Too Much 10

At the corner of his vision Rune saw Jane, as behind him he heard Annie begin her bout. For a long moment, his mind was a flooded engine, too overburdened with suprise and embarassment to allow him to think. 

“Hello?” Wanda’s exasperated question rebooted him to consciousness.

“Sorry. So, you think, does she still — ” Realizing his question would only make him look more foolish and indecisive, Rune stopped, excused himself, hustled over to where Jane was standing next to her strip. As if she knew he were coming, the athletic teen with short black hair twisted and smiled at Rune as he approached.

“You’ve returned.”

Rune pointed behind him. “Yeah. I was — getting water. For Annie.” His eyes widened. “On our team.”

“Oh, I know Annie.” For the first time that Rune could remember, he heard a chill in Jane’s voice. “Everybody at the Academy knows Annie, if only through her brother.” Sierra was a senior at the Academy.

Rune felt a shadow fall on him, knew by footfalls behind him that Rex was joining the conversation. Jane tilted her chin high, pointing it above Rune. “Rex tells me that you and Annie — ”

“He’s wrong.” Rune saw surprise blossom on Jane’s face, as he heard Rex grunt behind him. “I mean, he doesn’t know. I mean, he knows some things, but not everything. I mean, we haven’t — I mean, I haven’t told him — nobody knows the full story. Yet.”

Jane contorted her face, Rune unable to tell if she was smiling or frowning. “Well, assuming you know the full story, perhaps you should tell us.”

Too Much 9

Picking up the story from where I left off the other day. I’m also referencing a scene from an earlier story, The Academy.

Annie stood for her next bout, Rune rising as well and looking over at Rex’s strip. He took a step towards the other strip, then felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey.” Wanda’s cheeks red, stringy hair pasted to her scalp with sweat, her face exuberant. “You ever call Jane?”

Harris? Rune fought the instinct to search the gym for her. “Why?”

“You don’t remember?” Wanda looked amazed. “At the scrimmage, couple months ago?” The Academy had organized a scrimmage for the Bark Bay fencers before the start of the tournament season. “That talk with Jane and me before the DEs?”

Rune blinked, his mind quickly scanning his memories of that day, that conversation. Wanda standing in front of him, arms crossed. Jane on his right, her hand on his bicep. He remembered feeling uncomfortable, this girl he barely knew touching him like that, and then she started talking about pizza. Did he like the Pizza Place, she was going to be there, would he like to —

“Oh.” Rune suddenly looked like he had just seen a spider crawl across Wanda’s face. “She was — ” He paused, hoping Wanda wouldn’t make him complete his sentence.

“Yeah, she was.” Her face severe, like a frustrated motorist. “Really, all you needed to do was call.”

What Did They Ever Do To You?

Not A Punk Rocker is under the weather today — consider this my get-well card.

“The Academy?” The name of the school nearly spat out of Rex’s mouth, as if it were an allergen. “This Saturday?”

“Oh!” Butch’s round eyes wide, short crop of blond hair standing on end. “No, next Saturday. You going?”

Rex frowned. “It’d be good practice, you know. And it’d be good to see Hector, and JanHar. But, I dunno.” Narrow eyes blinked, looked down at Butch’s shoes.

“Oh!” Butch looked up at the ceiling like a nervous politician searching for a teleprompter. “You don’t like it there?”

“Never been there.” He tugged on the strap of his backpack, pulling it higher onto his shoulder. “Hear it’s nice, the campus, they say it’s like a college.”

“Oh! I heard that too, even though I dunno know what a college looks like.”

A slender hand reached down, squeezed Butch’s shoulder. “You should go. Gavvy, their coach, she’s great once you get past the insanity, you’ll learn a lot from her.”

“Oh! But are you gonna go?”

The hand retracted. “Nah. Just — can’t see myself being there.”

“What’s wrong?” Butch heard himself asking the question, surprised to be so forward. “What is it you don’t like about the Academy?”

Rex shook his head. “Nothing, really. A lot of people here don’t like them, think they’re elitists, but I never seen them act that way, least when I’ve been around them. There’s just this, I don’t know, this feeling I get whenever I’m around them, like they remind me of how much potential there is in the world, and how little we’ve all done in comparison.”

“Oh! So, it’s like — ” he snapped his fingers, again, the third snap seeming to ignite his face — “a Rothschild’s Test!”

The tall teen threw his head back, then held back his laughter on realizing he couldn’t provide the necessary correction.

Living Better, Single

The Girl recently posted some wise insights on relationships and self-improvement, and has provided inspiration for an experiment with my novel.

[Rune’s journal from February, undated]

Annie broke up with me tonight. Totally out of the blue, there’s this knock on the door and it’s Annie, her mom’s white Cadillac in the driveway, exhaust coming out its rear.

She told me we shouldn’t see each other no more, and then I asked her what the hell that meant, and she said going out on dates, and coming to my house after practice. So I asked her what happened, did I do something wrong, and she said no it wasn’t anything I did (but I saw her bite her lower lip after she said that, she always does that when she lies), she just didn’t feel comfortable anymore with our relationship. And I told her I hated that word, we weren’t in a relationship, we weren’t partners, we were girlfriend-boyfriend.

“Don’t you have fun with me?” I asked her.

“Of course.” She didn’t bite her lip. “But, there’s more to life than having fun.” And then she talked about the arguments we were having, and how she’d been trying to call me this past week but I didn’t get back to her.

“I’ve been busy,” I told her.

“That’s why I came here.” And shen she started backing away, towards the Cadillac. I can see her mother clutching the steering wheel, staring at me. “I have to go now.” And then she asks if I’m coming to the tournament Saturday.

I closed the door without answering her. She dumps me, gives me a lame excuse, then wants to know if I’m fencing? Hell no. I’d be with her all day, and everyone on the team, they’d figure out something was wrong, ask me a bunch of dumbe questions, none of their business. Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT. She was my girlfriend, we had a lot of fun together — everything about this was good, I was realizing this was what I’d been waiting for all my life — and then she takes it away from me, just because I didn’t answer her stupid text.

I don’t understand.

Upside Down 2

Resigning herself to whatever consequences would come from arriving late to her classroom, Annie spun sharply, brown pony-tail swishing audibly, her friend Nathalie suddenly confronted with a wall of indignation.

“I’ll do you one better.” Relieved that Nathalie did not back away. “I’ve been to Rex’s trailer, seen where his family lives. Want me to confirm your suspicions, tell you it’s awful? Well you’re in luck this time, because really, it is awful. And those rumors? Well OK, there’s two beds in the house, and his sisters share one of them.”

“That’s sick — ”

“They’re POOR!” Annie didn’t care that the low shuffle of footfalls had subsided, that dozen paired eyes were now looking at her. “They don’t like living in that trailer, but they don’t have the means to do anything about it. His father died, or run off, nobody knows for sure other than he left them with no money; his mother can’t get out of bed most days, becauase she’s got a disease that can’t be cured.” She was confident Nathalie wouldn’t recognize the term fibromyalgia.

“It’s not about money.” Purple lips smacked together. “All kinds of poor people in this town. Like my cousins. Only thing is, they don’t use being poor as an excuse for being a disgrace.”

“And some of us don’t need an excuse at all.” Annie pushed past Nathalie, late for her class.

Upside Down

I’m taking a short break from “Too Much” to contemplate what comes next in that story; I’m planning something ambitious, and want to give myself some time to improve my chance of success. For today’s post, I’m revisiting a technique that’s worked well for me recently — responding to an interesting post I’ve discovered in my Reader. Mark Aldrich, The Gad About Town, just shared his experience living with a disease that was first undiagnosed, then mis-diagnosed.

“Later.” And with a wave of a hand slender as a paper fan, Rex turned and walked down the hall, his head towering over the other students.

“You know him?” Hearing the disdain in Nathalie’s voice, Annie decided, contrary to her nature, to answer while her back was still turned.

“He’s a fencer.” Hands reaching behind her head to tighten her pony-tail, Annie twisted, met Nathalie’s gaze. “Been on the team longer than me. He’s — ”

“You ever see what he eats?” Shuffle of student feet along the tiled floor, punctuated by slams of lockers and doors. Nathalie’s lips purple today.

“Really? What’s with the sudden interest in other people’ lunches?”

“That kid’s weird.” An accusing finger pointed down the hall. “And those clothes, oh my God — ”

“Just leave him alone.” Two steps to her right, Annie on her way to AP Calc, then — “You’ve heard the rumors, right?”

Her instincts told her to keep walking, leave Nathalie to her petty insecurities. But it was not in the Hutchinson’s family nature to leave a challenge.

To be continued

Too Much 8

When the fencer furthest from them, on the referee’s left, scored her fourth touch, recognition finally woke in Rune from its slumber.  Her build, the mask — if he could see her hair he’d know her for sure, yet it was tucked tight, hidden under her gray metal face. She was from the Academy, they were the only gals who wore regulation pants; her last name would be written on the back of her lame and down the outside of her back leg, but neither was visible from where they were sitting.

Fence. The other fencer closed the distance quickly, arm extending his foil in a line threatening his opponent’s chest, legs coiling for a lunge. Yet before he could execute his action the Academy fencer caught his blade, the stout base of her weapon binding against the slimmer upper portion of her opponent’s; the chiming of metal followed by a subtle flick of the Academy fencer’s fingers, her blade pivoting so its tip threatened, then landed, on her opponent’s front shoulder.

 Halt. A bind in six, riposte in opposition, just like Coach Dan had showed them last week in practice. Attack right, is parried. Riposte, left. The competitors stepped back to their starting lines, and as the Academy gal removed her mask and her flaxen curls tumbled onto her shoulders, Rune immediately recognized her. But again, he drew a blank on her name; as if on cue to bail him out, Annie called out to her.

“Nice job, Wanda!”

Wanda. He’d fenced her last spring, at regionals. His only victory in the pools. 

Too Much 7

Annie was sitting at the end of her strip. Rune could tell she had completed a bout, as the edges of her hair was plastered with sweat against her scalp; the thin layer of persperation on her skin caused her face to glow in the dim light of the field house. What a babe, Rune thought not for the first time, and never more beautiful than now.

She looked up at him suddenly. “Hey.” Her smile warmed his heart.

“How’s it going?” He handed the water bottle, and crouched next to her after she took it.

“Five – two, some guy from Woolford.” Rune knew she only gave the score when she won. She began thrusting the bottle forward with her right arm, her face frowning like a disappointed teacher. “Jab jab jab. That’s all the Woolford fencers know how to do. Keep your distance and lunge.” Decapitating the water bottle, she drank quickly.

Two fencers Rune didn’t recognize continued their bout, swift footfalls and the recoiling of cables and the song of colliding metal. Several yards away from the strip, the blue-jacketed referee watched the action, his body still and quiet like a diligent sentry, until the sharp command to halt that followed each sharp interrupting buzz of the scoring machine.

Too Much 6

Rune watched the duration of the bout, rooting for the Libyan dude mostly in silence but unable to restrain an exuberant “YES!” when Malik hit Francis’ low line, tieing the score at 2. It would be, however, his last point in the bout, as Francis began to attack Malik’s back shoulder, swiftly and efficiently and without much seeming effort, like he was warming up rather than competing. Touch right, touch right, touch right. Bout.

Rex, whose bout was next, had stood next to Rune, leaned down and whispered in the younger teen’s ear. “You wanted to see him lose, didn’t you?”

“Woulda been nice, for once.” Rune turned, saw that Jane — yes, he remembered Harris’ name, Jane — had moved to the other side of the strip, was talking to her coach now. Slick with condensation, the plastic bottle in Rune’s hand slipped, nearly fell; he excused himself, hustled over to the strip where Annie was competing.

Too Much 5

Rex was sitting on the floor next to the strip, his legs extending in front of his body like poles. Rune handed him one of the water bottles, as he glanced at the strip.

“Francis.” He saw Rex nod silently at the corner of his vision, intent on the other fencer in the bout. “Any idea who that is?”

“Hassan.” Rex opened the bottle. “He’s from the Academy too. He’s I don’t know, Egyptian or something.”

“Libya.” The gal whose name Rune couldn’t remember had followed him. 

A clatter or metal, a sharp buzz. Rune looked at the scoring machine, which showed one green light, on Francis’ side.

“Parry-riposte.” Not having seen the conversation himself, Rune nodded, trusting the report of this gal he knew only as Harris. “Malik still hasn’t figured out that Francis likes to use his opponents’ aggression to his advantage.”