Eleven. Eleven times he's been to this particular apartment. Every Friday for the past eleven weeks he's had the pleasure of dropping off one small Hawaiian pizza with black olives and eight spicy wings to the current resident. It's always the same order on the same day at the same time. He's memorized the order and the apartment number and the customer's name. It's kind of hard to forget. It's become habit and he rather enjoys his eight o'clock drop off to Rey Kenobi at number 29 in At-At Home Apartments. He's become particularly fond of her.
The first time he delivered to her, it was snowing but not pleasantly. It was the beginnings of a storm with harsh winds nipping at his cheeks, the ground dangerously icy. He was grumbling and cursing the weather and the customer, especially when he almost slipped walking up the stairs to reach number 29; not to mention he was supposed to be off work soon. It would have been very nice to spend his last half hour in the warm backend of Millennium Pizzeria but being the only delivery person on shift, he had no choice but to take the order. He banged on the door, wiping snow off the top of the pizza carrier when she opened the door. He'd seen many people and many things being a pizza delivery guy but he'd never seen anyone quite like her. He wasn't exactly swooning but he definitely found her interesting. She was rather short, standing just about almost a foot shorter than his own 6"1', and did not have what some would call a 'model body'. What immediately caught his attention was a scar the ran from the top of her left eyebrow, curved around her eye, and ended just below it. Then her eyes caused him to pause. A contrast to the raven hair piled atop her head, they were different colors.
"Ya! Pizza." She practically squeaked, clapping her hands like an excited penguin.
Right. Pizza. Do your job, Ben. He scolded himself. He smiled at her exclamation and pulled the food out from the carrier. "Here you go. It'll be twelve seventy-five." They swapped food and money.
"Thank you. I'm so glad I found you guys. Saved my Friday night tradition." She laughed at what he assumed was insider information. "I just moved here Monday." She explained, gesturing to the boxes and newspaper lying around. He also noticed a singular piece of furniture; a couch with a pile of blankets atop which sat a laptop with the familiar Netflix homepage sending a faint glow across the otherwise poorly light room. "And I was not about to give up my pizza, movie marathon, crash on the couch night." She smiled and he could feel the snow melt from his face then her eyes widen and her smile dropped. "Oh my gosh. I am so sorry for making you stand out in the snow like this. And making you deliver in it. Geez, you probably hate me. Here," she rushed inside and quickly returned without the pizza and wings. Instead she thrust a five-dollar bill at him. "Here's an extra tip, you know, for like freezing you." He looked up at her shocked.
"I can't take that. It's in my job description; sun, rain, snow." he crossed his arms, emphasizing his decision.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's like the federal postal service so take the freaking money and get yourself something nice. Like gloves. Or a beanie. Like seriously, aren't you cold?" she looked up at him, rubbing her arms subconsciously.
He genuinely laughed at her adorableness and shook his head. "I grew up here. Kinda used to the cold I suppose."
"Well, I won't keep you from the warmth of your car any longer. Thanks for the pizza and here-" She literal threw the money at him and shut the door before he could say another thing. She leaned against the door, groaning at how embarrassing she had acted. He, on the other hand, was amused and couldn't stop smiling as he drove back to work. He was hoping she meant what she said when she said Friday night tradition. She did.
They'd exchanged similar conversations over the ten weeks that followed. He learned that she had moved to town from Tucson, Arizona, to work for her uncle in his computer technician business. She'd never gone to college for it but learned everything she knows by either experience or random online classes. She was an only child, her parents highest concern being that she did not leave her room, let alone the house, often enough. He pointed out that they could have had it a lot worse. She heartily agreed. He also learned, to his excitement, that she was a nerd. Not a big reader but huge into gaming and comics. They talked about their favorite heroes and argued about which consoles were better. She learned that he grew up in this small town in the middle of Alaska she'd recently relocated to but he planned on moving on to bigger things once he'd saved up enough money. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do yet, but delivery pizza forever was not it. She learned he was the youngest of four; the other three all girls. Plus, he played the ukulele which she found absolutely intriguing and he promised to play for her at some point. She looked forward to it.
So many times during their routine conversations he wanted to ask her out, get her number, something, but the opportunity never presented itself. Or so he told himself so he didn't feel like a coward. He thinks about that now as he stands in front of her apartment door, hesitating, and he wonders if he's overstepping his boundaries tonight. Rey did not call in her order tonight and try though he might, Ben couldn't help but worry. What if something had happened, like she's in the hospital or something? Maybe she moved back home without telling him or maybe she was just busy. Maybe she was on a date. Any scenario he thought of only cause his worry to increase. That's how he ended up outside her apartment with a small Hawaiian pizza with black olives and eight spicy wings. He finally knocks, regretting his decision immediately. No one answers and after a few moments, he starts walking away discouraged.
"Ben?" He hears a muffled voice call behind him. He turns back to see Rey's head poking out from her door. He turns back and starts towards her. He's surprised and disheartened to see her eyes are wet and her cheeks have tears stains streaking down them.
"Hey, Sunny. Is...is everything okay?" He asks her, calling her by the nickname he gave her a few weeks back when she complained that she didn't have any imaginative ones because her name was boring.
She gives him a weak smile hearing him call her that. "Um...well no not really but why are you here?"
He's more interested in what's causing her such distress than explaining his presence but complies with her question, "Well, you didn't call in today and I kinda got worried so I thought I'd swing by after work to make sure everything was alright. Plus, we had already gotten your order ready so...yeah." He rocks slightly on his heels, unsure of how to broach the elephant in the room that is her heartbroken countenance, and holds the food out to her.
"That was really sweet of you. Thank you. How much-" she starts, taking the boxes and setting them on a chair behind her.
"Oh, no. You can't pay for something you didn't order." He smiles, slowly stepping closer. Silent tears slip down her cheeks as she looks down at her feet, twisting her hands inside her oversized sweatshirt sleeves. He reaches up and gently wipes one away, keeping his hand on her cheek. Her eyelids snap shut and she looks pained. "What's going on, Rey?" His smile fading quickly into crinkled eyebrows and a tight lipped mouth. She shakes her head, taking a quick breath. Ben drops his hand and stuffs it into his jacket pocket, along with the other. While they don't know each other intimately, he feels something for her. He wants to help her but he can't if she won't let him.
She sniffs and rubs her nose with her sleeve, "Look at me making you stand out in the freezing cold again." She tries changing the subject.
"Yeah, but I'm here by choice today. I'd stand out here all day if it'd help you." He states, slightly surprised by his own bluntness. She looks up at him surprised too. He continues, knowing he may never get another chance to tell her how he feels. "Listen, I don't know what's wrong and I'm not saying you need to tell me but I'm here for you, Rey. I care about you and it makes me sad seeing you sad so if you need someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on or even someone to take a swing at, I'll be that someone."
She manages a smile, "Thank you but I'd hate to mess up that adorable face of yours."
"You think my face is adorable?" His smile returns in full force.
"Only when you grin like that." She wipes away the wetness on her cheeks again. "But really, thank you, Ben." She takes a deep breath. "It's just been a terribly crappy day."
"Nothing pizza and a Star Wars marathon can't fix, right?" he teases but immediately regrets it when he sees the tears well up in her eyes again. "Or not. You know-Ouff!" he grunts as Rey falls onto him, wrapping her arms around him, face against his chest, crying. He's unsure of what to do so he just sort of holds her, rubbing a thumb along her shoulder. "Hey, it'll be okay."
She shakes her head vigorously, "No…no it won't." her muffled voice drifts up from his chest. "Everything's gone to crap and there's nothing I can do about it." Her words are strained, like it's taking all of her strength to speak. She releases him and he feels colder without her arms wrapped around him. He realizes how much he actually enjoyed being embraced by her and how much he'd like her to do it again, of course in a less tense situation. She slumps down against the wall, pulling her knees in close. He follows suite next to her and she lays her head on his arm.
"I just found out…" she takes a deep, shaky breath. "I found out today that my mom has cancer." Her voice drops to barely a whisper. "And the doctors are giving her three months to live." She covers her face with her hands. Ben wraps an arm around her shoulder and pulls her closer, pressing his lips to the top of her head. He can't even imagine what she's going through right now but he knows she shouldn't go through it alone; she won't, he determines. "I'm going back, obviously, but when I do, my uncle won't be able to sustain his business without me and he'll fall into bankruptcy and...and just everything's falling apart." she breaks down again, crying into her hands. He doesn't know what to say to soothe her. So he repeats to her the lyrics of her favorite song that she once told him got her through many tough days.
"Though the tunnel seems dark, the light will shine through. Though the storm rages on, peace will soon come through." he whispers into her hair.
Her hands slowly fall from her face as she looks up at him, "You remembered?" she appears confused that he would care to remember something so trivial.
"Of course. Memory like an elephant, this guy." he points to himself with his thumb. "Plus, you have a way of talking that just makes people want to listen to you; like all day."
She giggles softly, "Now you're just making stuff up." she pushes at him playfully.
He squeezes her closer and looks down at her in all seriousness, "You really are an extraordinary human being and the highlight of my week." he bends down to kiss her, hesitating, wondering if maybe this isn't the right time but she closes the gap between them and pushes her lips to his. It's the briefest of kisses that seems to last a lifetime. They're fingers entwine as they're lips part.
"Can you stay, at least for a little while?" she asks, leaning her head against his chest.
"Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere." he answers, giving her forehead a gentle kiss.