Chapter 23: Issues
Lois didn’t know how long she stood there, observing him through the wide windows. Richard sat in profile to her, glancing frequently down the street toward the Daily Planet building. She had parked on the other side of the Starbucks, hoping to arrive ahead of Richard, but she had failed. There had been traffic, and she supposed she could have used the ‘Superman Express’ – but she didn’t really feel right doing that… And so now she stood just outside, her feet frozen to the sidewalk…
Come on, Lane, you can do it, she encouraged herself, although she wasn’t completely sure that she could do it. Maybe we could just disappear – who needs passports and papers when you can fly? Jason would enjoy seeing the world…
It was a measure of her nervousness that she was actually having these thoughts at all. Just because she was known as fearless didn’t mean that she didn’t feel fear. She usually ignored it because her insatiable curiosity and need to get the story had always been far stronger.
Richard glanced at his watch, checking for the umpteenth time. It was probably only a few minutes past the time she said she would meet him, but he had been checking it since she had been standing there… Finally, he glanced in her direction, and she started guiltily. That small movement got her feet going, though. She pushed through the doors with a fresh sense of determination.
Her ex-fiancé half-rose from his chair in deference, but she waved him down, pulling out the chair and sitting. “Hi.” She didn’t meet his gaze as she settled her purse and bag beside her. When she finally looked up into his face, the haggard but unflinching look in his eyes nearly caused her to stagger in her seat.
“Good morning, Lois.” He gestured toward the steaming cup of coffee in front of her, a cappuccino prepared exactly as she liked it.
“Thank you,” she said gratefully, taking a careful sip. Still hot. So he had obviously not been waiting long. At the coffee shop, at least.
Richard remained silent, watching her intently. He was clearly waiting for her to begin the conversation.
So she swallowed thickly. Again, she plucked up her courage. “Richard, it was wrong of me to just run out on you like that, and I’m sorry.”
He nodded, seemingly calm. But his cloudy eyes made reading his mood difficult.
“I realized very suddenly that it was over. I still love you, Richard, but…” She was reluctant to go into any further detail. There was too much at stake. “I didn’t want to commit to something that we would both later regret.”
He remained impassive. Was there bleak acceptance behind that mask? Simmering anger? Despair?
She tentatively reached out to touch his hand where it rested on the table. “This is going to be very hard on Jason. He needs to know that we both still love him, and that none of this is his fault. I hope that you’ll help me explain things to him.”
In a very low voice, he finally responded. “Explain what? That we’re splitting up?”
She began to reply, but he cut in before she could even utter a sound.
“Or that he’s not my son?” He grew louder, and a bitter tone infused his voice. “That you’re trading me in for his ‘real dad’?”
“Richard… I…” she tried to interject, but he plowed on.
“Or are you going to ask me to help you explain the real reason all these strange things have happened to him?” Richard’s voice was beginning to carry. “Am I even necessary? You might as well ask S—”
“Richard!” she hissed, cutting him off. “Keep your voice down!” They were regular customers here. She was famous enough by her own merits that people could recognize her by sight. And her association with Superman had made her even more famous.
A woman sitting behind Richard turned curiously toward their table. Lois gave her a pointed look, and the woman bent over her Frappuccino in embarrassment, deep brown hair covering her face.
Richard quieted down, but the blaze of anger in his eyes dimmed not at all. “Cut the bullshit, Lois. You know that I love Jason, and I would do anything for him. Don’t gloss over the real issue here… you left me for…” he struggled with not saying the exact word, “…him.”
She should have known that her tepid explanation wouldn’t satisfy him. But what could she tell him that wouldn’t compromise Clark’s secret? She matched Richard’s hushed volume. “Richard… I can’t talk about it…”
“And why not?” he grated. “You promised me an explanation. Tell me, Lois. Did you run straight into his arms last night?”
She blushed deep red, taken aback by the venom in his voice. During their time together, Richard had always been so supportive of her, had even let her take the lead in their relationship most of the time… This was going to take some getting used to.
Again, she found herself unable to say anything more than, “I…”
He pressed on with his quiet tirade. “Where does he even live, some sort of space station? Watching over us like a god?”
“No! He doesn’t! It’s not like that at all…” She trailed off again.
His eyes narrowed. “So you do know where he lives. It didn’t take you long to find out, did it?”
Richard had every right to be angry, but enough was enough. Her back straightened, and she matched his tone with a fire of her own. “Nothing has happened between us. Nothing ever happened while I was engaged to you. How dare you even suggest it?” she spat. “We have more respect for you, and for Jason than that.”
At her words, a look of hurt came into his eyes. As insistent as he was about learning whether she had really decided to pursue a relationship with Superman, it still pained him to hear it again. He began to speak in a lower voice. “How much do you really know about him, Lois? What kind of life could you really have with him? And Jason, too?” He leaned closer to her. “How can he do any of the things a normal dad needs to do? He can’t take him to the doctor, bring him along to work, go to piano recitals… You’ll essentially be a single parent, with him off saving the world all the time.”
She suppressed the urge to argue with him. Of course Clark could do all those things with Jason, just not while he was ‘on the job.’ But Richard obviously saw Superman as a being who was off ‘saving the world,’ as he said, 24/7. It would be much simpler to let him keep believing that.
“We’ll be fine,” she said stubbornly.
“And how do you know he won’t disappear again? He left you, pregnant and alone five years ago without so much as a ‘by your leave.’ Have you suddenly forgotten that?” Worry slid across his face. “Does he have some sort of mental hold on you?”
She let out a mirthless laugh at the last part, but rose to defend her beloved. “You don’t know anything at all about what really happened, Richard…”
“Because you never told me!” he interrupted fiercely.
“He didn’t know about Jason when he left. Hell, I didn’t know. We never could have guessed that we were even compatible…” She shook her head, and continued sadly, “I am so sorry this happened. If I had known, I would never have led you to believe he was your son. But you have to see how dangerous it would be for anyone to find out whose son he really is,” she pleaded.
He softened for a moment. “Oh, I understand. I understand very well.” Then his voice strengthened again. “And being with him will subject the both of you to that danger every moment! At least with me, the only father Jason’s ever known, he would be safe from that. Could you live with yourself if anything happened to him?” How can you be so selfish? were the words he left unsaid.
Of course Richard was right about the danger, and Luthor was proof of that. But her eyes blazed in response. Lois held his gaze with firm determination, willing him to see just how serious she was.
He let out a heavy breath. “I can see there’s no arguing with you about this, Lois. You’ve made your decision, and you’ll stick with it. I know you well enough to know that.”
“I have,” she said quietly.
“And if you can’t stay with me, then so be it. I’ll help you tell Jason.”
“Thank you,” she said, relieved.
“But,” he continued, his eyes turning hard, “I think you are making a big mistake. I can’t bear to see you… and Jason… in such an uncertain and dangerous situation. I care about you too much.”
He looked back at her with matching determination, and a chill went through her. She had tried to give away as few details as possible, to try to draw his attention away from the possibility of Superman having another identity…
An anxious knot began in her stomach. Richard rose, picked up his briefcase, and looked down at her before heading toward the door. “Whatever I can do to convince you of that… I will. See you at the Planet, Lois.”
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A/N: Well, I hope the chapter wasn't too short for you all... I had another section almost as long planned, but I decided the story would flow better if I moved it to Ch. 24. Thank you all again for your fabulous support!Next: Chapter 24: Worry