By Christy (Attalanta@aol.com)
Summary: When her parents offer her the option of spending her summer vacation in Smallville, 14-year-old Catie Kent jumps at the chance to get away from her super family. As far as Catie is concerned, there's nothing at all good about being *super*.
Author's note: This was one of my favorite stories to write since I really love the character of Catie. As usual, some of the characters are mine, but most are not.
Catie Kent sat up in bed and switched the lamp on her bed stand to dim. Although she had been in bed for over two hours and was exhausted, she was unable to fall asleep. Not wanting to wake her family, Catie carefully slid open the drawer of the bed stand and removed a dog-eared copy of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." The book opened automatically to Catie's favorite spot, welcoming home its old friend.
"I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame… When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me … I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge."
Catie closed her eyes in the same way she did each night when she went to her favorite novel for comfort. The passage flooded her head with emotions, dizzying her; its words leapt off the page and gnawed at her heart. She felt like Dr. Frankenstein's monster. Sure, not all of the passage applied to her, but when Catie read it she felt chills travel up and down her arm. She was alone. Well, mostly alone — Josh, Lara, and her dad all shared her gift. Ha, what a gift! she thought sullenly. Catie wished she could return it. Although her brother, sister, and father were all like her, it didn't seem to matter to them. Josh and Lara had stepped into the role of superhero as easily as Catie stepped into a pair of old shoes. Why weren't they bothered by their differences as much as she was?
Returning the book to its drawer, Catie fished around for a flashlight and, finding it, turned off the lamp. She quietly slipped downstairs and felt her way to the kitchen, using her flashlight to pour herself a glass of water. Taking her glass into the family room, Catie sat, legs folded in front of her, on the couch.
Leaning her back against the couch and placing the cool glass against her bare thigh, Catie looked at the pictures lining the walls of the family room. No one would suspect that anyone other than a normal family lived here. Well, her family did *appear* to be normal sometimes, Catie admitted grudgingly. But she knew that her family was anything but normal. How many other families had enough costumes to outfit three superheroes stowed in a secret compartment? How many other families even *had* secret compartments? Taking a long, cold drink from her glass, Catie dug her fingernails into her pink skin, feeling the crescent indents with her finger. Should that hurt? she wondered. If she were normal, would that hurt?
"Catie? Is that you?" a voice called from the landing of the stairs.
"What are you doing up? It's two o'clock in the morning."
"I couldn't sleep," Catie answered.
"I heard you up late last night, too. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Catie rose from the couch and returned her glass to the kitchen. She sure wasn't going to tell her mother what she'd been thinking about. Of her whole family Catie's mother could empathize the least — she wasn't a freakish half-breed who could fly. Catie used to think that her mom was the only normal person in their family until she realized that normal people don't marry aliens. Sometimes she just wished she had ordinary parents. *Sometimes*? she asked herself truthfully. Okay, *all* the time, she admitted.
Switching her flashlight on, Catie and her mother made their way upstairs. Catie's mother stopped her as they reached her bedroom door and placed her hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Cate, are you really okay? If something's bothering you and you need to talk … " she began.
"Everything's fine, Mom," Catie reassured her.
"Okay, sweetie," her mother responded sleepily as she kissed her daughter's cheek before returning to her bedroom. In the dark, Catie stood at her parents' bedroom door. She watched her mother climb into bed next to her father and kiss him good night. He placed his hand on her back as she slid through the silky sheets and found a comfortable position next to him. Alone, Catie turned and walked back into her bedroom.
Unlocking the door of 438 Hyperion Avenue, Catie walked in and dropped her back pack to the floor. She was surprised to hear someone in the kitchen — usually she was the first one home since her parents worked late, Lara was in college, and Josh had either play rehearsal or track practice every day.
She didn't know how they did it — he and Lara both played sports. Catie didn't think she could ever do that. What if they slipped up and used their powers accidentally? What if someone found out who they really were? Catie thought it was selfish since just one mistake could jeopardize their entire family. When Lara had mentioned joining a tennis team several years ago, their parents hadn't known quite how to react. They didn't want to say no, weren't sure they could say yes either. Even though none of them had developed any powers yet, their parents knew it was likely and were apprehensive about any of their children playing sports. Eventually, they had agreed to let Lara, Josh, and Catie participate in sports, but with a serious warning not to use their powers. Even so, Catie hadn't played any sports. But she was beginning to wonder if ballet counted as a sport. She had wanted to take ballet lessons for a while now, and since she never used her powers anyway …
"Dammit!" Recognizing her mother's ever-present frustration in the kitchen, Catie went in to see what she was doing. Since her brother and sister took after their mother in their culinary abilities, Catie and her father usually cooked the family's meals. It was one of the only things Catie really enjoyed doing with one of her family members.
"What are you doing home so early, Mom?" she asked as she entered the kitchen.
"Oh, Catie, you surprised me! Dad and I got out of work early, but he heard a cry for help. I thought I'd surprise him with dinner since you two usually do the cooking. But I can't seem to … " her voice trailed off as she cracked an eggshell into several pieces and the yolk dripped over her fingers.
Looking at the recipe her mother had chosen for dinner, Catie laughed to herself. Although her mom wasn't a very good cook, she sure was ambitious. Catie gave up after a few minutes of trying to translate the French writing at the top of the recipe. "Why don't you try something a little less, uh, challenging?"
"I can do it. Maybe. With a little help," she said hopefully.
"I'd help you, but I don't think *Dad* could even cook this, never mind me. Why don't you try a pot roast? That's pretty simple."
After battling over the dinner menu for ten minutes, Catie's mom gave in and they set out ingredients for pot roast. As Catie started peeling potatoes, her mother flipped on the radio. It was an annoying habit of both her parents' — the constant need for news. She remembered complaining when she was younger that none of her friends lived with the constant backdrop of LNN. Catie guessed that her parents felt like they would miss some breaking story they were supposed to be covering, but she knew the news only as something that took her family away. Usually listening to the news culminated in someone having to leave to save the day. Most kids her age had siblings who fought over taking out the garbage or using the car, but Lara and Josh had been known to fight over who would take what rescue. Typical, Catie thought.
"And our superheroes sure had a busy day today. One Superman found himself battling an earthquake in China, while his masked counterpart helped repair some damage from yesterday's floods in the South. Meanwhile, Superwoman was working a little closer to home straightening up a thirty-car pile-up right here in Metropolis. Boy, wherever those superheroes come from, we sure could've used another one today," the news reporter quipped before going on to sports news.
Catie's mother looked over at her daughter's disgusted face. "Cate, you know that we don't think that. Josh, Lara, Dad, and I don't care if you ever use your powers. You don't have to prove anything."
"Yea, *sure* Lara and Josh don't care. Don't tell me you haven't heard them — 'It's easy, Catie, just get Grandma to sew you a costume and you're Metropolis's newest volunteer police officer,'" Catie said sarcastically, putting down the potato peeler and walking into the family room.
Catie knew that she didn't want to use her powers for anything bad, but right now she wasn't sure she wanted to use them at all. This wasn't a rash decision on her part — she had watched the lives of her father, sister, and brother carefully. Catie didn't want to live like they did — constantly running off, having to lie, and never getting a rest.
"Hey, Cate. How was your day?" her father asked as he whooshed into the family room through a window. Catie rolled her eyes at him before answering.
"Where's your mom?"
"In the kitchen."
"Alone? Isn't that dangerous?" he kidded. Seeing Catie wasn't in a joking mood, her father went into the kitchen.
Closing her eyes, Catie tried to block out her parents' conversation, but she found it very difficult. After her mom asked how his rescue had gone, her father began talking about Catie, forgetting that she could hear him if she wanted. They were worried about her and, for a moment, it made Catie feel bad, but not bad enough to change anything.
"Clark, I just think this age is really tough. It's hard for most girls, and Catie has the added stress of developing super-powers and feeling pressure to become the next Superwoman," Catie heard her mother say.
"I guess I just don't understand it. Lara and Josh didn't act this way. Why does she have to be so sullen and uncooperative all the time?" her father asked.
"Maybe it would be good for her to get away from all this, maybe spend the summer in Smallville with your parents. I remember being fourteen — it was a hard time for me, too, and I didn't even have superpowers. I don't know why things are affecting Catie like this, but everyone's different. She's not the same as Josh and Lara — we shouldn't expect her to be."
Of course they *did* expect her to be like Josh and Lara, Catie thought. Along with the rest of the world, they expected her to be Superwoman II, even though they refused to admit it. And a summer in Smallville with her grandparents. It sounded to Catie like her parents were trying to get rid of her, but she really didn't care, as long as she was able to get away from her family for the entire summer. Suddenly Catie realized what she was doing and was horrified. Sure, she was eavesdropping, which in itself was wrong, but she was also using her powers. Taking a deep breath, she turned her super-hearing "off." And it was a good thing she did since just then Josh came home, slamming the door behind him as he tossed his backpack and track bag on the floor.
"Josh," their dad warned from the kitchen, knowing, without even looking, that Josh had left his things on the floor. Catie's friends sometimes complained that it seemed like their parents could see through walls, the way they always knew what their children were doing. In Catie's case it was true — her father *could* see through walls. So could you, a small voice in the back of her head reminded her, so could you.
"How was track, sweetie?" Catie's mother asked her brother as she and her husband came into the family room.
"Good but long. We're getting ready for Saturday's meet."
"How did the flood repair go?" Catie's father asked Josh.
"Fine — I went during lunch so I didn't miss any classes, Mom," Josh said, knowing that his mother preferred he not miss school for any rescues — it was bad for his grades and a little too suspicious.
Catie remembered when, during his freshman year, Josh's principal had called their parents into his office because Josh had been late to class few times. Although their parents knew that Josh cleaning up an oil spill in California, Mr. Tarez, his principal, warned that a downfall into the deep pit of delinquency was soon to follow.
"But Josh's grades are impeccable. The fact that he didn't get to class on time does *not* make him a miscreant," their mother told the principal.
"No," Mr. Tarez admitted, "but this is how all troubled kids start — tardiness, cutting class, not turning in homework, staying out all night. Eventually they run away from home, turn to alcohol or drugs. Some even join gangs or commit suicide."
"Do you mean to tell me that you think, because he was late to class a few times, Josh is going to join a gang!?! I think we know our son a little better than you do, Mr. Eisler," their father argued.
"But, Mr. Kent, you do not know *teenagers*. I work with troubled kids like Josh every day," Mr. Tarez began before being interrupted by their father, who heard a cry for help.
"Uh, Mr. Tarez, I'm afraid that I, uh, have to be going. I just remembered an important interview that I have scheduled. I, uh … I'm very sorry." And with that, their father left the office in a flash, leaving Mr. Tarez with a sour look on his face.
"Well, Ms. Lane, perhaps it is you and your husband's preoccupation with work that started Josh down this doomed path. Although at first I admired the fact that both of you were willing to come to this conference, I am beginning to realize that work is the primary concern in both of your lives. I see many children, Ms. Lane, that are scarred for life because their parents places their own needs in front of their children's."
"Do you have any children, Mr. Tarez?"
"Every pupil in this school is my child," he responded self-righteously. "But if you mean, do I have children of my own, no."
"Well, then, Mr. Tarez," their mother began, fueled by his display of rudeness and ignorance. "Who you are to judge my husband's and my parenting abilities? I have three children who are well-adjusted, happy, and do well in school. Yes, work is important to both of us, but Josh and his sisters have always come first in our lives. *They* understand that; I think it's you, Mr. Tarez, that doesn't." And with that, their mother had stalked out of the principal's office.
When she returned home, Catie's mother sat the three of them down and told them what had happened. Even though Mr. Tarez had been wrong, she said, they had to be careful about their rescues. Just because their father had a job that was conducive to constant disappearances didn't mean that they could do the same, especially while they were in school. For one, they would get into trouble like Josh had, but they would also bring suspicion to the family, something that was to be avoided at all costs.
Catie also remembered when, a few months after the confrontation, it had been payback time for Mr. Tarez. Her parents were investigating possible corruption of the school board, which Josh's former principal had since joined. It seemed that Mr. Tarez had been practicing some strange hiring practices that included giving preferable treatment to women who were willing to meet with him after-hours in his office for a *promotion*. Remembering the cat-that-swallowed-the- canary grins on especially her mother's face after writing the article, Catie felt a slow smile creep over her own face.
"That's good, Josh," Catie's mother commented, and Catie looked up with a start.
"Mom, when was the last time you checked on your roast?" she asked after noticing a strange new odor.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed and ran into the kitchen. The piece of meat that had been cooking in the oven was now charred beyond recognition. "I wanted to cook dinner for you for once," she said to her husband, leaning back against his chest. "Sorry."
"That's okay." He circled his arms around her. "I didn't marry you for your culinary abilities."
"Good thing," Catie's mother responded, turning in his arms for a kiss. Catie turned to Josh and rolled her eyes. She hated that her parents were so affectionate with each other. And her parents were even slightly older than most of her friends' parents. The youngest child, Catie had been born when her mother and father were thirty-five and thirty-seven. She couldn't understand why they weren't sick of each other by now — she was surely sick of *them*. They could act so childish sometimes — most parents of her friends acted, well, like *parents*. They didn't make out like a couple of high schoolers at every chance they got.
Few of Catie's friends had met her parents, but those that had thought they were "unbelievably cool." (She had almost fainted when she heard a friend use those words to describe her parents.) To her friends, the Kents had interesting jobs and fascinating stories — her dad liked to talk about traveling he had done before working at the Daily Planet and her mom usually contributed stories about interviewing famous people. Catie's friends had also been entranced by the fact that Catie's parents seemed to do everything — they had busy, successful careers, a more-than- happy marriage, and were involved (but not too much) with their children's lives.
But Catie knew better. Unlike her brother and sister, she liked to keep to herself and had few friends. She was afraid that if she did open up to someone she would let the secret slip, something she wouldn't do no matter how mad she was at her family. Although she sometimes wished for just one close friend to talk to, Catie found herself resisting when she had the opportunity to make friends. Even though she didn't know how her social ineptitude was connected with her *super*-family, Catie was sure it was because, if her father wasn't Superman, she would have a normal life.
And the three superheroes in her house made things even more difficult for Catie to make friends. She used to try to have friends, but soon discovered that it was harder than she'd anticipated. "Where did your dad go? He was here a second ago," a friend had once asked her. And she was always afraid that someone in spandex would come flying through a window, forgetting to x-ray the house like they usually did to make sure that only family was home.
"So what's for dinner then?" Josh asked, his question pulling his parents away from each other and Catie from her memories.
"How about Chinese?" their dad suggested. "I could get take-out. What do you guys feel like — Canton or Fuchou?"
"Canton," Josh answered. "Their cashew chicken's better."
Catie's father looked towards his daughter and wife for their opinions. Catie's mom nodded in agreement, but Catie flopped onto a couch and rolled her eyes.
"Do you have a different idea, Cate?" her father asked.
"No, Canton's fine." She watched him spin into his suit and fly out the window. Her mother and Josh went into the kitchen to clean up the pot roast mess and set the table for dinner. But Catie remained on the couch and sighed in annoyance. "Why can't we eat dinner like a normal family for once?" she asked aloud.
"You're really worrying Mom and Dad, you know," Lara said as she helped Catie pack for the summer. Catie could sense the condescending disappointment that was usually in Lara's voice when she spoke to her younger sister.
Catie slowly looked over at her sister. "Did *they* send you up here? If you're just here to lecture me, then I don't need help packing after all."
"No, *they* didn't send me — I'm here because I'm worried about you." Lara placed another folded t-shirt in the battered suitcase with the initials "CK" that lay on Catie's bed. "You know, Mom and Dad do the best they can. Their lives aren't easy, Cate," she began.
"*Their* lives aren't easy? What about *my* life? At least they chose the life they're leading. They're adults — they can change things if they don't like them."
"You really think so? Do you think that Dad can change the fact that he's not from earth? No matter how hard he wishes otherwise, he'll never be *completely* human. And Mom — do you think she planned her life to be like this — married to someone from another planet? Always having to make excuses for Dad and now us? Being left in the middle of the night, constantly being in danger? You really have no clue, do you, Catie?"
"What does *that* mean? Of course Mom had a choice in her life — she didn't *have* to marry Dad, didn't *have* to put up with everything that comes along with being associated with Superman. I don't see what she has to complain about — at least her life was her own choosing."
Shaking her head, Lara sat down on Catie's bed. "God, Cate, you really don't understand. First off, she loves Dad. That's why she married him — not to make your life miserable. And what about Mom's childhood? How old was she when Grandpa Lane fooled around on Grandma and left her to raise Mom and Aunt Lucy alone? When did Grandma start drinking? What kind of relationship do you think Mom has with *her* mother? You can't chose your life, Catie, but you can make the best of it. Mom did and she's basically happy — she loves her job and she's great at it, she's happy in her marriage, and, whether you believe it or not, she *is* a good mother."
"Oh, give me a break, Lara. A *good* mother? Are we talking about the same person here? The one who drops everything for a story … "
"Not *everything*, Catie," Lara interrupted. "I can think of plenty of times she's dropped a story for you, Josh, or me. Don't you remember last Thanksgiving? We were going to Smallville when she and Dad broke that industrial espionage story. Where was she on Thanksgiving, Catie? With us in Smallville, that's where," Lara answered her own question.
"You be a card-carrying member of the Lois Lane Fan Club and I'll be realistic. What about Dad, then? He wouldn't do anything for a story, but he sure does put the safety of the rest of the world in front of us! Where was *he* that Thanksgiving?" Catie asked bitterly, stomping away from her sister and wiping an angry tear from her eye.
"So he had to go stop a train wreck. He only went so Josh and I could stay. And he wasn't even gone for long. Do you expect him to let people die so that he can spend five minutes with his children? You're important, Catie, but the world sure doesn't revolve around you," Lara concluded with equal bitterness.
Catie rolled her eyes at her sister. It seemed that every conversation she'd had with Lara since she came home from college for the summer had ended up in a shouting match. Lara always accused Catie of being …
"Selfish! You're so selfish! Mom and Dad do their best — every parent has obstacles to overcome. Even if Dad wasn't Superman, even if he and Mom weren't reporters, they still wouldn't be here every second of every day. And if they were you'd just complain that you never get the chance to be alone. You can't blame everything on Mom and Dad, Cate. You have to take some responsibility on yourself. Whether you want to admit it or not, Mom and Dad are doing a great job raising us, which, if you think about it, could have resulted in disaster." Lara angrily strode out of her sister's bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
Rolling her eyes again, Catie stuck her tongue out at the closed door. Why did her sister have to be such a suck- up, such a goody-goody? Maybe it was because she didn't live at home full-time now, Catie thought. She wasn't here to see everything that went on. And, she remembered, things were different when Lara was her age. Their parents had been around more because Catie and Josh were a lot younger. Things were different for Lara, Catie thought as she resumed her packing.
"You okay?" her father asked her as they flew over Cleveland the next day. Catie was finally on her way to Smallville and could hardly wait.
"I'm fine," she answered curtly. When they had decided to allow her to spend the summer with her grandparents Catie had surprised her parents by insisting that she fly there under her own power. It was the first time they remembered their youngest daughter volunteering to use her powers and her parents considered it progress. Catie, on the other hand, considered it necessary. Even though she had loved flying in her father's arms when she was a little girl, now the thought of him holding her for that long was quite unappealing. Instead she proposed that she fly next to her father, who was carrying Catie's luggage.
A while later (Catie was nowhere near as fast as either her father, brother, or sister), they arrived at a small, homey Kansas farmhouse. Catie smiled as her feet touched the ground. Despite the assured attitude she'd displayed to her parents, she hadn't been very confident in her ability to make it all the way to Smallville under her own power. As she headed towards the front door of her grandparents' house, she sighed with relief and breathed in the tantalizing aroma of her grandmother's roasted chicken and mashed potatoes.
One hour and three-quarters of an apple pie later, Catie's father pushed his chair back from the table and headed towards the door.
"Have a safe flight home, honey," her grandmother told Catie's dad as she gave him a good-bye hug.
"Good-bye, son," her grandfather said as he, too, hugged his son. Catie smiled as she watched her father get ready to leave. She was happy to be here, finally free of her parents, but she also liked the fact that her dad and his father hugged each other. Catie knew that most of her friends' fathers didn't hug their *sons*, never mind their fathers, who were certainly more old-fashioned and ridiculously macho about the idea that men shouldn't hug or touch each other. And her dad did the same thing, Catie realized. He had no qualms with showing affection to Josh even though he was almost sixteen. It was one of the few things Catie liked about her family.
"Well, Cate, what do you feel like doing now?" her grandmother asked as they watched their father's outline grow small and disappear into the night sky.
"Actually, Grandma, I think I just want to get to bed," Catie said, stifling a yawn. She was surprised by how much the flight to Smallville had certainly tired her.
"Well, your dad's old room is all ready for you," her grandmother told her, gathering up the dirty dishes and silverware from the table. "But before you go up, Catie, I wanted to tell you something." Catie stood next to her grandmother at the sink. "Jonathan, I think you get a night off from dish duty today. Catie and I'll finish everything up before we go to bed," she told her husband, who had begun to clear the apple pie plate from the table.
"Okay, Martha," he acquiesced readily. "In fact, I think I'm going to bed, as well. I have to get up early and help Wayne out tomorrow morning," he reminded her. "Good night."
"So what did you want to tell me, Grandma?" Catie asked after wishing her grandfather a good night.
"I just wanted to say that you're welcome to stay here as long as you'd like. A few weeks, all summer, however long. And I also wanted to remind you that your grandfather and I are here to talk or to listen, whatever you need," her grandmother said, smiling at Catie and handing her the final plate to place in the dishwasher.
"Thanks, Grandma, but I don't know … " Even though she loved and trusted her grandparents she wasn't sure how comfortable she'd be talking to them about what was on her mind. After all, a lot of it included not-very-nice thoughts about their son and daughter-in-law.
"Catie, I'm serious. I know there are a lot of things you can't share with friends and your other grandparents. I just wanted to let you know that your grandpa and I understand how hard things can be and if you need to talk, we're here. Okay?"
"Okay, Grandma." She kissed her good-night and headed upstairs to her father's old bedroom. "And thank you for letting me visit for the summer," she said, looking down the stairs at her grandmother, who smiled back at her knowingly.
Feeling the bright Kansas-summer sun on her face, Catie opened her eyes and sat up in bed. She had been in Smallville for almost a week and still wasn't used to the sounds of the country. Before she arrived at her grandparents' farm, she had hoped that she would once again be able to fall asleep at night. But she had no such luck. So far she had lain in bed each night for at least an hour before falling asleep. Catie hoped that it was just the sounds of the country that were keeping her awake.
Getting out of bed, Catie went downstairs. Once she reached the kitchen, she found a short, scribbled note from her grandmother saying that she and Catie's grandfather were next door at the Irigs' house and would be back shortly so that they could go grocery shopping in town. After eating cereal and a peach for breakfast, Catie went back upstairs to shower and dress.
The water temperature in the shower was as hot as it could go, but of course Catie couldn't really feel the heat on her back. Her love of hot, steamy showers had come from her mother — Catie remembered, as a child, seeing her mother's heat-reddened back after coming out of the shower. For a long time, she didn't understand why her own back didn't redden like her mother's. Once Catie remembered Lara asking her why she always took such long, hot showers. It was hard to explain, Catie realized — in the beginning, she had done it to be like her mother, whom she had once idolized. Then it became something else — she still wanted to be more like her mother since Catie considered her normal. Now she just enjoyed breathing in the humid, steamy air. And she liked to pretend she could feel the heat. Lara had also complained that Catie spent an unnecessary amount of time in the shower when she could be done in seconds. But she liked to use the shower to think — it was one place she could be alone, without interruptions.
Catie closed her eyes and leaned her head back into the hot stream of water. Despite her continued lack of adequate sleep, she really loved being on the farm. Even as a child, Catie remembered begging to go visit her grandparents in Kansas. Everything there always seemed so fresh, so clean. There weren't as many emergencies as in Metropolis — her father always seemed to be around more when they were in Smallville. Sometimes she had even wished that her father, instead of moving to Metropolis to become a reporter, had stayed in Kansas and taken over his parents' farm. After all, that's what most farm children, at least the oldest of the family, do. And with her father as his parents' only child, her grandparents almost surely assumed that he would farm. Usually farm families had the opposite problem — too many children for their one farm. The Irigs, her grandparents' next-door neighbors, had six children. The oldest, a son her father's age, had taken over the farm. Jeannie, the Irigs' youngest daughter, had built a house on the back of her grandparents' land and lived there with her own family. She and her husband helped out and planned on someday taking over her grandparents' farm.
But every time Catie wished her father had stayed on his parents' farm in Smallville she had to remind herself that if he had she would never have been born. Since her mother wouldn't have come to Kansas, her parents would never have met. Boy, Catie thought, life would sure have been different if she had different parents.
Catie took the tray of hot chocolate chip cookies from the oven and supported them from the bottom with one hand so that she could move the moist cookies onto a plate.
"Oh, sweetie, do you need … " Her grandmother began, holding a pot-holder out to her granddaughter. Laughing, she realized how silly her question was. "I guess not."
With her grandmother right behind her, she carried the plate, plus two glasses of milk, to the window in the back of the farmhouse. The large bay window looking out over the sprawling farm was probably Catie's favorite place in the world. The night was perfect, according to her standards — it was thunder-storming. The only Kent child not to be scared of lightning and thunder as a child, she always loved to hear the rain beating down on the grass and thunder crashing above her. It was the only thing that was assured to lull her to sleep. Catie settled down onto the window-seat, placing the food next to her.
"Look what I found!" Her grandmother exclaimed happily. "You'll love this."
"What is it?"
"Boxes of old photos — mostly of your father when he was a little boy, but I do have some of he and your mom before you kids were born and even a few taken before they were married."
Catie smiled. She was a sucker for old pictures and her grandmother knew it. But she thought she'd seen all the old photos in her grandparents' house already. "Are these new?"
Her grandmother smiled and nodded. "I started on the attic yesterday when you went with your grandfather into town, and I found these old books. I knew you'd love them."
Catie's grandmother sat down next to her and placed the large pile of books on the floor beside them. Munching on a cookie, she tugged the first box onto her lap and opened its dusty-green cover. "I think this is the first one. Let me check the dates … Yea, we can start with this one."
Catie peered into the box and smiled. The top picture was of her father as a baby. He was smiling — he *always* seemed to be smiling in the old photos her grandmother showed her — and looking very innocently into the camera. As they flipped through the photos in the box, Catie was suddenly reminded of something. The pictures started when her father was a few months old — there were no pictures of him as a newborn. It was easy for her to forget, when she looked through these happy family pictures, that her father was from another planet. The books she and her grandmother always looked through seemed like they belonged to any normal family. There was no tell-tale sign that the little boy sloppily spooning vanilla pudding into his mouth would grow up to be the strongest man alive.
As the two flipped through more pictures, laughing at pictures of Catie's father posing with cows, chickens, and horses as a child, Catie suddenly realized something. "I don't get it, Grandma. How come my Dad is wearing glasses in this picture? I thought he just wore them as a disguise. You know, so no one would know he's Superman. But this was taken even before he moved to Metropolis, before he created Superman."
"Well, your father didn't always wear glasses as a disguise," her grandmother began. "You see, when he was much younger and just beginning to develop his vision powers, your dad got terrible headaches, usually right between his eyes. We didn't know why. So your grandpa and I thought maybe he needed glasses. We asked him if he was having troubles seeing long distances. Well, he said that he wasn't, but we thought that maybe his eyesight was declining so gradually that he never noticed. That's how most people develop vision problems — they don't realize that they used to be able to see better. So we took him to the doctor for an eye exam. Well, the doctor said that something was wrong with his vision and (although now I wonder whether he really knew what was wrong) the doctor gave him a pair of prescription glasses. So your dad wore the glasses. He said they helped him a little, so we thought we'd solved the problem."
"But why did the glasses help him if he didn't really have bad vision?" Catie asked her grandmother, confused.
"Well, in retrospect, I think it was the placebo effect. You know how patients are given medicine and are told that it'll help them … "
"So they feel better, even though the medicine was just saline solution or something," Catie finished. "I get it — Dad thought the glasses would help him see better and stop his headaches, so they did. But how about later, when you realized that Dad had special powers? Why didn't he take the glasses off then?"
"Well, in the beginning, when his powers were just developing it was hard to control them all the time. We knew that the glasses weren't going to hurt his eyes — he could see miles away, and even through thick walls — so we had him keep wearing them as a reminder to be careful with his powers. And after he had his powers under control he kept wearing them. I asked why once and he said that they just sort of grew on him. I think they made him feel more human. I guess he thought that if he wore glasses, people wouldn't suspect him of being heroic or brave because people with glasses were thought to be weak and scared. Then they evolved into a disguise once he became Superman."
Catie and her grandmother continued to flip through the pictures until they came upon one showing a much-younger version of Catie's parents sitting at her grandparents' kitchen table. Her mother, as usual in her old pictures, looked extremely exasperated, and her father's eyes stared at her mother with all the wonder of a first crush.
"When was *this *taken?" Catie asked, smiling at the old image of her parents.
"It was during your mom's first visit here. She and your dad had just been partnered up and were working on a story here in Smallville. Needless to say, your mother didn't have a very good time. In fact, your grandfather didn't think she'd come back, but I knew — I knew that she'd be back. From the first time your dad mentioned her name, I knew that he was head-over-heels in love. It was just a matter of time," Catie's grandmother stated proudly. "I don't even think they knew I took this picture. Here," she said, handing the photograph to her granddaughter. "Take this one home with you. Make sure you show it to your mom and dad. They'll get a kick out of it," her grandmother said, laughing.
"Are you sure, Grandma?" Her grandmother nodded, so, fingering its edges, she placed the picture on her lap. The two paged slowly through the box. It contained the only pictures of her parents from before they were married that Catie had never seen. She had always loved to see her parents in this stage of their life — they seemed so, so … animated and alive. Not that they're not alive now, Catie thought, but she would've loved to know her parents then; their lives seemed so exciting.
Half-way through the shoe box, Catie stopped. She had reached a picture of her mother in an unfamiliar wedding dress hugging her father. He wasn't dressed in a tuxedo. "What's this picture from?"
"Oh. Your parents don't like this picture — I guess that's why I stowed it away in a box upstairs. It's from when your mother almost married Lex Luthor," Catie's grandmother answered matter-of-factly.
"WHAT?!?" Catie asked her, shocked. "My mother's *what*? She almost married *who*?"
"You mean your parents never told you? Oh, Catie, I'm sorry — I shouldn't have said anything. I didn't know," her grandmother said apologetically.
"So, what happened?" Catie asked, staring open-mouthed at the picture. "And why's Mom hugging Dad if she was going to marry someone else?" Catie listened intently as her grandmother explained how her mother almost married Lex Luthor, and, by the end of the story, she couldn't believe both what she was hearing and that she hadn't heard it sooner.
"How come they didn't tell me?"
"Well, sweetie, your parents had a hard time in the beginning — your mom was a veteran reporter at the Daily Planet and she wasn't too happy when Perry paired her with a rookie. And I could tell, as soon as your dad mentioned your mom, that he loved her, even though he wouldn't even admit it to himself. And she loved Lex — or thought she did — and almost married him. But your mom *did* stop the wedding right before the police came for Lex."
"How could she almost marry him and not see that he was evil? I mean, Dad knew, didn't he?" Catie asked.
"I think part of it was that she was in love with Lex's power, his control. And she had been hurt so much by men before that loving an unreachable man would fulfill her fantasies but not pose any real threat to her heart. I think that's why she loved Superman as well — he was an alien. He couldn't hurt her if she could never reach him."
"But she almost married Lex and did marry Dad," Catie said. "That doesn't sound so unreachable."
"Well, I would guess that her judgment just slipped up with Lex. And with your father she finally got over her fear of intimacy. And it's always been a touchy subject with your parents — I'm sure that's why they didn't tell you," her grandmother explained.
"But Mom must've been so oblivious!" Catie exclaimed. "She couldn't see who Dad really was either, not for a long time."
"Cate, your mom's changed a lot between then and now. When your grandfather and I met her, she was so … different. She's grown up a lot and so has your dad. They both had to get used to trusting and being close to someone else, first as a partner and then in marriage. Your mom had a hard time with that because of her parents' divorce when she was younger — she felt betrayed. And your dad had to learn to trust someone with his secret."
Catie swallowed everything her grandmother had said. Fingering the photograph one last time, she placed it back into its box. She and her grandmother slowly went through the rest of the carton and reached down to pick up the last box, which contained pictures of her parents in the time they were married before Lara arrived. After a year of pictures of her parents at home, the Daily Planet, Smallville, and the park in Metropolis where they decided to get married, the pictures took a huge time-leap.
"What happened to the rest of the pictures?" Catie asked. She knew that her parents had married in February, and saw pictures of their honeymoon in Hawaii, both her parents' birthdays, and Christmas. Then the photos suddenly jumped several months ahead in time. "Are they out of order?"
"No, they're in order."
"So there aren't any pictures of their first anniversary, of that spring?" Catie asked, still confused.
"That was when your father was on New Krypton," Catie's grandmother said softly. "And then your mom found out she was expecting Lara. She was in denial for a while, Cate. Not denial that she was pregnant, but that your dad was really gone. She didn't want to go through any milestones of her pregnancy like ultrasounds or buying a crib because she was always hoping that if she just waited a week your dad would be back. Finally, I convinced her to take pictures of herself and eventually of Lara. After all, what if your dad came back and they didn't have any other children? He'd have missed everything — her pregnancy, Lara's birth, and who knows how much of her childhood," her grandmother explained as Catie picked up a picture of her mother, quite pregnant with Lara, sprawled on a chair on their terrace on an unusually hot October day. Then, several pictures later, there was Lara, red-faced and brown-eyed, seeming happy to be alive. But Catie's mother, on the other hand, looked both immensely sad and fairly unaware.
"Lara was an emergency birth," her grandmother explained. "Your mom was quite a bit overdue and they eventually did a c-section. Your grandpa and I were worried sick — we'd been in Metropolis helping your mom out for a few weeks before. All we knew was that the baby was in distress. We were so relieved when they came out and said that everyone was okay."
"Mom and Dad don't talk much about it," Catie told her. "I guess it's like the Lex thing — they probably just want to forget it. And since Josh and I were normal births … We *were* normal births, weren't we?" Catie asked cautiously, not knowing what her grandmother would tell her.
"Oh, yes, you were. No skeletons in the closet there. You two were both born after your due dates as well, but your mom's doctor said that that's normal for some women. And maybe it's normal for Kryptonian women. We didn't know."
Catie smiled as she and her grandmother flipped through the remaining photographs. The last one, at the bottom of the box, showed her parents, looking much younger, holding Lara. "This was taken the day after your dad got home," her grandmother told her. "The night he returned, he and your mother flew to Smallville with Lara. They wanted to tell us as soon as they could that your dad was home safe. The next morning I took this photo — your dad had been awake holding Lara all night even though she'd been asleep for hours. Then your mom woke up and came downstairs and they sat together with Lara. Actually, I think I took more photos than just this one, but I probably gave those to your parents."
"Yea, Mom has them in Lara's baby album," Catie said.
"I really like this one, though, so I kept it," her grandmother continued. The picture showed her father, dressed in a sweatshirt and plaid flannel boxer shorts, sitting at the same window seat where she and her grandmother were sitting. He was holding Lara, whose dark hair reflected the bright light from the rising sun in back of them. Wearing a white bathrobe tied loosely at her waist, Catie's mother was standing against the wall near her father's head and had her hand on his shoulder. Catie could see a blanket of clean, white snow and the pink and orange hues of a Kansas-winter sunrise through the window and a fresh, gleaming tear on her father's cheek.
Twisting in bed, Catie made sure that the door to her bedroom was closed before she switched on the lamp beside her bed. Opening the shallow drawer of the table, she removed the only object. Her parents looked so young, so different, Catie thought as she stared at their images on the picture her grandmother had given her. She smiled at her mother's expression — it was one Catie had seen often, both on her mother and on Lara. She looked annoyed, probably at Catie's father and the fact that she was in Smallville, or, as her father once said her mother had termed it, "Nowheresville." And her father, Catie thought — his facial expression was priceless, too. He looked completely smitten, like a star- struck teenager, as he stared at Catie's mom.
Catie replaced the picture in the drawer and turned off the lamp. Closing her eyes, she reformed the image of the last picture in her mind — the one of her parents and her sister the morning after her father returned from New Krypton. A small part of her had wished that her grandmother had offered her that photo instead of the other one to take home with her. But she knew that there were many other pictures like that one at home. Still, Catie thought, that one was special. She could see the relief on her parents' faces, relief that almost, but not quite, matched the peaceful expression on sleeping Lara's face. Then Catie was struck with a thought. Once again, Krypton had robbed her family of some important moments — her father had no pictures of himself as an infant with his parents and now Lara had no pictures of herself as a newborn with both of her parents. Her father had missed out on the beginning of his firstborn's life. Silently spinning that thought in her mind, Catie bit her lip and turned back over to go to sleep.
"Catie, we're leaving! Catie?" came her grandmother's voice from downstairs. She and Catie's grandfather were about to leave for the fiftieth anniversary party of friends of theirs.
"Okay, Grandma!" Catie yelled down from the attic, where she was busy cleaning up. When her grandmother had first proposed the three of them straighten up the attic, Catie had been skeptical. Unlike most kids she knew, she had never minded cleaning her room. It was always worth the work, she thought, since she always found something fun and forgotten in the process. But this time it wasn't even her mess — she probably wouldn't find anything good. After looking through the boxes of old photographs with her grandmother the other night, though, Catie had changed her mind. She realized that she could find out a lot about her father by helping her grandmother go through his old things.
So far she hadn't found anything terribly interesting — - some old toys, class pictures (those were fairly amusing), clothes, and a stack of records. Pushing aside the records, Catie unearthed a box simply labeled, "Clark." Prying its cardboard flaps apart, Catie uncovered a stack of old, black and white composition notebooks. She removed the top notebook from the pile and turned to its first page, reading the warning, "The Journal of Clark Jerome Kent — Please respect my privacy and do not read this book." Her interest piqued, Catie turned to the next page, which was headed "Tuesday, August 26, 1980."
"Tomorrow is the day — my first day of high school, and I'm nervous. Dale and Joe keep saying that high school will be loads of fun — they can't wait — but I'm not so sure. I decided to start this journal — hopefully I'll write in it every day — so I won't be as nervous. Writing about things usually helps me sort them out in my head and I really love to write anyway. The one semi-bright spot in this year is that maybe I'll have a fun English class. I hope that we get to do a lot of writing."
Smiling to herself, Catie turned the page and kept reading. She felt a small, nagging guilty feeling in the pit of her stomach, but tried to ignore it. Sure, her dad hadn't wanted anyone to read his journal, but that had been years ago. If these journals were still so important to him, they wouldn't be packed away in a box in her grandparents' attic, she rationalized; he'd have them with him at home.
That night Catie lived through her father's high school years, feeling his shock and fear as his powers developed. Catie had never realized that her father, like her, had resented his powers at times. He seemed so well-adjusted about them now, Catie thought. Maybe this meant that she, too, would eventually come to terms with being super. As she read some of her father's writing, which, through time, had steadily improved, Catie found herself blotting a tear stain from a page of the journal she was reading. She angrily wiped her eyes with her sleeves. Don't be such a baby, she scolded herself. But she couldn't help it; she was more like her father than she had ever realized.
Catie stopped after her father's junior year of high school to make herself dinner. She had almost forgotten to eat altogether, but the darkness that forced her to turn on a light also reminded her that dinnertime had come and gone. Taking two journals, she went downstairs and quickly ate a turkey sandwich. Washing off several bunches of grapes, Catie brought them back upstairs with her so that she could read more. Her father had decided during his junior year that he wanted to take the necessary classes and tests to ready himself for college. Catie could tell that this was a difficult decision for him — he'd written many times about the pressure to stay in Smallville and take over the farm. In fact, Catie discovered at the beginning of her father's senior year that one of his best friends, Joe, was going to marry his girlfriend after graduation. They were going to take over Joe's parents' farm. Catie was shocked to read that her father, too, had considered marrying his high school girlfriend, Lana Lang. From what she'd read of her, Catie didn't like Lana — she seemed a little whiny and girl-y, not at all like Catie's mother. She was relieved to read an entry from the middle of October when her father decided not to marry Lana.
"October 15, 1983 — I can't believe it! Today Joe told Dale and me that he and Mary Ann are getting married after we graduate. I know that a lot of people do that, but I always thought Joe would come to college with Dale and me. Sure, we're not sure even if we'll go to the same school, but now with Joe staying here, we'll all really be separated. Part of me knows that I could always do the same thing — marry Lana, stay in Smallville, and take over the farm. I don't even have any brothers and sisters like Joe and Dale, so Mom and Dad don't have anyone else, but I don't want to stay in Smallville. I want to go away to school and travel. I don't know what after that, but I know, even though I love it here, I could never live here forever. There's so much more out there to see and do. And marrying Lana would mean I'd have to tell her about my powers and I can't do that. I can't stay here in Smallville and pretend to be an ordinary, every-day person that I'm not. Maybe if I go to a big college and travel around I'll be able to use my powers to help more people."
As she made her way through the end of her father's senior year and his transition into college, Catie found herself more and more engrossed in the journals. After all, if she had more in common with her dad than she'd thought, maybe she would grow up to be as happy as he is. Maybe she would even get used to her powers. Catie read through her father's sophomore year of college, smiling as he decided to be an English-journalism double major. It had surprised her grandparents at first because they hadn't realized that their son was interested in being a reporter. But he explained to them that it was a way to incorporate his love of writing with both traveling and meeting people from new and exciting places.
Before Catie knew it she heard the sound of tires treading on the gravel driveway of her grandparents' farm; they were home. For some reason, she didn't want her grandparents to know that she'd been reading her father's journals. It wasn't that she thought they would be mad but she still felt guilty about invading her father's privacy. Catie took the next few journals in the series and stowed them in her bedroom before going downstairs to meet her grandparents. She'd just have to finish her reading some other time.
"Against Mom and Dad's warnings, I've decided to move to Metropolis. Permanently. No more dashing from town to town with my battered old suitcase, running away from people. Dad keeps telling me to be careful or someone'll find out about me, but I'm willing to take the chance if the reward is a semi-normal life. I want to get a job, be married, have a family. I know for many people that's not a big accomplishment, but it is for me. And it's hard to imagine that now because it means that I'll have to tell at least one person my secret. I couldn't conceive of doing that now, but if I meet the right person, maybe I could do it. I've decided to try for a job at the Daily Planet in Metropolis. I know it's a long shot since I don't have a lot of serious experience, but they're the best and I'd love to work there."
Catie smiled slightly as she set the notebook down. She had read quickly through much of her father's life, including the rest of college and his extensive travels after graduation. And she found herself feeling a little sorry for her dad. It seems as though all he wanted was to be normal — have a job and a family — but his powers kept denying him that dream. The *use* of his powers, Catie corrected herself, made having a normal life a luxury for him. It was her father's unrelenting conscience that forced him to use his powers to help someone and eventually flee each exotic locale in fear of discovery. See, Catie reassured herself, things *are* easier (and more normal) if you don't use your powers.
Picking up the next journal, Catie leaned back in her father's old desk chair and placed her bare feet on the window sill. As she felt the summer breeze waft through her toes and up her legs, she opened the book and began to read. Her father described his first meeting with Perry, — "I was so intimidated. Here was this man I'd heard so much about and there I was asking him for a job. I couldn't imagine he'd say yes, even though I hoped with all of my heart to hear that word" — her mother, — "and then *she* walked in. Lois Lane. I didn't know what to say, so I just stood up. I'm sure my chin dropped to my knees. But she didn't even notice me, she just complained a little and stormed right back out of the office. But I knew she was special" — and his fated pairing with her mother — "when she walked by and smacked me in the shoulder, I was shocked. 'Let's hit it,' she said to me. Of course I followed her. Like an obedient dog I followed her. I don't know why, but I was drawn to her. Sure, she's beautiful and intense and incredibly competent, but there's even more to her. And I'd give anything to find out what."
Then Catie came to what was, to her, one of the most interesting passages of her father's journals — a sequence of entries in which he contemplated telling her mother that he was Superman. She found them in one of the last journals; for some reason the entries had stopped when he married Catie's mother. Catie read these pages with wide-eyed interest, soaking up each word. They were of utmost importance to her because if she wanted to live any semblance of a normal life she would have to do the same thing. To Catie, everything in the months prior to her mother finding out The Secret seemed rushed. According to the journal entries, they went out on a few dates, kissed a couple of times, and then her father decided to propose. Sure, Catie knew that they had worked together for almost two years, but they hadn't been dating very long. And much of that time they were being pursued by other people. Even though she already knew the story of her parents' "first" proposal, Catie grinned to herself as she read her father's account of it — she was very glad that her mom was at least perceptive enough to discover that Catie's father was Superman — he didn't have to tell her. And she was also glad that her mother didn't agree to marry him right then, when she had just revealed that she knew. Reading the journal entries made Catie feel much better about her powers. After all, if her dad could be happy despite his powers, maybe she could, too.
"I think I'm going for a walk, Grandma," Catie said as she walked into the kitchen and sat down for breakfast. "I'm so sick of being stuck inside all day."
"I know. I'm looking forward to being outside today, too. I think I'll probably plant the rest of those flowers next to the house," her grandmother said. A week's worth of downpours had forced Catie and her grandparents inside. Even Catie, who loved thunderstorms, was getting tired of being cooped up in the house all day.
After she finished her breakfast Catie set out for her walk. Winding her way through the woods in the back of her grandparents' farm, she stopped when she found the log. The wishing log, she and her brother had called it. When she was much younger, Catie would come for a visit to Smallville with Josh and Lara each summer. Usually Lara, who took after their mother in her dislike of camping and the outdoors, stayed inside. But Catie and Josh, equipped with lunches, canteens, and a compass in their backpacks, went exploring. One year they found an old, hollowed-out stump that they named the wishing log. She and Josh used the log as a hiding place for their "secret things." But they hadn't been there in years — she and Josh hadn't gone "exploring" in a long time.
Reaching into the log for the first time in years, Catie began to laugh. The first object she unearthed was a small plastic Superman figurine whose arms and legs bent. Scraping some of the caked-on mud off the toy, she smiled again after realizing why some of the grime refused to come off. She had been very young, Catie remembered, when she was first realized that her father was Superman. Unlike Lara and Josh, she took pride in figuring out The Secret for herself. Lara, the first to know, had found their mother kissing Superman one night. To reassure her, Catie's parents told Lara about her father's secret identity. And, true to her word, Lara hadn't told anyone, even Josh or Catie, who wasn't even two years old at the time. Josh, on the other hand, was completely oblivious to his father's secret. Her parents had to sit down and tell their son that his father was Superman.
But Catie's discovery of the secret had been the most surprising. Looking back on it, she supposed that her parents had become a little lax around the house. After all, two of their children knew and everyone believed Catie, the perennial baby of the family, wasn't yet old enough to figure it out. They were wrong — one day their youngest daughter realized that her father was Superman. Catie had been four years old. She was so angry that no one had told her that she took a small Superman figurine from her Grandmother Lane and drawn a round, black pair of glasses on it with a permanent marker. Since she was four, the glasses ended up covering the entire face of the small toy. Years later when she and Josh couldn't scrub the marker off the doll's face and were afraid someone would find it and realize what the "glasses" meant, they hid the figurine in the wishing log. Most things in the log were there because of a wish one of them had made — Josh placed an old pair of his tennis shoes there because, after watching the old movie "Forrest Gump" he, too, wanted to run across the entire country — but only Catie knew why she put the toy in their secret hiding place — she wished more than anything that her father wasn't Superman. Too bad the wishing hadn't worked, Catie thought to herself as she reached into the trunk and pulled out her brother's old tennis shoes. Smiling at their bright green laces (green was her brother's lucky color), she replaced them in the log and went around to its other end to see if they had hidden anything else.
"Hey, what are you doing?" The voice caused Catie to jump in surprise.
"Who are you?" she asked the stranger.
"I asked you first," the girl standing in front of Catie said. "What are you doing on our land?"
"What do you mean? I thought this was still my grandparents' farm," Catie said.
"Who are your grandparents?" the girl asked Catie as she approached her.
"Martha and Jonathan Kent. I'm sorry if this is your land. I didn't mean to trespass or anything. I'm just going for a walk," Catie told her. "My name's Catie Kent."
"I'm Sara Charlotte Farrell. And I'm sorry — I didn't mean to startle. I was just surprised to see anyone else out here. I thought I was alone."
"So did I," Catie said, smiling slightly.
"Where're you from?" the girl asked as she sat down on the wishing log.
Catie sat next to her. "Metropolis. I'm here for the summer, though."
"Wow! You're from Metropolis?" the girl asked incredulously. "That must be really cool! I've always wanted to go there. What's it like?"
"I guess it's just like any other city. It's a lot busier than Smallville, though — more people and more to do."
"Have you ever been mugged?" Sara Charlotte asked her, wide-eyed.
"No," Catie laughed. "I've never been mugged."
"Have you ever met anyone famous then?"
"A few people, I guess," Catie said nonchalantly. She wasn't eager to mention that she knew Superman, but, sure enough, that was Sara Charlotte's next question.
"Have you ever seen Superman in person? Do you know him?"
Catie laughed to herself — if she told Sara Charlotte just how well she knew Superman, the girl would probably faint at her feet. "Yea, I guess. A little," Catie almost said that, no, she didn't know Superman, but realized that it would be strange if the girl had heard that the Kents' son and daughter-in-law were both reporters in Metropolis *and* friends of Superman.
"Wow! How cool! How many times have you seen him?"
Every day. "I don't know — I've met him a few times. He's friends with my parents," she answered, hoping that her answer would stop Sara Charlotte's line of questioning.
"Neat! How do your parents know Superman?" It didn't work.
"Well, they're reporters for the Daily Planet, a news … " Catie began, but Sara Charlotte cut her off.
"Oh, I've heard of the Daily Planet, of course. I want to live in Metropolis some day. Maybe I'll be an actress. Or a model. Your parents are both reporters?" Sara Charlotte asked, switching gears yet again. "I'll bet they met in some really romantic way. Did they work for rival newspapers? They were probably investigating the same story for different papers and then fell in love, but it was a forbidden love because they were rivals. And then the newspapers found out and fired them but they were so in love that they found jobs together with another paper. Like Romeo and Juliet," Sara Charlotte imagined. By now she was smiling sappily and Catie was trying to guess just how old the girl sitting beside her was. Maybe ten or eleven. She sure had a crazy imagination.
"It's nothing as exciting as that," Catie told her. "They've always worked for the same paper. They met at work."
"Oh, well I bet it was romantic anyway."
"How old are you?" Catie asked Sara Charlotte.
"Twelve. I'll be in seventh grade, though — I'll be thirteen in September. I hate having a late birthday — everyone is older than I am. How old are you?"
"Fourteen — I'll be a freshman this year," Catie responded. "And I know what you mean about being younger. My sister was born in the beginning of November but she started school early. She used to complain about it, especially when her friends were learning to drive almost a year before she was sixteen," Catie told her.
"Do you just have one sister?" Sara Charlotte asked.
"I have a brother, too. He'll be a junior in high school. He's turning sixteen this summer, and my family's coming here for his birthday. My sister's in college — she'll be a junior next year even though she's still nineteen. How about you?"
"Oh, I've got a whole mess of brothers and sisters. I'm the oldest of seven kids," Sara Charlotte replied with downcast eyes.
"Wow, that's a lot of brothers and sisters. Do you have to do a lot of baby-sitting and stuff? I'm the youngest, but I have a few friends who are oldest kids and they always get stuck watching their siblings," Catie told her.
"Yea, I guess I do have to do a lot around the house cause I'm the oldest."
"Being the youngest isn't so great, either," Catie commented wryly. "I'm always treated like a baby. I think being in the middle is best — you don't have all the responsibilities of being the oldest and no one treats you like a baby. I know that Josh, my brother, has it easiest — my parents don't expect him to be overly responsible and they don't assume he's immature either. He isn't expected to do everything first and fast, but he isn't held back. My sister, Lara, is a real over-achiever, fast-paced and busy, like our mom, and I'm a lot more laid back and like to keep to myself. Josh is, well, in the middle." Sensing an uneasiness on Sara Charlotte's part, she decided to change the subject. "How come you want to live in Metropolis when you grow up? Don't most actors live in LA?"
"I guess they do, but I think Metropolis would be more exciting. I've never been there, but I just have this feeling about it. And I want to act in live performances, like theater. Part of me just wants to get out of Smallville, I guess. It's pretty boring here," Sara Charlotte commented.
"I know. I mean, I love it here — it's so quiet and relaxing — but I don't know if I'd like to live here. I guess my dad felt the same way as you do. He lived in Smallville his whole life until college and then he traveled a lot and eventually settled down in Metropolis. But my mom grew up in Metropolis — she's never lived anywhere else except for a year in high school when she was an exchange student in Ireland."
"Wow, that's cool. My parents have never done anything exciting. Both of them grew up here in Kansas, on farms," Sara Charlotte told her.
Feeling her stomach growl, Catie looked at her watch. "It was a lot of fun talking to you, but it's way past noon. Do you want to come to my grandparents' house for lunch?" Catie asked her friend.
"Oh, gosh, I didn't realize it was that late!" Sara Charlotte exclaimed. "I've gotta go — I'm sorry. Do you want to meet here again tomorrow morning? I mean, if you want to … "
"Sure. Ten o'clock?"
Nodding her head and yelling "okay," Sara Charlotte ran off in the direction of her family's farm.
"Cate, phone for you," her grandmother told her as Catie placed her dinner plate in the sink. Puzzled, Catie looked at her grandmother as she handed her the phone.
"My parents aren't supposed to call until tomorrow," Catie worried. Usually her parents stuck to their calling times, but no one else knew her phone number here so it had to be them.
"It sounds like a girl, but it's not Lara," Catie's grandmother told her.
Forehead wrinkled in confusion, Catie took the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi, Catie, it's Sara Charlotte. You know, from the woods yesterday?"
"Sara Charlotte! Hi! I waited for you in the woods this morning. Did I miss you?" Catie asked with a mock innocence; she had waited for an hour so knew that she hadn't missed Sara Charlotte.
"I'm *so* sorry, Catie. At the last minute my dad asked me to watch my younger brothers and sisters and I didn't really have a choice. I'd understand if you were mad, but I'd like to try to meet again. Is that okay?"
"Yea, I'd like that, too," Catie said into the phone. "Do you have to baby-sit again tomorrow?"
"No, no, I hope not," Sara Charlotte responded. "Do you want to come over to my house, just in case I *do* have to baby-sit? That way you wouldn't be waiting in the woods forever."
"Okay," After copying down her friend's address, Catie said good-bye and hung up the phone.
"So who was it?" her grandmother asked, curious.
"This girl I met in the woods during my walk yesterday, Sara Charlotte Farrell. Do you know her family? They live on the farm directly behind you."
"Farrell? Hmm, it sounds familiar," her grandmother answered. "I've never met them, but your grandpa might have. You could ask him."
"Maybe I will," Catie answered.
A clean, summer breeze flew through Catie's thick dark hair, beating her braid against her back. Mother Nature had forgiven the Midwest for whatever transgressions had warranted the previous week's punishing thunderstorms, and the residents of Smallville had been blessed with their third consecutive day of summertime weather. Her feet loosely on the pedals of the borrowed bicycle, Catie coasted down one of the few hills on the flat Kansas landscape. The mercury of the thermometer had climbed to the mid-nineties but Catie felt pleasantly temperate, as she had every day of her life.
Turning onto a slightly muddy gravel road, Catie surveyed the Farrells' house. The front yard was littered with broken old toys and Catie noticed that the medium-sized farmhouse was badly in need of a coat of paint. Previously white, she guessed, the house had turned a sickly, grayish color as it collected the grime of years of Kansas dust storms. As Catie neared the house she could hear a baby's piercing cry cut through the loud voices of several young, arguing children. Parking her bike under a large, shady tree, Catie started up the creaky front stairs and knocked tentatively on the screen door.
"Hello?" she yelled cautiously into the house. "Is anyone home?" she asked, realizing how silly her question was considering the noise above which she was trying to make herself heard.
"Catie? Is that you?"
"Yea," she answered.
"You can just let yourself in," came Sara Charlotte's voice. Cringing at the door's lazy squeak as she opened it, Catie walked into the Farrells' home. She guessed that she was standing in the family room, which was even more cluttered with toys than the front yard. The furniture was old and tattered, its original pattern obscured by numerous bright-colored patches. Looking around, Catie took in the battered, lived-in appearance of Sara Charlotte's home, so obviously different than her own family's, and even her grandparents', house. Her home, although visibly lived-in, was cleaner and more polished than her friend's. Any clutter in the Kents' house, an upscale brownstone near downtown Metropolis, was from the family's numerous books, computer print-outs, and newspapers, not the unfamiliar toys that littered the Farrells' home.
"Sara Charlotte?" Catie called uncomfortably.
"Sorry," her friend said as she walked into the family room balancing what seemed to be, from Catie's inexperienced eyes, a one-year-old baby. "My dad had to work again, so I'm stuck here. I'm really sorry, Catie."
"That's okay." Catie turned to head back towards the door but was stopped in her tracks by a shrill scream from the back of the house. Turning back, she saw that there were three young children fighting in the kitchen.
"Oh, come on!" Sara Charlotte exclaimed. "You all can't behave for just two seconds, can you? You're like a herd of wild animals!" Catie smiled slightly, thinking the same thing. "Uh, Catie, would you mind holding Tommy for a minute? I have to separate them before someone gets hurt." And, before she could respond, Sara Charlotte thrust the small child into Catie's arms and hurried into the kitchen.
"Uh, hi there, Tommy," Catie said tentatively. The youngest in her family, she was unsure of what to do with the baby in her arms. Remembering back several years, she supposed that she had been around her Aunt Lucy's two children as babies, but they lived rather far away and visited infrequently. And they weren't much younger than Catie herself. Scrutinizing the face of the child in her arms, Catie felt even more helpless. Tommy's face was scrunched up in a red crinkle, and he looked like he could start bawling at any time. Shifting him uncomfortably in her arms, she freed up one of her hands.
"Look, Tommy. Your big sister's over there, in the kitchen. She'll be right back. She's just, uh, playing referee. Yea, it's a new game," Catie said, feeling foolish. Here she was talking to a baby that probably couldn't even understand her. How did Sara Charlotte do this all day long?
"I'm really sorry, Catie," Sara Charlotte apologized as she came back into the family room. "Pamela and Buddy got into a fist fight over who was going to drink the last of the apple juice, and then Paul spilled the juice … "
"That's okay." Catie gratefully handed Tommy back to his sister. "Where are your other brothers and sisters — you've mentioned five — how many do you have again?"
"Seven," Sara Charlotte said reluctantly. "Janie's at a friend's house — she's the next oldest — and Vincent is upstairs taking a nap. You know, you're really lucky, not having to watch younger brothers and sisters all summer. But I suppose your older sister had to watch you and your brother when you were younger."
"Actually, I don't think she did," Catie remembered. "Especially in the summer — we went to day care in the same building where my parents worked so they could eat lunch and sometimes dinner with us there. On slow news days, they would come down and play with us. When we were a little older we went to some kind of summer program or camp. It was much better than staying home all day."
"That sounds like fun," Sara Charlotte said wistfully.
"Do *you* always have to baby-sit? I mean, what about your other brothers or sisters, aren't they old enough? And what do your parents do with the younger kids during the school year?" Catie sat down next to Sara Charlotte, who had settled on one of the tattered couches with Tommy on her lap.
"Well, my mom watches them when I'm at school." Anticipating Catie's next question, Sara Charlotte continued. "But she's been kinda sick lately. She has to stay in bed and she's too weak to even pick up Tommy. So I have to help out — - you know, watching the younger kids, cooking dinner, cleaning."
"Is your mom going to be okay?"
"The doctors told us that she needs some new experimental operation that's only done at some clinic in Minnesota. That's why my dad's never around — he's always working, trying to save up enough money for everything. He's just about got enough for the first payment on the operation — he had to get a second job — but he still needs to pay for the trip there." Sara Charlotte's face reddened in embarrassment. "Her doctors here said that she can't go in a car because she's too weak and it'll take too long. And there's no way we could afford to fly her there, so a train's the only other option. But it costs so much, and that's not even counting a ticket for my dad to go with her."
"I'm sorry, Sara Charlotte," Catie said quietly. But things would get better for her friend once her father saved up enough money for train fare, wouldn't they? Catie asked herself. Then she realized something — if Sara Charlotte's mother was so sick that she needed experimental surgery, there must be a chance that, even if she did get the operation in time, she wouldn't survive it. Even if things went well she wouldn't be home for a long time. That would mean Sara Charlotte would still have to watch her brothers and sisters. So what would happen once school started again? Catie wondered. But her thoughts were interrupted by the silver tinkling of a bell from upstairs.
"I'm sorry, Catie," Sara Charlotte said, rising from the couch with Tommy. "I've gotta go upstairs and see what my mom needs. I wish we could've talked for longer."
"Well, if you get a break from baby-sitting or just need some company, you can call me," Catie offered before getting up and heading again towards the door. "Bye, Sara Charlotte," she said to the retreating figure of her friend.
As Catie rode home she tried to imagine what it would be like to live Sara Charlotte's life. She wasn't even thirteen and already had more responsibilities than any of Catie's friends. And, even though Sara Charlotte sounded sad when she mentioned her family, she hadn't really been complaining. If *she* had been Sara Charlotte, Catie would be complaining all of the time — she whined about her life quite a bit *now*, which made Catie felt ashamed. She had been taking things for granted that Sara Charlotte didn't have; health, medical insurance, money. Sure her family wasn't normal, but at least they were healthy.
Catie suddenly felt lucky that no one terribly close to her had ever died. Her mother's father had died a few years ago, she corrected herself, but their family hadn't been very close to him. Although Catie could remember her mom trying to patch up her relationship with Catie's grandfather, she never quite gained any ground. Grandfather Lane even lived in Metropolis but he was usually so wrapped up in his work that he didn't have time for them.
Pulling into her grandparents' driveway, Catie realized that her family wasn't so bad. After all, her parents couldn't really help that she had superpowers. Just as it hadn't been Sara Charlotte's mother's choice to get sick, being from Krypton hadn't been her father's choice. He hadn't even made the choice to come to Earth — that had been his Kryptonian parents' decision. And Catie couldn't really blame her parents for trying to live a normal life. How could she have been so mean to them? And what would she do if that was her mom that was sick? Although the prospect of not having a mother would have looked awfully tempting to Catie just a few weeks earlier, she felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach when she imagined the scenario now. Parking her bike in the garage, Catie ran upstairs to her bedroom before a flood of guilty tears rushed from her eyes.
That night as she lay in bed unable to sleep, Catie again thought about Sara Charlotte and her family. If only there was something someone could do to help them. But what? She didn't have money to pay for the operation or trip to the hospital. What else could she do? Just then Catie realized that she *could* help her friend. Or rather, her father could probably help Sara Charlotte. After all, Catie probably wasn't strong enough herself. Springing from bed to check the calendar mounted on the wall, she smiled. Her family would be in Smallville in a few weeks for Josh's birthday. She would ask her father then since she would rather talk to him in person than on the telephone. Hopefully Sara Charlotte's mother would be okay until then, Catie thought sleepily as she climbed back into bed.
"HELP! HELP ME!" Catie heard the desperate shouts echo through her bedroom at home. "Please, someone help me!"
Catie ran downstairs, searching for her father or Josh, but she couldn't find them. Of course, she reassured herself, that must mean that at least one of them had gone to save the woman who had been shouting for help. The shouting voice sounded so familiar to Catie — who was it? Someone from school? A neighbor? Returning upstairs, Catie went back to her homework.
Several hours later Catie heard the front door slam. She waited but didn't hear the usual call of "I'm home." Closing her books, she went downstairs to see who had come home.
"Dad!" Checking her watch, she was suddenly confused. It was still early and she had expected to see Josh. "How come you're home so early? And where's Mom?"
At his daughter's final question, Catie's father collapsed onto the couch in anguish. "Your mom's dead," he said quietly.
"What? What do you mean? No … "
"She was out investigating a story and was abducted and shot. The police don't know who did it. Witnesses said that she yelled for help as her abductor pulled her into his car," her father told her. "Why didn't you save her?"
"What? Why didn't I save her? But I can't, I mean, I don't have a secret identity, a costume. I didn't know it was her." Catie was confused. Why had her father asked her why *she* hadn't saved her mother? Catie phrased her next question carefully. "You didn't hear her? What about Josh or Lara?"
"What *are* you talking about?" her father asked. He looked at his daughter as though she had gone mad. "How could Lara, Josh, or I have saved her. You're the one with super- powers," he said, as if he was reminding her of the obvious.
"But, but … you're Superman!"
"*Superman*!?! Who's that?" her father asked. "I don't understand, Catie. Why didn't you save her? You could've saved her! I loved her," he said, tears streaming down his face. "Your own mother. Why didn't you do anything?"
Her head spinning from the confusion, Catie flopped down in an armchair. Why would her father expect her to save her mother? Where were Josh and Lara? And why was her father acting as if he didn't know who Superman was?
Just then the door opened and a crowd of people stormed in. Among them Catie could recognize everyone close to her — Lara, Josh, her grandparents, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, her Aunt Lucy and her family. They headed directly for Catie and swarmed around her, covering her in a blanket of anger and blame.
"Why didn't you save Mom?" Lara asked her.
"She was your mother!" Josh admonished.
"My daughter! My first-born baby girl!" Grandmother Lane exclaimed before bursting into tears.
"She was my only sister. How could you, Catie?" Aunt Lucy wondered.
"She was the best damn reporter I ever saw," Perry White commented huskily, trying to stop himself from crying.
As the horde of visitors pulled back slightly, Catie's father's parents approached her. The looks on their faces shot spears through Catie's heart. Her grandmother spoke for both of them. "Why didn't you save her, Cate? She was like a daughter to us, our only daughter. Your mother was so brave, so full of life. She loved you so much. Why didn't you at least try? You could've *tried* to help her. But you didn't do anything! Why, Catie? Why?"
By now, Catie was shaking her head in disbelief. She was having trouble breathing and tried to rise from her chair but the angry mob pushed her back down with their accusations. "I didn't mean, I couldn't, I didn't know … " Catie said as a trail of salty tears reached her mouth. "I didn't want anything bad to happen to her! I thought my dad, or maybe Lara or Josh … " she began, but her defense was drowned out by shaking heads and disapproving mutterings.
Sitting up in bed, Catie tried to catch her breath. She could feel her heart thumping wildly within her rib cage and placed a hand on her chest to try to stop it. It was a dream, only a dream, she assured herself. Turning on the bedroom light, she recognized her father's old bedroom in her grandparents' house; she had been at home in her dream. Feeling her forehead, Catie realized that she had been sweating. She wiped the unfamiliar droplets from her face, turned off the light, and tried to fall back asleep.
Several hours later, Catie found herself sitting on the porch as she waited for her parents to return from their walk. Her brother and sister, suffering from a bit of jet lag despite their frequent travels, had already gone to bed. Catie's grandparents, too, were sleeping since they were planning on finishing some of the farm chores before anyone else awoke. Catie smiled; even though her grandparents had Jeannie Irig's family to help them out they still liked to do much of the farm work. Catie was wishing that she had something she enjoyed doing that much when she heard the screen door to the kitchen slam.
"Sshh," Catie heard her mother warn. "It's late — everyone's probably sleeping."
"Mom and Dad?" Catie asked as she went into the kitchen.
"No such luck," her father said softly as Catie came into the kitchen.
Hitting her husband playfully on the arm with the back of her hand, Catie's mother turned to her daughter. "What is it, Cate?"
"I was kinda hoping to talk to Dad," she began sheepishly.
"Well," her mother joked indignantly. Kissing her daughter good-night, Catie's mom headed upstairs. Even though she and Catie's father had been assigned to the pull-out couch in the family room they were keeping their bags upstairs.
"What's on your mind?" her dad asked as they sat at the table.
"Okay," Catie began, calming herself with several deep breaths before beginning. "There are a few things. First, I want to apologize about how I was acting at home. I shouldn't have blamed you and Mom for things you can't help. I thought if I blamed all of my problems on my powers that it would take all of the responsibility off of me. But it wasn't fair and I'm really sorry," she said guiltily as she leaned towards her dad for a hug.
"Oh, Cate," he said, rubbing her back with one hand. "It's okay. I'm just glad that you understand things better — - it's tough going through life blaming your problems on having powers. I know — I did it too for a while."
"I know — that's something else I have to talk to you about," Catie said, leaning back into her chair. "I found some old journals of yours. Up in the attic. Actually, there were a lot, a real lot. And I read them," she said quickly. "I know that they were supposed to be private, but I thought that they must not be very important to you anymore because they were up in Grandma and Grandpa's attic, so I just kinda … "
"You read *all *of them?" her father asked in disbelief.
"Yea. And it took me a while, too. But I think they helped me to understand that I'm not as alone as I felt. I didn't know that you felt like me once. They're really good," she added. "Well, not in the beginning, but they got better by the end."
"I'm glad you enjoyed them," her father said. "I'd forgotten about those old notebooks. I should've probably re- read them — it probably would've helped me with you kids. I don't really mind that you read them — I'm glad they helped."
"You probably didn't need them for Lara and Josh," Catie lamented. "I'm sorry I'm so different, so much more difficult."
"That's okay, kiddo. I think we're all a little different," he said and ruffled her hair before rising from his chair. "Is that it or do you have something else to confess?" he joked.
"Actually, there is more," she said. "But it's not a confession or an apology. I need your help with something. I'd do it myself, but I don't think I'm really strong enough yet and it'd be a little more suspicious, I think, if I asked Lara or Josh … "
"What is it?" her father asked, his curiosity peaked.
Catie explained about meeting Sara Charlotte and then visiting her at her home. She told him about Mrs. Farrell's medical problems and how they were affecting her friend. "And she's only twelve, Dad. She has to take care of her sick mother, six brothers and sisters, clean the house, cook … "
"I don't understand, Cate. I feel bad for the Farrells, but how can I help them? I may be Superman, but I'm not a doctor," he reminded her.
"I know, but Sara Charlotte said that a big part of the problem was that besides the operation and hospital, her mother's train ticket costs a bunch of money. So, I was thinking, if you could just … "
" … fly her over there?" her dad guessed. "Of course I could, Cate. But you'd have to make sure it was okay with their family first. I mean, it would be a little strange, not to mention rude, to just show up there one day."
"I have that all planned out already. The Farrells, minus Sara Charlotte's mother, are coming here for dinner next week some time. I already asked Grandma and she said it was okay, just as long as she got some help." Catie looked up at her father expectantly. "Will you?"
"I'm gonna ask Mom to help, too," Catie told her dad and they laughed. "Although I don't know how good of an idea that is."
"I heard that!" Catie heard her mother exclaim, offended. "And I don't appreciate it."
"I don't know, Cate," her father winked. "She could always cut up fruit or wash dishes or something. I don't think she'll be able to mess that up."
"Very funny, farm boy," Catie's mother said as she pulled her husband up from his chair. "Now, are you two done or should I come back later?"
"I'm done, Mom," Catie told her. "And I'm going to bed. Good night." As Catie started towards her bedroom she could hear her parents echo each other in their "good nights" to her. Pausing for a minute on the landing of the stairs, she turned back to watch her parents. Her mother was tugging her father towards their make-shift bed by his shirttails. Before he headed upstairs to change, Catie's father kissed his wife hard on the mouth and Catie could see her mother's shoulders hit her father's as she laughed. Taking off her husband's glasses and setting them on a table next to their couch-bed, her mother whispered something inaudible to Catie to her husband before starting upstairs. Catie hurried towards her bedroom, slipping through the door quietly so as not to wake Lara. Leaning back against the door, she smiled slightly. If your dad is able to be happy, then maybe you will, too, someday, she reminded herself before changing into her pajamas and falling into a quick, dreamless sleep.
"This is delicious, Mrs. Kent," Mr. Farrell complimented. "I can't remember the last time I had such a satisfying meal."
"Well, thank you very much. And I wish I could take all of the credit, but the truth is that I had a lot of help," Catie's grandmother said generously.
"Oh, how rude of me," he began, turning towards Catie's mother, who unsuccessfully tried to smother a laugh.
"Mr. Farrell," she began.
"Frank, please," Sara Charlotte's father interrupted with a smile. "It's Frank."
"Frank, then," Catie's mother continued. "I had pretty much nothing to do with this delicious meal. I'm afraid I'm all thumbs in the kitchen. All I did was cut up the fruit for the salad," she admitted.
"That's right," Catie's grandmother added. "And I'm only responsible for the pies, which you haven't even tasted yet."
"What kind of pies?" one of Sara Charlotte's younger brothers asked from the other end of the table.
"And key lime," Catie finished with a smile.
"That's Catie's favorite. Somehow she always talks me into making key lime," her grandmother joked. "But I did have a lot of help. Catie helped with the pies and vegetables, the homemade bread was Clark's doing, and Jonathan was responsible for the barbecuing."
"Well, then, my compliments to the *chefs*," Mr. Farrell corrected himself.
"Mrs. Kent, do you have a football or soccer ball?" Sara Charlotte interrupted. "Because if you do, that'll keep the younger kids occupied for the rest of the afternoon."
"I can show them," Lara volunteered, and she and Josh lead the younger children to the Kents' garage, leaving Catie and her parents and grandparents with Sara Charlotte and her father. Catie took a deep breath and turned to Mr. Farrell.
"I have to admit," she began. "That I sort of have another reason for inviting your family here." Catie noticed Sara Charlotte's surprised face and started again. "You see, Sara Charlotte told me about your wife's medical problems, Mr. Farrell, and I think my family may be able to help you."
Displeased, Sara Charlotte's father turned to face his daughter. "Sara Charlotte," he began in a tired voice.
"Don't be mad at her, Mr. Farrell. I'm afraid I sort of pushed her to tell me," Catie said quickly. "And I *am* sorry about that, but I want to help you."
"If you invited us here to pity my family, miss, I'm afraid we'll have to be leaving. I don't need hand-outs from no one. Get your brothers and sisters, Sara Charlotte," Mr. Farrell barked as he stood up. But Catie laid her hand on her friend's father's arm.
"Mr. Farrell, please just listen for a minute. I can help you. I don't know how much you know about my family, but my parents work for a newspaper in Metropolis, the Daily Planet. Anyway, they've become good friends with Superman through some of their investigations. And Sara Charlotte told me that it costs a lot to get your wife to the clinic. I talked to Superman about it, Mr. Farrell, and he said that he'd be glad to give you a lift."
Mr. Farrell still looked skeptical. "Now, I don't know what Sara Charlotte's told you all, but I'm plenty capable of taking care of my family on my own. I don't need the help of no big-city super-hero."
Defeated, Catie turned to her father. "Helping people is Superman's job, Frank," he told Mr. Farrell. "He's helped us out more than you can imagine. In fact, he's been known to save Lois' life on occasion. I've talked to him as well and he'd like nothing more than to help your family. I'm sure your wife would appreciate it a great deal."
"I don't know," Mr. Farrell said, shaking his head. Feeling him weakening slightly, Catie turned this time to her mother.
"Well, why don't you ask your wife?" she prodded. "Let her decide. You'll be able to pay for her operation sooner and things can get back to normal at home. I'm sure Sara Charlotte and your other children would appreciate it as well. Just ask her."
"Need any help?" Catie's mother asked as they arrived at Mrs. Farrell's bedroom and knocked lightly on the open door.
"Oh, Ms. Lane!" Sara Charlotte's mother exclaimed from her bed, which was scattered with worn nightgowns, socks, and underwear that Sara Charlotte was trying to fit into a suitcase. Mrs. Farrell beckoned for Catie's mother to come closer and, once she reached the bed, reached out her arms and hugged her tightly. "It's such an honor to meet you! I've read some of your stories when they were reprinted in the Smallville Press. They're just wonderful. And thank you so much for your everything you've done for my family! Especially convincing my husband to tell me about your offer."
"Lois — you can just call me Lois." Catie's mother laughed with amusement at the other woman's enthusiasm. "And I'm happy to help."
"Wow. Lois, then. Oh, and you can call me Gwen," Sara Charlotte's mother said, still in awe that a semi-celebrity was in her bedroom.
"How are you feeling?" Catie's mom asked Mrs. Farrell.
"I'm okay, and thanks to your family I'll be just fine in no time." Mrs. Farrell turned her attention back towards the door frame, where Catie was still standing. "And you must be Catie! Sara Charlotte's told me so much about you. Come here, dear," she said before enveloping Catie, too, in her arms. "Thank you so much." Catie smiled — obviously Sara Charlotte took after her mother. Whereas her father had been a distant, proud man, Mrs. Farrell was warm, open, and loving. Even though she had just met her, Catie felt instantly comfortable with this woman that reminded her of her grandmother.
"Anytime, Mrs. Farrell," she replied. "Anytime."
"You know, you have a wonderful daughter, Lois," Mrs. Farrell said after releasing Catie from her embrace. "She's been such a good friend to Sara Charlotte."
Draping her arm over her daughter's shoulders, Catie's mother smiled. "Thank you, but so do you. Catie's told me how much Sara Charlotte does around the house. I can't even get Catie to clean up her room at home," she joked.
"You two'll have to come and visit us sometime. Sara Charlotte's told me that it's her dream to come to Metropolis. Maybe on your return trip from Rochester you can make a little detour," Catie suggested.
"That'd be wonderful," Sara Charlotte's mother said. "You know, I just realized something. The closest thing I've ever come to meeting a celebrity was meeting you," she told Catie's mother. "I'm a little nervous about meeting Superman."
"Well you needn't be." All four women turned their heads towards the open window, where Catie's father, dressed as the Man of Steel, was standing.
"Wow — Superman!" Sara Charlotte exclaimed. "This is so awesome."
"Mrs. Farrell?" Superman asked, approaching her bed.
Noticing Mrs. Farrell's awed speechlessness, Catie's mother quickly jumped in. "Yes, Superman, that's Mrs. Farrell, and this is her daughter, Sara Charlotte."
"It's a pleasure to meet you both." He shook each of their hands.
"Oh," Sara Charlotte's mother finally said. "I don't know what to say. It's such an honor to meet you, Mr. Superman."
"Just Superman'll do," he told her with a small laugh.
"And I'm so embarrassed — here in my bed with my nightgown on," she said, pulling her robe to make sure it was covering her enough.
"Well, that's why I'm here — bed to bed service. May I?" he asked, holding his arms out to pick up Mrs. Farrell.
"Oh, oh, yes, thank you," she said nervously. "Sara Charlotte, get my luggage, will you, dear?" Sara Charlotte, Catie, and Catie's mother watched Superman gently scoop Mrs. Farrell into his arms and head out the window. Catie and Sara Charlotte each picked up a suitcase and the three of them headed outside to where Superman had landed with Sara Charlotte's mother.
"If it's okay with you, sir," Superman began. "I'll take your wife first and come back for you and the suitcases. Is that all right?"
Through his pride and stubbornness, Sara Charlotte's father was still in awe of the man standing in his front yard. "Whatever's easiest for you, Superman. Wouldn't want to put you out a bit."
"Like Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane told you; it's no problem at all. I'm happy to help. Mrs. Farrell, do you need to say good-bye?"
"Oh, we've done that. We didn't want you to have to watch us all carrying on," she answered. And with that, Mrs. Farrell, waving from the capable arms of Superman, was off to the hospital.
After watching Superman carry Sara Charlotte's mother into the horizon, Catie and her mother started towards the truck they had borrowed from Catie's grandparents. Catie felt her mother slip her arm onto her shoulders. "You know, daughter," she began lightly. "Your dad and I are very proud of you."
"Thanks, Mom." They reached the truck and climbed into the front seat. "There's something I need to tell you, though. I'm sorry for how I was acting at home. I was really mean, but I'm okay now. Things'll be better when I come back to Metropolis," she promised.
"I've noticed." Her mom started the truck and pulled out of the Farrells' driveway. "Not that you're sorry but that you seem different. And I'm sorry too, sweetie."
"About what?" Catie asked, confused. "I was the nasty one. Why are *you* apologizing?"
"Well, whatever was wrong, you couldn't come to me or your dad to talk. That's what we're there for, you know," she reminded Catie. "It wasn't that we were too caught up in work, was it? I mean, I know our lives are a little, well, different and complicated and busy, but if you need us we'll be there. You, Lara, and Josh are more important than any story," she reminded her daughter.
"I know, Mom, I know," Catie told her mother. "I think I just forgot for a little while."
"Can I ask what it was?" Her mother said turned to look at Catie while they paused at a stop sign.
"I guess I was feeling kind of left out. I'm so *different* from everyone — my friends, you and Dad, even Lara and Josh. I guess I just forgot that it doesn't have to be all bad. After all, being different let me help Sara Charlotte."
"What do you mean, different? Do you just mean your powers?" her mother asked. "Because in that way, you're exactly like Lara and Josh."
"No, it's more than that. I mean, the powers separate me from everyone else. And then I'm different from Dad because I'm just a half-alien, so I don't totally fit anywhere. And I know you hate when I say that I'm an alien, but that's how I thought of myself," Catie told her mom as they pulled into her grandparents' driveway. "And probably that was part of the problem," she realized. "I mean, I was so anxious to see the bad parts of being me that I couldn't see any good parts. And I felt different than Lara and Josh because they're actually *using* their powers. I felt like I didn't fit in anywhere, and I blamed you and Dad. Then I found some old journals of Dad's. I thought that he was always happy with his powers and with being Superman. Anyway, I read the journals and didn't feel as alone. But I was still blaming you and Dad, because I never got to choose my life like you did. Then I met Sara Charlotte, a twelve year-old who not only had to take care of her brothers and sisters and cook and clean all day, but also had to deal with her mother being sick and possibly dying. Then I felt bad about how mean I was, especially to you. I couldn't imagine what I'd do if *you* were sick like Sara Charlotte's mother." Catie wiped warm tears from her cheeks.
"Oh, Cate," her mother said as she parked the truck. Undoing her seat belt, Catie slid closer to the driver's side of the truck and leaned into her mom. Her mother's arms wrapped tightly around her and slowly rubbed her back. "It's okay, Catie. You're okay." *** EPILOGUE:
"Is that everything, Catie?" her grandmother asked as Catie set her backpack next to the luggage that held her clothes and memories from the summer. Catie nodded her head. It was hard to believe that the summer was almost over and she was heading home to Metropolis that day. The ballet class Catie had signed up for was set to start the next day and she was excited to be doing something.
"When Dad comes, tell him to take my stuff first, okay? I'll be right back," Catie said to her grandparents, who were in the kitchen, waiting with her for her father to fly her home. At her grandfather's nod, Catie went outside and walked towards the woods.
Something that her mother had said to her weeks ago echoed in Catie's mind. "You've always been different than Lara and Josh, Catie. They've always been more open, more outgoing. And you keep to yourself more. Just *that* makes you wonderfully special. You're more like your dad — very thoughtful and careful. And I know being like that can be tough because you feel alone. It's up to you, sweetie, but let me tell you from experience that it's not very enjoyable to live your life closed off from everyone. All you have to do, Cate, is just let your guard down long enough to let people in."
Catie looked around and realized that she had reached the wishing log. Checking to make sure no one was in viewing distance, she raised her arms above her head and soared high into the air. Flying to the tops of the trees and beyond, Catie felt the wind whistle through her hair. She felt free and happy, happy at last to be herself.
"Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me" from "Homeward Bound," Produced by Paul Simon, Arthur Garfunkel, and Roy Halee, Composed by Paul Simon, Performed by Simon and Garfunkel, on "Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits CD."