So, to keep you all from killing us for it being late, no more cutesy commentary and away we go!
Welcome to Chapter Twenty-Four, ladies and gentlemen! Be forewarned, you will see some profanity flung around in this chapter. It is neither excessive nor gratuitous, so it shouldn't offend. And if it does ... don't ever make Lois angry again.
Keep your eyes open Christmas Day for a two-part special on what Christmas in Little Secrets would be like if everything went right for a change.
Oh, and see if you spot the two Margot Kidder references in this chapter...
Never had she been so grateful to be in the confines of her own home as she was at this moment, even if the reception she got might not be the friendliest. Tonight, it seemed an impenetrable fortress against the insanity of the world. Something she desperately needed at this moment.
Almost as much as she needed the people inside.
Pausing to take a deep breath, she choked back the intensity of emotion rising in her chest. The nap that her mother had forced on her had helped, although it had put her behind by two hours and was making her fidgety. Suck it up, Lane, she scolded herself, the twins are already home and have been through enough for one day. You’ll just make it worse, dragging yourself in there looking like this. The last thing they need to see is Mommy falling apart because she and Superman fought. Or seemed to fight. Stop being selfish and act like a responsible mother. They don’t need to have a clue about the mess Mommy has gotten herself into.
Although I’m more than a little sure that Richard has already started to form his own opinions.
Despite the way her gut wrenched at that thought, she knew she couldn’t stand out here all night. She let out a deeply-drawn breath before putting her key into the lock. Here we go. But for the Grace of God go I…
The moment she opened the door and stepped into the warmth of the entryway, she could hear the television running and the sudden sound of little padded feet on carpet. Tossing her keys into the marble bowl just off from the stairs, she couldn’t help but smile as she heard them hurry toward her. It was amazing to her how her heart contracted at the mere thought of the twins, making her eyes water just slightly. They’re my miracles, something I never asked for or deserved, she thought just as Jason made the corner first and launched himself toward her.
Kala was not far behind, and Lois nearly fell as her daughter ran full-tilt into her legs and clung there. Both twins seemed determined to squeeze the life out of her. Jason’s arms in particular were very tight around her neck… “Sweetheart, Mommy has to breathe,” Lois wheezed, and he immediately loosened his grip. Their eyes met for a moment, Lois smiling a little while she raised an eyebrow. Jason nodded seriously, remembering their just-between-us talk about being careful.
“How come you were bein’ mean to Superman on TV, Mommy?” Kala demanded.
She resisted the urge to sigh. Ah, the cliché lives. And always out of the mouths of these babes. Lois set Jason on the ground before she answered. “Baby, I had a bad day. Some people at the office were saying nasty things about me…”
“Didja kick their butts?” Jason asked hopefully.
“Honey, fighting doesn’t solve things,” Lois said, treasuring the image of her stiletto heel buried in Polly’s behind. She had learned that high-kick for a cabaret musical in high school…
“But Mommy, the cops fight crime all the time,” Kala said. Her skeptical look mirrored her mother’s own perfectly.
“That’s different,” Lois said, trying not to grin. “It’s a different kind of fighting, and that’s what the police have to do to keep us safe. It wouldn’t be fair for me to just beat people up when they’re mean to me; nice people don’t do that.”
“So why were you mean to Superman? ‘Cuz he wouldn’t beat you up for it?” Kala asked. Those eyes seemed to be watching closely for her answer. Close enough for Lois to wonder.
Why, why do they both have to be so damn smart at this age? Please, God, let Richard not be hearing this. “Kala, I was mad about the people at my office, and I was accidentally mean to Superman. It’s okay, I told him I was sorry later. He accepted my apology.”
“You got to talk to Superman twice in one day?” Jason said in tones of awe. “Wow! When?”
Lois closed her eyes. You’re fighting a losing battle, Lane. They’re starting to love just the thought of him. The frustration was almost enough to make her tear up after the day she’d had. “He came to ask me why I had said such nasty things to him, and that’s when I apologized.”
“Superman’s really nice,” Jason said, and Kala nodded.
Swallowing bile, Lois agreed with them. Then immediately changed the subject. “Now, come on, what have you two been doing all day?”
“Watchin’ a movie with Nana!” “Coloring!” “Playin’ a new song on the piano!” “Beatin’ Daddy at checkers!” The twins’ day off had evidently been quite busy, and it took them a while to recite everything they had done. In the meantime, Lois was walking into the kitchen, getting a soda as both followed behind her, and suddenly getting very tense as Richard walked in. Thankfully, the twins never even noticed.
All he said, however, was, “What do you want for dinner?” And over the twins yelling for burritos – which, given the chance, they would eat for every meal – they very civilly decided to have chicken stir-fry, and started making dinner. Together.
Lois felt very odd about that. Even while she made the rice and Richard started the chicken, they kept a tiny space between them, a distance of exaggerated politeness. Every once in a while, she’d try to sneak a peek at him, just to gauge his mood, only to have him turn away. The worst part was the not knowing. Not knowing what he was thinking, not knowing what he’d seen, not knowing what the gossips at work had said.
While Clark was being mobbed, Ron beckoned Lucy into the kitchen. “Taste the mashed potatoes, hon. More salt?” As Lucy took the spoon from him, he whispered, “Luce, lay off on the ‘my pregnant sister’ stuff, okay?”
“Salt’s fine, but it could use a hint more garlic,” Lucy said in normal tones, then whispered back, “Why? I thought he’d get a kick out of it.”
“Lucy! He’s always had a thing for Lois, you know that. Showing him pictures of her pregnant with some other man’s babies is gonna give him a kick all right – in the teeth!”
She winced as she realized her mistake. “Ouch. Okay, my mistake. Forgive me, love, I’m blonde.”
Ron just rolled his eyes at her. “Just chill with it, okay? I don’t want the man avoiding us because we remind him of them being together.”
The younger Lane sighed. “It is kinda sad that he never got a chance with her, you know? Lois and Clark…”
“Yeah, I know,” Ron said. “Would’ve been a sight to see. Now go keep the man company, beautiful.”
She kissed his cheek and took a glass of iced tea back to the living room, where Nora was telling Clark everything she wanted for her birthday.
“An’ a pony an’ real pierced earrings an’ Aunt Lois promised she’d bring me somethin’ pretty and grown-up from her trip to Chicago…” The little girl saw her mother listening and hushed.
Clark offered Lucy a smile as she handed him the tea, trying not to let it show that he had heard her conversation. “Wow, Lois went to Chicago? When was that, while I was in Mexico?”
“Oh, no, that was months ago,” Lucy explained, settling herself into a chair. “She went with Perry to some conference. My dear sister made the mistake of telling chatterbox there about it, and she’s never forgotten. You know the Lane women, we never forget.”
Clark had to fake nearly dropping the glass to hide his sudden discomfort. You could say that, Lucy. My life would be so much easier if your sister had stayed forgetful … or if I never made her forget in the first place. Too bad I didn’t think of it six years ago. “Don’t I know it,” he replied with a forced laugh. “So fill me in. What’ve you been doing since I left? Still volunteering with the adult literacy program?”
By the time dinner was ready, Clark remembered why he had always been so fond of Lucy. She was such a sweetheart, the perfect foil for her sarcastic older sister, and he had a brotherly affection for her. The children set the table as Ron and Lucy carried in the plates. As they all sat down, Lucy flashed Clark that sunny smile and asked, “Would you say grace for us?”
Her request startled Clark a little. It had been so long since he sat down to dinner with anyone but Martha, and his mother had always said the blessing, ever since he was a child… The family joined hands around the table and bowed their heads. “Dear Lord, we thank you for this food, and our time together. Amen.”
“Amen,” the Troupes echoed.
In the midst of animated conversation, Clark felt less like an outsider than he had since leaving the farm.
In a rare deviation from the norm, Lois and the twins were curled on the sofa, watching TV and eating stir-fry off paper plates. Both had seemed extremely loath to leave her side since she had arrived home. Richard watched them from the side chair, his face mostly expressionless, but his mind seething.
What ever made me think I could be a part of that little trio there? Richard took a spiteful bite of his rice. She doesn’t need me. Sometimes I wonder if she even loves me at all. Part of loving someone is being honest and open with them, right? Part of loving someone is trusting them, and being trustworthy yourself.
I should’ve listened to Perry. Hell, I should’ve listened to everybody in the office. They all told me, “Stay away from Superman’s girlfriend, man. She’s trouble.” And all I saw was the beautiful, slightly lost mother and her incredible kids. I never expected it would come to this… I once compared her to a falcon, but I didn’t know how accurate that was. They will stay with you while it suits them, and fly away when they want to. And if you try to hold them back, they’ll tear you apart. They keep their secrets, too…
Just then, Jason looked up at him from where his chin was perched on Lois’ hip, and saw his brooding expression. The little boy frowned slightly. “Daddy, are you ‘kay? You’re awful quiet.”
Richard shook himself slightly, smiling for Jason’s sake. “Sure, kiddo. I’m just a little tired, that’s all.” Don’t be a jackass, White. The kids love you. You owe it to them to fight this through with their mother instead of moping like a high school kid jilted on prom night.
Kala looked at him from where she was laying beside her mother, flat on her back, but anything she meant to say was swallowed by a huge yawn. That seemed to startle Lois out of her daze, glancing over to see Jason starting to look owlish as well, and she sat up. “All right, you two. Time for bed.”
“Do we have to?” they whined in unison as she pulled them both up gently. As Lois got them rounded up, and herded them upstairs with a small hand holding each of hers, Richard remained downstairs, flipping through channels. Lois never even questioned his lack of participation. After they’re asleep. Then we’ll talk. Stay calm, Richard, if you lose your temper with her you’ll just wind up screaming at each other. Stay calm if you want answers.
The Troupe kids were allowed an hour of television after dinner since their homework was done. Clark helped carry the plates into the kitchen, but came to a sudden halt as he walked back out. Hanging in the hall opposite the kitchen door was an arrangement of family photos, and one quite prominently displayed was of Lois and the twins when they were just toddlers. It was taken in Centennial Park, he could tell just from looking, fall foliage in the background. Lois was sitting on the grass, raven hair around her shoulders like a mantle, and she was laughing as she watched the twins throwing leaves at each other about a foot away. That both children were laughing as well was not a surprise nor was how perfectly the three seemed to fit together. Even as his heart ached, what shocked Clark was Jason’s almost platinum hair. “Holy… Gosh, Jason’s hair was that light?”
“Oh, yeah,” Lucy said behind him, Ron having chased her away from the dishwasher, insisting on loading it himself. “It’s finally darkening up, though. By the time he’s old enough to drink it ought to be Lo’s color.”
Clark blinked at her in surprise. “You mean you think he’ll get that dark? I always thought he got the lighter hair from his father.”
Lucy grinned and pointed at her own hair. “We’re not sure about the father; my personal guess is black hair, which is where Kala got it. Hers is just a shade darker than mom’s. The blond’s from the Lane side. Have you ever … wait right there.” She hurried out of the room.
“Now you’ve done it, Kent,” Ron said from the kitchen, sounding faintly exasperated. “She’s going for the photo album. You could be stuck here until January.”
Lucy was back before Clark could figure out how to reply, and flipped to a page near the front. “Here you go. See these two?”
She pointed at a picture of a girl about Kala’s age and a toddler. The younger girl had pretty blonde hair the same color as Lucy’s, but the older one was about the same shade as Jason was now. And she had piercing hazel eyes and a slight frown aimed at the photographer… “That’s you and Lois?” Clark said incredulously. “Oh, my dear God. I never knew.”
Lucy flipped back a couple of pages and pointed to a scowling two-year-old. “And look, she’s almost platinum here. Mom says she was the same way. I got my pure blonde from Daddy.”
“Why does Lois always look angry in these pictures?” Clark asked, glancing through the pages. Sure enough, Lois was only smiling in one or two pictures, and that was generally a sarcastic toothy grin reminiscent of the one she’d shown more often once she was older.
“Lois was a pissed-off little girl,” Lucy commented with a shrug. “Chalk that up to my Dad. You’ll notice I have no pictures of her and him together. Thank God her daughter’s sweeter-natured, although she does have a temper on her.”
Clark couldn’t help smiling. “Yes, I’ve seen Kala pout. She’s strong-willed like her mother, too.”
Lucy sighed. “Clark … you’re practically family. Could you please learn how to pronounce the girl’s name?”
“Oh, dear God,” Ron groaned. “Lucy, will you lay off?”
Clark just looked confused. “What? But, I don’t call her Kayla…”
“No, Lois will disembowel anyone who does,” Lucy said with a trace of annoyance. It was obvious she’d given this speech in the past. “But she lets the other slide, I have no idea why. Once my sister crossed the Atlantic, she started letting people call the girl Kalla. It’s Kala. One ‘l’ like the difference between ‘all’ and ‘Al’. Kal-a. Real simple to correct, but she just lets everyone go on mispronouncing it like she doesn’t care.”
Clark felt hot, then icy cold. Kala. Like Kal-El. Oh. My. God. She … she named Kala after me… I wonder if … black hair from the father… I’m not human, another species entirely, could they really be mine? She would’ve told me. She would’ve told me this morning. Lois has no reason to hide that from me if they are mine…
“I’m sorry, Clark, I didn’t mean to snap. It isn’t your fault…” Lucy’s voice seemed to fade as his concentration turned to Lois. He could hear her heartbeat, tune in to it anywhere on the planet, and just now it was racing as hard as his own…
The story hadn’t been quite enough to put the twins to sleep, as had slowly become the case in recent months. They had insisted on sleeping in the same bed tonight, still young enough to oppose being separated at time, even by inches. Now both pairs of sleepy eyes were forcing themselves to stay open, watching her from Jason’s bed as she closed the storybook and put it down on the nightstand beside her, shaking her head with a soft smile. It seemed as if they held onto consciousness as long as they possibly could these days. “Okay, munchkins, what do I have to bribe you with to get you to get some shut-eye tonight?”
Stifling another large yawn, Kala murmured out, “Lullaby.”
Jason, even now dozing, managed to mumble out, “Yeah, Mommy, lullaby. ‘Once ‘pona time’.”
Still sitting on Kala’s bed, Lois had to smile. It really wasn’t a lullaby, just a song she had had stuck in her head while she had been carrying the twins. Just a silly little ballad she had heard on the radio that wouldn’t leave her. A song that she had gotten into the habit of singing to make herself feel closer to their father. A song that they had continued to want to hear for years. Amazing how something so coincidental could become so important.
Standing up, she moved over to side beside them, and started to softly sing to the twins. “Once upon a time … once when you were mine… I remember skies … reflected in your eyes… I wonder where you are… I wonder if you think about me… Once upon a time…” Lois paused for a moment at that, reaching out to brush Jason’s cheek as the line whispered off her lips. “When the music plays … when the words are touched with sorrow…” By this time, those blue eyes were closed, but even in sleep the similarities broke her heart. “…Once beneath the stars … the universe was ours… Love was all we knew… And all I knew was you…” Sensing Kala might still be awake, she continued, her voice falling to a hush when she came to the end, repeating a line that sounded like her questions on life of late. “I wonder where you are… I wonder if you think about me… Once upon a time … in your wildest dreams…”
She sat there watching them for a moment, pure fierce love welling up in her heart. There really were no words in any language of the world to describe just how much these two tiny beings meant to her. There really were entire days that she owed them for her continued existence, especially during the period in which she had first sung this song to them. And sometimes just the sight of them had her heart feel as if it would burst in her chest. Some days it didn’t even seem possible that they were hers. Silently tracing their features with her eyes, marking each trait that belonged to her, Lois finally turned away to turn on the bedside lamp. Making herself stand up, she leaned forward to both children to press a kiss to their forehead and whisper, “Mommy loves you,” before starting quietly for the door, turning off the light, pulling the door closed without a sound, heading back down the stairs to Richard.
He was in the darkened living room, watching an old horror movie on television. As Lois walked up behind him, she recognized the scene where the front door of the haunted house burst open. Keeping her tone light and playful, Lois said, “So you’re cheating on me with that actress again, huh? She really does look a lot like me.”
On the screen, James Brolin told his wife to stay upstairs. “Like hell,” she shot back, and followed him down to the foyer.
Richard, who had taken a deep breath and silently counted to ten after Lois spoke, answered without turning to face his fiancée, “True, she is older than me. And I only know her from movies and stuff like that. But at least she isn’t keeping secrets from me.”
Lois felt her heart start to beat faster. “Richard…”
Now he looked at her, and the anger that had smoldered in him all day rose to flame. “Why couldn’t you just tell me? All those times, all those evasive little answers, all the changes of subject. I actually believed there was nothing going on. Do you have any idea how stupid I felt today, when I was the only person in Metropolis over the age of seven who didn’t know that you were Superman’s girlfriend?”
“I wasn’t Superman’s girlfriend!” Lois snapped. Not technically anyway.
Clark had excused himself, pleading a touch of heartburn, and tuned out Lucy scolding Ron for the garlic in the mashed potatoes. He only heard the first few words of the argument between Lois and Richard, but it was enough to make him feel terrible.
Dear God, what am I doing? I’m tearing them apart just by existing. And I like him, I never wanted to do anything like this to him. I never wanted Lois to be hurt, either. I guess the road to Hell really is paved with good intentions. Look where mine have gotten us.
I have to get out of here. Ron and Lucy are going to think poorly of me, but I need to be by myself for a while. I need to get my mind straight. And I really need to go somewhere where I can’t hear Lois and Richard yelling at each other.
“Oh, really? You were in love with him, though!”
“He was Superman! Everyone was in love with him!”
“Not like you were,” Richard replied, standing up. “You know what I mean, Lois, I’m not talking about hero-worship. You loved him. You weren’t just his press agent, he wasn’t just a story.”
“Fine!” Now she was practically spitting the words into his face, the General’s Daughter growling, If you want a fight, you’ll get one then. “Yeah, I was in love with him. Soppy moony-eyed twittering-lovebirds-circling-my-head in love with him! But that was a long time ago, and he left me. He left me without a word! That ended any possibility of that.”
“Are you sure?”
Lois sighed. “Richard, would you like a list of everyone I’ve ever dated, been involved with, had a crush on, or slept with? Would you like them separated out by blood type or in order by social security number? That happened long before I met you, why the hell do you care?”
“I don’t care about everyone you ever slept with or wanted to, I only care about that one! He’s a superhero, Lois, that’s like saying you were dating the President or the Prime Minister of Canada or something! This is something I should’ve known about!”
Lois glared at him. “Fine, you know about it! Happy?”
“See why I never said anything?!”
“Dammit, Lois! Will you just answer one question with a simple yes or no?”
“Sure! Ask me one that can be answered like that and I will!”
“Did you ever sleep with him?”
Lois blinked. Shit. I can’t let him suspect about Jason and Kala. Escaping on a technicality again… “No, Richard, I never slept with Superman.” He didn’t have the powers when we were together.
Richard stared at her for a long moment, then sighed. “I’d feel a lot better about that if I didn’t think you’d lie to me to protect him.”
Frustration rose up in Lois until she snarled out, “Dammit! Richard!”
“Well? How the hell am I supposed to trust you? You hide all kinds of shit from me, you outright lied about him until now…”
“It’s none of your business!”
“If you’re wearing my ring, you are my business, Lois! How the hell are we going to make a marriage last if we’re keeping secrets from each other?”
He just dropped the M-bomb on me again. “Richard! Don’t even go there!”
“No, let’s go there,” he said, stalking toward her. “Let’s go there for once. Do you have any intention of keeping the promise you made when you started wearing that ring? Any intention at all of marrying me?”
A red haze seemed to float across Lois’ vision. This was the worst time he could’ve chosen to do this, the terrible morning, the confrontation with the twins’ father (who still didn’t know he was their father), the scolding from Perry and Maggie and her mother, and the certain knowledge that her name would be in every gossip column on the east coast by morning… “Richard, so help me God, don’t you push me right now,” she warned.
He was right up in her face, keeping his voice low in a belated effort not to wake the kids. “I want an answer, Lois.”
She shoved him, hard, and he took a staggering step back. “Who the hell do you think you are?” she raged. “We’ve lived together for three years, and you still don’t know the first thing about me!”
“No, I don’t,” Richard said, throwing his hands up in the air in mock defeat. “I don’t know why it bothers me, really. Why should I expect to know anything that happened before I met you? I mean, what am I to you? Just the babysitter you can sleep with after the kids go to bed.”
Shattered. Her anger in shards, shock and pain taking its place, tears rose unwillingly to Lois’ eyes. Oh, that hurt … and it had just enough truth in it to make her feel guilty as well. She wasn’t really in love with him, and she had never actually said yes when he proposed…
Speechless, the fury of a moment ago at war with her current desire to curl up into a ball and sob, Lois turned on her heel and stormed out. She didn’t even hear Richard calling after her.
A fragment of wrath, her predictable reaction to being hurt, leaped up as Lois reached the foyer. She gave in to it enough to snatch the nearest throwable object, a framed picture on the table there, and fling it behind her. Richard, who had been trying to catch up to her and apologize, take back his hasty words, came to a sudden halt as the photograph exploded at his feet, glass shards everywhere.
As Lois grabbed her keys and slammed the door behind her, Richard stared down at the photo on the floor. Prophetically, it was one of the four of them, seated in one of those Sears special family portraits.
Lois’ mind was full of white noise as she drove back into the city, the car seeming to head back to the Daily Planet building of its own volition. Her head was whirling, and she craved nothing more than peace and quiet at the moment.
The radio was on mostly for background noise, but a song came on that caught her attention. Lois reached to turn it off, the lyrics making her shiver, but stayed her hand and listened.
I try to see the good in life.
The good things in life are hard to find.
We’re blowin’ away, blowin’ away
Can we make this something good?
Well, I’ll try to do to it right this time around
It’s not over,
Try to do it right this time around
It’s not over
But a part of me is dead and in the ground.
This love is killin’ me
But you’re the only one
It’s not over.
Across town, Clark was sitting in the back of a cab, his hand pressed to his eyes. He’d managed to block out most of the argument while leaving the Troupe house with all the grace he could manage, but it left him with a headache and a sick feeling in his stomach. For the time being, he focused on a song playing on the cabbie’s radio, one that seemed to capture his feelings.
I’ve taken all I can take
And I cannot wait
We’re wastin’ too much time
Bein’ strong, holdin’ on
Can’t let it bring us down
My life with you means everything
So I won’t give up that easily
Blowin’ away, blowin’ away
Can we make this something good?
Cause it’s all misunderstood?
Well I’ll try to do to it right this time around
It’s not over,
Try to do it right this time around
It’s not over
But a part of me is dead and in the ground.
This love is killin’ me
But you’re the only one
It’s not over.
Dear Readers, I think most of you recognize the twins’ lullaby as the Moody Blue’s classic, “Your Wildest Dreams”. And the song mentioned here at the end is the bistyboo1974 favorite, Chris Daughtry’s “It’s Not Over.” (Thank you, bisty for getting most of the Superman community on LJ addicted to this song!) We highly recommend that you buy a copy of the latter and listen to it while you wait for the next chapter… :D
Speaking of which, keep your eyes on the LiveJournal community 12 Days of Clois. We’re honored to have the final slot, Christmas Day, and we will be posting a Christmas-themed story that’s a possible future of Little Secrets. :)