National City – 1971
Kara sighed impatiently as she rummaged through her make-up bag.
She could have sworn that mascara had been in there that morning. She’d put it on before work, after all. The packaging wasn’t entirely subtle, either. Amongst the black and silver compacts, lipsticks, blushes and eye shadows, the purple stick usually stood out quite harshly.
Kara put her glasses back on – glasses she had removed so she could apply the mascara – and continued to rummage. They were going to be late at this rate.
After removing every single item from the bag, laying it out on her vanity, and still seeing no purple stick, Kara sighed irritably once again.
It took a few seconds, proceeded by a clunk and then thundering down the hall, before a young face framed with dark hair, poked into the room.
Kara swivelled her chair to face her daughter. “You’ve been in my make-up bag again.”
“What? How dare you suggest… I would never…”
Kara’s eyebrows rose, and Bridget’s stuttering attempts to lie died in her throat.
She sighed. “Okay, yes, but I ran out and I don’t have enough money to buy any until next week… and this is a big deal…”
“Just…’ Kara put a hand up to silence her, ‘…bring me my mascara. Now.”
With a haughty sigh and an eye-roll, Bridget disappeared; her heavy footfalls sounding her direction back to her room down the hall.
Kara turned her attentions back to her hair – the one thing she could still work on. Soft streaks of grey ran from her temples, as if an extension of the lines around her eyes. The texture of her hair had changed in the past few years, menopause doing its handy work in giving what used to be luscious and soft golden locks, a more course quality. For not the first time, Kara felt the irrational urge to cut it all off.
Don’t be ridiculous, the voice in her head echoed.
It was Mike’s voice. More than once he’d told her she was being absurd; that he loved her scarecrow hair. And her crows feet.
Kara smiled at the memory; how these compliments and attempts to reassure came from a biased memory. She was sure no matter what, he'd still see her as that young girl in her twenties he’d come home to after a long and ghastly war.
And here they were, in the midst of another one.
Bridget had been vocal enough about it for the both of them; her aversion matching not only half the population of the rest of the country, but her fathers as well.
Kara tried not to think about it. She had enough on her plate as it was.
Stop fussing, Jacqueline had said. All you have to do is go up there and smile, she’d said, giving her own sparkly grin.
The whole thing was ridiculous.
Earlier that afternoon, Kara had been minding her own business, filing paperwork in the nurses station while orderlies and doctors bustled past the big, glass windows that looked out onto the wards. That’s when she’d received the phone call.
It started with a chesty cough. “K-Kara, it’s me…”
Kara grimaced. “God, you sound terrible. Still no better?”
Down the line, Jacqueline had spluttered again. Despite clearing her throat, when she spoke again, her voice was still hoarse.
“Oh, no, absolutely. This is just the cigars.”
“Stop fooling around. You need to rest! Bronchitis is no joke, and I told you, I’d handle everything here.”
Jacqueline half-laughed, half coughed. “You do remember I’m your superior, yes?”
“Only just… but yes, I vaguely recall.”
“Good. And as your superior… I’m designating you a task.”
The slow, meaningful way she’d said this, had Kara put down her pen and sit up a little straighter. She’d been working under this woman for the past five years – she knew that tone.
“What is it?’ Kara had asked with great trepidation.
Jacqueline, Head of Nursing at Griffith Hospital, cleared her throat again. “I need you to go for me tonight.”
Dread settled in Kara’s stomach at these words; an anxiety that had been simmering since Jacqueline had called in sick, suddenly reached boiling point.
Kara had sighed, taken her glasses off, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Jacqueline…”
“No, Kara, you cant fight me on this one. It’s too important.”
“You know Antonia is a better public speaker than me. Or what about Karen? I’m sure she could get someone to babysit…”
Another coughing fit down the line had silenced Kara’s protests. And when her superior had finally caught her breath, her tone was that of finality.
“My darlin’, the speech is only a few lines and its all written out. The cards are in my top desk drawer. All you gotta do is go up there, read the cards, smile and that’s it. Easy as pie.”
“Believe me, if I could talk for long enough and stand without the world spinning I’d go…’ as if to prove her point, more coughing flew down the line, ‘… but as you can hear, I’m not in the best shape.”
After a long, exaggerated sigh, Kara conceded with a, “Fine. I’ll do it. But you owe me.”
Jacqueline had laughed again, a coarse bark. “Owe you? Sweetheart you’re gonna have a six-course dinner, all drinks and a night at The Hilton on the house. I don’t owe you diddly squat. Just remember to enjoy yourself, alright?”
Five hours later, including a bustling train ride home and a nap, Kara was still not at all convinced this was a good idea.
She was fine being second in command in the safety and familiarity of the wards. Griffith Hospital had been her home for almost fifteen years now. She knew the white halls, green laminate flooring, bright fluorescent lighting like her own apartment. She could sense the shifts in mood in her patients, her staff, the families who visited, the very wards themselves. She was a good second-in-charge. She’d worked hard for it. She liked having the superiority, but not all the responsibility.
Responsibilities such as these, for a start.
Griffith Hospital was still, after all these years, despite newer and fancier hospitals being developed, the biggest hospital in the state. It was celebrating its centennial this year, the ward Kara worked on being one of the original wings of the old building. So it was natural, of course, that the person to accept the plaque presented by the Mayor, his fellow senators, and the esteemed members of the National City high society, would be the Matron of the ward – Jacqueline, who had been working at the hospital for over forty years.
Who, unfortunately, was not immune to chest infections.
So of course, the Deputy, the First Mate of the ship, would have to step up and take charge.
Kara was almost too deep in her brooding to realize her twenty-year-old daughter was back in the room. She whirled around; lean as her mother had been when she was her age, Bridget was now dressed in her Sunday best. Impeccably done make-up delicately coated features so like her father, apart from the blue eyes she had inherited from Kara. Her dark hair flowed in long, dark waves down her shoulders.
“Here,’ she said, holding the mascara and, to Kara’s frustration, a compact mirror, some eye shadow and a lipstick.
Kara snatched them back. “Go get your shoes on, we’ll be late.”
“Can I borrow this? Thanks!” Without waiting for any kind of response, Bridget snatched up Kara’s best perfume and darted from the room. Kara was half-up out of her seat before her voice echoed down the hall, ‘I’ll bring it right back! I promise!”
“Have kids, they said,’ Kara muttered to herself. She stood up from the vanity and went to find her shoes. ‘It’ll be fun, they said.”
The party was lavish, and Kara felt extremely under dressed.
The Hilton of course knew nothing of modesty. Its grand ballroom was gleaming with plush furniture, garnishes that glinted and gleamed in the soft glow of the gold chandeliers that hung from above. The light that shone from the crystals was slightly muted by the cloud of smoke that hovered above them; all around the room, men were puffing on cigars and pipes; women were balancing cigarettes between their fingers. The health professional inside Kara had blanched at their disregard for fresh air more than once.
But this wasn’t the first time she’d been to something like this.
The memory didn’t even have time to form. Even if she had the time, she wouldn’t have let it. Bridget was suddenly beside her, back from her search for a waiter who still bore some canapes, her left hand holding a wine glass, and her right clutching a bulging portion of Vol-au-vents.
Kara sighed as she took the glass from her daughter. “Can you at least try to look like you’ve been out in public before?”
“Ruwd,’ Bridget mumbled around a canape. She swallowed and continued, ‘You always said I shouldn’t care what people thought of me.”
“Yes, and I stand by that. But we’re not representing us tonight, we’re representing the hospital.”
“And your boss.”
Kara fixed Bridget’s smirk with a stare. “Don’t eat too many of those.”
“Why? It’ll ruin my figure?”
“No,’ Kara nodded at the door at the heavy, oak doors on the other side of the massive room, ‘your dinner. We still have a six-course meal to go.”
Bridget looked her mother dead in the eye, her expression conveying how little she cared, as she slowly pressed another vol-au-vent into her mouth.
Kara shook her head, unable to stop herself smiling at the ridiculousness of what she had created with her own body. She took a drink of the champagne she had sent Bridget to fetch for her; her smile broadening when she felt Bridget’s hand slide into her own. It was a sign of solidarity, as if to say, Don’t worry, Mom. All these fancy rich people make me just as nervous as they do you.
But it wasn’t that that has Kara on edge. It wasn’t her dress that aroused in her the sense of anxiety. It was an older dress, sure. And it didn’t fit her the way it had seven years ago – thanks to age, time and a strong refusal to spend money on a new dress when this one was just fine, despite the fact it didn’t necessarily cling to the right places anymore. Standing next to her lean, perfectly proportioned daughter still wouldn’t have caused her concern. She had enough confidence in herself to know she still looked fine for a woman just into her fifties. Mulling about in this crowd was easy. She could stand off to the sidelines, wine in her hand, and pull of the disinterested look that worked so well for the people around her.
But soon she would have to get up in front of every single one of these people and read her speech.
Kara was appalling at public speaking. She’d managed to avoid it over the years, the responsibility of talking to directors and management of the hospital always coming down to Jacqueline. She was the Matron. It was her job.
It wasn’t helping that everyone in this room was so influential.
Kara had had her fair share of being around well to-do people in her life. It had been a while, but she remembered their tight smiles, their sharp wits, the way they always seemed to look down their nose at you, even if they thought you had something they needed to get just that little bit further ahead. Years passed, new heirs to railroads and businesses stepped up for their mothers and fathers, but it was all still the same.
They hadn’t all been like that, though.
Memories of a similar sort of evening, held in a town hall, began to dance across her vision, mingling with the spectacle happening right before her in that moment.
Kara sighed, impatient. “What time is it?”
Bridget downed her last Vol-au-vent. “Twenty minutes since Shiny Shoes glanced over here.”
Amusement replaced some of Kara’s anxiety. She looked at her daughters disappointed expression and followed her line of vision to the cluster of people gathered just by the hors d’oeuvres table. Standing beside an older woman garnished with glittering jewellery, and listening to a man in a sharp, black suit with balding grey hair, stood a young man with a stiff posture and bright eyes. His black hair was combed back, one little strand escaping to hang almost in his left eye. He had been casting glances across the room at Bridget for some time now, seemingly not having the time or the courage to close the distance and say hello.
“You know you can go say hello to him,’ Kara teased. ‘Isn’t that what all your rallies are about? Equal opportunity?”
“Doesn’t mean chivalry has to be dead.”
“One could argue he is being chivalrous. He’s leaving you be to enjoy a night out with your mother instead of subjecting you to the boring conversations of men and their “opinions”.”
Eyes still on the young man, Bridget snorted. “Anyone who looks that good in a suit can bore me any day. Look, he’s drinking wine. Not beer like the Neanderthals at school. He obviously has good taste.”
“Well if he does come over to talk to you, we’ll know that’s true.”
Bridget gave Kara a warm smile.
“Excuse me… pardon me… coming though… oh, excuse me Senator!... Mrs. Mathews?”
Kara turned her attention to the man who had just squeezed his way out of the crowd. He looked extremely harassed; his tie was considerably loosened, sweat glistening on his brow. Had there not been a bushy moustache across his lip, worming all the way around the sides of his mouth, Kara knew it would have been shiny with sweat there too.
He took a moment to compose himself, adjusting his vest and clearing his throat. “Do excuse my tardiness, Mrs. Mathews, but I was expecting Matron Kilkenny. I was only just informed of her absence.”
“Yes, she’s gravely unwell,’ Kara explained. Her heart was racing already. ‘I’ll be… delivering her speech and accepting the plaque.” The words tasted like vomit.
The man let out a long sigh, shoulders heaving. “Yes, very well. I will inform Mayor Cooper and have his cards changed accordingly. Please wait here until I return, we need to discuss the timetable for this evening.”
He was back much quicker than Kara had anticipated. As asked, she had not left her position by the grandfather clock; she had sent Bridget around the room for drinks and canapes. The man reappeared while Bridget was on the hunt for Devilled Eggs.
“Right,’ he pulled from his breast pocket a deck of cue cards, ‘so if you’ll just follow me, I’ll introduce you to the members of the board and the beneficiaries who you’ll be greeting on stage. Once everyone, including yourself, is seated in the ballroom, there will be opening speeches, followed by…”
The man continued to speak rapidly as he led her across the room, hand tentatively at the small of her back. He told her how the evening had been laid out, how the presentation would go, which side of the stage she would walk on and walk off. Kara had to lean in, eyes on the floor to watch where she was treading as she tried to both keep pace with him and memorise his instructions. She still wasn’t sure exactly who this man was, why and how he knew all this, or even his name. But she could tell that from his monotone explanations and confident stride through such an elite attendance that, despite his obvious stress, this was a job he had carried out many times in the past.
Once the explanation was over (Kara was very impressed with how he had managed to fit everything into the very short moments it had taken to walk from one end of the room to the other), he let out a long sigh, took a moment to compose himself once again, and then straightened up as they approached a small group more very well-dressed people. The man at her side reached out and tapped a man in a grey suit on the shoulder.
“Pardon me, sir, this is Mrs. Mathews. She’s accepting the award this evening.”
The Mayor of National City turned, and fixed her with a beaming, vote-winning smile she’s seen all over the place on flyers and billboards six months ago.
“Ah yes, welcome! So glad you could make it.’ He took Kara’s hand, shaking it warmly. His soft, southern accent was a delight to listen to. No wonder he’d won in a landslide victory last year. ‘So sorry to hear the news of your Matron. But I’m glad she could find someone on such short notice to receive the plaque in her stead.”
Kara bit back the retort ‘Well you couldn’t very well mail it to us’, and instead returned the smile and said, ‘Thank you so much, Mister Cooper. Mayor Cooper. Oh, goodness…”
The Mayor chuckled. “Now, don’t you worry about a thing. Mister Cooper is just fine. Thank you, Mikey, outstanding work as always. Now, let me introduce you to the rest of the gang you’ll be shaking hands with tonight…”
Mikey, Kara’s balding friend, beamed as the Mayor slipped him a twenty-dollar bill before bustling away. And with another polite hand at the small of her back, Kara felt herself being directed once again.
“Now, Mrs. Mathews, may I introduce two member of my council, this is Howard Nichols and Lyle Patterson,’ Kara shook both gentleman’s hands in turn, ‘this is publicist Nathaniel and his assistant Marjorie,’ Kara shook more hands, ‘Hank O’Brien, the manager of this fine hotel… Michael Davies, Dean of the School of Nursing… Kelsie Brown, my personal assistant… oh, and this is Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, of Annex Incorporated – they’re big beneficiaries of this evening and its cause.”
Kara had shaken so many hands so quickly, glanced at so many faces and tried to remember so many names, that she barely noticed the handsome features of Mr. Edwards, or the delicate handshake of Mrs. Edwards.
A handshake that lingered.
Kara blinked, taking in green eyes that were oh so familiar, realising who’s hand she had in hers.
It almost happened in slow motion, like she was in a dream. Hand still in Kara’s, Lena Luthor’s expression was unreadable.
Like a film on fast forward, dozens of memories flashed through Kara’s mind in the few seconds it took for Lena to be able to form any kind of response. Her throat bobbed as she took a moment, then a polite smile crossed her face.
“Kara Danvers. It’s certainly been a long time.”
It was so official. Nothing like the soft way Lena used to speak to her, but then also nothing like the stiff and cold way she’d said that final good-bye.
If Lena was thinking the same thing, Kara couldn’t tell. Instead, she gave Lena’s hand another shake.
“Mathews now, actually.”
It came out harsher than she meant. Or maybe she did mean it. Lena’s lips only pursed into a tighter smile, and she finally let Kara’s hand go.
“Oh, you two already know each other?’ The Mayor beamed. ‘Excellent. Don’t suppose you’d mind taking care of Mrs. Mathews for a minute while I head on in? Still need to put in a few last-minute tweaks into my speech! See you in there, kids.”
In the back of her mind, Kara mused for a moment that it was quite ridiculous that they should be called “kids” when they were all clearly older than him.
In the front of her mind, Kara felt the rest of the world go dim as she looked at the woman in front of her.
She had barely changed at all. The stunning beauty she’d been when they’d been younger, with long dark hair and mesmerising eyes and a presence that could turn every head in the room, it seemed the years had only added to the force that was Lena Luthor. The confidence and self-assuredness of age had settled well with her, making her seem like an even more commanding force than ever – a woman who would take no shit from anyone anymore.
Kara knew she looked ridiculous, standing there blinking like an idiot. And until the arm wrapped around Lena’s waist, Kara had completely forgotten they weren’t the only two people in the room.
“How do you two know each other, then?’ Mr. Edwards chuckled, looking very interested as he glanced back and forth between the two of them.
“Robert, darling, meet Kara Mathews. And old acquaintance of mine.”
Kara felt her teeth grind at the word but gave Robert Edwards, handsome and dazzling as the chandelier above them, a polite smile as he shook her hand as well.
“We met during the war,’ Lena explained. ‘The last one.’ Her eyes hadn’t left Kara once. They were analysing; no doubt she was taking in the changes twenty years had caused to her as well.
God, so many years.
Robert’s eyebrows rose. “Ah, I see. In London?”
“No,’ Lena flinched. ‘When I was… at my parents’ factory. You remember me telling you, dear?”
Dear. This man was her husband. Kara had heard the news, of course. There had been a small headline years ago, pronouncing the joining of two billionaire heirs joining in matrimonial bliss. Kara had tried to put it out of her mind, privately giving it only a year or so before it all ended in divorce.
Judging from his presence here and now, and the way he smirked at the word dear and ran his hand up Lena’s side, Kara had been very mistaken.
He was a handsome man. Blonde hair slicked back, startling blue eyes, a charming, white-toothed smile that could put any celebrity or politician to shame. His broad shoulders framed a posture that implied that despite not officially being the most powerful man in the room, he knew where he stood and took great pride in defending it to anyone who would question it.
A perfect match for someone like Lena Luthor.
Her husband scoffed into his whiskey glass – neat, like Lena’s, Kara observed. Some things never changed. “You’ve told me so many war stories, who could keep up?”
Kara expected Lena to straighten, brush the snide reply off. Instead, she eyed her husband up and down in a derisive manner.
“You’re right. How can stories about a world war compete with tales of old, white men holding conferences in Monte Carlo and Vienna held in five-star hotels?”
Robert laughed, loud and honest, and leaned in to press a soft kiss to Lena’s neck. Kara looked away, but not before noticing the way Lena glanced at her.
“Lena passed through the hospital once,’ Kara announced, ‘visiting the women who had been injured after the factory accident.”
Robert straightened up, the sly look evaporating from his face. “Oh, yes, I remember now. Almost took out half of your business.”
“Lena is that kind of person,’ Kara continued, looking pointedly at the man in front of her, ‘considerate to everyone.”
“Probably why she married me,’ Robert chuckled. ‘Took pity on me.”
Lena laughed awkwardly, taking a long sip of her drink. “Yes, that’s why.”
An expression passed over Roberts face for a split second, so fast Kara almost passed it off as a trick of the light flickering overhead. A look that looked vaguely like sadness.
“Mom, I need you to hold these for me…”
Kara blinked, coming back to reality in time to hold the cocktail glass full of shrimp that was shoved into her hand. She glanced at her daughter beside her, an identical glass in her own hand.
Bridget was mid-sip of her own drink, when her eyes boggled. She swallowed hastily and gasped, “Oh my god, you’re… Lena Luthor.”
Lena hid her surprise behind a smirk as Bridget passed Kara her other glass, and held a shaky hand out to shake, looking in awe at the woman in front of her.
“Sweetheart,’ Kara chuckled, trying to ease the awkwardness in her chest, ‘how do you know Lena?”
“Are you kidding? Mrs. Luthor is the poster women for the women’s rights movement, and for the National Organisation for Women, not to mention being one of the most successful women in America history, not to mention…”
Lena laughed, a genuine flutter of joy, and put a hand on Bridget’s arm. “You don’t need to mention anymore. Please. The gentlemen… it unsettles them, you understand.”
Bridget looked around with disdain. “If the male ego can’t handle strong women, it shouldn’t be pretending its capable of running the world.”
Lena’s eyebrows rose as she took in Bridget. Kara remembered that look being directed at her, many years ago, after she slapped a jerk outside of a factory.
The look Lena directed at Kara now, tearing her eyes away from her daughter, made Kara shift uncomfortably.
“Sweetheart, don’t badger Mrs. Luthor. Sorry, Mrs. Edwards. We should go find out seats. Lena, it was lovely to see you again. Nice to meet you, Robert.”
Kara didn’t give Bridget a chance to argue. Putting a hand on her hip, she shoved her daughter toward the now open doors that lead to the enormous conference hall. People began to follow their lead, pouring in behind them, chatter rising up loudly around them as they realised what was happening.
“Mom,’ Bridget breathed in her ear, neck craning around to look behind her, ‘how did…”
“Just find out table, sweetheart.”
“But, Mom… Lena Luthor…”
Kara offered some very stern tsk’s, an eyebrows raise, and the subject was thankfully dropped – for now. Kara made a pretence of sending Bridget off to look for their place setting; of trying to find which table they were to be on. A reason to keep her head down, to resist temptation of looking over her own shoulders to see where a certain brunette went to. Hopefully not their table.
Her prayers were answered when they found their place, a table to the far side of the room.
Bridget sat down, admiring her name written on the little card in front of the large bowl of bread roll, as she loaded two said bread rolls onto her plate. Kara made small talk and shook hands with the people who joined them at the round table. Bridget took advantage of introducing herself to the wealthy investors and business owners sat with them, head no doubt thinking about job prospects for the summer break and after college and the subject of how Kara knew Lena was thankfully dropped… for now.
Kara hoped her irritation was to be mistaken for nerves.
What the hell was the universe playing at? Why of all the places in the world, here? Why her?
She wanted to leave. It was irrational, and childish, but she wanted nothing more in that moment to get up, take her daughter by the hand, and get the hell out of there.
But she couldn’t. She wanted to go smack Lena in her perfect face, and drink until she could see straight, but she couldn’t. She wanted to crawl under the table, but she couldn’t. She wanted to look away and not look back.
But she couldn’t.
Kara’s fresh glass of wine was almost emptied in the first few moments after being poured for her. She barely tasted it as she watched the table on the other side of the room. Robert Edwards paused from laughing with an older gentleman seated already in order to pull a chair out for Lena. She gave him a soft, warm smile, and put a hand on his shoulder before sitting herself down. Robert pushed the chair in behind her, smoothed out his tie and sat down beside her to resume his apparently hilarious conversation.
Lena ran her finger around the edge of her glass, ready and waiting for whiskey to be poured. She looked around, seemingly to establish her place at the table amongst her peers. But then her head turned, and her field of gaze widened, and Kara was glad when her entrée was suddenly placed in front of her, giving her something else to look at.
Three hours later, Kara’s headache ebbed as she pressed her thumb into the spot just above her right eye.
Glasses discarded on the bar, she felt the jolt of pain surge through to the back of her skull, let it linger for a long moment, and sighed with relief as she released the pressure.
The headache had begun just as she was about to step up on stage. Kara had a feeling it wouldn’t be going away any time soon. She half wondered if she should go back to the room; the haze of smoke that hung low above her in the hotel bar would do nothing for this throb in her head.
Kara rubbed her eyes, and drank the rest of her wine. Maybe one more wouldn’t hurt. She hadn’t had that much at dinner; her stomach had been in enough knots with the prospect of speeches, and people looking up at her.
Some people in particular.
“Have another one?”
Kara looked at bartender across the bar. Though her vision was blurred without her glasses, she could see he was already waiting with an open bottle of champagne.
‘Why not?’ she sighed. ‘Although alcohol probably isn’t the best thing to make this headache go away.”
“You part of that fancy soiree that was in tonight?’ he asked, eyeing her outfit. She nodded, and he chuckled, topping up her glass. ‘Looked like a lot of fun. If you like that sort of thing.”
“That sort of thing?”
“Yeah, y’know… parading around, trying to show everyone how important you are. Seems exhausting to me.”
It took a second to wade through the fog of the dull throb in her forehead, and the tingling feeling of the wine, to realize that he wasn’t being rude, or calling her a snob. He was seeing her across from him, looking miserable and exhausted from the whole affair she’d just escaped from, and could see a kindred spirit – one that had to put on a show sometimes, but at least got to go home at the end of the night and wipe the pretense away.
It made that ache in her chest ease a little.
Kara offered him a tired smile. “It is, trust me. I’m glad I only have to do this for one night.”
He smirked and began wiping the bar top. “Well, if you feel the urge to get back in amongst it, we’ve got an opening here behind the bar. You’ll get to hang out with rich people all night long. Know how to make any good at cocktails?”
“If memory serves,’ a new voice crooned, ‘she can make one hell of a Gin and Tonic.”
Kara slid her glasses back on, turned to her right, and watched Lena perch onto the stool next to her. Her dress hiked up slightly, the slit running down the side of her thigh showing off her stockings.
As Lena put her purse on the table and began rummaging around, Kara turned back to the bartender, who was watching Lena with something akin to barely concealed awe. Kara had seen men look at Lena this way many times; clearly her age did nothing to diminish her effect on the opposite sex.
Or, she reminded herself, probably the same sex either.
“Er,’ Kara tore her eyes away, ‘put it on room two zero five.”
Lena lit her cigarette with her tiny little lighter, blew out a long puff of smoke, and nodded at the man across from them. “Makers Mark please, and put them both on sixteen sixty five.”
“You don’t have to…’ Kara started, but the words died at the quirked eyebrow on Lena’s face. ‘Thank you,’ she finished with a small smile. ‘I probably shouldn’t have any more than this, anyway.”
“Had a few at dinner, did you?’ Lena smirked.
“One or two,’ Kara admitted. ‘Dutch courage.” The wine provided had been too sweet to have any more than that. Kara liked her wine dry.
Lena’s eyes lingered as her glass of straight whiskey, two knuckles, was placed in front of her. Kara took the lingering moment to take a mouthful of her own champagne – bubbly and buttery, all at the same time.
“What?’ Kara asked.
“Nothing,’ Lena took another drag of her smoke. ‘You did well. Your speech.”
Kara herself laughed this time, without much humour. “Did you leave your fan club just to come and make fun of me?” Truly, the group of men Kara had last seen Lena standing during would surely me mortified of her absence, even all these hours later.
“They can write to my fan mail. But I’m not making fun of you,’ Kara looked at Lena again, saw the sincerity there. ‘It was beautifully written. I didn’t know you could write like that.”
“I can’t,’ she admitted. ‘I didn’t write it. I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
“No,’ Lena mused, ‘indeed not. And yet, here you are…’ she smirked. ‘Of all the gin joints…”
Kara watched Lena take a long sip of her drink. She always savoured these things; her cigarettes, drinks, meals, taking her time to let the flavour and sensation mull about. Kara looked away before she could watch the bob of Lena’s throat as she swallowed.
“Why are you here?’ It came out faster, ruder, than Kara had intended.
Lena looked shocked only for a moment at her tone. Then she seemed to realise something and relaxed.
“Robert’s family received the invite. His father is in Greece and couldn’t make it, so we flew in from New York this morning.”
It wasn’t what she meant.
“I thought you lived in Metropolis.”
Lena turned slightly in her seat, toward Kara. “Been keeping tabs on me, have you?”
For some reason, despite knowing she was joking, the insinuation infuriated her.
Kara lifted her chin. “You’re always in the papers, hard not to know.”
“Indeed. If you must know, we were at a conference all day yesterday. Robert has been trying to close a business deal for the last six months, yesterday was his final offer.”
Robert, Robert, Robert… the name set her teeth on edge.
“So you were at this meeting all day, and then flew across the country last night? You must be exhausted.”
“Concerned about me?”
Kara gave her a look over the top of her glasses.
Lena shrugged, taking another drink. “The Concorde saves time.”
Kara resisted rolling her eyes. Lena noticed.
“You think I sound pretentious,’ said Lena.
“Not at all. If I had the money to take a super fast and fancy means of transportation, I certainly would.”
Lena’s eyes narrowed playfully. “You’ve gotten sneakier at insulting people, did you know that?”
Kara did roll her eyes then. “Twenty six years years of trying to get stubborn patients to take their medication will do that to a person.”
“You look good,’ Lena mentioned.
“Please. Your bracelet cost more than this dress.”
“That’s not what I meant. You’ve barely changed at all.”
“I use a good moisturizer.”
Lena laughed, turning completely now toward Kara, resting her elbow on the bar. “See, there it is again! Where did that sarcasm come from?”
“It’s been almost three decades since we lived in Midvale, Lena - people change.”
“My god. Has it really been so long?”
Kara turned back to her drink. “You know it has, Lena.”
Lena was being much friendlier than earlier, walls of propriety down, and it was throwing Kara off. A sturdy, walled-off Lena she could handle. It was her last memory of her, after all. But this…
A long silence followed; Kara felt the weight of Lena’s attention on her, almost smothering. Kara refused to give into that old habit of shifting uncomfortably under her gaze. That was the awkwardness of a young woman. She was no longer anything of the sort. If Bridget could face her, barely twenty and straight backed, then so could she.
“So it has,’ Lena finally said.
Kara had so much she wanted to say then, all of it stuck on the end of the tongue; about many quite nights of staring up at the ceiling she wanted to scream at Lena, tell her about all the thoughts she’d had and tears she’d shed.
But she said nothing.
With a soft smile, Lena lifted her glass. “To… unexpected reunions.”
Kara sighed, offered a smile, and tapped her glass against the edge of Lena’s with a soft, resounding clink.
Lena looked around. “Where’s your daughter?”
The way she said the word daughter, with a hint of disbelief, was enough to have Kara turn back toward the bar.
“Out with friends,’ she explained. ‘Bridget attends university here in the city, she mentioned something about a party in one of the dorms.”
“That’s the one.”
Lena ran her fingernail around the edge of her glass. “With a mind like that I’m sure she could have attended any college she wanted to in the country.”
“Not on my paycheck.’ Kara almost laughed, at how easily Lena still seemed to forget how the real world worked. ‘I’m sorry if she embarrassed you earlier.”
‘No, not at all. It was lovely to meet her. She seems quite… tenacious.”
“Takes after her aunt on that one, trust me.”
“Oh, I don’t know,’ Lena shuffled into the couch a little, getting comfortable, ‘I don’t remember Alex punching any men in the face out the front of a munitions factory.”
“I didn’t punch him.”
“You should have,’ Lena murmured.
“Yes,’ Kara agreed, remembering how vile that Archer man had been, ‘perhaps I should have.”
Lena smiled at her for a moment. “How is Alex?”
“She’s good. She’s living in San Francisco right now, with her partner.”
“Er, no. That didn’t last much longer after you left, unfortunately.”
Lena looked regretful; empathetic. “Your mother found out?”
“Yes, she did. But that’s not what broke them up. Alex told them both, in the end, after Jeramiah came home when the war ended. Jeramiah wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea, but Eliza was surprisingly very much on Alex’s side. She starting talking to Jeramiah about how there were proven studies of homosexuality in all types of animal species aside from their own, and… well look, it all got very science-y, and he came around in the end.
‘But Alex was always going to be too big for Midvale. Once the war was over, after her and Maggie unfortunately parted ways and she saved enough money, she got on her bike and headed straight for California. She’s been working at the California Academy of Sciences ever since. It’s where she met Kelly.”
“A scientist too?”
“Of course,’ Kara chuckled.
Lena laughed. “Well, good for her. San Francisco was a good move. The community there is much more… tolerant, I hear.”
“It’s why she chose it. Anything to make life a little easier. Being a scientist and a woman is hard enough, let alone a homosexual one.”
A shadow passed across Lena’s face, her expression shifting as she stared off into space, taking a sip of her wine. Kara supposed Lena was the last person who needed such concepts explained to her.
“And everyone else?”
For long, vindictive moment, Kara pursed her lips and very strongly considered telling Lena that if she was so interested in the affairs of her family and friends, she could have responded to some of the letters Kara had sent her over the years. Just one.
Instead she told her about how Winn got married to Sally, how they moved to Washington and have their first grandchild arriving soon. About how after this mother passed, James sold the family home and moved to Chicago. How they’d grown up together, celebrated weddings and mourned deaths and repaired one another after the effects of the war rippled back from Europe. How the world had turned and life had, somehow, gone on for all of them.
Lena listened with bright eyes that did not match the amount of alcohol she had imbibed. No doubt her tolerance had improved over the years. Countless board room meetings and cocktail parties and business trips would do that to a person.
“And… Mike couldn’t make it this evening?”
And there it was, the elephant sitting at the bar with them. The same elephant that had lingered the entire evening.
“No,’ was all Kara said.
She could feel Lena’s eyes boring into her. When she chanced a look, Lena’s gaze flicked away, lips still pursed.
“Where’s Robert?” Kara asked, desperate to change the subject.
Lena, thankfully, allowed the change. “Taken out on the town with someone of the younger, rowdier crowd of entrepreneurs.”
“Really? Without you? I didn’t think you’d stand for being left out like that.”
“Please,’ Lena waved a hand, ‘I can think of much better ways to spend my evening than hanging out with a bunch of entitled rich boys who drink too much to replace the feeling of the silver spoon in their mouths.”
“What?’ Lena frowned.
Kara raised an eyebrow.
“Ah,’ Lena nodded, ‘you’re sensing some irony in that statement, coming from a woman wearing heels worth almost as much as that chandelier.” Lena pointed to the sparkling fixture above them.
Kara shook her head.
“What?’ Lena huffed.
“I just… remember you wearing twenty dollar steel-capped shoes and still being able to walk fine.”
“Yes, well I don’t think those boots and coveralls would go down well in this crowd.”
“You own this crowd,’ Kara pointed out. ‘You always have. And yet you still adjust yourself to placate them and their ridiculous ideals.”
Lena leaned against the bar, looking down her nose at Kara. It was the sort of look she would expect assorted businessmen and women would be on the other end of when they presented to her a proposal she thought to be less than ideal.
Kara felt the tension thicken, not helped by the amount of wine she’d had in the time they’d been sitting there. Like someone had increased the air conditioning in the bar.
“I’ve been called a lot of things in my time,’ Lena said cooly. ‘Been made to feel this big, and too big, and like nothing at all. You think you’re the first one to call me entitled? To think I don’t see the world how it really is? I was in that factory for ten hours a day, four days a week, slaving away in the grime, with the smell of chemicals burning my nostrils and tainting my mouth until only six shots of straight vodka could burn away. I’ve had grazes, and burns, and cuts up and down my arms that still leave a mark today. And you still think I’m a snob.”
“Every other woman working there did the same thing,’ Kara retorted. ‘Still has those same marks that can’t be covered up by expensive glittering jewels or fine make-up. They didn’t get the luxury of deciding to leave for an easier life – they’re still there. Left behind.”
“Like you were?’
Kara’s eyes narrowed.
Lena cleared her throat and turned back to the bar to gather up her purse. “I’m sorry you still feel that way.’
And I’m sorry you seem to have memory loss, Kara was dying to respond.
‘I thought perhaps we could have caught up, enjoyed each others company after all this time… but it appears I was wrong. I’m sorry to have interrupted your solace, I’ll leave alone.”
“You’re good at that.”
Lena’s jaw tightened as she got to her feet. “Good-bye, Kara.”
Kara watched her walk away, feeling her cheeks burning – with anger and frustration. Lena’s heels clicked loudly on the marble floor as she strode out of the bar. Kara turned away when Lena had pressed the button to summon the elevator.
She’d had enough of watching Lena walking away from her.
Kara looked up. The bar tender was back, bottle ready in his hands, looking wary. She had to give him credit – he knew how to read the room.
She looked at her half-finished flute, bubbles settling now. The sense of déjà vu hit her hard.
She had had enough of watching Lena walking away from her.
Kara waved a dismissive hand toward the bottle, downed the rest of her drink, and gathered her things.
Sixteen oh five? No, sixteen three five?
Kara tried to remember the number, even as the elevator rose upward. When the doors dinged open on the sixteenth floor, she knew her choices had been narrowed down significantly. Of course a floor full of penthouses would only have a few doors to choose from.
Flashbacks of a night similar to this hit her all at once; of dragging a drunken sister down the hallway, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes wafting along behind them…
Kara marched right up to sixteen sixty-five and knocked firmly before her resolve left and took her back to her room right along with it.
For a long moment, there was silence. Kara clenched her fist, half-deciding whether to knock again.
Then there was a soft rattle of metal, the lock being unhitched, and the door opened to reveal Lena. Her hair was down now, jewellery gone. Later, Kara would muse on how significant that small detail was – Lena would have looked through the peephole to see who was knocking, and how after so many years, she didn’t even flinch at the idea of letting Kara see her unmade and undone.
But now, Kara sighed. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be here. And I’m not here to apologize.”
“You… just did –“
“But I wanted to come up here to tell you that I’ve well and truly had enough of your shit.”
Lena’s eyebrows rose. “Oh?”
“Yes. You’re a brat, Lena, and you’ve had your whole life getting away with your shit without anyone telling you otherwise, and I’m sick of it. I let you walk away from me the last time because I was young, and naive, but I refuse to do that again, because I have too much to say to you. So, can you let me in so we can talk? Or can you come back down to the bar, please? Because if I don’t get this out, if I don’t take advantage of this moment, I’ll regret even worse than I’ve regretted it all these years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have this chance again after tonight, and…”
Kara couldn’t say anymore. Lena’s hands held her firm as she pressed her lips to Kara’s. Lena smelled and tasted and felt so familiar that it didn’t even occur to Kara to push her away. She’d done enough of that for one lifetime.
So when Lena pulled her into the room, and shut the door behind them – when Lena had her pressed again the wall, knee between her legs and hands everywhere – Kara did what she’d wanted to do for decades.
It was some time later that Kara was running her fingernails along Lena’s naked back, smoothing her long hair out.
“I like the grey,’ she remarked. ‘You shouldn’t dye it.”
Lena looked up. Her head had been in Kara’s lap, her slow, even breath fluttering the sheets pooled around Kara’s mid-section. “I don’t want to do it for vanity. I’m doing it because its all they seem to be putting in the papers recently.”
“Y’know, now that I mention it, I do recall reading one quick article. Something about an “ageing tyrant”?”
“It was tycoon, get your prescription checked.” Lena reached up at tapped Kara on the nose, where her glasses should have been. Kara laughed and swatted her hand away.
She started running her hands through Lena’s hair again. “I cant believe we did this.”
“Which time? First or second?”
“Who knew you had such stamina, and at your age…”
“You’re not that much younger than me, you know.”
“But I am younger, and that’s what counts.”
Kara shook her head. “I forgot how competitive you are.”
Lena turned a little, to get a better look. A ghost of a smile crossed her features, softening her face. “And I forgot how beautiful you are.”
“No, really. You were always stunning but now…”
“Now I have these…’ Kara scrunched her face up, and pointed to the lines around her eyes, ‘and these grey hairs here… and my neck…”
“But now,’ Lena continued, ‘its like you’ve settled into yourself. Your features have sharpened, and your expressions are… different. Bolder. You’re more confident. And I know that, not just because of that thing you did earlier.”
Kara felt her blush work itself all the way up through her face. She tsk’d and pushed a chuckling Lena away.
Lena sobered from her laughter, sat up, and shifted closer to run her hand along Kara’s cheek. Kara leaned into it. It had been so long since she’d been touched with such tenderness.
“You look sad,’ Lena observed. ‘Do you… have regrets?”
“No,’ Kara took her hand, looked her right in the eye. ‘No. Although I have to wonder… will Robert be back soon? I imagine he’d find this situation less than ideal.”
To Kara’s surprise, Lena smirked.
“Don’t you worry,’ she murmured. ‘He’s no doubt off having the same sort of fun tonight.”
“You said you’ve been following our lives these past few years?
“I didn’t say that exactly. I read papers…”
“Have you not wondered why we have no children?”
It was a frank question, and took Kara off guard.
“Well… I mean…”
“You presumed it was because of me. And you’d be half right. Robert is… of the same disposition as I am.”
Kara as only surprised for a moment. She understood. “This is a marriage of convenience?”
“I found out about him when we were engaged. I thought he was having an affair – and he was. Just not in the way I expected. We had a long chat that night, after I found him in a penthouse suite with an old friend of his from college. I told him about how the old rumors about me were true. That we were the same.”
Rumors that had been quiet for so long. Kara remembered reading article after article about the men Lena Luthor had been going through over the years, some going so far as to call her awful things like Ice Maiden and Ball Breaker because she couldn’t “hold down a man”. Seemed such a waste of energy to hide who you were, for the benefit of the press, when all they were going to do was tear you down so viciously anyway.
“Robert and I had been introduced by both our parents, we were of a certain age and unwed and the heirs of who conglomerates – it was too good an opportunity for them to pass up. I still wonder if his parents knew of his preferences and had conspired with my mother, hoping we could literally straighten each other out.”
Kara wouldn’t have put it past Lillian Luthor to do such a thing.
“When we were finally honest with each other, that’s when things started to get much better. He’d been so sad for months, and now I knew why, and when I didn’t reject him or call off the engagement his entire being lit up. He’s such a beautiful man, Kara, you have no idea. And if I could love any man, I know it would be him. I do love him, just not the way a wife should. We have a long standing arrangement – he can go live his life the way he wishes, and I can do the same, just as long as we stick together.”
“That sounds… amicable.”
Lena smiled. “He’s my best friend.”
It hurt to hear that. Kara knew it was irrational, but there it was. And clearly her lack of poker face deceived her again, because Lena stroked Kara’s bare knee comfortingly.
“Is it… just men? Or does he prefer both?”
“Just men. I did check.”
Kara bit her lip. “I told Mike I am interested in both.”
Lena sat up a little straighter at that. Kara felt it only fair to explain.
“A few years after Bridget was born. I thought maybe it had just been a one off, that you’d been an effect of some sort of temporary bout of madness. But then Annette started working in our ward, and I found myself flustered whenever she’d walk into the room. Something about the way she smiled at me. And then there was a receptionist at our family doctor’s clinic, and a woman at the postal office, and I knew it wasn’t just you. I liked women too. And it took me a long time to build up the courage to tell Mike. He’s traditional, and he’d never had a bad word to say about Alex. I didn’t know how he would react, but we always tried to be honest with each other.”
“So what was his reaction?”
Kara sighed. “He took a few days to take it in, but in the end came around. He told me a story about one of his comrades in the war, how he never talked about a sweetheart back home, but had a photo of his best friend in his wallet that he would take out at night and look at when he thought no-one else was awake. He said that made him feel even more sad, that in such a dark time, something so precious as love had to be hidden.”
Lena pursed her lips. “Did you tell him about us?”
“No,’ Kara admitted. ‘It was too hard.”
“I see. I thought maybe that would explain his… absence.”
Kara shifted along the bed, tucked Lena’s hair behind her ear. Small wrinkles that were usually concealed from the papers were at the corners of her mouth and eyes.
“He died a few years ago.”
Lena’s expression fell. She sat up a bit straighter. “I’m so sorry,’ she murmured.
Kara had heard this a million times before, and knew the difference between when it was sincere, and when it was something someone said because that’s what you said when you heard news like this.
Lena was sincere.
Kara exhaled. “Thank you. It was a hard for years, before and after. Cancer.”
She wondered if Lena would have asked why didn’t you call me, or offered promises to get him the best medical treatment in the country had she just known…
When Kara looked up, Lena was looking at her as if all these words and more were just hovering on the tip of her tongue. But the moment passed, and Lena’s expression settled on resignation.
“I’m sorry,’ she repeated. ‘How long now?”
“Poor Bridget, to lose her father so young.”
“It was very hard on her. Mike and her had such a unique connection…”
Kara got lost again in memories she had treasured over and over so many times. Her grief had been considerable when he’d passed, despite them knowing it was coming. It had seemed unfair for him to go through actual hell and come out the other end, but to find himself beat because of some ridiculous growth in his lungs. It had taken a long time for that dust cloud of resentment to settle long enough to be able to see straight.
Lena squeezing her hand brought Kara back to the present. She leaned in and kissed Kara gently, almost unsure of if it was alright. It was more than alright.
“I’m glad you had each other,’ Lena murmured. ‘I’m glad… that it worked out all right in the end.”
Kara gave her a look. “You didn’t leave me with much choice, you know.”
Lena sighed and sat up properly this time, resting her back against the headboard. Kara turned around fully. She wanted to look her in the eye for this conversation.
“I truly am sorry for the way things ended. For the way I ended them. I was upset, and scared, and I didn’t know what to do. Mother accosted me at home, do you remember that day?”
Kara nodded. “What did she say to you?’ She had been curious ever since that day she’d overheard them.
“She spent all night berating me. You remember that vile reporter who kept following me around?” Kara nodded again, and Lena went on. ‘He had pictures. Of you and I, after that benefit we attended at the Town Hall. He’d taken them to my mother and tried to bribe her. And of course she paid him, she couldn’t risk it, and he’d brought her enough pictures of me in the past that it was just routine for them now. But tensions were high, the war and all, and she’d finally had enough.”
Kara pursed her lips. “She didn’t seem like the most reasonable woman in the world.”
“Indeed, she wasn’t. After that happened, she threatened to cut me off. Said she couldn’t stand the shame any longer. We’d had fights like that so many times, but on that day… the look in her eyes…” Lena took a moment to compose herself. ‘I knew she wasn’t kidding this time. It was the last straw. I had so many things I wanted to do with my life, people I wanted to help, and I knew I couldn’t do any of those things if I wasn’t a Luthor.
‘So, I got scared – her ridiculous threats doing their job well. And then when I found out that Mike had returned… well, it suddenly just seemed pointless to keep fighting the inevitable. The war was almost ended, Father had plans to develop more in Europe after it was all over and… We were never going to be together. Mother wouldn’t allow it, neither would society. So, I left. It just seemed like – “
“… the right thing to do,’ Kara finished for her.
“I’m so sorry. Please… Kara, I never wanted to leave you. You need to know that. Even if it is twenty or so years too late.”
But she’d had to. Lena really had gone on to do such great things. She’d been the pioneer for so many technological and scientific advancements over the years – something she never would have been able to do in a million years, stuck working a conveyer belt in Midvale.
Kara sighed, feeling a weight from her shoulders. “I know.”
Lena blinked. “You… you know?”
“I’d figured about as much a long time after you’d left – once I’d had a chance to cool off.”
“Then what was the banging on my door and calling me a brat about?’
Kara smirked. “Just because I understand doesn’t mean I’m not still mad at you. You couldn’t reply to any of my letters over the years?”
Lena frowned. “You sent letters?”
“I never got any letters.”
The penny dropped at the same time, for both of them.
Lena almost snarled. “Mother. If she was still alive, I’d ring her neck. I never wrote to you because I thought it would just confuse things. But if I knew you’d been writing to me…”
“You, what? Would have sent me love letters in response?”
Lena pursed her lips. “I would have liked to have had the chance to decide what I would have done.’ She shook her head, a frown creating a deep line between her eyebrows.
Kara smiled; she put her knuckle beneath Lena’s chin to tilt her face upward.
“We were kids, Lena. Kids in the middle of a war. Everyone had to make tough choices. I just wish it could have been different.”
Kara kissed her gently. “I forgive you. That’s what I really wanted to say to you tonight. Underneath the shock of seeing you, and the ear bend I just gave you, I wanted you to know.”
“Thank you,’ Lena sighed. Her shoulders slumped with relief.
“And I am so happy to see you.”
Lena smirked. “I saw a lot more of you than I expected.”
“So you did.”
“Maybe we should get one last look… you know, for old times’ sake…”
Kara rolled her eyes as Lena’s lips started kissing their way up her neck.
The next morning, Kara looked up from signing the bill in front of her to her moaning girl beside her.
“I’ll pay you back, I promise,’ Bridget moaned. She was rubbing her temples. ‘Although some would say this hangover is punishment enough.”
“If only hangovers paid for seventy five dollars’ worth of room service and three o’clock in the morning. No, my girl, you are going to pay me back every dollar of that, plus interest.”
“Don’t push it.”
“I’m sorry,’ Bridget’s whine was reminiscent of the consequences of exploits in her younger years, ever since Alex bought her that chemistry set. ‘I didn’t think I’d be out so late. Anyway, what did it matter? It’s not like I came in and woke you up. You got back to the room just after me!”
“That’s not the point.”
“No but it’s the only defense I have,’ Bridget’s eyes narrowed. ‘Where were you, anyway?”
“I was… out.”
“Wow, thanks for clearing that up.”
Kara huffed, feeling her cheeks burn as she handed her credit card to the concierge. “I don’t need to explain myself you to.”
“I’m twenty, I don’t need to explain myself to you either.”
Kara turned and look at her daughter, raising her eyebrows. Bridget swallowed.
“Go get our bags from the bell boy,’ Kara growled.
Bridget rolled her eyes and went to do as she was told. That was one thing Kara loved about her – as much as she could put up a fight, she also knew when she’d crossed a line.
A familiar voice behind her had Kara turn. Lena was standing there, looking less put together than at the benefit the night before, but still just as glamorous in her white shirt, mustard high-waisted pants and red ascot.
Kara smiled. “And to you. Did you sleep well?”
“I did,’ Lena chuckled, ‘until my husband came barrelling in at four thirty in the morning.”
“Hmm,’ Kara glanced over at her daughter, who was searching her pockets for cash for the bellboy, ‘seemed to be the night for it.”
“Seemed to be the night for a lot of things.”
Kara adjusted her glasses. “Is everything alright? With you two?”
“Did you… tell him? About us?”
“Not everything. Just that we had a nice, long chat into the small hours of the night.”
Hmm, Kara mused. Chat.
“I can be subtle. Besides, he was too drunk to remember anyway. All he did was talk my ear off all about his adventures while his head was in the toilet. He owes me bigtime.”
“More than seventy-five dollars?”
Lena followed Kara’s line of sight over to Bridget. “Everyone had a fun night, it would appear.”
“But not such a fun morning. Serves her right. I hope her head explodes.”
Lena tilted her head. “Did you have a good night?”
Kara opened her mouth to respond, when bags were suddenly dumped at her feet, cutting her off.
“Why did you pack so much for one night?” Bridget grumbled.
Kara smirked at her. “That’s your bag.”
“Oh. So it is. Mrs. Luthor! Oh my gosh, good morning.”
Lena smiled as Bridget shook her hand with great enthusiasm, hangover seemingly forgotten. “Good morning. Your mother was just telling me about how good a night you had last night.”
Bridget blushed; Kara smothered her feeling of triumph. Good, serves her right.
“A frat party,’ Bridget shrugged. ‘You understand.”
“Oh, I do. I was never part of a sorority myself, but I did hear the stories. Hard to be involved when you attend college at the age of fifteen.”
Kara rolled her eyes. Bridget swooned.
“I hope you wont mind,’ Lena continued, ‘I kept your mother out well past her bedtime last night.”
“You two were together?”
“Making up for lost time,’ Kara said. ‘Lena and I go way back.”
“Did she ever tell you about the time her and her sister snuck out at night and went to an underground bar right here in National City?”
Kara sighed as Bridget’s eyebrows rose. ‘We did not sneak out, we were old enough to be out on our own.”
“You think Mrs. Danvers would have approved of this sort of club?”
“Your best friend owned it, you tell me.”
Lena pursed her lips to hide a smirk.
Bridget laughed. “I certainly do not know this story! You know Aunt Alex too?”
Kara glanced at her. “Sweetheart, why don’t you go hail a cab while I say good-bye to Mrs. Luthor?”
“I’ll tell you the rest of the story in the car.”
Bridget sighed. “Fine, but only because I need a nap so very badly. Mrs. Luthor… I was wondering, if I could be so bold – and lets be honest when will I ever get an opportunity like this – do you think interning with your company over the summer might be a possibility?”
“Bridget!’ Kara scoffed. ‘Lena, you will forgive my daughters audacity…”
“No, not at all…’ Lena reached into her purse, pulled out a small card and held it out. ‘This is the number for my office. Call anytime, tell my secretary who you are and you’ll be put straight through.”
Bridget reached for the card as if it were made of porcelain.
Kara snatched it a split second before she could take it and patted her daughter on the back, completely ignoring the look of outrage. “How about you go get us that cab? You can have this back when I feel you’re ready for it.”
After a few seconds of her mouth opening and closing like a fish, Bridget snapped her jaw shut and turned back to Lena. “It was an honour to meet you, ma’am.”
With that, Bridget picked up her bags, leaving Kara’s, and headed toward the large, glass double doors.
When Kara turned back to Lena, the brunette was smiling.
“She really is something else.”
“Don’t feel like you have to placate her. Disappointment is part of how we grow…”
“Don’t be silly, I’m sure I can give her something to do for the summer. With a handsome paycheck.”
Kara shook her head. “Its unnecessary. We don’t need nepotism.”
“Its nothing of the sort. She’s outspoken and driven and isn’t afraid to ask for what she wants – even from people who intimidate the hell out of her. With the right avenues in life, she could really go places. Is it wrong of me to give her that opportunity?”
Kara stared at her.
Lena shifted under her gaze as the silence stretched on. “What?”
“You’re never going to stop changing my life, are you?”
“Well, you have my number now…’ Lena leaned in a little.
Despite herself, Kara allowed a ghost of a smile. “Lena…”
Lena closed the gap between them, pressing a soft kiss to Kara’s cheek – a kiss that lingered. Kara suppressed the shiver that ran up her spine.
‘You let me know if you ever need anything else,’ Lena murmured. ‘I know I don’t have the best track record, but I promise I won’t abandon you again. I… cant just walk away from you like that again. I would love to keep in touch.”
“That would be nice,’ Kara almost sighed with relief.
“And if you’re ever in Metropolis and want to ‘catch up’ on old times, give me a call.”
Kara pulled away enough to be able to look into blue-green eyes, framed by lines and grey wisps, but still sparkling with life and energy like they had been when Kara had first looked into them over two decades ago. The suggestion of her words, her tone, was obvious.
“Next time you’re in town,’ Kara offered, ‘come over for dinner? You and Robert.”
Lena smiled. It almost took Kara’s breath away.
“I would like that. Truly.”
“I’d better go. Bridget is in a mood, she’s likely to leave in the taxi without me.”
Before she lost her nerve, she leaned in to give Lena a curt and polite hug.
She was not prepared for Lena to wrap her arms back around, pull her in tighter, and hold her there.
The feel of her, the smell of her, it brought up so many memories, feelings and thoughts it made Kara’s head spin. It wasn’t just Chanel Number five she could smell, it was grease caked on her factory overalls. It was cigarette smoke from the bars, cafes and restaurants they’d sat in. It wasn’t just the soft texture of her shirt she could feel, it was the leather seats of an old Chevrolet as they drove around Midvale together. It was hands gripping her as they shared intimate moments in a town hall office, in a hotel bed the night before…
After they pulled apart, Kara took a moment longer to squeeze Lena’s hand before truly letting go.
“I should go,’ she murmured. ‘Have a safe trip back to Metropolis.”
“Safe travels, Kara.”
Kara chanced one more look over her shoulder as she approached the glass doors. Lena was still watching her, and offered a soft wave.
With an even softer smile in return, Kara pushed her way outside to the line of taxi’s parked on the curb.
It took the entire taxi ride home, an hour to unpack, a quiet lunch with her daughter, and finally an afternoon in front of the television for her to finally feel like her heart had stopped pounding.
Two nights later, Kara shouldered her way through the ajar front door to her apartment. Her hands taken up with the task of holding containers of take-out, she grunted as she finally entered the hallway, then kicked the door shut behind her. She spat the house keys in her mouth out onto the little bowl by the door, and sighed.
“Bridget! I’m home!”
Not waiting for a response, Kara kicked off her shoes (usually adequate in keeping her feet from feeling like she’d been walking on glass all day, but today had been a particularly busy shift), sighed again at the relief and made her way through to the kitchen to dump the food on the kitchen table.
“I got extra potstickers, so we don’t have to share this time!’ she called again. ‘If you can really call the last time sharing,’ she added under her breath, ‘I only saw two of those ten potstickers last time…”
Somewhere in the house, a record was playing. Kara recognized the steady beat of Fleetwood Mac drifting down from Bridget’s room. She wondered if her daughter had fallen asleep, but as she reached into the kitchen draw for the forks, she heard a muttered voice.
Kara frowned, and followed the sound to the living room. Bridget was sat on the edge of one of the armchairs, facing out the window, phone pressed to her ear. She was twisting her finger through the spiral cord, knee bouncing.
“Yes… Of course, I can absolutely do that…” she was saying. She sounded breathless.
Kara crossed to her, and gently squeezed Bridget’s shoulder. Bridget started, and looked over her shoulder in surprise. It quickly faded, and she smiled and pointed at the receiver, mouthing, ‘I’m on the phone’.
“I can see that,’ Kara chuckled softly.
Bridget held up her finger, then resumed staring off into space. Kara ran her hands through Bridget’s long, dark hair as she continued her conversation.
“The only trouble would be accommodation… oh, oh no I couldn’t possibly… well yes, I suppose…’
Kara rolled her wrist in a ‘hurry up motion, and pointed to the kitchen whispering, “I will eat all those potstickers without you…”
“Don’t you dare…’ Bridget snapped suddenly, then laughed awkwardly. ‘Oh no, not you Mrs. Luthor, my Mom just got home with some dinner…”
Kara felt her cheeks warm.
“I wont be long,’ Bridget whispered.
“Yes, fine. Come get some food when you’re done.”
Kara tried not to look like she was rushing toward the kitchen. She leaned against the bench top, hands gripping the edge so tightly her knuckles were white. She could hear Bridget’s indistinct voice still from the living room; Kara tried not to eavesdrop, instead focusing on the pounding in her ears.
A few deep breaths later, Bridget walked into the kitchen. She frowned. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,’ Kara answered quickly. ‘Just hungry. Sit down and I’ll serve.”
Bridget jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Mrs. Luthor wants to talk to you.”
Kara watched her daughter as she sat down at the table and began opening boxes of take out. “Me?”
“Well she said, ‘can I speak to your mother’, and as far as I know you’re my only mother, so…”
“Right. Okay. I’ll just… go talk to her then. Don’t even think about opening that without me.”
Bridget, who’s hand was just hovering over the first serve of potstickers, smirked.
The receiver for the phone was left on its side, just next to the base. Kara picked it up, started it for a second, then put it to her ear.
It should have been weird, being called such a thing by Lena of all people. But Kara’s mouth curled upward.
“Mrs. Luthor, care to explain why you’re talking to my daughter so close to dinner time? How did you get our number?”
Lena chuckled. “First of all, its still afternoon here. And before you start accusing me of uncouth behaviour, I’ll have you know your daughter is the one who called me.”
Kara rubbed her forehead. “I assure you she wasn’t raised in a barn…”
“Don’t be silly, I’m glad she called. I wondered if she’d have the guts.”
“She’s got the guts alright, it’s the tact she lacks.”
Lena laughed again. Kara envisioned her in her high-rise office in Metropolis, leaning back in her chair to watch the sunset, one leg crossing over the other.
“We were just discussing her interning here over the summer. I’m making room in my secretaries office as we speak.”
“Lena, that’s very generous… but you’re four states away. And I haven’t been able to afford to buy her a car yet…”
“It’ll all taken care of,’ Lena cut in. ‘I’ll book her a room at the Stanford, just down the block from here. All expenses paid. She’ll receive an impressive wage – far better than the average intern, I promise you. And I’ll pay for the flights to get here, she’ll earn enough to save for one home.”
Kara sighed. “Lena…”
“I look after my employees. And when you both come to Metropolis to sign the contracts, that’s exactly what she’ll be.”
There was a short pause down the line. “I thought perhaps you’d like to supervise such an important transaction. Surely a young girl would want her mother present for such a significant moment in her life.”
“If I didn’t know you’d better, I’d think you’d set all this up deliberately just to see me again.”
“Good thing you do know me better,’ Lena replied.
Kara pursed her lips. “I’ll have to check with my Matron of course, so ensure it’s alright to take the time off work.”
“And I’ll need time to prepare my affairs – get someone to water the plants, collect the mail…”
“And I’ll have to teach my daughter some tact between now and this job interview…”
“Speaking to her at the award ceremony last month, seeing how she stood tall in that crowd was the interview. This phone call was just confirmation.”
Kara smiled, twirling the telephone cord around the tip of her index finger. She felt like she was in her twenties again, back home in Midvale, leaning against the wall after a long shift while she talked to her best friend who lived in a mansion on the other side of town…
“Say you’ll come,’ Lena finally said. All jokes were aside, all pretence gone. Her tone was soft, vulnerable. ‘Please.”
It had been a long time since she’d felt this feeling. Kara had quite thought she’d never feel it again. And yet here they were, on the edge of something so familiar it made Kara’s head spin.
Kara gripped the telephone cord tightly. “Only if you promise not to tell anymore stories of me slapping people or going on rogue adventures.”
Lena laughed. “Surely a girl should know what kind of a woman her mother really is.”
“You know, that’s enough.’ Kara only stopped herself from saying You’re enough by biting her lip.
“Fine,’ Lena’s smirk was audible. ‘I’ll behave myself. Around her, anyway. Can’t make the same promises about her mother.”
“Not too much I hope.”
In the same paused for Lena’s stunned silence, Kara marvelled at her own idiocy. What was she doing, really? What future did any of this flirting or making plans really have?
“However much you want of me,’ Lena finally said, ‘or however little, you just say the word.”
What future had they ever had anyway? When had that ever stopped them before? Kara had been fooling herself. All those years of trying to cleanse Lena out of her system, trying to forget about the way she made Kara feel, ruined after one night together.
And Kara – older and wiser – couldn’t care less.
“How about we just start with dinner?’ Kara suggested. ‘I’ve heard about a restaurant in Metropolis, unlimited Japanese food, as much as you can eat.”
“Sounds like a good start.”
With a smile, and a look out the window to the skyline of National City, Kara agreed.