Unlike dead butterflies, beginnings are hard to pin down. Lana knows that bigger brains than hers can't even figure out how the universe started -- something about implosions, explosions and limited matter, like a souffle that keeps rising and falling -- but one day her daughter will want to know the story of her life, how it all began, and she plans to tell her the truth.
Lana grew up believing a myth: football hero who could do no wrong marries beautiful girl who does everything right. At an appropriate interval, out popped the miraculous bundle of joy. The end. Except that under the football star exterior her dad had the soul of an accountant, while her mom craved passion and romance. In stepped Henry Small, a lawyer with passion enough to score a paternity touchdown during a quickie affair, only Henry's intensity was the brush fire kind, hot and fast and over before you could blink. But Lana didn't know, and her first three years are a pretty blur, childhood painted by one of those French Impressionists whose names she can never remember.
You could say that her life started when the meteor storm bombarded Smallville and killed her parents, only this was more an ugly interlude illustrated like that old copy of Grimms' fairy tales Aunt Jess sent her one Christmas, full of red skies and trolls under bridges. Sometimes in her dreams a troll chased Lana, ready to drag her back to his home under the bridge, which had a very shaky foundation. Sometimes in her dreams she was the troll. She watched The Wizard of Oz once, saw the crushed witch with her red-slippered shoes poking out from under the house, and screamed so loudly without stopping that Nell had to call Dr. Bradford to give her a shot.
The nightmares peaked around puberty, then settled into the background of her life, like patterned wallpaper that's pretty until you lean close and see that the roses are really monsters. It wasn't unlike being Chicken Lana, waiting for the sky to fall, and fate didn't disappoint her, tossing out drowned friends and mutant stalkers. She noticed along the way that people didn't really want to hear about this, so she stopped talking about it, or tried to, becoming a perky cheerleader, a supportive girlfriend and a model student. A guidance counselor once told her, "Be yourself, Lana," and she did give it a try in case the world was now ready for the neurotic mess behind the perfect hair. (Even this perfection was a facade: Nell sent her monthly to Monsieur Andre at La Coupe in Metropolis, and he highlighted, conditioned and performed other magical rites to keep her looking naturally beautiful. "A woman's hair is her identity," Nell said.)
Losing her virginity, the classic adult moment, didn't radically reorder her life, even if she thought so at the time. Clark was very gentle, very sweet, but Lana was less disturbed by the pain than by his suffocating weight above her, so big he blocked the moon and sky. Still, she'd taken him inside her, a pretty big deal by any standard, especially after refusing Whitney access for years. "It needs to be perfect," she'd told him. Perfect never happened, so she moved on to Clark, who'd worshiped her for years, hoping that this time she'd feel safe. Instead, she felt buried under his adoration, a Monarch stuck through the heart with a pin dying under a caption that read Ideal Woman.
One time in bed Lana worked up the nerve to ask if she could be on top. Clark let her, but stayed strangely quiet through most of it while she came for the first time, and he never suggested the position himself, not once during their entire relationship.
After they'd broken up, Lana discovered quite by accident at Lex's Christmas party that Clark wasn't opposed to the position on principle; it just didn't suit his view of her, Lana Lang, butterfly girl. A wrong door opened in the mansion, and there was Lex, riding Clark hard, one hand over Clark's mouth in a failed attempt to stop the moans. Even with the hand, Clark made noises she'd never heard before, new ones he'd invented for Lex, and while Lex kept repeating the filthiest things she'd ever heard, it was obviously just an attempt, also failed, to prove that he wasn't as desperately in love with Clark as Clark was with him.
Talk about shock: she stood frozen in the doorway, her face pressed to an invisible window like the Little Matchgirl, jealously watching this thing she'd never had. While Lana didn't buy into her press as every boy's fantasy, it was still a little insulting to be replaced by a guy, and a bald guy at that, even one as powerful and handsome as Lex. Then again, if someone as exotic as Lex hadn't come along Clark would still believe that his ideal mate was a certain brunette Rapunzel. And maybe Lana would still believe it, too, although the rational part of her regular- sized brain, the part able to accept and learn, didn't kick in until later.
So, while this chance encounter with her ex-boyfriend's destiny shook her up all right, tossed her in an emotional blender on high speed, it wasn't quite the moment that changed everything. What it did do was send her to the open bar, where she gulped Cosmopolitans to feel sophisticated, to feel completely at ease with Clark's new lifestyle choice, relaxed about her own destiny as a gay-inducing spinster with a pathological fear of The Wizard of Oz. Pete came up to her as she leaned casually (and not a little drunkenly) over the bar, made one of his dorky jokes, but by then the room was spiraling.
Lana said, "Excuse me," smiled, then found the lost bathroom where she vomited in decidedly unprincesslike fashion into the toilet.
As she crouched on the marble, sputtering, tears streaming down her face, a strong hand suddenly appeared to stroke her hair, followed by a deep, kind guy-voice that said, "Better not let Chloe see you, Lana, or you'll be on the front page under the caption: 'The Princess and the Porcelain.'"
When she looked up, Pete passed her handfuls of damp toilet paper from his seat on the edge of the tub and she wiped her mouth. "You don't have to stay," she said. "I know this is gross."
"Trust me, I've seen worse. I was on the football team before they laughed me off, and you've never seen gross until you've seen a bunch of football players after a couple of kegs." He grinned like he meant it, like she wasn't a shaking, sweaty, stinky mess. "I can get Clark, if you'd rather have him here."
"No. I don't think he'd want to see this. Besides, he was kind of busy the last time I saw him."
"So you know."
"You're not going to believe this but I walked in on them."
"Guess it's pretty weird to catch your ex bumping uglies with another guy," he said, getting up and pouring her a glass of water, like this was all very natural. "Especially when the two guys are Clark and Lex. There hasn't been a pairing this weird since...Well, this might be the weirdest couple in history."
"But you're cool with it?" With her stomach settling, Lana flushed one more time and leaned back against the toilet, not ready to move.
"Sure. It was freaky at first, but now...Okay, it's still freaky, but Clark's always been a strange guy. At least with Lex he's a happier strange guy. Not that he wasn't happy with you--"
"It's okay, Pete." She wanted to say more, to reassure him that she wasn't offended, but her insides felt hollow.
"Want some more water?"
He held the cup while she drank, his hands under hers, and they were very warm. She'd never noticed Pete's hands before, the nails very shiny against his dark skin. She'd never noticed Pete much at all; he was just Clark's friend, and Chloe's, the human equivalent of wallpaper; now Lana saw that his eyes were the same shape and color as Donatello's, her favorite horse's, espresso-dark with lashes long as fingers.
"So," he said, "you ready to stand?"
At her nod, Pete placed the glass on the counter and helped her up. She swayed against him as the water sloshed in her empty stomach, but he stayed in place, very solid, not towering over her the way Clark did, either, eyes practically level with hers. "Sorry."
"Ruining the party for you."
"Not ruined. It's not every day a guy gets to see the inner world of Lana Lang. Here I thought you were a delicate flower, then I find out you can puke like the meanest Crow on the team."
"If you're lucky, you might see more." She had meant to apologize again. "Can you take me home? I need a shower. So do you," she added, touching the hem of his white shirt, untucked now and decorated with former Cosmopolitan.
"If I had a buck for every pretty girl who has barfed on me, I'd be...A dollar richer," he said, and they went downstairs together.
A new beginning was around the corner, and it didn't get any more dignified.
"You're not like I thought," he told her two nights later as they drive home from a movie, the heater cranked against the December cold. "I figured you more for art movies, not cheesy comedies, but you were laughing your butt off. At one point I thought you were going to snarf popcorn through your nose."
"So why'd you pick a comedy if you weren't sure I'd like it?"
"You really want to know?"
"It's a test. If a girl laughs at fart jokes, then I know she's cool."
"I'm glad I passed."
"That's only the first part. For the second, you have to laugh when I fart. Then there's the final test."
"And what's that?"
"You have to fart and laugh."
"I don't even think I've said that word."
"You mean 'fart'?"
"That's the one."
"Not even with Clark? It's his favorite word in the world after 'Lex.'"
"I guess he spared you his raunchier side."
"I think everyone spares me their raunchier side."
"They're scared you'll faint or something."
"But not you."
"I just avoid the snootier-than-thou types--I mean, uh...So, looks like we'll be having a white Christmas after all." His grin had faded, and he looked straight ahead at the road as the snow swirled in the headlights' beam.
Lana, grateful for the high-fiber power of greasy popcorn, screwed up her courage and went straight for test number three. Startled by her thunderous success, she giggled, then giggled some more as Pete whirled around, eyes wide, nostrils flaring.
"You didn't! Not the Princess of Purity!" He started waving his hand in his face, pretending to choke, unrolling the window to let in a blast of snowy air.
His red scarf flapped in the breeze, the heater groaned, Lana's nose dripped in the chill, and she was suddenly overwhelmed by this incredible, impulse need to give Pete a test of her own right there in the freezing truck with the snow and the air and the noisy heater.
So she did. When Pete made some noises about waiting, she teased him until that warm grin came back and his eyes started to shine.
"You're one surprising girl," he said as she climbed into his lap. "My mom always said that if I met a surprising girl, I should marry--Oh. Oh. Oh, wow. Lana."
There was a moment when Lana thought he was going to go all mushy and respectful and romantic. Instead, his arms wrapped around her waist, his cock deep inside her, he said, "Just don't fart now, okay?"
She'd never come while laughing before.
After ten years of marriage, Pete still makes her laugh. He's sitting across the kitchen table from her, feeding the dog with one hand and little Laura with the other. Heavier now, Pete's sturdy as their house, and Lana doesn't believe the sky will fall any more.
Better yet, she knows that if it did, Pete would crack a joke and she'd die laughing.
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