“…And Parker,” Coach Davis said; I let out a sigh of relief. It was the third time I’d competed in the monthly tryouts, and it was always nerve-wracking when he announced the results – even though I wasn’t that worried, I was good enough that my spot on the team was never at risk. “Again, congratulations everyone who made it on the team this month,” he continued. “As for the others, you’re more than welcome to try again. Oh, and before I forget, just a reminder that the sports facilities will be closed over Turkey Day weekend, starting on the day of and reopening the Monday after that.”
“You mean Thanksgiving, coach!” shouted Simon from the crowd.
“I said what I said,” the coach said, crossing his arms in front of him; but he had a smirk on his lips. “I think this is all. Dismissed.”
It was the second Monday of November. After that first game night, I had settled comfortably into what I guessed was a perfectly average college life – though I had no idea if it actually was so, since I obviously didn’t have any experience with college life before then: I would spend my weekdays between lessons, sports, and studying, the latter often with Lena and other students with the same major as us, and on Friday we would gather over at Roger’s house for our regular role-playing game.
Even though at first I was hesitant, I really enjoyed playing as Allie: unlike Catherine, who’d already been a fully-developed character when she’d been handed over to me, I could shape and mould Allie’s personality as I wished. According to the backstory I’d thought up for her, she was a simple girl from a small village whose aptitude for magic was discovered by a visiting wizard, and she’d been invited to study at the magic school in the kingdom’s capital; there, she would discover more things about herself, and… Well, that part was still to be decided – it would be written by the whole game group through gameplay.
I’d also started to become very close with both Lena and Patrick: I exchanged messages regularly with both of them whenever we weren’t together, just to chat and keep up on what we were doing during our days. Though of course we weren’t constantly on the phone with each other, we had a life beyond texting our friends.
While I was chatting a bit with Simon and Roger we made our way to the changing rooms, to wash up and remove the sweat and grime and chlorine from our skin. I’d discovered, to my great relief, that the sports facilities at Bradford McKinley had single-stall changing rooms and showers, so that meant I could clean myself and change my clothes without having to be naked in front of other people – it wasn’t their nudity that bothered me, really, being a high school athlete I’d seen my share of naked male bodies, but rather it was the thought of being seen by others in that state: I don’t know why, but it had always bothered me, so I avoided it whenever possible.
After I was done drying my hair (it was very important, especially since the season was advancing and it was starting to become chilly outside, I didn’t want to catch a cold) I got dressed and then, while waiting for my friends to finish too, I checked my phone for messages. I idly twirled a lock of hair around my finger as I read the latest from Patrick and Lena; almost absent-mindedly I realised that my hair was getting longish – I hadn’t had a haircut since March, nearly eight months: at first it was just because I was too busy training up for the last race of my high school triathlon career, which had taken place in May, but then I’d just forgotten, what with the stress of moving to college and all. I’d never gotten a really short haircut, but now I had nearly four inches of growth to contend with, and it was getting unruly.
I looked at my phone screen again. Besides Lena and Patrick, there was also a text from my mother, asking simply: Are you coming home for Thanksgiving?
I frowned. She’d always been anxious like that: always double-checking things. I sent her a message back.
I am. We’d already agreed on that, right?
I set the phone down and started putting my street shoes on, but the device pinged almost immediately; I picked it up again, and saw that my mother had replied.
Right. Sorry. When do you think you’ll get here?
I sighed. I typed up a response.
I don’t know yet. I have to check the timetables, I was thinking of coming by bus.
I laced up one shoe, then the other, ignoring my phone pinging again for a few brief seconds.
Wouldn’t taking a plane be better?
I sighed. No, it wouldn’t. She still hadn’t gotten used to money being tight, as it had been since my father had passed.
Too expensive, I’m trying to save as much money as I can. It’s not that far anyway.
The response came almost immediately:
Alright. Let me know.
I slipped my phone in my pocket, then turned my head to look in the mirror. I hadn’t really paid close attention to it before, but with my hair growing in like it was I looked… Shaggy. I mean, I looked Shaggy: I resembled Norville Rogers as portrayed by Matthew Lillard in the hit 2002 movie. Well, except for the beard, I had none to speak of, I shaved every day. And the face. In fact, my hair was the only thing that was remotely similar. But it still annoyed me, I cared a lot about my appearance, and yet I’d let that detail slip. I should probably do something about it.
“Ready to go?” Roger asked.
I was a bit startled – I’d been so focused on my reflection that I hadn’t noticed him approaching me. But still, I nodded. “Yeah, sure, let’s go,” I said.
We met up with Lexi outside the changing rooms and set off towards my dorm: it was on the way to Roger’s and Lexi’s houses, so usually they walked with me, and then biked home after they’d left me.
“So anyway,” I said, to start the conversation, “do either of you know where I can find a good hairdresser?”
Lexi inclined her head and looked at me quizzically. “Don’t you mean a barber?” she asked.
“No, I mean a hairdresser,” I replied, shaking my head. “I was looking to get a haircut, but I actually like my hair being this long. Could be a bit longer, honestly.”
Lexi and Roger blinked at my words.
“Anyway, what I want to say is,” I continued. “I’ve had bad experiences with barbers in the past: they tend not to listen to what you say, and don’t give the haircut you ask for, but rather the one they think would suit you best. Which usually involves lopping off most of the hair on your head. You get what I mean?”
They were still boggling at me; they clearly hadn’t expected me to go on a rant about barbers and hairdressers and haircuts out of the blue.
“So I wanted to see if I could find someone good, someone who’d actually listen to my requests,” I concluded. “Do you know any place like that?”
Lexi stared at me, long and hard. “Are you free on Sunday?” she asked.
“Probably, yeah?” I replied. “Usually on Sunday I just go for a run in the morning, then spend the afternoon studying. Why?”
“We’re going to get you that haircut,” she said. “There’s a place in the mall two towns over I really like, we’ll make an outing of it. I’ll ask Lena if she wants to come too.”
Her words gave me pause. I had a thought: why hadn’t I asked Lena instead of Lexi and Roger? And then another thought right after the first one – why would I ask Lena instead of Lexi and Roger? It wasn’t like I had a special connection to her after all, we were just friends.
I thought back to the past few months: true, we’d spent lots of time together, but that was because we were in the same class at college and we often found ourselves studying and comparing notes. There was nothing special between me and Lena, was there?
I shook myself when I noticed we were in front of my dorm. I bid goodbye to my friends, and entered the building.
“Hi there!” Darrell greeted me with a wave. “How ya doing, Theo?”
“I’m okay,” I replied. “Bit tired, I’ve just finished with the monthly tryouts for the triathlon team.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember. Scholarship kid, right?”
I laughed. “Hey, don’t call me ‘kid,’ you’re barely older than I am! You’re what, twenty-five?”
“Twenty-seven, thank you,” he said. “And what should I call you, then? Scholarship boy?”
I made a face; that felt terrible. “Oh, yikes,” I said. “Don’t like that.”
“Okay, what then? What would you like?”
“I…” I hesitated. “How about scholarship student?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Fine by me. How’s that working out for you, anyway?”
“Pretty well, all things considered,” I answered. “I don’t have to worry about paying for college or textbooks or the dorm. But I have to be careful not to let my grades slip.”
“Yeah, I bet you--”
He was cut off by a loud crashing sound down one of the corridors, followed by someone shouting “YEEEEEEAHHHH DUDE!”
Darrell sighed heavily. “I should probably go see what that was. Nice talking to you, Theo.”
I waved goodbye as he rushed off, and climbed up the stairs to my room. Patrick was sitting at his desk as I entered, bent over a book and scribbling some notes, and he didn’t even look up or speak but just gave me a brief wave; since he seemed to be concentrating on his studies I didn’t speak to him, but just dropped my bag on my bed and pulled out my notes to start studying, too, putting my phone on silent so I wouldn’t get distracted – or distract Pat.
After a couple hours, he groaned and stretched. I looked up from my own textbook and smiled. “Rough day?”
“You could say that. Asteroids are complicated. Fascinating, but complicated,” he replied. “How about you?”
“I feel like I’m starting to understand electronegativity,” I said. “But I could use a break right now.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s almost six PM, wanna watch a movie? Then we can go for dinner and study a bit more before bedtime.”
“A movie? We don’t even have a TV.”
“Ever heard of Netflix?” he asked with a smirk.
“…No?” I replied.
“You’ve never heard of it before? Seriously?” Patrick seemed really surprised when I shook my head. “Huh, I already knew you were sheltered, but I’d never thought to this extent. Hold on, I’ll show you.”
He fished his laptop out of his backpack and set it up on his desk; with a few clicks, he’d loaded up a website, which showed a list of several TV shows and movies.
“It’s a streaming site,” he explained. “For like a dozen bucks a month, you can watch whatever you like, whenever you like.”
“Huh, that’s neat.”
“So what do you wanna watch?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. Surprise me.”
“Well how about this one?” He typed a bit, and a movie named Jurassic Park popped up on the screen. “It’s older than either of us, but I watched it a few times with my dad when I was little and I remember enjoying it.” I nodded in agreement.
At first we tried sitting on our chairs, but they were way too rigid and hard, and we wanted to relax; so we moved the desk and placed it right in front of my bed: we sat side by side on the soft mattress and propped our backs against the wall.
As the movie started running, I began feeling a bit sleepy: the long day I’d had was having its toll on me, and while the movie seemed to be setting up an interesting story, it was taking a while to get going; I dozed off as the characters were in a helicopter, heading towards an island.
I was woken up by a buzzing sound, like a siren; it reminded me of an alarm clock. On screen two children and a man were… Climbing a fence? They looked like they’d been through an adventure, too: I’d probably missed a fair bit of the movie. I tried to stretch out my limbs, and that’s when I realised I’d moved while I was asleep: I was snuggled up to Patrick, leaning against him, my head resting on the side of his chest and his arm draped over me.
He looked down at me with a mild smile. “Good evening. Did you sleep well?”
I all but jumped away from him. “Whoa!” I exclaimed. “Sorry, I’m so sorry. I–”
“No, don’t worry, it’s fine,” he said. “I don’t mind. And you didn’t seem to mind either, you looked like you were really comfortable.”
I felt my blood rush to my cheeks: I was sure I was red as a lobster right at that moment. “I… Uh…” I stammered.
“Anyway,” Pat continued, stretching his arms. “It’s getting late, this movie is longer than I remembered. What do you say we head to dinner? We can resume watching it later, or some other time.”
I stared at him for a couple seconds, my mouth open, and then I looked away. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s do that,” I nodded.
As I made dinner – a simple pasta with olives, tomatoes, anchovies, and garlic – I checked my phone: I’d missed a few messages, since I’d left it on silent after I was done studying. Lena was telling me Lexi had spoken with her regarding my haircut, and wanted to set a time for us to meet at the mall on Sunday; I shot her a quick response: early afternoon was okay, but I didn’t have any way of getting to the mall. She answered almost immediately, offering to swing by and pick me up, to which I agreed.
As Patrick and I ate dinner we chatted a bit about the movie; I’d guessed it had to be related to the more recent Jurassic World movies, and he nodded and explained that Jurassic Park had been enormously successful, but a so-so sequel and a terrible third movie had basically killed the franchise for more than a decade, and it had been picked up again only recently. I was impressed at his knowledge of old movies. After that we washed the dishes, studied a bit more, and went to bed.
The rest of the week flew by, and before I knew it, it was Sunday. During one of our chats I’d asked Patrick if he wanted to come too, and when he’d agreed I’d asked Lena if it was alright: and so, the five of us – Lena, Lexi, Roger, Patrick, and I – found ourselves at the mall, two towns away from the college.
“Alright!” Lena said. “So what do you wanna do? Have your haircut right away, or do you want to take a look around first, maybe do a bit of shopping?”
“Just the haircut is fine,” I replied with a smile. “I don’t even have that much money anyway, so let’s save the shopping for next time. Or I can accompany you after I’ve had my hair cut.”
“Okay,” she nodded. “This way.”
She led the group to a small, out of the way store, off to the side of the mall’s main gallery; it was away from everything else, if Lena hadn’t been there I probably would never have noticed it. It was a normal hairdresser’s store, though: it had chairs, big mirrors, and all sorts of scissors and razors and hairstyling equipment neatly arranged on a counter. Inside there was just one person, a girl whom I judged to be about our age, comfortably seated on a couch, reading a book.
“May I help you?” she asked, looking up; when she saw us, her face lit up. “Oh, Lena! Lexi! Hi! Welcome!” she exclaimed, rising to her feet.
“Hi Molly,” Lexi replied. “Thanks for having us today.”
“Oh, don’t even mention it,” Molly said. “I didn’t have any other reservations, so it was no problem. So, who’s the victim?”
“This is Theo,” Lena said, motioning to me. “And don’t go playing any tricks on him, he’s just here for a haircut, that’s it.”
Molly pouted. “Oh, that’s all? I was looking forward to doing lots of things to him.” She had a mischievous smile on her lips.
“Don’t,” Lena replied. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened last time you did something like that, right?”
“Ah, what are the chances it would happen twice?” Molly said with a shrug. “But still, just a haircut it is. This way, Theo.” She motioned for me to sit in one of the chairs.
I’d been watching the exchange with curiosity, wondering what had happened between them, but I shook myself. “Right,” I said, and sat down.
“So what will it be? Just a trim? O something handsome? Or maybe a buzz-cut?” She made a face. “Please don’t tell me you want a buzz-cut, you have such nice hair, it would be a waste.”
I chuckled. “I don’t want a buzz-cut,” I said. “Actually, I kind of like how long my hair is, even if it’s longish for a guy. Maybe I’ll grow it out a bit more, actually. So I wanted… Something that’s presentable, but still on the long side.”
She stared at me critically for a while, walking around my chair, studying my hair and face, tilting her head to the side to get a better look at me. Then she nodded. “Alright,” she said. “Do you trust me?”
“I do,” I replied. Lena and Lexi seemed to, so I saw no reason why I shouldn’t.
“Very well. Close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you.”
I was a bit worried, but I complied. Molly was really good at what she did: she quickly washed my hair and dried them halfway, keeping a bit of moisture in it so she could handle it more easily. And then she got to cutting and shaping. It didn’t take long, there wasn’t really that much there to work with, so in about twenty minutes, she was done.
“Alright, you can look now,” she said.
I opened my eyes, and gasped; I almost didn’t recognise the person looking back at me. The face was the same, of course, but the hair was completely different: it was somewhat androgynous, reached just below my ears, and seemed to frame my face perfectly – it was a far cry from the scruffy mane I’d sported until a few minutes earlier.
“So what do you think?” Lena asked from behind me. “Is Molly good, or is she good?”
“Oh, please, this was nothing,” Molly replied, waving her hand. “Now, if his hair had been a couple inches longer, then I could have done something really awesome.”
Their words barely registered: I was too transfixed, staring into the mirror.
“Hello? Theo? Earth to Theo?” Lexi called. “Are you alright?”
“Ah, give him a moment,” Pat said. “He’s just admiring himself, and who wouldn’t? He looks great.”
“It looks fantastic,” I said. I turned to look at Molly. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied with a grin. “I’ll give you the friend-of-a-friend discount, half off.”
I nodded, got up from my chair, and paid her. “Thanks again.”
“Do you want to get something from the food court with us, Molly?” Roger asked.
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I have no more appointments for today, but there’s always walk-ins. I’ll take a rain check.”
“Alright,” Roger said.
The five of us left Molly’s store and made our way to the food court; then, after eating a snack, we took a tour of the mall, but I barely remember the rest of that day: I was too out of it, I was so happy I felt like I was floating on a cloud, six feet off the ground.