By Debby Stark Debby@swcp.com
Summary: Lois goes to Kansas to discuss the CK=S situation with Martha.
Author's note: This transition story takes up after Dawning, which is available from me or Renate if you missed it. Thanks to DC/WB for presenting the characters for us to work with. Thanks to you for having patience to wait the two months it took to write.
Martha Kent was in Wichita's newest art supply store, between the poorly laid out racks of acrylic paints and brushes and the unruly piles of stretched canvases, when she heard her wristwatch alarm. She pulled out her cellular phone and autodialed the local office of the airline Lois Lane was flying in on. The flight was on time, she was assured by one of those too-pleasant voices: the weather was fine and no troubles had been experienced on the ground in Kansas City or in the air.
I should hope not, Martha almost said. Instead she thanked the polite young man and rung off. Everyone knew about the recent rash of airplane malfunctions, and here Lois was taking a commuter for the last part of her trip. Martha wondered if Clark would be hawk-watching that particular flight, but then she doubted it, that was too much to expect even of him. Lois always seemed to be throwing surprises at him--he'd mentioned more than once that he actually enjoyed watching her do surprising things. But, Martha thought, it was just as likely that Lois simply overwhelmed him. Maybe he would have argued that the odds were against her surprising him by choosing a flight that might crash.
Martha finished her shopping there in the mall and then drove to the airport and found a spot for her sporty little Honda in temporary parking. She buckled on her fanny pack, headed at a brisk stride into the main lobby of the terminal, and saw that, according to the "arrivals" report on the nearest overhead TV monitor, Lois would indeed be on time. She noted the gate number and took off in that direction.
There were only a few people at the gate waiting to meet the flight. There were two women lounging in one corner and reading fashion magazines; Martha imagined they were waiting for husbands. Someone's grandmother was over on the other side of the gate, as far as possible from the TV set blaring a late-afternoon talk show discussing parents and their gay biker sons and their lovers who move back home. Martha shook her head; I'm glad I don't have *that* to think about. Hmm, "Super heroes who don't have a clue about what's going on in their love lives and the parents who'd like them to get on with it…"
While she couldn't be sure about the true nature of two women, the grandmother was easy to peg: her anxious look and the multicolored stuffed toys she clutched gave her away. Martha had now and then entertained thoughts of what it would be like to be a grandmother and see the same experiences she and Jonathan had gone through, both good and trying, inflicted upon Clark. But all that seemed unlikely because it was probably genetically impossible, which only left him and whoever he married (for Martha had no doubt he would eventually marry someone, he was just that kind of fellow) the adoption option. Would they decide on that course, given Clark's dangerous pastime? Perhaps he would recover yet another alien life boat and discover inside it…
She smiled at herself as she sat there waiting. The obvious answer was his finding some adorable baby, a *girl* baby this time, but the obvious was boring, too. Guppies, he'd find guppies. Tons of them, a lake full. He'd quit the Daily Planet, toss out the super suit, and become a guppy farmer, just as Jonathan had fearfully predicted almost 20 years earlier.
Lois's plane rushed into a landing and taxied slowly back toward the terminal. Martha felt a vicarious thrill. She'd been considering taking flying lessons and getting her pilot's license, but Jonathan was balking at the idea. It wasn't the expense or the time it would take, he was just nervous. "One person flying around in this family is enough," he'd said the evening she'd brought it up.
She hadn't argued but certainly hadn't given in, her intention only to plant the idea. She had said, "Um-hmm…" He had in return given her a look that said "I know you're planting an idea here, but I'm standing firm on this."
She had reflected that with a sweet smile that said, "Oh, yeah?" More than thirty years of marriage could make a couple psychic, she thought, and it certainly helped avoid a lot of the preliminary arguing…
Three screaming children, all under ten years of age, burst out of the incoming-passenger door, spotted the elderly woman holding the toys like a shield, and then converged on her madly. They were followed by a harried-looking woman in her late twenties carrying a baby.
Martha thought, maybe Clark won't adopt…
Two business men were next. As they passed her, Martha noticed that one of them had the slight scent of a woman's perfume. They met those two women waiting for them, and one of the women didn't look particularly overjoyed to see the fragrant man who gave her a peck on the cheek.
…is it too late for Clark to join the priesthood?
But he'd never consider it, not with Lois looking as nice as she did even with her hair pulled back into a ponytail and dressed in relaxed, almost grubby clothing: an unbuttoned plaid shirt tied at her waist over a light-colored tee shirt and faded but comfortable jeans. A small carry-on bag and her purse hung off her shoulders, and she entered the terminal looking a little anxious.
Martha waved. "Here, Lois!"
Lois broke into a relieved smile, and Martha went to meet her half way. Lois said, "I thought I'd never get here…" They exchanged a hug before she continued. "There were children everywhere I looked! I couldn't think! I couldn't rest! How do mothers do it? Was Clark like…?"
"Well, he's always been enthusiastic but well behaved--"
"I'm not surprised! I'm *never* having kids--least of all on commuter flights! I *hate* them! The only thing smaller than a 727 I like to fly is…" She caught herself, "well…"
"At least it was right on time. I don't really mind small planes, it's easier to corner people on them, unless they're children. I've gotten some great interviews that way, they couldn't escape--the adults, I mean, it's just--it's just everything."
Clark had mentioned that her babbling was usually either a sign of an idea about to break out or tension looking for release. Martha figured that now it was the latter. "I understand, and you look so relaxed."
She looked down at herself. "Oh, this? Well, I got into my apartment again after all. The elevator was fixed, I didn't have to *walk* and I'd *never* ask him to… I mean, if I can't walk up a few measly little flights of stairs, well then, what good am I? But I didn't have to. I grabbed the most comfortable clothes I had and caught my plane--a *727* to Kansas City--and here I am!"
It was a wonder Clark got in any words at all, but Martha could see how he might find watching so entertaining.
"It's perfect. Now I know they didn't serve you lunch or dinner on your flights--"
"They never do any more, even in first class. They arrange flight schedules now so it's soda and cookies all the way, and I certainly didn't want any liquor, as though I had sorrows to drown or something when I have to keep a clear head because it's *incredibly* important…"
"Yes." Martha thought she caught a glimmer of the young woman's need to babble beginning to diminish. Or maybe the need was simply being joined by some serious thoughts, what with Lois almost wringing her hands. She must have been so tired… Martha broke out her most assuring voice: "Then we'll eat here at a nice restaurant, my treat, and go on to Smallville. You might even want to turn in early."
"But I wanted to treat you…"
Martha hugged her again. "You're treating me more than you know."
Lois warmed to the hug and tried to smile. "I'm glad you think so," she said quietly, "but you may not think that way after you hear all the questions I have, which I can't ask here…"
"That's right." Martha indicated the way they should walk, down the terminal toward baggage claim and the parking lots.
Lois whispered, "I've been feeling little crazy lately, but I've been really good about not letting on. Has Clark…?"
What? Called to say, "Ah, Mom? Guess what…" Lois had last seen him only that morning and had apparently left him none the wiser. My, she was nervous… "As far as I know--and I *would* know--he still hasn't a clue."
"Oh, good… I guess… It's just--"
"Not here, dear." For, among other reasons, Lois's restless manner had already caused a few people to glance in their direction.
"Oh, of course, of course, we should be all alone by ourselves with *nobody* around…" Lois paused and seemed to look herself over. Was she shocked at what she saw? She obviously forced herself to relax. "I sound crazy, absolutely, totally bonkers--But you--you look really great, Martha, I forgot to say that."
"That's all right. We can take this short-cut to the car."
"And… and the weather was nice all the way."
"It looks like it's going to be a fine weekend."
As they left the terminal, Lois glanced around quickly and whispered, "You know your way around here, but you can't come pick… *him* up very often, I mean, he probably flies… another way."
"Jonathan and I have flown in and out of this airport quite a few times."
"Oh, of course… Does Jonathan know yet that I know about… Clark?"
"No, he has even fewer clues and less reason to be looking for them." Not that those clues hadn't been there for him, too. She recalled him saying that he thought it was great progress that Lois and Clark had even slept in the same city block together, let alone under the same roof. Martha knew he didn't want them any *closer* than that until wedding rings had been exchanged, but his having noticed and commented brightly about it was the cutest thing. "He's pleased you're coming. You're one of the few young ladies Clark has seen who he approves of." "'Seen'? Like dating? We don't do that, we just… work together. Sometimes we go out in the evening, but it's always been work related, or it turns into that pretty fast and we get some big story but we don't have much fun. I've had a few little dates with… you know, but not with…" she whispered "Clark."
"Yes, I've noticed there does seem to be a distinct lack of that kind of activity between you two…"
"But we're together so much already, Perry sees to that, it's *almost* like dating, but with an expense account."
They crossed the one-way street that ran in front of the terminal, and Martha pointed out her car.
"I like Perry," she said. "Sometimes I feel like he's my proxy, keeping an eye out for you both…" She opened the hatchback so Lois could drop her carry-on into the storage area, then she got in behind the wheel and reached across to unlock the passenger-side door.
"Well," Lois said as she fell into the passenger seat, "sometimes he's a bit *too* obvious about it."
"Good for him. If there weren't something there he could work on, neither of you kids would ever have noticed, hmm?"
"I hadn't thought about it like that… Clark notices?"
"Yes, and in a way he's more squeamish about it than you are."
"Oh?" Lois smiled as she found and buckled her seat belt. "He is, huh?"
"Yes, and now I have to concentrate on getting out of this mad house."
"Oh, of course, there is a lot of traffic…"
About as much, Martha thought, as one could find in downtown Metropolis at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. She had become an excellent driver in her teen years helping race her father's experimental cars, so she knew she'd have no trouble negotiating this bit of evening traffic. But she also figured that a few minutes of thoughtful silence wouldn't hurt Lois, either.
At last out of the airport and on a main thoroughfare that Lois was trying valiantly to look interested in, Martha asked, "Will Thai food do?"
"It's fine with me. Do all you Kents like Asian food? Clark made something sort of Chinese last night, and we get carry out all the time--and then Jonathan got it from House of Hunan… and the first time Clark and I worked late at the office I wished for Chinese food and he went out and brought some back. I remember wondering where he could possibly have found it when it he was so new in town he'd practically… well…"
"Fallen off the turnip truck in downtown Metropolis that morning?"
"Ah… That's not what I was going to say, I was going to say hay wagon. The food was surprisingly good, though, *better* than the House of Hunan, honestly, and the fortune cookies were in Chinese, and he could read them, and it all tasted so authentic…"
That's not surprising, it *was* authentic, Martha thought, recalling how Clark had been describing his new mentor in contradictory terms and had mentioned off-handedly what he'd done. Lois was hungry; he was, too; and Chinese food was a good idea (and, Martha read into his expression, finding some offered a chance to impress the woman he was working with). But he didn't know of any Chinese food carry-out places open that late. In Metropolis, anyhow. It had been morning in Shanghai and they accepted US dollars without reservation, and he had enough dollars, even though his first pay day was weeks away, to cover a sumptuous meal.
Jonathan had been scandalized, forgetting Clark had been back and forth to China dozens of times. What if their son had been waylaid, gotten lost, or, gasp! ruined his only suit? But Clark hadn't let the tiniest bit of worry affect his dreamy outlook. Martha had seen it all then and there and pegged it for what it was: their son was infatuated with some big-city woman he hardly knew at all, and that, Martha thought, was as sweet as could be. She had found it difficult to refrain from spelling it out for her men, who probably would have been astounded at her conclusions.
"Well, I don't know if the food they make here will be that good, but the atmosphere should be quiet."
"Good. Quiet, I can use some quiet…"
Martha smiled because as much as the young woman obviously needed some peace and quiet, she would be the last one to recognize the band full of worries she led or to turn around and yell at its musicians to pipe down.
"There will be plenty of time this weekend for you to relax." She paused at a light, only a few blocks from the restaurant. "But there's something I'd like to say before we start talking seriously."
"Because there is the possibility that you may eventually become my daughter-in-law…"
Lois smiled almost shyly and looked away and then down at her hands, which she obviously forced to stop moving and clutch each other.
Martha had expected that. The girl was going through so much… and she'd go through a lot more before she figured out what she wanted. "I think that as your possible mother-in-law-to- be, I have every right to know more about you. Actually, I want to know everything about you."
"You. And I've decided we're not going to talk about Clark any more until I'm satisfied that you are indeed the woman for him."
Balking already, also expected. "I'm sorry, I know that sounds just like a mother-in-law already, but I'm not sure how else to put it. I realize you're both going to make up your own minds and he doesn't need my blessing or Jonathan's, but I'm sure he'd feel a lot better if I gave it unreservedly."
"You want to know about *me*?"
My goodness, was Lois deaf? No, no, no, just incredulous. "Yes, you. Everything. I think you're a fascinating person, but we've never really gotten to talk just you and I, and you're very important to my son, so…"
"But there's nothing to tell, really…"
Lois looked at her. "He says it that way, too. 'Lois…' That's his 'I don't think you're telling me everything' tone of voice. He also has a 'Lois…' that's a little nervous that means 'Wait a minute, I can't believe you want to do that' while I'm still planning to do whatever it is--and I'm usually right, or mostly--and then he has a 'Lois…' that…"
Martha let her get it out of her system, and then simply reminded her: "We're not talking about Clark, particularly out here in public." She pulled into the parking lot of the New Thailand Restaurant and found a spot quickly. "We're going to talk about *you*."
Lois looked helpless. She had flown all this way to grill not to be grilled. This visit wasn't supposed to be any way other than what she had expected it to be.
But that wasn't surprising, Martha thought. The young woman was forgetting how important to the equation she was, how indeed she was a half of it, maybe even the better half. There were things that Lois didn't have a clue about either, or she wouldn't have felt the need to come all this far to talk when staying in Metropolis to work on Clark might have been the brighter move. So Martha had decided to think of this weekend's adventure as a prewedding gift: she would try to help Lois find in herself what she needed to make an informed approach to and an ultimately successful capture of the elusive prey Clark had blithely (though, yes, innocently) turned himself into. This might--no, *would* scandalize him when he found out, but too bad, he should have made his own moves and sooner.
Besides, this was beginning to look like great fun.
Martha suggested they order from the menu rather than the buffet. Lois said she didn't mind and she didn't care where they sat, so Martha indicated to their hostess that she wanted a no- smoking corner. When they were seated they were given menus and the hostess departed. It quickly became evident that Lois was overconscious of being treated and looked for the cheapest items, the equivalent of a small salad, crackers and water. Martha made up for it by being extravagant, asking for old favorites and deciding to sample new dishes as well--and planning to request doggie bags.
After their waiter appeared, took the order and disappeared, Martha composed herself, rested her forearms on the table, intertwined her fingers, and looked as pleasant as possible. "Tell me about yourself, Lois."
"Well… If I had known you were going to ask, I would have faxed you the bio the Planet has on me."
"If you had, I wouldn't have read it."
"No. It's from your lips to my ears, or you really will have a quiet weekend in the country."
Lois grimaced, caught herself and managed, just, to turn it into a it-looks-like-you've-got-me smile. "Okay… Ah, from the top, the beginning. I was born and raised in Metropolis. I have a kid sister, Lucy. She's trying to get a doctorate in something, she keeps changing it, but she's doing quite well, she keeps plugging away at it, our family does plug a lot…"
"I didn't do anything memorable as a kid. I had dolls and a puppy and crushes on teen stars and pretty good grades and all that… Is this the kind of thing you want to know?"
"It's very interesting."
"With replies like that I'm glad I'm not interviewing you… Ah, our parents were divorced when I was 12. It was messy before, during and after, and, well, I don't get along very well with either of them. My mother travels a lot with her business so I don't see her very often, which is okay, we don't have that much in common, really. My father's wrapped up in his work, which is okay, too, because it keeps him from…" Lois picked up a paper napkin to give her hands something to do, "keeping track of me and… being judgmental. I don't need that from him any more, though I suppose I wouldn't be here now if he had been more… well…
"He couldn't come to my wedding, my almost-wedding, and Lucy was out of the country and couldn't get back, and my mother only came for a few days, but she helped me a lot right before the… ceremony, and we've gotten along better since then, when we've seen each other… which hasn't been often. I guess you could say we're a telephone family… I'm glad you couldn't come to the wedding. I thought about inviting you, and would have if Clark had been… more enthusiastic, but then Lex's secretary showed me his list and there you both were on it."
"We wondered about that, why we received an invitation."
"Lex said that I should have invited more people, so he got the addresses of all my friends' immediate relatives. There were more than I imagined, and you were there in the middle, in the Ks. Oh," as though quoting Luthor, "it was going to be *such* a big ceremony--but it was a fiasco from the start…"
"We couldn't attend because we had an integrated pest control users convention in Omaha that week. Jonathan had been looking forward to it for months, and what with all the implications of your wedding…"
"I know, it's okay, and Clark couldn't make it either…" She pulled up and looked distant for a moment. "And I think I know why now… Something that was found in Lex's basement. Nobody understood what it meant but me, they were all looking for a stash of weapons or drugs, not a… green…" she glanced around and her voice dropped to a whisper: "thing with bars."
"I'm surprised you went down there--I'm surprised you stuck around."
"I had to do something, to help investigate, to write the story, and it wasn't that painful… Oh, I *hate* Lex… But I'm over it, I really am. It was a stupid thing to do to get involved with him, but he was just so… romantic, and you-know-who didn't--I mean, in blue…"
"That guy, and…" Her voice dropped and was hard to hear, almost a cry, "I can't believe I told him I'd love him even if he were a ordinary guy… and he *is*…"
Martha recalled Clark's pacing the living room floor and finally collapsing into a sturdy chair in the kitchen, all the time trying to come up with even one good reason why Lois had been swept off her feet by "some… some *criminal*," who, well, yes, was not only hiding it so well that practically everyone was fooled, but he was handsome and the third, maybe second richest man in the world, and he'd showered Lois with attention and expensive gifts for quite a while now. "But *really,* how could any of *that* ever count for anything?" Except, well, yes, how could he, "boring Clark Kent, from insipid Smallville, Kansas, with no claim to fame" that he could talk about, compete?
Nothing Martha could say would have comforted him, so she had said very little, though it had turned out to be a good time to busy herself installing the new Formica on the kitchen counter tops…
The waiter returned with Imperial rolls, Puk Choup Pang Tot, two Thai iced teas, and a fresh supply of paper napkins for Lois to tear into little pieces. As Martha didn't care for a table covered with confetti if it weren't New Year's Eve, she steered the conversation back on track. "Why did you decide to get into journalism?"
"Oh… I guess…" She wiped her eyes, sniffed and smiled apologetically. She sighed and plainly tried to relocate her composure. "I guess I've always been, well, nosy when things seem wrong, and I like to write, so I guess it came naturally…" With little more coaxing, Lois disclosed how her first big story had been written when she was sixteen. She had investigated and solved a mystery she had been drawn into when Lucy had nearly died of a drug reaction at the hospital where her father worked. No one else had found it even suspicious, but it had turned out to be dangerous and exciting. She'd even had the courage (or gall, as she put it), to submit the story she wrote about it to the biggest newspaper she could think of, the Daily Planet. Surprisingly, the editor, Perry White, had liked it and encouraged her to continue studying. That had been *the* turning point in her life, she figured. Her interest in her English classes had soared and she took to journalism like a penguin to ice water, majoring in it and some law and a little history at university. Then, with a portfolio full of her best work, she'd gone back and pounded on Perry's door and demanded that job he'd hinted might be waiting for her.
"And so," she said philosophically as, after Martha insisted, she served herself from the just-arrived selection of food: a little bed of steamed jasmine rice, two small sweet-and-sour shrimps, a teaspoonful of vegetables, the smallest of the Imperial rolls… "my life is the paper, the paper's my life, what more can I say?"
"No, I don't really have time… Well, I have a fish--did Clark tell you I'm going to become a grandmother? He seems to know about *guppies,* of all things, and he said mine is pregnant!"
"Trust him, he knows what he's talking about. What else do you like to do in your spare time?"
"Ha! I like to bowl and play golf."
"Oh, yes, I've heard about that. You're very good at both, I understand."
"He told you? He picked bowling up quickly but had trouble with the golf. You'd think he'd be better coordinated, I mean, it's just a funny-shaped stick and a ball really, when you think about it… and, I know, we're not talking about him."
"Right, I'm not nearly through with you yet. What else do you like to do?"
"Well, I like to travel. I've been lots of places in this country, and seen a little bit of Europe. It rained a lot though when I was there, in London mostly, and I didn't get to see very much. The first time I went I was helping investigate an international trade deal that seemed to be mixed up with a series of mysterious disappearances, or at least I thought it was. It was my first big story for the Planet, and it was long before I knew Clark, so he couldn't have told you about it. I was so busy I didn't get out very much. Oh, I did a little shopping because my luggage was stolen…" She paused a moment to try some of the food she had been mixing around on her plate. "This is good…"
"Actually, my luggage being stolen broke the case open. The thieves thought it belonged to somebody else because it looked like hers, and that person happened to be part of that trading syndicate. When I found that out, that she was important enough for someone to steal what they thought was her luggage, I followed her. She lead me to Paris and I almost wound up being kidnapped and dumped into a harem destined for one of those little oil-soaked Middle Eastern countries."
"I turned the tables on them and they wound up shipping out one of their own executives who I had knocked out and dressed up to look enough like me that those misogynists were completely fooled. Interpol gave me a medal, and I came *this close* to getting my first Kerth award. I think they didn't give it to me because I was only 22 and an intern and the judges were all sexists."
"The man who won it was this old guy who found out that half the county commission had smoked marijuana at one time or another in their pasts. Now I ask you, is *that* news?"
"Not to me. I've never understood the problem people have with marijuana."
This soaked in and Lois gave her a look that said she didn't know whether or not to believe what she'd heard. Martha smiled. "I grew up on the west coast, Lois, and I've traveled a good deal. Besides, hemp has always been a big cash crop for certain families, from the Canadian border down into Oklahoma, though not the Kents, not my generation of them, anyhow…" She uncovered, smiled at, and served herself from another of the dishes. It had to be the Khang phed, and she hoped they hadn't spared the curry. "What about other men in your life, Lois?"
"Oh. Well, there have been a few. I'm not…" She considered her wording carefully as she bit into her Imperial roll; she settled on "inexperienced."
She gave Martha another one of those looks.
So Martha explained: "I think it's nice for the woman to have at least a little experience or even the upper hand when a relationship gets more involved."
"Ah, well, I do have… *that* kind of experience…" and she looked around the dining room to see if some reporter from a rival paper was writing all this down. "Lois Lane Has Sex Life!" the headlines would surely scream.
But Martha had already taken a head count: the only other occupied table was far on the other side of the room and the elderly Asian couple sitting there were speaking in what sounded a lot like Chinese. From what she understood of it, the couple were paying them no notice. Had there been more people in the room, she wouldn't have let the conversation get this far, particularly if Lois managed to steer it toward sex and what she, Martha, thought Clark did and didn't know. Which was one of the first things she would have wondered herself in Lois's position.
But, nicely, Lois was more circumspect than that and she kept to the immediate topic, herself. "My relationships always seem to go nowhere. I get all involved and light-headed and then… I guess my ego gets in there and wants to direct everything. Maybe that's why I'm sitting here now, I want to be in control of this," and she picked up another paper napkin to worry.
"Or you want to be better prepared. This is not an altogether usual relationship we're talking about here. I think this visit is an excellent idea."
She almost dropped the napkin. "You do?"
"I'm glad you've decided not to rush into it or react without thinking. It tells me a lot."
"What? What does it tell you?"
"I hope it tells me you don't plan to tear up that napkin, too."
She looked down. "Oh, ah…"
"Have another bite of that and then tell me about your friends."
"Well…" She looked over her plate and decided to finish the bit of shrimp and rice. "There's not much to say. I don't know, things hardly ever seem to work out there, either. I've only been able to keep a few *friend* friends since, oh, college, and usually only if there's about a thousand miles of impenetrable forest or a shark-filled ocean between us. Maybe I'm too competitive or something, I don't know. I have a hard time trusting people, but it's not *all* my fault, sometimes they turn around and stab me in the back… it seems… I'm trying to cut down on my paranoia… So I guess the friends I've managed to keep, like Clark… they have a high tolerance for the pain *I* give *them.* But I'm really *trying* now to keep them, to be somebody worth having as a friend."
"These are friends away from work?"
"Yes, Betty and Molly. Betty's a lot like me, she's a career woman, she's an investigator with the Metropolis PD, and Molly runs a new age center and she's laid back and pokes fun at us both…" She leaned forward and whispered, "I know I'm not supposed to mention him, but they've both been making the case for Clark for a long time."
That was pleasing to hear. "I insist you introduce me to them the next time I'm in Metropolis."
"You've got it. You and Molly can conspire together… This really is good food. Can I have some more of that?" and she pointed almost timidly at the Goong Prio Wan, the "sweet and sour shrimp" she'd tried earlier.
"Please. Try this Kang Curry Gai, it's not very hot, and try everything else, too, that's why I ordered it."
"Okay…" She helped herself with more enthusiasm than earlier. "I'm feeling better now that we've had this talk, it was a good idea."
"That's nice to hear, but I'm not through with you yet."
"But I'll give you a chance to rest if you want."
"I do, it's… a strain."
"Then no more questions for a while."
"That's good," but she smiled a little. Martha could practically see her thinking that being the center of this kind of attention from someone she liked wasn't *so* bad… Soon Lois had regained enough of her old self assurance to say, "Give me all the dirt about what's going down in darkest Smallville USA."
Martha filled Lois in on the latest on the pollution threatening the local aquifer from runoff from chemical-drenched farms, then had to fill in the background. Lois recalled the Trask/Wayne Irig false cover story, but this wasn't like that, which they couldn't talk about in public anyhow. Then Lois wondered why Clark hadn't been writing about the threatened aquifer all along, mentioning his name in that context being allowed. Martha noted the "can't Clark see a story staring him smack in the face?" tone in Lois's voice and she approved. After all, it could have been a tone that sighed "Poor Superman, he's always so busy saving the world…" which would have indicated to Martha that a lot of work needed to be done.
Not having to worry about that, Martha could explain that while the Oglalla aquifer was tremendous, it was not only being used at an alarming rate but that pollution was a big concern. Several Smallville Journal reporters were covering the local angle on it, egged on by her environmental commando group (for which she admitted to being a clandestine cell leader). Big-city paper coverage wouldn't hurt the cause though, considering that even city folks had to eat. This was in no way a hint, she said, but if things ever slowed down in Metropolis, Lois could certainly look here for a story.
They finished their sumptuous meal, Lois eating her fair share of it after all. The leftovers were loaded in those little cardboard carry boxes when Martha refused the Styrofoam, though she laughed at herself for paying for everything with plastic money. Lois absolutely insisted on leaving the tip, no arguments accepted. Martha gave her none.
The sun was low in the west as they headed out of Wichita toward Smallville, almost an hour's drive away. Lois looked sleepy and satisfied, and would probably wonder later if she had been a fool to ask: "Okay… We might as well get this over with. What other questions do you have?"
"Well, there's just one more that I can think of, and it's one you may want to contemplate…"
"Is it a trick question?"
"But sometimes tricky is… good," she nodded, trying to convince herself.
We'll see. "I'm just wondering… if you've thought about what it is Clark sees in you."
"Oh? You mean, other than my girlish charm, sparkling wit, and," she fluttered her eyelids like a '20s starlet, "my being the life of the party…?"
Which, Martha thought, was no doubt exactly the opposite of the way she saw herself when things got real… "Something like that."
"Well, you're right, it is tricky… I asked him that myself, sort of, I asked how he put up with me, and I was half joking…" she said, not joking. She then added quietly: "And he said he didn't have any idea…"
Martha wondered about that odd answer, because it seemed like such a question would present precisely the opportunity Clark had been waiting for all this time. There had to be more to it. "What were you doing?"
"*I* was doing nothing; I was watching him. *He* was cooking."
"Ah, that explains it: he didn't have his mind on the question." "You think so? His answer sounded so natural though, not like he was joking with me about it. Do you think he does know? That he has an idea?"
"I'm sure he has some idea, but I don't know what, that's why I asked you. I do know that men can be very focused. Women have to be able to juggle lots of things; men don't, they know they can leave it to us. Even though Clark's pretty self sufficient, sometimes he can be *very* focused," which led at times to his appearing clumsy for not paying attention, and he had mentioned once worrying that Lois had noticed and what kind of impression it made on her. Martha thought Lois would probably find it endearing now…
"He was focused all right. One thing at a time: cook food, eat it, dance… Why does he cook so much? He said once, when he was… being Superman, that he didn't have to eat but he liked to…"
"Well, dear, I've never known him to pass up a good meal."
"But--maybe unless *you're* cooking it--I thought it was junk food all the way with him."
"I'm sure it is when he has to fix something to eat and he has no time or he's tired, but you were his guest, that's special. You probably make a special effort when you have guests, too."
"Well, I *try*… at least once a year…" but with some satisfaction she settled on: "Let's say I can put on a good show. It's just that cooking's not one of the things I excel at. Did he cook when he lived at home, too?"
"Yes, he helped me all the time. Have him bake my recipe for chocolate chip and walnut cookies for you."
"He can make breakfast, dinner, dessert, and he keeps house like Dear Heloise--good grief, Martha, he's going to be a better wife than I am!" and she drooped down in her seat and groaned.
"Don't knock it, dear. Maybe it's a genetic thing for people from Krypton. Sometimes I think of him as a… a very strong, flying Renaissance man."
"Yeah, and I'm a weak little cave woman in comparison…"
"So do you think that's how he sees you?"
"No… No, I'm sure he doesn't… Oh, I don't know, Martha…"
"Then think about it for a while."
"Do I have to?"
"It might help you realize what you see in him…"
"Well, I see a lot of things… except now I'm trying not to see the blue and red and yellow parts."
"It doesn't seem like you're seeing all of him then."
"But…" Lois let it trail off.
Martha wondered if she had cheated, giving that kind of clue. She could almost see Lois filing it away to be gotten back to and concentrated on later, because next she asked: "One question-- just one?"
"What's the red S stand for?"
"Oh, that. It looks like an S, yes, but it's just a coincidence. It was an emblem type of thing that we found in the little rocket ship he came in, and the only thing we can figure is that it's a family crest of some kind. It's odd to think a race of highly advanced people, the Kryptonians or whatever they called themselves, would need such things, but there it is." She had often wondered just how "advanced" those people actually had been, considering they hadn't been able to stop the destruction of their planet or save more than one member of their race. Then again, maybe it had all gotten bogged down in bureaucracy.
"And the blue? Is that Krypton related, too?"
"No, I just had a lot of blue material and he liked it better than the leopard spots, for example, and it looks fine on him, don't you think?"
"Oh, yes… Wait--*you* made his Superman suit, didn't you?"
"Why do you ask it that way?"
"Well, on the Messenger, after he appeared out of nowhere and saved us by swallowing the bomb--talk about junk food!--some little girl complimented his suit and he said 'My mother made it.' I thought that was cute, but now…"
"It's not cute now?"
"Oh, sure it is, but he meant *you*!"
"Well, he's okay at cleaning and patching up, but he'd probably be flying around in his paisley swimming trunks and a black mask made out of an old tie if he'd had to think of a disguise all by himself." But, Martha reminded herself, Clark knew that or he wouldn't have asked for help. He didn't always seem to think about his limits, but when he did it usually turned out for the better. "That certainly would have been more interesting than the tights though."
Lois smiled as she gave that some thought. "He'd have a lot more women than me chasing after him then."
"He's slippery, they'd never catch him."
"But he seems to have wanted me to…"
"Which gets back to my question."
"Yes, darn it…" She sighed and let her gaze travel over the expanding scenery they were driving through. Martha thought she looked more relaxed though, and there seemed to be just the hint of a smile on her face. Maybe the question wasn't such a difficult one to answer after all.
While a thoughtful silence might have been appropriate here, Martha figured Lois would get plenty of that in the next few days. She switched on the radio to catch the latest NPR news. There was nothing of particular note happening locally, nationally or internationally. Clark hadn't been out doing anything worth reporting, apparently, which was a bit of a let down, even though he deserved the rest. It was good that he had gotten over believing that he wasn't using his gifts properly if he wasn't everywhere helping everybody. In the rare times he felt depressed, the guilt trips he could lay on himself were tremendous! Martha had quietly rejoiced when he'd revealed the way he was going to judge in a pinch just how much he would do: "I'll stop the runaway locomotive, but I'm *not* going to fix its brakes." Still, she had enjoyed all the coverage this last week, even though it had meant picking up yet another ten-pack of blank videotapes.
She eased the car off the interstate and onto the state road that led through Smallville and out again toward Kent's Organic Farm and Orchards.
"I like how the sun sets here in the countryside," Lois said at last.
"It's more dramatic in the mountains," Martha said, "but it's also more abrupt."
"It's slower here…"
"You can see storms come in and spend themselves and break up. It can be as beautiful as it is dramatic and dangerous. But, don't worry, not this weekend."
"Oh, good, because I want to take a walk and breathe some real air, with you, if you have time…"
"There will be lots of time. Jonathan will be busy most of tomorrow. He has an auction to go to early in the morning. If he decides to hang around the house, you and I can go walking then if you want. Then again, you might want to take a ride on a tractor…"
"Me? City girl supreme? But that *could* be fun…"
"You should try to have some fun while you're here so you'll have a believable cover story if you need one."
"I'm having fun already. Okay, mostly. Dinner was fun, the food part."
"I'm glad to hear that," Martha said, smiling and hoping that would help Lois feel released from searching through the past six hours for any more "fun" things she'd done.
It did. "But, you know? I think you're assuming I'm not going to charge right back to Metropolis and corner Clark in his kitchen and grab him by his apron strings and have it out with him about what's been going on--or *not* going on between us."
"I'm assuming you'll be more subtle than that. And as I said, he's fast. I think that like just about any other man, if he sees the least sign of danger--the commitment kind of danger, I mean, he can be… well, *he* can be on the other side of the Moon before you blink your eyes. Not…" she paused, wondered if she should continue, if it was fair, and decided yes: "Not that he doesn't want to commit, but more like he thinks it should be his idea."
"Like most guys, that's nothing new… Well, I don't want him to run *away* from me. Or fly. I mean…" Now Lois's pause seemed to Martha to indicate a tiny revelation. "I know I'm not the *easiest* person in the world to get along with… So the question is, what is it that's going on between us that despite everything, and I do mean *every*thing… what keeps him hanging around, why hasn't he run away already when he's had dozens of chances…"
Martha simply smiled to herself, remembering how Clark had grudgingly admitted being pleased by Mayson Drake's advances as they became obvious even to him, and by Lois's reactions to them, which she had quickly explained away as mistrust of the other woman's linkages to that Church fellow. How cute it was, Martha thought. Mayson had probably been the most forward and persistent of all the woman who had laid eyes on him. And Clark had failed to convince either of his parents (though neither Martha nor Jonathan had let on) that he hadn't enjoyed a little being the object of attention from everybody but the woman he wished he were more in the thoughts of.
To cover any betrayal of her own thoughts, Martha made sure she looked like she was engrossed in checking whether or not a freight train was coming down the tracks she was approaching.
Lois's question of herself was a good one though. Martha knew she could ask Lois all kinds of questions and get all kinds of answers, from flippant to touching, but she figured that only the questions that Lois asked herself would receive any meaningful answers. And she, Martha, didn't so much care what the answers were as long as they led the young woman to the truths she needed.
Martha turned the car on to the one-lane asphalt "Kent Avenue," and noticed that Lois had a pleased, even warm expression on her face upon catching sight of the simple, almost rustic farm house setting. City girl supreme, hmm?
Jonathan walked out onto the porch to watch them pull up and park, and then came down to see if he could help carry luggage and, Martha thought, probably hoped to give and receive a hug as well.
Lois had a big smile for him and that hug. "Thank you for letting me come! It's so nice of you to invite me because I know I can be a real burden sometimes."
"I don't believe a word of that. Martha was right when she called you family, and she doesn't make mistakes when it comes to that kind of thing."
"You don't either, Jonathan. He even wanted to name the new calf after you, Lois, but it turned out to be a bull."
"Well, maybe you could name him… Louis!"
"That's a good idea. Did you bring a suitcase?"
Martha opened the hatchback and Lois plucked out her carry- on, refusing to let Jonathan worry about it. Instead he got to worry about the large amount of left-over Thai food, and he didn't look worried at all. "This smells good. Lois, did you know Clark likes Thai food, too?"
Out of sight, Martha rolled her eyes and smiled at her husband's blatant matchmaking.
But Lois looked sincerely interested. "Yes, I've noticed he has a wide variety of tastes, but then I understand he traveled a lot before I got to know him…"
Ah, Martha thought, she's not only seen his game plan, she'll pump him for information the way she wanted to pump me. Which was fine: Jonathan enjoyed bragging about Clark just like any proud parent, but he was always careful not to let on that their son was more than a special only child. Yet Martha had the warm feeling that if Lois, an expert prier when given her head, saw him starting to slip, she would rescue him and he wouldn't even realize it. From what she already knew of the girl, Lois only went for the kill if the target deserved her wrath. Could she see in herself that variety of compassionate responses to life, or was it enough that that was one of the things Clark saw?
They wound up in the kitchen, where Martha helped reheat the Thai food for Jonathan's dinner. They talked a bit about Clark's European, Asian and African travels and he wondered if Lois might be interested in looking at Clark's scrapbooks at her leisure, "When you girls aren't swapping recipes, that is."
Lois charitably overlooked that. "Scrapbooks? I'd love to see them…"
"I'll show you where they are in the guest bedroom," and she winked on the sly so that Lois wouldn't pursue it with anything more than the comment "Oh, good." There were more than just scrapbooks that she planned to show Lois, but Jonathan was not allowed to have any inkling about that.
He set a place for himself at the table and asked if he could get anything for either of the women, but they said they were fine and settled down to watch him enjoy the microwaved leftovers. After a few bites and giving the food his approval, he dug in to do some serious eating. That didn't mean he wished for complete silence. "Lois, I know this isn't polite dinner-table conversation, but I've been wondering about that big… monster thing that you all had to deal with in Metropolis. We watched all the coverage on it, but that's not the same as being there. Was it as big as they say it was? Did it do as much damage as they reported? Was it really as slimly as it looked?"
Lois smiled, obviously not expecting to have to talk about this but pleased she could satisfy his curiosity. The monster was big, she said, and it changed its shape and size a lot, making it more difficult to deal with. And slimy? It was twice as slimly as it looked, but the slime wiped off easily enough, though where one could best dispose of the paper towels was anybody's guess. Oddly, it had a nice scent, one that varied with whoever reported it. No doubt the monster could have done a lot more damage than it had--in fact Lois thought it had a thing for concrete, marble and rebar, and it had probably planned to feast on the city. "It didn't plan on Superman, obviously, or that he'd manage to stop it altogether, though it took a lot of time and imagination."
Before biting into an Imperial roll, Jonathan nodded and said "He does seem to be a quite a clever young man…"
Martha had gotten up to get him a glass of water because she knew he'd find parts of the meal a bit too spicy. As she set the water before him, she squeezed his shoulder to agree with what he'd said--and forestall any further similar comments because she knew that that otherwise he might worry later that he'd said too much. Since she knew he couldn't see it, Martha gave Lois another little wink and a smile. At the same moment Jonathan glanced at Lois, and Martha understood that he wanted to see on the young woman's face a look said she was glad she knew their boy when he was out and about being super. Lois didn't fail, smiling warmly at both of them. She said, "He did a good job, better than could be expected, actually, considering how complex things got. There was a lot of damage to buildings all over the city, but surprisingly few deaths. Mostly from heart attacks and sheer stupidity, at least in my opinion, like people getting too close to monster pieces that were still moving, yech."
"Did you get close to any pieces?"
"No, I sent Jimmy… I'm just joking, don't worry. I got close only when it was obviously safe since I couldn't interview, oh, an eye stalk. But Clark and I were everywhere else interviewing people, gathering information, you know, that kind of reporter thing. I think he stayed mostly at the waterfront, I didn't see him very much during the day, but then we went back to the Planet together and spent hours writing our stories. Now all that's left is the clean up."
"Well, I don't envy you on that."
"You don't have to envy me at all, I'm *here!* Ha-ha! But I'll help out when I get back, there will be a lot of good stories to write about it," Lois smiled, and then, this story wrapped up, simply watched him enjoying his meal.
Jonathan packed it in, showing just who had been Clark's role model, Martha thought, and he'd have to work almost as hard Clark did to turn it into muscle. She noticed Lois trying to suppress a yawn and the desire to stretch it out.
Jonathan glanced at Martha. "I think it's getting close to bedtime for *some*body…"
"It could be. Would you like some wine, Lois?"
Caught. "Well, maybe a little one--to take up stairs and sip while I look at the scrapbooks?"
"Good idea," and Martha opened one of the cabinets to get a glass.
Lois stood up, allowed herself a little stretch, and said to Jonathan, "Maybe we can have breakfast together. You can tell me about the auction I hear you're going to."
"That would be nice, but I'll be leaving at five…"
Lois apparently thought about the time and then said as politely and with as much interest as possible: "Maybe… we can have lunch together and you can tell me if you got anything, all right?"
Jonathan smiled knowingly. "That sounds better to me, too. Sleep tight."
"I will, I expect to sleep like a *log*."
Martha took Lois upstairs, put the wine on the bedside table there in Clark's room, and pointed out the scrap books for public consumption. "When he traveled he wrote us letters, of course, and kept journals, and when he went to India and China and Japan he started flying them home every week because we couldn't always rely on the mail to get through. We thought his observations of what he saw in Europe were so interesting that I edited a few of his letters and took them to the Smallville Journal. They were accepted on the spot and he got paid for them, too. They became several summers of "Kent Abroad" and those columns are in these two scrap books here."
Lois pulled out and opened the one with the older data etched in Clark's hand in ball-point pen on its spine. She thumbed through it quickly, from back to front, and in the front found "An airline ticket? I thought he'd, well… fly."
"Well, he was just 18 and while we knew he could fly we weren't sure of, oh, what altitude he could get to and keep or the distances he could manage before maybe… losing it and having to rest and walk, or swim, and stormy weather made us worry, too. And sharks. He worried more about the sharks, that they'd hurt themselves if they tried to eat him. Anyhow, he practiced before going and while in Europe, flying over the Alps and that kind of thing, and he flew back on his own, but since we had already gotten him the tickets…"
"For his graduation present, he told me that."
"Yes. It was cheaper than a good car, actually, and since he made almost straight 'A's, we lived up to our end of the deal."
"'Almost' straight 'A's…? He's practically a genius--about most things, anyhow."
"Oh, he still has a lot to learn, we agree about that. He got a B in gym, though that included football and baseball and all that. I don't know why they called it 'gym' unless it was easier to spell than 'athletics'…"
"What he do? Flunk the written tests?"
"No. I know it sounds odd, but the coaches said they didn't think Clark was giving it his all… which was true. Of course he was stronger than any other boy in high school. Any ten boys, any one hundred boys, even as early as, oh, his sixteenth birthday, and he'd only just started to fill out. So we were afraid for him to give it his 'all.' Though he was a star on the football team and almost everything else he tried, he just didn't let go, he could have hurt people."
"Well, I can understand then… So he didn't have super powers from birth?"
"No, he was the cutest, most precious, helpless little baby you ever saw. We can talk about that tomorrow," because Martha had easily seen Lois's new plan to tickle information out of her. "Maybe we can look at a few baby pictures, too. I know he managed to avoid showing you any of them before, when you were here investigating poor Wayne, but I think men like to get embarrassed about that kind of thing. They want us to really insist and then get all gushy because they fear we'll find out it wasn't worth the effort."
"Ah-ha…" Lois smiled "Then I don't regret missing my first chance because I'll get the real stories from you…"
"I know, if I can answer your question…" She looked back at the scrapbook. "I'm glad I didn't bring a book; this will be much more interesting reading."
"When Jonathan's away, maybe I can show you some of the letters we edited to find the publishable material."
"Ah, leaving behind all the juicy stuff, hmmm?"
"I think so. Maybe you'd like to take a shower and come down later, or even turn in early…"
"I don't know…" She put the scrap book on the desk and sat down on the bed, leaned back on her outstretched arms, and looked around. Martha knew that while the room was still decorated as though Clark could be sleeping here tonight instead, it wasn't a private place, a guest wouldn't feel they were intruding. He was here and yet not here; Metropolis was home and this was, too, and she was glad he hadn't wanted to change that arrangement. It was nice to see that Lois looked comfortable. "I don't feel any pressure," Lois said, "except over what I have to think about, but even that's…" she shrugged, "no big deal at the moment. I think I will turn in and read, and I can start fresh in the morning and hopefully have some answers for you."
"That sounds like a good idea."
She showed Lois the trick to getting the old bedside table lamp to work, warned her against letting Maggie the cat (who was sitting in the doorway watching) or Roscoe the dog take over any part of the bed ("Clark lets them but he's a push over"), and wished her good night.
Down in the kitchen, Jonathan was cleaning up after himself and Martha poured them each a small glass of wine. She leaned back against the table and watched him. "Penny for your thoughts," she eventually offered the quiet man.
"They're about Lois. There are times I get… oh, mad at her, I guess, for the way Clark tells us she treats him sometimes, but then when I talk to her face to face, she's enthusiastic and sweet, and I can't imagine her being mean to him on purpose. Tactless maybe, direct, definitely preoccupied, wanting to get the job done, and maybe a little *too* interested in him only when he's Superman, but that's not so hard to understand, actually… And then sometimes I think maybe he's oversensitive or overreacting, or just not working hard enough at it… I don't know, Martha, is it her? Is she schizophrenic? Is it Clark? Is he misinterpreting everything? Or is it me? Am *I* missing something here?"
"Oh, Jonathan, it's not *you*, it's…" she turned over her free hand expressively and shrugged, "love, it's been love for a long time, and love's always confusing, particularly to them, since they don't seem to actually ever *talk* to each other."
"That's true. It looks to me like neither of them have any idea what's going on, and *one* of them certainly should."
She considered this idea as she watched her handsome, husky husband wiping down the sink. "Which one, do you think?"
"That's a good question." He finished, washed and dried his hands, hung away the towel, picked up the glass she had poured for him, leaned back against the sink, and looked at the wine thoughtfully. It was a favorite of theirs from a small vineyard in New Mexico, of all places, and they ordered at least a dozen bottles every year. "I want to say that Clark should have a better idea about what's going on, in case it got dangerous somehow for him… But then I think of you and me and it'd probably be better if Lois had the upper hand… You're right, it's confusing. I'm glad we have our own lives settled."
"I'm glad you chased me."
"I'm glad you turned around and caught me. Maybe that's what Clark needs."
"Maybe that's what Clark will get…" and she took a sip of wine to prevent the smile she felt, because she figured he would interpret as a knowing one if she weren't careful.
"Do you think that's why Lois has come, not to rest but to find out more about Clark? So she can catch him?"
"Maybe. Maybe she thinks she can get to know him better by knowing us better. But I don't sense anything… scheming in her visit," which was true, actually, now that she thought about it. Lois honestly was trying to come up with the best way to approach Clark and that happened to include visiting the only other woman in the world she could talk to about it. "She does look tired and in need of a rest…"
"Yes. She's one of those Type-A personalities, isn't she? Maybe she and I can do something together tomorrow or Sunday. She's getting to know you, she should have a crack at me, I guess."
"And being in the company of a pretty young woman won't hurt you, either, hmm? Take her on a tractor ride. I'm sure she's never done that before."
"Now that's a good idea. She'll be able to tell all her city friends about it. Too bad I don't have that good horse-drawn plow any more, though she could meet Betsy and Blitzen…"
Martha was happy to hear him head off on this tangent because it meant that he had satisfied himself about the reason behind Lois's visit. He could easily have guessed the truth, she thought. How worried he'd be about that then, and it would have taken a heavy and maybe even heated discussion to keep him from going up to speak seriously to Lois about it.
Martha suggested they retire to the living room. He agreed and they cozied down in front of the TV and caught the morning BBC satellite news feed and the tape they'd made of what turned out to be another rerun of The X-Files about some mysterious problem that, Jonathan shook his head, Clark could have solved in ten seconds had they invited him to help out.
"The show would be only five minutes long then," Martha reminded him, "and you wouldn't get to see much of that nice young red-headed woman."
"She reminds me of you," he said softly.
"Oh, yeah? I better get you some more wine!" she laughed, "and me, too, so that tall, gangly FBI boy can start reminding me of you!
*** "The most awful noises woke me up this morning," Lois said as she came down the stairs and saw Martha there in the living room relaxing with a newspaper.
"Oh? I didn't hear anything…"
"It took me a while to figure out it was just birds, normal, every-day, common, countryside birds, with Roscoe barking, I think, and maybe some horses neighing and cows mooing. It sounds more like a "mwhaaa" than a moo, though, doesn't it? I guess I'm more used to people screaming and car horns and jackhammers and gunshots, simple, reassuring city sounds like that…" When Martha glanced at her, Lois smiled. "I laid there and just listened to the birds singing and Roscoe barking and feeling the cat laying on my knees like a ton of bricks, and… and I realized that being waked up like that it wasn't so bad." She sat down there on the third step up and looked as thoughtful as she looked comfortable: very. "How could Clark have ever wanted to leave this peaceful place…"
"Probably because living here can be confining and boring at times, too, and I don't think he came here to spend his life in these surroundings." Martha folded the paper, rose, came over and sat down beside Lois on the stair. She retied the scarf that was holding back her sun-blond hair and then began to clean her glasses on her shirt tail. "Sometimes I think he was an old soul back on Krypton and realized it had seen and done just about everything there was to do there, so it reincarnated into the baby that was put in the rocket ship and here he is now."
Lois looked fascinated. "Wow…"
"I know how odd that sounds…"
"No, it's like something Molly would say, but to hear *you* say it…"
Did that mean Lois thought there was something to it then or that both women were odd? But it didn't matter, it didn't change her ideas about the matter. "I've never met anyone who is as into everything as Clark has been--or had the capacity to be, I suppose. Guppies and baseball cards and collecting autographs and memorizing Shakespeare and 4H… and now everything he's doing in Metropolis. It's always been something. He went through enough hobbies to keep a dozen kids happy."
"No, not really. If it took money beyond his allowance, he always went out and found a job to raise a little as soon as he was old enough for that idea to occur to him. That on top of doing all his school work and normal after-school activities and chores around the farm. The guppies? When he lost interest he sold them and the tanks and everything at a profit. Part of that went into his college fund and the rest, what was it… stamps or comic books or maybe he had already decided he wanted to travel and started renting language tapes… I can't remember…"
"But he seems so organized…"
"He always has been, and he's got the newspaper to, well, focus on now. It's not his *life* but it's close."
"That and the other thing…"
"That other thing just happened, Lois. It became evident to him he had to do something with what he could do. He couldn't just ignore it…"
"So he needed a disguise and you helped him make one, I see… That's what I've been seeing these last few days, that he's been Clark all along."
"I just have to figure out some way to let him know that that's how I see him, all of him now, without jeopardizing whatever it is that's between us, that he sees between us… I see more now, a.. an enhanced Clark, I suppose, or my way of seeing has changed actually, he's still Clark. But what does he see, what has he seen in me all this time… And I have to figure out what I feel now… Are you going to jump in here and help me?"
"Nope. Are you hungry?"
"Yes, but I want to help. He hinted that I should get some tips from you."
Martha shook her head. "Now that was uncalled for…"
"No, it wasn't, you haven't eaten my cooking."
"But he raved over the Christmas dinner you made, what was it, the year before last?"
"Martha, what people will deliver if you just give them enough money. And I'll bet he didn't tell you he looked hungrier than…" she caught sight of Maggie "a starving cat, and there were these carolers distracting us, and it started to snow, and he was the only one who turned up so I sort of had to feed him, and Superman--who's never, ever complained about my cooking but I guess he has a cast iron stomach--I'd wanted him to show up but he didn't, and I was almost freezing, and Clark *said* he missed his flight…" She sighed as though she couldn't believe it herself.
Good thing I already know the story, Martha thought, or my head would be spinning now and I'd have to lay down… "Ah, I think he said something about your window being open and you not wearing very much clothing and he wondered if he should loan you his coat."
"Well, I guess I know *one* thing he sees in me…" but she laughed. "You've got to let me help you a *little* so I can maybe really cook it for him."
"How about pancakes?"
"Umm! I hope he likes them because *I* do."
The pancakes melted in her mouth, Lois said, leaving nice little lumps of apple pie filling and walnuts. "I'll have to write down the recipe."
"No, you won't, you can have this card." Martha, also sitting at the kitchen table enjoying a short stack, pulled the file box over and found the recipe.
"But it's part of your card file…"
"I know the recipe by heart, and I can call it up from the database on the computer if I need to run it out again."
Lois looked at the slightly oil-stained 3x5" card and smiled to herself because she was, Martha saw, unable to get out of it now. Lois slipped the card into the breast pocket of her oversized plaid shirt. "Thanks… I guess I should ask what else he likes to eat when he's here, not that I could make it, but…"
"Ask him yourself, or experiment, or work with him."
"That does sound like more fun, I *want* to work with him--I mean, *away* from work, but I don't want it to seem obvious, either. I want it all to seem to be… a natural progression--and I think it has been, actually, even though we've had our little ups and downs, and I had to be kicked in the head finally to help me see it all, and I got a little crazy this week, but there was so much happening that wasn't natural, I think I should try to get us back to being natural."
"Because… Because I've been so obviously infatuated with Superman that I can't just turn around and be infatuated with Clark all of a sudden. We've been just ordinary best friends for so long that even *I* wouldn't trust my motives in that case."
Martha smiled. "Are your motives trustworthy?"
"Gosh, I hope so… I'm getting too used to living alone and I don't think that's a good thing…"
"Umm… And are you still infatuated with Superman?"
"Well, yes, but… now I'm comparing him and Clark, Clark and him--but I'm really *trying* to see them as one person with these aspects…" She sighed. "And of the two, Clark is obviously deeper and broader and there's just more, but he's so…" she sighed, "*flashy* when he's Superman… He even kisses better…"
"You're asking me?"
"I'm only his mother, and I've only kissed the one person, not the two you have…"
"Oh, well, yeah… He kisses different, yes… but why? Is it more natural for him to be Superman?" she proposed to the air and not necessarily to Martha or to herself. "No, I don't think so, maybe… he knows he's got my full attention when he wears that blue suit and snugly red cape… but since he's been Clark most of his life…"
"All of it, like you've been Lois all of yours."
"Yes, there's that, so why are *my* reactions different toward him, Superman, than toward any other man? I've been in love *before*… of course, it's never worked out but it's never been with the most powerful guy on Earth, either…"
"Clark's… sort of fallen in there with the normal run-of- the-mill-type guys who I've met, except he's hung around longer than any of them and been nicer… and stood up for me and gotten out of my way… and gone along with me on things he probably wished he hadn't… and forgiven me when I've been unforgivable… and not pressured me much and not been afraid to argue with me… and treated me like a sister…" She frowned then. "But that's it, that's what's been bugging me about this week."
"How he's been acting toward me, right up to the point where I kissed him in the stairwell."
"Thursday morning, about ten o'clock, about four hours after you called."
"Hardly any time at all…"
"Right, so maybe I was still a little… I don't know, giddy or something, thinking about… *it*, the truth, who else he is that I didn't know until then…" She played with her breakfast and decided to eat another bit of it before continuing. "Well, we were going up to my apartment, 18 floors up, and he was nice about that, I knew he was going to be, I took it for granted maybe. But about the 16th floor I realized he certainly didn't have to be, he could have made some excuse not to go so he could go out saving people if he wanted to, or he could have tried talking me out of it until the elevators were fixed, but of course he didn't do anything like that, he just went right along…"
She looked a little pleased, "And it occurred to me how nice that was and how nice he'd been all along, and a guy certainly doesn't have to be super to be nice like that, but really there aren't many guys like him, and there I was, maybe I hadn't been as nice as *I* could have been…" She replaced the regretful tone in her voice then with a more determined one. "So I hugged him, to thank him and give him a big fat opportunity to kiss me if he wanted, I practically put out a full-page ad, and he caught on and we did, right there on the 18th floor landing."
It was good to hear that Clark wasn't dyslexic. "Nice!"
"Yeah…" Lois smiled warmly at the thought, then the smiled turned a bit circumspect. "I think I shocked him--but he didn't expect it. I mean, he didn't *protest*, and I said that I really appreciated how he had been putting up with me like nobody else ever had--*why* he was, I don't know, I'm only really wondering about that now… but…"
"But…" she drew a fork full of pancake through a smear of maple syrup. "But when I think about it, up until that point that morning, and really for the last, oh, two years or so, he's sort of been acting like a brother and treating me like a sister he can kid around with…"
"And not like…"
"…a girl friend?"
"And if he had been?"
"Oh, I would have discouraged it, I suppose. I did once, I came right out and warned him not to fall for me, it was one of my unbreakable rules. It was just after we started working together and he was getting one of those guy-type looks in his eye. I told him to get any ideas of romance out of his head because it would all be one-sided anyhow, it would be bad for our working relationship--at least you hear that's how it goes when that kind of thing happens." She ate the fork full of pancake she had been waving around and continued quietly, "After we'd worked together for a while and I could see that he was more than a 15-minute wonder--he's got the makings of a real reporter if he keeps at it--well, the idea we could have a relationship did occur to me… but, it's more than I could have dealt with. Maybe. I've got principles after all, and it was to protect him, too… And I didn't want to try a relationship like that, I guess… until recently… this year… I think…"
She danced the end of the fork's tines on the plate as she changed tack again. "But then, would I discourage him as Superman treating me like a girl friend? I mean, real dates and all that? Would it bias my writing stories that involved him? He's talked me out of reporting things before… with reason, and I've hesitated on my own to report things. I don't know…" She cut away another part of the pancake stack and contemplated it. "Martha… he's like a dream in that tight suit and all those muscles--a dream that will--would… well, I thought it would never come true but I could keep having it anyway, and he hasn't done much to discourage me from dreaming that, what with his dropping by to say hi now and then--and very little more, like he doesn't know what to do either. I mean, I could lust after him and not really worry about the likelihood of *getting* him and not knowing what to *do* with him… Like, could we go furniture shopping together with him in that suit? Nah."
"Um, Sean Connery…"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, *exactly*, or Mel Gibson. People would be all over them in a furniture store, so it's easier to dream about them. Except Sean or Mel, neither of them will fly in through your window when you're feeling depressed…"
"No such luck…" though Jonathan's tea and sympathy were quite nice. "And you can dream of Sean staying the night and not minding at all if you wanted to serve ice cream and Fritos for breakfast, but Superman, that guy might stay for a bite to eat, a little dancing at most, then, whoosh, he's gone, has to stop an avalanche, and I can't really complain…" She mulled over the last of her breakfast. "Clark, on the other hand, he'd *make* breakfast, wash all the dishes and rearrange my spice rack. He's been right there for years and is sort of… frightening--the implications, I mean, not *him*, he's a real person. We talk, we discuss things, we argue and make up, he doesn't preach, much, and when he does it's cute, mostly, unless he's right and then he's irritating… which isn't *so* bad. He's… *there*… And maybe he's been as confused as I've been… 'Maybe'? No, not maybe." She smiled. "You know? He asked what I thought he should say if Superman asked about us, because it was Thursday night and he--Clark and I, I mean, were dancing and really enjoying it, and we weren't teasing each other, and here he's probably wondering why I wanted to dance in the first place and do it with him of all people and if I'm thinking of the other fellow…"
There was that, Martha thought; Clark had wondered plenty of times out loud here at home. "What did you say?"
"Oh, believe me, I gave it some thought. I mean, I don't want them fighting with each oth… him fighting with…" She closed her eyes, sighed, and started again. "Anyhow, I said he could tell Superman that it was getting cool at night and my window might not be open and I might be at Clark's house having dinner…"
"That sounds good to me."
"You think so? You don't think it was too pushy or too obvious?"
"Did he flinch?"
"No… and he didn't run away when I said I hardly knew him and I didn't want to sleep with him that night. He'd hinted pretty strongly that if I was thinking of doing that, he didn't want to. But I know men don't like to admit that if they think they've attracted a girl that way and they're not ready after all. I *did* say that didn't mean I wouldn't want to sleep with him *later*…"
Martha raised an eyebrow. "Pretty risque talk…"
Lois smiled, too. "Well, it had been a long day for both of us. He was in outer space that morning and I'd been cooped up in a boring press conference most of the afternoon, and we almost had a knock-down drag-out fight in between--it wasn't important, we do that all the time, don't worry… But I think I'll have to be more careful and not be so pushy…"
She finished her pancakes and looked like she wondered if asking for more was proper or if she would be told she could fix them herself.
So Martha asked, "Are you still hungry?"
"It's all this talking, I'm not used to it…"
Talking, yes, Martha thought; soul-baring, no. Since that could be difficult for anyone, Martha offered a compromise: "I'll guide you through another batch if you'd like…"
They got up and Martha, standing back, directed this time.
"If it helps," she decided to say as Lois got going on her own, "I think you're right, he's as confused as you are, maybe more." Probably. Actually, there was no doubt. "And for quite some time."
"Ah… Well, I've suspected that for a while," Lois said as she pulled out her card and propped it up at the back of the counter, "though I haven't really thought much about it, it wouldn't have done any good." Deciding on only a small batch, Lois quartered the amount of ingredients, cracked open the egg needed and measured the oil and milk, and began looking like she actually knew what she was doing. "For example," and she threw herself into mixing the ingredients with emphasis, "when he found out that Lex had proposed to me, he told me *he* loved me and obviously hoped on the strength of that I'd tell Lex I wouldn't marry him. But I didn't think I loved Clark then--I'm not sure I do now--and I couldn't *lie* to him about something as important as *that*, so I tried to let him down easily. We're friends, best friends, I treasure that, that's what I told him. It did start me thinking though… Should I turn on the fire under the pan now?"
"Yes, if you're almost ready."
"I think I am, this is mixing up fast and there are hardly any lumps… Well, anyway, on my wedding day, as the time came closer to walking down that aisle, I started having second thoughts. I was thinking about Clark, of all people, and comparing him to Lex, who I didn't love either, really, despite everything he'd done for me, which I realize now was *to* me, not *for* me…" She found the butter in the refrigerator and cut away and dropped a pat of it into the pan, "And it worried me that Clark wasn't there at the ceremony--I understand now *why* he wasn't, but hardly anybody else who had a choice was there either, not even Cat Grant… but it didn't stop me thinking about him so much…" She began to pour the batter into the pan next.
"Listen to that sizzle! Is it too hot?"
"Probably not, you'll have to watch it though."
"Okay… Anyhow, I'm walking down the aisle toward the man I'm supposed to be in love with and marry…" She waved the spatula with significance, as though the lucky fellow were standing in that direction in the distance. "And all I can think of were the good times I've had with Clark!"
"Yeah, it was so odd… The Archbishop--and I'm not even Catholic and I'm sure Lex never was, he worships himself--he asks Lex 'Do you take this woman' blah-blah-blah and he says 'yes' as though I were a bank draft. Then the Archbishop asks me 'Do you take this man' blah-blah-blah and… Is that brown enough under there do you think?"
"Is it brown enough for you?"
"Not yet. I like how it looks sort of yellow with brown circles. You know, I don't think I put in enough apples; I'll put some on top. These would go good with ice cream, too, like crepes but easier, less pressure to get them just right and all French looking… But, anyway, I say I can't marry him, and then he throws himself out the window--I like to think it was because I saw the light and rejected his offer at the last moment, but Perry and Inspector Henderson breaking in and waving warrants for his arrest probably had a *little* something to do with it-- That's brown enough--Whee! Look at how that flipped, Martha! Martha? Are you all right?"
Did she look as dizzy as she felt suddenly? She sat down and the room steadied. "Yes, dear, please, just go on with your story…"
"Oh, okay… Well, later one of my sources told me that Mr. Stern had agreed to buy the Planet--I mean, the paper, not the world, though there were jokes about his being rich and smart enough to do that if he wanted, but he's a genuinely good guy, unlike Lex--or Bill Church, who *I* don't trust as far as I can throw him.
"Anyhow, we were out in the street lamenting how the old building was about to be torn down--Perry didn't know what I knew, and I couldn't tell him because I hadn't verified it and I didn't want to get his hopes up. But here comes Mr. Stern in a Rolls Royce, leading a flatbed truck with the Planet's globe on it. He saved the day and said he had all kinds of plans for modernization and Perry went after him to talk him out of them…
"Clark was there, of course, and he looked so great because everyone was so pleased, and he said he'd never seen anything so beautiful, and I didn't know if he was talking about the globe sitting there or me, it was hard to tell because the globe and I, well, we were in the same direction… But I felt myself warming up to him because this was the first time we'd been alone, if you can call being out on the sidewalk *alone*, but it was the first time we could be together in a week since I took a lot of it off trying to clean up the mess… And I sort of cornered him. I think that side's done now, too… yeah. I'm going to make another one!"
"Whatever you like…"
Lois looked at her. "You do look a little pale. Would you like one of these or a glass of water or something? I'm pretty good at tea if it's in those bags…"
"Finish the story, right. There's not much left to say. Clark told me he'd wanted to bring Luthor down and hadn't wanted me to be hurt, that's why he'd told me he loved me but he really *didn't* love me, that he'd have said anything, he just didn't want me to make a fool of myself and get hurt, and he wanted us to be best friends *forever*…" She sighed. "That was thoughtful of him, or I tried to tell myself that, but I didn't know what to believe. It sure put a lid on any romantic feelings *I* was having, but after all, that was par for the course for me. Chalk up another failed relationship. Lois the Loser. Two in one month, a new record…"
She gave the remaining batter an extra beat and began to pour it slowly into the pan. "Then somebody starts screaming for help and I'm so stunned at everything that I don't go check it out, but rather than stay and talk this over, he runs off and Superman goes flying overhead--and why I never noticed how that happens all the time, how coincidental it is, I'll *never* know… But I could dream about catching that guy even if Clark was a lost cause…"
"He was crossing his fingers," Martha said quietly.
Martha blinked and looked up. "The batter…"
"Oh--Yikes!" She repositioned the bowl over the pan and looked around desperately for something to clean up with. But as she forced herself to pay attention to the job at hand, she relaxed again. "I didn't spill much," she decided, "just a few drops, I'll clean it up in a second." After she finished pouring the batter, she put down the bowl and found a sponge in the sink and tackled the spilled bits before the heat from the nearby gas flames could set them. She rinsed out the sponge and put it back, then checked on the progress of the pancake. "That looks okay. Now you said he was…?"
Carefully: "Crossing his fingers."
"I thought that's what you said. Next to me accepting Lex's offer, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, but… I don't doubt it for a minute either."
"Believe me, I never wanted to box his ears more than when he told us he'd done that."
"I wish you had…"
Martha recalled that Clark had been so pleased he thought of doing that at the last minute because he hadn't believed that romantic look in Lois's eyes or what she was doing and saying. She certainly hadn't been herself. He suspected that Luthor might have drugged her and it was only now wearing off, but in any case, that wasn't the Lois *he* knew, and he wouldn't dream of taking advantage of her.
Martha had made him repeat the conversation verbatim. Then he had gone on to describe how it had all come to him, one "good" idea after another about how to ease Lois off and give her time to regain her sanity. Martha closed her eyes as she remembered the surprised look on his face when she had thrown up her hands in despair. He couldn't see he'd shut Lois out altogether, and Martha hadn't been able to explain her own reaction, but then she hadn't really tried, knowing it probably wouldn't have sunk in or done any good. Too many should-haves, and should-haves never worked… "And I wish… Let me get this straight. You told Lex Luthor you wouldn't marry him?"
"Yep, that I couldn't, right there at the altar. There was no way I could marry him having all the second and third and fourth thoughts I was having, just no way… Oh, this one didn't flip as well… but, there, that's okay… Yes, I just told him right out 'I can't.' I would have told him more, sat down and explained it to him somehow--I didn't want to break his heart, I didn't think he was bad, just… second best--but there wasn't any time, things started moving really fast. I mean, if there had been time, and the Archbishop had asked," her voice took on holy tones, "'If you can't take this man, which man can you take?' and if Clark and Superman both had been sitting there on *my* side of the aisle, I would have pointed at Clark and said 'I'd like to talk to that fellow there,' and he'd look all innocent and surprised the way he can and check to make sure I wasn't talking about somebody just behind him, and he'd point at himself, 'me?' and Superman would pat him on the back, pick him up and toss him at me…" She caught her breath. "But it didn't work out that way. You don't look so pale any more, but…"
"Don't worry, I feel better." Martha was still trying to put the new story together with the old one and arrange all the thoughts occurring to her as well. "Lois, I'm glad you told me all this. We only had it from Clark, and it's obvious to me he didn't know that certain things went on during the ceremony because nobody told him and he didn't ask."
"What was there to tell? Lex had all the networks there, so it's on a zillion miles of videotape. I'm surprised he didn't wire me for sound, too, but then he wasn't listening to me anyhow, and of course that caused a lot of trouble when he came back from the dead…"
Martha didn't want to go off on that tangent; she knew that story well enough anyhow. She zeroed in on the point that would keep the conversation on the straight and true. "I'm sure Clark went out of his way to avoid watching any videos, and to me that means…"
"That he didn't see everything--Oh! I forgot! Ah… Whew, that's not burned! Much… Just a little bit, it's still edible…" She removed the pancake from the pan to her plate, stacking it on the first one, burned side down and hidden so it would be impossible to taste, and then looked at the bowl in which she had mixed them up. "I don't think I want to make a little tiny one, but I don't want to waste this batter that's left either…"
"Roscoe will eat it. Sit down here…"
Lois worried a moment about the pan and utensils she had used, then decided to leave them to their own devices until later. She picked up the recipe card and stuck it back in her pocket, then took her chair and began to prepare the two pancakes with butter, extra chunky apple sauce and syrup, humming to herself as she did so.
Martha chanted a mantra she had learned back in early 1962 during a visit to a commune somewhere north of San Francisco. This kept her from jumping up, grabbing Lois by the neck and squeezing until the girl saw the moon, the stars and the obvious. Lois tasted her pancakes and looked thoughtful. "They're not quite as good as yours, and there's that part that got a little burned, but they're okay. I'll have to practice, and try different fruit in them, like blueberries or strawberries… Okay, where were we? Oh, so Clark wasn't there, he didn't see anything, he wouldn't have watched the tapes because that's not the kind of thing he'd want to see except maybe for the police chasing Lex all over the place and people fainting and me crying… no, he wouldn't want to see that part…" She cut away another portion of pancake and pushed her fork into it, ready to eat. "And maybe he didn't ask those who were there what happened because the big part was Lex running away and everyone knew about that--and Perry and Jimmy weren't there during the calm part of the ceremony, for example, to tell him about that…"
She paused to take the next forkful and chew thoughtfully. Then she stopped chewing, her eyes widened a bit, and she began chewing furiously so she could swallow and exclaim clearly: "I see! That's it! He didn't realize I had turned Lex down flat! Even Lex didn't hear me! Clark must have thought everything was going swimmingly until the police broke in and that's why he… Oh, oh, my…"
"I think so."
"We've played coy with each other for two years now and it was all unnecessary…"
"No wonder he's been shy trying to get something going. He had to have thought I was on the rebound back then, that I'd lost one lover due to circumstances beyond my control and there he was, Mr. Clark Convenient, Mr. Number Two, no, Three, what with Superman being Number One--but it wasn't that way at *all*! But we didn't talk about it, of course, so he didn't know, so… as a… an alternative, since we have to work together, he's been seeing me at best as a sister…"
Martha nodded. "I think you've it figured out."
"Up until Thursday morning we'd been keeping each other at arms' length, teasing and joking, being comfortable with each other like siblings, but with that occasional… *look*, if you can imagine, that we both know something's there--and then we avoid it, oh, by falling asleep or rushing away or just denying it altogether." She sighed and played with her pancakes. A determined frown crept over her face. "But no more, that's the last of that, not again, not *this* little black duck. He can play coy if he wants, but he enjoyed dancing *way* too much not to expect me to notice, so he's been denying it just as much as I have. But I'm going to get him, I'm *really* going to get him now…"
Test this: "Get Clark…?"
"Who else? Them--Clark--*him*! He's not going to hide in that suit, and he's not getting away again. I still feel the way I did before, when I told Lex no, even back when we had that pheromone fiasco--that Clark's *the* important guy, I've just managed to ignore it, sublimate it all this time because it seemed useless to think otherwise--but no more! I don't care how fast he can fly or how high or where, every time he turns around I'm going to be there. And he's not going to realize what hit him, either! Not until…" Martha thought Lois might jump up and wave her arms about but the young woman remained seated and determined. "…until we're celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary and we're knee-deep in great-grandchildren, then maybe--*maybe* he'll get some little teensy weensy inkling that he's always been mine and that *I* figured it out and there was nothing he could do about it from that point on, it was destiny, he wasn't getting out of it no matter what superpower he tried. Fini. That's it. Period."
Lois blinked. "Huh?"
"You certainly have my approval and encouragement."
"Completely. Go for it."
"But… but I don't even know why he's… even seen me as a sister let alone stuck around beyond what's in his job description…"
"It doesn't matter to you?"
Martha shook her head and smiled. "Not any more. I think you'll work it out." She stood up and stretched; it felt as though some great weight had been taken off her shoulders. "I feel like going for a walk. How about you?"
"But the dishes--"
"They'll be there when we get back, they always are," though she did take a moment to put the pancake batter bowl down on the floor for Roscoe, who moseyed in on cue. "You take your time eating, Lois, and I'll find you a hat."
Lois finished her breakfast and then went upstairs to brush her teeth and tie back her hair, and when she returned Martha handed her a black baseball cap. "It's Clark's. He won't mind if you use it."
"He needs a hat?"
"The sun gets in his eyes, too."
"Oh, of course…"
Lois took the hat and looked at the red, blue and yellow patch on the front that said "Smith's Feed Store and Discount Cray Computers." She laughed. "Hey, what's yours say?"
Martha adjusted the plastic strap in the back and put it on so that Lois could read "Acme Milking Machines and Reconditioned Atlas Rocket Boosters".
"Ha! Kansas humor, huh?"
"You'd be surprised. But this is Jonathan's hat. I had one that said, ah, 'Mom's Famous Apple Pies and Worldwide Diplomatic Initiatives to Go,' but Roscoe got it and shared it with a goat so it's history."
"That's too bad." She began adjusting Clark's hat as Martha's example freed her to try it. "Do they still sell them? I'd love one to wear when the Planet's softball team gets started up again next year. I'm one of the team captains, so *I* can get away with it."
"Maybe we can shop for one while you're here."
"Great! Everyone will be jealous. Where do you want to walk?"
Martha pointed. "Through that door."
"Now I know where Clark gets his sense of humor."
"Oh, but he's not nearly as fast with puns as *I* am…"
Through the door they headed, then west at a leisurely pace toward the creek about a half mile away. Martha didn't initiate a new conversation; she thought Lois needed the chance to breathe and stretch out and see if her shoes were really made for walking. The young woman seemed happy to be just strolling along, looking around herself with what appeared to be genuine enthusiasm.
"Is that a crow?"
"Wow, they're big, much bigger than pigeons… And isn't that a little short to be a crop of some kind unless its… chives? No, I know, onions!"
"It's grass, it's a pasture."
"Oh, of course. The horses way over there, that should have told me… Is it almost harvest time?"
"No, it's a good six weeks away yet."
"That's why Clark takes his vacation then…"
"He really comes home and just… plows and… threshes and winnows and harrows and… does all that?"
"Really. Actually, the machines do it. It can be very relaxing once it gets underway, and then we insist he take a few days off during those two weeks and not work at all."
"Things can get very tense at the Planet and we do put in long hours, and what with everything else he does on the side…"
"Exactly. He's not allowed to do any of that."
"Not even if some… big emergency comes up?"
"Well, there are things we can't avoid hearing about on the news and then he feels he has to do something. Last year there was that terrorist thing where somebody hijacked a plane and made it land in Cairo. He helped out with that and was back in 30 minutes…"
"I remember that, nobody was hurt. I'm glad you insist that he *try* to relax."
"We don't have to insist much, he gets tired of being Superman now and then and needs to get his batteries recharged…"
"I hadn't thought about that, but after the Slime Monster and he was so tired and we still worked half the night… It must be a lot easier just being Clark."
Martha agreed but merely said "Um-hmm…" hoping Lois would tuck that idea into her file of things to think about later, on her own.
They continued to walk, reaching the end of the road that went down to the creek. This area had been allowed to return to the wild, and the last several generations of Kents had helped it along by planting a wide variety of trees all up and down their stretch of the waterway, encouraging wildlife, and particularly the birds that feasted on things that liked to feast on the crops. Martha mentioned this as they wound their way along a trail and deeper into the wooded area, and Lois looked appropriately appreciative of the complexity of the long-term plan. She was, Martha thought, a fine actress when she wanted to be.
They came to a little clearing that Martha said was "Kent's Hole, or at least that's what I call it." There was a view of the sedately flowing creek, a nice spread of grass, old logs to sit on, smooth-trunked trees to lean back against, a canopy of leaves. "Generations of Kents have come here to relax. No TV, no radio, no newspapers, no world to bother you…"
"Can we sit here, too?"
They made themselves comfortable.
"You know," Lois said after a deep sigh. "I thought I was going to have to force myself to relax and enjoy myself this weekend. The country side's for country people and all that, but… it's really all right."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"I'm not saying I'd want to move out here, not right away, anyhow… I could retire out here maybe… or maybe in the mountains… or by the ocean…"
"You have some time yet to make up your mind."
"Yeah. I guess I'm feeling good because… I feel like I'm getting things done. I mean, when I got on the plane to come out here, I wasn't sure what I wanted. It was like I'd been shoved through a strange door and found out I was in a candy shop, but I didn't know whether to take advantage of it or run and hide from all the calories… I've been telling myself all along that I've wanted Superman, but it became obvious Thursday morning that I was setting my goals too low and there's a whole lot more involved than I imagined… and maybe I'm just not up to it…"
"Yeah. But that was before, that's the way I was thinking when I got on the plane and there was no way Clark could turn up--well, there was, but it was highly unlikely… 'high', ha, on a plane. But that was the first opportunity I'd had to think about it, really *think.* So of course a traveling salesman sat next to me and he was sure I was interested in perfume and in him, and he didn't understand any part of 'no.' And there were all those obnoxious kids making all that noise--they got on the same flight I did in Metropolis, can you believe it? So I couldn't do any deep thinking at all."
But she pulled back. "No, that's not right, I had one thought. It occurred to me that I couldn't think because something was trying to tell me that this relationship between me and Clark wasn't going to work any better than any of my earlier ones because it's so different from what I expected and I have mixed feelings about him and all that, so I might as well not even *try* to think about it."
"That sounds serious."
"Well, it was. I guess you sort of noticed how I was acting when I got off the plane…"
"Sort of." But Martha smiled. "I do understand." She saw then that was probably one of the things Lois had hoped to hear a lot of during her visit. Lois nodded as though acknowledging the reassurance. "But now I've had a nice quiet night and you to talk to and he hasn't been in the next room and I haven't had to dress up and put on any make-up or worry about monsters or who sponsored them or what I can do to stop the next one or anything like that," she caught her breath, "and I can just sit… And I have more information than I ever had and it all seems to make sense now…"
Now Martha just nodded. Lois didn't seem to need any more coaxing; indeed, that might have been an inopportune distraction.
Lois leaned back against her tree and gazed upward. She actually did look contented. Eventually she said, "You know, back in the kitchen, I must have sounded like I had a big plan to get Clark…"
"Yes, you did."
She shook her head slowly. "But I don't. I don't have a single idea." And yet she didn't look distressed about that. "I do know that I'm not going to rush back to Metropolis and jump on him and force him to admit everything. What kind of friend would I be if I did that? It would never work, it would *probably* scare him, and it's not the least bit romantic, and I really want some romance in this. You're right, subtle is best. I'm going to work with what comes, just go with the flow."
Flow, Lois? Martha thought. You can find flow in your turbulent life? You need Clark to hold on to, and he needs you to splash water on him… But she only said: "I think you'll attract what's right."
"I hope so. Maybe I'll be able to see it coming--but that sounds like I want to control it. Maybe I do… No, that wouldn't be much fun. I know, I just want it to work. And I want him not to know what hit him. I want him to think it's all just natural." She noticed the grass in front of her and she sat forward to look at it and brush at it. "Natural… And I *don't* want him to think that because I've discovered his secret that's why I'm after him now. I was pretty whacked out this week, too, and not acting like myself, almost giving myself away a few times, but considering what happened, everything, and not just to me… I can pretend to be more my normal self when I get back, all rested and ready to work again, and I can work on him that way." She looked up at Martha. "It's going to be tricky and yet…" as though she were suddenly aware of the challenge and that it was right up her alley, "it won't be tricky at all."
Martha raised her eyebrows. "You are up to it then."
"I think so, I want to be… I'll know by Monday morning, I'll have everything thought out by then, and maybe I will have a plan."
"Then I should give you some more time by yourself." She rose to her feet. "Did you bring your watch?"
Lois frowned, checked her wrist and smiled at herself. "Nope. I guess I *am* on vacation."
"Well, I think you can hear Jonathan's pickup returning even at this distance. He should be back by noon unless he buys something big. He likes looking for old tractors if they're classics; Clark's helped him fix up a few. If you want to come back then, just follow the trail back to the road and then follow the road, you won't get lost."
"Not in the mood I'm in."
"Good girl," and she reached down and Lois reached up and they squeezed each others' hands for a moment.
Martha strolled back to the farm house, where she had the kitchen to clean up and a sculpture to continue trying to whip into shape.
Jonathan returned classic tractorless and with complaints about what he had seen, but he'd gotten all that out of his system by the time Lois opened the back door and entered the kitchen and asked what she could do to help. She was told she could set the table while Martha finished making turkey, sprout and homemade wheat bread sandwiches. Lois asked about the auction and Jonathan gave her the highlights. Martha was pleased that the blatantly city-oriented girl managed to sit through it without yawning once. She hoped Lois wouldn't ultimately think it a waste of time if she discovered how little interest Clark had in the farm now except as a place to seek rest and refuge.
As lunch wrapped up, Jonathan recalled that he had a number of chores to do and quite a few involved the tractor, if Lois wanted to come along and see how it worked… "Sure," she said, "I'll help you out. I've mastered the kitchen, so now it's time to try my hand at farm implements!"
They returned some four hours later. Lois was grimy but grinning. Jonathan, looking his usual relaxed self after an average half-day's work, said "We'll make a farmer out of her yet."
Lois shrugged it off modestly, "Well, we did work hard didn't we? And if it hadn't been for you I wouldn't be…" she looked down at her muddy jeans and blouse, "all ready to stand in for your scarecrow."
"I knew you were outstanding in your field, so…"
Lois gaped, put her hands on her hips and frowned at him and Martha. "You didn't warn me that… that snappy repartee runs in your family!"
"You didn't ask."
Jonathan tried to look concerned. "Does Clark tease you, Lois?"
"He tries. He's not very good at it though, but then I'm an expert, so he doesn't have much of a chance."
"Oh, well, maybe it skips a generation."
"Ah, that's an idea, but whatever the reason is, I don't think I want to take you on again," and she hugged him. "At least not until after I've had a nice, hot bath."
They cheered that decision. Martha told Lois to leave her dirty clothing out and she'd throw them in the washer with a load of other things. She added that dinner would be in an hour.
Lois, clean and sparkling, returned in time to help prepare, eat and clean up after the roast chicken.
Jonathan retired to the den to listen to the news and work on the farm's quarterly taxes. Martha mentioned she was sure he'd be at it several hours. Lois wondered why, since he was using the loaded multimedia computer he had showed her briefly before dinner and that thing could probably do the work with its cables tied behind its interface. Martha said, "Did he mention it has a modem card? He'll go in and get his e-mail and answer it and do some Internet surfing and probably IRC the organic farmers forum, so we don't have anything to worry about for quite a while."
"Wow. I knew Clark was a computer bit of a computer nerd, but Jonathan?"
"We've had computers around the house since those first cute little Apple IIs. Let's go sit so you can tell Clark you got to rock on the porch and roll on the tractor."
They retired to the swing on the back porch and just rocked for a bit.
"What a day," Lois sighed happily at last. "I think I worked off every chocolate chip I've eaten for the past six months. It's nice you have all those kids who want to work when you need help around here…"
"It's one of the few ways they can earn money."
"And this is such a big place for two people to run, I guess you're happy Clark comes home for that reason, too… And, you know? I haven't once… well, once, but not more than that, not really. I mean, I don't care what's happening in the rest of the world, I haven't worried about it at all."
"If you really wanted to know, we could tune in any number of news reports," and Martha pointed at the big satellite dish on the leeward side of the barn.
"No… well, maybe tomorrow night, before I leave, so I can catch up, but if I don't…" she shrugged. "Now I understand how Clark must feel when he comes home, just *away* from it all… I didn't get to think much about my… problem this afternoon, not even in the bath, I just laid back and enjoyed it."
"I find that sometimes not thinking about a problem can help as much as thinking about it."
"Oh, I agree, and it's not really so much a problem, it's just more I have to adjust my attitude… This morning, out in the woods, I thought a lot about him, about us, about little things and, well, maybe big things, like…" She paused, obviously considered her words carefully, which led Martha to guess what the topic was turning to at last. "Well, okay, there's no polite way to say it. Sex, what about that? I mean, he's not human even though from what I've seen he looks…--I haven't seen *every*thing, but…"
"But it's a perfectly reasonable question. As far as I know Kryptonians approached it the same way we do if body parts mean anything, and surely they do. He was raised human because we didn't know otherwise, he certainly *looked* human. Jonathan was sure he was subject of a failed Russian experiment, while I was equally sure it was all NASA's fault, which will tell you something about our politics…" She smiled at that because she and Jonathan still had their arguments. No wonder Clark was so middle of the road and noncommittal sometimes…
"Let's see. Clark always looked normal to me, though the last time I noticed was about when he stopped being nature boy when he was, oh, five years old and started becoming all independent and embarrassed about it, probably just like his friends were then."
"You mean like 'Oh, girls, yech!' That kind of thing?"
"No, that was later, when he was 8 or 10 years old, just like his friends. He seemed to just fall into all of Dr. Spock's categories, one after the other… Jonathan never mentioned Clark talking to him about problems beyond what you'd expect from any maturing young man. When we were making his costume…" She remembered getting some unexpected glimpses while doing the almost endless measuring and fitting and despite Clark's modest care. He hadn't used any superspeed then, but practiced that later when he'd realized he had to be able to change fast because there would be times he couldn't wait around for an empty restroom stall. "Well, I think you'll find he's an average guy for his height and weight, and beyond that… that's for you and him to find out."
"I see… That does answer a lot of questions that I didn't know how to ask politely…"
They rocked again for a while, enjoying the cool breeze and the way the sky slowly lost light and the clouds lit up with quieter and quieter colors.
"I've been thinking," Lois said at last. "I've been trying to remember everything about him from the first time I met him… the little clues I should have seen but let them pass because… I wasn't interested. And I'm trying to match them with what I know now. I mean… silly things like how his hair was long when we first met and he looked so boyish, and Perry suggesting strongly that he get it cut because it would make him look more serious, like a real reporter. But he's invulnerable to a lot of things, so…"
"Cutting it involves a couple of mirrors and angling them just so and his using that heat vision of his. It's easier for him to shave, but you'll probably see that… There's a funny story I bet he won't tell you about it…"
Lois perked up. It was easy to see that this was the kind of thing she wanted to hear but didn't want to come right out and ask for. So Martha reminisced for her about how not too long after his 16th birthday, on a Sunday morning, Clark had come into the living room where she and Jonathan were relaxing reading the papers. Clark's casual, almost fashion-model approach was one that said "I want you to notice something about me but I don't want you to realize that I want that…" and he stroked his cheeks meaningfully. Finally Jonathan, who Martha was sure knew very well what was going on, glanced up.
He asked, "Something wrong, son?"
"That's good," and he went back to his paper.
"Dad? Do you, ah, well… notice anything?"
Jonathan adjusted his glasses and peered at his son. "Nope."
Clark leaned over toward his father and could just barely keep from pointing. "*Nothing?*"
Jonathan looked long and hard. "I'd say you're becoming a bit hairy…"
Clark brightened up and nodded.
"You want to stay that way?"
"Ah… no, not really."
"Then let's do something about it."
Martha laughed. "Oh, Lois, it was so much fun! It was one of those precious male bonding things, so I couldn't watch, not until it all hell broke loose. But Jonathan had been preparing for this for a while, and he had a nice new razor and blade and all that put aside, ready for the big day, and he showed Clark everything. You can imagine, there was a whole ritual to go through.
"And then they tried the new razor, but it didn't work. All they could figure was that the new blade was dull. They changed blades and tried again but got the same result. Clark started getting a little panicky then, I could feel it all the way down here. After all, these ritual things aren't supposed to break down. He used that microscopic vision of his to see if something was wrong with the blade and he said the edge was all serrated."
It didn't take long for her two guys to realize that Clark's nascent beard was invulnerable. They also experimented on his hair, which Clark had been encouraging to grow long for the last several months, a slow process. It couldn't be cut either.
That's when Martha found herself pulled in to help because Clark's pride in this part of growing up turned to panic. "I don't want to grow a beard, Dad!" he wailed. "All my friends look *awful* in them!" Martha had seen those friends and agreed (but not aloud) that their efforts were at best scraggly and at worst patchy and wolfmanish.
"I can get the tin snips, son--"
"No! I can't do *that* for the rest of my *life*!"
Martha shook her head fondly. "Well, we eventually figured out that he could carefully use his heat vision and a mirror to burn it off, and he's good at it now, though he needs a little help with his hair back here…" and she pointed to "here" on her own neck.
"Oh, that is cute! And, you're right, I can't see him telling me, but I could help… You must have a lot of stories like that."
"And you'll hear them eventually as they occur to me. I've written down a lot of them. I started keeping a diary not long after we found him."
"*That* would make juicy reading…"
"For another time. But I could find some of those letters if you'd like…"
"I wouldn't mind turning in early again if I had those to read, because he really could write well back as early as that. What I don't understand though is why, with that good a sampling, he showed Perry the Borneo Gazette, of all things. I didn't get to see it, but it was clear that Perry wasn't impressed at all, it gave him a headache and he was already really grouchy that day for some reason."
"Yes, we heard all about it. Clark should have pressed his case, but he said Perry looked so busy…"
"Well, *I* would have pressed my case if I were him, but then I would have used something better to show my talent, too."
"But there was a perfectly fine reason for him to have put that article on the top of his portfolio."
Lois's expression said "Huh?" and then her voice said, "Yes…?"
Another story, but Martha enjoyed explaining that the Borneo Gazette was actually a prestigious journal to which explorers from all over the world contributed. But apparently one of the rules was an author's first contribution had to be so dry and dull that it would frighten away all but the most intrepid readers. That's what Clark wrote, "And talk about a cure for insomnia, it put me to sleep three times! Half the words were in Latin, it seemed, and the rest were all scientific terms, too, but he researched it like mad so I'm sure it was all accurate. The Gazette's referees accepted and published it. We weren't surprised. His next article, which Perry didn't see but it was *right there*, was about how Clark helped find that three-toed little newt or whatever it was, in the depths of the jungle, and it was so full of true, documented adventure and wonderful photographs of tribes people and treacherous waterfalls that it would have put Indiana Jones to shame."
"Wow… But he was just too polite try pushing Perry, he simply didn't know how to like I do. I could see that he totally lacked that kind of experience five seconds after Perry assigned me to… well," she looked apologetic, "baby-sit him. I had to teach him to be tougher, not take no for an answer, and go out in the street and get that story… which he still has problems with sometimes, like… in his personal life, with me, except when he's…" She caught herself and said with more determination, "But that doesn't count, he's getting better at it every day. So… So can I read that article, too?"
"Only if you read the first one…"
"Maybe we can bend the rules a bit for you, you do seem intrepid enough already."
"Thanks. How about if I intrepid myself upstairs and give you some rest from me, hmm?"
*** "Is she giving you any trouble, Mom?"
"No, honey, we're having a good time. You didn't tell us you were going to Japan, you got some coverage on CNN."
"It was sort of a last-minute thing and then I almost forgot."
"You can tell us about it later. Do you want to talk to her?"
"Ah, I really just called to see if you were all right…"
"But, sure, if she wants to talk to me…"
"I don't think she'll mind. She's watching 60 Minutes with your father and telling him what really happened that they're not reporting."
"I can imagine."
"I'll have her take the call in my studio. Be sure to ask her about her new hat, she's so tickled with it."
"How am I going to ask about that, Mom? I can't see it from here… Mom?"
[hold music: John Lennon's "Imagine"]
"Hi, Clark. I haven't done any lasting damage."
"No disgruntled mad scientists or vengeful bank robbers or malevolent clones of me or any of my closest friends have turned up, either."
"And I haven't burned down the house or the barn or run the tractor through that precious forest down around the river."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"And none of the cows have gone dry and there are no circles in the crops."
"So you just called to hear my dulcet tones?"
"Oh. Oh, right. No--I mean, *actually* I called to… to tell you what I've come up with on your Circusgate thing, in case you want to change your flight plans."
"Change my flight plans? Wait a minute: 'my' Circusgate thing? That doesn't sound good."
"Well, I went through your files…"
"And it was all still ambiguous."
"Then I realized that could mean you just missed something."
"Me? I don't miss any… hardly… well, there's always a first time."
"For everybody. I decided to look for information in the one place you didn't look since I don't think you had the time. I went to the Fairgrounds."
"You're right, I didn't have time to actually confront them, everything was happening so fast. Were you careful? They can be dangerous, I'm sure of it. What did you find?"
"Clark, this is not turning into one of the most thrilling phone conversations I've ever had…"
"No, I mean literally nothing. The Circus from the Stars wasn't there, not a sign of them, not a ticket stub, not a straw, not a peanut shell, nothing."
"The Fairgrounds management didn't know much or didn't want to say, but I had a quick peek at their files and they had a contract with the Circus and it said they were supposed to be there through this coming Tuesday. Then I talked to one of the groundskeepers and she said the Circus started packing up at about eleven Wednesday morning when everyone else was running around dodging Slime Monster pieces. They were all cleared out by three, which she thought was amazing for even a small outfit like theirs."
"You can't call *that* ambiguous."
"I can call it interesting timing."
"*More* than interesting: their monster wasn't making any headway trying to eat the city and maybe they suspected somebody like me would be on to them in no time."
"The military was gearing up then, too, don't forget."
"I'll never forget that, those… Well, you had to be there…"
"Okay. Since they're not at the Fairgrounds, where are they? They were booked to open in Nashville next week, then Omaha--they might even be planning to swing through Kansas! They *might* be looking for a small town for an appetizer for another version of that monster, a new *baby* Slime Monster…!"
"Lois? No, Lois, I doubt it. I checked and there's no sign of them between here and Nashville, on any major highway or anywhere else within about four hundred miles of Metropolis, actually."
"Then they've gone to ground--or outer space. Were you going to suggest I go to Nashville and inquire personally?"
"You could if you wanted, I suppose, but I think you'd only find a lot country music and you don't much like that."
"I didn't know you'd noticed…"
"That's sweet of you, Clark… Ah, anything else? Any… suggestions?"
"You're asking me? Well, if you want to get really bored, there's the legal end. The Circus was incorporated in Delaware."
"That's not really surprising, everyone incorporates there, *I'll* incorporate there if I ever get my novel done. Delaware's out, we can do that by phone."
"Okay, then there's Councilman Smith."
"Ah-ha! What's he done now? What nefarious new plan does he have to 'improve' Metropolis?"
"None as far as I know because late Friday afternoon he quit."
"Stepped down, withdrew, left, departed,"
"Any chance you'll get to 'vanished'?"
"Actually, yes, that's the next one."
"He'd cleaned all his personal effects out of his office--and there weren't many, according to his clerk--and there was a notice pinned on the door that restated his reasons for stepping down, that he was taking care of a health problem."
"*What* health problem? He looked as healthy as a race horse the last time *I* saw him…"
"Well, maybe he broke his leg. But no one with any authority could explain it, and only the Mayor had any authority over Smith, and then not that much since Smith was an appointee only until November. Rumor has it though--I think the clerk started it--that Smith was headed for Teluride, Colorado to get a sex-change operation."
"Yeah, that was just about my reaction, though Telluride is supposed to be the place to go have that done. Personally, I wouldn't know."
"But, Clark, it's so unlikely it could be true--what better way to hide his identity?"
"Unless he's from outerspace and morphing would be easier and faster and *whole* lot less painful…"
"Well, I wouldn't mind checking out Telluride. Maybe they have snow already, and you've said you can ski. Can you meet me there?"
"Perry'd never okay that kind of expenditure. If you can wait a few years I can probably save up enough lunch money…"
"Okay, okay, that's out. Besides, you don't sound particularly convinced that he went there."
"There's no sign of his actually having left town. Of course, there's no sign that he's still *in* town, either. He doesn't seem to have any family ties, and he only rented an apartment and he left that empty except for the rental furniture."
"So there's no Circus from the Stars and no Councilor… Why are all my leads evaporating?"
"This isn't fair."
"But it's not the first time this has happened to you. The first time this year, yes, but there are still things for you to write about on it."
"I get this feeling it doesn't interest you any more…"
"Not until something concrete actually linking them to the Monster turns up. It's no crime for the Circus to have left town early, particularly if they didn't think they'd pull in enough audience, that was probably written in the small print of the contract, I didn't look, and then who knows? Maybe they changed names or disbanded or something, and that's not illegal either. As for what Councilman Smith does with his… personal life, it's his business."
"Clark, your enthusiasm… underwhelms me."
"Sorry, but I'm not anxious for another monster like that to turn up. Looking for one might, you know… make it happen."
"There is that, I understand, Wednesday was not fun… Things must be quiet in town then."
"Probably as quiet as they are for you."
"But I've been busy. I've been communing with nature with your mother *and* I helped your father drive his big tractor. He's got a stereo in there! No, that was the harvester, wasn't it… But they both had more than I thought I'd ever see. I was almost surprised not to see a wet bar."
"Dad doesn't drink more than beer and wine."
"I know, Clark, I'm joking. You still sound a little tired to me. Have you had any time to yourself? Did you… get your laundry done?"
"Yeah, Friday night, and the stores are dropping their prices again so I grocery shopped, too."
"Really boring--but *nice* and boring, considering…"
"Yes, considering everything we went through… I miss you, Clark."
"Don't sound so surprised, we're partners, remember?"
"Of course I remember--and I'm *not* surprised… ah, Mom said you have a new hat?"
"Yes, we went shopping in Smallville this afternoon and I got it then. You can see it when I get back."
"Okay. And Maxine's fine."
"Am I a grandmother yet?"
"No, you probably have a few weeks to wait. You better be thinking of upwards of 200 baby fish names because she was knitting lots of little fishy booties the last time I checked."
"No, Lois, not the booties part…"
"Oh. I knew you were joking. I mean, how would she get out to go find the little tiny knitting needles?"
"She could take a fish taxi."
"There better be a pun in there somewhere…"
"I wish I could think of one…"
"Your mother probably could."
"Yeah, she's really good with them…"
"Well… Maybe I better let you go before your phone bill gets too high…"
"But… Okay. I hope you're sleeping all right…"
"That's funny, all the birds woke me up Saturday morning, but I didn't notice them so much this morning. It was nice laying there listening to them though, like on your tape."
"I'll make a copy for you then."
"I'll come over and get it."
"Will you call when you get back? I miss you, too, you know…"
"I'm glad… I'll call when I get in, and, Clark, thanks for calling, even if the news wasn't good."
"I'll try to have something better next time."
"Just talking's nice…"
"Yeah, I like it… I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"I hope so. Bye…"
Lois wandered into Martha's studio and sat on the stool pointed out for her. She was carrying her new hat, glancing at the patch that said "Laurie's Quilting Supplies and Guaranteed Back-Engineered UFOs," and looking preoccupied, Martha noticed.
So as she stepped back from her latest artistic effort Martha asked, "What's happening?"
"Oh, Jonathan's watching something about farms in New Zealand on PBS…"
"I bet that's a tape. His favorite show's been pre-empted again."
"I don't really watch much TV, except with Clark, it seems. We sit around and do that a lot when I'm hiding out from people who are looking for me…" "That sounds… nice…" Martha moved around to find another angle on the abstract sculpture. It simply wasn't coming together. She wasn't sure where the balance was or even if it had any, and that was a sure sign of something wrong. It certainly was easier to talk to Lois, whose overall "problem" did have plainly visible balancing points and plenty of purpose, thank goodness. "How was your conversation?"
"Fine. I like hearing his voice, I thought about that and how he doesn't sound at all like Superman, he's more animated and emotional when he's himself." She sighed. "Why didn't I ever notice that? Why haven't I noticed a lot of things? I thought about his eyes, too, he has nice eyes, with and without the glasses, the disguise…"
"The glasses aren't the disguise. The glasses were… trainers. When his heat vision surprised us, we used glasses to train him to control it, and then he wanted to be like us, so he kept wearing them. When he got into school, the glasses slowed him down to human speed because he didn't want to break them, and they probably kept him out of some trouble, too, like fights, though he'd never start one. But I don't think you'll have to argue much to get them off of him when the time comes."
"I hope not… But while we were talking I could almost see him looking for his running shoes once or twice there and I was being very careful to only drop little hints, like saying I missed him and not elaborating, leaving him wondering."
"So did he find some excuse to hang up on you?"
"No, not that he hasn't done it before, but now I can see he probably had emergencies to fly off to. In fact I sort of hung up on him, *gently*. I left him wanting more, I hope…"
"You probably did just fine."
"Ah… Pardon me, but what *is* that you're making?"
Martha shook her head at the lump of clay, drinking straws and bedsprings from what she had come to think of as the back side. "I don't know yet."
"Oh… It sounds like that describes me, 'I don't know yet.'"
"Don't know what?"
"Oh…" Lois shrugged and scrunched up her hands together, threatening to bend the hat out of shape. "Ah…"
Martha looked at her. It was time not to think about the sculpture so that, if it had any spirit at all, it would think about beginning to develop without her help. She took off her gloves and sat down on the other stool, facing Lois and distracting her enough to rescue the hat. "Tell me."
"Well… Here I am, staying in your house and eating your food and driving your tractor and… I'm not even sure how I really feel about Clark…"
"Oh, that? Is that all?"
"'All'? That's a lot! I mean… I've been thinking about him two whole days now and yet…"
Martha knew what she was going to say and that it was difficult. So she made it easy: "And maybe you're not in love with him?"
Lois tried not to look surprised. "Well, maybe… I don't know. I can't imagine him not being around… though I *can* imagine taking those glasses off him and, well, getting him into bed, I've imagined it more than once…" She glanced at Clark's own mom, sitting right there in front of her listening to these blatantly suggestive notions… and she saw that Martha was comfortable with them. Lois smiled a little. "Growing old with him isn't actually a bad idea…"
"Those are good starts. Honestly, your being uncertain about how you feel isn't surprising to me."
"Not at all. If I were you, I'd do what you thought about Saturday morning, just let it flow and explore it."
"Don't push it."
"It *or* yourself."
"It seems so urgent though…"
Lois opened her mouth, closed it, then tried again and came out with "I don't know. It's just taken this long, and now I know and… he doesn't know that I know, and I should have clobbered him for not telling me himself, but I missed my chance… but maybe he does plan to tell me, *some*day, maybe he's waiting for some right time to happen… But I know, and knowing, just *knowing*…" She began to smile, "that could be an advantage, and I do like having the advantage. It will give me time to do some observing."
"That sounds like a plan to me."
"Yeah, that is the best idea, to see just what there is between us, see what I have to work with from this new perspective…" She sat up straighter and looked brighter. "That's it, flowing, watching, taking my time to figure it out, planning but making it natural. That's it exactly! I think I just needed to put it into words. After all, words are my business, and I'm an excellent communicator--on paper anyhow."
When you get paid for it, Martha thought and smiled; but then there's a big pay back on this if you two can figure out how uncross your wires… She glanced back at the sculpture. It whispered: "There's a little part of me over here that seems to resemble a flower…"
A flower? Are you crazy?? Talk about communications! Oh, no, it's back to the clay bag for *you*. She threw her gloves at the mess, shook her head and laughed at herself.
"What?" Lois asked. "Did you make up your mind about something, too?"
"Yes, I've made up my mind that I need some new inspiration."
"Or, if you don't mind me saying so, how about a new media? I like your watercolors, like that one Clark has in his kitchen."
"You do? I like watercolors better, but everyone's doing sculpture…"
"So? What about flow and naturalness? It's going to work for *me*, you know," she nodded confidently, "I guarantee it."
"That's a good argument. I like still lives like the one I gave him. What do you think about," and Martha spread it in the air before her, "'Two Bowls of Homemade Death by Chocolate Mousse Ice Cream'?"
"Is that the name of painting or some kind of exotic wish?"
"Want to find out? There's some in the freezer…"
Lois gulped. "Forget Clark, I'd like you to adopt me. Tonight. Right now."
"We'll see if you survive the ice cream first."
To be continued…
[The author thanks Laurie, Linda and Amy for proofing and critiquing. Thanks to Laurie for wondering what happened to the Circus, or the phone conversation might not have gotten to "print." Mention was made of ideas found in Andrea Dunham "First Step Towards a Legendary Partnership," and Jon Knutson's "In a League with Lois," both available from Renate. Finally, the author decided not to italicize magazine, tv, boat or other titles because she got tired of it and wanted to save asterisks for emphasizing words in speech.]
January 24, 1995