Part two up before midnight! Woo!
In time, I almost became used to Robin’s eyes. Almost. Richard pulled me aside after the birth, leaving Robin in his mother’s arms, and began speaking to me not as a friend but as a physician. He spoke of heterochromia, of albinism, and as his speech wore on, my patience grew thin. “Richard,” I said as calmly as I could manage. “The child has dark hair. I may not have a doctorate, but I know what an albino is. And the child doesn’t have two differently colored eyes; he has eyes that change color with every moment!”
“A trick of the light, perhaps,” Richard said. “Or… some children’s eyes will darken as they age.”
I shook my head. Richard frowned. “Well, what do you want me to tell you? Do you think they taught me about this at the university? Do you think I can say, ‘Eyes like vermin? Just put a cold compress on the baby’s neck and lay him on his side?’”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I hissed. “What am I supposed to say to Jocelyne about our… about that thing?”
Richard was silent, his expression not one of defeat or anger or shame, but consideration. He was wracking his brain for some kind of answer to give me. Richard was nothing if not the man with all the answers. I stood there watching him, my arms crossed, my impatience writ plain across my face, when I could hear Joceleyne’s voice. The sound of her singing softly to the child in her arms came through the door like a cool breeze through the window on a summer’s day, and the anger left me. Richard turned me to and said, “Perhaps you shouldn’t say anything.”
“She’s not blind. She saw those eyes, same as you, and she’s chosen to look past them.”
I snorted. “Is that a pun? Is this some kind of joke to you?”
Richard shook his head. “Your wife is waiting for you,” he said. “Your child is waiting for you. Stop wasting your time with me and go to them.”
I stared at Richard with a blank look on my face. I had no idea what to say to him. It was the stress more than anything, I think. The stress of the past nine months, the stress of the birth, the shock of seeing my son for the first time. I didn’t know how to react, and so I did the best that I could. I took a deep breath, exhaled, forced a smile on my face, and went back into the room.
* * *
In the short term, Richard was right. Jocelyne saw our son and accepted him as he was, and the onus was upon me to do the same. And to Robin’s credit, there was much to like about him. He seemed to always be of a happy disposition, crying and fussing little. Certainly he could wail like a banshee if he were hungry or in pain, but he rarely seemed to call out for attention unless there was something actively troubling. He was content to observe the world around him.
The boy grew quickly, and soon he was walking and talking and of an age for his schooling to begin in earnest. Although I made more than enough to afford a governess (indeed, I had hired a nurse to help raise Robin,) she wanted the boy to receive an education alongside other children. I was apprehensive about the situation, of course. What would the other children say when they saw him? How would he react to being teased, as it was certain he would be, what with the potential for incessant cruelty that lurks in every child?
It is strange to think how protective I was of him at the time. I certainly see little reason to protect the boy now.
In any case, Jocelyne insisted and I relented. We moved from the countryside to the city, and Robin began attending Goodfellow Academy at the age of six. Looking back on it, I suppose that is where the troubles began.
Perhaps it paints me as a petulant man, but I take a certain satisfaction in having been correct in my assessment of the other children’s attitudes towards Robin. It matters little now, but as the years have worn on, I have come to relish the little pleasures I may take in such things.
The fact of the matter is that Robin was different from the other children at Goodfellow. They were the sons and daughters of old money, of families that had been wealthy for generations, for ages before they had ever come to this country, and we most certainly were not. By the grace of my father and through my own inventiveness, our wealth was comparable, but it didn’t matter. In their eyes, the mere facts of my ancestry made me of a lower class than them. Robin, for his part, never fully understood this. All that he knew was that some of the other children were nice to him, and some of them seemed set on making his life a living hell. Of these, Sydney Fairchilde was the worst.
I need not speak of the Fairchilde family, save to say that, yes, I am speaking of that particular Fairchilde family. The youngest of Franklin and Isabelle Fairchilde, Sydney took an instant disliking to Robin. He did not fear or mistrust Robin, as I would have expected him to upon seeing how otherworldly Robin’s eyes could make him look. Nor did he seem contempt to simply mock him for failing to have been born into a family that had been wealthy when Carnegie was still huddling together with his parents on a boat crossing the Atlantic Ocean. What the boy had, rather, was an unthinking antipathy towards Robin. He seemed motivated by nothing so much as hatred and malevolence. He tormented Robin both physically and verbally, and although my son was no weakling, he saw little that he could do; the Fairchilde boy was older and bigger, his family so important to the school that the faculty would do nothing to discipline or punish the child. And so it fell to me to teach my son how to defend himself. Too many days he had come home with bruises upon his body and blood upon his clothes. The day he came home with one of his eyes swollen shut, I pulled him aside and began his lessons.
I kept him home from Goodfellow for a week. I taught him to strike by having him punch pillows. I taught him to dodge blows, to read tells, to counter. And most damning of all, I taught him that there was no honor in a fight for survival. The Fairchild boy had proven himself a brute of the lowest order, rejecting society and all its covenants to terrorize someone smaller than him. He was behaving not as a human but as a rabid animal, and a rabid animal must be put down. I taught him the dirty tricks I had learned in my own life, and once his wounds had healed to no more than bruises and scabs, Robin returned to school.
Not even a week had passed before Robin returned home with a bloodied nose and a blackened eye. Jocelyne was, as ever, heartbroken to see him in such a state, but this was nothing like previous occurrences. To begin, one of the faculty of Goodfellow Academy, a dour elderly matron by the name of Mrs. Parker escorted him to our doorstep, her hand clenching the neck of his shirt as one would clench the collar of an unruly dog.
Secondly, behind the mask of bruises and blood that his face had become, the Robin was grinning.
“Your son is no longer welcome at Goodfellow Academy, sir!” Mrs. Parker began, not even greeting me or my wife. “I don’t know what you will do with him, nor do I care! Goodfellow Academy is no place for such violent, intemperate creatures!”
I snorted. “And what of Sydney Fairchilde, who has assaulted my son nigh daily for weeks now while you have done nothing about it, hm? Is our family’s name of so little weight? Is our money not as good as theirs?”
The old woman said nothing to this. She simply stared at me, as if I would wilt before her gaze as a child would. Of course, I would not. There’s respecting one’s elders and then there is capitulating to them, and did not become the man I am today by cowering in the face of every dirty look given to me.
“We have no place for such monsters at Goodfellow Academy,” she finally said once it became clear to her that I was going to hold her gaze. “And don’t be surprised if you hear from the Fairchilde’s about what your little beast did to their boy.”
The witch left without further lecturing us, and Jocelyne in turn gave Robin a speech on how he mustn’t resort to violence to solve his problems, and he must instead use words and reasoning or else he would be no better than his enemies. Robin played the part of the penitent well, staring at his feet, and muttering nothing but “Yes, Ma’ams” and “No, Ma’ams.” Exasperated, Jocelyne turned to me and said, “Well, he’s your son, too! Don’t you have anything to say to him?”
“Of course, I do,” I replied. “In fact, I have quite a bit to say to him. Give me some time alone with the boy, and we’ll sort this all out.” I looked down at my son and flashed him the most ominous look I could muster. A look of genuine fear seemed to wash across his face, and it was all I could do to keep from bursting into laughter and embracing him. “Yes, we’re going to have a very long talk.”
Satisfied that some kind of punishment was impending, Jocelyne left me to deal with Robin on my own. I waited until she had retreated to some other room in our house, and I led the boy outside into the yard. For one so young and inexperienced, he seemed to possess all the affectation of a man marching to the gallows to be executed. At last, I could keep up the charade no longer. I looked down at my son and grinned. In turn, he looked absolutely confused.
“So, you finally showed that damn Fairchilde boy what you were made of, hm?”
Slowly a smile spread across my son’s face, his strange eyes lighting up with joy. He nodded enthusiastically. “I fought him, Father. Just like you said.”
“Tell me how it happened.” We sat down in the grass, and my son leapt into action, telling his story with every flourish and embellishment he could imagine.
“He came up to me just like he always does with this mean look on his face, and he says, ‘What’s wrong, runt? Did your mommy keep you home because you were too scared to go to school?’ and then I say, ‘No, my father kept me home so he could teach me how to fight you,’ and he just laughs and he goes, ‘Oh, yeah?’ and I say, ‘Yeah!’ and then he turns to his friends and he goes, ‘Watch this.’ And then he winds up to throw a big punch, just like he always does, but I saw it coming this time, Father! I saw it coming, and I stepped to the side, and he threw himself off balance, and then I pushed him! He fell face-first into the dirt!”
I laughed. “Good, good. Even Fairchildes need a face-full of dirt every now and then. Everyone does. Keeps them humble.”
Robin nodded, grinning. “And then he got up, and oh, he was mad! He swung at me, and he hit me, but only once, and then he couldn’t hit me again! He chased me, and he started to get tired, and then I hit him right in the face!”
I smiled. “Good job, son. I’m proud of you for standing up to him.”
Robin grinned all the wider. “And he got this really surprised look on his face. He just stood there, looking stupid, like a stupid stupid pig, and I hit him again, right in the nose. He put up his hands to block, like you showed me, so I hit him in the stomach.”
The smile started to fade from my face. “Well,” I said, uncertain how to proceed. “I bet he’ll think twice before he does that again, hm?”
Robin grinned and nodded. “I kept hitting him and hitting him. I hit him right between his legs, and he just collapsed to the ground, and then I was just kicking him, kicking him in the ribs and the face! Oh, you should have seen him, Father! His face was just a bloody, bloody mess! He was crying, and sniffling, and calling out for his mother and for the teachers, and I just stood over him laughing!”
The horror was writ plain across my face. In retrospect, this should have been my biggest warning. Not the story my son was telling me, but his lack of reaction to my own disgust and outrage. There was no uncertainty on his face, no fear. Nothing but that interminable pride. “My God, boy!” I said. “Why?”
Only then did Robin’s pride wavered. Confusion took up its place upon his face. “Why what, Father?”
“Why would you do such a thing?”
His expression become one of absolute neutrality. He looked up at me with his inhuman eyes, and he spoke calmly, plainly, simply.
“Because I could.”