"Two." Sharp breath. "Hunned." Elbows on knees. Hands on head. Ribs ache.
"Four hundred and eighty-seven," he answers slowly, showing every breathless syllable. We both know that this means that for the first time, I finished before he reached five hundred. And I have no idea how he can count my sit-ups and his at the same time. He's already on his feet walking towards the outdoor rope structure. His yard is so big that guests don't even get over here to ask why he has it. I get on my feet, thinking again how impossible this is. I'll never be Batman. Without looking back he says, "Good job." He's a silhouette walking through the night. I catch up.
"The ropes. Your thing. As a gymnast. Are you glad that the sit-ups are done, and now we're going to do the ropes, the thing you're best at?"
"Don't think that way. Love the part you're worst at." I'm the worst at all of this, Bruce.
"If you dread the hard parts, it eats your will. It forces you to make the decision a hundred times a day. That's too hard. You just make the decision once. The rest flows like water."
"Born again," I say. "Hallelujah. Wash me in the water."
"You're ready for the ropes."
"Well, you know," I breathe, still catching up on oxygen, "my dad always used to say, 'If you don't know the…'"
Bruce vanishes behind Niagara Falls. My legs start to give out. What the hell is happening? I was going to say "ropes" but I didn't, and I can't breathe. Did I say "ro"? Why can't I breathe? It's the spasming breaths that help me figure it out, that I'm sobbing, and that Bruce is holding me. No, the ropes aren't the easy part at all. The ropes are where my mom and my dad were when some rattlesnake of a mobster cut the ropes and I saw them hit. I heard it. And I'm still asking why as sobs and snot wet the bicep of Bruce's expensive workout top. He's got me but Mom and Dad are gone, still, forever, and he knows what I'm thinking, like he knows everything and owns everything and he says the right thing over and over again. And for a minute I just know he's talking, so I wait for the crying to stop and while I'm waiting I listen and hear him say, "You can't bring back the dead." Is that really the right thing to say to me? It must be, or he wouldn't be saying it. It must be, because I do great in the rope workout and when I'm running the last lap of the 3200, Bruce already cooling down, having run nine-something, I'm loving that this is the really hard part, worse than the sit-ups. I'm kicking ass at all of this, and one day I'll be Batman.
We cool down, then we walk. During both, he talks and I listen. He tells me things that would ruin anyone's day. A liquor store robbery that put the clerk into the hospital. Bruce got the crook. That wasn't so bad. A car thief. Bruce got him, too. Not bad at all. Searching the shallow grave where a child molester buried one of his victims; that was just brutal. He's just giving too many details about the girl in the grave, and it's too sad. Bruce's rules in my head tell me what to feel. "You can't bring back the dead." "Love the hard part."
The sun's coming up. Even in my expensive workout top, I'm freezing out here at the table, but I know that Bruce would say it's exhilarating, and he's always right, and I never complain. We play the face game. Bruce flashes a photo at me, then snaps it out of sight, and I have to describe it. It's not even a half second. Thick neck, short hair.
"We did this guy already."
"I don't know."
"Like two weeks ago."
"Morning or afternoon?"
"Afternoon, because I could see it better. It was light."
"It was a Sunday, because I didn't have school, and we ran in boots."
"So what was the Sunday two weeks ago?"
"So you did know. You just didn't know that you knew. Now tell me about him."
I notice two things about the guy that I didn't notice before, then Bruce tells me six things that I didn't notice either time.
I'm so hungry. Bruce goes into every last detail about how he tracked and subdued the two crooks. He has photos and video as visual aids.This section of the morning is called "tactics." Alfred brings a tray with breakfast. He'd sooner die than say something to interrupt Bruce. I announce with fake annoyance, "We're studying Tic Tacs." Then as fast as I can, I look at their eyes. Bruce smiled. He smiled! That's the best part of the morning. So I hate it. I love the hard part. I want to marry the hard part.
I'm too late to catch Alfred's reaction. Another failure.
We part where we met up, in the hall outside my bedroom. At 5 a.m., I felt guilty, as usual, because he was coming off a night's patrol, and I was coming off a night's sleep. I was fresh and rested. Now my arms are heavy and my side aches. I know too much about the murder of a girl my age. My throat hurts from crying. Bruce beats me at everything. I still feel guilty, but a different kind of guilty.
"Dick. You did great. Have a good day." His hand weighs more than a steak.
I'll go to school. The redhead will give Bruce a professional massage and then he'll go to sleep.
Tonight will be the first night. Out there, with him. Bad guys with guns. If Bruce doesn't say "good job," I'll ask one to shoot me.
Boy Wonder, Part 2: The First Girl