“Oh!” The pleasant befuddlement that seemed permanently fixed on Butch’s face was replaced with the beginnings of understanding. “You must — really like this sport.”
Rex crossed his arms at the wrist, level with the waist, his foil’s blade extending down past his left foot. “Yeah. I enjoy fencing because of the culture. I enjoy the fact that my rivals are also my friends, that those I compete against want to see me succeed almost as much as they want to defeat me. There is a chivalry, a nobility among fencers that you just don’t see anywhere else.” Annie and Rune were standing next to Butch, the three of them looking up at the tall, slender teen who seemed as comfortable as a museum curator displaying a treasured holding. “We all want to win, want to advance as far as we can in this sport, but fencing’s about more than winning, or competing. Fencing — is about how you live your life.”
A loud noise; the four teens looked over at the source. At the far end of the cafeteria, Double-J walked away from Coach Dan, arms raised above his head, hung low and jerking quickly side to side as if he was trying to dismiss an unpleasant odor. A moment later his body slammed into one of the twin metal doors that lead out of the cafeteria; locked, it refused to give way, Double-J kicking at it angrily, SHIT!, before slamming his body into the other door, which opened quickly KA-KLAK and slammed KA-TASH into the narrow wall behind it, the echoes of Double-J’s profane growling audible until the door finally closed, kl-ik.
“Well then!” The three remaining teens had not noticed Coach Dan’s sneaker-soft arrival until his booming voice commanded their attention. “Rex, get the team lined up. Time for some more footwork.”
Advance. Advance advance. Retreat. Double advance. Retreat. Extend, lunge. Recover. Advance. Retreat. Double retreat. Advance. Extend, lunge. If this were Europe, you wouldn’t even touch a weapon until you did twelve months of footwork.
“Butch, hold on.” Annie walked toward the rotund teen, wearing the white fencing jacket (stained with irregular gray streaks of old perspiration) he had just tugged onto his body. She commanded Butch to lift his right arm, then reached to his armpit, poked two fingers through a large hole.
“Good eye, Annie.” Coach Dan waved towards the large khaki sacks that contained the team’s equipment. “Butch, that jacket’s not safe, go put a different one on.”
“Aw man.” Butch sounded genuinely disappointed. “This is the only one that fits me good.”
“Well.” Rune laughed at Annie’s correction, the two then making eye contact; Butch saw in their mutual glare an appreciation for each other he recognized in the way his second oldest brother, Nathaniel, would often look at his fiancé, Jen.
Coach Dan shook his head. “Sorry, safety first. There’s a couple other extra larges in there.” He walked in the direction of the sacks, taking Butch lightly by the arm.
“Think we can get this one repaired?” Butch sounded to Coach Dan like a toddler asking a parent to buy an ice cream to replace the one he had just dropped.
“I’ll see if I have time one evening this week.” They had reached the sacks, Coach Dan searching through the one containing the team’s jackets. “Can’t send it out for mending. No room in the budget.”
Annie was now beside them, as Butch began taking off his torn jacket. “Shame. Would be nice to get some respect.”
“It’s not about respect, my friend, it’s about money.” Coach Dan’s voice was cool, analytical. “Economy’s weak, school budget’s tight. Everybody’s feeling the pinch. Heck, I’m glad we still have money to send our equipment out for laundry once a month.”
“Huh.” Butch sounded impressed. “I guess we should count our roses.”
Coach Dan and Annie turned toward Butch with confused expressions. Butch stooped down, retrieved a new jacket from the sack, stood and looked quickly back and forth between them. “You know — stop, and count the roses.”
Annie shook the confusion from her face. “Smell. Smell the roses.”
“Or count your blessings.” Coach Dan hoped Butch would recognize the finality in his voice.
Butch nodded, as he put his right leg through the jacket’s crotch strap. “Exactly. It’s a finger of speech. It means that when you start thinking the world’s so bad, you have to stop and count the roses.”
“You mean smell them,” Annie insisted.
“Of course.” Butch now sounded almost offended. “But how can you smell your roses unless you count them first?”