Spoilers: Unsafe, Pariah
Description: Clark hopes he can find his way after Alicia. (Clark/Alicia)
Notes: Pariah coda. Story title taken from a poem by Emily Dickenson.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it.
Clark loaded cartons of milk into the giant refrigerator in the back. He didn't need to be asked - like most Saturdays, Martha had been on her feet for twelve hours, and he figured helping close up was the least he could do. Besides, Clark knew that she was doing this, at least in part, because by the fall semester of next year, he was going to turn into a free-fall debt generator. Unless of course, he got that scholarship. Then, all this would just be gravy.
He left the fridge and took a seat out in the dining room, waiting for his mom to wrap up counting the money. Then, they could leave. Clark had about a week's worth of homework to do that Chloe had dropped off that morning. He had spent more of the day staring at it than actually tackling it. But he knew that if he didn't put a serious dent in the work soon, he might never recover. Hence, he was back to the scholarship issue.
Martha reappeared behind the counter, stuffing canisters with packets of sugar, creamer, nutmeg, and other coffee condiments.
"Mom, let's get out of here," Clark said, smiling to soften the command.
"Wait, honey," she remarked, "If I get this knocked out tonight, I have less to do in the morning, meaning I can pull one of your numbers - "
"And sleep late," Clark finished, with a crooked grin. So, this would take longer than he thought. He picked up a spare rag and started wiping off tables to help the process along.
"Clark," Martha said, suddenly, staring at him with a refreshing grin that at one time he thought he may never see again. "I'm so happy to see you back to yourself. You had me so worried there: staying cooped up in that loft, not taking any visitors. I'm glad to see you...doing better." Clark could see the sincerity in her eyes, and it warmed him some. And yet, deep down he knew that his rebirth into the world had as much to do with "playing through the pain," as it did about real healing. Sometimes he wasn't even sure if that day would ever come.
Just then the door opened.
"Jason, you're an idiot," came a shrieking giggle from the front. Being in a side booth, Lana and Jason walked right past Clark without even seeing him. Lana made her way up the stairs, after a quick hello to Martha. Jason, however, dallied at the counter.
"Mrs. K," Jason crooned, "you still here?"
"Clark and I were just heading out," Martha said. Jason turned his head, noticing Clark for the first time. Clark said nothing.
"I see," Jason said nodding. "Anything I can do to help?"
"That's quite alright. I'm just gonna run in the back and grab my purse and coat, and we'll be gone," she said, disappearing behind the swinging door as she spoke.
Clark half-expected Jason to run up the stairs like the football player he could be, and really hoped he would. Sometimes he couldn't believe how in less than three months they had gone from respected coach and nurtured student, to arch enemies. More and more, Jason even seemed to be enjoying the rivalry. Especially since he was usually winning.
Which is why Clark took a hard breath when he saw Jason coming in his direction. He couldn't imagine what he had to say, but there wasn't a scenario that interested him.
"Hey, Clark," he said hesitantly, and maybe with a touch a pity, stopping several feet from the booth. "How you been?"
Clark didn't want to be having this conversation, plus, he was skeptical of Jason's sincerity. "Fine," he finally replied. He might have nodded too.
"Oh," Jason replied, nodding blankly with his response. "Because, um, I haven't seen you in a while, and I was wondering how you were doing." He stopped like Clark might say something. Clark didn't. "Anyway, I know we, uh - " Clark watched as Jason groped for a euphemism for "hate each other." "Well, we haven't hung out in a while, but that doesn't mean that - " He paused, "Sorry to hear about what happened to Alicia. I'm sure it's been rough for you. I can't even imagine what I'd do, how I'd feel, if anything happened to Lana." Clark let the statement echo: it wasn't all that hypothetical, and if Clark remembered correctly, when things happened to Lana, Jason acted like a complete jackass. Besides, Clark thought, I care about Lana too, while on the other hand you hated Alicia, and attacked her every chance you got. Jason even seemed to sense the awkwardness of the statement. Just then, Martha reappeared from the back with her coat and purse in hand. "Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I'd been thinking about you, and that I'm sorry for your loss."
"Thanks," Clark replied. Jason nodded acknowledgement, and then walked off and joined the said girlfriend in the apartment.
"What'd he say Clark?" Martha asked as they made their way to the door.
"BS," Clark said.
"He might have been sincere, Clark," Martha said. Clark didn't say anything.
From under the awning, they looked up to see it was raining. "Mom, I'll go bring the truck around."
Clark approached the school with a trepidation he hadn't felt since his first day of high school over three years ago. It was funny how events external to a place can cast a shadow over it.
Walking in, he wished he wasn't so tall, so well-known, or so much the conspicuous person he was. He didn't make eye-contact with anyone as he strolled through the halls, and briskly made his way to his locker. He opened it, and had a deja vu feeling of over a year ago when he'd opened his locker to see a photo-montage of Alicia pasted everywhere, and how uncomfortable it had made him feel then. Now, he would give anything to see her face.
"Clark!" Chloe called from behind him - he recognized her voice. He turned to see that her face was beaming.
"Hey Chloe," he said. He didn't really want to talk, but, it was pretty unavoidable.
"It's so good to see you back! I was so worried. I don't know if your mom told you, but I came by last Saturday. She said that you weren't seeing anyone."
"Yeah, she told me, and I got the homework. Thanks," he replied, He finally turned around, and let out a sigh. "I'm probably going to get expelled. I am so behind. Plus, I doubt I can get any of those absences excused; if you're gone more than two days, you need a doctor's note."
"I think the truant officer should understand - everyone knows what happened," Chloe said, her eyes full of sympathy.
"Yeah, but there's no policy for grief for non-family. I mean, it's not like we were ma-" Clark stopped himself.
"It'll work out, Clark," Chloe said, patting him on the arm.
"Hey Clark," came two voices in unison from behind and, unfortunately, they were voices Clark also recognized. They belonged to Denise Weaver and April Larson, the girlfriends of the linebacker and fullback, respectively. There was a chance they thought they were Clark's friends.
"Where's your girlfriend?" April said, grinning even. Clark stared at her for about two seconds, blankly, without replying.
"Clark," Chloe whispered, horrified, and touched his arm. He walked off. "You idiots, don't you have any respect for the dead!" Chloe bit back.
"Wha?" the girls said in unison, all confusion and shock.
"You mean to tell me you didn't know that Alicia was brutally murdered over a week ago?" Chloe spat incredulously.
"I'm so sorry, we had no idea," Denise replied, presumably speaking for both girls.
"How is that possible? There's a huge picture of her out front with the caption 'Alicia Baker, 1987 - 2005'?"
"Ohhhh," cried April, with a look of recognition. "I thought that was a phone number to call if you knew anything about the attacks." The kicker was that she seemed serious.
"Y'all are disgusting," Chloe said storming off. She had never felt so simultaneously nauseated and sorry for two people in her whole life.
Just then, the morning bell rung, signifying that she had five minutes to get to class before the tardy bell rang. She ran towards first period AP Government, the one class she had with Clark this year, besides Advanced Journalism. She figured he would beat her there, but when she arrived he was nowhere to be found. She hoped he hadn't done something like gone home - or worse. And now that she knew about his powers, she felt like she couldn't really predict his behavior anyway. And that felt even worse.
The tardy bell rung, and there was still no Clark, and she really began to panic. She couldn't bear to imagine him somewhere breaking to pieces over two egocentric heifers. She wanted to do something. She even toyed with the idea of asking for a pass, and driving to his house.
Just then he walked in, and sat down next to her. He even seemed relatively calm, which was a relief.
"Had me worried there Clark.; I thought you might have skipped out," she whispered, as the teacher got the LCD projector working.
"Yeah," Clark said. He turned to her, "Alicia's locker was empty." It seemed to bother him a little.
"Her parents came and emptied it out last week," she replied. "Why? Was there something you wanted?" she asked.
Clark shrugged. "Nothing in particular - just, I don't know," he said, clearly disappointed. And then he sat up, opened his book bag and Government book, and retreated into himself. He didn't say another word all period.
The grass was still wet with the rain from the last couple of days. Clark took a quick look around, and singed the grassless topsoil just a little over Alicia's grave. It crackled and steamed in the cold, wet air. He wasn't sure why he'd done it; he didn't plan to stay long. Then the thought that he had really done it for Alicia. Like maybe she would be bothered by the rain. In a comforting way, it made smile.
It was funny, no girl he had ever liked had given him a tenth of the trouble that Alicia had given him. Not even that punk girl, Jessie. And yet, thinking back on everything, he'd do it all again in a heartbeat, every living breathing moment of it. He'd had hour after blasted hour to think about it, and he kept coming back to the same fact: outside of his parents, he didn't think anyone had ever loved him that much. And now that he knew what that kind of love tasted like, he could never go back.
He'd come here everyday since the funeral. He'd come to quietly reflect, and to make some sense of the madness swirling around him and blocking out the sun. At first he'd just come with a flower, something simple, but with each visit, he'd come with more and more, to the point where yesterday, he was sprawled out on a blanket, surrounded in Trig homework, and sipping from a cup of joe from the Talon. Lately, it was the only place where he felt alive, and where he didn't feel fatally alone and isolated.
Something was wrong.
"Hey Alicia," he said. He stepped forward and knelt down, tracing the sharp outline of the freshly carved name on the headstone. It read "Alicia Rose Baker, 1987 - 2005. Daughter and Friend. Loved, Gifted and Never Forgotten." He knew that headstones never said enough, but the "Daughter and Friend" part bothered him the most, since it didn't seem to show how much she was loved, the way Clark loved her.
Clark took a clump of the still hot earth in his hands, and crumbled it, watching the black Kansan soil sift through his fingers. "Today was my fourth day of school," he began. "I keep getting these stares. Some are sympathetic. Some are accusatory. If I didn't need this scholarship so bad, sometimes I think I would never go back."
Clark stood again. He had a lot to say and didn't really know where to begin. Besides, he thought this might be his last chance. "I come here everyday for so many reasons," he started again. "Because, I feel so guilty, Alicia. I feel like I failed you, that I didn't trust you when you needed my trust the most. I expected more honesty from you than I even expected from myself. And that wasn't fair.
"I come here because so many people didn't get a chance to see, or didn't really care to see, what a wonderful person you were, and how much you had changed. I come because, I miss you so much. Miss ice-skating at the rink or eating at that greasy place in Grandville. But last night, I stayed up all night thinking about everything, and I think the main reason I come is because I am having a really hard time letting go." Clark cleared his throat, and swallowed back the lump already forming. He started again. "Uh, I can't accept that everything's, that I'm, going on without you. That the magical understanding that we had is gone." Something suddenly came to him, "I used to count how long you were gone in hours. Six, then eleven, then thirty...and it wasn't so bad. And then I'd count in days. But a week went by, and now two." He shook his head, "I keep thinking that if I come here, I can hold on to you, what's left of you, and that it will be enough, it'll get me through. But, you aren't a plot of land, and you were so much more than a body in a lead casket. And I have to accept that you're not coming back." A tear escaped from his eye, and he bit on his lip. "I don't do you any honor by wallowing in your death. I can only do that by living. So, I'm not coming back here anymore. I don't mean forever, but, just not everyday." He wanted to say more, but he didn't know what more could be said. And he couldn't take standing there another minute. He had to go.
He touched the headstone one last time, and then walked back to the truck. He cried all the way home.