Different and Cool: The Bandanna

By Reid M. Haynes

A chilled current coasted through the cavernous confines of the abandoned planetarium, bringing with it a sterile odor that recalled a hospital waiting room. The two combatants faced each other under the planets and stars, each bobbing about in the balanced stance of the Double Helix Style, the new martial discipline that promised equal parts attack and defense. Andy could feel the sanitized air blasting on his skin, bringing with it goosebumps and a certain fear of the unknown. Before him, Maru Mari was showing all the confidence of a top-ranked prizefighter, and her eyes shone with an eagerness he sorely lacked this afternoon training session.

"Ready, Champ?" Mari asked, her lips forming a lopsided grin.

Andy sighed, steadying himself. "As I'll ever be..."

Mari steeled herself, and then began gliding forward with swift, panther-like steps. Moving into Andy's inner circle before he had a chance to react, she opened up with a quick jab that the boy barely managed to block. Clearing some room for maneuvering, Andy prepared his defense, diverting a pair of kicks with quick movements of the forearm. Mari would not be deterred, however, and kept delivering a steady supply of punishing blows for her hapless pupil to contend with, striking out at all parts of the body.

Andy did his best to keep up with the onslaught, but was at a loss for how to respond. He tried to push in a quick combo through the spaces in Mari's attack, but the girl's defense was tantamount to invulnerable, and he was met with swift evasive tactics that never even let him come close. Mari utilized quick economical punches and tactics, never exposing her weak-points longer than she had to. Soon, she had him right where she wanted him, and launched a spinning roundhouse at Andy's head, sending him spiraling away on a rendezvous with the cold, hard floor.

Mari looked down on the prone fighter with disdain. "Jeez, Champ, again?" she complained, putting her fists on her hips. "You didn't even mount an attack this time!"

"Sorry," Andy groaned, with a touch of sarcasm as he nursed the red mark on his cheek. "I'm a little new at this."

The pretty girl sighed, tossing her long, green hair behind her back. "Andy, we've been doing this for over a hour now," she reminded him. leaning her body to one side. "Why can't you get closer to making a mark?"

The boy considered this. "I guess I'm not much of a fighter," he huffed tiredly, raising himself from the planetarium floor. "I never even thought about fighting before this stuff with Justin and Slick came up."

Mari shook her head. "You've got the skills," she pointed out with a turn of her hand. "You picked up the basics of the Double Helix style faster than anyone I've seen. But you won't commit to your strikes, and you let me control the pace of the fight. Don't be a string bean, Champ!"

"Maybe I'm just worried about fighting a girl," he said, averting his eyes with embarrassment. Not to mention fighting a girl I've got a crush on...

Mari, for her part, placed her hands on her cheeks, and started swaying back and forth like a willow in the wind. "Oh, lordie me, your big manly fists are too much!" she cooed, her voice taking on the texture of a pampered, high-society debutant. "It's ever so frightening!"

Andy scowled. "C'mon, I'm serious Mari!" he groaned, folding his arms in frustration.

Mari returned to her original posture with a comfortable shrug. "Andy, you came to me for help," she told him, fixing her eyes on his. "You gotta drop your inhibitions if you want us to get anywhere with this. What happened to the dude who came up to me and said 'hey, I wanna be a badass, and stand up for that cute little nerd thing?'"

"I think I'm still learning who that guy is." Andy tried to explain, fumbling with the right way to describe his hesitation.

The girl just smiled, and walked over to a podium that she had converted into a short dresser. After a moment, Mari returned, this time with a short length of white cloth in her hand. "You dig symbols, right?" she said, stretching out the cloth in her hand. "Here's one for ya."

Moving behind him, she placed her hands on his temples like she was reading his mind. Andy's skin prickled up at the touch of his longtime crush, but soon realized she was tying the short cloth to his forehead. "This bandanna belonged to a friend of mine," Mari said, moving aside a lock of hair so that it wouldn't get trapped underneath the headgear. "She was a tough cookie, and you can be one, too. Chocolate with nuts, even!"

"You think this will help?" Andy asked, wondering where she was going with this.

He could hear Mari grunt an affirmation behind him, as she continued tying the bandanna. "It's also endowed with the spirit of the ancient masters who devised the Double Helix style," the girl continued, her voice lowering to a sage rumble.

Andy smiled. "Really?"

"Nah, I'm just kidding!" Mari laughed easily. "It's still pretty cool, though."

With a sharp tug, she finished up the knot, leaving two tendrils flowing down the back of Andy's neck like white waterfalls. "Rock 'n' roll!" she cheered, grinning widely as she went to fetch a broken fragment of a bathroom mirror. "Not bad at all!"

As Mari brought up the mirror, Andy appraised his image with a sudden sense of awe. Coupled with his flamboyant green hair, the bandanna added a wild touch to the boy's visage, like a savage warrior heading into battle. He looked tougher, more confident, like the person he so desperately needed to be. "It looks..great!" he gasped, astonished by how well this new look suited him.

"It's just a fashion statement," Mari clucked, smiling from behind the mirror. "But I gotta admit, it's you. Whenever you feel like a wimp, just tell yourself: 'man, I look good in a bandanna!' It's all in your head, dude."

Andy closed his eyes, shaking his head. "I'm gonna be some sight going into school like this," he said, not bothering to fight the smile coming to his face.

"Hey, if Tarah can wear braids with pride, you can stand to show a little style," she stated, titling her head to the side.

The female fighter walked a few paces back, then turned back to face him. "So, you ready to get to it?" she challenged bringing up her fighting stance once more.

Andy smiled, following suit with own stance. "The question is whether you're ready, Mari," he replied, conjuring up a combo with his trainer's name on it.

"Oh ho!" Mari teased, adjusting her guard. "Gettin' sassy!"

The two young martial artists gauged each others defenses, looking for any sort of weakness to exploit. Then, Andy rushed forward with a titanic fist, emboldened with all the confidence of a champion that was going for the gold.