Fiddling with his cuff links, Jason waited by the front door for Giselle to arrive. Kala was still hiding somewhere, and he didn’t see his date, either. Sighing, he walked outside to wait for Giselle. Sometimes she was late to things – she didn’t like the subway, and her mom was often busy, so it was hard for her to get a ride. Jason could deal with that, though it irked his sense of punctuality.
After a few minutes, Jason saw a familiar car coming up the street. Giselle’s mother, Justine Davenport, drove a black BMW. It wasn’t exactly an uncommon car on the streets of Metropolis, though, so he looked a little closer.
Even from ten blocks away, a second’s concentration brought the car into sharp relief, reminding Jason of his camera’s zoom function. Unlike the camera, however, he was also seeing through the other cars on the street. They were just misty outlines as he focused on the BMW, and then the car itself turned hazy as he looked inside it.
That was Mrs. Davenport behind the wheel, an elegant blonde with piercing blue eyes. And beside her, Giselle was slumped in her seat, looking sullen. Jason sighed; she was probably mad about being late. Sometimes he thought Giselle was too hard on herself. She had these strange moods where she could be surly and irritable for no apparent reason. He always tried to cajole her out of it, and about half the time he succeeded. The rest of the time he just waited for her mood to change. After all, Dad accepted Mom’s early-morning surliness as part of her personality, meeting her growling incoherence with patience and humor. If he could simply chuckle when Mom actually snarled at him on the way to her coffee, then Jason could put up with a little moodiness.
He waited by the curb, pretending to look for the BMW until it was close enough that anyone without x-ray vision could’ve spotted it. As Mrs. Davenport pulled to a stop in front of the hotel, Jason headed down the steps to open the door. “Hi,” he said to Giselle, giving her his most brilliant smile. Glancing past her, he added, “Thank you very much for bringing her, Mrs. Davenport.”
She smiled back, cool amusement in her eyes, “You’re welcome, Jason. Giselle, I’ll see you this evening.”
Uncrossing her arms, Giselle gave a gusty sigh, her nettled expression starting to clear. “Sure,” the girl said in a measured tone, getting out of the car. “See you later.” Giselle didn’t look back as Jason closed the door behind her and Mrs. Davenport drove off. Yeah, it’s definitely about her being late.
Just looking at her startled him, still trying to get used to the fact that she was with him. “You look gorgeous,” Jason managed as Giselle looked speculatively up at the Centennial before her. She was wearing a pale pink dress that flowed over every curve, one he hadn’t seen before this party.
After a moment, Giselle turned to him, and for a moment Jason saw something almost despairing in her eyes. Something that just made him want to protect her from everything in the world. “You think so?” she asked with a wistful smile.
The look was somewhat incredulous. These moods of hers never failed to mystify him. How could she not know? “Of course,” Jason said earnestly, willing her to believe him. “Giselle, you’re always beautiful. But tonight … that dress…” His cheeks flamed slight when he gave a helpless shrug. “You’re the one in the writing department, not me. I don’t have the words.”
It seemed that was enough, a smile peeking out finally, and she leaned up to kiss him. “You’re sweet,” Giselle murmured as her lips brushed his cheek. Jason grinned himself then, linked his arm through hers, and escorted her through the front doors of Metropolis’ finest hotel.
Jason barely paused at the doors to the ballroom; he didn’t want to lose the confident momentum gained by walking through the lobby with such a beautiful girl on his arm. Even though he wasn’t terribly happy about facing a crowd, who were all waiting for him, the knowledge that this was a crowd of friends and family helped. Still, it wouldn’t do to hesitate. With a last smile to Giselle, he stepped through.
Applause greeted the pair. Jason knew he looked very sharp in a new black suit, and Giselle’s pale pink dress suited her very well. The delighted expressions on everyone’s faces made him beam joyfully, and Jason headed into the throng to greet all of his friends.
Somewhere in the midst of talking to the guys from school, Giselle had to slip away. To freshen her makeup, she claimed with an embarrassed look. Jason squeezed her fingers before he let her go, and then turned his attention to the refreshments. He wove through the crowd, accepting compliments, until he found the punchbowl.
“Hey there, Jason,” Jimmy said. The photographer had been talking to Laurel over glasses of punch, but he stopped to shake Jason’s hand. “Really nice suit.”
Ignoring the adult way of doing things for the moment, Jason shook, but also impulsively hugged him. “Thanks, Uncle Jimmy,” he beamed. As it always did when the three had a chance to talk, the conversation wandered all over the visual arts map, from the best graphics programs to whether in-camera film effects were better than CGI. Jason didn’t have the experience with all of the programs that the other two did, but that didn’t stop him from asking questions. Eventually, one of the other office girls pulled Laurel away, but Jason was perfectly happy talking to his uncle.
Laughing at one of Jimmy’s comments, Jason sipped his punch and happened to glance at the doors, a reflexive action that everyone in the ballroom had been doing ever since he and Giselle walked in. Kala was apparently taking her time, letting her brother glory in the spotlight before her arrival. And that was fine with Jason – he’d calmed enough to revel in the attention, talking to Jimmy about cameras. The conversation had led Jason to hope that the new digital camera he’d been eyeing was among the stack of presents at the opposite end of the room.
There was a sudden flurry of discussion to his left. This time, when Jason glanced at the doors, they were opening. Sebast walked in, escorting a raven-haired woman in a spectacular cobalt-blue dress. A halter-top with a modest neckline and a flaring skirt that fell below the knee, it was lovely, even alluring, but still fairly conservative.
“Wow,” Jimmy said, his expression truly surprised. And even a little pleased. “Would you look at her? Your sister looks really nice.”
Sister?! Jason blinked and shook his head. Yes, that was Kala, with her hair upswept and her makeup done less extravagantly, wearing a color Jason couldn’t remember ever seeing on her. She looked … beautiful. Like a model. No, corny as it was, she looked like a princess. Actual blue-blooded royalty.
And for an instant, her own twin hadn’t recognized her. The realization sent an icy tendril down Jason’s spine even as he broke into a broad grin. “That’s my sister,” he said fiercely, as much out of pride as to chase that nagging moment from his memory. It was impossible for Kala to turn into someone he wouldn’t recognize immediately. Laughable, even. With a nervous chuckle, he changed the topic, still stealing incredulous glances at Kala.
Every eye was fixed on Kala, and she knew it. She held her head high, one hand loosely tucked into Sebast’s elbow, receiving the attention as her due. For a moment, there was absolute, awed silence in the room, and Kala smiled. A genuinely honest and delighted smile.
All of the adults just stood in amazed silence, watching the young woman and her escort enter. “Damn,” Maggie said softly to Lois after a moment. “I really thought she was going to go for the Elvira look. The color suits her.”
“Kudos to you,” Cat was whispering to Lana at the same moment. “I’d steal that dress, and I don’t say that about many high school girls’ wardrobes.” Lana just gave her an enigmatic little grin.
As Kala was enveloped by her friends, all of them exclaiming over the dress, the parents discussed it amongst themselves with less volume but equal enthusiasm. Lana turned aside most of the praise, claiming that Kala had largely designed the dress with only a little help from her. “Still, it’s incredible,” Lucy protested. “For a minute there I almost didn’t recognize Her Royal Bratness.”
“Speaking of royalty, did you see the way she stalked in here?” Loueen was laughing, shaking her head. “My God, the confidence in that girl. If anyone ever doubts that’s your daughter, Lois, just point that out. She’s just as convinced of her own perfection as you are. At least, the perfection of her looks – since we all know you’ve never been sane, Lane.”
At that, Lois chuckled self-deprecatingly, trying not to think of her sneaking to the hair salon to cover the first strands of gray, and of the expensive moisturizer she hid in the back of the medicine cabinet, even though she used it nightly. “I’ve got news for you; that she doesn’t get from me,” Lois said a little distantly as she watched her child, shaking her head a bit. “I was never that confident. Especially not at that age.”
“She wasn’t,” Lucy chimed in. “Geez, Lois and I spent our entire adolescence each thinking the other was the good-looking one. You guys didn’t know her until after she was mostly out of the ‘I look like a boy’ phase.”
That seemed to stump Raines, leaving her looking puzzled. It was true that Lois had still been a little less gung-ho when they had met, but she’d always assumed that what she thought of as the Lane take-no-prisoners decree had extended far back into Lois’ childhood. “You thought you looked like a boy, Lane?” she scoffed, looking wonderingly at Lois. “With the skirts you were wearing in college?”
“That’s not Lois,” Maggie said flatly, now watching Kala move from crowd to crowd. “Tobie, you’ve known Lois since college, but I’m more inclined to take Lucy’s word on her teenage years. People can change a lot in a very short time around that age, you know.”
“See, that’s what scares me,” Lucy said. “Kala doesn’t remind me of teenage Lois. She reminds me of twenty-something Lois.”
Lana cleared her throat, looking slightly embarrassed. “Actually, she reminds me of myself at that age,” she said quietly.
That comment caused everyone to turn skeptical looks on her. “You know, Lana, you’re definitely gorgeous,” Loueen said after a moment, “but I just can’t see a teenage version of you acting the way Kala does. Not that the kid is mean-spirited, really, but I can’t see you having a mean bone in your body. Ever. And I’ve known you a decade.”
“I was never quite as liberated as she is,” Lana expounded, her gaze drifting to Kala fondly. “I am a small-town girl, even now. But when I was sixteen, I was the most beautiful girl in the whole school – probably the most beautiful woman of any age in the entire town. And I knew it. Ask Clark – I carried myself like a queen, just the way Kala was right then.” She shrugged with feeling. “Fortunately, I grew out of that.”
Never one to miss an opportunity, Richard stepped forward to hug her from behind. “I still happen to think you’re the most beautiful woman in town,” he said, smiling down at her. She kissed his cheek in thanks for the compliment. Lucy and Loueen both started making gagging noises at Richard’s overt romanticism.
Tobie, meanwhile, was ever the reporter and had turned to Clark for confirmation. “Lana was sort of…” he began, and trailed off.
“Arrogant? Stuck up?” Lana supplied gently. “And not to mention, utterly convinced that my looks were my only asset. Kala, fortunately, doesn’t seem to have that problem.”
“Yeah, she’s convinced she’s brilliant and witty and perfect in every other possible way, too,” Jamie put in. She’d hung back with the grownups while the high school crowd fawned over Kala. “Not that she’s not right, on some counts. She is smart, and she does have a wicked sense of humor. But Kala’s superiority complex is kind of depressing to anybody who didn’t grow up with her level of confidence.” Automatically, she glanced at Maggie and added, “Not your fault, Mom. Blame those hideous glasses.”
Lois winced, forcibly stifling her need to defend her daughter. She didn’t particularly like Kala’s tendency to be supercilious, but most of them didn’t know one of the major reasons why. Kala was, after all, Superman’s daughter as much as hers; she had superpowers. Her confidence came from those strengths, and Lois knew perfectly well that if she’d had those gifts at that age, she probably would have suffered from the same egotism.
“What do you expect from the daughter of the Official Office Hot Chick?” Loueen teased lightly, elbowing Lois. “Kala’s all right. She’s just her mother’s daughter, and growing into her mother’s legacy of fearlessness a little early, that’s all.”
Lois smiled, but didn’t quite meet anyone’s gaze. She was beginning to see why Kala hated to hear those words. But she really didn’t want to get too deeply into the differences between herself and Kala, how she had been an awkward, angry teenager who felt as though she wasn’t good enough for anyone: too skinny, too coltish, and worst of all, not the son her father had wanted. Too much of a boy without actually being one, all of the drive and ambition she’d cultivated scaring off dates but still failing to impress General Lane.
“And that’s a thought to terrify anyone,” Tobie was saying. “Seriously, though. Lois, you know I love the kid. I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t. But you’d better keep an eye on her. She’s gonna be trouble.”
Lois had been growing steadily more uncomfortable with this conversation for a while now, especially since she had made the decision to just let all of her worries go for the evening and just enjoy herself. The warning look was on her face when she retorted, “She already is trouble. And news flash, Tobe; I did not come to my daughter’s birthday party for a parenting lecture! From someone who never had kids and only co-parented one! Drop it.”
The rest of the women backed off at that, realizing that Lois had had enough, but Tobie and Lois had been arguing since college. “Just watch her with boys,” Tobie warned. “And men. She had half my office panting in her wake.”
“Well, it’s hardly Lois’ fault that you staff your newspaper entirely with perverts,” Cat interjected, and that finally won a laugh. Tobie mimed pouring her drink on Cat, and Lois managed to step away for a moment to collect herself.
She’d barely turned her back on her friends when she felt a light touch on her elbow. Lois looked up, startled, and saw Lana’s concerned expression. The reporter felt her heart plummet. Oh jeez, here comes the lecture from Ms. I’m-a-natural-at-mothering, telling me how badly I’ve screwed up my kid, she thought, and briefly considered just making a run for it. And then hated herself for being so defensive. It wasn’t the redhead’s fault that things had been easier with Kristin.
It just made her feel worse for her thoughts when Lana touched her shoulder, her green eyes reassuring. “She’s fine, Lois,” Lana said. “Every girl has issues at this age; she’ll grow out of it. You, meanwhile, don’t stop being the mom you’ve always been, but don’t fret yourself to death, either.” Leaning in and lowering her voice to a whisper, the redhead added, “You raised the super-twins alone for the first few years, Lois. Do you have any idea how much I admire you for that?”
Lois’ eyes went wide at that. It was on the tip of her tongue to blurt out all her worries and fears to Lana, to have the discussion she’d been dreading ever since Kala began to change from sweet but opinionated little girl to sullen snarky teen. But at precisely that moment, Kala broke away from her flock of admirers and hurried toward the parents. She practically danced up to Perry, eyes agleam, and twirled to make her dress flare. “Isn’t this the best dress ever?”
“Not bad, there, kiddo,” Perry commented, favoring her with a fond smile. Lois felt her heart clench; that was her bright-eyed little girl, her darling, so full of excitement she had to share it or burst. The way they’d quarreled over that stupid blouse earlier in the week seemed to melt away in a sudden rush of adoration.
Kala had rushed over to the ladies, preening under their praise and teasing Jamie Sawyer about the amount of leg she was showing off. She dove at Lana, sweeping her into a hug and kissing her cheek. “Thank you so much for the dress,” Kala said excitedly, as Lana laughed and hugged her back.
Then Kala turned to her mother and enveloped her in an even more fiercely delighted hug, one that left Lois gasping. “And thank you for the legs that make the dress look so great, Mom,” Kala said, beaming at her own wit.
Everyone in earshot burst into laughter, except Lois. She smiled and kissed her daughter’s cheek, but Kala pulled back, searching her expression. Seeing the preoccupied, almost haunted look on her mother’s face, Kala displayed her own version of the infamous Lane Pout. “Mom. Please don’t tell me you’re getting all maudlin over how fast Jason and I are growing up.”
The light-hearted tone belied the serious concern in those hazel eyes so much like Lois’ own, and the reporter forced herself to smile. Now was not the time to go into all of this. And definitely not here. “No, sweetheart, only over how high you’re growing. I’m still used to having to look down at you both.”
The comment was enough to shift the girl’s mindset back to herself. Eyes alight, Kala smirked. “Well, some of it’s the heels.” She extended a leg to show them off.
A pair of auburn brow rose at that. “So that’s where those went,” Lana said lightly, her smile now admonishing, and enough to make Kala wince guiltily. “When you said you could find something that matched the dress, I didn’t think you meant to look in my closet, Kala Josephine.” The dark-haired girl looked like she wanted nothing more than to sink through the floor.
While most of the women were snickering, and Lois was still being a bit subdued, Jason arrived without Giselle on his arm. His expression was almost blankly calm when he tapped Kala’s shoulder lightly, asking in the most guileless voice, “Excuse me, ma’am, have you seen my sister? She’s probably wearing black and enough eyeliner to put the entire cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show to shame.”
“Dork,” Kala muttered affectionately, grateful for the distraction. Posing dramatically, she grinned excitedly at him. “Like the dress, Mr. Armani?”
He fought the contagious smile that he felt rising up, but lost the battle as always. “Yeah, I actually wondered if you hired a stand-in. It’s a nice change from colors named after stages of decomposition,” Jason laughed, hugging her even as she socked him lightly in the chest. Turning slightly out of normal sight-range, he glanced at Lois and then back at Kala, angling one eyebrow up slightly.
With just the tiniest shake of her head to say not yet, she took her brother’s arm and smiled sappily. “Jason, that suit really suits you,” Kala crooned, brushing imaginary dust off his lapel. The two gestures combined to turn his slightly more in Jamie’s direction, whom he had not yet seen. “You almost look like a real grownup, for once. Imagine my goofy brother looking handsome.”
Jason laughed and looked away from her, smiling at his mother. Lois simply nodded, feeling her heart ache as he left Kala and hugged her just as tightly as Kala had only moments before. Her once-tiny little boy, the one that barely cried despite his being so sickly as a baby, was turning out to be his father’s son in so many ways. His teenage years are going to kill me, she’d once said of him, and oh, was it true. Jason was rapidly growing into a handsome, charming young man of integrity and compassion…
…one who had just finally seen Jamie Sawyer as he pulled away from his mother’s embrace. His poleaxed expression forced a snicker from Lois, though to her credit she tried to hide it. Jason’s expression slowly changed to a smile, and several seconds after he’d first seen her, he finally managed to choke out one word. “Wow.”
Kala burst into fits of giggles as he blushed. “’Wow’? Real smooth, Casanova,” she managed to say. “Jeez, Jase!”
The rest could no longer rein in their laughter, and Jamie just hid her face in her hands for a moment, instantly reliving her earlier chagrin. “Thanks a lot, guys. Thanks. Really,” the law student sighed before looking to the dark-haired boy with disbelief. “Jason, of all the things you could have said, did it have to be ‘wow’? Anything would’ve been better, even ‘nice cleavage’ or something like that. Wow.”
Those blue eyes widened in very clear embarrassment, still all a-stumble where the older girl was concerned. He had known for years that he didn’t stand a chance and that they were better as friends, but that didn’t stop his heart from racing. “Jamie!” he yelped, turning an even brighter crimson.
Memories of more than a few moments that could have mirrored this, Lois spoke up with a chuckle. “Now, Jamie, give the boy a break. It’s a thing with the Kent men,” Lois scolded. “I raised him better than to just up and comment on cleavage or any other body part on a woman in public. He knows just what Mom thinks of that and how it’s perceived.” Then she grinned knowingly, “And besides, it could’ve been worse. Coulda been ‘golly gee whiz’ or something like that.”
“Mom,” Jason protested. His cheeks were becoming a very fetching shade of red. “I’m a nerd, but I’m not that much of a nerd.”
Lois knew all too well how both of her children reacted to any mentions of personal history and felt the need to jerk their chains just a bit. Ticking up her left brow, she crossed her arms and shrugged. “Well, it’s just history repeating itself, to be honest. Because, Jason, that is exactly what your father said the first time he saw me in a slip,” Lois said bluntly, prompting cries of “TMI!” from both twins and roars of laughter from her audience.
Dramatically wincing and hiding her face with her hands, Kala made disgusted noises as she frowned at her mother from between her fingers. “Okay, Mom, it worked. I’m going. I need to go bleach that mental image from my mind, and my adoring public needs to fawn over me,” she said loftily. “Ciao, people.” With a big grin that belied her words, Kala disappeared back into the crowd.
Jason, meanwhile, was still shell-shocked and staring at his mother in horror. Had she really just said that out loud? That very moment, Jamie stepped forward and caught his hand. “C’mon, I’m sick of being harassed by the parents, and I know you have to be, too,” she said, brooking no argument at all. “Let’s dance.”
As she dragged him away, with an expression on his face that suggested she’d suddenly started speaking a foreign language, the adults got one last laugh at Jason’s expense.
I am such a complete moron. Stupid, stupid, stupid. This was my dumbest idea ever; it even beats the time I decided to mix all the little vials in my chemistry set together. The best thing I could do is turn around and run back home right now.
Too late; the cab was already pulling away. Elise sighed, looking back up at the doors of the Centennial Hotel again. In the end, she couldn’t stop remembering that moment when she stumbled in the hall, and Jason caught her. She had looked directly into his eyes, and what she’d seen there wasn’t what she expected. He’d been shocked, but she’d seen the instant of recognition, the warmth, and the barest beginning of a smile, perhaps. Jason had always looked at her so intently, making her feel like he saw much more of who she really was than other boys ever did…
Anyway, all such maudlin chick-lit crap aside, he hadn’t looked like a guy who was over his ex and completely happy with his new girlfriend. Elise shoved that thought, and the stubborn spark of spiteful happiness it brought, aside. She was here for Kala and her other friends; Ashlyn and Joy and Kristin would all be here tonight, and Elise hadn’t seen much of them since breaking up with Jason.
“Just breathe,” she murmured to herself, and strode up to the doors.