Same Shop, Dad's Decision by Joseph Murray
(This is Part 3 in the series. I suggest reading the other two stories before this to understand parts of this one.)
It was just like any other Saturday in the summer, my fiancé and I were cleaning the house, taking care of the backyard and front yard, things you usually are able to do with ease when the weather is nice. The one thing we didn’t have to worry about was a pool, which would have been nice when it gets really hot. Like today, it was a scorcher.
I wiped the sweat off from my forehead, and pushed back my long forelock back across my head, knowing it won’t stay put for long. I’ve always worn my hair in a long businessman’s cut since my early twenties. Haven’t changed it up since, also would be a risk in the corporate environment I belonged to. I should have worn a hat while outside, that would have helped me right now, and block some of the sun from burning my face as well.
"Todd," Meredith called to me, "Want to stop for a moment and have some lunch?" I gladly accepted this offer and turned off the lawn mower, heading inside to the cool air condition. We did not have a very large house, it was just the two of us for most of the time, and this was the house I started renting after my divorce over six years ago. I do have one son, Kyle, and he does visit on weekends. Pretty much every weekend in fact! He lives with his mother though, in our old house, that way he didn’t have to transfer schools back when we were splitting up, since my home is a few towns over. Still in the county, but would have sent Kyle somewhere else for school.
I know he prefers being here, as does my fiancé Meredith. Its very obvious, even if my ex-wife doesn’t want to admit it. My son hates her boyfriend, Hank. Luckily, he isn’t Kyle’s stepfather at all, and even if that was so, he’d have to get through me to try and control my son’s life. And Meredith too, she’s pretty protective of Kyle as well. Which has been great, I’ve never really known why or questioned it. But she always has been so close to him, or tried to be, and it works. Since we’re a bit older, Meredith doesn’t really want to risk it and try for a baby or two, so she’s very pleased to have Kyle as a future stepson. And he seems pretty excited to be having her officially in the family, even though the last four years she really has integrated us into her family and world, now its just becoming official.
"Is she going to bring Kyle over later?" Meredith asked me, sipping some lemonade.
"Yes, well, she better," I said with a mouthful of tuna sandwich, "They are leaving for vacation so I’d like to see him before he goes."
"Good," Meredith said coolly, "Just checking." We continued our lunch with plans of what we could do for a vacation when Kyle got back, and that maybe we could take him somewhere as a surprise since camp will be wrapping up soon after. "Maybe we could take him down south to the beaches down there? Lots of B&Bs that way, and I know how much you love that scene more than the shores here," Meredith suggested.
We continued to do our house and yard work for the rest of the day, deciding that maybe we’d take Kyle out for dinner, wherever he wanted to! Around 6, we were inside the house, Meredith finishing her cleaning and I had the game on TV. My ex-wife’s boyfriend’s car rolled up to the front of the house. Not even pulling into the driveway. Even if the car wasn’t enough of a tip off, I knew who was driving based on the parking job. I walked into the kitchen to let Meredith know they were here. She raised her eyebrows, said nothing, and continued her work. Of course I know she’d smile when they’d come through the door and wouldn’t think a thing about it. But it was only my ex-wife and son who came to the door.
"Just remember we’ll be back tomorrow afternoon to pick Kyle up," not even a hello to me, just ready to pass on the kid, as agreed in papers and signatures. I also loved how there was no time frame given, typical.
"Thanks," I said, with both a grunt and a smile. Kyle stepped through the doorway with a backpack and a baseball cap on. He rarely wore hats so I thought this was odd. Maybe he had one on from earlier and just didn’t want to take it off. Then my son’s mother turned around and headed back to the car without another word. Not to me, not to our son.
I closed the door and turned around, Kyle was still standing there, looking down at the ground. I patted his shoulder and led him into the living room where the TV was already on. "You can put on whatever you want, buddy," I offered.
"No, this is okay," he responded, sitting on the edge of the couch, still having not removed his hat or backpack. That was weird, but what was even weirder was Kyle wanting to watch sports.
"Meredith and I were thinking we could all go out to eat tonight," I tried changing the topic, "Wherever you want buddy, your pick," I offered. This didn’t change his mood. He didn’t seem angry at me. More like he was angry at the world.
Then I noticed something that I should have spotted when I first saw Kyle in the hat. From his side profile, his hair looked severely short and his sideburns had been defined by clippers. And when I took a peak at the back of his head, it too had been buzzed down very short. "Kyle," I started to say slowly, "Did you get a haircut today?"
He didn’t look at me, he just nodded his head again and again, and as he did so, he finally took off his hat to reveal himself. I couldn’t believe what I was staring at. My son had a buzzcut. His hair had been severely shorn down. His usual golden locks across his head were no longer adorning him like a crown. Instead, his sides were so short you could barely tell they were blonde, and his top had that look that a dirty blonde boy does when he gets a buzzcut, which is he looks more like his brunette half. I tried not to freak out on the outside, as I knew that would probably make it worse, and he might just about cry. Didn’t matter though, his face had already turned red, trying to hold back all his emotions. Before anything else could happen, I took him in my arms and gave him a hug. As his head nestled into my shoulder blade I felt and heard him heave and sob. I rubbed his back to make him feel better. Then I also rubbed the top of his head, man was this haircut short! I could tell he wasn’t pleased with his haircut, which only meant he did not ask for it. The only question then was, who asked for it and who delivered the punch?
Once he had calmed down, I asked Kyle about it all. He told me that he had gone that afternoon to the barbers with Hank and Andrew, except it wasn’t Mr. Pete who cut his hair today, it was one of the other barbers. I knew it had to have been a trap from that Hank. I just almost would have sworn that he himself Hank had done the buzzing, or that he let one of his cop buddies induct it on my innocent boy. But this was just as bad. Of course Kyle then told me that Hank said these would be good haircuts for their vacation, but I know Kyle did not believe it one bit. I still could not believe what had happened. I would have never forced Kyle to get a haircut like this, never had! Only if he wanted to, of course, but that wasn’t the game of today. Not when Hank was left in charge. I could only imagine how happy he was about this, it was like he had won a contest, and the shinning trophy were the golden locks traced all along the barber shop floor courtesy of my son. I would not let this ass hole have the final laugh. I don’t care how much stronger or tougher he was or seemed from the outside, he was not getting away with this.
We had decided to stay in and eat, since Meredith and I figured Kyle did not want to be seen in public with his buzzcut. So we ordered in pizza, and that made Kyle very happy, it was one of his favorites. After he had filled himself with three large slices, he went up to his room to change into his pajamas he leaves here, and then came downstairs to turn on a movie. Before he did so, Meredith asked if he wanted some ice cream, which he gladly accepted and added some sprinkles on top. A lot of sprinkles, I was nervous his sadness from earlier would turn into a different kind of energy we wouldn’t be able to control in an hour or so. But thankfully, he fell asleep on the couch halfway through his movie.
Meredith and I were in the kitchen, talking about what had happened. Meredith was trying to calm me down, or more so talk me off the ledge. "What are you going to do, Todd? You can’t change what’s happened, even Kyle knows that sadly."
"I still just cannot believe what that ass hole did," I said with lots of anger, my fists pounding on the table.
"Easy, and don’t talk like that okay?"
"Sorry babe, didn’t mean it," I turned back, looking towards the living room.
"I know you didn’t," she responded. "But there’s nothing we can do. Other than you talking to your ex-wife and her boyfriend. If that even helps."
"I don’t care if it helps or not, because knowing them it probably won’t. I just need to say something, that’s all. At least stick it to them somehow," I sighed. "I just feel so bad for my son, that’s all. My shorn son."
Eventually Kyle woke up by the tail end of his movie, I was sitting there with him watching the end of it, "You missed it all buddy," I laughed at him, and thankfully he smiled back, followed by a yawn. "Come on," I stood up, and grabbed him by the waist, to carry him upstairs for bed. I had not done this in a long time actually but tonight was a special night and I just wanted him to feel warmth and love after everything. So he brushed his teeth and then said goodnight to me before going to his room, maybe he’d do some reading before bed or just drift back off to sleep. But I let him be.
I went downstairs to tidy some things up, but Meredith said she was going to head up too. I stayed downstairs a little longer and watched some sports highlights, trying to put myself in the mood to sleep but I just couldn’t. I eventually decided going to bed might help. But I laid there at first and couldn’t drift off. My head was still all confused about everything that happened today with Kyle at the barbershop. And how in the hell was I going to get back at Hank. He had the satisfaction of forcing a new look on Kyle, and now Kyle wasn’t happy with how he looked. Nothing would change his mind about it, nothing or no one.
Or could something or someone? Then the idea clicked and I smiled before falling asleep…
The next morning, I woke up before the other two and crept downstairs. I wrote down a note saying I’d be back later after I took care of an "errand". So I quietly left the house, and got in my car and drove off to where else but Towne Barber Shop. It was a Sunday morning, so I figured it might be fairly quiet, versus a Saturday where it never was the first few hours of operation. I hadn’t been on a Sunday in a while since Kyle and I usually went together on a Saturday. But I knew Pete would be in bright and early.
Arriving there for just about 8 AM, I walked in to the shop to find a few barbers at work and not many clients waiting. Pete seemed to be wrapping up with someone, I waved at him and he nodded back. As I waved back though, my hand awkwardly went from being up, to down, to back up. Because for a moment I did not recognize that that was Pete at all. He didn’t have the same haircut he always had, nor even the same mustache. I asked the receptionist when Pete’s next availability would be and before they could answer, he said "I’ll be with you next, Todd." I wonder if he knew I was coming in or not, because obviously he was here yesterday for the drama.
I took my seat and waited a couple more minutes before he welcomed me to his chair with a smile and nod. As we shook hands I said to him, "New haircut?"
"That would be correct," he chuckled as he felt the back of his head with the other hand. "Fresh from yesterday before closing. Little bit of a bet, I guess you could say."
"Oh, sorry about that," I said as I sat down. "I wonder if my son was a part of a bet yesterday too."
"Who knows, who knows. But Kyle and I both suffered at the mercy of barber Mike yesterday and these are our results," Pete said as he began to cape me up. "Good thing he isn’t working today otherwise I’m sure you’d chastise him. I am glad you didn’t have to watch it though, poor Kyle. Not his choice at all."
"No, no it wouldn’t have been," I said lightly. Pete grabbed the tissue strip and wrapped it around my neck. "But this morning, it is my choice Pete. I’m so mad what that jerk did to my son yesterday it makes me so angry. I fought with myself what I could do about it, poor Kyle was so down last night he didn’t even want to go out to eat dinner. He didn’t want to be seen with his new haircut."
"I wouldn’t blame the kid," Pete commented. "Not one bit. But you were saying this morning its your choice? What did you have in mind, Todd?"
"I think you know Pete," I said as I nodded my head. And then took one huge gulp before continuing, "My son doesn’t want to be seen with his haircut, so to make him feel better about it, I’m gonna ask you to do the honors."
"Your serious, Todd?"
I nodded my head again, slowly, "Yes, I am. I want you to give me the same haircut as Kyle. Work will have to understand after I tell them what happened here this weekend."
"Alright, you sure? It is pretty short," Pete said as he traced his fingers through my long wisps and locks of hair. "He had a number two on top with a one on the sides and back, you know?"
"Pete," I said with a sigh, "Just do it. I want to see my son happy again. I don’t know if this will work but its worth a shot." Pete said no more, and went to his station and got his clippers and attached the number two guard, firing the clippers up as he got back to me. And without saying anything else for the next few moments, he began at the front of my head, and pulled the clippers back, leaving a buzzed strip behind. And then the next strip, and then another, continuing to widen the strip on the top of my head till it all looked mostly buzzed.
He moved around to attack the rest of the top of my head. He finally softly said, "Your doing a brave thing, Todd."
"Just doing it for my son, its my decision," I mustered with all my courage. But in my tone, it was both a serious, sternness that you could tell from the icy cold stare I was glaring back at the mirror. However, on the inside, I was probably feeling just like Kyle yesterday. Utter shock, in disbelief, could not believe who was staring back at me, that it was in fact me! But I knew why I was doing this, it was from the heart.
Pete moved on to the sides and back with the number one, and the stripping away of this still continued to shock me. But at this point, Pete struck up the conversation finally and asked more about Kyle and how he was fairing. I told him everything about last night and how this idea came to me as I laid awake. I told him my fiancé didn’t know I was doing this. Pete told me about how his new look came about. I shook my head in disbelief, but we both sighed and had to laugh about everything, look at us both now, and Kyle too, how unrecognizable we all were.
Finally, Pete came around to clean up the edges of my truly fresh haircut. Probably the shortest haircut I’d had in ages! He removed the cape and more of my hair came bounding and cascading down to the floor. I stood up and rubbed my right hand across the top of my head. Damn! Damn, was this ever short! I guess it looked good with my t-shirt and shorts I was sporting. But man oh man was this gonna take some getting used to. I thanked Pete for the job well done, and not because it looked good or anything, but for helping me out. I paid and tipped him, and was off, back into the real world, with my sunglasses on as a I drove back home.
Meredith was up, already making coffee for us. She hadn’t started breakfast yet as she slept in a bit. So when I walked in to the kitchen with a huge smile on my face, saying, "Morning babe," and whipping off my sunglasses, she stared back at me in shock.
"Oh my god," she said, and moved closer to me, and caressed her hands all over my head, all parts. "Did you do this-"
"For Kyle?" I finished for her, and then kissed her lips. "Yes, yes I did. Don’t know how I feel about the buzzed look on me though," I said as I rubbed the back of my head.
"I don’t think it looks bad," she oddly suggested. "Plus, it is summer I guess."
"Yeah, very true," I didn’t know what Meredith was up to. I decided we should have pancakes because Kyle would love that. So I got started on that as Meredith worked on the toppings and fixings in their bowls. Eventually, I knew this smell would wake up Kyle. And so it did.
He made his way down the steps still seemingly tired and blinking here and there from the sun. I welcomed him with the same smile I did for Meredith with a, "Morning buddy," as I was flipping some pancakes.
Kyle startled, he looked at me in disbelief, in complete shock. "Dad?" he asked, unsure, which made Meredith and myself laugh. She grabbed the spatula from me and I walked over to him, and bent down to his height. He still looked shocked as I stared back at him. Slowly, he raised his right hand, and grazed it across the top of my head. He felt the prickly sensation, slowly rubbing around the rest of my head.
"Sorry to disappoint you, but actually it was Mr. Pete who buzzed my hair today. Hope that doesn’t bug you," I grinned back. And then, he wrapped his arms around my neck and gave me the biggest hug ever. No words were said, but I knew that this was definitely a "Thank You" of sorts. He would never forget this moment or what I had done for him. But I just had to say something, "Kyle, I will always be there for you. Whatever, wherever, whenever, just know that." And he nodded in agreement as the sides of our buzzed heads touched and rubbed against each others, and the noise of friction made us both giggle.
We all enjoyed breakfast together and I could tell I had my son back again. He was able to stay through most the day and we event went outside and got to practice some tennis up against the back of the house (maybe we shouldn’t have been though). But Kyle was smiling again and happy as ever. He even said to me, "We’ll have matching haircuts, Dad, when we go to the beach in a couple weeks. We’ll look like twins on our Christmas card with Meredith."
This made me beam, and a little heavy in the heart. Of course he’d match his short haircut with Andrew and Hank on their upcoming trip, but he’d never say that. This moment was different. This moment was special.
"So do you like the buzzcut now, Kyle?"
He paused for a moment and shook his head, "No, not really. I don’t think its me. You?"
I paused too and then said, "Nah, not me either."
Eventually, Kyle got picked up later, my ex-wife in shock to see me looking this way. Hank and Andrew were there at the door this time and they went into shock. Andrew’s was more devious, but in a good way, he knew why I had done it. Hank was in total shock, and to try and shake it off said how it looked so much better on me and I ought to keep the clean cut look. To which I said, as my hands were on my son’s shoulders. "Nah, its not really me."