"Mr. Luthor? I hate to bother you, but we have a-a situation…" At these words, Lex turned to face the contrite event planner, and though the smile didn't slip from his face, his blue eyes narrowed in irritation.
Pausing long enough to take a nonchalant sip of his drink, he drawled casually, "That's funny. I was pretty sure I'm paying you enough to ensure that we don't have 'situations.'"
"Yes, sir," the planner blurted quickly, before Lex could threaten to rescind some of the fee that had been pre-paid for the event. Considering the conversation over, Lex turned back to his party, a small smile of satisfaction crossing his face as he looked around. From the musical entertainment to the decorations, everything had turned out beautifully, if he did say so himself.
Well, perhaps not everything, because the event planner was still hovering by his elbow. Not turning to grace the other man with a glance, Lex sighed heavily. "Yes?" he demanded in a low voice.
The event planner coughed discreetly. "The thing is that there was a mix-up with the baker. The cake you ordered for the party was mistakenly delivered to another client. A wedding, actually. And I –"
"Will fix the problem immediately," Lex cut in, his tone implacable.
"Of course," his companion offered, though he sounded desperate when he blurted, "But the meal is supposed to be served in an hour, and there's no way that we can have a cake ready for you in that time!"
On those words, Lex turned his head to glare down at the contrite man, though the smile he had plastered on his face for the benefit of his guests didn't falter in the least. "You keep telling me this like this is my problem. Look around you. These people are my guests. They've been invited here to attend a party…a birthday party, specifically. Birthday parties require cake.
"It is my responsibility to ensure that everyone here has a good time, and it is your responsibility to make sure that I don't have to deal with exactly the type of situation you're telling me about now. Now, if there is a problem with the cake, I trust that I'm paying you enough to deal with it without inconveniencing any of my guests in the process.
"However you do it is your affair, but you'll provide a birthday cake in precisely an hour or I'll make sure you don't work in this town again. Is that understood?" Lex threatened in a low voice.
"Y-yes sir!" the event planner squeaked. "I'll take care of it immediately!"
As the cowed employee scampered away in what could only be described as abject terror, Lex called after him, "Red velvet." When he saw his companion's steps falter, he explained, "It has to be a red velvet cake."
"Sir?" the beleaguered man prompted nervously.
"It's her favorite," Lex offered, as if that explained everything.
"Well, yes, but you know chocolate's always good too." Lex turned to greet the speaker of this remark, and he couldn't help but smile when he caught sight of a familiar pair of laughing green eyes.
Lex arched his eyebrows in response to this remark. "And yet so predictable," he challenged.
Though his remark invited comment, he saw her eyes slide past him to rest upon his event planner's retreating back. "Is there a problem?" she asked, a slight frown marring her features.
"Not at all," he responded smoothly. "Everything's been taken care of."
"With a threat?" she prodded, and when she looked back into his face, he could see that the mirth was gone from her expression. In its place was a shade of thinly veiled disappointment, and he could feel his stomach tighten in the face of it. "Lex, you shouldn't have done that."
He could feel the muscles of his jaw tighten, and it was with a force of effort that he bit back an apology. He rarely offered an apology for anything, so why was he so tempted to give her one now? "It's your birthday," Lex offered instead. "And your party. I think everything should be perfect on your birthday. Don't you?"
She shook her head. With a vague wave of her hand, meant to encompass the party as a whole, she said softly, "You didn't have to do all this."
"It's your birthday," he repeated again, as if that was explanation enough. And for him, it was. But because she still seemed dissatisfied with his remark, he added, "It was the least I could do."
Chloe laughed again, and the tightness that had fisted in his stomach released slightly. "Throwing a party for me and at least a hundred of my closest friends? Complete with a live band and…did I see fireworks being set up outside? That's hardly the least you can do. Although I would imagine this is probably nothing compared to the types of parties you usually throw."
With an uncomfortable prickling in the back of his neck, Lex shifted almost imperceptibly. He was beginning to wonder if Chloe's words weren't entirely teasing. Had he missed the mark somehow in planning this entire event? Of course, he'd undoubtedly thrown – or had thrown for him – hundreds of parties in his life, but the parties he threw were generally something of a farce. He threw the parties because it was expected of him. People attended out of an equal share of expectation and curiosity.
He had not had much experience throwing a party for a friend, out of a genuine hope to make someone else happy. Had he done it all wrong?
In an effort to hide his thoughts from Chloe's all-too-knowing gaze, he offered mildly, "It is rather different, I suppose. For one thing, the party's been going on for an hour now, and yet everyone appears to be sober."
Chloe seemed amused by his remark. "Yes, well, that's what generally happens when the party's under 21. And are you sure that everyone's sober?" she teased with a significant look at the amber liquid in his hand.
"Ah…" he said sheepishly. "Would you believe me if I said this is apple juice?"
His comment evoked a laugh from his companion. "Really? I could have sworn it was something stronger," she teased.
Throwing back the drink, Lex swallowed all incriminating evidence before Chloe could test her theory. He didn't know if the warmth he felt in his chest came from the alcohol or from her smile, but he wasn't about to question it too much. He was afraid that if he did, the warmth would fade away and he would be left with nothing. Instead, as he set his empty glass on a passing waiter's tray, he threw Chloe an angelic smile. "I'm afraid you were mistaken," he lied. "I would never drink al-"
Before he could finish his comment, a familiar figure came towards them from the crowd. "Clark!" Chloe cried joyfully as the man in question stepped forward and pulled her into a quick hug. In a moment, Lex had gone from having Chloe's undivided attention to being little more than a bystander to the scene in front of him.
"Happy birthday, Chloe. Sorry I'm late, but Lana's car broke down and I had to go pick her up," Clark explained, releasing her, and just as quickly as Lex had lost Chloe's attention, Chloe lost Clark's. Lex watched as Clark, his attention sufficiently diverted by the mention of the object of his affection's name, turned to scan the crowd in a search for her face. "She should be around here somewhere. I'm sure she'd want to wish you a happy birthday," the oblivious farmboy muttered, almost in afterthought.
Lex glanced at Chloe's face out of the corner of his eye, and he watched her grin fade as if it had never existed. For a moment, her mouth twisted into a pained expression, but then she schooled her expression and it, too, was gone.
Clark was an idiot, Lex reflected as he backed a few steps away from the group – to stand where he felt he belonged, on the periphery – and gestured to a passing waiter that he wanted another glass of scotch. Or, at the very least, he was incredibly blind. Just as Lex was certain that Chloe had meant nothing malicious by forgetting him as soon as Clark walked into the room, Lex was certain that Clark meant nothing malicious about being so obvious about his interest in Lana. It was just the way of things.
That Chloe had never said Lex's name with quite so much open enthusiasm, and that she had never bestowed upon him a smile quite so bright, was not lost on him. It was, however, lost on the man who was the recipient of such open and honest affection.
Lex watched in silence as Lana made her way through the crowd to present the birthday girl with her best wishes. He watched, too, as Chloe forced a smile and tried to pretend like it didn't hurt her to see the grin that crossed Clark's face at the new arrival – the look that he seemed to reserve only for the raven-haired beauty at his side. Neither Clark nor Lana apparently noticed the pain in Chloe's eyes, but Lex did.
So perhaps Clark wasn't an idiot, Lex amended charitably, but he certainly was blind. Oh, to be certain, Lana was beautiful. Stunning, even. There were times that he looked at her and thought she was something like a jewel – from the football player to the farmboy, everyone seemed to want to possess her, but in the end, she untouchable. Though she put on a show, deep down, she was unmoved by their efforts. Cold. Remote. Untouchable.
His gaze shifted to Chloe, the woman that nobody seemed eager to fight to win. Although in a sense, that was probably for the best. Unlike Lana, who probably secretly loved the fact that men would fight for her affections, Chloe seemed like she would only be irritated by such futile displays of male bravado. And yet it was a shame, because nobody seemed to notice the treasure right in front of them.
Lex stifled a sigh as he drank from his replaced glass of scotch. Of course nobody noticed what was right in front of them; they were blinded by the obvious fragility that Lana presented. She was like an anemone – a flower that, according to Greek mythology, was borne of sadness, created when Aphrodite mourned the death of Adonis.
Lex watched as Chloe tried to recapture Clark's attention – a battle Lex could see she knew she'd lost before she even begun it. No, Clark didn't see her. He was so busy chasing after the unattainable loveliness of Lana that he failed to see the deeper beauty in the woman he constantly overlooked.
It didn't take a man of great perception to see the treasure that was Chloe Sullivan. From her innate loyalty to her occasionally brutal honesty, she was all the things that Lex had never really known from another in his own life. It was clear that Clark didn't really see her, but it was equally clear that – even knowing that fact – she would never stop standing by his side.
She was like a sunflower. Perhaps there were others who were beautiful at first glance, he supposed, but he was beginning to realize that he had never met anyone lovelier. And, having noticed her, he couldn't look away.
He watched in silence as Clark turned to ask Chloe a question, and her face lit up once more. Yes, she was like a sunflower, Lex concluded privately. Sunflowers turned to follow the sun in its path across the sky each day, continually turning their faces towards its warmth. Watching Chloe and Clark interact, Lex couldn't help but feel that the analogy was fitting. He saw the glances Chloe threw Clark's way, and he saw how she glowed whenever Clark was around. She was like a sunflower, and Clark was the sun to her. And, like the sun, he was oblivious to the effect he had upon her.
But Lex wasn't. He supposed that was the inevitable consequence of observing the sunlight but never really getting to touch it. But, then, Chloe was like Clark, in a way. Sunflowers were believed to symbolize the very sun for which they so yearned; their open faces were believed to convey warmth and happiness. Though she didn't know it – and although he would never confess it – Chloe unknowingly conveyed that and more upon Lex. And yet she, like Clark, was ignorant of the effect she had on the one who would long to feel such a touch.
Clark might have been blind to Chloe's beauty, but Lex wasn't. But she was blind to him, and as she turned away from him, leaning in towards Clark in an effort to get closer to him, Lex realized that his solitude had never felt so cold.
Her warmth wasn't his to receive, but Lex realized that he wanted to lay claim to it anyway, if only for a moment. Stepping forward quickly, he spoke her name in a soft voice in an attempt to get his attention. At the sound of her name, Chloe turned to look up at him, a small smile quirking at the corner of her lips, and Lex felt his icy loneliness thaw, just a little bit.
"I have some things to take care of," he explained softly, "But before I forget, I wanted to give you your present." Pulling a small purple package out of his inside pocket, he held it out to her. As she moved to take it from him, his fingers brushed against hers and he savored the moment. In the long night ahead, perhaps the memory of the warmth of her touch could help keep the demons at bay, at least for a little while.
"Happy Birthday, Chloe," Lex said softly as he handed over her present.
"Thanks, Lex," she said graciously as she tucked the package against her stomach and smiled up at him. For a moment, Lex knew what it was like to bask in the warmth of the sun. And then Clark laughed at something Lana said, diverting Chloe's attention once more, and the moment was lost.
Lex saw Chloe turned to look at the laughter's source, the grin on her face growing ever more radiant. Seeing her reaction, Lex took a step back, putting distance between the two of them. He didn't protest when Chloe turned from him, bestowing her warmth upon another. Clark was like the sun; even as blind to what was before him as he was, he was so much more deserving of her affection than Lex.
Like a sunflower yearning for the sun, Chloe would always turn to Clark. As much as Lex might envy his best friend for that, he would never try to claim it for himself. It would never even occur to him to try.
With one more glance at Chloe, Lex stole one last moment of her smile and then turned away and forced all thoughts of ever seeking more from her from his mind. Sunflowers belonged in the sun. Their beauty would be quickly lost if they were touched for too long by darkness and shadows.