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Ticket or Change? III by Derkx

Ticket or Change? III
by Derkx

"‘Shaggy!’" Nick exclaimed. "Did you hear that, Matt? He called me ‘Shaggy’!"

"Well you are shaggy!" I said. "You have to watch out. Jim sometimes gets hooked on nicknames."

I immediately regretted giving my brother that information. "Does he have a nickname for you, Matt? Do you, Jim?"

"Don’t be ridiculous," Jim said. "Why would I impose some silly nickname on my furwy, wurwy wabbit?" He followed up with a staccato Elmer Fudd laugh.

I shot visual darts at my brother. "If I ever hear you say ‘rabbit’ " or ‘wabbit’ " you will die! Very painfully! . . . Stop laughing!"

My brother was staying with us for the week leading up to the big event. . . . But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? I’ll backtrack to fill in the history.

Jim and I met on the highway. He was (still is) a state police trooper. He stopped me for speeding to an appointment with my hair stylist (ex-stylist). With some misgiving, he did not issue a citation. One might say that, in return, he coerced me into a certain activity. The trade-off was that I’d follow him and do exactly what he said. Was that an abuse of the authority of his position? I could never decide one way or another. In the end, it hadn’t mattered.

Trooper Jim had perceived my attraction to his short-clipped haircut (and to him). He had me follow him to his apartment in Melton, where I also lived, then . . . Then he waited until he was off-duty and out-of-uniform. He drew me in to assist with his self-executed haircut, then suggested that I really wanted a similar cut myself, instead of the "stylist" nonsense of my businessman’s cut. He was right. Without hesitation and without coercion, I gave in.

The attraction was there from the start. His regular haircut and my first shearing helped accelerate our bonding. We became regular, close friends. Comfortably, regular, intimate friends. Later during a several weeks’ recovery period " with Jim in arm and leg casts from an on-the-job car crash and me on personal leave to nurse him and keep him safe from his own restlessness " we were together every hour of every day in a loaned cottage. Surprisingly, we did not get on each other’s nerves. When we returned to Melton, it was inevitable that we should stay together, I moved into his apartment; there was no reason not to.

Eventually we had an extensively intense discussion about the prospects of legalizing our relationship in a traditional manner.

"Do you think we should get married?" Jim proposed one night after dinner.

"I don’t see why not," I accepted.

That was, in a nutshell, the string of events that brought us to this point and to my brother’s visit. With his girlfriend, Carole, who arrived a few days later. I mustn’t leave her out.

Jim and my wedding was coming up at the end of the week. Jim’s best man would be State Police Trooper Tom. He was the one who’d given us use of his family’s cottage. My best man would be my brother, Nick. He did not have a cottage to loan but, what the hell, he was my brother so he got the job.

"Anyway," I carried on. "If you’re obsessed with nicknames, you should know that some people in my office refer to me as ‘the Stud.’"

"Uh-huh." Nick didn’t believe me.

"They do," Jim corroborated.

"And what do they call you?" Nick asked Jim.


I snickered. It was true. I knew that Nick was a pussy cat (although I’d never call him that; I had height on him but he had the muscles). Most people, however, were overwhelmed by the air of authority he bore.

Nick had been taken aback by the announcement of my upcoming nuptials a few weeks earlier.

"You? Getting married?" He didn’t add "to a man." It was of no consequence to him whether I hooked up with a man or a woman. He was simply astonished that anyone would want to enter into marriage with me. As a younger brother, he’d grown up living with me at my insufferable worst.

He brought up the issue, Nick did. About hair. When he first arrived and looked at the two of us, he brought up the matter that had apparently been weighing on his mind (even though we hadn’t mentioned it).

"I hope you’re not expecting me to get a haircut like yours," he said.

"Well, you know how we like to keep our hair cut," Jim said, referring to himself and me. "You’ve met Tom, my best man, so you know his haircut’s about the same as mine. . . . And the men on my side of the aisle, being mostly fellow troopers, also have very tight sides and backs. So, Shaggy, if you want to stick out like a sore thumb . . ." he ribbed Nick.

In bed that night Jim and I discussed my brother’s hair concerns. His hair wasn’t bad. He was a cute kid and his longish, over-the-ears and over-the-collar haircut was well-maintained. Carole, his girlfriend, gave him conservative trims to keep the cut in proportion. It was Nick who brought up the question of whether he should cut his hair to fit in.

"He’s a good boy," I said.

"He comes from good stock," Jim said.

"Huh," I scoffed. "He’s a much nicer person than I am. Or at least than I used to be."

"You’re a late bloomer," Jim said. "The first rabbit in the litter tends to be an aggressor." (I think he made that up.)

Nick was a good boy. He wanted to do whatever was best to make my wedding perfect. No stag party, for one. That is to say, no strippers, no porn-show and no bacchanalian drinking. He knew I didn’t want to relive the partying excesses of my youth. He knew that the state police troopers avoided department-wide social events that could result in a public-eye perception of debauchery. Also, Nick didn’t have that kind of money and he absolutely refused to ask me to finance his half for a stag event that might be a strain on my resources. (Trooper Tom was paying the other half.) At the end of the day we all agreed to a modest event, an evening of drinks and bar snacks and jukebox and limited dancing and billiards and darts at a pub the state police liked to visit. As there was no corresponding "hen’s party" (in the absence of a female spouse), women and girlfriends were included.

"I hear you’re having hair issues," Trooper Tom told Nick. "Funny, isn’t it? It’s usually the bridal party that stresses out over their hair-dos."

Nick suspected, justifiably, that Jim had shared Nick’s trepidation with his colleagues at the police station. There were no secrets among the troopers.

"I don’t especially want a short haircut," Nick said. "But I want the wedding to be perfect for my brother."

"He’s such a sweetie," Carole told Tom.

Nick blushed profusely. "Only a girlfriend would think that."

"I have to disagree," Tom said. "My wife says you’re a sweetie, too. . . . Or did she say ‘cutie’?"

"Stop!" Tom was blushing.

"What’s your opinion, Carole?" Tom asked. "Should Nick get his haircut like mine?"

Carole shrugged. "It would probably look good on him, even if it is way short. I prefer his hair the way it’s cut now, but I’d give him a go with a different look. It’s his hair. If he wants to change it, that’s fine with me."

"I don’t want to look out-of-place for Matt’s big day," Nick grumbled. See? The woman were right that my brother is a sweetie.

"I’ll tell you what," Trooper Tom said. "We went through something like this before my wedding. My wife was concerned that all my police friends would look like prisoners or military inductees in the photos, with their short hair. She wanted pictures that wouldn’t be a source of ridicule years later. When we looked over hundreds of old photos, she decided that the trooper haircut would be okay because it didn’t look like a passing fad."

At Tom’s prompting, Nick and Carole went to our photographer’s studio the next day and their fears were allayed. They reviewed many wedding photos and albums from the nineteenth century through today, and they saw that the shortest haircuts might look conservative over time but they didn’t suffer the faddish appearances of mullets and big hair, mohawks, and extremely long hair. Our photographer was also sensitive about potentially embarrassing dated poses or subjects, such as cake smooching in face, upside-down keg drinking, or twerk dancing.

Nick told me his decision the next day.

"I’ll do it," he gulped. "But you have to tell me where to go for the haircut. Better yet, you have to come with me."

"Even better still . . ." I told him Jim and I would fix him up. Whatever he wanted.

That evening Carole went out with Trooper Tom’s wife for dinner and gossip. "It’s the only chance we’ll have to talk about you guys," she said. "You boys can have your haircut party and have a few drinks. As long as you do it in that order." Good advice. Before she went out, she took Nick’s head in her hands and gave him a kiss. "I’m going to miss you," she said.

"I’d feel better if you said that to me, not my hair," Nick quipped.

"Are you ready for this?" I asked when Carole had gone. "You know, you don’t have to do this. I’m fine with you the way you are."

"Yeah. We’re cool, Shaggy." Jim was grinning when he said that, which put Jim at ease."

"No. I’m okay. I’m willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for my big brother. I have no qualms at all. None. This is me, totally qualmless."

"Okay then. Show time!"

We brought him into our bedroom, where our simple barbershop was set up in one corner.

"I don’t want to watch," Nick said. "Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t, but that’s not it. I just can’t bear to watch while you mutilate me."

"Mutilate you? Are we going to mutilate my little brother, Jim?"

"No. Humiliation is much better."

"Get on with it already!" Nick shouted. "Before I change my mind."

We moved the chair away from the mirrors. Since this was a joint project, we needed more room for both of us to apply our talents. And Nick did say he didn’t want to watch.

Nick sighed in resignation and barely jumped a foot when he head the buzz of clippers being turned on. He didn’t know about the generous guard Jim attached to the clippers. He did notice the first clump of hair falling onto his cape-covered lap when Jim applied the clippers to one side of his head. He picked it up, turned it to take in its length, then dropped it again with scarcely a whimper.

The clipping was carried on around the back and other side of his head. It was followed by several consultations between Jim and myself before the guard was replaced with a closer one, which followed the same path at a lower level. Then again. We took turns.

"Good enough?" I asked.

"No. Definitely shorter " around here and here. We need a good transition," Jim said.

"Hmm. You’re right, of course."

Nick closed his eyes during the final pass of the clippers around his ears and on his neck.

"How shall we attack the top?" I asked my mate.

Jim snipped his empty scissors in response. Then he held up a swath of long hair from the top of Nick’s head and gave a slight tug to pull it straight. "Here?" he asked.

"You can go lower," I said. When Jim moved his hand down by another finger-hold, I responded, "That’s it. Cut away!"

As Jim began a series of rapid cuts and snips, I saw Nick’s Adam’s apple bob up and down with his what-did-I-get-myself-into gulp. I watched in admiration. Jim was skillful. He wasn’t all about wide, blunt cuts to quickly whack off length. He was adept at the fine, angular, point-of-scissors work for shaping and adding texture. Of course, Nick didn’t know about Jim’s talents, so he had no clear idea what was happening to his head.

When he was making his final adjustments to the cut, Jim called, "Lather!" Then, "lots of it!" That made Nick nervous again but he relaxed when only a little of it was applied on the sides and back; most was for his face.

Jim cleaned up stray hairs around Nick’s ears and on his neck, then handed the razor to me. "No scraggly beard either," he told Nick.

It was strange for me to be shaving my brother’s face. I’d only ever done it once before, when he was three and the plastic toy razor didn’t have a blade. Nick trusted me then and he trusted me now. I left him unscarred and with his blood supply untapped.

"All done!" Jim finally announced, whipping off the cape. Nick stood and went to the tall three-panel mirror for the first look at his new look.

"Wow!" he said. "This isn’t what I was expecting at all!" He ran his fingers through his hair. There was a lot more there than what he thought he’d find.

"It’s a tapered cut," I said. "Very preppy."

"Early 1960s New England prep school," Jim specified. "You just need to add a button-down Oxford shirt."

"Add pomade and you’re a Valentino clone. . . . Nineteen twenties," I clarified.

"Even my great-grandfather could’ve had this haircut," Jim said. "Eighteen eighties?"

"Huh!" was Nick’s reaction. He hadn’t offered an opinion in words. His grin and fixation on the mirrors said it all.

I couldn’t let him sink into self-appreciation. "Go take a shower already. We don’t want you getting hair stubble all over the apartment."

"You look great!" Carole said when she got back to the apartment. "Except for one thing . . ."

She located tweezers in her purse and flashed them menacingly.

"No! You’re not . . ."

She did. "Baby," she chastened him. She had plucked out about four stray hairs between Nick’s eyebrows. That was all.

The wedding ceremony went off without a hitch. Except for the one vital hitch between me and my man. Jim and I wore matching, traditional wedding tuxedos with yellow rose boutonnieres. It had become a fixation of mine to associate yellow roses with Jim. Our two best men, Nick and Tom, were similarly dressed, including the yellow roses. The other troopers, Jim’s colleagues, wore their state police uniforms.

My brother was proud of his short haircut, which he’d subjected himself to just for my benefit (mostly). He gelled his hair to tame its thickness and give it a controlled style. He was determined, even more than we were, that there should be nothing embarrassing about the wedding photos twenty years from now.

Would Nick keep his short haircut? Time would tell. There was no doubt that he (and Carole) were pleased with his new look. That didn’t mean it was a life-changing decision. He didn’t have to make a permanent commitment.

"My furry rabbit’s brother looks happy," Jim said.

"You haven’t given him a nickname yet," I realized with some surprise.

"What? The bunny boy? Nah, I’d never do that."

There was one interesting development at our reception.

"Isn’t that one of your guys, Matt?" Jim pointed to one of our guests. It was Andy from my office. A new hire, early twenties. He was a redhead. Specifically, his wavy hair was the color of aged bricks, with dark eyebrows and lashes. He had molasses eyes.

"Yeah. Andy works in my department. Why?"

"Follow where’s he’s looking."

I did. Andy’s gaze was fixed across the room on a young state police trooper from Jim’s station. Chiseled features. (I’m convinced that’s on the state police job applications.) He sported a very, very blond crew cut.

"That’s Gary," he said.

The young man caught on that he was being watched. He glanced first at Andy, then glimpsed me and Jim before turning away. Was he smiling at the attention?

"What do you think?" I asked. "Something going on there?"

"I don’t know. Gary’s a new guy. I don’t know what his story is."

"Same with Andy." With that inconclusive conclusion, we went on with the traditional reception affairs. Visiting tables. Dancing. (Nick wasn’t awkward at all about dancing with Jim. He even let Jim lead.)

Eventually we cut the wedding cake, enjoyed eating our pieces, and were preparing for a secretive exit.

"Look," I told Jim. "There’s our answer."

Seated together at one of the tables, with their now-empty cake plates, were Andy and Gary. Andy was reaching up to touch Andy’s brick-red hair. Andy took Gary’s hand in his. Our photographer happened to capture the moment (after I gestured for him to get the shot). That was the last impression of our wedding reception before Jim and I discreetly slipped out a side door to venture on to our honeymoon.

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