By Donna Hafner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted November 1998
Summary: Clark spent several years after college travelling the globe, never staying in one place for long. This story takes a look at his reasons for wandering and what might have influenced his decision to move to Metropolis.
The inside of Lois Lane's apartment door felt blessedly cool and solid against her body as she leaned back against it with a sigh of relief. Turning, she juggled her briefcase, a box of files, and her takeout dinner with one hand as she used the other to carefully secure each of the door's four locks. Each bolt formed one additional barrier between herself and the day, the heat, and especially certain city editors.
Editors, hah! she thought. Might as well call them by their true title — slave drivers! Her youthful fantasies of a newspaper reporter's perfect life had certainly not included them!
Kicking off her shoes, she dropped her briefcase and files on the sofa and took her dinner into the kitchen. She opened the Styrofoam container of salad and contemplated its healthy contents for a moment before grimacing in distaste and shoving the box into the refrigerator. Moving back into the living room she plopped limply down on the sofa. August was not Metropolis's finest month.
Lois raised her thick dark hair off of her neck to give the air-conditioning better access, then reached for her briefcase. She extracted a copy of the early edition of tomorrow's Daily Planet and reread her drug arrest article, frowning peevishly at its placement at the bottom of page one. If she could ever get the proof she needed, Perry would *have* to make her car theft story the top headline. Unfortunately that investigation was stymied. Her usual sources weren't being helpful and she needed to find new ones.
She eyed the box of files reluctantly. I don't have to do it tonight, she told herself. Tonight she could take a break, maybe call someone and go to a movie, or rent a video. She ran through a mental roster of friends and acquaintances, but no one came to mind as a good candidate for a last minute invitation to the movies. She thought longingly of her sister, but Lucy was not due for her visit for another two weeks.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a wave of loneliness and depression swept over her. She walked to the window, pulled back the curtain and looked up at the smoggy Metropolis sky, what she could see of it past the buildings. Below a thin sliver of a moon, a single visible star blinked back at her, but it offered no mystical granting of wishes.
The moment of self-pity stretched out, but then she jerked the curtain closed. This is ridiculous, she thought. Why am I watching an empty sky? I am a successful career woman, happy and fulfilled. I need no one but myself.
Resolutely she turned and went to change into gym clothes. A good workout would exorcise this strange mood and then she could come back home and attack those files.
August, 1993, Estes Park, Colorado
The towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains paraded in a majestic line from north to south along the western sky. Their late summer uniforms of various shades of green, brown, and white sparkled in the morning sunshine against an impossibly blue backdrop. Their beauty was astounding, but Clark Kent was for the moment unappreciative and in fact unseeing. He jogged up the road from town, ran across the Craigs' yard and driveway, and came perilously close to flying up the steps to his garage apartment. Setting his sack of groceries on the kitchen table, he drew from its depths a copy of the day's National edition of the Metropolis Daily Planet.
Clark ran his eyes over the pages until, on page seven, he found the headline "Earthquake in Peru Leaves Three Dead, Hundreds Homeless." Scanning the text, he winced at a couple of the cuts made by the editor but overall he was pleased with the article. The byline read "by David Larson."
Clark felt simultaneously gratified and frustrated. It was good to see his story in print, and he certainly needed the money, but he wished, for the umpteenth time, he didn't have to use a pen name. Of course he could never explain how Clark Kent, currently residing in Estes Park, Colorado, could report on a story in South America, but there was something so unsatisfying about anonymous success. Oddly, he held no similar regrets that no one knew the identity of the man who pulled several people from under the rubble in Peru, saving their lives, but he failed to see the dichotomy. Instead he mocked himself as he realized it might be his own fault that his story was on page seven rather than on page one. Greater loss of life would have made a bigger story.
Clark jerked the paper down as he heard the voice behind him. Turning, he smiled at his friend Melanie as she let herself in through the screen door. She didn't smile back.
Melanie looked very different from the last time he had seen her, early yesterday morning. Then she had been filthy and exhausted after bringing three lost hikers down from Long's Peak. But she had looked happy. The night-long search had been grueling but finally successful with the discovery of the hikers halfway around the mountain from their last known position. This morning she looked crisp and tailored in her Park Ranger's uniform, but not so happy.
"Where did you go yesterday? You disappeared right after we got off the mountain! You were the one who found the hikers! You should have stayed for the celebration!" Melanie's accusations burst from her mouth like rounds from an enemy machine gun.
Clark flinched, almost feeling the bullets. He hated this part of his double life - the futile search for a way to avoid lying. He certainly couldn't explain that he had to hurry off to an earthquake in Peru. And he didn't deserve special credit for finding the lost hikers. In fact his discovery had taken much too long. The large amounts of lead in the local terrain had defeated his x-ray vision so he had been forced to use his super-hearing to listen for the hikers' voices, starting, as had everyone else, on the wrong side of the mountain. The hikers had fallen asleep and only a faint snore had alerted Clark to their presence.
"It was a long, exhausting search. And it was just luck I found those guys."
Melanie's eyes narrowed with skepticism. "You were tired? Are you telling me you've been *resting* since then?"
"Yes, I was tired," he almost snapped back. The Long's Peak search may not have tired him, but he was totally exhausted after returning from Peru late last night. Not everyone he had found in Peru had been alive.
Clark took a deep breath, carefully folded his newspaper back to page one and offered his best wrath-defusing smile. "Would you like some coffee?"
Melanie continued to glare at him for a moment, obviously not satisfied with his explanations, but then her uncharacteristic anger evaporated and she surrendered with a shrug and a roll of her eyes. "No, no coffee. I'm already running late. Want to get some pizza tonight?"
"Sure," he said, relieved.
Melanie finally returned his smile as she waved and dashed out the door.
Clark sighed. He liked Melanie. She was certainly attractive — tall and fair, she looked like a Viking heroine — and she had the independent spirit he liked in a woman. The clingy type would never do for him and his unpredictable schedule. But, as with all the women he had dated, he had to maintain barriers. Some got tired of it and dumped him, others had walls of their own they didn't want breached.
Lately he could sense that Melanie was entering the 'wondering' stage. It happened everywhere he went. Sometimes he even avoided female friends, in a vain attempt to simplify his life. But then there was always a neighbor or a boss who noticed something odd, who began to question Clark's strange disappearances or who became suspicious about a string of 'miracles' in the area. And eventually he would have to move on.
He turned his attention back to the paper in his hands. At the bottom of the first page was an article by Lois Lane about a Metropolis drug distributor's arrest. Ms. Lane had done an excellent job on the piece, as she had on many other articles he had seen in past Daily Planet issues, though sometimes he itched to add a personal note or two to some of her stories.
Then he laughed at himself for even considering edits for the Daily Planet. He could just see Lois Lane and the rest of the Planet staff, all mature, seasoned veterans he was sure, chortling at the idea of accepting criticism from an under-thirty freelancer. Though he often wondered what it must be like to write full time for a major paper, he knew it was a distant dream. He would see how things stood in ten years or so, when he was older and more experienced, and had maybe solved some of the other problems in his life.
He laid the paper aside for a moment and turned to put away his groceries. As he folded the grocery sack and placed it in the recycling pile, he noticed the calendar on the wall. He had been in Estes Park for only three months, not nearly as long as he had lived some other places, but he already felt restless. He had come here from Borneo, feeling somehow drawn back to the United States. One of the perks of being a freelance writer was that he could live anywhere, so he chose the Rocky Mountains — they were beautiful, isolated, and fairly close to home. This apartment was one of the nicest he'd ever lived in during his travels, plus it had those convenient back windows. His landlords, the Craigs, were like family. Surely it was too soon to move again. Where would he go?
Sighing again, he picked up his newspaper and took it out onto the balcony for a thorough reading, taking time now to enjoy the view. This was a lovely place. No reason to leave. He hadn't even seen a Rocky Mountain winter yet.
Melanie Craig drove a little too fast back toward downtown Estes Park, to the gift shop owned by her parents, Alden and Moira Craig. She knew she shouldn't have taken the time to go up and talk to Clark, but she had been so frustrated at his disappearance that when she spotted his open door, she couldn't resist. Not that she felt any less frustrated now.
She pulled into a loading zone space behind the shop, got out, and manhandled the box of supplies her parents had needed from home out of the back seat.
"Thanks, hon," her dad called, coming out to take the box from her. "You're a lifesaver. Come in and have one of the muffins your mom picked up."
"I just have a minute, Dad. I've got duty up at Bear Lake today." Melanie entered the shop, breathing in the comfortingly familiar fragrances of candles and silver polish. "I saw Clark at his apartment."
Melanie's mom looked up from rearranging a display shelf. "Really? I know you've been worried. Where did he say he'd been this time?"
"He didn't. Just that he'd been tired after the search."
Moira smiled tolerantly. "That boy is so strange sometimes. But don't you fuss at him and chase off our best ever tenant."
"He's immune to fussing, so don't worry."
"He has such a nice family. I've been thinking I'll write a note to Martha and ask her and Jonathan to come and visit again when the leaves turn. It's so pretty then, and not as crowded as it was when they were here for the Fourth of July."
"Oh, Mom," Melanie pleaded around a mouthful of muffin. "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Long range plans make Clark nervous."
"Oh, piffle. I can ask friends to come and visit if I want to. It doesn't have anything to do with your and Clark's relationship."
"Mom! There is no 'relationship' and anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if Clark is gone from Estes Park by the time the leaves turn. I've told you before, he's a man searching for something, and I don't think he's found it here."
Alden spoke up from the back counter, "Melanie, how could anyone want to live anywhere else when they could live here in the Rocky Mountains? You need to convince him this is his home."
Melanie chuckled. "Dad, if everyone you've tried to convince to move to Estes Park actually moved here, the valley would be wall-to-wall people."
Her mom looked confused. "I thought you liked Clark, Melanie."
"Of course I like him. But I won't hold him back from whatever he needs to do." She grinned wryly. "That way I can at least feel noble while I nurse my broken heart."
She dusted crumbs from her hands and headed toward the door. "I gotta go. Thanks for the muffin. Love you guys."
"Bye, hon. Love you."
After a late breakfast Clark decided to make a quick trip back down to Peru to check on the earthquake recovery effort. He donned old clothes that would resemble the other workers', then he removed his glasses and slicked back his hair, as he always did when he went on his "missions." His hope was that if he was ever caught by an unnoticed photographer in the background of a disaster scene picture, he would look just different enough to prevent recognition by eagle-eyed friends.
Once at the earthquake site, he managed to surreptitiously shift some of the larger debris so the clean-up crews could move faster. No one seemed to take him for anything but another volunteer, until, just as he was about to leave, he turned around and there was his old friend Sam Martin, 20 feet away and coming right toward him.
Almost before Clark had time to panic, though, Sam's gaze passed over him without recognition and on to the disaster scene, obviously contemplating shot angles as he began to open his camera bags. Clark wasted no time in moving away from the area, not wanting to risk a second encounter. Heart pounding from the close call, he flew home without stopping — almost. He couldn't ignore an unconscious man he saw lying beside his car on an empty highway in Texas. He swooped down and carried the man to an emergency room, leaving before anyone could ask questions.
He entered his apartment through the back windows, grateful again for the way the windows faced the steep wooded hillside behind the Craigs' garage, perfect for hiding his airborne comings and goings. He went into the tiny bathroom to shower, where he studied his reflection in the mirror while adjusting the water temperature. Apparently his "disguise" worked better than he had thought.
Two years ago in Ireland he had seen and talked with Sam Martin almost every day for three weeks, while Sam was there on a photo assignment for Newsweek. They had eaten meals together, discussed stories, admired girls. Then he had run into him again in D. C. last year, where Sam had hailed him from across a restaurant. Sam should have recognized his old buddy Clark Kent, even in Peru, but he hadn't. Clark's "disguised" self looked back at him and grinned wryly.
After his shower he blew-dry his hair back into its normal side parted style and donned his glasses. Gazing at the mirror again, he tried to determine if these superficial changes really made him look any different. His parents claimed that they did, but Clark shook his head doubtfully. He decided to hope that his luck held with avoiding photographers *and* that he would see no more old friends in exotic locales. He dressed quickly, then set out to town to do some research at the library.
As he walked down the tree-lined road, worries about the people in Peru and also the man in Texas crept into his mind, but he tried to push these thoughts aside. Years of trial and error since he left home had taught him a hard lesson. A workable balance between constant rescue work (a definite road to burnout) and no rescues at all (unthinkable) required that he not dwell on yesterday's victims, or he wouldn't have time for today's. Even if he didn't have much of a 'life', he did have to make a living. "I'm doing the best I can," he told himself, for the umpteen thousandth time. As usual the downtown streets were crowded with tourists. When Clark first scouted Estes Park in April, things had been very quiet and sleepy. He hadn't counted on how the summer tourists would change the character of the place. For years he had chosen small towns to live in, thinking his secrets would be easier to keep in small, out-of-the-way, sparsely populated places. So at first the crowds of people here disconcerted him. He felt nervous and way too visible. But after a while he realized that in some ways he was less visible, a stranger among strangers. He came to know the shopowners and other townspeople, but the ever-changing tourist population remained a vast unknown.
On his way to the library he stopped in at a favorite bakery for some fresh baked cookies. As he exited the shop with fragrant sack in hand, he noticed a small boy crouched down between two parked cars across the street. As Clark watched, the child rose to peek over the hood of the car then suddenly turned and dashed into the street, heedless of the busy traffic. Clark didn't hesitate. He moved at superspeed to the boy, snatched him up and then deposited him on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.
Clark glanced around, afraid to see what attention his actions had drawn. But, as had happened with a couple of similar incidents this summer, no one seemed to have noticed anything odd. The streams of tourists continued to move up and down the street. The boy just seemed bewildered.
Finally one group of window shoppers up the block did look their way, suddenly aware their child was missing. "Michael, Michael!" they called in alarm. Clark faded into the crowd as the family rushed to claim their escapee. "But I was just playing hide and seek," Clark heard the culprit's small voice try to say over a chorus of scoldings. Clark moved on down the sidewalk, munching on a cookie, thinking about crowds and anonymity.
After a long day spent dealing with the problems generated by too many tourists and not enough Rocky Mountain National Park, huge as it was, Melanie returned to the home she shared with her parents. She glanced up at Clark's garage apartment as she passed but it looked dark and empty. Melanie showered and changed clothes, then checked her appearance in the closet mirror. She wished she could wear something nicer, but anything other than her jeans and T-shirt would look silly for pizza. At least they showed off her figure better than that clunky uniform.
She pushed one errant wisp of hair back into her long dark- blond braid, reminded herself not to slump, and trotted down the stairs. After jotting a note to her parents she went out on the back patio and gazed hopefully up at Clark's apartment. Unfortunately it still looked lifeless, but she shouted his name anyway, to check. She got no response, so she took a seat in one of the patio lounge chairs. It was a beautiful evening and she didn't really mind waiting for him to get home.
Not a date, she reminded herself with a sigh. Clark shied away from anything resembling a date.
Maybe all writers were a little strange, she mused. Clark was drop-dead gorgeous but seemingly unaware of it, unlike most good- looking men she had known. He was friendly with everyone yet at the same time very private. He kept extremely odd hours. He did write well. Despite being turned down for a regular job at the Estes Park 'Trail-Gazette,' he had submitted and had accepted a couple of excellent freelance feature articles. Her parents adored him, and his parents were great. He was fun to be with. He was … nice.
Melanie looked over to the driveway where her friend Gail was coming around the back corner of the house. "Hi, Gail. Sorry. Clark's not home yet. You better go on and meet Danny. You know Clark. No telling how long he'll be."
Gail plopped down into the patio chair next to Melanie's. "Nah. A little wait will be good for Dan the Man. He's getting a little too possessive."
Melanie smiled at her friend. She envied Gail her easy way with men, with her bubbly personality and her pixyish good looks. It didn't hurt not to tower over half of them, either.
"How goes it with Clark? He still playing the mysterious stranger? Any action yet?"
Melanie laughed. "Gee, Gail, don't hold back. Ask me any nosy questions you want."
"Hey, I'm just trying to help out. They say confession is good for the soul."
"That's only if you have something to confess. Clark and I are just friends. Hiking, dinner, TV, stuff like that."
"Yeah, yeah, he's a great friend, but that doesn't answer the women of Estes Park's main question. How is he in bed?"
Melanie giggled. "Don't ask me. I couldn't even tell you if he likes girls."
"Not like girls?! You blaspheme, woman! I know he likes girls — I've seen him eyeing some of those female tourists, the ones who forgot they were coming to the mountains and dressed for the beach. Also, he's quite the admirer of your own womanly attributes."
"Really? You've seen him looking at me? Wait! Don't answer that. I sound like a high-school coed."
"Oh, come on, Melanie. What's not to ogle with that amazing Amazon body of yours? Now, tell your buddy Gail some juicy details."
"Well, he does kiss well."
Despite her jokes to Gail, Melanie knew very well that Clark liked girls. They had shared several enjoyable kisses, and she would have been receptive to further moves on his part, despite being pretty much celibate since a bad relationship in college, but nothing had happened. One night while watching TV in his apartment, she had taken the initiative. He had responded with apparent enthusiasm for a while, and things were getting very interesting indeed until suddenly a switch seemed to turn off. One minute they were entwined around one another, the next they were saying good-night, see you tomorrow, all very pleasant and normal.
Since then things had continued pretty much as they had been, except that Clark was perhaps a little more withdrawn, a little more cautious than he had been before. She sighed, recalling her discussion with her parents that morning. How could she explain to them about her and Clark's 'relationship' when she didn't understand it herself?
Not that she would tell any of this to Gail, who was drooling over her simple comment about his kisses.
"Kent the gent kisses well? Melanie, I should hope so. The man does everything well. Cooks, dances, talks … Well, he doesn't actually talk a lot, but that's really a plus, and he can tell a mean story when he wants to. The man is so close to perfect you almost have to be suspicious."
Melanie giggled. "Maybe he's really a foreign spy on a secret mission."
Gail giggled back. "Or a retired master criminal living incognito."
"A secret billionaire trying to rediscover the simple life."
"Or maybe he's a fugitive from outer space."
"Estes Park's first galactic tourist!"
Gail was bouncing in her seat. "I know! I know! He's an emissary from another planet, sent to Earth to determine if Earth women would make suitable sex slaves. And if all the men on his planet look like him, we can volunteer to be the first to go!"
Both girls shrieked with laughter.
Clark flew back from Denver as fast as he dared. He hadn't really had time to go to that fire, although that oil tanker would certainly have exploded and injured several people if he hadn't been there to cool it down. But being late for his date with Melanie was not a good plan. Right after this morning's "discussion" would not be the best time for more lame excuses.
He darted through his back window and rushed through another shower to get rid of the smoke odor. He dressed at superspeed , grabbed his wallet and dashed out the door, only to come to a dead stop at the top of the stairs. Melanie and her friend Gail were waiting on the patio, but they didn't look too impatient. Instead they were holding their sides and practically falling out of their chairs with laughter.
Clark jogged on down the steps and across to the patio.
"Hi," he said. "What's so funny?"
The girls only laughed harder.
Clark pulled up a chair, amused by the girls' red faces and teary eyes.
Gail tried to speak between gasps for air. "Hi, Clark. We were just wondering if you were from outer space."
Clark's smile faltered.. What on earth had they been talking about? He forced a weak laugh. "Oh, really?"
"Oh, ignore her, Clark. She's just been being silly, as usual," Melanie finally said, wiping away tears. "I thought you weren't home yet, but I guess you were since I didn't see you go up the steps."
Clark stared at her blankly for a moment, still back on the outer space comment, then realized what she meant and chided himself for still another silly mistake. Next time, he told himself, check to see if anyone is watching the front door before flying in the back window. At least listen!
As they all came to their feet he reached over and tugged Melanie's braid. "Maybe I go in and out my back window to avoid surveillance by beautiful Park Rangers."
"Don't do that!" she said, slapping at his hand and missing.
"Watch it, Clark," Gail said. "Melanie only lets her big brother Robert pull her braid. I don't think she thinks of you like a brother." She ignored Melanie's elbow jab.
"Never again will I pull Melanie's braid," Clark vowed, holding up a hand with the first two fingers obviously crossed.
Melanie rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, come on. We have to meet Danny."
He grinned and gallantly offered an arm to both girls as they turned to walk the fairly short distance to Estes Park's main street. Gail looked at Melanie around Clark's chest and held up her free hand with her fingers crossed in imitation of Clark's gesture. "Greetings from Xulcan," she intoned.
Both girls dissolved into another fit of giggles. Clark decided not to ask..
Soon they reached the downtown area and started dodging through the crowds.
"I know these tourists provide our living," Melanie said. "But I'm always glad when Labor Day comes and we get our town back."
"Really?" Clark said. "No crowds after Labor Day? I've sort of gotten to like all these people." Could he have rescued that boy this afternoon, unnoticed, without a crowd around?
"You like crowds, Clark?" asked Gail. "I thought you were a small town guy."
"I am, I am. I mean, I've always lived in small places, but I've visited big cities, and they have their good points."
Gail snorted derisively. "I think the only good points you'll see in a big city are the ones growing on the people's heads."
"Maybe they're the ones from outer space!" Melanie suggested, and she and Gail went off into another paroxysm of laughter.
Clark smiled at an older couple trying to edge past the hysterical females. "Altitude sickness. Gets them every year," he explained confidentially, and prodded his giggling companions on down the sidewalk.
They passed the Craigs' gift shop and waved through the window. A block further on they turned in at the door of a grungy looking restaurant, a place that didn't attract a lot of tourists, but known to the locals as having the best pizza in town. They exchanged greetings with several people as they entered and then joined a large group at the back.
"Hey, Clark, did you hear the one about the tourist from Borneo?" someone called out.
Clark groaned. "No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."
Later that evening Melanie and Clark perched side by side on Clark's tiny balcony, contemplating a sky full of stars floating above the dark looming shapes of the mountains. Melanie shivered a bit in the evening chill and was grateful when Clark put his arm around her shoulders. She turned to gaze at his profile.
"You got kind of quiet with the group tonight. Something bothering you? Are you still tired?"
She felt his body tense against hers and his face got that now familiar closed expression. "No, I feel fine now."
She picked up the copy of the Daily Planet that he had left on the balcony. "Did something in this paper upset you?"
"No, I just … I've always read the Daily Planet, wherever I've traveled."
"So you're not boycotting the 'Trail'?" she teased.
He looked confused. "Oh, no, no, of course not."
Melanie smiled at Clark. Sometimes he could give as good as he got, and other times he got so flustered, so easily.
He looked at the newspaper. "When I was in college I had a journalism professor who knew the Planet's editor-in-chief. He used to tell us fascinating stories about Perry White and the Daily Planet." Clark shook his head. "I've always had this idea that when I was older, more experienced, that that's the kind of place I'd like to work."
Melanie's heart lurched, but she didn't hesitate in her answer. "Older? Why do you need to be older? If you really want to work there why don't you apply now? You certainly write well enough. And I bet they have lots of reporters as young as you."
She raised the copy in her hand. "See, this article here, by Lois Lane. I remember reading a story about her winning some big award last winter and she's about the same age as we are. I remember because I thought, Gosh, here's someone my age winning this big award, and what have I done? Then I remembered I'd helped save more than one life and decided my job was just fine, thank you very much, and I didn't have to live in the big city, either."
Clark was silent. Melanie looked back up at his face and was surprised by his expression of astonishment. She mentally reviewed what she'd just said but none of it seemed particularly earth- shaking.
"Lois Lane has a bun, and gray hair," he finally said.
She burst out laughing. "What? Where did you get that?"
He looked indignant. "Well, her name. Lois. Lois sounds like a bun and gray hair," he said defensively.
"Hmm. I guess it's not a name you hear much these days. She must have been named for her grandmother or something. But, believe me, I saw her picture, and there's no bun in sight."
Clark still looked stunned. Melanie sighed to herself. What had she so blithely proclaimed to her mother just this morning, about how she would never hold Clark back? It was so easy to talk the talk …
She laid down the paper then reached up and felt around on the top of Clark's head. "Yep, I think I feel the start of a point growing up there."
Clark smiled weakly. "You do, huh?"
"Yes, you'll fit right in, in the big city," she told him with a grin, but then continued more seriously, trying to find the right words. "Clark, you are a very unusual, very special person, and I think you're destined for great things. The Daily Planet could be your start."
"Oh, Melanie, I've never done anything special … " He stumbled to a stop.
Melanie smiled. "But you will, Clark, you will. And I, Melanie Craig, will be your biggest fan." She rose to her feet, regretfully but deliberately leaving the comfortable circle of his arm. "So come give me a good night kiss and then go write a letter to your old professor. You need a letter of recommendation to send to that editor. And if he doesn't believe your professor about how wonderful you are, tell him to just call me."
They walked down the stairs and across the yard in silence. Pausing before her door, Clark gazed at her in the moonlight, his dark eyes seeming to reach inside her own. "You're a good friend, Melanie. I've been lucky to find good friends like you everywhere I've been."
"You haven't been lucky, Clark. You've just been you." She reached up and kissed him hard on the lips and then quickly entered her house, unwilling to let him see how difficult it was for her to give him advice that would surely take him away from her. She choked down a threatening sob. In her heart she knew this was right; he would leave eventually anyway, and sooner rather than later was better for both of them. She wiped her eyes, squared her shoulders, and went upstairs to iron her uniform for the next day.
Two nights later, Clark made an unscheduled trip to his parents' home in Smallville, Kansas. He entered the old farmhouse and found his father in the living room watching a baseball game. Jonathan Kent accepted the sudden appearance of his son with the same gladness and calm he always did. "Clark, come in and sit down. Your mother had her welding class tonight but she'll be home soon. There's peach cobbler in the kitchen."
Clark smiled. "Thanks, Dad. I'll get some in a minute." He sat down on the old sofa across from his father's armchair and together they indulged for a while in the male-bonding ritual of sports watching.
At the end of the inning, Jonathan looked over at his son, obviously puzzled by this unannounced, unplanned visit. He and Martha had been thrilled when Clark moved to Colorado. So close to Kansas, he could fly home often and without the damage to his clothes that longer trips sometimes caused. But usually not this often. "Something on your mind, son?"
"Well, several things happened the other day … " Clark hesitated, then met his father's gaze. "Dad, I know you don't totally approve of all the traveling I've been doing."
Jonathan looked uncomfortable. "Well, son, I just worry. I guess that's what fathers are supposed to do. But it's seemed to suit you."
"Yes, I think so. The traveling I've been doing, the freelance writing, I loved it. It was perfect for me. At least it was perfect until a few months ago. Somehow lately I've been thinking I've wandered enough, that I'm ready to settle down somewhere permanently."
"You always have a home here, Clark."
"I know that, Dad, but after all these years of living in small places, I thought I might try a big city." He paused again, wary of his father's reaction. "Maybe Metropolis."
A look of alarm crossed Jonathan's face but his tone remained neutral. "Metropolis. You really mean big, don't you? Are you sure that's wise? There are millions of people in Metropolis, all of whom might see you — doing something."
"Well, sometimes, in the crowds of tourists in Estes Park, it seems that there's safety in numbers. I can be anonymous in a crowd, and do things I could never get away with in the small places I've been living. The other day I dashed across the street to grab a kid from in front of a car. No one saw anything but a blur, and there was no one who knew me there to notice that I was suddenly on the other side of the street. And I can remember something similar happening in D. C. when I was there for a month last year."
Jonathan rubbed his chin. "Clark, these kinds of stories make me very nervous. Crowds of people don't sound safer to me."
"Clark!" Martha Kent exclaimed from the doorway. She came forward eagerly to hug her son. "How did we get so lucky to get another visit? You were just here Friday. Here, let me get you some cobbler." She bustled around happily until everyone had something to eat and drink and they were all resettled, Martha by her son on the sofa.
Martha looked from solemn father to quiet son. "Have I interrupted some man talk?" she queried.
"Clark is thinking of moving to Metropolis," Jonathan told her.
"Metropolis." Martha's repetition of the name sounded like an echo of Jonathan's earlier voicing.
"Maybe not Metropolis. Just some large city. But you know I've always dreamed of working for a major newspaper and the one I always dream of most is the Daily Planet."
"The Daily Planet." This time Martha and Jonathan repeated the name in chorus.
Clark grinned at his parents. "You guys are practicing active listening again. It sounds like Echo Canyon in here."
Martha looked a little chagrined. "Well, we did take that class when you were 12. Heaven knows we needed some help with our parenting."
Clark laughed and squeezed his mother's shoulders affectionately. "Mom, you and your classes. You didn't need one for parenting. You were great."
"Hah! You say that now, but at around age 15 it was a different story, believe me."
Clark smiled at his mother, but then he stood up and started to pace. "It's almost like I feel something … calling … to me from Metropolis. I've been feeling it for a while. I thought I was just homesick for America, that's why I went to Colorado. But it's Metropolis and the Daily Planet I want. I've been thinking I was too young, but the other day I learned that the Planet has reporters, successful reporters, in their twenties. So I could at least try."
"Son, you know we'll support whatever you want to do," Jonathan said. "Just because we don't like the big city doesn't mean you couldn't. I'm just worried this will cause problems with your other activities. All these years we've kept this secret, and you don't want it to be discovered now."
"I know, Dad. But I truly believe that big anonymous crowds don't notice what I do so much. And around lots of people I can help with lots of small problems besides all the big disasters I've always gone to. Really, I think it could work. The only thing I'm worried about is how to get that job at the Planet. So much of my best work has been written under pen names so I can't use it in my portfolio. The Planet has printed a lot of my stories and I can't even tell them."
"Honey, if this is what you want, I'm sure you can work it out. We'll do whatever we can to help." Martha assured him. "But what about Melanie?" she asked somewhat wistfully. "Is she someone you're willing to leave?"
Clark sat down again beside his mom and gave her a sad smile. "Mom, you know Melanie is just a friend. But I will miss her — in fact I'll miss her whole family. I've left too many friends behind over the years. That's one reason I'm ready to try to stay someplace for a longer time, to have real, lasting friends, that I don't have to leave, if it's possible. Maybe I can never have a girlfriend, but at least friends."
"Oh, Clark, of course it's possible." Martha said, patting his hand. "We just need to discuss logistics now." And, adaptable as always, she launched into a discussion of relatives who lived in the Metropolis area, housing costs, moving problems.
Jonathan still looked concerned, but his only voiced question was, "How much money do you need?"
The hour was late when Clark hugged his parents and lifted off into the sky. Instead of heading west, he flew straight up, high above Kansas, then turned to look down on his home. At this height distances didn't seem so great. He looked west, toward Colorado, thinking of the difficult good-byes he had ahead of him. He had met so many great people all over the globe, wonderful friends like the Craigs. Why did he still feel so lonely? Besides his physical differences, was there something alien in his very soul that kept him from bonding with others?
He turned to the east, trying to see Metropolis. He had to rise still higher before the curve of the earth allowed him to see all the way to the lights on the east coast, but finally he spotted it. What drew him there? What did he think might be different? Even if he could find a job, in six months he might be saying more good-byes to still another set of friends.
He looked up at the stars above, thinking of Melanie and Gail's jokes. Was he from outer space? Could one of these stars be the source of light and heat to his real home? Even if he knew that were true, and knew which one, would he want to go there? Somehow that did not seem like the answer. As he returned to a lower altitude and flew slowly back to the west, to Estes Park, he turned his back on the stars, determined to find his answers somewhere on Earth.
Lois Lane listened for a response from her sister as she entered her apartment, but heard nothing. A post-it note on the refrigerator confirmed her suspicions. "Got a date! Be back later. Love ya." Half of Lois's wardrobe was strewn about the bedroom, obviously the result of a frantic "what-to-wear" session. She frowned, then shook her head with sisterly indulgence.
Ignoring the mess, Lois changed out of her work clothes and then sat down to read today's Planet. Under one of the lead articles were the words, "by Lois Lane and Clark Kent." She studied the unfamiliar byline, still not sure what she thought of this subdividing of her credit. Of course if Kent hadn't coaxed a statement out of that witness there would have been no story, but still … Lois Lane didn't work with a partner. Or at least she had never done so before now.
Laying down the paper, she rose and moved to the window. There were quite a few stars visible tonight, but she failed to notice. Instead she searched the sky for a man in a red cape. As she gazed upward she was reminded of an evening just a few weeks ago when she had stood at this same window feeling lonely and depressed. What could she have been thinking? Life was great!
Of course maybe a few things had changed since then. She had landed some incredible stories. She had dated the richest man in the world. And she had flown with Superman! She giggled. Probably any one of these would be enough to lift a girl's spirits.
Lois turned from the window and picked up the video she had rented to watch with Lucy tonight. Should she watch it alone? Almost without thinking she went to the phone and dialed. A now familiar voice answered, "Hello?"
"Hi, Clark. Want to order pizza and watch a movie tonight?"
Author's note - I know the timing of this story is wrong. 'Supermann' tells us that Clark actually came to Metropolis in April. But I had forgotten that when I first started the story, and in my mind he came in September, when the show debuted on television. When this discrepancy was pointed out to me I contemplated changing, but it all got too complicated. So I left it.
Thanks to all who looked at this story for me, through its various versions - Margaret, Pam, Kathy, Georgia. You are all good Folcs. :-)