Written by Team Acenaut :: [Wednesday, 29 June 2011 18:31] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 08 April 2014 11:59]
"Suzy? What are you doing here?"
Coming out of the art room at the end of the final period, Lana was surprised to see her friend waiting for her in the hallway. Suzy usually went to cheerleading practice right after school.
"Come with me." Suzy grabbed Lana's wrist and started off down the hallway, weaving her way among the other students with her friend in tow. Curious, Lana let Suzy drag her to the lobby by the main entrance.
Suzy pointed to a large poster advertising next week's Homecoming Dance. Taped to the wall beside the poster were several sign-up sheets for volunteers to decorate the gym, sell tickets, or serve refereshments.
Lana stared at the poster for a few moments, baffled. "Okay -- what am I supposed to be looking at?"
Smiling at Lana's mystification, Suzy took a pen from her purse and wrote "Lana Lang" on the sign-up sheet for the refereshment table.
"Suzy! What's the big idea?"
"Trust me, Lana," said Suzy. "You'll thank me for this."
Lana rolled her eyes. "I know that look. This is one of your clever little schemes, isn't it? Tell me what it's all about."
"Well," said Suzy, "you know where they always put the refreshment table, don't you?"
"Sure -- at the back of the room, near the stage."
"That's right -- next to the DJ's table. And do you know who the DJ is going to be?"
Lana's eyes widened. "Don't tell me -- "
"That's right -- Lex Luthor."
"Are you sure? He never said anything about that to me."
"Mr. Weatherly just asked him an hour ago."
"How do you know?"
Suzy smiled. "I have my sources. But that's not important. What's important is that you and Lex will be together all evening."
Lana looked doubtful. "I don't know, Suzy. I told you -- Lex and I are just friends."
Suzy snorted. "Come on. I've seen the way he looks at you. And I know you like him. I'm tired of waiting for one of you to make the first move."
"Well, yeah -- I like him. I'm just not sure I like him -- you know -- " Lana blushed. "As a -- as a -- “
"Doesn't matter. It's just a dance, for heaven's sake. Trust me, this is perfect. I'll bet anything Lex will ask you to dance before the evening's over. And if he doesn't ... well, just remember, the last dance is always ladies' choice. And afterwards, the two of you can go for a stroll in the moonlight ... hold hands ... "
"And then what?"
"For gosh sake, Lana, do I have to spell it out for you? You figure it out. Just remember what they say -- if you've never been kissed in high school ... "
* * * * * * * *
"Well," sighed Tami. "So much for the state championship."
The homecoming game against Martindale had ended half an hour ago. Smallville had lost, 13 to 7. The field was silent now under a cloudy sky. Several of the cheerleaders stood huddled behind the empty bleachers..
Jenny glanced at her watch. "Are you sure your mom remembered to come pick us up? You said she'd be here at 3:00, and it's almost quarter past."
"She'll be here," said Suzy. "She had some errands to do. She's just running a little late."
"Where's Clark?" asked Melissa. "I know he's off the team, but I figured he'd come to watch the game."
"He's with Lex," said Suzy. "Getting tutored so he can earn back his eligibility. Coach's orders."
A shout rang across the empty field. "Tami! Wait up!"
The girls turned. Pete Ross was trotting toward them, his duffel bag slung over one shoulder.
"Hi, Pete," said Suzy. "You played a good game."
"Thanks," said Pete. "Didn't make much difference, though. Oh well, better luck next year." He turned to Tami. "So I'll pick you up around 7:30?"
"That'll be fine," said Tami. "I -- "
But her words were drowned out by the roar of an approaching engine. Jake Ryder came speeding across the parking lot astride his Harley. He slowed to a halt, cut the throttle, and grinned wolfishly over the rims of his dark glasses.
"Hello, ladies," he purred. "I heard about the game, and I thought I'd offer one of you a ride as a consolation." He was gazing into Tami's wide blue eyes. "How about it, Tami? Just you, me, and the open road."
"Huh?" Staring at Jake's snug blue jeans, trim leather jacket, and windswept hair, Tami had hardly been listening. "Oh!" She blushed. "Well, I was going to go to Suzy's house to listen to records, but -- " She turned to Suzy. "Could I take a rain check?"
Before Suzy could reply, Pete stepped forward and took Tami by the elbow. "Uh, Tami, could I speak with you for a second?" Moving out of earshot of the others, he began speaking in low, urgent tones..
"Look, I don't think that's such a good idea," he said. "You know Jake's gotten a couple of warnings for speeding. And when he leaned forward just now, to shut off the engine, I'm pretty sure I saw a flask in his hip pocket. Maybe he's been drinking."
"Why, Pete Ross!" Tami's eyes flashed indignantly. "Jake is a perfectly safe rider. You're just jealous, that's all."
"N-no!" Pete stammered. "I'm just worried -- "
"Hmpf!" Tami snorted. "Just because you're taking me to the dance tonight, that doesn't make you the boss of me. You're not my father -- and you're not my boy-friend either!" With a toss of her ponytail, she turned and strode off. Pausing to smooth her skirt, she slid behind Jake and wrapped her arms around his chest. Smirking, Jake opened the throttle and roared off. The others stood in awkward silence as the motorcycle rounded a curve and disappeared behind a rise of land.
Suzy laid a hand on Pete's arm. "It's all right, Pete," she said. "I'm sure she didn't mean -- "
"I just have a bad feeling about this," Pete blurted. He squinted up at the sky. "I wish there was some way to get in touch with Supergirl. She could keep on eye on them, just in case anything happens."
"Why don't you call Chief Parker?" Suzy suggested. "He could send out a bulletin to all the police cars around here. And if anyone knows how to get in touch with Supergirl, he would."
"Good idea." Pete dug in his pocket and pulled out some change as he ran back toward the gym. There was a pay phone outside the boys' locker room.
A horn beeped. "Oh!" said Suzy. "There's my mom now." A station wagon pulled over.
"Where's Lana?" asked Jenny. "I thought she was going to join us."
"She was," said Suzy. "But she phoned to say she couldn't make it. Some family thing." She sighed as she slid into the front seat.
"Lana's my best friend, and I love her -- but she has got to get out more."
* * * * * * * *
FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES AWAY ...
Supergirl leapt at the boulder careening down the mountainside. Her arms moved like a pair of jackhammers as her gloved fists pummeled the rock at super-speed. The boulder exploded into tiny fragments that rained down on the road amid a cloud of dust.
Hovering in mid-air, Supergirl looked down. "Are you all right?"
A dozen soldiers stood brushing rock dust from their fatigues. They glanced at one another, then looked up.
"Yeah, we're fine," one of them shouted. "Thanks!"
Supergirl nodded, then flew back along the boulder-strewn road. To her left, the mountain rose steeply, its upper regions hidden by tatters of mist; to her right, the forested ground descended to a long moraine. The waters of Puget Sound could be seen over the tops of the tall firs.
Supergirl alighted next to a square-jawed man with close-cropped gray hair whose fatigues bore the stripes of a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers.
"You were saying, Captain?"
The man nodded. "Uh -- thanks, Supergirl." He gestured toward the boulders that littered the mountain road. "The rockslide happened around oh-six-hundred. Not much traffic on the road that early, so there were no casualties. We were called out right away." He shook his head. "What a mess, huh?"
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. A line of trucks and bulldozers stretched along the side of the road behind him.
"Even with all this equipment, it's going to take us days to clean this up. And with the road closed, it's a thirty-mile detour around the mountain."
Supergirl smiled. "Well, I think I can save you some time. Tell your men to stand back."
"Fall back!" the captain shouted. The soldiers moved down the road as Supergirl flew back to inspect the heap of boulders. It's like a giant-sized version of pick-up sticks, she thought. If she moved one boulder, it might dislodge others. She'd best start high up ...
Standing by a slab of rock near the top of the landslide, she carefully slid her hand under a gigantic boulder and slowly lifted it up. The soldiers stared, slack-jawed, as she casually raised tons of rock overhead, then turned to face down the mountain. A flick of her wrist sent the boulder sailing up, up into the air, dwindling against the overcast sky before falling to the rock-strewn valley at the foot of the mountain.
The soldiers broke into applause and whistles as Supergirl turned to pick up the next boulder. She proceeded swiftly but carefully, working her way down the mountainside, tossing one boulder after another down into the valley below. As the rockslide dwindled, she worked faster and faster until she was a blur of blue and red to the gaping soldiers ...
Soon the largest of the boulders were gone; all that remained on the road was a heap of muddy topsoil and smaller rocks.
"We can take it from here," the captain said, stepping forward. "Thank you for your help."
Supergirl brushed dirt from her gloves. "You're welcome," she said. "Always glad to help our men in uniform." With a playful salute, she flew off amid the cheers of the soldiers.
Minutes later, she was plunging downward, too fast for any normal eye to see, toward the woods behind Strawberry Lake. A quick flight through her secret tunnel brought her into the basement of the Lang home. The door at the top of the stairs was open.
"Mom, I'm home," she announced, changing back into her regular clothes. "Did you finish my dress for the dance? I can't wait to see it."
Mrs. Lang came to the doorway. "It's almost ready, dear. But Chief Parker left a message just a few minutes ago. You'd better check it."
"Oh?" Lana went over to the tape-recorder sitting on the workbench by the wall. Whenever Chief Parker wanted to get in touch with Supergirl, he pressed a special button on his police radio, emitting a low-frequency signal that activated the tape-recorder and recorded any message he sent out on the regular police channel. Lana pushed the playback button.
" -- keep an eye out for a boy and a girl on a Harley motorcycle, last seen heading north on Mulberry Road ... "
Frowning, Lana turned off the tape-recorder. A boy on a motorcycle, huh? She began changing back into her Supergirl costume.
"Mom, I think I'll start my patrol a little early today."
* * * * * * * *
The Harley roared along the two-lane road running through the open fields north of Smallville. Jake grinned. Tami's chin was resting on his shoulder, her arms were wrapped tight around his chest, her thighs were brushing against his. The Harley put on a burst of speed as he opened the throttle.
"Jake?" Tami was shouting to make herself heard over the noise of the engine. "Aren't we going kind of fast?"
"Scared?" Jake shouted back.
"No!" said Tami defensively. In fact, she was starting to feel a little nervous. Riding with Jake around Smallville was one thing; sitting behind him as he raced along the open road was another. "But seriously, don't you think you should slow down a little?"
Keeping his eyes on the road, Jake reached into his back pocket and pulled out a sealed flask of bourbon. "Have a drink," he shouted, dangling the bottle over his shoulder..
Tami was horrified. Her parents didn't drink, and she'd never had so much as a sip of beer in her entire life. "Jake!" she exclaimed. "Have you -- have you been drinking?"
"Aw, don't be such a square. C'mon, have some. It'll loosen you up."
"No!" Tami said firmly. "I want you to stop right now and let me off!" She didn't care how far they were from Smallville.
Jake laughed, opening the throttle even wider as he leaned into an approaching curve.
A horn blared.
"Look out!" Tami screamed.
* * * * * * * *
Rocketing upward from her secret tunnel, Supergirl turned north. Soon she was following Mulberry Road as it wound through the open farmland outside Smallville. She knew Jake had been stopped for speeding several times already. It was only a matter of time before he hurt himself -- or someone else. Maybe she could put a stop to it once and for all ...
Narrowing her eyes, she cast her super-vision along the road ahead. It only took her a moment to spot Jake's Harley, roaring along the empty road at full throttle. She saw Tami's blonde ponytail streaming behind her as she clutched Jake from behind. Supergirl was worried. The road was dry, but she knew that last night's rain might have drawn patches of oil toward the surface of the asphalt. If Jake ran into one of those ...
Supergirl picked up speed. She'd fly ahead, then turn round, stopping Jake on the next straight stretch of road, just beyond the curve ahead ...
A horn blared. Supergirl heard Tami scream "Look out!" A battered pick-up truck, its back loaded with crates of chickens, had come round the curve, swerving to avoid the Harley. Now the truck was skidding toward the guardrail along the side of the road. In another moment, it would be tumbling down the steep embankment ...
Pursing her lips, Supergirl sent a blast of super-breath toward the side of the truck, pushing it away from the shoulder of the road. The truck rattled to a halt. Peering through its roof with her x-ray vision, Supergirl saw the driver pull a red bandana from his pocket and begin mopping his forehead with a trembling hand. She was about to fly down, to make sure he was unhurt, but at that moment she heard something above the indignant squawking and fluttering of the chickens -- a squeal of rubber, a crash, and Tami's voice again, screaming ...
Instantly, Supergirl was streaking up the road, splitting the air in her wake with a sound like a thunderclap.
She didn't have far to go. Just a few hundred feet ahead, she saw the twisted guardrails, the fresh streaks of rubber on the asphalt. The Harley was tumbling down the long gravelly slope by the side of the road, while Jake and Tami, thrown high into the air by the impact, were falling to the ground forty feet below ...
Supergirl swooped down, then turned up again, approaching Jake and Tami from below so that her momentum would carry them away from the ground. She slowed down, knowing that if she was moving too fast when she caught them the sudden change in speed might injure them. She wrapped her right arm around Tami's waist, then banked, reaching out with her left arm and grabbing Jake by the collar of his leather jacket. Higher and higher she flew, gradually braking her speed until she came to a stop several hundred feet above the ground.
She began descending gently to the ground below. Jake hung limply from her arm. He seemed to be in shock, but unhurt. Tami was sobbing. "My leg ... my leg ... "
Supergirl set Jake on his feet at the bottom of the bank, not far from where the Harley lay in a mangled heap. He sat down trembling on the gravelly slope, breathing heavily and looking around in confusion. Satisfied that he had no serious injuries, Supergirl turned her attention to Tami.
She laid Tami carefully on a soft patch of grass, then stepped back. She winced as she noted the livid contusion that ran along Tami's shin. A quick peek with her x-ray vision confirmed her fear. Tami's leg was broken -- and the fracture had cut off the circulation to her foot. She had to be taken to a hospital right away, but first ...
She knelt by Tami's side. Looking up into Supergirl's face, Tami stopped crying.
"Supergirl!" she said weakly. "What -- what -- ?"
"Shhh. Just lie still, okay? Listen, T -- " She'd been about to address Tami by name, but caught herself in time.
" -- to me. Your leg is broken. I'm going to take you to the hospital in Crawfordsville, but I'll have to set it first. I'm afraid it'll hurt, but just for a moment. Are you ready?"
Tami nodded, biting her lip and squeezing her eyes shut.
"Okay," said Supergirl. "Here goes. One -- two -- "
Using her x-ray vision to guide her, Supergirl pressed against the fracture. Tami gasped as the broken bone shifted position. Supergirl patted her arm.
"That's it," she said. "You were very brave. What's your name?"
"Tami. Tami Dodge."
"All right, Tami, you'll be at the hospital soon. I just need to splint your leg. Lie still, okay? Don't move."
Supergirl stood up and looked around her. There was nothing she could use as a splint ... unless ...
She strode over to where the motorcycle lay at the bottom of the bank. Grasping its frame in her gloved hands, she snapped off a curved length of steel, then began to straighten it.
Outraged, Jake was scrambling to his feet.
"What do you think you're doing, you crazy chick? That's a 1957 Harley Sportster. It's a classic."
"It was a classic," Supergirl retorted. "Now it's junk."
Ignoring Jake's protests, she quickly fashioned two splints from the frame of the Harley and carried them over to where Tami was lying. Now she needed something to lash them to Tami's leg ...
She turned to Jake. "Give me your jacket."
"Huh?" Jake stepped back, regarding Supergirl suspiciously. "What do you want my jacket for?"
Supergirl sighed. "Your friend has a broken leg," she said patiently. "I need to tie these splints to her leg and get her to a -- "
"You're going to slice up my jacket?" Jake sputtered. "Are you out of your mind? This is genuine leather. Do you have any idea how much it cost?"
Supergirl shrugged. "Fine. You can tell the police that your precious jacket was more important than helping your friend get medical help."
Jake scowled at her for a moment, then reluctantly took off his jacket and tossed it at her. "You're paying for that!" he snarled as he turned to walk away.
Supergirl was kneeling by Tami, slicing strips of leather from the jacket with her super-hard fingernail and using them to tie the steel tubes to Tami's lower leg. "Is that a liquor flask in your hip pocket?" she asked casually.
"I haven't been drinking!” Jake snapped. “You can smell my breath if you don’t believe me.”
Supergirl ignored him. He was probably telling the truth. Most likely, he’d been planning to bring Tami to some secluded spot, then ply her with liquor and ... A wave of anger swept over her. Let it go, Lana, she told herself as she finished splinting Tami’s leg.
Carefully, Supergirl lifted Tami off the ground. "Can you put your arms around my neck?" Nodding though her tears, Tami obeyed.
Jake sat sulking on the gravelly slope. “There’s your jacket,” Supergirl said. “I only used the sleeves. You can wear it as a vest."
"Aw, take a flying leap."
"That's just what I intend to do." Bending her knees, she prepared to spring into the air. "You wait here. The police -- "
"What?" Jake leapt to his feet. "You're just going to leave me here?"
"Don't worry. I'll let the police know where you are. They'll be happy to give you a lift. And I'm sure they'll have a few questions for you as well."
Stuck-up skirt, thought Jake, watching as Supergirl flew off with Tami in her arms. Acting all high-and-mighty and bossing people around just because she's got those fancy powers. Boy, I'd sure like to take her down a peg or two ...
Grabbing what remained of his jacket, he began climbing back up the bank. Maybe he could hitch a ride into Smallville before the cops arrived ...
* * * * * * * *
Suzy maneuvered gracefully through the crowd of students at the refreshment table. Lana and Julie Davenport were busy filling paper cups with punch and handing them to their classmates.
"Hey, Lana," said Suzy. "How's it going?" She inclined her head toward the DJ's table, where Lex was carefully placing the needle on the next record. Bobby Vee's voice rose above the murmur of conversation as the boys and girls at the punchbowl wandered off in search of their partners.
Lana rolled her eyes. "Not so well. Lex has hardly said a word to me all evening."
"Really?" Suzy gave Lana an appraising glance. "You look nice. I mean it. That's a cute dress your mom made for you, and you even trimmed your hair. Tres chic. So what's his problem?"
"It's just that we've both been kept busy. I've been serving punch all evening, and Lex hasn't been able to get away from the record player. Turns out the automatic changer isn't working, so he has to put on all the records by hand." She smiled ruefully. "So much for your perfect plan."
"Don't you worry," said Suzy. "I'll fix everything. Just give me a cup of punch."
"Uh-oh," said Lana, dipping the ladle into the punchbowl. "There's that look again. What are you -- ?" But Suzy had already taken the paper cup from Lana's hand and hurried over to the DJ's table.
"Hi, Lex," she said brightly, setting down the cup. "Lana thought you might like some punch."
Lex looked up from the box of 45's he was flipping through. "Oh -- thanks, Suzy. That was nice of her." He took a sip.
"You're doing a great job," said Suzy. "It was nice of you to dedicate the first dance to Tami. How did you know that 'Runaway' is her favorite song?"
"I asked Pete."
Suzy laughed. "Smart." Then, serious, she said, "Lana says you've been stuck at this table all evening because the changer doesn't work."
"Yeah. If I'd known, I could have brought a turntable from the station."
Suzy shook her head sympathetically. "That's too bad. But isn't it almost time for intermission?"
Lex nodded. "I figure one more song, then we'll take a break."
"So why don't you put on the next song, then get up and stretch your legs -- maybe ask someone to dance?" She winked. "I'd better find Clark. Nice talking to you."
Blinking, Lex watched her hurry off to join the couples on the dance floor. "Take Good Care of My Baby" was almost over. He began flipping carefully through the 45's in the box until he found the one he'd borrowed specially from KROW's library.
Well, he thought, glancing nervously across at Lana, in the words of Elvis Presley -- it's now or never. He placed the record carefully on the turntable, then set down the tone arm with a slightly shaky hand. There was a short hiss, followed by a few chords, and then Ricky Nelson's tender baritone poured from the speakers.
"There'll never be anyone else
But you .. for me ..."
Lex stood up, trying to decide what he'd say to Lana. Lana, may I have the pleasure of this dance? Too formal. Lana, would you like to ...
Heart pounding, he stepped over to the refreshment table. His voice quavered slightly as he began to speak. "Uh, Lana ... would you -- "
Just then a surprised murmur ran through the gymnasium. Couples stopped dancing; everyone was staring at the entrance. An angry voice rang out.
"You've got one hell of a nerve showing up here!"
Standing on tiptoe, craning his neck, Lex saw that Jake Ryder had strolled into the gymnasium. Pete stood confronting him, fists clenched, flushed with anger.
Jake scowled at him. "What's your problem, man?"
"My problem? Tami's in the hospital because of you! She -- she could've been killed!" His voice broke.
"Yeah, well, she wasn't, so just get out of my face." He shoved Pete aside.
Pete swung wildly. Jake ducked the punch, then landed a hook on the side of Pete's face. Pete staggered back, then rushed at Jake like an enraged bull ...
Lana had stepped quietly into a dark corner of the gymnasium. Things were getting out of hand. Maybe she should change to Supergirl ...
But Coach Stevens was rushing toward the two combatants. Wrapping his arms around Pete, he pulled him back. "Kent! Malloy!" he shouted. "Grab Ryder. Break this up -- now!" Clark and Moose grabbed Jake by the arms and dragged him roughly away from their teammate.
"All right," Coach Stevens announced. "Here's what gonna happen. Kent, take your buddy here out to the football field. Keep him there until he cools down, then send him home. Malloy, you and Larsen escort Mr. Ryder out to the parking lot and see to it that he gets off school property -- pronto." The students stood in silence as Pete and Jake were conducted out of the gymnasium.
The final chorus was almost over:
"Never, ever be -- just couldn't be --
Anyone else but you."
As Ricky Nelson hummed along to the closing chords, Coach Stevens strode up to the DJ's table and grabbed the microphone.
"All right, everyone," he boomed. "Show's over. Let's take a break."
Lex and Lana exchanged glances. "Wow," said Lex. "That was ... unexpected."
"Poor Pete," sighed Lana. "He's really broken up about Tami. Suzy told me they had a fight just before Tami rode off with Jake." Students were swarming around the refreshment table, talking excitedly about the scene they'd just witnessed. "I guess I'd better get back to the table. What was it you were about to say before we were interrupted?"
"Oh -- nothing. I'll -- I'll talk to you later, okay?" He watched glumly as Lana joined Julie at the punchbowl. Returning to his own table, he carefully removed the Ricky Nelson record from the turntable and put it back in its paper sleeve.
ONE HOUR LATER ...
Lana glanced at the clock. It was a few minutes after ten. There'd be time for four, maybe five more dances -- and the last dance of the evening would be "ladies' choice." She looked across at the table where Lex was busy shuffling through his stack of records, then turned to Julie.
"Uh, Julie?" she said. "I was wondering -- would you mind covering the table by yourself during the last dance?"
Julie looked at her in surprise. "Lana! You're going to ask a guy to dance, aren't you?" A sly grin spread across her face as she glanced at the DJ's table. "And I think I know who."
Lana blushed. "I just feel bad for him, that's all. I mean, he's been stuck at that table all evening -- "
"Ha! The lady doth protest too much, methinks." She laid a reassuring hand on Lana's arm. "Hey, I'm just teasing. Sure, I'll cover the table. Go for it."
Shaking her head, Julie began gathering up the used paper cups cluttering the table. Lana Lang asking a boy to dance, she thought. Will wonders never cease?
"Hey, Lana." Suzy stepped up to the refreshment table. "So," she said, lowering her voice conspiratorially. "Are you ready for the last dance?"
Lana nodded. "I -- I guess."
"I know things haven't gone the way we planned," Suzy admitted. "But this'll be a slam-dunk. Just go up and ask him to dance."
"What if -- what if he says no?"
Suzy rolled her eyes. "Don't be silly."
"Where's Clark?" asked Lana, changing the subject.
"Out on the bleachers, with Pete. Pete's just sitting there, moping about Tami. Clark and some of the other guys are taking turns keeping an eye on him." She glanced toward the entrance. "Speak of the devil."
Clark had entered the gymnasium and was speaking with Coach Srevens. Lana tuned in with her super-hearing.
" -- doesn't want to talk, and he won't go home," Clark was saying. "I'm kind of worried about him, Coach. He's been sitting out there for an hour, freezing his rear end off. What are we gonna do?"
"Well, he can't stay there all night. Ask Larsen or Malloy or somebody to go out there and keep him company. As soon as the dance is over I'll see to it he gets home if I have to drag him myself."
"Right, Coach." Clark went off in search of a teammate.
Poor Pete! thought Lana. He's taking this even harder than I thought. Narrowing her eyes, she cast her super-vision beyond the wall of the gymnasium, across the school grounds and into the bleachers. Sure enough, there sat Pete in the frosty starlight, his elbows on his knees and his chin cradled in his hands, a picture of dejection.
Lana sighed. I think I know the cure for what's ailing him, she thought. Glancing at the clock, she made a rapid mental calculation. With luck, she'd be back in time to ask Lex for the last dance ...
But right now, she was slipping out a side door, her footsteps echoing along the empty corridor as she strode toward the girls' locker room, pulling a red and blue costume from her purse ...
* * * * * * * *
"Are you Pete Ross?"
Startled, Pete looked up. Silhouetted against the starry sky, a slender figure hovered before him. "Supergirl?"
The figure descended gently. "That's right. And I think I know where you'd rather be right now. Can I give you a lift into Crawfordsville?"
Pete nodded, speechless. Supergirl removed the cape from her shoulders and held it toward him.
"Better wrap up. It's going to be a chilly ride."
As if in a dream, Pete drew the cape around his shoulders. The next moment, Supergirl had lifted him off the ground and stood cradling him in her arms.
"I'm going to fly up slowly," she said. "Let me know if it bothers you, okay?"
"I'll -- I'll be fine," Pete stammered. In fact, he was a little afraid of heights, but he wasn't about to admit that to a girl. Besides, he was going to see Tami ...
Supergirl rose slowly off the ground. Pete gulped. There was a fluttery feeling in the pit of his stomach. Cautiously, he looked down. They were already high above the school building. Light from the gymnasium windows was spilling onto the parking lot. Smallville lay in darkness below him; trees and farmhouses were black outlines against the horizon; and Butternut Creek wound through the starlit landscape like a silver ribbon.
"Wow," Pete said softly. He'd lived in Smallville all his life, but he'd never seen it like this ...
"I'm going to head toward Crawfordsville now," Supergirl was saying. "I'll be flying slowly at first, then I'll pick up speed. We'll be at the hospital in just a few minutes. Are you all right?"
Pete grinned. "I'm fine," he said.
The farmland rolled by in the darkness, slowly at first, then faster and faster. A cold wind blasted against Pete's face and whistled in his ears. He squeezed his eyes shut ...
A minute or two later, the wind began to slacken. Pete opened his eyes and looked down. The lights of Crawfordsville lay below.
* * * * * * * *
The hospital corridor was quiet and softly lit. At the far end, a janitor was mopping the lineoleum floor. Mrs. Luthor was sitting at the nurses' station, filing charts by the light of a gooseneck lamp. She looked up as footsteps sounded along the hallway.
"Supergirl!" she exclaimed.
Supergirl smiled. "Hello, Mrs. Luthor. This is Pete Ross. He's a friend of Tami's -- the girl I brought in this afternoon. I know visiting hours are over, but do you suppose we could see her -- just for a few minutes?"
"Well, if she's not sleeping, I guess I can bend the rules a little. Her folks left half an hour ago. The poor thing's been feeling awfully blue. Some company might cheer her up." She pointed down the hallway. "Room 208."
"Thank you," said Supergirl.
"Yeah, thanks," said Pete. "I really appreciate it." Mrs. Luthor gave him a wink. Blushing, Pete hurried after Supergirl.
Supergirl tapped softly on the door of Room 208, then opened it gently. "Tami?"
Tami was lying on the bed, staring morosely at the ceiling. Her right leg, encased in plaster, hung on a sling. She turned to look at her visitors. "Supergirl!" she exclaimed, starting to sit up. Then she noticed Pete and lay back down, turning her face away.
"I suppose you're here to say I told you so," she said bitterly.
Pete stepped forward. "No," he said earnestly. "I'm just glad you're okay. Well, not okay," he said, gesturing toward her cast. "But you know what I mean."
Tami nodded. Tears were glistening in her large blue eyes. "Yeah, I would've been killed if it hadn't been for Supergirl."
"Actually," said Supergirl, "you can thank Pete for that."
Tami stared. "Pete?"
Supergirl nodded. "He was worried when you rode off with Jake. He told Chief Parker, Chief Parker told me, and I was keeping an eye on you while I was on patrol. That's how I was there to catch you when Jake lost control of the motorcycle."
Tears were flowing down Tami's cheeks. "I'm so stupid!" she said. "Jake was speeding and he wouldn't let me off when I asked him and I could've been killed and now I'll be on crutches for a month and I'll probably be grounded for the rest of my life and he's a jerk and I never want to see him again, ever -- "
Out of breath, she paused to wipe the tears from her face with the sleeve of her hospital gown. She sat back and gazed at Pete with wide, appealing eyes. "Oh, Pete," she said softly. "Can you forgive me?"
"Well, yeah," Pete stammered. "I mean, you're okay, and that's all that matters. If -- if anything had happened to you -- " He gulped.
Tami held out her arms, laughing and crying at the same time. "Come here, you." As Pete leaned awkwardly over the bed, Tami threw her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tight.
Supergirl coughed quietly. "I've got to get back to my, uh, patrol," she said. "Pete, I'm sure Mrs. Luthor will be happy to give you a ride home when her shift is over. And I'll ask her to call your folks so they know where you are."
"Huh?" said Pete. "Oh -- thanks."
"Yes," said Tami. "Thanks for -- everything ... " She was squeezing Pete's hand and gazing up at him with shining eyes as Supergirl tiptoed out of the room.
Minutes later, flying back toward Smallville, Supergirl heard the wail of a siren. A police car was speeding along the road below, its red light flashing. She listened in on the car's radio with her super-hearing.
" -- armed robbery in progress at Larry's Liquor Store, 44 Claremont Street in Shelbyville -- "
Supergirl thought quickly. I can be there in a few moments -- and if I can wrap things up fast enough, I should be able to get back to the school in time for the last dance ...
Putting on a burst of speed, she left the police car far behind her as she flew toward Shelbyville.
* * * * * * * *
Supergirl sighed as she gazed down at the school building. Students were pouring out the main entrance, and she could see the headlights of cars making their way out of the parking lot. The dance was over.
Alighting behind the building, she changed back into her dress and slipped back inside. She hurried down the quiet corridor and into the gymnasium. The large room was nearly empty. A few students were taking down the decorations and folding the chairs under Mrs. Johanssen's supervision. Lex was busy disassembling the equipment on his table and putting it into cartons.
Lana hurried over to the refreshment table. "There you are!" said Julie. "I was afraid you were going to stick me with the clean-up."
Lana grinned sheepishly. "Sorry," she said. "Upset stomach. Look, I'll take it from here. You run along."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'm feeling better now. Really."
"Well -- okay. See you Monday."
Poor Lana! thought Julie as she put on her jacket. Upset stomach, my eye. Cold feet is more like it.
TEN MINUTES LATER ...
Lana surveyed the table. The cloth was folded, the plates were stacked, and the punchbowl had been rinsed and dried. She glanced over at the DJ's table. Lex was packing away the last piece of equipment.
"How are you getting home?" she asked. "Isn't your mother working until midnight?"
"Mr. Hertz wants to take this stuff back to the station tonight. He'll drop me off on the way. What about you?"
"My parents will be picking me up at eleven." Lana looked up at the clock. It was 10:40. "Um -- it's kind of warm in here. Would you -- would you like to go outside for some fresh air?”
Lex stared at her for a moment, then nodded. “Sure,” he said. “That -- that would be nice.”
They walked out of the gym, down the empty corridor, and out into the moonlit parking lot. Only a few cars remained. Shivering slightly, Lex zipped his jacket. Lana pulled her cardigan closer around her shoulders as they turned without speaking toward the football field, silent and empty under the frosty stars. Heart pounding, Lana reached out, brushing her hand lightly against Lex’s ...
“There’s my little girl!” boomed a familiar voice behind them.
Lana’s heart sank as she turned around. Professor Lang stood beaming at her, arm in arm with Lana's mother.
“Daddy!” she exclaimed, forcing a smile to her face. “You’re -- early.”
"I've got to be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow," Professor Lang explained. "I'm taking my graduate students to a dig in Haverbrook. So if you're ready -- "
"Well, Lex and I were going to -- I mean, we were talking about -- oh, can't you give us just a couple of minutes?"
Professor Lang started to speak, but Mrs. Lang gave his arm a sharp squeeze. "Of course we can, dear," she said. "We'll be waiting in the car. Come along, Henry."
Professor Lang shrugged. "Well -- all right. Don't be too long." He turned, then paused. "By the way, Lex," he said. "Have I ever told you I'm something of a radio buff myself? I've got a ham radio set at home. You'll have to come and take a look at it sometime."
"Really? What do you have?"
"A Collins KWM-2," said Professor Lang proudly.
"Wow! Mine is just a Hallicrafters Sky Champion, but I'm planning to fix up a 75-watt code transmitter. I've got a forty-meter coil and crystal. What kind of antenna do you have?"
"I set up a fifty-foot tower a few months ago, with a three-element beam ... "
Lana rolled her eyes. So much for my moonlit stroll, she thought. Suzy is going to be so disappointed. As Lex and her father chatted on about rotors and dipoles, she walked up to her mother.
"Well," said Mrs. Lang. "How was the dance?"
Lana sighed. "It was okay, I guess."
Mrs. Lang put an arm around her daughter's shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. I'm just -- I don't know. I was hoping for just one dance with Lex but that didn't happen."
"Yes, but -- I'm kind of relieved, too. Does that make sense?"
Mrs. Lang nodded. "Oh, yes. Believe it or not, I was your age once." She lowered her voice. "Mrs. Ross phoned me a little while ago. She says that Supergirl brought Pete to the hospital to visit Tami. That was very nice of her."
"Yeah," said Lana. "I'm great at helping other people with their problems, but what about me? I mean -- when will I -- ?"
Mrs. Lang drew her daughter closer. "Don't worry, honey. When the time comes, you'll know it."
"Coming, Lex?" Pete Ross shouted from the back of the pick-up.
A pale winter sun was casting long shadows across the snow-covered ground. Smallville High School's junior class had spent the afternoon at Strawberry Lake, skating and throwing snowballs and occasionally pausing to warm themselves by a crackling fire where Lex Luthor tended a pot of hot cocoa. But it was getting late now, and only a few of the boys remained.
"Yeah, hurry up, Lex." Doug Wilson was scowling impatiently. "My dad's cows aren't going to milk themselves."
Clark jumped down from the tailgate and scooped up a handful of snow. "Heads up!" he shouted, packing the snow into a ball and hurling it toward Lex.
The snowball struck Lex squarely on the back of the head. "Geez, Clark," he muttered, pulling off his wool cap and shaking the snow from it. "Save it for baseball season."
"Gotta keep in practice," Clark grinned as Lex kicked one last clump of snow onto the embers of the fire. "You ought to stay in shape yourself. I hear some of those chess pieces are pretty heavy!"
Lex picked up his knapsack and trotted toward the pick-up -- but instead of climbing on board, he looked around with a puzzled expression.
"Where's Lana?" he asked.
"She probably left an hour ago, with the other girls," said Pete.
"I don't think so," said Lex. "I'm pretty sure I saw her after the other girls left."
Clark groaned. "Stop acting like such a loser. Hop on so we can get going."
Lex ignored the remark. He turned to Pete. "Look, I'm a little worried about Lana. I think she may have wandered off or something."
"Why would she have done that?"
"She had a camera. Maybe she wanted to take some pictures for the school paper."
"Look, city boy, we gotta shove off," Doug chimed in. "It's getting late, and some of us have chores to do."
"I know." Lex cast an anxious look toward the setting sun. "You guys go ahead. I'm going to stay here and look for Lana, just in case. Pete, could you call the Langs when you get home and ask Lana's dad to come pick me up at the trailhead?"
"Well, okay," said Pete. "But that'll be an hour at least. You sure you'll be all right?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. I can build another fire to keep warm. You're probably right. She's probably safe at home by now. But just in case ... "
Pete nodded. "Sure. I'll tell her dad to come and get you."
"Okay, let's go!" shouted Doug, climbing into the driver's seat of the pick-up and slamming the door. He gunned the engine and the truck rattled off down the trail toward the road that led to Smallville.
"Gosh, Clark, why do you have to razz Lex all the time?" asked Pete as the pick-up turned onto the two-lane road. "Sure, he's kind of a grind, but he's an okay guy. Look how he tutored you so that you could get your eligibility back."
"Aw, the guy just bugs me, that's all. He's such a square. Fooling around with radios and rockets and stuff -- he's like a mad scientist from one of those crazy science-fiction books he's always reading."
"Hey, look over there!" said Jeff Mortimer, pointing. The boys turned their heads. An orange glow stood out against the darkening eastern sky.
"That's old man Sullivan's place," said Clark. "His barn must be on fire." He pounded on the roof of the truck. "Hey, Doug! There's a fire at Sullivan's farm. Let's take a look."
"Uh-uh. If I don't milk those cows soon, they'll explode."
"Aw, c'mon, Doug," Jeff chimed in. "Supergirl might show up." The other boys began chanting: "Su-per-girl! Su-per-girl! Su-per-girl!"
"Supergirl, huh?" said Doug. "Well ... I guess a few more minutes won't kill the cows."
* * * * * * * *
Quickly, Lex built a teepee of tinder and twigs on the trampled snow. There was still plenty of wood to keep the fire going once it was lit. But that could wait. Lex stood up and scanned the lake. Its frozen surface, scarred by the blades of his classmates' ice-skates, was unbroken. Whatever may have happened to Lana, she hadn't fallen through the ice.
Turning, he gazed at the remains of the fire he'd tended all afternoon. It was surrounded by a circle of trampled snow twenty feet in diameter. Farther off, here and there, he could see where the guys had gone off to wage their snowball fights.
Wishing he'd thought to bring along a flashlight, he began circling the embers of the fire in an ever-widening spiral, scrutinizing the snow-covered ground. Like Sherlock Holmes examining the scene of a crime, he moved his eyes back and forth, alert for ...
There! A set of footprints led away from the lake, up the side of a low hill. They were made by someone wearing an ordinary pair of winter boots, smaller than his own. A girl's boots, he thought. Could they be Lana's? Lex began following the prints up the sloping ground. Had Lana climbed the hill to take a picture, slipped and twisted her ankle? He hurried along, tracking the footprints to the top of the hill and down the other side, until, about a dozen yards from the crest, they suddenly came to a stop.
Lex stared. It was as if Lana -- or whoever had made those footprints -- had simply vanished, or flown away. But that was silly. There had to be a rational explanation. But what?
A slab of rock projected from the hillside a few feet from the spot where the footprints ended. Of course! Lana had stepped up onto the rock -- maybe to get a better angle for a picture. Lex hurried over, but before he could begin scanning the ground, an orange glow on the eastern horizon caught his eye.
He paused to take his bearings. The land east of Strawberry Lake was mostly field and pasture. Some farmer's house or barn must be on fire. Had Lana seen it? But even if she had, she wouldn't have gone traipsing over two miles of snow-covered terrain just to get a picture -- would she?
Lex fought back a swell of panic. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, reminding himself of the words of Sherlock Holmes: It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. After all, he didn't even know for sure that these were Lana's footprints. And yet -- somehow he was certain that Lana was in some kind of trouble.
He cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted at the top of his lungs: "Lana! Lana!" Her name faded in the frosty air. Discouraged, he sat down on the rock. I'm a loser, all right, he thought. Clark might be a jerk, but he'd got that right. Here he was, risking hypothermia and frostbite, just because he thought Lana wouldn't have left without saying good-bye to him ...
Lex stood up. His fingers and toes were starting to feel numb. Better start moving, he told himself. He'd walk back, light a fire, get warm, then trek down to the road to wait for Professor Lang ...
He cast one last look down the darkening hillside. What's that? A speck of green light was glowing beyond the foot of the hill, about a hundred yards away. Lex stared at it for several moments. Should he investigate? It probably didn't have anything to do with Lana, but his curiosity was aroused. And Professor Lang wouldn't be at the trailhead for at least an hour ...
Lex made his way to the bottom of the hill. The moon, nearly full, was rising in the east, casting its pale light over the snow-covered landscape. The mysterious green glow was still some distance ahead, on the other side of a wide brook that wound among a grove of birches, dark against the moonlit sky.
Lex walked up to the edge of the brook and squinted toward the green glow. It was coming from some object lying on the ground, among the trees. Should he risk crossing the brook? The ice might give way beneath his weight, and although the water was probably less than a foot deep, he didn't want to risk getting his feet wet in this cold. Maybe he could come back tomorrow ...
Lex jumped. Something in the grove had moved. A low mound a few feet from the green glow -- a shadowy irregularity on the ground -- had risen slightly, then subsided. A soft groan reached his ears.
Lex's heart leaped. "Lana?" he called. "Lana!"
He heard his name, a barely audible moan. "L -- Lex?" It was Lana's voice.
"Lana, it's me! Hold on! I'm coming!" Lex stepped onto the crust of ice that covered the brook. It creaked ominously, but it held his weight. Slowly, carefully, he made his way to the other side, then ran toward the grove. He could see that the green glow was coming from a rock about the size of a basketball -- and lying in the snow beside it was a dark figure. "Lana!" he shouted, hurrying forward. She made an effort to get up on her hands and knees, but promptly collapsed face-down onto the snow-covered ground, crying out in pain.
"Lana, what's wrong?" Lex knelt beside her. "What happened?" A feeble groan was her only reply. Lex laid a hand on her shoulder and turned her over, trying to prop her up in a sitting position. But as he gazed down at her face in the moonlight, he saw with a shock that it was not Lana he was holding ...
It was Supergirl.
Her eyes were closed, but she opened them with an effort. Lex could see the frozen tracks of tears glistening on her cheeks. "That rock ... " she said weakly. "Hurts ... oh, Lex ... "
Lex stared at the rock, still casting its green luminescence on the snow. Despite the pain it was causing Lana, it didn't seem to be affecting him at all. He wondered how that could be, but he quickly put the thought aside. The important thing was to save Lana ...
He laid her down gently and ran to the green rock. Grabbing it in both hands, he tried to lift it -- but it was heavier than he'd estimated. He tensed his muscles and tried again, but to no avail.
Calm down, he told himself. If he couldn't get the rock away from Lana, he'd get Lana away from the rock. He hurried back to where she was lying in the snow ...
Kneeling, he grabbed Lana's wrist and drew her arm across his shoulders. He braced himself and stood up. Lana hung limply by his side, her head drooping forward, her legs trailing behind her. Lex put his free arm around her waist and pulled her close.
"Lana, let's get you away from that rock," he said. "Can you stand up?"
"I'll ... try ..." she murmured. She brought her right leg forward and planted her foot on the ground. She managed to push herself up slightly, but the next moment she collapsed again, nearly pulling Lex down with her.
"It's okay," Lex said. "You can do it." He hoped his voice conveyed more assurance than he felt. "Ready? Here we go."
He took a step forward, then another, Lana keeping up with an effort. In a few moments, they had reached the edge of the brook. At this distance from the rock, Lana no longer seemed to be in pain, but she was still very weak -- and Lex recognized the symptoms of hypothermia.
"Lana, we've got to get across this stream," he said. "Then we have to go back up the hill. But I can get a fire going once we're back by the lake. And your dad will be coming to get us soon. Lana, can you hear me? You're going to be all right."
"Wanna ... lie down."
"No, Lana. You can't lie down now. We have to keep moving."
"So tired ... "
"I know. We can rest later."
"Please ... " she pleaded feebly.
"Shhh. Don't talk. Save your strength. Ready? Here we go."
Cautiously, he placed his right foot on the frozen surface of the brook, then his left. To his relief, the ice seemed to be firm enough to walk on. Step by step, he inched forward, trying to keep his balance while supporting Lana, praying that the two of them would make it across the brook safely ...
Just a few feet from the opposite side, his foot suddenly broke through the ice. Tottering, he let out a cry of alarm. If the two of them fell, getting soaked in the freezing water ...
Desperately, he swung around, pushing Lana away with all his strength. She fell in a heap by the side of the brook. Lex plunged forward through the icy, shin-deep water and dropped down on his hands and knees beside Lana.
"We made it!" he gasped. His wet feet were already growing numb with cold. "Sorry for the rough landing. How are you doing?"
There was no reply. Lana lay motionless, her hair spread in a fan on the snow, her eyes closed. Panic gripped Lex as he placed his hand on her shoulder and shook her roughly. "Lana! Lana, wake up!"
Her eyelids fluttered. A feeble groan rose into the frosty air.
" 's okay ... you go on ... "
Lex nearly sobbed with relief. "No, Lana. I'm not going on without you. Come on ... "
He stood up. Reaching down, he grabbed Lana's wrists and pulled her into a sitting position. He leaned back, trying to pull her onto her feet, but her gloved hands slipped through his and she fell back onto the snow.
Lex paused, his mind racing. Let's try a little psychology, he thought.
He knelt by Lana's side. "Lana," he said, his voice low but urgent. "Do you know who I am?"
" 'f course ... you're Lex ... "
"That's right. Listen, Lana. My feet are soaking wet and freezing. If we don't make it back to the lake soon, I'll get frostbite. I might freeze to death. You're got to help me, Lana. You're Supergirl, and I need your help. Please, Lana?"
With an effort, Lana propped herself up on one elbow. Her eyes, brimming with tears, gleamed in the moonlight. "Oh, Lex ... " She held out her arms. "Help me up."
"Just a moment." Lex took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders. "Can you put that on?" While Lana struggled to get her arms through the sleeves, Lex took off his wool cap and pulled it down over her ears. He shivered as the cold air penetrated the light sweater he'd been wearing under his coat. Better get moving, he thought.
"Ready?" he asked. He took Lana's hands in his and pulled her up onto her feet. Once again, he drew her left arm over his shoulder and slipped his right arm around her waist, holding her close. Her face was deadly pale in the moonlight, and streaked with tears, but her mouth was set in a determined pout. "Let's go."
Side by side they trudged forward, Lex stamping his feet with every step as Lana set down one weary foot after another. They reached the foot of the hill and began to toil up the snow-covered slope, their footprints weaving back and forth behind them. Lex spoke words of encouragement as Lana struggled to keep moving. "Come on, Lana ... you can do it ... " On and on they plodded through the cold and the darkness, every breath an effort, every step a labor ...
Lex had no idea how long it took them to reach the slab of rock where the trail of Lana's footprints had ended. Ten minutes? It seemed like hours. He was shivering in the frosty air, his arms and legs felt as heavy as lead -- and most worrisome of all, his feet were completely numb. Lana hung from his shoulder, barely able to stand ...
Lex stood for a moment, considering. He knew that they should keep moving -- but they were both exhausted ...
"Lana, listen," he said. "We're going to sit down and rest for a minute. But only for a minute, okay? Then we have to get moving. We're almost at the top of the hill."
Lana nodded without looking up. "So tired ... "
"I know, Lana. I know." He brushed some snow off the rock, then helped her sit down. Sitting beside her, he put an arm around her shoulders as she leaned her weary body against his.
So Lana Lang is Supergirl, he thought, gazing anxiously at the pallid face pressed against his arm. He should have felt surprised, but he didn't. Lots of things made sense, now -- why she wore such dowdy clothes, why she was always rushing off with some vague story about a forgotten errand or a lost schoolbook ... All this time, Lana had been pretending to be a shy wallflower, when secretly she was the mighty Supergirl ...
He heard the distant wail of a siren. Looking up, he saw the orange glow, still bright against the horizon. He realized, now, why Lana had disappeared. She must have spotted the fire with her super-vision. She'd run up the hill and down the other side so that she could change into her Supergirl costume and fly off ...
Lex was struck by a sudden thought. "Lana," he said. "Lana, where are your clothes?"
"Clothes ... ?" Her voice was a barely audible murmur.
"The clothes you were wearing before you changed to Supergirl. Your winter clothes -- your coat, your hat -- where did you put them?"
Lex thought quickly. She must have hidden them somewhere -- somewhere close by --
He stood up and peered at the slab of rock. Sure enough, one end projected from the hillside, sheltering a nook near the spot where Lana's footprints had ended. Kneeling, he reached inside ...
Yes! Eagerly, Lex pulled out a bundle of clothes -- a pink winter coat, a wool hat, a scarf ... the same clothes Lana had been wearing that afternoon. He began putting on the coat. Its sleeves were too short and he could barely zip it up, but it would keep off the cold. He pulled the hat over his ears and wrapped the scarf around his neck. Then he turned to Lana.
"Come on, Lana," he said holding out his arms. "We've got to get going."
" 's okay," Lana murmured. "You go."
"No, Lana," Lex said firmly. "We're both going. I know you're tired, Lana, but we're almost there!" He looked anxiously toward the top of the hill. It was only about thirty feet away, but how far it seemed ...
He grabbed Lana's wrists and pulled her up on her feet. Wrapping his right arm around her waist, pulling her left arm across his aching shoulders, he began trudging uphill through the snow, half dragging Lana with every weary step. "Come on, Lana ... you can do it ... "
He didn't realize they'd reached the top of the hill until he raised his eyes and saw the frozen lake glittering below them in the moonlight. He stopped for a moment to catch his breath, holding Lana close as he surveyed the scene.
It wasn't far to the bottom of the hill -- maybe a hundred yards -- and he could even make out the spot where he'd laid the sticks for a fire. But Lana was barely able to stand. She was hanging from his shoulders, her head drooping, her breathing slow and shallow ...
Carefully, Lex removed his arm from around her waist and patted her on the cheek. "Lana -- Lana! Don't pass out now. Hang in there, okay?"
Her eyelids fluttered for a moment, but she made no other response. Lex felt a wave of panic rising in his chest. Calm down, he told himself. We can't give up now ...
Something caught his eye -- something dark and shadowy, flapping in the bare branches of a stunted bush, just a few feet to his right. Leaning forward, he looked closer ...
It was a ragged sheet of corrugated cardboard, about two feet wide and four feet long. Lex knew that children often came out to Strawberry Lake in the winter, to slide down the hill on makeshift sleds torn from old cardboard cartons. Some kid must have left that here, he thought. I wonder --
Setting Lana down as gently as he could, he grabbed the cardboard and spread it out on the snow. With aching muscles, he dragged Lana onto the sheet and sat down behind her. Propping her up between his knees, he pressed his gloved hands into the snow and pushed.
Nothing happened. He pushed again. The cardboard sheet inched forward -- slowly at first, then faster as Lex pushed doggedly with weary arms. Gathering momentum, they glided down the hill, the cold air streaming against their faces, until they slowed to a halt just a few feet from the little teepee of twigs and sticks.
Lex scrambled to his feet and stumbled forward, pulling off his gloves and blowing on his fingers to warm them. Kneeling by the teepee, he dug into his pocket and pulled out a little box of matches. Careful, he told himself as he fumbled at the box. He took a deep breath and counted slowly -- one ... two ... three ...
Clutching a match between his stiff fingers, he scraped it against the side of the box. As the match sputtered into flame, he held it under the little heap of tinder, watching anxiously as the fire spread crackling through the little teepee, throwing orange sparks up into the frosty air ...
Hurrying back to where Lana lay, he dragged her close to the fire. "We made it, Lana!" he gasped. "We made it!" He propped her up, facing the fire, then sat beside her. He pulled off his hiking shoes and held his feet toward the fire, breathing a sigh of gratitude as he felt its warmth flowing into his frozen toes. A great wave of exhaustion suddenly swept over him. He tried to fight it, but his eyelids drooped and his head began to nod ...
He woke up with a start. Lana was stirring beside him. She lifted her head from his shoulder and blinked up at him in the moonlight.
"Lana. How are you feeling?"
"Lana?" Hastily, she averted her eyes. "I'm not Lana -- I'm Supergirl. I -- I -- " She sighed. "Forget it. So you figured it out?"
"Well, let's say all the pieces fell into place." He tossed a few sticks onto the fire.
"Oh, Lex, I'm sorry. You're my friend. I wanted to tell you. But I promised my parents I wouldn't tell anyone -- not you, not Suzy ... no one!"
"I understand. And don't worry -- I won't tell anyone either."
"Thanks." She laid her head back on his shoulder.
"So what happened?" asked Lex. "That green rock -- "
Lana gazed into the fire. "Well, I stuck around after the other girls left. I wanted to get some more pictures for the school paper. But then I heard the siren go off at the fire station, so I looked around with my super-vision, and I saw that Mr. Sullivan's barn was on fire --"
Lex began to put his shoes back on as Lana continued.
"So I ran up the hill and down the other side a little way, so I could change to Supergirl without anyone seeing me. And then I flew off. I kept low to the ground so that no one would notice Supergirl flying away from the direction of the lake. But when I got to the bottom of the hill -- "
"Oh, Lex, I've never felt so much pain in my life. I couldn't fly anymore. I fell just a few feet away from that rock. I tried to crawl away, but I was too weak to move." Tears were rolling down her cheeks. "I was afraid I was going to die -- all alone, in the cold and darkness ... and I'd never see my parents again, or my friends -- never see you ... "
She wiped her eyes.
"You saved my life, Lex," she said softly. "Thank you."
Lex shrugged, embarrassed. "I'm glad I was there to help. So what was that rock, anyway? And how could it hurt you?"
Lana shook her head. "I have no idea."
"Whatever it was, it didn't affect me," he said thoughtfully. "It must give off some kind of radiation that only affects someone -- someone with super-powers, like you. Your dad and I can come back tomorrow and bury it deep. Or maybe he can bring a lead container from the university. We can put the rock in that."
"Well," said Lana. "It was very brave of you to go near it -- after you saw what it did to me." She looked around. "Where's everyone else?”
“The other guys went home. They were sure you’d left already, with the rest of the girls.”
“But you knew I hadn’t?”
“Well -- yeah ... “
“And what made you so sure?”
“I figured you wouldn’t have left without -- without saying good-bye to me.”
Lana squeezed his hand. “You’re right,” she said. “I wouldn’t have.”
Abruptly, Lex stood up and stepped away from the fire. He stood with his back to Lana, hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets, staring morosely at the ground.
“Lex?” Lana scrambled to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s just -- it’s just -- “ Suddenly the words began pouring out of him. “I’ve always -- liked you, Lana -- from the day we met, when I was sitting all by myself and you came and talked to me. I think you’re the nicest and the smartest and -- and the prettiest girl I know. But I never told you how I felt. I was afraid you might not feel the same way about me. And now -- well, now I know you’re Supergirl. That changes everything.“
"What do you mean?"
"What chance do I -- look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be saying all this. But I wish I'd told you a long time ago how much I -- how much I -- "
“Now you listen to me, Lex Luthor!”
Startled, Lex turned around. Lana’s green eyes were flashing indignantly in the moonlight.
“I may not have a genius IQ, like some people I know, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Do you really think I haven’t known how you feel about me? I heard you stick up for me that day in the cafeteria. I know why you threw that punch at Chet Caswell ... “
The words were tumbling out of her.
“I’ve known all along that you love me, Lex Luthor -- “
She took a deep breath.
“And -- and I love you, too. So there!”
Lex stared at her, open-mouthed, speechless.
Lana rolled her eyes. “Oh, for goodness sake -- “
Grabbing the front of Lex's coat, she pulled him toward her and pressed her lips against his. As he threw his arms around her, returning her kiss, the two of them began rising slowly off the snow-covered ground.
TEN MINUTES LATER ...
Lana sighed happily as she laid her head against Lex's shoulder. "Isn't it beautiful?" she murmured.
Lex nodded. "It sure is."
The two of them sat side by side, gazing at the frozen lake. The full moon had risen above the low hill behind them, casting blue shadows across the gleaming white blanket of snow.
Lana shivered. "You don't happen to have any of that cocoa left, do you?"
"Hmm? I think so." He opened his knapsack and took out a tin cup and a pouch of powdered cocoa. "It'll take me a while to boil some water, though."
"I think I can save you the trouble. Give me the cup."
She scooped a cupful of snow from the ground. Lex watched, fascinated, as she narrowed her eyes, focusing her heat vision on the cup. The snow melted into slush, the slush turned to water, and in a few more moments, the water was simmering briskly. Lex tore open the packet of cocoa and shook it into the cup.
Lana took a sip and handed the cup to Lex. Lex raised it to his lips.
"Ow!" he exclaimed. "Hot!" He set the cup down in the snow to cool.
"Sorry," said Lana. "I didn't realize. I guess my invulnerability is coming back, too. In fact -- "
She stood up and took off Lex's coat. "I don't think I need this any longer. We can trade back." She grinned. "Not that you don't look cute in that pink jacket."
"Oh -- yeah." Blushing, Lex took off Lana's jacket and put on his own. "So tell me," he said as the two of them sat down again. "How did you get your powers, anyway?"
Lana shook her head. "I honestly don't know. It just ... happened one day. I was perfectly normal when I got up that morning -- and then all of a sudden I had all these amazing powers." She smiled. "It was the day we met. Isn't that funny? The day of that field trip to Gopher Gulch -- when poor Clark got heat exhaustion and had to go to the hospital ... "
Lana sighed. "You didn't know him -- before. He used to be different ... happy and confident -- like he didn't have a care in the world. But then he started going around with a chip on his shoulder. I don't understand it. He's good-looking, he's a star athlete, he's got a wonderful girlfriend -- but he still acts like he's got some kind of grudge against the world. Sometimes I wonder if the heat exhaustion affected his mind, somehow."
She smiled wistfully. "I used to have the biggest crush on him. Oh, I got over it a long time ago, but still -- I can't help remembering the way he used to be ... "
Lex stared thoughtfully into the fire. He remembered the heartless joke that Clark had made last spring, in the cafeteria. That must have hurt Lana even more than he'd thought. He felt a momentary rush of anger, but he put it aside. If Lana didn't hold it against Clark -- well, then, he shouldn't either ...
"So you have no idea where your powers came from?" he asked, wishing to change the subject.
Lana shrugged. "My mom's very religious. She thinks my powers are a gift from God. My dad -- well, he thinks there must be some scientific explanation."
"Maybe they're both right."
Lana tilted her head, as if she was listening to something -- but the only sound Lex could hear was the rustle of the wind in the bare branches of the trees.
"Speaking of my dad," she said, "I can hear his car, coming this way." She stood up. "He'll be at the trailhead in a couple of minutes. We'd better go meet him."
Quickly, they gathered up their things. Lex kicked snow on the fire and stamped out the embers. "Okay," he said, slinging his knapsack over his shoulder. "Let's go."
Standing on tiptoe, Lana brushed her lips against his. "Thank you, Lex," she said softly. "Thanks for -- everything."
Hand in hand, they started off down the trail in silence. "Aren't you going to change into your regular clothes?" Lex asked.
Lana shook her head. "You know my secret. We might as well let Daddy know right away."
Lex gulped, suddenly nervous. "Right."
They could see the headlights of a car parked along the side of the road ahead, and Professor Lang's tall silhouette striding up the trail toward them.
"Supergirl?" Puzzled, Professor Lang glanced from his daughter to Lex and back again. "I -- I'm looking for my daughter Lana. She hasn't come home -- "
"It's all right, Daddy," said Lana. "Lex knows." She drew her arm through his and stood gazing steadily into her father's eyes. "And he saved my life tonight."
Professor Lang stood blinking in surprise. Then a corner of his mustache turned up in a smile as he held out his hand.
"Well, Lex," he said. "Welcome to the family."
Lana led the way to the far end of the cellar, where a steel door with a grille was set in the concrete wall. Lex guessed that it was the door of a tornado shelter. Lana grasped the handle and swung the door open.
"Come on," she said, taking Lex by the hand and pulling him after her into the pitch-dark chamber.
For a moment, Lex toyed with the idea of stealing a kiss. Better not, he thought. Lana's parents were standing just outside the door.
Lana reached up and pulled a chain. The light of a 60-watt bulb lit up the room. Lex saw a bench against one wall, beneath a shelf laden with water bottles, flashlights, and a first-aid kit. Then he glanced down.
A steel trapdoor, about four feet square, was set in the concrete floor. Stooping, Lana lifted the trapdoor and stood holding it open as Lex peered curiously down into a hole that descended through soil and bedrock to a shadowy darkness below.
"It goes down about twenty feet," Lana explained. "Then there's a tunnel leading to the woods behind Strawberry Lake, with a camouflaged trapdoor at the other end. That way, nobody can see me flying away from this house when I go out on patrol or answer an emergency call from Chief Parker."
Lex nodded, impressed. "So how does Chief Parker get in touch with you?" he asked as Lana lowered the heavy steel door.
"Ah," said Professor Lang. "I'm glad you asked." Lana and her mother looked at each other, shrugging resignedly, as Professor Lang conducted Lex across the cellar to a workbench where a radio receiver sat next to a tape recorder.
"I'm sure you'll appreciate this, Lex. You see? This speaker is activated by a special low-frequency signal that Chief Parker can insert into his radio transmissions. And in case Lana's not here, the signal also turns on this tape recorder."
Professor Lang pressed the rewind button on the tape recorder. A few moments later, Chief Parker's voice came from the machine. " -- trailer truck overturned on the Crawfordsville Road, near the bridge. We'll need an officer to set up a roadblock and redirect traffic. Supergirl, if you're listening, could you -- "
Professor Lang shut off the recording. Lex nodded. "That's pretty ingenious."
Professor Lang shrugged modestly. "Simple, really, but I thought you'd be interested."
"You know, there's an old teletype gathering dust at the radio station," said Lex. "I bet Mr. Hertz would be happy to let me take it away. If we could set it up down here, Lana could get news alerts from all over the world -- stuff about fires and floods and -- "
Professor Lang's eyes lit up. "Great idea! When can you get it?"
"Well, this is Saturday. Mr. Hertz probably won't be at the station today, or tomorrow. But I can ask him on Monday, when I do my afternoon show."
Professor Lang took out a pocket notebook and a ball-point pen and began making sketches. "I have an old shortwave receiver we can put next to the teletype. If we can run in a conduit and a coaxial line with a couple of 15-amp circuits -- "
"And then run the line up into your backyard," said Lex. "With a long wire antenna -- "
"Going right up the radio tower. Presto!"
"I'm sure you two will have a lot of fun with that," said Mrs. Lang. "But shouldn't we be getting upstairs? The launch is about to begin. And there's gingerbread in the oven."
* * * * * * * * * *
With a stroke of his cue, Jake Ryder sent the balls scattering across the green baize surface of the pool table. Swiftly, methodically, he sank the seven, then the four -- but the three slowed to a halt a couple of inches from the side pocket.
Jake grunted. "Your turn."
Clark knocked the three into the pocket, then stood back to consider his next shot.
"Don't you usually get tutored on Saturday afternoon?" Jake asked.
"Lex wanted to make it Sunday. Number ten." The cue ball caromed into the ten, sending it into a corner pocket and setting up a clear shot at the twelve. "He's watching the space mission with the Langs."
Clark gazed through the grimy window at the overcast sky, wondering what Ma and Pa would say if they knew he was spending Saturday afternoon at a pool hall in Shelbyville, playing billiards with Jake Ryder. He looked furtively around the dim, smoke-filled room, then shrugged. It wasn't likely he'd see anyone he knew in here.
"So, Clark," said Jake, as Clark leaned across the table to ready his shot. "I hear you and I have something in common."
"Yeah?" Clark was only half-listening. "What's that?"
"We're not exactly members of Supergirl's fan club."
Clark scowled. The tip of his cue grazed the surface of the table and sent the cue ball flying. Jake grabbed it in mid-air and set it down on the table. "Scratch."
Clark stood up, red-faced. Why did Supergirl have to come up in every conversation? "I just think she's a glory hog," he muttered. "Always showing off with those powers of hers." Those powers of mine, he thought.
"That's what I think. Number two in the side pocket." He made the shot. "And everyone thinks she's so great. Boy, does she have them fooled! You remember that accident I had last fall?"
"Accident, my foot. I was going along a clear stretch of road when all of a sudden I wipe out for no reason. And who was right there? Supergirl! What do you want to bet she used her super-breath to push me off the road just so she could fly in and be the big heroine?"
Clark nodded. "You could be right."
"Of course I'm right. So -- " He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "How'd you like to help me take her down a peg?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, suppose you and I put our heads together and figure out who she really is -- when she's not flying around in that circus costume? Man, we'd have her over a barrel! She'd have to do whatever we say, or we spill her precious secret. Hey, maybe we could make her give us some of her super-vitamins, or whatever it is that gives her those powers."
Clark was silent. He was sure that Supergirl's powers didn't work that way, but he couldn't explain that to Jake. But if he could find out who she really was, he might learn how she got her powers, and whether it had anything to do with the loss of his own, that day at Gopher Gulch. And maybe -- just maybe -- he could find a way to get them back ...
"I don't know, Jake," he said. "Lex thinks Supergirl isn't from Smallville. He says she's most likely from other town and just hangs around Smallville to throw people off her track."
"Yeah, well, Lex Luthor may be a genius, but he doesn't know everything. C'mon, think about it -- if you had super-powers, would you hang around a hick town like Smallville when you could be living it up in New York or Metropolis? There's gotta be some reason she spends so much time around here."
"I guess that makes sense."
"You bet it makes sense. Listen, I've got a few ideas about this. Meet me in the cafeteria during lunch on Monday and we'll talk, okay? My shot." He turned his attention back to the pool table.
A familiar voice rang out over the noise of the pool hall. "Clark! Long time no see!"
Startled, Clark turned around. "Oh -- hi, Mr. Peterson."
Joe gave Clark's hand a vigorous shake. "Great to see you. How's the Vespa? Still running okay?"
Joe had lost his liquor licence after Fat Tony's trial, and Clark was no longer taking orders for him, but he'd let Clark keep using the motorscooter. "A little token of my appreciation," he'd called it.
"It runs fine," said Clark. "I don't use it so much in the winter, but I'm taking good care of it."
"Good, good," said Joe, nodding. His dark eyes shifted to Jake. "Who's your friend?"
"Oh -- this is Jake Ryder. He moved to Smallville a few months ago. Jake, this Joe Peterson. He owns that used-car lot down the street."
"Among other things," said Joe. "I like to keep busy, you know what I mean? Nice to meet you, Jake."
"Nice to meet you," said Jake, shaking hands. "My dad sells automobiles, too. He owns a couple of Cadillac dealerships up in Metropolis."
Joe whistled. "Good for him. There's not much of a market for the fancy models around here."
"Jake knows a lot about cars," said Clark. "And motorcycles. He used to own a Harley."
"Used to," said Jake. "I'm trying to raise the cash to buy another, but my dad keeps me on a short allowance."
Joe rubbed his chin, eyeing Jake appraisingly. "I could use someone who knows about cars. I can't offer you a salary, but you can earn a nice commission on every car you sell. And you can pick up some extra cash on what you might call special assignments."
"Like what?" Jake was regarding Joe steadily.
"Well, let's say one of my customers locked himself out of his car. Think you could get it open for him?"
Joe's eyes narrowed. "And supposing a customer lost his keys and didn't want to call a tow truck. Would you be able to get his car started?"
Jake grinned. "Piece of cake."
"Well, listen, Jake," said Joe, taking a card from his wallet. "I've got to run, but give me a call sometime. I can definitely use a smart young fella like you." He shook Jake's hand again and slapped Clark on the back. "I'll let you two boys get back to your game. Good to see you, Clark. Jake, it was a pleasure to meet you."
"Are you really going to take the job?" Clark asked as Jake put the card in his wallet. He couldn't picture a rich city boy like Jake working at a used-car lot in Shelbyville.
Jake winked. "My dad's always saying that a steady job might teach me some responsibility."
"Hey!" somebody shouted. "It's about to take off!"
Every head in the room turned toward the old television set mounted on the wall. An Atlas rocket stood majestically on its launch pad. Mounted on the nose of the gigantic rocket was a tiny capsule, and within the capsule was a man -- a man ready to venture beyond the Earth and into space ...
The announcer was counting down the seconds as the men in the pool parlor stood riveted to the screen, their games forgotten. "Four ... three ... two ... one ... lift-off!"
The rocket trembled, then began to rise, slowly but steadily, amid a cloud of exhaust. As it soared up into the sky, everyone in the room burst into applause.
* * * * * * * * * *
Lana hurried up the cellar stairs and into the kitchen, adjusting her wig. Her mother was busy at the stove.
"Hello, dear," said Mrs. Lang. "How was your patrol?"
"Pretty quiet. I helped put out a warehouse fire in Memphis. And a little girl fell through the ice in Minnesota." Lana glanced through the door to the living room. It was empty. "Where's Lex?"
"Upstairs, in the study. Your father's showing him his arrowhead collection."
Lana grinned. "Poor Lex. He'll be in there for hours."
"Well, honey, you should be glad that the two of them hit it off."
"Oh, I am. So what's the scoop on the space mission?"
"I don't know. I've been busy getting dinner ready. Why don't you -- "
There was the sound of a door shutting on the second floor, and footsteps coming down the stairs.
"I'll be taking some of my students on a field tip out to Haverbrook next month," Professor Lang was saying. "Maybe you could -- oh, hello, Pumpkin."
"Hi, Daddy. How come you and Lex aren't watching the space mission?"
"We took a break. Everything's going fine." He glanced at his watch. "Glenn should have finished his third orbit by now. Let's see how he's doing."
Professor Lang led the way into the living room and turned on the television as Lex and Lana sat down on the sofa.
" -- here at Mission Control," a reporter was saying, "where NASA has just announced that Colonel Glenn has fired the retro-rockets on the Friendship 7 and begun maneuvering into position for his descent -- "
"Already?" Lex was puzzled. "I thought he was planning to make at least six orbits."
Mrs. Lang had come in from the kitchen. "You don't suppose something's gone wrong, do you?"
"I can't imagine it's anything serious," said Professor Lang. Behind the reporter were rows of technicians seated at their monitors. "Everyone looks pretty calm. They're probably just playing it safe. Don't you think so, La -- ?"
But Lana was gone. The next moment, a muffled slam came from the basement.
"I guess she's off to handle some emergency," sighed Mrs. Lang. "I hope she won't be long. Dinner's almost ready."
Professor Lang chuckled. "Better get used to that, Lex."
* * * * * * * * * *
It was a slow afternoon at Ray's Diner. The lunch crowd had left and the dinner rush wouldn't begin for at least an hour. There was only one customer sitting at the counter -- a motorist who'd stopped for a cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie.
Ray took the coffee pot off the burner. "More coffee?"
The man nodded. "Thanks."
"So," said Ray, filling the man's cup. "What brings you to Smallville?"
"Just passing through. I'm on my way to -- what the heck?"
A sudden thunderclap rattled the windows of the diner.
The man blinked. "Thunder in February?"
Ray shrugged. "Mister, we get thunder all year round here in Smallville."
* * * * * * * *
A streak of red and blue shot up from the woods by Strawberry Lake.
Ordinarily, Lana accelerated slowly when she exited her tunnel, wary of causing a shockwave with her super-speed. But right now, there was no time to lose. Within seconds, she was approaching the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. She could see the curve of the horizon far below as she veered east, toward the glittering expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
Lana rarely flew this high. It wasn't the cold that bothered her, or the lack of air; it was the silence that she found unnerving. Her super-hearing could eavesdrop on a whispered conversation half a mile away; but here, in the near-vacuum of the upper atmosphere, no sounds could reach her ears. It was as if she'd become deaf.
But she wasn't thinking about that now. She had a job to do ...
Faster and faster she flew, approaching the Friendship 7 from below as it continued its descent toward Earth. Taking care to stay behind it, away from the observation window, Lana was about to inspect the capsule's heat shield when she spotted something off to her right.
A swarm of meteors was on a collision course with the capsule!
Lana knew that most meteors were too small to pose any danger to the Friendship 7. But these were large enough, and fast enough, to tear through its hull like BB's through a paper cup. Not if I can help it, she thought.
Swooping in between the swarm and the capsule, Lana swung her fist against the largest of the meteors. It exploded, eerily silent, into dozens of fragments. Moving at super-speed, she lashed out again and again, her mighty fists smashing the meteors into tiny bits of rubble that flew tumbling away from the Friendship 7.
That's that, she thought, turning back to look at the heat shield. A quick inspection confirmed what her super-vision had revealed, back in the living room: A weld on one of the mounting brackets had broken off. If the heat shield came loose while the capsule was falling through the atmosphere ...
Matching her speed with that of the capsule, Lana pushed the panel back in place and re-welded it with her heat vision. That should hold, she thought. But just in case ...
Turning, she pressed her back and arms against the weakened panel, using her invulnerable body to shield it against the heat of air friction. The capsule had already entered the Earth's atmosphere, and as it fell, faster and faster, the air around it began to glow with a fierce incandescent heat. The wind tore at Lana's hair, the hot plasma roared in her ears, as the Friendship 7 plummeted toward the ocean below.
Lana could feel the capsule shake, then slow down. Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw a pair of paracutes billowing open against the blue expanse of sky.
I guess my work here is done, she thought. Swooping off, she turned to watch the Friendship 7 drift down, then gave a salute before flying back toward home. A quick glance with her super-vision showed that her mother was taking the casserole out of the oven. She wouldn't be late for dinner.
* * * * * * * * * *
Oblivious to the noisy chatter of his schoolmates, Lex was sitting by himself at the far end of the cafeteria, absorbed in the newspaper spread out beside his tray.
Startled, he looked up. Lana was setting down her tray and taking the seat across from him.
"Oh, hi, Lana." He pointed at the open newspaper. "I was just reading about the space mission."
"It must be interesting. You haven't touched your ravioli. Here, let me warm that up for you."
Lowering her glasses, Lana focused her gaze at Lex's tray. Moments later, a plume of steam rose from the plate. Lex picked up his fork and began eating.
"Thanks," he said. "Yeah, it's very interesting. It says here that NASA decided to cut the mission short because they were worried that there might be something wrong with the capsule's heat shield."
"Oh?" Lana was studiously buttering a slice of bread.
"Yeah -- but when their engineers checked the capsule afterwards, the heat shield was fine. They figure a faulty relay in the system monitor was sending them a false alarm."
Lana hadn't looked up. "Interesting."
"It sure is." Lex leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Why do I have the feeling that there's more to the story?"
Lana sighed. "You're right," she said. "When Daddy turned on the TV, and we saw that Colonel Glenn was coming down sooner than planned, I checked on the capsule with my super-vision. And I could see that part of the heat shield was coming loose. If it came off -- "
"So I flew up and fixed it. I don't know, maybe the shield would have stayed in place. But I couldn't take that chance."
She leaned forward, gazing earnestly into Lex's eyes. "But let's keep that to ourselves, okay? I don't want people to think that Supergirl had to save the mission. Colonel Glenn, and all the people at NASA -- they're the real heroes."
Lex nodded. "Sure."
"Anyway, it's a good thing I was there. There was a swarm of meteors heading straight for the capsule. They might have collided with it if I hadn't smashed them up."
"Wait a second," said Lex. He ran his finger down a column of newsprint. "It says here that Glenn reported seeing bright little objects drifting by the observation window. He said they looked like fireflies. Do you suppose those were fragments of those meteors?"
"Maybe," said Lana. "I -- "
She broke off suddenly. Someone in the cafeteria had just said the word "Supergirl." Holding up a finger for silence, she listened, sifting through the hum of conversation and the clatter of silverware, until ...
Lex was looking at her curiously. "Is something wrong?"
"Do me a favor, Lex," she said. "Glance over toward your left and see what Jake and Clark are doing."
Lex shifted his gaze toward a table by the adjacent wall.
"They're looking through a stack of yearbooks," he reported. "Why -- ?"
"Shh." Lana put a finger to her lips, listening ...
"What about her?" asked Jake. "Julie Davenport."
"I don't know," said Clark. "I think she's taller than Supergirl. And she's kind of flat."
"Yeah, well, maybe Supergirl stuffs her bra. I wouldn't put it past her. I'm gonna put her on the list." Jake wrote her name in a pocket notebook, then pointed to the next photograph. "Tamara Dodge. We can cross her off."
"Yeah." Tami had hobbled along on crutches, with a cast on her leg, for six weeks after the motorcycle accident back in October.
Jake turned a page. "Gretchen Sawyer?"
"No. Too short."
"Hmm. Maybe. Put her down. How many do we have so far?"
Jake counted the names on the page. "Eleven."
Clark whistled. "And we've only gone through half the school."
"Well, I doubt that Supergirl's a freshman."
"Okay, but what about the girls who graduated last year? Most of them still live around here."
"Look, let's just get this list drawn up, okay?" Jake pointed to another photograph. "I'd say she's a possibility."
"Lana Lang?" Clark was incredulous. "You're kidding, right? That drippy wallflower?"
"Hey, why not? She might be really stacked under those baggy clothes she's always wearing. And think about it. Say you were Superboy and you wanted to keep it a secret. Would you go around as a hotshot athlete? No way. You'd pretend to be some mild-mannered nobody."
"But look who she's dating. Do you think Supergirl would be going steady with Lex Luthor?"
Jake shrugged. "Dames. Who knows? Maybe she's into brainy guys. I mean, any girl who can lift a battleship with her pinky probably isn't too impressed by guys with muscles."
Clark shrugged. "Okay, put her down. But I'm telling you, it's not her."
Lex was regarding Lana curiously. "What's wrong?" he said. "You look worried."
"Jake and Clark are trying to figure out who Supergirl is."
Lex chuckled. "I wouldn't worry too much about those two."
"But listen -- Jake thinks I might be Supergirl." Quickly, she told Lex what she'd heard.
"Hmm." Lex frowned. "Still, whatever they're planning, I'm sure you can handle it."
"Not if I don't know what it is. Lex, what am I going to do? I can't keep tabs on them round the clock."
"Maybe you won't have to." Lex stood and picked up his tray. "I have an idea."
* * * * * * * *
Clark looked at the clock on the wall of the empty classroom. It was 2:20. Lex should have been here five minutes ago to tutor him.
Clark had to admit -- Lex might be a square, but he was good at explaining math and science. If it hadn't been for his tutoring, Clark would never have gotten his eligibility back.
Still, he wasn't going to sit here forever. He'd give Lex five more minutes --
"Hi, Clark." Lex came hurrying into the classroom and set his books down on the desk next to Clark's. "Sorry I'm late."
Clark glanced at the books. Atop the trigonometry textbook was a worn copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
"Jeez, Lex, you sure like Sherlock Holmes, don't you?"
"Yeah." Lex picked up the book. "I must have read these stories ten times, but I never get tired of them. He's my favorite character. If I wasn't going to be a scientist, I'd want to be a detective."
"Yeah?" Clark didn't seem very interested.
"Yes, sir," Lex went on. "I'd like to solve mysteries, just like Sherlock Holmes." He sighed. "But you don't find many mysteries in a quiet little toiwn like Smallville."
There was still no reaction from Clark.
"Nope," said Lex. "No mysteries here in Smallville."
"Wait a minute." Clark sat up in his chair, suddenly excited. Lex suppressed a grin. Bingo!
"What do you mean, there aren't any mysteries in Smallville? The biggest mystery in the world is right here in this town!"
"Gosh, Clark, what are you talking about?"
"Supergirl's secret identity, that's what! How would you like to figure out who she really is?"
"Come on, Clark. You know what I think about that."
"Yeah, yeah, you think she just hangs around Smallville to throw people off her track. But what if you're wrong? Suppose she's living right here in Smallville? Suppose she's a student right here at this school? Don't tell me a genius like you couldn't figure out who she is."
"I don't know, Clark. Maybe we should respect her privacy. Remember when people thought Suzy was Supergirl?"
"Don't worry about that. We won't tell anyone else. We'd just be doing this out of -- out of -- "
"Yeah. That's it. So what do you say, Sherlock? Are you in?"
"Well ... " Lex pretended to think it over. "It is an interesting problem ... " He nodded. "All right. I'm in."
"Great!" Clark held out his hand and Lex shook it. "So what should we do first?"
"Let me think about it. Right now, you have to get ready for that trig test on Friday." He took out a sheet of paper and drew a diagram. "Now suppose you have a right triangle ... "