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Commiseration (Epilogues) by Zero
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Hey, Zero here! Some epilogues for Commiseration. I suggest reading that first, but you can also read this first and then backtrack to that one. No onscreen haircuts on this one. Basically, these are some aftermaths following Mouse and his stepfather and Kevin and his to be stepfather and other things. Like it? Don’t like it? All comments are welcome as always!
His mom’s husband would smile and look his way all the way through the dinner. Mouse can’t tell whether it’s admiration, amusement or something else. With him is always hard to tell. It’s hard to know whether he’s serious or messing up with him. Or whether he’s being sarcastic or not.
Mouse wishes it wasn’t that hard to tell.
More often than not he finds himself getting whatever offhand comment the man made get translated back to him by his mom the day or the week after.
Maybe the part of him that thought the haircut wasn’t actually a serious thing and got the wires crossed is to blame for this.
He also thinks that at least for a while he won’t listen to his unsolicited opinion about his hair.
His dad has never been like this.
He rubs a stubborn stain of sauce from a plate. The guests are gone. The deed is gone. His mom is happy and her husband too, as far as he can tell, that is.
"So, this is my brother, the subject, fresh out of the barbershop, as you can see" his younger sister approaches him holding a camera on her hand.
His camera. With the red light on. Recording.
"Violet, what the...?" he looks at her, half-mortified, half-angered.
"You look like dad, Stephen" she weighs in "Are you joining the army too?".
"What!?" Mouse exclaims in alarm "Also, I don’t. My hair is a lot shorter than his!".
Mouse glances into the mirror and tries to style his hair.
The bristles hardly even move. Damn it. They just settle back in place, and spring back to the same position.
Besides, that weird dent on his hairline, where did it even come from? Did he hit his head and forgot about it? Is it actually a scar of some sort?
Not to mention, he has a now fully visible, bright red, mole on the opposite side of his head he could have gone without showing off to the world.
Kevin, on the other hand, looks even meaner and nastier. Mouse doesn’t know which part of his features it brings to the forefront but he looks even less approachable.
It makes his attempts to open up and lend a hand far more noticeable, he thinks.
Mouse feels his hair cut this short makes him look like a child, like a young rogue Tibetan monk apprentice that ran away or something similar.
And that got shanghaied by the military or something along the way.
Yeah. Exactly that.
"I think you look handsome, Stephen" his mom finishes putting away the remainder of the lemon pie, almost as if reading his mind, like she has been provided with a printed copy of his inner monologue.
He glances at the tray. They have a couple slices for the next couple days or so. He is looking forward to serving himself a piece after lunch tomorrow.
"Mom, you’re my mom. I could look like a came out of a dumpster on fire and you’d still tell me I looked handsome, which thanks by the way, but it’s not an objective opinion!" he argues with her.
His mom puts her hand on her chin, thoughtfully "Do you want me to ask Katrina to ask her daughter Marie what she thinks of your new haircut? She’s your age, she would give you an honest opinion".
Mouse feels how his face turns bright-red "No, please don’t".
"I think girls in your class might be into it" his mom offers him an uplifting smile "Some boys too".
He can’t put in words how much he doesn’t want Marie or any of the classmates he has had a crush on to see him shorn like this.
He thinks he’ll play it as cool as he can at school on Monday. A spring haircut. Totally his idea. He is a pretty decent liar, he can convince them of this version.
"Wait. You like Marie? I thought you liked Harry" his sister ponders while pointing the camera lens in his direction "Or do you like them both?".
"Violet, you better delete that!" he tells her, his face scorching now.
"Not until you tell me, which one do you like like? Also, why did you and Alice break up?".
"That’s none of your business" Mouse rinses the lemon pie tray.
"I am your only sister! I deserve to know! You know who my crush is!" she keeps pressing.
"Violet, you’re twelve!" he reminds her.
"Leave your brother alone, will you, sweetheart?" his mom intervenes "It’s late, you should go to bed".
"Yeah, go to bed, sweetheart. Listen to your mom" his stepdad backs up his mom.
"Okaaaay, I’ll go to bed" his sister lets out an annoyed groan.
He can hear her galloping up the staircase. Finally. Mouse takes a relieved breath.
He loves Violet but she just knows how to press his buttons. Well, he knows how to get on her nerves too.
"I am pleasantly surprised you cut your hair" his mom’s husband lets his comment out as he walks past him, he smells like cologne and wine "I didn’t expect you to actually follow through".
"Make that two of us" Mouse deadpans.
He is also surprised. Not pleasantly, though.
Then, before he can say anything else and add to his comment, the man speaks again.
"No, really. Thank you for going to the barber for the dinner, I appreciate that you did".
"Yeah. No problem" Mouse answers, half-truthfully and half-resignedly, as he passes him a dried plate.
"So, how do you like it? I think it’s the first time you’ve ever had it this short, right?".
Why is he even asking him this? Of course he would know! It’s not like he’s met him two weeks ago. He remembers his childhood in more detail than he probably does.
"No, never had it this short".
There is a pause in the conversation in which he seems to detect his tone.
"Hey, just so we’re clear, I don’t intend on making you do something you don’t want to. Got it?" the man puts the plate away inside the cabinet "I leave that to your mom".
"Fred!" his mom calls him out, shutting the fridge.
"Hey, you’re his mom" the man chuckles "That’s your lane".
"How are you two faring there? Need a hand?" his mom leans against the counter.
"Nah, we got this" the man places a knife inside a drawer and takes another to dry it "Right, Stephen?".
"Yeah, mom, we’ll handle" Mouse nods and looks in her direction "You go rest".
His mom walks towards them and he feels her plant a kiss on his cheek "Thank you".
"No problem, mom".
Right after, out of the corner of his eye, he sees her lips meet her husband’s lightly "And thank you"
Her hand ruffles the longer locks of hair on the top of his head affectionately, she messes the slicked back, dark hair with her fingers.
Her prince charming smiles like all of his neurons had left his brain.
Mouse half-wonders if he looked like that when he was around his ex-girlfriend. If he had that same smile.
"You’re welcome, honey" he hears him answer.
The faucet is turned off. Almost done.
There are still spare raindrops on the kitchen window. It’s hardly stopped since he left the barbershop.
He grabs another towel and starts drying the remaining silverware.
"Thank you again, Stephen. For helping your mom... and me out tonight with this dinner" his mom’s partner dries the tray with the other kitchen towel.
"No problem" he answers straightforward.
It’s getting late. He feels like going to his room and playing online for an hour or so before going to sleep.
"You know... Seeing you change and grow and mature, it just fills me with a proud feeling".
Mouse feels a hand climb up his forehead towards his crown and give his buzzed head a vigorous rub that jolts him out of his own train of thoughts.
The wine must be up in the man’s head. He’s not this talkative and inspired ever. Nor this physically demonstrative with him either.
"Maybe when you have kids of your own..." his stepdad pauses and then smiles at him, the weight of his voice tumbles "I mean, I’m not speaking like I’m your dad, I know I’m not... Anyway, I hope you get to live it when you’re older and get it. If you want to".
"I don’t think I want to, seems like a lot of work" Mouse replies flatly.
He thinks back on when he was younger, and he was a lot of work when he was a kid.
His mom did the most part, mainly because he refused to take into consideration anything coming from anyone else. Anyone else meaning his stepdad. Mostly.
But he was still there, regardless.
It is true that he and his mom have been together forever. He barely has memories of his life before he came around.
He has a feeling that his stepdad couldn’t imagine a life they haven’t shared either.
"By the way, about the haircut. I know it’s a lot shorter than what you’re used to. How do you feel about it? Please, be honest. You don’t have to keep it if you’d rather not" the man’s hand drops to his shoulder.
Mouse runs his hand back and forth over his head, from back to front.
He feels the prickly stubble progressively get thicker and longer as he moves his hand upwards.
He guesses they don’t have it bad. He can be who he is with his family. His mom is married and in love. Even if it’s not to his dad.
Yeah. Two out of three isn’t bad at all.
Back on the matter of his haircut.
"Well, I did make a bet with Kevin" he remembers.
"Who’s Kevin? What bet?" the man blinks at him "Wait. That Kevin?".
It still rains. The droplets grow and tear themselves open against the glass.
Their own house is a ten-minute drive away or so from here.
Kevin wishes he was driving. He wouldn’t be heading back to the apartment yet. More importantly, he wouldn’t be sitting in the copilot seat next to Paul.
"Nice of you to offer a ride to that boy. He seemed like a good kid. Friend of yours?" his mom’s boyfriend asks him at a traffic light. His odd, swaying, percussive Caribbean accent heavy when he speaks.
"We know each other from school, sir" he says, trying to avoid a conversation, without looking at him.
Paul studies him. Kevin doesn’t have to actually meet his gaze to know he is trying to find a crack, a way to get underneath him.
"Martin did a good job. Did you thank him for the haircut?" the man steers the wheel to the right when the light turns green.
Martin must be the one that gives Paul that infamous clipper shave he sports in summer. When he trades a prickly, translucent buzzcut he wears all year long for barely a greyish five o’ clock stubble all over his head.
Kevin foresees Paul will invite him to come over to get the same cut done in a couple months and he dreads it beforehand.
Just the thought of being back and having Paul be with him fills him with irritation and hatred for everything.
The way he’s always seizing him up and now patrolling his life, sometimes he thinks he will actually do something really bad just to give him a real reason to do it.
(He knows he won’t, but some days he forgets it).
Then, he can almost see the smile on his face when he says "Your mom is not going to recognize you when she sees you".
"I guess so, sir" he replies, leaning his face on his fist, not making eye contact.
Paul prepares to park the SUV as he keeps talking to him.
"Ever had a summer haircut?".
Kevin remembers he hates this man the longer he has to listen to him "No, sir".
The man maneuvers the wheel and looks over his seat, towards the back "We’ll start this summer then, once school is over, you’ll get a good shave for the summer heat".
He doesn’t give him an answer. And Paul doesn’t give him a pass on that.
"Are you really that worked up about a haircut, lad?".
Kevin frowns and feels a knot in his stomach "No, sir".
"Then stop sulking. Come on. It’s a fine haircut, done by a proper barber and you needed it" his mom’s boyfriend starts preaching as the vehicle stops "You’ll get used to it in no time".
His hand makes a fist and he holds it. The teenager bites his tongue. He’s doing it so often; his teeth will end up scarring the tissue if only through the repeats of the motion.
Paul keeps talking "Besides, you know it’s for your own good, right? Your mom just wants to make sure everything turns out right with you. Me too".
Kevin feels the fingertips that touch the back of his neck and jumps right away and turns in the blink of an eye to glare at Paul in the driver’s seat with his heartbeat racing.
"DON’T F***ING TOUCH ME!".
The Hispanic man moves his hand farther away from him, like a snake just bit his arm, in a whip-like motion. A stunned expression comes over his face.
Kevin feels his heartbeat freeze and he tries to get a hold of himself.
"I’m... Sorry. I. F***. I didn’t..." his brain goes in circles with what to say.
"Hey..." Paul tries to reach out again.
"Just. Don’t. Please" he asks him sternly. Then, he realizes he didn’t say it and almost recoils adding it at the end "Sir".
They don’t tear their gazes away from each other, it takes a moment for Paul to say anything back and drop his hand.
"I didn’t mean to startle you, boy" his mom’s boyfriend opens the door and gets out of the vehicle.
It isn’t raining that bad anymore. There is a light drizzle but the sky is still somber, so it likely won’t last for too long until it pours again.
Kevin takes a couple steps behind him, but just a handful.
"I’m staying out here a while" he stops in his tracks "Is that okay, sir?".
Paul looks his way "Yeah, Kev, whatever you need. Just mind the rain, will you?".
He cringes at ‘Kev’. It’s their nickname, and it’s not his to use.
"Oh, and take out those bags of leaves and branches from your grandma’s yard while you’re at it. I was going to throw it away but your mom called and asked me to pick you up and I forgot" Paul hands him the keys.
"Yeah, sir" Kevin sighs.
He opens the truck of the SUV.
There are three black bags basically bursting with different remains of yardwork. Okay. At least some additional minutes to be out here.
He grabs the first one in one hand and starts heading towards the containers down the sidewalk.
Kevin lifts the lid with his free hand and ducks the bag with the other. Right away he feels something hurting. He examines his palm. A torn slashed his ring finger. F***. He curses underneath his breath.
Stupid Paul who didn’t do this himself.
"Kevin" one of their neighbors greets him under an umbrella "Are you okay? Did you get hurt".
"Miranda" he looks at the young woman, one half of the young couple that lives on the floor above theirs "I’m fine. It’s nothing, just a nick on my finger".
"Are those branches? Are you sure you don’t have a splinter? You have to be careful" she uses her motherly tone with him.
"I will be. Thanks".
"Whoa, Kevin! You cut your hair!" her son stares at him aghast, holding his mom’s hand.
"I know, I needed to, I guess" he downplays it in front of the five-year-old and his mom, massaging his shaved nape.
The sensation of the bare skin is not right. Neither is the chillness on his head and his ears.
It’s weird enough not to feel the weight of his hair or the tips of his locks brushing against his shoulders to add the fact that his back and sides are completely bald.
F*** his mom’s stupid asshole boyfriend. Making him join f***ing JROTC and get a f***ing haircut. Who does he think he is?
Maybe he will take Mouse’s advice and get a baseball cap.
"Whoa, you look super cool!" the child looks at him wide-eyed, then without missing a beat, he adds "But you looked cooler before!".
"Thanks?" Kevin raises and eyebrow and lets a chuckle escape.
"It will grow back" the woman reassures him, brushing her fingertips lightly against the top of his head, completely razed by the clippers.
"Yeah, it will" he makes a motion like he was pushing his bangs back and feels his hair prickle his own hand.
"How’s your mom?" he hears her ask.
"She’s doing alright, at a workshop today" Kevin answers.
"And how’s your brother?" the second question drops right after.
He ignores the heaviness in his chest and replies as unaffected as he can "He’s alright too".
"Send her all my love, okay? She is in my thoughts and prayers" the young mother holds her umbrella tighter "Your brother too".
"I will. Thanks".
Kevin goes back for the other two bags after they’ve said goodbye.
He told him he had to be domineering. Instructed him on how to intimidate so they would all take a step back before thinking about charging forward. Pre-emptive strikes, displays of force. It was his way. And it worked. It worked.
He taught him that he had to grab the world by the throat and don’t let it catch a single breath.
It was the two of them against the world, after all.
Kevin fiddles with the cigarette and the lighter (both are his brother’s), unable to make his mind about smoking it while Paul isn’t near him.
Until it starts to rain again and he guesses the sky takes the decision for him.
He lives in peace for three months, when his stepdad is back on his usual bulls**t.
"You’re starting to get shaggy there. Why don’t you go get a trim?" he nags him as they carry the groceries back inside.
Three months of growth and calculated trims and a head of hair he can actually comb again is the man’s definition of shaggy.
His sister is so lucky she’s a girl and gets a free pass on this.
Well, knowing her and how close she is to him, if Violet was a boy, she would probably be a carbon copy of his stepdad. Even more than she already is.
"Armand won’t be open until Monday" Mouse retorts.
"Martin opens every day of the week" the man points out.
"Thanks, but I think I’ll pass" he offers him his most polite smile.
"Fine" the man shrugs, opening the door "By the way, Stephen, we’re visiting my family tomorrow, if you want to come, you can come".
Tomorrow? Right. Tomorrow is Father’s Day. He had almost forgotten.
How did time go by this fast? How he didn’t even realize before?
"I’ll let you know, thanks, Fred" Mouse leaves the bags over the counter "I have some things to do tomorrow in the morning first".
It’s a bright morning. The ride on his bike is over half an hour, but he would rather come on his own than ask his mom or Fred to get him here.
He comes here every year and every year he wonders if he still remembers where it is.
Near the bridge. On the opposite side of the oak tree.
Mouse, the day something happens either to the bridge or the oak tree, you’ll be walking in circles blindly. You should really get another technique to know where the hell you are.
He moves forward almost counting his steps, almost leaving a trail behind him in his mind, in case he can’t find the way back. Or hoping the track will be there to guide him next year. The grass crunches underneath the sole of his shoes.
"Hey, grandpa" he stops in his tracks, when he finally finds it "Happy Father’s Day".
He kneels down and places the bouquet of red flowers over it.
Mouse doesn’t know if there is an afterlife, but if there is, he hopes his grandfather is watching him today visiting his grave.
He idly wonders if his grandpa recognizes him with his hair cut shorter this year.
He did the same visit to his grandma on May, so he guesses maybe she gossiped about it with him in heaven or wherever they are. If they are somewhere, that is.
A throaty voice gets him out his thoughts.
He recognizes it right away and looks over his shoulder "Kevin. What are you...?".
Mouse can see his towering figure right away and the back and sides of his head almost shaved underneath a baseball cap. Just a hint of the reddish brown shade of his hair is visible.
"It’s a goddamn cemetery, Mouse, don’t f***ing ask me what I’m doing here" his classmate cuts him off "I think it’s f***ing obvious".
"I wasn’t going to" he scoffs.
Kevin’s tone mellows, but barely "Then what were you going to say?".
There is a pause.
"Okay. I was going to ask you what you were doing here" Mouse admits.
Somehow, his classmate doesn’t send him flying across the other side of the bridge when he hears his answer. He just drops his shoulders and gets his hands inside his pockets.
"Visiting my dad" Kevin says it detachedly "You?".
"My grandpa" Mouse tries to imitate the same emotionlessness when he replies "My dad and I always come together first thing in the morning, every Father’s Day".
This is his third year coming on his own.
But Kevin doesn’t need to know that.
"My brother and I come here too and bring flowers and all that" the other teenager tells him "He’d get all emotional and start telling me stories about dad and stuff, you know how it goes".
"Only him telling stories? What? Aren’t you in them?" Mouse looks his way.
The other cuts off eye contact "I was three or four when my dad died".
"And where is he?" he asks.
Kevin blinks at him in confusion, then points to his left, towards the other side of the cemetery "...He’s buried over there".
"I meant your brother" he clarifies.
"In jail" Kevin answers, his gaze drifts away from his for a second.
"What for?" Mouse’s lips move faster than his brain "I didn’t ask that. Sorry".
"Doesn’t matter" Kevin tells him "It freaked out my mom and my... Paul, so they signed me up for JROTC and all that s**t. They thought it would keep me in line or something. I don’t know".
He shifts his weight to his other leg "I thought it was because of the thing at the woods, or sophomore you send flying to the other side of the street and all that".
"I was on thin ice after all that, but I didn’t even come close to wrecking their nerves like..." Kevin hits a brake midsentence and shrugs "Anyway, it’s just me this year".
Kevin takes off his baseball cap. He has a shadow of stubble the same length all over. He looks like he got a complete clipper shave, like he had just been inducted in the Marines.
He guesses the chances either of them will have long hair again for the start of their senior year are none.
"My dad used to come every year on June and we would celebrate Father’s Day together and my birthday" Mouse pushes his short bangs away from his forehead "I looked forward to his visit all year long".
"But aren’t your parents...?" Kevin rubs his eyelids and walks closer "Sorry, I forgot that’s your stepdad. You told me last time".
"Anyway" he shrugs "I haven’t seen my dad in like three years. I mean, we do video calls every week, but I really want to visit him, I really wish he could come" he glances at his phone, calculating the time zone difference, and wondering if his dad is awake right now.
"So, why can’t he?" the other asks.
Mouse puts his hands inside his pockets "He was denied a VISA last time".
A silence settles for a couple seconds, until his classmate breaks it.
"Dude, that f***ing sucks" he hears Kevin say heartfully.
"It f***ing does" he says and feels it his chest.
Kevin changes the subject and drives it back to something that isn’t either their families.
Maybe they both need the small talk.
They could both use the unwinding.
"Anyway. I’m not doing JROTC next year" he tells him "I discussed it with my mom and Paul".
"Wait a minute, if you’re quitting JROTC... Does that mean I won?" Mouse leans his arm against Kevin’s shoulder.
"Actually, I won" Kevin gets him off him "I did make it into JROTC".
He points at him with his index finger, accusingly "But you’re not staying. So...".
"So, neither of us won, then?" the other shrugs.
"As long as I’m not shaving my head bald, I’m cool" Mouse steps back with both hands up in the air, as if he was showing he didn’t have any weapons on him.
"You’re a wuss, Mouse" Kevin rolls his eyes and scoffs.
"I’m not" he defends himself "Besides, what would be the point of shaving your head if you’re already bald?".
Mouse has gotten used to seeing him with his hair cut that short. All the school has.
He thinks maybe Kevin has also gotten used to it.
"Paul" he says the name bluntly "This reminds me, I wanted to ask you, where do you get your hair cut?".
"Armand’s. He’s really good. Why?".
"Looking for a different barber in the future. Someone who isn’t Martin and who will actually leave hair in my head, you know?".
Mouse nods in understanding "What about your previous barber?".
"I didn’t have a barber until Martin" Kevin brushes his fingers against his temples "My brother used to cut my hair".
"I see. Well, Armand is great".
"Anyway, my mom and Paul got married, so I’ll probably be stuck up with Martin for a while, maybe until college" his classmate lets out a resigned sigh.
"So, he’s your stepdad now" he assesses.
"It’s f***ing weird" Kevin says "I mean, I’m having a baby brother or a baby sister in November! I’ll be thirty and he or she will be a high school student!".
"Little sisters aren’t that bad".
Kevin runs his hand across the stubble on top of his head, all the way to the back of his neck "Yeah. Maybe mom will get a break from me and my brother if she’s a girl".
"If she’s a girl, be ready to put up with mandatory talent competitions in the living room and stickers everywhere on everything" he warns his classmate, overdramatically serious "And if you have long hair when she’s bigger, she will use you as hairstyle model".
Kevin smiles quietly.
"Anyway, I’ll be leaving".
"How did you come here? Bike?" Mouse asks him.
"I drove here. Paul let me borrow the SUV. I also have to run some errands in return and go to the bakery and boring stuff like that" he pauses "I could give you a ride if you need one".
Kevin is...? F***ing Kevin who f***ing got all the privileges he’s been battling for like driving since he was twelve seemingly overnight.
"Dude, my mom and my stepdad don’t let me touch the car yet!".
"Try joining JROTC next year, maybe that will change their mind" Kevin smirks with superiority.
Mouse almost shudders at the thought of walking into school in uniform one day per week and doing drill and even more PE "Not in a thousand f***ing years. And thanks, but not today".
His classmate laughs "See you later, Mouse".
"Later" he smiles back at him.
He glances at the time on his phone. He should probably be heading back as well. There isn’t much more to do for him here now.
It must still be nighttime where his dad is.
Mouse decides to leave him a voice message anyway, his dad will listen to it when he wakes up "Hey, dad, I just dropped by the cemetery and brought flowers for grandpa. Happy Father’s Day. I love you and I miss you".
He opens his chat with his stepdad and takes a deep breath.
"Hey, Fred. I was wondering, can I join you, Violet and mom later today?" he tells him "Also, Happy Father’s Day. And thank you, by the way, for everything all this time".
Mouse tucks his phone back in his pocket and gets on his bike.