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Commiseration by Zero
A haircut. Just a haircut and he won’t have to listen to them nagging him anymore or making offhand comments about his hair. And he has been led to a dead end by the circumstances.
They’re is hosting an ass-kissing dinner (of course) and his mom says he has to do him the favor of looking his best for the night.
Which entails a visit to his (emphasis on his) barbershop of choice near the base. On a rainy day. It’s a light drizzle that doesn’t quite stop and that persists enough to make puddles.
The barbershop of his choice in question is an old-fashioned two-chair claustrophobic hole in a wall.
What was wrong with going to his usual barbershop, anyway?
He sees the schedule and see he has shortly missed the mid-day break. That would have been a good excuse, he could have been able to say: Oh, the barbershop was closed.
But he isn’t. He is never this lucky.
He’s doing this for his mom. First and foremost. His little sister, who he adores, and whose dad happens to be the man his mom married. And at least he’s been given the vouch of trust to get this done on his own and not get dragged by the man.
Mouse reminds himself of all of this as he steps inside with an almost inaudible greeting. Maybe if he passes through like a ghost or something and remains invisible, he can actually avoid getting a haircut.
Barbericide. Wax. Pomade. Scissors chattering. A pair of hair clippers (or maybe some kind of electric shaver) buzzing. The quiet stream of hair sliding down a cape. The noise actually drowns the soft staccato of the rain. A wooden floor that looks like it has been through both extravagant ballrooms and crime scenes. At least the barbers don’t look a hundred years old.
Even if the customers all seem to be undeniably military men with razor fades that are high above their temples. He figured. He should have expected it.
What a bulls**t.
He spots a leather sofa for waiting customers. One seat is not taken. He guesses it’s his then.
There is a figure on the occupied half that looks familiar out of the corner of his eye. A blur of copper, dead leaves-like mass of hair catches his attention. Turns out it that is because he knows him. It doesn’t require him a double take to recognize him.
Freckled face. Reddish hair down to his shoulder blades. Tall and sturdy built like a f***ing golem or something. Looks like he could lift one of the barber chairs inside of the shop, tear it from the floor, throw it and send if flying to the other sidewalk.
He has seen him do a similar feat of brute strength to a sophomore once. Poor kid never came back to school.
And somehow, he wasn’t expelled from school afterwards. Unfortunately, someone must have saved his ass. Might have to do with the fact that his mom is a teacher and like cops cover for other cops, teachers will turn a blind eye to anything that happens with the kid of another teacher.
His name is Kevin. He is an idiot. He hates him. That’s all there is to it.
"What are you looking at, loser?" that voice that sounds like a frog has made a home inside his throat dissipates any doubts he might have that it is him.
"What are you doing here?" he glances at his phone and avoids eye contact with the idiot.
He checks the battery and sees that his phone might die on him. He should have charged it before he left home. Damn it.
"What do you think, dumbass?" Kevin throws his arm above the back rest, his knuckles fly nearly touching his shoulders.
"I don’t know..." Mouse rolls his eyes "Don’t you want to steal my haircut money, maybe?".
"What do you think that I’m stalking you or some s**t like that?" the idiot scoffs.
"Well" Mouse shrugs "I wouldn’t blame you if you had a crush on me" he gives him a smug grin.
Catches him off-base it seems, because he has far less control of the toad inside his chest now and his voice jumps at him "You f***ing...".
One of the barbers shakes the cape in the air "Next".
"Ladies first" Kevin motions him with a head tilt to move forward.
Mouse resists the urge to flip him off and shrugs instead "You were here first. It’s your turn".
"Which one of you is next?" the barber looks at both of them, his patience getting thinner by the second.
He sees the idiot staying put in the seat. Kevin makes that gesture a second him, pointing towards the chair with a light nudge of his head, while glaring.
Mouse guesses the sooner he’s done with this, the better. Besides his phone battery will be depleted in an hour or so.
"That would be me" he gets on his feet.
"Stephen, right?" the barber glances at the agenda over the counter and makes a mark on it "Your dad called, said you’d come here for a good cut".
His dad. Did he seriously identify himself as his father on the phone?
"Did he?" he plays along and takes off his baseball cap.
"Yeah, told me you two had been talking about it" he secures a paper strap around his neck, lifting his jet-black mane "And well, you look like you’re due, son".
A white cape hovers over his body before setting itself in like a waterfall over him as the barber ties it far too tight for his liking.
He glances in the mirror through his bangs. His dark, almond-shaped eyes he has inherited from his mother are obscured.
His hair while overgrown is getting to a length he doesn’t really mind. In fact, he’d go as far as to say that he likes it more than he expected to.
But of course, he has to be a prop for his mother’s prince charming and look the part tonight. He will probably want his hair off his collar, and his ears. His bangs are also probably going to get hacked off to at least half their current length.
"Yeah, I’ve been kind of busy with school and all that" he follows along with the chit-chat.
Maybe he can charm and befriend his way out of a crewcut that he is absolutely sure is what he’s walking out of here with.
"Too busy with school to have thirty minutes to spare for a haircut? Nonsense" the barber pulls between his knuckles at the locks on the back of his head "We’ve got work to do here".
For the sound of that, he won’t be able to use his charisma to spare himself anything.
Mouse blows his bangs away from his mouth, and sees Kevin behind him. The idiot is sitting down patiently, his gaze locking with his in the mirror. Did he really have to come to this barbershop at this exact hour?
"And you would be Kevin, right?" the barber asks the idiot on the sofa.
"Yeah, sir" he hears him answer sharply, almost at military-like attention.
That’s a new one for that idiot. He’s never heard him refer to anyone like that. Perhaps he’s using it ironically. Mouse doesn’t think he had enough brains for irony, though.
"I’ll take care of you as soon as I’m done with this young man".
His answer has a couple minutes of delay this time "Good, thanks, sir".
He sees the barber unhook a pair of hair clippers, the black cord snakes in the air as he loosens it. His hand sinks in a drawer and he picks an attachment. He tinkers with the machine for half a minute, adjusting the blades and securing the comb-like piece over it.
The barber slides a switch and a buzzing noise quiets even his own thoughts. It’s a sound that announces the beginning of summer for him like cicadas waking up, and listening to it in March throws his senses in disarray.
He hasn’t heard it since his own dad last took him for a summer, before-school haircut. That was a long time ago already.
Important dinner. His mom. His younger sister. Mouse repeats himself and starts tapping anxiously with his feet on the footrest.
He bends his head forward in anticipation of what the barber will ask him to do. On what muscle-memory remains on the time he used to do this. He feels the cascade of his straight hair caressing his jaw and his earlobes.
Thirty minutes. He’ll get the back and sides cut first. Then the top. Then he will clean his hairline and that will be it. Then he’ll be over with this.
A comb goes in the direction of his hair’s growth a couple times. Then, he sees the teeth secure his bangs in place away from his face.
His usual barber doesn’t do that.
Mouse only has a few seconds to think and wonder about the fact that his head is not being held further down into his chest. Just grazed gently in place at the crown a couple times by the last two fingers of the man’s hand.
The next thing he registers is the hair clippers being pushed through his bangs and the curtain of hair falling down from his face towards his lap.
He doesn’t know how he doesn’t jerk his head backwards. Perhaps he’s far too stunned to move and his muscles just freeze in place.
What. The. F***.
He sees a trail of bristles emerging from his hairline at the front, going all the way back towards his crown, not unlike the ones from a soft brush over his head and his scalp showing through.
"Alright, we’re cutting this real short, like you and your old man agreed to, right?" the barber states with exhilaration, with pride, even.
Like they agreed to. The f***ing sly bastard.
"Yeah, really short" it’s all that he manages to mouth seeing the path of buzzed hair over his head growing with a second and a third pass, he can hardly hear his own voice with the loud chattering of the clippers.
His shorn bangs rest in clumps on the cape.
The clippers slice through the rest of his raven-black locks with alarming ease. They make months of growing his hair out seem disappear in the blink of an eye, in blurring motions of black and chrome.
The metallic teeth shriek whenever they meet the straight, inky locks. He also feels like producing a similar sound at the utter destruction of his mane. He contents himself with swearing underneath his breath.
Mouse’s senses expect the hair that slides back down after the machine has gone over it to fall back into place as it does when he runs a comb through it. Feeling it tumble all the way to his shoulder is jarring.
The barber is trained in shearing off long hair, he can tell. He has experience in doing this.
His hands are agile, supernaturally so, yet at the same time he seems to savor and take time as he moves the voracious machine across his skull. The growing sea of black tangle at his feet and his scalp is as stark white as the neck strip underneath the cape.
He forces his chin against his chest "Don’t move, son"
Son? He could be his older brother at most. Mouse hates the condescending tone and grits his teeth as he feels the clippers climb up his neck.
He wishes he could tell the number he’s running across his head. He feels it would be embarrassing to ask. That’s definitely not a centimeter long. Maybe half a centimeter? He doesn’t even get it cut this short for summer.
The hair on both sides of his head is peeled off.
There are only a couple of long locks left behind his ear. The barber lifts them with his fingers and runs the blades, slicing them clean off.
He sees them fall out of his hand when he shakes them, they drift to the floor soundlessly.
Mouse peers in the mirror. The sight of his entire hairline and his forehead fully exposed makes it hard for him to recognize his own reflection.
He has a cowlick just in the middle of his forehead. That would explain why he always battles to do anything with his hair at the front and the partings.
There’s also a weird dent on the left half of his hairline, just beside his temples. He’s never seen it before and he has no idea if it comes from his mom’s or his dad’s side. It looks so odd, like the hair in the area has been singed off or shaved clean.
So that is why he’s always had bangs.
He sees the barber takes off the guide from the clippers and starts to slide the machine from the middle of his temple downwards. He flinches.
"What is that for?" he asks with a creak in his voice.
"We’re cutting this down to regulations, right?".
He shuts up and sighs with resignation.
His scalp has never experienced neither sunlight nor the air this way. Mouse thinks he shouldn’t be able to see the skin on his f***ing head in the first place but here he is.
The blades rumble through his skull, seem to go all through his ear canal as they get rid of the juvenile resemblance of sideburns in front of his ear.
The hair coming off his head is a soft black drizzle, like the shavings of the tip of a pencil. Mouse can’t believe that small amount of hair being cut off is basically leaving the bottom half of his head stark naked.
The barber repeats the same downwards movement all over his head, while holding him still by the crown. Then, he fades and softens the line between the hair on top and the zero blade.
Any hope he had of this not ending up looking too military-ish is thrown out of the window.
This is a f***ing military haircut, alright?
Mouse sees the man polish the line on his temples a couple times over and then turn the clippers off.
"Almost done" the barber picks a straight razor and shaving cream.
He spreads the warm, white cream all over his neck and in front of his ear and sideburns.
He seems to ponder for a minute while looking at his face. Then, Mouse feels the cream being spread over his face as well.
"There’s no need to..." he reaches out and tries to remove the substance over his lip.
"Yes, there is".
The barber positions the blade over his cheek first. The cold sharpness of the steel petrifies him. Without daring to close his eyes, he feels it scratch and remove the cream from his jaw, then his upper lip.
His head is pushed forward one last time and the razor slides across his nape multiple times, until the man seems satisfied with his handiwork.
Mouse is relieved to see the straight razor get placed back on the counter. He relaxes his muscles when the warm towel cleans his face and the back of his head and ears.
The barber pours something from a glass over his hands, makes a clapping-like motion and then touches the back of his head with it.
Whatever that lotion he applies over his hairline is, it f***ing stings.
It also reeks of what he can only refer to as old-barbershop smell.
He assesses the damage in the mirror one last time.
Mouse studies the buzzed hair on top of his head and his skinned sides.
And he is pissed.
At him for scheming up this plan. At his mom for following along and encouraging him that it was the right thing to do. At himself for not thinking a way out of this.
The barber dusts him off with a brush.
"All done here, son".
He rubs his entire face with both hands as he steps off the chair.
"So, if I want this fine work recreated, you ask your barber for a one and a half on top, and a medium fade" the man informs him "That is, if it doesn’t happen to be me, of course".
He is not putting himself in this man’s hand again. He would rather pour acid on his scalp.
He gets his wallet out of his pocket and pays the barber.
He is getting the hell out of here. ASAP.
At least he has the baseball cap to save him some dignity when he walks out.
Mouse heads for the door and as he touches the doorknob, he can almost feel the vibration of a thunder outside through the glass.
"It’s pouring cats and dogs outside, huh?" the other barber glances at the window.
The subway entrance is a good half an hour away from here and the scarce buses that pass by he has no idea where they go to. He checks the map on his phone for a route back home.
He checks the schedules. Apparently, one of those buses apparently goes back to the main station, but it won’t be here for at least an hour and fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.
Besides his phone is still dying on him. He considers his options for a second.
"Do you mind if I wait for the rain to stop a while in here?" Mouse asks the barber.
"No problem at all, it’s a slow day, you can stay around until the storm is over".
"Thank you so much".
"Wait outside" Kevin stares daggers at him "What are you? Made of sugar?".
"What are you? Shy?" Mouse plops down on the sofa "Does it bother you that I’m here?".
The barber calls before their bickering can continue "Next".
"That would be you" he tells the idiot.
Kevin gets on his feet; he rises and towers even over the barbers.
How is he that tall and huge? Does he have horse DNA or something?
He decides to text his mom, let her know he’s waiting for the rain to settle down before going home. And that he will be late at that.
He wants so badly to take a hot shower and get all those annoying, itchy hairs off him.
"So, JROTC, huh?"
He hears the barber and his ears perk at the comment. He sees him securing the cape around the idiot’s neck tightly.
"Are you excited?".
"Er, yeah, sir".
Kevin couldn’t lie to save his ass. It might be his only virtue.
"So, what did you and Paul had in mind?"
"Um, he told me to tell you to cut my hair however you think it’s appropriate, sir" the idiot gulps.
This is starting to get more promising by the minute.
Mouse sets his phone aside and looks in Kevin’s direction.
The barber unhooks a pair of fast-feeding clippers. He changes the blade and tests it, flicking the switch on and off.
They’re louder and bigger than the ones he used on him.
Just like he did before, he grabs ahold of Kevin’s forelock and pulls it away from his face and angles them straight for his forehead.
Then, the clippers land on top of his head. Mounds of auburn hair start to slide off the sides of his classmate’s hair. He watches the reddish cascade become a river that runs from the other teenager’s shoulder onto his lap.
There’s hardly a hint of his reddish color after the clippers move over his head.
That has to be a zero blade or a zero and a half, a one at most.
At least Mouse can still tell his hair is black.
He watches his classmate let the barber maneuver his head to his liking and buzz off the entirety of his shoulder-length mane without uttering a single syllable.
He just keeps his eyes forward, in the mirror in front of him.
He will give the idiot credit where it’s due. He has maintained his composure and stoic demeanor through a brutal shearing.
The barber covers with shaving cream the entire sides and back of his scalp. Mouse hisses at the imminence of the razor, almost like it was his own head.
He tilts Kevin’s head forward and starts scrapping off the cream and the bristles that remain in long strokes.
Quickly the footrest of the chair is sinking in a mass of auburn hair and the cape is removed from his neck.
Kevin jumps off the chair, and remains surprisingly unfettered as he pays "Thanks, sir".
"I’ll be leaving now, thanks" Mouse also gets on his feet and walks out the door.
It’s still raining outside. He reaches the bus stop, soaking wet.
He whips out his phone and tries to see how longer until the next bus.
And his phone is officially dead.
Should he go back and ask the barber for his phone?
Go somewhere he can buy a charger and see where to go from there?
"What are you? Stalking me?" he sees Kevin approaching.
"No. I am trying to get home, you dumbass" the other teenager gets his hands inside his jacket’s pockets.
The drops of water cling to the almost shaved hair on top of his head and slide down his skinned sides.
A line reads that the service is suspended due to the weather.
What the f***? What kind of joke of public transportation do they have?
Heavy rain. Trapped with the idiot at the bus stop. Mouse doesn’t think it more than once. That will be a hard pass for him.
"Okay, we walk then".
"Wait" Kevin stops him in his tracks "I’m calling my mom to see if she can come".
Mouse hears him speak on the phone.
"Paul is coming" Kevin reports after a couple minutes.
He stares at Kevin; the teenager doesn’t even dare to touch his own head. He wouldn’t in his place either.
He had super cool long hair down to his shoulders and now...
"Okay, I think you need this more than I do" Mouse offers him the baseball cap as they get to the bus stop.
Ha. Not that stone-faced about this, is he?
"JROTC, really?" Mouse looks at him up and down.
"Shut up" Kevin spits back.
"I’m just surprised, that’s it".
If he had to bet on any of his classmates signing up for something like that, his money wouldn’t be on Kevin.
Now that he thought about it, he would bet on himself to end up in a boot camp or something before the other teenager did.
"Paul. My mom’s stupid boyfriend is making me" his classmate explains.
"Your mom’s boyfriend? You mean, stepdad, right?".
"My mom and him aren’t married".
He makes a pause before his next question "Okay but does he live with you or...?".
"Yeah, they’ve moved in together".
That stage when they’ve just moved in together is not one he remembers fondly of his own childhood when his mom and her prince charming took that step forward.
Yeah, that had part been rough. He had flat out refused to do anything he said. He is not proud of his tantrums.
Mouse investigates a bit further "So, this ‘sir’ thing?".
"My mom wants me to show her I can do better" the idiot answers "She asked me to".
He stays silent for a second "I get that".
"Yeah and that’s also why I’ve been signed up for army dorks program" Kevin gives him a side glance "What about you?".
"My mom’s dearest husband...".
"Your dad" Kevin corrects him.
"He’s not my dad".
The other teenager blinks "But the barber mentioned your old man".
He’s not the only one who thinks that.
"Whatever. I kept telling him I would get a haircut to get him to shut up for some months now, I just never planned on actually doing it" Mouse tells Kevin.
"So, you set yourself up" the other sums it up for him.
"Shut up" Mouse scoffs.
"Well, I think that if he wants to get involved, then he is kind of like your old man, right?" Kevin ponders "I mean, your mom and him have been together forever, right? Like he wouldn’t ask you to cut your hair if he didn’t give a damn, would he?".
It’s because his mom and him have been together since he was a toddler that the assumptions are always there.
Mouse prefers to change the subject "Bet you won’t make it in JROTC".
"What did you say, you f***?" it works, because the other teenager bites it right away.
"Won’t you bet you will? Come on".
He watches the indignation, the pride bloom on his classmate’s face.
"Of course, I bet I will!"
"Okay, we’ve got a bet then. So, how are we doing this?" Mouse encourages him.
"I don’t know..." Kevin remains thoughtful "How about... whoever loses has to shave his head bald?".
"You motherf***er" he replies back.
"Scared, Mouse?" his classmate defies him.
"Fine" he accepts the challenge "Whoever loses has to shave his head bald".
"Good" the other teenager grins, and it might be the very first time he’s seen him do that "I hope you’re ready to be bald by the end of the schoolyear".
"That remains to be seen" he smirks back.
He has more to lose out of the two of them. And Mouse feels the rush of it in advance.
"Paul says he’s here" Kevin glances up from his phone and looks around.
He follows him to a blue SUV.
"Thanks for the ride, uh, sir" Mouse adds at the end, unsure.
"Anytime, happy to help out a friend of Kevin, here, son" the Hispanic man with coarse eyebrows and thick, dark hair buzzed short all over gives him a brief salute.
They drive off.
Finally, he gets his house keys out of his pocket and enters his house.
"Stephen, where were you?" his mom’s voice ambushes him.
"In the rain. My phone died" he answers going upstairs "I’m going to take a shower".
"Okay! Get dressed for dinner as soon as you’re done! Fred just finished baking the lasagna and I’m almost done with the lemon pie".
"Lemon pie?" he repeats enthusiastically.
"That’s right. Lemon pie".
In ten minutes, he’s showered and getting dressed. The clothes are hanging outside of his closet door since yesterday. Slacks. White sneakers. A plain dark grey sweater.
As his head slides over the wool, he can hear and feel the buzzed hair rasp against the fabric.
Out of habit, he brushes his bangs away from his face and his fingertips meet the almost shaved hair on top of his head.
He sighs and goes downstairs.
"Stephen" his mom’s husband catches sight of him "Looking good".
"Sorry I’m late" he apologizes to the guests and saves the argument he wants to have with the man for another day.
"Let me introduce, my wife, my daughter" he sets a hand over his shoulder "And my son".
Mouse sees the honest smile on the man’s face as he says the words and runs his fingertips across the top of his head.
And he thinks for a second that he doesn’t mind when he gets called that.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hey, Zero here! I am rusty as hell. I wrote this to try to stretch my writing muscles while I work on another, denser, piece throughout the month. As I always say, all kind of comments are welcome and thanks for reading!