Miles thrust his mask over his head, the cold grey metal muffling his ongoing chuckle. Double-J took the director’s position, to the side of the makeshift strip’s center. His arms hung down his sides.
“You guys ready?” Double-J followed his disinterested question with a quick glance at Annie, then Miles. It was not the behavior of a proper fencing director, but all too characteristic of the burly teen. “Fence,” he commanded, with the enthusiasm of an underpaid gym teacher.
Annie took two quick steps forward, planting her feet as she gained the center of the strip. She had planned this move before the boutnbegan, having noticed in the earlier bouts how eagerly Miles had competed for the center, just as he had the two years before, when the three-sport star of Bark Bay High School “played at fencing” as he called it.
Played. Prior to today Annie hadn’t attached any significance to Miles’ word choice. But this was a new year, and Miles was no longer the fencing team captain, he was at State, was only visiting this afternoon. No, not visiting, returning, acting as if he had never left, looking to play a little bit more before returning to State.
Play? Annie did not play at fencing. She fenced. In the month since the team had started practicing again that fall, she had learned that the passion she had felt at the end of spring had not abated, had grown even. It was not like the other activities she had pursued as a girl, even though the balance she had learned in ballet, the body control she had learned from gymnastics, the focus she had learned from taekwondo — all that training now seemed like preparation for what she was doing now.
I’m not playing, she thought, with an intensity that caused her to mouth the words silently. I’m here to compete. She allowed herself to smile, seeing Miles jerk his head in surprise as he saw Annie pounce upon the center of the strip, waiting for him to react.