The Academy 4V

“Butch, Bernie,” Coach Dan calls to us. “Why’d you take your jackets off?”

I can see Butch is just as confused as I am, so I let him speak for us. “Aren’t we done?”

“We’re here another hour or so, for sabre and epee. Keep practicing, with Kassie.” I suddenly notice Kassie still has her fencing jacket on, still has foil in her right hand, mask in left. Butch looks at me, like all of a sudden I’m his guardian or something.

I shake my head. “No. I don’t feel like practicing.”

Coach Dan looks up at the ceiling, in exaggerated confusion, then glares at me. “I don’t — recall — asking if you felt like practicing. I seem to remember” — he looks up at the ceiling again, taps his chin with the index finger of his right hand — “yes, I told you to practice.” He points to the sack of jackets. “Suit up — now.”

By now Double-J’s picked out his jacket fromthe sack, has walked over just in time to catch the end of our discussion. “Problems, Coach?”

Coach Dan shakes his head. Double-J turns from him, faces me, raises his black eyebrows. “Coach Dan wants you to practice. It’s not like you to disobey your coach, Biscuit.”

Biscuit. That’s Double-J’s nickname for me. Get it, Bernie Scott, B-Scott, Biscuit. Guy should get his own morning radio show.

“I’m just — ” I don’t want to continue.

“What?” Double-J asks, a sarcastic smile on his face. Annie steps into the circle, asks “What’s going on?” Rex comes up behind her.

Great. I’ve got the entire Bark Bay fencing team looking at me, waiting for me to finish my sentence. Do I tell them what’s on my mind? That I want to get as far away from this noisy, dark field house? That I’m sick of the Academy, of being patronized by these stuck-up jerks? That I not only don’t feel like practicing fencing, I don’t want anything to do with fencing at all, want to get as far away from this tournament as possible, don’t feel like ever being in another tournament in my life, I just want to be done, end this, leave me alone.

But I know how petulant, how idiotic that would sound. And I remember what my father told me once, “better to say nothing and let people think you’re a fool, than open your mouth and prove it.” That’s his approach to life, don’t take chances. That probably explains why he’s been a successful accountant, if also why he’s still in Bark Bay.

“I’m tired,” I finally say. A lie, but a safe one, I think.

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