A Man of His Word (II | Finale) by Zero
"What’s up with that? Is this the boot camp barbershop or something?"
Enzo looked in the direction the teenaged boy was staring as he threw his hoodie on a chair. He encountered the pile of discarded golden blond hair he had swept up earlier. The barber could feel the strain the last haircut he did had put on his wrist.
"No, that was a misunderstanding" he admitted, full of embarrassment "I only have one customer that’s going off to boot camp appointed for today" he added looking his way.
He saw his brow furrow at his words.
"This is bulls**t, my dad has never made me cut my hair" he removed his hair tie and let his hair loose. It fell just above his shoulders in waves that the bun had seemed to make more pronounced. He reached up to his nape with one hand and wrapped his fingers around his locks.
"I promise you you're in good hands, young man" he waited for him to sit down with his stark white cotton cape ready at hand.
The teenager ran his hand through his hair, pushing his side swept long bangs back a couple of times as he reluctantly accommodated himself in the chair. Enzo stared at him and extended his cape in the air before covering him with it. In the very depth of his eyes, he could see his razor-sharp intelligence flaring behind his pupils.
He didn’t really seem like the kind that would steal information from a teacher’s computer.
He lifted his hair and secured the cape tightly around his neck. Then he began to untangle his hair. He had a cowlick near the crown and a natural parting to the right side. He ran his comb through his blond mane and then, something caught his attention.
He had deep brown roots, like dark chocolate that contrasted against the light-colored strands.
Not a natural blond, huh?
"So, you dyed your hair, young man?" he continued combing his hair "You know that damages the strands in the long term, right? Especially removing your natural pigment".
"I don’t care" he replied.
Enzo set his comb aside and went back to the counter where the rest of his tools rested. Opening the drawer, he found his hair clippers. The barber picked them up and oiled the metallic blades. Then, he returned to the long-haired teenager.
Despite his indifferent and callous demeanor, his jaw clenched, and for a split second his expression betrayed him when he saw Enzo holding the machine. He saw him wrapping his fingers over the armrests of his leather chair. His knuckles whitened.
He noticed the hair clippers didn’t have a guard on them.
It was going to be a zero all over.
The barber pushed his head forward softly, so his chin touched his chest and immediately, the teenager tried to rise his head straight again.
Never been to a barbershop before. Right.
Never had a father who would take him to one.
"Keep your head down, please" Enzo instructed him as he lowered his head again. He heard the teenager taking a deep breath as he did. His fair hair fell over his face. Then, he turned the hair clippers with a quick flick of his thumb.
The sharp, dry click was followed by a low, mechanical hum.
Then, steading his grasp on the clippers, Enzo pressed them against his neck and drove them straight into his hairline. The teenager winced when the cold metallic teeth of the machine encountered his nape. The hair clippers pitch lowered and became louder as the barber moved them towards his crown. Long locks of blond hair with dark ends began to cascade to the boy’s shoulders.
Edward hissed a sharp, explosive curse underneath his breath as he felt him shave off the first section and saw the amount of hair coming off, rolling down from his shoulder across the white cotton cape to his lap.
Enzo could hear him clearly. He kept his free hand over the top of the teenager’s head and prepared for a second pass. He thought about his previous customer who had also unwillingly sat down as he cut all his hair off with a twist in his stomach.
He already had one distressed teenager in his chair today and for him, that was more than enough.
Maybe if he talked him through this, he could get him to relax.
"It will take you a while to get used to it, but I think you’ll grow to like the buzz cut, it is very practical, and it looks very masculine" he said in the friendliest and warmest tone he could manage as continued shaving the back of his head.
"Masculinity my ass" he retorted.
Okay. This kid was difficult.
He prayed to his patron saint, who was obviously testing him with this young customer sitting on his chair.
Enzo inhaled and tried to pretend he didn’t hear him and gave it another shot.
"You have a nice natural hair color, why did you dye it anyway?" he asked him as he made another pass across the back of the teenager’s head. On their path, the clippers left a faint shadow of his natural dark hair.
Edward frowned "I got tired of people thinking I was related to Rod".
Enzo didn’t say anything in response immediately and looked at the dyed hair coming off in clumps and thought that maybe St. Martin de Porres would consider this an equivalent act of grace to counter the crime he had inflicted on that poor Austrian kid earlier.
He fixed his eyes on the dark stubble left underneath. Edward was right, the natural color of his hair was very similar to his stepfather’s rich chocolate tone, and with both being tall and similar in frame and complexion, it seemed inevitable that people found an inexistent family resemblance between them.
"I know that Rod can be a pain sometimes, but he’s not a bad guy" Enzo stretched his tired hands around the machine.
"He’s not my dad and he should stop acting like it".
The barber sighed. Then he tilted the teenager’s head to the side as he prepared to run the clippers around his ear. He glided the blades across the curve of his skull, following the shape of his head and uncovering the rest of his hairline.
"Edward, I've known Rod for a long time, and I know he cares about you" Enzo angled the clippers near his cheek "I think you should both work this out and try to figure this whole uh… stepfatherhood thing together".
He could feel Edward's stiff muscles straining and tensing underneath his hand. The barber made a slow and steady pass starting at his sideburn, in front of his ear and continued upwards. The long locks rained down and joined the rest trapped in the threads of the cotton cape. He saw Edward recoil when he glanced in the mirror and caught a glimpse of his shaven temple.
"I don’t think so" Rod’s stepson clawed at the chair’s armrests.
"Please relax your neck" Enzo told him as he adjusted the position of his head again before he started working on the other side. The shorn hair piled on Edward’s lap and shoulders. With every pass of the clippers, it was more every minute.
The barber continued working. The clippers buzzed down the teenager’s hair to stubble. Its metallic teeth bared his scalp, denuding it swiftly, effortlessly. The long locks that used to cover his ears were laying on the wooden floor. Edward refused to see the amount it was. He wasn’t going to need the hair tie secured around his wrist anymore.
"I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t think you’re a bad kid, Edward. And I’m sure that neither does Rod" he held a stray lock in his hand behind his ear, buzzed it off and dropped it on the floor.
"If he really feels that way, he hides it very well" the teenager said sarcastically.
In steady and firm movements, the barber shaved off what was left on his other temple. Then, he lifted his customer’s chin "Please keep your head straight".
Edward’s eyes were fixed in the mirror in front of him. He sat with his back completely straight. The barber held his bangs back, uncovering his forehead and his heart shaped hairline. Then, adjusting his fingers around the clippers, Enzo drove them straight into his hair, parallel to the end of his right eyebrow.
The moment the cold metallic teeth of the machine touched his bangs, the teenager flinched.
Enzo dropped another handful of his hair on the floor and decided to slow down.
Maybe Edward had already gotten used to the feel of the cold pulsations of the clippers against his head.
But not to seeing himself losing all his hair to them.
The teenager’s throat contracted in tension as he pulled his bangs back again, this time Enzo tried to be as gentle as possible as he cleared the path for the hair clippers again. He saw him exhaling. He was struggling to keep his emotions in check, to keep that mask of indifference on as he shaved all his hair off.
Enzo saw him as what he was underneath that all.
A teenaged boy that made a costly mistake because of his own immaturity and recklessness.
Because he didn’t know any better, even though he should have.
And in his eyes, he could see that deep inside, he knew it too.
Enzo finished buzzing the remaining hair on Edward’s head. The teenager shut his eyes as the last of his long locks at his crown came off. He opened them when he felt the pass end and watched his reflection in the mirror with dread. His scalp was bare. All of his hair laid on his shoulders, lap and on the floor, lifeless. It had happened in a matter of minutes.
Then, for a while, all he could hear was the soft electric murmur of the hair clippers.
Enzo ran his clippers back and forth in different directions all over his head again, making sure he didn’t miss anything in the first and second passes. He pressed the blades multiple times against his crown, where the cowlick was.
Rod’s stepson was lucky he didn't have any weird bumps or noticeable marks beside a small scar on the back of his scalp, near his crown. The movement as he followed the shape of his head felt natural. He had a well-proportioned skull with an angular, strong jawline. The trace of his hairline was well-defined by the dense stubble. His ears didn't protrude or draw attention to them.
He turned off the machine and then went to his counter for his straight razor and shaving cream. He made his way back behind his customer and lathered his neck with a brush.
"What are you doing?" Edward asked him startled when he felt the humid substance against his skin.
Enzo reminded himself once more that Edward had never been in a barbershop before.
"Relax, I’m just cleaning your neckline, young man" he answered him "Please, hold still" Enzo secured his head in place with one hand to steady it and held his razor in the other.
In soft, gentle strokes of the cold blade, he scraped away the white cream and the stubble with it. Almost immediately, Edward’s neck reddened. The teenager had sensitive skin. Enzo took a mental note of that and continued, reminding himself to apply him a lotion to cool off the razor burn.
"I’m trying to follow your natural neckline, I know wavy hair can be a pain as you grow it out" Enzo commented as he defined the arch behind his ears.
"As I grow it out in boot camp?" came his retort.
"I can tell you really don’t want to go to there" he waited for a response, then he continued "I think maybe you can convince Rod not to send you off".
"Really?" the irony came through Edward’s voice tone.
"Just show Rod you respect him and that you can follow his rules and tell him you’re sorry for what you did" Enzo finished shaving his sideburns cleaned the bits of shaving cream with the end of the towel.
"Don't try to tell me what to do, Rod already does that".
"I'm not" answered the barber as he put his razor down and exchanged it for his thick brush "I’m just saying you should try to negotiate with him".
"Agree to terms of surrender?".
So, it was a war between him and his stepfather.
"What I'm trying to say is I can tell you're smarter than that, young man. Think of it as a truce or a gentleman’s wager, if you will" Enzo crossed his arms "Listen, you promise Rod that you will do as he says and commit to show him some of the discipline he wants to see in you, by say, coming here every couple of weeks to maintain your buzz cut. Just prove him you’re a man of your word".
Enzo started to dust him off "See it this way, it’s either giving him a chance to test you… or spending twelve weeks in some godforsaken boot camp, miles away, in the wild".
He muttered something that definitely sounded like a swearword.
"You just said you're not stupid, right?" he appealed to his pride as he brushed off the remains of his hair from his neck and shoulders.
Edward let out a silent sigh of relief when he untied the cape from his neck. The severed locks dropped down. The teenager rose to his feet and shook his shoulders with his hands to get rid of the strands that clung to him. His gaze lingered to the shorn hair littering the floor. All that he just had shaved off.
Then, he fingered his nape and slid his palm up to the back of his head. He felt his fingertips ice-cold against his sandpaper scalp and frowned in disgust. He studied himself in the mirror, as he massaged his shaven nape. All his head was buzzed down to zero, he really looked like a recruit, like he had just been inducted.
Before Enzo could say anything else. He heard the door of his shop opening. He looked behind him and found Roderick Chambers stepping inside.
"I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long" he apologized.
"Don’t worry, we were just finished" the barber smiled and paused "Hey, Rod, Edward and I were speaking and I want to talk to you on his behalf".
Edward’s palm went straight to his forehead as he passed next to Enzo in his way to get back his hoodie from the waiting lounge.
"He’s willing to prove you he can stick to your rules, if you don’t send him off to boot camp" Enzo said as he folded his cape "Any conditions you state, he’ll accept them".
Rod crossed his arms in incredulity "Really?" he turned to the teenager and closed the distance between them "Is that true, Edward?".
His stepson hesitated before answering with resignation more than commitment "Yes".
"Then, first off, I want you to come here every two weeks on your own like you were supposed to do today for the following months".
The teenager glared at his stepfather and shut down his impulse to talk back at him.
"Give us both your word" he paused "As a man".
Edward looked him in the eye "I give you both my word that I will".
"Very well, then" he rose his hand to the back of Edward’s shaved head.
"Don’t touch me!" his stepson shot back violently, his hands curled into fists "I’m giving you my word, and that’s it".
Enzo watched the whole scene and decided to intervene before Rod did anything when he saw the words forming in his lips, stepping in between them.
"Come on, Rod" he approached his old customer and set him aside "Give the kid a break".
"I am giving him a break".
"Rod, listen, you have to talk to him" Enzo put his hand on his shoulder "And I mean talk, not mouth him off, not attack him, not chastise him, not lash out at him. Talk to him. Just once" he emphasized "I know you have the best interests at heart, but you’re too hard on him" he looked him in the eye "He’s made mistakes, but so have you. And you both must work it out. Promise me, you will".
Roderick Chambers remained thoughtful and glanced back at his stepson. He took a deep breath "I’ll try, Enzo".
He smiled at his old friend "I know you can do it".
"Thanks for everything" Rod stepped back and addressed his stepson in a neutral voice tone "Let’s go".
The teenaged boy nodded in response.
"I’ll see you in two weeks, Edward!" Enzo waved at him.
Edward didn’t wave back. He just glanced his way for a while before turning his back on him and heading out the door without another word, rubbing the stubble on his head with his hand.
Maybe it was like a gut feeling, an instinct he had somehow develop and refined from all of his years barbering countless of clients that came back and forth to his shop, but deep inside him Enzo knew, and he was certain, that he was going to see Edward again.
Epilogue (Or Eight Times Edward Didn´t Want to Cut his Hair and the One Time He Did).
"It’s good to see you again, young man".
It had been exactly fourteen days and he could tell Edward was uncomfortable to be back in his chair as he fastened his cape around his neck. His dark hair had grown out about a quarter of an inch and Enzo honestly thought the length suited him better that way.
The teenager flinched when he turned the hair clippers on and clenched his jaw, just like the first time. As he ran the machine over of his head, the teenager looked pained to lose the scarce millimeters he had grown in the last fourteen days.
Enzo kept asking him to relax his neck and shoulders.
He didn’t look into the mirror as he worked.
The boy paid him without exchanging much of a glance or giving him the courtesy of eye contact, and without thanking him.
It was his stepfather testing his word and his discipline and the teenager trying to preserve the right to stay home for the summer. And looking back, Enzo suspected that ordering him to come to his barbershop was something the man had thought in the heat of the moment, just to spite him.
It wasn’t an agreement, as much as it was a cease of hostilities. Just terms of surrender and Edward saw it that way.
And he wasn’t going to let his guard down.
He returned a third time and Enzo greeted again him with open arms.
Edward dismissed him, he always did. He would just walk forward towards the chair and sit there looking straight ahead, his hands always grasped the front of the armrests.
Despite his best efforts and constant questioning, he never wanted to do small talk and in completely absence of anything else, buzzing sound Enzo was so familiar with was deafening.
"I think the buzz cut suits you, Edward".
He had meant it when he said it. It brought out the angles of his jaw and his long neck. It gave an overall maturity to his face.
The teenager just brushed off the shorn hair off his shoulders and neck. He didn’t recoil this time. He was a lot more calm about it and Enzo didn’t feel his shoulder’s becoming tense as he moved his head from one side to the other and buzzed again the pelt he had grown completely off.
"I’ll see you in two weeks".
Edward didn’t thank him that time either.
He always came alone, always near the evening. Like he had been postponing it the entire day long. Enzo would always welcome him with a smile and greet him with a pat on the shoulder. Edward didn’t reciprocate him once.
He always just wanted to get it over with. He was always impatient. And once he had memorized Enzo’s routine, he would tilt his head before he had finished, and he would have to hold it back in place with his free hand.
And every time it would seem quicker than the last one.
It was still the same. Cold bills from the boy’s hands to his and nothing else. Not a single gesture of gratitude.
He had been cutting Edward’s hair every two weeks for over two months now. Enzo had become familiar with the many contours of his head, the geography of his scalp and the structure of his skull. And sometimes, as he ran the clippers over his hairline, Enzo felt like he had forgotten what he looked like when it was long and down to his shoulders.
He saw him massaging his shaven nape and he knew the teenager probably missed his hair and still mourned having it all shaved off.
At least his scalp was no longer paler than his face.
The next time Rod allowed him to buzz his hair to a #1 instead. He had emphasized that it was the most he was going to allow him.
The difference wasn’t visible to the untrained eye, but he could see Edward reaching out to touch his head repeatedly after he finished and looking somewhat relieved in the mirror to have some reminiscence of hair again.
He could tell he was grateful. Even if he didn’t say it.
And Enzo decided that it was a sign of progress of things between his customer and his stepson. Or at least, he liked to believe it.
Once, he showed up in his shop earlier than usual, in a rather busy day, when Enzo hardly had time to stop for lunch after he miscalculated and had his appointment list a lot fuller than it should have been.
"Edward, I’m kind of busy, today. But my friend Antonio over there will gladly attend you".
With crossed arms, the teenager glanced at the other barber who was dusting off another customer for an instant and then back at him.
"I’ll wait" he stated in a flat, firm tone.
So the boy had gotten used to him.
Unseen by Edward, Enzo allowed himself to smile.
The last week before summer ended, Edward came with Roderick Chambers beside him. His recurring customer sat down to wait while he escorted the teenager to his chair. By then, he no longer resisted him, his muscles didn’t contract in defensiveness, and Edward watched him work in the mirror in complete serenity.
He untied the cape and removed the paper towel from his neck. The teenager studied his buzzed head in the mirror with satisfaction. He rubbed his fingertips against the prickly stubble on his nape.
Enzo received his payment and a fraternal hug from Rod. Then his old customer headed for the door, looking at his stepson lovingly and brushing his hand against his buzzed head. The teen slapped it away, and there were no ill feelings in the motion and Enzo could swear he saw a playful grin crossing his face as he did.
Roderick Chambers informed him then that he was the only one who was going to keep the regular visits, since he was going to allow his stepson to grow his hair out again.
Enzo smiled when he heard him, he had also gotten used to the kid.
Autumn flew by and he didn’t see him again until three months later. He almost didn’t recognize him when he stepped in. His hair had grown out and now it was a couple of inches long. It was a deep shade of chocolate, only slightly lighter than Rod’s.
"Edward! What are you doing here?"
"Well, I need a haircut and this is a barbershop" he said in a dry, matter of fact tone "You do the math".
The barber chuckled "Right away, young man".
"Thank you, Enzo".
He finally heard him say it and he could tell that it was sincere.