Annie’s mother laughed, shook her head. Annie straightened herself, walked over to her, grabbed her right wrist. “Just relax,” Annie said, holding her left hand palm-down and lowering it towards the hardwodd floor. “Bend your knees.”
Annie turned her head, her body still facing the ebbing warmth of the hearth’s fire. She noticed she was now standing in en garde position — right leg forward with foot pointed at her mother, body turned to the left, rear leg back and pointed towards the hearth.
Annie smiled, bent her knees, swung her left arm back and up, bent her right arm at the elbow and pointed at her mother.
Paula Hutchinson stared at her daughter, confusion riddling her face like tire tracks on a muddy path. Annie nodded, the sweep of her head drawing attention to the position of her body. “Right foot forward,” Annie called.
Annie looked down, shaking her head. “But it’s not about the money, is it? What the family will make off selling the land to the government would be a fraction of what we already have.”
Paula Hutchinson nodded. “Running for office, letting the voters decide — that’s not a sound business plan.”
“So why — ”
” — I think it’s best we end this conversation now,” Paula Hutchinson said dismissively.
Annie stared at her mother. The fire sputtered in the hearth to her left.
Annie turned her head up in the direction of the map again. “I also remember something Uncle Joe said a couple weeks ago, at Thanksgiving.”
A log in the hearth split, collapsing into itself, sparks wafting up as it continued imploding into the smoldering pile of ashes on the blackened brick floor.
“He was talking to Uncle Martin about some land he had just bought, around the Bay Hill area. Uncle Martin asked him what he was going to do with it, and Uncle Joe shrugged, said there wasn’t much development opportunity now — and then I remember him turning to you, and saying ‘But you never know what will happen in the future.'”
Annie turned to her mother. She was still smiling, but her arms were crossed, shoulders visibly raised.
Annie turned back to the map, pointed to the lower left section. “If they build the new bridge, the state’s going to need roads running to and from it. There’s two possibilities. Route 16” — Annie pointed to a location on the wall to the left and below the map — “comes in from the south, and they could run the access road off there. Other option” — now Annie pointed to a spot higher on the wall to the map’s left — “is to come down off the Interstate, north of town. The southern route’s shorter, but the state would get money from the federal government if they connect directly to the Interstate.”
“I see you’ve been reading the Bark Bay Beacon,” Laura Hutchinson said, a touch of impatience in her voice.
Annie turned back to her mother. “The northern route also goes through Bay Hill. Where Uncle Joe has all that land.”
Laura Hutchinson was no longer smiling.
“Has Uncle Joe also bought land on the other side of the river?”
Laura Hutchinson smiled briefly, Annie seeing for a moment the same face she had seen after winning a gymnastics tournament, or completing a piano recital. But the smile quickly gave way to a stern look of defiance. “Go on,” her mother commanded.
“Everyone’s so focused on the bridge, they’re not even thinking about the access roads. Uncle Joe’s your brother, his name’s not Hutchinson. The land’s probably owned by his real estate company, so the connection back to our family — ”
” — is too subtle for the fools at the Beacon to detect,” Paul Hutchinson interrupted.
Annie smiled, turned her attention back to the map above the hearth, warmth still emanating from its fading orange embers. She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when her mother asked, “So what exactly does this mean? What exactly does a fencing captain — do?”
Annie shrugged. “It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. You have to take charge at times during tournaments, when Coach Dan is too busy to talk with an official or help someone on the team — at least that’s what Miles did last year when he was captain. But that didn’t happen all the time, and I think Coach Dan allowed Miles to be in charge more than he needed to be. I dunno — guess he trusted him.”
“I’m sure Coach Dan will trust you as well.”
Annie smiled, looked down. “Yeah,” she said, looking up at the map again.
Paul Hutchinson looked in the direction that was obviously drawing her attention. “Ah — the old map. Hasn’t been accurate for decades — shows the river before the hyrdro dam was built” she said, pointing up to the left corner, “before Lake George even existed — but the map’s so beautifully drawn, so artistic. It may not be functional, but it hasn’t lost its beauty over the years.”
Annie laughed, sarcasm in her utterance mixed with embarassment at not being able to conceal her derision.
“Nah,” said Annie. “Sorry. I was just — remembering something Double-J once said.”
Annie’s answer came to her effortlessly, words coming to her suddenly, some surprising her even as she uttered them, as if she were speaking not from her conscious mind with its filters and catch phrases — her words seemed to come from some place deeper inside her, not a place as tantigle as her conscious where she could identify thoughts, memories, emotions, yet a place that seemed far more real:
“I fence because it’s the only thing that’s ever inspired me. All the dance classes, the gymnastics — AP classes, college prep — debate club, Young Entrepreneurs — I’m sorry, all of that was fun, but all I’ve ever done is go through the motions with any of that. No, it wasn’t all easy, but I got through it all just for the sake of getting it done. I’ve never actually enjoyed the act of doing something — until I started fencing.
“Fencing takes everything that I have, everything that I can deliver — physically, intellectually, emotionally. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done where I’ve responded to defeat not with disappointment, but excitement — here’s a new challenge to conquer, a new code to decypher. And the beauty is, it never ends, there’s always someone just a little better than the person you just beat.
“Why fencing?” Annie asked, echoing her mother’s original question. “Because I can’t imagine life without fencing.”
Paula Hutchinson took a step back, looked at her daughter with surprise and awe. Then her face softened into a smile that was echoed by the arc of pearls across her chest, as she said, “Now I know why they want you to be the fencing captain.”
“There’s not many public schools in our area with a fencing team, or club,” continued Annie, her grasp on her mother’s arm loosening. “Private schools, like the Academy, are the ones that have had teams since who knows when. There’s a few clubs, like Dr. Schmidt’s En Garde! club, not affiliated with any schools. When it comes down to it, there’s just not a lot of fencers out there. Heck, we get invitations from State to compete in their tournaments, there so desperate for bodies.”
Paula Hutchinson nodded. “State. Isn’t that where that Miles boy went?” Annie nodded. “Did you see him at last week’s tournament?”
Annie shook her head. “Miles is having — ” an ember popped loudly in the fire, the log from which it burst hissing as if in pain — “he’s decided to concentrate on his classes, he’s not competing this year.”
Her mother looked at her, questions in her furrowed brow. “Or so I’ve heard,” Annie said quickly.
Paula Hutchinson arched her eyebrows, relaxed her face, turned back to the fire. “You know, I realized this evening as I saw you — what do you call it, dueling?”
Annie looked in her direction a moment, her focus not on her mother’s face but rather on decrypting her question. “Oh — sparring. Call it sparring. Dueling sounds a little rough.”
Paula nodded. Annie saw a glint of the expiring fire in her mother’s pearls. “All right, when you were sparring tonight — that’s when I realized that I’ve never asked you, in this last year and a half that you started fencing — why, exactly, do you like it so much? There’s no problem of course — I’m just curious. You used to be so into gymnastics, so into dancing, but last year, all of that stopped. I’d just like to know — why fencing?”
“I think one of your teammates left this behind,” said Paula Hutchinson, walking into the room with a foil in her right hand (held as her daughter had instructed her back in October — point down, blade between index and middle fingers, cup the hand under the bellguard like you were carrying a bowl), a fencing mask in her left.
“Sorry,” Annie said, quickly turning to her mother with outstretched arms. “I’ll take care of that.” Taking the foil and mask, her momentum clearly indicating her intent to leave and find an appropriate storage location for the equipment — Annie stopped when her mother laid a gentle yet commanding hand on her shoulder.
“Over there, for now” Paula Hutchinson said, pointing to an armchair to the side of the doorway. “I haven’t had a chance to talk with you all evening,” she said as her daughter seated the foil and mask, then turned with a smile to her mother, daughter wrapping her arms around the smiling woman’s left arm as they walked over to the gravitational warmth of the hearth.
“There was a lot going on tonight,” Annie said, the apology in her voice hanging like a sentence. “I’m sorry — ”
Paula Hutchinson tutted, throwing her head back. “You have nothing to be sorry about. This was your night, Bunny — if I can still call you that.”
“While we’re alone, of course.”
They stopped in front of the hearth, orange embers in the remnants of the fire gasping for air. “I asked Coach Dan if many sophomores like you were captains of their fencing teams. He told me he didn’t know of any others.”
Annie looked down, blushing for the first time that evening. “Well, we’re an unusual team. It’s only our fourth year — third really — and it’s more a club than a team.”
Carl Hutchinson would soon excuse himself, retreat to his office on the third floor. It was late, but Annie was too full of energy to retire. She walked into the room off the side of the front foyer, a small room that had existed since the house had been built over a century ago, the only remaining evidence of this use being the large brick hearth on the inside wall. An embering fire glowed orange and black within the hearth, its subtle heat a memory of the crackling fire earlier that evening.
Annie’s family had converted this room into a library a generation before she was born. She scanned the shelves, hoping to find a book that would help calm her, reading herself to sleep being something she had long enjoyed. But she found her mind was racing too fast to focus even momentarily on the task of book selection.
Her attention turned frantically to the walls, the portraits and art with which she was long familiar, a large map hanging above the hearth finally captivating her. She walked slowly towards it, as if drawn in by gravity, stopping herself in front of the warm hearth as she looked up.
Hearing the sounds of her mother’s footsteps, she turned to the doorway, saw her enter, pearls smiling across her chest.
Carl Hutchinson stood up, silver hair rising to the ceiling. “People will talk, there’s no stopping that” he said, looking down at his daughter. “Just remember, when they do talk about me, they’re talking about Carl Hutchinson, state Senate candidate — not your father.”
Annie looked up at him, saw tears bubbling at the corners of his eyes. “Always remember — no matter what happens in this election — I will always be your father. And you shall remain my daughter, my dear one — my Bunny.”
Annie rose from her chair with a gentle smile, slid her arms around her father’s chest, buried her head into his body. He embraced her warmly, patted the back of her head. A moment later, she stepped back.
“I need — “. She looked down.
“What is it, Bunny?” he replied, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Annie closed her eyes, sighed, reached over to her father’s hand and removed his grasp of her. “I need to ask a question of the state Senate candidate,” she said, looking up at him with a steady, expectant look.
Carl Hutchinson opened his mouth in surprise a moment, then quickly composed himself, cleared his throat and said, “Go on.”
“Do you maintain a financial or controlling interest in the land that the Department of Transportation has identifed for purchasing the new bridge?”
The state Senate candidate looked down at Annie Hutchinson, and nodded. He cleared his throat again, and recited the lines she had heard him rehearsing with his campaign manager the previous weekend. “It is true, the DOT last year proposed building the new bridge on land our family owned for over a century. What is also true is that we sold all that land six years ago, before the DOT even proposed the new bridge. Our family is neither financially invested in nor has representation in any fashion” he said with emphasis, “on the board of directors of the holding company that now owns that land.”
Annie looked up at her father, and nodded. “Thanks, Dad,” she said with a weak smile.