Within minutes, Rune felt the snow deepen. A drift had accumulated, starting on the lake ice and reaching across the shore to the edge of the forest. Rune began continued through snow that ran up to his ankles, then his knees, and did not stop until the drift ran up to his hips. Looking into the distance, he could see the drift began tapering a few yards ahead, and bare ground was visible no more than a few dozen feet away. And to his right, the snow also tapered down as it approached the forest, and also to his left, although it was always treacherous to walk onto the lake. Still, he had options for continuing his trek towards the dam.
He took a few more steps forward — then stumbled, and fell forward, his face planting into the drift. “Shit!” And by the time he had regained his feet, Rune had changed his mind.
His journey suddenly seemed to him no more than an exercise in futility. The mechanical hum had been pulling him forward like a dog lured by a whistle, but he no more wanted to continue forward than he wanted his teeth drilled. He turned quickly, saw the cabin lights that had led him down to the lake, as well as his bootprints leading back. He knew it was time to head back, and face whatever was waiting for him in his family’s house.
Rune’s pace quickened as he cleared the drift, and with his bootprints guiding him he could let his mind wander. He began thinking how this whole day had been a waste, not just now as he dragged his frozen ass up and down this lonely shore, but earlier, from the beginning. The tournament in the morning, losing every single pool bout, again, then injuring his knee in the DE —
Another flash of light over the lake. He glanced over and saw this was not just another flicker, multicolored streams were leaping over the distant horizon. The northern lights had returned.
Fourth Saturday, Late Evening
“Sure you’re OK?” Jezz kept her eyes on the road as she laid her right hand on Rune’s leg. Sitting in the passenger seat, Rune grunted, nodded slowly, keeping the truth to himself — No I’m not, but I don’t want your help.
He laid his head on the inside door of Jezz’s car, his cheek feeling the vibration from the tires. He could hear here telling him not to feel bad about what Double-J had done, he did that a lot, pick fights with people for no reason. In between directions to his house, he acknowledged her words with grunts, trying his best to shut her out.
He could feel the areas of his stomach where Double-J had punched him, of his back where Double-J had thrown him into a wall What had I done? He found it odd that the thought hadn’t occurred to him until just now. What made Double-J attack me? Maybe it was the way Rune had challenged him, after Yankee Cap Mitch asked again what made him leave the fencing team. The words had blurted out of Rune — “It’s because they made Annie the captain, instead of him.”
Annie. Dammit, Annie. Rune wasn’t ready to think of Annie, so he forced himself to recall Double-J’s response, and suddenly the memory of the burly senior surged into his mind as swiftly as he rushed at his opponents during bouts. He’d waved his beer bottle at Yankee Cap Mitch like he was wielding his saber, the only weapon he ever cared to use (foil’s for newbies, and epee is just too fucking boring). “I just got fed up with Jacobs trying to turn it into another dumb sport. Team points, phony rivalries with the Academy, other schools. Know why I like fencing? It’s one of the only sports that ain’t been corrupted by greed or celebrity. Not yet anyway.” Rune remembered how Double-J then drank from his bottle, eyes glaring down into the glass as if he were commanding its contents into his mouth.
Spittle had dripped from his lip onto his chin as he lowered the bottle. “Jacobs’ trying to change that — saw what he was doing with Myles, thought he’d give up when he graduated but no, now he wants fucking us — ” beer splashed onto his sweat shirt as he slammed the beer bottle into his chest — “to pick up where Myles left off.” He sat back down in his chair. “Jacobs, he wants fencing to be cool — uses that word all the time, hey new guy you should come to practice on Tuesday it’s really cool, hey Rex that was a cool counter-tempo, hey Annie you did some cool footwork in that bout — and he’s too blind to see that if fencing ever did get cool, it would just become another obnoxious distraction.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” That’s right, Jezz had challenged him too. But at that point Double-J no longer appeared interested in continuing the conversation, so he’d left for the room at the back of the apartment.
Since he’d arrived, Rune had watched people go back there, close the door, come out a few minutes later, some with faces bright and giggling, others somber and serious. His eyes now followed Double-J as he walked into the room. As the door shut, he felt Jezz nudge his shoulder — “Curious?”
Rune had shook his head. “I guess.”
“So — ” she had waited for him to look at her — “why not go in?”
The door had opened, and Rune saw Double-J returning, his laughter cold and sarcastic.
He’d turned his attention back to Jezz. “Not really my type of place.”
She had smirked. “And you would know that, because?” He’d blinked, and she’d continued. “What’s wrong with taking a chance?”
And her words broke through the barriers of his reticence, opened a door to his curiosity. He should take a chance, he’d realized, because what he’d been doing in life wasn’t working, wasn’t getting him what he wanted, in any area of his life. Home, friends, fencing — even his grades had been slipping. He knew enough about Double-J’s friends to have a good idea of what to expect at the apartment, and while little of that had any appeal to him, at least it would be different. Yeah, that was it. Try something different, see if it would work for him. And the sound of Jezz’s laugh, and the way the dim lamplight glistened off her nose ring, suggested that maybe there was something in that back room would actually work out for him. It was an invitation he didn’t want to turn down, he wanted to find out what all the giggling smiles were about, so he’d reached out and taken Jezz’s hand, took a step with her towards the closed door of the back room.
And that’s when Double-J had pounced on him, pummeled him with his fists, thrown him around the apartment. He’d balled up on the floor, heard Jezz’s sneakers squeak near his head, her voice loud above the blaring music, he’s had enough! Smart enough not to get between them, kind enough to care for the fallen. He’d closed his eyes, focused on the sounds around him, heard only music. Then Double-J’s heavy footfalls, backing away. Get the fuck out of here, Double-J’s gruff voice directed across at Jezz, not down at Rune. He had then felt Jezz’s hand on his shoulder, her soft voice telling him she’d drive him home. Rune had been too embarrassed to protest, he knew he’d been beaten, just like he’d been beaten that morning at the fencing tournament. He’d let Jezz help him get up, his eyes catching the apartment’s front door on which he then focused as he quickly exited, Jezz’s footsteps behind him. Minutes later he was in the front seat of her smelly car (she’d tossed a pile of newspapers onto the sidewalk before he got in, like she was clearing leaves from a gutter).
“You shouldn’t let Double-J get away with shit like that.” Jezz hadn’t said anything to him for several minutes, and now she sounded more angry than concerned. “What an asshole.” Rune laughed, not sure if Jezz was referring to Double-J or himself?
“This it?” Rune raised his head, looked out the window, his eyes blinking from the sudden light. He recognized the blurry outlines of his house. The garage door was closed, as usual on nights his father was by himself. He thought for a moment about asking Jezz if she wanted to go somewhere, he didn’t care where, maybe the Pizza Place again.
But he decided that some doors in his life should remain shut. “Thanks for the ride.” He exited the car, thanked Jezz again, and a moment later her car was noisily chugging away. Rune walked up to front door of his family’s home, reached for the handle — and then had begun his journey into the cold darkness.