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Confidence by Jamiesstories


A/N: This is definitely not inspired by my upcoming jury… In all seriousness, I’ve been trying to write something for this site for a while and this is the first thing I’ve been actually happy with. Let me know what you think.

Confidence

If there’s one thing that all music students dread, it’s juries. The semi-annual nightmare where you go in front of a panel of judges and perform for them, alone. It doesn’t decide much, only whether or not you’ll be allowed to return next semester. No biggie, really, not much pressure at all.

Of course, every student had their own way of coping with the anxiety juries brought. In the lobby outside the classroom, some will be running back and forth from the bathroom; some will be tuning, re-tuning, and, just for good measure, tuning their instruments a third time; and some will talk until their voice goes hoarse. Elliot, too, had his own method of dealing with the anxiety juries brought: playing with his hair.

If an outside observer were to enter the lobby, they would catch Elliot sitting in the corner, pale, lanky limbs swathed in a black collared shirt and black dress pants, both at least one size too big, fussing with his long black mane. Braiding and unbraiding, tying up and taking down, and, Elliot’s personal favorite, twirling a loc of his inky hair around his finger.

The hair in question fell, at its longest, down to Elliot’s mid-back, whereas the fringe (uneven with the rest of his hair, due to Elliot’s refusal to get a trim to even it out) fell just beyond his shoulders. Elliot was pulled from his religious hair-twirling, however, when he heard the head-juror and his personal piano teacher, Dr. Yurik Belov, call out,

"Mr. Van Andel." Elliot rose at the sound of his last name, and walked towards the open door of the classroom, nerves bubbling so fiercely in his stomach, he was barely able to speak. He continued to twirl his hair around his finger, and stepped into the room after Dr. Belov, hunching down under the stares of the two other jurors, both other faculty members from the Piano department. Dr. Belov returned to his seat in the middle of the other two jurors and indicated to the sole piano in the room,

"Please introduce yourself, then sit." Dr. Belov instructed. Elliot walked over and stood next to the piano bench, finally dropping his fringe and allowing it to rest in front of his right eye.

"Um, h- hello," Elliot began, his nerves stopping him from fully articulating what he wanted to say, "I’m, uh, Elliot- Elliot Van Andel, and, uh, today I- I’ll be performing Mozart sonata in, uh, C maj- I mean minor, K. 45- um, 457." Elliot cursed himself for his, frankly, horrible introduction and sat at the piano, he would just have to make up for it with his music.

"Whenever you’re ready, Elliot." And so, he began, for the first few notes, his hands shook, but as he found the rhythm of the molto allegro, he forgot the jury was even there, he simply played. As he was fully memorized, he allowed the music to take him, no sheet music to tie him down, only the notes and the pedals. As he played the final two chords of the allegro assai, thanking every god in the universe that he did not mess up the crossing and uncrossing of his right and left hands, he suddenly remembered that he was in a jury, and the anxiety he’d lost through the music came rushing back over him like a tsunami.

"Thank you, Elliot," Belov said, rather tersely, when he finished, "you’re free to go."

"Thank- uh- thank you," Elliot responded, before running out of the room.

-----

A week later and all the students were leaving their private lessons with the results of their jury in-hand, running to compare them with friends or go cry about them in their dorm room. Alex left the coffee shop he was sitting in and briefly braced the freezing Philadelphia air to Lenfest Hall, where he had his lessons each week. He made his way up the stairs to the studio in which Dr. Belov taught, and knocked on the door, characteristically a few minutes early for his lesson ("If you’re early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late, if you’re late, you’re fired.") Dr. Belov opened the studio door,

"Elliot, come in." Elliot entered the familiar room, fairly small, with cream walls, wooden floors, and windows lining the side opposite from the door. He sat at the black piano bench, his usual spot, while Belov returned to his seat across from Elliot. Belov was an older, somewhat overweight man, with dark gray, thinning, hair that he combed directly back, probably with the help of a generous amount of gel. Although Belov generally had the demeanor of a kindly, older uncle, he could be quite intense when necessary; his half-Israeli, half-Russian accent emphasizing his consonants as he chewed you out for not practicing your music enough.

"Nice to see you, Dr. Belov."

"You as well, Elliot. Now, I know you will be wanting your jury results back, yes?"

"Yes, please," Elliot responded.

"I have them here," Belov pulled a manila folder from his bag on the floor, "we may use this lesson to review them, and answer any questions you have. Before I give them to you, however, I would like to say that you did a lovely job on that sonata, just brilliant, I was proud to hear you play."

"Thank you, sir," Elliot blushed, at least he knew his results were going to be good! He took the folder from Belov’s hands and opened it. He was greeted with three rubrics from his three judges, each adorned with 9’s and 10’s, complementing his playing and dynamics, yet when he turned to the final score sheet, he was not greeted with a 90%, as he expected, but a 75%! Elliot swallowed, a 75% was fine, at best, and any worse he could’ve been in danger of academic probation. Elliot returned to the rubrics, there was nothing there that indicated he should get a 75%, something must be wrong, he concluded.

"Dr. Belov," Elliot began, feeling the jury nerves arise in him once again.

"Yes?" Belov responded. Elliot began to twirl his fringe around his finger.

"I’m, uh, a bit confused about my scoring. It- it seems the judges rated me very highly, but in the end I was only given a 75. How, um, how could that be?"

"Have you read your notes?" Belov asked. And, admittedly, in his rush to figure out his grade, no Elliot had not read his notes.

"No, sir, I’ll read them now." He flipped back to the final score sheet and did his best to look past the glaring 75 to the notes below it. And there, in capital letters, in what was unmistakably Belov’s handwriting, was written "CONFIDENCE."

"C- confidence?" Elliot asked. Belov smiled.

"Yes, Elliot, confidence. You lack it," Belov said, by way of explanation.

"I’m sorry, sir, but, I guess- I guess I’m just not sure what you mean," Elliot responded, as confused and nervous as ever.

"Elliot, Elliot, Elliot," Belov sighed, "You are a great piano player, just look at those scores! I could not have gotten those scores at your age, you are… gifted." Elliot blushed again at the compliment, but he was more confused than ever. Luckily, Belov continued, "but you act as if you are the worst piano player on the planet, you have no confidence in your abilities, and frankly, how is anyone else to have confidence in you if you don’t have it in yourself?"

Elliot opened his mouth to speak, but all that managed to exit was a strained "I…" before he lost all words entirely.

"And, see," Belov shook his head, "this is exactly what I mean. You walked into that jury as if you were walking into your own execution. If I did not know you, I would’ve thought you’d forgotten it was happening until the day of. How do you think that looks to a maestro at an audition?"

"I guess- I don’t know…" Elliot was red as a tomato, but it was now from embarrassment rather than from compliments, "I acted the same way at my audition to get into Curtis."

"And it was fine, then," Belov admonished, "because you were barely eighteen! What eighteen year-old does not act like that? But you are a professional now, this is your third year of juries, you should be more confident than this."

"I don’t- I don’t know what to tell you, sir. This is just the way I am."

"Just the way you are," Belov moaned, "bah! I assume there was a time in your life when you did not know piano, yes?"

"Y- yes?" Elliot responded, unsure of where this was going.

"And, so," Belove continued, "when you took your first lesson, did you refuse to practice because you ‘did not know piano’ and that’s ‘just the way you were’?"

"No, but, that’s totally dif-" Belov cut him off.

"Then, what? You practiced, it was bad, and then you got better," Belov finished, making his point crystal clear, "you’re going to practice confidence, and then you will get better." Elliot was at a complete loss for words. He sat with his mouth open for a good minute at least, until Belov finally prompted him.

"Do you have something to say, or are you just going to sit there?"

"I- how- how do I even practice confidence?" Belov gave Elliot an incredulous look.

"You can start with your appearance. When you enter the jury room, don’t slouch over. How tall are you?"

"Six feet?"

"Look six foot three," Belov responded matter-of-factly, "Next, wear proper, fitting clothes. Don’t hide yourself in your fabric, and don’t wear an extra-large when you and I both know you’re a medium at best," Elliot got redder than he thought possible. "If that’s a financial thing for you," Belov said, "let me know. I will buy a well-fitting shirt for you before you go into another jury looking like that." Belov gave Elliot a stern look. "And for God’s sake, Elliot, get your hair out of your face." Elliot, who had been vigorously twisting his fringe around his finger, dropped his hair like a hot potato, bearing a striking resemblance to a child who’d been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. "I don’t even know how you can see when you play, but, goodness, you hide."

Elliot knew it was true; his hair was his security blanket, and it shielded him from having to put himself out into the world. As if attempting to prove Belov’s point, Elliot hid further behind his long fringe. Belov gave him one final stern look before getting up from his chair.

"I am ending this lesson early today, you need time to think, no?" Elliot nodded. Belov smiled pityingly, "I know it stings, but you have to know. If you act the same way at your next jury, I will put you on academic probation." And with that, he left the studio, allowing Elliot to sit alone, stunned, manilla folder on the bench next to him.

XXXXX

And so, after that royal scolding, Elliot tried to change, he really did. He tried to stop slouching, he tried not to hide in his clothing, and he tried, really, really, tried to stop hiding behind his hair. But, while the slouching and fashion initiatives were successful, Elliot could not give up his hair habits, nor was his lack of confidence getting any better. In the ensemble, he was constantly praised by his maestro, and in his private lessons, Dr. Belov complimented him for both his piano playing and his effort with his appearance, but it did nothing. He still felt like the same-old Elliot with the same-old unconfidence, just with a new coat of paint. So, by the time jury season rolled around again, Elliot was starting to get really nervous, which didn’t exactly help his confidence problem.

The Wednesday before juries, he had his final private lesson. Most of it was dedicated to practicing for the jury, along with his ensemble repertoire, but Belov stopped him a little early.

"You’re playing well, beautifully, in fact," he explained, "there’s no need to wear ourselves out." He smiled his usual, kind smile before turning serious once again. "Elliot, I’ve been seeing that you’re trying to improve yourself, but it must carry over to the jury." Elliot nodded, trying to keep his cool, while freaking out internally. He instinctively reached for his fringe, worrying the loc of hair between his fingers, Belov’s eyes were drawn straight to it. "One thing I want you to remember Elliot: don’t hide," Belov paused for a moment, figuring out how to word his next sentence, and then turned his attention back to Elliot, "And Elliot?"

"Yes?"

"If you walk into that jury room twirling your hair around your finger, don’t even bother staying to play." Elliot felt the room get ten degrees colder as his heart fell into his stomach. "You understand me?" Belov asked.

‘Y- yes sir."

"Good," Belov replied, and with that, gathered his things and left the studio, leaving Elliot alone, once again.

XXXXX

That evening, Elliot tried everything to keep his hands out of his hair. At first, he just left it down, but the temptation was just too great, and it fell in front of his face anyway, another thing Dr. Belov did not want. Next, although he was much more comfortable hiding behind his fringe, Elliot tied his hair back. He tried everything, braids, buns, ponytails, but every time he conjured up the image of a jury, his hands went straight back to his hair, pulling it out of whatever style it was in and right in front of his face. Next was hats, then a claw clip, and he was halfway to asking his friend to give him cornrows before (rightfully) dismissing it as a horrible idea on a number of levels. There was nothing, Elliot concluded, that would stop him from pulling his hair right back in front of his face. Nothing besides… well… a good old fashioned haircut.

‘No!’ Elliot thought, ‘I couldn’t!’ But as he went through a list of possibilities in his mind that didn’t involve cutting his hair, he came up blank. If it came down to a haircut or academic probation, he’d take the haircut. Elliot walked over to the mirror in his dorm room, inspecting the raven mane that fell all around him. In all honesty, as much as Elliot loved his hair, Belov was right, he did hide. He withdrew from the world, creating a security screen of black hair rather than being vulnerable, than being confident. The more and more he thought about it, the more and more Elliot wanted to cut his hair, to remove his security blanket. But wanting and doing are two different things.

And so all Wednesday night, Elliot told himself he wanted to cut his hair, but it was too late, and he should wait until the morning when barber shops were open. So, then, all Thursday, Elliot told himself he wanted to cut his hair, but he wanted it to be a fresh cut, so he should wait until tomorrow. And Friday morning, when Elliot got up, he told himself he wanted to cut his hair, but every time he tried to walk out the door to do it, a jolt of nerves held him back. By lunchtime on Friday, cognizant of how irrational it was, Elliot was back to talking himself down from a haircut, trying to come up with some reason, any reason, Belov was not correct. But he just couldn’t. So Elliot decided to force himself to get a haircut the only way he knew how: peer pressure.

XXXXX

Elliot knew there was another student in his hall, Mitch, who had a tight crew cut and always liked to get it cleaned up right before juries. Sure enough, after hanging out in the rec room for long enough, Elliot caught sight of a tall figure with bright blonde hair in a freshly cut crew.

"Hey, Mitch!" Elliot walked over, catching the man’s attention.

"Hey! Elliot, how’s it going man?" Mitch responded, always having been the friendly type.

"Good, good," Elliot responded, trying to figure out a way to steer the conversation in the direction he wanted, "I like the fresh cut."

"Oh," Mitch smiled, "thanks! I always like to get it cleaned up before juries. Gotta look your best and all."

"Speaking of which," Elliot replied, fully aware of how stupid this was going to sound coming from someone who looked like the college-age Cousin Itt, "I- I’ve been meaning to get cleaned up a bit myself. Where do you get yours done?"

"Really?" Mitch sounded a bit surprised, "I wouldn’t have expected to hear that from you. I’d be happy to help, but I, uh, I’m not sure if my shop is the right place for you. Maybe you’d want to find a salon of some sort?"

"Oh, no, Mitch, don’t be ridiculous. I’m sure your shop will be great!" Elliot responded, praying that Mitch would play along.

"I mean… If you’re sure," Mitch conceded, "To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure what the actual name is, I just call it Simon’s, he’s the barber there."

"Well, if you have time, would you mind just walking me over? I’m terrible with directions," Elliot replied, both happy that his plan was working and incredibly anxious. Mitch looked down at his watch.

"I have a while until my private, so I don’t mind. Are you really sure though? I gotta tell you, it’s not really suited for guys with longer hair."

"I’m sure it’ll be fine," Elliot responded, realizing he was never going to be able to talk to Mitch again without making up some sort of lie as to why he wanted to go to Mitch’s barber, "I really just need somebody with some skill."

"Okay," Mitch said, incredulous, "follow me." And with that, they were off. It was only a few blocks and a couple of turns before they were outside a shop with a big front window and a red, white, and blue barber pole.

"I think you got it from here," Mitch said, "I gotta get going anyway."

"No problem!" Elliot responded, internally cursing Mitch for not walking him all the way into the shop, "thanks for the help, man. Good talking to you!"

"Anytime."

As Mitch walked away, Elliot tried to come up with an adequate pep-talk to stop himself from running away from the shop window screaming. But before he could, the door in front of him was opened by the best-looking man Elliot had ever seen. Now, Elliot was, for all intents and purposes, straight, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate a nice-looking guy when he saw one, and boy, oh boy was this guy easy on the eyes. He was just slightly taller than Elliot, coming in at probably around 6’1 or 6’2 with white-blonde hair in a short back and sides with a playfully, perfectly textured fringe and bright brown eyes. He was wearing a short-sleeve black button down and black dress pants that looked perfectly tailored to his muscular frame. ‘Oh,’ Elliot realized, too late, ‘this is Simon.’

"Are you looking for a haircut," the barber said with a mirthful smile, "or are you just contemplating life?" Elliot realized that with the huge front window, Simon had probably been watching him this whole time.

"Uh, h- haircut."

"Then you’re in the right place. Come on in," Simon invited, stepping back and holding the door open. Elliot took a deep breath, this is what he was here to do, this is what he had to, and stepped into the shop.

It was a nice place, in Elliot’s opinion, not overly modern to the point of feeling sterile, and not overly vintage to the point of feeling trite. There were dark wooden floors, which caused the barber's dress shoes to clack whenever he walked, and light, cream walls with some more wood detailing. In the front of the shop, near the window, there was a waiting area with some chairs, Elliot made his way over to the first chair in the waiting area, but the barber stopped him,

"I don’t have an appointment for another hour, you can just sit right here." And with that, Elliot’s eyes fell on the main attraction: two black barber chairs with silver bases. Although there were two in the shop, it seemed only the one closer to the waiting area was occupied full-time by a barber, and he assumed this one was Simon’s chair. As if to confirm his assumption, Simon turned the chair so the seat faced Elliot and patted the back invitingly. Elliot, after telling himself once again that he had to do this, made his way over to the chair and gingerly sat down. It must’ve been quite obvious, however, how nervous Elliot truly was, because, as Simon watched Elliot walk over to the chair, his eyes filled with humor and understanding.

"I promise I won't bite," he assured Elliot, as he turned the chair back towards the mirror. Elliot turned bright red at the acknowledgement of his fear.

"Thanks," he replied in the quietest voice possible.

"My name is Simon, by the way, I’ll be your barber today."

"E- Elliot."

"Lovely to meet you Elliot," Simon said, ever the gentleman. Simon rested his hands on either side of the back of the chair, right behind Elliot’s shoulders. "So, Elliot, what are we doing with your hair today?" Elliot opened his mouth to say exactly what he’d rehearsed, over and over again: I want a buzz cut, but the words refused to leave his throat. The longer Elliot stayed silent, the larger Simon’s smile became, and the more Elliot stared at Simon’s perfect f***ing grin, the harder it became to say anything at all.

"Not sure?" Simon said, amused. ‘Alright,’ Elliot thought, ‘time for a new strategy.’ And so, although every bone in his body screamed at him to stop, Elliot opened his mouth and finally allowed words to exit.

"C- can I ask you a question?"

"Of course, Elliot," Simon replied, his day in the shop had moved from very boring to very interesting quite fast.

"H- how, uh, howdoyouthinkIwouldlookwithabuzzcut?" It came out all as one word, as if stopping to breathe would make Elliot unable to continue. Simon decided to mess with his poor client a bit.

"Could you say that again a bit slower? I’m not sure I caught you." Elliot took a deep breath. ‘Come on,’ he thought, ‘you’re a full-grown adult, Elliot. Just ask the damn question.’

"How do you think I- uh, I would look with a buzz cut?" The last word was whispered, but Simon had heard him perfectly the first go-around.

"With a buzz cut… hm," Simon intoned playfully, "You do realize you’re not exactly asking an unbiased source, right?" Elliot let out a short chuckle, slightly less on edge now that he’d actually said the word.

"I- I know," Elliot said, "but try your best."

"Okay," Simon responded, taking on a bit more serious, I’m-a-professional tone. He ran his hands through Elliot’s hair once before realizing that Elliot had tensed up again. "You don’t mind, do you?" Simon asked, indicating towards his hands in Elliot’s hair. Elliot shook his head from side to side.

"Just tell me before you cut anything." Simon laughed out loud, that time.

"Oh, trust me, you’ll know before I cut anything," he replied with a smile, and took Elliot’s hair in his hands once again, pulling it back tightly as if putting it into a high ponytail. His hands in Elliot's hair were not at all rough, but they had a strong, dominant energy in their grip. Simon then changed his grip so all of Elliot’s hair was in one hand, still pulled back, while the other hand was free to move as he talked.

"This is approximately what you’ll look like with a buzz," Simon explained, "not exactly, of course, but it’s about as close as I can get without actually cutting your hair." Elliot looked in the mirror. He almost never wore his hair back now, and it was quite strange to be confronted with his full face.

"You see," Simon continued, "if you cut it, it’ll just be your face. No fringe to hide behind," he smiled slyly at Elliot, clearly reading his thoughts. He reached down and ran a finger along Elliot’s jawline, "you have a strong jaw," he looked up to the mirror to meet Elliot’s gaze, "nice eyes, and, frankly, a nice-looking face." Elliot blushed and looked down, and Simon released his grip on Elliot's hair, allowing Elliot’s fringe to fall in his eyes once again.

"Elliot," Simon finished, "I think a buzz cut would be a great choice for you. That is, of course, if you think you’re confident enough to rock it." Simon allowed Elliot to sit in silence for a moment before speaking up again,

"If I may…" Simon began, Elliot nodded. "Why do you want a buzz cut?" Simon paused to think for a moment before continuing, "in fact, why did you even come to my shop? You had to know you weren’t going to leave without losing a good amount of hair." And with that, Simon pinned Elliot with the hardest gaze he’d ever seen. Elliot wanted to leave, he wanted to leave so badly, he wanted to leave more than he had wanted anything, ever. But there it was, the truth: he was never going to have left without a proper haircut.

"I- uh, I go to, um, Curtis-"

"Elliot," Simon cut him off, "take a deep breath, then speak." Elliot paused, took a deep breath, and then continued.

"I’m sure you get a lot of, um, students coming to get cleaned up before their j- juries." Simon nodded, Elliot continued, "well, anyway, after my last jury, my teacher said I needed to be more, um, confident. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to, uh, have my hair in front of my face, so… here I am." Simon gave Elliot an amused look.

"I hate to ask what I’m sure is a stupid question," Simon began, "but have you just tried tying your hair back?" Elliot chuckled and nodded.

"It’s not a stupid question, but, uh, it doesn’t really work. It’s like an anxiety muscle memory thing for me, no matter how I put my hair up, I always end up taking it out so I can toy with it." As if to illustrate his point, Elliot instinctually ran his hand through his hair and grabbed his fringe to twirl it around his finger. Simon caught sight of his fidgeting and smiled.

"I see what you mean." At the realization Simon had noticed his tic, Elliot guiltily dropped his fringe and stuffed his hand under his leg, sitting on it. Simon chuckled at Elliot’s shameful expression.

"One more question," Simon began; at Elliot’s slightly surprised expression, however, he decided to clarify, "not that I’m opposed to the buzz cut," he said, running his hands through Elliot’s hair once again and pulling the black fringe back from where it had fallen over Elliot’s face. "But there is another alternative here," Simon clarified, "it would still be a big change, but I could get rid of all this bulk," Simon shook the hair he had clutched one hand, "and give you a nice scissor cut. It would still be out of the face, but not so… drastic. What are your feelings on that?"

Part of Elliot jumped for joy. Yes, this was it! Simon was giving him an out, all he had to say was yes! But, as hard as he tried, he could not do it. Elliot knew that if he conceded, if he compromised, the haircut wouldn’t work. And so, even as a not insignificant part of him screamed to take the escape, he opened his mouth, sure of his answer:

"No." Simon’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, before his mouth twisted into a barely concealed grin.

"Why?"

"B- because-" pause, deep breath, "because," Elliot began again, "it needs to be all or nothing. It’s not just a hair thing, it’s a… me thing. I can’t hide behind a haircut anymore." Simon stopped trying to hide his smile, turning away for a moment to bask in the beauty of Elliot’s words.

"Elliot, you just made my day," Simon replied as he turned back towards the mirror. "Now, how long do you want this buzz cut to be?" Elliot stopped, confused.

"There are different lengths?" At that, Simon burst out laughing.

"Yes, Elliot," more laughing, "there are different lengths."

"Can you explain them to me, please?" Elliot asked.

"Of course, Elliot," Simon replied, having gotten over his initial amusement. He reached over for the clippers hanging on a hook right next to the mirror, unhooking them and holding them in front of Elliot. "Clippers have different guards, the number guard corresponds to how much hair is left on the head, by eighths of an inch. So, one leaves 1/8th of an inch, two leaves 2/8ths, and so on. The guards go all the way to an eight, which leaves an inch." Elliot nodded, following along, although looking a little frightened at the suggestion of only an eighth of an inch of hair on his head.

"Right now, these clippers don’t have any guard on them," Simon explained, placing the clippers directly in Elliot’s hands, "so that means they’re supposed to leave no hair on the head." Elliot looked more than a little frightened at that suggestion, and quickly handed the clippers back to Simon, as if holding them for too long would somehow also leave him bald. Simon continued explaining, unphased by Elliot’s anxiety.

"Of course, the way clippers are designed, they’ll never get you a perfectly clean shave, so what you’d really need in that case is a razor…" Simon made direct eye contact with Elliot as he placed the guard-less clippers on top of the small chest of drawers next to the mirror and smiled.

"But I don’t think we’re ready for that yet. Are we?" Elliot shook his head " an emphatic no, and Simon laughed to himself. "Any questions, Elliot?"

"I think I understand…" Elliot replied, clearly a bit shaken by Simon’s last joke, "but do you have any pictures of certain lengths? It’s hard to imagine how long an eighth of an inch is." Simon did, in fact, and showed Elliot pictures of buzz cuts up to a number five guard, explaining that he refused to do anything longer than that ("it looks messy"). Elliot thought for a moment.

"I think a three will be a good length for me." Simon smiled once again, retrieving a number three guard from the top drawer of the vanity and some clipper oil.

"Very good," Simon responded, "just give me a moment to make sure these are in good working order and then we can start." Elliot nodded his affirmative. The barber took a moment to oil his clippers, turning them on and off a few times, both to check how they were running and to see how Elliot responded to their distinctive snap (they worked wonderfully, but Elliot jumped about a foot each time they were turned on and off). Finally, Simon decided he could not, in good conscience, toy with the man any longer, and definitively placed the guard on the clippers, making sure it was snapped properly into place, before putting the clippers, once again, on top of the vanity.

"All right," Simon smiled, turning back to Elliot, "let’s get started, shall we?" Without waiting for a response, Simon retrieved a steri strip from a box and bent Elliot’s head slightly to push his locks out of the way and secure it around his neck. Then, he grabbed a cape from another drawer and snapped it around Elliot, holding it around his neck with one hand and moving Elliot’s hair out of the way with the other, and then tying it securely at the back of Elliot’s neck. Simon felt the cords in Elliot’s neck go even more rigid than they already were (Simon did not know it was possible for someone to be this tense) as he tied the cape. Simon placed his hands on Elliot’s shoulders, this time, applying a slight amount of pressure and rubbing.

"Elliot, you want this. I know you do. Just take a deep breath and relax." Elliot did as he was told and Simon felt the muscles under his hands relax slightly. "Atta-boy," Simon encouraged, removing the pressure from Elliot’s shoulders to retrieve a comb from his pocket. Simon quickly combed Elliot’s hair, although it was well taken care of, and did not need much de-tangling. Then, he retrieved scissors from his back pocket, and ran his hands through Elliot’s raven mane for the last time. Simon grabbed a handful of hair from the back of Elliot’s head near the roots (he intentionally did not want Elliot to see the first chop and freak out).

"5, 4, 3, 2-" and before Simon got to one, he started cutting through the handful he’d grabbed at the base of Elliot’s neck.

"What happened to one?!" Elliot exclaimed as the scissors continued working their way through Elliot’s thick hair. Simon gave Elliot a playfully incredulous look in the mirror.

"Would one really have helped?" Elliot opened his mouth to retort, but found himself speechless, so he decided to revert to simply whispering "ohmygod," to himself over and over again. As the scissors snapped closed around the last loc in Simon's huge handful, Elliot felt the release of the tension on his scalp. Simon dropped the chunk of hair on the ground behind Elliot, and as Elliot automatically turned to try and get a look at what had just been cut, Simon forcefully grabbed Elliot’s chin and turned it back to the mirror.

"Don’t even try it," was the severe instruction from Simon that stopped all possible retorts from Elliot. "You don’t want to see how much I just cut," Simon admonished, "and you may want to close your eyes for this next part." Before Elliot could ask why, however, Simon grabbed another large handful at the right side of Elliot’s head, including the majority of Elliot’s fringe, and began to cut there too. Elliot took Simon’s advice and squeezed his eyes shut as hard as they would go, leaving the only sound heard in the shop the scissors tearing through Elliot’s formerly glorious mane. Soon, that section was done, too, leaving uneven, inch-long chunks behind. Elliot opened his eyes at the feeling of his hair no longer being pulled, but regretted it instantly. As his hand, through habit, shot to where his fringe used to be, Simon caught it in mid-air and forced it back down on the armrest of the chair.

"The worst is almost over," Simon said, more compassionately than his previous directions, "you just close your eyes and keep breathing." Elliot did as he was told and shut his eyes once again, trying his best not to hyperventilate.

Simon grabbed his next section, to the left of the previous one at the base of Elliot’s neck, and began to open and shut the scissors around the hair there, as well, trying to get as close to the scalp as possible, without causing Elliot any pain. Another snap as the scissors finally closed around the last bits of hair, and Simon once again threw the cut hair on the ground, which was quickly being covered by a sea of black. Simon figured he had two more sections, and told Elliot as much, as he moved on to the last section in the back of Elliot’s head, which ran from behind his left ear to up near his left temple. The scissors also made short work of that section, sawing through the locks there easily, and leaving one section, on the left side of Elliot’s head, along his hairline in the front.

Simon grabbed the final section, precise about trying to get every long hair left on Elliot’s head, so he could keep his two-section promise. He held the section tightly above Elliot’s head, placing the scissors below his fist, and starting to close them on the final chunks of hair. As the scissors mowed through this final section, the hair required less and less force from Simon to hold it taut. The scissors attacked the final long loc of Elliot’s hair left on his head, snapping shut, and Simon took total control over the handful of black hair he was holding, quickly throwing it behind Elliot’s chair and onto the floor.

Simon inspected the view of the floor from the mirror. Although he had tried his best to make it less obvious how much hair he’d cut, with the amount of hair formerly on Elliot’s head, it was an impossible task. Even in the mirror, one could easily see the carpet of black hair covering the floor behind the chair.

Elliot chose then to open his eyes, no longer feeling the tugging and release of Simon calmly severing his hair from his head. He was greeted with the view of his face in the mirror, not covered by his fringe and no longer surrounded by long strands of hair. Instead, the only hair on his head was a messy style of chunks of black hair, ranging anywhere from half an inch to almost two inches long.

"Don’t freak out yet," Simon cautioned, "I still gotta shave it." Elliot made eye contact with Simon and nodded, unsure if he was still able to speak. Elliot looked at the floor using the mirror, having learned his lesson earlier about trying to turn and look directly. The wood that was previously visible behind his chair was now entirely covered by black hair.

"I had a lot of hair…" Simon reached over and squeezed Elliot’s shoulder.

"Yes, you did," he smiled, "too much."

"Of course you would say that," Elliot retorted after a pause, but he was only joking with Simon, and Simon smiled in response, rolling his eyes, clearly happy that Elliot was able to joke.

"Speaking of which, I need a moment before we shave, if you don’t mind," Simon said, walking over to the broom in the corner, "I don’t need to clean this all up now," he continued, gesturing to the black rug that was formerly Elliot’s hair, "but I do need to sweep it out of the way, or I will slip and fall on all this hair."

"No worries," Elliot responded, still trying to fully process his new haircut. Simon took the broom from the corner and swept all the hair from behind the chair towards the back of the shop, creating a mountain of black locks out of view of the mirror. With the ground around Elliot’s chair sufficiently cleared, Simon placed the broom back in the corner and returned to his place behind Elliot.

"Alright, I’m no longer in danger of dying by hair," Simon announced, "are we ready to shape this into a proper buzz?" Elliot felt the nerves he’d been recovering from jolt back into place, he took a deep breath.

"Uh, yeah, I think I am."

"You’ve really never been buzzed down before?" Simon asked.

"Nope," Elliot responded. Simon patted Elliot’s shoulder.

"Well, enjoy."

And with that, Simon retrieved the clippers from where he’d placed them on the vanity and turned them on. With the snap on of the machine, Simon saw Elliot jolt in his seat, even from his vantage point a few feet away. Simon decided to have a bit of fun, and turned the clippers off again.

"Is everything okay?" Elliot asked quietly, looking down at his lap rather than in Simon’s direction. Simon walked a little closer, did not respond, and then turned the clippers on again, the snap frightening Elliot once again. Simon walked behind Elliot, clippers still running, and then turned them off again. Elliot, after a moment of confusion, figured out the game, and looked up to make eye contact with Simon, who was smirking playfully, through the mirror.

"Screw you," Elliot said, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

"Okay," Simon chuckled, "for real this time." Simon placed a hand on Elliot’s shoulder to calm the shock the clippers seemed to give him, and turned them on for the final time, adding a slight pressure, as he felt Elliot jump under his hand again.

"The clippers really do give you a fright, don’t they?" Simon asked, leaving them on out of care for Elliot’s blood pressure.

"A little, yeah," Elliot admitted, quietly. Simon smiled in response, compassionately this time.

"No shame," he said, "you’re better than the rest of my clients who refuse to admit they’re spooked by them." Elliot blushed a little and smiled. Simon placed his clipper-less hand on the back of Elliot’s head and gently pushed it down.

"Head down, please." Elliot complied. Simon ran his hands through the uneven strands left at the base of Elliot’s neck, before pushing the clippers up into the fluff, moving them up until they reached the crown of Elliot’s head. Tufts of black hair fell down onto Elliot’s shoulders and lap.

Elliot, although he was incredibly anxious about the result of his buzz cut, immediately relaxed into the vibrations of the clippers. The hum of the machine, getting slightly louder as it plowed through the rest of Elliot’s hair, was incredibly relaxing, and the way the clippers felt running along his head was just exquisite. More and more inky hair fell on Elliot’s lap and the floor around the chair as Simon ran the clippers up over the back of Elliot’s head over and over again.

Simon then placed a hand on the top of Elliot’s head, directing it up until Elliot was almost able to look in the mirror again. Elliot was enjoying the way Simon handled his head, gentle, but just dominant enough to get his point across. Elliot felt the clippers start at his hairline and move towards his ear. As the vibrating machine passed by his ear, he shivered at the sensations it caused, watching as more hair fell into his lap. Simon then went over the right side of his head a few more times, before moving over to the left and doing the same there.

Simon gently put a few fingers below Elliot’s chin, pushing it up so his head was fully straight once again. Elliot observed how funny his hair looked, with perfectly clipped sides and a messy, uneven top.

"This might be a bit scary," Simon warned, raising the clippers to Elliot’s forehead. Before Elliot even had the chance to close his eyes, however, he watched the clippers go directly down the middle of what was left of his fringe, making a perfectly cropped line of hair from the front to back.

"Holy crap," Elliot whispered, only now fully understanding the haircut he’d asked for. There would be nothing to hide behind. Simon heard, but decided not to ask him about it, knowing that questions would probably only lead Elliot to feel embarrassed. Elliot’s eyes flitted down to his lap for a moment, trying not to look in the mirror, but after a moment surveying the cut hair there, Elliot decided he might as well face the music.

As Simon put the clippers to Elliot’s forehead, to the right of the last shearing, Elliot's eyes made their way back up, eventually reaching Simons in the mirror. Simon decided to play a bit more, keeping direct eye contact with Elliot as he ran the clippers back over Elliot’s head. Elliot was frozen under Simon’s gaze, and Simon smirked before returning his focus to his work.

The clippers continued to run over Elliot’s head, each time removing more of the shaggy black hair. Elliot felt a yin yang of emotions brewing in his stomach, a combination of total relaxation at the sensation of the clippers and overwhelming fear at how little hair was left on his head. Finally, however, there was one strip of hair left. Simon dramatically held the clippers at Elliot’s forehead for a moment before driving them back one final time into the last pieces of what had been Elliot’s mane.

Simon ran the clippers over Elliot’s head one more time, trying to catch any stray hairs that had escaped their blades, and when he was sure Elliot’s hair was fully cut, he finally turned the machine off.

"I’ll remove the cape in a moment," Simon told Elliot, "but there’s one more thing we have to do." Simon retrieved a smaller pair of clippers from one of the drawers. "These are for your sideburns and hairline," he explained. Simon plugged in the clippers and turned them on, they had a higher pitch than the larger machine still lying on the vanity.

Simon chose to be restrained when trimming Elliot’s sideburns, just cutting where they naturally faded off, creating a sharper line. He then moved to Elliot’s hairline, untying the cape and pulling down the back of the strip slightly. He used the clippers to define a sharp line, then removed the strip completely and took care of the rest of the fuzz on Elliot’s lower neck. Finally, the smaller clippers were turned off, and the cape and strip fully removed.

"Feel free to touch," Simon permitted, and right away Elliot’s hands shot to his head. The cut felt nice, prickly against his fingers, fun to touch, and being able to actually touch his scalp was incredibly cool. Elliot got the feeling his replacement for the fringe-twisting tic would simply be running his hand along his buzz. His anxiety about the cut was gone, Elliot realized, replaced only by the fear of simply being noticed without hair to hide behind.

"Simon- I- I don’t know what to say… Thank you."

"Oh, Elliot, of course. It was quite fun for me, I must say," Simon responded. Turning the barber chair to allow Elliot to get down from it. As Elliot walked to the front of the shop to pay, Simon gave him a stern look.

"Now, Elliot, I expect you to keep this cut clean, or at least to keep a sharp short back and sides if this becomes too extreme for you." At first, Elliot was ready to brush it off, give some excuse as to why he couldn’t, but as he thought about it, he realized the haircut had been one of the most exhilarating and enjoyable experiences he’d had in a while.

"Sounds good," Elliot replied, "how long until I’ll need to cut it again?" Simon smiled.

"I recommend every two weeks."

XXXXX

Elliot sat in the lobby outside the classroom once again. This time, instead of playing with his fringe, he was rubbing the back of his neck, toying with the short black bristles that were now there. The door of the classroom opened.

"Mr. Van-" Belov stopped for a moment as his eyes fell on Elliot, shocked at what he saw, "Van Andel." Belov finished, smiling.

"Dr. Belov," Elliot responded as he rose to meet Belov at the door, walking into the classroom behind him. Belov took his place at the jurors table.

"Whenever you’re ready, introduce yourself," Belov instructed. Elliot took a deep breath, and channeled his inner Simon.

"Hello, I’m Elliot Van Andel and today I’ve prepared for you all Rachmaninoff’s Sonata Number 2 in B flat minor, opus 36." Elliot sat at the bench. Although jurors were technically supposed to keep a poker face, Belov allowed himself to smile once again.

"You may begin."

Elliot attacked the opening chords of the allegro agitato with the gravity they deserved, moving from his loudest fortissimo to piano and back to fortissimo once again within a matter of seconds. He moved seamlessly from the rush of the agitato to the smooth notes of the non allegro and allowed the music to sweep him into the full-speed-ahead allegro molto and its playful rhythms. As he moved to complete the piece, he put his full force into the last few chords, appreciating how, when his body was moved by the music, his hair no longer swayed in front of his eyes.

Elliot played the last chord, and rocked back on the bench as the jurors clapped for him politely, relieved and proud.

"Thank you, Elliot. That’s all." Belov said, and Elliot got up to leave the room.

XXXXX

It was the last week of school, and now that juries were over, for once in a music student’s life, there was little to do. Elliot took his time basking in the late-spring, early-summer sun, appreciating how nice it felt now that he was not trapped under a full head of heavy hair. There was one more thing, however, that needed to be done before Elliot could fully feel relieved, and that was his final private lesson " the lesson where he would receive his jury scores.

Elliot was on his way to Lenfest hall for just that lesson, both somewhat nervous and excited to hear what Belov had to say, not having seen him since the jury. As he approached the door, Elliot took one final deep breath, he had been proud of how he performed at the jury, and there was nothing Belov could say that would change that.

Elliot rapped on the door and it opened, revealing Belov’s smiling face.

"Elliot, it’s good to see you."

"You as well, Dr. Belov," Elliot responded, stepping into the studio and taking a seat at the piano bench.

"There’s little we have to do today," Belov explained as he returned to his chair, "you won’t get any real work from me for the rest of the school year, although I have plenty of pieces I want you practicing over the summer." Elliot knew what was coming and was on the edge of his seat.

"So, of course," Belov finally said, "today all I have for you is your jury results." And with that he pulled another manila folder out of his bag, handing it to Elliot who greedily snatched it from his hands. As Elliot opened to the rubrics, he was elated by what he saw: 9’s and 10’s from all three of his jurors. But he didn’t care as much about that as he did about what he saw on the final score sheet: 95%. And below, in the notes section, after minor notes about dynamic changes and tone, he saw a message in what was clearly Belov’s handwriting:

"Lovely confidence. Nice to see your face." Elliot looked up to see Belov smiling.

"Thank you, sir."

"Thank you for that lovely performance," Belov replied, and stood up, preparing to go. "Oh, and Elliot?"

"Yes?"

"To be clear, I never wanted you to shave your head, I only needed it up and out of your face," Belov made a gesture to indicate pulling hair back into a ponytail, "but the haircut was a nice touch," he finished, smiling. Elliot chuckled and blushed.

"Keep it like this," Belov instructed, "suits you."

And with that, Belov picked up his bag and walked out. Leaving Elliot with his ninety-five, new haircut, and some new confidence as well.




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