Summers 7D

Jane finished entering her new password, and pressed Enter. Arjie nodded, both in appreciation and relief, and pointed at the screen. “Now we’re getting the desktop.”

“Hey!” For the first time that morning, Jane seemed excited. “Those look like the apps on my smart phone.” She leaned forward, pressed her index finger against the monitor screen.

Arjie grabbed her wrist, pulled her arm back. “It’s not a touch screen. This isn’t a smart phone, it’s a computer.”

“Oh.” Jane was genuinely disappointed, because with Wings’ help over the past several evenings she had become quite comfortable using her smart phone. It was this experience that had convinced her not to bring a notebook to her training session with Arjie. She’d begun by reading user manuals for her phone, but found most of them dull and unhelpful. It was Wings who suggested she just play with it, ask questions when she got stuck and get help if something went wrong. You don’t do no reading about technology, Wings had told her, you use it. Wings had been great, coming over every evening for several hours, sitting on the couch with both legs curled up under her,  watching television or using her own smart phone and occassionally serving as Jane’s instrutor, savior, or sounding board.

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Summers 7C

Arjie walked Jane through the process of logging on to the Crasob network with her laptop, explaining that he had IT reset her password the other day. Jane entered the password, and pressed the Enter key.

Jane stared at the screen in confusion. then turned to Arjie. “Change Password? I thought you said it was already changed.”

Arjie nodded. “This happens whenever your password’s reset. Your new password’s only temporary, you have to change it after you use it.”

Jane raised her eyebrows, turned back to the screen. “That sucks.” She looked down at the keyboard, quickly pressed several keys, then pressed Enter. The message on the screen changed. “I have to enter it again?”

Arjie raked his stringy brown hair with the fingers of his right hand. “You have to confirm it, so that the computer knows you typed it in right.”

“But I did type it in right. How does the computer know I didn’t do it right the second time?”

“Just — ” Arjie straightened himself in his chair, exhaled heavily. “This is going to be a long day, isn’t it?”

Jane rubbed her temple. “Look, I’m sorry.” She turned to Arjie and smiled, the sunlight from an exterior window beaming in and highlighting her long blonde hair. “You’re doing me a real favor here, and I appreciate it. I’ve been a real pain in the ass so far — I’ll try to behave.”

Arjie closed his eyes, and returned her smile as they re-opened. “Gary and I thought this was the best way to help you start feeling like yourself again. It’s OK — Gary’s ordering today, and I always enjoy free food.”

Finish

[I’m taking a short visit back to my fencing novel today in response to this week’s challenge on The Daily Post, which was to participate in a blogging event. I’ve chosen a prompt from the Today’s Author blog, which was to write a post that included the sentence which appears in bold text below.]

“Halt.” At the referee’s command, Bernie straightened his knees, the ripples in his white fencing jacket disappearing as he came out of his crouch. Reaching behind his head with his left hand, the teen pulled the Velcro strap that attached the helmet to his head, the loud ripping sound masking his heavy sigh.

Coach Dan waited for Bernie at the side of the strip. The grey sweatshirt and red track pants he wore served to highlight the bulging waistline of the middle-aged man. He extended his right hand, which held a bottle of blue liquid. Bernie, after wiping his greasy and sweaty hair from his brow, shook his head, causing Coach Dan to thrust the bottle onto the teen’s chest, its contents sloshing audibly.

Drink.” His tone was uncharacteristically severe. “It’s not a suggestion.” Bernie smirked, took the bottle from his coach.

Coach Dan scratched the thin curls of his black beard, its short hairs almost as long as those on his head. “Watch your distance. You’re getting too close, making it easy for her.”

Bernie swallowed, lowered the bottle, glared back at Coach Dan like a wounded animal. “I know. Same old story.” He raised the bottle to his lips, then lowered it again. “Doesn’t matter anymore. It’s like 13 – 4.” He raised the bottle, took another drink.

Coach Dan squinted, as if he were looking at an odd stain on a wall. “Every touch matters, my friend. The last one counts just as much as the first.”

Bernie lowered the bottle, shrugged with cheeks full of liquid. He looked at his coach with eyes filled with angry acceptance. Coach Dan blinked, and responded in the most authoritarian voice he could muster. “You need to finish. I don’t care if you don’t get eleven more touches, or one more, even none.” He jabbed his right index finger against Bernie’s left shoulder. “Finish this bout.

The referee called the fencers back to the strip. Bernie nodded, closed the bottle before handing it back to Coach Dan, who took it with his right hand. Bernie turned, then stopped as he felt his coach grab his left bicep.

“What?” Bernie sounded annoyed.

“Look at me.”

Bernie barely lifted his head. “Eyes.” His coach’s terse command reminded Bernie of Mr. Stuart, the middle school basketball coach, but the man he made eye contact with was not the person who had caused Bernie to silently vow never to play competitive sports again. The eyes he saw were those of his high school’s CP English instructor and volunteer fencing coach. A man who expected much of his students and fencers, and often received more.

Coach Dan’s face softened, the tone of his voice lowering to match. “What are you going to do?”

Bernie shrugged. “Finish?”

Coach Dan pursed his lips, nodded to his left as he released his grip on Bernie’s arm. “It’s a start.”

Bernie smiled, then turned back to the fencing strip. Arriving at his starting line, he quickly saluted both the referee and his opponent, then exhaled loudly. He pulled on the helmet and secured the strap. He felt his breath heating the air in the small capsule formed by his face and the gray metal mask. Bending at the knees into en garde position, he extended his right arm, and waited for the referee’s command to resume the bout.

Smoked

Knew this day was coming, as certainly as I know this won’t be the last time I’ll have a day like this.

Got totally smoked in the pools — five bouts, one (yes, that’s one) touch. Got two, maybe three touches in my DE. DFL? Oh yeah.

But today felt like progress nonetheless. I abandoned my spastic aggression — think Daffy Duck with a sword — and focused on observing rather than acting. Had I fenced like I had before, I probably would have gotten a few more touches. But the problem with the spaz game is that it has no potential — it’s exciting, it can win a bout here and there against other newbies, it might even produce a touch here and there against an experienced fencer. A spaz can have a lot of fun fencing.

But to get where I want to be in this sport, where I think I can get — I have to change my game. To act not for the sake of doing something, but with a purpose. And today my focus was on observing my opponents, figuring out what they were trying to do, seeing the action. Now today I didn’t respond well to what I saw, but at least I saw it — and that’s progress.

Summers 7B

The CAD Room of Crasob Engineering was empty this Saturday morning, save for Arjie and Jane. Gary was also in the building, perhaps in his office, perhaps the Milwaukee conference room, looking to avoid the distraction of his desk phone ringing.

Jane pointed at the monitor. “What the hell does that mean?”

Arjie answered like a teacher giving a lesson from her head rather than her heart. “You have to hit three keys to get to the login screen.” He nodded down at the keyboard, then motioned for Jane to roll her chair up to the desk.

Jane complied, looking down at the keyboard like it was a mysterious meal. “You mean this typewriter?”

Keyboard.” Arjie leaned towards Jane, the impatience on his face turning his goatee into a dagger. “Look, I know this is all strange to you, but if these Computer 101 lessons are going to work, you’ve got to stop thinking the world should be like you think you remember it was, but what it actuallly is. And this — ” he slapped the keyboard without looking — “is a keyboard. Got it?”

Jane threw up her hands. “OK! It’s a keyboard.” She rolled her chair up to the desk. “So you want to show me how to — log into this thing?”

Arjie sighed, showed her the keys used to get to the login screen. Jane decided not to ask why, since the keys were certainly wide enough, why the Control and Alternate keys weren’t fully labeled.

Relax

Another tournament tomorrow, first of the season and by far the largest I’ve ever participated again. As with my earlier tournaments, I’ll be happy with one win in the pools, another in the DEs. Aside from the athletic goal, I want tomorrow to be a relaxing day. Fence with a clear mind, with my anxieties tucked away in my back pocket until I’m done.

Also want to work on the simple lunges I’ve made a point of focus during practice. Of I can land my lunges, and throw in a disengage on the way, I’ll be on to something.

Summers 7A

[For a synopsis of the story so far, click here]

“Boot up?” Jane Summers leaned back in her chair, the sardonic grin of the disbeliever worn on her face with relish. “You mean you have to kick-start this thing.”

Arjie rolled his eyes as he swiveled in his chair, away from the computer screen and towards Jane. “It’s just what we call it when it starts. Like I was saying before, don’t get caught up in the terminology, just learn as much as you can.”

Summers 6E

Brad dropped his hands, stood up hurriedly as if his name was finally called after an hour in the DMV. “I don’t see what the big deal is.” He began pacing around the coffee table, waving his arms, his right hand still grasping the little white box. “We’ve been pre-engaged for what, three months now?” He turned to Jane, pointed at the white box with his left index finger. “I thought this was what you wanted.”

Deciding she didn’t like the rhetoric of their body height, Jane rose to her feet. “I told you, this has been a weird week. I’m just not — I’m not in the right frame of mind to make big decisions.” She decided not to tell him, as she had several times in the past, that if he wanted to walk around talking about something as ridiculous as a pre-engagement, that was his problem.

Brad’s arms raised in the air, like he was signaling a touchdown. “OK then! So now that this evening’s all blown to hell — what now?”

Jane’s eyes moved to the white box, held high above his head in his right hand. She looked at him thoughfully. “Two things. First — ” she pointed to the box — “put that back in your pocket.” Brad quickly complied. “Second.” She took two quick steps forward, raised her right hand to his cheek, looked up at him with as vulnerable an expression as she felt comfortable mustering. Her voice was soft, barely audible. “Stay. Please — stay.”

The surprise in Brad’s eyes quickly disappeared as he lunged his face down, kissing her roughly. Their sex that evening was agressive, Brad launching himself against her with an abandon she had never experienced before with him, with anyone. Jane was surprised to find herself responding in kind, exploring Brad’s body in ways that would have made her uncomfortable before. It was exhilarating, draining — and as Jane realized when she woke in the middle of the night, feeling Brad’s naked body against her and the pools of half-dried semen and other bodily fluids surrounding them, it was a welcome relief from the uncertainty she had been feeling in this strange new world.

Summers 6D

“I don’t think going up to Wisconsin this weekend’s such a good idea.” Jane hoped Brad wouldn’t ask why.

Brad exhaled loudly, puffing his cheeks as he looked off to his right. Exactly as Jane had remembered him doing before she stepped through the Looking Glass. He leaned forward in the couch, his eyes meeting hers. “You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

It took a moment, although not a very long one, for Jane to realize what Brad was about to do. But long enough to prevent her from stopping him from reaching forward, grabbing her right hand with his left, then leaning to his left as his right hand reached down into his pant pocket.

Jane now felt paralyzed, powerless to stop Brad’s momentum. “Keep waiting for the right moment to make this official, but it’s clear to me that moment will never come.” Her eyes were fixed on his right hand as it came out of his pocket, holding a small white box, not much more than an inch wide, high, or deep. “Sorry for the plain box — they wanted twenty bucks for the velvet-covered one with the hinged opening. You’d think they’d give it to you for free, considering how much I paid for — ”

Snapping out of her paralysis, Jane tore her right hand away from Brad’s grasp, then used both her hands to surround the hand holding the white box, forcing him to close his fingers around it until it was no longer visible. Her voice was sharp and commanding. “Not — now. No, there’s no right time, but there are wrong times, and this is a very, very wrong time.”

Brad looked hurt and offended. “Does that mean no?”

“No! I mean, I’m not saying no. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying yes. Or no.”

Brad tilted his head, his mouth and eyes contorting into a sarcastic grin. “So — maybe?”

Jane nodded. “Maybe. Maybe, yes.” Then she shook her head. “Or maybe no. Or maybe, just maybe. Maybe.”

Summers 6C

Brad walked over to the sofa, picked up his jacket and flung it across the room, landing in Jane’s favorite chair. He threw his body down into the cushions, raising his arms so that they rested on the back, then quickly shifted his legs so that they rested, left leg over right, on top of the coffee table.

He pointed his chin in Jane’s direction as she entered from the kitchen. “We still have time to run up to Wisconsin.” His family had a lakeside cabin.

Jane shook her head, as she walked over to her chair. “Can’t go.” She lifted his jacket from the chair, continued without looking at him. “I’ve — got something I need to do at the office tomorrow.” She turned, smiling as she flung the jacket back at Brad, who caught it before it landed on his face.

Throwing the jacket behind him, Brad replied in a tone that suggested he was going to continue offering suggestions until he heard yes. “When are you done? We can head up after, I’ll make you a nice dinner.”

Jane sat in her chair, holding a large mug of herbal tea with both hands. She sighed heavily, as if the weight of her unspoken thoughts burdened her — I have no idea how we’d get up there. Wings is going to take me to a parking lot tomorrow night after I get back from my computer training tomorrow. I remember learning how to drive when I was a teenager, back when cars were still all over the place — back in the world I remember. But it’s been years since I’ve been behind a wheel, and I’ve already checked, in this world there’s few intercity bus lines, and Metra is a joke. Unless you did all the driving, I simply can’t go to Wisconsin. I can’t go anywhere, really, until I either figure out how to get back to the world I remember, or I learn to adjust to this world.