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Gabe's Adjustment (TorC VI) by Derkx

Gabe’s Adjustment
(Ticket or Change? VI)
by Derkx

When the doorbell rang a second time, Andy was the one to get out of bed. I probably should have but I was being lazy and self-indulgent. I liked to watch my gorgeous redheaded lover’s body in motion. I kept my sleepy eyes on him until he grabbed his underpants and went down from the loft bedroom to answer the door.

I took for granted that he’d look through the peephole before opening the door. I could hear the voices after that.

"Sorry to . . ."

"Come in. It’s, ah . . . Gabriel, isn’t it?" Andy was groggy with sleep and his brain was a bit slow booting up.

"Gabe. That’s right."

There was a brief pause before a shout up to me.

"Gary! It’s Gabriel, from your lot. . . . Looks like he needs to spend the night." He must have come with a duffel bag or luggage.

Gabriel, Gabe, was a fellow trooper at my state police headquarters. He wasn’t one of the senior-most officers but he had a couple of years’ experience over me.

"We have a room free in the west wing," I called back. "He can have that."

We were a good team at my station. Comrades at arms, you might say, without typically having to include the arms. We weren’t all cut from the same mold " god forbid! " and we didn’t all hold the same positions on politics, religion and lifestyles. In spite of all that, we were a team. We were comrades. We trusted our lives to one another. And we supported one another. So, if my fellow trooper Gabe needed a room for the night (as Andy very efficiently perceived), we’d provide one.

There was actually no west wing in our two-bedroom apartment. That second bedroom would have to suffice.

I listened as Andy and Gabe lugged his bags up to the stairs and into the other bedroom. Then they cut through the common bathroom and into our bedroom.

I only halfway sat up, covering my lower parts with the sheet.

"Thanks, Gary," Gabe began. "You have no idea . . ." There he stood. Tall. Kind of imposing. Showing no emotion except some stressful tension around his eyes and mouth.

"Hi, Gabe," I said in response. "Why don’t you settle yourself in? Towels are in there." I pointed back into the bathroom. "Kitchen downstairs. Anything you need . . ." I yawned and stretched. The sheet dropped a bit. "Breakfast at . . ." I turned to Andy.

"Sevenish?" he suggested.

"Sure," I agreed, then turned back to Gabe. "If you get hungry before then, help yourself to whatever. Or thirsty," I added.

I was a good host, extending my hospitality. Lazy but good. Andy was, of course, the better host as he was the one who actually showed where everything was and shared a quick drink with Gabe before putting our guest to bed. I was hardly roused when Andy came back to our room, stripping off his underpants, and sliding his lovely red-haired body back into bed. He snuggled as close to me as he could get and I returned to dreamland.

Neither of us asked any questions that night. We waited for Gabe to talk at breakfast the next morning.

"She didn’t throw you out?" I responded, with toast in mouth, to what Gabriel told us about his previous night’s break-up with his girlfriend. (Was she a fiancée? I tried to remember, but I didn’t think so. And I kept blocking out her name.)

"No. I threw myself out. It was only fair, since I was the one to move into her place. . . . It doesn’t matter anyway. We’re over."

"Are you sure you two . . .?" Girlfriends were a tricking business. Or so I’ve heard.

"No, Gary. It’s over. That’s all there is to say."

Gabriel never did reveal why he and what’s-her-name broke up. He said it was some trivial thing that finally proved their incompatibility. I took his word at that, as did Andy. It was clear that what he needed from us was merely shelter, a place to stay on short notice (no notice) until he found a new suitable abode.

My partner Andy agreed with my analysis. "He doesn’t need questioning or intervention. He doesn’t want our advice on romance or male-female interactions." Never a true word was spoken by Andy. Gabe didn’t expect our counsel on heterosexual relationships. There was, however, a secondary issue.

"Why us, Gabe?" I asked. "You might have gone to a hotel . . ."

"And Gary and I are glad you didn’t," Andy added quickly.

". . . but you came to friends instead. So?"

"There is another matter," Gabe confided to us. "It’s been in my mind since I saw both of you at the triathlon."

That reference caught me off-guard; Andy as well. What did our participation in a triathlon have to do with his break-up?

"I don’t see . . "

"Okay, look . . ."

I was astonished to see Gabe blush and fidget. On the job he was more staid and serious and even grimmer than I.

"You, uh, . . . For the triathlon you both buzzed off all your hair. I mean, all your hair. And it was, like, ‘Hey, we don’t care. This is what we decided to do for this competition, so we did it’. No big deal."

There was a pause before we responded. Andy first. "I don’t get it."

"Your hair!" Gabe said. "It was about your hair. You didn’t care how anyone would react. You just went ahead and did it. No concerns at all."

"Yeah," Andy said. "I don’t know why . . ."

Gabe confessed then that one factor in his choosing the abode of Trooper Gary and Auburn Andy for harbor from the storm of romantic inequities was their (our) free attitude about men’s hair, whether full or lacking or totally absent and whether by nature or by choice.

He sighed and finally confessed. "It’s my hair. Look at it."

"Short," I observed. "Kind of thin."

"Thin, yeah. More than that." The pitch of Gabe’s voice was rising. "I’m going bald! Look at it!"

"Um," I agreed, looking closer. "You are thinning. Receding. Year by year. So? That happens."

"Not to me! I mean, it happens to some men. I didn’t think it wouldn’t happen to me. I didn’t expect it. I don’t know what to do about it."

We paused to consider his concerns.

"You’ve been researching online, haven’t you?" Andy was very perceptive that way. "You’ve seen hair transplants and toupees and ‘restoration systems,’ right? And you haven’t found anything that seems appropriate for you?"

"That’s right."

"Let’s check it out," Andy said to me.

We got up from our chairs and scrutinized Gabe’s scalp up close. His hair was dark brown, scissors-cut short, and brushed forward to cover as much scalp as possible.

"Hm," Andy said. "It is thin."

"And scruffy," I agreed.

"And charmingly wispy," Andy amended, as he gave a quick, appreciative kiss to a patch of Gabe’s bald receding hairline. I frowned a little, I admitted " not from jealously but from Andy’s gesture preceding any of my own. I seldom (never) found an opportunity to plant a kiss on a colleague’s scalp.

Andy left the evitable conclusion for me to state. "You’ll lose more of it over time. Most of it. Here and here. This patch towards the front will probably linger for a while " a kind of island in the sea."

"I know," Gabe groaned. He quickly recovered; he was not a moaner by nature. "I wish I could just cut it off and be done with it! . . . Except I couldn’t. I can’t bear waiting for it to go. I wish I could be done with the whole process and yet there’s no way I could get rid of it all overnight. That would be too much. Too traumatic!"

"Is this about your girlfriend?" Andy said. "You’re not thinking that your hair loss was a factor in your break-up?"

"I don’t know. Not for certain. She said . . . She once said she’d leave me if I shaved it." Well, that threat was now moot.

I was less sympathetic than my Andy was.

"Man up, already, Gabe!" I shouted at him. "When you’re on the job, you’re one of the most level-headed men I’ve ever met. When we’re out for an evening’s socializing, you’re the most sober and controlled among us."

"You’re saying I’m stuffy?" Gabe responded. "I’m not much of a partying guy. What do mean ‘controllin’?"

"You’re very pleasant company," Andy said. "Extremely so. You’re an admirable model for intellectual companionship." (Andy was big on philosophical issues when his brain was lubricated with alcohol.)

Then I chimed in again. "I’m saying you’re stable. Reliable. I enjoy having you around. We all do. The men in our company admire your professionalism and value your friendship. This . . . this emotional breakdown is beneath your character."

Gabriel humphed. "I don’t know whether that’s a slap in the face or a backhanded compliment."

"Both," I told him.

Gabe stayed with us for a while. ("Should we charge him rent?" I joked. "Not until after the third month.") He didn’t talk about his hair although he often touched the thin patches on top of his head. He didn’t talk about the ex-girlfriend and made no reference to that now-concluded phase of his life. On one of his days off, he went back to the ex-girlfriend’s apartment, packed up the last of his belongings and then stacked them in a corner of our living room.

"You can settle in, you know," I told him. "You’re welcome to stay on. I’ll help you move all this up to your bedroom."

"No, Gary," Gabe insisted. "I don’t want to get too comfortable here. Besides, this is mostly music stuff."

I hadn’t paid much attention. The stacks of his stuff didn’t take up a lot of room. He wasn’t a pack rat. When I looked closer, I could see that the boxes mostly contained electronic things. He had a desktop computer, a fair amount of stereo equipment, music CDs, even a stack of old LPs. Huh, it never occurred to me that Gabe was into music.

"Okay, well, it’s your decision. Just know that you’re welcome here. And if you want help looking for a place of your own . . ."

Andy had come home and was just entering the apartment.

"Who’s looking for a place of his own? Not you, Gabe?"

Gabe’s face broke into a big, wide grin. "Actually, I found a place. And it’s here."

"Cool," Andy said. He assumed Gabe meant he’d been staying with us. He was okay with that.

"No, no." Andy quickly realized the misimpression he’d given. "Not here here. ‘Here’ as in this building. Another loft unit."

"I didn’t know any others were up for sale," I said. If I had, I certainly would have mentioned it.

"One of your neighbors told me about it. I grabbed it up before it was put on the market. There is one catch, though. It’s not move-in ready. In fact, it’s an empty shell. It’ll take a while to fix up."

That was no big deal. All the units started out that way.

"Great!" Andy said. "If you need help with the design . . ." That was my Andy. He wasn’t the least fazed by the prospect of our house guest staying on for a couple of months or more. I was amazed at how easily the two of them got on. But then Andy and I were quite different and that only added to our attraction.

"I can’t wait for my place to be ready," Gabe said one morning when our schedules brought the three of us together again for breakfast in the kitchen. "You see, I have these frisky, over-sexed neighbors right now. They’re very noisy. It’s non-stop sex every night!"

"Not every night," I protested.

Yes, he was ribbing us. By now he was accustomed to living with a gay couple. We weren’t quite that bad! Could we help it if we enjoyed foreplay a lot?

"Say that again," Andy said to Gabe.

"What, about ‘noisy non-stop sex’?"

"Did you hear that, Gary?" Then back to Gabe. "Is that your sex voice or your morning-when-half-asleep voice or your officer-on-the-prowl voice?"

Gabe frowned as he considered. "One, I don’t know about sex voice; I don’t listen to myself then. Although I have been accused of sounding like I’m growling . . ."

Damn that ex-girlfriend!

"Two, morning voice. I don’t know. If I’m half asleep . . . Three, state police voice. Maybe. I guess my voice does get deeper and project more when I’m on duty and dealing with the public. Especially when I have to be heard over traffic noise. . . . And I don’t prowl."

"Wait!" Andy ran upstairs and back down with Gabe’s trooper hat. (He was wearing the hat, of course. He found pleasure in trying on others’ clothing, and particularly my worn clothes and uniforms for their scent.) He took it off his head, put it on Gabe’s and stood back. "Okay, Gabe. Let’s say I ran a stop sign or was speeding or something, and you pulled me over. Go!"

Gabe caught on quickly that Andy wanted to play-act for some reason.

"Show me your license, please. . . . And your insurance."

Andy made him stand up and repeat it. Then Andy took off his hat.

"What do you think, Gary?"

I knew where he was headed and I agreed.

"You’re right, Andy. . . . With your hat on, Gabe, it almost looks like you’re buzzed short or shaved anyway. But you look damn good! With those thick eyebrows and crisp grey eyes . . . and that voice! Those are your strengths."

"But my hair . . .," Gabe started.

Andy understood the implication and finished the sentiment his own way. ". . . detracts from your best features."

Gabe sighed. "So, you’re saying it’s about time I dealt with the issue?"

It was.

That evening we were all together again.

"Dinner first or . . .?" Andy asked.

"I don’t have any appetite," Gabe said. I wouldn’t say he was dreading what was going to happen to him. He was resigned but also apprehensive.

The three of us went up to the bathroom between the bedrooms and set out all the equipment we’d need, which wasn’t really much. We stripped Gabe down to his boxer-briefs and sat him down.

"This stays!" Andy decreed as he grabbed a fistful of Gabe’s luxuriant chest hair.

"Absolutely!" I agreed.

Gabe was stoic yet not enthusiastic. To him, this was something to get done with as quickly as possible.

"Fellow trooper goes first," Andy said, handing me the hair clippers. It didn’t really matter which of us wielded the clippers as no styling was involved. There were no guards on the blades.

I took the first swipe, I quickly buzzed off the isolated patch of hair on the top of Gabe’s head. He didn’t flinch, didn’t react at all. He stared ahead, not blinking.

I stripped away one of his scant sideburns and continued buzzing off row after row of his hair above and behind his ear, moving on until I reached the back. There wasn’t much to take off the lower parts, which were tapered tight or low-faded (according to different barbering pundits). Then we turned Gabe a little so Andy could take over to finish the back then come around to the clear off the other side.

"It looks like a lot more off my head than on," Gabe commented as his picked at the clumps of hair that had fallen onto his boxer-briefs.

"Want to save it?"

"No." He brushed the hair from his lap. All the time he made no attempt to catch a glimpse of himself in a mirror.

I’d prepared a wet hot towel in the sink while Andy was finishing with the clippers. I wrung out the towel and wrapped it around Gabe’s noggin for a couple of minutes, then we lathered his entire head and began scraping away the stubble with a safety razor. When I shaved away the lather and stubs from the remnants of that top patch of hair, Gabe reached up to feel his scalp. To him, that patch was the last vestige of a youthful full head of hair. Now it was gone.

Gabe was silent throughout the razoring. Andy and I kept talking, even joking a bit, hoping to put Gabe at ease. We also explained what we were doing, the difference between shaving with and against the grain, the similarities to shaving one’s face, and the art of checking for missed spots with a hand-feel.

"We can show you how to use mirrors to shave yourself. Tomorrow maybe. . . . Shower time now and we’ll clean everything up. . . . Use shampoo. Soap can dry your scalp or leave it sticky."

He still hadn’t taken a good look at himself. He might not even realize how perfectly proportioned and symmetrical his head was. And he was fortunate that he had very little tan so the color of his scalp blended into his face.

It didn’t take long to clean up the bathroom. Gabe was still in the shower when we finished, so we left him to take all the time he needed. It seemed he needed a lot of time but, hey, no questions asked!

We waited in his room and picked out clothes, since he had been wearing his work uniform.

"Hungry?" I asked when Gabe come out from the bathroom, wrapped below waist in a towel and slightly wet. His face was as grim and stoic as it had been throughout the shaving process.

"Not really," he responded.

"That’s okay. You can order something light."

That drew his attention. "Order?"

"Yeah. We’re going out for dinner. Nothing fancy. Just a local place. You’ve been there before."

Gabe protested. "You guys go out without me. I want to stay in, go to bed early. It’s going to take time to get used to . . . this." He pointed up to his head.

"Enough!" Andy raised his voice. "Come here!" He didn’t wait. He grabbed Gabe by his shoulders, marched him back into the bathroom, and stood him before the mirror.

"Look!" He grabbed Gabe’s bald head and posed him looking square-on to his reflection. "That is one beautiful man. . . . And it’s one beautiful man who’s going to have dinner with two friends he trusts. In public."

With that, Andy whipped off Gabe’s towel, pointed him back towards his bedroom, and slapped his butt.

"Now get in there and get dressed. No arguments! We’re all going out to dinner."

To my surprise, Gabe instantly began to obey.

"I thought I was supposed to be the authoritative one," I stage-whispered to Andy.

"Of course you are, Gary," he humored me. "I’m just playing the exception that proves the what’s-it."

At last I caught a smile on Gabe’s face.

The next big smile came from our waitress at the local we frequented. Whether she recognized Gabe as a previous customer, I couldn’t say. She clearly liked what she saw now.

No one commented on Gabe’s shaved head, which he was starting to accept and touch. He did get plenty of glances, though.

I noticed that, as he relaxed more, Gabe’s voice naturally dropped into that lower, comfortable range that Andy found so imposing. (Or "sexy," as Andy later remarked.) It was even more evident when he laughed. So, he had the voice going for him. And the thick, dark eyebrows over the sharp grey eyes. And the ultra-masculine shaved head which drew attention to his strong facial bones and defined jaw. And the enticing thatch of abundant chest hair showing from his open shirt. He had it all going.

Before he finished a first beer, Gabe started really having a good time. He no longer frowned when he felt his shaven pate and he let himself give it a quick caress.

At one point Gabe leaned over to ask, "Why does that guy keep looking at me?" He was referring to a particular young man at a nearby table, part of a group of familiar local residents. Ian was his name.

Ian was shorter than any of us; it was a comfortable shortness, the kind that says "hey, I’m no threat to anyone." He had nearly black hair, very thick and dense even where it was buzzed short on the sides and back, with a natural hairline that disappeared into his collar. He also sported a thick, dark beard. Not trendy three-day stubble. A real beard that was meticulously groomed. He appeared to have a medium-light hairy body, which he kept in good shape. He was gay, as he’d usually find someway of telling people when he first met them so there’d be no misunderstandings. Some might think he was a bear or a cub-in-training. Actually he was more of a hipster; that was his current persona. And he had the friendliest brown eyes.

"Ian," I called. "Come on over."

Gabe raised his thick eyebrows but said nothing, even though I knew he didn’t want to meet anybody new then, gay or not.

Ian came to our table. He nodded hello to Gabe then Andy before turning to me.

"What’s up?"

"My friend was wondering why you were ogling him."

"I didn’t say . . ." Gabe trial to interrupted.

Ian wasn’t put off. "Oh, that’s easy," he said, turning to Gabe as he sat down. "It’s because you’re a gorgeous specimen of manhood. . . . I’m Ian, by the way." He extended his hand.

"Gabe," Gabe said, shaking his hand. "I . . ."

"I know . . . or at least I assume you’re not into men. I am. There we are. Another of life’s tragedies. . . . So, how do you know these two?"

By the end of the night Gabe had forgotten his concerns about his shaved head. We were right about exposing Gabe’s newly visible scalp to public scrutiny that same night. Ian’s comments were enormously helpful, particularly in light of there being no possible sexual hook-up to confuse matters. Besides, most every man, homo- or heterosexual, appreciates the flirtatious attention of another man. Gabe was no exception.

The next day Andy had to go to work early. Gabe joined me for a late breakfast. He was shirtless and yawning when he came downstairs. He began rubbing his nude scalp and smiled. "Morning, Gary. Think you’ll have time to give me a shaving lesson this morning?" he asked. Despite the dark color of his hair, there was very little evidence of stubble on his head after less than a day. The point was that he was ready. "I’m kind of looking forward to doing it myself."

So, in the end everything worked out all right for Gabe. His loft apartment was finished after a few months and he moved in, only a few doors over from us. Surprisingly, he and Ian became really good friends. Part of the attraction was that his looks and voice impressed Ian, and Ian amused him. Ian recognized Gabe’s singing potential and tried to recruit him for some choral group; Gabe resisted. He had started dated again but so far had no regular girlfriend. Still, he was moving on.

Gabe was no longer merely resigned to the loss of his hair. He continued to shave his head smooth when he realized that that was a preferable look for him. As he said, "my thinning hair made me look wimpy."

As Andy said, "I’ve never seen a more perfect shaved head."

"Ditto," I concluded.

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