The shrill, piercing ring of the phone lured Lex from a deep sleep.
Eyes heavy, Lex rose quickly, startled by the sudden noise. He stumbled around the hotel room, slowly gaining his bearings. Reaching the offending device Lex flipped the cell phone open only to find he'd missed the call. The number was 'Unknown' according to the screen of his phone and as Lex dropped the phone back to the seat of the armchair it beeped once, indicating a voice message.
Lex sighed as he grabbed the phone again, sinking into the cushions of the chair. His head was thick, as if stuffed with cotton. Laying his head back Lex raised the phone to his ear and closed his eyes.
"Voicemail," Lex croaked, his voice sounded foreign even to himself, but technology prevailed and the phone voice-dialed his mailbox.
It was the hospital. Lionel had woken and was demanding to see Lex and to get back to Metropolis. The nurse's voice begged Lex to get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Deleting the message Lex stood slowly, still feeling detached from reality. This is worse than any hangover, he though sullenly as he headed towards the large bathroom.
Clearing his head in the shower, Lex stood and let near-scalding, steamy water pound on him. Thankfully the headache from the concussion was just a faint echo, barely noticeable after the long night and the few hours of sleep he'd managed to achieve.
An hour later, Lex left the hotel feeling almost normal. It was a short drive to the hospital where a nurse greeted him before he'd taken three steps in the door.
"Mr. Luthor, thank heavens you are here!" the plump dark haired nurse gushed. Lex remembered her from the night shift-she was the one he'd given his number too. "We had to give your father sedatives on top of his pain med's just him to keep him from getting out of bed and walking out of the hospital!"
The nurse, Pamela Coffin-Lex read on her nametag as he smiled inwardly at the ironic last name, led him down the corridor to his father's room. She forced a smile as she pointed Lex to the same room his father had been in last night, than she turned on her heel, retreating fast. Lex was sure she was afraid to enter Lionel's room. No doubt he'd already threatened everyone's job, and threatened to sue the medical center as well.
Breathing deep, Lex opened the door, preparing for the barrage. He was surprised to find Lionel silent in his bed, watching The Price Is Right on the small 13 inch television that was mounted at a perilous angle from the floor/ceiling joint.
"Son, have you seen this show before?" Lionel spoke, his voice heavy with sedation and pain medication, but he didn't look at Lex. "It's quite amazing. I never really realized how many pathetic people there are out there," Lionel hit the power button on the television remote control silencing the excited woman who had apparently won a new living room furniture set and was screaming with joy.
Turning his head slowly Lionel stared hard at Lex. Lionel's right leg was cast from mid-thigh to the arch of his foot, and was hanging in traction. When he moved the contraption creaked and swayed slightly.
"I want out of here, son," Lionel put heavy emphasis on the last word.
"Dad, your leg-," Lex started to respond
Lionel threw the remote against the far wall where it split in half, creating a crumbling gouge of white drywall in the pale yellow paint.
"Don't tell me about my leg," Lionel growled, his breath heavy and panting.
"I. want. out. of. here. NOW!" Lionel's voice rose steadily with each word until he was screaming.
"Dad, stop. You are not going anywhere until your leg is healed enough to travel-and that decision is up to the doctor. Now you just had surgery after suffering a very serious injury. You are staying here until the doctors say otherwise and if you keep acting like a spoiled child I will ask the nurses to restrain you until you can behave," Lex leveled his eyes at his father, daring him to test him.
There was a long pause in which father and son stared at each other, each measuring the other. Finally Lionel broke the silence.
"Fine, Lex. I'll allow one day. Now get me a new remote so I can check the markets on CSPAN," Lionel grouched, waving Lex away with his hand.
Smiling as he left his father's room, Lex returned to the nurse's station and informed the two nurses of his threat, telling them if his father gave them any trouble or argument that they had permission to restrain him. The older nurse, Pamela, grinned at the thought, while the younger one on duty, Heather, just stared at Lex with huge, fearful eyes.
As he left the hospital Lex considered going back and asking after Cassie. He thought she might be working this morning and he felt a little let down that he hadn't seen her.
The sky was a brilliant cobalt blue; a blue Lex rarely recalled seeing in Kansas. It was going to be a beautiful day and suddenly, without meetings, or paperwork or even his computer, Lex was at a loss with what with the day. Mulling over options he slowly followed the sidewalk around the hospital, which took him ten minutes. The air was crisp and cool, and the sun was warm on his face. Making a circle he returned to where he'd started. Lex surveyed the outlying landscape. He could see mountains in the immediate distance, reaching high with snow-capped peaks.
He considered going back up to the proposed plant site, but the thought of driving that winding canyon road again unnerved him. Pushing away that idea, Lex decided he would be spontaneous. He returned to the new rental car he'd picked up that morning and he left the small, rural hospital parking lot and turned out into the two lane highway, void of any traffic save a cattle truck passing him in the other direction.
Up ahead he saw a small city park with a large fountain and several park benches around it. Heading to the nearest convenience store Lex purchased a newspaper and a large cup of coffee.
Returning to the park, Lex retreated to a park bench and bathed in the warming sun. The local paper was only about 20 pages in length and Lex read through it quickly. The coffee was terrible, like most convenience store brands, but it wasn't so bad Lex couldn't finish it as well.
Sitting in the sun with the birds chirping and the flower beds showing new signs of coming back from the cold winter, Lex felt relaxed. It was the first time in months he could remember stealing a moment of quiet and solitude. There were no ringing phones and no urgent meetings requiring his immediate attention. His father was dealt with and he had a whole day to enjoy without Luthorcorp or anyone else to distract him.
Closing his eyes again, Lex slouched on the bench, letting the sun sooth him. The silence at first had been deafening, but with the gentle rush of the water in the fountain Lex felt himself, in spite of the large caffeine fix, start to doze off.
Screaming laughter broke the silence, causing the birds in the surrounding trees to take flight in protest. Lex bolted upright, his adrenaline once again pulsing through his veins; his heart bursting from his chest. Twice in one day, Lex thought with annoyance as he turned to look from where the offending noise had originated.
What he saw he was completely unprepared for. Entering the park with a little girl and a blonde puppy on a leash was Cassie. The little girl was running and shrieking with laughter as the puppy ran along side her, jumping at her, trying to get at something she had in her hands. Cassie was doing a slow jog behind the little girl and puppy, and she was grinning as well.
Lex felt his heart take another leap in his chest and he continued watching them. The little girl was dark haired and Lex could see the unmistakeable resemblance. She had to be Cassie's daughter.
Cassie stopped jogging, causing the puppy to reach the end of the leash and pull back as the little girl continued ahead, running towards the few pieces of playground equipment that were scattered at the other side of the park from Lex.
Cassie called out the little girl just as another cattle truck blasted by, drowning her words in the drone of its engines. The little girl's face screwed up in a confused look and Cassie laughed. Her laughter was like the tinkling of china, light and beautiful. Lex watched as the little girl walked slowly towards Cassie, than she nodded and took off towards the playground once more.
Lex was still watching her when Cassie turned towards the benches. Her smile faltered a bit as she saw Lex sitting there. She stood in place for a moment, looking back at the little girl. Finally she slowly approached Lex and the park benches.
"Cassie, this is a wonderful surprise," Lex smiled as he stood and offered her a seat next to him.
Cassie returned the smile, a bit reluctantly, and sat on the neighboring bench where she watched the little girl on the playground.
Lex wasn't offended. He sat down again and petted the puppy as it wandered to him, happily jumping up, placing its front paws on Lex's knees.
"Halo, get down!" Cassie sternly said as she pulled the leash, causing the puppy to fall to the ground. Cassie wound the leash around the leg of her bench, allowing the puppy only three feet of tether.
"Sorry," she murmured.
"It's fine. I always wanted a puppy when I was a boy, but my father wouldn't allow it. He's not an animal person. Not much of a people person either," Lex added, hoping to break whatever ice there was keeping Cassie at such a distance from him.
"Well, Lexa wanted a puppy and for her birthday I got her this little guy. She named him Halo," Cassie smiled at the memory.
"So that is your daughter?" Lex asked, indicating towards the little girl who was now swinging acrobatically from the monkey bars.
"Oh, yeah," Cassie's face pinked with color. "Lexa is my little girl. She's six, her birthday was last week actually."
"Lexa?" Lex questioned.
"Yeah, I know. I found the resemblance of your names a little disturbing at first," Cassie smiled and Lex warmed.
"Well, Lex is short for Alexander. My father named me after The Great. Alexander, The Great," Lex clarified when Cassie looked at him with a questioning expression.
"Oh, well Lexa is not short for anything. I liked the name Alexa, but I dropped the A and voile, I had Lexa," Cassie reached down and patted the puppy, which Lex guessed by its appearance was a yellow lab.
They sat in awkward silence for a moment. Lex stared at Cassie and Cassie stared at the ground. She continued petting the puppy, even after it started to gnaw on her hand like a chew toy.
Lex began to feel like an intruder. He was the outsider, no doubt throwing some kind of wrench into a ritual visit to the park. As he was about to excuse himself Cassie called out in pain.
"Ouch! Halo!" Cassie pulled her hand from the puppy's mouth. There were tiny teeth marks, like little pin pricks, on her hand.
"Are you okay?" Lex asked, genuinely concerned.
Cassie only nodded as she rubbed her hand on her pant leg.
"Listen, Lex, I wanted to apologize for my behavior last night. It was uncalled for and very unprofessional," Cassie still hadn't looked at him, and Lex watched as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a $100 bill. "This is yours. I cannot accept this money from you when I acted so terribly."
She held the crumpled bill out to him, but Lex didn't take it. Finally she raised her head to him. Lex smiled and shook his head.
"Keep it. Buy something nice for Lexa. It's yours. I accept your apology, though it is unnecessary. I shouldn't have allowed my business to be publicly discussed. Accept my apology for that," Lex replied.
Lex and Cassie turned to see Lexa running towards them, her long black hair streaming behind her.
Lexa ran to her mother's side where she huddled against Cassie's shoulder and gave Lex a suspicious look.
"Lexa, this is my friend, Lex," Cassie spoke softly to her daughter. Lexa continued to give Lex a distrustful stare.
"Lex? That's like my name, almost," she said. "Why don't you have any hair?"
Cassie's face dropped as she gripped Lexa's arm. "Honey, that is not a polite question! Apologize to Lex, now!"
Lex, who had found it quite amusing, kept a straight face as Lexa rolled her young eyes and mumbled something that might have been sorry.
"I don't think he heard you. Say it like you mean it," Cassie was mortified, Lex could see and hear it in her voice. It made the question all the more amusing to him.
"Sorry," Lexa said, her young attitude stripping the apology of any sincerity.
Cassie sighed and shook her head, mouthing sorry to Lex over the little girl's dark head.
Lex just shook his head and smiled. Lexa had crouched down and was playing with the puppy. Lex and Cassie watched her for awhile and Lex found the little girl, despite her precocious question, charming. She talked to the puppy in a low whisper and soon she was eyeing Lex not with mistrust or apprehension, but with interest.
"Watch me, mom," Lexa suddenly stood and ran to the grassy hillside that led up to a grove of trees. The puppy, Halo, barked at the retreating girl then whimpered as he couldn't follow.
Lexa ran to the top of the hill and unceremoniously lay on her side and rolled down the hill. She was laughing hysterically by the bottom and Lex couldn't help but smile.
"Wonderful," Cassie clapped and Lex joined in. Lexa grinned and curtseyed to her audience.
"I think someone is trying to show off for you," Cassie smiled.
Lex smiled nervously. He had never been a great fan of kids and while Lexa was cute enough, the last thing he wanted was for her to form an attachment to him.
Lexa walked towards them and reaching out she grasped Lex's hand.
"Push me on the swing, please?" Her large brown eyes, as deep and dark as Cassie's, stared up at Lex intently.
"Lexa, I'm sure Lex has to be going, he's very busy and important you know," Cassie grasped her daughters other hand and tried to pull her from Lex but she wouldn't let go. Lexa just stared up at Lex with renewed interest.
"Please?" She asked again and Lex found he was without the words to deny her.
Lex nodded, and Lexa jumped happily then pulled Lex behind her as she tried to run back towards the playground where a few more children had appeared and were now playing. Slowly the town was coming to life, Lex noticed.
Behind him he could hear the jingle of the tags on Halo's collar as Cassie followed them. Shortly they arrived at the swingset where Lexa climbed aboard a free swing and instructed Lex to push her.
"Lexa, stop being so demanding and ask nicely," Cassie scolded as she and the puppy came up behind Lex as he started giving her pushes, the swing steadily rising higher and higher each pass.
"Well, she likes you. Ready to run screaming for your car?" Cassie grinned at Lex and gave him a wink as Lexa squealed with delight at the height her swing was reaching.
Lex only grinned and found that he was quite enjoying himself.
Lex, Cassie, Lexa and Halo spent the morning in the park. They swung, they threw a ball for Halo, and they played a rousing, but short, game of TV tag.
As it neared the noon hour Cassie started to pack up the few toys and things they had brought with them.
"I've got to get going. I have to report to the hospital in a half hour," Cassie shrugged apologetically.
"Nooooo! Moooooom," Lexa whined her disapproval. Cassie shot her a warning look and Lexa stopped, but she crossed her arms and pouted in defiance.
Lex walked Cassie, Lexa and Halo back to their car where Lexa fiercely hugged him before she climbed into the backseat of the car. Halo jumped in after Lexa and immediately curled up on the seat in exhaustion.
Cassie smiled at Lex and they stood staring at each other for what felt like a very long time.
"Thank you for indulging her. She likes you, I can tell," Cassie finally said. Lex nodded.
"It was my pleasu-," he started to respond but his cell phone rang, cutting him off. Pulling it from his pants pocket he flipped it open.
"Luthor," he answered while his eyes remained on Cassie. He held his hand up indicating for her to wait.
"Mr. Luthor, it's Jack Sawyer, we have a problem," the deep voice on the other end responded. Lex could hear alarms sounding in the background.
"Hold on a minute," Lex answered, already dreading the return to corporate life.
Lex dropped the phone to his side and offered an apologetic smile to Cassie, "Business," he said, as if that meant the same thing to her that it meant to him.
"I'll get going," Cassie said, opening her car door.
"Will I see you again?" Lex questioned. Cassie just shrugged and got in her car, grinning at him the whole time. Lex watched her drive away before he resumed his phone call.
"What is it?" he growled into the phone, a little more forcefully than he meant. His good mood had disappeared and he massaged his temple as he listened to the voice on the other end.