Only a couple more chapters to go in this one. :D Enjoy, all!
Very few people enjoyed visiting a therapist. Most of them grew to appreciate the difference in their lives, but very few actually looked forward to the sessions. Elliot had grown used to that attitude over time, but the woman now sitting in the chair across from him was broadcasting her dislike of the situation even more than Lois had, and that was an achievement.
Interesting, because by all accounts Lana should have had the least to hide of any of them. And yet she was sitting with her legs crossed at the knee, hands locked together at waist level, shoulders tense, and her expression so carefully blank beneath a mask of politeness that she might as well have walked in shouting, “There is something I really don’t want to tell you!”
And it was his job, of course, to find out what she was hiding. Elliot greeted her politely and walked her through a few simple questions, reminding that she was here for the sake of the entire family. “You have a rather unique and valuable perspective on Clark and Lois’ marriage,” he said.
She sighed, and some of the tension drained away. “We – Richard and I – knew something was wrong. It took us too long to figure out what that something actually was, and even when we did realize, we didn’t stage an intervention because it was the middle of the holidays and everything was hectic. I won’t make that mistake again, I assure you.”
The redhead’s voice was firm by the end, and Elliot paused for a moment, intrigued. “You’re willing to take responsibility for someone else’s marriage?” he asked cautiously.
Her eyes narrowed. “Clark has been one of my best friends since we were three years old, Dr. Marrin. And Lois has been another of my closest friends since we resolved our differences ten years ago. I’d be seriously remiss for not trying to help people I care about.”
Elliot laced his fingers together thoughtfully. “A noble sentiment, but interference of that type, even when it’s helpful, even when it’s necessary, is rarely welcomed. In fact, it’s usually resented, especially when it’s helpful.”
“So be it. Our friendship is strong enough to survive some temporary resentment. Lois and Clark were there for us when Richard and I were going through our own tough times. She helped me a lot when I didn’t particularly want help – when I was fairly unhappy about her existence, come to think of it. Her displeasure is a small thing to risk when her happiness is at stake, and she’s reasonable enough to forgive me after the fact.”
Lana had lifted her chin slightly when she spoke, meeting Elliot’s gaze steadily. For all that she didn’t want to be here, she certainly wasn’t intimidated by him. That made it even more probable that whatever she didn’t want to talk about was because she felt dubious about it, not because she simply disliked opening up to a relative stranger. And furthermore, well-intentioned meddling wasn’t the thing she was trying to hide.
Elliot held her gaze for a long silent moment, but she refused to be unnerved. “I think you may have missed your calling, Lana,” he finally said. “Something tells me you should have been a counselor of some sort.”
To his surprise, she smiled. “I do tend to be the person who looks after everyone else’s mental health. You know, when we were heading out to Nevada, I remember thinking of myself as the chaplain of the group. There are so many military analogies around Lois and Richard, it just seemed fitting, even if I was thinking more along the lines of ‘counselor’ than ‘religious official’. But then, if I’d chosen that path, you might not be analyzing the family now.”
“And I’d hate to miss out on this golden opportunity,” Elliot replied. “Since you’ve acknowledged your role as family counselor, though, I’m interested to hear your perspective on the current issues.”
That got a chuckle. “Which ones? Kala trying to figure out who she is without becoming a carbon copy of her mother, and the harder she rebels the more she gets compared to Lois? I think we’re getting past that, finally. Coming so close to losing each other really made Lois and Kala put an effort into making amends. Of course, now she’s a little too cautious thanks to everything Luthor put her through, but one thing she has in common with both of her parents is her resilience. Kala has plenty of support; she’ll be fine. She just needs time. And it helps that Lois is the only one she’s really talking to about what happened in Nevada; they’re helping each other heal.”
Lana sighed. “Or you might’ve been thinking of Jason, trying to be so very serious and grown-up that he forgets how to act like a teenager at times. Maybe we’ve got that under control, too. Nevada showed him that he can step up when he has to, and that he’d better enjoy the last few years of being a kid while he can. He’s always been the easier of the two to deal with, and now that he has Elise back in his life, things are pretty much perfect for him.”
Elliot had to sit back, surprised. She had missed her calling – Lana had almost quoted some of his notes. “I agree with you, the twins will be all right. They’re headed in the right direction, and my only job is to help them steer clear of occasional pitfalls. Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of the Lane-Kents’ marital issues. That’s my primary concern at the moment.”
Then she stiffened. “I was under the impression you were a child psychologist, not a marriage counselor.”
Interesting response – what was she so defensive about? “The deciding factor for those kids’ mental health over the next few years will be the state of their parents’ marriage. Besides, we’ve already established that you’re willing to interfere for their sake,” he reminded her.
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to share confidences with you,” Lana replied, her tone so strictly civil it had frost on the edges.
“Ah, I understand. You don’t believe I’m capable of helping them – or you don’t believe that my motives for seeking information are pure. Maybe you just don’t believe that I’m professional enough to take my patients’ confidentiality seriously.” Elliot smiled at her; he had always enjoyed a challenge.
To his surprise, she smiled back. “Not hardly. It’s just that I don’t believe in telling someone else’s secrets.”
Elliot had already figured out that the entire family was keeping a major secret from him, but Lana was the first to admit it. The challenge would be to see if he could find out what it was. “Perhaps you’d be willing to at least corroborate or correct my own impressions? I have spoken to Lois after all, and Clark is going to make it in someday, so I ought to hear most of this.”
“I suppose,” Lana finally said, but the set of her shoulders told him she was not happy about it.
“Besides, it’s not as if Lois has many secrets from me,” Elliot added, trying for a casual confidence-inspiring tone.
Lana laughed, cutting herself off abruptly at his startled expression. Did she really think he was that clueless about a woman he’d loved … or did she know for a fact that she knew something he didn’t? Trying not to sound too amused, she said, “I’ll let her decide that. For now, let’s stick with what you’ve figured out so far.”
“Then I’ll start with Lois,” Elliot replied. “Her biggest problem right now is that she secretly believes she doesn’t deserve the life she has. She’s afraid that she’s a terrible parent and only sheer luck has kept the twins from hating her completely. Worse, she thinks Clark is too good for her, and she feels as though she has to be a hundred and twenty percent for him. The fact that she’s in her forties now doesn’t help, as she’s afraid she’s losing her appeal.”
The redhead looked stunned, and Elliot leaned back. “I haven’t met with Clark yet, but I would suspect that none of that is true. He loves his wife very much, has no interest in replacing her, and admires her immensely. If anything, he thinks he’s the lucky one. Am I on track so far?”
“More so than I would’ve expected,” Lana admitted.
He nodded. I do know what I’m talking about, ma’am. “Lois’ problems are compounded by her inability to ask for help or even admit that she could accept it once offered, which makes her lucky to have you in her life, since you’ve said you’re willing to give her that help whether she asks for it or not. I would guess that one of the reasons she respects you – and she doesn’t usually have positive relationships with women who aren’t a lot like her – is because you don’t accept her façade of absolute hardcore bitchiness. You know as well as I do that she’s an incurable romantic, that she’s deeply vulnerable beneath all that toughness, and that part of her is still seeking the acceptance, approval, and encouragement she never received from her father.”
“Lois has come a long way on that front,” Lana said. “She and Clark have done a lot to fix their communication problems, and being trapped in a hospital bed forced her to confront the fact that sometimes she does need someone else to rely on.”
“She’s lucky to have friends who will offer that help, unasked and most likely unappreciated,” Elliot mused.
Lana arched auburn brows at him. “Unappreciated? Contrary to popular belief, Lois isn’t totally uncivilized. Her mother did teach her some manners, when her father wasn’t teaching her five ways to kill a man with her bare hands. I’d like to think I’ve contributed somewhat to getting her to behave more like her mother’s daughter than her father’s soldier. Besides, even if she doesn’t always say ‘thank you’, those of us who love her know Lois does appreciate us.”
Elliot rested his chin on his palm and looked at Lana carefully. He’d gone into this thinking that Lois and Lana were casual friends, mostly connected by their relationships with the two men and with the kids. Only now did he recall the twins remarking on girls’ nights out when Lana joined Lois and her hoydens for an evening on the town. He had assumed Lana was willing to stage an intervention for Clark’s sake, with whom she’d been friends since childhood. But her defense of Lois indicated the two women were actually quite close. And that was fairly unusual for Lois. Most of her friends were tough, trash-talking women like herself. Lana, who had frowned at his use of the word ‘bitch’, didn’t seem to fit that mold.
“I’d be interested to know how you and Lois became such close friends,” Elliot said carefully.
“Why wouldn’t we be?” Lana replied with a trace of sharpness.
Ah, he was on thin ice there. Best to tread as lightly as possible. “You don’t seem much like her usual crowd.”
Elliot got another arch look for that. “How so?”
“I don’t know you all that well, so my guesses are fallible,” he began, “but I’d wager that you don’t indulge in any of the same social vices. You don’t swear, you don’t smoke, you don’t drink – much, anyway, maybe a glass or two of wine. You’re probably the only one in the group who’s seen the inside of a church in the last five years. In short, you’re too virtuous for them.”
Her mouth quirked up slightly. “I’m disappointed in you, Dr. Marrin. Those are all superficial things. What I have in common with Lois is much more fundamental and important.”
“And what’s that?” Elliot asked, genuinely intrigued. He’d never suspected the moralist of the family would be such a staunch supporter of Lois.
She crossed her arms and actually smirked at him. This was getting more fun by the minute. “Shouldn’t you already know? The three main ones are Clark, Richard, and the kids. All of the kids, no matter who gave birth to them. Then you can add an uncompromising dedication to the truth, a desire to do what’s right no matter the cost, and the courage to follow up on both.”
Still cautious with his choice of words, Elliot said, “Some people would say that Clark and Richard, at least, are more cause for conflict than connection.”
“Some people are short-sighted,” Lana replied coolly. “The two of them are friends, so why shouldn’t we be? Just because we’ve been romantically entangled with each other’s husbands in the past? In my case, that was thirty years ago, and Lois knows I’m no threat. In her case … well, I had my moments, but my doctor says pregnant women can legally claim temporary insanity thanks to the hormones. And I got over worrying about that a decade ago.”
“You have absolutely no concerns about Richard and Lois,” Elliot mused.
Lana answered instantly. “None. Oh, I know they’re still attracted to each other. Quite frankly he’s always going to be a little bit nuts about her, and I can understand that. Honestly the way those two are about each other is more amusing than anything else. Neither one of them would ever betray me or Clark. We all know that.”
“And speaking of Clark,” Elliot began, and saw an interesting thing. Lana’s body language went right back to the original red-alert level of tense and secretive she’d been when she walked in the door. That told him that whatever she was hiding so assiduously had to be related to Clark somehow.
There were a few obvious options: Lana might not be as non-threatening to the Lane-Kent marriage as she claimed, she might covet Clark for herself and might even be in denial about it, or she might be hiding something that actually happened of which Lois and Richard were unaware. Her intense loyalty toward Lois might then have been motivated by guilt.
But Elliot’s instincts told him it was more complex than that. This family tended not to have run-of-the-mill problems, and even when they did, the situation was always more complicated than it first appeared. So he put conjecture aside and started probing for answers. “Some people might wonder if you were entirely happy about your childhood best friend – and high school sweetheart – marrying someone else. Isn’t it true that you originally came to Metropolis looking for Clark? After his mother told you he was back in the States and single?”
Her eyes narrowed at that. “I wonder who told you that.”
Kids parrot what they hear, and they overhear more than their parents realize. I learned that tidbit seven or eight years ago. “It hardly matters, if it’s untrue.”
Lana sighed in aggravation. “And you probably also know that I don’t lie. Yes, it’s true that I came to Metropolis looking for Clark. He was never my high school sweetheart though – I was his hopeless crush. And when I got older I realized what a fool I’d been to never give him a chance. However, the moment I saw him in the same room with Lois, I knew he’d never be mine.”
“You never wonder what might have been?” Elliot asked as casually as possible, but he could see her hackles going up nonetheless.
She scoffed dismissively. “Of course I’ve wondered. Clark’s quite a catch. But we can’t change the past, and obsessing over it is pointless. He was my friend first, he’s still my friend, and going to Metropolis in search of him not only brought him back into my life as a friend, I also got Richard … and Lois and the twins. Then I turned around and had Kristin, and after that my life was very nearly perfect. Now if only Luthor would find his way into prison and stay there, I could take the ‘very nearly’ out of that sentence.” The redhead crossed her arms and glared at him.
Elliot sat back, his assumptions blown to smithereens. Lana’s absolute honesty meant she didn’t suffer from denial, and she was clearly very happy with her own marriage. Every time she spoke Richard’s name her lips curved up in a slight, unconscious smile. Elliot was glad to be proved wrong, as it reinforced his original conclusion that whatever secret this family was keeping, it was a positive one.
“In your opinion, then, the Lane-Kents’ marriage is strong enough to continue to stand the test of time?” he asked, stalling while he tried to fit the various pieces of the puzzle together.
“Of course. Then again, you weren’t in the next room when they had their big fight in Nevada. If they came through that and only grew more dedicated to each other, they can survive anything.” Once again she was absolutely certain, not a shred of doubt in her voice.
Grasping at straws, Elliot brought up the one thing that had always seemed, on the surface, like it would eventually cause problems. “Not even Superman?” he asked.
Lana’s fair complexion went even paler. After a barely perceptible hesitation – but he was trained to notice such things – she replied vehemently, “Lois told me you were a bit hung up on him. You thought she left you for him, didn’t you? Well, I have it on very good authority that Superman respects Lois’ marriage, and respects Clark, and to insinuate otherwise is to insult all of them.”
With that she rose from her seat, glancing at the clock. “I believe our time is up, Dr. Marrin. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.”
After she left, Elliot began to smile. Food for thought? More like an all-you-can-eat buffet.