Author Notes: Bradbury Challenge fic number four. Modeled lightly after Kat Hughes' Voyager fic, Ame.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Oh well.
Consider this cheap therapy. My shrink loves this sort of thing--you know, confronting your past. Thing she doesn't get, my past is only two months old, but you did say never again.
And guess what? You were right.
I'm drinking the best coffee in the world, by the way. It's the last cup I'll ever have of it, so I'm making it last. Betsy left a pack of cigarettes in her desk when she ran for the shelter, and I picked up some whiskey from the boss's office. Never knew he drank this crap, but hey, everyone's got secrets. You'd be surprised to know I have some, too. Or maybe you wouldn't.
Fuck, this has been a long day.
There's this coffee shop in Georgetown I know you'd have loved. Old place, and God, the smells--it reminds me of the Beanery before it went out of business. Old fashioned as all hell, but it's got the best coffee in the city. I used to go there every day for my coffee before--well, never mind, I guess you know by now. I got some there this morning before I came in.
It reminded me of home, I guess. These checkered red and white tableclothes, like Clark's mom always had on the table. And the smells were just amazing--Columbian and chocolate and French Roast and something called Armenian Mocha Dark Roast that I always forgot to try, but it couldn't be as good as it smelled. Nothing could be.
The owner was this old woman who actually worked as secretary to President Barrett--you remember him? Not many ever think about him anymore, you know, not since Luthor, but he was a really great guy, no matter what the papers said. No matter what I said either. She was great and didn't hold it against me that I was in the wrong party. I always bought coffee, black, and she'd grin and ask if I wanted sugar and I'd say no, and it was this really stupid joke that never stopped being funny. You know, I really don't know why now. It just was.
Anyway, after a few months, we got to talking, me and Annie. Her husband was Secret Service but retired when Luthor took office. Guess that's no surprise to you to hear, but it was to me. And I told her about Lana and the kids and everything. You know the type of person. Like the New Age equivalent of a bartender. I like to think she never told anyone what I told her, and the newspapers never headlined with anything I said, so I guess she never did.
Heh. I guess I'm getting off subject here. I've just had a--a really long day.
So Lana asked me a couple of weeks ago why I went to work so early in the morning, and I lied and said I liked getting things done before work started, but the truth is, I just liked being in that shop. Stupid lie to tell your wife, right? Even when I said it, I couldn't figure out why, and she got that look--yeah, you know that look, don't you? It's been a while, but that hasn't changed. That searching look, like she knew you weren't being straight with her but she didn't know how to call you on it. It kind of hurt, but I was too far in to back down and say I was spending my mornings in a coffee shop. She didn't bring it up again. She's not the type to look for things to hurt her.
When I stopped by the shop the next morning, Annie just looked at me and knew something was up. It was pretty weird, but she was--very perceptive. I guess you don't get the position of secretary to the president and not have something going on for you in that department, but she put her sponge away and sat down across the counter from me and asked me what I was thinking about.
The funny thing is, I wasn't thinking about Lana. I was thinking about you.
You're probably wondering a lot right now, and this is gonna be a little disjointed, but just hang on. You'd probably be really surprised to know that I told Annie I was cheating on my wife. She nodded and I guess it wasn't any surprise to her to know it. She lived in Georgetown all her life and probably heard it all, everything that could happen in a politician's life, marriage to adultery to murder.
So she asked me about her. The other woman.
She's beautiful, I said. Not like the women around here, with that polished edge because the public eye's all they know, but all energy and raw enthusiasm and life. I told her we met as kids and had just run into each other after all this time. And she asked how we met, and I told her.
I said I saved her from a tornado twenty-five years ago.
She started laughing and asked me what happened.
And this is what I told her.
I had this huge crush on this girl, but she didn't want me because she wanted my best friend. Which was cool, because I loved him. Like a kid brother, and you know, he could be stupid, but he was always a hero, and I guess a part of me sometimes wanted to be him. Not for any good reason, either--just so she'd look at me like that. Just once.
So anyway, the girl I wanted went to the dance with my best friend and I went with some cheerleader, and it's funny now that I think about it a little. I don't even remember her name. Anyway, we heard about the tornado, and my friend disappeared and left her alone. The girl of my dreams. And we huddled down in the gym and she let me hold her and she put her head on my shoulder. And she told me how much she liked him and then she told me that she couldn't be second best. And I told her that she wasn't second best to me, and she looked at me and I think--I think that was the first time she really saw me. Me. And we stared at each other and then she let me wipe her tears away and smiled.
I told Annie I kissed her, this girl. And how good it was, even though we were sitting in the middle of the fucking gym and wondered if we were all going to die. I told her about how I couldn't hear the hail and I didn't care about the wind because if I'd died then, I'd have died happy.
And Annie laughed and asked me what happened. And I said life, and she just tilted her head and nodded, then went back to cleaning up.
That's the story I told her, and she believed it.
A few days later, she was reading that expose you did on LexCorp overseas transactions--really slick, by the way, pretty good job with the innuendo, but I could have told you that you'd never find the right books. I buried those myself. All's fair in love and war, right? Or at least, politics and public image. Sorry, babe, but your truths up against my career? Not even a choice. You never did know how to compromise.
Shit, that was close. Right outside the window. Not much time left now.
Annie asked me about her. My wife. How we met, how we got together.
I said I saved her from a tornado twenty-five years ago.
Annie put down the coffee cup and looked at me and
And this is what I told her.
I left the gym and my date, the cheerleader, and went out because I was scared for her. She was trapped in a truck on a country road down near the old McCarthy place. She curled up in my arms and cried and I held her until it was over. I think that was the first time she really saw me. Me. And we stared at each other and then she let me wipe her tears away and smiled.
I told Annie I kissed her, this girl. And how good it was, even though we were sitting in the middle of a fucking tornado and wondered if we were both going to die. I told her about how I couldn't hear the hail and I didn't care about the wind because if I'd died then, I'd have died happy.
And Annie asked me what happened.
I said I married her.
I'm not sure she believed that one.
You were always big on absolutes, Chloe. The Truth, and the Right Thing, and What Actually Happened, but you're a journalist, too. I'm a politician, and What Actually Happened doesn't make nearly as good a story. It never does.
Anyway, another day, another cup of coffee. And Annie didn't ask me anything, but maybe she was hearing some of the stuff coming down from the White House. The stuff you asked me about. Not that I would have told her if she asked, but still, I could see the questions she wasn't asking every time she looked at me.
Shit. Looks like I need to finish this cup. Time's almost up.
When you left, you said that I didn't know the difference between the reality and my own spin jobs. You said I didn't see that Luthor wasn't what the public thought he was, what I said he was. Chloe, I always knew the difference. I knew you didn't love me, and I knew Lana never would. I'm not a man like Luthor, but I'll never be Clark.
I just chose not to see.
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