“We don’t need to be here,” Lena sits, wooden and upright.
Her legs are crossed, her foot kicked out from the confines of the bland, beige chair. She can feel the slight rub of her calves, skin to skin. She could probably crack open a coconut between them with the way she’s tensing. She’s uncomfortable, her belt tight as it passes too cramped across the hinge of her waist. She’s breaking in new heels, too, and the feeling in the upper pad of her foot is just short of agony.
Maybe she’d be more comfortable if she’d dressed, well, more comfortably. What do you wear to meet a therapist, anyway? She’s never been sure. Is it like a date?
We don’t need to be here.
“Millions of couples experience problems every day,” the woman assures Lena benignly. A vanilla cream tapioca kind of voice.
Lena’s not against therapy. She’s been in and out of it half her life. She’s had helpful conversations and insightful directives. She’s also had whole sessions where she didn’t speak a word, counting the seconds. (Those were the therapists chosen by her mother.) It’s just that—she and Kara don’t need to be here. Their relationship had always been—had always felt nothing short of perfect.
Has*, Lena thinks. It is perfect.
In her periphery, she watches Kara fidget, look out the window, look at the clock, then direct her attention back to the therapist.
“What do you two do for a living?” the therapist asks conversationally, and it really starts to feel like the bumbling beginning of a blind date.
“She’s a reporter,” Lena answers perfunctory. “I work in finance. We both travel a lot.”
“And is that a problem?”
“No, it’s perfect.”
“Uh huh,” Kara replies noncommittally.
There’s an awkward beat.
“On a scale from one to ten, how happy are you as a couple?” the woman continues, fountain pen in hand.
“Eight,” Lena answers quick and precise.
“Is this… ten being perfectly happy and one being totally miserable… or?”
“Just respond instinctively,” the therapist coaxes.
Kara looks nothing close to coaxed. She side eyes Lena.
“And how often do you have sex?” the question comes like a whip crack (and not the sexy kind) in the otherwise quiet room. Lena wants to interpret it in an annoying Cosmopolitan quiz kind of way, but she doesn’t and the answering silence is painful.
“I don’t understand,” she finally says.
“How about this week?”
The silence endures.
“Including the weekend?” Kara attempts to deflect.
The woman breathes, writes something down. Lena has half a mind to get up and peer over her notebook, but she’s also not sure if she’ll like what she finds.
“Do you think you need to be here, Kara?” the woman asks, eyes up again, and Lena tenses.
Kara smiles slow as molasses, ever the charmer. Her hands open and close, appeasing.
“There’s nothing wrong with a little checkup,” she admits, and Lena almost wilts. She’s right, of course, but it still smarts. She wants them to be perfect. They’ve always been perfect.
Things escalate too easily, too quickly for Lena’s thesis statement to hold.
“I get one bin in the garage. One,” Kara holds up a solitary finger as if this fully elucidates her point.
“And it’s filled with bottles. Bottles,” Lena counters with exasperation. “She hoards things. I found dryer sheets stuffed behind her side of the bed.”
Kara leaves piles, too, all around the house. She leaves her laundry right next to the hamper. Next to it, not inside it. On the floor. Lena doesn’t think she asks for much, but she’d like a reasonable explanation for why her wife can’t take what must equate to three seconds to put her clothes out of sight.
“She wouldn’t leave the house to get more eggs when a recipe called for two,” Kara retorts with the reflexes of a fast draw in a western shootout. “She tried to convince me that one was okay.”
“There’s reasonable scientific evidence that suggests—”
“She went into my tool shed,” Kara blows past her. “One of the only places she lets me have in my own home, and she changed my flag from National City to Metropolis University.”
Lena stays quiet for a moment. Kara had fumed endlessly over that. She’d called it ‘high treason.’
“I thought it’d be funny,” she shrugs.
“It wasn’t funny.”
Lena shakes her head, picking lint hard from the arm of the chair.
“She buys me ice cream and then eats it.”
“When she combs her hair out, she leaves it all over the floor. It clogs our vacuum.”
“I’m surprised you can vacuum through all of your piles,” Lena rapid fires back.
Kara opens her mouth to reply, but the therapist intervenes.
“Let’s pivot to a new subject. How did you two meet?”
Kara sighs, deflating.
“Five years ago—”
“Six,” Lena corrects.
Kara doesn’t look at her, but Lena can still hear her teeth grind. After listening to it for just over six years, she’d know that sound anywhere.
“Five or six years ago,” Kara concedes.
Five or six years ago had been a lifetime. They were different. Spontaneous. They’d met in Bogota, Colombia when the ambassador had been shot. There were sirens wailing, and every time a different bomb went off, dust shook from the rafters of the ceiling, glinting like stardust in the orange dying sun of the day.
Lena had returned to their hotel in the chaos, yelling at an official in disjointed Spanish, and she’d seen Kara. Time stopped. She had seen Kara, and Kara had seen her. Blonde, muscled, and holy, Kara was poised against the bar, and her bay blue eyes tracked over Lena’s body as tangibly as a pair of hands.
They pretended to be travelling together, and Kara waved off the hounding policemen who were arresting unaccompanied Americans. Later, they took tequila shots and toasted to ‘dodging bullets.’ There was dancing and rain and thunder. Lena always strips when she drinks tequila, and that night had been no exception. She found herself in Kara’s lap, tongue in her mouth after the fourth round. Kara had worn a flowing dress, and Lena could still remember the noises she’d made when she’d skinned it back like the peel of a fresh cut orange.
In the morning, the hotel staff had fled, but Kara still brought breakfast on a neatly organized tray.
“I had to milk a goat to get it,” she’d smiled.
She’d been so funny. And charming. She’d tucked a plucked flower behind Lena’s ear before she kissed her, tasting of bitter coffee and feeling as willowy as the silk curtains that flowed around them.
“—then we were married within six weeks,” Lena tunes in to the tail end of Kara’s explanation.
She’s always been defensive of that fact. Everyone had told them it was too soon, and she’ll be damned if they say that’s why they’re in therapy now.
“It wasn’t an impulsive decision,” Lena heads off any of the therapist’s budding conclusions. “It was an easy one. I think everything through, Kara can tell you that.”
Lena hazards a glance at Kara then, and her wife looks back at her with those same cove blue eyes from five or six years ago.
Later, alone, Lena will tell the therapist.
“Everyone loves Kara. She has this way—this way of making you feel so close to her. It’s so warm in her attention, but lately… I’ve been cold. There’s this huge space between us, and it just keep filling up with everything we don’t say to each other.”
“What don’t you say to each other?”
Lena falters, not trusting herself to speak.
“How honest are you with her?”
“Pretty honest,” she says, then recalibrates. “I have little secrets. Everybody has secrets.”
It’s cold the week before Christmas. There’s a frost on the windows, a light layer of snow on the grass. Between them, they spend a small fortune each month on a crew of people to keep their house looking immaculate, and it does, but there are still little details Lena notices. When she sweeps a finger pad across the wall, it comes back with dust. The banister on the stairwell doesn’t properly shine. Inconceivably, there’s a bulb out on their house Christmas lights. They were only put up last week.
Her fury at these imperfections has never made Lena feel more like Lillian Luthor, and it’s salt in an open wound, an added insult to injury.
I’m becoming my mother.
She stands in front of their walk-in closet mirror and stares at herself, a black dress hugging her frame. She’s sprayed her high end perfume, she’s donned her now broken in heels. Her hair is up in a tight bun and her lips painted in a signature red.
She resembles her biological mother in nearly every regard, but looking at herself reflected in the glass, her pursed lips, her sea washed glass green eyes, the sculpted brows, something is still so distinctly Lillian, and it has Lena in a sour mood before the party even starts.
She grumbles and does one last check of the second floor. In the house, linens are folded, sheets tucked into corners. Surfaces are tidy and angles flawlessly aligned. Even Kara’s messy office looks less of a natural disaster and more of a comfy retreat. That door is closed, no one will see that room (unless she finds Alex there again, drunk and ‘looking for a bathroom’ while she guiltily holds an unopened bottle of Lena’s 30 year scotch), but it’s still a relief. Stepping down to the first floor, there are baubles in red, green, and gold. There are three Christmas trees. Glossy wrapped presents. Lit candles on the table. It smells like a goddamn gingerbread house.
Not that Kara cares.
Lena’s wife is currently situated in front of the TV, watching a replay of some parade, fingers wrapped around a low ABV beer. She coos to herself over a large Garfield float.
“Aw, it’s so cute,” she says to Alex, who stands near to her, distractedly checking out Sam’s ass for the fourth or seventh time that evening as Lena’s best friend makes egg nog in the kitchen.
If Lena had to guess the arc of the night, Kara and Alex will pair off to be reclusive somewhere outside while Sam gravitates to Lena. They’ll both crush a bottle of wine. She’ll barely speak to Kara, and they’ll retire to bed in silence.
“What did you think about Dr. Westmeyer?” Lena will ask the darkness.
“Weird questions,” Kara will reply. “I’m not crazy about it.”
Lena sighs, wrenched from the calculated scenario and back into real time. She answers the door when the low bell notes sound.
“Hello neighbor!” a too bright face exclaims at her, and Lena leads the nameless couple inside.
She knows Kara hates parties. Her wife would rather be alone, comfortable on the couch, Lena’s feet draped over her legs as she rubbed her calves. It’s their favorite activity, that is, when they’re both at home. Lately, Kara’s in bed less and less if Lena’s at home at all.
Lena’s about three glasses of red wine and an hour into the party when her preconceived script deviates from plan. She hears the melodic laugh of her wife and notices for the first time that Kara’s not on her phone hiding in one of their four guest bathrooms but laughing instead at that dumb idiot Mike Matthews, one of her ‘finance’ colleagues.
“No mistletoe?” he asks like a buffoon, and Kara graces him with a humoring smile. “That’s a lovely dress.”
Lena crosses to the kitchen under the guise of making drinks and cutting more brie, when in reality she’s angling for a better vantage point like a surveilling FBI agent. She checks briefly for Alex, hoping she’ll interfere, but the other Danvers is a hopeless lost cause, drunkenly crowding Sam by their fireplace.
“You come into the city often?” she asks Sam, a slight slur to her voice. Lena’s pretty sure she’s flexing. “I’ve got a great record collection. You could come over some time.”
A record collection? Is this 1974? It’s ham handed, but Lena can’t fault her for shooting her shot.
“How do you stay so fit in the winter?” Lena tunes back into Mike right as he reaches to pinch at the bare, taut skin of Kara’s bicep.
Lena nearly cuts her finger off. The blade whirls dangerously, flashing as she absently twirls it. Remembering herself, she puts it down flat before anyone sees.
“Clean body, clean soul,” Kara replies.
“You must not have any vices,” he smiles, and there’s egg nog in his beard. It’s unbecoming.
“So, how’d you make out last quarter?” Kara casually changes the subject. It’s still far too accommodating.
“Not bad, up 13%. How about you?”
“Oh, I’ve got all my money buried under the tool shed.”
They both laugh, and Lena endures the indignity of having to watch Kara and Mike both drag from their beers at the same time.
She’s fluent in body language. She’s well versed in social mirroring. Lena thinks hard about the various ways in which she could kill him, and she wouldn’t be surprised if her sudden flare of anger has left a metaphysical imprint on this portion of the kitchen. A ‘cold spot,’ like the ghost hunters say.
Instead, she settles on poisoning Mike’s drink with eye drops from her purse and makes her way over.
“I could manage your account if you want, teach you all about—”
“Refills?” she interrupts with two drinks in hand.
Mike eagerly accepts, immediately taking a large swig. Kara accepts hers, too, eyes lingering on Lena for a moment. Lena walks away without another word, depositing their bottles in the recycling bin. She arranges the ingredients of a martini at the wet bar, she’s no longer in a red wine mood.
“Hi babe,” Kara whispers near her ear.
Lena turns, she can feel the warmth of Kara’s body heat like a soothing balm. She kisses her on the cheek, wiping the lipstick away with a thumb after. She takes a sip of her drink, her eyes cool and level.
“Enjoying yourself, sweetheart?”
Kara nods, glancing at Lena’s lips as she wets them with her tongue, catching a hint of escaped vermouth. She crushes the olive between her teeth and swallows.
“What do you think of the new curtains?” Lena motions with the martini to the living area.
Kara glances at the slate grey curtains with nothing less than apathy.
“I thought we were going to wait.”
“If you don’t like them, we can take them back,” Lena answers, borderline acidic.
“Fine, I don’t like them.”
“You’ll get used to them.”
Kara smiles slightly at the challenge. Then, she steps into Lena’s space. Lena doesn’t back down, back flat against the marble counter top of the bar. She watches, nonchalant as Kara circles her waist with her arms, hands palming and pushing through Lena’s dress just north of appropriate. Her fingers, always deft and precise, immediately detect the lacy pair of underwear beneath.
Lena’s breath hitches. She’d forgotten to change, honestly. She’d left them on after a mission, and sure, maybe she’d even done it for a thrill. Because nothing about this house is thrilling. It’s crafted, it’s magazine ready, and it’s got brand new curtains. But it’s a shell. A cover. It might as well be made of papier-mâché.
Kara runs her hand across Lena’s ass again, and Lena squeezes her arm, a gasp only barely bit back.
“Is this for me?” Kara purrs.
“Not anymore,” Lena answers, and she holds her gaze for a beat before pointedly removing Kara’s hands from her ass, her waist.
Kara pouts, still lingering close. Lena holds her wrists between them, like a cuffed prisoner, before she drops them with a huff.
“Why do you let him flirt with you?” she jibes. “Why do you play dumb?”
“Play dumb?” Kara’s brows furrow. “With who, Mike?”
“I’m in finance, Kara, and he offered to manage your account. That’s insulting. And your money is not in the shed.”
“What would you like me to do?” Kara places her hands on her hips. It strikes Lena as eerily familiar. “Punch him in the throat?”
“That’s a start,” Lena gruffs, swallowing the rest of her martini.
“I don’t even know why you’re mad, Lena. You invited him. I didn’t even want to have a party.”
That’s always Kara’s go to; everything that upsets Lena, Kara didn’t even want to do it. And it annoys her, too, that she doesn’t entirely know why she does things any more. Paltry competition. To show off to the neighbors she hates.
She’s not even this person. She hates this cover.
Lena pushes off of the bar and out into the kitchen with an eye roll for a goodbye. She perseveres not to look back. She’s not going to do it. Not this time.
She looks back as she rounds the island, and Kara’s wearing that adorable kicked puppy expression. Lena can’t help the tiny tinge of guilt she feels.
But it’s soon alleviated by the satisfying sound of vomit in the nearby guest bathroom.
Lena’s tucked into bed with her eye mask on by the time she hears Kara drunkenly stumble into their master suite. She, Alex, and Sam had closed down the party after their guests started trickling out, and Lena can already tell Alex was smoking those disgusting cigars by the cedar box stench that clings to Kara as she changes.
Lena doesn’t move, choosing instead to feign sleep, but she doesn’t quite manage the charade when Kara slides under the sheets and sidles up to her back, molding her body around Lena’s. She can’t help the way she hums in the back of her throat as Kara presses a radiator heat warmed hand under her tank top and over her naked stomach and ribs.
Kara’s breath is loud and hot in her ear, something that never fails to arouse Lena.
“y’awake?” she mumbles.
Lena doesn’t respond. She knows she could deny her. She could continue to unreasonably punish her wife, but it feels too good and her anger too petty to make Kara stop. Plus, her body answers for her anyway when Kara meaningfully squeezes her ass, and she arches from the mattress, chasing the touch. Her wife interprets it for the affirmative reply that it is and tugs the eye mask from Lena’s face. Kara slips further under the comforter, angling Lena flat against the bed and pressing down, her hips cradled between Lena’s legs.
The weight is delicious, and Kara’s lips meet hers with a languid firmness. Lena wraps her arms around Kara’s back, feeling for the unyielding muscle there. It’s a fact that Lena’s always marveled at; Kara’s absurdly ripped for a reporter. She claims to use the CatCo gym, but Lena’s never seen it. Kara sweating, cheeks red and chest heaving? She needs to add that to her schedule.
A reminder to tell Jess in the morning.
But for now there are other things to attend to as Kara plunders her mouth with a hot tongue. Lena can taste the alcohol there, but it’s sweet and intoxicating on Kara’s breath. Lena’s hand grips the back of her neck, fingers playing with the baby soft hairs there before Kara begins to roll her hips in earnest. It elicits a compromising moan.
“You smell so good,” Kara pulls back to gaze at Lena’s fluttering eyelashes, her wet, puffy lips.
She happens to look down between their bodies, too, and her lips curl into a smirk. Lena knows why. She’s still wearing the black, lacy pair. She didn’t change.
“I knew they were for me,” Kara murmurs, playing with the waistband and teasing. Lena feels herself flood, and she impatiently tugs Kara back down to her mouth, nipping her lip none too aggressively.
Kara strips her easily of the lace without breaking contact, but right when she’s set to claim what’s hers, a sharp, shrill ring cuts through the air. It’s Kara’s work cell, and Lena covers her face and groans.
“I have to go,” Kara unnecessarily tells her.
She pulls herself from the bed, and Lena wonders if this is revenge for earlier; working her up and leaving her uncomfortably wet. She’ll have to add malicious edging to the list of complaints for Dr. Westmeyer.
“You’re drunk,” Lena sighs. “They can’t possibly expect you to work.”
“I’m not that drunk.”
Lena’s answering silence is judgment enough.
“You can ask Alex,” Kara qualifies.
Lena thinks Alex Danvers is probably dead to the world at this point, but she doesn’t question her further. Unsatisfied, she pulls the comforter back up to her chin and reaches for her eye mask. She hears the telltale sounds of Kara redressing. A zip, a pulled on boot.
“I liked your dress tonight,” Kara tells her, and Lena glances at her wife, haloed beautifully by the light of the open door. “It was nice.”
Lena nods, not sure what else to say. Kara leaves, and their black cat, Coal, wanders into the room with a ruffling meow. Lena turns onto her side, and he rubs against her prone hand, slung carelessly over the edge of the bed. She scratches between his ears.
As he jumps up and they get settled, she feels something weird between her pillow and the headboard.
She pulls out a dryer sheet.