Written by Team Acenaut :: [Wednesday, 30 July 2008 18:43] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:59]
Like ducklings trailing after their mother, a dozen children followed Mrs. Hart out of the orphanage dormitory. Chattering excitedly, they traipsed across the snow-covered lawn toward the new recreation building, their cheeks rosy in the cold air and their eyes shining with anticipation.
A large envelope was pinned to the front door, right above the wreath. "Why, what could this be?" said Mrs. Hart, turning to the children with a look of surprise on her round face.
"Read it, read it!"
She opened the envelope and took out a folded sheet of paper. "It's a note from Santa!" she exclaimed. Her eyes ran back and forth across the paper as the children jumped up and down, barely able to contain their excitement.
"What does it say, Mrs. Hart?"
Mrs. Hart looked up from the paper. "Santa says he had so many houses to visit last night that he didn't have time to bring your presents. But," she added quickly, as the children groaned with disappointment, "he says he asked a friend of his to come instead."
"What friend?" piped little Sally.
A voice rang out above them: "Ho, ho, ho!" But it wasn't Santa's hearty baritone.
"Supergirl!" The children rushed forward, cheering, as Supergirl descended to the snow-covered lawn, an enormous, bulging cloth sack slung over one shoulder.
"Merry Christmas!" she exclaimed. She laughed as the children swarmed round her. "Let's all go inside, okay?" The children turned and ran, shouting, back toward the recreation building, where the colored lights on the Christmas tree shone cheerily through the open door.
An hour later, the floor was a sea of torn and discarded wrapping paper all around the Christmas tree. Dolls and baseball gloves, yo-yos and model airplanes, jump-ropes and ice skates had poured steadily from Supergirl's sack; and as a final surprise she had taken the children outside and behind the building, where a shiny new toboggan lay waiting.
Mrs. Hart took Lana aside. "I can't thank you enough, Supergirl. The children are always so excited when you come visit."
Lana smiled. "My pleasure. But I'm just the delivery girl. The people of Smallville chipped in to buy the presents. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to be going." She was eager to get home, to exchange presents with her parents and sit down to the Christmas dinner her mother was preparing.
One of the boys came running up. "Mrs. Hart, can we go to Strawberry Lake to go ice-skating?"
"Yeah," a girl chimed in. "And go sliding on the toboggan?"
"Mr. McKechnie is home with his family," said Mrs. Hart. "Maybe he can drive us out there tomorrow."
"Awww ... " The children turned away, crestfallen.
"I've got an idea," said Lana. "Could I borrow that snow shovel on the front porch?"
Mrs. Hart's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Why, yes, of course. What are you -- ?" But Supergirl had already vanished in a burst of super-speed.
The next moment, she was scooping up a shovelful of snow from the front lawn and flinging it up over her shoulder. The snow flew up in a high arc and landed with a soft whump! in the middle of the field on the north side of the orphanage grounds. Another shovelful followed, then another, and another. Faster and faster they flew; Supergirl was a blue and red blur as she plied the shovel; Mrs. Hart and the children stared in amazement as the pile of snow grew before their very eyes until it rose higher than the dormitory roof.
"There!" said Lana. "That should do it. Pack it down a little and you've got your own sliding hill. And for you skaters -- "
She aimed her heat vision at a level patch of snow-covered ground at the far end of the field. The snow slowly melted into slush, then to a puddle of water about thirty feet across. Cupping her hands around her mouth, Lana pursed her lips and blew a frigid blast of super-breath. There was a sharp crackling noise, and instantly the puddle froze into a smooth sheet of ice.
Lana put the snow shovel back on the porch as the cheering youngsters began putting on their skates and pulling the toboggan over to the makeshift hill. "And now I really must be on my way -- "
But just as she was about to fly off, the front door of the orphanage burst open and Emily, the young assistant matron, came rushing out. "Supergirl!" she exclaimed. "Thank goodness you're still here! I was rinsing some vegetables at the sink and one of my earrings fell down the drain. It -- it was a present from my fiance. Could you -- ?"
"Of course." Lana strode into the kitchen and knelt by the large stainless-steel sink. There was a drainpipe under the sink, bent in a double-U. She scanned it quickly with her X-ray vision, then turned to smile reassuringly at Emily.
"I can see your earring. You're in luck -- it didn't get washed away. It's in the bottom of the U."
Emily nodded, but her brow was still furrowed with anxiety. "But how am I going to find a plumber on Christmas Day?"
"Don't worry about that. Get an old newspaper or something and put it on the floor here." While Emily hurried off, Lana turned her attention back to the underside of the sink. Narrowing her eyes, she used a razor-thin beam of heat vision to slice through the pipe twice -- once above the U and once below it. Carefully removing the cut-off section, she tipped it onto the newspaper that Emily had spread out on the floor. Out ran a trickle of rust-colored water -- and the errant earring.
"Oh, thank you, Supergirl!" said Emily. She wrapped the earring in a handkerchief and put it carefully in the pocket of her uniform.
"Glad to help." Lana had set the cut-off pipe back in place. "Now for some spot-welding -- courtesy of my heat vision -- and the pipe's as good as new."
Moments later, she stepped out onto the front porch, ready to fly home ... when she saw the town's one police car parked in front of the orphanage. Chief Parker was rolling down the window.
"Supergirl!" he called. "I was hoping I'd find you here. Do you think you could come over to my office for a few minutes? I need you sign those depositions you gave in the Patterson case."
"Gosh, Chief -- it's Christmas."
Chief Parker's grey eyes twinkled. "Justice never takes a holiday -- partner."
Lana grinned. "Okay. I'll meet you at the station -- partner."
A few minutes later, she was sitting in the cluttered office that served as Smallville's police station, signing a batch of papers and passing them to Chief Parker. Glancing at his watch, the Chief picked up the telephone and dialed a number.
"Hello, dear," he said. "I thought you'd be back by now. Is everything all right? ... Hmmm ... I see ... All right. Stay where you are. I'll be there as soon as I can ... Well, if I can't fix it, we'll leave it overnight and get a mechanic to look at it tomorrow. I'm sure Mrs. Gorman won't mind ... All right, I'll see you soon. Good-bye."
Lana had finished signing the papers. "Is something wrong?" she asked as Chief Parker hung up the phone with a sigh.
"It's my wife. She drove to Crawfordsville to visit a friend of hers, a shut-in, and now she can't get the car started." He pushed back his chair and stood up.
"That's a long way, Chief," said Lana. "Why don't you let me pick her up? I can fly her and the car back here in ten minutes."
Chief Parker tugged his white mustache, considering. "That's awfully kind of you, Supergirl. But like you said, it's Christmas. I'm sure you have family of your own ... "
"Yes, I do -- and they'd give me a good scolding if they knew I'd let you drive all the way to Crawfordsville and back on Christmas Day when I could have saved you the trouble. Now give me the address and I'll be right back."
Fifteen minutes later, Lana was descending slowly toward Main Street, holding the Parkers' Buick carefully over her head with both arms. As soon as her toes touched the asphalt, she bent her knees to soften the impact of landing, then tipped the car backwards until she felt its rear tires come to rest behind her. Stepping out from under the chassis, she lowered the front end of the car and walked round to the driver's door.
Mrs. Parker was rolling down the window. "Thank you, Supergirl," she said. "That was ... quite a ride. I must admit, I was a little nervous at first, but I knew I was in good hands." She opened the door and got out. "Oh, dear. Speaking of hands -- your gloves are all grimy. Why don't you let me wash those for you?"
"Thanks," said Lana. "But that won't be necessary." She held up her gloved hands and evaporated the grease in the beams of her heat vision. "See? Good as new. Now let's take a look at your engine."
She raised the hood and inspected the car's innards. "The spark plugs look clean. I'm sure you just flooded the engine. The fuel's had time to evaporate by now. Why don't you try starting the car again? Just go easy on the gas."
"All right." Mrs. Parker got back in the car and turned on the ignition. Moments later, the Buick purred into life.
"It worked!" She turned off the engine and got out. "Now where's Amos? Our son and his family are driving in from Kansas City. I want to be home when they arrive."
"Still in his office, I guess," said Lana. "I'll go in with you." She'd remembered something.
Their footsteps echoed in the quiet building, redolent of wood polish. The door of Chief Parker's office was open, and his voice was audible in the corridor.
"Just a couple of minutes," he was saying. "Right." He hung up the telephone as Lana and Mrs. Parker walked in. "Hello, dear. How was your, ah, flight?"
"Very interesting. I've lived in Smallville most of my life, but I'd never seen it from up in the air."
Chief Parker stood up and opened the top drawer of his desk. "Before you go, Supergirl, Mildred and I want to give you this." He held out a little box wrapped in shiny red paper and and a white ribbon.
Lana tore the wrapping from the box and removed the lid. "Oh, Chief -- Mrs. Parker ... it's beautiful."
Inside the box lay a five-pointed star made of sterling silver and engraved with the word "DEPUTY."
"It's not official, of course," Chief Parker said. "But, well, you deserve it, partner."
"Thank you. I'm sorry I can't pin it to my costume. The cloth is impenetrable. But I'll always treasure it." She put her present down on the desk and dug into the pouch of her cape. "And here -- this is for you."
Chief Parker sat down and carefully unwrapped the little parcel. "My goodness," he chuckled. "Is that really me?"
It was a wooden figurine, hand-carved and hand-painted, of a man in a blue policeman's uniform -- a man with wavy snow-white hair, bushy eyebrows, a thick mustache, and a kindly twinkle in his grey eyes.
"I carved it and painted it myself," said Lana, blushing. "I hope you like it."
"Like it? It's beautiful." Chief Parker set it carefully on his cluttered desktop. "But you've taken off about ten pounds." He patted his stomach ruefully. "I should go on a diet -- after I've done justice to Mildred's Christmas dinner!"
The telephone rang. Chief Parker picked it up. "Smallville Police Station, Chief Parker speaking ... Hello, Ben, what's up?" He listened, frowning. "I'll be right there."
He hung up. "That was Mayor Tillman," he explained, reaching for his coat. "Some sort of disturbance out by the turn-off to Shelbyville. Mildred, I'll see you back at the house. Supergirl -- "
"I'm on my way," said Lana.
"No, no," Chief Parker protested. "I was about to say, why don't you go on home? I can handle this, and here I've been keeping you away from your family on Christmas -- "
"Come on, Chief. What kind of deputy would I be then?"
"Well ... if you say so -- " But Lana was already out the door.
All in a day's work for a Supergirl, she thought ruefully, flying westward across town. Her eyes widened as she approached the vacant field at the outskirts of Smallville, by the fork in the road. Several hundred townfolk of all ages were gathered on the snow-covered ground; but except for a few youngsters engaged in a snowball fight, there was no sign of any disturbance. Lana saw her neighbors, her classmates; she saw Mrs. Hart, and Emily, and the children from the orphanage, and her own parents, careful not to make any sign of recognition. The town band was playing "Good King Wenceslas"; Mrs. Putnam was handing out steaming cups of hot chocolate; and Mayor Tillman was standing on a makeshift platform with a microphone, squinting up into the sky. Lana noticed that the decrepit old billboard facing the road was covered with a large tarpaulin.
Mayor Tillman had spotted Supergirl; he was waving his arms, gesturing for her to come down. The band stopped playing and a hush fell over the crowd as Lana flew down, wondering, to stand beside him on the platform. She saw the Parkers' Buick pull over by the side of the road and the Chief and Mrs. Parker get out as the mayor began tapping at the microphone.
"Supergirl," he said, "I suppose you're wondering what this is all about. Well, I guess you could say we owe you an apology. The fact of the matter is -- we kind of played a trick on you. We got together and figured out how we could keep you busy for a couple of hours, so's we could get this ready without you knowing." He waved his arm toward the tarpaulin-covered billboard. "Now, no fair peeking with that X-ray vision of yours, okay?"
Dazed, Lana nodded. "Okay."
"I reckon you've got family, and I know they must be right proud of you, and we sure don't want to keep you away from them any longer than we have already. So I'll keep this short and sweet."
"That'll be the day!" someone called out. A ripple of laughter ran through the crowd.
Mayor Tillman ignored the witticism. "Supergirl, ever since that day you showed up to save those young 'uns from that fire at the orphanage, you've been a kind of guardian angel to the folks of this town. There isn't anyone here you haven't helped out one way or another, and there's a few of us that owe you our lives. We can't rightly repay you for everything you've done for us, but we wanted to show you our appreciation. So without further ado -- "
He gestured toward the billboard. Several pairs of hands were tugging at the tarpaulin. Lana's mouth dropped open as the cloth fell away ...
The faded and tattered advertisement for Camel cigarettes was gone. In its place was Supergirl, smiling as she flew dramatically against a sky-blue background, her cape flaring behind her. The fresh paint gleamed in the pale winter sunlight. "WELCOME TO SMALLVILLE," the billboard proclaimed, "HOME OF ... SUPERGIRL!"
Cheers and applause rang out in the cold air as Lana, blushing, stepped up to the microphone. Her voice quavered as she began to speak. "Um ... This -- this is such a surprise ... such an honor." She took a deep breath. "I -- I love Smallville ... and you're the best friends and the nicest neighbors anyone could ever ask for ... and, um ... well, I don't know what else to say, except -- thank you ... oh, and happy Christmas, everybody!"
She stepped back, her eyes glistening, as the band struck up "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
The heater wasn't working, and Clark shivered as he hunched over the steering wheel of the Kents' pick-up. He was on his way to Pete's house with his new basketball, to shoot some hoops in the driveway. Turning right onto the road that led through Smallville, he thought about swinging by Coach Stevens' house. Maybe Coach would let him borrow the key to the gym ...
There was a big crowd gathered on the field by the Shelbyville turn-off. Curious, Clark slowed down. His eye fell on the billboard facing the road -- and he nearly drove off the shoulder.
He stopped and stared. Up on the billboard was that show-off Supergirl, flying along without a care in the world. She seemed to be smirking down at him. Gosh, Clark, he could almost hear her say. It sure is great to have super-powers. I bet you wish you had super-powers, too ...
A car's horn tooted behind him. Scowling, Clark drove on. That should be me up there, he thought bitterly, not some dumb girl ...
His stomach churned with resentment as he realized that he'd be passing the billboard every time he came to town.
"Lana!" Mrs. Lang called up the stairs. "There's a young man here to see you."
Up in her bedroom, Lana nervously checked her reflection in the mirror above the dresser. She gave her upswept hair a final pat and made a tiny adjustment to the sash of her gown. She took a deep breath. The moment she'd been waiting for so long had finally arrived. I guess even a super-girl can feel jitters at a time like this, she thought.
She stepped out into the hallway and strode to the top of the stairs, her new high-heeled shoes tapping sharply against the hardwood floor. She paused for a moment, resisting the temptation to rush down to the living room. Slowly, gracefully, she descended step by step, holding up the hem of her gown daintily with one hand. As she came sown the stairs, blushing and smiling, she saw three faces looking up at her -- her mother, blinking away tears of happiness ... her father, beaming through a wreath of pipe smoke ... and Clark, staring in open-mouthed wonder.
"G-gosh, Lana!" he stammered as she reached the foot of the stairs. 'You look -- you look beautiful."
"Why, thank you, Clark," she murmured. "And you look very handsome in that tuxedo."
Red-faced, Clark tugged awkwardly at the cuffs of his shirt. "Oh -- this is for you." He picked up a small cardboard box from the coffee table and opened it with fumbling fingers.
"It's a corsage," he explained, taking out a cluster of petals and blossoms, white as the snow that lay all over the countryside.
"Oh, Clark, it's lovely. Here -- pin it to my gown."
Self-consciously, Clark leaned forward and pressed the corsage against the shoulder of Lana's gown. "Oh, gosh! I'm sorry, Lana. Did the pin -- ?"
"I'm fine, Clark," she laughed, as she gently disengaged his fingers. "Better let me do it." She didn't want Clark to find out that the pin had bent against her invulnerable skin.
"Well," said Clark, holding out his arm. "I guess we'd better get going. We don't want to miss the first dance." Smiling, Lana slipped her arm through his, and together they walked out into the frosty February night.
"Have fun, you two," Professor Lang called after them from the porch. "But Clark, you make sure Lana's home by eleven -- or she'll turn into a pumpkin."
"Daddy!" groaned Lana, rolling her eyes.
The Kents' battered pick-up was parked in the long driveway that ran up to the Langs' front door. A moon, nearly full, cast a sheen on the snow-covered lawn.
Clark stepped forward to open the passenger door of the pick-up. "I'm sorry I can't take you to the dance in something fancier."
"That's all right, Clark. Actually, I was planning to provide our transportation."
Clark was still tugging at the handle. "What do you mean? Are we going to use your dad's car?"
"Turn around, Clark."
Clark turned. Lana had removed her glasses; now she was pulling off her brunette wig and shaking loose a cascade of gleaming red hair. Giggling with nervous anticipation, she stepped forward, gazing into Clark's wondering eyes. Gently, she lifted him off his feet; impulsively, she swept him into her arms; and the next moment she was carrying him up into the night sky ...
"Lana!" gasped Clark. "You're -- you're Supergirl?"
"Surprised?" she asked, grinning impishly. She was flying over the Kents' farm now, the long folds of her gown flapping in the frosty air as he hugged Clark tight.
"Gosh!" Clark hadn't taken his eyes off her. "And to think you used to be that little girl in pigtails who always wanted to tag along whenever I went fishing or bike riding."
"Admit it, Clark -- you thought I was a pest."
"Well, kind of. But I was just a kid. What did I know?"
Moments later, they were standing on a snow-covered hillside overlooking Strawberry Lake. The bare trees were silhouetted against the moonlit sky, and the frozen surface of the lake gleamed like silver in the darkness.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" murmured Lana. "I've been all over the world, and this is still my favorite place of all." She felt Clark's hand brush against hers, shyly, tentatively. She gave it a gentle squeeze.
"It's beautiful all right," said Clark. Shivering, he hunched his shoulders. "But gosh, aren't you cold in that gown? I'm freezing."
"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry!" She laid her fingers lightly on his chest. "I could fly you somewhere warm, you know. How does Hawaii sound?"
Clark smiled. "Some other time. Do you know where I want to be right now? At the Valentine Day dance -- with my girl."
Lips parted, eyes welling with tears of joy, Lana gazed up at him. "Oh, Clark ... "
"Oh, Lana -- I lo -- "
Lana's hand reached out from under the blanket and shut off the alarm clock. Scowling, she sat up in bed and ran her fingers through her tousled red hair. Why couldn't the stupid alarm have gone off a few minutes later?
Lana never tired -- physically. But her father insisted that she get eight hours of sleep every night. "There's a lot we don't know about sleep," he'd explained, thumbing the pages of a psychology textbook. "But sleeping and dreaming seem to be important for our mental well-being -- and I'm guessing that even applies for a super-girl."
Dreams ... Lana's dreams had been different ever since she'd gained her super-powers. They were longer, more vivid and coherent -- and they usually involved Clark. Clark ... Lana lay back and shut her eyes, trying to pick up the thread of her interrupted dream.
"Lana!" Her mother was calling her from the kitchen. "Breakfast!"
"Coming, Mom." She threw aside the blanket and began getting dressed for school.
She pouted at her reflection as she put on her glasses and adjusted her brunette wig. No wonder Clark never pays any attention to me, she thought I'm such a frump. I bet if he knew I'm Supergirl --
She paused, recalling her dream. I'll do it! she thought. I'll tell him I'm Supergirl. Then he'll drop Suzy and ...
She felt a twinge of guilt. Suzy's my friend, she thought. But Clark and I -- we're soulmates. We were meant to be together. Besides, Suzy's so pretty -- she can have any boy she wants ...
"Lana!" Her mother's voice was sharper. "Hurry up -- you don't to miss the bus."
"I'm coming!" She grabbed her bookbag and hurried down the stairs.
The 3:00 bell rang, signalling the end of the school day.
"All right, class," said Mr. Bateman, laying down his chalk as the students began shutting their books. "Your homework for Monday is exercises one through fifteen. Have a great weekend."
Lana shoved her geometry book into her bookbag and hurried out of the classroom. She could barely refrain from using her super-speed as she turned into the main corridor of the school building. Yes! There was Clark, opening the door of his locker. Forcing herself to slow down, Lana walked up to him.
"H - hi, Clark!" she blurted.
Clark glanced at her, then dropped his books in the locker. "Oh ... hi, Lana."
"Are you on your way to the bus?"
Clark reached up and took a duffel bag from the shelf. "No, I'm sticking around. Basketball practice."
"Oh. So ... did you see today's paper? Supergirl saved some skiers from an avalanche out in Colorado."
Blushing, Lana pressed on. "What do you think of that?"
Clark scowled. Can't people find something else to talk about? "She's kind of a show-off, don't you think?"
"Clark!" Lana was taken aback. "How -- how can you say such a thing?" Her heart sank. Gosh, she thought. Maybe he's right ...
"Flying around in that fancy costume ... calling herself 'Supergirl,' like she's ... I dunno, better than the rest of us ... "
"I -- I'm sure she -- she must have good reasons -- "
But Clark didn't seem to be listening. He was looking past Lana, down the corridor. "Hey, Suzy!"
"Hi, Clark! Hi, Lana!" Suzy came trotting toward them in her red and white cheerleading uniform, her blonde ponytail bouncing behind her.
Clark grinned down at her. "What's up? Are we all set for tomorrow night?"
"Pick you up at eight?"
"I'll be waiting. What about you, Lana? Are you going to the dance?"
"Um ... I ... yes, I'll ... I'll see you there ... " Lana turned and hurried down the corridor, tears of mortification brimming in her eyes. Clark thinks Lana's a wallflower and Supergirl's a show-off ... and what made me think I could compete with Suzy? Stupid stupid stupid!
Rushing out the main entrance, she nearly collided with Lex. "Oh! I'm sorry, Lex! I'm -- I'm in kind of a hurry."
"That's okay." Lex caught a glimpse of her face before she turned away. "Say, are you all right?"
Surreptitiously wiping away her tears, Lana forced a smile. "I'm fine, thanks. Just -- like I said, I'm in a hurry. See you Monday."
"Yeah -- Monday." Lex opened his mouth, as if he was about to say something else, but Lana was already running toward her bus. Sighing, he slung his knapsack over his shoulder and went back inside the school building. The Chess Club meeting was about to begin.
"Goodness, Lana," said Mrs. Lang, pouring herself a cup of coffee. "That's your third bowl of ice cream."
The kitchen table had been cleared, the dishes had been washed and put away, and Professor Lang had gone to his study to mark a set of exams. Lana was poking morosely at a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
"It's all right, Mom," she said. "I never seem to gain weight, no matter how much I eat."
"That's one power I wish I had." Mrs. Lang sat down across from her daughter. "Is it about the dance tonight, honey? Listen, there's no reason you can't go. All your friends will be there. I'm sure lots of them aren't going as couples. And we still have time to fix up something pretty you can wear."
"It's not that," Lana sighed. "It's just -- I wonder if Sir Percy ever got tired of everyone thinking he was a silly fop?" She looked at her mother with glistening eyes. "I know I have to keep my Supergirl identity a secret, but if Cla -- if boys think I'm just a frumpy wallflower ... "
"Oh, honey, I know it must be hard. But you have to understand -- boys your age may have big grown-up bodies, but inside ... well, they still have some catching up to do. Most of them are just looking for a girl with a pretty face and a nice figure. But they'll grow up. There'll be plenty of young men who'll see you as you are -- kind and brave and loving ... "
"Do you think so?"
"I know so. I'm sure there's a wonderful young man out there waiting for you -- only you haven't met him yet. Or maybe you have, but you don't realize it. You know, when I was nineteen, I was working in the registrar's office at the university. Well, I was crazy about a senior named Bob Benson. He was the star of the track team -- tall and blond and my, was he handsome! I was sure he was the only man for me. And then one day your father came into the office. He was a freshman, and he had a question about his schedule. Well, we talked for about twenty minutes, and by the time he left the office, I knew that he was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with." She chuckled. "It took him a little longer to figure it out, but ... well, here we are."
Lana gazed at her mother. "Wow."
"So what do you say? Do you want to go to the dance?"
Lana stood up. "Thanks, Mom. I feel better. Really, I do." She picked up her empty bowl and rinsed it out in the sink, then walked over to the cellar door. "But I think I'll just go out on patrol -- see if there are any jobs for Supergirl."
"All right, honey. Be careful."
Supergirl sat cross-legged in the snow, her chin propped on her fists, staring glumly at the blank wall of the school gymnasium. She'd spent half an hour flying over Crawford County in an ever-widening spiral, alert for any emergency that might call for her assistance -- and take her mind off her sorrows -- but the countryside was quiet and peaceful under its blanket of snow. She'd started to fly home; but something seemed to draw her to this spot.
The Valentine Day dance had just begun. Lana could hear the band strike up the first song:
"There's a summer place
Where it may rain or storm
Yet I'm safe and warm
In your arms ... "
I'll just take a quick peek, she told herself as the cast her X-ray vision through the brick wall. Inside, the gym was festive with red paper hearts and white streamers. Boys, uncomfortable in rented tuxedos, and girls, resplendent in colorful gowns, shuffled about in time to the music, shyly, awkwardly ... And then Lana spotted Clark and Suzy.
Wrapped in each other's arms, gazing into each other's eyes, they moved with a natural ease and unconscious grace round the dance floor, Suzy radiant in a sleveless red gown, Clark handsome in his tuxedo, like a prince and a princess in a fairy tale ...
Lana sighed as she brushed a tear from her cheek. Suddenly she felt something pressing against her leg -- something cold and soft and wet. She looked down.
"Well, hello, Mr. White Paw," she said. "What are you doing all the way out here?"
The cat's eyes glinted green in the moonlight as he looked up at her, mewing plaintively. Lana ran a gloved hand gently along his back. "I guess you and I are the only ones in this whole town who don't have a date for Valentine Day."
She stood up and brushed the snow off her cape where she'd been sitting on it. Leaning down, she picked up Mr. White Paw and rubbed him behind the ear with her forefinger. "Let's get you back to the orphanage, shall we?"
Cradling the cat in one arm, Lana rose into the air and flew off in the direction of the orphanage. "You know, Mr. White Paw," she remarked, "my mom says there's a wonderful boy out there somewhere, waiting for me. I wonder what he's doing tonight?"
Down below, Lex was walking up to the front door of the school building. He felt a fluttery sensation in his stomach. All week, he'd been meaning to ask Lana to the dance -- but she'd always had to run off, for one reason or another, before he could get the words out. Maybe I'll see her inside, he thought. He could hear the band begin the next song:
"Are you lonseome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight?... "
Nervously, he adjusted his tie and went in.
Professor Lang lit his after-dinner pipe as he strolled to the window. Pulling the curtain to one side, he peered into the darkness. A few wind-swept pellets of ice rattled softly against the glass.
Mrs. Lang was putting on a pot of coffee. "What's the weather, dear?" she asked.
"Looks like that freezing rain is coming in, just like the weatherman predicted." He turned on the radio. "I wonder how our basketball team is doing against Martindale. Do you know if Lex is announcing the game, Lana?"
Lana dried the last of the dinner dishes with her heat vision and put it away in the cupboard. "No, he's in Topeka with the chess team. But maybe I can fill in for him."
Lana narrowed her eyes, casting her super-vision across twenty miles of snow-covered farmland and into the gymnasium of Martindale High School. Mimicking the inflections of a radio sportscaster, she began describing the last moments of the game.
"The Crows are trailing by one with only seconds left on the clock, and Kent is at the line for the first of two. He shoots -- he scores! He's tied the game! If he can make the next one, he'll give the Crows the lead. He bounces the ball twice -- puts the shot up -- it rolls round the rim -- and it's in! The Crows are in the lead! Here comes the inbound pass to mid-court ... and there goes the buzzer! And the Crows win, 56 to 55!"
"Thank you, dear," said Mrs. Lang. "That was very dramatic."
Professor Lang smiled. "I wish I had super-vision. I wouldn't need a television -- I could sit and watch all the games from my armchair.'
"Yes, Henry. I'm sure that if you had Lana's gifts, that's exactly what you'd do with them." Mrs. Lang put her arm around Lana's shoulder. "Fotyunately, Lana puts them to better use. Speaking of which ... Lana, your classmates are going to have a long ride back to Smallville through this ice storm. Don't you think you should be out looking after them in case something happens?"
Lana grinned mischievously. "Gosh, Mom, I'd love to -- but my curfew is ten o'clock. Now if you made it eleven ... "
"Now, Lana, we've discussed this. Not until the end of the school year."
Pouting, Lana gazed at her father with wide, imploring eyes. "Daddy?"
Professor Lang shook his head. "Sorry, Pumpkin. Ten o'clock. But -- " He blew a smoke ring and watched it drift toward the ceiling. "Maybe we could extend Supergirl's curfew. What do you say, dear?"
Mrs. Lang sighed resignedly. "I suppose."
Lana jumped up and down. "Thanks, Daddy! Thanks, Mom!" She hurried up the stairs to her bedroom.
She was back in the kitchen a heartbeat later, wearing her Supergirl costume.
"Now you be careful, sweetheart," her father said.
"Are you sure you'll be warm enough?" her mother asked.
Lana pulled on her gloves and adjusted her cape. "I'll be fine. I've flown through thunderstorms and tornados. I've swum in the Arctic Ocean and I've even gone skinny-dipping in a live volcano -- '
"Lana!" Her mother's jaw dropped. "When did you -- ?"
"Oops! The team's getting on the bus! Gotta go!" She gave her parents a quick kiss. "Bye, Mom! Bye, Daddy!" She rushed down the cellar stairs in a blur of red and blue. The next moment, the Langs heard the trapdoor of the secret tunnel slam shut behind her.
The storm had just begun to move through Smallville, but as Lana flew westward, the freezing rain fell more heavily and the roads were glazing over. Fortunately, few drivers were venturing out. Oblivious to the biting wind and the ice pellets that lashed against her face, Lana turned away from the highway and took a direct course to Martindale.
Suddenly, however, her super-hearing picked up the plaintive cries of small children somewhere off to her left. Directing her super-vision along the Crawfordsville road, she spotted a car that had pulled off onto the shoulder. A woman sat behind the steering wheel, her face taut with anxiety, while two girls, about four and six years old, were crying in the back seat.
Lana flew down and tapped on the driver's window. "Can I help you?" she asked as the window inched down.
"Supergirl!" the woman exclaimed. A look of relief swept across her face. "Oh, thank heaven! I was driving along as carefully as I could, and then I went through a puddle a little ways back and my engine just stopped. My girls are getting cold -- and scared." She turned around. "Debbie, Rachel -- look who's here!"
The girls had stopped crying and sat staring at Lana with wide eyes and open mouths. Lana smiled reassuringly at them, then turned to their mother.
"Ray's Diner is about two miles up the road," she said, "and there's a Texaco station right next to it. Why don't you put the car in neutral and I'll push you there."
"Oh, thank you! That would be wonderful."
The woman rolled up the window and turned on the headlights as Lana walked round to the back of the car. Placing her hands against the trunk, Lana nudged the car gently back onto the road, then took a few running steps, allowing the car to gather momentum, before she rose into a flying position. The two little girls were kneeling on the back seat, gazing in wonder through the rear window as Lana guided the car through the dark night and the freezing rain.
Several minutes later, the car rolled up to the awning over the entrance of the diner and the woman and her daughters got out. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" Lana asked.
"Oh, no -- you've done so much for us already. Why, if you hadn't come along ... Please, take this." The woman held out two dollar bills.
"Oh, I couldn't possibly take that. I'm just glad to know that you and your daughters are safe. If you want to thank me ... " Lana took a laminated card from a pouch in her cape. "Here -- just make a donation to one of these charities."
Lana knelt and gave the girls a hug. "Good night now. Try the cherry pie -- it's very good." And with a final wave she flew up into the stormy night.
Gosh, she thought. I hope the school bus is okay. She cast her super-vision through the darkness and the sleet until -- aha! The bus was making its way slowly along the Martindale road, back toward Smallville. Lana could see Coach Stevens hunched over the steering wheel, peering into the patch of illumination that the headlights threw on the icy road.
Invisible in the darkness, Lana circled round and began flying along behind the bus and several feet above it. I'll just tag along, she thought. I'll follow the bus back to Smallville -- make sure it gets there safe and sound ...
To pass the time, she peeked inside the bus with her X-ray vision. There was Doug Wilson, dozing in his seat with his duffel bag for a pillow ... there was Melissa Cunningham, studying for tomorrow's history test by the glow of a flashlight ...
Lana grinned when she saw Pete Ross trying to put his arm around Tami Dodge. Tami was a new student, shy but pretty, and lots of boys had made advances at her -- without any more success than Pete seemed to be having right now.
"No, Pete!" Tami pulled away.
"Aw, come on, Tami -- "
"I mean it! If you expect to go out with me tomorrow night -- "
"But, Tami, everybody else is doing it."
Tami looked around the dark interior of the bus. "I guess -- if by 'everybody' you mean Clark and Suzy. Well, just because he's got his tongue wrapped around her tonsils -- "
Lana's heart sank as she spotted Clark and Suzy necking in one of the back seats. I guess they're still an item, she thought morosely. Ever since the Valentine Day dance, Lana had been hoping that Suzy might drop Clark for some upperclass boy -- but no such luck.
Lana sighed. She envied Suzy, but she couldn't find it in her heart to be resentful. Even though Suzy was one of the most popular girls at Smallville High, she and Lana had remained close friends. They hung out together and listened to records and gossiped about their classmates. And Lana could hardly blame Suzy for hanging on to a dreamboat like Clark ...
The school bus was approaching the bridge over Crawford Creek, about a hundred feet behind a black sedan. Lost in her thoughts, Lana did not see the sedan suddenly go into a tailspin on the icy road, but she heard the blast of the bus's horn as Coach Stevens slammed on the brakes. The sedan had already straightened itself and begun to move forward, but the bus skidded out of control and ran into the bridge's low concrete wall.
Pandemonium erupted as the shock of the collision threw everyone forward. "Stay in your seats!" Coach Stevens barked. "Nobody move!" But his words went unheeded as Lana's classmates scrambled for the windows, holding their faces close to the glass as they strained to look out into the darkness. Coach Stevens's heart froze as the front of the bus suddenly lurched downward and its headlights illuminated the dark, swiftly-moving current of Crawford Creek.
The bus was about to plunge into the river!
Lana had already swooped down toward the river, then up under the teetering front end of the bus. Reaching up, she pressed the palm of her gloved hand against the chassis, then continued to fly upward -- slowly now, taking care not to crumple the steel frame by pushing too hard.
Inside the bus, behind the steering wheel, Coach Stevens blinked. Had the bus stopped falling? Turning round, he saw Tom Bradford standing next to the driver's seat, pressing his face against the windshield like a kid at a candy-store window. "Get back in your seat, Bradford!" he shouted -- but Tom turned to face his classmates, grinning broadly.
"Hey, guys!" he shouted. "It's Supergirl!"
A murmur of excitement ran through the bus. Students crowded the aisle, rushing forward to see for themselves. With a scowl and a backward sweep of his arm, Coach Stevens sent them back to their seats; then he leaned forward and peered through the windshield. Sure enough, Supergirl was visible in the headlight beams, holding up the bus with one hand, poised and smiling despite the frozen rain that lashed against her face and the bitter wind that tousled her hair and tugged at her cape.
Within moments, the bus was level. Lana continued to fly upward, raising the front end over the concrete barrier; then she swung the bus round and slowly descended to the bridge. As her toes touched the road, she began lowering her arm, letting the bus down slowly until the front tires bumped gently against the asphalt.
Now that the bus was safe, Lana noticed that the black sedan had turned round and was coming back over the bridge. It stopped about thirty feet from the bus and its driver got out, leaving the headlights on.
"Supergirl!" the driver shouted, hurrying forward. He was a short man, muffled in a thick winter coat with a wool cap pulled over his forehead and a wool scarf wrapped round his chin. His round spectacles glinted owlishly in the bus's headlights. "I'm Fred Stoeger. I'm a reporter for the Martindale Monitor. That was amazing! What a scoop for my paper! Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Just a moment, Mr. Stoeger." Lana walked round to the door of the bus.
Inside the bus, Coach Stevens was trying to restore order. "Pipe down!" he bellowed hoarsely. "Get back in your seats! Nobody's leaving this bus until I say so!" Gradually, the din subsided to an excited murmur.
Lana tapped at the door. Coach Stevens scowled at the students. "If I hear so much as a peep from anyone, nobody's getting off the bus. I mean it!" The students fell silent.
Coach Stevens swung open the door. Supergirl stood smiling up at him. "Is everyone okay?"
"I -- I think so, Miss -- uh, Supergirl." Now that the danger was over, Coach Stevens was beginning to shake a bit. "You saved our lives. How did you happen to -- ?"
"Call it female intuition. I'd like you to take a look at the bus -- and there's a reporter here who'd probably like to talk with the students, if that's okay with you." The students stirred excitedly in their seats.
Coach Stevens turned around. "All right, everybody -- you can get off the bus now -- " Chattering eagerly, boys and girls rushed to the aisle.
" -- in a quiet and orderly manner!" Coach Stevens yelled as his passengers streamed past him and out into the raw weather.
It figures, thought Clark as he shuffled off the bus, jostled by his excited classmates. I was the high scorer in tonight's game and I made the winning free throw -- and now she gets all the attention. Shivering, he turned up the collar of his letter jacket. He could barely remember how it felt to be impervious to cold -- and everything else ...
Several of the girls had lined up alongside the bus and began leading the boys in an impromptu cheer.
"Who's the best?" they chanted, hands on hips.
"Supergirl!" the boys shouted -- all but Clark.
The girls raised their arms. "Say it again!"
The girls leaned forward in unison, turning their heads to one side and cupping their hands behind their ears. "We can't hear you!"
"SUPERGIRL!" the boys roaed, and a medley of cheers, whistles, and applause rose into the night.
Blushing, Lana waved in acknowledgment; then she turned and walked back toward the front of the bus with Coach Stevens, the boys and girls following eagerly behind. Clark jammed his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the wind as he strolled over to the concrete barrier and stood staring glumly into the river.
A sudden click and a flash of light made him turn his head. The reporter from the Martindale paper was taking a picture of the broken stretch of the barrier. He lowered his camera and walked up to Clark.
"You're the Crows' center, aren't you? Kent, right? Chuck Kent?"
"Clark. Sorry. You played a swell game tonight. I mean, sure, our boys lost, but it was a good clean game and you beat us fair and square. Wait'll next year, right?" He punched Clark lightly on the shoulder.
"Well, I gave you a terrific write-up. Handed it in to my editor half an hour ago. He said he'd make room for it on the front page."
"Really?" Clark started to feel better.
"Yeah, but this --" Mr. Stoeger gestured toward the school bus. "Mr. Henshaw's gonna give it the full front-page treatment for sure -- assuming I can get it in before tomorrow's edition goes to bed." He patted Clark on the back. "Sorry, Chuck -- I mean Clark. But hey, you can still get your name on the front page. How about a quote? What went through your mind when the bus started going over the bridge? How's it feel to be saved by the one and only Supergirl? Do you -- "
Clark turned with a grunt and walked away. Stupid reporters ...
Mr. Stoeger shrugged and trotted off to join the boys and girls who had gathered in a semicircle round the front of the bus.
Supergirl and Coach Stevens were assessing the damage to the vehicle. "You can see the front is pretty badly crumpled on this side," Supergirl was saying. "And look at this." Bending over, she placed her hand beneath the fender, palm up, and lifted her arm. The spectators murmured in awe as several tons of steel rose smoothly off the ground and settled with a groan on the rear tires. Mr. Stoeger's camera flashed.
"See that?" She pointed to the chassis with her free hand. "The front steering is pretty badly damaged." She lowered the bus back onto the road. "I could do a makeshift repair job -- but you'll be home a lot sooner if you'll let me fly you all back on the bus."
The students were nodding eagerly. Coach Stevens scratched his chin. "I don't know," he said doubtfully. "These kids' parents all signed permission slips for this trip -- but those slips don't say anything about flying ... "
"Aw, c'mon, Coach," pleaded Tom Bradford. "We'll freeze to death if we stay here much longer."
"Yeah," chimed in Pete Ross. "And we'll be safer in the air with Supergirl than on this icy road."
"Please, Mr. Stevens?" begged Melissa Cunningham. "I mean, when will we ever get a chance like this again?"
Coach Stevens nodded. "All right. Thank you, Supergirl."
Lana smiled. "Happy to help. But first, I'd better make a quick trip to the police station in Martindale -- let them know about the accident and the damage to the bridge."
"Wait, Supergirl!" Mr. Stoeger stepped forward. "While you're at it, could you stop at the Monitor office and give a message to my editor? It's right across the street from the courthouse, on the second floor. Mr. Henshaw's bound to be there. Tell him -- tell him to stop the presses." He chuckled. "I've always wanted to say that."
"Sure thing, Mr. Stoeger. Tell the students to get back on the bus, Mr. Stevens. I'll be back in a few minutes." The Girl of Steel sprang upward and flew off into the darkness.
Clark was still standing by the concrete barrier, still gazing down at the dark river as it flowed beneath the bridge and off into the night. Suddenly a pair of arms was embracing him from behind.
"Hey, Clark," said Suzy. "I've been looking for you." She snuggled against his shoulder. "Gosh, I was so scared when the bus started to go off the bridge -- weren't you? And then Supergirl showed up, just in the nick of time. Isn't she amazing?"
Suzy looked up at him. "Honestly, Clark -- I don't mind if you think she's pretty. I think she's pretty."
"It's -- it's not that -- "
"Then what's your problem?" Suzy's tone was sharper. "Supergirl saved our lives -- "
Clark couldn't help himself. "Don't you think it was awfully convenient that she happened to show up just as the bus was about to fall into the river?" Maybe she pushed the bus off the bridge on purpose, so she could be the big hero -- "
"Why, Clark Kent!" Suzy let go of Clark's arm and stepped back. "That's a terrible thing to say! How could you even think such a thing?"
Two other cheerleaders had wandered within earshot. "Sounds like Clark's got a case of the green-eyed monster," Eileen Sheridan said.
"Yeah," Jenny Rollins chimed in. "He doesn't like it that a girl is so much stronger than he is. I bet he wishes he had super-powers."
"Omigosh," Eileen giggled. "Can you imagine Clark with super-powers? He'd just use them to score touchdowns -- "
"When he's not checking out the girls with his X-ray vision!"
Despite the cold, Clark could feel his face burning. "I would not!" he snapped.
"Then why can't you say anything nice about Supergirl?" Suzy demanded. "Come on -- say something nice about her right now."
Suzy and her friends looked at him expectantly. There was an awkward silence. Clark turned away.
"Tell you what, Clark," said Suzy quietly. "As soon as you think of something, let me know." She walked off with the other girls.
Great, Clark thought bitterly. Now Suzy's mad at me -- and it's all her fault.
"Move it, Kent!" Coach Stevens bellowed. "On the bus -- now!"
The other students were filing into the bus. Clark trotted over and joined the rear of the line.
A few moments later, he was standing in the aisle between the front seats, peering into the dark interior of the vehicle. Where was Suzy? I suppose I'd better apologize, he thought. What a crummy evening this turned out to be.
"Sit down, Kent!" Coach Stevens was standing right behind him. Hastily, Clark sat down in a vacant spot in one of the front seats, next to Doug Wilson.
"Are we all here?" Coach Stevens asked. "Good. Now listen up. I know you're all excited that Supergirl's going to fly this bus back to Smallville. But I don't want anyone -- anyone -- moving around once we're, uh, airborne. Anyone who leaves his seat gets ten swats from Mr. Paddle -- and ladies, that goes for you, too. Is that understood?"
There was a murmur of assent.
"Good. Supergirl flew to Martindale to report the accident to the police, but as soon as -- "
"I'm back, Mr. Stevens." Supergirl was standing in the stairwell. "Fasten your seat belts, everyone. Next stop -- Smallville!" She turned and stepped back outside.
Coach Stevens sat down in the driver's seat and shut the door of the bus. Students stirred excitedly, but mindful of the coach's warning, they remained in their seats, craning their necks to stare out the windshield as the front of the bus slowly rose off the ground.
A few moments later, the bus was level once more, but a slight rocking told the passengers that Supergirl must be holding it overhead. Then they could feel the bus rising, very gently, into the air. Peering out the windows, they saw the bridge recede below then; they saw the roof of Mr. Stoeger's sedan and the tops of the trees that grew along Crawford Creek; and then they felt the bus move forward, picking up speed as it flew through the sleet and the darkness.
Clark sat wrapped in self-pity. If he hadn't lost his powers, he'd be the one flying the bus back to Smallville. He'd be getting the cheers and the headlines -- not that simpering little show-off. It's not fair! he felt like shouting. Those powers belong to me -- not some girl ...
"Hey, Clark," Doug said suddenly. "What the heck did you do to get Suzy so ticked off? I saw her with Jenny and Eileen, and she was madder than a wet hen."
Clark groaned. He'd forgotten about Suzy. He'd better go talk with her. But where was she sitting? He stood up and turned around ...
"What did I tell you, Kent?" growled Coach Stevens. "I don't care how many points you scored tonight -- you just earned yourself a date with Mr. Paddle."
Clark's face burned with mortification as he sat back down amid the titters of his classmates.
"Tough luck, buddy," grinned Doug. Coach Stevens's paddlings were legendary. "Too bad you're not invulnerable like Supergirl, huh?"
Clark slouched in his seat. "Shut up," he muttered.