She had been minding her own business, dutifully restocking seasonal kitchen towels and oven timers, when he'd come up to her. Target was crazy busy on Christmas Eve despite their shortened hours, so it was no surprise that somebody had come up to her, but he was a surprise. All six-something feet of him.
"Um, excuse me?" came a deep, rumbling voice, interrupting her musings on why anyone would bother with a Santa-themed oven timer.
She turned toward the voice. "Can I help yo—" Her voice died in her throat as she took in the massive frame, well-tailored suit, luscious black hair, and eyes that seemed to pierce her soul.
For a moment, the man seemed to forget his question, staring back at her like someone had just informed him she was the new CEO of Target before he came back to himself. "Uh, yeah, I need a Christmas present for my mother otherwise she'll kill me, and I wanted to get her some wine because she's not as lethal when she's drunk, but, um, where's your wine section?"
Normally, Rey found customers oversharing to be annoying, but somehow his rambling was kind of . . . cute? Despite how large and potentially intimidating he was, in this moment, he appeared about as harmless as a puppy. "Oh, um, yeah, I can can show you where the wine is," she answered, placing the last pack of oven timers on the shelf, then flattening the box they'd been in. "Right this way."
She led him around the store, trying probably not as hard as she should have to not check him out. His sharp jaw, the large nose that fit his face, the way his shoulders filled his suit — she took in all of it as they turned corners, him easily walking next to her with those ridiculously long legs.
"The wine is right over here," she told him. "The rest of the alcohol is on the other side of the aisle. Do you know what you're looking for?"
He hesitated, running his hand through his hair.
Damn, that's hot, whispered the part of her that needed to get laid.
"Um, maybe red, I guess? Something nice, I suppose. Or white? Rosé?" He looked so helpless, Rey nearly laughed, but stopped herself just in time.
"So you don't know what your mother likes?" she asked, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling.
"I—" For a moment, he sounded defensive, then his face fell. "No, not really. We . . . aren't close. Sorry, you probably don't care."
Rey smiled reassuringly. "No, I don't mind at all."
"Thanks, sorry, I'm kind of a mess right now," he responded, running his hand through his hair again.
She bit her lip, eyes following his hand. She got the feeling he didn't really know how attractive he was, which only made him even more so.
She blinked, realizing belatedly that he'd asked her a question. "Sorry, what?" she squeaked. Focus, Rey, focus.
"If you don't mind me asking, what kind of wine do you like?" he repeated, that deep voice of his doing funny things to her.
"Oh, um, I, uh, well . . ." she trailed off, trying to think of the last time she'd had any good wine. Probably nearly three years ago at one of Poe's fancier parties. "I guess . . . merlot?"
"Okay, merlot." He headed toward the red wine, scanning the shelves for merlot. Finding it, he picked out a decently pricey one, one that could pay for nearly a week's worth of dinner. "I guess this will work?" he asked to Rey as much as himself. "Maybe — do you think I should get flowers? I mean, we're not on the best of terms, and I'm really trying to make this work. Flowers are a good idea, right?"
His desperate eyes were so adorable, Rey felt her heart melting. "Yeah," she croaked, clearing her throat. "Flowers are a great idea."
"I'm sorry, would you mind helping me pick those out, too?" he implored, taking a step closer to her.
She inhaled, brain short-circuiting a bit. "Of course." He smelled like leather and forest and man, all at once. It was heady and made it hard to concentrate, much less say no. Not that she wanted to say no.
"You're amazing," he said, smiling and sounding like he meant it. Rey nearly swooned. "I'm Ben, by the way."
"Rey," she replied, a bit breathlessly. She shook the hand he offered, nearly jumping at the electricity that leaped between them. It must have been her imagination, but she almost thought he felt it too by the way his eyes widened slightly
"Um, the flowers are this way." She woodenly gestured toward the other side of the store. "If you'll follow me . . ." She led the way, accidentally brushing against his side, and — the sheer heat emanating from him reddened her cheeks.
Ben followed her, perhaps a bit closer than before. Either that, or she'd become more conscious of him, if that was even possible. The man was handsome in a way she'd never seen before, and she wished she'd met him somewhere more conducive to flirting than her workplace.
"Here is our selection of fresh flowers. We have cut flowers and potted." With a hunch as to what the answer would be, Rey asked anyway, "Do you know what she'd like?"
Ben grimaced. "No. Not really." He sighed. "I'm a horrible son, aren't I?"
Rey looked at him sympathetically. "You're trying your best, though, aren't you? Even if you're wrong, your mother will see that and appreciate the thought."
He smiled slightly, and the sight made her stomach flip-flop. "Thanks, Rey. That does make me feel better. Um, would you mind picking a bouquet? I don't have much of an eye for what looks nice."
She nodded, still basking in the sound of him saying her name. Looking around the selection of flowers, her eyes settled on a beautiful bouquet of white, blue, and purple flowers. "This one would be nice," she suggested, handing it to him.
His fingers brushed hers as he took it, and she nearly dropped the bouquet. "This would work," he muttered. With a decisiveness he hadn't shown before, he picked up a second, identical bouquet. "I'll get two," he said to himself.
"Okay, great!" Rey replied, trying to look happy. In reality, she wished she could spend a little longer with Ben before she had to go back to restocking shelves, but at the very least she'd have a fun story to tell Rose when she got home. "Can I help you with anything else?"
Ben sighed. "Not unless you can be my date for dinner."
She froze, color rushing to her cheeks. Had he just?
He seemed to realize what he'd said at the same time. "Um, I . . ." He flushed. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. That was meant to be a joke. Um. It's just, my mother's been on my case about not having a girlfriend, and — I'm sorry, that was way out of line."
Rey bit her lip again, arguing with herself internally. Finally, the side of her that hadn't gotten laid in a while won out, and she blurted, "I wouldn't mind. Being your date, that is. Um, if you were serious about needing one. Um, or if you weren't, I'll let you get back to your . . ." She made a vague gesture at the store.
Ben gaped at her. "You — really? That entails meeting my family, and they're not . . . well, they're not the easiest to get along with. And I mean, that's not exactly — I would've liked to get coffee with you first or something—"
"You want to get coffee with me?" she interrupted, astounded. Her face was still red as a tomato, and her heart rate had been steadily creeping up.
He avoided her gaze, fidgeting with the bottle of wine and the bouquets. "I, uh, well, you're really pretty. And nice. So, yeah, I'd have preferred to do that before you met my parents, but, um . . ."
"My shift ends in fifteen minutes," she told him. "I don't know what time your dinner is, but it's nearly three o'clock and I don't have any plans after this."
He grinned, his whole face lighting up. "Can I take you out for coffee, then? Before we have to head up to my parents?"
She smiled back. "Yes, you can."
"I'll go pay, then. Meet you in front?" he asked, smiling down at her.
"Yeah, see you in a bit." She gave him one last grin, then turned to finish up her shift.
Fifteen minutes later, they met in front of the store.
"Here," he said, handing her one of the bouquets.
"Do you need me to hold anything else?" she asked, noticing he hadn't bothered to get a bag for the wine or the flowers.
"Oh, no, that's not what I—" He reddened. "That's for you. The flowers. Because you were so helpful," he insisted as she opened her mouth to protest. "And you picked them, so I figured you probably liked them."
Rey smiled shyly. No one had ever given her flowers before, but then again, no one had ever asked her to be their dinner date on Christmas Eve. "Thank you. They're lovely."
He smiled back. "Thank you for agreeing to this. I know this whole situation is a bit weird. And if you change your mind at any time, just let me know. I won't be offended."
"I won't change my mind. Unless I find out you're a serial killer, that is," she joked.
"I'd better not tell you my occupation, then." He winked, and her insides melted.
Laughing, she turned to the parking lot. "How are we getting to your parents' house?"
"I can drive us," Ben offered. "Unless you'd rather drive yourself. Oh, and you might want to wear something . . . um, a little nicer."
"You don't think your mother would enjoy my work clothes?" she teased, looking down at her cheap red uniform.
"I think she'd prefer nearly anything else," he replied, the smile in his eyes letting her know he was joking.
"I took the bus here, so if you could drive me to my place, I'll change and put these in water and then we can get coffee and go straight to your parents'," she suggested.
"Sounds great. My car's over here." He led her to a sleek, black sedan.
They got in, Rey telling him how to get to her apartment. He waited in the car while she sprinted up to put the flowers in a vase (she was amazed she even owned a vase) and change into something a little nicer. She'd never been so glad Rose had forced her to buy that green sweater dress last year, despite her insistence that it screamed fancy-holiday-dinner and she'd never wear it. Life was full of surprises.
She hastily brushed her hair, put on some mascara and lipstick, and grabbed her purse and the one nice pair of heels she owned. She nearly slipped on the stairs on the way down, but she managed to pull herself together when Ben's car came into view. He was leaning against the side of it, handsome features seemingly contemplating something when he saw her and his mouth opened as if to say something.
Nothing came out.
"Do I look okay?" she asked, voice sounding timid even to herself. She fidgeted with the sleeves of the dress, her wool coat over one arm.
"You look beautiful," he managed, cheeks turning pink.
"Would your mother approve?" she wondered cheekily, enjoying the way his ears were pink, too.
"My mother would say you're way out of my league and that you shouldn't settle for less. I think she'd be right, too." His gaze wandered up and down her figure, making her blush.
"You're not bad yourself," she murmured, not looking at him.
"We should get coffee," he said, breaking the awkward silence, still a little pink.
"There's a cafe down the street," she offered. "The owner's really nice, and they have a cat."
The corner of his mouth twitched in a half-smile. "Sounds perfect."
They spent the next hour in the cafe, learning about each other and petting the cat, who was very friendly. Ben was humble, funny, and had a magnetism about him that made Rey hang onto his every word. She learned that he'd recently quit his cushy job in corporate law and was now working in public defense, which had helped repair his relationship with his mother. His father had been pretty absent growing up, but now he was also working on being there for the family. She also learned that he drank his coffee black, was a dog person, and used to swim competitively, which explained the ridiculous physique.
In return, Rey told him a bit about growing up in the foster care system, something she normally didn't tell anyone. He simply listened, though, not judging or offering useless sentiments, which she appreciated. She also told him she really only drank tea, was a cat person, and would love to watch him swim sometime. That last one had not been planned. They both flushed profusely while Rey struggled to regain her dignity, or salvage what was left of it.
Mostly, though, their conversation was easy and effortless. He made her laugh, and she made him laugh, too, something that made her strangely proud. She felt like they'd become friends, somehow, despite knowing each other for about two hours.
Around 4:30, they went back to Ben's car. "My parents live about half an hour away," he told her, "and they want us, um, me, there by five. I guess . . . they'll be really surprised by you. I kind of told them I was seeing someone so they'd stop bugging me, but then they wanted to see my imaginary girlfriend, and I didn't tell them I was bringing her, so, yeah. Don't worry, I didn't give any details, so you don't have to worry about following a story I made up."
Rey fiddled with the zipper on her purse, beginning to get nervous. "I suppose we should come up with a story about how we met, though?"
"You're right. Um, we could say we met in that cafe?"
"Would they buy that? I think we'd need to give more details than that," she worried, brow furrowing.
Ben glanced at her as he stopped at a red light. "I don't know, maybe they had live music one night and we were both there and started talking?"
"How did you know they have live music sometimes?" She'd thought for sure he'd never been there before since she'd given him directions.
"They had flyers up inside. Every other Saturday, right?" He turned back to the road as the light turned green.
"Yeah. Yeah, that works. Seems plausible." Her pulse sped up a bit. "Ben, um, who's going to be there?"
He thought for a minute before answering, "My mother. My dad. My uncle Luke. My other uncle Lando. Well, he's technically a family friend. Chewie. He's my dad's dog. I think that's it."
"Oh." Rey hoped she didn't seem too worried, but both the thought of spending Christmas in an actual home and meeting Ben's parents made her nervous.
"Don't worry, Rey, they'll love you," he said, as if he could read her mind. As if they were actually dating and he was really taking his girlfriend to meet his parents. And though it shouldn't have, the thought made her relax.
"Thanks. That does make me feel better." She unclenched her hands from where they'd been fisted in her coat.
"Good, because we're here." Ben pulled into the driveway of a large two story colonial-style house.
"Wow," she breathed, taking in the garden at the front of the house, the golden Christmas lights and immaculate shrubbery. "This is where you grew up?"
"Yeah." Ben's voice held a wistful note in it.
"It's beautiful." Rey stepped out of the car and looked around.
He came around and took her hand. "Is this alright?" When she nodded, he continued, "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yeah. I am," she replied softly, squeezing his hand.
The smile he gave her tugged at her heart as he led her to the front door, still holding her hand. He rang the doorbell, his tapping foot giving away his own anxiety. The door opened to reveal a woman smaller than Rey, but with a presence that had clearly been passed down to Ben.
There was a moment of awkward silence, where Ben and his mother didn't say anything.
Then, "Ben," she exclaimed, "you're here! And . . ." Her eyes flicked to Rey questioningly.
"Mother," Ben said, handing her the wine and the flowers. "I didn't know what you like, so I got these . . ."
She stood there looking at the flowers before taking them and the wine from him. Then his mother smiled. "That's very sweet of you. And this is?" she gestured toward Rey.
Ben cleared his throat. "Um, this is my girlfriend, Rey. Rey, this is my mother."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. So—" Rey began, holding out her hand, but Ben's mother ignored it and hugged her tightly. Surprised, she let it happen.
"Please, call me Leia," she insisted. Letting go, she examined Rey closely. "Such a pretty thing, with my son! How on earth did he ever manage to snag you?"
"Leia, let the boy in the house!" came a gruff voice from inside. "Or are you trying to freeze him to death?"
"Han, you won't believe who he brought with him!" she called back, ushering Ben and Rey inside. "Look, he brought a girl!"
Rey entered to see a large living room with a brick fireplace and warm wood beams. The same meticulous hand that had decorated the exterior of the house clearly had done the inside, as well, and the leather couches and soft rugs spoke of a cozy existence.
A man, presumably Ben's father by the resemblance, sat on such a couch, and his eyes widened at the sight of Rey. "By God, Leia, you're right! And a pretty one, too," he commented, raising an eyebrow at Ben.
Ben flushed. "Um, this is Rey, my girlfriend" —the word made her oddly happy— "and this is my dad."
His dad stood and shook her hand. "Call me Han," he said, winking.
"Nice to meet you, Han," Rey replied, thinking his parents seemed nice for the most part, despite some awkwardness.
"Now I can see why you didn't say much about her," Han remarked, elbowing Ben. "Pretty thing like that, 'course you'd want to keep her to yourself."
"That's not what I—" Ben protested, reddening, before giving up as Leia reappeared.
"Dinner's ready," she said. "Lando and Luke are in the dining room, Ben. Rey, please, make yourself at home."
"Thank you, Mrs.— uh, Leia." Rey glanced over at Ben, looking for direction, but he just shrugged helplessly. Leia bustled off to the kitchen, Han getting up and following with a cheeky grin aimed at Rey.
"Here, I'll take your coat," Ben insisted, helping her out of her long wool coat and hanging both of theirs in the coat closet.
All of a sudden, the nerves she'd managed to avoid so far hit her, making her heart race and her breath shallow. Unthinkingly, she took a step forward into Ben's chest, letting her head hit his sternum. His arms came around her, warm in the black sweater he wore.
"You don't have to do this," he whispered, stroking her hair, and it should have been weird that she even found the subtle scent of him relaxing.
"No, I want to," she said into him, taking comfort from the way he surrounded her. "I just—I've never done this. You know, having Christmas dinner with family. And I don't want to mess this up for you either, because I can tell how much this means to you and your parents."
"Look at me." Ben's eyes were full of understanding and reassurance. "Just be yourself. I've only known you a couple hours, but you're basically my mother's idea of a perfect daughter-in-law, and my dad isn't hard to impress. You're not going to mess anything up. Now we better get in there before my dad starts opening the whiskey."
"Thank you," she murmured, smiling softly as his arms gave an answering squeeze. She let him lead her into the dining room, his hand on her lower back feeling oddly natural. Upon seeing the gleaming mahogany table laden with food, she nearly gasped. Two men already sat at the table, one clearly Luke by the resemblance and the other most likely Lando. A large golden retriever lay by Luke's feet and perked up when it saw Rey.
"Well, well, what have we here?" asked the man Rey thought was Lando. "Our little Ben has grown up and brought a girl home?"
Ben's hand tightened on her waist before he replied, "Hello to you, too, Uncle Lando. This is Rey, my girlfriend. Rey, this is Lando, and that's Luke."
"Pleasure to meet you," she responded, nodding to them both.
Luke inspected her, his face hard to read. Then he nodded. "Nice to meet you, Rey."
The dog stood up and trotted over to her, tail wagging and nose butting into her hands. "Hi, there," she cooed, scratching his head. "You must be Chewie. What a good boy you are, aren't you?" Chewie gave her hand an answering lick, evidently deciding he liked her. She looked up to laugh with Ben and found him already looking at her with something soft in his eyes that made her insides melt.
"Yes, yes, sit down, you two," Leia interrupted, coming out of the kitchen wiping her hands on a red and green towel. Han trailed behind her, the sight almost reminding Rey of a dog and forcing her to stifle a laugh. Chewie ran over to Han and sat next to his chair.
Sitting in the chair Ben pulled out for her, Rey fidgeted with her napkin as Han began a conversation with Lando about something business-related. Leia brought a soup out and set it down in front of Rey. As everyone sat, Leia looked at Luke pointedly, the two seeming to have a nonverbal conversation.
Finally, Luke cleared his throat. "I'd like to say a few words before we begin eating. This year, we are very fortunate to have everyone here together. I am grateful that we are all trying to move on and appreciate the family that we have, present, and hopefully," he eyed a blushing Rey, "future, as well. As I get older, it becomes clearer than family, by blood or by choice, is all we really have at the end of the day, and I hope that there will be many more holidays like this, where we are all together."
Nobody spoke for a moment, then Leia turned to Rey. "Would you like some soup dear?" Rey let her ladle some soup into a bowl, taking it with a quiet thanks.
"So how did you two meet?" Lando asked, a cheeky grin appearing.
"Yeah, Ben hasn't told us anything," Han complained, causing Ben to roll his eyes.
"You don't need to know everything about my personal life," he grumbled, but Rey could tell it was a half-hearted rebuke.
"Now, Ben, you can't blame us for being curious," Leia chided. "After all, you only mentioned Rey existed and nothing else."
"We met at a cafe," Rey blurted, seeing the "save me" in Ben's eyes. "They had live music one night, and we both went and sat next to each other. And from there, well, we just started talking."
"Yeah, it wasn't anything special," Ben agreed, "but she was really fun to talk to." Despite how fake their story was, she could tell he meant the last part, making her smile.
"And you put up with him?" Han joked.
"He's a bit awkward, but it's cute," Rey replied, enjoying the flush that covered Ben's cheeks.
"Well, if you can tolerate him, then please stick around," Leia commented. "Lord knows the boy's not much of a charmer."
"He must get that from your side of the family," Han teased. "With the old Solo charm, he'd have hordes of girls after him."
Leia raised an eyebrow. "Yes, which is why you chased me around instead of dating the girls lining up for you."
As Han opened his mouth to protest, Lando interrupted. "Children, behave. Let's not scare Rey too much."
As Han and Leia united against Lando in protest of being called children, Ben put some food on Rey's plate. "Here, my mother makes a great pork chop. You doing okay? I know the teasing is awful, but there's no way around it—"
"I'm fine," she reassured him, showing a small smile.
He stopped talking, smiling back. "I'm glad."
She rested a hand on his forearm under the table. "Your family is nice."
His brow furrowed. "They — yeah, they are."
"So Rey, what do you do?" Leia asked, having apparently won whatever battle had occurred.
She looked down, a bit embarrassed that she didn't do anything fancy like Ben. "I work at Target," she said truthfully. "I'm trying to save up to go to college."
"That's wonderful that you're thinking about your future," Leia replied with a smile. Rey suddenly liked the woman a lot better for not prying. "Any career aspirations beyond Target?"
"I'd like to do mechanical engineering, if possible. I've always enjoyed tinkering with things. Bikes, cars, stuff like that."
At the mention of cars, Han perked up. "You know your way around a car?"
She fidgeted with her napkin. "Well, I used to work in an auto shop in high school."
He grinned. "A girl after my own heart. Ben, she's a keeper."
Ben seemed thoroughly embarrassed at this, but Rey secretly though it cute and grabbed his hand under the table, squeezing gently. He returned the squeeze, his gaze saying I'm sorry and thank you all at once. She just smiled back.
The rest of the dinner went by much in the same vein, with merciless teasing aimed at Ben and lots of questions for Rey. Somehow it wasn't as awkward as Ben had made it out to be, though a couple times Leia or Han took a dig at him for never coming home. It was clear that despite whatever falling out had occurred, everyone was trying to move past it. She was so busy enjoying the camaraderie that she forgot to worry about making her and Ben's relationship seem legitimate.
Rey found herself laughing and smiling, included in the conversation. The food was amazing and the wine being passed around certainly didn't hurt. Ben gradually warmed up, becoming less awkward around his parents and more like the Ben she'd gotten to know. But his hand in hers under the table was just for her, as was the soft smile she'd seen earlier.
By the time dessert was served, everyone was fairly tipsy, even Luke. Drunk Han told the funniest stories, and Rey couldn't stop giggling as he recounted how he'd wooed Leia, much to the embarrassment of Leia and Ben.
Just as he started to get graphic, Leia interrupted, saying, "Okay, that's enough. Time for bed." She pulled him up and started pushing him toward the hall. "The rest of you are welcome to talk as long as you want. I'll be back after I get his ass in bed."
Han grinned and slapped her ass, causing her to shriek. "You bet you will," he said. "Nice to meet you Rey. Ben, don't fuck up." Leia shoved him down the hall, ignoring his drunken ramblings.
Ben rolled his eyes. "Sorry about that. We should probably head home anyway; it's getting late."
Rey nodded, a little tired herself. "Are you good to drive?" she asked, staring at him and wondering how soft his hair was.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he replied. "Let's wait for my mother to come back and then we can leave."
"You leavin', kid?" Lando asked, yawning.
"Yeah, I should get her back home," he replied, looking over at Rey, who was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. She thought it was maybe the wine but also the ridiculous amount of food she'd eaten.
"It was nice to see ya. Come by more often," he said. "And nice to meet you, Rey."
"Nice to meet you, too," Rey answered, blinking her eyes open.
Luke appeared to be asleep in his chair, but his eyes opened when Ben said, "Bye, Uncle Luke."
"You're leaving?" Luke sat up and seemed to notice Han and Leia missing. "Is he drunk?"
"Yeah, Leia hauled his ass to bed," Lando explained.
Luke chuckled. "Serves him right. Anyway, don't be a stranger, Ben. Your mother and I miss you."
"I won't be." Ben looked suitably abashed, which Rey, in her slightly drunken state, thought was funny and giggled.
Luke smiled at her. "It was nice to meet you, young lady. I hope you stick around."
"Me too," she responded, smiling at Ben, who flushed.
"Alright, let's get your coat," he decided, helping her stand up and ushering her into the hall as Leia came back.
"Are you leaving already?" she asked, seeming a little disappointed.
"Rey needs to get home." Ben helped her into her coat, then put his own on.
Leia smiled. "I'm glad you came, Ben."
"It was nice." They awkwardly stood there before Leia opened her arms and they hugged. The size difference was nearly comical, but Rey thought both mother and son seemed a bit comforted by the hug.
"And Rey, dear, feel free to come by whenever," Leia insisted, stepping back from Ben and taking Rey's hands. "You've been a delight to have, and it seems like you make him very happy."
Rey nearly teared up at this, squeezing Leia hands. "Thank you, Leia. You have a lovely family, and I'm so glad I came."
"Have a safe drive home, you two," Leia told them, opening the door.
"See you," Ben told her as they left. His hand on Rey's back guided her to the car, and he opened the door for her.
"You're so nice, Ben," Rey said when he got in the car.
He chuckled. "I'm glad you think so."
"I know so because it's true," she insisted, out of it enough that she missed the look on his face that said no, it was just her.
They spent the drive home in companionable silence, Rey too tired to hold a conversation and Ben seemingly content driving and occasionally holding her hand at a red light. If she'd been a little more awake, she might have wondered why he was still holding her hand when they didn't need to fake it anymore, but in her current state, she found the gesture sweet and comforting.
She'd spent Christmas eve with a family for the first time. Ben's family had felt so warm and welcoming and, well, like she imagined a family should be despite their issues. And even though she'd been Ben's fake girlfriend, she almost hadn't felt like a fake. She'd nearly been able to imagine herself there for real, dating Ben, being introduced to his family because he'd wanted her to meet them. She didn't want the illusion to end, so she just held onto his hand whenever he reached for hers, resolving to enjoy whatever he'd give her.
When they arrived at her apartment, Rey was nearly asleep, only barely registering Ben opening her door, unbuckling her, and carrying her up the stairs.
"Rey, where are your keys?" he asked when they reached her door.
"Mmm," she replied incoherently.
"Rey? Sweetie, I need you to tell me where your keys are so I can get you inside." He shifted her around to find her purse, but it was awkward trying to carry her, too.
Rey blinked, becoming more awake with all the movement, and dug around in her purse to locate her keys. "Here," she croaked, reaching behind herself to unlock the door.
He carried her inside, found her bedroom, turned on the lamp on her nightstand, and laid her gently on her bed. He then took her heels off, put her purse on her dresser, and sat down next to her.
"You gonna be okay?" he asked. "You were a little drunk toward the end."
She smiled up at him. "I'm just tired, now. I think the alcohol wore off."
"That's good. I'll let you sleep then," he said, brushing her hair out of her eyes. "Thank you for being my fake girlfriend at dinner. I had a lot of fun with you, Rey."
His voice sent shivers down her spine. "I had fun, too," she breathed, suddenly much more awake as it occurred to her he was sitting on her bed in her bedroom, the two of them alone. "And you know," she declared, deciding to be bold, "I wouldn't mind being your real girlfriend, either."
Ben flushed red, visible even in the dim light of her bedroom. For a moment, Rey thought she'd misread everything when he didn't say anything, but then he opened his mouth. "Rey, I'd be honored to have you as my girlfriend," he replied huskily, his eyes darkening. In the lamplight, he looked devastatingly handsome, his face all sharp angles and his sheer presence larger than life.
She grinned and grabbed his tie. "Is my boyfriend going to kiss me then?" she asked cheekily.
He grinned back. "In three, two, one . . ." Before she could ask what he meant, he leaned down and kissed her, and she quite forgot what she was going to say. When they parted, breathless, he glanced at the clock pointedly. "Merry Christmas, Rey."
And, indeed, it was 12:00 on Christmas Day.