Rey sighed as she took in the weather outside of the café she was in. It was pouring cats and dogs out there, it had been for a while now. She knew that leaving her dormitory was going to be a mistake, but she did it anyway.
She needed coffee and her coffee maker was broken.
Rey scowled at the cup in her hand. It wasn't her fault that her brain could never seem to pay attention to chemistry long enough. When she decided to major in Electrical Engineering, she didn't expect that Chemistry would be a major pre-requisite subject. Physics yes, but chemistry? She shook her head.
The coffee was only part of the reason why she was out studying instead of being snug inside her room. She learned the hard way that if she tried to study the darned subject in her room, whether she had coffee or not, she would ultimately fall asleep. Studying in a café made sure that she wouldn't fall asleep.
The rain didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon, and nobody inside the shop looked like they wanted to leave either. She couldn't study outside because all the tables were wet. All the other tables inside were taken and mostly occupied by students like herself.
Rey hated it when she had to ask someone to let her share a table. It was awkward and most of the time, her table companion would start a conversation which would make her even more uneasy. But desperate times called for desperate measures. She knew full well that if she couldn't get some studying done now, she would probably have a hard time keeping up with the class.
She surveyed the room, already deciding not to sit with fellow students. Even though she didn't know those people, she had enough experience that she knew that sharing a table with another student wouldn't be conducive to studying.
The other tables were occupied with couples, so she immediately rejected those options. Another table had an old man doing a crossword. Rey took a deep breath. She would probably have to sit with him.
She slowly made her way to his table, each step tenser than the last. She hated this part, the asking. She hated it because she never knew beforehand if a person would allow her to sit with them or not. If they did, well good, no problem. But if they didn't, it was just a bit embarrassing on her part.
Before she could reach her destination, someone tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me?" a guy said as she turned to face him. "Do you want to share my table?"
He gestured to his table over at the corner. Rey didn't even consider that table as an option when she was surveying the room because it was obviously quite occupied what with all the papers strewn over almost every inch of the table.
Rey opened her mouth to decline. The guy obviously needed all the space he could get. But before she could say anything, he spoke again.
"That man is the associate dean for the College of Philosophy," he whispered, indicating the old man that Rey was going to ask. "He's not very keen on letting other people share his table."
"Oh," she replied. "Then, I'll take you up on your offer."
When they made it to his table, he cleared up half of the surface, stacking papers haphazardly. Rey couldn't help but notice the amount of chemistry material that the guy had with him.
"Thank you for this," she said when they were seated. "This place always seems to be full when you really need to study."
"Don't mention it," he replied. "I know the feeling. Everyone needs coffee for studying, especially with that material."
He nodded to Rey's chemistry book. She was suddenly self-conscious. Her book was battered, she did cover it with plastic to protect the edges, but it still looked worn.
"Yeah, the book is a bit dry," she agreed. "But this was what the professor said was his main reference material."
"Let me guess," the man smirked. "Professor Skywalker for Chem 101."
"Yes," she nodded. The man was probably an upperclassman. "The man's a great lecturer, but the topic and this reference is just so…"
She trailed off, unable to find words that could accurately describe how she was suffering in chemistry. Her tablemate chuckled.
"I know. So you're a freshman?" he asked. At her nod he continued. "That would explain why I haven't seen you in my classes. You should probably start studying."
She nodded and opened her book, flipping to the page she was last reading. By his last sentence, she assumed that he really was an upperclassman, probably a chemistry major by the Organic Chemistry book that he had with him. As she uncapped her highlighter, she realised that she hadn't introduced herself.
"I'm Rey, by the way," she said, mentally face-palming because that introduction sounded lame.
"Hey Rey by-the-way," he snorted, causing her to smile. At least her awkwardness gave him some amusement. "I'm Ben."
They shook hands over the table. Rey noticed that his hands were a bit callused and that he had a firm grip. This man was no stranger to some form of labor, despite his expensive looking sweater.
They returned to their work after that. The only sounds, aside from the background music and the usual coffee shop chatter, was their pens on paper and occasional sips from their respective drinks.
Rey scowled at her book. How on earth did they expect her to memorise the periodic table in such a short time? It had numbers, symbols, and the element names were just, well some were quite fine like oxygen and carbon. But others, rutherfordium for example, were just long. Not to mention it didn't make sense that while oxygen's symbol was O, whereas mercury's was Hg.
Rey sighed, causing Ben to look over. Seeing her scowl, he gave her book a glance.
"That bad?" she gave him a questioning look.
"A bit," he nodded. "Besides, I remember that book doesn't explain the basics very well. Nor does it give you tips on how to memorize the elements."
"Then please?" she said, accepting his offer.
He moved his chair so that instead of being across her, he was perpendicular to her seat. He cleared up a bit more of the table and pulled out a blank piece of paper. Over the course of the next hour, he proceeded to explain chemistry to her in such a way that was interesting and educational at the same time. When they finished the impromptu lesson, she smiled up at him.
"Thank you for this. You should be a teacher," she told him, draining her coffee cup. "You explained that so well."
"I am," he smiled, thankful for the compliment."
"Oh," Rey's eyes widened. "You look so…"
"Young?" Ben chuckled. "I just graduated last year, so that should explain it."
"Wow," Rey said. "I thought that they didn't hire fresh graduates as teachers?"
"They usually don't," he nodded. "But I'm taking my Master's Degree and Professor Skywalker is training me up to replace him someday."
That explained all the reference material he had with him. Still, Rey felt a bit sheepish that she was sitting with a teacher and she didn't even know it.
"I'm so sorry for not realizing that you were a professor here," she apologised.
"Technically, I'm still just an instructor," he replied. "I won't be an official professor until I complete the requirements."
"I see," Rey nodded. Seeing that the weather had cleared up, she figured she should go too. "I think I should get going."
"Alright," he smiled. He rummaged around in his bag and held out a card. "Here's my contact details. I wouldn't mind tutoring you if you need more help."
"Thanks," she accepted the card. "But I really can't afford a tutor."
"For free," he said. "Think of it as a win-win situation for the both of us. You get lessons, and I get to practice teaching."
She gathered her things and stood up. She thanked Ben again and then walked out of the café.
On the way back to her dormitory, she thought about his offer.
Surely there wasn't anything wrong with having him teach her, right?
Back at the café, Ben kept watching her until she was out of sight. There was nothing in the school rules about instructor-student relationships, as long as she never became his student. He smiled to himself and hoped that she'd call him.
Gah. Modern AUs are hard to write. Well, modern AUs for these two are hard to write. Anyway, feedback is very much welcome. If you have a prompt, just shoot me a message in the comments or as a PM.