Chapter 7: Dinner
The three males looked up curiously as Lois burst through the front door, flustered and upset. Richard, standing on the deck poking at briquettes on the grill, had an expression of, What now, sweetheart? Jason, looking up from a photo album on the coffee table, displayed, Are you okay, mommy? And poor, clueless Clark, holding a glass of soda in one hand as he sat beside Jason on the couch, had wide eyes showing only, What’s all this going on here? She was eerily reminded of how she must have looked, bursting into the conference room after her flight with Superman.
Deep in the middle of her gut, her mother's intuition had screamed at her to get home, now! to check on her young son, who all unknowingly, might have the same susceptibility to kryptonite that his father had. While it was true that on the yacht, Jason had hardly reacted at all to the stuff, his exposure had been very limited. Paralyzed with fear, his little body had trembled in her arms, as Luthor waved the green cylinder in front of her son’s pale face.
“Who is the boy's father?” he had demanded imperiously.
At that moment she hadn’t been entirely sure herself. After a second’s pause, she replied, “Richard” and the madman had seemed satisfied. She probably would not have answered differently anyway, even if she had known what she knew now. Information like that in the hands of Superman’s greatest nemesis? She shuddered to think of it.
She gasped for breath, having raced from the cab to the door. “Sorry, I…” she gulped air. “I tried to get here as soon as I could.” She wanted to scoop Jason into her arms, put her hand on his forehead, check his pulse… but she was the only one of the four who would understand why. She restrained herself enough to hold out her arms for a welcoming hug. “Come here, munchkin. Mommy’s home.”
He didn’t hesitate. Her sweet boy ran into her arms, and gave her a soft peck on the cheek. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
Well, he seemed fine. She felt a bit embarrassed by her overwhelming rush to protect him, but she knew that the catalyst was still out there. Chunks of kryptonite floating ever closer to Metropolis, lying in hidden thickets, hiding in shadows… She closed her eyes to the nightmare images and kissed the top of his unruly head of hair.
As she held him a long moment in her arms, Richard called through the screen door, “How did it go today? Did your lead pan out?”
She let go of her son a little reluctantly, and nodded. “I got a few pictures of some documents that might be helpful in our investigation.” Then Lois greeted their guest, “Good evening, Clark,” she added with more than a touch of irritation, “Nice to see you again.”
He blushed boyishly, and began to stammer, “I’m so sorry, Lois. I got your message too late, and by the time I got back to the Planet, Richard was gone, too…”
She rolled her eyes as she led Jason to sit again on the couch. Always with the excuses. “I suppose whatever it was that kept you from helping with the story, took up so much of your time that you couldn’t even check in?”
Clark shifted uncomfortably in his place on the other side of the couch. Jason squirmed in his seat as well. He never liked it when she raked someone over the coals. Jason was too, no, touchingly tenderhearted toward everyone.
“Lois,” Richard called from the deck. “Give him a break.” The meat sizzled as he turned a steak over. “He told me that his real estate agent called and had him all over the city looking at apartments today. She told him it was today… or in three weeks time.”
She looked from Richard to Clark, surprised that her fiancé was defending him so easily. Had Richard finally found a friend at the office?
“And I was, uh, starting to get tired of living out of a suitcase,” Clark further explained, not meeting her eyes. She checked herself. Lois Lane. You may be upset at not getting the truth from Superman today, but that’s no reason to take it out on Clark.
He certainly looked sorry enough, almost paler than normal. Maybe if Richard and he were developing a friendship, she could suggest Richard play tennis with him, throw a football around, anything. He needed a little sun – it would do him wonders.
His words hit her suddenly. “A suitcase? Clark Kent, don’t tell me that you’ve been staying in a hotel since you got back?” she exclaimed, dismayed.
He nodded, a little sheepishly.
“Oh, Clark,” she went on, more compassionately. “Anyone could have put you up while you were looking for a place.” She listed names off on her fingers. “Jimmy, Perry…” Who else? Did she even know anyone else who could have done it? “…even us, for God’s sake.”
Jason brightened beside her. “We have an extra room upstairs that Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ron stay in when they visit,” he piped up.
Clark shook his head. “I wouldn’t want to put anyone out…” And before she could protest, he continued, “Besides, I found a great apartment just a few blocks from the Planet today. But thank you for the offer,” he added warmly.
Jason deflated. She looked into his disappointed face. Here was another of her boys who had taken a shine to Clark Kent. When they had worked together years ago, she had respected him, even hoped that he would show a little more initiative… but their friendship had never gone much past the superficial. Now that he had returned, she was seeing all sorts of new facets to his personality.
“Guys,” Richard spoke up again. “It’s really beautiful out here on the deck, and the steaks – and veggies – are just about ready. Why don’t you grab your drinks and come on out.”
Jason and Clark quickly stood up, and headed onto the deck. Lois began to shut the photo album they had been perusing – Jason’s baby pictures, and first year of life. The milestones. What did a shy bachelor like Clark find interesting in those? He must have been humoring Jason. She grinned thoughtfully as she closed the cover. Another item for the ‘Surprising Facts About Clark Kent’ file that had been steadily growing the last few days.
Jason sat in the chair farthest from the water – he was still a little nervous about their misadventure at sea. Clark sat to Jason’s right, and Lois took a chair facing Jason. Richard would take the seat closest to the grill, to make serving easy. A moment later, Richard exclaimed, “Wait a minute! I forgot the wine. Let me go get it.” He turned to Clark. “You know how to handle the flames, right?”
“Sure… Yes, I do,” he replied eagerly, and started to rise from the table.
His eagerness was pretty endearing, but Clark was supposed to be the guest of honor. “Hey, I can help out, Richard,” Lois started to say, but Richard waved her down.
“Take a rest, Lois. You’ve been really busy today.” Busier than any of them knew, she thought ruefully. “Besides, I know exactly where the wine is, and you know you can’t handle the cooking duties…” he kidded her.
“Great, bring that up again, why don’t you. And in front of company.” She grimaced, and Jason giggled. “Fine. Clark, impress me with the way you ‘handle the flames,’” she teased, giving him a wink.
Richard handed the tongs to Clark, who took them from him. Richard smiled, and then opened the screen door and went inside.
“It’s not a pig, roasting on a spit,” Clark remarked as he poked and shifted the meat, “But I think this ‘farm boy’ can handle it.” He looked at her askance, ribbing her gently. “How do you like your steak, Lois?”
“Red,” she stated simply. In his eagerness, he grasped a fillet with the metal tongs and lifted it to check if it was done. Juices dripped greedily into the charcoal, and the flames suddenly shot up, startling them all. He jumped back deftly, and somehow, the steak miraculously landed back on the grill.
Richard came back with the bottle and corkscrew in hand, casually inquiring if Clark was all right, but she suddenly felt dizzy again. The scene before her eyes slipped and reeled as, in a semi-conscious state, she watched Richard take Clark’s place with little fanfare, directing their guest to sit once more. Something about the sight of flames shooting high, almost engulfing Clark’s hands, gave her that uncanny sensation…
Was someone calling her name? She blinked rapidly, and tried to focus her eyes. A hand settled on her arm, and the voice seemed to come as if from underwater: “—ight, Lois?” Clark’s blue eyes swam before her. How truly blue they are! she thought randomly, before shaking her head violently. The world finally came back into focus, and she saw that all three of the other people at the table were looking at her with deep concern.
“Lois.” Richard said insistently, as if it weren’t the first time he’d called her name. “Are you okay?”
“Yes… yes.” She ventured a confident smile. “I just had this odd, displaced feeling… in fact, I’ve been having it off and on all day…” She wasn’t sure if she should be bringing this up, when she didn’t really even know what was triggering it. “But don’t worry about me. It’s already passed. I’m fine.”
Richard raised his eyebrows.
“Really,” she insisted. “Let’s pop open that wine.”
Lois could tell that Richard wanted to press the issue, especially after her damned dizzy spell at lunch today, but she caught his eyes and held them. She sent an unspoken message, Please, darling, you know I can handle it. He tilted his head, and gave her a If that’s what you want, dear sort of look… and then she broke contact. Looking at Jason and Clark, she noticed that two sets of startlingly identical blue eyes – were they really that alike? – had been following that silent exchange with interest. They both looked away, embarrassed at being caught, ducking their heads in unison.
“So, who wants some?” She poured for the adults, while Jason drank a glass of bottled sparkling water.
As the four of them ate, Clark regaled them with tales of his time away, becoming less awkward with every story he told. He spoke of the lush forests of Germany, the serene beauty of a Japanese temple, the overwhelming awe of walking through ancient Incan ruins… Jason was particularly enthralled with his descriptions of going on safari in Kenya. He made them all laugh at his story of trying to cross a busy street in Cairo, cars whizzing past on all sides without a care for the foreign pedestrian in their midst… She was surprised at how much Richard and Jason seemed to hang on his every word. In fact, she was surprised at how much she enjoyed the stories herself. How had she been so oblivious to the layers that had been peeling away before her eyes?
Lois looked over at her son’s plate, a perpetual habit, and noticed that his food was virtually untouched. Perhaps in his fascination with Clark’s stories, he had forgotten to eat. But she noticed that he seemed to have the slightest blue tinge to his lips, his head drooping a little… Concerned, she began to speak, but at that moment, he laughed at something Clark had said, and lifted his glass to his lips. The glass suddenly slipped from his fingers, hitting the table and bouncing to the floor, where it spilled its contents everywhere.
They all jumped. “Oh, no! I’m sorry, Mommy,” Jason nearly wailed, upset at making a mess.
“That’s all right, baby.” She quickly ran over to scoop up the glass and heard Richard say, “I’ll get a towel.”
In the interim, Clark tried to make light of the situation. He mopped at a suddenly sweaty brow with his napkin. “Whoa, hey, I think there’s enough water in the river here,” he tried lamely. But Jason grinned around his sad eyes, cheered a little by Clark’s goofy words.
When he returned, Lois got on her hands and knees to mop up the spill. “Jason, honey, are you feeling all right? You’ve hardly touched your food at all.” She looked into his face, which seemed a little paler now than it had.
His eyes fluttered a little. “I’m o—okay, Mommy. Just not very… hungry.”
Her instincts told her differently. “I don’t think so, Jasey. You look sick to me. Maybe we should put you to bed.”
The disappointment and panic that flew into his eyes was heartbreaking. “No! No, I—I want to stay up. Please.” But his pleading couldn’t hide his trembling hands.
She began to help Jason down from his chair. “Listen, mister, there’ll be other days to visit. Now it’s time for you—” Knock. That infernal sound again, from under the deck.
She turned to look at Richard. “Did you hear that? That’s what I was hearing last night.”
“Well, do you want me to get the flashlight and check it out?”
She nodded distractedly. She needed to get Jason up to bed as soon as possible. “Sure.”
“Jason, I hope you feel better,” Clark said, with real concern. Somewhat reluctantly, he added, “Maybe I should go home now… what with the way Jason’s feeling and all…”
She suddenly remembered Clark was still standing there. He wiped a nervous arm across his sweaty forehead. Lois began apologetically. “Oh, no, Clark. It’ll be just a few minutes, and we can continue talking over coffee.”
“In fact,” Richard suggested, “Clark, I’ve got an extra set of waders in the garage. Do you mind coming out with me to check out this ‘mysterious sound’?”
“Uh, well, I’m not… not a great…” he said in an odd, strained voice.
“Yes!” she agreed heartily. “It’ll give you two some time to bond.” She took Jason by the hand to lead him inside.
As mother and son walked toward the staircase, she heard Richard beckon to Clark. “So. You coming?”
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A/N: You will never believe it, but at the very moment I finished typing the bit about Jason spilling his water on the floor, my daughter called out that she had spilled her drink all over (yogurt smoothie, yuck). Talk about serendipity! ;)
Next chapter: Chapter 8: Below