Worries – Gray Metal Faces, March 4A

Arm out, take the middle, head cut, he aims at four, EEEP EEEP. “Halt. Together.” Got there first, not gonna win that argument. “Pret. Allez.” EEEP EEEP, another no touch, have to make it more obvious. “Pret. Allez.” He jumped the gun this time, he’s first — attack’s out of distance, no — get him on the arm, tags me on the remise, EEEP EEEP, dammit it’s MINE this time. “Halt. Attack right no, attack left yes.” Good, ref saw it, there’s hope for this bout.

“Sounds like a typical practice.” Double-J drank from his Coke again. “Footwork drills, conditioning — probably did some bouting when Jimmy got tired.”

The Bird protested that it was different, that practices hadn’t been typical, what they used to be, for a while. A lot of people were missing, she said; Rune hadn’t been at practice since the last tournament —

“Ha!” Eyes focused above The Bird’s head, Double-J shook his head. “Heard Banks got his ass kicked at that tournament. Got dumped by his girlfriend, too. Banks is probably sitting at home, licking his wounds.”

The week before, The Bird continued, they were just three other people — Annie, Rex, and Jimmy. “It happens.” The waitress delivered The Bird’s salad. “One practice last year — around this time, it was — it was just me and Myles.” His eyes brightened. “That was actually one of our best afternoons, just the two of us going at it until Myles got tired. Jacobs even managed to keep his mouth shut for once.”

The Bird looked down at her salad, then back up at Double-J. She told him that everyone was worried about him.

“Everyone?” The burly teen leaned his head toward The Bird, his left eyebrow raised.

Well, The Bird admitted, Jimmy was worried, definitely. And Annie. And Rex. They don’t — she paused — understand.

“Why I left the team?” Nod. “Didn’t need it, no more. It’s that simple. Ain’t nothing we do at practice that I ain’t already done dozens of times before, and there’s nobody else for sabre — Jimmy don’t count, he’s been out of the sport a quarter century.”

Across the table, The Bird contemplated his latest statement, then blinked. She said there was a Korean guy —

“Juan?” Nod. “His name’s Joo-won, you know that right? Nah, this town ain’t racist. Yeah, saw his sister at the store the other day, said he’d poked his head back in at practice. But she also told me something else.” He leaned across the table, lowered his voice. “He ain’t going back to you guys. He didn’t like Jimmy, so last week his parents signed him up with Dr. Schmidt.” The Bird recognized the name of the En Garde! club owner, as Double-J leaned back in his chair. “Really isn’t that complicated. There’s nothing on the school fencing team that interests me, any more. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

The Bird lifted her fork, placed it back down on the table. She asked if he was going to Dr. Schmidt too.

“That clown?” He seemed anxious to leave the table abruptly. “At least Jacobs has a sense of humor. Schmidt teaches like fencing hasn’t changed in a century. Nah, I’m done with lessons, done with training. Like I told Jacobs last month, if I wanna fence at tournaments I’ll do it, there’s no rule you have to be affiliated. Geri, at Hillcrest, she’s been competing two years, no team or club.”

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