Gray Metal Faces – December 2

The doorbell chimed again, Annie racing to front door ahead of her parents. At the entrance were Butch and The Bird, with Janet Wernick behind them, standing in the walkway below the stoop, the taller woman’s head at the same height as the two teens. Following a quick apology for not being able to stay for the party (rehearsal in the city) and confirmation of the pickup time (see you at 10), The Bird’s mother walked away from the door, back into the dark snowy night.

Annie noticed Butch was carrying sneakers in his right hand; in her invitation, she had recommended bringing slippers, or cruising around in their socks. She pointed to his legs – “why you wearing your sweats?”

“Oh!” Butch looked around the foyer quickly, disappointment on his round face. “Coach – he told me it was a surprise.”

“Really?” Annie excused herself, her soft feet padding the hardwood floor toward the dining room.

“Sandra.” Laura Hutchinson glided into the foyer; The Bird nearly walked away when she heard one of her least common names, yet held herself, presented her eyes to Annie’s mother as a polite shield, gazing with a dark sensitivity that was neither welcoming nor dismissive, a gaze that was simultaneously curious, pensive, attentive.

The older woman smiled, the pearls on her chest sparkling. “Dear, I hear your mother’s in the production of ‘Hamlet’ at the Hilltop next month.” The Bird nodded. “Carl – Mr. Hutchinson and I are looking forward to seeing her.” The Bird smiled weakly, nodded again. Laura cleared her throat, said, “Wasn’t she in a production there last summer? What was the title?”

The Bird nodded. Laura widened her eyes; The Bird picked up the silent cue, whispered that her mother played Arsinoé. Misanthrope. Moliere.

Laura closed her eyes appreciatively, tilted her head back. “Comedy suits your mother well. Even Sav-Anna manages to coax out a chuckle, even when she’s pitching toilet paper. Dear, can I get you anything?”

The Bird looked up at her, surprised. She apologized for being rude, thanked Mrs. Hutchinson for her hospitality. Then added a hope her husband would win the election.

Laura Hutchinson raised her hands quickly, threw them around The Bird. “My dear, the campaign won’t begin until the new year! Tonight is about you, and the team!” She led the girl from the foyer into the large dining room.

The buffet table for the evening’s party was still being assembled by Squisito, the largest catering business in Bark Bay. Along a long table in front of large bay windows that looked out into the Hutchinson’s bark yard, a series of aluminum serving trays were arranged in a neat row, sterno lighters wafting blue-orange flames underneath, handled covers set behind on the thick white tablecloth. Only the first of the trays was currently filled, a red lasagna layered with green garnish and dense ricotta; soon other trays would be transported from the kitchen, rigatoni with green and red vegetables smothered in milky white alfredo, plump chicken breasts covered in light breading and slices of mozzarella, plain linguini noodles resting next to a vat of marina sauce brimming with finely chopped cubes of tomato, the line of entrees finishing where a middle-aged woman with skin whiter than her freshly-pressed jacket stood with a rotating grater, waiting patiently for requests to add parmesan on top of their dishes (just say when). Beyond the main table was a smaller square table, adorned now with glass serving plates to be filled with cannoli sprinkled with powered sugar, cookies cut into shapes of snowmen and evergreens covered with sugar crystals colored green and red, and tiny glass bowls filled with gelato.

In the center of the dining room, Annie stood with arms folded across her chest; her attempts to command her coach’s attention frustrated by his continued discussion with her father, she let her eyes appreciate the developing buffet. To her right, she heard the sound of ice cubes clinking within a glass tumbler.

“Izat so?” Annie recognized Paul Banks’ guttural voice; she saw him speaking with Double-J, who shared with the older man a look of annoyed confusion.

The burly teen shook his head. “Beats the hell out of me, what they want to do with that land.” He caught Annie’s gaze, pointed to her. “Me and Banks here, we’re trying to figure out what your uncle’s are up to.”

Annie shrugged. “How should I know?”

Paul Banks pointed behind them, his yellow tie nearly falling into his tumbler. “Inna fall, they bought all this unincorporated land, north of the dam, helped them with the financing. Now this young fella here, hears that they set up some holding company, about to buy more land, other side of the lake.”

Double-J smiled. “Customers waiting in the shop, get so bored after a while they’ll tell you anything.”

“Well, they’re developers.” There was a tone of annoyance in Annie’s voice. “That’s what they do, they’re always buying, selling real estate.” Her mother approached, right arm across The Bird’s shoulder. “Our friends here have this sudden curiosity about Uncle Leonard and Uncles Leopold’s business.”

“Oh, dear!” Laura removed her arm from The Bird’s shoulder, waved it dismissively. “I never have any idea what the twins are up to.”

Paul Banks finished drinking from his tumbler, wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “That land – it has no value. Too remote.”

A swinging half-door leading to kitchen pushed open into the dining room; the man who had swept the bread crumbs from Double-J’s mock duel with Rex earlier hustled in, tray in hand. As he passed, Annie saw the scripted name stitched in white on the blue oval of his left breast: Jimmy.

After another question about her brothers from Paul, Laura invited him to another room. The white-jacketed man was soon joined by a white-jacketed woman, older and not quite as sure in her movements as the man she was aiding. Annie looked past The Bird, saw her father engaged in conversation with Coach Dan (whose attention , Rex, Butch, Rune and his mother Jenna.

“Nice spread.” Double-J twisted the end of his dark moustache. Annie nodded – “My family likes doing things the right way.”

“You can certainly afford it.” He chuckled as Annie rolled her eyes. “Just an observation.” The Bird stated that he made it sound more like an accusation.

“Look, if that’s how you chicks want to take it, I got no control over that.” He was speaking like he fenced, aggressively attacking. “All I’m doing is stating the facts.” His focus shifted solely towards Annie. “Your family’s got money, paying for this is no big deal. If the Banks paid for this – ” he motioned in the direction of Jenna – “they’d be in hock a few months. Look, it’s great that your family’s doing this, but don’t expect me to be impressed by your parents’ supposed altruism. To them, it’s like a park rec baseball coach taking his team of third graders out for ice cream.”

“Really?” Annie riposting a steady stare. “Good to see you’re feeling free to express your opinion.”

The Second Saturday

“How’d Francis do?” Annie walked away from her strip, having just defeated her last opponent.

“Finished a few minutes ago,” Coach Dan walking next to her. “You’ve got him next.”

Coach Sarah from the Academy called to Coach Dan, who excused himself. And then she saw Double-J, standing among the Bark Bay team’s equipment sacks, huddled in the middle of the Academy field house. She walked up to him – “Didn’t see you come in.”

“On my way back from the city, didn’t have nothing better to do.” He scanned the faces in the fencing area. “No Rex?”

Annie shook her head. “He had – family trouble.” Double-J nodded. “I’ve got Frankenstein next. Any pointers?”

Double-J laughed. “Only the one at the end of your weapon.”

“Ohh.” She made no attempt to hide her irritation. “C’mon, this scrimmage is my first time competing in epee, need all the help I can get. I know you and Rex watched him lose at States last year, what did you see?”

He frowned. “How should I know? Weren’t me who beat him.”

“I KNOW that. But what did you see, is what I want to know.”

He shrugged. “I saw the other guy get more touches.”

She stomped her right feet, the epee slipped from in her hand and falling onto the green rubber floor. “Dammit, Double-J, you’re our best FENCER! I’m not letting you get away with that chicken-shit answer, we need you! If you think – ”

“Temper!” His raised palm silencing her. “It’s your only weakness. That’s why you can’t beat Francis Pine, in foil or epee – he knows how to push your buttons, get you flustered. You stop thinking, you start reacting to what he’s doing, start fighting his game, on his terms. You’ll never beat Francis until you get your temper under control.”

Annie felt her body relax as a sarcastic smile grew across her face. “Now you’re sounding like Coach Dan.”

Double-J shrugged. “He’s a control freak. Doesn’t mean he’s not smart.”

“If I can have your attention, please.” Arms raised above his head, Coach Dan walked into the center of the marbled floor. “I have a surprise for everyone. Over the past year, Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson have been an enthusiastic supporter of our fencing program – ” Annie had convinced them to supply the funds required to purchase and repair the team’s electronic equipment – “but haven’t had the opportunity to see us compete. Tonight, I see an opportunity to correct that oversight, by putting on a little demonstration.”

Annie swung her head left, found Butch, who nodded with eyes growing large with curiosity. She then gauged her other teammates’ reactions – Rex rolling his smiling eyes and laughing, The Bird immediately looking away as if wounded, Butch’s eyes growing large with curiosity, Rune shaking his head, and Double-J turning away immediately, waving his right hand dismissively in the direction of her coach, as he exited to the study.

“Demonstration?” Laura’s pearls smiled on her evening gown.

Carl clicked his tongue. “Sounds more like a challenge to me.”

“Yes! A challenge.” Annie’s voice rang with excitement, as Rex laughed out loud at the sight of Coach Dan returned from the study, carrying the familiar sacks of the team’s fencing equipment into the dining room. Annie raised her right hand high – “I challenge every one of you – to a duel!”

Rex shook his head, smiling. “I really didn’t think he was gonna go through with this.”

“What do you mean?” Annie pointed at his shoes. “You wore your sneakers and track pants, didn’t you? Looks like you came ready to fence!”

Carl Hutchinson cleared his throat. “But you, my dear, are still in your evening dress.”

“Not for much longer!” She ran past Coach Dan, out of the dining room, through the foyer, up the stairs, a determined look on her face similar to what one might see on a man pouncing up the stairs of city hall to protest a parking ticket.

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