It seemed like January 20, 1981 was just last week, and yet there it was, on the front page of the New York Times, the announcements for who would be running in the upcoming primaries. The presidential races seemed to start earlier and earlier with each term, and already some Democratic candidates seemed poised and eager to take on the Republican Messiah that was Ronald Reagan. While Reagan was certainly popular, many felt his neo-laissez-faire approach to the economy was creating an artificial sense of financial security nationwide. While businesses were certainly thriving, the long-term pay off for Middle America remained to be seen. Even so, the staunchest of Democrats know their work was cut out for them.
Lillian thought politics was interesting, but always felt a detachment from the practice, like a commentator, even spectator, at a sporting event. Not Lionel. He was a Republican. Period. He hadn't always been though. Despite the revisionist history he had created about himself and his family, Lillian was one of the few people who knew about this real past: his hard scrabble youth, growing up with immigrant working-class parents, who he was estranged from, only to be orphaned at 15 by a tragic fire that claimed them and the slums he called home. He had the textbook life of a future Democrat. But, Lionel Luthor had a plan. And this administration was his venture capitalist. Lionel preached the gospel of Reaganomics almost as fervently as he quoted famous generals. The economic environment was ideal for a young tenacious businessman, and Lionel didn't squander a single opportunity.
Then, the newspaper was snatched away.
"Lex, bring that back NOW!" Lillian screamed. Lex had absconded with the Times right from under Lillian's nose, and commenced to waving it while frantically running around the yard. Now he stood motionless, the proverbial deer in headlights. When Lillian was sick, she rarely scolded Lex, and never yelled at him. But she was feeling better than she had in many months, and with her vitality came her will. Lex didn't know what to make of it. She softened her tone, "Mommy was reading that, honey. Bring it here." The three-year-old jogged back to her, clumsily returning the paper to the bench she was perched on, and then resumed his frantic running.
Lillian looked at him with a warm contentment. It was so good to be feeling well again, and she privately hoped that this recent stretch of inactivity would be her last. Reading the paper, sitting outside, playing with Lex - it was all so invigorating. Since resigning from Milton, Inc. earlier in the year, she battled feelings of uselessness. But the combinations of motherhood, her recent bouts with poor health, and Lionel's pleas for her to join him at LuthorCorp had all contributed to her ultimate decision. She had never wanted to stop working at Milton and she had made no commitments to start working with Lionel. She felt such a move would relegate her to the position of an accessory of him, like a vacuum cleaner attachment. Despite her admiration of him, she craved individuality and self-fulfillment.
But, today - today was a good day. The weather was brisk but sunny and she felt strong and clear-headed. Lionel would even be home by noon.
"This is the last place I looked for you." She saw Lionel's long shadow approach from behind. Without turning she said,
"Well, I would hope you would stop looking for me after you'd found me." She heard him chuckle and sigh. Then she felt his hands, one on each shoulder, and he bent down and tenderly kissed her on the nape of her neck.
"It's good to see you up and about," he purred in her ear. She turned to him and smiled. He sat down beside her, and wrapped his arm around her, his hand resting next to her thigh. Unsure of her actual emotions, she leaned in closer.
"How's the house coming?" she asked, feigning interest.
"Excellent," he exclaimed "the construction is coming along steadily - AND underbudget. We might be able to close sometime between mid March and early April." He paused. "I'm beginning to send out ads for help...including a new nurse."
"I don't need a new nurse," Lillian snapped, and pulled away from Lionel. Her reaction had even surprised herself.
"Why are you so opposed to the idea? You know your health and comfort is of utmost importance to me, and - " Lillian interrupted.
"I know Lionel," she said, standing up and walking towards Lex, "But, you know how I feel about servants." With that she kneeled down and, slowly bracing herself, she picked him up. Lex rewarded her by giggling and burrowing his head in her neck.
Lillian recoiled at the idea of servants. She didn't so much think them morally wrong; but she was beginning to question the desirability of a lifestyle that required them. Resistance, though, was futile, and she had resigned herself to the fact that the monstrosity of a home Lionel was building would require a staff.
The closest thing she had ever had to a servant was her former nurse, Rachel. Lillian had resisted the idea initially, but with her waning health and small child, not to mention the fact that Lionel was often away, he insisted that she have a health care provider in the home. At first, it was a wonderful provision. Rachel was not only diligent with administering medicine and meals, and assisting with doctor's appointments, but she doted on Lex and helped around the house. Lionel paid her liberally, and since her expenses were minimal, it seemed to be a good arrangement for all involved.
After some time, however, Rachel became increasingly presumptuous and much less accommodating. She occasionally left Lillian waiting for requests as much as a half-hour, and became careless with Lillian's schedule. She begin to discipline Lex based on her moods, and not his behavior, and more than once Lillian found herself angered but too tired to intervene. She also noted that Rachel was becoming more and more familiar with Lionel, and she had overheard Rachel call him Nelly twice.
One time, when he was actually home, Lillian awoke in the middle of the night to discover Lionel out of bed. She imagined he had gone to get a snack, or was burning the midnight oil. However, upon going downstairs, she heard him and Rachel conversing in muted voices. Quietly, she returned to her room, undetected. The next day, she asked him about the incident, and, after feigning forgetfulness, he recalled how he had gone downstairs to make and international phone call and had stumbled upon Rachel making a sandwich. Wanting to believe he was telling the truth, Lillian laid the matter to rest.
Not jealous by nature, Lillian loved her husband, and was sure of his love for her. Yet, his increasing obsession with wealth, influence and LuthorCorp was taking him farther and farther from home more often. In addition, her sporadic condition made their moments of intimacy few and far between. She was beginning to wonder, even doubt, if Lionel had the integrity to remain faithful to their relationship and his vows, despite these new challenges. It was the first time she had felt insecure in her marriage.
Then, about a month ago, Lillian awoke to find Rachel and all her things gone. To a bewildered Lillian, Lionel explained that Rachel had quit and had found more lucrative employment at a nearby retirement home facility. When Lillian asked the obvious question of why she had chosen to leave in the middle of the night, Lionel was elusive and finally said it was so she wouldn't upset Lex. Lillian was flummoxed by the outrageousness of such a story and insulted that Lionel was even offering such a prevarication. She was sure her incredulity reflected on her face. Struck dumb, however, she said nothing. Lionel used this opportunity to find a reason to leave the room.
As unsettled as she felt, Lillian felt equally relieved at Rachel's departure, and decided that the truth would have to wait for another time.
She hadn't imagined it would come so soon.
Lionel Luthor was steadily becoming a ruthless businessman. With an ever-increasing accuracy, he was learning to categorize his assets as either enhancements or liabilities. Enhancements were to be cherished, even exploited, and liabilities were to be efficiently corrected or disposed of. There was no room for error.
Such a philosophy had served him well. In the past five years, LuthorCorp had gone from being a practical corner store to a burgeoning economic presence throughout the Midwest. His indomitable upward mobility had made him somewhat the toast of Metropolis. He headed everyone's shortlist as "The Next Big Thing," and with that distinction, he was beginning to infiltrate the societal circles he had longed to be a part of. And more than a few were taking notice.
Lionel had never wanted fame - not really. Fame, he thought, was a popularity status graciously bestowed upon someone by the mass media. But it could just as easily be taken and given to someone else. No, he wanted something better than fame - he wanted intrigue. The difference between being famous and intriguing was the difference between supply and demand. There was no limit to product, only interest. And public interest was worth its weight in gold.
This realization is why he read the Inquisitor. It was the equivalent of an intrigue ticker tape.
About a month ago, Lionel had been scanning its pages when he came across a chart of quotes from invitees to the Annual Metropolis Children's Hospital Benefit Dinner. This was the first year that he had been invited and was stunned to discover his name among the quotes.
"Mrs. Luthor, unfortunately, will be unable to attend the event. However, Mr. Luthor has been so gracious as to request that he escorts me in her stead. - Rachel Dunlevy"
Lionel could hardly believe his eyes. Muted by horror, he drew in closer to make sure his eyes weren't deceiving him. And there it was in black in white: Rachel Dunlevy.
Of course it was a lie. Lionel was planning to send his donation by proxy, and would be in Texas at the time. Even still, he had no doubt the source of the quote was Rachel herself. Even if she wasn't, he reasoned, that would be worse, since the gossip powers-that-be would have, of themselves, began to link Rachel and himself together. But that was unlikely. Without a doubt, Rachel had gone from being a minor enhancement to a major liability.
Two weeks ago, when Lillian first started feeling revitalized, she had walked past Lionel's home office to hear the answering machine click on. She hadn't recalled that happening before, as only she and his personal assistant had that number and they always knew when he was out of town. Besides, answering machines were a relatively new gadget, and even on the house line, most people were reluctant to leave messages. She paused to hear who it was; it could possibly be urgent. She was shocked to hear the following message screamed into the machine.
"Lionel, your bastard ways have caught up with you after all. If you don't know what I mean, call me at 555-7894"
Stunned she didn't know what to make of it. Lionel made tough decisions sometimes, and had stepped on more than a few toes, but who would leave such a unprofessional and vulgar message? Moments later the house line rung. Lillian answered it.
"Is Mr. Luthor there?" the voice asked.
"No, but this is Mrs. Luthor. To whom am I speaking?" There was silence on the other line and in an instant it all came together.
"Is this Rachel?" With that, she heard a dial tone.
Lillian had never been in Lionel's office when he wasn't there. But, her curiosity wouldn't let her pretend she hadn't heard. She was entitled to an explanation - wasn't she? She walked back towards his office, and stopped just outside the door. She attempted to enter twice, each time retreating to the threshhold. "Do it Lillian" she commanded herself. Quickly and lightly, she jogged over to the machine. She hit the button to make the message play again. And waited.
"You have reached the office of Lionel Luthor, founder of LutherCorp. Please leave a brief message and a number at which you can be reached after the beep." The message seemed to taunt her, as if Lionel were accusing her of betraying him from the heavens. She almost pushed stop, but the machine erupted again, halting her. "Lionel, your bastard ways have caught up with you after all." the machine said. Lillian scrambled for paper and pen, disrupting some papers on the desk. "If you don't know what I mean, call me at 555-7894" She scribbled the number down, and ran downstairs.
Lillian's hand quaked as she dialed the numbers. She heard the phone ring. Then again. Then again. She would let it ring twenty times if she had to. Finally she heard it pick up. She anticipated Rachel's voice on the other end.
"Office of Dr. Bonnie Bose, Female Services. Claire speaking. How may I help you?" the voice on the other end said. Lillian was a little stunned. Dr. Bose was a gynecologist. "Hello?" Claire repeated.
"Hello" Lillian responded. What would she say? "Um, ahem" she replied. A couple more seconds passed; "Is a Rachel Dunlevy there?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, she isn't. Her appointment was yesterday. May I ask to whom I am speaking?" Claire implored. Lillian had to think fast.
"This is her employer, verifying her claim," she said.
"Oh, ok. Well, we aren't permitted to give out claim information over the phone. However, to file a request for a written itemization of our charges, contact the agency that handles our our billing for prenatal services, Metropolis Billing, LLC. Do you have a pen handy?"
Lillian was stunned. Prenatal services? "Yes, I have a pen" she managed to mutter. As Claire rattled off the numbers, Lillian sank to the floor. Without another word she hung up.
Lionel's philosophy towards enhancements versus liabilities needed refining. His rash dismissal of Rachel a month ago had left her with too much access.
He had come home that night, just barely confining his fury. After Lillian was sound asleep, he had taken Rachel outside and confronted her with the article. To his surprise, she openly admitted that a reporter had called and that she had provided him with the quote. Lionel was perilously close to physically assaulting her, but instead, informed her that she had until midnight to pack her things and leave. He also told her that he would have new employment for her by the following afternoon.
But, in his hastiness, he had failed to change his personal number, or secure her silence in any real way, and with Rachel still in town, he knew that she remained a threat to everything he had worked so hard for - most of all, his family.
However, in his most garish nightmares, he would never have guessed what would be waiting on his answering machine for him when he got back into town. He played the message over and over again in sheer disbelief. Upon contacting Rachel, he discovered that she was pregnant, and had every intention of having the child. Over the next several months, Lionel did things that started a new chapter on what lengths he was willing to go to in order to preserve his image and dream. But, in the meantime, his attention was focused on Lillian.
Lionel approached Lillian, who was holding Lex. He put his hand on her shoulder. His touch chilled her. She had cried for a solid week after making the "call." She had felt betrayed, unloved, regretful, insecure and a torrent of other emotions. She had debated every single course of action: leaving him, blackmailing him, disappearing with Lex, even going to the media. Lex, despite being just three years old, seemed to be cognizant of her despair, and would leave her alone for hours at a time, always managing to come back alive. Then, one day, she made her decision.
"Come with me, Lily" Lionel cooed, oblivious to her thoughts. She didn't respond. She didn't know how to truly reject Lionel. Despite the unanswered questions she harbored about his infidelity, she still loved him. There was a magnetism that kept her there. But she hurt too. She closed her eyes, and laid her head against Lex's. "Come with me," he repeated. "How does St. Kitt sound?" It sounded like some place far away from Metropolis, with beautiful weather, health spas, no business engagements, and no Rachel.
"Do I have to decide now?" she finally replied.
"No," Lionel said, with an accommodating look.
"I'll let you know...soon," she added. And then the three of them stood there - Lionel, Lillian and Alexander Luthor. She knew she was enjoying some of the final moments of her life where she could enjoy just the three of them, at their home, together. She knew complex and convoluted days lied in her future. But she would worry about them another day. Because today was a good day, and she was going to enjoy it.
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