Grade Six, 2004.
Thursday, October 28th. 12 PM.
"Your face looks like the floor after lunch!"
"Yeah, well you look like something that came out of a slow cooker!"
Rey rolls her eyes as she watches the argument unfold from across the room. She's sitting at her desk in her grade six classroom, it's lunchtime- her favourite time- and the teacher has just stepped out. As usual, Armitage Hux, has initiated the fight.
"Oh no," Rose groans from the desk beside Rey. "Not again."
"At least my parents can afford to pack me a lunch!" Ben Solo spits, the tips of his large ears starting to redden.
"Your parents or your nanny?" As Armitage rises from his desk and Ben quickly follows, Rey looks away. Although he's still a few inches shorter than his adversary, when angry, Ben Solo is terrifying.
"I still can't believe that you have to spend the entire weekend with him, Rey," Rose says sympathetically, wincing as an eraser bounces off of Ben's head.
"I'll survive," Rey whispers. "Besides, Leia and Han will be there, so I won't have to see him much."
They watch as Ben clumsily dodges the pencil that Armitage has thrown at him, and lifts and chucks his entire pencil case in retaliation.
"I hope," Rey gulps.
"Benjamin Solo, what is the meaning of this?" Ms. Erso enters the room and strides over to where the two boys stand facing each other. "Well?"
Rey watches as Ben's face turns red in humiliation and he struggles to stutter out a few ineligible words.
"He said my family was poor and then started shouting at me!" Armitage looks up at the teacher with giant green eyes, gesturing wildly at the pencil case on the ground behind him. "And then he just chucked it at me!"
Ben looks around the room frantically, with pleading eyes, but the other students avoid his gaze. As Ms. Erso escorts Ben out of the classroom and to the principal's office, Rey feels guilt slowly chip away at her.
After their first disastrous meeting three years ago, the relationship between Ben Solo and Rey Kanata, has only gotten worse- despite all of their parents best efforts to force them into a friendship. While their second Halloween together had gone slightly better- Leia had dressed Ben as Sully and Maz had dressed Rey as Mike from Monsters Inc.in order to try and unify them- it had not formed the friendship that their parents had been hoping for.
Rey, after screaming that Ben's appearance finally matched his personality, had yelled, "Monster! You're a monster!" at him, and Ben, who had been secretly excited about their matching costumes, had burst into tears and fled the room.
On Rey's third Halloween with Ben, she had tried to make it up to him by giving him a packet of her favourite skittles, but he had only scowled and handed her a drawing of a smiling stick figure, with the words 'Rey' and 'Dummy' written above it.
"If I'm so dumb," she had asked, sassily pointing to the stick figure, "why am I smiling?"
"Because you're too dumb to know better," Ben had deadpanned back, smirking happily as Rey tearfully ran from the room moments later.
From that moment onwards, they were enemies; both going out of their way to avoid each other whenever they could, and when they couldn't, making sure that their mutual hatred was not only known, but felt.
Leia and Maz had resorted to grounding them both on multiple occasions.
Well, Rey reasons, Ben Solo's relationship with everyone has only gotten worse throughout the years. And really, he only has himself to blame. He's rude, annoying, and wears far too much black on days that aren't Halloween related. It isn't her fault that no one wants to sit beside him at lunch or be his partner for school projects… Plus, he has an imaginary friend that he calls 'Kylo Ren' that freaks her out.
Despite this, Rey still can't shake the sinking feeling in her gut that she has done something wrong by not defending him. No one deserves to get in trouble because of Armitage Hux. Watching Ben disappear out into the hall, she fiddles with her thumbs, and swallows nervously.
Since transferring schools, she has flourished. Rey has made a best friend in Rose, improved her grades, and is doing just fine, despite having to share holidays and a classroom with her mortal enemy every year. She is even getting slightly resigned to the fact that she will probably never see her parents again. Rey is now also somewhat well behaved- despite the times when Ben Solo is involved- and is able to not only stand up for herself, but for others as well.
Except Ben, her conscience whispers.
"But still," Rose exclaims, "a whole weekend. Why couldn't Halloween be on a weekday this year?"
"I'm cursed," Rey sighs dramatically. "But it's Leia's brother's place, and Maz says that we should go to 'enjoy nature.' I'm pretty sure the real reason has to do with Han's old friend from college."
"You mean that hairy, Russian guy?" Rose exclaims. "No way!"
"Yup," Rey says, popping the p. "Maz has been dead gone on him since meeting him last Christmas. She denies it, but I know the truth."
"Wow," Rose gushes. "Go Maz!"
"Maz also doesn't want me to mess with tradition, I guess," Rey says, shrugging both of her shoulders. "I don't really know why. It's not my fault that the Solo's decided to spend Halloween up North, but at least I get Monday off because of it."
In truth, Rey loves Leia and Han and is thrilled that she gets to spend as much time with them as she does. They're funny, loving, sassy and everything that good parents should be. Leia, despite being a successful politician, always makes time for Maz and Rey when the holidays roll around, and always, always calls on Rey's Birthday.
Because of this, Rey makes sure to attend every event that they invite her to- especially the giant Halloween party that they throw before trick-or-treating, every year. She doesn't want Leia to ever get offended and take it personally if she doesn't show up to something. Rey can't bear the thought of Leia feeling hurt by her, or worse, being disappointed in her.
Besides, she muses, it's really not Han or Leia's fault that they're stuck with a monster of a son.
Friday, October 29th. 9:10 AM.
On Friday, Rey's class is holding a pre Halloween party, since Halloween falls on the weekend this year. The whole school is decorated in black and orange, with cotton cobwebs strung up in the corners, and paper skeletons and ugly green witches taped to the walls.
Rey and Rose are dressed as superheroes, an idea that they had excitedly came up with three months ago, and have discussed every day since. Both girls had pestered their parents so much over their costumes, that both Maz and had rushed frantically to Party City to buy the costumes as soon as they were available, just to shut them up and finally, finally end the madness.
"I knew you'd look great as Wonder Woman!" Rose gasps, as Rey delightedly twirls around in front of her. "And your hair! It looks so good curly!"
"Thanks!" Rey beams, then exclaims, "Supergirl has never looked better!"
At the compliment, Rose strikes her own dazzling pose, and both girls break into giggles.
"We're totally gonna win the costume contest," Rose exclaims as both girls bounce up the main stairway and towards their classroom. "There's no way anyone's got a better idea!"
"If we make it in time to be considered!" Rey breathes heavily. "We're already ten minutes late!"
As they excitedly turn a corner and sprint into the hallway where their classroom is, Rose suddenly freezes, and Rey bangs into her.
"Hey!" Rey begins, but stops when she sees the look of terror on Rose's face. Armitage Hux is pinning something against a locker and yelling, and two other boys are ripping things from it.
"Oh no," Rey gasps. It's not something, but someone.
Ben Solo is pinned up against the wall, and they're pulling at his shirt and throwing pieces of it across the hall. Before she can think twice about what she's doing, Rey stalks over to them.
"Hey!" she bellows, and all four boys freeze. Rose is a few steps behind her now too, trying to put on a brave face. "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"
Armitage looks outraged for a moment, before an amused grin makes its way across his face. "Like you?" he taunts, taking a step towards Rey, his friends forgetting about Ben, and circling around her.
Armitage raises his fist and Rey shuts her eyes, bracing herself for the impact.
"Ah!" Armitage shrieks, and Rey's eyes fly wide open, finding him shaking his wrist and flailing his arm around frantically. Rose was snarling at him, a wicked gleam in her eyes.
Rey sags in relief as she watches them, and grins. Rose has bit him.
"You little freak!" Armitage eyes are burning as he starts to back away. "You're all pathetic! Just wait until Ms. Erso hears about this!"
As Armitage and his friends run towards the classroom, Rey turns to Rose and pulls her into a tight hug. "You're brilliant!" Rey exclaims. "Remind me to never get you angry."
"Consider this a warning," Rose grins back. "Just wait until kick a ginger day!" A shuffling from the floor breaks through their laughter.
"Hey," Rey extends her hand to a bewildered Ben, who's staring up at her with wide eyes and an astonished look on his face. He awkwardly grips her hand and she helps yank him up off the floor. Once standing, he starts straightening out his white shirt, and looks around for the rest of his outfit. When standing up straight, Rey realizes, he only reaches up to her nose.
"I think these are yours," Rose says, handing him a circular yellow piece of construction paper, and a devil horned headband.
"Uh, thanks," Ben responds stiffly, sliding the devil horns onto his head, and patting the yellow circle back onto his stomach. Rey tilts her head and examines him.
"What are you supposed to be, anyway?" she asks with genuine curiosity. He looks affronted, but instead of yelling at her like she expects him to, he sighs.
"I'm a devilled egg."
Rey blinks. "Oh."
"Yeah," he states, and gestures to the 'yolk' on his shirt, and then to his horns. "Obviously."
"Yeah, obviously," Rose says slowly, in a tone that indicates the opposite. "Come on Rey, we're really late now."
"Okay, yeah," Rey stutters, still staring at Ben, who's watching her with an unusual intensity. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"
"I guess," Ben says slowly, his expression unreadable. He continues to stare at her as Rose grabs her arm and pulls her down the hall.
Saturday, October 30th. 5 PM.
Luke Skywalker's cabin in the woods is absolutely fantastic.
First, it's absolutely massive, and the wood that it's made out of makes it look like something straight out of a horror movie. The views and trees are so beautiful that Rey has forgotten all about the three hour drive it took to get here.
"Wowie," Maz whistles as they pull up into the driveway. Once parked, they exit the car and look around in wonder. There's tree's of every colour surrounding the cabin, and a massive, shinning lake at the back of it. Rey has never seen anything more beautiful in her life.
Leia, Han, and a man who she guesses is Luke, come through the front door and stand on the porch. Maz waves and Rey, filled with a renewed energy, excitedly bounds up the driveway and runs up all the steps and onto the porch.
"Heya kid," Han greets, and ruffles her hair when she reaches him. "Look at you! You've shot up a few inches since I saw you last."
"She grows like a weed," Maz interjects, reaching the group. "It's all the food she inhales."
"Pretty soon she'll be taller than Leia," Han smiles, then adds, "Though that's not hard to be."
"Hush you," Leia says, swatting at her husbands shoulder, before stepping up to hug Rey. "Just ignore him Rey, Lord knows I do."
"Well we know she's definitely taller than Ben," Han responds. "Kid's a shrimp. I bet he doesn't even come up to her shoulder. Definitely takes after you in that regard."
Leia rolls her eyes and turns to the other man standing beside her. "Rey, this is my brother, Luke."
Luke has a scraggly greying beard, and looks every bit the hermit that Rey had imagined he would be. His bright blue eyes are kind though, and the tilt in his smile reminds Rey of Leia, and so she likes him immediately.
"Hi Rey," Luke greets, extending his hand for Rey to shake first, then to Maz. "Maz, it's nice to see you again."
Maz grins and arches an eyebrow. "Mr. Skywalker, keeping out of trouble, I hope?"
"Well you know me, Maz. Trouble seems to follow, despite how far I go to get away from it."
Han scoffs and gestures for everyone to come inside. "Chewie's out back with Ben. Kid's been trying to work on his costume all afternoon." At this, Rey stops.
Seeing her curious expression, Han continues. "All month he's been yapping about having the perfect costume, and then suddenly after we get here last night, he's changed his mind! And would you believe what his other costume was going to be? An egg! My son wanted to dress up as an egg!"
"Ben's definitely always been very creative," Luke interjects, smiling at Rey as they make their way into the living room. Leia smirks at Maz in response, but Han continues to scoff.
"That's one word for it," Han grunts. "An egg. For Halloween."
Rey wonders why Ben hasn't told Han and Leia about the costume party at school. "What's he going as now?"
Han looks at her. "Great question, kid. He won't tell us." Han sighs and plops down onto the leather couch in the centre of the room. "Like usual, he wants to make everythingby himself."
"We had to force him to let Chewie help with the dye," Luke says. "He almost got it all over the backseat of the Falcon, and you can imagine how this one reacted." Han groans and shakes his head.
"Fortunately, they're now in the backyard," interjects Leia, gesturing to the large patio doors across the room. "Dyeing the grass til their heart's content."
"Well it better continue to stay on the grass and out of my car."
Two hours later, after Rey and Maz had been shown their rooms and gotten a proper tour of the cabin, everyone sits at the large wooden dinning table, for dinner. On one side of the table, Chewbacca slyly sits next to Maz, and Rey sits in-between Maz and Leia. On the other side of the table sits Luke, Ben and Han. As they start to dig into the meal, Rey finds herself not eating, but staring at the boy in front of her.
Despite being seated directly in front of Rey, Ben unusually refuses to meet her gaze. Normally at these get togethers, he was the first one to comment on something she did. Be it on how she looked, or how she ate, or how she shouldn't even be there because she isn't family.
Tonight, he says nothing.
When he had first came in from outside, he had muttered a polite 'hello' to Maz, and a very quiet 'hi' to Rey. He had hid the pieces of fabric he had been dyeing behind his back, and ran upstairs to his room to put them away. Luke had chuckled in response, and nudged Chewie with his elbow.
"So Rey," Leia starts, chewing on a chicken bone, "What are you being this year for Halloween?"
"Wonder Woman," Rey responds, still watching Ben, who is still watching his food.
"Oh, I love Wonder Woman!" Leia gushes. "Han, didn't I go as Wonder Woman one year?"
"Yes, and now I also love Wonder Woman," Han responds with a smug wink.
"Gross dad," Ben spits, finally looking up from his food in horror.
"Rose and I won the class costume contest at school," says Rey, proudly. Maz smiles at her daughter, but Leia just looks startled.
"Costume contest?" Leia asks, as Han looks towards Ben. "What costume contest?"
"The one that we have every year. It's during the annual class Halloween party," Rey responds, looking between the two in confusion. At her words, Leia looks even more startled. "It was yesterday. Everyone brings treats from home or their parents bake something, and we dress up. Maz baked pumpkin cookies."
Leia looks down at her plate of food, and Han stuffs his mouth with chicken. "Oh, I see."
"I guess Ben didn't tell you," Rey says, looking at the boy in question, who is now obviously glaring at her from across the table.
"I guess so," Leia mutters quietly. Luke clears his throat and asks Maz to pass the carrots.
When dinner is done, Ben kicks Rey- hard- under the table and before she can respond, he stands up, pushes his chair in, and charges up the stairs; the sound of his door slamming shut echos loudly throughout the cabin.
"Jeeze," Rey mutters to Chewie, "What's gotten into him?" Chewie sighs sadly and dejectedly mutters something in Russian back. Everyone else at the table avoids her eyes.
Sunday, October 31st. 8 AM.
Rey wakes up early the next morning- she's always too excited to sleep in on a holiday, never mind on one where she's going to get loads of candy later on. Smiling to herself, she jumps out of bed and heads out of her room. Hearing noises from the kitchen below, Rey starts to climb down the stairs, before Leia's words make her freeze.
"He has no friends at school. I just don't know what else to do at this point."
"Oh Leia, I'm so sorry," Maz responds.
"He acts like he doesn't care, but I see how upset he gets. Han's at a loss, too."
Rey feels her throat tighten. Leia was crying.
"I had hoped that with the amount of kids that came to the Halloween party every year, that there would have been someone who could have-"
Rey hears Maz rip out a kleenex from the box.
"So I figured, what's the point of a big party this year? I've made sure that his nanny is there to pick him up, right after school, but the teachers say that the bullying has only gotten worse- that it now occurs during school hours, too."
Maz mutters something that Rey can't make out, and Leia blows her nose. "Sometimes I hear him cry himself to sleep at night."
Not wanting to hear anymore, Rey crawls back up the stairs silently, feeling the blood pulsing in her ears. Once back in her room, she sits on her bed, stunned.
Rey knows that Ben is often the victim of the other students taunting- sometimes even her own taunting, if she was being honest- but she didn't expect him to actually care about it. That he would cry over it.
He could always dish it out just as well as he could take it- or so she had thought.
Armitage and the other boys were cruel to Ben, it was true, but Rey hadn't realized until this moment, that Ben didn't have any other friends, at all. She had always assumed that he had to have had some friends somewhere- his mom was a senator, after all.
Now the fact that he never had Birthday parties, only quiet Birthday dinners with his family, made sense.
Hot guilt washed over her, and Rey decided that although he often made her life a living nightmare, she would be kinder to Ben. Well, she'd try to be, anyway. A large part of her also thought that he still deserved whatever he got; he has repeatedly called her dumb on various occasions, after all.
And she definitely couldn't forget about the time that he had told her that Santa wasn't real when she was nine… Or about the time that he had stuck gum in her hair in grade five, forcing Maz to chop it all off until it reached just above her shoulders…
The next time that Rey comes downstairs, it's ten am and the smell of pancakes greets her.
"Good morning, sleepyhead," Maz says, bringing over a plate of pancakes as Rey sits at the table. Ben is already there, his nose stuck in a book. He doesn't look up as she sits down. "I was wondering when you'd wake up."
"Mornin' Maz," Rey mumbles cheerfully, mouth already full of food.
"Hello Rey," Leia greets, coming to sit at the table. "Happy Halloween! Han and Luke are out getting some more decorations. I had thought that I had brought them all, but I must have forgotten them on the table at home."
Ben scoffs, and Rey looks over at him. He still doesn't look up. She starts to fume inwardly. Clearly he had no clue about how much Leia worried about him, or how much trouble she went to every year to try and make him happy. She kicks at his left shin.
"What're you reading?" she asks him, trying to goad him into a conversation. He freezes and then slowly looks up at her through dark lashes.
"The adventures of the knights of Ren," he says quietly.
"Oh, cool." Ben stares at her. So do Maz and Leia.
"Well Rey," Leia starts, smiling widely. "Ben has all of the books in the series. If you're interested, I'm sure that he'd love to show you them sometime!"
Not wanting to ruin Leia's good mood, Rey smiles back. "Sure, that'd be fun."
"Really?" Maz is shocked. Leia is delighted. Ben is openly gaping at her.
"Yeah, why not?"
"Oh, wonderful! Isn't that wonderful, Ben?" Leia gushes, "How about you two go get your costumes on when you're done your breakfast? Han and Luke will be back soon, and then we can all put up the decorations together. I may even have a surprise for you after we're done!"
Rey forces herself to smile back, and Ben nods once in agreement before going back to eating his food in silence.
An hour later, Rey stands on a step stool, in her Wonder Woman outfit, taping up black paper spiders to the walls of the living room. Luke and Han are helping her, while Maz and Chewbacca decorate outside and Leia work on things inside the kitchen.
"Has anyone actually looked around this place?" Han asks. "There's so many real spiders, you don't need the fake ones."
Luke rolls his eyes, but Rey smiles.
"Hey, look at you kid!" Luke has turned toward the staircase. "So that's what you've been working on all this time." Han and Rey stop what they're doing and watch as Ben Solo descends the staircase. Rey's eyes widen.
Ben looks like a giant, lumpy blueberry.
He walks over to them shyly and Han stutters to come up with something to say. Ben's wearing a long sleeved sweater and stretchy pants and both have clearly been dyed blue. There's a red s drawn on his chest, and a poorly dyed red pillowcase draped around his shoulders. The arms of his sweater are filled with something that makes them appear lumpy and uneven. "Wow, Ben. That's uh, that's great."
Ben's eyes seem to light up at his father's words, and Han runs a hand nervously through his hair as Ben starts to approach with more confidence.
"Superman's cooler than a devilled egg," Ben says, looking at his feet. "I guess."
"Oh yeah, Superman," Han says as he glances at Luke, who stares back with wide eyes. "Definitely cooler than an egg."
"Yeah, way cooler." Luke smiles too wide for Rey's liking. "Now you and Rey match!"
Ben's ears start to redden and Han grins and pats his shoulder encouragingly. "Just do us all a favour bud, and don't get into any more trouble tonight? I don't think the house could take a fight between two Superheroes. Especially one with such big muscles."
"It definitely could not," Leia says from the doorway in the kitchen. "Oh look at you two, how sweet. Han, get the camera!"
After being forced to take pictures for what Rey considers a ridiculously long amount of time, Leia whispers the three words that always make her and Ben immediately freeze up in horror.
"I made taffy!"
Every single year, Leia makes them a tray of taffy and proudly watches as they eat it. The flavour is always something healthy, like parsnip, or beetroot or rutabaga, and Ben and Rey have to force it down without vomiting.
While Leia's heart is always in the right place, her baking skills are subpar at best. And that makes her taffy making skills, Rey thinks, non existent- and even that is being generous. In truth, Rey finds Leia's taffy absolutely revolting, and that is the only thing that she and Ben ever actually agree on.
"It's salted tomato flavour!" Leia gushes, waving at them to come into the kitchen.
"Yay," Rey breathes as Ben nervously exclaims, "Yum!"
"Don't push it towards me, I don't want it!" Ben grits out, as he shoves the offending baking pan back to Rey.
"I've already ate three pieces," Rey snarls. "You've only had two!"
"Two was enough!"
Both stare down and the red, sticky mess that coats the pan.
Leia had watched them eat the first few pieces, smiled when they had given her a thumbs up, and exclaimed that she'd be back in half an hour and expected them to, "have finished the entire plate," because it was Halloween after all, and she'd let them get a way with it, "just this once!"
"Well I don't want it either!" Rey groans and shoves it back to Ben.
He shoves it back to her again. "Someone has to eat it!"
"Wait," Rey breaths. "I have an idea."
Ben watches curiously as Rey grabs the plate of taffy and starts to tip toe towards the door in the kitchen that leads outside. She glares back at him. "Well, are you coming or not?"
Quietly they both sneak down to the dock at the end of the backyard. After ensuring that their parents aren't around and watching, Rey dumps the entire pan of taffy into the water.
"Well that solves that problem," she says, happily watching as the pieces sink to the bottom of the lake. When Ben doesn't respond, Rey turns to look at him.
Ben is staring longingly out across the water; another floating dock bobs in the waves about fifteen feet away from where they currently stand.
"My dad taught me to swim over there," he says suddenly.
"Oh," Rey responds quietly. "That must have been fun."
"We haven't came up here in years," Ben says, walking further down the dock. "Dad and mom say they don't have time to anymore."
Following his footsteps, Rey stands next to him at the very end of the dock and looks out across at the glistening waves. Feeling braver, she turns to him. "Why didn't you tell your parents about the costume party at school?"
Ben's shoulders stiffen, before he takes a breath and turns to look at her. "I did tell them, Rey."
Rey feels her face get hot as his dark eyes bore into hers. "Oh."
"Yeah," Ben scoffs, breaking their gaze and scuffing his shoe angrily on the wood. "I tell them about it every year."
At his admission, Rey feels something akin to sympathy. "I'm sorry about Armitage and his friends." And everyone else.
Ben looks at her again, really looks at her, and Rey sees the same unreadable expression that he had given her at school on Friday.
"Besides," she quickly sputters out, "Armitage is a ginger, and everyone knows that they have no souls. So I wouldn't worry about his opinion much, anyway."
Ben's eyes widen and her comment, and then he smiles a wide, brilliant, toothy grin at her, and Rey finds herself immediately smiling back at him.
"Benjamin Solo, did you just dump that entire pan of taffy into the lake?!" Leia is angrily striding towards them. "Oh no."
"Get ready to swim," Ben gulps out, ripping his sweater off over his head, and tossing it behind him. Before Rey can register what he's doing, Ben drives into the water and starts swimming toward the other dock. Once he's halfway across, he turns and smiles at her again.
Glancing back at Leia, who has almost reached the dock, Rey takes a breath and makes her choice. She dives headfirst into the cold water.
Maybe spending Halloween with Ben won't be as bad anymore.