Lois knew she’d shocked Lana more than once during her recitation of the story, but damned if she was going to be embarrassed now. She kept her chin up and her gaze fixed on the redhead, wondering what the senator’s wife would have to say. And we still have another day on the road, plus who knows how long cooped up in Smallville, she thought. Lana didn’t seem like the type to be scornful, but good Midwestern girls weren’t known for being totally happy about unplanned teenage pregnancies even if the father was human.
“Wow,” Lana finally said, and glanced over at her with a smile. “You’ve really been through the wringer, haven’t you?”
Laughing at that understatement, Lois eased down a bit. “Yeah. Yeah, I have. I don’t know if I’d change any of it if I could, though.”
“The life you had before looks very different now, doesn’t it?” Lana asked.
For a moment, Lois’ tongue was tied. Her life before, school and tests and family stuff, all of it seemed somehow foreign now. She’d once found an old photograph of herself and Lucy, taken at the base school in the Philippines, just two blonde girls in t-shirts and shorts, the youngest one beaming, the elder staring. Sun and time had faded the black and white photo to sepia, and when Lois first saw it she didn’t recognize herself or Lucy or the yard of the house they’d stayed in. Only when she showed it to her mother, and Ella exclaimed about the garden the previous tenant had planted, had Lois remembered the humid closeness of the trees that lined the yard, mango and kalamansi and banana, the thick plantings of ube shrubs, dragonflies humming in the bright tropical sun.
The past was a forgotten country. The girl whose primary ambition had been getting Scotty Bracewell to let her drive his car was now a stranger. The Lois of today was someone far, far different: a fugitive from alien captors and human authorities, with all manner of strategic military secrets stored in her head, and her lover’s child growing quietly in her womb. She touched her belly thoughtfully. “Yeah. I … I don’t even know if I could go back to the way things were before.”
“I know a thing or two about outgrowing your old life. It’s not always a bad thing.” Lana reached over and took her free hand. After so many hours in a car with the redhead, Lois had figured out that Lana was a naturally touchy person, the sort who hugged her friends at each meeting.
Lois turned her hand over and squeezed Lana’s hand, smiling wanly at her. “Still a mind trip, though.” If she were honest, trying to think about the past and the present at the same time made her head spin. She still hadn’t really thought about the future beyond the next day, the next week, the next month. Any further than that was a meaningless fog that made her heart race to contemplate it.
“That it is,” Lana agreed. “Let me just say … I’m sure you know not everyone is going to understand what you’ve gone through. I can’t pretend I even do. But I know this: I’m proud to know you, Lois. And anything I can do to help you, I will.”
For a moment she just blinked. Lana seemed like the classic conservative, ladylike Midwesterner, and she had been bracing herself for a quickly-hidden sneer or two. Lana had raised her eyebrows a few times, but that had been all, and that graciousness surprised Lois. Which was part of why she said, “I guess you’re pretty surprised to be saying that to a pregnant runaway teen, huh?”
Lana laughed at that. “Well, I admit I was one of the good girls when I was your age, and I never dreamed of running away, but I think you had sound justification for everything you’ve done. And besides, you’re not just a runaway teenage mom. You’re also an intelligence agent, a freed hostage, an informant, a liberated military asset, and most importantly, one of our best bets to be an ambassador to New Krypton if they do succeed in a revolution.”
Lois blinked. That thought had never even occurred to her. “Ambassador. Huh.”
“Well, you know the language and the culture. And you’d have a good reason to go back,” Lana pointed out.
Her hand drifted to her belly again and Lois looked down with a smile. “The worst part is, he doesn’t even know. Kal-El and I never imagined it was possible. And he’s over there doing his best to get the rest of our people safely home, and he has no idea he has a baby on Earth. There’s no way to tell him, either.”
Lana hesitated, and then said carefully, “Lois, I was brought up to believe that things happen for a reason. And you obviously love Kal-El very much, and he loves you back just as much. The fact that you’re carrying his baby when you’re from different galaxies is just more proof that you were meant for each other. And I don’t think that … well, you might not want to hear this, but I don’t think it’s in God’s plan for you to never see him again.”
That threw her for a loop. Lois’ family was mostly secular—the closest thing to a worship in her father’s mind was his patriotism, and while Ella was a Methodist, she had never forced the girls to go to church if they didn’t want to, believing they would find religion in their own time. She wasn’t used to hearing people talk about God’s plans unless they were radicals of some stripe. But Lana sounded completely sane and completely sincere.
“Not that I presume to know the mind of God,” Lana added in the bemused silence. “I just think that, based on what’s happened to you so far, you were meant to do great things, Lois. And this baby is part of that.”
Stroking her belly, Lois nodded. “Oh yeah. She’s gonna be important. Even I can tell that.”
“She?” Lana asked, raising an auburn brow.
“Yes. I’m thinking of naming her Bridgette. That was my grandmother’s name, Momma’s mother.”
“It’s a lovely name,” Lana told her. She glanced down at the dash then, and so did Lois. The fuel gauge was at a quarter of a tank, and the sun had gone down a couple of hours ago. “We’re almost halfway to Dayton. What do you say we pull over, fuel up the car and ourselves? I need a chance to stretch my legs, and I bet you’d like one, too.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” Lois agreed. Lana was a cautious driver, the roads were all plowed and salted, and the big car’s smooth suspension and powerful engine ate up the miles. She could’ve napped, but they’d spent the time talking.
There was an exit coming up with several choices of gas station and food, and Lana put her turn signal on. “Besides, when we get back in, I’ll let you in on one of the better-kept secrets of my life,” Lana said archly.
“And what’s that?” Lois immediately asked, but Lana refused to tell her. Frustratingly, she insisted on sitting down to eat, not being the kind of person who would munch a chicken sandwich while driving with the other hand. And then she sent Lois into the gas station with some money to pick up traveling snacks and bottled water to sustain her until they stopped for dinner. After all, Lois was now eating for two. Lois got back into the Mercedes still fuming impatiently.
“All right, all right,” Lana laughed as the big car purred to life. “What kind of music do you think I listen to?”
Lois bit her lip, remembering she was from a town called Smallville out in the middle of Kansas. “Um, you were playing Garth Brooks when I got in….”
“And I’ll admit I own a Stetson,” Lana said, still chuckling.
“You’re a country girl,” was all Lois could say, being as diplomatic as possible.
“Right. Now, my CD case is in the console between us. Pick whatever looks good to you.” Lana smirked, and Lois knew something was up even before she dug out the CDs. This car had a USB port for an MP3 player, and she wished she’d brought hers, but she highly doubted Lana would like her taste in music.
What she found in the case surprised her. The discs of Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, and Shania Twain were expected, but right next to them were Jim Croce, Fleetwood Mac, Kansas, the Eagles, America, and more. “Lynyrd Skynyrd? Queen? Wait, you like classic rock?” Lois said aloud, surprised.
“If I have to go to one of those interminable Capitol Hill parties, I always play We Are the Champions on my way in,” Lana informed her. “Horse with No Name would be more appropriate, at one of those functions I feel like I’ve been riding through the desert for a year and a half by the time we leave, but I need to psyche myself up.”
“Yeah, just don’t roll up playing I Shot the Sheriff or anything. I think that’d freak people out, top 100 or not,” Lois snickered, putting in some Eric Clapton.
Lana pressed the button for shuffle, and as they drove on both of them started to sing. By the time they stopped for the night Lois’ throat would be sore, but she would’ve found what she needed most in the world right now: a friend.
I’m goin’ home, gonna load my shotgun,
Wait by the door and light a cigarette,
If he wants a fight well now he’s got one
And he ain’t seen me crazy yet.
He slapped my face and he shook me like a rag doll.
Don’t that sound like a real man?
I'm going to show him what a little girls are made of
Gunpowder and, gunpowder and lead…
“Gunpowder and lead,” Lois sang, drawing out the last line, drawling it really. Lana sang right along with her, pitch-perfect, and they both fell into laughter as the song went off. “Okay, okay, you were right. Some country is all right.”
Lana smiled triumphantly. They’d mostly listened to classic rock the first day, Lois surprised that a girl from Kansas knew all the words to Walk This Way, much less Sympathy for the Devil. After spending the night in a nice motel and taking advantage of the free continental breakfast, she’d agreed to give some of the country stuff a try on their second day on the road. They started out early by Lois’ standards, the sky still dark, and she figured she could sleep through it if she wasn’t impressed. To her surprise, much of what Lana had on disc Lois actually liked, from soulful tunes to newer artists whose songs were tongue-in-cheek reversals of the crying-in-your-beer stereotype. She especially liked the mix Lana referred to as ‘Don’t cross a country girl’, which included the Miranda Lambert song and one by Carrie Underwood called Before He Cheats. The songs there definitely struck a chord, even though Lois didn’t see herself in any of those situations. The last thing she worried about was Kal-El cheating on her or raising a hand to her.
The sun was lowering, and they were still in Missouri. Lois read all the road signs out of habit, and startled at the one they were passing now. “California? There’s a California, Missouri?”
“If we’d taken I-72, we would’ve seen the turnoff for Louisiana. And Mexico wasn’t far behind us, the same exit as Fulton.”
Lois shook her head. “Man, people around here have some weird names for towns.”
“Wait until we get to Smallville,” Lana told her with a grin. “First of all, it’s Smallville. And then there’s a town called Ellzey, after the Ellzey family—all of them moved to Smallville when the steel mill closed, though. We’ll pass Punkin Center on the way. And there’s a town a little north of us called Possum Trot.”
She had to be joking. “Possum Trot?”
“Possum Trot. It’s right over the county line; ours was a dry county for years after the 1986 amendment that allowed bars to operate, and the nearest place to buy a drink was in Possum Trot. Women in Smallville hated that town. If it wasn’t your husband wandering off that way and driving home half-soused, it was your grown son—or your field hands going out on a Friday night with a week’s wages in their pockets, and maybe not coming back on Saturday to finish the job because they were in the drunk tank on the other side of the county line.”
Lois just stared at Lana like she was some kind of alien life form. She’d been born in Germany and lived on bases in Germany, Italy, and the Philippines, as well as Massachusetts and Oregon in the states, but she’d never experienced the heartland of her own country and all its quirks. The idea of a dry county had never entered her mind.
She was about to get another surprise. Lana glanced at the clock and frowned. “We’re not going to get into town before the store closes, and there’s nothing in the house,” she said.
“Can’t we just run up to Wal-Mart?” Lois asked.
Lana smirked. “The nearest Wal-Mart is half an hour away in Hartwell, and they close at ten. No, I’ve got a better idea.” With that she muted the radio and put her Bluetooth headset in her ear to make call. “Hello, Silas,” she said, with the warm smile that Lois was rapidly realizing was her default greeting expression. “I know, it has. Listen, I’m on my way into town but I’ll be running late. Could you leave the store key in my mailbox? … Thank you, Silas. I appreciate it. … Probably a couple of months, anyway. I’m helping out a friend of Pete’s. She needs the rest and relaxation. … Thank you again. I’ll come in over the weekend to chat.”
The moment she hung up, Lois asked incredulously, “The store manager will bring you the key and leave it in your mailbox? What the heck?” She barely remembered to swap ‘heck’ for ‘hell’. Lana didn’t seem like someone who would appreciate Lois’ extensive vocabulary of English, German, and Tagalog swear words.
“Well, he is my cousin,” Lana said. “The Langs have owned Smallville Mercantile since it was opened. It’s not like I’d steal from him.”
Shaking her head, Lois muttered, “Just tell me Ward Cleaver doesn’t live next door.”
“No, we’re not quite that bad,” Lana laughed. “It is different from city life, though. You get to like it once you’re used to it. The peace and quiet are relaxing.”
That sounded boring to Lois, but she kept quiet as they drove. Within a few hours they were off the highway and driving down a two-lane country road, gravel spitting under the Mercedes’ tires and Lana murmuring something about getting snow tires at the Carmichael garage. Lois saw broad fields covered in snow, smoke pluming from distant chimneys, and the occasional house with warm light spilling from the windows. The region looked like something Norman Rockwell might’ve imagined.
Lois saw the turnoff for Possum Trot, and then the big sign welcoming them to Smallville, Kansas, the creamed corn capital of the world. Lana turned before they got to Main Street, and followed a back road through neighborhoods where kids left their bikes in the driveway, certain they’d be there the next morning, and snowmen built in yards weren’t knocked over or defaced. Finally Lana pulled up to a yellow house set back off the road, a lamp lit in a living room window. The redhead smiled. “Silas shoveled the drive and went inside to turn on a light. He probably cut the heat on, too. I’ll have to take him and his wife to dinner this week.”
Okay, so small-town interconnectedness had its uses. Still, as Lana parked the car, Lois hesitated for a moment. She was stepping into yet another new chapter of her life, and lately she’d felt like a pinball being bounced around by the whim of fate. There was one thing that hadn’t changed, though, and Lois reached into her pocket for them.
While Lana fished a set of keys out of her purse, Lois carefully put the opal earrings in. Their fire caught the redhead’s eye. “Oh, those are lovely,” she said.
“Kal-El got them for me. These and the clothes on my back were all I managed to bring out of Hell with me,” Lois said quietly, thinking of all the things she’d left behind on New Krypton. The glowing flower Lara had given her, most of her clothes, the books and other little things Kal-El had gotten to make her feel at home. Even the bed he’d made for her—the bed where their child had been conceived. All those things that did feel like a slice of home, now that she was flying blind into strange skies again.
“Well, those and the baby,” Lana reminded her, and they shared a smile before Lana got out of the car.
Lois didn’t follow immediately. With one hand on the door handle and the other on the curve of her belly, Lois watched the redhead walking up to the front door. That was when she felt it, the faintest of sensations, like a butterfly stirring in her belly. She looked down, startled, and the feeling came again.
The baby was moving. Her baby, hers and Kal-El’s. Lois could only take it as a good sign.