The previous afternoon
“Look, why he went out there ain’t nobody’s business but his own.” Jimmy Saunders’ voice was terse, proactively dismissive. “All I know, is he called me on Friday, asked me to run practice today.” Tuesdays were typically slow for Jimmy’s catering business.
“It’s just strange, y’know.” Rex stepped up behind Annie, his head a foot higher than the sophomore team captain. “Coach Dan came late some practices last three years, but I never remember him missing one.”
Annie’s eyes widened. “And this, is two weeks in a row! He keeps saying we need to get ready for regionals next week — ”
“That’s right.” Jimmy grabbed the large, bulky canvas sack lying on the floor next to him, raised it to waist level, towards Annie. “Academy gonna be there, so’s Midland, Woolford — all the schools, even some college kids. Daniel said they already got 30 or so in foil — ” he raised his chin towards Rex — “epee, just as many.” His late forties eyes darted across the large, empty cafeteria. “Where’s that Johnson boy?”
“Double-J?” Micky, sitting in a corner across from Big Paul and Coy, looked up, her red hair rising like a campfire. “Stop asking for trouble.”
“He quit the team.” Annie unclenched her jaw as she took the canvas sack from Jimmy.
“Quit?” Jimmy hadn’t asked about Double-J last week, had assumed he was working at Lefty’s. “What kind of nonsense — ” he shook his head as if trying to shake off a buzzing insect — “we ain’t got time for this, none of us. Everybody up!”
At the volunteer coach’s command, Annie pointed her index finger to Coy and Big Paul, curling it forward. Her head then darted to the left — “Butch, The Bird, you too, let’s line up.”
The Bird let Butch walk in front of her as they approached Annie, standing on a border between the floor’s white and black tiles, one of several such lines used by the Bark Bay High School team at the beginnig of team drills. Annie remained at the far left of the line, with Rex on her right, followed by Big Paul, Coy, Butch, and, in her usual and preferred position at the right end, The Bird. Jimmy took a position in front of the line’s center, several tiles in front.
“All right, all right.” Putting his right foot forward and pointing his left perpendicular to his body, Jimmy then raised his hands to shoulder level and lowered them; all but one team member crouched down into en garde position. Jimmy frowned — “Butch?”
“Oh!” The portly teen with the short crop of tow looked surprised. “Yes, sir?”
“Don’t call me sir. We starting.”
“Oh!” Butch crouched down immediately. “Sorry, s — I mean, coach.”
Jimmy blinked. “Don’t call me coach, neither. Just Jimmy, all right?”
“Oh!” Butch opened his mouth again, then closed it with the sudden wisdom that further words would provide little to no additional benefit.
“All right. Now, like we done last week, just keep distance. Small steps.” Raising the toes of his right foot and then pushing out only a few inches, Jimmy slowly advanced, the team in front of him responding with a retreat nearly in unison.
The Bird whispered at Butch to move backwards. With a flinch and suppressed oh, he hastily complied.