Chloe paced around her kitchen, waiting for her muffins to finish baking. She was nervous about so many things today, it was a wonder she hadn’t exploded already. She had skimmed her research, and it did not look good. It screamed not only conspiracy but also cover-up, which she would normally enjoy bringing to light… Now she was just scared and mad and she hadn’t even read anything in-depth. Pete may debunk all her theories with the pages he’d been looking over, but that wasn’t likely… She was desperately trying to reserve judgment and not panic, but it wasn’t working as of yet. She had to tell her father when he came home. She had to, but she didn’t want to.
Who wants to see that kind of hurt in their father’s eyes? Their hero’s eyes?
Her phone rang and she answered it, biting her nails and sitting down in front of the oven to check her food’s progress.
“Hi Lex,” she said sounding both pleased and depressed.
“What are you doing?”
“Baking. They’re muffins, for my dad. Blueberry.”
“They’re his favorites, I know, he brings some to work sometimes. Those are yours?”
“One of the few things I can make that tastes good.”
“You taste good.”
“Thanks. Look, Lex, I have to go, I have to tell my dad tonight and I am so nervous. I just want to sit here and chill for a bit.”
“I was just calling to hear your voice and to lend you some support.”
“I love you, but there’s no way that’s why you called.”
“Okay, so I wanted to know when I could see you again?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have a balcony I could climb up to?”
“No, and we’re nothing like Romeo and Juliet.”
“Can I come see you at school tomorrow?”
“How did it go today, hiding in plain sight, I mean. Lana didn’t suspect anything, did she?”
“No, but she did wonder why your tie was on the floor. Still, a girl like her would never believe a girl like me could land a man like you.”
“We all know Lana isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, and I like to think we ‘landed’ each other.”
“I thought I was going to have this uneventful graduation. All of a sudden I’m the hot topic. It’s very unnerving, but at the same time, part of me likes it. I have 6 party invitations and two after prom all-nighters to pick from. No one actually believes it but everyone’s talking about us.”
“Would you like to go to any of these parties?”
“Am I invited?”
“Sure. Of course, no one thinks you’ll show up. Well, no one thinks I’ll show up either. They like me, but I rarely do anything social. I’m usually locked up in the office or prowling for a story.”
“So, who are you bringing to the prom?”
Chloe heard her car in the background and stood up, scanning the table to make sure everything was in place.
“Gotta go, Lex.”
“Break a leg.”
She went to greet her father with a big bear hug and he brought her outside to check on her car.
Gabe was already suspicious of something when he walked into the house to find dinner and muffins waiting, but he clearly hadn’t anticipated what he’d heard. Chloe calmly outlined everything she knew for him. Conveyed that she was cautiously optimistic, but wanted to finish school before she really focused on her illness and what it meant.
When she had finally looked at him, I mean really looked at him, her heart shattered. His outer appearance was strong, but he was gripping his chair arms like he was afraid to fall. He obviously had dry mouth, and was visibly sweating in a matter of a minute or two. He swallowed a few times, calculatingly, and when he looked her in the eye, a single tear made it’s way down his face.
“It’s alright Dad. I’ll be fine. I’m fine,” she said in a lame attempt to reassure him.
“Don’t say that!” Gabe shouted, standing up. “It’s not alright,” he said hauntingly, staring at her.
Chloe went to hug her father, not sure who needed it more. “I promised your mother I would do everything I could for you. That I would protect you.”
“Hey, dad. You did. Come on, I have the best father ever! Who else can say that?”
“Oh, pumpkin, I will do everything I can to make this better for you, easier on you. You don’t worry about a thing: you’ll have the best doctors, second opinions, and treatments… Whatever you need sweetie, don’t worry about a thing,” He hugged her, uneasily, sideways. “Daddy’ll take care of everything,” he whispered as he kissed her hair.
She disentangled herself from the hug and looked into her father’s eyes.
“It’ll be okay Dad, I can handle it. Don’t worry.”
She was surprised when she saw anger in him. He took her shoulders in his hands firmly and looked her in the eye. “You’re just going to have to humor me, Chloe. I need to do this. I need to be involved.”
“Just hold my hand, Dad, it’s all I need,” she reassured him.
“No. Listen to me. Your mother told me she was fine. She told me everything was routine, she told me to keep working and before I could blink she would be back with us. She got sicker, and sicker and by the time we were up here to help her she didn’t look anything like herself and she died so soon after- I never really got the chance to understand what happened. Sure, they explained it, but I should have been there every step of the way. I will be there every step of the way, okay?”
She and her dad ended up just plopping down on their ratty old couch. They snuggled together and eventually split a beer. They talked and talked about Chloe’s mother and all the silly things she used to do.
Some of the things Chloe missed the most were very small. Baking oatmeal cookies together, the toasts cut in ‘fingers’ with herbal tea when she was sick, and screaming. Ah, how liberating. Whenever Chloe got frustrated or wound up, and her mother started getting irritated, one of them would start running like mad for the bathroom. When they were both locked in, they would scream at the top of their lungs. They would eventually laugh out how ridiculous they looked in the mirror and all would be right in the Sullivan Household again.
Her father said what he himself missed the most, is what had been the most aggravating to him while she was alive. He remembered telling her countless times: “I don’t care what I eat, I just want to eat. I don’t have a preference, stop asking me. If I don’t like it, I’ll eat it anyway; I was raised like that, so stop worrying!”
She would try so hard, but always her head would pop back in the doorway of whatever room he was in 5 minutes after to tell him what she could make, how much time it would take, and all the different combinations. He could be asleep, and the infuriating woman would wake him up to ask if he felt like ham or tuna in his sandwich for the next day, and if she got an answer, she would pop her head back in soon enough to inquire about his preference in cheeses. Drove him right up the wall.
Now, when it didn’t hurt so much, he did it to Chloe so she would remember. He tried bothering her at the most inopportune moments, just like his wife had. Through the bathroom door: Red juice or Apple? While she was running out the door late for school: Paper or plastic bag? On the phone from his work to her cell during lunch: We could have nuggets and real potatoes, nuggets and those tater thingies, corn, salad and oh we have normal rice and cheese broccoli rice and those veggie burgers you like so much. Of course there is that bean enchilada frozen dinner that looks pretty good…
I didn’t bother Chloe as much as it had bothered Gabe before. She just chuckled at him, sighed, made the decision and hung up the phone. He knew it warmed her heart.
After a long evening, she got ready for bed, and debated weather to call Lex.
She missed him terribly at the moment, and wanted nothing more than to curl up with him. She hoped one day they could share stories about their mothers. She always felt so much better and closer to her mother when she could talk about her. She also suspected that’s why Lex didn’t. Like he said, he’s emotional, and much too emotionally vulnerable as it is. He was doing a good job hiding it but he’s not necessarily ready to make matters worse by opening the floodgates.
Lex loved Chloe. She believed him, even though her head told her not to. She knew how hard it was to let himself, how fragile their relationship really was.
So she would save the grand soul sharing talks for later.
Chloe was about to cave when the phone rang.
“Lex, hi, how are you? What are you doing?”
“Do you miss me?”
“Terribly, but I’ll survive,” she said cheekily.
“Good. So, the reason I’m calling is to give you a heads up. Gabe called me and asked me to arrange doctors for you. I got a good recommendation for this team of doctors down in Metro, and they’re ready to set up an appointment anytime.”
“You should have called me.”
“I AM calling you.”
“I mean, you can’t just take over like that, I have a say too! It’s my body remember?”
“Yes I do remember your body.”
“Ugh, go fondle a pool cue!”
“So you’ve noticed huh?” He knew she was smiling, but she didn’t answer. “To get back to the topic at hand, if we must: I need you to understand that your father is my friend. I like him. He asked me for this favor, it means a lot to him, and to top it off it means a lot to me. We would all be winners here, so it makes no sense for me to turn him down.”
“But…” she sputtered.
“What, do you think I really would have let you get treated here in Smallville?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say thank you.”
“Thank you for being a male chauvinist?”
“You aren’t really mad are you?”
“I’ll live. You’ll live. But I’m not a kid, and am actually capable of making decisions.”
“So what are you wearing?”
“Boxers and a tank top, I’m going to bed.”
“Mmm. I bet you look just scrumptious in my boxers.”
“Who said I was wearing your boxers?”
“Yes,” she relented.
“I’m naked you know.”
“There you go with the naked phone calls again… What am I going to do with you?”
“Come lick me up and down?”
“Lex, I’m hanging up now. As much as the thought of you naked is appealing, I’ve gotta crash. I’ve got so much stuff to do tomorrow”
“See you soon then?”
“We’ll see,” she said coyly. “Call me.”
“Count on it.” Lex had answered her. They would see each other soon.
Really, she wanted nothing more than to see Lex and spend time with him. After their weekend together, she no longer felt comfortable in her own room, it’s like she had graduated, but she was still in High School. She was desperately fighting the urge to be co-dependant. Sure, her entire life had changed, and she was now in love. Sure he had helped her in her most desperate hour, as she felt she had helped him, but she always prided herself on standing on her own and that’s what she was going to do.
She was on the verge of falling asleep when her father knocked and came into her room. When he saw she was awake he sat down on the end of the bed.
“Pete’s downstairs. Says he can’t wait to see you. He’s got all these papers with him and he looks like hell.”
“Okay. Send him up, I’ll put on my robe and get my papers out.”
“Should I ask what this is about?”
“Just some research for an article I’m working on. I’m hoping the Daily Planet will print it.”
“Okay, but no more all-nighters. You have to watch your health more than ever. Eat well, sleep well, and relax… I’ll help.”
“Thanks dad,” she said as he walked out.
“So what do we know so far?” Chloe asked Pete, nervously looking across the room.
Pete read off some notes he had taken.
“Smallville has the highest cancer diagnosis rate per capita, in the US. No one’s noticed before because it isn’t specific to one type of cancer. Patients are usually sent to Metropolis or a bigger city for treatment. They have the same survival rates as anyone at their stage of cancer but the handful of people that stay in Smallville… Um, you know, die. Also Cancer is always diagnosed at an advanced stage here.”
“What are you going to do? Go to Metropolis right?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Hell yeah it’s that simple: you either give yourself a chance, or you die.”
“No, I mean…”
“If it’s because of the money I will do anything. I’ll organize a fundraiser; I’ll have my parents empty out my college fund. I’ll even ask Lex Luthor if…”
“Oh Pete. Don’t worry. My dad already did.”
“Good.” He sighed, sounding relived. “Baldy’ll pull through.”
“You sound almost fond of him,” she teased, wishing desperately she could tell him about her new relationship.
“I’m not, but the guy steps up for his friends, and I want you to have the best of everything.”
“You’re my girl,” he said awkwardly, knocking her chin with his fist slowly.
“Don’t you let Jeannette hear you say that!”
“You’re my girl Chloe. You always have been and you always will be. I mean, years from now when you’re this successful journalist and I’m a sportscaster and Clark’s…”
“And Clark’s a hero,” she smiled sadly.
“Yeah, like a firefighter or a cop or something.”
“Years from now when we’re all old, I might tell you how I feel about you and how scared I am right now…” he said shyly.
“Pete,” she said, not knowing what to say. Pete had always been so… Pete. He bantered with her, he made bets with her, he took her to all the school dances Clark had missed and he looked down her top at all the appropriate moments (when Clark was oblivious). They worked well together but-
“Chlo. I know it’s over. I knew my window closed a long time ago. I like it better like this anyway. Like I say, we’ll talk about it in 20 years.”
“It’s a date,” she said taking his hand and giving it a squeeze.
“Good. Now tell me you’re getting far, far away from here,” he stated seriously.
“I will. I am. I’ll leave for Metro as soon as I can.”
“But I need to break in to my doctor’s office first?” She said, scrunching up her face at how she sounded.
“Because people are dying. Because my mom died.”
“My mother died Pete. You want to look at her diary? She was hardly sick when she came here. She just came here on a whim because she felt like the little cancer she had was a wake up call to take more time for herself. This place killed her.”
“So, you think it’s the meteor fragments are affecting cancer patients?”
“Oh, right. You didn’t see that page,” she realized, flipping through he research and taking out a graph she made to show him. “Look at this. Before 1989 and this is after 1989. It took a year before the doctors started systematically pushing people to Metropolis, so they noticed, I just want to know why they think keeping it a secret is best.”
“And we need to find out who else has cancer now?”
“You got it. I might even end up with something the Daily Planet could print.”
“Ah, there’s my Chloe.”
“Well, we’ll see, but I want to make sure everyone gets a copy of the statistics so that they can make up their own mind. If it’s the government covering this up, they can decide to take legal action. If they’re staying because they need money, well we’ll figure something out.”
“So, will you commit the felony known as breaking and entering with me?”
“As a black man that should be a firm ‘hell no’! But you know I’ll do anything for you.”
“Well, you know how you told me of all the operations you would have to have and everything…”
“So…” “So I know you want to be a career woman and everything, but maybe if… well, I don’t know, I read that maybe...”
“I read that you won’t be able to have kids.”
“So they told me.”
“So did they tell you about the egg freezing thing?”
“Actually, they did.”
“So, are you gonna?”
“They want to do the operation in a month, maximum. I was going to ask someone, but then…”
“Clark still doesn’t know, does he?”
“No,” she answered truthfully, even though Clark was not the one she had thought about asking.
“I’ll do it.”
“What?” She jumped, surprised.
“I’ll have a baby with you. You know, in the future.”
“Well, I know it’s big, but I want you to have the option you know? Kid wouldn’t be really tall or anything but-“
“He’d be ours.”
“He’d be yours biologically, if you wanted.”
“Have you thought this through? You only found out today.”
“I asked my mom. I explained about them not being able to freeze eggs by themselves, but it being possible if they were fertilized…”
“Oh my God. I’ll never be able to look at your mom again. I can’t believe you asked her that!”
“She’ll come around, I mean, she’s wanted all these kids, and got them. I don’t think she likes the idea of someone never having that option. She’s a smart lady.”
“That she is Pete.”
“So, you’ll think about it?”
“I will. Are you sure you want to do this, though? I mean it would involve you being ushered into a room and being asked to choke the chicken and-“
“Hold off Chlo, let’s not get into that right now. I just wanted to tell you that I’ll do it, if you want.”
“I don’t have a lot of… eggs, but they said they could extract all the healthy ones. Then, like you said, they could inseminate them and freeze them. It would mean I’d have a chance.”
“Good. See. You gotta look to the future. I know you’re a closet optimist Sullivan, so give me one of your smiles.”
Chloe smiled at him and went in for a hug. She loved Pete so much. I mean, what a great guy!
“For being you.”
“I love you.”
The Kents wouldn’t let her see Clark. They were adamant that she not disturb him. They said he was contagious and needed to be left alone. She pretended to take no for an answer and made a beeline for the barn when they had to leave to fix the tractor.
She was right. Clark was there, and boy was he in bad shape.
He was lying on the couch, hand over his head and he looked like he was in a coma, like he wasn’t there at all.
She approached him. After several minutes she tried to move him, panic growing more and more inside her. She tried her cell phone, but Clark was there, and her cell phone hadn’t worked near him since midway through Junior year.
He fell off the couch and it didn’t change a thing in his appearance.
She checked his heart beat and found it steady, but she couldn’t find breath. Thinking she was crazy from worry, she decided to wait for the Kents to be back. She couldn’t see them from the barn, but she knew that when they came back and saw her car was once again in the driveway, they would find her.
She wanted to help, but she knew deep down that trying to get Clark to the hospital may not be the best idea.
She calmed herself as much as she could, swallowing the lump in her throat that threatened to choke her. She sat down on the floor next to his body, hugging her legs and started awkwardly talking. She felt so disconnected from him. She tried to move him but couldn’t do it. She decided to lay down beside him, using one of her hands to smooth back his hair.
“Clark. Clark. Clark. What are we going to do with you? You are the greatest guy. You know we all think that, right? You know you’ve saved me more than 25 times since we’ve known each other? And what have I done but been a colossal pain in the butt… This is where you’re supposed to say I wasn’t.” She said tearily. She couldn’t bare to look in his face any longer and turned so he was behind her, putting his big arm around her.
“Do you know how long I’ve been in love with you? God, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t! Now… Well now I’ve got somebody. Oh my God Clark you don’t understand how great it feels to finally have someone, something that’s just mine. I know, I know, it’s new. I shouldn’t talk like that right away but that’s how I feel.” She brought his hand up to kiss his knuckles.
“Clark Jerome Kent. Whatever it is that’s happening to you, whatever it is you felt you couldn’t tell me… You could. I could have helped. Maybe I could help now. I wonder if you can hear me or are all those voices in your head too much to handle? I’m observant, what can I say, I’ve seen how you’ve been lately” when he didn’t wake up to refute what she was saying she grew more worried. Frankly she was so worried she was shaking and afraid of loosing bladder control. She felt like the stupidest person on the planet, talking to him like this, but she didn’t know what else to do. Go running in the fields to find his parents? Go use the house phone to call doctors? To call Lex? Leave?
“Clark, please wake up. Whatever you have to do to get out of this, please do it. I don’t want to see you like this Clark. Come on, you can do it, you can get out of this. Pete and I, we love you so much, and Lex, well, you know how Lex feels about you. I just, tell me what to do! It’s always you Clark, I mean, Lex, Lana, Pete or I get hurt, you come help, everything’s okay. The world can’t work if you’re not okay.” God, that sounded so selfish.
“Please don’t take that the wrong way. If you need us, any of us, we’ll be here. I’ll always be here for you,” she said, wiping a tear and burying her face into his arm.
It was at least half an hour before she realized she had been dozing on and off, waiting for Clark to wake up, or the Kents to kick her out. When she tried to move his arm form around her, it wouldn’t budge. She tried again, and it tightened around her.
“Clark?” She questioned. “Clark? Are you back?”
His body moved a little but she was still trapped. All of a sudden, and faster than she could blink, she was hit in the back and flung across the room. The most horrible pain she had ever felt appeared in her shoulder when it hit the far wall, and she couldn’t breath. She couldn’t see straight when she opened her eyes. The pain never lessened and all she could do was verbalize it. She started saying ‘ow’ and then ‘argh’ and then, well, then she said ‘mother fuck’… twice. It just hurt so badly she thought she would loose her breakfast. Tears we streaming down her face as she gasped for air and struggled around the barn floor.
What had happened?
Two minutes later she heard Clark call her name. She was in too much pain to speak, but heard every word he was saying. He told her that her shoulder was dislocated and that it had pinched a nerve. He told her that he would have to touch her to make the pain go away, and not to worry.
Within seconds of his strong hands on her and more blinding pain, she could breath again. She slowly opened her eyes to find that Clark looked good as new. She wanted to hug him, but she still hurt everywhere and her stomach felt fragile.
Clark looked horrified.
“Hi Clark,” she said in a lame attempt to start a conversation. Clark was backing away from her.
“Look, I just came to check on you. I’m sorry I didn’t speak up sooner but we never see you anymore,” she explained, reaching out with her better arm.
When she took a step Clark jerked back. Clark just kept his deer in the headlights look and his mouth shut.
“I was so worried Clark. You weren’t breathing! And I tried my phone, and that didn’t work, and I didn’t want to leave you so I stayed.”
“Oh my God Chloe.”
“I’m fine Clark. I’ll have it checked out at the hospital later. I’m more concerned for you.”
“The voices, or whatever you were hearing? Come on Clark.”
“Chloe,” he breathed, terrorized, he could have broken her back. It was a miracle he hadn’t.
“Fine. You look fine. You look better that you have in weeks.” He backed away from her again. “I’ll take it as a sign to drop the whole thing.” She felt horrible. She was probably green, and she was shaking, and she was afraid she would faint. He was simply unreadable. “I’ll see you in exams tomorrow?”
He kept mum.
She noticed the glowing crystal sticking out of his jeans pocket, but she didn’t mention it; she just walked away shakily.
Clark watched her depart with mixed emotions. On one hand, if she hadn’t come, he would have been forced to stay catatonic if he wanted any kind of peace and who knows what he would have done for his remaining exams. On the other hand she had jolted him out if his state, he had hurt her, and before he could even help her he had had to go find the crystal, the last element he needed to go on his quest. That meant the voices had quieted, making him free to help his blonde friend, but it also meant leaving, for a long, long time. He hoped he had the strength to stay though graduation, but the pull was strong. He had to go north. He had to leave everything behind. Now all he had to do was explain to his parents he wasn’t going to college…