Lana snuggled in her bed, grinning like a fool.
It was cold, but she didn't care. Mentally, she made a note to search the boxes in the garage for her electric blanket's power cord, but that wasn't exactly a priority--so long as she did it before autumn turned fully to winter. Right now, she had to sleep. She had to be up in six hours to open the Talon. But she was still beaming into the darkness like an idiot. Happy. Fluttery. And she shouldn't be like this at all, so giddy over nothing. Almost nothing.
Nothing except that...it wasn't even tangible. It was just...trust, maybe. She sighed deeply and rolled over. The light from the suburban street poured in through the thin blinds, casting sodium streaks across the purple and gold. It was so garish, so unlike her old room with its clean white wicker and pink trim around the ceiling. Nell's idea of princess decor, probably. And it was fine for a little girl. This, on the other hand, was fine for...well, at least it wasn't purple and black.
She knew Gabe had let Chloe choose the color schemes when they'd moved in three years ago, and their rooms were matching opposites. Chloe's was gold with purple trim, and looked so much less...carnivalesque. Chloe made jokes about Lana's room being the sultan's throne-room, whereas her own was merely the inside of the genie's bottle. Or Aladdin's lamp. To Lana, though, it looked oddly like the Talon.
She knew she should turn on a light, pick up her history book, and finish the chapter she'd given up on. Except, she couldn't focus on anything that linear tonight, and if she didn't sleep, she'd be a wreck tomorrow. And there was no time for that, since she was opening and closing. She rolled over again, relishing the thickness of blankets around her, relishing tonight, so glad she'd been able to switch off her shift at the last minute.
When Chloe had called her about dinner, she hadn't been sure what to expect. But the celebration was so worth it. Double celebration, actually, since Nell had called at the beginning of the week. The long discussions between Nell, Gabe, Henry Small, herself, and the attorney Lex had lent her were finally over now. The accountant had okayed everything, and the court documents were supposed to be filed next week. After a year of proving herself competent, Lana was finally getting emancipated.
The arguments with Nell, as always, had come down to money. Nell didn't want her throwing away either her college fund, or the trust from her parents' life insurance, on her "lark" with the Talon. Gabe didn't want her rushing to move out on her own. Henry was there nominally as moral support and a second legal opinion, but he didn't want her to be entirely unsupervised, either. And Lex's attorney was obliged to throw in his two cents on protecting Luthor investments. It wasn't necessary. Everyone knew she was responsible, mature for her age. She'd proved it time and again, and now, at last, she'd won.
When Nell had told her the news, Lana had wanted to jump for joy. She felt like she should jump for joy, but instead, she'd simply smiled and been extra-nice to the customers that evening. It worried her a little. Deep down, Lana knew the sedate act was her oldest lie, but she couldn't really remember a time when it had been different. Either Nell taught her or she'd trained herself to observe and react, not to initiate, not to make a scene, always to think everything out beforehand. Always, because spontaneity made people come too close. Or go away forever. And since random chance destroyed everything that made her feel safe, it was better by far to plan.
But tonight, Chloe hadn't let her plan. She, Chloe, and Gabe had actually made dinner together like a real family, trying out a new recipe Chloe had found on some epicurean website. Gabe had even let them have wine. Which led to toasts. Which led to more wine and more toasts, until he cut them off with a laugh and a silly excuse about the odds of someone reporting him to social services.
His big news was that the plant was officially back on stable footing, with Lex completely back in charge. Most important of all, Lex had given Gabe a huge loyalty bonus for fending off the wolves while holding the plant together in his absence.
This meant a mountain of stress was suddenly gone from their whole household. Gabe had been utterly fixated on the plant ever since Lex had disappeared, eating, breathing, and sleeping company business. First it was the board of directors, and then the whole mess with the courts and Helen and Lionel. Then Lex had come back just in time to throw everything out of whack all over again. Tonight, Gabe had been positively euphoric, and dinner had been abuzz with funny stories and crazy ideas for what to do with the extra money. A long vacation was at the top of the list.
Moments like this, though few and far between, were when Lana felt most at home here...fully wanted and included, like the Sullivans were just glad to be able to share this with her. And she loved them so much for it.
Upstairs later, Lana had breezed through her French homework, but the history assignment on the emancipation proclamation was a confusing blur. She was supposed to be making a list of implications and consequences, but she couldn't concentrate at all. The implications of abolition for a whole nation were baffling. All she could think of were the ramifications of freedom for her own life.
Finally, Lana put aside the history book, got up, and poked her head in next door to see what Chloe was up to. She stood for a moment, just watching. Chloe was sitting at her desk, immersed in something on the computer. She was still wearing the new slacks and slinky black sweater she'd put on when they decided to dress up for dinner. Lana had already changed into fleecy pants and a long-sleeved tee.
"Hey, you busy?" Lana asked from the door. As usual, Chloe seemed busy.
Chloe smiled at her from across the room, the monitor painting her face with blue light. "Not really...my homework's all done. What's up?"
Lana looked dizzily around the room. So many shelves of books, magazines, CDs, random bits of life collected over the years. There was no sense of organization, but she knew that Chloe knew where to find every single thing. "Not much. History is so boring."
"No kidding. That chapter was the slowest ever." Chloe had her back to her again, saving something on the screen, minimizing.
"Can I ask you something?" Lana perched on the foot of the bed and gave Chloe an impish look.
"Sure," she said, half-turning.
"Are you still tipsy from dinner?"
Chloe burst out laughing. "It took me so long to figure out why the words on the screen looked funny."
"Me too! On the page, I mean. But my French assignment was so much easier than usual!"
"Really? That's too funny. Cabernet as a study aid!"
"I bet your dad would love that," Lana said.
"Yeah, he would pretty much freak." Chloe grinned lopsidedly at her. "We should probably wait a while before we give him something new to stress out over."
"It's good to see him in such a good mood," Lana said, then bit her lip.
"What's wrong?" Chloe asked.
"Hey, we agreed to be open with each other, right?"
"Yes," she said quietly. "I'm just afraid this is going to come out all wrong."
"The world isn't going to end if it comes out wrong. Relax."
Lana picked up a copy of Vanity Fair from a stack by the bed, thumbed through it, then put it back. "It's just your dad. He's another reason why it was so weird here without you this summer. He was always at the plant, and I was more or less living at the Talon." Lana wrapped her arms around her knees. "I was really glad when you came back from the internship. Even though we were still fighting."
"It was a rough summer," Chloe said, nodding in that way that spoke volumes.
Lana let out a long breath and looked at her uncertainly. "Very."
Chloe pushed her chair back from the desk and turned toward her. Her hair was a spiky golden mess, and a pencil was wedged, forgotten, behind her right ear. Lana watched her expression dim for a split second, then she recovered with a bright smile. "Can we bitch about Clark now?"
Laughing, Lana stretched out across the bed. "Be my guest."
"Actually," Chloe paused and leaned forward, "I wanted to ask you a question. And if you'd rather not answer, it's okay, I'll understand. It's just, I'm trying to figure some stuff out, and now's as good a time as any."
"What do you want to know?"
Chloe inhaled slowly. "So, what exactly happened?"
"Okay, that's a little vague." Lana smiled, rolling onto her side. "When do you mean?"
"At the end of last school year. I know we said we were going to put it all behind us, but...you and he are two of my closest friends, and you both have such a twisted history together. No offense, but...."
Lana looked at the floor uneasily. "No, you can call it twisted. That's a good word for it."
"So, at the end, right before he left...what happened?" Chloe had found her pencil and was twirling it nervously. "For me it was like this whirlwind of misinformation, where one minute we were all friends, then we weren't, and then we were, but not really...plus, I was so angry." Chloe sighed. "I'm still not entirely sure what parts were intended, and what were just misunderstandings gone wild."
"It was pretty awful." Lana chewed on her lip for a moment. "Are you sure you really want to hear this?"
"Yeah, I do. I want to know the truth. And it's not morbid curiosity, I promise. I just want to understand what happened to my friendship with him."
Lana took a deep breath and pulled herself up to sit Indian style, facing her. "All right, but if I tell you, you can't tell anyone."
Chloe hesitated, but finally gave a grudging, "Okay."
For a moment, Lana watched the way Chloe was fidgeting in the chair. Her right knee was bouncing, and she probably wasn't ready to hear this at all; but it was Chloe, so she was diving in anyway. Lana hoped that at this point, full disclosure would be more or less anticlimactic.
Finally, she nodded slowly and said, "Clark and I had sex. All the way."
Chloe was stunned. "You...?"
"Yes, me. Why is that such a surprise?" It came out far more annoyed than she'd intended.
"I'm sorry. I'm just...I thought it was just...dating and making out. I guess I never thought you'd...." Chloe looked at her helplessly. "You're so conservative about things like that."
"Except when I catastrophically let my hair down."
"Okay, that's an extreme word choice." Chloe's eyebrows were raised.
"Not really. Every single time I've ever done anything...like that, something terrible has happened."
"Well, you were under the influence of things, like that flower."
"Not every time."
"Hmm. So what happened with Clark?"
"We did it. That night after Lex's rehearsal dinner. It was all sweet and romantic, and for once being around him felt completely natural. And then, the next day he was all weird, and the day after that, he blew off the wedding and ran away."
"So what are you saying?" Chloe asked with a knit brow. "You don't think that was your fault...."
"I know I shouldn't feel that way, but part of me...."
"Listen, I know nobody is rational where Clark is concerned," she said, "but it wasn't your fault he ran away. Pete told me that Clark was already stressed out because of family stuff, and then he flipped out over his parents' accident. I'm sure you just got caught in the aftermath."
"I really think it goes beyond that. I mean, we agreed that we were going to tell you. I offered, but he said he wanted to be the one to do it. And then he didn't. I hated myself for lying to you all that next day, waiting for him. I still feel responsible...it wasn't fair to you at all."
"Yeah, well. It happens."
"I'm really sorry about it."
"Lana, it's okay." Chloe sighed and gave her a wry smile. "It was a long time ago, and besides, we already had that fight."
"I'm glad we're not fighting anymore," she said, giving her a shy smile. "I'm not sure what changed, but I like it."
"Me too. Maybe it's that we finally stopped competing over him?" Chloe let out an uncomfortable giggle.
"Could be. It's a major relief."
"Can I ask, not to keep bringing things back to sex, and this is going to sound totally like those stupid sex-ed movies, but...do you regret it? I mean, are you sorry you actually had sex with him?"
"Honestly? I don't know," she said thoughtfully. "Possibly? I mean, there was only the once, so it's not like I have anything else to compare it with. But I don't feel like it suddenly made me a different person, either. I suppose it wasn't really as big a deal as I thought it would be."
"You and Whitney never...?"
"No, just...other stuff."
"Uh-huh," Chloe said in a tone that made Lana squirm. "Did it hurt?"
"Was there a lot of blood?"
"Okay, what happened to no morbid curiosity?"
Chloe put on her innocent voice. "I just want to know what it's like!"
Lana made a face at her, trying to hide her blush. "I, um, ok, this is really embarrassing, but when I was eight, I was playing, climbing on the rails of the corral, and I slipped and fell onto...you know, on the beam. And it broke the hymen."
"Yeah, no kidding. There was blood everywhere, too. I was so terrified, I thought I was going to die; but Nell...anyway--so, no, there wasn't any blood with Clark."
"Huh. But it still hurt?"
"Yeah, it was really weird. Like a cramping up around your ovaries, but that was all from my body doing these weird muscle contractions. It wasn't because of what he was doing, I don't think. I don't know if that's normal or not."
"Hmm...no idea. Was he big?"
"Oh, come on, scientific curiosity!" They both giggled.
"A little bigger than Whitney was, maybe? Thicker. And it was so weird. He wasn't circumcised."
"No kidding?" Chloe said in awe.
"Stop thinking about that so hard!"
Chloe raised her eyebrows and giggled. "So, foreplay happened, right? With Clark?"
"What'd he do?"
Lana shifted again on the bed. "This is getting so embarrassing."
"Well, what had you done before?"
"Ok, this is totally embarrassing. You should tell me something now. It's only fair."
"I haven't done much of anything besides make out."
"Well, no.... You remember Ian." She stopped, making a face. "And why do I only attract guys who are totally psycho or wall-of-weird material...or both?"
"Hey, don't forget that the creep played us both. And mutant stalkers are totally a way of life in this town. In fact, we could probably start a support group." Lana smiled and tossed Chloe the battered plush dragon she kept by her pillow. "So, what did you do with him, or your version of him, rather?"
"He went down on me."
"Yeah...that was an amazing make out session," she said, petting the toy.
"You don't count that as sex either?"
"Well, oral sex, I guess, but it wasn't like we were...." Chloe trailed off, frowning through her blush. "See, I can say these words around Pete, but not around you. That's weird." She threw the stuffed animal back at Lana.
Lana caught it, laughing softly. "When you were with Ian, did you...?"
"Have an orgasm."
"Uh, yeah, twice actually."
"Really?" The note of awe in her voice made her feel like she was about twelve.
"I take it you didn't."
"I think I got close," Lana answered, "but then he stopped."
"Have you ever? I mean when you were with someone else?"
"Yeah, once. With Whitney."
"What was different?"
"Well, Whitney was using his fingers and his mouth...." Lana bit her tongue and hid her face, blushing scarlet. "I can't believe I'm telling you this!"
Chloe giggled. "Me either. But keep going."
"Because...I don't know." Chloe crossed the room and climbed up on the opposite corner of the bed. "This is what friends do."
"You talk to Pete about this stuff?" Lana asked, shocked.
"Oh God, yeah. I've seen every bit of porn that he's got," Chloe said, shoving a drift of pillows and stuffed animals to the floor. "He keeps trying to get me to tell him what girls like."
"Isn't that weird?"
Chloe shook her head. "Not really. He's just Pete."
"So thoughts of his penis just don't occur to you?" Lana asked, mystified.
"Ew! Lana! That's so...." The horrified expression on Chloe's face made Lana laugh. "Don't even go there! Pete is so not allowed to have a penis!"
"Have you seen it?" Lana prodded.
"Well, yeah," she said matter-of-factly before catching Lana's look. She added defensively, "Ok, do you remember his "De-citify Chloe" project, when he used to drag me out hiking and stuff?" She shrugged. "I'm not above peeking while a guy's taking a leak."
"You're really cute when you're bad."
"I was curious!" Chloe gave her a playfully indignant look. "So, Clark didn't...get you there."
Lana sighed. "Not really, no. It still felt really good overall, though. And laying there with him afterwards was just...yummy." She giggled self-consciously. "He smells really good."
"Yeah, I know."
"I'm sorry," Lana said reflexively.
"Stop being sorry. You're allowed to have a sex drive, okay? And we all know that he and I were never meant to be."
Bitterly, she answered, "You're too good for him anyway."
"What does that mean?" Chloe asked guardedly.
"Look, the cold facts of it are: he screwed me, he turned into a total stranger, and then he ran away for three months. Yes, he said he was sorry, after he came back, but...I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Especially not for their first time."
Lana looked out the window and continued, her voice softer, "I seriously thought it was my fault. That it was all because I was so inexperienced." She made eye contact again, tilting her head to the side. "That's why I was so angry about you knowing where he was all that time."
"You wanted to rip him a new asshole."
"It's totally understandable for you to be livid about it. I would be."
"I was so angry."
"See? You deserve better than that, too."
"You're right, I do."
Chloe's eyes clouded over. "So...why have you kept going back to him?"
"I don't know."
Chloe raised her eyebrows pointedly, waiting.
Lana pulled a fringy chenille pillow off the floor and hugged it close. "When I saw him, I guess I wanted a second chance. Proof that I was worth bothering with or something. But I stopped. I'm done, for real this time. The thing with my great-aunt and uncle was kind of the final nail in the coffin, so to speak."
"You mean it? It's just, Clark is kind of hard to let go of. Some of us have been trying for years."
Lana met her eyes, answering quietly, "When I'm alone with him, it's like all my self-respect just flies out the window." She ran her fingers back and forth over the nubby fabric. "I don't want to be that person anymore. Besides, I'm not convinced he was even thinking about me when we were doing it."
"Yeah." She made a face.
Chloe frowned, baffled. "Who would he have been thinking of instead?"
"Who knows what Clark thinks about. I mean, really. It just didn't feel like he was really there."
"Boys are such a pain," Chloe answered, leaning back against the headboard.
"Mm-hmm. Though some girls are, too."
"Yeah.... Oh, you mean Tina!" Chloe said, eyes going wide with realization.
Lana nodded. "I'm still freaked out by that."
"She was definitely a freak."
"Except that I've thought about it a lot, and really she just wanted to be loved. She was just really, really obsessed."
"No, Lana, she was nuts," Chloe said, eyes full of compassion. "Obsessed is how I get over the Torch, or how you get when the Talon's having a slow week. A little obsession is no big deal. Tina was seriously screwed up."
"You think I'm obsessed with the Talon?" Lana paused a second before grinning widely.
"You brat...." Lana laughed as Chloe smacked her with a pillow. She caught it, tried to pull it out of Chloe's hands, but Chloe tugged it back, squealing at her. They pretended to struggle, giggling like children, until a stray foot clipped the alarm clock on the nightstand and knocked it to the floor with a loud plastic crash.
"Girls!" Gabe's voice echoed from the other end of the hall. "Keep it down, please!"
"Sorry, Dad," Chloe called back meekly, before they both dissolved into guilty laughter.
"Oops," Lana said.
They fell back on the bed, comfortably shoulder to shoulder, eyes fixed on the buttery gold ceiling. Lana smiled slowly as she noticed that she was exactly where she wanted to be. "We're going to register to do the SAT prep together in the spring, right?" she asked.
"Yep, and Pete wants in, too."
"That works for me. The flyer said the deadline's next Monday."
"Should we invite Clark?" Chloe asked.
"I think we have to."
Chloe was shaking her head. "Not if it would be too awkward for you."
"No, there's no practical way to block him out of my life entirely. Besides, I don't want to alienate everyone else just because we broke up."
Chloe was rolling onto her side, tugging a pillow up under her head. "You're really brave, you know that?"
Lana smiled and shook her head. "No, I'm not. I'm scared all the time. But I'm trying to figure out where my power is."
"That's an interesting way of putting it."
"Lex...well, let's just say I'm learning a lot from him."
"You know how he brings work to the Talon when he gets sick of his office, right? Well, one day a while back, we just started talking. Real conversations, you know?"
"Really." Chloe's reporter instincts were sparkling in her eyes. "About what?"
"Lots of different stuff, but especially about how to become a stronger person. He gave me a list of books to read."
"Oh, typical Lex-stuff, all about manipulation and strategy. The Art of War. The Book of Five Rings. Some of the other stuff is really out there; but about six weeks ago he gave me this long lecture about power dynamics and how not to get taken advantage of. It kind of stayed with me."
"Yeah, it's weird, but I feel really good about it."
"Next you'll be playing chess."
Lana laughed. "If I do, you have to promise you'll beat me over the head with the board, okay?"
"And risk your scary kung fu skills? Nah, I'll just make Pete do it." Chloe smiled at her. "Seriously, I wouldn't worry. It's good that you're learning to hold your own. It still amazes me that you're running a business at age sixteen."
"Only for two more weeks," she said, smiling.
"Oh, right!" Chloe hitched herself up on her elbow, beaming at her. "So, what do you want for your birthday?"
Lana lay back and smiled dreamily. "Never to have another stupid party ever again. Especially not at the Talon, because then I'd have to clean up afterwards...and I'm still annoyed at all the mess from Halloween."
Chloe giggled. "Okay, no stupid party, no cleaning up. What do you want instead?"
Lana looked at her blankly for a moment and laughed. "I have no idea. Nothing really."
"Well, think about it and let me know. Or I will badger you."
"I'm sure you will," Lana smirked.
"Hey!" Chloe swatted at her belly.
Lana giggled at her, then rolled herself into a sitting position. "I should go to sleep. Opening earlier has totally increased our net." She smiled happily. "People really like breakfast."
Chloe sat up, too. "You're so cute when you're making money."
"I know it's silly, but I can't help it. It's fun."
Chloe was patting her thigh, grinning. "You should be proud of yourself. But remember, I get the exclusive when you make your first million!"
She laughed cheerfully and said, "Deal."
"Excellent." Chloe was smiling like she'd won the lottery.
"Oh, I'm working six til close tomorrow night, so if you want, I can come after school to help put the paper to bed. Three hours isn't much, but--"
"No, it's great! That would be a huge help."
"Good." She stood, brushing her fingertips across Chloe's shoulders. "Goodnight, sleep tight."
Chloe beamed up at her. "Goodnight."
Lana smiled at her warmly and slipped back to her own room.
In bed, listening to the clock tick, Lana yawned and rolled over again. She was still floating happily and reliving minute details, trying to get a grasp on all the little things that had happened. There was no way she could've planned any of it, but the evening had turned out so well, it was mind-boggling.
In fact, things were better now than ever, and that irony was shining as bright as neon in the night. There was less than a week until she would have her freedom, and Lana was happier here than ever. The Sullivan house felt more like a real, honest to goodness home than she had dared to dream possible. Gabe had slipped easily into the role of an uncle--gently paternal, but not authoritarian; offering help, but never trying to force it on her, and she respected that.
Chloe, on the other hand, felt like...something indescribable. There wasn't a good word for what she and Chloe were together. It was so much more than just being roommates, but they weren't quite what she would call best friends, either...although when it came down to it, what did being best friends mean when you got older, anyway? It was different when you were little and bonded at the hip.
Except that Chloe was her closest friend, and in a way, their living situation made them almost like sisters. Almost, but not quite. At the end of the day, they were each set in their ways like the two teenagers with only-child syndrome that they were. But they were changing...slowly. They were making room in their lives for each other now. Neither one of them knew how to be sisters, but maybe, in the end, that didn't matter.
A year ago, Lana would never have opened up with anyone like she had tonight; but somehow, in spite of everything, Chloe had become safe. And strangely, only the logic part of Lana's brain wanted to blush as she thought back over all the intimately private things she--no, they--had talked about. In her heart, she felt...maybe she was in shock with happiness because she finally saw it so clearly. That's what made Chloe different. Chloe genuinely wanted to know who she was inside. And Lana wanted to show her.
It was okay because it was Chloe.
The thought swum around in her head like a mantra, settling into rhythm, circuiting her brain. Lana pulled her hair out from under her shoulders and nestled deeper into the pillow. It was okay because it was Chloe. And it was. And it would be. Chloe, warm and soft, like sunlight. Harsh and searing when she wanted to be, but that was simply another facet of her power, like Lex's books said. Why be a boulder when you could be a stream?
It was okay because it was Chloe. She murmured softly, her mind filled with Chloe smiling, streaming gentle, golden sunlight. Lana slipped away from the shore, and her dreams lapped and flowed with tenderness.
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