Lena shows up on a Tuesday.
If you’d asked Kara how she’d thought her week was going to go based on the disaster that was Monday, she’d say terrible, maybe passably terrible at best. Monday had been everyone’s first day back after The Lex Incident. The incident being him dropping off the face of the planet and leaving The Lotus under the care of… possibly no one?
Monday had also been the day that Kara had inadvertently destroyed her phone by trying to get the shitty 5s to run Fuschia. So, in Kara’s opinion, barely making it in by 7 was certainly on par with the way the week was going. It certainly didn’t help that Mike was later than she was, so the entire day was already set to run later than expected.
When Mike walks into The Lotus that morning, he does what he usually does. He hits on Kara, he outlines the menu changes for the day, and then he begins hours of bitching about little things. It’s an accepted facet of the restaurant’s opening shift. Most days, he bitches about the restaurant only having two Michelin stars, or how the cabbage is the wrong color, or how he’s an underrated legend. Today, however, his bitching seems to be centered on the new girl.
Kara had noticed her when she’d walked in. She had been wearing a pristine white apron, and leaning on one of the back counters trying to look aloof. To the untrained eye she might have passed for aloof, but Kara Danvers was not an untrained eye. Some people might have described Kara as aggressively friendly, but she preferred to think of herself as a healthy mix of observant and optimistic.
Lena on the other hand, is what people would describe, accurately, as aggressively antisocial. Sadly, it’s an inherited Luthor trait, and as Lena watches Kara notice her and begin to approach, three things happen in quick succession. She starts to back away but realises she can’t because she’s propped herself up against this counter and there’s no escape backwards, and now Kara’s getting closer. Then she panics, which is not a thing she does often, but in this moment where Kara is right in front of her and is speaking to her, Lena realises that she may be in over her head. Because, she recognises this woman, even though it’s clear that the recognition doesn’t go both ways. And then in a moment Lena will come to rue, she forgets her own name. Not her name-name, just the fake one she planned to go by. Because she realises a second too late that Kara has introduced herself and is now waiting, and has been waiting, for a reply. So Lena puts together all three of her brain cells that are currently working and says, “Lee-xa. My name is Lixa, like with an i.” And it takes everything she has to not just walk out that very second and forget the whole charade, because all she can think about, aside from this monumental gaff, is the last time she’d been in this restaurant.
Lex had called her out of the blue, a month and a half prior, asking her to take the restaurant off his hands. He hadn’t given a concrete reason why, but a couple hours of research later, she’d found out that The Lotus was straddling the line between high-class restaurant and tire fire pretty intensely. So, the next day Lena found herself flying to National City just to see how big a dumpster fire it was in person. She hadn’t even intended on making a big deal of it, choosing to order a random thing off the menu. It had been some sort of fish dish, she didn’t pay much attention to it because her server—a tall, bespectacled blonde—had just short of full body cringed when she heard the order. She had then hinted, very obviously, that Lena try literally anything else off the menu. But Kara, as her name tag read, had piqued Lena’s interest too much for her to back out of what she would come to find was a horrible decision. Because exactly one bite into this fish dish, Lena found herself hastily trying to wash the taste out of her mouth with some Malbec—that decidedly should never be paired with salmon—, and leaving a $175 tip for the waitress that had tried very hard to warn Lena the best she could. Now, that waitress is standing in front of her and failing to recognise her with her hair up in a ponytail, and her contacts switched out for a clunky pair of glasses. And for a moment Lena is terrified that she’s been found out, or that Kara has begun to recognise her, but then Kara smiles at her and seemingly accepts that her name is ‘Lixa’. Pats her shoulder and wishes her a good first day.
It’s not hard to see why The Lotus is the way it is. As Lena watches the opening shift unfold, she takes note of the disconnect between the kitchen staff and the waitstaff. The former seem to be constantly on edge. Between Mike’s intermittent outbursts and the fact that almost every five seconds someone ends up in someone else's way, Lena can’t figure out how the kitchen gets anything done when they’re so out of sync. She’s about to chime in to say just as much when a hand lands on her shoulder, and she’s being stared down by a man who’s also seems to be balancing a basket of wet potatoes on his hip.
“Please tell me your hands are dry,” she manages to say, even though she can feel the dirty potato water seeping into the shoulder of her white shirt.
“Unfortunately for you they aren’t. Fortunately, Kara wants you out front.” Lena hopes that he doesn’t see her immediate panic. “I suggest you go before Mike figures out you were about to give him suggestions .”
Lena doesn’t know what to make of the implication that the head chef doesn’t take critique, but she has no time to ponder that before she’s being pushed out the door into the main floor. It’s eerily quiet as Lena stumbles to find her footing. She watches as the bar-backs wipe down the bar, and the bussers set up the tables. There’s no immediate sign of Kara, so she just kinda stand where she is. It’s not something she thinks is particularly her fault, but she’s barely done anything since coming in. It’s really just been a lot of standing around and not much direction from anyone. Everyone else seems to know what they’re doing, or they’re doing a good enough job of pretending to know, that Lena feels like she’s sticking out like a sore thumb just standing and watching.
Then Kara appears, balancing an unsafe amount of plates in one hand, and she sees Lena. This time, Lena thinks to herself, she’ll be able to muster some semblance of composure. But then Kara’s turning on a dime and making a bee-line for her, and Lena feels her heart drop because she can just tell that all those plates are gonna hit the floor. Somehow, Kara manages to keep the plates perfectly balanced throughout the entire maneuver and Lena finds herself flustered again because now Kara’s sleeve has ridden up, revealing a particularly impressive bicep and Lena is… very gay.
“Lixa, great to see you.” Kara says, slightly out of breath. “Are you assigned something in the kitchen or are you free to take a section out here?”
“No, I’m free. I can help out. I just… I have no idea what I’m even supposed to be doing.” Kara laughs at that, and Lena has to actively stop herself from staring because Kara is radiant when she’s smiling like that. And that’s not why she’s here, not even close.
“Yeah, usually Mr Luthor figures out where the new hires go. But…” Kara makes a hand motion that Lena chooses to interpret as ‘Lex is gone so no one’s here to handle that’. Her face must fall because Kara immediately tries to perk her up, “but no worries we’ll find somewhere for you.” Kara leans in conspiratorially, still balancing the plates, “I heard that there’s a betting pool on why he’s gone missing. Jimmy’s got $40 on tax fraud.” She points with her chin to the tall, muscly bartender who immediately smiles and waves when he notices the both of them looking at him.
“Losing bet,” Lena says under her breath. Kara seems to overhear her at least a little, because she gives Lena a confused look for a moment. “It’s probably something mundane like a parking ticket,” she explains, “I’ve heard that Lex’s really concerned about his reputation.” It’s an unfortunate facet of being raised in the Luthor household where image was held above everything else. Kara’s look of confusion doesn’t let up, so Lena adds, “I might have done some research when I found out I got the job.” It’s not technically untrue, but Kara seems to accept this half truth and moves on. She walks her through what a shift in the front of house is like.
Lena’s not surprised about Lex’s disappearing act, and she does know that it was because of a parking ticket. Lillian had called to talk her ear off about it, also to ask her to take over for Lex at The Lotus in exchange for his 1962 Mercedes 300SL. Lena thought the car was ugly but she relished not driving it and watching Lex whine about a good car going to waste. Anyways, Lena was used to the disappearing act. She’d pulled one of her own in college.
There hadn’t been a singular reason, Lena thinks. One day she had started to feel seen . Professors were calling on her more than usual, her roommate was especially chatty, and a student publication had approached her about her opinion on the library establishing eating-safe zones. Suddenly, the world seemed to be coming to the realisation that she existed. A different professor caught her texting in class and she’d packed her bags and transferred to a small out of the way Irish college by the end of the week. So, she can’t really judge Lex.
“Where’d you go just now?” Lena snaps back into focus. Staring down at her with a concerned look is Niya? Nika? Nia, Lena manages to sneak a peek at her nametag from just behind the cloche she’s carrying.
“Uh, nowhere?” Lena manages. She had been in the middle of taking back a meal for a man whose date didn’t seem to be having much of a good time. Lena couldn’t blame her, she couldn’t imagine sitting across from a man who sees it fit to complain for a solid two minutes about there being too much sage in his beurre noisette. In all her planning to undercover boss her brother’s restaurant, she had forgotten that being employed at a restaurant meant actually working. Which meant interacting with some of the worst people to walk the earth. In her four hour shift she had made a grand total of $20 in tips on over $500 of food orders. So when this besuited man asked her, not very kindly, to replace his meal, she’d figured that dawdling and zoning out would be the smallest luxury she’d afford herself.
“It looked like you were spacing there. You almost ran into me,” Nia explains, and Lena sees now that she had been about to walk into the kitchen right as Nia was exiting. Nia doesn’t look too mad about it. In fact, she looks amused about the whole situation. “You’re Lixa right?” Nia asks. Lena internally facepalms at the name. It’s not Kara’s fault that she believed that was really Lena’s name, but she can’t say that she doesn’t blame her now the entire staff thinks that’s her real name. There’s nothing Lena can do about it now. Kara’s not back for her next shift till closing, so there’s no going back and saying, ‘no that’s not my name I just panicked’ quite yet.
“Oh, sorry. I was just taking table 14’s order back,” Lena explains. Nia looks over her shoulder to, Lena assumes, see who’s at table 14. She gets a glimmer in her eye, almost the same one as Kara, but with a hint of mischief in it.
“That’s Mr Mulvaney,” she says, leaning in conspiratorially. “You can just reheat the dish and he won’t notice. I have a working theory that he only does it to impress his dates. Y’know, like he has a refined palate.” Lena rolls her eyes at the statement. It reminds her of Lillian’s obsession with supertasters. She’d been determined to make Lex one my limiting his diet to ‘only the finest cuisines and dishes’. Then Lena had shown up at the Luthor household, four years old and fresh from a childhood of eating takeout and snack foods, a natural supertaster.
“‘Cause that’s how you impress a date,” Lena snarks, and Nia gives her a look. Lena, for the life of her, can’t decipher what it means so she tries to backtrack or explain. “I just meant I can’t see a single woman in the world going for a guy who yells at the server halfway through a date.”
Nia just laughs. “Slow down, I was trying to figure out what your type was. What type of guy impresses Lixa…”
“O’Flynn.” She’s prepared this time. At least she can salvage half of the fake identity she’d crafted.
“What kinda guy’s Lixa O’Flynn’s type.” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s the first win Lena’s gotten today so she’s gonna take it and run.
She jokingly mutters “none,” under her breath, and it’s like everyone here has super hearing or something because Nia lights up, puts one hand on her shoulder and says.
“Has anyone invited you to game night yet?”
Kara gets a text from Nia in the middle of explaining to a disgruntled apple store employee that what she did was not, in fact, illegal, and therefore her phone should get fixed. It’s not like she’s asking him to do it under warranty. She shows him the flashing buggy screen in an attempt to demonstrate that it IS still salvageable with an excessive amount of effort most workers would not be willing to put into to fix it, but in a moment of distraction when her phone first chimes, he rushes out that he’ll “be-back-with-a-more-experienced-employee-if-she-could-just-wait-one-moment” in such a practiced way that although she’s a little peeved at their unwillingness to even consider trying that somewhere, beyond the frustration, she feels a little bit proud of him. ‘Ah, well,’ she thinks, and sets her broken phone and her elbows onto the counter nearest to her, heaving a sigh as she takes out her (much) clunkier Nokia.
Nia: hellooo ms green bubbles! except worse because your phone is so old they built things with it during the stone age. - 1:30 pm
Nia: well do i have some news for you! the only question is whether or not you wanna hear it now or later ☒ - 1:30 pm
The boxed character only makes her more amused, as she’s almost certain of what Nia had been sending (a winking emoji) but her phone is so damn old she can’t see it at all. “Preferably now”, she begins on her numberpad keyboard. She’d forgotten how much of a pain it was to have to press the same key multiple times to get to the letter, and the lag, and the inability to go back when she inevitably overshot once or twice. After a while, she gives up on the misspellings, attributing it to Nokia “flair.”
Kara: Preferably now bcs whenever you have anny sort of “news’ ’ its either REALLY good or REALLLY bad. - 1:33 pm
Nia: oh ho.. well! drumroll please! - 1:34 pm
One minute passes, then two, then three. The manager finally arrives, previous employee and first subject to Kara’s plight in tow, and she explains her hubris once again only to be told that it was beyond the normal repair fixes (i.e. what she had heard beforehand). Turning to leave, she sighed again, resigning herself to being Apple Store mythos among the employees as a “pseudo-Android customer.”
After twenty minutes, the Nokia chirps to signal a new text. It’s lost in the bustle of the streets, but it reveals the infamous text delay prone to striking her phone at the least opportune of times.
Nia: lixa (lol) is gonna join us for game night tonight!! make room for one more!! - 1:34 pm
Kara doesn’t get to read the text because as soon as she begins to look down at her phone screen, she sees the bus she’s supposed to be getting on start to pull away. She chases it down the block and manages to get on at the next stop, but now she’s sweaty and her foot slips a little as she boards. She doesn’t even end up falling, just hitting her shin against the bus, but it’s what ends up ruining her day once and for all. Because as soon as she recovers and walks onto the bus, the people on the bus start clapping, and as she sits down some guys slaps her on the back. She forgets to check her phone.
She’s so out of it that when she gets off the bus and starts walking towards The Lotus, she forgets to head towards the back door. It’s not usually a big deal if she comes through the front, most diners are engrossed with their meals and don’t particularly care about who just walked in. The only person who’d really be mad at her would be Barney, but there’s a back in five minutes sign propped up on the maitre d station. She locks eyes with Lixa though as soon as she walks through the door. No one else seems to notice that she’s standing in the doorway, sweating through her white shirt, but Lixa is staring back at her, somehow making the Lotus uniform look… she can’t find the words to describe it. It takes her a moment longer to realise that Lixa is looking her over as well, and there’s a look in her eye. Kara books it out the front door.
Lixa walks into the kitchen from the front at the same time that Kara walks in from the locker room. This time, the surveying is one sided, Kara still trying to find the right word, and Lena looking weary and distracted.
“How long have you been on for?” Kara asks, as she watches Lixa shudder slightly as she picks up a cloche that’s ready for service. Kara deftly slides the plate from her hands and softly nudges her towards the locker room. “Gimme a second, just… sit.”
Lena does as she’s asked. She’s been on her feet since opening, with a couple minutes of breaks in between. It’s not that she’s not used to long hours, it’s just she’s never had to do it on her feet while also getting yelled at by snobby rich people. Usually rich snobby people have to at least pretend to respect her.
Kara doesn’t come back, or at least Lena doesn’t see her do so. She falls asleep after a few blessed, quiet minutes in the locker room. When she wakes up, a few hours later according to the clock on the wall, Kara still isn’t back. Her neck aches from falling asleep leaning on the lockers. It seems quiet, or at least quieter than usual, and some of the motion lights have turned themselves off. She can still hear fan in the kitchen range hood, so someone must still be around.
That someone turns out to be Kara. When Lena walks through the doors to the kitchen area, the first thing she sees is Kara in an undershirt that clings to her frame in a way that should be illegal. Lena can see the tone of her back and arms, and her brain quickly short circuits. She knocks over a set of metal bowls as she moves to catch herself, and then Kara is turning towards her, beaming with that smile of hers.
There’s something on the burner in front of her, but Lena can’t quite make it out. Kara gestures for her to sit, and Lena leans back against a counter instead.
“How’d your nap go?” Kara asks her with a hint of teasing in her voice. Lena flips her off, trying her hardest to keep her gaze above the shoulders. Somehow, it’s worse looking into her eyes than looking anywhere more inappropriate. Like at her toned arms, or the way her shirt clings to her abs. Lena absently wonders how often Kara works out to maintain her physique, then she’s imagining Kara working out; probably something weightlifting related, maybe running. She snaps back to attention when something hits her right between the eyes. It turns out to be a piece of bread. “I asked you a question, sleepyhead.”
“Honestly, I didn’t even realise I was taking one until I woke up,” Lena admits. She’d known that the service industry was gruelling, but nothing had prepared her for the bone weary feeling she’s currently enduring.
“How’d you get this job?” Kara asks, and Lena knows it’s a joke from the goofy smile plastered on her face, but it catches her off-guard. The real answer is ‘i gave it to myself’, and Lena’s so obviously unskilled and unused to the job that she can’t say she applied and got in. So, she settles for,
“My roommate knows the owner, and kinda talked me up a bit.” The first part isn’t technically a lie because Lena’s her own roommate, and the second part covers for how little she knows how to do her job.
“Nepotism, huh. Never would’ve pegged Mr. Luthor for that sort of thing,” Kara says, turning the contents of the pot out into a random deep dish. “Try this.” And Lena does. It’s a little weird having Kara watch her eat, but it becomes a non-problem as soon as the first spoonful hits her tongue.
“Holy shit,” Lena says before she can stop herself. Kara laughs, a borderline heavenly sound, and Lena sends her a glare. “Y’know what, I’m offended.”
“I’ve offended you?” Kara asks teasingly, one eyebrow arched.
“You absolutely have. You’ve ruined food for me Kara…” Lena realises mid-sentence that she doesn’t know Kara’s last name.
“Danvers,” Kara fills in helpfully.
“You Kara Danvers, have officially ruined food for me. A career in the restaurant industry cut short. On its first day,” Lena says, playing it up. The food is pretty great, but the look on Kara’s face and the slight blush to her cheeks is what’s really keeping the schtick going. “Why’s Mike the Head Chef?”
“A culinary school degree and a two year headstart on working here mostly,” Kara says and Lena can hear a subtle sadness in it. She notices suddenly that Kara’s stuff is all packed up.
“You leaving?” she asks. Kara nods.
“You’re all set to leave when you’re done eating, I already cleaned up. You just have to clean the pan and your bowl.” Kara swings an oversized gym bag over her shoulder and shoots Lena double finger guns as she leaves. “Bye Lixa, see you at game night.” Lena waves her goodbye, and as soon as the door shuts behind Kara she puts the—now empty—bowl in the sink, does the dishes and internally screams. By the time she’s about to leave and call it a night—at a little past 2 am, she gets a text from an unknown number.
unknown: just realized I never gave you my address - 2:04am
unknown: its kara btw - 2:04am
Lena enters her into her contacts.
Kara D.: from work. got your number from nia who got it from the shift schedule - 2:05am
Kara D.: sorry if that’s like a little weird. we usually exchange numbers with the new hires - 2:05am
Lixa: are you gonna send me your address? - 2:06am
Kara D.: oops, forgot. 6 hope street apt 4A. :) - 2:10am
Lena falls asleep in the back seat of her town car before the text comes in, exhausted from one single day of working a service job.