Chapter 6 – February 12B

“How’d you know I was going to be here?” Rune flinched with annoyance as the overhead light illuminated, Annie having flipped the switch.

“You TOLD me you were going to be here.” She came up to him, her hands rising and coming to rest on his shoulders, like doves gliding down on a branch. “Remember? Your brother’s hockey game, parents going to be there, leaving you — ” she sighed, smiling at him — “All. By. Your. Self.”

He did remember telling her, as well as the frustration he’d felt when she told him about the concert. “Yeah.” He felt her fingertips on his cheek, saw her mouth close on his. Let her kiss him.

The look on her face when she drew back. “What was THAT about?”

Rune shook his head. “Nothing. I mean, I’m sorry. It’s just — I don’t know, wasn’t planning on you being here.”

“Neither was I.” Her eyes blinked rapidly. “But that plan changed.” Licked her lips. “I — thought you’d like it if I came over.”

“You could have called.”

He didn’t expect his analysis to be met with the wild look that came over her face. “Called? And do what, make a damn appointment?”

“No!” He knew his tone of indignation was a mistake, and didn’t care. “Look, it’s OK, it’s just that, you shouldn’t surprise me like that.”

She crossed her arms across her chest, pony-tail prancing behind her head. “It’s called spontaneity. Allowing yourself to be caught up in the moment.” Looked down. “Sorry you don’t get it.” She turned, reached for her jacket on the coat rack.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yes, I’m leaving.” She did not turn to look at him as she pulled her jacket. “Let you return to whatever it was you were doing.”

“But it’s cold.” He grabbed her wool cap from the rack. “You were so cold, you couldn’t wait to get in here.”

She grunted while turning to him, in a manner which made him suspect she was restraining himself from striking him. “I had been more looking forward to being inside, than getting away from the outside.” She snatched the cap from his hands, spun towards the door — and stopped as her hand touched the handle.

Chapter 6 – February 12A

The third Friday

The doorbell rang a third time, and Rune concluded that whoever the hell it was, he or she or they weren’t going to go away. He ran from his room, propelled more from annoyance than curiosity, then down the stairs to the front door of his house. Through the narrow windows to the right of the window, he saw the sleeve to a familiar brown jacket.

He closed on the interior door, opened it swiftly. Annie’s eyes sprang open, as if they were bursting from her head, her lips pulled back into a tight smile.

“Lemme IN!” She bounced on her heels, teeth chattering.

Rune pushed open the glass exterior door, Annie brushing by him quickly like she was late for an appointment. “GOD!” She stamped her booted feet loudly onto an interior mat. “What is this, like four days in a row below ten?”

“Something like that.” Rune made sure the exterior door closed on its own, before closing the interior.

“And they’re saying, more snow!” She ripped off her wool cap, shook it angrily. “It’s four frickin’ degrees out there, and we’re supposed to get six inches by morning! Isn’t there a law that you can’t have more inches than degrees?”

Rune never saw the point in complaining about weather. “Thought you were going to a concert tonight.”

Annie unzipped her jacket, pulled her left arm from its sleeve. “Mom’s come down with something, said she didn’t feel like going. We’ve got a subscription, Dad said he’d take me if I wanted but I was like, maybe next time, and he actually seemed relieved.” She had taken off her jacket, held it up to Rune. “So — change of plans!”

He looked at her curiously. “You drive here?”

She rolled her eyes. “Still on my temp. My brother’s home, Academy’s on break this weekend, he was going out anyway so I asked him to drop me off here.” She shook the jacket, hanging at the end of her extended arm. “You gonna take this?”

Rune blinked, shrugged, took the jacket, threw it onto an open knob of the coat rack.

Chapter 6 – February 11A

8:46

A few more zigs to the right, zags to the left, but the black water remained visible as Rune navigated through the maze of barren branches. Then suddenly the path to the shore was clear, the teen rushed forward, relieved to have finally reached his destination.

He looked back. Vapor from his breath lifted, he saw his footprints in the snow. Remembered not following any footprints (human, anyway) on his way down; light would be a challenge, but if he didn’t panic on his return trip, he wouldn’t have much difficulty finding his way back.

He had no idea when he’d return, though. Wasn’t particularly sure why he’d come down here in the first place. But he was here, and felt satisfied with his arrival.

Turned back to the lake. The water seemed frozen for about twenty feet from the shore — not being sure where the shoreline ended and the ice began, he couldn’t be sure. He took tentative steps forward, moving sideways, the left foot inching forward and pressing down, gauging the resistance before bringing the right forward. He felt snow pushing into frozen gravel the first few steps, then about the fourth or fifth, felt harder resistance. Left foot pressed down again, senses alert for water; he hit a patch of ice, slipped forward a little, quickly regained his balance. Stepped down on the same spot with more confidence, hit a path of ice as solid as concrete. Retreated, found the edge of the gravel, took two steps back.

Looked to his left. A cabin several hundred feet away, the generator sound was definitely coming from there, as were the lights he’d seen. He saw no movement, no sign of life around the cabin — what had seemed like a welcoming beacon as he stumbled through the forest now seemed darkly silent, ominous.

Looked to the right. Thought he saw the outlines of more cabins, further down than the one on his left, but none of them were illuminated, and the dense forest repelled the light from the moon. The shoreline seemed smoother in that direction — Rune walked forward, answering his silent summons.

Chapter 6 – February 10I

Rune nodded in agreement. Dr. Schmidt’s En Garde! fencing school had produced some of the top fencers in the region. Even fencers from the Academy, the private school which was Bark Bay’s chief rival and home to one of the most renowned youth fencing program in the state, were known to have taken lessons there. But Dr. Schmidt’s instruction came with a price more exacting even than his tuition, and Rune and his teammates were pleased their Coach Dan had a much different agenda.

“It’ll be the team’s weapon.” Rex had lowered the bag containing the epee to his waist. “We can keep it in the storage locker, with the rest of our equipment.”

Rune blinked. “Mind if I ask you a question?”

“You just did.” Rune was pleased to see the return of Rex’s sardonic grin. “But I’m feeling generous today, you may ask another, no extra charge.”

“Why is it that, every time somebody offers you something, your first instinct is to refuse accepting it?” But it wasn’t until he saw Rex’s grin dissolve that Rune realized how intrusive his question had been.

Rex looked down, studied his shorter and younger teammate. Rune felt their friendship was being judged. And then the tall teen tilted his head down, warmth returning to his face.

“You know how they say, it’s better to give than receive?” Rune nodded. “Perhaps that’s because, no gift is ever given freely. There is — ” he tilted his chin up a moment, then looked back down swiftly — “not a price, but a debt, that comes with each gift. I’m just wary of collecting debts.”

“All right.” Rune scratched his chin. “You know, whenever Butch and I go to Page Turner’s for comics, he’s always a few bucks short.”

Rex gently thrust the bag back into Rune’s chest. “I think we’ll all feel better if we just say it’s the team’s weapon.”

Chapter 6 – February 10H

“This is cool.” Rex grabbed the epee by its thin blade again, swiveled the weapon until the bellguard pointed at Rune. “So you’re switching to epee?”

Rune had picked up the slender bag from the floor of the basement, took the weapon from his tall thin friend, began wrestling it back into the bag. “Nah, got my hands full with foil as it is.” Closed the zipper, extended the bag in his right hand. “Figured I’d give it to someone who could use it.”

“No.” But Rex couldn’t hide the envy from his face. “You can’t. Your aunt, she gave it to you — ”

“When she gave it to me, she called it a sword.” Rune laughed, raised the bag up to Rex’s eyes. “I tried explaining to her about the three weapons — deer in headlights. So I told her that I didn’t think I could use it, would it be OK if I gave it to someone who would, and she was like, sure, it’s yours now, do what you want.” He stepped forward, the bag touching Rex’s chest. “And what I want, is to give this to the only epeeist on our team.”

Rex raised his hands, lifted the bag from the bottom gently but securely, like its contents were made of glass. His eyes scanned over the surface, stopping at the right corner. “That’s the patch for En Garde!” With his left hand he twirled the bag, the patch now facing Rune.

Rune’s eyes widened. “Yeah.” He shook his head. “I mean, I know, I saw that too.”

“Must have been one of Dr. Schmidt’s students.” His arms looked like pipe cleaners even under his jacket. “Bet she got fed up with him. Her parents too. Didn’t want to deal with him no more, giving it away at a yard sale seemed better than trying to sell it through his school.”

Chapter 6 – February 10G

“How much did she pay for all this?” Rex ran his hand over the near-pristine surface of the epee’s bellguard, like a mother rubbing the temple of her smiling infant.

Rune shook his greasy head. “Like I said, the guy was literally begging her to take it away, but she gave him five bucks for it.”

“FIVE?” A volcanic plume of suspicion erupted on Rex’s face. “Jesus, I know how much these things cost, more than my family’s grocery bill for a week, close to two. Five bucks — how’d your aunt know this was legit, that this guy wasn’t selling stolen goods?”

“Huh.” Rune looked up at the exposed floor joists hanging from the ceiling of the basement. Then back down at Rex. “It was a garage sale, on a Saturday afternoon. Not the likely place for that type of operation.”

Rex grunted, resumed his examination of the epee. Looked up at Rune’s laugh. “What’s so funny?”

“You know that guy, Patrick? They call him PEH?” Rex nodded. “Every time he hears us talk about the fencing club, he says — ” he tilted his head down, lowered his voice — “what kind of stolen goods you selling? Cigarettes?

Rex frowned. “Yeah, PEH’s a real riot.”

“Well, if my aunt really had bought that epee from a guy who stole it — he’d be fencing fencing!”

Rex looked back at him, horrified, and stopped Rune’s attempt to explain the joke.

Chapter 6 – February 10F

The gray blade, a thin v nearly three feet long, glistened under the sharp light of the unshielded light bulb above them. Rune held it by the bell guard, larger than the ones he was accustomed to using during fencing practice. After gazing in wonder at it a moment, Rex tentatively reached for it.

“An epee.” Whisper of a voice, as if Rex feared the mirage in front of him would disappear if identified.

“My aunt was at a yard sale the other day, in the city.” Rune released his hold on the weapon, let it fall into the taller teen’s appreciative hands. “She saw this on a table, lying on the bag. She remembered I was a fencer, so she asked how much it was.” The greasy-haired teen laughed. “Man who ran the sale, he was like, take it. Said he’d bought it for his daughter when she was in school, but she didn’t fence no more, now he just wanted to get it out of his house.”

Rex grasped the handle of the weapon, extended his arm forward, the blade making a line off to Rune’s right. “There’s hardly any marks on it.” Rotated his wrist, eyes scanning the blade. “Like it’s hardly been used.” Grabbed the blade with his left hand, released his hold on the handle, brought the bell guard up to his eyes. “It’s electrical!”

“Oh yeah.” Rune bent down, ruffled his hands through the bag, then quickly stood up, long black wires dangling from his hands. “Body cords!”   

Chapter 6 – February 10E

As usual for this time of day, the house was empty when they arrived. As he threw Rex’s jacket onto the living room couch, Rune remembered his being there just a few days ago, with Annie. He thought about telling Rex what they’d done in the time they had alone before his mother had arrived from work. There would be a certain power released in that revelation, he wouldn’t even have asked Rex to keep it to himself, rather he’d want his friend to inject that story back into the rumor mill, let it stand triumphantly as a lighthouse of truth amid the sea of lies and innuendo. Of course few would care about the truth, but he would know. And Annie. And their teammates on the fencing team. The only people, outside Rune’s family, who mattered to him.

But he walked away from the couch. In the end, he suspected there was more power in withholding the secret than in setting it free.

“It’s in the basement.” Rune opened a door next to the kitchen, narrow stairs leading down; walked down two steps, footfalls echoing in the darkness, then flipped a light switch on the wall to his right. Rex followed, ducking his head to avoid hitting the ceiling. The basement was a cold gray room of concrete walls and floor, and smelled of laundry detergent.

Rex followed his friend around the stairway, past a matching white pair of washing and drying machines (bed linens piled on top of each) — he noted a large floor drain in the middle of the basement — Rune pulled a string over his head, illuminating an area of metal shelving. Rune reached to the top shelf, pulled down a long narrow bag, red with white lines and lettering.

Rex’s eyes widened. “Is that — ”

“Exactly what you think it is.” Rune lowered the bag onto the floor, pulled open its zipper, and with a satisfied smile on his face, lifted an object from the bag, and handed it to Rex.

Chapter 6 – February 10D

Their 20-minute walk to Rune’s home that afternoon was quiet and uncomfortable, Rex failing at several attempts to engage his younger friend in a series of different topics (their last tournament, school gossip, popular television shows, spectator sports). Rex presented each topic in the safest manner possible, like one of his half-hearted lunges at fencing practice, executed more to elicit a response than to threaten; Rune merely deflected each statement without further comment, an equally weak parry of the non-attack, without even the hint of a riposte.

They walked into the snow-covered subdivision, neither of them haven spoken for several minutes. Rex cleared his throat. “I’ve heard rumors, about you and Annie.”

Rune kicked at a rock lying on the sidewalk. “People like to talk, don’t they?”

Rex grunted. “People are curious, is all. And they care, about both of you. They want to know you’re both happy.”

“Huh.” Rune scanned in futility for another rock to kick. “OK, I’ll admit it, we’re dating.”

“I see.” Rex had fallen behind, a common occurrence for him despite his long legs. He took two quick steps forward, looked over and back and down at Rune. Their eyes connected. “Shall I assume the details of your — dating — are none of my business?”

Rune laughed. “If I told you the truth, and you fed it verbatim back into the rumor mill, by the time it came back out it wouldn’t look anything like what it really was.” He pointed to his house, led Rex into the driveway. “So if it’s all the same to you, yeah, I’d like to keep the details to myself.”

Chapter 6 – February 10C

Rune turned, then looked up. You didn’t get a full appreciation for Rex’s height until he was standing next to you.

“Your summons was deliciously cryptic.” A hungry smile. “Do tell me that you’re up to something not particularly good?”

Rune laughed spontaneously, his pleasure melting the frost that had crusted his mood. “Sorry, that was last week, you missed your chance. It’s not here though, at my house, wanted you to see it ‘fore anyone else.” He waved a hand in the direction of the rest of the fencing club, re-assembled around their makeshift strip for another practice bout.

“‘s alright. Talked to Annie, said her mother can pick me up at your place, at 5.”

“Cool.” Rune’s eyes widened in caution. “She’s not coming with, is she?”

Rex’s eyes narrowed. “Negative. She’s staying her, ’til she gets picked up.”

“Ah.” Rune looked past Rex, located Annie’s brown pony-tail. Focused on judging the bout. He looked up at the enormous analog clock, three forty-four. “Whose on bag duty this week?”

Rex pointed with his right thumb behind him. “Our capitan, she and OK are taking care of the equipment. Give them a chance to catch up.”

“Ah.” Rune slapped his forehead. “Getting picked up here, duh!

Rex smirked, dismissing Rune’s self-deprecation. “Juan and I are up next, we can take our leave after I beat him.”