The buzzing of her phone on her nightstand woke Rey from a glorious, long overdue lie-in. She groaned as she rolled over and threw back the covers to retrieve it.
It was Finn, of course. It was two hours later at his family's house and he'd likely been up for hours. A string of holiday emojis and a message greeted her.
MERRY XMAS P-NUT!
She laughed at his spelling and peered at the icons. Santa-tree-fireworks-Santa-snowman-tree-cake-Santa, or something like that.
You too, she replied, and lay back. It had been a grueling month between Thanksgiving and today, what with classes and group projects and finals, then working late shifts at the department store to get extra money for next semester. The store had been insanely busy for the last two weeks in the run up to Christmas, and they moved her from department to department, filling in where others had called in sick or where they needed extra hands. One evening it had been shoes, another women's intimates, the next at the jewelry and handbag counters.
One particular shopper stood out in the sea of faces, a repeat offender who came in within fifteen or twenty minutes before closing and kept her until they had locked the doors to the street and the security guards glared at him as he sauntered out with package after package.
The first few nights she was annoyed at being kept over, but by the fourth, she became curious at the tall, dark haired man who kept finding her no matter what department they stuck her in.
The fifth night, he had settled back in one of the chairs in the shoe department and asked her to try on a pair of shoes so he could see how they looked on a woman's foot. Her fellow seasonals had raised eyebrows behind his back as she had reluctantly acquiesced while they tidied up the boxes and tissue papers lying scattered around the area. He had expensive taste indeed- or, his recipient did. Nothing she wiggled her foot into for him was synthetic, made anywhere but Italy, or cost less than eight hundred dollars.
But really, where was the harm? She was earning overtime and the commission on these shoes was worth it. Everything was worth it when she thought of how many trips on the subway, how much of a semester's tuition, how many flats of ramen noodles at Costco these shoes would buy her and her roommates.
His appraisal was stern, and he was terse as he narrowed his eyes at each pair, finally asking her to put one of two different styles on each foot. Both were Louboutins- she was sure she was saying it incorrectly- and both were very, very high heels. She almost giggled out loud when he gestured for her to turn around and she stumbled when the spiky heel caught on the carpet.
"Your left one," he pronounced, rising from the chair without further banter and proceeding to the register.
She shimmied out of the shoe and replaced it in the box with its mate and padded barefoot behind the counter to wrap up his purchase. By now she knew the name on his black metal credit card by heart.
Benjamin K. Organa-Solo
If she weren't so tired from a 17-hour day and a touch intimidated by his brusque demeanor, she might have asked him what the K stood for. As it was, she only ventured a small smile as she guided the newest bag into his hands and wished him a happy holiday.
She only noticed as he strode away how he had a black kippah pinned to the back of his crown. It nearly blended in with his black, wavy hair and as he neared the doors, he reached up and removed it, tucking it inside the pocket of his overcoat.
After another half-hour of lying in her bed, Rey finally got up and ventured into the small living room. They had picked out a silver tinsel tree together and strung popcorn and cranberry garlands one night while watching Miracle on 34th Street. She'd already given Finn and Jess their gifts, but refused to open hers until she was alone on Christmas morning.
Or, Christmas early-mid afternoon, the clock on the microwave told her.
Did u open ur gifts yet? Her phone buzzed in her pajama pocket with the message.
"Oh my God," she cried out loud. "Are you spying on me?!"
She settled onto their worn couch with Finn's gift first, a neat rectangle that could only contain some kind of book. Rey wasn't sure what Finn had against e-readers, but he loved giving people old-fashioned books.
She tore away the blue and silver snowman paper to reveal a title that creased her brow as she read it and its lengthy subtitle.
The Courage to Accept Joy: Learning to Let Go of The Past, Grasp Life's Gifts, and Enjoy Yourself
Rey groaned as she flipped to the back of the dust jacket and examined the author's picture. She wasn't sure what Dr. Kimberlee Smith-Barenstein knew about joy that she didn't, but this woman definitely knew about using lots of hairspray. She dutifully shot a message back to Finn.
Thx looks like a good read!
Jess's gift was a tasteful sweater shawl that they'd admired together at the department store. Her other roommate had been working there for long enough to get double employee discount during the holidays, but Rey knew from their ogling that it still cost a pretty chunk of change.
Hey lady, merry Christmas! She swiped her thumb quickly over the shape of the words. Jess was spending the holidays in Hawai'i with her grandparents and was likely still asleep. Love the sweater! Hope you're having fun.
She puttered around the apartment, straightening and fluffing and dusting until a gnawing hunger began to ping her middle with an insistence she couldn't ignore. She hugged aloud when she opened the fridge to find a half-eaten yogurt, a blackened banana, a Mountain Dew Code Red- she shuddered at this item, Jess's favorite morning beverage- and a package of American cheese slices.
"Ulgh!" She exclaimed and slammed the door. This would not do at all.
Going to Wong's for some food, she texted Finn. She was showered, dressed, and halfway to the bus stop before he replied, Jelly! Get some, girl!
The bus ride was faster than usual without many riders on their normal commutes, but she still had time to day-dream. Her thoughts kept returning to the mysterious shopper, wondering what his middle name might be. There weren't a lot of men's names that began with k.
Kevin, Kyle, Kai, Kaleb… She wrinkled her nose and tried to put him out of her mind. Him and his pile of decadent gifts. He seemed like the type to have a rotating cast of beautiful, petite blondes on his arm. Ones with feet the same size as hers.
On the seventh night he had appeared before her, she felt bold enough to greet him with a cheeky question.
"How is it your girlfriend needs a gift from every department I'm in?" She leaned on the edge of the glass display case containing rows of glittering diamond jewelry.
He still smelled of cold as he unbuttoned his overcoat and stuffed his leather gloves in the pockets. "It must be my lucky day," he replied, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "You seem to know just what she needs."
It was all she could do not to roll her eyes at him. "Well," she drawled, looking into the cabinet. "I wouldn't say a woman needs diamonds, but she'd probably like one."
"One… or two?" Rey unlocked the cabinet with the key around her wrist under the edge of her blazer sleeve. "A pair, perhaps. Earrings?"
He leaned on his edge of the case and bent forwards, examining the velvet-lined tray she had supplied for his perusal. She bent forwards as well, their faces mirrored in the spotless glass.
He made a small noise in the back of his throat in consideration. Rey glanced up at him and could tell he needed a push. She also noticed how good he smelled.
"Well, these are lovely and classic," she suggested, holding up a pair of solitaire studs to her own ear. "But so are these." The teardrop diamonds hung free and caught the light from all angles as she held them up to the other side.
He straightened up and peered at her as she turned first one way, then the other. She avoided making eye contact until he finally asked, "Which do you like better? I can't decide."
She didn't answer right away and tried not to look at the price stickers on the back of each item to influence her decision. It wasn't as if he had a problem spending the money, but it was hard to ignore that the teardrops were larger stones and therefore more expensive.
And worth more commission to her.
"These!" She thrust her hand with the teardrops forwards. "They're more fun, but they still go with everything."
"Sold!" He chuckled and reached into his inside jacket pocket for his wallet. His kippah fell out onto the display case as he withdrew his hand. It lay there between them for a second before he snatched it away and stuffed it deep into the pocket. "Sorry," he murmured.
Rey shook her head. "No worries."
Her back was turned, tying a bow around the gift package when he said, "I only go to temple at the holidays, to make my mom happy."
"Don't we all?" She glanced back over her shoulder, hoping her tone was light and believable. She didn't do anything to make her parents happy.
She didn't have any parents, not anymore.
Rey shook her head and tightened her coat around her before pulling the cord for her stop.
"Merry Christmas!" She waved at the driver from the back door and he raised one hand in his rear view mirror in return.
The block leading to Wong's was lined with small vegetable grocers and meat markets and most were open despite the holiday. The smell of fried meat and dough filled the air, and her stomach growled angrily.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust once she stepped inside the door but the familiar smell of oranges and incense from the ancestor altar just inside it greeted her. Normally she got takeaway, but there was no hurry today. She had a textbook under her arm and could read while she ate.
She was halfway to a small booth in the back when a man's voice stopped her.
She paused and turned around. The voice seemed so familiar, but she didn't recognize its owner immediately.
"It's Rey, right?" Her mystery shopper was seated at a large, rounded booth in the middle of the restaurant, a sizeable spread of food in front of him. It looked like it had just been served, and contained a number of her favorites.
She continued to stare at him until he tossed his napkin on the table and stood, offering her his hand. "I'm Ben- I'm sorry, I don't think I ever really introduced myself."
Rey realized as she gripped his giant hand that he looked much younger without his formal work clothes on. A lock of his hair fell across his forehead and into his eyes a touch. "Yes, it's Rey - good memory."
He shoved his hands in his back jeans pockets and studied her, a half-grin quirking the side of his mouth. "Would you join me? I always order too much food."
"Oh, I can't," Rey raised the textbook as though to ward him off. A strange sensation was churning in her, a mix of curiosity at his coincidental presence and annoyance at wanting to be left alone. "I need to study."
"Study?" Ben's mouth worked like he was trying to keep from scoffing at her. "Aren't you on break?"
"Yes, but…" She trailed off weakly, looking at the steaming pile of noodles on the table. Her stomach betrayed her with a long audible growl.
Ben chuckled and swept the hair away from his face. "Sit down," he commanded, sounding superior in his invitation. He seated himself and took up his fork. "The food's getting cold."
She resisted rolling her eyes at Ben and gave a half wave to the elderly Mr. Wong where he sat hunched over his paper in the back booth. She thought he looked unusually excited, giving her a thumbs-up under the table.
"You come here a lot?" Ben was already eating when he spoke around the mouthful. "We get takeout from here at the office because it's close, but I've never stayed."
"Same," Rey nodded, helping herself to what she hoped looked like lady-like portions. Jess's eyes always widened when she saw how much Rey could shovel in, despite their being the same size in jeans. She wondered what he was doing here, of all places, alone on the holiday, given the pile of presents he had purchased over the last couple of weeks.
"What are you studying?" He gestured towards her textbook with his fork.
"Environmental science." Rey swallowed her first bite and closed her eyes momentarily in bliss. The heady taste of soy, cooking oil, and meat coated her tongue. "I'm a senior at the university."
"That's good," Ben agreed. "Stay in school. You seem pretty driven."
Rey laughed. "You can tell that from a sum total of an hour of interactions with me? What are you, a mind-reader?"
"Fine, fine, you're right!" Ben dismissed her with a laugh. "You seem…." He looked above her head as he searched for the word. "Hungry. In many senses."
Rey couldn't meet his eyes. Had she been that obvious with her salesmanship? No matter, he was the one in charge of his wallet.
"I thought you Americans-" She punctuated her statement with a stab of her utensils in his direction. "- liked money. Greed is good, right?" She and Finn had cackled with delight at the campiness of Wall Street and quoted it to each other almost daily.
He looked at her out of the tops of his eyes and helped himself to more moo-shu. "That is a satire, sweetheart." He rolled the pancake around the mixture of filling and sauce before continuing, "But it's not wrong to have ambition."
A comfortable silence fell over them on his assertion, and she helped herself to more chow mein without responding. It felt nice to be validated for being a hard worker, even if it was by a random stranger whom she barely knew.
"Oh!" Ben exclaimed suddenly. "I almost forgot, I have something of yours."
Rey's chopsticks paused halfway to her mouth, noodles dangling. "Of mine? How did that happen?"
Ben shrugged, a non-answer in her book, then pushed a woman's handbag from under his coat around the curve of the red vinyl booth towards her. She recognized it instantly- the rich leather shone dully even in the low lighting of the restaurant. Her stomach fluttered and she swallowed her mouthful carefully before asking, "What is that?"
"You know what it is," he replied. His voice was quiet but direct. "It's your gifts."
She stared at him. "My gifts? I thought they were for your gi-" She broke off with realization and her cheeks grew hot as she recalled his purchases.
"My gifts," Rey repeated in a whisper. "Are you serious?"
He motioned with a small movement of his fork. "Open it."
She laid down her chopsticks and drew the bag closer, grasping the tassel attached to the zipper pull. Even the tassel felt expensive, a buttery, pebbled leather that filled her small hand. The heavy zipper parted smoothly to reveal a neat pile inside. The velvet jewelry box sat just beneath her hand.
Her eyes darted back to his, and she was embarrassed to see a grin beginning to warm his eyes. This couldn't really be happening, could it? Strangers just didn't give shop girls gifts. A flicker of annoyance cooled her. What did he think this was, 1955? That she would just fall all over herself because a repeat customer at her temporary job had bought her a bunch of things? Of… very expensive things?
"I can't accept this," she shook her head. "It's not right, you don't even know me."
"Two-one eight-seven said you'd say that," he replied cryptically, but his grin continued to transform his face into a mask of wolfish happiness. "That you'd say no before you'd say yes."
Rey continued to move the items delicately, peering inside the bag in the dim light. Yes, all the gifts were there - from the Louboutins to... the lingerie. Her cheeks flamed anew as she recalled how he'd sized the items against her figure, how she'd avoided eye contact as he had cocked his head and decided whether things would fit. He'd claimed his girlfriend was about the same size as her.
"Who is two-one-eight-seven?" Rey zipped the bag closed and pushed it back into the neutral space between them. "And I don't accept your gifts. I just can't."
"We have a lot of interns at work," Ben pushed the remaining noodles around on his plate without eating them. "Most aren't memorable enough to bother learning their names, so we call them by their cube numbers until they distinguish themselves."
Her mind raced. "And where do you work?"
"I'm an associate at Hudson, Marshall, Sno-"
"Snoke and Associates," Rey finished his sentence for him. "Finn!"
Ben's grin widened again. "The same."
She gaped at him, then shook her head and crossed her arms firmly across her person. "I can't believe he set me up! This is outrageous."
"Rey- please," Ben leaned forwards and pushed the bag towards her once more. "Live a little. Finn said you refuse to let yourself enjoy things, and everyone deserves to enjoy life at the holidays."
The bag bumped against her thigh and she looked between it and his eyes. They were a warm, light brown that reminded her of baking sugar. Unlike on his hurried evening trips into the store, they were relaxed, almost puppy-like.
"And… what…." She faltered, not sure what question to ask. "How am I to enjoy these items?" It sounded sarcastic when she said it.
The look in his eyes turned from puppy to wolf in an instant as he replied, "Well, I'd enjoy seeing you in them… and make sure you enjoy getting out of them."
The burn that engulfed her face at the thought caused her to look away, but Rey could feel her heartbeat between her legs at his boldness.
His voice was low as he continued. "Take the bag, go change in the bathroom, and let's get out of here."
Rey felt her heartbeat through her whole body. It beat in a nervous, irregular pattern as an understanding of the situation slowly sunk in. She would never do something like this, never-never-never, her heart seemed to say.
He raised an eyebrow at her, waiting for her to reply. Oh, but he was confident! She resented Finn for setting her up, but… wasn't he just so right? She tried not to notice when she enjoyed things so that she wouldn't notice the hurt when she didn't.
She felt lightheaded to grasp the handles of the bag and draw it close to her as she slid from the booth and walked to the ladies' room without a backwards glance. She hadn't felt this nervous in years. She heard him ask for the check as the door swung closed behind her.
The stall was chilly from an open window high on the back wall, but she set the bag on the toilet tank and drew her sweater over her head.
He'd carefully removed the tags from the items, she noticed. Nonetheless, her heart raced to know his gifts cost more than several months of rent.
The bra fit perfectly and she smoothed her sweater back over the sheer burgundy lace. Her thighs goose pimpled in the cold when she drew on the matching underwear- to call it such was generous, she mused, scant as they were. Panties. They were panties. The word always seemed so silly to her before, but she could not deny the heat she felt thinking of him taking these panties off her now.
Rey bit her lip to balance on one foot and wiggled her bare foot into the stiletto heels, hitched her foot up on the edge of the toilet seat to fasten the ankle strap. They were nothing like any of her shoes that had walked a million miles from the subway to campus to work to home; the bottoms were still shiny, painted a slippery red, and the binding around her ankle felt dangerous. She cuffed her jeans so this detail would show.
Her heart continued to pound as she folded her boring cotton undies and socks into her practical shoes and slipped them to the bottom of the bag, beneath the silk robe and the scarf. She flushed all over again, imagining herself wearing the robe and nothing else.
And what he might do with the scarf once they were alone.
And what he might look like not wearing anything.
She shook her head at herself and ducked out of the stall to finish up.
She crouched in front of the dirty mirror above the sink to put on the teardrop diamond earrings and free her hair from its tight ponytail before straightening up to inspect herself. The absurd heels added a solid four inches and her legs felt coltish in them as she twisted and posed. Her chest looked different under her thick sweater, and her legs seemed to go on for days with the pointy shoes extending the line of her legs.
"You deserve to enjoy yourself," she whispered to her reflection. "Live a little."
Ben was still seated back at the booth checking his phone when she strode up beside him. He glanced up, then did a double take to realize it was her.
"Well," her confidence wavered for a second when he didn't say anything. "Happy Hanukkah?" Did people really say that to one another? The store had schooled them to say a generic happy holidays to cover all the bases.
A smile slowly split his long face in half, and he finally replied, "Merry Christmas, Rey."
~*~*~ Happy Holidays! Comments are life! ~*~*~