Title: The 24 Days Before Christmas
Disclaimer: They're not mine.
Notes: Written for slodwick's Pick a Card, Any Card challenge and Fox & Hyperfocused's Madeleine L'Engle Title Challenge
It's colder than it should be, he thinks, even for the first of December. Leaning forward as the wind threatens to toss him off the sidewalk, he pulls his long black coat tighter around him and tucks his hands beneath his arms.
The post office is only three blocks from his new apartment, but when the weather's like this ... he may as well be walking to the next county. It's the wind that gets you, he knows, whipping sharp and ricocheting between skyscrapers like small caliber bullets in an endless bitter track. It stings through his slacks as if they weren't wool, scrapes over the top of his head with utter disregard for his short scrub of hair.
In truth, he doesn't even have to be out today. He doubts there's any mail waiting for him; he's only had the box for three days and he knows it's going to take awhile for everyone to catch up with him. Not that his family and friends aren't used to it. Pete had gone from Topeka to college in New Hampshire, then down to Maryland with his roommate, both of them practically carrying their poli sci diplomas in holsters at their hips, both of them hell bent on making a difference. Jeff was going home to Maryland to be near DC, Pete tagged along because "home" for him ... well, his last name still carried a political connotation there, and if people were going to know his name, he wanted to earn it. Jeff decided to run for local office, and after he made it they both knew it was Pete who got him there.
He knew the theory, he knew the books, but Pete Ross shone brightest when he was working the spin. He left Baltimore for DC, then Memphis after getting swept up in the campaign of a charismatic economist with visions of senatorial greatness. Despite being offered a position in the newly instated senator's inner circle, Pete opted to take some time. He chose Kansas because he'd had enough distance. He was too young to have the kind of blood pressure numbers he did. He came to Kansas because it didn't have winters that left him wading through three foot deep drifts, and it didn't have muggy thick summers that caused a permanent sheen of sweat on his brow. He chose Kansas because he had enough of the east coast. He chose Metropolis because it wasn't home, but it was close enough.
In a lot of ways it's funny; he's closer now than he's been for years, but he feels more alone in the week he's been in his new place than he has in a long time. A lot of that's square footage, though. His money goes farther here than it had anywhere else he'd lived, so when he got over the sheer awesomeness of his loft high above the city, the yardage of empty walls and floors just started to seem bleak. He knows it'll all come together, but he knows it'll be weird until it does.
He stops to buy a paper from a machine on the corner. The coins from his pocket are warm in his hand. The front page story is about Superman. It doesn't faze him, really -- front page stories in Hanover were about Superman, too -- same in Baltimore, DC, and Memphis. He recognized the byline on this one, though. The photo alongside it, bright crisp colors with the hero like a statue posed in the foreground. Pete shakes his head. How anyone was fooled he'd never know. His eyes glance down to the other article, something about Lex and a fledgling political campaign. Clark still talked about Lex a lot. Pete minded at first, until he realized that he was the only one Clark could talk to. He looks up at the byline and his stomach flutters a little. She hadn't told him. Clark had, and Pete had been angry and relieved and so happy he cried. He was laughing when he begged Clark not to tell him anymore secrets -- anybody's. He was the keeper of too many people's truths, and it'd kept him far away from Kansas for a long time. He hasn't had to lie yet, not since he'd been back, but it was a matter of time. No one really knew he was there, though he suspected the flash of primary colors that snagged his peripheral vision the first night he'd been back in Metropolis was a pretty good indicator Clark knew he was in town. As far as she was concerned ... he hadn't even seen her since she stopped being the girl he knew. He wasn't even sure he'd seek her out. Not right away, at least.
The jingle, floating down from the strip of bells strung on the door, gives Pete pause as he realizes for the tenth time today how small-town Metropolis feels. The postal clerk behind the counter waves at him, Pete waves a gloved hand back as he makes his way to the wall of p.o. boxes. He fishes his keys out of his pocket, they're all shiny and unworn. New house keys, new keys for the mail and a locker at the gym, new car keys all attached to a new key ring, all glinting in his palm. There's a pale sage envelope in the box that he instantly recognizes as part of his mom's stationary set. Behind it is a smallish box, the size like the kind checks come in. Pete had forgotten about the order, or maybe he was just surprised to see them so soon. The plastic comes off easy enough, and the box wiggles open in his still-cold hands. The smell is subtle, distinctive. It's the smell of a stack of campaign posters fresh off the press, it's the smell of his mom's stationary when she opens a new box. The business cards, a thousand thick, smell fresh and comforting. His name's upside down but he can read it, clear and elegant in dark blue copperplate letters. He takes five out and puts them in his jacket pocket.
Pete waves to the mail clerk on his way out. The snow that's begun to fall won't ever pile up like it did in college, and squinting against the harsh wind Pete thanks god for that. Metropolis is a big city with a small town attitude towards the holidays. Pete's a small town boy who knows too much. He heads south; it's lunchtime and he thinks it's about time he visited Clark at work. Set things straight before everyone went crazy with the holidays. He needs a job, he thinks as he fingers the letters of his name on the cards in his pocket, he needs a challenge. Pete thinks he'll give Lex a call.
© scrunchy 2004