Chapter Three: Painful Perceptions
Before I could even begin to utter the words, I shoved my fare into the cabbie’s hand with just a bit of a tip and pushed open the door in an attempt to discourage that idiocy. Trying to ignore the shakiness of my limbs, I slid from the vehicle and out into the early morning sunshine. Once my heels touched the pavement, it seemed impossible to move forward, into this place that had meant so much to me. As I tried to settle my nerves, my eyes wandered as the cab pulled away. The sidewalks were teeming with pedestrians as always this early in the morning. The hum of murmured conversations of coworkers reached my ears, and the mingled scents of strong coffee, hastily-smoked cigarettes and gasoline filled my senses.
It was a scent that had always comforted me, this wakening smell of a Metropolis morning, the way it jumpstarted my adrenaline. But now, it just brought back memories and a nervous yearning for nicotine, which was now off-limits. Memories that I had better learn to forget if I was going to continue to make a good life for him and Kala. I knew better than to look up to the shadow falling over me, at the globe looming almost seventy stories above my head. That really was where all of this mess had started. It was only sheer stubbornness and pride that propelled me forward, clutching my briefcase as I adjusted my trenchcoat over my shoulder.
I think I must have cursed both my mother and Perry a million and one times for talking me into coming back here as I strode with seeming confidence into the lobby and toward the elevator banks it was just another day. Business as usual. The interior of the Daily Planet was a microcosm of the world outside the revolving glass doors. Over four dozen voices echoed against the walls and high ceiling before bouncing off again as they moved into one of the three elevators. The sound of shoe heels was a steady beat. Here, life had gone on.
Yet all seemed just as it had been when I left two years ago, with the exception of the signs of renovation that Perry had mentioned over trans-Atlantic calls. I caught a few surprised glances as I made my way over myself, a few people poking each other and nodding in my direction, but no one greeted me out loud. And I became acutely aware of just how much I had changed in such a short time. How different I had grown from the woman I had been before, before he had left. Before I had disappeared from the place like a mad jet, before it became clear that he had left me … all of us. And how completely lost I felt in this most familiar place.
The sensation of being watched and talked about didn’t stop then, as we rose slowly up the height of the building. Jaw clenched, I kept my face unreadable and concentrated my thoughts instead on the babies I’d left at home. It was difficult to do, leave them alone with Mom and Lucy for ten hours so soon after arriving. Feeding them this morning and then having to walk away had been a special kind of emotional torture. All three of us had gotten used to the alone-time with each other. It continued to baffle me how different it felt to have children around, especially once that I had mine. And the thought of two of them back then…
But it seemed like everything new that they did, the way that Jason’s hair slowly darkened from blonde as time went on, the expressions on his face, Kala’s eyes like mine and her attempts to try to form sounds, if not words – utterly commanded my attention. Despite of the way they came about, even if their father wasn’t a part of their lives, they’d become my anchor. My reason to get up and keep moving. Sorrow or not, those two wouldn’t let me fall to pieces. And they needed me. Me and no one else. And this from the woman who wanted no part of all that ‘Mommy’ mess. My, my, the independent, free-spirited Miss Lane, what has become of you? I thought with a small smile.
I hated to think of it as using them as an excuse, but that was the first reason I gave Mom for not wanting to move back, how young they were. At only nine months old, it seemed cruel to uproot them from their routine and the only home they had ever known. It was only a partial excuse, though, because the flight would seem like a short stay in Hell if Kala had decided to let loose with one of those horror-film screams of hers. The one thing I’ve slowly learned is that kids are completely impulsive. In the case of mine, the ante seemed to have been upped more than even the average. And I prayed hard every night that there would never be outward signs of their mixed heritage.
But the moment my protest was of leaving was uttered, I should have known it was only a matter of time before I lost the argument. Paris was beautiful, but my heart had ceased to be in it due to the nature of my arrival. I had come here to find him, then had stayed to protect all of us. Besides, loneliness was an issue. Not to mention, I was deathly afraid that she would ask too many questions if I kept arguing. Questions that I had no completely straightforward answers for.
I had thought that if I had a plausible, if uncomfortable excuse, even a potentially image-harming one, it would keep others from sniffing out the truth. But I hadn’t counted on Mom not letting well enough alone. In a way that was all too eerily familiar as we sat on the overstuffed couch in my apartment, both of the babies sleeping, she demanded the full story, top to bottom, and once it was told, began to pick over little inconsistencies. She had caught me off-guard, you see, and I was scrambling to tell the story I had rehearsed in my mind over and over. All along, I think I was sure that Mom would be the hardest person to convince; even when I was a child, very little got past her. It was if she could read the truth just by glancing at your face, no matter how hard you tried to hide it.
Knowing I was cornered, unable to even begin telling her the truth in any way, I’m ashamed to say that I took the coward’s way out. Before I could even brace myself against her loving and concerned words, I was bawling like a terrified four-year-old. Even as the longing to tell her the truth was becoming unbearable, I stuttered out that big fat lie once again. About Superman’s disappearance and my being a wounded idiot and the stupid non-existent Garen and the torrid prolonged one-night-stand/revenge sex that never even happened.
I hated it, hated every single untruth that I spoke, but I couldn’t tell her. How could I possibly explain what I had been up to with the World’s Defender?
“Well, Mom, it’s like this. I’ve been hooked on Superman since I first met him, even more so than I’m sure you’ve gathered from my never-ending discussion, but get this? I found out Clark Kent, that sweet and goofy klutz from work was the very man I had to drawn to when we were on assignment as newlyweds. I said I loved him, he said the same. Only not in words. Anyway, we went to his place in the Arctic, this giant crystal fortress, and we proceeded to seduce each other after a home-cooked meal. Afterwards, the hologram of his mother said that he had to give up being a hero if he wanted to be with me. Guess what happened then? He did. And we slept together. Several times that night. And the entire world went to hell as we did it. Well, once the smoke cleared, and he chose his mission and the entire Earth over me. And just before he flew off to God-knows-where, we formally broke up and the kiss he gave me made me forget everything for a while. And I found out that I was pregnant with your half-alien grandchildren. Surprise!”
Oh, sure, she’d take that extremely well. That thought had been enough to make the waterworks even worse.
I was so torn up about it and worried over what would happen when I had to truly go out and face the world again, that when Mom brought up how much everyone missed me and wanted me to come back, it didn’t take too much to agree with a sob. Without even really stopping to consider. I had avoided Metropolis from the moment I realized he was genuinely gone for a reason. It was a city of ghosts to me, full of memories that I couldn’t bear to face, a skyline that haunted me, an apartment I had difficulty even thinking about. Nevermind that it had been partially paid for by my father or that I had had a hell of a time paying for my portion on a reporter’s salary. At that time, I felt as though I had earned it for the way Daddy had always treated me and by the trials I had faced at the Planet. I had put it on the market once I was absolutely sure about the twins. I knew I could never have sat on that balcony again.
Nevertheless, I let Mom talk me into informing La Tribune Quotidienne that I would be returning to the United States, in spite of my earlier agreement to continue on after my maternity leave was over. I let her call Perry and tell him that I would accept the position he had offered and would be coming home. I let her help box things up and prepare all three of us for the move. I seemed to draw closer and closer to the twins as the date of departure grew more and more near. They went everywhere with me and both slept with me every night until we boarded the plane early that drizzly morning.
Sitting quietly in my seat, my anxious brain needing somewhere to go during that long flight, I made myself deal with all of the trauma and mystery of the situation I had found myself in, as the twins alternately slept, were played with, and were fed. I knew that I had to do what my mother was trying to lead me to do; I needed to get on with my life. Needed to resume being the person I was. My entire life wasn’t swallowed up in him. I could do this. I could move on with my life.
It was just a case of finding out how.
Before I could torture myself further, the loud ding of the bell cut short this trail of thought as the elevator doors slid open. I was forced to move along with the frenzied traffic of journalists in a rush to both the Associated Press ticker and the coffee pot. Not to mention Perry’s Monday Morning Massacres, the bullpen meeting that all of us lived for or would kill to avoid, depending on the week. For the first time since I was fifteen, I slowly made my way to the double swinging-glass doors, only to stop just to the side as the others filed past in twos and threes in an ever-increasing flow of discussion. It was awkward, that hesitant feeling in my gut as I watched this world I knew so well from the outside. Why did I feel this way in a place I loved so well, almost as if I no longer belonged?
Thankfully before I could ponder it seriously and psych myself out worse, I heard a voice that was familiar. “Miss Lane? Miss Lane, is that you? What’re you doing out here? You look like someone just sent you to the principal’s office.” And then, as I glanced around to see where it came from, the owner of the voice was striding toward me with a boyish grin and camera around his neck.
I couldn’t help the relieved grin I felt coming as he made his way across to me, smiling himself just like the boy he would always be to me. I’d known Jimmy for quite some time, practically since he first started interning here when he started high school. Poor thing got a couple of photos into his regional paper when he was just a kid, took some really striking photos for his yearbook and of special events like weddings, got known around his neighborhood, and let his photography teacher give him a big head by saying how outstanding he was. Said that he was so good that he definitely should go professional. Only the kid had a better idea; he wanted to be a crime-beat photographer.
And wound up becoming a glorified gopher and whipping boy to Perry. Not exactly the career path he had been dreaming of. I’d always encouraged him to keep going – he was young and still had plenty of time. But he would just smile and point out that the Chief and I were examples of young people who had made it. I could only imagine what the frustration was like for him, but he took it well. I had no doubt that if he kept going at the pace he was, he would be a seasoned professional by the time he reached my age. Especially if Perry continued to thaw toward him, which was slowly but surely happening despite his blustering.
I chuckled quietly thinking about it. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he did thaw toward Jimmy, seeing how he took Clark under his wing, as unimpress…
The amusement froze in my throat as his name entered my mind, my frown clear as Jimmy came up to me. Damn him. Damn him for the fool he made of all of us. Even now, at this of all times… Only Jimmy’s voice broke me out of my agitated thoughts, saying in a worried but teasing tone, “Uh-oh, I know that look, Miss Lane. Who should we put in the witness protection program?”
I gave an uneasy laugh at my acidic thoughts as I went to hug him, his hug as always tight enough to remind me of the schoolboy crush that had never seemed to go away. As I followed him in, and he took my briefcase, I got all of the updates I could possibly need about the City Room and its latest going-ons, entanglements, and sob stories. Two weddings, five deaths, a divorce, and only my twins for births.
Norm Palmer had been having a bit of heart trouble lately, but was back on the job with a bill of good health. Gil and Judy had separated and she and their brood of four had gone to live with her mother in Missouri. I was rather sad to hear this, as the two of them had always seemed such a happy couple. Steve Lombard had finally harassed the wrong pretty young female, the new CEO’s daughter, and been fired for his trouble. The man had been a royal jerk, making several passes at me and causing much grief for Clark and Jimmy, and so it was no great loss. Remembering him and his horrible creeping hands, I suppressed the urge to wrinkle my nose in disgust. And it seemed to give Jimmy a great deal of joy as he related the incident, so detailed were his descriptions, and so spot-on, that as we reached the editor’s office I started laughing.
"Olsen! Where's my..." For once in his life, Perry White fell speechless. The beginnings of a grin lightened his face, and then he scowled and bellowed, "Lane, I expect my assistant to be on time!"
Just as quickly, not even giving a moment to consider the recent change of affairs, I stifled my surprise to return the look and retorted with a hand on my hip, “Well, if I were your assistant, I would have been. Nice to see you, too, Mr. White.” For just an instant, I winced internally, wondering why I always had to rise to the bait, but it faded. If I had reacted any other way, he would have wondered what had happened to me. He and Jimmy may have expected me changed after all of this, but I would have died before letting them dote on me. “As it is, though, you have one star reporter back in your midst. Is my desk still available?”
"No, but the office next door to me is open," he shot back, eyeing me with just as much resistance. “The one on the left – my nephew's on the right, where I can keep an eye on him."
That really got me and I could feel my jaw tighten as I narrowed my eyes at him, missing the last sentence entirely. The fact that he was even pretending to misunderstand me was just insulting. In no uncertain terms, I had told him over and over that, while I would come home willingly to the Planet, I wouldn’t consider being hired back in anything other than the same position I had left. Senior reporter was what I had worked for, had fought for. I’d always loved my job, loved the thrill of chasing down a lead, and loved the competition. I had absolutely no interest in being tethered to a desk simply because I had had a baby or two and the men at work felt more comfortable that way. Lois Lane was not going to become a desk jockey just because she was now a mom. The mere thought of Perry thinking I would put up with that train of thought infuriated me. “If this has anything to do with my having Jason and Kala now… if you think you can settle me into a nice and cozy position like some complacent broodmare, you have another think coming. I never wanted a desk job and I won’t start now.”
“Lane, you’re the only one around here with enough balls to even be assistant editor,” he snapped. “It’s not as if you have to take over my job; I’ll still be running this place when I’m seventy. You won’t need to be at the desk all day; you can still go out and get the scoops. You just won’t have to be climbing under an elevator car with a hydrogen bomb in it to justify your paycheck.”
There wasn’t a day that went by that it didn’t drive me absolutely bananas that Perry knew me as well as he did. And he knew full-well that the recklessness was part of the thrill. My expression didn’t change other than to allow for a scowl. “You would have expected nothing less for that story and you know it,” I replied sarcastically. “You’re not dying any time soon, Perry; you have the constitution of an ox. And you know that staying in this building and playing it safe is completely beyond my capability. I can’t just write puff pieces for the Metro section. I won’t. Your star reporter left here only to follow a lead story. Now, if this is up for debate, I hear that the Star has an…”
“Who says you were star reporter?” was Perry’s retort. “Kent had as many articles as you, and he got them out faster – less proofreading, too. Look, Lois, I thought I was doing you a favor here. I’m not throwing you over to the wolves in the Lifestyle section. No matter why you left, you brought back more than a story. Take this job and your kids’ll grow up knowing you instead of your byline.”
Now I could feel the blood draining from my face. He knew that he’d scored a direct hit at my expense, but this time he had no idea what kind of anger he was tampering with here at those words. For one blinding instant, it was on the very tip of my tongue to tell Perry exactly why Kent had always seemed an equal with me all these years. All of those times, all of those stories… Not to mention the fact that it’s his fault that I had to face this indignity, to be told to step back in the interest of my children. I had to force myself not to speak when every part of me wanted to have a tantrum worthy of a furious four-year-old. How dare he…?
And the worst part was that he was right about Jason and Kala. Look at Gil and Judy. Damn him.
I must have betrayed myself somehow, seeing the now real worry on Jimmy’s face. But my editor-in-chief’s face never changed, the both of us having been through similar confrontations before. But he had not the slightest clue what lay behind this difference of opinion. Taking a deep breath as I stared at the ceiling, I slowly counted to ten. It didn’t seem to last long enough. That managed, my voice was very nearly calm when I replied, “I’ll tell you what, Perry. Until something happens to make things any different, I’ll take it in name only. I’ll go to the meetings, I’ll go with you to meet the players. I’ll go home at five on the dot. I’ll do all the things that a good little assistant should. But I still go out in the field, I still get to have my sources. I’m not ‘acting’ anything until there’s a need for it. Deal or no deal?”
“Deal,” he grinned, putting out his hand. “Shake on it, Lane?”
The door behind us opened abruptly. A handsome young man all but burst into the office, russet hair falling rakishly forward into his eyes. “You want to roll on the Bulgaria situation, or should we hold it another ten? The print room’s getting antsy.”
“Let ‘em squirm,” Perry barked. “Smith’ll call in on the wire, he’s been doing it for years.”
“Thanks, Uncle Perry,” the man said, at last noticing there were other people in the room. “Hope I wasn’t interrupting … anything…” He loses his train of thought as his eyes land on me, with that poleaxed expression I’ve seen so many times. It was too bad for him that it mattered to me very little just then.
“Richard, meet Lois Lane, star reporter and assistant editor, as of today,” Perry said expansively. “Lane, this is my nephew, Richard White. He’s cleaned up International for me.”
“White?” I asked pointedly. Since when has the Planet indulged in blatant nepotism?
Perry just glared. I could read his expression like it was in forty-eight point type and it said, So what?
I couldn’t resist the slightest smirk at his expense. Ah, so it was like that. Unable to help a slightly wolfish grin, knowing that it generally threw male co-workers off balance, I held my hand out to him. It’s not as if he was any kind of competition, being essentially in another department. Would probably be best to make nice. “Hello, Mr. White, good to meet you. You can’t have been here all that long. I don’t remember Perry telling me that you had hired on.” My lips continued to smile at this new addition, but my clearly sardonic eyes flickered over to his uncle. I just couldn’t help it. Old habits coming back. “How do you like it here so far?”
“Wonderful, really,” he replied. “It was a bit of a challenge at first, but I just couldn’t pass up the chance to work for the paper that got the first Superman interview. I admit I was a little stunned to see you here, Miss Lane – Perry told me he didn’t think you were ever coming back to Metropolis. I really admire your work; it’s great to have you back.”
Would I ever get away from him? That name – those names – followed me like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail. At least Mr. White the Younger was astounded by my fame and not my frame. But I couldn’t resist giving him some of the old Lane derision. “Really? I appreciate the remark, but you don’t know what it was like with me here.”
“Oh, Perry talks about you all the time,” he said with a wink to his uncle.
“Yes, but how much of it is printable?” I retorted, and they all broke up laughing.
In the middle of his chuckle, Perry appeared to notice Jimmy for the first time and barked, “Olsen! You got those photos ready yet? No? What’re you hanging around here for? Get to work, kid!”
“Uh-oh, we’re next,” Richard said to me. “I don’t get hollered at any less for being his nephew – which is just the way I want it. Let’s run.”
I had to chuckle at that. At least there was a sense of humor there. He’d need it. There are a few more moments of discussion, the Chief giving me a rundown of the where-to-go’s and what-to-do’s of the day, telling me to take Jimmy once he’s finished picking up those photos, as well as extra information to be given to HR due to the position. I gritted my teeth over it, but thanked him again for thinking of me. He glowered, I sighed and rolled my eyes, and the audience was over. Ten seconds later, Richard and I were leaving the office, Jimmy waiting for me just out of Perry’s line of sight.
Richard broke to the right, heading for his own office, then paused to glance back at me. I pretended not to see the way his eyes followed me; the last thing I needed were entanglements of any kind. Especially not now. And especially not with an obvious Superman fan who’s so closely related to my boss.
Before I had a chance to think about it further, Jimmy was at my side and we were headed again for the elevators. Only this time I was not alone as I stepped in, with an old friend at my side and the solidness of my status at this paper renewed. And I felt more confident than I had in a long time. Despite all that had changed in my life the last sixteen months, familiarity suddenly felt like armor around me. There was life after Superman. He may have left me with no explanation, left all of us, I may have been the mother of Kala and Jason, but I was still Lois Lane. I could be star reporter and a great mother to my twins. And I was home. I was finally home.