Euphoria

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(Content Warning: Gender Dysphoria)

 

“Lasagne for you, miss,” the waiter serves Laura first, then turns to me with his other plate in hand, “and the salmon for you, miss.”

“Thank you,” Laura says cheerily as he speeds off to another table, then her attention turns to me. “Did he serve you the wrong thing?”

“Nah, it’s the right order,” I look up, perplexed.

“Oh, it’s just that… you made a face. When he served you your food. I thought something was wrong,” she says, then shrugs before digging right into her lasagne.

Laura’s the more intuitive of the two of us, being the one in academia and all, always paying attention to the littlest details around her to see if it all added up to some bigger meaning. And I love her for that— there’s never a day when I’m not in awe of her brilliant mind, and I could only thank my lucky stars that she ever crossed paths with me, let alone decide to be with me.

But I’d be lying if I said it was just her mind that caught my heart, for she takes the form of a goddess herself. Golden waves adorn her precious face, flowing so gracefully down her back as it typically drew stares from onlookers— especially from me. Having someone so smart and so pretty still feels like a dream, but it’s a dream I’m just happy to live in one day at a time.

She then looks up suddenly, curiosity sprawled on her face. “Maybe you don’t like being called ‘miss’?”

“Huh?” The question catches me completely off-guard.

“Wait… that’s it, isn’t it?” she points the fork inquisitively, her eyes coming to a sort of realisation. “The other day at the cinema, when you were buying tickets: guy at the counter called you ‘miss’, and you made that same face,” she continues, as if piecing a mosaic together. “When we were at the cafe yesterday too— same thing, lady at the counter regarded you as ‘miss’, and you made that face as well.” I was about to retort, but found my lips shutting as something in my head clicked. I knew Laura was hyper-observant— but remembering when I made a face when someone referred to me a certain way a few days ago? That was something else. “Is… that it? Do you not like being referred to as ‘miss’?”

I shrug. “I don’t know, maybe?” I quickly shove a forkful of salmon into my mouth. “I mean, even if it is, it’s not a big deal, right? Some people just don’t like being called certain things, yeah?” I say as I munch, hoping the topic would glance off casually.

“Perhaps,” she says in return before taking a bite of her lasagne. “What about ‘ma’am’?”

I take my time to chew, throwing on an amused expression. “Are you just going down the list of feminine salutations now?”

“I could go down the list of all salutations, if you’d like. And I think it’d be productive, getting to know what you like to be called and what you don’t,” she reasons.

Makes sense. I seem to have dug myself into this odd hole of a conversation, and I guess it wouldn’t hurt to see it through. “I don’t really vibe with ‘ma’am’.”

She nods acceptingly, then a glint appears in her eye before asking the most ridiculous question. “Would you rather be called ‘sir’?”

“Absolutely not.”

“So… what would you like to be referred to as?” She keeps prodding, seemingly intrigued by this line of questioning.

I sigh resignedly, unsure where any of this was even going. “You can just call me ‘babe’.” She giggles at my reply in that same adorable way she always does, with her eyes squinting so gently. She digs in to cut up another piece of her lasagne, and then stops to look right at me.

“You know, sometimes people might feel like they don’t fit in the traditional gender boxes that society has led us to believe in. Someone that doesn’t seem partial to a gendered salutation could mean that they don’t exactly identify with that gender binary society espouses,” she goes into her usual, professor-y self which I’ve always adored.

“So what, you’re saying I could be, like, some sort of gender deviant?”

“Well, the umbrella term is ‘nonbinary’— someone who does not strictly adhere to the gender binary in the way that cisgendered people do,” she corrects with a warm smile.

“Nonbinary,” the word rolls off my tongue so smoothly, like a tune I never knew I could play.

“But in the end, you’re the one who decides on what label you have for yourself— if you even want a label, in the first place,” Laura rests a hand on my palm that was on the table, giving me an encouraging look. “Regardless, you’ll always be my babe.”

*

“This feels a bit ridiculous.”

“Ridiculously cute, that’s for sure,” Laura compliments as I spin around for her, letting the frills of her teal sundress twirl so radiantly. “It’s okay, that’s probably the girliest thing in my wardrobe. Let’s try something else.”

I carefully slip out of her dress, gently laying it on her bed as she rummages through the duffel bag she brought. After that little conversation we had over dinner, Laura had been taking a keen interest in how I felt about myself— specifically, how I wanted to present myself. She insisted on dinner at my place tonight, and then surprised me with an entire duffel bag of clothes from her wardrobe for me to try on. She scanned through most of my closet as well, trying to get a sense of what worked and what didn’t for my own tastes.

I was starting to lose hope, feeling like this was all just a waste of time. While it’s cute to be Laura’s little model for a while, I start to get the feeling that her wardrobe was a little too much for me. At least there’s still about a quarter of my own wardrobe that feels somewhat alright to put on.

“Try this one.”

She hands it to me, and my brows furrow. “This is way too big for me,” I rebut, spreading the large, white t-shirt out across my chest to show her how wide it stretches.

“Just try it. Trust me,” she flashes her signature smile, the one that was always so hard to say no to.

“Fine.”

Hesitantly, I slip on the shirt. It fits over me so smoothly, and then I freeze for a moment when I see that reflection of myself— still standing tall, but now with such a large garment overshadowing my body. I turn from side to side, absorbing this image of myself that seems so… formless. With how bare-faced I am and with my auburn hair tightly pulled back, there was something about me akin to a blank canvas. A look I can’t say I hate.

Laura appears beside me in the mirror, half a head above me with that warmth still on her face. “You like it,” she asserts so confidently as she surveys me up and down, beaming.

“It’s… comfortable,” I confess. “Where’d you get it from?”

“I think I thrifted this one last year. Wanted something big and cosy to sleep in,” she explains as she pulls me in closer. “But I think you pull it off better than I wear it to bed.”

“You don’t think it looks weird?”

“Not at all!” She’s quick to reassure me. “Baggy t-shirt and ponytail: I dig it. But most importantly, it’s comfortable for you— and that’s all that should matter,” she says before giving me a peck on the cheek. I sink myself into the crook of her neck, letting her pepper me all over with kisses, feeling more secure than I ever had before. To be able to look in that mirror and not hate the way the person stared back is a start, and it’s just even more special knowing it’s her shirt that she’s pre-loved, now for me to wear proudly. I carefully tuck a stray lock behind my ear, wondering what I could do to feel even more comfortable with myself.

*

”Do you ever feel like you just don’t… fit your name? ”

Laura turns to face me, brows furrowing. And I wouldn’t blame her— it was definitely a sudden question to pop on a random evening on the couch, with nothing but a cheesy movie playing on the television to waste the night away together. “Well, I think I’ve always felt like a Laura. I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself any other way,” she humours my sudden profoundness before nestling herself into my chest. “And how do you feel about your name?” she follows up— even though her tone suggests she might know where I was going.

“I don’t know. Like, I know I’ve lived with it for so long, and I’ve gotten used to it,” I sigh, then realise she’s now rapt with attention. “But I’d be lying if I said it felt right.”

“I understand,” she comforts me as she rubs my bicep that was wrapped around her body. “It’s quite bizarre, isn’t it? How our parents gave us a name when we were born, and for so many of us we just have to choose to live with something we didn’t get to choose at all. A part of our identity that was… forced onto us, in a way,” she starts, her narrative lecturing voice starting to show. “But the way I like to see it is that: names are gifts,” she pauses, making sure our eyes are locked. “It’s a gift that was given to us by our parents— but it’s also a gift that can be returned if we feel like they don’t fit.”

“That’s… deep.” Now I’m the stunned one, realising Laura is almost one-upping me with the profound words. I didn’t think she would actually entertain my rambling to that extent, but what she said really put so much into perspective. While my name is a gift, I still have the power to do what I wanted with it. And if this gift just hasn’t been the best fit for me… I guess it was okay to return it.

“So…” she leads on, eyes trailing away as her fingers playfully crawl up my arm like a spider. “Have you been thinking of any names?” She asks the fateful question, and my heart is in my throat— still that little bit unsure about this.

“Ren.”

It was a name I’d been thinking about for a while— something about how brief yet striking it is resonated with me. I study her face now, watching her eyes first widen in a brief shock. “Ren?” She asks, though without the slightest hint of contempt in her soothing voice.

“Yeah,” I reply airily. “Just… Ren.”

Her face stays blank for a bit, perhaps processing all of this as her eyes scan me. Then it pulls back into that gorgeous squint of a smile. “I love it,” she says as she brings the back of my hand to her lips to plant a kiss. “And I love you, Ren.”

And just like that, the name finally fit perfectly in me like a jigsaw puzzle. The way she said it— the way she brought it to life with her blessed voice— that was all I needed. With her still nestled so comfortably in my lap, I swoop down to deliver a deep kiss. We stay locked for a moment, cherishing that beautiful bliss when she was just in my arms, holding onto me so longingly. Then slowly, I slide her comfortably onto the couch as my hand stays on her back, all while I took my usual position atop her.

Laura’s hazel eyes look up at me, filled with that same adorable wonder every time her back hits the mattress. And as always, I’m more than eager to satiate it. I dive in once more to kiss her, and she holds back a chuckle as my red hair falls down and tickles the sides of her face. “Sorry,” I whisper before sitting up again, pulling the elastic hair band off my wrist with my lips while my other hand starts gathering up my shoulder-length mess of a mane. I tie it all tightly, straight back off my face as Laura hands start finding my thighs, eagerly waiting for me to swoop in once more. The TV is blaring incoherently now, and all I want to do was to cherish this woman that could see me for who I was.

*

Couch escapades always made their way back to her bed, and after we had our fun we’d always cuddle snugly under the comforter, with her being the little spoon. Tonight is no different, and as she slowly dozes off, I carefully stroke her blonde tresses, admiring the coconut scent that it carries. She is certainly the more ‘hair-savvy’ of the two of us— I remember feeling so overwhelmed seeing her cabinet filled with so many hair products that she uses religiously to keep her hair in its gorgeous state. While I didn’t envy it, I respected it deeply. Some days she even asks me to pamper her by brushing her hair or even shampooing it, which I could never say no to.

I, on the other hand, feel like the complete opposite. My hair had always been a rougher spot in my life, where I didn’t necessarily have that much love for it, but also couldn’t exactly find the drive to do away with much of it. And that left me with a rather basic, semi-long mess of red locks that didn’t look the healthiest, yet appeared full enough to add some modicum of prettiness to my face. But these past few weeks of discovering myself with Laura’s help have been so eye-opening— realising that I don’t need to look pretty if I didn’t want to. I could look however I wanted, and be whoever I wanted. The wardrobe was that first big change, then choosing a name that fit me. And now, the needle was starting to push a little further towards a snippy decision.

“Are you awake?” I throw the question in a whisper— hoping it’s not too loud to wake her, but hoping it’s at least audible enough that she could catch it.

“Mm,” she replies sleepily.

Poor girl is trying to go to sleep, and here I am thinking of dropping a bomb. I take a deep breath, ready to say it. “Laura… what do you think about me cutting my hair?”

Almost like a resuscitation, she immediately turns in the bed to look at me. “You what?” she asks, her tone bordering incredulity.

“Well… It’s just a thought, really,” I half-lie. “It’s been in my mind for a bit, and I wanted to know how you might feel about it, given that you’re gonna be the one having to see it most of the time.”

“Ren, babe,” she whispers, her hand now reaching up to stroke my cheek. Ah, hearing her speak out my name so confidently still sends so many flutters through my stomach. “First of all, your hair’s completely your choice. You wear it however you want to. As long as you’re happy with it, I’m happy with it.

“And second of all… show me.”

My eyebrows perk up. “What?”

“Oh, Ren, do you think I just got to know you yesterday?” she chides. “If you’re dropping a bomb like this on me in the middle of the night, you’ve definitely thought a shit ton about this. So come,” her fingers beckon in front of my face, “show me the pictures you had in mind.”

Wow. How can she tell so easily? And here I was thinking I’d have to slowly weave it in over the next few days and play it casually, but no. I sigh, reaching over to the nightstand to pick up my phone, then open the secret album in my photo gallery. “Here.”

Her face lights up as she sits up on the bed with me now, happily accepting the phone. But her eyes only widen when she flicks through those first few pictures. “Oh,” I see her irises turn to me through the reflection of the light, “you mean you want to cut it short short?”

There was something about the way she said those words that made the reality of it sink deeper in. “Yeah,” I meekly reply. “Is that… okay?”

“Of course it is!” She reignites so quickly. “Just… a little surprised that you’re thinking of something so bold. A good surprise, though.”

Her eyes dart back to the screen as I suck in my lips, the doubts suddenly starting to bubble. I distinctly remember that random weekend afternoon when I’d found my way onto Pinterest— starting with looking at one photo, then two, then three. And before I knew it, I’d been lounging on the couch for an hour, adding picture after picture into a board as I realised I’d fallen so deep down a rabbit hole. “I love these so much. I could definitely see you wearing them well,” Laura comments. “Are all of these just the general vibe you’re going for? Or did you have, like, specific ones you were leaning towards?”

“First three,” I reply without missing a beat. “They’re kinda similar, though, but I’m not sure if the slight differences matter.”

Her finger flick the screen back to those first few pictures, to which she nods approvingly. “Ah. Very stylish. And you’re torn between these three?” She asks, her gaze not leaving the screen as it flits back and forth between the three pictures. I make a sound of agreement. She then grabs onto my bicep gently with her free hand, slowly turning to look up at me. “Do you want me to choose one?”

It’s such a simple suggestion, but it electrifies me. As much as this was the one part of my ‘transformation’ that I’d wanted to own completely, I’d actually been painfully mulling over those few photos trying to come to a full decision. And if there’s anyone’s judgement I’d trust wholeheartedly to make the final say for me, it’d be the one person that helped me walk down this path from the start. “Okay,” I finally say, getting all jittery to know what she might choose for me.

Laura then thumbs between the two photos, shifting her gaze back and forth between the screen and me, almost like she was imagining the way it’d fit on me. Then she stops on one picture for a couple seconds before turning my phone towards me. “This one.”

Laura’s Choice

 

I take a closer look, recognising which of the photos it was as I smile. “You think this’ll be the best one for me?”

“Mhm,” she nods excitedly. “I mean, like you said, they were all kinda similar— short enough that it’s a big change, but still long enough that it’s kind of fluffy on top to play around with. But I don’t know, something about this one just feels perfect for you. You could probably even still put your hair in that centre part like you always do with that style,” she elaborates, almost sounding like a haircut expert. “Are you okay with it?”

“Yeah,” I agree wholeheartedly. “And now it feels extra special knowing you’re the one who helped choose it.”

Oh, you sappy little fox,” she reaches up to give me a peck on the cheek. “So… when’s the big day? Can I come watch? God, this is so exciting!” She’s almost jumping in bed now, somehow more thrilled about all this than I was.

But all I can do is sigh. As much as having her there with me during the haircut would be the perfect setting, there was something I’d resolutely decided on a while back that I’d have to play the party pooper here. “No.”

“Oh,” she’s taken aback— eyes flinching as she was taken completely by surprise by my rejection. But before I even risk her backing away with a protest, I pull her in close so our faces are mere centimetres apart.

“Sorry, maybe that was a little too harsh,” I start, reading her face while praying she wouldn’t get upset. “It’s just that… you’ve been with me every single step of the way in this, ‘stage,’ of my life, and don’t get me wrong: I am so grateful for that. You’ve helped me see this part of me I never knew was always in me, and you’ve let me bring it to life without any judgement at all.” Her face remains neutral— listening, waiting for the crux of my point. “And that’s why I feel like… I need to do this alone. Well, I don’t need to— I know. But I want to. I want to own this part completely, all by myself.”

She studies me carefully like a passage, registering every word that I’d just uttered. Then, like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, she smiles. “Alright, I respect it,” she dives in for a quick kiss on my lips. “Could I… at least see you right after? I think I’d be dying to see how it turns out.”

My heart swells with relief. “I’ve got it all worked out,” I say confidently. “The plan is to get it done on Thursday. I’m gonna do my best to time the haircut so that it’s done around the time you finish work. Then I’ll send you the address so you can come pick me up for our dinner date, like we originally planned.”

“Someone’s been scheming,” Laura points out teasingly. “I like it. Then I get to spend an entire dinner staring at your new haircut.” Her hand slowly slides up my neck, fingers reaching the base of my nape where my hair was all still tied up from earlier in the night. “But first,” she says as she undid the elastic band, letting all my locks spill around my head so haphazardly before she starts stroking it with her fingers, “why don’t we give it some love before it has to go?”

“Is this some indirect way to make me not want to cut my hair?” I tease, relenting my head forward so she can caress those messy locks all she wants.

She giggles as she pushes my hair off my face, tucking either side of my parted hair behind my ears. “Babe, I know better than to convince you away from something you’ve already made up your mind on,” she says, then turns to her nightstand to open a drawer. She fishes a paddle brush out, then pats her lap with it as she sits cross-legged atop the comforter. “Come here. Why don’t I give your hair one last brush since this is the last night I’m seeing you with it?”

 

*

 

Thursday arrives sooner than expected, and I find myself awake close to noon after realising I hadn’t set an alarm for the morning. It’s much-needed sleep, though, considering I was up till god knows when last night trying to contain my nerves. It’s a bit of a coping mechanism that I’d picked up from school— combatting anxious tendencies by just… over-focusing on work throughout the night till I get genuinely exhausted, rather than tossing and turning with that pang in my heart.

But today’s worry is different from a lot of the past stuff I’d faced. Today’s one isn’t just pure anxiousness, but has an inkling of excitement as well. I’d made sure I took the whole day off so I can just worry about that one, small thing on the agenda for the day.

I prepare myself a light brunch of eggs and toast, then decide that maybe tea is better than coffee if I want to keep my nerves controllable for the day. I then step into the shower, undoing my ponytail as I turn on the hot water. Shampooing feels… special, now that I realise this much hair is not going to get pampered after today. The messy mane is finally going to be under control, and not with a hairband. And so I take my time with it, feeling my wet locks slide between my fingers as I lather and massage. For something I hardly take much interest and concern in, it suddenly becomes precious. Truly, you don’t appreciate something much till it’s gone— or at least till you know it’s about to be.

Once I step out of the shower, I quickly wipe my body, then stop myself before I could instinctively dry my hair with the same towel. Laura always lectured me about how I should be having two towels— one for my body, and one specifically for my hair. Funny how it’s only on the day of my big haircut that I decide to listen to her, taking out a spare towel from the cabinet as I start to gently dry my hair.

I slowly comb those red locks out in front of the mirror as they dry, suddenly missing Laura’s firm hands on my head as she brushed the other night. It was the most beautiful send-off I could’ve asked for, especially with how delicate she was with my drab, iffy hair. I pick up my hairband, then pause as I look in the mirror. Maybe my hair doesn’t look so bad being worn down today, just laid neatly out in its centre part. I toss the hairband into the cabinet, realising that I probably won’t be needing it after a few hours.

Once out of the bathroom I head for the wardrobe in my room, where the outfit I had planned for the day was already hung at the leftmost side of the rack since the previous week. I finally take them off the hanger, fitting on the undergarments first before sliding into the navy blue sweatpants and the oversized coffee-coloured t-shirt that Laura bought from me after that night of trying on her clothes. I study myself in front of the vanity mirror, turning from side to side as I let that bit of gender euphoria seep into me loving how I look. Bare-faced seems like the right play today too, leaving most of my freckles on display while I admire the boyishness to my appearance. I slip on my black Vans, and then head out.

 

*

My Uber drops me off along 7th Street, right at the junction leading into Crocker St— where the march towards a new me begins. I’ve walked these streets countless times, subconsciously making little mental notes in my mind about what was around, which was what led to me my choice of place to get such a drastic haircut. I start the dramatic trek down the street, towards the dead-centre of it where the ultimate destination is. And when the red-and-blue swirling pole comes into view, I know I’m on the right track.

I can’t claim to be an expert on barbershops— most of my life has been salon trims, or even personal experimentation with scissors in a bathroom. This particular place, though, stuck out in my mind when I was considering my options. I’d passed by this street many times, and I remember taking a few peeks here and there when I had the chance— curious to observe the going-ons of such a foreign place. I think the main appeal is its masculine overtones— how it’s typically men going there to get their hair cut, and it’s often to get it cut short. And well, since I’m going short, I might as well go to the place that specialises in short cuts, right? Gut instinct also tells me I would have a way easier time convincing a barber to cut my hair short as compared to a stylist in a salon.

But truthfully, I think what really pushed me over the edge was when I imagined myself sitting in a barber chair. There was something about it that just gave me a euphoria I hadn’t felt before: to be seated in such a man’s world as my hair— this part of me I’d always associated too closely with femininity— gets snipped off. It feels almost poetic, and I know I’m ready to surpass this stage of my ‘transformation’, in learning to become more comfortable with myself and who I am. There’s a spring in my step as I inch ever closer to the shop, already eager to have a seat and get this mane cut off.

I stop just short of the door, taking a moment to look through the large window that I’d always peek when walking by. There are only two barber chairs in this cosy shop, and today it seems like only one of them is occupied by a customer. A quick glance to the back of the shop shows that it’s relatively empty, meaning I’m to be next if I walk in. The butterflies in my tummy are raging, and I can only hope I get a bit of time to calm them down before it’s my turn to be the one in the chair.

I reach out to the door handle, pushing it down as I enter this new phase of my life.

The bell on the door jingles to mark my entry, and the barber turns to regard the newcomer. All I get is a small nod, then she turns back to continue snipping away. The name of the game is ‘play it casual’— the last thing I want to do is to stick out like a sore thumb. No matter what, I don’t intend on getting any special treatment— I just want to be another customer. And that means pretending like I know what I’m doing, even if this entire venture into the barbershop is the most foreign thing to me right now. I coolly make my way to the empty waiting bench, taking a seat as I bite my cheeks to suppress the ecstasy I’m getting from seeing everything so up-close.

It’s one thing to see the shop from the outside as an onlooker, and another to be able to behold it from the inside as a customer. There’s a quaintness to the barbershop that I absolutely adore. It’s not like those ultra-modern types that you see popping up these days trying to look super sleek and trendy. Rather, it gives off more of a homey vibe, like a simple family business trying to stay true to the traditional aesthetic with its inevitable yet soft splashes of modernity. Each barber chair is accompanied by a large counter directly in front of them, where all manner of tools are spread out across the marble countertop. Right above the countertop is a wide, rectangular mirror that catches an ample view of the seated customer as well as the waiting area— large enough that I can even see myself through it.

Other than the soft-playing radio in the background, the only sound that fills the air is the snipping of scissors, wielded by the barber directly in front of me. I certainly wasn’t expecting a woman barber— the concept is definitely uncommon, especially with how overtly male-dominated the industry must be. But her vibe surprisingly seems to fit the environment, buttoned up in a black-white flannel with the sleeves rolled up to show off her toned forearms, and sporting a simple pair of blue jeans paired with brown Chelsea boots. Her black hair is a perfect fit as well: a 360 undercut all around her head, with the top tied up in a short topknot. She may be a woman, but she is the furthest thing from sticking out with how butch she presents. She carries herself with confidence as she snips with focus, shaping her customer’s short, business style with precision.

As mesmerising as seeing her work is, I can’t help but notice something peculiar— something I hadn’t ever picked up from watching the shop from the outside. The maroon walls around the shop are plastered with all sorts of photos showcasing so many hairstyles, the majority of them being men’s cuts. It’s a refreshing interior design choice compared to the salons I’ve been to, where the walls were always too white and pristine or were crowded with shelves upon shelves of products lined up. The pictures across the walls here add a bit of character to the place, and I find myself actually being engrossed just taking them all in like I’m in an art gallery.

I while away the minutes just staring at the photos, then suddenly start wondering. Practically all of them are short styles, certainly, but why do they seem so different to the ones I’d been looking at the past few weeks? I discreetly open the album on my phone, flicking through each picture of short styles I’d saved— all worn by women, as compared to the men’s ones that are right in front of me right now. Other than obvious things like facial structure and makeup setting them apart, I realise some of the specific styles themselves have quite a core difference. The sides, in particular: the women’s ‘pixies’ tended to have the sides still long, maybe even as long as the top at certain lengths which helped soften the look. The men’s ones, though, just seem to have the sides and back cut shorter, sometimes even much shorter that it’s almost to the skin, making them seem harder and rougher. The revelation comes rather unexpectedly, if I’m being honest. My entire plan for the day had been so airtight, up until this point where I find myself… reassessing. Don’t get me wrong— I’m still committed to getting in the chair. But suddenly the pictures on my phone seem to pale a little, especially in comparison to the new landscape I’m exposed to here.

Oh, but how could I? Laura had decided on a photo for me— a photo I had asked her to choose even. While I’m sure she wouldn’t be the type to get upset if I change my mind at the last minute, I still feel conflicted considering going back on such a special decision. My eyes scan the range of photos on the walls, realising I’m not completely partial to one of these either. And in the moment, I set myself an ultimatum— if I can’t find a photo on the wall that I’m fully sold on by the time I get in the chair, I just stick to the picture on my phone. I glance over to the workstation in front of me, realising the snipping has stopped already, meaning it’s almost my turn. There probably isn’t enough time to find a good picture anymore, and I’ll get to ask for the haircut Laura chose, just like the plan.

But as the barber steps away from her position on the right of her customer to stand right behind him, the plan seems to falter once more. There’s a few photos on the wall to the right of the mirror, which the barber’s body had been blocking for most of the haircut, and while they’re a considerable distance from me, something about one of them strikes me. I resist the urge to lean forward to get a clearer look, remembering that I have to keep my cool here. I squint, trying to make it out. Obscurely, I can see that it’s the bust of a model, and from its outline, it seems like a very short cut— like most of the other hairstyles around the shop, the sides seem to be shorter than how a pixie cut would have it. And if my eyes aren’t deceiving me, it seems as if the top isn’t that much longer. I’m going to need a closer look, which I guess I’m going to get in just a moment as I see the cape being whisked off the man in the chair.

The barber gives the cape two firm flicks on the side, letting the loose, brown clippings on them fall to the floor. The man takes the briefest moment to study himself in the mirror, then steps out of the chair, satisfied. He pays the barber in cash, sparing a thank you before making his way to the door, leaving all fresh and cleaned up from his haircut day.

And with the chair now empty, it only means one thing. The barber hastily cleans up her workspace, sweeping the shorn hair that surrounds the chair off towards the unoccupied side of the shop. She briefly dusts the chair with a feather duster, then turns to the counter to look at her tools. And as she fiddles with them, she makes the call.

“Next!”

She doesn’t even turn to look at me— she just commands me while her attention is left to her tools. And I didn’t plan on making her ask twice. My legs start jellying on me as I rise to my feet, but I remain composed. I try to stay relaxed as I make my march to the chair, inching closer to what fate has in store for me. I slowly step on the footrest of the grand, black barber chair, then ease myself comfortably into its sturdy padding. The barber was still right in front by the counter, now cleaning a few of her tools with a little brush. And so I quickly take the chance to peer over to the side, where that picture I’d been dying to look at is finally in proper view.

Photo beside the mirror

 

With just one proper gander at it, I can feel my choices finicking. There’s something about the model that’s rather androgynous, skewing either towards appearing like a pretty man, or a butch woman. Or perhaps it’s meant to look like neither, or maybe even both at the same time. They carry such a strong jaw but with soft yet powerful features. And their hair… oh, there’s something about how stringently short it is that completes the look so perfectly. The euphoria of being in the chair still fills me, but now another sensation seeps in. Envy.

I snap back to reality as I realise the barber had taken her place behind me already, poised and ready to begin. I sit up as straight as I can, making sure I’m in the best position for her to do her work. She starts by gathering up my ginger locks behind me, twisting them together as she clips them atop my head, leaving my neck exposed. She starts with the piece of neck tissue, wrapping it around my jugular as the ends stick together to hold it snugly in place. She spreads out the white cape that’s patterned with stern, grey pinstripes, then with a flourish flings it over my body. My hands comfortably rest on my lap as the large cloth practically envelops my entire figure— even covering my shoes that’re just barely touching the footrest. She clips the ends securely behind my neck, and for the briefest moment I make the stupidest smile in the mirror as I realise I’d done it— I’m here, all prepped up in the barber chair ready for a haircut, just like I’d once imagined.

“How would you like it cut?” she asks the fateful question as the clip on my head comes loose, letting my red locks spill down.

And right then, in that split second, I have to make a choice— and I have to make it quick. My phone is in my hand, ready to pull out that picture Laura chose and go down that road, just as I’d planned. But right there on the wall beside the mirror is another story— the other path in the fork that’s suddenly showed itself, tempting me. And right before the barber can ask again, I slide out my hand from under the cape to make a choice.

“Like that.”

It’s not my phone that makes it out from under the cape, but an empty hand— pointing a finger. Directly at the photo beside the mirror.

“This one?” She goes up to the photo to give it a tap, making sure to get the correct one. “Brush cut, yeah?”

“Yes,” I immediately agree with vigorous nod, even though the term is unfamiliar. I just need to fake it, and play by ear with her calls now. I slide my hand back under the cape, confident. I guess I’m getting a brush cut.

“You want it short and tight on top like the picture? Or do you want me to leave it a bit longer so you can style it in a short part?” she suggests, gesturing to the top of her head vaguely with her fingers.

“Uh, sure! Short part sounds good,” I play along to make a snap decision, though unsure what that would mean for the final look. The word ‘longer’ does calm my nerves a bit, seeing as it won’t be as strict in length as the model in the picture. At worst, I could probably just ask to go shorter, if I really needed to. But I have a good feeling about this.

“Okay,” she simply says as she steps forward to the counter, and I’m still surprised at her lack of reluctance. Not even an ‘are you sure?’ when I’d first pointed at the picture— she just agrees and gets on with it. The barbershop experience is living up to my expectations. I take one last glance of that reference photo beside the mirror, testing to see if any doubt might fill me to make me back out. Jittery as I might be, it’s only determination that settles itself in my chest. As the barber fiddles with her tools, my focus is solely on the mirror now— giddy as ever to watch that red hair be cut off.

I’m tempted to take a hand out of the cape, just to feel those locks in my hand one last time, but she’s quick to return to my side— hair clippers in one hand, and a wide-toothed comb in the other. And when those clippers pop to life and commence that loud, humming sound that fills the store, I know there’s no backing out.

Swiftly, she starts on my right side, combing up a mass of my hair that laid down past my chin as my red locks poked through the teeth of the comb. And without further ado, she positions the head of the clippers on the edge of the comb, then slides it right across the teeth.

Bzzzaaaa

In one fluid motion, chunks of my red locks plunge down onto the cape, and I have to bite my tongue to not look so surprised. Casual, I remind myself. I have to make it look like just another haircut— even if I’m seeing the most amount of hair in my life being shorn off so clean. The comb slides off, and I can see that short length that’s left behind— and I get so excited seeing the ends scarcely covering part of my ear. But the barber never takes a moment too long to pause. She immediately combs up another section beside the previous one, then lets her clippers do all the work.

Bzzzaaa. Bzzzaaa. Bzzzaaaa.

She repeats this motion rapidly, and it’s officially raining hair as I realise how powerful the clippers are. Never once in my life had I ever used them on me, but now that I’m seeing that device so efficiently slicing off so much of my length, I think I’m a fan already. The red hair plopping onto the cape gets too heavy that it slides down, starting to gather in my lap. With only just a few more passes of the clippers, my entire right side is reduced so dramatically, where it almost looks like a half-bowl cut in the mirror with how the left side is still perfectly untouched, yet the right side is left roughly around the ear.

The barber smoothly transitions to the back, combing up more hair to systematically shear it right off to a manageable length. While I can’t see much of the work being done at the back, I can feel the severed locks plop onto that bit of cape covering the back of my neck if they didn’t slide right off, forming its own little clump.

Bzzzaaa. Bzzzaaa.

It gets too large that I can see the bits of red amassing at the back through the mirror, and I feel it creeping up my covered neck, where that neck tissue seems to be doing its job well. Before it can get too heavy, the barber casually flicks her comb across it, letting those red locks gingerly descend to the floor. This whole time I make sure my head is as upright as possible— never moving an inch so that she could have full reign as she goes about the shearing.

She finally moves to the left side, where she begins to shrink that last bit of my mane down. She propels the clippers with ease, working so quickly to just comb up the hair and immediately swipe across. The torrents of hair slide down the cape, starting to form a mound. To think that in just a few minutes, at least a year plus worth of growth is sitting right there in my lap. So many years of holding onto that mandatory ‘prettiness’, only to be shorn off in a barber chair. What a charming turn of events.

She raises one last section that’s towards the front of my face with the comb, then feeds those red locks right into the teeth of the clippers. And with that last long bit of my red hair freefalling onto the cape, so ends my long-haired era. The image of me in the mirror is such a charming mess of short locks, where I’d say it’s too long to be called a pixie, but too short to be considered a bob. I’m especially in love with the front, which is still in its centre part that frames my face so stylishly as the ends grade my cheekbones.

I gently toss my head to the side, feeling like some greaser flicking their hair so seductively out of their face. But just as I’m starting to relish the bad boy ‘do that I was rocking, I feel the comb raking up my forehead, raising my locks up vertically.

Bzzaaa. Bzzaaaa.

Short tufts of red rain down past my face, tickling my nose as I squint. The barber continues this motion across the top of my head— leaving the comb in that horizontal position while a few inches of my hair stands up through its teeth, then sliding the clippers right across. She only does this a few times though, probably trying to thin the bulk a little bit more towards the crown. Once satisfied, she combs my hair forward, and now it’s only long enough that it ends around an inch above my brows.

She steps towards the counter, glossing over the tools looking for something as I take the opportunity to just lightly turn my head from side to side. Just from the initial cuts she’s made, it already looks so fluffy and wispy, like a pixie. With a few clean-up snips and some shaping, I’m sure this could’ve turned out like the original photo Laura had chosen, with the long and messy top that can be ruffled. But that’s not the goal now— instead I had asked for a more proper barbershop cut, and I’m sure the barber isn’t going to let me leave this chair till my hair is neatly clipped.

The barber picks up a small, mini comb which she attaches to the head of the clippers with a click. She sets aside the wide-toothed comb on the counter before returning to my right side, ready to start on the next phase of the haircut. This time she uses her free hand to firmly tilt my head to my left, and I make sure I relent completely to her touch. The clippers are then placed at the base of my sideburns beside the ears, its tune humming into my eardrums as they vibrate against my skull. Without hesitation, she raises them straight up the side of my head.

Bzzaaaaa.

The sound of the blades clashing against thick hair is violently close to my ears, and my eyes watch with rapt attention. The barber brings it so high up as the severed hair gathers and collects on the head of the clippers. Just as it reaches the point where my temple ends and the crown begins, she flicks the clippers away from my head, sending those collected locks down onto the cape with a plop.

Before I can even register the length that’s left behind, she immediately positions the clippers at the base of the side of my head again, right beside the first path she’s just mowed— and then simply begins another pass.

Bzzaaaa. Bzzzaaa.

I bite down on my tongue hard as I watch those clippers so easily buzz off so much hair, and it’s only when she takes a brief moment to dust off the freshly shorn sections with a free hand that I realise how short it’s being taken. Cold shivers run down my spine when I feel her bare fingers so close to my skin, chilling me to the bone. The hair that’s left behind is a closely-cropped pelt, where it’s so short that it pricks out on its own, but still thick enough that it decently shrouds my pale skin. The barber’s hand quickly gets back in position to hold my head steady, then continues with passes of the clippers— this time going for the area above my ear.

Bzzzaaa. Bzzaaaa.

She has to fold down my ear as she works the section around it, manoeuvring the clippers so meticulously across that trickily grooved part of my head. Hair trickles down my exposed ear as they cascade onto my shoulder, forming its own little clump of red there on the greyness of the cape. And by the time she lets go of my ear, the shock kicks as I realise the hair around my ear isn’t long enough anymore to even touch it.

The barber then moves to the back once more, this time pushing my head down straightforward so that my chin grazes the cape. I feel her place the clippers at the base of my neckline, near the right side that’s already been cleaned up good. And like clockwork, the clippers find themselves zooming up the back of my head.

Bzzaaaa. Bzzzaaa. 

While I can’t see this part, I could feel the blades of the clippers munching so close to my head as she makes pass after pass. She goes very high up the back of my head here, slightly above the occipital bone if I’m guessing right. While I can’t see the hair that’s being severed, I feel them tumbling down my neck onto the cape, with some of them even stumbling forwards to join the scattered mosaic of hair. As each pass is made, I start to feel the coolness of the air-conditioning gracing my skin more and more. I guess the summer heat coming in a few weeks isn’t going to be an issue for me.

She doesn’t take long to finish up the back, and when she tilts my head back up, for the first time I can feel just how light my head is becoming. The barber then tilts my head over to the right, where that last sizeable chunk of hair on my left is to be victim in just a moment.

Bzzaaaa. Bzzaaaa.

This time I fully embrace the clippers, letting those vibrations take over as the whirring blades do their menacing work. It becomes peaceful when you stop feeling so on edge about it— like getting a soft head massage as I watch her reduce my mane. The clippers are brought all over the side of my head and around the ears just like she did the right side, and as that last clump of red hair rains down onto my shoulder, I can start to see the final cut coming along.

She puts my head back upright before heading to the counter yet again, looking for another of those attachments for the clippers. Staring back at me in the mirror is the starkest image of myself I’ve ever seen— with hair on the sides so short like a soft pelt, all while the top still has some decent length to it that brushes across my forehead. While that initial, rough cut she did left me looking like such a slick, bad boy type, this time it’s akin to a more serious men’s cut— almost like the business style that the previous customer had, where there’s still a few inches on top. But whether it’s longer and dandy or short and strict, both equally give me a level of gender euphoria I’ve never felt before.

The barber flicks off the old attachment and immediately clicks on a new one, then she’s back to my right side. She starts another pass up the side of my head, this time just resting her hand softly on my head without having to tilt it. The passes she makes this time are smaller, only going up about halfway than what it did before. But the hair that’s left behind is much shorter, where the paleness of my skin is actually starting to show now as little clippings of red shower onto the cape.

She swiftly moves to the back, again just keeping the clippers steady as they only go up about halfway the back of my head, just shy of the occipital bone. The barber repeats this for the left side as well, and soon enough the bottom half is buzzed down a notch compared to the rest of the sides.

She then flicks the attachment off the clippers, fitting on another in quick succession before resuming her work on my head. Now her movements with the clippers are more like flicks— gently making sweeping motions upwards at the sides and back, but only focusing on the bottom-most sections. She seems more meticulous here, but it’s also the fastest part with the clippers. By the time she’s done another round of my head, I can see the taper coming to shape. The hair is clipped super short at the bottom of the sides where the paleness of my skin overpowers the ginger colour, but gradually gets just that little bit longer as it moves up towards the temples where it’s still prickly short, yet thicker with red. She makes a few more clean-up passes here and there, and then the clippers are finally shut off.

The barber takes a moment to clean the bladed head with a mini brush before replacing the device on its hook. She picks up the spray bottle near the edge of the countertop, then returns her attention to the chair.

Spritz spritz spritz

She scrapes the hair on top straight backwards and off my forehead with the comb as the water dampens my locks, giving my hair a glossy sheen with the reflection from the light. The length on top is still generous, where it almost feels like an edgy, slicked back look with how she was combing it. It may be one big drastic haircut I’m getting today, but I still love the fact that I managed to briefly try quite a number of short styles in such a short amount of time as the barber works towards the final length.

Once sufficiently damp, she sets the spray bottle back down, then seems to be conflicted as she combs my hair this way and that. “You usually do a centre part, right?” She asks.

“Mhm,” I confidently say, glad there’s finally a question I actually know the answer to. I feel like I’m being quizzed every time she asks a question, though the results would only be evident once she’s done with the cut.

“Well, it’s not gonna be long enough to do that. So you want it parted to the right or the left?” She gestures across my forehead.

“Left, please,” I answer instinctively.

“Alright,” she acknowledges, then begins manually parting my hair to the desired side with the comb. For so long I’ve had my hair parted in the centre purely out of habit, and now’s the first time I’m actually getting a side part— only because it’s going to be too short to have it how I usually do.

It takes her a while, but with a bit of coaxing through some firm strokes of the comb and the water she’s used, she actually manages to roughly part my hair to the left. She then starts at the back of my head, combing up a section of my red hair while following the direction of the part. I feel her palm rest on my head as she holds those fair few inches of red aloft with her forefingers, then the scissors open.

Snip. Snip. 

And down goes those fair few inches as the blades munch right above her forefingers, leaving behind a spiky tuft on my scalp.

snip snip. snip snip. 

The barber never leaves a moment to dally— she simply combs up the next section, holds that ample of length with her two fingers, then cuts right above. The clippers may have been the efficient instrument to shear so much in such little time, but now I marvel at how skilful yet detailed she is with her simpler tools. Her fingers follow the curve of my crown as she snips away, working from the back towards the front of the crown.

snip snip. snip snip. 

Each snip leaves behind some of the shortest locks that jut out a little awkwardly— only about an inch or a half more if I’m estimating right!—, and after every few snips she forcefully combs it all down towards the direction of the part, which also helps sweep off the stray hairs that had been hastily lopped onto my left shoulder. The locks that fall are sizeable, coming to at least three inches in length. To think that the top already seemed so short before she started her scissorwork— and at this rate, she’s going to be shearing the top to be just slightly longer than the sides.

Every time she combs down a section of the hair, the illusion is still there— especially with how the front part of the crown was still so intact, long and still slicked to the side, it still doesn’t really hit me that it’s being cut so tight on top. But when her comb starts flicking down that last, front section that’s the closest thing I’m getting to bangs, I know that facade is about to break.

She starts by teasing them forward, perhaps gauging how much to cut off as those short bangs are spread across the middle of my forehead. Once she has a good idea, she rakes the comb up my forehead to gather that last, ample section. Her forefingers hold the wet locks in place, adjusting them ever so slightly before the blades of the scissors open.

snip snip snip. 

And off those bangs go, tickling my nose as it plummets down onto the cape, where it joins its other lost brethren. Her fingers come loose as she combs what was left downwards and to my left, where there is now just barely enough length to subtly push off the top of my forehead and to the side. That is a short part indeed.

The barber then goes to work on the sides of my head, laying the comb almost flat against the curves of my skull as she makes rapid snips on the tiniest bits of hair that’s left. She continues the scissor-over-comb technique with finesse, starting from the top of my temples on each side as the comb slides up into the crown to blend everything in.

She then combs up the front part again, this time angling the scissors downwards to snip away at the ends of the meagre length to add a bit more texture. She makes a sweep with the comb and scissors all across my scalp, her face in a state of pure focus as she makes microscopic cuts. After a few more minutes of precision snips, she uses the flat of her hand to push those ultra-short locks towards the intended left parting, then makes a small look of satisfaction when she realises she’s done.

The scissors and the comb go back onto the countertop, then she proceeds to bend down to open up a cabinet door at the bottom of her counter. She stands back up, and in her hand is a rolled up towel which she spreads out, then immediately goes onto the sides of my head.

I suck in a gasp when I feel it— the sudden warmth of the towel jolting me up as they touch my almost bare skin, where the barber makes sure she’s patting it firmly all over my sides and back. After a while of letting my skin soak in that heat, she then tucks the wide end of the towel into the cape from my neck, letting the rest of the towel lay loose across the back of the chair.

She steps forward to the counter, where she picks up a straight razor from her array of tools. “Straight sideburns, yeah?” She asks as she picks up a fresh blade from one of the little boxes on her counter to fix onto the edge of the razor.

“Mhm,” I agree blindly as I’m suddenly back to faking it.

She starts on my right like she always does, tilting my head ever so slightly to the left as the razor is positioned where the sideburns are. With one simple stroke, I watch as that subtle fuzz in front of my ear is cleanly erased, aligning it near the top of my ears. She wipes the blade on the towel, then begins shaping the area around my ears. Her strokes are firm, but light enough that it doesn’t hurt. At best, it feels like someone giving small, controlled scratches around my head, which I must say I quite enjoy.

Once at the back she tilts my head forward, then begins sculpting the neckline to her liking. She’s sure to wipe the blade after every scrape or two of the razor, methodically carving her way across the back of my neck with the steadiest grip on that cutthroat instrument. And soon enough she’s on the left side now, doing that clean stroke down my sideburn to leave that area next to my ear free of any hair.

With that suspenseful part out of the way, she replaces the razor back in its place on the counter, then untucks the towel from my neck. She gives it a hard flick against the chair, then once more gives the sides and back of my head a wipe with it to clean up the razored sections. She briefly runs the towel across the top of my head before tossing it into the bin beside the counter, to which I realise my hair on top doesn’t even get messed up— a bizarre afterthought.

The barber picks up a small round brush and unhooks a hair dryer, which screams to life as it’s pointed towards my head. I squint as the hot air gushes over my exposed head, biting down on my tongue as that airiness all over feels so surreal. The mouth of the hairdryer is pointed towards the left side, where she brushes my hair in that direction to force the part to stay in its place. It probably takes less than a minute for her to get the desired look, and I’m impressed at how quick it takes to fully dry and style it. Once the drying is complete, she takes a moment to blast the wind across the cape, and I watch as a few piles of my red hair slide right down onto the floor before the shrieking of the hairdryer stops.

The tools return to the counter, and at least she picks up the hand mirror for the moment of truth. She turns my chair 180 degrees so that I’m back-facing the large mirror, then offers me the hand mirror. “Have a look.”

Carefully, I take my hand out from under the cape, then accept the mirror by its neck. I hesitate at first, then straighten up my head as I squarely position the mirror right in front, ready to take in that new me.

My hand goes weak for a moment, holding back a gasp as my eyes meet that image up-close. The person staring back has a rugged androgyny— while their eyelashes and freckles help to soften their face, the strong jaw and tightly shorn hair still dominates to maintain a no-nonsense look. I gently turn my head from side to side, examining the sides and back that are very neatly clipped into a tight taper, where it’s still a darker and thicker fuzz towards the temple, though it gradually lightens as it gets shorter towards the bottom. Through the double reflection, I can see that the neckline is perfectly shaped in a neat line across the back of my neck, following over the ears, and then leading to those strict, straight lines beside the top of the ear where the sideburns would have been.

I then bow my head slightly, eager to scrutinise the crown that seems only barely longer than the sides. The thickness of my red hair is still strong, where the roughly inch-long locks are all combed fully towards my left. The section leading from the temple to the crown artfully blends in, transitioning from a buzzed pelt to the slightly longer scissored hair. And right at the top of my forehead, there lay the smallest suggestion of a side part, just long enough that it’s pushed off the bareness of my forehead.

My other hand slips out of the cape, remembering that this cut isn’t just a visual affair, but also a tactile one. I cautiously start from the back of my neck, slowly sliding it up as it meets the neckline, and I have to hold in a gasp. The fuzziness is beyond words— starting from the tiniest and sharpest of prickles at the bottom of my nape, leading up to a softer fuzz as it reaches the top of my head. The palm of my hand surveys the breadth of the sides and back, and I bite my cheeks down to hold a whimper. God, that is so short. I then gradually slide my fingers up to the top, where the real moment of truth is. Oh fuck, I silently whisper as I realise my hands simply glide over the hair on top smoothly, my fingers never at risk of catching and tangling themselves between the short locks. The only way I can actually grab onto it is with my thumb and forefinger, and even then the grip is precarious. I gently tease that front section, trying to pull it down towards my forehead— only for it to stubbornly sway back up into its parting. The hair on top is so well-styled that nothing ever falls out of place when I run my fingers over— it all stays in order, brushed into that left part she promised.

Although it’s the shortest, most drastic haircut I’ve ever seen on myself, why is it the most familiar-looking image of me in the mirror? It’s like all my life I’d been hiding behind those supposedly compulsory layers of red femininity that framed my face or were tied up so conveniently, and now that it’s all gone, I can actually see myself. Without a doubt, I can say that is me— a ‘me’ that I’m actually so comfortable looking at and being. Then, in a spur of the moment, I violently shake my head all around. I hold back a giggle at how liberating it feels. Not a single lock of hair bounces around, all just staying put. I feel free.

“It’s too short for that now,” the barber chimes in sounding amused. “Looks good?” She then asks, a hand on my caped shoulder.

“Perfect,” I reply, finding it a bit hard to speak as I start getting so overwhelmed.

“Good. Now, you’re gonna have to make sure you maintain the parting over the next few weeks,” she adds, her hands now returning to the top of my head as I take it as my cue to pop my hand back under. “Every time you wash your hair, make sure you brush it to the left as it’s drying. If you’ve got a blow dryer you can use it to make it quicker, otherwise air drying it is fine too— it’s so short that it’ll dry up in no time,” she continues instructing, using the flat of her hand to keep pushing the part to my left. “You can use a bit of product like a gel or something to help style it too once it grows out a little, but for now I think water’s just fine. Okay?”

“Okay,” I reply, my throat heavy.

She raises an eyebrow, and I realise my voice almost cracked there. “Everything okay?” She asks, the first time I’ve seen concern on her face.

“Yes!” I force out with a smile, trying to think of something to play this off. “Sorry, it’s just… such a big relief to finally have all that off my head. Been overdue for a haircut for too long, and it just feels so much better now” I half-lie, trying to make her think this is just some late routine haircut from when it’s been growing out for too long— even though the sentiment is rather true.

She whistles. “Way overdue, that’s for sure,” she comments as she briefly glanced down at the mess of ginger tresses on the floor— all that was on my head not too long ago. “Well, I’d give it four to five weeks max. Then by the time you’re back for a trim the left parting should be set in already, and it’ll be easier to cut and style.”

“Mhm,” I say with a fervent nod, already excited for my next barbershop trip.

“Alright then,” she says conclusively as she takes the hand mirror from me to place it back on the counter. She spins me around again so that I’m facing the mirror, then she undoes the neck tissue and cape. She lets them lay out there, loosely on my neck and shoulders for a moment as she heads to the counter one more time. She picks up a little neck brush, dipping its bristles lightly into a small container. She then starts at the back of my neck, dusting it generously as I almost go nuts at the sensation. The bristles are so ticklish over my freshly shorn and sensitive skin, but this time I’m not afraid to let out a small smile in response. The neck brush dances its way across the sides, dusting the straight sideburns as I can smell it now— that floral, sweet-smelling powder that’s being spread over my skin. Then the cape is finally whisked off my body, which she firmly flicks twice to the side to let that large mass of red hair fall to the ground.

It was already euphoric seeing my short head of hair while all caped up, but then seeing it paired with that fully comfortable outfit just overwhelms me again. I anxiously rise to my feet, feeling lightheaded at the lack of weight my head now carries. I fish out my wallet from my pocket, more than delighted to pay the barber the fee along with a generous tip.

“Thank you,” she says with a smile as she keeps the cash.

“Thank you,” I reply. I definitely made the right choice coming to her shop today, and I’m on cloud nine realising my grand plan had worked— sure, there’s a little, unexpected bump that I didn’t see coming. But I wouldn’t trade this end result for anything else.

“Four to five weeks,” she reminds me as I’m by the door ready to leave, and I turn to see that she’s already sweeping up what used to be my messy red mane.

“Four to five weeks,” I echo, giving her one last big smile as I take my exit.

*

 

The autumn wind immediately chills my scalp, and just as I’m about to instinctively push my hair out of my face, I realise there’s nothing there to push away. My fist gently clenches, glad no one was around to see that embarrassing attempt. I have a brush cut now— I don’t need to sweep my hair out of my face anymore. Hell, the wind isn’t even messing up my hair at all— a reminder of how short it is, but also a gentle blessing.

Ding. The message beep catches me off-guard, and then I remember. Laura. “Oh, shit,” I say as I start walking towards the agreed meet-up point, realising I’m going to face her really soon.

 

Laura

I’m parked by the street. Let me know when you’re done. 

 

Ren

Perfect timing! Just finished, walking over now. 

 

Laura

So… how’d it go? 

 

I pause for a moment, tempted to just tell her to wait and see. But I guess a bit of drama wouldn’t hurt.

 

Ren

I’m not sure. It’s short, but it doesn’t look all that similar to the picture we chose

 

Laura

Oh no 🙁 did they leave it too long? 

 

At this point I’m already a few feet away from the car, where I can see her looking down at her phone attentively, waiting for my reply. I then open the door to the passenger seat, sliding myself in before slamming the door shut. “Hey,” I greet nonchalantly.

She looks up with a face strewn with worry, and then suddenly her eyes look like they’re about to pop out of their sockets. “Ren,” she breathily says, almost speechless.

“It’s… shorter than the picture” I innocently say as a hand goes up the back of my head, and I get a slight shiver— still not accustomed to my bare hands being so close to my scalp.

“Oh my god,” her hand reaches up to cover her mouth, clearly in shock. “It’s… short,” she states the obvious. “How did it happen? Did they just keep cutting it shorter than the picture?” Her protective instinct is in full-form, quick to pick up my free hand as she strokes the back of it longingly. But I swear there’s a glint in her eyes as she stares in fascination.

And then I drop the bomb. “I… never showed her the picture.”

There’s an amused confusion on her face. “So what happened?” She asks, still holding that caring tone.

“Well,” I try not to smile, wanting to play this ruse a little bit longer, “I was in the chair, cape and everything put on me. Then she asked me how I wanted it cut. And— I have no idea what came over me— but I just… pointed, at one of the photos on the wall.” Her face is following the tale so closely, the slightest shifts happening as she hears me recount it. “But I love it,” I say with a whimper, suddenly battling tears.

Oh, babe,” Laura’s face fully softens now, and I feel like she too might cry now.

“I’m sorry,” the words suddenly come out of my mouth as I bow my head. “I know I asked you to choose a picture for me, and I really like it, I promise. But when I saw that picture on the wall, I don’t know, it just… it just felt so right.”

“Ren, babe, it’s okay!” she reassures as she gently lifts my chin with her fingers, and I can see that she’s all glassy-eyed as well.

“Do you like it?” I hazard the question, biting my lip in nervousness.

“I love it,” she sniffles as well. “And I’m not just saying that because you love it too.”

“Are you… crying?” I softly ask, still fighting back my tears.

“I’m sorry,” she wipes the back of her hand across the tears coming down her face. “It’s just… I’m so happy for you. I mean, look at you, Ren! I’ve never seen you more comfortable and happy with yourself before, and my god, I want to make sure nothing will ever sully this confidence in you.” Her hand cups my cheek, where a curious thumb rubs that tiny stubble in front of my ear. “You may look different from the person I fell in love with. But when I look at you now, I see you as the truest version of yourself— the version that was always waiting to come out.”

And now I can’’t hold back the waterworks anymore. I just let it all out as I feel her reach forward to hold me, feeling so safe and secure in her arms. “I love you so much, Laura,” I say with the heaviest but most loving voice, thanking my lucky stars to have someone like her. Laura— the one who’s been there from the start, being so patient to help guide and walk with me down this road as I find myself. And even though I let go of her hand for a moment at that last stretch, running so freely to my own finish line, there she is— cheering me on and still being so overjoyed for me. What would I ever do without Laura?

“I love you too, Ren,” she rubs my back, and I can tell she’s a little apprehensive to touch my hair— awaiting my consent.

I sniffle as I sit back up, forcing out my best smile to shake off the tears. “Do you want to touch it?”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Her hands finally make their way up my neck, and I hold my breath— bracing myself for the chilliness of her skin on mine. “Whoa,” she whispers, awe written all over her face as those fingers go up my nape. She’s extra gentle in her inspection, exploring every nook and cranny of the sides and back with utmost meticulousness. “That feels really good,” Laura comments, and she’s not the only one loving her hands on my head.

Those hands then creep up onto the crown, and she gasps as her skin feels those short tufts of red. “So short,” she muses, sounding like she’s already missing my longer mane. I can see the surprise on her face as she’s trying and failing to grab onto the hair, and I can only smile like an idiot at her folly. “Wait a minute,” she then gets to the front, where she fingers that short lock that’s swept to my left. “Is that a side part?”

“Yeah,” I reply, cheeks warming. “Does it look weird?”

“Not at all, I’m just so surprised. I’m so used to seeing you with that centre parting,” she explains.

“Well, she said that it’s too short to do a centre part with this length, and so I had to choose a side to part it to,” I recount, and she makes an attentive sound.

“The left part suits you,” she compliments as she pushes up that small lock of hair on my forehead, almost like how she’d always try to tuck my hair behind my ears. “Shake your head for me,” she instructs as her hands leave my hand.

I chuckle, then obey. It still feels as fun as the first time that I did it in the chair— the way I can feel the gust of air breezing over my exposed skin as my hair remains in perfect state. “I literally did that when she was done with the cut,” I tell Laura. “It just feels so freeing.”

“I could only imagine,” she says, head resting on her hand while she watches me with those wondrous eyes. “Can you turn around? I wanna see the back.”

“Yeah,” I relent, turning so that I’m facing the car window.

I sense her moving closer to me, again expecting her hand to go another round on that cropped ba-

Ooh,” I gasp, hand immediately going up my back in defence before turning to face Laura. Her hands are over her mouth now, poorly hiding a sinister smirk playing on those lips— those naughty lips that stole a kiss from my nape. “That was naughty,” I chide, still recovering from how heavenly that feels.

“Oops,” she giggles. “I’m sorry, that was way too tempting,” she reasons. And suddenly, all the naughty thoughts start filling my head— already imagining the night we were going to have at her place, where I just know her hands are never going to leave my head. “You hungry?” She eventually asks, sitting back up straight in the chair.

“Mhm,” I say, ready to get our evening started.

“Buckle up. I know just the place.”

*

Dinner was at the usual sushi place we went to, and she made sure to grab the counter seats where we’re seated side by side— the best position for her hands to sneakily have a few head scratches and rubs. And I delighted in them every single time, tilting my head towards her like a cat accepting pets. We gobble up our dinner, then drive back to her place where we’re gonna spend the night.

The moment her front door shuts close behind us, she pounces on me, and our lips lock passionately. While my hands graze her exposed back above that spaghetti strap dress, hers go upwards— towards my fuzzy nape where she indulges completely. I moan in her mouth as those fingers find their way all over my head. My hands then went lower, getting a grip on her thighs as I lift her up against the wall like I always do— and now giving her an easier time to reach my head. “Carry you to bed?” I ask between kisses in a whisper.

“Yes, please.”

I gently drop her back-first onto her king-size bed, where she takes a second to look up at me like she always does— this time with a salacious hunger in her eyes that I’ve never seen before. Out of instinct, I lift my head back up, my hands going to either side of my face to pull back my hair.

Which isn’t there anymore.

“Ren,” Laura starts with an amused tone, “were you trying to tie up your hair that isn’t there?”

“Shut up,” I playfully turn away, failing to hide my colouring cheeks.

She cackles so beautifully, then reaches up to pull my face down close to hers. “You are so adorable, do you know that?” She reaches up my neck, giving me the most addictive scratches as I melt to her touch. “Oh, you love that, don’t you? You’re like my little cat now,” she teases as she pecks my bare forehead. “My handsome little kitten.”

I softly whimper, giving her my puppiest eyes. “I like that,” I admit. “I am your handsome little kitten.”

Reference photo inspiring Ren’s final look

maggotmother: “yawl: “ good news guys ” jesus fucking christ sara youre an angel ”

2 responses to “Euphoria

  1. I love the genuine affection the characters show throughout this, and I’m impressed at how well you handled the nonbinary angle from the main character’s POV — you never faltered in that. Really well done.

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