Clark decided to take it slowly. In the past two hours, he had spent his time contemplating, and planning. Now he had a plan. It was a well-thought out, logical plan, which covered every possible outcome - he hoped. No rash decisions and no spur of the moment actions that always seemed to backfire. He was going to go into this prepared. It had taken him a couple of weeks to come this far. He wasn't going to back down now, despite whatever fears still persisted of being on the rebound. He knew she was going to say that. He knew he had to prove her otherwise.
True that he had only really recently broken it off with Lana. But that was, well, for a number of reasons. Clark looked up at the barnyard rooftop from where he lay on his couch in his Fortress. He really didn't want to dwell on Lana now. It was too complicated. And honestly, he wasn't sure if he wanted a relationship with Lana Lang right now. Sure, he was jealous of Seth when he made his move, but quickly that jealousy turned into concern for her well-being. He still cared about her, heck, even loved her. But...there were too many problems between them. The lack of trust being foremost on his mind.
Clark sighed. Not that there weren't enough problems between him and Chloe. There were. But for some reason, they seemed to be easier to work through. She expected, he assumed - though he wasn't sure- less of him than Lana did, but in a good way. And it helped. Even made it more....worthwhile. He rolled over to lay on his side, watching the dust particles flutter in the air in front of him. When had it changed? He wasn't quite sure. In fact, Clark felt that these feelings might have always been there. He just suppressed them after the fiasco of the Spring Formal, moving on to safer things, like his dream girl. But after she kissed him - about two or so weeks ago - those feelings came rushing back. And although he tried so hard not to let it affect him, it did, especially the more he thought about it. Which had been very much, of late.
He remembered it exactly. It was in the file room of Smallville Medical Center, in order to cover up the investigation he and Chloe were conducting on Seth Nelson from that doctor who randomly walked into the room. He was shocked at first, confused and bewildered. Not so much by the fact that she did it, but at the feelings it provoked in him. A week later, after all the commotion with Seth and with Lana died down, he was able to think it over. And Clark came to a realization. He still liked Chloe, in that more than just friends sort of way. The thought had been his source of torment for almost a week and a half now, with its stubborn refusal to leave his mind. Briefly, Clark wondered if all aliens have this much trouble with relationships. He remembered his biological father's doomed relationship with Laura McCallum. Was it genetic? Or just a thing reserved to this big dumb alien only?
Clark sat up. He couldn't sit here and wallow in his thoughts any more. It went against his plan. Her birthday was a few days away. He wanted to give her something that she would always remember. That would show how her how much he felt, and not scare her away either. He had to get out. Go shopping. He was going to search high and low, until he found the perfect gift. The one that screamed Chloe, that would show her that he was serious this time around. He loved Lana, yes, but there was this part of him that wanted Chloe more. A voice that echoed that Chloe was the girl he had to grow into. The girl that would test him, reason with him, be his calm in the storm, provide answers, and unconditional trust. Clark had finally decided. This is what he needed in his life. He might just have grown up enough to realize that.
With a flash, he was out of the loft, out of the barn, leaving behind a whirlwind of papers, dust, and hay. Time to put this plan into action.
It had taken him five hours, twenty different stores, and eight stops at the food court to finally find the perfect birthday present for Chloe. He had bought her a leather-bound journal, with her name specially inscribed on the front cover. The pages were pearly white with gold edges, and a beige ribbon to mark the page. He had also gotten her a fountain pen to complete the ensemble. All he had left to do was wrap it perfectly (the silver, glittery wrapping paper, colorful ribbon already in his bag) and give it to her at her birthday party three nights away. The card had also been meticulously chosen and currently resided with the rest of his stuff. The tough part would be figuring out what to say, but he had a while to think about that. Clark tipped his chair back a bit as he sipped on his de-cafe latte, a reward for successfully completing part one of his plan.
Clark patted the bag sitting on the chair next to him as he glanced around the food court. It was busy, of course. At around six o'clock every evening, shoppers always congregated at the food court for a meal. Always. Clark was tempted to buy something, but decided against it. There was no way mall food could be as good as his mother's cooking. He was definitely heading home for dinner. He took another sip of his drink as his eyes settled on a mother listening raptly to her daughter talk. Clark smiled and chuckled. The girl was a pretty little thing of about eight or so, with wispy blonde hair hidden beneath a multicolored knit cap, talking animatedly, her eyes aglow with her every gesture and word.
Clark smiled to himself as the mother unsuccessfully tried to get a word in. The girl reminded him of someone. Chloe. He wondered if Chloe talked to her mom like that at age eight. He could easily picture an eight-year-old Chloe with her blonde hair in pigtails and her green eyes vibrant with energy as she sipped her hot chocolate in between long sentences, detailing every event in her day to her mother. His smile widened. Yeah, he could definitely picture that.
A conversation from a year ago drifted into his mind. "She left when I was five, so... I came downstairs and... There was my dad, trying to make waffles. He never even really explained why she left. It was weird..."
Her mom had left. She never experienced what he had just imagined. No mother to talk to over hot chocolate after a fun but tiring day of shopping at the mall. No mother to tuck her in at night or wipe away her tears or anything. What was worst of all was that Chloe never knew why she left. She said her dad never talked about it. And despite all her investigative reporter tendencies, this was probably something that was too painful to ever research.
He sighed. He had the perfect gift for Chloe. The perfect gift according to his plan, anyway. But was it what he really ought to get her? The ideas started to formulate in his head as he took the last sip of his smoothie. What was it that Chloe said? That good reporters always think on their feet? Her advice never steered him wrong in the past. Why would it now? Maybe that's just what he had to do - think on his feet. Searching and planning the perfect gift for Chloe just wouldn't work. It had to be something spontaneous, something unique, something made up on the spot. Looking in the direction of the mother coddling her young daughter, Clark smiled. He knew just what that gift was.
Clark stood outside the brownstone on the corner of Elm and Third, Metropolis. He smoothed out his flannel shirt for the twentieth time. He had no reason to be nervous. He had dealt with many more people worse than a seventy-something woman, and had always come out of the ordeal okay. There was no reason to be afraid. Not at all.
Moments later, Clark lifted a hand and rang the doorbell. He heard some shuffling from within and let out the breath he had been holding. Someone was home. That meant he hadn't made the run from Smallville to Metropolis for nothing. Seconds later, an elderly lady with grey-white hair and sparkling green eyes that looked so familiar to him opened the door. She had a curious expression on her face, as if silently asking why he was here. Definitely Chloe's grandma alright. Now to make sure.
"Mrs. Lane?" Clark asked hesitantly.
"Yes. And may I ask whom I am addressing?" Polite and too the point. Okay. Maybe he could handle this.
"My name is Clark Kent." He held out his hand. She shook it briefly. "I'm a friend of Chloe Sullivan's," he continued without waiting for a response. Her face reflected a glimmer of surprise at the mention of Chloe's name. "Your granddaughter."
"Chloe," she echoed softly. After a moment's pause, she looked up at Clark and smiled. "Why don't you come inside? You must be chilled standing out there. How about we discuss whatever it is that you would like to know over a nice cup of hot cocoa."
"Thank you, ma'am."
She smiled and walked inside. Clark followed. Maybe this wouldn't be as hard as he thought.
Clark walked away from food table in the center of the Sullivan living room. The party had dwindled down from an hour or two ago, and only close friends and family remained in the household. Not many, but still more than he felt like dealing with at the moment. Gabe was still by the food talking to some brother or uncle or whatever of his. Pete and Lana were in an isolated corner of the room, talking silently. This came as a surprise to Clark. He never really pictured that the two would have enough to say to each other. Sometimes people surprise you, he thought. He had surprised himself tonight.
He had chickened out. This wasn't the first time that Clark had backed out of something, but it hurt. Sure, Chloe's eyes lit up when she saw the journal and pen, but it wasn't the same. He fingered the locket he had in his jeans pocket. He had wanted to give that to her so much. But he couldn't. When it came down to it, he was afraid. Afraid Chloe would hate the truth. Hate him for finding it. And he couldn't face that possibility. He hadn't even given her the card he spent hours writing last night. It held too many emotions, and he didn't want to be ridiculed in front of so many people.
"Clark." A voice came from behind. Clark turned around from where he was staring off into space. It was Lex. Funny, he thought that the young millionaire left hours ago. Guess not.
"Hi, Lex," Clark responded automatically.
"Is everything okay Clark?" Lex, perceptive as usual. Clark sighed. All he really wanted to do right now was wallow in his own self-loathing for being such a chicken.
"It's nothing Lex." That caught the bald man's attention. Smart move, Clark, he mentally scolded himself. Lex's eyebrows quirked in question, and Clark had no choice but to give in. "Do you ever regret not doing something Lex? Especially when you've had so many other regrets in your life?"
Clark could've swore he saw a flash of sadness on the other man's face. But as quickly as it came, it disappeared. "Clark. No action in life is without regret. But `only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.'"
"Robert Kennedy, Clark."
Clark grinned. "Branching out from dead emperors?"
"I'm being serious, Clark. The only way you'll ever accomplish anything is to take a chance, especially if it's worth taking. Think about it."
With that, Lex walked away, leaving Clark standing there, alone again. It only took him a minute to decide what to do. He was going to follow Lex's guidance for a change. Clark walked towards the food table, where Mr. Sullivan was still talking to the same man from earlier. He waited patiently for a pause in the conversation and then interrupted.
"Mr. Sullivan?" Chloe's father turned and looked at the teenager. "Do you know where Chloe went?"
The elder man smiled. "You can probably find her outside Clark."
"Thanks," Clark replied.
In a split second, he had already begun walking towards the front door. Outside meant alone. Alone meant this whole thing would go a lot easier. He walked past the couple of people still lingering in the living room, and opened the front door quietly, fingering the locket once again. He closed the door softly behind him, and looked down the left side of the porch. There she was, sitting on a porch swing, hugging her knees to her chest while the wind ruffled her short blonde hair and the swing moved back and forth.
"Hey Chlo'," Clark whispered softly as he approached the swing. She looked up, and Clark thought he saw the moonlight reflect a glimmer of tears in her eyes and a slow smile formed on her face.
"Is this seat taken?" Clark asked, motioning towards the empty space next to her on the bench.
Chloe shook her head no, and unfolded her legs so that they were now dangling from the edge of the seat. Clark sat down, accidentally causing the swing to move back suddenly. He blushed and she giggled. He turned to face her, taking in every aspect of her face. He breathed in deeply. It was time to take that chance.
"I...," Clark trailed off. How was he supposed to say this? "Chloe," he started again. "You know that journal I gave you..."
She smiled at him. "I really like it Clark. Thank you."
Clark blinked and ran a hand through his hair nervously. "That's the thing, Chlo'. It's not what I meant to get you."
Confusion spread across her features. Her eyebrows knitted together and she looked up at him, face demanding for an answer. Clark let out a breath. "Just...just hear me out. And then you can say - do - whatever you want. But I need you to listen."
"Okay." Her answer was simple, and full of trust. It reassured him, slightly.
His hand dug into the pocket of his jeans, and pulled out the locket. He kept it clenched in his hand as he began to spoke. "I went to Metropolis yesterday. It was, to, uh, meet someone. A really great someone that I think you'd really like." He paused. "A Mrs. Elizabeth Lane."
Chloe's mouth opened slightly and he could see the disbelief and anger building up in her. Clark hesitated, but continued. "I know you'll probably hate me for this, but I...I thought that the best birthday present you could get was answers. You once dug into my past cause you cared. I was just trying to do the same."
Lame, Kent. This is exactly why you were supposed to have a plan. So you wouldn't screw it up with stupid sentences like that. He bowed his head away from her, staring at the front door instead. He continued.
"Chloe, your mom didn't hate you. Remember last year how I said that I never wanted you to think that you weren't good enough for someone to love? That still stands. What I found out...
"It's not true. It never was true. She loved you Chloe. She loved you so much that it broke her heart to leave you. But it would've broken her heart even more to have you watch her die."
There. He had said it. Clark turned to look at Chloe. Her face was slightly blotched with red and there were a couple of tears falling from her cheeks. He quickly placed the necklace back into his pocket, raised his hands to her face, and gently brushed the tears from her face. "She...she had cancer," Clark explained, looking directly into her eyes. "Some rare form or something... I forgot. But she didn't want to put you or your dad through the pain of having to deal with it. She loved you Chloe. She loved you so much."
She swiped a few stray tears from her eyes and a small smile graced her features. "Th-thanks Clark," she whispered. "It means a lot to me. To know this."
Clark beamed. He hadn't failed.
His hand fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out the chain. "I, I have something for you." Clark held it up to show to her. The silver heart locket glittered in the moonlight and Chloe's eyes widened.
"I think I remember that..."
"She wore it till she died. Your grandmother wanted you to have it." He opened the clasp and showed her the photos inside. Chloe gasped and a few more tears trickled down her face. One of the images was of a much younger Gabe Sullivan. The other was of a beautiful woman, holding a baby girl and smiling.
Clark closed it and undid the clasp on the chain. He reached over her body, and tied the chain closed around her neck. On impulse, he kissed her forehead before moving away. "Perfect," he whispered. "Now you'll always have a part of her."
"Clark..." Chloe opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. He chuckled.
"I never thought that I'd see the day where I leave Chloe Sullivan speechless."
Chloe stifled a laugh and punched his shoulder in protest. Then her face turned serious. "Clark, this is the best gift I could've ever asked for. Thank you." She clutched the locket tightly.
For the next few minutes, the two friends sat there in a comfortable silence, watching the wind blow against the trees. Clark was pleased. She liked it. No, she loved it. He had done something right, finally. His sudden idea to find out the truth about Chloe's mother had been a smart move. But before the night was up, there was one more thing he had to do. He hoped the outcomes from this would be just as good, if not better.
Clark pulled out her birthday card from inside his jacket. He handed it to her. When their fingertips touched, Clark could've sworn he felt the sting of electricity.
"It goes with the journal," he said. "But don't open it yet. There's something I want to tell you first."
Chloe laughed. "I don't know how many more surprises I can handle from you tonight."
Clark smiled nervously. "Well, I'm sort of hoping you like this one too."
His blue eyes met her green ones. "No time like the present, Clark," he heard her whisper.
"Chloe, remember when I agreed to your proposition to just be friends two summers ago? Well, I lied. I didn't want to be friends then. And I don't know how much I want to be now."
A flurry of emotions filled her face. Doubt, hope, confusion, fear, maybe even a flicker of love. Okay. He had expected that. He had even expected her next words.
"What about Lana?"
"The thing is, Chloe, I'm always going to love Lana in some way, be it romantically or platonically. But it's never going to work between us, and I don't want to settle. Things with Lana are...complicated. And I don't think it's ever going to be any less so.
"But with us? God, Chloe. I see so many possibilities. I suppressed my feelings towards you after that Formal fiasco, but when you kissed me two weeks ago..." There was a pregnant pause. Suddenly, his hands had become very interesting. "I think I may be falling in love with you right now. It just took me a while to realize that."
He hesitantly decided to look at her, and let out a breathe of relief when he saw her smile. A full out Chloe-smile that he hadn't seen since the end of ninth grade. It was infectious. Quickly, a hundred watt smile lit up his own face.
"We can take it slow. Go on a few dates...see where this leads. I really want to give us a try. I think it's worth it, I think you're worth it," Clark said in one breath.
Chloe laughed and murmured okay. Then she turned serious. "But if you think I'm just going to stay around until you can work things out with Lana..."
"This is not about Lana. This is about you. I've been an idiot." Chloe nodded. Before she could question anything else, Clark leaned in and kissed her full on the lips.
It was amazing. More amazing than that last kiss she had given him. He could have stayed like this forever, and the way Chloe was responding, he was sure she felt the same.
Suddenly, she pulled away.
Clark looked at Chloe quizzically. What was wrong? He was sure he was doing that right. "Chloe?"
Her eyes looked panicked and upset. Why? He thought she wanted this too. "Clark...you haven't been the only idiot. I've, I've made so many mistakes lately."
"Shh..." He put a finger to her lips. He didn't want to ruin the night. Plus, he decided, there were many more enjoyable things they could try.
"We can discuss this another time. Let's not ruin your birthday."
Her eyes pleaded with him to let her speak. "But Clark..."
"Whatever it is, we'll get through it together," he interrupted. "You're not alone now Chloe. We'll figure it out, whatever it is. I'm always going to be your friend, no matter what. But right now, I want to try to be more. And if whatever you're going through forces some time apart, fine. I don't care. Cause I think you're worth the wait."
Apparently she must have agreed because she smiled slightly and leaned her head against him. He held her close, breathing in the unique scent of her. Yeah....this was definitely worth the wait. It was worth all the crap they had gone through, all the mistakes he had made along the way. Clark knew he made the right choice.
For the first time in a long time, he felt at peace.
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