There’d been a time when Noonan’s was too crowded and loud to hear the bell above the door when it dinged. A time when they’d had to chase people out when Kara’s hands hurt too bad to keep playing and Alex was half-asleep on her feet behind the bar.
Now, though, Kara’s head turned sharply in response to the sound of that bell, and her eyes landed hard and fast on the woman walking through the door and towards the stage and the little lights that lined the front of it, illuminating the much-loved baby grand at its center.
Kara slowly slipped her fingertips away from her ivory keys and turned to get a better look at the woman from her piano bench. She figured she’d have to make the first move, and just when she went to say something - she found herself beaten at her own game.
“You play alright for someone who looks like she’s already been playing all night,” the woman’s voice came out smooth and low and mellow as she approached the stage, and it had a quality that had Kara’s head tilting even as Alex rolled her eyes in the distance.
“Auditions ended an hour ago,” Alex called out, but Lena knew where to look. She knew to look to the eyes already glued to her.
“My name’s Lena,” She continued without missing a beat. “You know ‘Fever’?”
“I’m Kara, and I don’t have the band for that,” Kara explained as she leaned forward with her arms crossed over her lap. Her crisp sleeves were rolled almost all the way up to the bands around her biceps, and Lena credited herself for only glancing for a moment before she lifted a brow.
“You don’t need a band if you’re any good, and you sounded pretty slick when I was walking in. I’ll fill it in for you, don’t worry.”
She talked like she had money. Held herself like she was important.
Kara knew if either of those things were true of the woman who had just stepped into the lounge, she wouldn’t be here. She wouldn’t be at Noonan’s five minutes past closing time in an emerald dress, looking as out of place as a peacock in a hen house.
She looked almost like she needed saving, and Kara had never wanted to save someone at first sight so bad in her life. She might’ve hired her on the spot if it hadn’t been for Alex’s measuring gaze from across the room behind the bar.
A singer. They needed a singer. And this woman hadn’t even uttered a note yet.
“Right,” Kara said with a smile that was both soft and amused. “Do you need a warm-up?”
Lena bit back her sigh of relief as she smiled, too, and moved to the edge of the stage. “No warm-up needed.”
She stepped onto the stage with all the grace of someone who was absolutely not wearing heels, except she was. Kara glanced at one of her shoe-tips just to check before her focus turned to her keys.
It should’ve been a rather lackluster arrangement, really. Kara could riff with the best of them, but that didn’t change the fact that this was a bass song. It didn’t change the fact that she was hoping against hope that Lena was about to croon her way to impressing Alex across the bar, because she, herself, was already...well.
The moment the familiar first line made its way from Lena’s lips to the polished microphone that caught the little stage-lights below just right, Kara wasn’t really worried about it, anymore.
Lena smiled down at the rose in her hands as the sound of the crowd, still hooping and hollering after a rendition of ‘Fever’ that had quickly become a local favorite, got further away until Kara was finally shutting the door of the dressing room they now shared.
“I should’ve gotten you one of those,” Kara said with a quiet laugh as she flexed her hands and rolled her shoulders. “A dozen or so, maybe.”
“For what?” Lena asked almost slyly as she placed the rose down on her vanity and sat down in front of the mirror to touch up her ruby red lipstick. Not that it wasn’t already perfect, at least in Kara’s opinion.
“For the excellent performance,” Kara said easily as she caught Lena’s eyes with her own in the mirror and offered her a smile that Lena could only read as playful. Kara bridged the distance between them until she was standing behind Lena with her hands on her shoulders, and Lena tilted her head to the side to brush her cheek against Kara’s knuckles.
“Thank you, handsome. You’re not exactly a slouch, yourself. You’re trying to butter me up, I think,” Lena mused with a sigh before she managed to focus her attention back on her makeup. They only had thirty minutes between sets, after all, and the packed bar wasn’t in the habit of letting them forget it.
“Maybe,” Kara shrugged and moved to sit on the edge of Lena’s vanity, careful to avoid knocking anything over. “Mostly I should do better at thanking you for saving my bar, though.”
“I didn’t save your bar,” Lena said quickly and with absolute surety. “You saved your own bar.”
The cap went on the lipstick tube Lena had been holding as Kara looked down at her with her brows furrowed and a question in her eyes.
“Don’t look at me like that.” Lena’s tone was chiding and soft all at once as she leaned back in her chair and reached out to pat Kara’s knee. “It’s simple cause and effect. You convinced your sister to take me on, to begin with-”
“-and then you saved my bar,” Kara finished for her, much to Lena’s chagrin. “Exactly. That’s what I said, I think.”
“You’re impossible, in case you didn’t know,” Lena responded, and she turned in her chair to see Kara a little better. She’d only just realized her hand was still on Kara’s knee. Or maybe she’d known all along. Maybe she was pushing against an ever-thinning barrier between them to see if it would push back.
Kara smiled and let out a breath. “And here I thought I was handsome.”
The push-back never came, but the end of their break did. Kara’s hand lingered against Lena’s as she reached to guide it away from her own knee.
“You are, you know,” Lena said as the heels of Kara’s polished dress-shoes clicked softly against the floor when she slipped from the vanity. “Handsome, I mean. Still impossible, though.”
Kara offered Lena a hand to help her up, and Lena took it with a slight shake of her head and a small smile.
“We’d better beat feet before Alex comes in here and drags us back out,” Kara said, and Lena sighed. These breaks always seemed so quick. The wall between them always seemed so thin. Sometimes Lena wasn’t sure which one of them had built it or why. She wasn’t even entirely sure it hadn’t always been there.
There wasn’t a lot of time to think about that now, though. They were back out on their little stage soon enough. Lena was peering at Kara from the corner of her eye as she sat on the edge of her piano.
Kara always looked so peaceful when she played. Like there wasn’t a thought in her head aside from the way her fingertips slid effortlessly across ebony and ivory alike.
Lena only looked every so often, though, or she’d get lost. She’d forget she had an audience to engage because it was always her that their eyes were drawn to.
As she slid gracefully from the piano’s edge and crooned the first note of the last measure of their song, she thought to herself they had it all wrong. How could you be in this lounge and not look at Kara?
“Morning,” Lena’s voice was a little raspy with sleep as she placed a cup of coffee on the lid of the upright grand piano in the living room of Kara’s apartment. Just above the lounge, as it were. Such a short distance for how long it’d taken them to finally get here.
“Morning, doll,” Kara crooned as she leaned back for a quick kiss. The music that’d woken Lena stopped for a moment, and Lena missed it as much as she always did. Kara loved her morning coffee, though.
And Lena loved Kara.
Noonan’s had really taken off over the past year. They’d even talked about getting a place outside the city, but neither of them was all that inclined to move. It’d taken so long to get here, after all. It’d taken so long for Lena to wander around Kara’s apartment in nothing more than one of her dress-shirts for the first time like she belonged there, because she did. She belonged there.
It’d taken so long for whatever had been between them to be less important than what had drawn them together when the bell over the door of the lounge first rang that night a few minutes after closing time.
Lena headed for her favorite armchair, where she most loved to spend her mornings, not too far from Kara’s piano. She had her own coffee and a much-loved book in her hands to read while Kara played and settled easily into this feeling of warm familiarity that was more than she could ever have hoped for.
The sun cast patterns across the page Lena was reading as their laundry flapped in a gentle spring breeze on the line outside the window. It was a perfect Sunday morning in so many ways. There was just one thing missing.
“Will you play for me this morning?” Lena looked up from her book at Kara as she asked, and realized Kara had been staring at her. She smiled and blushed as a result as though they hadn’t been living together for months.
“I play for you every morning,” Kara said as the corners of her lips curved into a smile Lena treasured more than anything on this earth. “But yeah, I’ll play for you. I’d play for you forever, you know.”
“Would you?” Lena asked with a lift of her brow that felt almost like a dare to Kara.
Kara pressed the front heel of her bare foot down against the dampener pedal and played a few soft chords as she kept looking at Lena thoughtfully.
“Yeah,” Kara finally said with a soft, affirmative nod. “Yeah, I could do this forever and a day. What about you?”
“What about me?” Lena asked incredulously, failing to see how Kara could manage to turn her own question around on her. It was easy to forget she was a singer on a lazy morning like this. That they’d recorded together, even. That the proof of their chemistry now circulated by way of vinyl and airwaves.
“Would you sing to me forever?” Kara asked, and whatever dabbling she’d been doing shifted into the first chords of ‘Because Of You’.
“Tony Bennett, specifically, or just any old song?” Lena asked playfully, and Kara pouted at her. Convincingly, at that.
“I’ll sing for you until every note is out of key and you can’t stand it anymore. When we’re both old and grey and all you can play are nursery rhymes. Is that better?” Lena asked, and Kara only breathed a laugh and nodded as she finally reached for her coffee with one hand while the other kept playing.
“Sounds like the best gig I’ve ever had,” Kara said. “When do I start?”
Lena snorted and turned her attention back to her book with a roll of her eyes.
“Impossible,” she muttered.
“Handsome,” Kara corrected.
“You’re lucky I love you, you know,” Lena mused as she turned to the next page of her book.
Kara could only smile as she played because she knew. She knew how lucky she was. To share this life with her. To share this music. To play these chords while Lena hummed and sang a line or two for her and only her.