When Chloe Sullivan left for her internship in Metropolis, she gave Clark Kent two assignments. The first was very simple. She had handed him the keys to her car and asked him to pick her up at the bus station when she returned. Her second request she knew he would find a bit more difficult.
"Let me phrase this in terms your thick male skull should be able to process with a minimum of effort. While I'm gone this summer, get your head out of your ass, and make up your mind about just what you want to do about the Lana situation."
The satisfaction she felt as she left him standing there with his mouth hanging open had been short lived. It had been quickly replaced by sorrow as the bus passed the "Now Leaving Smallville, Kansas" sign, and the conviction that she would come back to find him with Lana could not be shaken. Leaning her head upon the window, watching the long dark fields of newly planted corn pass by, Chloe had begun sniffling. The giddy joy filling her heart as she and Clark danced at the formal had been completely snuffed by the daring rescue he'd staged later, which threw Lana right back into his arms.
"And he ruined my dress," she'd confided to the little old lady sitting beside her on the bus.
Clark had rescued Lana by dragging her into a culvert with him. They had been returned to the school gym by a good Samaritan, since Lana lost Whitney's truck (a fact which Chloe found hysterical) and Clark had no transportation himself. Chloe had taken them home. Both of them had been covered in muck and stunk so badly she had kept all the windows rolled down in despite of the rain. The smell, and the smear of mud Clark had left on her when he'd tried to kiss her, would not come out of Chloe's silk dress. It had been reduced to little more than a dishrag.
She carried that anger with her to Metropolis, where her cousin chided her for being silly over a boy who obviously didn't deserve her.
"Never get involved in a love triangle, Chloe." she'd intoned, sitting on the top bunk bed in the dorm room they were sharing. "It's a doomed enterprise. Nobody ever gets what they really want in the end. Sounds like Claude..."
"Whatever--it sounds like he's already made up his mind."
"How can I be mad at him for running off to rescue someone in trouble? That hardly seems fair." Chloe had sighed. "Except he does it all the time," she'd added miserably.
"Damned if I would put up with it, especially since this Lana chick seems to always be getting herself into trouble. She yells 'help, help, somebody save me' and your boy drops everything to go pluck her out of danger. She's doing it on purpose. Guys like that, Chloe. It makes them feel manly, and she evidently knows it. Give it up sweetie. He's a wasted effort. She's got him by the gonads and isn't letting go for anything, especially the competition."
"But Clark isn't like that!"
"Honey, he's got a telescope trained on her house, what does that tell you?"
"You're a hard case."
"I'm practical, Chloe; dump Claude, and find another guy to moon after."
"Clark," Chloe muttered.
"Whatever. I'm late for my kick boxing class. Take my advice cuz; get over him. If he can't see what a great person you are, he needs glasses, or a kick in the pants." She'd jumped down from the bunk, given Chloe a quick sisterly peck on the cheek, and bounced off to her kick boxing class.
"A kick in the pants and glasses," Chloe thought, as the bus pulled into the station, bringing her home to Smallville again.
She couldn't help feeling a burst of desperate longing as she waited anxiously for her bag to be unloaded. Despite everything, she wanted nothing more than to see Clark again. She had missed him terribly during the nearly three months she'd been away. In her determination to allow Clark "space" in which to make his decision, she had avoided contact with him as much as possible. He did send her e-mail, but in typical Clark fashion he talked about what was going on with his family and her family, and not much else. Chloe responded in kind, trying not to read between the lines. Pete's e-mails had not helped her at all. He had mentioned more than once he'd seen Clark and Lana at the Talon, but did not elaborate, and choosing to give Clark the benefit of the doubt, Chloe had refused to simply ask outright what was happening. Now she wanted to know, and she snatched her bag up as soon as it was available, ready to go meet him.
It was sweltering hot. Blurry waves of heat rose from the pavement of the parking lot, causing Chloe to start sweating the moment she left the air conditioned comfort of the station. She'd come prepared, wearing a pair of pedal pushers and a tank top, but she was still horribly hot. She wanted nothing more than to be lying in the hammock behind her house with an ice cold lemonade and a good book. She hoped Clark had forsaken her car in favor of his mother's, which had air conditioning.
One glance told her he hadn't. In fact; Clark wasn't there at all.
Chloe's heart sank.
Her first impulse was to cry. She was tired, and hot, and wanted to go home and he evidently didn't care or he would have been there to meet her. There was no little red car in the parking lot, nor were there any of the other vehicles she associated with Clark. Instead there were other people, hugging and greeting each other as loved ones were dropped off or retrieved. No one was there for Chloe, no one at all.
Hurt, she turned away from the dusty parking lot and went inside again. If she was going to have to wait, she would wait inside where it was cool. If she was going to cry, she would cry in a corner and not at the front door where everyone could see. She plunked herself into one of the ugly plastic chairs, and her bag down on the floor beside her, as she fought to regain her composure.
The little place in her heart that loved him, and would always love him no matter what bone headed thing he did, begged for her to give him more time. "He's just late," the voice said. "He's always late."
Chloe was not convinced. She unzipped a pocket in her dufflebag and pulled out her cell phone. Her first call was answered by Martha Kent, and Chloe was summarily informed that Clark had left immediately after chores that morning, current whereabouts unknown. This information did not come as much of a surprise, but helped Chloe very little. A second call to the Talon revealed more. Clark had been with Lana all day, helping her hang wallpaper in the theater, and they had left together at around the same time Chloe's bus was pulling into the station.
Her hand and her voice were shaking when she made her third call. "Daddy."
"Chloe, honey!" Gabe's voice was hushed, whispering, but he at least sounded pleased to hear her. "Are you home?"
"No," she replied hoarsely. "I'm at the station. Can you pick me up?"
In the pause that followed, Chloe could hear another voice in the background. She recognized it and groaned. It was Lex. Her father was in a meeting--on a Saturday?
Gabe confirmed it for her. "Honey, I can't. I'm working."
"I'll call mom," Chloe murmured, inflicting a silent tirade of curses down upon Lex Luthor's bald head. Why was the bastard calling a meeting on a Saturday? She thought he'd gotten the plant issues resolved.
"Your mom's not home. She took Bryan to practice. If you can just hang out there, I'll be there in an hour."
"I've got to go sweetie. I love you. I'll be there as soon as I can."
He hung up, and Chloe growled as she dialed one more time. "An hour? I'm not waiting here for another hour!"
This time she hit pay dirt. Pete's voice cheered her immensely. "Ross residence, home of the one and only Peter Ross. He is the man you want to talk to, so speak."
"You're an idiot." Chloe laughed.
"Chloe! Hey! Are you home?"
She waved away her anger and latched on to a flippant retort. "I'm still at the bus station. I'm seriously thinking about moving in on a permanent basis. The smell of diesel fuel and vomit is starting to grow on me."
Like a fungus. I want a shower, she added silently.
"Where do you think? He's been sucked into the gravitational pull of the vaporous Lana Lang, and wherever she's taken him is apparently no where near the bus station." she sighed. "Can you pick me up?"
"Man, Chloe I can't. The parental units are in Metropolis and my car is in the shop. Are you sure Clark isn't on his way and just got delayed? You know how he is about being late."
"I called the Talon. He's with her. What about your brother's car?" One of Pete's older brothers had come home to stay with them over the summer, and Chloe knew he had just purchased a brand new truck.
"He went back to school this morning. Chlo, I am so sorry. Have you called your dad?"
Resignedly Chloe sighed again. "Yeah, he's in a meeting, but he can be here in an hour. I just didn't want to wait anymore. I'll be all right. Thanks Pete."
"If you see your buddy, tell him I'm anxiously awaiting the fantastic array of excuses I just know he's going to feed me."
"Aw, Chloe. I'm sure he's...."
Chloe hung up on him, not wanting to hear it. She'd had enough of Clark Kent's vapidity, and was tired of excuses, whether they were from Clark himself or Pete in Clark's defense. Putting her phone back in her bag, she opened the main compartment and started digging around for her tennis shoes. Forget them. She would start walking, and her father could find her along the way. She was determined she was not going to sit in the bus station any longer.
"Particularly now," she thought, eyeing the scruffy figure of a man who had obviously imbibed a bit too much of whatever he drank from his paper bag. He had his eye on her, and was stumbling along on an intercept course. A cigarette dangled precariously from his lower lip, shedding sparks. Chloe hoped to God he didn't go near anything flammable.
She quickly pulled on her sneakers, zipped up her bag, and bolted out the front doors once again.
Several miles down the road from the bus station, Chloe decided the martyr act wasn't something she wanted to engage in on a regular basis. It wasn't much fun and rather ineffectual if there was no one there to witness it.
The bag she had carried to Metropolis, which she had deemed "traveling light" was not light at all upon being dragged halfway across the county in ninety degree heat. Her scientifically designed "walking shoes" were wearing blisters on her heels, and the tank top worn in an effort to keep her cool, was allowing for a rather nasty sunburn across her back and shoulders. Additionally, her sweat was attracting every last bit of the dust her feet kicked up from shuffling along the unpaved berm, covering her with a gritty coating of dirt she found appalling. In short, Chloe wished she were back at the bus station. She'd be dodging perverted drunks, but at least she would be doing so out of the heat.
The heat was scalding. She could feel it radiating up from the ground through the soles of her sneakers. On the surface of the road it was worse. The sun baked the blacktop until it was hot to the touch and radiated even more heat back up into the air. Chloe could feel it rising from the dark surface of the highway and she kept to the dusty berm in an attempt to stay somewhat cooler. Rain might have lessened the heat, but the moisture seemed to be locked securely within the air, which was heavy, oppressive and almost tangible. The high humidity made breathing difficult. The lack of a breeze did not help.
One car had gone by during the time Chloe hiked. It had not been her father nor Clark. Since its passing she had seen no other cars, and no other people, only the occasional bird and the herd of black and white cows lounging in a pasture beneath the shade of a single tree. Here and there she could see evidence of last spring's tornado; a collapsed barn, an overturned silo, an uprooted tree. It would have been easy for Chloe to engage in a post-apocalyptic fantasy wherein she was the last remaining person on Earth, but she abandoned that idea as depressing.
"Besides," she muttered to herself as she dropped her bag by the side of the road and sat down upon its squishy bulk. "With my luck, the only other person to survive would be Clark, and we're no longer on speaking terms, let alone repopulate the planet terms."
She rested for a while, chiding herself for at least not sparing a dollar for a bottled water from the machine at the station. Bad planning on her part, but Chloe was not much of a survivalist in the "woodsy" sense. She'd never gone camping. She had never been in the scouts. In Metropolis the Girl Scouts had been made up of all the little popular perky girls who enjoyed holding hands and singing sappy songs, all in the meaning of increasing their social status. Chloe didn't believe in joining anything simply to say that she had, and therefore shunned the scouts and like affiliations. Had she grown up in Smallville things might have been different. The scouting groups in Smallville were known for their charity work. Chloe had been impressed by a group of young girls spending a Saturday afternoon planting flowers around the municipal building. The girls she'd known in the city would have been disgusted by dirt beneath their prettily painted fingernails.
Chloe's prettily painted fingernails (Rocket Red) were chipped and dirty at the moment. She alternated between picking at her cuticles and throwing rocks at the roadway as she sat on her dufflebag trying to catch her breath. Idly, she recited "Little Miss Muffet" and wondered if the heat and humidity weren't getting to her. She was talking to herself and reciting Mother Goose, either of which could signify a decrease in her mental faculties.
"Do we go that way," she murmured, glancing back towards the bus station. "Or do we go that way?" she turned to look ahead. The road curved just ahead of her, and she tried to recall what lay beyond it. "Well, Dorothy? Which way leads to Oz?"
In the end she decided that: a) Wizard of Oz references were not a good idea when walking along a road very recently visited by a tornado, and b) she might as well keep going forward.
She stood up, but before pressing on, she rummaged through the bag again. This time she withdrew a cloth headband, which she placed tidily around her hair to keep it back from her face. The heat had rendered her short blond hair flat and limp. The bright red headband, a match to her bright red fingernails, perked it up a little bit. If Chloe had to be hot and sweaty, at least she could make somewhat of an attempt to look cute, hot, and sweaty. Perhaps she'd meet a handsome young man who would give her a lift into town. If, of course, she wanted to risk being molested by being so stupid as to accept such a ride.
"Brad Pitt," Chloe said to herself. "In a white t-shirt and tight jeans, like from 'Thelma and Louise.'" she grinned, shouldering her bag carefully to avoid her sunburn. "Why, hello, miss, do you need a ride into town? Yes, Mr. Pitt, I do, because you see, my idiot friend has decided to abandon me yet again in his futile attempt to acquire the ethereal Princess Lana of the Langs. Well, you don't say? Why he's a fool! Yes a fool, for overlooking a lovely and charming young woman such as yourself. Why, thank you, Brad. May I call you Brad?"
Chloe continued her fantasy conversation with Brad Pitt as she trod heavily around the bend, until he declared his undying love for her and she spotted something along the opposite side of the road that stopped her in her tracks. All thoughts of a clandestine affair with the affable--not to mention very sexy--Mr. Pitt, were immediately vanquished by the sight before her. She blinked stupidly at it, her mind taking a moment to register its presence.
It was a red car. Specifically, it was a red Ford Falcon circa 1961. Precisely, it was Chloe's own car.
She didn't run, it was too hot to run, but she did quicken her pace considerably.
There was no reply. Chloe crossed the road to the car, and went to the drivers side, peering through the open window. There was no one inside. Turning, Chloe scanned the landscape around her. There was nothing but acres of corn on one side of the road, and the long green and yellow stretch of soybeans on the other. Far off on the horizon was a dark rectangular shape that could have been a barn, a house, or simply a storage shed. Clark was no where to be seen.
Nor, Chloe discovered as she leaned in through the window, were her keys anywhere in sight. Muttering a curse, she dropped her bag and leaned irritably against the hood. She stood fuming for several minutes until suddenly she caught the faint scent of antifreeze issuing up from the front end of the car. A brief investigation revealed a puddle of coolant on the ground beneath the radiator, and a scum of drying water marks across the top of the hood. The car had obviously overheated. Having the keys would not make Chloe any less stranded.
Chloe felt guilty. Clark had come to get her, and her car had broken down on him.
She should have known better. Even if Clark had made his final choice, and picked Lana over her, he would never completely abandon her. He would have made some sort of arrangement to have her picked up at the bus station if he could not do it himself. Clark was absent-minded and slow sometimes, but he was not in any way cruel. He would always be her friend, no matter what happened or who either of them were with; he had proven that countless times in the past.
Sighing, Chloe weighed her options again, and decided to stay with the car. If Clark came back he would find her, and surely her father would recognize the car and stop if he drove by in the meantime. It would be hot inside, even with the windows rolled down, but at least it would be out of the sun. She stowed her bag in the back and climbed into the passengers seat, hissing as the hot vinyl seat touched sunburned shoulders. What puzzled her was where Clark had gone. Surely the bus station was closer than going all the way back into town? If he had gone back to the bus station though, she would have passed him.
Maybe he had Lana with him, Chloe reflected, and he decided to get her somewhere safe before coming back for Chloe. They had, after all, left the Talon together.
That thought made Chloe mad again. Had he chosen Lana after all, and they'd decided to inform Chloe together when they picked her up at the bus station? Had he driven Chloe's car around with Lana all summer as if it were some sort of babe mobile, parking somewhere and making out with her in it? Did something else occur in the back seat of Chloe's car that Chloe really did not want to think about?
"Ew!" she howled miserably.
Chloe started, clamping down on a small scream of surprise before it could escape. A familiar face was framed in the opening of the driver's side window.
"Why aren't you at the bus station?" Clark asked casually, reaching in with a bottle of water.
She accepted the water gratefully. It was still cold. Chloe wondered where he'd gotten it. "I was about to ask you the same thing." Her eyes never left him as she drank, waiting for the answer.
"Isn't it obvious? The car broke down."
Clark produced another bottle of water and drank from it himself. "Home. I was helping her hang wallpaper at the Talon today. I dropped her off at her house on the way out here." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You thought I forgot, didn't you?"
Chloe turned to look out the windshield and did not look at him. "Considering your track record Clark, it wasn't a very big deductive leap to that conclusion, especially when I called the Talon and found out you left with Lana."
"You thought I would abandon you at the bus station to go off with Lana?"
Sipping her water, Chloe continued to look out the windshield in silence.
"Right. Fine." Clark's head disappeared from the window.
Chloe waited a moment, then turned and looked out the back window. Sure enough, he was walking down the road towards town in a very nonchalant manner, as if it weren't blistering hot. She scrambled out of the car and hurried off in pursuit. When she caught up with him she was panting, and he was just as cool as if he had not just walked all the way to the bus station and back again.
How had he done that without passing Chloe anyway? The bus station had to be where he'd gotten the water. He'd had to have hitchhiked and just not noticed her as he passed. In what vehicle? There weren't any around. She supposed he could have taken a short cut through one of the fields, but whereas that would explain them missing each other, it still could not have shaved too much time off the trip. Had he sprouted wings and flown? There was a disturbing thought.
Chloe hated it when Clark did things she couldn't explain. It made her nervous.
In Smallville, Kansas, things never turned out the way they were supposed to, and Chloe was deathly afraid one day Clark would sprout another head and try to off her with an axe. He was just too weird sometimes. With her reputation for falling in love with homicidal mutants, Chloe expected nothing less from Clark, except he always seemed to be the one who saved her from them. Sure, he was weird, but he was also always there to keep her out of trouble, and so Chloe negated one thing with the other. This made Clark quite harmless, and thus reassured her the axe scenario was not going to happen after all.
But he still freaked her out on a regular basis.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, falling into step beside him, wheezing with the effort it had taken her to catch up in the sweltering heat.
"Living up to expectations."
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry, but what was I supposed to think when you weren't there and I was told you went off with Lana."
"I was at the station, but you'd already left. You're supposed to trust your friends, Chloe." He stopped walking and looked down at her. "When have I ever completely abandoned you?"
"I came back! I came back as soon as I could, and it wasn't like I dropped you in the middle of nowhere. You were safe; Lana wasn't."
"What, do you want a medal for telling Lana to get in a culvert? Couldn't she have thought of that on her own? You aren't some sort of comic book superhero, Clark. It's not your duty to run around rescuing damsels in distress, although you seem to think otherwise."
She could tell he was getting mad, and she didn't care. Let him. Chloe was sick of this same stupid argument repeated over and over again. "You're just a big, dumb, farm kid from Kansas who just happens to be in the right place at the right time more often than other people. Whatever fantasy you seem to have concocted for yourself is starting to intrude on my reality and I'm getting profoundly tired of it. Grow up or get therapy." She brushed past him, and started walking towards town on her own.
The thing about Clark, and one of the things Chloe loved about him, was his puppy dog loyalty. She had never said anything to him, or anyone else, but she'd quietly observed his interaction with Whitney Fordman ever since he'd told her about the scarecrow incident. Clark was never anything but kind and helpful to Whitney. Anyone else would have hated Whitney for what he'd done, but Clark didn't, and he kept a respectful distance with Lana when there had been several times he could have easily won her heart away. Chloe respected him for that, but at the same time she felt it might be just another facet of his self indulgent martyrdom. Oh poor me. See how nice I am? I do all these things, but never get the girl.
Sometimes Chloe felt she was living in the middle of the Clark Kent never-ending pity party, and she no longer wanted to be part of it. She did not want to be one of his pretend sacrifices. As she had once said before, although not in so many words: he was there for the save, but never the follow-up.
She wasn't surprised when, like a beaten dog with bruises on his butt and forgiveness in his heart, Clark followed her. She was rather surprised he didn't say anything. He remained a few feet behind her and simply walked along with no change in his pace save that he did not pass her when he could have quite easily. His stride was much longer. Instead he remained behind her, slowing as she slowed.
Chloe slowed because her blisters had broken, and her feet were bleeding, and as she walked along trying not to limp, she chided herself for being a hypocrite. She could criticize Clark all she wanted, but wasn't she out here because she was pulling the martyr act herself? Most frustrating of all was the fact Clark knew it and would no doubt forgive her for her hypocrisy. That made it hurt worse. He cared, and did his utmost to please everyone. Logically Chloe understood his martyrdom wasn't a manifestation of some psychosis, but the result of having to make personal sacrifices for the people he cared about. He always tried to do the right thing. Clark was simply something that rarely came along any more. He was, simply, a nice guy.
This time Clark had finally put himself at the forefront. He had chosen Lana to be the girl he wanted to pursue. He had made the save, and presented himself dutifully for the follow-up. It was what Chloe herself had challenged him to do, and there was the crux of her frustration. She had taken a gamble, asked him to choose, and he had chosen another. Chloe had lost the nice guy.
He didn't mutate into a homicidal killer, but Chloe had lost him just the same. Her hurt, and her anger, and her harsh words were only because she loved him.
"You're limping." he said.
"I am not."
He did catch up with her this time. His voice was strident. "Why are you being so stubborn? What is the matter with you?" He caught her arm, and turned her around to face him. "Chloe?"
"I just spent three hours on a bus Clark. It's hot, and I'm tired, and I want to go home. If you're going to be unreliable, I'll get myself home on my own. Now let go of me." She jerked her arm away. "Go play with your new girlfriend."
Chloe didn't get very far. Her feet hurt badly, and she could feel the blood from her heels running into her shoes. She took two limping strides before she was immediately plucked off her feet.
"Stop kicking and hold still. Do you want me to drop you?"
"I want you to put me down!" Chloe looked over the edge of his arm at the ground and kicked her legs. "Put me down!" She elbowed him in the chest, and winced as a tingling pain shot up her funny bone.
"No. You aren't walking on those blisters anymore." His voice was firm, an octave lower than Chloe was used to hearing, and had the effect of stilling her right away. A quick glance up at his face revealed a set jaw and a stony expression.
Chloe sighed. "You can't carry me all the way to town Clark." she said quietly.
"You let me worry about that." he replied, and said nothing more.
Chloe realized he was mad at her.
She sat fuming, which was incredibly difficult to do when one was sitting in someone else's arms. He had one arm beneath her shoulders with the hand braced along her side. The other was slung behind her knees and his hand was tight around her leg. Had she not been irritated with him she might have put her arm around his shoulders and rested her head upon the broad expanse of his chest. In fact, she really wanted to do so.
It's not fair, Chloe thought, He's a nice guy, a genuinely nice guy, and to top it all off, he's handsome and sexy too.
She pondered Clark Kent--Sex Symbol, and suppressed a smile at how he'd react to such an appellation. Chloe had always found Clark attractive, from the moment she'd first laid eyes on him, and when he'd smiled at her for the first time she'd been captivated. It surprised her that so many of their peers never spared him a second glance. To them, Clark was a big, dopey geek. Familiarity breeds contempt? Chloe wondered if having lived with him in the same community all their lives hadn't blinded everyone to Clark's appeal. She had decided to study the phenomenon.
As the other girls kept their eyes on the Whitney Fordmans of Smallville High, Chloe kept her eye on Clark. After months of careful observation, she'd learned two things. One, the other girls were idiots. Two, she had developed a horrible crush on Clark.
She hated it when he was mad at her.
"Aren't you hot?" she asked after some time spent in silence.
"It's over ninety, Clark."
He sighed, as if answering her inquiries was taxing. "I'm used to it, Chloe. I work outside on a farm."
"Yes, but that hardly incorporates hauling people around on super-heated black top." A spot on his shoulder caught her eye. "Is that soot?"
"Why do you think I picked Lana?" he demanded abruptly. His eyes flickered briefly to her face, possibly to see her reaction.
"You were with her."
"She's my friend, Chloe. I was helping her hang wallpaper. That's real romantic."
His voice was a low vibrating purr against Chloe's body, and as if he were a big house cat, she longed to cuddle closer. Instead she kept her body as far away from him as she reasonably could and kept her hands demurely in her lap. "It could be romantic. Stranger things have happened Clark. Think about it. A quiet afternoon, a little wallpaper paste smeared here and there..."
He stopped walking and looked at her incredulously; trying not to burst out laughing. "What? Chloe you have lost it."
"Obviously you are not much of a movie aficionado, Clark. You've never encountered the scene where the happy couple have a disagreement while fixing up the love nest, smear paint all over each other, then end up locked in a passionate and sticky embrace?"
Nodding, Clark made a wry face. "You mean in movies typically referred to as 'date movies' or 'chick flicks'? No." He carefully set her on her feet again and stared down at her with an expression of disgust. "So you think I spent the day smearing Lana with wallpaper paste and then licking it off in a hot make-out session in the back room of the Talon? Come on, Chloe!"
"Come on, Clark," she mocked. "By your own admission you have been infatuated with Lana from the age of three. Whitney runs off to play Gomer Pyle; I am safely away in Metropolis; and you two are left here all alone together for three months. I come back to an absentee chauffeur, who I'm told spent the day with the subject of his infatuation. If you were me, what would have been your conclusion?"
He bit his lip, and looked sheepish. "That I'd chosen to be with Lana."
"And there you have it." Chloe gestured emphatically. "What chance did I ever have against a thirteen-year-old obsession?" She turned, and started limping down the road again.
Clark caught up quickly. "Chloe. Don't walk on those blisters."
"I wouldn't have blisters if someone had picked me up at the bus station like they were supposed to...."
"Your car broke down!"
She stopped and confronted him. "Maybe it wouldn't have if you hadn't made a detour along the way."
His expression was cold. He was mad again. "Maybe you should have asked someone else to pick you up."
"I should have, and then we could have avoided this whole nasty situation. You could be snuggled up with Lana right now sipping lemonade in front of an air conditioner instead of lugging me down Route 90 in fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement heat. I'm sure you'd be much happier." With a flounce, Chloe resumed her hike, but she was immediately caught up in his arms again. "Don't..."
"Chloe," Clark said icily. "Shut up."
Her mouth shut with a snap. She was infuriated, but she knew better than to fight him. She would let him be chivalrous if it made him happy, even though she was convinced it was simply to ease his feelings of guilt. Crossing her arms across her chest, Chloe sat in his arms, and fumed mightily.
She would have a bath when she got home, and she would forget all about Clark Fickle Kent and Lana I'm So Perky Lang. A nice scented bubble bath would be just the thing to cool her down, clean the grime from her sun-abused skin, and ease the pain of her blisters. A good book would help to ease the pain of rejection. When she got out, she would go about her business and she would not worry again about her feelings for Clark. It was over. She was finished with him.
Her determination lasted all of two seconds. A pang of remorse filled her heart and caused her to struggle against deteriorating into tears of anger and hurt. She was tired, physically and emotionally. She was hot, and filthy dirty, too, but for some reason being held in Clark's arms made her feel much better in those regards. His skin, where it touched her, was cool. His shirt was soft and smelled, not of sweat as she expected, but of freshly cut hay. It was a pleasant smell. It was a comforting smell. She felt the anger draining from her as she surreptitiously wiped her eyes. They burned with tears, and felt gritty with weariness.
"You smell like hay," she said quietly.
Chloe felt his muscles relax a bit. His anger was receding too. "We made a cutting this morning," he said.
Closing her eyes, Chloe could picture the Kent's hayfield stretching out before her. The tall strands drifted to and fro in the early morning breeze; beneath the first light of dawn. Birds darted back and forth, gathering the fluff of dandelions caught among the lush meadow grasses, and filling the air with their songs. She saw herself walking through the grass, running her outstretched hands across the feathery tops, and listening to it rustle against her denim clad legs. The sun was warm upon her face, but not burning. Here and there were thick patches of clover, their bright purple blossoms framed in bursts of brilliant color against the dark green background. Chloe gathered the blossoms as she passed, weaving a clover chain to hang around her neck. She inhaled deeply the scent of the sweet clover, and newly cut hay. Raising a hand to her eyes to shield them from the sun, she looked into the distance towards the bright red smear on the horizon that was the Kents' barn. Clark was calling her from the loft, where he watched her through the telescope. She wondered why he was not with her...
Chloe started, very nearly falling out of Clark's arms. At first disoriented, it took her a moment to realize where she was, and why she was there. The bus station. The blisters. The argument.
"Clark?" she croaked. "What happened?"
His voice was soft, and his eyes were filled with a gentle concern as he looked down at her. In the bright summer sun his eyes were the pale blue-green of a tropical sea, cool and exotic. A light breeze rifled his hair. It was slightly cooler than the rest of the air, and smelled of rain.
"I think you fell asleep."
Chloe blushed, realizing she had fallen asleep and had spent God knew how long with her cheek pressed comfortably against his chest. "I've had a rough day." She ducked her head away from him so he could not see her embarrassment, and was surprised to discover they were in town, standing in front of the hardware store. "How did we--was I asleep that long?"
Clark gingerly set her on her feet, steadying her until she found her balance. "No. I walked pretty fast. It's going to rain." He hesitated. "Chloe..."
"Yeah?" she prompted, when his hesitation lasted a bit longer than necessary.
Inhaling deeply, he let his words burst out with the exultant breath. "I'm sorry for leaving you at the dance." His gaze fell upon his hands. He was rubbing them together uneasily. "And I'm sorry for all the mixed signals, and getting mad...." He peered up at her again with a little half smile. "I don't like it when we fight."
Chloe sighed. Her brief nap had done nothing to relieve the bone tired weariness she felt from her trip and the subsequent hike. She felt drained, and to tired to be mad any more. "Clark, we're friends," she said slowly. "We'll always be friends. I'm hurt right now, because I wanted so badly for us to have more, but if it doesn't work out that way...." She stopped, and looked at the flat box he had pulled out of his pocket. "What is it?"
"Open it," he urged, thrusting the box towards her.
She regarded him warily, but she took the box from his hand. With her thumbs, she pushed open the hinged lid and looked inside. For the longest time she simply stared at the contents, letting comprehension slowly dawn on her.
"It's an anklet," Clark explained unnecessarily. "Lana helped me pick it out." He winced. "Probably not what you wanted to hear, huh?"
Chloe didn't even hear him at all as she lifted the delicate anklet from its box. It was a slim gold chain, and from it dangled three gold charms. There was a cursive "C", a heart, and a second cursive "C".
Clark shifted his weight nervously as he watched her. When he spoke again, his voice was very soft. "I didn't choose Lana. I chose you."
She blinked, and cupped the anklet in the palm of her hand. There it lay, more than just a verbal declaration, but a tangible "something" for Chloe to hold.
C, heart, C.
"Do you like it?"
His words finally broke into her daze, and Chloe looked up at him sharply. He was watching her anxiously, obviously worried about her reaction. She stared at him, then rushed to embrace him, flinging her arms around him and hugging as hard as she possibly could. Everything was forgotten. Everything was forgiven. He had chosen her.
He hugged back. "I guess this means yes." He laughed.
She grinned broadly as she stepped back. "Will you put it on for me?"
Clark bent to do so, fussing sympathetically over her raw and bleeding heels. Together they looked at the anklet as it sparkled in the sun, but Chloe felt as if her smile and the light in her eyes, had to be shining much brighter.
"I'll just have to wear sandals until they heal, which means I can show off my present better." she said.
He returned her grin, but it faded abruptly. "I did lie to you though." he admitted. "I wasn't hanging wallpaper with Lana today."
Chloe's smile slipped sideways, fading gradually as her happy bubble teetered on the verge of popping. "Oh." Her voice was very small. "You weren't?"
"No." Clark reached out to her shoulders, and with a gentle touch, mindful of her sunburn, he turned her around. "Look."
Directly across the street from the hardware store was the Talon, and across the marquee, in big bold letters, it read: "Welcome home, Chloe!"
"We were decorating." He chuckled, and scooped her up into his arms one more time for the trip across the street. "I'm just glad everyone was in on the ruse, and didn't spoil the surprise. I thought I was going to blow it when the car broke down."
"Everybody?" Chloe laughed, but she grew serious as they approached the doors, stopping him before they entered. "Wait, wait."
He gave her a puzzled look.
"I'm sorry I doubted you." she said after a moment. "I'm sorry I got so angry with you."
"It's okay. I was only mad because you were yelling at me."
"I know." Chloe sighed. "I pride myself on being more mature than to get silly over a boy, but I seem to fail miserably every time, and you...." She paused, raising a hand to caress the curve of his chest where it met his shoulder, as she struggled for words.
Chloe knew what she wanted to say, but she wasn't much for professing her undying affection for anyone. She felt especially foolish about doing it while being carried by the subject of said affection, and yet her greatest desire was to make sure he knew exactly how she felt. She would not be overlooked again.
"Clark, you're--special, to me," she whispered finally, and her eyes searched his face for understanding.
He smiled slightly. He did understand. "You're special to me too, Chloe."
He leaned in to touch his forehead to hers, and they both chuckled a little. They grew sober as their eyes met, and Chloe's breath caught with anticipation. She recognized his wordless entreaty and in response she raised her face towards him, closing her eyes as she felt the softness of his breath and the brush of his lips against hers. The kiss was at first tentative, as if they feared another interruption, but quickly turned sweet and firm when they realized there would be no interruption this time. Chloe felt as if they were at the dance once again, transported back in time to fulfill a moment that they'd both thought gone forever.
"Not minty," she thought absently. "Spicy. Like salsa. Like summertime."
She opened her eyes again, and felt as if she would never be able to stop smiling.
Clark seemed to be stuck on "high beam" himself. "Should we go in now?"
With Chloe's arms wrapped around his neck, Clark carefully opened the doors, and angled her through the opening. Streamers, and balloons, and strings of white Christmas lights were hung all over; a semi imitation of the decorations at the ill fated dance. Chloe's eyes widened as they were greeted by a crowd of people and a resounding cry of "surprise".
It was followed immediately by Gabe Sullivan's feigned declaration of outrage upon seeing his daughter in Clark's arms:
"Oh my God, they've eloped!"
And a great deal of laughter.
Chloe sat on her bed with the phone tucked under her chin, painting her toenails Rocket Red. Her anklet lay bright against her tanned leg and contrasted sharply with the hot pink Band-Aids on her blistered heels. She looked at the charms rather wistfully. She missed Clark already and she'd only left him four hours ago.
"You should see it," she said into the phone. "It's beautiful."
"I believe you," the voice on the other end of the line stated. "I'm still skeptical Chloe, but I'm glad you're happy."
"I'm very happy." Chloe paused, thinking of Clark's smile, his honesty, and how much she enjoyed being with him. Realistically, she understood they were still just kids, and perhaps the relationship would not be their life long commitment, but Chloe would always love him. She knew it to the depths of her soul.
"I think we'll get by," she said finally. "And if we don't, he'll still be my friend. He's a special person, and I know we'll always be close, no matter what happens."
There was a soft chuckle. "If you say so. Just don't let him break your heart. Keep in mind what I said about love triangles."
"No triangle. Lana is out of the picture. It's point A to point B." Chloe dipped her brush and applied a drop of color to her pinkie toe. "You know," she said cagily. "One day you are going to call me up and say: Chloe, I'm stuck in this love triangle and I don't know what to do, and I'm going to laugh at you."
"It'll never happen."
"Famous last words."
This time there was a derisive snort. "Sure. At any rate, I'm glad it worked out, and you tell Claude...."
"Clark, Clock, whatever. Tell him from me that he'd better be good to my little cuz or I'll kick his farmboy ass all the way to Edge City and back again."
"You would, too!" Chloe laughed.
"You betcha." The voice softened. "Love you, kiddo."
"Love you, too."
"Good night, Chloe."
Chloe carefully screwed the cap back on her nail polish, and blew on her toes.
"Good night, Lois."
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