Noticed a little while ago that many of the conversations between characters were taking place during car trips, which is what motivated me to dedicate a chunk of time in this blog to this device. Starting to run out of new ideas, so I’m going to move on to something else, at least for now.
And in that moment Kassie sat in Double-J’s passenger seat, one foot out the door as Double-J waited for her response, she concluded that she’d seen enough of Double-J interacting with the other fencing team members to form an opinion of him. An opinion at odds with Annie’s warning — Double-J wasn’t rough, he was direct. More than anyone else on the team, Double-J offered his opinions boldy, never holding back for anyone, any reason.
She remembered a conversation he had with Rex a few weeks back. Rex was talking to her and Butch about feinting (threaten four, disengage attack six — she couldn’t remember which side was four, which six), and Double-J suddenly interjected. “Feinting’s great if you like wasting energy. A good attack is all about execution — what you see is what you get, and what’cha gonna do about it?”
What you see is what you get. That phrase, she realized, represented Double-J, or at least her impression of him. There was no pretense in how he presented himself, nothing held back. Kassie suddenly understood why Annie, from the powerful and prestigious Hutchinson family, would feel threatened by such directness. But for Kassie, it was refreshing. Double-J, she concluded, wasn’t like the other members of the Bark Bay fencing team in that he didn’t have any secrets. Holding something back was as unnatural to him as driving with no headlights.
Kassie nodded, said OK, closed the passenger car door as Double-J put his coupe into reverse and looked up at his rearview mirror.
End of the fourth ride
Everyone on the team had secrets. But not Double-J, as far as Kassie could tell. He had been the only one she had been warned about, that first afternoon of fencing practice. Kassie had asked Doube-J a question about scoring. “Sorry, hon, scoring’s not something you’re going to have to worry about for a while,” was his reply before walking away.
Kassie felt a hand on her elbow, turned to see Annie. After a quick look in Double-J’s direction, she whispered, “Double-J can be a little rough. Don’t take what he says about you personally.” Kassie thought the comment odd (why take anyone’s words personally?), but being new and having a degree of trust in Annie, she decided to observe Double-J interacting with others for a while, to verify Annie’s assessment before trying to engage him directly.
Now that time had come. She had only accepted Double-J’s offer for a ride after knowing Butch would also be in the coupe, but Butch’s home was closer to the school, he had been dropped off with an enthusiastic See you in school tomorrow! several minutes ago. Kassie had quickly asked about the tournament the prior week, Double-J responding with a detailed account of his bouts that day. Kassie sorted through the unfamiliar details to get to the general idea that Double-J had finished second, losing in the finals to a boy from the Academy named Francis.
But now that she had one foot literally out the door of his car, Double-J was forcing her to respond to a direct statement from him. Are you going to accept my offer to take you somewhere to pick up dinner? Or blow me off?
Kassie sensed that everyone on the fencing team had secrets, things intentionally withheld from the others. Even Coach Dan, who never had a bad word to say to anyone. As Kassie looked at Double-J, impatience growing as he waited behind the steering wheel for her response, she remembered a conversation from the previous week’s practice. Double-J had asked why Coach Dan had started the fencing team, she couldn’t remember the exact words but she did remember him using the word bother, the question something like why did you even bother starting the fencing team, or something like that, and Coach Dan was like I love the sport.
She remembered Double-J shaking his head, the long thin wires of his black hair waving frantically. “You’ve been teaching here, what, seven years now? And only started the team a few years ago. So why didn’t you start the fencing team any sooner? Where was your love of the sport then?”
Kassie hadn’t heard Coach Dan’s response, Annie coming over to work with her on foot and body positioning. But Kassie had heard enough to know that even Coach Dan had his secrets.
Kassie knew that Butch also had an agenda, but the fact that she knew about it made Butch’s agenda different from Annie’s. Son of the Rev. Goodman, Butch was an outspoken evangelist, pushing the limits of the school board’s rules regarding the handout of flyers for his youth group, prayers during after-school activites, open challenges to his biology teacher.
And yet, for all his evangelical outspokenness during school, Butch was not like that at all during fencing practice. Had Coach Dan talked to him — intelligent, egalitarian, and yes, Jewish, Coach Dan? Or had Annie, whose family was no friend of any organized religion, pulled him aside and liad down the law with Butch?
Or could it have been the young man (she didn’t think of him as a kid, or a teen) sitting in the driver’s seat? Double-J, his short but powerful body seeming to push out on his down jacket, seemingly on the verge of splitting, erupting? Kassie sensed that Double-J would not have shown the diplomacy she was sure Coach Dan would have demonstrated, would not have bothered with Annie’s rationality. No, Kassie was sure that Double-J would have been able to silence Butch merely by the force of his personality.
Rex presented himself as an open book, yet he was also clearly a man with secrets, hiding the chapters of his life he did not want read. It wasn’t a hidden agenda like the one Kassie felt that Annie always seemed to have. While open with her advice, most of it quite useful, Annie’s wisdom always seemed to come with an obligation — use this information well, or don’t use it at all. Kassie felt that Annie wanted her to succeed as proof of her wisdom.
Bernie seemed the friendliest of the group. The greasy-haired boy did not have Annie’s agenda, or Rex’s secretiveness. When showing Kassie how to hold her weapon (elbow in, angle the forearm out, hand in, make kind of a goose neck shape with your arm) or in talking about Coach Dan (he’s a perfectionist, but he’s patient too), Bernie always seemed gracious.
Yet Kassie sensed there was something not quite right about Bernie. He had a mercurial disposition, at one moment calm and the next VIOLENTLY angry, sometimes over a trivial matter. Of all the team members, Bernie was the only one who scared Kassie.
There too was Rex. Kassie liked him, was drawn to his flamboyancy, his confiedence, his bravado, yet was not convinced that it was authentic. She suspected Rex was hiding something that he cared not to admit. She had hear rumors (not from the other members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, but from other students at the school) that Rex’s family was poor, not poor as in My parents can’t afford to take us to Disney this year but truly poor, as in eating dog food for dinner poor. Kassie had no way of knowing if those rumors were true, but based on her impressions of Rex she would not have been surprised if they proved to be true.
“Come on, close the door.” Double-J’s voice was polite yet impatient.
Kassie, her right foot still resting outside the frame of the open passenger door, looked over at Double-J in the driver’s seat. She realized that in the weeks she had been going to fencing, Double-J was the one person she had never really interacted with. She spent most of her time with Annie, full of energy and enthusiasm, her brown pony tail seeming to prance with excitement as she demonstrated proper footwork (toes up, push from the heel), or described that bout last spring with Francis Pine he got the first three touches but then I hit him with a parry riposte and then another and then he was all like I’ve had enough of this and he threw these long lunges at me I’ll be ready for him he’s at the Academy my brother is his friend.
November. The second Tuesday.
Bythetimeshehadexplainedthathermotherwasataradiostationrecordingacommercial, Kassie saw that Double-J had already pulled into the driveway of her home. He turned, left hip brushing the steering wheel, and looked at her.
“Super Saver? The grocery store?” Kassie nodded. Double-J frowned, the thin black wires of his hair waving as she shook his head. “Christ. Hate that place. She doesn’t sing this time, does she?” Kassie said she did not know. “Huh. No offense, I like your mom and all, but singing’s not her thing.”
Kassie opened the door of the coupe, thanked Double-J for the ride home from fencing practice. “When’s she coming home?” Kassie shrugged, said she wasn’t sure, if the radio station had more work for her she might be home real late. She swung her right leg out of the coupe.
“Hmmm. Hold on.” Kassie flinched reflxively as Double-J’s right hand reached out and grasped the front of her left upper arm. After a series of questions about her mother, he verbally concluded that she would not be home in time for dinner that evening, a statement Kassie confirmed. “So you’re eating by yourself?” Kassie replied she was going to make herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “That sounds dull. Come on, get back in, we’ll pick up something a drive-thru.”
Kassie replied that she did not eat hamburgers. “Vegetarian?” She nodded. “S’okay, we’ll find you something.” Double-J turned, his squat body now facing forward, reached with his right hand and put his coupe into reverse. Foot on the brake, he turned his head towards Kassie.
The dog barked with increased ferocity as Rex rolled down his window. “King, quiet.” Bernie saw the dog’s ears fall, heard it start to whimper at Rex’s command.
Rex turned back to Coach Dan, waiting patiently in the driver’s seat. “Coach, I wouldn’t be comfortable with being captain of the fencing team.”
“Nobody’s going to make you do anything against your will, Rex.” Outside the sedan, King resumed its wild barking. “That’s not how we run things. We’re all captains of our own fates.”
“Huh.” Rex turned his head, looked at his family’s trailer, silent and dark in the winter night. King’s barking paused. “Wish I could agree with you, Coach. It’s just that — things seem to follow me, my family. And I don’t want any of that stuff following the team.”
Coach Dan quickly objected, causing King to resume barking. Rex raised his left hand. “I’m sorry, Coach. I need to go.” Coach Dan nodded, said he’d see him tomorrow. Rex opened the sedan door, King rushing to the door before stopping short upon seeing Rex’s long body unfold from the passenger seat. Now wagging its tail, King pranced around the metal door, lifted its snout up to Rex, licked the back of the tall teen’s hand.
From the back seat, Bernie watched Rex patting King’s head. King turned, its black eyes catching Bernie’s glance — ROWF! ROWF!
“King!” Rex called, taking two brisk stepss away from the car. He turned, placed his hand on the door, leaned in and looked back at Bernie. “Getting in front?”
Bernie looked at King, who caught his glance and growled. “I’m — good. Thanks.” With a wave, Rex closed the door, walked with King at his side to the wooden steps leading up to his trailer’s front door.
End of third ride