Chapter 6 – February 10B

Rune had lifted the mask onto his head again, stared at Little Paul (the other judge) who abstained, then at the director, Rex, also abstaining. Annie’s call held up, awarding OK her fifth touch of their bout.

“Aw man.” Rune removed his mask, slumped back to his starting line (one of several edges of white and black tile on the cafeteria floor), but when he raised his blade to salute OK, he saw she had remained where she’d been standing, her mask still covering her face.

“Want to go to ten?” OK turned, her gray metal face peering at Rex, who nodded in agreement, as did Juan and Annie when presented with the same silent, gray-faced query.

His blade raised half-way to his chin, Rune considered OK’s offer a moment. But then shook his head, completing his salute. “Nah, that’s OK, OK, you win.”

“No, it’s cool.” Palms held at hip level, facing Rune, her foil dangling from the fingers of her left hand. “I just want to fence.” OK hadn’t been to practice in almost a month.

Rune stood at his line, scanned the faces around him. The expectation on their faces was nearly tangible, like a pungent scent. He heard the rustle of sweats against flesh, sneakers squeaking on the tiled floor. Coach Dan rising.

“Nah.” He tried smiling, was not disappointed to find he couldn’t. As he walked away from the makeshift strip he looked behind him, at The Bird, who along with Juan had also been judging. “You can take over.”

The canvas sacks that contained the fencing club’s equipment lay in uneven clumps along the near wall of the cafeteria, in front of the serving windows, under the enormous analog clock (three, forty-two, nineteen). Rune lowered his mask into the largest of the sacks, currently half-empty, the unused masks shifting clumsily under his efforts.

“Hey.” Startled, Rune looked behind him.

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