Going to school was unquestionably the most unpleasant thing about living in Takodana.
Perhaps it would have been slightly more bearable, Rey pondered, had Mr. Hux not been her teacher.
He was only sixteen years old and being a student himself but a few short years ago, one would believe this to be a blessing, considering he was closer to his student's age and therefore able to relate to them and reassure them during moments of uncertainty. Unfortunately, his Chandrila upbringing and fortunate tutorage that was due to his benefactor did not verse him in compassion or patience. He was a drill sergeant more than an educator, and the Takodana students were viewed as prey rather than scholars.
On her first day, Rey had been so nervous that she had almost been violently ill all over the glossy wooden floor of the newly refurbished schoolhouse. Her education had been almost non-existent in Jakku, and she could not deny that her skills in multiple areas were lacking. She was dismayed to find out that she had only been taught up to book level three, whereas the rest of the students her age were on book level five. They were even studying a play called Hamlet, and despite her efforts, Rey could not make sense of the words. Thankfully, she had not yet been called upon to read aloud or solve an arithmetic question on the blackboard.
Instead of welcoming her into class as she had hoped Mr. Hux would do, he had rolled his eyes in irritation and announced her as 'the orphan' before dragging her roughly by the arm up the middle aisle and seating her next to Rose. She had spent the rest of the morning dodging disgusted looks not only from Ben Solo, who was still in school despite his age, but multiple students, and had eaten her lunch alone under a large Oak tree- watching glumly as the other girls in class berated Rose for talking to her. Although Rose had assured her that the students had been eager to meet her, as soon as they saw that Mr. Hux disapproved, they were quick to as well- not willing to risk his wrath turning to them.
Maz had spent the rest of the evening consoling her, insisting that the first day of school was hard for everyone, but Rey would come out victorious eventually; the other girls were just smallminded and not accustomed to anyone with 'real character' yet. Chewie had looked forlorn throughout her tale of woe, grunting that Mr. Hux resembled an overgrown carrot more than a schoolmaster, and had snuck her an extra slice of apple pie when Maz was outside watering the sunflowers.
On the second day of school Mr. Hux had spelled her name as Ray on the blackboard, and after being corrected by Rose, had forced them both to scrub down the outhouse during lunch, despite the cold, foggy weather. It did not make the girls in class any kinder to either of them, but it had caused a few of the boy's hearts to soften and their bravery to arise.
When the class had finally finished on that dreary second day and Rose was helping Rey pack up her heavy books, one boy mustered up enough courage to approach and personally introduce himself. While cautious about his intentions at first, Rey was relieved to find him welcoming and quite comical. "Please, please call me Finn. Only old people call me Finnegan, particularly when they're mad at me."
Rose giggled and Rey found herself slowly beginning to smile as she recognized him. "You're the Finnegan who helps out on the farm sometimes, aren't you?"
"Only whenever J.J ruins something…" Finn looked at her sheepishly.
"That seems to be a common occurrence," Rey grinned at him.
"Oh, it is. Trust me," Finn laughed. "We're going to be spending a lot of time together."
"Alright, Finn," Rey smiled back. "I'm pleased to finally meet you."
"The pleasure is mine. It's been pretty boring around here, it's about time something exciting happened," Finn grabbed her book bag from her hands and motioned for Rose to hand hers over. "Come on, I'll walk you both home. There's no telling what type of trouble you'll get into on your own."
As the trio headed through the rust coloured doors of the greying schoolhouse, Rey found herself at ease for the first time around the other students. Finn's dark eyes shimmered with charm as he spoke, and his quirky jokes amused her. She could also tell that Rose enjoyed his company, for she hadn't stopped smiling since he approached them, and if Rose trusted this peculiar boy, Rey would too. Perhaps Maz was correct in her thinking and things would get better in time.
As the group headed across the grass towards the trail that led to their homes, the sound of angry voices was echoing through the trees. Alarmed but curious, Rey looked towards the sound and found Ben Solo towering over another boy, who seemingly refused to be intimidated by his adversary's large stature. She tried to swiftly look away before they caught her staring, but Ben Solo's burning gaze trapped hers in seconds. As she glared back, the shorter boy winked.
"Wow, catch a whiff of that! Didn't know you had this in you, Rose," Poe Dameron smirked, waving his hand in front of his nose before ditching Ben Solo and sauntering over towards them. Finn sighed as Poe twisted around to face Rey directly. "Better not stick around this one long in case the smell rubs off on you."
"Don't listen to him, Rose!" Finn spluttered and put down the book bags as Rose's face reddened. "He's just jealous that you're getting more attention than him."
"Jealous?" Poe grinned. "Who wouldn't want to clean an outhouse during lunch? Especially when you get to smell like that afterward."
"You do not smell," Rey insisted, panicked at the thought of this brute wounding her best friend. Ben Solo sure kept fine company. She looked up to try and glare at him again, but he had disappeared.
Rose smiled back at her before turning to Poe and folding her arms. "Don't worry, Rey. Poe's just sad because he always smells worse than an outhouse."
"I do not!" Poe looked horrified.
"Oh, you definitely do," Finn said, shoving Poe away lightly. "It's why I've been avoiding you for the last few days."
"Avoiding me? You live with me!" Poe shoved Finn back. "You couldn't avoid me if you tried, Finnegan."
"Oh, I've definitely tried!"
Much to Rey's disbelief, Poe was not trying to injure her new friend and actually started to laugh as they tussled. Finn smiled triumphantly as he finally tripped Poe and sent him flying backwards and down into the dirt at Rey's feet.
"Hi, I'm Poe," Poe flashed a toothy smile up at her and winked again. "I don't believe we've been formally introduced."
"I'm Rey," Rey stammered tentatively, watching as Finn yank the smaller boy up and out of the dirt by his arms. Once he was standing upright again, Poe tilted his head as he examined her. "Oh, I know. Rose hasn't stopped yapping about you since you got here. I figured it was time I finally met the girl who's been the cause of so much ruckus in town."
"What ruckus?" Rey questioned despondently.
"Just ignore Poe, Rey. We all do," Rose snarked before picking up her book bag and hitting Poe with it. "He's just upset because like everyone else, his best friend prefers to spend his time with anyone else."
Oddly, instead of getting upset at Rose as Rey had thought he would, Poe only smiled wider and took the offending book bag from her, swinging it over his shoulder and motioning for them to follow him down the trail. It turned out that where Finn was overtly polite when trying to form a new acquaintanceship, his best friend was the opposite.
Raised by his grandparents, Poe Dameron was the cause of much torment to the schoolgirls of Takodana. He was only fourteen and teased them something awful, but his handsome face flirtatiously winking or smiling at them was often all that was needed to send them into a giggling tizzy. He was used to getting their attention, and he relished in it.
As they pranced through the misty forest trail, Rey learned that Poe had first met Finn at his own fifth birthday party, and they had since been inseparable. Finn now lived with the Dameron's due to a tragic occurrence, and Rey found herself enraptured with their banter and desired to know more about their strange upbringing. The two boys, while fond of scuffling and rattling each other's feathers so to speak, seemed genuinely kind. By the time their little group reached the edge of Rose's property, Rey found herself helpless to resist their lively allure and decided that they were in the midst of forming a grand comradery between the four of them.
"So Rey, what do you think of General Hugs?" Poe asked wagging his eyebrows.
At the nickname, Rey snickered. "Chewie said he resembled an overgrown carrot, and I have to agree. Don't tell anyone I told you that. I don't think Maz would be too happy with me sharing it."
"Your secret is safe with us," Finn grinned. "Besides, we need a few more secrets to keep around here ever since Rose decided she was too good to be seen with us now."
At Rey's curious look, Rose sighed and hung her head. "It's my aunt. She says it's 'highly inappropriate for a young lady of my age to be roughhousing it through the countryside with two vagabonds.' She says I'll never get married if I continue."
"Heaven forbid that," Rey huffed sarcastically.
"How could anyone dislike us?" Finn asked, gesturing between himself and Poe. "We're the picture of gentlemanly propriety."
"Hmm," Rose arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps it is all the apples she watches you steal from our orchard in the evenings."
"It's alright, Rose. Sneaking around to see you is more fun anyhow," Poe said, handing over her bookbag. "Besides, just think of the chaos we'll get to cause at your eventual wedding."
Rose rolled her eyes. "Keep putting live toads in my desk and you will not be around to attend my wedding."
The boys chortled at the threat, but Rose hugged Rey close as she bid her goodbye. "I'll see you tomorrow, Rey. Feel free to toss either one into the mud if they insist on irritating you further."
Rey smirked back. "I would enjoy nothing more."
That evening, after Finn and Poe had left Takodana Farm- their stomachs properly filled with apple-pie at Maz's insistence- Rey delightedly found herself looking forward to her third day of school.
The sunshine was glimmering beautifully into the windows of the little schoolhouse, but Rey was oblivious. She instead sat frozen in her chair, eyes stinging, as Mr. Hux took out a dark wooden cane and beat Finn across his back, hard.
Out of the five arithmetic questions that were written on the blackboard, Finn had gotten the wrong answer to one.
"Try not to look," Rose whispered. "It'll be over quicker if he doesn't see us staring."
Rey's face was pale as she gritted her teeth, and Rose took her hand under their desks. "He does this regularly to a lot of the boys."
"Is this common?" Rey's stomach was churning as the third strike thumped across Finn's back.
"It wasn't with our old teacher. She would never hit anyone. Still, my aunt says it's only appropriate for a teacher to strike someone's hands," Rose's grip tightened as she noticed Rey's increasingly haunted expression. "Here, try to look down at the next question. If Mr. Hux catches us staring he'll make us wear the Dunce's hat."
Rey gulped and tried to take a deep breath. Her heart was hammering wildly in her chest, and she found it impossible to concentrate on Rose's words due to the increasingly loud ringing in her ears. She had thought it impossible for this type of behavior to also occur in a place as lovely as Takodana. As Finn let out a small pain riddled cry as the fifth strike cracked against him, she feared she was about to be ill. Her blurry vision made it impossible to see the arithmetic questions that were written on her slate.
After the tenth strike, Hux was satisfied with his torture enough to let Finn limp brokenly back to his seat. Smugly, he swung the cane around and eyed his horrified pupils. "Now that master Finnegan has been shown the error of his ways, does anyone else want to explain to the class what five hundred divided by eight is?"
Rey gulped loudly and placed her hands on either side of her desk to try steady herself. The room was starting to spin. Her sudden movement gripped Hux's attention. "Well, well… The orphan speaks."
Rey clenched her hands into fists and glanced up fearfully. Hux regarded her as if she were dirt on his shoe. Putting the cane down, he crossed and folded his arms impatiently. "I believe I asked you a question, Rey of Jakku. Or are you too stupid to answer?"
Rey was growing increasingly mortified by the second as Hux's cruel eyes bore into hers. "What is five hundred divided by eight?"
She could not answer him. She did not know. Rose had been whispering the correct answers to her for most of the subjects. Before she could stutter out an apology in humiliation, a deep voice interjected.
"It's sixty-two and five."
Hux angrily spun around towards the interloper and was met by the cold eyes of Ben Solo. Rey remained speechless as Hux observed the two of them silently.
"Well, mister Solo," Hux began coolly, "since you seem intent on speaking for her, I am sure miss Jakku would not be opposed to sitting next to you on the boy's side for the rest of the class."
Rose watched as Rey's face drained completely of colour and Mr. Hux signaled crudely at her to move across the aisle towards Ben. "Do it now, miss Jakku. We don't have all day to waste on your incompetence."
Rey, red and shaking for humiliation, clumsily gathered up her slate, stumbled across the aisle and rigidly took the seat next to her adversary.
"See, that was not so difficult, was it?" Hux seethed out. "Now, since you seem so fond of dramatics, please open your copy of Hamlet, and read aloud the soliloquy we looked at yesterday. Unless, of course, you are not prepared and wish to wear the Dunce cap for the remainder of school today?"
Rey felt hot tears burn at the corner of her eyes. She had been so excited to walk to school with her new friends that she had forgotten her copy of Hamlet on the kitchen table. She sniffed and slumped into the hard-wooden chair, defeated.
Seeing her small pale hands trembling, Ben Solo nudged his open book towards her. Humiliated at having to be saved by him again, Rey refused to meet his eyes, but stood and clutched the book in her two shaking hands, as Mr. Hux irritably tapped his foot.
She anxiously cleared her throat and cringed as she struggled to sound out the words on the page in front of her. "The h-heartache, and the thous-and natural shocks, that f-flesh is he-ir to…"
At Rey's wrong pronunciation of the word heir, the other students giggled, but Ben Solo stared at her in astonishment.
Rey did not know how to read.
Unaware of his discovery, and too mortified to do anything else, Rey shakily tried to continue:
" 'T-tis a cons… sum… consum-"
"Consummation," Ben Solo corrected quietly. Rey felt her face burn in humiliation as Mr. Hux frowned at her, disgusted.
" 'Tis a consummation,"Rey gritted out, "De-vou-tly to be w-wished. To die, to sleep-"
Unaware of her rising panic and rage, Ben Solo whispered, "Perchance to dream-"
"I don't want your help!" Rey hissed, slamming the book shut.
"Listen here, you wretch," Hux's voice bellowed through the classroom as he grabbed the large, triangle-shaped hat from his desk and stomped over to her. "You will behave in a more sophisticated way in my classroom, or you will leave."
He shoved the white hat that had the words DUNCE written in angry black letters, onto her head. "Now sit there and keep your mouth shut for the remainder of my class."
Infuriated, Rey buried her head into her hands as the students growing laughter began to ring in here ears. This place was no better than the Jakku asylum after all.
"Rey," Ben Solo whispered desperately, "I'm sorry, I was only trying to help-"
"I don't need your help!" she sobbed back.
"Rey, listen," he pleaded, unaware of the violent rage that was quickly rising inside of her.
"I don't want to listen to you!" she screamed, whipping around to face him as the Dunce hat flew off of her head.
"Rey, you just need a teacher-"
"What is it about this wretch, that has you so up in arms?" Hux thundered at Ben, who glared back heatedly.
"Nothing!" Ben screamed out as the rest of the class looked on in horror. "She's nothing."
As the familiarity of his words pierced her, Rey snapped.
Rising to her feet, she grabbed her slate off of her desk and whipped it in the air, before slamming it roughly down onto Ben Solo's head, breaking it into hundreds of tiny black pieces.
The schoolhouse quickly erupted in pandemonium. Rose gasped. Jessica Pava, who was prone to hysteria, burst into tears. Bazine Netal screamed. Poe let his can of earthworms- that he had collected at lunch- fall onto the floor as he stared open-mouthed at the scene in front of him.
And Ben Solo stared up at Rey, eyes wide with an expression she could not decipher, as blood poured from his forehead and across the right side of his split cheek.