By the end of the first day, Lana had memorized the words of the speech. She drove Whitney and Nell insane, spontaneously reciting parts of it, quoting lines from it in response to every question they asked her.
By the end of the second day, she had memorized the cadence of the speech. She knew that her mother always hit the word "never" extra hard, and that her rhythm when she said, "The best thing about Smallville will be the way it looks out my rearview mirror," sounded just like the blues.
By the end of the third day, she had memorized audience's reaction to the speech. She could point to the exact moment the students got over their shock and started cheering; she could tell you that her mother's loudest, longest, wildest ovation came when exhorted her classmates to, "Teach your children to rebel! Teach your parents to rebel! Teach yourselves to rebel!" They had clapped for two full minutes.
In three short days Lana knew all of this, yet she continued to listen to the tape, again and again and again. She left half an hour early for everywhere she had to be and took the longest possible route so she could hear the speech in the car. She hauled a tinny old cassette player from the back of her closet so she could hear it in the kitchen while she helped Nell make dinner. It played in a constant loop beside her bed while she did her homework.
Whitney had taken as much as he could stand. "You know that tape by heart. You know it backwards. Why do you keep listening to it?"
Lana looked at him helplessly. "I don't know," she told him.
But she did know. She kept listening to the tape because of Chloe.
Chloe had done this for her. Without a single thought to what she could get out of it in return, Chloe had put herself in considerable jeopardy for Lana. And no one had ever done that for Lana before.
Lana didn't want to demean the countless times Clark had saved her life, but she was beginning to suspect that Clark was untouchable, that he himself had never been at risk any of the times he had been around to rescue her from Smallville's freak du jour. Chloe, though -- Chloe had nothing to protect her. If word got out that Chloe was using her access to the Torch archives to get Lana goods of questionable morality, Principal Kwan would fire her as editor again -- and Lana knew only too well that the paper was Chloe's life.
Lana had thanked Chloe. And thanked her again. And again. By now Chloe probably thought Lana wasn't quite all there, but the repetition of the words wasn't enough, in Lana's mind. So she started helping Chloe whenever she could. She'd all but taken over distribution of the Torch and offered tutoring that Chloe didn't need -- whatever Lana could do for Chloe, she did.
But she started to worry that, like an arsonist returning to the scene of the blaze, her new-found devotion to Chloe would make someone suspicious, and that the truth about the tape would come out. Why did she have to be a fucking danger to everyone she cared about?
And she did care about Chloe. Not just because of the tape. There was a certain something Chloe had that Lana did not, a certain independence, a certain lack of doomed-storybook-princess ambience. Lana watched Chloe walk down the halls with Clark and Pete, watched her race 'round the Torch office. Lana watched Chloe's eyes, her hands, her hips. And she thought she'd like Chloe to teach her the certain something, whatever it was.
The tape Lana kept listening to was not the original -- that is, not the one Chloe gave her, which she figured wasn't the original, either. The one from Chloe she had listened to just once, and it was now locked in the bottom drawer of her bedside table, with her diary. The day after Chloe gave her the tape, she took it to the heads of the AV club and asked them to make her some copies -- and not to mention it to anyone. Of course they agreed, because she was Lana Lang, and if she couldn't bend a couple of AV geeks around her finger, she might as well hang up her crown.
On about day six, Whitney came over after football practice, pumped up on adrenaline and more than usually horny. He sat next to Lana on the bed and scootched up super-close.
"Not now, Whitney." She tried to say it patiently.
He ran a rough hand up her thigh. "Come on, baby."
She gently moved his hand from her leg. "I have to finish this paper by Monday."
"You've got all weekend to work on it." This time the hand cupped her breast.
Lana slapped it away, thinking of softer, smaller hands. "Cut it out, Whitney."
The tape was playing. "It's that damned tape, isn't it?" he demanded. "You've been bitchy ever since Chloe gave you this damned tape."
"Leave Chloe out of this!"
Not the tape. Not her mother.
Whitney's eyes set as cold as stone. "Fucking dyke," he hissed. He pried open the cassette deck, yanked out the tape, and jerked out the ribbon in one long, vicious motion. He threw it into Lana's lap. "Enjoy your fucking tape and your little girlfriend."
Lana did not speak. Murderously calm, she took the cassette in hand and stood, never looking at Whitney. She dropped the ruined tape into her purse. "Don't be here when I get back." She neither knew nor cared if he she had several more copies stashed around. All she cared was that understand that, of all the times she had broken up with him, this was the one that was going to stick.
Before the front door had time to close behind her, Lana knew where she was going.
Like an arsonist back to the blaze.
It was nearly eleven on a school night, but she knew Chloe would be at the Torch office. For the first time in a week, Lana drove straight to school -- even took a shortcut. And as she drove, rage prickled behind her eyes, built just beneath her skin. But it wasn't directed at Whitney.
She was mad at Chloe. What had Chloe done to her? What had she become in these hours and days, listening to her mother's voice time and again but always thinking of Chloe? She wanted her life back.
Lana stormed into the Torch office and waved the wrecked cassette in Chloe's startled face. "This is what's become of my life. I'm trapped in this goddamned cassette, and in you for giving it to me. Can you give me my life back?"
Over the shock of having a lump of stringy plastic waved in her face, Chloe didn't seem surprised to see Lana there. She stood and took one step more than appropriate into Lana's space. Lana's heart raced as she stared down into Chloe's wide eyes and flushed face. "Can you?" she whispered.
Chloe's hand caressed Lana's cheek, slipped into Lana's dark hair. "No," she said softly. "But I can give you the life you want."
As Chloe's lips met Lana's, soft and warm and so very real, Lana let the tape drop into the trash can. She had plenty of other copies. Besides, she didn't think she'd need it quite so much now.