If one were to ask about Luthor Manor, no one would know to what they’re speaking about. It resides only in memories and stories, held deep within the depths of the minds of those who would rather forget it ever existed. But those who do remember will never, ever forget what happened to them there. The events are passed on from person to person, by word of mouth, treated as a typical ghost story told around a campfire.
But for one storyteller, who tells the tale of Luthor Manor at a pre-wedding party of all places, she states that the story isn’t hers, that it belongs to someone else. The bride and groom seem interested in hearing it, so after some coaxing and cajoling from other attendees, she dives right in.
It begins in Ireland – Dublin to be exact – where a young traveler answered the call of a Lord Lex Luthor, who requested an au pair to take care of his son, Alexander, and another young girl, Ruby, in their summer home while he worked. Being newly displaced and in need of a job and a place to stay, the traveler jumped at the first opportunity she saw. It would give a modest wage and would be live-in, which is exactly what she was looking for.
She arrives at the ground floor of a tall building with unremarkable features and windows that climb high into the clouds. After she checks in with the receptionist, she’s told to go to the top floor. She calls the elevator and steps inside, her thumbs nervously drumming on the straps of her backpack. When she walks out of the elevator, she’s greeted by Mr. Luthor’s assistant, who tells her to have a seat while she informs her boss that she’s here.
The double doors swing open again as the assistant rushes out and says, “Go on in.” The woman stands and enters the lush office that’s larger than her current hostel room.
“Danvers, sir. Kara Danvers.” She steps forward confidently and extends her hand. The man opposite her sits behind his desk, looking a little haggard for someone in such a high position. He has no hair on his head and his tie is loosened with his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Kara notices a half-empty glass of an amber liquid on his desk next to the phone, as well.
“Ah, yes, here for the au pair job,” the man says without looking up and Kara slowly lowers her hand. He’s flipping through some pages and Kara assumes it’s her résumé. She remains standing in the middle of the room until Mr. Luthor finally looks up and knits his brows together. “Please, have a seat.”
Kara sits quietly and waits for Mr. Luthor to address her, but her nervous energy gets the better of her and she has to fill the silence. “This is a really nice office, very… spacious.”
Mr. Luthor ignores her and continues flipping through the résumé as he stands and walks over toward his drink cart. “Tea? Coffee?”
“Oh, no thank you. If I drink any of that, I’ll be bouncing off the walls,” she jokes. “Besides, I’m used to tea coming in a pitcher with ice and lemon.” Lex sneers and pours himself a cup of tea before walking over to his wet bar and adding another auburn liquid to his cup.
“And you’re a journalist?”
“Yes! Or, well, I was. Worked for the local paper for a few years before getting a job with one of the larger establishments.”
Lex walks back with his teacup, sipping the hot liquid. “How long have you been here?”
“About six months,” Kara answers.
“Where you’ve been doing what, exactly?”
Kara’s wide smile falters a little. “Um, well, exploring mostly. Looking for work and a place to stay that isn’t a cramped and dirty hostel, which is why I answered your ad—”
“My son, Alexander, is a little challenging,” Mr. Luthor interrupts. “Ever since his mother passed, he’s been lashing out and will need structure. He’ll need a tutor. I don’t see anywhere here that you have any experience with children, let alone ones with particular needs.”
“Oh, well, I love children!” Kara insists. “I’ve done a bit of babysitting before I get along with them just fine. My mom says it’s because I’m a child at heart.”
Mr. Luthor scoffs and rolls his eyes. “There’s another child on the grounds, Ruby. She’s the daughter of the previous au pair, Samantha. You would be teaching her, as well.”
“I can do that,” Kara says, her smile reappearing. “No problem.”
Mr. Luthor continues. “The position is live-in, in our countryside manor in Wicklow. A cook, housekeeper, and gardener also tend to the home. However, you will be responsible for the children and I do not wish to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.”
Kara nods. “Understood. I’d take very good care of the children and wouldn’t bother you unless absolutely necess—”
“What’s the catch?” Mr. Luthor wonders, sitting back in his chair with his hands folded in his lap.
“Excuse me?” Kara asks.
“The catch. You can’t be more than, what, mid-twenties? Early thirties at most. You’re much younger than anyone would normally be looking for a position such as this one – someone with a lot of life left who can’t possibly want to be tied down and stuck inside of a house all day and night, so I’m wondering ‘what’s the catch’?”
A serious look washes across Kara’s face as she sits forward in her seat. “I could ask you the same thing, Mr. Luthor. I saw your ad in the papers six months ago when I arrived in Dublin, and I’ve seen it there every month since, so it seems to me that you’ve had trouble filling the position. But, I’m here, willing to work, and I’ll take good care of the children and won’t make any trouble. I’m just asking for a livable wage and a place to stay, so, Mr. Luthor, there is no catch.”
“Lex,” he grins, for the first time the entire interview. “Call me Lex. You’ll start tomorrow; I’ll have someone pick you up.”
The next morning, a car arrives to pick Kara up to take her to Luthor Manor. A man with dark brown skin and a bushy mustache introduces himself as Jack and takes her belongings, shoving them into the boot of the car. Kara climbs into the back seat and Jack hops into the driver’s seat and they’re off. Ireland is a beautiful country, Kara finds. It’s green everywhere, which is a far cry from the dull browns and yellows she left in National City. She and Jack make small talk on the long drive to Wicklow, asking each other about their lives and the manor.
“It’s a gravity sink, really,” Jack says with an amused lilt to his voice. “People can’t seem to leave once they arrive.”
“How long have you worked there?” Kara asks.
“Oh, it’s been about three years now. Samantha, the former au pair, and her daughter, Ruby, were already there when I was hired. Miss Olsen’s worked there for quite a while and the gardener’s been there even longer, I think.”
“So, there’s just three of you taking care of an entire manor?”
Jack glances back in the rearview mirror. “Just us. It helps that half of the manor is closed off. Mr. Luthor doesn’t want anyone going into the east wing.”
Kara wants to ask why, but she keeps it to herself. She doesn’t want to come off as too nosey, even though she is a journalist. The drive is relatively quiet, and Kara finds herself dozing off the rest of the way. When she awakens, it’s nearly dusk and they’ve pulled up to the front of the house – well, mansion is more like it. She stares out the window in awe, looking at the bricks aligning the walls and out the opposite window is a garden with a flowing fountain in the center. The entire property is lined with bushes and trees and not a single neighbor in sight.
“Here we are,” Jack says jovially and jumps out of the car to open Kara’s door for her. “Don’t worry about your luggage, I’ll get that for you. I believe Miss Olsen is walking the grounds somewhere, so feel free to explore before dinner.”
“Hello, a tiny voice calls from behind Kara.” She turns and sees a young girl.
“Oh, hello,” Kara answers, kneeling to get down to the girl’s height. “You must be Ruby.”
“Yes, and you must be the new apple pear.”
“Au pair,” Jack pokes her in the side before he gathers the suitcases.
“That’s what I said!” The girl sticks her tongue out.
“Are you American, too?” Kara asks. She expected everyone here to have an Irish or British accent and is surprised to hear someone with one like her own.
“I am! My mummy and I came to live here with my daddy, but they died.” She says it so nonchalantly that Kara’s not certain she understands what the word means. “Come, let’s go find Alexander and Miss Olsen. They’re probably playing somewhere.” She takes Kara’s hand and leads her around the side of the house. They come upon a pretty woman and a young boy standing together on the grass when they see her.
“This is the new apple pear,” Ruby announces proudly.
“Kara Danvers,” the au pair introduces herself and shakes the housekeeper’s hand.
“Kelly Olsen, pleased to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Kelly.” Kara turns her attention to the young boy. “And you must be Alexander.”
Miss Olsen prods the boy. “Where are your manners? Say hello.”
“Hello,” the boy says shyly, lowering his head.
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Alexander.”
Miss Olsen huffs and rolls her eyes. “Let’s go get cleaned up before dinner. I’ll show you where your room is, Miss Danvers.” The children run ahead of them into the house while Miss Olsen and Kara walk at a more sedate pace. Kara has so many questions, but she doesn’t want to overwhelm the other woman with them – not yet, anyway.
“Here we are,” Miss Olsen says, opening one of the doors in the house. “This is your room, and you have your own bathroom through there. The children are just down the hall.” Kara’s suitcases are already lined up neatly by the bed. The room is modest, clean, unlived in.
“Excuse me,” Kara says just as Miss Olsen is about to leave. “Who used to stay here?”
“The former au pair, Ms. Arias. She is – was – Ruby’s mother.”
“What happened to her?” Kara inquires, suddenly feeling a chill in the room.
Miss Olsen smiles politely. “That’s a long story for another time. Get settled and then come down for dinner. I’m sure Jack is fixing up something delicious for your arrival.” She leaves and closes the door behind her, and Kara takes stock of her belongings. As she begins to unpack and hang things in her closet, making sure to keep things organized, but shortly after, there’s a knock on her door. When she opens it, she sees young Ruby standing there.
“Are you going to come down for dinner?”
Kara looks at her watch. “Oh, of course. I lost track of time.” She follows Ruby downstairs to the kitchen and sits down in one of the empty chairs. Jack is standing over the stove and both children are sitting across from each other. Miss Olsen sits at the head of the table and pours Kara a glass of water.
“So, how’s your first day at Luthor Manor been so far?” she asks, handing Kara the glass.
“It’s been great! Seems like a nice place to live and I’m sure the children and I will get along just fine.” Ruby and Alexander share a look and then stare down at their plates as Jack comes over with a pot of something to dish out to everyone.
“I hope you all like fettucine alfredo, because that’s what you’re having tonight.” The children both cheer and the adults smile politely. Right as the bowl of salad is being passed to Kara, the door to the kitchen swings open and a woman walks in, taking her place at the opposite end of the table. She doesn’t address Kara or introduce herself, just acts like she’s always been there.
“And how are the flowers doing today, Lena?” Miss Olsen asks, pouring out some wine.
Lena shrugs. “Fine, someone’s been getting into them, though. Noticed a few buds have been clipped off.” She gives Alexander a pointed look and the boy avoids eye contact at all costs. Miss Olsen hums disapprovingly and passes the glass of wine down to her.
“It couldn’t have been one of the children,” Jack pipes up. “It must have been an impasta.” The children laugh and Kara cracks a smile. They all start to eat and the children ask Kara loads of questions, as the au pair tries to keep up with all of them. Kara looks across to the end of the table and sees Lena eyeing her curiously while sipping her wine and it makes Kara’s face feel warm. She wonders if the scrutiny is because she’s new or American, or both, perhaps.
After dinner, they all excuse themselves and Kara walks Ruby up to assist her with her bath and bedtime routine. Since she’s alone with her, Kara decides it’s a good time to ask her about herself and the others in the house.
“So, you’ve lived here for a while?” she asks while scrubbing some shampoo into Ruby’s hair.
“Yup, with my mum when she was still here.” Ruby plays with the suds that fall to the bath water.
“What happened to Alexander’s mother?”
Ruby pauses for a minute, deep in thought. “She’s dead.” It’s said so simply, just like before when she spoke about her mother. Kara decides to drop the topic altogether and asks her about the other members of the household.
“Jack’s the cook, he’s been here for about three years. He makes all of these silly jokes to make Miss Olsen laugh. Miss Olsen’s been here longer, after mum died. Then there’s Miss Lena, she’s quiet and keeps to herself most of the time, but she’s been here for as long as I can remember.”
“She’s not related to anybody here?”
Ruby shakes her head. “No, no one knows much about her, other than she takes care of the plants and she’s got a… what did Jack say? Bone to pick with the world.” She smiles proudly at herself for remembering.
Kara’s not sure what to make of that, but she finishes Ruby’s bath and drains the water before wrapping her up in a towel. She gets Ruby settled in bed and notices a large dollhouse in the corner of the room. “Oh, wow, this is really nice.” She bends down to look more closely at it.
“It was a present,” Ruby says simply. She hops out of bed again and sits next to Kara, pointing out each doll she has. They resemble the different people in the house; she sees one for Miss Olsen and one for Alexander. “I’m going to make you a doll soon.”
“Oh,” Kara smiles. “I can’t wait to see it.” She puts Ruby back into bed and heads for the door when she sees something underneath the dresser. “What’s this?” She pulls out another doll with black yarn for hair and a white cloth dress.
“Put her back,” Ruby says gravely, sitting straight up.
“Don’t you want me to put her with the others?” Kara asks.
“No. Put her back,” Ruby frowns, and then she adds, “please.”
“Okay,” Kara says and puts the doll back on the floor. Ruby perks up and smiles again at her. “Goodnight, Ruby.” She shuts the door behind her and then walks over to Alexander’s room. He’s already in bed, reading a book. Admittedly, Kara hasn’t spent much time talking with him as he’s not quite as talkative as Ruby is, but he seems like a sweet boy. “Are you ready to go to sleep?” she asks, sitting on the edge of his bed. He nods and puts the book down on the nightstand.
“Don’t leave your room at night,” Alexander says, staring straight into Kara’s eyes intensely. He’s gripping his sheets with both hands and his knuckles are white.
“Don’t leave your room. Stay inside.”
Kara gives him an odd look. “Um, okay. I’ll stay in my room. Sleep tight.” She stands and turns off the light before closing the door behind her and heading toward her room down the hall. She gets ready for bed and lies down in the strange room that is not yet her own. She feels strange, almost like something is watching her. After tossing and turning for an hour, she sits up and swings her legs over the side of the bed and stands. She pads quietly down the hall and heads downstairs toward the kitchen to warm up some chamomile tea for herself, hoping that will do the trick.
Taking teapot out of the cupboard and fills it with water from the tap, placing it on the stove and turning the fire on to bring it to a boil. Kara sits down at the kitchen table and rests her head on her hand while she waits, looking around the modest kitchen. There’s a creak that comes from the next room and Kara thinks it might be one of the children, so she stands up to investigate. She doesn’t want to alarm anyone, so she doesn’t turn on any of the lights, but she pads slowly down the hallway to see who it is. The dark is known to play tricks on the eyes, so Kara’s not sure if she sees movement, but before she can get a closer look, the teapot starts to scream on the stove and she races back to turn it off.
A floor above, Ruby stirs and sits up in bed. She wipes the sleep from her eyes and hears the noise downstairs. She peers over the edge of her bed and her doll is no longer underneath the dresser and has moved to the middle of the floor. Rushing out of her room, Alexander is already standing in the hallway with a panicked look on his face. They look at each other and immediately rush down the stairs into the kitchen.
“Miss Danvers, what are you doing up?” Alexander asks, attempting to mask his voice that’s laced with fear.
“I couldn’t sleep, so I was warming up some tea. Do you both want some, too?”
“Ruby had a nightmare,” Alexander blurts out. He’s holding tightly onto Ruby’s hand and Ruby nods tearfully.
“There’s a monster in my room.”
“Oh,” Kara says with a look of sympathy. “Want me to go look?” Ruby nods again and Kara leaves her tea sitting on the counter, escorting both children back up to their rooms. When they get there, Kara starts searching every corner of the room, looking under the bed, behind the dollhouse. She nearly steps on one of the dolls – the same one that used to be under the dresser – that now lies in the middle of the bedroom floor. Just as she’s about to pick it up, Ruby says that something was making noise in the closet, so Kara opens the door and turns on the light to check. The children stand at the door and Kara turns around to face them.
“See? Nothing here,” she says with a smile. Alexander has a grave look on his face as he slams the door shut and pushes a chair up against the handle. “Alexander? Open the door.” Kara hits her hand against the door, knocking on it rapidly. “Ruby? Let me out!” Her heart begins beating faster and she rattles the door handle, but it won’t open. She knocks on the door again, but she doesn’t hear anything on the other side. She backs away until she hits the wall and slides down, pulling her knees to her chest. Kara’s never liked closed spaces, ever since she was young. It always brings up bad memories of a time where she wasn’t strong enough to take care of herself and speak up. Shutting her eyes tight, she tries to control her breathing, the way her therapist taught her.
When she opens them again, the door to the closet is open with Alexander standing at the opening. Kara scrambles to her feet and ignores Alexander’s apology. It’s nearly dawn outside, so she must have been in there all night. She stops just before the bedroom door and turns to face Ruby and Alexander.
“We’re sorry, please don’t be upset,” Alexander says, looking genuinely remorseful.
“It was locked and we couldn’t get it open,” Ruby adds.
“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” Kara replies, her voice shaking. Since it’s almost morning already, she has the kids go back to bed and takes a deep breath out in the hallway, but her heart won’t stop thumping out of her chest. She looks over to her right and sees muddy footprints on the wooden floor, wondering if one of the children went outside. Following the trail, they lead out the front doors, which are wide open. This does nothing to quell the fear in Kara’s chest, but she steps outside anyway, to see if she can find any trespassers. The grounds look empty as the sun threatens to peek over the horizon, so Kara goes back inside and makes sure to lock the doors behind her. It’s too late to clean up the mud now, so she retreats to her bedroom and tells herself she’ll get to it in the morning if Miss Olsen doesn’t get to it first.
By the time Kara wakes up, Miss Olsen is already awake and mopping up the mud on the floor. She’s no stranger to muddy footprints as they appear every so often and she just assumes the children track it in without telling her. Her patience never wears thin and she mops it up without a fuss. When Kara goes to wake the children up, Ruby apologizes again to her, and Kara can’t find it in herself to stay mad, so she drops the whole thing and tells Ruby that she doesn’t appreciate playing games late at night. She tells the same thing to Alexander and it seems like both children understand. They go downstairs for breakfast together and wait for Jack to finish up cooking. He’s making pancakes and makes a ridiculous pun about flapjacks.
“You’re so embarrassing,” Miss Olsen laughs, playfully slapping his arm.
“Oh, please, you don’t have to butter me up. I’m all yours already,” he winks in response and Miss Olsen just rolls her eyes and pours some maple syrup on her short stack. The gardener strolls in shortly after and washes her hands, taking a seat at the far end of the table once again as Jack sets a plate in front of her. She’s wearing the same overalls as the day before, Kara notices, and has a bit of a dirt streak running across her forehead. The gardener looks up and catches Kara observing her and the au pair tears her eyes away and looks down at her plate, looking like her breakfast is the most interesting thing in the world. When she brings her eyes up and glances back over at Lena, she can see the ghost of a smile at the corner of her mouth before she shoves a forkful of pancakes into it.
After breakfast, the children go upstairs to get dressed for their lessons and Kara waits a bit in the kitchen. She listens to the other residents talk, trying to find out more about all of them without asking directly. There’s a question that’s been plaguing her the entire time, though, and she feels it’s as good a time as any to ask, since the children aren’t around.
“I’m sorry, I have to ask, what happened to Ruby’s mother?”
“Ah,” Jack sighs. “Sam was… a troubled woman. She loved Ruby to death, but sometimes love isn’t enough. She’d had a tough life and we thought she was getting better here at Luthor Manor, but…” He trails off and furrows his brow.
“She died, here on the grounds,” Miss Olsen adds. “The children took it very hard and Mr. Luthor did, as well. We suspect it’s why he hasn’t been around much. He opened the house up to us and the children, let us remain here.”
“Were they involved?” Kara asks.
“God, I hope not,” Lena laughs and then sobers up quickly, remembering herself.
“We don’t believe so, but the fact that she was one the grounds – in the lake, to be exact, was a bit of a shock to everyone, and Lex felt responsible.” Kara nods and leaves it at that. “What about Alexander’s mother?”
“Miss Tessmacher,” Jack smiles sadly. “Another tragedy. Seems to follow this family everywhere. There was an accident a few years back. She went on vacation, but never came back.”
“Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” Kara says. “No wonder Alexander has been acting up. Lex told me he had been sent home early from boarding school?”
“Yes, there was an incident and the headmaster found it appropriate that he come home, rather than face consequences there for the safety of the other children,” Kelly explains. Kara tries to take all of this new information in, now that she knows that both children have suffered great loss at such a young age.
She excuses herself and goes to check on the children. Knocking on Alexander’s door first, but there’s no answer. Pressing her ear to the door, she listens for movement, but still doesn’t hear anything, so she opens the door just a crack, but Alexander isn’t there.
She searches in a few other rooms, but still can’t find him, so she tries one of the classrooms and sees him sitting on one of the desks.
“Alexander?” she calls out to him. When there’s no answer, she tries again. “Alexander, are you okay?” He has a faraway look on his face as he gazes out the classroom window. Kara gently places a hand on his shoulder and he jumps.
“Sorry, Miss Danvers. I got lost there for a second.” Ruby walks in soon after and Kara decides to forget about it for the time being and begins their lesson for the day.
Both children, Kara learns, are incredibly intelligent. They’re well ahead of where they should be regarding math and reading. Kara finds it easy to teach the both of them, as they’re attentive and responsive, so their first lesson goes well. When she excuses them, they both run off outside and Kara remains in the house to make herself some tea. Lena walks in shortly after, covered in dirt and walks over to the sink to wash her hands.
“Would you like some tea?” Kara asks. Lena looks over her shoulder and notices the container of sugar sitting next to the teapot and mugs.
“No, thank you,” she answers and sits down in her usual spot with a cup of hot water. “How are you handling things? Kids giving you any trouble?”
“Oh, no, they’re great,” Kara smiles. “I mean, aside from the odd prank here or there.” She hasn’t told anyone else about the closet incident, because she doesn’t want to make a fuss or show that she can’t handle the children. She idly wonders if Samantha Arias ever had any problems, but understands that people tend to act out when they’re grieving. Kara would know. Lena finishes her water and says she’d better get back to work, leaving Kara alone in the kitchen, but not before giving her the nickname Maria after the governess from The Sound of Music. The au pair found herself not being able to take her eyes off the gardener as she walks away.
The next few weeks carry on without incident, no more getting locked in closets or one of the children throwing dolls down laundry chutes and across the fence at the edge of the manor grounds (Alexander was having a bad day). So, when Ruby hangs out in Kara’s room and hands her a ring that had fallen out of one of her still unpacked suitcases, Kara immediately feels her chest tighten upon seeing it and her breaths puff out at an alarming rate. She stands up slowly as to not alarm the young girl.
“Will you excuse me for a minute?” she squeaks out and rushes out of the room and down the stairs, throwing the front door open and hiding behind one of the bushes. These panic attacks have started to become more frequent, even after she’s left home and all of the memories that reside there. It’s like they’ve followed her here to Ireland, her ghosts never left.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, for Kara, Lena was walking up to the house when she ran out. With a worried look, Lena follows her.
“You okay there, Maria?”
Kara’s breathing so hard that she barely registers Lena speaking to her. She swipes at her face in a futile attempt to compose herself. “Fine, I’m fine,” her voice comes out shaky and she closes her eyes when she hears Lena walking closer.
“Those kids can be a handful sometimes, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kara answers with a fake laugh, still trying to slow her breaths. She hates that Lena is seeing her like this, unraveled and emotional.
“It’s okay to have a good cry sometimes,” Lena continues, smiling a little. “I cry at least three times a day. How else do you think I keep all these plants watered?”
Kara laughs genuinely this time. The gardener may have seemed aloof and standoffish at first, but she really is kind once you slip through one of those cracks in her walls. The au pair hasn’t quite made it through, but she’s trying. Lena reaches over and squeezes Kara’s shoulder. “You’re doing a good job with them. Don’t worry.”
After that encounter, Kara finds herself always looking for the gardener, wanting to just be near her. She wishes her spot at the dinner table wasn’t so far away, but at least there’s always a chance she’ll get to pass one of the dishes to her from the other side and they’ll share a look, or perhaps a smile. It’s those small, fleeting moments that Kara holds onto, to remind herself that she’s really there, that she’s alive and breathing. It’s a reminder that she needs sometimes, because there are some days where she’s not even sure. But, Lena reminds her.
Lena and Kara have had conversations together, mostly just impersonal things, surface topics that don’t mean anything. Except, one day, Kara mentions her fiancé – or, rather, ex-fiancé – Mike. She notices a nearly imperceptible shift in Lena’s demeanor, a twitch at the corner of her mouth, but it’s gone just as is appears. The gardener is good at that, Kara notices, good at masking her feelings, to keep her guessing. It almost makes her embarrassed that she’s such an open book and wears everything out in the open. Her mother used to tell her that if her heart were further out of her sleeve that she wouldn’t fit through any doorways.
“That’s why you’re here, is it? Avoiding an ex-boyfriend?”
“Dead boyfriend, actually.”
Lena’s eyebrows raise. “Oh, shit, sorry.”
Kara waves off her apology and doesn’t say much more about Mike, just that he was her high school sweetheart, but she realized later that she didn’t love him the way she was supposed to, and that eventually led to his death.
There are times where Kara’s thought she’s seen him, or at least his figure staring at her, watching her, but it hasn’t happened since she arrived at Luthor Manor. So, when she sees someone walk by one of the house’s windows, she thinks it must be Miss Olsen, but when she strolls into the kitchen for some tea, Kelly is standing over the fire, mixing something in a large pot alongside Jack. The cook turns to her. “Oh, just who I was looking for. Would you like to taste this for me?”
It happens again another night when Kara’s putting the children to bed. She goes downstairs to make sure the doors are locked and when she turns around, she feels a compulsion to walk over to the forbidden wing. The wooden floors groan under her feet, but she continues padding slowly down the dusty hallway until she comes upon a door. When she opens it, it looks like it leads up to the attic. She climbs up the stairs and turns on the dim light. Sheets cover every piece of furniture to keep the dust away and as she looks around the room, she sees an old jewelry box on the floor. She bends down to get a closer look and wonders if one of the children got into things they aren’t supposed to. She’ll talk to them about it in the morning.
She places the box back on top of what she assumes to be a dresser and when she turns to leave, there’s a faceless figure standing in front of her. She can’t breathe, or move, or do much of anything. The figure takes a step closer, slowly inching their way toward her, and Kara finally finds her legs and runs past it, slamming the door shut. She runs back to the other side of the house, to her room, and closes the door, jumping into bed and throwing the covers over herself. She doesn’t sleep.
The urge to tell someone what she’s been seeing nearly overtakes her, but the dread of not being believed is overwhelmingly powerful. It isn’t until they begin getting more frequent prank calls and the others noticing Kara’s been jumpier that makes them start to take notice and wonder if there is something going on in or around the house.
Jack and Lena stay late one night just to make sure no one tries to get into the house and Lena tells Kara about Lex.
“He’s my brother. He and Eve were having an affair and the trip they went on was meant to be their last hurrah, because Eve found out she was pregnant and had decided to stay with her husband for the sake of her child. No one really knows what happened and Lex refuses to talk about it. He hasn’t been the same since. I’ve noticed him change over the years; he’s not the same man I grew up with.”
“Love changes a person,” Kara says softly.
“Yeah,” Lena scoffs in response. “It makes you do stupid things. It should never change who you are deep down, though. That kind of love fucks you up.” She says it in a way that makes it sound like she knows from experience, like maybe she’s projecting a little, but Kara doesn’t pry.
“They should probably get to bed,” Miss Olsen says, gesturing toward the two children asleep in front of the fireplace. Kara hops right up and starts to wake Alexander while Lena picks Ruby up and heads upstairs.
Kara’s always been a touchy person, but when she finds herself near Lena, she feels this gravitational pull toward her and always wants to share the heat that passes between their bodies. That’s how she finds herself standing in front of the gardener that same evening, with her hands nervously wrung in front of her, and the words please stay at the tip of her tongue. It’s already way past the time that Lena’s usually gone home, but after they had a scare at the manor with prank phone calls and an interloper sneaking around on the grounds, both she and Jack stayed to make sure everyone was safe.
It comes by surprise, like a flash of lightning after the low rumble of thunder, when Kara figures out that all these feelings she’s pushed down, the realization of who she really is, resurfaces whenever she looks at Lena.
Prom queen, active church member, soon-to-be wife - all things that led her to believe that who she is - what she is, is wrong. But how can it be wrong when everything inside of her alights with one smile coming from the gardener? So, she doesn’t tell Lena to stay, because that would be irresponsible and selfish. They haven’t even discussed the two of them, let alone anything other than Kara’s dead boyfriend. She does, however, reach out to touch Lena’s hand, squeezing it just enough to let her know I’m ready to talk about it and as her thumb strokes across the gardener’s rough knuckles, Lena looks up in confusion and then understanding before she climbs into her car.
“Who the hell knew?”
Things continue to happen gradually after that. There are still shared meals and shared looks across the table. Jack still interrupts everyone’s conversations with terrible puns, even after the news of his mother’s passing reaches the house, and Ruby informs everyone that being dead doesn’t mean being gone. The adults aren’t quite sure what to do with that, so they chalk it up to the young girl trying to compartmentalize her mother’s death and leave it at that.
Kara’s relationship with death is complicated. She used to hold herself responsible for Mike’s death, but ultimately, it was his choice to go. He was the one who couldn’t handle Kara’s identity, he was the one who felt like less of a man. Ruby’s words resonate with her.
Dead doesn’t mean gone.
There are times when Kara swears she sees him – in reflections, in shadows, in dreams. Perhaps Ruby is right, dead doesn’t mean gone, because as long as there’s a memory of someone, as long as someone remembers, they’ll never be completely gone.
After Jack returns from his mother’s funeral, he’s in dire need of comfort. Lena had come back earlier and Kara opted to stay at home, not quite ready to attend another funeral, so they put the children to bed and found some of Lex’s old bottles of wine in the cellar.
“He won’t miss them,” Kelly says with a smile and hands a couple each to Lena and Kara. They walk out together to the fire pit in the backyard and sit down on one of the log benches, handing Jack one of the bottles. He uncorks it immediately and takes a long swig.
“You two know the history of this house?” he asks, pointing toward the manor with his bottle. They shake their heads and Kelly comes out to join them shortly after. “Rumor has it, it belonged to the Rojas family way back in the day. They were well-off, obviously. Andrea Rojas was the daughter of powerful immigrant parents and they intended to marry her off to some neighboring family to continue their bloodline. When the plague washed through Ireland, it took both of her parents and she was left alone. Money started running out and Andrea was growing desperate, so she held gatherings often to try and find herself a suitable husband, which she did eventually.
“At one of her gatherings, she noticed Russell Rogers instantly. He was handsome, rich, probably wouldn’t murder her. He was the perfect target. It took her a couple of gatherings, but soon enough, she had him right in her pocket. They married quickly and Andrea even grew to love Russell. He gave her a daughter, her pride and joy, but that’s when she started noticing his wandering eye. You see, they had hired an au pair to help take care of their daughter and when Andrea was away on business, Russell just couldn’t keep it in his pants.
“Of course, Andrea knew all along, but she loved Russell and her daughter so much that she tried to make it work. In the end, Andrea became sick and was eventually bedridden, being waited on by the au pair-turned-nurse, a twisted joke thrust upon her by God. So, naturally, she refused to recite her rites of passage. She denounced God and everything He stood for, and stubbornly would not let death take her. She did not make things easy on the au pair, screaming at her every chance she got, hitting her when she didn’t get her way.
“It went on for years, until one day, the au pair could no longer stand it. While Andrea slept, the au pair sneaked into the bedroom of the woman who had made her life a living hell and sat on the edge of the bed. She listened to Andrea’s labored, wheezing breaths. She could just… end it all. End the pain. That’s how the au pair convinced herself: this would be a mercy killing. Andrea was suffering, Russell and his daughter were suffering, the au pair was suffering. A hand glided across Andrea’s pale cheek until it covered her mouth and nose, applying pressure. The lady of the house’s eyes popped open and she began thrashing. Tears flowed down the au pair’s face as she held on, sitting on top of Andrea, so she could not push her off. Then, finally, everything was still.
“The story goes, Russell and the au pair ended up marrying shortly after, raising Andrea’s daughter together. A trunk full of Andrea’s old clothes and jewelry sat deep in the attic, waiting for her daughter to come of age, but as time went on, the Rogers’ funds began to dwindle after Russell had lost money through some of his investments. The au pair didn’t understand why Russell held onto Andrea’s old things when they could be selling them to keep the family afloat. Russell merely said he’d promised Andrea, and a promise was binding.
“The au pair couldn’t take it any longer and when Russell was away, she climbed the stairs to the attic and opened the chest, finding everything that Andrea had kept. When Russell returned from his trip, the house was eerily quiet and he searched every room until he came upon the au pair, her body stiff as a board and face stuck in fear. No one knows exactly what killed her, but the more superstitious folks say that Andrea’s spirit remained in the house, in that chest. The promise Russell had made bound her to it and she couldn’t be released until her daughter received the chest on her eighteenth birthday. For years, Andrea was trapped inside, waiting. So, when she finally heard the lid of the trunk rattling, she was overjoyed until she saw the au pair’s face and a white-hot rage filled her and she squeezed the life out of her, also trapping her soul on the grounds.
“Russell feared that the chest held demons of the past and didn’t want his daughter to be subjected to it, so he did the only thing he could think of and tossed the chest into the lake that sat on the far edge of the grounds. Instead of being released, Andrea was trapped once again at the bottom of the lake. Eventually, long after Russell and their daughter were gone, Andrea was released from the chest. Every night, she walked back to the house, entered her daughter’s room searching for her, then would retire back to the lake.
“As time passed, and people started to forget the name Andrea Rojas, Andrea too forgot herself. All she knew was rage. She would leave the lake, enter the house, and walk to the same room, not knowing why. If a person got in her way, or didn’t see her coming, she would take them back with her to the bottom of the lake, and those souls are said to remain here on the grounds to this day.”
When Jack finishes his story, the women all look between themselves until Jack clears his throat.
“Sorry, loves, got carried away there.” He takes another drink from his wine bottle. “Anyway, thank you for indulging me with that little ghost story. I remember hearing it as a boy and it scared the trousers off of me.”
He sits down and gazes into the fire, and Kelly rests her head on his shoulder. Lena nudges Kara’s side with her elbow and motions over to the trees behind them. The au pair stands up and follows Lena, taking a look back at Jack and Kelly.
“They’ll be fine,” Lena says and continues walking.
They walk to the greenhouse and sit down on a loveseat that Lena had put in there. Sometimes, she liked just sitting amongst her plants by herself. She liked the quiet. They walk to the greenhouse and sit down on a loveseat that Lena had put in there. Sometimes, she liked just sitting amongst her plants by herself. She liked the quiet.
“So, what’s going on? You’ve been in your head all day today. Was it the funeral?”
Kara shakes her head. “No, I-I’ve been… seeing things. People.” She pauses to gauge Lena’s reaction, but the gardener says nothing and waits for her to continue. “At first, I thought I was seeing Mike. I’d see him in reflections, in those spaces at the corners of your eyes, between shadows. They stopped once I got here, but here I’ve been seeing others – a woman this time.” She chews on her bottom lip and can’t bring herself to meet Lena’s eyes, afraid that she’ll see what she always sees when she tells people – disbelief, confusion, humor, but when she feels a hand rest on top of hers, she looks and Lena eyes don’t show any of those things. Instead, they show a warmth that she’s never seen before.
“You know, I like to think I’m a pretty good judge of character. I can usually tell when people are lying to me, but you’re not.”
“You don’t think I’m crazy?” Kara asks meekly.
Lena shakes her head. “No, I think you’ve been through a lot. Anyone else in your shoes wouldn’t even be here, but the fact that you’re still standing says quite a bit.”
Kara can’t help it, but her eyes dart down to Lena’s lips as she’s speaking. She becomes hyperaware of the hand that sits on top of her shaky one, and how close the gardener’s face is to hers. Whatever Lena’s saying bleeds away like trying to listen to someone talking underwater and all she can think about is kissing Lena, so she does. Her mind goes blank for the first time since Mike died, it’s just… quiet. But when her eyes open, they’re drawn behind Lena’s shoulder and she sees a woman standing there, soaking wet, and her face is gone. She jumps back and Lena sits back with her eyes wide.
“Oh, all right, then. I thought we were on the same page there.”
“I-I’m sorry,” Kara says in a panicked voice. She knows she’s ruined it and it’s only made clearer when Lena stands up and starts backing away toward the door.
“Look, maybe this is all going too quickly. I mean, you were just someone’s fiancée and it doesn’t seem like you’re quite over all of that. We can try again some other time.” She gives one last tight-lipped smile and exits the greenhouse, leaving Kara alone with her cockblock ghost. Kara walks back to the bonfire and sits back down. Jack and Miss Olsen have already gone back inside, so she's alone. She feels around in her pocked and pulls out the ring that Ruby found in her suitcase and looks at it carefully. The three diamonds set into it represent herself, Mike, and God. With a furrowed brow, she tosses it into the fire, finally letting go of the past and everything that's kept her tied down to it.
The next morning, Kara grabs two mugs from the kitchen and pours out hot water into both. She prepares tea, tastes it, shrugs, then heads toward the greenhouse. She sees Lena’s familiar figure inside and puffs up her chest before walking inside. The gardener looks up from one of her plants and furrows her brow upon seeing her.
“You’re up early,” she observes.
“Yeah, well, it’s Thursday and I know you’re here early on Thursdays.”
Lena’s mouth curls up into a smirk and goes back to repotting her plant. “So, you just decided to wake up early, make some tea, and come out here to say ‘hi’ at six in the morning?”
Kara shrugs and offers the other mug to Lena, who looks at it skeptically, fully knowing it’s going to be sugary American tea, but she takes it, anyway. “It’s coffee, actually. I thought that we could try again. I know the other night was weird, but I do like you, I swear.”
“You sure about that?” Lena raises an eyebrow and walks further into the greenhouse and Kara scrambles to follow.
“I’m sure. It’s just that I know how I feel, but I’ve never been able to act on it before.”
“And you want to act on it with me, do you? Look, I know this is all new for you and it’s exciting, but I don’t do complicated. That’s why I’m here, gardening, because it’s easy. Plants are easy. People are complicated.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to complicate things,” Kara frowns into her coffee mug. She’s about to give up and leave, but she’s tired of running. For once in her life, she wants to fight for something that she wants. “There’s a pub just down the street, isn’t there? Maybe we could get a drink, see where the night takes us. That’s not complicated, right? Sounds pretty easy to me.” She says it hopefully, leaning against one of the tables and Lena stops and turns to face Kara.
“You know I live above that pub, right?” Her smile widens and she scoffs. “Of course you do. I remember telling you. Fräulein Maria, you flirt. What would the children say?”
Kara grins and looks out the window to see Ruby wandering around, walking toward the lake. “Ruby?” They race outside and catch up to her, Kara holding her by the arms. “Ruby, what are you doing out here?”
The young girl shakes herself back to reality and blinks a couple times. “I don’t know. The lady was calling to me.”
“Lady? What lady?” Kara asks.
Ruby sways a little. “I don’t feel so good.” Kara picks her up and takes her back to the house.
The doctor tells them to let her rest and keep her warm and inside for the day, but she should be fine. She walks back to the kitchen to see Jack sitting with Kelly, chatting.
“I tried to call Lex, but he just asked if it was an emergency and if Ruby was okay. When I said she was, he said only call him if it’s an emergency and hung up.”
Kelly looks at her sympathetically. “That’s Mr. Luthor, hates to be bothered at work.”
“Even if it’s about the children?”
“Even so,” Jack adds with a sigh. Lena walks in then, surprised to see everyone still there. “You’re back!” Jack announces.
“Uh, yeah, almost made it home and then I turned around. Felt like a drink, but didn’t quite feel like drinking alone.” She glances at Kara, who takes a bit to realize what Lena’s saying. Jack and Kelly smile at her knowingly.
“Oh, me? What about the kids?” Kara gulps.
“Already taken care of,” Lena says.
“I’ve got it handled,” Kelly grins and Jack supplies quickly.
“We’ve got it handled. Go on, have fun. Be safe.” He winks teasingly. Lena pulls Kara out by her hand and leads her outside. It’s raining just like it has been for the past week, but they trudge through the woods in the mud.
“Where are we going?” Kara asks, then adds, “You’re not taking me out here to murder me, are you?”
Lena turns her head and gives Kara a wry smile. “No, Fräulein, nothing like that.”
They finally reach a clearing and Kara wonders what she’s meant to be looking at. Lena walks over to a fence with flowers growing all over it. “Do you know what these are?” Kara shakes her head, so Lena continues. “These are moonflowers, incredibly rare and difficult to grow, especially here. They only bloom at night, one time, and then they die.”
“Seems like a lot of effort for something that lives once and dies,” Kara says, observing the flowers closely. “But they are beautiful.”
“Yeah,” Lena clips. “They are a lot of work with not much payoff, kind of like relationships.” She sets down the lantern and sits on a tree stump. “Look, I’m no good at this. I hate small talk and tiptoeing around each other while we get to know one another, so I thought I’d save you some trouble and cut to the chase. See if I’m worth the effort.”
Kara walks over and sits down next to Lena. “Okay.”
“I watched my mother drown when I was four. Didn’t do anything, just stood there. I remember people screaming and running past me, but I didn’t scream, didn’t call for help. Nothing. I was told I would be put in an orphanage, but the day I’m supposed to leave, Lionel Luthor shows up and adopts me. He takes me home with him to the States, introduces me to my new family – a stepmother who would rather see me drowned in a lake and a brother who uses me as his own puppet, something to shape and mold. The thing about rich families is that they care about money more than anything. If there’s no profit to be made, there’s no use for it. I wasn’t profitable, so they sent me away to boarding school the second I was old enough, where I was teased relentlessly for being an orphan and adopted.
“I remember my first boyfriend had only been with me as a dare. See if he could bed the weird orphan girl. I decided from then on, that people weren’t useful to me. I got into a lot of fights, ran off to uni as soon as I could and graduated as quickly as possible. That’s where I learned to love plants – biology, horticulture, all that stuff. I learned every single thing I could. When you grow something with your own two hands - plant the seed, water it, care for it – and see the fruits of your labor bloom, that feeling is greater than any rush I’d ever felt from another person. So, it’s always been plants for me.
“After Lionel died, that’s when I found out that he was my father. He and my mother had an affair while he was in Ireland on a business trip and then there I was. I wasn’t actually an orphan, but I thought I was that entire time. See, people lie. They tell you what they think you want to hear, but a plant tells you exactly what it needs.
“Anyway, that was a very longwinded way of saying that people are rarely worth the effort, but every once in a while, once in a blue moon, someone comes around who’s worth the effort, like these moonflowers. You just have to know how to take care of them. And, I think I’d like to learn how to take care of you.”
Lena’s standing in front of the flowers now, regarding them, and Kara stands up to regard her. This woman is unlike anyone she’s ever met before, but she knows she’s special and that she is worth the effort. She reaches out to take the gardener’s hand and they face each other, and before she knows it, Kara’s kissing her again. It’s desperate and they cling to each other as if their life depends on it. It almost feels like Kara’s first kiss, treats it as if there’s been no one else before Lena. In Kara’s mind, there hasn’t been.
When they eventually get back to the house, Kara checks on Ruby once more while Lena waits just outside.
“She’s still asleep,” Kara says, shutting the door behind her. The look on her face is hopeful.
“I’d better get home,” Lena answers and Kara’s smile falters.
“Oh. Are you sure? It’s getting pretty late. You could stay.”
Lena laughs and gives another signature smirk. “No, I’d better at least change out of these clothes. Don’t want people to talk.” When she sees Kara’s smile fall even further, she pushes herself forward and takes both of Kara’s hands in her own. “There will be other nights.”
Kara looks up and musters a small, crooked grin. “You promise?”
Kara leans in to kiss the gardener again, really not wanting the night to end there, but she reluctantly pulls away and walks down the hallway with Lena’s hand in hers. As they move toward the front door, they find it hard to keep their hands off one another and continue kissing each other until they get out the door. What they don’t notice is the Lady of the Lake is awake and finishing her usual route back out of the house. Kara’s standing in front of Lena, facing the car, as she turns to walk back to the house, when a hand closes around her neck and squeezes. She can’t scream, or yell for help, but she can still hear the panic and cries that come from Lena as she’s being dragged back out toward the lake.
Her eyes scan the doorway to the manor, and she sees Ruby and Alexander standing at the top of the stairs. She silently begs them to stay out of the way and she feels her body being dragged down the driveway as Lena runs after them. The children follow after her and they all beg the Lady of the Lake to release Kara, but the hand remains clenched around the au pair’s throat. Kara can hear the sound of water coming closer and her hair touches down onto the mud when she hears Lena’s desperate cry.
“Take me! Take me instead. Please.”
Just as Kara’s mouth is about to be submerged underwater, the Lady – Andrea – stops.
Kara whispers, “No,” as Andrea turns to walk the opposite way out of the lake once more, releasing her grip on Kara’s neck. The faceless woman stalks toward Lena and Kara crawls on the muddy ground, trying to reach them. She watches as Lena’s eyes widen in horror as she waits to be taken and Kara does the only thing she can think of. Clearing her throat, her voice is still gravely and sore, but she speaks as loudly as she can.
“Your name is Andrea Rojas. You were married to Russell Rogers, you two had a daughter together. He betrayed you, the person you loved betrayed you, and he left you to rot in the bottom of a lake. They forgot about you, but we remember you. You can take my body, I—we can show you what love should be, but please, just give me a little more time with her.”
Andrea stops and lowers her hand, turning slowly back toward Kara. The au pair stands up slowly, unsure of what’s about to happen. This may be where she dies, but at least she’ll know Lena and the children will be safe for now. Andrea’s mouth has begun to reform and she opens it. She hoarsely whispers, “Us,” and brings a finger up to Kara’s forehead, pushing on it gently and Kara falls backward. Lena runs over to her while Kelly and Jack come up with the children. A car speeds into the driveway and Lex Luthor rushes over, as well. He had finally grown a backbone and came to check on the children he should have been looking after this whole time.
“Oh, god, what’s happened? I should have been here. I should have—”
“Kara?” Lena says, holding the other woman’s head in her lap. “Kara, can you hear me?” The au pair doesn’t move, but Lena doesn’t stop listening and waiting. Everyone else is quiet, waiting with bated breath, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Finally, Kara’s eyes open and she gasps for breath. Lena sees that they’re no longer both blue, but one is now a pale grey. Jack rushes over to grab Kara and carry her inside as the rest of them follow.
Lena walks into Kara’s room and finds her standing in the middle of the room, staring at nothing at all. She’s supposed to be packing up her things to prepare for her departure, but ever since that night at the lake, she hasn’t quite been the same. Lena’s done her best to be patient with her, comforted her when she wakes up drenched in sweat and screaming, or when she seems to forget who she is completely, forgets the gardener and who they are to each other.
“Hey, you,” Lena breaks the silence first and Kara jumps at the sound.
“Oh, I—uh, I was just getting packed,” Kara says, looking around at the room and quickly grabbing a garment of clothing closest to her. She shoves it deep into her suitcase and doesn’t meet Lena’s eyes like she’s afraid looking at them will cause her to break into pieces. Her hands fidget in front of her, and her breaths get shorter; she doesn’t realize that there are tears falling down her cheek.
“What’s wrong?” Lena asks. She kneels beside her, holding them and pulling her up to sit on the bed.
“I-I can feel her – Andrea – in this room. I feel her anger, her rage. It’s subdued, hidden, like it’s lying in wait in this dense, overgrown jungle that I’m walking through. I can’t see anything, but the path in front of me, but I know she’s there, that she’s just watching. She-she’s always here, in the back of my mind. Waiting. I don’t know how long I have, or if she’s going to take over tomorrow or next week, but I’m scared. Lena, I’m scared.”
“What if I went with you?” Lena asks, placing a gentle hand over Kara’s. “Kept you company while you wait for your beast in the jungle.”
Kara shakes her head. “I can’t ask you do to that.”
“You’re not asking me. I’m offering.” She holds up her pinky and smiles. Kara takes a deep, sobering breath and musters a tiny smile as she links her pinky with the gardener’s. The au pair never wanted to bring anyone else into her life to deal with her drama, but Lena wants to be there. For whatever reason, Lena hasn’t run away yet. And she knows having someone else there will make the journey easier, but at the same time, it’ll be more difficult when she’s finally taken by Andrea and she doesn’t want Lena to get hurt.
People are expendable, exhaustive, Lena had told her once. They’re more trouble than they’re worth, and Kara’s proving that to be true. If she just leaves, makes a clean break, Lena could stay in Ireland with her plants and her quiet, boring life. But a voice in the back of her mind tells her to accept Lena’s offer and that she should spend as much time as she can with the gardener, so she links their pinkies together and Lena brings Kara’s hand up to her lips, pressing a kiss onto her knuckles.
“Will you come visit us?” Ruby asks, standing in the foyer with Lex and Alexander.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t,” Kara says to the girl, looking up at Lex for reassurance. “Depending on where you go.”
“Actually, I was thinking of taking the children to the States to meet their grandmother, so I’m sure we could find some time to meet up somewhere.” Ruby cheers and Alexander looks pleased.
“Well, that will definitely make things easier. I think that’s where we’re going to go, too,” Kara says, blindly reaching over for Lena’s hand. “At least for a little while. We may do some traveling, too.”
Lena stands in front of Lex and nods. “Say hello to Mother for me.” Lex gives her a pitying look.
“You should come see her. I’m sure she misses you.”
Lena scoffs. “Not likely.”
“Think about it,” Lex replies. “We’re still your family. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry… for everything.” He wraps his arms around her for a hug then and Lena nods a goodbye before taking the rest of their bags out to the car. Lex then stands next to Kara. “I owe you a great debt of gratitude that I can never repay.”
Kara turns to look at him. “I’m just glad you all have each other now. Be good to one another.” Lex nods at her and pulls the au pair in for a hug, surprising her. She and Lena get into the car, slowly feeling the weight lifting off of their shoulders as they drive down the dirt road, away from Luthor Manor, away from the ghosts that have haunted them for the past year.
Lena and Kara sit at a diner table with a map spread out between them. They’re planning their next adventure together, but Kara looks at it with apprehension and longing.
“If we drive out west, we can make it to California and see your mother and sister for Christmas.” She notices that Kara’s been unresponsive for the past few minutes and turns to face her. “What’s the matter?”
Kara shrugs. “I just—I don’t think we should plan too far into the future, you know? We don’t know what’s going to happen, or how much time I have.”
“Hey, one day at a time, then. That’s fine by me. If one day at a time is all we’ve got, I’m glad I’m spending them with you.”
Kara smiles and nods, poking at her fries. She hasn’t felt Andrea lately, not like she did when they were still in the manor, but it’s still a lingering shadow that seems to follow her and if she turns around, it disappears.
A month passes them by and then another comes. Soon, it’s been six months and Kara is still herself. There are instances when she’s looking at Lena while they’re in bed, or if they’re cooking together and she feels this overwhelming feeling of, well, lust, for lack of a better word. She doesn’t know where it comes from, just that she feels raw, unadulterated passion whenever she sees the gardener.
“I don’t know, it just feels like there are days when I fall in love with you all over again.”
“Well, gosh, Maria. You sure do know what to say to a woman,” Lena jokes.
It’s these moments where Kara feels herself being taken over, that she’s pushed back into the dark recesses of her mind and she’s on the outside looking in, that she’s not the one in control. She wonders if that’s when Andrea takes hold – when her head is between Lena’s legs and a hand is gripping onto her hair, is it her hair, or the ghost’s? When she makes the gardener moan her name, is she calling out Kara or Andrea?
Before they know it, a full year has passed. They buy an apartment together, fix it up – their forever home. Kara finds a job at a newspaper outlet, writing articles about important topics, and Lena opens a flower shop downtown. She and Lena have a perfect life together.
If Kara lets her mind wander, sometimes she remembers she’s living on borrowed time. She looks in a mirror or in the bathtub and the reflection that looks back at her isn’t always her. Whenever she has the time, she tries to spend it with Lena in the flower shop, arranging bouquets or fulfilling orders. One day, Lena pops in and she has a nervous smile on her face.
“I got something for you.” She brings a tiny vase out from behind her back and sets it down on the counter. There’s a single, white flower stemming from the dirt, closed up.
“Is that a moonflower?” Kara asks.
“Yeah,” Lena replies, chewing on the corner of her lip.
“They’re really rare and difficult to grow, you know.”
“We, uh, we have an issue to work out,” the gardener says with a grave look on her face.
“Uh-oh,” Kara says, trying not to let her nerves show.
“You see, I haven’t quite figured out how to solve a problem like Maria, and thought maybe I don’t have to. The thing is, I haven’t gotten tired of you yet, don’t feel like you’ve exhausted your use. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m kind of in love with you.” She swallows thickly and waits for Kara’s reaction. She’d told herself that she wasn’t going to fall in love, because her heart was only going to get broken in the end, but she couldn’t help it. The au pair’s grin widens and she rounds the counter over to the sign on the shop’s door, turning it to the ‘Closed’ side, and wraps her arms around Lena’s waist, kissing her soundly. She lifts her up and carries the gardener to one of the back rooms where they’ve set up a couch, much like the one in the old greenhouse, and lays her down on top of it, hovering above.
“I love you, too,” Kara says. “I will love you for the rest of my days, for as long as I’m still me.”
Lena reaches up to cup the au pair’s cheek and brings their lips together. Kara grinds her hips down and Lena gasps, tightening her legs around the au pair’s waist to bring her closer. With frenzied hands, Kara unbuttons Lena’s pants and lowers the zipper, cupping her and letting the sound of Lena’s sigh fill her ears. But then, there’s a flash of a memory and she’s back in Luthor Manor, submerged beneath the waters of the lake, alone. It’s dark and cold, she can’t see past her own hand, and all she wants is to do is swim up and breathe, but she can’t. She’s weighed down by something, trapped.
She hears someone’s voice calling out to her and she remembers that she’s not back at Luthor Manor, she’s not in the lake, that she’s with Lena in their shop.
“Kara? Honey? Come back to me.”
Kara snaps out of it as she takes stock of herself. Her fingers are sitting at Lena’s entrance, frozen in place, and both of Lena’s hands are holding onto her face and shoulder. Kara jerks back and sits up.
“I-I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.”
“It’s all right,” Lena replies, sitting up, as well. “Do you want to go home?” Kara nods and they lock up the shop before walking back to their apartment.
These episodes start becoming more frequent, where Kara is locked away in a memory that isn’t hers. She can feel Andrea more strongly and knows it’s only a matter of time. With time running out, Kara decides to take a final leap; she comes home holding a plant while Lena’s in the kitchen cooking their dinner.
“Oh? What’s that?” Lena asks over her shoulder.
“I found it on the sidewalk, someone just threw it away, can you believe it? I thought you could try and save it.”
Lena turns the stove down and wipes her hands off on her apron, walking over to the counter to check it out. She checks the branches first and then digs out the rest of the plant to look at the roots. Something shines inside the dirt and her breath hitches. Kara walks around to the other side of the counter to stand next to Lena and wrings her hands together.
“Here’s the thing, you’re my best friend and my greatest love. I don’t know how much time we have left, but I want to spend it with you. I know you said you never wanted to get married, but I thought we could at least wear the rings and we’d know. You and I belong to each other. Well, you, me, and Andrea,” she chuckles.
Lena pulls the ring out of the roots and looks closely at it. It’s a claddagh, almost identical to the one her birth mother wore. She can feel the tears slide down her face as she looks up at Kara and smiles.
“Yes?” Kara’s eyes widen and she grins. Lena nods and Kara scoops her up and twirls her around.
“Put me down, you oaf,” Lena laughs. “The sauce is going to burn.” They hug for a long while and Kara doesn’t want to let go. She doesn’t want this moment to end. She hopes that if she ever loses herself, that this memory is the one she’ll always come back to.
Lena comes back home after a long day at the flower shop (Mother’s Day) and calls out for Kara. “I brought your favorite, those little dumplings you love so much.” There’s no answer, so Lena puts the bag of food down on the kitchen table and walks further into the apartment. Water is flowing out of the bathroom and Lena races over and opens the door. Kara is hunched over the tub, unmoving. Lena slowly enters the room and kneels beside the au pair. “Kara?”
Kara’s brought back and she looks around, her feet soaking and the floor a mess. “Oh, geez, the floor.”
“It’s an easy clean-up,” Lena assures her. “Are you okay?”
“I-I saw her, Andrea, in the reflection. Can you see her?”
Lena looks at Kara and shakes her head. “I only see you.”
Kara looks back into the tub, Andrea staring back at her. “I feel myself fading away a little bit at a time, every day. It feels like I’m here, but not completely. It’s like there’s this fog and I can see some things, but everything else around it is blurry. I’m sitting here and I see you, and I feel you, but what if I’m really her?”
“You’re not,” Lena shakes her head. “You’re still you. You’re still here with me.”
“I’m tired, Lena. Maybe I should let her take over, accept that it’s going to happen anyway and let her take me.”
“No, no one’s going anywhere. You and me? We still have so much time together, we can still have so many more years. Okay? You’re still here.” She kisses Kara’s forehead and hugs her close, but Kara just closes her eyes and begs Andrea to wait just a little longer.
Andrea shows herself in dreams. From the moment Kara shuts her eyes and lets sleep take her, she sees Andrea, standing and watching. Most nights, Andrea says nothing, no matter how much Kara yells and screams at her.
“I don’t understand what you want,” Kara sobs. “Or why you haven’t taken me yet? Why give me these years with Lena if you’re just going to take me in the end?”
“You have what I never had,” Andrea replies. It’s the first time she’s said anything to Kara. “She would do anything for you, wouldn’t she?”
“Yes, and I would do anything for her.”
“Because she loves us.”
“No, she’s loves me. You’re just an intruder, a hitchhiker. I let you in, so you wouldn’t hurt anyone anymore.”
“She is, isn’t she,” Andrea murmurs, ignoring Kara’s words.
“And she would be… sad if I took you away,” Andrea contemplates, furrowing her brow.
“Yes,” Kara answers.
“I could take her, too.”
Kara shakes her head. “No, I won’t let you. She doesn’t deserve that.” Andrea lets out a loud shriek then and disappears.
Kara wakes up and her hand is wrapped around Lena’s neck. She gasps and pulls it away, horrified by what she was about to do, what she’s capable of. If she lets Andrea out, she’ll kill more people without prejudice. So, that night, Kara decides to leave. She can’t bear the thought of killing anyone, let alone the love of her life.
With her mind made up, she gets out of bed quietly and packs a few things. She calls a taxi to take her to the airport and she sits at the desk to start writing Lena a letter, explaining why she has to go. Just as she’s about to seal it, she hears Lena grumble and Kara knows she’s caught.
“Honey, what are you doing up? Why are you dressed?”
“I have to go, Lena. I-I almost killed you tonight.”
Lena sits up straight. “What are you talking about? What do you mean you almost killed me?”
“Andrea, she—I saw her in a dream and she sounded jealous of us, of what we had. She wanted to take you, too, so we’d all be together somehow. When I woke up, my hand was around your neck and I wanted to squeeze. I just felt rage and I wanted to… I can’t, Lena. I can’t—”
Lena jumps out of bed and sits in front of Kara, holding her hands. “Hey, you would never hurt me. Okay? That isn’t you. Andrea’s just going to have to deal with the fact that I’m not done with you yet. She has to wait her turn.”
Kara shakes her head sadly. “It doesn’t work like that. We don’t get to decide.”
“Then I could learn to love both of you. You hear that, ghost? If you let Kara stay, I’ll learn to live with, and love, the both of you. You said she was jealous of what we had, right? Well, when I promised to wear this ring, I was promising to love you – all of you, and that means her, too. Please don’t leave. I don’t want to do this without you.”
“What if I hurt someone?” Kara asks, choking out a sob. “What if I hurt you?”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because you love me. One day at a time, all right?”
“Okay,” Kara nods. “Okay.”
And so, the gardener and the au pair learned to live with the beast, feeding it and tending to its needs. It was either luck or persistence that kept them together for so long, or perhaps they loved Andrea just enough to keep her satisfied. Whatever the case may have been, that kind of love is as rare as a moonflower, but with enough attention and care, it will continue to bloom for as long as it can until it’s time for it to fall and rise back up as new life. They would take comfort in knowing that they would never truly lose themselves, because they would carry each other in their memories until their last breaths.
The storyteller finishes her tale, and those who stayed for its entirety sit quietly, ruminating. Finally, the groom announces that he and his bride-to-be need to get some much-needed rest before their big day and take their leave. Everyone else begins to follow.
“That was a pretty convincing ghost story,” a voice says from the corner of the room after everyone else has retired to bed.
The storyteller smiles. “I like to think of it as a love story.”
A figure emerges from the shadows and walks forward. “Well, Mrs. von Trapp, I think you may be right.” Kara snakes her hands around Lena’s stomach and places a gentle kiss on her neck. “Also, Andrea says we should head back to the hotel now. We’ve missed you.”
“Oh, is that what she says?” Lena laughs. “Better not keep her waiting.”
“You know what she can be like, always so grumpy.”
Lena chuckles and pulls Kara in for a kiss. “You know she’s you, right? Everything she feels, you feel.”
“Yeah, yeah. You both keep reminding me,” Kara says with a scoff. “Are Kelly and Jack coming?”
“Of course they are, and Lex is bringing Alexander back in the morning to get their tuxes fitted beforehand.”
“Can you believe it? Ruby’s getting married. Makes you feel old, doesn’t it?”
Lena hums, counting the years and recalling all the memories that she and Kara have had together. It’s been longer than either one of them would have ever thought, but they took it one day at a time and that was enough.