“Thought you’d be man enough, t’ pay me without me asking.” Vapor from the man’s breath drifted into the cold black night.
Double-J coughed. “Look — ”
“Who’s your girlfriend?” The Bird suddenly realized the bearded man on the left, the one wearing the baseball cap, had been staring at her. “Don’t ‘member her at the party.”
“She weren’t there.” Double-J took his hands out of his coat pockets. “And she ain’t my girlfriend.”
“Hey.” The baseball cap was addressing her. “What’s yer name?” He took a step towards her, stopped when he saw Double-J come between them —
“She don’t wanna talk to you.”
Baseball cap raised his arms, pointed past Double-J towards The Bird. “How you know that, she ain’t said a word yet!”
“I know, ‘cuz I know she’s smart.” He glanced back at her, and she saw in his face a wordless command, RUN, but felt her legs freeze under her. “Smart enough to know better than to listen to anything you got to say to her.”
“Who the HELL are you?” The man on the right had stepped next to baseball cap, both men inches away from Double-J’s face. “And where the HELL’s my money?”
The following Tuesday
“Riposte!” Coach Dan’s voice bellowed from behind his folded arms. “You’ve got the parry, now riposte!”
Standing in front of The Bird, Big Paul had frozen in his lunge, his blade pointed wide to her left, deflected by her own. More out of obedience than instinct, The Bird rotated her forearm back to the right, palm transitioning from pronation to supination, arm coming forward until the point of her blade landed on Big Paul’s waiting chest.
“Very good.” Coach Dan pushed his body off the concrete wall he had been leaning against, walked swiftly across the one of the isalnds of white tile on the cafeteria floor until he reached the makeshift strip where The Bird and Big Paul had been practicing. “The first step, is execution. The next step, is knowing when to execute. Masks off.” The two teens lifted their masks onto their heads, exposing their late-practice faces, rogued and glistening. “You both know how to parry/riposte, now you have to know when the time’s right in the bout to play that game.”
“How you know that?” Big Paul was an infrequent member of practice, but was eager with questions on days when he was present. Coach Dan motioned for The Bird to step outside the strip, but stopped himself when Jimmy approached with Rex, concern on the faces of the officious businessman and tall teen.
“Daniel — ” Jimmy’s reluctance to call himself a coach caused him to treat the word like an airborne contagion — “Rex here wants to talk about that Johnson boy.”