by Tara LJC OShea
Chad couldn't figure out this town. It was like... this Norman Rockwell-on-acid facade you just couldn't crack with a sledgehammer sometimes. Sometimes everything just seemed upside down and sideways.
As he sat in the booth at the Talon, sipping his double espresso, he watched the cadre of jocks and preppies forming a half-circle around that Lang chick who was the assistant manager, their tongues practically dragging on the floor and was struck by the cosmic injustice of it all as Chloe kept tapping away at her laptop, completely alone.
Case in point: Chicago, where he was from? Guys would have been beating a path to Chloe Sullivan's door in droves. She would have had to fight them off using judo and perhaps whips and chains. She was cool, and smart, and funny, and she had a body that just wouldn't quit. Her blonde hair was combed sleek right now, and she had on a black and red top that hugged all the right curves, and silver rings sparkled on her fingers and thumb as she lifted her double-mocha to her lips. The cuffs of her cargo pants were rolled up to mid-calf, and he could see from his seat the purple nail polish she wore on her toes which poked out of a pair of chunky sandals that looked like she'd had them for years. Comfortable shoes for the sort of work she did; work he occasionally helped her do. If Dr. Lambert, the county coroner ever caught him sneaking Chloe copies of her files, Chad's part time job as a morgue assistant would vanish, and he'd probably get his ass kicked by Sheriff Miller. But he didn't care.
Because it meant that, once a week, sometimes twice, they sat up late on their respective computers, Instant Messaging each other. It meant that, when she looked up from her laptop screen and saw him across the room, she would grin and wave, and start gathering her stuff to go sit next to him.
Chloe was too cool for this town. Not the Hot Topic, pre-packaged counter-culture sort of cool, which was carefully achieved by flipping through teenybopper magazines to see what cool was this month. She wasn't wearing what kids her age in Metropolis were wearing either--Chad went up to the city every other week-end, teching for friends' bands. The Metro girls were cookie-cutter in their own way, entire flocks of high school girls wearing the same designers, with the same jeans, flip flops, and fake retro Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Bright tee-shirts. There was just more blue hair and eyebrow piercing, but little to distinguish them from their small-town counterparts other than the fact that the jeans were twice as expensive, and whatever was in New Troy trickled down to Smallville a few weeks later.
"Whatcha up to?" she asked with a sunny smile as she slid into the vacant half of the booth.
"Not much," Chad admitted. "Can't seem to get a waitress to notice me."
"Oh, I think she's noticed you," Chloe snorted, green eyes dancing.
Yeah. That was a small problem. Half the place had noticed him--he was vampire-pale thanks to working swing and graveyard half the week, and under the fluorescent lights of his uncle's gas station the rest of the time, chipped black nail polish, eyeliner (on a guy he could hear his cousin Chrissy squeak still, last time they'd had dinner at Uncle Ed and Aunt Maureen's) dyed black hair, too long for farm country and likely to get his ass kicked if he didn't watch where he was going some nights, combined with faded black jeans and his favourite Rhea's Obsession tee-shirt and studded wrist cuff.
He'd almost gotten kicked out of high school twice, when other kids tried to tell Principal Kwan he was a Devil Worshipper. Lucky for him, Kwan had understood the difference between listening to VNV Nation, and attending ritual sacrifices. Besides, Chad had informed anyone who would listen with a sigh, you had to be Christian to worship the Devil. Being a solitary pagan was pretty much Satan-free, on account of that whole "don't believe in a devil or a hell" thing.
Oh yeah. That had gained him points.
"Think you could get me some coffee?" he asked when the waitress managed to walk right past the booth yet again without stopping.
"What kind?" she asked, and it was a familiar litany they repeated every time she met him at the Talon.
"Coffee-flavoured coffee," he'd growl, and they'd laugh at the memory of listening to Dennis Leary on his cd player late one night while they'd waited for the tox screen to come through on some poor bastard who had taken a header out a hospital window.
Chloe made a face. "Where's your spirit of adventure?"
"Fine," he sighed, stretching his legs out in front of him beneath the booth to tap her show with one boot while he dug in the pocket of his jeans for cash. "Add a shot of espresso?."
She jumped up, and he studied his chipped thumbnail rather studiously, instead of the way her breasts were affected by gravity.
Sullivan was three years behind him, though he'd foregone college last year--working and saving so that he could go to a real school instead of doing what half the guys in his family had done, and go to a state-sponsored junior college and get a 2 year associates degree. They'd talked about that, first time they'd met. Two city kids stranded in the country's bread basket had given them a lot of common ground.
They'd met when Chloe had handed him her eyeliner when she'd seen him trying to repair his in the darkened window of the Talon after closing one night. He'd been surprised; usually the high school kids were wary of the tiny handful of goths and punks in Lowell County. For some reason, farm kids tended more towards metalheads or country good old boys than goths, and there were a couple of baby-goths in Grandville he'd run into a few times at Nocturnal during the summer, when they could get fake IDs and stay out all night in Metropolis.
But when she'd found out he worked week-ends for Lambert in the chopshop, she'd been his new best friend. He'd seen her work on the Torch and figured at first that she was just using him. But it didn't really matter much to him. Because she was damn near the first person he'd met since he'd moved to this rinky-dink town at age 16 who didn't treat him like a freak show. And she seemed to actually like talking to him. She even listened to the mix cds he'd made her, of Lady Susan's playlists that he'd downloaded off the web when he was too broke to make it up to goth night in the city. She hadn't cared for all of it--she told him once that the Dead Can Dance and Rhea's Obsession tracks made her too sleepy to drive, and she preferred VAST, though she couldn't play it much in the house because if her dad ever stopped to actually listen to the lyrics in "Pretty When You Cry" she'd be locked in her room until she was 40.
She returned with a refill on her mocha, and set the coffee plus espresso in front of him with a flourish. "Your poison, sir."
"Domo." He grinned and took a sip.
"Yuck! How do you drink that?"
"What? It's coffee. The stuff that runs in your veins." "I mean without sugar."
"Practice," he said as he wiped away the grey smear of lipstick on the paper cup with his thumb. "So, what's up?"
"Nothing much," she shrugged. "Clark and Pete are off doing--I dunno, whatever it is Clark and Pete do."
"And your roommate?" he asked, glancing over her shoulder at Lang, who was back behind the counter, smiling and chatting with the waitress who had ignored him for the last twenty minutes.
"We're going up to Metropolis this week-end--she's got a fitting for her aunt's wedding and I figured I'd introduce her to my cousin Lucy and we'd, you know, hang."
"I'm going to be up there too. My buddy's band is playing Nocturnal at the Metropolitan."
"I've got comps, if you want--" he began, and she started giggling. His face fell. "What?'
"No, I just--" she leaned forward, her voice dropping to a whisper, and he forced himself to not look at the amazing display of cleavage the gesture afforded him, "can you picture Lana at a goth night?"
A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. "You never know. You'd be amazed the sort of folks show up. You know, even prom queens can have an inner goth."
"I'm pretty sure, if Lana has an inner goth, I've never met her," Chloe laughed, twirling a lock of hair around her finger.
"So, do you?"
"Have an inner goth who'd like to hit the 'Pol for a few hours?" he asked, pulling a handful of comps out of his billfold.
"Friday--they're opening for a local act. My friend Joel is working door, so you won't even need ID."
"Sure. Hey, why not?" She chewed on her bottom lip. "Um... is there a dress code?"
"Well, Lady Morgan just usually says 'wear black.' Seriously, not everybody does the leather and lace Siouxie thing," he said quickly, inwardly squelching his desire to suddenly delve into the myriad differences between punk, goth, new wave, and rivethead. "You can just do black."
"I can do black." She reached into her bag and pulled out a small notebook. "Here, lemme give you my aunt's address and number, and I'll have my cell. You still have my cell number, right?"
"Speed dial," he said with a smile, tapping the slim little cellphone clipped to his belt, and she paused for a second, and then favoured him with a blinding grin.
"All right," she said as she tucked the comps into the pocket of her bag. "It's a date."
"You can't wear that!" Lucy said, giggling behind her hands as Chloe spun in front of her cousin's mirror.
"Mom's gonna freak!"
"Not if you keep her occupied while I make a break for it with my raincoat on over it. And anyway, it's not like Aunt Ella can ground me," Chloe said, tugging the laces on the corset. "Jeez, how do people wear these things and still breathe?"
"Where did you even get that?"
"Drama club," Chloe said as she admired what the black canvas corset did to her waistline in the full-length mirror that hung inside the closet door. She'd tried to dress it up a little, with a black rayon blouse she'd bought at a thrift store. The square cut neckline was embroidered in red thread with roses, and she hoped that was fancy enough for Lady-whoever-the-hell was running this thing. "I think it's from last year's production of My Fair Lady. Only Felice Chandler didn't wear it as, you know, outerwear," Chloe giggled. "The skirt was from Pete's sister--she wore it for Hallowe'en last year. And the boots I got at Payless this morning, while you and Lana were getting smoothies at Jamba Juice."
She held out one foot, turning it this way and that to admire the lace-up granny boots, with a three inch heel that was wide enough that she could balance easily, but curvy enough to still be girly. "Not bad for ten bucks on clearance, huh?"
"What about your hair?" Lucy pointed out. Chloe had streaked her blond hair with purple in the front. "I think Mom might notice the hair."
Chloe pulled a red scarf from her bodice, and tied it over her head. "And it'll keep me from getting windblown while I drive."
"You are so gonna get busted," Lucy said sceptically, but Chloe could tell her baby cousin--all of 15--was just jealous that there was no way she could pass for 18 and go to the club. "Who is this guy, anyway?'
"Just a friend," Chloe said with a wave of her hand.
"Some friend," Lucy said, getting up to tug the laces on the corset, and Chloe squeaked in protest.
"Luce--I want to be able to move--"
"You shirt was all weird in the back," Lucy said, all innocent. "So this friend--"
Lucy blinked. "He's a goth named Chad?"
"I know. It's like rain on your wedding day,' Chloe said rolling her eyes. "Okay, all fixed?"
Chloe had researched the Metropolitan for an article while she'd still been interning at the Planet, but she'd never been inside before. Joel--a tall, thin guy with a pirate beard and earrings, had waved her through after stamping her hand and telling her that Switch--the band Chad was wokring with--was still setting up. It was early yet--the band wasn't set to go on for another half hour, but the club was already packed.
The Metropolitan had been a movie palace back in the 1920s. Balaban and Katz crown jewel, more lavish even than the Uptown in Chicago, which at the time had been the grandest theatre in the country. But television had killed the movie palaces, and by the late 1970s, the place was falling to pieces when Metropolis businessman Morgan Edge had purchased it and turned it into the hottest night-club of its day.
However, a series of owners since hadn't quite kept up appearances, Chloe noticed as she took in the cracked plaster and sticky floors. Still, the 'Pol still had a certain kind of crumbling grandeur, which was a lot easier to appreciate in the near pitch black gloom of the dance floor she was sure than in the hard light of day. Threading her way through the throngs of leather, lace, denim and spandex-clad clubgoers. She'd tried to keep her eyes in her head as she passed a guy with waist-length dreads, red contacts, and six foot black leather wings.
Of course, she wasn't in Smallville, so there was no moment of worry that the trappings were anything more than a costume. When he smiled and she saw fangs, she gave a tentative smile in return and kept muttering "Dental resin. Custom made. It's just dental resin..." as she made her way to the edge of the stage and peered into the wings.
Chad was talking to a tall woman with long silvery-blond hair and a man with close-cropped black curls and more eyeliner than even Chad wore. She cupped her hands around her lipsticked mouth and tried to yell his name over the piped in music. Finally she gave up and, catching the eye of the guy setting up the drum set, motioned him over.
"Hey, can you grab Chad for me?" she shouted.
"Chad?" the guy parroted, and she suddenly wondered if he was stoned or high.
"Sound guy? Right there," she said, pointing and waiting for his eyes to focus on the black-clad figure that almost melted into the shadows of the velvet curtains.
"Oh!" he said, grinning. "Jeck!" he yelled.
Chad was talking to Silver and Mick about an amp which had given him trouble during the sound check when Silver grabbed his arm, pointing to the edge of the stage. Chad looked up to see Shrike waving him over. The drummer was talking to some hot chick in a corset who was standing at the edge of the stage and Oh My God That's Sullivan.
And those are Sullivan's breasts.
He stopped, blinking, and then forced himself to continue walking across the stage and sit on the edge next to her, feet dangling. "Hey, you made it!"
"Of course," she smiled up at him. Framed by the purple-streaked hair, her green eyes were rimmed with kohl and dark shadow, and she was wearing dark red lipstick. He thought his heart might actually stop.
The floor was starting to fill up, so he motioned for her to follow him to the side door which lead backstage. The bouncer on the door let them through, and he took her back by the dressing room, so they could actually hear each other without shouting their throats raw.
"Jeck?" she asked, sounding amused.
"Um, yeah," he scratched at his cheek, smiling in a way me hoped came across as self-deprecating. "It's kinda like a stage name. I mean, who ever head of a goth named 'Chad'? My sister almost had it worse--mom almost named her 'Buffy.'"
"Buffy and Chad?" Chloe scrunched up her nose in a way Chad found ludicrously adorable. "Wow."
"Children of the eighties," he said with a shrug.
"I think my mom named me after a bottle of perfume," she said conspiratorially. "So, why Jeck?"
"Oh, I read it in a book. I guess I just liked it."
"I kinda like it." She smiled again, and he ran his hand through his dark hair, trying to will himself not to blush. "So, gothic enough?' she asked, giving a twirl that made the black lace skirt billow out around her legs. Her black stockings had seems up the back. He felt his mouth go dry.
"You look--you look amazing."
Now it was her turn to blush. "I figured, hey, I can write about it in the Torch. Try and debunk some of the myths about goth culture."
"Always on the job, huh?"
"So, am I just another research subject?" he teased, and she flushed. "Sorry."
"Totally okay. And hey, you look great, too."
He glanced down at his black silk shirt and jeans. "I like black. It makes life simple. Like that writer said--Gaiman? It's like geranimals for grownups. Everything black matches, so you don't have to worry about it." She laughed again, and he glanced back over his shoulder to see the clock on the wall. "Switch is gonna go on in a few, you should go out front so you can get a spot on the dance floor--"
"Oh, I don't really dance--'
"Oh, I bet you do," he said quickly. "C'mon, when are you gonna see any of these people again? Have fun. Go a little crazy. The music is great, they're really good. They started off as a cover band, but Silver's been writing for the last year, and they've been scouted by some record companies."
"Yeah--and you can say, 'I saw them when.' I've just got a few things to finish up back here, and then I'll find you. I promise, I won't leave you alone in the wilderness."
Chloe felt a little self-conscious as she scouted a spot to the side of the dance floor, a few feet from the stage door. She was convinced that Chad would totally lose her in the crush, so she figured staying close to where he would come out would help. The glowing tips of lit cigarettes floated through the semi-darkness like fireflies, and her eyes watered slightly from the combination of the smoke and the dry ice that was being pumped out over the stage as the band started playing.
By the middle of the first song, she'd closed her eyes and just started swaying to the music--trying to pretend she was alone in her room, listening to a cd. The floor beneath her feet practically shook with bass rumble and she took her cues from the dancers around her, lifting her arms up and just swaying in time to the music. The girl with the silver hair sang in a strong clear voice, but Chloe lost half the lyrics in the mix of sounds. She decided she didn't mind, and just let the waves of sound wash over her. She liked the feel of the skirt around her legs as she moved, and she rolled her hips and shoulders. She hadn't danced like this in a while--not since the rave in the Kowatche caves that had ended with her in the hospital, with gaping holes in her memory and Clark further away than ever.
She pushed that thought away, and danced. Halfway through the set, sweat was pooling between her breasts, and she could feel it gathering at the small of her back, beneath the canvas corset. She normally didn't always like the bands Chad burned to cd for her, but she liked this music. Even thought she couldn't understand all the words--some of which she was pretty sure were in some other language, like maybe Gaelic or Swahili--there was an almost primal force to the music. It was so different from the blaring rock and metal that half the jocks at school played in their trucks to and from school, or the "alternative' rock that Lana piped through the Talon. She grinned at that. Anything that got top 40 radio play was not in Chloe Sullivan's book, alternative anything anymore.
By the end of the first set, she was thirsty, but strangely relaxed. There was something so simple about just... dancing. Letting herself go. Not being Chloe Sullivan, intrepid reporter every second. Being anonymous and sexy and free. It was a good feeling. Some of the dancers around her were smiling, others had their eyes closed, lost in their own world and the music. She'd always assumed, somehow, that goths were dour and obsessed with death, but so far tonight she'd just seen lots of people of all ages just dancing and having fun the same way the kids back home would at a school dance or live show. The only difference was the trappings.
The song came to an end, and she saw Chad elbowing his way through the crowd to get to her.
"I am having the best time," she assured him. "It's like Hallowe'en! Really wild."
He grinned, stepped closer to her to allow a girl in a black and purple and vampire-pale make-up dress past him. His arm brushed hers, and he didn't move away. Another song started up, and she snuck looks at Chad, illuminated by the strobe lights, as they danced. His dark hair was plastered to his forehead and neck, and the top two buttons on his shirt were undone. She realised she'd never really paid much attention before, but Chad was... well... kinda hot. Not epic farmboy with shoulders this broad hot, but there was something to be said for good old-fashioned lithe pretty boys in eyeliner.
Someone went through the crowd passing out glow sticks which tinted the dancers faces unearthly purple and green. She shuddered, the sweat cooling on her body as she had a sudden flashback to the green glowstick Deputy Watts had left in the metal box he'd buried her in, in the middle of Chandler's field. She froze for a second, then tried to shake herself out of her momentary panic. She hadn't thought about Watts in almost a year. The nightmares had even stopped. But suddenly, the corset felt too tight, like she couldn't breathe. And the crush of bodies seemed overpowering suddenly.
She accepted a red stick that someone waved in her face, and closed her eyes again, trying to find the thread of the drum beat again. There was a light touch on her arm, and she jumped eyes snapping open.
Chad was at her elbow, looking worried.
"Are you okay?' he mouthed, and she nodded. He took her by the elbow, steering her towards the entrance. She breathed a sigh of relief as they stepped out onto the sidewalk, and the breeze hit her face.
"Sorry--I think, just with all the people--"
"It's okay--they're always packed when they've got live music," he said with a shrug. "Usually, Lady Morgan spins in the bar below the main floor, but once a month, they book live bands and it can be a madhouse."
"Plus I think my cousin Lucy may have laced this," she tugged on the corset, "a little too tight."
"C'mere," he said, turning her around and she gasped as he loosened the laces on the corset. She hadn't realised how tight it had been until that moment. No wonder women used to swoon, she realised, as her lungs expanded and she gulped in the cool night air.
"Better?" he asked, breath warm against her ear, and she practically melted against him.
"Much," she said, laughing a little breathlessly as she turned around, smiling up at him. He was only half a head taller than she was, even in the heels, so she didn't have to tilt her head back much. His hands rested on her waist, and she could feel their warmth through the flimsy skirt.
"Chloe, I know this is gonna sound, well--" he began, and whatever he was going to say next was lost as he bent his head and kissed her.
It was just so easy, to kiss him back. She thought it would be hard. She thought she'd feel like she was betraying Clark, that she should be waiting for some magical moment when he'd throw away his Lana blinders and see that she'd been steadfast and true, and fall into her arms.
She pressed herself up against him, feeling the delicious slip-slide of the silk shirt against the tops of her breasts spilling out of the corset. She tangled her hands in his hair and pulled him closer, her tongue darting out to trace his teeth. She could hear traffic on the street behind them, and the music from inside the club through the open door. Voices of people on the street, muted, and her own heart pounding in her ears as his mouth opened against hers.
"It's the outfit, isn't it..." she breathed against his mouth. "Guys dig corsets."
"I dig you," he said, smiling. His black lipstick was smudged with red, and his brown eyes were half closed. Her head swam as his stubble brushed her cheek, and she grabbed handfuls of silk to keep herself upright as he kissed her again.
"Hey, get a room!" someone called from the line of people behind velvet ropes waiting to pay the cover to get in, and she opened her eyes to see they'd attracted quite an audience.
"You wanna go back in?" he asked, and she nodded. Hand tightly in his, they headed back into the club, her hip brushing his as they climbed the red-carpeted ramp towards the main floor. Switch were still playing as they grabbed a spot on the dance floor.
This time, they danced with hardly any space between them. Chloe didn't care if she looked like a moron--she felt sexy. She was wearing a sexy dress, making out with a sexy guy, and dammit, it felt good to feel sexy. She undulated, she wrapped her arms around his neck, nibbling the spot where his neck met his collarbone. She laughed as they were jostled by the crowd, and he let his hands drift down to rest on her ass as the band played a slow song about what seemed to be doomed Irish lovers who drowned themselves.
"So, this whole digging me thing," she asked as they slipped backstage after the band finished and started packing up their stuff to clear the stage before the headlining act. "When did that start?"
He grinned, pressing her up against one concrete wall so that two very large men carrying black and silver equipment cases could squeeze past them in the narrow hallway. "You want the truth?"
"I always want the truth," she said, gasping as he slipped one knee between her legs and nuzzled her neck.
"The night you met me? That was, like, over a year ago!"
"Well, you were kinda preoccupied at the time," he admitted.
She blushed crimson. "Oh. Yeah." She'd been right in the middle of the height of her then-secret, unrequited Clark crush, pre-Spring Formal, but post-huge blow-up over the history project where she'd looked up his adoption records. There could have been another earth-shattering meteor shower, and she didn't think she would have noticed, she'd been so caught up in the whole entire soap opera that had been her life.
"And in parallel universes that aren't the fucked up town of Smallville?" he continued, running a finger over her lips. "Any guy would be into a really hot girl who started talking to him on the street. Any guy who wouldn't be is a moron."
"You think I'm really hot?" she asked, unable to stop a smile.
"Even without the corset."
"That's good, because the corset is just a loaner."
Maybe, it was time she threw away her Clark blinders, and investigated some other possibilities, Chloe mused, as she slid her hands up under the silk shirt to find skin beneath.
"So, should I call you Jeck from now on?" she asked as she ran her nails over his back and he hissed.
"You can call me," her caught her hands and pinned them above her head playfully, "anything you want, so long as you keep calling me."
She pulled his head back down to hers, still smiling. "You're so going right to the top of my speed dial."
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