Beebee and Rey are at the end of their day, having just taken their last client home, a pekingese chihuahua mix, who lives relatively close to Rey's loft and the nearby dog park. They head towards the park, eager to beat the incoming dark clouds. The weather is supposed to be better tomorrow and Rey has no clients booked, which is both a relief and bad thing. She really needs business about now.
There's a shortcut that they always take through some of the overgrown parts of the park, where footsteps have over time created small trails that Rey and Beebee have explored so many times, they know them all like the back of their hand. Or paw in Beebee's case.
They hurry through, Beebee pulling eagerly, when a man rounds the corner and nearly runs into the corgi but twists out of the way at the last second and instead runs smack dab into Rey, the force knocking her back. If it wasn't for the stranger steadying her, she would've surely fallen.
He's tall, really tall, with a broad chest and strong features. His black hair is ruffled from running some pets plastered to his face with sweat. He's wearing athletic clothing that waft off a heady, musky smell. The man is fit.
"Don't touch me." Rey steps back, jerking away from him. "And watch where you are going. You could've really hurt Beebee! Why don't you get on the cross country trails like all the other workout meatheads?" The man chuckles at that, only infuriating Rey more. "Why are you laughing?"
"Whatever you say, princess." The stranger smirks before bolting off again. Rey marches in the opposite direction, keeping her eyes open for anymore jackasses.
Some higher power seems to be punishing Rey because this man is the last person she wants to see.
"You. How dare you? What's with letting Chewie loose? Do you know what could have happened to him in a city like this?"
"You're right," he says, but his lopsided smile shows how carefree he feels. "But as you just saw, he's pretty good at breaking free if he wants to. In my case, it was a nearby car crash that sent Chewie running. What's your excuse?" Rey's eyes narrow dangerously. Ben tries to hide the amusement from his face, blinking hard. She just looks so adorable when she tries to look intimidating.
"Something far worse than a car crash. You," Rey retorts instantly meaning for it to sting, but Ben's smile only widens.
"Look, Chewie is new to the city, yesterday he broke loose, I chased after him but after getting soaked and lost for a while, I figured it was time to test my luck at animal shelters," he explains. "I would never do anything to endanger Chewie and I'm sorry for the trouble I caused you." His face is serious for a moment and he clears his throat. "And for running into you during my chase yesterday," he adds, the cocky grin back in full force.
"Okay… Well, just try and keep him safe. And you shouldn't keep such a big dog in cramped living spaces!"
"I live in a mansion." He cocks his head to the side and his hair falls into his eyes some, flashing Rey a bright smile. Her heart stutters for a brief moment.
"Must be nice." She pets Chewie on the head tenderly and then shoves his leash in Ben's hand. "Come on, Beebee." Rey rounds on her heel and tugs the corgi gently, leaving the way she came.
"Whoa, Chewie- wait- Chewie, stop." He struggles with the leash which Chewie is yanking with all his might, trying to follow Rey and Beebee. "Rey! Hold on!"
She doesn't slow down or turn around but he quickly catches up with her, matching her pace. "Hey, woah, girl." He says it like you would if you were calming a horse, and that has the desired effect because Rey stops in her tracks, turning slowly to face the man Ben who had just become the bane of her existence.
"What do you want?" She pauses between each word in an attempt to sound deadly.
"I want to take you out. To say thank you for keeping Chewie overnight," he explains with a smirk.
Her head is swimming from the drinks and it takes her a moment to process. She hasn't been asked out in a long time, never having time to socialize, put on makeup, or dress nicely. But that's not what this is, she tells herself. "No thanks."
"It's not a date," he confirms, putting his hands up, once again treating her like a horse out of control. This time she doesn't say anything, turning on her heel and marching in the opposite direction. He catches up right away, Chewie pulling eagerly.
"C'mon, at least let me get you another popsicle."
Rey stops and her eyes betray her, flicking over to the popsicle stand with desire. Ben laughs heartily at that and starts walking over to the stand with a bounce in his step. "Come choose your flavor or I'm going to pick for you," he calls over his shoulder.
Beebee starts tugging on the leash, wanting to follow Chewie, and Rey mutters a quick 'traitor' under her breath before following.
"What can I get you guys?" The gangly teen at the stand with the rainbow hat looks miserable, but cheers up considerably when Ben drops a twenty dollar bill in the tip jar.
"Two popsicles, please. One salted chocolate and the other?" He looks to Rey who scrunches her nose at his choice. She's a strong believer that popsicles are meant to be fruit based.
"Blueberry lemonade, please."
"Sorry ma'am, but the one you bought earlier was our last."
Rey gives Ben an angry look. "Raspberry mango then, please."
The teen pulls out their popsicles and hands them both to Ben, which bothers Rey because she would be happy to get her popsicle and go home to a long luxurious bath before she is back to the hard grind tomorrow of walking dogs.
For some reason Rey expects him to make her work for the popsicle but he simply pays and hands it to her.
"Thank you." She unwraps her popsicle and bites off a corner, blowing out the cold air.
"Yeah, no problem. You should've seen your face when Chewie made you drop the popsicle," he chuckles. "Like a child."
That's not the first time she's heard that, and lifts her chin up defiantly. She can't help that her preferences for fashion, food, hairstyles, movies, you name it seemed to align with kids. She's a dreamer after all.
"So what do you do, Rey?" They are walking aimlessly through the park now, Rey half trying to get away, half enjoying Ben's company.
She eyes him carefully but it's an overall normal question, and it would be impolite of her not to answer. "I own a dog walking business."
"Ah, that explains why Chewie's so fond of you. So you're a business owner?" He sounds impressed and frankly a little surprised.
Rey grits her teeth. "Well, it's just me and Beebee but we get around great, we have a few regulars and business is getting better." That's not the truth, but Rey doesn't want to admit that, not to him and not to herself. Her bank account is beyond suffering and if she doesn't get more regulars soon then her company will likely go under.
"Where do you tend to work?" he inquires.
"All around town. Usually dogs that are cooped up in their apartments all day. It's a really important job."
He smiles down at her, and Rey finds herself returning the smile. "It is important. My mom would've really liked you. She was a big dog fan too. Chewie and her used to cuddle every night when he was a puppy," he remembers fondly.
"How old is Chewie?"
"Thirteen give or take. And Beebee?"
"Just three. It feels like he's been with me for a lot longer though. We started this business together, we've walked every meter of this city… He's my best friend. My only friend," she admits sheepishly.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with that. Feels like my only friend these days is Chewie. I don't have time for much else."
Maybe this man wasn't so bad, Rey thinks. "Yeah for me it's just dogs, dogs, and more dogs."
"You must know about The Grit then, right?"
The Grit is a highly exclusive doggy bar and vegan restaurant with an outdoor patio that is every dog and dog owner's dream. Of course Rey knew about it. "Yes! I've always wanted to go there but it's always so hard to get into. I can never get a reservation." She realizes she's said too much and stops herself. It doesn't matter anyway; she doesn't have the time or the money. These days, all meals are eaten at home in any attempt to save some money.
"Do you want to go?"
"Huh?" Rey blinks up at him.
"To The Grit." He hesitates before he says, "I know the owner. Do you want to go?"
Rey's brow furrows and she looks around like there is some reality TV show crew about to emerge from the bushes and explain how she's being pranked. "Are you serious? Me?"
He chuckles, "Yeah. We could go now?"
She eyes him skeptically, but there's no way Rey is going to pass up this opportunity. She really has tried to get in with Beebee but the timing was never right. Still, the regulars at The Grit are exactly the type of people that would make good clients for BB8. Networking there would be a dream.
"Okay," she mumbles nervously. Rey combs her hair back some and straightens her dress, wavering a little on her feet. It takes a few deep breaths to not feel like she was spinning. She wishes she had worn something more business casual.
Ben laughs and says, "You look wonderful." He winks at her and pulls out his phone. It seems someone still uses speed dial because within seconds he's on a call. "Mitaka, pull the car around to the entrance."
Rey steps a little closer. "Wait, what're you doing?"
He lowers the phone. "I'm calling my driver," he says as if it's the most obvious thing.
Rey scoffs. "Not all of us have a private driver. Let's just walk."
"But it's like forty five minutes away?"
"So? It's a beautiful day and I'm not getting into a car with you." She crosses her arms and Ben can tell by her tone she means it.
He puts the phone back to his ear. "Never mind, Mitaka. Meet us at The Grit in an hour," he huffs before snapping his phone shut. "There, you happy?"
"Yes," Rey responds with a bite of popsicle in her mouth. Ben rolls his eyes but can't help but smile at her childlike nature. He takes in her attire, an overall dress resembling a black bear, a fanny pack, and a popsicle. The carefree fashion is a sharp contrast to his business suit and Rolex.
He slips his jacket off and slings it over his shoulder, looking much like a European model. "Alright," Rey grumbles. "Let's get the show on the road, show off."
Ben chuckles and shakes his head. "Look who's talking. Lead the way." Rey wonders what he meant by that but it hurts her head so she lets it go.
Rey does most of the talking on the way to The Grit, prompted by continuous questions from Ben. Occasionally Rey pulls at Ben's arm when he is about to walk into traffic, his eyes too often trained on Rey instead of the path ahead of him. Each time Rey's heart involuntarily speeds up a little. She has never met someone so graceful and yet so uncoordinated when it comes to crossing streets and navigating traffic. Rey on the other hand is an expert city walker, having fine tuned the art of being attached to several dogs while still keeping a speedy pace.
"So which school did you go to?"
"Err, well, I have only ever taken some online classes for college credit," Rey admits. "I can't get financial aid because I'm from England so it's just not in the cards for now."
"I see. So, why dog walking?" Ben asks, looking to change the subject.
"Well, aren't you having a lovely time right now?" Rey closes her eyes and tilts her head up to the sun.
"Yes, but I wouldn't say it's so much the walking that's making this so lovely." He smiles warmly and Rey can't help the blush that creeps into her cheeks. She likes to pretend he means her but figures it's the gorgeous weather instead.
"When I first got to this city, walking was all I could afford to do. I adopted Beebee and all we would do is walk and walk, and I swear to you it felt like freedom for the first time in a while."
"And the cries of cramped up dogs called to you?"
Rey giggles, throwing her head back and the action makes Ben chuckle as well. "Yes, something like that. And what about you?"
He runs his hand through his hair. "Let's see… I studied to be a doctor. I did that for a while, but decided to try being a business owner. We have that in common." He flashes a smile. "But when my parents passed, their estate fell on me to manage as well."
"I'm so sorry. My parents are gone too, I think. When did that happen?"
"My mom, while I was in college. My dad, last week."
Rey stops and puts her hand on Ben's shoulder, peering over into his face, eyes blazing with concern. "Oh my god, are you okay?" Rey instantly wonders if she's crossed some sort of line, breath speeding up, but Ben gives off no sign of discomfort.
"I think so? It's been a lot to deal with. I'm the only one left alive in my family so my parents' and my uncle's legacies fell on me."
"Ben, I'm so sorry." She sounds genuine and it's refreshing to Ben because most of the attendees of the funeral were fake strangers, trying to mooch off his mother's fame and contacts. "Though I don't know what it's like to carry on a legacy, I do know what it's like to be alone. Beebee is all I have. That and the business we started together. I can't stress how important he is to me. Isn't that the truth, Beebee?"
She smiles down fondly at the Corgi who yips back and prances in a wide circle.
"He's lucky to have you. Poor Chewie got stuck with me and the city when my father passed."
"Well if you ever need someone to walk him, you know who to ask." Rey smiles widely at Ben, trying to lighten the mood and it does.