Chapter 4: Lunch
Jimmy’s face was almost comical in its disappointment.
Closed for repairs.
The nostalgic 50s-style diner he had told them about looked like it had taken quite a hit in the recent catastrophe. What had once been a gleaming silver trailer, was now tarnished and dented. The pink neon piping was dull and lifeless. It was just as well, though. When she had passed by it before, she had never once wanted to try it. Something about the place gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Isn’t Mario’s near here?” Clark asked, looking hopeful.
Jimmy grimaced slightly. “Yeah, I think so…”
“Mmm. They have a great chicken alfredo,” Lois put in. She was sure Jimmy would like it.
“If it’s money, Jim, I can treat this time,” Clark said kindly. “Goodness knows you’ve bought for me enough times when I forgot my wallet.”
Jimmy’s face warred between desire and embarrassment. But his stomach seemed to strike the deciding blow. “All right. Let’s do it.”
Clark smiled warmly, happy to help a friend. It was a nice gesture and she felt ashamed, really, that she hadn’t realized that was the reason for Jimmy's earlier hesitation. Clark was actually quite a perceptive and kind man… Lois had forgotten that about him.
After only a short wait, the three of them had secured a table near the windows. Her stomach rumbled loudly as she perused the menu, and she put a hand on her abdomen, abashed. Jimmy smirked, Clark looked at her with… was that… fondness? He looked away quickly, but she had definitely seen something in those bright blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, I guess I’m always hungry.” She began to worry. Don’t I have enough to deal with? I’m engaged to one man, have a child by another, and now I find my co-worker still has a crush on me? Back when they had first been partners, Clark had followed her around like a child, obviously infatuated with his colleague. She had basically ignored it then, though it had been flattering, to say the least. But now it was just annoying… one more thing to deal with. Her lips turned down in an ironic frown.
Jimmy misread her expression. “Or you don’t even stop to eat at all.”
Before she could respond to that, her cell phone went off in her purse. “And then a hero comes along, with the strength to carry on…” She snapped it open, ending the ringtone. “Richard?”
“Lois? Are you on your way back?”
“No. We stopped for some lunch at Mario’s – do you want me to bring something back for you?” She glanced up. Jimmy was studying the menu, Clark was studying his hands.
“Nah, don’t worry about it, I’ll grab something here in the building. Any leads?” he asked in a practiced tone. She smiled inwardly. He always sensed when she was onto something, even before she had mentioned it. But what am I onto? The reconstruction story? Or the mysterious gaps in my memory?
“I think we might be,” she said, focusing on their assigned story. She suddenly had a thought. “Richard, would you mind running a search for me while I’m out?”
“Sure. I’m nearly finished with the article about the Superman rescue.”
“Great. Could you find out which buildings had the most extensive damage after the earthquake?” She tried to catch Clark’s eye for confirmation. He seemed to be busily focused on his cuticles instead. “Clark had a thought while we were covering the collapse.” The farm boy finally looked up. “He suggested that maybe the building materials were substandard… I want to see if this is just an isolated incident, or a much larger problem.”
Richard’s voice grew more excited. “Oh, excellent angle there. Should I let Perry know?”
“Tell Perry?“ Clark nodded his head. “Sure. But it’s just one lead. Tell him that.”
“He’ll know that,” he answered in an amused voice, but then he seemed to realize something. “Oh, wait. You guys are on George Street, right? I know for a fact that the shopping district a few blocks over was heavily damaged. You might want to check it out before you come back to the office.”
“Sure, sweetheart. Thanks for the tip.” Clark was back to memorizing the ridges on his knuckles.
“Lois,” Richard said. “I just realized, with all the excitement in the last week, we never really got to welcome Clark back to the Planet. He seems like a nice guy. What do you say we have him over for dinner tonight?” She began to protest, but he stopped her. “I could grill some steaks… make something appropriate for Jason…” he coaxed.
She relented. “All right, any day that I can avoid take out is fine with me. Let me ask him.” She tried to get Clark’s attention again – what was wrong with his hands, some kind of rash? “Clark?”
“Yes, Lois?” He looked hopeful, but sad. Why sad?
She shook her head to clear it. “Richard wants to know if you would like to come over for dinner at our house tonight. You know, welcome you back to town and all that.”
“Um, sure. What time?”
“I guess about eight o’clock?” She spoke these words into the cell phone receiver.
“Eight sounds good,” Richard agreed. She nodded confirmation to Clark. “See you in a few hours, okay? Love you.”
“Love you, too,” she said, almost automatically, and ended the call. But it was true, wasn’t it? Even if she felt something for Superman as well? God, Lane, you tramp…
She ordered, her mind very much elsewhere, and was startled out of her reverie when a steaming plate of pasta was placed in front of her. She grabbed her blue cloth napkin and set it on her lap.
Lifting a forkful of food into her mouth, she looked across the table and abruptly snickered. Like a mama’s boy, Clark Kent was tucking his napkin into his collar. She had to hold her hand to her mouth to keep from spitting food everywhere.
“What?” He looked at her with such a confused expression, that she laughed again.
“Clark… do you see a checkered tablecloth? Gingham curtains? This isn’t your mom’s kitchen.”
He looked blankly at Jimmy, who was mimicking tucking a napkin under his chin.
“Oh.” His eyes suddenly lit up with amusement. “Uh, actually, Lois, in some cultures, this is the height of good manners. Not just at my mother’s table.”
She shrugged, still smiling, but then stilled. The royal blue napkin under his chin looked so striking. As she slowly tilted her head to the side, his smile disappeared, and he pressed his lips together. In her mind’s eye, his thick black frames flickered out of existence briefly. That blue set off his similarly-hued eyes in exactly the way that…
She rubbed her eyes tiredly. I guess I just can’t function on only a few hours sleep anymore…
Lois didn’t know what it was, but since just before leaving the Daily Planet this morning to cover this story, she was feeling increasingly lightheaded. Not to mention tired from lack of sleep. Little things, like the vision of Superman amidst the flames, or that napkin… were causing her to zone out completely. Vaguely she could hear Clark and Jimmy in the background, discussing football or something, but she couldn’t focus on anything. What is going on?
The meal flew by, almost without her noticing. The table was cleared, the check paid… and she found herself walking between Jimmy and Clark, heading down the street toward the shopping district. “You all right, Lois?” Jimmy asked, concerned.
“Yeah… no… I just haven’t felt like myself lately.” She pressed her eyelids tightly together and then tried to open them wide. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. I was up all night…” …thinking about, dreaming about, talking with Superman… “trying to finish my article.”
Clark turned to hover over her. “We can do this later. I think we have enough information, especially with whatever Richard dug up this afternoon. Let’s go back to the office.”
“Sure, sounds good.” She lifted her head, and noticed an odd sight. Directly behind Clark was a jeweler’s window, decorated in a winter theme. Lord, it‘s not even Halloween yet… They had really overdone it, with white fluff, pretend icicles and icebergs. But seeing the diamonds and jewels nestled among them caused a wave of dizziness.
“Lois?” Clark asked worriedly. His voice dropped in pitch. “What’s wrong?”
“I -- I don’t know…” she said, feeling shaky. The image of Clark, the wintry scene a backdrop for his concerned face, was bringing up a wave of powerful, but unknown emotion. She faltered, almost losing her balance, and he caught her in strangely strong arms. Clark whistled impatiently for a cab, and helped her in, somehow not at all clumsy.
She vaguely registered Jimmy getting in the front seat with the driver. Clark’s presence beside her suddenly seemed comforting, rock solid… and she felt reassured. He held her hand, an arm around her shoulder in a caring but friendly manner, all the way back to the Daily Planet.
Next Chapter: Chapter 5: A Lead