small town girls




Both Hands
by L.C.

One of Lana's sweaters is stuffed in the bottom drawer of Chloe's desk. Not her desk at home--that would be acceptable; maybe sort of cheesy and people might get the idea that Chloe takes it out and sniffs it at night or something movie-of-the-week like that, but really, if your girlfriend leaves a sweater at your house, that's no big deal. Almost expected.

But the sweater is folded, in that loosely neat way that people fold when they're in a hurry, into the oversized "file" drawer at the bottom of her desk at school, in the Torch office. This is her real desk anyway. She sometimes thinks she ought to set up a cot in the corner, next to the big black filing cabinets nearly buried in magnets and ACLU clippings about censorship in school newspapers. Chloe's never had a problem with upsetting the administration over what she prints, but that's probably because no one who doesn't know her personally has read an issue of the Torch in the last ten years. Of course that's part of what she likes about the job--she has freedom most school paper editors can only dream of, while licking their faculty-supervised little lips. She can sit at her computer doing layouts and writing impassioned editorials until night falls, and later if she wants, and no one interferes. Chloe has yet to pull an all-nighter for the Torch but she knows it's only a matter of time. Other students occasionally get it into their heads to play reporter, and she has a few jock groupies doing sports writeups for her, but basically the paper is her affair. Her life, to an extent that's probably pathetic. And now it includes Lana's sweater.

Pink, of course. While Chloe has personally verified that the other girl's closet does, indeed, contain other colors, they are few and far between. She teases Lana about it sometimes, telling her she feels like she's going out with Strawberry Shortcake. Chloe had a very eighties childhood.

This particular sweater is a more subdued pink, more peach to the shade than bubblegum. It's a woolen cable knit. Chloe remembers how the cables and ribs felt stretched loosely over Lana's slender back and tiny waist, as if they'd arisen out of her skin. Chloe remembers the way the sweater felt sliding against her naked back one morning, because Lana had gotten cold in the middle of the night and instead of getting a second blanket out of the linen closet like a normal person she had just put her sweater back on. It was too much, of course, and when they woke in the morning, curled around each other, the wool was itchy and damp with sweat. That was two weeks before the sweater found its way into Chloe's desk. Five weeks after the first time they kissed and almost three months since the whole thing began, since Chloe walked into the Torch room one morning and found Lana sitting in her computer chair, one ankle wrapped around the chair stem and the other foot idly pushing against the floor, making her spin slowly. Lana's posture was noticeable because it wasn't prim or nervous or anything Chloe would have expected of her. She didn't exactly lay back and kick her feet up on top of the desk but she looked. Proper. Like a peg in its hole, a key in the right lock.

"Lana!" Chloe said. She stood in place and let the door swing shut behind her.

"Hi." Lana smiled at her, one of those small smiles that seemed as reflexive as blinking for her.

"Um. What are you doing here?" Chloe said. "I mean--not to be rude or anything, but. This isn't exactly your hangout."

"I know." She stood up and walked a few steps away from the desk. Chloe subtly relaxed, then felt bad for it.

"Don't you usually spend lunch with--"

"The cheerleaders. I know."

"Well I was going to say the football team, but."

"Yeah." Lana shrugged. "I just...needed some time away, I guess. Things have been going on." She paused, and Chloe thought she was looking for words and waited curiously while Lana looked somewhere to the right of her shoes. Then she lifted her head again and said, "You don't mind that I'm here, do you? I mean, if you have work to do or something, I can get out."

"Well, I didn't exactly expect it, but I guess, as a denizen of Smallville High, you have a right to audit the proceedings at your representative paper..."

Lana's eyebrows crept up her head. Chloe thought she might be overdoing the snark. "I'm kidding. You can stick around if you want. I just have some drafts to go over with the big red pencil of doom before typing them up. Not exactly thrilling work, I'll warn you." With a thud her backpack hit the floor, right in front of the extra-deep desk drawer she never used. It was a handy spot--she could grab a notebook or a sheaf of articles and barely even tense her muscles. As Chloe sat down in the chair Lana moved forward to look over her shoulder. The other girl's breath just barely whispered through her hair.

About a minute and a half passed in silence after that. Chloe wielded the big red pencil of doom with the appropriate ferocity, scratching violent circles and arrows next to sentences she found dull or insipid or fawning. She usually found a lot of the latter in the sports articles. The slender hand descending upon the article made her jump just a little bit. Behind her, Lana chuckled lightly.

"Sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to startle you. It's just--" She stopped then. Chloe turned around to look at her. Lana hesitated with her mouth slightly open, her eyes indecisive. "I shouldn't," she said.

"Shouldn't what?"

"I just thought I saw something. But, it's your paper. You know what you're doing."

Chloe thought, out of anyone else--anyone else--that would be an underhanded insult. But Lana looked honestly uncomfortable, like she really thought she'd stepped out of line. The sight plucked some absurdly maternal string within Chloe and she smiled warmly at the other girl.

"No, it's okay, you can--I mean, I hear you're really good in English, so I'm sure you know what you're talking about." Chloe couldn't quite believe the words even as she heard them stream effortlessly from her mouth. This was the Torch, for crying out loud. Her pride and joy, her baby, her--hers. And she was offering it up for freelance editing from Lana Lang. But the bright smile--a real one, this time, a considered and deliberate blossom--brushed away her doubts. Lana moved a bit to her left and leaned with one hand on the desk, the other roaming over the bleeding printout, perfectly manicured fingernails moving from one phrase to the next. Lana suggested alterations, tightening, word substitutions. Chloe trailed her finger with the big red pencil of doom, dutifully noting the improvements.

That was the sum total of what Chloe now thinks of, quietly and to herself, as the first time. The first time they crossed paths and left more than confused gratitude or itching irritation in their wakes. Even when Chloe had spent three hours at the library digging through microfiches for the '77 graduation address, she told herself it was just a favor for Lana, because of the way the other girl had taken a quick deep breath before mentioning her mother and really, how could she not feel sorry for someone after that? But that day--it was a Thursday, Chloe remembers because she had a free period after lunch and so she'd brought an extra Pepsi to drink while she worked on the articles. She offered it to Lana but the dark-haired girl turned it down. Apparently Lana didn't drink caffeine. Chloe just shrugged and popped it open and pretended not to notice Lana's occasional sips, thinking to herself, that's so like her, and not meaning it to be condescending or malicious or anything but...well...friendly. Chloe keeps that day to herself as the anniversary of when they started being more than two girls in some vague competition for the attention of a boy neither of them really wanted but both of them hated to lose. The way Chloe knows this is because that was the day she started thinking of "Lana" instead of "Lana Lang;" of the girl she style-checked editorials with at lunch instead of the girl who thought herself too good to be a cheerleader.

The girl whose mocha-pink sweater is now staring up at Chloe from the file drawer she never opens. She only opened it today because her new art book arrived and the oversized shelf on the pathetically tiny bookshelf is crammed beyond full. The drawer is the only receptacle in the room both wide and long enough to accomodate the book, except. It's taken. By Lana's sweater. The cable knit gazes at her like an unblinking eye. Chloe remembers folding it and stuffing it into the drawer, trying not to rip any threads on the sharp metal edges. Lana had left for class and Chloe had biology, which meant cat dissection, which meant skip.

The sweater lay crumpled on the floor in the little alcove created by the junction of the desk, table, and filing cabinets. During one of the afterschool editing-sessions-slash-dates, Lana and Chloe had discovered that if they sat down on the floor the furniture surrounded them like a fortress, rendering them invisible to any passersby who happened to stick their heads in the door. The little corner was one of the few relatively private enclaves in the entire building, so it was only natural that discarded clothing sometimes ended up there. Lana forgot her sweater, that was all, and when Chloe noticed it almost half an hour later she thought she had better put it somewhere safe. Somewhere out of sight, because, well, Clark probably had Lana's entire wardrobe memorized and Chloe just didn't feel like fielding questions when she wasn't allowed to give the right answers. She and Lana have never talked about the closet but Chloe knows that Lana, at least, is further back in there than Narnia. And if she's being honest with herself--a rare state of affairs, but sometimes drastic measures become necessary--Chloe isn't exactly Miss Gay Pride USA herself. She's not even gay, not really. She just likes Lana. A lot. More than she's ever liked a boy, scathing editorials about the dating pool aside. More than she's ever liked anyone. Chloe realizes she might have some significant self-examination to do when she and Lana break up--and they will, she knows this, if only with the advent of college--but the analysis can wait. The rainbow bumper stickers and the pink triangle pins can also wait, because for all the weirdness of Smallville it is still an Old-Fashioned Small Town in regards to queers, and Chloe gets enough alienation with her current identity.

She does wonder, sometimes, what people would say. If she took Clark and Pete out for coffee and between sips of mochacino mentioned casually that she's sleeping with Lana and. Well, Pete would swallow whatever he was drinking and look at her and ask how the hell that happened, and glance over at Clark, and look back at Chloe and she'd bite her lip the way she does too much. Clark would probably choke on his coffee and kill himself, if he didn't kill her. Well, he wouldn't kill her, really. That's not like him. He'd look at her with his eyes wide and his lips just slightly parted and say "Oh." Or maybe he'd flare up angry and storm out, but the currents would settle like silt into self-loathing just as fast, and either way Chloe would find herself carrying an extra load of guilt. There has to be guilt in this--this. Because no matter how stupid he looks doing it Clark does love Lana, or at least adore her very intensely, and he's been smiling stupidly across the hallways way longer than Chloe, and despite all the teasing she knows she and Pete would both team up to squish into a million pieces any girl who deliberately hurt him. Except now she's that girl.

So she folded the sweater clumsily, because she can't really fold clothes. When she's packing her duffel bag for one of the family trips up to Michigan, where the other half of the Sullivan clan lives, she folds her shirts into fourths, first tucking the sleeves in to get a nice rectangle. Her mother sometimes watches her and Chloe can almost taste the conniptions she's holding back.

Her mother folds shirts into lovely, neat thirds, and when she unfolds them the wrinkles sort of fall away into her body's natural curves. Chloe just wears the wrinkles. There are probably wrinkles in Lana's sweater, if sweaters wrinkle. Somehow the material doesn't look like it would hold a crease. Before she really notices what she's doing Chloe pulls the sweater out of the drawer and lets it tumble open in her hands. No wrinkles. It's only been there about a week after all. The cloth is fuzzy in her hands; she can almost feel it pilling. Lana likes fuzzy things: sweaters, stuffed animals, the midnight blue velour throw blanket on her bed. One time, Chloe showed up at Lana's wearing her trenchcoat with the faux lambswool on the lapel, and Lana greeted her at the door with a brilliant smile and led Chloe in and then leaned down to rub her face against the wool. Chloe had been so startled she just stood there as Lana rubbed her like a cat.

Only for a moment, of course, before she stood up and tinged pink at the edges--as close to a full-blown blush as Lana got--and murmured, "It just looked so soft." Chloe laughed and brushed her lips against Lana's and they walked towards the kitchen with their fingers wound together.

That night Lana wore stretch velour. Chloe amused herself dragging her fingers across Lana's stomach, first with the fiber of the cloth, then against it, over and over, marveling at the change in texture. Lana watched her little semi-autistic playtime with a patient smile for about ten minutes before she put one index finger under Chloe's chin, lifted her face up, and asked, "Can I kiss you now?"

The velour hit the floor soon after that and Chloe lost herself in more intriguing textures. Lana looks very smooth, and most of her is. She waxes her legs, a concept that makes Chloe cringe and wish she were wearing long pants, but Lana keeps telling her it really doesn't hurt that much. Chloe does have to admit she likes the results; the thin almond limbs are smooth and cling slightly to her hands when she strokes them. Chloe's learned that she loves the way skin feels, the way she can sense the heat just beneath the surface, the way it seems to rise up to meet her even when Lana is holding absolutely still.

It's not all smoothness. Lana has rough, dry, elbows; she rubs something called "bag balm" on them out of a green square tin. Chloe actually likes the way the skin feels there. Sometimes she kisses the little patches of wrinkled skin, rubbing her lips over it because she feels things best with her lips. Not often, because it embarrasses Lana a little, but the rasp and scrape is exciting because it feels so real. Lana is dreamlike, she's the sort of girl that a sculptor would create and breathe life into and keep as a concubine, to paraphrase a fable Chloe's always hated. Lana is perfect and Chloe touches her and holds her and sometimes she thinks, How can this be happening? How can I find someone and fall in love with her and not have anything break? How can someone like this even exist? Somehow if Lana has scratchy elbows, if Chloe can touch her somewhere that makes her frown and tighten up, that makes it okay.

Okay for Chloe to lie down on Lana's bed, and notice awkwardly how white her bare skin looks against the burgundy flannel sheets, and then not care at all how she looks when Lana carefully nestles her own body against Chloe's and leans her head back so the strands of her hair brush Chloe's throat.

Lana likes Chloe to touch her. Chloe can't quite believe that yet, not even when she skims her hand down Lana's almost-concave belly and cups her small breasts, one by one, and the heart beating against her chest speeds up and Lana purrs her name like fine wine.

That sound, her name filtered through those lips, will stay with her all day long. Lana stretches out the "o" sound for an extra half second. Chloe's insane to notice this stuff. She supposes that's just what you do when you're in love. Not that she'd know anyway. Lana is her first--everything. First relationship that lasted longer than the length of a movie and pizza. First lover. First girl to leave her clothes in Chloe's keeping.

Standing in the middle of the room with the sort-of-pink sweater in her arms, Chloe remembers for no reason at all the way Lana's lipstick tastes: almost like eating crayons or candles, a thick waxy flavor-scent that teeters between pleasant and ick.

The art book fills barely a fifth of the drawer's depth, leaving plenty of room for the sweater, so Chloe straightens the edges and lays it back down. The metal drawer rings for a few seconds after she kicks it shut. After her last class she comes back to the office and is not at all surprised to find Lana perched on the edge of the desk, her feet just barely brushing the floor as she swings her legs.

"Hey," Chloe says.

Lana smiles at her. "Hey."

Chloe shrugs off her backpack. One of her textbooks has been poking her right below her shoulderblade the entire walk here, and she's pretty sure she has a bruise. Her hand creeps back to rub it and she winces when she finds the spot. It hurts to touch but the pain is compelling in the way that the little wounds always are.

"Hey, before I forget," she says, "you left something here a while ago. It's in the bottom drawer."