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Something to Soothe the Mind (Part 2) by Fantasy Weaver
Direct continuation of part 1. Please read first part for context. Enjoy.
1:Some foul language ahead
Something to Soothe the Mind
Being back at Hair Therapy's waiting room felt surreal. Dari wondered a few times if he might be daydreaming, of whether this was real or not.
He knew better than to question his reality.
All day, he had fretted about, dreading the time he would have to leave for his appointment. He had spent a majority of that time in the bathroom, carefully washing his hair so as to not cause too much shed (a futile attempt, but he digressed). And when the deed had been done, and his shower looked like a salon floor during rush hour, he had stared at his reflection and gently fondled the hair he had grown so attached to over the years.
He played with a strand now, as he waited on those cream colored couches, wondering how different the next weeks would be without his thinning mane.
His hand shook. Dari swallowed, clasped his hands together around his personal screen in hopes of stopping the digits from trembling. He tried to ease his mind by focusing on the music playing in his earbuds, but knew that it only served to drown out his subconscious' ranting and raving about how badly he wanted to go home, how this was an idiotic idea and that he was stupid to have ever considered this.
He breathed, once. Twice. Did not feel his panic abate even a fraction. Ludicrous. This whole idea was absolutely ludicrous.
What was he thinking? Did he really want to go through with all this?
But if it would help him in the end, could he not power through?
What would his friends think of him? What would he think of himself?
It was just a few weeks, he could do that, couldn't he?
Stupid. This is bulls***! He should go home. He would probably look even worse after this.
But the end results-
And how would he get through this mentally intact? His nerves were already frayed enough as it was with his burnout, and the thought of going back to work for his stupid boss, and being depressed as sh*t and tired and sore and fed up of living a life which he no longer enjo-
Frantic brown eyes snapped open. The raven breathed, panted, searching for the source of the warmth on his shoulder.
The riotous thoughts that had plagued him slowly faded, until they were nothing but mere murmurs in the back of his mind, when the young man's panicked gaze found a pale, freckled hand resting on his left shoulder. He tilted his head, and met soft, cool blue irises.
Tarek stood beside him by the couch, and when he had gotten the other's attention, had taken his hand back.
Dari licked his dry lips, unable to focus on the taller man's face. He shifted, removed his earplugs, all while staring into his lap, finding the woven pattern of his black pants to be of great interest.
His stare shifted between his legs and Tarek's shoes, saw the man shuffle on his feet.
The awkward silence between them finally broke when Tarek spoke, his deep voice just loud enough for Dari to hear, though not enough to be heard by any of the other patients, "I would say it's good to see you again," he began calmly, before attempting a bit of mirth, "but that would be cliché."
Dari pursed his lips. The man's attempts to lighten his glum mood were honorable, if not in vain. He flicked his screen away and rubbed his hands to stop their shaking.
He looked at his caretaker when he came to sit next to him on the sofa. God, he must look like a mess.
Tarek gave him a reassuring smile, "Usually, a patient that comes back for a follow-up appointment has already made up their mind." The raven averted his gaze then. "And with the look on your face, I think it's safe for me to assume that I'm right."
The young man clenched his fists, and for a moment, he gave no response. He hated to admit that Tarek was right.
A second passed, and he nodded sullenly. He gave the hair specialist a once over, thinking again about how he "is here to listen", and nodded to himself this time, "Can we talk in your office?" He asked quietly. If they stayed here any longer, he felt he might bolt straight for the door.
Tarek lifted himself, angling his head towards him with a tilt to his lips, "If it makes you more comfortable, then of course."
The man waited for him, and once Dari found it in himself to move, he stood up and followed the handsome man to his office.
He wondered, as they strode down the lengthy hallway, if he had ever felt this resigned to his fate. Even when he had moved to this never-sleeping city for his job, he hadn't felt so miserable.
Perhaps this was just a culmination of all his anxiety in regards to the sad state of his career, of the depression it had caused, of how tired and sick he was of everything around him.
He didn't know, but he would try his damnedest to keep himself together this evening.
Dari had been so lost in thought, that he didn't notice when the snow-haired man had unlocked the door to the office-slash-workroom beyond. The sound of the door opening tore the raven from his daze, and suddenly he wasn't so sure he could keep calm through this.
His panicked state probably showed on his face, as Tarek took this moment to say, with that usual kindly simper, "Take your time."
No. If he took his time, he would be out here for ages. 'This is like taking off a bandage,' he thought to himself, trying to convince himself of it, 'You just have to do it quick and it'll be over. Easy. So just do it.'
A small, angry, fearful part of himself still thought this was a terrible idea.
He took a breath, and walked into the office, Tarek closing the door silently behind them.
The barber rounded his desk, gesturing to the examination seat Dari had found himself in last time. "Have a seat. I assume you have some questions or worries you might want to discuss before doing anything."
Dari walked towards the floating chair, eyes darting to the salon station, with its array of tools, on the other side of the room. He swallowed, "Yeah."
The seat rocked in the air as he sat and leaned forward, depositing the digital document on the desk. The other did the same, and took a moment to lift the opacity on the pad.
The man's long fingers crossed over the table, a habit Dari had picked up meant business for the barber. A nervous sweat gathered in his lower back at the sight.
"Have you read through most of the document?" Tarek started, motioning to the screen.
The raven scratched at his nape, but forced himself to stop before he could do any more damage to his scalp. "I have," he answered bluntly.
Seeing as the raven hadn't elaborated, the barber prodded, "Were there parts of the treatment plan that were unclear, or questions you had about the process?"
There was one question that Dari had kept firmly in check up until now, as he hadn't wanted to consider it because of the nature of the Keralite Therapy, but he had to know. He felt almost embarrassed to utter out his inquiry, couldn't look at Tarek as he said it, "Is a wig a possibility for the first few weeks?"
He felt ridiculous asking this. How vain would Tarek think he was, asking for a hairpiece just for what, two or three weeks? He had seen children braver than him in the face of total hair loss! The young man realized how ridiculous the question had been the moment he uttered it, but he needed to know.
Tarek sighing had him snapping his eyes back up, and he immediately knew what that spelled for him.
"Unfortunately," the man informed him, "wearing a wig would interfere with the passive effects of the treatments. And wearing a wig cap would rub away at your scalp, absorb the products, and can suffocate your scalp or block blood vessels from bringing in nutrients to your hair."
Dari had tuned out about halfway through the explanation. All that mattered was that he would not be able to cover up his head. "I see," he sighed sadly.
He glanced into Tarek's cool eyes, found a trace of sympathy in them that made him feel worse. "Are you nervous about your appearance?" He asked gently, knowing from experience that this was a sensitive subject for most of his patients.
Dari's eyes widened, before shifting anxiously away. His lower lip trembled. He wouldn't cry. He would NOT.
He nodded slowly, his right fist coming to press against his mouth, "Yes..." he whispered.
The other man shifted in his seat slightly. "I can't make you like what you will see, once we get started," he began, "But I can make this ordeal feel less uncomfortable, and I can help you feel better about yourself with small things. Let's call them 'rituals'."
The raven looked up at that, intrigued despite their topic of conversation. "Like what?"
Tarek gave him a small smile, "Since you have a lot of time off, it can be simple things like self-care routines. Since there are things you'll need to do at home to maintain the treatment, I can show you how to, say, massage your own head with the protection serum." He paused to think of another example. "I can give you a series of upper body exercises to relieve tension, things like that."
Exercises in relaxation; now he knew where the "therapy" in "Hair Therapy" began. They were meant to relieve stress, but how could that change his views on his looks?
Tarek seemed to read his mind then, as his next statement answered that thought, "By establishing rituals that pertain to your hair, you can grow accustomed to the look and feel of your head. These methods don't work for everyone, but I always recommend them as something that can be done."
He was saying that he should give it a go, of course, but Dari had his reservations.
There were other questions that needed to be answered, so the raven moved on from their current topic, though he hoped to drag this on for as long as possible before...
He shook his head. Questions first.
"Do a lot of people get side-effects from the treatment?" He had read the list of side effects, and while there weren't many, the ones that were listed could be potentially harmful: allergic reactions, burning on the scalp, and the one that bothered him the most, more accentuated hair loss.
But the barber reassured him, "The likelihood of an allergic reaction happening is only increased if the person receiving the treatment has a history of reactions to other products meant for the scalp. And as for the accentuated hair loss," Here, he turned his desk screen towards Dari, where statistics were shown in a table, "There have only ever been three cases. And I should mention that the reason they lost more hair was due to a conflict between the medicinal ingredients in the products, and the ones in the pills they were taking for their hair loss. We now have to issue a warning to any clients who take that particular brand of medication. Otherwise, there has been no worsening of the symptoms related to alopecia during treatment."
It was a small relief in an otherwise daunting process.
They moved swiftly on with the next set of questions. "I read that there are treatments that are done in communal areas," the raven began uncertainly, his voice taking on a defensive, dismissing tone, "I don't want to be with other people."
Tarek nodded patiently. "We can do all your treatments in private if that's what you prefer."
The hair specialist was aware that not everyone was comfortable sharing the process with other patients. While some find peace in the knowledge that they are not alone in their situation, others, like Dari it would seem, preferred a more intimate, private therapy plan.
Seeing how nervous this made him, it would probably benefit him to be alone with Tarek.
The barber gave Dari his attention again when he voiced his next concerns, and noticed the man picking at his hands in agitation, "Is there...is there a chance that my condition will come back after treatment?"
There was concern written all over his features. The young man had thought a few times about the possibility that this was all for nothing, and that his alopecia would return after a while, no matter what they might do to prevent that. It was imperative that he knew the risks, to gauge whether this was really worth it or not.
He glanced at his caretaker, searching his handsome face for any worrying signs. After a brief moment, Tarek spoke, his face a mask of professionalism, "There have been some cases in which the symptoms of alopecia returned." Dari's shoulders sagged, but the man wasn't finished, "However, the return of the symptoms were preceded by a high surge in stress and anxiety levels."
No matter how he worded it, Dari could only see it one way: if ever he found himself, a year from now, in this same state of mind, having panic attacks and being overall depressed, then he could suffer another hair loss episode.
He started to shake his head, his hand waving in the air in a dismissive gesture, "It's useless then-" he began, but the feel of Tarek's hand draping over his left one, which he had left on the desk, had him stopping mid-sentence.
He stared at the man, saw warmth displayed in those otherwise cool irises, and felt himself tremble at the feeling that stare sent through him.
"It is not useless," Tarek pointedly stated, "I've said it before, but I am not just here to take care of your hair, I am here to listen and offer help and solutions so you can better manage your stress." His hand lingered on his for a moment, before he slipped it away. "Again, I am not a therapist, but I can recommend seeing one, if we agree that you might need it."
Dari, moved by the words despite his pessimism, leaned back against his seat. He hadn't ever gone to a therapist before. His doctor had recommended it, but he had adamantly refused, wanting more than anything to be left alone, to think and manage everything himself.
Perhaps Tarek was right, as Howard had been. Maybe seeing a shrink could do him some good.
He thought of his hair, of the patches he tried so desperately to hide, of how they were an ugly reminder of the state of his mental health. The young man didn't want to see them appear ever again after this.
He wouldn't think about this now; there were already enough stressful things on his plate for him to ponder. This was something to keep in mind for later.
"I'll ask you something, but feel free to refuse." Dari returned his focus to the hair specialist, and raised a brow curiously. "Hair Therapy can use patient records for the study of alopecia and other types of hair loss. We do this to find ways to cure the conditions permanently." He addressed himself to Dari, "Would you be willing to allow Hair Therapy to use your treatment as a case study for our researchers?"
To be used as a guinea pig? To have his head photographed and samples taken from him, so other people can see his condition and break it down? They would probably see his medical records, the ones pertaining to his anxiety and depression.
He shook his head, trying not to choke on the lump in his throat the thought brought up. "No," he blurted softly, his voice nearly cracking under the stress.
Tarek nodded once, hands lifting in a pacifying gesture. "That's fine. You can rest assured that whatever happens here, or whatever we say here, stays between us."
The raven sighed, "Thank you."
A beat of silence fell over them after this. In this moment, Dari realized he had no more questions to ask, and tried in vain to wrack his mind for something, ANYTHING, to talk about. He knew that if the moment dragged on, the other man would suggest they get things started, a thought that scared him so deeply he would do anything to avoid it.
Had he not resigned himself to the idea the moment he came here, though? Tarek himself had assumed the same thing, rightly at that.
His hands had begun to tremble again, his eyes staring at the light details of the other's desk.
His ears picked up on Tarek lifting himself from his chair, and immediately felt himself shrink in his own seat.
The man leaned his larger frame against the edge of his desk, in a way that Dari had no choice but to shift his gaze up (lest he be staring at the guy's crotch, and despite that one part of his mind wanting to know what it looked like, he drowned it out).
"If you don't have any other questions, and that you've made your decision, would you like us to start?"
The fact that Tarek excluded the mention of concerns or worries was not lost on the young man. It was plain to anyone that he most certainly still had fears in regards to this ordeal.
He stared for second or so into those kind, sympathetic eyes, and found the smile that usually lingered on Tarek's face had turned sad. His own mouth had turned down into a frown. His hand, where it had lain in his lap, patted down his raven locks in a display of open nervousness.
A heavy hand squeezed his shoulder. He turned to look at Tarek, feeling the dam of his emotions crack at the comforting gesture. The stubborn lump in his throat seemed even more bothersome now, and he could feel heat pooling in his eyes.
The barber rubbed his shoulder, and spoke to him in hushed tones, "It's alright to be scared."
'Don't say that...' he thought miserably, the kind words akin to some surgical tool prodding at a deep wound in his skin.
The hand at his shoulder remained there. Its constant weight helped anchor himself in the tumultuous sea of his mind. If he could, he would tell the other to keep it there and no longer move it, if only to stop what was about to transpire, and to extract as much consolation as he could from the touch.
"There are ways we can make this more comfortable, for you," Tarek now said, in that same quiet voice. "Do you want to hear my propositions?" He asked.
Dari doubted that any suggestion the snow-haired man made would ease him, but he hummed an affirmation anyway.
"There is the more clinical method," he began, "in which the removal of your hair is done by an epilating cap. It's quick, but for some, it might feel alienating. And the shock from removing the cap to see your head for the first time can cause a bit of distress. I would have no part in removing your hair. I would put the cap on, and leave it to do its work."
Epilating caps, Dari recalled from the time his grandfather had gone through brain surgery, were pieces of equipment used to get rid of every hair on someone's head in a sanitary, sterile way. They were most commonly used for such procedures as brain surgery, but the raven guessed that Hair Therapy used them for their clinical usage as well.
Tarek continued, "Some patients prefer shaving their heads themselves, alone or with someone if they need it." Dari was already shaking his head at that. He doubted he would even bear to look at himself, let alone shear his head. "You don't want to do it yourself, then?" Tarek asked him, just to confirm this.
"No." He emphasized his answer with a shake of his head.
"Alright, no worries." Tarek seemed to realize he still held his patient's shoulder, and finally took his hand back, much to Dari's chagrin. "Since I'm a barber, I might be biased about this next option, but bear with me."
The young man stared at him, waiting.
"We can go the traditional route, and I'll shave your head at my barbering station," He gestured to the countertop with the mirror and grounded chair. He looked into Dari's eyes, his lips tilted in a ghost of a smile, "Have you ever had a professional traditional shave?"
That last word made a shiver course through his spine. 'Oh God...' his mind provided, frightened beyond measure. He shook his head, "What...what do you mean 'traditional?" He hadn't the slightest idea what the man meant.
"Have you ever heard the term 'hot towel shave'? Or 'hot lather shave'?"
Dari had only ever been to contemporary salons, so anything deemed traditional or old-fashioned was quickly tossed out his mind, but despite this, the terms were indeed familiar. His late grandfather, who had lived in the 2010’s and 2020's, had mentioned a craze about the barbering service during that period. In fact, he recalled seeing some contemporary barbers offer those services. Most places deemed them obsolete with the modern epilating tools and clippers of the era.
Even though Dari had heard of the term before, he didn't really know what such a shave entailed. He could guess from the names that towels and lather of some sort must play a part in it, but that was going with the obvious.
"I've heard of it," Dari ventured, uncertainty tinting his words, "but I don't know what it means."
Tarek seemed to nod to himself. "This would be like going to a salon for a haircut. I would get you comfortable in the barber chair, we can take time to make sure you're at ease, and I would shave your head with clippers." He paused to let the young man process his words. When Dari said nothing, he kept going, "Once your hair is gone, I would give you the hot towel shave, which is just what it sounds like. I apply moist, heated towels to your scalp, rub some oils and lather your head, and shave whatever's left with a traditional straight razor."
It sounded so tedious. And long. Dari didn't want this to stretch on forever; he wanted it done fast. But then the clinical method Tarek had informed him about didn't rub him the right way either. Like the man had said, he didn't think it would be good for him to experience the shock of finding his hair had vanished in a matter of minutes without him even noticing.
"I can see the wheels are turning in your head," Tarek teased him after a beat of silence. He took this opportunity to push the idea in a more tolerable direction. "From my experience, the traditional method can be meditative in a way."
Dari could hardly believe that. "How so?" He spat a bit more aggressively than he meant.
"Well, you can see what's happening, as its happening. You see yourself changing gradually, and that alone can help you come to terms with your new, temporary," he stressed this word, "appearance. You can talk with me during the process, if you want, or close your eyes. Anything that would make the experience more enjoyable. And, if I may give my personal opinion..."
Dari nodded, shifting anxiously, "Yeah?"
The taller man's smile grew wider. "I've had my own head shaved before with this method, and I think it feels really nice, if you give yourself a chance to relax and feel everything. It's an experience, for sure, even if it wasn't something you had ever planned on trying. But since the opportunity to try it is here, well, it's up to you if you want to go through with it."
A saying came to mind when Tarek explained his views, and Dari found himself uttering it now, uncertain whether he was just filling the silence, or saying it to himself, "'To make the best out of a bad situation...'"
Tarek, his voice little more than a fleeting breeze in the still air of the office, added softly, "Good words to live by, now more than ever, no?"
Dari lifted his head. His eyes wandered to the large, plush, white barber chair, sitting, waiting, at the other end of the room.
He swallowed the lump in his throat, closing his eyes as he took one last soothing breath.
The time had come.
Dari shifted around in the examination seat, his thoughts in disarray as he came to the decision that he would take Tarek up on his offer. Accepting his fate, however, did not mean he was elated about it.
His brown eyes looked up at the snow-haired man leaning against his office desk, seeing nothing but saintly patience written over his features.
A nervous, shuddering breath escaped from the raven’s trembling lips, "Let’s get this over with," his words spilled out in a rushed whisper, a clear indicator of his state of mind.
Beside him, Tarek pushed away from his desk, one freckled hand held out to him in silent invitation. "Come with me then," he said.
Another quivering breath, another few brain cells lost in the storm of his mind. Dari nodded to himself, trying to give himself an inkling of courage despite feeling like nothing but a coward in the face of all this. He rose shakily from the floating seat and paid no mind to the barber’s hand still held out towards him. He could stand by himself. And besides, he no longer wanted to take the hand that would decimate his hair in but a few moments.
His caretaker slowly led him towards the semi-circular barbering station, a few steps in front of Dari. The raven saw the man flick his wrist in a rotating motion, and observed as the grounded barber chair turned obediently at the visual command.
The seat was huge, at least, compared to the familiar sleek salon chairs which, like the examination seat at Tarek’s desk, hovered mid-air. Although Dari did not feel overjoyed at having to sit in it, he silently conceded that it looked much more comfortable than the chairs he was used to. The large cushioned frame reminded him of an elaborate armchair, the kind you could lean back into and take a nap in.
He became aware of Tarek’s searching gaze on him, and angled his head to his left to peer at him.
Honestly, with the tunic, the hair, the attitude, and the hand the man rested on the chair, Dari could only think that he fit the traditional barber standard. His attire and the chair may have been more modern, but the raven thought this must have been the closest thing to it.
He didn’t know how long he stood there, feet planted firmly into the polished white floor, staring dazedly at the chair and the man beside it. No matter how long he tried to drag this out, he would eventually have to sit and let Tarek rid him of his hair. He couldn’t very well stay there forever; Tarek probably didn’t want to wait for him that long either, as he must want to go home as much as Dari, but still, he selfishly wanted nothing more than to do exactly that.
‘No. No, you are going to sit your ass in that chair and get this over with,’ his subconscious berated him harshly. It was right; the sooner he sat down, the sooner this would be over.
He took another of those deep breaths, but still found he couldn’t move.
The sound of work shoes lightly tapping along the floor pulled him from his petrified state, enough for him to see Tarek moving over to his side.
The man placed a gentle hand on his back, his eyes finding his worried brown ones, and suddenly the world felt a little more stable. The taller man smiled, and spoke in soft tones, "Have a seat, Dari. I promise you’ll be fine." As he finished his statement, he had the raven turn slowly around so his back faced the chair.
Dari swallowed his saliva, his legs akin to jelly as Tarek helped him lower himself into the plush confines of the barber chair.
It was as he had thought before; the cushions melded around the shape of his body in a pleasing way. He jumped when the chair rotated towards the workstation’s large mirror, and found himself seeing his reflection for the first time since arriving in the clinic. What he found before him was wholly disconcerting; his body seemed so frail in the embrace of the large chair, with only the tip of his shoulders and his head poking above the back, in which the headrest had been pushed into.
Dari dared a peek at his hair, saw that he had mussed it up sometime between leaving home and sitting in the chair. He could see the alopecia patches at his left temple, and spotted another poking through his hair on the right side of his head. He didn’t even want to know how bad his nape looked. The worst part of seeing his reflection was probably being able to see just how horrible he looked; disheveled, eyes dropping tiredly with the faintest glimmer of moisture in them, shaking and scared…
And Tarek standing behind the chair, watching him.
A deep scowled marred his features, and he averted his gaze to his lap.
Those warm hands came to pat his shoulders encouragingly. "If ever you need a break, or anything, all you have to do and say so, and I’ll stop."
Shaken, Dari rubbed at his forehead, hoping to soothe the headache building up behind it. Head lowered in acknowledgement, he uttered a strained, "Okay…"
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