An hour later, she was blowing a stray strand of hair out of her eyes as she got out of the car at Lucy’s house. The driveway was packed; Ron had moved their van to allow their guests to park closer to the house in deference to the weather. The day was currently mild and breezy, but later in the evening temperatures were expected to drop, and more snow was forecasted. Lois sighed as the rest of her family unfolded themselves from her car. It was probably better for the Lane-Kents to walk to the end of the drive than for the parents to attempt it. At least Martha and Ben were staying with the Troupes;
Jason stood up and stretched, then leaned back in to open Bagel’s carrier. Her black nose had been working steadily since they arrived, and she knew whose house they’d arrived at. Her tail beat against the carrier’s sides and she whined urgently, springing out into Jason’s arms. “Whoa!” he said, struggling to hold her. “Bagel, calm down! You are not a puppy any more; why do you act this wacky?”
The little dog’s forefeet waved in the air as she tried to escape his grasp, barking loudly. From the other side of the house came a chorus of barking, shortly followed by the other dogs tearing up to the fence. “Fine, here you go,” Jason groused, leaning over the fence and dropping Bagel gently. She landed running and dashed up to her cousin Dusty, her mother Mathilda, and the Troupe’s dog Marny, all of whom greeted her with enthusiastic wagging and licking. The next instant, the four dogs were tearing off through the yard in a friendly game of chase.
Kala snorted with amusement, slipping on a pair of Lennon sunglasses against the bright day. “Hah, I knew it! Aw, look, Jason. Just like all other women, the dogs are fleeing your presence.”
He just rolled his eyes before retorting, “You’re only walking the ten feet to the door, Kal. Why the shades?”
“Practicing my rock-star look,” his sister replied flippantly.
Lois turned around and leveled a glare at them. Just an hour of peace. Is an hour too much to ask on a holiday? “Can it, both of you,” she sighed, adjusting the camera bag on her shoulder. “I’ve been up since the butt crack of dawn, and I even went into the office today. We will have a good holiday, even if I have to slap duct tape over both your mouths and lock you in the trunk. Got it?”
“Yes, Mother,” the twins chorused. Kala waited until Lois had taken several steps away before hissing under her breath in Kryptonese, “You would need to catch me first.”
“Lois!” Lucy called out as she opened the door. She gathered her sister into a hug, then distributed hugs and kisses among Clark and the twins while bustling them inside.
Lois had barely made it five steps up the hall before Perry stepped forward and caught her shoulders. “Hello, Lois,” he greeted her, and his smile was already strained.
“Hey, old man,” Lois replied, giving him the brief hug they always shared away from the office. Once they pulled back and acting like it didn’t happen, again as always, she tilted her head to look at the Chief worriedly. “Yeah, that doesn’t look good. What’s going on?”
With only the briefest glance over his shoulder, the older man lowered his voice to whisper, “My goddamn sister-in-law, that’s what. Why did I agree to let her stay with us?”
The mere mention of the woman and her presence here was enough to make Lois close her eyes and sigh. She wasn’t precisely over the moon at Sylvia White’s being here, but it had meant a lot to Richard… “Mostly because you miss Theo,” Lois said, trying to sound consoling while Clark and the twins filed past with hugs and brief greetings to Perry that were answered distractedly. “Perry, she’s a first-class pain in the ass, but what can we do? Thank God we love Richard…”
Kala had just stepped into the living room, catching sight of her Uncle Ron and beaming happily at him. Much closer, she heard a sound that would once have driven her to terrified tears: the sharp, high-pitched yapping of a very small dog. Two very small dogs, Yorkshire terrier puppies, were now racing toward her feet in a mad flutter of paws and hair and gleaming white teeth. It was just as well that Jason caught her arm and stepped in front of her; she’d been squaring up to punt the first one across the room before realizing that they looked a lot less intimidating from her current height. “Oh, look, the sweetums want to say hello,” Sylvia crooned, and the twins stared at her.
Just hearing the sound of her voice had been enough. Now Lois had seen this whole exchange, and she looked at Perry, outraged. It had been more than ten years since the incident in Fort Lauderdale, but time had not lessened a mother’s fury. “It’s not bad enough that she’s here; she had to bring two of those little beasts with her? What the…?”
He only nodded and whispered, “One of ‘em ate my damn shoe last night. Down to the laces. But no, the puppies are too little to be left in a kennel on vacation, what if they got sick, and besides they’ll pine for their mama.” His voice had trailed into a falsetto imitation of Sylvia at the end, and the gleam in his eyes looked to Lois like incipient madness.
But before any of her outrage could be made clear, someone else’s opinion prevailed. “Puppies!” Michelle called, and the two terriers wheeled away from Kala’s boots and rushed back to where she was sitting on the floor. Jason and Kala both tensed to leap, but the dogs only licked Michelle’s face; perhaps they hadn’t yet grown into their full, evil potential.
And then Lois got a good look at Sylvia, and felt her temperature start to rise. It’s not her fault, she told herself sternly. How could she know? Regardless, the woman was sitting in Ella’s chair, and it was enough to make Lois want to grab her by the hair and dump her out of it.
Lois had to look away to blink back tears, and
Perhaps Perry had understood Lois’ expression, or perhaps he was just as chagrined to see Sylvia in that chair. Regardless, he pulled up another one and offered it to her. “Here, Sylvia, have the comfortable chair,” he insisted gently. “I’ll take that one – it’s got a broken spring or something, you’re lucky you didn’t find it when you sat down.”
“Thank you, Perry,” Sylvia replied warily as she moved, and only then did she look up at Lois. Resentment flashed in her eyes for an instant before she smiled. Things had never been favorable between them, not since Lois had first met her at seventeen, long before she and Richard had ever laid eyes on one another. “Hello, Lois. You’re looking well.”
Lois took a seat on the couch, barely aware of Lana making room for her or of
Suddenly there was a voice in her ear, trying to soothe her. “Lois, calm down. These are the new puppies,” Lana murmured. “The one with the blue bow is Sergeant, and the red bow is Pepper.” The redhead raised one eyebrow slightly when Lois turned to study them. That was almost as bad as Muffin and Biscuit, the two dogs that Lois now remembered hearing had passed away last year.
“They’re adorable,” Clark said as he watched them play, always the peace-keeper, and won himself a genuine smile from Sylvia. “I didn’t know they’d be here; we brought Bagel and put her down outside with the others.”
“We’re keeping them apart for now,” Ron commented, coming over to greet his brother- and sister-in-law. “These guys are so tiny, I don’t want them to get knocked over on their first visit. Lois, Clark, can I bring you anything to drink?”
“Definitely” was Lois’ instantaneous reply. And the look she cut Ron read like a billboard: The stronger the better.
Clark also nodded, adding, “But don’t trouble yourself – I know where to find Ma, and I’ll bring back beverages. Anyone else?” All the others had their libations, so with one last squeeze of Lois’ shoulder he headed for the kitchen. The Yorkies chased after him again, putting
“That has got to be the happiest child in all creation,” Ben Hubbard said quietly. The old man just beamed, watching her antics. “I’ve never once seen her without a smile on her face.”
Ron just shook his head fondly. “Trust me, it happens. But she’s mostly as much an angel as her mother.”
“What is it with the men in this family and flattery?” Lois retorted with a grin. “Either you’ve been with her so long you see beyond it or my baby sister’s been lying to you. Despite her looks, Lucy was never an angel.”
The patio door opened suddenly, Kristin tearing across the room with a gleeful yell of “Lo-Lo’s here!” Lois sat up, beaming in delight, and opened her arms to the little redhead.
“The door!” Ron called, but it was already too late. Kristin had left it open behind her – too eager to see Lois to remember such things – and the Troupes’ dog had followed her inside. Sylvia gasped as Sergeant and Pepper both rushed at him, barking.
Marny, like his predecessor, had been acquired from a shelter, and like Hennessey he was a large mixed-breed who had been chosen for his athletic build, short coat, and easygoing temperament. Also like Hennessey, Marny was mostly pit bull, or some similar breed. He skidded to a halt and stared down at the two black-and-tan puffballs yapping at his feet, while everyone held their breath. All the adults were thinking the same thing: it would take Marny about two bites, tops…
The big dog looked up at Ron, and his owner answered his questioning expression. “They’re dogs, too,” Ron said, chuckling a little. “They’re puppies, Marny, play nice.”
He knew what the words dog and puppy were, and what play meant. Marny lowered his head for a cautious sniff, his tail wagging. “Get him back before he eats them!” Sylvia cried, getting up. “C’mere, Sergeant, Pepper, come on!”
Kristin, who had been snuggled into Lois’ arms when the panic began, turned wide and worried blue eyes full of guilt up to Lois. Her voice was low and confused when she whispered, “Marny wouldn’t eat the puppies up, would he, Lo-Lo? He’s a nice doggie!”
Lois sighed, shaking her head. “Only if we’re lucky, Cuddlebug,” she whispered back just before Lana hissed her name and nudged her shoulder. Lois could only laugh.
“Marny doesn’t eat little dogs,” Michelle had stated disdainfully in the meantime. “He eats broccoli, ‘cuz I don’t like it.”
“Michelle, don’t let your mom hear you say that,” Ron warned. He’d managed to step over his youngest to reach the door and close it, but three beagle noses were already pressed to the glass. “Sylvia, he’s fine.”
Just then, Marny tried to lick Sergeant’s face, accidentally bowling the puppy over. Ron called him and opened the door, sending him back outside, and the two terriers followed, meeting the other dogs with cheerful yaps. Almost immediately, Sylvia was fretting. “They don’t have their sweaters on!”
“The kids will keep an eye on them,” Ron soothed. “We’ve got the sunroom open for the dogs so they have someplace warm to go besides underfoot.”
“Let ‘em be dogs for once,” Perry groused, and Sylvia sighed in defeat.
Kristin, who had been scolded sotto-voce for not being more careful with the door once her mother was finished with Lois, was now lying sprawled across both women’s laps. True to form, she was already beginning to doze off. Lois looked over at Lana with a wry grin, and the redhead laughed. “Now you see why I call her Dormouse.”
Clark smiled at the little girl with affection. “She did this at our house a week or two ago. Jason picked her up and held her upside down. She opened her eyes, laughed, and went right back to snoring like a freight train.”
With that common thread, Sylvia joined the conversation tentatively. “I think she gets that from Richard,” she said, smiling at her sleeping granddaughter. “When he was little, he’d run all over the place, then flop down wherever he was and fall right asleep. Once I found him sleeping in his sandbox.”
Lois looked down and bit her lip, holding back all the teasing comments she didn’t want to say in front of her ex’s mother. Of course, Richard didn’t help by replying casually, “Hey, wasn’t that the time I got tanned all down one side of my face? I showed it off at school the next day. I was so proud. I got to be the amazing Technicolor boy.”
That got Lana laughing, Lois only a beat behind. “Only you, sweetheart.”
“I knew you had problems, boy, but don’t advertise ‘em,” Perry growled.
The wind off the river was brisk, but Jason didn’t feel it. He was too busy slinking along the side of the house, cautiously peering around the corner. He’d found a patch of snow that hadn’t quite melted, and made the biggest snowball he could. Now all he had to do was sneak up on Kala…
“Gotcha, Dopey!” his twin sister yelled in his ear, and Jason dropped the snowball. He fell right on top of it when she tackled him, too. Laughing maniacally, Kala snatched the hat off his head and went running, leaving Jason to get up and dust himself off slowly. How the hell had she known what he was up to, anyway? Jason stuck his tongue out at her irritably.
An atypical surly undercurrent had darkened his mood all day, like a low-pressure system hovering offshore and wrecking the weather inland. Jason was trying not to let it bother him, but that little spark of resentment just wouldn’t die. Quit it, he told himself for the umpteenth time. You’re being a jerk. Mom and Dad had really good reasons, reasons that make sense. So quit whining. You sound like Kala.
Still, he couldn’t help thinking that if he’d wanted to bring Elise to Thanksgiving dinner, Mom would’ve been fine with it. In spite of the way she’d calmly explained to him that twenty-two people was more than enough for a family dinner, one simple fact stood out. She liked Elise; she didn’t like Giselle. The same was probably true of his father, for all that Dad had said this holiday should be just family, and none of the other kids were bringing dates. Nobody in the family liked Giselle, except him.
Oh, they were more polite than Kala, and they were very kind to Mrs. Davenport as well. But Jason didn’t get that welcoming vibe he’d sensed so strongly whenever Elise was around. Even at the birthday party, his own parents had spent more time talking to his ex than to his girlfriend!
Jason glowered, hanging back from the laughing group of teens and dogs. The worst part of it was, he knew he was being a typical teenager at that moment, moody and too inclined to take things personally. The more rational part of his mind told him that not everybody hated Giselle … and if they did dislike her, wasn’t that something he should take into consideration? But the voice of reason was drowned out by a sullen tide of resentment.
Brooding, Jason didn’t notice he was no longer alone. A little hand tugged at his sleeve, and Jason turned to see
Why does it always have to be me? I don’t even want to like them. Sighing inwardly, Jason said, “Here, let me have them.” He tucked both puppies into the front of his jacket where they’d warm up, and noticed that
“Yeah!” Bryan replied with such enthusiasm that Jason had to laugh as he led him over to where the rest of the kids were romping. A few words with Sam, and the two older boys managed to shepherd the rest of the younger kids indoors. By then, the whole house smelled delicious, and the kids fell upon the trays of olives and sliced cheese and cocktail shrimp like a horde of locusts.
The dogs came inside, too, making themselves inconspicuous after a few stern reminders from their owners. Jason went over to Sylvia, and felt a bit like a street magician as he brought the tiny terriers out of his jacket. “Here you are,” he said. “They were starting to get cold, so I brought them in.”
Both Yorkies started wagging their tails and licking the air at the sight of her, and Sylvia took them gladly. To Jason’s surprise, she smiled warmly at him. “Thank you, sweetheart. That was very kind of you.”
Jason and Kala had gone to visit Theo and Sylvia in
“They’re adorable,” Sylvia crooned, and kissed each puppy on the nose. Theo, sitting nearby, just rolled his eyes and looked skyward. Jason caught his glance, and grinned.
Lois had found her way into the kitchen, where Lucy was sliding the turkey back into the oven after testing its temperature. “Another ten or fifteen minutes,” she muttered, closing the oven. When she saw Lois standing in the doorway, the blonde broke into her trademark infectious grin. “Lo! I thought kitchens were your personal kryptonite.”
Scoffing, Lois rumpled her sister’s hair. “Says the woman who scarfs down my pies and cookies like there’s no tomorrow,” she teased back.
“Okay, you’re a first-class baker of desserts, but when it comes to roasting things, stick to your day job,” Lucy replied. They both paused to listen to the happy sounds of the kids coming in from outside; Marny appeared at the doorway, but he knew perfectly well that the kitchen was off-limits whenever cooking was in progress. He lay down and watched the two of them, his deep-set dark eyes permanently set in a thoughtful expression.
Lois leaned on the counter and sighed, Lucy echoing her, and they shared a look full of affection and memories. After a moment, though, Lucy’s eyes narrowed, and she stood back to look at Lois with a sister’s knowing eye. “You’ve lost weight again,” she declared, scowling. “Lois, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” the reporter replied. “I’ve just been working too hard to take lunch, that’s all. You know how I get when I’m focused.” She felt a little guilty, lying to her little sister, but what else could she do? Admit that she ate as much as usual, and had fretted off the extra pounds with nervous energy?
There was so much to worry about these days, it seemed. Lois was particularly rankled by the recent unveiling of L-Tech’s newest super-fast computer processor. It was called the KAL chip, a deliberate slight in
But it still wasn’t something she could talk to Lucy about, and when Martha and Annette came into the kitchen to check on the progress, Lois was relieved.
The long formal table in the dining room was crowded, for once, and the kids’ table was unusually quiet thanks to the presence of Lucy’s oldest three. Richard had briefly been threatened with sitting at their table, as well, but it didn’t stop him from joking and teasing until Lois wrenched herself out of her melancholy mood and smacked him with an oven mitt.
After saying grace, they’d gone around the table naming something they were thankful for, as was Lane family tradition these days. Most of them were sweet, and some were a little silly, but
When the meal was finished, everyone was replete with food. The men were in the living room, supposedly watching television but mostly dozing off. The kids, more honest, were sprawled on the floor of the den, snoring. Even Sam was being used as a pillow by the three youngest.
Since Lucy had cooked the turkey, Martha refused to allow her to clean up. She chased Lois and Lana out of the kitchen after they’d loaded the dishwasher, and set about scrubbing the roasting pan and dishes too large to fit in the dishwasher. Only when she went to put the roasting pan down on a towel to dry did she realize Annette had followed her. The other woman – once a brilliant redhead like her daughter, now white as snow – took the pan and dried it without speaking.
Martha enjoyed washing dishes. It was an activity where she usually got the peace and quiet she craved; Jonathan had been a sweetheart, and so was Clark, but neither of them objected to letting her clean up if she wanted to. And Annette either knew or guessed that she wanted silence, for she dried while Martha washed without a single word. Only when all the dishes were done and replaced in the cabinets, Martha toweling off her hands with the odd sense of pride dishwashing always gave her, did the other woman finally speak. “Awfully quiet this Thanksgiving,” she said, glancing at Martha. “With this many people, and so many of them kids, I half expected to have a headache by now.”
Chuckling, Martha shook her head. “Not this year,” she replied slowly. “It was only March when Ella passed, you know.”
Annette nodded. “She was a grand lady,” she said thoughtfully. “I did like her. She never gave you the feeling that she was too ‘city’ for Smallville. Not that you’d mistake her for a country girl like us. But she was lovely. I’ll miss her.”
Martha tried to smile, but found her mouth trembling too much. On the second try, she managed to say, “Not as much as I will,” but her vision blurred.
Annette didn’t offer any words of comfort, simply rubbed Martha’s shoulders while she got herself under control again. Perhaps there were no words of comfort when you had left retirement age far behind you, and realized that losing friends was something you’d be doing a lot of in the future. Maybe she even knew that it was worse in some ways to lose the friends of the past decade than the ones she’d grown up with. Annette and Martha had been young together, had gone to the same schools, had giggled at the same boys and been afraid of the same strict teachers. When they parted, it would be terrible, but all those shared years would be a comfort. Martha had many memories of Ella, but she would miss all the things they hadn’t done together.
Of course, Annette didn’t know one of the most poignant losses that Martha was suffering. Ella had known the truth about
Martha dashed tears from her eyes. If she could look at Ella’s coffee cup hanging above her sink every day, as if the other woman would be there any moment to drink a mug of strong black coffee with her, then she could get through Thanksgiving without sobbing. “I’m fine,” she told Annette, and got a disbelieving smile in response. “What I learned, with Jonathan, was that grief never really goes away. It can always sneak up on you sometime. But eventually the memories grow more sweet than bitter.” She smiled bravely.
Nodding, Annette replied, “That sounds a lot like Martin talking about my cooking skills after a year or so.” Martha welcomed the laughter.