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On Teenage Crushes And Awkward Summers by Zero


I

Harvey had hardly recognized his nephew at the airport when they picked him up. The growth spur had taken him from a chubby twelve-year-old that reached his elbows, to a slender young man that was at most a couple inches shorter than him.

And then there was his hair. Underneath the black baseball cap, spilled thick and long straight jet black hair, brushing his nephew’s neck.

As soon as he saw him, Harvey kind of felt sorry for him. In the middle of summer, the heat was merciless, even for him and he hardly had any hair.

Since his sister wasn’t one to post family pictures or set them on his profile and his nephew echoed his behavior, he had been mostly guessing what he looked like. And somehow four years had transformed his happy-go-luck hyperactive nephew into a rather taciturn and withdrawn teenager who mostly spoke to him in monosyllables.

"Did you bring your camera?" he patted him on the back "Your dad told me you’re into video making right now! There’s lots of cool things to film around here!"
"K" the kid didn’t even glance up from his phone.
"Hey, by the way, the A/C on the guests’ room doesn’t work right now, I apologize, but the technician will be here anytime next week to fix it. So, just so you know" his wife tried to get him to speak.
This time he didn’t even bother to pronounce anything and just mumbled.

Ah. Hormones.

He didn’t miss his teenage years.

The morning after they picked him up and called his sister who was boarding a plane to Europe for her honeymoon with her second husband, Harvey finished shaving in the bathroom and examined the 1/8 inch of thin hair that was growing on his head. He decided it was about time he cut his hair again.

Inside the cabinet, he found his trusty hair clippers and plugged them in without a guard on before beginning to work. The blades got rid most of the stubble in a matter of minutes. He had given up on his receding hairline and had started sporting a shaved head about a couple years ago now.

"What’s that noise?"
"Morning, Daniel" he saw his nephew out of the corner of his eye. Daniel looked like he hadn’t slept a single minute last night. Poor kid.
"Are you…?" he rubbed his eyelids "Are you shaving your head?".
"Yes".
"Uncle Harvey, you have money, why don’t you just go to the barbers or something?" Daniel held his phone in one hand.
"Kid, the nearest barbershop is a two-hour drive away from here".
The information apparently jolted the teenager awake "You’re kidding, right?"
"Do I look like I’m kidding?" Harvey took a handful of shaving cream and spread it across his temples.
"I guess not" he returned his attention to his phone then.

This was so far the longest conversation they had and Harvey was feeling actually quite proud of himself for getting Daniel to talk when not even his wife and his daughter who are the chattiest people he’s met could.

He took his disposable razor and started removing the cream from his sideburns "You look like you haven’t had a haircut in a while".
"Yeah, I’ve been sort of growing it out lately" Daniel’s black bangs fell over his face.
"It gets really hot around here, you know?" Harvey dusted himself "I know long hair can be a hassle. If you ever get tired of it, just tell me and I’ll help you out with that".
"Thanks, uncle" he still didn’t look up at him "But I pass".
"Think about it" he rinsed the razor in the sink before the next stroke "It could help you with your acne".

Then Daniel looked up and he was blushing furiously in embarrassment. So, his skin issues were a touchy subject.

He was sixteen, of course they were.

Harvey didn’t have time to say anything else when he turned around and went back to the guests’ room mumbling something about going back to get some sleep.

Harvey cursed himself.

Yeah, he shouldn’t have mentioned that.

He prayed to heaven that his daughter wasn’t anything like that when she reached her teens.


II

"Where’s Daniel?" his daughter asked him downstairs that night.
Harvey served her a bowl of mac n cheese and put down two more on the table beside his own "In his room, I guess".
"Is he sulking?" she put her hair up in a bun.
"Jessica!" he called her name in warning.
"What? He hasn’t come out, and we have a pool and I asked him if he joined me for a Harry Potter marathon and he said no. Who does that?" the ten-year-old shrugged.
"And where’s your mother?"
"Oh, she went downtown to get some ingredients to bake a cake. She should be back soon".
"I thought she was going to take Baxter to the vet"
"She did! She left Baxter here and went again" she caressed the golden retriever underneath the table.
"I’m going to try get your cousin" he walked towards the staircase and called his name "Daniel! Dinner’s served!"
"Thanks, uncle! I’ll eat later!"
"Okay, I had it" Harvey put his hand on the hand rail and climbed the stairs. He knocked on the guests’ room door "Daniel, I don’t know how it is with my sister, but in this house, we all sit down to eat dinner together. If you’re going to stay here, you’re going to comply with our rules, got it?".
"Okay, okay" his nephew opened the door "I’ll go, geez".
Daniel proceeded to roll his eyes and Harvey reminded himself to be patient with him.

Raging hormones. Indeed.

Reluctantly, his teenaged nephew followed his downstairs and sat down to eat dinner with them. This was the second time he saw him in the day. His eyes looked tired and he raked his fingers through his bangs to push them away. He had a couple of curly strands that formed what seemed like wispy and scares immature sideburns. And like four stray hairs on his chin.

Why were kids so impatient to have facial hair nowadays anyway?

In the kitchen’s light the pimples were more evident, a harsh red against his pale skin. No wonder he had grown his hair out to hide them. Even if the oil from his fringe was probably making them worse. He wasn’t really eating, just toying with his food.

"Daniel, are you alright?" he asked him "You look tired".
"I’m fine"
"No, you look depressed" his daughter observed "Did your girlfriend dump you or something?" she teased.
"Jessica, leave your cousin alone" Harvey tried to shut her down.
Then Daniel let out a deep sigh and hesitated for a while before speaking up "There’s this girl on my class…".

Oh.

So, this was where his nephew was coming from.

Harvey gazed at his daughter and she had the smuggest grin on her face when her cousin started talking. Seriously, where did she pick that stuff from?

"Her name is Lily. I heard that she liked long-haired guys and I liked her so…" Daniel continued.
"So you grew your hair out" Harvey deduced.
"She’s very smart and funny and I asked her to be my girlfriend after I showed her a video I made about how I felt about her, I had been filming her since the beginning of the school year" his nephew suddenly made a sharp pause to clarify "She knew of course! I always carry my camera with me and she watched me doing it all the time and I asked her if I could do it!"
"And what happened?" Jessica pried on.
"She friend zoned me" he answered with a frown "And then she hooked up with the president of the debate team like two weeks later".

So, it was official, his nephew had a bad case of raging hormones and teenage heartbreak. Just fantastic. Harvey studied him, and well, he really looked miserable and in hurt. He figured that was why he had brought his camera but hadn’t turned it on once. His self-esteem was at ground level.

"Daniel, you have to learn that just because girl is nice to you, it doesn’t mean she likes you" he put his hand on his shoulder.
"As a girl, I can back up that" added Jessica "It just means she doesn’t hate you".
"I wish she had given me a chance, that’s all. Instead of friend zoning me"
"You have to give her credit for being straight forward with you" Harvey spoke to him softly "Maybe you’re just not a good fit for each other, maybe if she had said yes then she would have broken up with you a week or a month later" he paused "I think you should try to be friends with her"
"I don’t know. It’s all so awkward right now" he dug both his hands inside his hair.
"Also she probably said no because you look like Snape" Jessica took a bite of her plate.

His nephew turned the deepest shade of red at the comment. Harvey made a quick scan on his brain’s brief list of Harry Potter characters when he suddenly remembered the fictional Potions teacher.

Leave it to his 10-year-old daughter to deliver a devastating blow to his nephew’s already crushed self-esteem.

"Hey! But Snape turns good in the end!" he said desperate to mend what she had done.

He heard the door upstairs.

Yeah. No such luck.

"What? I was just being honest" his daughter shrugged when he looked at her.


III

He heard the sound of the shower through the bathroom door. It was probably the heat, but at least he was glad Daniel wasn’t feeling so downcast as to skip on his hygiene.

"Hey, Daniel" he knocked on the door "Wake up early tomorrow, we’ll go hiking in the morning! You might want to bring your camera!"

No answer.

Harvey decided it was for the best to leave his nephew alone for the time being and went downstairs.

"Honey, where are you going?" he heard his wife.
"I’m going to take Baxter for a walk. I’ll be back soon, go to sleep, sweetie!" he grabbed the leash and his keys.

Baxter wigged his tail in excitement when he saw him. Harvey petted the golden retrieved on the head and went out for a run with his beloved companion. It was dark outside, and the heat was still crushing. He could feel the sweat dripping down his forehead and brow. He had to stop several times to give his dog a drink and take one for himself.

After an hour or so, he decided it had been enough and headed back home. He removed the leash from Baxter’s collar and let him inside. Then he realized the kitchen light was on.

"Uncle".
He was surprised to see his nephew sitting on the table with a glass of water around his fingers. He was wearing his baseball cap backwards "Daniel, you’re awake"
"Yeah, I couldn’t sleep" he took a sip of water. He noticed he had gotten rid of the pubescent facial hair he had earlier.
Harvey went towards the fridge and got himself a bottle of ice cold Gatorade "It’s the heat, right?".
"Yeah" he put his glass down.
"The A/C technician will be here tomorrow" he reassured him "Don’t worry".
"Actually, I was thinking in the shower and I was wondering if…" the teen hesitated and rose his hand to the back of his neck.
"If what?"
Silence again. Then a prolonged sigh came out from his nephew’s lips "Forget it, it’s getting late, I shouldn’t bother you".
"You don’t bother me" Harvey resisted the urge to roll his eyes "What is it?"
"I mean, it is really hot, and it’s okay if you don’t want to, it’s late and I know I said no before…".
"Daniel, just spit it out already" he laughed.
The teenager gulped "If you would maybe, give me a haircut?".

He couldn’t believe his ears.

"Right now?" he asked him. Still shocked.
"If you can’t, is okay, I mean, you must be tired and I actually, I can wait until I’m back at home, so I don’t have to bother you" Daniel rambled "After all, I’m not sure yet but…".
"For my only nephew? If that’s what you want, I’ll do it gladly, anytime you ask" Harvey said "Just wait here".

Quickly, he went upstairs and took everything he would need. Shaving cream, a disposable razor, a towel, and more importantly his trusted hair clippers. He found Daniel in the exact same spot. His nephew’s eyes darted to the clippers and he could see the doubt in his eyes.

Okay, this was a obviously a big thing for him. God knew how long he had spent growing out his hair to its current length. He was a teen with lots of confidence issues, he had noticed and he often tried to hide himself from others behind the curtain of black over his face.

If he was going to do this, Daniel needed him to provide a safety and comfort for him. Harvey oiled the blades and thought about which guard he could use. He wasn’t going to use the clippers without an attachment on like he did to shave his head.

This would be easier if he had a son to practice on.

"Will it really help with the acne?" his nephew asked.
"Kid, I had a very bad case of acne myself when I was your age and one day your grandma took me to the barbershop and it improved a lot, trust me on this one" he plugged it in "You can take your cap off".

Daniel did so slowly and ran a hand through his glossy, black locks thoughtfully. Almost like trying to get a memory of what they felt like right then.

"I don’t want to shave my head like bald, really" the teen looked at the shaving cream.
"I’m not shaving your head, Daniel" Harvey studied the longer attachments for a second. A number four didn’t seem quite well. But there was no way he dared use the number one on his nephew who was unfamiliar with short hair, either "Unlike your uncle, you have a head full of hair and no need to do it because you’re going bald. Don’t worry".

He dropped the towel over his shoulders. He saw Daniel arching his back and hugging it closely with his hand, like he needed something to grasp.

"I’m buzzing your hair to a number two" Harvey secured the guard "Is it okay?"
Daniel nodded.
"Are you ready?"
He saw him nod once more.

Harvey turned the hair clippers on. He could feel the familiar vibration on his hand as they roared to life. He decided he would start on the right side of the teenager’s head. Let him get used to how they felt and give him time to think if he wanted to keep the top longer.

He could tell the boy was scared. Gently, he pushed the hair on his temple back and uncovered Daniel’s ear. Then he approached the clippers to his sideburn slowly.

"Wait!" Daniel jerked his head back, away from the whirring machine.

He turned it off immediately. He’s barely sixteen and with a head full of hair, of course he would have second thoughts.

"Don’t worry. Take your time" Harvey caressed his soft hair "You can change your mind. It’s okay".
"It’s just that…" Daniel closed his hands around the baseball cap on his lap, he didn’t look him in the eye "What if I look worse after I cut my hair?"

His nephew’s confidence issues were officially off the charts.

"Worse?" he was outraged "Daniel, how can you say that? Listen to me, you don’t look bad with long hair and you’re not going to look worse with short hair. You’re a handsome kid, you got that?"
"Okay" Daniel said quietly with a nod.
"So, do you want a haircut, or do you need time to think about it?"
"I guess I’m already here with you, right?" Daniel glanced at the hair clippers "Yes, I want to do it".

Harvey flicked the switch on the clippers again. This time, he plunged them right on Daniel’s temple and pushed them towards his crown in a steady and slow pass. Long locks like a raven’s feather cascaded down to the floor. A path of ¼ inch of stubble was left where they used to be. Once he felt his nephew relax, he made a second pass right below the other. Soon, his ear was no longer hidden underneath a jet-black mass of hair.

He pushed Daniel’s head forward to get under his thick mane. The well-oiled blades of the clippers sheared his hair down to prickly and fine stubble and more hair rained down with a flick of his wrist. The teenager’s pale sun deprived scalp showed through. His nephew didn’t say a word and he didn’t either. Only the buzzing sound filled the air.

Once he was done, he moved to the other side "Would you like keep the top longer?" he decided to ask him at once.
"No" his nephew shut his eyes when the noise got louder near his ear.

Harvey looked at the long black locks piling down on the floor and on Daniel’s shoulders. The boy had to feel a lot fresher without them and then turned his attention back to the remaining bulk on the top of his head. Harvey pushed his nephew’s forelock back with one hand and saw Daniel close his eyes in half anticipation, half fear.

He tried to be as gentle as he could as he buzzed off the first section of his bangs. The severed hair joined the rest on the floor. He made sure Daniel remained calm and stroke tenderly the shorn path before moving on.

"What if I regret this?" his nephew asked him as he finished on the top.
"Daniel, that’s what life is about. Doing things even though you might regret them" he buzzed off a stray lock from his nape "But this one is not going to be one of them, just trust me".

Harvey turned off the clippers, then he took some shaving cream and applied it on Daniel’s neck. With brief strokes of the disposable razor he cleaned up his hairline.

"Okay, we’re done" he brushed his fingers playfully against his nephew’s buzzed crown.
Daniel sat up and touched his temple with his fingertips "S**t".
Harvey let out a deep belly laugh "Just wait until your aunt and your cousin see you tomorrow".
"It’s so short" he tried to grab it between his fingers.
"It’s going to grow out really fast" he warned him "You’re going to need another haircut sooner than you think" he unplugged the clippers "Now, we should clean this up before your aunt kills us tomorrow".
"I think I want to shower again" Daniel took the towel off his shoulders and brushed off the remains of his hair from them.
"That’s a good idea" Harvey shook the towel some more before going for the broom.
"Uncle" he heard his nephew’s voice.
"Yes?" he replied.
"Thank you".

Harvey saw Daniel smile and felt himself smiling back at him.


IV

Daniel shut down his laptop, he still had a lot of material to edit from his summer with his uncle and he could feel his legs grow tired of sitting on the classroom floor on the corner. He stretched his back and massaged his neck. The prickly sensation of his buzzed nape was no longer foreign on his fingertips.

As he put away his computer, he caught glimpse of Lily. Still gorgeous and funny and smart and way out of league. She must have felt his eyes over her, because she glanced his way almost immediately. He still had heartache from her rejection. But he also knew he was finally getting over what happened between them.

He knew he needed closure if he wanted things to get less awkward.

"Lily" he managed to call her name,
"Daniel" she hugged a book against her chest.
"Can I talk to you for a sec?"
"Yeah, sure" she nodded.
"Listen, about what happened…" he fumbled with the words "I just wanted to say sorry if I weirded you out".
"You kind of did" she said in a whisper.
"I just think you’re amazing and Chad is lucky to be your boyfriend and I’m sure you’ll make a great couple" he looked at her in the eye.
"Thanks" Lily brushed her fringe behind her ear "You’re pretty amazing too, you know? Your video skills are insane. You should help us do a clip for the debate club".
"Thank you" he felt himself flush.
There was a pause between them until she spoke again "Hey, we’re cool right?"
"Yeah, we’re cool".
She smiled at him and headed to the door "By the way, I really like your hair".
Daniel could only flash her a smile in response.




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