"Hey, you've reached Richard Grayson. I'm not in right now, but if you could leave a message after the beep, I'll be sure to-"
My breathy sigh drowns out the rest of his chipper recording. The dial tone sounds off, and I pour my bitterness into the tiny speaker. "Hey there, it's Wally. Y'know, your best friend. Or at least- I think I am. I wouldn't really know, considering you haven't spoken to me for-" I recall the days without issue. "Three months, now. For all I know, you're in a ditch somewhere." Wincing, I shake my head. "Forget it. Call me back, dude." My phone is flipped shut and shoved back into my pocket.
He never answers anymore, and I'm in the midst of sounding like someone's needy girlfriend, with all the messages, emails, and texts I've left. It's pathetic, but I can't make myself stop. Someone would have told me if he were really dead, right? It wasn't something that could just be blown over- Dick Grayson, despite not being a part of Gotham's elite social circle from birth, was still a decently sized component of the rich society. His demise would of been broadcast on the news. Or, at the very least, Uncle Barry would of caught wind of it from the Justice League and delivered the message to me.
I find my teeth sinking into my chapped lower lip, the longer I consider the possibility.
Shoving my sour feelings aside, I push open the diner's door. It squeals and shudders as the aged hinges wrestle with the force I apply before finally allowing me to slip inside the cozy eatery. From the counter, Molly waves at me, half-heartedly. I return the greeting and slide into one of the far booths. Central City only had one diner in town- a rundown old shack, that was set on the fast track to nowhere. It couldn't compete with the fancy restaurants and fast food joints that stood proudly on every street corner, and was scheduled to be shut down by the end of the month if business failed to pick up. So I made sure to stop by whenever my allowance could endure the hit. The food was far from luxurious, but the staff were friendly, and it gave off the effect of home.
Molly strolled toward me with a beaming grin, pen and paper in hand. I would bet that I was her favourite customer- on account of how well I tipped, and that I was most likely the only one here who wasn't hungover or still intoxicated. "What can I get'cha, Hon?" Her New Yorker accent was cutesy; something that matched her youthful energy and rows of curly blonde hair. You would never assume she was thirty-nine, had it not been for the laugh lines that marred her features.
"Whatever's fresh." I reply teasingly, chortling as she whacks me lightly on the shoulder.
"You know everything's fresh, ya kidder!"
The cobwebs in the corners of the seating area make me beg to differ- but I only smile and request she bring me a plate of nachos. Taking my order, she bounced right along; polyester uniform flouncing after her.
I resist the urge to lean my forehead against the table, as the thunder clouds grumbled angrily in the sky. Heavy rain and storm clouds- I'd completely forgotten the weatherman's report from this morning. Too busy trying to locate my backpack in the tornado of dirty clothes I'd left strewn around the room.
My cell vibrates in my sodden jacket pocket, and I drag it out slowly. As expected, 'Mom' flashes across the caller ID screen. I shoo off the stinging disappointment that lingers in the crevasses of my mind- who else would it be? I ignore the call, despite my better judgment. I'm in no mood to be lectured for the disastrous state I left the house in-my backpack had ended up being hung neatly on the coat rack, right next to do the door-and begin circulating through my contacts instead.
I scroll through a few times, entranced by the blinking lights as I pass each name. My finger ends up hovering at the top of the list; lips pressed tight in muted frustration.
If I knew very little about Dick's current location, or well-being, Artemis was a complete mystery. It was as if she up and vanished off the face of the Earth, not two short weeks after-
I suck in a sharp breath. The thought is off limits.
By the time the nachos are set before me, my appetite has long since dissipated, and the rain pours down in a thick cloak of despair.
My phone lays flat on the table, discarded.
After forcing down the soggy plate of nachos, I stared out the window with a grimace. The downpour seemed to only be getting worse, the longer I stayed hidden away in the safety of the diner. It was nearing five o'clock, and Mom would be calling back again soon to do more than scold me if I didn't make it home in time for dinner. Super speed would have come in handy, had their not been people strolling through the torrents of water as if it were a gorgeous Friday afternoon.
I snatch my phone off the dining table, and dial the number before my actions can be probably contemplated. It rung only twice before the voice I was so familiar with, tinged with anxiety, quickly asked; "Wally? What's wrong?"
I laugh lowly, nervous. He had been consistently repeating the same three words whenever I called, for the last month. I was starting to ponder the idea that I would be giving him grey hair if I kept it up. "Nothing, Uncle Barry. I just- think you can give me a ride home?"
He emits a soft breath sporting nothing short of relief. "Course, Kid. Where are ya?"
By the time the familiar red Honda pulls up to the curb, I'm soaked to the bone. Barry leans over to the passenger side and unlocks the door for me- giving me a cheerful smile as I scoot inside and immediately reach for the heater controls.
"Jeez, Kid. Your lips look blue."
I lean back against the plush fabric of the seat, soaking up the warmth that spreads through my wet socks. "When you said, 'I'll be there in five minutes' I thought that meant you'd be here in, I don't know- five minutes." I retort in annoyance.
His chuckle is good-natured. "I never told you to wait outside."
I mutter under my breath as the cityscape shifts into rows of suburban homes. We drive in a comfortable silence that leads to me starting to feel my eyelids droop. We're nearly there, when his fingers suddenly brushing my jaw has me springing backward and knocking my head against the glass of the window- he retracts his hand in a similar panicked motion and I glare furiously.
"What was that for?"
"Sorry," He murmurs, turning his blue eyes back to the road just as the stop light changes to green. "I was just looking at your bruise."
My own hand sweeps over the purple skin along my chin, and I wince. It still feels fresh, and throbs under my fingers in rhythm to the painful coursing in my head. "Um, yeah. I got- into a scrap today, at lunch."
Barry clucks his tongue in his mouth- it's easy to decipher the underlying message in the action. He's caught my lie, but chooses not to comment on it. I angle my body as far away from his prying eyes as possible; kicking off my sneakers and pushing my feet closer to the air vent.
Nothing else is said, until we've pulled up in front of my mundane two-story house. I struggle with my inner turmoil for a moment- we haven't gotten a chance to really talk in private as of late, and with the sudden up in crime-rate in Central, we may not get another opportunity. I want to confess my worry over Dick; to question my Uncle, and perhaps admit the reality of where my injured jaw really came from.
But, I pull the handle on the car door and step back out into the monsoon without saying more than a thank you. Barry nods, and as always, reminds me he's here whenever I need him. He stresses the whenever, and I can tell it's taking all of his self-control not to beg me to open up to him.
Giving him once final look, I slam the door shut and march up my porch- not bothering to turn as I hear the tires screech against the wet pavement and disappear in the distance.
As I twist the knob and step inside the foyer, I can hear the sound of my Father gruffly yelling from inside the kitchen. The throb in my jaw becomes more prominent.
Home, sweet home.
The violent ache in my shoulder blade is what startles me into consciousness the next morning- my body hanging precariously along the edge of the mattress, with the sheets tangled around my legs, and the blanket in a heap on the floor. I slowly twist myself up into an upward sitting position, and peel the cotton off of me, before attempting to roll my shoulder. It sends a searing pain throughout the left half of my chest, and an examination of the area proves to be informative when I spot the darkened blotches there.
I promptly look away, and focus my attention on the calendar that's draped haphazardly along the edge of my nightstand. The wrinkled image of a sports car peeks back at me. Hesitantly, as if the pages are hot to the touch, I pinch the corner of it and pin it back on the nail it was once held up by.
Crosses mark each and everyday with the inky streaks of a marker- I grab the felt-pen from the stand and draw an X along November 21st.
Not that I need to count the days anymore- it's a natural, instinctive thing. A plague.
One hundred, forty-seven days since my world fell apart.
AN: Still not sure how I feel about this. I enjoyed writing it, and I have so many future ideas for this, but... I'm conflicted. Thoughts?