By Lanie <email@example.com>
Submitted: November 2002
Summary: Lois takes advantage of a company picnic to do a little flirting with her handsome partner. But will it lead to her learning a secret?
The question has often plagued me: where did Clark stash his clothes when he transformed into Superman? That question was the embryonic source of a story that took on a life of its own. This story takes place somewhere in the first season.
Jimmy Olsen was a naturally cheerful person, but as he hung the flyers announcing the Planet's annual company picnic, his thoughts were less happy than usual.
"Here I am, once again being Mr. White's go-fer," he thought with irritation. Tacking one on the bulletin board near the water cooler, he could see Lois conferring with Clark.
"Those two seem to think of me as their personal research assistant." His eyes landed on the cute new intern whose job description actually was that of research assistant. Fat chance she'd ever go out with him. She looked at him like the nobody he was, while she herself always seemed to be doing something important. "For her this is just a step on the road to becoming a reporter like Lois. But me? Hah! Like the Chief is suddenly going to say to himself, gee, that Olsen is one talented kid. With talent like his I ought to make him a photojournalist. Or head of the technical support staff." Jimmy sighed disgustedly. "Oh, yeah, that'll happen. When pigs fly."
Jimmy's thoughts were interrupted by a shout of, "Olsen!" from Perry's office. In spite of himself, it pleased him to hear it. Any attention from Perry White was better than none. Besides, someday a miracle could happen, and the Chief might call him in to assign him a job more worthy of his abilities. He walked through the office door with an eager smile and said, "Yes, Chief?"
"Jimmy, do you remember where I put that volleyball after last year's picnic? I could swear on Elvis's cape that I put it on the closet shelf in here." As Perry spoke, he rummaged through the junk precariously piled there.
"Actually, Mr.White, I remember you saying that you were going to buy a new one because that one kept leaking air."
"Well, I don't have time to buy one before the picnic," Perry said, his tone implying that Jimmy had made the suggestion. He began to reach for his wallet, and Jimmy felt himself deflating like the volleyball when he realized he was going to be sent on another mindless errand. Then Perry's face brightened. "You know what, Jimmy, we don't need to buy a new one." He walked to his desk and pulled out a key ring Jimmy had never seen before. "Go up to the eighth floor. Head all the way down the hall on your left. You'll see a door with no number or name on it. Here's the key. Look around in there until you find a volleyball."
"Gee, Chief, I thought I knew every room in this place. What is this mysterious room?"
"I know it's hard for you to imagine, Olsen, but once I was a young cub like yourself here at the Planet. Every day after work, a group of us would get together to play basketball, softball, football, volleyball…you name it. On real nice days, we'd play at lunchtime. The only problem was where to keep the balls. Then one day my editor sent me to that unmarked room. The old fella had kept an armchair and a stash of bourbon up there for when he needed a little quiet time. He didn't use it anymore because his knees bothered him too much to walk up there, but he'd been looking everywhere for an old book of his and thought he might have left it in there.
"The place was cold and dirty and mildewed; hadn't been used in years. I never found the book, but the room had a closet that was completely empty, and I knew I'd found a place to hide the balls."
Jimmy beamed with admiration. "Wow, Chief, it's hard to picture you doing something like that."
"Olsen, did I just give you a job to do, or not? Now get on it."
Now here was an adventure. Going into a room that might not have been opened in years…a room hardly anyone at the Planet knew existed. Jimmy decided to take the stairs to the eighth floor, partly because he wanted to enjoy this moment all by himself. When he got there, it seemed strangely quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the city room. It appeared to be mostly cubicles where people typed quietly. He wondered what they did. A couple of muted voices were talking on phones, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. Sometime he'd have to find out what went on here. Meanwhile, he had a job to do and headed down the deserted hall to the left. Most of the rooms were marked for storage or supplies. Then he found the unmarked door, put in the key, and opened it.
Sure enough, there was a dusty armchair, and behind it, a closet. Jimmy opened one of the double doors, and several balls fell out. He grabbed the volleyball, sadly in need of air, and was about to put the others back when something on the back of the shelf caught his eye. He set the balls down again to investigate and discovered a pair of glasses sitting atop a neatly folded set of dress clothes. On the floor he saw a pair of black men's dress shoes and socks. Jimmy picked up the glasses and shook his head in surprise as he recognized them. This was too weird. He had to be mistaken. Putting everything back but the volleyball, he walked down the hall again.
When he got back to the main part of the floor, he couldn't resist the urge to peek over a shoulder and find out what these people did. As he stood watching a woman feed numbers into a computer, he noticed someone else coming hurriedly down the hall he'd just left. It was Clark Kent, adjusting his tie…no, buttoning his top shirt button and adjusting his tie. Jimmy decided not to make his presence known. When Clark had disappeared into the elevator, Jimmy walked back up that hall and reentered the room. Sure enough, the clothes and glasses were gone. But something far stranger had taken their place, and Jimmy realized that he now knew something a lot bigger than the existence of Perry's secret room. The thrill of discovery was mixed with concern over just what he should do with this new information. He had some serious thinking to do. He felt a heady exhilaration as he headed back to the newsroom.
Lois was primed for the picnic. It was one of her favorite days of the year. She had no real friends in Metropolis other than her colleagues, so the picnic was a highlight of her social calendar.
She had set up the volleyball tournament. Putting together the teams was like solving a logic puzzle. Certain groups had longstanding rivalries, and they would insist on staying together each year. This year she would have to find a place for Clark. With a body like his, he should be a ringer. Several team managers had requested that she add him to their rosters. Oddly enough, Clark hadn't wanted to play. She'd had to harass him into doing it; a few well- chosen remarks about Kansans did the trick. She had decided not to put him on her own team. Muscle boys like him tended to be ball hogs. Besides, she had to admit to herself that she was looking forward to watching Clark play volleyball. It would tell her a lot about him. She wondered why he'd been reluctant to play. Maybe he had heard that the male players traditionally took their shirts off before the game, the weather generally being pretty hot in July. Well, it wasn't as if he had anything to hide in that department. She'd had a glimpse of him shirtless and had to admit that she wouldn't mind seeing him that way again. It was one more reason to look forward to the tournament. Not that she was interested in Clark that way, but she did have a right to appreciate a well-built man.
The day of the picnic was a scorcher as usual. They had been let out of work at 3:30 to go home, change, and travel to the state park where they reserved a picnic pavilion and volleyball area. Walking out of the air-conditioned building, a wall of heat met Lois and Clark.
"At least it will be cooler at the park," Lois said to her partner as they headed down the street. "Don't be late. Yours is one of the first teams scheduled to play."
"You really take this volleyball thing seriously, don't you, Lois? I never figured you for such a jock," Clark observed wryly.
"If your team wins its round, you'll get to play against me. Then you'll see that my reputation at the Planet is based on more than just my go-for-the-throat reporting tactics." She gave him a challenging look, which he wisely ignored. "See you in an hour. Don't get lost. And dress sensibly. Do you even own shorts?"
Clark rolled his eyes. "Bye, Lois. See you soon."
Dressing sensibly. It was a complex question of looking sexy while feeling comfortable and yet giving the impression that you had just thrown something on. And it was something else that Lois hated to put into words, even if only in her own mind. How could she be taken seriously as a prize-winning reporter/formidable volleyball opponent yet maintain her status as one of the best-looking women at the Planet? These conflicting self-images fought a constant battle. Still, did a liberated woman have to sacrifice looking good to be taken seriously? If she did, wouldn't that be a sacrifice as well? Why did a simple thing like getting dressed have to become a philosophy session? After trying on many combinations, she'd settled on a short white T-shirt with her college logo, cut small, but not too revealing, and a pair of shorts cut high enough to show off her long legs. A baseball cap, with her ponytail pulled through it, made her look like a serious volleyball player, she thought.
Arriving at the grove, she got out of the car with her volleyball schedule and found herself looking around for Clark. By the time she found him eating a brownie near the dessert table, she had endured a sexist comment from Ralph, who would probably swear he was just complimenting her appearance, and she'd gritted her teeth as she walked past the boys from the pressroom. From the corner of her eye she caught their leers and smirks as they ogled her legs. She hadn't worn these shorts for them. Who had she worn them for? Much to her chagrin, she realized that she had worn them for the man eating a brownie a few feet in front of her. Even now he, too, was eyeing her admiringly, and she was enjoying that in a way that galled her.
How she wished that the farmboy did not have the power to affect her like this. To add to her exasperation with herself, she realized she had been ogling him right back. The man looked incredible in shorts and a polo shirt. Had it taken him an hour to dress? Lois was sure that it hadn't, and that further irritated her.
"Great food here, Lois. So when does this famous volleyball tournament begin?"
"Well, Clark, most of the players prefer to play without a full stomach, so the games are played right away, before supper. Actually, I've got to go post the schedule on the pavilion. Your team plays in the second round, so maybe your snacks will digest before you play."
"Hey, Kent!" It was Bill from the graphic design department. "You guys are goin' down. I know Phil thinks you'll be his secret weapon, but we've got Mike. He's six inches taller than you. Can't wait for your first showdown at the net with him. When do we start, Lois?"
"Get your team together, and we're ready. Jodi's team is down there warming up already."
As Bill walked away, calling to his teammates, Lois looked at Clark. She had noticed a strange look on his face as Bill had goaded him. Clark was a funny one. He looked so strong and athletic, seemed to love sports, yet she never saw him play with the other young guys from the Planet. He had a way of keeping to himself. She bet that she knew him better than anyone else in Metropolis. Maybe he was uncoordinated. Maybe his poor vision interfered with his ability to play ball so he avoided it to save himself embarrassment. She didn't want to feel responsible for causing him some horrible humiliation.
Jimmy's team quickly lost the first round against Bill's. His captain, Jody, had laid out a strategy for them ahead of time, but they were no match for Bill's buddy, Mike. At six-foot-seven, Mike could spike balls before anyone else got near them. However, Jimmy felt that he, personally, had played well, serving a couple of bullets and diving to make a save. And the pretty new intern, Cassie, had been watching the game. Maybe this was the opening he needed with her.
He plopped down on the grassy bank where Lois and Cassie sat with the other spectators.
"Nice work out there, Jimmy," Cassie said as his heart flip-flopped. "It's really not fair for them to have Mike. I heard he plays in a league at the Y three times a week. I guess they'll pulverize this next team, too."
"How come you didn't sign up for a team, Cassie?"
"Too sweaty for me. It must be 95 degrees. Even the shade here in the grove doesn't help much. Look how curly my hair is. That means the humidity is sky-high. Ooh, look, Lois. The guys are all taking their shirts off."
Jimmy, who had felt a small window of opportunity with Cassie, now felt it closing as she stared admiringly at the hunks in the sand. Mike, particularly, had the physique of a gym fanatic. Jimmy was glad he didn't have to remove his own shirt, since he wouldn't have wanted to risk a comparison. His eyes fell on a shirtless Clark Kent resentfully. Well, he ought to be buff, Jimmy thought, remembering the secret he knew. This could be an interesting game, since C.K. could probably hit the ball to Mars if he chose to.
Cassie was talking to Lois. It was obviously girl talk, not meant for his ears, but Jimmy had the bad luck to overhear what Cassie was saying.
"You know, Mike is all muscles, but he's got that unnatural look, like he's on steroids or something. Now, Clark, he looks good. Who knew he was so hot!"
Lois looked at her shirtless partner and felt a strange yet pleasant sensation. Looking at a bare-chested Clark Kent was more pleasant than she remembered from her previous brief glimpse, and that memory had been on her mind all too often. She admired not only how he looked, but also the fair way he was playing, refusing to steal the ball, setting it up to mediocre players. He truly is a nice guy, she thought, not at all the show-off that guys who looked like him usually were. Guys like Mike. Finally she said, half to Cassie and half to herself, "Yeah, who knew?"
Cassie glanced at Lois, who was staring at Clark. Was it possible that Lois Lane, independent career woman, star reporter, had a crush on her partner? Oh well, I guess she's human, too, thought Cassie. This woman had been Cassie's role model since she'd first discovered the Lois Lane by-line a few years ago. Now, in her dream summer job as research assistant, she took samples of her writing to Lois for approval and criticism. To be the next Lois Lane was her dream, and she longed for a more permanent Planet job. Maybe this picnic would provide a chance for some networking.
Lois was trying to appear to watch the game, but watching Clark was sending her thoughts in unwanted directions…to a kiss in a honeymoon suite. Was it possible that she was attracted to this Kansas farmboy? He might not be Superman, but he sure was cute.
Jimmy, too, was lost in his own thoughts. He wished he'd spent a little more time at the gym and a little less time in front of a computer screen. How could he ever compete for a girl like Cassie when there were all these shirtless hunks showing off? One of the shirtless hunks was actually Superman. Look at Lois staring at him. If she only knew!
Clark was trying to concentrate on the game. In high school he had avoided team sports, unsure of his ability to contain his powers. In gym classes, he held back, often losing games for his teams because he was afraid of his strength. Then in college, he had gradually begun to participate, learning that if he maintained his concentration, he could control his strength. Still, he didn't seek out opportunities to play ball with friends at the YMCA or in the park. He would never forgive himself if he injured someone through carelessness.
If it hadn't been for Lois implying that he might be uncoordinated or incapable of physical activity that didn't involve farm chores, he would have skipped this game today. His team captain, Phil, however, had been elated to have him. The rest of the team looked like this might be their only exercise in months. Maybe that explained why Mike never took his eyes off Clark, staring at him with a gleeful challenge in his expression. Mike rarely let anyone else on his team near the ball except to serve, and he directed every shot toward Clark, looking on with scorn when Clark politely set the ball up to his teammates.
Vying for Clark's attention was Lois, whose eyes seemed to be only on him. Her expression was one he had only seen her direct toward Superman. Man, she was beautiful. Even more so when she looked at him that way!
Now he and Mike faced each other at the net. As Mike leaped into the air to smack a ball directly at Clark's head, Lois cried Clark's name in alarm. The look of genuine concern on her face distracted him as he jumped up to meet the ball with his fist before it hit him in the face.
The noise of Clark's fist connecting with the volleyball was so loud that people thought a shot had been fired. When the ball exploded in mid-air, they looked around in panic. A collective gasp went up.
"Damn! It's all my fault for using that old ball. Must have been defective," Perry announced. "Anybody got another ball with them?"
"I've got one in my car if we can find a pump," Phil volunteered. "Why don't we take a break and meet back here in an hour. By then we should be ready to roll again."
As the players and spectators wandered away, Cassie overheard bits of conversations.
"That ball felt fine to me."
"Weirdest thing I ever saw."
"Too hot to play, anyway. Let's go get a beer."
She noticed that Lois had already gone over to talk to Clark, who looked pretty upset. Cassie got up to walk over to a spot below where the ball had exploded. She began a visual search of the ground around her.
"What'ya lookin' for, Cassie?" asked Jimmy.
"There are no pieces of the ball anywhere," she said pensively, toeing the sand at her feet. "It was almost like a bomb went off. Even when Letterman drops watermelons off tall buildings there are pieces lying around. There's a story here, Jimmy, and I intend to find out what it is."
Jimmy hesitated. He was still weighing the consequences of telling anyone what he had learned about Clark. But if he told her, beautiful, smart Cassie would look at him with new interest. He would be somebody in her eyes. Besides, maybe he needed to talk to someone about the whole thing.
"I think I know what really happened."
Cassie was looking around for Lois, wanting to discuss her misgivings with her. There might be a story to this that they could write together, especially if Cassie brought Lois some enticing clues. She didn't realize Jim had spoken.
"Cassie, I know what happened to the ball," he said, grabbing her arm.
She looked at him curiously.
"It's something I don't want anyone else to hear. If you want to know, we'll have to find a private place to talk. Maybe over at the gazebo."
"You're on. But this better be good."
The look on Clark's face had alarmed Lois. You'd think he was somehow responsible for what had happened to the ball. As he picked up his shirt and began to walk away alone, his posture telegraphed his misery.
It tore at something in her. She just wanted to put her arms around him and comfort him. She'd seen him overreact to things before and worried that this would send him deeper into the shell he'd erected around himself. Lois hurried to catch up to her partner.
"Are you okay, Clark? That was some loud explosion! Perry should have known better than to use some decrepit old ball. If you hadn't reacted so quickly when that jerk spiked the ball down toward you, we'd probably be waiting for an ambulance right now. What's with that Mike? You'd think he was playing on some pro team. You're actually the better player. Who knew you were so well coordinated? When the game starts up again, show him no mercy." Lois stopped babbling, waiting worriedly for a reaction.
"No more volleyball for me, Lois. I'm not ready for the cutthroat attitude of guys like Mike. A company picnic should be a place for fun and fresh air and exercise, not this. I think I'll just take a walk…just a nice, non- competitive stroll down the nature trail. Alone. Go ahead and talk to your friends. I'll be fine." He pulled his t-shirt back on and tried to look like he meant what he'd just said.
Lois tried to look equally casual as she said, "Well, if you want to be alone, I understand. Too bad, though, cause I know a spot a little way down the trail with a great swimming hole. We could have had it to ourselves, too, cause everyone else will be in the pool."
Clark gave her a speculative look. "Are you sure you want to waste your time with me? It sounds like the party's really picking up back at the pavilion. I know—"
"I'll decide who I want to waste my time with, thank you. Besides, the more beer they guzzle, the more boring they get. Come on. It's hot, and that water will feel great."
Following her down the trail, Clark marveled at the many sides of Lois Lane. Today alone, he had seen Lois the organizer, Lois the concerned friend, and Lois the adventurer. Was he about to see yet another Lois? Suddenly, a thought came to him. Was she inviting him to skinny dip? Hmph, he thought, the only way he'd ever get an invitation to do that with Lois would be as Superman, and he would never take advantage of her infatuation for the superhero like that. He tried to squelch all thoughts of Lois skinny dipping.
Ahead of him, Lois the naturalist was pointing out wildflowers and evidence of beavers. "Look at the bottom of that tree. You can see where they've been chewing at it. There's probably a dam along the stream somewhere. Oh, listen. You can hear the water now. We're nearly there. I love how quiet it is here…just the birds and squirrels. You can't even hear the picnickers anymore." She grabbed his hand and pulled him after her. "C'mon. The humidity is so high I'm sticking to myself." She indicated his hand in hers. "You're not even damp. After playing volleyball in the sun and hiking out here with me! It's not fair. Feel my back. This is how you should feel right now."
As she placed his hand against the small of her back, Clark once again faced the fact that he was completely in love with this woman. He wondered where the next few moments of his life were headed, knowing that his fate was in her hands. What did she really have in mind? He had an overwhelming urge to just grab her and kiss her to see how she would react, but years of self-restraint held him back. It would be best to let Lois continue to take the lead. Safer. Less chance of rejection.
They suddenly veered off the main trail and down the hill on what was little more than a deer path. Boulders edged a rushing stream, but past one boulder, the water was quiet, a glistening, smooth pocket in the stream.
Lois looked at Clark who seemed to be waiting to see what to do next. "You can swim, can't you?"
"We do have pools in Kansas."
"Okay, then, last one in's a rotten egg."
She pulled off her shirt, revealing a white sports bra. Clark would have liked to look at her, but didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the course of events, so he, too, pulled off his shirt. He looked at Lois, who was watching him expectantly.
"Well?" she said.
"Take off your glasses and let's get wet. I think it's hotter than before. The air is so still. Well, what are you waiting for?"
Clark experienced a moment of panic. He should have been worrying more about the need to remove his glasses in front of her than the thought of her removing her clothes in front of him. Deciding that the best approach was a nonchalant one, Clark quickly took off his glasses and laid them on his shirt. Then with a disarming, definitely un- Supermanlike smile, he said, "Well, what are we waiting for?"
For a fleeting instant, something disquieting gnawed at the edge of her mind. But before she could make sense of the vague feeling, Clark took her hand and pulled her into the water. It was cold and deep and wonderful. Together they swam to a midstream rock that seemed to be the end of the swimming hole. Clark got there first and pulled her up onto the rock beside him. It was just big enough for the two of them to sit side to side. He could see goosebumps on her legs.
"Lois, you're cold."
She shivered in reply. Clark wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer. She snuggled her back against his chest. He ran his fingers through her hair to untangle it, his fingers massaging her scalp as he did it. She let out a contented sigh.
"Clark, did you ever have a best friend? In high school, I mean, or college?"
"I guess I've never told you about Pete. We grew up together. He was almost like a brother. We did everything together—worked on the school paper, hung around with the same group of friends. He was always at my house, or I was at his. We weren't as close after high school because we went to different colleges, but we kept in touch. He lives in Los Angeles now, but whenever we're both in Smallville we get together."
"Funny. I always imagined you as this lonely teenager, out on the farm with no social life." She looked up at him, and the concern he saw in her expression stopped him from launching a defense. "I'm not sure what it is, Clark, but you always seem to keep some part of yourself in reserve, as if you're afraid to let anyone get too close. I wouldn't quite call you an introvert, but you can't deny that you don't go out of your way to hang out with guys from the Planet…unless you have some secret life I'm not aware of. I just figured you were probably always that way."
Concerned that his lack of comment indicated annoyance with her, she took his hand in hers and laced her fingers through his. "Don't be mad at me for saying these things, Clark. Personally, I'm such a workaholic that I've sacrificed my own social life, so who am I to talk? The truth is that you are my closest friend. And I guess I hope that I'm yours."
Since they had sat down together on the rock, the proximity of the woman he loved had been making it difficult to think of anything else. Throwing caution to the wind, Clark leaned down to kiss her. Lois was too surprised to protest. She had always found Clark's rare moments of boldness tantalizing. In fact, this moment was growing increasingly tantalizing. She leaned towards him, not sure what she was doing, only knowing that it felt right to do. The movement threw a thoroughly-distracted Clark off-balance, and together they tumbled back into the water.
Clark laughed. "Lois, I was always afraid that you'd tell me to jump in a lake if I kissed you. I just wasn't expecting you to push me."
She laughed and looked at him, treading water. "You know, without your glasses and with your hair wet, you look a lot like Superman. It's amazing, really. I can't believe I never noticed it before."
"Maybe that's why you invited me swimming. Subconsciously, you've been thinking I looked like your hero."
"Take it as a compliment. Most men would be pleased to be told they looked like him."
Clark grabbed her hands and pulled her toward him through the water. She grabbed his shoulders to anchor herself so she could stop treading.
"So why did you invite me swimming?"
"Why do you think?"
"I could speculate, but as a good reporter I know it's better to get a direct quote from the source."
Her arms went around his neck, and she kissed him. Clark was stunned by the aggression in it. There was no doubt that Lois Lane was interested in him and wanted him to know it. He crushed her to his chest and returned her kiss with all the passion that had been building in him. Lois let out a funny noise as his mouth moved down her neck and shoulders, but Clark decided to interpret it as an encouraging noise, so he proceeded with renewed enthusiasm.
Suddenly, she pushed her hands against his chest and leaned away from him.
"Clark, was that thunder? It sounded really close." He stopped to listen. "It was thunder. We'd better get out of the water." She pushed off from his chest and swam back to shore.
By the time he could think straight again, Lois already had her shirt on and was waiting for him. He liked how her clothes clung to her wet body. He liked nearly everything about Lois Lane, and the thing he liked best was that she seemed to like him, too. The last time he'd felt this intoxicated was the first time he'd flown.
"It's raining already," Lois cried as they hurried back up the path. "Oh, well, at least no one will figure out where we've been from our wet hair. And that brings up something else." She turned and stopped, grabbing a handful of his wet shirt. "No one is to know about this. I'm not ready for remarks from the likes of Cat Grant. Understand?"
"Understood." Yet, truthfully, he understood nothing. Was this the start of a relationship or not? Why would she want to hide it? But most importantly, would he ever experience the immense pleasure of kissing her again? Nothing was ever simple when Lois was involved.
Cassie was looking around impatiently as they sat in the gazebo. She really didn't want anyone to see her with Jimmy Olsen. What could he possibly know about the ball exploding? Yet her reporter instincts told her that he might know something. "So what do you know, Jimmy? If this was just some ruse to get me alone…"
"No. Listen, you've got to promise me not to tell anyone what I'm about to tell you."
"All right, all right, I promise. So what is it?"
"Well, Tuesday, Mr. White sent me to get an old volleyball out of storage. The room was in a remote hall on the eighth floor."
"There's an eighth floor?"
"Accountants or somebody work there. Anyway, this room is always locked, and the ball was on a shelf in a locker, but on the back of the shelf there was something else."
Jimmy paused for dramatic effect until he saw the tense, impatient look of his audience.
"It was a man's dress clothes, folded into a pile, with a pair of glasses on top. I thought they looked like the ones Clark Kent wears, but it didn't make any sense. So I left. But before I went back downstairs, C.K. comes walking down that hall where I'd been, adjusting his tie. Now, what could he have been doing back there? Most of those rooms are just storage."
Jimmy paused, and this time he could see that he had Cassie's full attention.
"I went back to the room. Now, instead of the dress clothes, there was something else on the shelf…a pile of red and blue spandex with a cape and boots.
"I don't get it."
"Don't you see? It was Superman's clothes. Clark Kent must be Superman. That must be where he leaves his stuff when he changes back and forth. Haven't you noticed how he's always disappearing?"
Cassie looked stunned. "Are you sure? There could be some other explanation."
"It was the volleyball game that confirmed my suspicions."
Cassie spoke up excitedly. "Right. If Superman got mad and hit a ball with full force, it would probably explode just like that one did. There really is a resemblance when you think about it. It's just that once he has that Superman outfit on, you get distracted and don't really look at his face. My god, Jimmy, you're right!"
"You can't tell anybody, Cassie. C.K. must have a good reason for the secret identity thing. He's a great guy; heck, he's Superman, and I don't want to mess things up for him."
"Sure. Thanks for telling me, Jimmy. You're the best." She pecked his cheek. "Now let's get back to the picnic. You can sit with me at supper if you want to."
Cassie got up and started to walk back toward the picnic area. Jimmy hurried to catch up with her. He'd gotten what he wanted. Cassie was treating him like someone worth noticing. So why did he feel like a jerk? His gut was telling him that he'd just betrayed a friend who'd done nothing to deserve it. Suddenly, it didn't really seem worth it.
Cassie hadn't been able to find Lois before the picnic broke up, rained out. She'd considered calling her at home that night but decided she needed to tell her this news in person. This was going to be the leverage she needed to become Lois Lane's right hand. In fact, this story might even cause Lois to need a new partner, and where would she look but to the person who'd given her the biggest story of her career?
Of course, Jimmy was going to be mad, but he'd get over it, and who cared anyway? She'd only been nice to him at supper to pay him for the information. She would never actually date a nothing like him. Cassie dated men who served purposes. She couldn't imagine Jimmy Olsen being of any more value to her.
No, she would talk to Lois tomorrow. She would wait until Clark Kent made one of his frequent exits and then find a way to get Lois alone. Lois Lane would know exactly what to do with a story like this, and she'd be eternally grateful to Cassie for it.
Lois woke up thinking about her partner. She'd been dreaming about him. X-rated dreams. How had she failed to notice his appeal? Probably because she'd been too busy mooning over Superman. They looked a lot alike, but she now felt that Clark might be the better looking of the two. It was going to be hard at work not to back him into the copy room and lock the door. The man could kiss, and she'd spent most of the night dreaming about what else he could do. She was going to have to shake these thoughts out of her head, or she wouldn't get anything done at work today.
This is the very reason why I never date men I work with anymore, she thought.
It was nine-thirty, and Clark hadn't shown up for work yet. Lois wondered if it had anything to do with her. Jimmy stopped at her desk with a box of donuts.
"C.K. not here yet? He's probably stuck in traffic like half the city. There's an overturned tractor-trailer spilling toxic waste onto the expressway. Superman's there trying to clean up the mess, but no one can get through."
"Thanks, Jimmy. I was getting worried about him."
Jimmy disappeared down the hall, and Cassie came over to Lois' desk.
"Lois, I feel so stupid. I need to make some copies for Perry, but the machine's jammed, and I can't clear it."
"You came to the right person. I never met a jam I couldn't fix. Let's go."
Once in the copy room, Cassie shut and locked the door.
Weird, thought Lois, this was in my fantasy, only it was Clark locking the door.
"Lois, I have to talk to you, and this was the only place I could think of where no one would hear us. Someone dropped a really big news story in my lap, and I'm not sure how to handle it."
"Okay, Cassie, you've got my complete attention. What is this big story?"
Cassie proceeded to tell Lois everything that Jimmy had told her. When she'd finished, she said, "So, what do you think we should do with the story? Make it a Planet exclusive? Maybe Clark would even consent to an interview. After all, it is his paper. Or if you think he'll be mad, maybe we should take it to another paper. Either way, I want you to have the byline. No one could write this story the way you could."
Lois knew without a doubt that every word of this story was true. She knew that Jimmy and Cassie had reached entirely accurate conclusions. She quickly reached a conclusion of her own before she spoke.
"Cassie, I almost wish you were right because I'm completely embarrassed to tell you the truth. Clark Kent is not Superman, unfortunately. You've probably heard that I have a big crush on the man in tights?"
Cassie nodded. Who hadn't heard?
"What no one knows is that I've been having an affair with Clark."
"I'm not surprised. I saw how you were looking at him during the volleyball game," Cassie said. At least she had been right about one thing.
"Anyway, Clark and I have sometimes been meeting in a room on the eighth floor when Perry thinks we're researching a story." She dropped her eyes and managed to blush convincingly. "Please don't tell anyone what I'm about to say. I'd die if this got out." Cassie nodded eagerly. "Sometimes I get Clark to dress up as Superman. You understand? It's just a fantasy of mine, and Clark enjoys it, too. So, you see, the explanation of what Jimmy saw is not exactly front page news unless you're writing for the Tattler. As for the exploding volleyball, I think Perry was right about that old, fragile ball. It must have disintegrated into so many pieces that you just couldn't find them in the grass. Anyway, promise me this stays between us? Don't say anything to Jimmy. I'll get Clark to talk to him."
Cassie touched Lois' hand reassuringly. "Your secret's safe with me, Lois. You know, Clark is really cute. You shouldn't be ashamed to let people know you're seeing him. "
"You're probably right. I'll probably let that cat out of the bag soon. Well, I've got to get back to work now. Cassie, thanks for coming to me with this."
Cassie beamed. "Thanks, Lois. I'll talk to you later."
As Cassie left the room, Lois sat back heavily in the chair. Of course Clark was Superman. She'd looked right at him without his glasses and seen it for herself, commented on it. Thinking back, he hadn't denied it. He'd never told her that he wasn't Superman. He hadn't even denied the resemblance. Maybe he'd been hoping she'd figure it out. After all, he never normally took his glasses off. Not even to clean them. Other people took them off just to rest their eyes or rub them…but not Clark. He pointedly kept them on even while playing volleyball. So he must have wanted her to figure it out, but she'd been too stupid.
"You look a lot like Superman," she'd said.
Poor Clark. He'd done everything but say, "Look at me, Lois. I am Superman."
"Clark is Superman." The thought made her heave an awed sigh. What overwhelmed her the most was the knowledge that Clark felt strongly enough about her that he'd wanted her to know his secret, even if he hadn't realized it. Maybe he even loved her. And maybe she loved him, too, because she knew before she ever said it that the tale of her fantasy playing with Clark could be all over the newsroom by the end of the day. Would it be worth it? She thought of all the things he had done for her as both Superman and Clark in the all-too-short time since he had first walked into the Planet. He'd brought her coffee, listened to her problems, made her feel that someone cared, and had been a terrific partner. Not to mention saving her life on numerous occasions. Obviously, he felt that the secret of his dual identity was important to keep. In fact, she could see that only through that secret would a relationship between them be possible. Was preserving his secret going to be worth some personal humiliation for her? She concluded that there was nothing she wouldn't do for him.
She walked back to her desk, wondering how to explain the situation to Clark. Would he be pleased that she had lied to save his secret, or upset that people would think of him as the man who would wear tights to fulfill a woman's fantasies? As she pondered his possible reactions, she could see Cassie giving Jimmy an earful by the water cooler. The look on Jimmy's face assured her that Cassie hadn't waited for Clark to talk to Jimmy. The smug expression on Cassie's face as she strutted back to her desk told Lois that it wouldn't be long before the whole newsroom had heard the story. Maybe it wasn't too late for some spin control.
Lois walked over to Cassie. She suspected that there was only one way to deal with a predator like her.
"Hi, Lois." Cassie shot a glance toward Jimmy. "I hope you don't mind that I told him the true story. I was afraid he might share his misinformation with someone else if I didn't."
"That's what I'd like to talk to you about, Cassie. You know that I have a lot of pull with Perry White?"
Cassie nodded, eager to hear the offer of recommendation she'd hoped would come from Lois.
"If I thought that you were the kind of person to tell anyone else what you know, I would personally see to it, with Perry's help, that you never got a job writing for any publication in this state." She smiled at a stricken Cassie. "Of course, you would never do that, so I'll be giving you a nice letter of recommendation to put into your resume at the end of the summer."
Cassie couldn't hide her relief. "Lois, you know that I would never betray your trust. You're the best reporter in Metropolis, and your personal life is nobody's business but your own."
"I knew I could trust you. So, have you finished the research on the drug cartel for me?"
"I'll have it for you by the end of the day."
As Lois walked back to her desk, Clark came through the elevator doors. She was still debating if, when, and how she should tell him of this debacle when Jimmy waylaid Clark, who had stopped to grab a doughnut and coffee from the counter. How she would have loved to be a fly on the wall.
Clark, exhausted after cleaning up an oil spill and massive traffic jam, then rushing to clean himself up and get to work, was anxious to get some coffee and see Lois. He was curious to see if her attitude toward him at work might be any different since they'd shared those amazing kisses at the picnic. In some situations, the woman was completely predictable, but this was not one of them. He was entering uncharted territory with Lois and had spent most of the night wondering how to proceed. Probably with caution.
He was surprised to see Jimmy lasciviously grinning at him. Was Jimmy somehow aware of what had gone on between Lois and him at the picnic? Because that was the kind of cat- who-ate-the-canary look Jimmy wore.
"So, C.K., my man, I guess tights and a cape are worth it to get a little action with Lois," Jimmy said sotto voce.
Feeling a sense of acute panic, Clark grabbed Jimmy none too gently and led him into the copy room.
"Ouch, you're hurting my arm." Clark let go. "Don't worry, Clark, your secret's safe with me."
"Exactly what secret are we talking about, Jimmy?"
"I guess I'd better explain what happened. See, the Chief sent me up to the eighth floor to get a volleyball the other day. For the picnic? And I found your clothes on a shelf. And then I saw you come down the hall, adjusting your tie, so I went back and found the Superman suit. So, of course, I figured that you must be Superman, and that was where you hid your clothes when you made your exit to fight crime or save people."
Clark said rigidly, "Go on."
"So after the volleyball explosion, I was sure that your superstrength made the ball explode, and I told Cassie my theory. I know it sounds crazy when I tell it now. I mean, you're a great guy and everything, but you're sure no Superman."
"And what made you realize that, as you say, I'm no Superman?"
"Well, it was Lois, actually. Cassie told her the whole thing this morning. I think she hoped that she and Lois could share an exclusive. But, C.K., you dog! Lois told Cassie about how you guys play out Lois' Superman fantasies upstairs. Can't say I blame you. I'd dress up as Scooby-do if I thought it would turn Cassie on."
Clark's mind was reeling. "So, Lois told Cassie that we do this?"
"Yeah, but don't worry. Cassie won't tell anyone. She's Lois' greatest admirer. And you know I won't tell. We're friends, aren't we?"
"Sure, Jimmy, good enough friends that you told Cassie your theory about me before you came to ask me about it. What if it had been true? Do you think Superman would have appreciated having his secret identity exposed to the world?"
Jimmy stared into his coffee cup guiltily. "I knew I shouldn't. I guess trying to impress Cassie did a number on my good sense. But, I promise, C.K., I'll keep my mouth shut about this."
"Thanks, Jimmy. I'll return the favor some time. And we'll never mention this again?"
"You got it."
The day went by, and neither Lois nor Clark alluded to what was foremost on their minds. The opportunity just never arose. The story on the drug cartel presented a number of hot leads, and they spent the day tracking down potential sources. They hadn't even ended the workday together. Clark had been talking to a source on one end of town while Lois had been meeting Bobby Bigmouth at the other end.
A busy evening of superdeeds followed, and it was ten o'clock when he finally knocked at her door. Lois opened the door to a massive bouquet hiding the face of the donor. Without a word, she took them from his hand and placed them in a vase on the table. Still silent, she walked over to the window where a brilliantly clear sky shone with stars. Clark went and stood behind her.
Wrapping his arms around her, he leaned into her to whisper in her ear, "Thank you."
Nothing else needed to be said. And that was when Lois Lane knew that she was madly, truly, deeply in love with this man. She wriggled around in his grasp to face him.
"You're welcome," she said, and then she put her hands into his soft, black hair and pulled his head down to meet hers. The kiss began tentatively, almost cautiously, and she sensed that Clark was holding back, not sure where he now stood with her. She ran her hands down his chest and was rewarded by a raw hunger replacing the caution. She pulled back and began to unbutton his shirt, revealing the edge of a letter 'S'. She looked at Clark mischievously, enjoying his reaction.
Huskily, she said, "Flowers are nice, but you may have heard that I have this Superman fantasy. If you really wanted to thank me, we could act that out. Do you think we could?"
Clark managed to say the words, "We could."
And they did.