Chapter 1: part i
love is a dress that you made long to hide your knees
love to say this to your face, I'll love you only
for your days and excitement, what will you keep for to wear?
someday drawing you different, may I be weaved in your hair
. . .
On a hot June night 1995, Kara turns 25 in the company of her older sister and closest friends. Present are all the trappings of a good party: a homemade cake, two tiered and iced so thick you could stick a finger in up to the first knuckle. Bottles of cheap wine, several Domino’s pizzas, a brand spanking new VHS of Jumanji. Kara had tried her very best to fix all the drafts in the house before her friends came over. She failed, and the living room is thick with heat. Alex wipes it off her brow between sips of merlot, and Winn’s hands slip against the Walkman he’s showing James the guts of at the dining room table.
Kara loves the summer because it brings things alive; the night air is crackling and heavy, the cicadas are humming, the fireflies are spotting. There’s a half-acre of nothing but bugs and grass and touchable air outside her front door, and beyond that not another living soul.
“Nice shorts.” Sam plucks Kara’s waistband. She’s got on denim high waisteds and a chunky belt, Bruce Springsteen T-shirt tucked in. “Do your students know you like to let your hair down?”
“You should see her in her pantsuit.” Alex calls over the opening strains of Bette Davis Eyes. Kara glares and her sister fixes her with a wink before turning back into her conversation.
Kara wouldn’t have it any other way, is the thing. House full of music, the friends she’d scraped together, her sister’s loving barbs. Even the pantsuits she wears into Benjamin Franklin middle school. The house is part of that, so is the land. It grows sturdier for all the laughter in it and all the work she pours in, money pit or not.
She’s pretty sure it’s not, anyway. In the two years she’s owned it it’s turned around quick. No more termites in the kitchen, new windows to fight off the elements. The realtor said it was near a century old, originally Amish-owned, but not kept within the community for whatever reason. Kara remembers the rubble she’d stepped over right where Alex now reclines next to the living room couch, chin cupped in her palm.
It was love that did all of that, love and Kara’s hands. She’d never regret having purchased something to pour all of her intensity into.
They cut the cake together around midnight, standing around her dining room set. Kara blows out the trick candles and pretends to be surprised when they blink back to life. She wishes. The stars twinkle outside on a crisp black sky. Tomorrow she’ll wake up again, quilt kicked to the bottom of her bed and soaking in the last cool air of the early morning.
But all of that—the students she’ll later see in the makeshift study off the living room, the half acre she’ll have to mow—for the next few hours it can wait. It’s a hot June night and Kara is turning 25 in a house she made on land she owns surrounded by her friends and family. This is the beginning of the next year of her life.
. . .
The story of Kara’s 25th year really starts a month before with the death of Lionel Luthor. She hears about it as she usually does, through somebody who knows somebody. It’s Mose Peachy, an uncommonly chatty visitor, who gives her the whole story.
“He just up and had a heart attack.” He shrugs, drinking from a cool glass of iced tea. According to Mose, there are no more boys in the Luthor family. Kara knows that his wife and daughter do the manufacturing end of their quilting business and Lionel had just been coordinating brass tacks with the market. She wonders, with no men left, who will take over for him.
The answer, strange and wonderful, comes to her a week later in a black dress and sensible shoes. Most of the phone calls are for business transactions and therefore most of her visitors are men, or boys with an escort. Jacob always comes with sharp-eyed Susannah or their father. Mose comes alone and will have a Turkey Hill peach iced tea if Kara offers it. Samuel brings his son Levi to listen to his dealings so he can someday take over the mantle. They bring things in exchange for Kara’s landline--jars of preserves, handymen.
But Lena comes alone on an afternoon when the corn is barely ankle high and the mud on the side of the road is stiff and dry. Kara watches from the living room window as she bangs dust off the side of her Sketchers and then comes up the stairs. She opens the door before Lena can knock.
“Hi.” Kara says stupidly. She’s immediately glad that she did it because she sees Lena’s face for the first time plainly as it is. Lovely and expressive, tickled around its edges by a white prayer cap. “It’s hellfire out there today, huh?”
“Is this Kara Danvers’ house?” Lena speaks slowly and with great intention. Her accent is thick and messy.
Over the last two years the Amish have shown themselves to be diffident but not particularly friendly. Even first names could be difficult to parse out. Most of Kara’s information she had to get from a rare exception like Mose Peachy.
“Most Amish families have 10, 12 kids.” He’d told her. “Luthors only had two.”
What happened to the first, Kara doesn’t know. She leads the second into the kitchen and watches as she dials out on the landline attached to the wall at her island. The thing is, as soon as she saw her Kara knew for well and sure that she was going to like Lena better than the rest. Felt it like she felt most other things, square in the middle of her chest.
She was fond of all the people who passed through her door but able enough to keep her rambling to herself. Different customs, Kara would say to herself, they don’t wanna hear what you have to say. But with Lena, Kara waded in just the smallest bit and she’d cracked open like an oyster.
“That must be a hard walk all the way from your place, especially in the summer.” Kara says once Lena has placed the phone back in the cradle. The woman sighs and her shoulders sag as if she’s been waiting for somebody to say that exact thing.
“I’ve been asking ma for a bike all spring but she says it’s too expensive. My feet hurt.”
And that’s the beginning of the beginning.
Lena comes twice a week. As soon as the door is closed behind her and her Sketchers track dust across the living room floor, the formality melts off her like a layer of ice. Sometimes when she comes to Kara it’s like she’s been waiting all day to be candid with someone. Kara is all too happy to oblige her, to tell her all about her birthday trip to the winery with Alex, and about how Buck Daily can be a great student when he applies himself.
When Lena laughs Kara feels like she could reach across the table and touch her. It’s all she wants to do, place her hand on the back of Lena’s hand, on her cheek. That is the kind of communication that Kara traffics in, how she reaches through the universe to speak to people.
But they’ve never touched, not even in passing. Their interactions have been so chaste that Kara can remember the first time she’d heard Lena laugh. It was in this kitchen, and Kara told her a knock knock joke off of a popsicle wrapper.
It was blunt and noisy. Later, she would blame the way it landed square between her legs on the unexpectedness of it. Kara got turned on by things sometimes for no real reason, like watching people eat on TV, or rolling over funny on the bed. The fact that she’s the kind of woman who thinks like that—thinks of Lena as she might look under her apron and dress—fills her with a secret shame. That was the stuff of pervert boys and dirty movies.
Still, their tentative friendship barrels forward like an unstoppable force, tangled between the boundaries of intimacy and decorum. Lena is smart for her 8th grade education. She’s talented at embroidery and quilting, with a discerning eye for geometry. She’s so beautiful it feels cosmically unfair for her also to be so terribly unavailable.
Lena calls on her the day after her birthday, coming heavy up the steps as usual. Kara lets her in and watches her sip from her glass of water all careful and controlled. On a hot June day like this one, Kara could drink so quick and messy that it would spill from the seams of her mouth like a dog. Lena carries herself in a different way. Every part of her, down to her name, is unusual.
“Do you want anything harder? For your walk back.”
Lena’s lips quirk up. “I don’t think that would be appropriate.”
“You’ve had it before, though, right? Alcohol?” Kara leans forward. “On Run-spring-o, or whatever it’s called.”
“ Rumspringa.” Lena corrects, her accent impeccable and beguiling. Kara knows what it’s called. She’d begun renting books on the Amish lifestyle from the library to get her footing even, and maybe to know something that would impress Lena. She’d run her mouth over it a hundred times. She just wanted to hear Lena say it. “I didn’t do much on mine.”
“Huh.” Kara has driven down Eustis highway after dark and seen parties that stretched on through an entire field, trash fires burning, boys in English clothes, girls still in their dresses and bonnets swilling beer. Mose told her that sometimes as many 500 teenagers would show up from Ohio, Indiana, even New York. Said the Amish threw the best parties in the state. “Those parties look really crazy.”
“Yeah, but I never been to one. Didn’t really have a choice about whether I was going to join the church or not.”
“I thought that was the whole point?”
“But my brother—oh, it doesn’t matter.” Lena takes a long drink from her glass as if to quell her speaking.
“So you didn’t watch movies, go to parties, none of that?” Lena shakes her head. “That’s a shame.”
“I guess.” She allows. “I guess there’s some stuff I wish I did do.”
“If you ever wanted to, you could just come over here. I wouldn’t tell anybody.” It’s the kind of thing Alex would skin her for, acting crazy for a pretty girl. Especially a girl in a position like Lena’s. As soon as she says it, Kara knows she’s never going to mention it to her sister. And when Lena’s eyes light up she knows she’s said the right thing.
. . .
After a certain amount of time, you figure you know all you’re going to know about some people. Mose likes a peach iced tea. Samuel has a son Levi. Lena is the only woman who comes alone. Kara cares deeply for each of them and the little of their lives she parses out, but she’s learned to accept a few of the things that she cannot change.
Kara craves to know people so much and so strongly that sometimes she has sex just to absorb a little bit of the other person with her body. Sometimes she sits at the kitchen table and has a long think about romping around in her bed with a woman, not doing anything dirty, just rubbing into each other. If pressed she would admit that it was one of the downfalls of living so far out. There wasn’t much in the way of company, except the Amish, and they weren’t much for conversation.
She has Alex of course, and her friends. For the other stuff she has to subscribe to a particular kind of newspaper and circle the personal ads over her morning coffee.
HOT COOL FIRM GENTLE
Femme princess seeks outdoor flings, indoor loverettes, and someday a committed, passionate, loving relationship.
Kara writes the phone number on a corner of the newspaper and rips it off. Sometimes she calls, sometimes she emails a picture of herself on one of the clunkers at the library. Sometimes she hears back, sometimes she doesn’t. She’s gone as far as Philadelphia for a date and once ended up on a local one with a parent of one of her students. None had stuck.
Kara places the ripped piece of paper in the pocket of her shirt and moves over to her kitchen calendar, coffee still in hand. Her day is open, and she’s got nothing to do until tomorrow when she goes in to substitute teach a summer math class at the middle school. It’s just as well because the lawn needs mowing and she needs more soil from the Grey’s in town for her raised beds.
In another universe she would call up Lena on her kitchen phone and ask her over for the day. She wonders what the other woman is doing, can only imagine her in terms of the pictures of that Amish encyclopedia; barefoot in the garden, hanging clothes, mending quilts. Kara pulls her bottom lip down with the rim of her mug and stares at the phone. No matter how many numbers she dials, she’ll not be able to reach her.
Kara gets in her pickup truck and drives the opposite direction of the Grey’s.
. . .
The beginning of the settlement is marked by a house with a banner hanging from it. Experience Amish Country! It beckons, flapping in the wind. Kara cruises by it with her arm out the window and her tape deck on, then slows down and peers around for what she’s looking for.
It’s a weekday, so the usual day trippers are absent from the road. Shop doors and house doors hang open, and every once and a while somebody in a kapp or hat peers out with their hand shading their eyes. As soon as Kara passes the house, she knows it’s the right one.
It looks exactly like Lena described to her. White with a brown roof and many eves, and quilts hanging off the front porch railing dancing in the wind. A piece of wood fashioned into a sign sits propped adjacent to the front step. LUTHOR QUILTING AND EMBROIDERY. She parks her truck up against the shoulder.
Her shoes crunch on gravel as she steps out and regards the house. Like most others, the front door is hanging open and like most others, it’s empty of shoppers. Her trip was ill-planned but now that she’s here Kara has the urge to see it through to completion. She pulls her wallet from the seat of her pants and finds a crisp hundred dollar bill that she was going to use for groceries and soil. A voice in her head that sounds a lot like Alex asks her why the fuck she’s about to spend it on something stupid.
Kara shakes her head and trudges up the driveway to the front door.
Lena isn’t the first person to catch her eye when she gets inside. Another woman is sitting in front of a cash box and oversized printing calculator, older, and severe of the face. It takes a minute for Kara to register that she’s in Lena’s home, although the massive front room has been converted into a showcase for quilts. They hang on every available surface, the walls, the backs of couches, and proper quilt racks. Kara desperately wishes that the older woman weren’t there, that she could have a moment to indulge her curiosity, to poke around.
And then there’s Lena. She sits in the background, between the front room and the kitchen, poised at a quilt frame. It’s hard to see what she’s doing bent over but Kara surmises that she’s affixing back and batting to a queen-sized quilt. Her head pops up when Kara’s shoes land on the hardwood floor. Her face only betrays a moment of surprise, eyebrows up, before relaxing again into a mask of indifference.
“Good morning, welcome.” The older woman says without smiling. “Let me know if you have any questions about anything.”
“Sure thing.” With her hands stuffed in her pockets, Kara makes a show of inspecting each quilt in the room. She can feel the tug of Lena’s energy, even if the other woman isn’t looking at her. Her presence is like a specter heating Kara’s back. She reminds herself to take it slow and give each piece her attention as if she doesn’t already know where she’s headed, and does a thoughtful half-circle of the room. It’s quiet except for the squeaking of floorboards under Kara’s feet and the pull of fabric against Lena’s needle and thread.
Kara’s heart picks up the closer she comes to Lena. Although impossible, she wonders if the other woman has picked up on her game. She doesn’t dare look back at her, keeping her nose buried in price tags and log cabin prints. Finally, finally she reaches the logical end of her browsing and allows herself to glance at where Lena remains steadfast over her work.
“Is that for sale?” She asks in her best steady voice. A few deafeningly loud steps forward and she’s in front of Lena, the quilting frame the only thing that separates them. Lena doesn’t look up but pauses in her stitching and tenses her shoulders, like a cat perking up it’s tail. The older woman regards her, vexed.
“It won’t be finished until tonight.” She responds slowly. “You’ll have to come back for it.”
Lena clears her throat and lifts her head, biting out something in Dutch to the older woman. This seems to surprise her and she furrows her brow as she responds, a question. Kara’s head swivels back and forth between them.
“Lena will bring you the quilt this afternoon. For a surcharge.” The woman says with narrowed eyes. Lena bows her head back into her work, stitching as she speaks. “Remind me, you live in the English house up the way? The one with the phone?”
Without realizing what she’s saying, she agrees. The older woman has a particular kind of hard edge to her, a thrall that seizes Kara where she stands. She has the sense that she’s doing something wrong without knowing what it is. When the woman names the price of the quilt Kara repeats it back to her.
“Three hundred dollars?”
“Plus thirty for the delivery.” She says curtly. The woman’s fingers tap over the keys on her calculator with astonishing briskness. When Kara offers her the hundred dollar bill and a promise to pay Lena for the rest when she brings the quilt, she regards her over the rims of her spectacles and hammers a few more keys.
Kara gets a receipt that feels like a threat—$343.62 all told, including tax, with $100 taken off for her measly deposit. Lena doesn’t look up at her one time. Kara’s last vision is of her passing a piece of thread through her lips, moistening it, and pulling it through the eye of her needle.
. . .
“That was tricky, what you did.” Lena walking into her house with arms full of quilt is like a cool drink of water to Kara. Her shoes make a different sound on her floor, and Kara notices that they’re a black leather instead of her usual Sketchers. “My mother talked for the rest of the day about how strange it was. Do you even know what quilt you bought?”
“No.” Kara admits. She takes the blanket from Lena’s arms and walks it to the living room where she spreads it out over the back of the couch. Then she makes a show of inspecting it, stepping back and cupping her chin in her hand like an art spectator, reveling in how Lena tries to stifle a giggle. “It’s beautiful. I have great taste.”
“You do.” Lena agrees. “I made the pattern myself.”
“I didn’t actually need a quilt.” Kara blurts. Her face is getting hot. She pivots her body so that she’s facing Lena, who’s lingering in the front door. “I wanted to see you.”
“You paid $343.62 for me to come visit you?”
Kara wrinkles her nose. “You remember the exact number?”
“I—“ Lena shakes her head. “You’re ridiculous.”
“I have the rest of the money in the kitchen.” She does. Kara winces thinking about how it had been a sizeable portion of her bank account. “Can you stay?”
“I told my mother I’d likely stay for a coffee. For business reasons.” Lena pauses. Her hands are clasped in front of her, shoulders held ramrod straight. “You don’t have to give me any more money. For the quilt.”
“But I’m $243.62 short.” Kara furrows her brow. “I already got all the money out, it’s just on the kitchen table. Here.” She bounds up to the kitchen, grabs the bank envelope and shuffles back over to Lena. “Exact change, too.”
Lena clocks Kara with one eyebrow raised. She’s Amish, you idiot. She’s not trying to be sexy. She takes the envelope from her hand, fingers so close to brushing that the potential of it vibrates in Kara. How many people have touched Lena? She has no husband, no father. Does her mother hug her? How would it be if Kara were to stroke their fingers together, or brush the skin of her neck? She licks her lips.
“How did you get sixty-two cents?”
“Very good. I don’t want it.” Lena extends the envelope back to Kara. “A hundred dollars is already too much.”
“But your mother—“
“Consider it in kind. For the phone. You mentioned something about me staying?”
“I mean.” Kara accepts the envelope and crams it along with her hands into the front pocket of her jeans. Lena looks terrible hopeful, young and at odds with her traditional dress. She looks like she wants Kara to ask her to stay, or Kara is projecting. “You mentioned wanting to see a movie, before. And I’ve got a pretty neat living room, so…”
“Yes.” Lena nods tightly. “It is quite tidy.”
“Oh, no, I mean neat like.” Kara gestures broadly. “Cool. Fly.”
“It’s that, too.” Lena colors. “It's a nice living room, Kara.”
“I did it myself.” Kara says, standing up straighter. “It was all hollowed out when I got the house.”
“Wow.” Lena murmurs.
They watch The Lion King sitting a person apart on Kara’s couch. To her surprise, Lena seems astonished from the minute the TV blinks to life to the final act of the film. The idea of never having seen a television turn on, let alone a full movie, is foreign to Kara. Especially for somebody worldly in other ways—weren’t they just talking about the OJ Simpson trial while Lena waited for a phone call from the market?
“How do you think they work?”
“What, the television?” Kara rolls her head against the back of the couch to regard Lena, then rolls it back to the TV. “I don’t know. Never thought about it.”
“I wonder.” Lena says, lips barely moving. “If you took it apart, what would be inside?”
Later that night, after Lena has left (reluctantly, or is Kara projecting again?) Kara goes to the shed in back of her house and flicks on her flashlight. It doesn’t go on at first, and she bangs it against her palm once, twice, until—
“Aha!” A yellow beam lights up a corner of shed. The door is not much more than a plank hung on a single hinge and opens with little persuasion. Inside is one amorphous pile of junk, all the things that Kara had culled from the property and sequestered to be hauled away at a later date.
She searches for only a minute before she finds it. A small TV with a VCR built in and a cracked screen. It was unlikely to be functional, but Lena might be able to parse something from it. Kara tucks the flashlight under her arm and holds the set in front of her, triumphant. She goes back inside and leaves it by the backyard door, a token.
. . .
The TV is too dangerous to take apart, according to one of the many books Kara takes out from the library after tutoring the next day. Still, she finds an electrician’s manual with lots of in depth pictures. Lena gets a kick out of it that weekend, and they break out the glass on the old set together to safely peer inside.
“Where does your mother think you are?” Kara asks as Lena sits at her kitchen table pouring over a book. She reads with her pointer finger floating under the words, mouthing them to herself.
“At market, checking on our inventory.” She says without looking up and without displacing her finger. Kara scratches the back of her head. She takes a long draw of her coffee.
“You’re not supposed to be gone like this, right?” This gives Lena pause. Her head angles up, regarding Kara with a blank expression. “I mean, doesn’t anybody but your mother notice how much time you spend away from home?” Somebody must be missing you is what Kara thinks but doesn’t say.
“What? No!” Kara starts to reach across the table before she catches herself and retracts her arm. Lena’s head is turned away, flashing Kara with her full, sharp profile.
“My brother was the only one who ever gave a damn about me.” The swear sounds odd and harsh coming from Lena’s mouth. “Or where I was going. He didn’t join the church. Did Mose Peachy tell you that?”
“Why would Mose Peachy tell me anything?”
“Oh, hush. I know he’s the town gossip.” Lena wipes her face with a hand. “He moved out of the house during his Rumspringa and never came back. Last I heard was a year ago, our father had to go bail him out of jail in Indiana for dealing drugs.” She looks like she’s about ready to spit onto Kara’s kitchen floor.
“Well, I love spending time with you. If anything I wish you could come more.” Lena nods her head, absorbing the information, and then stands.
“I’d better be going.”
“Did I say something wrong?” Kara stands too, body stiff and unsure if getting closer to Lena would make things better or worse. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about your brother, too.”
“Please don’t be sorry.” Lena straightens her prayer cap and pulls at the long sleeves of her dress. “I’m just worried that my mother might call the market if I’m not home soon. That’s all. That’s all.”
Kara trails behind Lena to the front door and watches her emerge into the sticky midsummer haze. Her dark dress looks oppressive against the backdrop of empty road and cornfields standing knee high. “What about a ride?”
“I’d better not.”
Kara nods and folds her lips in, rocking back on her heels. Lena is suspended between leaving and not-leaving. “I want you to come back.” Kara says, unafraid of her own neediness. “Not just for the phone. I’ll get you more books.”
“Whatever you want.”
. . .
The phone starts a shrill ring the second that Kara steps through the door. Her tank top is darkened with sweat and her bangs are plastered against her forehead. She sighs and toes off her shoes before jogging into the kitchen.
“Hello?” Kara folds her upper body over the counter, letting the cool plastic decrease her body temperature. There’s a pause at the other end of the line. Somebody is breathing.
“Kara?” Her body snaps halfway up at the familiar voice.
“Lena?” The long phone cord trails with her as she walks around to the other side of the counter, hand on hip, body suddenly thrumming with energy. She raises her wrist to glance at the watch. It’s nearly 7. “Is everything okay? Where are you?”
“At the market.” Another pause. “Mr. Connell usually gives me a ride home but his car is in the shop—“
“I’ll be right there.” Kara tangles herself in the phone cord looking around for her keys. She’s been out clearing brush all day, and it has a way of making a person lose track of things. “Just hang tight, okay? I’ll be ten minutes.”
“Okay.” Lena says faintly. Kara feels her keys in her front pocket with a triumphant aha! and scoots out the door, nearly forgetting to lock it behind her. Her car is suffocatingly hot from baking all day in the sun, even after she cranks down both windows and drives a little on the road. The wind does nothing to cool her down.
The market is Connell’s Gifts, a glorified and overlarge craft store on the edge of town. Lots of Amish hock their products there and turn a good profit, including Lena with her quilts. It’s got a big covered front porch with some benches on it, a blessing in the dog days of summer.
Kara spots Lena immediately, sitting on the steps of the porch picking at her ankle. Her head pops up at the sound of tires on gravel, eyes sparking when she sees Kara stretch toward the passenger window. “You called for a taxi?”
“I really appreciate it.” Lena says as she slides in. Against her common sense, Kara has a feeling of great peace seeing her there. In the cab of her truck, blunt nail picking at her dashboard, face cherry red. It looks good and natural. “I wanted to come in and work on a quilt ‘cause people buy more when they see me working. They like seeing a real Amish person doing it.”
“What does your mom do while you’re away?”
“Oh, we live with my auntie, and her boys help out.” Lena sucks on her teeth and gazes out the window. The country is blowing right by. “Someday I’ll get married and she’ll come live with me. Can’t really leave her by herself.”
This information sits in Kara like a stone. She swallows back the saliva suddenly flooding her mouth. It’s a poisonous idea, Lena getting married. Having a dozen barefoot plain-faced babies with some stranger. “You wanna come over?” She blurts without thinking. Her hands flex on the steering wheel. “Use the phone and tell your mom you’re alright.”
“She doesn’t expect me back ‘till much later. I told her I was going to walk home.”
“Why would you say a thing like that?”
For the first time, Lena turns her head. She gives Kara a look so hot she nearly drives off the road. “You said you wanted me to come back.” Kara imagines Lena seizing the back of her neck with a paper-white hand, all calloused and blunt.
It’s dark when they pull into Kara’s driveway and the fireflies are just starting to make themselves known. The cab lights flick on when she kills the ignition and she notices again the black leather oxfords on Lena’s feet. There’s no dust on them, as if she’s been walking careful all this time.
“What do you want to do tonight?” Kara asks before they open the door. Lena shrugs a shoulder.
“Show me something new.”
Lena has seen enough new things over the last couple months that Kara is at a loss. For somebody who up until two weeks ago hadn’t seen a television turn on, she’s barrelling forward quickly. Shy but unbearably hungry. What else, Kara wonders, could satiate her? What is she looking for? She wonders too if Lena could answer those questions herself.
In the kitchen, Kara offers her a beer. Lena accepts it easily and laughs at Kara’s slightly shocked expression. “We drink beer there, too. And whiskey.”
“I just thought—“
“It’s not really as sour as you all make it out to be. Being Amish.” Lena takes a drink of her beer and taps her chin thoughtfully. Kara has never been so enraptured by another person, at once bewildered and completely understanding. “We sing and drink just like you. Although we don’t have movies.”
“Movies are neat.”
“So, what are you going to show me?”
“What do want to see?”
Lena laughs. “You’re my rumspringa teacher. You tell me.”
Kara spins around to scan the room in a moment of indecision. There are a great many things she’d like to show Lena, none of them polite. Her eyes land on the CD player in the living room.
“What about dancing?”
All this time, Lena has had adorned to her face an almost smug half-smile. She’s come out of her shell to the point of unearned cheekiness. Kara thinks Lena probably considers herself as having a leg up on her in whatever ill-defined game they’re playing. She thinks that Lena is probably right about that.
But when the word dancing falls out of Kara’s mouth, the smile slides off Lena’s face. She looks disarmed. “What do you mean?”
“You know.” Kara mimes a slow dance, putting one arm around the middle of an invisible body and the other high in the air as if she’s holding a hand. She hums a random tune and sways her body. “You guys don’t dance, right?”
“No.” Lena responds cautiously. Kara skitters into the living room to crouch in front of the Sony that rests in the TV console. The display blinks to life in a flash of blue lines fashioned into letters. Kara ejects the disc, checking that it’s the right one, and presses it back in.
“It’s considered immodest.” Lena uses the fingers of one hand to stroke down along her kapp string, follow its descent over the swell of her breast.
“Isn’t that the point? Hold on.” Kara hits play on the Sony and selects shuffle. The synth beats of a song come booming out and Kara rises, beginning to bop her body in a rhythmic motion. From the kitchen, Lena smiles behind the ridge of her knuckles.
Moving through a series of increasingly hammy dance moves, Kara shows Lena the sprinkler and the bus driver. She vogues, briefly. Every one of Lena’s smiles breathes air into her chest like her heart is a balloon or a fragile bubble shaking loose from a wand. “C’mere.” She says when her body ceases motion. Lena falters. Her throat works with no sound coming out.
“You know that red light up at Station Pump road?” Kara hits the pause button with her toe as the song comes to a close, tilting her head. “During the summer, people are always driving around. Sightseeing, I guess. That’s the only light on the whole road so it’s the only place people stop.” She pauses to lick her lips. “They’re always stopping there and playing music with their windows rolled down, and I know we’re not supposed to listen, but sometimes I stand behind the Yoder’s and I do. I listen.”
“Are you confessing something to me?” Kara’s lips twitch. “After all this?”
“I guess.” Lena toes at the ground, drawing Kara’s attention back to her shoes. Leather, a brisk shine, and not a smudge of dirt on them.
“How come you don’t wear your Sketchers anymore when you come here?” Lena’s head bobs down to look at her feet and back up to look at Kara, that same disarmed expression on her face. One leg twitches to rub a little at the other, at the place between her hemline and her ankles where white stockings keep her modest.
“They’re my church shoes.” She says. “I wanted to look nice for you.”
“Isn’t that a sin too?” Lena shrugs one shoulder. “Would it be a sin for you to come over here and dance with me?”
“Somehow I feel like it would be.” She comes stepping into the living room all the same. Her shoes come off next to the armchair, and without the benefit of their chunky soles she comes to stand a few inches shorter to Kara. Standing so close that Kara can smell the dull, musky scent of her. Like plain ivory soap and dirt and grass.
She crouches to hit play and comes up to her full height again. The song that comes on is Born to Run, which isn’t ideal, but Kara can work with it. “I’d like to put my hands on you.”
“Okay.” Lena croaks. Her body jerks so hard when Kara places an open palm on her waist that she pulls it back as if burned. “No, please—I’m just not used to it.” Lena’s hand comes up to catch Kara’s. Kara feels her for the first time, her skin covered in hard spots and soft spots. Dry like she’s rubbed talcum powder into them. Lena brings her hand back to her waist and presses it there, closing her eyes as Kara’s fingers find purchase against the fabric of her dress.
It’s like having another sense opened up, touching Lena, as if Kara has been eating all this time without being able to taste. Lena is a dress, and under her dress is skin, and under that is bone, same as Kara. As natural at this as anything else, Lena’s arms come up to wrap around Kara’s shoulders and pull her close.
They sway together with the music as an afterthought behind them. Kara has never loved her house as much as she does in this moment. Loves how it holds her, gives her the sanctuary of this living room.
“Do you wear this all the time?” Kara gestures with her head to Lena’s kapp.
“Mostly. Unless I’m sleeping.”
“Could I—“ Kara’s fingers twitch on Lena’s waist. “Just take a peek?”
Lena’s lips part and her eyes flicker around Kara’s face. That bottomless appetite is yawning wide and swallowing both of them. She tilts her head up and down, and it takes Kara two seconds to register it as a nod.
The kapp falls back onto the couch when Kara removes it. Without the it, she fully appreciates Lena’s hair. It’s pin straight and inky black, plaited in a bun, and her cheekbones are high and her eyes green. The Yoder’s, and all the Amish that Kara had known, had the same red-yellow or kitchen sink blonde tresses. Amos could maybe pass as a brunette in the winter when there wasn’t much sun.
“I know I don’t look much any of them.” Lena says without prompting, as if she’s been reading Kara’s mind. “I was adopted. Mama got me from an English family.”
“Must’ve been a big transition.”
“I was young. I hardly remember not living on the farm.” She pauses, looking far-off. “I don’t think they ever warmed to me all the way. Because I was born out here and not on the inside. Like I might still have a little of that in me.”
“Seems like you do.” Kara observes, still swaying. Something about what she’s saying makes her want to hold Lena closer. “Not a bad thing. Their loss if they don’t like you, anyway.”
Lena buries her face into Kara’s chest and breathes deep. Kara puts one hand on the back of her head, feeling the waxy texture of her hair, and keeps the other around her waist. “What am I gonna do about this?” Lena says.
From outside, headlights flash in the living room windows and tires roll against Kara’s driveway. The room is still as a door opens, closes, and somebody’s boots come crunching up to the front step. Lena pulls away. Slow at first, and then more urgently when somebody knocks at the door.
“I see your lights on!” Alex’s voice calls. “I brought beer.”
“Hold on.” Kara says, to Alex and to Lena, who is straightening her dress and making to go. Everything is happening suddenly and at high speed. “Just hold on for a minute.”
Lena opens the door before Kara can make it ahead of her, coming face to face with Alex and a six pack of Yuengling. Over Lena’s shoulder Kara can see Alex’s stunned expression, her eyes moving from Lena to her sister. “What in the hell?” She seems to catch herself and looks again at Lena. “Sorry, ma’am.”
”I was just making a phone call.” Lena blurts. “It ran long, but I’d better be getting home now.”
“Well, alright. Kara, you’d better give this lady a lift back to her house.”
Already on it, Kara pats her pockets for her car keys. But Lena slips past Alex and out the door, squirrlish, before she can even think about trying to catch up. “Hey!” Alex calls after her. Kara comes around just in time to see Lena power walking down the road. “It’s nearly 9 o’clock, is she crazy?”
“Lena!” Kara shouts, for the first time noticing her exposed bun. But the other woman pretends not to hear her and half-jogs up to the crest of the road. The sun is just starting to set and the whole place has a strange glow. Even Lena is bathed in it, her white stockings now covered heavy in dirt. A stiff wind comes through and ruffles the corn, causing the husks to whisper together down the road in a gradient of noise.
“It’s all that Bruce Springsteen, you fuckin’ ran her off.” Alex says. “She gonna be okay?”
Kara says nothing and keeps watching until she disappears over the crest.
. . .
Kara doesn’t think anything of Jacob and Susannah showing up at first. It’s going to be a stiff, hot day according to the paper and they’re coming early to beat it. She lets them in, still half in her pajamas, and tries to go about her business around them. She has tutoring sessions later on, and she wants to find a way to give Lena back the prayer cap she’d left on the floor of Kara’s living room.
It’s that thought that catches her like a trawling hook as she moves to sit back at the kitchen table. Jacob is at the phone, dialing a number written on a scrap of paper, but Susannah has her dark eyes focused on the living room. Like most girls, she’s got a hawkish, observant quality about her. Kara wonders if she’d seen Lena huffing up the road that night, back of her head bare and shameful. She must have, with eyes like that.
“I know.” Kara says when Susannah catches her looking. “I think somebody left it here when they came to use the phone. Would one of you take it for me? Can’t really remember who it was, but somebody will have been missing it, right?”
Kara doesn’t think Susannah is stupid, and she’d very well heard Lena last night when she’d told her that she wore that cap every waking hour of her life. It was going to be a problem, Kara knew, not only that she’d taken it off but that she’d forgotten it. A piece of her as much as her eyes or her skin, left on a living room couch.
The girl carefully walks into the living room and takes the white cap into her hands. She looks at it for a long time, and then she places it into the front pocket of her apron.
. . .
Kara thinks about it non-stop for a week, but doesn’t say a word. Even when Alex jokes about that nice Amish girl who Kara ran off with her music she says nothing. Laughs politely and socks Alex hard in the shoulder. She thinks about the stupid white kapp, and all the things she could have done differently. Picked it up and ran down the road, called after Lena louder. She’s damn near positive that Lena doesn’t need saving, but that doesn’t stop Kara from indulging in fantasies where she saves her. She’s sure she’s in trouble.
Lena shows up on her doorstep looking threadbare at the end of that week. She’s wearing her dress with no apron. Her fine church shoes, the ones she’d once donned to please Kara, but no stockings. It had rained the night before, the kind of soupy, unrelenting downpour that only came in August. Those shoes are caked in mud accordingly. Her kapp is not on her head but clutched in one of her hands, as well as a tote bag so full that things are bursting from it.
One mug of tea is consumed, and then another. Kara turns on the television for them to watch and Lena does, wordlessly. Kara’s not sure that she even blinks. Time crawls on for a long while before Lena says anything.
“I need a place to stay.” Her eyes don’t leave the television. “For a few days.”
It’s hard to guess Lena’s size underneath the multitudinous folds of her dress. Kara is still certain that most of her pajamas will be too small on her, and so selects a T-shirt and pair of pants that Winn or James had left behind. She frets for a long time about whether Lena will like them, whether they’ll be comfortable enough. The other woman is in the guest room getting acclimated so Kara takes the time to steal downstairs and pop them in the dryer. Just long enough that they get warm.
She finds Lena in the guest bedroom standing in a corner, looking at the bed. The row of buttons on the back of her dress is undone and hanging open, showing the skin there. It’s marked with freckles and moles. Lena is fair, after all.
“That’s the quilt you bought.”
“Yeah.” Kara places the pile of clothes on the bed. “It’s too nice to keep to myself.”
Without another word, Lena shrugs out of the top half of her dress. Kara shuts her eyes instinctively. “I’ll just, uh--” she tries to find her way to the bedroom door, eyes still shut, and fails.
“I want you to stay.”
So Kara stays. She watches Lena’s dress pool around her ankles, leaving her in a pair of white underwear that comes up to her navel and a white bra. She watches because Lena has invited her to watch, to see how different her body is from what Kara has always imagined it to be. She has a full figure, thighs, a tummy that ponches slightly over the elastic of her paties. Lena doesn’t bother to start putting on the things that Kara laid out for her. She shucks off the underwear, exposing the thatch of dark hair between her thighs, and then her bra. She stands naked and strangely proud looking. Kara imagines that this room, like the living room before it, will never be the same.
Chapter 2: part ii
Kara’s first thought upon waking up is that she hadn’t dreamed at all. This is confirmed by sounds coming from beneath her in the house. Feet walking, pans banging, her portable radio playing the news. Rolling over, Kara squints at the wristwatch on her nightstand, and then places her round, wire-rimmed glasses on her face.
The more she descends her staircase, the stronger the smell from the kitchen becomes. It’s something Kara hasn’t experienced since she lived with her parents. Fatty and sweet, like bacon and undercooked eggs.
Lena stands at the stove over a cast iron skillet that Kara hasn’t used since she moved in. She’s still in her outfit from last night, a pair of overlarge sweatpants and a Tron T-shirt. True to what Kara had heard, her portable radio is set up on the kitchen counter and playing NPR.
Kara clears her throat and Lena’s head whips around. She smiles. “Did you know the only thing you had to eat in here was Ramen?”
“Did you go to the grocery store?” Kara asks incredulously, padding into the kitchen. She peers into the pan and sees thick slabs of fatback frying with scrambled eggs. There are corn fritters on a paper towel next to the oven. “When did you wake up?”
“4:30.” Lena responds breezily, pouring the whole pan onto a plate. “I went to the butcher, then the store, and I figured out how to turn on the radio. Do you want coffee?”
“Yeah.” Trance-like, Kara follows the plate full of food to the table where Lena sets it with a mug of coffee and a set of silverware. “You walked? In those clothes?”
“Why don’t you eat some and then we can talk.”
Kara’s stomach grumbles as she regards the meal in front of her. Meant, likely, to tide over a farmer until lunch. She starts with a sip of her coffee, making a sound in the back of her throat as it washes down into her stomach. “Dang, sister.” She says. “You make a heck of a cup of coffee.”
Lena smiles again. Pleasure suits her--it brings color to her cheeks and wrinkles to the edges of her eyes. She’ll have crows feet when she grows older, Kara knows that for certain, and they’ll look beautiful on her. She takes another sip of her coffee and breaks into a fritter with her fork, watching steam rise into the air.
“I need to ask you a favor.” Lena says when Kara has demolished half of her plate. It takes restraint to not tip it up into her mouth and then lick it clean. “I need my quilting frame.”
Nodding and half-registering the words, Kara puts an enormous bite of fatback and egg into her mouth. It made sense that the frame wouldn’t have fit into Lena’s tote. She has a tutoring session later that afternoon, but giving Lena a lift to her house wouldn’t take more than an hour. “Yeah, we can leave right after breakfast.”
There’s a silence that sits between them. Kara looks up from her plate, finished down to the crumbs, and sees that Lena is crying. Not sobbing or making any kind of noise. Her cheeks are damp and her eyes are wet and she looks like she’s trying to ignore that it’s happening at all. “Hey, woah, what’s the matter?” Kara reaches across the table and lays her hand palm up on the surface. Lena doesn’t take it. “We don’t have to go get it today. We can do it any time. Is this about the fight you had with your family? I’m really sorry about your kapp, I should have tried harder to get it back to you, or hide it somewhere--”
“I can’t go back to my house right now.” Lena says, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “It would just be you. I just need the quilt frame.”
“I don’t understand.” Kara says. She suddenly feels guilty for eating. Lena drops her head into her hands and then looks up to the ceiling, taking a deep breath in through her nose.
“I left.” She does take Kara’s hand then, and Kara is glad to feel her. Her face changes from sodden to hard in an instant. “When you leave, it’s called meidung. Shunning. We can’t eat together, do business together, exchange items—“ She rattles off the stipulations as if reading a grocery list, each one stoking a growing frustration in Kara. The word shunning is familiar, and she knows she’s read it in that encyclopedia.
Kara looks at her coffee, half drunk. It’s too early to consider the implications of what Lena is saying to her.
“Well, that’s stupid.” She jerks her hand away from Lena and takes her plate to the sink. “They’re not just going to kick you out over a dumb hat. I’ll talk to your mom. You’ll be back by the end of the day.” That decided, she turns on the faucet and runs water over the plate.
“Kara, you’re not listening to me. I left.” Lena gestures to herself several times, pressing her index finger to the center of her chest. Kara turns from the sink to look. “I don’t want to go back. I just want my quilt frame.”
Kara considers her, slumped against the sink basin with her arms crossed. English is Lena’s second language. She speaks it with the diction of somebody practiced in doing business, even small-town, but still fights to express herself. “I don’t have to stay here for very long. I know a place—“
“What? Of course you’re staying here. Heck, Lena.” Kara smacks her hand on the rim of the sink. “This is at least 30% my fault.” Lena is going to need clothes. Some second hand furniture for the guest room—all that’s in there is a bed and a couple night stands. There’s not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to get done. “You need clothes before we do anything.” Kara decides. She reaches for a glass in the cupboard, fills it, and takes a long drink. “I’m going to call my sister to take you while I go for your frame. You got money?”
Lena nods. “Everything I sell at the market is mine, I have some leftover—“
“It’s fine.” Kara interrupts. She’s passing a hand again and again over her mouth. “You remember Alex, right?”
Alex doesn’t rinse her on the phone as much as Kara expects. Then again, she’s probably saving it for when they see each other. They talk in the living room and Kara keeps an eye on Lena in the backyard all the while. She’s just standing there, looking out on the half acre of field, saying nothing.
Kara drives along the same Eustis highway she’d taken to see Lena at her home. The same sign flaps in the wind, and it’s just as deserted. August came hot out the gate that year, you could see it in the women walking out barefoot and wiping sweat off their brows.
There’s a woman at Lena’s house, not her mother, but younger looking. She’s on the front porch beating out a rug with a wicker stick. Her eyes, flat brown, watch Kara’s truck pull up to the shoulder. Kara notices that the sign for the quilt shop isn’t out.
“Hi there.” She calls when she steps onto the lawn. The woman continues to regard her, wicker switch clutched in her fist. Kara wishes that she’d worn something better than jeans and a crew neck shirt. “Is Mrs. Luthor home?”
“You Kara Danvers?” She puts her free hand on her hip, not stern looking, but holding her ground. The closer Kara gets, the more she can hear what’s going on in the house. Children’s feet running around, sounds like, and she sees the flash of a blue dress behind the woman’s calves. “Mrs. Luthor isn’t home. But Lena sent you down, I expect.”
“Yes’m.” Kara comes to stop at the base of the porch stairs and lingers there. The woman stands at the top, rug hung next to her, looking off over Kara’s shoulder. She’s ordinary and her face is ruddy from sunburn. “She asked me if I could pick up—“
“Her things. Alright.” She nods once, twice, then drops the switch and wipes her hands on her apron. “You gotta come ‘round the back, though.”
Adel Bontrager is Lena’s aunt. She delivers this information through gritted teeth while she leads Kara through the kitchen, a busy space full of young girls in their bare feet cleaning and cooking, and up a flight of stairs. Kara tries her best not to look too hard, not that the house is decorated to the nines. The upstairs is an unfussy hall with many rooms. Lena’s is at the very end.
“She had her own, being the oldest.” Adel says when she opens the door. Kara steps in to a room glowing with mid morning sunlight, white walls and light wood floors, a single bed made with tight corners. Her heart constricts seeing it. “Her hope chest is over there, I’ll have Aaron come haul it down.”
“She really just asked for—“ Kara has already spotted the quilting frame leaning against the far wall. But Adel is busy opening the closet and pulling out a mess of fabric and, confusingly, a wooden table clock. She places them on the bed, smoothing out the material until it takes the shape of a purple dress.
“This was her wedding dress.” Adel says, running her hands over the waist. “The cape is around here somewhere.”
“Lena is married?”
“She was going to be.” If the woman is surprised that Kara didn’t know, she doesn’t betray it. She doesn’t look away from the bedspread. “To Jack Yoder. She ever mention him to you?”
“No ma’am.” Adel looks at Kara and says nothing. “Lena only really wanted her quilting frame.”
“If you take that, you’ll have to take all of it.” She says, matter of fact. “It’s about to be wedding season, we need this room. I’ll call for Aaron.”
Two hardwearing boys take the chest and the rest of Lena’s things down to Kara’s truck. They look just like Adel, only heftier in the shoulders. Kara wonders where her husband went in that mix.
Feigning that she forgot something in Lena’s bedroom, Kara returns after directing them to the car. They’ve stripped it down to just the bed and the quilt and a bible on the nightstand. Impersonal as a hotel, and it had taken less than an hour to dismantle Lena’s entire life and remove it from her bedroom. Kara sits on the bed and feels the give of the mattress.
She bounces a couple times, hands on her knees, and checks her wristwatch. Her shoe catches something of another texture under the frame. Reaching under, she produces a stack of brochures. There are three or four of them, each advertising a different GED program. One in Lancaster, one at the community college in town, one in a Philadelphia.
Feeling a tickle at the back of her neck, her gaze flits out to the window above the bed. There’s a man standing below and staring up. Handsome with dark features and thick hair, his eyes fix up to the bedroom, unwavering.
. . .
Kara is still leaning over the pamphlets when Alex’s car pulls into the driveway that night. She has them spread out in front of her on the kitchen table, head cupped in her palm, landline pulled from the kitchen counter to rest next to her.
Her head perks up when gravel crunches outside. It’s Lena, of course, her shoes. After a day spent spun out in her orbit it takes Kara off guard how the sight of her in the half-twilight knocks the wind from her lungs.
The dress that she’s wearing is a close cousin of her others. Roomy purple fabric, long sleeves, buttons down the front. Alex comes out behind her, keys jangling and K-Mart bags on her arms, and Kara can hear the muffled sound of their voices over the chirping of cicadas.
It’s not shocking to learn that they’ve bought essentially the same dress in 5 different colors, and that all of Lena’s new underwear is in leopard print because Ruby picked it out for her. Lena shows everything to her with an underlying vibration of excitement, even the underwear and the plain bras, while Alex averts her gaze in the background.
When the last dress is out of the bag, Lena’s mood shifts. The sun is peaking just above the horizon and she looks crushed under the weight of the day as she excuses herself out to the backyard for a breath of fresh air.
“Shit, Kara.” Alex scuffs the ground with the toe of her boot. She’s got her hands on her hips and her chin angled down. If this were before Sam and Ruby, Kara expects that there would be a cigarette dangling between her lips. “You’re a grown woman. You don’t need me to tell you what to do.”
“Yeah. But you’re still my big sister, though.” On the couch, Kara leans forward and drops her elbows to her knees, palms clasped in front of her. “I still need your help, grown or not.”
“Well, I don’t know what on earth’s got into you, that’s for sure.” Alex barks out a soldered laugh. “You get these ideas in your head. You know she’s not your responsibility, don’t you?”
“It’s not about responsibility.”
“Never is with you.” Sucking on her teeth, Alex pivots to look out the glass door. Kara follows her line of sight to where Lena stands in the back acre, turned to face the setting sun. She’s barefoot and the grass, unmowed, crops at her ankles. “She’s nice, though. Probably couldn’t have picked a nicer Amish lady to shack up with.”
“Probably not.” Kara agrees, then lets the moment drop into silence.
. . .
“So, uh, what are your plans for tomorrow?” Kara crams her hands into her pockets and perches on the arm of the couch. At her frame, Lena pauses, needle halfway through a fabric square, and blinks up at her. “Sorry. I was kidding. I thought we could go to the thrift store and pick you up some things for your room.”
Lena’s nose wrinkles. She finishes pulling her needle through with a frictioned pop. “What don’t I have?”
“Art. A rug, maybe.” Kara shrugs. “We can go and see what you like.”
Lena blinks again before turning her focus back to her quilt. She makes a few stitches, pauses to look up, and then buries her head back to work. Kara remains settled on the couch, waiting.
“You want me to buy art for my room.” She says. “Does that mean you want me to stay?”
“Only if you want to. Hold on a sec.” Popping up, Kara removes a pamphlet from the back pocket of her jeans and moves to kneel beside Lena, offering it to her. The front of the material shows two young adults with backpacks on, smiling, and the words Lancaster Community College printed across the top. “It’s for a GRE program.” Kara continues when Lena doesn’t say anything. “I already talked to the secretary and said that because of your situation, you qualify for free tuition. You just have to write a personal statement—“
“—but me and Alex can help you with that. And I worked it out so I can just drop you off in the morning on my way to school and grab you on my way back—“
“ Oh, and look at this!” On the back of the pamphlet, there’s a hastily scrawled name and phone number. Hazel, it says. “Hazel works for a community organization that helps people leaving the Amish get professional training. You could be like, a nurse’s aide, or a welder, I guess—“ realizing that Lena has stopped responding and is staring at her, wide-eyed, Kara pauses. “—whatever you wanted, really.”
Lena takes the pamphlet from Kara’s hands. Her eyes are still unblinking but have focused, wild, onto Kara’s face. She places the pamphlet aside. She takes Kara’s now empty hand into her hands and takes them to her face, placing a kiss there.
She may as well have stolen out Kara’s breath from the tips of her fingers. Stolen is the wrong word, maybe—Kara is sure she’s given it willingly. Lena’s lips are moving. To say something, Kara realizes, although her senses are fragmented into a thousand different directions. She tries to divine what it is through her fingers. She realizes that it’s thank you.
“Lena, Lena,” Kara separates her palms, creating a sort of cistern with which to hold Lena’s cheeks. Her thumbs rest underneath each eye, her fingers brush the shell of her ear. Lena’s face is white-hot underneath the skin like something warmed and clutched beneath a towel. “You’re welcome, it’s alright.”
“I’m going to help you, too.” Lena murmurs. She’s holding Kara too, now, her hands cuffed around her wrists. “You’re going to help me and I’m going to help you.”
. . .
Alex had sometimes said to Kara that when the right woman came along she’d bend like a reed. Kara, for her part, remained always waffling between fierce independence and interminable loneliness. At times she would look at the house and the land that was hers and decide, this is enough. And at times she would flip through the pages of her mail order magazines, sighing, and probe her finger around the hole in her gut.
Walking alongside Lena, at least, gives her a sense of purpose. They go to the thrift store in town and she selects a few paintings of dubious origin, a plain rug, some curtains from K-Mart with some gentle urging from Kara. Kara tutors during the long, brutal days, fan in her study mixing up the muggy air as Buck groans out loud at the thought of another problem set. At night the crosswinds blow life into the house and she and Lena work at committing her personal statement to a composition book.
The school year starts in a few weeks, and there are different wheels set to change. Kara will go back to regular work, Lena to school. Afternoons will be spent with Alex and Sam and Ruby, teenage hormones allowing, shooting the shit at the kitchen table.
But before even that, Alex’s words ring out in Kara’s ear when Lena mentions a clothesline between the back of the house and the fence that sections off the place where Kara hopes to someday keep goats. The washer had been an unexpected delight to Lena, so used to doing her clothes by hand. The dryer was another issue altogether.
“It wastes energy and doesn’t do a good job.” She’d balked, pulling one of Kara’s shirts from the machine and pressing it to her face. “This smells horrible.”
“It’s lavender breeze.” Kara offers, and gets to work jerryrigging a line the next day.
Although she’s right, Lena never gloats about it. Kara will come into the living room and see her through the glass doors with clothespins puckering her dress. She’ll feel dizzy with the anticipation of how her clothes will smell. Fresh, like grass, and like Lena’s palms.
They are going to help each other. This is the mantra that Kara repeats in her head when she begins to tell the days of the week by what dress Lena is wearing in the morning when she comes downstairs. When she comes home from teaching one day to find Lena at the quilt frame, sewing, and her dress rucked so far up her spread thighs that it no longer becomes an issue of imagination but of an educated guess as to what it would look like if Kara smoothed her palm up—
She pounds back a glass of water in a half second. Lena places one hand flat on her thigh, bracing herself, and continues the precise work of making the quilt with the other. Kara remains standing at the sink and listens to her talk about business at the market. She bends like a reed.
Lena, it seems, is constantly in motion. She cooks, although Kara reminds her she doesn’t have to. She cleans, although Kara begs her not to. She spends the hours she’s not hunched over the frame making more product pouring over her textbooks, telling Kara only that she wants to get a head start. Kara wishes it didn’t make her heartbeat pick up in the way that it does.
“Isn’t it past your bedtime, baby sis?” Alex takes a long, cup-rattling sip from the bottom of her soda before stashing it in the cup holder. She reaches across to Kara, who holds the McDonald’s bag between her knees, in a bid for the bottom of the bag fries. Kara bats her away.
“What, you used to beg me to keep you company on night shift.” Kara pokes around the squad car at random, opening and closing the dashboard, pulling down the sun visor. There’s a CD holder strapped there with some assorted albums poking out: Weezer and the Cranberries (for Ruby, Kara is sure), John Mellencamp.
Tucked into the elastic that secures the sleeve to the visor are two photographs, one of Ruby crouching with a dog, one of Alex and Sam when they first met. Although it’s easy for Kara to fill in the gaps left by the image—she remembers juggling a 3 year old Ruby in one arm, the Kodak in another, she remembers that Alex had been a new recruit at the police academy and Sam a waitress—she likes to pretend that she knows nothing about it. That it’s just an image of two women holding each other against the backdrop of a football field.
“Okay.” Alex says. She settles back into her seat and folds her arms, police-issue baseball cap pulled low over her face. On the highway, a few cars zip by and numbers flash up on her radar gun. “It’s Lena, isn’t it?”
“What? No. Which Lena? My Lena?” Kara balks. Alex is regarding her from the corner of her eye and barely tamping down a smile. “There’s nothing wrong with Lena.”
“Except that you have a big ol’ crush on her.” Alex makes another, more successful play for fries from the bag. “Poor girl.”
“I don’t—I’m not—“ Kara knows that resisting at this point is futile. Alex is as wily as she was when they were kids, probably more so with a decade of policing under her belt. She slouches low in her seat and covers her face, groaning. “I think I’m just lonely.”
“Awe, come on. You’ve been lonely forever.” Alex has re-focused her gaze onto the empty highway ahead. “Maybe you just like her. She’s nice. Smart. She’s really smart, actually.”
“Yeah.” Lena has been spending some of her free time while Kara is tutoring with Alex and Sam and Ruby, and Alex hasn’t said much about it until now.
“You know, I told her about me and Sam.” Kara partially uncovers her face to regard Alex, eyes big. “She asked when we were clothes shopping. Didn’t phase her at all. People’ll surprise you like that.”
She’s been fighting it all week, but the image of Lena standing naked in front of her blossoms in Kara’s head. How she’d looked needy for something as Kara helped her pull the t-shirt over body and the sweat pants over her hips, how Kara had tried her best not to read anything into that look. How she was still trying not to. “So you’re saying what?”
“Just…” Alex shrugs. “Be open to being surprised, I guess.”
. . .
It’s a relief when Kara opens the box and finds a copy of her magazine sitting under the rest of the mail. Her eyes flick up to the house where she knows Lena is just inside the door fixing dinner. They flick back down to the cover where two naked women tangle in an embrace.
She stacks her bills over the magazine and tucks her chin into her chest, making a beeline for the front door. Already decided that nothing is going to stop her from having some quality time with her magazine, Kara scuffs her shoes on the welcome mat and scurries into the foyer.
“I hope you’re hungry.” Lena says. “I made pot pie.”
“Shoot.” Kara is three steps into the house. She looks down at the stack of mail, to Lena’s back, and to the mail again. She deposits it on the counter. “That sounds amazing.”
Dinner together is a ritual quickly established and hard to shake. At first, Kara had reasoned that Lena needed some stability in her new life, but the pretense had crumbled after only a few days. Sometimes a balloon swollen with ideas, they could chatter for hours about plans for the house as if Lena lived there all along. Sometimes Lena would eat hunched over a textbook gotten from the library or pilfered from one of Kara’s classrooms—
“Wait a second.” Tearing away from her pie, Kara lifts the cover of the book occupying Lena’s attention. “Is this my trig workbook?”
“Yeah.” Lena hasn’t touched her food, too absorbed in the text in front of her. Her hair is all gathered from her face in a crown braid that’s fraying with the day. Kara almost gets so lost in it that she forgets what to say next. “I’ve been covering up your answers and doing my own work next to them.”
Kara swivels the book in front of her. Next to her faded scribble from college are the calculated lines of Lena’s notations. Where Kara’s equations trail down the page, Lena’s are lined up as if she’s been using a ruler. “Are you mad? I should have asked. I just saw it sitting out in your study and—“
“I’m not mad. I’m just—two weeks ago I had you started on basic algebra.” Kara presses up her glasses and follows Lena’s logic with the tip of her pointer finger. “These are all right. They’re...so right.”
Kara looks at Lena over the pages of the book and sees the width and the breadth of her. She’s a hand painstakingly uncurled. Everything about her—the faded smear of lipstick that Ruby put on her mouth, the neckline of that modest dress, her impeccable lines. Her naked breast, her would-be husband. How had she ever lived in the spartan confines of that other house for so long? Lena is a room covered in fairy lights and quilts, rugs and pictures of heartthrobs and diaries overflowing with pathos. Kara wants to read her diary.
“Do you think I’m going to do alright?” Lena asks. “In my class?”
“You’re going to be perfect.” Kara sighs, and realizes for the first time that she’s in trouble.
Chapter 3: part iii
Kara doesn’t realize that she’s been biting her nails until Alex smacks her shoulder. She puts her hand guiltily to her lap and glances around the cab of the truck.
“Do you think it’s weird that we’re all here?” Between her and Alex, Ruby shrugs. Sam leans to the front bench seat and rests her chin on her hands.
“What, I want to know how her day was.”
Around the truck, the community college campus is swimming with students. Kara cranes her neck around and waits for the canary yellow of Lena’s dress to catch her eye. They’d discussed exactly where to meet that morning but the urge to stick her fingers in her mouth still wells up in Kara.
“I’m just saying, what if we embarrass her in front of her new friends?”
“Shush—There she is!” Kara sticks her arm out the window and waves, but Lena has already seen them. She’s got books clutched to her chest and a bag on her back and she’s half-jogging across the parking lot. Kara’s eyes track the bob of her hair half-up in a scrunchie, just the way Ruby showed her. Lena’s hand, the one that isn’t holding the books, comes up to pass loose hairs from her face. She always does it with the same broad gesture, using the palm or the heel. Kara swallows.
“Ruby, get in the back with your mom.”
Ruby grunts but compiles, clambering over the seat until she tumbles to sit opposite Sam. Kara brings down the visor, checking her hair in the mirror just as Lena jerks open the car door. A chorus of greetings heralds her in as she slides in beside Alex.
“How was the day, smarty pants?” She reaches across Alex’s lap to tap her knuckles against Lena’s thigh. Instead of fabric, she touches bare skin, and it rubs against the back of her hand like a calyx. Lena beams. She presses more hair from her forehead.
“I love school.” She says breathlessly. Ruby makes a gagging noise: “What planet is she from?” And Lena demures even as Sam scolds her.
“Is that weird?”
“Pssht. No. Liking school is awesome.” Kara shoots a look over her shoulder. “Right, Ruby?”
“The teacher gave me some books because I’m so far ahead of the class in math.” Lena unfolds what she has clutched to her chest, exposing the cover. Kara whistles low. “She said that they might be a little challenging, but that I should try to give them a look.”
“Lucky for you you’re living with the calc master of Lancaster County.” Kara puffs out her chest and elbows Alex when she rolls her eyes. “We can look at them together later.”
“I’d really like that.” Lena breathes. She’s looking at Kara the way she did that day in the truck, when they danced, and Kara feels it sharp in the air. Alex clears her throat and Kara startles, moving her arm back to the steering wheel so that both of her hands are there resting at 10-and-2.
“This is all very touching, but can we go get food now? I’m starving.”
. . .
Kara grills burgers. She doesn’t let Lena touch a single thing except to make a potato salad, because she would never deprive another human being of Lena Luthor’s potato salad. It’s the only thing she knows how to do well in the realm of cooking and she does it with great relish, standing in the back yard with her shoes off whistling.
Ruby, Sam, and Alex have a hundred questions for Lena. Ruby wants to know when she’s coming back over to watch the X-Files. The house drapes need mending, Sam wants her recipe for a potluck—how cool is it that she’s learning math so quick?
Lena is, for the most part, quiet, but she responds to the questions and enthusiasm with increasing vigor. By the end of the night Ruby for all her huffing and puffing is asleep on the couch and Lena is sitting with Alex and Kara and Sam, parceling out different details about the other students in her class. By the time they drift out, little to Kara’s surprise, Lena is sitting on the couch with one of her new math books spread open over her lap.
“Let me see that.” The living room is littered with the remnants of their visitors, fresh enough that a person would almost believe they were still there. The door to the back yard is open, amplifying the volume of the cicadas, the on-off of fireflies. Irrationally afraid of disturbing the moment, Kara sits gingerly beside Lena on the couch. Lena scoots closer and opens the book across their laps.
She’s asking about the purpose of linear functions but Kara is struggling to stay tethered to the moment. Their arms are touching—Lena’s dress sleeve has ridden up, Kara’s tank top leaves her bare—and for some reason her eyes keep drifting down to Lena’s feet. She’s wearing men’s ankle socks, and they’re a little big on her, leaving the heel slightly displaced. It’s easier to focus on that then to look up at her face, craned over the book and crinkled with concentration.
“That makes sense.” Lena says with an air of finality when Kara manages to explain the purpose of functions.
“Did you do math at all when you—” Kara clears her throat, feeling color creep up her neck. “Before you came to live with me.”
“I went to school. We all did.” Lena shrugs. “I liked math and I learned a little more of it to help run the business. Mr. Connell helped.”
Kara swallows twice. Questions have built up in her like sediment, about what happened, about Lena’s would-be husband, her brother, the clock that she’d displayed on the dresser in her bedroom without explanation. Why the Amish had stopped coming to use her phone. Lena had seemed so unaffected, so well adjusted in the last few weeks, that Kara had almost asked her several times.
But there had to be something. Kara studies Lena’s face for any signs of a crack and finds nothing. When her eyes are done wandering she finds that Lena is looking at her too, but with that look of single-minded intensity she sometimes wears. The same look she gets when she’s hunched over a set of problems or sewing at the quilting frame.
Kara parts her lips to say something but finds that she has nothing to say. It wouldn’t be enough to tell Lena how quickly she’s learning—that’s been said plenty. And it wouldn’t do for her to probe deeper into what’s going on in her head. If she’s to know, Kara figures that Lena should tell her. So she’s left with her hand open on the glossy pages of the textbook, Lena’s eyes affixed to her, their arms brushing, cicadas behind them. Her sock twisted.
“Can I tell you something?” Lena asks. “It’s not about math.”
“Uh, sure.” Kara swallows. “We can talk about...non-mathy things.”
She waits. Lena searches her face and Kara lets her, opens herself up the smallest inch to the moment. Something flickers in Lena’s eyes but disappears like a green flash. She leans away so that their arms are no longer touching, and her foot goes tucked away behind the other. Kara’s body becomes half-rigid with grief.
“It’s actually not that important.”
. . .
It takes Kara one week to realize that the magazine is missing.
She reasons that it isn’t her fault, entirely—between Lena’s GED program, Ruby’s soccer practices, Buck Daily flunking algebra and needing after-school tutoring, she hasn’t had any attention left to give to the stack of ads covering the periodical on the kitchen counter. It’s only on a quiet Saturday night when Lena has retreated to her bedroom to study and Kara is bored of channel-surfing that it crosses her mind.
When she lifts up the spam mail and sees that the magazine isn’t there, her first thought is that she’d never received it at all. It had been a figment of her imagination, her loneliness all tied up into a mirage. But, no. Kara remembers the weight of it in her hand, and she remembers the cover, those two women embracing. Kissing.
Her lower body clenches and she licks her lips, casts her eyes up to the ceiling and then back down guiltily. She opens the junk drawer, looks under the table, pokes her head outside to see if she’d left it out by the walk.
There’s nothing there, of course, save for the green of her lawn and the corn growing steadfast, reaching it’s mid-September height. If Kara were to go in she would be lost in it. She turns around to re-enter the quiet of the house.
When Buck Daily comes trudging up her walk the next afternoon, bag over his shoulder and cowlick creasing the back of his head, Kara is ready. She’s wearing a t-shirt tucked into her blue jeans, stockinged feet, glasses running down the bridge of her nose from sweat. A red and black checkered flannel, just slightly too big, is impractical but needed to complete the look.
Her makeshift classroom is a room off the main area, claustrophobic and damp in the summertime. She has a mobile whiteboard set up, a table and some chairs, and a small bookshelf with math textbooks that lately Lena has been borrowing from more than her students. Buck cuts a wan figure slumped in his chair with his eyes hooded and arms crossed, sweaty and malleable.
“Okay, Buck.” Kara says when she can’t pretend to be teaching him about the order of operations anymore. “We gotta talk.”
This, at least, gets him to open his eyes all the way. He wriggles in his chair. “‘Bout what.”
“Before anything, I just wanna say: I’m not mad.”
“Mad ‘bout what?”
“There was a magazine on my counter last time you were here. A,” Kara clears her throat and plays with the corner of the textbook she’s been teaching out of, bending the pages up and down. “Very, very, personal, uh, grown-up type of, art—“
“One of your girlie mags.” Buck deadpans, his expression unchanged. Kara sputters. “Yeah I mean I seen ‘em, you leave ‘em out all over the place.”
“Okay well, just because you’ve seen them it’s not alright to take one—“
“ Take one? Nasty.” Buck’s face screws up into a mask of disgust. “No offense Miss Kara but that shit’s weird as hell. All the girls in there look like the social worker at school.”
There’s only so many options left after that.
Kara has rarely been in Lena’s bedroom, and never without her permission. Her toe crosses the threshold and bounces back again three times before she steps in, and even then it takes a moment for her to turn on the light. All over the small space Kara sees Ruby’s influence—in the hand-me-down posters, the lamp with the paisley shade, but then underneath there’s Lena. Her bedspread, the rug she’d selected by hand. A wind chime hanging next to her window. A bible on her bedside table that Kara opens and finds flowers pressed into, realizing with a jerk in her chest that they’re from the field outside.
But of course, there’s her reason for being there in the first place. Holding her breath, Kara opens the drawer of Lena’s nightstand and finds it empty. She releases her breath. A peek under the bed reveals blessedly nothing, and Kara is beginning to consider that maybe she’s been being silly.
She moves to the chest of drawers and starts at the bottom, full of dresses. The middle has one item, a pair of jeans that Lena has never worn but expressed interest in. And then, the top, full of underwear and underneath, a magazine. Kara blinks. She takes the corner of the magazine and pulls it up gently, so that a few pairs of underwear slide off and reveal the cover.
Two women embracing, kissing. The only sound in the room is Kara breathing in-and-out through her nose. The glossy pages are crumpled, like somebody had been handling it heavy, and there’s a page in the middle that’s been dogeared several times. Kara flips to it. She scans the page and turns bright red.
The crunch of tires on gravel causes Kara to nearly throw the publication out the nearest window. But she gathers herself and places it back, trying her best to recover it without touching any of Lena’s underwear. It half-works.
“Kara?” Kara skids out into the hall in her socked feet and in her haste to come down the stairs bumps her heel and falls butt-first. That’s where Lena finds her when she opens the front door. She’s wearing a purple dress today, and her dusty Keds.
“Uh, hi.” Kara casually reclines back onto the stairs. “How were driving lessons?”
“Are you okay? What are you doing on the stairs?”
“I fell.” Kara offers unhelpfully. Her heart speeds when Lena moves forward and nearly breaks one or two of her ribs when she kneels on the stairs to touch her hand to Kara’s forehead.
“Are you sick? You’re warm. And really red.”
“I’m fine. Where did you guys take the car?”
Kara watches Lena’s eyes light up as she leans back and stands erect, brushing off the front of her dress. She still can’t bring herself to move up from her reclining position. “Alex showed me how to drive really fast in circles in the McDonald’s parking lot.”
It’s a lot of information to take in at once. Kara narrows her eyes. “Alex taught you how to what? Where?”
But Lena is already halfway around the corner to the kitchen, her dress moving gentle around her thighs. Has it always moved like that, just tickling the skin without ever really making contact? Kara licks her lips. “What do you want for dinner? I was thinking sandwiches.”
“That’s fine.” Kara says, and follows her.
It’s impossible not to look at Lena’s hands, knuckle to slim knuckle, while she spreads mustard over a slice of bread. It’s impossible not to fixate on how she nips a drop of it from the pad of her thumb. When Kara was sixteen Janie Wickham invited her out to the football field on a Saturday night and she knew, she knew that they were going to have sex, and she vibrated all day with the weight of it.
There are vibrations running through her while she watches Lena and tries to reach inside her mind. Her former husband to be, her calm demeanor. Lena licks spread off the knife and places it into the sink before bringing over two sandwiches to the table. She’s humming.
They’d started, back at the beginning of all this, eating across the table from one another. Now they eat side by side, Lena so close that their elbows touch when they lift their food to their mouths.
“How’s school?” Lena shrugs, mouth full. Kara nudges her with an elbow and her face lightens, she giggles.
“It’s good. Well,” Setting half her sandwich down on the plate, Lena folds her hands in her lap. “I’m a little confused.”
“The teacher told me I should take the SAT.” It all comes out in one rapid blurt, and Lena isn’t looking at Kara when she says it. Her gaze is joined with her hands in her lap. “She said I should apply to college.”
“Well, darn.” Kara nods her head once, still chewing. “Yeah, that’s an idea.” She’s perplexed that she herself hadn’t thought about it before, or hadn’t considered that it might be something Lena would be interested in. But it makes sense—of course she would want to do something more than trade school at the community college.
Still, Kara considers all that it would entail. There’s a college in Lancaster, but who knows if it would even have a program Lena liked. More than likely she would end up in Philadelphia, or in Collegeville. A decent drive either way. Kara turns to Lena and finds her thin-lipped and nervous looking. She feels that ulcer inside of her tangled irreparably with a thread of selfishness. How easy would it be to tell Lena to put it all off for a year and stay sheltered by their home, invulnerable to the specter of change.
“May as well give it a try. No harm in it right?” When Lena’s face remains twisted Kara reaches across the table and places her fingers on her wrist, against her pulse point. Her heart flutters like a little bird.
“No harm.” Lena echoes.
. . .
They have Alex and Sam and Ruby over for dinner most nights of the week. Everyone cooks, then spends the evening in the backyard drinking beers and stargazing. Ruby’s too old now to go catching them in jars but she’s not so far from it that Kara can’t remember her face through a layer of glass, grinning at the blinking of light.
It always leaves a vacuum of peace when they leave, and Kara has come to cherish the quiet moments and she and Lena spend together getting the house back in order. Sometimes they set the radio on, listen to NPR or whatever the local DJ is playing. This night in particular they leave it off for whatever reason, Kara isn’t sure. But it’s silent when they do the dishes together.
“Alex and I were talking.”
“I saw.” Kara dips a plate into the water and runs a sponge over it, eyes fixed forward. She removes it and hands it to Lena, and hears more than sees her wipe it down with a towel.
“About her and Sam. And Ruby.” Another plate dips in and out, Lena wipes it down. There’s the fragile clatter of dinnerware on top of each other. “She said she only likes girls, and she’s always been that way.”
“She sure has. You wanna switch up?”
“What? Oh. No.” For the first time Kara looks over at Lena and finds her blushing. The sleeves of Kara’s crewneck are pushed up around her elbows. “I’m fine drying.”
“Okay.” Even as Kara says it, she acknowledges to herself that she knows better. Whatever Lena is getting at, whatever point she’s trying to make, Kara’s inartful attempts to deflect are not going to take the wind out of her sails. In the silence punctuated by splashing and wiping Lena’s thinking is palpable. It makes Kara’s hair stand on end.
Kara nearly drops the dish she’s holding. The porcelain slips against the pad of her fingers and she squeezes reflexively to keep her grip. She looks up at Lena, and Lena is looking at her too. She’s not blushing anymore.
“I’m sorry?” And then, “I didn’t hear you.”
“You too?” Lena says it again with as much intent as she’s ever said anything. She does nothing else but speak to Kara. Wipes no dish, pays no mind to the sleeve of the shirt slipping down her forearms. “Do you like girls too?”
Kara sees it then, Lena’s smile. It tugs at the corner of her mouth, just a twitch, followed by a spark in her eyes. That’s where Lena’s tells always end up, her eyes, too light to keep for her any secrets. Kara thinks that she would make an atrocious poker player. Then she realizes that Lena knows.
Keeping her hands fully submerged in the water to prevent herself from biting her nails, Kara swallows. “Yeah, me too. That reminds me,” The words come rushing out before she can think to stop them. “I left a magazine out and I haven’t been able to find it. Have you seen it?”
Lena’s eyes widen and settle and that flash—Kara is the one blushing now. How they’d gotten here, table shaken, turned, and then flipped upside down, she will never know. “Yeah, it’s in my room. I’ve been reading it.” Lena turns her face back to the counter and starts wiping at a dish that’s certainly already dry. “I hope you don’t mind.”
She may as well have reached under her dress, scooted her panties down her legs, and thrown them into Kara’s face. Kara is almost mad at how deftly she navigates the sexual undertones of this conversation not even three months off an Amish farm. Lena is quicker than dry tinder with a lit match. Kara was foolish for ever underestimating her.
. . .
The magazine shows back up in her bedroom exactly a week later, in between busy days of studying and class and quilting. It’s pages are worried and taxed and in some cases, Kara notes, missing altogether.
That’s when she begins to cry. In the quiet of the house, Lena in class, Alex at work, the magazine in her hand. Two months ago, on an afternoon like this, she would have spent hours on her own fantasizing. About living in her house with a partner. About showing the work that she’d done to somebody she loves. Every plank and every drape she’d picked out for herself, all the time secretly hoping another person would discover it, too. She would have selected picture at random from the glossy pages and sat giving her a name.
Now, she’s looking forward to getting dinner ready so it can be in the oven as soon as she picks up Lena from class. A wail escapes her mouth and she claps her hand over it, clutching the magazine to her chest with her other arm, half-doubled over.
Kara tries to find ways to root herself in the quickening passing of time. Lena prepares for the SAT with single minded devotion, leaving a trail of flash cards and prep books in her wake. Kara finds herself collecting them from wherever they’ve fallen—the kitchen, the sink in the bathroom—and placing them back in a neat pile to be scattered again. She takes piano lessons with Ruby, and within two weeks is working out of an advanced workbook.
Kara is flipping through a piano catalog in the library. The clothesline comes down, Frost appears for the first time on the back field, they realize that the projects they’d wanted to do will have to wait for another year. “That’s okay.” Lena says to her one morning in the kitchen, sipping coffee. “I’ll draw up the plan for the shed and we’ll start next May.”
The word genius gets thrown around some. Never in front of Lena, the four of them connected in an unspoken pact to not other her any more. To protect her. A jar with a piece of paper taped on saying “Lena’s college application fund” appears in the living room instead, and near everybody who passes through Kara’s door drops something in. Alex, Ruby, Buck Daily’s mom.
But of course, there’s the SAT. And of course, there’s the college applications that they’ve been sending away for and collecting in Kara’s study. At first for fun, and then more seriously. There are the easy ones, like Temple and Penn State, ones that are mostly done and sealed to be mailed by October. Then, of course, there are the ones Lena balks at. Harvard and MIT, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth. Bryn Mawr.
“I don’t even know how we’d pay for this.” She murmurs, flipping through the pages.
“They’d give you money.” Kara responds, easier than how she’s feeling.
“For doing what?” Lena isn’t looking at Kara. She’s reading an essay prompt, thumbnail jammed in her mouth, knee jiggling.
“For being you.” They make eye contact. Kara smiles softly. “Do at least one. For fun, if you like.”
Lena does four.
Fall settles in proper. Lena wriggles into turtlenecks and sweaters with overall dresses overtop, lined leggings and chunky leather shoes. All the time that she’s not spending studying or working on applications is spent with Kara, the quilting all but forgotten, her newly acquired job balancing the books at Mr. Connell’s taking up only a few hours of her week.
Not for the first time, Kara gets the sense that Lena knows something that she doesn’t. She has the nagging feeling that she should be reading in between the lines when they watch movies together and Lena throws her legs over Kara’s lap, or when Lena picks out a shirt for her to wear to school that day. When Lena tells her that no matter what, even if she gets accepted to colleges, that she’s going to just do the CNA program at the community college, the implication is stark.
But Kara tries not to think about it, not too hard. She packs away Lena’s applications into tall envelopes, licks them sealed with all her careful words and her letters of recommendation and the money they’d saved inside. She instead thinks about Lena, her head and her lovely mind, expansive. Kara sees it sprawling out like the field behind her house, synapses firing on and off like fireflies. She puts the applications in at the post office, saying a little prayer each time.
Lena passes the GED with a perfect score. Lena graduates on a chilly December day in the community college auditorium. “Shouldn’t she get a certificate or somethin’? Money?” Alex says as they pile into their row of seats at the very front of the room. “For being the best, I mean.” She’s wearing a blazer over her polo and the least ripped of her jeans. Ruby is wearing a dress and she looks so much like a young woman that Kara has to bite her tongue to keep from commenting. Kara has on a plaid button down that Lena had once stroked her hand over the sternum of in a dreamy way, pretending to smooth out a wrinkle, tucked into her jeans.
It’s easy in those moments to forget about everything. When they go out to eat after and order Lena the biggest sundae on the diner menu, laughing and her feigned embarrassment, knowing that Kara is going to finish it anyway. When Lena touches Kara’s calf under the table with her shoe, mouths thank you amid a spirited argument on the other side of the table.
You’re going to help me and I’m going to help you. Kara tightens her hand around the handle of her spoon. For the first time an image takes shape in her mind, of Lena in a classroom, on the campus of some anonymous ivy-lined university. Wearing the clothes she wants and learning what she wants to learn. Surrounded by new people.
. . .
Christmas decorations go up behind the menorah in Kara’s home--Lena insists that it isn’t necessary, that Christmas was never a gaudy holiday in her house, anyway. To her, it’s non-optional. She does a little research in the library encyclopedia, she takes notes on what Lena tells her, and she dresses up the house in some wreaths and puts candles in the window. They make plans to exchange small gifts on the 25th. Kara has her eye on a collector’s copy of A Brief History of Time, and she knows she’s seen Lena furtively working on some kind of cross stitch that disappears whenever she enters a room.
The letter shows up in an inauspicious envelope a week before, just before what’s going to shape up to be a malicious snowstorm. The house is stocked with kitty litter and snacks, and Lena is on the couch wrapped up in a blanket with The Weather Channel droning out a severe weather warning. There are already snowflakes drifting down when Kara half-jogs down the driveway to intercept the mailman and collect the letters.
“I think something came for you.” She says, waving the envelope in front of her as she toes off her shoes and shakes snowflakes out of her hair. Lena stiffens and her head whips around. She doesn’t move from her blanket. “Do you want to open it or should I?”
“Bring it here.” Kara does, climbing over the back of the couch to sit pressed against Lena. She hands her the parcel, Lena’s name and address written and on top, the name and address of the College Board. “What if it’s bad?”
“It’s not going to be bad.”
“What if I suck?”
“You don’t suck.”
That decided, she rips open the envelope straight away. Lena’s eyes scan down the paper. “1600.” She says finally, brow furrowed. “1600. What does that mean?”
“Lena—“ Kara snatches the paper from her hands. There’s no disbelief, just incredible pride. There are tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. “That’s a perfect score. You couldn’t have scored higher.”
“So it’s good?” Her face is beet red and she takes the paper back to look at it again herself, blinking rapidly. When the paper is in her hands, Kara can see them shaking. “It’s good right?”
“It’s literally perfect.”
Lena lurches forward so quickly that Kara doesn’t have time to react. Their mouths collide in a slant, teeth against teeth, Lena breathing erratically. The paper crumples in between them. She pulls back, looking for a second like the girl who’d shaken when Kara tried to touch her for the first time. Then her eyes darken, and they narrow, and they’re kissing all over again.
Kara had never allowed herself to imagine what it would be like to kiss Lena. And the truth of it is stranger and more wonderful than what she could have thought of or pried from the pages of a magazine, anyway. There’s something about doing it, or having it finally happen, that lifts a burden from Kara’s shoulders. She allows herself to reciprocate, to try and keep up with Lena’s energy.
Lena kisses like somebody who’s only experience is hurried behind a barn in the middle of the night. They’re open-mouthed and wet and she’s clutching Kara’s face like she might vanish right between her fingers. Like Kara is a hat-trick or sheet ghost, something just as liable to disappear as to appear.
Eventually, for need of oxygen, Kara has to break away. She remains tethered to Lena by way of her grip and reciprocates that need by holding her at her forearms. But Lena won’t be made to hold still and her body squirms against Kara’s, creating the kind of friction that lands directly between her legs.
“God, please.” She says, so close to Kara’s face that she can taste her breath. Kara can see her teeth and her tongue resting just behind them. “I knew it would be good. I knew it.”
A rubber band snaps and they’re kissing again, now fully horizontal on the couch, Lena on top, her body a blur of motion. Kara tries to rein her in but finds that she can’t and so relaxes into the scattered energy. She thinks that she prefers this to the kind of self-conscious kissing she’s used to.
Lena tears up, legs still bracketing Kara’s hips, and takes the hem of her dress in her hands. She lifts it up so that her stomach, the wonderful skin of her thighs, her breasts straining against the fabric of her bra (Kara makes a mental note to talk to Ruby about how to properly take bust measurements) and Kara has exactly two seconds to appreciate it before her eyes flick over Lena’s shoulder.
“Wait, wait.” She gasps, surprised by the breathiness of her own voice. “The door.” The curtains on the sliding doors to the back yard are thrown wide open. Instead of putting her dress down, Lena laughs.
“Last time I did this,” She says. “I was in a barn and there were pigs watching.” Then she removes her dress.
“God, what?” Kara gasps, unfocused. She’s already pulling at her own t-shirt, eyes never leaving Lena’s face as if by an unavoidable reflex. “Okay.”
Everything is a blur of motion that Kara feels like she’s watching from outside her body. They wrestle, bodies jerking with no ascertainable goal, until Lena is on her back, legs spread, lifting her ass so Kara can wretch her underwear down her legs. There’s no ceremony when she enters her with two fingers, hips rocking behind them, Lena’s underwear isn’t even all the way off.
But she’s wet and she’s gasping for breath and Kara has never felt anything so vital underneath her. Distantly, she feels Lena kicking the underwear somewhere into the room so she can let her legs gape fully open. She clutches at Kara’s back, twisting the fabric of her shirt, moans and presses her bare foot against the back of the couch.
When Lena comes, it’s with a wail and the slackening of her body. When Kara tries to keep going, still in a frenzy, she pushes against her shoulder. “Enough.” Her voice is dreamy. “It’s sensitive.”
Kara removes herself immediately and slumps to the side, still panting. She’s sure her face must be roughly a hundred shades of screaming, telling red. Lena holds her wrist, takes her hand and presses it to her face. Come smears over the curve of her cheek. Outside, the storm begins in earnest.
. . .
“About those pigs.” Kara says. Lena laughs and covers her face, naked body twisting in the sheets. There’s one lamp on, the one on her side, and it illuminates her yellow. “And the barn. What was up with the barn?”
“We weren’t allowed to have sex in the house.” She murmurs from behind her hands. Kara clears her throat, tries to keep her voice even.
“Didn’t realize having sex premaritally was, like, a thing.”
“It wasn’t. It isn’t. I was engaged.” Hands slide from Lena’s face, revealing her eyes. She looks straight in the face. This is extremely comforting, somehow. “He loved me so much. I wanted to love him too, you know? In the same way.”
Kara reaches across the gap between them in the bed. It’s small, but feels significant. They close it together, Kara’s hands on Lena’s face, Lena’s arms sandwiched between them. “I’m so happy.” Lena sighs into the night, allowing her body to be folded and held.
. . .
Eventually, all of the college applications are flung into the wind. Lena goes full time at Connell’s. Kara slips into blissful forgetting. She roots herself in the passing of time.
. . .
Kara walks outside on new year’s day and knows that it’s going to be a long winter. Midway through the month, she finds a letter left out on the table. It’s in Lena’s handwriting. It begins with Dear Mama.
Letters start turning up after that, in the pile of mail Kara takes each week to the post office. All addressed to Lillian Luthor. Not a single one ever comes in return.
. . .
Kara drives her truck back out to Lena’s house for the first time. All the signs for Amish country tourism are down, bundled in storage for the season. She parks on the shoulder outside the house that once had quilts flapping from it’s railing, a long time ago.
She looks on for a stretch. There’s crumpled paper rolling around the floor of the passenger side seat, all of them have notes about what she’d like to say to Lena’s mother. She has half a mind to do it, too. You’d better write that girl a letter, she imagines herself saying, or else.
“Hey!” Cranking down the window, Kara pulls half her body out. There are two bodies walking down the opposite side of the road, bundled for the winter but still recognizable. “Jacob! Susannah!”
But they keep walking down the road, heads down. Kara ends up driving away without leaving the truck.
. . .
“I’m thinking about cancelling my subscription.” Kara admits, leafing through the pages of the magazine before casting it aside. Lena reaches over her to pick it up. On her back, her breasts sit center on her chest and she holds the pages above them. Kara can’t stop looking.
“Don’t. I still read them.” She pivots and rolls onto her stomach, leaving Kara with a new abstract to study: the creamy expanse of her back, dotted here and there with moles and freckles. Without tearing her eyes from the words, Lena reaches over to the nightstand where she’d placed a green apple before they started having sex. She takes a noisy bite. “What does it mean when one of them has a cock?”
“Uh.” Feeling her chest heat, Kara rolls onto her stomach as well. She clears her throat several times. “Like, a strap on probably.”
This, of course, is not enough of an explanation for Lena. She glances over with a look that says show me, reeling in another two or three inches of red onto Kara’s neck. Lena was as insatiable and dogged in sex as she was in anything else, always learning, always grabbing for something new. Kara isn’t sure why she’s so nervous. She’s not dating some kind of ingenue--not anymore, anyway.
She turns, reaches under the bed for her box and produces out of it her dildo and the harness. It’s all set up as if Kara has been using it recently which, of course, isn’t true. She sits cross legged on the bed and holds it up for Lena’s inspection. The woman, as expected, looks nonplussed.
“So like a penis?” Lena takes another bite of the apple, the sound a clean snap. Kara blushes, but Lena just looks curious.
“I don’t like to think of it like that. More like an...I don’t know, an extension of myself.” Lena’s free hand inches across the sheet, closer to where Kara kneels, and stops just short of the equipment dangling from her hand. Kara finds herself holding her breath and watching Lena’s moment of apparent indecision. Her body jerks when she makes up her mind and takes it in her palm, wrapping each finger around the width, and she nearly falls of the bed when Lena smiles.
“I like that.” She shifts her whole body closer so that she’s reclined on her side with her face level to Kara’s hips, toy still held in her hand. “I like that it’s you.” She pulls a little on the toy, casting her apple back to the nightstand. “Put it on.”
This thing that Lena does, the way that she gives it all up for Kara--lets her eat her until her chin is soaked, allows herself to be pulled to the edge of the bed and fucked, Kara will never get tired of it. She stands between Lena’s legs, straps digging into her skin, hands bracketing her head. And Lena--every part of her is downy, once protected by the armor of her dress and now laid bare for Kara’s consumption. Having Lena’s legs hanging off her hips, having her on her back, is having the pith of her. Her nucleus, her marrow.
When she comes, Kara stops and tries to pull herself out, but Lena is having none of it. She hugs their frames together, mouth next to Kara’s ear, breathing through her aftershocks. “I love you, did you know that?” Kara starts to tremble with the force of her emotion and Lena holds her tighter. “You’re so perfect for me. I want to live in this house forever.”
Kara keeps her eyes shut tight to keep from imagining what that would look like.
. . .
The phone rings.
“Ayeah?” Kara cradles it between her shoulder and her ear, flipping through her lesson plan for the next day. She adjusts the waist of her jeans.
“Kara?” It’s Alex, and her voice sounds frantic enough that Kara’s ears perk. There’s some kind of commotion behind her. “We just got some mail here for, uh, Lena?”
“It’s from MIT!” Ruby’s voice hollers from the background, followed by Sam telling her to keep her volume down. “It’s big.”
“There’s one from University of Pennsylvania, too, and--Ruby, don’t open that!”
“Too late!” Kara holds her breath for one thick, eternal second. The ticking of the wall clock in the kitchen becomes deafeningly loud. She becomes hyperaware of how her jeans feel around her hips. Lena isn’t home, won’t be for another hour, and she should be here. The urge to hang up the phone, irrational as it is, courses through Kara. “She got in!”
Somebody is screaming, and it takes a long second before Kara realizes that it’s all of them, and that she’s dropped her lesson plan and is jumping around.
It’s bracingly cold when Kara runs down the driveway, she clutches her flannel jacket closer to her body and hops into the truck. Early spring just keeps dragging on, she thinks, pressing her foot harder onto the gas pedal. It’ll be a while yet until the corn gets planted again.
Connell’s is empty save for Lena working behind the front counter. Her face betrays shock, and then uneasy delight to see Kara. Her fingers pause from where they were working over a calculator. “You got into MIT.” Is the first thing Kara says, tactless and raw, trying to smile and hands shaking.
Lena’s jaw drops open and she blinks over the course of a second, before schooling her face back into a mask of indifference. Her mouth twitches, and then she resumes typing on the calculator. “Well, I already put down the deposit on the community college, so.” She breezes with a faint shrug of her shoulders, as if to say so that’s that on that. Kara’s jaw drops this time.
“Uh, I said you got into MIT, Lena. The Massachusetts Institute of--”
“I heard you.” The tapping continues, in earnest. Receipt paper comes pouring out of the calculator with a mechanical hum. “And I said, I already put down the deposit on the community college.”
All the drive, something had been nagging at Kara. How had the mail ended up in Ruby’s possession, sent to Alex and Sam’s house? But she watches Lena not look at her, watches her type what it is increasingly apparent is nonsense on the calculator, and a spark of understanding comes to her.
2+2=4 comes trailing out of the calculator. Lena’s eyes are becoming wet. 4x4=16.
“You might have got into UPenn, too, I’m not sure yet.” Kara swallows back a lump in her throat. “You have to come back to the house so we can see, and then we’ll figure out which one is going to offer you more financial aid.”
“Please stop.” Is Lena’s watery reply. She takes her hands off the calculator and folds them into her lap. She’s still not looking at Kara. “I’m not going. I’m not going anywhere but here.”
“Yes you are, what are you--” Kara walks around the counter until she’s right in front of Lena. “Look at me. Nobody is going to let you go to community college when you got into--Ivies! You just got your GED, and you, you--”
“Shut up. I hate this. I can’t believe you opened my mail.” Lena jolts up from the counter and wipes at her eyes furiously with the back of her hand. She rummages around for a denim jacket and slips it on, leaving a wide breadth around Kara as she heads for the exit.
“How come it ended up over there anyway?”
“None of your business!” They’re outside, Lena stomping ahead with her arms folded over her chest and Kara trailing behind. Where do you think you’re going to go? Kara thinks when she bypasses the truck in the parking lot, but Lena stops and turns around. Her face is mottled. “I know, okay? I want to go so bad. But I’m not--how am I supposed to just start over again?” Kara inches closer to her, gravel crunching underneath her boots. There are tears streaming down Lena’s cheeks in earnest now. “Will you call me? Will you write to me? Can I still come home?”
In less than a second Kara has Lena’s whole body wrapped in her arms. Kara is stricken by how small she feels in comparison to how Kara sees her. All personality, all knowing. “I’m so scared.”
“I’m scared too.” Kara tangles her hand in Lena’s hair. “But aren’t you excited?”
"I am." Lena says into her shoulder, sounding like she's admitting something nasty. A dark secret. "I think about it all the time."
"Okay." Kara sighs. This, she can work with. This, she can support, she can lift Lena up with. "Okay."
. . .
Alex finds her in the backyard. The sliding door opens, bringing the sound of the party outside. It closes again and muffles it out. Kara is standing amongst a pile of two-by-fours covered by tarp. The shed plans are inside, on the kitchen table.
“Lena’s having a blast in there.” She says, coming to stand next to Kara. They both look out over the field, the grass coming up, and it’s summer again--how is it summer again? “She’s had like, six beers.”
“Lady was born to drink.” Kara takes a swig of her own Bud and smiles. “She’s getting ready for college.”
“Too bad MIT isn’t a party school.” Alex snorts. They stand for a while in silence, drinking their beers. Kara knows that Alex has something to say and that she’s working up to saying it. “Cambridge isn’t too far, really, I think--”
“But how’s she supposed to really grow into herself, if she’s worried about me?” Alex says nothing to that. Kara isn’t sure she has the words to articulate that she’d known this since the minute she saw Lena with that trig workbook. That she’d spent a thousand hours over the last few months asking herself why she’d allowed herself to sink this deep, anyway.
Unfortunately, it’d all been worth it. She knows that as certain as that she’ll see new crops start growing in the fall. To be sucked into Lena’s orbit had been the greatest adventure of her life, and to be a part of her family was the biggest honor. She wishes she had the good sense to at least be bitter about it. Instead she does her best to let it roll through her body like thunder, all the feelings, all the sadness, and she stands with her sister.
. . .
“I thought we were supposed to be breaking up.” Lena says, after. They’re laying on the floor of the shed, so freshly built it still smells like sanded wood. There’s nothing in it yet but them and a blanket and their clothes exploded around the floor. Kara looks at her, on her back, head turned away. Her soft cheek curves like a road into her soft jaw and her eyes look forward. She feels herself imprinting on the moment, the memory of Lena like this.
“Yeah, I guess.” She says, and kisses her again.
. . .
The apartment is spartan, but after six hours in Kara’s pick up truck it looks like a miracle. Kara finds herself surprised to find it exactly as the brochure had described. Compact, but pre-furnished. New appliances. She swipes her hand over the top of the range.
“It’s so small.” Lena’s nose is wrinkled. She hasn’t dropped the duffel bags perched on her shoulders.
“Welcome to the big city, Lady.”
There’s commotion in one of the bedrooms and a dark-haired head pops out. It’s a woman, looking about Lena’s age, with coke bottle glasses perched on her nose and wearing a turtleneck tucked into jeans. She brightens when she sees Lena and Kara. “Are you Lena Luthor?”
“Yes?” Lena looks to Kara, who squeezes her hand.
“I’m Jess Huang, I guess we’re roommates, huh.” She crosses the room and reaches out to shake Lena’s hand. “And you are--”
“I’m Kara, I’m Lena’s friend.”
They stand outside the apartment building after, making small talk to avoid the small but inevitable tragedy of Kara getting back into her car. Got everything you need? Lena nods. Need me to take you to K Mart? Lena shakes her head. There’s a cacophony of cars and people shouting all around them.
“I’ll see you in November, right?” Lena pipes up finally. “For Thanksgiving break.”
“It’s already on my calendar. I’ll be here on the 20th to pick you up.”
“And if you can’t pick me up--”
“But if you can’t--”
“We’ll buy you a train ticket. But I’m going to be here on the 20th, so.”
“And you’ll call?”
Lena launches herself into Kara’s arms. A pedestrian nearly bumps into them, shouts an expletive, and keeps walking. “You can’t forget about me.”
Kara almost laughs out loud at the absurdity of it. It feels at this moment like she’ll never stop thinking about Lena, she’s still trying to decide how she’s going to focus on anything else. “Noted.”
Lena walks her two blocks over to her truck, and Kara watches her walk away once she’s in the cab. It looks strange without the corn and without the dirt road. No longer in a dress, her shoes skirting impracticability. Her hair is in a new style and it’s one that Kara is sure she nor Ruby had taught her. Kara’s hands clench on the steering wheel, she wonders how she’ll look in two months when she’s back in this same spot. Who she’ll be. She can’t wait to find out.
Chapter 4: epilogue
2 McDonalds hamburgers later and Kara still has nerves alive in every part of her body. The truck smells like grease—french fries, milkshakes, Cokes. She’s turned the headlights off and in the dark can imagine that her senses are heightened. The sound of Lena’s shoes on the sidewalk are telltale.
The passenger side door whines open. Lena huffs in, all fabric rustling and pushing back hair and finding a place for her bag. For a white hot second Kara can’t look at her. She stares ahead, hearing her, not quite ready to see.
“Didn’t get one of those for me?”
“‘Course I did.” Kara finally turns, finally sees. Lena is no longer in her cap and gown but a more comfortable looking pair of jeans and a T-Shirt. Her hair is scrunchied into a bun and her eyes are bright.
The McDonalds bag crinkles as she passes it across the consol. Lena sighs in relief when she peers inside. “I’m starving.” Then, through a mouthful of fries: “Where’s Alex?”
“They already went back to the hotel. Long drive tomorrow.”
Lena hums in acknowledgement and they spend a minute in silence aside from the soft sounds of Lena chewing and digging through the food bag. Against her better judgement Kara switches on the overhead light, to see better.
In the rear view mirror she glimpses the back seat, a jumble of gear and old takeout boxes. Ruby’s Temple hoodie thrown against the window. A Wharton Mom t-shirt, tags still on, a gag gift from Sam to Alex, rests beside it. Alex had joked the other day that Kara’s house was beginning to look like a college spirit store, between Ruby and Lena.
“Earth to Kara.” Kara’s gaze flicks over to Lena, who’s smiling warmly. There’s teeth in the smile, a crinkle at the corner of her eyes. “I asked if I’m driving with you or Alex tomorrow.”
“Oh.” Kara has passed almost immeasurable time on her own in her home. Students have come and gone, wallpaper has gone up and peeled at the corners. Family has come to celebrate holiday after holiday only to leave her standing in her kitchen, surrounded by sudden quiet and leftovers. She’d glimpsed Jacob and Susannah even, coming up the road, grown in the way that children do after 4 years.
A week ago, she’d gone up the stairs and opened the door into a room she’d not been in for a long, long time. When Lena came home from holidays now she stayed with Alex and Sam, something nobody spoke about but everybody understood. So the room was untouched. Kara left the window open in the warm months so it didn’t get too musty, closed it when it rained, stuffed a towel under the door in the cold to keep her heating bill down.
It smells like freshly mowed grass when she comes in. Her arms are piled high with new sheets for the bed. In her head, there’s a steady refrain: Lena’s coming home, Lena’s coming home, Lena’s— she allows herself to think it but not to feel it in her body.
The sheets cling to the corners of her mattress with a satisfying pop. Kara stands back, sniffs, wipes her nose. For 4 years, she has been fine on her own. Living in her house with the shut-up bedroom, the bare mattress, the quilting frame leaning against the wall. Lena will come home for the summer before graduate school and stay and leave again and Kara will shut the door and be fine, again.
She walks out of the room and into this moment. Realizing that Lena expects an answer, her mouth opens and works a spell. “With me, I guess. Makes the most sense.”
“Kara, can I tell you something I love about you?”
Kara’s heart jumps in her chest, a little bit of the feeling she’d been trying to ignore leaking out. Her hand goes to her t-shirt and clutches the fabric there. She feels Lena’s hand go across the console to rest over the clenched fist. To her infinite embarrassment, she begins to shake.
Lena will come home for the summer. Lena will stay. Lena will leave again, and Kara will be fine.
“I love that you always keep your promises.” Kara can hear the smile in her voice. Her thumb strokes over Kara’s knuckles. “Always, always, always you let me come home. Even when I know it was hard for you. It was hard for me too.”
“It’s ok.” The warmth of her hand goes and the seat creaks as Lena settles back into it. “I’m ready to come home again. Wharton isn’t so far, you know?”
Sixty miles, give or take. Kara thinks of the bedroom, the bible with the pressed flower in it. Her heart is floating against the weight of a hundred rocks. “Yeah, I know.”
I’m ready to come home again. Kara thinks she might be ready to let her.