Ron, Lucy, and the three Troupe kids were waiting at Ella’s house, and another riotous swirl of greetings ensued as Sam, Nora, and Joanna all rushed out to hug Richard. Lucy, of course, was the first of the adults to do the same. “Oh, I’m glad you’re home so soon,” she told him, beaming up at him. “The twins made it sound like you were going to be gone ages.”
“No, not that long at all,” he replied, stepping back slightly and holding out a hand to the redhead behind him. “Lucy, hon, I’d like you to meet Lana Lang. Lana, this is Lois’ sister, Lucy Troupe. And her husband, Ron – hey, Ron, good to see you again, man.”
Lucy looked at Lana curiously. She’d heard about this woman from Ron, but not much – family matters had precluded talking about Richard’s new girlfriend. Darting a glance at Lois, she saw that her sister was perfectly comfortable with Lana being here. That had been a bit hard to believe, in spite of Lois taking the twins and Clark to go pick up Richard and Lana. This had all happened so fast…
But Richard was glowing with cheerfulness in spite of a long flight, and Lois was grinning with amusement at the pair of them. Lana offered her hand with a smile and said, “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Troupe.”
Was she nervous? She sounded it, just a trifle. “The same to you,” the blonde replied, thinking, Poor thing, I wonder if she knew she was coming straight off a transatlantic flight to meet the notorious Lane horde. And we are a horde now, with five kids between the two of us… She put an extra lift into her usual smile, and saw relief brighten Lana’s sea-green eyes. “But please – it’s Lucy. There’s no standing on ceremony around this family.”
“Thank you, Lucy,” Lana replied, and shook Ron’s hand as well. The corner of her mouth quirked in amusement, which Lucy didn’t see and wouldn’t have understood. Not without being reminded of just how Ron knew before everyone else that Richard and Lana were involved. “It’s good to see you again, Ron.”
“And you, Lana,” he said, a trifle sheepish. From the glint in her eye, Lana remembered just who had answered Richard’s phone last week. He turned to the milling children and called, “Hey, kids! Let go of your uncle for a second and come here.”
The three Troupe children were introduced, Sam gravely shaking Lana’s hand and the two girls giggling. Ella had been hanging back a bit, letting the rambunctious youngsters finish acting crazy before she came up to hug Lois and Clark, kiss the twins, and hug Richard. She gave Lana a polite smile, but the moment Lana turned away, Ella shot Richard an arch look.
“All right, folks,” Lucy finally said. “Give Richard and Lana a break for a second, will you? C’mon on inside, sit down, have something to drink.”
“In a travel mug,” Lois said instantly, rubbing her hands together and chuckling. “The tree lot awaits.”
“Oh for the love of…” Lucy sighed and rolled her eyes. “Welcome to the Lane family madhouse, Lana. Please forgive my sister; she’s got some kind of psychotic obsession with picking the perfect tree.”
“So I’ve heard,” Lana replied dryly.
“Oh, but the Christmas season can’t truly begin until Lois has found The Tree,” Lucy told her, making sure the capital letters stood out. “Sometimes we’re not sure we’ll all live to see New Year’s.”
“Sometimes we’re not sure we’ll let Lois live to see the New Year,” Richard muttered.
“Richard,” Lana scolded him, but he just grinned.
“No, really, he’s being serious,” Lucy said. The three of them glanced over to see Lois, still grinning and chuckling gleefully, being watched affectionately by Clark.
“You know, they have drugs for that,” Richard whispered.
“You’re so mean to her,” Lana hissed, whapping him in the shoulder lightly.
Lucy chortled. “Aw, look at Clark. He thinks it’s cute because she’s all chipper and bubbly and acting like me. It’s almost like you the first year, Richard.”
“Yeah, but I learned better. And I warned him at the airport. Nobody listens to the ex…” Richard rolled his eyes melodramatically.
“Come on! Get inside, troops!” Lois yelled, and they obediently hurried into the house, laughing.
“Are you sure you want to come with us on the mad quest for Lois’ ideal tree?” Ron asked Richard as they sat down in Ella’s living room. “You guys just got in from the airport…”
Richard shrugged. “It wasn’t that bad. We had a layover in London and got a couple of rooms at the airport hotel so we could get some rest. And Lana slept most of the flight from there to here.” He smiled slightly at the memory of watching her doze curled up against his shoulder. Oh yes, he could get very used to watching Lana dream beside him.
Ron shook his head. “You’re gonna be jet-lagged tomorrow.”
“Don’t I know it,” Richard groaned. “I’ll probably sleep the whole day.”
“Here, boys, hot chocolate,” Lucy said as she swept into the room, handing them each a mug. “Where’s Clark?”
Lois had followed her sister into the room, and she frowned slightly. “Good question…”
“Maybe he left his jacket in the van?” Richard asked, trying to catch Lois’ eye. Clark might have had to step out for an emergency somewhere…
Jason and Kala, each clutching a mug of hot chocolate, chose that moment to try climbing into his lap simultaneously. Keeping them from spilling the drink all over him distracted everyone for a moment, and then they heard Ella in the hall.
“Why, Clark, how did you get left outside?” she asked as she opened the front door for him.
“Oh, I left my jacket in the van,” he replied blithely. Lucy handed him some hot chocolate before turning her attention to her children, and only Lois saw the quick, grateful wink Clark gave Richard.
“See, I’m psychic,” Richard said with a grin.
“Psychotic is more like it,” Lois muttered, giving Clark an arch look. Under her breath, too softly for even Lana to hear while standing beside her, she added, “Saving the world again?”
Clark sipped the hot drink and bent to kiss Lois’ cheek. “Just me being forgetful, as usual,” he replied, the emphasis making it clear what he really meant.
The whole family had a chance to rest while they drank hot chocolate, asking Richard and Lana about Milan and filling them both in on everything that had happened stateside. Richard was particularly glad to hear that the International department had survived his absence. Clark and Ron had stepped up to make sure everything was covered, and the rest of the reporters had pulled their own weight even with the boss gone.
But Lois’ impatience couldn’t be contained for long. She managed to chivvy everyone else into finishing their drinks and getting their coats on, and she was the first one out the door. “How many lots do you think she’ll hit this year?” Ron muttered as he picked up Joanna and carried her to the van.
“Oh, at least three,” Richard replied. “If one of us doesn’t knock her out before then.”
Lana was right beside him, and she tugged his elbow gently. “By the way, who are we riding with?”
That caught the International editor off guard. “Damn, my car’s at Perry’s,” he groaned. “Ron…”
“Daddy, come with us!” Kala called, darting back to him and catching his hand. “Please pretty please?”
“With sugar on it?” Jason added.
Lois chuckled at them, and Ella chose that moment to solve everyone’s problems for them. “Richard, go with them, at least the first trip. Lana, dear, you can ride with me.”
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Lane,” Lana replied, and Richard was so distracted by the twins that he completely missed the look of trepidation she shot at him.
The fourth tree lot also failed Lois’ expectations, so they moved on to an actual tree farm outside the city. At this place, the trees were still alive and growing; every group that arrived received a map of the farm and a crosscut saw, of which Lois promptly took possession. Fortunately, the kids were still happy with the excursion; they were seeing lots of Christmas lights, and the tree farm had a few farm animals to pet as well as tame reindeer to feed. But the adults were getting a little frayed around the edges.
While Lois hunted through the larger trees at the back of the lot, looking quite imposing with a saw in her hand, Richard gently pulled Lana aside. “You okay?” he asked softly.
She chuckled and linked her arm through his while they walked. “Lucy’s willing to take her sister’s word where I’m concerned, but Ella seems to think I have to interview to be your girlfriend. I’ve been getting the third degree ever since I got in the car with her. And somehow she always manages to get just me, or me and Lucy.”
“She’s a general’s widow,” Richard replied. “She’s fiendishly organized. Trust me; I got the same treatment when I was presumptuous enough to date her daughter. Don’t you hate the terribly polite way she asks such probing questions?”
“Oh, yes,” Lana said. “I suppose I should be grateful everyone else in the family likes me…”
“Yeah, if I had a choice, you’d only have the Lanes to deal with,” Richard sighed. “My family… Besides, don’t worry. Lucy thinks you’re cool, and you and Lois have everything worked out. Heck, even just Lucy liking you was enough. She’s capable of convincing the other two.”
“She is a sweetheart,” Lana replied. They had drifted far behind the rest of the family, listening to Lucy and all five kids laughing as they roved through the aisles of trees. “Sometimes it amazes me…”
“That she and Lois are sisters? Yeah, me too.” Richard slipped his arm around her waist, and Lana cuddled close against his side. “Ella calls them sunlight and midnight, sometimes. But different as they are, the two of them are incredibly close.”
They turned a corner and saw Lois up ahead, arms crossed and scowling critically at a tree that Clark had pointed out. Before the raven-haired reporter could proclaim the tree’s shortcomings, Lucy came up behind her and hugged her hard. “Smile, Lois, it’s Christmas!” the blonde trilled.
Nearly tackled by sisterly affection, Lois startled, turning her head to glare with annoyance over her shoulder. But after a moment, she couldn’t help catching some of Lucy’s relentless cheer, and she began to laugh, rubbing a gloved hand over Lucy’s blonde curls. “Yeah, I’m happy, you bratty broodmare,” she said affectionately, leaning back to kiss Lucy’s rosy cheek.
Her younger sister chortled, squeezing Lois again, her very pregnant belly making the hug awkward. “I love you, sis,” she said just as warmly, then lowered her voice to add, “Just so you know, Mom’s at it again.”
“At what again?” Lois murmured back, her eyes tracking the area for her mother. Ella and Ron were some distance away, looking at trees for Ella’s house.
“The third degree,” Lucy replied, her eyes following Lois’. “She’s been grilling Lana every chance she gets. You realize Mom’s managed to snag her every single time we’ve gotten back into the cars?”
“Oh, geez, does she have to do it to all of them?” the reporter growled, rolling her eyes heavenward. She’d been so caught up in trying to keep an eye out for the tree and keep track of the kids that she hadn’t seen who the redhead was riding with. And knowing her mom… Lana and Richard were catching up to them, and Lois heaved a sigh. Before they got close enough to make it seem as if Lana had been the one to say something about it, Lois called out in her best bullpen bawl, “Mother!”
Six rows of trees away, Ella’s white-haired head whipped around, startled. “Yes, Lois?” she called back, heading over to her oldest.
“You can put down the sodium pentathol and knock off the interrogation, Momma,” Lois replied, folding her arms as the Lane matriarch came into view. Beside her, Lucy took up the same position, even imitating Lois’ stern glare, but to less effect. Richard and Lana had drawn level with them, and the shocked look on the redhead’s face made it very clear that she’d had nothing to do with this confrontation.
Ella simply raised an eyebrow at her daughters, Ron quietly slipping off to watch the kids. Lane family confrontations were few and far between, but there was no way of guessing the final results. Lois raised an eyebrow right back, the resemblance between the three women very obvious as the reporter continued. “Really, Momma, lay off. God knows you gave Richard enough hell when he first signed up with the are-you-worthy business; you can leave Lana alone, I promise. Lucy and Clark and I all approve, so it’s fait accompli. Besides, aren’t you just a little too mature to be practicing for the CIA’s next open hiring?”
The tone, slightly stern and mostly affectionate, made Ella smile in spite of herself. She looked past the girls to Richard who, looking more than a bit worried, simply pointed at Lois and said, “Ditto. What she said.” Lana was blushing slightly, looking away from all of them – she hadn’t expected to start a controversy.
“Lana, stop. It’s alright,” Lois snickered, unable to stop the smile that came to her lips. Poor thing. Then she looked expectantly back at Ella. “You can smile and admit that you actually approve now, mother.”
“What? Admit that any man could possibly do better than one of my daughters? Never,” Ella said calmly, but she offered Lana a peacemaking smile.
“Well, thank God that’s over. Congratulations, Lana. You and Clark have had the shortest approval period ever.” Now her mind shifted gears yet again, she was moving off from the group. Lois looked around at the surrounding trees with a jaded eye and growled with frustration. “Now can we finally find a tree?”
“Yeah, Lois, can we finally find a tree?” Richard shot back as they followed her. “And not like the last twelve damn trees you’ve found and shot down because they didn’t have enough pine smell or had a bare spot way down at the bottom or shed too many needles or…”
Not bothering to turn, she raised the saw into sight. “Watch it, mister. I’ll send everyone else back to the car and we’ll look for it.”
“And I’ll come back minus a leg,” he retorted, ignoring the look on Lana’s face. He was enjoying this far too much. “Who gave you the damn saw, anyway? Isn’t there a law against letting crazy people have sharp objects?”
“Who says you’ll be missing a leg? I could think of more vital organs that would pain you more,” Lois said with clear comic warning, turning around to tap the back of the saw against her free hand threateningly.
Lana sidled in front of Richard. “Don’t taunt her, darling,” she murmured, even as Clark came up behind Lois and hugged her gently.
Richard kissed Lana’s hair. Mission accomplished. “Thanks for being protective, love.”
Lucy just beamed at them all while Lois sighed and rolled her eyes. “None of you even begin to understand the importance of this. Every single year, you guys nag at me, but have we had a bad Christmas since I started picking the tree? Have we?” None of them could argue that. “No. That’s what I thought.”
“Superstitious reporters,” Lucy murmured under her breath.
They all trooped off in search of the elusive perfect tree again, Lana turning to say to both Lane girls, “Thank you, by the way. It wasn’t really a problem, but I’m glad you’re both supportive.”
“Hey, the matching monograms club has to stick together,” Lucy said happily, and then all three women paused. Lois Lane, Lucy Lane, Lana Lang…
“That’s weird,” Lois frowned, puzzling over the coincidence. How had she not thought about this before? “Geez, Lana, you’re only two letters up the alphabet from being a Lane.”
“And we all have the same number of letters in our first names, too,” Lana agreed. “That is pretty odd, don’t you think?”
Lois nodded, still thrown by the realization, but then chuckled. “Not quite. One of us has a much longer name…”
“Don’t! Lois, don’t you dare! You know I hate–” Lucy frowned, but not quickly enough.
“Lucinda,” Lois intoned, grinning ear to ear, “was named by my father. Oh yes, Daddy named his little princess Lucinda Isabelle. All golden hair, eyes blue as the sky, and pink bows all around.”
Using the only weapon in her arsenal where that was concerned, Lucy yelped, “Lois Joanne!”
“You know I hate my middle name, but at least I don’t sound like something out of a fairytale,” Lois shot back.
Lucy just glared at her. “What was the Wicked Witch of the West’s name? I’ll bet it was Joanne.”
“Careful. You gave your youngest a variation of that name…”
Lana shook her head slightly, amused by their quarreling. “You two almost make me glad I’m an only child.”
“Only almost?” Richard asked her, as Lucy stuck out her tongue at Lois.
“Well, if I had a sibling, my mother might not harp quite so much about certain things,” Lana replied with a slight impatience in her voice.
“I think I know the feeling,” Richard sympathized. “I’m an only child, too – I get to play host to all of my parents’ expectations. I have to warn you, though, my family’s nuts. I mean, you’ve met Perry, and my mom makes all of this Lane craziness look like a walk in the park.”
“Oh, the Lanes aren’t that bad,” Lana said with a smile. “At least every time Lois and Lucy visit their mother they never have to hear about how they need to hurry up and find a nice man and have kids before it’s too late.” The edge of bitterness that crept into her tone surprised even Lana.
“No, Lucy took care of making sure the Lane family line continues well before I got into the act, which I hadn’t even been planning,” Lois interjected after crossing her eyes at her little sister. “She’s been picking out baby names since she was a kid, got married right out of high school, and had Sam exactly nine months after the wedding. Just like clockwork.” She shrugged then, smiling at her mother. “Besides, Mom was never that pushy, anyway. I wish I could have seen her face when I told her I was pregnant. I thought she was going to have a heart attack for the shock.”
Richard slid his arm around Lana’s waist. “Well, you know, if you don’t want to disappoint your mother, I’d be perfectly happy to continue the Lang family line.” Lana gave him a very cool look, her eyebrows rising slightly, and he grinned mischievously. “Tonight, if you’re interested.”
Lana actually blushed as she muttered, “Marry me first.”
“Gladly,” Richard said, kissing her cheek. “Let’s go find an all-night jewelry store. Lucy, you’re a notary, right?”
“Richard!” Lana scolded, blushing even redder.
Lucy couldn’t help snickering, as much at Richard’s eagerness as at Lana’s hesitation. “I think that was a no, Romeo.”
Lois just rolled her eyes. “Lana, you were married for how long? Geez. Knock off the blushing-innocent act. I mean, come on.”
“Yes, well…” Lana trailed off and just glared at Richard.
He gave her his most charming smile, and when that failed to dissolve her glare, Richard switched to looking meek and pitiful. “So you won’t marry me?” he asked sadly. Lois snorted; she had seen the exact same expression on Richard’s face when he wanted to let the twins stay up an extra hour to watch monster movies.
“Not right now,” Lana replied, brushing off the question. But no one missed the way she was fighting to keep a neutral expression, trying to keep a giddy grin from curling the corners of her mouth. “Richard White, that was the least romantic proposal I’ve ever heard. ‘Let’s go find an all-night jewelry store.’ Honestly!” She shook her head, but in spite of her best efforts she was smirking. Richard pulled her closer to his side and kissed her cheek.
Only Clark saw the twins perk up at the mention of a jewelry store. Kala heard the words from two rows over with her cousins, and he saw her and Jason break off from the other kids, heading toward them interestedly. Quickly, he placed a finger to his lips and shook his head slightly. Jason and Kala both grinned then and, fortunately, kept silent on the topic of weddings and rings – with the exception of secretive giggles.
Their mother, fighting to keep her cynical reputation, missed it all as she rolled hazel eyes to the overcast sky. “Hurry up and get married before you two give me diabetes. For the love of all that’s…” The snark went unfinished as she stopped so suddenly that Lucy and Clark, just behind her, nearly lost their balance. Looking up, a grin spread across that serious face. “Hey! Now that’s a tree!”
The entire family flocked to the tree Lois had just spotted. Almost eleven feet tall, lushly green and somehow regal, it appeared to be the ultimate perfect tree. “Hallelujah, the tree hath been found,” Richard announced in mock-amazement just before Lana elbowed him.
“Check it for bare spots,” Lois said urgently, immediately circling the tree quickly. One would think it was a life-or-death situation, the world’s fate hanging in the balance, from the reporter’s look of concentration. “Does it have enough branches at the top to hold the star?”
“What d’you care? You can’t see the top of that tree anyway,” Richard muttered under his breath as they all checked, the rest of the family converging on the tree. “It’s the biggest damn tree in the field, Lois. I’m fairly sure you can manage to hide a couple bare spots somehow. Will it even fit in the door?”
Her eyes snapped sparks when she jerked her head in his direction. “Dammit, Richard, you know better,” Lois protested in a firm tone. “Buying the tree is the official beginning of the Christmas season! If you don’t get the right tree, the wrongness of it will reverberate throughout the rest of the month and screw up the whole holiday! And by God, we are going to get something right this year!”
“Who does that sound like?” Lucy whispered with a smile to her mother as Lois ranted, both of them knowing full well that General Sam Lane had given that speech to the family every year until his death.
Meanwhile, Lois was getting herself into trouble. “I thought we did get something right,” Clark said, looking at her bemusedly as she yelled at Richard.
Hearing that, Lois did one of her trademark complete mood changes, turning to smile warmly at Clark. Her feelings for him were clear in just the curve of her lips. “Clark, I know; I wasn’t talking about us. I was talking about this smarmy devil here.” She glared narrow-eyed at Richard to emphasize her point.
And Richard didn’t shy back from it in the least. “Hey, Clark,” he called to the taller man, his eyes bright with mischief, “you wanna pick Lois up and toss her in the air? She needs to know if there’s enough branches on top to hold up the star, and no one brought a stepladder.” Lana elbowed him that time even as Lois raised her fist at him. “Oh, I’m so scared,” Richard teased.
“Jerk,” Lois growled, but she was clearly enjoying the banter. She turned the saw around and bopped his shoulder with the handle. “Okay, wise guy – you cut it.”
“So this is it? The Tree? The Tree to End All Trees? You’re sure you don’t want to consult your crystal ball or something?” Richard took the saw from her, grinning.
“It’s the tree, Richard,” Lois growled.
Everyone was now watching them, even the kids absorbed in the spectacle, so he asked, “Are you sure?”
“YES! Now cut the godd… stinkin’ thing down!” Lois barked, having noticed the twins nearby at the last moment. When he still hesitated, she flung her arms wide and looked up to the heavens. “I hereby declare this the perfect Christmas tree! There, Richard, are you happy? Should I invite the London Symphony Orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to proclaim its utter flawlessness? It’s the tree! Now would you start sawing before we freeze to death!?”
At that moment, the first snowflake of the weekend’s predicted precipitation danced gently down to land on Lois’ nose. Richard could only laugh so hard he couldn’t speak; she was harassing him of all people to move faster, when she had been the one dithering over a tree for the past three hours. His amusement only made Lois glare at him furiously, which caused the rest of the Lanes to break into laughter as well.
Lana had stepped away, and she crossed her arms, watching Lois and Richard bicker. Clark was beside her, giving the two of them the same affectionately bemused look she was, and the redhead only had to lean slightly toward him to rest her shoulder against his. They shared a brief smile full of things unspoken: how this was a better future for them than the one their parents might have planned, and how strangely calm they both were to see the obvious love between their respective partners transmuting into something less romantic but just as strong. Really, Lois and Richard were starting to act more like feuding siblings than lovers…
“Remind me again why I haven’t managed to kill you yet? Richard, I have no idea how I put up with you!” they heard Lois yell.
Right away came back with the retort, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. You weren’t saying that a few months ago, lady.”
“And they were going to get married,” Lana chuckled, as Richard knelt down to start sawing through the tree’s trunk and Lois mimed kicking him in the rear.
“I think we did the world a favor,” Clark replied softly.
Much later, when everyone was hauling their respective trees to the tops of their vehicles, Jason managed to pull Richard aside. “What is it, son?” Richard asked, kneeling to tuck a lock of the boy’s hair under his hat.
Jason glanced around, seeing only his twin nearby, then lowered his voice. “Are you gonna marry Miss Lana?”
Richard had to sit back on his heels slightly. He’d only been half-kidding earlier, but trust these children to overhear him and ferret out his fondest wish. “I want to,” Richard replied softly. “If she’ll have me.” It occurred to him then that he had gotten engaged to their mother around this time last year, and with a slightly wry smile he asked, “Are you two okay with that?”
The little boy looked at him pensively for a long minute. “Are you still gonna be our daddy?”
“Of course,” Richard replied. “Jason, nothing will take me away from you, okay? You and Kala will always be my kiddles.”
The affectionate nickname made Jason chuckle, but he had another question. “What if you and Miss Lana have a baby? What then?”
“Then you and Kala will have a little brother or a little sister,” Richard said. The answer needed no deliberation; it seemed perfectly obvious.
After a long moment, Jason nodded. “Okay,” he said, and hugged Richard.
“Hey, Mr. Hotshot International Editor!” Lois called. She was standing by Ella’s car, having helped get her mother’s tree tied to the top of it. “You wanna come help us or just stand there looking pretty while we all get snowed on?”
Richard snorted and gave Jason an extra squeeze. “C’mon, tiger, let’s go help your mom,” he said. “She had to pick the biggest tree on the whole lot…”
“And don’t scratch my car!” Lois said, causing Ron and Clark to sigh. They had already placed an old blanket on top of the Audi to protect it from the branches. Given Lois’ feelings about her car, it was a surprise that she had even allowed it to be used for transporting a tree.
Amid some grumbling and much laughter, the three men managed to get the huge tree securely strapped to the roof of the car – not before almost getting clobbered by it when Clark dropped his end. Richard couldn’t help chuckling; he had that klutzy act down perfect.
“All right, that’s about it,” Lucy said with a satisfied sigh. “Now all we have to do is get everyone home and get the trees set up.”
Richard stretched slightly. “Hmm. True. Lana, didn’t you say you reserved a hotel room? You might want to check in … and what about your luggage? Where’s that being delivered?”
“Oh, I’m already checked in and unpacked,” Lana replied. “Kay took care of it.”
Lois raised an eyebrow. “Now I want a personal assistant. Sheesh.”
“Well, I guess we have to get you a ride to the hotel, and drop me at Uncle Perry’s…” Richard trailed off.
The twins called out pleadingly, “Daddy! You gotta help put the tree up! You gotta! Please?” Such imploring looks from their sweet faces, all rosy-cheeked in the cold, could hardly be denied.
He glanced at Lois, who smiled and shrugged, and at Clark, who said, “Of course, Richard. Lana, if you’d like, you’re invited as well. I’m sure one of us can drive you to the hotel when we drop Richard off…”
“Thank you, Clark, I’d love to,” Lana replied. With a slightly embarrassed grin, she added, “If it makes things easier, I reserved a room for you, too, Richard. I didn’t realize you were staying with your uncle.”
“Trust me, I’ll take a hotel room over his guest bedroom any day,” Richard said instantly.
“I’m telling your aunt,” Lois teased in a singsong voice. It was amazing how good it felt to be on level ground with him again.
“My aunt who’s younger than you?” Richard shot back. “Yeah, right. Besides, she knows the whole reason I don’t want to stay. Perry snores like a chainsaw; you can almost hear him outside. She’s used it, I’m not. By the way, Lana, where are we staying?”
“The Centennial,” she replied. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“We’re gonna make the papers again,” he warned.
“This time I have Kay to chaperone,” she told him.
“Nobody’s gonna think of that,” Richard said, smirking. He glanced down at Kala beside him, seeing the look of wide-eyed wonder on her face. The twins had often seen the Centennial Hotel, but never been inside… “What if I bring a couple of chaperones of my own?”
Lois hated having the twins out of her sight, but she could imagine just how amazed they’d be to see the city’s premier hotel decorated for Christmas. She remembered how impressed she had been when she had seen it herself at eighteen. They really deserved a little magic after the last few months. And they hadn’t seen Richard for a week. “Sounds okay by me … if they can behave themselves.” She looked archly at the twins, who immediately gave her their best and brightest smiles.
“Sure,” Lana said, taking out her cell phone. “Let me call and make arrangements…”
While she talked to Kay and explained that they would have the twins for the night, Ella and Lucy managed to corner Lois and Richard. “Since we’re all together,” Ella began, “we might as well plan Christmas. Even if we are standing around a tree farm while it snows…”
“These are just flurries,” Lucy shrugged. “But yeah. Whose house are we going to? And I assume I speak for everyone when I say Richard’s still invited, and now so is Lana?”
“You assume correctly,” Ella said. “Lois, it was my house last year. Would you like to host?”
“Oh, sure,” Lois muttered. “Let’s see, new man in my life, two kids, Richard and Lana to keep track of… Sure! Why not?”
“But there’s so much more space at your house,” Lucy said. “And it’s on the river…”
Richard cleared his throat. “Um, guys? Bad news. I promised my dad I’d come home for Christmas this year.”
“I had completely forgotten about that, Richard,” Lois sighed, wincing. “Oh, crap.”
“Lois,” Ella growled, glancing at the kids milling around the vehicles.
“Like they’ve never heard ‘crap’ before,” her daughter whispered in aggravation, then raised her voice while rolling her eyes. “Darn. Anyway, I remember that from last year. I think I faked the flu so we could get out of it, and you had to promise for this year.”
“And Dad emailed me last month to ask if you’d had your flu shot,” Richard replied. “He misses me… I guess it’s better this way. I can go down to Florida and spend some quality time, and you and the twins don’t have to deal with my mom.”
“You’re not gonna be here for Christmas?” Kala asked, looking heartbroken. Jason, just beside her, mirrored the expression. “But…”
“Hey, munchkin,” Richard said, lifting her chin slightly. “My mom and dad miss me, too. And I stayed here in Metropolis with you guys last year.”
Pouting, Kala said, “But that’s ‘cause your mommy hates Mommy.”
“And her doggies bite,” Jason added, scowling.
“Yeah, I know,” Richard chuckled. “But I have to go. I’ll be back for New Year’s Eve, though. And I’ll call you every day.”
“Every day?” the twins chorused.
“Every day,” he affirmed. “Plus you get presents from Florida. How cool is that?”
“You know, Richard,” Lana said almost casually. “If you don’t want to face the holidays alone, my schedule’s clear until the middle of February. And at least Florida’s warm in the winter.”
“Lana, you’re amazing,” Richard told her. “But really. You do not want to travel all the way to Fort Lauderdale just to get attacked by a snarling, hairy, yapping menace that wants nothing more in life than to chew your leg off at the ankle.”
“And her dogs are murder, too,” Lois interjected, completely deadpan.
There was one beat of silence, followed by a lot of snickering, with Lucy burying her face in Ron’s shoulder. Richard crossed his arms and glared at them before saying, “Kids, fingers in your ears. Kala, hum.” And then over the sound of Kala humming Jingle Bells, Richard admitted, “Lana, I’m sorry for the language, but there’s only one way to say it: my mother is a bitch. Seriously. Not even an interesting, witty, lovable bitch like Lois.” He paused to glance at Lois, who was glaring, but they were both thinking of her office coffee mug with ‘You call me bitch like it’s a bad thing’ written on the side.
Richard continued, “Mom’s evil. I love her, God help me, but there’s a reason I haven’t lived at home since I turned eighteen. I joined the Air Force just to get away. My dad’s cool, but Mom… She’s something else. And not in a good way. Kids, you can take your fingers out now.”
“It’s all right,” Lana said. “I know how to deal with … interesting personalities. Besides, I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be, on Christmas Day, than with you.”
“Aww,” Lucy said. “They’re so cute.” Laughing, she swatted Lois on the shoulder and declared, “Tag, you’re hosting the party. C’mon, everyone, let’s roll!”
“Dammit!” Lois snarled, whirling to tag Lucy back, but the blonde was already hiding behind their mother and snickering.
“Language!” Ella and Clark both said at the same moment and in the same indignant tone.
Lois glared at Clark, knowing better than to take issue with her mother. “Shut up and get in the car, Kent.” She stalked off to the car, Clark right behind her.
“YAY! We’re havin’ Christmas at our house!” the twins squealed in delight, following their parents and practically skipping with glee.
“Well, that was settled quickly,” Richard chuckled as Lucy and Ron gathered up their kids and got ready to leave. That left Lana and Richard standing beside Ella’s car, and he stole a kiss while she was smirking at the Lane girls’ antics.
“Come on, lovebirds,” Ella said to them, still shaking her head over the casual way her daughter was ordering Superman around. “I’ll drive you both to the Riverside house.”