Ben sighed in relief as the PTA meeting he was attending finally concluded, the tired-looking teacher having announced that the slide they were on was the last of the presentation.
It wasn’t that he necessarily hated coming to these things - he really did understand that it was meant to be beneficial for the students - he just found the whole process incredibly boring. A few minutes of greetings, an hour or so of discussion about the most trivial topics imaginable, a few more minutes of polite conversation before they all left.
He was sure it would’ve been more enjoyable if he were a more routinely social person, or if the majority of the parents whose children frequented this snooty private school weren’t a bunch of conservative bigots who were only too willing to get into debates about his work as an immigration lawyer.
As it was, he struggled to keep up civil conversations in the very little time he forced himself to remain after the official portion of the meetings ended.
One of the myriad of moms attending sidled up to where he stood at the snack table and he repressed a sigh. He’d really just wanted to grab one of the too-expensive bottles of water for the road.
“How are you, Mr. Solo?” she asked, her hand grazing his elbow as she crowded closer to him than was societally considered polite.
“As well as I can be-” he paused. He truly couldn’t remember this woman’s name. “How are you doing?”
She seemed to notice his moment of hesitation, clearing her throat and gazing up at him with a pained smile that bordered on malicious. “Oh, not well at all I’m afraid. Norman and I have made our separation official.”
Ben frowned, stuck between wanting to say something consoling and wondering why she’d brought it up to someone who was almost a complete stranger. Before he could formulate a response, she was speaking again.
“You know, I’ve noticed that you never bring your wife around for events or meetings like this. And I’ve never seen you wear a ring,” she looked up through her eyelashes in a gesture he was sure was meant to be enticing, “If you ever wanted to get together sometime, we could-”
“I have a girlfriend,” he spat out quickly, immediately followed by the thought: you absolute moron Ben Solo.
“Fiancée, actually,” he continued breathily in what he hoped was a more convincing tone.
“Well,” she recovered quickly, “Why have we never met her?”
“She’s, uh, she’s really shy. Meeting so many new people would probably be too overwhelming for her right now and-”
“Oh, nonsense! First Order Primary is all about fostering camaraderie in our community, surely you’d want your future spouse to take part in that?”
He sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to get out of this one easily.
“As a matter of fact, why don’t you bring her to pick up Celia after school on Monday? That way we can all meet her.”
Distantly his mind buzzed with how and why does this random woman know my child’s name, but he simply nodded, blurting out an excuse to leave before she could drill him for more information.
Walking across the hall to where a long-suffering teacher’s aid was watching the children of the parents who’d been in the meeting, he silently panicked over what he’d agreed to do in his desire to escape.
He pushed the feeling down the minute he saw his daughter and walked across the room to where she was playing with a plastic, toddler-sized kitchen set. Crouching on the scratchy rug next to her, he ruffled her dark blonde hair.
“What are you making?” he asked teasingly.
She grinned up at him, her missing tooth fully on display. Celia had been so happy when it fell out, telling him all about how she’d made the other kids in her class look at the dollar the tooth fairy had given her.
“Mac n’ cheese for Rey.”
He smiled with amusement at how well his daughter was attuned to his best friend’s love of food. “She’ll love that, sweetheart.”
Celia smiled at him again and responded with an, “I know.”
Ben closed his eyes for a second and let out a huff of laughter. His daughter was incredibly self-assured and, as someone who constantly doubted himself, he wasn’t quite sure where she’d learned it.
He spent a couple of minutes coaxing her into leaving. Finally having convinced her, he swooped her up in his arms and gave the teacher’s aid (Rose, he thought her name was?) a wave goodbye.
“What’re we gonna do t’night?” She had her head buried in his shoulder and sounded sleepy.
“Well, tomorrow is Saturday so we’ll eat some dinner, and then we can watch a movie if you want.”
She turned her head to him with an eager look in her eyes, instantly wide awake. “Can we watch Ariel?”
He chuckled, “Yeah, honey, we can watch Little Mermaid… again.”
In the twenty-minute drive back to his condo, Celia’s little forehead pressed up against the cool window in the back and breath fogging up the glass as she dozed, he had time to consider the lie he’d entangled himself in.
What had he been thinking, saying that he was engaged? He hadn’t been in anything close to a committed relationship since Celia’s mom left and he didn’t see that changing in the next few days. He realized with a grimace that he would just have to cope with the fact that his lie would inevitably be discovered.
When they got home, he parked and transferred Celia from her booster seat onto his hip. She roused as they neared the door and by the time he plopped her on the couch she was fully awake again. Grabbing the remote, she fumbled around until she found her favorite movie. She hummed quietly to herself as the Disney intro filled the screen.
He moved into the kitchen, pulling out some ingredients he’d use to make their meal. The sound of the front door opening startled him and he hit his head on the freezer door as he leaned up to see who was coming in.
It was needless anyway, as Celia’s cries of “REY!” were enough to signal to him who had just arrived. He went back to rifling through his fridge, knowing she’d find him after his daughter was done interrogating her about work.
Rey was a freelance artist and she sometimes brought Celia sketches she’d done throughout the day. She had a veritable collage of them hung up with tape all over her room. He found the whole thing ridiculously adorable.
He was still shoulders deep in the fridge when Rey walked into the kitchen and laughed.
“Trying to get lost in there?”
“I was going to make omelets for dinner… I know I bought eggs, like, last week.”
“I’m sure you did, but I’m afraid that won’t be necessary.”
He looked up at her finally and saw the pizza box she was toting.
“You’re a godsend, you know that?”
“Yes, I do.” (Ah, so that’s where she gets it from, he thought), “Now come on, I’ve been waiting for this all day.” Sighing, he moved to one of the cabinets to grab plates.
Rey seemed to notice that there was something odd about him (he was even more dejected-looking than usual, he supposed) and asked, “Did work suck or something?”
“Nah, I’m fine.” At her skeptical look, he huffed. “I am. It’s just something that happened after the PTA meeting today. I’ll tell you later.”
“PTA meeting. You’re such an old man, Solo.”
“We’re literally two years apart.”
“Yes, but I’ve aged gracefully.”
“Rey, I’m thirty. I’m not prehistoric.”
She rolled her eyes sardonically, mouth slanted into a smirk. “Okay, boomer.”
God, she infuriated him sometimes - in the best way possible, of course. This was what their friendship had always been like, even back in their undergrad days when they had just met - they mercilessly ribbed each other, knowing that they could each take as good as they gave.
They both knew that the joking was nothing more than a cover for how far their (entirely platonic, he assured himself) affection went for each other.
After Celia’s mother left them, Rey had always been there for him, babysat for him, came to every one of her birthday parties for the past six years. He really couldn’t imagine a better… friend. Yeah, friend.
“Anyway, give me a couple of plates and I’ll get Celia a slice.”
He did just that and watched as she grabbed three for herself (Rey had always had the appetite of someone twice her size) and one for his daughter. His eyes followed her movements as she glided over to the couch, carefully placing the plates on the coffee table before falling beside Celia and making her dissolve into giggles as she bounced.
He grinned to himself before turning back to the pizza.
➵ ➵ ➵ ➵
Rey quietly came out of Celia’s room, pressing the door shut behind her. He was sitting on the couch with his feet propped up on the table, something she always berated him about doing, and knew exactly what their next topic of conversation would be.
Rey sat down next to him, the side of her torso pressed gently against his.
“So what happened?”
He brought his hands up to his face and groaned. “To explain it I’ll have to- ugh, this is so embarrassing.”
“You’ve been my best friend for almost a decade now. I’m pretty sure you know pretty much every embarrassing thing there is to know about me at this point.” She held her pinky up. “Promise not to make fun of you.”
He frowned. “Rey, we’re not five.”
“Actually pinky promises are binding regardless of the age of the participants, so-,”
“Fine.” He interlaced his pinky with hers. They dropped their hands after a second and he began again.
“Well… these moms at this school, you know. Most of them are older. Have issues with their rich husbands. Whatever.”
“Yeah. And so… sometimes, I’ll get… hit on, I guess, by the moms - and, like, a couple of dads, too. I don’t think they mean to be rude, but it makes me…”
“Uncomfortable?” She asked, a sharp edge in her voice.
“No, not that uncomfortable, honestly. It’s just- you know me. I can’t even interact with people trying to have a normal conversation with me, and being… flirted with is something I haven’t experienced in literal years. I don’t know- my fight or flight response kicks in or something.”
Rey looked like she wanted to laugh but reined herself in.
“So I’m assuming that sort of thing happened again today?” he nodded and she continued, “What did you do?”
“Something stupid,” he leaned back and rubbed his hands down his face once more.
“I kinda… implied that the reason I didn’t want to be with the woman hitting on me was that I… have a fiancée.”
He waited a moment for her reaction. When she didn’t say anything for a few long seconds, he looked over at her and noticed she was desperately holding in her mirth.
“You promised you wouldn’t laugh!”
“I- I’m sorry, Ben,” she took a breath and cackled, “I really just don’t know why these things always happen to you. Or why you do them to yourself.”
“Yeah, me neither.” He shook his head, cracking a smile despite himself at her laughter.
When she finally calmed down, she fell further into the couch beside him and pulled her legs up to her chest. “So what are you gonna do about it? I mean there’s obviously not much you can do besides lying again and digging yourself into a deeper hole or, well, I guess you could get somebody to pretend to be your fiancée, but-”
A figurative lightbulb appeared over his head. Rey must have noticed the look in his eyes because she immediately protested.
“Oh, no no no no no. No. You are not dragging me into this one, Solo.”
“Please, Rey? Please? It would only be one time and it would get all of them off my back and-,”
“No, Ben, no! I’m not doing it!”
“Rey,” he said, suddenly serious. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to but please just consider it? As a favor to a friend?”
She paused then started grumbling frustratedly; he knew she was convinced. “One time?”
“One time. Promise.” He held out his pinky, mirroring her actions from earlier. Reluctantly, she reached out her hand.
➵ ➵ ➵ ➵
They watched an episode of some show about flea markets and upcycling that Rey inexplicably loved before she announced that she had to go.
“Are you sure? We could order more food and just crash on the couch. Relive our college years.”
“You have a child now, Mr. Nostalgia, and I have a client that’s Skyping me at seven in the morning.” At his look of horror, she nodded, eyes exaggeratedly downcast, “That was my reaction as well. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”
“Alright,” he went to open the door and she grabbed her bag. Putting a hand across the door frame, he cleared his throat. “And, uh, thank you. Sincerely. For agreeing to go along with all this.”
“Don’t mention it,” she replied cheekily. “Just know that you totally owe me.”
He shook his head at her and she snorted, eyes going down to her feet. Filled with a sudden burst of sentimentality, he shuffled forward a couple steps and pulled her into his arms.
This was familiar, the feel of Rey against him. Maybe not in the way the most carnal part of him would like, but this seemed almost… more meaningful, somehow.
They’d always known the right ways to comfort each other, to hold each other when they needed it. He supposed that was just a by-product of being best friends for as long as they had been.
She pulled away first, sniffling a bit, and grinned up at him, giving him a light smack on his arm and a soft “goodbye”.
Ben watched her while she walked down the hallway and was caught when she looked back to where he was standing. They locked eyes and she gave him a smile before entering the elevator and disappearing.
Standing in paralyzing bewilderment at his doorway, he wondered what the hell had just happened.