The Crying Stopped
The noon sun was high up in the sky. It was a bright day when Lex arrived in Smallville. His long self-enforced exile dimmed nothing of the simple beauty of a country road. Main Street remained the same, with its flowershop, two coffee shops and general stores. He parked his car in front of the coffee shop and looked around him. He had starved for this out of place town in the years he stayed away.
The best way to return to his girl's good graces was with a cup of coffee. Smallville had not changed and, surprisingly, she was still in Smallville. Lex ambled towards the Talon, long signed over to Lana Lang. He could probably get a free cup of coffee. After all, he'd sold the place to her for a third of its price.
The moment he walked in, a priceless silence fell over the patrons. He was still well-known, even after the four years he was absent. He was glad about it. If strangers remembered him, surely she would not erase him from her mind like a high school fling. Lex strode towards the counter where Lana held dishrag aloft, her mouth agape at the sight of a returning ghost.
"Lana, hello," he greeted. "It's been a long time."
The pretty young woman's eyes narrowed. She placed the dishtowel down and whispered furiously, "What are you doing back here?"
"What happened to courtesy?"
"How dare you show up here just like this," came a male voice from the back. Both Lana and Lex turned to see Pete Ross standing at the doorway to the back, his arms akimbo and a challenging glare fixed at Lex. "After just running out and--"
"Pete!" Lana stopped him. She walked over to the man and placed a soothing hand on his chest. Lex saw that Lana whispered to Pete. "Please."
"Could anyone please enlighten me to the reason I'm being treated so poorly in a town I helped build?"
Lana shook her head and smiled at Lex. She sought to pacify her husband again, then returned to the counter. "Espresso?" she asked.
Lex blinked at the change of topic, then nodded. Whatever was going on, he needed to be wide awake for the revelation.
"Sorry Lex. It's just... you ran away so suddenly. Nobody expected you to just show up like this." Lana placed the espresso shot on the counter.
Lex took the small mug and downed the coffee in one gulp. "My reason is private."
Lex stiffened in self defense when Pete stalked over to the counter and threw his arm over his wife's shoulders. "What, Lex? That there were men after you, so good that even your security detail couldn't protect you? Is that your secret? Or is it that your father was actually killed by these men from your past, and even when he asked for FBI escorts, it didn't work?"
Lex quickly covered the shock that flickered in his eyes. The only way Pete could know was if those people came back. It was impossible. He covered his tracks well, and left Smallville so that they could not trace him there.
"So what brings you back?" Lana asked with false cheer, completely veering the conversation away from the opening that Pete presented.
Lex smiled slightly, remembering all the times when Lana had inappropriately came home and discovered what she likely never wanted to see. "You can't guess that?"
Lana remembered that look in Lex's eyes--that soft tenderness that spoke of feelings no one ever thought Lex would have. Her heart would have melted then, and she would have told him so many things. The newest customer of the Talon changed her mind. By simply toddling in, three-year-old Eric Maloney took the words from Lana's mouth. Instead she advised her former business partner, "Go back to wherever you came from. It' the best you can do right now."
Confused by the many changes in her attitude, Lex shook his head and tossed a crisp bill on the counter. It was obvious nothing would be coming free from that household. He was about to step out when a copy of the Ledger caught his eye. He picked it up and immediately turned to the editorial box. He looked back at Lana and Pete, who stood at the counter tense.
"Seems like I got the answer I needed from this place anyway," he threw back with an insolent grin.
"Lex," Lana called, "wait!" She jogged out to see him getting into his car.
"You're all done with me, remember?" Lex responded. He turned on the engine.
"Please just leave her alone," she pleaded.
"I've done that for too long and it was the biggest mistake I've done in my life," he answered. "It's time I came to correct that, don't you think?"
He floored the gas and sped away from the Talon, ignoring Lana's cries for him to stop, to go back to he Talon and listen to everything her husband had to tell him. Lex was done with the arrogance with which Pete told him that his decision years ago was only for the worst.
When you had sacrificed the most precious part of yourself, you never wanted to hear anyone say it was for nothing. The blame game he would play when he faced her, not with some jock or cheerleader who knew nothing of what really happened.
He saw the Ledger building from afar, and slowed down. The Smallville Ledger, testament to the desperate years Chloe had spent since he left. This office was never part of her plan. In fact, during his years of hiding and planning, Lex had figured that she was in Metropolis or London, working for the biggest news agencies in the world. A small name on Smallville newsprint paper spoke volumes of what happened to her after his abrupt departure.
For all his brazen uncontrolled actions of the hour before in the Talon, Lex proceeded into the Ledger's small offices with silence and subtlety. He slipped easily in, and stopped at the doorway. He needed several minutes to take in the picture she presented. Nothing had changed, he decided. Chloe, lit by the glow of the monitor screen, intently typed her reports on the events around her. She told so many about the world. Lex knew he had to pick up copies of the newspapers she had worked on. Perhaps there was an item or two that told the readers what happened to her.
She picked up her coffee mug and took a sip. Lex waited for her to look up and acknowledge his presence. She used to always be able to do that. She could smell him from a mile ago, she had used to tease him.
Several minutes passed and still she did not look up. He began to suspect that she truly did not know he was there. What had happened to the intimate connection they celebrated.
Just as he was about to call her attention, the phone on her desk rang. Instead of picking up the handset, Chloe merely hit the speakerphone button and continued working.
"Lois tells me you canceled on her again." Lex recognized the voice as Clark's.
Her sigh was audible when she confirmed. "I have tons of work to do. You know I'm shorthanded."
"For the life of me," Clark responded, "I cannot understand why you stay in that crappy newspaper. We both know you have more talent in this than me and Lois combined."
That made her pause. Her eyes shifted from the screen to the phone. "And still I do not have half the diploma that either one of you has."
She never went to college? Lex puzzled at the information.
"It wasn't your fault. You were--"
"Incapacitated?" Chloe supplied. "I suppose I was. That's no excuse. I'm happy I was accepted here."
There was a feminine voice in the background, then Clark came back on the line. "Lois wants you to know that she is resetting your meeting to tomorrow. If you don't come, the two of us will be on your ass faster that you can say 'scoop.'"
That brought the first smile to Chloe's lips. "Tell her it's a deal." The silence on the line told Chloe that her cousin was finally satisfied. "Now why did you really call?"
"I was checking up on you."
"Spare me the bullshit," Chloe said sharply. Lex focused on her face. There was a harshness in the lines that was not present before.
"All right." Clark drew a deep breath. "He's back, Chloe."
A staggered pause from her work. "What do you mean?"
"Lex is back where the world can see. He was last seen heading back to Smallville."
Chloe hit the button to hang up, then shut down her computer. The glow from the monitor died, leaving the room lit only by one light--the one above the doorway. It illuminated Lex, the block to her exit.
"Why is it such a surprise, Chloe?" Lex asked the woman who stood at the center of the room, clutching her folders to her chest. "Why do you look terrified?"
Chloe composed herself enough to say, "There's nothing left to talk about, Lex."
He shook his head and walked towards her. He took her face in his hands and gazed into liquid eyes. "What's going on?" he asked softly. "Why does the town seem to hate me?"
"That's not new."
"No," he agreed. "It's not. But back then the hatred was cold and uncomfortable. I was the son of a hated man. Now the judgment in these people's eyes are searing, like I had done something to personally hurt each one of them. My question is why? I left a long time ago."
"Why are you asking questions that you're only going to end up answering yourself?"
"What, Chloe?" he demanded. "This town is driving me nuts! I came back to fulfill my promise to you."
She rubbed her forehead to ease out the tension. Then, she brushed past him, sending shivers down his spine. "Leave Smallville, Lex. Trust me. You don't want to know what happened here."
Lex followed her departure with his eyes as he wondered at her words.
He had been clear on their last night. The blood feud was stronger than him. Men who had held a grudge against his father had sworn to take him down. They wanted vengeance, and they wanted to wipe out the clan. Lex's father had been the first. Then they were after Lex. After two of his best security men were shot in the head on duty, Lex knew there was no way to stop these people. He had to get out, shake them off his tail. There was no way he would lead them straight to the town he had begun to love, to the young woman he had only started to care for.
It was not a difficult decision to tell her to stop seeing him.
"I'm not going to stop loving you just because you told me to!" had been her argument.
It was sound, because it was the same way he felt.
"These people will kill you if they found out we were together," he had told her.
He decided to leave that night. When everyone was asleep, he kissed her goodbye and slipped the blanket over her body. Then he vanished from Smallville as if he never existed.
"I'm coming back for you," he had written on a piece of paper that he placed in her hand.
It was as simple as that, but Smallville it seemed, had once more judged too harshly. He gave her the first few minutes to drive ahead of him, then resolutely went back to his car to follow her. He did not go back to Smallville so that every narrow-minded person could shoot him down. Chloe was going to listen to him whether she wanted to or not.
He outlined his points in his mind. When Lex next faced Chloe, he had to know his material before bolted.
He rang the doorbell to Chloe's house. Lex was surprised when the door swung open to reveal an exhausted Chloe. She did not even check who was on the other side anymore. He had to remind her, when things were better, about the rules of safety. He refused to believe thqt it could just be that she didn't care.
"I know we didn't part at the best of terms," he began.
Chloe cut him off with, "We didn't part at all. You told me you would be leaving and I told you not to. Wait--I pleaded with you not to. You left me while I was sleeping." Her voice was cool, collected. Lex felt that he should be looking for the Chloe he knew, who wore her heart on her sleeve.
Without needing to ask for her permission, Lex stepped into Chloe's house.
"Let's settle things between us," she suggested. "It's time we both completely moved on."
"That's what I wanted to hear."
"I want you out of my life," she continued with the calm that struck terror in Lex's heart. Her voice fell, and she said, "I need a drink."
The simple statement raised his hope, because despite the cool exterior she presented, Chloe was still affected by their conversation. He followed Chloe to the small kitchen and waited as she took some water from the refrigerator and gulped it down.
"You've given me too many bad memories," she admitted. "I want it all to end now."
He could not, would not believe what she was saying then. There was no time during their relationship that they fought. Their connection was still blossoming before it was cut off.
A small black and white print on the refrigerator door caught his eye. He frowned and walked over towards it and plucked it off, scattering the two carrot magnets on the floor. His heart stopped in the illusioned recognition old women claimed existed. He turned to Chloe and asked, almost afraid, "Is this mine?"
She snatched away the ultrasound picture taken years ago. "It's mine."
His jaw tightened as a thought occurred to him. "Did you give it up for adoption?" he asked. "Is that why you never went to college? You had my baby?"
Chloe turned away from Lex.
He froze at her non-response. Suddenly he was choking on righteous anger. They were clear on her face, the emotions of losing someone and bearing incredible guilt that you are alive. "You had an abortion."
"Get out," she commanded, her voice low and solid. "Bastard."
"I left to protect you," he gritted. "How could you do it?" Lex turned to tbe precious picture she had posted years ago. "I'm keeping this," he claimed. Chloe did not protest when he slipped the photo inside his jacket. He strode out of the kitchen. Chloe winced when the door slammed on his way out.
The only place he could think of going then was the Kent Farm. Lex knocked on the kitchen door late that night.
"Lex! It's good to see you," Martha greeted. At once he sighed in relief, because there was at least this one person in the whole community that he could count on never to turn him away.
He thanked the older woman when she ushered him into her home.
"What brings you back, Lex?"
"Someone who doesn't want me back apparently," he answered bitterly.
"Chloe turned you away?"
Lex glanced up in surprise. When last he knew, her relationship with Chloe had been a secret. Maybe she had turned to Martha in her terror when she found out he left her pregnant.
"You can't blame the poor girl," Martha continued. "The entire experience," she shuddered. "I don't know how I could have survived if I were in her shoes."
"It was hard." Lex gave her that. "But I didn't even know I was having a kid. Now I find out it's dead." What would it have been, had it lived, he wondered. He took out the ultrasound shot from his jacket and held it by the edges. It was so well-preserved after so long. How, he wondered, could Chloe live with this posted on her refrigerator door, a constant reminder of something thrown away?
Martha placed a cup of hot coffee in front of Lex. "May I?"
Lex handed her the ultrasound photo. "That's the only thing I have."
"Oh Lex!" Martha exclaimed sympathetically. "I can give you some more." Lex watched in confusion as Martha rose and walked towards her cabinet. She drew a small photo album and turned to the first picture. "He was such a sweet little boy." She pushed the album towards Lex.
His heart stopped. Numb fingers reached for the album. A grizzled newborn slept in Chloe's arms. Chloe looked tired but radiant as she held the baby aloft. He turned to the next pages, and saw the baby's progress over the months. The kid was bald, but it was obvious with the pink fuzzy glow of his hea. He would have had red hair. It was a pleasant surprise.
"Chloe used to dress him up in pinks and oranges. It drove Jonathan mad when she would drop the baby off for us to babysit him, and the baby would be dressed in pansy outfits, he called them." Martha chuckled at the memory.
When finally his throat relaxed enough for him to swallow, Lex turned to Martha. "Where is he?" he rasped.
"But..." she flustered, "you said you knew, Lex."
"He's gone?" he said, disbelieving. "I just--" Lex held up the album. "I thought she aborted it."
Martha gasped. "No! She adored that little boy. She turned down a college scholarship to have him here at home."
His hands fisted. His face was no longer a mask. Clearly traced in the furrow of his brows and the moisture in his eyes were the frustration and confusion that blanketed him then. "Where is he?"
Martha laid her hand on Lex's back. "I think you should go back to Chloe and find out."
Lex stumbled out of Kent Farm and collapsed into his car. He sat in the driver's seat for two full hours, unwilling to move and face the next moment. His day began so bright and full of hope, because he was to return to Smallville to the love he left behind, to pick up where they had left off without the threat of yesterday hanging over their heads. Now the sun had set and he was in the dark.
He did not want to know anymore.
He came to Smallville to take her back. Calling the determination and courage he knew resided deep inside himself, Lex drove back slowly towards Chloe's house.
Lex stopped at the front door and turned the knob. The door easily swung open. He walked in the dark, silent house. Lex went first to the empty living room, then to the kitchen, looking for Chloe. He looked up at the stairs. Lex quickly locked the front door, then ascended the stairs.
He stopped outside a room and opened the door. It was Chloe's bedroom, and it was empty. He turned to the next door and opened it.
It was devoid of furniture, but contained the answer. Chloe sat on the floor against the far wall, her head resting on the arms crossed over her folded knees. She looked up when the door opened.
"This was the nursery. Mr Kent helped paint the walls."
Lex took in the faded rainbow design.
"They came looking for you. It was when he was a year and a half old. They came. The said they knew me. They asked where you were."
Lex closed his eyes. It was not supposed to happen this way. The rest he could fill in. He had his answer. She didn't stop.
"We were out. They got him from me and took him to one room. I was stuck in another, and they kept asking me."
He recognized the tremor in her voice. Events long kept buried. This was the first time she would speak about it again.
"I didn't know," she murmured. "I didn't know where you were. I told them, they had to bring my baby back to me, because I could hear him."
He was transported in that empty room. Chloe sat blindfolded on a wooden chair as those vile enemies his father had created prodded her for information she could not give.
She continued her story, and she told it with such calmness that it seemed so distant from her experiences. "They would hurt him if I didn't speak. I told them I didn't know. They didn't believe me. My baby was crying so hard in the other room. I would have done anything. They said I had to tell them something. I gave them all the cities in the world you could be."
She looked up at him. Dead eyes. Not his Chloe's. They were the dead eyes of a dead mother. Her gaze did not stray from his when she answered, "The crying stopped, Lex."
Her eyes closed, and a single tear dropped from each. When she opened her eyes, they appeared clear and lucid. "Tell me now we can go back to where we were before," she said.
Lex shook his head. "I can't do that."
Chloe looked away from him. Her gaze rested on the rainbow and the butterflies painted on the wall. "I'm going to need someone to paint over that soon."
Lex understood what she meant. After all the years of waiting, she had not touched the walls. "Answer me one last question, Chloe, and then I'll paint over that wall for you." She turned to him and waited. "What was his name?"
"James," she said simply.
At the answer, Lex walked over to her and extended his hand to help her up. He leaned down to whisper into her ear, "I had them all killed one by one. I wish I did it with my own hands. They're all dead, Chloe." Lex straightened.
A small, cold smile graced her lips. "Paint it yellow, Lex."