Title: My, How You’ve Grown
Word count: 3799
Spoilers: None, but it takes place shortly after the Harvest Festival.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any part of Parks and Recreation. Sadface.
Summary: Leslie needs a date to her high school reunion and Ben happens to be available.
A/N: Title blatantly ripped off from 10,000 Maniacs. A big thank you to lunar47 for taking a look at this even though she wasn’t feeling too well. I hope you feel better soon!
This was written for the second round of Hiatus Fest 2011. I used prompt #2: fanfic tropes, so welcome to fake dating and high school reunions! Let’s get this train wreck started!
Leslie was always telling people that necessity was the mother of invention, but sometimes she forgot how true that was. That being said, it’s not like she planned it. Ben simply walked in at an opportune moment.
The Harvest Festival was over, but for two weeks she’d had the nagging suspicion that she’d forgotten about something. Something that was sort of important. She called Ann, she called her mother, she had even called her doctor in case it was something to do with her lady business, but no one could think of anything she was supposed to be doing.
She spent Friday afternoon down at the community center working with the seniors in the newly re-implemented aerobics program. When she finally made her way back to the office Donna brought her up short by telling her that someone named Margaret Pearson had called.
“She said that she’s looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night?” Leslie stopped at the table in the outer office and thought for a moment. “Oh! Oh, no!”
Tom came walking out. “Oh no, what?”
“I don't believe it!”
Jerry stood up from his desk. “What’s wrong?”
“My 20 year high school reunion is tomorrow night. I totally forgot!”
Donna laughed, “Oooh, good thing she called! Your date would have been pissed if he’d come to pick you up and you were still in your pajamas.”
“Well, I might still be in my pajamas as I have nothing to wear, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t have a date. I was going to go by myself.”
Jerry, Tom, and Donna all looked at her as if she'd just told them she was planning on becoming a librarian.
“No. Nonononono-” Tom began.
“What’s wrong?” Ben asked as he walked into the office.
“Leslie’s twenty year high school reunion is tomorrow night,” Tom answered.
“It’s not quite twenty for me, but it was a small high school,” she mumbled. “We do group reunions. The classes of 1990-1994 are all invited.”
“Oh! Well that’ll be fun, won’t it?”
Tom laughed cynically, “Leslie just told us that she doesn’t have a plus one.”
Leslie looked at them pleadingly. “It’s not a big deal, right? I can go without a date.”
Donna shook her head furiously. “Nuh-uh, Leslie. No way.”
Tom agreed. “You have to have a date- and it can’t be Ann! Going with a friend or going stag to this kind of thing is like tattooing a giant LOSER sign across your forehead.”
“I don’t think that’s true.” Ben started.
Donna dismissed him with the wave of a hand. “Don’t listen to him, Leslie. He’s from Minnesota.”
Jerry walked over to her side and patted her shoulder. “If you need a date, I could always take you.”
“God, Jerry!” Tom cried out. “That’s the opposite of a solution!”
Donna and Tom looked at Jerry in disgust, even Ben looked slightly horrified, but Leslie smiled and placed her hand over his. “Thanks, Jerry, but some of these people are bound to know you or your wife.”
Donna smiled. “They don’t know Ben, though.”
Ben froze and then was suddenly backing away and waving his hands out in front of him. “Oh, no. I don’t think. . .”
“Oh my God! That’s perfect!” Leslie said. “You could pretend to be my husband. No! My ex-husband!”
Ben shook his head. “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Leslie!” Tom interrupted, “Most of the people going to this thing live in Pawnee. They know you’re not married.”
“He could be my secret husband!”
Everyone looked at her like she was crazy, which was ridiculous because she was a mysterious woman. She could have a man chained in her basement. They wouldn’t know.
“What? I could have a secret husband!”
Tom’s eyes were practically popping out of his head. “Aside from the fact that, no, you totally couldn’t, the two of you were all over the local media a few weeks ago. If you were married it would have come out!”
She’d forgotten about that. “Oh. . .right.”
Ben stepped closer to her and smiled sympathetically, “Leslie, I’ll just go as your date, okay?”
“Mmmm, I don’t think so,” Donna interjected. “You need to go as her boyfriend. She doesn’t want everyone to know she had to scrounge up a date at the last minute.”
“Donna’s right,” Tom said. “You guys need to say you’re in a relationship.”
“But if you’re going to do that,” Jerry warned, “you should practice. That way when people ask you questions you’ll have the same answers.”
Leslie ran the whole scenario over in her mind. Ben was totally cute, he was reasonably social, and as long as there wasn’t a camera on him he was somewhat capable of carrying on a conversation. Plus he was the new Deputy City Manager, which would kind of make them a political power couple. This was a great idea.
“What do you say, Ben?” Leslie asked. “Want to be my pretend boyfriend?”
Ben kind of looked like he just swallowed paint thinner or something, which was kind of insulting, Leslie thought. Pretending to be her boyfriend was an honor. It was, as Chris might say, literally the next best thing to actually dating her.
“There’ll be an open bar,” she added with a nervous smile.
Ben swallowed hard. “Okay. Sure. How can I turn down free alcohol?”
Tom clapped his hands together. “Great. Jerry’s right, though. Surprisingly. You have to make this believable and you only have one night to sort all the details out. So, practice date. Tonight, 7:30. The Snakehole. I’ll reserve you a table.”
Ben sort of blanched at that suggestion, and to be honest Leslie didn’t think a club would be conducive to carrying on any sort of conversation. “As nice as that is of you to offer, I think we should just meet up at my house. I’ll make dinner and we can come up with our back-story. How does that sound?”
Ben relaxed a little at her suggestion and agreed, but he still looked a bit shell shocked when he turned around and walked out.
His lack of enthusiasm made her feel uneasy, but she’d get him to see how awesome this was going to be. It would be a great way for him to meet some of the people of Pawnee and an open bar was always something to be taken advantage of.
She went into her office and started brainstorming.
Ben was on time, which was nice except Leslie wasn’t ready. She herself was a big believer in being ten minutes late if she was going to someone’s house. Unfortunately most people didn’t understand that being late was sometimes just good manners. Not that she thought Ben was rude, because he totally wasn’t. It was just that her hair was still damp from the shower, she hadn’t finished putting her make up back on, and her feet were still bare when she ran to answer the door. It didn’t really matter though, because it was just Ben. And he had brought three different kinds of wine with him since he didn’t know what they were going to be eating, which was kind of adorable.
He was also very understanding when she explained that dinner wasn’t ready yet. Which was great, because truth be told, dinner hadn’t even been started. She had bought him beer though. She came back from the kitchen with two bottles and handed him one as she joined him on the couch.
“So here’s the thing, Ben. My oven is kind of broken and I can’t get it to turn on.”
The corners of his mouth turned down a little as he thought. “Oh, well is the pilot light out?”
“Umm, maybe? I don’t know. I basically use it for storage.”
He laughed, which was good, because some people got weirded out when she let it slip that she didn’t ever cook. In fact, her first inkling that things with Justin weren’t going to work out was when he tried to encourage her efforts in the kitchen by saying that cooking was both a spiritual and a sexual experience for him. She’d nodded at the time and said, “Mmm, yes. I see what you mean,” but the truth was she’d thought that was crazy talk. Thinking back now, Justin had ended up being kind of a whack job, really.
“So you’re not big on cooking, huh?”
She focused back on Ben, who was sitting there in an orange and blue-checkered shirt that was really comforting somehow. A guy that wore a shirt like that wasn’t going to talk about how sexual stuffing a turkey could be.
“No, I’m kind of terrible at it. But you like cooking, right? You made me that awesome soup!”
“I do like it. I’m a pretty good chef, actually. I get it from my mom.”
“She’s a good cook?”
“Oh, yeah. The best. I’m awful compared to her.”
“Aww.” She mock punched him in the shoulder, “That’s so sweet. Benji Wyatt loves his mother. That settles it, though.”
“You’re the one who cooks in this relationship!” She leaned forward towards the coffee table where there was a big stack of poster board. She picked up a black magic marker and wrote Ben Cooks on the top sheet.
“So did you want me to check out the pilot light? If that’s the problem I could make dinner now.”
“Nah, I’m pretty sure it’s electric anyway. Let’s just order. What are you in the mood for?” She handed him two menus off the coffee table, both of which were for Chinese food.
“Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Chinese.”
She smiled. “How funny! That’s exactly what I was thinking!”
Three hours later, they’d eaten a ton of Chinese food and were on their way back from being a little drunk. Leslie placed a new poster board onto an easel by her fireplace and divided it into two columns. She wrote her name on one side and his on the other.
“Embarrassing things about you. Go!”
Ben opened a can of soda, “Um…um, I’ve seen “The Empire Strikes Back” more than two hundred times.”
Leslie laughed as she scribbled Didn’t get laid in high school under his name.
“Hey,” Ben laughed and then rose from the couch and walked towards her. He pulled the marker from her hand. “What about you?”
“Sometimes I only eat whipped cream for dinner. I pretty much go through four cans a week.”
He smirked a little as he wrote Future Diabetic in her column.
She laughed, not even the slightest bit embarrassed. “Okay, you again.”
“Umm, well the whole mayor thing.”
“No! That’s not embarrassing. Besides, I want something new.”
“Well this isn’t going to help with the nerd issue, but I speak a little Klingon.”
Leslie’s mouth dropped open. “Say something in Klingon.”
“SoH 'oH 'IH”
“That’s really bad. That’s terrible.”
Ben shrugged his shoulders. “It’s very shameful.”
“What did you say? Was it dirty?”
He nodded. “Filthy.”
She laughed and held out her hand for the marker. When he gave it to her she turned to the board and wrote Pervert Nerd.
“Hmm,” she thought for a moment and felt her cheeks flush as she began to speak. “Ann says I have like, a hoarding issue. Sort of, I don’t know. I’m kind of a pack rat.” She wrote Hoarder under her name.
The room was awkwardly silent for a moment as Ben kind of furtively looked around her living room. She knew that he was taking in all the clutter and that he was probably trying to figure out if she was some sort of deranged person who would eventually end up with dead cats under her sofa and a show on TLC. She suddenly wished she’d had time to dust.
“I’m going to hire a cleaning lady,” she offered shyly. “Ann gave me a flier, I just haven’t had time to call.”
“I don’t know,” Ben said as he took the marker back from her hand. “It doesn’t seem so bad to me.” He crossed out Hoarder and wrote Messy-ish. He smiled when he looked back at her. “It just looks like someone really lives here.”
For a moment she had this overwhelming urge to throw her arms around him. It was pretty much the greatest thing he could have said, because it was what she’d always thought too. She hated going into houses where everything was in its place and you were afraid to sit your glass down. Her house could probably use a little organizing, but she also didn’t want it to be devoid of personality. She firmly believed that houses should be a reflection of the people that lived there, and her reflection wasn’t some horrible, stuffy museum.
“What’s your place in Indy like?”
“Come on, I don’t believe that!”
“No, it is. Really. It’s small, dark, depressing. I have six dead bamboo plants in my kitchen. Chris keeps giving them to me and saying that they’re impossible to kill. But guess what? I find a way.”
“Ugh. Bamboo plants are terrible anyway.”
“I know, right?”
“Who wants a big green stick in their face all the time? I mean, give me a flower or something. Bamboo is evil.”
Ben raised his soda can at her. “I’ll drink to that.”
Leslie smiled at him as she took in all the poster boards scattered around the room. “This has been a lot of fun, Ben. It’s just like The Parent Trap.”
“The parent what?”
“You know, the Disney movie where Hayley Mills plays a set of identical twins that are separated at birth but meet up at camp when they’re teenagers? And at first they hate each other, because one’s all posh and from Boston, while the other’s all wild from living out West and riding horses, but then they realize they’re sisters and grow to really like each other.”
“Which one am I?”
“Which twin am I?”
“You’re not a twin. Neither of us is a twin. It’s just that they decide to switch places and they have to study all the details of their lives so they can trick their parents. That’s what this is like. The scenes where they’re studying.”
“You should watch it, it’s a really good movie.”
“Okay, I’ll look for it.”
Leslie eyed him for a second and then shook her head. “No, don’t. It’s not that good. I just liked it because I was eight and my parents had split up. It’s a young girl’s movie, not a grown man’s movie.”
“Well, thanks for telling me, because the lady that runs my hotel probably would have thought I really was a perverted nerd if I’d requested it for movie night.”
She laughed and then he laughed and then there was this moment where they were standing really close to each other and she felt like she should kiss him. Which was crazy because this was just make-believe.
Ben reached over and brushed a strand of hair off her forehead, and then his fingers sort of trailed down her cheek. But then his hand dropped away and his face turned so red that she almost asked him if he was okay. He took a step away from her and blurted out that he had to go.
“Oh, alright. But we didn’t get to any of the big stuff.”
“What big stuff?”
“Like how we met or where we went on our first date.”
“Maybe we should just stick to the truth,” he said as he slipped into his jacket. “We met at work and you know, we did sort of go on a first date when we crashed the one Chris and Ann were on. We could just omit them from the story. Dinner at a nice restaurant and then dancing at a gay bar- classic first date.”
Leslie sighed with disappointment. “I guess so.”
“Did you have a better idea?”
“No, I was just going to go a little more exotic and say we met in Geneva or something. But yours is probably better.”
“It just sounds good, doesn’t it? So cosmopolitan.” She dropped her voice a little, “We met in Geneva.”
“Maybe we could say we’re planning a vacation to Geneva instead.”
She smiled up at him brightly as she walked him over to the door. “That’s perfect. We’re planning a trip to Geneva. I love it. Good thinking!”
She pulled open the door to let him out and he leaned in and surprised her by kissing her on the cheek. He lingered for a moment and she realized that if he turned his face just the slightest bit his lips would touch hers. She was just about to tilt her face herself when he pulled away. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he walked out into the cool night air.
She stood in the doorway a little bit stunned and watched as he got into his car and drove off. When she stepped back inside and closed the door her hand brushed against her cheek where his lips had been. She looked around the room and smiled until a thought came barging into her head.
She’d made it clear to Ben that this was just pretend for her, but the whole night, including the part where she’d wanted him to kiss her, hadn’t been make believe at all.
She arrived at his motel room door the following night and took a moment to straighten out the silky fuchsia dress Ann had picked out for her earlier that afternoon. It’s sort of a little more form fitting than she’s used to, but the saleswoman had sold it to her by saying that if she threw a blazer over it she could wear it to work too. Ann had told her it looked really good on her, and she herself thought it made her legs look nice, so she’d gone ahead and splurged.
She knocked and when Ben opened the door she was relieved to see that he was wearing a suit Tom had made him buy a few weeks earlier.
She whistled at him. “My, don’t you look handsome!”
Ben smiled, “You look pretty good yourself. Beautiful, even.”
They both blushed at the same time.
The reunion was in the gym, which was smaller than Leslie remembered it, and the party was in full swing when they made their way in. There were people there that Leslie hasn’t seen in years, the people that moved to New York or California, the ones that couldn’t wait to put Indiana behind them. She listened to their stories and tried to visualize what her life would have been like if she’d made different choices, if she’d ever taken one look at Pawnee and thought that her life would be better if she lived it some place else. She can’t even imagine it.
Still, she laughed at the stories of rude New Yorkers, acted suitably impressed at the tales of interacting with self-centered celebrities, and tried to ignore the way people seemed to put up their noses when she told them that she never really left home.
“So you never got out?” Someone asked her.
Ben’s arm tightened around her shoulders.
“I never wanted to.” She said with a smile.
No one seemed to believe her.
Eventually there was some rubbery chicken for dinner, followed by a slide show and then people win silly prizes for traveling the farthest to come home, for having the most children, and for having the longest marriage. She tried not to let it bother her that she didn’t qualify for any of them.
When the nostalgia had been properly indulged and all the prizes had been given out, the dancing began. She watched as her former classmates got down to the greatest hits of the early nineties, which ended up being an odd combination of Mariah Carey and Nirvana.
After a couple of songs, Ben took her hand and led her onto the dance floor where she laughed as he bopped along awkwardly to the beat. When the music slowed she went to sit down, but he caught her arm and gently pulled her against him. Towards the end of the song, he held her a little closer and told her, “You’ve given more back to Pawnee than anyone else in this room. There should have been a prize for that, too.”
His words shouldn’t make her want to cry, but they do.
The evening began to wind down so they walked through the halls aimlessly until they stumbled across the school’s trophy display.
On the end of the top shelf were three large trophies that declared Pawnee High the All State Field Hockey Champions of 1991, 1992, and 1993. In front of the trophies were the team photos. The girls in them looked impossibly young and extremely proud.
“That’s me.” Leslie said as she pointed to a small blond girl wearing the captain’s armband and a ferocious grin.
“You played field hockey?”
Leslie scoffed at the question. “Played field hockey? No, Ben. I owned field hockey.”
Leslie’s voice was almost wistful, “They called me the enforcer. I broke the kneecaps of sixteen different girls. To this day they still whisper my name on the field to scare the opposition.”
“Yeah. Field hockey was serious business. I still have the scars.”
She lifted up the hem of her skirt and turned her knee so he could make out the faint pink crescent shaped mark running over it.
“Did you play sports in high school?”
“Yeah. Well, you know, the whole Ice Town thing happened because I wanted a better rink to play ice hockey in. I was pretty good, a really fast skater, although I don’t think anyone in Partridge brings up my name if they can help it.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
“No, no it’s fine. I wasn’t looking for a pity party or anything.”
“Well, I wasn’t offering one, so good!” She said, bumping her shoulder into his.
Ben looked at the picture of her again. “So, what would the seventeen year old you think of your life today?”
Leslie looked at the image of her younger self for a few seconds and tried to think back to who that girl was.
“You know, I think she’d be pretty happy,” she said with a smile.
“Well, obviously the not already being President thing would be a bit disappointing, but there’s still time.”
“Do you think the seventeen year old you would be happy, Ben?”
He thought for a moment. “No, but I don’t much care what that kid would think. He had some pretty stupid ideas. The nineteen year old me, however would be extremely relieved that I’m not still living in my parent’s basement.”
Leslie smiled softly. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ice Town wasn’t stupid.”
Ben cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Alright, a little misguided.” Leslie conceded.
She turned away from the case and they wandered for a little while longer. They found her old locker, she showed him the lighting booth she got caught kissing Brian Wolfe in, and the science lab she had accidentally set on fire, “I was the hero of the school for the rest of that semester.”
As they finally began to make their way out, Leslie’s stomach growled loudly.
“Are you hungry?” Ben asked.
“A little. I couldn’t really bring myself to eat that chicken.”
He laughed. “Me neither. Come on, I’ll buy you a bowl of whipped cream.”
They were just about to reach the parking lot when Leslie stopped short.
“I can’t believe it,” she said indignantly. “All that preparation and no one really asked us any questions!”
Ben reached out and took hold of her hand. “Maybe we just make a believable couple.”
She smiled and twined her fingers with his.
“Maybe we do.”