If you're here without reading the previous four chapters...why?
Gwen mostly just hangs around behind me when I visit the photography section at the College of Arts seminar. I told her repeatedly she didn't need to follow me there, especially since this isn't something she's really interested in. My favorite response of hers? "You lost all going-off-by-yourself privileges this morning, Petey."
There isn't much of a photography department at this school, though. No surprise there - I've found it to be one of the more overlooked art forms, which is pretty sucky for me because it's the only one I'm remotely proficient in. And besides, I'd be going here more for the science stuff than for the photography. Even though I think I could make it as a photographer - just look at Jeff from Rear Window - Aunt May and Uncle Ben always advised me to pursue science for two reasons. One, it's the other big interest I've got. And two, it's more likely to be a practical course of study.
My only worry is that one day, I'll spend so long in that field that it'll turn me mad. Like Dr. Curt Connors. God save him, but he was so horribly misguided and desperate, and I always felt bad for him. Even when I was taunting him, while he was in Lizard form, in the halls of Midtown Science. "Aww, somebody's been a very bad lizard!"
The ensuing library fight - with the old-fogey librarian, Mr. Lee, completely oblivious to it all because he was listening to some classical suite or other as it played very loudly on his headphones - I think I had it coming. Not only for provoking the Lizard, but also for throwing Gwen out the window and webbing her up to break her fall. That move, which I came up with and executed in the span of maybe ten seconds at most, could have easily gone lethally wrong. And if that had happened, I don't know what I would have done.
There's only one other person who's got my level of interest in the CCU Photography Club. He's about my height, but he's got way more muscle than I do. He could almost be one of Flash Thompson's football teammates (and yes, Flash does play football in addition to basketball - more chances to sustain serious brain injury, but at least he has his way of keeping active pretty much year-round.) Almost - except I don't believe I've met him before. As one of the unofficial school paparazzi (Gwen calls me that, but if you so much as try to imitate her, I'll summon the cast of American Horror Story: Coven to scoop your eyeballs out with melon ballers), I often find myself taking pictures of just about every team the school has, academic or athletic. (I always laugh when I remember the time Uncle Ben saw the picture of Gwen and the debate team I was touching up on my computer. If it had been a picture of, say, the swim team, he probably wouldn't have gone so out of his way to point out how pretty the most front-and-center person in the shot was.) This guy, I don't recognize from any of my sports pictures.
There's something else about him that's a little off. It takes me a few seconds to figure it out, and then I kindly point it out to him. "Uh, dude? Your name tag is upside down."
"Huh?" The guy looks down at his chest, then laughs out loud. "Oh crap, you're right!" He hastily unsticks the name tag and switches it to its proper position. Now I can actually read it - "Dick Grayson," it says.
"Nice to meet you, uh, Dick," I say. "Or do you prefer 'Richard' or something?"
"Grayson works just fine," he says, shaking hands with me. "I kinda started rolling with the 'Dick' thing before I knew what it really meant." He reads my name tag, and adds, "I guess I can say the same about you, huh, Peter?"
"What do you mean?"
Grayson snickers to himself. "It's, uh...well, I saw an Honest Trailer once that was talking about how some character - also called Peter - was being cockblocked by his girlfriend's dad. The video said something about the dad making sure he 'stuck his peter anywhere but in his daughter.'"
I must look so disgusted right now. I can only imagine what Gwen must be thinking - she's a few yards away, pretending to be interested in the Sculpture Club or something like that. But if she were to turn and see me and Grayson talking... "Are you serious?" I ask him.
"Hey, don't blame me," he says, holding his hands up. "I didn't know 'peter' and 'dick' were synonyms before then."
"I almost wanna go look it up on Urban Dictionary or something right now."
"You look on Urban Dictionary?" Grayson's practically guffawing at this point. His eyes also start shining to match his mischievous, dimpled smile. That face should not be allowed in a room with ladies present - they'd all be killed by it. In a good way, of course.
"Sometimes," I say. "When I really need a laugh."
"Not that you need one now, of course."
Good point there. I don't think I've ever found myself connecting so well, so fast, with any other human being. Maybe it's just the way that this guy can bring out a dirty side I never really knew I had.
Gwen finally gives up on the sculpture people at this point - I guess you can only stare at rusty-looking abstract whirly-birds for so long - and waves hi to me. "Who's this guy?" she asks, her eyes darting in Grayson's direction. I introduce the two of them, and while Gwen makes to shake Grayson's hand, he instead wraps her in a bear hug. She takes it in stride, though, and smiles hugely while hugging him back.
"Sorry about that," he says, his lady-killing grin changing from mischievous to embarrassed. "I always get really affectionate with girls, for some reason."
"Gwen's a total sweetheart, so she deserves it," I say, earning myself a punch in the shoulder from her.
"You know," she says, scratching her chin with her thumb as we make our way out of the hall and onto the lawn, "I don't think I've seen you at school before. Are you new?"
"You can say that, yeah," Grayson says, rubbing the back of his neck. I know that gesture - I've been known to do it myself when talking to Gwen. I've never had reason to be a jealous type, so my first thought about that is instead about how it must be contagious or something. "I'm not, like, a brand-new transfer student or anything," he adds, "but I've just not been at your school long enough to get noticed. For good or bad."
Across the lawn, there's a DJ who's been playing non-stop hip-hop for the last few hours. But it seems that non-stop may have just run out, because the next song that plays for everyone is an old favorite of mine and Gwen's - "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles. Even though it's actually the opposite of what its title suggests, that didn't stop us from using it to practice dancing to before junior prom a couple of weeks ago. Right now, it's what Gwen is jokingly calling "our song."
And apparently, Grayson enjoys it too, because as soon as it starts, he spontaneously unzips his hoodie, tosses it into Gwen's arms, and break-dances his way up and down the lawn. The whole time, he's grinning like an idiot, clearly enjoying himself. I've never wanted to do any kind of performing arts myself - unless I'm in costume, of course, so nobody can see me. Mad props to Grayson, then.
Three-and-some-odd minutes later, the song ends, and Grayson takes center stage in the circle of viewers - myself and Gwen included - that's gathered around him. He takes a theatrical bow, then heads back to us. "Whew," he says, wiping a bit of sweat from his forehead. "I need to cool down. Where's that big blond dude with the ice cream?"
"Over there somewhere," I say, gesturing to the still-operational row of food tables. "Unless that freaky black hole somehow sucked him up, huh?" I nudge Grayson's ribs while we both laugh. Gwen's laugh, however, is a little loud and false, even more so than her usual fake-annoying laugh. (Actually, her real laugh is annoying too, but I don't tell her that because I want her to think I find it endearing - which, to some extent, I do.)
"Yeah, that," Grayson says. He looks over at the skyline of Central City in the distance. "My God, though, all those people who probably got sucked up for real..."
"I'm sure there weren't that many of them," I say. "I mean, it's the weekend. Who goes into the office on the weekend?"
Grayson nods. "That's true. But someone has to, you know? Go into the office, I mean. Otherwise, the whole business world could go to Hell in a handbasket."
Gwen purses her lips. "Don't tell me that's where the black hole took them."
"No way," I say. "Me, I don't think there's an express elevator to Hell like that. Unless whoever got sucked up by the black hole was one of those Ponzi-scheme-type CEOs."
"They'd deserve an express elevator," Grayson muses, "but then who decides how their victims get compensated? The lawyers?"
Gwen snickers darkly. "They'd probably get greedy."
"Okay," I say, rolling my eyes. "No more How To Get Away With Murder for you. That show gives lawyers a bad name."
"What can I say? I love me a little soap-opera trash sometimes." Gwen wraps one arm around me from the front, so her hand is half on my shoulder, and half on my chest. "And besides, when your dad's a cop, you don't often hear too many good things about lawyers."
We break off our conversation while Grayson gets himself a cone from the blond guy. Then, after he's had his first lick of the strawberry ice cream, he says, "So your dad's a cop?"
"Was," she says. "He died in action not so long ago."
"Oh really?" Grayson asks. "Wow. I-I'm so sorry." He looks away from Gwen for a moment, concentrating on his ice cream - it's starting to melt pretty quickly now that the sun's out in full force. "I think I heard something about a high-profile cop dying a few months back, too. Isn't it true that he was helping Spider-Man when he died?"
Gwen and I exchange glances. "Uh...I think that was just a rumor," Gwen says - it's her standard deflection anytime someone brings up Spider-Man in connection with her dad.
"Nonsense," Grayson says. "You were there with him, weren't you, Peter?"
My jaw drops - but it's hard to say which of us, me or Grayson, looks more shocked by what he's just said. He nearly drops his ice cream and whispers to himself, "Oh shit. I wasn't supposed to say that..."
"How do you know who I am?" I ask, my tone turning icy.
Grayson clears his throat. "It's, um...it's a long story."
"Try us," Gwen says. "We got plenty of time."
Grayson walks over to a nearby picnic table and takes a seat, with me and Gwen sitting across from him. "You're right about one thing," he says, talking more to his ice cream than to us. "I'm really new at your school. 'Cause I just transferred in from Gotham City last week." He absentmindedly wipes some dripping pink ice cream from the edge of his cone, then adds, "And I'm also a little too old for high school, if you can believe that. I was sent in to keep tabs on you guys. See, my boss..." He licks his lips nervously. "Well, he's not really my 'boss' - I just call him that. He's actually my dad. My adoptive dad. And...and he wanted me to keep an eye on Spider-Man, 'cause he wasn't sure if you posed a threat."
"Peter, a threat?" Gwen scoffs.
"Who's your dad?" I ask. "Don't tell me - is he a spy for the CIA or something?"
"More of a free agent," Grayson says. "You might know him as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne...but as long as we're all airing our dirty laundry, he's the secret identity of Gotham's most famous superhero vigilante."
"Nightwing?" I ask. "I've heard of him. He's awesome. Wait...your dad is...?"
Grayson laughs, shaking his head. "No, no, no, you must've gotten mixed up. I'm Nightwing, actually. And my boss - he's Batman."
This, of course, is the cue for me and Gwen to shout over each other, "Shut the front door!"