“Really.” Annie’s voice was tinted with suspicion, like a detective doubting the evidence of a crime scene. She drank from her bottle again.
Rune shook his head, long curls waving across his shoulders. “Look, I’m sorry — ”
“What you do is your own business.” From the far strip, her last name was called. She handed the bottle back to Rune. “No need to apologize for your decisions. Just — ” she bit her lower lip — “I need to know, is all.” Turning her back, she walked briskly back to her strip.
Still holding her water bottle as he stood in the middle of the large and mostly empty field house, Rune suddenly realized he was by himself, Rex and JanHar having returned to their strips during his brief conversation with Annie. He spun around slowly, reviewing the scene around him — the competitors in their white uniforms and silver lames and gray metal faces, thin cords tethered to their backs as they combatted, metal blades singing to their dance, barked exclamations of joy and frustration. The cicadan buzz of the scoring machines, the crisp judgments of the referees. Squalls of independent activity among the four strips, all of it coordinated toward a common goal.
He suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in his young life.
“How goes it, my friend?” The avuncular voice of Coach Dan, approaching him from the left.