by Ibrahim Ng
The lights go on, and I stand up and stretch. The seats in these theatres are just too comfortable. "That was totally ridiculous," I say. "Give me a break. She was so obviously CGI. No one would be fooled."
"I thought it was pretty good," Clark answers. "I believed she was a real person. But the movies in the movie were weird. They looked more like car commercials."
"Perfume commercials," I reply.
"I wouldn't know," he says primly, if he can be such a thing.
I step around the packet of mustard Clark spilled when applying it to his hot dog, and stand in front of him at the side of the aisle. We smile a little. We've been doing this a lot lately. Regarding each other from a distance. Regarding each other up close. Saying nothing. Just smiling. Nothing else needs to be done.
We're holding hands as we walk down the stairs. But as I'm about to turn to walk out of the screening room and into the lobby, Clark pulls my hand into the opposite direction.
"This door," he says, pointing out a side exit that's probably also used for fire escapes. I nod, not really thinking about it, as Clark leads me out the side door, from a dark, barely lit screening room in a theatre right into a bright summer day in Metropolis. The sudden exposure to sunlight blinds me.
"Aaagghhh!" I cry, holding up a hand to shield my eyes. I can't see a thing. Then I feel two warm hands on my shoulders, pulling me close, and then the only things I know are Clark's lips. I feel my heart skip a beat at the surprise, and then at how close he's against me, and I melt against him, kissing him back.
I'm grinning madly when we finally break apart for air. And so is he.
"Initiative," I say, rubbing my eyes. "Wow."
We walk down the street hand in hand, heading into downtown Metropolis. This is a little new. A little surprising. A little awkward. But it feels completely right.
"So, how many girls have you tried that on?" I ask, drawing out my words teasingly.
Clark looks thoughtful, and then, to my surprise, he starts mumbling numbers and names. "Oh, boy. Do you have a calculator?"
I stare at him.
"Well, I'll ballpark it. I think I've tried it on... one." He smirks at me, and I shake my head. "I thought of it ten seconds before I did it," he adds.
"You're so clever today," I comment. "Must be the heat." I fan my face a little, but it's not bad. It's not humid. Just warm.
"Maybe that's why that guy at the panel on protecting sources couldn't talk without yelling at the top of his lungs," Clark says. "Heat does funny things to people."
I look at Clark. "Nice things." But then I think of Perry White, star reporter at the Daily Planet, and the panellist at the convention Clark and I went to before the movie. "Yeah, he was a little weird. The Elvis fixation is a kinda off the beaten track."
I think about White, doing exactly what I want to do in the future. Chasing people, uncovering secrets, shining light into dark places, and doing lots of typing. "You don't think I'll turn into a crazy old lady with a fixation on Loreena Mckennitt, do you?" I ask Clark.
"No," he assures me. "I don't think you'll TURN into a crazy old lady."
I laugh, and elbow him in the side. "Smartass."
He looks around the city, obviously marvelling at the skyscrapers, the busy activity in the streets, all the stores, all the noise, and all the stories that are out there, waiting to be told.
"Smog index must be pretty high," he says.
Darn it. Another attempt to know Clark, foiled again. But judging from the way we're holding hands and sneaking looks at each other, I'll have time to make plenty of them.
"We should probably get going," Clark says, glancing at his watch.
"The bus stop's just past the next block. We told our parents we'd get home by six," I agree. Smallville awaits.
Clark looks around, and spies a stand with blankets on it. He looks at them thoughtfully, and glances at me. I look across the street at a deli.
"Yeah, we should probably go home," Clark says.
Shuster Park is wide and full of trees, bike trails, and grassy hills. Clark and I find a nice spot in the shade and spread our newly purchased picnic blanket, along with some sandwiches, some oranges, and a few bottles of Tropicana. I lie against the tree and close my eyes. This sort of relaxing is terrific, in small doses of course. You can't relax twenty-four hours a day. You have to have excitement and danger and discomfort, to make relaxing actually worthwhile.
Still, sitting on a picnic blanket with Clark isn't something I'd get tired of doing.
That's something, isn't it? Feeling that I could just sit beside a special person forever, and I would never get bored or feel discontent. And I'm not just saying that. I look at Clark, and the warmth in his face and the gentleness in his hands and the sharp intelligence in his eyesand I don't think I could ever grow bored with him or get tired of him.
I sort through the sandwiches and take a chicken salad on a bun. Clark starts with the fruit, however, and peels an orange. He squeezes one wedge a little too tight, and some of the juice runs over his hand. He smiles and wipes his hand with a napkin.
I take his dry hand and inhale with my nose. "Ahh, that's the stuff," I say, realizing.
"What's the stuff?" Clark asks, as I let his hand go.
"You'd come to school smelling all lemony when you were in eighth grade," I say, biting into my sandwich. "It was faint, but it was there almost every day. It was oranges, huh?"
"Fruit's good for you," Clark says. "It's an important part of a well-balanced breakfast."
I make a face around my chicken salad. "I'm going to turn into a crazy old lady. You're going to turn into an uptight old man who keeps waving a spoon at people and telling them to eat their grapefruit and prunes."
"Amazing," Clark says, eating the orange. "Cassandra Carver would be so proud."
His mouth is a little busy for the next few moments. Then he takes a corned beef on rye, and he pulls himself until he's leaning against me with his side, and with his back against the tree.
"So," he whispers into my ear, "were you always paying attention to what I smelled like?"
I laugh helplessly. Oh, he knows now. But he's also known how long its been this way for me. It always surprises him, even after he's known.
"Spent every day categorizing my scent, Chloe?" he asks playfully.
"Planned my entire day around it," Chloe says. "It's in my day planner. It was a religious ceremony for me. Kinda like you and your... astronomy sessions."
Clark turns a little more serious. He bites into his corned beef. "Mustard," he mutters. "Just right."
I don't know how to explain to a boy that I've known for a year that I love him and admire him and want him in every way imaginable but would settle for a kiss and lying in his arms every once in a while. But I do know my delis. See, I've got my priorities straight.
"I'm sorry," Clark says.
"Sorry?" I say.
"For not noticing." He's rather glum now. "I should have."
"Clark Kent, you are full of crap," I inform him. "You're my friend. You were my friend then, and you are now, plus something else. You weren't obligated to... to be psychic and knock me back onto a desk at the Torch and have your way with me. We were friends, you felt that was okay, and you shouldn't feel bad about that."
"I should have noticed," he replies. "I should've noticed what was going on with my friend. I should have done something."
I lean closer to him.
"You did," I say.
With a finger, I slowly wipe a crumb from his lower lip.
"You are," I tell him.
"...and I'm sorry for all the times I ran out on you, and I'm sorry I let you think that the Torch is the only thing we do together."
We're walking down the street, four sandwiches and some cuddling later. We feel the need to get our legs moving, and to take in air while in motion. The leftover sandwiches are in the paper bag in my hand, and nice and faintly fuzzy blanket is over my shoulder.
Clark's been apologizing for every transgression he can think of in the past year.
"What makes you say I think the Torch is the only thing we do together?" I ask. And instantly, I know the answer.
I know, he knows I know, and I know he knows I know. This is obvious to us both the second I ask my question.
"Lana can't handle the Torch for a day," I mutter. "Lana can't figure out what's hot chocolate and what's coffee. Lana can't keep her mouth shut." I look at Clark.
"She thought I should know!" he says.
"Clark," I proclaim, "I forbid you to ever be infatuated with girls who can't do any of the things I just mentioned. Ever again. Ever again!"
"Oh-kaaayyy," Clark says, a silly grin splitting his face. "Chloe," he says, more seriously, "I'm sorry for all that."
I nod, reluctantly. I don't know if he should be sorry for most of this. It's all me, isn't it? My insecurities, my wants and needs, my inability to speak the hell up.
"Why'd you think that?" he asks. "I think we did and do lots of stuff together. We go to school together, have coffee together, work on projects together, shoot the breeze, go to partiesand, there's the Torch."
"Clark, I'm sorry I was digging into your life," I say.
"I don't think we were talking about that."
"The reason I was is becauseyou're so damned mysterious."
Clark doesn't seem to know how to take that.
"And I just wanted to know you better... to know why you're the way you are; why you wear flannel so much, why you're so quiet, why you're shy even when you're so... uh, well developed. And... "
I pause, because I think I have something in my eye. I sniff, because my nose suddenly feels vaguely runny.
"And for the longest time, it felt like the only time we would really connect and really talk with each other and be openwell, it felt like it was mostly when we were tracking down Grade-A Smallville weirdness."
Clark doesn't seem too surprised at this. He seems regretful.
"And the Torch became so much more important to me because of that. Because it was slowly becomingbecoming my window into you."
I take a deep breath. I touch the blanket. The fuzzy feeling is mildly tranquilizing. "And when it felt like it was being taken away... it felt like you were being taken away, too."
He holds my hand, looking at me warmly. I rush to add, "You... you don't have to fill out a certain quota of ‘Connect With Chloe’ activities every week. It's just"
He kisses me.
"Sorry," he whispers into my nose, a moment later. "You idiot," he adds, when we're apart. "Don't think that. And if you do think that, say something."
"Yeah," I agree. So I do. "Why are you always running away?" I ask.
He seems a little stumped.
"Is it me? Do I make you uncomfortable?"
He shakes his head.
Finally, he says, in a tight voice, "I was adopted after the meteor shower. And... I guess we deal with the meteors a lot. And it... tends to remind me of my parents finding me. And it makes me a little sad sometimes, and I just need to be alone."
"Oh," I say. There's a note of truth in this, but... he's holding something back.
It's okay, I decide. I trust him. I do. I've seen him get jealous and then admit he's wrong to be. I've seen him race into danger to save people. I've seen him give up things he wants because there are those who need it more.
"I don't know if I can break the habit," he tells me. "Sometimes I need to be alone. And sometimes, there are things I have to do. Like hit the mutant of the week. With a sledgehammer."
I look at him straight in the eye.
And then I turn and I run.
I run at top speed. Clark came in last running laps in gym; he can't keep up. I run hard and fast and pump my legs and breath deeply, and then I run down an alley, knowing what I'll find.
A minute later, Clark catches up with me. "Chloe?" he says crisply, and then he pants. He quickly recovers his breath, I notice.
He looks past me, and at the asleep homeless man behind me. The homeless man will wake up to two sandwiches and a warm blanket.
I smile faintly at him as I take his hand and lead him out of the alley.
I think I can accept his eccentricities. Because he accepts mine.
Fair is fair.
We step out of the Smallville bus station. The stars are out. We called our parents in Metropolis and let 'em know we'd get home a little late. We come to my car, which I parked in the lot earlier today, and we look at each other.
"Home?" I say. "Your home, I mean?"
He takes my hand, holding it tightly. "Please?" he says.
Clark dials my home number as I drive and hands me the cell-phone. I tell my dad I'm having a sleepover. He seems okay with it. Clark and I have been friends for over a year and a half. I guess he's alright with us hanging out... at all hours... even with recent developments that could lead to but haven't but could but of course shouldn't because that would be...
He's okay with it. So are Clark's parents.
Clark and I walk into his loft. The air's cool, even in here.
"Indoor stargazing?" Clark suggests.
He shifts the telescope away. We lie down on a blanket on the floor, and we gaze out the window at the lights in the night-sky.
"I wonder what it's like out there," I say. "With the stars."
"Well," Clark says practically, "if you're out there with the stars, you can't see them the way you do from here. You couldn't see them from the perspective that makes them so fascinating."
I roll over and against Clark.
"Sometimes," I say, my voice low, and a little raspy, "being up close at last tells you whether or not the fascination is deserved."
I kiss him, lightly on the mouth. He returns the kiss gently, but it intensifies, and I want even more and so does he, and --
Clark pulls away for a second. He stands up. I watch as he takes his telescope and sets it down in a far corner of the loft. He throws a tarp over it.
I'm lying on my side on the blanket, watching. He comes back and lies down on his side, facing me. Playfully, he leans forward and kisses my chin. He stays there, and he inhales deeply.
"Peaches," he whispers. He moves up, and we're face to face. I lean forward and breathe in deeply at his chest. I move back up.
"Hay," I smile.
"Interesting combination," Clark says.
I am in complete agreement as I touch his collar and pull him towards me. And as the kisses and the contact and the warmth start again, I realize...
I realize that I'm going to be fascinated by Clark for a very long time. Because the feeling is mutual. Because we're two very different people who respect and admire and love each other.
And possibly because we're floating.