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Author's note: Thanks to Hope and jenn for kickass betas (and teaching me to spell Yiddish).

Perpetual Slumber Party
by LJC

Lana lurked in the doorway of the Torch office for a moment, watching Chloe. The other girl peered at the screen of the grape iMac, frowning as she clicked and dragged seemingly at random. Her face lit up, however, when she caught sight of her visitor. Busted, Lana came the rest of the way into the office.

"Hey, Chloe—could I maybe use your computer?" Lana asked, still feeling vaguely fidgety. She had Internet access at home, but that was the very last place she wanted to be right now. She and Nell had had a massive blow-up over dinner the night before, and she hadn't really wanted to deal with her aunt peering over her shoulder while she investigated ways to get out of moving to Metropolis to live with her aunt's fiancé.

"Sure!" Chloe said with a shrug. "Always! Just don't read my e-mail."


Chloe waved away her unspoken question. "Long story. I'm working at Pete's desk anyway—his brother downloaded the latest version of PhotoShop off the 'net, and I'm still trying to figure it out."

"Thanks." Lana settled down in front of the computer and tried to think where to start.

She typed "child emancipation" into the web browser's search engine, and started paging through dozens of links. Some of them were dead and some of them weren't even vaguely what she needed. But she found a half-dozen with all sorts of legal mumbo-jumbo that she could almost decipher and translate into layman's English.

She leaned forward, chin in her hand, and sighed as she read through the most complete link she'd found thus far.

In order for a child to be considered emancipated, he or she must have the ability to be self-supporting without requiring further financial support from his or her parents. The ability to be self-supporting requires that the child is able to obtain full-time employment or enroll in college. If a child continues to reside in his or her parent's home and is still a full-time student in high school, even though he or she has reached age 18, the child is not considered able to secure full-time employment or enroll in college until after graduation.

"Great," Lana muttered, mentally doing backflips trying to figure out if twenty hours a week at the Talon counted as "self-supporting."

"'Facts on Child Emancipation,'" Chloe read over her shoulder, and Lana started. She hadn't even heard Chloe move, and looked up to see her standing behind her. "I have a feeling that this isn't for a research paper."

"I decided to tell Nell that I wasn't moving with her to Metropolis," Lana offered by way of explanation, staring glumly at the screen.

"Wow. That's very Erin Brockovich of you. How did Nell take it?" Chloe asked, concern in her voice.

Lana offered a tight smile. She could still hear Nell's voice—raised in near-fury over the half-eaten chicken of the night before—echoing in her head. "One, she's my legal guardian. Two, I'm a teenager. And three," Lana pushed away from the computer, "I don't have any say in the matter."

"That pretty much covers all your bases," Chloe said matter-of-factly as she leaned back against the desk.

Lana envied her her calm. It seemed like, the worse things got, the less she was able to keep handling it. Right now she felt like she was falling completely apart.

"So, are you going to pursue this emancipation thing?"

Lana shook her head. "From everything I've read, it can take up to a year and a half to complete the process."

"Sounds like you're already talking yourself out of it."

"It was my last shot," Lana said, her voice barely above a whisper as tears pricked her eyes. She'd stayed up half the night, wracking her brain, and emancipation had seemed like the perfect answer. But everything she'd learned just confirmed her worst fears—that Nell had every legal and parental right to drag her to Metropolis, no matter what Lana thought of it.

No matter who Lana was leaving behind. Her friends, her job, her only links to her parents—everything that mattered to her.

Chloe looked pensive, eyes darting between the computer screen and Lana, and Lana swore she could hear the gears and wheels turning inside her friend's head.

"You know..." Chloe began, a slow smile spreading across her face, "you might have one other option."

"What?" Lana asked, desperate.

"Move in with me and my dad."

Lana didn't know what to say at first. Still, she couldn't stop the thread of hope that swelled inside her at the idea of getting to Stay in Smallville.

"Chloe, I'm touched—but do you really think that could even happen?"

"Well, my dad's doing pretty good raising one teenage daughter on his own. What's one more? No, I'm serious. We've gotten plenty of room at my place, and you spend almost all your time at school or the Talon anyway. So it would really just be a place to bunk. You could help out with chores, and I'm sure Nell would send money for room and board. It'll be just like having an exchange student, except, you know. You'll be from here."

"Do you really think your dad would go for it?" She didn't know Chloe's dad well. She'd met him a few times times since they had moved to Smallville—at school functions, field trips, and the handful of times Lana had come to visit Chloe in the hospital last year. She'd seen more of him lately, when she'd gone over to Chloe's to study or for movie nights. Gabe Sullivan seemed like a great guy—Chloe talked about him as if he'd hung the moon. But she couldn't imagine imposing on him that way.

Chloe shrugged, her smile still blinding. "Only one way to find out."

"No." Gabe Sullivan was carved of stone. He would not be moved. Not by tears, not by shouts, not by pleading or bribery.

He was at the sink, up to his elbows in suds from the dinner dishes, and Chloe stood beside him with a dish towel slung over one shoulder, the plate she had been drying still clenched in both hands.

They'd been talking over dinner, and Chloe had mentioned in passing that Nell Potter's fiancé had accepted a job in Metropolis. He should have known what was coming.

Not much for town gossip, Gabe had only listened with half an ear, until in the middle of clearing the table, Chloe had sprung it on him. Her master plan, which she obviously had her heart set on. He should have known she was up to something when he'd come home to find the table laid and the meatloaf—made from scratch no less—in the oven.

"But Dad—" Chloe began, and he reached over to take the towel from her shoulder, and dried his hands.

Leaning against the counter, he crossed his arms in what he hoped was an imposing manner. He was going to stick this out, and he knew it would hurt, but his teenaged daughter would get over the hurt in time. And she would realise that what she was asking was insane.

"Chloe, I'm sorry that your friend is moving, but this is... Honey, it's crazy!" He had a hard enough time raising one teenager all by himself—but the idea of taking on another... Especially since he was working such long hours these days, he barely saw Chloe as it was. Tonight had been the first time they'd sat down to dinner like a family in weeks.

Chloe seemed undaunted, and mirrored his posture—arms folder over one another, chin lifted with a stubborn tilt—either consciously or unconsciously. He fully expected to hear gun-fighting music from a Spaghetti Western echoing through their kitchen any second.

"But Dad, Nell made this decision without even consulting Lana. It wasn't fair."

Gave sighed. "Honey, life is seldom fair. It's a hard lesson to learn—"

"But Lana has a life here," Chloe offered, her voice steady and calm—the same Sullivan level head and guts he would have used to offer an alternative pricing structure to Lex at the Plant. Calm, cool, collected. Definitely Daddy's little girl—looking for the angle that would sell him on this crazy scheme. "She's finally got the Talon up and running, and she's doing a great job there. Who would take over if she leaves?"

"First off, my guess is if anyone has gotten the Talon running, it's her aunt, who actually manages the coffee shop." Gabe tried to interject a little reality into whatever fantasy Chloe and her friends had regarding Lana's role in the theatre-turned-coffee house. "And as for who would take over, I'm sure Nell and Lex plan to hire a new manager and assistant manager before she moves to the city."

"You don't know that. We don't know anything for sure," Chloe pointed out, still strong, still resolute. "For all we know, Lex will shut the place down and build the parking garage he always dreamed of."

"Even if he does, that's really not any of our business, now is it?" He leaned down to slide the dishwasher door closed, and jab the button that would start the wash cycle. Chloe followed him into the living room, perching on the edge of the chair opposite him.

He tried to change the subject by switching on the nightly news—which, according to the clock on the VCR, was already half over.

"Lana's my friend," his daughter said as she took the remote from his hands and set it down on the glass coffee table. "I want to help her."

Gabe sighed. "And you're a good friend for trying so hard to help. But Nell is Lana's mother—"

"Nell's her aunt," Chloe corrected, her calm cool exterior starting to slip a little.

"Nell's Lana's adopted mother," he continued, not to be put off by semantics, "and it's not our place to get in the middle of family business."

Chloe opened her mouth to protest, and cheeks flushed, closed it again. Obviously he had hit a nerve.

"Do you remember when I told you that we were coming to Smallville?" he asked quietly, and she stared at her feet, shoulder slumped.


"Do you remember how angry and upset you were, that you were going to have to leave school and all the kids you'd known since kindergarten? And how you slammed doors and pitched fits, and threatened to join a commune?"

Her blonde head jerked up, and automatic denial on her lips. "Dad, that was—"

"Different?" he said, and held up a hand for silence. Her cheeks were still flushed, but her green eyes met his gaze unwaveringly. "I know it'll be hard for Lana, to start again someplace new. Someplace totally different from where she's spent her whole life. But look at you."

She blinked, biting her lip as she seemed to be processing what he was saying, and he continued.

"You came here, didn't know a soul, and now you've got friends like Clark and Pete and Lana. You've got the Torch—and don't tell me you think you could have wrested complete control of the high school paper away from some gung-ho senior at a big Metropolis public school. You've got a life here—one you were pretty upset to hear you might have to leave behind if the buy-out hadn't gone through."

"What are you trying to say?" she asked, eyes narrowed.

"That it'll all work out. You'll see," he said as he offered her a smile. "Lana will be just fine once they get settled in and she starts at a new school. I'm sure she'll make a life for herself there, just like you did. She'll meet new people, discover new interests, and she'll make new friends."

Chloe's resolve crumbled, and he suddenly got the feeling that somehow, he'd put his parental foot into the proverbial parental mouth.

"But I won't." Chloe's eyes filled with tears. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm a little short on friends my own age and gender. Pete and Clark haven't exactly been around as much as they were last year, and Lana's the first person in a really long time who has wanted to be my friend."

Gabe leaned forward, and took her hands in his, giving them a squeeze. "Sweetheart, Metropolis is only three hours away."

"Mom is only three hours away," Chloe said, pulling her hands from his to dash away the tears impatiently.

An uncomfortable silence descended, and Gabe fished for the handkerchief he knew was in one of his pants pockets. He handed it to Chloe, who took it reluctantly.

"If Lana moves to the city, then that's one more person in my life who'll be gone," she said softly as she wiped at her face with the square of white cotton. "Who will have left me behind."

He felt as if he'd just taken a sucker punch to the gut. "C'mere," he said, opened his arms. "Don't make that 'I'm 16 and too big for hugs' face. Come here."

She curled up next to him just like she used to when she was little and allowed him to drape an arm around her shoulder.

"At least we used to see her, a little, before we moved," Chloe finally said, her voice a little raspy. "I mean, we were in the same city. Ever since we moved to Smallville, I get a card on my birthday and at Christmas. Or a phone call, if I'm lucky. It's like she doesn't even have a daughter anymore. It's like I don't have a mom."

He lifted her chin and felt his own eyes watering a little when he saw the pure misery reflected in his daughter's face "I didn't know you felt this way," he said quietly, and she shrugged.

"I didn't want you to feel bad. You're like, the best dad ever. And the best single dad I know. I didn't want you to feel like you'd let me down."

He marvelled at how he lucked out at getting such a great kid for a daughter. At a time when most kids were testing parental authority with constant acts of rebellion, he had a daughter who was more concerned with his feelings of abandonment than her own. Sometimes he worried that Corrine's leaving had forced them both to grow up too fast. "But I did let you down," he admitted gently.

"Daddy—" she began, but he cut her off.

"Honey, now matter how great a father I am, a girl needs her mother sometimes. And I'm sorry that your mom and I just couldn't keep it together."

"I know. It's just—Clark says that I should never feel like I wasn't good enough to love. But I can't help it. If she'd loved me, then she wouldn't have gone away."

Gabe pulled her back into a hug and rested his chin on the top of her head. He felt the little sobs that got caught in her chest as she breathed unsteadily.

"I know it hurts, baby," he said as he stroked her back as she just let the tears fall. They soaked the front of his blue dress shirt. He didn't much care. He had a drawer full of shirts. There was only one Chloe.

"For your sake, I wish things had been different," he said as he pressed the handkerchief back into her hand.

She took a deep breath, as if she were pulling herself back together, and let it out as a sigh. "It's just that Lana is the only person I ever talk to about a lot of stuff that I can't really go to the guys about, you know?" She gave a little laugh, patting her chapped cheeks and wiping away one errant tear with the side of her pinkie. "I don't want to lose that, I guess."

"Am I one of the guys?" he asked, trying to coax a real smile out of her.

"You're, like, the head guy," she assured him. "In a good way."

"What do you say we hop in the car, head down to Dillon's, and pick up some ice-cream, huh? C'mon—my treat, any flavour you want."

"Who am I to turn down free ice-cream?" Chloe said with a smile that was about 65% of her usual wattage. She slipped her jacket on and held the door for him as he patted his coat pockets to make sure he still had the keys to the Volvo.

"What about just a trial basis?" she asked as she slid into the passenger seat, and reached behind to pull the shoulder belt forward.

"You're not gonna let this go, are you?" he asked, chuckling as he started the car.

"There are only two months left until the end of the semester. I mean, if it doesn't work out, then she could move over the Christmas break, and start up fresh in January."

There was a long pause as he pulled out of the driveway, and snaked around the curved roads that lead out of Pleasant Meadows.

"I'll think about it."

"Really?" she asked, her eyes lighting up.

So much for standing firm.


Nell stared at the mountain of boxes with something akin to despair. She could have had the movers do the packing, but she'd heard all the horror stories (many of them in the last week, when she told both her bridge group and the gardening club that she was making the move) about professional packers. People finding dirty soup bowls packed in with first edition novels, opening boxes of dishes to find every single one cracked. That sort of thing.

So Nell had vowed to pack up the house herself. However, while the books, cds, and handful of videos had been easy, she was discovering that the rest of the house was going to drive her mad. Every bookshelf seemed to hold far more knick-knacks and tchotchkes than she ever remembered, and she'd wrapped all of the framed photographs in newspaper and written fragile on every side of the boxes in which she'd gingerly placed them, but just having them there made her nervous.

And then there was the sorting. Fifteen year's worth of living in the same house had resulted in something akin to a giant garage sale. Goodwill and the Salvation Army had gotten four giant garbage bags each of clothes and old bedding, and boxes of mis-matched plates, cups, saucers and flatware, old and rusting pancake turners and whisks, and two olive-green blenders that she hadn't even realised she'd owned. She'd decided to get rid of the loveseat and sofa, so they were coming to cart those away Saturday afternoon. But that still left an entire house full of furniture that she and Dean needed to sit down and sort through. After all, the mortgage payment on the Potter farmhouse in Smallville wouldn't even cover a small one-bedroom in New Troy, where rents climbed higher every year.

She was still contemplating the relative merits of the entertainment centre when the doorbell rang. Distracted, she opened it, expecting UPS and instead finding a man in his late 40s, dark brown hair close-cropped and thinning slightly, wearing a business suit and overcoat and looking slightly apologetic.

"Gabe! What a surprise." For all that Chloe Sullivan had been a fixture around the house and the Talon lately, Nell saw Gabe rarely. The last time had been at the cocktail party Lex had thrown at the Talon for the official launch of LexCorp Fertiliser Plant #1 over two months earlier. "Forgive the mess—I'm afraid that packing is a bit more involved than I expected."

"Nell, do you have a few minutes? To talk?" he asked as she stepped aside and waved him inside.

"Dean's driving down, so we can discuss the move. But he won't be here for another hour." She cleared stacks of paperwork off the sofa so they would have a place to sit. "What's on your mind?"

"I'm going to be frank with you—I'm sure you know that Lana's upset about moving to Metropolis."

Nell's lips twitched into a sardonic smile as she thought about the previous night's dinner which had resulted in Lana leaving the table in a huff. The whole house had shook when the girl had slammed her bedroom door. "She hasn't exactly been keeping it a secret."

"Chloe and I were talking about it, and if you were willing—I mean, if it's okay with you, Lana could stay with us to finish out the semester." He shifted his weight nervously, obviously uncomfortable. "Sort of on a trial basis, just until Christmas," he added quickly.

Her mouth dropped open in shock, and it took her a second to close it. Her reaction only seemed to make Gabe more uncomfortable. She sat up a little straighter, felt the frown settle onto her face before she could stop it. "I... I don't know what to say. I know Lana and Chloe have become close—"

"To hear Chloe tell it, it's like Lana's her only friend in this world," Gabe said with a sigh, and Nell found herself nodding.

"To tell the truth, I'm awfully glad Lana and Chloe became friends. It's good for girls to hang out with girls their own age."

"Look, I'm not going to lie to you," Gabe said as he leaned forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. "Chloe and Lana will probably both make new friends if and when Lana moves. But it's awfully hard to be uprooted suddenly at that age and be expected to start over someplace strange and unfamiliar. We learned that the hard way when I was assigned to the Plant."

Nell swallowed, her frown sliding away to be replaced with an expression of uncertainty. She had been prepared for Lana to object—after all, she was 16, and no teenager is that fond of picking up and moving to a city where they have to start over. Nell had expected that, even if she'd been hoping—after all of Lana's talk the last two years about wanting to move to Metropolis someday—that Lana would have been thrilled rather than devastated.

But she had not been prepared for Gabe showing up on her doorstep, confirming her parental fears.

"I'm just saying that we'd be more than happy to take Lana in—for a few months, or until she graduates," Gabe continued, a little more confident now than when he began. "But only if that's okay with you."

"Okay, I'll admit I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around it at the moment." Nell got up and walked over to a stack of photographs sitting on the table next to three days worth of Daily Planets, waiting to be wrapped. She picked up the first off the stack, and traced the lines of ten year old Lana's smile as she brandished a blue ribbon from her first hunter-jumper show. "I finally felt like things were starting to be okay—the Talon's turning a profit at last, and Dean... Well, let's just say that I'd pretty much embraced my Old Maid status before I met Dean."

She chuckled, and set the photo back down on the newsprint. She leaned against the fireplace mantle, letting her eyes travel over the half-packed living room, super-imposing memories of the last thirty years over the clutter and mess.

She and Laura in their slinky dresses, getting their pictures taken in front of this very hearth for the their first Prom.

Lewis' first dinner with the Potters, when he'd formally asked their father for permission to date his youngest daughter.

The reception after Mama's funeral.

Lana's first birthday party, when she'd driven down from Metropolis in her roommate's car and almost didn't make it in time for cake and ice-cream when the Bug died on route 90.

Laura and Lewis's wake.

Her first dinner at home with Dean, and how they'd slow danced to the radio afterwards. Necked like teenagers on that very couch.

Last night's argument, when Lana had yelled that life wasn't fair, Nell didn't have the right to do this to her, and had fled to her bedroom crying.

"Sometimes life surprises you, with all the twists and turns," she said with a wry smile. "One day, I'm playing gracious aunt, looking after my wild-child sister's daughter, and the next thing you know, I'm all the family this baby girl has in the world."

"I don't mean to pry—"

Nell waved away his concern, and came back over to sit on the couch, sighing as she ran her hand through her hair. "It's all right. Sometimes it's nice to have another single parent to talk to."

Gabe flashed her a tentative smile. "Chloe was only five when Corrine left. She slept through our last big argument," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know how—I think we were shouting the place down. But by then, I guess she had gotten used to her mom and dad fighting. At least Lana doesn't have those kind of memories."

"Oh, believe me. Lewis and Laura had their share of shouting matches," Nell informed him with a chuckle. "But all that was over and done by the time Lana came around. So far as she knew, they were the perfect couple. The perfect parents."

"That must be hard for you."

Nell blinked at the empathy. She hadn't been expecting it, truth be told.

"Adopting her was the best thing I ever did," she said, and meant it, every word. "I love her like a daughter, but I don't know if she's ever much seen me as her mother. I think that's part of why she's so angry about this move—this town is all she has left of them."

She didn't need to say who "they" were. She sighed again, running her hands through her hair in a gesture of frustration. "I think she clings to that, and I had hoped that a fresh start, someplace without all the memories, might do her good."

"It still might," he pointed out, but she knew better.

"Lana has to let go of her own free will, or else all she'll ever do is resent me for tearing her away from them."

It was a truth she hadn't been allowing herself to face, but there it was. And even as she said it, she knew it. She sank back against the embroidered cushion, frowning.

"Nell, I'm sure that Lana doesn't resent you—" Gabe said quickly.

"Of course she does," Nell said with a chuckle. "Don't tell me that you don't remember being sixteen and angry at the world, particularly your parents?"

Gabe relaxed, and quirked an eyebrow. "I have a sixteen year old daughter, remember?"

"And she's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger," Nell observed.

"Well... yes," he admitted sheepishly. "And to tell the truth, I wouldn't have It any other way."

"So... if we're going to do this, how would it work?" Nell asked after a long moment.

"Well, the guest room is Lana's for the asking. It's not like we've ever actually had anyone stay there, aside from Pete and Clark on movie-night. Chloe's got the Ford now, so she can give Lana a lift to and from school."

Nell smoothed her hair behind her ears absently, as she mentally went over her finances. She nodded slowly. "I could send money each month for food, clothes, mad-money, that sort of thing. I would pay the feed and board bills at the stable, and Lana's cellphone."

"Chloe tried to sell me on the idea by saying it would be just like having an exchange student, except she'd be from Hickory Lane instead of Latvia." Gabe smiled at her warmly, and said with a conspiratorial wink, "Me, I think it's just an excuse for a perpetual slumber party."

Nell cleared away the coffee cups, and started running hot water into the sink, glancing at her watch. Gabe had just left, and depending on traffic, Dean should be arriving any moment and she wanted to at least get the kitchen pulled together before he arrived.

She looked up as she heard a key turn in the back door, and Lana pushed it open slowly, trying to keep the hinges from squeaking. She started when she caught sight of Nell at the table. Obviously, the girl had thought to avoid her aunt by sneaking in through the backdoor.

"Lana!" Nell said with a bright smile. "Excellent timing. Dean will be here any minute, and I thought we'd sit down as a family and discuss the move."

"If it's all the same," Lana said sullenly, "I think I'd rather not."

"Oh, I think you will." Nell pulled one of the kitchen chairs out and gestured for Lana to take a seat. "I know that you and Chloe have been talking about you moving in with her and Gabe."

Lana flushed as she draped her jacket over the back of the chair and took a seat meekly.

"He came by this evening to discuss it with me," Nell continued, and she felt her chest tighten at the sudden flash of hope in Lana's eyes.

"What... what did you say?" Lana asked, obviously wary.

"We talked about it..." Nell said slowly, and Lana leaned forward, hanging on her every word. She sighed, giving up. "And I said I'd give it a try."

Lana's mouth dropped open in shock, and her face lit with a wide grin.

"Don't get excited just yet, young lady. There are some provisos. If your grades slip, or you miss any shifts at the Talon—"

"They won't. I won't! I promise!"

"It's purely on a trial basis until the fall term ends—but if it works out. If. Then we'll see about making it work until you graduate."

"Nell, I can't thank you enough—" Lana threw her arms around Nell's neck. "Oh my God! Thank you!"

When had she lost this girl so completely? Nell wondered as she hugged her back, sudden tears springing to her eyes. Had she ever really had her to begin with?

"Are you really okay with this?" Lana asked as she pulled back and saw the tears in Nell's eyes. All traces of her joy were replaced with concern that appeared to be genuine. Nell took her hand from across the table and gave it a squeeze.

"To be perfectly honest? I'm not wild about you being over three hours away for the next two years. But I'm willing to give it a shot. I just want you to be happy, Lana. That's all I ever wanted."

Lana gave her a bright smile. "I have to call Chloe!"

"Get cleaned up and ready for dinner first—" Nell said sternly, wiping at her eyes quickly. "You have to help me break the news to Dean."

"Here you go," Clark said as he handed Chloe a box from the truck bed.

"Thank you very much!" she said with a grin, shifting her weight so that the box was balanced on her hip as she turned to Lana, who was coming down the porch steps with her dad. "Any more?

Lana glanced at the remainder of her belongings, sitting in the bed of the Kent's pickup. "You know, just a couple of more boxes."

Chloe grinned, and carried her box inside. Her dad followed, and set his own box down in the middle of the guest room floor—now Lana's room. The closet doors were open, all her clothes hung on the rack. Chloe put her box down on the bed and pushed it up against the wall.

"How're we doing?" he asked as he massaged the small of his back with one hand.

"Almost done," she assured him, and gave him a quick hug. She could feel his chuckle as well as hear it, her cheek pressed up against his windbreaker.

"Dad—if the situation had been reversed... I mean, if the buy-out hadn't gone through, and Lana and Nell had offered to let me stay with them and finish out High School here... Would you have let me go?" she asked, chewing on her bottom lip as she looked up at him.

"Honestly? No. Not for a second," he said as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head, his arm tightening around her shoulders before he let her of. "And not just because you're a teenager, and you have no say in the matter."


"Because you're my daughter, and I love you, and I can't imagine waking up every day and not seeing your smiling face across the table."

Chloe flashed him a grin, and then darted back outside. She slowed as she came down the steps and saw Clark and Lana were staring at each other. Obviously, she had interrupted a moment. Inwardly, she sighed—this would no doubt become a common occurrence now that Lana was living with her, and she would just have to steel herself for its like in the years to come. But even that couldn't rain on her parade today. She simply wouldn't let it.

"So that looks like it's everything," she said, pretending not to notice the sudden tension between two of her best friends. "If you need to get your truck back?"

"You know, I lucked out. My mom called and said she was gonna take off early and help finish up the chores. So, you wanna celebrate?"

"I wish I could, but I've got to get changed and take a shift at the Talon."

"Yeah, and I only have, like, a second to grab a bite before I need to run over to the Torch. Sorry!

Clark looked hurt. "Oh," he said as he slid a picnic basket full of bathroom stuff toward him. "Well, when you two are scheduled to take a breath, give me a call."

Chloe took the wicker picnic basket from his hands with an exaggerated flourish and a bright smile. "Will do!

"Thanks, Clark," she heard Lana say behind her as the bent down to pick up a box, the basket perched precariously on top.

"Yeah." Clark seemed subdued.

"Bye!" Chloe flashed him another smile as she picked up box and basket, and Lana, final box in hand, joined her.

"This is gonna be so great!" Chloe couldn't help but grin as they trooped up the steps side by side. Behind her, she heard Clark slam the hatch a little harder than was probably necessary. Chloe almost looked back to see if he was okay.

Instead, she gave Lana a bright smile.

"Just like a slumber party," Lana laughed as she held open the door for her.

"Exactly," Chloe said, and she heard Clark's truck pull away, the sound of the engine fading away as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her using her foot, and shutting it firmly with her hip. "Just like a slumber party."


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