Season 3, sequel to "Whisper"
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the WB and DC comics, not to me
Half an hour later the cop had taken our statements, including my totally fictitious story about how I’d hitched a ride with a guy in a gray Pontiac and followed Chloe to this part of town. Once the cop let us go, I settled back into Chloe’s Beetle, stretching my legs out as far as they’d go, which wasn’t very.
I looked out the window, trying not to meet her eyes. I still felt kind of weird about what had happened earlier. Or more accurately, what hadn’t happened. I mean, I hadn’t been about to kiss her, really. It had been more like an accident. But still, I couldn’t really bring myself to meet her eyes.
She didn’t seem annoyed by my reluctance to look in her direction. “So,” she said, throwing the car into gear and pulling into traffic. “This morning’s been a little busier than I counted on. Want to head back to Smallville?”
I knew she was offering this because of my “migraine” earlier, and I appreciated it. But the noise was no longer bugging me. I was able to listen to the comforting sound of Chloe’s heartbeat and filter out everything else. My stomach had quit lurching, and I realized I was starved.
“No. But I could use lunch. Want to go for that burger now?”
We stopped at the nearest fast food restaurant. Once we got through the line, I plopped down in a booth with my order, and she sat down across from me, looking askance at my food.
“I guess your stomach is feeling better.”
“What? It’s just a triple burger.”
“And large fries, and an extra-large milkshake. There must be enough calories in that meal to feed a third-world country for a week. Maybe a month.”
“Yeah. I figured that out.” She unwrapped her chicken sandwich and took a bite, then put it down and looked listlessly out the window.
After a couple of minutes—okay, after I’d scarfed down my burger and put a serious dent in my fries—I finally noticed she wasn’t eating. “Chlo?” I queried. “You all right?”
She sighed. “I just can’t quite figure out what happened to that chameleon guy.”
Great. That was all I needed, Chloe’s brain going to work on exactly what had happened. But I wasn’t surprised, because Chloe never quits analyzing things. It’s what makes her such a great reporter. “He just fell out,” I answered. “I saw it all. I guess you threw him against the door when you swerved.”
“But I don’t think his weight would have forced the door open that way,” she said. “I mean, it’s a new car, and the door latches tightly. And there’s another thing. I could swear I heard the gun go off. But there aren’t any bullet holes in my windshield.”
Or in your skull, I silently added. Thank God for that. “Maybe you were hearing things,” I suggested. I hate lying, and yet it seems like I wind up doing an awful lot of it. I especially hate lying to my friends, but I didn’t see a lot of options here. I could hardly admit I'd grabbed the bullet in midair. “Stress can do that to you, and you were under a whole lot of stress.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” She picked up a french fry and twiddled it in her fingers. “Clark?”
“Hmm?” I said around a mouthful of french fries.
“Are you still mad at me?”
I swear I will never understand how girls’ minds work. One minute she was talking about Chameleon Guy, the next she was on to something totally different. I looked down at my mostly empty bag of fries, trying to figure out what I should say.
“I guess so,” I said at last, deciding that honesty was my best choice here. Most of the anger had gone out of me when I’d seen that bullet flying at her, but I couldn’t deny that part of me still resented what she’d done. “I mean, you made a deal with Lionel. I still feel kind of like you betrayed me.”
“I did betray you,” she said softly. “Even though I regretted it right afterward, I betrayed you. You were right to call me a Judas. I’m not sure how I can ask you to forgive me when I can’t forgive myself.”
“You forgave me for the way I acted in Metropolis this past summer,” I pointed out.
“That’s different. You were just being a stupid ass.”
“You were a total jerk,” she said, a sad smile quirking her lips. “But that’s not the same as offering up your best friend’s secrets to an evil man.” The french fry quivered, and I realized it was because her hands were trembling.
I reached over and wrapped my hands around hers to stop them from shaking. For the first time I realized how little her hands were. They virtually disappeared inside mine.
“Take it easy, Chlo. We’ll work it out eventually.”
“What if we can’t work it out?” she demanded. Her lip was quivering, and I realized she was about to burst into tears. I gave serious consideration to superspeeding out of the restaurant. I think most guys are scared to death of female tears, and I’ll freely admit I’m one of them. I’d rather deal with a meteor freak armed with Kryptonite bullets than a girl having hysterics in public. “What if every time you look at me you think of what I did, and you can’t ever bring yourself to be friends with me again?”
Her voice broke, and I squeezed her hands a little more tightly. Not much—I have to be really careful with how I touch people, because it’s awfully easy for me to hurt them—but a little. I was still kind of angry with her, but when I balanced that against the knowledge that she could have been killed, it seemed to take on a lot less importance.
I couldn’t forget that she’d been there for me in Metropolis last summer, and that she’d stood by me, even though I had in fact been a stupid ass. And she’d flung herself at Chameleon Guy without hesitation this morning because she’d thought he shot me.
Maybe, I thought, her bargain with Lionel was just like a spot in a big abstract painting—one of the thousands of dots of pigment that made up our lives, but kind of insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We had a whole lot of history between us, after all. When you had a friendship that had gone on for years, you couldn’t throw it away because of one argument, could you?
“Look,” I said. “Let’s not worry about it right now. We came to Metropolis to check out the museum, right? How about we just spend the afternoon together and not stress about everything else right now?”
She stood up and started gathering up wrappers, blinking away tears, and I saw there was a little smear of ketchup at the corner of her mouth. I got to my feet, reached down, and brushed it away. She turned her head slightly, so that her lips brushed my finger, and the memory of our lips almost touching suddenly flashed into my mind.
All of a sudden I felt a weird sensation, like the time I’d been struck in the chest by lightning. My skin tingled and my heart felt like it was beating too fast.
Okay, I admit it. I had been about to kiss her when the cop interrupted us. I guess it was stress or something, because I’ve known Chlo for years, and I don’t ordinarily go around kissing her. But for some reason it was starting to seem like a really good idea again. And this time I really couldn’t blame it on stress, because Chameleon Guy was safely in the back of a cop car, on his way to prison.
I cradled her face in my hands, tilted her head back, and bent toward her.
She instantly stepped backward. “Clark,” she said, a warning note in her voice.
I blinked and dropped my hands, feeling kind of stupid. There’s nothing quite as hard on the male ego as being about to kiss a girl and have her back away from you. Especially when you were under the impression the girl wouldn’t really mind being kissed.
Then I looked around and realized I’d been about to kiss her in the middle of a crowded fast food restaurant. There were little kids everywhere, greasy food wrappers scattered on the floor, and the scent of fries in the air. Let’s face it, a fast food joint doesn’t exactly scream romance.
Way to go, Kent, I thought. What a fabulous venue for sweeping a girl off her feet.
Chloe was looking away from me, apparently very interested in the display of toys that were available in the Fun Meals. “I really think we should be going,” she said in a soft voice.
“We came here to check out the museum,” she said, a little more strongly. “Things have gotten a little… off track, but we need to get our project done. Right?”
She turned around in the middle of my sentence and stalked out of the restaurant, stuffing the trash into a garbage can as she went. I trailed after her, totally confused and feeling my ego deflate further with every passing moment. It’s bad enough when a girl backs away from you when you’re trying to kiss her. It’s even worse when she turns her back to you and gives you the cold shoulder.
I really wasn’t sure what was going on in her mind right now, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to figure it out even with a map and detailed directions. Girls’ thought processes are a total mystery to me.
Chloe didn’t say anything else, just put the car in gear and pulled into traffic. The awkward silence that had stood between us like a brick wall on the drive to Metropolis was back, and neither of us said anything to tear down the wall.
Once we got to the Museum of Modern Art, we got out silently, went inside, and started to look around. Most of the paintings looked a lot alike to me, the visual equivalent of gibberish. Lots of colors splattered onto canvas. The sort of thing I made for my mom in kindergarten. These artists should have had their works put up on their moms’ refrigerators instead of a museum's walls, as far as I was concerned.
“Check this one out,” Chloe said at last.
It was the first time she’d said anything to me in half an hour, and I figured she meant the sentence as a kind of peace offering. Turning, I walked toward her. She was standing in front of a really big canvas, which at first glance looked like a lot of random colors.
“It looks just like the others,” I said.
“No, it doesn’t,” she answered. “Step back a bit.”
Puzzled, I backed up. As I did, the random dots on the canvas suddenly resolved themselves, and I realized it was a painting of a flower in a vase. The further away I got, the more clearly I could see it.
“Wow,” I said, impressed despite myself. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah,” she said. She backed up till we were standing shoulder to shoulder. “It’s funny, isn’t it? You look at it thinking you’re seeing one thing, but then if you stare hard enough, you see something else.”
Just like the city this morning, I thought. At first I’d heard nothing but a painful, jumbled roar of sound, but once I’d learned to focus I could pick a single sound out of the noise. I’d been able to do that because Chloe was important to me, so it was relatively easy to focus on her.
But I had begun to realize that everyone in the city was like a dab of paint in a huge abstract-- every one of them was seemingly insignificant, yet every single one of them was an important component of the painting. Every one of them mattered, even scruffy homeless guys living under bridges. With practice, maybe I’d be able to focus on each of them, and not just the people closest to me. If I could do that, someday I could help everyone, all of the eight million souls that made up the city.
The way the painting could be looked at in two different ways, depending on the viewer's focus, also made me think of my relationship with Chloe. Ever since I’d met Chlo, I’d seen her as a friend. A buddy. But seeing her almost get shot had abruptly changed my focus, and all of a sudden I was seeing something there I’d never seen before. Not just a buddy, but a girl. The girl I’d wanted to kiss in the restaurant.
The thing was, though, that I wasn’t quite sure if Chloe’s focus had changed. The way she’d backed away from me in the restaurant made me wonder if maybe she wanted stay just friends. Or maybe she simply realized our friendship was on shaky enough ground right now, without trying to toss romance into the mix. Either way, I wasn’t going to press her on it. Not today, at any rate.
“That’s really cool,” I said, nodding at the big painting. “I think I’ll write my report on it.”
She looked up at me, a mischievous light in her eyes. “So, Neanderthal Boy,” she drawled. “Are you actually acknowledging this particular painting isn’t stupid?”
I couldn’t help myself. I grinned. “I have to admit I like this one.”
“Glad you found one you like. Now aren’t you glad you came to Metropolis with me?”
I thought about the pain I'd experienced this morning, the way I’d had to learn to cope with the noise by listening to her heartbeat. I wasn’t sure I could have learned to deal with it if she hadn’t been there. And I knew I wouldn't have been able to hear her heartbeat if she weren't so important to me.
I looked down into her smile, studying her the same way I’d looked at the painting, seeing one girl in two different ways. Despite the bad things that had happened between us, Chloe was still my friend, one of my best friends, and I was pretty sure she always would be. But she was also a girl who might be more… someday.
“Yeah,” I answered. “I’m definitely glad I came with you.”
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