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Alpha by BaldSurfer
In any group of male friends, there's always that one guy who seems to naturally just become the leader of the pack. A guy with a little more charisma, maybe a little more successful than the others, more confident - and usually more arrogant. He's the guy who initiates that Boys Weekend in Atlantic City. He's the one who'll dare you to do something really stupid and get you to actually do it. Without even realizing it, the other guys begin to listen the the music that he likes, taking fashion cues from his style.
Among Jonny's friends, that guy was Eric. They were a close knit group of 6 guys. They'd become friends when they all worked together years ago. Most had moved on to other companies, but Jonny and Eric still worked together. And while Jonny had climbed up on the corporate ladder and considered himself a success, Eric went even higher and as a vice president was Jonny's boss's boss. But outside of work, Jonny and Eric were still great friends, even closer to each other than the rest of the gang. Even though they were the same, Jonny looked up to Eric like a big brother and often turned to him for advice on the bigger issues in his life. Unconsciously, Jonny had started to be strongly influenced by Eric. When he picked out that pair of sneakers with the bright red trim, it was because they caught his eye in the store - not because they were nearly identical to Eric's. When he started wearing tight fitting V-neck t-shirts, it was because they seemed to be the current style and showed off his hard earned muscles - not because that was the only kind of t-shirts Eric wore. But as time went on, the other guys started to make some cracks about how Jonn and Eric were beginning to look a bit like "a couple". Jonny laughed it off, but Eric and his inflated ego quietly seethed and wished his friend would try to make his own identity instead of trying to be a carbon copy of Eric.
Eric had worn the same hairstyle for as long as the guys could remember - the top spiky, around 2 inches long and the back and sides buzzed down to half an inch, blocked square in the back. That was a part of the style that Jonny never considered adopting. He liked his blond hair, long on top and scissored on the sides and back to stay just above his collar.
But then, one night, the guys were meeting for happy hour at their local bar - and Eric showed up an hour late - and radically changed by a new and extreme haircut. The top of Eric's hair cut down to a sharp but really short flattop, the front no more than 3/4 inch, waxed and standing up straight and where the flat hair met the top of his head a few inches back, his scalp had been shaved clean. The back and sides had been shaved completely bald as well. Eric's swagger seemed even more confident as he walked in, and he laughed at all the attention the guys paid to his new look and all the questions they asked. Why had he done it? I was bored, he said. Did he like it? "Hell, yeah. I look like a Marine!"
Jonny couldn't help staring at his friend's new look. He was fascinated. He'd never had any friends who had such a radical cut. He'd never been able to look so closely at a head shaved to the bone in places. And somehow his friend, who Jonny had always seen as a commanding presence, seemed even more powerful, more confident. He couldn't help admiring the look and the strength it conveyed and started to wonder how his light blond hair would look in such a style. And would it give Jonny that same image of strength?
Over the next few days, his thoughts were consumed by Eric's new look. They'd go to lunch together and Jonny had to make a conscious effort to not stare at the sharp short cut. It looked like Eric was regularly shaving the sides and back, because there was never more than a day or 2 of stubble before he was again smooth and almost shiny on the sides and back. By Saturday, with Eric's new haircut in his thoughts and even in his dreams, Jonny knew he had to try it for himself.
He went to Jack, his regular barber on Saturday morning and when Jack asked "The usual?" Jonny said he wanted to try something new and described Eric's cut. "A high and tight flat? Really? You know it will take months to grow back out?" but Jonny said he was quite sure, so Jack turned the chair away from the mirror and reached for his clippers. While he was actually really nervous about making this extreme change, Jonny tried to look confident and sure even as his panic turned to nausea. His stomach was in knots as he heard the clippers roar to life. He nearly vomited as the cold vibrating metal touched his temple and he saw his blond hair start to rain down onto the cape. He felt the clippers climb all the way up his head, and while he couldn't see what was happening, his scalp felt cold and tingly in the wake of the ravenous clippers. Within a few strokes, the cold metal had quickly warmed up and by the time Jack had worked his way around the back to the other side, they were hot to the touch, intensifying the chill on the bare skin they'd shorn. In mere minutes, that phase was done. Jack turned the chair back around and Jonny froze with shock as he saw the pale white skin where his hair had been. The top still hung long but the sides were bald, sharp borders marked where the virgin scalp met the tan of Jonny's face. Why hadn't he noticed that on Eric?
But Jonny had little time to ponder it as Jack raised the front of Jonny's hair with a comb, ran the clippers across the comb, and sheared most of the hair away. Moving the comb back, Jack repeated the process as Jonny watched his flattop begin to take shape. By the fourth pass, the comb was pressed right against the top of his head and after the clippers ran across it, bare skin shone from the peak of his head. A few strokes later, Jack switched the clippers off. Jonny stared at his reflection and his fear disappeared. He thought he looked great. He started to feel the confidence that he'd hoped the haircut would bring. Jack applied some wax which made his hair stand stick-straight, and then Jack used the edger to sharpen the top into a perfect flat. And as he worked back, he used the edgers to take the landing strip down to bare skin. Then Jack spread warm lather over the sides and back of Jonny's head, a warm and comforting feeling, but Jonny was startled as Jack also lathered the landing strip on top. But Jonny was enjoying his transformation no and closed his eyes as he relaxed and enjoyed the scratching sounds of the razor as it scraped away the last hair on the sides and back of his head. And the scratching seemed louder still as the top of his head was shaved clean. He opened his eyes as Jack wiped away stray dabs of lather and stared at his reflection. He looked even better than Eric, he thought. He felt the power and strength of this tough military look. It felt like his dreams had really come true. He strautted out of the shop feeling like a new man, ready for whatever challenge awaited him.
The gang was going out drinking that night. Jonny intentionally arrived late, so that everyone would be there when he made his grand entrance with his new look. Wearing a tight black t-shirt, his flattop waxed to squared perfection, he walked toward his friends,waiting for their admiring reactions. But as they locked eyes on him, these guys who Jonny felt closest to in the world, broke out in hysterical laughter.
"Oh my God, it's Eric Junior!"
"Hey, barber, give me the Eric."
"Hey, Robin, you look like Batman!"
Suddenly, Jonny felt nauseous again, this time from the humiliation. His friends didn't think he was brave for the radical change. They didn't think he exuded the strength and confidence of a military hero. They thought he was a pathetic copycat - trying to be like the friend they thought he idolized. It was horrifying and embarrassing. He looked to Eric, hoping he'd stand up for him. But Eric's expression was even worse. He looked red with anger and ready to explode.
"Seriously?" Eric raged. "Can't I do anything you don't copy? Dude, this is freaking creepy! What is wrong with you, you f**king stalker?"
Jonny felt his face go flush. He fought back tears as he cursed the guys he thought were his friends and ran from the bar while he could still resist the urge to cry. He started his car, looked at himself in the rear view mirror and began to sob. He saw a haircut on his friend and he admired it and decided to try it. What was wrong with that? He could understand the other guys taking shots - that's what guys do. But Eric wasn't joking - he was serious, and angry and Jonny felt an overwhelming shame. Was he really just a pathetic follower, imitating someone he looked up to? Did Eric always look down on him with such disdain?
He was still crying and filled with self-loathing as he walked into his apartment. He walked into the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror. A few hours earlier, his reflection showed a strong confident man. Now he took a closer look. His t-shirt was identical to the one Eric had on tonight. His haircut that he thought would symbolize his independence now was a very public symbol of shame. A reminder that in the eyes of his closest friends, he was just a follower trying to imitate a guy they thought he idolized.
He was almost trance-like as he unconsciously reached for his beard trimmers, removed the guide and wept as he shaved away the flattop that he'd been so proud to get just a few hours ago. He even lathered up his entire head and shaved it clean, leaving no trace of the earlier cut. He went to bed, but found it hard to sleep - feeling friendless, alone and ashamed - and completely bald.
He awoke the next morning to the sound of banging at his door. He stumbled down, opened it and there was Eric, whose apologetic face exploded into laughter as Eric saw Jonny shaved bald.
"Dude, what did you do? You're freaking bald!"
"You guys made me feel like an idiot. I had to do something! Look, I'm sorry if you feel like I'm trying to..."
Eric cut him off. "No. I'm the one who should be sorry. I should never have unloaded on you like that. But, come on. You have to admit that you do seem to follow everything I do. You know why I was drawn to have you as a friend when we met? Because you seemed like a kindred spirit, as self-minded as me. But somewhere along the line, you stopped making your own choices. Did you think I'd like you more if you were more like me? No! I want a friend who is as much his own man as I am. But I still shouldn't have done that in front of the guys. And look at you now! You're a cue ball!"
"Does it look that bad?" Jonny asked. "What should I do?"
"Dude - this is exactly what I mean! The Jonny I befriended wouldn't ask me about his freaking haircut! He wouldn't need me to tell him he looks good or not. You like being bald? Be bald. You want your old hair back? Grow it out. I don't give a crap! We're guys - we don't care about our buddy's haircut. Just don't try to be me. Try to be the best YOU. I have enough people at work who kiss my ass, I don't need it from you. I want my old friend back."
Jonny immediately felt better - understanding what his friend was saying. He felt like this would end up even strengthening the friendship. He thanked Eric for the visit, the apology and advice.
"No problem, You're one of my best friends. But I gotta go. I have a softball game. By by the way, I think the bald head looks pretty badass. If I were you, I'd grow that old goatee back and keep the shaved head."
"Yeah?" Jonny asked as he ran his hand over his bald head. "Thanks for the advice but go f**k yourself. I think I can pick out my own damn hairstyle!"
"Whatever, dude. It's your head. Couldn't care less..." Eric said, smiling as he walked away.