Elise opened the door for Kala and was startled by the other girl’s appearance. A hectic blush warmed her complexion, and a wicked sparkle lit her eyes. “What’ve you been up to?” she blurted out.
Kala laughed, and even that had a new, manic quality which Elise wasn’t accustomed to hearing. “I’ll tell you later,” Kala promised. “Homework first, gossip second, or we’ll never get anything done.”
“Fine,” Elise said as she led her friend to her room. “Let’s do some algebra, then you can tell me what you’ve been smoking.”
“I’ve been smokin’ some matrices, baby,” Kala joked, tossing her book onto Elise’s bed. “C’mon, help me with this. I think Mr. Carter fried my brain yesterday.”
“It’s not hard,” Elise said, and Kala scoffed. “I mean it! And it’s just the even-numbered problems we have to do.”
“Yeah, the ones without answers in the back of the book,” Kala muttered grumpily. They both opened their books and got out some paper, glad to have the same teacher even if they took the class at opposite times of the day. Soon the two girls were absorbed in their work, Kala complaining under her breath and Elise unable to keep from chuckling at her. The black-haired girl chewed her full lower lip after patient instruction, and then scowled as she tried a couple of problems on her own.
Elise, meanwhile, was painfully reminded of all the times she and Kala and Jason had studied together last year. Jason was great in science and better than average in math; Kala loved language and history; and Elise was a math whiz who also excelled at the sciences. Between the three of them, they could tutor each other in all the main subjects. Those long afternoons eating pizza and doing homework together, arguing this point or that, and sometimes Elise had wondered if this was what it was like to have siblings.
The two girls managed to thrash out the rest of the algebra homework, thankful to get it out of the way early so they wouldn’t have to worry about it during winter break. They moved on to World History, which had been fascinating to Elise as long as they were talking about the ancient world, from prehistoric times up to classical Greece and Rome. Now her class was studying the Dark Ages, and it bored her. “Basically we had a bunch of unwashed people beating the crap out of each other with swords while carrying the plague until the Renaissance started,” Elise said scornfully.
Kala laughed. “What about the notion of romantic love? That was invented during the medieval period. Most marriages were arranged, but the idea of courtly love had its origins in those times. People fell in love with those they could never, ever have with the blessing of the law or the church. Like Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Guinevere. That idea of courting someone – of writing poetry for the lady you loved, and receiving her handkerchief in return for daring feats on the tournament field, and singing love ballads under her window – began in those days. Before that romantic love was pretty much discounted; you married for the advantage of your family, and romance was a distraction. In the medieval period, though, it began to be celebrated. At least as long as you didn’t get the king’s wife or the duke’s daughter knocked up.”
Elise had listened to all that with slowly rising eyebrows. “Wow,” she said. “Okay then. Kala, you hate all that ‘lovey-dovey romantic bullshit’, to use your phrase. What’s going on with you? What alien ate your brain?”
Kala burst out laughing, far louder than the comment required. Elise just stared at her, waiting for an answer. When the black-haired girl finally wound down to chuckles, she glanced at Elise again. “Sorry, you just… Nevermind.”
“What’s. Going. On.” Elise enunciated each word slowly.
Kala bit her bottom lip. “Okay, fine. Let’s make a deal. I’ll tell you what’s going on with me, if you tell me the truth about New Zealand.”
“It’s a big island with no dangerous animals,” Elise replied dryly. “Contact the tourism board for more information.”
Those hazel eyes swiveled deliberately over to Elise’s desk just beside the bed they were sitting on, where an envelope lay propped against the keyboard. It was close enough that Kala didn’t even need to use her Kryptonian vision to make out the return address on Armagh Street in Christchurch, New Zealand. She then looked back at Elise, and said, “Trade you. Tell me about your Kiwi pen-pal and I’ll tell you who’s making me giddy these days.”
Elise had to think about it, but she finally leaned over and grabbed the envelope. “Deal,” she said, and took out the letter to hand it to Kala. “Notice the signature.”
Kala’s fine black brows shot up. “Grace? Either they name boys pretty weirdly in New Zealand, or you’ve switched teams.”
“Or maybe there never was a summer romance,” Elise said at last. “Maybe I lied to people. The truth is, I spent my vacation in New Zealand watching Doctor Who on DVD with the girl up the road. Who, incidentally, is pretty darn cool. Her parents are talking about letting her come up here maybe next year – she says it’ll be weird to have hot weather in July.”
Kala flipped the letter lazily. “So why’d you lie?”
“You asked for the truth about New Zealand, you got it.”
“I want the true reason why you told everybody you had a hot Kiwi boyfriend,” Kala said. “Otherwise the only truth I’m gonna give you is that the guy who made me smile today isn’t anyone you know.”
“Devious,” Elise grumbled. “Maybe I don’t need to know more than that.”
She was bluffing, and Kala knew it. “Look, if it’s because my idiot brother started hinting about marriage at freakin’ fifteen, I can handle that. I call him ‘Dopey’ for a reason.”
Elise’s jaw dropped and she stared at Kala wordlessly.
“If it makes you feel better, he’s never said that to any other girl,” Kala continued. “Including the idiot he’s dragging around these days. Here’s the deal: Daddy’s old-fashioned. They had to wait a long time before they found each other, and even longer before they could be together. Jason likes you a lot, and he was just trying to make sure you … didn’t … go anywhere.” She winced. “Backfired on him, clearly.”
“Kala, I’m not ready to talk about marriage or whose picture will be on my mantelpiece next to my kids’ photos,” Elise said. “I don’t even know if I want kids! He was light years ahead of me!”
“I know, I know,” Kala replied. “I’m just trying to explain where Lizardboy’s brain was. I’m not saying he didn’t mean it to be later, like years from now. It’s kinda his … placeholder. He’s calling dibs, in other words. If you do have kids, he’d like to be their dad.”
“Okay, that made the original comment about four hundred percent creepier,” Elise said. “’If you ever have children, I would like to be their father.’ Great.”
“Hey, I was just trying to say he really likes you!” Kala protested. “He’s not gonna kidnap you and drag you to the altar at gunpoint or anything. Gimme a break! See, this is why I never try to help him out.”
“Because you make it worse?” Elise asked.
“No, because I’m too good to deal with teenagers,” Kala said haughtily.
Elise’s brows shot up. “What, you found your next date at the Octogenarians’ Ball? Spill it, Elvira.”
Kala had to stick her tongue out at that nickname. “I will – if you promise not to tell anyone. Especially not Jason or Sebast.”
“I’m not even talking to Jason,” Elise began, and then stopped suddenly. “Whoa. Sebast doesn’t know about this? The hell, Kala! Sebast is… He’s the Boris to your Natasha! What wouldn’t you tell him?”
“Promise,” Kala insisted.
“Fine, I promise,” Elise said. “Cross my heart and hope to die. Now dish, dammit.”
Kala leaned forward, her eyes alight with mischief. “His name is Nick Powell…”
She didn’t often allow herself to nap in the afternoon, but unexpected exercise had left her drowsy. Lois rolled over in bed, stretching luxuriously. A slow smile curved her lips; just because she hadn’t expected to be pulled away from her computer for lovemaking didn’t mean she regretted it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Her only regret was to find herself alone in the bed, although she was sure he was still about somewhere.
Glancing over at the clock and seeing that afternoon was bleeding into evening, she couldn’t help an amused chuckle. Not bothering to rise higher than to prop herself up on her elbow, she called out lazily, “Hey, Kal-El. You’d better gather up the kids and head north the moment they both get home. I don’t want them out too late; we have to be up at an ungodly hour to take them to the airport.”
His voice came back to her immediately as he suggested from somewhere up the hall, “You don’t have to come with us, Lois. We all know that you hate early mornings. No one will blame you if you stay home and sleep.”
“Not hardly,” Lois scoffed, fighting off a yawn. “If they’re going to Smallville two days ahead of us, I want every moment with them I can have. If there weren’t a few loose ends to tie up here before the holiday and a few more presents to buy, all of us would be going together. I’m still not entirely happy with all of us being apart this close to Christmas.”
Kal-El only chuckled. After ten years, he should’ve known better than to ask anyway. Things within the family were pretty stressful lately, everyone going in a different direction at all hours of the day, but that didn’t change how she felt about them. Even with her mostly-MIA husband. The triumph she had been feeling only moments before began to cloud.
With him not being home nights very much recently, Lois felt more than ever like the proverbial doctor’s wife. Wonder why he’s still spending so much time away from home, even if there is a whole damn League of them trying to help with his duties? Could it have something to do with you, Lois? The way you’ve acted for the last few months, maybe? Who could blame him? If you had a choice between saving the world and dealing with a vain, jealous, stressed-out shrew, you know what you’d choose.
Those thoughts brewed up emotions best left alone; thankfully the man in question interrupted her almost as soon as the frown started to spread over her lips. “Just so you know,” she heard him say from just outside the door, “I absolutely adore how much you love the kids. You’re the best mom on the planet, you know it?”
The comment was so far from her current train of thought; she had to pause to ruthlessly shove away her doubts. This wasn’t the time to confront him on any of this. Not now, not this close to Christmas. Besides, what good would saying anything do? It’s not as if anything could change. No, not after the result the last time she had wanted more. Nothing could come between him and The Mission; hadn’t she learned that years ago? Lois opened her eyes to make a characteristic sarcastic remark, and saw him standing shirtless in the doorway with a mug of hot chocolate in each hand.
Even after ten years of marriage and her constant frustrations with him, she had to admit that he was still the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Maybe things would never again be the fairytale that they had been when they first married, but looking at him like this would always make her heart ache. Her eyes were wistful when he walked in, wishing desperately that she could stop this moment and hold it forever against the future. “Care for a drink, Ms. Lane?” Kal-El was using that voice as if he truly could read her thoughts, the tone Lois could never resist, and he knew as well as she did that Kala and Jason wouldn’t be home for another half-hour at least. This kind of attention was exactly what she needed…
…and she never stopped to wonder why he was suddenly being so solicitous.