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Robin: Beginnings


Robin's Suit Symbol



I’ll swing 

By my ankles,

She’ll cling

To your knees

As you hang 

By your nose

From a high-up

Trapeze.

But just one thing, please.

As we float through the breeze—

Don’t sneeze.

The Acrobats- Shel Silverstein




CHAPTER ONE

I Fly Without A Care in the World



“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Lights flash and fizz, dancing off the glistening waterfall of colors. “Children of all ages!” Music blares, drowned out by the thunderous applause. “I present to you—” Drums boom. “The Fantastic, Fearless Flying Graysons!” I smile and wave, my ears ringing with the noise, my grin glistening in the spotlights. Below, I see the red, gold, and black speck of Ring Master C.C. Haly, his arms raised like a music director as he gestures up at us. “Marvel at their aerial acrobatics as they soar through the heavens—”

As Dad launches off the platform, my heart pounds. His hands grasp the swing, sending him whooshing through the air. At the peak of his arc, he lets go and catapults into a triple flip, just grabbing the second swing. “All without the safety of a net!”

Safety—how can you fly if you know there's something beneath? How can you be free if a net is waiting to catch you? Gosh, I'm getting sentimental in my old age! 

 The crowd claps madly. Mom’s next, flipping onto the swing and following Dad, sailing towards him. Dad catches her wrists and flings her upwards, where she twirls like a top. She falls backward, plummeting towards the ground. The crowd gasps as she falls, then she’s caught by Uncle Rick, who zips out just in time. I smile at the antics, the deadly feats. 

All part of the act. 

“Watch as they perform their daring dance—” C.C. Haly continues, “Joined by the youngest member of this extraordinary family!”

That’s my cue. 

I beam for the audience, giving them a small wave, my lips twisting into a smirk. I've been the main attraction since I was old enough to be part of the show. After all, who doesn't want to see a kid flying with the best of ‘em? I catapult off the landing, my heart rattling in my chest as I soar, reaching my arms toward Mom. Her face swings over to meet mine, her eyes glistening a brilliant sapphire like the sequins on her leotard, beaming. Her hands latch onto my wrists, and I drop. My stomach rises as I swing down. Then, I am rocketing upwards, a bird set free to fly. 

I flip, my body whirling, my blood pumping. The crowd roars like lions. The lights catch the bling on my leotard, casting sparkles around me. It's kind of girly, I know. There’re probably boys my age in the crowd snickering at how sissy I look in my skin-tight green leotard bedazzled with jewels, decorated with the big G on the front. But I don't care. I am in flight, bursting with life. I was born to do this, a Flying Grayson through and through. 

Sweat pours down my face, but I don't care. My upper arms burn from the strain, but I don't mind. I see the kids from the fairgrounds this afternoon in my mind's eye. Their smiling, laughing faces. Their joy when they saw me, a kid too, but a kid who can do trapeze in his sleep. I remember the barrage of questions, the cartwheels, the fits of giggles. Yeah, take that, guys! I may look stupid, but I am stupidly famous! At least Mom doesn't put me in the glittery makeup she wears. 

When I launch into the grand finale with my family, this is what I think, not the canons, not the boom of fireworks overhead, not the thunderous applause. I think about the kids in the crowd— and Mom's sparkling eyes. The wind rushes my hair around my face, lifts me, and sends me twisting through the air, ducking between my family as we end our routine. 

I'm red and sweaty when my feet touch the platform, but I wave vigorously, bowing alongside my family. If they were snickering before, they clap now. I’d dare any one of them to come up here just to climb the platform. If they can do that, jump off the landing to catch the swing, and flip through the air like a flying squirrel, they can laugh. Maybe. 

Confetti and glitter explode around us, and the crowd leaps to their feet, cheering until I think my eardrums will explode. All of our troupe races back into the center ring, giving our guests a fond farewell. I can’t wipe the stupid grin off my face as the clowns spray the guests with water, some even chasing them out of the red and white striped canvas big top. Maybe if I have to retire from trapeze work, I can be one of the clowns. They have too much fun. 

The specks of people file out of their seats, chatting about things that I’ll never hear except one noise—the noise of goodnight, of a job well done—another superb performance from my family. C.C. Haly bids farewell and good night to the crowd and their city of Metropolis. 

While most kids worry about grades, sports scores, or what kind of new toy they have, I worry about how well my entire circus performs. We’re professionals, but you wouldn't believe the things that have gone wrong. Like when someone stuck the lion's mouth shut with candy apples. And trust me, you do not want to see Lionel on a bad day. 

A hand ruffles my hair; the raven locks find their way into my eyes. Mom’s probably going to cut it soon. A deep voice rumbles against my back. “Well done, Dickie Bird.” Dad pats my shoulder, his hands large and strong. “That was quite the show we put on.”

Dad’s tall, powerful, and everything I want to be when I grow up. Even still, It seems impossible to get that many muscles. We do look alike, though. Raven hair, pale skin, bright blue eyes. We’d look like photocopies of each other if my eyes didn't have a darker blue from Mom and if I didn't have her nose. 

“Yeah, good job, Champ.” Uncle Rick elbows me in the ribs. I tilt my head up to see him wink. “Give it a few years, and you’ll be the show's star while us old-timers retire.”

Uncle Rick looks a lot like Dad, so it’s hard to pin down what’s different about them. Maybe the face? The eyes? A couple of inches difference? Well, at least Uncle Rick looks younger. I mean, he is, but he looks it too. 

“Gosh, old-timers? Not you two!” I clap a hand to my forehead, my mouth falling into a perfect ‘O.’ “That would be a terrible tragedy for the Grayson brother twosome!”

I know, I know. I say ‘gosh.’ But what would be better? Gee Willikers? Great Scott? Goodness? Holy Old-Timers? I am not that lame. 

“Haly better watch out.” Dad strolls to the platform's edge, looking down at the hustle and bustle below. Haly bellows orders, directing our troupe into something natural as cleaning my room. The packing up of the entire circus. No, really. We have this thing down to a science. And, let's be honest if you get your room cleaned quickly and well done the first time, you can move on to more important things, like practice. “You could replace him as ringmaster with those alliterations!”

“Now, now, boys.” Mom pulls me into a hug, which I accept, a sigh of satisfaction escaping my lips. Boys my age would be embarrassed, pushing their mom away to look cool. But there’re no kids around to impress. And honestly, nothing can replace a motherly hug after a good night's work. “We need to get down and help pack up.”

Mom’s beautiful but seems out of place, standing next to us men. Her skin’s a rich olive, her hair the color of fresh bread. While Dad and Uncle Rick are tall, lean, and angular, Mom’s small, rounder, and thick like a female gymnast should be. Don't tell her I said that. She’s not fat. In fact, I don't think there’s any fat on her, but her legs are like tree trunks, and her arms would send our strong man crying for his mommy. She’s really pretty, though, like an angel. 

“We were good, though!” I insist as we clamber down the sturdy ladder leading to safe ground. Away from our perch, back down to the everyday boring life. If you call a circus boring. “And I didn’t miss the last rotation on my quadruple!”

“You did an amazing job, Little Bird,” Mom says as she drops to the sawdust-covered ground, reaching up for me, “But you still need to practice your transitions. Someday, you might overshoot, and I won’t catch you.”

That’ll never happen. I know it won't. We aren’t called the ‘Flying Graysons’ for nothing. Mom, Dad, and Uncle Rick will always catch me. They always have. If they didn't, I’d be a pancake covered with glitter. Just put ‘He tried’ on my gravestone. 

I skip the last ten ladder rungs, choosing instead to backflip off them, landing in a pose on the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust. Someday, maybe, I can show other kids that move outside the circus. Maybe kids my age? Then I’d be cool. “Now, Dick—”

So, you might be wondering about the whole ‘Dick’ thing by now. I know, I know! It’s embarrassing. But it‘s the only nickname I have because someone already stole ‘Rick.’ My real name is Richard. But let’s be honest, what kid wants to walk up to someone and say, ‘nice to meet you, my name is Richard?’ So I go by Dick. I’ll get teased either way, so I might’s well go with the one that could be taken as a joke over the lame one. Maybe when I am older, I'll go by Richard. Who knows?

“Aw, com’on, Mary!” Uncle Rick protests, landing with a firm bounce next to Mom and Dad. “Let the kid have his fun. It helps keep him limber. Unlike you, Old Man!” Uncle Rick slams a hand into Dad’s sturdy stomach. I let out a loud laugh, and Mom cracks a smile. If anyone else makes a joke about Dad's age, his eye starts ticking, and he rubs a hand along the streaks of grey at his temples. But for Uncle Rick and Mom, an exception is made. It has to be made for Uncle Rick because of his younger brother's privilege. And no one tells Mom what she can’t laugh at. And what about me? Well, if Mom and Uncle Rick laugh, so do I. So, Dad joins in on the fun. 

“Oh yes, look at me!” Dad limps around, holding a hand to his back. “I am so old and feeble!” Dad grabs me around the waist, lifting me as I burst out in a fit of giggles. I am not that little anymore. In fact, I am almost to his shoulder, but when did that ever stop him? “Oh, Dick! You have to take my place! Take care of your mother!”

“Aw, Dad!” I plant my feet on Dad’s stomach and kick away, landing back on the ground with a slight hop. “You’ll die before you retire!” 

I can see it, too—Mom and Dad, both grandparents, old and crotchety, performing as they always have. In fact, I can’t picture it any other way. Then again, Mom and Dad probably want to retire. Somewhere nice, like Romania, where Mom’s family is from.

“I sure hope not!” Mom wraps her arms around Dad’s waist and nods to the exit of the big top. “Now, don’t we have something we need to be doing?”

We all move towards the rest of the troupe, knowing our assigned jobs. Mom and I pack up our trailer while Dad and Uncle Rick help take down the larger equipment sets. I’d like to help with the animals, but Raya would kill me. Or feed me to her lion. Whatever mood she’s in at the time. 

Haly’s International Traveling Circus is a hit everywhere it goes, a beacon of fun times, an escape for the audience. At least, that's what the posters say. The troupe itself is like a dream. We are a team, a family, most of us growing up in the circus. While some kids move on, most stay and follow in their parents' footsteps, like my parents and Uncle Rick. And Raya and me. 

While I like traveling the world, waiting to see what fantastic location the train or boat will take us next, I’ve always loved the United States most. That’s where Dad's family is from, and the people, with their carefree attitudes and huge smiles, are so much fun. Tell them something about a different country, and they eat it up. 

Metropolis itself is something that I've never seen before. It's a sprawling city, white, clean, and spotless. It’s brand new, too, because it’s replaced with something better after every fight the Man of Steel gets into. Then there’s Superman himself. I saw him on the way into the city, a blue and red blur. I could’ve sworn he waved at me, but Raya said he was just waving at our train as it chugged into the city borders. 

The people of Metropolis are friendly too, standing patiently in line to meet my family and me, gushing over us, asking how we like the city, and wishing us well in our performance. A step up from other cities. 

Now, as I lug the contents of my room onto the train, I can’t help the regret creeping into my stomach as I gaze off at the skyscrapers looming on the horizon. What would it be like to live in a place like this? A paradise? But I’ll pack my room, get on the train, and watch the world whizz by as we zip off to another city. 

“Need help, Little Richard?” Pidge, known to the public as ‘The Strong Man,’ hefts three large crates, his red face grinning at me. “I could take that in for you.”

Despite what the posters say, Pidge isn’t the strongest man alive, but he’s still pretty strong. He’s played more for laughs, especially now with guys like Superman and Amazons like Wonder Woman flying around. 

Still, it’s a little embarrassing to have him offer. I can hold my own weight for hours on a trapeze, which is more than a lot of people can say. I lift my trunk, my toned muscles flexing, not trying to show off. Gosh, that would just be embarrassing. No, trying to prove a point. “I got it, Pidge, but thanks! Don’t pull a muscle!”

“Okay, yeah, sure.” Pidge shakes his head, allowing me to climb the creaking metal steps onto the train first. “Whatever you say, Kid.”

I grin as I dash through the carpeted cars, making my way to my family’s cabin. I slide my trunk under our bunks before jumping onto the top bed, clearing the distance in one hop. I bounce on the mattress, peering out the window at the city. The moonlight glints off its white spires, and the starlight dances in the window panes of a thousand buildings. Sissy, I know! But hey, can’t a guy appreciate the pretty stuff too? 

I wonder where we are going off to next! I should remember the tour itinerary, but I figure that Mom and Dad will tell me when we are underway. I pull my knees to my chin and sigh, rocking on my heels. 

The train creaks under me as the troupe bustles below, taking down tents, folding equipment, and guiding the animals into their pens. 

I close my eyes and listen to the din around me, trying to focus on one conversation at a time. Lilia, the ‘Bearded Lady,’ is chattering about some boyfriend she made in Central City and how he’s coming to see us perform at the next stop. 

Gross. 

Siamese Twins Yin and Yang laugh about something Haly said about Metropolitan citizens being Big Blue's boy scout troop. 

Raya’s arguing with her parents about her lion’s blanket. Then she complains about leaving Metropolis so soon. The girl can’t stay quiet for two seconds. 

I can just hear her voice: “Now, Dick.” She’d say, lifting her tiny nose and tossing her pigtails. “You should be out there helping your family pack. I don’t care if you got your part done. We all have to pitch in! We will be late, and it will be all your fault.” Bossy girls. I don’t, and I won’t ever understand them. 

But finally, I overhear the Flame Breather Marco mumbling something right under our car. “Poor kid.” He mutters, rolling several large metal hoops along the grassy turf. “Poor kid. Gotham again. It’s always in Gotham. But his father won’t let it happen— no, no. Ah… poor kid.”

Gotham? I ignore the rest of what Marco says. Gotham City, home to the legendary Caped Crusader, Batman himself! Forget Superman! I’ve always wanted to glimpse the infamous man who stalks the night, catching wrongdoers and saving innocents. He doesn’t need to fly, wear a flashy costume, or even give big speeches. 

The Batman just is.

Besides, Gotham is a legend in its own right! Gangs, super-villains who don’t have any powers except for their loose screws, a flourishing underworld, a colossal statue in the bay called Lady Just or something. Dad called it a cesspool when I was little. His family’s from there, but they’re all dead except Dad and Uncle Rick, so I’ve never been. 

I press my nose against the glass when the train lurches forward, the circus finally aboard, my heart rattling. We’re heading to Gotham City— home of the Batman!


To be Continued...

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