Annie’s match with JENSEN ended shortly into the second period, the Bark Bay sophomore scoring the last three touches to win 15-5. Rex’s next DE had begun on the other strip, and when he came down for the first break he had built a 6-3 lead on JanHar.
“Finally finding my tempo.” His face tired but content.
“Your first competition in almost six months.” Coach Dan pulled up on his track pants. “It’s why I wanted you all at this scrimmage today, give you a taste of action before the season starts.” An air of unapologetic satisfaction in his voice.
The tall teen then coughed violently, several times, his long body folding at the waist, head bobbing inches off the floor. The closest person to him, Butch, put a hand on his back — “You OK?”
Rex waited a moment, let his cough leave like a dark cloud passing over the horizon. He then raised his torso like a drawbridge, his arm brushing aside Butch’s hand. “I’ll be OK. Just get a little out of breath some time.”
“Your face.” Butch pointing up at Rex. “It’s all — red.” Rex picked up the mask he had laid on the floor when his coughing spasm had struck, placed it on top of his head, acknowledging Butch’s comment with a nod. Butch laughed — “you almost look like an Indian!”
Rex’s face snapped in Butch’s direction, his mask flinging off his head, landing on the green rubber floor of the field house, pum-paah. Butch blinked as the glare of rage fell down on him.
Coach Dan stepped between the teens, pointed toward the referee, whose back was turned in discussion with Coach Gavvy. “Bout’s resuming, my friend. Get your focus back.”
Rex frowned, picked up his mask, suddenly acting as if Coach Dan and Butch were not there. “I’m — ” Butch’s attempted apology intercepted by his coach’s hand signal.
“I’ve got this, coach.” Rune’s calm voice a relief. He and Butch walked away as Coach Dan remained standing next to the strip, his attention on the action about to resume. The two teens had almost reached the other strip before Rune stopped them.
“What did I say?” Butch’s tone apologetic yet insistent.
Rune put a hand on the shoulder of his best friend since grade school. “Rex has Native American ancestry. On his father’s side — a few generations away, but some people say they can see it in his features, especially the face.”
“Oh!” Butch bit his lower lip. “So, why’s that so bad?”
Rune lowered his hand, shook his head. “It’s — I dunno, it’s complicated, Rex and his family. His dad ran off when he was a kid, and he’s pretty upset about that. Any time someone tells him his features look native, it reminds him of his dad, and that upsets him.”
“Oh! But what I said, I wasn’t saying — ”
“It’s best if you just drop it.” Rune scissored his hands closed, then open. “Say you’re sorry if you want, and leave it like that. Believe me, he doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Butch stared at his friend’s face a moment. “You’ve — seen people call him that — name, haven’t you?”
Rune sighed. “I know you don’t like the language, but there’s only one way to say this — there’s some real assholes in the world, Butch, and unfortunately we met more than our fair share at fencing tournaments last year.”