By Bethy <email@example.com>
Submitted: September 2001
Summary: In an alternate ending to the episode "Contact," Clark is surprised by Lois's reaction to his "stupidity." This piece, like Christy Landrum's "I Still Love You," is based on the country song "Austin."
This is a take based on the song Austin, by Blake Shelton. Christy Landrum posted her take, "I Still Love You," on Zoom's boards, and my own muse went wild. I loved her version, but couldn't stop the "what if…" from gallivanting through my mind. This story starts after the episode Contact, in which Clark dumps Lois, "for her own good."
I would like to thank Christy, because without her original take on the song, this idea would never have even entered my mind. So, thank-you, Christy. (And yes, I already asked her and she gave me permission to post this. So thank-you again, Christy!) Oh, and thanks for all that encouragement to make me write! :P
I'd also like to thank my mom and Heather for editing this. They made a few very good points about details I had missed. Thanks to all the regulars of Zoom's boards and the listserv for your comments, as well.
Without any further ado, here's the story.
Lois banged some pots and pans down on the stove and wished she knew something productive to do with them. Since she didn't, she settled for slamming and banging them some more. Instead of relieving her frustration though, it only served to build some more. Exasperated, she filled one pan with water, flipped on the burner, and set about looking for something to eat. A quick search through her sparse foodstuffs, however, proved fruitless. She sighed and reached into the freezer to find her trusty stash of ice cream. After turning off the stove and grabbing a spoon, Lois went into the living room and curled up on the couch. There, while stuffing her face with cold comfort, she cried the hot tears she had fought so long.
Anger was easy. Though she'd never admit it, that was why it was her emotion of choice. It was defensive, protective. It cast blame and kept others out. It served as material to build up her protective wall. And kept the hurt at bay.
Because hurt was different. It was sneaky. It ignored her protective walls, shot right through and went for the jugular. It brought forth insecurity, a sense of loss, and taunted her with memories of what had been and what might have been.
For a brief second, anger resurged. How could he do this? Didn't he know how much it would hurt her? Break up 'for her own good.' The lack of control on her part made her furious. She jabbed the spoon into the carton and savagely scooped out a giant bite. That creep. That jerk. Scuz- faced, monkey-brained nincompoop!
She bit her lip and fought a new onslaught of tears. Because he was also a kind, loving, generous, honest gentleman.
The ice cream was gone but her tears were not. She dazedly went into her bedroom, put on an old sweatshirt of his that still smelled like him and curled up with the teddy bear he'd won for her in Smallville. He was everywhere. He was nowhere.
She cried herself to sleep.
The next morning, Lois applied her make-up carefully and practiced a carefree smile. She wouldn't let him know how much he hurt her. She wouldn't show him how much power he had over her. She couldn't.
But when she arrived at the Planet, Clark was nowhere to be seen. She assumed he was out on a rescue. After getting her own coffee, she went straight to her desk to bury herself in work. That had always been her method of dealing with pain. It had worked in the past, and it would work again. She hoped.
"Lois!" Perry called. "In my office. Now."
She sighed. Why now? He hadn't even let her turn her computer on. Perry could always see through her masks. Though he meant well, and really tried to help, she didn't feel like facing him today. But she had no choice. Gripping her coffee cup as if it could sustain her, she went into his office.
"What is it, Perry?" Better to be on the offensive, try and get him off track. "I really need to call Henderson on the Cooperton murder. He was tied up at the crime scene all day yesterday, but promised he'd talk to me today. So could you make this quick?"
"Shut the door, honey, and sit down." He acted as if he hadn't even heard her. "Why don't you tell me what happened between you and Clark yesterday."
She affected a confused expression but inwardly she groaned. What did he know and how could he have found out so fast? And aside from that, what business of his was it?
"I don't know what you mean, Perry."
He stared at her and she knew he knew she was lying. "I mean," he said with exaggerated slowness, "what happened between you and Clark yesterday to make him leave me a letter of resignation, on my desk by the time I got here, so that I didn't even have a chance to talk him ou—talk to him about it."
Lois's eyes widened as her heart broke. He wouldn't have, he couldn't have…but he did.
In a strangled voice she replied, "I can't talk about it, Perry. Please." Oh, no, here came the tears. She tightened her grip on the coffee mug and forced them back. "Don't make me," she whispered.
His gaze softened and so did his voice. "Lois, honey, I want to help. But I can't if I don't know what's going on. Talk to me!"
"I can't, Perry. I just can't." She looked into his eyes and pleaded with him silently.
He sighed. "All right. But if you need to talk, my door's open, okay?" She nodded and stood to go. "And, Lois? If you need any time off to work things out, just give me a holler."
"Thanks, Perry. But I'm fine."
Blindly, she left his office and returned to her desk. Clark left? She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes as if that could block the pain. It didn't work.
She managed to call Henderson, get some quotes and write the story. Fortunately, it was an open-shut case — a jealous husband murdered his cheating wife and her lover. Sad, but easy to write.
She didn't get much else done that day.
One week passed. Then another. And another.
Each day, she expected to hear from Clark. She eagerly checked her e-mail, many times a day. The first thing she did when coming home was to check the mailbox. And when she entered her apartment, she begged the answering machine to be blinking with a message from Clark. But nothing ever came.
After a few days, she swallowed her pride and called his parents.
"I'm sorry, Lois," Martha said, with what sounded like genuine regret in her voice. "He calls and checks in, sometimes flies in, too, but he won't tell us anything about where he's staying or what he's doing."
"Thanks, anyway." On the upside, though, Martha proved to be a source of strength and encouragement along the way. She may not have been able to talk any sense into Clark, but each time Lois called, she always knew the exact right thing to ease the pain. And despite the hurt it caused, Lois made Martha tell her everything about Clark's visits and calls.
"I just miss him so much, Martha."
"I know, honey, I know. I'll tell him."
"Thanks." And she'd hang up and cry.
Her life maintained some semblance of normalcy. She went to work everyday, buried herself in her stories. She came home and ate take-out. She'd watch some TV or go to the gym to wear herself out. And every night, cuddled with her bear, she'd go to sleep with thoughts of Clark. She tried to fool people into thinking she was fine, but everyone at the Planet noticed the missing spark. Mad Dog Lane was gone because she didn't have the energy anymore to keep up the anger. Letting in the hurt was painful, but it brought with it bittersweet memories of Clark. And for her, that was worth it.
Clark hung up the pay phone and looked at it with disgust. His prepaid phone card had worked wonderfully and kept his costs to a minimum, but now there was an added charge of six units just to connect. What a rip-off! Maybe he should just take a quick flight to Kansas…
He sighed. Since he had left Lois, life felt empty. He didn't have the heart to start again at another paper. In the past two years at the Daily Planet it had become home; the staff, family. He knew his resignation had hurt and baffled Perry, and probably Jimmy (unless Lois had concocted some story, which she could no doubt do better than he), but he couldn't stay there and keep his resolve to end it with Lois. He knew that the constant bombardment of her look, her scent, her laugh, her yells, her eyes, her love, her fury…just her presence would prove him weak. Far better to avoid temptation altogether. That way she could forget about him, get on with her life (*safely*), and maybe even fall in love with someone else (oh, how that thought hurt). Definitely better for her this way.
As for himself…well, Clark was content in the knowledge that she was safe. As lonely as he was, as much as he missed her…as much as it hurt, he knew her safety outweighed that small price.
In the six months that he had been gone, he'd slowly expanded Superman's daily activities to span the globe. After all, with no steady job, he had all the free time in the world. He had quit eating, since it wasn't necessary, and usually only got an average of an hour's sleep per twenty-four hour period. But he was still healthy and functioning fine. Except for that hole in his heart…
Periodically he would stop in some rural area and get a temporary job on a farm or something else that was easy to walk away from. The money covered phone bills and clothing expenses. He didn't need much else. He might not be living the high life, but it was living.
Or at least surviving.
And now, once again, as usual, his thoughts returned to Lois. He wondered what she was doing at that moment…it was late evening in Metropolis, so she was probably out on a date.
*Or staying late at the Planet obsessing about a story,* a wry voice said in his head.
*Or off on some dangerous, foolhardy, crazy undercover assignment,* another voice remarked.
*Or sitting home crying into a carton of double chocolate brownie ice cream,* yet a third said.
He told them all to shut up. That was *not* a good direction to let his thoughts wander. Instead he thought of his parents. Every time he called or returned home, his parents urged him to contact Lois (there he went again, thinking of Lois), Jonathan subtly and Martha bluntly.
"You'd better hurry before she gets on with her life, Clark. She won't wait forever," Martha admonished over and over.
"That's what I want, Mom. For her to get on with her life. It's better for her that way." *And I just have to live with that.*
Sometimes Martha was gentle. "But what about you, Clark? What's better for you?" Other times she got angry. "Better for her that way, huh? Well, what does she have to say about that? Doesn't she get any say regarding her own life?"
Once she had even been sarcastic. "Oh, sure, Lois will be perfectly safe. Until she gets some tip too good to pass up, goes undercover, and gets caught. Probably killed because Superman isn't around to save her. Did you ever think of that? Lois has been getting in scrapes since before you ever showed up, but now has gotten used to having the back-up of a Superman rescue. What will happen to her if you're *not* around?"
No matter what approach she took, though, Martha always pushed him. Pushed him to go back. To Lois.
But he couldn't! Why couldn't his mother understand that? He couldn't. And he couldn't stand the temptation and desire that surfaced every time she brought it up. So he cut back on visits and mostly limited himself to short phone calls. It hurt him, it hurt his parents, but it seemed to be the only way.
Besides, he'd hurt Lois badly and she never took kindly to that. Even if she hadn't moved on to another man, he doubted she would take him back. Once burned, twice shy. Well, Lois had been burned many a time and each time served as more material with which to build a protective wall around her heart. It had taken him two years to break through that wall once; he didn't think she would let him in again. Especially since this time he had helped build the wall around a wound he had also caused.
She would probably never even speak to him again, let alone love him.
"Hey, buddy, you gonna use the phone or not?"
Clark's head jolted up and he realized he'd been staring at the phone for ten minutes without moving. He smiled wryly. As always, thoughts of Lois managed to block out the rest of the world for him.
In an instant, he decided.
"Yes, yes I am." He picked up the receiver and began dialing the long string of numbers for his phone card.
"Hi, you've reached Lois Lane. I may be out, or I may be screening calls, you never know." A quick laugh, then the voice continued. "If you're calling about a story, you can get a hold of me at the Planet. If you're a salesperson, don't bother, I'm stingy. Anyone else, leave a message after the beep. And by the way, if this is Clark, I still love you."
Perry sighed. It had been over six months and no matter how many times she changed the message on the machine, Lois always ended with the same phrase. "And by the way, if this is Clark, I still love you." So far, no response from Clark.
As much as Perry had loved Clark during the younger man's time under his tutelage, anger still swelled every time he thought about Clark's actions against Lois. Lois never ventured an explanation, never even said a single word against Clark. It worried Perry. For so many years, any time she was hurt, Lois reacted with anger. It was unhealthy, but it was normal for her.
This, though, this…passivity. Acceptance. This was unusual. And it scared him. Was the anger buried? Waiting for a small spark in order to erupt into flames, consuming everything about her and around her? Or was it the opposite — the anger wasn't even there? Someone had finally hurt her so deeply that there was no longer any room for anger.
After her father, she had been wary. The hurt kept building, but so had the anger. And the anger protected her from allowing anyone to get close enough to cause serious harm. Then someone would cause a flesh wound and she felt vindicated in her protective stance.
But her relationship with Clark was different. Clark broke through the barriers, helped deal with and dissipate the anger. So when he hurt her, there was no longer any scar tissue to protect her heart.
The depth of her trust and love was what allowed her to be hurt so badly. And yet, she still loved him. She still waited. She still hoped.
He didn't understand it.
"Hi, honey, this is Perry." He waited a second to see if she was just screening calls. She didn't pick up, so he assumed she was out. Good for her. "It's Jimmy's birthday Tuesday and Alice wanted to give him a little party. It'll be the two of us, Jimmy, and a couple close friends from the Planet. If you are interested in coming, it'll be Sunday night at 6:30. Feel free to bring a date."
He didn't know why he added that last part. He knew she wouldn't, but he felt, as her surrogate father, that he needed to remind her of her options. Remind her that there could be life after Clark.
When the phone rang, Lois ran to the machine. She had virtually quit answering the phone, choosing instead to screen calls and only answer those that she wanted. She knew her friends found it annoying, but she couldn't help it. She hated to get her hopes up, only to hear a mechanical voice spouting some stupid spiel.
Her recorded message finished and Perry's voice came on. "Hi, honey, this is Perry." He paused and she knew it was to see if she was screening calls. Well, she was, and she didn't feel like picking this one up. Let him assume she was out. If nothing else, it might cheer him up to think she was out having a night on the town. After all, that's what young, single women were supposed to do on Friday nights, right?
"…Sunday night at 6:30. Feel free to bring a date."
Now why did he say that? He knew she wouldn't. But she would probably go. If not to please Perry, then at least to show Jimmy she still cared about him.
She sat down and started making a list of possible gifts when the phone rang. She held her breath until the machine finished speaking and started recording. Then she sighed and bit her bottom lip. Another hang-up sales-person.
"Hi, you've reached Lois Lane. I may be out, or I may be screening calls, you never know." That was his Lois. Keep 'em on their toes, never do what they expect. On the other hand, he'd heard it wasn't a smart idea to let people know you were gone, in case it was a burglar trying to determine if the house was empty and ripe for the taking. With this message, you'd never know if she were home or not.
A quick laugh, which pierced his heart — maybe nobody else heard it, but he could tell it was forced — then her beautiful voice continued. "If you're calling about a story, you can get a hold of me at the Planet." Naturally, work concerns came first.
"If you're a salesperson, don't bother, I'm stingy." Yeah, right. Lois wasn't afraid of spending money, but she always wanted to know she was getting her money's worth and the best product available for her money. But he had to admit, he'd be afraid to try and sell her something on the phone after that statement.
"Anyone else, leave a message after the beep. And by the way, if this is Clark, I still love you."
His heart stopped, he forgot to breathe and his hand tightened to where he almost crushed the receiver. Not a moment too soon he regained enough presence of mind to loosen his grip, which allowed him to slam the phone back on its hook. Why had he done that? It didn't matter, it was too late now.
He fought to catch his breath as he slowly walked away from the pay phone. There was a slight line forming, so he would let them have their turns while he regained control over his wildly vacillating emotions.
She still loved him!
"She still loves me, Mom!" It was a few hours later and Clark was pacing agitatedly around the kitchen as his mother calmly filled her freshly made piecrust.
"Do tell," she said as she opened the oven door and slid the pie in. He chose to ignore her sarcasm and focus on the issue at hand.
After he hung up, he had taken a couple turns around the world, alternating between positive and negative, joy and remorse, elation and regret, excitement and fear. Joy, because she loved him! Despite what he had done to her, the pain, the waiting, the loss; she still loved him! She was waiting for him, willing to endure the teasing and embarrassment that had to come with that public message. And all for him. For love of him. Her love was strong enough to overcome the hurt and anger that had to have resulted from his stupidity. She would forgive him!
On the heels of joy came remorse for wasted time. In his arrogance, his belief that his superstrength entitled him to control over her life and her safety. Yet, though he saw the arrogance of his attitude, he still couldn't shake the feeling that her safety was his responsibility. And because of that, he couldn't continue his relationship with her. That was the whole purpose of leaving — his presence, combined with the widespread knowledge of her close relationship with Superman, was a danger to her. He couldn't stand to be the cause of any injury to her.
Then remorse tagged elation, cried, "You're it!" and fled. His heart welled with the wonderful prospect of seeing Lois again. Hearing her voice. Smelling the wonderful scent of her shampoo mixed with faint perfume. Feeling her body beneath a tight hug, knowing that she would never let go.
Immediately, common sense (at least, his version of it), spoke, tinged with regret. He couldn't go back. Just because she still loved him didn't mean the danger was gone. She would still be known as one of Superman's best friends, and the one he rescued the most often. She would still be a target. If he lost her, especially as a result of someone trying to control him, he couldn't bear it. It didn't matter that she was essentially lost to him now, at least this way he knew she was alive. She was safe. And if it meant he had to stay away forever, he would do it.
Despite his reasonings, excitement couldn't help but surface. He could see her again. He could go back, and she would accept him. The prospect of once again having a home, having a life, and having her back in that life was both tempting and thrilling.
But he was afraid. She said she still loved him, but would they really return to a trusting relationship? Could they? And what about the paper? Would Perry let him back? And what about the risk to Lois? His mind just kept coming back to that same factor. He couldn't risk her. That was just too much.
"I can't risk her safety," he said decisively. "I just can't."
"Clark, listen to her. Listen to your heart." Martha wasn't trying to push, but she was tired of Clark's misguided nobleness. "She's willing to take the risk, and really, it's more her choice than yours. Go to her. Talk to her. Try and work things out. And give *her* a chance to participate in the decision making process." She brushed her hands off on her jeans and looked Clark straight in the eye. "But be careful. If you break her heart again, I don't know if she'll let you back in."
He nodded miserably. "But what if I lose her? I couldn't stand that, Mom. It'd kill me."
"Haven't you lost her now? And, remember, she's lost you, too. And she had no choice in the matter. Did you ever think what this did to her? It's like you're dead, but she can't properly grieve because you're not. Not really. She has no reason to hope for your return, yet she does. Go to her," Martha finished in a whisper.
"And be prepared to grovel!" She tried to lighten to mood to cover her own emotion.
Clark nodded and turned to go. He was still fearful for Lois's well-being, but maybe his mom was right, and Lois did deserve to be involved in the decision making process. This separation was hurting him beyond anything he could have imagined, and obviously it was hurting Lois, too. Maybe they could reach a compromise. Maybe. It was such a cruel and wonderful word, one that could get hopes up and restore dreams, but one that also left room for indescribable agony. He'd already faced incredible anguish and survived. He only hoped he could survive what came next, and learn to live again.
As he left he heard Martha call his name and turned questioningly.
"Do you want to stay for some pie? It'll be ready in less than an hour." There was such hope in her voice. In his obsessing over Lois, he had managed to forget the cost of his self-imposed exile on his parents.
"Sure," he replied, for what else could he do? "I'll go see if Dad needs any help with that fence and then we'll both come in."
"Okay." Martha smiled and reached out to hug him. He hugged her back, trying to hold back tears. He could have his life back. It might not be easy, but it could happen.
Unfortunately, a major earthquake hit California later that evening. With aftershocks, fires, and clearing rubble in search of bodies, three days passed before he even had a chance to think of calling Lois.
"Hi, you've reached the boogey-man. I've taken over all electronic appliances at the home of Lois Lane, so if you're trying to reach her, leave a message. I may or may not deliver it to her, depending on my mood. And by the way, if this is Clark, she still loves you." Beep. Click. Another hang-up.
Lois had to laugh as she heard the message for the first time. She knew Jimmy had been up to something, seeing as he hadn't been able to keep a straight face at work all day. Periodically, he'd sneak into her desk, computer or apartment and leave a small prank to give her a laugh. She knew it was all in fun, and he was doing it to cheer her up, so she went along for the ride. But she always knew when to expect one, because Jimmy had absolutely *no* skill in keeping a straight face. Good thing he always declined invitations to play poker.
This prank was a perfect idea. Jimmy knew that she screened her calls, and in the process heard her own message endless times throughout the evening. And that gravelly voice! She wondered how he managed that one… There were all sorts of voice synthesizers on the computer, she knew — he'd shown her one earlier that week. But how had he managed to transfer that to the answering machine? She mused on that problem as she played back the rest of the messages from earlier.
The three hang-ups were easy to deal with — delete message. The two from her mother were a bit more difficult. In the first Ellen demanded to know who had put that 'simply ridiculous' message on there.
"You have respectable people calling you, Lois; this is no place for some silly, juvenile joke. You really ought to change that. Immediately." Lois smiled. Of course her mother would never understand. She toyed with the idea of leaving it, just to annoy her mother…nah, it wouldn't be worth it. The second message was much like the first, wanting to know where Lois was, why she hadn't fixed that message yet and ordering her to call the *minute* she got back home. Well, that could wait. If all else failed, she could at least tell her mother she was out working late.
Then there was one from Jimmy, proclaiming, "Happy Monday! I just thought I'd give you a laugh. Did it work?" The last message was from Lucy.
"Hey, Lois. It's your long-lost, dearly beloved sister." She could hear the exuberance and zest in her sister's voice. She wished she could feel that way again. It wasn't that she didn't try, but there just never seemed to be any point to it anymore. It was like she'd been deaf all her life, and Clark restored her hearing and introduced her to the beauty of music. Then when he left, all the music went out of tune.
"Long time, no talk to, huh? Well, I can fix that! I'm coming to Metropolis for a conference that starts next Monday, but my flight comes in Friday night. So, I was thinking I could stay at your place, we could spend a couple of nights on the town and have some good ol' sister bonding time. Whaddya say? I'm on flight 1492 — easy to remember, isn't it? '1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue' — with CrossCountry. It arrives at 6:12 PM. Anyway, just give me a call, let me know if this will work or not. Talk to you later, love ya, bye!"
She searched out Lucy's newest phone number, which was quite a process involving three separate address books and a few old e-mails, and gave her a call.
Three hours later, after confirming plans, reminiscing, catching up, and avoiding questions about Clark, Lois hung up. She got up to prepare for bed when the phone rang. It was almost 11, who could be calling her? No salesperson — it was too late. Perry? Only if it was an emergency, and then he probably would have tried her beeper first. Her mother? Heaven forbid.
With that thought in mind, she quickly switched the answering machine to pick up after two rings and waited to see who it was.
"Hi, you've reached the boogey-man." Oh, no, she had forgotten to switch that message. Too late now. She smothered a giggle, anticipating her mother's peeved voice.
"And by the way, if this is Clark, she still loves you." Beep.
"Um…hi, Lois." She knew that voice. That was…oh, my gosh, could it be?
"This is Clark." It was. She tried to swallow, but suddenly her mouth was filled with a large, dried out sponge. Her nails dug into clammy palms as she waited to hear what he would say. For some reason she was incapable of reaching out and picking up.
"Uh, I'm not sure what to say here. I rehearsed a whole speech, but now it sounds stupid. I, uh, noticed you changed the message." She grinned. She couldn't wait to tell Jimmy that after all this time, Clark responded to *his* message. He said he planned what to say, which implied he planned to call, but it was still funny.
"Anyway, if you and the boogey-man are still serious, and you're willing to give me a second chance, call me at my parents. I'll be waiting."
Wait! Don't go! Her hand shot out and picked up the phone, but all she heard was the dial tone. She had missed him. She was tempted to call him right back, but then an idea struck. She would wait. She would see if Lucy were willing to help her with the plan already forming in her head, and then she would return his call.
Clark checked his watch for the third time. He knew he was early, but he couldn't quell his anxiety. Wednesday evening, when he was in town doing some shopping with his dad, she had called back. He'd moped around the house all day Tuesday and Wednesday, waiting for Lois's call, and had just about given up hope. What if she'd changed her mind? Decided he wasn't worth the pain anymore? Not that he could blame her…
Finally, as nervous as he and exasperated to boot, Martha had ordered him out of the house. "If by some chance she calls while you're gone, I'll give you a message! Believe me, after all this time, a few more hours won't kill you."
Sure enough, when he got home, there was a sticky-note attached to the microwave above the phone.
"Lois called. Meet her at *The Velvet Lounge* (she said you'd know where it's at), Friday night at 9:15."
Naturally he'd wanted to rush to the phone and call her back, but Martha blocked him.
"She said not to call back. Just meet her there. She has her reasons, and frankly I agree with her." Obviously Martha was now firmly on Lois's side.
And now here he was. Friday night, barely nine o'clock and he'd already been waiting for almost a half an hour. He couldn't help it if he was a little over-eager.
A band was on stage playing some upbeat dance music and people were scattered all over the floor, dancing. Some in pairs, some in groups, some alone. Tables formed a half circle around the dance floor and people sat and talked, or listened to the music. It was an all ages bar, so alcohol wasn't served. He remembered reporting on the uprising of this new kind of club, geared toward all ages and promoting fun without alcohol. Those who wished to drink could still go to bars, but this one was firm in its no-alcohol policy.
The band finished their song and an MC got up announcing open mike night. There was a list of performers who'd signed up earlier, but there was room for more. If anybody wanted to participate, all they had to do was go to the table by the bar and sign up. No previous experience necessary.
The first singer was pretty good. In her late teens, she sounded like she could go far if she got a little more training. Another plus was that she had written her own song. As much as he enjoyed writing, and as much as people told him that he had a very poetic, lyrical style to his journalism, Clark had never had much success with real poetry or songwriting.
The next act, a guy-girl duo, needed some more polishing. But they definitely had enthusiasm and stage presence, singing to the audience and to each other, making good use of the stage.
Then the lights dimmed and the band began playing the intro music to the third singer. It was much softer than the previous two and Clark had a hunch that it would be a love song. He glanced down at his watch. 9:17. Where was Lois? He happened to glance to the side of the stage and saw a woman exiting that looked almost exactly like Lucy, Lois's sister. Wait a minute, it was Lucy! Now what was she doing here? And why did she have that incredibly smug look on her face?
And then he saw *her.* Lois walked out on the stage, dressed in a beautiful burgundy dress — his favorite color on her. In an instant he discovered the reason behind Lucy's smug look.
She started singing and he was mesmerized both by her voice and by the words she sang.
*"Before the pain could die,
I had to learn to cry.
Tears were trapped
Behind a frozen stare."*
He felt like she was speaking about their own lives. Despite the pain in her life, Lois rarely, if ever, gave in to the healing power of tears. She always locked them inside, refusing to deal with them at all. But if what his mom said was true, then this time she had allowed the tears to come, to wash away the anger and pain of all her relationships.
*"I kept it all inside,
I took my life in stride."*
That was Lois. Never give in, never give up. Keep fighting, keep moving on. If you don't let it get to you, eventually it will go away.
*"It's not easy to share
When there's no one to care."*
Oh, Lois. What must her life have been like? Nobody cared enough to see the true woman inside, the passion, the love, the hurt, the fire. And then he came along and earned her trust, only to throw it in her face.
*"But your love was so strong
Gently proved I was wrong
It's so good to know you're always there."*
Oh, the guilt. What had he done to her? Always there, what a joke. She was singing this after he'd left her? Was she trying to punish him? Throw what he had done back in his face?
But no, he knew she wasn't. Watching her up there, singing with such love in her eyes. She was telling him what she had felt, and what she still felt now.
*"You hold me when I'm lonely."*
Images flashed through his mind. Hugging her, loving her, protecting her from the world. Kissing her, playing with her, working with her.
*"You take away the pain,
You have never let me down."*
Well, he'd let her down this once, but inside, he vowed never to do it again. Especially when he heard her next words.
*"I know if I could only be able to explain
The way it makes me feel
Just knowin' you're around."*
*Lois, I'm here. I'll stay forever.*
*"You made it clear to me
That you'd be near to me
When you said that you would never leave." *
*And I won't. Never again, Lois.*
*"Still every now and then
I feel alone again.
It's so easy to be
Feeling sorry for me." *
He could see the tears in her eyes. She wasn't just singing this song, she was living it. He wanted to restore the happiness that had shone through in the chorus. He wanted to go up there and comfort her. Let her know that he was here to stay.
*"But when you take my hand
Somehow I understand
That your love is all I really need." *
*And yours is all I need, Lois.* The joy was back, for both of them. She lit up as she sang, the love she felt obvious in her every expression, her every move. Was it as obvious to the rest of the audience as it was to him?
*"You hold me when I'm lonely
You take away the pain
You have never let me down."*
Never again would she feel loneliness or pain because of him. He would do anything to protect her, but now he knew that she needed to have a choice. It was her life, she needed to live it. But if she'd let him, he'd be there to hold her, to ease the pain. He wouldn't let her down.
*"I know if I could only be able to explain
The way it makes me feel
Just knowin' you're around."*
Her voice softened as she repeated the last two lines to fading music.
*"The way it makes me feel
Just knowin' you're around."*
The music ended and she looked him straight in the eyes. She whispered into the microphone.
"And by the way, Clark, I still love you."
"Austin" by Blake Shelton. "Knowin' You're Around" by Twila Paris from her album of the same name.
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