Nia just needed a friend to do a hard mall trip. Trying out dresses. For a formal dance. And hey, maybe Lena and Kara are mad at each other but... She just needs Lena okay?
When Lena receives a call from an unknown number, she almost ignores it. But just enough people spread her phone number that she answers it on the off chance it might be someone who needs her.
“Lena Luthor, how can I help you?”
“Lena, please don’t hang up.”
The voice is familiar, but Lena can’t place it until the voice continues.
“It’s Nia. Nia Nal? And I know--” Lena almost hangs up right then-- not because it’s Nia, but because Nia treads dangerously close to a subject Lena is dead set on avoiding. Almost. “I know you have no reason to take my call, but… I need your help.”
Lena almost hangs up. She doesn’t.
“What do you need?”
The crisis, Lena learns, is that Nia has been given the assignment of her life covering the Golden Globes ceremony being hosted in downtown National City, but has nothing even remotely appropriate to wear. The mundanity of it all is so far from what Lena expects that it’s long moments before the words fully register.
“I’m here,” Lena says quickly, clearing her throat. She leans forward in her chair, rattling off an address. “Meet me there tomorrow at 11am.”
The next day, a few minutes after eleven, Nia walks up to Lena outside of Sylvie with hesitation all over her face. “Lena?”
Lena tucks her phone away and turns towards Nia with a professional but bright grin. “Nia, you made it.”
“Uhm, yeah actually… I kinda thought I’d gotten lost…”
Lena looks at her in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Lena, I can’t afford anything on this boulevard, are you crazy??”
“You’re not paying,” Lena says simply.
Wide eyes blink at her in shock. “What? No! No, Lena, I can’t ask you to do that--”
“Look, I was thinking we could just go to the mall--”
Nia quails under Lena’s judgement, and Lena softens.
“Nia, you are about to be on the red carpet, covering an event that could catapult your career into the stratosphere. I think that warrants something a little more than what a department store can offer.”
“But…” Nia continues to protest, but uncertainty colors her features, and Lena knows she’s slipped under her guard. Carefully, Lena places a hand on Nia’s wrist.
“I won’t force you to accept what I’m offering,” she says gently. “But calling a Luthor for help means calling for a Luthor solution-- and nothing says Luthor more than shopping at the best boutique in town.”
Nia nods, but she ducks her chin with a swallow. “It’s just…”
“I don’t want you to think that’s why I called, you know?” Nia expels a sigh, working a harried hand through her hair. “It’s just that Kara was supposed to come with me for moral support, but she’s had to cancel four times and the ceremony is in three days and if Andrea hears one more time that I don’t have a dress, she’s going to kill me…”
“Nia,” Lena says softly. Nia stops, and meets Lena’s gaze with a hesitant one of her own. “I would never think you were calling for a hand out. I’m offering.” Nia still looks uncertain, but Lena holds her gaze. “You asked for help… so let me help.”
Nia considers her words, studying Lena carefully. Finally, she wraps her arms around herself with a steadying sigh. “If you’re sure…”
Nia follows a few paces behind as Lena turns and approaches the door to the shop, lingering to let Lena be the one to press the buzzer to be allowed in. But as they near, the door opens for them, ready and waiting to admit them.
Luthors don’t use buzzers.
“Welcome to Sylvie.” A pair of well groomed attendants relieve them of their purses, exchanging their bags for a couple flutes of champagne offered by a third.
“Thank you,” Lena replies easily, well versed in the practice. Nia fumbles a step behind, her movements stiff and uncertain. Instead of moving directly into the belly of the store as she usually did, Lena lingers, allowing Nia the chance to take in the shop for the first time. The showroom looks much like any other, as could be glimpsed through the windows, styled with clean lines and immaculately dressed mannequins. The true Sylvie experience, however, happens further in, beyond the curtains that separate the dressing rooms from the rest of the store.
“If you’ll follow me, ladies, I’ll show you to your dressing room.”
Lena wonders what Nia expected as they approached one of the curtained off areas. Perhaps a cramped alcove like the hollywood thrift stores shown in coming-of-age films, where your elbows knocked the walls as you changed and you’d be lucky to find a stool to put your own clothes. Certainly it isn’t the plush, spacious room that awaits them, if Nia’s wide eyes are anything to go by.
Charnelle waits for them at the curtain. “Welcome, ladies,” she greets, parting the curtain so that Lena and Nia can slip inside. “Lena, lovely to see you again.”
“And you,” Lena returns.
“I’m Charnelle,” she introduces herself to Nia. “Wonderful to meet you. I’ll be assisting the two of you today.”
“Thankyousomuch,” Nia says in a rush, her shoulders tight as she shakes Charnelle’s offered hand.
Charnelle allows the curtains to close behind them, isolating them in their own little pocket of divine luxury. Lena settles herself on the central chaise lounge, folding her legs elegantly before her. Nia perches on the edge beside her, her gaze flicking to the small boudoir in one corner and another curtain that shields the actual changing area. Inside there, Lena knows Nia will find a plush bench to sit on as she undresses, and gold hangers to hold her clothes while she tries on various gowns. It’s designed to be beyond comfortable, a place where one could spend hours-- and lots and lots of money.
“So, what do you have for us today, Lena? Another benefit gala to dazzle?”
“Actually,” Lena replies, “Miss Nal here is covering the Golden Globes this week for CatCo Worldwide.”
“How exciting!” Charnelle rounds on Nia. “And what are you looking for in your gown?”
Caught with a mouthful of champagne, Nia freezes, then swallows audibly. “Um…” she coughs out. “Something nice? I probably shouldn’t be outdressing the stars or anything, so nothing too crazy?” She shrugs. “I don’t know, exactly.”
“Charnelle,” Lena intercedes, “could you bring us some formal options in black, maroon, or blue? Floor length, of course.”
Charnelle nods, beaming. “Absolutely.” She gives Nia a wink. “She has your colors nailed, honey. What are your measurements?”
Nia stares at them both. “Uh. A six, usually?”
“They’ll need your measurements to ensure a proper fit,” Lena delivers gently. “Do you mind if Charnelle--?”
“I’m trans!” Nia blurts, her chinks coloring a solid ear-to-ear pink. “Sorry,” she adds quietly. “But-- yeah. Just so you know.”
Lena stares, surprised more by the outburst than its content, but Charnelle takes it in stride. “So am I, baby girl,” she responds smoothly. “That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have a dress that fits.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Nia finally, finally relaxes. She offers a shaky grin. “Okay. Yeah. Let’s do this.”
Charnelle gives Nia’s wrist a squeeze on her way to the boudoir to pull a tape measure from the top drawer. While she’s busy, Lena catches Nia’s eye and lifts her glass in a silent cheers of support. Nia rewards her with a small smile, before Charnelle returns and makes quick work of measuring Nia’s bust, waist and hips.
“All right!” Charnelle chirps, wrapping up her tape. “I’ll be right back with some options. You two stay here and get comfortable, all right? I’ll be right back.”
She disappears, and Nia all but collapses onto the chaise next to Lena. “I can’t believe I did that,” she groans.
Lena pats her on the knee. “You’re all right. Sylvie only gets my business because they know the value of discretion.”
“Yeah.” Nia lifts her head with a hum, surveying the dressing room once more. “This is nice. Thank you for talking me into it.”
Lena smirks. “Just wait.”
As if on cue, the curtains part to admit not Charnelle, but the woman who’d offered them their drinks. This time, her tray holds an array of small finger sandwiches. “Refreshments?”
“Oh, wow!” Nia exclaims, quickly helping herself to three. “Okay, yeah. I could get used to this.”
Lena grins, snaring a cucumber sandwich for herself. “Thank you. And another round, if you could,” she adds, seeing Nia’s empty glass.
The woman nods. “Of course.”
When she has disappeared again, the dressing room fills with quiet, and Lena realizes that she doesn’t have a clue what to say. She’s gone shopping with her mother, and with Andrea, and in both cases the conversation flowed easily, for better or for worse. But she’s never been shopping with a girl several years her junior, and never one in the middle of Lena’s biggest heartbreak.
“It happened the last time I went shopping for a dress too,” Nia says, breaking the silence. “The anxiety about… you know. I guess something about formal wear brings out the worst of it.”
Unsure of how to respond, Lena looks at her. “When was the last time?”
Nia sighs. “Prom. I’d transitioned by then, and most people were used to me, but I didn’t have a date, and part of me just internalized it as a fixture of me not being girly enough, and not, you know, the fact I didn’t know how to talk to boys, let alone date them. I didn’t even know if it was worth it to go at all, and I just-- started crying, right there in the dress shop.”
“What happened then?” Lena asks gently.
Nia smiles fondly. “My mom. She just hugged me, and told me how proud she was to have such a beautiful, confident daughter. It was sort of embarrassing at the time, but… it was something I needed to hear, you know?”
She pauses then as the server returns with their champagne. Afte the woman dips out again, Lena nudges her. “And did you ever find a dress?”
Nia snorts, nodding. “Yeah. Like, two minutes after I calmed down I found my dream dress. And my friends and I had a blast at prom, so I’m glad I went after all.”
“Good,” Lena murmurs, sipping her drink. “Well, I can’t promise anything about a dream dress, but I’ll call it a win if we get out of here without any tears.”
“Cheers to that,” Nia concurs, lifting her own glass for a deep sip.
In that moment, Charnelle returns, wheeling a short cart of long dresses along with her.
“All right, ladies-- who’s ready to see some gowns?”
Nia settles on a bias-cut gown of sky blue, accented with beaded embroidery at the bust and straps. It may not have qualified for dream status, but it’s perfect for the Globes, and Lena can tell Nia is excited by the time they step back out onto the street, garment bag draped over her arm.
“Thank you, again,” Nia offers, hiking her purse higher on her shoulder. “You really didn’t have to do all this, especially with how weird things are right now. I know it probably wasn’t easy to say yes when I called last night.”
Lena blinks. It honestly hadn’t occurred to her to say no. “Nia?”
“Why did you call me?” It’s her turn now to shift uncomfortably on her feet. “I’m always happy to help, but… as you say, things are weird. Why me?”
“Honestly?” Nia asks. Lena nods. “You remind me of my mom. I can’t begin to tell you how or why, but you do. And the thing is… my mom was probably the kindest person I’ve ever known. So-- if you reminded me of her, I figured you were a pretty safe bet. And the worst you could do was hang up on me, so…”
Lena nods, her throat locking painfully around a sudden lump in her throat. Forcing a smile, she clears her throat. “Okay. Well… I’m glad I was able to help. Are you okay to get home?”
Nia nods easily. “Yeah, I’ll just catch the bus. Thank you again. This was really nice, and it was really good to see you.”
Lena nods, but before she can turn away, Nia catches her by the wrist.
“I mean it, Lena. I owe you one. If you ever need anything…”
Lena turns her wrist, allowing her hand to settle into Nia’s palm. Giving it a squeeze, Lena offers her a smile.
“I know who to call.”
// prompts are closed
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