadn’t even noticed. He’d been too distracted by his new friend—was Jill even his friend? Acquaintance would do for now, though Ben hoped it wouldn’t stay that way for long. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d ever held a conversation with someone new for more than two minutes. There was something special about Jill, and Ben really liked her, to say the least.

Klaus did always tell him to go out and make some friends for once.

Ben tried to give some of his attention to the raindrops rolling down the window, but it was just like his book all over again; his thoughts simply travelled elsewhere.

He felt a bump on his side, and jumped, before realising it was just Jill showing him something on her phone.

“Keechie is going to kill me,” she said.

Ben leaned a bit closer to her, so he could take a better look at the text on-screen.

Keechaw: sure u didnt ditch me 2 hang w/ anyone else?

God, it was just like reading one of Klaus’ texts. He rolled his eyes and fell against his seat, giving Jill some space. She gave him a quick smile, then turned off her phone and shoved it in her pocket, also leaning back.

“Aren’t you gonna respond?” Ben asked.

Jill shrugged. “He leaves me on read all the time, he can last ten minutes without me.”

As if on cue, Ben’s phone went off. He ignored it the first time, but after a minute, it pinged again and again, until there was no denying who was texting him. With a groan, he took out his phone from his leather jacket and looked at the texts.

Klauzoo: did you get my tart

Klauzoo: davey baked it just for me

Klauzoo: ben. the tart.

Klauzoo: benny.

Klauzoo: benbenbenbenbenbenbenbenben

Klauzoo: ben this isn’t a JOKE, you promised

Klauzoo: im gonna shit on your bed if you don’t respond

Klauzoo: please

Ben shook his head and angrily typed back.

You: I got your stupid tart, now shut up and stop spamming me

Klauzoo: okay darlin don’t forget the choccy milk xoxoxo

You: You’re LACTOSE INTOLERANT, leave me alone

Ben shoved his phone in his pocket with another groan and sighed apologetically. “Sorry, that was my sibling,” he said.

“No worries,” Jill said with a smile. “The roommate one?”

Ben nodded. “That’d be Klaus, yes,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ve been to the coffee shop across the bookstore yet.”

Jill nodded. “Just this morning, actually… and every morning before that.”

Ben laughed. “Well, Dave does make good coffee.”

“Oh, do you guys know each other?”

“Since I started working at the bookstore, yeah.” When Ben had accepted the job, he’d been in desperate need of money to afford college. It’d been hard, at first, going back and forth around the city all day, but Dave was one of the people that made it easier. Ben got his coffee from him every morning, and soon enough, they became really close friends. He never once thought, back then, that four years later, he’d still be working at the same bookstore, full-time. “He’s also my in-law.”

“Holy shit, are he and Klaus married?”

“What?” Ben stared at her dumbfounded. “Married? Why would they—Oh! Oh, no, no,” he laughed. “I mean, sometimes it’s almost like they are, it’s why I call him that. They hit it off the moment I introduced them, and they’ve been dating for almost three years, but Christ, I can’t imagine Klaus getting marr—actually, no. I definitely can.”

Jill laughed too then. “You two seem very close. Having a sibling must be a lot of fun.”

“Ehhh… Not when they’re trying to turn you into a tart courier, they’re not.”

Jill laughed again, but stood up, and Ben gave her a questioning look. “My stop’s coming up next,” she said.

“Oh.” Ben tried to hide his disappointment—since when was he disappointed about saying goodbye to someone he just met—but it didn’t quite work. He cleared his throat. “Well, this has been fun.”

Jill smiled. “It really has.”

“I hope, uh, you have fun with your friend.”

“Thank you,” she said, tugging some of the hair that had gone loose behind her air. She gestured at Ben. “And good luck with the tart!”

“The tart, yes!” Ben said. “Thank you! I think I’ll manage, probably. You never know with Klaus, he’s… well, Klaus—” Stop talking. “—but I survived this long so I must be doing something right—” Seriously. Shut up. “—even though he keeps driving me completely insane—”

The bus came to a halt.

Excellent. Ben had started rambling about his sibling. Somehow Klaus managed to make things awkward without even being there.

“I should get going,” Jill said, pointing at the door.

“Yes, yes, sorry of course,” Ben said. The stared at each other for a few seconds, before Ben decided it was time to further embarrass himself by forcing another laugh. “Well, you know where to find me!”

“Yeah!” Jill said, with an equally awkward tone. She took a step closer to the door, then turned to him one more time. “Bye, Ben.”

Ben smiled at her in return. He’d said enough stupid things for one day. But as the seconds went by, and Jill started stepping out of the bus, Ben couldn’t help but think back to how she was when he first met her, coated by the rain. And as the doors started to close, Ben got up again, preventing them from shutting with his hand. “Jill, wait!”

Jill stopped and turned around, and even though the rain was dying out again, she was already a bit wet.

He cursed under his breath and reached out for his umbrella, passing it on to her. “Here.”

Jill inspected it closely, then looked back at him. “What about you?”

“I have millions,” he said. For the first time in his life, he thanked his father for owning an umbrella manufacturing corporation.

A smile tugged at Jill’s lips again. “Thank you.”

The doors to the bus closed again, separating the two. Ben returned the smile, and continued waving at her until she was out of sight. When he went back to his seat to finish his novel, the words still hadn’t come back.

Strangely enough, Ben didn’t mind.

It was a rainy day, after all, and Ben liked rainy days the best.