Now on their sides, facing each other as they lay down, his arm around her waist pulling her close and her hands tracing his features, Lois and Clark had both momentarily forgotten where they were and who might be coming home any moment. He was lost in her, savoring the softness of her skin under his lips, kissing her neck and her throat. Lois’ eyes had closed at the first real rush of sensation, as she tipped her head back and let him do as he would with her, whimpering softly every time his mouth brushed her neck just so. After all of the tension between them, the only word she could think of to describe the feel of his mouth against her skin was delicious.
He could feel her shivering, and slid his hand down her side to her hip, delighting in that sweet curve. Without even a thought, Lois pressed even closer, craving his touch like a drug. Clark traced the curve of her hip down the outside of her thigh, Lois arching into the touch with a low murmur as her nails raked lightly over the back of his shirt. It was startling to realize just how well he remembered how it had felt to caress those long legs, bare skin against his palms, and how he had delighted in the feel of them tightened around his waist.
As his kisses slipped lower down her neck, Lois couldn’t stop the soft moan that slipped from her lips, remembering his perfect face nuzzled into her neck, the curve of her breast, his cheek against her belly… He had kissed her almost reverently then, tender and adoring, and she recalled wondering how something could be so achingly sweet and so blazingly erotic at the same time.
Clark ran his hand back up her side, accidentally catching the bottom of her shirt and pulling it up. Her reaction was immediate. Lois hissed; the air was cooler than she’d thought. But he just as quickly warmed her, nuzzling his face against her bare skin and kissing her hungrily. Lois’ head fell back into the fragrant hay, dazzled by the extremity of want that rose in her. She couldn’t help gasping and clenching her fingers in his hair as he continued. There was no hesitation in him now, just desire; Clark hadn’t had a chance to get nervous the way he often did around Lois. He was so completely enthralled by her pale skin, by the faintly spicy rose scent that clung to her, and by the way her breath suddenly sped up when he nudged the blouse up a little higher.
He stopped then, hands on her sides just below her breasts, the sweater gathered above his fingers, and looked up at her with his lips still pressed to her belly. Lois’ eyes had gone wide and wild, but the smile she gave him was slow and sultry, warm as a summer day. Her hips rose against him slightly, Lois lost in the moment and now boldly encouragingly, and he grinned, those amazingly blue eyes darkening. He rose up over her, capturing her mouth for another long kiss…
Neither of them heard the truck pull in the yard, too captivated by each other and this small world they’d managed to find. The world outside of the loft had failed to exist for this moment frozen in time. Lois’ breath was coming more quickly as she ran her nails down his chest, catching briefly against the waistband of his pants before hurriedly pulling his shirt up. Her hands were cooler than he expected, cold compared to the rest of her, making his body tense as she splayed her hands over his chest. Just to feel him was temptation of the worst sort after so long. Although not as perfect as his, her recall of that beloved form was still sharp, as much as she had tried to deny it over the years. Those perfect muscles, that smooth skin… Just the knowledge of this being him, Kal-El, this man she loved, after all this time was driving her madder than she had meant to allow herself to get. They had so little time, no way to finish this, but… Oh, dear Lord, how she ached from this. Lois growled softly in intense need and nipped at his lower lip.
He answered her with more passion, a kiss that took her breath away as his hands slid up under the blouse at last, and she felt the warmth of his skin even through her bra. The reaction from his touch there was instantaneous, tender flesh rising to harden against his palms as she broke the kiss to shudder openly. The normally-hazel eyes that met his then were desperate, hungry, and stained dark emerald. “Yes,” Lois breathed as she arched into his touch, letting her nails rake his back again. He only moved his hand slightly, teasing, but it was enough to close her eyes. Her dark head rocked back, her voice breathless when she whispered, “Oh yes, Kal-El. Please.”
But a different voice answered her from the barn far below. “Daddy? Grandma said to go find you. Are you up there? Daddy?”
Jason…? The blue eyes that matched her son’s stared into Lois’ from inches away, and she clearly saw the disappointment in his eyes. She understood and shared it completely. For a moment, she couldn’t get her breath, couldn’t tamp down this fire in her that they had both kindled, but what if they tried to look for them? Not moving to sit up, her entire body still shaken, she continued to lay there as her lover spoke up. “Yes, Jason, I’m up here,” Clark called back in a tone of absolute calm. “Tell Grandma I’ll be right down.”
“Bring Mommy with you,” Kala’s voice echoed out this time. “Grandma’s looking for her, too. We brought home candy!”
Well, that knocked all of the sexiness out of the situation with no hope of return Lois thought with a long-suffering groan. Clark just dropped his head, trying not to laugh, but Lois felt his shoulders shaking. She stroked his hair – he’d happened to rest his forehead on her chest, but it was more comforting than arousing at the moment, with their children standing at the bottom of the ladder and calling for them. Well, she had known… “We have got to get that child some earplugs,” Lois muttered, her frustration all too clear.
“Definitely,” Clark said, and kissed her one more time before helping her up.
He quickly brushed the loose hay off Lois’ clothes while she attempted to do the same for him, and then they headed down to the barn floor. “I intend to collect a rain check on this, mister,” she said as she stepped into his arms, her eyes still dark as she raised her brow at him.
“You aren’t the only one,” he told her, smiling slowly and wickedly.
Lois was aware of his closeness as he held her and drifted down, not bothering with the ladder, and she shivered in a way that had nothing to do with the cold weather. Clark was just as conscious of her, and studiously avoided looking into her face until after they’d landed.
“That’s so cool,” the twins sighed. It seemed as though they were still fascinated by their father’s flight; when he carried them, they clung to him tightly, but Mommy was very comfortable flying with him. She made it look easy, as if gravity didn’t apply to her when Daddy was around.
“C’mon, you two,” Clark said when they touched down, rumpling Kala’s hair as he reluctantly took his arm from around Lois’ waist. “Did Grandma take you to the general store?”
“Yeah!” both twins chorused. Kala continued, “We met Miss Lana’s mommy, and then we went to the store, and Grandma let us pick out candy but it had to be safe stuff. They had a whole barrel of pickles, Mommy!”
“Wow,” Lois said, knowing just the right tone of interest to use. She caught her little girl’s hand and pulled her into her side for a hug. “And did Miss Lana’s mom still think Lana was your mommy?”
Jason giggled as they all four made their way out of the barn. “She said I look just like Daddy when he was little, ‘cept for my hair! D’ya think I’ll have dark hair like you when I grow up?”
Before anyone could answer, Kala looked up at her mother and added, “After we left, Miss Lana’s mommy said somebody called Jane Lutter was a dizzy broad. Mommy, what’s a dizzy broad?”
Lois laughed so hard that she couldn’t speak, picturing a prim and proper midwestern woman muttering something like that – and having no idea that the child outside in the truck could hear her. Clark answered both kids while Lois tried to control her laughter. “Jason, your hair will darken up when you get older – your mommy’s hair did. And Kala, calling somebody a dizzy broad is like a really mean way of calling them a silly goose. I don’t want to hear either of you using that phrase, okay?”
They blinked at him somberly, then Jason asked, “What’s a silly goose?”
That started Lois snickering again. “My kids speak Big City and French, Kent. They’d never heard anybody say ‘swell’ ‘til they met you.”
“A silly goose is a silly person – maybe not the smartest in the whole world,” Clark elaborated. Kala turned to look at Jason speculatively, a little grin clear on her lips. “And it’s not really nice to call anyone a silly goose or anything else.”
“It also means to be a nosy loudmouth,” Lois added, thinking that she disliked Jane Lutter without ever having properly met the woman. At her comment, Jason turned to look at Kala with a superior smile.
“Of course, you two are both too smart and too sweet to be anything like that,” Clark said, putting one hand on the top of each head and turning the twins toward the house. “Let’s go inside, it’s getting close to dinner time.”
“Yeah, Ben should be getting here any minute,” Lois added thoughtfully while they crossed the yard, glancing up the drive.
“Mommy, who’s Ben?” Kala asked, and Jason just grinned and whispered, “Nosy!”
“Ben is your grandma’s boyfriend,” Lois replied with a smirk, ignoring the long-suffering look Clark gave her.
“Grandma’s got a boyfriend?” Jason said, wrinkling his nose. “Like kissing-boyfriend? Eww! How come everybody has a boyfriend or a girlfriend?”
Lois and Clark looked at each other and grinned, breaking into laughter again as they shepherded the twins inside.
Lana couldn’t visit her mother without answering an exhaustive round of questions. The idea that the twins were hers had been quickly dismissed as ludicrous, but Annette was still very interested in ‘that Eastern woman’ and just how her daughter knew Lois Lane.
Her mother’s curiosity wasn’t easily satisfied, particularly not when Lois had made such an impression on the town. Lana took a perverse delight in letting all of her admiration show as she described the reporter. “Possibly the bravest woman I’ve ever met,” Lana said, sipping a glass of soda. “I mean, she dove into the open ocean – while handcuffed – to save Superman’s life. How could you not respect that? Clark certainly adores her. I’m sure he knows how lucky he is.”
“You think so?” Annette asked, watching Lana’s face curiously. She and her daughter looked very much alike, with the same classic beauty and the same deep auburn hair. But Lana’s green eyes had come from her father, who was presently reading his newspaper and pretending to ignore the feminine gossip.
“Oh, yes,” Lana answered with a chuckle. “The two of them are madly in love. And those twins of theirs – absolutely precious. They’re amazingly bright, but then, they get it from both parents.”
Annette made a noncommittal noise, and Lana knew she would seek out Lois and the twins to see for herself. That was all well and good – the Langs had had to learn how to deal with their daughter running off to the big city, and bringing home all sorts of city habits like locking the doors after dark. They would be more accepting of Lois and her quirks than most of the other townspeople.
Just when Lana thought she could start plotting her escape, however, Annette fixed a serious look on her and asked, “So have you met someone yet?”
Yes, Mom, I think I’ll take Lois’ ex now that he’s on the market. Good thing she and I are friends, huh? Lana bit her lip before she could say that – Lois was having an influence on her – and simply replied, “Well, there is an interesting guy, but I don’t want to rush things.”
And then she let her mind wander, just nodding in the appropriate spots, as her mother gave her the usual lecture on why she shouldn’t wait too long, you’re only young once, et cetera, et cetera. At one time, this would’ve turned into an actual argument, with both women eventually raising their voices. It infuriated Lana to no end to hear her mother talk as if the only worthwhile goal in the world was to get married and have children, when she herself had graduated college and worked as a receptionist throughout most of her marriage. The last thing Lana wanted was to be left home by herself, servant to some man’s needs, ignored unless he wanted something of her, and her chief purpose in life being to bear his children. No, she’d had enough of that with Don, and thank God they’d never actually had kids.
Time had softened Lana’s attitude, however. Her mother wanted to be a grandma, just like Martha Kent. And time was ticking. Clark, at least, had already fathered the twins, and with a younger woman. Lana didn’t have too many more years left if she wanted to be a mother.
And if I’m honest with myself, I do want someone to look up at me with bright eyes and call me Mommy. My heart aches just about every time I see Lois and the twins. But everything I have right now, I worked for myself. I took the divorce settlement and invested it in my dreams, and grew my business with perseverance and hard work. Now I’m officially a millionaire, my line of clothing is sold all across America and Europe, and I don’t owe anyone anything for my success. There just wasn’t time for settling down…
But now, here’s Richard. A great dad, obviously attracted to me, devastatingly handsome, and a hero in his own right. The only man on earth who could compete with Superman, and noble enough not to. Everything that Don wasn’t, as a matter of fact. And I’m so incredibly attracted to him it’s driving me crazy.
“Mom,” she finally said, and her calm tone stopped the flow of words. “His name is Richard, he’s a pilot and the head of the International department at the Daily Planet, and he’s just come out of a long-term relationship. So I am not rushing things. But we have some important things in common and we come from different enough backgrounds to make life interesting.” As even her father glanced over the top of his newspaper, Lana grinned and continued, “He’s also very good-looking and absolutely nuts about me. If all goes well, I might bring him home for Christmas.”
That started a whole new line of inquiry, and Lana found herself having to decide just how much she could tell both parents about Richard and how she’d met him. So much of it was bound up in Lois and Clark and the twins – not to mention Clark’s superhero persona. To think, Martha has dealt with this all her life – and Lois had to do it even when she had every reason to hate Clark. Welcome to your future, Ms. Lang; you’re going to get very good at keeping Superman’s secret.
Martha was unpacking their purchases, holding aside the candy Jason and Kala had picked out, when Lois and Clark walked in. The pair studiously avoided standing too close or looking too long at each other – that behavior was as obvious as a billboard over their heads reading Guilty. The older woman just raised an eyebrow at them both. “Where were you two?” she asked casually, handing the bag of canned goods to Clark.
“Childproofing the barn,” he replied as he started putting the cans away in the pantry. “All the tools are up in the loft now, if you need anything.”
Martha nodded, smirking a little. Lois kept quiet for the moment, turning to look seriously at Kala, who was edging closer to the candy. “Not until after your dinner,” she said.
Unfortunately, she’d turned her back on Martha, and the older woman reached out to pluck a piece of hay from her rumpled hair. “Childproofing the barn,” she said as Lois whipped around and stared guiltily at the hay held between Martha’s fingers. “I see.”
Lois blushed, and Clark did too, seeing his mother’s knowing expression. Martha looked at both of them steadily, then allowed herself a tiny smile. “I can’t begrudge Clark what he missed when he was younger.” Then she pointed the piece of hay in their direction, shaking it slightly. “Nevertheless, just see to it that you behave, children.”
Jason and Kala watched the three adults, their heads swiveling back and forth. “What’re you talking about?” the black-haired little girl asked, scowling. “Are Mommy and Daddy in trouble?”
“Not yet,” Martha replied dryly. The doorbell ringing cut off any further discussion. Shelby, who had been sleeping under the coffee table in the living room, raised his head and barked once. Martha simply glanced at the clock and smiled. “Come in, Ben.”
The twins perked up, looking toward the door as the older man walked in. “Evening, Martha, kids,” he said with a nod for Lois and Clark. Then he caught sight of the twins, and the corners of his eyes crinkled up in a smile. “Well, hello there. You must be the famous Lane twins.”
“We’re famous?” Jason asked, cocking his head.
Lois chuckled. “Around here you two are. Or infamous, more likely. You two, this is Ben Hubbard. Ben, these are my twins, Jason and Kala.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” Ben said, sitting down and leaning forward to be a little closer to their height. He had a kind face, and both twins were drawn to him.
“Nice to meet you,” they said in unison, both shaking his hand. Jason added with a quizzical look, “You’re Grandma’s boyfriend?”
“Are you gonna be our grandpa?” Kala asked.
Ben laughed, his eyes merry. “Yes to the one, maybe to the other. I don’t know if this wild young woman here will ever settle down with me,” he said, giving Martha a broad wink. Then he continued, “I knew your Grandpa, Jonathan Kent – Clark’s daddy. A fine man, and I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet him.”
Martha and Lois sat down at the table, Clark taking over putting things away. Jason hopped up into Lois’ lap to better examine Ben, and Kala frowned at him for getting the seat first. But then she grinned, the gears turning swiftly in that pretty little head, and held her arms out to Martha, who promptly picked her up. Surveying the table from her lap, Kala asked Ben, “What happened to him?”
It was Martha who answered her. “He passed away, honey. A long time ago, before you were ever born. He had a problem with his heart.”
Both kids looked sad and disappointed, snuggling into the women who held them. “I wish I could’ve met Daddy’s daddy,” Jason said plaintively.
“He was a lot like your daddy, though,” Ben said. “They say if you’ve met the son, then you’ve met the father. So in a way, you do know your Grandpa. Clark’s got his sense of humor and his kindness, the same way you’ve got your daddy’s blue eyes. The same way Miss Kala has her daddy’s black hair – Martha, I never knew how your family managed to throw a black-haired little boy like Clark. Must’ve been some Gypsy in the bloodline somewhere.”
“Oh, stop it,” Martha sighed, but she was smiling. “My mother had hair almost that dark.”
Shelby barked again, from the front door this time, and Ben turned back to the twins. “Do you two like dogs?”
“We like Shelby,” Jason replied.
“But not little yappy dogs,” Kala hurriedly added, frowning. “They’re mean.”
“I’ve got some dogs,” Ben said. “They’re little, kinda, and they bark a bit, but they don’t bite or anything. They’re beagles.”
The twins glanced at each other. “Beagles?” Jason said. “The black an’ red an’ white ones? Like Shiloh?”
“Yes,” Ben said. “I’ve got about twelve at home right now, but there’s three of them outside. Shelby’s barking because he can smell his friend Barkley through the door and wants him to come in.”
“You brought three?” Martha hissed, as Jason and Kala consulted silently again.
“Barkley, Mathilda, and Sadie,” Ben said. “He goes everywhere with me, you know that, and two of his daughters wanted to come along.”
“Sure,” Kala finally said with a nod, her expression curious. “Long as they don’t bite.”
With that, Ben smiled triumphantly at Martha and went to the front door. Seconds after he opened it, two young beagles raced into the kitchen, sniffing enthusiastically around everyone’s legs. With both twins up in someone’s lap, the dogs had to stretch to sniff their feet, but they were obviously friendly. The two dogs’ white-tipped tails wagged so hard they smacked into their own sides and whacked the legs of the chairs. Other than a few low chuffs that sounded more like chickens than dogs, Mathilda and Sadie didn’t bark.
Jason and Kala were already giggling at the two female dogs when Ben walked in carrying Barkley. The elderly hound raised his head at the unfamiliar scents, and drew in breath for his trademark bawl. But Ben rumpled his ears and sat down, still holding him, distracting him long enough for the twins to get used to him.
“Barkley here is an old man,” Ben said. “He can’t see or hear too good, but his nose works just fine. Let him smell your hand, the back of your hand – that’s right – and then he’ll know you’re friends.” Jason and Kala both patted the old dog’s head, his tan and black markings faded to white and gray with age. Barkley, for his part, sniffed them both and then insisted on being set down so that he could chuff threateningly at the boisterous younger dogs and explore the house.
“Of course, Barkley’s so old, he forgets a lot,” Martha added. “If you two see him again tomorrow, he’ll probably howl his fool head off at you until he smells you. Ben, if he gets my newel post again…”
“Martha, he won’t,” Ben said.
Clark had been looking through the pantry and the refrigerator while the others talked, ignoring the two dogs that sniffed hopefully at the open fridge and gave him pleading looks. Now he came back into the room and said, “Dinner’s going to be a bit interesting with the twins. The worst problem is the wheat – we can get around milk and shellfish and nuts easily, but so many things have wheat in them.”
“I’ve got some of that roast left over from day before yesterday,” Martha mused. “We’ve got plenty of vegetables, too. Soup stock, barley, a little garlic… I could put together a stew, if you don’t mind waiting a bit.”
“That sounds fine,” Lois said.
“Stew?” Jason said, perking up. “Is it Castleberry? With rice?”
Lois dropped her head into her hands with a groan. They just had to bring up the in-the-can stuff, didn’t they? Bless her babies for having perfect timing. “Okay, so I can’t cook, either! Give me a break, I won a Pulitzer, what more do you want?”
Lana finally got out of the house around dinnertime, making an excuse about needing to stop by the store. First she stopped outside the clothing store; she’d made special arrangements for the small, family-run shop to be able to carry some of her own line of clothing at a reasonable price. It amused her to see L. Lang jeans in the front window of a little shop in Kansas, carrying a price tag that was about half of what they sold for in Macy’s New York. If people ever found out about this, Smallville’s only women’s clothing store would find itself swamped by tourists.
She then visited the diner and had a cup of coffee, visiting with the waitresses. One had gone to school with Lana, and the other was the daughter of a school friend. They were both interested in the gossip about ‘that Eastern woman’ and Lana wound up answering even more questions about Lois. Fortunately, Richard had mentioned her only as ‘a friend of the family’ in his article about rescuing Superman, so no one at home knew just how closely involved Lana had been. In telling her mother and retelling the story now, Lana downplayed her role, making it seem as if Clark had called her in merely to offer support during a trying time.
By the time Lana finished her coffee and left, the two waitresses and the short-order cook had a different outlook on Lois Lane. If the reporter would stop by, order breakfast, and make conversation, she might have three more supporters. And Lois would need every ounce of approval she could get – someone was already slandering her name all over town.
The redhead made it to the general store at last, exchanging greetings with the men on the front porch and then visiting with Silas while she picked out a few things to justify her trip. He was her cousin, and had taken over running the store when her father had retired, so they had plenty of family news to catch up on. But in the middle of talking fondly about his oldest daughter’s college plans, Silas’ expression suddenly changed to one of dismay.
The front door had just opened as another woman walked in, and Silas and Lana could both clearly hear Jane Lutter outside berating her husband. “Don’t you dare speak that shameless hussy’s name in front of me. The nerve of her, parading those kids around…” she was saying.
Lana scowled. She had a good idea who Jane was talking about, and if her suspicion was correct, Jane had talked to everyone in town who would listen. That was a sizeable number, considering that she’d taught third grade to most of Lana’s generation as well as the next, and was accepted as an authority figure by the younger kids in town who had never had her class. Only a few of her peers didn’t put any stock in Jane’s opinions, Martha Kent among them.
“Thank you, Silas,” Lana said, pretending she hadn’t heard Jane. “I’ll see you around.”
“You do that,” he replied. “Take care of yourself, and don’t forget to come home now and again.”
“I won’t,” she chuckled, and headed outside.
The friendly smile she’d given Silas stayed fixed by effort of will. Al Lutter had levered himself up out of the rocking chair and was slowly heading down the porch steps, nagged on his way by Jane. The other men weren’t defending him; they had known each other all their lives and would never interfere in a marital spat. Still, it irked Lana to see the man cowed.
“I can’t believe you’d have a kind word for her,” Jane snapped. “Citybred little tramp, coming out here with her flashy car. She even dared to smart off at me, Al; I’d think you’d have a little more consideration for your wife than that! And then bringing those kids out here, Martha Kent must be mortified, poor woman. Everyone in town knows they’re not married, and the Kent boy’s in no hurry to make an honest woman of her.”
She finally stopped for breath, unaware that Lana had come down the steps behind her and was listening to her diatribe. Everyone else on the street could hear her as well, some of them lingering on their way into or out of another store. Lingering and listening, and probably believing the spiteful trash she was spewing.
“Then again, I’m not surprised you approve of her,” Jane continued as her husband shuffled to their car. “All men have a bit of the dog in them, you more than most, Alfred James Lutter, but all men lose their minds when a bitch in heat passes by. Look at the Kent boy, no shame at all, letting her flaunt herself and his bastards all over this town. And her – good heavens, she’s proud of herself! Walking around here like she owns the place!”
Words failed her then, and she could only snort derisively to express her feelings before proclaiming her conclusion. “No wonder you and all the other old farts like her so much. That Lois Lane is no more than a well-dressed whore.”
Lana had closed the distance between them while the older woman ranted. Now, from only a few feet behind her, the redhead called out, “Jane!”
Jane turned; the tone was one of pleasant recognition, and Lana was still smiling as she approached. So the older woman smiled back. “Well, Lana Lang, it’s a pleasure to…”
Before Jane could even finish whatever platitude she’d planned to murmur, Lana slapped the words out of her mouth.
Absolute silence followed the resounding smack, and Jane stared in open-mouthed shock with Lana’s handprint turning bright red on her cheek. “You know nothing about Lois Lane,” Lana said, her voice level but pitched to carry. “And you don’t know much more about Clark Kent or his mother – or me, for that matter. It’s high time someone stopped you from advertising your ignorance so broadly, Jane.”
With that, she stepped around the older woman, nodded hello to Al Lutter, and walked on down the street with her head held high. As she headed for her car, Lana couldn’t help grinning. Slapping the spiteful words right out of Jane’s mouth had been so darned satisfying…
She had heard Jane run her mouth before, and Lana had often daydreamed about smacking her like that. Just once, just to knock a little sense into her. Vicious gossip was just so very cruel. And besides, a woman could only overhear so much speculation about the real reason for her divorce – not to mention the settlement she’d gotten, no contest – before she started to get angry at the person spreading the rumors.
Hearing Lois and Clark and their twins demeaned was simply the last straw. Lana could tolerate a lot more gossip directed at herself than she could her friends, and to speak of the twins so coldly infuriated her. Jane had had it coming to her, all right.
The Kents’ phone had run twice during dinner, going to the answering machine both times. Martha didn’t believe in interrupting a family meal, and Lois found herself curiously glad of the relaxed pace and casual conversation. The twins used their best table manners, only occasionally giggling at the way Shelby had chosen to lie down right under their feet and snooze.
“They’re amazingly well-behaved,” Lois said, glancing at the four dogs sleeping under the table. She had one of the younger beagles lying on her foot, but none of them begged for scraps. Their laid-back behavior was a huge contrast to Sylvia White’s Yorkies, which would practically climb into your lap and snatch food from your plate.
“The girls don’t even know they can eat people food,” Ben said proudly. “They’re mostly kennel dogs, but I bring them inside in turns so they know how to act. I’ve never given them table scraps and won’t let anyone else do it, so they don’t even think to beg. Barkley, well, he’s been spoiled a bit, but he knows better than to bother us.”
“Shelby’s smart enough to know what we’re eating tastes good,” Martha said, glancing at Clark. He grinned sheepishly; Shelby had gotten a few tidbits from him in the past when he thought Ma wasn’t looking. Evidently he hadn’t been as circumspect as he thought. Martha continued, “He’s been told not to make a nuisance of himself, and he obeys. But then, he’s a Border collie. They’re the most intelligent breed of dog in the world, you know.”
Ben huffed. “That’s why you see so many crazy ones, then. People buy a working dog like a collie, smart, athletic, and lock it up in the house all the time. They’re too smart for their own good. A dog like that needs a job – protecting the chickens and ducks, fetching the paper, fetching in the livestock. If he doesn’t have something to do, he’ll give himself a job, and you won’t like it.”
“Shelby thought for three years it was his job to take all the doilies off the sofa and chairs and put them under the end table,” Martha said, amused. “And I couldn’t yell at him because I couldn’t catch him, sly devil. Then we bought a cow, that little Jersey I used to have, and she kept him busy.”
“How did you get so many dogs, Mister Ben?” Kala asked, after the adults were done chuckling.
“Well, I had three,” Ben said. “Hunting dogs, two girls and a boy. I used to hunt when I was younger, and I always liked a beagle. They’re supposed to hunt rabbits, but they’ll track anything – fox, possum, even deer. It’s beautiful to be in the woods on a fall afternoon, hearing them come singing through the woods and knowing there’s a big buck running in front of them… Anyway, one of the girls had puppies, and I kept one and found homes for the others. Then the other one had puppies, too, and one looked just like the daddy, so I kept her. I bought a dog from North Carolina next, son of the national show champion and a darned good hunter, too. I just needed one that wasn’t related to the ones I had, and I thought I’d get the best. Well, all of a sudden people wanted to buy dogs from me.”
The phone rang again while he explained, but everyone ignored it. “Next thing I knew, I had ten beagles, and every time one of them had puppies, I could sell them for pretty much any price I wanted. Most of them belong to hunters around here, but a few went out of state. Barkley here, he’s got a son working for the Department of Agriculture down in Texas, keeping people from bringing fruit across the border. And Sadie’s momma, another of Barkley’s pups, lives in an old folks’ home in Missouri, giving the old people something to look forward to every day.”
“What Ben isn’t telling you is that Barkley used to get out all the time,” Martha said. “Just about every mutt in this town has a streak of ‘champion’ beagle in them.”
Ben couldn’t help laughing. “Yeah, he did do that. He could climb a chain-link fence when he was younger, and slip most any collar I put on him. He’d always come home after a day or so, but I’d hear about him going visiting all the lady dogs. Heck, one time he got all the way across town to that Winters family. They had two German Shepherds, kept them on chains to keep people out of their yard – unfriendly folks. Their male shepherd was supposed to be the biggest, meanest dog in town… But when the female had puppies, there were four little German Shepherds … and one Beagle Shepherd! I swear that big ol’ shepherd dog looked embarrassed.”
The kids laughed along with the adults, even though they weren’t as sure of the joke. Jason looked down at Mathilda, asleep beside his chair, and then looked up at Lois pleadingly. “Mommy…?”
“No,” she said. “You have a lizard, you don’t need a dog.” And to forestall the pitiful looks from both children, she added, “Maybe when you’re older.”
“I’m not going to stop raising beagles anytime soon,” Ben said comfortingly. “Besides, I want to hear about this lizard.”
The rest of the meal was accompanied by Jason and Kala talking about their pets. Ignatius’ amazing escapes were retold in glorious detail, as was Captain Jack’s habit of getting up inside the sleeper sofa to take a nap. Lois finally sighed disgustedly while Jason was extolling his iguana’s intelligence for the fifth time, and said, “Ben, that lizard is evil. Evil. I’ve had welts on my ankles because it uses its tail like a whip. It bites, too, and it claws…”
“Mommy, Ignatius likes you,” Jason said earnestly. “He always goes to you when he gets out. He just gets scared when you yell.”
Lois raised an eyebrow. “Jason, that thing has jumped off a bookcase and landed on my head. He does not like me, he wants to kill me. He’s been listening to Kala call him Gazeera and he thinks I’m Tokyo.”
Clark was hunched over with his head in his hands, shoulders shaking, trying not to burst out laughing. Jason pouted at his mother. “Mommy! Ignatius wants t’ be your friend!”
“Yeah, ‘cause it was a friendly bite that I had to wash out with iodine,” Lois said dryly, finally succeeding in making Martha and Ben laugh along with Clark. “Jason, honey, I know you love Ignatius, but he doesn’t love me. And the feeling is mutual.”
Kala, seeing an opportunity for more attention, looked at Martha with a broad grin and said, “One time Gazeera got out in the morning while Mommy was getting dressed, and…”
“No, we do not need the story of how Mommy found a lizard in her bra,” Lois said quickly. “Especially not what I said to Richard about it. That’s not dinner-table language.”
Kala glanced at her, then shrugged. “Mommy says we can’t talk like her until we move out.”
“An’ even then she better never hear us say it,” Jason finished. “Everybody at work is scared of Mommy makin’ the air blue when she’s mad.”
“That’s cursing a blue streak, kids, and thanks for sharing,” Lois muttered. “Ben, Martha, I swear I don’t always talk like a merchant marine, okay?”
“But you make an impression when you do, I bet,” Ben said affectionately. “What I wouldn’t give to see you turn that language on someone like Jane Lutter…”
“She did it yesterday,” Clark said. “Lois, the woman who was staring at you? That’s Jane.”
“The town loudmouth,” Martha said. “And possibly the only person I know who deserved a dressing-down like that.”
They were nearly finished eating, and the phone rang again. Martha heaved an irritated sigh. “I suppose it’s very important,” she muttered. “I’ll get the messages in a minute.”
“You go ahead, Ma,” Clark said. “The twins and I will clear the table, if Ben will start some after-dinner coffee.”
“Sure thing,” Ben said. He caught Lois’ eye and said sternly, “You, little lady, sit right there. You’re the guest in this house.”
“Clark and the twins are too…”
“Nah, Clark’s lived here, he’s no guest,” Ben chuckled. “And kids exist to do chores, don’t you know that? Why d’ya think farm families are so big?”
Lois’ eyebrow arched up, and she turned to the twins. “You heard that, right? Remember it when we get home.”
Jason and Kala just giggled as they followed their father, carrying the silverware and cups while he carried the plates. Lois just stretched, listening to Ben starting the coffee and Clark murmuring to the twins…
Martha suddenly burst out laughing in the living room. “Lois! Come here, you have to hear this.”
That brought everyone into the living room to hear whatever was entertaining Martha so much. The first message she played for them was a breathless younger woman’s voice, “You said it, Mrs. Kent, and it finally happened! Someone finally hushed Jane Lutter in mid-sentence, and it didn’t take an act of Congress after all. Lana Lang slapped her across the face! … Oh, you must be at dinner. I’ll call back. You’ve got to hear about this!”
“Lana?” Ben said, eyebrows rising.
Martha just grinned. “I knew someday she’d lose her patience.”
The next message was from an older woman. “Well, Martha, I’m sure you’ve heard about this already, but I thought you should know it was your son Lana was defending. Jane couldn’t keep her mouth off him and those kids and that Eastern woman. We all thought we’d see proof that red hair means a fiery temper back when Jane was talking about Lana’s husband, but it took insulting your family for her to finally get her just desserts.”
Martha pressed the erase button, still grinning. “That woman has had it coming to her for years,” she said, a note of satisfaction in her voice.
Jason and Kala were both looking at the answering machine, perplexed. “Miss Lana hit somebody?” Kala asked.
“Mommy says fightin’ doesn’t solve anything,” Jason said.
“Mommy also says you two ought to take a nap after dinner,” Lois replied quickly. “Go on, wash up.”
“But we’re not tired,” Kala complained.
“You were up early, you had a long flight and a long drive, and Mommy says it’s time for a nap, Kala Josephine,” Lois insisted. She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow, not even noticing the startled look on Martha’s face when she heard the whole name. A moment later, the older woman was smiling in recognition.
“Mommy,” Jason started to whine, but Clark picked him up.
“Listen to your mother,” he chided gently. “C’mon, you two, with the day you’ve had, be glad you were allowed to stay up this late without a nap. Kala, come on.”
Kala scowled at her brother for getting carried, and turn to Lois, holding her arms out demandingly. Lois picked her up with a chuckle, muttering, “Serve you right if I left your butt right there on the floor, little Miss Spoiled Rotten.”
The little girl just grinned and said, “I love you.”
“And you’re full of it,” Lois sighed.
As she headed out of the room, Martha caught her shoulder gently. “Kala Josephine?” she asked.
“Yes,” Lois said with a smile. “She was named for him.” Glancing toward Ben and seeing that he wasn’t paying attention to her, she added softly, “Twice. I knew the secret by then, remember?”
Clark had never had to put a six-year-old to bed. Lois shepherded him through the routine, and the twins were actually tired beneath their bravado, so they didn’t offer more than token protests. Especially not after a nice warm bath that made them very drowsy. However, they hit a stumbling block when it came time to actually lie down for the nap.
Kala and Jason refused point blank to sleep in the room Martha had set up for them. Even yawning, Kala’s hair smelling of bubblegum-scented shampoo and Jason’s of grape, they whined churlishly that they didn’t want to go to bed. The bed was too high, there was no nightlight, they wanted a glass of water and a story and…
Lois finally looked up at Clark with an exasperated sigh. “They don’t travel very well, I’m afraid. The only way we could ever get them to sleep the first night of vacation was in bed with us.”
Clark’s mouth twitched up as he tried to force a smile; he knew who ‘us’ was in that sentence, and the less he thought of Lois and Richard in bed – with or without the twins chaperoning – the better. Lois winced a little, muttering, “Sorry.”
“Not your fault,” he said.
“I’m not tired,” Kala declared, yawning. “I don’ wanna go t’ bed…”
“C’mon, you two can lay down in my bed,” Clark told her. “It’s big enough.”
“Will you stay with us?” Jason asked plaintively.
“Yes, we’ll stay with you,” Lois said. “Until you fall asleep.”
That ended most of the whining, Kala and Jason perfectly content to curl up on either side of Clark. Lois sat at the desk, grinning at the picture they made. Clark looked up at her with a wistful smile as Kala snuggled into the crook of his arm. “We can budge over, Lois, if you’d rather sit down here.”
“That’s okay; I’m enjoying the view from here.” She smiled slowly. “I never thought you’d be trying to get me into your bed on my second night in Smallville.”
Clark chuckled, the movement of his chest provoking a sleepy mutter of protest from the twins. “Lullaby,” Jason said, his voice thick with sleep. “Lullaby, Mommy.”
“Lullaby,” Kala echoed, opening her eyes just enough to meet Lois’ startled ones. “Please? Sing ‘Once ‘pona time’?”
Lois looked almost panicked; that song, in front of this man? No way. She couldn’t … until she met both drowsy children’s gazes, perplexed at her reluctance. “Mommy, please?” Jason added. “Pretty please?”
“All right,” Lois sighed, closing her eyes. The only way this would work would be for her to forget that Clark was there. He’d never heard her sing before… Forget he’s there. This is just your kids’ favorite lullaby. Quit dithering and sing them to sleep.
Clark listened, fascinated, as Lois’ voice hesitantly began, “Once upon a time … once when you were mine… I remember skies … reflected in your eyes…”