Return of Miles 1L

Butch walked forward from the line. Stopped, then raised his foil, the tip pointed above Miles’ head. Miles responded with a laugh that carried no humor. “It’s a drill, dude. You don’t salute for a drill.”

“Oh! Sorry.” Butch sounded genuinely embarassed and apologetic. “I just started last month — ”

“I gathered that.” Miles came out of his crouch, turned his head until the face of his gray metal mask pointed in the direction of Coach Dan. “But I am surprised that you put a foil in his hand so soon, coach.”

Coach Dan raised his eyebrows, his chin lifting seemingly in response. “This isn’t Europe, my friend. You know as well as I do, you put a group of American teens in a room full of weapons, there’s no way there going to just practice footwork for a year. Tournaments no, but practice — I seem to recall you picking up a blade that day you wandered in here from basketball practice.”

“True.” Miles took off his mask, sought Coach Dan’s gaze with his eyes. “But let’s just say that was — different.”

Annie shot her reply before Coach Dan could speak — “Is that because you’re freaking Miles?”

Miles turned towards her, grinned brashly. “Well, since you seem so insistent — no, not because I am who I am. It’s because I was — ” he turned quickly to Butch — “sorry to be blunt — ” now turning back to Annie — “back then, I was in shape.”

Butch looked reflexively down at his rotund body, his embarassment grown deeper.

Return of Miles 1K

Bernie was next in line to face Miles in the drill. “Mind if I try something new?” When Miles shrugged his reply to Bernie’s question, the younger teen extended his arm, charged forward quickly, the tip of his foil aimed at Miles’ chest. Miles parried the blow easily, waited for Bernie to nearly reach him, then jabbed with his foil, the tip landing on Bernie’s back.

After stopping his run, Bernie turned to Miles. But Miles was already looking at Butch, next in line. “Fleche attacks look cool, but you shouldn’t try them unless you know what you’re doing.” Miles talked as if Bernie wasn’t in the room.

“On the contrary!” Coach Dan’s booming voice echoed off the cafeteria walls and tiled floor. “The whole point of practice is to experiment, find things that work for you. Bernie,” his eyes now directed at the teen’s gray metal mask, “good for you.”

Already near the end of the line, Bernie stood silent a moment. Then, turning back to Miles, he pumped his fist into the air and bellowed with comic enthusiasm. YEAH! Laughter broke among the line of fencers, the amused absurdity of Bernie’s reaction even penetrating the gruff visage of Double-J, who laughed with the detached reserve of a man allowing himself to be pleased while watching his son’s cartoons.

The shadow of a smile could even be seen through the metal of Miles’ mask. “How droll, Biscuit. Now why don’t you get back to the end of the line, and let me see how good coach’s new recuits are.”

Return of Miles 1J

Annie shrugged, turned and walk back to the end of line, giving way to Double-J. Miles faced him, raised his left hand in greeting. “And now it’s — ”

“Shut up,” Double-J following his curt command with a quick advance towards Miles.

Miles lunged at his opponent’s second step, Double-J recovering from the surprise move in time to parry, his riposte coming immediately and parried by Miles. The two teens drew their arms back, jabbed with their foils, both landing a touch on their opponent’s chest.

Double-J spoke in the voice of a man not willing to negotiate. “Second intention.”

Miles shook his head. “My counter-parry, I have right of way, my touch.”

Double-J swore loudly. “My blade never lost control of the action, it’s mine!”

Miles chuckled, a mocking smile visibly beaming behind his gray metal mask, but Coach Dan called before he could respond. “It’s a drill, my friends, not a debate. Move on to the next fencer, please.”

Double-J backed away towards the end of the line, not turning from Miles. “This isn’t over yet.”

Miles chuckled again. “John, I haven’t even gotten started yet. Trust me, you’ll know when I get going.”

Return of Miles 1I

Note: I forgot to begin this story arc with a timeframe. Since that information is important to this post, I’ll now state that this takes place in . . .

October. The third Tuesday.

Rex turned, shaking his head as he walked back to the end of the line. Annie stepped forward, crouched into en garde position in front of Miles.

“Ah!” Miles exclamation jabbed at Annie. “The usurper!”

Annie tilted her head, her face questioning behind her gray metal mask. She heard Double-J grunt behind her as Miles continued. “Little girl, judging by the size of your feet, you’re going to need some newspaper to stuff the shoes you’re trying to fill.”

Annie shot back her reply. “Foot size doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with them that counts.”

Miles laughed, crouched down into en garde position. “We’re not in ballet class any more, little girl, and this isn’t Gandy’s gym.” He extended his foil at Annie. “Let’s see if you can dance your way past three feeet of steel.”

Annie growled, launched herself at Miles. He deftly parried, his riposte fast and firm, and counter-parried by Annie. She attempted to riposte, but Miles swung his blade hard and to the right, overpowering Annie, who grunted in disgust as Miles forced the tip of his weapon onto Annie’s belly.

Annie stepped back, laughed, teased her response — “Bully!”

Miles nodded. “Every opponent’s a bully. They look for your weakness, then exploit it unmercifully. You’re fast, skilled, but there’s no meat on your upper body. If you want to survive in tournaments, start doing pushups. Next!”

Return of Miles 1H

By the time Coach Dan had finished explaining the rules of the game to Kassie and Butch, Miles had already positioned himself with his back to the west wall of the cafeteria, facing a line headed by Rex. Miles pulled the fencing mask he had found down over his head. “Coach, I remember this damn thing from last year, thought you were going to throw it out?”

“You find a replacement for it, Miles, and I’ll go through with it.”

Miles chuckled, not caring to hide his disdain for Coach Dan’s response. “And this foil,” he continued, picking up the foil he had found and waving it in the air, his complaint now muffled from behind the grey metal of the mask. “Can’t you tighten this thing?” He pointed to the hilt, which made a large creaking sound as the blade wobbled wildly. “I mean, really.”

“You’re not looking to make excuses ahead of time, are you?” Rex’ tone was light, mocking but not challenging.

“On the contrary.” Miles’ tone indicated he had no interest in continuing to jest with Rex. “I just want everyone to know how inferior my equipment is, in order to make my coming victory all the more impressive.” Miles bent his knees, right foot extended forward and right arm holding his foil, its tip pointed directly at Rex.

“This one is for States,” Rex called, crouching down and advancing towards Miles. Rex lunged — the blades of the two teens clashed — HA! Miles exclaimed. The point of his foil dug into Rex’ right shoulder. “Rex, how many times do I have to tell you not to attack to six every time? You’re as predictable as ever. Anybody who’s faced you more than once knows to not go to the four parry, just wait for the disengage to six. I mean, really, Rex. Next!”

Return of Miles 1G

“Drills?” The sound of Miles’ mocking question bounced off the cafeteria walls, as the former captain of the Bark Bay High School fencing team searched through the large canvas sack that contained the team’s oval metal masks. “I’m going to go out on a limb, coach, and say the team’s just about sick of drills by now.”

Nobody agreed, verbally or non-verbally, with the statement. Yet everyone’s face conveyed a sense of expectancy that hadn’t been present earlier.

Coach Dan decided not to buck the tide that Miles had rolled into the team’s practice. “What would you suggest?”

“Games!” Mask in his left hand, foil in his right, Miles followed his shout by walking swiftly into the center of the cafeteria. “You guys done the Wall yet?”

Annie groaned, turned away, but wasn’t able to hide the smile from her face. Rex’s lean body seemd to grow even taller. “The Wall!” he yelled, pointing to the the far wall. Bernie came up behind him, nodding his head aggressively.

Waving in the direction that Rex had pointed, Coach Dan smiled behind the thin black curls of his beard. “The Wall it is.”

Miles’ teammates from last year gathered around him as Coach Dan called over Kassie and Butch, inquisitive looks on their faces. “The Wall starts with one person standing with their back to a wall. Everybody else forms a line in front of them, and takes turns fencing the person against the wall. Just one touch — soon as either the person against the wall or the person he faces scores, that person goes to the back of the line, and the next person goes up, fences to one touch. When the person against the wall’s faced everyone, somebody else goes to the wall, and you go through the line again.”

Return

Another tournament today, and a return to the scene where I had my mask fiasco in January. Twenty-some fencers, half Unrated along with several E’s. Given this field, I’m expecting to win a bout or two in my pool of six, and one DE to get in top 16. One more DE would get me in top eight, and probably my E.

But then again, I could get shut out again. Don’t think that will happen, but I also think top eight’s not realistic.

At the very least, I want to compete. Let the results come as they will.

Return of Miles 1F

Miles lifted his right leg, thrust it through the fencing uniform’s crotch strap, lifted the uniform and plunged his right arm through the sleeve. He turned his face towards Coach Dan. “No room in the athletic budget for new equipment?”

“Not even for new used equipment, my friend.” He motioned for the team to reform the line on the floor they had made earlier. “Barely have enough to send the unis out for laundry every month.”

Miles lifted his right sleeve to his nose, sniffed twice loudly. He grimmaced. “Eeeew. Who’s dried sweat is this?”

Rex’s voice boomed dramatically across the empty cafeteria. “What you smell is the sweet odor of my toil.” He stared at Miles, mock challenge on his face.

Miles put his left arm through the sleeve, motioned for Annie to fasten the zipper that ran down the center of the jacket’s backside. “You all really should get your own jackets. Having the zipper on the front makes all the difference in the world.”

Annie ran the zipper up to the back of Miles’ neck, fastened the velcro attached to the collar. “Jackets are expensive. Most of us can’t afford it.”

Miles turned to her. “Most. An appropriate choice of words, coming from one who’s family is certainly an exception. Yet I don’t see you with your own equipment.”

Annie shrugged. “I might get my own. Haven’t decided yet.”

A broad, mischevious grin snaked across Miles’ lips. “Or is it really your decision? I remember your parents expressing concerns about your being on this team.”

“Don’t — ”

LINE UP!” Coach Dan followed his command with two loud claps of his hands.

Return of Miles 1E

In response to Rex’s question, Miles said no, he didn’t have his fencing equipment with him. Annie broke from the circle around Miles, her movements as swift as a messenger delivering a word from on high. She knelt down next to the large olive sack that contained the team’s fencing jackets, began sifting through its contents.

Miles lifted his head, chin pointing in Double-J’s direction. “What’ll it be? Foil, epee, sabre? It’s been a while, like I said, but I think I remember the differences.”

Double-J snorted. “I don’t do foil no more. And don’t even talk to me about epee.”

“Ha!” Annie turned quickly at the sound of Miles’ exclamation, a jacket in her hands. Miles shook his head. “Good to see you haven’t changed, Double-J.”

Kassie said she thought they should do foil. Miles turned to her — “why’s that?” — then turned to Annie, studied the jacket she had found. Kassie continued. Because you haven’t fenced in a while, and foil’s the weapon you use when you’re learning.

Miles turned back towards her, his body suddenly tensing. Annie looked up at him in surprise. Miles narrowed his eyes. “Who — are you, again?”

Annie shook the jacket that she held along with Miles, hoping he would respond to the tug. “She didn’t mean — ”

Miles released the jacket, turned fully towards Kassie, who stepped back as he approached. “If I’ve forgotten half of what I used to know about this sport, that would still be more than twice what you’ll ever learn.”

Coach Dan intercepted Miles’ advance, placed a cautious hand in front of the teen’s chest. “Kassie was just repeating something I’d told her last week, when she asked about epee. No need to take offense, my friend.”

Miles flicked his head quickly. Made eye contact with Coach Dan. Smiled. “Take offense? How silly would that be. How about, want to fence instead?”

Coach Dan pursed his lips. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”

“YES!” Miles turned quickly towards the team, his arms thrusting wildly into the air. “Let’s all fence today.” He walked briskly to Annie, snatched the jacket from her hands.

Return of Miles 1D

Annie spoke before Miles began shaking his head. “Come on, Miiiiiiiles. You know you waaaaaaant to.”

Rex stepped forward, grinning. “I still owe you from States last spring.”

Miles opened his mouth to speak, only to be pre-empted by Coach Dan. “You’re outnumbered, my friend. I don’t think you’re going to be able to leave this room without putting on a jacket.”

The reluctance that frosted Miles’ countenance thawed, giving way to a gregarious open-mouthed smile. Even under the cover of his thick unkempt beard, his face bore the confidence that in the previous four years had beamed far beyond the walls of the high school, had shone brightly over the town of Bark Bay, its luminence extending to the region, the state. For this was the bold face of Miles Glossurio, the multi-sport star athlete and honors student of Bark Bay High School, the same Miles who in his junior year had made the surprise announcement that he was taking up fencing — fencing? — yes, fencing, an obscure club sport started the year before by the CP English teacher. Few students, mostly those curious to discover what that mettalic sound coming from the cafeteria after school on Tuesday was all about, had even known that the school had a fencing club, but within a year Miles’ magnetic personality, as well as as his considerable athletic skill, had brought attention to the sport that Coach Dan, that odd CP English teacher, had hardly imagined. Miles had been only the fifth team member, but by year’s end the team had doubled in size, and at the time of his graduation last spring Coach Dan had a large enough team (two dozen! Larger even than the Academy’s team!) to justify having the team bussed to the regional and State tournaments.

Yes, Miles had indeed returned, in both body and spirit. Coach Dan allowed his concern over the team’s future to give way to the excitement his team showed as they gathered around Miles as he took off his jacket.