By Caroline K. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted September 2007
Summary: Lois goes through the events of the end of Season 1 without ever having met Clark. He's still in Borneo, and in the aftermath of the Fall of the House of Luthor, Lois flees Metropolis and finds love and healing in a tiny Smallville, Kansas farmhouse.
I went to Smallville, Kansas, because it was the most insignificant place I'd ever been. I went there because the one time I'd been there before, I'd been sure I'd found the exact spot people were talking about when they referred to "the last place on earth."
It certainly was the last place on earth anyone would ever expect to find Lois Lane.
I'd been snide about it, that last time. I'd argued with Perry and told him it was a pointless assignment, a story I could get in Metropolis any day of the week. He'd said something lofty about rural towns being a microcosm, and complex problems being simpler to understand in a smaller setting. So I'd gone, grousing and complaining the entire time, and in the end I'd been right; there was no story. Just a boring EPA investigation into ground water contamination. Sure, the EPA had run a little roughshod over the poor farmer who owned the land, but a government agency being rude was hardly front-page news. I still wonder if Perry just wanted me out of the office for a few days when he gave me that assignment.
I returned home without a story, but I had fun regaling the newsroom with tales of how utterly backward Smallville, Kansas was. The town had been having a *corn festival*, of all things; I'd seen an entire town engaging in ritual crop worship. I got big laughs with that one back in Metropolis.
But when my world came crashing down on me, when I didn't have anywhere else to go, something made me remember that trip to Smallville. I hadn't forgotten what a dinky little town it was, but when I needed a place to hide, I suddenly was able to remember some things about it that even I hadn't been able to laugh at. There had been an old-fashioned gazebo in the town square, and it had looked pretty, all lit up for the festival. There had been music and laughter and the smell of caramel apples.
I've always loved caramel apples.
And everywhere I went in Smallville, people smiled and called me miss or ma'am and acted like they were genuinely glad to have me there. I couldn't figure out why, because I didn't exactly make a secret of what I thought of them, but they all seemed just delighted to have a stuck-up, grouchy reporter in their midst.
I didn't get that.
I still don't, really.
In Metropolis, if you act like a bitch, people respond accordingly. It's simple cause and effect. But it was like Smallville operated on a different plane, one where every action doesn't produce an equal and opposite reaction. It was like a place out of a movie. A place that couldn't really exist. Every minute I was there, I expected George Bailey to come running down the street caterwauling about what a wonderful life he had.
And when I went back to Smallville, I almost expected to find that it wasn't really there — that I had somehow conjured it out of my imagination. But no, it was there; it just looked a little more prosaic than it had in my memories. Maybe it was because there was no festival on just then, but Smallville was just a dusty little Kansas farm town, and if I'd had any hope left, it would have died as I climbed tiredly out of my rental car and looked around. The gazebo that had taken on such a romantic cast in my memories was there, right in the center of town, but it was listing a little to one side, and it needed a coat of paint. The lawn around it had been mowed, but weeds topped with yellow flowers had grown up around the posts and steps, giving the whole thing a ragged, uneven look. I stretched my aching legs and told myself it didn't matter. I was there because Smallville was the last place on earth, not because I cared about music and caramel apples and dancing in a stupid gazebo.
I scanned the signs on Main Street, looking for the Realtor's office. I saw a fabric store, a drug store, a barbershop, and — I swear I'm not making this up — a store with a sign that advertised "wallpaper and saw sharpening." For a few seconds, I stared at the sign and wished I'd noticed it on my first trip. Wished I'd gotten the full mileage out of it at the Daily Planet. But it was too late for that now, and I walked on; thinking about the Planet always made my chest feel tight.
I made my way down the cracked sidewalk. "Morning, miss," an old man greeted me cheerfully as he walked past. He touched the brim of his hat, and I'd barely managed to nod some sort of return greeting when there went another one, coming from the opposite direction. "Morning," a young woman said, giving me a bright smile. She was pushing a fat, sticky-looking toddler in a faded umbrella stroller and trying to carry a huge sack of groceries at the same time, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what she had to be so cheerful about. If I'd had to do either one of those things, I'd have been snarling and spitting, not singing out happy greetings to total strangers.
I threaded my way through the clutter of a "sidewalk sale," which consisted of benches and tables piled with various things that were obviously meant to be quaint and homey. Just glancing at it, I had the impression that every single thing in Kansas was smocked, checked, or plastered with an American flag.
I began to feel the first stirrings of panic. Why had I come here? Of all the places in the world I could have gone, why this place, with its quaint little checkered kitchen towels embroidered with platitudes? I picked up one that said, "No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best" and shuddered.
"Help you miss?" A red-haired woman in glasses poked her head out the door, nearly scaring me out of my wits.
"No," I said brusquely, tossing the towel down faster than if it had been a snake. "I'm just… looking… for the Prudential office."
"Oh, it's down this side about half a block." She beamed at me. "New in town?"
"Um, yeah." I scurried away before she could ask any more questions, belatedly tossing a quick 'thank you' over my shoulder.
I was relieved to reach the Realtor's office without encountering any more abnormally friendly people, but then I pushed on the glass door and a real bell jingled over my head, as if the door itself had joined the conspiracy of cheerful greetings. I felt my nerves jangling right along with the bell, and I fought the urge to rip it from its perch above the door.
"Can I help you?" The words were right, but apparently this girl had been absent the day they'd taught Smallville Hospitality at the local high school. She sounded utterly bored, and she barely looked up from her desk, where she was applying bright blue fingernail polish in sure, steady strokes.
I wanted to hug her. *This* was someone I knew how to deal with.
"Yes," I told her, in a tone that said I wasn't someone she wanted to ignore. "I'm here to pick up a key. I'm renting a cottage."
She snorted. "A cottage. Right."
"The man I talked to said it was a cottage," I informed her firmly, but I had a sinking feeling that she knew a lot more about this so-called cottage than I did.
The girl rolled her eyes. "Must've been Ron. He thinks you put a fresh coat of paint on a shack, you can call it a cottage. Stick some furniture in a barn, you can call it a loft. He sold my uncle a silo once. Told him he'd love the high ceilings."
I felt myself start to panic. "He did not."
She cracked a smile for the first time and blew on her fingernails. "OK, he didn't. But don't get too excited about your 'cottage', either."
"Is it a dump?" I asked.
She shrugged. "Dunno. Haven't seen it. Knowing the Kents, though, they'll have fixed it up as best they can. They're nice folks."
Well that almost went without saying, it being Smallville. But I wasn't living in a dump, no matter how nice these Kent people were.
"Well, I'll look at it," I told her. "But if it's not what Ron described, I'm coming right back here."
She shrugged and pulled open a drawer in slow motion, maneuvering carefully around her wet polish. "It's right there," she said, pointing, obviously expecting me to walk around the desk and fish for the keys myself. I folded my arms and stared her down. I might have been reeling from the blows life had dealt me lately, but I was still Lois Lane.
She stared right back for a few seconds, but I won in the end, and I heard her swear softly as she dinged a nail getting me the keys.
"Here." She tossed the keys onto the desk, shot me a filthy look, and then turned back to her fingernails. "Ron said you were paying cash."
"That's right." I reached into my purse, opened my wallet, and counted a stack of hundreds out onto her desk. I saw her eyes widen briefly before she made an obvious effort to go back to looking bored. "Tell Ron that he's giving this money right back to me if the place is a dump."
I pocketed the key she'd given me. "Some directions would be nice."
She heaved a sigh and nodded in the direction of a cup full of pens and pencils. "You'll probably want to write this down."
I looked at the pitiful collection of writing implements in the cup and pulled my own notebook and pen from my purse. "Go ahead," I told her.
She rattled off a stream of directions that involved a number of trees, gas stations, ponds, creeks, and other landmarks but very few street names and nothing in the way of actual distances between one point and another.. I scribbled it all down and didn't bother asking her to clarify it. I'd find it eventually, and it wasn't like I was in a rush. One of the nicer things about running away from home is that you don't really have to keep to a schedule.
She produced a sheet of paper after that — a contract I barely glanced at before scribbling my name at the bottom. Except it wasn't my name. I'd offered this Ron person an obscene amount of money for his "cottage" with the understanding that no one in Smallville would know my real name. I was to be Laney Anderson there. Laney was a college nickname, and I thought I'd be able to answer to it again, and Anderson was my mother's maiden name. If I'd thought I was in danger, I'd have come up with something less obvious, but this was just about privacy in Smallville. Lois Lane was in all the papers just then, but Laney Anderson would just be the quiet recluse living in the Kent's cottage.
With my directions in hand, I walked back to my car — quickly this time, keeping my head down and not making eye contact with anyone. I had the feeling that I was about to reach some sort of finish line. I'd been running ever since the day of my wedding, and now I was about to reach my destination.
I just had no idea what I was going to do when I got there.
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry when I finally saw my 'cottage', but then, ever since my wedding day, laughter and tears had felt like they were in close competition, both just under the surface of my emotions and neither one willing or able to come out.
It was a tiny place, little more than a tired speck on the landscape. The frame house was surrounded by a few scruffy bushes and had a cornfield on one side and wide prairie on the other. It had been painted white once, a long time ago, but now the paint was peeling and chipping away, the rough wooden siding showing through, giving the house a brindled look. It had a steeply-pitched tin roof, which was a thing I'd seen in pictures but never in real life, and a sliver of a front porch, just big enough for a single rocking chair.
It was nothing like I'd been imagining, nothing like the 'cottage' Ron had promised me, but I knew from the moment I saw it that I was staying. Mostly, I just knew I didn't have the energy to go anywhere else. Adrenaline and impulse had carried me this far, but I could go no further. I wasn't sure I could even find the energy to carry in my bag.
I parked my car behind the house, and for a moment I just sat there with my hands gripping the steering wheel. Through the windshield, I could see several ancient-looking limestone pillars strung with rusted barbed wire, and beyond that stretched what seemed to be an endless prairie. I wondered what it would be like to lay down in the middle of those waving grasses — to disappear into that ocean of green beneath the vivid blue sky. The thought of it seemed soothing somehow, but I shook it off and turned my attention back to the house. I got out of the car and gripped the key the girl had given me tightly as I mounted the two steps to the front door.
The door had new hardware, I noticed — bright brass gleaming in the morning sunlight — and the key slid in and turned easily. I stepped inside and registered a dim feeling of surprise. Someone had obviously taken a great deal of trouble here; the small front room was cozy and immaculately clean. The walls had been painted a buttery yellow, and recently, too; the smell of fresh paint mingled with lemon furniture polish, and if I'd been in my right mind, if I'd been capable then, I'd have found it all very cheerful. I walked through the room, my sneakers squeaking a little on the old wood floor, and peered into the kitchen just beyond. It was hardly big enough to turn around in, but it was plenty big enough for me, especially since I had no idea how to do anything but make coffee anyway. The porcelain sink looked like a relic of another era, but there was a new stove and refrigerator, and more fresh paint — white this time — on the cabinets. Blue and white checked curtains hung at the window, framing the vista of the prairie beyond.
The bathroom and bedroom were at the top of a steep flight of stairs. I peeked into the former and then stepped into the latter and smoothed my hand over the patchwork quilt that covered the double bed. Someone's mother had made this, I knew, and it had been well used. It was worn soft from years of washing, and some of the cotton pieces were faded almost white. It seemed to beckon to me, and without another thought, I toed off my shoes and crawled under that soft quilt. The fat down pillow seemed to sigh as my head sank into it… or maybe that was me. I know I felt a sigh — felt it in the deepest part of me. Like I'd been holding my breath for days and could finally let it go. I turned my face away from the shaft of sunlight slanting in through the window and fell into the first deep sleep I'd had since my wedding day.
It had been barely noon when I fell asleep, but it was dark outside when I awoke; I would have slept longer, I think, had my bladder not demanded attention. I crept into the bathroom and felt for the light switch. Soon I would know this bathroom well enough to use it in the dark, but not yet. It was supplied with toilet paper, I was grateful to see, and someone had even put out a new toothbrush next to the sink. Whoever these Kents were, they were certainly thoughtful. I tried to feel grateful and couldn't, quite, but I did file it away as something I should do when I found the energy. Like a number on a to do list: Feel grateful to the Kents. I would get around to that one day.
My watch said that it was 2:26 a.m., which meant that I'd slept more than 14 hours. I washed my hands and wondered what I should do with the rest of the night. But there was nothing. I hadn't even brought a book to read.
I wandered down the stairs and examined the little front room again. I tested the sofa and decided it was comfortable enough — more comfortable than the ones I'd had in my apartment anyway. There was a tiny dining table, just big enough for two people to sit and eat, and someone — Mrs. Kent, I presumed — had covered the table with a white linen cloth and set in its center a mason jar filled with fresh spring flowers. I took in the riot of bright colors… fingered the delicate petals…
<<He loves me/he loves me not…>>
Suddenly, like a snapshot dropping into place in my mind, I saw not Mrs. Kent's bright spring flowers but my own pale wedding bouquet, dropped carelessly on the ground as I heard the sound of my husband's body meeting the pavement. I drew my hand away with a jerk and nearly upset the wooden chair as I leaped up from the table and dashed outside to heave the paltry contents of my stomach into the scruffy bushes next to the porch. Tears wet my cheeks, more from the nausea than from emotion, I thought, and I wiped them away as I drew in great gulps of the night air. I spat into the bushes, trying to rid my mouth of the sour taste of bile. I thought of the toothbrush upstairs, left so thoughtfully next to the sink, but it seemed like too much trouble to go up there or to get my own, which was still in the car. I sank into the rocking chair, found it to be comfortable, and I was still sitting there when the sky lightened to a soft pewter and then a peachy pink color that signaled the dawn of a new day.
Looking back, it's difficult to describe how I felt as dawn broke and spilled around me that first morning in Kansas. It sounds melodramatic, but it was as if the darkness of that silent night had invaded my soul, and the sunlight was powerless to touch me. I knew that it was morning and that there were things I should do, but lethargy had overtaken me, and I couldn't imagine ever moving from that rocking chair. I stared into the cornfield and pondered the amount of effort that had gone into all those perfect rows. The plants were only a few feet high, and I wondered if I would still be sitting on that porch at summer's end, when the corn towered above me, ready for harvest. I could not at that moment imagine that I would be doing anything else. It was the first time in my life, I believe, that I didn't have a plan — didn't have a single goal, or dream, or half-baked idea. An entire summer spent watching corn grow sounded fine to me.
I was still sitting in my rocking chair when I heard the sound of an engine and turned to see a green truck bouncing and jostling down the dirt road that led to my little house. And yes, already it seemed like mine; I had yet to move in a single thing I owned, but it was as if I had put down roots there during the hours I kept vigil in the darkness. I found the sound of the truck annoying, intrusive, which was odd given that I was used to the sounds of Metropolis. But I knew that the truck meant company, and company was the one thing I emphatically didn't want. I felt myself tense as the truck slid into place beside the house, and I'm sure my expression hardened as a petite blond woman climbed out of the cab.
"Good morning!" she called. "I'm glad to see you up and about. I was a little bit afraid I'd wake you, but I couldn't wait to come over and say hello." Her bright smile faltered a little when I didn't return it — didn't even move — but then I saw her paste it back into place. "I brought you a few things — just to kind of get you started — and of course, I'll be happy to give you directions to the nearest grocery store or to whatever else you need."
She had reached into the back of the truck during this speech and pulled out a box full of I knew not what, and I finally gave in and rose from my place in the rocking chair. My legs were stiff from sitting so long, and for a few seconds, my head swam and I had to clutch at the rusty wrought-iron railing to keep my balance. The cheerful blond noticed, of course, and began hovering about in a truly annoying manner.
"Are you all right, honey?" She raced up the steps and dumped the box on the porch before reaching for me.
"I'm fine," I said irritably, hating the feel of her hands on me. "I just stood up too fast."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." I twitched away from her — I couldn't help it — and she took the hint, letting her hands fall to her side.
"I'm Martha Kent," she told me unnecessarily. Who else even knew I was there? "My husband and I live in the house across the fields there. If you look, you can just see the tip of our roof." She pointed, and I did see it then, but just barely — the tip of their roof peeking up amongst some trees. I nodded, and she went on. "This was the original house on this property, and Jonathan and I lived here when we first bought the farm. We built our home about a year later. We wanted kids, you see, and we knew this little place would never be big enough for a family. Do you mind if I just take these things in?" she asked, indicating her box.
"It's your house," I told her, and why she didn't just take her box and leave I'll never know. But she pretended not to notice how ungracious I was being.
"No, Miss Anderson," she said firmly. "It's your house now. Jonathan and I aren't the type to come barging in on you. You won't have to worry about that."
"Call me Laney," I offered, mostly because being called 'Miss Anderson' felt so completely wrong to me. But Mrs. Kent accepted it as an olive branch.
"And I'm Martha," she told me warmly as she opened the door. "You sure are pretty. Is it all right if I tell you that?"
"I… thank you." I was feeling lightheaded again, and more than anything, I just wanted her to leave me alone.
"We have a son about your age," she said over her shoulder, as she made her way into the tiny kitchen with her box. She began unloading things — bread and coffee and dishwashing liquid and other assorted things I was perfectly capable of buying for myself. "His name is Clark, and he's a freelance journalist. He's a wonderful writer, though I admit I might be a little biased." She flashed me a self-deprecating smile. "You've probably never heard of him, though. He's been traveling all over the world since college. He's been in Borneo for the past year or so, and you should see some of the pictures he's sent us. We keep telling him he should write a book about his travels, but…"
She went on in that vein, but I had stopped listening the minute I found out her son was a journalist. I felt… *unsafe*, suddenly, although it was ridiculous to think there might be some connection between Lois Lane of the Daily Planet and some hack reporter from Kansas writing freelance pieces in Borneo. But just hearing that my landlady had any connection to the journalism community left me feeling rattled, and it must have shown, because when she caught sight of my face, she stopped praising Saint Clark in mid-sentence and rushed over to me.
"Here, honey, you need to sit down." I allowed myself to be led to the sofa, where Martha Kent fixed me with a look of what I can only describe as maternal omniscience. "When was the last time you ate?" she asked.
I closed my eyes against her penetrating look. "Yesterday, I guess."
"Did you eat dinner?"
"Uh, no," I admitted. "I got here at around noon and fell asleep."
"Well, my word, honey! No wonder you're about to faint dead away! You sit right there while I fix you something to eat."
And then the woman who had told me, not ten minutes before, that I needn't worry about her barging in proceeded to take over my kitchen. Not that I cared. I didn't feel hungry, but when she thrust an egg sandwich into my hands, I did nibble at it, mostly because I was pretty sure by then that it was the only way I'd ever get her to leave. She stood over me while I ate, and only when about half the sandwich was gone did she relax her vigil and pass me a glass of orange juice.
"I didn't realize this was a bed and breakfast," I said dryly, as I sipped my orange juice and she finally left me to clean up the kitchen.
"Just being neighborly," she said lightly. "And if there's anything else we can do to help you settle in, all you have to do is ask, all right? You're welcome over at our place any time. There's no need to call ahead, but I'm leaving our phone number for you anyway, just in case you ever need to reach us in a hurry."
I nodded, and after a few more minutes of making me feel welcome, she finally took her leave. I walked back out to the porch with her, and I stood there and watched as she fired up her big green truck and lumbered off in the direction of her own house, trailing a cloud of dust behind her. When the sound of her truck died away and the dust settled, I took one last look at the cornfield and then went back into the house and up the stairs, where once again, I crawled between the soft sheets and fitted my head into the indention it had left in the goose down pillow.
For two days, the sun rose and the sun set, but I existed in a mental fog. I moved from the bed to the bathroom to the porch at random intervals. I occasionally nibbled at one of the cookies Martha Kent had left for me, but otherwise I ate no meals, nor did I shower, or brush my teeth, or do anything else to care for myself, except that I'd brought in my suitcase at some point, and I'd changed into a t-shirt and a pair of soft shorts that served as daywear and nightwear alike.
Every now and then, for no particular reason, I would remember that this was supposed to be my honeymoon. I wasn't even sure where we were to have gone; Lex had been keeping it a secret, and he'd tossed himself off of the top of his building before he had the chance to tell me. Sometimes I would think about that. I would imagine the sort of destination Lex would have chosen and wonder what he would say if he could see me spending our honeymoon staring out at a Kansas cornfield. But mostly I tried to put Lex and the life I'd left behind out of my mind.
I was not a healthy person then, and I can say that now. I can take it out and look at it and admit that I was well on my way to being crazy. But at the time, it felt almost soothing to let my mind be still. After the frenzy of planning a wedding to the third richest man in the world, after the horror of his arrest and death and the landslide of traumatic revelations that followed, after being hounded mercilessly by the press, I really believe that I needed that period of near-catatonia in a tiny Kansas farmhouse. I needed the quiet and the time alone. I needed to be away from the world. I needed to be still, in a way that I never had been before. My whole life, I'd been pushing, pushing, pushing — always with a destination in mind — but now I'd arrived at the last place on earth, and I didn't need to push anymore.
On the third day after my arrival, I once again heard the sound of the truck rumbling toward me, and for a few seconds I considered dashing into the cornfield or out onto the prairie and hiding from Martha Kent and her relentless neighborliness. I didn't do it, but it wasn't because I didn't want to worry her or because it seemed unkind; mostly, I think I just didn't have the energy.
This time, I stayed on the porch as she went into the house with her cardboard box. I knew that she wouldn't like what she found in there: the other half of the sandwich she had made me two days earlier was still sitting beside the sofa, and the cookies she'd baked were open and stale on the kitchen counter. I'd been too tired to carry my suitcase up the stairs, so it was open on the sofa, its contents spilling out all over the room. I was living like a pig, and I knew it, but I couldn't find the energy to care. I expected her to come out like a dervish and start mothering me again, but it didn't happen. I could hear faint sounds coming from the kitchen, and I had almost dozed off again when the door finally opened and she came back out onto the porch.
She sat down on the top step, and for several minutes she didn't say a word. When she did finally speak, it was with a quiet intensity as she stared out into my cornfield. "When Jonathan and I found out we couldn't have children," she told me, "I felt like my whole life was over. I felt broken… useless… and for a little while, I did just what you're doing right now. Don't think you're the only woman who's ever felt this way, Laney, because you're not. Your reasons might be different, but believe me, honey, I know exactly how you feel. You feel like it's all you can do to get out of bed in the morning. Like even the simplest tasks are too much for you."
I sat up a little straighter. It truly had not occurred to me that this woman had ever had a moment's sadness or disappointment in her life. That was ridiculous, of course, since there is sadness and disappointment in every life. I can only claim utter self-absorption as my excuse.
"But I had a husband who loved me," she went on, "and for him, I made myself do a couple of the things I didn't want to do. I made myself get out of bed and make him breakfast, even if I didn't do anything else the whole rest of the day. And eventually, that didn't seem so hard anymore, and I was able to do another thing, and then another. Things got better, even though the pain of not being able to give my husband children never really went away."
"But… you said you have a son."
"That's the best part of the story," she told me, smiling softly. "Sometimes, when we've let go of our dreams, they come true when and how we least expect it. Clark was *our* dream come true."
I was glad for her — really — or as glad as I knew how to be just then. But I didn't see how her story related to mine. I didn't even know what my dreams were anymore. I'd lost the Daily Planet and most of my friends, and I'd married a man who turned out to be one of the biggest criminals in history. I, who had once aspired to a Pulitzer, was a national laughingstock — or an object of pity, which in my eyes was even worse. Where was I supposed to go from there?
"I just cleaned up your house," she told me, her tone changing to one that told me she meant business. "And I left you some more food. Now, you're not paying for those services. This isn't, as you yourself pointed out, a bed and breakfast. But I'm not willing to let you starve to death on my property. Who would rent this place again if word of *that* got out? So in return for me bringing you food and doing a little tidying up, I'm going to expect you to do some things for me."
"What things?" I asked suspiciously.
"Just a few little assignments. Today, I'd like you to walk the length of that old barbed wire fence and make sure there aren't any cuts or breaks in the wire. Jonathan is thinking of pasturing some cattle there this year, and it would be a big help to us if you'd check it out."
She was pointing to the field of tall prairie grass just beyond my car, and even though I felt oddly intimidated by the responsibility, I didn't dare say no. Because she was right — it was little enough to ask in return for what she had done for me, even if I hadn't asked her to do it. I nodded. "All right. Is there anything else?"
"Nope," she said cheerfully, standing up and dusting herself off. "That's all for today. Oh, except for eating something. I left you some sandwiches in the refrigerator and I expect you to eat them." Again, her tone was one with which I didn't dare argue. All of a sudden, I felt a little sorry for her son. I was willing to bet that her little dream-come-true hadn't gotten away with much while he was growing up. It was no damn wonder he'd high-tailed it off to Borneo the first chance he got.
Once again, I stood and watched her leave, watched the truck grow smaller and smaller as it moved away from me in a cloud of dust. And when she was gone, I remembered my promises and went inside to eat one of the sandwiches she'd left for me. I even drank a glass of cold milk.
I meant to walk the fence line right after that; I really did. But then it occurred to me that I'd have to get dressed first, and that seemed so overwhelming that I decided I'd rest a while longer on the porch. I settled into my rocking chair and felt my eyelids grow heavy, and before I knew it, I was asleep.
I don't know how much time had passed, but I was still curled up in my chair when a man descended gracefully from the heavens and landed in my cornfield.
Just like that.
One minute, he was up in the sky, and then the next he was standing a few yards away from me. Standing in *my* cornfield, with its neat rows of broad green leaves that stretched to the horizon and brushed the sky. He was just at the edge of the field, the corn reaching up past his knees. He trailed one hand through it, fingering the leaves and taking a moment to examine them with an almost proprietary air. I watched him through the screen of my lashes, and in some distant corner of my brain, I registered that my response was all wrong. That there should be *surprise*, at the very least, when a man drops from the sky into a cornfield. That I should be afraid, perhaps. Or excited. Maybe I should be calling the press? But I *was* the press, wasn't I? And I didn't really care. He wasn't doing anything so terrible. He wasn't hurting anything. If he wanted to stand in the Kents' cornfield, it was no business of mine.
It dawned on me that I was probably asleep. That men only flew into cornfields in dreams, which was all the more reason for me not to leave my comfortable spot on the porch and make a fuss. I yawned, not bothering to cover my mouth, and the man's head snapped up, a look of absolute terror crossing his face as he stared at me. I smiled a little at that; apparently Mad Dog Lane wasn't completed dead and gone if she could still scare the bejeebers out of flying dream men just by napping on a porch.
My dream man wasn't very articulate, I thought, but my subconscious had done such a nice job with the rest of him that it seemed petty to complain. He looked like I'd imagined a Greek god would look, except that instead of wearing flowing robes, he was dressed in a grey t-shirt and faded jeans. Come to think of it, the Greek gods were forever coming down from Olympus to cavort with the mortals. And if that was the case, this one was welcome to cavort with me. I might as well get my money's worth from this dream.
"Cavort away," I informed him, with a languid wave of my hand.
"I… beg your pardon?" he said, his voice cracking somewhere in the middle.
"I said, 'cavort away'." I sat up and enunciated more clearly.
"I, uh…" He came a few steps nearer, emerging hesitantly from the corn onto my tiny patch of front lawn. "I'm not sure what you mean by that."
He was being very dense. My next fantasy lover would have brains *and* beauty, I decided, but for now I was willing to work with what I had.
"Cavort," I told him. "It means to frolic about. To caper. But I was using it as a euphemism for sex."
If my dream man had looked terrified before, it was nothing to what he looked like when I said the word 'sex'. I really thought he might faint dead away right there on my little lawn, and I couldn't decide if it was funny or desperately sad that even in my own *dreams* my relationships were total disasters. I think what emerged from my mouth was a tearful giggle.
I had to look terrible, I realized, running my hand through my hair. When had I last showered? Three days? Four? I couldn't even remember. I hadn't worn makeup since I'd gotten to Kansas, and even though I seemed to sleep all the time, I saw dark circles under my eyes every time I looked in the mirror. Now, I was so disgusting that I couldn't even seduce a figment of my own imagination.
I concentrated as hard as I could, trying to clean myself up a bit and change my Met U Tennis Team t-shirt into something more alluring, but my imagination seemed to have spent itself on the Greek god in blue jeans.
"Are you all right?" my dream man asked, looking concerned.
"Fine," I told him. "I was just, um, trying to change. You know, slip into something more comfortable." I gave him what I hoped was a sultry look, but it just made him look more nervous. "I'm sorry." I sighed and sagged back into my chair. "This isn't working out."
"Um, what isn't?"
"This dream. It was good at first. That flying down from the sky thing you did was really cool, and then… well, I sure can't complain about the way you look. But you don't seem all that interested in me, not that I blame you at the moment. I know I'm not… well, it's been a tough time for me lately, and I guess I haven't been thinking much about my appearance. I was trying to imagine myself in something else, but it's just not working, so maybe we can try it again another time. I'll try to dream up a shower and some clean clothes, and maybe you could look just a little less terrified."
He smiled, and I realized that my imagination hadn't spent itself after all. He'd been beautiful even when he looked nervous and fearful, but when he smiled, he was like an engraved invitation to sin.
"I'll try to do that," he promised softly, and then he turned and walked back into the cornfield. I held my breath and watched him, determined to see where he went, but one second I could see him towering head and shoulders above the adolescent corn, and the next, there was a swooshing sound and he had disappeared, leaving me staring at the waving green field. I pinched myself, hard enough to leave a red mark on my skin, and then I stared at the red mark, which *hurt*, damn it, and tried to work out what it meant.
The following morning, Martha arrived with several quick raps at the door, and I greeted her fully dressed.
"Well look at you!" she exclaimed. "You must be feeling better."
I wanted to pretend not to know what she was talking about, but I felt a pleased smile touch my lips. She was right, of course. Just showering and dressing had made me feel a little more like myself.
"A little," I admitted. "Thank you for the sandwiches."
"Oh, honey, you're welcome," she said, already on her way into the kitchen. She began unloading things from her cardboard box. "Did you walk that fence line like I asked you?"
"Uh, yeah." I didn't tell her that it was only after I'd been thoroughly rattled by the flying man who might or might not have been a dream. After he had flown away, or evaporated, or whatever it was he had done, I had been too keyed up and restless to continue sitting on the porch. Also, I was more self-conscious about my appearance than I had been before. It was one thing to look so awful in front of my sixty-year-old landlady, and quite another to look that way in front of a hunky apparition. So I had gone inside, showered, and dressed, and then I had walked the fence line as I'd promised Martha I would. It was farther than I'd thought — distances were harder to gauge here than they had been in Metropolis — and I was tired by the time I got back, but I'd completed my task and could report to Martha that the barbed wire fence had looked secure to me.
"Oh, that's good news," she said. "I'll be sure to tell Jonathan. By the way, he wanted me to tell you that he might pop in on you sometime in the next day or two when he's working in this field. He's looking forward to meeting you."
"What does he look like?" I ventured, entertaining fleeting visions of Martha Kent in a May-December romance with the man I'd met.
"Jonathan?" She seemed surprised. "Well, let's see… blue eyes, glasses, hair that used to be sandy brown but now is mostly silver. Bit of a spare tire these days." She laughed and patted her stomach. "You'll know him when you see him, and besides, I can't imagine anyone else being this far back on our property."
"Oh." My mind was chewing furiously on the information she'd given me. Clearly, the man who had landed in my cornfield was not Jonathan Kent, and just as clearly, no one else had any business in the cornfield. So who had it been? I remembered the red mark on my arm and felt increasingly uneasy. I hadn't been asleep — I was sure of that now — which meant that the man hadn't been a dream — a sleeping dream, anyway. So had I conjured him up while I was awake? I knew I was going through a hard time. I'd even go so far as to admit I'd been depressed. But having waking conversations with people who weren't there was a whole other level of crazy, one that I didn't much want to think about.
I let Martha go about fussing around the kitchen, and I tried my best to put my flying dream man out of my mind.
It was difficult to forget him, however, because he came to me again that evening, when the sky was streaked with reds and golds and the crickets and cicadas were warming up for their evening performance. He didn't fly this time, or not that I could see, but I saw him at the edge of the corn field, watching me, and this time I stood up to greet him. Whatever he was, I was determined to confront him.
"Hi," he said, sounding almost shy.
"This is private property," I told him belligerently. "You're not supposed to be here."
He gave me a wry smile. "I guess you're fully awake this time."
"I was awake last time. I just didn't know it." I replayed those sentences in my head and realized how crazy they sounded, but it was too late to take them back.
"Things are different in the country," he told me. "Folks don't mind strangers on their land so long as they don't do any harm."
"And how do I know you're not here to do harm?"
He shook his head and shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "You don't, I guess. But I'm not. I just… I wanted to apologize for scaring you yesterday. I wanted to make sure you were all right."
"I'm fine." I was staring hard at him, trying to decide if he was real. Because I'd had another thought, only slightly less disconcerting than the possibility that I was imagining him. What if he was some kind of a ghost? It had never occurred to me to believe in ghosts before, but somehow that seemed more believable than a flying man. "I'm not building you a baseball field," I blurted, thinking we might as well get that out on the table.
"You know, like in that Kevin Costner movie, where the baseball players come out of the cornfield. Field of Dreams. We're not doing that here. This isn't even my corn."
He smiled. "I'm not a baseball player… and you don't look a thing like Kevin Costner."
Well, that was gratifying, even if it was completely beside the point. "Are you… you know… real?"
His eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "I certainly think so."
I went down the steps and edged a little closer to him. It was dusk now, and it was getting harder to make out details. "I mean, real in the sense of being… well, alive."
"You think I'm a *ghost*?"
"I kind of *hope* you're a ghost," I told him. "Or at least, I do if the alternative is that you're a figment of my imagination. Because that would mean that I'm way more screwed up than I thought I was… I mean, I know I'm a little messed up right now, but there's a big difference between being a little messed up — and by the way, if ever anybody had a right to be a little messed up, it's *me* right *now* — and having whole conversations with somebody who isn't there. I don't really want to go there, you know? So if you could do something to prove to me that you're real, I'd appreciate it because I have enough to worry about without adding hallucinations the list."
"You didn't even take a breath," he said, sounding awed. "How can you accuse me of being a ghost, when you can say whole paragraphs without breathing?"
I gave him one of my patented Not Amused looks.
"I'm not a ghost," he said quickly. "And I'm not a figment of your imagination. You're not crazy."
"Heh. That's debatable at the moment." I sat down on the steps and gestured for him to do the same. He settled next to me, not touching, but close enough that I could feel the warmth of his body. That pleased me. In the first place, it seemed to suggest that he was fully corporeal, and in the second… well, it was just nice, that's all. "So if you're not a ghost, and you're not a figment of my imagination, where exactly did you come from?"
"The cornfield." He cut his eyes at me, and I saw that there was a small smile playing about his lips.
"The cornfield," I repeated. "Of course. Well, that's *so* reassuring. Thanks." I shot him a glare.
"I grew up in these cornfields," he said. "When I think of home, this…" he gestured to the darkened field, "is what comes to mind."
"So you live around here."
"Not exactly. I'm, uh, visiting."
"And I wasn't dreaming when I saw you fly, was I?"
"Could we just leave that part for now?" he asked, looking serious. "All the stuff about how I got here and where I live. Does it really matter?"
I thought about it. On the one hand it *did* matter, quite a bit; my sanity might just hinge on the answers to those questions. On the other hand, I sure didn't want to talk about how *I'd* gotten there and why. And whoever this guy was, however he'd gotten there, I realized that I wasn't quite ready for him to leave. He was the first person I'd encountered since my wedding day whose company I felt I could bear. Everyone else had seemed to rub my nerves raw, no matter how solicitous they tried to be; this man, though, soothed me with his very presence. I can't explain it any better than that. Just the warmth of his body next to mine was a comfort.
"Touch me," I said.
He immediately looked wary. "What?"
"Just touch me. Let me feel that you're real."
He swallowed and raised his hand to my cheek, his fingers sweeping delicately over my skin, like the brush of butterfly wings.
"I wasn't completely honest with you before," he said softly, as he drew his hand away.
<<Oh, this could be bad,>> I thought. "Which part?" I said aloud.
"I did want to make sure I hadn't scared you," he said, never taking his dark eyes from mine, "but the real reason I came back tonight is that… um, I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
I laughed, which probably wasn't the response he was expecting. It surprised me, too. It had been so long since I'd laughed, I wasn't sure I remembered how. But his confession was so utterly ridiculous that the laughter just seemed to bubble up and out of me, catching us both off guard. Because there was *no way* that anyone who had seen me the day before could have thought that I was beautiful. Just no way.
"It must get *awfully* lonely in that cornfield," I said, shaking my head.
He laughed then, too. "Very lonely. I wander around, scare away the occasional crow, keep my eyes open for corn weevils…"
"So, I'm more beautiful than crows and weevils," I said dryly. "Now *that* I might believe."
"Take it however you want to," he said easily, and I nodded. I didn't believe him, but it had been a sweet thing to say.
"Who *are* you?" I asked.
"A friend," he answered. "I'd like to be, anyway."
"Friends are pretty thin on the ground for me these days," I admitted, feeling a pang as I thought of Perry and Jimmy. I hadn't spoken to either of them since my wedding day.
"Does that mean there might be an opening?" His voice was light, but his expression was serious. I could tell that my answer meant something to him.
"You'll have to come to me," I told him. "I'm not wandering around in that corn."
He waggled his eyebrows at me. "If you build it, I will come," he said in his best ghostly baseball announcer voice, and I could hardly believe it, but I actually laughed again.
"I already told you…" I started, but he held up his hands and laughed with me.
"I'm just kidding. You don't have to build anything. I'll be around."
"Yep." He smiled and rose from his place on the steps with easy grace. "As a matter of fact, I'll see you tomorrow, if that's all right."
"I'll be here," I said. And looking forward to it, though I didn't say that part out loud. As he turned and walked back into the cornfield, I realized how good it felt to have something to look forward to.
I wish I could say that my visit with my friend from the cornfield solved all my problems, and that after he made me laugh twice, I was myself again. But that's a bigger lie than I can tell.
No, the truth is that whatever I had found of hopefulness, it was as though my new friend took it with him when he disappeared into the darkness. Once he was gone, I felt more alone than ever; I felt the familiar lethargy claim me, felt my brain settling into a hum of white noise, like the cicadas that buzzed all around me.
When Martha Kent arrived the next morning, I was still in bed, curled on my side and staring at the wall. I listened to her knocking, and I wondered if I ignored her if she would just go away. I would come to learn that summer that Martha was as stubborn as I was, and just about as sneaky, too, but that day I still deluded myself that I could outwait or outwit her.
I didn't stand a chance. The knocking continued, and eventually I found it irritating enough that I rolled out of bed and went to let her in.
"Good morning." She breezed past me on her way into the kitchen.
"I was asleep," I told her petulantly.
She paused and looked me up and down. "No you weren't," she said, and then she went back to unloading her box. "I brought you some leftovers…"
"I was so," I argued, suddenly spoiling for a fight. "How would you know if I was asleep or not? What are you? The sleep police?" It was stupid and childish and didn't make any sense, but I was in that sort of mood.
She shrugged. "I can just tell. Must be a mother thing."
"It's no wonder your son's in Borneo, then," I snapped, and far from being offended, she laughed in my face.
"Jonathan says the same thing," she told me. "Says he's a grown man, and I should stop fussing over him." She looked a little sheepish, but then she brightened. "Did I tell you we heard from Clark several days ago? He's doing a series of articles for a nature magazine." It was clear that the subject of Clark was one that Martha never tired of. She told me about his newest assignment in exhausting detail, and even though I thought that writing about geckos or whatever sounded like the perfect cure for insomnia, I managed to keep those thoughts to myself. I was planning to spend the summer watching corn grow, after all, so it wasn't like I had a lot of room to talk.
When she finally wound down about Clark, she put a plate of food in front of me and whipped out a pen and a small notebook.
"I'm going to the grocery store today," she told me, joining me at the small table, "and I thought I might as well pick up whatever you need while I'm there."
"Oh. Well, you don't have to do that," I told her awkwardly. "I can do it. I mean, I have a car, and… I can do it."
"It's no trouble," she assured me, though I hadn't suggested that it was. "What do you think you need?"
"I can do it," I said, an edge to my voice. "I appreciate all of this," I gestured at the kitchen, "but I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
"I'm sure you are," she said gently, "but if I'm already going, it's silly for you to make a separate trip."
"I need… things. Things I'd rather buy for myself." And this was true. Although it seemed that time had stood still since I'd arrived in Kansas, my body was progressing normally through its monthly cycle, and I would soon need supplies I hadn't brought with me.
"You don't need anything I haven't bought before," Martha assured me. "And honey… I *really* don't think you need to be going to the store right now."
I'm sure I gave her a blank look. I knew I didn't exactly look like a fashion plate, but surely I cleaned up well enough to go to a grocery store in Smallville, Kansas? Was this some bizarre conspiracy to hold me prisoner on the farm? Clark had escaped to Borneo, so she needed someone to mother?
"It's just…" Martha seemed to be searching for the right words. She looked down at the pen in her hand and tapped it irritably against the table. "Those awful tabloids in the checkout lines… I don't know how the people who write for those things sleep at night! But right now, they're all covered with pictures of a young woman who looks a lot like you. And I wasn't going to say anything, because it's none of my business, after all, but unless you want that kind of recognition, I think you might better stay here for the time being."
"Damn it," I whispered, tears of frustration stinging my eyes. I remembered all of the flashbulbs that had exploded in my face before I'd finally managed to sneak out of Metropolis. Of *course* those pictures were all over the tabloids now. Pictures of poor, duped Lois Lane, and who-knew-what lies accompanying them. "What are they saying about me?"
"I don't have the slightest idea," she said with asperity. "You couldn't pay me enough to touch one of those rags. They're a disgrace to all the real, talented writers out there — writers like you and my Clark, who try to make the world a better place."
At another time, I might have objected to being lumped together with a freelancer in Borneo who made his living writing about geckos, but just then, I was too touched by Martha's kindness to make an issue of it. Something in me gave way that morning. Some wall I'd been keeping up… it just crumbled in the face of Martha's staunch support and protectiveness.
"It's not just the tabloids, though, is it?" I asked softly. "It's every paper in the country, every news channel. One minute, those people were my peers, and the next they were circling me like vultures, just waiting to pick my bones. And the thing is, I'd have done the same, if it had happened to them. I'd have chased the story."
"I'm sure that's not true."
"It is," I said firmly. "I won't be a hypocrite about it now, just because the shoe is on the other foot. 'The Fall of the House of Luthor', they're calling it, and it's a hell of a story. If I weren't in the middle of it, no force on earth would keep me from writing it, and that's the honest truth. But it doesn't mean I have to like being in the middle of it."
"No, it doesn't mean that," Martha agreed, reaching for me and rubbing a couple of comforting circles between my shoulder blades. For the first time, I didn't feel the urge to pull away from her. "Now, about that grocery list…"
The afternoon found me standing in my front yard, staring at my latest assignment from Martha and wondering what the hell she'd been thinking. When she'd arrived with my groceries around lunchtime, she'd also brought her husband, a big teddy bear of a man; he, in turn, had brought his tiller, which he had used to grind away a patch of my small lawn, and then together they had presented me with several flats of tiny flowers. In other words I, who had never planted anything in my life and couldn't even keep a desk plant alive for more than a week, was expected to plant a flower garden. Martha had chattered on about how much more appealing it would make the little house to the next tenants, about what a big help it would be to them if I would do this, and even though I didn't quite believe her this time, I didn't refuse, either. She and Jonathan both were protecting me from the world, and if they wanted flowers, I'd plant flowers.
Not that I had the faintest idea of how to go about it. How deep were the holes supposed to be? How close together should I put the plants? Did it matter which ones went where? How much water should I give them? Nervous indecision clawed at my insides as I faced that blank patch of dirt. I had interviewed heads of state and faced down cold-blooded-killers without flinching, but I was intimidated into a state of high anxiety by a patch of freshly turned soil and a bunch of little flowers. It was stupid and infuriating and just one more thing Lex Luthor should have had to answer for, in my opinion. My feelings for Lex had been so confused since his death, but at that moment, with the June sun on my shoulders and a spade in my hand, I realized that I *hated* him for what he had done to me.
I think I found myself in that moment.
I think that when I allowed myself to hate Lex, Lois Lane, who had been cowering somewhere inside my head, began to assert herself again. I was through being a victim. I was *not* going to let Lex beat me. I was going to plant flowers, damn it, without being afraid.
Well… it made sense to me at the time.
There is something therapeutic about spending an afternoon with one's hands in the dirt. Martha had known this, of course, which is why she had me do it. Jonathan had tilled a rectangular swatch in front of my porch rail, and to start with, I squatted down in the spot closest to the steps and plunged my spade into the rich soil. It sank in easily, and soon I was dropping the first little plant into the hole and patting the dirt snug around its network of delicate white roots. Whatever it was, it wasn't flowering just yet, but I could see red buds, clenched tight, and I tried to imagine what they would look like when they opened up and turned their faces to the sun. It was another thing to look forward to — another reason to get up the next morning and the next and the next. I'd never cared much about flowers before, but as I moved along the line Jonathan had made with his tiller, I realized that I wanted to see these bloom.
Sweat trickled down my back and between my breasts, and my muscles cramped from being hunched over and crawling around. I was filthy, with black dirt crusted beneath my fingernails and staining the knees of my jeans, but as I planted one flower and then another and then another, I felt something like the sort of contentment I'd always gotten when I saw words — my words — marching across a page. I was creating something again, even if it was only a small flower garden hardly anyone would ever see.
Dateline, Smallville. 'Crazy Woman Plants Flowers', by Lois Lane. I smiled to myself at the thought of it.
"It looks nice."
My friend from the cornfield had slipped up behind me, silent as a cat, and his voice startled me so much that I lost my balance, fell backwards, and landed on my butt in the dirt. "You scared me," I scolded him, glaring when he burst out laughing.
"Here." He offered me a hand up.
"No. I'll get you all dirty."
"I'll wash." I nodded and let him pull me to my feet. I realized then that I'd been so absorbed in my project that I hadn't noticed the passage of time. The sun was going down, setting the western horizon ablaze. "It looks nice," he said again, nodding in the direction of my little garden. "Not as nice as a baseball field would, but still…"
I smiled at that, and then I stood back and looked at the garden myself and decided he was being overly kind. It might be pretty in time, but just then, it looked a little pathetic. The tiny little plants didn't begin to fill the space Jonathan had tilled, and most of them were drooping morosely, looking thoroughly dissatisfied with their new home.
"It looks pitiful," I countered.
"A little water will perk them right up. I'll do it for you if you like."
"Thanks. My landlady brought a hose, but I haven't hooked it up yet." I retrieved the new hose from the porch and handed it to him. "The flowers were her idea. One of the ways she's making me earn my keep."
"She's doing *what*?" He looked utterly astonished. "Aren't you paying rent?"
"Yeah. But this lady… she's decided I need to be kept busy, and there's no arguing with her. She's like a force of nature."
He chuckled. "I know the type."
"Well, I have to admit… it hasn't been so bad, and it's not like I had anything else to do." I rubbed at the dirt on my hands. "Would you mind if I went and took a quick shower?"
He was already crawling into the bushes to hook up the bright green garden hose. "Nope," he called to me. "Just give me a shout when you're out, and I'll start watering then. You probably don't have enough water pressure to do both at once."
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask how he would know that, but then I stopped myself. The guy claimed to have grown up in a cornfield; obviously, he'd know more about the country than I would.
I nodded. "I'll be out in a few minutes."
It was a longer few minutes than I'd expected. The shower felt good after my labors, and it took forever to get the dirt off of my hands and out from under my fingernails. When I was out, I wrapped myself in one of Martha's fluffy yellow towels and raised my bedroom window to call to my friend from the cornfield.
"I'm out," I told him, leaning a little bit out of the window. "I'm just getting dressed now."
For a few seconds he just stared at me, and I was reminded of the first time I'd seen him, when he'd been scared speechless. I knew that this time, however, he wasn't scared. Finally he nodded. "All right," he said, never taking his eyes off of me. "I'll, uh…"
"Water the flowers," I prompted, when he seemed to lose his train of thought.
"Right," he agreed, looking down at the hose on the ground at his feet, as if he couldn't recall how it had gotten there.
"Thanks." I stepped back from the window, and when I was sure I was out of his sight, I dropped the towel, smiling to myself. His speechlessness was somehow more flattering than a hundred elaborate compliments. Lex had been gifted with a silver tongue, and he'd hardly ever missed an opportunity to praise my beauty. And I had fallen for it — had believed that all of those pretty words had actually meant something. But never once had he found me so beautiful that he'd lost his train of thought. Never once had my presence distracted him from whatever business he was conducting. It was an interesting realization, and I wondered how long it might have taken for me to come to it, had the wedding gone off as planned. I'd have gotten there eventually, I suspected. I'd have awakened one day to realize that my husband's words of flattery were nothing more than a gilded tool for him, a means to an end. As bad as things were for me just then, I knew to my very bones that they would eventually have been much worse had Inspector Henderson not barged into my wedding with a warrant in his hand.
I dressed in clean jeans and a shirt and pulled my wet hair up into a ponytail before going back downstairs to look for my friend. He was outside watering my garden, using his thumb to diffuse the spray over the young plants.
"Hi," he greeted me as I stepped out onto the porch. "I'm almost done here."
"Thanks." I sat down on the steps and watched him, wondering what we would do when he finished. I hadn't thought quite that far ahead. I'd been looking forward to him coming, but I hadn't considered what I would do with him when he got there.
"Have you eaten?" he asked, apparently thinking along the same lines.
"Not since lunch. Martha force-fed me a sandwich then."
"Martha's your landlady, I take it?" His eyes twinkled at me.
"Mmm hmm. She lives to assign chores and feed people." I gave him a suspicious look. "But if you're from around here, you probably know her, right?"
"I haven't lived around here in quite a few years," he said. "But I do know the Kents. They're good people."
"Yeah," I agreed, thinking of the tabloids, and of all Martha had done for me since I'd arrived. I wasn't used to people being nice to me, I guess. Not that kind of nice, where they didn't seem to want anything in return.
He wrestled with the bushes again and turned off the water, wiping his hands against his jeans when he was finished. "All done," he told me with a smile. "Did I earn my supper?"
"Sure," I told him, standing up, "so long as you don't mind cooking it."
"You don't cook?"
I shook my head. "It's not really something I do. Lack of time and lack of talent. But I think Martha left some things we could heat up. I can usually manage that without burning down the kitchen. And chocolate. I'm very good with chocolate."
"I'll remember that." He grinned and held the door open for me. "I just might manage to find you some chocolate out there in the cornfield one night."
Well that was certainly an intriguing thought. "What else is hidden in that cornfield of yours?" I asked.
"Let me surprise you," he said, and I felt an almost childish pleasure in the suggestion. Normally, I hated surprises, but for some reason, I was content to wait for his.
He wound up being the one to warm the food Martha had left for me, and I ate it with more appetite than I'd felt since I'd come to Kansas. We lingered long over our plates, talking of inconsequential things and sometimes not talking at all. Dinners with Lex had never been silent, and though he had always been well-informed and interesting, I had felt a certain pressure to keep up, to be the kind of dinner partner such a brilliant and important man deserved. But unlike Lex, my friend from the cornfield didn't seem to feel that every moment needed to be filled with conversation. He didn't seem to care if I was scintillating, nor did he feel he needed to be imparting wisdom or showering me in compliments with every breath. His easy silence invited confidences I'd never intended to share.
"These made me sick," I said, fingering the now-drooping bouquet Martha had put in the center of the table before I'd moved in. "The first night I was here. I saw these flowers, and they reminded me of something."
"The something you came here to forget?"
But I realized then that I *wasn't* forgetting. I was sitting there with a stranger and mentally comparing him to Lex. I'd thought of Lex while I was planting flowers that day, and after my shower that evening. The longer I was gone from Metropolis, the more I seemed to be thinking of Lex and the fact that because of him, I had lost everything. I had turned my whole world upside down to marry him, and now I was doing it again to get away from the memories of him. Even from the grave, Lex Luthor was controlling me, and as much as I hated that, I wasn't sure how to stop it.
"It isn't working, though," I added. "I'm not forgetting."
"What you do with flowers like these," he said, reaching for them and pulling them from the Mason jar, "is you throw them away and replace them with new flowers." He scraped back his chair and tossed the flowers onto the kitchen countertop. "Do you have a flashlight?"
"I have a little one on my keychain." My purse was sitting on the table beside the sofa, and I nodded in that direction. "Why?"
"We're going to pick some flowers." He picked up our plates and dumped them in the sink.
"In the dark?" I protested. "Because when I said that flashlight was little, I meant *little*. Like a pen light."
"I won't let us get lost," he promised. "Trust me."
And the absolutely crazy thing was that I *did* trust him. He'd walked out of the corn, had not told me where he was from, had not given me his name, and I'd let him water my garden and then invited him in for supper. And now I was about to hand him my penlight and let him lead me out into the darkness. In Metropolis, those would be the actions of a suicidal person, but I wasn't feeling suicidal in the slightest. I pulled my keys out of my purse and handed them to him. "Lead the way."
When we got outside, he tested out my penlight, and we both laughed at the tiny prick of light it made in the darkness. "Very helpful," he teased. There was a sliver of moon that night, but it was cloaked in clouds.
"You'd better have eyes like a cat," I told him. "Otherwise, they're going to find our bones out here."
"We'll soon find out." He offered me his hand and I took it, letting him lead me behind my house and along the same fence I'd walked the day before for Martha. The velvety darkness seemed to close in around us, and the farther we got from the house, the more thick and oppressive it seemed. The night sounds that had seemed soothing from my porch suddenly seemed faintly menacing, and my mind started ticking off all the reasons this excursion had been a bad idea. I had put myself completely at his mercy, I realized. If I screamed out here, no one would hear me. If he decided to rape me, or kill me, and disappear back into his cornfield, they really might be finding my bones in the field. I felt the first frisson of fear… felt myself break out in gooseflesh.
"How much farther?" I asked.
He must have heard something in my voice because he stopped and turned the pen light on my face. "Are you all right?"
"I… it's just darker than I thought it would be." I squinted against the small circle of light.
"I'm sorry," he said gently. "We should have waited and done this another night. When the moon is full and there are no clouds, it's practically as bright as day. I didn't mean to scare you."
"I'm just not used to darkness like this," I told him truthfully. "In the city, it's never really dark."
He smiled. "A city girl, huh? I should have known. Well look at this, City Girl." He squatted down and shined the light against the base of one of the limestone fence pillars. Little yellow flowers clamored all around it; I hadn't even noticed them when I'd walked the fence the day before.
I squatted down beside him and fingered the profusion of yellow blooms. "These are the same flowers that were growing around the gazebo in town. I thought they were weeds."
"They're called coreopsis, and they grow all over the place around here. When I was little, I used to make wreaths out of them and put them on the dog's head. He hated it."
I burst out laughing and felt whatever was left of my fear drain away. It was impossible to be afraid of a man who would confess to something like that, no matter how dark it was outside. I reached down and, by the light of the tiny flashlight, I began picking the flowers for my kitchen as he did the same. When we each had a handful, we turned back toward the house, my friend leading the way. He really did seem to have vision like a cat's, I thought, as he moved sure-footedly across the field.
When we reached the house and I was once again bathed in the light from my porch, I felt foolish for my moment of fear out in the field. I wanted to tell him so, but before I could, he said, "I should go," and handed me my flashlight and the handful of flowers.
"Thank you," I told him. "For coming, I mean. I know it wasn't very exciting…"
"It was perfect," he assured me. "In fact, I'd like to come again, if that's all right."
I nodded. "I'd like that."
"I'll see you tomorrow, then," he promised, and I called a soft 'good night' as he walked away from me and disappeared into the darkness.
>From that night on, my days took on a simple rhythm. Around mid-morning, Martha would arrive with supplies, conversation, and some little chore or another to keep me busy. I recognized these for what they were, but I had to admit that she was pretty ingenious at coming up with them, and they gave me a reason to get up every morning and something to reflect back on with satisfaction at day's end. One day she brought a huge sack of beans, and we sat together on the porch, snapping them until my fingers ached as she told me stories about her grandmother, who had pieced the faded quilt that covered my bed. Another day, she brought an old-fashioned ice cream maker, and we took turns turning the crank. Jonathan put in an appearance that morning, claiming that he just happened to be working that part of the farm, and even though the ice cream hadn't frozen hard yet, we opened the canister and ate it anyway, laughing as it quickly melted into sweet soup in our bowls.
Some afternoons, Jonathan would stop by alone and take a break from his work, and we would sit on the porch together, he in the rocking chair and me on the steps, and he would sip a glass of ice water and talk genially about the corn, or the weather, or the plans he had for the farm. As much as I'd come to enjoy Martha, I began to look forward to these quiet times alone with Jonathan, too.
One day Martha brought me a stack of magazines and newspaper clippings, all featuring articles written by Clark Kent, and her face shone with a fierce pride as she handed them to me and told me that she thought I might enjoy reading them and getting to know her son. I accepted them and even thanked her, but I was confused by the emotions that churned up my insides at the sight of that stack. I doubted my mother had ever clipped a single one of my articles; the first time I'd ever really felt her approval was when I showed her my engagement ring. Did this Clark Kent know what he had waiting for him back in Kansas? Did he appreciate how much his parents adored him?
I put the magazines and clippings in the drawer of my bedside table, but I didn't look at them. I wanted to, for Martha's sake, but I had worked up an odd resentment of her son, and I was afraid that if I read his articles, I would find out that Clark was all that she said he was. I was afraid that if I let myself be exposed to him, even through his stories, I would wind up liking him, too, and I didn't *want* to like him, as perverse as that sounds. I didn't want to share his parents with him, and that was the simple truth of the matter. I knew that I was healing under Martha's care, and it made me selfish. I felt that the affection and attention she was lavishing on me was only because I was serving as some sort of surrogate for the child who was off wandering the world, and that if he were to come home, I would quickly be cast aside.
This only goes to show that however appreciative I might have been of the Kents, I did not understand them, or their capacity for love, at all.
Each night at sunset, my friend would step out of the cornfield and find me waiting on the porch for him. I had accepted that he was real, but at times, it still felt like he was stepping out of a dream — as if he only really came to life when he was with me. Our evenings together were like moments out of time, and when he was gone, when he had slipped back into the cornfield and disappeared for another night, I would sometimes have moments of doubt and would look for signs that he had truly been there. I would stare at his empty glass by the sink and remind myself that yes, he'd stood in my kitchen and drunk out of that glass. I didn't know where he came from or where he went, and though I had never been short on curiosity, I was oddly reluctant to question him much on the subject. I was afraid, I guess, that whatever magic brought him to me each night would be destroyed if I exposed it to the light of day. He seemed to belong to the twilight and the moonlight, and I was content to let it remain that way.
"I came here because it seems like the end of the earth," I confessed to him one night, as we sat shoulder to shoulder on my little front stoop and watched the sun sink down beneath the horizon. The sight of it left me feeling a little melancholy for some reason I couldn't explain.
"No," he said. He reached for my hand and laced our fingers together. "I've been all around the earth, and there is no end. Just one beginning after another."
I gave him a wry smile. "Do you think I can find a beginning here in Smallville?"
He nodded and squeezed my hand. "I think the *best* beginnings are in Smallville." Then, as if to prove it, he leaned down and kissed me, and even though it was our first kiss, it felt as easy and natural as breathing. I was content to remain there forever, with his lips warm and sweet on mine, and when he made as if to pull away, I tugged him back, not ready to let him go.
"Wow," he whispered, when we finally drew apart for breath.
"Yeah." I reached up and touched his dark hair, which seemed to have been gilded by the newly risen moon. "But I should probably tell you… I'm not good at this."
He chuckled. "I don't know who you've been talking to, but I think you're *very* good at this."
I smiled, but pressed on. "I don't mean kissing, exactly. Just… relationships. My last one was such a disaster that I probably qualify for federal aid."
"We'll take it slow," he promised, pulling me close. "We have all the time in the world."
And it really did seem that way, to both of us. During the day, I would remind myself that real life awaited me back in Metropolis and that I couldn't hide out in Kansas forever, but at night, when he was with me, it seemed like we were children playing in a sort of Never-Never Land, where time stood still, and we could avoid unpleasant realities forever.
One night about a week after our first kiss, he took me in his arms to say good night, and we stood there together beside the cornfield, wrapped up in one another and swaying a little to the music of the night's sounds. "This is like dancing," I said a little wistfully. Because we couldn't go dancing like a normal couple, and suddenly there was a part of me that wished we could.
"No," he told me, his mouth curving mischievously and his eyes crinkling at the corners. "*This* is dancing." And with those words, we slipped the bonds of earth and went spiraling up into the night sky. I looked up at him, breathless with awe, and knew without being told that I had just been trusted with something precious. I didn't understand it, didn't know how it was possible, but like so many things about my dream friend, I chose not to question it. I smiled to let him know I wasn't afraid, and then I rested my head on his shoulder and let him twirl me around in the starshine.
And up there in his arms, with the Kent's cornfield spread out beneath us, I realized for the first time that I was in love with him. That my heart had opened up like the little flowers in my garden and was soaking him in, in the way that my flowers soaked up the sun and the rain. That I needed him like that, too, and that without him I would still be curled up tight in the darkness, hiding from my memories.
And when I realized that, I also realized that I had never been in love before. Not with any of the men I had dated… not with the man I had eventually and so disastrously married. I had thought I'd experienced love, but what I'd felt for those men was nothing like this. I'd been like the blind men touching an elephant, trying to understand the whole while only experiencing disconnected parts.
He must have noticed my contented smile because he said, "What are you thinking?"
I beamed up at him. "I was just thinking that you're the whole elephant."
He stared at me, and then shook his head in bewilderment. "Sheesh, you take a girl flying, you think she'd be a little impressed. Instead, she compares you to an elephant. You do know that elephants don't fly, don't you?"
I giggled. "You do know that *men* don't either, right?"
"This one does," he said, with quiet intensity. "He flies and he can hear your heartbeat from miles away and he could lift a mountain and lay it at your doorstep if you told him you wanted it. And he would do it, too, because he's completely and totally in love with you."
I felt tears prick my eyes. "I don't want a mountain on my doorstep," I told him. "But I only fall in love with men who can fly."
He closed his eyes and pulled me even closer, until there was no telling where one of us stopped and the other began. He had been *afraid*, I realized — terrified of what my response would be — and I knew then that even more precious than the gift of his secret was the gift of his heart. At some point during our weeks together, he had given it to me — given me the power to cherish it or to break it — and I hadn't even realized it. I'd been thinking of all that he meant to me, of how bleak my life would be without him in it, never realizing that I meant just as much to him. The whole elephant was indeed a magnificent creature.
"You know, I can take you anywhere," he said, sounding endearingly modest about it. "Anywhere in the world you want to go."
I thought about it — thought about all the places I'd dreamed of visiting and had never been — but in the end, I looked down at the farm spread out beneath us and shook my head. "Someday, maybe. But for right now, I think I'd like to stay here. Is that all right?"
"It's perfectly all right," he murmured, brushing my lips with a gentle kiss. "Here is my favorite place on earth."
We didn't leave the farm until the Fourth of July, when he insisted on taking me to see the fireworks in town.
"No one will see us," he promised, when I expressed reservations. "I can't be seen around here either, you know. But we won't be able to see the fireworks well enough from the farm."
So I allowed him to lift me into his arms and fly me the short distance to town. It was the first time I'd seen Smallville since the day I'd arrived nearly a month before, and on that night, at least, it was magical again. There was music and laughter, and the gazebo was draped with red, white, and blue bunting and little clear twinkling lights. Children raced one another around the green with sparklers in their hands while their parents picnicked on colorful blankets spread nearby. It was the Smallville I remembered from my first trip there — the Smallville that had wormed its way into my memories and somehow called me to her when I was in despair.
"I'll bet it's beautiful in the snow," I said, wondering if I would ever see it that way, wondering with a vague feeling of unease where we both would be when winter came.
He laughed at me. "It's July and we're about to see fireworks. Why are you thinking about snow?"
"It reminded me of a village in a snow globe," I told him, laughing too.
"Ah. Well, it *is* pretty in the snow, but I don't think there's any forecast for tonight," he told me. "And that's a good thing, because a summer snowstorm would bankrupt the farmers around here. Let's find a place to set down and watch the fireworks, okay?"
I must have tensed in his arms. "I know the perfect place," he added soothingly. "No one will see us."
He took me to a field just outside of town, far enough that I could no longer hear the sounds of the crowd, but close enough that the fireworks would be in full view. We landed in the tall grass, and he led me by the hand to a place he'd prepared beforehand. There was a blanket spread out, just like the ones in the village green, and a picnic basket packed with wine and cheese and rich chocolate.
"See? Our own private picnic," he said, "away from the crowds."
We weren't very hungry, but we opened the picnic basket anyway and sipped at the wine and fed each other bites of the food he'd brought until the first of the fireworks exploded over our heads and we heard the faint cheers of the crowd gathered in Smallville. My friend wrapped me up in his arms and let me lean against him as we watched the show, one bright burst after another lighting up the sky. It was not the most spectacular fireworks display I'd ever seen, but it touched me in a way no other ever had. I felt like it had been staged just for me, to celebrate my own triumph over Lex and the media and all the terrible things that had driven me out of Metropolis. I would be strong enough to go back and face those things soon, and it was because of Smallville, and the Kents, and the mysterious man wrapped around me in the darkness.
Tears wet my cheeks, and my love saw them and chased them with his kisses, easing me back onto the blanket, onto the springy cushion of the thick prairie grass. He covered my body with his and coaxed soft gasps of pleasure from my lips, as my tears trickled down into my hair and the fireworks bloomed like brilliant flowers against the summer sky.
By the time that everything changed, the corn was taller than I was and topped with golden tassels. I really *had* spent the summer watching it grow, and it had been a rare gift. I had seen the rain drench the field and then had watched as the sun rose and dried it out again. I had seen the corn grow taller, stronger, as a result of both, and now soon it would be ready for harvest.
It had been a summer full of quiet moments, simple pleasures, and everyday miracles, and even with the evidence of the maturing corn before me, I still thought, somehow, that it would never end. But then one day in August, it was not Martha but Jonathan who knocked on my door around mid-morning, and things were never quite the same again.
"I just wanted to let you know," Jonathan said. "Martha's not going to make it by today. She had a little accident last night."
"Oh, no!" I gasped. "Is she all right?"
"She will be," he said, "but I'm feeling pretty bad about it. Fortunately, it's just a broken arm and some bruised ribs. She was helping me do some painting and fell from the ladder. I don't mind telling you, my heart just about stopped when I saw her falling."
"It wasn't your fault," I told him, seeing how torn up he was about it.
"No, it was her own damn fault," he grumbled. "I told her it could wait until Clark was home next. But you know how Martha is — stubborn as the day is long."
"And you love her for it."
"Yeah," he admitted. "The Kent men have always had a weakness for smart, stubborn women. Keep hoping Clark'll find himself one and settle down a little closer to home. I tried to call him this morning and couldn't find him. He must be out on some assignment or other, but it sure would do his mother good to hear his voice right now."
If I could have gotten my hands on Clark Kent at that moment, I'd have probably given him a good hard slap. Since I couldn't, I just said, "Well, I know I'm no replacement for Clark, but if I can do anything to help, I'd be glad to."
"I was kind of hoping you'd offer," he admitted. "I think what Martha needs now more than anything is just company. If you could come sit with her a bit, she'd sure appreciate it. She's not able to get around much just yet."
"Of course I will!" I told him. "I'll come right now."
I grabbed my purse, and for the first time since I'd arrived, I got into my car and drove away from the tiny farmhouse. It felt strange, leaving the safety of my little corner of the world in broad daylight, even if it was to go less than a mile away. But Martha needed me, and after all that she had done for me, I could not have considered saying no.
The Kent's farmhouse was three times the size of mine, with a generous and welcoming front porch and flowers blooming all around. They had built it for the children who hadn't come, I remembered, and I ached at the thought of Martha before they had Clark, rattling around in that big house in the grip of the same sort of hopelessness that I had felt.
I parked my car beside Jonathan's truck and waited while he got out. "Sure do appreciate this," he said as he led me to the front door. "And so will Martha. She was fretting about not getting over to see you today."
"She shouldn't," I told him. "It's my turn to take care of her now."
He opened the door and gestured me in ahead of him, and I smiled as I walked into the living room, which was a happy jumble of comfortable furniture and eclectic knick-knacks that somehow just *felt* like Martha to me. But then my smile faded to a look of astonishment as I took in the collection of photographs on a side table. I moved closer to them, picked one up, and felt myself break out in gooseflesh as I stared into the face of my love. He had been a little younger then, and he'd been wearing a cap and gown and sandwiched between his parents, who looked as if they might burst with pride.
"College graduation," Jonathan told me unnecessarily. "Did Martha tell you he graduated with honors?"
"Of course he did," I said.
<<I grew up in these cornfields,>> he'd told me, and I felt a bubble of hysterical laughter welling up in me as it dawned on me that he'd spoken the absolute, literal truth.
Jonathan looked at me strangely, and I put down the picture and shook my head at him, unable to explain. "Let's go see Martha."
Martha was upstairs in her bedroom, and Jonathan let me in and then scurried out again, claiming he needed to get to the fields.
"Oh, he shouldn't have bothered you with this!" Martha cried as soon as she saw me. "You have better things to do than to worry about me."
"We both know that's not true," I told her. "What else do I have to do? I haven't done a single thing all summer except what you've given me to do. So I'm here for my orders. What can I do to help you?"
"You can sneak me out of here," she said decisively. "I'm perfectly capable of being up and around. Jonathan's practically holding me prisoner."
"Nothing doing, lady," I told her. "You look like hell, by the way."
"Thanks a lot." She ran her hand — the one that wasn't in a bright pink cast — through her hair, but it was the scrapes on her face and the bruise along one cheek to which I referred. She was more banged up than I'd expected, and she looked small and weak propped up against the pillows in her faded floral gown. "You know the worst part is that it's my right arm. I'm going to be useless around here for a while. And I was right in the middle of a new sculpture, too!"
I laughed, and it occurred to me then how much I'd grown to love this stubborn, interfering woman. Without being invited, I kicked off my shoes and eased onto the bed next to her, and we spent the rest of that morning talking. When lunchtime came, I went downstairs and fumbled around her kitchen, managing to produce sandwiches for the three of us, and then Martha napped for much of the afternoon while I did whatever housework looked like it needed doing. During those quiet hours, I lingered over the many photographs of Clark Kent, pretending to dust them but really holding them in my hands and tracing his features as I tried to absorb the truth of who he was. In one moment, it seemed completely unbelievable, and then in the next, it seemed so obvious that I was sure I must have suspected it all along. With my mind and heart in such a whirl, I doubt that much of the housework I managed to do was very helpful, but the Kents were too kind and too grateful to complain.
I left in the late afternoon, and when I went to tell Martha goodbye, I bent to give her a gentle hug and said, "I'm going to come back later tonight, all right, and bring you a surprise."
"Oh, honey, don't you dare!" she scolded. "You've done too much for me already, and with Jonathan here, I don't need another thing. You go home and relax and forget about me."
"Nice try," I told her, "but I'm not the pathetic creature that arrived here at the beginning of the summer, and you can't push me around so easily anymore. Besides, you're going to *really* like this surprise."
She was still protesting as I walked out the door, but I knew that now that I'd planted the seed of a surprise, she'd be waiting impatiently until I got back. I felt nervous, though, as I climbed into my car and drove back to my own tiny cottage. The man I loved was real to me now in a way he hadn't been before. He was Clark Kent, the adored son of Martha and Jonathan — the man towards whom I'd been harboring a secret little jealousy for most of the summer. I did not doubt my love for him for a minute, but from the time I had seen that first photograph, I had worried that everything would somehow change once we stood before one another unmasked. We were about to move out of the soft Kansas twilight and into the real world, and though I had known all along that this day would come, I found myself wishing that we had been granted just a few more weeks of innocence.
I knew by then, of course, that the cornfield had nothing to do with his comings and goings. He could take off and land from anywhere. He'd continued to use the cornfield, though, because it was a part of our ritual and because he knew that was where I'd be looking for him. I watched it carefully that evening as the sun painted the sky over our field in the rich reds and golds that meant he would soon be with me. When he appeared, greeting me with the smile that always made my stomach turn somersaults, I rose from the rocking chair, my heart hammering out an erratic rhythm as my hands gripped the porch rail. He must have heard the pounding of my heart because he paused and his smile faded, his face taking on a look of concern.
"What is it, sweetheart? What's wrong?"
I felt guilty for scaring him. "Everything's all right. But your mother… she had an accident."
"Oh, no," he whispered. I saw the fear sweep across his face… the vulnerability, and then just as quickly he pulled himself together. "What? When?"
"She's fine," I assured him. "She fell from a ladder and broke her arm. She was painting the barn, I think."
"Painting the *barn*!" he exploded. "Is she crazy? What was she doing a thing like that for?"
I laughed. I couldn't help it. "Not crazy. Just stubborn and determined. I have it on good authority that the Kent men love that in a woman."
I saw the exact moment that realization dawned.
"You know," he said simply.
I nodded. "I spent the day at the farmhouse, helping your mom. The place is practically a shrine to Clark Kent. It would have been a little hard to miss."
He took a step closer. "And… are we still okay? I promise, I only didn't tell you because you didn't seem to want to know. If you'd ever asked, even once, I'd have told you, I'd have…"
"I know," I told him. "I didn't ask because I didn't want to have to tell you who *I* was. I was… embarrassed, I guess."
"Embarrassed to be a three-time Kerth winner? Embarrassed to be one of the best investigative reporters in the country?" He took my hands in his and drew me close.
"Embarrassed to have married one of the biggest criminals in history," I said against his chest. "I didn't know, though. You have to believe me — I didn't know what he was until afterwards."
"I do believe you," he soothed, stroking my hair gently. "So do a lot of other people. And you *didn't* marry him."
"I… *what*?" I stared up at him, my mouth hanging open.
"I wasn't sure if you knew. Apparently the police broke up the wedding before it was legal. You didn't sign the marriage license, and neither did the officiant, so according to New Troy law, you were never married. It might not change much for you emotionally, but legally, it should make your life a lot simpler."
"Thank God," I whispered, and I felt my knees grow weak. His arms came around me, though, and supported me, and I knew then that just as this man had healed me, he could also sustain me in the real world. "I didn't love him, you know. I thought I did, I guess, but…"
"He was just the elephant's tusk, right?"
I smiled against his shirtfront. "You figured it out."
"It took a while."
There was more to say — a lifetime's worth of things — but Clark was a good son, and when he was sure I had pulled myself together, he swung me up into his arms. "Let's go see my crazy, stubborn mother."
"Let's do," I agreed, now looking forward to the surprise.
We were there a few seconds later, landing gently right in front of the Kent's welcoming front porch. I could picture him growing up there now — could see in my mind's eye the little dark-haired boy running in and out of the house and being reminded to wipe his feet and reprimanded for slamming the door.
Clark let us into the living room and quickly put a finger to his lips to stop Jonathan exclaiming and ruining the surprise.
"Hi, Dad," he whispered, giving his father a hug. "I hear Mom's been trying to fly."
"How did you…?" Jonathan spluttered, looking from me to Clark with amazement.
"Long story," Clark told him. "We'll tell you and Mom together, all right?"
But I think Jonathan got a hint when Clark took my hand in his and began to lead the way up the stairs. He gaped at us for a moment, and then his look of astonishment was replaced by one of pure delight and he hurried after us, not wanting to miss Martha's surprise.
Upstairs, I knocked softly at Martha's bedroom door and then poked my head in. "Martha? I've brought you that surprise I promised."
I let the door swing open, and Clark stepped forward, his look changing to one of concern as he saw Martha's bruises. "Mom," he said, the minute he caught sight of her. "Oh, Mama…"
"Clark!" she cried, sounding utterly delighted and much stronger than she looked. "Are you my surprise?" She held out her good arm for his hug, and I tried to fade into the background, feeling intrusive all of a sudden. And it didn't make any sense, but I felt a little bit of that familiar jealousy. I loved this man, but I loved his parents, too, and I wasn't sure how I felt about sharing them with someone who had a better and prior claim.
I needn't have worried, of course. Martha had no sooner greeted her son than she turned her attention to me. "You sweet thing," she said. "You must have spent half the day tracking down this wandering son of mine."
"Not really," I told her, giving Clark an amused look. "I have him trained to come to me."
"Oh, boy," Jonathan said, shaking his head.
"'Fraid so, Dad." Clark reached for me… pulled me close to his side and into the circle of his family. "I'm a lost cause."
"I want every single detail," Martha demanded, "and you two aren't leaving this room until I get them, so you'd better make yourselves comfortable."
Clark laughed and drew a chair to her bedside while I climbed in beside her, curling up in the same spot I'd occupied that morning. Her head swiveled back and forth between us as we took turns telling her and Jonathan our unusual love story. Clark told how he'd been on his way to see them one day and dropped into that field to check out the renovations on the house, not realizing it had been rented already; he had been scared nearly witless when he realized that a total stranger had seen him. I told how at first I'd thought their son was a dream, and then I'd thought he was a ghost, and then I'd given up wondering who he was and where he came from, and I'd just let him come out of the cornfield every night and teach me how to love.
"You mean to tell me you've been in Kansas every night this summer?" Martha accused her son, pretending outrage. "You haven't come to see me more than twice in that time. 'Busy chasing stories' my foot!"
Clark laughed, knowing she wasn't really angry. "Well, I thought if I was around more than usual, you'd start to wonder why or else might insist on introducing me to Lois. But," he added, giving her pink cast a pointed look, "if you'd told me you wanted the barn painted, I'd have been here in a minute."
"I know you would have," she said. "But your Dad and I don't want you running back here every time we need something done. We want you to live your own life."
"Well, at the moment, my life is here." His eyes softened as he glanced at me. "I finished that series of articles I told you about, and I'm between assignments. So you and Dad make a list of the things I can do to help out. I'm not going anywhere until you're up and around again."
This provoked another round of protests, but Clark just rolled his eyes. "Goodnight, Mom," he said firmly, bending to kiss her cheek. "Lois and I will see you in the morning for breakfast, all right?"
"He'll do the cooking," I promised her. "Wouldn't want to poison you on your sickbed."
"Oh, I bet your cooking isn't so bad," Jonathan said, giving me a smile.
"No, Dad. It really is," Clark insisted.
I shot him a dirty look, but inside I felt like I was bursting with joy. I had fallen in love with an entire family, and they had accepted me and loved me back. At that moment, I felt like I could take on the world.
For the first time that evening, my love did not leave me and disappear into the cornfield. For the first time, he slept all night with me under the soft quilt his great-grandmother had made by hand, and when we woke in the morning, it was to the sound of rain drumming against the metal roof. I stretched contentedly, knowing there was no rush to get up, and then I scooted closer to him, snuggling into his warmth.
"Morning," he murmured, his voice thick with sleep.
"Mmm." I wondered if I had morning breath. I probably did. I squirmed and rearranged myself a little, thinking that morning breath was one of the definite drawbacks of love in the real world.
"I forgot to tell you something last night," he said, as he threaded his fingers absently through my hair.
"Whatever it is, you're forgiven," I told him with a giggle, thinking that he'd surely spent his time much better.
He smiled. "Thank you. But I meant to tell you that they're rebuilding the Daily Planet. It was in the papers yesterday. It's been bought by a man named Franklin Stern."
I didn't move or say a word, but I'm sure he heard my heart start to race.
"Perry White will continue on as editor, they said."
I swallowed over the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat. "I've missed Perry."
"You should give him a call. Or I'll take you to see him if you'd like."
I thought about that — thought about going back to Metropolis — and I felt a wave of homesickness crash over me unexpectedly. I loved Kansas, but I needed to pick up whatever was left of my life in Metropolis. I needed to go home. "I'd like that," I said finally. "I think I'm ready."
"I know you are."
Simple words. Predictable, even. But I heard something in his voice, something that made me lift myself away from him and look at him. "I want you to come with me," I told him urgently. "You can get a job at the Planet, too. Think of that — how much fun we'd have working together. And Metropolis is a great place. I know you'd love it there."
"You don't need to sell me on Metropolis," he said with a sad smile. "And you should have figured out by now that I'd follow you to the ends of the earth. But… I don't do so well in big cities, Lois. There are too many people there. Too many people to notice when Clark Kent does something strange. These things I can do… I can't sit back and watch when someone's in trouble if there's something I can do to help. Eventually, someone always notices, and that's when I figure it's time to move on. I'll come to see you in Metropolis. I'll come every night if you like, just like I did here. But I can't imagine how I could live and work there full time without giving myself away."
"Oh, and you don't think someone will notice you flying in and out of my window every night?"
He sighed. "I don't know. I've never seen your window. But I'm sure we can work something out."
"I don't *want* to work something out! I don't want you for a few hours a day. I want a *life* with you, you big dope."
He looked so completely miserable that I immediately felt guilty. "I want a life with you, too," he said quietly. "I want that so much. And working at the Daily Planet… I don't know if Mr. White would even hire me, but that would be a dream come true."
<<A dream come true…>>
That was what Clark was, wasn't it? First he was Martha and Jonathan's dream, and then he was mine. And I knew then that if it was the last thing I did, I would find a way to make Clark's dreams come true for him.
Looking at him turned on his side in my bed, his hair tousled with sleep, I began to feel the stirrings of an idea that would one day change the world. It was completely crazy. Wild and improbable and just kooky enough to work. In other words, it was pure Lois Lane.
But I didn't tell him about it then. "We'll find a way," was all I said, sliding back into his arms. "And if we don't, I'll follow *you* to the ends of the earth. Because remember? You told me there are no ends… just one beginning after another."
"I did say that, didn't I?" I was relieved to see a smile tease the corners of his mouth.
"You did. And you have an annoying habit of being right."
He laughed at that and pounced on me, and we lingered in bed that morning, joyfully celebrating our new beginning.
Author's Note: This story was written for my friend Lisa/mrsmosley in honor of her birthday. Happy birthday, Lisa, and thank you for your friendship!
As usual, I borrowed, paraphrased, or otherwise pilfered a few lines from the show. I believe specific debts are owed to "The Pilot", written by Deborah Joy Levine; "The Green, Green Glow of Home", written by Bryce Zabel; and "Chip off the Old Clark", written by Michael Jamin and Sievert Glarum. My sincere thanks to these and the other writers who created this playground for us and refrain from suing us when we make use of it. I owe an additional debt of inspiration to author W.P. Kinsella for his novel "Shoeless Joe" and to Phil Alden Robinson, who wrote the screenplay for "Field of Dreams."
Many thanks to Jeanne for editing this story for the archive!