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.

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