Coach Dan leaned forward, pulled his fencing mask over the top of his head. His face was expressionless as he brought his legs together, turned in the direction of Myles (slumped with his knees on the floor outside their makeshift strip), raised his foil in salute, brought it swiftly down. His actions were stiff, performed with the enthusiasm of a waiting room patient filling out a medical form.
The large cafeteria was silent, save for the sound of Myles’ labored breathing, gradually subsiding like a steam engine powering down. Coach Dan caught Annie’s eyes, waved her over to him with a backwards nod of his bearded head. She hustled towards him, pony-tail dragging behind her head, as her coach extended his foil and mask in her direction. She took both, and turned towards the large canvas sacks that contained the equipment of the Bark Bay High School fencing team. Bernie met her, waved Kassie and Butch over to join them.
Double-J walked behind Rex, clapped him on the right shoulder. The tall teen turned, saw his mustachioed friend jerk his thumb behind them, in the direction of the metal doors leading out of the cafeteria. Coach Dan called to them, asked them to wait a moment. He was about to give them information about the team’s upcoming practice at the Academy, when the sound of bitter laughter echoed jarringly through the large cafeteria.
Coach Dan turned at the sound, as did the members of the fencing team. They saw Myles, still slumped over, his body heaving with a sound filled with mixed emotions. Anger, sorrow, contempt, regret, pity, defiance — the range of emotions in his laugh fell on their ears like the taste of an overspiced soup.
Myles stopped laughing, sniffed loudly. His back still facing his former teammates, they watched him raise the back of his right hand to his nose, wipe dismissively. He inhaled, the mucus in his throat rattling noxiously. Pushing off the tiled cafeteria floor with his hands, he rose to his feet, and turned, the streams of tears on his cheeks glistening off the ceiling lights like war paint.