“Honey! Where’s my good tie?”
Kara forces a smile on her face as she flips Mike’s eggs, turning the burner off and reaching into the oven for the bacon. “It’s in the closet, dear. Right next to your other ties.”
“Well, I’m not the one that puts the laundry away, am I?” He calls down the stairs, and Kara sighs. Reminding him that all of his ties are in exactly the same place as they always have been after she painstakingly handwashes them seems like a futile effort.
By the time Mike comes down to the kitchen dressed in his work attire, Kara has already plated up his breakfast. She gives it to him with a quick peck on the cheek, and immediately she starts on the dishes. She can eat her own shredded wheat once he’s left for work.
Kara has a good life. She does. She has a nice house, and a husband who provides, and all she has to do is make herself look nice for him. She spends her days keeping their home clean and making sure dinner is on the table when Mike gets home at 5:45. There are people who have it much worse – like, the couple next door at their old house, the one they lived in just after their wedding. Her husband would drink, and shout, and sometimes she’d have bruises covered up by powder. Mike isn’t like that. He has a temper, sure, and he’s insistent on her not updating her wardrobe, claiming that ‘these modern trends are the downfall of decent society’. He wouldn’t even let her get new, smaller frames for her glasses.
But she doesn’t mind.
She doesn’t mind that she feels like she’s stuck in a cycle, doing the same thing every day until she wants to scream. She doesn’t mind that she’s only 27 and she already feels like her life is over, her clothes constricting and her smile fake day in and day out. She doesn’t mind that her husband won’t stop bringing up the subject of having children, an idea that makes her feel so ill that she begged her doctor to give her those new contraceptive pills in secret. She keeps them under her side of the mattress, and dreads the day anyone finds out.
It’s all just…dandy.
Kara doesn’t unwind until Mike has bustled out the door with his briefcase and lunchbag, and his noisy Cadillac has faded into the distance. Her shoulders relax, and she lets all of her breath out slowly until her lungs start to burn. As she inhales again, she happens to look up through the kitchen window, and she’s surprised to see a large moving truck parked in the driveway next door.
It seems like just yesterday that the house went up for sale. The price had been high – the house has a pool, after all, and it’s almost twice the size of most of the other homes on the street – but clearly someone snatched it up immediately. The old family that lived there had been friendly enough, if uninteresting, and she wonders what the new people will be like.
Well. Whoever the new neighbors are, she should be hospitable.
Kara busies herself for the morning making a chicken casserole, and the truck has left by the time she puts on her nicest dress and makes her way to the next house over. She can hear loud music coming from inside, something mellow and haunting with a female singer, and she adjusts her tight grip on the casserole dish as she knocks soundly on the door. The music stops, and footsteps approach.
The act should have been an innocuous one. It’s something Kara has done dozens of times for families moving into their suburb over the 4 years they’ve lived here. But instead, she feels a sort of nervous anticipation. Like this is an important moment, and she has to pay attention. Like the very hair on her arms is standing up, waiting.
The woman who opens the door is nothing like she expected.
She’s not a housewife. She’s young, probably Kara’s age, and alarmingly pretty.
She’s slightly shorter than Kara, especially so because she’s in her bare feet. Kara can see that her toenails are painted, which shouldn’t be an interesting fact but somehow seems fascinating. Her legs are completely bare, no stockings in sight, all the way up to the hem of her black slip dress. A leather belt cinches it to her waist, and the long sleeves drape a little bit as the woman leans against the doorframe.
And, her face. She’s stunning. Sharp features, pale skin, red lips, and dark, silky hair hanging loose around her shoulders. She’s a stark contrast to Kara, in a dress that she knows is a little outdated and her stiff updo. This woman is glamorous.
She looks loose, and carefree, and stylish. She looks like a catalog model. No…even better. Those women don’t have half the curves that she does, they don’t have her subtle smile or her bright green eyes –
Bright green eyes that are staring directly at Kara.
“Can I help you?”
Jumping almost high enough that she drops the glass dish in her hands, Kara hurriedly holds it out like a bomb that’s about to go off. The tinfoil on top crinkles, and the woman looks at the gift with a quirked brow.
“Hi there! I just wanted to say hello, and welcome to the neighborhood,” Kara blurts, her heart pounding away for absolutely no reason.
The woman smiles, slow at first but turning out genuine, and thankfully she takes the dish from her hands. “That’s…very sweet of you. I wasn’t expecting a welcoming committee.”
“Oh, no committee!” Kara chirps, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “Just me.”
The woman nods, her eyes glancing down to Kara’s left hand. She doesn’t seem surprised, but she seems slightly disappointed, somehow. “Mmm. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Mrs…” She trails off, looking expectant.
“Elis! Mrs. Mike Elis.”
Lena laughs, and to Kara it sounds like wind chimes. Soft and beautiful. “I didn’t ask for your husband’s name.”
“Oh! Right. It’s…Kara. I’m Kara.”
“It’s lovely to meet you, Kara. I’m Lena.” Lena reaches out a hand, and Kara takes it in her own slightly sweaty one. Her grip is firm, and Kara notices that, for the first time, her own hand doesn’t engulf the one she’s shaking. She knows her hands are abnormally big for a woman, and Lena’s seem to almost match.
The thought makes her confusingly warm.
When their hands part there’s a moment of silence that Kara can see growing slightly awkward, so she forges forward with the first conversation topic she can think of.
“So! Is your husband at home? Maybe once you’re all settled in, we could get together. We could, um. Do fondue, or –“
“I’m not married.”
Kara blinks owlishly at that. It’s a little bit astonishing that a woman as beautiful as Lena hasn’t been snatched up. The only other person their age that Kara knows of who isn’t married is Alex, who is too busy being the first female FBI agent in the state to focus on romance. Or so she tells Kara, at least. Her sister has been acting so secretive lately that Kara almost thinks she must have a secret beau.
“Oh! Gosh, I’m sorry for assuming. I just thought -”
“It’s all right. I realize it’s a rarity.”
Kara feels a bit put out, if she’s being honest. If Lena had a husband, Kara would have a comfortable excuse to get to know her better. As it is, she’s not sure Lena will want to spend her time with a boring, married homemaker.
Lena seems to sense her mood shift, because she puts the casserole down on a table next to the door and crosses her arms. “You know, I’m having a little shindig to get to know everyone in the neighborhood this weekend. A bit of a party. You and your husband should stop by.”
“Of course,” Lena chuckles, tucking a bit of hair behind her ear. The movement makes her sleeve fall back, and Kara catches sight of a small tattoo on her wrist – three circles, all touching, each one smaller than the last. It’s foreign and shocking, but she can’t seem to take her eyes away from it.
She’s never seen a woman with a tattoo before. Except maybe Janis Joplin.
Dazedly, she wonders if the inked skin feels any different than the rest. The thought is as fascinating as it is alarming.
Lena’s voice brings her out of her strange, confusing thoughts.
“So, I’ll see you there?” She looks genuinely hopeful, and Kara nods quickly, suddenly desperate for some distance between them.
“Absolutely!” Kara trills, already backing away and down the front steps. “Sounds swell, we’ll see you then, great to meet you, bye!”
Only when she’s in the safety of her own kitchen does she sink into a chair, putting a trembling hand to her chest where her heart beats wildly under the stiff fabric.
When she enters Lena’s house for the first time three days later, on Mike’s arm and dressed in her Sunday best, the party is a bit different than she expected.
The lights are dim, and the house is packed. It seems like the entire suburb is here, drinking and eating h’ors d’oeuvres – including, it seems, the more colourful people that she’s never really socialized with. They seem to be causing some sort of ruckus in Lena’s pool, kissing and being rowdy, and Mike scoffs in distaste.
“Looks like the swingers are here. This Lena woman should be more careful with who she invites.”
Kara tsks, tugging his arm. “Be nice, Michael. She’s just trying to get to know everyone. How was she supposed to know?”
Lena herself is nowhere to be found. Kara gets a beer for Mike and a glass of club soda for herself, scanning the crowd for her – not that she’s overly interested in her whereabouts. She’s just wondering where the hostess is, at her own party.
When Mike gets pulled into a conversation about the rudeness of the pool crowd with the family across the street, Kara decides to look for her herself.
She excuses herself quietly, citing a need for the bathroom, and ducks into the hallway. It’s much quieter here, the loud music and lights less pervasive, and she takes a calming breath. There are a lot of doors here, and she doesn’t want to just barge in. She’s just considering knocking on the nearest one when it spills open, and the object of her fascination stumbles out with another woman in tow – Lucy, the young newlywed woman from down the street. The one with the tiny dog that yips every time anyone walks past.
Her husband James is in the pool, Kara notes with distant concern.
Lucy is giggling, twisting her hair up into a bun, and Lena has a light pink lipstick mark on the underside of her jaw that Kara isn’t entirely sure how to process. What could they have been doing? Making each other’s faces over, maybe? They certainly seem happy, and physically close. Lucy leans against Lena in a way that Kara can’t help but imagine doing herself.
She almost feels like she’s intruding, but when Lena’s eyes fall on her, her face brightens considerably.
“Kara! You came!” Lena says, and the brilliant smile she trains on her sears itself into Kara’s memory.
“She’s not the only one,” Lucy mutters, grinning when Lena huffs and smacks her on the shoulder.
“Don’t be crass.”
Lucy just shrugs, and kisses Lena on the cheek. “Find me later, if you want.”
That must be how she got the lipstick print. They must be really close friends already.
Lucy leaves with a wink at Kara, and Kara smiles uneasily back.
“I’m sorry about her,” Lena says, looking truly apologetic, and Kara waves it off.
“Oh, don’t be silly. She seemed nice.”
“She’s…well.” Lena fiddles with her hair, which is a little messy in the back. “Anyways, how are you? I wasn’t sure you were going to turn up, with the way you ran away when I invited you.”
“Oh! Right. I’m sorry about that, I just – I remembered that I had a cake in the oven, and I didn’t want it to overbake, you know? Dry cake. Mike hates dry cake.”
“Is that your husband?”
“Oh, yes.” Lena sidesteps her, like she’s expecting Kara to lead her to him, but suddenly the idea of introducing Lena to Mike sounds like the absolute worst thing in the world. She wants to keep Lena to herself. Her own private friend, one thing that Mike can’t influence. She grabs Lena’s arm, but lets go immediately when she hears Lena’s breath catch.
“Sorry!” She blurts, clasping her hands behind her back. “I just – I thought maybe we could talk some more.”
Lena nods, accepting that immediately, and it’s refreshing to not have to fight about it. Lena just smiles, and offers to go get them some drinks.
But of course, as soon as Lena disappears around the corner, her husband seems to take her place. When he spots her he sighs, his jaw flexing, and takes her arm.
“Those people are embarrassing themselves,” He says, clearly irritated. “We’re going home.”
“But, I – I need to say goodbye –“ Kara protests, but his grip is firm.
Kara follows him out, putting on her coat slowly, and just before they exit she looks back and sees Lena. She’s standing in the foyer, a glass of wine in each hand, and she looks both sad and resigned. She raises one of them to Kara, and Kara has just enough time to wave back before Mike closes the door behind them.
She tries to stay away. She really does. She spends three days glancing almost obsessively out her kitchen window, hoping for a glimpse at her elusive neighbor. But she can’t see over the fence from downstairs, and Lena doesn’t seem to go out the front door very much. But going over, in the middle of the day, when she should be doing the laundry, just seems absurd.
Nevertheless, she’s at Lena’s front door within the hour.
Lena opens it with a smile on her face, the same one she’d trained on Kara at the party. The one that shows her white teeth, makes her eyes crinkle at the corners. She’s wearing pants, today, in a shade of dark red, and a silk shirt.
“Hey there, neighbor. I was wondering if I’d see you again.”
Kara’s face heats up, and she smooths her hand over her starched skirt, feeling just as frumpy as usual next to Lena. “Right. I’m sorry, about the other night. Mike wanted to go home, and –“
“It’s okay. I understand,” Lena interrupts, moving aside and gesturing. “Come on in, I’ll grab us a drink.”
Lena’s house looks different, when it’s not littered with empty beer cans and pulsing under disco lights. It’s tidy, and it’s overwhelmingly white – starkly so, from the walls to the carpets. Kara wonders how on earth she keeps it clean.
“What can I get you? Coffee, tea, wine, beer? I have some scotch in the cabinet, or vodka if you want a mix –“ Lena is opening the cupboards already, revealing a truly startling array of liquors next to the glasses.
“Oh, gosh, tea is fine!” Kara assures her, smoothing her hair nervously. She went with a more natural look today, a knot at the base of her neck instead of her usual coif – Mike had looked at her strangely this morning, but it feels better, more natural, and she foolishly hopes that Lena will notice.
“Are you sure? I can put a nip of whiskey in it,” Lena offers, grinning in a way that lets Kara know it’s okay to refuse.
“So,” Lena says when they’re finally seated at the island, mugs of non-alcoholic tea steaming in front of them. “What brings you to my door? I got the idea your husband didn’t like my party, much.”
“Oh, he’s just…he was just tired,” Kara says, and even she knows that she’s not entirely convincing. Lena quirks an eyebrow, tapping her fingers on the countertop.
Kara takes of her glasses, rubbing at her eyes and then putting them back on, and she’s started to see Lena watching her with an intense expression.
Lena shakes her head, taking a sip of her tea. “Sorry. I was just wondering.”
“Wondering what?” Kara asks, her stomach suddenly in knots. Lena’s curiosity is strange and new, and she’s not entirely sure how to react.
“You seem…I don’t know. Different.”
Kara’s stomach sinks. She looks down at her clothes, the floral print on her dress, at her clunky shoes. She feels doubly self-conscious of them now.
“Oh. I know, I feel like an old lady next to you,” She says, trying to sound light and airy. “You look like you walked out of Vogue magazine.”
Lena frowns, jostling her tea in her hurry to put a reassuring hand over Kara’s.
“No! God, not that. That’s not what I – do you not like your clothes?”
Kara shrugs. “My husband prefers them. I’ve never really felt comfortable in my skin anyways, so why fight?”
Understanding dawns on Lena’s face, and Kara somehow feels embarrassed by it. She takes an overly large gulp of tea, hissing when it burns her tongue.
“I’m sorry, Kara,” Lena finally says, when Kara’s eyes have stopped watering from the hot drink. “I thought you just liked to dress that way. I didn’t even think twice about it.”
Lena didn’t even think about it. She didn’t think that Kara was unfashionable. The idea seems ridiculous, but Lena looks so genuine that she almost believes her.
“Well then, what did you mean by ‘different’?”
“I mean…” Lena’s brow furrows, like she’s trying to solve a complicated riddle. “I met a lot of the people in this suburb last weekend. And they’re all…”
“Boring?” Kara supplies, and Lena laughs, loud and surprised.
“Yes, actually. I was trying to be diplomatic, but I’m glad you agree.”
Making Lena laugh, even for those few seconds, somehow becomes one of the proudest moments of Kara’s life. She wants to do it more. She feels hungry for Lena’s attention in a way she isn’t used to, and it’s unnerving to say the least.
“My husband socializes with them, but I don’t have much to say, besides recipe swapping,” Kara says, and Lena smiles at her fondly.
“And you’re not like them. That’s what I mean – you’re interesting. What are you doing here?” Lena asks, completely sincere.
Kara blushes properly, now. She feels like she’s under a spotlight, and it’s one she doesn’t quite deserve. Lena thinks she’s interesting. Lena.
Suddenly, she’s terrified of the day that Lena discovers that she isn’t.
“I…I don’t know,” Kara stammers, hiding her anxiety in her mug. She didn’t notice earlier because it was searing her mouth, but the tea is some sort of fruity herbal blend, and it’s delicious and soothing.
Lena continues, as if Kara isn’t having a small crisis. “Well, what about your husband? How did that happen?”
It’s an interesting way to phrase ‘how did you meet’. Almost harsh. But Kara shrugs, taking another sip of tea.
“He asked me to go steady when we were in school, and when we graduated, he proposed. He wanted me to stay home, and…I did.” Now that she’s saying it out loud, the honest truth, it seems silly. Here’s Lena, who lives on her own, who throws parties without a husband, who provides for herself, and Kara isn’t even allowed to drive her own car anywhere but to the grocery store because she settled down with the first man who asked her. It had just seemed like the thing to do, at the time. She feels the same way around Alex, sometimes, but never this intensely. She feels like she needs to prove herself to Lena, somehow.
“He wants you to do a lot of things, doesn’t he?” Lena says quietly, and Kara swallows.
“He’s not so bad.” Kara picks at the string of the teabag until it splits into tiny strands, and Lena looks understanding.
“Okay. Let’s talk about other things, hm?”
Lena, as it turns out, is a freelance photographer. Kara has no idea how she affords this house by herself with that career, but Lena will only wave vaguely and say ‘family money’ when she asks, and Kara accepts it without too much thought. She seems to know so many things about the world, about experiences that Kara can’t even imagine. She’s adopted, Kara learns, and her family has some patents on newfangled inventions, but Lena doesn’t go into detail, and Kara doesn’t pry.
As a product of her work, her house is covered in framed photographs. They vary from beautiful shots of landscapes to human subjects, all taken by her camera, but the photographs of people interest Kara the most. They’re all taken from afar, rather than close-up. She seems to prefer happy people – couples, people with their dogs, children playing, friends embracing – but there’s a sadness to the way she frames them. They’re distant. Untouchable. They betray a sort of longing that Kara can’t explain, and it makes her want to give Lena a hug.
It’s not long before Kara is visiting next door almost every day, making up excuses to knock on her door until Lena finally tells her she’s welcome to come socialize anytime, and she gets to know Lena a little bit more with every visit.
They’re becoming friends. It’s what Kara hoped for from the moment they met, but it still doesn’t seem like quite enough.
It’s a steady climb, days of short and long visits (depending on Kara’s chore list) and working on making her new friend laugh as much as possible. Lena introduces her to new things, from champagne and orange juice to a talented musician named Jimi Hendrix, and Kara marvels at all the things she had no idea existed.
One such new thing is revealed on an innocuous Thursday, when Kara bustles through Lena’s front door without knocking (as Lena instructed her to do weeks ago) to see Lena at her kitchen island, surrounded by little white papers and what looks like oregano. She’s rolling one of the papers into a cylinder, and when she looks up Kara can see dark circles under her eyes. Her smile is genuine, even if it doesn’t quite light her face up like usual.
“Morning, Kara. Want to share?”
Lena holds something out to her – it looks like a short, scrunched-up cigarette. The combination of things finally sparks Kara’s brain, and she gasps.
“What do you – oh my goodness, Lena, is that marijuana?” Kara hisses, looking nervously over her shoulder as if the police are going to knock the door down at any moment. “That’s illegal!”
“Lots of things are illegal, Kara,” Lena says, and the moment feels a bit heavy suddenly. Like Lena was reminded of something she’d rather forget. She starts to sweep the rest of the cannabis into a baggie, tying it up and putting it into a jar on the counter. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I don’t usually indulge either, but I had a rough night, and I’m going to get blazed.”
“A rough night?” Kara asks, as Lena moves herself to the plush couch and flicks a lighter. The tip of the paper glows, and Lena take a deep pull on it, holding the smoke in her lungs for a few seconds before exhaling it all in a strange-smelling cloud.
“My mother called.”
Lena has only mentioned her mother in passing, but from what Kara knows, their relationship is antagonistic at best. The money Lena lives on came from her father, and her mother doesn’t want her to have it, for whatever reason. She can imagine that their phone conversation was less than pleasant.
“I’m sorry, Lena.”
“It’s alright. This is helping. And, I’m glad you came to see me today.” Lena seems much more relaxed already, as she takes her second pull. The smell is odd, but not horrible like cigarette smoke, and Lena doesn’t seem to be acting wild or crazy. She’s just sitting with her head lolled back on the headrest of the couch, humming quietly to herself. Kara has always associated drugs with hard partiers or beatniks, but Lena is…well, she’s Lena.
Lena hasn’t steered her wrong yet, right?
“I want to try.”
Lena cracks an eye open.
“I do. It seems pretty harmless, right?
Lena smiles, looking surprised and delighted. “You know you don’t have to, right? I’m okay by myself.”
“I know. But…I want to try new things.”
Lena regards her for a moment, her eyes narrowed, and Kara gets the feeling she's being carefully considered. But finally Lena hands the smoldering thing over to her, and Kara raises it to her mouth. It seems silly, but the part that Lena touched to her lips – already stained with red lipstick – seems warmer than the rest.
“Take a small toke, at first. It’s probably going to make you cough, but you’ll get used to that.”
Kara nods, putting it to her lips.
It does, in fact, make her cough. The smoke is a little bit acrid, but it isn’t horrible, and when she hands the joint back to Lena she feels accomplished. She did it, and she didn’t embarrass herself.
“I don’t feel any different,” Kara says, her voice a little rough. Her eyes are watering from the coughing, and Lena laughs, taking another draw herself.
“It takes a minute.”
A few minutes and a few lungfuls later, Kara definitely feels different.
Her skin feels strange, slightly more sensitive than usual, and everything is just a little bit brighter. She can’t seem to control the things that come out of her mouth, and her anxiety – which is always present, in some way, in every facet of her life – is completely gone. The world is just swell, and Lena is lying with her head in Kara’s lap, smiling up at her.
“You’re so pretty. Did you know that?”
Kara blushes hard, sputtering. “No, I mean, I – I’m not – I mean, compared to you –“
“No, you are. Really.” Lena reaches up and slides Kara’s glasses off her face, folding them and putting them on the arm of the couch. She touches her finger to Kara’s nose, and the tiny boop feels like the funniest thing that’s ever happened in her life. They both giggle, and the blurriness caused by her lack of spectacles makes the whole situation feel even more floaty.
She feels floaty in a different way when Lena intertwines their hands, running her fingertips over the pads of Kara’s palm until it tingles.
The part of her brain that usually stops her from doing stupid things seems to be turned off, so Kara gives in to her immediate impulse to touch Lena’s hair. She cards her fingers through it, feeling the silky strands tickle her skin, and giggles.
“You have nice hair. So soft. How do you get it so soft? Mine is never soft.”
“You use hairspray.”
“Nope.” Lena makes a little pop with her mouth on the word, and they both dissolve into giggles at it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this relaxed,” Kara sighs, and Lena hums her agreement.
“Being high does that to you.”
“Do you do this all the time?”
“No, not really,” Lena answers, her fingers still tracing patterns over Kara’s. “Just sometimes. I find it too easy to get addicted to things.”
Lena doesn’t answer. Kara keeps stroking her hair, feeling like it’s the only thing keeping her grounded. She scratches her nails over Lena’s scalp and Lena makes a tiny noise, one that Kara has never heard before – it’s high, and throaty, and it gets cut off before she can examine it further by Lena clearing her throat.
It sticks in her mind, that little one-second soundbite. She wants to recreate it, make it longer, louder. She’s full of a desire she doesn’t understand. Suddenly things are a little overwhelming, and Kara glances up at the clock above Lena’s fridge to see that it reads 3:45.
“Shoot!” She hisses, springing up and dislodging Lena from her lap. “Shoot, darn, shoot, I should have been home hours ago – I have to make dinner –“
Lena frowns up at her, her hair ruffled. She looks like she doesn’t quite understand what’s happened. Kara grabs her glasses and shoves them crookedly on her face, hurrying to the door.
“I’m sorry, Lena, but Mike will be so upset if he gets home with no supper –“
“Okay,” Lena calls after her, looking a little bit lost, and it takes an unnerving amount of willpower not to abandon the whole thing and just let Mike be angry if it means spending more time with her. But she’s hit suddenly with a memory of the fight they had the last time she didn’t have dinner on the table because she fell asleep listening to the radio, of the way Mike treated her afterwards, and the anxiety returns even through the fog.
Making dinner turns out to be twice the chore it usually is. She finds herself forgetting parts of the recipe that she knows by heart, for some reason, and often she catches herself zoning out and almost burning something because she’s staring out the window at Lena’s front door, remembering the softness of her hair and the sound of her laugh.
Thankfully, her husband doesn’t notice. He comments on the redness of her eyes, but Kara just tells him that she was chopping onions.
The fact that there are no onions in the dish seems to be lost on him.
She doesn’t visit Lena the next day. When she wakes in the morning it all seems a bit embarrassing, the way she acted, and she’s not sure she should humiliate herself further. Instead she goes grocery shopping, feeling on-edge the whole time, as if she’s expecting Lena to jump out from behind the milk fridge in one of her hip designer outfits.
She makes it all the way to bedtime without serious incident. Her day feels empty without Lena, but she gets through it, putting all the groceries away and tidying up and making dinner and cleaning the dishes. She even manages to go a few minutes without thinking about her. At least, until Mike has gotten into bed and she’s at her vanity combing the tight style out of her hair, and she sees movement in Lena’s yard.
Worried for a moment that it might be an intruder, Kara moves to the window for a closer look. But it’s just Lena, standing by the pool. She’s lit by the underwater lights, flickering and strange, and she seems to be taking off her layers. Except, she isn’t in a bathing suit, she’s just – in her undergarments –
And then she’s in nothing, absolutely nothing, she’s naked, and Kara’s brush is suspended in the air and her mouth is hanging open and something is happening between her legs as she watches Lena, naked as the day she was born, dive into the pool.
She stays underwater for an almost worrying amount of time, her pale form swimming smoothly from one end to the other, until finally she surfaces and slicks her hair back. She treads water for a second, and then floats onto her back and kicks her legs lazily to keep afloat.
Kara is gobsmacked. Soon enough she’s standing so close to the window that her breath fogs the glass, just staring, trying to make out the details – she can just see the outlines of Lena’s breasts floating on the surface, the fan of her dark hair around her head and then a smaller dark patch lower, between – oh, gosh, between –
And then, Lena’s feet find the bottom of the shallow end. She stands, tilts her head, and mortifyingly, she waves. Directly at her. There’s nothing else she could be waving at, besides Kara’s bedroom window and Kara herself in it, probably silhouetted by the bedside lamp.
Kara has never felt such abject humiliation in her life. She was staring blatantly at her neighbor, naked, in her own pool, and she got caught. She squeaks in a very unladylike way, and ducks below the windowsill with a racing heart. She wants to pop her head back up, to check if Lena is still watching, but all she can do is crawl until she’s out of the window’s line of sight and get into bed, her stomach in knots.
Why did she do that?
And why couldn’t she take her eyes away?
To say it’s a shock to answer her front door to Lena Luthor in a scarlet romper with a zipper that’s open almost to her pelvis is a vast understatement.
“Lena!” She manages to gasp, swiping at a stray piece of hair that’s fallen out of her style. There are still suds on her hands from the dishes, and she can feel them wet on her forehead. “What – what are you –“ Kara can see a small mole just to the right of her bellybutton, and something about it is absolutely fascinating.
“I missed you,” Lena shrugs, as if she isn’t standing on Kara’s stoop with most of her torso revealed.
She feels a little guilty at that. It has been over a week since she went over to visit – Lena has even called, twice, and Kara claimed she was too busy. She hasn’t been able to clear that strange night at the window from her head, and the idea of seeing Lena up close, talking to her, filled her with unexplainable dread.
It’s just because she was caught being nosy, she told herself. She’s embarrassed at being a peeping tom. That’s all.
“I’m sorry I haven’t visited, I’ve just been –“
“Busy. I know,” Lena says, and a cloud passes briefly over her face. It’s fleeting, but Kara catches it, and it hits her deep.
She never wants to see Lena sad. Especially not because of her. She’s just being silly with this whole thing.
“I’m sorry, Lena,” Kara says sincerely, trying her best to relax. “I really am. I’ve been a bad friend.”
“No, it’s fine –“ Lena tries to wave her off, but Kara opens the door wider.
“You should come inside. I’ll make us a drink, for once.”
Lena steps inside, her heels clicking on the linoleum. The linoleum of Kara’s house. She’s in Kara’s house.
Something about it, about glamorous Lena standing in her plain kitchen, the space where she’s usually so miserable, makes her feel hot and cold all over.
“I can’t believe we’ve been friends all this time and I’ve never been here,” Lena says, her eyes sweeping the space. She looks around at the speckled countertops, the kitchen table, the window that faces her own driveway, something sharp and appraising in her gaze, and Kara clears her throat.
“Would you, um. Would you like a tour?”
She guides Lena through the sitting room, the hallways, the guest room, and finally, she eases open the door to her own bedroom.
“You know, we don’t have to look in here. It’s just a bedroom, just a normal –“ But Lena is already inside, looking around with interest. She runs a hand over the foot of the bed as she glides past, the pristine folding of the duvet wrinkling in a line under her fingers, and she shoots Kara a mischievous grin as she walks past the window.
The look, in combination with Lena being in her bedroom, makes Kara feel antsy.
Finally Lena comes to the closet, still open a crack after Kara’s dressing this morning. Carefully she widens the crack, thumbing past drab skirt after drab skirt, stiff dresses and shirts and starchy fabric.
“Do you really only dress this way because your husband likes it?” She asks, pulling at a particularly dull print.
“He doesn’t like modern style.”
Lena lets the skirt fall back into line, turning on her heel and regarding Kara carefully. Kara tries very, very hard not to be rude and stare at the bare skin of her stomach.
“All right, come on. We’re going shopping.”
Kara isn’t sure how, but despite her vehement protests she’s in Lena’s convertible and en route to the mall within 5 minutes.
The store they end up at is both completely unfamiliar to her and deeply out of her price range. The mannequins are dressed in bright colours, a far cry from her own yellows and browns, and Lena seems right at home, but Kara feels out of place in comparison. Frumpy, and boring.
“Lena, I can’t possibly afford anything here,” She whispers, feeling like very eye in the store is on her. But Lena doesn’t seem to care. She just grabs Kara’s hand, pulling her into the men’s section.
“Don’t be silly, Kara, you’re not paying.”
“What?” Kara gasps, the price tags she’s seen so far seeming absolutely sky-high for a gift. “No, Lena, I couldn’t possibly – what are we doing looking at men’s pants?“
Lena rolls her eyes affectionately, grabbing a pair of corduroys in deep blue and a light blue shirt. “Kara. Let me do this for you.”
Lena paces the aisles, grabbing at pieces until her arms are full, and then gestures for an employee to get them a private changing room. Inside there’s a large mirror, a bench, and a folding privacy fan. Pushing Kara behind the fan with her armful of clothes, Lena takes a seat on the bench to wait with an encouraging nod.
The clothes that Lena gave her seem to be all over the map. There’s a few skirts, a dress or two, and a lot of pants, along with two men’s shirts – one polo and another a button-down. She’s not sure why Lena is having her try on men’s clothes, but she shrugs. It’s a day out of the house, and it could be fun, just for a day.
She tries on the dresses and skirts first. They feel better than her own clothes, but they still give her the feeling she’s always had – that something isn’t quite right, isn’t quite fitting. She no longer feels frumpy, but she still feels a bit uncomfortable, somehow. Lena nods her approval of both looks, and finally Kara picks up the corduroys.
“I’m still not sure why you got things from the men’s section,” She calls over the privacy fan. “It’s not like they’ll fit me –“
She says it just as she’s pulling the pants over her hips, and to her shock, they fasten in a perfect fit. They’re even roomy enough for her legs, which she’s always felt were too long and muscular. They fit every contour of her narrow hips effortlessly.
“Just trust me on this. I have an instinct,” Lena calls back, and as Kara looks down properly at the shape of her own legs for what feels like the first time, she thinks that maybe what Lena has is a superpower.
She chooses the button-down, a light blue to match the dark blue of the pants, and tucks it into the waistband with a growing sense of excitement. Maybe she looks ridiculous – but the clothes are actually comfortable, and something in her wants to see Lena’s reaction.
Lena’s eyes widen the second she emerges. They go dark, raking over Kara’s body in a way that gives her goosebumps, and Kara holds her arms out and does a little spin.
“What do you think?” She asks breathlessly. She’s not quite prepared to turn and look in the mirror yet, not quite ready to face what she might look like, but Lena’s face is telling her that she’s doing something right.
After a few seconds of staring, taking in the outfit silently, Lena licks her lips, swallows, and comes forward. Slowly she eases the top three buttons of Kara’s shirt open, almost revealing her brassiere. Her fingers momentarily brush Kara’s sternum, and she twitches with some kind of strange energy.
Next she takes Kara’s glasses off, making her blink. Her prescription isn’t that strong, so Lena’s face is still clear, but it still feels strange when she usually only takes them off before bed. After Kara’s eyes have adjusted, Lena reaches back into Kara’s hair. Their faces are inches apart, and Kara is almost tempted to close her eyes – but she just grasps the pins holding Kara’s hair up and pulls them out. Kara’s dull blonde waves spill down, and Lena runs her fingers through them until the hairspray releases its hold.
Lena’s nails scratch at Kara’s scalp, just like Kara’s did on hers that day on the couch, and she feels like she’s going to melt into the linoleum.
And, finally, Lena takes a thumb and drags it slowly over Kara’s lower lip, wiping off most of her lipstick.
It’s the single strangest and most exciting moment of Kara’s life, and she can’t for the life of her articulate why.
“There,” Lena whispers, her voice cracking slightly. “Not so buttoned-up now, are you?”
With Lena’s guidance Kara finally turns around, and a different person is staring back at her from the mirror.
Just like she thought, the pants fit her almost too well. They cling to every curve, and she’s never felt so exposed and yet so comfortable. And the shirt is the same – the colour makes her eyes seem brighter, and it feels tight on her arms and shoulders in a way that’s strangely satisfying.
She has to squint in order to see the details, but the facial expression actually ends up adding to the overall impact. She looks…confident. Powerful. She looks sexy. Lena’s head pokes up from behind her shoulder, and her hands land on Kara’s waist, feeling so different without her usual skirt. Her hands feel as hot as an iron, and Kara is suddenly very aware of the fact that there’s now only one layer of fabric between that bare stretch of skin revealed by Lena’s outfit and her own back.
She’s covered in goosebumps, and it’s not just from the outfit.
“What do you think?” Lena asks quietly.
“I think…” What Kara thinks, deep down, is that this might be the first time she’s ever felt truly herself in her entire life.
“I think the neighbors might talk.”
Lena laughs, and buys her the outfit anyways. It goes in a box at the bottom of her closet, but every few days she takes it out while Mike is at work, and just looks at herself in their bathroom mirror with her hair down. Every time she does, she feels like a snake shedding its old skin. Something new and raw underneath, but infinitely better.
Something Kara doesn’t ever expect when she goes to Lena’s house is two sets of voices. Lena seems to have almost no visitors besides herself, so when she opens Lena’s door on an innocuous Tuesday and hears a very loud, very male laugh booming along with Lena’s, she almost turns right around in shock.
Before she can decide what to do, she hears Lena call out.
“Kara? Is that you?”
Clearly Lena heard the door open, and Kara has no choice but to make her way back to the pool where Lena is sitting with a sangria in her hand.
In a bikini. Where Lena is sitting in a bikini with a sangria in her hand. In a bikini.
She’s wearing a floor-length flowy sarong over it, but Kara can still see so much bare skin, the paleness of it almost glowing in the brightness even though she’s sitting under an umbrella. It brings her uncomfortably close to how she felt the night she saw Lena swimming naked, and it takes a mammoth effort to pull her eyes away from Lena’s soft stomach and pay attention to the person sitting beside her.
Her friend is in tiny red swim trunks, his chest shiny and oiled. Clearly, he’s enjoying the sun, even while Lena hides in the shade. They’re laughing together about something, and Kara has the bewildering urge to leave again at how joyful and easy Lena seems in his presence.
But Lena spots her first, and she looks so happy as she waves her over that Kara shoves the confusing thoughts down.
“Kara, this is Jack Spheer. One of my oldest friends.”
Jack holds a hand out, and when Kara takes it he pulls it to his mouth to give her knuckles a dramatic kiss.
“Charmed,” He says with a wink, and the relief she feels at learning they’re just pals gets shoved down on top of all the other emotions. Including a brief irritation at how Lena tops up his drink without asking and laughs at all his jokes. Even if he actually is very funny.
Jack is suave, and British, and Kara feels something hot and twisting in her gut at the affectionate way he interacts with Lena. It’s an ease she wishes she could have, but her stupid weird feelings keep getting in the way. She wants to interrupt. She wants to push Jack into the pool. But then Lena would probably just go in after him, and they’d probably kiss or something –
“And then I told him, if you want to kiss me, at least have a cigarette or something because you smell like cheap booze and I have no interest in experiencing it through your mouth –“ Jack is saying to a giggling Lena, and Kara’s brain scratches like a broken record.
Jack blinks, looking back and forth between Kara and Lena. “Yes?”
“You kiss men?” Kara asks, feeling like she’s the slowest horse at the race, but she’s just so stunned.
“Almost exclusively, babe,” Jack winks again, and his confidence at the admission is almost as shocking as the admission itself. Lena looks nervous, like she’s expecting some kind of reaction, and Kara schools her features to conceal the strange somersaults her brain is doing right now.
Jack kisses men. Assumedly, Jack has sex with men. He and Lena aren’t together. She’s confused, but mostly, she’s just relieved.
Jack laughs, looking at Kara like she’s a precocious child. “Oh, look at how shocked she is, bless her! Lena, have you not told her that you –“
“Jack!” Lena snaps harshly, and Kara jumps at the loudness of it. She’s never seen Lena look this serious, this angry – her jaw is clenched, and her knuckles are white around her glass. “Don’t.”
There’s a few beats of silence, where Kara can feel the awkwardness in the air like a mist. She wonders if they’re about to have a fight, and if perhaps she should leave. But Jack puts his hands up, looking instantly sober and genuinely apologetic.
“Sorry, love. Didn’t think. No more wine for me, hm?”
“What?” Kara asks, looking between them. Some sort of secret has passed between them, and she feels stupid for not knowing what it is. “What is it?”
But Lena shakes her head with a smile that looks forced.
“It’s nothing, Kara. Don’t worry.”
Kara leaves that day feeling out of sorts, like she missed a step going down the stairs, and that night she has a strange dream.
She’s in Lena’s pool. She’s alone, at first, but then there’s someone behind her – someone hovering close. And then two hands land on her hips, just like that day in the changing room, and somehow she knows without even looking that it’s Lena.
Lena is behind her, and slowly she becomes aware of the fact that she’s naked.
It doesn’t feel the way it normally does. Usually when she’s naked she’s either getting dressed or she’s in bed with her husband, neither of which are overwhelmingly positive experiences – but she feels calm, floaty. Almost like she did that day that Lena got her high. Lena’s hands are on her skin, and she can smell her perfume (the fact that she shouldn’t be able to over the chlorine doesn’t seem to matter) and there’s a voice in her ear, low and throaty and very familiar.
”Not so buttoned-up now, are you?”
And unbuttoned Kara surely is. Lena’s hands are moving up towards her breasts, which feel sort of tingly, and all she wants to do is turn around and do something but she isn’t sure what. She isn’t even sure what’s happening now. She’s never been touched like this, slowly and with intent to unwind, and she’s never felt this way before. Fingers creep upwards, ever upwards, until they’re just about to cup –
Kara wakes to the quiet trill of her alarm, and she hits it before Mike wakes up just like always. Only this time she’s sweaty and trembling, her nipples feeling tight and sensitive and some very suspect throbbing happening between her legs. The details of the dream slip through her fingers like sand – there was a pool, and Lena, and something that’s made her thighs very slippery –
Mike rolls over, grunting, and Kara jumps out of bed. She needs to clean up and calm down before he gets up to start his day, and she puts the dream out of her mind.
There’s no sense dwelling on it, anyways.