Disclaimers: These guys aren't mine, they don't belong to me, worst luck, so don't bother me.
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Note: I know I played around with continuity/time frame a bit about when Garth got a handle on his mage powers. No biggie.
For anyone who may not know, Make a Wish is an organization which grants 'wishes' to critically ill children—a family trip to Disney World, meeting an idolized sports figure or film star, a visit to the Grand Canyon or whatever might make a sick kid happy for a while. It's a real charity and does a lot of good. I know first hand, a friend's family was lucky enough to have them around when their daughter was dying of cancer a few years ago. Sadly, the memories they create often out live the children.
Make a Wish
It was a rare thing for Robin to actually be in the small office the GCPD had allocated to him and Batman but it just happened to be one of those days. He was catching up on paperwork for last week's drug bust, under threat of death if he didn't get it done.
That's the only reason he was there to get the phone call.
He was slogging through the detailed description of the weapons employed; the phone ringing was a welcomed distraction.
"Yes, hello. May I speak to Robin, please?"
"May I ask who's calling?"
"Oh, I'm sorry—Susan Ellsworth. I'm the director of Make a Wish here in Gotham. Is Robin there or, perhaps I could leave a message?"
Make a Wish? Okay, he'd bite. "This is Robin, what can I do for you?"
"Oh my goodness—I've gotten a run around from at least a dozen numbers I was given to try for you and I didn't expect to get a hold of you so, excuse me but you've thrown me for a bit of a loop. All right, well, I was hoping you could help one of our young ladies. Her name is Lauren Rooney and she's a patient over at Wayne General. I'm afraid that she's not doing very well and her parents have contacted us; her wish is to go to her high school prom—with you."
"What's wrong with her?"
"Cancer, terminal cancer."
Shit, terminal cancer. That sucked—in fact that was beyond mere sucking. That was—horrible. "How old is Lauren?"
"She's seventeen, just turned seventeen last week. She's a lovely young lady, she really is. She's been sick since she was fifteen and so she's never had a real boyfriend, this is, well—this is probably her only chance to go to a big school dance and she was hoping that you'd agree." There was a brief pause. "I gather that she's had something of a crush on you for years and never thought she'd ever have a chance to even meet you but now—she asked us if you could be her wish. Robin, I know this is out of the blue, but is there any chance?"
"When and where is it?"
"June tenth, three weeks from now and it's at a country club in New Jersey about forty minutes from Gotham."
"But—why me? Why not some kid from her school or something like that? I'm a stranger, wouldn't she be more comfortable with someone she knows?"
"Well, I guess she wants a fantasy. I suppose she'd like this to be as special as possible. You understand, don't you? She knows she's probably going to die within the year."
Talk about subtle, but Make a Wish was a good charity, he'd done some stuff for them before but it had been things like going to a seven-year-olds birthday party. He'd never dealt with someone his own age and that was a little too close to home, but…hell, it wasn't like he'd never dealt with the dark side of the force before.
Besides, if he turned this girl down he'd feel like a complete shit. He looked at the calendar in the wall; June tenth—he'd be around, nothing was on the schedule and so… "Sure, tell her I'd be happy to take her."
"Really? Oh, that's wonderful! Thank you, Robin, thank you. Could you, I mean, would you call her yourself and asking her? I think she'd get a charge out of that, if you wouldn't mind."
"Yeah, sure, no problem. You have her number?" He wrote it down. "You'll be sending me some kind of confirmation, right?"
"Yes, of course I will. And Robin? Since this is through Make a Wish, we pay for everything, there shouldn't be any out of pocket expenses for you, so you don't worry about that. Let us know what you're going to spend on things and we'll take care of it."
Talk about not necessary, but whatever. "Ms. Ellsworth, just one thing. No publicity, okay? I mean that. No reporters, no news crews, no photographers other than the ones who'd be there anyway and no advance notice that I'll be there."
"Absolutely, I'll see to it and I'll have your confirmation faxed over to you inside of an hour with the details. I can't thank you enough, honestly I can't. She's just such a sweet thing and this will make her so happy; you're wonderful to do this."
"It's okay, no problem. I'll call her as soon as I get your confirmation, all right?" He put the phone back in its cradle and leaned back. Well, okay. It was just one evening, he could do this.
"Hello, is Lauren there?…Lauren? Hi, this is Robin…no, really…no, I'm not kidding…Look, I was hoping that you'd go to your prom with me in a few weeks…no, I'd really like to take you…no, no one forced me or anything…honest…Please? I almost never get a night to myself and I've never been to one of my own school dances so I'd like to see what one's like…I think it would be fun…I don't know—I guess I'm an okay dancer…maybe we could practice before the dance or something…so you'll come with me? That's great—this will be fun…I guess so. Is this formal?...A tux? I can wear a tux, sure. Do you have a dress yet?…Because I heard I'm supposed to ask so I can get flowers that match…okay, tell you what, take my number and when you get one, let me know and then we can set some time to practice the dancing, too. In fact, call me if you have any questions or whatever…well, yeah I'm out a lot but I have a machine and I'll call you back…Okay, good…you sound nice, too…call me when you find a dress and we'll get together…'kay, bye."
Two weeks went by without a word until it got to the point where Robin started to wonder if the date was on or off and, if it was off, what the reason could be. Maybe Johnny Depp became available or maybe she was in chemo. Or maybe she was just shy.
He hoped it was the last. He hoped—he really hoped it wasn't because she was having a relapse or something.
Finally, a week before the dance he was sitting up in his room doing homework when his cell rang. "Hello?"
"Hello, Robin? It's Lauren, am I interrupting anything?"
"No, nothing, just some homework; nothing important."
"Oh, good, um…I got a dress, pale blue. Is that okay? I mean it won't clash with your tux or anything, will it?"
"It's black. It'll be okay."
"Oh God—of course it is. I mean, are you sure you want to do this? I know it's weird—that you just got a call or letter or something from Make a Wish and it was probably impossible for you to turn them down. If you don't want to go to the dance or anything, that's okay. Really, I won't be mad or anything. We could just go to a movie, or—we don't have to do anything. In fact, forget it. This is a stupid idea."
"Lauren, it's okay, I'd really like to take you. I meant it before; I've never had a chance to go to a dance like this and I thought that it might be fun. Honest."
"But won't your girlfriend be mad?"
"I don't have a girlfriend." He picked up the remote and turned off the TV so he could hear her better. She seemed nervous.
"You don't?" She sounded like it was this side of impossible that he was single.
"No, I know this sounds stupid, but I don't really get a chance to meet that many people who are my age and not in juvie." That got a small laugh. "Really, I think this may be fun; I'm looking forward to it, so are we on?"
"I—sure, of course. Um, will you pick me up or would you rather meet me there?"
"I kinda thought that, I mean if you want to, I could pick you up and we could have dinner before and then go over to the dance. Is that okay?"
"Well, there's a progressive dinner—you know, where you have appetizers at one house, then the next course at another and then dessert at another until you're done and then everyone was going over to the country club. Would you hate that?"
Rob swung his legs off his bed and sat up. "No, we can do that, sure. How does it work, do we carpool or drive or walk or something?"
They discussed the details for a while with Lauren telling him that the dance was supposed to end about one or so and then a group of kids were going to someone's family's house down at the Jersey shore, near Long Beach Island. The plan was to swim, party some more and then have breakfast—sleep wasn't part of the plan. "So, would that be okay? I can go by myself if you can't stay out that long or if it sounds really awful."
Robin was smiling to himself. "You sure you won't be bored with me by then?"
Her answer was just an embarrassed giggle.
"It sounds great. I'll see you Saturday, okay?"
"Okay and—thank you, Robin. None of the kids know and this is going to be amazing."
"I'm looking forward to it, Lauren…hey, would it be okay with you if we met before the dance? I mean, if you can, maybe we could get a burger or something tomorrow. You know, we could get to know one another a little and that way Saturday will already have broken the ice."
"Oh—that would be wonderful! Tomorrow? Sure, you know where I live, right? Maybe, um, my parents are a little weirded out by this—do you think maybe you could just come to our house for dinner? Would that be all right? I mean, we don't have to or anything if you don't want to."
"Sure, that would be okay, no problem. I'll see you about seven, is that all right?"
"That would be perfect! Thank you, Robin; you sound really nice."
"So do you, Lauren. I'll see you tomorrow then."
"So, where might you be going, young man?"
"Out to dinner, no big deal, Alfred."
Alfred was as close to exasperated as he ever got, or as close as he ever got to showing it, anyway. "It was my understanding that you'd be in for the evening so that you could help the Master with some new type of back flip he wants to learn. I also spent a good part of the afternoon preparing your favorite meal for you."
"Oh man, I'm sorry—but it'll keep till tomorrow, won't it? We can do that later, really—this isn't a production or anything. It's just dinner."
"A girl named Lauren. I'm taking her to a dance on Saturday and so I'm having dinner with her family so we can get to know one another a little. Okay?"
"Assuming your consideration of others redefines itself, yes, I suppose it's all right as long as you return at a reasonable hour."
Dick knew when he'd won. "Thanks Alf, I'll see you around nine or ten."
"Please see to it that you do and call if you're delayed." Sighing, Alfred put the uncooked special cheese soufflé down the disposal. He'd try again tomorrow.
Dick was in Lauren's driveway at five after seven, as promised and a man he presumed to be her father was watering the flower gardens along a front walk. He parked the car, Bruce's Boxter with GCPD plates (so they couldn't be traced, of course) along the side, so he wouldn't block other cars. It was a nice house in an upscale neighborhood, the house sitting on what looked to be a couple of acres. Wearing a newish pair of jeans and a black, short sleeved Henley shirt he'd gotten for his birthday a few weeks ago, along with his mask, he walked over to the man, he held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Robin, Lauren invited me to dinner."
Giving the offered hand a shake, "Yes, we've been expecting you. Bill Rooney, nice to meet you. Lauren's inside, c'mon. Did you have a long drive to get here?"
"No, a little over half an hour, not too bad."
"You live in Gotham, right?"
"Pretty much. It's nice to get out of the city once in a while." He wasn't about to tell the man he lived in a Manor on over four hundred acres. Lauren's mother came out of what he assumed was the kitchen, wiping her hands, smiling and two younger—maybe junior high aged—brothers appeared, obviously just to see Robin with their own eyes. They seemed like a nice family.
Lauren came down the stairs wearing slacks and a short sleeved pink blouse. She was a pretty girl, pale and delicate but much too thin and wearing what was obviously a pale blonde wig, though a good quality one. She seemed excited and shy at the same time. She also seemed, well, fragile.
"Dinner should be ready in about half an hour; Robin, would you like something to drink? It's so warm today. Soda, water?"
Glass of ice water in hand, Lauren led him out to the back yard, the two of them settling on some comfortable chairs beside the pool.
"This must be weird for you; having dinner with a bunch of strangers. I'm sorry you're having to go through this."
Robin gave her a surprised look. She was fighting what seemed to be terminal cancer and she was worried about him feeling awkward and was apologizing to him about him being in a possibly strained situation. "No. No problem. God, I'm always stared at when I go anywhere and I almost never get to eat a real family dinner like this." He liked this girl and it was more than just feeling sorry for her and the people who cared about her. "Besides, I didn't have to agree to this, you know—I could have come up with some excuse."
"Why didn't you? You can't really want to take me to a school dance. Make a Wish must have really leaned on you."
"Yeah, well, that's the thing—I do want to go to this dance. I've never been to one, I don't have time to go to my own school proms or anything; I'm always working."
Lauren hesitated, "I can't believe you don't have a girlfriend."
"Why not?" He wasn't being modest; he really didn't see why everyone seemed to assume his life was picture perfect.
"You're really good looking, you're famous, you have money to be driving that car. You even have a fan club."
"Yeah, but between school and being Robin I really don't have a lot of free time and I almost never get a chance to meet 'normal' girls—and if I do they just want, you know, they just want to say they've gone out with me. I don't really like just being a notch on someone's belt so I kind of avoid all of that right now." They heard some music coming from the house; someone had radio on or something. "Did your parents mind having to sign a confidentiality agreement? I know it's a weird thing."
Lauren laughed, "No, they thought it was funny—does everyone you meet have to sign one of those?"
"God no—that was Make a Wish. They insisted. I think they were afraid of this ending up in a tabloid or something obnoxious like that."
One of the younger brothers came around the side of the house. "Mom says dinner's ready so come inside."
Lauren's mother met them as they walked in through the kitchen door, "Oh no, dear—not in here, I thought we'd be less crowded in the dining room. I hope you like steak, Robin."
"Sure, 'sounds great; I eat just about anything."
Lauren led him into the next room, a formal dining room complete with candles, linen tablecloth and matching napkins. So much for a low-key family dinner.
With everyone seated Robin took a private moment to look over the various Rooneys. They were trying hard, that much was obvious, but there was tension beneath the surface and a deep sadness—all understandable, of course and he felt sorry for them. Lauren was going to die and probably fairly soon and he had a sudden surge at remembered pain from his parent's deaths. There would be no way to lessen it and he only hoped that they would be able to come to terms with it sooner rather than later.
Mrs. Rooney passed him a bowl of salad. "So Robin, we were wondering, do you do things like this often?"
"Make a Wish?" She nodded. "Sometimes, maybe once or twice a year and I've never been to a high school dance before—it sounds like it'll be something different."
"Oh, are you home schooled?"
"No, just busy. I was going to go to the prom last Spring but then I ended up having to go to Japan to work, instead."
Lauren's friends had arranged for the limo and Robin was at her house when it picked them up at 6:30 to start the progressive dinner. His tux Armani, of course, since there wasn't time for him to have a new one custom made in London. Lisa, in light blue silk chiffon donated by Vera Wang and with her wig styled that afternoon, was waiting along with her family, all with cameras ready for the obligatory pictures of the embarrassed youngsters.
Finally ready to go, he handed her into the stretch, opening the door for her and climbing in behind her. At first no one really noticed him, beyond the fact that someone else was in the large car and he was wearing a mask. They all had their attention on Lauren; "I love your dress!" "Your hair looks really good tonight!" "Where did you get your shoes?"
It was weird, but then it was high school.
"Hey, who's your date? He's not in our school is he?"
She almost ducked her head but then shook off her innate shyness. "This is Robin. Robin, this is everybody."
There was moment of stares and awkward silence as they all took in the black hair, the athletic build, the obviously not rented tux and the mask (a mask? God!). Finally a small Asian girl held out her hand to shake with a straightforward, "Nice to meet you, Robin, I'm Ashley."
As simple as that, he was accepted as part of the group and for the first time in a very long time, it was because who he was with and not who he was.
The first stop was at the Bradley's house with appetizers served out by the pool. Chinese lanterns hung from the trees and candles floated in the water with soft rock playing in the background. There would be time for loud music and dancing later and they all knew it—this first stop was so that the girls could admired each other's dresses and the boys could pretend they were unimpressed.
Lauren was surrounded by friends and classmates; in fact, she was surrounded the entire evening. Quiet and a little shy, it was obvious that she was also the belle of the ball. Robin suspected it was a conspiracy by her friends to make what would likely be her only prom as memorable as possible and he was glad to see that. Even in his limited time with her, he liked her. He did what he could be stay in the background—this wasn't about him and he was relieved to see that all the kids seemed to understand that as much as he
did. No one hassled him for autographs or pictures or made a big deal over him, he was just there as an appendage to Lauren and that was the way he wanted it to stay.
After an hour the hundred or so students and dates loaded themselves back into the cars and headed on to the entrée part of the procession meal.
The next house was bigger than the last and had rented tables set up on the large back lawn under a tent lined in silk. Robin knew a catered party when he saw one—it was practically a way of life in Bruce's social circle—and this was mid-range, meaning it had likely cost somewhere in the hundred dollars a head range. Of course the cost was kept down because everyone was underage for drinking and the bar only served punch, fruit juice, water and soda, but still, fillet mignon and lobster tails were always designed to impress, especially at a sit down thing like this. There wasn't a buffet line in sight. He wondered if the owners of he house donated all this or if there was some kind of fund. Whatever.
Lauren and Robin sat at a table with four other couples. Everyone had the sense not to bother Robin by asking stupid questions or anything, knowing why he was there and wanting the evening to go well. He was included in the general conversation and jokes, but hardly singled out. Perfect.
He did notice that Lauren didn't eat much and seemed to play with more food than she swallowed, but no one said anything. At least she was dressed up, out and having a good time.
One of the girls, a redhead in an pale green dress teased, "Lauren, you been practicing dancing? I know Tom wanted to ask you—as long as your date doesn't care."
She blushed, smiled and, embarrassed, nodded.
"You didn't tell me you've been lining up other guys—you're not going to ditch me after we get there, are you?" Robin was smiling when he said it, but she looked happy and that was all that mattered tonight.
He started on his lobster, always a favorite. To the envy of everyone at their table, he disassembled the thing and ate it without getting a single drop of drawn butter on his shirt front or his hands.
"Where did you learn how to do that? I told my parents they were nuts to order lobster for everyone, but would they listen? Of course not! We all look like dweebs in these stupid bibs and you're just sitting there—you learned rich boy manners somewhere, didn't you?" The redhead across the table was indignant at the unfairness of it all.
"I have a friend who taught me how to do this and say clean."
"Oh sure, who?"
"…Just a friend."
"Uh-huh—your girlfriend, right?"
"Ah, not really—Aqualad. He's really good at this; you should see him."
"Oh yeah…" That quieted the table, the kids nodding and making Robin feel bad; this wasn't what he wanted.
"It's easy, you just have to get the hang of it; I'll show you." And he proceeded to demonstrate neatly how to eat lobster and crab with the best of Atlantean manners and lodging himself firmly in he 'okay' category.
Finally, dinner over, the kids all moved on to the final house for dessert.
This time they were in another huge McMansion, decorated in what could only be described as Tacky Italian Whorehouse. The cherubs and everything which stood still long enough were gilded, draped in velvet or carved out of marble. It was a scary thing.
This time there were waiters walking around with trays of bite sized petit fours, cheese cakes, tarts, fruit and a vastly over the top ice cream parlor station where you could choose among about seven thousand different toppings. It was fun but Robin made a comment to Lauren about how of they really ate all of that they'd all end up barfing on the dance floor as she laughed and nodded agreement. They confined themselves to small waffle bowls with a mere three toppings each. A few of the kids got into the inevitable food fight but Robin knew that wasn't the kind of entertainment Lauren was hoping to remember so they stayed off to the side, watching as the girls shrieked and ended up I tears about stained dresses and slippery, sticky shoes.
It was pretty funny if you were on the outside looking in, though.
Full from the drawn out meal (in some cases, stuffed), the students loaded into the various limos, SUV's, sports cars and a couple of motorcycles to make their way, finally, over to the Country Club about nine o'clock.
There were the usual decorations in the large rented ballroom, balloons, streamers, flowers, a band up on a small stage and the required mirror ball slowly spinning in the middle of the ceiling. The kids wandered in and found tables for the girls to put their small evening purses on and so the boys could lose their constricting and too warm jackets. Over in a large hallway, a professional photographer had set up a large paper backdrop and was taking pictures of couples while parent/teacher/chaperones circulated, self-important and generally proud at how well the students had cleaned up.
Robin and Lauren took their turn with the photographer, the other kids pretending cool and not interfering while one of the mothers came gushing up to the boy, "Robin! Oh my goodness—would you mind signing this napkin for my daughter—not the one here, my younger daughter? She's your biggest fan, I swear you're all she ever talks about and she has your picture all over her walls and she'd just kick herself if she knew you were here and she missed meeting you!" He signed the napkin, suffered through a few snapshots and, with an apologetic smile to Lauren, thanked the woman and politely left her gazing after him. He was half afraid she'd turn out to be a cougar after him later.
"Would you like to dance?"
Lauren gave him a shy smile, one he really liked and shook her head. "In awhile, I'd like to sit down for a few minutes if that's okay with you."
"Of course, c'mon." He took her hand and led her over to the table, empty now while the other kids danced and visited with their friends.
"This must really be boring for you; I'm sorry." She'd probably overdone a bit, she was pale and even with the makeup, he could see circles beneath her eyes.
"No, really—I almost never get to do anything normal like this. I'm having a good time and I really like your friends."
She would have quirked her eyebrows at him if she still had eyebrows. "What do you like about them?"
"That they're leaving us alone and not making a deal over us being here, that they're being cool about everything. Not everyone would."
"Like Mrs. Harris? I know she come on a little strong; I guess we're all just used to her." That was the woman who came close to hitting on Robin.
"Oh, her—that happens all the time. No big deal."
Lauren smiled, "Oh yeah? You ever take them up on the offers?"
"Now you're scaring me." Robin was laughing—like that would ever happen. He'd never been that desperate.
"Do you still want to dance?" Robin nodded and took her hand.
The dance ended around midnight, the majority of the kids heading back to their rides for the trip down to whatever shore house was hosting the after party and breakfast. Robin was just hitting his second wind while he caught the other kids in the limo yawning with a couple crashing out and napping during the almost two hour drive and not minding at all when Lauren fell asleep leaning against him, his arm around her shoulder. Greeting the dawn was old hat to him.
They pulled into the driveway a little after three, the bonfire on the beach already going and a late night breakfast ready to go when people got hungry. Kids had packed bathing suits and brought towels and parents were inside to make sure nothing got out of hand.
Usually the water on the Jersey shore, especially this early in the season would be too cold for swimming but when Robin heard it was part of the plan, he asked his old Titan friend, Garth—Aqualad—to help them out. Using his powers, he raised the temps near the swimming beach up to close to eighty-two degrees, warm enough that Lauren wouldn't get chilled. After changing inside, the kids were in the water in about five minutes, not knowing or caring why the water was so comfortable and with Robin keeping quiet.
He was, though, now that he had most of his clothes off, a center of attention, at least as far as the girls were concerned; he was, beyond question, the best looking and best built thing on the beach. The best he could do was ignore the giggles and whispers and stay close to Lauren, now wearing a close fitting scarf instead of the wig.
Foregoing the rough housing nearer shore, they slowly waded out to about their shoulders. "This is really nice out here; do you think we're safe, thought?" She was timid, not a strong swimmer and it was dark.
"'You see Jaws recently?" He took her hand. "Nah, we're safe."
She gave him a shy smile; "This must seem pretty tame for you."
"Tame isn't bad." There was a splash somewhere behind them, maybe twenty feet further out, causing Lauren to jerk around to look. "It's okay, it's just a friend of mine. Honest."
A moment later Garth surfaced beside them, using his hand to wipe water out of his eyes. "Is this all right? Not too cold?"
"Lauren, he's talking about the water temperature—he arranged for it. You're okay, not too hot or cold? He can change it if you want."
She stared at Garth, maybe expecting him to disappear in a puff of smoke or flip his tail or conjure up a sea monster or something.
"No, it's perfect. Thank you." She stood there, not believing she was between two of the Teen Titans and having an almost normal conversation involving changing the temperature of the ocean and that they'd be happy to adjust it for her if she wanted. "Would you like to stay? There's plenty of food and I'm sure everyone would really love to meet you."
Though well meaning, that was exactly the wrong thing to say. "No, I have to leave—the water will stay like this for a couple of hours, though. Rob—I'll see you next week." Nodding, he half turned and did a surface dive, disappearing immediately.
"'Sorry about that—he's a good guy, but he's shy. It wasn't anything personal."
"You asked him to warm up the ocean for me?" Unbelievable.
"I didn't want you to get cold."
"Where did he go, though? Did he swim here from, I don't know—Atlantis or someplace?"
"I don't know; he probably has a boat around, anchored out there somewhere."
"Are you tired? They have the fire going."
Lauren nodded—this was the most amazing night of her life but she really was tired—it was the chemo and Robin was being incredibly nice about everything the whole evening. And that was starting with him agreeing to even take her to the dance, let alone the whole dinner and after party stuff thrown. They made their way over to the bonfire, finding seats against a log to use as a backrest and sitting on their towels. He put his arm around her and no one paid any attention when the two of them sneaked a couple of kisses. It didn't go any further simply because this was a first (and probably last) date but it was enough to put the perfect end to the whole thing, at least as far as Lauren was concerned.
A little while, the horizon starting to lighten with dawn, Robin felt her head resting on his shoulder and knew she was asleep. He let her stay as long as he could, knowing she was exhausted and not as used to these hours as he was. There were kids crashed out all long the beach and likely up in the house, as well.
The hosting parents let them all sleep till about nine and then walked around, gently nudging and telling everyone breakfast was ready—letting them know it was time to get up, eat and go home.
Four hours later, changed into casual clothing, fed on scrambled eggs and bagels and back up the Jersey Thruway, Robin and Lauren were let off at her house.
"We were wondering when you two would wander in—good prom, sweetheart?"
Lauren smiled at her mother, holding Robin's hand while her father gave him a hard look—well known hero or not, he was still a teenaged boy and Lauren was his daughter.
"It was perfect—we danced and Aqualad warmed up the water down at Josh's house so we could swim and—it was perfect." She leaned against Robin. "Thank you. That's not enough, but thank you—I'll never forget last night. Never." He returned her smile, as content as she was.
Lauren's parents were thrilled; happy Lauren had the chance to do this. "Robin, would you like to come in and have some lunch? We were just about to put hamburgers on the grill."
"I should get home but I had a really good time—thank you for letting me do this." He gave her a reasonably chaste peck with her parents watching. "Would it be all right if I called you? Maybe we could see a movie or something."
A pleased blush. "I'd like that."
She walked him to the Porsche and put her hand on his through the opened window. "Thank you." He nodded and pulled out of the driveway. An hour later he was walking into the Manor's kitchen.
"Master Dick, if I may say so, you look like something the proverbial cat dragged in. May I assume we shall miss the pleasure of your company for the rest of the day?"
"Long night, Alf, gotta crash."
"Was the evening a success?" A smile and a nod were all the answer he got.
Less than a week later the pictures hit the tabs. Someone, a classmate, a teacher. A chaperon. A crasher—it didn't matter, had sold the undercover snaps for a reported fifty-thousand dollars and were printed under the headline 'Robin Earns His Angel Wings.' The story was picked up by all the usual outlets from People to Newsweek to the Nightly News to being inescapable on the Internet.
Robin was furious and called Lauren as soon as he saw them. To his surprise she just laughed, unused to this kind of attention and thought it was just funny. Thank God.
Make a Wish was also angry, though and wrote a letter threatening legal action should any of their clients ever have their privacy invaded like this again. They pointed out that the lack of respect to a sick minor was reprehensible and would make getting other celebrities to help more difficult after this breech.
To the surprise of everyone, the Enquirer published an apology to both Robin and Lauren, wishing her well and offering to pay any medical expenses not covered by insurance.
And Robin did follow up and call her a few days later. "So, you want to watch a movie or something?"
"I'd love it but would it be okay of you just came here and we rent something?"
"Fewer people, sure, no problem."
It wasn't true love or anything like that, but they liked one another and were becoming real friends.
The next time he called, a week later, he got the answering machine. The next day Mrs. Rooney answered. "Robin? I'm sorry I didn't return your call yesterday; Lauren has taken at turn for the worse, I'm afraid she's back in the hospital for a while."
"Is there anything I can do? I mean, visit or send flowers or something?"
"That's sweet of you, honey, but not really, no. She's in isolation to avoid any infection or any kind of contamination which would tax her immune system. I'll tell her you called, though. In fact, you could call her in the hospital, she would love that and she can take calls." She gave him the number. "And Robin, I wanted to thank you again for taking her to that dance—Bill would, too. She hasn't talked about anything else since you said you'd go with her and then coming over those other times as well, you've made her very happy. I want you to know how much."
He called Lauren every day for a couple of weeks until the day he got no answer in her room. Calling the nurse's station on her floor, he was told that Lauren was 'having a procedure'. The 'procedure' was ongoing every time he called until, suspicious, he saw the obituary on the Internet after a short search.
Though genuinely saddened, he wasn't all that surprised.
Make a Wish didn't give away free trips and set up meetings with some sports superstar or the hot pop singer of the moment if the prognosis was a good one. Lauren was sick when they went to the prom; she was weak and tired, even if she did what she could to hide it.
The obit said a memorial service would be held the next day. The family requested no flowers, suggesting that donations be sent to Sloan Kettering in New York. Robin wrote a check for ten thousand dollars and mailed it then went to the funeral wearing a pair of black slacks, a buttoned down shirt and a black tie he borrowed from Bruce, along with his mask. He purposely arrived a few minutes late and stood quietly in the back, leaving just as the service ended so as not to be noticed.
And whenever Make a Wish called, he made a point of answering.