by Rontgen Katze
He rose early, made his toilet and donned the clothing laid out the previous evening. Today was too important and Lionel never failed to observe its tradition. He selected the most exquisite lily from the cut crystal vase and stared intently into the mirror, adjusting his boutonniere to perfection. From the bedside table drawer he withdrew a photograph album. A bittersweet smile softened his features as he gently thumbed through the worn pages. Impulsively, Lionel removed a treasured snapshot and carefully secured it deep inside the pocket of his jacket. Replacing the album, he was now ready to face the day.
Staring blindly out the pickup window, Martha felt sure she had forgotten something terribly important, while Jonathan rambled endlessly about crop friendly pesticides that had been reviewed earlier on AG Day. Glancing at her watch, Martha wondered why today's date amplified her internal alarm.
She turned to smile vacantly at her husband. "I'm sorry, Jon-Boy. My mind was a million miles away."
Jonathan grinned at the use of his pet name. "It's alright, baby doll, just reminding you that I will be late, tonight." His smile faltered before asking, "Do you think Lex would mind driving you home?"
Lex wavered between two shirts, one a delicate shade of lavender. This was her day, so her favorite color should cast the deciding the vote. Sage green, almost gray in the right light, the shirt enhanced the slight bloom in his cheeks and complimented his blue eyes. Adding charcoal dress slacks and a suit jacket to complete the ensemble, Lex hoped she would approve. He seriously considered the gold crucifix she had given him for his confirmation but changed his mind. Before leaving the room, he blew a kiss to her framed photograph, and wished his mother a wonderful day.
Draining his third cup of coffee, Lionel slid a hand in his pocket to caress the photograph. He suppressed the sigh welling up in his chest, while lifting the telephone to his ear. Total immersion was the only countermeasure to quash sentimentality. He would not allow something as insignificant as his deceased wife's birthday to hinder his work.
The Magnificent Bastard foreclosed on seven mortgages, bought out three corporations and blackmailed a shady Cabinet member to sway a vote in LuthorCorp's favor. Before lunch. He slipped the picture from his coat and whispered, "Happy Birthday, my beloved Lillian."
One PDA, two cell phones and three bottles of water balanced precariously atop his notebook computer, as Lex relocated to the garden. The sun glinting on fragrant rose petals and a gentle breeze were too much temptation for him to remain cooped up in the library, since Lionel had shamelessly appropriated his office space.
Realizing an extended period outside required sunglasses and sunscreen, Lex decided to bring along his Discman and some of the CDs that he and Clark had burned the weekend before. Rushing back up to his room, Lex wondered if Lionel was having a good day, too.
Rather than wait for the servants, Martha carried Lionel's luncheon tray to the kitchen. His foul mood made Martha welcome any opportunity to leave his presence. She nearly collided with Lex as he dashed toward the stairs. "Oh, watch out, Lex!"
If Lex were a cartoon character, his shoes would have screeched across the marble floor. "Fuh...Jeez...are you okay, Mrs. Kent?" He reached out to steady Martha.
She drew a shaky breath and scolded, "I'm fine but no more running in the house!"
Lex blushed furiously, "Yes, ma'am. Please tell Dad I hope he's enjoying Mom's birthday, Mrs. Kent."
"What was all the commotion about," Lionel snapped as Martha entered the office.
Hiding a smile, Martha replied, "Not much. I just ran into Lex in the hallway...literally. No harm done, though, thanks for asking."
Lionel scowled, "Sarcasm doesn't become you, Martha." He swiveled his chair, turning his back to her. "I have business to conduct, so if you don't mind, please keep the hilarity to a minimum."
Martha finally lost the battle she had been waging with her temper, "Oh, before I forget...Lex wants to make sure you're enjoying Lillian's birthday," and stormed from the room.
Sorting through an enormous stack of CDs, Lex smiled at his mother's picture. "It's a gorgeous day, Mom. Your roses are in full bloom and there's not a cloud in the sky. There is a nice gentle breeze, too." He made his selections and started toward the door, "Hey, do you like the shirt?" Lex felt vaguely silly talking to a photograph but somehow he knew his mother was listening, even if she wasn't answering.
He closed the door and walked back toward the stairwell, much slower this time, still a bit embarrassed over the near collision with Mrs. Kent.
Martha stepped out onto the veranda and lit a cigarette. She knew how much Jonathan disapproved of the habit, and she really had quit. Almost. She only smoked when something upset her. Like Lionel had upset her with his snide comments and nasty attitude. Drawing the harsh smoke into her lungs, Martha willed her body to relax. She had only one cigarette and she was damn well going to enjoy it before making atonement for her outburst.
Finally, she stubbed out the butt, popped a mint into her mouth, and headed back inside to find Lionel and apologize.
Lionel clenched the photograph tightly, hearing Martha's tread echo on the stairs.
She sighed and dropped to the step above her employer, grimacing at the chill emanating from the stones. She brushed her chin against Lionel's shoulder, reaching for the picture. "Lillian was so beautiful. Lex favors her."
Lionel nodded curtly and slipped the photo from Martha's fingers, placing it deliberately into his jacket pocket, "Yes, he certainly does. For the longest time I couldn't bear to look at him."
Lex paused silently at the top of the stairs, hoping to hear more but Lionel simply stood and walked away.
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