Clark stared at the unsatisfying meal laid out before him. Shriveled green pebbles that may once have been peas, a Salisbury steak composed primarily of the roasted, lost hopes of some victim of the city's underbelly. The steak was coated in a brown snot meant to pass as gravy, some of which dribbled over to a powder drenched in just enough water to swell into a convincing attempt at mashed potatoes. He wasn't even sure the milk in its little blue carton came from a cow. His stomach roiled, fondly and bitterly remembering the fresh corn and perfectly-seasoned chicken that would have been waiting for him in Smallville.
Jimmy's fingers snapped, and brought him back to reality.
"Yo, Clark? You catch any of what I just said?"
"Uh... sorry, no." the farmboy admitted, adjusting his thick glasses and rubbing his forehead while the hand was there. "Could you start over?"
Olsen sighed, directing the breath up and flicking away a loose lock of hair. His expression was fairly lenient, and didn't show any real negativity beyond mild irritation. Clark had been zoning out fairly often through these "informative lectures" as Jimmy called them, but the Metropolis native was happy to repeat himself.
"I was telling you all about the geo-political distribution of the population of Metropolis."
"You use a lot of big words for simple stuff." Kent told him, nervously biting down on one of the pea-rocks. The redhead admitted his guilt through an audacious smile, leaning back in his chair and tossing a handful of peas into his mouth like they were pop rocks.
"Eh, force of habit. I'm a photographer, A/V whiz, and the go-to guy for every branch of the school news."
Against all odds, the smile grew even larger. "In journalism, you learn a lot of big words!"
"Right." Clark said, just a hint of teasing bite behind his words. "So you were saying about the geo-whatsits?"
"Geo-political distribution." Jimmy corrected. "Location is everything here in Metropolis. You've got your norths, your souths, your nor'easters, your southwesterners…" He looked just a wee bit smug as he added "It's a little more complicated than the kind of stuff you'd get down in Kansas."
"Absolutely." Clark said with a sarcastic smile, and a bit of added twang to his accent. "In Smallville, if it wasn't a cardinal direction we wanted nothing to do with it."
Jimmy acknowledged the joke with a slightly wheezy chuckle, before diving right back into his spiel.
"But it's true. What part of the city you're from counts for a lot. East side's mostly residential, west is industrial. North and south are the business epicenters, if you work in any of the companies you probably live in the same area. At least, around here. Now, the reason I'm telling you this is so you know where to go. Where do you live?"
"Um… I guess it'd be east?" Clark responded, mentally mapping out his neighborhood.
"All right, that's okay." Jimmy told him, shrugging. "It's not great, but it's ok. The North is the safest part of Metropolis. That's where all the real rich and ritzy folk live. Easiest way to tell if you're in the North is if you can see a big-ass LexCorp sign."
Jimmy stopped, noticing a puzzling look on his acquaintance's face. He arched an eyebrow and asked, "What's with the face?"
"Hmm? Oh, er, sorry. It's just that name… I swear I've heard it before."
"You probably have." Jimmy told him, taking a heaping mouthful of potatoes and guzzling it. "It's named for the CEO and founder, Lex Luthor. Real super-mogul type. He's been all over the news lately. Bronze skin, crafty-lookin' eyes, built like a Greek statue and bald as a newborn baby? You're probably looking at Lex."
"I think I saw him on the news this morning. They were talking about some kind of murders?"
"Yeah," Jimmy said a tad more solemnly, slouching in his chair. "I've been monitoring the pulse on that scoop for a while. It's a weird one, they say Lex orchestrated the death of Robert Queen, head of Queen Industries. His biggest trading partner, and a total business whiz. But not just Rob; iced his whole family, too."
"Why would anyone do something like that?"
Olsen shrugged, a weak smile on his lips. "It's the corporate world. Dog-eat-dog, y'know? LexCorp's always had the lion's share of their partnership, but Queen's been catching up. I'm not saying Luthor did it, but if he's as greedy as you'd guess at first glance, there's a good motive right there. Robert and Lex were close friends."
He tied his fingers together to illustrate. "I'm talking joined-at-the-hip close. More likely than not, if his whole family's gone then Robert would likely have passed his shares in Queen Industries over to the Bronze Baldie himself. Lex winds up with dominance over both parties in the partnership, and walks off scot-free since nobody can really pin it on him."
Clark sat in silence for a few moments, letting those thoughts warm over in his head. "You really have been keeping the pulse on this."
Jimmy grinned, sort of meekly this time. "Well, I can't take credit for these theories. If she's at her usual spot, then I can safely say that the real sleuthing's been done by the lovely lady at the table behind the table that's directly behind me, at the 2 o'clock seat from your point of view."
Clark shuffled his seat a bit to look past the other boy, and sure enough at the location described was a girl. Long, black, meticulously combed hair fell behind an olive-toned face with strong features. Strong was maybe the only way to really describe it. Fierce was almost there, but was a bit too overt. Her eyes were like a lioness', regressed into the shadows but no less intimidating, and ready to pounce at a moment's notice. And at that very moment, those eyes were focused like lasers on Clark.
Kent felt the color in his face fade away as an intimidating chill went up his spine; the girl's eyebrow arched, and she focused even further. He broke eye contact almost instantly.
"That," Jimmy explained. "would be head of the school newspaper, Lois Lane."
He noticed the paleness in Clark's cheeks and remarked, "Dude, you look like you've seen a ghost. Something up?"
Clark felt a little embarrassed to admit, "She was already glaring at me, before I was even looking at her. What did I do to get on her bad side that quickly?"
Jimmy just laughed at the thought and put a hand on the other boy's shoulder. "Heh. Don't sweat it, Clark. Seriously, if Lois is so much as acknowledging your existence, you're on her good side."
"You think so?" Clark asked.
"I know so." Jimmy insisted. "Don't let her intimidate you; she looks like a hardass, but she's just… intense. Lois lives and breathes journalism, and if you're not giving her a story, she wants nothing to do with you."
"If she's scoping you out, she sees a story."
There was an awkward silence.
"That's a good thing." Jimmy added.
"If you say so…" Clark murmured. Jimmy watched the farmboy's eyes closely. They were in that weird, shimmering sort of state that looks like they're constantly right on the verge of crying, yet they never do. They were looking Olsen's way, and yet they weren't. They seemed to shoot straight through him, focusing on whatever was happening behind him.
Man… You sure have a knack for picking the odd ones, Olsen.
"Tell you what!" Jimmy said, smacking the table. Clark's eyes re-focused on the other boy. "I've got an in for you. After school, we'll stop by the newspaper offices. I'll introduce you to Lois, maybe even get you a spot on the paper?"
Clark seemed to put his entire existence on hold in that instant. Words were caught tightly in his throat, and a thin line of sweat was forming up along his forehead. "U-uhh… w-what?"
"Come on!" Jimmy insisted, smacking Clark on the upper arm. The boy flinched visibly. "You're new here, right? You need something to get into the fold, and a club'll do that perfectly! I mean, do you like writing?"
Clark shifted his lips around uncomfortably, averting his eyes. "I… dabble."
"Better than half the chumps we've got writing columns." Jimmy told him. "What have you got to lose?"
Kent hesitated, visibly wracking his brain for something he had to lose. "…N-nothing, I guess. Okay, I'll go." He meekly said. Jimmy smiled, clapping him on the back as he stood to throw his trash away. The bell was calling them back to class for a little while longer.
"Glad to hear it, man. Trust me, you won't regret it."
Clark wasn't so sure, quietly following his guide out of the cafeteria, but not before sneaking one last glance at the intimidating Lois Lane. The moment his eyes were upon her, she looked back his way. This time, Clark's nerves didn't get the better of him. He tried to think of something to do, some gesture to break the awkward tension slowly growing in the unblinking stare.
He nodded her way, almost imperceptibly, it was such a minute movement. That was all he did, and turned away to follow Jimmy to the next class. Though she had no way to know it, he listened intently to the words she whispered to her friends.
"There's something really strange about the new guy."