Rex, whose height always made him easy to find, was standing next to one of the blue-jacketed referees, gray hair tied in a tight bun behind his bespectacled head. They were staring down at clipboard held by the referee. Seeing Annie and Rune approach, Rex looked up with a tired smile. “Guess who I drew in the pools?”
“You only ask that — ” Annie’s tone was almost defeatist — “when you’re about to face Francis.”
“Not Frankenstein again!” The referee looked up at Rune, his face contorted with indignation at the youth’s interjection, then walked away briskly. Rune then felt Annie’s hand on his shoulder, pulling him towards her.
“Really?” There was anger in her voice. “You think it’s a good idea — ”
“It’s just a joke.” Rune stepped back from her, put his hands in the air. “If he can’t — ”
“It is kinda rude.” Rex had walked next to Annie. “At practice it’s one thing, but at a tournament — ”
“Oh, so it’s OK to laugh at people behind their backs, but when we meet them face to face we have to pretend to be nice to them?” Rune’s face reddened. “Nobody on our team has ever beaten Francis Pine — not in a pool, not in a DE, not even when we scrimmage against the Academy. Even Myles, the only time he’d ever win a tournament was when somebody eliminated Francis for him. Never beat him face to face.” He looked around them quickly, made sure nobody was overhearing them, then lowered his voice. “And that smug little smile on his condescending face — just want to smack him!”
“And making fun of his name — ” Annie’s voice slow and direct, the tone of a cross-examination — “how exactly does that help one of us finally defeat him?”