Under the school blazer, my arms and chest are buff, but rubbery. I face the mirror square on, then turn to each side a little. The school uniform. The one that says money. The one I'll wear tonight says – what? Crazy?
Alfred tells me that I'm impeccably groomed. I'm sure he'd have a nice way of saying it if I weren't. Walking reminds me that under the khakis I'm just as rubbery. My lungs are hot, too. This is how it feels to start to become Batman. So as Alfred drives me to school, I ask like I usually do, about him, about how he did what I was doing when he was my age. But he did it alone. He didn't have a Bruce to teach and lord over him, just the idea of Batman that he discovered like Lowell discovered Pluto. It was always out there in the dark, and he found it, and now I'll be the second one, eventually. Alfred must think I'm obsessed with Bruce, but of course I am; his dreams own me. He let me go with him to haul in Zucco. I wore the cape and mask then, but I was untrained, and I did nothing but watch. I'm afraid to ask Alfred about why, it seems too frank, an open secret.
Bruce had me go with him to see my parents' killer brought to justice. Alfred nods. But it was for him, wasn't it? Not me. It was what he wanted to do, but never got to, not as a boy, because when he was a boy, Batman was just an idea, not fists. Alfred asks if I'm studying psychology at school, which ends the discussion. And there's enough to think about just breathing and feeling that burn, and the six subjects I study at St. Mark's and the fifty I study with Bruce.
My right arm's so tired that I want to shift the bookbag to my left shoulder, but it's just as tired. The books are so heavy. When the school year started, Bruce thumbed through each of the books, looked like he was making a careful decision, then said, every time, "This is important." I can't imagine what he wouldn't say is important. So everything must be important.
Mr. Newman talks about trigonometry, and I realize that nobody, not even Wainwright, cares about it as much as I do. This is one of Bruce's subjects, angles of coming at someone in a fight. Bruce does the math, he preaches it like it's religion, and he adds in the subject matter of the limits of human perception and action. If you swing in on a rope (ro-ro-rope) fast enough, at the right angle, a guy with a drawn gun cannot humanly shoot you before you kick him in the face. And isn't that a little better motivation than knowing how much roofing material you'll need for a roof that Mr. Newman invented on the whiteboard? But this is still time to use to my advantage, to make sure that I know what sine and cosine mean. To really, really know. I'll take your tests, Mr. Newman. You can pass or fail me. I just don't want to see disappointment in Bruce's eyes. Not ever. Wainwright, you're not going to beat me in this course. You only love math. I know about five nines, Bruce's rule that in every risky situation, the probability of coming out OK has to be 99.999%. Then he can do his thing for 10,001 nights and still make it – probably – to old age. He can tell you in every situation what the probability is and whether or not a risk is warranted. So what's motivating you, Wainwright?
Gym, ridiculous that I have gym. I move like a sloth, I'm so dead. It has to be part of his plan, that I'm so tired that no one will suspect that I'm Robin, once Robin is famous. On a windsprint, I fall down, and there's a little blood in my mouth, and Coach Miller thinks I'm a klutz. Love the hard part. I can't shoot a basketball, either. Everyone notices. Love that. Love running stairs. Love it!
It's a chem class for the ages. Miss Larsen announces her plan to place one splint of wood in air and one in a beaker of pure oxygen, and she's got sixteen boys' undivided attention. Bender chants, "Fire, fire, fire!" It is pretty great. For someone who doesn't see the things I see with Bruce. Even I want a good view, so I'm standing on my desk, then Bromley's desk up front. She lights the one in air, for no purpose that any of us care about. It's called a control. We're standing on desks, cheering. Which one of us looks like he wants control? Then the one she pokes back into the oxygen and hey, now! It almost explodes. It looks like the sun. The other guys riot. I can't stop staring at it. And then there's not much wood left and we harmonize on a long "Noooo!" She tells us to sit down and then talks about atoms and how the splint in air is still burning, but nobody's listening except me when I realize that Bruce is the splint in pure oxygen and that his beautiful amazing life is going to burn him out too fast. Maybe the five nines will save him. And if not, what would he do? Stop being Batman and live a long life in the ordinary air with all the other billionaires?
Lunch. When nobody's talking, I think about Bruce. Is he awake yet? Is he planning my training? Is he looking at fingerprints? From the girl's grave, maybe?
I meet with my advisor, Roberts, in his classroom. He talks about my grades, which are great, and my goals, which are made-up. I always figured I'd be a poor circus performer or that I'd leave to be a sell-out. So I could be a doctor or something to keep myself busy, but actually, Mister Roberts, I'm going to be Batman when I grow up, and the whole program here is nothing compared to what I do weekends, mornings, and evenings. And, oh, yeah, we have enough money to eat. I just tell him I want to get into a good college. He says nice things about my progress. He couldn't handle two minutes in Bruce's program. Heart of gold, though.
I'm staring out the window while Ms. Keller talks about William Blake, and I imagine Bruce writing essays about poetry. It seems so unlike him, but obviously, he'd be great at it. Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in pure oxygen you're going to die some night. He has to. I look at the green leaves outside, green like the Robin gloves. Does Ms. Keller have anything at all to teach Bruce? Did William Blake? We're doing something nuts, aren't we? I'd like to see Bruce's essay on Tyger, Tyger.
Alfred will pick me up at 3:40. He knows that that I actually get out at 3:20, but he insisted. This is the one slice of the day that's not planned. It's a gift from Alfred to me. Anybody doing a sport, debate club, the yearbook, the school paper, or the spring musical is already busy. I don’t do any of those things. I sit on the steps and talk with the nicest guys, kids who are just squeaking by. Chester's talking about how he hates it when his parents fight and then compete for his approval and how messed up it is, and I agree, obviously, but I'm looking at the girl and not really paying attention. And I feel bad for walking out on Chester but I say that I'm going to go talk to her, and he endures the rejection.
I notice that I'm not actually nervous as I walk right towards her. I have way too much in my life to be nervous about to let a girl shake me up. Her name is Lori, and she goes to St. Mary's, and her mother is late. I hope her mother ends up later, at least 3:41, but I don't say that. I could tell Lori all kinds of things about her that I can deduce from cat hairs and so on, but that would be creepy, wouldn't it? She reminds me that there'll be a St. Mark's – St. Mary's dance tonight and asks if I'll be there, and I tell her I won't, and I feel the cost in every part of my fine form under the blazer and khakis. It is sad, isn't it? She asks how old I am. Fifteen today. She's nice. Alfred pulls up, and I wish he'd drive past but the gift is twenty minutes, not twenty-one. I look at Lori again and really enjoy it, and she says, "Happy birthday, Dick Grayson!" I tell her that I hope that she doesn't go to the dance and she says, "Maybe I won't." Then I love the hard part and get into the car.
Alfred says "Special night tonight." I tell him about the pure oxygen and he frowns. I spend the rest of the drive watching green leaves like Robin gloves going by.
In my room, there's this insane new bed. The simple but functional bed is gone and there's this museum piece, dark wood carved into flowers and vines, looks old. On my dresser there's a card that describes the bed, designed and crafted in 1804, six artisans, wood from the Vosges region. Florence this and Malta that. The card is like a history lesson. The bed is like something out of mythology. The card is printed in some crazy expensive way, lavender and lilac, gold lettering. The card alone must have cost more than the whole circus where I grew up. At the bottom, it's signed over the fancy printing, "Happy Birthday! –Bruce!" What kind of a bed deserves a card like this? It's mine now.
This is my bed. It used to belong to Napoleon.
Boy Wonder, Part 3: Two Face