By Snave <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: September 2005
Summary: "Angels exist. They really do. And sometimes, they are even closer than we think." Especially if you happen to have a six-year-old daughter named Emma Kent.
As you will quickly be able to discern, this is my first FoLC fic — actually, my first fanfic of any kind. But I recently ran across a story by Lynn M.; and after encountering its delightful (and totally unexpected) ending, the Muse caught hold of me, and this is the result. This piece builds on that ending, and I hope I may be forgiven for expanding on Lynn's concept. [Spoiler warning: I don't want to be too specific in this foreword; please see the afterword at the end of the story for the full attribution.]
As usual, this story is solely for fun, and not for profit. The characters which are recognizably the property of December 3rd Productions, remain so. Any characters not claimed by Lynn are mine.
"Thanks, Mama," Emma Kent said solemnly as she received the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich from her mother. She waited while the obligatory glass of milk was poured, then slid into a seat at the kitchen table to enjoy the after-school snack.
Lois Lane smiled down at her daughter while clearing away the sandwich makings. Emma was in the middle of a growth spurt; and Lois and Clark were hard-pressed to keep her in clothes that still fit. Of course, a six-year-old just starting first grade needed to look her best; but it would be nice if the shirts, jeans and sneakers had a chance to show a *little* wear before being outgrown.
She suppressed a chuckle as Emma scarfed down the sandwich, reminding Lois of the stories with which Martha had regaled her regarding Clark's appetite at that age.
"As soon as you're done there, you can go up to your room and get in some quality play time while we wait for your daddy to get home. If you get your room cleaned, you can watch that video you got for your birthday last winter."
"Okay," agreed Emma as she washed down the remainder of the sandwich with the rest of her milk, then squirmed with impatience as her mother held out the damp paper towel for her to clean the damage off her face and hands. This done, she went over to the entertainment cabinet, pulled out the video, and headed upstairs to her room. Lois' eyes followed her thoughtfully. While Emma had her share of rambunctiousness, she had lately been more than usually sober. Perhaps she worried about keeping the family secret. She had learned nearly a year ago, by stumbling upon a careless kiss between Lois and Superman, and the resulting confession, that her father was none other than the famous Man of Steel. Clark had, of course, obsessed that it was a very weighty responsibility for a girl of her tender years to carry around such a secret. But, except for being a little more solemn than usual, she seemed to be taking things well. She hadn't even told her little sister the secret, which Lois and Clark both thought rather amazing in a child Emma's age.
And thinking of said little sister, Lois decided that she had better make use of the time afforded while Gracie was being tended by her maternal grandmother, as Ellen Lane rarely made such an offer. In fact, the only other time the offer had been extended was last month, when Ellen had reluctantly agreed to take care of Gracie while she and Clark had taken Emma to have her portrait photo taken in honor of her starting grade school.
Expressing silent thanks for small favors, Lois gathered up her laptop computer case and sat down in the center of the sofa, spreading out her files on both sides of her, and quickly setting up the laptop on the coffee table. Today had been quite busy, what with the discovery at City Hall that someone was bleeding off large amounts of funds properly allocated for street repair; and she and Clark had been back and forth all day between the Daily Planet and the city offices, to such an extent that she had not even had five minutes to read her mail before needing to head down to the Jeep and rush to pick up Emma from school.
She reached for the small stack of mail and absently thumbed through it. Near the back, she came across a business-sized envelope with no return address. It was addressed, simply, to Lois Lane, c/o The Daily Planet. Perhaps this was a tip of some sort. Reporters often earned their bread and butter by acting on such tips; in any case, Lois was curious enough to not simply discard the item out-of-hand. She slit the envelope open and emptied out the contents: a photograph, with a small, three- letter notation on the back, and a two-page typed letter. She glanced at the second page and noticed that the letter was unsigned. Yep, definitely an anonymous tip. 'Curiouser and curiouser,' said Alice.
Lois picked up the photo, which showed a smiling man, wearing a life jacket and sitting with his legs dangling off the stern of a small powerboat. The angle of the photo revealed both the stern, and one side of the boat. The name of the boat appeared to be hand-painted on the stern, but was done in such intricate and ornate scrollwork and curlicues that the name itself was not immediately legible. The background visible in the photo was of the Hobbs Bay Marina; she could see the sign on the side of the harbormaster's office. Glancing again at the figure of the man, she noticed that one hand was out from his side, and he seemed to be deliberately pointing at himself. Or maybe, she guessed, he was pointing at the floatation vest which he wore.
Turning her attention back to the letter, Lois settled comfortably back into the sofa cushions and began to read. "Dear Ms. Lane: Let me begin by assuring you that I am not a kook…" Lois rolled her eyes and grinned at that, muttering "Yeah, right. 'Methinks thou dost protest too much!'" She read on, "…although I'm sure that you will be tempted to decide otherwise after you read this. You see, Ms. Lane, angels exist. They really do." Oh, thought Lois with a tired release of breath; another Superman sighting. It was amazing, what with people having day-to-day encounters with — or accounts of — Clark's super-rescues, that so many of the rescues still got attributed to some sort of supernatural cause. Resignedly, she read on.
"I'm not a particularly religious man; and the purpose of this letter isn't to preach any kind of sermon. But my own life was saved just a month ago by a real, honest-to-goodness angel. If it hadn't been for her appearing at the precise instant that she was needed, I wouldn't be here to write this."
Wait a minute. Her? She? What was going on here? Her interest re-kindled, Lois continued to read.
"I was actually lifted by the hand — well, sort of — out of what would have been a watery grave in the depths of Hobbs Bay, by this little being who descended straight from the sky…"
*Sort of* lifted? By a *little* angel? Lois read on, now completely fascinated.
A Month Ago:
Walter found it hard to get over the euphoria he felt as he squinted into the wind. It was a gorgeous day, even if the water was a little choppy; and his little boat bounced along from wave crest to wave crest, even though he was running at only half- throttle. This little baby had cost him almost more than he was able to afford; but she was definitely worth it. He had wanted a boat that was fast, but not *too* fast, one that he could take out into the bay on a day such as this, and feel the wind in his hair.
He grinned almost ashamedly at himself. He had absolutely no nautical expertise or experience. Heck, he couldn't even swim, except to barely dogpaddle across the community pool in his neighborhood. But he had always been fascinated by the sailboats and motor launches which he could see from his dining room window, as they seemed to skim effortlessly along the length of the bay; and he had finally decided that he had to have one. After wandering around a showroom or two, he had finally found just the craft that met his fancy; and thirty minutes later, he was heading home, his four-by-four proudly towing the trailer which held his new little power boat for all to see and admire.
His first challenge had come when he'd tried to back the boat trailer into his garage. He now knew that there was a world of difference between watching someone else back up a trailer without jackknifing it into the back of the vehicle, and doing it himself. However, after twenty minutes of frustrating effort and near misses, the trailer with its precious cargo was ensconced in the garage — where it had sat for weeks. He had spent every evening after work reading and re-reading boating manuals, or out in the garage applying coat after coat of paste wax to the already gleaming hull, in hopes that this would help his little beauty to slide more effortlessly through the water. But, finally a Saturday rolled around when he could no longer put off the inevitable; and here he was, doing the thing he had daydreamed of for so long while sitting before his window.
Walter made a minor adjustment to the throttle lever — not that it needed it, but just because it felt good — and turned the wheel to steer parallel to the shore. He was only about a quarter of a mile out, and could easily make out the trees and picnic tables of the little park that he was passing, although no one seemed to be at the park today — probably because it was a little too breezy for picnicking. He wriggled his shoulders again, noticing how uncomfortable the life jacket felt; then he grimaced with embarrassment as he realized that he had put it on inside-out. Cursing himself for the landlubber that he was, he stood up and set about removing it; not an easy task when the releases were all backward from how they were supposed to be. At last, having the infernal thing finally off, he turned it around to put it back on.
And several things happened at once. A large power launch zoomed by at a speed much faster than the posted speed limit for this part of the bay. Its wake caught his boat, causing it to lurch violently, and knocking him off balance. As he fell, he instinctively grabbed at the two items immediately handy: the wheel, causing it to spin hard to one side, and the throttle lever, causing the engine to race to full power. The combination of the wake hitting him, the sudden sharp turn, and the increase of thrust, combined to cause his little boat to skitter into the air, executing a perfect half-roll and coming to rest upside-down in the water. Walter was thrown from the boat and landed with a shock in the cold Atlantic water a dozen feet to one side. The life jacket, unfortunately, was thrown in the opposite direction, landing fifty feet away on the other side of the boat, out of his sight.
The engine had immediately quit, and the boat bobbed up and down in the water scant yards out of Walter's reach. After a brief moment of panic, he found that he was managing to stay afloat, albeit with considerable effort due to his miniscule swimming ability. He began dogpaddling over to the boat. When he reached it, he placed his hands on the hull and gave a kick, intending to heave himself up onto the upturned hull — but his hands slid off. So he began to feel along the gunwale, now several inches underwater, for something to grasp onto, but found nothing. Working his way around to the bow, he located the metal handgrip used to drag the boat onto the trailer; but it was nearly a foot beneath the surface. Continuing along the far side, he was distracted by a flash of orange further out to sea: his life vest bobbed up and down in the water, by now about a hundred feet away, and being pushed ever outward by the wind and waves. He quickly struck out for the vest; but after only a dozen feet, he realized that he would never make it. Besides, the breeze was from the shore, and he figured that even if he reached the life jacket, he would be carried out to sea with no hope of rescue. He would do better to stay with the boat.
Moving now to the stern, he found that he could reach up and grip the rudder, but the choppy water continually thrust him against the propeller, and he was seriously worried that he would soon be sliced to ribbons against the metal blades if he stayed where he was. Trying instead to grasp the propeller blades themselves, he quickly discovered that the clutch had released when the engine had stopped; and the prop rotated freely, not giving him anything firm to hold onto. Again grabbing hold of the rudder, he attempted to heave himself up over the stern. But he soon determined that waxing the hull had been a very bad idea; the damp fiberglass hull was now so slick that his mightiest effort, even though he once got part of his upper torso onto the hull, came to naught as he slid off again into the water.
He found that he was getting very tired, and cold. As a last effort, he tried moving to the side, stopping amidships, kicking with all his might and shoving upward while gripping the submerged gunwale, hoping to turn the boat right side up. But the salesman had assured him that because this boat had a shallower-than-normal keel, it would be almost impossible to overturn in rough seas; and he now saw that the reverse was also true, and it would be impossible for him to right the craft. A cold knot began to grip Walter's insides as he realized that he was in trouble — very serious trouble.
"Okay, who's for more potato salad?" asked Clark, waving the bowl in front of his wife and older daughter.
"Come on, Clark, you know I'm over my carb limit already," Lois grumbled good-naturedly. "If I ate another bite, I'd have to spend an hour at the gym — which is hard to do when I'm the resident babysitter. I can barely find time to get to my Tae Kwon Do class as it is."
"What about you, Pumpkin? You want to split this with me?" He held the bowl out to Emma.
Emma grinned in unholy glee. "How about I race ya?"
"You're on!" said Clark, quickly divvying up the remainder of the salad onto his and Emma's plates — but making sure to give his daughter the smaller portion. "Ready?" She nodded, and they were off.
"Clark!" squawked Lois. "You're teaching her terrible table manners!" They didn't seem to be listening. "Emma, don't you dare get even a smidgen of food on that dress! I don't want to have to take it to the cleaners the very first day."
But her warning was not needed, as Emma, though careful, managed to shovel in the last bite just ahead of her father. "I win; I win!" she said around the final mouthful. Lois examined the satiny material, but found the dress unharmed.
"I swear, you're giving your daughter an awful upbringing," she grumped, trying to keep the corners of her mouth from curling upward.
"Oh, honey, lighten up!" Clark grinned. "It isn't every day our daughter gets her first portrait taken." He turned to Emma. "I thought you did a good job sitting still for the lady behind the camera. Besides," he said, gesturing toward Emma's empty plate while turning back to Lois, "maybe she'll inherit my metabolism and invulnerability. Maybe she'll grow up and be able to eat bombs!" He grinned at Emma.
But Lois noticed that at that comment, Emma had gone quiet. Again. "What's wrong, sweetie?" she asked, trying to keep her voice nonchalant.
"Nothing. Can I go play on the hill?" Emma wiped her mouth with the paper towel and wriggled off the bench.
"Okay. But take off those shoes and socks first, or they'll be all dusty when you come back. And don't go down to the shore; I don't want you falling in the water and getting that dress wet." Emma quickly sat down on the grass and undid the latches on the shiny black shoes. Pulling them and the white stockings off, she set them on the picnic bench, and then walked purposefully up the little tree-studded hill that separated their picnic spot from the bay, as Lois followed her with her eyes.
"Clark, I'm worried about her. Every time the subject of your powers comes up, she gets all quiet. I think that the thought of them scares her."
"Hmm. I've been noticing the same thing. Maybe she's nervous about possibly getting superpowers when she reaches puberty, like I did." He paused. "Lois, do you think being the daughter of an alien freaks her out?"
Immediately Lois reached over and placed a hand on Clark's. "Oh, honey, of course not." She grinned. "You're obsessing again. I just think that it was kind of a shock the way she found out about you, that's all. But I worry that having to keep your secret — our secret — from everyone, even from my mom and dad, not to mention Gracie, is hard on her. After all, she was only five when she found out. And I've noticed this behavior, this…" she waved her arm in the air, "…withdrawal, on each of the few occasions when the subject has come up — and even on those times when you've had to go and be Superman, and she's figured out where you've gone. I think we need to find time to sit down and talk with her about it. Maybe today — oh, no. What is it?" She had seen Clark's head lean to the side, and a far-away, listening expression cloud his features.
"Fire at the LexOil chemical plant. I'm afraid this one might take a while." He looked around and, lowering his glasses and using his super-vision, determined that no one was within sight of their secluded picnic spot, except Emma, who was now at the top of the little hill, looking back at them; then he stood and spun into the Suit.
"That's okay; I brought along that new novel. I'm just going to curl up on the blanket and read until you get…back…" Before she finished speaking, Superman waved up the hill to Emma and rocketed into the air.
Emma stared down at her father as he did his spin-thingy and flew up into the sky. Her lips compressed together, and she turned to gaze instead out over the bay.
Her daddy was Superman. He was Superman; and he thought that, when she grew up, she would be Superman too. He and Mama had explained to her that he had begun to get his powers when he was about twelve, and he hadn't learned how to fly until he was eighteen — all grown up.
But she could already fly.
She had discovered this one day in her bedroom shortly after she had learned about her daddy being Superman, when she had been sitting cross-legged on her bed, looking at a picture book. She had been engrossed in looking at the pictures, leaned back, and realized with a start that she was toppling off the bed. Alarmed, and trying to right herself, she had thought, *up*! And she had found herself floating, hovering a few inches above the bed. Filled with wonder, she had practiced, and found that she could do it anytime she wanted to, by simply thinking *up*, and then thinking about the direction she wanted to go. Day after day, when her bedroom door was locked and Daddy wasn't home from picking Gracie up from daycare, so he couldn't see her with his x-ray eyes, she would practice hovering and swooping around the bedroom. Once, when her mama and Gracie were both taking naps, she had opened her bedroom door, thought *up*, and then sailed silently down the stairs and through the entire house. Several times.
She could already fly.
And she would soon get Daddy's other powers. And then she would have to be Superman, and save everybody's life. And *she was only five*! And she was afraid.
So she had decided at the time that, if no one knew, if no one found out about her powers, she wouldn't have to be Superman until she was older — maybe until she was all grown up, like Daddy. Then she could pretend that she had just got the powers, and no one would know that she had had them since she was a little girl.
And so she had done for nearly a year now.
She relaxed a little, looking out over the soothing vista of the bay. She felt the breeze at her back, ruffling her hair and her dress. She saw a motorboat way out in the water, bouncing along the little waves; and she thought how much fun it would be to ride in one of those. She saw a bigger boat zooming along, and making two great big waves behind it. It zoomed past the little boat.
Then Emma's mouth dropped open as one of the big waves caught up with the little boat; and it bounced into the air, flipping it upside down and causing it to land in the water with a great splash.
She wondered what had become of the man driving the boat. As she did, the scene around the capsized boat seemed to sharpen, and she clearly saw the man's head come up out of the water. He sputtered, and then began to swim, with funny little doggie strokes, back toward the boat.
With an increasingly uneasy feeling, she watched as he tried without success to climb onto the boat, and then started his slow circuit around it. When he came all the way around to the back of the boat, he tried again several times to climb up onto it; but each time he seemed to slip off. She saw him swim to the side and try to push upward. He must be trying to turn the boat over, she thought. But he looked so little compared to the boat that she was not surprised when his effort failed.
Then Emma blinked as the man simply dropped out of sight, disappearing beneath the waves. She watched for a couple of minutes, but the man's head did not re-appear. Was he *drownded*? Alarmed, Emma turned around, intent on calling her mother. Then she realized that there was no way her mama could get help in time to save the man. Somebody needed to *do* something, and do it right away. Turning back, she stared at the boat. There was still no sign of the man. She watched, in indecision and near panic, for two or three more minutes — minutes that seemed like an eternity.
Then she remembered. She could fly. Maybe she could fly right out to the boat and save the man.
But it was so *very* far away. She had never flown more than a few trips around the house; and this was a much longer distance. This was almost as far as the drive to school! If she could not go that far, she would fall into the ocean and drown herself.
But the man was drowning already! Maybe he was already drownded.
Emma took a quavering breath and thought, *up*! Her feet cleared the grassy ground, and she began to move hesitantly forward. She glanced down and saw the shoreline just ahead. She stopped, hovering. Mama had said not to go down to the shore; she might get her dress wet.
Wait a minute. She didn't have to go *down* to the shore; she could go above it instead. She moved out over the water a few dozen feet, turned around in the air, and looked back. She was over water. And she became afraid. She began to drift back toward the shore, toward the hill, toward safety.
The thought came back to her: But he's drowning! She turned again to face the boat — and saw a hand reach up out of the water beside it. He was still alive!
*Go*, she thought. *GO*! And she was speeding over the dark water toward her destination, hair streaming out behind her, fear forgotten, the fierce light of a mission shining in her young eyes.
It was running out, thought Walter. The air was running out. And so were his options. The cold knot returned to his stomach.
He had realized, just in time, that there was yet one place of temporary safety. He had ducked under the boat and come up with his head inside the open, inverted cockpit, just forward of the wide front seat. As he had hoped, there was a large bubble of air several inches high trapped within the cockpit; and he could hold easily onto the steering wheel while keeping his head up within the bubble, which encompassed the area from the wide rear seat to the ample stowage area under the dashboard. He had felt his strength returning and, even though he was getting colder, his exhausted panting had lessened, and he was able to relax somewhat and prevent his muscles from cramping with fatigue.
But after eight or ten minutes within the bubble, the air was becoming stale, and he felt the exhaustion returning. He knew that he could not stay under there.
Grabbing onto the horn ring so he could hold the wheel one-handed without it turning, he slid sideways and reached his other arm out along the gunwale, bent his elbow, and stretched his forearm up the side of the hull until it broke water. If he could just… No. He felt the hull, and it was as slippery as ever.
It came over him then, that he had reached the end of his rope; there were no more options.
He took a deep breath of the now-foul air, and let his head sag into the water. All those things he had wanted to do—all of the bright, shiny future he had mapped out for himself and Karen—he had thrown it all away for this vain, stupid fling! His eyes were smarting as his tears mingled with the salt water against his face, and he knew that these were the last tears he would ever shed, the last breaths he would ever take.
Walter became aware of something nibbling at his fingers. No! he thought savagely. He wasn't about to let some fish have him, not while he could still kick, or punch, or whatever it took. He swung his body out from under the boat and looked up through the water to see something hovering in the air beside the overturned hull. It was reaching out as though to grasp his hand.
His head broke the surface, and he gasped as blessed fresh air flowed once more into his lungs. Then he almost choked in surprise as he looked up to see a child poised in the air in front of him. It was a little girl. She was dressed all in white, and she was trying to take hold of his hand.
'She's come to take me,' he thought. 'She was sent to bring me home.'
Walter gulped in another lungful of the fresh, brisk air and felt the sea breeze blow against the side of his face. He looked at the little apparition and thought, 'No, please! I want to live; there has to be more for me than this!'
He jerked his hand away, even as she took a firm grip on his wrist. As the hand pulled free, he stared at it.
There was blood smearing down the back of his hand, where one of her small fingernails had scratched him.
Wha … What was going on?! She wasn't an insubstantial being reaching for his insubstantial soul; she wanted him. *Himself*. SHE WAS TRYING TO SAVE HIM!
As the adrenalin surged through him, he thrust out his hand, and the solemn, even worried, expression on her little face changed to a wavery smile — a smile that now matched his own. As she again took his hand in both of hers, he thought, 'I'm safe! I will live!' His Guardian Angel had arrived.
Emma thought, why wouldn't he let her save him? He would drown if she couldn't get hold of his hand. But then the man smiled and freely held the hand out to her. She grasped it with both of her small hands and thought, *up*. She began to rise, pulling him out of the water — at least, until the water level dropped to just above his waist — and stuck there.
'It's not supposed to *be* like this,' she thought. 'I'm supposed to save him!' As she willed herself to pull harder, she felt something sliding over her legs. She glanced back, scandalized to find that she was almost vertical in the air, feet straight up — and the hem of her new dress was starting to slide northward. She gave an involuntary gasp, promptly let go of the man's hand, and rotated herself to a nearly horizontal position. As the man's head resurfaced, he looked at her oddly as she again lowered herself toward the water and reached for his upraised hand.
She then tried pulling him up onto the slightly rounded hull … but not enough of his body would come out of the water. As soon as she would let go of his hand, he would immediately slide off the boat back into the ocean. After the third try, she gave a frustrated huff of breath and screwed up her face into an exasperated frown. She glanced down to find the man grinning delightedly at her. As his eyes met hers, though, the grin immediately vanished, and an appropriately solemn expression replaced it. Then she heard his voice for the first time: "Maybe we'd better try something else."
They finally ended up with her sitting on the hull, with her feet dangling in the water, and holding his wrist to keep him from sliding off as his forearms draped across the hull to her left. This almost hadn't worked, as each time she tried it, she would start to slide off herself — until she had caught on to the trick of thinking, *back*, and letting her body push horizontally toward the center of the boat to balance the slipping. They stayed this way for a few moments, each silently regarding the other. She wanted to tell him that he would be okay, that she would find a way to save him. But her parents had made it clear that she should *not* talk to strangers, under any circumstances! So she just solemnly met his equally solemn gaze and maintained her silence.
As Walter again relaxed and let his strength return with each breath, he found himself staring at his would-be rescuer. She appeared to be about the equivalent of a five- or six-year-old human child, and she was beautiful — when she wasn't frowning, or scowling, as though disappointed in her performance. She wore a single piece of outer clothing: a knee-length dress of some iridescent material like shiny satin, which seemed to snatch the sunlight and throw it back at you. She appeared to be taking great pains to avoid letting it get wet; she obviously didn't want to contaminate it with earthly elements. Her hair was dark, almost black, and she had eyes of a deep, emerald-green. He had never seen eyes like those.
It was obvious that she had no means of speech; she had been completely silent since her arrival. That was sad; he had so many questions he would have liked to ask her. "You know," he said quietly to her, "I really am sorry I refused to let you hold my hand when you first arrived. I didn't want to go with you, because I thought you were here to take me away — to heaven, or," he bowed his head in self-recrimination, "maybe someplace else…"
He jerked his head back up as his ears were treated to a totally unexpected sound: a *giggle*!! Her eyes were wide, and dancing with barely controlled merriment. He grinned back at her. Well, that answers that, he thought. She definitely had a voice; and a nice one, at that. Maybe she simply wasn't *allowed* to speak to mortals.
He rambled on. "I'm awfully sorry that I was too heavy for you to lift. It's too bad you can't simply push the back of the boat down, so I could climb on myself…" He gulped as her hand suddenly released his wrist, and he slid back into the water. He looked back up at her, to find her mouth forming an amazed "Oh".
Could it work? Could she actually do that? She'd never tried such a thing before. The whole idea of flying was to go *up*; when she wanted to land, or descend, she would just let gravity take over. But what if she could fly *down*? As she thought about it, she couldn't see any reason why it wouldn't… She quickly levitated back to a standing position, and moved so as to be over the center of the boat, about three feet forward of the stern. Then she lowered herself until her feet touched the hull, steadied herself, and thought *down*!
The stern dropped about two inches further into the water.
"Yes!" said the man.
Encouraged by this, she exerted more downward pressure — and gave a startled cry as her feet shot neatly out from under her, and she landed on her bottom. Hard. The man gave a gasp of his own, and then was laughing, and then coughing as he tried to avoid inhaling more saltwater. She glared at him, then stood and floated into the air.
He looked alarmed. "No — wait! I'm sorry; I didn't mean to offend you. Please don't leave!"
She stood ramrod straight in the air, put her hands on her hips, and glared at him again for good measure. He looked suitably contrite — but his lips were twitching. Then she was laughing and he was laughing, and the tension was over.
She again landed on her previous spot, facing aft; but this time she knelt down, careful of the dress, and leaned forward with her arms straight down in front of her, hands on the hull, and fingers splayed apart for good measure. *Down*. The stern sank lower in the water. *Down*! her mind demanded, and the pressure on her knees and rigid arms increased to almost more than she could bear.
Water lapped over the stern.
Quickly, the man was at the stern of the boat, grabbing the thingy that stuck up in the back, and sliding himself onto the hull. "Excuse me," he said as he grasped her rigid wrist, and — most carefully — slid forward, one knee bent to the side, until he could place a foot against the upthrust piece. Then he moved a hand to each side until his fingers curled over the edges of the hull. Emma released her will, and the hull again rose up nearly to its former height above the waves. She quickly scooted back to give the man more room and rubbed her achy forearms.
He looked at her. "You did good," he said. And she smiled.
Dimples, thought Walter. Mustn't forget those enchanting dimples. He began to gently ease himself forward — and gasped as one hand nearly lost its tenuous grip on the side of the hull. So far so good, he thought as he steadied himself, but what now?
She rose off the hull and drifted around to where they could see each other without his needing to turn his head.
"Well," he said with a wry expression, "you did your job well. And I'll never forget you. Thank you for giving my life back to me." Then, to his embarrassment, he felt a tear begin to run down his cheek. Then she rose another ten feet and began to drift away — and he nearly fainted in sudden panic. "Wait — wait! I just remembered! Could you please bring me my life vest before you go?"
She just stared at him with a puzzled expression. What…is…this? Walter thought disjointedly. Surely an angel would know what a life jacket was…
"It's over there," he nodded out towards the entrance to the bay. "It's orange," he added. She turned to stare in the indicated direction, and then was moving swiftly over the water to a spot about a football field's length away. She reached down to the water and hoisted the vest up to where he could see it. He nodded, and she was soon back at his side. She handed him the dripping vest.
Emma watched while he carefully put on the life vest. Then she sighed, a deep mournful sigh of finality. The man was saved, and now she *had* to go. Otherwise, her mama would come up the hill looking for her, and she would find out that Emma could fly, and she would have to be Superman right away, and…
Emma's thoughts whirled to a halt. Wait. Hadn't she just saved someone? Maybe she could do this after all. Although best to not give away her secret until she was sure. The sigh turned into a radiant smile as she rose higher into the air.
"Wait, please!" the man said. "Just one more thing." He looked at her with a wistful smile. "I'm sure you know my name; but before you go — please tell me yours."
Whoa! This was getting into serious territory again. Her parents had made it very clear that, not only did children never talk to strangers, but *under no circumstances* did they *ever* tell a stranger their name! She slowly shook her head from side to side, her eyes wide and solemn.
"I just want some way to remember you!" the man said, his voice sad and almost plaintive. He was such a nice man. Then she had an idea. Maybe she could bend the rule just a *little* bit…
Lois laid down the first page of the letter, and picked up the second. Just then, there was a *whoosh* from the direction of the kitchen, and Clark came striding in, adjusting his tie. He cleared a space beside her on the sofa and sat down, placing an arm around her shoulders.
"Whatcha doin'?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows at her.
She responded by leaning up to his down turned face and giving his lips a quick peck.
"Oh. Work, huh?" He flashed her a faux-disappointed expression.
"Clark, take a look at this." She passed him the envelope, sans return address, and the first page of the letter, while she proceeded to finish the second page.
"… When I asked her what her name was," the writer continued, "she looked really wary, as if I were somehow asking something forbidden. But I took a chance and asked again. As she rose into the air and departed, she turned and spoke a single word — the only word she uttered during her entire 'visit.'
"It was a name — a simple name, yet hauntingly beautiful — a name which I had never heard before. And when I say 'haunting' I mean more than just in the aesthetic sense. The name stayed in my thoughts, and I had to find out more about it. I checked around, but after several weeks of searching, I found only a single reference to such a name — interestingly enough, in the on-line archives of your own newspaper, The Daily Planet.
"No, Ms. Lane; I'm not including the name in this letter. But know this: As I said at the beginning, angels exist. They really do. And sometimes, they are even closer than we think."
Lois handed the second sheet to Clark, who skimmed it at super- speed. She heaved out a quick breath. "Well! What do you make of that?"
Clark picked up the accompanying photo and studied it. "This come with it?"
"Yeah, and it's just as goofy as the letter."
"Wait a minute. I remember this guy. Remember the day of our picnic with Emma last month? I was coming back from the LexOil fire when I saw this same guy down in the water, sitting on his capsized boat. I went down and righted the boat for him, and warmed him up with a little heat vision. Then I asked if I could give him a tow somewhere. He just looked funny, and said, 'No, Superman, my guardian angel has already done more for me today than I deserve.' When I left him, he was determinedly trying to get his engine started. Hmm," he added. "It looks like he's re- painted the boat. I don't blame him; the hull was so slick he was nearly sliding off it when I first saw him." Clark continued to stare absently at the picture.
This gave Lois a clear view of the rear of the photo, and she suddenly snatched it out of Clark's hand. He raised an eyebrow at her, but she was intently studying three small characters typed on the back of the print. She remembered having noticed them when she had first opened the envelope. They were typed in a group, but not at the center of the print, nor particularly near any one side of it.
She studied them more closely. At first she thought she was looking at a Smiley from an e-mail. But this one was slightly different; it had a semicolon instead of the usual colon for the eyes.
A semi-colon, a hyphen, and a close-parenthesis. A wink and a grin.
A thoughtful expression on her face, she placed her thumb over the little triplet of letters, and her forefinger in the corresponding spot on the other side of the photo. Turning the print over, she removed her finger, and found that it had been covering the name on the little boat.
Clark was intently watching her progress.
She squinted, and carefully studied the scrollwork and curlicues of the boat's monogram. And it suddenly popped out at her.
Two pairs of wide eyes met, and then narrowed, turning in unison toward the stairs. Two strident voices called out in perfect synchrony, "Emma Lara Kent, you get down here RIGHT NOW!"
The sun had just set, and the twilight was beginning to fade as Clark Kent leaned forward and pressed the doorbell button before him, and then glanced nervously at his wife at his side. After a moment the porch light was turned on, and the ornate front door swung open.
"Mister Middleton?" he said, and the man standing in the doorway nodded slightly. "My name is Clark Kent, and this…"
"…And this is Lois Lane, and you're reporters from The Daily Planet." He glanced down at the small person standing between them, and his face assumed a disarming grin. "Well! Hello again…Lara," he said. "Or should I say, Emma?" As Clark and Lois exchanged glances, he stepped back. "Won't you please come in? Of course, I knew you would find me, but I hardly expected it to be this soon!"
He led them through a well-appointed front entryway and into a comfortable, well-arranged and spacious sitting room, which was extremely tidy. Adjusting the room lights, he gestured the three of them toward a wide sofa, then sat down in a comfortable armchair across the coffee table from them.
"Well," he began immediately, "my letter should have been delivered to you today, Ms. Lane, so since you are here already, *with* Emma, I would guess that the three of you have been engaged in a very revealing heart-to-heart discussion for the past couple of hours, and have just now decided to come by for the rest of the story."
As the man spoke, Clark's expression became guarded, but Lois' face darkened noticeably. "Mr. Middleton, this may be entertaining for you, but I ought to tell you that it's not scoring any points with us." She leaned forward in her seat. "I don't wish to seem rude, but I have to ask you: What are your intentions regarding our daughter?"
The man blinked. "You definitely are a good reporter, Ms. Lane; you don't hesitate to cut straight to the hard questions." He leaned forward in his turn. "What are my 'intentions'? Just one, actually — that this young lady's happiness and safety," he indicated Emma with his eyes, "be never lessened in any way, either now or later, because of me." He leaned back again into his chair and continued. "As I told you in my letter, I am *not* a kook. I am also not a stalker. I promise you, neither you nor your daughter will ever have anything to fear from me."
Lois took a deep breath and also leaned back in the sofa. "Then why all this? Why the mystery, the strange, anonymous letter, the — the rest of it?" She waved her hand as if to punctuate her question.
"Because, Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent — I know something; something which I suspect you'd rather that I not know. And I was sure that you would want to talk to me about it."
"But, as Lois says," interjected Clark, "why all this? Why not just contact us directly — by telephone, for example?"
"For several reasons," Mr. Middleton replied. "One, I'm sure that I have guessed right that Lara…um, Emma…had not previously told you about her extraordinary abilities. I thought that my letter might force the issue — sort of clear the air, as it were — so that we could talk on a common ground, so to speak."
"Well, it certainly has done that. The last couple of hours at home were…interesting."
"Secondly," continued Mr. Middleton, "as I hinted at in my letter, I didn't find out Emma's real name until last week, when I did a word search on birth announcements for five to seven years ago in the Daily Planet archives…"
"But birth notices don't include the name of the child," Lois interjected.
"I found that out," the man agreed. "Something to do with privacy laws, I guess. But I didn't know that, so I went ahead anyway; and a tiny article popped up, by someone named James Olsen, about the birth of a daughter to two Planet reporters — complete with Emma's full name. When I saw who the parents were, I knew that there was no way you would have waited so long to find me if you already knew about the rescue. So I thought I'd provide a hint. But I was afraid of what someone else might find out if the letter were to fall into the wrong hands before it reached you. So I deliberately made it as vague as possible.
"Thirdly," he went on, "I have been a fan of you two for years. I confess I wanted to present you with a riddle, and see how quickly your investigation would lead you to me. And lastly, when Emma was rescuing me, I really didn't know that her powers were merely super, and not supernatural. I really thought that I was being saved by an angel." He grinned at Emma, who responded with a giggle.
Lois smiled as she glanced down at Emma and, covertly, at Clark. This was the first time she had ever heard his abilities referred to as 'merely' super. She turned back to their host. "So how long after your rescue did it take you to figure it out?"
"Not long. Only about ten minutes, really." He grinned at their incredulous stares. "You see, when Emma departed, I expected her to fly straight up — to heaven, or something. Instead, when she left, she flew straight across the water, due west — a little wobbly, I might add," he looked directly at Emma, whose return gaze managed to be at once abashed and indignant, "straight toward the little park on the shore. She reached a small hill, and disappeared into the trees on it. Then, ten minutes later, after Superman had righted my boat, he flew off in the same direction — over the *same* hill — and disappeared behind it. It was then that the penny dropped, so to speak. I tell you, for the next five minutes, I was frantically trying to get my boat's motor started. When I did, I made for the shore by the hill. But by then, they had already left."
Lois glanced again at Clark with a raised eyebrow. He was studiously examining his fingernails. She heard him mumble very quietly, "Oops."
"Mister Middleton, it's important that you not get the wrong idea here," she said. "We don't want a rumor started which implies that Emma's paternity is the result of an illicit relationship…"
Emma rolled her eyes. 'Uh-oh,' she thought, 'big-people talk.' She could always tell when things were being said which were not meant for her ears by the number of big words in a sentence. She let her eyes roam around the room. Off to the side, she could see through a wide doorway to a room with a large bay window. There was a dining-room table in the room, and on it was a very pretty package. Her attention returned to the conversation.
"I'm way ahead of you, Ms. Lane," the man was saying. "I not only have most of the puzzle pieces; I have all of them — though the last piece didn't slip in until I saw Emma's birth article. Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, no one would proudly give their daughter a Kryptonian name — at least, it certainly doesn't appear to be from Earth — if they had something to hide in that particular regard." He turned to Clark. "For the second time, it's nice to meet you, Superman. But you probably prefer 'Mr. Kent.'"
"Actually, I prefer 'Clark.' And this is Lois."
"And I prefer 'Walter,'" said Walter. "So," he went on, "'Lara' was the give-away."
Emma thought that it was time to explain things. "Lara is my gramma's name — my Krypton gramma. When Krypton 'sploded, she and my grampa put my daddy in a little baby-size space ship and sent him to live in Kansas with my other gramma and grampa, so he could be Superman and save everybody." She saw that she had a captive audience, so she took another breath and delivered the clincher. "And when I'm all grown up, if I want to, I'm gonna be Superman too, and save people's life." She added, "But my daddy's already Superman, so I guess I'll hafta be Superlady instead." She noticed that all in the room were staring at her and chuckling, so she fell silent.
She felt her father's arm around her shoulder, and he said quietly, "Just remember what we told you, Puddin'. There's no hurry."
Lois leaned down and whispered something in her ear. She nodded vigorously, and reached out to take a manila envelope which her mother held out to her. She walked over and handed it to Walter. "This is 'cause I like you, and 'cause you didn't die. And 'cause you helped me save you."
Walter opened the envelope and withdrew a portrait print of Emma, sitting on a stool before a background of pastel clouds, and wearing an immaculate white dress…*the* dress. He looked at her and started to form a reply, but found that there seemed to be something stuck in his throat.
Lois, attempting to lighten the moment, glanced around the sitting room. "You have a lovely house, Walter. You keep it extremely neat."
"It, ah," Walter cleared his throat and tried again. "It belonged to my parents. They died in an accident a few years back. I've been trying to keep it nice for my fiance. She's attending her last year at a college out-of-state, but we correspond regularly, and we plan to be married as soon as she gets back in the spring. You don't mind if I tell her about all this, do you?" he added hopefully.
"Actually, we do mind," said Clark; and then to Walter's utterly crestfallen look, he added, "…at least until after the lucky young lady says 'I do.' Then we'll see." Walter nodded and gave him a grateful smile.
"Now that I've answered your questions, how about answering one of mine? How did you find me so fast? I knew that you would find a way eventually, but two hours? That's really impressive."
"That's why I'm the top reporter in Metropolis," put in Lois, grinning. "Anyone knows that good investigating is a matter of finding the right tools. So I married someone with super- vision." She smirked.
"What my *humble, unassuming* wife means," put in Clark, "is that I took a second look at the photo that came with the letter."
"Yeah, at *my* suggestion!" said Lois, punching him on the arm. Walter watched delightedly. Here were Lane and Kent in full flow.
"Anyway", continued Clark, "*we* noticed that you had re-painted your boat. Where you sat in the photo, your leg was mostly covering up the boat's registration number — deliberately, I would guess. But I was able to make out the raised outline of the old registration number *under* the paint. A five-minute phone call to a research colleague at the Daily Planet — Jimmy Olsen, in fact — and we had your name and address."
"Wow. As I said, the 'Hottest Team in Town.'" Walter took a deep breath, and continued. "As I mentioned earlier, I wish no harm to Emma or her family. A month ago, I saw my life ending before my eyes. Then she descended, as if from heaven itself, and gave me years and years of fresh starts. She obviously had no training for what she did, and it must have been terrifying for her. But she didn't let that stop her, and plunged in anyway."
"She gets that from her mother," muttered Clark, which earned him a swat on the arm from Lois.
"Anyway," Walter continued, "there's no way I can ever repay her for that. So, if there is anything I can ever do for her — anything at all — she just has to name it."
Emma didn't understand about platitudes, however well meant. So she decided to cut right to the chase. She looked up at Walter, with wide, puppydog eyes, and said in her best wheedling voice, "Um…could…could I please have a ride in your boat?" There was a stunned silence, and then hearty laughs all around.
"Well, as to that," said Walter, "let's return to that subject in a minute. In the meantime, since you gave me that nice picture, I have something for you, too — that is, if your parents don't object." He nodded his head at the package on the dining room table.
Clark quietly lowered his glasses and glanced at the package…and blinked. He smiled at Emma, and nodded his assent.
She trotted into the other room, picked up the large gift, and returned to sit between her parents. It was wrapped in sky-blue paper decorated with white clouds and pink cherubs, and tied with a very ornate bow of what appeared to be the same satiny material as the dress in the portrait. She started in on the wrapping as her mother reached for the card. Lois removed it from its envelope and scanned it, grinning at the lame double-entendre, and handed the card to Clark.
With Undying Gratitude,
Emma had the paper off now, and her wide eyes danced as she took in the picture on the outside of the box, then pried off the lid and withdrew her treasure — a child-sized, fluorescent orange floatation vest.
"Well," said Clark with a smile as he helped her to put the vest on and adjust the straps, "I guess that answers your question about a boat ride! What do you have to say to Mr. Middleton?" After Emma had suitably, and effusively, expressed her gratitude, Clark continued to Walter, "You know, I confess that I'm puzzled about something. Between your boat capsizing, you spending time trying to find a way to climb onto it by yourself, the ten minutes you spent under the boat, the fifteen to twenty minutes Emma spent trying to rescue you, plus another ten minutes on top of the boat until I happened to come by and spot you down in the water — Walter, you were in jeopardy to one degree or another for the better part of an hour! I'm just wondering why, in all that time, you didn't do what everyone else in Metropolis does in dangerous situations — why you didn't just yell 'Help, Superman'?"
Walter was by now sitting perfectly still, and the blank expression on his face was slowly changing to one of thunderstruck disbelief. His head began to slowly shake back and forth. "Do you know," he said as he felt his cheeks redden, "I never once even though of that!"
The next spring
Karen Middleton (how she loved the sound of that!) stood beside the sloping boat ramp as her husband of two weeks backed the boat trailer down the ramp into the water of the marina. She gave a catcall, and then a Bronx cheer, as he missed his aim twice and had to pull forward and try again; but secretly, she was proud of how well he was doing. The boat was now floating up off the trailer. She watched while Walter set the vehicle's brake, hopped out, and shoved the boat out into the water while firmly holding the tow line until he could guide it over to the nearby dock, where he carefully tethered the craft.
Walter came over and opened the cargo door of the four-by-four, and beckoned her over. "Here you go. How about you take these down and put them in the forward stowage area — but keep two of them out for us." He proceeded to hand her four life vests.
As she accepted the vests, she indicated one of them. "This was a good idea — putting the boat's name on the life jackets." Walter glanced at her oddly, but said nothing. As she walked over to where the little boat was tied off, she noticed that only one of the jackets had the vessel's name written in it; apparently, he hadn't finished what he'd started. Also, the labeled vest appeared to be much smaller than the others. Hmm, she thought, I'll have to ask him about that.
As she was setting one of the jackets on the seat, she realized that she was standing with one foot on the front seat of the boat and the other on the dock, and was being spread-eagled as the boat drifted out from the dock. Well! she thought as she quickly hopped into the boat. That was one mistake she didn't intend to make again. She set about buckling on one of the larger floatation vests.
By now, Walter had pulled the car and trailer over to the parking area, and was on his way back. He grabbed the tether and pulled the boat back to the dock. "Hand me that other jacket, would you, love?"
"Oh, just hop in; you can put it on as we travel."
"Karen," she glanced up at his use of her first name, "I don't get into a boat unless I'm already wearing a life vest."
'Well,' she thought, 'the honeymoon is definitely over, and we're in the Period of Adjustment. This was an idiosyncrasy she would have to remember about him. Maybe she would ask him about it sometime.'
Once the life vest was in place, Walter untied the line and stepped lightly into the boat. He settled in behind the wheel and turned the key. The engine immediately roared to life. "See, winter hasn't hurt it a bit! Good thing I drained the fuel last fall." He put the boat in forward gear and began motoring toward the marina entrance to the bay. Once out of the marina, he motored out a few hundred yards, then changed course to parallel the shore, and adjusted the throttle to about half- speed.
"Honey, this was a good idea. I've been itching for a ride in this ever since you told me last summer that you were going to buy one."
"That was nice."
"You called me 'Honey.'"
"Part of my ploy to settle you down into domesticated married life," she said sweetly. "I'm getting hungry already. Are you sure your friends will be there with the picnic stuff?"
"Lane and Kent are pretty reliable. I think you can count on food very shortly."
"I'm dying to meet them. I've never even seen their pictures. Did they really persuade you to change careers?"
"Yep, they are totally at fault. They told me that I seemed to have a flair for investigating, and a way with the words. So I got this bee in my bonnet, took a couple more journalism courses while I waited for you, and decided to apply at their paper, The Daily Planet. They actually recommended me to Mr. White, their editor. The position's definitely entry-level, but after a couple of years as a research assistant, I might get to try out as a reporter. I know this is quite a cut in pay, but with the inheritance from my folks, we won't be having financial troubles until I can work my way back up the career ladder."
"I confess, I was worried when you said you wanted to change jobs, but if it makes you happy —"
"I just think it's great to have Clark Kent and Lois Lane as mentors, not to mention others at the Planet, like James Olsen. Lane and Kent are the best in the business."
She looked away from the scenery and gazed at him instead. There sat a happy man. "So how did you happen to meet them?"
She almost blinked in surprise as Walter's expression suddenly sobered. "I, ah, I met them as a result of an accident I had shortly after I bought the boat."
Her heart wrenched as she caught the look on his face. "Was it serious?"
"Karen, the boat capsized. A freak accident. I very nearly drowned."
She gasped. "Walter, that's terrible! Why didn't you tell me about it?"
"There were — reasons. I'm sorry, but I didn't feel I could go into it at the time."
"Oh, honey! Well, I hope that someday, you can tell…" Her voice trailed away as she looked out over the water ahead of them. Now, that was weird. For a moment she had thought that she could see… She stared ahead, rising slightly to get an unobstructed view over the windscreen.
"Walter, what's that ahead of us?"
"What does it look like to you?" he responded in an odd voice.
She didn't reply as they continued to approach the thing which her mind was telling her she couldn't be seeing. A child seemed to be hovering in the air a few feet above the water. She blinked hard several times, shaking her head, but the apparition remained.
Walter throttled the engine back to idle, and they slowed as they coasted toward the figure. He cut the engine, and the boat slid to a halt about twenty yards from it. She quickly glanced at Walter, but his expression was unreadable. "This is where it happened," he said quietly.
Where what happened? What was he talking about? she thought, trying frantically to drag meaning out of what he was saying while her attention was riveted on the impossible scene before them.
As the boat halted, the figure began to move, drifting directly toward them. It paused immediately over the bow, and then descended the two or three feet to stand barefooted on the fore part of the deck. As her wild heartbeat began to slow, Karen saw that it was a little girl, six or seven years old. She wore a white dress that came down to an inch or two above her knees and caught the sun in brilliant highlights.
Unexpectedly, she heard Walter speaking. "It's good to see you again."
The girl folded her arms across her chest and looked directly at Karen. "Is this her? Your new wife?" Then she smiled. "She's nice. I like her."
'She knows me?' thought Karen wildly. Although, for some reason, as she looked at the girl, she could not shake a feeling of familiarity.
The child took a step forward. "Hold it, kiddo," said Walter immediately. "New rules: No one comes on this boat without a life jacket." He gestured toward the cargo space under the deck.
What in the world…?
The girl glanced down, *at the deck*, and her eyes seemed to light up. "You wrote my name in it!" Walter reached under the dashboard, picked up the small-size life vest, and placed it on the deck just beyond the windscreen.
Karen's mind whirled. The girl had seen the vest with the name on it *before* Walter had pulled it out. She had seen it though the deck! And she could ascend, and descend, through the air! Waitaminute… her thoughts stopped abruptly. You wrote my name in it. My name… Lara. The name on Walter's boat; the name he had refused to explain.
Suddenly, Karen recognized the feeling of familiarity. The face, the dress… she was the girl from the picture — the one Karen had repeatedly noticed on the end table in Walter's sitting room. She had asked him about it, but he had looked very sober — almost regretful (or sorrowful?) — and had said that he couldn't tell her about it right then. But maybe someday, perhaps after they were married…
As she thought this, suddenly the memory of Walter's words a few moments ago slammed into her consciousness: This is where it happened. Karen's breath caught in her throat, and her heart clenched. Oh, the poor, poor child! Walter must have been devastated with grief. And guilt, if the comments about the life vest meant anything.
Suddenly she was distracted by a movement from the girl. She was wriggling around, squirming as though…as though… "Walter!" Karen hissed, through tightly clenched teeth. "There's an *angel* doing a strip-tease on the prow of our boat."
With a final wriggle, the girl shimmied out of the dress — to stand revealed in a modest, white, one-piece child's swimsuit.
"You look great, kiddo."
She glanced at him; Walter was smiling! Kiddo… She belonged to him!
Without taking her eyes off the girl, Karen said very quietly, "Walter, whose child is this?"
"She's mine," said an equally quiet voice — a voice which came from directly behind Walter — from the rear seat which had been vacant five seconds ago.
Karen froze, feeling the hair on the back of her neck begin to rise. Without turning her head, moving only her eyes, she made out the figure of a petite brunette woman sitting in the seat directly behind where Walter was seated. She appeared to be dressed in a blouse and slacks such as would be appropriate for an outing such as this — and both were white. "Hello, Lois," Walter said without turning.
A double tragedy, Karen's heart cried. A mother and her daughter. And then her mind made the final leap: 'Is this her? Your *new* wife?' "Walter … this woman … is she … was she your w… your w…" Karen's mouth wouldn't form the word.
There was a full, rich laugh from directly behind her, and again she froze. "No, Mrs. Middleton, she's mine!" She whirled around to find a man seated behind her. His face was quite handsome, and he was sporting a megawatt smile.
Then what he was wearing registered.
"Love," Walter was saying, "meet my favorite family. The man behind you, who seems to have scared the heck out of you, is Superman. This is his wife, the once — and hopefully future — Ultrawoman. And here, doing a dance on our very own stage, is their daughter, Lara, who thinks that one day she might become Superlady!" He winked at the girl, who stuck her tongue out at him and then dimpled.
There was a gasp from the woman behind Walter. "Don't let that dress get wet, young lady. Quick, grab it!" As the fluttering dress blew off the deck, Lara became a blur and vanished, along with the dress.
Karen turned back around to find Lara now seated on her father's lap, holding out the dress to her mother, who was saying, "It's so small I doubt you'll ever wear it again; but it's a keepsake."
"Walter," said Superman, "we ought to get back to the picnic, before someone else decides that it's theirs. So if you'll just crank this boat up and head for shore…"
"No," said Walter.
"No?" questioned the Man of Steel, raising an eyebrow.
"Not until everyone — except you, or course — is wearing a life jacket. You, too, kiddo," he said, passing the small vest back to Lara, and then handing the one remaining one to the woman behind him.
Karen blinked, now thoroughly overwhelmed. "But I thought you said we were picnicking with Lois Lane and Clark Kent…" waitaminute, waitaminute … 'Hello, Lois' …?!!
"Um, Karen…" Superman was saying, "…may I call you Karen? If you'll just bear with us 'till we get to where the food is, do we ever have a story for you!"
As you have quickly figured out, the story which served as the springboard for this piece is "Super Santa Claus Man" by Lynn M. The zinger which caught my imagination was the final line of that vignette. I asked Lynn if she would mind if I used that idea, and she very graciously consented, inviting me to use Emma's character and history. She even encouraged me to post the story on the L&C message board, and to this archive. Thanks, Lynn, for the loan of a great character! And thanks to all on that board for their encouragement and support.
Also, many thanks to Erin Klingler, my very willing GE, for her eagle eye, patient manner (especially regarding commas and semicolons <bg>), and many interspersed words of encouragement!! She made dealing with pre-submission editing a real pleasure!!"