Rex and The Bird walked over to Annie’s strip, where Butch and Rune were watching their Bark Bay teammate dominate her first DE against her Academy opponent, JENSEN. Annie’s brown pony-tail flitting from the back of her mask as she launched each attack, the score 8-2 in her favor at the first break.
Rex had faced JENSEN in the pools, beating her by a single touch. Annie’s performance so far today was astonishing. “You’re really on fire today,” the deep tones of his voice underscoring his analysis.
“Thanks.” Annie tapped Butch, the closest person to her, on the shoulder. “Next year, this is you.”
“Oh!” Butch looked nervously between Rune and Annie. “Actually, I don’t think I want to compete.”
“What?” Annie glared back at him in disbelief. “Competing is really fun, why don’t you want your share?”
“I have fun when I practice.” His voice uncharacteristically calm, analytical. “That’s good enough for me.”
“But how do you know how good you are, unless you compete?” She was leaning forward, her head tilted, eyes bearing down on Butch’s round face. “It’s like taking tests in school, they prove that you know all that knowledge you’ve been studying.”
“Annie,” Rex allowing himself a moment of sarcasm, “you might be the only person I know who enjoys taking a test.”
The athletic teen frowned as her teammates shared a laugh at her expense. She picked up the mask she had laid on the floor during the break. “You guys do whatever it is you want. But if you’ll excuse me — ” she nodded in the direction of JENSEN as she raised the mask to her face — “I have a job to do.”
And she did her job quite well, scoring two more quick touches when the bout resumed, then exchanging a few more touches with JENSEN before finishing strong, reaching her fifteenth touch against six before the end of the second period. The Bird greeted her as she unhooked, said she looked very happy.
“Of course I am!” She waved a slender arm back at the strip behind her. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than fencing, nothing. When I fence, every muscle, every cell, every part of my body feels alive.” She nodded at The Bird. “And I want to share that feeling with you. When you start fencing — ” The Bird had yet to even pick up a weapon at practice — “I don’t want you to be like the boys on the team, all worried about wins and losses, all that crap they learned from playing football. I want you to compete, like I do, feel that fire of life within you.” With the bck of her left hand, she slapped The Bird on the chest. “Think you can do that?”
The Bird was too surprised by Annie’s challenge to respond immediately. But then she said she wasn’t sure if she could feel in the same way Annie did.