Title: Nowhere Fast
Disclaimer: All Smallville characters belong to their respected copyright holders. Rating: PG-13
Summary: Going the distance.
Note: Thanks to LJC for the Beta.
The whole diner smelled like smoke even though it appeared as if no patrons were currently sucking it into their lungs. She sniffed cautiously at her clothes to double check that the dank worn smell hadn't already seeped its way into the fibers. She thought that no one in the last twenty years had ever bothered to open a window. The smell is just an unfortunate leftover from less restrictive times. She was glad the coffee didn't taste like smoke. Absent-mindedly sipping on the barely Columbian brew seemed to be the only thing to make the clock tick in the place. That or sitting with your head down and mumbling to yourself, which seemed to be the preference of most of the other customers.
She wasn't entirely sure of the name of the town she was in. There was no sign on the side of the highway, no population quote to let her guess just how backwoods she'd gotten this time. She thought she might have guessed by the large number of truckers occupying the counter. Or from the way they all turned their heads and stared in unison when she walked through the bell-jingling doorway. Some of the rugged sun beaten faces showed signs of amusement at her appearance. Some passive. Some leering.
One burly man in particular, one with a hat that said "Big Gill's Trucking" stared so hard and so... Eerily. She nearly turned on her heels and walked outside to find some place else with a payphone. That or she wanted to scream at him that she wasn't Jodie Foster and this wasn't Taxi Driver. But he never did much more than stare.
The tired looking woman in the god awful beige and orange uniform pointed her to the back when she asked where the phone was. As she passed the counter most of the truckers turned their attention back to their food or drink or magazine, and much to her own comfort, so did Big Gill.
The phone was old. Rotary old. It didn't seem to like the new decorative quarters very much either. She had dump out nearly the entire contents of her bag to find two older coins both minted in 1985. While dumping out her other stuff, her cell phone fell to the ground with its useless dead battery. She knew she should have bought one of those car adapter things for it when she had the chance. She picked it up from the ground, simultaneously grabbing the yellow pages from its perch on the floor. The 1992 date on the cover didn't exactly bring reassurance, but another glance around the diner, she thought that very little had probably happened around here in the last ten years.
She called the first mechanic that took credits cards and now sat in a booth close the phone waiting for the tow truck to show up. Stupid Falcon. She treated it well over the year she'd had it. Never sped, well, not too often. No drag racing. It just got a tune up two months ago. She had no clue as to what could be wrong. And just her luck, it breaks down when she had no clue where she was or where she was going.
The waitress, who's nametag read Arlene, came by her table and poured another cup of coffee.
"Don't mind them," she said nodding her head back at the counter crew. "It's just... Big city girl, small town. You understand."
She did understand. But when she told Arlene that she was from Smallville, Kansas the waitress only shrugged.
"Still bigger than this place," she said and walked off.
Chloe sighed and poured more cream and sugar into her fresh cup and looked around again.
She half expected dueling banjo's to start up any minute.
She was tired of driving.
Tired of seeing nothing but endless miles of tar and concrete. Flatland and down ridden farms. Small towns and even smaller lives. She always left Smallville thinking big and got the opposite effect. She wanted to get away from the town where every shattered life and broken building only reminded her that she'd been left alone. The road was a welcome freedom. Though, at times, like now, it didn't always work out for the best.
And she always went back.
They say that running from your problems never solves anything.
She thought that whoever came up with the saying just never got far enough.
Clark popped into her mind, turning the taste of the coffee from bad to bitter.
He'd apologized of course. For leaving her. For running when he said he wouldn't. Clark and his damn super hero complex. Had to help everyone everywhere without much thought of consequence to those closest to him. She knew it was selfish of her to think of it that way. It was easier not to care with each day gone by. She was willing to try a life that didn't involve him. Some crazy alternate universe where she didn't have to deal with his ultimate rejection.
She thought of another existence to begin a new.
But then wondered why the beginning of something new always marked the end of something else.
He'd gotten her flowers. Candy. The whole nine yards. Nearly everything short of begging. That damn Kent charm mixed with that damn Clark sincerity. She wanted to forgive him. She knew how easily she could have. All she had to do was look at him. Maybe they could have even finished that kiss they started.
She thought of the Coliseum in Rome. The Great Wall of China. The Pyramids.
Monuments standing nearly forever.
Enduring the test of time.
She built a barrier around her heart and kept these things in mind.
She warned him.
And yes, she knew Lana could have died. And yes, maybe she felt a little guilty for not caring about that as much as she should have. But a lot of people did die. Clark didn't ditch her for any of them. He was only interested in saving one life that day. And it sure the hell wasn't hers.
Natural disasters happen.
The who, where, and when are not a factor.
He left her.
There was nothing else to say.
Two hours, twelve cups of coffee, and one horrifying pass from Big Gill later, a faded red and blue tow truck pulled its way into the parking lot. She shot out of the booth, her nerves twitching and edgy from so much caffeine, and threw a five-dollar bill at Arlene and told her to keep the change.
The mechanic was running a hand along her right fender when she approached him. He seemed to be admiring it.
"Haven't seen one of these in quite some time," he said. "Sixty-one?"
"Looks real nice."
She nearly snickered at the lazy country drawl, but wisely bit her tongue.
"How long do you think it will take to fix?"
"Depends on what's wrong little lady," he replied looking up at her. "You said it was running fine and then just died, it could be any number of things."
"Yes. Okay. How long?"
If the mechanic had any indifference to her impatience he didn't show it.
"I'll know that when I know what's wrong."
"Fine," she sighed.
"Hey," the mechanic said, tilting his head and regarding her with a grim smirk. "You ain't running from something are you?"
"Running?" She replied. "No."
Escaping? She thought. Yes.
Loving Clark Kent was like being a prisoner.
Getting in her car and flooring it the hell out of town every once in awhile were little prison breaks. Oh, she knew that eventually she would go back. That bounty hunters of her heart would catch her on some lost forgotten highway, pull the car over, and bound and shackle her. Drag her kicking and screaming back home. To him. They would never get through the barrier she built. She wouldn`t let them. But that didn't mean it couldn't be moved.
"You gonna stay here or come with me?" He asked.
She turned her head to look at the diner again. Saw the chipping paint and splintering wood. The dirty windows and the unkempt sign with the three missing letters. The big rigs that outnumbered the cars. She thought of the bad coffee, the perverted truckers, and the tired depressing Arlene.
"With you," she said.
The mechanic, whose name patch read Luke, had a garage in the next town over. Another nameless mass of old rotting buildings unworthy of mention on a map. Luke wasn't one for small talk, which was fine by her. She didn't think they would have had a whole lot to talk about in the first place. He seemed to be content with humming along to the radio, and the country music was a little hard to ignore, but she did the best she could to deal.
Luke's All-American Auto Service looked like a rusty old barn in the middle of an automotive graveyard. Piles of wrecked old cars stood stories high, and the first thought that crossed her mind was that they must have been the tallest structures in the Podunk little town. As the tow truck pulled closer to the main building, she could see that it was indeed a rusty old barn. Sheets of bronzed chipping metal that looked about as sturdy as a house of cards.
"Afraid there won't be much for you to do around here," Luke said.
"I don't mind," she replied.
Luke pulled the truck onto the side of the barn, and got out to begin unhooking her car. The passenger door was a little hard to pop open, and she was pretty sure she could feel a bruise forming on her shoulder when she finally forced the stiff hinges to give. She looked around the massive piles of cars. Wondered how in the hell he could have gotten them all here. There didn't appear to be a crane anywhere. She sighed and told herself it didn't really matter.
Out of his lack of skills in the art of conversation, Luke forgot to mention that he had a son. She wandered inside the barn to take a look around, saw nothing bits and pieces to engines and other various car parts laying scattered about. She was kind of hoping he had a sink she wouldn't be afraid to touch so she could get some water. All the coffee left a bit of film across her teeth, and it wasn't exactly pleasant to keep tasting every three seconds. She rounded the edge of a wall of sheet rock, and bumped straight into a boy with a blue mechanic jumpsuit unbuttoned halfway to his waist.
"Oh, I'm sorry," his voice said in a laid back drawl reminiscent of his father's. "Didn't see you there."
She didn't get a good look at him while she tried to wipe the dust that collected on the back of her skirt. But the second she did she nearly wished she hadn't. His semi-long dark hair shagged just above his piercing blue eyes, chin square and chiseled, and muscles peeking from under the thin white cotton of his undershirt.
He looked so much like Clark she nearly felt like she was going to throw up on her own shoes.
If Luke hadn't walked up to them just then, she was pretty sure she would have. "See you've met my boy," he said, a small hint of pride tinged in his voice.
"I wouldn't say that Pa," the boy replied with a smirk. An all too familiar smirk that sent her stomach sinking. "We haven't been properly introduced."
"Chloe Sullivan," Luke said pointing at her. "This is my boy Tommy. One and only heir to the kingdom you see before you."
She didn't have the energy to smile at the almost joke. And she couldn't help staring and Tommy's open hand waiting for her to shake it. A simple gesture she had no head for. She looked up at Tommy one more time, saw Clark standing and smiling in his place, and turned and walked swiftly away from the two men. Just before she pushed her way passed the door and into the yard of glass and steel skeletons, she heard the younger man ask his father what that was all about. The elder merely muttered "City Girls."
The suns bright afternoon light was slowly fading into a golden orange hue as it slowly descended from its perch in the sky. She admired the beautiful colors and sort of wished she could paint a picture. Or, at least have had her camera with her. The small-unwanted fact gnawing in the back of her mind that school was starting next week slowly crept its way to the surface. And she knew it was going to be a permanent fixture in her hands again soon enough.
She would have to see Clark everyday.
She would have to try to avoid him every day.
Over the summer she'd managed it well enough. Smallville was big enough to stay out of his path for days on end and her little excursions across the Midwest guaranteed not seeing him at all. The confines of the school though... She knew it wasn't big enough. She'd have to sit and watch him. Watch her. Perfect Lana and perfect Clark and their perfect lack of communication. As far as she was concerned they were welcome to each other.
The wind kicked up slightly and she laughed bitterly.
Some days were harder to convince herself than others.
She knew she was going to watch him. She wouldn't be able to help it. She'd have to go every day and know that she couldn't be with him. As much as she tried to tell herself it was for the best, for her own good, it still royally sucked.
She wanted her car to be fixed. She wanted to get out of this graveyard of cars and this town with no name. She wanted to keep driving until these thoughts chirping away in her head could finally be silenced.
Thoughts of ignoring the ache. Thoughts of pretending that everything was fine. Thoughts of forgiving Clark. Thoughts of walking up to him, hugging and kissing him. Thoughts of actually believing she could be number one in his eyes.
She wanted to change.
To be forgiving.
But she wasn't.
And she didn't.
And the wave of self-disgust for wanting to change who she was all for the affection of some boy, hit with a vengeance. She nearly screamed and starting kicking the fender of some unknown car until her foot couldn't take it anymore. That damn Kent charm. That damn wondrous feeling a girl got from it.
She didn't hear Tommy walk up from a distance. Didn't see him watch her with concerned and shocked eyes. Didn't hear him respectfully walk away.
She hit the ground not caring that her skirt was getting stained in the grease addled dirt. She would not cry for him. Not one single tear. It scared the hell out of her that a simple idea would shake her conviction. She was stronger than that.
She thought of the coliseum, the wall, the pyramids.
Her barrier had momentarily weakened.
But she would not let it fall.
For some reason she always thought soda tasted better out of a bottle. She sat on a bench next to the barn nursing the Dr. Pepper Tommy had given to her and listened to the crickets chirp. She felt a little bad about her response to his generosity. She whipped the bottle quickly out of his hand and stormed away from him. She didn't want him to be nice. She had plenty of reminders of kindness festering away in her brain. She didn't need physical Twilight Zone like clone manifestations.
The sun had set well over an hour ago, and Luke was still toiling away on her baby inside. She'd asked again what was wrong with it, she knew a little about cars from the automotive course her dad made her take when she was in the process of getting her license, and Luke listed off two or three things she vaguely understood. Then about five or six things she had no idea about.
No matter what seemed to be wrong with it, she hoped it would be fixed soon. She didn't really know if Luke was the type to keep working after his posted hours, and if that were the case, she was screwed out of a place to sleep for the night. The shop was miles away from the last motel she saw on the side of the road. Maybe Luke would let her sleep in the backseat of her car like she'd gotten used to doing.
She took another swig of soda and sighed. She'd been stationary for far too long now. She had get going, keep moving. Miles on the road with no destination in sight. That was the rule of the summer. Sitting still had already resulted in too much thinking. All that had gotten her was a sore foot and a dirty skirt.
The crickets stopped chirping a split second before she noticed Tommy walking up to her from the distance. The sound of his boots crunching against the dirt and gravel easily replaced the insects soothing sound. She thought it funny that almost everything had a rhythm. She looked away as he got closer, took a sip, rolled her eyes. He looked too much like Clark. Far too much. It sent her mind spinning in a familiar direction.
Dance, Tux, dress.
"Do I make you uncomfortable?"
She shook her head from her thoughts and realized that Tommy had taken the seat next to her and was talking to her, already in mid-sentence.
"What?" She asked. "Did you say something?"
The corner of his mouth turned up in a shy grin, one that made her stomach clench and look away again, and he repeated his question.
"Do I make you uncomfortable?"
She thought of simply shrugging off the strange question from the strange boy. She could imagine Clark's concern if he were to magically appear. Seeing her nearly getting sick in some hick town garage in the middle of nowhere. He would put his arm around her, ask what was wrong, and try his best to help. She would let him. Because no matter she felt or feels, there's nothing else she wanted more.
Tommy looked like Clark but wasn't.
He only sat there.
His concern was genuine...
But not the same.
"Why do you ask that?" She replied.
"Well," Tommy began. "The whole shaking your hand thing when you got here, I mean... You kind of looked at me like I sprouted a second head or something. And when I gave you the soda you took it and practically ran away. I mean, do I smell? Is it my breath?"
She laughed lightly.
"No," she replied. "You're good on hygiene."
"Then, pardon my nosiness, but... What is it?"
"You look like someone I used to know," she admitted softly.
Realization dawned on Tommy's face, and for that split second he didn't resemble Clark at all. Clark never caught on to things so quickly.
"Someone who hurt you," he said.
The words were in her mouth but she could only nod.
"Some other girl?"
"You could say that."
"Is this nosiness of yours a small town thing or a family trait?" She asked.
"A little from column A, a little from column B," he replied, the grin returning. "Seriously," he continued. "What happened?"
She looked over to him. Saw the face of a person who really seemed to care. Who really wanted to know. She silently wondered if this small town nice guy thing was a result of something in the water. She saw something in his too blue eyes she wasn't entirely sure she wanted from someone she hardly knew.
It didn't take a mind reader to guess that someone, somewhere had also done a number on him. She wondered if every guy out there had a Lana Lang of his own, or that every girl had a Clark Kent. For their sakes she hoped they didn't.
"Left me for her at the Spring Formal," she said.
Silence blew into the conversation. The strange awkward kind where if you met someone at a club and it happened, you would simply move on to another person. That wasn't an option now. For once she didn't have anywhere else to go. So, she sat quietly with Tommy the Clark clone and wondered what his Lana did to him. She asked.
"What was her name?"
"The name of the girl that made you so understanding of my situation."
"What happened with her?"
"She left me for one of my friends."
Tommy nodded. She didn't feel the need to ask anymore questions, journalistic instinct aside. She just wanted to enjoy the fact that someone else could have possibly known exactly how she felt. She thought of the saying about misery loving company and burst out laughing. Tommy looked at her like she'd lost her mind, but eventually gave in to the contagious affect. For once, having nothing else to say wasn't the worst thing in the world.
And when it got quiet again it wasn't so awkward.
The Falcon sounded better than it had in months as she guided it down highway after highway, slowly making her way home. She knew her father had been disappointed when she turned down the internship at the Daily Planet. But she also knew that she wasn't in the right state of mind the last few months to be concentrating on furthering her career. If she thought back on it twenty years from now, she knew she'd probably think of the summer as a waste. But also know that it was something that had to be done. Only distance and time could heal matters of the heart, and she was still clocking double time. When she and Tommy said good bye, she did shake his hand. He said that he hoped everything worked out. She said the same. A brief simple meeting, and a brief simple understanding. Sometimes the unexpected is exactly what a person needs.
She drove swiftly along the cracked graying pavement, passing house after house, store after store, town after town. Back to Kansas. Back to Smallville. She would be home in a few hours. She would have to deal with anything that may come her way. She wished she were ready to accept that fully, but knew she was not.
She thought of a dream she had the other day. She and Clark were flying. If they were in a plane or under their own power, she wasn't sure. But they were in the air with clouds whizzing past them, the wind rippling through their hair. She remembered laughing. She remembered Clark smiling. There could have been a kiss. It wouldn't be surprising if there was. She remembered feeling freedom. And then the irony that it was with the one person she felt trapped with.
And she thought that loving Clark Kent was like a Catch-22.
You didn't lose.
But you never won.
Realization took days, gas, and miles to come.
Changes happen in moments.
Good, bad, or indifferent.
Whether they are built up or simply drop into to your lap.
You can blink your eyes and suddenly everything is different.
Clark asking her to the dance.
Clark leaving her at the dance.
The tornado taking nearly half the town.
She was sick of all the bad changes. She thought she was long overdo for some good.
When she got back to Smallville she hoped a moment was there waiting for her.
She thought it was the least she deserved.
She'd been too busy getting ready for it in the last week to even worry about running into Clark somewhere across her shopping excursions. Luck had seemed to be on her side when she never did come across him. The notepad next to the phone in her house was filled with messages from Pete, Clark, and even Lana. Pete was the only one she could bring herself to call back, and he was filled with questions about the road, and what she'd seen and done. She never mentioned Tommy. She didn't think Pete would have understood.
The hallways, the lockers, and the teachers all looked the same.
She'd seen so many different sights and different people over the last few months; she couldn't help but find the monotonous experience of it all far too depressing.
Only the freshman provided a change in scenery, but the sight of the older kids picking on them does not.
She got through checking in at the Torch office in the morning without incident. Breezed through her morning classes without coming across him. She'd seen Lana near the girls bathroom on the second floor and decided to go use the one on the first. Pete chided her for her avoidance but she'd ignored him. She hoped that somehow, some way, she could make it through the first day without incident. Walking back to the Torch office during lunch had shattered her hope.
Seeing Clark sitting at his desk in the office was a lot easier than she expected it to be. She watched him play a game of solitaire and occasionally glance up at the clock. It didn't take a genius to guess he was waiting for her.
She longed to walk over to him. To hug him and kiss his forehead and regale him with tales of the road. To say that , yeah she was still incredibly angry, but maybe, she could understand. Clark helped people. It's what he did. And while eventually she knew she could bring herself to understand...
She would never forgive.
She took a step and saw her moment waiting for her.
Whether it was going to be good or bad, only time could tell.
As she got closer, felt the ache forge and fester its way inside her heart. She realized that no matter how hard she tried, they couldn't be friends anymore. Not the in the way they had been. She simply loved him too much. And he didn't love her enough.
And it hurt to know that nothing, especially the good things last forever.
And yeah, the coliseum, the wall, the pyramids were all still there.
But everyone knows they aren't as pretty as they used to be.
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