Forward, Part 2

[Continuing my response to the Daily Post prompt Under the Snow. This vacation time has underscored the importance of getting my blog updated in the morning.]

“How should I know?” Double-J’s gruff response made it clear to Annie that the burly teen did not expect to be named team captain. “If Jacobs has any sense, he won’t have a captain this year. He was just stroking Myles ego last year, making sure he stayed on the team.” The pace of his scrunch-scrunch on the frozen dirt road surface quickened; she was relieved to see her question had the desired effect.

“I think Rex should be captain.” She knew her statement was disingenuous; Rex and Double-J were both seniors, but the burly wild-haired teen limping next to her was the only student who had been with the Bark Bay High School fencing club since its inception four years ago.

Double-J’s laugh was as cold and dark as the winter night that surrounded them. “He doesn’t want it. Jacobs asked him already.”

She stopped, let him limp forward a few more steps. “Coach Dan talked to you about who should be captain?”

A gruff murmur rumbled from Double-j as he limped up the fire road. Annie sprinted forward, as motivated now as her friend and rival.

Forward, Part 1

[For today’s response to the Daily Post prompt, Under the Snow, I’m revisiting a portion of a lengthy scene I had written for my novel. This will be another multi-part response; this vacation is really disrupting my routine.]

He was wearing down, his body language unable to speak with the same defiance of his words. Shoulders drooping forward, as if a boulder were bearing down on his back; the shuffle of his limping gait losing its energy, the injured ankle no longer lifting the foot as it scraped over the frozen surface of the dirt road; each breath an effort, vapor bursting from his mouth like an overworked steam engine.

He’s not going to make it, she thought. But he had to make it, all the way up the fire road. She wouldn’t leave him, and carrying him simply wasn’t possible. He had to keep going.

Which meant she had to find a way to distract him from his injury. Keep his mind occupied.

“Who do you think Coach will name as team captain?” The words came out of her without her even thinking about them.

Revealing the Secret, Part 5

[Apologies for the brevity of the last couple of posts — I’m traveling for the holiday, and with no Wi-Fi and at 95% of my monthly data limit, I need to cut somewhere. But today, I’ll conclude my response to The Daily Post prompt Envelope Pushers]

“So you are Rune are dating.” Rex decided it was time to get back to the reason Annie had requested their meeting. He waved a hand in the direction of the Bark Bay High School cafeteria, where the fencing club’s practice had just concluded. “And you don’t think you can keep it a secret — ”

“I don’t want it to be a secret.” And with those words, Annie’s agenda finally became clear to him.

“But Rune does.” Annie nodded, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “And you’re worried about how he’ll react, when word gets out.” Nod. “Double-J?”

Annie sighed, rolled her eyes. “I don’t care what Double-J thinks.”

Rex stuffed as much sarcasm as he could muster into his smile. “Wasn’t asking about his opinion.”

“It’s been over since summer.” Her eyes were wide with indignation. “Before summer, even. June, no, Memorial Day weekend — ”

“I get it.” He’d raised his palm in the stop position again. “Had to ask.” He rubbed his nose between the index and thumb of his right hand, his long fingers looking like a pair of needle-nose pliers. “So you’re telling me now, before the rumor comes my way.”

“That’s right.” She spoke with an air of expectation, like a teacher prodding a student to complete an answer. And suddenly Rex knew exactly how to respond, as if he were on strip against an opponent who was defending too far into six, leaving him a delicious opening at four.

“You’re that concerned about how Rune will respond? When he knows we’ve found out about you two?”

Her eyes had the defiant acceptance of a vanquished opponent. “Yes.”

Rex sighed. He thought about asking if she’d told Coach Dan yet, but knew instinctively that she had not. “Well, if you don’t mind me saying — I’m going to be too busy staying in school, and looking out for my family, and fencing, to worry about anyone else’s private life.”

Annie nodded, a satisfied smile on her face.

Revealing the Secret, Part 3

[Continuing my response to The Daily Post prompt Envelope Pushers]

“Sometimes they’re not secrets.” Annie’s voice was impersonal, analytic, like a priest forgiving a trivial sin. “Sometimes — it’s just stuff we don’t think is important, or you just forget about them.” Her face brightened under the pale light of the overhead parking lot lamp. “And those things that don’t affect nobody, what does it matter if it’s secret?”

Revealing the Secret, Part 2

[Continuing yesterday’s response to The Daily Post prompt Envelope Pushers]

Annie’s words invoked a rush of mental images for Rex — she and Rune giggling at the final practice in December, their terse whispered conversation at the holiday party, her defense of Rune’s absence to Double-J this afternoon.

“It started in November, before the party.” Rex hadn’t actually thought of asking for their history, but found the information immediately useful.

“Before you were named captain.” Annie bit her lip, nodded. “Is that — ”

“Of course it is.” She actually looked insulted by Rex’s half-uttered question, and although he suspected the reaction would likely make his friend even more defensive, Rex laughed.

“Come on, Annie. Your personal life — ”

“That’s not the issue.”

Rex shook his head. “Sure looks that way to me.”

She slapped her gloved right fist into her gloved left palm. “It’s about perceptions. Don’t be naive — you know people are going to talk when they find out we’re dating, how I’m playing favorites — ”

“Annie.” Rex couldn’t prevent showing his disdain for her self-importance. “Annie, you do know that the fencing team captain really doesn’t do anything, right?”

She folded her arms across her jacketed chest, leaned backwards. “So why did Coach say we needed one?”

“I dunno.” He threw his arms above his head and brought them down swiftly, his long arms flailing like he was signaling an airplane. “When I asked him the same thing, he said something about leadership, being an example.” He touched his chest. “Which is why I told him that naming me captain would be a bad idea. Or Double-J.”

Annie’s eyes widened, and Rex nodded in response. “Yeah, Coach asked me about Double-J, and I told him he shouldn’t make him captain. If I hadn’t said nothing, that’s probably what woulda happened. But he asked my opinion, and I couldn’t lie.”

“Coach told me he made that decision all on his own.”

Rex had been looking down at the ground between them, but now raised his tall head and smiled at Annie. “Too many damn secrets.”

Revealing The Secret, Part 1

[Today’s prompt from The Daily Post, Envelope Pushers, is about taking risks, and evaluating the outcome of that decision. I’m inspired to create another multi-post response.]

“I need to tell you something.” Annie’s words sounded unsure, almost nervous. Not like her at all. Suddenly Rex understood why she’d made it a point to offer him (just him) a ride home that evening, why she’d asked him to step outside the cafeteria and wait with her (and only her) even before the fencing club’s practice had ended, why she’d seemed so off that afternoon — losing to Double-J was no surprise, but not getting a single touch?

Rex looked down at her, literally. Since his growth spurt at age eight, he had been always been close to a foot taller than any of his classmates, and the teen had thought he had overcome the social awkwardness of his height. But the connections he had made with the fencing club had revived those insecurities. He swallowed. “What’s up?”

“It’s Rune.” The greasy-haired teen, like Annie a year behind Rex, hadn’t been at practice that evening.

“Is he OK?”

“Yes.” Annie shook her head. “I mean, no, that’s not the issue. What I meant was, I don’t know if he’s OK or not, which doesn’t mean that he’s not OK, it’s just — ”

Rex held up the palm of his right hand. “Let’s just assume Rune’s OK.” He smiled. “And why don’t you tell me, what it is you want to say about him.”

Annie exhaled. “It’s — personal. And I don’t know if he’d like me sharing this information with you, or anyone else.”

He screwed up his face in confusion. “Rune being secretive, is hardly a secret. But you’re not one usually to gossip, so I’m curious why you’re taking a chance here and letting me in on one of his secrets?”

“Because — ” Annie slapped her gloved right hand hard against her jacket — “it’s about me. Rune and I, we’re dating.”

Rhythm, Part 3

[The conclusion of my response to the Daily Post prompt, Cue the Violins.]

“Seems to me, analogies are good for newbie fencers — ” from his sitting position on the cafeteria floor, his back against the low wall in front of the stage and his arms propped on his knees, Double-J pointed — “Butch, the Bird lady.” He smiled. “Huey.”

Rune’s face flashed in anger as he took a step forward, but Double-J waved in his direction dismissively. “Take it easy. But once you know what you’re doing out there, all this crap about fencing being like music, or a conversation, or a, God help me, metaphor for life, is just a bunch of noise, a distraction.” He stood up abruptly, without any seeming effort. “What I like about this sport is that it’s exactly what it is — a duel between two people. Unless the ref’s a total idiot, the guy who fences better always wins, always. It’s the only honest sport life, the only one that hasn’t been corrupted by greed or phony rivalries.”

Double-J had walked back to the area where he and Rex had been bouting, was now picking up the weapon and mask he had left on the cafeteria floor when Coach Dan had called for a halt. “The only thing fencing is like, is fencing.” He pulled the mask onto the top of his head, the thin black wires of his hair seeming to draw up in. “So if you don’t mind, Coach, Rex and I are tied at three.” He lifted his weapon in a line above Rex’s head, even though Rex was still off strip. “Seems to me that epee’s pretty dumb, but if competing in his weapon was the only way to get him to accept a challenge, what the hell.”

A silence fell over the cafeteria, as Coach Dan and the other members of the Bark Bay High School fencing club stared back at Double-J, poised to resume his bout. Coach Dan didn’t exactly know what should happen next, but felt confident that he should not have the next word, that the response to Double-J should come from the club, not himself.

It was Annie, unsurprisingly, who spoke next. “Rex — how about you resume your bout with Mr. Literal over here.” She shot a glare over at Double-J, her pony-tail whipping behind her head. “And if I had a guitar, I’d play it while you shove your epee down his throat.”

Rhythm, Part 2

[A continuation of yesterday’s response to the Daily Post prompt, Cue the Violins.]

“So I encourage all of you — ” Coach Dan swept his gaze across the room, making sure everyone’s attention was at least momentarily focused on him — “to think about the music that should be playing in the background as you fence. About the rhythm of your fencing.”

Butch raised a hand quickly, and Coach Dan nodded towards him. “Coach, what if the music you like doesn’t have any words?” The rotund boy looked genuinely concerned, until greasy-haired Rune explained that Coach meant rhythm, not rhyme. “Oh!” Butch nodded, seemed to relax a moment, but then immediately looked even more concerned.

“I know.” Annie had stepped into the middle of the cafeteria floor, her sharp voice echoing off the walls of the large nearly empty room. “It’s jazz. There’s an ensemble playing, piano and trumpet and bass. All three are improvising, playing off each other’s riffs, competing and supporting each other at the same time.”

“Excellent!” Coach Dan lifted his arms triumphantly in the air. “Rex, how about you?”

The tall teen had been scratching his chin. “There’s no group, just one person — a woman. With a guitar, acoustic not electric. Her playing’s soft, but perfect.” He smiled in appreciation. “It’s beautiful.”

Coach Dan nodded, pointed at The Bird. The slender girl replied that all she heard was a large orchestra, all the instrument groups warming up on their own, the sounds rising but all separate, not cohesive.

“I think we figured it out.” Rune had been whispering intently with Butch. “Butch likes — ” Rune hesitated, swallowed — “he says, polka.”

The overweight boy next to Rune nodded, waved his arms side to side. “It’s the accordion. It goes back and forth, kinda like how fencers do during a bout.”

“And I like folk.” Rune had raised his voice, which also began echoing off the walls, to cover the giggling that had infected the fencing club members. “Because the message is more important than the music.”

“Excellent, excellent!” Coach Dan seemed more pleased than he had been in weeks. “And — how about you, my friend?”

His question was directed at the stout teen who, as the rest of the fencing club members had given their answers, had walked over to the cafeteria’s stage, and sat, his back resting uneasily on the short wall. He glared back at Coach Dan with disdain.

[Part 3 will be tomorrow]

Rhythm, Part 1

[For today’s response to the Daily Post prompt, Cue the Violins, one is to describe the soundtrack that plays during the movie of one’s life. As I did earlier this week, I’ll spread this response over a couple-few days.]

“Halt.” At the tempered yet commanding sound of Coach Dan’s voice, all activity on the cafeteria floor — the bout between short stout Double-J and tall lean Rex at the center of the room, the huddled conversation over comic books between greasy-haired Rune and rotund Butch as they sat near the khaki sacks that contained Bark Bay High School’s fencing equipment, the demonstration of proper form and footwork technique that Annie (athletic and pony-tailed) was providing to The Bird (frail and dark) — stopped.

Coach Dan was pleased that everyone, even Double-J (who had lifted his mask so that it rested on top of his head), had turned their attention towards him. “Have any of you ever considered — the music that plays when you fence?” His pleasure increased as he saw the uniform look of confusion on all his students’ faces. “What I mean is, there’s a rhythm to fencing, the back-and-forth with your opponent is like a dance.”

“Thought it was like a conversation.” Double-J looked disgusted. “At least, that’s the lame metaphor you were using last week.”

“Simile.” Annie smiled triumphantly at Double-J, the disgust on his bearded face growing like a virulent rash.

Coach Dan casually took a few steps forward, until he was between the two teens’ line of sight. “And I still think it’s like a conversation, my friend, but I noticed last week that little — ” he glanced quickly between Double-J and Annie — “figure of speech I used last week, didn’t really register with anyone. And like I tell you — when something isn’t working for you on strip, don’t just try to do it faster and harder, or think you’ve failed. If fencing as conversation doesn’t work for you, perhaps fencing as music will.”