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Author's Note: Written for Hope's ultra-fab 'zine, Ground Zero.
"So, honey, what do you think?" Gabe Sullivan asked as he removed his hands from his thirteen year old daughter's eyes.
"It's, um... it's really pink." Chloe surveyed the landscape with a critical eye. The queen-sized bed was covered by a pink and peach quilted comforter, and was half-covered with matching pillows of various sizes. Two of the walls were painted solid pink, although if she were in the mood to be charitable, she supposed the hue could be called "dusty rose." The walls the bed and desk rested against were wallpapered. The pattern, with its columns of Victorian rosebuds and peach stripes, reminded her of a flannel night-gown she'd had when she was little. Pink curtains fluttered in the breeze from the open window and the peach window shade was half pulled down, the cord making a clicking sound as it bounced against the aluminium windowsill in time to the rustling of the trees outside.
"I had the decorators come in last week, before the movers got here, so it would be all ready before your Aunt Ella dropped you off."
"Wow," she said as she walked over to the bookshelves, where all her paperbacks and stuffed animals were already shelved. She would be up half the night putting them back in the order they had been in back in her old room. This room was about twice the size of the one in the apartment in Metropolis, and half the shelves were empty. Waiting for her to fill them. She picked up a battered and worn stuffed dog off the bottom shelf and hugged him reflexively.
It must be rough for him, she decided, yanked unceremoniously form his natural habitat and plunked down by strange hands in a strange place.
"Yay, Mister Shoes," she said as she plunked down on the bed, sending a spray of pillows to fall on the rose, tan and off-white hooked rug.
"Wouldn't be home without Mister Shoes," Gabe agreed. "He seems to have survived the move okay, wouldn't you say?"
"Hey, Mister Shoes is tough."
"And I'm sure he's excited about this—" Gabe threw open the door next to the walk-in closet with a flourish. "Ta-da!"
"My own bathroom!" Chloe's eyes widened. "You didn't tell me—"
"I wanted it to be a surprise. I'm sorry you couldn't come down and house-hunt with me, kiddo, but I didn't want you missing school—"
"I was only three weeks in," she shrugged, and bit her bottom lip. "I mean, it's no big deal. There's email. Ever since Jenny and Meghan moved away, it's not like I actually had any friends to leave behind anyway, you know?"
He sat down next to her on the bed and gave her a one-armed hug. "You'll make plenty of new friends, sweetheart. I promise."
She swallowed, and nodded, resting her cheek against his shoulder.
"Okay, I'm gonna rustle us up some grub—you get settled in, and I'll call you when dinner's on the table. Deal?"
As he headed down the stairs, Chloe laid Mister Shoes down so his head rested on the pillow, and got up to investigate her bathroom. Hanging from clear plastic rings from the shower rod was a pale peach vinyl curtain, and a clear plastic liner was tucked into the corner of the tub. Her dad had gotten new towels and a new bathroom rug for her—off-white rather than pink, she was pleased to note. There was a plastic cup with blue and yellow flowers sitting in a corner of the sink to hold her toothbrush, and a box full of her bubble bath, hair gel, and ziplock bags with barrettes, elastics pocked out of the box. She fished through it and pulled out a yellow cloth-covered headband, which she slipped on to keep her hair out of her eyes.
Glancing in the mirror-front of the medicine cabinet which hung above the sink, she took a good long look at Chloe Sullivan, aged thirteen, transplanted Metropolitan on her first day in Smalltown.
Her thick, dark blonde hair was cut in a bob, the bangs needing a trim as they were starting to tickle her eyelids. She'd always gone to the Supercuts in the strip mall a few blocks from the Metro station her dad took to work every morning. A girl named Marissa always washed her hair with shampoo that smelled like strawberries and then Dawn trimmed her hair. Ever since she'd cut her hair—which had hung long and straight down her back since she was five—she'd gone to see Dawn every three weeks. She'd given her a big hug the last time she'd gone, the day after Dad had announced at dinner that he was being transferred to the sticks and they'd have to move. Chloe's hadn't cried at the dinner table, but with her cheek pressed against the blue polyester shirt Dawn wore, with "Supercuts" emblazoned on the pocket, her eyes had filled with tears. She'd splashed cold water on her face in the bathroom of the gas station across the street from their apartment building, so her dad couldn't see she'd been crying. But he hadn't been home when she'd turned her key in the lock. Instead, there had been a message on the answering machine for her to order in pizza, because he was working another late night, trying to get everything in order before he left to take over the Plant.
The girl in the mirror had puffy eyes, like she'd been crying, and she splashed cold water on her face and patted her cheeks with one of the new towels.
Two fake diamond studs were in each ear. She still remembered the look on her dad's face when she'd gotten back from a trip to the mall last month with her cousin Lucy sporting the new holes. It had been a split-second decision, as they'd passed Claire's on their way to the food court to get ice-cream. He'd lectured her about keep the piercings clean, and made her promise that if they got infected, she'd let him take her to the doctor. She'd been surprised he'd noticed. She'd gotten the first set one summer when she was 10, while at camp with Meghan and Jenny. It had taken him a month to notice then, and for her 11th birthday, he'd gotten her a pair of real pearl earrings that sat in the bottom of her Twirling Ballerina jewellery box. She wasn't sure where the box was now, as at home it used to sit on the lowest shelf of her bookcase, next to her bed. She'd have to comb through the remaining boxes left to be unpacked, and see where it had ended up.
There was a spay of freckles across her nose. Her own fault, for not wearing sunscreen when she'd gone to the park all summer long. She'd had a part-time job until school had started, walking the dog of the lady who lived in the apartment down the hall from them. The dog—a little pug named Wilbur—had been sweet, and she'd enjoyed the pocket money Mrs Fielding (divorced, no kids, a PR degree and really fake red hair that always had a half-inch of brown roots showing) had given her for taking Wilbur to the park twice a day. She'd usually sit on a bench and read the Daily Planet Arts & Leisure section, and watch the kids rollar-blading in the big rink that they used for ice-skating in winter.
She looked down at the faded green tank top she wore, and frowned. Other girls in her class had already started wearing bras when she'd left school. But thus far, she was starting to wonder if she'd ever need one. When her aunt and cousin had taken her school clothes shopping, she'd been ultra-conscious of all the girls in the juniors section who already looked like they were in high school, and were wearing grown-up bras beneath their baby-tees and handkerchief tops. She was straight up and down, and her legs were pretty muscular from all the walking and bike riding she'd done in Metropolis. Living in the city, even though her dad had a car, they walked almost every place they didn't take the Metro. She had looked out the window as Aunt Ella had driven up to the housing complex, and noted that, until they actually got inside the gates, there had been no sidewalks. Just asphalt with a narrow shoulder for miles.
She turned away from the mirror, starting to feel her eyes stinging again. She hadn't lied before—she hadn't really left too many friends behind. What she felt like she'd left, however, was the only girl she knew. Chloe Sullivan who had lived on Clinton in apartment 3-D her whole life. Chloe Sullivan who had aced the spelling bee at PS184 every year. Who knew the names of all the waitresses at the coffee shop where she and her dad had breakfast on Sunday mornings. Who had felt like such a big girl when her dad had let her ride her bike to the library on Saturday afternoons, when he had to go into work and couldn't go with her.
Curling up on the bed with Mister Shoes while she could hear the sound of pots and pans and clinking glass rising up the stairs from the kitchen, she decided she was just going to have to figure out who this new Chloe Sullivan would become.
Her first night in "the country" as she insisted on calling it had been pretty uneventful. She'd fallen asleep late—after 11—having unpacked the last of the boxes and re-arranging her shelves so that they approximated the layout she'd grown used to at home. Her alarm had gone off at midnight because she'd forgotten to set it, and she'd blearily hit the "forward" button to 8am. However, when it went off the next time, she was already up, showered and dressed.
Sundays at home had always been father-daughter time, and she skipped down the stairs expecting to surprise her dad by making him breakfast. However, she found him in a suit and tie, sitting at the table sipping coffee and reading the Planet, half a buttered bagel still on his plate.
"How come you're dressed for work?"
"Because I have to go to work."
"But it's Sunday," she said, secretly hoping that maybe with her arrival had just confused him.
"Mr Luthor is coming in tomorrow to inspect the plant—I've only been here a few weeks, and I want to make sure everything's ready."
"Do you want waffles? I can whip you up some before I need to dash—"
"No. I'm not really hungry. I was gonna grab my bike, maybe look around." The lie rolled off her tongue easily, and she forced a smile even though all she wanted to do was throw her arms around his middle and beg him to stay.
"Sweetie, can you do me a favour? I forgot to pick up the mail yesterday—The mailboxes are up near the gate, when you first come in.""
"Sure. I saw them yesterday," she called back over her shoulder as she stepped through the side door that led from the kitchen to the garage where her red and white bike leaned casually against the wall.
The house was vaguely generic and surrounded by three or four other styles in a carefully planned "gated community." The streets were all named for trees, and Chloe had the feeling the only way she's be able to tell them apart was by the colour of the garage doors.
"Welcome to Stepford," Chloe muttered as she pedalled away from the driveway, chanting "Cedar Street, third from corner, 107. Cedar, Third, 107," so she wouldn't get lost coming home.
It was the first week of October, and half the houses on the block already had decorated their porches with pumpkins, bales of straw, and paper ghosts and witches. Red and yellow pennants were visible in some windows, and there were bumper stickers on a lot of the cars. She had to assume that the "Crows" were a local high school team. Used to the blue and silver of the Sharks, and green and white of the Tigers, she supposed sports fans were sports fans, whether they were in the city or the sticks.
She saw a few bikes in the driveways, but no kids her own age. She circled the block, and then began exploring all the little winding streets. Pleasant Meadows was riddled with cul-du-sacs and round-abouts, the forth and fifth time around, she figured out every conceivable route back to where her dad's green Volvo was parked in the driveway. Picking up the mail from the row of metal boxes next to the management office, she glanced at all of the yellow "forwarding address" stickers, and was surprised to find a fat envelope addressed to her, with the Cedar street address. She ripped it open, and then frowned at the contents.
Tucking the mail in the back pocket of her jeans, she pedalled back to the house, leaving her bike leaning against the garage.
"Dad, I got a letter from the school."
"It's a book list from my English teacher. She says that they're reading Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. They're only on Chapter three—I can be caught up by Monday if I start tonight. Do we have a copy?"
"Farewell to Manzanar?"
"What's it about?"
"Manzanar, Dad." Chloe rolled her eyes. "The internment camps? Forced relocation of Japanese-Americans during World War II? Ringing any bells?"
"I think I saw the movie. Maybe we can rent the movie?"
"I think it was a really good movie."
"Can you just drive me to the closest Borders or Barnes & Noble or whatever, on the way to work?"
"There's a bookstore in the outlet mall, but honey, that's a little out of my way. I have to be at the plant in—oh man, twenty minutes. Twenty minutes? How on earth did I manage to lose the entire morning?"
"It's no big deal." She shrugged. "I can ride my bike to the library."
"Honey, you can't."
"Why not? I used to all the time at home."
"Actually, it is. We're a couple of miles from town—"
"Then I'll take the bus."
"Sweetie, there is no bus."
Chloe froze, her mouth open in shock. "What do you mean? Of course there's a bus. There has to be a bus. How else do the good citizens of Smallville get from place to place?"
"You'll get picked up for school by the school bus, but they don't exactly have the sort of public transportation system you're used to, out here. It's not like the MTA."
"But... but... you mean I'm stuck here, in this crappy development, unless you're around to drive me someplace?" This was a foreign concept. Completely alien. No bus? No public transportation system of any kind? Was this a third world country?
"I wouldn't say stuck exactly—"
"Dad! This is barbaric! Jeez, no wonder kids in the country end up cow tipping and have sex in fields."
"Well, wouldn't you, if you couldn't go anyplace? I mean, what if I wanted to go to the movies?"
"There's a theatre in town."
"Lemme guess—it has one screen, and it's that crappy new Star Wars movie that everybody's already seen. Twice."
"You're gonna be late."
He grabbed half his bagel, and dropped the paper on the kitchen table. "We'll get the books. I promise."
"When do you get off work?"
"I'll be home by 6." He kissed her forehead, and grabbed his car keys off the counter. "That's plenty of time to zip out to the mall, and hit the bookstore. Sound good, kid?"
"But... but what about class?" she asked as she followed him to the front door. "Everyone will be ahead of me, and I'll just be sitting there like a lump."
"It'll be fine." He blew her another kiss, and then stuck the half a bagel in his mouth and waved as he ran down the porch steps.
Chloe waited until the Volvo disappeared down the street, and dumped the breakfast dishes into the sink. She ran hot water over them, and counted to three hundred while she swiped them with a soapy sponge and set them in the dish rack to dry. Usually, her Sunday would have been spent hanging out with her dad and reading the Planet cover-to-cover. But today was going to be different.
Booting up her iMac, she loaded first went to Whitepages.com and got the street address of the Smallville Public Library. She picked up the phone, and listened to the recording which said the library was open from 1pm to 5pm on Sundays. Opening a new window, she went to Mapquest and got directions. It seemed simple enough. Pleasant Meadows was just off Route 50, which became Main St. in town, and according to the printout she stuffed in her jeans pocket, the library was only six miles away. She could ride her bike along the side of the road she was pretty sure all the way into town, and be back before her dad got home.
Piece of cake.
She threw a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of water into her backpack, and locked the front door behind her. There were more people out on the streets now—a few guys in driveways washing their cars, and at the end of Elm St. two high school aged boys in red letterman jackets played basketball, effortlessly dropping the ball through a hoop nailed above a garage door. They didn't even look up as she pedalled past them.
As she cleared the gates and wheeled her bike across the grassy shoulder, Chloe gulped as cars and trucks thundered down the highway. There hadn't seemed to have been much traffic when Aunt Ella had driven her down the day before, but she supposed things seemed different once you were on your bike, rather than sitting in the passenger seat of your aunt's Jeep Grand Cherokee. Every few seconds, another car would zoom past, and she bit her lip.
"C'mon, Chloe," she tried giving herself a pep-talk. "You jaywalked in Metropolis all the time, and those cabs were insane. You can do this."
Waiting until there was only one car far off in the distance, she got on the bike and started pedalling as fast as she could on the narrow strip of asphalt between the lane of traffic and the shoulder. She flinched the first time a car passed her, but after a few minutes, felt confident enough that she would do just fine. Six miles wasn't that far. In an hour's time, she'd be in town. No big deal.
Half an hour later, Chloe pulled over and pulled out the printout, glancing up at the sign which declared she was entering Smallville, Creamed Corn Capital of the World, population 32,481. She felt like she'd been pedalling forever, and her leg muscles ached, even though Kansas was flat as a pancake and she could see a church steeple up ahead, beyond a curve in the road. The town couldn't be that far away.
She pulled her water bottle out of her backpack and drank a third of it, then cupped her hand and splashed some water on her face. It was a beautiful day. The sky above was deep blue, broken by only a few wispy white clouds, and the sun was beginning to beat down on her, despite the cool breeze that announced fall was on its way.
She looked up as a red pick-up truck slowed and pulled over to the shoulder beside her. The passenger door bore the logo "Nell's Bouquet" in a font that made Chloe think of ice-cream rather than flowers.
"You okay, honey?" called a woman from the driver's side. Her dark hair curled around her face, and she wore a smartly tailored jacket that seemed at odds with the quaint rustic look of the shiny red truck.
"I'm fine!" Chloe called out. "Just riding my bike to town."
"Do you want a lift?"
"Um..." Chloe flushed. "My dad kinda told me not to talk to strangers."
"Well, he's a smart dad. Does he know you're riding your bike all the way out here?"
"My niece is about your age, and if strange people in trucks were offering her rides, I'd be pretty worried too."
The woman slid over, and through the open window, offered Chloe her hand. "I'm Nell Potter," she said formally. Chloe took her hand and shook it.
"There. Now we're not strangers. Not anymore. Why don't we throw your bike in the back?"
Chloe grinned. "Okay."
"Your dad's Gabe Sullivan, isn't he?" Nell asked as she helped Chloe lift her bike into the bed of the truck, which was half-filled with bags of potting soil and stacks of plastic brown and green trays.
"You know him?"
"I sold him his house, and helped him find a decorator," she winked conspiratorially, and Chloe suddenly understood exactly why her bedroom looked like Barbie's dream house. Up close, she could see that beneath her make-up, Nell was closer to her dad's age than she'd realised. "I'd heard Lionel had sent someone from Metropolis out to manage the plant."
Chloe hopped up into the passenger side seat, and clicked the seat-belt across her shoulder.
"You know Mr Luthor?"
"We're business associates."
"He must buy a lot of flowers, huh."
She laughed. "Yes. But in addition to running the flower shop, I'm actually a real estate agent. I've sold Lio—Mr Luthor quite a bit of property over the years."
"My dad's at work, getting ready for tomorrow's inspection."
"Mr Luthor runs a tight ship. But I'm sure your dad will do just fine. So, how do you like Smallville thus far?"
"I haven't really seen much of it. It was late when I got in. I've only really been around Happy Valley."
"Sorry—Pleasant Meadows." She blushed as she realised she might have insulted her benefactor, since she had sold her dad the house. But Nell only laughed.
"Smallville is certainly changing, the more money LuthorCorp pours into it. All those folks who work at the plant have to live somewhere, right?"
Chloe suddenly realised that she was one of "those LuthorCorp people" and did her best to hide her scowl the rest of the drive into town.
Smallville proper was all Chloe feared it would be, and more. Nell let her off in front of the town's one lone theatre, the Talon, which was indeed showing The Phantom Menace. A few kids with skateboards hung out in front, lining up for matinee tickets. The whole town seemed to be festooned with red and gold banners, advertising a local high school homecoming game which would be held the following week-end.
The librarian on duty wasn't exactly what Chloe had pictured. Far from a blue-haired old biddy with pince-nez glasses, she appeared to be in her early twenties, and was wearing a faded Carpenter's tee-shirt. Chloe cleared her throat, and the librarian looked up from the copy of The Smallville Ledger she'd been reading.
"I'm looking for a copy of Farewell to Manzanar?"
"There should be a few on the spinner racks in fiction—oh wait, Farewell to Manzanar, you say?" She swung her monitor towards her, and tapped out a few commands on the computer keyboard.
"Yeah. I need it for English class."
She pushed a few more buttons on the keyboard and frowned. "I'm afraid you're not the only one. We only have about six copies, and they've all been checked out for weeks. Mrs Engals six grade class cleaned us out."
"Oh. Can you see if there are any available at another branch in town?"
"Sweetie, welcome to small town America. This is the only branch. But there's a bookstore—"
"—in the outlet mall, outside town. Yeah." Chloe's shoulders sagged.
"Sorry. Wish I could be more help."
"Any used bookstores in town?"
"Well, there's Dooley's, but he's closed on Sunday."
"That's all?" Chloe practically wailed.
"Afraid so," the girl said with a sympathetic shrug. "It's pretty quiet on Sundays here. Well, most Sundays. Next week-end should be hopping."
"Why? What's next week-end?"
Chloe started laughing at the idea of a whole town that invested in the local high school football team, and then stopped as she realised the librarian was serious.
"Well, Homecoming game, and the anniversary."
"Anniversary?" she parroted, confused.
"The tenth anniversary of the meteor shower."
"What meteor shower?'
"Wow. You really aren't from around here, are you?"
The girl hopped down from her chair, and Chloe followed her to the back of the room, where a row of microfiche machines sat at a counter.
"It took out half the town, and killed a bunch of people." She pulled up a copy of a special edition of the Ledger dated October 16, 1989. The banner headline read "Death Toll In Hundreds" and there was a small insert picture of the woman who had given Chloe a ride into town, holding a little girl in a hallowe'en costume in her lap. The caption read "Nell Potter and niece, Lana Lang."
Chloe read the accompanying article, which catalogued the devastation wrought by hundreds of meteorites—which normally would have burned up in the Earth's upper atmosphere—which had rained down "like glowing green death" upon the unsuspecting town. The prose was a little purple, but the picture painted was pretty grim. Nell's sister and her husband had been killed right in front of their little daughter's eyes, and they weren't the only family to suffer. Chloe began scanning ahead, the stories peppered with names of families which had been sundered. There was even a two-page article about Lionel Luthor's son Lex, who had been hospitalised after one of the strikes.
"Hey, we're getting ready to close," the librarian called from the front desk, and Chloe realised with a start that she'd spent almost the entire afternoon at the fiche machine. She'd have to get a move on, if she wanted to beat her dad home.
As she headed back up to the desk, the librarian waved a folded paper and handed it to her.
"Hey, I found this—the Ledger re-printed the 1989 special edition, you know, as a souvenir thing? We had a bunch of copies in the back."
"Thanks." Chloe grinned. "I'd better get going."
Crossing the highway had almost given Chloe a heart-attack, but she made it back to 107 Cedar just as the late afternoon sun was beginning to slip behind the row of houses, painting everything in sight a soft rosy pink. She had to admit, you didn't get sunsets quite like this in Metropolis, where what the buildings didn't block out, the smog did.
She dumped her bike in the driveway and ran up the stairs, nervously glancing at her watch. It was 6:41pm, but her dad's Volvo wasn't in the driveway, and the answering machine light wasn't blinking. She figured he was just caught up at work, and would probably be late.
Sweat poured down her face from her mad ride, and she had a stitch in her side from the last half-mile when she'd been sure any second her dad's car would pull up along side her, and she'd get reamed for disobeying.
She washed her hands and face in the bathroom, dropping her sweaty clothes in the new wicker hamper, and tugged on a fresh shirt and shorts. Satisfied that she'd managed to eradicate all external traces of the day's clandestine activities, she dumped the contents of her backpack onto her bed.
At the library, she's started off reading just about the devastation, pulling up articles from both the Ledger, the Planet, and the Granville Herald which were all stored on fiche. But as she'd scanned forward, more stories had caught her eye. They only appeared in the Ledger, and started cataloguing strange occurrences which the locals had chalked up to contaminants from the LuthorCorp plant. But Chloe's dad had told her that all those stories were a load of crap—no pun intended—and that it was just sour grapes on the part of a lot of the townsfolk who had been pushed off their farms, to make way for the plant as it expanded.
Buried in the back pages, Chloe had found at least three stories about the meteorites themselves, most of them from the early 1990s. Some bigwig from Metropolis named Hamilton had actually moved down to Smallville full-time to study them, and he and a few others were convinced that the radiation the space rocks emitted had some kind of strange effects. The tone of the news pieces was anything but serious—more along the lines of how UFO sightings and Star Trek conventions. Wacky human interest stuff, rather than hard-edged reporting. But Chloe jotted down the dates of the articles in her notebook, and circled Hamilton's name a few times so she wouldn't forget.
Grabbing a pair of scissors from her desk drawer, she carefully cut out the front page story from the re-print of the paper, and tacked it up in the middle of the corkboard hanging over her desk. Back home, that board had been covered with photos of her friends from school, her dad, her cousins, school reports, movie ticket stubs, and general clutter which was now in a shoebox in the top of her closet.
She stared up at the lone clipping dead centre, and decided that she may be in Hicksville, but there was definitely more to this town than met the eye.
She heard the front door open and close, and her dad called her name from the foyer.
"I'm up here," she called back, quickly dropping the rest of the paper and the printouts into the bottom drawer of her desk. Grabbing the cork board, she hauled it over to her closet and hid it behind a row of hanging blouses and skirts. She'd have to get a poster to hang over her desk, so her dad wouldn't be suspicious.
"Hey, kiddo," Gabe said from the doorway, and brandished a green and tan bag from Barnes and Noble. "I went out on my lunch."
In the bottom of the bag, along with a paperback copy of Farewell to Manzanar was a plastic-wrapped chocolate brownie.
"I'm sorry about this morning. I know you don't want to be behind your first day of class."
She threw her arms around him, and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. "No big deal. You came through in the end. That's what counts."
"That's my girl." He ruffled her hair affectionately. "So, how'd your day go? You weren't too bored, cooped up in the house all day, were you?"
"Nope." She shook her head. "Not bored at all."
ljc's smallville fan fiction