Good Samaritan – Part 8
When I woke up in the morning, it took several moments for me to regain enough feeling in my limbs to shift. Stiffness held me in a vice. It was barely light out, but the ants-skittering feeling across my skin told me it was time to get up. The whole night, I hadn't budged at all. The girls were still draped across me, quiet, peaceful. Annie was making a funny little snoring sound. Claire's breath swept soft across my neck. I hated to move them, but I had to move me.
With care, I extracted myself and tiptoed into the bathroom. I threw cool water into my face and took a deep breath, though with only one hand free the process was a little more awkward than usual. But I actually found myself chuckling as I tangled myself in knots trying to get the faucet on and off.
Between swipes with the water, I let myself hang there over the sink, cool water dripping off my skin. The dim hail of daylight streaming through the bathroom window was relaxing, and though my muscles ached, something was missing. And it wasn't a bad thing that was gone. What was it?
I leaned back, ignoring the water that splattered down onto my shirt. I took a deep breath. Everything was light. That was it. I felt as if I had spent my recent memories with all my muscles clenched, and I now I had finally relaxed again. The relief was so intense that I nearly thought I was still doped on the pain relievers, but after a few more moments of self- assessment I realized that I didn't have the trip-happy dumb feeling from last night. Just the euphoria.
I couldn't stop the throaty sob sound that loosed from my lungs. I shook a little. Blinked. Took another breath. Everything was so clear.
I wiped myself off with a towel and walked back out into the main room.
The girls still lay peaceful and undisturbed.
For a moment, I watched them from the doorframe. Things were blank. I couldn't remember a single moment from after I had fallen asleep. No dreams. Nothing that I could recall.
I took one last look at my children and was thrown into quiet amazement by the warmth I felt. I didn't even have to will it there.
It simply was.
"Thank you, Beth," I whispered into the room with a smile.
And then I padded down the steps to the kitchen, still in wonder at the strange levity I was experiencing, only to find Superman already at the table. He was in his suit. Coffee burbled in the pot, filling the kitchen with the bitter scent of ground beans. He was hunched over the morning paper, paying particular attention to a story which, although I couldn't read the title from that distance, I could see that the picture was of a large, disfigured train car.
"All of my powers have returned. I noticed it in the shower this morning. Not soon enough, though," he whispered. "This happened sometime last night."
I said nothing.
He heaved a world-weary sigh and tore his gaze away from the gray pixels, only to place his face in his hands. I sensed what was coming. For several long moments he hung there, suspended over his arms like a bridge about to collapse. But he said nothing. A harsh breath and a blink bottled it up, and the worried expression bled away before my eyes.
The display was an awesome reminder of all that had transpired this weekend. The Man of Steel wasn't so steel.
I sat down at the table.
He peered diagonally across the table at me through the gaps between his middle and ring fingers. "I can stay for a while if you need," he said, looking pointedly at my arm as I rested it on the table top.
I glanced down at it. It was starting to ache, but then, I hadn't taken my medication this morning. Antibiotics and pain relievers. What a cocktail. But not on an empty stomach, the doctor had said. Or I'd regret it. And my stomach was decidedly empty at the moment.
I admit I was touched by his words, and I couldn't stop the smile that came to me. Chronic do-gooder began to harbor a new meaning for me. I don't think I would ever look at Superman the same way again. Not even when he was giving some stiff, practiced, antiseptic speech.
But no. No, I would be fine. I would manage. Single parents everywhere did, somehow. I doubted they all had titanium skeletons. Hell, even Superman managed. Though he wasn't alone, I still considered ability to juggle to be a tremendous feat, more impressive than any of the other things I had ever seen him do. And if worse came to worst, I could ask the neighbors for help easily enough.
"No," I said. "No, you have a wife and a kid who are probably missing you."
A fire sparked in his eyes. I wanted to say it looked almost as if he was homesick. But he quirked an eyebrow and said, "You're sure..."
"Yes," I assured him. "Yes, I'll be fine."
And honestly, I had the strangest idea that I was telling the truth.
I was okay. Really.
The larger-than-life Superhero stood up. In my kitchen. At my breakfast table. "I did want... to say... to thank you for all that you've done for me," he stuttered. "You saved my life when you could have easily just turned a blind eye."
He made no mention of last night. In fact, he looked distinctly uncomfortable. His arms folded over his chest, and he stood there in his classic pose.
I guess the attitude came on with the suit.
But I knew there was a father, husband, reporter person in there now. And I think I understood so much more about him at that moment that it really didn't matter to me anymore who he was, what he did, or how 'normal' he did or did not act.
"Superman, if anyone's life was saved here, it was mine," I stated firmly.
I took his hand and shook it. My thank you. Because, in his own way, he had saved my life. His grip was firm and warm.
I added, "Feel free to stop in next time you're landing wayward planes in the area."
A genuine smile crept over his face. "I think I will."
And then his hand slipped out of mine and he turned from me.
"Superman?" I said, suddenly anxious.
He turned back to me.
"I won't tell anyone. Ever."
"I know," he replied with a smile. Bigger than the one before. Though I doubted he grasped my true meaning, amazement heated up across my cheeks at the look of bald trust he gave me.
And then, with a whoosh, he was gone, his steaming cup of coffee the only reminder of his visit.
"Hello, Kent residence..."
Tempered by only a small amount of static, the unmistakable voice of Superman filtered through the line. Only... It wasn't Superman. Not really. There was no pain or worry biting at his clear greeting. His tone was far less stiff. Far less abrasively formal. Smooth. As though he knew, for this night at least, he didn't have the fate of the world resting on his shoulders.
Perhaps this was what Clark Kent sounded like in his element. On the ground. Being perceived as human by fellow humans. Having friends. Having love. Love that I couldn't find myself begrudging him any longer.
Clark Kent. Clark Kent really was Superman. The last shred of doubt in my own ability to add two and two dissolved. I had arrived at four and double-checked my work.
I could almost picture him standing there, his shoulders with an ever-so-human slump to them. Maybe wearing slippers and loungewear. Glasses. Relaxed and informal. Perhaps he had let that sheen of stubble I had seen earlier regenerate.
Which brought me to an unrelated question. Just how exactly did he shave?
"Hello?" he asked again, ripping me away from my meandering thoughts.
I swallowed deep in my throat. Twice. My tongue seemed thick and leaden. The resolve I'd felt when I'd finally picked up the phone drained away as though I were a sieve.
I had meant to say thank you. That was what my plan had been. Because, in the hours after he had left, I realized I really hadn't said it. I had told him his secret was safe, and observed that he had saved me. But I hadn't said it. Thank you. And with the phone sitting there in my bedroom, undisturbed, it had occurred to me that there was still a chance for me to do so. Redial was simply too much of a temptress, and I truly was grateful.
But now I was finding myself without words, and without hope for grasping anything that resembled them. A simple thank you seemed vastly inadequate now that I took a moment to consider. Vastly inadequate.
"Who is that?" a feminine voice hissed, distracted-sounding. Barely above the static. It was accompanied by a wet-sounding smack. And another. And a third.
I blinked, associating the words with Lois's alto voice for a sliver of a moment before my cheeks began to feel like they were burning. Before I realized it, my fingers were clutching at my collar, trying to yank it away from my flaming neck, and as my breath choked away, I found myself looking at the floor. My shoes, to be precise.
Oh, lord. What was I interrupting?
"Wrong number, I guess," Clark's rich voice mumbled, softer, muffled, as though he were facing away from the phone, perhaps with his hand cupped over the receiver.
Barely audible, seemingly across a chasm, I thought I heard Lois whisper, "Good, because I have much better things to do with you than play telephone, flyb--"
I blinked. And blinked again.
Then I found myself staring blankly at the phone in my hands. Until the dial-tone began to whine at me. Incessant. Demanding that the receiver be placed back on the hook.
Perhaps I could find their address and send a thoughtful card. Or maybe I would get a chance to say it in person some day. When they weren't so... preoccupied.
When my throat opened up enough for me to breathe again, and the flames that licked my skin cooled down, I immediately dialed the first number that came to mind, erasing all chance of future temptation. They deserved their privacy, both from the world and from me.
"I hope pizza is okay for dinner!" I shouted as I heard a muffled greeting politely asking if I wanted delivery or carry-out.
There was a sudden peppering of return shouts from the girls' room down the hall.
"Relax, I'll get half and half," I called back. "Delivery," I said to the man patiently waiting on the line.
The sounds of the girls' arguing died down as I began to recite my order.