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a history of wine

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Everybody born in New York City is born with the gene for watching. Lena’s mother certainly had; she’d watched with an acuteness and severity that Lena had never seen matched, not even in herself. When she was a schoolgirl on breaks she’d been made to suffer through hours long lunches, either in the high-ceilinged dining area of a private club or on a sweltering West Village sidewalk, just so Lillian could see and be seen.

Being seen was almost as important as seeing. Lena was subjected to uncomfortable dresses, tights, bows in her hair, braces to straighten her teeth, bracelets and earrings. Scuffing a black patent shoe against concrete was a sin punishable by days of silent treatment. Sometimes she did it just for that—to get a little peace and quiet in their overlarge apartment.

Nobody could make a cocktail and a garden salad last longer than Lillian Luthor. She’d flag down every acquaintance who passed by, leave Lena alone at the table to flit around and chat, then return with a huff and say something like “Sandie got a little fat, don’t you think?” light a cigarette, and press her dark hair back from her face. 

Lena’d gotten both of those things from her mother. Her hair, and the watching, though she never really grew to be quite as mean. It had seemed a few times in her life like she might. But that tree never quite bore fruit. 

So, when Sam Arias rolls her Range Rover up into Lena’s driveway, she’s already sitting at the living room window peeking through. Lena wants the opportunity and power of being the seer as opposed to the seen, and what she sees is this: Sam steps out, a delicate figure in opposition to the largeness of the car. She’s wearing linen chinos and a short cropped blouse and shoes that are entirely inappropriate for a tour of a vineyard. 

Lena sees the heel of one squelch into the mud and rolls her eyes. Like the investors from the city, she’s entirely unprepared. What had Tom Mooney said about her—that she was a buyer? A somme? Lena guesses from her appearance that she hadn’t had much experience getting her hands dirty in anything else.

She watches as Sam lifts her heel, looks at it, then pulls open the back passenger side door. She ruffles around for a moment and Lena struggles to make out what she’s doing until it becomes clear that she’s sitting and exchanging her footwear for a pair of large, chunky Wellington boots.

They look silly with her pants tucked in, but she walks up to her front door like she hasn’t noticed. Lena is so transfixed by how instantly she’d begun to like Sam Arias just from watching her pull on a pair of boots that she has to scramble from her perch on the couch when the knock on her front door comes. 

Sam is leaning on the doorframe when she opens it, arms crossed, a smile worn deeply into her face. “Scorcher out there today, huh?”

Lena blinks, surprised by the introduction. “The house is air conditioned.” She says, and steps aside with an arm open to let the other woman step in. She does, and like Kara, she doesn’t try to hide the way her gaze slides over the furniture and decor in Lena’s living room. “I like your boots.”

Sam lifts one and looks at it as if she’d forgotten she was wearing it. “Thanks. My daughter picked them out for me. Never know when you’re gonna need ‘em out here.” She follows with her eyes as Lena moves into the kitchen, pouring two cups of iced coffee and setting them out on the counter. “I’m Sam, by the way.”

“Lena. Milk?”

“No thanks. Black and bitter is fine.” Sam smiles, drifts into the kitchen, and takes the coffee. It’s been so long since Lena has had somebody in her house that wasn’t being paid to be there that she loses herself to awkwardness for a moment. She tries to hide it behind a sip of her coffee. 

“So, you have a daughter?” 

“Mmm.” Sam nods her head. “Ruby. She’s 13. Smart kid.”

“Good taste in boots.”

“That too.” 

“Tom says you’re in Kennebunkport.”

“Yeah, my parents have a house up there. We’ve been crashing for the summer.” Sam shrugs, smiles. She has an easygoing way about her. “Beats New York City.”

“You think?”

“Oh yeah. Fresh air, better schools for Ruby, less rats.” 

“Not as much of a wine scene.”

“No.” She agrees and takes two long swallows of her drink before setting it on the counter and wiping her mouth. “But here we both are, anyway.”

Lena has expectations for how the visit will go. She expects that Sam will ask the same, rote questions that she’s been asked for the last two months. Yield this, production that. 

Instead, Sam arrives in the vineyard and immediately begins crouching and looking under the netting. She rubs the grape leaves with her thumb, inspects the roots that poke out of the ground. Lena sees the knees of her chinos crust over with dirt. Sam doesn’t even try to wipe them off.

“It’s a vineyard and a winery, right?”

Lena nods.

“How much wine are you going to make with these grapes?” She gestures broadly out at the rows stretching out in front of them. Lena scratches behind her ear, caught off guard but not unprepared.

“Twenty percent.” She responds, and Sam whistles low, getting up from her crouch and squinting out against the sunlight. “Then however much I can get from other in-state vineyards.”

“I think you’d be lucky to pull ten percent before the frost comes this year.” She says, nodding to herself. “Have you thought about hiring a botanist?” 

“A—”

“Somebody who knows the ecology out here. Growing grapes in Maine isn’t for the weak-hearted.”

“I’m not weak-hearted.”

“No, it doesn’t seem like it.” Sam agrees. “But you’d be stronger with a botanist. What about the Finger Lakes?”

“I’d rather keep it local.”

“Fruit wine? Blueberries?” Lena pulls a face and Sam laughs, sniffing and wiping at her face with the back of a hand. “I know, I know, it’s a little yokel. But you’d be surprised. Tourists like it, anyway.”

“You don’t seem to think that this is a very good idea.” Lena points out. She tries to keep the panic in her stomach at a low simmering point, but the sun and her lack of a breakfast aren’t helping. Sam regards her not unkindly. Lena can see that she’s still smiling, but isn’t sure if it’s an active choice or if her face just naturally falls that way.

“You know, I’ve found that grapes grown in Maine have a really distinctive terroir. I can’t always really put my finger on it, but if you blindfolded me I could probably always tell you if a wine is local. Maybe it’s how hard people have to work to make ‘em grow good.” She stares out into the distance for a moment, toeing the dirt with her boot. “It might be a terrible idea, but it’s an interesting one. Interesting that you’d want to try it at all.”

Lena shrugs. “I’m not sure what to say to that.”

“Tom made it seem like you didn’t want any help, but it looks like you need it. I mean that as a compliment, by the way.”

“Strange compliment.”

“Well, if it were a lost cause, you wouldn’t need any help at all to fail at it. Better to have a terrible, interesting, under-planned idea than a total dud.”

“Are you offering to help me?”

“I could be.” Sam admits. “Are you offering to hire me?”

“I don’t know yet.” Lena says, to Sam’s visible delight. She laughs and her eyes twinkle. “Can we talk about it over a drink?”

They spend the afternoon having iced tea on Lena’s front porch. To her surprise, very little of the time is wasted on talking about wine. They have too much in common to linger on it for more than a few minutes; childhoods in New York City, grand escapes to Maine. 

“Oh my God, it’s already 6…” Lena clicks her tongue and looks at her watch. “I’m starving. How are you feeling about dinner?”

“Open to it.” Sam says. “Do you know a place?”

“Well, there’s only one, unless you like hot pot.” 

The restaurant, being the only place in town to sit and eat other than the strip club down the street, is packed full when they arrive. A harried hostess who couldn’t be a day over 16 greets them, asks if they have a reservation, then takes them to the only available table—a two top next to a window where they share legroom with no less than six other people. 

Sam looks charmed by the whole affair. Lena notes, as they sit, that her shoes and the knees of her chinos still have a caking of dirt from when she’d stepped out of the car earlier that day. It squeezes her into the space like a rented suit jacket over a t-shirt at an upscale restaurant. “I bet this place has a good burger.” Sam decides, flipping to the back of a laminated menu. “Ruby has been going through a farm-to-table phase. I haven’t had a good burger in an age.”

“I thought you said she was 13?”

“I know.” Sam rolls her eyes affectionately. “I don’t know where she came from. Me and her dad both like junk food—oh, onion rings.”


“Is he with you in Kennebunkport, or in the city?”

“Who knows where he is. We’re divorced.”

Sam offers this information dismissively, with the cadence of somebody for whom a wound has long been scarred over. For Lena, it’s as if she’s lobbed a basketball straight into the middle of her chest. She’d been meant to catch it and pass it on, she’s sure, but instead she’d stood mutely and let it hit her. 

Noticing the silence, Sam crinkles her brow. “It was a couple years ago.” She amends, as if that were Lena’s concern. Lena opens her mouth to give a response, hopefully something normal and not driven by the engine of her own impending marital implosion, when she hears her name.

“Gosh, hi!” It’s Kara. She’s standing to the side of their table. Another woman is with her, looking politely disinterested with straight dark hair and a sleeveless top. She’s beautiful. Lena feels the back of her neck beginning to heat up looking between her face and Kara’s smile. 

So, Kara’s on a date. This town is small but Kara is beautiful, and strong, and gainfully employed, so probably women were lining up from Portland to go out to dinner with her. Lena had never thought about that before, that Kara might date, or that she might date beautiful women. 

She’d only ever thought about Kara in relation to herself. Kara texting her. Kara planting violets in her yard. Kara showing up at her door, sopping wet—

“Oh, Kara.” Lena forces a smile onto her face. She sees that Kara’s eyes are darting between her and Sam, and Sam’s eyes are going between Lena and Kara, and that Kara’s date keeps looking over her shoulder as if waiting for somebody else. Rude. If it were Lena, she’d be— “How are you?”

“Good! Great.” Kara’s head bobs up and down in some sort of imitation of casualness. “Sorry, this is my sister-in-law, Kelly.” 

The woman, Kelly, nods in acknowledgement and says hello . Just then, Alex Danvers comes bursting into the crowd holding the hand of a little girl, knee-high. Kelly finally smiles sincerely when she sees them, touching the little girl’s head and kissing Alex hello.

Lena is dumbstruck. First of all, this is the first time she’s ever seen Alex Danvers smile. Second of all, Kara’s sister is also—she’s—they’re—

“Oh, Lena.” Alex finally notices her. “Hi.”

“Hi.” Lena says, for want of anything else. And then they’re all just staring at each other. Sam, at least, looks a touch amused by the situation. Good for her.

Kara, who’s face has ripened into a borderline unflattering shade of red, is the first to break the uncomfortable silence: “Well, we won’t interrupt your dinner—” After which everybody begins speaking, a volley of polite it was so nice to meet you’ s and the yard looks great, thank you both so much! Stretching until the foursome leaves to a back corner of the restaurant. 

Sam starts laughing as soon as they’re out of earshot, a low chuckle muffled by a straw she’s tucked into her cheek. “What the fuck was that?”

Lena drops her head into her hands, groans. “I don’t know. Kara’s my old landscaper.”

“She’s your—” Sam does a double take back over her shoulder, eyebrows high on her forehead. “Is that what landscapers look like out here?” She whistles low, takes a sip of her water, then sets it back on the table. “She’s super hot.”

If Lena weren’t already sitting down, she’d need to take a seat. She can feel her face turning rosy with the effort she’s putting into thinking of an adequate response to Sam’s comment. The idea that Sam finds Kara attractive is all at once affirming and extremely disturbing. 

Most of all, Lena wants to agree. She pinches her lips to keep the edifying words sitting in her mouth. Sam studies her for a moment and frowns.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize that you two were—”

Oh, this is even worse. The appropriate response to this is like a buoy that Lena is swimming out to but can’t seem to reach. Maybe a month ago, saying something like we’re not or I’m not gay would have sufficed and been at least most of the way truthful. Now she struggles to think of even one tangentially related fact that won’t incriminate her completely. 

“I have a husband.” Is what she settles on. Even that’s barely true. Sam’s eyebrows remain settled high on her forehead.

“Oh.” She says. 

“We’re getting a divorce.” Lena hastens to add, suddenly deeply embarrassed by her own half-truth. If her aim had been to confuse Sam out of remembering what she’d just asked, it seems to be moderately successful. The other woman squints and takes a sip of her water, saying nothing. “That’s sort of why I’m here. In Maine. At the vineyard.” 

“Tom said that you were interested in having a go of it on your own.”

“I just never have, you know? Had a go of it on my own. I thought I should at least give it a try.”

“So why not let me help you give it a try?” Sam offers. She’s leaning back in her chair now, back to looking relaxed and unruffled. “It would still be your business, Lena. I would just stop by every now and then to try the wine and tell you if it’s awful. And you’d be doing me a favor by giving me a reason to stay in Maine—see, charity work? Two birds, one stone.”

Lena realizes that she’s going to say yes, formalizing this business deal in a dingy pub before they’ve even ordered appetizers. “Do you have any advice for getting through a divorce?”

“Tons.” Sam nods. “But it costs extra.” 

***

That night, Lena wakes with a suddenness that she hasn’t felt since she left New York City. Her bedroom is pitch black and, for a blissful moment, completely silent. She takes a moment to absorb everything that had happened that day. Sam had left hours earlier, with promises to reach out to Tom and finalize the details of their plan.

The rustling comes quickly and interrupts her train of thought. It’s far way—probably outside her living room window—but loud enough to clearly be the sound of footsteps and perhaps somebody’s arm brushing against her nice, new hedges. Lena clutches her chest like an old maid and rolls out of bed. 

“What the fuck?” She whispers. She finds her phone tangled up somewhere between her sheets and her comforter and unlocks it frantically to see that it’s 2 AM. 

Outside, the sound of people talking, laughing. Lena’s heart is pounding and her head is soupy with thoughts floating around at random. She latches on to the first one that surfaces, the first one that isn’t fear or panic, and opens her phone again, scrolling through her contacts and pressing the call button.

Kara picks up on only the third ring. “Lena? Is everything okay?” Her voice is textured and fogged over.

“I think somebody’s trying to break into my house.” Lena whispers, then opens the door of her bedroom and begins to walk down the landing to the stairs. Through her closed shutters, she can see what’s obviously the beam of a flashlight and hear the voices more clearly. It sounds like teenagers.

“What?” There’s rustling on the other end of the line and Kara’s voice has cleared up into something urgent. “Have you called the police?”

“No, I—I think it might just be teenagers.” The voices sound young and jovial and there’s been, so far, a distinct lack of anybody rattling her door handles or trying to crawl in through one of her windows. Lena moves to a shutter and opens it, peeking through. “I might be able to scare them off.”

“Lena, please don’t do anything—”

Lena cracks the window and shouts. “Hey, get out of here!” And the sound of about five nervous teenagers scattering with haste follows, flashlights bobbing and sneakers crunching against grass. 

Kara squeaks in protest. “Are you crazy? They could have been murderers!”

“They’re gone.” Lena shuts the window and turns around, leaning heavily against the door with one hand clutched to her heart. She can feel it racing, pumping heavily with adrenaline. “Jesus, I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack.”

“Do you want me to call the police?”

“No, no, I—” Everything comes crashing down on her at once. Calling Kara instead of the police could probably be described, in gentlest terms, as a lunatic move. But when she’d tried to think of the person who was most likely to protect her, Kara’s face was the only one in her mind. “—they left.”

“Thank god.”

For once, Lena doesn’t let silence settle between them. She feels suddenly exhausted by it. “Do you want to come over?” She asks, running her tongue along her bottom lip. “I mean, do you mind? I’m a little shaken up.”

Like everything else, it’s a little bit truth, a little bit lie. 

Kara’s car comes noisily up her driveway 20 minutes later. Lena is on the couch with a glass of whiskey clutched in her hands. When Kara knocks, she looks over her shoulder and calls “Door’s open!”

“This should absolutely be locked. I swear to God—” The door rattles closed behind Kara and she wipes her boots against the welcome mat. Lena pivots her body so she’s leaning over the back, arms folded on top of each other. 

Kara is comfortably but smartly dressed in joggers and a hoodie and her left hand is gripped around the handle of a baseball bat. Lena pinches her lips together to hide a smile at the sight of her. “What are you going to do with that?” She asks, gesturing with her head to the bat. Kara rolls her eyes.

“You’re the one who called me instead of the police.” She mutters, craning her head around. “Figured I shouldn’t show up empty handed.”

Lena’s chest clenches, feeling tangy and sharp with fondness. People always compared this sort of thing to butterflies, but to her it seems more like being non-lethally stabbed. 

“I can check the house, if you want.” Kara offers. Lena sits on the urge to point out that her original question—what on earth is Kara going to do if she finds somebody?—has gone unanswered. 

“I’ll pour you a glass of wine.” 

“What happens if I find somebody?”

“They can have one, too.” 

In the kitchen, Lena listens to Kara’s footsteps above her head. It had made her so nervous before, but that feeling in this moment seems distant. Now it’s like being a sheet of paper underneath a paperweight, or having somebody else’s hand pressed flatly into your chest. The weight of her upstairs, the sound of her taking a few steps, pausing, then taking a few steps more. 

By the time Kara comes back downstairs, Lena has settled on the couch with a re-filled glass of whiskey and a glass of wine on the coffee table. She stands in the living room, shifting from foot to foot, hand clenching around the handle of her bat.

“Did you find anyone?”

“A few people, but they seemed nice so I let them stay.”

“Funny guy.” Lena responds drolly. “Do you want to sit on the couch?”

Kara’s eyes flick between Lena and the empty space next to her. She sucks her top lip, nods, then very gently leans the baseball bat against the coffee table. The couch dips under her weight.

It’s not a very big couch. Small, really, for a three-seater, because of all the throw pillows. Plus, Kara’s a leg spreader. The blond woman leans forward to grab the wine and takes a few large, skittish gulps.

“I was thinking.” Lena leans a little toward one of the arms of the couch, whiskey cup in hand. “Maybe you could spend the night tonight, if it’s not too much trouble?” Kara chokes on her last gulp of wine. Red-clear liquid dribbles from the side of her mouth and she swipes at it before it can stain her hoodie. “Just in case. They might come back.”

“Yeah. I guess they might.” There’s something tremulous underneath her statement. She’s looking at Lena now with an expression that Lena has come to catalog but not to identify. For somebody so broadly likable, so expressive, Kara could be so cryptic that it sometimes gave her whiplash. “Did your friend leave?”


Whiplash. Lena takes a sip of whiskey. “Sam?” Kara shrugs and nods her head at the same time. “She left after dinner.”

“I don’t recognize her. She lives around here?”

“Kennebunkport.” If Kara is fishing for something, Lena is dodging her bait. Nobody could beat her aptitude for decoding and deflecting doublespeak—especially not a landscaper from Maine, of all places. Whatever the real question is, Kara is just going to have to ask it. “She just came down for the day. Are you implying that you recognize everyone who lives here?”


“Well, I’m sorry if we interrupted your date.” Ah! Lena works her jaw and clenches her teeth together, hiding another smile. “Alex can be a little standoffish about seeing clients in public. She doesn’t mean anything by it.” 

“It wasn’t a date. Sam is going to work with me on the vineyard. It was lovely to meet Alex’s family—what’s her daughter’s name?”

“Esme.” Kara shifts on the couch, sitting up a little straighter. Her face pinkens. “So you and Sam aren’t—?”

“Dating? No.” Lena resists the urge to over-clarify. She’s not sure what she would say, if there was anything she could say, to put them both at ease. At the same time, she senses another question lurking somewhere in the shadows. “Last time I checked, I’m still married. Technically.”

Lena says it with too much softness to really be a rebuke, and Kara doesn’t seem to take it as one. She takes another large sip from her wine, nearly draining the glass. “But if you weren’t married…”

“Would I be dating? Probably. Eventually.” Kara huffs out a little, self-deprecating laugh. Her mouth twitches. Lena leans forward and starts to refill the wine glass from the bottle she’d brought to the living room.

“Would you be dating a woman?” Lena’s hand shakes. A little wine spills over the lip of Kara’s glass and onto the coffee table, puddling next to the edge of a magazine. Kara’s eyes follow it, but she doesn’t move. 

Lena considers how the answer to that question has changed in the span of a few short months. She sets the bottle back down and leans back to look at Kara’s face, not really knowing what she expects to find there. Her features are still handsome. Her hair still blonde, her eyes still blue and wonderfully kind. 

The stabbing feeling returns to her chest. But this time Lena calls it by its scientific name, a crush. 

She realizes that she wants Kara to kiss her, so that it can happen and not be Lena’s fault. The desire is rattled loose from her against her will, like a stubborn piece of candy stuck to the bottom of a container.  “I’ve never done that before.” She says evenly.

“Doesn’t mean you don’t want to.” Kara volleys back. Her cheeks are wine-pink. Lena, still reeling, laughs.

“You’re astute.” She licks her lips. “Sam’s not my type. She did say she liked you, though.”


“Really?”

“Mm-hmm. She’s divorced, too.” 

A startled laugh erupts out of Kara. “What’s that got to do with it?” Lena shrugs, playing coy. “You think that’s my type?”

“Do you have a type?”

Kara’s silence creates fertile ground for Lena’s imagination. She touches a strand of her hair, turning it between her forefinger and thumb. She’s never wanted to be somebody’s type before, and never particularly worried about whether she was or not. Men were attracted to her or they weren’t, and more often than not they were. Either way, it was of little consequence.

But this—Kara on her couch, Kara’s opinion of her—is of high consequence. “I haven’t dated in a long time. I haven’t thought about it in a while. I mean, I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

“But when you think about yourself dating?”

“I think about doing it with somebody I like.” Kara’s body has tensed up. Her shoulders are stiff and her posture awkward. She sets her wine on the coffee table and runs her palms up and down the thigh of her joggers. “I mean, is that a thing? My type is somebody who I really get along with.”

“We get along.” Lena points out. She plays stupid about the substance of the words, says it just because it’s true.

Kara turns toward her. Her body relaxes by a degree, her face easing, her shoulders slouching. She moves herself into the sliver of empty space between them, then she moves her hand to Lena’s face.

Lena tries to remember the last time she’d taken a full breath in. Whenever it was, that air is trapped in her lungs now, creating an almost pleasurable pressure against her heart. 

Kara’s hand tucks a strand of hair behind her ear then brushes against her cheek, cupping it. Lena feels like she’s just swung to the very top of a swingset, a metal bar close above the top of her head, and catapulted her body out. She’s flying in an arc through the sky, arms and legs pinwheeling.

She exhales that last breath like she would a scream. It tickles the heel of Kara’s hand and Kara’s eyelashes flutter. 

“I think you’ve had too much to drink.” Kara says. A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth.

Lena huffs and pushes her body back as far as it can go in the small space. “You didn’t answer me. We do get along, don’t we?”

“We do. That’s why I’m agreeing to spend the night tonight.”

“You really will?” 

Kara nods, lips folded over a smile as if trying to keep it a secret.

Lena had made sure to tell Jen to stock the linen closet with spare blankets and pillows. They were more ornamental than anything else, serving Lena’s inborn desire to put image over actual utility. The linens were pillars that upheld the idea of a cozy home, lived-in, holding more than one person at a time.

Every day, it seemed that the idea of that home took one more step into Lena’s reality. The blankets were more than just for show tonight, anyway. 

She brings down four; three too many for what any normal person would need on a midsummer evening, even in Maine. Kara doesn’t tease her. She just chooses the one from the bottom of the pile, an afghan with a yawning knit, and leaves the other three on the coffee table. 

Before she departs to her own bedroom, Lena turns to look at Kara one last time. The couch obscures most of her body, but she can see the other woman’s sock-clad feet dangling off one arm, and the baseball bat leaning against the other side. Ready for easy access. Lena’s heart bangs against her ribcage like the shutters of her windows in a rainstorm, about ready to unlatch itself altogether. 

***

The smell of pancakes wakes her up the next morning. Lena checks her phone clock to see that it’s 9:30—she’s slept in.

Downstairs, Kara stands at her stove and scrambles something in a pan Lena wasn’t previously aware that she’d had. A plate of pancakes sits on the counter next to her.

“Since when do I have eggs?” She asks, taking a seat at the island. Kara turns over her shoulder. 

“Since I bought them for you this morning.”

“Kara, you didn’t have to do that.”

“I did, actually. You had nothing in the fridge. You really need to start grocery shopping.”

“I went grocery shopping when I got the new trash can.” Lena rubs some of the stubborn sleep from her eyes, yawning. “I’m just not much of a cook.”

“Clearly.” Kara spoons scrambled eggs onto a plate with a pancake and sets it in front of Lena. She’s in her clothes from last night, still sharp-looking although more ruffled than when she’d arrived. A dish towel is thrown over one shoulder. “Voila!” She says. 

“Where’s yours?”

“Alex called a few minutes ago. She needs me to go through a few things with her before we leave for Portland.”

“Oh.” Lena’s stomach drops into her feet. “That’s—”

“Tomorrow morning.” Kara picks at a little spot of nothing on the island. Lena, again, feels adrift for want of something to say. 

She feels a claim over Kara without really having a right to one. She wants to demand that she call, or text, or write, but finds nothing to substantiate her request. She wishes again, selfishly, that Kara had kissed her last night when it seemed like she might’ve. 

At least that would have given her something to hang her desires on, as opposed to the amorphous blob of nothing and something all at once that sits between them.

Instead of protracting the painful moment further, Lena picks up her fork and begins to move the eggs around on her plate. “Let me pay you for the groceries, at least.”

Kara flaps a hand. “It was my pleasure.”

“So you come, guard my house, and make me breakfast, all for free? Full service.”

Pink tinges Kara’s cheeks. “Listen, I should—”

“Of course.” Lena nods once, steadfastly. In a fit, she stretches her hand across the surface of the counter. Kara looks at it stupidly for a second, as if Lena has offered her a dead fish, and then reaches out to take it. The pink on her face turns rosy. “Thank you, Kara. For everything.”

Kara’s mouth works with some unknowable emotion. Then she smiles, eyes glassy, and squeezes Lena’s hand. Lena’s body traitorously transmits the sensation directly between her legs. She swallows. “You’re welcome.”

***

Sam calls her later that morning. Lena picks up on the first ring, desperate for something to take her mind off Kara. 

“So, I talked to Tom Mooney.” She doesn’t waste any time on introductions. Lena likes her more and more every time they talk. “And he says that he’s meeting with the rest of the board tomorrow, but he thinks it’s going to be a formality.”

“So—”

“You’ve got money, a lot of it.” 

“Oh, Christ.” Lena releases a long, shuddery breath. Feelings zig zag around her body at random—elation, fear, nervousness—so quickly that she can barely recognize one before another replaces it. 

“I can start getting tastings set up.” Sam says. Her attention is clearly being dragged in a few different directions. Lena can hear the tapping of computer keys in the background. “I’ll want to go to Cellardoor, Prospect Hill…hey, think about the botanist, okay? And the fruit wine.”

“I will.” Lena laughs somewhat manically. “Yeah, I will—oh my God.”

“What?”

“This is actually happening.” 

“Do you need to sit down?”

“I already am.” Lena runs a hand through her hair, staring at the wall across from her. It’s all suddenly becoming very real—she has an investor. She has an employee, a partner. She has money that she’ll be expected to spend. 

She can’t go on existing in her previous gray area. Her maybe I’ll go back to New York City safe space, the dreaded safety net that had always been underneath her, ready to catch her. Dread settles low in her stomach. “Listen, Sam—I have another phone call to make. Can we meet sometime next week?”

Lena puts it off for so long that day bleeds into afternoon and afternoon bleeds into night. She feels like she’s waiting to sever a blighted finger, one that’s been slowly blackening over weeks. It begins to rain at some point, and then properly storms. She thinks about what Kara had said to her that first night, we just don’t usually get a big storm this early in the season. Bad luck, huh?

Bad luck. Lena internally agrees as she dials Jack’s number. 

When Jack picks up the phone, his voice is thick and muddy. He’s drunk. It’s not very late in the evening yet, so he must be off work early.

“Hi, Jack.” Sitting on her bed, Lena angles the receiver away from her mouth so she can exhale a long-held breath without being heard. 

“I was just thinking about you.”

“Hmm?” Lena picks at a bit of lint on her duvet cover. “Thinking about what?”

“Just you.” He says again, sounding somewhat distant. “When you’re going to come back.”

“Jack…” A long silence settles between them, telegraphing what Lena is about to say. She feels almost like she doesn’t need to say it at all. 

“This is silly.” Jack isn’t the type of person who often gets drunk, only when he’s trying to impress his friends or upset. Lena leans over and puts her head in her free hand. “I’ve been really patient, Lena, but it’s been weeks and weeks. I need you to come back to New York.”

“I’m not coming back to New York.”

“God, you are so selfish.”

Lena laughs bitterly and wipes at her cheek with the back of one hand. “I told you I wanted a divorce. I told you that I was buying a house out here. What made you think I was coming back?” She pauses. “It’s not silly.”

“What?”

“It’s not silly.” She repeats, firmer. “It’s what I want.”

“It’s just a house, Lena, it’s silly to put that over a marriage.”

“It’s not just a house.” Lena feels hot tears streaking down her cheeks. “It’s—” It’s so many things. “It’s a winery. A vineyard, too.”

She hears Jack’s lack of understanding on the other end of the line. “I don’t—”

“I bought it. I’m going to run it.” 

He laughs, and it doesn’t hurt quite as much as Lena expected it to. It makes her angry instead, which is a relief of so many different colors. Outside, rain begins to hit the glass of her bedroom window. “You are so—”

“So what? Choose your words carefully.” He doesn’t say anything, which is the carefullest he probably could be. “I want a divorce. I want a divorce! Are you listening to me?”

“I want you back in New York.” 

The sound that Lena expresses is somewhere between a wail, a gasp, and a laugh. It’s sticky with the snot gathering in the back of her throat. She considers screaming, but how would that be different from what she’s doing already? Screaming over the phone with Jack day in, day out, has gotten her nowhere except for alone and crying. 

But in person? With divorce papers in hand? The thought tugs at her.

“Fine.” Lena says, sniffing.

Jack pauses. “Really?”

“Yeah, really.” In a daze, she stands, wrapping one arm around herself. Jack is chuckling in a relieved sort of way, as if this whole conversation had all just been one big misunderstanding. 

“Thank God—listen, I’m sorry for—”

Lena hangs up the phone without waiting to hear the rest of what he’s saying and tosses it onto the bed. She drifts down the stairs toward the kitchen, the house bellowing around her so loudly that she almost misses the knock at her front door. It’s nearly 10 PM. Sam is back in Kennebunkport, and—well, Sam is the only person she knows here, other than—

“Kara.” Lena blinks at the other woman. She’s standing, swaddled in a rain jacket, clutching some papers in one hand. They haven’t fared well in the rain, transparent and running with ink. Kara smiles sheepishly.

“I’m so sorry, I thought I texted you—”

“I was on the phone.”

“Oh.” Kara’s eyes are searching her face. Lena realizes that she must be something of a sight—at the very least, there must be mascara running down her cheeks. Kara’s brows pinch together and she frowns. “What happened?”

“Nothing. Do you want to come in?”

She steps aside and Kara follows her into the house, shaking some water from her body. “Just leave your jacket on the floor.” Lena says, walking toward the kitchen. She needs a drink.

“Seriously, Lena, what happened?” With her back turned at the liquor cabinet, Lena can only hear the wet slap of Kara’s rain jacket as it hits her floor. Her hand wraps around a bottle of whiskey. “Is it about the vineyard?”

“No. Do you want a drink?” 

“No, thank you.” There are no footsteps, indicating that Kara is just standing in the living room. That’s for the better. Lena needs her far away, for now. Without turning back around, she reaches into the adjacent cabinet and pulls out a single glass. “Was it your husband?”

Lena wonders if she’s imagining the way Kara’s voice darkens when she says the rotten word, husband. She pours the glass nearly to the rim and takes a sip before turning around.

She was right, Kara is just standing in the living room. Her jacket is on the floor next to her, creating a puddle on the hardwood. Her face is pulled tight with indignity. And the papers—

“What are those for?”

Kara looks down as if she herself had forgotten. “Oh, these are—”

“Why are you here?” Lena takes another hard swallow. “I thought you were leaving.”

“Tomorrow morning.” Kara says. She looks suddenly unsure of herself and clears her throat. “Your signature didn’t quite go through on all of the copies of the contract.”

Lena laughs. She can’t help it. “What?”

Kara looks positively mortified now. “Uh, when you signed off on the work earlier—”

“Am I supposed to sign those with a waterproof pen?” Kara holds up the papers, now wet to the point of almost falling apart, and looks at them. Her face turns scarlet. “So, you came to my house at—” Lena glances at the microwave clock. “10:15 the night before you move to Portland for a month to…ask me to sign some paperwork?”

“Yes. It’s…” Kara swallows. “...a very important contract.”

“Oh, it must be.” Lena slides around the center island, dragging her hand over the surface all the while. Kara takes an instinctive looking step back. She clutches the papers so hard that she actually does tear a soggy clump off. “Why are you really here?”

“Look, this obviously isn’t a good time. I’ll just—”

“No, it’s a perfect time. But why are you here?”

“The paperwork—”

“I don’t think it’s the paperwork.” Gears and cogs are turning furiously inside Lena. She’s found something to wither under her focus, this transparent lie. She feels so full to the brim with anticipation that it’s splashing over her edges. “I think you just wanted to see me.”

“Lena—”

“Is that true?” A little desperation comes crackling out of the edges of her words and she hates herself for it. “Or am I crazy?”

“You’re not crazy.” Kara’s voice is almost a whisper. 

“Okay. Now ask me what I want.”

“What?” Kara shifts from foot to foot, glancing around the room nervously. 

“I asked you. Now you ask me.” 

Lena wonders what Kara is frightened of. There are so many things—that Lena could tell her a lie or, worse, that Lena could tell her the truth. That Lena could say something so honest that Kara couldn’t bear the weight of it without folding. That is , probably, what she’s scared of. 

Lena isn’t feeling so adverse to it anymore. 

Kara licks her lips. “Okay.” She says slowly. “What do you want, Lena?”

There’s no thought behind Lena’s next words. “I want you to kiss me.”

Every square inch of breath in Kara’s body comes rushing out in one exhale. The space between them suddenly becomes important—from the kitchen island to where Kara stands is probably about a yard, give or take. Kara could probably close it in three healthy strides. 

“I don’t think that’s—”

Lena frowns. “You don’t think it’s what?”

“You’re married.” 

Lena glances to her left hand. She splays it out, looking at the ring, then she slides it off her finger. She holds it up for Kara’s inspection, and then she sets it aside. 

“That doesn’t change anything.” Kara’s voice is trembling. She takes one step forward. Lena inhales sharply with anticipation. 

“You asked me what I wanted.”

“Yeah, but I—”

“Everybody wants to know what I want, but nobody ever wants to give it to me. Why is that?” The wind whistles outside, rattling the shutters. They tremble, flutter, still, and again. “Just kiss me or leave my house, Kara. Give it to me or don’t. It really isn’t that—”

In actuality, it only takes two strides before Kara has her pressed against the edge of the kitchen island. She’s dropped the wet papers somewhere along the way and her arms have hemmed Lena in, close enough that she can see the tensing muscles around Kara’s wrists.

It suddenly takes real effort for Lena to remember to stand up straight on two legs. She’s finding it difficult to keep her nerve, especially when she can smell Kara’s breath. 

Kara is breathing heavily, clearly trying to come up with something to say. Lena can see her brain working. At first, she wishes she could crack it open and pick through the thoughts. But she realizes after only a second that she probably already knows what’s going through Kara’s mind.

Lena reaches up and takes Kara’s face in her hands, one on each cheek. Her thumbs rest against the skin underneath her eye and at the corner of her mouth, her fingers at her hairline. She can feel bone and cheek fat and, underneath her pinky, a small mole.

She gently urges Kara’s head toward her own, just a small tug. Almost experimental. But it’s enough, because a moment later their lips are pressed together. 

At first, the kiss is still and chaste. The shock of it disperses Lena’s thoughts like an explosion and she has to pick them up, one by one. Her body is warm all over and she feels, inexplicably, like she could cry at any moment—has any kiss ever made her feel like this? Even the big ones, the open-mouthed ones, the secret ones? Her blood is molasses and there’s a throb pinned between her legs and that freshly stabbed feeling is back in her chest, only achier now. 

Everything bubbles over until Lena has to open her mouth to let out a sound, something between a moan and a dry sob, something broken and pleasured all at once. Kara returns it with equal force and licks into her mouth. 

The kiss shifts from dry and close-mouthed to wide open and desperate in one beat. Lena wonders, distantly, how she could have been so stupid when the little stone nestled in her gut all this time had so clearly been desire. She feels tricked—who had told her that what she’d been feeling before was what it was supposed to feel like? Who had hidden this from her, and why? 

She thinks that if it weren’t for Kara holding her against the edge of the counter, she would simply float away. 

She runs her hands through Kara’s hair and grips, scraping her nails into the other woman’s scalp, and Kara moans again. Kara’s arms go to her waist and hold her, almost pinning her back into the kitchen island. Their bodies are moving, twisting and pressing against each other, frantic to get closer even as there’s no space left between them.

Lena pulls her mouth away, gasping for a breath, and Kara simply moves her attention down to her neck. For a woman who had previously seemed so controlled, so self-possessed, she’s become completely unspooled in only a short amount of time. Lena can feel her mouth wet at the crook of her shoulder and neck and her hands, needy and insistent, at her hips and stomach. 

It all drips down and pools between her legs until the soreness there is urgent. Lena finds that she has no experience in patience, not this kind. She reaches down and grips Kara’s wrist, dragging her hand so it rests on her lower stomach. She tries to urge it further down, underneath the waistband of her pants, but Kara becomes very still. 

They stand for a moment still and pressed completely together. Lena cradles Kara’s head against her neck with one hand and keeps the other wrapped around her wrist. She doesn’t press it any further than she already has, waiting for Kara to make up her mind either way.

But when Kara’s hand starts moving of its own accord, slipping underneath her pants, Lena guides it. She wants to be an active participant in every step of this process, wants to feel every inch of what’s happening to her. Kara rubs her palm over the front of Lena’s underwear and they both gasp, Lena’s evolving into a fractured sob at the end. Her other hand clutches again at Kara’s hair, keeping her close.

There’s not enough space in Lena’s head or her heart to even be in shock at what’s happening. What bandwidth is left is spent trying to urge Kara under the next layer of fabric, to complete the sudden thing that they’ve started. The rubbing feels incredible—the friction of Kara’s hand dragging her underwear back and forth across her pussy, the way it sticks to her where she’s—

Lena cuts the thought off at the root. Kara’s hand goes to the waistband of her underwear, pauses, then slips underneath. Her fingers run through the hair at the center of her thighs, then lower, until—

They both gasp again. Kara grunts, Lena’s brain spins out. There’s a moment where she can’t really puzzle out what’s going on. The pleasure has fogged her brain and made thinking beyond the immediate feelings in her body impossibly difficult. 

But Kara speaks it out loud. “God, you’re so wet.” She gasps, running her fingers through and across Lena’s clit, causing Lena to jerk. 

Those words bring everything crashing down on Lena like a bucket of cold water. Feelings start to bleed in, feelings of surprise, of panic, of joy. She’s suddenly too sensitive to be touched like this. One hand pushes suddenly against Kara’s shoulder and the other grips her wrist and pulls her arm from both layers of clothing. Kara doesn’t resist—she just peels her body away, takes her head from the cradle of Lena’s shoulder. 

They’re staring at each other, each breathing heavily. Kara’s eyes are foggy and unfocused. The house is alive around them, the sound of wood tapping, of beams creaking. Slowly, Lena brings Kara’s used palm to her face. She keeps their eyes connected as she presses it to her cheek, feeling the slick of her fingers on her skin. It makes her shudder.

“I’m sorry.” Kara breathes. Lena licks her lips.

“I’m not.” She says, and then: “Thank you.” 

Kara chuckles, low and sultry. She lets her head fall to Lena’s shoulder and, on instinct, Lena runs her fingers through her hair and scratches her scalp again. “I should—we should—”

“I know.” Lena sighs and curls her body a little more into Kara’s. The countertop is pressing uncomfortably into her lower back, but it barely matters. “Can we just—” 

“Yeah, okay.”

Lena strokes her hair more, nuzzles into the crown of her head. The moment feels surreal. “Are you excited to go to Portland?” Against her, Kara shrugs. Says nothing. “Will you text me?”

She feels Kara’s body stiffen. “I’m not—” She pulls away a little so that they’re looking at each other again, Kara wearing her internal conflict plain on her face. Her eyes flick over Lena’s shoulder and Lena knows immediately what she’s looking at.

“It doesn’t have to be…” Lena licks her lips and smooths her hands over Kara’s shoulders. She considers telling her about going to New York, but wonders what use it would be. Stumbling over herself to make promises about a future that feels, in this moment, completely unknowable to her, seems futile. “I’d just like to hear from you.”

“Okay. Okay, I will.” 

Before Kara leaves, she pauses at the previously broken shutter on Lena’s living room window. She runs her fingers over the new screw. “This looks like it’s held up okay.” She says. 

“I had to fix it again.” Lena says. Kara looks at her, and her expression is opaque again. She looks surprised, and pleased, and something else—Lena can’t quite put her finger on what. But, oh God, it makes her want to kiss her again and not stop. “Drive safe, will you?”

“I will.” Kara puts up the hood of her rain jacket. She lingers, standing in the puddle of water that it had left on Lena’s living room floor. 

And then she’s gone, swallowed up into the night and the wind and the rain, and Lena is alone in the house again. But, for the first time, she doesn’t feel so alone—like the house is pregnant with something. Kara’s blankets stacked on the coffee table, two glasses of iced coffee in the sink. A baseball bat leaning against the coffee table.

Full of sounds and recent feelings and ghosts. Lena sighs, looking at the four corners of the room, and then she makes her way upstairs.