Lena starts from scratch.
There’s not really another option for where else to begin, all things considered.
This whole adventure opens with a Google search of open apartments in National City, and after a dizzying stream of results, she taps the search bar and amends it to two bedrooms . She considers single bedroom — it is just her, after all — but something sticky pricks at the back of her throat at the idea, and she decides that it would feel like conceding to her mother’s doubts if she were to live alone in a one bedroom apartment, like giving up.
So, two it is. She could use a home office anyway, she reasons.
Renthop.com has a grossly dysfunctional mainframe set up, and there’s something distrustworthy about apartments.com , so naturally she ends up on rent.com because she supposes that’s where everyone on the west coast goes at some point or another. She taps through these sites as she lays crookedly across the king-sized cloud of a five-star hotel, naked except for the plush, dark red bathrobe tied around her waist.
She starts putting out a few requests to tour the apartments once she breaks into the minibar’s champagne, and they range from sleek, modern fish tanks with crisp edges and cold floor plans, much like the apartment she left back in Metropolis, to practical urban cabins floating 30 storeys high in the middle of a major urban center, walls lined with cherry-wood pillars, Brazilian floorboards and even a chandelier hand-carved from deer antlers. The latter, she really only drops an offer on so she can actually see it in person, but in the end, she settles for somewhere in the middle.
It’s two days later and only 68 hours after drafting a letter that she leaves on her mother’s desk that Lena Luthor checks out of the hotel and hails a cab uptown in order to stroke her signature on a few lines of a freshly-printed lease. The apartment she’s chosen is on the northeastern side of National City, close enough to the water that she can see it from her high balcony, only a modest protrusion from her bedroom window. She could fit a compact lounging chair and perhaps a low table for a rocks glass to sit on, but not much else. The apartment itself is fairly new, has all the new wiring and appropriate finishings, but the building and the company running it are old and discreet — exactly the kind of people she’s looking for. The floors are finished with some kind of white oak stain, which does well to maintain relative coolness in the residual summer heat, along with the off-white bare walls and white granite countertops. Everything is just so pale and white and so beautifully unlike the grim darkness of her last apartment, with little room for shadows or wallowing, and everything is so clean that Lena knows there is no room for hiding here.
It occurs to her exactly thirty-five seconds after the realtor has closed the door behind herself, leaving Lena alone in her new apartment, that she hasn’t taken even a moment to consider furniture.
She barely takes a moment to think about the potential issues that might arise should she actually stroll through the aisles of a Bed, Bath & Beyond, the risks it poses. She chews over the small voice in her head that cautions her against it for about another seventeen seconds before she’s scooping one of the two loose keys off the countertop, slipping it into a zipper in her wallet, and breezing out the door entirely.
Of course, she really should have considered it for much longer. Maybe even a minute of foresight would have saved her plethora of anxiety, the crisp sharp kind, the nail-biting and skin-scratching type where she both desperately has to cry and also couldn’t if she tried.
It starts rather harmlessly.
Lena’s already been to a Royal Pedic outlet for a king-sized tempurpedic mattress and bedframe that would be delivered and assembled in her bedroom by the time she’s finished shopping, along with a hunter-green Dakota sofa from Havertys for her living room. The rest, she’d reasoned twenty minutes ago, could easily be checked off a shopping list at BB&B. She’s since dismissed the store representative that had taken to following her like a timid shadow throughout the store as Lena worked her way throughout the store with a tablet in hand, checking and adding things to a figurative cart. Honestly, she’s trying to be less plush about her whole financial situation, unlike the last eight years of her life since she graduated from MIT, but surely she can’t be expected to actually lug a cart around for everything she needs. No, she tried that at a Target for groceries already, and she nearly started hyperventilating in the condiments aisle.
Alright, maybe she placed an order for a vanity from Gucca Italy, but their product just smells so fresh for years after the purchase.
But the rest of her things — she can totally get from here.
This is precisely her downfall.
Lena is stroking a hand over red Egyptian cotton bath towels, wondering if putting an order in for her favorite Turkish cotton towels would be too gaudy of her, when she hears a sharp intake of breath from somewhere beside her.
She only half-registers the sound at first, deep in thought, but is promptly pulled out when:
“Oh, my God, dude, is that Lena Luthor? Dude are you looking?”
“Bro, quit it, you’re so fucking— wait, what? Where?”
“Dude, right in front of you, oh my God, it so is.”
Grinding her jaw to offset the sudden cold sweat at the nape of her neck, to keep her grounded, Lena nonchalantly untucks her hair from behind her ear so that it falls into her face more, and starts to turn in the opposite direction of the two college-aged boys whispering. She makes it a few good steps away, face tucked down into the tablet to hide her face, but the boy’s voice had already carried and continued to drift in the factory-like open floor plan of the shopping store, and Lena can practically feel people’s gazes start to lift as they notice her.
Lena makes it three aisles away when a middle-aged woman with short, blonde hair and tight skin pulling her thin lips into quivering frown stops her, stepping into Lena’s path.
“Excuse me,” Lena begins, going to side step the woman, but she quickly rushes to stay in front of Lena.
“My boy, he was twelve, you know.”
Lena comes to a hasty stop in the store, a small horde of bystanders already forming around them. She knows, fuck does Lena already know, she always knows how it goes, and so she mentally sucker punches herself for even asking but, “I’m sorry?”
The woman’s mouth shakes harder, and what had first been a trembling melancholy in her eyes now quickly sharpens to something much darker, something meaner, and Lena always knows how this goes.
“My son ,” she spits out like her words are her weapon. “He was twelve and he wanted to be a scientist, he wanted to help people.” The woman tilts her head, eyes flickering over Lena’s face as if searching for something. “He wanted to change the world, and instead you took him from it.”
Lena doesn’t flinch, but her heart hammers all the same as she looks down, her skin taut over her jaw, hands clammy and shaking around the edges of the tablet as she forces her voice to stay level when she says, “Ma’am, I-I didn’t, it wasn’t—”
Lena doesn’t even realize what’s happened, not until the woman is sneering and storming off down the store walkway and something wet and sticky slips down her cheek and Lena hastily wipes it away with her scarf, that it sinks in that the woman just spit on her.
From a practical standpoint, it’s not the worst outcome of these situations, and Lena deflates. There was the father two weeks ago in Metropolis who had to be escorted out of the lobby of LuthorCorp kicking and screaming after he’d lunged at Lena with biting threats and swears to hell. There was the woman 12 days ago in the locker room of her spin class that slapped her across the face and snarled that Lena was pathetic for standing behind a murderer, that she might as well have been one herself, as though she hadn’t very publicly cooperated with the police and denounced her brother in a nationally broadcasted courtroom. And then there was the protester last week who snuck past security where Lena was visiting Siobhan filming her latest movie, where a complete and total stranger pepper-sprayed Lena and, consequently, everyone else within a ten foot radius. This all led to a two-hour-long argument in Siobhan’s trailer and ended with a bitter, exhausted, “ Shit, I just can’t do this anymore, Lena. ”
So, as far as these things go, it hasn’t been the worst one yet, but Lena had figured this was something she’d leave behind in Metropolis, and she still doesn’t know how to deal with them, much less the aftermath. The assembly of people around her all have relatively the same varying expressions on their faces, ranging from sour pity to second-hand humiliation, and a hell of a lot of grimaces.
With hands shaking so bad they feel volatile, Lena manages to hand the tablet back to an employee with an apology, and that she’ll order her things online, before she leaves.
So yeah, she wishes she’d just gotten what she needed online in the first place, because now she was sitting at a rather mediocre bar downtown with a glass of whiskey dangling from her fingertips, feeling completely and miserably sorry for herself.
The bar’s alright, as far as they go, even if Jameson is the nicest whiskey they have and the pool table wedged at the back corner costs three dollars in quarters, and the long length of the narrow bar is rather tight with not much space for lingering about if you don’t have a seat at the bar. But, conveniently for Lena, it’s dark, and it’s loud, and not the kind of place where people look you in the eye too much.
She’s thanking the bartender for her refill when a woman with short, cropped hair hops onto the stool beside her, leaning towards Lena.
Instinctually, she wants to turn away, make it clear she’s not interested even minimally in just a conversation with a stranger, but her chest stutters for a second and she thinks about how she actually met Siobhan in a bar not that different from this one, all those years ago in Boston. Which is how Lena ends up instead turning ever so slightly towards the woman who’s just sat beside her, even goes so far as to offer up a small, languid smile.
“Alright, I gotta know,” the woman opens with, propping her elbow onto the bar and eyeing Lena with the kind of cocky smirk one adopts after a few too many drinks.
She takes the bait. “Know what?”
“How in the hell am I the only person dying to talk to you right now?”
Lena chuckles, runs her tongue along her teeth as she raises an eyebrow. “What makes you think you’re the first?”
The woman laughs, her grin widening, and she leans in closer like she knows this is going well for her, like she knows Lena is lonely enough to keep this up and might even do something recklessly juvenile tonight if she plays her cards right, when something flickers across her eyebrows.
Oh, for fuck’s sake, can’t she just have something?
The woman cocks her head first for a second, like she’s trying to remember something, her eyes dropping over Lena’s features, scanning. But Lena is already reaching into her purse for her wallet, already plucking a twenty-dollar bill and dropping it on the counter, already downing her drink by the time the woman says it:
“Shit, you know you look a lot like that Luthor chick.”
To which, Lena swiftly salutes her fingers, sliding from the barstool. “Have a great rest of your night.”
Jesus, she can’t even stew in a self-deprecating, drunken stupor at a lonely city bar properly. Is it her? Should she be making different moves to disguise herself somehow? Okay, yes, changing her hair color or chopping it off wouldn’t quite as theatrical of a reaction to a breakup as moving across the country, but still — it feels dramatic and tacky, and she’d rather avoid that route if she can.
It’s still not as pathetic, though, as bursting out into the harsh, cold air of the evening with a sob lodged in her throat as she ducks into the nearest alley so she can keel over and really cry . Like, the ugly snot-bubbling-from-her-nose kind of cry, with hiccups and gasps, all over piles of trash that smell like old Kung Pao chicken and shoe polish.
She doesn’t stay there for long, (read: sobbing like a fragile child) and soon she picks herself back up together. Lena rubs her nose on the tail-end of her scarf and — wow, this scarf has really had better days — and trudges on home with her head down. The only sign of her relative breakdown are red-trimmed eyes and the occasional sniffle.
At this point, even the notion of hailing a cab or calling a Lyft is enough to send a shiver down Lena’s spine. So she bundles down, winding her black peacoat tightly around her with her nose tucked into her filthy scarf, and walks home.
It’s not until she’s riding the elevator up to the thirty-sixth floor, listening to a watered-down tune of poorly synchronized violins, that she remembers she has nothing but a bed and a couch to come home to. No sheets, no towels, pillows, groceries, nothing.
With her eyes sticky at the corners from crusted-over tears and pale, pink fingertips from the cold, Lena is far too exhausted to do much more than kick off her heels and clamber onto the bare couch set against the far wall. She tugs her coat more securely around herself, stuffs an elbow under her head for support. Her last thought before slipping into an unrestful slumber is that she really should have bought a damn sectional and not this tiny, overpriced sofa.
The next morning, she gets up, because, well. What else is there to do?
Also, she has the most foul, rancid taste in her mouth from the whiskey and not brushing her teeth, and she may not be hungover but she scrambles for the bathroom to rinse out the cotton-mouth nonetheless.
Lena indulges herself with another bout of self-pity as she sinks to the bathroom floor, rubbing the sleep from her face and pushing her hair back over her scalp.
There’s a bitter humiliation stirring in her stomach as she thinks over the previous night. How fucking stupid is she? To think that she can actually go back to the nights where she’d get picked up at bars by unnamed, painfully beautiful women who want nothing more to do with her than to get their hands on her ass? She’s not naive enough to think that her relationship with Siobhan might’ve lasted, not after everything, not with the gory target slathered across her back. A relationship for her is out of the question, not with anyone who knows who she is, alright, she gets that. But does she really have to lose the right to nice and dirty, regrettable one night stands? What is she supposed to do now, start an assorted vibrator collection, download porn, and fantasize away?
Lena groans, dropping her head back into her palms.
The pity-party doesn’t last too long, and eventually Lena scoops herself off the bathroom floor. At first, it’s like twisting her own ear to force herself back onto her couch and pull her laptop out from her suitcase, to refrain from checking emails or sleeping the rest of her day away, but Lena’s itching for a hot shower and she can’t do so until she actually buys things for this damn place.
So. She spends the next few hours placing various different orders in different intervals, taps out a Postmates order for breakfast and phones the doorman downstairs to double-check every deliverer’s identification before allowing any up. Throughout the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, entourages of delivery personnel are in and out of her apartment, dropping off packages, groceries, furniture. Some stick around and assemble things for her, deep chocolate bookshelves, a maple-wood dining table, and that Gucca Italy vanity finally arrives as well.
Alright, fine , in a moment of weakness she places an order for those Turkish towels she desperately misses. Fucking sue her.
She’s sure to be as politely reserved as possible, rarely leaving her perch on the couch where she can continue adding item after item to her shopping carts on four different windows and nine different tabs. She only interacts with them to quickly open the door, gesture to a corner, and drop a bill on the counter for them to collect on their way out as a tip. The less chance they have of noticing her face, the better.
And, okay, maybe she’s already being extra enough by hiding behind a pair of black Ray Bans while indoors and staring at a computer screen, but she swears it’s an essential safeguard.
Eventually, somehow, it’s well into the afternoon, the far trim of orange horizon licking into the fading paleness of the darkening sky, and Lena hasn’t eaten since the açai bowl she ordered that morning. While she rummages through her freezer for one of the gourmet, frozen dinners she’d stocked up on, her gut starts to churn when she thinks about how she basically just spent her entire day on her couch overdosing on retail therapy, and suddenly her long, accomplishing day that took a teeth-pulling strength of energy to get through, just doesn’t quite feel so productive anymore.
As she’s chewing over a bite of steaming sweet potato, half-pondering whether what she’s eating is actually any different from a basic Lean Cuisine meal she could buy for four dollars, Lena starts itching for a drink. Like, a stiff one. One that doesn’t have an aftertaste like rubbing alcohol and that doesn’t remind her of the mediocre cast parties Siobhan used to take her to before her career took off and they started cashing in on the more luxurious invitations. If last night — and just the last month of her life in general — are anything to go by, she no longer can just waltz into any bar she pleases, order a drink and mind her own business. Because while, sure, she’s painfully craving physical intimacy to ward off the crippling loneliness of being ostracized by most of society, she’s more desperate to just be left alone .
It’s why she came to National City in the first place — a fresh start, as ridiculously cliché as that is. It’s a major urban center on the opposite side of the country where she can forget the blood on her hands from her own inactions (because she didn’t do anything, no, she didn’t, that’s exactly the fucking point) and maybe learn how to not lead such a frivolous existence. Granted, some desolate cabin on a snow-capped mountain would be a better place to truly be alone , but there’s something fleetingly juicy about being able to simply exist in a room full of people and not have a single person know who you are or care to find out.
The more crowded a place, the more likely people are too concerned with the ever churning cogs of their own lives to stop and take in every face around them. Well, so she thought.
It’s this train of thought that reminds her — Lena has been to National City before, once, two years ago, when she was fending off flashing cameras and TMZ tails for much different reasons.
Okay, it isn’t exactly ideal.
But short of staying in her apartment and Postmates-ing a bottle of wine to her door before she inevitably remembers she doesn’t have a corkscrew yet, she’s not left with a whole lot of options.
Because if there’s one place in this damn city where, if she were recognized, she would still be left to her own devices, or even better, she’d be the least famous person in the room and looked over entirely…
The only drawback in her foolproof plan is that, in order to actually get into the club, she does have to use her real name. She has to drop the acidic L-bomb three times to get in — once to the nondescript doorman lounging against the brick wall of the alley in a hoodie and jeans who types away on his phone and only offers Lena a spare glance before waving her into the creaking metal door; the second time is when she steps into a hallway dimly lit with red lights lining the footway that leads to an elevator which two security guards stand on either side of. When she does let the name off her lips, there’s a brief eyebrow raise and an exchanged glance between the two men, but otherwise they call the lift for her and allow her inside. One of them follows her inside with a curt nod, standing between Lena and the keypad before he presses the second of only two buttons.
The elevator hisses up to a storey that is definitively not the second floor in a relatively long but swift trajectory. Before the doors even slide open, Lena can already hear the tell-tale pumps of music, the fluctuating, faint hum of overlapping chatter.
And then they’re opening, parting like curtains, and the dark hallway she walks down quickly opens up to a more open, dark room; to her right, a glass wall and door lead out onto a balcony where Lena can make out the silhouettes of a few people languidly smoking in front of a blurry cityscape skyline. To her left are set of doorways she remembers to be the bathrooms, and in front of her stands a woman in a blood-red, skin-tight gown, her luscious, blonde-streaked hair curling around her neck and over the front of her shoulder, the other painted with intricate ink, standing behind a simple hostess stand with nothing before her but a dark cell phone. Behind her is a glass wall draped with dark curtains only faintly parted to reveal a clear, metal-paned doorway with a thick red carpet rope crossing in front.
“Oh, Lena Luthor, it’s been too long.”
So, the third time, she doesn’t have to drop the name herself, it’s done for her.
Lips tight and arms still at her sides, Lena steps slowly up to the small podium. “Veronica.”
Veronica’s red lips twist at the corners into a smirk. “Come on, I know you’re at least a little bit excited to see me.”
Lena sighs through her nostrils, resists the urge to roll her eyes. “It’s nice to see you,” she relents.
Veronica laughs. “That’s better. But really, it has been a while. What brings the innocent Luthor all the way over to my end of the neighborhood?”
Lena’s already regretting this, already considering turning right back around and dipping into a liquor store for her preferred poison, can feel the thumps in her chest growing louder, and yet —
She must be pretty pathetically lonely if having the driest small talk in the universe with Veronica Sinclair, of all people, is actually scratching at the unreachable, unspeakable itch in her heart.
“I’m checking out some new job opportunities,” Lena tells her, clearing her throat. It’s not completely a lie.
“Careful, V, your interest is showing.”
Veronica scoffs playfully, leaning forward on her elbows just so. “Please. The whole world is interested, at this point.”
“I’ll remember that if I’m struck with the sudden urge to be interviewed. May I head in?” Lena gestures to the door behind Veronica, who tilts her head in response.
“What, no Siobhan this time?”
It’s bait, it’s such fucking bait, because — okay, Siobhan’s not like, famous famous, she doesn’t have Taylor Swift’s phone number or anything (no matter how often she’ll insist in public that she does), and Lena herself is only well known if you fall into either Siobhan’s fanbase, follow the careers of her family members’, or you just so happened to be really into The Killers when that one music video she starred in came out in 2013.
But the point is — there’s been a lot of air around her lately, and it didn’t take very long after someone sniffed up the trail left behind when Lena fled the city for them to trace it to a breakup. And everyone in the industry knows: the quieter, more anticlimactic the breakup, the more scandalous it must be in the tabloids the next day.
Someone in Veronica’s position, working a job that requires her to know the intricate details behind every person’s career, with a tightly secured lid of discretion — there was no way in hell she doesn’t know.
“What a shame.” Veronica grins, bites her bottom lip. “If you change your mind about that… interview, well. You know where I’ll be.”
Veronica steps back from the podium to unhook the red rope hanging over the door, holding it aside as she waves Lena in. “Enjoy your night, babe.”
Lena doesn’t have the greatest memory of the place; the shape of the long room with low tables and dark leather couches tucked all along the right side against floor-length windows, the left with evenly-spaced high top tables, all under a thrumming pale-red glow, occasionally sliced by the rotating dance floor lights at the opposite end — it’s all vaguely familiar, but like a dream. She hadn’t exactly been sober when she came here two years ago, had likely been a few tequila shots into her night.
Lena’s skin now prickles with the staggering awareness of how stone-cold sober she is. Which, in a club, is never a good feeling, and so she makes a straight shot down the room for the bar at the end.
It’s too dark to make out who anyone is as she passes through the crowded club, too loud to pick up on familiar voices, but she’s not too concerned. Yet, anyway.
Once at the end, the room once again splits open into two areas; on the right, the floor steps down a few levels into a wide ocean of a dance floor thrumming with bodies, smoke and strobing lights, until the walls round out and narrow down to a DJ spinning in a glass booth. To her left, up a very short, curved flight of stairs, the bar looks over the whole floor, safely elevated from any speakers pointing in the opposite direction. This is where Lena heads up next, pulling down self-consciously at the hem of her short, black lace cocktail dress.
It’s surprisingly uncrowded up here away from the floor, there being a scattered few of empty seats at the bar and only a couple groups of bystanders lingering around the edges, making use of the quieter space to engage in actual conversation. Because, thankfully, the acoustics were thought out by whatever architect Veronica hired to design the place, for the mind-crunching music really doesn’t penetrate the area of the bar all too much. Lena lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding when she drops onto an empty barstool in the middle, dropping her clutch unceremoniously onto the bar top and shuts her eyes. It’s like stepping entirely into a different room, and she basks momentarily in being able to hear her own thoughts again.
“There’s a spot out back that’s better for naps, if you want.”
Lena blinks open her eyes, taking in the bartender in front of her who tucks a dark rag into the back pocket of her black jeans with a cheeky smile. She’s actually rather cute, Lena realizes, with long blonde hair tucked back into a tight ponytail, curly tendrils sneaking out on both sides to frame her face. God, Lena takes so much as a walk in the park with her hair tied back like that and every strand of hair suddenly wants to burst out in a frizzy mess, she can’t imagine what it would take to look that composed while working .
It takes a second to register what on Earth the bartender is talking about, but when it does, Lena laughs, though it comes out more a disbelieving huff of air, and she becomes suddenly uneasy about how unfamiliar it feels to pull her mouth into a smile, like there’s a way to do it wrong.
“Thank you, but I think I’ve done enough mindless lying around today.”
“Oh don’t tell me that, jealousy is not a cute color on me.”
Lena can’t really imagine any color that wouldn’t look good on this woman, she notes as she takes in the broad, shoulders and sculpted arms wrapped in a tight black t-shirt that hugs down deliciously narrow hips where it tucks into the low-hanging skinny jeans.
She’s awfully too sober to be mentally stripping someone like this.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lena assures. “I’ll have whatever you don’t like, in that case.”
The woman laughs, this childish, gleeful giggle that’s infectious enough it almost makes Lena laugh again as well, but she keeps it to a tight-lipped smile hidden behind her fingers as she rests her chin in her palm.
“Alright,” the woman says, already stretching to reach a shelf behind her. If her shirt rides up a bit above her ass and Lena’s gaze drops, well, she’s only human. “But I’m not gonna take it back if you don’t like it.”
The woman pouts, suddenly, hesitating before pouring two different liquors into a shaker. “No, gosh, I’m kidding, if you don’t like it, I promise I wouldn’t—”
“It’s fine, I’ve got a wide palate.” Lena waves her on.
The woman ends up making her some kind of whiskey cocktail with a pale, amber hue to it served up in a martini glass, in it floating a twisted orange rind, the entire thing glowing under the red lights.
When Lena brings the rim of the chilled glass to her lips and tastes the sharp drink, the bartender’s eyes eagerly flitting over her face for a reaction, Lena’s first thought is that… well, it’s certainly got whiskey, and it’s essentially a Manhattan with an extra something else that she can’t put her tongue to, but it’s good . Like, dangerously good — a sophisticatedly subtle bite of ginger combined with the natural smoky edge that a good whiskey has, it’s heavenly .
“Oh fuck, that’s amazing.”
The bar itself is rather long, since it winds in a large U and doubles around on itself for double the seats, and before the bartender can respond, another one is poking around the bend at the apex with an exasperated look on her face.
“For Christ’s sake, Kara, 13’s been waving at me for five minutes, can you take care of that?”
“One sec,” the bartender — Kara — promises with an adorable smile before the other bartender has even finished their sentence, already making her way down the bar to another patron.
Left alone to her own thoughts, Lena slumps into her seat and pulls her phone from her bra.
She’s not one for social media, at least not lately. She hasn’t been particularly interested in making tentative interactions online or throwing out tidbits of herself that could be easily misconstrued or held against her much later, not after everything that happened with Lex. But she does still have multiple platforms set up to notify her if her name comes up in any news outlets or tabloids.
It’s never been the healthiest channel to pop culture, but it became even more addictive this last month, notifications pinging across her home screen comically fast that first week in the aftermath of the news.
It’s not quieting down yet, per se, but the media is definitely losing steam when it comes to her. The last thing that surfaced was a wave of articles speculating her hasty departure from Metropolis, most correctly connecting it to her abrupt breakup mixed with an overwhelming pressure of being related to him coming together in a volatile instability that sent her fleeing. A couple weighed in that she was even still conspiring with her brother, and that her escape was moreso a mission to spread the suffering elsewhere, to expand his terrain of suffering, which is ludicrous because how would she even do that — but, well.
The only one suffering out here is Lena, anyway.
But the cocktail does a little something to quell the disgusting loneliness in her chest.
Thankfully, there’s no one reporting on spotting her near Roulette, and with that small consolation of relief she slips her phone back into her bra.
It isn’t long before Kara comes bouncing back, dumping a glass of ice into an unseen sink behind the bar. “So listen,” she starts, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear and glancing up at Lena. “I’m really stressed out right now, because you’ll never guess what just happened.”
The lilt to Kara’s tone and the way the corner of her mouth twitches like she’s trying to hold back a smile just amuses Lena in and of itself.
So, she takes the bait. “Yeah? What’s that?”
“So basically, just now — wow like five minute ago — the past, present, and future just walked right into the bar.” She blows out an exaggerated puff of air. “It was tense.”
It’s such an awful joke but, sue her, Lena lets out a loud laugh, covering her mouth again with her hand.
Kara is off again at the beckoning of another customer, gliding swiftly behind the bar, bouncing on her toes while Lena’s still catching up with the joke. Lena watches her thoughtfully, trying to not make it painfully obvious that she’s leering like a teenager, but it only takes her so far. Every now and then, while Kara’s rattling her cocktail shaker over her shoulder she catches Lena’s eye and smiles softly. Or Kara will sneakily pop a maraschino cherry into her mouth and try to be subtle while she chews it, only to catch Lena’s raised eyebrow, and then she winks a little clumsily as she swallows it down.
And of course, there are more jokes.
“So I’m mixing some margaritas, and this dog — you know Alec Baldwin? Yeah, his dog comes right up to the bar, and goes, ‘ hey barkeep, it’s my birthday today. How ‘bout a free drink?’ ”
Lena’s already struggling to suppress her laughter and Kara isn’t even finished with the joke yet, but the impression Kara puts on for the parts are cartoonish and goofy, and it just feels so good to laugh.
“And so I go, yeah! For sure, pal, the toilet’s just right down the hall.”
Although, Lena’s personal favorite has to be:
“Oh! Right, last night, this guy runs into the bar and asks me to pour him a shot of every scotch I’ve got, to line it up real nice for him, right? So I do, and he just starts pounding them back, and I tell him, hey buddy you’re drinking those pretty fast, and he goes, ‘ you would be too if you had what I have ,’ and I’m thinking dang, this guy must’ve gotten some pretty awful news, right? And so I ask, well, what do you have? And you know what he says?”
(Lena would fucking murder a man if it meant she could squeeze those adorably dimpled cheeks)
“No, what’d he say?”
“He goes, ‘25 cents, ’ and bolts it right out of here.”
All in all, Lena’s charmed. Like, thoroughly charmed and smitten and she can’t really remember the last time that warm pleasant feeling blossomed in her chest when someone just wanted to talk to her. It’s like drinking that first sip of a perfectly hot espresso when Kara came back up to her again, that tingling warmth that stretches up the back of her neck and cradles her cheeks. It’s just infectious.
She just wants to scramble to cling to it, like a high that she knows will quickly fade once the novelty has worn off, but maybe if she just digs her nails in, it might stay.
Okay maybe there’s a reason they say that three martinis is when shit starts to get weird.
Lena’s disappointed to be licking up the last drops of her drink, is reluctant to turn down Kara’s upbeat smile as she pulls the empty glass away and asks if Lena wants yet another.
A glance at the gold-plated face of her watch, it’s already nearing 1 a.m., and it’s been a while since Lena stayed out this late. Not since—
“Unfortunately, it’s getting time to call it, I think. I’ll grab the check whenever.” Lena slides her credit card across the bartop.
Kara’s hip cocks out slightly as she pouts, her lips scrunching together. “Ah, okay. Thanks for laughing at my jokes.”
“Are you always this much of a comedian?”
Kara shrugs nonchalantly as she swipes Lena’s card through the strip at the computer. “Nah. You just seemed like you could use a laugh.”
Lena is still blinking, nonplussed, by the time Kara slides her receipt and card across to her with a pen. Her smile is wide, easy and shining, even in the dimness of the crimson-lit bar, even through the somewhat muffled pounds of music.
“It was a pleasure to serve you, Miss…” Kara lets the sentence hang, almost not even a question at all, like it would be up to Lena’s discretion whether or not to offer her name at all, but the ever-slight rising intonation of her sentence makes it clear that she’s willing to hear it.
If Lena is willing to give it.
But she only drops the L-bomb three times tonight, and this isn’t one of them.
“Lena,” is what she settles for.
“It was my pleasure, Lena. I’m Kara. Obviously.”
Lena laughs. “Have a good rest of your night, Kara.”
Lena’s never been very good at words, or expressing gratitude — she doesn’t have the longest list of strengths to begin with, but she does know how to drop a clean-cut signature, so if she tacks on a hundred-dollar tip to the tab before Kara notices, well.
Throwing money is what she knows how to do.
When Lena gets home half an hour later, she’s stumbling on her heels more from exhaustion than anything else. Which, she’s not even sure why, considering she spent her day in a long cocoon of wallowing with her feet kicked up, but — whatever.
She does have enough energy this time around to scrub her face clean of makeup, to brush her teeth, if somewhat lazily, before crashing onto her new silk Armani sheets.
And maybe for the first time in a month, she falls asleep with a smile on her face.