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Bizarre Love Triangle

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Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You're going to reap just what you sow

“Perfect Day” - Lou Reed

 

 

“I’m an idiot,” Lena says.

“Yes,” Andrea promptly agrees. “Wait, what are we talking about?”

They’re sitting in Sam’s living room, each nursing a glass of wine while Sam’s in Ruby’s room, helping the ten-year-old with her homework.

Lena simply says, “Kara.”

And Andrea understands right away. “Ah.”

Lena knows that it’s childish and irrational, but she’s peeved Andrea needs no elaboration. “You knew that I might have feelings for her?”

Wide-eyed, Andrea looks at her like she’s lost her mind. “Uh, yeah. We tried to tell you, remember? On this very couch, actually. And what do you mean might? How are you still not sure?”

“I- I don’t know. It’s very confusing.”

“It’s really not.”

Faced with Andrea’s nonchalance, Lena relents. “All right, I have feelings for her. But I don’t know how far it goes or what I want to do about it.”

For a brief moment, Andrea struggles with the impulse to smack her dear friend. But she controls herself. Slowly, as if speaking to a child, she says, “You could just tell her.”

“Is that the right thing to do?” Lena looks dubious at the prospect. “We have an arrangement. She has a boyfriend that she’s planning to spend the rest of her life with. How do I, in good conscience, put this on her when I don’t even know what I want?”

“You don’t want a real relationship with her?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t even know if I know what that is. Apparently a relationship without drama and screaming matches is just what normal people would call a healthy relationship?”

This, to Andrea, is not only shocking to hear, but also deeply unsettling. Incredulous, she asks, “Did you not know that?” But then something clicks. “Actually, that explains a lot.”

Lena emits a soft groan, sagging her head back against the couch, closing her eyes. “I’m a bit messed up.”

Andrea snorts derisively. “Yeah, I’ll say.”

Staring blankly up at the ceiling, Lena ruminates aloud. “So how do I ask Kara to leave her childhood sweetheart for someone who’s never been in a healthy relationship or even recognizes what it looks like? Why would she even want that?”

“Maybe she loves you? Have you thought about that, idiot?” When Lena casts a glare her way, Andrea shrugs carelessly. “I’m just using your own words.”

“Well, I can’t ask her to uproot her whole life plans without figuring out what I want first.”

“But don’t you two have some rule about this? Something about telling the other person if you’re starting to feel something?”

In fact, it had been Lena’s rule. One that she was adamant that Kara adheres to. The hypocrisy of this doesn’t escape Lena. Not that it changes the outcome.

“We do, but I’m certainly not going to say anything while she’s injured and living with me. She’s vulnerable right now and I’m not going to take advantage of that.”

The way that Andrea looks at her can only be described as pitying. Lena doesn’t like it one bit. But knows that she deserves it.

“There’s a fine line between being noble and being stupid,” Andrea says. “Although, for you, that line seems to be non-existent.”

“Thanks for the support,” Lena mutters.

“I’ll be supportive when you stop being an idiot.”

Sam saunters back into the room and takes her place between the two women. It doesn’t take her long to notice Lena’s bratty glare in Andrea’s direction.

Nervously, she looks between her two friends, wondering who said something wrong this time.

“All right,” she says wearily. “What did I miss?”

***

For her birthday, Andrea rents out an entire floating oyster bar on a wooden mid-century fishing schooner docked on the Hudson River. With the sun setting over the Manhattan skyline, the guests down expensive cocktails and snack on dainty canapés. The crowd is congregated by the bar in the middle of the ship, but Kara is parked at the bow of the ship, at a long table designated as the best seat in the venue. Lena had arranged it, making an impassioned argument to Andrea that she should share the VIP spot because Kara needed a safe resting spot, since she was injured and defenseless and shouldn’t be jostled by the masses. (YES FINE WHATEVER, Andrea sends back. NOW STOP TEXTING ME AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE BOARD MEETING.)

Kara squeezes fresh lemon over an oyster and downs it in one slurp, sighing in satisfaction. “Oyster in the street, monster between the sheets.” She flashes Lena a wide, impish grin. “Are we testing the ‘oysters as aphrodisiac’ theory tonight?”

“Well, you can’t run an experiment if the hypothesized result already manifests in the subject without the test article.”

Indignantly, Kara huffs, “You make me sound like a sex fiend. I’m not always, um… frisky-minded.”

With a coy smile, Lena gratuitously brushes her hand along Kara’s shoulder. “That truly wasn’t a complaint, darling.”

“Okay, good, because I really like you in this dress.” Kara tugs at the edge of Lena’s dark green peplum cocktail dress.

“You say that about all my dresses.”

“It’s not my fault that you look hot in everything.” Kara shrugs, digging into another oyster with a small fork. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be mingling? You don’t have to sit here with me all night.”

“Nonsense, I came here with you. What kind of date would I be if I abandoned you?” Too late, Lena wonders about the propriety of ‘date.’ Because they’re not dating. Maybe that crosses a line.

But if it does, Kara doesn’t seem to notice. She’s busy sprinkling hot sauce over her next oyster. “I’ll be fine. I have food, I have sangria. Go talk to your friends. It’s Andrea’s birthday. You should spend some time with her.”

Although Lena’s reluctant to admit it, Kara has a point. It would be rude if she didn’t at least say hi to her friends. “All right. I’ll check back on you soon.”

She presses a kiss to Kara’s cheek, then gets up and joins the crowd at the bar. She does a shot with Andrea. She makes small talk with some people from L-Corp, and when she’s sick of that, she hides in a corner with Sam. She looks over to Kara from time to time, who always flashes her a broad smile and a thumbs up.

That is, until she isn’t.

This time, when Lena looks over, she sees Kara staring out at the water, her posture tense. She quickly excuses herself from the group conversation and hastily makes her way back to the bow.

“Kara? What’s wrong?”

When Kara turns, Lena can see the queasiness all over her face. “Um, it’s uh, it’s just the boat moving around and the sangria- it’s just hitting me all at once. I’ll be okay.”

The ship is indeed bopping vigorously on the water. A few people have stumbled walking along the deck and a couple of others are beginning to look nauseous as well. The perils of having a restaurant on the water.

Lena gently takes Kara by her arm. “Let’s get you home.”

“No.” Kara stills Lena by placing a hand over hers. “It’s Andrea’s birthday. I don’t want you to leave her party early because of me.”

“She’s had birthdays before and she’ll have them again. If you’re not feeling well, then we should get you home.”

Stubbornly, Kara insists, “I’ll be fine. Really.”

Realizing their standstill, Lena tries for a compromise. “What if we just go sit on the pier for a while? Get you on solid ground?”

Kara relents then, if only because she recognizes that Lena isn’t going to let this go. Lena helps her navigate the crowd as Kara carefully hobbles along on her crutches. They pass by the bar, where Lena pauses to grab a bottle of water before continuing on over the gangway and onto the pier.

Pier 25 at Hudson River Park, where this oyster bar schooner is docked, is a long stretch of a former industrial pier now converted to an urban park with a mini-golf course, beach volleyball courts, and an artificial lawn where a soccer game is now being played. On this warm summer night, it’s swarmed with people, but Lena finds them a relatively quiet spot on a bench facing the water at the end of the pier. She sits Kara down on the bench and settles it next to her. She twists off the cap from the water bottle and hands it over.

Kara accepts it with two hands. But she doesn’t drink from it. She sets it on her lap, and stares down at it like it’s a precious jewel.

“You’re so good to me.”

Kara looks up, and Lena sees the pure gratitude in her face. It’s startling. Unnerving, even. Because she’s just not the kind of person who’s accustomed to accepting thanks.

So she settles into what comes natural to her: self-minimizing. “All I did was open a bottle.”

“But it’s not just that. It’s… like everything, all the things that you do for me. I wouldn’t even know where to start. You let me stay with you. You run errands for me and bring me things so I don’t have to leave the couch. You listen so patiently when I’m rambling on and on about my job, Alex, my feelings about 90 Day Fiance, or just like why yellow Starbursts are the worst Starbursts. And now, we’re at your friend’s fancy birthday party and you’re still just trying to take care of me.”

Warmed by the words, Lena feels the compulsion to feel Kara’s skin against her own; she wraps an arm around Kara’s shoulder, hand loosely curled against her bare arm. “You do the same for me.”

“Yes.” There’s now an ardent sheen to Kara’s gaze, showcasing an emotion simultaneously tender and intense, so powerful that she would not be able to hide it even if she knew how. “I would. I do. I- I mean, I try. Because you’re… that is, you’ve become so very important to me. I know we started this… this arrangement as something casual, but it kind of doesn’t feel that way to me anymore. Does… does it to you?”

Lena, for all her erudition and innate intellect, does not have the words to describe what she feels in the moment. Or perhaps it’s not words she lacks but the ability to process all the competing, contradicting feelings rushing at her. Certainly, immediately, there’s joy. But that joy is quickly overshadowed by overwhelming doubt, followed by a host of other emotions.

If there’s a dramaturgical depiction of what Lena feels in those brief moments, this is what it would look like:

Positive Lena: She loves me! She’s telling me that she loves me!

Insecure Lena: Does she really? Are we sure? What if we’re misreading the situation? She’s told us over and over again how much she loves Mike.

Positive Lena: That’s not possible. Look at her. Listen to her. We should tell her how we feel.

Insecure Lena: And what if we’re wrong? Is it really possible that someone like Kara could have feelings for us? What if she’s just telling us how much she likes being our friend and we go unloading our undying love? What if she wants nothing to do with us after that?

Positive Lena: That can’t be true. Look at how well she treats us. She must love us back.

Mean Lena: Kara has the biggest heart ever. She treats us well because she’s a good person. We don’t deserve her. We’d just drag her down and ruin her.

Insecure Lena: Are we even sure that we feel what we feel? What if we change our mind next week?

Positive Lena: No, come on. We love this woman. She’s perfect.

Insecure Lena: She is, but are we? All these months and we didn’t even know how we felt about her. How sure are we now that this is real? Are we sure that this is what we want?

Mean Lena: Besides, there’s no limit to how badly we’re able to fuck up our relationships. We can’t ask her to leave her lifelong love for this dumpster fire.

So Lena finds herself saying, “No, darling, but that’s because we’ve become good friends. It’s perfectly natural to be fond of each other.”

She watches Kara’s face fall, and feels the Mean Lena inside of her stomp about in abject fury for being the cause.

Kara, looking sorrowful but still with a dash of hope, still asks, “Is that all it is?”

The invitation could not be stronger. And for a moment, Positive Lena almost wrests control from all the other gloomy, defeatist Lenas. But some things are hard to shake.

“What else could it be?” She manages a small shrug. “We’re friends, Kara.”

Kara quickly supplants her crestfallen expression with a smile, albeit a strained one. “Oh. Yes. Of course. This is… um, friendship. Yeah.”

They don’t say much after that. The evening ends unspectacularly. They go back on the boat for a little while before heading back to Lena’s. In silence, they get ready for bed and get under the covers together.

Lena kisses Kara goodnight, full on the lips. Kara responds, just barely. Then rolls onto her side and away from Lena, curled up on the far edge of the bed.

***

It could’ve been weird after that. But it isn’t. The next day, Kara seems back to her old self, the conversation forgotten. And Lena’s messed up enough to convince herself that Kara’s fine with everything. Maybe Kara’s changed her mind. Maybe Kara even regrets bringing it up at all. Maybe Lena would run through every excuse she can find before she’ll allow herself to believe that she can be loved.

For now, there’s a semblance of normalcy and that’s pretext enough to carry on as they have.

In August, Kara’s cast comes off, and despite her repeated protests, Alex makes her wear a splint. Kara can’t even get away with not wearing it outside of Alex’s presence, because her sister has enlisted Lena to ensure compliance. But, after a week, after a thorough examination, Alex relents and tells Kara that she can stop wearing the splint.

“We need to celebrate my foot’s freedom,” Kara says to Lena that evening. They’re in bed together, Lena tapping away on her cellphone, Kara lying on her side, watching her work.

Still composing her email, Lena asks, “What do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. Something special.”

“Would you like a party?”

“No. I was thinking of something else. Um, maybe with just us.” Kara, eyes still trained on Lena’s profile, shifts, tucking an arm underneath and propping her head up. “I, uh, I thought it’d be nice to spend some extra time together before I go back.”

An ache spikes within Lena’s chest. She sets her phone down, looking to Kara at last. “Go back? To your apartment?”

“Well… yeah. My foot’s better, so…” Kara drops her gaze. “I can take the stairs now.”

Lena’s mind works quickly to rationalize a dissent. “I hardly think that’s true. You’re still in physical therapy. It can’t be very good for you to immediately go from having your foot in a cast to traipsing up and down five flights of stairs on a daily basis.”

Kara looks back up at Lena, trepidatious but hopeful. “Do you really think so?”

At least on this issue, where her heart isn’t in danger of exposure, Lena doesn’t mince words. “Yes. You should stay until we’re sure you’re 100% healed. Maybe until you’re finished with your physical therapy.”

“But that could take months.”

“I don’t mind. It’s not like I have any immediate plans to go anywhere. And I’d really prefer to see you completely healed before we make any changes. But of course, it’s up to you.” Lena shrugs, picking up her phone again and directing her attention back to the screen in an emulation of detachment. It only lasts for about ten seconds before Kara leans over, yanks the phone out of her hands, and sets it on the nightstand. “What’s this?”

Kara crawls on top, straddling Lena’s lap. “Wanna make out with you right now.” She drapes her arms loosely about Lena’s neck. “Is that okay?”

And Lena, with more meaning than perhaps she truly realizes herself, replies, “Always.”

***

Veronica is sitting in Lena’s office.

Veronica Sinclair is sitting in Lena’s office.

Veronica Sinclair, Lena’s borderline psychotic ex-girlfriend, is sitting in her office.

Lena decides that ringworms are to blame for this.

See, Jess is Lena’s longtime assistant. Jess knows Veronica, knows the history between Lena and Veronica, and knows that Veronica should never be allowed through the door. But Jess isn’t here today. Because Jess’s cat has ringworms and Lena was more than happy to have her assistant take time off and get a temp to fill in. A temp who does not know Veronica and who buzzes Lena with a hazy report of, “Someone’s here for you.” And maybe it’s Lena’s fault too, because she approves of the visitor without thinking much of it. She had assumed that it would be Alex, who’s in the area today, and would be dropping off some things for Kara.

So now Veronica’s here, sitting across from Lena’s desk, looking as sleek and serpentine as ever, wearing a form-fitting, low cut dress that she knows is Lena’s favorite. And Lena already knows that no matter what happens today, there will be repercussions.

In a futile attempt to defuse, she defaults to professionalism. “How can I help you?”

“How are you, Lena?” Veronica sounds so soft and cordial, it almost coaxes Lena into letting her guard down. But she’s not in the mood for pleasantries, not that that’s ever really a thing with Veronica.

“I’m doing well. What’s the purpose of this visit?”

Normally, this kind of stonewalling would raise Veronica’s ire. But she just smiles wistfully. “I was hoping that we’d talk.”

“What about?”

“I’ve been in therapy.” Faced with Lena’s skeptical expression, Veronica inclines her head in acknowledgement of how absurd that sounds. “Okay, yes, it was court-ordered. I got into it with this clerk at Bergdorf. The therapy is a condition of my probation. I thought it was bullshit at first, but it’s actually been good. I’m beginning to see how some of my past behaviors could be… well, a bit problematic.” Lena arches her eyebrows and Veronica rolls her eyes in self-deprecating defeat. “Fine, a lot problematic. I was a bitch to you, okay? I see that now. I’m here to apologize. I was belittling and cruel. You didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry.”

Of all the things that Lena would have expected from Veronica, this isn’t one of them. She has never apologized in their year-long relationship, unless it was in sarcasm. So she could think of nothing to offer but a stunned, “Thank you.”

A coy, inviting smile forms on Veronica’s face, the kind of smile that used to get Lena’s heart racing and blood pumping. (Maybe it still does a little.) “But I made it up to you in other ways, didn’t I? It wasn’t all bad.”

Lena doesn’t see the harm in this one small concession. “No. It wasn’t.”

But Veronica sees this as less of a small concession and more of a resounding triumph. Emboldened, she rises, striding with confidence around the desk to Lena’s side, getting right in her space. Veronica half-sits on Lena’s desk, so close that their thighs almost touch. Lena leans back in her seat, but there isn’t much space to maneuver.

“What are you doing?” Lena tries not to sound accusatory about it. She’s not sure if she succeeded, but it doesn’t matter, because Veronica doesn’t seem fazed by it.

“I’ve missed you.”

Veronica looks serious, sounds earnest, and as she firmly presses her leg up against Lena’s, feels heated. The woman was born to be a seductress.

But Lena just lets out an incredulous, exasperated little laugh. “Oh, come on.”

Veronica looks cross at the response, but doesn’t pull back. To the contrary, she shimmies closer, placing her hands on the armrests of Lena’s chair. “I mean it, Lena. I’ve really missed you. Your warmth. Your laugh.” Slowly, Veronica slides her leg further in between Lena’s, brushing against her inner thigh. “Your body.”

Veronica is so close now that Lena can smell her perfume. She would be lying if she said the scent didn’t evoke pleasant memories. Sensual memories. That part was always good, when they were able to stop fighting long enough to get to it. Veronica shoving her against the wall of a dark closet. Veronica fingering her in the back of a taxicab while she tries to stay quiet. Veronica pushing her onto the bed; one hand over her mouth, the other ripping off her underwear.

So distracted by the memories, Lena doesn’t realize what’s happening until it is. Veronica’s lips upon hers, tongue gently probing, seeking entrance.

Quickly, Lena snaps back to reality, twisting her head away. She places firm hands upon Veronica’s shoulder and pushes back.

“I don’t think so.”

Still hovering close, Veronica looks puzzled. “Why not?”

“Because I’m not interested.”

But Veronica at least knows her well enough to see through a blatant lie. She leans back against the desk, giving Lena just the slightest bit of breathing room.

“It’s blondie, isn’t it? The one you had with you at the opera? Kiera?” Veronica wrinkles her nose. “She seemed so… pedestrian. Like, she wore a department store dress to the opera and not even like a Nordstrom’s.”

Well, therapy can only do so much. “Kara,” Lena corrects in a snippy tone. “Be snobbier, why don’t you.”

“Sorry,” Veronica says, clearly not meaning it. “I heard that it was just a casual fling.”

“It is.” The lie comes out smoother than she thought it would. But then, she’s had months of practice. “This has nothing to do with Kara. I’m just not looking to get involved again. Once was enough for me.”

Veronica frowns, her disbelief and aggravation on clear display. “I heard that she has a boyfriend.”

“Like I said, this isn’t about Kara.”

Veronica fakes a smile, saccharine with a hint of malice, and Lena, familiar with that look, dreads what’s coming.

“I guess I can’t be too surprised,” Veronica says serenely. “I just didn’t know that homewrecking is a genetic trait.”

Lena doesn’t quite flinch, but she feels and absorbs the words like a slap to her face. She shouldn’t even be surprised. It’s not the first time that Veronica’s said something viciously upsetting. It probably won’t even be the last. This is nothing new.

But this is: “I’m sorry,” Veronica adds hastily, seeing the expression on Lena’s face. “That was over the line, wasn’t it?”

Stunned by a second apology, Lena answers, “Yes.”

Veronica sighs, looking genuinely contrite, which is a bizarre, unfamiliar look on her. “I was trying to make a joke. I- my therapist says that I disguise meanness with humor. I lash out when I feel unwanted. It’s all because my stepmother was very emotionally withholding.”

“Uh-huh,” Lena say with a healthy dose of skepticism.

“Anyway. I know when I’ve overstayed my welcome.” Abruptly, Veronica moves away, circling back around the desk to gather her things. “Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

Out of politeness, Lena rises and walks her to the door. At the door, Veronica pauses. She turns to face Lena, taking a step forward and standing closer than is strictly friendly.

“For what it’s worth, I really did just come by to apologize. I hadn’t planned on anything more, but…” Veronica roams her eyes over Lena’s body. “Well, you looked good.”

Unable to pretend like this has no effect on her, Lena returns a soft, “Thank you.”

“Well. If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me.” With a fond smile, Veronica steps in for a full-bodied goodbye hug which lingers on.

It would have gone on longer if not for this:

“Am I interrupting?”

Lena pulls away to see Alex standing in the doorway, suspicion and displeasure all over her face. With zero shame or any sense of propriety, Veronica gives Alex a slow, leery once-over.

“I see that you’ve been busy,” she says to Lena. “I get it. Have fun with your harem.” Alex’s jaw drops loose in shock, mouthing ‘harem?’ in silent fury. “But my offer still stands. Call me whenever. Goodbye, love.” She quickly presses a kiss to Lena’s cheek and sashays out of the room.

When she’s well out of sight, Alex jerks her head toward the door. “Kara know about that?”

“There’s nothing to know,” Lena replies. Alex looks extremely annoyed by that answer, so Lena tries again. “If you mean whether Kara’s aware of her existence, then yes. If you mean whether she knows about Veronica’s surprise visit today, then no, because it just happened and Kara and I are not telepathically linked.”

“You’re going to tell her then?”

“There’s really nothing to tell, but sure, it may come up in conversation.”

Alex glares. Lena holds her stare until she starts to feel silly about it. She makes the first move, going to Alex and gesturing at the duffle bag she’s holding in her hands. “Is that for Kara? Thank you, I’ll take it.” Lena turns and goes back to her desk, depositing the duffle next to it. She’s hoping that Alex is gone by the time she turns around. But no such luck.

Accusingly, Alex asks, “It’s happening, isn’t it?”

“There’s no conceivable way I would know what you’re referring to.”

“You, just suddenly moving on from this ‘arrangement’ with Kara,” Alex is trying to sound calm and even, but the sharpness of anger and fear still pokes through. “This is what I’ve been afraid of. Maybe it’s that woman or maybe you’re bored or maybe you just feel like it. But the why doesn’t even matter because you don’t need a reason. You can just drop Kara on a whim because you don’t owe her anything. You get to walk away whenever you feel like it and it doesn’t matter how she feels.”

Lena’s denial comes swiftly, filled with knee-jerk intensity. “That is not what’s happening here. I am not ending it with Kara.”

“Then what was that I just saw? A friend? Like you and Kara are friends?”

“Veronica and I are definitely not friends,” Lena answers calmly. “And why am I being interrogated? I’m not the one with a boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” Alex snorts derisively. “Kara hasn’t even seen that schmaltz-covered cornball for almost two years now. Maybe he has the title, but you’ve got the role. You’ve had it for eight months now. Do you know how happy she sounded when she called me and asked me to pick up her things for her? She was ecstatic that you asked her to stay.”

For Lena, some words are too good to be believed. Weakly, she parrots a line she’s heard often from the source. “Kara loves Mike.”

“Mike Matthews is the human equivalent of soggy toast,” Alex declares. “She wouldn't be with him if she knew that you were an option. So are you?”

Lena’s mind gropes and grasps for ammunition, any conceivable reason she has to reject this. It frightens her that she comes up short. All she can manage is, “Why would you encourage this? I thought you hated Kara being with me.”

“I hate the arrangement,” Alex says, injecting every syllable with disdain. “It’s idiotic and illogical and a recipe for disaster. But I like things that make my sister happy. And you do.”

Feeling lost, Lena leans her weight against her desk, gripping onto its edges for support. “I don’t know if I can keep that up. I… I don’t know if I know how to be in a healthy relationship.”

Alex looks unimpressed and purses her lips in a show of impatience. “So go to therapy like the rest of us. What’s the alternative? You stay alone and let Kara go back to Mike? Because that’s such an amazingly healthy relationship?”

Masochistically, Lena says, “They have history.”

“Yeah, so do me and Dr. Ross, my childhood pediatrician, but I’m not going to go see him for a pap smear. You can’t let history dictate your future. That’s nonsense.”

“Not for Kara. Mike is Krypton for her. It’s where she’s from. She’s never going to give that up for me.”

“Well, I think you’re wrong,” Alex says with a lackadaisical shrug. “I know my sister. I can tell how much she cares for you. She just needs to know that you feel the same way.”

Lena stands there, lips pressed firmly together into a thin line, knuckles white from digging her fingers into her desk, unable to talk, barely able to think. Alex takes her in. She understands, even if she doesn’t like it. Lena isn’t the only person with vulnerability issues.

“Okay,” she says softly in concession. “I’ve said my piece, so I’ll get out of your hair. But, Lena, if you want to be with Kara, you better tell her before Mike comes home. I’m sure that Kara has feelings for you, but she’s all marshmallows and cotton candy inside. It’s going to be so much harder for her to dump him if he’s here in person, batting his stupid Bambi eyes at her.”

“Right,” Lena replies numbly. “Thank you.”

When Alex leaves, Lena finally allows herself to sink into her chair in a fatigued slump, mind buzzing with possibilities, heart racing with apprehension and anticipation.

***

The next day is a Saturday and to celebrate her foot’s freedom, Kara wants to spend the whole day outside.

“Okay, where to?” Lena asks.

“I don’t know. Let’s just go outside and see what we see. I just want to walk.”

“All right, if that’s what you’d like,” Lena says, a bit flummoxed. “But I thought we were celebrating. I don’t see how spending a day outside is special.”

Without hesitation, Kara promptly answers, “Because I'm spending it with you.”

There’s just nothing that Lena can say to that without getting into trouble.

They go outside. They pick a direction and start walking, seeing where their whims take them. They head south, simply because that takes them away from Times Square. Without meaning to, they make a tour of the Square Parks. From Madison, where they get breakfast panini and cappuccinos from an Italian food hall; to Union, where they bob and weave through the throngs of people at the green market and bystanders watching old men playing speed chess; to Washington, where they stop to watch a young woman play “thank u, next” on a viola; and finally Tompkins, where they rest, armed with bagels from a nearby shop. They eat their bagels on a park bench, chatting aimlessly, watching the people, and shooing away vulture-like pigeons inching ever closer.

Then they make their way to a movie theater on Houston Street. They watch a German documentary about spelunking. Kara falls asleep fifteen minutes in. Which is probably for the best, because it lets Lena focus on the movie instead of thinking of ways she could defile Kara in the middle of the movie theater. (Okay, she still does. But less if Kara’s asleep.)

After the movie, they wander through SoHo, window shopping (although Lena repeatedly offers to take Kara real shopping) and popping into small galleries and museums they find along the way. They end up in Chinatown for dinner, at a crowded, noisy hole in the wall with roasted ducks and slabs of crispy pork hanging in the window. They eat wonton noodle soup, bitter melon, and a trio of roast meats. Exhausted from their day of walking, they take a cab back to Lena’s.

“Are you sure we didn’t overdo it?” Sitting on her couch, Lena has Kara’s feet in her lap, massaging the soles.

Kara, stretched out over the length of the sofa, shakes her head. She’s tapping away on her phone, putting in an order for chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. Despite the volume of food she had at dinner, she didn’t have dessert. (“If cows can have four stomachs, then I can have a separate stomach for dessert.” “They don’t have four stomachs, their ruminant digestive system has four compartments.” “Don’t ruin my fun facts with your real facts.”)

Kara sets her phone aside when she’s done ordering. “No, it felt really good to walk around. I feel fine.”

With a teasing grin, Lena asks, “So I can stop massaging your feet?”

“Maybe not that fine,” Kara replies quickly. She watches Lena quietly for a moment, taking in the other woman, intently focused on massaging her. “I had a really great day today.”

“Me too,” concurs Lena softly.

“It was… so amazing. I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect day. And I- I’m just thankful that I got to share it with you.” Kara lets out a light, happy sigh. “I wish everyday could be like today.”

“Well, I don’t know about everyday,” Lena starts slowly. “But… we could have more days like today if you wanted.” Her hands stop moving, coming to a rest at Kara’s ankles. She locks eyes with her. “We could have more days like this next week. Or next month. Next year or… even indefinitely.”

“Indefinitely?” Confusion clouds Kara’s expression.

“Indefinitely,” Lena confirms. Which doesn’t really help because she’s only repeating what she’s already said.

But Kara’s starting to catch on anyway, or at least let herself hope. Eyes boring into Lena, desperately searching for any hints, she prompts, “I need you to use more words.”

“I like being with you, Kara. I like it so much that I think-” It suddenly occurs to Lena that Kara doesn’t have all the information she should have. She hadn’t told her about Veronica. That should come first. “Let me back up. Veronica came to see me yesterday.”

That’s clearly not the direction Kara’s expecting this to go, and the immediate downshift in her countenance says as much. “What did she want?”

“To apologize. For her behavior when we were together. Apparently she’s working on herself.”

Knowing that there must be more, Kara asks quietly, “Is that all?”

“No. She… she said that she missed me.” Lena sucks at her bottom lip, wondering how this next part is going to land. “And… we kissed.”

At that, Kara recoils instinctively, drawing back from Lena, as if stung. “You kissed her?”

She kissed me,” Lena corrects, even as she wonders what difference that makes.

Kara’s eyes are wide and large, emotions swimming behind them, unnamed but visceral. “I see.”

“No, Kara. You don’t.” Lena edges closer and takes a hold of her hand. Kara lets her, but doesn’t return the grasp. “I shouldn’t have let it happen.”

Already, Kara’s looking to shift the blame away. “No, Lena, you don’t owe me anything-”

Lena squeezes her hand firmly. “But maybe I want to.”

Kara stares at Lena, awestruck, uncertain, and just a touch scared. “More words, please,” she croaks out.

And Lena finally takes a leap.

She starts, “Kara, I-”

It is perhaps unsurprising that she doesn’t get to finish that sentence. That’s not how these things go. The unwelcome interruption is the chime from Lena’s doorbell.

Kara glances at the door.

“My cookies,” she says, swinging her feet to the floor. “I’ll just be a second.”

“No, you rest. I’ll get it.” With a hand on Kara’s shoulder, Lena presses her back onto the sofa.

She makes her way to the door, stopping briefly to grab a cash tip from her purse on the dining room table.

As she moves to the entrance, her mind’s preoccupied by thoughts of her next move. Chess is a favorite game. It requires thorough, methodical planning, and Lena applies the skill to all other aspects of her life.

She thinks about what she’s going to say, picking out the right words to strike a (maybe non-existing) balance between “please be with me, I desperately love you” and “it’s okay to say no, we can still be friends.”

With each step she takes to the front door, her mind is evaluating, strategizing, analyzing, like she can plan her way around a relationship the way she can a chess board.

But this isn’t chess. And she didn’t plan, couldn’t have planned for this: when she opens the door, she finds herself confronted with a familiar face she’s never actually seen in person.

She takes a step back, face going slack with unpleasant shock as cold dread pours down her neck and spine.

“Mike?”