Rest in Peace
Suburbs of Metropolis, May 12, 2013, 12:45 pm. "Sam! Don't forget we're going over to Lois' house tonight to have dinner with her and Clark and the kids! I already put the clean shirt out on the bed that I want you to wear."
"Hmph," the retired general snorted. "I'm perfectly capable of dressing myself, thank you very much!"
Her laughter flowed down out of the kitchen, following him as he meandered toward the den. "That may be true, Dear, but I'm betting you already forgot about the dinner plans with Lois, didn't you?"
Sam Lane stopped in his tracks, one hand on the door frame, and stared back in the direction of the kitchen, thoroughly startled. "How did you…?"
"I know you, Sam; that's all I needed to know."
He shook his head to clear the cobwebs out and chuckled. Forty years of marriage and my Ella's still surprising me… "I'll be reading the paper until the game comes on if you need me," he hollered back, stepping into the living room.
"I always need you," she whispered, smiling.
Ella stood at the sink, rinsing off the last of the lunch dishes and listening as Sam settled himself down in the den. Even though he said he was 'reading' she knew better; all it took was fifteen minutes in a chair, no matter where he was, for her seventy-three year old husband to fall asleep. A quick glance up at the clock told her she'd have roughly two hours to get her dessert done for Lois' house before she'd have to go in there and shake him awake, or Heaven help whoever lets Sam sleep through a Metropolis Meteors baseball game.
2:35 pm. "Sam? Sam, it's time to wake up, you're missing the game." The newspaper slid down his chest and onto the floor as she gently but persistently shook his shoulder; still, he didn't budge. "Sam…?"
3:10 pm. Lois stood in the doorway to the apartment struggling to get the key out of the lock while balancing a bag of last-minute groceries on her hip; all the while her intrepid four year old tried using what minute amount of super strength she had to extricate herself from her mother's grip.
"I want to go play!" the little girl whined as she yanked yet again.
"Haley, I said I will let you go in ONE MINUTE!" the exasperated mother cried out, finally dislodging the key. With an angry kick behind her Lois slammed the door shut and finally let go of her daughter who went scampering down the hall. It had been a trying trip to the supermarket with her high spirited little girl, and had it not been for the bread crumbs she so desperately needed for the evening meal Lois wasn't sure she'd have attempted it at all. She thought about calling Clark to see if he could swoop in and pick up the groceries but decided against it; she even briefly considered simply calling the family dinner off but knew her mother would never let her hear the end of it if she did.
As she stumbled into the kitchen she found a note waiting for her on the counter:
Busy day, duty calls, hope to be back soon. Love you! ~Clark
Lois heaved a sigh as she set the note back down alongside the bag of groceries. It figures…
She blew the hair out of her face and began pulling the food out when the telephone rang.
"Lois? Lois, I tried to wake him up but I couldn't…"
Hearing her mother cry on the other end of the line set Lois' heart racing. "Mom? Mom, calm down, tell me what's wrong. Who wouldn't wake up? Where are you? Where's Dad?"
"He wouldn't wake up." It was clear that Ella was in shock and Lois resisted the urge to demand a more coherent answer, instead biding her time for her mother to recover her wits. "Your father, he wouldn't get up after his nap so I called 9-1-1…they said he was already gone. My Sam is gone…"
The young woman's face went slack. "Gone?"
"The doctors say he went in his sleep…" Neither woman spoke, and even if Ella had said anything more it would've fallen on deaf ears. The realization that her father had passed away that very afternoon, possibly at the very moment she was griping about her parents while dragging Haley down the condiment aisle, struck Lois dumb with grief. Slowly, painfully slowly, she lifted her hand up and placed the phone back in the receiver, then turned toward the hall. She didn't even finish unpacking the groceries, just wandered around the apartment in a daze until she reached the bathroom and pulled herself inside, locking the door behind her.
Her relationship with her father had always been difficult, notoriously difficult, but things had improved somewhat in the last decade or so. Still, even in death Lois found herself sorting through all the baggage that had accumulated between her and her father over the course of the last thirty-eight years. Now, knowing that it was baggage that would forever remain unchecked unhinged her and she sank down along the back of the door, colliding with the tile floor in hysterical sobs until she folded herself over in two in grief.
Haley heard her mother's cries and ceased her make believe game. Setting the dolls aside, she moved down the hall in slow, deliberate steps, one hand trailing idly along the wall.
"Mommy?" she asked worriedly, standing in front of the door. Lois' cries quieted down but did not cease. "Mommy?"
4:19 pm. Clark re-entered the apartment through the living room window still covered in a fine layer of ash, and instantly recognized that something was wrong. He heard Haley calling to Lois from within the apartment and did a quick x-ray sweep to find his wife standing hunched over the sink splashing water on her face, her breath hitching in her throat as she struggled to re-gain control over her emotions. He reached the doorway at the same time she opened it and immediately caught sight of her red-rimmed eyes.
"What is it, what's happened? Are you hurt?"
"No," she replied, waving him off and trying to push past him to return to the kitchen. "No, I'm not hurt."
He took hold of her shoulders and forced her to look him in the eye. "Then tell me what's wrong."
She stared back with her piercing hazel gaze all the while taking a deep breath to steady herself before she spoke the words aloud. "Clark, I…my…my mother called while you were out. My father died this afternoon; she said he passed away in his sleep."
The widening of his eyes and the slight increase in pressure in his hold were the only outward indicators that he'd even heard the news. A split second later he pulled her to him and held her there, recognizing the grief for a parent lost, while she tensed up in his arms and recoiled from his touch. "Lois, I'm so sorry," he whispered into her ear.
She squirmed out of his grip and began walking away from him. "I'm alright now. What I need to do is start making the arrangements; call the Base, see what the protocol is, find out if Mom is back at the house or not and where the hospital's taken the body…"
"You don't have to do that right now." Clark reached out to take hold of her wrist and she pulled back from him again, continuing on her way.
"Yes, I do," she hissed. Turning her back on him she headed toward the living room where she could get some work done.
Sensing that there wasn't anything else she would let him do at that moment, Clark turned and scooped up his daughter in his arms, hugging her and holding her close in light of her recent loss.
"Why was Mommy crying, Daddy?" she asked softly while he rubbed her back.
His ears perked up as Lois began conversing on the phone with one of the General's old Army buddies, informing him of the loss. With a resigned sigh he decided he needed to collect Jason from his friend's house and then break the news to both children simultaneously. "Let's go pick up your brother from Alex's and then I'll explain," he replied, setting her back down on the ground.
National Veterans Cemetery, Metropolis, May 15, 2013. Lois stood beside the open grave in her simple black dress, the mid-May breeze indicative of an early summer storm now blowing at her skirt and pulling her hair in front of her red and inflamed eyes and obscuring her view of the casket below; the casket where her father lay, now and for all eternity.
Clark trudged back up the hill after seeing his mother-in-law, sister-in-law, mother and children escorted back into the waiting limo. He insisted that they all go on back to the house to receive the numerous guests, telling them that he and Lois would catch up to them in a cab when they were ready. Ella, momentarily shaken from her reverie by his words, was about to protest when Martha placed a tender, reassuring hand on the bereft woman's knee and called out for the driver to move on before she could say anything further.
And now the three of them were alone; two above ground, and one below.
He looked up and caught sight of his wife standing there stoically, a proud black pillar against the looming Metropolis landscape in the far background. She'd been unusually reserved and curt with him these last three days, yet he knew that under her steely facade a storm was brewing. Lois was feeling the loss deeper then she was currently letting on, and all he could do was wait for the dam to burst and be there to comfort her whenever she was ready to receive it.
He walked up behind her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, the nearness and warmth of his body serving to drive away the slight chill in the air. Sam's death had caught them all unawares, Lois most of all. It had been peaceful. Quiet. Too quiet a passing for a man as distinguished as General Samuel T. Lane.
The pomp surrounding his funeral was anything but quiet, and by Clark's estimation nearly all of Fort Jenkins had turned out for the wake and ensuing funeral mass to pay their last respects and give their condolences to his family. There had also been a nineteen gun salute, the deafening boom of which had made Haley cry for more than simply her late-grandfather.
But Lois...Lois hadn't cried once that day. Not since first learning the terrible news did she shed a single tear, and Clark was beginning to worry. She was like a General all her own, coordinating the wake and funeral mass with the Army officials, informing old friends and acquaintances scattered across the country of her father's passing, tending to her bereft mother and sister and making sure they took care of themselves and remembered to eat and sleep. Lois had given herself an hour to grieve and that had been that—afterward life simply went on.
Only now Clark found her rooted to the spot beside Sam's gravesite staring down at the black lacquered casket strewn with a few handfuls of dirt and flowers on top, and he could only wait for her next move. Tense, inexplicably painful and emotionally charged moments were the ones where he wished mind-reading was, in fact, one of his powers.
Almost twenty minutes went by before she spoke, and only then in the quietest of voices. "He was a hard man," she said slowly, drawing out each syllable as she went. "He was a task master most of the time. Everything always had to be perfect, everything always had to be neat and to his exacting standards. I used to hate them for that, hate the Army for what they made of him, until I found out that not all Army dads were like mine. They may have worn the same fatigues and gone out on the same maneuvers but other fathers would come home and smile, would roll around in the front yard and play with their children…but not mine.
"And so for a long time I just hated Sam, just as I suspect he hated me and Lucy for being girls—traits that neither of the three of us could have helped."
She stopped and turned around, placing her hands on Clark's broad chest, the alabaster skin of her palms standing in dark contrast to the crisp, black material of his suit jacket. "But I didn't really hate him, Clark, not really. I loved him but I never understood him...and now it's too late to tell him! It's too late and I'm a horrible daughter and..." Lois flung herself at his chest then and gave way to the tears she'd been choking down for the last three and a half days while her husband held her tight as she cried.
"It's never too late," he said softly, his lips barely grazing the top of her head. "I tell my father all the time; I like to think that he's always listening, always watching, and I know that Sam is too." He paused a moment to gauge her reaction but none was forthcoming.
"Tell him, Lo. Tell him what he meant to you."
Lois looked up dubiously into Clark's face only to see him staring back at her in earnest. She rested her head against his chest while taking several deep breaths to steady her shaky voice, even as her eyes continued to mist over with fresh tears and blur the landscape around her.
"I loved you, Dad. I loved you so much. I'm sorry things weren't easier between us." Pausing a moment, she gauged the air of the space around her before adding, "Good-bye."
The gray stormy sky opened up ever so briefly, allowing a small sliver of light through and sending it bouncing off the edge of one of the faraway city skyscrapers. The sun bounced off the ever-clean windows and proceeded to blind her with it's brilliance. Lois knew that it was Sam, knew that in his way he was saying his good-byes, apologies and I love you's too.
Tugging on the lapel of Clark's coat she motioned upward at the sky with her eyes. In one fell swoop he scooped her up in his arms and took off for her childhood home with her mourning the entire way.