“I still don’t understand what it is you’re looking for. I think I might actually be losing more of a grasp on it with every other store we go into.”
Gayle squints through the cloudy lens of her pearl-grey aviators. “Did your mother ever tell you to not wear any jewelry too gaudy or it distracts from your face?”
“Um, no. Lillian’s idea of parenting consisted more of, ‘don’t touch the liquor cabinet’ and ‘please never cry anywhere I can hear you.’”
“Well, least she said please.”
Lena hurries after Gayle, up yet another storefront’s polished brick steps, just as two security personnel pull open the heavy-set doors, ornate with intricate bronze furnishings ahead.
“You still haven’t answered my question.”
Stepping inside the DeBeers lobby, heels clicking onto the gold, wool carpet and emerging underneath a tasteful bath of natural sun from the skylight above, Gayle smiles. It’s an immaculate, glittering thing that lines her lips, a smile that puts the crystal ornaments on the walls to shame. It’s endearing how much more glamorous Gayle looks these days, how she thrives in her skin and her smile alone looks like a trademark for class. Maybe it’s just a pose for being in public, or maybe it’s how addicted Gayle is to money and they just happen to have been hitting up the most expensive jewelers in National City.
The truth lies somewhere in a nauseatingly sappy explanation that Lena is by no means going to point out.
She’d tease Gayle about it if she thought that she would show any actual shame. But the last time Kara so much as asked Gayle how the other woman was doing, Gayle was pulling up a private recording on her phone that was absolutely not an appropriate thing to play at a late brunch when both people involved in said video are present at said brunch.
That’s about the first and last time Lena agrees to a double-date.
Gayle pushes her sunglasses over her tawny hair just as a store clerk in a slim suit approaches, holding a tray with two flutes of sparkling wine, a strawberry perched on each rim.
Lena purses her lips. “How many places did you call ahead to say we were coming?”
“All of them.” Gayle flashes a wink as she takes one of the proffered drinks before addressing the clerk. “Ms. Luthor here would like to see your most extravagant neckwear selections. She has this…” Gayle scrunches her nose, lowering her voice. “A blemish she’d like to hide, if you know what I mean.”
“I do not—” Lena hisses, though Gayle is already strolling away into the store, leaving Lena alone with him. She forces a laugh, accepting the glass graciously. “I’m so sorry, she’s— she’s kidding, she just, she does that. Thank you.”
Lena quickly rushes after Gayle yet again to the central display case. “I told you about that rash in confidence. And screw you, I got rid of it. Kara can’t even notice it anymore.”
“You’re still going to need something nice.” Gayle doesn’t look up as she peruses, just gestures to her own upper lip vaguely. “And I can still see it, by the way. Kara’s lying to you.”
“Again, screw you.”
“Sorry, you missed your window for that.”
“What are we doing?” Lena huffs once more. “What are you even looking for? This is the ninth store you’ve dragged me into and you haven’t so much as bought an earring. I thought you said this was important. You do realize I cancelled three meetings to come here with you today?”
“It is important.” Gayle pouts, but it’s for show, plastic and exaggerated. “I needed someone to carry my bags.”
“Cute, but that would require you to actually have any bags to show for the last four hours.”
She has to rush after Gayle again when the blonde lets out an extended groan, tipping her head back as she walks off to the front of the shop. “Is it such a crime to want to be sure about my jeweler first?”
“I know you have a perfectionist streak, but what are you so picky about? You had the damn tour of Harry Winston’s entire backroom collection, and you made Cartier run through over thirty stone grading reports. Gayle, you don’t even like diamonds.”
“If I buy something, will you stop being a cunt and lay off my case?”
“Jesus.” Lena pinches her nose. “How we have gone this long without getting escorted off the property is astonishing. Yes, I’ll stop, and my faith that you haven’t completely set this all up just to waste my time will be restored.”
Another of the clerks lingers behind the consultation desk at the front, waiting expectantly, and Gayle hands off her drink to Lena before addressing him. “Hi. Gayle Marsh. I’m here for Monsieur Aguillard, we spoke on the phone last week.”
He disappears with just a brief pleasantry, and before Lena can so much as think of setting Gayle’s stupid glass down on any of the fine, glass cases around her, the first clerk is at Lena’s side to take it for her. She thanks him, sucking in her short temper, because more likely she was about to throw it back in Gayle’s face. Shortly after, another tall, slender man emerges from a carpeted staircase across the backway and approaches Gayle with a hand outstretched, the other fastening the button of his maroon jacket. Lena falls into step behind them as he leads the way back up the stairs into his office, paying only half her attention to their chatter.
Kara was supposed to be here with them. Gayle had invited them both for a girl’s day shopping. And then, just as soon as Lena had assured Kara that she’s under no obligation to spend her day off parading around Rodeo Drive with Gayle, Kara was already texting her work’s group-chat and asking if anyone needed a shift covered as an excuse to keep busy.
“I was more saying that to be nice, you know,” Lena had said dryly, Kara’s phone already pinging from a bartender who wanted her to cover a morning banquet downtown.
Kara, beside her on Lena’s couch, had smiled and dropped a sweet kiss on the corner of her mouth. “I know. Tell Gayle I say hi.”
It was a quick and simple fall, Kara was all too happy to leave Lena alone with this, and now she’s here, ankles sore from the ridiculous heels Gayle insisted she wear, and already hearing the terrible arguments she’s going to come up with in response to Lillian’s scolding for reorganizing her schedule later.
“Imra likes diamonds.”
Lena looks sharply up to Gayle, sitting beside her on the leather bench. “Seriously? You dragged me around for hours to buy your girlfriend a present?”
“Yeah, I wanted to get her something special.”
“You have three different personal shoppers who are all more than happy to go pick out a pair of overpriced studs.”
“You’re really going to feel like a bitch in a minute, and I can’t wait.”
“What are you talking—”
“I’m not buying her earrings,” Gayle interrupts firmly as the DeBeers assistant manager places a long, velvet-coated canister down on the glass display case. He lifts the lid gently from the sides, slowly like a cinematic reveal, and Gayle turns down to look at the gleaming bed of jewels and bands with a faint smile. “I’m buying her a ring.”
Lena blinks. “I’m sorry, you’re — Gayle, those are engagement rings.”
“Yeah, I got that.”
“You’re looking at engagement rings.”
“Huh, it’s almost like I asked for their custom collection. So weird.”
Lena just flounders in shock at the display before her, at how Gayle leans forward and squints at the various gold and silver bands, inspecting each glittering stone like she’s browsing a magazine.
“Gayle. You’ve been together two months.”
“Four years cumulatively.”
“That isn’t how that works.”
“It does for me.”
“Gayle, are you insane? You two don’t even live together.”
The blonde shrugs, still not looking at her. “So, she’ll move in after the wedding.”
“How traditional of you.”
“You know, I thought you’d get this more than anyone.”
Lena laughs, incredulous. “And where would you get that idea? Impulsivity is clearly not my strong suit.”
Gayle sits up finally, leveling Lena with a flat, rather serious look. “Because I wasted four years without her. I’m not going to take her for granted twice. I know what I want, and I think if I have the chance to show her I’m all in now, then I’m not going to pass that up.”
“Then, why on earth did you drag me all over the boulevard for? What did you even need me here for?” At the firm clench of Gayle’s jaw, and how the muscle twitches as she looks back down at the bed of rings, it sinks in. Lena lets out a light laugh, finally breaking into a smile. “Wow. You’re nervous, aren’t you?”
“Of course I’m fucking nervous.” Gayle’s bite is both strained and lighthearted, like she’s a coil of copper wire wound too tight. “Is it that fucking insane that I wanted my best friend to be with me while I pick out some stupid rock that’s going to make or break my future?”
The first day Lena realized that someone could like her for something other than her name was the day Sam asked Lena to move in with her in their undergrad. The first time Lena realized that blood wasn’t a precondition for family was the day Sam asked Lena to be Ruby’s godmother.
This isn’t like that, it’s not quite the same.
But Gayle, headstrong and bittersweet Gayle — Lena knows how acrid those words must taste on her tongue.
“Don’t,” Gayle says lowly like she can hear Lena’s thoughts. “Don’t get sappy on me now. I don’t have any Imitrex on me.”
It’s probably for the best then that Gayle isn’t looking at her face, because Lena has an incredibly wide smile stretching her cheeks that she is making zero effort to squander.
Still, Lena can hold her cool. “I don’t think the carats in a ring will be her deciding factor, for the record.”
“Trust me, it will. If it isn’t absolutely perfect, she’ll make me do it again.”
They make an oddly perfect pairing, Lena thinks. Albeit in a dysfunctional way. Despite all the uncertainty of years apart, despite every factor weighing towards ripping them apart, despite everyone else’s conviction that they shouldn’t work… they do. Those always make for the best stories, don’t they?
Gayle’s gestures for the manager to move on with the next set. As he makes the switch, she sits up, smoothing a nonexistent wrinkle from the lap of her dress. “So, um. If she says yes—”
“If she says yes,” Gayle repeats impatiently, looking to Lena with warning eyes. “There was something I wanted to ask you.”
“Yes, I will make sure the wedding is the most publicized event California has seen in years.”
“Well, okay, that was a given. I didn’t think I needed to ask that one.”
“Oh, this one’s nice.” Lena sits forwards as another case is laid out in front of them, pointing to a classic cushion-cut with a rose gold band.
“Yeah, I didn’t bring you along to get aesthetic tips. Your taste is terrible.”
Lena rolls her eyes, sitting back with her champagne. “Fine, what was it that you wanted to ask?”
She’s already pieced it together before Gayle’s even worked the question out.
“Will you, Lena Luthor, without being disgustingly gay like you usually are or without making a big deal about it, please be my maid of fucking honor?”
This isn’t the first time Lena learns about loving someone out of blood, out of family. Not at all. If anything, it’s the pink kiss of Gayle’s flushed cheeks and the gleam of her unguarded, faint smile that promises Lena this won’t be the last, either.
Lena always thought that her life was in Metropolis.
She thought she was fighting to build her own cornerstone in National City, that there is something to be built up at all, a place that didn’t exist before. She thought that coming here would mean to leave something behind, the place where she spent most of her adult life and forged the first gasping breaths of L-Corp. It’s not that she thinks of Metropolis so pointedly as home, but she hadn’t thought of National City itself as a place to belong. As an alternative, as a candidate, as an option at all.
More specifically, for so long, Lena didn’t think that belonging was an achievable destination for her at all. Maybe that’s cynical, dreary, alright, she can accept that.
It’s about the people, not the place — that much isn’t hard to understand. No, this city itself has always seemed far too keen to drive her out from its walls, has never wanted her to stay.
But, slowly, like how her and Gayle ridiculously have found a way to fit in each other’s lives like they do, the rest of the very different domains of this new life now all begin to blend seamlessly together. They connect and fall into something new, intertwined like Lena’s lived here for years, like this has always been a ground to rest on. For the first time, the city itself welcomes her, blankets protectively around both the riches she can offer and the fears that bring her to her knees — it welcomes all of her. National City fosters these first breaks of light at a new life she is so inspired and terrified to explore, as if in order to reach the precipice she has always sought to step from, she had to never imagine it could exist.
And then there’s Kara. Of course there’s Kara.
Whether out of greed or shame, Lena has always kept Kara to herself, kept their existence private. It’s not about whether people know about their relationship or not, but Lena has always erected up walls around her pitiful life and begged Kara to not come closer. After what little steps Kara did make it in, Lena would then beg the universe to let her have this alone, in the dark, away from the world.
But, slowly, it stopped being about Lena stepping into the various rooms of Kara’s life and Kara stepping into hers. Soon, it just became their lives together, and there is no explicit divide between them anymore. That’s not to say Lena’s kicked out every semblance of her own independence. Being strong in her own skin was never about clutching what little she had so close to her chest and refusing attachments to anything else in a scramble for security. No, it’s about being anchored and confident in letting free everything she does have, in seeing and letting it all roam together, to leave it all be and appreciate each intricacy that bows in and out of this wavy, turbulent current.
It wasn’t about hiding and running, it’s about how the duality of trust between two people doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of her own resilience.
It’s not so much about how this all ends, nor even how it’s yet to begin. It’s both, it’s neither, it’s as much of one as it is the other. Maybe to end isn’t to start anew, and maybe to begin isn’t to say goodbye.
Kara becoming the new favorite aunt is another thing Lena doesn’t see coming.
“Okay, so, it was just like, Danny boxed out the girl at the elbow to give me room to drive into the paint, but so Mom was like shouting at me to make the shot, and technically Pierre is the shooting guard but they weren’t open, and I’ve been practicing my three-pointers, so I did it, but then Coach Watkins was all mad because that wasn’t the play Ruchi called out, but I made the shot, so then Mom and Coach Watkins started arguing and I guess she called him some bad names because Mom’s not allowed on the sidelines anymore.”
Lena’s fairly certain that the real reason she and Kara are picking Ruby up is that Sam’s busy somewhere doing ungodly things with Alex, but Sam being banned from all away-games is too likely a story to believe anything else.
Lena shoots a wary glance at Kara in the driver’s seat of Sam’s car before looking back over her shoulder.
“I’m sorry, those words all mean nothing to me.”
Kara catches the girl’s eye in the rearview mirror. “Hey, I was following.”
“Y’know I explained this all to Aunt Lena like a million times, and she still says that every time.”
“Fourth-grade basketball can be hard for some people,” Kara defends, squeezing Lena’s hand over the console. “Even for millionaire executive administrators who can cure degenerative diseases in under a month.”
Lena rolls her eyes and turns back to a giggling Ruby. “Alright, how about next weekend I take you to the rec center and you can show me all your cool tricks?”
“They’re not tricks, they’re moves,” Ruby groans like she’s spelling something out for a young child, and Kara snorts. “God, fine, but only if Kara and Alex come too.”
“What, why? You used to love when we hung out just you and me.”
“Yeah, but you’re old now. They actually get what’s going on now.”
Kara’s laughter sings louder as Lena’s jaw hangs open, and Ruby only gives her the haughty look of breaking the cold, hard truth.
“You do realize they’re both older than me?”
“But they don’t act it, so you can hang out with Mom and talk grown-up stuff, and me and Kara and Alex will take care of the real stuff.”
“Yeah, Lena.” Kara shoots her a cocky grin. “Leave the real stuff to the professionals here.”
“I’m breaking up with both of you.”
“Oh, but I’m non-returnable.”
Ruby strains against her seatbelt. “What’s that mean?”
“That Lena’s not allowed to leave me.”
“Oh. Okay, yeah, I’m non-rentable too.”
“No, non-returnable,” Lena corrects.
“Non turn table.”
These are the subtle types of blending lines, when the different areas of Lena’s life naturally blur together and only later does she think back and admire how something like that would once have been so strange.
There’s also the forced kind of awkward mess that Lena is painfully aware she should never have tried to make happen.
Lena rises from the dining table with only the slightest tremor to her hand as she taps a fork against the glass. “Excuse me, if I could have everyone’s attention.”
Alex all but laughs at her, her smug grin startlingly similar to Kara’s. “You do know you could’ve just stood up and we all would look at you anyway, right? This isn’t a banquet.”
Sam sighs, her face tipping forward into her hands tiredly. “An hour, Alex. All I asked for was one hour.”
Alex shrugs and pulls out her phone. “Eh, twenty bucks was worth it. I’m Venmoing it to you now. Anyway.” She pockets away her phone again and turns to Lena with a plastic smile. “Go on, please.”
Lena’s relations with Alex have been rocky, to say the least, but there’s definitely room for a worse rift between them. And, truthfully? Lena finds some comfort in this reliable tension. It’s reassuring that someone loves Kara enough to spend this much energy antagonizing Lena at every turn. Lena respects not only this protective older sister, but the constant push-and-pull to measure up to something. Maybe that bar is unreachable, but it doesn’t intimidate her. It makes Lena want to earn her trust, not by some clever gesture, but by showing over a length of time that she’s committed to this with Kara, that she only wants the best for her, that she’s not afraid to strive and reach for that impossible bar anyway.
No, she’s not afraid of Alex, and Lena’s not even afraid that Alex might be right. Not anymore.
It’s the kind of thing that, when someone tells her she’s going to fail, it only presses her to push harder, and once she looks back, she’ll be equally as grateful for the ones who warned her of failure as she will be for the ones who believed in her.
“Kara said no speeches,” Nia calls out from the far end of the table with a wrinkled pout. “I was really ready to give a speech about Luvers. I had one written up and everything.”
Sam chokes violently on her wine just as Lena asks, “About what?”
“Nothing,” Sam gasps, her breath ragged as Alex pounds her on the back. “Nothing, really, let’s move on.”
Kelly sits forward to catch sight of Nia down the table, intrigued. “I’m actually more interested to hear what she has to say.”
Lucy lifts a hand. “I second that,”
Kara jumps to her feet, her neck taut, her glare adorable . “Everyone just shut up and listen to Lena.” She lays her glower up and down the long table of their friends like a beacon ready to pick out one misplaced comment, but to Lena it looks more like a sweet child struggling to look intimidating, her lips downturned and cheeks pink.
God, does she love her.
When the table hushes quiet, it’s not an absence of sound that washes through them, it’s a silk of silence that laces this moment together like a ribbon around her wrist.
“Thank you.” Lena presses her tongue against the back of her teeth, resisting self-consciousness like fighting off a shiver as she looks down across this odd array of friends, this new home. There’s no reason for her to even feel this way; being a well-versed public speaker is half her job. Though, it’s hard to say that skill strays far beyond L-Corp. She doesn’t have the best track record with more… personal public events and interviews.
“Right, anyway. I just wanted to say that it has been a true pleasure knowing all of you these last two years, and I have the utmost appreciation for each of you.”
Alex squints. “You can’t talk like a normal person for five minutes, can you?”
“You sound like you’re preparing your own eulogy.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine, I’m sending you another twenty now.”
“Moving on.” Lena clears her throat. “You are all a very strange group of people, and I never thought I’d be making a toast with Two-Buck Chuck, much less making one to a room full of actual friends.”
“Weren’t you going to major Hollywood parties like yester—”
Sam clamps her hand aggravatedly down on Alex’s hand, her scowl menacing. “If you say one more word, I swear to god I’m cancelling our Cancún trip.”
Alex is fairly tame after that.
Rather than offset by the constant disruptions, it just bubbles another fresh flower of laughter from Lena, somewhere deep and tender, a sore spot that’s healed into a softer bed. It replicates exactly what she loves about these people. As much as Alex would probably hate it, she considers Lena one of them, an equal. She’s not afraid of Lena either, and Lena can trust that Alex will always confront her with any ill-will between them.
“Case in point.” A thread of chuckles runs through the table, and Lena smiles again. “I promise I’ll make this short, because I know most of you have already had your fill at listening to me go on about being enlightened with my gratitude, so. All I’d like to say is… I don’t know if things happen for a reason, and I’m not so sure that they do. I do know this is not a place I ever would have pictured for myself or even considered it to be something I wanted. I do know I couldn’t have come here on my own, not just in my accomplishments, but in this ridiculous journey of needing to be told time and time again that I’m not in my right mind.”
“You’re usually not,” Sam mutters.
“Since you’re the one interrupting, does that mean I can get my twenty—”
Kara tosses her napkin into Alex’s face and turns back to Lena with a candy smile like nothing happened.
“You got this, sugar.”
A prickle of heat touches the tips of Lena’s ears, and she clears her throat. “Thank you, um… salt.”
Now it’s Alex who snorts her drink, seltzer dribbling down her mouth and chin. She waves an arm around raggedly as she struggles to compose herself, laughter intermixed with harsh, wet coughs, yet she signals for Lena to keep going.
This was all a mess before it began, but maybe that’s why Lena cares for it so viscerally.
“First, thank you all for coming.”
“I didn’t realize we had a say in—”
Alex’s words get cut off by a yelp of pain and loud stomp beneath the table. No one mentions it.
“I know you have a million other things you could be spending your Thursday night doing, so I appreciate you all making the time for this dinner.”
Lucy leans into Kelly’s side, and Lena barely catches her whispered question. “Wait, we’re not celebrating something, are we?”
“I don’t believe in fate,” Lena says quickly, the words hasty and firm, because she had befriended a group of fools, and she knows she can only hold their attention for so long. “And I’m not about to give you some rehearsed speech about how hard we have all worked for what we have, how much I appreciate all of you. No, I think I might run Alex bankrupt if I take it that far.”
Alex rolls her eyes when everyone laughs, but Lena can see the bare hint of a chuckle under her breath. Lena holds her defiant gaze, takes care not to hide her own smile.
“Alex,” she starts, and she gives a breathless laugh. “Oh, Jesus, I used to hate you.” This time, Kara is the one to start choking on her drink, but Lena carries on. “Really, I used to have nightmares about how much I wanted to hate you. You barged into my office and told me everything I wasn’t ready to hear. You were a pain in my ass because I couldn’t get you out of my head for years. Because you were right. Because you weren’t afraid to cross any lines. Because you have always made me work for it, and I can honestly say now that I hope that never changes. So, I just want to say, I genuinely do look forward to the next god-knows-how-many years of hating each other because you are my favorite person to do it with.”
Sam looks back and forth between Alex and Lena, eyebrows twisted with fright. “I think you finally shut Alex up,” she whispers.
Lena continues before that can change. “James, I adore you and your penchant for tight shirts. You’re a sweetheart, and you were one of the first people here to welcome me in. So, thank you for sucking me into this deranged group of idiots. I will forever hold that against you.”
He shrugs. “I can live with that.”
“Yes, my love?”
His mouth crumples as his eyes glisten, and everyone shouts encouragement for Lena to move on before he can get into it, their laughter wet with wine.
“Lucy, I was quite honestly terrified of you when we first met.”
“As you should be.”
“And that changed after about five minutes of knowing you.” At Lucy’s hmph and grumbling that drowns under the noise and chuckles of the room, Lena grins.
“And Kelly…” Lena sighs, her brow twitching into a frown. “You have always had this strange sixth sense of knowing when to show up and when to stop me from spiralling somewhere I shouldn’t go. I don’t entirely understand it, but I’m not going to question it either. Thank you, for being so all-knowing and wise, and also for being the only person in the world that can put Alex in her place.”
“I can put Alex in her place,” Sam mutters with crossed arms.
Alex pats her leg under the table placatingly. “Sorry. You make a good effort, though.”
Lena hurries to the end, can hear the ticking-time bomb of the crowded room. “Nia, absolutely every technique you’ve given me to get Ruby to stop calling me old has failed, but I still have a special place in my heart for your pop-culture lessons.”
Nia gives a firm nods. “Happy to be of service.”
“And Brainy.” On being addressed, he looks up from a point on the wall he’d been staring at, and blinks at her. “Please, as soon as you get tired of working for Maxwell Lord, do let me know and I will poach you the second you give the signal.”
“Okay. Do I take a drink now?”
Nia shushes him excitedly. “No, there’s one more.”
Another thread of light laughter ripples through as Lena finally turns to Kara with a blushing face, who in turn is already shaking her head. “We don’t need to do this,” the blonde offers sheepishly.
Everyone voices their varying ways of saying that yes, she does, before Lena can get the chance. Lena only raises her eyebrows at how Kara’s skin is already flushing darker. So quick and sly to celebrate others, and always a child to be on the receiving end.
“Kara,” she says slowly, unable to keep her amusement from her low tone. “Your morning breath is awful. You’re a terrible influence and continue to keep stocking my pantry with cotton candy no matter how many times I tell you that my dentist has already noticed. You always tell me the same story at least three times, and it always upsets you when I point that out. You’re oblivious, a smart-ass, and there is no one in the world who can make me mad like you do.”
Kara snorts, and waves reassuringly to the table. “Don’t worry, Lena always has the best ‘but,’ it’s coming.”
“No, that was it.”
“That’s all, there’s no but.”
“What do you—”
“The but is that I love you, idiot.” Lena laughs breathlessly. “And I don’t care that being with you is taking years off my life. You’re worth the early grave.”
“Do we drink now?” Brainy whispers to Nia, and she tilts her head confusedly.
“Not really sure yet. She might be done. Maybe. Hold on.”
But Kara is grinning at Lena like she can’t quite stand her either, like she has just as long of a list of Lena’s irritating habits and pet peeves, like they both were born to infuriate each other. That’s the key, their secret. There’s no one in the world that can drive Lena so out of her mind like Kara can, and there’s no one that she’d trust more to pull her back down.
Lena draws another steadying breath, holding out her wine by the swell of the cup, and her smile feels like it’s glazed over with stained glass.
Still, suspended, tranquil in this final light.
“So, cheers to that.” A tremor like a breeze in her voice, Lena pushes past the thick mound in her throat. “Cheers to all of you, to all we have now, and to everything yet to come.”
They humor her soft-hearted moment of self indulgence, and the rattle of glasses tapping together rings around the room like a closing ballad. A knot loosens in Lena’s shoulder as she pulls a hefty gulp of the cheap wine, a relieved giggle on her merlot lips.
Under the table, Kara’s foot brushes against Lena’s ankle, just a gentle touch. It could be mindless, maybe even an accident, but it thrums warmly under her skin. For once, Lena stops wondering if all of this is only a dream, because maybe happiness isn’t just a fantasy anymore.
There’s one night after work when she ends at Kara’s apartment, having been too long since they last spent an evening together, long enough that Lena’s not sure she could count the days on both hands.
Lena sludges through the front door exhaustedly, led only by the blind smell from the delicious aroma of whatever sinful thing Kara has simmering on the stovetop, something rich with tomatoes and spices, leading Lena to collapse back against the door.
“God, that smells incredible.” Lena bends down to unclip her heels, stretching a sore kink in her back, and mustering up her best pleading smile. “I’m going to take a quick shower, but — pour me a drink first?”
Kara meets her halfway, as she’s prone to do, and procures a familiar amber cocktail from behind her back with a smile. “Already did.”
Lena glances down at the glass, the deep red liquid and the slivered orange peel half-submerged in its surface. She looks back up with a raised eyebrow.
“You’re making me dinner and my favorite drink. Is this a special occasion?”
“Is being with you not special enough?”
Lena presses her lips firmly together to quell the stupid smile that wants to break, her chest flooding with dandelion warmth.
She huffs a laugh even as her cheeks burn, taking the drink from Kara. “You think you’re slick, don’t you?”
“Maybe, but it works for you.”
“Oh, does it now? I don’t know where you would ever have gotten that idea.”
Kara brushes an errant stray of Lena’s hair from her face, her touch breathtakingly gentle, her expression calm and serene. “Yeah,” she says quietly, now only the drink in Lena’s hands separating them, Kara’s breath light like a riesling. “I’d like to think it does.”
Lena swallows, her resolve breaks. “It— um, it does. Yes. Your stupidity does wonders for your charm.”
Kara gives a beaming smile before pressing a kiss to her mouth, one that leaves Lena pitching forward in its chaste wake. The exhaustion from just a few moments ago is a long-forgotten memory, her heart thudding in her chest with life and timid schoolgirl excitement.
“Go shower.” Kara brushes a thumb across her cheek before she steps away. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah, of co—” Kara turns around from the table she’s setting, laying down two sets of cutlery, a cute peak to her eyebrows. Her eyes immediately widen to marbles when they drop down to the bare towel that hugs Lena’s naked body, to the wet hair plastered down over her neck and back.
“Uh.” Kara’s mouth twitches like she’s trying to say too many things at once. “Maybe.”
Lena gives her another second, sets the empty glass of her drink on the kitchen counter.
“Yes, sorry, yeah, duh, obviously.”
“Why did you tell me you haven’t been with anyone?” When Kara continues to stare at her with puzzled uncertainty, Lena elaborates. “A few weeks ago, I forget when. You told me that you haven’t been with anyone since me, and I said… well. Why did you say it?”
Kara’s gaze is still raking across Lena’s bare shoulders and legs, looking both terrified and mesmerized. “You want to talk about this… now?”
Lena glances down to herself and rolls her eyes. “Okay, sorry, this actually wasn’t intentional. I’ll go change.”
Kara lets out a squeak that sounds an awful lot like she wants to stop her, but ultimately says nothing as Lena drifts back to the bedroom to dry off.
When she returns minutes later, now in a pair of running shorts and one of Kara’s old camp t-shirts, she finds Kara bouncing her leg at the dining table, hands clasped and staring at nothing. As soon as Lena comes into sight, she jumps back to her feet, her eyes electric with nervous anticipation.
“You don’t have to look at me like this is a job interview, you know,” Lena says dryly as she pads across the cool floors. “I’m the same person you asked to pop a pimple on your back the other day.”
Kara frowns cutely. “But you wouldn’t even do it, I had to ask Alex.”
“Still. Principle of the thing.”
Lena pulls up a chair beside Kara at the table, pulling at her wrist. It’s less of a command, more just seeking her skin. “Is dinner ready?” Lena strokes her fingers across Kara’s palm, watching her carefully.
She nods. “Yeah, but it can wait.”
Lena slowly works her lip between her teeth, giving her own nod in response. She’s not nervous for this conversation — well, not a bad nervous, and she suspects that Kara isn’t either. Not the kind of frail, delicate kind of nervous that teeters on a fragile edge.
Of course Lena’s been thinking about it, of course she hasn’t stopped. It wasn’t like a switch, but when Lena stepped out of the shower, she just found that she’s tired of second-guessing.
“When I didn’t say—”
“I didn’t mean it like how it sounded,” Kara interrupts, then cringes. “Sorry, you go ahead.” But Lena encourages her on, squeezes her hand. “Right, um. I wasn’t trying to ask you who you’ve been with, or something. It’s not really any of my business.”
“It can be.”
Kara looks at her with such a soft smile, now making Lena feel like she’s now the one waiting for an interview. “I know, but not like that. I wasn’t asking you for that.”
“What were you asking, then?”
“Nothing.” Kara taps her thumb against Lena’s with a light laugh. “I really just… wanted to tell you, I guess. I’m sorry it made you uncomfortable.”
Lena nods, still biting her lip. She slides a little closer. “You can tell me if I’m completely out of bounds on this one—”
“Ruby would appreciate that reference.”
She ignores her. “—but, I was thinking about it, and I suppose I just worried that you feel as if you owe me something. That you not being with anyone somehow proves to me that your feelings were real, or something.” Lena refrains from blinking away, forces herself to hold Kara’s eye. “I wasn’t uncomfortable because you told me, I was just afraid it wasn’t for the right reason.”
“I just want to say that you don’t have to keep finding ways to make up for the last two years. Not like that. Even if you had been with someone new every month we were apart, it doesn’t change anything about us, here, now.”
Kara’s pale eyes flicker across Lena’s face, and she smiles. “You don’t have to either.”
“I don’t… what?”
“I mean we don’t have to rush into this. I’m not sitting around counting the days until we can sleep together. It doesn’t need to be this final test of solidifying our relationship, or something, and you don’t need to push yourself to be ready for something because you think it should come sooner.”
“I want it to come sooner,” Lena mutters, though a trickle of heat flushes her neck all the same.
Kara laughs, shaking her head as she laces their fingers together. “We don’t need to force it, is all. It’ll come, sure, when it comes. You don’t have to think so hard about how this is supposed to go because whatever way it does happen, it’ll always be how it was meant to be. That’s all.”
It’s still so unnerving how fluidly Kara reads her, how she sees into a raw, twitching depth of Lena’s anxieties and pinpoints them better than Lena can.
When Lena dips her chin, Kara chases her gaze again. “We can talk about it, if you want to. But you don’t owe me anything, either.”
Lena’s not sure how this all turned around to be about her, and a twitch throbs behind her eyes unexpectedly. It’s not really until now that Lena realizes this is something to be spoken about at all, something that won’t go away on its own. Her bottom lip trembles, and she inhales sharply as a way of relaxing this sudden unease.
“I haven’t been with anyone either,” Lena says quietly. “Not completely, but not for a lack of trying. I didn’t think it was really some big thing. I just thought I wasn’t over you. Which I wasn’t, but… I don’t know. I started overthinking it too much every time, and it never went that far before I would panic and run. I get too in my head about it. I don’t know why. It’s not because I don’t want you, that I don’t want this. I want it more than anything, but it just… scares me sometimes.”
She quite literally feels like a child, but both of Kara’s hands frame her now, one on the side of each of Lena’s legs, and she runs them soothingly along the skin there, just an innocent, caring touch that keeps Lena’s mind from disappearing somewhere elusive.
Kara nods in understanding, her smile as easy and open as it’s been this last year. “We can figure it out together, if that’s what you want. Or if you want to talk to someone else, that’s okay too. But waiting is okay, and you’ll have to work hell of a lot harder than that for me to ever think you aren’t worth the wait.”
Lena rubs her nose, and despite the grave weight of this conversation, she laughs wetly. “Do you know how much I hate that you always know what to say? It’s really terribly annoying.”
“C’mere.” Kara urges her into an embrace, arms wrapping securely around her shoulders. It’s a bit awkward, leaning over their knees while sitting still in their chairs, but the comfort it brings is eruptive and unmatched. She sinks into Kara, clinging to her warm skin, pressing her nose into her solid neck, and Kara presses a kiss to the crown of her hair.
Not much time passes before sniffles, and she mumbles into Kara’s shoulder, “I don’t hate you.”
Kara’s throat rumbles with her laugh, and she pats her gently. “I know. You couldn’t if you tried.”
“Alright, so.” Lena drops down at a bar seat across from Kara, clasping her hands together. “I’ve been thinking.”
This is another one of those moments where Lena tries to strategically sew together the various colors of the universe, but this time, she’s still hoping for some kind of mosaic to result from it.
Kara, clad in her traditional white button-up and skinny black tie, trails her eye slowly around the bar confusedly. “How’d you get in here?”
“You’re working a conference for entrepreneurs on small businesses. It wasn’t too hard to be let in.”
Kara’s laugh is crisp and unweighted as she wipes her hands off with a rag. “Have I mentioned how much I love when you flaunt your name around to get what you want?”
“I could stand to hear it a bit more. That’s a turn-on for you, then? My name?”
An amused smile on her lips, Kara leans her elbows on the bar. “More along the lines of finding it adorable that you’re so stubborn to get what you want, but we can talk about that part of it too.”
“Whatever, alright. Can you get me a drink for this, at least?”
Kara’s already reaching down for a bottle. “Yes, ma’am. Tell me all your woes, it’s what I’m here for.”
By the time Kara’s slides a scotch across the bar to her, Lena’s worked and re-worked over several times the right wording for what she says next.
“So… Nia works for The Paragon Tribune, right?”
“Oh, we’re doing this again.” There’s no bitterness or resentment to Kara’s tone, just an amused lilt like she’s humoring Lena about something far more mundane than career prospects. “Yeah, she does.”
“And who runs it?”
The corner of Kara’s mouth lifts into a slow smirk, her eyes narrow. “Are you doing that thing where you pretend you don’t know something so your intentions seem more innocent?”
“Excuse me, I would never.”
“Uh-huh. But, yeah, sure, Iris West.”
“Ha.” Kara swipes Lena’s drink back with a grin. “You did know.”
“Fuck off.” She wiggles slightly out of her seat to reach for her scotch back. “Okay, yes, I already knew that.”
“But it’s just because I don’t want to seem overbearing.” Lena settles with more delicacy to her tone, but no less determination. She’d like to think they’ve grown past the tip-toeing dialogues, the uncertain fear of saying the wrong thing so paralyzing it splinters apart altogether.
Maybe she still is learning the ropes at this communication game, though.
“And the last thing I want is to make you think you’re not enough because of whatever your resumé says.”
“I’m getting a little déjà vu right now, I think.”
Lena drops a sharp slap to Kara’s forearm. “Quit it.”
Kara backs away laughing, hands held up loosely. “Okay, I’m sorry, go ahead. Just say what’s on your mind, and we can pick apart any complications after. Have a little faith in me.”
“Right.” Lena steals a sip from her drink, but for the most part, her voice holds steady. “A few months ago, when we first started… you know, um—”
“Seeing each other?”
“You’re really cute when you’re nervous.”
“Please stop that.”
If Lena gets a quick, fleeting thrill each time Kara uses that title from behind the bar, something that would be aggravating from anyone else but from Kara it just leaves her throat dry and longing, well. That’s something to think about later.
“So, yes, then. Nia told me she had started working for the Tribune, and the projects she’d been working on. And it’s run by Iris.”
“Mm, yeah, I actually met her husband a couple times at a few conferences last year. But.. what does this have to do with me?”
“Do you remember when you first told me what kind of journalist you always wanted to be?”
Kara pauses, a slight waver to her humor. Lena remembers it like a dream — one of the first times seeing Kara after visiting Lex, her head in Kara’s lap, a marathon of paranoia smoldering in her mind — it felt like the first time Lena was seeing something genuine in Kara. No bullshit, not a scheme, just a woman talking in a quiet tone under the city twilight about her dreams for the world.
Kara nods. “Yeah, um. I said I wanted to go into scientific journalism.”
“No, you said you did that for your parents. I mean after that. You said you learned there was more to what you wanted.”
The orange fluorescence of the venue casts half of Kara’s face in shadow, emphasizes the bob of her throat as she swallows. “Sounds like we’ve both paid more attention to each other than we realized.”
“Civics. You said you wanted to go into civic journalism.”
“Yes, I said that. That was me. Yeah. Um, why do you ask?”
“What department has Nia been writing for?”
“I have a feeling you know where I’m going with this.”
A gentle sigh falls from Kara’s mouth, and though she’s far from defensive, a tired understanding has crossed her features, and she runs a hand back through the hair that’s fallen from its tie. “Yeah, I do. I really do, but you’re forgetting about the city-wide boycott Andrea put on my head.”
Lena licks her lips, working the words like a tough bite of food around her tongue. “What if… I took care of Andrea and you were free to talk to Iris? I know there are things you need to do on your own, so I wouldn’t talk to anyone unless you asked. Not that you’d need me to, I know based on how successful your work has been that she’d meet with you in a heartbeat, and not because of who it was about, but of who you are. And I would never do anything without your—”
“I want to write a book.”
Lena’s carefully planned pitch melts right from her mouth, disintegrating like it never had any direction to begin with. “You… what?”
“Not that I have any doubt you’d manage to do whatever, with Andrea — actually, uh, when you say take care of, you don’t mean like…?”
“Are you trying to ask me if I was planning to kill her?”
“What? Of course not,” Kara laughs, standing up straight and rolling her shoulders back. “No, um, but so — thank you, for everything you’re doing and trying to do, but I’ve realized it’s just not what I want anymore. Not right now. And it’s not because I don’t think I can, but I want to do some exploring, I think. Do some research on my own about what’s going on in the world, and not work through the lens of someone looking to make money off the front page.”
Even if this means the hours she spent reading online and finding old connections in news publications have now all gone to waste, Lena can’t tamper down the slow bloom of excitement climbing within her. “So, a book.”
Lena’s itching to ask what about, to ask what genre, to ask if it’ll even be nonfiction or autobiographical or not, but before the syntax can form, it too bleeds away. It doesn’t matter, not like this.
“Then, well. A book it is.”
It never mattered.
Lena doesn’t push beyond, and though Kara doesn’t offer much else on the matter, the air is still light and animated between them. Lena will always be reminded of the first night they met when they interact like this — Kara behind division, cocktail shaker in hand, and Lena dangling her feet from the sticky leather of a barstool. She’ll always remember Kara’s nervous smiles and stammered jokes, how elated she always became the second Lena always came in. For so long, this haunted her. For so long, until even recently, those first days were still tainted with a bitter layer of grit. They still felt tarnished, disingenuous, fake.
They’re not. They happened.. She can appreciate how they’re no longer there anymore just as much as she can cherish it’s how this all started.
So, maybe Lena is a little nostalgic for how she stays a little longer. Not too late, just another couple drinks, long enough to admire Kara’s decade-practiced grace behind the bar and her easy charm with other guests. She expected their conversation to last on into the night anyway, had basically prepared footnotes and rebuttals for working through this with Kara, but all talk of work is left behind.
She can revel in this rich simplicity, bask in the moment, savor this old dynamic. Just a little more.
“Please tell me what we’re doing here.'
“I can’t. Sorry.”
“But we tell each other everything.”
“Not everything. You still haven’t told me what the hell your secret ingredient is in those enchiladas.”
“If I tell you, can I be let in on the secret?”
“No, but you can tell me anyway if you’d like.”
Kara’s head thumps back against the plaster of the gazebo’s pillar with a groan, a half-drunk pint of beer sloshing dangerously close to its rim in her hand. “Lena, Gayle’s planning something, and the fact that you not only trust her, but you’re on board with it? I’m terrified.”
Lena gives Kara’s forearm a half-hearted squeeze. “I think you’ll survive.”
“Why won’t you tell me?”
“Because you are awful with keeping secrets.”
“Hey, I was pretty good at keeping them from you.”
Where this once would have been a slap to the face, Lena just snorts on instinct. “Yes, but I’m pretty sure that’s more a comment on how lovesick I was rather than any tribute to any sort of stealth. You really did slip up so many times, all the signs were there. I mean, you should have seen your face in those first few days we met, you had guilt written all over you. You couldn’t lie to save your life. You’re lucky I just assumed you were bad at flirting.”
The realization that this is something they can laugh about now, it threads slowly into Lena’s awareness, pulses just under the surface. It’s just a halfway grasp, Lena only thinks of it at the back of her mind, but it makes her smile to herself all the same.
It’s not something forgotten, no. And just like that isn’t something to be dwelled on anymore, they don’t need to dismiss it either.
“Hm, you’ve got a point. I am great at flirting, so that wouldn’t really add up. Fine, I can’t keep secrets, but you know what? I’m really glad you see how charming I can be now.”
“Stop being an idiot. We’re in public.”
“What are we doing all the way out here, anyway?” Kara glances around them, squinting out into the bright field. “Isn’t this where they host music festivals?”
Lena shrugs. “Gayle rented it out.”
“This venue is like, five acres.”
“You’re close, actually. Four.”
Gayle’s setup doesn’t use even half the expanse of fields, but the party isn’t any less grandiose because of it. There’s an extravagant array of tall tents and white summerhouses, with a gold-rimmed circular bar in the center. Lena’s pretty certain she saw an ice-sculpture of Gayle and Imra somewhere, but there’s too many unrecognizable people around for her to pick out where. If Lena didn’t already know what Gayle was up to, she’d imagine this was already a wedding reception for how crowded and thoroughly furnished this party is. Caterers from the company Kara works for roam with hors d’oeuvres of whiskey-infused cheeses and cuts, fresh oysters brought in from the bay, and rum-glazed prawns over small chips of ceviche. Even the skinny flutes of sparkling wine that they carry around is made from the most unnecessarily expensive variety of Macabeo grapes of northeastern Spain. Even the turnout of guests are all dressed elegant and light under the silky spring sun. The only real thing missing is the actual entertainment itself.
And, well. Gayle and Imra are also missing, but. Soon.
“Lena, I’m really not a fan of surprises.”
“Good thing the surprise isn’t for you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
After another caterer comes in to offer a replacement for Kara’s drink, she accepts with a smile but pushes off from the pillar wall as soon as he’s gone, her tight Oxford shirt twisting around her elbows.
“Maybe I should go help out. This is weird, having my friends all working and waiting on me. They probably could use an extra—”
Lena drops a hand on her arm again. “Your boss gave you the day off, and you know Gayle has a habit of overcompensating. I’m sure they’re all fine.”
Kara crosses her arms, but she drops the barrage of antsy questions for now, and they continue to lounge in the empty gazebo, just enjoying the warm breeze and the shade. Though they’re tucked away in the back of the venue, further from the open end of the field where Gayle will be presenting her moment, it’s nicer to relax like this. Lena’s not entirely sure who most of the guests Gayle’s invited even are — a strange assortment of National City’s elite and B-list actors that Lena hadn’t believed Gayle when she said she often spent weekends away with them. There are plenty of Imra’s friends too, mostly from Spheerical Industries. Lena already spent enough time browsing through the group to say hello, talk with Jack, and leave the talk of work somewhere behind just for the day.
It’s light, a day like this. Simple in every way that it’s all so very Gayle. A day like this used to be something Lena dreaded and hated, and now it doesn’t even faze her. It’s not the sort of thing she wants to do every day, but Lena’s slowly learning to not seek out every grim and lousy fault in everything.
The sunlight frames Kara like a firelit glow as she leans back against the white edge railing, and though her foot still taps in anticipation, Lena thinks that maybe she too is growing into her own skin of peace. It doesn’t look like Lena’s, and Lena doesn’t need to be as familiar with it as Kara is, but it’s there. Something is there.
Not too much time later, Kara nearly finishes her second beer and Lena’s glass is emptied when a round bubble of red emerges from behind the faraway line of trees.
At Lena’s grin, Kara spins around and struggles to see under the glare of the sun, holding a hand up to get a better view. “Is that—”
“A hot air balloon?” Lena shakes her head fondly. “Yes.”
“Is this Gayle’s way of making an entrance? She’s over an hour late to her own party.”
A different light aircraft, a single-seater plane soaring even higher above the balloons, loops from over the trees behind them, coming from the opposite direction of the balloon. It slowly begins to emit a thick trail of ivory smoke from its tail, the curves and dips precise as it slowly paints a message across the sky.
“What does that say?” Kara’s brow scrunches as she squints to read it. “Dammit, I miss my glasses.”
“Gayle and Imra are on that balloon. What do you think it says?”
“How would I know?”
“You spent years of your life studying journalism, I really thought you’d have better deductive reasoning than this.”
“I don’t like your tone.”
“Kara, she’s proposing.”
“Darling, I’m worried about you.”
Kara just continues to vary between blinking owlishly at Lena and screwing up her eyes towards the sky, until, finally:
“Oh. Oh my god, oh, okay, wow. Okay, got it, I just thought—” Kara shakes her head, rolling her shoulders back stiltedly. “Okay, awesome. This is great.”
Lena raises an eyebrow. “You thought what?”
Kara’s bottom lip twitches down in the way it does when she’s nervous, and her laugh implies the same. “I just, I thought— I dunno. I thought you were going to do something.”
“Me?” Lena asks incredulously, a similar high-pitched tick to her voice. “What would I be doing? I’ve been standing with you this entire time.”
“I don’t know! Maybe Gayle was going to bring something.”
“I don’t know, a car? A house? I don’t know what you’d do. You bought me this eight-hundred dollar tie last week and burned the receipt, you’re capable of anything.”
“Kara. Why would Gayle host a party just for me to give you a car? How on earth would you bring a house somewhere?”
“Okay, I thought you were going to ask me something.”
The tug of realization that dawns makes Lena’s skin prickle. “Ask you what?”
“Like— for us to move in together, go skydiving, co-adopt Pork Belly or just — something. How would I know?”
“Move in together.”
“Yeah, okay, I know it’s dumb, I’m dumb, you’ve just been so sneaky with Gayle lately and not letting me come over, so I just thought—”
“I was just helping her plan this—”
“—that maybe you were the suspicious one but really it was pretty dumb for me to not immediatley know Gayle—”
“It’s not dumb,” Lena rushes, firmly cutting Kara off. She licks her lips, thirsty again for a stiff drink. “I-It’s definitely a conversation I want to have. With you.”
“Oh, good, I was worried you meant with Alex.”
“You so haven’t earned the right to be a brat right now.”
“Right, sorry, I know that’s your job.”
“I’ll pretend you didn’t say that for your sake.” Lena takes a stabling breath, working her thoughts again like wringing out a thick towel. “But, for the record, we can talk about it. Just… maybe later, if that’s alright?”
The nerves finally ebbing away, Kara chuckles off her restlessness and this ridiculous conversation. “Yeah, yeah, that’s more than alright.” She steps forward to press a slow, wanting kiss to Lena’s mouth, her lips warm and still lingering with the tingling taste of beer. A simple kiss like that, Lena still gets lost finding her way back to the ground when Kara pulls away.
The blonde’s gaze turns to focus on the laughing couple picking their way out of the hot air balloon before the throng of the clapping crowd.
“They are pretty sweet together. I don’t know why I didn’t get it sooner.”
Lena follows her line of sight, and though Imra looks ten types of mortified irritation with Gayle’s flamboyant display, she looks equally smitten and adoring of the woman whose arms she’s in.
Lena glances back to Kara, to her sweet-cream smile and the cool gloss of her eyes.
“I hope you’re not getting any ideas.”
“‘Course not,” Kara laughs as she claps along. “I’ll have the common sense to do it in private, don’t worry.”
At the certainty in her tone, that firm future tense, Lena sharply catches Kara’s eye again, but Kara just continues to smile like the light through an early morning rainshower: raw dew, gentle crystal, an old beginning.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Sure, but what does that make you, though? For someone who’s gonna say yes to this idiot?”
“Oh my god.” Lena closes her eyes as her neck burns like charcoal, and she slaps Kara on her side. “Please stop.”=
“What? Can’t I talk about how pretty you’ll look on our wedding day?”
“No — you — can — not,” Lena hisses, accentuating each word with a bratty slap, each of which Kara takes in laughing stride as Lena’s face only chars hotter.
Kara wraps an around Lena’s waist from behind when Lena finally stops, pressing a kiss to her temple close to her ear. “I told you I’m good at flirting.”
Lena resists the urge to elbow her. “And I told you I’m breaking up with you.”
“You’ve been saying that for two months.”
“And I will keep saying it until—”
Lena spins in her arm, a harsh finger jabbing to Kara’s collarbone. “Say that word again and we’re never moving in together.”
“Okay, okay.” Kara rolls her eyes affectionately, urging Lena to relax back against her, and she does after a pointed glare.
And Kara ruins the moment again, of course. She wouldn’t know how to do anything else.
“I’ll save the P-word for after we move in together, then?”
Lena elbows her in the ribs.
“Not that I’m telling you to hurry up or anything,” Kara calls from the living room, her voice slipping between the crack of the partially open bedroom door, “but I would like to encourage you to check out the time. Just, when you feel like getting around to it. If you get bored or anything.”
Lena’s hair still hangs unruly along her shoulders, barely tamed curls and curves, and the straightening iron on the vanity desk has long since given a soft ping to indicate it’s ready.
She makes no move for it though, instead sitting glued to the duvet at the foot of the bed. A tattered sheet of paper rests still in her hands, hardly there at all, an envelope discarded at her side.
“Okay, I might be telling you to hurry up.”
Open if you forgive me.
Is it terrible of her that she’d forgotten all about this?
The letter had found its way into the pocket of the same light jacket she wore all those months ago, one she apparently hadn’t dug out again until now. When the weather was addictive and light, a second warm skin, and this has always been her favorite thing to wear this time of year.
Lena sits still at the foot of her bed, letter in hand, unmoving.
“I know you think I’m Ruby’s favorite and all — which, okay, there could definitely be some substance to that — but she still always blames me when we’re late.”
Lena brushes her finger along the shadowy imprint of words through the folded page, the indents of a passage she’s yet to read. “You can tell her it’s my fault,” she calls back with just as much cool ease to her tone, though her eyes never leave the letter.
Kara’s disbelieving laugh dances along the hallway, sings into the room. “She knows. Pretty sure that’s exactly why she blames me, says I should be keeping you on a tighter leash.”
Lena smiles, the stream of daylight fanning across the room, catching the timeworn page in a warm glow.
There are no demons here, not a tally to keep.
“Alright, relax, I’m coming,” she finally shouts back with a laugh, flipping the switch for the iron off and scooping her purse from the chair. She’ll just leave her hair as is.
Kara’s slumped against the front door in an exaggerated flare of exasperation, groaning like she’s on the brink of death. Lena slaps her arm and scolds her all the way out the door, their bickering continuing for long after they’ve stepped onto the elevator, and together, they leave.
Behind, dropped in the recycling bin and still catching one last sliver of the golden afternoon light, the letter stays.