_2010: Smallville, KS_
I have the front door opened before she's even pulled up to the curb. By the time she extricates herself from her tiny, battered car I'm grabbing her, and it's like we're still teenagers, hugging and crying and laughing all at once.
"I'm here, I made it, it's so good to see you and not just hear your voice." Her words tumble out, laced with her energy and excitement, and I laughingly agree with everything she says. It is good to see her again; the Inquisitor has me running all over creation, so we don't get to see one another as much as we'd like.
But this day, I wouldn't miss for anything. I keep my arm around her waist as we walk towards Dad's house. "Where's your handsome groom?" Much as I love Pete, I have to admit I'm glad Lana came here alone. Our friendship survived a lot of tough times; and nothing recharges it quite like some girls-only time.
"With Clark," she sighs, her expression reflecting her long-suffering patience. "I don't want to start out being - well, a nag - but I can't help but wonder if he's really the right choice for best man. I mean, he's Clark. What are the odds he'll even show up for the ceremony?"
If Clark ruins this day for her and Pete, I'll hunt him down and wring his secret-keeping neck with my own two hands. "Don't worry about Clark," I tell her. "I'm going to be there, remember? If it comes down to it, I'll pull double duty as maid of honor and best woman."
Just like I hoped, she breaks into laughter. "Maybe we should've planned it that way all along," she stammers through her giggles.
"Maybe," I say in agreement. "Now let's go in so I can show you how gorgeous I look in this dress you've picked out."
_2015: Metropolis, KS_
I stand mute in the corner of their kitchen, letting the comfort of their small, cozy house wash over me. I watch Lana as she struggles to open the envelope without waking her baby, who's finally fallen asleep on her shoulder.
I want to go help her. Before I can move, though, Pete's next to her, gently taking the envelope from her shaking fingers. "Sweetheart," he says, keeping his voice low on account of Petey. "You know what it is. We've already decided not to go to the reunion. Why bother opening it?"
She tucks her bottom lip under her teeth ever so slightly, the way she always did when we were girls. I smile faintly, thinking that I should've told her way back then that it did absolutely nothing to keep us from realizing she was on the verge of tears.
"I want to bother," she finally whispers. "I just want to see if they're planning - if they're going to mention --"
Pete takes his small namesake out of her arms and sets him in his bassinet. He's such a good daddy, not that that's a surprise to anyone who knows him.
I drift over towards the sleeping child, keeping watch over him as Pete gathers Lana into his embrace and lets her weep softly into his shoulder.
_2020: Metropolis, KS_
Lana crouches down next to Petey as we stand in the schoolyard waiting for the first bell to ring.
"I'm gonna be fine, Mom," he reassures her. He's no dummy, my brave little almost-nephew; excited as he is, he knows his mommy is all emotional about his first day of school.
In the interest of objective reporting, I have to admit his almost-Auntie Chloe is pretty close to tears here.
"I know you will," Lana sniffles, then quickly brushes the back of her hand across her dampened cheeks. As if on cue, the bell rings, and a horde of noisy children swarms toward the building.
For the first time, there's a flash of anxiety in Petey's soft brown eyes. I want to whisper that he'll be better than fine, he'll be great, but he needs to hear that from his mom.
Lana makes her voice confident for her little boy. "Matter of fact, you're going to be great," she tells him, tapping his nose with her index finger as she does. "Now scoot."
With a whoop, Petey scampers toward the building, and doesn't look back even once. Once he makes it through the doors, I turn my attention back to Lana. I'd like to gently tease her for crying again, but it'd be a waste, as I'm doing the same.
She slowly turns away from the school and heads for the waiting car. "My baby's growing up so fast, " she sniffles.
There's a feathery whisper next to my ear. "Ah, Chloe," she breathes, "where does the time go?"
I wish I knew.
_2025: Concord, NH_
The blaring of the sound system is almost unbearable this close to the stage; I can't imagine anyone wanting to be here without a really good reason.
Like, for example, supporting your husband and best friend as he announces his candidacy for the Senate race.
Lana is biting at her thumbnail now. Someone needs to tell her to stop it before she has to step out on that podium to be introduced to the crowd. It should be me reminding her, but Clark is there, gently pulling her hand away from her mouth and holding onto it for a few seconds.
His smile is as infectious as it's always been, and I can almost see the tension rolling off Lana's shoulders. "He's wonderful, isn't he," she says, her eyes shining with love and pride. It's not a question, of course, but Clark answers her anyway.
"I've always thought so." Her smile gets even bigger, and she stands on tiptoe to peck his cheek.
"I'm glad you could make it," she tells him, and he ducks his head for a second in that uniquely Clarkish way of his. I know that if it was even remotely appropriate, he'd be out there, goofy suit and all, shilling for his best friend the way Pete stumped for him at Smallville high all those years ago.
He nods in response to her gratitude, and it takes a moment for him to speak again. It almost looks like he's swallowing a lump in his throat before he huskily whispers, "I've already missed too many things. Been too late for so much."
Gently, so gently, she places her hand on his chest, right over his heart. "Oh, Clark," she soothes. "Nobody blames you, you have to know that."
"I do," he says, and even after almost fifteen years of living with a secret identity, Clark Kent is still the world's worst liar.
But she's right, Clark. Nobody blames you.
_2030: Smallville, KS_
My dad's house hasn't been this full in years. Pete and Lana came in last night; Pete Jr. is at his grandparents' house for the day. The Kents are here, more for moral support than anything else, and the loud thump at the back door heralds their son's arrival.
"Hey, guys," he manages to get out, then crosses to his mother and goes to his knees on the bit of floor next to her. We all make up our own reasons to look away, letting the strongest man in the world allow himself to be taken care of for just a moment.
There are some muffled, half-choked words between Clark and Martha, and what I'm able to catch sounds like "brings it back like it happened yesterday."
Lana has somehow managed to end up next to them, silently offering a box of tissues. Clark looks up, startled, then gives a short bark of laughter.
"'S'like having two moms," he mutters at her, but takes a tissue and mops himself up.
Pete cracks a grin from his spot across the room. "Couldn't ask for two better ones," he chimes in, intentionally using his best hearty-politician voice.
Then everyone's laughing, and I think it's wonderful. They're here to help take care of what's left of Dad's things, to remember him and celebrate his life one last time.
Laughter is one of the most important things in life, if you ask me - and doesn't the saying go that "death is just a part of life"?
_2035: Metropolis, KS_
We're gathered in the vestibule of St. Martin's Church. I can see Pete pacing the length of the hallway, and Lana is vainly trying to telegraph "settle down" messages to him through her frequent glares as she fusses with Petey's boutonniere.
It's a relief to all of us when Clark stops in. He manages to stop the relentless pacing by virtue of one arm slung along Pete's shoulders, and he takes over pinning duty from the groom's mother.
"Big step," Clark says to Petey, voice charged with forced nonchalance.
Young as he is, he's every bit an adult as he answers, "I know, Uncle Clark. I love her, and I'm - we're - ready for it."
Clark nods in approval, and Pete reaches out to embrace his son. Lana hangs back, watching with glistening eyes as the most important men in our lives hold on to each other and exchange words of love.
"I'll just be a minute," she whispers, and walks out the door of the church. Her heels click on the stone path as she makes her way back to the cemetery behind the main building. I'd already guessed where she was headed.
She comes to a stop in front of two neat headstones, one five years old, the other twenty-two.
Oh, Lana. You don't have to do this now, but I love you for it anyway.
With one slender hand, she smoothes over the letters of my name, etched deeply into the smooth granite headstone. "I wish you could be with us today," she confesses.
I only wish I could tell her that I am.
*I can almost feel you smiling
From beyond those silver skies
As you watch me finding my way
Here without you in my life*
...Beth Nielsen Chapman, "No One Knows But You"
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