By Phil Atcliffe (Phillip.Atcliffe@uwe.ac.uk)
Summary: Perry decides rest and relaxation are in order for his new star reporting team of Lane and Kent, and a day at the beach is their assignment. Wouldn't you know there'd be a sand-kicking bully? A first-season vignette.
[A vignette from around the middle of the first season. Thanks to Kathy Brown for her comments. Insert <std. disclaimer> here. Constructive comments always welcome — PA]
Hobbs Peninsula is a long, narrow strip of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It forms one side of Hobbs Bay, a well-known feature of the city of Metropolis. Less well-known is the other side of the peninsula from Hobbs Bay, but it is where some of the best surf beaches along the Metropolis coast are found. To one such beach, Tiger Point by name, came Lois Lane and Clark Kent on a hot summer's day.
Lane and Kent had known each other for several months now and had, after a few (or maybe more than a few) rough patches, and somewhat to their own surprise (although neither of them would ever admit it), become the top reporting team on the Daily Planet staff.
Perry White, their editor, had encouraged them to work together, seeing their potential as partners. This weekend, in his own way, he was continuing that process by ordering them to get out of the office and relax. He had been the one who had suggested that they go to the beach, and Clark, after thinking it over for all of two seconds, had thought it a great idea. Lois, who didn't like mixing work and recreation, had been harder to convince, but she had given in when Perry offered to get them tickets for the Metro Opera as an alternative.
So here they were, strolling along the water's edge, looking for a suitable patch of beach to set up camp on. Lois was wearing a light sun-dress over her swimsuit and was carrying a pair of sunglasses and a beach bag. Clark, in a pair of shorts and an open shirt, was more heavily laden, but he had insisted on carrying the wind-break and the lunch basket as well as his own bag, and looked to be doing so effortlessly.
They eventually found a spot away from the crowds, although it looked as though the entire beach would fill up as the day wore on. Clark set up the wind-break and they laid out the rug and sat down.
Lois was rather surprised that Clark was so… comfortable about being at the beach. Before her parents split up, they had occasionally taken their daughters to one or other of the local beaches — often enough for her to feel at home there — but that was just a little more difficult for a Kansas farm boy. And some of the stuff he'd brought! She'd never heard of a wind-break before Clark had loaded his into the Jeep, but once she had seen him put it up, she had to admit that it was quite a good idea. Then there was all the food and the drinks that he'd packed, the sun-tan cream, the rug they were lying on — and who knew what else might be in that huge bag of his?
Well, if a reporter wanted to know something, there was a tried-and-true method for finding out… "Have you been to the beach much, Clark?" Lois asked, genuinely interested and sounding it.
"Oh, yeah. Well, not lately, but a few years ago, I developed a taste for body-surfing — you know, without a board — and I spent quite a lot of time on beaches. Hey, those waves look good; me for the water in a while. How about you?"
"Yeah, me too. So, you like to… body-surf? How does a… kid from Kansas get a taste for surfing?"
"The usual way — by going and trying it. There aren't many beaches in Kansas, as I'm sure you know, but it's hard to get away from them in places like Hawaii, Fiji, Australia… That's where I got the wind-break, by the way."
Lois blushed slightly, both at his little dig at her usual dismissive attitude towards his home state and at her own forgetfulness. Clark was so… naive? No. Innocent? Well, yes, but that wasn't what she meant. Uncosmopolitan, that was it! At least, that was the way he came over; it was always hard for her to remember that he had been all over the world for years before he finally settled down in Metropolis. Sometimes she wondered why he had decided to stay here, in the biggest city in the world, after all his wanderings, but she had never managed to think of a way to ask him. It probably didn't matter, anyway. After all, if Metropolis was good enough for Superman…
She had missed some of Clark's chatter while musing over this, and tuned back in to what he was saying: "I met a family once who'd moved to the east coast of Australia from right in the centre of Canada, and they'd never *seen* a beach, ever. I remember them asking me what you needed to take to the beach; they were quite surprised when I gave them a long list."
She looked at him. "A long list? Just what was on this long list, farm… *surfer* boy? All *I* ever take to the beach is a towel, some suntan lotion and a book."
"Oh, really? What about clothes? You didn't come here only wearing a swimsuit, did you? And I seem to remember you have a sweater in your bag, in case it gets cold later. And a hat. Not to mention your sunglasses."
"Well, yes… but everybody knows that you need those…"
"These people didn't. I told you, they'd never been within a thousand miles of a beach. And they had two kids, which adds a whole lot more stuff to any trip. Plus, a lot of the best Australian beaches are further away from the nearest city than here, so you can't just pop into a nearby store if you forget something. It all adds up…"
"Okay, okay, I take your point… Is that why you brought so much with you? Force of habit, I mean?"
"I guess so. I backpacked around a lot of those places — there was no way to *get* to some of them other than walking — so I got used to being self-sufficient on a beach…"
Clark's words were cut off by a shower of sand. He sputtered a little as he spat out the grains that had landed in his mouth, then called out, "Hey! Watch it, willya?" to the beach in general. Only then did he look around to see what had caused the spray; all he saw was the back of a heavily-muscled man in a loose shirt and swimming trunks, running down the beach; it seemed likely that this was the perpetrator because, as he watched, the man trod on another bather and didn't so much as look round, much less apologise.
Clark turned back to Lois. "Did he..?" he began. Lois nodded.
"Good grief," said Clark in disgust. "Some people have *no* manners…" He stood up and shook the sand off his towel, then folded it and put it down again. He was about to drop back onto the rug when he realised that some of the sand had gone inside his shirt. He took it off and shook it out, went to put it back on, and stopped. After a second or two, he decided that he might as well not bother — he planned to go swimming soon, anyway. He sat down and glared at the retreating figure, muttering, "This is like something out of one of those old body-building ads…"
He said that very quietly, but Lois, who had been admiring his bare torso unobtrusively but as thoroughly as possible, heard it and laughed gently. "You're right, Clark — he is your classic annoying muscleman type. How did those old ads go: 'That man is the worst nuisance on the beach…' Well, I think we just met the worst nuisance on *this* beach!"
She looked at him more obviously and went on, "I must say, though, you certainly don't look like you need to send off the coupon. You're not the body-builder type, but there's nothing wrong with your muscles at all…"
Clark blushed at the compliment and thanked her. Then, to cover his embarrassment, he asked, "How come you can remember those old ads so well, Lois? I mean, I used to see them all the time in comics and science fiction magazines; I wouldn't have expected you to read that sort of thing…"
Now it was Lois' turn to (almost) blush, although she covered it well — there was no trace of embarrassment in her voice as she replied, "Oh, I read *all* sorts of things as a girl…" 'Especially with a father who'd have much preferred a boy,' she thought to herself, quickly assuming her reporter's poker face so as not to show any of the emotions that thoughts of Sam Lane produced in her, even now. She took refuge in the no-nonsense tone that usually served her so well at work, continuing, "But then I grew up and developed some taste."
Clark just looked at her. He'd caught her change in tone, *and* the careful blanking of her face that preceded it. He knew something was wrong, so he stayed quiet and turned to gaze out over the sea, not even picking up on what could have been construed as a dig at his wider tastes in reading matter. Ordinarily, he might have replied to that and turned it into one of their frequent bantering bouts, but not this time; Lois seemed to need some time to herself to recover from whatever was troubling her. He'd like to help, but he didn't think the offer would be welcome. One day, maybe…
For her part, Lois was glad of the lapse in the conversation. She was very grateful to Clark for leaving her in peace — or as much of that as one can have on a beach rapidly filling with families, teenagers, kids and seagulls — while she sorted herself out inside. Some time passed, the two of them sitting together in a companionable silence, until Lois finally decided that some physical exertion would help her settle down; she was enjoying the day so far, and certainly didn't want her father to wreck it as he had so much else. She caught Clark's eye and said, "Well, how about that swim?" Then she stood up and pulled her dress over her head, revealing a dark blue one-piece swimsuit — *and* what was in it.
Clark's eyebrows shot up. Lois' swimsuit wasn't a bikini, wasn't a cutaway — in fact, he rather thought it was a racing suit, designed for speed, not display — but it clung to her skin and showed off the fantastic curves of her body in an incredibly disturbing fashion. "Hey, *nice*," he said; this bland statement bore no resemblance to his internal reaction, which began with *Wow!* and moved on into near-incoherence. Then, greatly daring, and hoping that she wouldn't be horribly offended, he asked in a teasing tone, intended to lighten the mood, "Am I allowed to whistle?"
"You'd better not…" growled Lois in reply, although she was secretly very pleased with his reaction. She'd spent rather a lot of time since Perry arranged this beach trip, debating with herself as whether or not to buy a new swimsuit, to no real decision. In the end, she hadn't been able to get one, being tied up with work, and had had to settle for the old training suit in which she did laps as part of her regular work-out at her gym. Judging by Clark's comments, however, the work-outs had done their job, old swimsuit or no.
However, although Clark took the hint, other men on the beach were less polite. The loudest such noise came from behind them. Clark turned his head to see the muscle-bound sand-sprayer from earlier on, ogling Lois in a manner that had him wondering, just for a second, if the idiot might like to try kicking up some dust on the shores of the Sea of Tranquillity — Clark could arrange a real quick trip.
Lois was no more happy about the unwelcome attention than Clark was. Not only did she hate being wolf-whistled at, but that clown had completely ruined the mood between herself and Clark just when she was starting to feel content again — and, maybe, though she hardly dared admit it to herself, perhaps even a little bit playful. She sat back down, a disgusted frown on her face, muttering under her breath about morons who thought with their gonads…
Clark heard that and grinned internally but said nothing at all, resuming his earlier silence while she calmed down. Eventually, Lois raised her head, an apologetic look on her face. He was looking back with a sympathetic expression, a slight half-smile on his lips. She would have said something, but he got in first. "Steam pressure dropped a bit?"
She laughed in surprise. That was *exactly* how she felt — like steam had been coming out of her ears! How had he known?
He grinned back. Again, he seemed to know what she was thinking. "Hey, he bugged me, too," he said quietly. "Talk about Neanderthals… actually, that's probably a horrendous insult to our distant ancestors."
Lois smiled. Having come to an unspoken agreement about their opinion of the muscular imbecile, comparative anthropology notwithstanding, they were about to finally head for the water when a shadow fell across them. Their heads turned in unison to behold the subject of their discussion looming over them with a lecherous expression on his face.
Clark and Lois had moved apart slightly as they prepared to get up, leaving a gap on the rug into which the unwelcome visitor dropped, saying as he did so, "Hiya, babe. Hey, you look great in that swimsuit. Shame it's not a bikini. Maybe you could get one from the store over there…"
His attention was entirely on a stunned and instantly-furious Lois; he seemed unaware of Clark's existence, and probably wouldn't have acknowledged him at all had he not attempted to roll onto his back on the rug. Clark hadn't moved and, hardly being able to miss the attempt to crowd him off his own rug, stuck out a elbow, poking the interloper in the back.
The man winced when he bumped into what felt like a steel bar, and sat up and looked around. Naturally, he saw Clark, wearing glasses, and that is where he made his big mistake. Had he bothered to keep looking, he might have noticed that Clark had, as Lois had put it, no need to send off the coupon, but, in his lexicon, glasses = weakling, so he forgot all about the poke in the back and said, in a manner both contemptuous and threatening, "Hey, buddy, d'you mind moving over a bit? I'm tryin' to talk to the babe here…"
*That* did it. Clark had had enough. It had taken him weeks to manage to get some time with Lois away from work, and the day had been close to perfect until now. There was no way that he was going to let a… a refugee from a Charles Atlas ad ruin it!
He stood up, then reached over and grabbed the pest by the shirt, hauling him bodily off the rug and dragging him onto his feet. "Yes, I mind, *buddy!*" he hissed into the invader's face from a distance of about two inches. "I mind a *lot*, buddy! 'The babe' happens to be my girl, buddy… and she doesn't want you around, buddy… and neither do *I*, buddy… so I suggest you get your tail outta here, buddy… before I break you in half and throw the pieces to the sharks… *Buddy!*"
With each repetition of the fatal word "buddy", Clark shook the intruder by the shirt like a terrier with a rat. The shakes began as relatively mild ones, or as mild as one can expect with super-muscles behind them, but, as he went on, they became more powerful and were practically rattling the poor guy's teeth in his head by the time Clark came to the end of his tirade. The final, exasperated "Buddy!" was the cue for Clark to turn the dazed muscleman around and shove him away; the luckless interloper half-ran, half-reeled for several yards down the beach before falling flat on his face.
Clark stood there, hands on hips, glaring at the unfortunate victim of his anger, who eventually managed to get to his feet and stagger off. Then he realised that *he* was being looked at, too, by a lot of nearby people on the sand; they seemed impressed. Many of these people were female, and quite a few of them were young, and *they* seemed *more* than impressed; if the looks on their faces were anything to go by, he was the subject of not a little open admiration.
He blushed and looked down at Lois, who was also staring at him, her eyes just a little wider than usual. That made him blush even more, and he dropped back onto the rug.
"Uh, Lois…" he said, shamefacedly, "I'm sorry about that. And, er… about the 'my girl' bit, too. I, er… I thought… well, you know, that kind of guy doesn't understand anything else…"
"That's all right, Clark," she replied, very quietly. "You're probably right. Don't do it again — unless I ask you to, of course — but it's good to know that I can count on you for some… physical back-up."
Neither of them said anything for a while. Clark was embarrassed and mentally castigated himself for losing control like that. One look at Lois' thoughtful face was enough to make him certain that he hadn't heard the last of this, and he was right — although, to be fair, she didn't bring it up again until some time later, while they were eating lunch after a belated but leisurely swim. Just when Clark was hoping that the incident had been forgotten, his victim could be seen walking back along the beach, and it was obvious that he was keeping a sizable distance and several rows of people between himself and the couple. Lois noticed him, and said in an amused manner, "Oh, look who's here… or, rather, over *there*. You know, Clark, you made quite an impression round here with that little show of force — and not just on him."
Clark wasn't sure what to make of that. He hoped that she meant that he'd impressed *her*, but she could equally have been referring to the continued looks of interest that he'd been getting from the female inhabitants of the beach. Not knowing quite how to reply, he settled for a non-committal grunt, but Lois wouldn't leave the episode alone. "So… what got into you with that guy?"
"Hmm? Oh, um… I'm not sure," Clark blushed yet again. "I suppose I just didn't like him barging in; I mean, there we were, relaxing, talking, enjoying ourselves peacefully, and this clown comes along, thinks he's God's gift to women, and decides he'll horn in. I guess I lost my temper — I do have one, you know."
"So I found out. So did *he*. It's just a little unusual, that's all. You're usually the calm type, the peacemaker…"
"Yeah, I suppose I am." He gazed out to sea thoughtfully for a while. Behind the relaxed mask that he was currently presenting to the world, he was again kicking himself mentally. 'But what was I supposed to do?' he asked himself, 'Let that creep bug Lois, wreck our day and make me look like a wimp in front of her? No way!' In an attempt to deflect her probing, he tried to turn it off with a joke. "Maybe it was the Beef Bourguignon I had for dinner last night — you know, red meat, red wine..?"
"Really? I'll have to remember that…" she said lazily. Then, realising how that statement could be interpreted, she blushed. "For when we go out on assignment, I mean," she amended hurriedly. "In Case of Danger, Feed Red Meat." She then changed the subject, much to the relief of both of them.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful, and very, very pleasant for Clark. Lois seemed to be enjoying herself, too. They swam; as he had in the morning, Clark managed, by skillful use of a diving mask and his towel, to prevent Lois from getting much of a look at his face without his glasses, and also gave her a few pointers on the fine art of body-surfing. They sun-bathed — or Lois did; Clark had said emphatically that it was a waste of time in his case, and meant it, so he read a book, every now and then sneaking a look at her excellent figure as she lay on her towel. They strolled along the beach, talking about anything and everything, and enjoying the waves washing their feet. They had an impromptu dinner at an enterprising seafood restaurant which had some outdoor tables set up actually on the beach. They watched the sun set and the first few stars come out over the bay, and then it was time to head home.
Lois drove back into the city, reflecting that it had been quite a while since she'd had such a relaxing day. She was tired, but only physically; her mind felt clear and alert, and more rested that it had for a very long time. She wondered why this day had turned out to be so special, but the only reason that came to mind was that she'd spent it with Clark. He was a… comfortable person to be with: he was attentive, or not, if that was what she wanted — like when she'd thought of her father that morning — which, she realised, was a special kind of attentiveness; he didn't demand attention himself, although she was sure that he wouldn't say no to some; he didn't try to run the show ('like I do,' she mused wryly), but went along with her whims; he also wasn't afraid to say that he didn't like something, but he wouldn't stop her from doing it or trying it without an excellent reason; he talked to her as though he wanted to hear what she had to say, even when she babbled; above all, he seemed to want to enjoy himself with her, and also wanted her to enjoy herself with him.
'How about that,' she thought. 'I got a genuinely nice guy here.' And, on top of that, there was the guy with the muscles, who threw body-builders around when he got annoyed. She was intrigued by *that* guy…
She offered to drop him at his apartment, but he said no, it was a nice evening and he'd like to stroll home from her place. She was a little disappointed by that; she wanted to make an effort, however small, to do something for him, but she thought that she could find another way to do that. Which gave her an idea.
She parked the Jeep and he walked her to her door, still chatting. She'd managed to convince him to leave all the beach gear in the car until she could drop it round sometime during the week. This left his hands free, but he didn't touch her, didn't cast meaningful glances at her, didn't even try to come in when she opened the door, just was there, relaxed and happy, simply taking pleasure from being in her company.
"Thanks for a lovely day, Clark. See you in the morning."
"Yep. Back to the salt mines. As opposed to the salt air."
They grinned together at that, and Clark went to leave, but stopped when she called after him, "Clark? Would you like to have dinner — here, I mean. Say, Wednesday night?"
"Sure, Lois," he replied, pleased and surprised. "That'd be great."
"Okay. I'll let you know what time — if, of course, we don't have to work."
"If…" he murmured wistfully. They both knew what could happen to plans like these…
Clark made his way towards the elevators, smiling. Half-way there, he heard a call for help. 'Back to the salt mines is right,' he thought, changing into the suit and zipping out the hall window at super-speed.
Inside her apartment, Lois stood by the closed door for a long moment, looking thoughtful. She went to get changed and emerged from her bedroom in a light summer robe. She went over to the phone and dialled. "Lucy? Hi. Look, I need to know: where can I get a foolproof recipe — one that even *I* can't mess up — for Beef Bourguignon?"
THE END (for now…)