Lex jogged to his house with his last reserve of energy. He was exhausted. Since his father was still spoon-feeding him projects at work, and his first meeting hadn't been until 11:00 that morning, he had figured he'd skip the chopper - he hadn't driven into Metropolis in a while and it was a nice ride. But, his enthusiasm for the idea faded about an hour into the ride home. Ever since, he had been consumed with two thoughts: a brandy nightcap and his plush bed. Now, it was 1 AM. He ducked into one of the back entrances, hoping he would go undetected. He turned the key and crept in. Travis was standing there. Lex sighed.
"Mr. Luthor, you need anything before you retire?"
"No, Travis. Thank you."
"You have a package."
"Can it wait until morning?" Lex asked, already making his way towards the staircase.
"I'm not sure. It was hand-addressed to...Alex Joseph?"
Lex paused a beat before continuing. "Where is it?"
"In your study."
"Thanks," Lex said. Moments later, he was staring at the proverbial brown paper package tied up with string. It was squarish, and about the size of a three-ring notebook. There was no addressee, but the return address was from Detroit. The handwriting was familiar. Lex untied it and pulled away the paper. There was a note on top. Lex began to read -
"Put your clothes back on," she said. Then, she flipped her knapsack over her shoulder and onto the floor, and began rifling through it. Lex had imagined the ending to this scene a million times since yesterday, and it had never ended like that.
"Are you joking?" he asked, sincerely. Dionne glanced up with a grin.
"No...I'm not," and returned her attention to her bag. Lex was embarrassed...but intrigued. He broke his seductive pose, leapt off the bed and headed to his closet.
"You know, the ancients thought representation of the human body was the noblest art," he mused, while debating between his slightly frayed khaki shorts and his couture sandblasted jeans.
"But," she countered, "the conveyance of the human spirit is what makes art sing."
"You'll never be a famous fashion photographer with that philosophy. Models can be some of the most vacuous people on the planet."
"I don't want to be a fashion photographer," she chuckled.
"You don't?" Lex asked, perplexed. Then what are we doing?
"No...photographic journalist...remember?" It did sound familiar. Lex couldn't remember why he had transported her talents to the runways of Milan. Maybe it was because she was so beautiful.
Lex had been standing in line at the cashier's office, checking on his accounts. He already knew everything had been paid - his life had an automatic quality to it. But, today was the deadline for deferred payment, and he wanted to be seen amongst the hysteria. He glanced up and noticed that in front of him in line was an arresting woman. She was tall and had a neck like a swan. Her limbs were svelte and graceful, and even though she was anxious, she had a poise that entranced Lex in an instant. She also was wearing a headscarf with a fedora above it cocked to the side.
Lex's mother had told him when he was little that women who wore hats were either hiding behind them, or bold and confident. Lex figured this girl was the latter.
"...But I checked my balance a week ago and they said my final payment was $236.00. They can't just tack on $50 whenever they feel like it." Lex heard her say. The student worker at the window wouldn't budge, probably didn't have the authority to. Lex pulled a fifty from his wallet and handed it to the girl.
"I think you dropped this," he said, handing it to her. It was then that Lex noticed her face. Her complexion was brown and even, and though she wasn't wearing any make-up, she radiated. Her lips were full and glossy. And her eyes - they were an intoxicating mahogany, and had a piercing focus, even defiance. She looked at him with a reluctant hesitation, but he reassured her with a head nod. Finally, she took the bill and handed it to the guy at the window. The guy seemed oblivious, rung her up, and shouted for the next in line.
Lex inquired of his own balance, learned it was zero, and walked towards the door. When he got outside, she was standing there.
"So what do you want?" she asked. Lex was taken aback. "Chivalry is dead. I know you want something."
"You would be amazed at what some guys will do for a few moments in beautiful eyes," Lex said. The girl was silent for several moments, then erupted into laughter.
"You're not gonna win any pick-up awards with that one," she said. Lex was undaunted.
"But could I win your company at the Erykah Badu concert in Coral Park this Saturday?" She looked like the Erykah Badu type.
"Nah." she said, rather abruptly. Lex stood awkwardly, wishing he had said Outcast. Everybody likes Outcast. "Now, if you had said Radiohead..." she said finally. Lex was thrilled. It showed. "I'll pick you up if you pay," she added.
"You're on," he replied, "Luthor Wing, Room 316." Here it came.
"Luthor Wing? You must know somebody." she said.
"You could say that." He changed the subject, "So, what's your name?"
"Dionne Jackson. And yours?"
"Alex...Alex Joseph," he added for good measure.
Three weeks later, Lex was in the buff, wearing only a look of frustration, albeit willingly.
"Here, wear this, Alex," she said, throwing him the most hideous ensemble that had ever been put in a sentence with his own name.
"I'm allergic to polyester," he lied.
"I got these from the thrift store, it's your costume."
"Costume?" Lex asked.
"Money, age and access restrict the number of situations I can phtograph. Sooo, I have to create them. This is where you come in. Now put it on." This day was becoming less enticing by the second. Dionne caught his disappointment. "OK, OK. No costume. But don't look so...so preppy." Lex looked down. He was raised on preppy. He didn't know any other way.
They arrived at the gas station. "This'll only take a second," he said, hopping from his Range Rover and heading to the pump. He swiped his card, and waited. The screen suddenly went blank. "What the - "
The intercom sprang to life, "Customer 14, that pump has been acting up all day. Please pull up to a different pump or pay inside." Lex opened his wallet to reveal one lone twenty. He headed to the mini-mart, threw in a couple breakfast burritos, and paid.
"Sorry that took so long, I had to go inside," he said when he got back in the truck. "Wanna burrito?"
"I haven't eaten since lunch yesterday, thanks," she said and took one. "Who's the red-head?" Lex looked around. "In your wallet."
"My mom." Lex explained.
She took a bite from her burrito. "And your dad?"
"Um...He's not as beautiful," Lex quipped. Dionne laughed.
"No, dummy, I mean do you have a picture of him?" she asked. Lex shook his head. She nodded.
They pulled off into the sea of cars scrambling to various lunch spots. At Dionne's insistence, they parked somewhere on Cadmus Ave. Her next scene was going to be a despondent drifter sitting on a bench, which wouldn't be hard for Lex after a half-hour of navigating through midday traffic.
"Ok, remind me again why we parked five blocks from where you want to take the picture?" he asked, opening Dionne's car door.
"Because," Dionne explained, "sometimes pictures appear where you least expect them and I want to leave myself open to them."
"As you say," Lex said, matching her brisk pace as they headed down the street. She walked with an open-eyed determination. Several moments went by in silence.
"You got any siblings, Alex?" Dionne asked. Lex was about to mention Julian, but didn't have the energy.
"Nope - you?"
"I had a twin. She died this past summer in a car accident with her babydaddy." Dionne said. Lex didn't know how to interpret her tone.
"Don't be. It's not your fault," she said. "She always wanted to come to Metropolis. She loved urban life - pedestrians, buses, tall buildings, all of it. On beautiful days like this one I think of her, and smile." Lex admired the candid, but jovial, way she could talk about it. But, he couldn't relate. He wished he could.
"You must have been close," he said. She didn't answer.
"Sooooo, what do you wanna be when you grow up," she asked suddenly.
"I'm already grown-up," Lex said with a mock juvenility. Dionne laughed.
"Well, when you finish college then." Lex sighed.
"Well, I want to go into international business, maybe do some research."
"Which explains the atypical chemistry and economics double major."
"Yeah," he replied. He thought about it a second. He might as well tell her, she was the first person he had really talked to in a while. He leaned over and whispered it in her ear.
"President!" she yelled in an amused disbelief.
"Um...blurting it out kind of defeated the point of me whispering it in your ear."
"I know, I just, well...I've never heard anyone actually say that. Or at least seriously."
"Someone's got to want it." he answered. Dionne just nodded. Then squealed. She jogged up ahead and stood bright-eyed into the store-window.
"This is my favorite store - Sepia Sadie. And that is the camera I want." She pointed to the one on a pedestal. "It's a Nikon digital SLR, loaded with features. The lenses can interchange with the 35mm I already have. It's like having the best of both worlds." Lex just whistled.
"$14,000? You think you'll get it?"
"One day," she said, rather wistfully. "You mind if we stop in here for a sec?"
"Sure," he said, as they stepped in. "Why don't you go look around, I have a question I wanna ask." Dionne shrugged, but was distracted in seconds. Lex strolled over to the counter.
"I want the Nikon in the window."
"I'm sorry," the man said, "which one?"
"I don't know, the digital SLR, or something like that." The man gave Lex a look that said "That camera is not a toy." Lex ignored it. "Can I have it sent to an address?"
"You can have anything you like...you do realize it's fourteen grand," the man clarified. "You sure you don't want to take a look at it first?"
"Just ring me up," Lex demanded. He pulled out his platinum Visa card from Chase Manhattan Bank of Metropolis. The man perked up. He looked at the card, and back up at Lex with a look of realization.
"Mr. Luthor...I thought I recognized you."
"Can we make this quick? I'm getting this for a friend, and, uh, she's browsing as we speak." The man nodded and swiped the card. Moments passed.
"I'm afraid it was denied." the man said. Lex was irritated.
"Swipe it again," he insisted. Dionne approached at that moment.
"Find something?" she asked.
"Some film," Lex said, hurriedly. The man, to Lex's horror, squatted beneath the counter for several moments, emerged with the camera in question, and placed it on the counter. Lex squinted. Dionne gasped.
"Alex, are you trying to buy me that camera?" She was mortified.
"Look, it's nothing" Lex said.
"The man handed Lex the card again. "I'm sorry, it's not going through."
"My card has never not gone through before," Lex's voice was rising.
"Why are you doing this?" Dionne whispered.
"You said you wanted it." Lex answered.
"I appreciate the gesture, but I don't want you bottoming out some account to get this for me. I can live without it." Dionne pleaded.
"No, I can cover it"
"Sir, I can put in on hold for you for 48 hours," the man offered. Lex was angry.
"Or you could hold your breath for two days. Your choice," he yelled. He then turned and marched out of the store, killing a display case and pushing over a magazine rack on his way out. Dionne jogged behind him.
"What was that about?" Dionne asked, more than a little peeved.
"I have to find an ATM machine." Lex kept marching onward, walking in circles until he spotted one. He raced across the street, barely missing a car, with Dionne in hot pursuit. He pulled out his ATM card and stuck it in.
"3-6-4-2," he mumbled to himself as he punched in the numbers. A message flashed on the screen.
"This card has been confiscated for security purposes. For more information please call 1-800-935-9935 or visit us online at www.chase.com/."
Lex stared at the screen in paralyzing disbelief. Dionne walked up closer.
"Did it work?...Alex?"
"I get it now," he said with frightening calm.
"You get what?"
"It's my father."
"What do you mean?"
"He's behind this. That lying bastard froze my accounts."
"Ok, now you're just paranoid," Dionne said. Lex turned to her, wide-eyed and simmering.
"This is exactly the kind of twisted, surreal mind game his gets kicks off of." Dionne saw the hatred in his eye.
"You have got to calm down," Dionne urged, "how do you even know if your father did this?" Lex laughed eerily.
"You don't know my father."
"No, I don't, but you probably just ran out of money. Maybe...maybe it's a mistake at the bank. Hello, we're college students it happens."
Lex pulled out his cell phone and took a couple paces forward. "Dad!" he yelled a few moments later.
"Hello, son. You have..." he paused, no doubt looking at a clock, "you're on borrowed time, I have a meeting that's seconds away."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm just the pesky little college kid asking for some cash. I would have written it in a letter, but I don't have money for a stamp."
"Budgeting issues...common to youth these days."
"Kind of like narcissistic issues, common to pompous, self-important, megalomaniacs."
"That sounds accusatory, Lex. Say what you mean."
"I'm locked out of every one of my accounts." He was yelling at this point.
"Have you called the bank?"
"You know full well the bank has nothing to do with this."
"I know full well that you don't need me, as you made so painfully clear this Friday past when I so graciously settled one of your civil suits...again. I believe the charge was vandalism? Hmm?" Lex gritted his teeth. "At any rate, I'm confident you can manage until all of this is settled. You'll figure it out, son."
"I love your little life lessons, Dad," Lex spat, "but your timing is off. I have a - " he looked at Dionne and lowered his voice, "a friend with me."
"Tsk, tsk, tsk, how unfortunate," Lionel mocked. "Now if there's nothing else Lex, I have a business to run."
Lex hit end. The thing he hated most about mobile phones was the fact that you couldn't slam the receiver down.
"What did he say?" Dionne asked.
"I'm a bastard, hate me." Lex deadpanned. Dionne looked incredulous. "I could kill that man."
Dionne took Lex's arm. "Now hold on, Alex - you're tired and hungry. Let's go back to the car, go grab something to eat, and we can finish taking the pictures after that. Then, you can go talk to your dad when you've calmed down. I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation. Maybe he can help you when he gets off of work." She started after the car, and Lex mechanically followed behind her.
When they got there, three blocks later, Lex hit the car remote. He didn't hear the click. He punched in the car code. Nothing happened. This cannot be happening he thought to himself. He took a deep breath and tried it again.
"Alex," Dionne called from the passenger side, "my door isn't opening, can you get it?" Lex could feel the veins in his forehead bulging. "Alex?"
"He's locked me out." Lex stared at the gigantic heap of metal and glass with an entranced disdain. He felt a tap on the shoulder.
"Let's go get something to eat." Dionne said, placing a hand on his arm. Lex snapped.
"You're not getting it, Dionne - I don't even have enough cash to buy a Metropolis Burger. I spent my last twenty at the pump."
"I have money. Look..." she reached in her purse. "I have $36. That's plenty for us to have a perfectly fine day. We can catch the bus to the deli..." with that Lex stormed off. She chased after him, catching him and spun him around, "Look Alex,...You're not gonna take this out on me. Now this day - "
"You keep talking about this fictitious day we're having." Lex yelled. "Screw this day. It's over." Dionne's face tightened with resolve.
"I don't know what kind of charmed life you've lived up to this point, but if I threw a tantrum and shut-down every time I was broke for 24 hours, I'd of slit my wrists a long time ago." Lex said nothing, "Now I know you're pissed, but, you can either walk home and sulk, or you can make the most of it, and come with me." she turned around and left.
Lex watched as she walked away. He didn't have a plan, so, he followed her.
A few minutes passed, a bus arrived, and they got on. Lex put his hood on, and pulled the strings tight. Today was the last day he wanted immortalized in the Inquisitor. After a while, he took a look around. It was surprising at how painless this actually was. There were a couple derelicts, but over all, the experience reminded him of the one time he had gone to Wal-Mart - incredibly normal. He suddenly found himself in a fit of hysteria he could barely control.
"What's your problem?" Dionne asked, still a little steamed.
"I've never done this before," he answered.
"And you've lived in Metropolis your whole life?" He nodded. "Must've been one of those kids whose parents chauffeured them around as a teenager."
If she only knew.
Lex and Dionne tumbled into his room, exhausted.
"God, I'm beat!" Lex said, dropping her knapsack, before falling to the couch. She followed suit on the love seat.
They'd spent the afternoon in places Lex hadn't been to since he was a child. Metropolis had become a series of clubs, arenas, and a university to him. It was nice to visit some of its more scenic haunts. To see it through the eyes of Dionne had made it a new place entirely. The afternoon hadn't been a complete disaster after all. Lex could even call it memorable.
"You wanna stay for dinner? There's gotta be something here we can we can whip up," he offered.
"You can cook?" Dionne asked, doubtfully.
"I was hoping you could," Lex said. She shook her head. They just stared at each other.
"I had a good time, Alex," she said finally, "after I spanked you and gave you a nap." Lex laughed.
"Maybe we can do something tomorrow," Lex offered.
"When's your last final?" Dionne asked.
Lex looked at the clock, "26 minutes ago," he answered. Dionne pushed herself up.
"You missed it? You should have told me."
"I never intended to go."
"So what are you gonna do?" Dionne asked. She must be studious or something.
"I'll figure something out," Lex said lazily. "When's your last final?"
"I don't have anymore. I turn in my portfolio at 9:30 sharp tomorrow morning and then my semester is over." She pumped her fist in the air.
"Then maybe we can go grab breakfast, or..." he stopped.
"Or what?" Dionne asked through closed eyes.
"Or just hang out here."
"Breakfast sounds good." she said, more abruptly than Lex liked. Then she laughed. "I'll pick you up and I'll pay."
"There's no way I'm letting you pay twice," Lex said.
Dionne just laughed again, "I guess that means you need a ride." She lied back on the loveseat, and began to drift into that realm of quasi-sleep. Lex watched her, captivated. He found every inch of her attractive, from her knitted skullcap, to her toeless platforms. Her laugh was lingering on her lips, and her face was tranquil and contented. The late afternoon light trickled in from his window, and her skin was glowing again, like a polished bronze. He eased off of the couch, and slid over to where she was. He just wanted to touch her, gently, without waking her up. He reached out his hand, slowly moving closer. She suddenly stirred.
"What time is it?" she looked down at her watch, "I gotta go," she said stretching and yawning.
"Why? It's early still." Lex protested through a yawn of his own.
"I have a long, lonely night ahead of me. These pictures have to be developed and arranged in my portfolio." She started gathering her things together.
"I could join you."
"No, that's OK. I really get in the zone when I'm in the darkroom. I've made you jump through enough hoops for one day." She seemed a little disappointed to have to turn him down, but not enough. He was starting to wonder if he had gotten the wrong idea about their relationship. He beat her to the door and stood in front of it. "Alex!" she whined.
"How do you feel about me?" he asked suddenly. She was clearly surprised by the question.
"I think you're interesting, very bright, funny. You're the only person I've met whose so ambitious and so lazy. I've also noticed - " Lex interrupted her with his finger to her lips.
"Kiss me," he whispered. She closed her eyes and leaned in. Their lips met with tender warmth, and she kissed him slowly with all the intensity and vulnerability that Lex had been yearning for. She put her hand up to his check, and he returned the gesture, savoring the moment. He felt warm moisture on his nose and pulled away. His heart sank. She was crying.
"I'm sorry," he started. "I - "
"No, you're fine," she said. He wiped her cheek.
"Then, what's the matter?"
"See you tomorrow?" she asked, and brushed pass him out the door.
"...So even with coaxing from the best of biochemists, amino acids would much rather bond elsewhere than to form polypeptides." Lex stopped - he was even irritating himself. "I know I'm boring you."
"No," Dionne said sincerely, "I was actually struggling with that. I think I got that question half-right. I guess I'll have to wait for the exam results."
Lex stopped for a moment. "You alright?" he asked. She had a pensive look. He almost thought she wouldn't answer.
"Sometimes I know what I don't want with my life even more than I know what I actually do want. Have you ever tried to outrun the life that you were handed with all you might, only for it run you over in the eleventh hour?" Lex nodded. He knew how she felt more than she could ever imagine. He was still running. "I guess I just have to face the fact that I'm losing the battle."
"I'm in the throes of that battle every day," he said. He leaned in and placed his hands on hers. "Somehow you have to find a way to be honest to yourself."
"Guess you're right...Lex." she said. He knew the day was coming, but it was still a surprise.
"Let me guess, some reporter from the Inquisitor approached you."
"Nope. I wasn't the only one who waited until the last minute to finish their portfolios last night. As my photos were drying, a couple girls realized whose headshots I had been snapping all day."
Lex dropped his head. "I don't know what to say. I guess an apology is in order."
"Thing is, I have no idea who Lex Luthor is," Dionne said.
"You've been hanging out with him for the last 3 weeks."
"And I fail to see what the big deal is, no offense."
"Ever heard of Lionel Luthor?" She scrunched her face with a vague recognition. "How about LuthorCorp?" At first nothing, then her jaw dropped.
"You mean the LuthorCorp?" she asked. Lex nodded. "So, you're, what, a millionaire?"
"Something like that," Lex responded. He could tell she was thinking about the camera shop. "So now I guess you're mad, and you're gonna slap me and bad mouth me to, what's her name - Tawanda."
Dionne laughed. "Who you been chillin' with? I'm not nearly that catty" she said. "Besides, I have a couple of secrets of my own." She sighed and then stared at Lex for several seconds, fidgety and troubled. Lex didn't know what she was about to say, and was on the edge of his seat with anticipation. She looked down and then back up with Lex. This time her face was resolved. She untied her headscarf from behind to reveal a head as bald and arguably as shiny as his own. Lex was pleasantly stunned.
"I'm guessing you don't shave it to look like that," he said finally. She giggled.
"No. I have alopecia, had alopecia, since I was 13. Been addicted to hats, scarves and the occasional wig, ever since."
"What a relief - I thought you were gonna say you had a boyfriend," Lex replied and laughed. She didn't. "You don't, do you?"
"No," she said. She took a gulp of air, and pushed her plate away. "My parents had my sister and I when my mother was 43 and my father was 52. Probably in their last moments of fertility. Anyway, at this point, that makes them pretty up in age, too old to be raising children." Lex saw a tear fall from her eye. "I was always the good twin, and my sister was always the bad one. I think we acted out the roles that were put on us, but by the time we were in our teens, we had drifted apart. When my sister and her fiance died last summer in a car accident, my parents took in her two kids, and, despite my protests, insisted I stay in school, so I did. At first, it seemed like it would work, but, my father had a stroke a few months ago, and when I went home to visit them last month," she trailed off. "There's no way I can let my mom struggle like that. This is my last semester. I'm flying home tomorrow." She covered her eyes with one hand. Lex took the other.
"What about photography, and all you goals?" he asked.
"They'll have to wait, I guess." She gazed into space.
Lex was mute. There were so many things he was about to say, but none of them seemed right.
Lex thought of those three weeks as he walked towards his bedroom. His Rover had inexplicably opened the next day (after it had been impounded and incurred $250 in meter fines), so Lex drove Dionne to the airport. He had felt hopeless. He had offered to fly with her, bring her family here - anything - when his money freed up. She had just patted his chest and given him a sad smile.
Lex had dated a lot of girls, and had done what he was known for doing with countless more. But, they had always parted ways in some way he could accept. That wasn't the case this time, though. It reminded him of how he felt at the end of all his most cherished female relationships. Pained and abandoned.
Dionne declined all of his offers. Looking back, it was probably for the best.
He read the note again.
"How long has it been? Four years?
"How are you doing? You've been on my mind lately. I hate to drudge up a bad memory, but I was thrilled when I read you had survived the crash. I hope you've been thriving and doing well since.
"Despite my circumstances, I have to admit I've managed to carve out a life that I can be happy with. Sadly, my father passed away not too long after I moved home, but my mother is still trucking along, as animated as ever. My niece and nephew are doing well, and the little one starts school in the fall. I'm hoping maybe then I can go back to school part-time. In the meantime, I've been doing portrait work at a local studio. It's not National Geographic, but that's OK.
"I know you're a man of the world, and if you don't reply, I won't take offense. But, I came across these photos, and thought you might look back on them fondly, like I did. Thanks for making my last weeks in Metropolis so enjoyable.
"Yours truly, Dionne."
In a way Lex envied her. She had found a way to embrace her fate and enjoy it. He wasn't sure if he would ever be able to do the same.
He folded the letter and stared at the embossed black leather portfolio in front of him. He was tempted to view them, but wanted to enjoy them in dignified conditions. Maybe tomorrow, in Durand Park, next to the footbridge in Metropolis. That sounded good.
He placed it on his nightstand, knocked back his brandy and went to bed. Within seconds he was fast asleep.
Author: Marisol [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG | het | 27k | 03/15/04
Characters: Lex, Lionel, Other
Summary: Lex receives a package that takes him back to his sophomore year at Metropolis U. The memory is bittersweet.
Disclaimer/Other: Rated: PG
Category: Drama, Het
Spoilers: Pre-Smallville. But uses information from all seasons through the Season 3 spring hiatus.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not mine.
Feedback: I fiend for it. Also, I know Range Rovers don't have remote locks. No need to tell me.