Lena is standing outside a restaurant in the Metropolis financial district, palms sweaty and her heart rate like a hummingbird’s, as Kara tries to talk her down over the phone. This is a terrible idea—not necessarily the getting lunch with her mother part—Lena is in town for once and she does want to see Lillian before she has to fly back—but the part where she’s going to finally come clean about how she and Kara met seems insurmountable. Other than basking in the unrelenting high of Kara’s proposal four days ago, Lena has thought of little else all week but how this conversation is going to go. And now it’s here and she wants to be anywhere else.
Lena slips the diamond band that Kara gave her off of her left ring finger and places it in her purse. Call her a coward, but she needs at least a glass of wine before letting this particular horse out of the barn and Lillian is nothing if not pathologically observant.
“Sam’s right, Lena,” Kara is saying, “Lillian might surprise you.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Lena responds dryly. She really doesn’t mind the story of how they met two years ago, and she’s never had a problem with Kara’s former side gig, but telling Lillian about it is fraught. Lena tugs nervously at the side of her skirt. “I should have gotten here early to have a drink.”
Kara laughs gently. “I know you’re nervous, but I promise you, no matter how this goes, we’ll get through it, ok?”
Lena switches the phone to her other ear, checks her hair in the reflection of the windows next to the restaurant. She closes her eyes for a moment. “You know it’s not the actual story I’m worried about. You know I’m not ashamed in the slightest, right? God, why am I this nervous?”
“Because you finally have a relationship with Lillian and she’s important to you and you don’t want this to change anything.” Kara reels off, like she’s written this down somewhere.
“That was a rhetorical question, Kara,” Lena says, smiling. She knows Kara is nervous, too.
There’s silence for a moment. “Right. I knew that.”
“I love you.” Lena exhales. Just saying that to Kara still brings Lena the most incredible sense of grounding, and the truth of it helps to settle her.
“I love you, too,” Kara says. “You have to go inside now, otherwise she’s going to call you and ask why you’re running late.” Lena can hear Kara shuffling things on the other end of the line. “Call me from the airport? I gotta go chase down a lead for the next few hours, but I should be free before you board. Oh!” Kara adds, suddenly inspired. “Text me right after. Text me how it goes, either way, ok? And then, call me anyway.”
“I will.” Lena doesn’t want to end the call; that will mean having to walk inside. “I love you,” she says again.
“I love you, too, you big sap.” Kara laughs. “You’re stalling. I’m hanging up now for your own good.”
Lena huffs. “Fine, fine. Be safe. I’ll talk to you tonight.”
“You’re going to be ok, text me after, alright? Bye!”
Lena looks at the phone after Kara hangs up. She’s got two more texts from Jack. They’re just as unhelpful as the five she got this morning, but they make her smile anyway. His latest texts suggest that, if Lena chickens out at lunch, he’ll be happy to send Lillian his copy of the article with Kara’s autograph.
She’s pretty sure that he’s joking.
Lena puts the phone in her purse, takes a deep breath, and walks up to the front door. A valet opens it for her. The maître d’ welcomes her and asks, politely, if she has a reservation. When she says she’s meeting Lillian Luthor for lunch, he doesn’t even look down at the book in front of him before leading her through the seating area to a lovely table by the window.
Lillian is already seated.
Asking her mother to pick the place for lunch was part of Lena’s strategy. She knows that her mother has a few favorite restaurants where she keeps regular tables. Having her mother feel as comfortable as possible in their surroundings seemed like a good place to start. There’s the added bonus of knowing that, in a public place that Lillian frequents, she won’t make a scene and, if she doesn’t take it well, the fallout is likely to remain minimal until they leave.
Kara had laughed at first, when Lena had shared her plan, but she’d sobered quickly when she saw how serious Lena was. “What are you worried about, love?” Kara had asked her.
The truth is, it’s been a long two years of slowly building up a rapport that Lena’s never had with Lillian, ever. At each stage, she’s waited for the bottom to drop out, for Lillian to lose patience, to give up, to tell Lena that she isn’t worth Lillian’s time or effort.
But Lillian hasn’t done any of those things. She’s respected Lena’s time and space, listened attentively to Lena’s boundaries, and relinquished all control over the relationship to Lena.
Last summer, Lena even invited Lillian to visit National City. She hadn’t stayed with Lena and Kara (that seemed a bridge too far), but Lillian had spent four days with them, had toured L Tech, taken them out to dinners and the opera. The trip seemed to be a bit of a turning point, and, that fall, when Lillian had tentatively asked if Lena would be alright with occasional phone calls from her, Lena said yes.
They’ve talked at least once a month since, alternating who initiates contact. It’s been nice—more than nice, if Lena is being completely honest.
And Lena might be about to ruin it completely.
Lena already knows that, if Lillian rejects Kara in any way because of this, then she’ll walk away from Lillian. Kara is the person she’ll choose, over anything and anyone.
But that doesn’t mean that potentially losing the mother she’s finally gaining isn’t awful to contemplate.
Lena smiles at the maître d’ when he pulls out her chair and helps to tuck her in. “Sorry I’m late,” she says to Lillian. “Traffic coming up from the convention center was murder.”
Lillian smiles nervously. “That’s alright. I’m happy to see you. I took the liberty of ordering us a bottle of wine, you don’t have any work to do this afternoon, do you?”
“No, the conference ended this morning. My flight isn’t until five so all I’m planning on doing after this is getting to the airport. A bottle of wine is a great idea.” A bottle of wine per person sounds brilliant, actually, but Lena’s not about to say that out loud.
“Excellent. Now, tell me about the conference.”
Their server comes by with the wine as Lena walks Lillian through the Tech for Humanity Conference schedule, including the plenary she gave highlighting the recently deployed mesh network. As their food comes, Lillian asks insightful questions, her genuine interest making Lena forget all about how nervous she’d been.
“So,” Lillian finally says when it’s clear that Lena is finished. “You said on the phone you had some news to share?”
“Yes,” Lena says, but she doesn’t elaborate. Her heart starts to beat irregularly.
Lillian is cutting the beets in her salad in smaller pieces. She glances up at Lena. “Good news?”
“I think so, yes.” Lena’s palms are sweaty again. She adjusts her grip on her fork.
Lillian seems to sense that Lena is nervous about something—she puts her cutlery down, folds her hands into her lap, and gives Lena her undivided attention. Even in the face of Lena’s fidgeting, she doesn’t say anything, just waits patiently.
Lena takes a deep breath. The first part of this will be easy—Lillian genuinely seems to adore Kara, she’ll be happy about the proposal.
“Kara asked me to marry her, and I said yes.” Lena can’t keep the smile off her face when she says that, not even what’s coming is enough to dampen the joy she feels.
“Lena! That’s wonderful news!” Lillian’s entire face lights up. “You should have led with that, oh I’m thrilled for both of you. Do you have a ring? I didn’t see one!”
Lillian’s obvious delight puts Lena momentarily at ease. She sets her fork down and reaches into her purse, pulls out the ring and slips it back on to her left hand. “I didn’t want it to ruin the surprise.”
“Oh that’s just gorgeous,” Lillian says, taking Lena’s hand across the table and tilting it to catch the light.
“Have you thought about the wedding at all?” Lillian asks her softly, still looking at Lena’s hand.
“She just asked me on Friday, we haven’t really had time yet.”
“Of course. Don’t mind me.” Lillian looks up at Lena from admiring the ring and lets her hand go. “If, if there is anything I can do to help. Or if, if you wanted someone to give you away, I would be honored.”
And oh god, Lena does want that. She wants it so badly, but she doesn’t know if Lillian is still going to want to do it after she hears the rest.
Lillian must see something in Lena’s face because she looks down at her lap and shakes her head gently. “It’s fine if you don’t want that.” Lillian clears her throat. “Or if you aren’t ready for it.”
I am ready for it, Lena wants to yell. Instead, she reaches for her wine glass as Lillian does the same.
“Lena, I’m just so very happy for you and Kara.” Lillian looks back at her. “I hoped, from the weekend you introduced her to us, that this would happen. I’m so glad that you didn’t let her go.” She gives Lena a small, but genuine smile, takes a sip of her wine.
“Me, too,” Lena says, clearing her throat. She’s not going to get a better transition point than this. “It’s funny you mention that weekend, actually.”
“Oh?” Lillian tilts her head.
“Do you,” Lena starts, trying to keep her wince internal, “remember the morning of the wedding itself, when you gave me the keys and told me to go after Kara?”
“Of course.” Lillian smiles encouragingly at her.
“You quoted an article, actually, but I don’t think I ever told you that Kara wrote the article you quoted.” Well that’s certainly a sentence.
“That was Kara?” Lillian looks like this is a wonderful surprise and Lena holds her breath. “Well that’s serendipity. How delightful, I mean I knew she was a writer, I never realized she did fiction, too.”
Lillian smiles and shakes her head again, as if to say, well isn’t that the darndest thing. Lena watches as her mother picks up her fork and knife and carefully takes a bite of salad.
Maybe Lena shouldn’t do it. Maybe she should just let Jack execute whatever ridiculous plan he’s thought of during lunch. Maybe—Lena’s thoughts are interrupted by Lillian.
“Although I could have sworn that piece was non-fiction."
Now or never. “Yes. It was.”
Lena can see the moment it hits. Lillian goes slightly stiff. Lillian slowly puts her fork down on the edge of the plate, pulls up her napkin, dabs lightly at her mouth, and then carefully places it back into her lap. “But she’s a journalist.”
Lena starts to feel a little panicked. “Yes, she is.”
Lillian searches her face. “I mean, I know she’s a journalist. I’ve read her work.”
“Yes,” Lena repeats. Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Lillian looks down at her plate and takes a small breath. “Well, good thing I didn’t try to look her up then.” Lillian reaches for her wine again.
“Wait, what?” Lena’s brain stutters to a complete stop.
“God, imagine if I’d called her and it turns out she’s dating my daughter.” Lillian continues, sounding amused, and Lena feels like she might pass out because it sounds like Lillian just said she might have tried to hire Kara.
“I’m sorry!” Lena says, a little louder than she intended to. “I’m stuck on the part where you might have looked her up?”
“Well, if she hadn’t been located across the country, anyway,” Lillian says. “It didn’t seem unappealing, I suppose, having someone for functions and—you know.” Lillian waves her wine glass vaguely.
What the everloving fuck is happening, thinks Lena. Did Lillian just admit to considering hiring an escort for sex? A female escort. For sex. Lena might be the one having a stroke this time. It’s the only explanation.
Lillian puts her glass down and goes back to eating. Lena realizes she’s still holding her own glass, she drains it and sets it down. A waiter is over before she’s even retracted her hand, filling it back up, before melting away.
“So, does she still, er, escort?” Lillian asks as she takes another bite of salad like this isn’t the single most insane conversation she’s ever had.
“Definitely not,” Lena says.
Lillian hums in response. Might as well rip the whole bandaid off, Lena thinks.
“Actually, I was her last client.”
Lillian narrows her eyes, stills with her fork and knife poised above the plate. Lena becomes vaguely aware of the ambient sounds of the lunch service—glasses clinking lightly around them, cutlery on plates, and a variety of low, indistinguishable voices over the pianist in the corner.
Lillian finally speaks, her hands still frozen above the food. “Lena, when did you and Kara meet?”
Lena lets out a strained laugh. “I hired her for Lex’s wedding actually.” Lillian still hasn’t moved, so Lena continues, nearly babbling now. “She, um, she didn’t end up letting me pay her. So. I suppose I’m not really her last client, now that I’m saying it out loud. Don't know why I said it that way.” Lena closes her mouth in the hopes that it will stop her from continuing to talk.
They’re silent for another moment. The pianist starts a new piece, Maurice Ravel from the sounds of it.
Lillian nods to herself finally, finishes cutting the last beet on her plate, uses the knife to smear it with goat cheese. Lena can’t for the life of her figure out what her mother is thinking.
“Well,” Lillian says, raising the bite to her mouth. “That does explain why she’s excellent at parties.”
Lena lets out a breath she didn’t even realize she was holding. Lillian hasn’t had an aneurysm yet. Hasn’t disowned Lena, or Kara. Hasn’t stormed out, or said she doesn’t approve. There’s been remarkably little judgement, actually. Lena takes a moment to wonder if Lillian might actually be ok with all of this.
Lena reaches for her wine again, takes a large mouthful.
“Do you think,” Lillian says without looking up as she goes back for another bite, “that she’d escort me to the Wayne Industries Gala in two weeks?”
Most of Lena’s wine goes down the wrong way, and the rest of it ends up on her plate as she tries to recover.
“You can stop choking, Lena.” Lillian’s fighting a smile now. “That was a joke.”
The rest of lunch goes surprisingly well. It turns out that Lillian has a refreshingly progressive attitude toward sex work and all of her questions about Kara are focused on making sure that Lena feels alright about it—something that’s easy to convey. They part ways with Lena’s promise to call and Lillian’s assurances that she could not be happier for the two of them.
After stopping by the hotel to grab her bags, Lena calls a car service to take her to the airport. She sends Kara a text to let her know that everything is alright. Kara calls immediately and asks for details, so Lena recounts the conversation and she can hear Kara’s sigh of relief.
“I’m so glad it went well, Lena,” Kara finally says. “It sounds like she did surprise you.”
Lena can’t help laughing, the absurdity of Lillian’s reaction still on her mind. “More than you know.” She considers omitting that particular detail, but it’s amusing enough and Kara will find it funny. “She actually asked if you would consider taking her to an event two weekends from now. Apparently, she likes the way you look in white tie almost as much as I do.” Lena rolls her eyes at the thought, even though Kara can’t see her.
“Well I am free that weekend.”
Lena’s response is immediate and completely serious. “Absolutely not.” The words are out of her mouth before she realizes that Kara is joking.
Kara laughs so hard, and so long, that Lena actually pulls the phone away from her ear and considers hanging up. God, the thought of Kara and Lillian teaming up against her about this is insufferable. It fills her with fondness.
Kara’s laughs peter out eventually. “Don’t worry, Lena, one Luthor woman is more than enough for me.”
Lena huffs. “I’m going to take that as the compliment it was intended to be.”
“It was definitely intended that way.” Lena can hear the smile in Kara’s voice. The car pulls up along the airport drive and slows in front of the terminal.
Kara starts laughing again at something. “What?” Lena asks.
“I mean, Lena, just because Lillian is a MILF—” Lena hangs up.
Absolutely insufferable. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.