Rex’s coach and teammates expected the tall teen’s reaction to fall anywhere within a wide range — excitement, curiosity, perhaps even an attempt at modest refusal. They had neither expected nor even conceived as possible the embarrassment that now showed over him like a rash. “I — I can’t think about this right now.” It was as if Rex wanted his consciousness to escape his body and find another host. “I need to — need to get ready for Francis.”
Which he most certainly did. An entire bottle of water for hydration, stretching, quick stop at the bathroom, more stretching, a few practice lunges without mask or weapon — Coach Dan was pleased to see his student’s face resume its look of relaxed focus in the moments before the first semi-final bout was called to begin.
As he helped Rex hook into his cord reel, Coach Dan offered some final advice. “Watch the disengage thrust, Francis loves to sucker people in, get them to over-commit on their lunges. Circular parry — ” Coach Dan rotated his arm counter-clockwise in front of him — “throw that in there, you need to mix it up with him, don’t let him get comfortable.” Rex nodded with silent confidence.
A quick check of equipment, and Rex stepped behind his starting line, raised his foil in line above the head of the opponent he both respected and wanted so badly to defeat, then brought his weapon down with a quick, audible swish. Francis Pine answered with a bow and a salute more subtle; donning their masks, they crouched into their fighting stances, and the referee called for their bout to begin.
Francis began more aggressively than was usual for him; caught temporarily off-guard, Rex was soon down two touches. When the bout resumed and Francis again pressed the attack, this time Rex caught Francis’ disengage attack with the circular parry that Coach Dan had recommended, his riposte landing squarely on Francis’ chest.
The referee called halt and Francis backed two steps, then pointed with his no-weapon hand towards Rex. “Nice touch.” Rex nodded back.
As their bout progressed, Francis’ superior point control became evident, Rex landing a touch to his opponent’s arms, mask, or other off-target area as often as his point landed on the target area, while Francis, although not striking as often, nearly always struck a scoring touch.
Rex’ twelfth score, off a counter-parry whose riposte caught Francis leaning forward, brought him within one, but Francis responded with a flurry of energy, scoring the final two touches, winning by three.
Francis greeted Rex with a broad smile as they shook hands after the bout. “I am not looking forward to facing you in epee, my friend,” Francis’ last two words nearly as surprising to Rex as the sincerity with which they were spoken.
Annie greeted Rex as he withdrew to the end of the strip to disconnect. “Any advice?”
Rex smiled. “You made the final?”
Annie nodded. “Beat Ed, 15 – 7.”
“Szurek?” Rex exclaimed. “Beat in the pools at State last year, 5 – 2. He only got seven against you?” His question answered with an enthusiastic nod.
“Francis Pine’s a different story, though. You haven’t faced him yet, have you?” Shake. “He’s so graceful, so fluid, you sometimes catch yourself watching him, admiring. Believe me, I’ve talked to other guys who’ve faced him, they say the same thing. Best advice I can give you is to fence your game – don’t get caught up in what he’s trying to do. Anybody who can whup Ed Szurek like you did doesn’t need to admire anyone, not even a Francis Pine.”