New York isn't New York without you, love
Too few of our old crew left on Astor
So if I trade our 'hood for some Hollywood
Well, you're the only motherfucker in the city who would forgive me
“New York” - St. Vincent
Lena Luthor does not consider herself an unlucky woman.
Because, despite her tragic early start and tense family dynamics, she’s aware that she’s already won the life lottery in many, many ways. But still, in a moment like this, it’s hard not to feel like the universe is plotting to ruin her life.
Mike Matthews grins, showing all his perfect, pearly-white teeth, exuding charm and warmth. Lena doesn’t think she’s instantly disliked anyone more.
“Hey, Lena! It’s so nice to finally meet you!” Then he’s stepping forward and hugging her. Like they’re friends. Like he’s not the last person in the world she wants to see. Lena stands there stiffly, waiting for the moment to end. It does, quickly, because he releases her when he looks past her shoulder into the living room, where Kara sits frozen in disbelief. “Kara!”
Finally, Kara reacts. She scrambles to her feet, hurrying towards him. He steps around Lena, speeding to Kara, and they meet in the middle of the living room, arms encircled around one another. He picks her up and twirls her around as she squeals in delight.
Lena feels positively sick. Dizzy, nauseous, short of breath. She wonders what disease she’d get if she searches for those symptoms, besides Terminal Idiocy.
Mike puts Kara down. Then, much to Lena’s horror, leans in to kiss his girlfriend. But with a self-conscious chuckle, Kara pulls him into another hug. When she steps back this time, she kisses his cheek in compromise.
“I can’t believe this! Mike! What are you doing here?”
“I’m back, baby.” Mike proudly beams at Kara, awaiting praise. “For good. I’m here now.”
Kara’s still smiling, but it falters slightly at this revelation as she stammers, “B- b- but your job.”
“I quit,” Mike answers breezily. “They called me in for a meeting, asked me to stay on for another year. So I quit on the spot.”
Kara’s smile fades entirely, replaced by disbelief. “What?”
Mike reaches out, resting both of his hands on Kara’s shoulders. “Babe, I made you a promise. I wasn’t going to stay there past the end of this year. I told them that already. But they told me that they wanted me there for another year. So I quit.”
“Uh, wow, okay. But… Mike,” Kara says weakly. “Why didn’t you talk to me first?”
Mike grins broadly, entirely self-satisfied. “Well, I wanted to surprise you.”
“Mike…” Gently, Kara pats one of his hands that’s resting on her shoulder. “Um, this isn’t really a good time.”
That chips away at Mike’s good mood. Concern clouding his expression, he pulls back. “What’s wrong?” Reflexively, he casts a sideway glance to Lena, who’s still awkwardly rooted to the same spot, watching it all unfold.
“N- nothing, I, um, Lena and I were just- we were- we were just kind of in the middle of a serious conversation?”
“Oh,” Mike answers casually, evidently thinking little of it and caring even less. “Well, were you almost done? I got us a hotel room. We should get you out of here.” He hooks an arm around Kara and flashes another winsome smile at Lena. “Hey, thanks for letting this one stay here for so long. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”
“Not at all, it was my pleasure.” Lena taps into her businesswoman side to maintain her polite, aloof facade.
Ducking and side-stepping, Kara squirms out from under his arm. “Hey, Mike, can you give us a couple minutes? Um- oh! I have some peanut butter and jelly Pop Tarts in the kitchen! On the counter. Why don’t you have some?”
“Fantastic!” He bounds off for the kitchen, nearly skipping.
With every step away, Lena finds it a little easier to breathe. But then she looks to Kara, sees those large, round blue eyes teeming with anxiety, and her breath hitches again. Kara inclines her head towards the other end of the living room, farthest from the kitchen. Lena nods. Kara makes her way over, to the oversized windows overlooking New York City, and Lena follows.
“Hey,” Kara starts in a quiet voice.
“Hi,” Lena returns without a trace of warmth.
Nervously, hopefully, Kara asks, “We were- um, you were trying to tell me something?”
Lena can hear humming from the kitchen. She glances over and sees Mike ripping open a packet of Pop Tarts with his teeth as he half-hums, half-sings to himself. She’s seen Kara do this exact thing countless times. She wonders who influenced whom. She wonders how many other little characteristics and habits Kara and Mike share, just by virtue of all the years and years they’ve had together.
It’s with that in mind that she says, “It doesn’t matter.”
Kara’s face falls. “It matters to me.” She steps closer, reaching out for Lena’s hand. But Lena moves, folding her arms across her chest. Kara lets her hand fall limply to her side.
“Mike‘s had a long trip,” Lena hears herself say. “I’m sure he wants to rest.”
Kara looks utterly confused. And more than a little dejected. Hesitantly, she offers, “I don’t have to go with him.”
Lena shakes her head. “You should. He came for you.”
Kara stares hard at her, as if she could crack the mysteries of Lena’s mind this way. “Are you sure?”
But of course Lena isn’t sure. She’s sure of very little these days. She looks back over towards the kitchen again, where Mike is ferociously munching away on a Pop Tart. He catches her eye, flashes a wide, dopey grin, then gives her a thumbs up.
Even from here, Lena can see that he has jam on his face.
Then all Lena hears inside her head is: I just didn’t know that homewrecking is a genetic trait.
She turns back to Kara.
Kara knows how she got here, but the details are already blurry. In a daze, she had gathered her things in Lena’s apartment, collecting what she could in a bookbag and followed Mike out the door. They got on the subway to Mike’s hotel in Gowanus. Mike animatedly chattered the entire way. Kara did her best to stay engaged, but she ended up tuning out for half the stories.
Now here she sits on the bed in a modern and clean but cramped hotel room in the middle of Brooklyn, watching Mike move about the room, unpacking his things as he hums a tune.
He’s so familiar to her. The way he moves, the way he smells, the way he looks - she knows it all by heart. But at the same time, she’s beset by discomfort, unable to shake the feeling that this is a surreal dream which doesn’t feel quite real. It’s been so long since she’s seen him, she can’t quite remember how she’s supposed to be around him.
She knows the cause of it. And what she’s supposed to do.
“Um, can we talk?”
“Uh-huh.” Mike’s busy hanging up his dress shirts in the closet. He doesn’t look over, but he’s nodding away. “I’m all ears.”
“So, um, I’m really happy to see you. I’m- I’m glad that you’re back.”
“Me too,” he answers perfunctorily as he pulls out more shirts from his suitcase.
“It’s just, it’s just that- uh, it’s been so long. And, well…” The words haven’t even left her mouth, and she already feels the thorns of guilt prickling at her heart. “Things are… they’re different now.”
“Oh, for sure, babe.” Mike hasn’t slowed at all in his unpacking. He’s stacking his shirts into a drawer, unaware and unconcerned at where the conversation is going. “So much has happened since we last saw each other, right? I know we talked a lot, but it’s not really the same, you know? Hey, I’m flossing every day now. All on my own, without you needing to remind me. How’s that for different?” He throws her a proud grin, accompanied by a wink.
“No, that’s not what I-” Kara cuts herself off, taking a pause to regroup. “Mike, I just wish you had talked to me first before quitting your job. That’s- that’s kind of a big deal, you know?”
Mike shrugs. “Where’s the romance in that? Anyway, I don’t need a conversation for me to know that you’re a way bigger deal than any stupid job.”
“Okay, but… but maybe I- maybe I needed that conversation because, um, well…” She breathes in deep, gathering the courage. “Look, Mike, over these last few months, Lena and I-”
“Oh!” Mike exclaims abruptly as he reaches into his suitcase. “I almost forgot! I found this in a small record store in Munich.” He retrieves a DVD from his bag and brings it over to Kara, depositing it on her lap like a proud pet bringing his owner a dead animal as a trophy. On the cover is an unsettling image of a man’s head, mouth ajar in mid-scream, his face wrapped in black wire. Like the befuddled owner of a well-meaning but misguided animal, Kara stares at the object, unsure of what to do with it.
“It’s that band, Scorpions,” Mike says, as if that’s self-explanatory. “You remember, right? Your dad was really into them for a short while. There was that one summer he listened to this Scorpions live-in-concert CD like all the time. Well, it turns out that there’s a DVD version with all the concert footage and I found it. I thought we could watch it together.” With an impish grin, he teases in a joking-but-not-really way, “But on one condition now: you have to promise me that you’re not going to get all weepy on me.”
“I…” Kara squints at the cover, struggling to conjure the memory through the haze of time. “I don’t know that I remember this.”
“You remember,” he tells her with the utmost confidence. “It was that summer we all did family camp at Thunderbird. Every night your dad would insist on playing a song from that CD, and my dad would start arguing with him because he thought it was the worst music ever. Then my dad would break out his guitar and play Dylan as loud as he could, and your dad would just turn up the stereo.”
The scene comes rushing back to Kara all at once, so vivid and real that it seems impossible that she couldn’t remember just a few seconds earlier. She could hear the music, smell the crackling campfire their families gathered around, see her father and Mike’s dad hollering at each other as their mothers lounge on patio chairs, laughing at their antics.
“Oh my god,” she utters softly, almost to herself. “I can’t believe I almost forgot about that.”
“Ah, it was a long time ago.” Mike sits down next to her on the bed, and pats her leg. “That’s what I’m here for. Hey, I think my parents still have some photos from that trip in our basement. Next time we’re back in Krypton, I’ll have my mom get them out. Take a little trip down memory lane?”
“Yeah.” Kara nods. “T- that sounds nice.” She clutches the DVD in her hand, staring down at the hideous cover, suddenly finding it not so terrible to look at. “Thank you, Mike. This is really nice of you.”
He scoops up her hand, brings it to his lips for a quick kiss, then holds it in his lap. For a rare moment, he’s serious. “Kara, I know that it hasn’t been easy with me being away. I’m going to make it up to you. You’ve been so patient and so loving. You’ve stood by me this entire time and believed in me, even when I didn’t deserve it. I’m the luckiest man in the world and I’m just so grateful to have you by my side. I love you, Kara.”
For Kara, it doesn’t feel like she has any other choice but to say, “I love you too.”
Sun, Aug 22
Kara Danvers (10:11): Hey.
Kara Danvers (10:15): How are you?
Kara Danvers (14:21): Are you around?
Mon, Aug 23
Kara Danvers (07:45): Good morning!
Kara Danvers (23:00): Good night, Lena.
Tues, Aug 24
Kara Danvers (13:32): Hi.
Thurs, Aug 26
Kara Danvers (11:09): I think I left a sweater at your place.
Sat, Aug 28
Kara Danvers (09:58): Are you okay?
Kara Danvers (13:12): Can you call me when you see this?
Kara Danvers (13:12): Or text me?
Kara Danvers (16:55): Are you mad at me?
Lena Luthor (20:50): I’m not mad at you. I’m sorry I haven’t responded. It’s been a busy week. I’m in San Diego. One of our labs had a literal meltdown. I’ll have Jess send you your sweater.
Kara Danvers (20:51): I didn’t know you were out of town. I’m glad you’re okay.
Kara Danvers (20:59): I was worried.
Kara Danvers (21:24): Don’t bother Jess about the sweater, I’ll just get it from you when you’re back.
Kara Danvers (21:55): When are you coming back?
Kara Danvers (23:01): Good night, Lena.
Sun, Aug 29
Kara Danvers (10:21): Good morning! It’s raining here today. How’s San Diego?
Lena Luthor (21:14): I’m told it’s nice but I haven’t been anywhere except work and my hotel. I didn’t mean to worry you. It’s been busy.
Kara Danvers (21:14): Oh no problem! I know how busy you get!
Kara Danvers (21:14): How was your day?
Kara Danvers (21:15): I went to brunch with Alex today and she told me this really gross story about amniotic sacs while I was eating poached eggs. So rude.
Kara Danvers (22:45): Good night, Lena.
Mon, Aug 30
Kara Danvers (09:21): Good morning!
Kara Danvers (12:35): What are you having for lunch today?
Lena Luthor (20:32): I skipped lunch, but I had a lovely caprese salad for dinner.
Kara Danvers (20:33): That’s not right. You have to eat lunch!
Kara Danvers (20:33): How was your day otherwise?
Lena Luthor (23:19): It was fine. I have to go to bed now. Have a good night.
Kara Danvers (23:21): Good night! Sleep tight!
Tues, Aug 30
Kara Danvers (12:06): So I know that you’re in San Diego for work, but I saw that there’s a Klimt exhibit at SDMA. You should go check it out!
Kara Danvers (12:12): And don’t forget to eat lunch today!
Kara Danvers (17:45): Did you manage lunch today?
Kara Danvers (19:02): I’ll just assume you did, for the sake of my peace of mind.
Kara Danvers (23:49): Good night, Lena.
Wed, Sept 1
Kara Danvers (09:11): Happy September 1st!
Kara Danvers (11:28): I’m getting Shake Shack for lunch. I hope you find a good burger place for lunch too.
Kara Danvers (14:55): Do you know when you’re coming back?
Kara Danvers (18:22): Let me know when you know!
Kara Danvers (22:42): Good night! Hope you had a good day!
Lena stares down at her phone, unsure of what to do. She had been so certain that, by now, Kara’s texting would taper off once she realized just how infrequently she gets a response. It doesn’t make sense. Mike’s back now. Kara should be focusing all her time and attention on her doting boyfriend instead of a former fuck buddy who’s deliberately made herself unavailable. Because while there is a crisis in their San Diego lab, Lena didn’t have to be the one to go, she has dozens of executives on her payroll for that. But when she received the news of the crisis, two hours after Kara left her apartment, it had felt like a sign. Or at least a chance to escape instead of sitting in her empty apartment, feeling sorry for herself.
This is the best thing for both of them, she tells herself. They both need to move on. Kara just needs time with Mike to remember why they’ve been together for so long. And Lena refuses to be the other woman. She won’t be the person who’s responsible for ending a lifelong love. And she sure as hell won’t be the pining mistress, grieving on the sidelines as her lover returns to their rightful mate. She is not her mother.
Lena taps out a quick good night - because she can’t find the strength to completely ghost Kara - then silences her phone and sticks it back in her nightstand drawer.
Kara’s messages will stop coming soon, she’s sure.
Wed, Sept 15
Kara Danvers (13:15): Hey, I just saw a couple walk down the street dressed like the American Gothic couple! You would’ve been so creeped out!
Kara Danvers (13:15): I wanted to get a picture for you but I didn’t want to be rude.
Kara Danvers (13:16): Anyway, hope you’re back soon.
Thurs, Sept 16
Kara Danvers (10:27): Are you coming back yet?
Kara Danvers (12:33): Ugh Snapper just gave me back edits of my draft. My whole screen is covered in redlines. Complete bloodbath.
Kara Danvers (12:33): I don’t think he liked a single thing I wrote.
Kara Danvers (12:34): But he did tell me to get another draft to him in a week so I think that’s good! Maybe they’ll print my feature in the end!
Kara Danvers (14:18): Hope your work day’s going better than mine.
Lena Luthor (22:59): It’s not my field, but I’ve read your work and I’ve read other CatCo articles. It’s always been clear to me that your writing surpasses the standards at CatCo. I suspect Snapper’s edits are designed to oversimplify a complex story so that it’s more palpable for the general masses, but that doesn’t mean your original draft wasn’t good. In fact, I’ve read this draft and I stand by my original comment that it was superb and needed no revisions.
Kara Danvers (22:59): ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Kara Danvers (22:59): You’re the best.
Kara Danvers (23:00): Do you know when you’re coming back?
Lena Luthor (23:43): I’ll be back this weekend.
Kara Danvers (23:44): OMG REALLY??????
Kara Danvers (23:44): FINALLY!!! WHEN? WHAT DAY
Kara Danvers (23:44): Do you need a ride from the airport?
Kara Danvers (23:45): I don’t have a car but I can figure something out.
Kara Danvers (23:45): I’m so excited!
Fri, Sept 17
Lena Luthor (00:11): I’ll be fine, but thank you. Good night, Kara.
Kara Danvers (00:11): Good night! Excited to see you soon!
Kara Danvers (09:37): Good morning!
Kara Danvers (11:22): When’s your flight?
Kara Danvers (11:27): Offer still stands to pick you up! Or I can meet you at the airport and ride back with you.
Sat, Sept 18
Kara Danvers (19:15): Back yet?
Kara Danvers (19:21): If you are, we’re having a girls’ night out tonight if you want to come.
Kara Danvers (19:21): Brainy, James, and Winn will be there too, but other than that, it’ll just be the girls!
Kara Danvers (19:22): We’re going to Burp Castle. Text me if you see this!
Kara Danvers (21:30): hey, just in case you’re back, we’re now heading to St Marks for karaoke. Come join us if you’re around!
Kara Danvers (23:03): I think we’re going to another bar. Not sure where yet. If you’re around just give me a call!
Kara Danvers (23:43): at PDT!
Sun, Sept 19
Kara Danvers (01:24): we’re calling it and heading hom
Kara Danvers (01:24): it I’ll still Elbe up for a while so you can call me if maybe you’re just getting in nkw and see this
Kara Danvers (01:24): I’mm crashing af Alex’s tonight
Kara Danvers (01:58): sorry you couldn’t make it out
Kara Danvers (01:58): ok and I know you’re probably still be away
Kara Danvers (02:00): I know it doesn’t make any sense that I keep texting when you're not even in the state
Kara Danvers (02:01): but I just keep hoofing that you’ve just landed and you’d come meet us and I can see you againn
Kara Danvers (02:14): hey my bday is soon
Kara Danvers (02:15): I really really hope you back by then I’d like to see you for my bday
Kara Danvers (02:17): I want birthday cuddles
Kara Danvers (02:19): respectful cuddles oc
Kara Danvers (02:22): you just smell really nice and cuddle really well
Kara Danvers (02:26): even your feet smell nice
Kara Danvers (02:27): and I find feet gross but yours arent nothing is gross about you
Kara Danvers (02:31): I wish you were here
Kara Danvers (02:31): I really miss u
Kara Danvers (02:31): even your nice gross feet
Kara Danvers (03:22): oh god how do you unsend texts
Lena Luthor (08:29): I just landed at JFK. Can I come by and take you out for breakfast?
Lena Luthor (08:31): Just realized that you’re probably still asleep. Let me know when you’re up and we’ll figure something out.
Kara Danvers (08:32): No I’m awake let’s get food now
It’s the guilt that does her in at the end. After almost a month of minimal communication from her, Kara hasn’t slowed at all in reaching out. That morning, after her plane landed and Lena took her phone off airplane mode, she saw the flood of messages from Kara. It warmed her as much as it scared her. And before she could think it through, she’s offering breakfast.
Okay, maybe it’s not the guilt. At least not just. She also really, really wants to see her. So she has her driver drop her off a diner in Queens instead of straight home.
The first thing that Lena notices about Kara is how exhausted she looks. It’s only been a month, but there’s a gauntness to her cheeks that Lena knows wasn’t there before. Still, when she sees Lena, her eyes shine bright with excitement and she leaps out of the booth to give her a hug. Lena returns the embrace. But only briefly. She breaks it off soon and slides into the booth. Kara looks momentarily lost and confused at the break in contact, but regains her smile as she takes her seat.
“Okay, so first, I just need to say that I’m sorry about all the texts last night,” Kara starts sheepishly. “Um, can we just forget all that?”
“Absolutely. And I owe you an apology too. I’ve been a terrible friend this last month. I know I haven’t been good about keeping in touch and I’m sorry about that. It’s incredibly hectic at work.” Which is true. But it’s also true that every time she started typing out a message, she froze up. Nothing she had wanted to say seemed appropriate. Then her mind would run rampant, wondering what Kara was doing in that precise moment. Or, more accurately, what she was doing with Mike. So half the time she stuck the phone back in her drawer without sending anything at all.
“It’s okay, I know how busy you get.” Kara hesitates, wondering what level of transparency their fragile quasi-friendship can withstand. “I… I thought maybe you were angry with me.”
“I wasn’t. I was…” Lena sighs, staring down at the table as she nervously and needlessly straightens utensils laid out on a paper napkin. “I’m sorry, Kara. I… I was unsettled. Mike showing up like that, out of the blue. I didn’t expect it. I’ve enjoyed our time together and to have it come to an abrupt end like that… well, I reacted poorly and I’m sorry. But I wasn’t angry at you.”
“I didn’t have to go with him.” Kara’s voice is so soft, it’s almost hard to hear her. But unfortunately, Lena hears every word. Feels every word. “I could have stayed. You could have… you could have said what you wanted to say to me before he showed up.”
“No,” Lena replies firmly. “I couldn’t have.”
Then Kara looks at her with a mixture of unease, confusion, and, despite her best efforts, barely concealed hurt. “You don’t want to tell me what you were going to say to me that night?”
Lena shakes her head. “I think we’re beyond that now.”
Kara’s eyes widen. She worries at her bottom lip, eyebrows creased with anxiety and despondency. “So y- you- I guess this, um, this means that you’ve changed your mind about… what you were going to tell me?”
“I have.” The sureness in Lena’s voice allows for zero doubt. And Lena is sure. She’s changed her mind about the decision to tell Kara about her feelings. But if Kara interprets that as Lena having changed her mind about her feelings - well, the misconception only serves her goal.
“Okay,” Kara says numbly, looking so lost that Lena can feel her resolve weakening.
So, changing tactics, she reminds herself why this is happening and twists that knife that’s been buried in her chest since the last time she saw Kara: “How’s Mike?”
There’s no change in Kara at the mention of her boyfriend, no spark, no excitement, not even a smile. (Lena refuses to read into it.)
“He’s good. Um, we’ve been staying at my place, but we’re… we’re moving out next week. We’re going to stay with a friend of his in Bushwick.”
“What about your apartment?”
“Oh, um, well, Mike hasn’t seen his friends in a long time, so he wants to spend as much time as he can with them, so… yeah, we’re going to stay in Scooter’s basement.” Kara shrugs sheepishly. “I mean, it’s fine. The five-story walk-up probably isn’t good for my foot anyway. So we’re just going to sublet my place. Plus, you know, Indigo and I never got along that well, so… uh, yeah, this is actually a really good thing.”
Lena is bursting with questions. ‘You’re moving away from Alex because Mike wants to hang out with his friends?’ ‘Why can’t Mike get his own place?’ ‘What is this about we’re subletting? It’s your apartment, not Mike’s.’
But she knows that she can’t ask any of those questions without sounding judgmental, so she retreats to safer territory: “Mike has a friend named Scooter?”
Kara lets out a laugh, releasing some of the tensions she’s been holding. Lena suspects that Kara’s already been getting an earful from Alex about this move and was expecting the same treatment from Lena.
“Believe it or not, he has two friends named Scooter.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a Scooter that I like,” Lena says. “It feels like a name parents give to their kids when they want them to grow up to be the prep school villain in a John Hughes movie.”
Kara nods in acknowledgement. “That’s not too far off for this Scooter. Mike calls him an acquired taste. Alex refuses to make eye contact with him. I like him though!”
“But is there anybody that you don’t like?” Lena questions teasingly, and before Kara can take an easy out, “And no, you can’t name Nazis or war criminals.”
Kara tilts her head as she seriously thinks over the question. “Um, okay, well, I mean, there’s… there’s Ursula.”
“Ursula? You’ve never mentioned her before.” Intrigued, Lena leans forward on the table. “Tell me, what is it that this Ursula did to earn a rare spot on Kara’s ‘Do Not Like’ list?”
Apparently not expecting to be questioned, Kara starts haltingly, “W- well, she’s um, she’s manipulative and deceptive. Um, really not someone you can ever trust. She’s uh, she’s ruthless and greedy and self-serving. She’ll use really underhanded tactics to get what she wants.”
“Hmm. Tactics like turning herself into a beautiful woman and hypnotizing a handsome prince into forgetting your existence so that you turn back into a mermaid?” When Kara’s admission comes in the form of a sheepish shrug, Lena chuckles heartily. “You can’t pick a Disney villain!”
“You didn’t specify!”
“Well, I didn’t think I had to.”
“Hey, I answer the questions as posed. It’s not my fault that you left a loophole.”
“I’m going to need to hire a lawyer to draft conversational topics for us.”
In response, Kara just smiles, gazing upon Lena with an overt keenness that makes Lena delighted and flustered. Quietly, Kara says, “I’ve missed this.”
“Me too,” Lena responds with equal wistfulness. Then, realizing that they’re toeing the boundaries of intimacy, she quickly adds, “But I’m back now. We’ll see each other more and now that things have settled at work, I’ll be better about communicating.”
“We’re still friends then?” Kara asks, hope so stark on her face that it’d be impossible to say no even if that would have been Lena’s answer. (She would be lying if she said that she had never considered the possibility. Going scorched earth is a familiar Luthor move. Lena’s pragmatic side says that cutting Kara out of her life completely is probably the sanest, wisest thing to do. But it also feels like the worst idea she’s ever had, an idea so repugnant that it nearly makes her physically ill to think about.)
“Of course we are,” Lena returns emphatically. “We’re friends, Kara. We’ll always be friends.”
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” Andrea looks pissed. The kind of Really, Actually Pissed intermingled with Deep Annoyance and Worn Patience that one reserves for a very stupid loved one who’s done yet another stupid thing.
They’re seated around Sam’s dinner table, Lena poking at her falafel as Andrea glares at her, fingers flexing over her plate of tabouli, as if restraining the urge to dump the whole thing over Lena’s head.
“Are you seriously - seriously - not going to tell her how you feel?” Andrea looks positively flabbergasted. “What in the name of sweet baby Jesus is wrong with you?”
“I’m not a homewrecker,” Lena answers defensively.
“There’s no home to wreck, they’re not married.”
“For the length of time they’ve been together, they might as well be.”
“As children,” Andrea enunciates, as if speaking slower would somehow help convey the message. “She would leave him in a heartbeat if you asked.”
“You don’t know that,” Lena returns snappishly, her fervent tenor revealing a deep-seated insecurity. “What happens when she says no? We’re not going to be able to stay friends after that.”
“Which should happen anyway! You can’t stay friends with someone you have feelings for.” Andrea looks to Sam for a sanity check. “Sam, come on, help me out here.”
Sam feels helpless, knowing that this battle’s already lost, but she tries anyway. “It might be worth the risk. It’s better than whatever it is you’re trying to do with Kara now.”
“I’m just trying to be her friend,” Lena says calmly, despite her irritated expression. “Look, Kara is a grown woman, capable of making her own decisions. If she wanted to leave him, she would have by now. And if she doesn’t want to leave him, I’m not going to persuade her otherwise. I’m not going to be that woman.”
“You’re once again confusing nobility with stupidity,” Andrea tells her bluntly. “What are you going to do instead? Sit around and pine after her forever like a lovesick puppy?”
“My feelings for Kara will fade with time.” If only Lena could feel as confident as she sounds. “Having these feelings doesn’t give me the right to destroy somebody else’s relationship just because it might make me happy.”
“I get it,” Sam says gently. “You don’t want to be an undue influence on Kara. If she’s going to leave him, you want it to be entirely her decision.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised that Kara hasn’t already dumped his ass and come running back to you,” Andrea remarks flippantly. “He must have a really big coc—” The door to Ruby’s bedroom abruptly swings open, and out runs Sam’s ten-year-old daughter. Sam coughs loudly and Andrea emits a series of sputtering noises. “—lee-a. Uh, cochlea. He must have a really big cochlea, because that’s what women look for in a partner. Good listening skills.”
Ruby looks deeply skeptical, but Sam distracts her by urging her to sit and eat before her dinner gets cold. They shift the conversation into kid-friendlier territory.
At the end of the night, Lena says goodbye to her friends and heads back home. She takes the subway and gets off a few stops before so she can take a long walk home. It’s a warm night and the city feels stifling, swarming with people, the energy and incessant buzz of urban life bringing Lena none of its usual comfort. Still, it’s better than the alternative which, despite her slow pace and meandering route, she reaches too soon.
Her home, her apartment which she has cherished for many years, feels empty. She doesn’t turn on the light when she walks in. There doesn’t seem to be a point. It’s just her and she knows where everything is. In the dark, her way illuminated by the mixture of moonlight and city lights pouring through her windows, she fixes herself a glass of whiskey. She settles on the couch, curled up in a corner, her feet tucked beneath her. She takes in the view. The city is vibrant, skyscraper after skyscraper stretching across the horizon, bright lights shining and sparkling as far as the eye can see, and it’s gorgeous and astounding and breathtaking and so, so lonely.
She takes a large gulp of her whiskey. She holds it in her mouth, letting it coat her tongue and run over every taste bud; she allows the faintly sweet bitterness to soak in, savoring the burn.