Development

Double-J lifted his mask, revealing a face red with rage and exertion. Waved at Rex with his unarmed hand — “Stay out. Don’t want you getting mixed up in this.”

The tall freshman paused in confusion, shoulder’s sagging in relief as Coach Dan’s voice carried across the cafeteria. “Reffing’s good experience. Let him direct, correct if he makes a mistake.”

Myles spread his arms, palms up, saber dangling from between the middle and index fingers of his right hand. Pointed his forehead at Double-J — “You wouldn’t want to interrupt this lad’s development, do you?” Double-J’s grunt of disgust accentuated the sharp pull of his mask, covering his face.

The bout continued, neither fencer paying much attention to Rex’s calls. Double-J used his advantage in bladework, parrying most attacks that came at him, scoring on ripostes. But while Myles was less experienced, he was the far superior athlete — faster, stronger, longer, able to leap and lung to a degree his foe simply couldn’t match. And, as became evident after the first few exchanges, more focused, better able to control his emotions. Each attack that came through his defense, each riposte that did not land, caused Double-J to growl, scowling visibly behind his gray metal face. Myles responded to his mistakes with curiosity (now isn’t that interesting), humor (that would have worked, if you were using a dagger), even what seemed at times gratitude (dude, thanks for not letting me score with slop). And as his enthusiasm grew, so too did Myles’ skill — at the same time as Double-J’s frustration, and lack of conditioning, caused him to begin surrendering more touches than he scored.

Having returned from a spar with a sophomore, Juan Kwon walked up behind Rex. “What’s the score?”

Rex blinked. “I didn’t — ”

“Eight – six.” Myles pointed across the makeshift strip. “He’s up — for now.” Double-J had been leaning forward, hands on knees, but at his opponent’s words stood erect, then crouched into en garde position.

“Fence.” At Rex’s command, Double-J charged forward, Myles letting him reach the center and then springing straight up, weapon arm flying forward, the thin metal of his blade whipping in an arc that swept down until it landed, with a sound that was a little bit tink and a lot more tunk, directly on top of Double-J’s mask.

“Halt.” Remembering Coach Dan’s instructions, Rex paused, recreating the action in his head before speaking. “Preparation, no attack on the right. Attack left — ” right arm pointed straight at Double-J, left hand raising towards Myles — “tooch.”

“Finish up, my friends.” Walking across a patch of sunlight reflecting off the cafeteria floor, Coach Dan pointed up at the large analog clock on the southern wall. “Polishing the floors tonight — gotta be out in five.”

Myles had already returned to en garde. “To nine, then.” At Rex’s command, Myles raced to the center this time, his exhausted opponent ceding the position, waiting to parry. A flinch towards the head — Double-J did not move — Myles brought his arm down, flinched again to the head, then began to bring his arm down again before deftly jabbing forward, blade crashing into mask.

“Eight all!” Myles pranced back to his starting line, gyrating in celebration as he did after racing into the end zone or drilling a three-pointer, not noticing until he had crouched back down into en garde that he no longer had an opponent. For Double-J had plowed past Rex and Juan, was in the process of tearing off his equipment, paying no attention to Coach Dan’s calm firm voice as he reached the team’s equipment sacks, threw down his gear, and left the cafeteria in a storm of profanity.

[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 15C]

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