There has been a spell of cold weather.
An unnatural melancholy feeling hangs over everyone's heads this time of year—over all but one, that is. Kara relishes this gloomy morning. It reminds her of art, the gray of the sky and the smell of unfallen rain. The world is nothing but a canvas, and today the colors of its paint are sad. Dreary. Exactly as intended.
She brings her easel out onto the balcony and rolls up her paint-smudged sleeves and dreams; dreams of a world where she is the one in charge of the skies, a world where she can decide the mood. The first color she mixes is a soft, subtle yellow. It will do quite nicely, she thinks, against an equally delicate orange. And then a gentle pink. Then purple.
And like so many others, this sunset becomes an abstract depiction of a sinking sun against choppy waters. The juxtaposition of fragile color against rough dark blues and grays and whites is what's reflected of her own mind, and she pauses once the rough outline is complete, thumbs over her jaw thoughtfully without care that it smears paint across her skin. It's still not right. Something has to be missing, but she can't figure out what it could be. More color? Less color? A new setting?
The sound of a rap against glass brings her out of this pensive state; it's faint, unsure, but Kara immediately hones in on it.
“Come on out, Jamie,” she calls over her shoulder. “Did I wake you?”
Jamie shyly slides open the door, barely enough so she can lean in the doorway. “No,” she says. “Are you painting?”
“An artist's muse never sleeps,” Kara jokes, because it always makes Jamie almost smile. Art is the one thing they understand; Kara never takes it very seriously, and Jamie doesn't really know much about it, but they like it and that's…well, about as far as they have in common.
“It looks nice,” Jamie says, drawing the large sweatshirt thrown over her pajamas tighter around her body. It might be Alex's, come to think of it.
“Yeah? You think?” Kara sets her brush aside and makes a point of regarding her easel. “Maybe I'll keep it.”
Another almost smile. It’s a victory. “Um, your phone was ringing,” Jamie says, which was likely the only reason she came out here.
“Thanks, I’ll call them back,” Kara says. “How would you feel about donuts today?”
Jamie shrugs in reply. “Okay,” she says. She’s still quieter than she usually is, which is saying something to begin with; she disappears, citing a need to take a shower before they leave, and Kara lets her go without saying another word.
Kara decides to leave her easel outside for now. She trades her pajama bottoms for rolled-up jeans and her paint-splattered undershirt for something paintless, and in an hour she and Jamie venture out into the bleak weather together.
They find a donut place that Jamie hasn't tried yet. Jamie always picks a jelly donut and a chocolate donut and won’t try anything new, but she will always take the half of the jalapeño bagel that Kara sneaks onto her plate.
And Kara, for her part, watches the meticulous way her niece spreads cream cheese and is overcome with a rush of worry for her. Spending so much time with Jamie has been the best thing to have come out of this summer, but it's also given her a lot of perspective about life. It’s…different. Odd. But also kind of nice, to be trusted to look out for her.
“So what do you want to do today?” Kara dips her donut into her coffee, which Jamie wrinkles her nose at. “James said he'd be down by the coast today. We can go hang out with him.”
“Alex says he has a crush on you.”
“Alex isn’t funny,” Kara huffs, sweeping some crumbs off her shirt as she reaches for her next donut. “James and I are just friends.”
“And Maggie says you’re not supposed to hang out with guys in love with you,” Jamie adds, perking up the tiniest bit at how animated Kara gets over the subject.
“No one is in love with anyone, hey,” Kara sputters. “Unbelievable—your moms aren’t even here and they’re still interfering with my life. Okay. No beach then. What else do you want to do?”
Jamie reverts back to her shell all at once. “I dunno,” she says. “Whatever.”
Kara resists the urge to wince. She should’ve never said moms, she knows. Jamie always get weird about the subject, which…well, Kara understands better than anyone.
“Well,” she says, straightening up, “how about we try something new? We could check out the library.”
“There’s a library here?”
“Sure is,” Kara says, and nudges Jamie’s foot with her own. “I know this place isn’t the big city like you’re used to, but we manage.” Jamie looks wholly unconvinced, but Kara pushes on: “It’ll be great. I promise.”
And Jamie just shrugs, shrugs like she does every time Kara tries to get her excited, but it’s fine. She’ll warm up.
Kara’s sure of it.
The smell of old books might be the most cathartic thing in the world, and Kara absolutely basks in it as soon as she enters the warmth of the library.
Jamie trudges along behind her, skeptically eyeing the towering shelves, and she squeezes her arms around herself like she’s trying to shrink away. Kara would like nothing more than to rest a reassuring arm around her shoulders, but they’re definitely not at that point yet.
“So,” Kara whispers instead, “what kind of books do you like to read?”
As expected, she gets a shrug. “I don’t know,” Jamie says. “Interesting ones.”
“Well, we can poke around, see if anything catches your eye,” Kara suggests. “Or if you want to check out the teen section, I’m sure there might be something you like.”
“I’m not a teenager,” Jamie mumbles. “And I don’t like that junk. It’s always so dumb.”
“What about it’s dumb?” Kara gravitates towards the section anyway, and Jamie begrudgingly follows along. “Maybe it’s just a specific genre you don’t like.”
“I don’t know,” Jamie says, again, which Kara is quickly coming to realize is one of Jamie’s favorite phrases. “They’re always about dumb boys and growing up. I don’t care about that.”
“Then you’re reading all the wrong ones,” Kara insists. “Wait here, I’ll go bring someone to provide an expert opinion.”
Jamie eyes her suspiciously, but does as Kara asks. She even begins to run her fingers over some of the book titles, which Kara takes as a good sign.
Then, satisfied that her niece is taking a tentative step forward, Kara makes her way to the romance novel section where she knows that Lena Luthor will be.
“Hi, Lena,” she greets her brightly, and Lena—seated on the floor, with a book in her lap—startles quite visibly, but relaxes a second later.
Kara likes that Lena’s routine is a constant every time she comes by the library. For the past two years, they’ve fallen into something like a routine themselves; Lena recommends popular books Kara hasn’t read, and Kara trudges through them even though she’s bored by the majority of the picks. Like Kara, Lena’s a newcomer to town. Unlike Kara, she has no history of the place. They usually trade comments about the places they’re from or how they’re adjusting, but that’s about the extent of Kara’s interaction with Lena. It’s nice, though. Kara enjoys talking to Lena even if it doesn’t happen often.
“Kara, hi,” says Lena now, gently setting her book aside so she can stand up. “Back so soon?”
“I still haven’t finished Bonfires of Vanities,” Kara says. “But I was hoping you could help me find another book? For my niece.”
Lena has a way that she looks at Kara sometimes that is just the slightest bit curious; she tilts her head and bites at the edge of her lip, barely enough to be noticeable, but she always ends up smiling. “I didn’t know you had a niece,” she says.
“Yeah, she’s staying with me for the summer,” Kara says, and doesn’t know what compels her to continue: “I could really use some help getting through to her, I guess, I—I don’t really know how to make her like me.”
“I’m a librarian, not a child psychologist.” Lena’s gaze softens to a warmer kind of curiosity, one that isn’t so subtle. “I’m definitely not the kind of person very up to date with children’s literature either, but…well, I suppose there’s no harm in trying.”
Kara all but sags with relief. “You’re a lifesaver,” she says, playing up the dramatics to make Lena’s smile widen.
“Don’t count me as your knight in shining armor just yet,” Lena says. “Let’s see what we can find, first.”
They make their way back to Jamie, who’s taken a seat on a bench up against the wall and is hugging her knees to her chest and scowling; it has to be because there are a few teenagers browsing a nearby section, even if they’re not looking at her.
“Hey, Jamie, sorry about that,” Kara says. “I just went to find my friend Lena. She’s one of the librarians here.”
Jamie squints up at Lena suspiciously. “Alex told me you didn’t have any friends besides James and Winn,” she says.
Kara reddens and she knows it—but mostly because Lena stares at her again, this time with amusement. “Okay, well, Alex is a liar,” she blunders. “Just because I don’t tell her about my friends doesn’t mean I don’t have friends.”
“Wow, Kara, I didn’t know we were friends,” Lena says, but there’s a teasing glint in her eye that only Kara catches. Jamie, for her part, lights up in that rare almost-smile phase that means good things.
“Sorry,” Jamie apologizes, sheepishly flushing just a little in her cheeks. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“No, don’t worry, sweetheart,” Lena says. “You don’t have to think of me as one of your aunt’s friends. Think of me as a librarian just like anyone else, and help me out—what kind of book are you looking for?”
Jamie is still reluctant to come out of her shell with Kara watching, so Kara pretends she has to find a book too and ducks into a different aisle. She’s not hurt by it. She just…she knows. She was Jamie once. She has all the patience in the world to wait for Jamie to become more comfortable around her.
She spends a while wandering the aisles aimlessly, and wonders if she might try painting something with the colors she sees. The faded, yellowing pages of old books; the deep black and gray covers of the encyclopedias; the finger paint-splattered brown wood from the children’s tables—they’re all deeper than she’s used to. It could do her some good to change it up a bit, she imagines.
By the time they finally leave the library it’s almost evening, and Jamie leaves with two crime novels and Kara with a few ideas of her next painting.
Kara makes a point to stop by Lena’s desk before they go. “Thank you, Lena,” she says gratefully. “You really helped us out.”
“I’m glad I could help,” Lena says, smiling brightly back; she has the kind of smile that Kara doesn’t see often, but when she does, it’s beautiful. Unguarded. It’s the kind of smile that only makes Kara realize she doesn’t know much about Lena.
After a nudge, Jamie also politely chimes in: “Thank you, Ms. Luthor.”
“Oh, no, don’t call me Ms.,” Lena laughs. “Lena is fine. It was great to meet you, Jamie.” She catches Kara’s eye right afterwards, an almost charmed look hiding somewhere in her broadening smile. “When you finish those books let me know, I’ll be glad to help you find another.”
So it’s with a renewed kind of excitement that Kara and Jamie take off. Jamie hops on ahead, clutching both her books to her chest. Kara walks at a more leisurely pace behind her, only catching up when Jamie stops before a café.
“Can we get something to drink?” she asks, shyly, and Kara just about glows.
“Sure thing! How does some hot chocolate sound?”
Jamie puts a heap of marshmallows in her cup. Kara gladly follows suit, and sips so deeply she’s sure she gets a marshmallow mustache from it because Jamie keeps trying to hide one of those almost-smiles behind her hand.
“Ms. Luthor is nice,” Jamie says after a moment. “Is she your girlfriend?”
Kara almost chokes on her next gulp. “What?” she sputters. “No, I don’t—really know her that well.”
“Sorry I asked,” Jamie says, slightly taken aback. “Was that rude too?”
“No! No. You weren’t rude at all today. You surprised me, that’s all,” Kara says. “Lena’s great. But she’s just a friend.”
“Okay. Sorry,” Jamie says again. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad.”
“You didn’t,” Kara assures her. “Really. I like when you ask me questions.”
Jamie seemingly accepts that, but they lapse into silence all the same. Jamie’s not a talkative kid—much like Kara had been at her age—so Kara doesn’t fault her for it at all. Jamie has too much in her head and too much on her shoulders; she’s carrying the weight of a life too heavy for someone so young, and Kara wishes she could do more to help.
But instead she suggests they call Alex and Maggie once they get home. And Jamie agrees without any enthusiasm.
It’s all about baby steps.
The sky’s finally cleared a little.
“Can’t I stay at your house by myself?” Jamie asks, sulks, as she trudges behind Kara. “I used to stay alone all the time in foster homes.”
“Your moms would skin me alive, so no,” Kara says. “Besides, weren’t you just saying you wanted the warm weather back?”
“I guess,” Jamie mumbles. “But I don’t like the beach.”
“You can wait for me in the lockers if you want,” Kara offers, feeling a little disheartened at how annoyed Jamie looks. “I’m sorry I have to work while you’re here, but it’s so busy today.”
“Do you usually not work?”
“Well, sometimes. It’s really a part time thing,” Kara says. “But I am looking for a full time job,” she hastens to add. “Just, until after you’ve left.”
Jamie doesn’t react to that right away. She’s preoccupied with staring down towards the beginning streaks of sand on the pavement, tracking the path with her eyes until they reach the boardwalk. Then,
“Did you and Alex really grow up here?”
“Yeah, hard to believe, huh?” Kara again has the urge to put her arm around Jamie’s shoulders as they walk, but decides she can’t push for so much so quick. “There used to be an ice cream cart right there.” She points so Jamie can see, to an area roped off by fresh police tape. “Alex and I would walk there by ourselves every weekend.”
“Has it changed a lot?” Jamie tries to mask her genuine curiosity with indifference, but she can’t hide how her eyes dart around trying to catch all the unfamiliar sights.
Kara considers the question for a moment. “You know, it has,” she says slowly. “It’s a sleepy town, don’t you think? Maybe that’s why Alex left. She needs a big city and fast-paced living.”
Jamie doesn’t reply. With one hand she swings Kara’s gray-white towel, but the other remains a stiff fist at her side.
“So I’ll come get you during my lunch?” Kara clears her throat, and pretends she isn’t aware that Jamie’s attention is kept by anything but Kara. “I’m really sorry about this, Jamie. Honest.”
“It’s okay.” Jamie’s fist unclenches, and she stuffs her hand into her pocket. “I’ll read one of my books or something.”
“Oh, hey, you know what? One of the other lifeguards has a daughter that tags along most days. She’s around your age, if you want some company.”
“Nah.” Jamie kicks a pebble so hard it shoots off into the sand, furiously keeping her gaze trained on the ground. “Maybe some other time.”
Kara knows better than to push. “Okay. Let me know if you change your mind,” she says instead.
Jamie opts for sticking to the locker room after all; the lifeguards have a break room there, and Jamie situates herself on one of the lawn chairs and buries her nose in her book. Kara eventually leaves her—with great reluctance—and jogs down to the beachfront where Sam is waiting.
“Nice of you to show,” Sam teases, popping a red lollipop out of her mouth to do so. “Where’s your better half?”
“Jamie’s in the break room,” Kara says, accepting the teasing without a second thought. “And Ruby?”
“Already off to the water,” Sam says, nodding her head in her daughter’s direction. “Go on up first, will you? I need to make her reapply sunscreen.”
Kara doesn’t need to be told twice. She relishes these moments spent alone, high up in the lifeguard tower with nothing but the sound of seagulls and crashing waves cutting through the warm, salty air. She’s painted this scene more times than she can recall; it’s the one that feels most like home.
It makes her miss Alex, but she shakes the thought before she gets too lost in her head. She’s here to work. To be diligent.
Sam joins her after a while. Kara thinks about what Alex said, that Winn and James are her only friends. She can’t imagine that’s true, but she also can’t find anything to negate it. Maybe she’s a bit more closed off than she likes to admit, sure. But she’s friendly with everyone in town! Sam often brings her an extra coffee to work on the more frigid days. That has to mean something.
“You’re doing that thing again.”
“What thing?” Reflexively, Kara fixates on a large wave rolling through the water.
“That thing where you stare off into space,” Sam says. “I should tell you that won’t help you save drowning beachgoers, though.”
“I’m sorry. I just have a lot on my mind,” Kara sighs.
“Your sister’s out of the country, right? I don’t blame you for moping.”
“I’m not moping. I’m not a moper,” Kara hastens to say. “It’s just work related stuff.”
“Okay. Sorry.” Sam looks like she has more to say, but doesn’t. “If you’re itching for a full-time gig here I can put in a good word.”
Kara shakes her head. “No, but thank you,” she says. “Besides, does it really count as full-time if it’s only during the summer?”
“Well, it helps pay the bills,” Sam says. “It’s something.”
“Yeah.” What Kara is really itching for is a change of subject; talking about work has never been her forte. It’s no secret that she’s a bit washed up, without any progress in her art career or with a more stable job. She’d majored in art and physics in school and both haven’t opened many doors, professionally speaking, so she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock? Money issues. The hard place? Midvale.
“Oh, hey,” Sam says suddenly. “Why don’t you ask Jamie if she wants to hang out with Ruby? I bet Ruby would love that.”
“I said the same thing, if you can believe it,” Kara says. “Jamie’s just…having a hard time adjusting right now. But I’m sure she’ll come around.”
“Ruby’s birthday party is next weekend. You absolutely have to come,” Sam says. “Jamie can meet some other girls her age. It’ll be great!”
Kara hesitates. “Jamie’s very shy,” she says. “I’m eighty percent sure she’ll hate me forever if I try to make her socialize.”
“Then you tell her you’re there to socialize,” Sam says. “Don’t make me send Ruby to ask you instead. She’ll absolutely ruin you with her cute pouty face.”
“I can’t believe you’re not above sending a twelve year old to do your dirty work.”
“I can’t believe you’re not saying an enthusiastic yes right now,” Sam retorts. “So?”
As torn as she is about it, Kara can’t think of any reason to refuse. This might be good for the both of them, right? In the long run? At least, that’s how she reassures herself as she finally gives in. “Okay,” she says. “Sure. What time’s the party?”
“You need to keep an eye on your Aunt Kara for me,” Alex is saying when Kara walks back in, and she hears Jamie almost laugh. Almost laugh. “I know she gets into too much trouble.”
“Hey!” Kara shouts to make herself known. “I don’t get into any trouble.”
“Yes you do,” Alex snorts. “Sending Jamie to Midvale was always my plan all along. I knew she could keep you in line.” She smiles at her daughter through the camera in a way that must be some kind of inside joke; Kara can’t even be bothered, because Jamie looks far happier than she’s been in weeks.
“I don’t need to hear you bully me,” Kara says. “I have a birthday girl to shop for. Jamie, you’ll stay on the line with Alex until I get back?” When Jamie nods, she continues, “Okay. That good with you, Alex?”
“Of course,” Alex says. “Maggie says hi, by the way. She’s supposed to come back in, like, an hour.”
“Tell her I miss her more than I miss you,” Kara’s sure to tease, even as preoccupied with putting on shoes as she is. She misses Alex fiercely obviously, but Alex knows that.
Kara leaves Jamie and Alex to their own devices as quickly as she can, and makes her way out into the brisk night air. She’d meant to go shopping for Ruby earlier, but the party’s tomorrow afternoon and she knows she won’t get another chance to.
This, of course, brings into question how she’s supposed to be shopping for a twelve (soon to be thirteen) year old. She tries to model a gift idea off what Jamie’s into, but besides crime novels and art, there’s not much Kara really knows about her niece’s hobbies.
Art is a safe bet. She finds a nice craft store and debates the pros and cons of scrapbooking when all of a sudden she hears,
The questioning tone is undeniably Lena Luthor’s. But Kara only associates her with the library, and it takes her mouth a minute to catch up with her brain.
“Lena, hi,” she manages to get out once she turns around.
Lena gives her an almost shy half-wave with her free hand. Her other is clutching a book to her chest. “Funny seeing you here,” she says. “You told me you were an artist, but I never seem to find you at the one art store in Midvale.”
“Have you been looking for me?” Kara asks; she is surprised to see Lena blush at the question.
“I’ve just wondered, that’s all,” Lena says swiftly. “I’m here a lot.”
“Oh! I didn’t know you were into art.”
“I’m not,” Lena hastens to clarify. “I like it, of course, but I’m about as unartistic as they come. I just come here all the time with Ruby. She’s really into making jewelry.”
“Ruby Arias? Sam’s daughter?” Kara says.
“The one and only.”
The coincidence makes Kara beam; she feels like her cheeks might hurt from how wide her smile is. “That’s awesome! I’m here shopping for her birthday,” she says. “Can I bother you into helping me find something?”
For a second she thinks Lena might say no. Her mouth falls open a fraction, then shuts, and she ultimately says, “That wouldn’t be a bother at all, actually. I’d love to.”
“If I'm keeping you from anything…”
“No! I just didn’t know you would be going to Ruby’s party. I didn’t even know you knew Ruby,” Lena says.
“Sam and I work together. And my niece really needs friends, so.” Kara shrugs nonchalantly; somehow that makes Lena laugh and shake her head in disbelief.
“You contain multitudes, Kara Danvers,” she marvels. Then she nods her head towards a section of the store Kara doesn’t visit often. “Shall we?”
Kara follows her without a word. “Thank you,” she’s sure to add after a beat. “This is the second time you’re saving my life.”
“Very dramatic, but I’ll take it.” Lena wrinkles her nose almost conspiracingly before she leans in to whisper, “After all, we’re friends now.”
“Hey, we have always been friends,” Kara whispers back. “Sorry to break it to you.”
“I’ll take that too.” Lena stops before a display of beads. “What kind of art do you do? I don’t think I’ve ever asked.”
“I paint, mostly. In college I dabbled in pottery, but it never stuck.” Kara has to pause to think about this conversation. Has she really never told Lena anything about her craft? Has she really never committed to really talking to Lena?
“Do you have a studio here?”
The question snaps her back. “Um, no,” Kara says. “I thought about renting one. But if I can’t make it as an artist in the city I don’t think I’ll have much luck here.”
“Right, that’s understandable,” Lena says thoughtfully. “There’s really not much here.”
Kara clears her throat. “Anway, uh, what about you? Were you always passionate about reading?”
“Honestly?” Lena shrugs. “I hated it in college at first. Attending English classes felt like pulling teeth.” She smiles, ruefully. “Well, I suppose it didn’t help that what I was really passionate about was science. Chemistry, actually.”
“So why such a big change?” Kara’s curiosity is received with a hesitant sigh.
“It’s a long story,” Lena says. “I don’t want to bore you with it.” She picks a box of rainbow beads from the pile and offers it with one hand, consumed with digging through the bracelet charms next. “Ruby would love these.”
Kara senses the change in subject is non-negotiable. “Thanks,” she says, accepting the box. “What did you get her?”
“New ice skates. She’s a menace on ice,” Lena says, but with a fond smile; it’s what drives Kara to ask,
“Did you know Sam and Ruby before you moved here?”
“Yes, actually,” Lena says. “Sam and I met in college. I was volunteering at a panel on climate change and she and her roommate were determined to sneak in.” The fond smile never fades, only grows. “She thought it was the most impressive thing in the world, to crash an event at MIT. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was open to the public.”
“Now that does sound like Sam,” Kara chuckles. “So you had a reason to pick the middle of nowhere when you moved from the city, huh?”
“Isn’t wanting a change in scenery reason enough?” Lena arches an eyebrow as if nothing. It gives her teasing expression an edge that almost drags a full-bodied blush out of Kara.
“That’s your reason for moving out of the city. I didn’t forget,” Kara says, brave enough to nudge her arm with her elbow. “But now I know your reason for picking Midvale.”
“It’s not really in the middle of nowhere. It’s…quaint,” Lena counters, knocking her elbow back. “And who doesn’t love a beach town?”
“Uh-huh. Not your first choice, though, I bet.”
At that Lena laughs, a curt, quiet thing. “No,” she says. “You got me there.”
There’s another change of subject waiting on her lips, so Kara beats her to it. “So now that you’ve helped me,” she says, tucking the box of beads securely against her side. “Can I tag along to help you? I do have an artist’s eye.”
“I was actually just looking,” Lena says, but she looks gratefully up at Kara nonetheless. “Maybe some other day I’ll have to see if you and your artist’s eye are free.”
“Anytime, for you,” Kara says, and she leans in to mock-whisper just as Lena had earlier, “Since rumor has it we’re friends and everything.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lena laughs again, though much more genuinely this time. “I’ll let you go, Kara. See you at Ruby’s party.”
“You don’t have to go. I mean, can I…walk you home or anything?”
Lena gives her a quizzical look. “Don’t you have Jamie to head home for?”
“She’s talking to her moms. She’ll be fine if I take an extra twenty minutes,” Kara says.
“Another time,” Lena says. “I’m actually meeting someone for coffee in…” She pauses to check her wristwatch. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Oh.” Kara doesn’t know why the fact settles so heavily with her. “Okay, yeah. Another time.”
“But it was lovely seeing you outside the library,” Lena says, with a smile so warm it makes any heaviness dissipate in no time.
“It was nice to see you, too,” Kara says, and she’s still grinning like a fool when she ducks out into the warm summer air.
“I won’t know anyone there.”
“You’ll know me,” Kara says brightly, but the thought does not cheer Jamie up at all. “It won’t be that bad.”
“I don’t need friends,” Jamie makes a point to remind Kara, still eyeing Ruby’s gift with a criticizing glare.
“Okay, well, maybe I do,” Kara says. “Did you or did you not say Alex told you I have no friends?”
Jamie turns that criticism onto Kara next. “And you’re going to find friends at a middle schooler’s birthday party?”
“Don’t question it, Jamie, just let it happen. Haven’t you heard the phrase ‘go with the flow’?”
“Well, now you have,” Kara says, refusing to be anything but cheery. “Hey, look, this is it—Sam’s house.”
Jamie immediately hands off the haphazardly wrapped package. “We won’t stay too long, will we?” she asks.
“Just until cake,” Kara promises. “I swear it.”
“Okay.” Jamie shoves her hands in her pockets but otherwise makes no move towards the door, so Kara steps in to ring the doorbell.
Sam’s the one who swings the door open, and she ushers them into chaos; Kara never expected a gaggle of thirteen-year-olds to be so noisy.
“They’re reenacting Harry Potter,” Sam explains at the puzzled expressions both Kara and Jamie don. “Here, come in! Can I get you guys anything to drink? Kara, did you drive here?”
“No, we came walking,” Kara says, setting Ruby’s present on a table stacked with them as she follows Sam into the kitchen.
“Great, you can join us for margaritas!” Sam comes to a stop before the fridge. “And you must be Jamie. Hi, Jamie, you can call me Sam.”
“Hi,” Jamie says, bobbing her head in her own form of greeting.
“What can I get you to drink? We have fruit punch, lemonade, and…maybe sodas. I left a box of Pepsi cans somewhere, so if you spot them, feel free to have one.”
“I’m okay. Thank you,” Jamie says, which is a knee-jerk reaction Kara recognizes is a foster kid thing: not taking something offered, ever, in case it comes with strings.
“Are you sure?” Kara makes sure to ask. “Not even some water?”
“No. I’m okay.”
“Let me know if you change your mind,” Sam says, snagging a chilled container of margarita mix. “Kara, everyone else is out back. Want to meet me out there?”
“Sure, yeah, in a minute. I think I’ll say hi to Ruby,” Kara says, which is code for take Jamie to hang out with people her age.
Jamie gives her an unimpressed side-eye because she’s too bright not to catch on. Still, she lets Kara herd her out towards the living room where kids are still dramatically yelling spells at each other.
Ruby catches sight of Kara and promptly draws the twig in her hand away from the throat of the boy she’s pointing it at. “Hi, Kara!” she calls.
“Hey, Ruby! Happy birthday,” Kara says, catching Ruby in an enthusiastic hug. “Are you winning?”
“Of course,” Ruby says, grinning ear-to-ear. “It’s all about the flick in the wrist.” Her eyes fall on Jamie, and Kara hurries to introduce her.
“Oh! And this is my niece, Jamie,” Kara says. “She’s visiting for the summer. I bet she’d love to join your team.”
Jamie isn’t rude enough to glare at her, but Kara suspects she’s on the verge of glaring anyhow. “There’s no teams in magic duels,” she says, “only in Quidditch.”
Ruby brightens. “Hey, maybe we can try playing Quidditch without brooms! Jamie, do you want to come with us?”
With Jamie reluctantly pulled into Ruby’s orbit, Kara makes her exit. She finds her way outside, where Sam and presumably a bunch of other parents are situated; Sam brightens at the sight of her.
“Kara, hey! I brought you a margarita.”
“Thanks,” Kara laughs uneasily, accepting the frosty glass. She knows that she and Jamie have something else in common: they’re both not the greatest at socializing. Kara tries, but she knows she’s a bit out of practice. She offers everyone sitting a polite smile, but as her eyes drift over the unfamiliar faces she zeroes in on that of Lena Luthor’s. “Lena! You’re here already! I-I mean, of course I expected you to be…”
Lena thankfully only smiles in response. “Hi,” she says, waving three fingers in Kara’s direction in greeting.
Kara quickly decides that she’ll cease from talking. Forever, if need be.
Sam takes that moment to introduce her to everyone, and Kara says her obligatory hellos but can’t help but feel like an outsider nonetheless. She engages in a nice conversation with Jess, the owner of a café Kara frequents, but eventually she (reluctantly) branches out—and takes a sip of her watery margarita for good measure.
She meets Mon-El, a smarmy guy who asks her number three times in ten minutes, and regrets her decision to branch out immediately. The only reason she gets away is because Sam intervenes, and again, she only does so because Mon-El is apparently on ice duty and they’re out.
Kara gladly spends the next few minutes alone. And she also abandons her margarita, because it’s not really her thing.
The unexpected voice nearly causes Kara to break the glass she’s hiding among the rocks. “I wasn’t doing anything!” she yelps, but a soft laugh makes her freeze.
“So you’re not trying to dispose of the atrocity of Sam’s margaritas?” Lena takes a seat along the ledge, close enough that her ankle bumps Kara’s. “I love her, but she either makes them too strong or too weak—no in-between.”
“Mine is mostly water at this point,” Kara justifies, but it’s clear Lena is more amused than anything.
“It’s okay, I won’t tell,” she says. “How are you finding the party?”
“Very…” Kara takes a moment to think. “Loud.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet.” Lena smiles, and it’s the kind of smile that Kara wants to paint. Barely even a smile at all, just a curious, soft twist of her lips that has Kara running through the shades of red of her paints in her head just to match Lena’s lipstick color. “How’s Jamie?”
Kara remembers that she is supposed to be having a conversation. “Good,” she says. “She’s trying, so, that’s all I want.”
“That’s great.” Lena takes a sip from her own glass, and Kara briefly lets her eyes wander.
She usually doesn’t paint people. But something about Lena’s side profile has her itching to do just that—immortalize the pale skin and the sharpness of her jaw, but also all those colors. The vivid red lipstick. The sun-kissed black curled hair. The tortoiseshell brown glasses frames. Everything, down to the delicate dark eyelashes and softest brown sunspots on her neck.
Lena catches her staring. “What?” she says, tone even and slightly playful.
“Nothing.” Kara fiddles with the hem of her shirt. “I, uh…I like your glasses.”
“Am I wearing glasses?” Lena hurriedly pulls them off; she upsets her hair in the process, causing an errant strand or two to flutter against her cheek. “Shit. These are only supposed to be reading ones, you know. I don’t—really wear them otherwise.”
“That’s a shame,” says Kara’s mouth, before she even realizes she’s saying it. “They suit you.”
Lena still pockets the pair, but she appears a bit more relaxed. “That’s sweet,” she says, with a shake of her head. “But I’ve always thought it to be very stereotypical of me to be a librarian who wears glasses.”
“I think you’re overthinking it.”
“Mm-hm,” Kara says. “I bet at least half of the human population wears glasses. So it’s pretty silly to think you’re a stereotype.”
Lena crinkles her nose in a way that shows amusement, not disgust. (Kara never even knew that was possible.) “Half is probably too high a prediction,” she says.
“Seventy-five percent of the world, then,” Kara suggests, and this gets her a full-bodied laugh.
“Thanks, Kara.” Lena shakes her head all over again. This time, however, it’s done somewhat fondly. “You really are something else.”
Before Kara can ruminate over whether that’s a good thing, Lena stands up.
“I think they’re doing the cake,” she says. “We should probably join them.”
Kara quickly follows suit. “Jamie is going to want to leave soon, then,” she notes, surprisingly dismayed at the thought. She’d never imagined she would be enjoying herself at a thirteen-year-old’s birthday party.
Or, really, with Lena Luthor. But she supposes that’s a happy surprise more than anything else.
Jamie wakes up with an itch to try something new.
Her interest in art has finally blossomed enough that she asks Kara for a chance to paint, too, and Kara is more than happy to oblige.
Kara gives her an oversized T-shirt and a thin brush, and then they’re off. Jamie paints with short, choppy strokes, and she never tries to do anything traditional. Kara had suggested scenery as her first task, and Jamie’s portrayal of the beachfront is more abstract than anything else.
It’s brilliant. Kara may be a bit biased, but hey. Jamie is talented.
And while Jamie tries her hand at art, Kara attempts something out of the ordinary as well. She paints Jamie.
The lighting is perfect like this—the sun is high in the sky, flared against the outline of Jamie’s face every time Jamie lowers her arm. Her eyelashes glow a light brown with the sun behind them, but Kara takes her time to get to that detail.
Kara starts instead with the set of that strong, stubborn jaw that hardens when Jamie concentrates. Kara reaches for one of her lighter browns for her skin tone, mixing it with a darker one until it’s just right. She carefully captures the scar that runs down from underneath Jamie’s eye down to her chin; she uses white for that, and dabs at it with the light brown until it is a considerable likeness.
Then she starts with outlining Jamie’s hair. Jamie has very dark brown hair that curls in low waves normally, but today it’s up into a bun for the sake of keeping it out of the paint’s way. Kara uses one of her thinnest brushes to get the little curls of baby hairs at Jamie’s nape, and then promptly tackles the slope of her nose.
It is slow work, painting a person. Kara is very out of practice. By lunchtime they only break for a quick bite of pizza and then they dive right back in—Kara because she is trying not to ruin the likeness of Jamie’s eyes, and Jamie because she has mixed up a creamy white-beige that she uses for the ocean waves.
“I think I’m done,” Kara announces two hours after that. She is sweating from the heat and exhaustion of being so scarily focused, but she is proud. She has never had to work so hard on a painting her whole life; she never knew how much she missed a challenge.
Jamie stops working to study Kara’s canvas closely, as if she is simultaneously entranced and afraid to look. “It looks just like me,” she marvels. It’s hard to get an exact read about what she’s thinking.
“Yeah…it’s not bad, huh?” Kara says carefully. She can recognize the hesitation in Jamie’s voice, but she waits very patiently until Jamie at last divulges,
“My—um, my mom was an artist. She liked to draw me.”
“It seems like you got her talent,” Kara says lightly, and there it is: the famous almost smile. “Do you want to keep this?” She pats the top of her canvas, careful not to smear the drying paint.
Jamie takes a while to reply. “Yeah.” She clears her throat. “Yeah. Thanks, Kara.”
She seldom says Kara’s name so easily, and Kara is overcome with a sense of pride. “Alex and Maggie are going to be so impressed when they see yours,” she says as they clean up, and it’s a victory that Jamie is not put off at the idea.
For dinner Kara makes a stir fry out of carrots, green beans, chicken, and chiles de arbol that Jamie had personally picked out from the store. It’s not the best, but then again, Kara really isn’t much of a cook.
But Jamie loves it. She’s thawed somehow. To anyone else it might be hard to tell, but Kara recognizes that Jamie has become fast friends with Ruby, and has begun asking Kara a lot more questions—and, thrillingly, hardly apologizing for any. She is finally beginning to enjoy herself on this vacation.
After they’re done eating Kara washes their plates. Jamie turns on the TV, but really she’s balancing a new book on her bare knees—a book she’d picked at the library yesterday with more of Lena’s help—and so the television functions as background noise. Kara is that kind of person too: caught up in her head, with a need for noise to cancel out the silence.
“Do you mind if I pick a movie?” Kara asks, taking a seat a cushion away from Jamie.
Jamie barely looks up from her book as she shrugs. Kara takes that as the go ahead.
She settles on Hercules. “You know, when Alex’s family adopted me I watched this movie nonstop,” she tells Jamie.
That seems to pique Jamie’s curiosity. “Why?”
“I don’t know.” Kara lowers the volume the slightest bit, takes a moment to gather her thoughts. “I felt like I could relate to not knowing where to belong.”
“Oh.” Jamie chews on her bottom lip, considering, and then nods. “That makes sense.”
It’s the last she says about it, but halfway through the movie she closes her book and watches the rest of the film.
It’s become a regular thing to go to Jess’s café.
One of the perks—and perils—of living in a small town is the tendency to recognize faces, and since Kara now knows Jess thanks to Ruby’s party, they become acquainted. Not exactly friends, but close enough.
Kara also never ceases to be delighted over Jess’s tendency to wear a different ridiculous apron each day. Today’s is black and reads your opinion wasn’t in the recipe, which is the best thing Kara’s seen all day.
“Hi, Jess!” Kara says cheerfully, a less enthusiastic Jamie on her heels. “How’s your dad?”
“He’s much better,” Jess says, already reaching for their usual: a jelly donut, a chocolate donut, and a jalapeño bagel. She waits for Kara to order two extra donuts—powdered sugar and regular glazed—before she adds, “He really liked the painting you sent. It was beautiful, Kara. Thank you.”
Jamie waits until they pick a table before she asks, “Which painting did you give away?”
“One of the sunsets,” Kara says, which Jamie absorbs with a small nod that says naturally. “So. Are you excited?”
“Yeah! We’re having a proper beach day,” Kara says. “Like in the movies.”
Jamie wrinkles her nose. “What movie has a beach day?”
“Uh, only the best movie known to mankind—Lilo and Stitch,” replies Kara without missing a beat.
“That doesn’t count.” But Jamie shakes her head amusedly, one of those almost-smiles playing on her lips as she tears her chocolate donut in half.
Once they finish breakfast and make their way out into the warm summer air, Jamie perks up. For as much as she talks about hating the beach, she doesn’t end up needing to be cajoled into going.
(Kara attributes that to Ruby’s constant presence; the instant they step foot on the sand, Ruby is rushing to meet them.)
“Be careful!” Kara shouts after them as Ruby and Jamie take off. She would follow, but she still has to so much to prepare: spread their towels, get the umbrella up, sort out their lunch situation…
A sharp whistle sings through the air. When Kara darts up to find the source, she spots Sam waving at her from the lifeguard tower.
Kara sheepishly waves back, then hurriedly wrestles out of her T-shirt to reveal the top half of her lifeguard suit. She garners some strange looks from people nearby, so she hastens to shuck off her shorts as fast as humanly possible.
She gathers their beach essentials and walks over to where Sam is waiting. “Hey, Sam!” she shouts. “Are you joining us today?”
“Yeah, just give me a sec.” Sam towels off her wet hair, nodding in the direction of an approaching figure in the distance. “I promised Lena I’d bring her my overdue books, but I didn’t account for my own kid inhaling a bucket of seawater.”
“Lena’s not staying?” Kara asks, then feels a bit embarrassed when Sam sends a quizzical glance her way.
“She might be working,” Sam says, but she shrugs as if to say anything’s possible. “Hey, can you do me a favor and meet her? If I bring her damp books she might fine me extra.”
“Sure, I don’t mind.” Kara wishes she’d kept her clothes on all of a sudden. “Um, where are your books?”
Sam winks and tosses Kara her car keys. “I’m sure Lena can help you out.”
“What’s that wink for?”
“It looked like something.” Kara throws a towel over her shoulders as she regards Sam suspiciously. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing. Now will you go?” Sam snatches Kara’s towel for good measure. “Your arms look better like this.”
“Why would it matter that my arms—”
Sam gives Kara a firm push until, finally, Kara decides that Sam has had a little too much sun and must be halfway delirious. She gamely jogs to meet Lena anyway, occasionally tossing Sam’s keys from hand to hand.
Lena doesn’t notice her right away. It’s kind of funny to see Lena dressed up for work and not the beach; she appears to be losing a fight with the sand spilling into her flat shoes, since every step has her wincing.
“As a friend, I think I’m obligated to tell you that’s not very beach-appropriate attire,” Kara says once she’s in earshot. Her voice must still be unexpected, however, because Lena falters on her next careful step.
“If I had my way, I wouldn’t be here at all,” Lena sniffs, but there’s a pinkness to her cheeks that might suggest otherwise (and immediately captures Kara’s attention).
“I might be to blame for that. I’m sorry, I asked Sam to come early to hang out with us,” Kara says. “I didn’t know she was…due for library jail.”
“So has she sent you to bail her out?” Lena plays along marvelously well. “I’m afraid she owes a hefty fine, Ms. Danvers. You might want to rethink your choice of clientele.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Kara jokes. “How much are we talking?”
“An even four dollars and fifty cents ought to do it.”
Kara feigns a wince. “You’re charging an arm and a leg,” she says, and is delighted when Lena snorts with laughter. “Okay, but seriously—Sam sent me to give you back her books? I don’t know what she owes, though, so you’ll have to help me out.”
“That sure would’ve been nice for her to tell me,” Lena sighs, tightening her loose windbreaker around her torso. “Alright. Let’s go.”
It’s as they’re making their way through the sand that Kara remembers to ask,
“Hey—are you working today?”
“Believe it or not, no,” Lena hums. “This is just a favor for Sam.”
“Well, um, what would you say to staying? If you’re not too busy!” Kara clarifies. “We’re having a fun beach day and all that. You’re totally welcome to join.”
“Why, because we’re friends?” Lena’s teasing, but her smile is cautious.
“Yes, exactly,” Kara says, making sure her voice brooks no argument. “So are you in?”
Lena winces. Unlike Kara’s, this wince is real. “I wish I could, but I’m kind of running around town picking up books,” she apologizes. “Some other time?”
“Sure, yeah, no problem.” Kara deflates slightly. She isn’t quite sure why the thought of spending time with Lena has been at the forefront of her mind lately, but it’s very inconvenient.
“I mean it,” Lena adds, like maybe she’s caught onto Kara’s disappointment. “Here. Give me your arm.” She stops just yards from the parking lot, already uncapping a Sharpie with her teeth. Kara doesn’t even know where she keeps it; Lena’s jeans look like they’re skin-tight.
“Are you averse to paper?” Kara asks, stomach somersaulting pleasantly as the wet marker tip presses into her skin.
“Maybe I’m a romantic,” Lena replies, quirking an eyebrow up at Kara as she scrawls the last few digits of her phone number.
“Or,” Lena says, “I can see you have nowhere to stash any paper.”
Kara belatedly remembers all she’s wearing is her lifeguard suit. Which really does not offer any modesty. Or pockets.
“Right,” she says dumbly.
Lena is a step ahead of Kara in every sense of the phrase. “Sam’s car is over here,” she says, sliding the Sharpie onto her shirt and expertly hiding it behind the windbreaker layered over it.
So that’s where she keeps it, Kara thinks, and feels very guilty for all but checking out Lena’s jeans.
To make up for it, she unlocks Sam’s car and helps gather the three books Lena is waiting for—a book on origami, the first Harry Potter, and a worn paperback of The Great Gatsby.
“Is this another great book I should read?” Kara asks, turning over the last book in question. “I think you mentioned it once.”
“It’s certainly an American classic,” Lena says. “When you’re done with The Bonfire of the Vanities, I certainly suggest it.” She pauses. “How is that going, by the way? I’d hate to have to bring you to library jail.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll renew it,” Kara swears. “I wouldn’t dishonor the library’s reputation.”
“Finally, someone who understands,” Lena jokes. “Well, I think I’m all sorted out. Can you just let Sam know she owes me $4.50? She keeps racking up late fees like nobody’s business.”
“Oh, I can pay for her.” Kara makes to grab her waller before she remembers. “Or not.”
Lena laughs. “It’s alright,” she says. “I’ll take care of it.” She takes The Great Gatsby back and hugs it to her chest just like she does with the others. “Bye, Kara.”
“Bye.” Kara remains rooted in her spot until Lena gets into her car and drives away. It’s only then, after Lena is long gone, that she glances down at the phone number on her forearm.
She notices, with fluttering surprise, that Lena has drawn a little heart with it.
“I look mad in this one. We can’t keep it.”
“You’re just squinting because of the sun,” Jamie supplies, unhelpfully. “The water looks nice behind you.”
“I’m with Jamie. I think it’s decent,” James says. He adds it to their “maybe” pile. Kara takes it out the instant he does—and inadvertently brushes their fingers together.
The unexpected touch reminds her of what Jamie said. Does James have a crush on her? She doesn’t really like the idea of it. Not that she wouldn’t be flattered; of course she would. James is friendly, and he’s sweet, and just about everything she likes in a person. His infectious smile, handsome face, and warm personality would all be a bonus.
But Kara can’t see herself reciprocating these hypothetical feelings. She’s just never thought about romance or a love life or anything like that. She’s never looked for one. Her therapist used to say it might be the lingering need to remain as invisible as possible to other people—something that stuck from her years in foster care—but Kara hadn’t wanted to discuss anything related to dating at thirteen, so it wasn’t brought up very much after that.
Since then she’s thought about it, sure. She’s had her own fantasies about sharing her apartment, about being able to share her hobbies and day-to-day routine with someone she loves. Just…not with anyone she knows, if that makes sense. With someone faceless. Nameless.
James is too good a friend to be anything else. He smiles at her now, completely unaware of how fast her head is spinning. “Okay, we’ll put it in the no pile,” he says. “Jamie, supply your aunt with some more taffy. We still have a long way to go.”
Jamie dutifully picks through the bag of saltwater taffy James brought. For herself, she takes a strawberry-flavored piece. For Kara, peppermint.
Kara pops the candy in her mouth and tries to frown. “It’s almost eight p.m.,” she says. “Jamie has a bedtime, you know.”
“I do?” Jamie says. “When is it?”
“Nine,” Kara says. “Officially.”
“Gross.” Jamie elects another taffy piece for Kara. This time, it’s bubblegum flavored. “You never told me that.”
“Alex and Maggie were very insistent that you have a nighttime routine,” Kara explains, half-chewing and half-eyeing the pile of photos still waited to be sorted. “But since you’ve been pretty much knocking out around ten, I figured we’d keep the extra hour a secret.”
Jamie considers that for a second. “That’s reasonable,” she says. Then—“Am I using that word right?”
“Perfectly.” Kara is, admittedly, still sizing up James’s photos. “I think we’re going to have to finish up tomorrow, James. You took too many pictures.”
“You two are such great subjects, can you blame me?” James says. As if to prove a point, he raises his camera and snaps a candid of Kara—off-kilter and all.
“No more,” Kara scolds. “At this rate, Jamie’s summer scrapbook will be full of pictures of me. She doesn’t want that. Right, Jamie?”
“That wasn’t a no,” James says, and this time turns his camera on an unsuspecting Jamie. He gives a low, pleased whistle. “That one’s a winner. She looks as mad as you do in yours, Kara.”
“Okay, you’re officially uninvited from my apartment, ever,” Kara says, trying to snatch the camera away. James only grins and holds it out of reach; damn his stupidly tall frame.
Jamie hugs her knees to her chest and only watches in that quiet, curious way of hers. She’s observant in a way Maggie is, silent in a way Alex is, and though Jamie has only been their daughter for two years it shows how much they’ve rubbed off on her.
Kara decides that maybe the scrapbook is worth it after all. “Jamie, why don’t you pick out our cover picture? We’re going to need a really good one.”
“Of what?” Jamie sits up a little straighter, emboldened by the task.
“You, preferably,” Kara says. “Alex and Maggie have enough pictures of me. They’re tired of me by now.”
Jamie almost laughs. She catches herself before she can, but Kara swells with pride all the same. Jamie’s never almost laughed with her before.
They spend another ten minutes sorting through the piles. James’s phone buzzes with a flurry of texts and interrupts her briefly, but otherwise Jamie remains consumed with her mission of finding the best possible cover picture for their summer scrapbook.
“I think I have to go,” James says, scratching his chin amusedly. “Winn locked himself out of his apartment. He told me he’s got it covered, but I don’t believe him.”
“Sounds serious,” Kara says. “I’ll walk you out. Jamie, want to come?”
“No, that’s okay.” There are those dark eyes fixed on Kara again, curious and watching.
Kara ignores her uneasiness and waits for James to gather her things. She dreadfully waits for some awkward suggestion of a date—even drafts a polite reply in her head—but only gets a quick hug and a warm smile.
“See you later,” James says. “I’ll be back tomorrow if I can. We’re going to make this amazing, I know it.” He unlocks his bike from the rack, secures his camera snug around his neck.
“I’m working tomorrow,” Kara reminds him laughingly. “But maybe after.”
“Hey, whenever is good for me.” James really has a lovely smile. A little lopsided and very genuine. “I’ll text you once I save Winn.”
“Assuming he hasn’t saved himself.”
“Right, assuming Winn somehow got replaced with a Winn who knows how to pick locks, my bad,” James jokes. “Bye, Kara. Tell Jamie bye for me too.”
“Of course—bye.” Kara waits until he disappears into the elevator. She double-locks the apartment door behind her like always when she comes back inside.
Jamie has a choice waiting when she rejoins her on the couch. The picture is of her and Kara at Jess’s café; Kara is wearing her lifeguard suit, hair tucked behind her ears as she raises a mug to her lips, and Jamie is gazing out the window with her mouth twisted pensively and her scarred cheek glowing in the evening light. They are both caught unaware, both transfixed in their own worlds, both immortalized against the soft beige of the café walls.
“Is it okay?” Jamie asks lowly. “You can pick a different one if you want.”
“No, this one’s perfect,” Kara says. She even holds out her hand for a high-five without expecting anything from it.
And Jamie high-fives her without missing a beat.
The height of tourist season comes one sweaty, sticky afternoon that Kara wishes she could escape by jumping in the ocean herself.
Unfortunately, she’s working twice as much and doesn’t really get a chance to partake in beach activities; Jamie and Ruby, however, are content with the arrangement since they get to spend their days in the water.
Once Kara is done with work they’ll take a walk down the boardwalk, just the three of them (or four, if Sam joins). Usually the boardwalk is desolate any other season besides summer, so it’s a treat to have a reason to enjoy it.
“There’s an arcade, Kara. Can we go?” Ruby asks.
“The arcade here is rigged,” Kara protests, “and overpriced because of the tourists—”
“But it’s an arcade,” Ruby repeats, as if that makes up for it.
Unsure, Kara glances at Jamie. Jamie shrugs. “I want to see the arcade, too,” she says, which settles it.
Kara sets them up with ten dollars each and gives them the pretense of freedom—that is, she lets them run on ahead of her while she keeps an eye on them from afar.
She does get tired of following them around pretty quickly, though. She even begins to weigh her odds at beating the claw game—a true sign of weakness—when a flash of a black ponytail catches her eye.
It couldn’t be…
But Lena Luthor is here, smack-dab in a gaggle of over-excited children. Kara blinks repeatedly at the sight, half to convince herself it’s real. (The other half is to find some semblance of composure.)
There is also a woman at Lena’s side, gesturing towards a skeeball machine but making no move to play it. Lena nods at her, but Kara can’t make out her expression.
She averts her eyes at long last, but only because she hears a very familiar voice shout, “Lena!”
“Ruby,” Kara yelps, barely avoiding the barreling girl as she tries to chase her down. “Don’t—”
It’s too late; Ruby has caught Lena’s attention, and now Lena is squeezing through the crowd to meet her halfway. Kara hurriedly follows Ruby, but she isn’t able to intercept her in time.
When she catches up to them Ruby is exclaiming, “What are you doing here?” and hugging Lena with enough force that Lena appears quite stricken at the show of affection.
“Hi, Ruby,” Lena laughs all the same. “It just so happens that I am kind of on a date?” The way her expression twists—a half-smile, half-wince—makes for an interesting sight.
“A date?” Ruby echoes. “With who?”
Lena finally seems to notice Kara. She gazes at her and gives the smallest nod of acknowledgement, ducking her head to refocus on Ruby immediately afterward. “No one you’d know,” she says. “Just someone your mom set me up with.”
“Can we meet her?”
“Ruby, that's—that's rude, hello,” Kara coughs. She's not sure why, all of a sudden, her head is spinning so dangerously. Or why the idea of Lena on a date feels like a jab to the gut.
“It's alright,” Lena assures Kara, briefly glancing up at her again. Then, to Ruby: “It wouldn’t make sense to introduce you, Rubes. I don’t think it will go beyond this date.”
Ruby pouts. “Aw, really?”
“Yes, unfortunately all she's done is take me on a tour of all the places her ex-husband loved to frequent,” Lena says. “It’s not exactly my idea of a good time.”
“I’m sorry, Lena,” Ruby says sagely. “But there’s more fish in the sea.”
Lena bursts out into curt, disbelieving laughter. “Thanks, that’s so reassuring,” she says, grinning, as she gives Ruby another hug. “What are you three up to?”
“We're playing overpriced games for tourists,” Jamie wisecracks. “Right, Kara?”
“You bet,” Kara agrees. “Wait, what? Was that a joke?”
“I can joke,” Jamie says. She looks to Ruby, who gives two thumbs-up in agreement.
“You two scare me, but you also make me insanely happy,” Kara decides. “This means we’re getting pretzels.”
“What about churros instead?” Jamie interjects. Kara’s heart swells with pride—and unavoidable surprise—because Jamie never asks for anything for herself.
“Pretzels and churros it is,” Kara says. “Lena, If you and your—your date, uh—finish up early, you're more than welcome to join us.”
Lena’s forehead crinkles thoughtfully. “You know what? I would like that. That sounds so much nicer than this.” She stands on her tiptoes and peers out into the crowd, then frowns. “Let me go find her first. I’ll tell her it’s not working out, and then I’ll meet you guys by the pretzel cart.”
Kara grasps at her heart in a mock-scandalized manner. “Ouch. You're a heartbreaker.”
“It comes with the power of wielding library cards. I'm practically a real life villain.” Lena throws her a sloppy wink, and it seems to shoot right to the pit of Kara’s stomach. How much more cliché could that be? Kara decides that it is inevitable; she has to get away from Lena Luthor.
(Because there can’t be any other reason for this, can there? This is more than friendly feelings—something like a crush. It has to be.)
“We’ll leave you to it then!” Kara blurts out. “See you. Come on, guys.”
She doesn’t wait for a reply before she’s ushering Jamie and Ruby outside. For once, the exit from air conditioning and into the stifling hot air is the best feeling in the world.
In her tumultuous mood, Kara lets herself be dragged to the spinning cups. She doesn’t even complain about how ridiculous it is to pay twenty-four dollars for a five minute ride; she only takes small bites of her pretzel and inhales the scent of heated machinery and cinnamon sugar and wishes she could talk to Alex.
“Kara, are you okay? You look a little green,” Ruby says. “Are you gonna puke?”
“No,” Kara stresses. “I’m fine.”
“‘Cause if you have to puke, you should do it before Lena gets here,” Ruby goes on, undeterred. “She gets sympathy-sick. It’s really funny.”
“I’m not going to puke.” Kara grips tighter to the ride handholds. It’s the knowledge that she has a crush that’s making her feel queasy—not a few circles around a track—but she does appreciate the chance to pretend it’s the ride’s fault.
By the time Lena finally catches up to them, Kara has been roped into riding the roller coaster and buying ice cream. After that she’s itching to leave; money isn’t exactly an issue, but there’s only so much she can stretch. Spending almost a hundred dollars at this tourist flytrap is definitely not in her budget.
But Lena is here now, and she’s staring up at the ferris wheel, and Kara immediately suggests they get on there next.
“Can me and Jamie ride together?” Ruby begs. “Please? We’ll be right underneath you guys!”
Kara is thinking no, of course, because—proximity to Lena aside—she’s supposed to be at Jamie’s side no matter what. But Lena is already agreeing, saying,
“If it’s okay with Kara, it’s fine by me.”
What else can Kara do but agree? She ends up shoulder-to-shoulder with Lena and can’t even concentrate on the ride.
Any other day she would be cataloging these colors in her mind—the light blue of the sky, the wispy white traces of clouds, the neon pinks and purples and yellows of the ferris wheel, the dots of color of each individual person on the beach below. It would make for a vibrant painting; warmed by the midday sun, carefree and beautiful, capturing the unique mindlessness of a tourist attraction.
But instead she focuses on her hands, on the seat, on the lap bar securely keeping them in place. She fears that if she looks at Lena she will be found out, and it’s an age-old tale of fear that compels her to keep her head down.
Lena does not comment on how quiet Kara is for the rest of the day.
Kara used to have a habit of wandering the beach at night.
She would never paint then, but the colors—the colors alone kept her mind occupied. The tenebrific waves and the silvery glow of the moonlight over the water make her feel something she doesn’t quite understand. A longing for something, definitely, and the idea terrifies her slightly.
Because the thing is that she doesn't know what she wants. She has everything she needs, by now; her sister, her mother, her art, her friends. She can safely say she’s not unsatisfied with the direction her life is taking.
And yet…and yet. She continues to wander the beach at night. Since Jamie’s been here Kara hasn’t fallen into the habit again, but she itches to go anyway. She’s restless. Wandering, believe it or not, used to help.
The most she can do to recreate the feeling is sit outside in the night air and breathe in the scent of sea salt and gravel and sand; it works a little.
Kara isn’t sure how long she stays outside. All she knows is she must’ve dozed off, because when she startles awake she’s shivering from the nighttime air.
It takes a moment to place her surroundings. A soft knock makes her snap her head back towards the door, where a sleepy Jamie is standing. It’s reminiscent of every morning when Jamie would come if Kara was immersed in painting; only this time, there’s that glow of an almost-smile on Jamie’s face.
“Hey, Jamie,” Kara says, sheepishly rubbing at her eyes. “Couldn’t sleep?”
The first few nights Jamie was so shy—so afraid to even agree with Kara—and it's remarkable how much has changed. Now she nods at Kara’s question, shaking her oversized sweater down until it hangs mid-thigh. Even in the heat of the summer she continues to wear them.
“Are you painting?” Jamie asks, quizzically.
“Nope. Just…thinking.” Kara shakes her head to herself. She pats the worn lounge chair beside her—the one she’d brought out of storage when Jamie arrived—and says, “Want to sit down with me and think?”
Jamie leans against the brick wall, stares out at the sky. “No, that's okay,” she says. “But, um. Can I ask you something?”
“Yeah, of course.” Kara twists to face her, but it doesn’t matter; Jamie doesn’t try to meet her eyes.
“I'm technically your…niece,” Jamie says. It takes a considerate amount of effort on her part to even get the word out. “But you don't mind that I don't call you my aunt.”
There isn’t an explicit question there, but Kara understands. “Hey, whatever you're comfortable with is fine by me, remember? I get what you're going through. When the Danvers adopted me I was this confused little kid who tried not to get too attached.”
“How did you get over that?” Jamie says. Her voice is small, but relieved, as if she’s been bottling up these questions for so long that asking them is lifting a weight off her shoulders.
“I didn’t, for a long time,” Kara admits. “I think I was maybe…eighteen before I finally called Jeremiah and Eliza my mom and dad. I’ll always regret not embracing the fact sooner. I mean, it took me five years to get comfortable enough with the idea.” She sees her hands closing into fists before she even feels them. “It took me even longer to stop feeling guilty about it.
“But do you still?” Jamie looks at her now. And all at once she seems to realize that Kara does understand what she’s going through.
“Sometimes, yeah,” Kara says. ”But hey. Don’t feel like you owe me—or Alex and Maggie—anything, okay? We know what you’re going through, and we don’t care if you never call us your family. Just as long as you want to be ours in every other way that counts.”
Jamie drops her gaze. “Alex and Maggie are great. I-I love them, you know? It’s whatever.” She scuffs her shoe against the floor. “I wanted them to adopt me more than anything and then they did, but—but now I'm just confused. I don't know how to be their daughter. I was already someone else's daughter.”
“I know. It’s hard.” Kara lets a huff of laughter escape without realizing it. “If only there was some kind of guide to being an adopted kid, huh?”
“Yeah.” Jamie sits down at last. “I wish it wasn’t so hard.” She brushes her hair away from her face, and it’s only then that Kara realizes her eyes are shining with unshed tears.
“You’re not replacing your mom, you know,” Kara adds, gently, because as cliché as it sounds she knows Jamie needs to hear it.
A rare, bitter edge to Jamie’s almost-smile emerges. “People keep saying that,” she says. “But it sure feels like it.”
Kara places her hand on Jamie’s chair—close enough to present the possibility of comfort, but not enough that she touches Jamie without her permission. “I know you’re tired of hearing people say that. Trust me, I heard that so many times I almost got into a fight once. But knowing it helped me get over my fears faster than anything.”
Jamie sucks in a sharp, quivering breath. “I can’t remember her as much as I want to,” she says. “Alex told me that’s normal, and I know, but…I hate it.”
“I hate it too,” Kara agrees. “It happens to me all the time. I'll think of a memory with my parents and it’ll be great at first…and then it will just fade into nothing. Like, my dad's singing a Johnny Cash song, but then suddenly I won't remember the lyrics to the chorus. And then I'll forget what color shirt he was wearing that day.”
“That sucks,” Jamie says, sounding every bit the kid she is, and Kara smiles.
“You can say that again.”
Jamie brings her knees up to her chest and sighs, but mostly to herself. “Kara?”
“How come you don’t live in National City?”
There it is—that insatiable curiosity. Kara hopes Alex and Maggie will encourage it endlessly. “Honestly?” she says. “I wanted a break from the loud city. And my mom still lived here when I left, so it made sense.”
“And now your mom lives in National City?”
“Yeah, but can you blame her? Alex has a wife and a kid over there—I’m still the single, struggling artist of the family,” Kara jokes. Softer, she admits, “It’s hard to be away from everyone. But Midvale is home to me. It always will be.”
“I like it here too,” Jamie says. “Except there’s no Starbucks.”
Kara snorts. “You’re thirteen, what do you order from Starbucks?”
“…you know what, those are pretty good,” Kara says. “Maybe we should convince Jess to take up frappuccinos. She’d kill with the tourists.”
Jamie nods as though Kara has imparted truly valuable wisdom. “She would.” And then she rests her hand on the edge of the chair, length of her arm brushing against Kara’s. “I think I should go back to sleep.”
“Go ahead, I’ll meet you in there,” Kara assures her.
“Okay.” Jamie still takes a minute before she stands up, and even then, it’s done reluctantly. “Kara?”
“Thanks.” It’s said so quietly Kara almost doesn’t catch it. Kara feels that single word resonate through her entire body—feels it linger with a bittersweet happiness in her heart—and she smiles.
“You’re welcome,” she replies. And, true to her word, she does follow Jamie inside.
But later, only after she spends another minute or two reflecting by herself. Unlike when she first came outside, she realizes she doesn’t feel very alone after all.
“I’ve come for The Great Gatsby,” Kara announces.
She might be a little too loud, because Lena immediately shushes her; of course, she is smiling behind the finger over her lips, so Kara can’t help but mirror it.
“I was expecting you soon,” Lena says. “You’re a very predictable reader, Kara Danvers.” She says this as if she isn’t equally as predictable, standing here in the romance section with a thick book still in hand. “Come with me, I saved the book in the reserves a few days ago.”
“What if I took longer to read Bonfire of Vanities?” Kara asks, a question which Lena only pretends to ponder.
“I would’ve said you lost your touch,” she replies. Lena rolls up the sleeves of her orange hoodie much like a doctor preparing for surgery—an action that makes Kara smile, dumbly, to herself—and triumphantly locates the worn edition of The Great Gatsby as promised. “Where’s Jamie today?”
“She went over to Ruby’s house,” Kara says. “I think she’s going to miss her when she has to return to National City.”
“It’s a shame Jamie can’t stay longer. She’s a lovely girl,” Lena hums—a tad distractedly—as she scans the book right there at the desk. “Hand me your library card?”
Kara does. “Well, she’s still around for another month,” she says. “I’m going to miss her more than she’ll miss me, I bet.”
“That’s impossible. She adores you.” Lena holds out the novel with that same soft smile—it sparks butterflies in Kara’s stomach to accept it and brush her fingertips with Lena’s. “You know something? You never told me why she did come stay with you.”
“Oh, it’s because her moms are in Tijuana on a job. It’s a whole—thing. Yeah,” Kara says. “Did I really never tell you that?”
Lena shakes her head. “No,” she says. “But I never asked before, either.”
“Maybe this means we’re bad at this whole being friends thing.”
“That’s not true,” Lena counters playfully; there is no mistaking the relaxed way she rests her chin in her hands. “I like to think we’re pretty good friends.”
“Really,” Kara says. “You think we’re good friends?”
“Of course. I don’t give book recommendations to just anyone, you know,” Lena teases, which makes Kara feign a groan.
“You’re a librarian. That’s part of your job.”
“But it’s extra fun with you,” Lena says. Her glasses have black frames today, and they stand out starkly against her pale skin; Kara wishes she could try her hand at mixing the exact color of both.
“Still,” Kara says, suddenly struck with a nervous bout of bravery. “I’d like—to, I don’t know, spend more time with you. Or something.”
“I believe that’s what the kids would call ‘hanging out,’” Lena quips, but her mischievous tone is softened by the shyness of her smile.
“Is that a maybe?” Kara ventures, and Lena shakes her head exasperatedly.
“It’s a yes. That would be nice, Kara.”
“Really? Um. Cool.” Kara feels relief wash over her from head to toe. “Have you taken your lunch break yet?”
“No, actually. I forgot my lunch,” Lena says. “It happens more often than I care to admit, but don’t tell anyone.”
“Your secret’s safe with me,” Kara promises, “if you come with me to Jess’s café for lunch, that is.”
“You drive a hard bargain. I’m in.” Lena brushes her hair away and accidentally bumps her hand against her glasses. “Dammit, am I wearing my glasses again?”
Kara refrains from mentioning that Lena is adorable in her glasses. “Yes, but don’t you need them to see?”
“I need them to see close-range,” Lena corrects. She doesn’t remove them, only rakes her fingers through her messy black hair and leaves it mussed. Either way, she remains as effortlessly pretty as ever. “It’s a force of habit to use them now. It seems like I’m always reading.”
“Well aren’t you? I mean, you work at a library,” Kara says. Unconsciously, they’ve begun their walk outside; Kara only realizes it as the heat of the sun hits her fully. “It has to come with the job description.”
“In the fine print, maybe,” Lena laughs. “There are probably librarians who hate reading. Like doctors who hate people.”
“And eye doctors who hate glasses,” Kara says. “But joke’s on them, since seventy-five percent of the world’s population wear them.”
“That is not based on facts.”
“I will look it up right now. Wait, wait.” Kara stops right in the middle of the sidewalk because Lena’s shoulders are shaking with laughter and it is a beautiful sight. It’s worth the sun beating overhead, the need to raise her phone resolution and kill her battery quicker, for a quick google search to find: “Oh wow. I was right.”
“What?” Lena angles her body to peer at the phone—she places a hand on Kara’s shoulder, nearly brushing her chin against her shirt. “You’re lying.”
Kara’s stomach pleasantly flip-flops. “No, see,” she goes on, and hopes Lena can’t tell her voice is weaker than before. “It says more than 6 in 10 people need some kind of correctional eye-stuff. Look, this web page even says 75%.”
“Okay, so you had one lucky guess.”
“Nope, it’s official. I’m psychic,” Kara says. This is so easy she can’t believe it; laughing with Lena as they make their way inside. They pick a table up against the wall, both of them waving to Jess when she spots them.
“I take it you’re a regular here, too?” Lena says. When Kara nods, she tilts her head appraisingly. “How odd that we never seem to run into each other even though we’ve run in the same circles for so long.”
“Yeah. It’s too bad,” Kara says. “You’re a lot of fun, you know?”
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Lena says, cracking open the menu laid out before them.
“Oh no, I wasn’t—I mean I’ve always thought you were fun,” Kara says. “Or not exactly fun, I just thought you were nice. Like, seeing you was nice. Whenever it happened.”
“I see.” Lena slides her glasses off the bridge of her nose, narrowing her eyes at Kara amusedly. “You are a person of habit, aren’t you? I feel like all this time I’ve been a part of your routine.”
“I…I do kind of have a routine,” Kara admits. “But with Jamie here, I’ve been shaking it up!”
“It’s alright, Kara, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Lena laughs. “If you couldn’t tell, I’m a bit of a loner myself.”
“You? But you’re awesome,” Kara says. “A-and you were there at Sam’s party, with all those people.”
Lena shrugs. “It’s easy to go along when Sam asks for something,” she says, and though she’s smiling there is an underlying vulnerability that Kara is warmed to witness. “It’s harder to make an effort on my own to socialize.”
“I get that.” Kara toys with the edge of her own menu and wonders if they should order. But really, she’s mulling over how weird it would be to come out and say it—that she’s been lonely. And it took a reclusive foster kid and a kind librarian to get her to realize it.
“Well,” Lena says, snapping the menu shut, “then I think we’re doing okay.”
Kara blinks. “Huh?”
“We’re two loners who clearly have no idea how to make friends,” Lena clarifies. “But we’ve found each other now, right? I say that calls for drinks.”
“Drinks of the nonalcoholic variety,” Lena says, eyes alit with so much amusement that Kara doesn’t even feel embarrassed by her momentary lapse of judgment.
“Okay, I’m in,” Kara says, already waving to Jess to signal she’s on her way as she jumps to her feet. “How would you feel about coffee?”
“Coffee sounds great,” Lena says. When Kara shyly steals a glance her way, she catches Lena watching her leave.
And as their eyes meet, Lena smiles—that smile that’s so soft and pleasant that Kara knows she’ll never tire of it.
There is a spot on the boardwalk that is Kara’s favorite: a bench right by the cotton candy vendor’s cart, where the view of the sunset is the most beautiful.
She takes Jamie there one afternoon, for no reason other than she thinks Jamie would like it. And Jamie does; she picks at her cotton candy and gazes up at the sky, captivated, like she can’t imagine such a sight.
“You and Alex used to just sit out here?” Jamie asks.
“Uh-huh. Back then the boardwalk was under construction, so we could sit here on the edge,” Kara says, pointing to where a fence now stands. “Our feet would be hanging off. It drove Eliza crazy.”
“It’s pretty,” Jamie says thoughtfully.
“Right? I bet you won’t find a view like this in a big city.”
Jamie glances her way, brow furrowing in her curiosity. “Do you really not like big cities?”
“They’re okay,” Kara says, licking her sticky fingers. “But they’re so noisy and crowded. I like this place so much better.”
“I like it too.” Jamie pinches a wad of cotton candy into a ball before she places it on her tongue; Kara thinks it’s so weird. And that she’s ever related to a person more.
“You know something?” Kara says. “You kinda remind me of myself.”
Jamie gives her a critical look. “How come?” she says. “You’re too blonde.”
Kara snorts with laughter, shoving Jamie with her shoulder. “I mean you’re really quiet,” she says. “And really…thoughtful. I was like that when I was your age.” After a moment of companionate silence she says, “I’m happy you’re here, Jamie. You helped me figure out some things about myself I could’ve never seen without you.”
“Like what?” Jamie sits up a bit straighter.
“Like I need a bit more direction in my life,” Kara says, feels the sun hot against her skin and sighs happily. “And that someday, I think I want what Alex and Maggie have.”
“A stable job?”
“Wow. You are relentless today.” Kara grasps at her chest. “That was—that hit me right here. Ouch.”
And then the impossible happens. Jamie laughs, laughs, and when she’s done giggling an actual smile remains behind. “I’m sorry,” she says, still smiling, and Kara doesn’t even care that Jamie’s right.
Kara hugs her. There’s no other way to respond. Jamie awkwardly hugs her back, too tight and too quick like she’s out of practice.
She doesn’t dare mention the fact that Jamie is smiling, but the happiness building up in her chest makes her grin like a fool herself. “What do you think?” she asks. “Is it a good resolution? I know I’m a little late for a new year’s attempt, but I think it’ll be worth it.”
“Yeah, it sounds good,” Jamie says, probably a bit confused, and it only makes Kara smile more.
“I think that was Alex’s plan all along,” Kara says. “Bring you here, remind me everything I’m missing when I’m not in National City.” She waits a second more, then ventures, “Speaking of...Alex tells me you’re going to be a Mathlete next year?”
Jamie shrugs, but it’s weaker than usual. “It’s whatever,” she says.
“It’s awesome,” Kara corrects. “I’m thinking I can maybe come out for some of your competitions, if you’re okay with that.”
“That would be cool,” Jamie says. She peeks at Kara from the corner of her eye, so vulnerable in the way her smile softens.
“Yeah. I’d like that.” Jamie stretches her arms over her head, looking as relaxed as Kara has ever seen her.
“Then it’s a plan.” Kara says. “Hey…thanks, by the way. You’ve made this summer the best one yet.” Because she knows Jamie won’t know how to respond, she quickly changes the subject. “What do you say we go to Winn’s tonight? We can use his Xbox.”
“Okay.” Jamie takes another bite of cotton candy, smile slowly fading off into nothing. But her eyes are still smiling, and she looks so peaceful that Kara knows she’s said the right thing.
Kara leans her head back and stares up at the sky again. The myriad of colors before her, all soft and glowy and beautiful in their own right, have an ability to make her feel at home. They always have. This is a scene she has wanted to paint for as long as she can remember but never has—a scene she’s afraid that if she paints will lose all its magic.
Looking at it now, she doesn’t know what she’s been so afraid of.
In the tranquility of the room, Kara asks the one question that has been bugging her for ages:
“Can I ask why you switched from science to English in school?”
“Mm, that is complicated.” Lena rests her cheek against the couch, causing her glasses to slip forward. Kara likes this pair—dark green frames that are wider than usual—and takes her time admiring them before she nudges them up for her.
“I don’t know. It depends,” Lena says. She takes another sip of wine and gives Kara a critical look. “You have to tell me first what you studied in school.”
“I’m sure you’re assuming art,” Kara retorts, pleased that it elicits a soft blush from Lena. “But I also studied physics, so maybe you and I are in the same boat.”
Lena raises an eyebrow. “And what boat is that?”
“The…boat of people who do completely unexpected things in college,” Kara says. She even raises her glass in an imaginary toast, taking a sip of the apple juice she’d persuaded Lena in giving her instead of wine.
“Well, you’re not wrong. I did try dating a man then.”
Kara almost chokes. “Uh,” she says, ineloquently, positive that she is openly gaping at Lena now. Lena smirks at her just the slightest, a little embarrassed and bashful and—maybe hopeful? That damned flutter in her chest refuses to go away at the idea.
The sound of a clearing throat reminds Kara that they are, unfortunately, not alone. “I need your glue,” Ruby informs Lena. “We’re putting pictures of me in Jamie’s scrapbook.”
“In the drawer, hon,” Lena says. “But don’t touch the glue gun.”
“It’s a glue gun, why can’t I use it?” Ruby pouts. “Jamie’s careful. She can help.”
“Don’t forget you got hot glue all over my rug. I think I would prefer not to trust you so easily,” Lena says. “Besides, I thought Jamie already had pictures of you in her summer scrapbook.”
“She needs more,” Ruby says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“Uh-huh. And is this her speaking, or you?”
Ruby sighs. “Fine, we’ll use a glue stick,” she says, and promptly leaves without answering the question.
Kara hides a laugh behind her hand. “I feel like we should intervene.”
“We probably should.” Lena arches an eyebrow at her but makes no move to get off the couch, only takes another sip of wine. She must’ve put on makeup this morning, because she leaves an imprint of lipstick on the rim of her glass.
“Don’t think I’m giving up,” Kara remembers to add. “I want to find out why you switched to an English degree.”
Lena’s smile, mellow and relaxed, slowly fades. “Do you really want to know?”
“It’s not only a boring story, but it’s kind of pathetic,” Lena warns. “You’ll think I’m ridiculous.”
“There’s no chance of that,” Kara declares. “Never.”
And there is that curious gaze again. “Oh really.”
“Nope, no chance in the world.” Kara places her chin in her hands, expectant, and it makes Lena laugh.
“Well…it started when my brother took over the family company. Maybe you’ve heard of Luthor Corp—they manufacture weapons.” Lena bites her lip, as if torn on whether to continue or not. “My interest in chemistry was always exploited there. It came to a point where I hated the idea of it, so I made a change.”
“That’s pretty brave,” Kara says, and Lena shakes her head with a wry smile.
“It was basically running away in my family’s eyes,” she says. “They’re…complicated.”
Kara shifts closer. Her knee bumps against Lena’s leg and she doesn’t move away. “You don’t have to be ashamed of that,” she says. “It’s their loss, I think.”
Lena regards her slowly, amusedly, and then she breaks out into a smile. “Why do you say such lovely things to me?”
“Should I…say mean things, instead?” Kara says because she isn’t sure how to reply, only knows that Lena saying the word lovely leaves heat simmering in the pit of her stomach.
“No. But I’ve begun to realize you’re a lot more than I expected, Kara Danvers.” Lena’s smile is slightly different this time around—shyer, but equally as beautiful. When she rests her hand on Kara’s knee, it’s as hesitant as her expression. “Can I be honest with you?”
“Of course,” says Kara, blinking. The warmth of Lena’s hand over her jeans is electric; the touch seems to zing through her entire body.
“You terrify me.” Lena squeezes her knee and the dimple at the edge of her mouth softens, sad and sunken. “I don’t know how to act around you.”
“You’re terrified of me?” Kara echoes. “Why?”
“Because—I don’t know. I’ve always had an idea of you in my head, and now that you’re real it’s different,” Lena says plainly. It’s so frank that Kara can only stare at her, bewildered, and then she has to ask,
“What was I like in your head?”
Lena lets go of Kara, pulls her hands into her lap. “You must think I’m very odd,” she says in lieu of an answer. “I’m sorry.”
“No, wait, I want to know,” Kara insists. Her heart jackhammers in her chest as she waits—waits with bated breath—and as Lena inhales sharply like she’s preparing, Kara is honestly on the brink of a breakdown.
Eventually Lena speaks again. “I always noticed you,” she says. “I thought you were…kind. You were always so kind to me.”
“Oh.” Kara absorbs this with a quizzical crinkling of her brow. “And that’s why you wanted to be my friend?”
Lena gazes at her silently for a second or two. “Yes,” she says at last. “But it was more like I wanted to know you more than anything else.”
“To be my friend.”
“Yes, Kara, to be your friend,” Lena laughs, but it’s a huffy laugh, slightly strained.
Kara licks her lips and tries not to let on how affected she is. “Well, I feel the same way,” she says. “Er, not exactly the same, but similar. It’s not that you terrify me, it’s that—you do something to me and I can’t figure out how you do it.”
“I do something to you?” Lena repeats. “That’s very…vague.”
“I can’t explain it,” Kara says. “It’s like—once I started to get to know you, I wished I’d always known you. You confuse me a lot.”
“Because you wanted to be my friend?”
“Yeah.” Kara knows her voice is low. Quiet. “And I guess now we are, so I shouldn’t be confused anymore.”
“But you still are?” Lena says carefully. Her eyes are locked on Kara’s now; she is closer than Kara expected and moving even closer, the palm of her hand falling right back on Kara’s leg again. “Kara. Can you answer a question for me?”
“Yes?” Kara is mesmerized as Lena slips the glasses off her face, as the green of her eyes draws her in.
“Could I terrify you, if you let yourself feel that way?”
“I don’t know,” answers Kara truthfully. “Maybe.”
They are both silent at first. Then Kara moves forward with a trembling uncertainty, and she sinks into a kiss with Lena Luthor and it is nothing like she could have expected. It is warm, warm like a summer day, warm like the ocean waves under the heat of a burning sun. It is warm like an explosion of color, warm like the hues of a sunset, warm like a pinkening sky.
Lena’s hands are cold against her jaw, metal of her rings pressed into Kara’s skin, and she kisses Kara back as though she is not terrified of her at all. She kisses Kara as though she is in awe, kisses with ardent urgency and a gentle open mouth.
When their lips pull apart Kara is there to follow Lena’s again and again. She is there to map out the feeling of Lena against her, there to trace her fingertips over the soft cotton of her sweatshirt, there to kiss Lena until she can’t imagine a moment where she didn’t know what that felt like. And when she pauses to catch her breath she feels her heart ache—because she never knew it could feel like this. She never knew what it felt to want.
“What are you thinking right now?” Lena draws back to cup Kara’s face in her hands, intently studying the strange expression Kara must be donning.
“Just about everything,” Kara says. Blinks. “You’re doing it again.”
“Making me feel confused.” The funny thing is that Kara doesn’t even care. No, the funny thing is that Kara likes it.
Lena’s hand trails down Kara’s neck, her shoulder, then to her chest. “Your heart is beating so fast.”
“I know.” Kara leans in to kiss Lena again and it is different but just as wonderful as the first time; Kara has always been a visual person, but this is a change of pace. She isn’t thinking about the color of the scene—not the sickly gray of the walls, not the faded forest green of Lena’s hoodie, none of it—but rather, how she feels.
And she feels…dizzy. Dizzy like she is back on the ferris wheel, dizzy like her head might never stop spinning.
Dizzy like it’s all she will ever feel again.
“Wait.” Lena is pulling away again, and frowning, a sight that is not quite serious with her messy lipstick. “If it’s not clear, I never only wanted to be your friend.”
“I never only wanted to be your friend, either.” Kara sees Lena trace her smile before she feels it form, sees the way Lena’s entire face seems to brighten.
“You’re so much better than in my head,” Lena whispers. She kisses Kara again, almost like she can’t believe she can. “God, you’re so…” She doesn’t finish her thought. Kara doesn’t mind.
She is more than happy to distract Lena instead, following her mouth and the enticing way her body feels flush against hers. Kara doesn’t know what this means, or what it will mean, but she knows one thing and that is that Lena is magnetic. Lena is beautiful, but not beautiful like a sunset might be. She is beautiful like the feeling the sunset inspires.
Kara can’t believe she never saw it before.
A moment later she remembers to ask, “Lena…what does this mean?”
Lena takes a beat to respond. “I’m not sure,” she admits, so vulnerably that Kara nearly regrets asking. “I think it means we’ve both been so blind to what’s in front of us.”
“But it’s different now, right?” Kara says hopefully. “I can see you now. I can see what I want now.”
“And that is…”
“You,” says Kara, plain and simple, and the way Lena smiles at her now is unlike any other smile Kara has ever seen before. It is a smile tinged with vulnerability, but more importantly, without a trace of curiosity—only assuredness, only finality. It is a smile of certainty.
It is a smile that says I want you, too, and Kara has no idea how she’s functioned so long without seeing it.
They don’t define anything yet. Jamie and Ruby come crashing back in soon enough, and everyone decides to venture out to the patio of Lena’s house for sparklers and the view of the sun setting like always. Like normal.
But there is a change tangible in the air, crackling with electricity between them. Kara watches the sun set against a sky dripping in rose and lavender, but soon enough her eyes are drawn elsewhere: to the girl with dark hair and pale skin who watches the sunset. The moment when Lena catches her staring is the best; she crinkles her nose at Kara playfully, gestures for her to lean against the railing with her, and then they’re shoulder-to-shoulder and their hands are brushing.
Beside them Ruby squeals with delight. “Jamie! Here, it’s lit!” She forks over the sparkler, but Jamie holds it out for Kara instead.
Jamie must notice something is different. But she doesn’t mention it yet, only watches the sky with that firm determination. She smiles so faintly that Kara nearly misses it, and catches Kara’s eye soon after—it is an acknowledgement of the beauty around them, but also an acknowledgement of more. It is, by all accounts, a thank-you of her own.
All of it, from the breathtaking sights to the warmth of Lena’s presence to the candid openness of Jamie’s person…it fills Kara with hope like nothing else does. This is the turning point she never knew she needed, the new beginning she never expected with the most important people in the world beside her. It seems like everything is destined to change from now on, but not in a bad way. Just a different way.
Kara’s sure of it.