After they shaved the cornfields to stubble, and gave up on covering the tomatoes, they only had to take care of the livestock and cut wood for the fire. Maybe there were other things- Jonathan's mother seemed awfully busy- but nothing for nine year olds except carrying things back and forth. Feed and wood. Wood and hay. Hay and milk. Milk and chickenfeed, swishing around in a battered tin pan, and a little boy playing god, whispering at the Rhode Island Reds that tried to peck at his shoelaces instead of good food, "You're pretty stupid, but I guess you'll die if I don't feed you."
Different tin beneath him, he pressed his forehead against a warm, breathing expanse of black and white. His fingers didn't stay numb long when they worked against the udders exactly the way his daddy taught him. A rolling squeeze, gently but firm, top to bottom- long pulls until the first wash of creamy milk zinged against the bottom of the pail. Once he got going, he could hit just about anything- the side of the pail, a quick stream into his mouth if he wanted to. He was a better shot than Paladin, and he congratulated himself for his perfect aim when he fired on one of the barn cats.
He didn't get an allowance for holding out his arms nice and straight to let his daddy stack wood on them. Quarter log after quarter log for the iron stove, he held each one steady until the pile reached his chin. Breathing in cold sawdust, the wood cricked and ticked, pulling on his shoulders about 'til he thought his arms would fall off, but they never did. Daddy promised next winter they'd have a gas stove, if the county ran the lines right. He wouldn't make any promises about getting a television, though. He said the picture show was good enough, but Jonathan figured that was only because he'd never set down to watch "Have Gun, Will Travel."
They had a radio, and he could listen to it if he didn't turn it up too loud. He didn't like the Dave Clark Five, but he didn't like hearing his daddy call them long-haired queers, either. From the headshake and tight-lipped frown that went with the words, Jonathan figured being a long-haired queer must be pretty bad. According to that same tight frown, Simon and Garfunkel were hippies, Stevie Wonder was that blind negro, and the Beatles were a bunch of dope fiends. It didn't matter much to him, because they all sang pretty good, and he liked trying to figure out how Eleanor Rigby could keep a face in a jar.
More time to listen to the radio. Time enough to sneak visits to the Ross' to look at the television. Going to school all day instead of working. Getting up a little later than usual. Without the fields and tractors, without the plows and irrigation lines to worry about- and with the promise of a gas stove next year- Smallville seemed an awful lot like Metropolis in the winter, and he'd already decided to be a city boy when he was grown enough to make his own way. Being a farmer was all right, but living in town seemed like a lot more fun, a lot less work, and it would serve those chickens right for going hungry, as stupid as they were.
"Bless you," he whispered.
The handkerchief was a little limp but clean, so Jonathan didn't feel bad about offering it to her. He kept his eyes on the chalkboard, only catching glimpses of her from the corner of his eye. She glittered all over in the light coming through the window: blue eyelids, frosted pink mouth, and a little butterfly pendant that flashed in the dip of her throat. Laura Potter was something to look at even when she wasn't twisting a borrowed handkerchief in her hands. Every morning, girls waited in the front hall to see what color her turtleneck and miniskirt would be (always two shades of the same color,) and boys waited to see if she might drop something and prove once and for all whether her panties matched everything else.
He wanted to know what color her panties were, but mostly, Jonathan just wanted to hold her hand. Pale- she probably didn't even know what a farmer's tan was; and soft- he could tell, because they never snagged on her sweaters when she smoothed them. She smelled like his mother's flower patch, and when she pushed her long, dark hair over her shoulder, the motion spread her springtime softness in a warm cloud all around. That's what a girl ought to smell like, what one ought to look like- he smiled when she offered the handkerchief back, dry and unused, and wrinkled now from playing with it.
When she returned the smile, all his blood rushed fast, at once, and he wanted to see it again. Sprawling back in his desk, he waited until the teacher turned back to write more important dates in history on the board, then caught Laura's attention with a little wave. He examined the ceiling for a moment, then jerked his wrist with a quick, sharp flick. A yellow number two with a barely chewed eraser flew a straight, even course and stuck in the ceiling. Jonathan could hear the other kids shifting and stifling laughter, but he watched and waited for another one of Laura's smiles.
She rolled her eyes instead.
Determined now, Jonathan carefully worked a sheet of paper from his notebook and folded it. Longways, then in fourths, then sharp-angled thirds; he worked with hands that could string barbed wire and pen cattle before they took a mind to wander off the back forty. Once the paper had become a plane, he stretched his foot out to tap the leg of her desk, then sailed his creation across the classroom and right onto the teacher's desk. The classroom held a collective gasp that sank into more snickering when the flight went completely unnoticed. Laura shook her head, and her hair fell to obscure her face.
Something had to impress her, and he tried a well-timed book-dropping to break the quiet in the class- nothing. Coughing a curse word drew the teacher's attention, but not Laura's. He even took two long, lazy walks to the pencil sharpener- drawing each step to exaggerated lengths, but all that got him was a threat of detention. Slumping down in his seat, he had to concede defeat- it looked like Laura only had one smile in her. Crossing his eyes and bushing his bangs out of his face, he sneezed when one golden hair drifted down and crossed the tip of his nose.
Laura smiled and whispered, "Bless you."
Springsteen on the radio, and summer crickets outside, Nell dug her fingernails into Jonathan's back and held on. Sweat and sweetgrass mingled in the humid confines of the car, a cherry little Corvair he'd souped up the summer before their senior year. The best five hundred dollars he'd spent, when Jonathan sank into more humid heat, soft, feminine heat, he was glad that motorcycle advertised in the paper had already been sold. Couldn't take your girl to the drive in without a car; couldn't do anything but wish she'd take off her clothes without four walls of some kind for privacy.
She tasted like cherry ice when she pulled his tongue into her mouth, and sounded like a symphony when she breathed hard and tried not to cry out. A battle of wills, he'd go slow, he'd go fast, he'd roll his hips to make her give it up, just a whisper, just a broken peep to prove he was good at it, to prove she liked it. It was her idea to come out to the lake. She'd flipped through the stations until she found the right one, and she put her hand on the inside of his thigh first, but it was the principle of the matter- he'd have red claw marks on his shoulders in the morning, so he wanted her to be a little hoarse.
When he finished, he held still while she shifted around to make sure nothing sticky would end up on her clothes. They'd never used a rubber- she swore she was on the Pill and he believed her, because it had been nine months since the first time she let him get past the silk edge of her panties and nothing had happened yet. Once she settled down again, he laid his head against her shoulder and kissed her throat. She tasted like cherry ice there, too, with a little sweat.
"We're still leaving, right?"
Jonathan hummed an affirmative sound, stroking his hand along her side. His thumb brushed the curve of her breast, his hand fit neatly at the curve of her waist. She was nothing but curves, and as he settled a little more weight on to her, he wondered briefly why he'd ever thought her long, lean sister had anything that would interest him. "Day after graduation."
Taking a deep breath, Nell let it out as a sigh, threading her fingers through his hair to pet him. "I don't know why you want to get dressed up just so the principal can give you a piece of paper. Whoop de doo, Smallville High says you're not stupid. A GED is going to be good enough for me."
With a soft laugh, Jonathan looked up at her. Skimming his lips against her chin, he cast her a half smile. "It's important to my dad."
Nell rolled her eyes and pulled his head back down against her shoulder. "Oh, you mean the guy who wants you to rot away forever in Smallville?"
"Which isn't about to happen, so..." Jonathan curled his fingers, rubbing them against her ribs until she squirmed and laughed. "Graduation's the least I can do."
Digging her nails into his back in retaliation, Nell pulled him down for another kiss, hot as the summer night, wild as crickets in the tall grass, rough as Springsteen's voice.
A turned-leaf flash of auburn caught his attention before he actually saw her face. A couple of rows back, if he remembered right- Margaret or or Mildred- something oldfashioned that sounded out of place among all the Lindas and Susans at Metropolis U. He'd only noticed her because she couldn't keep her hand down during the lecture. Every other point the professor made, she questioned, dragging the lesson into long tangents that might have been interesting if the destruction of the gold value had had anything to do with the definition of bonds and their valuation.
Tucking books across her chest- which was a shame, because she had a nice figure under that tailored coat of hers- she thrust her hand out and looked up at him expectantly. "I'm Martha Clark, I'm in Managerial Finance with you."
Martha, of course. He'd been close with Margaret, so he gave himself a point as he shook her hand. "Jonathan Kent, nice to meet you."
Her cheeks flooded with high color, an autumn crimson that blended into the shadows cast by her hair. Swaying a little as she shifted her books, she didn't quite meet his eyes at first. "I hate to be a pest, but I saw you taking notes today. I'm not sure what got into me, but I just couldn't pay attention, and I was wondering..."
Squinting as he smiled, Jonathan let his backpack slip from his shoulder. He was pretty sure that in addition to her duties as class troublemaker, and class extra-reading creator, that she had also been appointed (or maybe appointed herself) class note-taker. He'd seen students hover around her after class, putting in orders for copies. "If you could borrow mine? No problem."
She took a half-step back when he handed them over so quickly, then made herself busy tucking them into her book. Shaking her head as she spoke, her hair caught the sunlight, and spun it out into bronze and copper. Her voice held a note of thin, disguised hope. "Do you live on campus? I could drop them off when I'm done."
"Just off campus, actually." Pulling his backpack into place again, he tried to sound kind when he elaborated. "In Seneca Heights."
Martha lifted her head suddenly, that bright flush deepening. "Oh, the couples housing?" She took half a breath before summoning a smile, and a near approximation of casual. "I've... I've heard they're nice."
"My wife likes them well enough, that's all that matters." Nodding, Jonathan glanced toward the parking lot, starting to break away. With a rolled shoulder, he offered another smile as he took a step in that direction. "You can hold onto those until next class, you look trustworthy enough."
Her thank you fell like leaves.
5. The Fifth Season
"I just don't see the point," Jonathan said, but Nell pressed her fingers to his lips and shushed him.
Her touch trailed down, hooking into the puffed loops of his bow tie to straighten it. She pressed close, molding her body to his and imprinting the shape of thousands of tiny, crystal beads into his chest. She glittered in the evening gown, diamond dew-drops dripping from her ears, an emerald green stone caught around her throat. "I want to see it."
"I have golf with Lionel in the morning and I'd just as soon turn in early." Frowning, Jonathan leaned his head back and breathed in the scent of expensive, French spring. New perfume, she had a scent for every day of the week, it seemed. "It's not going anywhere, Nell. We don't have to go tonight."
Once she finished with his tie, she ruined its line all over again by using it to pull him down for a kiss. "But I want to. That's a good reason, isn't it?" She nipped at his mouth, little bites just hard enough to sting, then soothed them with flickering traces of her tongue. As he softened to each tease, she pulled him closer, deeper, until she swirled over his tongue to share a faint spiced-cherry taste of herself.
His resolve faded, and he spread his hands up her back. Beads chittered together under his touch, a soft sound like the hiss of early-evening crickets in their home town. He knew her body; he could shift and move her with just the tips of his fingers, drawing her closer, pressing his hip against her and rubbing in a slow grind until he pulled a sigh from her. "Best reason I can think of."
Winning her point, Nell bit his lower lip again, holding onto it as she pulled away with a low, pleased laugh. "I thought you'd see it my way." She finally let go, running her tongue against her teeth to wipe away any straying lipstick as her mood dimmed. "I'm a little surprised Lionel won't be coming."
Jonathan shook his head as he selected keys for the nightone of the classic Bentleys, they didn't make them like that anymore. "Some people like to forget, Nell. But you always were a little morbid."
Slipping her arm into his, she let him set the pace as he escorted her toward the elevator. "It isn't morbid, it's closure. I think I have the right to ask why, don't you?"
"The government says it doesn't speak." Turning to pull her into his arms, Jonathan reached around her with a true aim and punched the elevator button. "Just promise me you won't be too disappointed if all it does is look at you."
Rolling her eyes, Nell stepped back when the doors opened. For all her curves, she looked sharp now- sharp heels, sharp mouth, and a sharp slice of her fingers as she crossed her chest with them.
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