Best Kept Secrets

by DebC

Author's Notes: This is written for Slod's "Picture = 1000 Words" Challenge. The picture I was given is here: Thanks to LaCasta for the superior beta reading and to Azar for listening to me whine about how many words I had to delete to make it fit the limit. :-)

"Best Kept Secrets"

Martha Kent had dreamed of this day all her life: they were decorating the nursery for her soon-to-be-born baby.

Jonathan finished the chores early, and Clark stayed home from school so the three of them could show the newest Kent how much they loved her. Or him. Martha had declined to know the sex of the baby. She wanted to be surprised. Boy or girl didn't matter, however. The child would be loved all the same, Martha thought as she watched her son and husband carry boxes of old junk from the spare room.

The next box Clark picked up was an especially old one, and the bottom fell out unexpectedly, spilling the contents to the floor. He knelt to retrieve the contents, looking at each photo and old receipt as he handled them. Martha recognized them, feeling herself pale slightly when her paused at one old envelope. "What's this?" he asked, a frown crossing his face.

It was an unopened letter, addressed to her in Jonathan's scrawling, messy handwriting. 'Return to sender' had been stamped across it in red ink. Tears welled up in her eyes, uncontrollable because of raging hormones and unearthed memories.

"You... kept them all?" She whispered to her husband.

"Every one." He reached out to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

"Kept what?" Clark's petulant voice brought them out of the bittersweet moment. He looked at them both in confusion.

Jonathan cleared his throat awkwardly. "Son, I don't think--"

"No, Jonathan, it's okay. Clark's old enough to understand now."

"Martha..." He looked hesitant. "Are you sure?"

"I know, but I'm tired of secrets." With that, she reached out to take the letter from her son, the feel of it in her hand flooding her with memories.

She was halfway to Metropolis before she realized that going home to her parents would be like saying her father had been right. Maybe he had been, but Martha Clark--now Martha Kent--didn't want her father to know that. She had her pride, after all.

Instead, she stopped at the first gas station she could find, refueled and picked up a road map. She had a cousin in Edge City, and that sounded like as good a place as any to build a new life. She'd find a divorce lawyer once she got settled and found a job. She'd think about that then, because right now, it hurt so much to admit that Nell was right--she wasn't meant for the life Jonathan wanted.

The first letter came within days of filing for a divorce, arriving in a thick envelope that Martha opened ambivalently, hoping he'd signed the papers already. He'd returned them, but not signed, and torn to shreds which tumbled out when she reached for the accompanying letter. 'I'm not giving up on us,' he'd written.

She hadn't the heart to read the rest of it.

Each week, a letter came, and she made a trip to the post office to have them returned. Unopened, and stained with her tears.

How stubborn could he be not to see the folly in this? She wasn't cut out for his world. He needed someone else--like Nell Potter--who wanted to be a farmer's wife. She thought he'd realize that once she left, but apparently, he had not. He just kept sending her letters.

Letter after agonizing letter.

And she continued to return them, because she could be just as stubborn.

She cried the day she realized it'd been three weeks without a new letter from Jonathan. Although she hadn't read any of them beyond the first line of that very first one, she had come to depend on their presence each week. She even secretly liked the idea that he was pining for her. It had a romantic appeal to it.

They'd stopped coming, however, and she supposed she should call her lawyer and have him draft new divorce papers. He'd sign them this time, and she'd be free to get on with her new life.

Martha returned home from grocery shopping to find him sitting on the stoop outside her apartment building. He looked out of place in the big city with his flannel and worn jeans. His hair was tousled and he looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. The new divorce papers were in his hands.

She looked away, unable to meet his eyes, and walked past him into her building. He followed her, his work boots clumping up the stone steps.

Silently, she let him help her with the groceries. When they were done, he spoke. "I'll sign them if you want me to." His voice cracked with emotion he tried to hide.

"I..." she wanted to tell him to do it already, get it over with, but nothing came out.

"Martha, I love you," he said in the wake of her silence. "I still there's a chance for us, but I'll do it, if it makes you happy. I'll do anything to make you happy."

Her heart broke then, shattering into a million tiny pieces the moment she looked into his eyes. "I love you too, but I'll never be like your mom or Nell or--"

"I don't want you to be anyone but yourself."

"We agreed on the drive home to keep it a secret," Martha explained to her son. "Jonathan had already told everyone that I'd gone to visit a sick relative, and no one thought to question it once I'd returned." She sighed. "You came to us not long after... there wasn't much sense in dwelling on it."

Clark nodded, still frowning. "Didn't you love Dad?"

"Of course, I did, honey. I was young, and sometimes young people do stupid things." Very stupid things, she added internally, when she realized the things she might have missed out on had Jonathan not refused to give up on their relationship. She was grateful for his stubbornness, she admitted, smiling, as she squeezed his hand tightly.

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