Rune sighed with disappointment as the northern lights sank below the horizon, leaving the night sky a canvas of black. The peace that had filled him fled with his breath, and the inchoate yearning that had inspired the cold walk from his home returned. Reflexively, he twisted back to his right, towards the dam, his legs —
His right foot slipped, the heel coming forward and off the ice before he could regain his balance, and he quickly attempted to maintain equilibrium with his left leg. But that foot was also on ice, his arms flew out and his body contorted wildly, then he began falling, he knew there was no stopping so he twisted right, let his back land hard on the ground, the muffled kumpf a poor indication of the fall’s force.
The teen stared up at the starless night. Rune’s head had barely hit, and his wool cap had easily absorbed the impact; his thick winter jacket had also protected his arms and back from harm. But as he lifted his knees, he felt a stabbing pain on the left, the same knee he had twisted that morning, at the fencing tournament. He flexed, grimacing; the knee hurt as badly as it had earlier. Sitting up from his waist, he put his feet on the ground, and applied some force. The pain remained, but he felt it was bearable, so he got up slowly, putting most of his weight on the right leg, and a moment later was standing again.
He looked down at where he had slipped, and saw a small shallow pool, completely covered in ice and a thin layer of snow that had almost entirely been swept away during his frantic attempt to stay on his feet. Distracted by the northern lights, he must not have noticed wandering onto that surface. Rune put his full weight on the left leg, then took a step; he winced, but knew he could go on.
But before he continued along the shore, towards the dam, he walked over to the pool and stomped on it hard, cracking but not breaking its surface. He considered finishing the demolition job, but shook his head dismissively, then continued his journey, cursing himself for re-injuring the knee that now pained him, and for injuring it that morning in the first place.
The fourth Saturday, Morning
At the east end of the Academy’s east wall, on the top row of a set of permanent wooden bench seats, far from the sacks that contained the Bark Bay team fencing team’s equipment, Rune sat alone, his extended left leg lying along the bench, an ice pack on the knee. The teen stared down blankly at his right leg, his greasy hair hanging down like a stained curtain. He was aware of the sounds on the gymnasium floor beneath him — the ting of colliding thin metal blades, rubber shoes pounding the floor, the buzzing of the scoring machines, grunts and exited yells from competitors and urgent commands from coaches and referees. But he had stopped having interest in seeing any of the action immediately after twisting his knee and withdrawing from his DE, in which he had been losing someteen-something to three.
“Hey.” On hearing Rex’s voice, Rune realized his older teammate had been walking up the seats towards him. Rex pointed to the ice pack — “How’s it feeling?”
Rune leaned forward, picked up the ice pack, and flexed his knee. “I’ll be all right.” He unflexed the knee, but let the ice pack fall onto the bench below.
Rex nodded, then with his right hand extended an object tentatively, like someone about to reveal a secret. “Was getting a snack from my bag, when I realized I still had this.” Rune looked at the object — a white envelope. “Meant to give it to you at practice this week, but I forgot.” Rune looked closer, and saw his name written in large block letters on the front.
Rune looked up, his acne-scarred face showing hyperbolic confusion. “What is it?”
Rex jabbed the envelope at Rune. “Exactly what you think it is.”
The younger, shorter teen took the envelope, examined its size (nearly square) and rigidity (firm but flexible, the contents were heavier than paper). He turned it over in his hand. He didn’t know why, but it was important for him to know it was sealed. Which it was.
“You got me a card?”
Rune looked past Rex’s body, saw the tournament commencing beneath them, everyone oblivious to his conversation. He lifted an unsealed section of the envelope’s flap, dug his index finger inside, tore across the back, and pulled out the card. On the front was a poorly drawn cartoon of an absurdly obese man, waving a hand high above his bald head, his eyes wide with excitement. Orange and white words THANK YOU! appeared to explode over the man.
Rune stared up at Rex. “What’s this for?”
“The epee.” Rex motioned with his left thumb behind them. “What you did, letting the team have the weapon your aunt gave to you — that was really cool. And I just — ” he suddenly seemed as awkward as he was tall — “well you know, what with my family and all, I’m not exactly in position — ”
“No, it’s cool.” Rune had visited Rex’s trailer only once, and the experience left him not wanting to know anything more about his family.
“But, I didn’t want what you did, which really was cool, to go unrecognized. So — ” he tapped the card in Rune’s hand — “yeah, I got you a card. And I wrote you a message. Go on, read it.”
Without looking, Rune opened the front flap of the card, then looked down. The cartoon fat man had been joined by three other absurd individuals, all of them leaping from the ground, hands raised and faces beaming. There were more gold and red letters above them, but Rune’s eyes shifted to the left inside panel, and Rex’s handwriting in blue ink.
The teen blinked, knowing he must have read the first word wrong. Rex’s penmanship was notoriously bad.
Rune [that was more like it] —
Thank you so much for much for donating [Rex’s grammar also tended to be weak] the epee that your ant brought for you, to the fencing team. It is good to know we have a weapon that can be used in tournaments. I know I certainly could of [Rune winced] used it last month, an I look forward to using it this Saturday!
Since you joined the fencing team last year, I have seen your kindness and genorisity many times. You are truly special person.
I want you to know, that I will always be your friend. Any time you want to practice fencing with me, I will make time with you. Or if you need help at home. I would say that I would help with your school work, but you are the better student by far, you don’t kneed my help!
I don think, I can never be as smart as you. But I do want to try, to be as kind as you. I really hope we can spend more time together.
Rune looked up at the card, saw Rex staring down at him. Rune felt like his face was being scanned for emotions, like Rex was some spaceship computer searching for life forms on a planet’s surface.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He almost handed the card back to Rex, before realizing how rude that act would be.
Rex pulled back, his head rising until it seemed to brush the high ceiling. “What?”
“Spending time together.” He pointed to the last line of Rex’s message. “We shouldn’t do that.”
The tall teen pursed his lips. “Can I ask — why you think that way?”
Rune frowned. “Because you have enough problems of your own. And so do I.”
Rex raised his eyebrows, excused himself, turned and walked back down the long wooden benches, back to the tournament. Rune quickly stuffed the card into a pocket of his sweatshirt. The two did not speak to each other the rest of that day.