"It only takes you six minutes to put on your makeup in the morning," Chloe says.
Lana frowns, setting her wine cooler down on the rickety tray that functions as a table in the Fortress of Solitude. The cicadas sing in the August night, their chirping shimmering upwards like waves of heat. "I guess. Maybe. How do you know?
"That's how long it is between snooze alarms." Chloe can't get up without hitting the snooze button about ten times. She doesn't think she's ever seen Lana hit it once.
She sips her own wine cooler -- raspberry-flavored, ethereally pink where it catches the candlelight. Lana's is lime, a pale green that reminds Chloe of that necklace Lana used to wear, the one with the stone that fell in the hollow of her throat. The candy colors are intentional, of course; when Lana protested the six-pack, Chloe pointed out, "Teenagers are supposed to drink wine coolers. Why do you think wine coolers exist?" She runs a fingertip down the icy bottle, feels the moisture beading up there, sweetly chilled. Like alcoholic popsicles, she decides.
"Okay," Lana says. Her hair is pulled back in a low ponytail, one that reveals the graceful curve of her throat. Her shell-pink camisole has beading around the neck, subtle pearls and corals, iridescent in the flickering light. "It takes me six minutes. Why does it matter?"
"I just don't get how you can be so fast and -- and get it perfect." Of all the things she could try to get up the nerve to say to Lana, Chloe's not sure why she's wasting her drunken free pass talking about cosmetics. But when she thinks of Lana, she thinks of the mirror-smooth perfection of Lana's face every morning: Creamy skin. Eyelids rimmed in soft violet or dove gray. Lip gloss that shines in subtle, juicy shades -- melon, strawberry, peach. "Me -- I spend a good ten to fifteen minutes to look like I belong in a Squigglevision cartoon."
"You don't look like that," Lana protests. "You're pretty, Chloe. I wish you'd realize how pretty you are."
Chloe laughs, not because she thinks it's funny, but because it surprises her so much. And because she's swimming in wine-cooler magic now, where edges are softer and everything's less real, and laughter bubbles up from every moment, every word.
They started coming up here two months ago to wait for Clark. They thought he might slip home one night, to get a few of his things, and that if he didn't stay long in the house, he still might come up to the Fortress for a while. But she and Lana aren't waiting for him tonight. Somewhere, somehow, they started coming up here together so they could be alone: away from Gabe, away from the Talon, away from anyone in the world except each other.
Too bad Clark's not coming back, Chloe thinks without a shade of real regret. He'd come upstairs and find two girls, drunk and lonely. Every guy's fantasy.
"Okay," Chloe admits. "I have self-esteem problems, but I'm not blind. I know I'm pretty. But you're beautiful." Lana's eyes widen, and Chloe laughs again. "You can't possibly be surprised to hear that you're beautiful."
"I'm not," Lana says, with an honesty that's somehow annoying and endearing at the same time. "But -- I guess -- I'm surprised that you think I'm beautiful."
Lana's smiling. She likes that Chloe said that, likes that Chloe believes it. And, Chloe realizes, she likes that Lana likes it.
Confused and flustered, she takes another deep gulp of the raspberry wine cooler, enjoying the cool sparkle of it in her throat. The drink will only make her more confused, of course. Maybe that's the idea.
Lana says nothing else, just leans closer to the burning candle. It's very low now, surrounded by a puddle of lavender-scented wax. Gently, Lana slides her fingertips along the soft, hot rim of the candle, shaping the warm curves back and forth, back and forth. She pulls her fingers away every few seconds, when they get too hot, licks them quickly without ever smudging her melon-tinted lip gloss. When she's done, the candle's edges look like a flower's petals, already drooping from the flame's heat. "Pretty," Chloe says, to have something to say.
"Not much of a trick," Lana says. The summer air has made her skin dewy where anyone else's would be sweaty. In her wine-cooler haze, Chloe thinks that Lana is shimmering, a mirage of coolness and refuge, an oasis in a desert she hadn't known she was crossing. She imagines diving into blue waters, feeling the shock of cold enveloping her body, washing away everything that went before, making her new.
"You're a mirage," Chloe says, not at all sure why she's saying it out loud. As soon as the words slip from her lips, she regrets them; separated from the texture of her thoughts, they sound harsh and wrong.
Worst of all, Lana says, "I know." She looks away from Chloe then, doe eyes glistening. The unshed tears catch on her eyelashes and glitter in the candle's light.
A shaft of clarity pierces Chloe's foggy mind, filling her with the realization of something that, on some level, she's known for a long time. All Lana's carefully created perfections -- her cheery attitude, her long hours at the Talon, her carefully written essays, her matching bra-and-panty sets, her model-perfect makeup -- are not ornaments but defenses. Lana makes herself perfect because the only alternative is complete surrender.
"That's not what I meant," Chloe says. She sets her wine cooler down and leans forward on the sofa; she can smell hay and lavender and the baby oil Lana uses on her skin, heavy and soft in the air. "I just meant -- it's like -- like you're too beautiful to be real." Before Lana can react, before Chloe can think better of it, she puts her hand on Lana's . "But you are real."
Suddenly it's darker in the Fortress; they both turn their heads quickly, and Chloe's head whirls with the sudden motion, all her ideas and words and memories swirling around, like glitter and plastic stars in a tourist's snow shaker landscape. The candle's burning out, she realizes. A pinpoint of cobalt-blue flame hovers over the glistening wax a moment more, then dies in a puff of smoke. Now she and Lana are alone in the night, holding hands, sitting very close. Reality with all its sharp edges intrudes for one unwelcome second; Chloe wants to make a joke and run. That's what she's good at, making jokes and getting out, not anything else, not this.
And then it is Lana's turn to surprise her, moving closer slowly, so slowly. She whispers, "You're the real one." Their lips meet in the barest feather touch, almost too fragile to even be a kiss.
Night magic, Chloe thinks. Tomorrow, the buzz will be gone, and the explanations will be awkward, and they'll say that nothing's changed, but everything will have changed. She knows it all, but it seems so very far away.
They kiss again, and Chloe can feel the liquid slide of their lips against each other -- gloss against gloss, shade against shade -- as they come together in the dark. The cool waters wash over her, wake her up from her long dreaming, and she is free.
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