Whatever consternation Rex felt from his conversation with Butch disappeared as he parried JanHar’s first attack after the break, his riposte landing for a 7-3 lead. JanHar then found success attacking Rex’s low line, a common approach against his towering frame; he needed a few attempts to regain form on his seven and eight parries, but when the execution came he regained control of the bout. After a brief conversation at the second break with Coach Dan (whose recommendation to watch the end of Annie’s bout at her strip was eagerly received by Butch), Rex completed his bout early in the third period with a 15-11 victory.
After completing his handshake with JanHar at center strip, Rex took a step to his right, was greeted with a nod from his next opponent. He retreated back to his cord reel, Coach Dan addressing him as he unhooked.
“How many times have you faced Francis?” Rex held up two fingers. “Yes, I remember now. You got three touches your first bout with him, four the second. The trend is in your favor, my friend.”
“You’re gonna beat him this time.” Rune, standing to Coach Dan’s right, routinely sounded supremely confident when discussing his teammates’ abilities, far less so when the subject was his own. “I can feel it, the time has come!”
“Don’t believe in feeling things.” With ten minutes before his DE with Francis Pine, Rex walked back to the Bark Bay camp, his commanding voice towing Rune along with him. “I believe in doing things.”
“Hey.” Butch’s voice from behind caused everyone to stop. Rex looked down; the nervous anticipation on the round, clean-cut face made him uncomfortable. He clucked his tongue on the roof of his mouth, pointed to the far strip beyond Butch’s shoulder — “how’s Annie doing?”
“Oh!” Butch paused, his mind frantically recalling the information from the bout he’d just witnessed. “It’s over, she won already.”
“Indeed?” Coach Dan’s eyebrows raising, as if ready to fly off his forehead.
“Two of your THREE fencers, in the semis of MY scrimmage!” Coach Gavvy ran past Butch, her wide eyes grinning with the ferocity of a snarl. “Daniel, you’ve got some nerve, coming in here and showing up my team like this!”
Coach Dan shrugged, his bearded face serene. “Sorry we’re not pushovers anymore, Gavriella.”
“With Myles gone, I hadn’t expected such a strong showing from you!” She either did not notice or care for Rune’s frown, as she then pointed up at Rex. “Now, about that scholarship.”
Rex’s jaw fell, like he was allowing a doctor to shine a flashlight down his throat. “Scholarship?”
“Yes, the scholarship — Annie’s been asking about it.” She pointed with her thumb behind her, to where Annie and members of the Academy fencing team were talking with a referee. “Are you thinking just the prep year, or senior year as well? You’re a junior, right?”
Rex was obviously too surprised to respond. Coach Dan cleared his throat — “Rex, do you have any idea what she’s talking about.”
“The scholarship.” Rune’s voice distant, as he recalled the conversation earlier that day. “Annie — she wasn’t asking about herself — ”
“Oh hell no!” Coach Gavvy waving her arms in front of her face. “Believe me, I can’t convince Annie to step into the light! But this tall drink of water here — you qualify in epee at states in the spring, I’ll be glad to take you in!”
A brief discussion followed of Rex’s grades and the Academy’s admission standards, Coach Dan assuring both Coach Gavvy and Rex that the teen could qualify. Rune, Butch, and The Bird (returning from the bathroom in mid-discussion) observed the conversation in silence, until Coach Gavvy abruptly left.
“Are you SERIOUS?” Rune’s eyes shifted quickly between Rex and Coach Dan, making it difficult to determine who he was addressing. “He — you just can’t LEAVE us, to go to the Academy?”
“Why not?” Coach Dan spoke in a matter-of-fact manner. “People leave the team all the time — all those seniors graduated last spring, others like Juan and OK decide not t0 come back on their own.” He looked up at Rex. “It’s a great opportunity, my friend — tell me you will consider it, yes?”