Chapter 20: The Dance
Richard stepped around Lois’ frozen form to clap Clark on the shoulder and give him a handshake. “Thanks, buddy. I appreciate you doing this on such short notice.”
“Sure,” Clark responded with a wan smile. “It’s no problem at all. I—I’m sure Jason and I can find something to do.”
Jason, who had been bouncing on his toes, giggled with excitement.
Lois finally managed to break her inertia. She hadn’t planned for Clark and Jason to get time alone in this of all ways, but she knew to grab a hold of an opportunity when it arose. “I’m sure you can.” She and Clark shared a significant glance. He nodded ever so slightly.
“Are you sure it’s all right for him to stay overnight with you?” Richard added. Overnight? Lois looked between Clark and her fiancé sharply and arched an eyebrow in surprise.
Both men ignored her reaction. “Yes. It’s fine,” Clark assured him. Jason simply beamed, and hitched his backpack on his shoulder in preparation to leave.
She closed her eyes and shook her head slightly. So this was why Clark had been acting strangely all afternoon. She had thought he had been upset by the almost-kiss, but Richard must have waylaid him in the archives. Why didn’t he tell me? Did he think he was being noble or something?
Since she had rediscovered his secret, Clark had tried to respect her feelings for Richard and stay out of the way. A lesser man would probably have pressed the issue, forcing her to make a decision immediately. He was probably beating himself up over what had almost happened between them that afternoon, fully shouldering the responsibility. Only self-sacrificing Clark would actually agree to babysit so that his rival could have a romantic dinner with the woman he loved.
It’s as much my fault as his, but there’s no way to explain that to him right now…
She knelt down beside Jason. “Have fun with Mister Clark, and be good, okay?” At Jason’s nod she turned to look up at Richard. “Does he have everything? His medication, his inhaler, two changes of clothes…?”
“Yes, Mommy,” Richard replied indulgently. “But before I forget, Clark, we need to get your home phone number and address. I’ll go get a notepad and a pen…”
As Richard slipped away toward the kitchen, Lois looked past Clark to see the waiting taxi. With her fiancé momentarily out of earshot, she felt as if she should say something, anything…
But the two of them just stood awkwardly, each not really looking at anyone except Jason, who was growing more impatient by the second. He was really anxious to go, it seemed. How funny that he had grown so attached to Clark so quickly! Was there some primal connection that he sensed, even at his tender age…?
“Here you go, Clark,” Richard said, cutting into her thoughts as he handed the paper and pen to their ‘babysitter.’ Clark quickly wrote his information down and handed it back.
Lois gave Jason a quick hug and kiss. “See you tomorrow, honey.”
“Okay, Mommy. Bye, Daddy.” He waved at his parents and started walking toward the taxi, Clark hurrying to keep up with his eager charge.
“Bye, sport. We’ll be over to pick you up for school in the morning, okay?”
Clark held open the rear door to let Jason crawl in. “Okay,” Jason called, voice already muffled inside the vehicle.
They waved as the taxi drove away, and as she kept her eyes on the dwindling taillights, Richard placed his hand on her shoulder. “I’ll go open some wine and get the salads on the table. Would you like to freshen up before dinner?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said distractedly. The car turned the corner and was out of sight.
“He’ll be fine, you know. Clark seems to have a real way with him – that’s why I asked him to watch Jason in the first place.” Richard gave her shoulder a last caress before going to the table.
Lois felt a silent ironic laugh bubble up. Hoping she would be heard, she quietly spoke into the darkness. “Make the most of it, Super-Dad.”
- - - - -
“Are you finished with that?” Richard reached out for her dinner plate, attentive as a waiter. She nodded around her sip of wine, and he removed the heavy plate deftly. He had insisted on doing everything – setting, serving, clearing – and she had lacked for nothing.
She heard the water turn on in the sink, and let her thoughts roam again, as they had several times this evening, to Clark. The same thing happened throughout dinner, and she just barely managed to cover. Richard’s only reaction had been a brief narrowing of his eyes when she took just a little too long to answer his questions. Whether he was chalking it up to worry over the investigation, which was likely to be canned in the morning due to an utter lack of evidence, or to the real reason, her relationship with Superman… she didn’t know. He never said a word, specifically trying to keep this night about the two of them, and them only.
If only she could! Her thoughts kept drifting to the afternoon’s near-disaster and the evening Clark must be having with his son. Would he make some excuse and then suddenly show up as Superman? Would he try to talk to Jason about things in a roundabout way as Clark? Would he – horror of horrors – somehow reveal himself? Clark is a big boy, she chided herself. He’s been playing Jekyll and Hero for years…
In the background, a soft collection of jazz standards set a romantic mood, and the candles had burned nearly down, wax drizzling across the candlesticks in an almost sensual way. She should be feeling romantic, she wanted to be… Taking a deep breath, she purposefully remembered some of the special times she and Richard had shared. The night they had met on the roof… the office Christmas party where they had first made their relationship public… the ballroom dance class they had taken together… She smiled at the memory.
Richard was a born dancer. He had moved into the new steps with ease, a man confident about himself and his body. Lois, always a little on edge, faltered over and over again. But he had been patient and kind. And finally by the end of the session, she was able to do a simple swing step, even an occasional turn, without making a complete fool of herself.
“A String of Pearls” began on the stereo, and Lois closed her eyes. She began to sway gently to the music, feet below the table moving in time to the steps she had learned. She hummed along quietly with the saxophone riff, lost in recollection.
Suddenly, she felt a pair of eyes on her. She opened them and saw Richard, standing with two dessert plates in hand. His warm, knowing grin almost made her blush. He gently set the plates down on the table and held out his hand to her, palm facing upward. “May I have this dance?”
Laying her hand in his, he gallantly brought her to her feet and spun her into dancer’s position. They fell into the steps naturally, even though the class had been a couple of years ago. Lois’ heart began to beat faster with the exertion, and she let the movement carry her back to a simpler time in their relationship.
With the start of a new song, the music shifted to a slower tempo. Wordlessly, Richard pulled her into a tighter embrace. They did a simple step-touch and she slowly let her head fall onto his shoulder, breathing in his scent. His arms felt so comfortable, so calming. His strong feelings for her, combined with his acceptance and love for all her faults were a powerful aphrodisiac. Richard brought a hand down to stroke her hair as they swayed. “Mm,” she murmured with pleasure, finally able to enjoy the moment.
“It’s been such a long time since we’ve just spent an evening together, hasn’t it?” Richard murmured into her hair.
“Yes. With Jason…”
“And the Planet…”
“I’ve missed this,” Richard continued. “The times after Jason was in bed, just talking, or sitting together on the couch…” He paused. “Where did they…” But he trailed off, clearly not wanting to revisit the big red-caped issue between them.
He gently lifted her chin off of his shoulder to look into her eyes. “And I’ve missed this, too…” Then his mouth descended on hers, and she closed her eyes, anticipating it, needing to feel the connection between them again.
She gave her all to the kiss, and it felt wonderful. He was gentle, not at all demanding, and a feeling of tenderness for him began in her chest, spreading outward toward her arms. She drew him closer to her, their lips moving in almost as perfect a dance as the steps they had just performed.
He responded by lowering his arm to pull her tightly against him, passion taking hold. The slow song they had been dancing to ended, and another began, but neither one of them really noticed.
She let her mind wander, giving herself completely over to the sensations of the kiss. Her fingers traveled across his strong shoulders, into his thick, brown hair. In her mind’s eye, the living room walls faded away to white, and she was floating. Although she didn’t realize it, her body thrummed in tune with Sarah Vaughan’s smoky alto:
Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars
In other words, hold my hand
In other words, darling, kiss me…
Lois felt that strange stirring again in her heart, and knew that when she looked into his deep, blue eyes again, there would be more love for her than for all the people in the world he so cared about…
She gasped, going cold all over with horror and guilt. She had been immersed deeply in a fantasy of kissing Clark!
Richard misunderstood her gasp of horror for one of passion, and began to trail kisses down her neck. “Lois… do you think tonight…?”
She found herself unable to think, unable to move.
He lightly touched his lips to her earlobe, and whispered seductively, “Upstairs, I have a surprise I think you’ll like…” Then he breathed warmly into her ear as he took her lobe between his teeth.
Lois shuddered, but not in pleasure. She was finally able to move away from him, trembling. She and Richard had not made love since Superman had returned a few weeks ago. She had begged off in exhaustion, and at the time, she truly felt it. But had her subconscious mind been telling her somehow that she could no longer betray her true love?
What? Oh, my God, this was so confusing! She took a step backward, and Richard looked into her eyes in surprise. He saw a different emotion there than he had been expecting after the intensity of the kiss.
And the confusion and hurt in his own eyes sealed her decision. “Richard, I…” She fumbled with her engagement ring. “I can’t do this to you anymore… it’s not fair to you… or to me…”
Lois pressed the ring into his hands, kissed him on the cheek and whispered, “Goodbye.” And then she fled, haunted by the look in her ex-fiancé’s eyes and the lyrics to the song:
In other words, I love you…
Lois didn’t really care, didn’t really know where she was driving at first. Her tears blinded her to the moonlit road, smearing the streetlights into a wash of brightness across her vision, and she kept having to swipe them away to see to drive.
But now, as she walked toward the building, clutching her jacket tightly around her shivering body, she understood there was only one place to go.
She stepped into the alcove, took a deep, steadying breath, and pressed the intercom buzzer. A voice, full of astonishment, crackled through the speaker. “Hello?”
“Clark – can I come up? It’s Lois.”
End of Act II.Next: Chapter 21: Rain