2782 Stories - Awaiting Approval:Stories 4; Comments 19.
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Wholehearted by Zero
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hey, everyone! This is a companion piece (sequel of sorts) to Heartless (Genius, theme-naming with titles from my part, I know). I actually had this idea for a while and I decided to give it a shot. Some callbacks to that, but still works independently. New readers: Welcome as per usual].
Sebastian wakes up to a harsh, continuous noise. He throws off his cover and heads for its source in the bathroom, rubbing his eyes with both his hands.
He’s there. The floor is littered with chestnut locks. His gaze travels up and he sees him running a pair of clippers across his own head. The guard is barely above the line of chattering metallic teeth and it almost seems like the blades will also eat up the attachment in the wake.
He’s buzzing all his hair off and Sebastian feels an ache that shouldn’t be his when he realizes he won’t be able to caress Adam’s soft waves. For a while, he thinks, at first. Not knowing yet that he’ll only have the memory of them in the future.
He turns off the machine. His shoulders, back and face hold infinite stubs and erratic lines that are the strands of the hair that was on his head. It now nests in the floor, at both their feet.
Adam looks the same way he did when he first met him, with barely a dark continuation of stubble covering his scalp. It’s the stranger with short, buzzed hair that walked to him in the library and left an unread book over the table, as he asked if they were in the same class, knowing well he wasn’t neither in any of his courses or same faculty even.
His gaze had long caught him in the mirror, but he had barely acknowledged him, until the words come out of his mouth:
"Come here. You’re up next".
"Adam" Sebastian doesn’t raise his voice. He feels the three-weeks old growth at the end of his fingertips with an apprehension he can’t name, only feel "I...".
Adam’s hand gets to the crease between his jaw and his neck and slides up the blond fuzz on the side of his head "Come on".
His fingers that don’t sink anymore into his locks, that instead brush and caress the clipped pelt that has grown back from the former cascade of golden silk he still misses in his own reflection, in the passing comments of everyone who met him with his hair long, down to his shoulders.
"Let me give you a nice shave all over" his lips curl and his gaze locks in his.
Wordlessly, he kisses his cheek and has him back in the palm of his hands. Hopelessly, Sebastian loves him (believes he also does). His t-shirt goes to the floor, discarded like his willingness to oppose Adam’s force. A flick of a switch. A dry pop. A mechanical buzz. A hand over his crown. And a first rain of shorn hair down the naked skin, over the trail of his spine as he shudders.
As his short locks join the clumps of dark brown hair in the floor, Sebastian thinks once, maybe twice he’ll let Adam shave his head. He thinks he’ll be satisfied keeping him shorn for the summer. He thinks he can also go for some weeks with this and then grow it back out.
As the clippers’ teeth press down on his forehead and he recoils, he thinks maybe this exposure it’s what he needs to get over his aversion to having his hair cut short and that deep, pervasive echo that paralyzes him whenever he remembers that he can’t quite get rid of.
Adam keeps going over his head, even past the very last clump he watches falling into his lap. He maneuvers his skull. His fingers are nimble when they go across the grain in fluid motions, he hears the rasp of the skin-length stubs. Sebastian breathes. Closes his eyes. Hears his boyfriend’s satisfied purr between the sound of his breathing and the chatter of the clippers. It makes it worth it. There’s something about pleasing him that lessens his feelings of powerlessness, instead, he feels himself wanted. Loved, even.
He opens his eyes when Adam tilts his head up by the chin and meets his eyes up above him. Then, the clippers land once again on top of his hairline, he drives them back gentler this time, repeatedly, almost as if he was using them like a comb over the light stubble on his head.
"I love this haircut on you".
He loves Adam. He convinces himself of it. Of his duty to love every him.
It’s not a violent turn of their relationship or a dramatic uncovering of anything that pushes Sebastian to take a decision, he thinks it’s just the sum of tiny things like grains of sand piling up until he can no longer keep on ignoring them, despite Adam’s insistence that he both can and should.
It’s another morning where he’s yet sitting at the stool and Adam is sliding a foil shaver up and down his neck, upwards, beyond his indistinguishable hairline, over a razor cut from the previous time he shaved him.
The routine began a night after they had been away from each other visiting their respective families during their second summer together. Sebastian’s hair had grown past a couple centimeters in that time. Adam had returned and after getting rid of the growth with the clippers, he had taken out a straight razor. Sebastian didn’t move an inch when the blade was angled for the top of his head and held his breath.
He hasn’t seen or touched his own hair in what feels like ages.
The translucent, prickly, thin remembrance of his mane that is to be devotedly shaven from his head, deemed unwanted by the fingers that have inspected every single of the uncharted moles, freckles and scars of his skin.
Adam’s appetite is all-consuming black hole.
His gravity catches him a long collision course. Until it finally ends.
That day, he finally makes up his mind.
"I’m through" Sebastian holds his coffee cup closer to him needing the comfort of the heat inside his hands.
Adam gazes up from his shoulder, they’re standing in the middle of the street, it’s a cold morning and they went out for breakfast. He sheds the callousness from his face in the blink of an eye, like an animal molting dead skin and approaches him cautiously.
"Hey, we’ve been through this already" he smiles at him and holds his free hand inside of his and doesn’t let go "We’re not doing bad. Are we?".
Adam’s smile is the first thing he loved about him when he met him. That mouth that’s held him hostage by for countless nights.
"Adam" Sebastian tries to hold his gaze "I can’t".
"Now, come on".
"No" Sebastian puts his empty hand inside his pocket, where Adam can’t reach it "This is over".
"You’ll change your mind about this in a couple days, you know?" his fingers unhook from his and ascend up his arm all the way to his face.
His fingers, his thumb digs underneath his beanie and removes it from his head, leaving his scalp exposed to the cold air, as he fondles the shaven skin "I know you. You always do".
Adam leans in to kiss him.
He doesn’t know if Adam really knows him as he says he does.
He just knows he can’t stay inside this cycle he’s in with him.
The time that passes between the moment when Adam stops calling and texting him and when he stops wanting to do the same is asymmetrical and he ends up having him not exactly lodged inside his mind but coming and going at times like a habit he can’t shake off quite completely.
He starts to think that closing the cycle is overdue and tries to open different doors, terrified of not knowing where they lead, but hopefully somewhere different.
(He thought he had known where Adam would lead him to, but he didn’t and maybe there’s the proof that he did know him as well as he said he did after all).
He takes his chance. His name is Vince. He’s the second or the third guy he starts seeing after he breaks up with Adam, he lives within a reasonable distance, and nothing about him reminds him of his ex-boyfriend.
He has an abundant, chocolate mane, for starters.
"So, what do you do?".
"Barista. Catering once in a while. I also study" Sebastian tells him that much, doesn’t mention his major "You?".
Vince smiles proud, enthusiastic, almost child-like even "I study barbering".
Oh. Sebastian changes the subject. Not so smoothly.
Vince doesn’t skip a beat and chats with him over coffee, sandwich and later beer about movies and bands and the best and worst bars of the town. He seems to have a lot of ranks for everything, he discovers in that first encounter.
He’s actually a chatter mouth, if he’s being honest. But he finds himself drawn to his laughter and catching every moment he enjoys making him smile in amusement.
‘Hey, when can meet see you again?’.
Sebastian doesn’t answer his text right away.
‘I’m free next Thursday night’.
On Wednesday evening, he realizes he is actually looking forward to seeing him again.
By their fifth or sixth date, Vince does his share of unapologetically stalking his social media, and Sebastian can’t recall the last time he posted anything until his remark reminds him of how long exactly had it been.
"Whoa. You had quite a mane" Vince stares at him, his retinas trying to retain the image of a long-haired blond, younger man and cross it over with his face at the present moment "And you shaved it all off just like that? Man".
Sebastian doesn’t quite know why he hasn’t deleted the photos.
Without any comment from his side, Vince rambles on a bit more "I mean, I know long hair can be a hassle" he runs his hand through his long locks "I usually buzz mine in summer, I didn’t do it last year, but I like to change it up once a while, you know? But I’ve never shaved it like that".
"Yeah, I shaved for a while" he says offhandedly "My ex-boyfriend liked me better with my hair cut short".
He rakes his fingers through his bangs in a way that’s almost like a reflex, a way to assure himself that he actually has them, long that they fall into his eyes.
There’s a pause at Vince’s end, like he weighs in his next words.
"You must have been very much in love".
Sebastian, in opposition, doesn’t even think and replies point-blank.
"Yeah, I was".
First-person. Past tense. Singular.
He’ll recover who he was before, rescue his own pieces and put them back together.
They don’t plan to move in together their third month as much as Sebastian’s flatmate deserts their apartment and he needs someone to move in before the end of the month and Vince needs a room closer to the city center.
It’s mainly a matter of convenience for both of them. They’re not yet fully knowledgeable of each other but they’re exactly strangers either so it works better than the roulette of interviewing people he’s never seen before.
And then, the lockdown hits them.
First is for two weeks. Then two weeks more. And two weeks turn into two weeks more and days square each other endlessly.
He doesn’t recall if they’re talking about their jobs and broken everyday lives or something else entirely or maybe nothing at all but something prompts Vince to offer:
"You could use a haircut".
It’s true. He must have six or seven months without getting a haircut at all since he broke up with Adam. He has been aiming to get it back down to his shoulders like it used to be.
At the moment is reaching his earlobe in places, the back spills and covers the collar of his shirts. It curls at the ends and places in ways he doesn’t recall it did before, his only guess it’s that it’s still too short for the weight to pull the waves down like it used to and he’s constantly fingering it and trying to make it look less unkept.
And there’s still a synapsis that leads straight to Adam who never let a single hair stray and unshaven around his hairline when he... He dismisses that thought as quickly as he can.
Vince doesn’t bring up the matter again. Or not his offer at least. He does mention his classmates from barbering school and the livestreams they’re pitching each other to keep studying from afar. He offhandedly mentions his hands feel idle as he busies himself painting walls and doing puzzles to keep both of them entertained.
He keeps going on about all of Sebastian's favorite cafeterias and libraries and how he'll organize a tour just the two of them around them after the lockdown is over and says he's plotting a trip to the coast for the end of the year and shows up with plants and flowers he's never seen before to bring the outside inside the flat.
Sebastian kills time testing new coffee mixes and cocktails and recipes and offering them to him as a test subject.
While whatever he gave to Adam he would mimic any thought he voiced, Vince doesn’t and he either marvels at an aroma or a taste in a way that’s like he’s fallen in love through his taste buds or he begs him to never serve that again in a way that’s just as theatrical and over-the-top that it throws him off balance until he cracks laughing and then apologizes and insists it was horrid.
It fascinates him at times. How stout-hearted he is to say everything. How he can’t hide what’s going through his head even when it’s the sane thing to do.
And at the same time, he’s contradictorily shy for other things.
It’s a still night when they watch a film together and he lets his head rest over Vince’s lap.
"Can I touch your hair?".
The question is odd, awkward, terribly timed considering that he has never been timid about grasping his locks around his fingers when they make out. Anyone would take for granted that yes, of course he could, but he still feels the need to ask.
Not to mention that f***, Vince is studying to be a barber so the concept of touching other people’s hair should be anything but unfamiliar to him.
Sebastian stares at him with his eyes wide open and tells him that yes, he can with a quizzical smile at the end of his voice.
Vince’s fingers caress his bangs, he’s gentle, careful, even, as he slides his fingertips across the length, not quite touching his scalp for the first minutes. Yet, Sebastian feels himself tensing slightly. He breathes and closes his eyes.
Then, he goes underneath, his hand slowly goes inside the locks, combing softly. He doesn’t pull, doesn’t tense, doesn’t twist it, doesn’t rake his nails against his scalp. It’s like he holds a lullaby inside his hand and plays it along the strands of his hair and his touch is a home he’s never known he longed for until that moment.
He nimbly, threads and braids stray locks at his temples that he undoes and caresses them. His motions are a pattern and he studies the rhythm his fingertips play in his hair.
One first, single strand over and around a second one, then a third. Then again. One lock first, a second one, then a third. He intertwines the locks together, then, his fingers inside his own.
He thinks Vince is in love with him. And part of him is afraid of being mistaken, of loving him, so he still hesitates to name it.
Their shared hopes that the lockdown will be over soon don’t come to fruition.
Sebastian sees his hair growing unrulier in the mirror. He’ll need a haircut before (or when) he can go back to work. He sees the shears in the cabinet and weighs in the idea of giving himself a trim, he thinks he can at least manage his bangs.
His eyes catch Vince’s straight razor, lather and combs and other barbering tools he owns and as he closes the cabinet and is faced again with his reflection, he recalls the times he shaved his own head in early Saturday mornings, removing two weeks blond fuzz at Adam’s suggestions at first, then on his own accord as he buzzed it down to skin to his liking. Then as he started razoring it.
He doesn’t think he can do that just yet. He untangles his mane with his hand and pushes the idea further back.
For some reason, even as his hair grows closer back to his original shoulder-length, there’s something in his reflection that doesn’t seem quite what he expected and it doesn’t bother him except for the fact that he can’t name what it is.
Then, one morning, Vince is energized, he seems to run on something else entirely but that’s for another day and even before Sebastian asks him, he jumps ahead of the question and shares the news with him.
"I’m going to give a quick trim to Mr. Black, you know, neighbor from the tenth floor? Walks with a cane? Grandpa?" Sebastian already knew who he was referring to by his name but Vince always talks a lot so he’s used to letting him ramble "I ran into him and he kept going on about barbers being closed, so I told him I’m a barber school student and offered him a trim. I’ll tell you about it when I come back!".
Vince drop a pot of yet another strange plant he's bought or someone gifted him into his hands and grabs his keys.
"Okay, okay" Sebastian smiles lovingly at him.
Vince plants a kiss on his cheek "Bye!".
"Hey, wait" he holds his hand and stops him.
"Yes?" Vince whips his head back with his permanent smile planted on his face.
Maybe it’s how alive and blazing Vince looks that day, or just the time that has passed, but Sebastian decides to go with the thought that flies over his head.
"Could you cut my hair later? After you come back?" he tells him, caressing his hand with his thumb as he still holds it.
Vince’s grin becomes sweeter "Yeah, sure" he raises his hand to his lips and kisses his knuckles "Wash your hair in the meantime".
Sebastian showers. Then he waits for him, whatever it was that had held and delayed his anxiety abandons him as he comes face to face minutes later with the image of Vince deploying all of his barbering tools in the makeshift space in the bathroom.
This was his idea. He’ll go through with it.
A black cape whipping the air. A tissue secured around his neck. A comb going through his hair. It’s been so long since he had taken part of anything similar to this. His heart is pounding.
"I get you’ve been growing it out" Vince looks at him in the mirror "So, a trim?".
Sebastian thought that’s what he wanted to do. He had been trying to get back to where and who he was before.
But he can’t. He’ll never be there again.
"No, cut it shorter" he says certain, sliding his fingers into the heavy mass of waves at his temples.
Vince holds his shoulders and gets his face closer to his "Give me free reign to cut as much as I want or...?".
Sebastian takes his hand off his shoulder and presses his lips to it "I trust you".
Vince crosses himself, making Sebastian grin amused at his theatrics and sections his hair first, keeps the top knotted and secured with a clip. Then, picks the shears and holds a first piece of the hair at his temples in his free hand.
He slides the blades through it. Sebastian stares into the mirror as the hair on his right side is cut above his ear. He hears the metal crunching and watches Vince let go of that first severed lock. The heaviness at his chest leaves him.
"All cool?" Vince asks him as he grabs a second clump of blond hair further back.
"Yeah" he tells him.
Another clump joins the first one. Sebastian relax and watches him shorten the hair all around with his anxiety finally dissolving.
"How much can I take off the sides and the back?" Vince asks as he fingers the roughly cut hair at his temples "I would like to give you a taper fade".
"Don’t shave it" Sebastian counters, calmly.
He nods in agreement "Got it" Vince takes the clipper and attaches a guard "One?".
His hand goes to the top of his head and tilts it towards his opposite shoulder. He turns on the hair clippers. The familiar clack is followed by that whirring noise that touches him before the blades do.
He holds in his breathing as they are brought up his sideburns and moved above them before they’re pulled away mid-temple. The blond hairs barely cover the skin, but Sebastian can still see them, can still tell they’re there and sighs in relief.
Vince carves an arch around his ear; he folds it carefully and moves to the back of his head. The blades stop short of his occipital bone and Sebastian feels the clumps that slide down his neck.
The barber apprentice travels to the other side, unattended and buzzes it in perfect symmetry as the first one. Sebastian sees him change guards and taper the sides, slide his comb up and down the shortened hairs and he realizes he likes how light it feels.
He cleans the outline with shaving gel and his straight razor. The cool metal of the blade touches his skin gently, surely.
Then, the clip comes off and the longer hair on top is loose around his face. Vince takes combs and shears once again and first cuts his bangs; he slices them with dexterous movements. Sebastian sees the blond clumps of hair against the black cape, heavy on his lap as he snips them off.
Vince keeps going, blending in the crown and the sides and Sebastian starts to glimpse at the cut he’s giving him.
He ruffles the still damp hair and slides his fingers through his bangs, away from his face.
He puts the shears and the comb away. Soon, he’s plugging in a hair dryer and brushing back and shaping the top, the gold color of his hair more perceptible as it dries.
Vince takes some pomade between his fingers and runs his hand through his hair, then takes a hand mirror and holds it behind his head "What do you think?"
Sebastian isn’t used to what he sees in the mirror. He studies the cut. It’s an Ivy League, he thinks. He sees the taper on the back and the sides. His bangs are combed backwards, lifted slightly and won’t come into his eyes.
It’s a departure from the shaved head he had for over a year and the shoulder-length mane he had prior and he thinks he can find himself in the reflection he’s staring at, as unfamiliar as it is than in any of those other two.
"It’s marvelous" he tells Vince with a smile "I have to tip you at the very least for this cut".
"F*** no you won´t!" the amateur barber unfastens the cape from his neck.
He lifts his hand to his buzzed nape, amused at his response, seeing the discarded mounds of hair in the floor with an odd relief "Well, since you won’t let me pay you, is there anything I can do for you instead?".
"You don’t owe me anything" the other stands in front of him, crossing his arms "I’m happy just to see you smile".
"I’m not letting you charm your way out of this one" Sebastian leans back on the stool.
Vince gleams and looks at him in a way that’s wholehearted and bright and Sebastian allows himself the idea of falling in love with him as well.
Wherever they lead each other, he’s no longer afraid.