If there was a market for stubbornly pouting toddlers, Clark would be a model. No, make that a supermodel. He had all the elements exactly right: pursed mouth, arms folded, entire body registering the "give me liberty or give me death" resistance of a very small young man who has no intention of doing something that unreasonable parents are demanding.
There was also a spoon impaled in the opposite wall.
"I said, Clark, that's enough." Martha had decided to settle the first issue first, the silverware hurling second. "Your father and I want you to eat them and you are going to eat them."
"No, peas are not yucky, they taste good and they're good for you. You haven't even tasted one."
"Don't want to."
Martha suspected that this was really because Clark had found the peas too much fun to play with. And since none of this other toys tasted good, peas couldn't taste good either. That was the problem with kids; they were illogical in completely logical ways. Her eyes signaled an "Over to you" to Jonathan, who had retired defeated from the first round but seemed rested and ready to come back into the arena.
Her husband scooped up some of the offending spheres in a spoon. "Open wide, son, here they come." Clark clamped his lips tightly and shook his head until it was almost a blur. Martha was an instant too late in realizing that he was carrying out a second tactic. A tiny hand snaked up from underneath the table and swept all the remaining peas against the same wall where the spoon was embedded up to the last inch of its handle.
"We do not throw food, Clark." Martha was doing everything to avoid laughing at the way that Clark was trying to keep his mouth as firmly shut as before but also to grin at his own clever strategy, and was relieved that she was still able to sound stern.
For an instant, Clark looked abashed and then glanced up through his lashes at his parents. "Don't want to," he repeated, but in a more subdued voice.
"In this house, we taste things before we decide whether we like them or not," Jonathan answered, bringing the spoon back to Clark's mouth.
He opened it the tiniest possible crack that would admit the spoon and Martha breathed a sigh of relief as, with an exaggerated disgust, Clark chewed the mouthful, as though he was trying to keep the peas from contaminating his teeth or tongue.
She and Jonathan caught the return of the grin just a fraction of a second too late. With a delighted "ffffffffffffffppppppppppppptttttttttttt," Clark craned his head back as far as it could go and spurted the green mush towards the ceiling.
Apparently he felt he'd won the moral victory, as he placidly listened to their rebukes like a gracious diplotmat going through a tedious formality, and even accepted a timeout without the usual aggrieved look and stomping over to the chair. But he was generous in victory; when the five minutes were over, he sidled back for the usual quick hugs that he always wanted after a time out.
After he went up to his room, Martha opened the freezer and counted the remaining containers. "Five down, five to go," she muttered. "He's got to actually swallow some sometime, right?"
Jonathan lifted his hand from his face to see a very worried looking Clark staring up at him. "Daddy?"
"It's okay, Clark, I was just sneezing."
"Sneezing?" Clark must have thought the word sounded funny, since he giggled. Well, you could hardly blame him, it does sound pretty silly, Jonathan decided. "What's sneezing?"
"When things go in your nose, sometimes your nose sneezes, to blow them back out."
"No fingers in noses!" Clark responded, sternly.
"That's right, Clark. But this was some dust that had gotten into my nose. You know how some people laugh when other people tickle them?" Clark nodded. "Sneezing is the way your nose laughs when something tickles it."
Bad comparison, Jonathan told himself. Clark had gotten that "I'm missing out on something" pout that he occasionally got when Martha or Jonathan explained human functions that he didn't seem to have. "No, it just sounds funny."
"Can I sneeze?"
"Well, you haven't yet, but maybe it's something you'll do when you get bigger."
Clark nodded, relatively satisfied, and then the topic changed to the grossness of slugs.
Phil Ross had warned them, "Nap time isn't for them, it's for you." Well, he should know, he was Pete's father. Fortunately, Clark was still willing to nap and sometimes cooperated by lying down, wherever he was, the moment somebody announced that it was nap time, so that they'd have to carry him up. Jonathan deposited Clark on his bed and reminded him, "No, you snore after you fall asleep."
He could deal just fine with remembering the time that Clark had run into their bedroom, wanting to know what was wrong, why Daddy was making that noise. He didn't even mind that Clark sometimes tried to snore, just like Daddy. What he still held a grudge about was Martha's remembering it and the way she didn't try hard to repress her laughter when she remembered it.
He gave Clark another quick squeeze and went back downstairs. With luck, maybe it would be a couple of hours, since sometimes after he woke up, Clark would quietly play by himself or, more often lately, lie thinking. He and Martha sometimes wondered if Clark had to unlearn things from his home world or his own species, since he certainly seemed to spend a lot of time "just thinking."
Who knows, maybe they could even finish a video. He and Martha both had a thing for the really cheesy low-budget creature horror films, the kind where they could debate over whether the mutated dinosaur crushing cities under its feet was a plastic model or if somebody really did tape green macaroni on an iguana. Martha still jumped at the "scary" bits and that was as good an excuse as any for them to get a bit closer. Having Clark asking what was happening in the movie or what they themselves were doing just didn't bring the same kinds of satisfaction.
A very satisfying hour and a half passed and the mutated dinosaur had just been blown up when they heard the thunk that announced that Clark had jumped off the bed. Jonathan kept an ear open for the sound of his coming downstairs, but the movie drew to its ending, and he and Martha had to discuss whether the dinosaur eggs were really red grapes.
There was an unfamiliar sound, a bump, then the sound of triumphant Clark giggling. After a moment, Jonathan grinned. "I got it, he's trying to sneeze."
"Then what's the bump?"
They exchanged a look that said "better find out" and headed upstairs.
"Look at me sneeze!" Clark sat on the floor, legs crossed, an expression of intense concentration on his face. He took a deep breath and then exploded it through his nose. The force was enough to just barely lift him off the ground.
Okay, another thing to tell Clark not to do around other people. But in the meantime, "Gesundheit." If Clark thought the word "sneeze" was funny, there were plenty more words where that came from.
"I think he has a future in sales," Martha commented, noticing the effect that Clark's big grin had on the shoppers at the Farmer's Market, particularly when he held out a bunch of carrots or ear of corn to entice somebody into buying. The effect wasn't even diminished when he took a bite out of one of the carrots and held out the bunch again, repeating his invitation.
The punk look was late by the time it got to Smallville, but one teen couple had enthusiastically adopted it. As they came by, holding hands, Perry with a navy mohawk, Zoe with green spikes, Clark was fascinated. "Mama, look!"
"Hi, big fella," Zoe answered, crouching down to his level.
"Yes, that's right, my hair is green. What color's your hair?"
Clark looked pensive for a moment, then grinned again. "Red!" he answered, practically rolling on the ground with giggles.
"I think that you're kidding me, pal."
"I think your hair is a very handsome black."
Martha got caught up in totaling an order and missed the next part of the conversation, but when she looked over, Clark was nodding emphatically and had scrambled onto Zoe's lap so he could touch her hair.
"It wouldn't be like that forever, you know." Just as Martha was turning to another customer, Zoe stood up, Clark balanced on her hip. "Mrs. Kent, if it's okay with you? We'll just go to my sister's booth."
"Of course, Zoe." Zoe's sister Sandra mostly made jewelry, but she also sewed puppets and stuffed animals. Clark would probably come back in love. "Just no snacks, okay?"
"Thanks, Mrs. Kent!" Clark giggled as Zoe put him back down and took one of his hands, and he eagerly held up his free hand to Perry, who took it silently. Martha tried to remember the last time she'd actually heard him say anything and couldn't recall. Supposed to be one of the brightest students the high school had ever had, though, and she thought that she remembered hearing that he'd been published in a few magazines already, not just student ones. Mr. White had told her that he hoped Perry wasn't saving it all up for one long marathon conversation.
Jonathan came back from the truck, carrying more boxes, by the time she'd finished checking to see that they had enough small change or needed to get more. "Where's the boss?"
"Zoe took him over to Sandra's booth."
"Robbing us of our best salesman, huh?" If it weren't for Clark's coloring, people might have thought that he was their biological son, just from her husband's own grin.
About ten minutes had passed and the crowd started to thin, drifting back towards cars and trucks. Jonathan finished putting a customer's apples into a bag and after handing it to her, froze. "Martha?"
"Wha-" Her hand flew to her mouth. Zoe and Perry were coming back, Clark between them, grinning broadly. As they got closer, Clark shouted, excitedly, "Look, Mama!"
Well, that'd teach her not to listen very carefully before giving permission for anything. Clark's hair was now gelled into five proud spikes.
"That's Big Googa's seat!"
Jonathan moved about a foot to the right and started to sit, and this time, Clark didn't indignantly warn him that he was about to trespass upon or crush any of Clark's friends.
"I don't think I've met Big Googa yet," he answered, cautiously.
"Course not. Big Googa's invisible."
"How come you can see him then?"
"I'm his friend." After a pause, he added, "Big Googa can fly."
"Does he have wings like a bird or like a plane?"
Clark considered for an instant. "No, he says that he just flies."
"Does he like to fly?"
"Uhm hmm. He says he'll teach me. He can do lots of stuff."
"He can climb the tree faster than I can and sometimes he picks up the house. He puts it back, though."
"He doesn't have to eat peas if he doesn't want to." Jonathan just nodded and Clark, realizing that this hadn't worked, went on. "He and Manoo are cousins."
"So is he a penguin, too?"
"Not a penguin cousin, a cousin cousin."
"When Manoo takes a really big breath," Clark paused to demonstrate, noisily, "She sounds like the vacuum. That's how she cleans her room."
Jonathan just hoped that these friends really were imaginary. Sometimes, he had mental images of what it would be like if they were really creatures that had come with Clark.
The book about encouraging children's imagination didn't have a section of special considerations about alien children. He figured, though, they were handling it pretty well.
But he'd still be extra careful when Clark warned him not to sit or step on a friend.
Just in case.
As Martha came into the house, she saw the small pile--a red shirt, jeans, tiny boxers, socks--but she didn't see their owner anywhere around. "The Smallville Stripper strikes again," she muttered, listening for the pounding footsteps that might indicate her son's currently very naked whereabouts.
The next sight, innocuous enough to an ordinary observer, sent a chill through her blood. A mug with cow spots. At toddler height on a low table. Empty, except for a thin brown ring at the very bottom. "Jonathan's coffee. He got Jonathan's coffee."
At the same time...
Jonathan already knew this. At least, they'd succeeded in making sure that Clark knew not to run at full speed anywhere except on the farm, and he could occasionally make out a moving streak along the perimeter and hear an excited, "Whee!"
His life had shrunk to two small wishes: that Clark would be decaffeinated by the time that Martha got home and that nobody notice, except for the cows, who already had, and judging from their reactions, had never had a toddler play leapfrog over them before.
Then he heard Martha calling, "Clark!"
"I didn't even realize he had it until he'd already finished it!"
Martha could believe it all too well. Clark was good about obeying rules and fortunately, didn't hunt for loopholes the way that Pete did, but he had a talent, no, make that a genius, for ending up in situations where there weren't any rules. He'd never shown any interest in coffee before and so, rather than create forbidden fruit, they'd never told him not to drink it. But then Jonathan had left a full mug on the table and next thing he knew, Clark had reached for it, carried it into the living room, and gulped it down.
"I've counted about thirty laps," she commented, deciding not to push the guilt, at least not until some occasion when she might need to.
"I stopped counting before you came back. Around 200." He shook his head.
She and Jonathan had sat up late one night, trying to develop a clear sense of where the boundaries of exploiting Clark's abilities were, making sure that he knew to use them appropriately. Given his nature, it was beautifully clear, once they saw it: Have him do the normal chores any farm boy would do and his own instincts to help would lead him to offer to do anything else he felt was within his capabilities.
She wondered if, once he really understood what the windmill was and what it did, he'd offer to drink a cup of coffee and hitch himself to it. Ethically, she didn't like the idea one bit--it felt too much like using him, even if he did offer--but that couldn't keep her from snickering at the reaction of the local utilities department when they saw that instead of paying about two dollars a month for the extra energy the Kent farm added to the grid, they had to pay hundreds or thousands since all of a sudden, it was providing enough power for all Smallville. Maybe for all Metropolis.
"Fifty-two. I think he's slowing down."
A half-hour later...
Finally, it was apparent that Clark was slowing down. Still going too quickly to hear them, she suspected, but nonetheless, slowing down.
Forty-five minutes after that, she tried calling to him, but the wind he was creating still must have been blowing too fast.
She wanted a cup of coffee herself--just watching him was exhausting.
"Clark!" By mid-afternoon, his path had actually worn a significant trench around the farm and as he slowed, they could occasionally see him a bit more clearly. Jonathan wasn't sure he wanted to; it was disconcerting to see what looked like a disembodied head running around the farm at warp speed.
He'd finally slowed down enough to hear them and leaped from the trench to come over to them.
Clark hadn't quite mastered the art of slowing down or stopping from a fast run, and often stumbled over his own feet or wasn't able to coordinate them, sending him into a fall that would have seriously injured any other child, but most of the time, just made him giggle, except when he was in a mood to be frustrated.
Coffee, having finally watched enough baseball on television, or perhaps a growing inborn understanding of his body must have given him a new idea. About fifty feet away, he jumped into the air, folded himself in a v-shape with his legs up, and landed on his bottom, skidding to a halt right at their feet.
Jonathan couldn't resist it. "Safe!" He shouted, spreading his arms wide.
Jonathan rubbed a hand along his cheek and frowned thoughtfully. "I think so, what about you, Clark?"
Clark solemnly rubbed his own hand down his father's jawline and nodded agreement.
"Okay, then, I definitely need a shave."
As Clark watched, perched on the toilet tank, Jonathan opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out his father's old-fashioned shaving gear. The only thing he'd ever changed was a safety blade instead of a straight-edge, now that there was a toddler in the house. He'd made that decision reluctantly, as it was more a matter of principle than necessity, since Clark could hardly hurt himself with it, but he finally decided that he had to set the safety first example.
He daubed on the cream and had to admit that he was adding artistic flourishes, given his intent audience, with each stroke of the razor along his skin and then swishing it in the bowl to clean off the hairs and old cream.
The ritual wasn't quite finished, though, even when he rinsed his face. Putting a hand under Clark's chin, he examined the toddler's face, then gravely rubbed a hand along Clark's face. "Maybe not today, son, for a full shave." He waited for Clark's consideration of the question and nod. "Just a brushing should take care of it." He took out the second, dry brush, and to Clark's giggles, tickled every inch of his face with it, giving extra attention to his nose and under his chin.
Martha heard a car pull up and groaned to herself. Clark had been particularly energetic that morning and even her efforts, combined with Jonathan's, hadn't been enough to tire him out. When she heard the knock, she called, "Hi, Perry, come on in. We're running a bit late here."
The taciturn young man came in, nodded a hello, and then grinned at Clark, who came running in, recognizing his new friend from the farmer's market. "Pointy hair?" Perry hauled him up so he could touch the gelled spikes.
After he'd inspected Perry's hair, Clark made his latest demand of any grownup he encountered, "Tell me a story?" Martha could only turn to hide her smile, since the boy who was considered the most talented writer Smallville High had seen in years was rarely heard to utter more than five words at a time in public. He kept below that record as he answered, "You tell me one."
Clark, struck by this new idea, frowned in concentration and then began to tell Perry about a dog named Rusty who had extra-special magical powers, while Martha finished packing the produce she'd enlisted Perry to help her deliver.
She and Clark finished at the same time, and Perry delivered his verdict. "You tell good stories."
"Clark?" Jonathan didn't even bother looking in the house after that one call, but went right out to the barn, where Clark had doubtless returned to watch the new goats. As he passed through the kitchen, Martha was distractedly looking around with her "I know I put it down right there" expression and he paused.
"I know I whipped that cream," she said, in answer to his raised eyebrow. "I could have sworn I put it in the refrigerator, but it's not there, and it's not in the freezer, and I..." He left her to it as he went in search of Clark to get him cleaned up for dinner.
There was a loud bleating and Jonathan saw Clark, as he expected, with the lop-eared goats, who were happily surrounding him and vying for his attention, even while he admonished, "Don't eat it!" while patting whipping cream into the billys' beards, while they were industriously licking it off.
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