Chapter 1: first day of my life
Lena Luthor comes bursting into her life early one stormy morning.
She probably didn’t mean to slam the door so forcefully against the glass storefront wall, but the torrential downpour she’s escaping swings it forward so fast Kara half expects the glass to shatter. Lena (though in this moment Kara knows her only as the soaking woman currently letting in all the rain) spends approximately thirty seven seconds battling the forces of nature in a futile attempt to close the door again before just letting it bang back open against the glass store front with a noticeable crack.
Kara can’t help but wince at the sound. Miss Grant is going to kill her.
“I’ll pay for that,” the woman grits out between chattering teeth. Her voice is tight, shoulders clenched, jaw locked so fiercely Kara can see the muscles quiver. She’s wearing what was once a sharply tailored suit but is now a soaking mud-stained mess that clings tight against her skin.
She trudges forward with careful steps, her heels shaking dangerously along the slippery tile. Kara breaks free from her stunned observing to run forward and force the door shut, the roar of the storm quieting down enough so that the only significant noise in the shop was the swish squish swish squish sound of the woman’s slow but steady progress towards the bathroom just around the counter.
Kara sends a wide-eyed look over to Winn, her coworker and best friend of two years, who just looks back at her with the same confusion. The mysterious woman eventually reaches the bathroom and slams the door shut behind her.
“Should we,” Kara starts, but she doesn’t quite know what she was going to suggest. It’s barely ten in the morning and it’d been storming on and off all day, so wet lady is their first customer of the day. Should she offer her a cookie?
Winn holds his hands up in surrender.
“I’m a dude. Can’t follow a lady into the bathroom.” He turns to head back, making like he’s actually got work he needs to do. Like they ever have actual work to do. “Good luck!”
Kara takes a long, meditative breath, before steeling herself up enough to go knock on the door.
“Ma’am,” she calls through the door, “are you alright?”
“Fuck!” the woman says. “Fuck fuck fuck FUCK!”
Kara considers just walking away at that but a loud crash has her rushing in before she can stop herself. The woman seems to be in the midst of a panic, dry-heaving hunched over the sink. Her soaked blazer has been thrown across the room, a shattered iPad laying next to it.
Kara moves slowly, arms out in front of her like she’s approaching a wild animal.
“Ma’am?” she tries again, and while the woman doesn’t visibly seem to notice her she does finally respond.
“Everything is ruined,” she says, almost laughing now in a frantic sort of way, “today is the day it all begins and it’s already ruined!” She does a bit of a snort-laugh only to quickly cover it up with her hands, eyes wide. Kara reaches out to her with a hesitant, placating hand.
“What’s ruined?” she asks gently. When she first moved in with the Danvers, Kara would regularly have panic attacks that left her huddled in the corner shaking and crying. Eliza was always able to bring her back through soft words and touches, so Kara tries to replicate the comfort. She ends up just sort of patting the woman on the head.
The woman seems unfazed by her petting. She’s just shaking her head over and over, and she’s got tears streaking down her face mixing with the mud and it takes a moment for her to pull her hands away from her mouth to speak.
“The presentation is today, it’s on the complete opposite side of town and after, after is when the board votes on,” she sniffles hard, “on me, I guess.” She wipes at her eye with the back of her hand but only manages to smear mud even more across her face.
“I was supposed to be there hours ago preparing, but every time I tried to call for a car they’d say they were coming but they never came, so I thought,” she hiccups through her tears, “I thought perhaps I could just walk to the office and then,” Kara hands her a bit of the rough 1-ply toilet paper they stock despite her numerous complaints, “even the sky decided to work against me, and the next thing I knew I was on my knees in a puddle much too deep to be in a residential sidewalk! I will be writing a strongly-worded letter to our city council.”
Kara can’t help but smile at that, charmed even by the sadness. She recognizes this moment for what it is - she is witnessing the worst day of someone else’s life. She starts mentally mapping the city in her mind, thinking of where the presentation might be. The shop - CatCo’s Cookies and Cakes! - is on the eastern side of the city near the local university. Based on her description it’s likely her presentation is near the river to the west, where all the large corporations stand. They can steal Winn’s car and jet over there.
“Anyway, my tablet is probably fried and it has all of my notes. Not that it matters at this point-”
Traffic at this hour is usually somewhat heavy so taking the main highway will be a bust though. There are back alley routes they could take, maybe, but they’d never be able to fit in the van. That really only leaves one option.
“-I’d need to be there in the next, what? Thirty minutes?” the woman continues, having missed Kara’s methodical mental analysis of current traffic patterns, “And from here it’d probably take an hour even in sunshine. My life is over, and the only person I can tell this to is some random donut shop girl!”
“Cakes and cookies,” Kara corrects instinctually. Miss Grant doesn’t come in until eleven on Mondays, if she moves fast enough maybe-
“What?” the woman sounds incredulous.
Kara waves it off and moves towards her discarded tech.
“It’s a, uh.. Nevermind. So you need to get to Corporate Row, right?”
The woman just nods, finally taking notice of the severity in Kara’s eyes.
“Give me your iPad,” she says with newfound authority in her voice.
“What?” the girl says, hesitation in her voice even while handing Kara her iPad.
“Hang tight,” Kara says before racing out to the main lobby.
Winn looks at her with trepidation, “Kara, is that girl okay?”
“Water damage,” Kara says in reply, not answering his question at all. Her mind is already four steps ahead and she really needs him to catch up. “There are notes on here I need you to save. Can you do it?”
Winn looks at her like she just told him she was an alien.
“I’m sorry, did you just ask me if I can do it? Did you ask if I, Winslow Schott, Jr., can somehow pull data off this sopping wet, mud-covered piece of plastic that looks like it’s been thrown against a concrete wall and RUN OVER?” Winn says in dramatic escalation. Kara just stares at him blankly.
“Yeah, of course I can do it.”
Kara darts to the back and grabs two clean rags, running one under hot water real fast before sprinting back to the bathroom. The woman is much more composed now, though the weight of defeat permeates her presence.
“I am very sorry for what you witnessed before,” she says, and her voice has an almost robotic nature to it, like she’d rehearsed every word beforehand. Kara immediately starts unbuttoning her shirt.
The woman’s eyes go wide.
“Wait, what are you-“
“Quick! Take your clothes off!” Kara cuts her off, tossing her shirt on the counter before unbuckling her pants. A strange, throaty noise bubbles out of the panicking woman’s mouth.
“Look, I don’t know what you think is happening, but you have severely misread this situation!” The woman’s voice is almost shrill now and Kara’s honestly never seen someone’s eyes go so wide. Confused, Kara looks down at her half-naked body before realizing how it must look.
“No, I’m not- look. You need dry clothes for your presentation. I am dry. Ergo we need to switch clothes now.”
The woman just stands there staring, which is the exact opposite of what she needs to be doing. Kara huffs a little bit in exacerbation and tugs her pants down. The woman’s eyes immediately follow their journey before rolling up fast to look at the ceiling, her skin journeying from sickly pale to deep ruddy red in the span of seconds.
“I-uh, I,” she’s shaking, and she looks so hesitant and afraid, so small in the face of this sudden social deviation, and all Kara wants is to help fix this.
“Listen, I can get you to your meeting but we have to leave, like, right now. So please. Take your clothes off.”
The woman just stares at her for a long, hard second before slowly rolling her saturated blouse up and off her body.
“If I see any pictures of this in the press I will destroy you,” she mumbles. Her words would have been a lot more intimidating had she not said them in such a petulant manner. Kara snorts.
“What, are you famous or something?”
The woman seems to stutter in her undressing, looking at Kara in surprise. Kara wonders then who this woman really is, if she is someone she should recognize. Honestly, it doesn’t matter and she doesn’t care.
“Perhaps not,” the woman says after a moment, “considering you don’t know me.”
“Exactly. Now here, wipe yourself down, dry off, and get dressed. We gotta go.”
Kara sprints back out to find Winn sitting in the back with the destroyed tablet now in pieces, parts of it Kara assumes are the brain connected to Winn’s laptop.
“Who the hell is this lady, Kara?” he asks, only to go red, “and why are you in your underwear?”
“Focus, Winn! Can you get me the notes?”
“The encryption on this thing is top-notch, but maybe if I just,” a few more keystrokes and an aha! from Winn and Kara’s running back to the bathroom with a freshly loaded flash drive in her hand. The woman is now cleaner and dressed in Kara’s clothes, bent at the waist rolling up the pants legs so they don’t drag.
“Okay!” Kara exclaims, causing the woman to jump in surprise and nearly topple over on to the muddy floor, “Got your notes, now we gotta go!”
She grabs the woman’s hand and drags her back out to the main lobby before she can even get a word out in reply.
“Kara wait!” Winn shouts, and the woman only just manages to not slam into her as she stops immediately. “You’re not- you’re wearing-” His face is so red and he can barely talk around his flustering, and Kara belatedly remembers she’s only wearing a bra and briefs. She laughs as the woman’s face goes red as well, and both her and Winn pointedly try not to look at her.
“Wait here!” she says, sprinting back to the bathroom. The woman’s clothes are slopped in a pile and Kara can’t help but gag a bit at the chilly sensation of sliding the blouse and skirt on. The sacrifices I make, she thinks to herself as chill bumps break out all over her skin. Now more than ever she’s determined to get this woman to her fucking presentation.
Thankfully the rain has let up, although the dark clouds ahead threaten to burst at any moment.
“I really shouldn’t get in the car of a stranger,” the woman says as she’s dragged around the corner, “I appreciate all your, er, help, but maybe I should just get a taxi.”
“Lady, I promise you no taxi is going to get you across town in,” she looks at her watch, “11 minutes.” The woman just sighs in defeat, shrugging as if to say what else could possibly go wrong? and lets Kara drag her to the back of the shop where a half-broken down truck was parked.
The woman sneers a bit.
“You want us to drive there in this?” she asks, but then shakes her head in a chastising way, “sorry, that was rude.”
“Nah it’s fine, Winn’s truck is a dump. Which is why we’ll be riding in style!”
She pulls her around the corner to reveal the only possible machine on wheels that could feasibly get them across town on this time crunch: the CatCo cookie delivery Vespa scooter.
It’s a new acquisition for the business that Kara’s been so excited for, as she’s always had to make her deliveries on foot. Now she’s got this stylish scoot that she’s hoping, maybe, Miss Grant will let her borrow sometimes. Walking everywhere all the time gets kind of annoying.
“Miss Grant let me pick it out,” Kara says with a proud smile. The woman is just looking at her in a way she can’t quite decipher, but she’s sure it’s something like respect or attraction.
“Anyway, we don’t have time. We gotta go!”
The woman just looks up at the sky and lets out the longest sigh before giving in and just climbing on behind her.
“Are you sure this thing can get us there?”
“Trust me,” Kara says with a smirk, slapping her helmet visor down over her face. “I can fly.”
Kara revs the engine and immediately the otherwise quiet alley they’re parked in is filled with the sound of a voice chanting CatCo over and over again. Whenever she accelerates, the sound system built into the scoot plays one of a small handful of words and phrases (such as CatCo, Cookies and Cakes, or Cat Grant for some reason). Apparently Miss Grant stole the idea from some company over in Europe.
The woman lets out a squeak of surprise and digs her grip even further into Kara’s sides.
“What the hell is that?!” the woman yells, trying to be heard over the repetitive phrase blaring in time to the engine.
“Oh, uh, Miss Grant thought that would be a cool way to advertise!”
mmmmCookies! mmmmCakes! mmmmCookies!
“I said it’s advertising!”
“What are you saying?”
“Nevermind!” Obviously there are still some kinks in the system to work out.
They turn onto 8th street only to slam to a sliding halt as Kara just barely manages to stop them from crashing into a truck.
Traffic is at a standstill. Sirens blare from two streets over, suggesting an accident ahead. Cars are bumper to bumper with no room for their scoot to scooch through. They are in the middle of the shopping district, the street lined with sidewalk shops and pop-ups. She hears the woman sigh and lean her helmet against her shoulder.
“Thank you for trying,” she says.
Kara revs the engine twice, shouting a confident, “this isn’t over!” with a chorus of CatGrantCatGrants backing her up. The woman barely has time to grab on again before Kara yanks the steering to the left to bring the scoot up and over the curb. They weave dangerously down the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians left and right, flying dangerously above walking speed. Kara ignores the yells and curses shouted at them, her mind already four streets ahead, and with a confidence she’s never felt before she turns swiftly left down a dark and seemingly endless alleyway. Kara knows every back alley in this city and she knows this path will get them there without even taking them on the streets.
“You’re not a serial killer are you?” the woman yells, possibly startled by the pitch black alleyway Kara suddenly takes them down.
“You know,” Kara says as she floors it around a corner, hitting a fast 15 mph, “if I was a serial killer I definitely wouldn’t just say yes when someone asked!”
“Oh god,” the woman says, and Kara just laughs as she grips her waist even tighter, the soft melodic sound of CatCoCatcoCatco following along with them.
Her presentation is scheduled at 11:00 AM. The CatCo Cookies and Cakes delivery scoot comes flying across the open business plaza at 10:58.
“Holy shit,” the woman breathes out as she climbs off with shaky legs, “you actually did it.”
“We did it!” Kara says. She grabs the helmet from shaky hands and gives the woman a light shove. “Now you go finish this!”
The woman just looks at her with confusion and wonder, her mouth fluttering a bit like she’s trying to find the right words for this. There are no right words for moments like this.
“Go!” Kara says again, giving her another gentle shove. Finally the woman just nods, shakes her head, and then nods again before taking off towards the building entrance in Kara’s bright pink button up and too large pants. Just like that Kara becomes intimately aware of just how uncomfortable the woman’s tight, cold, damp clothing is to wear. With a sigh, she slaps her visor back down and scoots away.
Miss Grant is waiting for her with a mop and a glare that could sink ships.
“Oh, Kiera,” she drawls, “how nice of you to join us again! You know, Winslow has been coming up with the most creative lies to explain why my opener decided to run off with our brand new company vehicle for an hour.”
Kara can see her life flashing before her eyes and it looks a lot like scrubbing the floor with her toothbrush. Miss Grant would probably make her bring her actual toothbrush from home to do it. Maybe she should invest in that fancy one with rubber bristles -
“Kiera!” Miss Grant snaps. Apparently she’d been talking this whole time. “Why are you dressed like that?”
Sheepishly Kara glances down at her too tight, still damp clothes, trying to formulate an excuse, but Miss Grant just moves on without waiting, “I don’t know why my essentially homeless employee has come into possession of a stained yet exceedingly expensive wardrobe, nor do I really care to find out.”
“I’m only technically homeless,” Kara mutters a bit uselessly, but Miss Grant soldiers on,
“I’m going home, as is Winslow. But because you decided to take an unscheduled midday break I trust you will be fine with working the late shift today as well, yes? And you can clean up the mess you somehow made in the bathroom- buh-buh-buh,” she holds her hand up, cutting off Kara’s attempt to explain, “I don’t want to know. Just clean up your mess, work your shift, and never do it again.”
All things considered, Kara thinks she got off easy.
Late shift isn’t so bad, honestly, as the only folks who order cookies at 3 am are either pulling all-nighters studying or battling the munchies. Much more preferable to some of the snootier clientele they get in this area. She wonders how the woman from earlier fits in here, if she’s a student or a wealthy socialite. It was an interview that they had to get to, so maybe she’s trying for an internship at the new L Corp headquarters that’ve opened downtown. Good luck with that, Kara thinks as she drags the soapy mop across the bathroom floor, you’d need a PhD and a first class pedigree just to mop the floors in that building.
Once the bathrooms are clean of all the day’s muddy remains Kara drags the dirty bucket and mop to go rinse them out. She glances at the front of the store then only to see that there’s a business woman standing at the counter.
Surprised to see anyone in the store so late at night, Kara rushes to wash her hands before going to help.
“Hi, can I help you?” Kara asks. The woman gives her a tremulous smile.
“Oh good! You’re,” she clears her throat, “you’re still here.”
Kara doesn’t even recognize her at first. In her defense, the only time she’s ever seen her is really either in her underwear or in Kara’s clothes, so when mystery wet lady comes marching in to CatCo looking put together and clean it’s understandable for Kara not to immediately recognize. The moment she does, though, her whole face lights up in a grin, causing the woman’s smile to grow a little bigger, a little more steady.
“You’re here!” she all but yells, and the woman barely has time to react before Kara is throwing her arms around her into a tight hug. “I’m so happy you’re here! And look at you, you look so pretty! How did it go? Tell me everything.”
It takes a few seconds for the woman to properly react. She seems to still be processing the sudden physical contact, and Kara does tend to talk a mile a minute sometimes when she’s excited. Alex says one day she’s gonna be so focused on getting all the words out she won’t remember to take any in and she’ll just stop breathing all together. Alex is kind of a jerk sometimes.
Finally, the woman speaks.
“It went very well,” she says slowly, carefully. Every word she speaks when not in a crisis seems carefully selected. “I wanted to thank you for that. I would have never achieved it had you not gone so above and beyond.”
Kara just shrugs, beaming at her.
“Gotta always put the customer first, right?” she says, laughing a bit awkwardly.
“Do you usually strip for customers?” The woman asks, then seems to realize what she says. Her face goes bright red and she looks away but Kara just laughs.
“Only if they really need it,” she teases. She laughs even harder this time as the woman’s face goes an even darker shade and belatedly she wonders if the woman might faint from all that blood moving so quickly to her face. Instead of fainting, she just nods, then seems to remember part of why she’s there.
“Right. Oh!” she looks down to the bag in her arms. “I brought you your clothes. Thank you again for that.”
“No worries. Oh man! Did you dry clean them? Wow, that’s neat. How did you even have time to do that?”
The woman just shakes her head and shrugs half-heartedly, runs her fingers through her hair and glances at the door. Kara presses on,
“Hey! What’s your favorite kind of cookie?”
The polite shock on her face makes Kara think that’s a question no one has asked her in a long time, if ever.
“Chocolate chip,” she says after a long moment. Kara immediately reaches into the display by the counter and pulls out the biggest cookie in the bunch and hands it to her with a beaming smile. Confused but smiling, the woman goes to pull her purse out only to freeze as a warm hand closes on top of her own.
“No, no! You nailed your presentation today even when you were scared. That means your cookie is on the house.”
Instantly she sees tears misting over the woman’s eyes and she can’t help but pull her into a tight hug. The woman lets out a tiny huff but allows herself to be pressed against Kara’s chest, eventually bringing her hands up to grip at her back.
“Thank you,” she says against Kara’s shoulder, barely above a whisper. The moment feels heavier than it should, standing in the lobby of a cookie shop in the arms of a stranger. They stand like that for a while, Kara’s not even sure really, before finally the woman pulls away. Clearing her throat and wiping her eye, the woman smiles gently at her.
“I should go now. I just wanted to give you your clothes. Thank you for the cookie.”
“Of course. Oh, do you want your clothes back? I haven’t had time to wash them-” the woman just waves her words off.
“Please. Keep them, throw them away, I don’t care, but I really must be going. Have a good night.”
And with that she slips out the door and heads to a car idling outside.
Kara stands at the front and watches until the woman is safely in the car, then goes back to closing up the shop. As she packs her bag to leave she notices something tucked into the front pocket of her newly returned pants.
It’s two hundred dollar bills, folded over a post-it note that has written in blocky sprawl:
Kara hasn’t held more than a twenty in her hands in a long time so she’s not quite sure what to do with it. A part of her wants to chase after her, give it back because there’s no way she meant to give Kara two hundred dollars. But when she steps out the front all she sees are empty streets and dark windows, the city finally winding down to rest all around.
With a shocked, stutter of a sigh, Kara carefully slides the money into the sole of her shoe not trusting that much money to stay safe in her pockets.
As she closes up the shop, she can’t help but wonder if she’ll ever see Lena again.
Chapter 2: glad I didn't die before I met you
Alex and Kara talk. Kara tries to talk to rude strangers. Kara talks to Lena. The author talks to herself, probably.
Sorry for the delay. it's because of who I am as a person.
Also I'm working my way through the tv show Rectify right now, which is set in Georgia and full of terrible fake Southern accents. I was raised in Georgia and have never lived anywhere but the south, but I'd say I really don't have much of an accent. But because I've been watching so much of this tv show I've started saying certain things with a very fake Southern twang that I would otherwise never use. It's all very strange to experience, but if some phrasing in this chapter feels a bit colloquial know its at least partially inspired by that. I suggest reading the entire chapter out loud to yourself in a very fake southern accent. Only then will you truly feel the full impact.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kara’s painting when Alex comes home.
This in itself is not an unusual or surprising event, of course, but it does cause her to pull back from the meditative state she had only just managed to reach. Her painting is nearly done she thinks, its swirls of reds and yellows and chunky greens stretching out from the center mass. She wants to add black to it, feels like that is what will make it really complete, but she hasn’t had access to black paint in a while. She can hear Alex place her keys in the bowl by the door and step up behind her.
Maybe she can swipe some black food coloring from work. Miss Grant is strict on having employees there at the right times but loose with everything else. It’s not a well-kept secret how much of the store’s products both she and Winn consume throughout the day. If she’s being honest, Kara’s pretty sure CatCo is a money laundering front.
“Yeah Alex?” she realizes she hadn’t responded. Alex is right behind her now, watching her paint over her shoulder. Kara traces her thumb through the yellow smudge she’d made, causing it to swirl alongside a particularly bold streak of red. Her insides feel like fire, all the time. This painting kind of feels like fire, too.
“Is there a reason you’re smearing condiments all over that piece of cardboard?”
Kara glances down at the half squeezed out tubes of mustard, ketchup, and relish collecting beside her and tries not be offended.
“I don’t like the way you said cardboard just now, young lady. I’ll have you know my canvas is very significant, artistically. It’s commentary on the disposable nature of art in today’s society-"
Alex just looks at her with skeptical sisterly eyes.
“-Not to mention my decision to use condiments! Obviously I’m making a statement on how media is consumed like fast food.”
"So," Alex drawls, “You can’t afford art supplies.”
“Yeah no I’m like, crazy broke.”
Kara puffs her chest out a bit, jumping up to go wash the smears off her hands, but not without first licking at her palms to get some of it. She washes the muddied colors down the drain. Her hands feel extra smooth now, at least. Totally a bonus.
“Ah. Well please throw out your social commentary when you’re done with it. I really don’t want to deal with ants right now.”
Kara fake gasps, clutching her chest like Alex’s very words have strangled her.
“You want me to throw away my masterpiece?” she all but shouts at her now retreating sister, who has ducked into her bedroom to change.
“You’re the one who said it was about disposability,” Alex shouts back, “what better way could you honor it?”
Damn. Well played.
Kara notices then the huge stack of groceries Alex has deposited on the counter - way more than she usually buys for the two of them. Even with Kara’s colossal appetite she doesn’t need this much in a week. Then, Kara remembers.
“Oh my god, Alex!” she shouts, sprinting through her tiny one bedroom apartment and all but barreling her sister over, “LUCY IS COMING HOME!”
Alex laughs and hugs her back. Her face relaxes in a way it almost never does these days, not unless Lucy’s involved. That alone is reason enough for Kara to love Lucy endlessly.
“I know! I can’t believe her flight in is next week! You’re still gonna drive us from the airport right?”
They move to the kitchen to start putting away groceries. The small space barely holds their foods, so adding enough for a third has pushed it to overflow. They end up just stacking bags of chips and bread on the floor beside the counter.
“Yep,” Kara says, searching out an empty space for a particularly large can of diced tomatoes to go. Maybe she could balance the flower pot Eliza gave Alex when she moved in on top of the can? Mmm seems risky. “I’ll drive so you guys can mount each other the whole way home.”
“We’re not gonna mount each other, Kara. We aren’t horses. I mean we might fondle a bit, but-”
“Ok gross,” Kara gags out, earning a bark of a laugh from her sister. She remembers then the topic she’d been avoiding all week, the one she really has to broach sooner than later. She clears her throat, but Alex cuts her off.
“Hey, Kara, is there any way you could maybe go crash at Winn’s house for a few days? Just at first. We haven’t, you know, seen each other really in almost a year, so-“
“So you wanna bang without your baby sister sleeping one thin wall away?”
Alex makes a hilarious choked sound.
“Okay, now who is being gross?”
Kara shoves Alex playfully, shoves a bag of spinach into the barely there space left in the fridge. This apartment is barely enough space for one person, and soon three are going to be here. Kara has to tell her.
“I, uh, wanted to talk to you about that, actually.”
Alex looks at her in horror and Kara stumbles out, “Not about your sex life, you weirdo! About,” she clears her throat, looks away, “about maybe getting my own place, soon.”
She’s pretty sure she could hear all the air being sucked out of the room then, and she doesn’t have the nerve to look at Alex but she just knows she’s frozen in place. This is a hard subject to broach, no matter how much mental preparation she’s done for it. After a few more loaded seconds, Alex finally manages a quiet, “Oh?” It’s invitation enough.
“Yeah! I just, I’ve really appreciated you letting me stay here for so long, but Lucy’s coming, you know? She’s got leave for three months! I mean, have you guys even spent that much time together since high school?”
Alex looks conflicted and like she’s about to argue so Kara barrels on.
“No, you haven’t. And I know you want to spend time with your girlfriend - who you never get to see - and me sleeping in your living room isn’t gonna make it all that fun for any of us. And I really just,” she looks at Alex now, catching her concerned eyes, “I really think I’m ready, now?”
“How do you know?” Alex asks, and her voice breaks a little bit. Kara lets out a self-deprecating laugh, shakes her head.
“I don’t think we ever really know. Sometimes we just gotta do it anyway and hope for the best.”
Alex is crying a bit now, a tear slipping down her face before she could wipe it away with a sniffle.
“You are always welcome here, Kara. No matter what.”
Kara smiles softly at her, grabs her hand with a soft squeeze.
“I know I am. But it’s been seven months, you know? I just really think its time.” Alex is nodding, not because she believes what Kara is saying so much as she just needs to react in some way that isn’t crying. “I’ve been looking at places, too. I’m talking to a landlord right now about a place on third.”
Alex lets out a wet laugh, surprised.
“You’ve been thinking about this for a while, then.” Kara nods. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Kara shrugs, looks away.
“I guess I knew you’d react like, well,” she gestures to Alex’s tears. Alex huffs, face scrunching in teary annoyance.
“I don’t need to be coddled, Kara,” she teases, but Kara just tilts her head a bit, gives her a serious look.
“Neither do I.”
Alex seems to accept it then, at that. She knows her sister, knows that when her mind is made up there is no changing it. It’s just so hard, when you want to hold tight and protect someone who only ever wants to fly.
They smile at each other then - Kara with relief at having told the secret weighing on her soul and Alex with sad pride at the strong woman her sister has become - and hold each other’s gaze until Kara’s phone beeps an alarm.
“Ah! Well,” Kara clears her throat that had mysteriously thickened a bit during this sisterly moment (she wasn’t gonna cry! she’s not a baby like Alex) “looks like it’s time for work! I have a big delivery today, like three cakes or something to a party?”
Alex makes a small noise of disapproval.
“That sounds like a lot,” she says, because even after all this her first instinct is always to protect her sister, “Are you sure you should be carrying all that? The doctor said-”
“I know what the doctor said, Alex, and I’ll be fine! See you later!”
She sprints out of the apartment before Alex can say anything else.
Kara slams the tiny scoot trunk shut with her hip, just barely balancing her delivery in her arms. Somehow all four of the fairly large boxes she’s delivering fit into the scoot. She’s so proud.
There’s no way she can carry them all at once, though, despite her bravado. She has two in her hands now and plans to come back for the others. Hopefully she doesn’t have to walk up a lot of stairs, that’d suck. Belatedly Kara realizes the building she’s now entering is the same one that fun weird girl Lena works at now. Maybe they’ll run into each other. That'd be nice, Lena seemed nice.
Kara’s thoughts are cut off the second she steps in to what has to be the most extravagant building she’s ever seen. Even the floors look expensive, and they're so shiny Kara can even see the small cluster of acne happening on her temple from where she’d sat her face against her hand for too long. She’s pretty sure if she squints she’ll be able to see her eyelashes.
She approaches the massive front desk but can’t even get a word out before she’s being ushered to a much less extravagant hallway where she and the boxes are poked, prodded, and scanned. She steps through her fourth metal detector and tries not to whimper in horror when a guard takes a knife and chops into her carefully made cakes, checking for weapons or explosives or surprise chocolate filling. It’s more thorough than the TSA, and nearly twice as invasive if she’s honest. Does the pope work here or something? she wonders as her now murdered cakes are shoved back into her hands and she’s directed to a golden elevator.
The inside at least looks normal, with plain walls and disinterested looking people in business attire. Kara squeezes her way in, cakes delicately balanced in her arms, and is relieved to see the floor she’s headed already pressed. It’s kind of awkward and more than ever Kara is aware of how bright her CatCo top is, how there are holes in the soles of her shoes that squish every time she walks. The watch the man next to her is wearing probably costs more than everything she owns combined. Granted she doesn’t own that much, but still. It’s the principle of the matter.
So Kara does what she always does when faced with an uncomfortable social situation: she starts to talk.
“How’s everybody’s day going?” she says, breaking the smothering silence. No one even blinks in acknowledgement. The floors tick by at a sluggish pace. She thinks about the cakes in her hands that say “Congratulations Jerry! Happy Retirement!”
“So your boss is retiring, huh? That's fun!” Kara continues, never one to back down from a challenge. “Do you guys know who is taking their place?” That, finally, somehow gets a reaction. Every person in the elevator immediately flinches or groans or scoffs. Some do all three at once.
“You mean the witch?” One chimes in.
“God, I can't believe,” Another starts.
“Does she really think a new city will help her reputation?” Someone from the back adds.
“-think is gonna happen?” someone’s mumbling, words only just filtering to Kara’s ears.
“They should have just arrested all the Luthors and thrown away the key.”
Everyone seems to agree with that, as a chorus of affirmations echo throughout. Not quite the kind of conversation Kara was aiming for, but at least its something. Kara waits just a few beats hoping an answer will come without asking, before finally inquiring,
“I'm sorry, who are the Luthors?”
And just like that the tiny box is filled with shock and annoyance and disdain, now all directed at her rather than this allegedly evil woman.
“What, have you been living under a rock for the past year?” the woman who’d first responded sneers.
“Um,” she says, and thinks of her hospital bed.
the woman continues before she could possibly respond,
“They're all evil, and just because she’s never been caught doing something doesn’t mean she’s innocent. We all know she’s not gonna be any different.”
That doesn’t quite sit right with Kara.
“Well, sometimes people can surprise you, if you give them the chance.”
That just earns her more scoffs and, oh thank god, they’ve almost reached their floor. The elevator stops then to pick someone else up and Kara silently prays this will be the last one before their floor.
Then the doors open, and Lena is there.
Kara feels her entire spirit lift up at the sight of her.
“Lena!” She yells a bit too loud for a cramped elevator, not noticing the universal flinch across the elevator. “I was hoping I'd see you!”
Lena for her part only looks surprised for a few moments before giving Kara a muted grin.
“Hello again. Fancy meeting you here.”
Everyone on the elevator shuffles back to let Lena on, practically pressing themselves to the walls around them to give her space. If Lena notices she doesn’t react, her eyes still soft and on Kara. For her part, Kara’s just glad she finally found a friendly place in this elitist hellhole.
“Wow it is so nice to see you! Are you going to the retirement party? That’s so cool. You must be very smart to get a job here.”
Kara doesn’t really notice the shocked looks of horror all of Lena’s coworkers are throwing them. Really all she sees is the red tinge in Lena’s face, the barely there smile creeping up at the corners of her lips.
Soon the doors open to the floor they’re all headed towards and Kara is nearly bowled over by the rush of everyone trying to escape at once. Lena shoots her a sympathetic look before guiding her to the small kitchenette to set up her first two desserts. It’s almost overwhelming, how much incredible food is already set up for this party. Lena must notice the downright lustful look in her eyes because she laughingly says, “you can eat some if you’d like.”
Kara stutters, shaking her head in an exaggerated way.
“What? No! I, I couldn’t. I’m not,” there’s already a tiny sandwich in her hands, “well I mean if you really insist I guess I could just,” she grabs a cluster of grapes and slinks after Lena as she walks away.
Employees are milling about, sipping on sodas and looking uncomfortable. Lena is hovering, flattening and re-flattening her shirt while skittishly looking from person to person. No one is talking to her, no one is even looking at her. It looks for a second like she might talk to a small cluster near the punch bowl, but all that really happens is the group laughs at a joke and Lena quietly chuckles from afar despite not being close enough to hear.
It’s… really painful.
“Hey Lena,” Kara calls, and its like every conversation in the room stops at once. A little startled but determined, Kara continues, “I still have some stuff I need to bring up. Wanna come help me get it?”
Suddenly everyone is talking at once, practically clamoring over each other with loud exclamations of “oh no I can help! Don’t worry, I’ve got it! No I can” before Lena quietly but confidently says that yes, she’d love to help Kara. Everyone shoots them desperate little looks as they get on the elevator together, not speaking again until the doors close. God, this is the weirdest office Kara has ever been in in her life.
“Felt like you needed a rescue there,” Kara finally says, and Lena lets out a loud sigh.
“Thank you for that.”
“Don’t sweat it. The first couple of weeks on a job are always painful, plus your coworkers kind of seem like assholes.”
“No I’m sure they’re not all that bad. They just don’t know how to act around me. It’s understandable.” Kara can’t help but scoff at that.
“How would they need to act? Just talk to you like you’re a person. It’s not that hard.”
Lena just gives her a look that she can’t decipher, one she seems to be getting more and more with every interaction they have. It really feels like everyone in this building is speaking a language Kara just doesn’t quite understand. Kara tries to change the topic.
“So, are you excited about the new boss?” she tries.
Lena snorts so hard she chokes for a minute, and she shakes off Kara’s amused pats to her back. After regaining some control, she laughs, says,
“As excited as I can be, I guess.”
Okay, not a rousing cheer but much better than the witch burning vibe Kara’d felt from the others.
“That’s the spirit! Everybody else has such a bad attitude, but I think it’s great you guys are getting a new lady boss. Although she’s a Luthor, which is also apparently a bad thing.”
Kara has literally no idea what she’s talking about, but she wants to be relatable and at least seem like she’s in the know. Everyone else seems to know something so she can play along too, right? Only maybe she isn’t doing so well at it, because Lena’s amused smile has started to look a lot more like a hurt frown.
“Are you making a joke right now?” she says with pain her voice, and yep! Kara definitely fucked up. She really needs to get caught up on cultural references before she just starts talking about stuff.
“Er, no? Or I’m not trying to, at least,” she finally says, looking down, disappointed in herself a bit. Lena touches her shoulder then to bring her attention back and wow is she giving Kara an intense look.
“Kara,” she says slowly, earnest, “Do you not know who the Luthors are?” She asks like it’s the most important question she’s ever asked before in her life. God, Kara needs to catch up with society.
“Is it terrible if I say I don’t?” she finally says, rubbing her neck sheepishly. “Everybody else seems to, though. Sorry if I’m kind of socially stunted.”
She pulls her phone out at that and pulls up a browser, manages to just type LUT into her search before Lena slams her hand down over the screen.
Her eyes are a bit frantic when they meet Kara’s and she seems to take a moment to regain some control, clearing her throat and letting go of the phone.
“No, don’t, it’s not,” she clears her throat again, “they’re not important. Just the people who own the company. That’s why everyone here knows them, but it’s not a name you’d need to know.”
“Ohhh! That makes me feel a lot better!” Being out of the corporate loop is not worth sweating.
Lena seems to visibly relax when Kara slips her phone back into her pocket instead of continuing her search, and Kara makes a small mental note to look the name up later. It still feels important.
“Well, what about you? Do you like this Luthor lady?” Kara asks.
Lena seems struck by her question and takes a long while to think on it. Kara appreciates that; people don’t always take her seriously and having someone put genuine thought into her questions is validating.
“I’m not a huge fan,” Lena finally says, slow and careful, “but I think she’s trying her best. I think she wants to do the right thing for everybody.”
Kara can’t help but smile at that.
“That’s such a great outlook!” Lena is a breath of fresh air in this stifling environment, “Well, I like this Luthor lady too, then. All we can ask is for people to do their best, right? And try not to judge them too much on who they were before.”
Lena’s looking at her in that peculiar sort of way that Kara can’t quite distinguish, and it makes her a bit uncomfortable so she just shrugs and mumbles, “I’m a big fan of giving people chances, I guess.”
They step off the elevator and approach the lobby. Weirdly they are waved through without hesitation; guess the guards don’t check as thoroughly when you’re leaving.
There seems to be an internal fight happening in Lena’s eyes at that, and it seems for a moment like she might be about to say something when Kara’s phone chirps.
She glances down to see an email from the landlord she’s been going back and forth with, and she can’t help but sigh at the subject line of “LISTING NO LONGER AVAILABLE”
Lena is immediately on alert. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?” she asks incessantly, glancing nervously around the lobby they’re walking through like maybe a threat lurks nearby.
“No, it’s fine. I just,” she sighs again, “An apartment I was looking at is gone. It was basically the only one in my price range. It’s so hard to find a place to live in this city.”
They reach the CatCo scoot and each grab one of the boxes. She’s running a little late now, hopefully Miss Grant won’t notice. Besides, she likes talking to Lena. She’s nice.
“There are empty condos in my building,” Lena says as they walk into the lobby. “You can have one if you’d like.”
The words slip by unnoticed mostly, as Kara is a bit distracted by the security, or rather lack thereof, as they walk back in. The same security guard who murdered her beautiful sheet cake not even an hour before waves them through without so much as a scan, just nodding in deference. Honestly, Kara only half heard what Lena said.
“Nah, any place that calls itself a condo is way out of my budget. Thanks for thinking of that, though.”
She’s trying to contain the anger building inside of her on behalf of her murdered sheet cake. Lena huffs a bit, shaking her head.
“No, that’s not what I-“ she pauses, then says, “Okay, what is your budget?”
“Honestly? I could pay maybe $300 a month, which in this town would barely get me a floor to sleep on. At this rate I might just have to move back home. Maybe National City just isn’t for me.”
Lena reaches out to grab her then, a look of pure panic in her eyes.
“Don’t move back! The condos,” she clears her throat, calms her words down to a steadier pace, “They’re actually a special deal. Only $200 a month.” Her words sound confident but her face looks a bit constipated.
Kara just looks at her skeptically and exits the elevator as they arrive back on their floor.
“Where do you live that condos are only $200? A dump?”
A woman standing near them suddenly chokes into her drink, causing soda to dribble all down her chin and top. Lena walks determinedly on.
“I know the building owner, and I can guarantee that price.”
Lena’s shaking now, she realizes, nervously trembling with fire in her eyes. There really is no way Kara could say no outright to this.
“Tell you what,” she says instead, smiling, “what if you and I went and did a tour of the place and maybe talk to the owner?”
Pure joy seems to rush over Lena at that, and immediately Kara knows she made the right decision.
“Perhaps tomorrow?” Lena’s voice is so hopeful and nervous in equal measures.
“Sure! Let me see your phone.” Lena barely hesitates to hand it over - after all, if Kara wanted to steal her tech she’d have stolen it in the bathroom. Not that she would. She’s not a monster, gosh. Kara types in her phone number real fast and sends herself a text from Lena’s phone. She feels good now, even if this doesn’t work out. Even just hanging out with Lena for a day would be fun.
“Thank you, Lena,” she says, “For trying to help me like this. You barely even know me.”
Lena laughs at that, disbelief shining in her eyes.
“I know enough,” she finally says. Kara feels a tug at her heart.
“Can I tell you something kind of weird?” Kara asks. Lena just nods, and Kara takes a moment to fully compose her thoughts.
“I feel like my entire life was a puzzle, right? And I didn’t really love the picture it was making but I was still really good at putting it together. And then one day the whole thing just got… knocked right off the table, and all the pieces broke in half. And I just don’t know if I have it in me to start putting it back together again, you know? I’m not even sure if I want to anymore.”
Lena lets out a shuddery sigh, and Kara only just then notices the slight watery sheen to her eyes. Wow, she’s two for two at making ladies cry today. Killing it, Danvers.
“I can understand that,” Lena finally says with a sad smile. “Sometimes life gives you a puzzle that looks nothing like what you want, but you’re not sure you’re even allowed to pick a different one.”
“Right. But anyway, the reason I say that is, well. I always feel like games are better with friends, you know? So maybe we can figure out our crappy puzzles together.”
Lena really looks like she might burst into tears on the spot there so Kara decides its probably best to leave now. She smiles at Lena and walks backwards on to the elevator, never looking away even as she fumbles to press what she hopes is the lobby button.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Lena!” she calls, and only just hears Lena’s reply as the doors slide shut.
“See you tomorrow, Kara.”
Kara is stopped by security on the way out and forced to go through a five minute search.
She forgets to look up the name Luthor.
Kara’s asleep on the couch when Alex stumbles home. She doesn’t wake until her sister slams the door just a bit too hard. She blinks her way back into consciousness to the sounds of Alex cursing quietly under her breath. This is the second time this week Alex has stumbled home drunk like this. Kara’s concerned, but she keeps her eyes closed and breathes slow.
She can hear Alex fumble with her shoes, hit the coffee table, nearly fall to the ground. Can feel the way Alex leans over her to hold her hand in front of Kara’s face. Drunk Alex always checks her breathing. Sober Alex might, too, she’s not sure. She may just be better about not waking her.
Kara lets out a slow, controlled breath, and she can hear the relief in Alex’s sigh at the feel of it.
“Still good,” Alex murmurs quietly to herself as she stumbles to her room, “still alive.”
Kara doesn’t fall asleep for awhile after that.
Dang I wonder what happened to Kara seven months ago that's made her live on Alex's couch? A mystery no one knows ((I know))
Coming up next: Lena takes Kara to look at the biggest condo of her life, holy cow Lena there is no way this is only $200?? Who is this mysterious property owner?
Also Lucy comes home! Maybe! We'll see. Love you all come yell at me on tumblr @karalovesallthegirls