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Thanks to Wendy for looking at it.

The Kents' truck was gone when Lex drove by, and on impulse he swung his own car into the driveway. Clark couldn't have been home from school long; perhaps he was sitting in the farmhouse alone, with nothing to amuse him since his parents weren't around to assign him chores. Chores. He smiled a little as he stepped through the kitchen door. Unlocked, of course.

"Clark?"

He heard footsteps, but it was Mrs. Kent, not Clark, who came through the door. Her arms were loaded with tomatoes. She gave him a direct look. "Hello, Lex."

"Mrs. Kent," he said, doing his best not to seem ill at ease. "I thought Clark might be here."

"No, just me." She put the tomatoes on the chopping board. "Clark is out helping his father."

"Oh."

"They'll be back in a while."

Although her back was turned to him, she hadn't exactly told him to get out of her kitchen, which was a step up, he supposed. He tried to think what one of Clark's farmer friends would do. There was soup simmering on the stove. He could see chunks of vegetables and beef bobbing in its murky depths. "Did you make that, Mrs. Kent? It smells wonderful."

"Yes, it's for dinner." She smiled briefly, more for herself than him. There were lines on her face, but she didn't seem a hard woman. "If I can keep Clark from snacking it all down before then."

"Could I try some?"

That got him a considering glance. "Only if you promise to eat the whole bowl."

"Of course, if that's what you want. But...why?"

"Those genetically-modified, mass-produced LuthorCorp vegetables you must eat...they'll have spoiled your palate." She was dishing him up a bowl with an old wooden ladle. "You need to let your taste buds readjust."

"If you say so." How anyone could care about vegetables so much was beyond him, but he would be polite. He accepted the bowl and sat down at the table, trying to imagine sitting there with Clark and the whole family. Preferably without Mr. Kent eyeing him darkly. It was a pleasant image, though not as pleasant as some he could conjure up involving that table.

She brought the tomatoes and another bowl to the table and sat down, eyes intent on the red flesh. He suspected she'd still manage to catch every nuance of his reaction, though, so he took his spoon and dug in with all the heartiness he could summon. She'd been right, he realized instantly, as he almost gagged on the first bite. It was like eating dirt. All the vegetables were rough and thick and full of strange flavors. But he made himself swallow it and smile at her. "Delicious."

"That's not what you think," she said mildly. "But that's all right. You can't help it."

He dutifully swallowed a mouthful, then another, and another, and suddenly he began to see her point. The flavors were odd, but they were...complex. Layer upon layer. He hadn't really thought that vegetables could be anything but boring, but there were all sorts of new tastes resolving themselves on his tongue now, rich and mysterious.

If this was what their produce was like, he thought...

He finished the bowl, and she gave him another, gentler smile to see it. "You were right, Mrs. Kent. This really is excellent. You should give my cook the recipe--" He cut himself off, realizing his mistake, but she just shook her head.

"It's not the recipe, Lex, it's what goes into it." She was doing something complicated with the tomatoes, seeding them maybe, her hands running with juice. "Good crops make a good broth. It's like...well, it's a little like making friends. You can have the best plan in the world for how to pull it off, but if you don't put in the kindness and care and patience and trust, the things that take time and heart and sacrifice to make...it won't do one whit of good. You end up with a soup with no real flavor at all. And no one likes to eat that--at least, not if they've ever had better."

He looked at her, hard, but she seemed completely focused on the tomatoes, and he hastily resolved his expression back into friendliness. "I'm sure you're right, Mrs. Kent."

"I hope so, anyway," she said. "Would you like to wait for Clark, Lex?"

Never let it be said that he couldn't take a hint. "Actually," he said, rising, "maybe not today. It was nice enough just chatting with you. But please tell him I came by?"

"I certainly will, Lex."

He knew she meant it. That meant, even though he hadn't gotten to see Clark, that the trip was a success. And it hadn't cost him anything. Just a little...readjustment in taste. He was sure he could get over that fast enough.


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