Linda is the reason Iris notices her new neighbor.
They’re sprawled across Iris’ flea market couch, feet propped on her coffee table, running through notes on their combined article.
Linda says, “Do you think we need a quote from Mercury Labs? You know, for a second opinion on the inevitability of the particle accelerator going boom.”
Iris hums, tapping her fingers on her keyboard. “Are we trying to legitimize the explosion? Our bias is defending the outrage of the injured citizens, not the egos of a few scientists.”
“I’m sure some staff in Mercury were injured. If we get a good quote, we can both defend the rights of the people to an answer, and legitimize their pain,” Linda says, chewing on the end of her pen, staring out Iris’ balcony window.
Iris looks out the window. There’s nothing Linda could be looking at; she puts nothing out there for decoration.
Except, apparently, her cat.
Iris stands, placing her keyboard on the couch. “Barry?” she calls out to her cat.
The cat, a sleek ginger who looks altogether too in the right for having escaped to the balcony, turns when he hears his name, but just grins.
“Barry! Come back in here!” Iris says, striding over to the balcony door and trying to open it. The damn thing catches and won’t open more than a foot, and even with her recent powerlifting, there’s no way Iris can fit through that gap.
The cat is ecstatic. He grins at her even more, and eyes his options. Iris can see the cogs turning in his brain: how to get to freedom the quickest?
“Don’t you dare,” she says in warning. “Don’t you--Barry!”
The cat jumps. It purrs in the air, loud and victorious, before landing on the balcony under the one next to hers in a perfectly calculated arc.
“Barry,” she hisses, “I trusted you.”
Linda joins her at the balcony window. She peers over. “Well, your cat is chilling amongst some plants,” she informs Iris. “And--chilling amongst the woman planting them.”
Iris thinks about the layout of her building. “There weren’t plants in that balcony yesterday,” she says, and pushes the sliding door, creaking, until it opens enough she can squeeze through. And there, in the balcony Barry has just landed on, is a woman.
She’s planting flowers, Iris can tell, but that’s not the most striking bit about her. She is wearing a bathrobe that has been haphazardly tied on, with no assurance it will stay, and as she digs up some potted plant soil and pours some water, Iris can see skin.
As for Barry, he’s perched on the edge of her balcony, unnoticed, looking up at Iris with a gleam in his eye.
“Come back here!” Iris hisses at him, quietly, as to not alert the woman. Barry does no such thing.
Linda joins Iris on the balcony. “It’s ten in the morning,” she says. “Full daylight. And she’s just--planting flowers in the open air in her underwear. How drunk do you think she is?”
“I don’t want to speculate,” Iris says, feeling rude, and also feeling a blush rise on her cheeks. She can’t let Barry run away forever with the angelic woman flashing some skin to the unknowing voyeurs a floor above, so she snaps and begs with the cat. “I’ll feed you nothing but stale food for a month. Barry. Barry! Bartholomew West. I will withhold milk for an entire year if you don’t get up here this second.”
The cat pays no heed, walking on the balcony walls. The woman still hasn’t noticed him, but she does crane her head up, presumably because Iris is screaming at her cat.
Linda pulls Iris down beneath the wall. “Is your cat really worth it?” she whispers.
Iris looks at Linda like she’s lost her mind. “Yes,” she says. “I think he got hit in the explosion. He’s been acting weird, and I can’t just let him roam free. He might forget where he lives! I don’t know what state of mind he’s in.”
She creeps above the wall and looks back down at the woman. Barry is now sleeping on one of the plant pots, rubbing his ginger coat in the dirt. And the woman--she’s looking in the distance, maybe at the rising sun of Central City, not in Iris’ direction, but Iris can still see her face and the shifting bathrobe.
Iris catches her breath. She’s seen that face in so many pictures the past few days, going over the evidence from the crime scene, reading up on the research that preceded the disastrous attempt at designing a different particle accelerator.
(How it was supposed to differ from all the other completely stable particle accelerators in operation all over the world, Iris still doesn’t know.)
The face staring blankly out at the world before her belongs to one Dr. Caitlin Snow, who had just yesterday spent all day in court to be implicated in the design flaw of the machine. And today, she’s living in Iris’ own apartment building, seemingly wasted and planting flowers.
Iris and Linda sneak their way back into her apartment. As they situate themselves on Iris’ couch, Linda says, “How are you going to get Barry back?”
“That was Caitlin Snow,” Iris says. “In her bathrobe. Planting flowers.”
Linda blinks, and flips open a folder of evidence next to her, pointing to the photo of prominent STAR Labs scientists posing with the accelerator prototype. Familiar faces include Wells, sitting in his wheelchair, and beside Snow are Ramon and Rathaway, amongst a sea of scientists not implicated in the accident.
“This Caitlin Snow?” Linda says, pointing to a smiling, bubbly face that looks exactly like the woman Iris had just witnessed.
“Yep,” Iris says, and looks down at her notes. “No wonder she’s drunk at ten in the morning.”
Linda nods in agreement.
“Does this change anything?” Iris asks. “I have a lead witness living right twenty seconds away from me, and she’s obviously distraught.” She wonders what it says about a person who aggressively plants flowers for a new apartment while drunk and with a newly-minted criminal record, but hey, Iris does not have a degree in psychology.
“Well, what do you want to change?”
Linda asks the best questions.
“I want to meet her,” Iris says. “I want to get a statement from her.”
“You can’t just walk up to her door and ask for a statement; you’ll get a restraining order. You need tact,” Linda says.
“Right,” Iris nods. “I’m going to get by cat back, and on the way, hey, you’re Caitlin Snow, I work for the press, how was yesterday? How are you doing? Linda--I’m brilliant.”
“Maybe be a bit more subtle,” Linda suggests. “Like, get to know her informally, and then bring business into it.”
Iris searches her fridge. “I have a piece of cake,” she announces. “I’ll bring it. That makes it informal, right?”
Linda shrugs. “Don’t ask me; I’ve never been very good at dates.”
Iris sputters. “This isn’t a date--”
“But would you really be so opposed to if it was? I did see your face on the balcony.”
Iris opens and closes her mouth like a fish.
Linda gives her a thumbs up. “I’ll get the quote from Mercury,” she says. “You do your thing.”
“Thank you,” Iris says, and her cheeks burn a little.
She clutches the piece of cake in her hands, standing outside the door she’s sure belongs to Caitlin Snow. Iris breathes a few times, as if to remember how. If this was strictly business, it would be so easy. Iris West excels at journalism. She’s at the forefront of her profession, and the people of Central City know her by her succinct words on the state of the world.
But Iris does not do personal. She’s under the age of sixty and owns a cat; that in of itself should be proof enough she doesn’t interact with people on a personal basis.
She rings Caitlin’s doorbell before she can think further. It’s now nearing noon, and Iris has left plenty of time for Caitlin to take a hangover nap and sober up. Barry is still snoozing on her plants.
No one answers on the first ring, and Iris taps a jazz rhythm with her toes and rings it again. From inside comes a harried, “Just a sec!” and Iris knows, theoretically, no one can tell when she blushes, but she can tell, and that’s almost as worse.
The door opens, and Caitlin Snow is taller than her. Of course, everyone is taller than her, but staring up at someone who has been on national TV the day before is even more nerve wracking.
Caitlin blinks at Iris and the piece of cake in saran wrap clutched tightly in her hand. “Can I help you?” she asks.
Iris presents the food. “I’m your upstairs neighbor in 6B,” she says. “Iris West. I came to say hello. Also, my cat is on your balcony, and I kind of need him back.”
Caitlin takes the cake and smiles, tired. “Caitlin,” she introduces herself. “Um. Well, come in then.”
Iris does. Caitlin has made herself more presentable and more sober in the past two hours, and she’s wearing casual baggy clothes that could double as pajamas now. Less skin is showing, and Iris can probably control her blush now.
Caitlin’s apartment is bare, as expected, with an opened suitcase on the floor, a mattress in the corner. Her door is propped open, and Iris can see the full extent of her balcony garden, pots crowding around each other, some with flowers in them, some with only seeds and the picture of the future plant. On one of these beds of soil, Barry is sun tanning, fully asleep.
“Barry,” Iris says, and picks him up, cradling the cat against her, dirt and all. Barry wakes up, licks his paw, and curls against Iris. She smiles and hugs him even more. “Thought I lost you for good,” she says, and turns back to Caitlin.
Caitlin is staring at Iris and her cat. “Oh,” she says. “You actually have a cat.”
Iris doesn’t know what to make of that. “Yes,” she says. “Caitlin, meet Barry.”
Caitlin pets Barry’s head until Barry closes his eyes again. Her reflexes are jerky, and delayed, and she might not be as sober as previously thought. “I thought it was just a ruse,” she says, laughing with a wry twist of her lips.
Iris frowns, puzzled.
“You know,” Caitlin gestures with her hands. “Find an excuse to talk to me, and then interrogate me. Interview me. You know.”
At Iris’ blank look, she says, “I know who you are. Iris West, prominent reporter at--whatever newspaper is painting us as intentionally blowing out the power to the city. I don’t know journalists, but--others--have told me what lengths you will go to get a narrative.”
Iris doesn’t respond to that. She’s not a paparazzi, but Caitlin, having just gone through a traumatic experience she’s being blamed for, is definitely entitled to her opinion.
“Of course,” Caitlin continues, in filterless hungover fashion, “for a split second I thought maybe you were asking me out.”
Iris’ mouth dries out. “I--what?”
When Caitlin blushes, her face visibly colors. She waves her hand around, and hugs the other one to her chest. “You came to my door, gave me food--that’s how it always happens in movies, right?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Iris says. Barry is smearing dirt on a nice work shirt, but she could care less. “But I’m definitely not here to press you for information. Not unless you want me to. I’m just here because of a great coincidence, so, welcome to the building.”
Caitlin smiles at her, and this smile is genuine, crinkling her eyes. Iris remembers the picture of her and her coworkers, so proud over their invention, smiling just this hard. Iris wonders when was the last time Caitlin smiled like this.
“Thank you,” Caitlin says. “And thanks for the cake.”
Iris nods, and hovers by the door. She can see the half-empty bottle of vodka hidden behind the suitcase from where she is now, as well as the seed packets and rubber gloves on Caitlin’s mattress. This is too good a coincidence to pass up.
“Hey,” she says, and Caitlin jolts alert, looking at her. “I wouldn’t be opposed to asking you out on a date, the movie way. Just so you know.”
Caitlin blinks. “Why? You don’t have a thing for accidental murderers, do you?”
“You were planting flowers and seeds before moving in,” Iris says. “Sure, you were drunk and distraught and not wearing, um, many clothes, but you were creating something new. On the STAR Labs project, you were engineering, and you invented and made things that turned out, somehow, to fail so horribly. And now you’re using every chance you get to make more living things, because you want to. Because making things are part of you.”
Iris’ voice is warbling by the end, and this is so personal that she can’t see straight, the multiple Caitlins in front of her blushing even more deeply, looking off into the distance.
“I don’t want to assume anything,” Iris says. “So, just--ignore me. I’ll make sure my fellow journalists don’t go anywhere near you. And I’ll just...let myself out.”
She opens Caitlin’s door, and is almost at the end of the hall before she hears Caitlin behind her.
Iris turns. Caitlin is standing in the dimly lit hallway, pale and with mussed hair, arms crossed.
Caitlin smiles at her. “If you wanted to go out with me, I wouldn’t be opposed to dinner. Considering all I have is a piece of cake in my mini fridge.”
Iris scratches Barry’s ears, and he stretches in her arms. “I’m a pretty good cook, if I say so myself,” she says. “I could make you dinner tonight, if you want.”
Caitlin chews on her lip. “I’d like that,” she says. “Six o’clock.”
Iris nods, and walks up the stairs to her own apartment, a spring in her step. She says to her cat, “Guess what, Barry, you might be the best matchmaker I’ve ever met.”