Secret Identity, Part 1

(by SSTORYMAN, 25 December 1997)

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    This fictional account contains adult language and themes. If such
language and themes offend you, please do not read further. Copyright 1998 by
SSTORYMAN. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce this story
in any form and for any purpose as long as this notice is reproduced and no
financial remuneration is received, directly or indirectly, by the person
reproducing it.


    1. The Tragedy.

    Claire Davis entered the restaurant. Breakfast trade at this Denny's was
good. Most tables were full. She took a table in the non-smoking section and
awaited her sister's arrival.

    "Hey, Supergirl," a voice called out as she sat down. She jumped. That was
odd. No one had called her "Supergirl" for over twenty years. She'd been in
town for a week, but had tried to avoid old friends during this brief visit to
her home town. Someone recognized her.

    She turned and saw a man in his early thirties, roughly her age. He looked
familiar, wearing an ill-fitting sport coat with the logo of a local realty
company on the breast pocket.

    "I'm Claire Davis," she answered slowly. "Do I know you?"

    "You sure do. I'm Fred King," he announced, sitting down across from her.
"We were in school together from first grade through Springdale High. How are
you, Supergirl?"

    "Hi," she sighed, with a smile of recognition. She remembered Fred. He
pulled her pigtails in grade school. Like many kids at Springdale Elementary,
he made fun of her, called her Supergirl. As a kid, Claire religiously wore a
Supergirl tee-shirt. The nick name stuck.

    Fred was animated. "I see your sister Janice from time to time," he
smiled. "In fact, I sold Steve and Janice their house," he added proudly. "But
I haven't seen you in years, Claire." His tone changed. "Hey, I was so sorry
to hear about your parents," he added gravely. "I read about the accident in
the paper. It was terrible. I suppose you came back for the funeral?"

    "Yeah," she said. "It was last week. My two sisters and I have been so
busy since then. We've been going through my folk' stuff, meeting with their
lawyer about probating their wills, settling their bills and so forth. There's
so much to do." She sighed. "I'm leaving today to return home. I'm meeting
Liz, my other sister, for breakfast before we leave. Liz lives in Chicago."

    Fred seemed glad Liz hadn't arrived yet. Making the most of his
opportunity, he kept talking. "What are you doing these days? In high school
you were 'super;' you were so smart. I'm sure you're a success, Supergirl,
whatever you're doing. Are you busy saving the world?"

    "I'm a doctor," she answered, without hubris. She adjusted her wire-rimmed
glasses, taking full advantage of the scholarly image they communicated.

    "No kidding?" Fred whistled. "Like a medical one? Great. Gosh, your
parents must be proud." He winced. "I mean, I'm sure they were." He took a
breath. "What kind of medicine?"

    "Internal medicine. After my residency, I joined a family practice in the
state capital. It's only two hours away, but I'm quite busy. I rarely get back
here. This has been a difficult time for us, but it's been good for us to
process it all together. Do you remember my middle sister?"

    "I sure did," Fred smiled wistfully. "Liz was two years younger, but she
was one of the most popular girls at Springdale High. Every boy dreamed of
going out with Liz Davis!"

    Fred was right. The three sisters were always as different as night and
day. Claire was the oldest, the sister with brains. She was the one her
parents were always proud of, the good girl who obeyed the rules and got the
top grade in every class, the one whom everyone respected and admired. In
other words, Claire was the model daughter. On the other hand, Liz was the
middle sister, the one with the good looks, the one who was popular. She was
the rebel, the one who pushed the envelope, who constantly got in trouble but
always got away with it. Then there was little Janice, the baby, two years
younger than Liz. She was the ordinary one, neither brilliant nor beautiful.
Yet Janice was the only one who'd married and had a family. It was ironic.

    "What about you, Fred?" she asked politely. "What do you do?"

    "I work for Triad Realty," he said proudly, pointing to the emblem on his
sport coat. "I do okay. Of course, in a small town, real estate isn't as
lucrative as in the city where you live."

    "Sure," Claire mumbled, without conviction. This guy had the kind of
boring, dead end life that encouraged her to leave Springdale in the first
place. This town no longer felt like home. "I wonder where Liz could be," she
muttered absent-mindedly, glancing at her watch.

    At that moment Liz Davis bounced up to the table. "Sorry I'm late," she
panted. "I got stuck in a long line checking out of the hotel." She looked at
Fred. "Do I know you?"

    "I'm Fred King." He turned self-conscious. "From Claire's high school
class," he added. "Well, I'll let you talk." He took his leave. "Nice to see
you, Supergirl. You too, Liz."

    "Who was that creep?" Liz whispered when Fred was gone. "I haven't heard
anyone call you 'Supergirl' in years!"

    "He's a guy who had a crush on you in high school. Probably still does,"
Claire laughed. "He's a small-minded, small town boy. Seeing him makes me glad
we moved out of this burg!"

    "Amen to that," Liz agreed, looking over her shoulder.

    As always, Liz looked great. She wore a stunning designer suit. Her makeup
had been expertly applied. Her blond hair resembled an ad from Vogue or Cosmo.
She exuded style and class. Her expensive perfume permeated the air. Liz just
turned thirty and was a successful professional. She worked for a big six
accounting firm. Unlike her sister, she'd been a wild kid, and still had a
strong wild streak. Liz had an irreverent penchant for enjoying life.

    Liz spoke. "We've been absorbed with busy work for the last week. You and
I haven't had much time to really talk. I'm still bummed over what happened.
That damn car accident was a real shitty thing to have happen." She sighed and
looked at the menu. "This'll take some time to get over. Right, Doc?"

    "Yeah," Claire agreed, flinching at the nickname "Doc." Liz had called her
by that slightly pejorative nickname ever since medical school.

    Claire sighed. Her sister was right. The accident that claimed her parents
ten days earlier was making Claire reexamine her assumptions about life. But
she was still a bit reluctant to discuss her new thoughts with Liz. She played
her hand cautiously. Instead of hitting the subject head on, she decided to
approach it indirectly.

    "It really makes you wonder," she finally said aloud. "Mom and dad were
both so careful. They watched their diets, exercised regularly, and so forth.
They even wore their seat belts all the time, for Pete's sake. They were in
good health, and only in their late fifties. They followed all the rules. But
what good did it do them? None! It makes you wonder, doesn't it?"

    "Sure does," Liz agreed. She didn't seem to be picking up on Claire's

    "But you know what, Liz?" Claire began again. She was speaking with
unusual passion this time. "Like you, I've been thinking about things. I'm
still sad, though I've come to grips with losing them. But I've been thinking
about something else. Mom and Dad expected me to live like they did,
conservative and close to the vest. They put me in a box. I resent it. I was
the perfect daughter, who never did anything wrong, because they expected
that. I went to the best college, to a great medical school, and got accepted
into a fine residency program. I got an excellent position as a physician in
the big city. I did everything they expected. But now they're gone. Did I do
all that stuff because I wanted to? Was it for them, or for me?"

    "What are you saying, Claire?"

    "I need to re-evaluate. Mom and Dad are gone. Maybe it's time to change
some things. I want to start enjoying myself. You know, I'm really not very

    Liz just smiled compassionately. "I can understand why. Honest, Doc, I
don't anyone whose life is as boring as yours." She said it with conviction,
but smiling. Her comment was neither intended nor taken as mean-spirited.

    The waitress finally appeared. Claire noticed that several males at
surrounding tables were staring at Liz. She did look good. The strong smell of
her perfume was like a homing beacon to men. Claire ordered toast and coffee.
Liz ordered eggs, bacon and hash browns, along with coffee and orange juice.
Claire was surprised, and said so when the waitress left.

    "Sis, watch what you eat! That stuff is high in cholesterol. It's not good
for you."

    Liz rolled her eyes. "Claire Davis," she said, shaking her head. "It
pisses me off when you doctors preach to us mere mortals. I mean, you guys
won't let anyone have any fun."

    "That's not true. I'm looking out for your best interests."

    "Bullshit," came Liz's contemptuous reply. "I enjoy life. I do lots of
things you may not think are in my 'best interest' from a medical point of
view. But I don't care. Get off my case!"

    Claire frowned. "Like what else do you do? What else are you talking

    "Like sex, for one thing. You doctors are uptight about safe sex these
days. I won't fuck anyone who won't use a condom. But I refuse to be celibate
just because it's safer. Frankly, Doc, you should get laid yourself sometime.
It'd do you good. When was the last time for you?"

    When challenged, Liz had an uncanny ability to turn the tables on an
antagonist. Claire stared at the floor. "I haven't had time for
relationships," she said quietly. "I'm busy."

    "Too damn busy," Liz retorted. "You've got to stop and smell the roses,
Doc. I'll bet you haven't been laid since ... what was that guy's name? ...
since Bob Thomas."

    Liz was right. That relationship ended five years ago. He was a medical
student. The affair was brief. Claire hadn't slept with anyone since.

    "I don't have much social life," she smiled, to signal an end to the
hostility. "Okay, I don't have _any_ social life," she admitted. "I wish I
did. But that's beside the point."

    "No, that's exactly the point, Doc," Liz snapped. "What are we going to do
with you?"

    Claire released a huge sigh. "I don't know," she admitted. Suddenly it
seemed too depressing to talk about. So she changed the subject. "What else
won't I approve of?" she asked again, referring to Liz's earlier comment.

    Liz hesitated, but smiled. "I won't tell. You'd preach at me."

    "I won't. I promise." Despite the smile, Liz was obviously reluctant. This
increased Claire's curiosity.

    Just then the waitress arrived with the coffee. Both sisters took it
black. Liz took a sip and grinned defiantly. "I smoke," she said, with a touch
of arrogance.

    Claire sputtered. She was surprised. "I don't believe it! You don't
smoke," she objected. "We've been together for over a week. If you smoked,
Liz, I'd smell it on you."

    "I don't smoke all the time," Liz explained casually, brushing blond hair
away from her eyes. "My best friend Tina at the office smokes. We have drinks
a couple nights a week. She enjoys smoking. About a year ago I asked to try a
cigarette." She shrugged. "I liked it. Now, when I go out with Tina, I smoke.
I just don't smoke around non-smokers, like you."

    Claire's was shocked. She unconsciously adopted her clinical demeanor as
she asked follow-up questions. "I see. How much do you smoke? And do you

    Liz rolled her eyes. "I know where you're heading with your questions,
Doc. Forget it. I'm not gonna quit. I like smoking." She flashed an evil grin.
"You should try it."

    Claire was shocked. She said nothing.

    Liz went on. "Look, my smoking isn't a serious thing. I've been smoking
for a year, but I only smoke about a pack of cigarettes a week, for Christ's

    "I don't get it," Claire inquired honestly. "How do you stop and start
like that? I didn't think that was possible. Have you smoked here in

    "No," Liz shrugged. "I don't have to smoke, Doc. I only smoke with my
smoking friends." She looked her straight in the eyes. "Here's how it works. I
keep my life in separate compartments, my smoking life and my non-smoking
life. With my smoking friends, I smoke. Otherwise, I don't. It's simple. At
the office, I don't smoke. On an audit, I don't smoke. With you, I don't
smoke. With Tina and my smoking buddies, I do smoke."

    "You 're not hooked, then," Claire said, reassuring herself. "If you can
stop and start at will, you're not hooked," she repeated.

    "Whatever," Liz agreed. "Look, Claire, you're a doctor. Didn't you read in
the paper how some people have defective genes that don't process nicotine?
People with these genes don't get hooked. I turn it on and turn it off. When I
smoke, I love it. It feels good. But when I don't or can't, it's not a big
deal. The smoking side doesn't control the non-smoking side."

    Claire nodded. She was familiar with this research. Current studies
suggest that only a third of those who try smoking get addicted. Researchers
suspect it's caused by a defective CYP2A6 gene inherited from one or both
parents. Persons with two defective genes virtually never get addicted because
their bodies don't process nicotine in a way that creates addiction. Even one
defective gene inhibits nicotine's addictive effect.

    "Smoking still isn't good for you," Claire retorted.

    "I beg to differ," Liz smiled. "It's _very_ good for me, because I like
it. Don't you get it? I enjoy smoking. What's so fuckin' wrong with that, as
long as I control it?"

    "Well, even minimal exposure to tobacco smoke can be dangerous," Claire
countered. "Studies show that ...."

    "That's bullshit and you know it. But so what? I like to smoke." She
paused. "It's exhilarating to do something you're not supposed to, something
forbidden. That's what's ironic about all the anti-smoking shit. Smoking has
become a cultural statement. When you smoke, you're saying you're a
non-conformist, that you won't bow to politically correct bullshit. A little
rebellion is good for the soul, Claire. Honest, you should try it. I'm not

    Claire hesitated. "You're crazy," she said. "If you saw what I see at the
hospital, you'd feel different. I mean, all those people who smoked their
whole lives and are suffering from ...."

    "Excuse me," Liz interrupted. "That's the point. I don't smoke all the
time. I only smoke when I want to. I'll never be like them. I may have a
little higher risk for a few diseases. But smoking in moderation won't kill
me. Regardless of your politically correct viewpoint, lots of people still
smoke, including doctors." She took a sip of coffee, flashing a self-satisfied
smile. "I know doctors who love a good cigar. I'll bet you know some, too.
What do you say to that?"

    Claire hesitated. Liz was right again. Many medical colleagues, in the
privacy of their homes, occasionally enjoyed a good cigar. It was irrational
behavior. But Liz had a point.

    Seizing her advantage, Liz continued. "Claire, I'll be honest. I'm worried
about you, too. You said you're thinking about making changes. In the
aftermath of Mom and Dad's death, you should do some serious self-analysis.
You're not happy. You take no risks. You live like a goddamn nun. You have no
friends and no boyfriend. You have no life. You're married to your fuckin'
job. You make good money, but you're 33. When are you going to start living?"

    "That's not fair," she objected. "I've been establishing my practice the
last few years. But we did just add a fourth doctor to our group. I'll have
more time now. I'm going to enjoy myself a little more. I mean it."

    "God, I hope so. But look at yourself. You dress like a creep. Your
glasses are hopelessly out of style. You're not much better than that duddy
Realtor with the bad sport coat!"

    Claire flinched. Like her other clothes, the blouse and skirt she wore
today were plain. She wore no makeup. Too much trouble, was her excuse. Her
hair was mousy brown and stick straight. Not exactly elegant. She sighed. But
she had one thing to raise in her defense.

    "I'm getting contact lenses," she said hopefully. "I saw my
ophthalmologist a couple weeks ago and ordered 'em. I'm supposed to pick them
up today."

    "That's great. But it's only a start. You're naturally pretty, Claire. You
never considered yourself a beauty, but you never helped yourself. You give me
medical advice. Sometimes I take it and sometimes I don't. Let me give you
some social advice. God knows you need it."

    "Okay," she sighed. "Let me have it."

    "I'll be serious. First, I don't care if you smoke. It'd be professional
suicide. Medical people don't like smokers, even casual ones. So forget that.
Second, I don't care if you drink, either, though it'd be good for you to get
blitzed occasionally! It might loosen you up," she winked. "But change your
shitty, staid image, or you'll wind up with a husband like Fred. Get new
clothes. Your wardrobe is completely K-Mart! Get a new hairdo and lose the
drab brown hair color. Try makeup. Get your ears pierced. You could be
attractive, Doc, if you tried."

    "Do you think?" Claire asked with surprising eagerness. "I'll be honest,
Liz. I've always lived in your shadow. You're the beauty, I'm the brain. I've
felt plain my whole life. I always thought I wasn't as attractive as you. I
buried myself in school work, and then my medical practice. I'm successful,
but I'm not happy. I've thought about this since last week. I'd like to be
somebody different, someone more like you." She sighed. "After a long day, I
come home to my apartment and there's never anyone there. I feel so fuckin'

    Liz grinned. "My God! I've never heard you use the f-word! That's great.
It's another step. You need to break out of that conservative mold. Say it
again. Do it once more."


    "Let me hear you say 'fuck' again. Talk like a bad girl. You can do it!
Look, you've always been a goody-two-shoes who never breaks the rules, a plain
girl who never does anything bad. You're suffocating. You said it. You're
miserable. Learn to rebel a little. So, say it again. It's symbolic."

    "Fuck," she whispered diffidently.

    "Louder," Liz urged with an evil smirk. "Underneath, Claire, you're a bad
girl, and you know it. You want to be bad. No more good doctor. No more good
girl. Be more like me. I know you want to. Build a separate compartment for
the new Claire Davis who's been repressed for too damn long. Start now. Let me
hear it again. Say the f-word and tell me how you feel."

    No one around them was paying attention, so she screwed up her courage.
This time she spoke with poignancy and growing urgency. "I am so fuckin' tired
of being unhappy and alone. You're right, Liz. I want to learn to be a bad
girl, to get what I want. I don't care whether others approve. I'm fuckin'
tired of not getting laid. I'm fuckin' tired of being plain, and I'm fuckin'
tired of having no friends. I'll do whatever it takes to be beautiful and
happy. So, fuck anyone who doesn't like it. I don't care! Fuck 'em!"

    Heads were turning at nearby tables as Claire finished. Liz beamed.
"Congratulations, Doc. How did that feel?"

    Claire was embarrassed. "To be honest, it felt damn good. I'm tired of my
life. I'm jealous of you, Liz. I always have been. You're happy. I'm not. I'll
take your advice. What did you call it? A separate compartment? I'll create a
separate compartment and be somebody new, somebody other than conservative,
stuffy, plain Claire. Doing wild and crazy things is strangely appealing.
Maybe I _am_ bad at heart," she giggled. "As a kid, I dreamed about having a
secret identity. In the comic books, Supergirl was Linda Lee's alter ego. But
if I create an alter ego, she'll be bad, not good!"

    Liz smirked. "You have the potential to be bad, Claire. You just need

    The waitress brought their food. Claire looked at the dry toast and called
her back. "Excuse me," she said. "Bring me eggs and bacon to go with this
toast. I changed my mind."

    "Good work," Liz said with a twisted smile. "That's not Doc talking! It's
a new Claire. Eggs and bacon is another small step, but an important one.
Don't you think?"

    "Fuck, yes," Claire laughed. "Let's say goodbye to the boring old Claire


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