“Children, if you don’t stop getting underfoot…” Martha warned. It was the day after Christmas and at the Kent farmhouse, leftovers were something to look forward to – at least when they would be served with fresh-baked cookies. Richard, Lana, and Kristin had come over, and Ben had come back last night from spending Christmas with his sons and grandsons. Now they were all in the living room, swapping stories from the previous day; at the moment everyone was praising Lana’s deviousness in keeping the car from Richard until the last moment.
Only the twins had forsaken the general gathering to lurk in the kitchen. “There has to be something we can help you with,” Kala wheedled, eyeing the oven. “Please?”
“I’m perfectly aware that you two consider yourselves cooks,” Martha said, giving them the studied eye of a woman who had been through this before, “but I really don’t need the help this time. You were both very sweet yesterday, and I’m grateful.”
Jason and Kala both looked a little lost. They knew that Martha’s kitchen helpers often got a nibble of dessert before anyone else, and with the scent of made-from-scratch cookies filling the farmhouse, their stomachs rumbled. Not even yesterday’s huge Christmas dinner could satisfy half-Kryptonian appetites. The twins had eaten breakfast, but now they were growing desperate for a snack.
Their pitiful expressions finally made their grandmother shake her head and laugh. “Shoo, the both of you! The cookies will be done soon enough, and we can all eat in the living room.”
Kala could hear Grandpa Ben now talking about his newest grandson, just old enough to walk. If the pair of them retired to the living room, they’d have to wait until Grandma was done to sample the cookies. If only they could find a way to keep lurking in the kitchen until the first batch was finished, they could probably snatch up any funny-shaped ones…
Suddenly Jason seized on an idea. “How about we put the plates away?” he said quickly. The fine china service Martha had served Christmas dinner on had been allowed to soak overnight and been cleaned, very gently, this morning. All of the pieces had been arranged around the kitchen, propped up to drip-dry and spare the gold-plated rims any damage towels could have caused.
“Sweetheart, that’s all right,” Martha began, her tone clearly trying to dissuade, but Jason acted as though she’d given permission. He gathered up the plates quickly, stacking them atop each other and heading for the china hutch to put them away. Kala, not to be outdone, caught up the saucers. “You really don’t have to,” they heard Grandma call, but they both pretended deafness.
“Beat ya to the cups,” Kala hissed, and Jason grinned fiercely. Always faster, she was back in the kitchen before him, but Jason with his longer arms simply reached around her and grabbed two cups off the table, nudging his sister aside as he did.
Their grandmother saw what was going to happen the instant before it did. “Watch…!” she cried, but too late. In his haste, Jason had fumbled a bit, one cup slipping. He caught at it, it slipped again, and he made one last desperate grab before the cup could slither out of his grasp and hit the floor. His fingers closed around it securely.
A little too securely. The fragile china cup exploded, powdering Jason’s hand with porcelain. He stared at the ruined cup, speechless, and a dozen similar instances from his childhood echoed in his memory. Jason just doesn’t know his own strength … he plays a little rough … but that truck was supposed to be unbreakable…
A sharp slap against the back of his head refocused him. “Way to go, dumbass,” Kala snarled, unable to censor herself in her own horror. “Clumsy freakin’ idiot…”
“Kala Josephine!” Martha said in affronted tones. “Watch your language!”
The girl’s jaw dropped open, not having expected the censure in light of Jason’s transgression. Shocked that Martha was yelling at her when Jason was the one who’d broken the cup. “But he…” she began, eyes wide in incredulity.
Martha was having none of it. “Both of you, out of my kitchen,” she said more sharply than she usually ever spoke. “If you’d gone when I told you to, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Neither twin was well-versed in being reprimanded by Grandmother and were wounded by it. Her eyes filling, Kala turned and dashed out – faster than the human eye could follow. The back door banged behind her; but Jason, despite his very clear shame, didn’t follow. Obviously startled by the slam of the door, Lois strode into the kitchen with a curious frown, eyes going from one face to another. “What just happened?”
Blushing in shame, Jason forced himself to meet Martha’s eyes even as Clark came to check on the situation, joining Lois in the doorway. “I’ll clean up the mess,” Jason offered softly. “I’m sorry, Grandma. I didn’t mean to.” He couldn’t think of anything to say to his parents, and hoped the apology to Martha would be enough.
Clark looked at the shattered cup and Jason’s hangdog expression, drawing conclusions while Martha gave a frustrated sigh. “I know you didn’t, sweetheart, but that’s why I didn’t want you two putting those away. And you really didn’t need to start horsing around with your sister.”
“Did Kala say what I think she said?” Clark asked quietly. Lois’ mouth was set in a firm line, surveying the damage. Jason knew by her expression that he wouldn’t escape a lecture, so he busied himself cleaning up.
“Yes, and I’ll bet you the rest of the china she’s hiding out in the barn, ashamed of herself,” Martha replied. “Just like you did a time or two. Leave her be, Clark. There’s nothing any of us can say to her that’ll make her feel worse than she feels right now, especially when she realizes you heard that.” With another sigh, clearly forcing herself to calm down, she added, “It’s only a cup, after all.”
“It’s the good china,” Jason muttered as he got the broom, feeling miserable and not wanting to be consoled. He glanced at his mother, hoping his contrition would mellow her, but saw her rubbing her thumb over the locket he and Kala had given her on their birthday. That wasn’t a good sign. The family was realizing that Lois had developed the habit to remind herself not to lose her temper with the children.
“It’s still only a cup,” Martha insisted. “China wouldn’t be so valuable if it wasn’t very easy to break. Just don’t do it again, Jason.”
Clark fell to helping Jason sweep up the shattered cup. He listened for Kala and caught her heartbeat coming from the hayloft. She ought to be ashamed of herself, using language like that to her own brother, and in front of her grandmother, he thought. Let her stay out there and think about what she’s done. Those were uncharacteristically uncharitable thoughts for Clark, but he’d heard his daughter, his little angel, cursing at her brother, and she knew very well how he felt about that kind of language. Never mind that Lois swore casually or pungently as the situation required; she was Lois, outside of anyone’s definition of ladylike behavior, treated more as a force of nature than a lady.
Said force of nature was waiting for Jason to finish cleaning up. When Clark would have stayed, Lois sweetly asked him, “Please let Ben and the others know everything’s all right. Jason just dropped a cup.”
Clark nodded, knowing they couldn’t tell the truth. “Don’t forget to wash your hands,” he said to Jason, clasping the boy’s shoulder briefly. Jason went to the sink and did so, while Martha made herself unobtrusive with the cookies.
When he turned back around, his guilt doubled at the frustration on his mother’s face. Even as a little boy, there had never been anyone he hated to disappoint more than the woman across from him. Leaning against one of the kitchen chairs, she stared at him without a sound; those hazel eyes keen in their observation. It was just when the silence was growing unbearable that Lois finally spoke. “Jason, you know better than this. I expect this kind of behavior from Kala; these days, you can’t expect her to listen to anyone with the way your father spoils her, but I expect better from you. What were you thinking?”
There was no mistaking the amazed frustration there, utterly surprised that he would have done something this foolhardy. She lowered her voice then, her frown deepening. “I told your dad that we shouldn’t have let you guys let it all hang out the last two days. Being able to use your powers at a whim isn’t a good idea at you and Kala’s age. It’s too easy to slip and forget yourself afterwards.” She crossed her arms at him, although that one hand still fidgeted with the locket. Rub, rub, rub. “Jason, there are people in this house that have no idea of the Secret, of any of the things that the two of you or your father can do, and they should be allowed to keep that security. What would you have done if Kristin or your Grandpa Ben had walked in here while you were horsing around and saw that bone-china cup explode in your hand? China your Grandma has had for years? You may have been able to play it off to the little one, but Ben’s no fool.” Both of her dark brows rose then, questioning, challenging. “Seriously, Jason, what would you have done?”
He slumped against the sink, looking for all the world like Bagel when she’d been caught napping on forbidden furniture. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Probably had to hope you or Dad or Grandma would save me.”
Lois sighed, tilting her head back and running her hands through her hair. When she’d re-gathered her composure, she looked at her son and explained gently, “Jason, Mom and Dad won’t always be able to save you. You have to know what you can do and when, and who you can do it in front of.”
That patient tone, like one she’d use with Kristin, shamed Jason even more deeply. He hung his head; he had been a fool to risk his family’s safety. Sure, Ben had plenty of reasons not to tell the world that his son-in-law was Superman, but the twins had had the importance of that secrecy drilled into them at an early age. The fewer people who knew, the fewer chances for word to slip out to unfriendly ears. That was why Kristin was still kept in the dark, why no one even discussed telling Ben or Aunt Lucy. It didn’t matter that they were trustworthy; every new person let into the circle was a potential weakness. If someone like Luthor suspected that Ben knew the secret, what might he use against the older man to acquire more information?
Furious with himself, Jason wanted to hide his face and mumble. But he was his mother’s son, and Lois faced everything with courage. He straightened up, looked Lois in the eye in spite of his flaming cheeks, and said, “I’m sorry, Mom. I screwed up. It won’t happen again.”
Lois watched him sternly for a moment, and then relented with a tiny smile. “I know you try,” she said softly, and rose to go to him. Hugging her little boy – who was now several inches taller than her – Lois whispered, “I love you, Jason.”
Neither of them noticed Martha surreptitiously dashing tears from her eyes. So like his father, she thought, forcing down a lump in her throat. And I’m sorry I ever doubted Lois. Raising a hero isn’t an easy task, and she’s more than equal to it.
Kala sat where she could see out of the open loft door, but far enough back that the shadows hid her from anyone else’s eyes. She sniffled, forcing herself not to cry; her makeup would run, and she didn’t want everyone to know she’d been bawling like a little kid. Eventually someone would come to check on her, and she’d go back in and apologize to Grandma and Jason. Maybe the older woman would apologize for snapping, but if she didn’t, Kala would act as though her grandmother’s sharp rebuke hadn’t wounded her.
Never show weakness. She’d learned it from Mom, watching how her mother dealt with people, and taken the lesson to heart. Even when overmatched, it was possible to brazen your way to success if you just never admitted to being outdone. Even when you were scared and lonely, if you didn’t act it, people would praise your confidence.
Martha’s anger stung, but knowing she’d disappointed her father hurt worse. Kala had overheard him, and knew her hasty words had disappointed him. He rarely made a strong issue of the swearing – he couldn’t, not with Mom bellowing profanity at work and at home – but both twins knew his stand on the matter. They both also knew that Clark became more stringent in Kansas, out of respect for his mother.
Still, it was only a word! Kala bit her lip at the unfairness of it, drawing her knees up to her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs. Jason was the klutz who’d broken the cup; he was the one who’d gotten competitive and pushed her out of his way. But he was already forgiven, and she was banished to the barn…
The fact that she’d chosen to exile herself from the gathering didn’t occur to Kala at the moment. She’d heard her father coming and disappeared, afraid to face him and smarting from the injustice of Martha yelling at her. Now she sulked, listening to the rest of the family and growing more upset that no one had come out here after her. Maybe they wanted her to just stay out here and not cause any more trouble, never mind that the broken cup was Jason’s fault. Or maybe no one cared. Maybe they hadn’t even noticed.
Kala knew that was a selfish, immature thought, but she couldn’t help entertaining it. Feeling ignored and put-upon was better than feeling foolish and hurt. Her tears dried, and she glared angrily at the farmhouse. Fine, then. Let everyone else have their day-after-Christmas without her around. They’d miss her, sooner or later…
With her self-image having swung from miserable to arrogant again as quickly as any teenager’s, Kala was almost too self-absorbed to hear the faint crunching of snow coming toward her. Her head snapped up, eyes unfocused as she listened intently, for those footsteps were coming across the field behind the barn, not the house.
She relaxed as she recognized the tread. Dustin. He’d been a little awkward and distant when she first arrived in Smallville a few days ago, taken aback no doubt by the way she’d chosen to emphasize her Goth style in the last few months. Kala enjoyed making strangers stare at her as if she were, well, an alien in their midst, but hated the same looks from her friends, whom she believed should know better. But Dustin had quickly warmed up to her again, once he got over his initial surprise, and Kala had been pleased to notice that her more elegant clothes had a noticeable effect on him.
They’d run into each other in town several times as well as visited each other’s houses, but it was usually in company with their siblings. That had been fun – Kala liked Wade and Cathy, and the younger girl had finally grown out of her silly crush on Jason enough to be a good friend to him and Kristin. The group had been augmented by some of their other friends from town, and running around with them all was very enjoyable, but Kala had never had the opportunity to talk to Dustin alone.
He was special: one of the first boys to develop an obvious crush on her, and better than that, a good friend to her and Jason. Dustin had also never become pushy or demanding as some boys did. He was in awe of Kala, and she counted on his devotion even though they only saw each other a few times a year. They kept in touch by email and instant message, and Dustin sometimes went to the trouble of sending a hand-written letter through the postal service.
That last touched Kala; most of her generation preferred to type messages and would never think to send a letter. Dustin was something else entirely, a person with one foot in a thoroughly modern world of computers and cars that ran on ethanol-blended fuel, the other in a place where the past seemed much closer, where an afternoon’s entertainment could consist of riding a mule along a deer trail or fishing with a simple cane pole. Kala felt a kind of kinship with him for that, for knowing how to track a fox that crossed his yard and how to program a DVD recorder. Maybe he felt torn between two worlds, the way she sometimes did when Kryptonian ideals clashed with human realities.
Kala stood up as Dustin came around the corner of the barn, taking a couple steps toward the sill so he would see her. She had no fear of the drop, certain of her own balance, but when Dustin saw her he looked startled. “Kala!”
“C’mere, and quit being an old woman,” she scoffed, stepping back from the edge. “I won’t fall.”
Dustin just shook his head, and as Kala had hoped, he came directly over to the barn, avoiding the house and everyone else for the moment. He climbed the ladder to the loft and sat down beside Kala. She’d retreated to the shadows again, suddenly aware of the chaff clinging to her hair and her sweater. “Hey,” Dustin said.
“Hi,” Kala replied. “How was your Christmas?”
“Pretty good,” he answered, and they chatted lightly about gifts for a while. Dustin eventually asked, “So how come you’re out here all by yourself?”
Kala scowled. “Grandma got mad at me for calling Jason a dumbass,” she muttered. “And he was being one, too. So I came out here to keep from getting yelled at any more over such a dumb little thing.”
Normally, Dustin would’ve fought to defend his friend’s reputation. But firstly, this was Jason’s sister, and Dustin had taken enough insults from his little sister Cathy to know that he would’ve resented anyone else’s interference. And secondly, this was Kala. She had carte blanche to do whatever she wanted in Dustin’s eyes. Instead of berating her, Dustin just heaved a commiserating sigh.
He was looking for something else to say when he noticed that Kala was only wearing a sweater over a long-sleeved shirt. The hayloft was warmer than outside, but she really should’ve had a jacket on. Maybe there was an opportunity there… “You must be cold,” he said solicitously. The coat he wore had been his grandfather’s, wool-lined and heavy enough for an entire day outdoors in the coldest weather. Dustin unbuttoned it and held it open, asking, “Wanna share?”
Kala snuggled in against his side gratefully, and he caught his breath. Dustin had kissed a few girls since Kala had smooched him when they were both fourteen, and even done a little bit of petting, but he wasn’t prepared for Kala to practically meld against his side. Her head lay quite comfortably against his shoulder, and a soft curve he dared not think too much about pressed against his chest. With his arm around her shoulder and her hip against his leg, her nearness was a heady experience. Dustin grinned, daring to rest his cheek on her hair.
Sounding perfectly content and a little sleepy, Kala murmured, “Hey, Dustin?”
“Hmm?” he replied, swept up in the scent of her hair. It smelled a little like honey and jasmine and a little like some kind of spice…
“If you were really worried about me being cold, you would’ve given me the coat.” She looked up at him as she said it, her hazel eyes alight with mischief, and Dustin realized knew perfectly well why he’d offered to share the coat.
Dustin blushed at being caught, and Kala chuckled, snuggling even closer to his side. After a moment, he managed to drum up enough courage to say hesitantly, “Well, can you blame me?”
Kala looked up again, and this time the gleam in her eyes was pure mischief. “Not a bit,” she said. This time she didn’t burrow back down into the warmth of the coat, and her expression was so clearly a challenge that Dustin couldn’t help taking her up on it.
Cupping her cheek in one gloved hand, he titled her face up and kissed her, feeling Kala’s smile beneath his lips.
Lana had gone to the kitchen to make another pot of coffee while the rest of the family nibbled cookies and talked in the living room. Her own parents had graciously encouraged her and Richard and Kristin to visit with the Kents; the holidays could get very crowded and hectic with the extended Lang family together, and being able to trade off with Martha and Ben helped them enjoy a little peace and quiet. Though that left the Kent farmhouse a touch crowded, Martha seemed to love all the fuss, and everyone was happy.
As the coffee percolated, Lana looked out the kitchen door. Kala was lurking out there somewhere, probably working herself into a fine state over Martha’s scolding. The redhead doubted she was wounded in more than pride, but like her mother Kala tended to take blows to the ego far more personally than any other injury. Heavens only knew how she’d rationalize her own behavior…
Jason came into the kitchen, still looking abashed. When Lana glanced at him, he smiled wanly. “I’m gonna go check on Kala,” he said. “She shouldn’t be out there without a jacket on.”
Lana smiled sadly; both of them knew Kala was in no danger from the weather with her half-Kryptonian metabolism. More likely, Jason just missed his twin and hated to think of her sitting out there alone. “You’re a good brother, always watching over your sisters,” Lana told him, beckoning Jason close so she could kiss his forehead. “I really appreciate the way you – and Kala – take such good care of Kristin.”
“Thanks,” Jason said, shuffling his feet a little. He probably guessed the warm praise was meant to steel him against Kala’s likely sullen attitude, though the gratitude was genuine. Lana watched him, thinking idly that he would have most of Clark’s height when he grew up, but would be a trifle lighter in build, Lois’ legacy.
Lana had barely turned back to the coffeemaker when Clark stepped into the kitchen. “He went after Kala,” the redhead told him, knowing that Jason had likely made an excuse for leaving the gathering.
“I was about to do the same myself,” Clark sighed, shaking her head a little. “Someone needs to tell her…”
He trailed off, and his eyes widened. Clark would’ve lunged for the door, but Lana pressed a hand to his chest. “What is it?” she hissed, thinking of excuses she could make for his sudden absence. Everyone who knew Clark well developed that skill after a while.
“Jason’s yelling at Dustin,” he replied, looking a little confused. “When did Dustin get here?”
“I’ll deal with it,” Lana said firmly. When Clark gave her a confused look, she elaborated, “If Jason’s yelling, he probably caught Dustin and Kala kissing. Big brothers can be quite protective of their little sisters, and not even their friends get a pass. Unless you want to embarrass Kala into running all the way back to Metropolis, let me handle it.”
Clark had to admit she’d given it more thought than he had, and stepped back. “I’ll take the coffee in and make excuses for you,” he said. “For once.”
Lana only gave him a quick peck on the cheek before hurrying outside to deal with the teenagers. The situation in the loft was a bit more intense than Clark had described; Kala was yelling at Jason, Jason was yelling at Dustin, and Dustin was dangling in shock from where Jason had grabbed his coat and lifted him completely off the ground. None of them heard Lana come up the ladder, and her stern voice cut into their argument sharply. “Jason, put him down.”
Startled, the black-haired boy dropped Dustin. Kala blushed fiercely, and Lana walked toward them deliberately. “That will be quite enough,” she said in clipped syllables. “Jason, in the house.”
“But…” he began, and Lana simply looked at him. He read the warning in her glance, bit his lip, and went. Two accidental uses of superpowers in one day didn’t bode well.
“Dustin,” Lana said, in a voice that was softer but not without a hint of rebuke. “I’m not so old that I can’t imagine why a girl’s brother would be so angry at finding her in the hayloft with one of his closest friends. Maybe you should think on that a little more on your way home.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Dustin turned to go without argument, leaving with whatever dignity he could scrape together. Although he did look back at Kala longingly just before disappearing out of the loft.
That left Kala, and she sulked, shoulders set and head down, just waiting for an excuse to run off again. Lana looked at her for a long moment, her arms crossed, and just shy of the moment when the girl would’ve spoken, she said softly, “This has been one heck of a day, hasn’t it?”
The sympathy kept Kala off-balance enough that she just looked at Lana, confused, as the redhead strolled over and sat down on the sill, letting her legs hang free over the forty-foot drop. Patting the floor beside her, she glanced over her shoulder at Kala in invitation.
Warily, the girl sat down, huddling into herself and watching Lana from darkly-lined eyes. The redhead could see the faint smears there and knew that Kala had been close to tears. It seemed impossible for a child so bossy and willful to have such a thin skin, but Lana was familiar with the contradiction.
Seating Kala beside her, instead of standing across from the girl, made this more a conversation than a confrontation. Lana allowed the silence to stretch for a few minutes, admiring the cloudless blue sky and enjoying the scent of the hay. Finally, she asked, “So what got Jason so upset?”
Kala bit her lip, looking away. “He’s an overprotective jerk,” she muttered.
“You’re his only twin sister,” Lana offered. “And he loves you. Though I’m sure it’s frustrating when he forgets that you’re capable of taking care of yourself.”
“Exactly,” Kala sighed. “I mean, it’s not like I’m Kristin. No offense to you – she’s still little.”
And the whole group of you are little to me, Lana thought, but didn’t let it show on her face. She also kept back the notion that Kala wasn’t just speaking of Kristin’s age. Kala had powers that made her very confident where boys were concerned – too confident for Lana’s taste.
Both twins had gotten ‘the talk’. But instead of hearing from one designated spokes-parent, they’d wound up with four distinct opinions on the matter. Lana knew that Lois and Richard had likely told the kids to be safe, no matter what, and made sure that they’d have access to the means to ensure that no quarter-Kryptonians would arrive unexpectedly. Richard’s thoughts on the matter likely reflected his own regrets over his many youthful indiscretions, while Lois was more concerned that the twins not get involved in hurtful or destructive relationships. Clark, speaking from his own experience, would want them to wait for The One, though he would love them regardless of whatever choice they made. And Lana herself had cautioned them not to choose rashly, making sure of what they wanted. She’d also hinted rather strongly that she would prefer they wait until marriage, but knew that was unlikely to happen. Not when the other three had all had lovers before marriage – though Clark’s example served as a warning. Jason might take heed, but Kala…
Kala thought she knew everything already, like most teenage girls. Unlike them, she felt that her superpowers were ample proof of her own superiority to the human race. That made her rash and headstrong where boys were concerned, utterly convinced of her own beauty and certain she deserved to be fawned over. Lana remembered that attitude too well.
Lana’s voice was quiet and soothing as she continued. “I don’t think Dustin could ever hurt you. He cares too much for you, Kala, and he’d do anything you asked.”
The girl colored slightly, murmuring, “He’s a good friend.”
“He is,” Lana agreed. “Good friends last a lifetime, Kala. Look how long I’ve known your father. And look at how your mother and Richard turned out – their friendship is a lot stronger than their romantic relationship ever was.”
Kala sensed she was on shaky ground somehow, but didn’t know where the conversation was heading. She sometimes didn’t realize she’d gotten a lecture from Lana until days after the fact, and by then it was always too late to rebel. Cautiously, she said, “Are you telling me I shouldn’t date him because he’s my friend?”
That ran counter to everything the four parents had told the kids, that friendship and mutual respect ought to be paramount in a relationship. Attraction alone couldn’t suffice if there were no deeper feelings. Lana smiled and replied, “Last I checked you weren’t dating him, sweetheart, just kissing him every now and then.” That made Kala blush again, and before she could turn sullen Lana continued, “I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t date him, Kala. Dustin would be good to you, always – he loves you too much to do anything else. He’d never hurt you. But you could hurt him, very easily.”
Kala shifted position, stretching her legs out and then drawing them up again. “I’d never hurt Dustin on purpose,” she said firmly.
“Not on purpose,” Lana echoed. “But Kala, he’s a friend to you – a friend with a crush. A friend you can rely on to pick up your spirits when you feel miserable.” That was about as close to the reason why Kala was out here in the first place as Lana wanted to go, and she returned to her main point. “You’re more than a friend to him, though. You’re his dream girl, the beautiful city girl from Metropolis, exotic and enchanting. And kissing is more important to him than it is to you. City and country values are different. I won’t say one is better than the other,” she raised an eyebrow and got a chuckle from Kala; they both knew which set of values Lana lived by. “But it’s enough of a difference that as soon as Dustin gets over Jason being so angry, he’ll be on cloud nine just from kissing you.”
Kala frowned; she knew that Smallville and Metropolis were as distant in culture as well as geography, but like Lois before her she had disregarded that difference and kept to her city ways. Most people in Smallville accepted the Lane-Kent women’s eccentricities with a shrug – Jason did a much better job of fitting in. The notion that her behavior could actually hurt her friend was a new idea for Kala. She liked Dustin, he wasn’t a stick-in-the-mud like some people, so she tended to think that his values were similar to hers. A common enough mistake…
Lana had watched her expression, and knew that Kala didn’t do well with lectures. “Let me tell you a story,” she said instead. “A real story, about when I was your age.” Kala perked up, turning sideways to face Lana directly. She had an intense curiosity about her parents’ and grandparents’ earlier lives, and unlike a lot of children she avidly listened to their reminiscences.
The redhead smiled a trifle sadly; this wasn’t her favorite tale to tell. “When I was sixteen,” she began, “I was the head cheerleader at Smallville High. I was also the prettiest girl in town, and knew it.”
Kala snorted, trying not to laugh, and Lana just smiled. “I was vainer than anyone you know, Kala, and a bit stuck-up, too. I was also a … the word used to be ‘goody two-shoes’, but I’m sure you call it something else these days.”
“I kinda got the impression you weren’t exactly smoking behind the gym or sneaking off army bases like Mom,” Kala said affectionately.
That made Lana grin. Lois was definitely not the kind of person she would’ve associated with in those days; the fact that the reporter was now one of her closest friends said a lot about how her own attitudes had changed. She still mostly had the same morals for herself, but was far less inclined to apply them to other people.
“So,” Lana resumed, “suffice it to say that although I’d been dating Brad for several months, he’d never gotten more than a kiss from me. He said he respected me, but then I caught him necking with the school tramp.”
Kala hissed, and Lana chuckled. “It’s funny now. I was furious then. Jealousy has always been one of my flaws, and I was determined to show Brad that I couldn’t be trifled with. He didn’t know I’d seen him, you see. So I planned my revenge. That same afternoon, as we were all leaving school, I walked up to another boy and kissed him, just to make Brad jealous. Quite a kiss, too. And when he would’ve pounded that other boy into the dust, I told Brad that if he could, then I could too.” Actually, she’d commented that what was sauce for the gander was as good for the goose, but Kala wouldn’t understand that old saying.
“Oh, burn,” Kala winced. “But I’d never do anything like that to Dustin. If we were dating and he cheated on me, I’d just ditch him. Anybody else, I’d probably kick their butt.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Lana said, already flinching a little. “The boy I kissed?”
“Yeah?” Kala said.
“He was your father.” Kala’s mouth dropped open, her eyes going wide, and Lana continued with a poise she didn’t feel. “Clark had a huge crush on me back then, but he was always a gentleman. I knew I could trust him.”
“Aww, poor Dad,” Kala said with the slightest pout, then gave the smallest hopeful shrug. “But, at least, you know, he got the kiss from a girl he liked. I mean, the aftermath had to suck, but…”
“It was his first kiss, too,” Lana sighed with clear remorse.
The girl’s wince was a grimace this time, echoing the sigh. “Ooh, that’s worse, knowing Daddy. Double burn on that one.”
Lana nodded. “Your father – and now I know who he is, and why he never pursued me, and how easily he could’ve just swatted Brad halfway across the country – got his first kiss from the girl he was madly in love with, but only because she wanted to make her boyfriend jealous.”
“Ouch.” Clark’s daughter was looking at her with a pained expression. “Geez, Lana!”
“Now, doesn’t that make me sound terribly petty?” The redhead smile was sad with she turned to look at her. “And I regret it to this day. I’m glad I didn’t wind up with Clark – I couldn’t put up with the things your mother does, plus I think I would bore him senseless – but I am sorry that we have that between us. After all these years as friends, and as close as we are now, Clark means more to me than Brad ever could. I’d rather we never kissed than have the first be like that.”
Kala gnawed at her lower lip, and Lana could see her drawing the parallels for herself. She waited; with Kala, it was generally best to let her figure things out rather than tell her what she was supposed to conclude. After a while, Kala met Lana’s patient gaze. “I don’t want Dustin to remember me for being a shallow brat who used him to make herself feel better,” she said flatly.
“Because that’s not you,” Lana replied as evenly. “Your mistakes don’t become who you are. They’re just opportunities to learn and improve. I did something vain and silly, but that doesn’t define me now.”
Kala nodded, looking thoughtful and much more relaxed. That was the best opportunity to press a point. “Incidentally,” Lana said casually, “you may want to think about how you let yourself be defined. Is it really necessary to compete with Jason for everything? I’m an only child, so I can’t presume to know what it’s like for a twin, but that’s a question you may want to ask yourself.”
That earned a gusty sigh from Kala as she thought it over. “Well, yeah, honestly. It kinda is,” she said, the reply tentative.
“Then I’d suggest you figure out a way to compete that doesn’t end with both of you in disgrace,” Lana said, her voice a trifle stern. When Kala flinched, Lana relented, knowing how quickly the girl could turn resentful. “Come on now. Let’s go inside and have some cookies. And if you look repentant and make apologies, maybe everyone will assume I scolded you enough.”
Kala got up with a rueful smile. Lana counted the interview a success … until she went carefully down the ladder, and a trick of the barn’s acoustics allowed her to hear Kala sigh below. “Why can’t talking to Mom be this easy?” That wasn’t the sentiment Lana wanted to leave her with, but if she called Kala on it now, she would likely only get a sullen fight for having overheard the girl’s half-muttered thought.
As they headed inside, Lana reminded herself to find a reason to talk to Kala on the subject. Soon.