Hearing her voice was a joy. It had been more than a month since he'd heard it last, and just when he feared he'd forget it, there she was on the phone, chattering about her classes and how interesting her classmates were, even if she generally kept to herself.

She sounded happy, and he laughed at the corny veterinarian joke she spouted in his ear.

"No, but seriously, classes are going really well! I was kind of worried about being away from the valley for so long, but… you guys are doing okay without me, right? I talk to Kurt and Joe once in a while, and my Grandpa, but you're doing fine, too, right? Sorry I don't call more often…"

He could hear the anxious note in her voice, hidden just under the surface, and he rushed to smooth it over.

"Oh, no, no, we're fine here, too! The horses and Dolly miss you, of course… oh, come to think of it, Dolly is going to have a calf soon! I had a friend bring out their bull to -" A beeping sounded in his ear and he winced before clearing his throat. " O-oh… hold on, Gwennie… Hang on, I'm getting a call… someone on the other line. Call you back when I'm done?"

As soon as she let out a sound in the affirmative, he heard a click and the phone switched over. The warm sound of his father's voice washed over him, and he let out a sigh as he deflated somewhat.

"Bobby? Bobby boy, what's going on? You left that message, and it sounded like something was wrong… your mother is worried you've gotten sick, but I told her that couldn't be it, Starling men are too hardy for that."

The large man could practically hear the crease in his father's brow, something that only happened when he got worried.

"I… yeah, Pops. I'm…" Another sigh escaped. "… I'm fine. I'll be fine. Was just talkin' to Gwennie for a bit… hadn't heard from her in a while."

"… ahhhh… that… explains a bit, then." The line went quiet for a moment and he heard the older man take a breath. "… you haven't asked her, I take it?"

Bob went silent, his mind whirring and his eyes travelled to the brilliantly colored feather on the mantle.

"… I don't think she'll say yes, Pops. She's… she's happy where she is. I don't wanna take her from that."

He listened to the sigh through the phone, long and disappointed.

"Dunno why you insist that you'll just be pulling her down; you're not a weight, Bobby. You're an anchor. Her anchor. She always comes back to you, and ya know it! Stop pussyfootin' around and get to it, would ya? I know you can wait forever, but don't think she will!"

The older Starling man, not in the habit of saying goodbyes over the phone, hung up, but Bob had seen it coming. Pulling it away from his ear, he looked at it for a long moment before setting it down on the counter. He reached out to pluck the feather from the mantle, sitting down at the kitchen table rather heavily.

It was a while before he realized the phone was ringing again.