Almost Gothic;Suncoast SociteyBy: Tymber Dalton
Rusty McElroy fell in love with Eliza when he was sixteen years old, on the day they met.
That also happened to be the first time she thoroughly kicked his ass.
It was the first weekend of their sophomore year of high school, and the first weekend their medieval LARP group had gotten together since school let out for summer break late last May. He’d never seen Eliza before that day, but she’d been invited by one of his friends who shared Biology with her during second period.
Brown eyes and short, reddish-brown hair, slim, she was dressed in a men’s costume—a blue tunic, grey leggings, authentic-looking leather boots, and black leather bracers on both arms.
Not cheap-ass, Costumes-R-Us bracers, either. Custom-made, embossed leather, and considering how small she was, they must have been fitted to her.
The green thread of envy over kids being better equipped than him had never extended to women before, but this girl looked like she’d just walked out of the 1600s and was ready to battle somebody.
Some of their group, comprised of kids and adults, was either in SCA, involved in BARF or the Sarasota Medieval Fair, or other local Ren Fair groups, or all of the above.
The rest of them just liked to dress up, run around, and beat the crap out of each other with fake weaponry while pretending to talk in very bad British, Scottish, and other accents.
What Rusty hadn’t realized at that time, however, was that Eliza was a weapon.
And there was not a damn thing fake about her.
He was about to learn that.
Apparently his friends thought it’d be funny to pair him with her to spar, since she was new to the group, he didn’t have a girlfriend, and they knew he hated fighting women—unless he knew they could hold their own against him—because he was terrified he’d accidentally hurt them.
Well, that was one of the reasons. The other reason he kept to himself, because no one else needed to know that. And based on his size and behavior, everyone assumed the first reason.
That meant there were only two women he’d willingly fight in their group, both of them in their twenties, but neither was there today. One was a karate black belt and the other a kickboxing teacher who’d spent eight years as an MP in the Marines over in the Middle East.
Already six two, despite being gangly, he’d grown into his limbs and was fast and sure. Two years of judo hadn’t hurt any.
Except the local rec center, where he’d been taking the classes for free, lost their instructor and that meant an end to his lessons. No way could his mom afford to pay for private lessons.
Another reason he wasn’t in SCA or active in the local ren fairs yet, because it just wasn’t in their budget.
So he kept in shape by running, usually late at night when it was cooler and there was nobody around. He couldn’t afford to be on the cross-country team at school, but he knew he needed a way to keep burning off the darkness in his brain. Between running and the combat, it helped.
Gave him a way to zone out.
Run to exhaustion, step into a dark and wooded area to jerk off and get rid of the boner the pain of running caused him, and get himself home to collapse.
This group was free to all comers. Since they met at a county park, it didn’t cost them anything for the facility. There were people there dressed in everything from shorts and T-shirts, all the way up to full plate armor.
Rusty had cobbled together his tunic with clearance fabric for a buck a yard and a sewing machine he’d checked out from the library for two weeks after the librarian spent ten minutes showing him how to thread it and change out the needle in case he broke one.
His mom had found the black, plus-sized women’s stirrup pants that he used as leggings at a thrift shop, and he’d taken them in at the waist so they’d fit him and cut the elastic stirrups off the bottom. They hit him about six inches above his ankles, which was fine, because he wore second-hand leather hiking boots and black socks.
In other words, he’d put in some effort despite his lack of funds.
His wasters, a short sword and a broadsword, both wooden, he’d bought used from another kid after mowing lawns for neighbors to earn the money. And the same friend’s dad had just set up a garage forge and was going to start teaching them how to make better, more realistic weapons this fall, once the weather cooled a little. Rusty had made a wooden shield that looked like crap but had saved him a few bumps and bruises over the years.