Lena tried to keep one ear on Eimear as she droned her way through the sleepwalking scene in Macbeth. In her opinion the scene was one of the best in the whole play, but the way Eimear was reading it was practically soporific. Lena trailed her finger slowly down the page in time with the reading, just in case she was the one called upon to read next, but after another minute, her attention was caught by a crow flying past the window.
As the clock crept closer to the end of the lesson, Lena was sure that the whole class other than Eimear, who kept her eyes dutifully on the book in her hands, was willing the second hand to speed up. There were still ten minutes to go before the end of the day, the end of the week even, and Lena had to actively suppress the urge to groan.
Thankfully, Mrs Wilson seemed to be as drowsy as her class because she pushed herself upright in her chair and said, “thank you, Eimear. A lovely reading, as usual. I think that will do for now.” A murmur ran throughout the class as Eimear closed her book with a snap, and Mrs Wilson appeared to bite back a smile. “I think we’ve all had enough of Shakespeare for the week, and I’m sure nobody will mind if I let you all go a little early.” There was a small cheer from the students, and Mrs Wilson did smile this time. She looked down at a piece of paper on her desk. “You can all pack up, but if Johnny, Olivia, Rose, Thomas, Lena, Aoife, and Connor could stay behind for a few minutes …”
Wondering what Mrs Wilson wanted to say to them all, Lena packed her things into her backpack with no small degree of curiosity. It had been a while since she’d been held after a class; it was usually for either a very good reason, or a very bad one. She didn’t think anyone knew about the new tattoo she’d snuck off school grounds to get a month ago, but she could never be sure. She and her chosen classmates shared a look, and she shrugged.
Once everyone else had filed out of the class, already talking about their upcoming weekends, Mrs Wilson opened her desk drawer and pulled out an opened Jiffy bag. Lena folded her arms over the desk and leaned up on her elbows.
“You’ve each received a letter from a student at Adams High School,” Mrs Williams announced, pulling a bundle of envelopes out of the bag and fanning them out a little on the desk. Lena’s heart gave a little jump in her chest. She’d forgotten all about the scheme she’d signed up for months ago; since it hadn’t been mentioned by anyone since then, she figured that both schools had dropped the idea. But apparently, she’d been wrong.
Lena felt genuinely excited. She missed receiving post; besides, there was nobody to receive post from. Lillian certainly wouldn’t bother taking the time to write a letter to her. Lena had written to Lex from time to time, but he’d stopped responding to her letters once he’d started his second degree in New York.
All in all, Lena hadn’t received a piece of mail that wasn’t part of her book subscription for well over a year. It was just depressing. The other students at school received stuff all the time, and she had to pretend that receiving nothing didn’t bother her. But it did. It bothered her far more than she was willing to admit, even to herself sometimes. It didn’t matter how many times she told herself that once she turned 21 she would be free to do what she wanted; until then, she was stuck. And lonely.
Lena’s eyes eagerly sought out the envelope that had her name on it. Where was it, where was—
There! Her name, upside down, in handwriting large enough for Lena to read it clearly even at a distance of ten feet.
“So, as you all know, although this doesn’t really count for anything, we want to be able to start an exchange program with Adams High School,” Mrs Wilson continued, levering herself up from her chair and sweeping the letters into her right hand. “The better this penpal scheme goes, the more likely it is that it will continue, and if it does, that means a solid reputation with Adams. And eventually, student travel.”
Mrs Wilson passed Lena’s desk and handed her the envelope with her name on it. Lena Luthor, it read, in stylized handwriting. The person who’d written to her had almost drawn her name, and when Lena turned it over, she saw that along the top, her penpal had also penciled in tiny flowers and leaves. Instantly, Lena dropped her plan to rip the envelope open and resolved to use the fancy letter opener Lillian had given her years ago that was lying abandoned in her desk somewhere. If someone had taken the time to decorate the envelope, then she certainly wasn’t going to ruin their efforts.
Lena carefully slipped the envelope between the pages of her French dictionary. She barely heard a word of what Mrs Wilson said before she made her way up to the residential blocks, her mind on the letter in her bag. She climbed the wide, stone staircase that was worn in the middle from the hundreds of thousands of footsteps over the years and trailed her hand up the cold banister. She was grateful for the fact that Lillian had been willing to pay the highest fees so that she would have relative privacy. Lena shared her room with just one roommate, instead of the dorm rooms which housed six to eight girls. Mary, a quiet girl during the day but prone to snoring and shifting around a lot at night, always went home for the weekends; Lena had the room, and the bathroom, to herself from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. A rare and very welcome thing for an introvert like Lena.
She fished in her back pocket for her key and unlocked the door, the drab white and grey décor made more colorful by all haphazard posters and sheets of paper she’d stuck up over the last few years. The periodic table of elements took center stage and was covered in Post-it notes, but there were other sheets with carefully highlighted passages stuck up too. Surrounding that were posters of singers and heavy metal bands she liked. Mary wasn’t much of a fan of the metal music, but Lena had bought a pair of headphones so she didn’t bother her with it much anymore.
Once she was showered and dressed in her pajamas, Lena cracked open the window to let the sound of the rain in. She propped herself up in her bed and pulled her duvet up around her waist, then picked up the letter opener. Carefully sliding the blunt knife between the flap and the body of the envelope, Lena gently prised the two apart without harming the decoration. She lay the letter opener on her bedside table and opened the envelope.
Inside were several sheets of paper folded in two, and in the center, a photo.
She looked at the photo with interest. It showed two girls with one arm each wrapped around the other’s shoulders. One of them had short, dark red hair and a somewhat cheeky smile. The other was blonde, wore glasses, and had a wide, pretty smile that even in an image was infectious. Lena flipped the photo over, but there was nothing written on the back, and she lay it on her bedside table next to the letter opener and wondered which of the two girls her new penpal was.
Slipping her thumb into the fold, Lena hoped that they were nice. She figured that if they’d spent all that time on decorating the envelope, they at least weren’t the type of person who joined a penpal scheme just to be mean and waste everyone’s time.
She snuggled into the bed and opened the letter.
October 14, 1998
Isn’t it funny how they’re always telling us not to talk to strangers in chat rooms, but they’re happy for us to write letters to people we’ve never met? I guess it’s because at least my teacher knows who I am, and yours knows who you are, and together they both know we’re not freaks or anything. This all sounded better in my head.
Anyway! My name is Kara Danvers, and I go to Adams High School here in California. I just turned 17 last month (September 22nd). We didn’t have to send a photo with this letter but my teacher suggested that we did, so I have. It’s my older sister Alex and I (I’m the blonde one)!
I’m a junior and I’m hoping to study journalism when I go to college. If you’re going to go to college (or university?), what would you like to study?
When I signed up for this scheme I was really excited about it, but now that I’m writing this letter I feel kind of nervous! It’s weird, right? It’s like I don’t know what to write. Some journalist I’m going to be! I feel like I should be able to write a really cool letter like in the movies, but now it comes to it …
So I guess I’ll just write whatever comes to mind.
Right now, it’s raining really hard and it’s wack because I was supposed to be running track today. I do long distance running – I like how it kinda clears my mind. I really like rain too, though. It’s romantic, somehow, and it always makes me want to draw or paint – that’s why you’ve got flowers and leaves on your envelope! :) I love to sing.
Do you have any siblings? Alex (I’m adopted. Our mom is called Eliza) just went off to college to become a doctor and I’m kinda lonely at school without her now. My other friends were her age too and they’ve just graduated. I guess this penpal scheme came along at a good time because while I know other people at school, of course, my close friends aren’t here anymore. My best friend Winn moved to a new school at the end of last year. I don’t have a boyfriend or anything but there’s a cute guy on the football team who smiles at me sometimes.
Do you like the Corrs? I’m listening to them now. I like a lot of music, but I have a lot of Disney CDs and tapes too, and I like to sing, especially in the shower. I tried to take my CD player into the bathroom with me once but the cord wasn’t long enough!
Some people at my school thought this scheme was kinda lame. I think it’s nice. The furthest I’ve ever been from here is Colorado where I was born, but you live all the way across the sea in Ireland and that’s so cool! What’s Ireland like? That was a really big question. If you want to, tell me a few things you like about Ireland? Where do you live when you’re not at school?
And about you? What are you like, Lena?
That was also a really big question. Sorry! I’ve always been a bit nosy. I guess it’s the journalism thing. I’m curious about practically everything. I’m friendly, I promise!
Oh, my teacher told me that I had to mention a few things in this letter. 1) I have to write to you once every two weeks. Apparently that’s a rule for this scheme. Is it the same for you? 2) Your letter (if you want to reply! Please reply!) has to be sent back to my school but after that we’re allowed to exchange our own addresses if we want to. 3) Neither of our teachers will be reading whatever we write to each other, unless we want them to for whatever reason. Our letters are private :)
Anyway I hope this letter was okay! And I hope that you’re having a good day across the sea :)
Lena read the letter twice before flipping her duvet off herself and sliding back out of bed with a wide smile on her face, picking up the photo Kara had sent while she slid her feet back into her slippers. At her desk, she tacked the photo up on her corkboard where she could easily see it, pulled out some of her favorite writing paper, and picked a pen out of her pen pot. She sent a quick glance out at the rain pouring down her windowpanes; she liked that her new penpal liked rain too. It was one of her favorite things about living in Ireland; even though it rained a lot back home, here, somehow, it felt different. Almost as if it was suffused with magic.
In her heart, Lena knew she was a bit of a romantic. It wasn’t a side of herself that she generally showed people here at school … but perhaps she could show Kara Danvers. After all, it wasn’t like they were going to be meeting any time soon, or ever. She’d be finishing school long before the actual exchange program started. Mrs Wilson had mentioned a while back that the letters would be anonymous, and Kara had just confirmed it. What did she have to lose?
Maybe … maybe here was a chance, she thought, for her to be herself. Just Lena, without the walls. Without the armor.
The thought made her stomach feel tense, but she forced the feeling away. Hiding behind walls was what was kept her comfortable, but while it made her feel safe, it also made feel cut off and lonely.
Lena sat at her desk, almost at war with herself.
So, what if this time she didn’t put her walls up? What if, just once, she was herself with a stranger? If it didn’t work out, she could always just never write to Kara again. This was her one perfect chance to be seen by someone for who she was. A chance to make a true friend.
Lena wanted to take it. And with that thought, she felt her stomach unclench.
As her smile widened, Lena uncapped her pen and started to write.
Kara bent double on the track, pressing her hand to her chest and wheezing after completing a five-kilometer run. She hadn’t tried to beat her record or anything, even though she wanted to, but the day was unseasonably humid and the air was like soup. It made it hard to breathe while running, and she could feel the sweat pouring down her face and back. Once she was sure she felt okay, she made her way to the showers in the school gym next to the track and football field.
The shower was lukewarm and refreshing, and she felt much better. She dressed as quickly as she could, pulled on her sneakers, and swung her backpack up onto her shoulders. When Eliza saw her coming across the parking lot, she started the car.
“Hi sweetheart,” she greeted when Kara climbed into the passenger seat. “How was track?”
“It was fine, but I could do without the humidity! I was boiling by the end of the run.”
Eliza laughed. “Couldn’t we all. The lab was very hot today. Roll down the window if you want some fresh air,” she said, pulling into traffic.
Kara did so, reveling in the cool breeze against her face. She enjoyed running, loved it in fact, but she couldn’t wait until the fall weather really kicked in. Nobody loved running in the rain, but Kara definitely preferred it to running in heat. It never really got that cold or wet in Midvale anyway, not like in Colorado, so she could enjoy running all winter long for the most part. Not for the first time, she longed for winter to come.
“So, was there any mail today?” Eliza asked, glancing over at Kara.
Kara smiled widely. “Yes, actually! I got a letter back from Lena! Mrs Jones gave it to me today. I’ve got it in one of my books to keep it flat,” she said, wrapping her arms tighter around her backpack.
“And? Is she as nice as you hoped she would be?”
“I don’t know yet,” Kara said, toying with one of the shoulder straps. “I had English last period and then I had to go straight out to track, so I haven’t had a chance to read the letter yet. Her handwriting on the front is very pretty though. It’s really neat. It’s the kind of handwriting you’d see in Christmas cards or something.”
Lena’s handwriting was pretty. When Mrs Jones had passed her the letter at the end of class, Kara had stared at it for a full minute. Lena had written back to her. And what’s more, not only was her handwriting pretty, but on the back of the envelope she’d also tried to draw leaves and flowers like Kara had, only, they weren’t very good. There was a note underneath the leaves that said sorry, I’m not an artist like you, but at least I tried! It had Kara smiling goofily at it before she’d placed it carefully inside her book.
Her hope was that if Lena was nice enough to try to reciprocate the doodles Kara had done, then she wasn’t going to be the kind of person who just wrote a couple of lines in a letter and let that be that. The envelope was thick and the paper was really nice. Kara supposed that if Lena was at a private boarding school, she could afford to get really nice paper. She had looked up Lena’s school on the internet in the school library one lunchtime; she didn’t know a lot about boarding schools, and what she did know came from Harry Potter, but she thought it looked really cool. There were big, tall, dark old buildings that Kara imagined were full of secret passages and hallways where your footsteps echoed. There were some newer buildings as well, science blocks, but they looked like Kara’s own high school, so she wasn’t as interested in those.
It was funny to think that the letter she had written had flown all the way across the United States and then across the ocean, and through Ireland until it reached the school she was looking at on the computer screen. Somewhere in those buildings, a girl called Lena Luthor lived, and she had received Kara’s letter and written back to her. And now her reply was in Kara’s bag. It was amazing how big and small the world was at the same time.
“Are you going to read it right away when we get home?” Eliza asked with a smile.
Kara nodded. “Uh huh! I can’t wait. I almost wanted to skip track, not just because of the heat, but because I wanted to read the letter so bad.”
“Well, not long until we’re home,” Eliza replied. “Are you sure you don’t want to read it in the car?”
“No, we’re almost there, and I want to be careful with it. She did some doodles on the back, just like I did!”
By the time they got home a few minutes later, Kara was in a state of nervous excitement. She still didn’t know anything about Lena other than her name and the fact that she lived in a boarding school in Ireland, but she was hopefully about to find out much more. And she hoped, really hoped, that she and Lena would become friends.
The thought of getting a letter in the post once every two weeks or so was definitely something to look forward to. School had been so boring and lonely since the start of this year, since all her close friends had now graduated.
As soon as they were parked up at home and through the front door, Kara raced upstairs to her bedroom, the front hallway full of Eliza’s laughter as Kara pounded up the stairs.
She threw herself straight into her chair at her desk and rifled through her bag until she pulled out her copy of Romeo and Juliet, inside which was Lena’s letter. She ran her finger over her name, written in Lena’s neat handwriting, and turned the letter over. How was she going to open it without ruining Lena’s drawings? Every other letter she’d received, she’d just torn the envelope open. But something about this one made her want to be careful with it, preserve it somehow. The envelope itself was part of the letter.
Just then, Eliza knocked and poked her head through the door. “I thought you might want this,” she said, holding out what looked like a short knife.
“What’s that?” Kara asked, getting up from her desk as Eliza came through the door.
“It’s a letter opener,” Eliza replied. “I used to use it when Jeremiah and I wrote letters to each other when he was in the army. It’s not very sharp, but you can use it to open Lena’s letter without making a mess of it. Here, let me show you.”
As Kara watched, Eliza slipped the flat side of the opener into the gap at the top of the envelope, then gently slid it upward, sawing gently as she went. The flap of the envelope came away from the rest of it without damaging it, and Kara eagerly took over the rest.
“I also brought you this,” Eliza said, passing Kara a Mars bar. “As a treat.”
“Thank you!” Kara replied, taking it with a grin and putting it down next to the letter opener. “Hey, can I keep this? For the next letter?”
“Sure, of course you can. We’ll have dinner in a few hours, alright? I’ve got meatballs and spaghetti. And I got a card from Alex earlier – she’s going to try to call later in about an hour so she can speak to you, too.”
Kara punched the air. “Yes!”
As soon as Eliza was gone, Kara kicked off her shoes and climbed onto her bed with Lena’s letter in hand. She settled against her pillows and pulled the letter out of the envelope, which she lay on her bedside table. The sheets were made of thick, cream colored paper that Kara thought would be nice to sketch on, if she had more of it. And between them, there was a photo.
Straight away, Kara noticed that the girl in the photo, Lena, was the prettiest girl she’d ever seen. She had long, dark hair that hung over one shoulder, light colored eyes—Kara couldn’t tell from the photo whether they were blue or green, as Lena was too far away—and a dimpled smile. She was wearing dark green cargo pants and a plain black tshirt, with sunglasses on top of her head. She was the kind of pretty that Kara knew for sure would have all the guys at Adams High School desperate to ask her out.
Lena was leaning against a bridge that Kara recognized instantly as Gapstow Bridge in Central Park in New York City; she had a poster of it in snow in 1961 hung on her wall. Kara turned around to look at it, then back at the photo Lena had sent, comparing the two. Yeah, it was definitely the same, and Kara loved the fact that straight away she felt a connection to Lena. She knew, logically, that millions of people thought that bridge was beautiful, too, but she didn’t let that bother her. The link, small as it was, seemed real to her.
She couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she unfolded the pages and saw Lena’s handwriting entirely filling the three pages.
23rd October, 1998
Thank you very much for your letter! I really enjoyed reading it. We are writing to strangers, it’s true, but I think you’re right – it’s safer than a chatroom. My teacher didn’t say we had to send a photo, but since you did, I’ve sent one too. It was taken last year while I was in NYC. It’s my favorite place in the city.
You already know my name, it’s Lena Luthor. My middle name is Kieran, do you have one? My birthday is actually tomorrow, but I’m not going to be celebrating it the way you (maybe) do. You know that I go to a boarding school – my roommate doesn’t stay at school for the weekends, and although each Saturday we go on a trip somewhere outside school, there won’t be a party or anything. I might buy a cake while we’re out, though, and I’ll eat it while I try to finish Resident Evil 2 on the PlayStation tomorrow night. Happy belated birthday :) how did you celebrate?
So you want to be a journalist? That’s cool, what sort? I did find one thing curious: you wrote that you feel like you should know what to write in a letter to a stranger. Can I ask why do you feel like you should know what to write, just because you want to be a journalist? I’ve been sitting here thinking about this and I think that writing to me and writing as a journalist will be two completely different things. In journalism, you’ll be writing for people you don’t know, not to them specifically. Being good at one doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be good or bad at the other. So don’t beat yourself up. I liked your letter, as I said :) and I’m sure that when you start writing articles, they’ll be great too. The nice thing about journalism is that you can practice researching and writing articles anytime! If you want to send samples to me, I can read them. I won’t be biased or anything.
As for me, my plan is to be a bioengineer. I hope to study at MIT. I’m good at science, and it’s what my family expects. And while I love it (and I DO), I also love to read. The romantic side of my brain likes to imagine what it would be like to own a bookstore one day with creaky stairs and warped bookshelves, spending my days reading or helping customers to find the perfect books for them. I don’t think that my stepmother would ever allow that dream to become reality, though. But I dream of it nonetheless.
I do have a sibling. My older brother is Alexander, or Lex for short (how funny that we have siblings with very similar names). He’s at Columbia University in NYC studying molecular bioscience. My stepmother Lillian, Lex’s mother, is a doctor in biochemical engineering, also at Columbia. You could say science runs in the Luthor family. The fact that I plan to go to MIT is therefore obviously controversial, especially since it’s not Ivy League, but it’s my choice and I’m sticking with it.
The Corrs are a guilty pleasure of mine. I mostly enjoy heavy rock music, but I’ll listen to anything really. I dress like I listen to a lot of heavy rock or metal music. I love No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom album too, though. I also like a lot of classical music, because it’s nice to have on in the background while I read. And I like no matter where you go in the world, classical music can be understood by anyone listening, because there (mostly) aren’t any lyrics. So it’s universal.
What is Ireland like? It’s green. Joking though, I do love it here. I love how when you go walking in the countryside it feels almost timeless and magical, like you can imagine the myths and legends from the past being alive around you. The people are friendly, the history is interesting, and there are some really, really beautiful places to visit that make me wish I could live in those spaces forever. When I’m not at school, like during holidays, I’m at home in New York. Backstory: I was born in Ireland and lived here until I was four when my mum passed away. My father and stepmother (who has formally adopted me) took me over to the States and I lived there until I was eleven, but I’ve spent every school year in Ireland ever since then. I spend most of my time here, and my summers either in the States or abroad somewhere. In case you’re curious, my accent is a mix of both Irish and some sort of general American.
What am I like? You’re right, that is a big question to ask, and a bigger one to answer. I’ll try to be honest about it. I’m quiet but opinionated. I’m introverted but confident in myself. I laugh easily but I’m also considered quite serious by most people. I have a lot of piercings, and a couple of small tattoos. I like the X-Files, but my favorite film is Titanic – don’t tell anyone. I think I’ll take a photography class in my final term here. Like you, I’m lonely. I don’t make friends too easily. That’s part of why I was excited about this penpal project – I was, I am, hoping to make a friend.
I’ve written more about myself in this letter than I’ve ever written to anyone before. I think I like the illusion of anonymity, even though you know my name, what I look like, and where I go to school. I do have to write a letter every two weeks, like you, and I’m okay with exchanging addresses although I’ll be living here until the end of the school year. I’ll give you my NYC address when I’m about to head back there :)
I’ll throw the question back at you. What are you like, Kara Danvers?
Anyway, I’d better go. I hope to hear from you soon!
Kara read the letter once, and then again straight away. She thought that Lena sounded like a really nice person, although Kara didn’t like that she was also lonely. And thinking about going to college (to MIT!) to do bioengineering while daydreaming about owning a bookshop? That was really interesting. She glanced over at her bookcase, stuffed full of books crammed into whatever space there was, and wondered whether she and Lena had read, and liked, any of the same books. That was definitely one of the questions that she was going to write in her reply.
In fact, she had so many questions she wanted to ask! What tattoos did Lena have, and why did she have them? She picked up the photo again; she couldn’t see any tattoos on Lena’s arms or anything. Kara had never met anyone her own age with tattoos before, at least, that she knew about. How many piercings did she have, and where? Lena had described it a little, but she wondered what Lena’s accent really sounded like. What kind of trips did the kids at Lena’s boarding school have to take? Why was her music taste so varied? Kara counted at least five genres of music listed in the letter; what else did she like to listen to? Kara bet that Lena’s mix CDs were wild.
One thing that Kara really liked was that Lena had tried to comfort Kara about journalism and her writing, even though it was the first time they’d ever “met” each other. The words on the page had immediately made her feel better and more relaxed about her articles. She thought that, in her next letter, she’d ask Lena whether it was alright if she did send her some samples of her writing, if Lena really didn’t mind reading them. The thought of sending her writing across the ocean excited her; what could she write about?
She reread the paragraph where Lena had talked about what she was like. Lena sounded like a bundle of contradictions, but in a good way, Kara thought. She liked that Lena admitted to being both sides of a coin at once. She did think that Lena came across rather seriously in her letter, but she also seemed kind and thoughtful.
There were, though, some things in the letter that made Kara feel sad. Lena had written that she was lonely, and there were definitely pieces of information in the letter that got Kara thinking a little deeper. Like the thought of Lena having to buy her own birthday cake. Lena’s birthday had been nearly two weeks ago; had she really spent that day alone with her PlayStation? And Lena’s mother had passed away when she was only four? Kara knew the grief of losing parents, but at least she’d been adopted by a family that had kept her; Lena had been shipped off back to Ireland after only seven years in the States. How did Lena feel about that? She hadn’t written too much about her family; was she even close with them? What were the circumstances around her being sent away? Did she even want to go back to Ireland?
She was absolutely bursting with questions.
She shifted over onto her stomach, her heart beating harder in her chest. She lay the letter out page by page in front of her, the photo at the end of them. She propped herself up by her shoulders and looked down at the words Lena Luthor had written out. She could’ve just written a short, insipid kind of letter back to her like Kara was sure some of her own classmates had done: written anything down just in order to pass the class. Instead, Lena had really written about herself. Lena wanted to make a friend.
Kara looked back down at the pages spread out in front of her, at the beautiful penmanship that Lena had used to write the letter. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the envelope on which Lena had doodled. Lastly, she looked once more at the beautiful girl in the photo.
She thought that Lena was right about herself. It seemed profound to Kara somehow that Lena had written her letter seriously, but that she’d also consented to drawing on the envelope. She was both serious and not serious at the same time.
Kara liked the sound of Lena Luthor very much.
Everything in the letter painted a picture of a person that Kara wanted to know more about. She couldn’t wait to reply to her.
And, she thought with a smile, she was going to send her new friend Lena something for her birthday!
I remember having to wait weeks for international mail: such a pain, but there was also something rather nice about it, too :) being excited for letters that have come from far away. I still get excited about that :)
“You look exhausted,” Eliza said when Kara swung herself into the passenger seat.
Kara sighed, rubbing a hand over her forehead, then dragging it down her face. “I am. The training for the state track competition is no joke. Coach had us do the beep test again today and if I never see another cone in my life, I’ll be really happy about it. I’m glad the end of the year is in a few weeks!” Kara’s complaining was hollow; she loved running, and no matter how bad a day was, both she and Eliza knew that she’d never give it up.
As they pulled out into traffic, Kara let out another sigh. Eliza glanced over at her before concentrating on the road. “Is something else the matter?”
“It’s just been a really long day,” Kara replied after a minute. “I got another B on my math test,” she admitted glumly. Eliza said nothing about the grade, just as Kara knew she wouldn’t, and she was grateful. Eliza had never been the kind of parent to rag on her about her grades, which only made Kara want to do better than her best. “I know I’m not that interested in math but I tried really hard this time and I still got a B.”
“It’s alright, sweetie. A B isn’t a failing grade. If you ever want some extra help, we can look into it. But I don’t think you need it.”
“Thank you,” Kara said quietly.
They drove without speaking for a few minutes, just listening to Sheryl Crow through the radio as they made their way down the residential streets.
“So, I have some good news and some bad news,” Eliza said as they turned onto their street.
“Is everything alright?”
“Yes, although I think you’ll be a bit disappointed,” Eliza replied. She pulled up outside their house and turned off the car. “Just before I came out to get you, someone phoned asking for you.”
Kara unclipped her seatbelt. “Alex?”
“No, someone from much further away.”
Kara thought for a moment and then her stomach did something very strange. It did an excited little flip and dropped at the same time. “Lena?!”
Eliza nodded, and Kara instantly felt the weight of a crushing disappointment. She let go of the seatbelt and let her head drop back against the headrest. Lena had called, and Kara hadn’t been home? In the last letter she’d sent, she’d added a shy little note at the end with her home phone number, suggesting that they could, one day if they could arrange a good time and Lena wanted to, speak on the phone. Kara knew that the time difference between them would be awkward; at eight hours, the only time that they’d be able to speak would be on the weekends. On other days, one or either of them would be at school or asleep when the other was free.
And yet, Lena had called on a Friday afternoon. Kara checked her watch and calculated that Lena must have called when it was past midnight in Ireland, perhaps hoping that Kara would be home from track before she had to go to bed.
They’d been writing to each other now for almost the whole of the school year. It had been nine months, just about, and they’d sent countless letters to each other, and they’d only grown closer over that time.
Lena was like nobody else Kara had ever known, and Kara looked forward to receiving mail from her with the kind of thrilled enthusiasm that had, until this year, usually been reserved only for Christmas. It was exciting, receiving letters from across the world. And through their letters, Kara and Lena really had grown close. They were closer than any friend Kara had ever had before, save Alex, but Alex was family, so it was different. Lena was her best friend. Two letters ago she’d written and told Lena so, and Lena replied with a shy you mean a lot to me too, Kara, more than anyone else in my life. Kara had smiled and smiled, and when Eliza had asked over dinner what had got her so happy, Kara had replied with “Lena is my best friend.” Now, she wrote love, Kara at the end of her letters. And the love, Lena at the end of the replies made her feel warm.
Kara was only required to send two letters a month to Lena for the project, but now she sent at least four pieces of mail; usually two or three letters, and whatever else she fancied. Postcards, books, anything that she saw that she thought Lena might like, she sent. Once, she’d even sent a box full of American candy that Lena had admitted to missing during her school year. Lena had responded with an even larger box full of Irish and British “sweets,” chocolates, and biscuits, which Kara had delightedly munched her way through.
After that, about once a month, they mailed each other care packages of candy and chocolate along with their letters. And those letters and parcels, and the person writing and sending them, had come to mean more to Kara than she’d ever thought possible.
And Lena had called today, and she hadn’t been home.
“She was very nice, very polite,” Eliza said as they climbed out of the car. Kara felt morose as they made their way up the path and through the front door. Eliza had actually spoken to Lena. She’d heard Lena’s voice, and Kara hadn’t. “She asked me to tell you that she has to go on a school trip for a couple of weeks, but that she’s put a parcel in the post for you.”
Kara smiled at that, but Eliza must’ve seen the disappointment still in Kara’s face, because she continued speaking. “Lena told me that she had a cell phone now. And I was thinking. If you and Lena want to talk to each other more easily,” she paused, “what would you think about us getting you a cell phone of your own?”
Three weeks later, and Kara knew that right now, this very minute, that Lena was flying back across the Atlantic to her home in New York City. She’d told Kara when her flight was, and they were both excited about the reduced distance between them.
It was a strange kind of feeling for Kara, but the thought that the person she’d been pouring her heart out to for nearly a year would finally be on the same landmass as her gave her butterflies in her stomach. She couldn’t explain why, because everyone else she knew lived on the same landmass as she did. Kara had been to New York City a couple of times, had walked over the very same bridge in the photo Lena had sent of herself months ago; they’d shared stories of the places they’d both visited. It made Kara feel fond, sentimental, knowing that they’d visited the same places. Like they’d left fingerprints behind for the other to find.
Their mail wouldn’t take as long to get to the other either, which would be cool.
But what Kara was the most excited about was the fact that Lena would get home to her place in New York, and find the note that Kara had sent with her cell number written in it. She’d suggested that they could text, that they could call. She knew Lena had already tried to call once before, of course, but she hadn’t been able to try since.
But now they could.
It made Kara nervous.
She couldn’t quite say why.
Kara knew that Lena was just as enthusiastic as she was about their letters, because Lena said so. She had written several times that she was happy they’d met, that they’d started writing to each other. Lena had written that she didn’t feel so lonely anymore, and Kara had written the same. She was sure they’d get along just as well on the phone as they did in letters.
But calling was different than writing. Hearing Lena’s voice would be different than reading her words. It was different. And Kara was nervous.
She’d made sure that her cell phone had lots of battery left, just in case Lena did text her that night. She hadn’t even played Snake very much, even though she really wanted to try to beat her own score. Lena’s plane had left Dublin at 7am Kara’s time, and she would land, Kara guessed, sometime around 2pm California time. In any case, by the time Kara got home from school, Lena would have found her letter with her number in it.
Track after school that day seemed to last forever, and the whole ride home from school, Kara kept her cell phone in her hand.
There were no text messages, though. She was distracted the whole time she was doing her homework, her eye straying to her cell every few minutes. It remained stubbornly silent on the desk.
When she was finally done with her homework, Kara let out a sigh, dropped her pen onto her workbook, and slumped backward into her chair. It was 5pm now and Eliza was preparing dinner downstairs. Kara could hear the SodaStream going, making her favorite drink.
It was 9pm in NYC.
She wondered what Lena was up to. She knew very well that Lena wasn’t close to her family, but she hoped that her homecoming had gone well anyway. She would surely be really busy as soon as she got home, seeing family, unpacking, having some dinner. Kara had had food on planes before and it was … not good. If she were Lena, she’d have taken loads of snacks with her for her trip.
It was only when Kara climbed out of the shower later that night that her cell pinged quietly with a new text message. And when Kara looked at the screen it was an unknown number, but Kara knew it was her.
Swiftly, she unlocked her cell phone and opened the message.
Unknown number: Hi, Kara, it's Lena. I got your note! I hope I'm not waking you. My plane was delayed, so I've only just got home. I'm very tired, but I wanted to say hello :)
And right there, standing in her towel in her bedroom, Kara smiled the widest that she ever had.
Kara: Lena, wow! It's past 2am there, why aren't you going to sleep? I'm so glad you're home safe! :D and we're finally in the same country! Hi! This is so cool!
Kara: Thanks for texting back! So cool that I can just talk to you and you can see my words without having to wait ages! I got lots of credit so that we could text!
Kara waited, staring at the screen, hoping that Lena would reply again before she fell asleep. When her phone pinged again, Kara let out an excited little giggle that she was glad nobody else would hear.
Lena: I didn't want to go to sleep without saying hi to you first :)
Kara: Aw! It's so weird seeing your words when it's not in your handwriting, you know?
Lena: I know. I kind of miss your doodles on the envelopes
Kara: We’re going to keep writing letters though, right? Even though we can send texts now?
Lena: Of course! I’d really miss your letters, otherwise. They keep me sane, receiving them and looking forward to them coming
Kara: Same! How was your flight? It sucks that it was delayed!
Lena: It was long, but I had my GameBoy and some spare batteries, so I was okay. And a few books
Kara: I’m really glad you’re home now. It’s so cool that we’re in the same country at last! I hope I’m not keeping you up though
While she and Lena were texting, Kara quickly pulled on her pajamas and dashed back into the bathroom to hang her towel up on the rail. It was so cool that she was talking to Lena in real time! That somewhere across the country, Lena was in her own home, texting Kara. She heard her phone ping again, and rushed back to the bedroom with her toothbrush still in her mouth.
Lena: You’re not, but I think I’ll go to sleep soon so I can try to head off the jetlag. Setting my alarm for the morning is going to be painful
Kara: I’ll let you go then. I’m really glad you texted me Lena, I wasn’t sure that you would
As soon as Kara pressed send, she slapped her hand to her forehead. Why had she said that? They were friends! It wasn’t as if Lena would’ve ignored her texts, even if she didn’t know how nervous Kara had been about it. She stared down at her cell, waiting for Lena’s reply.
It didn’t come. Maybe she’d fallen sleep? Maybe she’d thought Kara’s statement was as stupid as it had sounded. Kara’s thoughts spiraled. Maybe she thinks I was stupid for asking it. Maybe Lena’s annoyed by it. Maybe she’s—
In her hand, her cell rang, and the name on the screen stopped her thoughts dead in their tracks.
Lena was calling her. All of a sudden, Kara’s heart started thundering so hard in her chest that she could feel it. Her phone rang again, and Kara had a flash vision of Lena with her dark hair in a messy ponytail, sitting across the country with her phone pressed to her ear, waiting for her to answer.
She couldn’t not answer!
Her phone rang again.
Kara swallowed her mouthful of toothpaste with a silent apology to Eliza, then pressed the green button and lifted the cell to her ear.
“Hi, Kara,” Lena replied, her voice low and musical, and Kara immediately loved the way that her name sounded in Lena’s voice. Holy shit. “I hope that it’s okay I’m calling? I really am going to sleep soon but I just thought I’d call because it’s quicker than typing.” Kara clutched the phone tightly. Fuck, Lena’s voice was so pretty! Could a voice be described as pretty? And her voice was deeper than Kara expected, but in a good way.
There was silence on the line, and Kara frowned. Oh, right, Lena asked a question!
“Yeah, of course it’s fine, Lena!” she replied, her own voice sounding high-pitched to her. She winced and scrubbed her face with her hand, feeling ridiculous, and glad that Lena couldn’t see her. “Your accent is so cool, I love it. You sound so Irish but at the same time, not! You know?”
Lena chuckled down the line, and immediately it became one of Kara’s favorite sounds. “Thank you. I like the sound of you too.”
And that’s— Kara felt the blush rise up her face. “Great! Great! I’m glad, because like, we’re friends and we should like how we each sound. God, I sound so dumb right now. I’m sure I’m going to be embarrassed about this tomorrow. I don’t know why I feel nervous. It’s weird. Is it weird?”
There was a slight pause before Lena replied. “No, I don’t think it’s weird. We’ve never talked before. Not even on AIM. I mean, I tried that one time when you weren’t home from school yet. The time zones make it hard, but … I don’t know. I just—” Lena interrupted herself with a deep yawn, and across the thousands of miles, Kara yawned too, “—I just thought, you know, we can do both. Text and call, if you want.”
“I definitely want to! I’ve been wondering for so long what your voice would be like,” Kara admitted shyly. “And … and it’s not like I don’t think you’re a real person when I’m writing to you and when you’re writing to me, because we have each other’s replies. But now I can … now I can hear you, you know? It’s more … you’re more real to me. You’re really there.”
“You’re real to me too,” Lena replied quietly, and Kara felt her heart thump in her chest again. “I was going to write and ask what a good time would be to call you as soon as I got back to New York. Because of the time difference, the phones at school wouldn’t be available if we tried to use them. But now you’ve got a cell phone, we can talk. Whenever we want. Even when I’m back in Ireland.”
Whenever we want, Kara thought to herself. I think I want to talk to you all the time.
“I would love that, Lena,” Kara said instead, her stomach flipping excitedly. “I’d love that so much!”
“Really?” Lena replied, and Kara could hear the smile in her voice.
“I’m— I’m glad,” Lena said, and then she yawned again.
“You should go to bed!”
“I know, I just … I saw your last message, and I wanted to ask you about it.”
Kara rubbed the back of her neck. “Oh.”
“I guess I just wondered why you’d think I wouldn’t want to text you,” Lena asked, the smile still in her voice, and Kara could hear the movement of paper in the background. “I mean, you are my best friend, after all. You know?”
“I know. You’re my best friend too,” Kara replied, feeling warm and with her own smile stretching her face. “And I don’t know why I wrote that. I thought it was dumb the second I’d sent it. I guess I just had a moment of nerves?”
Lena let out a low, tired laugh. “Okay then. I’m glad. And I— I would love to talk more, but I’m exhausted after the flight and everything, so I’m going to go head to bed now. I haven’t even showered yet.”
“Okay yeah, that’s fine,” Kara replied. “Can we text tomorrow?”
“Cool, that’s cool. Cool, okay,” Kara said, and then laughed. “I’m sorry, I really don’t know why I’m nervous. I think maybe I worried that we— um, that there would be awkward silences, you know? I didn’t want that. But I worried, and so, I was nervous.”
“It’s okay,” Lena replied softly. “Though, you don’t need to be. It’s just me. I knew we’d be fine.”
Lena’s words rolled around in Kara’s head. It’s just me. It’s just Lena. But then, Kara thought, there was nothing just me about Lena. She was Kara’s best friend.
“I’ll try,” Kara murmured, and then stifled a yawn of her own. Lena heard it though.
“You should go to bed too,” Lena said, sounding both amused and exhausted. “We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”
“I can’t wait,” Kara said honestly.
“Me neither. Sleep well, Kara.”
She smiled. “Sweet dreams, Lena.”
When they’d hung up, Kara spun herself around in her chair, feeling thrilled. She’d finally spoken to Lena, nearly a year after they’d started writing! And she hadn’t been lying; she really couldn’t wait to talk to Lena again. It was one thing writing letters to each other that took ages to arrive, but another being able to talk to her in real time.
She meant what she’d said. Lena felt real to her now in a way that maybe she hadn’t before. She wasn’t just beautifully written words on a page anymore. Lena had a voice, a very pretty one, with a lovely, lilting accent. She had heard Lena laugh.
And for some reason, being able to hear Lena laugh was the most wonderful thing of all.
Remember when you had to pay for every text you sent? Pretty sure I spent most of my money as a teenager putting credit on my phone!
Happy Friday everyone! I start a new job soon but I'm sure I'll be able to still update this (and others when I get round to them) on the sly :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lena dumped her heavy backpack on the ground and closed her bedroom door with a sigh. She leaned back against it, eyes shut, for a moment. Her room was a quiet, peaceful haven, and she savored the silence that the heavy wooden door allowed her. Her backpack slid over sideways with a thunk, and Lena narrowed her eyes at it before closing them again. The train home from Boston had taken a whole hour longer than usual thanks to a signal fault, and Lena had arrived well after dinner. Thankfully, the driver Lillian had sent to pick her up at Penn Station was Jeff; he’d taken one look at her slumped in the back seat and stopped at the same Taco Bell he always did. Neither of them ever mentioned it to Lillian, blaming the delay on traffic and Lena’s garlic breath on something she’d eaten in Boston.
She’d barely been back in the country a few days before Lillian had shipped her off to MIT for a summer program, which she’d been attending for the past six weeks. Thankfully, her natural inclination to being a night owl had helped with the jetlag somewhat, and she hadn’t struggled too hard to get used to the east coast time zone again. But the last month and a half had been very busy; she stayed at MIT all week and come home on the train every weekend. Her days had been full of studying, but at least she’d had the weekends to look forward to. Sleeping as late as she could get away with, watching TV in bed, tinkering with her own projects in the basement lab. Wandering around NYC, getting snacks at DUMBO, reading on the boardwalks on Staten Island, writing letters to Kara in the New York Public Library. Calling Kara when Kara had been on her break at her job in the yoghurt shop.
Lena flipped her wrist out of her sleeve and checked the time. She still had a few minutes until she and Kara were due to meet online, so she shoved away from the door and pressed the power button on the tower. While she waited for it to boot up, she headed into the bathroom. Boarding school had taught her how to have a decent shower in the shortest possible time, and only a few minutes later she was sitting at her desk wearing her softest pajamas and dabbing at her damp hair with a towel.
She knew that neither Lex nor Lillian would be using the line tonight; they were both hunched over their latest research project in the lab, and Lena was pretty sure that she’d need a crowbar to prise them away from their papers. If it meant that she would have the line to herself, then they could do what they wanted as far as she was concerned. She would’ve preferred to talk to Kara over the phone, but the long distance calls cost a lot and Kara only had so much money from her job and her allowance. Lena had a more than generous allowance from Lillian, so before she went back to Ireland for her last year at school she planned to send Kara a large top-up card so that they could keep talking easily.
Lena could admit to herself that her motive was selfish. It was the first time in her life that she’d had a real friend, a true friend … a best friend, and she didn’t want to let the cost of communication get in the way of talking to Kara. She’d miss her too much.
While the dial-up whirred on the computer, Lena shuffled through her basket of CDs and pulled out an album by a new band called Slipknot. Finding herself already nodding to the memory of the music in her head, she put the CD in the player and pressed play. It wasn’t like Kara could hear the music through AIM anyway. I can’t sing to this, Lena! Kara had written indignantly in her last letter when Lena had sent her a copy of the album. It sounds like Alex when she stubs her toe! Lena grinned to herself at image she had of Kara pressing play on the CD and being confused at the first track, then frantically ejecting it when (sic) started. The image made her smile.
The image of Kara always made Lena smile. Her eyes flicked up to the photo that Kara had sent of her and Alex all those months ago, tacked up on the corkboard above her desk. She’d brought it home, and it wasn’t lost on her that it was the only photo in her room other than the one of herself and Lex from years ago. Lena shoved that thought away and wondered whether Kara’s room was full of photos of her and Alex, of Kara and her friends Winn, Lucy, and James, before they’d gone away to college.
She wondered whether, one day, there would be a photo of herself and Kara together, pinned up on both of their boards.
It would have pride of place on Lena’s.
When she was finally logged in, AOL logo on the home screen, Lena was surprised to see that Kara was already online. Lena felt the stress of her week melt away immediately when she double-clicked Kara’s username.
LenaLuthor: Hey, Kara! You beat me here!
KaraDanvers81: Don’t act so surprised
LenaLuthor: Who said this was acting? You did beat me here, and I AM surprised! I thought you might be home late from work again, you said you were closing up tonight?
KaraDanvers81: Nah, Jodie basically pushed me out the door when she saw that Mike was waiting for me
Ah yes, Mike, Lena thought sourly. Kara’s boyfriend. He’d been the one Kara had mentioned in her very first letter, the cute guy on the football team that had smiled at her. Apparently, Kara had smiled back often enough for him to finally ask her out. She’d listened to Kara telling her about him over the phone a couple of times, about how he had a car and how he bought her flowers. He didn’t sound like such a bad guy, sometimes anyway, just a typical high school footballer, but the thought of him made Lena’s stomach curdle nonetheless.
She knew herself well enough, at least, to recognize that what she felt was jealousy. What she hadn’t quit figured out was why she was jealous. She assumed that it was because Kara was the first real friend she’d ever had, and it was hard enough for them to be able to talk in the first place, without Mike now taking up some of Kara’s time. The time difference, Lena’s summer school and boarding school, and Kara’s job made it difficult enough already.
Lena also recognized her selfishness in that, and had berated herself for it. Kara was happy, and that was all that mattered. She should be happy for her friend.
But at least, she knew, it was easier to feign interest in Mike when Kara couldn’t hear the tone of her voice. She bit the inside of her lip while she typed out her question.
LenaLuthor: How’s Mike?
KaraDanvers81: He’s fine! Tired from football practice. He had to keep practicing all summer if the team want to do well, because this coming school year will be when the college scouts really take notice. And he wants to be noticed so he can get a scholarship. He just wanted to drive me home from work so we could arrange going out tomorrow afternoon. We’re going to go see a movie
LenaLuthor: Awesome, which one? I haven’t been to the movie theatre in ages
LenaLuthor: Does he know which college he wants to get a scholarship to?
KaraDanvers81: Something called American Pie. And he wants to go to the University of Texas, so he can play for the Longhorns
LenaLuthor: Those are the orange ones, right?
KaraDanvers81: Yeah, Lena, those are the orange ones :)
Lena shrugged to herself. She’d learned a lot about college football in the past few months, thanks to Kara dating Mike. She wasn’t a big fan of the game herself, but she could see the strategy in the plays whenever she did catch a game. She just preferred ice hockey. Plus, the thought of possibly having to watch Mike on tv in the future put her off the game a bit.
More than a bit. Quite a big bit, actually.
LenaLuthor: And how are you? Did you have a good week?
KaraDanvers81: You won’t BELIIIIEEEEVE what happened at the yoghurt shop today!
And just like that, Lena was laughing again. She might be exhausted, grumpy, and heading back to Ireland in a week and a half, but Kara could always cheer her up. She took Slipknot out of the CD player, put it in its case, and tossed it back in the backet. From the top of her PC tower, she picked up her copy of Talk on Corners by the Corrs and played that instead. Listening to the Corrs when she was Irish seemed a little conventional, but they reminded her of Kara now. They were almost like a soundtrack to their friendship, in a way, especially Talk on Corners, and the sound fitted her quiet Friday evening a lot better than Slipknot.
They kept talking and exchanging news and stories, and as the clock edged closer to 11:30pm, Lena got up and headed to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of cold water. Her room was stifling in the city summer heat, especially with the thick walls, so she cracked the window open a little and relished the cooler breeze that ruffled the sleeve of her pajama top. As she sat back down to continue chatting with Kara, she looked around and wondered what Kara would think of the two brownstones that Lena and her family lived in. Outside of her bedroom, the décor was almost museum-like. Expensive Chinese vases on plinths on the staircases, huge pieces of artwork on the walls, clawfoot baths in each of the bathrooms. On the one hand Lena liked the brownstones, knowing that they were historical, but on the other she recognized that the way Lillian had decorated them made them feel cold and soulless. They didn’t exactly feel like what Lena imagined a home should be like.
She put her glass down on her coaster, a large one that Kara had sent her a few months ago that was the shape of California, and typed a question.
LenaLuthor: What’s your house like? I mean, how is it decorated etc?
KaraDanvers81: Oh, I don’t know, it’s normal I guess? You know it’s kinda small for the area, but Eliza and Jeremiah bought it back when they didn’t realize they were going to be having me too. It has three bedrooms but one is Eliza’s home office, and I shared this room with Alex until she went to college
LenaLuthor: What’s it like inside?
KaraDanvers81: What’s with the current curiosity?
LenaLuthor: I was looking around my room and thinking that it’s the only room in my whole house with any kind of personality in it. But I figure that your whole house is lovely
KaraDanvers81: I’ll tell you what my home is like if you tell me about yours!
LenaLuthor: It’s a deal
KaraDanvers81: Okay so the lounge has some really old leather sofas that have got stained over the years by various drinks being spilled on them by Alex and me, and there’s a rip in one of them from a cat we looked after for a while. The walls are sort of a cream colour all the way through except the main bathroom which is blue. There are loads of photos on the walls, ones of Alex and me over the years and Eliza with Jeremiah. Eliza’s doctorate is on the wall halfway up the stairs. There’s a photo of my parents and me that my cousin found and sent to me, that’s on my desk. We have wood floors instead of carpet because Eliza always wanted to get a dog and thought it would be easier to clean than carpets but she never did get a dog. Still easier than carpets though I guess! There’s a fake fireplace that Jeremiah put in the year before he died, and it’s full of candles in jars and tall ones on sticks, and at Christmas we hang a wreath in there. Some of the stairs creak, especially the bottom one, so we try not to step on it. Eliza doesn’t like stuff on the surfaces in the kitchen but the cupboards are disasters. It’s like playing Jenga when you try to put Tupperware away
Lena found herself trying to envision it. It sounded like a real home, the kind of place that Lena saw in films but not in real life. It sounded about as far from her own home as it was possible to. And she loved it.
LenaLuthor: It sounds perfect, Kara. Thanks for telling me about it :)
KaraDanvers81: Honestly I guess it’s kind of a mess sometimes but in a really nice way? It’s homey? The Danvers bought it when Eliza was pregnant with Alex so they’ve been here over twenty years
KaraDanvers81: You could come and see it one day if you like :)
KaraDanvers81: You know, if you ever find yourself in California
KaraDanvers81: I’ll even sleep on the sofa and you can have my room!
Immediately, Lena’s mind was filled with images of the two of them actually hanging out together. Actually together, in real life. Going for walks, getting ice cream, sitting together on the worn sofa with the rip in it watching tv. Talking. Actually being able to see each other.
It was something that Lena had daydreamed about before, especially since they’d started growing much closer in the last few months. Particularly in the last few weeks since they’d started talking on the phone and texting each other. Their friendship had become so much more immediate, so much more real, once they’d stopped needing to rely entirely on the international mail. They still wrote letters to each other, still sent each other things, all the time. She knew they’d never stop.
But now that Lena knew the sound of Kara’s voice, knew the way that Kara laughed, their friendship was no longer abstract. Her daydreams about them spending time together had been filled with vibrant colors and sounds and shared laughter. She wanted to meet Kara, to spend time with her. To have a normal friendship with her.
To have a normal friendship for the first time in her life. Not just the trite ones she had at boarding school because her last name preceded her. She was only seventeen, after all, and set apart because of the wealth of her family and always being the odd one out, both in Ireland and in the United States. Throughout her life, aside from her birth mother Lena assumed, Kara was the only person who had ever wanted to know Lena just for her. The only one who soothed the loneliness. And Lena wanted to hang on to that, to Kara, as long as she could.
KaraDanvers81: Lena? Are you still there?
Startled by the bing of the message, Lena glanced at the clock and saw that she’d been staring into space and not replying to Kara for almost ten minutes.
LenaLuthor: Sorry! I was just in the bathroom. I’d love to see your home, but I couldn’t kick you out of your room!
KaraDanvers81: That’s okay, you don’t really have to. We can share it! There are still two beds in here :)
Lena’s hands stilled over the keyboard. Sharing a room with Kara? There was one thing that she’d never told her that might make a difference to what Kara was saying now. And it would break her heart if Kara decided that she’d no longer be able to be Lena’s friend because of it.
She’d been waiting for some kind of opening, any kind of opening, to admit to Kara that she was gay, for ages. Was now the moment? Kara had never, not once, asked Lena whether she had a boyfriend, or whether she liked anyone. It didn’t bother Lena that it had never come up, not in so many words. In fact, she would probably have said she was glad of it since it meant she wouldn’t have to discuss her sexuality. But the longer they were friends, the more Lena felt the knowledge weighing on her. There was a nagging need in her to know whether Kara would reject her friendship or not, reject Lena altogether.
Should she tell Kara now that she was gay?
At the tap of a key, Lena looked down and found that her hands were shaking. Like only feeling the pain of a papercut once you’d seen it, Lena suddenly felt so much more.
Her pulse was racing and her heart was beating hard in her chest. She felt hot all over, like she was burning from the inside out, but a quick glance into a compact mirror showed her that she was as pale as she always was. Paler, even, if that was possible. Lena swallowed another mouthful of cold water and set her hands over the keyboard again, terrified but prepared to risk her friendship. Prepared to risk the only friend she had over something she couldn’t help. She didn’t want to, but she did want to. She needed to.
She felt sick, but her fingertips pressed the keys down anyway. Key by key, one deliberate press at a time, Lena slowly typed out the most important question she’d ever asked up until now.
LenaLuthor: Kara, would you be alright sharing a room with me if you knew I was gay?
As soon as she pressed the Enter key, a wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm her and she clapped a hand over her mouth. She rushed to the bathroom and opened the toilet but, thankfully, she wasn’t sick. After a couple of minutes, the nausea passed. She wiped her face with a damp facecloth and nervously made her way back towards the computer, where she could see Kara’s messages appearing one by one on the screen.
KaraDanvers81: Of course! I guess it’s okay to tell you, Alex is gay too. I know that a lot of people have a problem with it, but I don’t
KaraDanvers81: I really don’t have a problem with you being gay, Lena
KaraDanvers81: I’m really glad that you trusted me enough to tell me
KaraDanvers81: I know we’ve never met in person but you’re my best friend, Lena, and I love you a lot
KaraDanvers81: Are you okay?
Lena gave the screen a watery smile. She’d burst into tears the second she’d seen Kara’s first message, but it was with relief. She couldn’t decide whether or not she was being ridiculous, but she also couldn’t control her own reactions to things. She fumbled for her cell in her pocket and dialed Kara.
“I’m fine,” she said in a wobbly voice as soon as the call connected, not even waiting for Kara to say hello. She clutched the phone tightly to her ear. “I’m alright. I— was just nervous, um, or— or worried that you’d not want to be my friend anymore when I told you about me and that you’d never write to me or talk to me ever again,” she said in a rush, the words coming tumbling out of her mouth so quickly that she wasn’t sure whether Kara could even understand her. “I’ve— I’ve never told anyone before.”
There was a pause on the line for a moment and then Kara’s voice came through. “I’ll tell you what you told me the first time we talked on the phone, okay?”
“It’s just me,” Kara said, firmly but softly. “It’s just me. You never need to be nervous or worried or whatever when you want or need to tell me something. You’re my best, best friend, and I’ll always love you.”
“Okay,” Lena sniffled into the phone, her heart fluttering in her chest. “I love you too, by the way.”
“I’m so glad we met,” Kara said quietly.
“Me too,” Lena replied, sniffling again. “I’m really, really glad.”
There were a few moments of comfortable silence, and Lena leaned back in her chair with her eyes shut, breathing deeply.
“You still need to hold up your end of the deal, though,” Kara said, and Lena heard a smile in her voice.
“Mmm. You haven’t told me about what it’s like where you live!” Lena let out a surprised laugh at Kara’s faux-indignant tone. “Are there suits of armor? Do they get a wardrobe change at Christmas with tinsel and Santa hats?”
And just like that, Kara chased away all of Lena’s residual worry and tears with her silly questions. The image of Lillian standing on a stepladder and dressing up the two suits of armor they did in fact have with tinsel and Santa hats sent Lena into a fit of the giggles. By the time Kara was asking whether Lena had ever tried on one of the suits of armor, Lena was laughing right along with her.
Signing up for the penpal scheme was the best thing she had ever done.
It had brought her Kara.
Don't worry, Mike's not a feature in this story whatsoever!
Ahhhh, AOL Instant Messenger. We hardly knew ye before MSN Messenger came along!
“So what was your first week like?” Kara asked, biting into a sticky bun and licking the icing off her top lip. Life was good. It was a beautiful September evening; the sun was a deep orange, the breeze was warm, and she was on the phone with Lena. She’d be meeting Winn and her new friends in a couple of hours for dinner and some drinks near the beach. It would be better if Lena were actually here, coming out to dinner with them, but for now she’d settle for hearing her voice.
“It was good,” Lena replied, sounding a little tired, but Kara could hear that she was smiling. “I got all my classes registered and I’m finding my way around. I’ve only got lost once. I’ve even found a quiet coffee shop I like, but—”
“But their hot chocolate isn’t up to your standard?” Kara finished.
Lena huffed out a quiet laugh. “But their hot chocolate isn’t up to my standard,” Lena confirmed in a resigned tone, and Kara pumped the fist holding her sticky bun in victory.
“I knew it!”
“It’s nice and quiet though, and that’s the main thing. Most of the clients look like they’re about twenty or thirty years older than me.”
Kara rolled her eyes affectionately. “I can’t believe you’ve gone off to college and you’re already talking about old people and quiet coffee shops. Aren’t you meant to be going out and drinking too much, and making new friends?”
“Does it have to be done in that order?” Lena queried.
“It’s probably better in reverse, you’re right. But still. It’s Saturday night, aren’t there some parties or something you can go to?” Kara asked.
“I’ve been at a friend’s all evening actually,” Lena said, her voice muffled for a moment. “Sorry, I was just getting into bed.”
“You know how to rock a Saturday night,” Kara said affectionately, and she heard Lena’s gentle, amused hum in return. “So, you were at a friend’s tonight?”
“Her name’s Sam,” Lena replied. “She’s a couple of years older than us, but she took a few years out when she had her daughter. She’s insanely clever and has a heart of gold. I met her at the oldies coffee shop on Monday. Apparently, her daughter has an awful taste in hot chocolate,” Lena finished in a horrendously exaggerated British accent.
Kara laughed and took another bite of her bun. She listened as Lena told her about the classes that she’s signed up for this semester, feeling proud of her for actually going through with her plan to have her own life at MIT. Her mother had really been trying to get Lena to change her mind and go to Columbia, but Lena’s own sense of self had prevailed. Now, Lena was in Boston, at MIT, signing up for classes, and making friends. Yeah, Kara was proud of her.
“Tell me about your week, darling,” Lena said, her voice quieter now, but closer. From the muted rustle of the sheets, Kara was sure that Lena had buried herself underneath her duvet. Although she loved it, Lena felt the cold easily; it was something that Kara was always teasing her about considering her boarding school had basically been a drafty old castle and that she should be used to the cold by now. Her old roommate Mary had preferred sleeping with the window open, even in the dead of winter, which Lena had complained about more than once.
Talking to Lena while she was buried in her bed felt intimate, and Kara unconsciously lowered her voice to match. She sat at a bench in the park she was in and watched a young woman throw a frisbee for her young black Lab. “I signed up for all my classes too. Looks like this semester will be a busy one, and I’ve taken a creative writing elective, too.”
“I’m so glad,” Lena said, and really sounding it. “I think it’ll help with your articles. Give you new ways of saying things, you know?”
“I do, and thank you for the suggestion,” Kara replied. “I think it’ll be really good for me.”
“You can still send me your stuff to read. I love reading it. And I’ll still give you my unbiased opinion.”
Kara smiled. “I don’t think it’s as unbiased as you think.”
“True,” Lena said, her voice airy. “I love you too much to give you the brutal truth.”
“Oh? And what is it? Go on. I can take it.”
“You’re one of the most wonderful writers I’ve come across,” Lena said softly, and Kara felt her cheeks warm at the praise. “I say it’s the brutal truth because I’m afraid your head will inflate if I tell you how great you are too often.”
Kara snorted out a laugh. “I’ll wear a tight hat. Keep that head in place.”
“You do that,” Lena replied through a yawn. “Let me know how tonight goes?”
“I will. I’m sure it’ll be great. Nia’s really nice and so’s her boyfriend Brainy. I haven’t seen Winn all summer because he worked here the whole time, so it’ll be cool to see him.”
“Sounds good. Are you sending me a beer mat?”
“I always do! How many have I sent you now?”
“Hmm. I think about twenty-five? Thirty?”
“I love that you’re just amassing a collection of beer mats from places you’ve never been to,” Kara said with a chuckle.
“And I love that you send them to me,” Lena said, her voice sounding wistful in a way that made Kara’s heart skip a beat. “It kind of makes me feel like I was there at those places with you too, you know?”
Kara sat there on the bench, suddenly feeling every one of the miles between them. “I do. I guess … I guess that’s why I send them.”
After they murmured their goodbyes and Kara let Lena go to sleep, she finished her sticky bun and looked out across the grass. The woman with the young Lab was long gone, but there were still quite a few other owners playing with their dogs in the park. Her dorm wasn’t very far from here, and Kara liked that there was a relatively peaceful place she could go, even if she’d teased Lena about her quiet coffee shop. College was so loud.
It only took her a few minutes to get back, saying hi occasionally to people whose faces she was starting to recognize. She let herself into the dorm building, but instead of heading for the stairs, she made her way over to the mail room. The block was huge, housing a few hundred students, and it had its own sorting office. Both Eliza and Alex had said they’d write to her, and Lena had her new address too, of course.
To her delight, not only did she have letters from both Eliza and Alex, but Alex seemed to have sent a DVD for her new DVD player too, judging by the flat parcel and the sound it made when she gently shook it. She was about to leave when the mail person, the kind and fatherly J’onn, called her back. He held up a finger and a few moments later, rounded the corner again with a large box held in his arms. Kara stuffed everything else she was holding in her satchel bag and peered at the label of the box.
Instantly, she recognized Lena’s handwriting, and she felt a huge smile spread across her face.
What had Lena sent that was so huge?!
“Do you need a hand carrying that?” J’onn asked, poking his head around the side of it.
Kara lifted the box experimentally. It was heavy-ish, and a bit unbalanced, but she thought she could manage it. “I’ll be alright. Thanks anyway though!”
Kara made her way towards the elevator and awkwardly pressed the button for the fourth floor. Unlocking her dorm door was easier, since she could lean the box against the doorframe, and she let herself in. Her roommate, a very nice Greek girl called Kassandra, wasn’t in. Kara had only met her once, since Kassandra seemed to have signed up for every single sport at the college and was therefore always out at practice. Kara wouldn’t be surprised if she saw her in the Olympics someday. Kassandra’s side of the dorm was tidy, almost Spartan in its austerity, with sports equipment piled up neatly against the wall.
Kara’s side of the room, on the other hand, could be classified as comforting. Mindful of Kassandra’s neatness, Kara kept her side tidy, but it definitely looked like it was lived in even though she’d not been there long. Her walls were covered in colorful posters, her desk and the accompanying bookcase were full of notebooks, brand new assigned textbooks, and pens with different colored inks in pots. She had two boxes of new floppy disks for her assignments and a little carry case to carry them to the computer rooms for when she needed to write.
But there were also homey touches like the photo of her and her parents, carefully propped up between the corner of the desk, the wall, and the side of the bookcase. Various photos of her and Alex, of them both with Eliza and Jeremiah, and photos of her and her friends were pinned up on one side of the corkboard above the desk. There was also the photo of Lena that she’d sent two years ago when they’d first started writing, the one of her on Gapstow Bridge in New York.
It was funny, but aside from the photos in their very first letters, each of them had only sent one other photo of themselves in those two years. Kara had sent one of herself, Alex, and Eliza about a year ago, just before Lena went back to Ireland for her final year at boarding school. Just after Christmas, Lena had sent her a photo of herself that one of her classmates had taken on a trip out to some kind of castle one Saturday. Lena was pointing upward at something out of shot, and beneath her watch strap Kara could just about see the top and bottom of one of Lena’s tattoos, a deeply-rooted willow tree. It was mostly a side-profile shot, and Lena was smiling widely in it, displaying double dimples.
It was in this photo that Kara had first realized that Lena’s eyes were actually green.
It was also because of this photo that Kara had started having feelings that she had never felt before. Confusing feelings, especially since she’d still been seeing Mike at the time.
She loved Lena very much, of course she did, but was a photo of your best friend supposed to knock the wind out of your lungs? Were you meant to think your best friend was the most beautiful person you’d ever seen? Was it normal to not be able to get your best friend’s smile off your mind at any given moment of the day?
After receiving the photo, it seemed like something in Kara’s life had shifted somewhat. She couldn’t explain it. It was like something had clicked into place and been knocked completely off course at exactly the same time.
All she knew now was that any time she got to hear Lena’s rich, low voice on the other end of the line was the best part of her day. Any time she made her laugh made Kara feel on top of the world. When her cell phone buzzed with a text message from Lena, she couldn’t snatch it up fast enough. When they’d scheduled time for a phone call, Kara felt amped up and tingly as the clock ticked closer to the call. And everything that Lena sent her was precious to her.
Kara eyed the box, which she’d set on the end of her bed. What had Lena sent her now? The box was enormous. She’d checked the label; it had been sent from New York, not Boston, so she’d sent it before she’d left for college. Kara opened her desk drawer and pulled out her scissors. Carefully, she sliced around the copious amounts of tape that Lena had used to seal the box shut, and slowly but surely, opened each flap of the box up.
Inside were two very large plastic bags full of various candies, crisps, chocolates, and biscuits that Lena had clearly remembered Kara had loved from Ireland and the UK. She felt warm inside, knowing that Lena must’ve bought a whole supply of Kara’s favorites, brought them with her across the Atlantic, and then posted them to her to have at college. She pulled out a multipack of Tayto crisps and opened it, taking out a bag of salt and vinegar and setting it on her desk to snack on shortly.
The rest of the box was full of … Kara pulled out a heavy, ivory-colored soft thing sealed in a clear bag. Kara sliced it open with the scissors and, puzzled, lay it on her bed. It was flat, thick, and definitely the reason for the box being so heavy. She unfolded it, and it turned out to be a large, woven blanket. Straight away, Kara’s eyes filled with tears.
All around the edges of the blanket, picked out in dark blues, were designs that Kara had drawn on the envelopes she’d sent to Lena over the years. Leaves, trees, flowers, birds, fish, bees, dragonflies, and so many other things … Kara traced them with her fingertips. Woven in dark green between Kara’s doodles and the very edge of the blanket though was some sort of Celtic knot design, unbroken as it looped around itself around the outside. Threaded among the Celtic knot and the designs that Kara recognized as hers were some of Lena’s own inexpert doodles. Fish with eyes too big, wonky stars, spirals, and simple trees.
In the center of the blanket was a large, stylized K in a deep blue, Kara’s favorite color. The blanket was large enough to fit over a double bed, so it dwarfed the single that she had. It was soft, some sort of fleece on the layer underneath, and a thicker, rougher material on the top with the embroidered designs.
It was beautiful. So beautiful, so heartfelt, so very Lena, and Kara pulled her cell out of her pocket. She checked the time; it wasn’t too long since they’d hung up, maybe only half an hour, so if she called now, Lena may not be too deeply asleep.
It rang, and rang, and rang, and finally, Lena’s voice, rough with sleep, came down the line. “Kara? Are you okay?”
“Lena,” Kara breathed. “Lena. I just got your parcel with the blanket and I— I love it. I love it. God, I just— I just— I don’t know what to say, I’m … I’m stunned.”
There’s silence from Lena’s end of the phone for a moment, and then Lena’s voice, sounding shy but happy. “You really like it?”
“I love it. Lena, I love it so much. I love you for doing this. It’s our doodles! It’s us!”
“I— I have one too,” Lena said after a pause, as though she wasn’t sure what Kara would think of that. She sounded almost nervous. “It has an L on it. It was the test one, to see if it would come out okay, and it did, so— so we each have one. They match, apart from the letters obviously.”
“I love that they match,” Kara said, brushing her hand down part of the embroidery, then tracing one of Lena’s wonky stars with her fingertip. “Thank you. It’s going to keep me so warm.”
“I know how you love to be cozy, even in that California weather,” Lena replied fondly. “You can wash it, by the way, if you put it in a wash bag before putting it in the machine. It’s not wool. So if you spill something on it—”
“I won’t,” Kara interrupted. “I definitely won’t. I’m going to be so careful with this. I’m not dropping a single slice of pizza on this blanket. And not a single drop of Gatorade.”
“Okay,” Lena said, the sound of a smile curling around her voice and making it shine across the miles between them.
“I just want to hug you right now,” Kara blurted out. She felt her face flame red at the admission, but barreled through it anyway, both desperately needing and wanting Lena to know. “I do. I want to hug you so badly. This is one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone’s ever given me and I really, really, really just want to hug you.”
“I want to hug you too,” Lena replied, her voice soft and lovely and warm.
Kara lifted the edge of the blanket and sat down beneath it, pulling it over her lap and leaning back against the wall. “I know this might sound weird,” she asked quietly, “but did you … did you …”
“Did I …?”
“I’m sorry, it’s a weird question,” Kara said, feeling embarrassed, her words coming out in a rush. “I don’t know why I’m thinking it.”
“Kara,” Lena murmured, her voice still holding that soft, intimate tone, “Kara, it’s just me, remember?”
It’s just me. Their invitation for honesty.
“Did you try the blanket?” Kara pressed the cell phone tightly to her ear. “I mean, did you …”
“Did I wrap it around myself?” Lena supplied after a pause.
“Yes,” Kara whispered.
“Yes, I did.”
There was a moment where neither of them spoke. Slowly, Kara pulled the blanket until it was wrapped around her shoulders and tried to imagine Lena doing the same thing, with this very same blanket. With these very same fibers. Thinking of Kara.
“I wish you were here with me,” Kara admitted quietly.
“I wish I was there, too,” came Lena’s soft response, and something settled into place in Kara’s heart.
“I love you,” Kara said, her voice barely audible. She wasn’t sure in which way she meant the words, but she thought that whichever way Lena took them, she’d mean them. “I love you so much. You’re my favorite person.”
“And I love you,” Lena replied, almost as quietly as Kara’s, and she wondered, for the first time, which way Lena meant the words, too.
Lena wrapped her scarf around her neck, making sure to tuck it into her thick winter coat before she did the zip up. The snow was already deep on the ground outside, and the way it piled up against windows made it look like a winter wonderland. The snow was still coming down thick and fast, the wind was bitingly cold, and she really didn’t have the time or inclination to redo her coat while she was outside with freezing fingers.
Lena stuck her thumbs through the thumb holes of her sweater and made sure her braid was inside her coat before pulling her bobble hat onto her head.
“Yes? Are you ready?” Lena asked, turning back to look at Sam before shoving her feet unceremoniously into her winter walking boots. She was standing by the front door of Sam’s shared apartment with a Tupperware box in a tote bag slung over her shoulder. She’d come over to visit Sam earlier that morning, and she’d been here for the last few hours baking cookies and watching the snowstorm get worse on the news. Once it had become obvious that the storm was going to hit Boston particularly badly, she and Sam had looked at each other. The fact that Sam’s apartment was poorly-built, badly-insulated, and in a dodgy area of town was something that was becoming an issue as winter crept forward. Sam lived there because it was cheap and because there was a friendly neighbour who watched Ruby while she was at classes, but she had admitted to Lena that she hadn’t been looking forward to spending Christmas there. Lena, who would be going home for the holidays on account of Lillian and Lex being in Switzerland until the beginning of February, had immediately offered for Sam and Ruby to come and stay with her in New York.
But they had to leave now before the storm got worse. It seemed to have blown up in a matter of hours, and Lena had gone from quietly baking cookies with Sam and Ruby to needing to leave Boston on a train in less than two and a half hours.
“Are you sure?” Sam asked. “I mean, are you really s—”
“Yes, Sam! Just think of it as an adventure. It’ll be a lot of fun. I’d really love for you both to come stay with me,” Lena said with a smile, reaching out to touch Sam on the shoulder, before crouching down to Ruby’s eye level. “And what about you, Rubes? Want to come to New York?”
“Yes please Auntie Lena,” Ruby replied, her little hand pulling at the string of Lena’s hood. Lena’s heart felt like it would burst at being called Auntie Lena, and she leaned forward to give the little girl a hug.
“Just throw the essentials in a bag,” Lena said, letting go of Ruby and standing up again. “I haven’t spent Christmas in New York since I was a child, and I’m really looking forward to it. We’ll just be leaving a bit, uh, earlier than I expected!”
“Mm, a whole week earlier,” Sam said, rubbing her hands together. “Alright. Thank you, Lena,” she added in a softer voice. “I really appreciate it.”
“It’s no problem,” Lena reassured her. “It’s going to be a great vacation!”
Two hours later, Lena found Sam outside the train station, she and Ruby all bundled up in their scarves and coats with snow swirling all around them and their two suitcases. It was already dark outside, the Christmas decorations swinging lightly in the wind and sending colored light dancing off the buildings they hung on.
Lena bought the tickets while Sam and Ruby picked out snacks for the four-hour train journey, making sure to get extra in case the storm slowed or even stopped the train altogether. It was busy, but not as busy as Lena expected; perhaps a lot of people were going to wait the storm out in Boston rather than risking travelling during it. But Lena, whose dorm was being used to house visitors for a conference, had no choice but to leave for New York or crash on Sam’s couch for three weeks.
The thought had crossed her mind to invite Kara to stay for the first time, but Kara had a lot of articles to write before Christmas, and a lot of exams to study for that would be happening in January. As much as she missed Kara, and she did, wholeheartedly, she didn’t want to distract her too much. Instead, she’d been sending regular care packages and almost daily postcards with the silliest things written on them. It was nonsense, really; she would write just about anything to make Kara smile.
It had been a whole week since Lena had last heard Kara’s voice. It was the longest they’d gone without talking to each other since they’d both gotten their cell phones; Lena missed hearing Kara laugh, or listening to her brainstorm through articles. Lena propped her chin in the heels of her hands and watched out the window as snow-white Boston slid past the window. Sam was settling Ruby into her seat; the child was sleepy already, having missed her afternoon nap, and was fussing a little. She shared a commiserating look with Sam across the table while Sam cajoled Ruby into sleeping.
Lena pulled a few postcards out of her bag. She’d brought a whole stack of them from the convenience store she’d visited on her way to Sam’s that afternoon, and since they were still in her pocket and Sam was busy, she might as well write some out for Kara now.
Thankfully, the train didn’t seem to be delayed by the storm, and picked up speed once it had left the city and hit the open countryside. By the time they’d been on the train for forty minutes, Ruby was finally asleep with her head lolling against Sam’s side. Sam looked as exhausted as Ruby. It was another reason why Lena had offered for them to come stay with her over Christmas; although Ruby would still be with them all the time, at least Ruby and Sam would have their own individual bedrooms. And as much as Lena was embarrassed about her family’s wealth sometimes, she knew that the three live-in housekeepers and cooks that Lillian employed loved to bake treats. They’d been there for years, since before Lena had joined the family, and she well remembered sitting on the kitchen work surface and “helping” to make cookies and cakes and all manner of sweet things. Jolene, Tom, and Anna had treated Lena more like their own family than the Luthors had, and she remained close to them. She knew they’d love Ruby and Sam, too.
And they’d love Kara, if they ever had the chance to meet her.
She’d been as busy as Kara recently, in her own way. Loads of lab work and experiments to keep eyes on, papers to read and write, and her own exams to study for. She was often up until the small hours, then getting up early to take advantage of the quietest lab time she could. But Kara was never far from her mind. And Kara had been on her mind more and more lately, to the point where Lena would find herself zoning out during lectures when she’d find herself wondering what Kara was doing, which lecture she was attending, or daydreaming of what she could send her for a Christmas present. Whether Kara had been invited to any Christmas parties yet, and who she might kiss under the mistletoe.
As that thought crossed her mind, Lena mentally slapped herself. It wasn’t her business who Kara kissed under any mistletoe this season, even if … even if— no, it was ridiculous. They hadn’t even met in person yet.
She can’t be thinking about kissing—
She shut that thought down, too.
Lena looked down morosely at the postcards she’d written already, the three of them piled up next to the window and the fourth half-written, and got lost in her thoughts again. Writing to Kara had always made her feel good, ever since the beginning, and that was a feeling that had never faded.
She ran her thumb across Kara’s name, carefully so as not to smudge the ink. She couldn’t help herself. She wondered whether Kara was thinking of her, too. The way Kara had said I love you after she’d received the blanket Lena had sent … it sounded different, somehow. And it was stupid, so stupid, but Lena was allowing herself to hope for something she probably shouldn’t.
Across the table, Sam drummed her fingertips on the table, and Lena looked up to find Sam looking at her with a raised eyebrow and a smile on her face.
“You know, sometimes I feel like you’re cheating on me with Kara.”
“Sam! I am not. And also, unless I’ve missed something major, you and I aren’t in a relationship.”
Sam’s eyebrow rose higher. “And what about you and Kara? I feel like I know her too, even though I’ve never met her. I can’t believe that you’ve never met her.”
Lena held her breath for a moment, then let out a sigh and slumped back against the seat.
“Now that is one defeated look,” Sam said, abandoning her teasing and sounding concerned instead. “Are you okay?”
Lena looked around. Their train carriage was pretty empty, and there was nobody in the seats directly surrounding them. She turned back to Sam.
“Honestly? I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t really make friends easily, and what if— what if I’m just confused? I’m not used to loving people, Sam, I haven’t really had that luxury before. And Kara is the first person, the first friend, I ever felt like I’d do anything for.”
Sam folded her arms and leaned them on the table. “First of all, you do make friends easily. I know we don’t know each other as well as you and Kara do, obviously, but we made friends easily enough, didn’t we? You get along with Jack really well, too. And Ruby adores you.”
Lena snorted softly. “I love Ruby too, but she’s three.”
“But that’s the point, Lena. You love her. You care about her. You care about me too, and Jack. I think that loving people comes easily to you, actually. But it seems like it’s different with Kara. Why?”
Lena looked down at her hands, unable to meet Sam’s scrutinizing expression. “Maybe because I knew her first. Maybe because I met her when I felt lonelier than ever, being over in Ireland and always being the outsider. Maybe it’s because she was the first person I ever felt like I could really be myself with, because we didn’t know each other in real life, you know? We wrote letters to each other. We didn’t hang out down the park or anything, sharing our deepest, darkest secrets right to each other’s faces.”
Sam folded her arms. “Mm. Lena. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you did share your deepest, darkest secrets with each other, right?”
Lena glanced up. “Yeah. Just not to each other.”
“Why does it make a difference to you how you told her about yourself? You still told her about yourself, Lena, whether you wrote it out or spoke about it on the phone. You still made yourself vulnerable.”
“But what if that’s why I feel this way?” Lena asked frustratedly, spreading her hands out across the table.
“Does it matter why you want to kiss Kara?” Sam asked airily, and Lena felt a blush creeping across her face as the words kiss Kara floated in the air around her. “I mean … something about the way you love her makes you want to kiss her, and that does not scream platonic friendship to me,” Sam said, using air quotes with her fingers. “You care about her, you love her, and you want to kiss her. Do you want to kiss me?”
“No. Sorry,” Lena added with a weak smile.
“No offence taken,” Sam said, waving a hand in the air. “When I first heard you talking on the phone with Kara, I honestly thought you were a long-distance couple. You know, at college at opposite ends of the country. And I wondered how you made it work, because you clearly were, judging by the dopey smile on your face, the lovey-dovey tone of voice you use to talk to her, and the amount of stuff you post to her.”
“I do not use a lovey-d—”
Sam silenced her with an unimpressed look. They stared at each other for a few long moments, Lena squirming in her seat. Finally, Lena broke eye contact and fiddled with her fingers again.
“We’ve never even met in person, Sam,” Lena said, her voice thick and sticking in her throat. “What if she doesn’t like me when she meets me? I mean … yes, I think about kissing her, and I love her, I do. But how much do I love her?! I What if I really have misplaced my feelings? What if she doesn’t like the way I look? It’s not like she’s ever said anything, just as I haven’t about her photos. What if we get along fine, but her mother doesn’t like me? What if I tell Kara that I feel something more and she doesn’t, and it gets awkward, and then she doesn’t want to talk to me anymore? And I lose my best friend and the person who means the most to me because I couldn’t bottle my feelings up?”
Sam reached a hand across the table and settled it on top of Lena’s. “Does it matter that you’ve never met? Sorry about this sappy Hallmark comment, but you know her heart. You talk to her all the time, and I’ve seen the piles of letters in your room. I’ve seen the collection of beer mats you’ve made a collage out of. You know you love her in some way, even if you’re confused about what kind of way that is. And I know we’re young but we’re not that dumb. You know everyone falls in love differently. And I hate to break it to you, but you’re as human as the rest of us when it comes to this sort of thing. We all worry that the people we like won’t like us back. But that isn’t any reason not to try. How will you ever know if you don’t say something? What if both of you are too scared to say something and you miss your chance?”
Tears welled up in Lena’s eyes as the sat there, her hands held in Sam’s.
“You should tell her when you meet her,” Sam said gently.
“I’m afraid,” Lena replied, her voice hoarse. “I’m— I’m terrified. And I don’t even know if she likes women.”
Sam squeezed her hands. “Do you think she might?”
Lena swallowed around the lump in her throat and thought for the millionth time about the way Kara had said I love you that night. “I think … maybe, if she does, maybe— I hope she might like me.”
“Then … perhaps it’s time to find out.”
When they arrived in New York City, they found that although the storm was much calmer, the snow was falling fast there, too. Despite that, they were able to catch a cab relatively easily and they arrived at Lena’s home within forty-five minutes of leaving the train station. Sam carried a wide-eyed Ruby up the left-hand set of steps, crunching carefully through the snow, and Lena hefted their suitcases up in three trips. Snow blew in through the door when Lena opened it and peppered the welcome mat, and they shut the door behind them gratefully.
By the time Lena had given them both the tour, showing them where their rooms were, how to use the elevator, and foraging for a late snack in the enormous fridges in the kitchen, they were all exhausted. It was now past nine at night, and both Lena and Sam had been up early for classes. Those classes, and all her last ones before the end of the semester, had been cancelled due to the storm, but Lena had brought some of her books home with her anyway, intent on doing some studying. Her experiments would be looked after by the lab assistants at MIT, so she didn’t worry too much about those. They’d be fine.
She’d had to bring everything else with her. It wasn’t like Lena had huge amounts of stuff in her dorm or anything, but there was still enough for two giant suitcases and a backpack. Her bedding, including the blanket that was the twin of Kara’s, had been hastily posted home before Lena had rushed off to the train station. She had enough in New York, but the thought of her blanket being lost in transit during a storm made her feel a little sick. She’d tried to fit it in one of her suitcases, but it had come down to posting either the blanket or the textbooks, and the bedding overall was much easier, if awkward, at the post office.
After leaving Sam and Ruby to get settled in their rooms, Lena made her way up to her own on the top floor. Lillian had, graciously if not entirely happily, let Lena have the entire top floor of the left brownstone as a sort of self-contained apartment. It had everything except a kitchen. There was a large bedroom, a lounge with an area Lena had converted into a small library, one of the quieter bathrooms, and an office where she could study. She had access to this brownstone’s roof terrace, but it was definitely too cold to go and sit out there now. Lena switched on the roof terrace light and peered out of the office window; she could barely even see her favorite bench under what looked like at least seven or eight inches of snow. Sweeping it off the bench just to sit outside in the frozen air didn’t appeal to Lena currently; a hot bath sounded much more like it.
It was the first moment she’d really had to herself all day, other than when she’d been hastily packing the last of her things earlier. After her talk with Sam about Kara on the train, they’d moved on to talk about other things once Sam sensed that Lena had hit her emotional limit. But even with Sam’s conversation, and Ruby’s chatter once she’d woken up, what they’d said had kept rattling around in her head.
Should she tell Kara how she felt? Was she even sure herself?
Lena huffed out a frustrated breath and looked at her watch. 9:23pm. Aside from a good morning text, she hadn’t heard from Kara all day; Lena had sent several messages before she’d arrived at Sam’s, but each one had gone unanswered. She hadn’t had a chance until now to tell Kara that she’d left Boston unexpectedly early; loud, or personal, phonecalls on trains were one of Lena’s pet peeves, and she wasn’t going to be the subject of someone else’s eavesdropping.
But she missed her. No phonecalls in a week, barely any text messages since their last call, and Kara hadn’t been on AIM either. She hoped nothing was wrong. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and frowned at it, before sighing and shoving it back in her pocket. She’d have her bath and a snack, and then call her.
In the bathroom, Lena lit two vanilla scented candles, then turned on both taps over the bath. She held her hand under the stream of water until the temperature felt good and poured in some of her favourite bubble bath. Her dorm didn’t have a bath, only a shower, and she intended to luxuriate now that she was home. While the bath was running, she dashed down to the kitchen and picked through the freezer. A smile stretched across her face as she spotted an unopened pint of Häagen-Dazs, so she took it and a spoon. On her way back up, she poked her head in Sam’s room to say goodnight and to let her know she could have her own bath, if she wanted.
“That sounds amazing, but honestly, I think if I get in a hot bath, I’ll just fall asleep in it!” Sam replied, and Lena chuckled. “You look like you’re all set, though,” she added, nodding at the pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream in Lena’s hand.
Lena held it up and shook it at Sam. “Eating ice cream in the bath is a revelatory experience.”
“I’ll try it out tomorrow and give you a review. I don’t think it’ll beat wine in the bath, though.”
Lena raised an eyebrow. “You’ll be eating your words tomorrow!”
After waving once more at Sam and wishing her and Ruby a good night, Lena headed up the stairs and back to her bathroom. The bath was just over half full, and Lena decided not to wait. Leaving the ice cream and the spoon on the bath tray, she took her cell phone out of her pocket and then tossed the rest of her clothes into the laundry basket. She left the phone on the tiles next to her towel and climbed into the bath.
The hot water swirled around her, warming her instantly, and Lena sunk down into the water as deeply as she could. She’d had the clawfoot bath replaced by a larger and more comfortable bathtub so that she wouldn’t have to wait for the sides to warm up, and every time she got into it, she was glad of her decision. It was utter bliss.
The room was dim, lit only by the candles and the floor lamp she’d left on in her bedroom. The only sound she could hear was the water running, and for a moment, Lena just listened to the silence. It was such a relief after the clamor of the dorm building at MIT; Lena loved being around other students who loved science as much as she did, but she was a quiet person by nature, and so she relished the quietude she now found herself in.
As the water climbed higher, Lena dug her spoon into her ice cream and felt herself truly relax for the first time in a while. The soreness of her shoulders, caused by lugging around a backpack full of books when she wasn’t used to it, faded away with the hot water.
Once the bath was finished running, silence reigned aside from Lena’s spoon sinking into her ice cream. No neighbors, no traffic, no drunken students toppling into her door. Just peace, ice cream, candles—
Her cell rang. The sound was so jarringly loud that Lena jumped and dropped her spoon into the water. The cold metal hit her stomach and slid down her waist, and she let out a startled yelp at the unwelcome coldness. Her cell rang again, and Lena put her ice cream down and fished around beside her for her towel. She hurriedly dried her hands, then picked up the phone.
It was Kara. The thrill of seeing her name on the screen was tempered only slightly by the memory of the earlier conversation and Sam’s you should tell her comment. Lena shook her head at herself and held her thumb over the answer button; she didn’t want her feelings to spoil the conversation.
She pressed the answer button and held the phone to her ear. “Hey,” she said softly.
“Hi, Lena, I’ve missed you!” Kara said straight away, and Lena sank happily back into her bath.
“I’ve missed you too. How are you?”
“I’m— I’m good,” Kara replied, her voice a little breathier than usual.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah! Yeah, yeah I’m sure,” Kara said quickly, her voice clearly trying for lightness but failing spectacularly.
“That was really reassuring,” Lena said, now feeling a little concerned. “Want to try again?”
Kara let out a nervous sounding laugh, and Lena’s frown deepened. “I’m fine, honestly. Really, I’m good. I’m hungry, is what I am.”
Lena let her take the out. “Oh yeah? I’ve got ice cream,” Lena said, before remembering that she’d dropped her spoon in the bath. “Or, well, I did.”
“Is that you telling me that you’ve eaten the whole lot?” Kara asked. There was a small pause, and then, “was it mint chip?”
Lena eyed the label on her tub. “Maaaaybe.”
She could hear the smile in Kara’s voice when she replied, “I knew it!”
It was loud, wherever Kara was. Somewhere with a lot of people. “Are you out getting dinner?” Lena asked.
“Uhh … no, not really. Although I maybe should. I could be here for a while by the looks of it.”
“Huh?” Lena replied. “What do you mean? Where are you?” Kara didn’t answer her, but she didn’t have to. In the background, Lena heard a loud chime, followed by an announcement that a flight to Philadelphia had been cancelled. “Kara? Are you at an airport?!”
“Nnyes,” Kara mumbled in response, and then she cleared her throat. “Yes. I wasn’t supposed to be. I was meant to be on a flight now,” she rushed on, “but there’s this huge storm and all the flights except mine have been cancelled. Trains too, so I guess I’m kinda stuck.”
Lena sat up in the bath. A storm? She glanced briefly up at the high window of the bathroom, currently covered over with snow. But, Kara lived in California. What kind of storm could there really be that was bad enough to ground planes and cancel trains over there? A tropical storm? But Lena would’ve heard. Horrendous weather in sunny California always made the news.
Lena looked up again at the window. Unless …
“Kara?” she asked, drawing her name out. “Where exactly are you?”
“I’m— I thought it would be a nice surprise,” Kara blurted out, and Lena’s grip on her phone nearly faltered. “I thought it would be— for Christmas, you know? We’ve never met and I really just— I really just want to meet you. I feel— I saved up money from my job at the yoghurt shop. I know we’ve both talked about meeting but we never made a plan and I don’t know, I just wanted to make a plan. And I just wanted to see you. Even just for a drink or for a hug or just to see you for a minute, in person, for real. God, Lena, it’s been so long and I so want to meet you in person. I wasn’t going to tell you until I got closer but this storm has kind of ruined, uh, everything. I’m sorry, Lena, I should’ve thought about this more before I did it. I mean, I did think about it. I thought about it a lot, I thought about you a lot, like a whole lot. But I should’ve thought more about it instead of just like, spontaneously going to the airport and not telling you!”
Lena sat still in the bath, staring at her right knee above the bubbles, unable to connect the dots. Kara was at an airport, she’d said, but, which—
“Lena? Are you pissed o—”
“Which airport are you at?” Lena interrupted, her voice shaky. Her throat felt tight.
“I’m in JFK,” Kara said, and Lena’s mouth dropped open. “My flight’s been delayed but not cancelled so far. I don’t know why. It’s the only one on the board that’s not cancelled.”
“To Boston?” Lena said weakly. “From New York?”
“Yeah,” Kara said with a deep, resigned-sounding sigh. “But the gate is calling soon. I was going to call when I landed but with this storm they might turn the plane around and—”
“Don’t get on the plane!” Lena all but yelled suddenly, sloshing out of the bath and causing a cascade of water to slop onto the bathmat. She yanked her towel up off the tiles and, with her phone pressed between her ear and her shoulder, hurriedly began to towel herself off.
There was silence for a moment. And then, “Don’t get on the plane?” Kara repeated, her voice small. “… oh.”
“Oh! Oh, shit, no, Kara!” Lena blurted out, scrambling to chase away the hurt that laced Kara’s tone, standing frozen on the soaking bathmat with her towel clutched to her chest. “No, I mean, I’m not in Boston! So don’t get on the plane!”
“You’re not in— ohh,” Kara said, sounding both relieved and confused. “But … where are you, then?”
By now, the only thing Lena was wearing was a smile that was so wide it almost hurt. “Take a wild guess.”
“New York? Are you in New York? Oh god, please say New York and not that you’ve, like, you’ve gone to Salzburg or something for Christmas to go sliding down mountains on those tiny ski things with the poles and all. I don’t think I’d get the nerve up to do this twice and also I don’t think I can afford a plane ticket to Austria.”
“I’m in New York,” Lena said, finally able to get a word in edgeways when Kara paused for a breath.
“Oh, thank fuck,” Kara breathed, and Lena burst out laughing. After a moment, so did Kara. They laughed until Lena’s face really did hurt.
Kara was here, in New York, and it wasn’t some idle daydream of Lena’s. Kara really had flown clear across the country just before Christmas, just so she could meet Lena for real. Lena’s heart was pounding hard in her chest at the thought of really seeing Kara, really meeting her, at the prospect of giving her a real hug. She didn’t think she’d ever felt so loved. Nobody had ever done anything like this for her before.
“So … you’re in New York,” Kara said eventually, once they’d both calmed down, “and … and I’m in New York. Would you maybe want to—”
“Yes,” Lena said, so firmly that Kara laughed again. “Yes, I want to meet you. Very much. I can’t believe you’ve done this.”
“I can’t believe it either,” Kara said quietly. “I guess I’d better get out of this airport, huh?”
“I guess you’d better,” Lena said, just as quietly. She shimmied into her robe, her still damp arms making it difficult, and slid her feet into her slippers. “Um … when would you want to—”
“Now,” Kara burst out, and Lena’s smile, which she didn’t think could grow any more, did exactly that. “Uhhh,” she added with an embarrassed laugh, and Lena could practically see Kara rubbing the back of her neck, “I mean, now? Or whenever is good for you, really. I didn’t plan on getting stuck in New York. I’ve haven’t booked anywhere to stay or anything.”
“Stay here,” Lena said softly. “Stay with me.”
When they hung up the call after making a plan to meet tonight, tonight, Lena calmly lay her phone on her bedside table. With slow, deliberate movements, she brought both legs up onto the bed, then lay back against her pillows.
You should tell her when you meet her.
I’m afraid. I’m terrified.
Lena wasn’t sure what to feel. On the one hand, she was elated, ecstatic, almost unbelievably happy, and excited at the fact that Kara was actually in New York, had flown all the way here just to see her. That she’d actually get to meet her, tonight, as soon as Kara could make her way from JFK to Central Park. After all the letters they’d written. After all the phone calls, the texts, the internet messaging, the late nights staying up talking about themselves and about each other. After all the countless words handwritten, typed, and spoken. They’d finally be meeting tonight. All of a sudden, Lena couldn’t contain her energy any longer, and she leapt off the bed and walked over to her wardrobe. She shifted from foot to foot in front of it as she searched for something to wear that was nice, but also wouldn’t have her freezing to death in all the snow.
Her fingers trailed down the sleeve of a soft cashmere sweater, and paused.
On the other hand … what if Lena said something, and she lost Kara? What if she didn’t say something, and Kara thought Lena wasn’t interested? What if Kara was the best thing to ever happen to her, and she fucked it up somehow? What if Kara didn’t like her? Lena had heard of penpals meeting in real life and being put off them entirely by some aspect that they hadn’t considered.
But she couldn’t not meet Kara just because she was afraid of what might happen. Or what might not happen.
Lena lay the cashmere sweater on the bed and slumped over backwards next to it.
Kara climbed up the steps of the subway station at 5th Avenue, wishing she’d brought a warmer hat. She’d worn the thickest one she could find, knowing that Boston would be cold at this time of year, but she hadn’t checked the weather before she’d left California, and she’d forgotten gloves altogether. She hadn’t counted on a storm.
Thankfully, she’d packed light, bringing only her backpack, meaning that her suitcase wouldn’t get lost in transit between cities or in an airport thanks to cancelled flights. It was heavy, though, and she shifted it around on her back until it sat a little more comfortably.
The wind whistled through her coat, which she’d unzipped on the subway, and she hastily did it back up. Shivering, she looked around at the street signs until she found one that said Central Park. She’d been to New York before, but not during weather like this. The streets were practically deserted even though it was a Friday night. Kara reckoned that most people were sensibly at home, not wandering around while the snow fell thickly around them. It was already collecting on the flaps of her coat pockets.
She made her way as quickly as she could to the corner of Central Park. She was so full of energy, so keyed up, that she felt she could’ve run there, heavy backpack and all, in a few seconds flat.
Lena would be at the bridge already, she was sure of it. Lena lived on the Upper West Side, which bordered the Park, and Lena said she’d just walk through it; it wouldn’t take her very long. She was also sure that Lena would be a lot more sensibly dressed than she was, what with her having lived a long time in both Ireland and New England. She’d be used to the cold. She’d admitted to Kara that winter was her favorite season, even.
To Kara’s surprise, when she got there the Park was busier than the streets had been, and there were a lot of people walking around with cameras. She looked around as the buildings gave way to open space: it was beautiful. There were Christmas lights in the trees, tinsel and other decorations wound around some of the lampposts, and of course there was the famous ice-skating rink. There were people having snowball fights, even this late, and quite a lot of dogs playing in the snow. Kara smiled at their antics, tails wagging frantically as their owners threw snowballs for them to catch.
As happy as the images made her though, Kara was still nervous.
She was so nervous. Because this was Lena.
Lena Luthor. Her penpal, her best friend, her … her everything, if Kara was honest about it. She’d done a lot of soul-searching in the past few months, ever since that phonecall after Lena had sent her the blanket. She’d even talked to Alex, who’d been very serious for a few minutes and then laughed herself silly and told Kara that she’d felt like she’d been third-wheeling their relationship every time she’d come home to visit. Kara had been annoyed for a few moments, but then Alex had turned serious again and said that Kara had been acting like she’d been in a relationship with Lena almost since the very beginning: writing to Lena, talking about her, finding a way to shoehorn a mention of her into every conversation just so she could talk about her some more.
When Lena had gone off to MIT and met someone called Jack, Kara had not thought anything of it. Lena was gay, after all. But when Lena had started mentioning a woman named Sam, who was apparently bisexual, she’d felt an instant jolt of sickness. Ridiculously, almost selfishly, she felt ill at the thought of Lena maybe falling in love with Sam; that was, in the end, what had prompted Kara to truly be honest with herself.
Sat at her dorm desk one evening, she’d forced herself to be as blunt as possible with her thoughts by asking herself why after every statement she wrote down. She started with I’m jealous of Sam. Why? Her eventual answer, after several hours of throwing balled up papers over her shoulders and pacing, was the following:
Because I want it to be me.
She wanted to hold Lena’s hand. She wanted to officially be the one Lena came to at the end of a hard day. She wanted to know whether Lena one day might possibly, maybe, perhaps, love Kara in a different way, in a way that was more than friendship.
Kara felt things for Lena, and she wanted to see whether Lena felt them, too. And if they both felt things, she wanted to see what they wanted to do about it.
Because right now, the thought of Lena falling in love with Sam made her feel so sick that she thought she might very well be sick into the nearest snow-filled trash can.
Or maybe that was the nerves.
Maybe it was both.
She wanted Lena to know that Kara would absolutely throw her hat into the ring for her. She wanted Lena to know that Kara was an option, if she wanted her.
Kara walked through Central Park, past the happy couples, past the dogs, past the people taking photos of the Christmas lights and the tall buildings on the edge of the Park. She crunched through the snow that was deepening by the minute, her shoes soaked through and the bottom of her jeans dragging on the ground. This wasn’t going to be the best first impression that Kara was ever going to make, but it was still one of the most important to her.
She couldn’t stop her feelings from bouncing from elated to terrified with almost every step she took. Left. Right. Happy. Afraid. Excited. Nervous. Joyful. Scared.
But when Gapstow Bridge came into view, and when she stood at the edge of it, everything seemed to vanish except for the person standing alone in the middle of it. She’d only seen two photos of Lena. She’d never seen her in motion; she didn’t know how Lena stood, how she moved, how she walked, how she did anything. She didn’t know how Lena would reach up to adjust a bobble hat, or how she’d pace back and forth a few steps before coming to a halt again. And yet, somehow, she knew—she knew—that the person she was looking at, that the person standing on the bridge, was Lena.
Everything melted away like mist on a summer morning. The snow-muted sounds of the city. The distant shouts of the people skating on the rink. The cold that had soaked through her shoes. The nerves in her stomach and the breath in her lungs. Everything but the pounding of her heart and the sight before her.
Lena was standing in the middle of the bridge, wearing dark jeans and winter boots, a thick woolen coat, and colorful mittens that matched her bobble hat. Some of Lena’s long, dark hair had worked itself free of her coat because of the wind, and as Kara watched, Lena tried to brush it off her pale face with snow-covered gloves. She shivered when it presumably left a streak of cold water behind, and Kara couldn’t help it, she laughed.
The sound of it rang out in the silence surrounding the bridge, and Lena, her best friend, looked up and met Kara’s eyes for the very first time.
And for the very first time, Kara got to witness the slow growth of Lena’s beautiful smile as it spread across her face. And Kara knew herself. She knew how she felt, and she knew it would be okay, because this was Lena, and she was here.
Kara took several steps towards Lena and dropped her backpack on the snowy ground. She rushed the last few steps and held her arms out, and to her joy, Lena practically threw herself into Kara’s embrace. She wrapped her arms around Kara’s back and nudged her cold face into Kara’s neck, and Kara could feel the sigh she let out, warm against her skin. Kara hugged Lena close to her, feeling her own body practically vibrate with excitement and happiness, and she loved how Lena felt in her arms.
She almost couldn’t believe this was real. Lena was real. It was a glorious thing to be able to hear Lena laughing into Kara’s neck, to be able to feel Lena’s arms tightening around her, to notice that Lena was slightly shorter than she was and therefore to know how perfectly she fit into Kara’s hug.
They swayed together there on the bridge for what felt like both seconds and hours, for long endless moments where neither wanted to let go of the other.
Eventually though, Lena leaned back slightly and looked up at Kara. The wind blew some her hair across her face again, and this time Kara was the one to brush it away. To Kara’s amazement, Lena almost melted into the touch, until Kara was cradling Lena’s face with her hand.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Lena said softly, and it was wonderous, hearing Lena’s voice so clearly. No static on the line, no lost connections. There was nothing between them but the frozen air as they held each other on the bridge.
“I can’t believe I’m here either,” Kara replied, and then she huffed out a laugh that had the corners of Lena’s mouth curving upwards into another smile. “Well, I can believe it, because I planned it, but … still, at the same time, I can’t believe I can really see you and—” Kara swallowed, “and hug you. You’re really real.”
Lena continued to stroke her hand up and down Kara’s spine, and it made Kara want to press closer into her, so she did. She slid her hand around the back of Lena’s neck until her arm was wrapped around her shoulders, her other around her waist, and pulled them even closer together. Lena let out a quiet sigh into Kara’s shoulder.
“I don’t want to let you go,” Kara admitted, her voice a near whisper.
“I don’t want to let you go either,” Lena replied, and Kara could hear the smile in Lena’s voice, “but home is a lot warmer, and it has food.”
Chuckling, Kara loosened her hold and stepped away. She kept her eyes on Lena while she retrieved her backpack, seemingly unable to tear her eyes away for that long. Lena watched her with an amused expression on her face. “Was that all you brought?”
“Mm,” Kara replied, leaning the bag against the side of the bridge next to her feet. “I didn’t pack a suitcase because I didn’t want to … presume, I guess. You might not have liked the fact that I’ve just shown up with no warning.”
“Kara,” Lena murmured, reaching for one of Kara’s hands with both of hers. Kara let her take it, and stepped closer. “Kara, you’ll always be welcome with me, whether you’d given me advance warning or not. Always. And I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for so long!”
“Me too! This isn’t how I planned it out, obviously, but,” Kara indicated their surroundings with a head tilt, “I don’t think this could be any more perfect, actually. The first photo you sent, this is where you were standing. It’s the first time I ever saw you. And now it’s also the place where I’ve met you for the first time. This is so much better than me showing up in Boston in the middle of the night with a bunch of no-doubt frozen flowers.”
Lena snorted a laugh. “I would’ve loved it anyway, but did you really not book anywhere to stay?”
Kara shrugged. “I had, and originally I was going to come see you tomorrow morning, but with the flight delays and things, I would’ve missed the check-in at the hotel I booked. So, maybe they wouldn’t have let me in. I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do. I could’ve wandered around until I found a hotel that was accepting visitors that time of night, but I don’t know Boston as well as I know New York, so … so yeah, I don’t know. The only addresses I know in Boston are your dorm room and Paul Revere’s house.”
Lena laughed again, a full, bright sound, and Kara was thrilled at being the cause of it. “I don’t think they’re taking bookings at Paul’s, to be honest!”
“The bed might be missing a few springs.”
“I don’t think it had springs in the first place.”
“Just as well I’m not knocking at the door and asking if they’ve got a bed for the night then, eh?”
Lena tilted her head and gave Kara a soft smile. “So if you’re homeless for the night, I might know a place. Want to see where I live when I’m in New York?”
“Ooh, can I see your bedroom?” Kara asked, then slapped her forehead, mortified. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded, I swear,” she added, seeing Lena’s eyebrows rise. “I just mean, you wrote to me from there, right? So I’ve kind of … imagined it over the years, not in a creepy way, just, you know, you’re my best friend and I want to see what you’ve seen, you know? Feel free to stop me rambling at any time.”
“It’s cute,” Lena said, then blushed as though she didn’t mean to say it. “Anyway,” she tugged on Kara’s hand, “this way. And, it’s not creepy, or at least it’s not any creepier than me wondering what your bedroom is like. Or, anywhere you’ve written to me about, really. It’s one thing to have things described to you, and quite another to really see them for yourself, you know?”
“Yeah,” Kara said, “I do know what you mean.” And she did. She’d seen Lena’s face in the photos, had read her words describing herself and her life a thousand times, but nothing compared to really seeing Lena in front of her.
Kara kept glancing at Lena as they walked through the snow. More of Lena’s hair had escaped her coat, and it fluttered around her face as she walked. Her face was as pale as she’d thought, but the cold, or her blush, had turned her cheeks pink. She was beautiful in the photos she’d sent, but here, walking next to Kara, she was even more so, more than Kara could ever have imagined. She knew her wonderful heart, her boundless kindness, her curious mind, and her intelligence.
She knew that Lena had a heart of gold, beautiful inside and out, and Kara loved her.
But now Kara knew how Lena felt in her arms, had seen the way she smiled, she knew that she was more in love with her than ever before.
The love she felt for Lena bloomed in her chest like roses in springtime. It settled inside her, a warm, soft thing, and Kara thought how wonderful it was for her to know how it felt to love another person like this.
They walked through Central Park, the snow falling around them. Lena was holding Kara’s hand as tightly as she could while still wearing her mittens, and Kara couldn’t stop looking at her. Her eyes were just drawn to her, but she wasn’t exactly fighting it. She welcomed Lena’s gravity pulling her in.
“Do I have something on my face?” Lena asked eventually after she caught Kara looking at her for the Nth time. She raised her free hand self-consciously to her face, but Kara caught it with her own.
“No, you don’t,” Kara replied with a smile. “I’m … I’m still just amazed that I can really see you, you know?”
“Oh,” Lena said, and gave Kara a radiant smile of her own that made her heart thunder in her chest. Lena gave a gentle tug on her hand; they stopped walking for a moment, and Lena just … just looked at Kara. She felt it like a physical touch, even though it wasn’t. And when Lena’s eyes lingered on her lips, Kara had to suppress a shiver. “I feel the same,” Lena said, reaching up with the hand that wasn’t currently tucked in Kara’s to touch her shoulder again. “I keep looking at you and wondering whether I’m having a really vivid dream.”
“Just as long as it’s not a nightmare,” Kara replied jokingly, but the look Lena gave her was so unexpectedly serious that Kara swallowed the rest of what she was going to say.
“You’re really anything but a nightmare, darling,” Lena said, her voice quiet but heartfelt. Snow settled on her hat and shoulders as they looked at each other. “I’ve wanted to meet you for so long and I— I’m so glad you’re here. I’m so glad. I’ve never felt so— I want you to know that nobody’s ever done anything so wonderful for me in my whole life, and I don’t think that I’ve ever been happier.”
“Lena,” Kara whispered, then pulled her into another hug. Lena buried her face in Kara’s neck again, and they stood together as the snow fell around them, wrapped up in nothing but each other. When they broke apart, Lena pressed a shy kiss to Kara’s cheek with her own blushing furiously.
Lena tugged gently on her hand again. “Come on. We’re nearly home.”
Kara followed Lena through the park, taking winding paths through trees until they made it through a gate and hit the sidewalk the other side. The whole time, she was conscious of Lena’s hand in hers. As they walked, Kara gave in to desire and experimentally swung their hands a little, looking over at Lena to see what her reaction would be. The butterflies in Kara’s stomach did a giddy little dance when she saw that Lena was smiling.
Not a few moments later, Lena fished her keys out of her pocket. “We’re here,” she said, pointing up the stoop at a door with 305 on it. There was a letterbox, and it gave Kara a funny feeling to think of how many letters and parcels she’d sent to this very address in the last two and a half years. Many to Ireland, of course, and to Boston, but quite a few here too. She walked up the snow-covered steps carefully but eagerly, ready to see the inside of Lena’s home.
“I’ll warn you now,” Lena said conspiratorially as she fit the key in the lock, “I didn’t decorate. Lillian did. Don’t bump into any of the ugly paintings unless you want her to send you a several million-dollar bill.” When Kara shot her a worried glance, Lena gave her a small smile. “I’m only half joking. I live on the top floor, and I promise that it’s much more normal than what you’ll see straight away.”
They’d talked about Lena’s family wealth before, and while Kara knew that Lena was technically an heiress and not rich in her own right, it was still a little intimidating when Lena pushed the front door open and she was confronted by what looked like a museum.
“I’m both pleased and embarrassed by this place,” Lena said, taking her coat off and revealing a soft-looking wine-coloured cashmere sweater. Kara instantly wanted to hug Lena again, see how soft their hug would be without Lena’s coat on, but she resisted. She shrugged her backpack off and took off her own coat, hanging it happily next to Lena’s. She took her shoes off, and waved off Lena’s protests when she rolled the legs of her jeans up.
“They’re soaking, Lena, I can’t drag the hems all over this shiny floor!”
Lena gave her the tour, and at once Kara could see why Lena both liked and didn’t like living here. It really was like a museum, and although she knew that Lena appreciated historical houses and objects, it didn’t fit with the Lena that she knew. The Lena that liked to listen to heavy metal, go for long walks, and play video games. The Lena that was soft and relaxed, that was unpretentious and not at all like an heiress.
She was shown the enormous kitchen in one of the basements, and Lena laughed while Kara gathered up snacks. She hadn’t eaten dinner, and Lena made them both a thickly filled sandwich while Kara ate a Mars bar. They carried their food up the stairs to Lena’s apartment, and straight away, it was more Lena. Still expensive, but definitely more Lena.
There were framed landscapes of Ireland hanging on the walls, a CD player with a large sound system surrounded by tall stacks of CDs, worn leather sofas, and a long table that Kara knew was a single, solid piece of old oak just by looking at it. There were books piled on almost every surface, and Kara resisted the urge to run her finger along the spines. In her office area were even more books, blueprints of complicated science-y things, and an expensive-looking computer with post-it notes stuck to the monitor frame. The bathroom was spacious and warm with underfloor heating, which Kara appreciated very much when she stood on it in her socked feet.
It was when Lena hesitantly pushed open the door to her bedroom, though, and stood in the doorway while she watched Kara take it in, that she really understood something. Something that stole the breath from her lungs, and that didn’t need words to explain.
The room was Lena: quiet and understated, cosy but bookish, but it was also Kara. She took a step into the room and stopped. All around the room she saw herself, and Lena, and their friendship. On one of the walls was a framed collage of many of the envelopes that Kara had decorated, arranged in concentric circular patterns. Above her desk was another collage, this time of the beer mats and business cards of the places Kara had sent her, covered in her little notes with short reviews of each place. There were more landscapes of both Ireland and New York, and some of Boston, with postcards of various places in Ireland tucked into the edges of the frames. In a nook near the queen-sized bed was a built-in bookcase stuffed full of books and trinkets that Kara recognized from Lena’s descriptions in her letters. Above the envelope collage was an MIT pennant, proudly displayed. On the desk was a small CD player with a pile of CDs, obviously Lena’s favorites, and Kara reverently picked up the copy of Talk on Corners which was sitting right on the top.
And then she noticed the letters. They were in a near pile in the corner, stacked up against the wall. They were in bundles held together with strings, and Kara gaped at it. She hadn’t realized that she’d written so many letters, sent so many postcards. She had all of Lena’s letters too, of course, and there were just about as many as here, but they were spread out in files and drawers. Not piled up like this in what looked like a veritable wall of paper.
Seeing their friendship in the collages like that, seeing how much she and her letters clearly meant to Lena … really seeing it in front of her eyes and not as an abstract thought in her head, it gave Kara hope like nothing before.
She turned to look at Lena, who was standing shyly in the doorway and fiddling with her fingers. It was obviously a nervous habit that Lena hadn’t told her about, and when she saw Kara notice it she pulled her hands apart, but then seemed not to know what to do with herself.
“Hey,” Kara said, walking over to Lena and taking her hands in her own, intertwining their fingers for the first time. Lena’s hands were shaking a little, and Kara gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Hey, it’s just me.”
And when Lena met her eyes once more, the expression on her face was nothing less than adoring and the final piece of a puzzle clicked into place. She could see it in Lena’s eyes, feel it in the way Lena’s thumb stroked the back of her hand.
Kara felt herself flush. This close, she could see the vivid green of her eyes, the dimples in her cheeks, the darkness of her eyelashes. She could see her high cheekbones and her sharp jawline, her soft skin, and the holes in her ears from her piercings. She watched as a slow, nervous smile crept across Lena’s face, watched the way her eyes crinkled, and Kara was lost. Utterly lost.
“You’re so pretty,” Kara blurted out. “It’s such a trite word but, you really are. And I love your room and the collages you’ve made from the envelopes and beer mats. And I love just being able to hold your hand like this—” Kara squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip before she spilled all her feelings, even though she really wanted to. “Ugh, sorry, that was … that was—”
“I think you’re really pretty too, Kara,” Lena said quietly, and the nerves in Lena’s voice gave Kara enough courage to fight through her own embarrassment. She opened her eyes to find Lena’s cheeks dusted pink with a blush, her expression shy but earnest. “I’ve always thought you were, from your photos. And now, seeing you here in front of me at last, and …” Lena ran one of her hands slowly down Kara’s arm before taking her hand again, “it’s just … I can’t not tell you. You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.” By now, Lena’s cheeks were getting redder by the second, and Kara felt her heart beat the truest and most hopeful rhythm yet in her chest. “But it’s more than that. I … I feel—”
And Lena tentatively raised her other hand, gently brushing a tendril of hair away from Kara’s face, before she closed her eyes and shifted from foot to foot. When she opened her eyes again, Lena looked both determined and terrified.
“Sam says that I should tell you something, but I’m nervous about saying it. In case … in case it ruins things between us,” Lena said, her voice thick, as though she were speaking around a lump in her throat. “And I don’t want it to, because you mean so much to me, Kara. I couldn’t bear it if it I lost you.”
Kara could practically hear the blood thundering around in her head at Lena’s words. She could feel their hands shaking and was no longer sure whose hands were the calm ones, hers or Lena’s. Here was Lena, her beautiful, heartfelt, thoughtful best friend, failing to be clear with her words for the first time since they’d started writing to each other.
But Lena didn’t need to be clear with her words in order for Kara to understand them. The look in her eyes, the collages on the walls, the blanket that she’d sent her. The way she’d always stayed up into the small hours listening to Kara work through her articles. A thousand tiny things over the two and a half years they’d known each other. Each tiny piece part of the whole that was Kara and Lena.
When Kara had gone to sleep last night, she wasn’t sure. When she’d got on the plane that afternoon, she still wasn’t sure. But when she’d seen Lena on the bridge, she’d been sure. And now, standing in the entrance to Lena’s bedroom, looking into Lena’s eyes, she knew.
Kara cleared her throat and grabbed the bull by the horns. “I suppose that now would be a good time to say that the second photo you sent of yourself took my breath away,” she said, watching Lena carefully. She could almost see the exact moment that the realization sunk in. Lena’s nerves vanished instantly and her eyes shone with joy, tears sparkling in the corners. “And now is also a good time to tell you that every time I see you smile now makes my heart feel like it’s going to leap right out of my chest.”
She let go of Lena’s hands, settling one lightly on Lena’s hip and sliding the other into her silky hair. She pulled Lena against herself, shifting her hands around to the small of Lena’s back and to the back of her head. Her fingers traced the hem of Lena’s sweater before slipping underneath it, her fingertips stroking the bare skin of Lena’s lower back. She felt Lena shiver at the feeling, and her arms tightened around Kara’s back.
“I didn’t know how I felt,” Lena mumbled into Kara’s hoody, and she pulled back a little so that she could look at Kara. “I didn’t want to confuse how I felt about our friendship, about how much you mean to me, with possible … feelings for you. How could I know what I felt until I met you? Until we’d spent time together?”
“I know,” Kara replied, smiling when the slow circles she was drawing on the soft skin of Lena’s waist with her thumbs caused her best friend’s breath to hitch and press herself closer. “It makes total sense. It was this … this strange feeling of knowing that I loved you as my best friend, but not knowing whether the other things I felt were part of our friendship or something more. Like …” Kara felt herself blush again, “like I didn’t know why the thought of you and Sam together made me feel so sick.”
“Me and … Sam?!” Lena asked, her lips twitching into a smile. “She’s the one who encouraged me to say something to you. I wasn’t sure, like you, whether I was conflating our friendship with something more. But when I imagined you going to a Christmas party and meeting someone under the mistletoe, I was jealous. And I knew we had to meet, so I would know where my feelings came from. And—”
“And then I showed up out of the blue,” Kara supplied. “Like a Christmas miracle.”
Lena dropped her forehead onto Kara’s shoulder. “Ugh. I knew you’d say something that I’d find both cheesy and charming.”
“You know me so well,” Kara said, lifting one hand and trailing her fingers through Lena’s hair. She kept the other on Lena’s back, holding them together in an intimate half-hug.
“I do,” Lena replied, her voice muffled.
“And I know you.”
“You do. Better than anyone else has ever done.”
“Lena?” Kara whispered.
Lena tilted her head up, and Kara touched her forehead to Lena’s. She traced her fingers across Lena’s lower back again, a silent, intimate question. When Lena let out a gentle sigh against Kara’s lips, pressing herself closer, Kara got her answer.
And when their lips finally came together in the softest kiss Kara could have imagined, their friendship ticked over into something new, something more, something deeper. With Lena in her arms, the world made sense. Kara made sense. This was always where she was going to end up. In a bedroom in New York surrounded with the history of their friendship, one hand in Lena’s hair and the other gently cradling her exquisite face, Kara was home.