Also, after some NaNo weirdness and a few change-arounds, it seems that the beta team has evened out. htbthomas has returned to us from winning at Nano! *hugs her awesome Mom*, saavikam77 has requested to stay on after being our awesome lone beta for a month and we couldn't be happier, and sean_montgomery has returned from her hiatus! We're so happy to have you back, Ab!
And now...let's party!
They’d almost managed to somehow leave without getting it. An hour before the party, trying to gather up her dress and her heels and her jewelry, it struck Kala with a bolt of shocked horror, immediately pausing her in her preparations to dart across the hall into her brother’s room. “Jason! Did you get it?” she whispered, urgency clear.
It took him a moment to get it, his expression rushed and aggravated. Then he made a face. “No,” he hissed back, wary of Clark’s hearing. Jason was still getting ready, his suit in its garment bag laid out on the bed while he searched with desperate speed for his cuff links.
Now it was time for his twin to look disbelieving. Her voice was a strangled whisper. “What? Jason, we’re leaving in five minutes!”
“I know,” he muttered, finally finding the cuff links on top of Gazeera’s cage. No telling how they had gotten up there in the first place. “But I couldn’t do it with Mom around, could I? You know she would’ve spotted it in a heartbeat. And that’s all we need.”
“How are we gonna get it without her knowing?” Kala asked, pacing back and forth across the room in a nervous fury. “Crap, crap, crap! It was trouble enough trying not to let them see my dress and your suit before the actual party. Something like this is gonna stand out, Jason! And we can’t do what we planned without it!”
Jason only rolled his eyes at his sister’s melodrama. “Kala, just breathe, all right? We’ll figure something out,” he retorted, still packing. “Look, you’re a girl. Go have a meltdown in the living room, okay? Pretend that your hair is frizzing or the dress isn’t fitting right or you broke the zipper or something. As soon as they aren’t paying attention, I’ll run out and pick it up. Okay? Geez!”
Oh, the look of insulted dignity she gave him for that! Jaw locking, Kala narrowed those hazel eyes on her brother as she turned to face him. No one implied that she was just like every other girl on the planet; not even her twin brother. “Bull,” she said flatly as she stalked up to him. “I’m faster and we both know it. Now, you go have the meltdown about your hair not lying down; there’s a better chance that they’ll believe it, Mr. Super-Curl of Justice. I’ll race down to the store and pick up the contraband. Deal?” Before he could even reply, Kala had turned on her heel and made for the door. “Good. Because the guy said he’d only hold it for us until his shift ended.”
Still wondering how this had happened, Jason rolled his eyes and continued to dress. Once she was out of normal earshot, he couldn’t resist a chuckle. Kala never had to know that that had been part of his plan all along.
Lois surveyed the Centennial Hotel’s grand ballroom with a critical eye for several moments before nodding in approval at the elegant and tasteful décor. Ice blue, silver, and a touch of chocolate graced the tables. The fact that it looked good against her own slinky silver dress had nothing to do with her endorsement, but it didn’t hurt. “Not bad, old man,” she told Perry, although her gaze was questioning when it returned to him. “Never knew you to be any good with colors before. I mean, look at your wardrobe before Loueen started picking out your clothes.”
He just smiled at that, his own grin knowing, but he refused to rise to the bait. “Don’t look at me. Your little girl picked the colors – I told her to forget about the black.”
That made Lois chuckle in mingled surprise and amusement. She would’ve expected Kala to pout until she got her favorite red, black, and purple. The reporter was about to question Perry on that very thing, knowing that the tale had to be hilarious, before Lana strolled up, looking more than a little pleased with herself. “I take it the last-minute dress adjustments were successful?” Perry asked her.
Those sea-green eyes danced with private amusement. “It did,” Lana said, beaming. “And both Kala and Jason ought to be making their grand entrance any moment now.”
Both Perry and Lois glanced at each other, the same thought on their minds. “Are you finally gonna tell us what color the kid’s dress is, then?” the editor asked her in a mock-whisper. The dramatic way he glanced around after that was said just made Lois laugh.
“We all know it’s black,” a scoffing voice said behind them. Tobie had arrived, glass of punch in hand. She’d worn a dove gray dress that brought out the warm brown of her eyes.
The grin of mischief on the older man’s face utterly belied his age. It was clear that he’d been waiting for this all evening. “Hello there, Raines,” Perry said warmly, and Lois and Lana both winced. Just the saccharine tone in his gruff voice had sent Lois’ eyes heavenward. “How’s the tabloid business?”
“Almost as good as the investor ass-kissing business,” Tobie replied smoothly. “You’re looking exceptionally well-preserved this evening, White. Did your wife change the formaldehyde in the vat you sleep in?”
“Why, thank you,” Perry said, eyes gleaming with enjoyment. Ever since Tobie’s promotion, the two of them had sparred like this at every meeting. This explained why Lois kept them apart as often as she could. Then again, if it would keep Tobie from mentioning her dress, Perry was more than equipped to handle the younger woman. “You look lovely yourself. Did you take a couple lessons in how to look ladylike from your wife? Y’know, the gun-toting gear-head cop?”
Loueen, who had just returned to her husband’s side, groaned and rolled her eyes. She half-turned away from the group, as if to disassociate herself from the good-natured quarreling, but she caught a glimpse from across the room and her eyes went wide. “Damn,” she said, gently elbowing her husband and indicating an approaching figure. “No, Perry, I think Tobie might’ve learned her stepdaughter’s sartorial skills.”
Everyone turned to look as Jamie walked up to them, and Tobie smirked. “Yeah, the kid cleans up nice, doesn’t she? I swear, it comes from Maggie’s side of the family. Jim never looked that good.”
Lois couldn’t help but give Maggie’s daughter an impressed smile as she came into their midst. Another proof of the passage of time. Gawky little Jamie, who had always had glasses about a half a size too big for her, had just commanded the attention of several of Kala and Jason’s friends, all eyes on the beauty that had just passed. “Obviously. You look amazing, Jamie.”
“Not another word,” Jamie said, glaring at all of them even as she hugged Lois. The champagne-colored dress she wore showed a bit of shoulder and leg, enough to get raised eyebrows from the older women.
Her stepmother couldn't resist a snarky grin. “Nice dress,” Tobie quipped. “Didn’t know you were on the prowl.”
The blonde’s cheeks blazed then, trying to hide her discomfiture. “I said not a word,” Jamie muttered in a tone that sounded just a trifle defensive. “Someone told me this was a classy event, all right? I dressed appropriately.”
That earned her a warm smile from Lana. “And well. The dress is perfect for you,” the designer said soothingly to the nervous girl. Jamie may have grown out of her coltish phase, but she was still trying to find her way through the land mines of her early twenties while trying to seem as though she wasn’t doing so. The family consensus was that she eventually would and do it well when the time came. In the next instant, still lost in her musings, Lana yelped as a sharply-dressed man snuck up behind her, kissing her shoulder. “Richard White, you are incorrigible!”
As always, that devilish smile of his was out in full force when he looked at his wife. “Only with you,” he murmured meaningfully.
Everyone in the little crowd could feel them start to drift off into their own little world … until Lois decided enough was enough. The entire extended family loved that the pair was still so much in love, but sometimes you felt on the verge of a diabetic coma. So, as usual, Richard’s former fiancée threw the Lane wrench in his plans. “Richard, that’s a lie and we all know it,” Lois opined, grinning. “She’s just the only one willing to take you home at the end of the night. You’ll flirt with anything in a skirt and we both know it.”
“Hush, Lois, I told you not to talk about our Thursday nights,” Richard scolded with a wink, still snuggling up to Lana. “People will start to suspect.” Lois rolled her eyes, and Lana swatted him with her handbag. In flinching away from it, he saw Jamie, and gave an impressed smile. “Wow. You look really nice, Jamie.”
“Oh, God, not you, too,” Jamie groaned. Chuckling, Lois put her arm around Jamie’s shoulder and hugged the law student to her. The fact that Jason had had the world’s biggest crush on the girl for the first three years they knew each other had never missed a single adult in the group. Then again, Jason’s habit of falling over his own feet when he and Jamie were in the same room wasn’t exactly something you could miss. Nor was the fact that, even now, none of them could stop teasing them about it. It had been pretty adorable at the time, Jason stuttering around her and Jamie totally oblivious.
Even as Lois was lost in thought, Richard continued, “Hey, wait ‘til Jason gets here. He’ll faint dead away. Do you know CPR?”
“I’m gonna kill Kala,” Jamie muttered, flushing now under all of this attention.
Lois gave a commiserating chuckle; she really should have known that the little monster would have a hand in this. Jason, of course, would take one look and revert back into a stumbling, uncoordinated eight-year-old. And in spite of herself, Lois found herself looking forward to the sight.
Lana, meanwhile, was sighing helplessly at her husband. “Would it kill you to behave yourself? Between you and your uncle, the Whites have cornered the market on causing trouble.” The warmth in her gaze belied the stern remark.
To which Richard’s reply had simply been an adoring smile. “And since Lois is virtually an adopted White, I’d say you were right on the money there, Mrs. White.”
She caught his implication a little too easily. Shaking her head at him despairingly, the redhead caught Lois’ eye. “Lois, did Clark say when he expected to be here with Ben and Martha?”
Before the dark-haired woman could even reply, Perry interjected with a fond smile, “Late. As always. Don’t worry, he’ll get here at the last possible second before you want to kill him for not showing up. He’s done it for years.”
Bit by bit, the group of them was coalescing opposite the doors through which Lana had said Jason and Kala planned to make their entrances. As usual whenever several of Lois’ friends gathered in one place, the rest seemed to gravitate toward them. Cat was the next to arrive, introducing her date to the girls and then gently shooing him away to find her some punch. Her blue eyes caught Lois’ and Tobie’s meaningfully as she glanced toward the refreshment table; it had been several years since she had fallen off the wagon in the first place and a year since her last glass. That, Lois and Tobie had both made sure of. “Hopefully none of these crazy kids will spike it,” she said with a trace of worry, trying to smile the statement away.
Lois smiled at her friend proudly and shook her head.
“Nah, most of them know Lois by reputation, and they were all warned she’d throw them out if they tried,” Tobie said with a subtle flippant shrug. Since that last night in Cat’s apartment, none of the three of them discussed what had happened. But none of them had forgotten the last drink that the newscaster had taken. “You’re safe. No teenager wants to get his ass handed to him by a five-foot-five female reporter, no matter how famous.”
Cat nodded with grateful relief, her smile less nervy when she turned and her attention shifted to poor Jamie. “Oh, Jamie, I love that dress! Where did you get it?”
“Thanks,” Jamie said with a sigh, but before she could change the subject, Tobie turned to her with a smirk.
“Yeah, we were just heckling her … about … it…” The Star editor trailed off, her gaze going past Jamie, and her eyes grew wide. In a very different tone, she murmured, “Oh, hell yeah.”
Of course everyone turned to look. What they saw was unexpected: a tall, graceful blonde wearing a sleek black dress, and wearing it very well indeed. It seemed everyone had turned out in their best for the party. After a moment, Perry said quietly, “I retract the ‘gun-toting gear-head cop’ comment. Not that it’s not true, mind you, it’s just that it’s no longer valid in context.”
Maggie Sawyer rolled her eyes at them all. “You all act like you’ve never seen a cop in a dress before.”
“I’d ask you to marry me, but you already did,” Tobie purred. “Damn, woman.”
“And you all complain about me and Lana,” Richard muttered.
“We don’t complain about you and Red,” Loueen told him, adroitly preventing a snarkfest between Richard and Tobie. After ten years, the open hostility between them had softened, but they couldn’t resist taunting each other. “We just make sure to take our insulin on time. It’s really okay, though. Sometimes it’s nice to know that whirlwind romances and fairytale weddings do work out in the end.”
Sometimes… Lois hid her expression by taking a sip of punch. Perry covered for her by growling at his wife, “And just what did you mean by that?” Loueen merely laughed and kissed his cheek.
Turning away from them to regain her composure, Lois saw a familiar black-haired head across the room. Martha and Ben made their way over the group, Clark beside them, easily the tallest man in the room. He caught sight of Lois then, and began to smile automatically … but then his expression froze.
Lois felt her heart sink as Clark looked utterly blank for a few seconds. But then he smiled, and this wasn’t the hi-honey-I-know-I’m-late smile. That was Kal-El’s smile, knowing and full of promise, and the appreciation in it warmed Lois all the way down to her toes. He didn’t glance away until he was beside her, his warm hands on her waist, those amazing blue eyes intent on hers. “You look amazing,” he murmured, and bent to kiss her.
That was exactly what she needed to hear. Smiling against his lips, Lois murmured, “So it was worth hiding this dress at the dry cleaners for a week, hmm?”
“Very.” Although the smile on his face was a much more satisfying reply. Finally, Lois gave a happy sigh and let her guard down. That had been the one thing she’d hoped for after the last few weeks.
Ben and Martha had just gotten around to exchanging pleasantries with Lana, having been making the rounds and catching up on the social chitchat while Clark and Lois had had their moment. “And that dress exactly matches your eyes,” Martha was saying, her smile warm as she hugged the redhead, then turned to the rest of the group. “My goodness, we all practically put on a pageant tonight, didn’t we?”
Several grins were shared around, as well as a bit of laughter. “We can’t disappoint the kids, you know,” Cat said with a smile, sipping the punch her date had brought her. “We all have to look our best for Jason and Kala, right?”
“That’s all right,” Ben said. “I brought the loveliest lady to the party.”
Fond smiles from everyone followed that comment. Even Clark turned a broad grin toward the couple; he and Ben had grown closer over the years, helped by the fact that Ben had insisted Jonathan’s photo remain on the mantle even after he’d married Martha and moved in to the Kent farmhouse.
“Speaking of the brats,” Perry said with affectionate bluster, “did they inherit your sense of timing, Kent? I would’ve expected them to make their entrance by now.”
“Kala doesn’t even want Jason to see the dress before she walks in, so she’s waiting on him,” Lana supplied. “And he’s probably waiting on Giselle.”
Lois glanced up and toward the main entrance curiously, just in time to see her sister and Ron making their way toward them across the room. In the next moment, Jimmy arrived with camera in hand, calling out “Smile!” and distracting them all from their current train of thought.
Elise sat on her bed, staring at her open closet. Her lovely plum-colored dress hung from the hook on the back of the door, seeming to taunt her. “I’m not going,” she murmured.
A nagging little voice in the back of her brain spoke up. Then why did you take out the dress and find the heels that match? “I can’t go. I threw away the invitation Kala snuck into my bag,” Elise said stubbornly. After you memorized where and when the party was being held, the voice countered.
“Why would I go to a party just to watch that fluff-brained little moron hang all over him,” Elise sighed. “He moved on, so did I. There’s no point in going.” She collapsed backward onto her bed, closing her eyes.
Images flickered through her mind: a carriage ride through Centennial Park on Valentine’s Day, hooves clopping along beneath a canopy of dogwood blooms; Jason’s hand in hers, fingers entwined; the serious, intent look on his face as he’d leaned in to kiss her. Elise had only seen that look on Jason’s face when he was playing the piano. The rest of the time, his habitual expression suggested that he was following several lines of thought at once. Only for music, and for her, did he devote his entire attention to only one thing…
She’d half-expected, that Valentine’s Day, for Jason to try for something more than a kiss. But no, his hands had stayed very properly either at her shoulders or her waist, never drifting into dangerous territory, and when he nuzzled against her cheek his lips only brushed her neck, a feather-light graze. Jason Kent wasn’t like most boys; he didn’t leave hickeys, he didn’t try to cop a feel, and Elise felt perfectly safe when she was alone with him. She’d even once been in his room for almost an hour with no one else home, both of them so absorbed in the biology homework that they hadn’t even realized there were no parents in the house.
Of course, one of the things that made Elise feel weird was the fact that when Mr. Kent came home and found them there, sprawled on Jason’s bed arguing over where to get the samples for their next experiment, he hadn’t even reprimanded them. Clark had just asked Elise if she was staying for dinner, and if both kids were in the mood for pizza. It had seemed perfectly natural at the time, but later, Elise realized that she didn’t know anyone whose parents trusted them that much. Any dad should’ve been suspicious at finding his son’s girlfriend in his room behind closed doors, but Clark acted like he’d known all along that they were up there studying. Jason hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary about the incident, either.
The whole damn family was kind of weird, anyway. After about a month of dating Jason, during which everyone had been very guarded and Kala was openly hostile, things had suddenly calmed down overnight. Elise was treated like a member of the family, even invited along on vacations. It seemed like she’d passed some kind of test that admitted her into a secret society.
The only problem was, no one had told her what was going on. Sometimes Mr. Kent and Mrs. White would say something about that town they’d grown up in, some kind of insider’s joke that went over Elise’s head but the rest of the family seemed to get it. Or sometimes Mrs. Kent would make some remark about the newspaper business, something highly technical that everyone else seemed to get. And then there were the veiled comments that seemed to be in code, whispers about Mr. Kent’s other job and other incomprehensible things. Elise hated being on the outside of a joke.
The dress still hung there, looking fetching. For all of the things she didn’t understand, all of the strangeness of Jason’s family, Elise had loved the time she spent with them. An only child, she enjoyed being part of the close bond between Jason, Kala, and Kristin. And the easy affection between all four parents and the kids was very comfortable. He’s not the only one who misses you, Kala had said.
“No way,” Elise said aloud. She picked up the pair of heels that perfectly matched the dress and flung them into the closet, then dragged out her algebra book. “Nobody’s worth making that much of a fool of myself over.”
On to part two