Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Credit for this one goes to Tobiwolf13, who introduced me to the song, and my daughter for suggesting certain plot elements involving Lois Lane.
Special thanks to Jason Alexander for so kindly posing for the title image.
I work down at the Pizza Pitt
And I drive an old Hyundai
I still live with my mom and dad
I'm 5'3 and overweight
I'm a sci-fi fanatic
Never been to second base
But there's a whole 'nother me
That you need to see
Go check out MySpace...
When you got my kind of stats, it's hard to get a date
Let alone a real girlfriend
But I grow another foot
And I lose a bunch of weight
Every time I log in...
I'm so much cooler online
-Brad Paisley, "Online"
"I'm looking for Superman."
She walked into the loft where I spend most of my spare time. Sunshine slanted through the open window, gilding her blonde hair and lighting the prettiest face that's ever been in my barn. I turned around at my desk and gaped at her, because women never come to the farm looking for me. They just don't.
"Chloe Sullivan, Daily Planet." She offered her hand in a brisk, efficient gesture that went perfectly with the crisp tone of her voice. She wore a green power suit and tasteful gold earrings, an ensemble that announced to the world that she was a professional. "I'm looking for Superman."
"Um..." I rose to my feet, standing tall. Or as tall as I get. I straightened to my full height of five foor three (well, with workboots on) and found myself looking straight into her gorgeous hazel eyes. I sighed.
"I'm Superman," I said.
There isn't much to do in Smallville, Kansas. Just as the name suggests, it's a small town. When I was in high school, I couldn't get involved in afterschool activities because I had to spend the afternoons working on the farm. It's not like I was going to be the star quarterback, anyway. Maybe the president of the Geek Club.
Anyway, I didn't have a lot of friends in high school. Just one, Pete Ross, who's moved away since then. Same as everyone does, except me.
But I digress. The point is that I'd come home after school, do farm chores till I was ready to drop, and then I'd find myself with an evening of boredom to kill. A guy can only watch Star Trek III: The Search for Spock so many times before he's ready to fling himself out the nearest window.
So I started logging onto the internet.
At first, I just presented myself as I actually was. Short and kind of chubby. An ordinary, geeky guy.
But before long, I figured out girls were a little more interested in me if I lost some of that weight and grew a foot or so.
That's how I got my first girlfriend.
Well, okay, online girlfriend, if you want me to be honest about it-- and I guess that's why I'm writing this, so I can finally be honest about everything. Honesty has never had that much to do with my online life, but I'm trying to change that.
Anyway, her name was Lana Lang, and she had glorious long, shiny ebony hair, dark green eyes, and a beautiful smile. She'd had a tragic life as a child, having lost her parents in a terrible accident when she was only three. She attended high school in Metropolis, which wasn't too far from Smallville.
Lana and I hit it off, and exchanged lots of photos. Mine, of course, were, shall we say, somewhat altered. By which I mean I magically grew a foot, suddenly had chiseled features, and developed a six pack, no diet or exercise required.
And because we lived pretty close together, one day when I was eighteen, I took off to meet her where she worked. I didn't dare tell her I was coming-- she'd be looking for the gorgeous six foot three version of me, after all. But by that point, I had a huge crush on her, and desperately wanted to meet her.
When I walked into the coffee shop where she'd told me she worked, I sat down at a chair and was greeted by a fortyish woman with a mop of frizzy hair bleached an improbable shade of platinum, and way too much makeup. She smiled down at me.
"What can I get you, hon?"
I looked at her nametag and got the shock of my life.
Because it read Lana Lang.
"Um," I stammered. "Uh, I don't think I'm in the mood for coffee right now."
I got up and fled the coffee shop, and Metropolis.
The woman in front of me looked kind of the way I'd felt that day. She gaped at me.
"You cannot possibly be Superman," she said.
I spread my hands apologetically. "Guilty as charged." I lifted an eyebrow at her. "How'd you figure out my real name and where I lived, anyway?"
"Just a little simple detective work. The internet's not nearly as anonymous as most people think." She walked around me, looking me over. "You know," she said, "I've seen your pictures online. Superman is six foot three, with a set of six pack abs you wouldn't believe."
"Shouldn't believe everything you read online," I said mildly.
She stopped in front of me, staring challengingly into my eyes. "So it's all a hoax?"
"It's not a hoax," I replied, slightly miffed. "I just... well, when I first started hanging out on the internet I picked the name Superman. It was kind of an ironic thing, you know? And yeah, I did sort of alter my pictures bigtime, and I came up with some silly stories about being from another planet, and a few stories about saving people. But I'm not the one making up all that stuff about me saving Metropolis all the time, from alien invasions and evil supervillains and giant robots and all that crap. Not any more. Other people blog about all that."
She nodded seriously. "I did notice that. All the recent information about you saving the citizens of Metropolis, about you saving the world over and over again, came from other bloggers. And mostly bloggers of the sort who probably wear tinfoil hats. But these amazing powers you're supposed to have--"
"Look," I said, "it's really not my fault if people honestly believe there's a flying alien with x-ray vision on the planet. I mean, did you seriously come here expecting to see me bend an iron rod with my bare hands, or to run from here to New York and back in two seconds flat?"
She relaxed a little, and smiled.
"No," she admitted. "To be perfectly honest, I'm only here because my editor insisted I track you down. He's been reading your Facebook page, and wanted me to find out if you were for real."
"Your editor is a little on the gullible side, I think."
She laughed. "He used to work for X-Styles. He likes the weird and unexplained, and keeps hoping some of it might be true. But of course it never is."
"If he's really hoping to find proof of aliens," I said, "maybe he's working for the wrong paper. The Inquisitor prints stuff like that all the time."
She laughed again. "Good point." She cocked her head and studied me. "So," she said thoughtfully. "None of it is true. The superspeed, the superbreath, the flying... all just products of other bloggers' fertile imaginations?"
"Every bit of it," I answered. "It's all fictional. Except for my incredible good looks, of course."
She chuckled, but not unkindly. I know that at five foot three, rotund, and rapidly balding, I'm not most people's idea of a hunk. And besides, I'm thirty and I live with my parents. Cool I am not.
Even so, I kind of wish I had a girlfriend. This Chloe was awfully pretty.
My thoughts drifted back to the last girlfriend I'd had. She'd been pretty, too.
Or so I'd thought.
The bad thing about online relationships is you never get to second base.
The good thing is, sometimes that's a blessing.
After Lana (who I found out was married with three kids, one of whom was almost my age), I kept my online relationships casual for a while. But eventually, I started talking to a girl named Lois Lane.
She was something of a smartass, but I liked chatting with her. She was also really pretty-- not quite as spectacularly gorgeous as Lana (or the actress whose photos Lana had been using) had been, but definitely pretty. She had long brunette hair too, a little lighter than Lana's, and a nice smile. She was only a year or two older than me, and she went to Metropolis U. (I'd started at Central Kansas A&M, but kind of dropped out along the way. Working at the Pizza Pitt doesn't exactly require a college degree. Cows don't much care what you majored in, either.)
My first inkling that things might not be quite right came when, after almost a year of talking, we exchanged phone numbers, and I chatted with her on the phone. She sounded really... deep.
I don't mean she wasn't shallow. I mean her voice was really low.
So I did a little digging online, and found out that "Lois Lane" was the stage name for... well... a drag queen.
After that I gave up on the online relationship thing. I mean, I kept on talking to girls, but I always carefully kept it casual. I didn't want to get serious any more.
Because online, you never really know who anyone is.
"You're funny," Chloe said. I'd invited her to sit down wth me on my old ratty couch, and we'd been talking for a while. She smiled at me. "I read almost all the blog entries I could find. You're a really good writer, Clark."
Over the past half hour, I'd explained how I'd wound up dropping out of college and staying on my parents' farm after my dad's heart attack-- he'd survived it, thankfully, but he hadn't been able to do hard labor afterward. So I was basically holding down two jobs, running the farm and working for Pizza Pitt. Not exactly the life I'd envisioned for myself, but things don't always work out the way we plan, if you'll pardon the truism.
Anyway, all my friends had gone to college, and afterward they'd moved to Metropolis or Star City, so I'd wound up bored and alone in this little town, and the Superman thing had just sort of snowballed somehow. Not that I ever wrote about saving the world from little green men or anything. Like I said, other people put that stuff up. I will admit I'm the one who posted about x-ray vision and flying and superspeed, and a few little saves at the beginning, though, so I guess I'm the one who got the whole ball rolling. Regardless, a lot of people seemed to enjoy reading my blog.
Maybe people need to believe in heroes.
Or maybe people just like weird stories.
"Thanks," I said, blushing a little, because coming from a big-time reporter at the Daily Planet that compliment really meant something.
"But you have terrible fashion sense."
I laughed, because I knew she wasn't talking about the flannel shirt I wore, but about the silly suit I'd invented, Superman's "costume," which was a retina-burning combination of primary colors, with the underwear on the outside.
"By the time I invented the suit," I answered, "the urban legend about me was already gathering steam. I made up the craziest costume I could think of for 'Superman,' because I figured people would get the joke and laugh at it. But instead it just made my blog more popular. I don't think anyone really believes in it, though. I mean. I don't quite get how anyone can believe in a flying alien who wears his underwear on the outside..."
She chuckled again. I liked her soft laughter.
"Most of the true believers," she answered, "are perfectly capable of believing six impossible things before breakfast. The fact is, Clark, that when people are bound and determined to believe something, nothing can stop them."
"It's my fault," I said, glancing away from her honest gaze. "If I hadn't made up the Superman thing in the first place... if I'd just been who I am on the internet, and not pretended to be someone I'm not..."
"I understand," she answered, patting my hand. I looked down at her hand on mine, and blinked. Wow. Wow. She was touching me.
"You want to go out for coffee?" I blurted.
She glanced up, her eyes wide with surprise, and this time I blushed ferociously.
"I mean..." I could feel the horrible awkwardness that always assailed me around women-- well, real women-- pressing down on me, weighting my tongue down with lead. I struggled to get the words out. "I mean, you came all this way for nothing. No story. I feel really bad about that, and I just thought..."
But she was smiling, and her hand was still on mine.
"I'd like to get some coffee with you," she said softly.
I boggled at her. "You would?"
"Yes," she answered. "I definitely would."
"But you're s-so pretty," I stammered. "And I'm so... so..."
She leaned over and kissed my cheek, then smiled into my eyes.
"I think you're cute," she said.
I've never had a real girlfriend before. It's great. I talk to Chloe every day, and we go out at least twice a week. We've even gotten to second base. But no further, not yet. Chloe is too special, too much an important part of my life, for me to want to hurry things along. I can wait.
I've given up the online thing. I deleted all my Superman stuff, my Facebook page and my blog and my MySpace. I know a lot of people were disappointed, but Chloe told me that it was better to be honest. And she's right. I'm not six foot three, ripped, and stunningly handsome, and never will be.
But she likes me anyway. She likes me, even though the real me is a foot shorter and many pounds heavier than my online persona. She likes the short, round farmer Clark Kent. She likes me for me.
Because she said I was a good writer, I tried my hand at writing a human interest story or two, and her editor bought them. So I've actually been published in the Daily Planet now, which is amazing. Mr. White assures me I can get a job there, any time I finish up my degree. I'm not sure how to work in college around everything else, but I'm going to try.
And Superman? Well, other bloggers still claim to see him patrolling the skies of Metropolis. Eyewitnesses see him foiling bank robberies, or saving people from beneath the wheels of a truck, or battling purple-skinned aliens. But no one credible takes those stories seriously. No one ever has, and I don't think anyone ever will. And no one but Chloe has ever associated me with Superman at all.
Even if they did, no one really thinks a five foot three, chubby guy who still lives with his parents could be a superpowered alien. And the whole story is silly, anyway. Freeze breath, superspeed, x-ray vision-- it's all too absurd to be true.
But every night, and during the day on my days off, I put on my ludicrous suit, and a little alien gadget I got from the Fortress that makes me look like an entirely different person, and I head to Metropolis to patrol the city, and maybe to save the world.
I started the online thing because a little part of me wanted to get credit for being a hero. It sucked being a geek in high school-- a geek who couldn't even defend himself against bullies, lest people notice I was a lot stronger than I looked-- and it sucked that girls never, ever noticed me. On some level, I guess I wanted admiration and acclamation and hero-worship.
But now I'm old enough and wise enough to know that I don't need all that, not anymore. Saving people is reward enough.
And so now I don't spend my down time online, but with Chloe. I wish I'd known her in high school. I bet she would have liked me, even way back then.
She likes me, and I like her. It's nice to have a relationship with a real girl, one who likes me because I'm me, not because I look like a GQ model.
But I'm uncomfortably aware that I'm still not being honest with Chloe. And that's no better than making myself look hotter online. In a way, it might be worse.
I want to tell her exactly who I am, and what I can do. I don't think she'd be scared of me, and I honestly don't think she'd turn me in to a lab or write a story exposing me or anything like that.
I really want to be honest with her, so I've written this all out. And someday very soon, I'm going to let her read it.
I know I have to be careful. But I think Chloe will get it. I think she'll understand that heroes don't have to be tall and muscular and handsome, with thick dark hair. Heroes can be short and round and balding, too. Like me. Like the real me.
Chloe will get it. I know she will.
Because she thinks I'm cooler offline.