Janae held lunge position as Madam Zabrieski walked down the line, examining each student with a steely-sharp eye. When Madam reached Janae she stopped.
“Turn your front foot out straight, a little more, like that, yes. And sword arm up higher, this, are you fencing a midget? No.”
Janae turned her toe out and lifted her arm higher, boiling inside. She always stops and corrects me! No one else. Why me? I must be the worst fencer in the entire class.
Later, at practice, while the other girls laughed and sparred each other, Janae was by the wall, firing lunge after lunge, trying to land her sword point at one single spot on the brick. Time after time she would be a little too high, a little too low.
“Terrible!” Janae exclaimed, and collapsed on the gymnasium floor.
“What’s the matter?” Tessa lifted her fencing helmet and stared down at Janae.
Janae stared up at the cracked plaster of the gymnasium ceiling. “I am the worst fencer this school has ever seen.”
“Liar,” Tessa poked Janae with the toe of her shoe. “You know that’s not true. You just want me to tell you that you’re amazing.”
“I am not!” Janae said. “Did you see Madam Zabrieski? She stopped and corrected me. Again! She goes all down the line, and I know there are girls who aren’t in perfect form, but who does she stop and talk to? Me!”
“You know why that is, don’t you?” Tessa said.
“Because I’m terrible! I’m clumsy and it takes me forever to learn anything and I have no talent! And because I keep loosing to everyone.”
“No,” Tessa said. “Guess again.”
“What else could it be?” Janae asked.
“Because you listen. You’re trying to get better. No one else comes to every practice. No one else is up before dawn, skewering the wall outside the girl’s dorm. Fencing, for you, isn’t just another class. You’re not doing it because you think it’s impressive, or because you want to show up the boys. The game got into your head. You want to play it because you have to get it right.”
“Then why am I so terrible?” Janae asked.
“You’re not,” Tessa said. “Get up and come over and fence with someone.”
“I’m not ready,” Janae said. “That’s a waste of my time. I have to get this drill right.”
“Drills aren’t going to do you any good if you don’t learn how to use them in a match. Here, who do you think is the best fencer in the class? We’ll go and give her a challenge,” Tessa said.
Janae thought hard. Helen was pretty good. Clarisse maybe a little better. But honestly, Tessa wasn’t bad at all. Actually, she hadn’t ever seen Tessa beaten by anyone else.
Janae got up. “It’s you. I challenge you.”
Read the next scene: Fencing Club