Lex didn't have to knock, but Martha thought it was sweet when he did, peeking through the screen door with a moon face and earnest eyes. Sometimes, when he came around like this, she expected him to ask if Clark could come out to play. A warm memory of Pete Ross, plastered against that same screen door, asking just that question, brought a smile to Martha's lips as she waved Lex inside.
Catching a glimpse of the general disarray of an ordinarily spotless kitchen, Lex lingered just inside the door. "Afternoon, Mrs. Kent. Hope I'm not intruding."
"Of course not, come in." Holding her hands aloft, soft white specks of flour drifting from her fingers, she nudged a plate toward him with her elbow. "Would you like a cookie?"
"I'd like a dozen, if you have them to spare, " he said, already reaching for his wallet.
Martha swallowed a sigh. He paid for everything: cookies, tulips, company. Such a smart boy, probably a good boy, who'd never learned that putting money between himself and the real world would always make him lonely. She'd seen his naked glances, wanting stares, as if he were trying to puzzle out how much it would take, down to quarters and dimes, to be liked. If only he'd forget he had a bank account, and offer himself instead, she thought, shaking her head. "I don't, actually. I'm sorry."
Pale blue eyes flickered for only a moment with disappointment, quickly replaced with his usual, charming distance. Lex reached for the plate, hesitating, to ask permission for something he'd already been offered. "Then if you don't mind..."
"Of course not." She turned back to her cutting board, slicing through nearly warm butter before scraping it into a bowl. "They're your favorite, aren't they?" She didn't have to ask, she knew all of Clark's friends' favorites. Peanut butter cookies for Pete, snickerdoodles for Chloe, chocolate chip for Lex. Since she already knew the answer, she didn't wait for him to respond. "You could learn to make them, Lex. It's not hard."
Breaking his cookie in half, Lex smiled at her, a quizzical bent to his brows. "Why would I learn to make cookies when I can usually just buy them?"
"Oh, I don't know," Martha said, her voice light, friendly. She wore an air of unassuming, just a sweet farmer's wife, who worked the land, and took care of her boys, like some kind of maternal ideal, but behind her eyes lay a secret world of complicated thoughts and observations. She'd been watching Lex since the day they'd met, weighing his intentions on an obscure, motherly scale. Jonathan only saw a rich, privileged threat with a spotted past; her husband was always fond of marking everything black or white.
But not Martha. Lex was plain to her, easy to read with literacy only mothers had, to look beyond brave smiles and see that little boys sometimes wanted to cry when they broke their favorite toy. That even if they wiped away kisses, they still secretly enjoyed the affection. Though he was grown, and playing at being man, Martha looked at Lex and saw a boy who pretended to be braver than he was, who needed approval so badly, he was willing to buy it. Well, not if she had anything to do with it. She picked the right words, ruthless but smiling through them, a language he would understand. "They might not always be for sale."
Lex understood, dragging his lower lip through his teeth to catch a smear of chocolate. "Are you foreseeing a break in the supply chain, Mrs. Kent?"
"I could be," she said, leaning back
against the counter to meet his smile with one of her own. "Summer is our busiest season, there's not much time for luxuries." Without looking back, she tugged open a drawer behind herself to pull an apron free. Offering it to him, she lifted her chin in challenge. If he wanted to take home a dozen cookies, he was going to make them himself.
Considering the apron, Lex hesitated again, then slid out of his jacket. Paler now, and looking younger by the moment, he followed Martha's conductor's fingers to loosen his tie and roll up his shirt sleeves. Dipping his head, he let her knight him with the apron, but stepped back to tie it himself, his clear milk face rippling with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. "How do I look?"
"Well, it's not Armani, but it'll do," she said, hustling him into the warm circle of the functional kitchen. There is a method to baking, little secrets that go unwritten on recipe cards; assumed knowledge, like butter needing to be room temperature before starting so it will cream, or that the exact texture of a cookie can be controlled by choosing shortening over butter, or butter over lard.
Making boys into men is no less arcane, but a much less exact art, though Martha is certain that listening, laughing and looking up to them, just a little, letting them believe that mothers need protecting, are essential ingredients. She isn't sure Lillian would agree with her; they knew each other once, passing acquaintances in college. A striking woman, Lex favors her, Martha thought, very orderly and precise. She always knew the right thing to say; she never lowered her expectations for anyone.
Immediately, Martha revised herself, watching Lex relax enough to laugh a little, trying to teach his hands to scrape batter back onto itself to blend it. If she couldn't look at him without feeling the need to tend him, certainly Lillian couldn't have. It was easy now, to imagine her stroking Lex's smooth head while he pretended to sleep- him, too old to openly enjoy being cosseted, her, too proper to do it in daylight.
She'd known Lionel a little better. Probably not a
Lionel his son would ever recognize, younger and
reckless, but very, very determined to be something
great. And in knowing him, Martha was
disappointed in him. The bitterness that lay heavy on Lex's tongue when he talked about his father, she'd heard that drifting down from the loft from time to time. Trying to force his son to be what he himself was still trying to become. That was no way to raise a child.
The Lionel she remembered was not an uncaring man. He bought flowers because he liked flowers, and he had a way of making everything fall away, intent attention that made a girl feel as though she was the only person who existed in his eyes. But always, he had his priorities, his philosophies, ways that things should be done, and would be done, to become something more. Something better. He was a lot like Jonathan in that, separated only by a degree of focus. Jonathan wanted to be part of the world; Lionel wanted to own it.
But that was a lifetime ago, when she was a Metropolis girl and not a farmer's wife. As Martha tipped the bowl slightly to help Lex scrape the sides clean, she wondered if he'd appreciate hearing the things she knew about him, about where he came from. Probably not what she knew about Lionel, though perhaps he'd enjoy the little details of a mother he'd lost far too soon. Maybe one day, she'd tell him. For the time being, she was content to wordlessly explain that company is something to be shared, that his company was worthwhile.
"This is the best part, you can't do this if you just buy cookies," Martha told him, holding up the sticky spatula after four neat rows of four had been tucked into the oven at just the right temperature. When he reached for a spoon, she caught his wrist with a gentle touch he scrutinized. Whatever had made him this skittish colt didn't matter, Martha didn't want to break him- just tame him a little.
Reassuring with a brush of her thumb, then letting go, she shook her head. "Not like that. Like this." Smoothing her finger along the soft plastic to gather a taste of cookie dough, she scraped it off with her teeth and nodded until he nodded along with her and tried it. From the faint glow of pleasure that accompanied his wry smile, Martha felt vindicated. He -was- a boy, and boys need secrets, and special rituals just for them. "Don't tell Clark I let you do that."
By the time Clark came home, the kitchen was clean, aprons put away, cookies cooled. Put away in favor of brilliant smiles, her boy and Lillian's went off to play whatever strange games they'd devised among themselves. She worried about them sometimes, that Lex was too fast and too curious, that Clark was too trusting and not gentle enough. They could hurt each other, so easily, but she couldn't interfere in that. All she could do was hope they'd learn to be good men, and good friends, together. She did have faith, in both of them, and in herself, because a mother knows things, and Martha knew Lex would never pay for cookies again.
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