One thing was certain. Kala, like her mother before her, always made an entrance. Duffel bag of a purse slung over her shoulder and her boot heels tapping loudly on the tile of the hallway, she swept into the inner office and dropped into her customary seat with a heavy sigh and roll of her eyes. Elliot noticed that her eyes were darkly lined with kohl again; for a while she’d gone with much less makeup than was usual for her, but the striking eyeliner signaled another milestone on the road to normality. “Hi. I know you were expecting Dad, Dr. Marrin, but he’s unavailable so you’re getting me instead. Hope you don’t mind.”
Elliot had gotten the impression that Clark Kent wasn’t the kind of man to break his appointments, but then, he’d also believed Kala had no interest in coming to therapy any more often than strictly necessary. This was an intriguing development indeed. “Of course I don’t mind. I would like to know what brings you here in your father’s place, though.”
She laughed then, her lavender-painted lips turning up in an honest smile. In the past month, he hadn’t heard her laugh except for a cynical chuckle ten years too old for her, but gradually Kala began to pull free of the shadow cast over her by the events in Nevada, and the easy, free laughter of happier times was beginning to return to her. A happy event to be sure. “Nothing much, really. It’s just, well… Okay, so Mom went to the doctor today, and … she’s been cleared for takeoff, if you catch my drift.” She wrinkled her nose then theatrically. “Dad’s not going to keep any appointments today, and I’d rather be anywhere but home. Jase and I are bunking with Dad and Lana tonight, obviously.”
For a moment Elliot didn’t understand, and then he caught her meaning. It must have been obvious when he reached the right conclusion, because Kala’s merry laugh rang out again. Lois had had major surgery, and likely she’d been restricted from more than just work. Now she was free to return to normal activities, which her husband would be anxious to resume after so nearly losing her. Perfectly understandable under the circumstances. The twins had been lucky never to have actually walked in on their parents having sex – Lois believed firmly in locked doors and an expectation of privacy – but like all kids the mere idea of it was the ultimate gross-out.
“In that case, I’m glad to see you, Kala,” Elliot said. “Since you’re here, is there anything in particular you’d like to discuss?” He didn’t expect her to open up that easily, but then, Kala could be counted on to surprise him whenever he least expected it.
The long, annoyed sigh she let out was promising. “Not unless you know how to get Jason off my back about Nick,” Kala replied, leaning back into the chair and crossing her arms. “He keeps this up, I’m not going out to lunch with him alone for a couple of months. I mean it. I’m getting really tired of hearing about it from him and Sebast and everyone else.”
“Your brother is just concerned for your safety,” Elliot reminded her.
Kala arched a dark eyebrow, her expression so similar to her mother’s that it was haunting. “Dr. Marrin, trust me on this. Nick isn’t getting anything from me that I don’t decide – after plenty of serious reflection – that I want to give him. And anyway, getting arrested would really screw up his chances of becoming a successful surgeon, so nothing’s going to happen until I turn eighteen anyway. And, anyway, for the moment, I really mean the ‘just friends’ thing for now. End of story.”
That was a rather cold and calculating way of looking at it, especially for a teenage girl. The expression on her face was just as serious. Then again, Kala had been through some things that gave her a much more cynical outlook on life and relationships. Elliot knew he still hadn’t been told the whole truth about Nevada, but he’d been given a cohesive narrative that was truthful enough for his purposes.
The gist of the story they had all told him was this: Kala had run away from home at the indirect instigation of Jason’s girlfriend Giselle, who was actually a spy for Luthor. Luthor’s henchmen had kidnapped her on the subway, drugged her, and taken her to his underground laboratory in Nevada. There Kala had met one of his employees, a man named Schecter who initially seemed like an ally. He and Kala had been plotting their escape from Luthor’s facility together, but at the crucial moment Kala had discovered he was part of the plot to kill Superman – that, in fact, he intended to use her against her godfather and her family. In that moment of clarity, of seeing her supposed ally for the treacherous snake he was, Kala had turned and shot him with the stolen gun she was supposed to use on Luthor.
Elliot knew that was a story, something concocted afterwards to make sense of disjointed facts. The salient parts were true, though. Kala had been kidnapped and deceived, and she had killed the man who betrayed her. He didn’t doubt any of those facts, didn’t doubt that this girl he had met when she was six years old would defend her in any way she had to.
Technically his knowledge made him an accessory after the fact, but she’d acted in self-defense and in defense of her family, so Kala was not a murderer. And in the confusion at the lab, where Luthor apparently triggered a self-destruct sequence, many lives had been lost. There was no ethical point in trying to prosecute Kala. Luthor was to blame for everything that had happened there.
Still, it left Kala with a harder edge than the average sixteen-year-old. She’d shot a man, watched him die; a man whom she’d come to trust during her captivity. Of course she’d been swayed by Stockholm syndrome, would never have trusted him if she’d met him under any other circumstances, but in that situation he had been her only friend, and she’d killed him nonetheless.
Knowing that – though it’s hardly the first cold, bloody truth he’s ever learned about the human heart – Elliot was unsurprised that she spoke of Nick in such mercenary terms. So he asked a question from a slightly different angle, hoping to illuminate her feelings for the boy. “Do you love Nick?”
Kala stopped to consider, her gaze unfocused for long moments. He saw her frown a little. She was really thinking about the question. “As in, Mom and Dad, forever-after, fairytale kind of love? I … I don’t think so. I like him, I care about him, and well…” She trailed off and shrugged, a hint of a blush to her cheeks. “I like him. Maybe I love him, too. But it’s not like the way I love Jase or Sebast, that nothing-will-ever-change-it kind of love. Even if Sebast is still making up for being an idiot, you know.” That prompted a little snort and a brief smirk before she continued on, “Maybe that’s just for twin brothers and best friends and soul mates, and I don’t think Nick’s my soul mate. Honestly? I’m sixteen, I don’t have to find my one and only now. I’ve got time. Although try telling that to Lizardboy.” A little laugh this time. “But you know what? Maybe I don’t want what Mom and Dad have. I mean, that kind of love, it’s borderline obsessive, you know? They didn’t have much time together the first time and, whether she wants to admit it or not, it’s almost like she didn’t really live until he came back.” Sympathy was written in her expression when she said that last.
Interesting how different she was from her brother, who had developed such a strong attachment at the same age. Jason wanted what his parents had, wanted it with all his heart, but Kala was capable of seeing the downside of a love like that. Not only that, she referred to it as ‘fairytale love,’ as if she believed it were beyond the reach of her own reality. “You’re unusually astute,” Elliot complimented her.
Kala gave him a sad smile, shaking her head. “No, just smart enough to watch Mom staring out the window sometimes while Dad was gone. I was a kid, I didn’t know what was missing from her life, I didn’t understand that the whole time she was with Daddy Richard she was trying to be someone else so she could be happy without Dad. And when Mom and Dad first got together, I thought it was all sweet and romantic, but now that I’m older I’m starting to realize that they paid for what they have. Nothing in life is free, and they’re pretty damn star-crossed. Sure, they have the epic love story of the century, but they also both have the scars to show they had to fight for it. I’m not sure I want love like that.”
Elliot, a lifelong bachelor, could understand her sentiment perfectly. He enjoyed relationships, but the kind of commitment that Lois and Clark had wasn’t something he particularly wanted in his life. It was too easy to imagine one of them saying to the other, I would go through Hell and back for you, and meaning it. In Elliot’s experience, life – the powers that be – tended to treat declarations like that as a challenge. The Lane-Kents certainly seemed to be living proof of that.
“So if you don’t want epic romance, what do you want from a relationship?” Elliot asked.
She gnawed her lip when she was deep in thought, and her eyes tended to roll upward as if the answers were written on the insides of her eyelids. “I just … I don’t want to be alone, you know? I want someone to go places with me, someone to take me out to dinner and tell me I look beautiful. Is that shallow?”
“To want to feel special? No. I’d say it’s human.”
Kala smiled crookedly. “Yeah, I guess it is. Most of the guys I’ve gone out with have been just like that, casual. I like being adored, you know? I don’t want to fall in love and get married yet, I have plans. Big ones. Which is why I ended up breaking up with most of them after a couple weeks. Most guys couldn’t grasp the fact that I have a life that’s not about them.”
“So what caused you to change your typical relationship pattern and go out with Nick for several months?”
Sighing again, Kala replied, “First of all, we’re not going out yet.” Her look was pointed, “Now, on a friends level, he’s the only guy I’ve met who can keep up with me. Boys my age … with a few exceptions, they’re boys. They have the attention span of a gnat on crack, their egos are enormous but totally fragile, a short skirt fries their brains completely, and I swear they only have about three default trains of thought: ‘Does this make me look cool?’ ‘Will I ever see her boobs?’ And, ‘What’re we having for dinner?’ Sometimes they’re so immature I just want to smack them, but most of the time I’m too busy laughing.”
Her caustic observations startled Elliot into unprofessional laughter, which she joined in after a moment. “I wish I could refute that, but contrary to popular belief I remember being a teenager. It’s a strange state to be in, isn’t it? Especially when you’re intelligent and self-aware enough to realize just how odd it is.”
“Oh yeah,” Kala agreed. “I mean, it’s a total head trip. And Nick … Nick’s mature, he’s pretty sensible, he can actually talk to me like we’re both adults, and his brain doesn’t go offline if I happen to be wearing something that shows some skin. I need that right now, I need someone sane and normal to keep me grounded.” Purple lips curved into a smirk again and she added, “It helps that he’s totally gorgeous. He’s got that golden-boy thing going on, blond and chiseled. I mean, I can look at him all day.”
That, finally, was normal for her age. Grinning over a handsome boy – Elliot had been afraid for a while that Kala would retreat into herself after Nevada. She blamed herself for her mother’s injuries, for the risks the whole family had taken, but as Lois recovered Kala began to return to normal. The nightmares Jason had described were part of the normal healing process as her subconscious mind dealt with everything that had happened to her.
And after all, Kala had been the one to insist she return to school as quickly as possible, immersing herself in normalcy to try and get back on track faster. She had Lois’ keen instinct for what she needed, not necessarily what she wanted, and the stubborn determination to see it through.
While Elliot thought that, Kala had been smiling slightly, thinking of Nick. Then she mused aloud, “You know, he’s almost as good-looking as Sebast. Sebast is prettier, though, so don’t tell him I ever even dreamed anyone could be as gorgeous as he is.” She was laughing to herself then, at what had to be a joke between them.
Another thing that made Kala professionally interesting to Elliot was her relationship with Sebast. The two were truly best friends, incredibly close, and unlike a lot of teenage friendships, theirs never seemed to waver. Except for that once, when a cunning spy led him to believe something calculated to push Kala over the edge. There was also something else about it, something that seemed a little more intense than mere friendship, and he wanted to investigate that. “How is Sebast, by the way?” Elliot asked.
Kala grinned wildly then; she nearly always smiled when she talked about Sebast. “Other than hating Nick and threatening him with all sorts of creative deaths, he’s his usual smartass self. Did I tell you about when he went to see Mom in the hospital the first time?” Elliot just shook his head, and she chuckled, shaking her head with clear amusement. “Okay, so once she got out of the ICU again and could have visitors other than immediate family, Sebast really wanted to see her. You know Mom thinks of him as family and he thinks she’s awesome and all, right? We didn’t tell him about the shooting until after everyone got settled; don’t ask me how he was out of the loop, grounded or not. So I brought him with me, and he kinda skids to a halt at the doorway because he’s used to Mom as a force of nature. And a provider of pizza, but you know what I mean. And here she is lying in a hospital bed all pale and bruised and bandaged and miserable-looking because she’s already been to physical therapy and she hates being weak.
“Mom looks up at Sebast, he looks at her, and for like a full minute there’s silence. Then he walks over to the bed, picks up her hand, and says in that so-serious voice, ‘Mom, when you get out of here, remind me to teach you the ancient Boricua martial art of how to freakin’ duck when people shoot at you.’ And she laughed and hugged him. I think that made her feel better than all the stupid get-well cards and flowers everyone from the office was sending.”
“It’s good that she appreciates his sense of humor,” Elliot said thoughtfully. “And you’re fortunate that your best friend doesn’t fit the typical teenage male you described earlier.”
“Well yeah, I couldn’t be friends with Sebast if he was staring at my chest all the time,” Kala said pointedly with a snicker. “Although the food thing is true. Jason does it too. They can be in the middle of a serious discussion about history or whatever while we’re in the car, and if Mom drives past a barbecue place they both stop and sniff. I swear boys have ridiculous metabolisms.”
Since she was in a talkative mood, Elliot decided to be a little more direct. “I find it interesting that when you talked about love, you mentioned Sebast in the category of fairytale love.”
Her chin went up then, her gaze both defensive and a little disappointed as she put her hand up warningly. “Okay. Stop right there. We’ve been over this before. Yes, he’s absolutely drool-worthy and almost as perfect as he thinks is, and I love him forever and ever, but it can’t be like that. He’s gay, Dr. Marrin, and I’m not stupid. Even if I wanted to somehow seduce him, he’d never be happy with me because I’m not what he wants. He. Likes. Boys. Lots of them. And I love him too much to even consider doing that to him.” She paused, and went on nervously, “Besides, if we were dating instead of best friends then everything would be awkward. Who wants that?”
“Just suppose, if he wasn’t…” Elliot didn’t get to finish the sentence, Kala jumping in irritably.
“Yeah, yeah, if he was straight I’d be all over that, just like any sane woman on the planet. But he’s not, so there’s no point in mooning over something that’ll never be. Wouldn’t you rather ask me how I’m going to cope with being away from my twin for a whole summer?”
That she volunteered to talk about something distressing indicated how strongly she disliked talking about Sebast. It was clear to Elliot that Kala had at least had a crush on him at some point, probably before she found out about his sexual orientation. For the moment he humored her, though. “I’m sure you’ll handle it well, Kala.”
She replied, “It’s gonna be weird, but it’s not like we don’t have phones. He’s not that far away. Besides, we can’t stay kids forever. We’re both growing up, and I can’t be by his side every moment. Or even every day. Maybe not even every week.” Kala fell silent for a long moment, her eyes distant, her lips pressed tightly together. “Jason’s going to go to college, get a job, marry Elise, buy a house, and fill it up with nieces and nephews for me to spoil.” She flashed him a smile that wasn’t her most convincing. “I mean, let’s be honest. I … I’d only be underfoot in all of that if I was there all the time. It’s time. We have to be apart. I know it, he knows it.” Kala glanced away before she nodded firmly, convincing herself.
Elliot could read the anxiety underneath the veneer of acceptance. Kala wasn’t as sanguine about this as she pretended to be, but it was just life – everyone got through it in the end. “You’re astonishingly perspicacious for your age,” he said, letting her think she’d fooled him. “And how about your mother?”
That brought a wry smile. “What can you say about Mom? She drives me nuts occasionally, actually all the time, but that’s what moms are for. Things are a whole lot better with us. I almost understand her now. I think. No matter how bad it gets, we know each other better now, and we never quite get to the point things were at before I ran away. After Nevada, I know she loves me, and she knows I love her, and we both know that’ll never change.” Still smiling, she gave an expressive shrug. “You know, in light of that, everything else is small stuff.”