Martha Kent understood proud men.
Her father, William Clark, was a proud man who had worked three jobs when he'd had to, and clawed himself up through the ranks to become a well respected and successful businessman. He'd overcome the stigma of coming from a poor family. He'd beat the family curse; the alcoholism that had killed his parents. The woman he took for his wife was stalwart and true, and he loved her with all his heart. He raised a fine son, and a beautiful daughter; putting them both through college he considered one of his greatest achievements. Having Martha marry a poor man had disappointed him.
"He has no ambition," he'd said of Jonathan Kent.
Martha only smiled.
Jonathan Kent and her father were so much alike, although neither one seemed to see it. William didn't appreciate the monumental efforts Jonathan had made to keep the farm after Hiram Kent died. Jonathan's inheritance: overwhelming debt and broken machinery. As much as they struggled now, it had been doubly difficult that first year, when they'd come so close to losing it all, so many times. Dawn to dusk, Jonathan beat back mother nature to grow their crops. Sometimes dawn to dusk became dawn to dawn, when he worked a second job in order to beat back the money lenders clamoring for payments. He refused to sit back and allow his family legacy, the farm that had been passed down through countless generations, be steamrollered by big business.
Ambition? Jonathan had ambition, far more than Martha's father believed. It was Jonathan who latched on to the idea of organics, which had become so popular with the health food set. It was Jonathan who put up the greenhouse and experimented with hydroponics. He marketed his wife's cooking, and now Martha had a small business of her own, baking pies and cakes. His innovative approach to running the farm had brought them success when other farms were failing. Martha had supported him one hundred percent.
They had their trials, however. Once, during the first year, when things were so hard, Martha had left him. By rote, she'd gone to her mother, and cried on her shoulder.
"We've been fighting. He's just so tired, and frustrated. Why doesn't he just give it up?" she'd asked.
"He can't." Susan said quietly. "He's a strong and stubborn man, Marty. You knew that when you married him. A man like that needs a woman twice as stubborn, and twice as strong, to support him. You have it in you. You will work this out."
"But what do I do?"
"Be there, honey, just - be there."
So she had gone home, and found Jonathan sitting at the kitchen table, weeping. He had thought she'd left him for good. Such a blow, which some might have found inconsequential, had for him been too much. Facing his tasks alone was something he could not bear.
Martha surmised, and her mother agreed, that there was a special sort of fire that burned inside the heart of a proud man. It was fire that tempered steel, and melted glass - a creative fire. It was a fire that built things, molded things, and held things together. Yet superheated steel, or glass, when suddenly plunged into ice cold water, could still shatter.
"We have to be there to pick up the pieces." Susan Clark said.
Susan spoke from experience. She'd had to pick up the shattered pieces left behind when her son was brought home from Vietnam. The loss of Martha's brother had been the bitterly cold water to shatter the strength of William Clark. His only son, upon whom he'd depended to carry on the family name and the family business, had been killed by a sniper's bullet in a Vietnamese swamp. It was the only time Martha had ever seen her father cry. Susan, though just as devastated, had held back her own sorrow in the face of her husband's. In time William recovered, but had it not been for Susan's strength, and to a lesser extent, Martha's, he might not have pulled through his devastating grief.
Martha Kent knew proud men. She knew them well.
She saw the slim figure standing in the alley behind the pharmacy. He was just standing there, leaning up against the brick wall, holding the small white bag he'd apparently just picked up from inside. Martha paused on her way past. She watched for a moment, unobserved, but he stood there, unmoving. His eyes were downcast, his shoulders slumped.
Quietly she entered the alley, and coming quite near, gently brushed her fingers against his sleeve. As if half asleep he raised his head, and looked at her, barely comprehending her presence let alone her identity. His lips moved to form her name - no - her title.
It was barely audible.
Martha wondered how long it had been since he'd slept, for the weariness seemed so deeply ingrained. He was too pale, and too thin. The fierce light in his blue eyes had gone out, darkening them to a storm colored grey. The swelling had gone down above his brow, but it had left behind the ugly black and yellow pattern of bruising. Those were just the physical hurts.
Haggard was a word unsuitable for describing the face of a twenty-one year old boy, yet the term was appropriate.
She figured killing a man could do that to someone.
He was just a boy...
On his way to becoming another proud man, but a boy just the same, caught between youth and manhood just as he stood between buildings.
A slight breeze rifled the collar of his shirt. He glanced down at Martha's fingers resting lightly upon his sleeve, and something broke; something shattered. Martha reached out to him as he turned into her arms, and she held him as the sobs finally broke free. He was unable to stop the flood of tears created by hardship, and pain, and confusion, that only pride had kept dammed until now. One shot, one second of time, one rash decision, had dashed cold water on the fire within.
And he had nobody there to pick up the pieces.
Martha knew proud men. She also understood that before they became men, they were little boys, and sometimes little boys just needed to be held...
Especially when fate decreed they grow up much too soon.
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