author's notes: Happy Birthday, Tara! I know this is coming insanely late, and I suck as a human being, but the sentiment is still there. And I'm sorry that I turn into a babbling moron on the phone. : )

Fairy Tale Endings

I have this whole scenario worked out in my mind.

It takes place yesterday. I'm back in the woods, and Clark's there, of course. My throat is sore from calling out for Mr. Kent, and my hair is plastered with sticky sweat to the sides of my neck. I'm wishing I'd worn jeans instead of a skirt - wishing I'd exercised common sense, since I knew we'd be stomping through all kinds of fun plant life. The leather strap of my bag is cutting into my shoulder, and in between shouting, I'm wondering I'd I should have worn bug spray. Those reports about West Nile don't make it sound like something I want to experience.

It's hot, even with the creek so close by. Another traditional Smallville pre-summer scorcher. All it really means is sweat in uncomfortable places and mosquitoes. Today, it has the added bonus of sunburned shoulders, since suntan lotion was another staple I forgot, and a trail of tornado damage. A tornado whose real effect can't even come close to being measured in property damage.

The devastation is more noticeable in Mrs. Kent's eyes than it was in any of the leveled farms I've driven by.

My thoughts are wandering far out there when I hear the crinkle of paper, and I know without turning that Clark is just behind me, folding up his map. I'm developing a sixth sense for things like this. I've been living here too long.

My bones feel weightless, my head starts to spin, and a thousand casual, easygoing comebacks spring to the surface of my mind. Pete's on the other side of the trees. It's only me and Clark, and that means it's time to go on defense. Another Oscar caliber, "shucks, no, I'm not in love with my best friend!" performance my Chloe Sullivan coming right up. Now is not the time to voice my issues.

I can feel the plastic, irritatingly fake smile that never quite reaches my eyes slide onto my face, and my stomach hollows out at how easy it's become to slip into this mode. Because for all the time I've known him, all the time he's known me...I know he isn't going to be able to spot the difference between this kind of grin and a real one. He never can.

But this time, it's different.

This time, he recognizes that I'm faking it. He sees past the parted lips and the white teeth, and he can tell that nothing is anywhere near as okay as it should be.

This time, when I test him, he passes with flying colors. I tell him I think it's better for us to stay really good friends, and he tells me that doesn't work for him, because he wants more. He kisses my forehead, and even though he's worried and terrified and exhausted, he flashes me that Kent megawatt grin and says that when this is all over - when his dad is safe in his mom's arms and when the crackling, acrid ozone scent of the tornado fades - he wants to go someplace where we can talk.

Where we can talk about *us*, because that's what he wants. An us.

*That* was the way it was supposed to go. And every time I replay the way it actually happened, I like the scenario I invented a little bit more.

My stomach still feels empty, like there's absolutely nothing inside of me, and my eyes are stinging with tears that I'm refusing to let fall. Not over him, not over this.

*Not* anymore.

Mr. Kent is safe at home, banged up and bruised, but basically okay. Lana's head is still swimming, but she's fine, still as lovely as ever, and running the relief effort at the Talon with the brisk efficiency that she does everything with. My dad made it to the neighbors' storm cellar, and after I stopped at home to hug him and reassure myself that not every aspect of my life was falling apart, I came here.

Now that I know everyone I care about is safe, there's a few things I need to do for me.

See, I'm not like Lana. I'm not manning phones or donating blood or offering free coffee and cookies to victims. I'm not selfless and giving right now. Maybe I'll stop by later and help out, but for the moment...I'm being selfish. This is what I have to do before I do anything else.

Are you sure you want to permanently remove this file?

Click. Delete.

Click. Delete.

This time around, there's no hesitation. No wavering back and forth like with Clark's adoption file (that I'm going to get rid of one of these days. I am.)

The girl in those pictures doesn't even look like me. Her hair is too perfect and her dress is too pink. She's wearing makeup, and she's laughing. She's in love with the boy holding her in his arms, and if you were an impartial observer, somebody who didn't know that was Chloe Sullivan and Clark Kent, you'd be absolutely certain he loved her back.

She's too hopeful. She's let herself forget that it's all just a really good game of make believe.

No hesitation...but I pause for moments in between, anyway. To look at that couple and remember that the girl actually *is* me. Remember what it was like to be held that tightly. The slight weight of his head on top of mine, his hands gentle on the small of my back. Breathing in something fresh, woodsy, just Clark.

The look in his eyes when he glanced down and his lips that last aching centimeter away from mine.

Click. Delete.

They aren't memories I especially want anymore.

When I was little, my dad used to read to me every night before I went to bed. Lots of Marguerite Henry and Judy Blume, but sometimes Grimm's Fairy Tales. Not often, because I was always a little creeped out by those - we didn't have an abridged edition, and my dad forgot that before he started reading. The Disney-fication of Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty glossed right over the real endings.

Like how Sleeping Beauty ended up killing her own children. Or how Cinderella's stepsisters cut off parts of their ankles and toes to fit into the glass slipper and only were discovered when they bled all over the path out of the woods.

I guess stuff like that doesn't quite tie in with the image of the benevolent fairies and the singing mice.

But the point is, those were the *real* endings. The curtain never closed on the kiss. There was always a second act, and most of the time, it wasn't a sunshine and bunnies carefree romp, either. It was blood, and it was pain, and it was bitterness.

There's no such thing as a fairy tale ending. No matter what Hallmark and the chocolate companies want us to believe.

Click. Delete.

Our friendship is so important to me. The last thing I want to do is screw it up.

How is it that words *that* simple can cut so deeply?

I tossed him an opening. It was stupid of me. He's a boy. Not only is he a boy, but he's a teenager. They're not so good at reading between the lines. Why should I be surprised that he reacted the way he did?

After all, I'm just Chloe. The buddy. The pal. We'll just forget how close we came to crossing that line, and he can help Lana pass out free cookies.

Christ, even *Pete* know what? Forget it. What girl wants to be with someone who so achingly obviously doesn't want to be with her?

Not this girl, anyway. Sometimes, the only thing you have left is pride. As much as this hurts now, it'd hurt even more to know I was second choice.

Maybe I'll cry a little. This is so stupid, there's so many things more important happening right now. But school's deserted. Who's gonna tell?

Click. Delete.

I'm on phase two of Getting Over It. My dress is currently balled into a crumpled heap at the back of my closet, buried under a peasant skirt and a pair of purple army fatigues. The corsage was stuffed down the garbage disposal and made quick work of by the whirring blades.

The kitchen still smells like rotting flowers because of it. I had to open all the windows and light three cinnamon scented candles to mask it.

Only thing that's left to scrap are these pictures. And then life will get back to normal, because that's what it does. It goes on. With or without you. Hop on the train or get off the tracks. This was just a minor stopover that won't even merit a chapter in my autobiography one day.

The Trash contains 10 items, which use 5.4 MB of disk space. Are you sure you want to remove these items permanently?

Permanently. I think that'd be the theme I'm going for.

I inhale sharply, wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. Move the mouse towards "okay". The radio is crooning in the background, and I dimly recall that I've always really liked this song.

His arms felt so right.

God! I can't do this. I just can't. I'm pathetic and miserable and wallowing in a sea of self pity and it's disgusting, but I *can't* do this.

Cancel, cancel, cancel. I want *something* tangible out of this, something where I can remember what it felt like for even a *minute* to think that Clark felt the same.

Wait. Wait. Breathe. Think rationally for a minute here. What the hell do I want to keep pretending for? Wallow much, Chlo? Turning into the chick from Dawson's Creek just a little there? It's time to move on. It's time to get over this once and for all. Clark Kent is not the only man in existence, and I am so *not* a maudlin, self indulgent mourner.

Not always, anyway.

It might take awhile. But I don't have anyplace else to be today. Begin again. I'll be fine once my vision stops blurring.

Are you sure you want to permanently remove this file?

Click. Delete.

There really is no such thing as a fairy tale ending. Even in fairy tales, there was no real 'happily ever after'. That's what you have to remember. That's what you can't forget.

Otherwise, you end up cutting off your feet to fit into shoes that never really looked good on you in the first place.

The End. <\body> <\html>