We gather around Annie like kids seeking an autograph from a baseball star.
Rex — You were awesome! Annie smiles, teeth reflecting the sun beaming through the upper windows of the field house.
Coach Dan — That was some impressive fencing. You should be proud. Annie nods, pony tail prancing behind her head.
Butch — Francis better watch out, you’re going to get him next time. Annie laughs, red cheeks puffing.
Kassie — says nothing. She turns, looks at Butch in confusion.
Annie turns to me, her smile spreading from her mouth to her eyes, which are now bearing down on me with an unspoken question, more of a demand — well?
“That was — ” and I know what I want to
The smile in her eyes broadens as they bore deeper into me. WELL?
” — you’re beautiful.” It just blurts out of me, and I’m just as surprised as everyone else is (Coach Dan’s got this look on his face like he’s just pissed himself) because what I originally was going to say was That was some beautifcul fencing, but that sounded too much like Coach Dan had just said about her impressive fencing, so I came up with You fenced beautifully but that sounded clumsy, so instead I was going to say You looked beautiful out there and I really was going to say it, but then something inside me caught those words and changed them as they came out of my mouth.
Suddenly I’m embarassed, but at the same time I’m proud of my accidental confession. Because when I look at Annie, with her broad smile and perfect skin and long hair that flows from her head in rivers of chocolate; when I see the athleticism in her actions, hear the vibrancy in her voice, feel the energy that emanates from her like a volcano; when she pushes Francis Pine to the limit, then accepts the outcome with a grace demonstrating that she may have lost, but had not been defeated —
Beautiful? Oh yes. Saying the word brings the relief that comes with honesty.
Annie’s smiles disappear, first from her eyes, then her mouth. She looks surprised a moment, but her face quickly steadies into one of appreciation.
“Thank you,” she says. Her mouth opens a moment as she raises her arms, but suddenly she catches herself, quickly smiles at me, and turns toward our equipment sacks.