Rey calls Clyde, and they meet for dinner and form a connection.
Thanks for the millionth time to skyeryder01 for beta reading.
Some minor content warnings: Brief mention of child abandonment, food scarcity, food hoarding.
The day after collecting the wooden trees, Clyde was contemplating them out in his shop, wondering if it would be overstepping if he repainted them. The raggedy wooden trees could use some sprucing up.
Clyde chuckled at his own joke, wondering if Rey would laugh with him. With her festive socks and hat and that bright smile, Clyde got the sense that she'd have a good sense of humor and was quick to laugh. And that got him to wondering what her laugh sounded like. Would she throw her head back when she laughed? Would she throw her head back in pleasure, too?
Clyde Logan Logan, you stop that this instant, he thought. That pretty young lady is not interested in you.
His phone vibrated in his pocket, startling him out of his salacious thoughts.
He fished it out with his prosthetic and swiped it unlocked to answer.
He nearly dropped it when he heard the voice on the other end.
For a heart-stopping moment, Clyde wondered if his impure thought about her had somehow summoned her. But when he could breathe again, he reminded himself that sort of thing only happened in the movies.
"Clyde! I'm so glad I caught you! I have your book!"
"Ma'am?" He asked politely. He had no clue what she meant.
"Your book! 'The Rebel's Secret Passion' by B.S. Kysses?"
"Your book! It fell out of your pocket yesterday in the auditorium, and," she paused, and if Clyde didn't know such a thing weren't possible, he would've sworn he heard a blush color her cheeks. "And, I would've called you yesterday to return it, but…" she paused again. "I stayed up all night reading it."
Clyde felt his own cheeks drain of color. The book he'd shoved in his pocket yesterday had been a romance novel . What she must think of him. Bless your heart, Mama would've said with a shake of her head and an indulgent smile.
"Um," was all he could say.
"I loved the book!" she exclaimed. "And I love your little sticker in the front! Such a good idea."
Wondering how she got his number hadn't even crossed his mind, but he realized that when he'd blindly put his little labels with "from the library of Clyde Logan" and his phone number in the books from the secondhand store, he'd missed pulling out the romance novel. Usually, the books he bought were mysteries or fantasy, and while he didn't mind romance, actually enjoyed it on occasion, he didn't read it while he was out and about. Jimmy and Mellie had given him enough shit about reading in public in his younger days that he just knew he'd never hear the end of it if they knew he read romance.
"You really liked it?"
Seriously, was that all he could come up with after she had just told him she'd stayed up all night?
"Oh, yes! I'd like to return it to you, though. Would you like to meet to talk about the book?"
Wait— had she—
No, of course not. She just wanted to return the book. She probably felt sorry for him because he'd stupidly said the holidays were lonely.
"Yeah, sure," Clyde said, trying not to let the enthusiasm he felt color his voice.
"Oh, well if you'd rather not—" she sounded upset, so he blurted the first thing that came to mind.
"Do you like bacon?"
"Meet me at the diner?" He had to rush to get the words out before he could stop himself. Even if she did just want to return the book, that didn't mean they couldn't still spend time together.
"The diner. Over on Main Street?" Clyde rubbed his free hand over the back of his neck and felt his ears burn.
"Oh, of course! Are you free now?"
Clyde looked down at his sawdust-speckled jeans and ripped shirt.
"I'll meet you there in half an hour."
In what was probably the fastest shower he had ever taken outside the military, Clyde scrubbed his skin roughly with his 3-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, body wash combo and accidentally squeezed the bottle too hard when he went to wash his hair, blue goo spraying all over the tiles and tub.
He'd have to clean that later.
Once he was rinsed and the soap was finally out of his eyes, Clyde jumped out of the shower and raced for his closet, wondering what to wear. It wasn't a date, he chided himself, but still. He wanted to look presentable. She was a teacher, after all, an educated lady from somewhere far away from here.
He settled on a pair of jeans and a plain black tee-shirt that Mellie had picked out for him. He didn't like them much, but they fit good, she'd said. Without really thinking, he grabbed another of his favorite flannels to pull on over the soft cotton tee and raced out the door.
When he arrived, his truck banging and clanging as always, he had three minutes to spare. But Rey was already there, waiting just outside the diner door, looking pretty as hell in a sundress and tights with combat boots and a bomber jacket pulled around her shoulders. Her hair was down again, and Clyde's fingers itched to run through the waves to see if they were as soft as he hoped. She smiled brightly and waved at him as she watched him cross the street. When he was standing in front of her, she rose on her toes slightly, and Clyde blinked in surprise. But she just sank back down and stuck her hands in the pockets of her jacket.
He'd thought she was going to hug him and felt a sharp sting of disappointment.
But he squared his shoulders and held the door open, just like his mama had taught him, and let the familiar scent of the diner wash over him, all dark-brewed coffee, fries, and maybe just a hint of peppermint.
Inside, the diner was an explosion of red and green, tinsel, tablecloths, ornaments, and candy canes. There was even an almost life-sized nativity scene wedged against the back wall. Everything Maz and Rose could think of that had anything even remotely to do with Christmas was there, and Rey leaned her head back to take it all in as Rose led them to their booth.
Clyde thought it was nice, all the decorating, because it felt homey. He and Jimmy had never bothered to put up a tree when they had lived together, Mellie's was mostly just covered in hairbows, and the one time Bobbie Jo had thought to invite them to her house for Christmas, her decorations had all just been solid white. So even though some people might call the Christmas explosion 'tacky', Clyde loved it.
He said so to Rey.
"Oh, I love it too," she said seriously, the green lights beside their booth offsetting the deeper green of her eyes. "I didn't… Christmas is…well, anyway, I love the decorations." She ducked her head as she removed her bomber jacket. Beneath it, she had layered a denim jacket over the soft floral sundress.
Rose reappeared with menus and steaming mugs of coffee, and oddly enough, a can of whipped cream spray. She winked at Rey before departing again, hurrying over to cash out a family of four.
Clyde eyed the red and white can suspiciously.
"What's that for?"
"Watch." And squirted a mountain of it on top of her coffee.
Clyde, who typically drank his coffee black, nearly gasped in affront.
"Mmm, yes!" She licked her lips.
Those words sent sparks straight to his groin.
Shit, Clyde, stop it.
He watched in horror and awe as she stirred the concoction for a moment before taking an enormous sip. He watched in fascination as she closed her eyes and hummed in satisfaction. When she lowered the mug, a dollop of whipped cream remained on her nose. Without thinking, he reached across and brushed the white froth from the tip of her freckled nose.
"Sorry," he said, ears burning, "you had—" and he brandished his hand at her in evidence.
"Oh, thanks! Want to try it?" She arched a brow and grinned, holding her mug out to him. The faintest trace of red-tinged lip balm lay on the rim, and Clyde ached to know whether it tasted like strawberry or cinnamon.
He very gingerly turned the mug around, so his lips didn't touch where hers had, and took a tiny sip.
The coffee/whipped cream mix wasn't what he expected, and while it wasn't his favorite, it wasn't bad.
"I think it would be better in cocoa," he admitted.
Rey's eyes lit up, and Clyde never wanted the look to leave her face again.
"Hey, Rose?" he called as she walked up to take their orders.
"Can we get two hot chocolates? And I'll have the bacon cheeseburger, with-"
"Extra bacon, burnt, I know." Rose lightly swatted Clyde on the shoulder and winked at him. "Rey?"
Clyde was surprised that the two women were acquainted, but on second thought, he knew he shouldn't be. They were about the same age, both bright, happy creatures in a small town. Of course they knew each other.
"I'll have the same, please, with extra fries, and—"
"A box," Rose finished for her. "I know." She grinned and walked back to the kitchen window and began hollering the order at Maz.
"So," they said in unison and laughed.
"You go first," he said, picking up his mug of black coffee that just didn't quite seem festive enough now.
"So, the book."
Clyde inhaled scalding hot coffee and very nearly sprayed her with it.
He'd forgotten about the damn book.
"What about it?" he asked, warily.
"I loved it," she gushed before tugging the book out of an inner pocket in her jacket. "I know a lot of people laugh at romance novels, but it was such a fun read! Plus it was so sexy." She fanned herself and blushed, her eyes turning gratefully to where Rose returned with another set of mugs.
Clyde's own ears burned scarlet, and he promised himself that he'd stay up all night to read the damned book too, just to see what she thought was so sexy.
"I don't laugh at romance novels," Clyde said. "I like the…romance," he said lamely. "The actual romance, not just the…you know." Rey's eyebrows rose and she smirked at him. "Anyway," Clyde rushed on, "I don't buy them much. My brother Jimmy gives me shit, uh sorry, I mean he gives me a hard time about it."
"Did you just apologize for swearing? That's adorable." Clyde's focus narrowed to where she dipped the tip of her index finger into her second mountain of whipped cream, and his eyes tracked to where she delicately licked her finger.
Clyde didn't think he'd ever been called adorable and didn't know how to feel about it. But since it had come from Rey, he didn't think he minded too much.
"Sorry. My mama always told me not to cuss in front of a lady."
"I guess it's a damn good thing I'm not a lady then, hmm?" She said sweetly before sticking her finger back into her mouth and sucking .
Clyde tried not to let his mouth fall open as he broke out in a cold sweat, and he was eternally grateful that Rose chose that moment to plunk their plates down in front of them.
"Enjoy!" She sang as she walked away.
Easing out a breath, Clyde watched in fascination as Rey cut her burger into very precise quarters then divided her fries into four little piles, counting to make sure they were even. When she noticed Clyde's attention, her face fell, and she ducked her head.
"Everything okay?" he asked. He'd only managed two bites in the time it had taken her to divide her food into quarters.
"Umm," she said, still not looking at him, fiddling with her napkin, now, instead of the food.
"I…oh, bugger all." Rey sighed. "I don't do well. During the holidays, I mean. The cold weather sort of…" she started twisting the napkin in her fingers. "I was left, abandoned, I guess, outside a shop when I was very small. Small enough not to really remember, but old enough to hold onto…feelings."
Clyde's heart constricted. He set down his burger and listened while she talked, still avoiding his eyes.
"I remember feeling cold. Scared." Her nimble fingers started shredding the napkin into strips. "Hungry. I was so hungry and so alone. And when someone finally found me and brought me to the authorities, there was almost nowhere for me to go."
Clyde's hands balled into fists beside his chipped diner plate. Rey's shoulders had started curling in on themselves, and he wanted to reach out and touch her, smooth the furrow between her brows with his lips and hold her until she released the tension that had made her curl in on herself like she was that small child again, seeking any scrap of warmth.
"So when they finally found a place for me," she kept going like she couldn't stop, a small pile of shredded paper in front of her, "there wasn't…enough. Anything. Space, food… So I started saving it, hiding food whenever possible, just in case. And sometimes around this time of year it just…hits. When I got a bit older, I was adopted by a lovely family, the Storms, and they took care of me and I had enough. But somehow, it never seemed like enough, so I never stopped. Not for a long time. Eventually, I got therapy, and it helped, but this is my first Christmas away. From my family, I mean, and I just…went back. To that little girl." Rey let out a shaky breath. "Sometimes it feels like I'll never have enough and never get warm."
When she finally looked up, her green eyes were watery and haunted.
Slowly, so as not to spook her, Clyde reached across the table and put his hand over hers that rested in the pile of shredded napkin.
"Do you want to take mine too?"
At that, she burst into tears.
Worried he'd upset her, Clyde tried to pull his hand away, but she clapped her other hand down on top of his before his fingers left her wrist.
"I— you— you'd do that?" Her words came out strangled, but a tiny bit of the tension left her shoulders.
Clyde blinked at her.
"Of course I would. It ain't right for a kid to go hungry, and even if it was a long time ago, I don't want you to feel like there's not enough. Do you want me to order more for you to take home?" Her fingers tightened around his.
"Clyde Logan." She said his name like a command.
Clyde rather enjoyed that.
"Yes ma'am?" He wasn't quite sure how to respond.
"When we leave this restaurant," she paused to look him right in the eyes, "I am going to kiss you. If that's alright with you."
"Y-yes ma'am. That's alright with me." Really, Clyde? "I mean, I'd like that. A lot." His ears burned, but he maintained eye contact and was rewarded with a smile.
Rey removed her hand from his and swiped at her eyes.
"We should probably eat before this gets too cold," she said, pushing the pieces of her burger back together.
As they ate, Clyde did his best not to inhale his food, and he made certain that Rey had plenty to eat. She laughed when he asked her multiple times if she was sure she didn't want him to order more, even after Rose brought the check. Normally, he was very careful with his money, even after what they'd gotten from the Speedway, but tonight, as soon as they were done eating, Clyde threw a handful of bills on the table and nearly knocked over tiny little Maz Kanata as she exited the kitchen through the swinging door.
"Nice one, girlie," he heard her mutter to Rey behind him, and Clyde had no clue what she meant.
Once outside, though, Clyde was left with a conundrum. Should he ask her for the kiss, would she even remember offering it? Had she meant a kiss on the cheek?
If asked, Clyde would have denied that the pounding sound he heard was his heart beating out of his chest. Some overgrown redneck's too-loud bass, maybe. But, no. It was definitely his heart pounding in his ears as he held the door open for Rey while she walked through and slid her arms into the bomber jacket's soft, worn leather sleeves.
Cold air hit him as the door swung shut behind her, the little bell jingling merrily, and Clyde watched Rey turn on the heel of her boot and start down the sidewalk. Rey grinned over her shoulder, her hair swinging as she walked, and crooked a finger at him in invitation.
So he followed. Clyde thought he'd do just about anything she asked him to do.
When Rey darted into a gap between two buildings, Clyde raised an eyebrow but followed anyway.
Her arms were stronger than he'd expected when they reached around him, and Clyde inhaled sharply when he felt her warm body press against his. When she tugged on his flannel to pull his face down to hers and pressed her soft, cinnamon-scented lips against his, he knew he was lost for her.
The Rebel's Secret Passion by B.S. Kysses is an awesome fic by andabatae on ao3 and twitter.