8 | Stardust
The rest of the day and all the next, I couldn’t stop thinking about what Cody had said. I didn’t know how much I trusted what he’d said about it not being dangerous, but I knew he was right that it would help with my anger.
Finally, after supper, I resolved my internal battle. I didn’t have to fight; I could just go and check it out. Find out what it was like and see if Cody had been telling the truth.
When I was sure that Damen and Gia thought I was asleep, I changed into a pair of camo jeans and a black sleeveless hoodie. I put on my adidas sneakers and a black flat-brimmed hat before grabbing my bomber jacket and phone and climbing out my window onto the fire escape. My window was only three stories up and the escape went all the way to the ground, so getting down was easy.
The hard part was getting there. The address Cody had given me was an abandoned boat yard by the river and I doubted any responsible taxi or Uber driver would drop a sixteen-year-old off at a place like that alone, so I started jogging. I was used to running long-distance from soccer practice and it was only a mile and a half or so.
When I got there, a decently large group of people were already assembled, watching a fight. Most of them were guys, but a few girls mingled among the crowd.
I stood at the outskirts of the gathering and watched the fight. It was two guys, one probably younger than me and the other at least in his thirties. It was obvious who was winning. The younger guy was half the size of his opponent and in way over his head. But that didn’t stop him from putting in a good effort.
There was no protective equipment, as I’d known there wouldn’t be. By the time the younger guy finally admitted defeat, his face was bloodied, and his body had to have bruises all over it.
I’d been right. It was dangerous. If I fought and got even just one bruise to my face, how would I explain it to Damen?
“I see you changed your mind.” A voice next to me said. I glanced over and found Cody standing beside me.
“I decided I’d at least come down here and see what it was really like.” I said, watching the next fight start.
“And what do you think?” He asked. He didn’t give me time to answer before proceeding. “Actually, I know what you’re thinking.”
I glanced at him.
“You’re thinking that you were right. That it’s dangerous.” Cody finished.
I nodded. “It is for me. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting hurt, I just can’t go home with marks on me or my uncle will know something’s up.”
“You don’t think you could keep that from happening?” Cody raised his eyebrows at me.
“Are you asking if I can keep these guys from hitting my face?” I gave him a look.
“I’ve seen you spar.”
“Yeah, but that was in a controlled setting with rules.” I went back to watching the fight. “We weren’t trying to hurt each other.”
The tone of his voice caused me to look at him. “I wasn’t trying to hurt him.” I said defensively. “I just lost control a little.”
“Okay.” He raised his hands. “But I think you’d be surprised at how controlled our fights are. And we do have rules.” He added.
“It depends on the fight. The fighters agree on a set of rules before the fight and we take them very seriously. You see the guy standing there?” He pointed to a bigger man closely watching the fight on the edge of the ring. “That’s Joe. He’s like the ref. If either fighter breaks the rules, Joe stops the fight and the one who broke the rules has to automatically forfeit.”
“What kind of rules can you set?” I asked. “And how do they choose who fights who?” I wasn’t convinced yet, but I was curious.
“You can set just about any rule your opponent will agree to, but a lot of times it turns into a compromise. You might want head shots to be illegal, but your opponent will only agree to that on the condition that hits to the groin are also illegal.”
“What if they don’t ever agree on a set of rules?” I asked.
Cody gave a short laugh. “Then you get a bad rep. People quit accepting fights with you and eventually, they stop letting you come around.”
I swallowed. “So basically, I’d want to make as few rules as possible.”
“So how do you win a fight?” I asked.
“That’s another thing you decide when you decide the rules. It could be until someone is unconscious, or whoever gets a number of solid hits to a certain area. Or it could be somewhere in between.” He shrugged. “Most people just fight until blood is drawn.”
I was silent. It still sounded dangerous.
Cody looked at me and sighed. “Look, it’s street fighting. There’s always a risk that you’ll get hurt. But,” He glanced at the fighting and then back to me. “If you decide to fight, I’ll help you get the right opponents.”
“How does that work?” I asked. “How do they decide who fights who?”
“There’s a few different ways it works.” Cody told me. “You can put your name in a bowl, and they’ll assign you randomly, that’s probably the most common way. The other most common way is challenging. Either someone challenges you, or you challenge someone else. But that mostly just happens when someone needs money and they know they need a tough fight.”
“What happens if I get an opponent I don’t want?” I asked.
“You can talk it out with your opponent, ask him to agree not to fight you, or you can forfeit. But neither one will make you very popular.”
“You said if I agreed to fight, you’d help me get the right opponents.” I looked at Cody. “How would you do that?”
“There’s one more way of influencing who your opponent will be.” He told me. “When there’s a younger, newer fighter, the fighters who are not very experienced will line up to challenge. With you, it will be even more so, because you’re a girl. No one will expect you to be able to fight like you do.”
“But then they’ll see me fight and know that I can.” I said. I didn’t see how that helped me.
“Yes.” Cody smiled. “But it’s politics, see, you just have to know how to play the game right. You can accept all their challenges before your first fight.”
“And then it won’t matter when they see me fight, because forfeiting would ruin their rep.” I smiled, catching on.
Cody’s eyes twinkled. “You learn fast.”
I gave him a look. “Tell me again why I would ever agree to do this in the first place?”
He nodded. “At the dojo, why did you lose control?”
I looked at him. “You know why.”
“I do. I just want you to say it.”
I was silent for a moment. “I kept thinking of my Dad and best friend together and how they’d ruined my life.”
“And did hitting that kid help?”
I swallowed and nodded.
“But you freaked out when you realized it, because you almost hurt him.”
I nodded again.
“It’s different here.” Cody waited until I looked at him. “Every fighter here knows the risks. They know that their opponent is trying to hurt them.”
“So?” I didn’t see his point.
He sighed. “You don’t have to worry about hurting someone. Everyone here is looking for a fight, and they know that getting hurt is part of fighting.”
I thought for a moment. “What about the money?”
Cody nodded. “Everyone who wants to fight has to pay twenty dollars to get into the mix.”
I pursed my lips. Twenty dollars was a lot just so that I could fight.
Cody glanced at me. “If you want to fight, I’ll pay the twenty dollars.”
“Why?” I gave him a look. “Why are you taking such a risk on me?” I thought of something. “How did you even know I’d be at the dojo yesterday?”
Cody smiled. “I didn’t. I go there every few weeks to watch the students and see if there’s anyone worth recruiting.” He made a face. “Usually there’s not. But when I walked in and saw you fighting, I was willing to bet money that you were worth it. Then when you took off your mask and I realized who you were, I knew you were perfect.”
“How is being a wreck perfect?” I asked. I still didn’t get it.
“You’re not a wreck.” He told me. “You were hurt and now you’ve decided that keeping your emotions bottled up is best. When you come here, it gives you an opportunity to empty all those emotions out. Your anger will make you stronger, help you win fights.”
“Or completely lose control.” I added quietly.
“You would never let that happen.” Cody said, watching me closely. “You have more control than most experienced fighters.”
“Well how did you know I wouldn’t call the cops and give them the address?” I asked. I still didn’t get why he’d taken such a risk with me.
“Call it intuition.” He looked at me. “Even if you didn’t want to fight, I could tell you’d respect that some people rely on this for a living.”
I glanced at him. “Do you fight?”
He shook his head. “I tried, but I never won. So now I stand on the sidelines. I gather bets and coach up beginners like you.”
“So, what do you get out of this?”
He took a deep breath. “Money, for one thing, I’ve learned who to bet on and how to rig it so I get the most income. That’s why I recruit my own fighters. I’m the only one who really knows their talent. Everyone else is taking a risk.”
“So if I agreed to fight…?”
He grinned. “Are you saying you’ve changed you mind?”
“Maybe.” I smiled.
“If you agreed to fight, I’d take you over to Maddox.” He pointed to a guy sitting on the hood of a car surrounded by several people. “He’s in charge of arranging the fights. I’d give him your name.” He paused. “You wouldn’t want to put your real name in. What would you go by?”
I thought about it. I didn’t have a lot of nicknames. People called me Superstar, but giving that name would make me sound snobbish.
“Stardust.” I said after a moment.
Technically, it wasn’t my nickname, it was Ashton’s. When they were in the Marines, Blake had thought it was funny that Ashton’s name was written “Star, Ash” on some documents, and had started calling him that. Over time, it had morphed into “Stardust” and other people started calling him it too. Pretty soon, everyone in his platoon knew him by that name.
I would never measure up to Ashton in any way, but the thought of using his nickname made me feel closer to him.
“Stardust it is then.” Cody grinned. “We’ll give Maddox your name and he’ll announce there’s a new fighter. After that, we just have to wait for challenges.”
I was silent. “I’m in.” I said after a moment.
Cody looked at me. “Are you sure?”
“More than anything else right now.” I said. It was true. I knew I wanted to fight. But everything else in my life was confusing and up in the air. “Let’s go.”
Cody hadn’t thought that I would get to fight tonight, he figured we’d just pull in challenges and wait until the next meet to actually fight. But the number of challenges that came in the first thirty minutes of submitting my name was so high that I didn’t really have a choice.
“Hayden.” Cody pulled me aside as I was getting ready to enter the ring. “When you get in there, you’ll see a boy your own age. Forget him. Imagine he’s your dad.”
I gave him a questioning look. “What?”
Cody sighed. “Remember everything your dad did? How he betrayed you?”
I nodded, clenching my jaw.
“Well it’s all that guy’s fault.” He said, pointing to the ring. “Okay?”
He patted my back and took my phone as I headed into the ring. “Good luck.”
I removed my hood and spun my hat around so the brim was facing backwards before turning to face my opponent.
I realized Cody was right. I saw a guy my own age. He was probably only 5’11 or so, but it was still a good jump on my 5’4.
“Did you get lost, little girl?” He asked, smirking.
I just stared at him, my face expressionless.
Joe stepped in between us. “You both agreed on just one rule.” He said. “No eye jabbing.”
I glanced at Cody, who nodded. He’d told me that having minimal rules would be fine for the first several fights since none of them would be trained fighters. I wasn’t sure why, but I trusted him. Trusted that he didn’t want me to get hurt.
Joe continued. “The fight will last until blood is drawn or one of you taps out. Agreed?”
We both nodded.
“Alright.” Joe back to the edge of the ring. “Fight!”
From the very beginning, I decided that for this fight I wanted to be on the “offensive defense”, as Ashton used to called it. Basically, I was only defending myself, but the way in which I did it was to make my opponent look stupid, therefore making me in control of the fight.
The guy rushed at me, trying to knock me down, but I ducked and used a Judo move to throw him on his back.
The crowd laughed and the guy got to his feet, grunting. He tried it again, a little more cautiously this time, but I used the same move, just on the opposite side this time.
The guy got to his feet, glaring at me.
The crowd was all laughing at this point and it was hard to keep my face emotionless. The old me would’ve felt bad for the guy, he was obviously embarrassed at being thrown around by a girl, but I took to heart Cody’s words and told myself that all my problems were that guy’s fault.
Before he had time to rush me again, I executed a simple front kick straight to his face, which knocked him on his back again. Everyone could see, even before he got up, that blood was pouring from his nose.
Joe stepped forward and held up my wrist. “That was a quick fight.” He told me, grinning. “And pretty interesting, too.”
I gave him a slight nod. “There’s a lot more where that came from.” I glanced at the guy I’d just beaten, who was glaring at me while holding his shirt to his bloodied nose.
I wasn’t used to sparring with shoes on and I’d known it would make my kicks harder, but not that hard. I hoped I hadn’t broken his nose.
I had three more consecutive fights that night, all of which I won, and none of which lasted for more than sixty seconds.
My style of “offensive defense” was comical to the crowd and they loved it. I’d taken down each opponent with just a kick or two to the face. And I didn’t get a scratch. I hadn’t even had to throw a punch.
I knew that every fight wouldn’t be that easy, but the fact that it had been effortless, and I was now a crowd favorite, gave me a little more confidence.
“That was great!” Cody picked me up in a hug. “I knew you were a star.”
He set me down and I laughed. “That wasn’t hard and you know it.”
“Everyone’s first few fights are hard.” He gave me a look and handed me my phone. “Even if it’s just in the head.”
It had been a little tough at first, knowing that I was causing those guys pain, but it hadn’t taken long to get past it. And most of their pain was just in their pride.
“But look what you won!” Cody handed me a wad of cash. “There’s over three hundred there.” He said, grinning.
I looked at him in shock. “Three hundred?” That was more than I’d ever had at one time in my life and I’d won it in just one night.
“We should celebrate!” Cody put an arm around my shoulders. “Where do you want to go?”
I checked the time and saw that it was almost 2AM. “Actually, I kinda need to go home.” I told him. “My uncle would never be okay with me being here, so I have to go back and get some sleep.”
Cody laughed. “Damn. I forgot how old you are.” He glanced at me. “How did you get here?”
He stared at me in disbelief. “On foot? Where do you live?”
“Near the dojo.” I shrugged. “I’m used to long-distance.”
“But that’s like what? Two miles?”
“A mile and half.” It wasn’t that impressive.
“Well I’m driving you home.” He told me. “And next time I’ll pick you up.”
I shook my head. “You don’t have to, I’m fine.”
He gave me a look. “You don’t have a choice.”
“Whatever.” I grinned.
Follow and give me a like if you are enjoying the story!