The wake, the funeral, and the official reception afterwards took a lot more out of Elise than she expected. She’d been in Smallville before and liked Martha, but her connection to the older woman wasn’t as strong as Jason’s or Kala’s or even Kristin’s. Still, to be surrounded by such profound and sincere grief for so long was taxing.
And then, too, she was supporting Jason. He looked like a miserable puppy to her, stunned and solemn, and Elise found herself watching over him to make sure he remembered to eat. She hated leaving him at the farmhouse after the wake and going back to the hotel, but she knew exactly what would happen if she stayed: she’d wind up in bed with him, telling herself she was just going to hold him and comfort him. It would turn into more than that, and then when she went back to California she’d break his heart all over again.
She hated being the heartbreaker. But even more than that, she hated the little voice somewhere deep inside telling her to quit Berkeley, transfer back East, and stay with him. She hated the way no one was surprised to see her, as if she was already his wife and they all expected her to be by his side. Miranda Elise Thorne was no one’s accessory, no one’s foregone conclusion.
No matter how much she wanted to be, sometimes. Above everything else, she kept hearing her mother say, You’re nineteen, honey. There’s a whole world out there you’ve never seen. Don’t close the door on it just yet, please.
Her parents had never quite warmed to Jason and his family, and Elise couldn’t tell them that the reason they were kind of weird and secretive was that they were actually aliens—but in a good way. Really. Yeah, that would go over well.
At least the reception was finally winding down. Jason sagged into a chair, and Elise sat on the arm of it, rubbing his shoulder. “It’s gonna be all right,” she said softly. “I know it doesn’t feel like that now, but it will be.”
“I know,” he sighed, and took her hand. Looking up at her, he smiled wanly and said, “Thank you for being here.”
She ran a hand through his hair—thoroughly tamed for the funeral, but returning to its natural tousled state now—and smiled right back. “Hey, what are friends for?”
“You’re more than a friend,” Jason said automatically.
“Not right now I’m not,” Elise told him, fighting the urge to bite her lip. Crying wasn’t going to do anyone any favors right now.
His eyes looked far older than he was, and full of sadness. “I have plenty of friends. But there’s only one of you, Elise. You know more … and you care more. Even when you try to hide it.”
Elise closed her eyes and sighed. She wasn’t going to fight with him, not right now. “Fine. I’m not an ordinary friend, I’ll give you that. But I’m not staying, Jason.”
“I know.” His voice claimed acceptance, but his eyes said he was hoping she’d change her mind. And she had to admit, it was tempting to just let this happen, like it was some kind of destiny.
The way Sebast figured it, Alan’s stint as Kala’s boyfriend was over from the moment they got back from the funeral. He was still being a passive aggressive little bitch, just when Kala needed support the most, and though they hung on for a couple days, it all ended in a huge argument after a show.
Sebast heard the yelling and headed out of the hotel and across the road to a drugstore. By the time a fuming Kala returned to their room, he had two pints of top-grade ice cream and the most recent DVD from their favorite horror collection. Kala saw it and gave a hitching laugh. “Oh, yeah. Nothing better for getting over a douche-nozzle than Ben & Jerry’s and Chupacabra 666: The Devil’s Goatsucker. How bad can this one be, you think?”
“No worse than Bride of the Goatsucker,” he said with a shrug. So they sat around and watched terrible Mexican horror, ate ice cream, and mocked bad acting. Sebast’s impression of the ‘Satanic high priest’ finally made her laugh, especially when he grabbed her shirt and shook her. “I don’t know the difference between Mayan gods, Incan gods, and the Christian devil, but I know we’ve gotta have a creepy old man to balance out the half-naked teenagers! Summon the goatsucker!”
When the credits rolled, Kala found the remote and paused the TV, her expression torn between hilarity, disgust, and disbelief. “That was such shit,” she finally said. “God, Bride at least knew it was a T&A exploitation flick. This … what the hell were they thinking?”
“I’m thinking all the profits from Chupacabra 3D: Goatsucker’s Revenge went up their noses,” Sebast offered, miming snorting something. “How does a franchise go from pretty good to pretty crappy to pretty great, and then slide right down the toilet like this? Bride of the Goatsucker and Son of the Goatsucker were predictable, yeah, but at least they were watchable.”
“Makes me wonder what they’ll do for the seventh one. If they can get funding for a seventh one.”
“Makes me wonder who played the Spanish priest at the end. The ending sucks, yeah, but he’s a hottie.” Sebast waggled his eyebrows, and Kala rolled her eyes. She un-paused it and let the credits scroll, Sebast leaning forward. “Jon … K something, they’re scrolling too fast.”
Kala recognized it, though. “Him? He’s a model! No wonder he can’t act for shit. He has like one five-minute scene in some art-house film. How the hell did he get into the Chupacabra series?”
“I don’t care if he can act, chula,” Sebast told her, and she threw a pillow at him. That quickly degenerated into a pillow fight, which Sebast let Kala win.
Afterward, as they lay snuggled together, Kala heaved a sigh. “How come all my relationships crash and burn?”
“You’re asking me?” Sebast murmured with a shrug. “Chula, I don’t do relationships anymore. There’s too many gorgeous boys out there. It’d be unfair if I tied myself down to one.”
She bopped his nose affectionately. “Yeah, but you’re a slut, Sebast.”
“I know. I’m proud to be a man-slut. It’s my calling in life. But you … maybe it’s just hard to find a man worthy of all this awesomeness.” He ran a hand down her side, and Kala purred happily, snuggling in closer.
“I can live with being single as long as I have my best friend forever,” Kala murmured drowsily.
“You’ll always have me, mi Kala. I’m impossible to get rid of. Like herpes.” That got another laugh, and then she fell asleep with her head on his shoulder.
It looked like he’d just about managed to keep Kala from the worst of her post-break-up moods. But Sebast had something in mind to really brighten her smile. Later, once she was deeply asleep, he’d make a call.
Clark was still at the farmhouse three days after the funeral. He kept finding little things that needed to be done: a board that had to be nailed back in, a light bulb that had burned out, a slow-running drain. Ben watched him with amusement, and finally walked out to the chicken coop that Clark was re-roofing with a beer for each of them. “Come sit on the porch a spell, Clark. I need to talk to you.”
So this was when they’d finally talk about what Ben surely knew by now. Clark had been nervous, but now he felt relieved. Over the last few days, every time he got ready to say something, someone would call or drop by. So he took the moment to sit down and discuss it with gratitude. “Ben, I know you have to have some questions.”
Ben sipped his beer slowly. “Course I do. The main one on my mind is, what are we going to do with the farm?”
That came out of left field. “Huh … what?”
The older man looked at him with a grin. “C’mon now, Clark. I don’t see you and Lois moving out here. I know you love it, but I don’t think either of you could live full time in Smallville. And I’m not getting any younger, either, so I won’t always be here. Someone’s got to keep the place up, and I’ve only got the one grandson who’ll be staying on at my family place. Besides, I want to keep this one in Kent hands. That means someone’s got to stay on the land.”
“Oh. Right.” Clark sipped his beer, still trying to catch up to the conversation they were having, instead of the one he’d expected to have.
Ben leaned back in the old bentwood rocker. “You can’t leave an old house like this standing empty. Houses need life in them, Clark. Especially if they’ve had life in them for over a hundred years. When they stand empty, they get lonely. They fall in on themselves. This place needs a caretaker for when I’m gone.”
“I’m thinking of setting up a living trust so your twins will get the farm when I pass on. Now, I know Kala’s never going to live in Kansas—too much gypsy in that one to settle down here—but Jason might. I asked him while he was here, and he said he loves the old place. I’m not sure what exactly his plans for the future are going to be, where he wants to work and such, but it sounds like he can work anywhere if he wants, as long as he can get hold of a computer. And if he winds up teaching, well, commuting will be easier for him than it will for most people, right?”
“Um, yeah. But not as easy as it is for me. Ben, I really—” Clark began, and Ben waved him off.
“Listen, boy. You are Martha’s son, and you always will be, all right? I knew you were adopted. From the looks of things you came from a little further away that North Dakota, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’m telling you, as your stepfather, you don’t need to make any apologies to me for not having said anything earlier.”
Clark decided to try one more time to explain. “I just don’t want you to think we deliberately excluded you, Ben. No one was ever told—everyone who knows found out on their own, even the kids. When it got to be over half a dozen people, we decided not to tell anyone, ever, for their safety if not mine.”
Ben shrugged. “Makes sense. If you’re smart enough to figure it out, you’re probably smart enough to keep your mouth shut. And I do understand, Clark. You’ve got Lois and the kids to think of. Never telling anyone is the best policy.”
“Well, we did tell one person,” Clark finally admitted. “Ella Lane. She figured out who the twins’ father was before Lois and I got back together, and she wasn’t going to believe Clark Kent was their father when she knew Kala could hear through two closed doors and Jason could break indestructible toys.”
To his surprise, Ben chuckled. “Now, I can see that. I wouldn’t want to cross Ella Lane. Anyone can tell where Lois got her fire from.” With that, he held his beer bottle out to Clark, and gave him a knowing smile. “To secrets well kept, and secrets shared, and to family, always. Hmm?”
“I’ll drink to that,” Clark said. He clinked the bottles together and both men took a long drink. Clark remembered sitting on this same porch with Jonathan, sipping much more gingerly, and having the same feeling of warm companionship.
“Now, about the farm,” Ben said, and this time Clark was able to follow the conversation much more easily.
* * *