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the incorrigible study of strawberries on a summer’s afternoon

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Lena has always held a strong distaste for summer: the dry air, the lack of rain, her mother’s elaborate brunches. The most detested feature, though, is the sun. Lena thought it had no business shining down so harshly, burning her delicate skin and blinding her all afternoon. For all the pain it casts, Lena must thank the weather for the harvest of her favourite fruit. The abrasive sun is less of a distraction today while she sits on Kara’s worn jacket in the grass underneath her parasol with a healthy punnet of strawberries between them. Today, the sun permits Lena to concentrate on her favourite part of summer. With suspenders hanging down her hips and white shirt reflecting the sun, despite its wrinkles, Kara’s fingers play with the stem of an egregiously plump strawberry. Perfect teeth piercing the crown; its juices dripping down a strong chin quickly wiped away by a firm arm, slightly staining the tan skin. Lena could go on and on about strawberries, truth be told.

Despite her attention better devoted elsewhere, her eyes trace the solid lines and soft skin away from the previous subject of study to the full basket below. Small and large strawberries, sweetly red with no hint of white or green skin; anything less than perfect would not be tolerated in such a situation. How Lena could get lost in her appreciation- how perfectly they balance exhilarating flavors: sour to spark swift blood flow and sweet to soothe the mouth, to liberate the tongue, to elicit a smile. Lena knows the consumption alone conjures the addicting emotions and rapid beatings in her chest. And if Lena were to divert her attention farther south, she would notice the matching hand to the one that so carelessly played with the beloved strawberry stem, she would notice the long fingers and spread palm, most of all she would notice the disturbing lack of distance she would need to cross to intertwine said fingers with her own. But Lena was nothing if not attentive in her observations. If she completely missed Kara’s conversation, she would have no one to blame but the strawberries.

 

“- get me wrong, Lena, you know I love seeing you in your nice dresses with your hair done up, and all the wonderful food”, Kara leans further onto her hand, her other twiddling the stem between her fingers, “I just don’t know how everyone would take my being there.” She squints against the gleam of the lake, leaving only half her face, stuck between a grimace and a wry grin, for Lena to observe.

“You’re being silly, Kara, no-one will bat an eye over a server girl’s face they saw three parties ago."

 

(how anyone could forget Kara’s pronounced cheekbones, the slope of her nose, the golden hair, the not-so elegant crease between eyebrows when she spilled tea on Morgan Edge, Lena could never understand. especially Kara's eyes, the piercing blue that Lena’s almost certain has the power to unearth every secret she holds dear. their pale color is a direct contrast to the deep red strawberries, a direct accomplice to the heat they kindle in Lena’s chest. unlike the strawberries, Lena finds she cannot linger on them for long.)

 

“No-one will care as long as you look the part,” she continues.

Kara hums, eyes shifting across the lake.

 

Lena’s not sure why Kara’s so enamored with the, frankly unimpressive, basin of water when there were more captivating subjects to study. (she does not feel entitled to such judgement while she compares the shade of blue to Kara’s eyes as the minutes tick by.) She might imagine the freezing lake could provide some relief to the sweltering weather, but it would ultimately disturb her concentration on her favourite summertime activity. So enamored with the concerns of muddy lake temperatures, Lena nearly fails to refrain from a jolt when she notices Kara gazing at her over her shoulder. She knows the dangerous game those eyes faithfully tempt her with, Lena swallows against the tartness in her mouth and reaches into the basket for a strawberry.

 

Kara seems oblivious to her rising distress, “Why’s it so important that I attend?” She ducks her head chasing Lena’s eye, “Why can’t we just take a trip to the lake again, or to the orchard? Maybe some apples have ripened already.”

Lena wrinkles her nose, never a fan of such crispy fruit like apples. She sinks into the delicate strawberry, “And what, let you spoil yourself on sweets?”

Kara clutches the strawberry stem over her heart wincing in faux pain, “Never knew you held the power to revoke such a pleasure.”

Lena rolls her eyes, still steadily avoiding Kara’s, “Or maybe because you have always wanted to attend as a guest? And because you know how awfully boring my mother’s company is.”

Kara turns her body to fully face Lena, the sun catching on her blonde hair, “And you’re sure your mother won’t recognize me?”

“And if she does,” Lena raises an eyebrow. “You're no longer a servant”, she nods at Kara’s pencil and notepad laying on her thigh.

 

There is something conflicting in Kara’s eyes, somewhere so deep that it questions Lena’s sound hypothesis. She blinks it away before Lena can examine its meaning.

“I just think it’ll be awkward. That’s all.”

Maybe it is the summer heat, or the rich fruit, or simply the topic of the upcoming brunch, but Lena cannot muster the willpower to prod. Like with most of her decisions when near Kara, she falls back on what she is comfortable with.

“It will be if you come dressed like that. You might want to look nice.”

 

After a beat Kara follows her lead, winking, “You know I always look handsome.”

Lena cannot help the disappointment that dampens the thump in her chest.

“Not with strawberry juices covering your wrinkled shirt, darling,” She does not need to look at Kara to know she was peering down, dripping more juice onto the affronted shirt. Kara freezes and bends her head to lick at the trail running down her arm. A dart of pink from the swipe of her tongue reminds Lena of what started all this in the first place.

The forsaken heat flares again and Lena flits her eyes down at the offending strawberries, “Just promise not to be a slob for once.”

 

(sometimes she wishes Kara really were a slob, it would be the perfect reason to excuse her misplaced fascination. what else could educe such horrible feelings inside her? lena has never been around someone with so little manners, such carelessness in the face of etiquette and tradition; let alone a woman suspiciously similar to herself, but she buries that damning observation deeper than any other.)

The strawberries reflect the sun’s rays directly into her eyes taunting her, daring her to act or to shrink into herself.

(she almost swears she feels Kara’s eyes on her, the way they study her guarded eyes and the blush on her face. lena knows better, though. lena is nothing if not thorough in her research, a distasteful summer’s day will not deter her from gathering further data.)

 

Lena succumbs to her curiosity and lays her eyes on the most confusing woman she has ever met. The sun shining a halo onto her perfect head, the depths of blue eyes complementing the lake and the clear sky, the stained red lips from the goddamned strawberries. Kara, for her part, cannot help the way nature works in her favour. Lena knows when she meets those eyes she is cursed for the rest of her days, those deep blue eyes gazing at her with an emotion Lena dreads to see mirrored in her own.

 

“As long as you promise to help sully me after.”

God, Lena really hates summer.