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Down and out in Albany, Part IV by Vegard

Part IV

It was weird being on the football team. Fun, but weird. And what he found weird was how popular he suddenly was, just for being on the team. He didn´t feel any different. Not funnier, not cooler or smarter or anything. And yet, suddenly, other guys wanted to hang out with him, and a couple of girls in his class were giving him covert looks, laughing at jokes he made that weren´t even funny, and showing him a lot of attention. Which, off course, he liked. But it was weird.

About a week after getting on the team, he was asked out by Beth, a cute blonde in her first year, and they started going out.
He liked her, but frankly he got a bit unnerved at how she seemed to expect him to be with her whenever he had a spare moment.

With football practice, work and school, he barely had time as it was, and he really had no time for others trying to control his life.
After having seen her for just a couple of weeks Beth made arrangements for a double date with some friends of hers, without asking him, and Danny resented it. He´d thought they would hang out, just the two of them, and told her so. It ended up with them having a fight, where she accused him of wanting to spend time with his friends rather than hers. And he said that she was absolutely right. Dissolved in tears, she´d stormed off, and he had not gone after her.
Seeing her around school after that was a bit awkward, but he was thankful they had no friends in common, and he could live with it.

Coach worked them real hard, for their first game of the season, which was set a week after Danny´s birthday in Oktober.
Danny hadn´t expected anything happening for his birthday, but Missis Reilly had cooked a nice roast, and Bill, Taylor and Andy were there as well as the Reilly´s off course.
After dinner John Reilly handed him a wrapped box, and they all looked expectantly at him as he tore the paper off it. Opening the box, he recognised a brand new school jacket, and taking it out, Danny almost had to fight to stop getting misty eyed on them.
Getting up he thanked them all, and Missis Reilly gave him a big hug. John shook his hand, and told him to wear it with pride.

Mary-Ann called while they were eating cake.
Bernadette, Mike´s sister answered, listened for a bit, and said, "Danny! It´s for you! It´s your sister."
Everyone in the room looked at him, as he got up and walked over. Getting the phone from her.
"Hey!" she said, in a choked voice,
"Hey!" he answered, "How are you?"
There was silence from the other end, except a few sniffs, as if she had been, or was crying.
She forced herself to sound more cheerful. "Happy birthday little brother!"
"Thanks," he muttered, and repeated, "How are you?"
"I´m good."
"No you´re not!" Danny had an angry edge to his voice that surprised himself a bit. He noticed the others around the table tence up a bit.
"Ok. I´m not fine, but I´m okay. Really." Mary-Ann said at the other end, still sounding like she was in tears.
Glansing at the people around the coffee table, Danny looked almost pleadingly at Mary Reilly, who got up, and told him to grab the extension in the study, and she would hang up in the living room when he´d got it.
"What´s going on Mary-Ann?" he asked as he picked up the other phone.
Paul had hit her. She argued she kind of had it coming, and that she thought he might change if she gave him a bit of time.
It was mostly when he drank or used drugs that he was mean to her, but if she could make him quit. She sobbed as she said this.
"Where are you Mary-Ann?" he demanded. A rougher edge to his voice now.
"Brooklyn" she said.
"Where? I´m coming to see you, and I´ll deal with Paul!"
"No. Please don´t!"
"Why not?" he demanded. Anger was rising in him.
"I´m just not ready for it. Okay?" There was a pleading tone to her voice, that made him force himself to calm down.
"I will tell you, next time. I promise." And she hung up.

It wasn´t the ending for his birthday he´d wished for.
Why did she have to call like that, and just make him more worried, when she didn´t even want out of the relationship? Resentment washed over him.
In the kitchen he told John and Mary what she´d said, and they again offered for him to tell her she could come and stay there, if she wanted.
The party was a bit of a dud after that. Danny was unable to partake in the celebrations, and politely thanked them for the party and the gifts when he thought he´d stayed as long as was expected, and went back to his loft.

The next day he found it impossible to concentrate in school, and at first recess he shouldered his bag, and muttered something to Mike about not feeling to good. And he left.
He tried to walk his unease off, but even though it took almost an hour, he was still upset when he came home. Not wanting to just sit there he grabbed his bike, and pedaled off.

Riding past the Schultz´ the house looked empty. He´d kept in touch with them and Mister Grant, and they all seemed really pleased he was doing so well.
Doing well? He thought bitterly. Except for worrying about his sister, sure. Half wishing he was back in Tennessee, and that Mary-Ann could have been his parent´s worry, and not his any more.
Suddenly filled with a longing for home. Or, rather, home as it had been before they lost their land to the bank.
Hunting with Pa, Grandpa and his brothers even as a little kid. With almost all the time he wanted for fishing, playing and not having any responsibilities except feeding the chickens.

Without thinking about where he was going, he realized he was now right outside Barber Bob´s. Halting his bike, he looked in. The shop was empty, and Bob Grant was sitting in his own barber chair reading a newspaper.
Bob must have picked up movement from the corner of his eye, because he suddenly looked up, and seeing Danny outside his face split in a welcoming grin.
Danny could see him mouthing "Young Danny!" and he balanced his bike against the wall of the shop and went in.
"Hey Mister Grant." He said, managing a smile.
"I didn´t expect to see you here again so soon."
"I wasn´t really planning on coming," Danny said, adding "I just sort of rode past."
"What´s on your mind son? Is something troubling you?" Bob asked.
Danny opened his mouth, as if to say something, but closed it again.
"Do you want some coffee?" Grant asked.
The boy nodded, "Yes please."

"Are you ready for the match on Saturday?" Grant asked. He wasn´t really in to sports, but looked for something to say.
"Yeah. We´re ready." Danny smiled.
Saturday would be his first real game, and he was very exited about it.
Coach had them ready to fight, and Danny had gotten to like the coach now he was on the team. Coach Bradshaw was old school, demanding discipline from his "boys", but he also gave them his all, to get them to be, and do, their best.

Sipping their coffee together they sat in silence for a while.
"It´s my sister." Danny suddenly voluntaired.
"Something happen to her?"
"Yeah." Danny saw the look of alarm on Grant´s face, and quickly added, "She´s not dying or anything! It´s just she´s hanging out with this scumbag who´s hittin´her, and I don´t know where she is." Dejectedly, he added, "And I can´t help unless she tells me where she´s at"

Sitting in deep thought for a while, his thoughts drifted off again, and Danny suddenly asked, "Mister Grant. Have you got time to cut my hair?"
Puzzled, the barber answered, "Sure, but you just had it cut five or six days ago, didn´t you?" Grant wasn´t sure which day it had been, but he sure remembered Danny´s visits. There were so few young men coming to his shop these days, and Danny getting his now regular short back&sides every three to four weeks were some of the highlights of his work. The boy hadn´t had the sides and back razor-shaved since he began school though.
"Yeah. But I want it shorter." Danny explained.
"Ah." He studied Danny a bit, "How much shorter?" he asked.
"Like I had at home." Danny muttered. Thinking about his family, and the farm, he wanted to go back. But home wasn´t there any more.
He would still do this today though. To remind himself of the importance of family, of whom he was and of simpler times.

"All off?" Grant seemed a bit hesitant, but Danny nodded, and climbed in the chair.
"What number guard did you use back home?"
"Uh. I don´t know. But I could see the hair that was left." Danny chuckled, "We couldn´t on my older brother Barry´s head though. His hair was so light he looked bald!"
"It´s probably a one or a one-and-a-half you´ve used then." Bob rummaged in a box on the counter, and attached a guard to his clippers.
"Ready?" he said, as he caped Danny up.
"Yeah! I´m ready."
Bob powered up the clippers, and began at the hairline in the front, pushing the clippers up to the crown. It left a stripe, about an inch and a half wide, with dark stubble showing in it´s path.
Danny watched as the two inches on top was taken down to almost nothing, and thought how much faster this went, than the Thompson-family´s old manual pair of clippers. Pa had used to start on the sides, and back, and before he´d even began on the top he´d be complaining, loudly, about his hand seizing up on him. And he´d be joking about how he would just stop, and leave him half shorn.
He really missed his Dad. As in, he missed the dad he´d had before the drinking got the better of him. His thoughts drifted to his parents, and how they were doing now. Maybe he could check on them in some way he thought, but his thoughts were interrupted as he saw movement by the door.

A woman with a boy of about 10 walked in, just as Grant began buzzing the right side of Danny´s head, and they both did a take at the door, and stared wide-eyed at Danny in the chair having his head shaved.
"Please come in!" Grant smiled, and gestured to the chairs by the wall.
"Mom! I don´t want my head shaved!" the boy blurted out, looking scared.
"I know. I know." The mother said, and actually patted her son on the arm, as if to console him.
The mother seemed to realize though, that this was actually quite rude, and tried her best not to stare openly. Her son made no attempt to look away, and kept staring, wide eyed, at Danny´s already short hair being mowed off.

Bob Grant now used his clippers on the right side of Danny´s head. There really wasn´t much there, and he felt a little bit of regret for having to shave off the nice, clean haircut, he´d given just days ago.
Just above the ears, and at the back of the neck, there was hardly anything coming off at all, but Grant still worked meticulously to get it nice and even.

Danny kept watching himself in the mirror. His hair was going back to how it had been before he and his sister had left. How long had it been since Pa cropped him last? He´d undergone a few haircuts since then, and realized it was over six months since he´d had his head shaved short all over.
Six months. It had been half a year since he´d last looked like this. Except, he didn´t really look the same. Something was different, but he couldn´t quite put his finger on what. His features seemed sharper somehow, and it struck him. He looked a lot older!
He hadn´t looked like a little kid when they left either, but as he´d now turned 16 he really looked like a man. Looking at his reflection, and his contracted eyebrows and rather dubious expression, he looked quite fierce.
With his head buzzed to stubble he looked tough! Catching sight of the kid waiting his turn, Danny smiled, and winked at him in the mirror. The change in his own face when he smiled was significant, looking more friendly and open, and it made the kid smile shyly back at him.

Grant was now working the hairline on the back and sides with an even shorter guard, Danny realized, to give him a bit of a taper. He appreciated it, but didn´t really think it was necessary. He had to admit though, it made his cut look sharper.
Bob took the cape off, and using the straight razor he cleaned up his neck before brushing away stray hairs.
"There. That´s you all done Daniel!" he said. For once Grant seemed a bit lost for words.
"Quite a difference I´d say!" he said finally, after watching Daniel study himself in the mirror some more.
"Yeah." Danny admitted stroking his head, "It makes me look older."
Grant nodded, and Danny added, "And tougher."
The barber nodded again. It really did.
"You´ll scare the crap out of the opposing team come Saturday!" he said, and quickly added, "Please excuse my language!" to the waiting mother, who just laughed.
"Do you play for the school?" she asked Danny.
"We´re going to the game! Will be there to cheer for you!"
Danny grinned, "Thanks!" he said, and winked at the kid again, who was now looking at Danny almost as if in awe.

Leaving Barber Bob´s he got back on his bike, and pedaled back to the Reilly´s.
It was cold, now that his head was completely bare, and he wished he had a hat.

He went in to the small bathroom when he got in, and studied himself in the mirror, at the same time running his hand over the fuzz on his head. It felt good, and he had to admit he´d missed it.
Putting on a dark scowl to try on his "war face", his expression quickly changed to a wide grin. He really looked a bit of a badass.

After getting something to eat, he looked at his alarm clock, and saw that he could still make it to team-practise if he hurried.
Getting up, he put on a hat, grabbed his bag, and headed out the door.

The others were still in the locker-room when he got there, getting ready to go out.
"What happened man?" Mike asked as Danny entered.
"Nothin´." Danny said. Not feeling like telling a room full of footballplayers he´d "just needed some time to himself".

Finding an empty locker, he pulled his hat off, and began taking off his new jacket.
"You shaved your head!" Mike almost yelled. And those who hadn´t seen it already, turned to stare.
"Yep!" Danny grinned. "How´d you notice?"
The others laughed, and several came over and rubbed his head, including Mike.
"Awesome!" Kyle said, "It actually looks great!"
"On me yeah!" Danny laughed with them.
It was Bill´s turn to rub Danny´s head, as Tyler moved aside.
"Wow!" Bill said, feeling the velvety texture, "That´s it! I´m getting my head shaved to. This feels awesome!"
Lively chatter broke out, as some loved it, and others were more apprehensive.
Suddenly the door burst open, and Coach yelled, "What´s with this chatter-box? We have a game to,…" he stopped, as he saw the center of the commotion, and a soft "Wow!" formed on his lips.
"Danny?" he said. And Danny grinned and nodded.
Coach stared, "That is the coolest thing I´ve seen this side of Christmas!" he exclaimed.
"Bill´s getting shaved to!" Kyle told him.
"Really?" Coach really looked like Christmas had come early.
"Yeah!" Bill said, "I´ll get it done before the match!"

Practise went really well, and Danny excelled on the field that day. It was as if he had more confidence, more energy and more fight in him. And the others seemed high-spirited to.
After a great session on the field, Coach followed them in to the locker room.
"Great practice today guys!" he looked at them all with pride, dwelling slightly longer on Danny, sitting on the bench by his locker.
"Can any of you guess what I´m thinking?" Coach asked.
"Yep!" Kyle answered, "You´re thinking we should all have our heads shaved!"
Murmur broke out. Some exited, and some protesting.

"Look guys!" Coach interrupted, "It would be great if you, I mean we, all looked alike on Saturday! But obviously I can´t make any of you do this!"
The team all looked at him.
"So, go home, think about it. Talk to your parents if you feel they need to be involved. And we´ll discuss it again at practice tomorrow. Okay?"

"You´ll have to run it by Karen, won´t you?" Bill asked Kyle slyly.
Kyle laughed, "Yeah! I definitely should do that!" And he headed out.
"There´s one really bad thing about this!" Bill said as he and Danny walked out of the locker-room.
"What´s that?" Danny asked.
"My Dad will love it!"

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