Lena Luthor comes bursting into her life early one stormy morning.
She probably didn’t mean to slam the door so forcefully against the glass storefront wall, but the torrential downpour she’s escaping swings it forward so fast Kara half expects the glass to shatter. Lena (though in this moment Kara knows her only as the soaking woman currently letting in all the rain) spends approximately thirty seven seconds battling the forces of nature in a futile attempt to close the door again before just letting it bang back open against the glass store front with a noticeable crack.
Kara can’t help but wince at the sound. Miss Grant is going to kill her.
“I’ll pay for that,” the woman grits out between chattering teeth. Her voice is tight, shoulders clenched, jaw locked so fiercely Kara can see the muscles quiver. She’s wearing what was once a sharply tailored suit but is now a soaking mud-stained mess that clings tight against her skin.
She trudges forward with careful steps, her heels shaking dangerously along the slippery tile. Kara breaks free from her stunned observing to run forward and force the door shut, the roar of the storm quieting down enough so that the only significant noise in the shop was the swish squish swish squish sound of the woman’s slow but steady progress towards the bathroom just around the counter.
Kara sends a wide-eyed look over to Winn, her coworker and best friend of two years, who just looks back at her with the same confusion. The mysterious woman eventually reaches the bathroom and slams the door shut behind her.
“Should we,” Kara starts, but she doesn’t quite know what she was going to suggest. It’s barely ten in the morning and it’d been storming on and off all day, so wet lady is their first customer of the day. Should she offer her a cookie?
Winn holds his hands up in surrender.
“I’m a dude. Can’t follow a lady into the bathroom.” He turns to head back, making like he’s actually got work he needs to do. Like they ever have actual work to do. “Good luck!”
Kara takes a long, meditative breath, before steeling herself up enough to go knock on the door.
“Ma’am,” she calls through the door, “are you alright?”
“Fuck!” the woman says. “Fuck fuck fuck FUCK!”
Kara considers just walking away at that but a loud crash has her rushing in before she can stop herself. The woman seems to be in the midst of a panic, dry-heaving hunched over the sink. Her soaked blazer has been thrown across the room, a shattered iPad laying next to it.
Kara moves slowly, arms out in front of her like she’s approaching a wild animal.
“Ma’am?” she tries again, and while the woman doesn’t visibly seem to notice her she does finally respond.
“Everything is ruined,” she says, almost laughing now in a frantic sort of way, “today is the day it all begins and it’s already ruined!” She does a bit of a snort-laugh only to quickly cover it up with her hands, eyes wide. Kara reaches out to her with a hesitant, placating hand.
“What’s ruined?” she asks gently. When she first moved in with the Danvers, Kara would regularly have panic attacks that left her huddled in the corner shaking and crying. Eliza was always able to bring her back through soft words and touches, so Kara tries to replicate the comfort. She ends up just sort of patting the woman on the head.
The woman seems unfazed by her petting. She’s just shaking her head over and over, and she’s got tears streaking down her face mixing with the mud and it takes a moment for her to pull her hands away from her mouth to speak.
“The presentation is today, it’s on the complete opposite side of town and after, after is when the board votes on,” she sniffles hard, “on me, I guess.” She wipes at her eye with the back of her hand but only manages to smear mud even more across her face.
“I was supposed to be there hours ago preparing, but every time I tried to call for a car they’d say they were coming but they never came, so I thought,” she hiccups through her tears, “I thought perhaps I could just walk to the office and then,” Kara hands her a bit of the rough 1-ply toilet paper they stock despite her numerous complaints, “even the sky decided to work against me, and the next thing I knew I was on my knees in a puddle much too deep to be in a residential sidewalk! I will be writing a strongly-worded letter to our city council.”
Kara can’t help but smile at that, charmed even by the sadness. She recognizes this moment for what it is - she is witnessing the worst day of someone else’s life. She starts mentally mapping the city in her mind, thinking of where the presentation might be. The shop - CatCo’s Cookies and Cakes! - is on the eastern side of the city near the local university. Based on her description it’s likely her presentation is near the river to the west, where all the large corporations stand. They can steal Winn’s car and jet over there.
“Anyway, my tablet is probably fried and it has all of my notes. Not that it matters at this point-”
Traffic at this hour is usually somewhat heavy so taking the main highway will be a bust though. There are back alley routes they could take, maybe, but they’d never be able to fit in the van. That really only leaves one option.
“-I’d need to be there in the next, what? Thirty minutes?” the woman continues, having missed Kara’s methodical mental analysis of current traffic patterns, “And from here it’d probably take an hour even in sunshine. My life is over, and the only person I can tell this to is some random donut shop girl!”
“Cakes and cookies,” Kara corrects instinctually. Miss Grant doesn’t come in until eleven on Mondays, if she moves fast enough maybe-
“What?” the woman sounds incredulous.
Kara waves it off and moves towards her discarded tech.
“It’s a, uh.. Nevermind. So you need to get to Corporate Row, right?”
The woman just nods, finally taking notice of the severity in Kara’s eyes.
“Give me your iPad,” she says with newfound authority in her voice.
“What?” the girl says, hesitation in her voice even while handing Kara her iPad.
“Hang tight,” Kara says before racing out to the main lobby.
Winn looks at her with trepidation, “Kara, is that girl okay?”
“Water damage,” Kara says in reply, not answering his question at all. Her mind is already four steps ahead and she really needs him to catch up. “There are notes on here I need you to save. Can you do it?”
Winn looks at her like she just told him she was an alien.
“I’m sorry, did you just ask me if I can do it? Did you ask if I, Winslow Schott, Jr., can somehow pull data off this sopping wet, mud-covered piece of plastic that looks like it’s been thrown against a concrete wall and RUN OVER?” Winn says in dramatic escalation. Kara just stares at him blankly.
“Yeah, of course I can do it.”
Kara darts to the back and grabs two clean rags, running one under hot water real fast before sprinting back to the bathroom. The woman is much more composed now, though the weight of defeat permeates her presence.
“I am very sorry for what you witnessed before,” she says, and her voice has an almost robotic nature to it, like she’d rehearsed every word beforehand. Kara immediately starts unbuttoning her shirt.
The woman’s eyes go wide.
“Wait, what are you-“
“Quick! Take your clothes off!” Kara cuts her off, tossing her shirt on the counter before unbuckling her pants. A strange, throaty noise bubbles out of the panicking woman’s mouth.
“Look, I don’t know what you think is happening, but you have severely misread this situation!” The woman’s voice is almost shrill now and Kara’s honestly never seen someone’s eyes go so wide. Confused, Kara looks down at her half-naked body before realizing how it must look.
“No, I’m not- look. You need dry clothes for your presentation. I am dry. Ergo we need to switch clothes now.”
The woman just stands there staring, which is the exact opposite of what she needs to be doing. Kara huffs a little bit in exacerbation and tugs her pants down. The woman’s eyes immediately follow their journey before rolling up fast to look at the ceiling, her skin journeying from sickly pale to deep ruddy red in the span of seconds.
“I-uh, I,” she’s shaking, and she looks so hesitant and afraid, so small in the face of this sudden social deviation, and all Kara wants is to help fix this.
“Listen, I can get you to your meeting but we have to leave, like, right now. So please. Take your clothes off.”
The woman just stares at her for a long, hard second before slowly rolling her saturated blouse up and off her body.
“If I see any pictures of this in the press I will destroy you,” she mumbles. Her words would have been a lot more intimidating had she not said them in such a petulant manner. Kara snorts.
“What, are you famous or something?”
The woman seems to stutter in her undressing, looking at Kara in surprise. Kara wonders then who this woman really is, if she is someone she should recognize. Honestly, it doesn’t matter and she doesn’t care.
“Perhaps not,” the woman says after a moment, “considering you don’t know me.”
“Exactly. Now here, wipe yourself down, dry off, and get dressed. We gotta go.”
Kara sprints back out to find Winn sitting in the back with the destroyed tablet now in pieces, parts of it Kara assumes are the brain connected to Winn’s laptop.
“Who the hell is this lady, Kara?” he asks, only to go red, “and why are you in your underwear?”
“Focus, Winn! Can you get me the notes?”
“The encryption on this thing is top-notch, but maybe if I just,” a few more keystrokes and an aha! from Winn and Kara’s running back to the bathroom with a freshly loaded flash drive in her hand. The woman is now cleaner and dressed in Kara’s clothes, bent at the waist rolling up the pants legs so they don’t drag.
“Okay!” Kara exclaims, causing the woman to jump in surprise and nearly topple over on to the muddy floor, “Got your notes, now we gotta go!”
She grabs the woman’s hand and drags her back out to the main lobby before she can even get a word out in reply.
“Kara wait!” Winn shouts, and the woman only just manages to not slam into her as she stops immediately. “You’re not- you’re wearing-” His face is so red and he can barely talk around his flustering, and Kara belatedly remembers she’s only wearing a bra and briefs. She laughs as the woman’s face goes red as well, and both her and Winn pointedly try not to look at her.
“Wait here!” she says, sprinting back to the bathroom. The woman’s clothes are slopped in a pile and Kara can’t help but gag a bit at the chilly sensation of sliding the blouse and skirt on. The sacrifices I make, she thinks to herself as chill bumps break out all over her skin. Now more than ever she’s determined to get this woman to her fucking presentation.
Thankfully the rain has let up, although the dark clouds ahead threaten to burst at any moment.
“I really shouldn’t get in the car of a stranger,” the woman says as she’s dragged around the corner, “I appreciate all your, er, help, but maybe I should just get a taxi.”
“Lady, I promise you no taxi is going to get you across town in,” she looks at her watch, “11 minutes.” The woman just sighs in defeat, shrugging as if to say what else could possibly go wrong? and lets Kara drag her to the back of the shop where a half-broken down truck was parked.
The woman sneers a bit.
“You want us to drive there in this?” she asks, but then shakes her head in a chastising way, “sorry, that was rude.”
“Nah it’s fine, Winn’s truck is a dump. Which is why we’ll be riding in style!”
She pulls her around the corner to reveal the only possible machine on wheels that could feasibly get them across town on this time crunch: the CatCo cookie delivery Vespa scooter.
It’s a new acquisition for the business that Kara’s been so excited for, as she’s always had to make her deliveries on foot. Now she’s got this stylish scoot that she’s hoping, maybe, Miss Grant will let her borrow sometimes. Walking everywhere all the time gets kind of annoying.
“Miss Grant let me pick it out,” Kara says with a proud smile. The woman is just looking at her in a way she can’t quite decipher, but she’s sure it’s something like respect or attraction.
“Anyway, we don’t have time. We gotta go!”
The woman just looks up at the sky and lets out the longest sigh before giving in and just climbing on behind her.
“Are you sure this thing can get us there?”
“Trust me,” Kara says with a smirk, slapping her helmet visor down over her face. “I can fly.”
Kara revs the engine and immediately the otherwise quiet alley they’re parked in is filled with the sound of a voice chanting CatCo over and over again. Whenever she accelerates, the sound system built into the scoot plays one of a small handful of words and phrases (such as CatCo, Cookies and Cakes, or Cat Grant for some reason). Apparently Miss Grant stole the idea from some company over in Europe.
The woman lets out a squeak of surprise and digs her grip even further into Kara’s sides.
“What the hell is that?!” the woman yells, trying to be heard over the repetitive phrase blaring in time to the engine.
“Oh, uh, Miss Grant thought that would be a cool way to advertise!”
mmmmCookies! mmmmCakes! mmmmCookies!
“I said it’s advertising!”
“What are you saying?”
“Nevermind!” Obviously there are still some kinks in the system to work out.
They turn onto 8th street only to slam to a sliding halt as Kara just barely manages to stop them from crashing into a truck.
Traffic is at a standstill. Sirens blare from two streets over, suggesting an accident ahead. Cars are bumper to bumper with no room for their scoot to scooch through. They are in the middle of the shopping district, the street lined with sidewalk shops and pop-ups. She hears the woman sigh and lean her helmet against her shoulder.
“Thank you for trying,” she says.
Kara revs the engine twice, shouting a confident, “this isn’t over!” with a chorus of CatGrantCatGrants backing her up. The woman barely has time to grab on again before Kara yanks the steering to the left to bring the scoot up and over the curb. They weave dangerously down the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians left and right, flying dangerously above walking speed. Kara ignores the yells and curses shouted at them, her mind already four streets ahead, and with a confidence she’s never felt before she turns swiftly left down a dark and seemingly endless alleyway. Kara knows every back alley in this city and she knows this path will get them there without even taking them on the streets.
“You’re not a serial killer are you?” the woman yells, possibly startled by the pitch black alleyway Kara suddenly takes them down.
“You know,” Kara says as she floors it around a corner, hitting a fast 15 mph, “if I was a serial killer I definitely wouldn’t just say yes when someone asked!”
“Oh god,” the woman says, and Kara just laughs as she grips her waist even tighter, the soft melodic sound of CatCoCatcoCatco following along with them.
Her presentation is scheduled at 11:00 AM. The CatCo Cookies and Cakes delivery scoot comes flying across the open business plaza at 10:58.
“Holy shit,” the woman breathes out as she climbs off with shaky legs, “you actually did it.”
“We did it!” Kara says. She grabs the helmet from shaky hands and gives the woman a light shove. “Now you go finish this!”
The woman just looks at her with confusion and wonder, her mouth fluttering a bit like she’s trying to find the right words for this. There are no right words for moments like this.
“Go!” Kara says again, giving her another gentle shove. Finally the woman just nods, shakes her head, and then nods again before taking off towards the building entrance in Kara’s bright pink button up and too large pants. Just like that Kara becomes intimately aware of just how uncomfortable the woman’s tight, cold, damp clothing is to wear. With a sigh, she slaps her visor back down and scoots away.
Miss Grant is waiting for her with a mop and a glare that could sink ships.
“Oh, Kiera,” she drawls, “how nice of you to join us again! You know, Winslow has been coming up with the most creative lies to explain why my opener decided to run off with our brand new company vehicle for an hour.”
Kara can see her life flashing before her eyes and it looks a lot like scrubbing the floor with her toothbrush. Miss Grant would probably make her bring her actual toothbrush from home to do it. Maybe she should invest in that fancy one with rubber bristles -
“Kiera!” Miss Grant snaps. Apparently she’d been talking this whole time. “Why are you dressed like that?”
Sheepishly Kara glances down at her too tight, still damp clothes, trying to formulate an excuse, but Miss Grant just moves on without waiting, “I don’t know why my essentially homeless employee has come into possession of a stained yet exceedingly expensive wardrobe, nor do I really care to find out.”
“I’m only technically homeless,” Kara mutters a bit uselessly, but Miss Grant soldiers on,
“I’m going home, as is Winslow. But because you decided to take an unscheduled midday break I trust you will be fine with working the late shift today as well, yes? And you can clean up the mess you somehow made in the bathroom- buh-buh-buh,” she holds her hand up, cutting off Kara’s attempt to explain, “I don’t want to know. Just clean up your mess, work your shift, and never do it again.”
All things considered, Kara thinks she got off easy.
Late shift isn’t so bad, honestly, as the only folks who order cookies at 3 am are either pulling all-nighters studying or battling the munchies. Much more preferable to some of the snootier clientele they get in this area. She wonders how the woman from earlier fits in here, if she’s a student or a wealthy socialite. It was an interview that they had to get to, so maybe she’s trying for an internship at the new L Corp headquarters that’ve opened downtown. Good luck with that, Kara thinks as she drags the soapy mop across the bathroom floor, you’d need a PhD and a first class pedigree just to mop the floors in that building.
Once the bathrooms are clean of all the day’s muddy remains Kara drags the dirty bucket and mop to go rinse them out. She glances at the front of the store then only to see that there’s a business woman standing at the counter.
Surprised to see anyone in the store so late at night, Kara rushes to wash her hands before going to help.
“Hi, can I help you?” Kara asks. The woman gives her a tremulous smile.
“Oh good! You’re,” she clears her throat, “you’re still here.”
Kara doesn’t even recognize her at first. In her defense, the only time she’s ever seen her is really either in her underwear or in Kara’s clothes, so when mystery wet lady comes marching in to CatCo looking put together and clean it’s understandable for Kara not to immediately recognize. The moment she does, though, her whole face lights up in a grin, causing the woman’s smile to grow a little bigger, a little more steady.
“You’re here!” she all but yells, and the woman barely has time to react before Kara is throwing her arms around her into a tight hug. “I’m so happy you’re here! And look at you, you look so pretty! How did it go? Tell me everything.”
It takes a few seconds for the woman to properly react. She seems to still be processing the sudden physical contact, and Kara does tend to talk a mile a minute sometimes when she’s excited. Alex says one day she’s gonna be so focused on getting all the words out she won’t remember to take any in and she’ll just stop breathing all together. Alex is kind of a jerk sometimes.
Finally, the woman speaks.
“It went very well,” she says slowly, carefully. Every word she speaks when not in a crisis seems carefully selected. “I wanted to thank you for that. I would have never achieved it had you not gone so above and beyond.”
Kara just shrugs, beaming at her.
“Gotta always put the customer first, right?” she says, laughing a bit awkwardly.
“Do you usually strip for customers?” The woman asks, then seems to realize what she says. Her face goes bright red and she looks away but Kara just laughs.
“Only if they really need it,” she teases. She laughs even harder this time as the woman’s face goes an even darker shade and belatedly she wonders if the woman might faint from all that blood moving so quickly to her face. Instead of fainting, she just nods, then seems to remember part of why she’s there.
“Right. Oh!” she looks down to the bag in her arms. “I brought you your clothes. Thank you again for that.”
“No worries. Oh man! Did you dry clean them? Wow, that’s neat. How did you even have time to do that?”
The woman just shakes her head and shrugs half-heartedly, runs her fingers through her hair and glances at the door. Kara presses on,
“Hey! What’s your favorite kind of cookie?”
The polite shock on her face makes Kara think that’s a question no one has asked her in a long time, if ever.
“Chocolate chip,” she says after a long moment. Kara immediately reaches into the display by the counter and pulls out the biggest cookie in the bunch and hands it to her with a beaming smile. Confused but smiling, the woman goes to pull her purse out only to freeze as a warm hand closes on top of her own.
“No, no! You nailed your presentation today even when you were scared. That means your cookie is on the house.”
Instantly she sees tears misting over the woman’s eyes and she can’t help but pull her into a tight hug. The woman lets out a tiny huff but allows herself to be pressed against Kara’s chest, eventually bringing her hands up to grip at her back.
“Thank you,” she says against Kara’s shoulder, barely above a whisper. The moment feels heavier than it should, standing in the lobby of a cookie shop in the arms of a stranger. They stand like that for a while, Kara’s not even sure really, before finally the woman pulls away. Clearing her throat and wiping her eye, the woman smiles gently at her.
“I should go now. I just wanted to give you your clothes. Thank you for the cookie.”
“Of course. Oh, do you want your clothes back? I haven’t had time to wash them-” the woman just waves her words off.
“Please. Keep them, throw them away, I don’t care, but I really must be going. Have a good night.”
And with that she slips out the door and heads to a car idling outside.
Kara stands at the front and watches until the woman is safely in the car, then goes back to closing up the shop. As she packs her bag to leave she notices something tucked into the front pocket of her newly returned pants.
It’s two hundred dollar bills, folded over a post-it note that has written in blocky sprawl:
Kara hasn’t held more than a twenty in her hands in a long time so she’s not quite sure what to do with it. A part of her wants to chase after her, give it back because there’s no way she meant to give Kara two hundred dollars. But when she steps out the front all she sees are empty streets and dark windows, the city finally winding down to rest all around.
With a shocked, stutter of a sigh, Kara carefully slides the money into the sole of her shoe not trusting that much money to stay safe in her pockets.
As she closes up the shop, she can’t help but wonder if she’ll ever see Lena again.