The bout resumed, with the Hillcrest skeleton continuing to lunge at Butch repeatedly, arms and legs flailing wildly like a marionette controlled by a tornado. Blade control not nearly the equal of his energy, the skeleton’s attacks landed mostly off-target, and after a few futile attempts Butch was able to land two ripostes off his parries, the second bringing him to within one touch of his opponent.
“What’s the time, Butch?” The tone of Annie’s voice was more commanding than inquisitive.
Butch glaced at the wall behind him. “A little after 11.”
Annie closed her eyes, shaking her head. Coach Dan raised a palm in Butch’s direction, and instructed him to ask the director (whose smile oozed bemusement) how much time was left in their bout.
“Oh!” Butch turned to the director, his large eyes visible behind the gray metal face of his mask. “What time does the bout end?”
As the director explained to Butch that there were 47 seconds of bout time remaining, Annie glared at Rune, and whispered. Rune asked her to repeat, and she laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, and drew him close. Strawberries, his nose sensed; must be from her shampoo; he inhaled deeply, savoring, his hand reaching down and touching her hip, which rose in response.
“Is he always like this?”
Rune blinked. “What do you mean?”
“You know — ” she tilted her head in the direction of the strip — “him. Is he always this . . . ” Her voice trailed off apologetically.
“Dense?” He felt her hand on his back. Her strawberry scent was intoxicating.
She frowned back with disappointment. “Not the word I would have chosen, but it works.”
His hand drew her closer, taking in more of her strawberry-ness. “Butch’s got a heart of gold. Just keep telling yourself that.”