Of Hesitation and Doubt (Part 1)

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Hello, This is not my first time posting haircutting stories. I have been active on The Haircut Story Site ( https://www.haircutstory.net/ ) and have posted this story in October of last year on that site. I thought I could post it here as well, and I might post my other stories here in the future as well. I realize this site is more female-oriented (not a problem, just a simple observation from having browsed the stories here) so I hope a little male-on-male fiction will be just as appreciated.

-Fantasy Weaver

Warnings: Foul language.

 

Of Hesitation and Doubt, part 1

XXXXX

Theo regarded his surroundings with increasing interest, wondering to himself just why it was that such a place could inflict such conflicting emotions within him.

Certainly, the place had that unfamiliar feeling that one would get when going to the doctor’s office, or at a dentist’s appointment. There were similarities, he had to admit, between those places and here; the professionalism, the unfamiliar seating, the odd, prodding tools, the different smells, even the obligation of having someone touch him in uncomfortable places.

Loss of control?

He supposed so.

But wasn’t that what made this place seem more appealing than the others? Relinquishing that firmly held control of his body, not for the health of his body, but purely for aesthetic purposes?

The appeal and fear of giving away the reins to someone else…

How could such a place, as innocent as this, make such feelings rise beneath the surface of his subconscious?

Gold-flecked green eyes stared ahead of him, through the entrance of his workplace, settling on the familiar sight across the mall’s hallways.

It was an elegant storefront, nothing like the rustic charm of the bookstore Theo kept. Unlike many of the shops and other lounges scattered about the mall, the place across his store screamed intimacy and privacy. A glass wall and glass door separated the luxurious interior from the constant hum of people passing, talking, as they shopped.

One didn’t have to wrack their brains to know what that refined place was. A single look at the storefront, and anyone would be able to spot the telltale red, white and blue poles that had become so ingrained in people’s mind to mean one thing:

A barbershop.

Sorting through the new novels that had arrived in today’s order, Theo kept thinking about that shop across from his, a thing so out of place to him it seemed almost alien in a way. Then again, why not have a barbershop there? There was an esteemed hotel right beside the mall, and the city itself was strewn with people loaded with cash; what better place to have such a high-end looking barbershop?

It had been there for a year, if he recalled correctly, and ever since it had opened he couldn’t help but to look at it, and the thoughts from before had invaded his mind even back then.

Even now, he still lingered on why a barbershop -to him, at least- had such a different effect on him than other, similarly awkward places.

With going to a doctor’s appointment, he KNEW he didn’t feel comfortable, even if he has known his doctor since he was a child. The foreign touch on his body made him feel like a test subject, even though he knew it was for his health. He KNEW that he hated going to the dentist, for the simple fact that prodding fingers and pointy tools scraping against his gums did not feel good, but he tolerated it for the health of his mouth.

He didn’t know how to feel in regards to a barbershop.

People went to get their hair cut. It’s not even necessarily for health reasons, as mentioned before, but only for outward appearances. To look good. Plain and simple.

Yet unlike going to buy new clothes, or putting makeup on, going to get a haircut usually requires the assistance of a professional.

Usually. Because Theo had always cut his own hair.

The outcome of a hair cut would rely solely on the interaction between the client and hairdresser or barber, and how they would interpret the client’s wants and needs.

The more Theo thought about it, as he would gaze day after day at the barbershop, the more intrigued he became about the whole mental process the simple sight of the shop made him go through.

Over the course of the year the shop had been active, his mind had wandered down memory lane, recalling trips to the hairdresser as a child, and his eventual decision to cut his own hair, sans hairdresser. No one ever commented about his hair anymore, seen as he had learned the correct way of cutting it himself which DIDN’T make him end up with a choppy mess on his head. Mistakes had been made along the way, and he probably still made some, but to the untrained eye, this was barely noticeable.

His thoughts skittered to a halt as his mind reminded him of what other things he had seen looking at the barbershop, namely the only people who could possibly find fault in his hairstyle, and the one person among them that had garnered the most of his attention in the last year.

Eyes slipping away from the task of placing the books on the shelves, Theo immediately caught sight of the person he was looking for beyond the glass.

There were maybe a maximum of ten barbers that worked in the shop across the hall, and only one of them worked on the same days as Theo. He spotted him now, barely able to peek at him, but he had seen him up close before.

The barber had come a few times on his breaks to Theo’s bookstore, purchasing such works as Paradise Lost and The Odyssey. On those occasions, Theo had barely been able to keep his greedy eyes off of him.

Proud lips, set in a firm line, prematurely silver hair, seen as the man could not be over thirty years old, and eyes the color of a stormy sea. Everything about the man was subdued, washed out, like looking at a greyed marble statue of a Greek demi god. But, just like Theo, the man worked in customer service, so when he would bag his books and hand them over, the barber would grace him with a single, barely-there smile.

It made even the barber’s stony exterior seem alive.

Would it appeal to him, Theo wondered, a hand raking through his medium-length hair, for once, letting someone else have a go at his hair?

Stuffing the cardboard box in the backstore for recycling later, he thought of how long it had been since he had last cut his hair, let alone let someone else do it. His last self-cut had been, what, five, six months ago? He was due, of that there was no doubt. He straightened, his hand once more running along his dark strands of hair, toying with the ends in thought.

XXXXX

The phone rang, as it should, were they to ever have clients. He was on reception duty today. Bringing out his customer service voice, he picked up after the second ring, right hand on the computer mouse in anticipation of taking an appointment.

“The Lounge Barbershop, how may I help you?”

There seemed to be a hesitation on the other side of the line, but when the person spoke, it was just as professional as himself. “Hello, I am looking to make an appointment to get a haircut. What are your availabilities?”

The phrase sounded rehearsed, he noted, hand sliding the mouse across the computer screen. To the point, like the man on the phone wanted this to be over as soon as possible. He didn’t mull over it, he too wanting to conclude the phone call as soon as possible.

His eyes scanned the timetable before him, noting the only time was with him as the barber. Goody for him. “We have a place open at six-thirty tomorrow evening, if the time suits you. If not, our next available slots are as of next week.” It was a busy time for the barbershop; what with summer being in full swing, the hotel next door was housing many rich businessmen on trips looking for a place to get spruced up.

Again, there was another moment of hesitation before a perfectly concise answer. “Six-thirty tomorrow is fine.”

He marked down the initial information for the appointment, saying “My name is Dante by the way, and I’ll be your barber for the appointment.”

“That’s fine.”

Fine. Everything was fine to this client wasn’t it? “Will this be your first time in our barbershop?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ll just fill out a client sheet for you. Your name?”

“T-Theo. My name’s Theo Williams.”

A stutter. Another small hesitation. Curious. “Address and phone number?” The required information was given –without the stutter this time. He wrote these down. “Alright, so I’ve scheduled a haircut; anything else?”

A pause, in which he could hear the man -Theo, he corrected himself- sigh in what sounded like…agitation? While he waited, Dante looked over the allotted time for his client. A haircut wouldn’t take too long. Perhaps he could rope his client into paying a little extra for something else.

Sounding as convincing as he could, the barber interjected, “A haircut and shampoo takes around 45 minutes, and I would still have an hour if you would be interested in a hot towel shave.”

“Ah…I…” His client sounded undecided -no- again, hesitant. Perhaps he needed a little cushioning, a safety net, if you will. After all, a good first impression is important with a new client.

This time, he spoke in a more honeyed tone, conveying as best he could his sincerity towards his client’s plea. “Well, I’ll leave the appointment as is, and if you would like to make your decision tomorrow evening after your cut, I wouldn’t mind leaving my last slot empty for you. It is after all a last minute slot, so you’re the lucky person.”

At long, this tactic worked, and a low affirmation resounded through the phone. He smiled, though his client could not see it.

“Alright then, your appointment is booked. I will be seeing you tomorrow then.”

“Right. Yes. Good evening.”

“And you as well.” Dante hung up two seconds after the last exchange. Leaning back in the rolling desk chair, he contemplated the call, or rather, the caller, how uncertain he sounded, nothing like their usual clientele of bossy, commandeering men in business suits –not that he let them walk all over him, not in his own shop, thank you.

His train of thought broke, the phone ringing again, and soon he had nearly forgotten all about the conversation with Theo.

XXXXX

He let his cell dangle from his right hand, over the store counter, eyes fixed on the figure beyond the glass across his shop.

Of course he had waited until the silver haired barber had been at the reception, had made certain that the appointment was with him, had rehearsed what he had wanted to say. Yet, he still managed to slip up, in the form of (of all things) saying his name.

Theo tapped the end of his cell lightly on the counter, teeth worrying his lower lip in thought. He hadn’t anticipated being asked if he wanted to include another service.

Then again, who was he kidding? It took one look at the shop and its regular clients to know that not a lot went there for JUST a haircut. Theo snorted to himself. He could’ve gone anywhere else, probably have the same quality cut for a much lower price (he still cringed internally after having seen the prices of The Lounge’s services) but it would not have been the same. Nowhere else was there a barber like the one he had spoken to on the phone, or sold books to like the one across the halls.

Why was it so important to Theo, that it be him? Eyes going back to the elegant shop, he pondered this question, silently acknowledging that the barber, Dante, certainly was eye-catching.

Then there was the matter from before, about letting someone else have their hands on his hair.

On this, he had some amount of control on who, exactly, would hover over his head. Theo had made sure of that. He concluded that he didn’t want just anybody cutting his hair, and at the very least, he had seen Dante before, albeit briefly. It wasn’t one of the old geezers, wasn’t one of those guys with the extravagant beards, or the other barbers he barely paid the time of day to.

Logical. That’s what it was.

Or at least he told himself so.

XXXXX

The appointment was at six-thirty. It was six now, and Theo had finished his shift. He had just enough time to don something more appropriate for the luxurious shop in which he was to go into.

It wasn’t the expensive suits he saw the regular clients wear when entering The Lounge, but it was the cleanest and priciest thing he owned. It was a simple grey dress shirt which he tucked into black dress pants, a hand-me down from his older brother’s prom which no longer fit him. He closed his leather belt and walked out into the public restroom, eyeing his reflection in the mirror.

He didn’t even have a tie or a suit coat to go over his shirt. It wasn’t so bad was it?

Grimacing at the sleeves, which he feared people would stare at for not being perfectly tailored to him, he sighed in irritation, rolling up the sleeves to his forearms. Screw it. This would have to do.

His attention wandered eventually over to his hair, hanging down just past the collar of the dress shirt. He swept it back, fingers lingering on the strands at his neck. He stared into his green gaze, seeing his doubt and trepidation betrayed in the knot of his brow, the slight downward turn of his lips, the tension in his temples.

He bit his lip.

He could always go home. He could always go to his car, drive home, sit in the bathroom and do his own hair like always, and have it looking exactly how he wanted. He could then have a shower, heat up the leftover carrot and beet soup in the fridge, sit on his couch and watch the fourth season of his favorite show, and go to sleep knowing tomorrow was the weekend.

He could. There was still time.

The sound of the door opening and two men coming to use the restroom snapped Theo out of his musings. He averted his gaze and stepped out, thoughts rearranging back into some semblance of order as he slowly walked back towards the bookstore and barbershop.

Tempting as the prospect of spending the night at home presented itself to be, he squashed those thoughts out of existence. Once. He would go to The Lounge once, and if the experience did not pan out, then he would have tried and that would be the end of it. What was the worst that could happen?

Theo glanced at his cell’s screen, the time reading 6:24. He stopped, eyes lifting to the glass storefront emblazoned with the elegant writing of The Lounge’s opening hours. No. No more hesitation. He had done enough of that on the phone with Dante.

Theo entered, eyes tracing over the waiting area, reminding himself where he was, and did his best to not stumble as he sat in the cushioned sofas. Just the waiting area was luxurious; hell, he even saw one of the barbers come over and give one of the other waiting patrons a glass of what looked to be whiskey on the rocks. They must have an alcohol permit here, as he had noticed the same trend was duplicating in other barbershops around town.

The man who had given the drink came over to him then, asking “Anything for you sir?”

He cleared his throat, eyes staring at the guy’s red bow-tie. “No, thank you.”

The barber went over to the reception desk. So far, it didn’t look like anyone was judging him for his choice of clothing. He had been offered a drink, so he supposed he couldn’t look TOO out of place.

A subtle look at the two other clients waiting for their turn informed Theo that maybe that was because the other two had removed their suit coats and even loosened their ties. They looked more comfortable than he did.

6:29 his cell read. He tapped his foot anxiously on the hardwood floor.

Two barbers came to retrieve their patrons, leaving Theo alone. Six-thirty now. Anytime now…

Finally, a familiar shock of silver hair caught Theo’s attention. Dante was talking with his departing client as he paid for his haircut at the reception.

It was so odd, or maybe it was because Theo had only ever received the smallest of smiles from Dante, but to see the barber laughing wholeheartedly with his client sent an unfamiliar warmth fluttering in his chest. He wrung his fingers together, eyes averting down to them when the barber spotted him, and he willed himself to stop fidgeting. What was he, a teenager? Honestly…

The patron departed, and Theo straightened himself, listening intently to the low clacking of Dante’s dress shoes against the floor, noting with mild interest how perfectly shined the black shoes were.

The moment Dante’s sea-foam grey eyes landed on him, Theo saw a flicker of recognition in them. Did he remember him? Surely he hadn’t made an impression on the man.

But if he did recognize him, Theo did not know, as the barber said not a word of it to him. With a smile and an outwardly stretched hand, Dante greeted him, “Mr. Williams, yes?”

Damn. He never knew how much he hated his last name until it fell from those proud lips. It sounded so wrong, so cold and…professional. The exact thing he had concluded was a similarity between this and going to see his doctor or dentist.

He tried to hide the bitter taste the greeting left in his throat, and adopted his customer service voice, being equally as polite as Dante. “Yes. Good to meet you,” he said, taking the outstretched palm in his own, and noting the strength in the man’s grip.

“Dante. A pleasure,” Dante replied simply, eyes roving over Theo’s face unhurriedly.

As they took their hands back, Theo let his gaze slip to Dante’s body, taking notice of the flattering suit the man wore. He had a dark crimson dress shirt beneath a buttoned suit, whose material did not seem like normal cotton or silk. An embroidery of his name in gold thread rested over his left breast pocket. Perhaps the suit was tailor made for the shop, made of a product-repellent material that hair did not stick to as much. He wore equally dark dress pants, looking a lot more expensive than the ones Theo wore.

Looking at Dante, now he DID feel like he stuck out like a sore thumb.

“If you would follow me Mr. Williams, we’ll have you sit down and see what you had in mind for your haircut.” Dante turned slowly, indicating for Theo to come into the actual shop with him.

The dark haired man uttered out an affirmation, and followed silently behind the barber into the filled shop. Every seat had a patron and barber tending to them. Only one seat remained between an older barber and a red-haired barber sporting a curled moustache.

In contrast, Dante did not look as extravagant. No, he had a certain poise about himself. He sported a high fade which blended seamlessly into his skin, with slicked-back strands of longer hair atop his head which had a laser-straight part down the left side. No facial hair. In fact he seemed clean-shaven.

Before he could look more closely around the shop, he heard Dante struggling with the barber chair. Curiously, he watched as the barber repeatedly pressed on both foot-levers, seeing the growing irritation seeping into the man’s features. That could not bode well.

“Fuck,” Theo heard the man utter under his breath, thinking he had probably not meant for the other to hear it at all. Dante turned to the red-haired barber to his right, asking, “Has anyone used this chair today? It’s stuck again.”

The other barber turned to him momentarily, before turning back to his client. “Ah yeah, it’s been like that all day. We’re going to need to get it fixed.”

Theo watched as Dante pinched the bridge of his nose. Turning to the older barber to the left of the chair they had been supposed to use, Dante told him, “Roger, is anyone supposed to use the private rooms today?”

Green eyes widened marginally as he stood there, awkwardly listening to the exchange. What did the barber mean by “private room?”

“Ah, no, there shouldn’t be anyone. Take your client in there, don’t charge him extra though. It’s that darn chair.” The older barber said this, then turned back to his own patron.

Dante’s attention went back to Theo, who was shuffling on his feet as he waited for what to do. Maybe he should have gone home.

“We’ll be having your appointment in one of our private rooms, since” at this, Dante gave the unresponsive chair a nasty glare, “the chair here won’t budge.” His eyes came back to look at the dark haired man. “A private room is usually more expensive, but since this wasn’t expected, the price won’t change.”

A relief, since Theo knew this trip to The Lounge was already going to cost him.

“This way Mr. Williams,” Dante instructed, leading the way further into the shop, towards a hallway in the back.

This time, the disdainful twitch of his lips did manifest, though Dante had his back to him.

They went down the hallway, and stopped before a mahogany door. The barber reached into his vest, pulling out a set of keys, and selected one that he fit into the door’s handle. There was a resounding click as the door was unlocked, and Dante swung open the door for his client, face once again sporting the welcoming smile from before.

“After you,” Dante gestured with his left hand to the room beyond, eyes lingering for but a second on Theo’s face.

He hesitated. Damn him, he did. The way those stormy eyes regarded him then, with a flash of mirth, made him doubt himself. What’s more, he was to be alone with him. Alone.

Why did it matter? Wasn’t that what had enticed him from the beginning? The loss of control, the giving of the reins, watching as it happens? What’s sitting in a room alone with a man who clearly had done this before, who was to be trusted, who people with more cash -and dignity- than him trusted? Dante was a professional. And Theo had repeatedly rehearsed what he was to say to the barber to make sure no ambiguity would remain as to what his hair would look like.

Dante was waiting for him, he realized, as the man’s eyes suddenly came back to his own, a silent inquiry within them. Stealing himself, he entered, refusing to flinch at the sound of the door clicking back into place.

He let his eyes take in the sights around him, of the lavishly furnished room which served as a private barber shop within The Lounge.

There was everything one would need for the tonsorial trade; at the left-hand end of the room was a black washing basin, with a recliner-type seating into which a patron could lie down while getting their hair washed. A rolling stool stood behind the basin, a seat for the barber while attending to his client. Right beside the door, to his left, was a standing coat-hanger made of iron. Against the right wall was the barber station, a large dresser-type counter boasting many drawers for tools and materials, hooks holding a hair-dryer and clippers, and a smaller sink below the large mirror. On the side of the mirrors were shelves lined with rather expensive looking products.

In front of him was also another mahogany piece of furniture, on which a microwave-looking machine sat, under which shelves were lined with neatly rolled black and white towels.

His eyes fell to the opulent throne of a chair in front of the barber station. The gleaming metallic frame had a soft golden glow from the warm lighting in the room, its black leather-like material gleaming invitingly at him.

How poorly it made his bathroom haircuts seem in comparison to this. He already felt like his wallet was lighter.

“We will start with a shampoo then, Mr. Williams” Dante stated as he walked the few steps towards the washing basin, face turning over his shoulder to regard his client expectantly.

Alright, he had heard enough of his last name to last him a lifetime. Only Dante could make it sound so mediocre. As he walked towards the washing station, the man corrected, “Please. Just Theo is fine.”

Dante seemed to sneer at his use of the word fine, but it disappeared, there and gone in but a second. “Theo,” Dante uttered, as though testing the syllables on his lips, deciding whether or not he enjoyed them.

Theo didn’t need to think twice to know how much he enjoyed hearing his name fall from those lips.

The barber nodded his head in acquiescence, one hand settled on the basin’s edge. He gestured with his left hand to the seat, “Sit. Please.”

Theo bit his lip, sitting in the cushiony seat. He waited for further instructions; when none came, he started to turn towards the barber, but this one had come up to him, hands busy unfolding a black towel. He promptly wrapped it around Theo’s shoulders, tucking it into the back of his dress shirt’s collar. He saw the taller man unfold another one, but he placed this one on the basin’s lip, where he would put his neck.

Dante proceeded to remove his black vest, hanging it from the coat-hanger, and rolled up his crimson sleeves. Theo couldn’t help but notice how flattering the material was, draped tightly over the taught muscle of his biceps like that. He tore his eyes away, rearranging the towel at his neck absentmindedly.

When Dante came back, he took another black towel from the shelves, though he draped this one over his left shoulder. Then, with a gentle push on Theo’s shoulder, “Lay back…”

The barber held the back of his head as he lowered it gingerly into the basin, neck catching at the lip, where the second towel had been placed. He moved his head, getting comfortable.

“You can move the basin back and forth to get comfortable,” Dante said, showing how by pushing on the edge.

The other did this, settling when he felt good enough. His green eyes watched the ceiling in a daze. It had been a while since someone last washed his hair like this. He recalled never fully enjoying the little splashes of water that always got on his face. Dante stood at the back of the basin, face hovering above him for a moment.

The barber slid his fingers through the dark locks, pushing them aside from Theo’s face. The flash of recognition Theo had spotted before in the other man’s face now seemed far more apparent, and at long, the barber spoke.

“Don’t you work at the bookstore across from the shop?”

So he did remember him. Had he made such an impression? He swallowed, eyes looking more intently at the ceiling. “Yes. I’m the manager.” He glanced back at Dante, finding the man to be staring down at him.

One silver brow lifted, “Forgive me for saying this, but you didn’t seem like the type of person to come here for a haircut.”

This, even Theo could concede. Of course he wasn’t; he was the type of person to cut his hair at home, where he had all the control and sole blame if his hair didn’t come out right. He shifted in his seat as Dante’s finger’s inspected his scalp. “I…” He, what? What did he want to say? Or rather, what COULD he say? The sole reason he was here was because…

He averted his gaze, concentrating on a barely visible crack in the ceiling.

He was a grown man, for Heaven’s sake. ‘Spit the damn words out’ he commanded himself, throat feeling a bit tighter than usual. “I just thought since this shop is so close to the bookstore, why not get a haircut here?”

Dante, whose lips had formed back into that straight line, looked thoroughly unconvinced. Even Theo himself couldn’t believe the bullshit line he had just dished out to the barber. Despite Dante’s less than impressed look, the man nodded with a hum, fingers still busy separating his strands of hair and pressing on his scalp. He continued doing this for another minute, in which Theo concentrated on the path the man’s fingers were taking on his head.

Then, Dante reached behind him, where a hollow shelf sported an array of shampoos, conditioners and other oils or masks. “Your scalp is a little greasy, but your hair is a bit dry,” the barber stated, sitting on the rolling stool, fingers roving over the bottles. “Do you have any allergies?”

Theo shook his head, reminding himself Dante had his back to him. “No,” he uttered, hands lacing together on his lap.

On a little countertop beside the washing basin, Dante deposited three products. The other man heard the stool rolling on the floor as the barber placed himself behind the basin, and soon the stream of water had been turned on. The silver haired man seemed to adjust the temperature, before aiming the jet at Theo’s crown. “Too hot?” Theo shook his head, then Dante aimed the nozzle expertly over the rest of his hair.

Theo closed his eyes as his dark hair was soaked through with warm water, grateful for the way Dante cupped his hand over his face to protect it from the projectile droplets from the nozzle. His hands protected his ears from getting flooded in the same way, and Theo recalled just how terrible the feeling of water pooling in his ears was. At least the barber here had some dexterity.

When he felt Dante lifting his head, he lifted it himself, but a chiding “Relax your neck” informed him that the barber did not require his help. And so he obliged, letting his head fall back into the man’s hands. It did feel nicer this way, as he didn’t have to force his muscles. Dante held his head securely as the jet was aimed at his nape and water cupped over the hair there.

The water was turned off, and Dante squeezed some excess water from his dark tresses. Theo barely realized his eyes were half closed until his ears picked up on the pumping sound of the shampoo bottle. A squelching sound came from Dante rubbing the gel between his hands, and then those hands were back on his head, spreading the shampoo evenly.

This time, he did close his eyes, intent on enjoying the sensation of Dante scrubbing his hair. This part of the appointment, at least, Theo felt at ease with. As much as he had disliked having his hair washed at the hairdresser when he was younger, he could notice the difference in quality of the service from then and now. It was enough to let him relax.

Dante didn’t speak either; unlike the woman who had once done his hair when he was younger. He only gave silent commands of “Turn your head” and “Relax”. Even then, sometimes he wordlessly pushed on his head to place it how he wanted, no words needed.

The man’s fingers scrubbed over his hair line, behind his ears, cross-crossing on his crown. He lifted his head and scrubbed at his neck, the suds tickling his skin. The shampoo smelled fresh, of mint and aloe, and felt cool on his scalp.

He was rinsed, with the exact same care as before. Then a second application of shampoo was done, the strokes quicker, yet no less enjoyable. The hands left, then something more rigid combed through his hair to his scalp. A comb? He opened one eye curiously, sending the focused barber a questioning look. The man lifted what he held up for Theo to inspect, silently. It was a small, round plastic brush of sorts, with only a few large rigid bristles. At his continued confusing stare, Dante stated, “It’s a stimulating brush for the scalp. Helps the shampoo’s ingredients penetrate the skin and stimulate blood flow in the scalp.”

Theo nodded, eyes closing again, allowing the barber to continue his work. The brush rubbed over his skin, the wet suds and hair creating scrubbing noises as Dante passed it everywhere from his nape to his slight widow’s peak.

Eventually the brush was set aside, and the barber rinsed his hair again. Dante squeezed his hair, more moisture leaking out into the drain. The man opened a jar, from what Theo heard, then closed it back up. Something light-smelling hit Theo’s nose, just as he heard Dante spreading something between his palms. This something was applied along each of his strands of hair.

The press of Dante’s strong hands to his scalp nearly made a moan rip from Theo’s throat.

Instead it came out as a strained cough, which Dante thought nothing of, if his continued silence meant anything. Lord, the pressure being applied to his skin felt positively heavenly, easing the tension in his temples with a few slow circles to the sides of his head. The knot of his brow eased.

Dante pressed his hands slowly and deliberately across his client’s scalp, watching amusedly as Theo’s mouth fell slack, showing just a bit of his teeth as he purposefully erased the stress he could see clearly marked in those worry lines above the young man’s brow. He dared not show his amusement on his face however, even if the bookstore keeper looked absolutely and hilariously stunned at how good he was at this.

He was amused, he admitted, by many things which Theo did. His over-use of the word “fine” just seemed like an excuse. No, he much rather enjoyed seeing how obvious it was that Theo enjoyed hearing the barber saying his name. But most of all, those doubtful moments, those few seconds of hesitancy, drove home a feeling he had had since first buying a book from the bookstore.

The way Theo’s eyes lingered on him, the stutter of his voice when he spoke with him, the almost shy, secretive glances his way when he thought Dante wasn’t looking…

He lifted the man’s head, running a product-slicked hand to his nape, rubbing and pulling the skin upward, finally receiving a grateful, low groan of approval. ‘There. Much better’ he thought to himself as he noticed the way Theo clamped his mouth shut after the exclamation.

He did the motion again, eyes focused on the prone man, hearing the strained sound issue again, from behind closed lips this time. He fought to keep his smile from tugging at his lips, and focused on massaging the scalp as he let the mask seep into the hair follicles. He lightly grabbed the dark hair by the roots, pulling gently, feeling the scalp flex, and relaxed his hold. Doing it again, he glanced at green eyes; they closed as their owner exhaled.

A good five minutes was spent just rubbing and massaging. By the time his fingers lingered at the man’s temple in their resting position, Theo was struggling to stay awake. Softly, Dante spoke up, “I’ll rinse the mask out now.”

Theo seemed to jerk awake then, cleared his throat, and nodded his consent.

Dante turned the tap on, and adjusted the temperature, before turning the nozzle towards the sopping locks. After a thorough rinse, Dante pumped a small mound of conditioner in his hands, proceeding to spread it over the hair as the final, moisture-locking barrier.

“The last rinse will be cool,” Dante warned before rinsing the final application of product, putting back his professional façade.

Theo fully woke up from the near-slumber the barber had induced on him with his expertly massaging hands. As the cool water cascaded over his hair, he tried to compose himself. How embarrassing, to have let out not once, but twice, sounds of pleasure from the ministrations on his scalp. He couldn’t let himself slip up like that. Honestly, this was just a damn haircut. Why did he have to embarrass himself like this?

Dante squeezed his hair one last time, then came to stand beside him. With one hand behind his head and a gentle push from the other on his shoulder, the barber helped Theo sit up. The silver haired man then took the towel around his shoulders and used it to roughly dry his mop, before placing it back on his shoulders.

As he lowered the tight red sleeves of his dress shirt, Dante took his embroidered coat from the hanger and put it back over his masculine frame. Theo stood from the washing station, eyes following the barber as this one placed himself near the barber chair.

This time, the beautiful seat obeyed the push on the foot lever, and Dante spun the seat towards the book store manager.

This time, Theo didn’t just hesitate. He physically took a step back.

His mind spun wildly. He could be at home. He could already be done trimming his hair, the hair he’s been cutting for the past God-knows-how-long. He could already be at the second episode of the fourth season of his favorite show, eating the reheated soup that he had mused about earlier.

What was he doing here? Dante could mess his hair up. His hand could slip with the scissors and slice his skin. He could cut it far too short, or not cut enough, or have it look nothing like what he wanted-

“Are you alright there, Theo?”

He snapped his eyes up, frozen in place, feeling a drop of water travel from his damp hair down into his shirt collar, making a slow path down his spine.

There was worry written across the barber’s face, an emotion Theo had never seen on him before. The stony exterior or mask of politeness had dissipated.

Theo snapped out of his daze, swallowing saliva to wet his parched throat. He hated the doubt he had felt then, hated HIMSELF for feeling so vulnerable in front of Dante. Taking an unsteady breath, he looked into worried grey eyes. “I’m fine. I just…got a little dizzy.”

Dante didn’t believe him, that, he didn’t doubt. But again, the barber stayed silent on that matter. Instead, he beckoned him forward. “Come have a seat.” It wasn’t a suggestion.

Theo moved forward, turned, and braced his hands on the black armrests. He lowered himself, feet finding their way to the metal footrest and gingerly sat back against the cushion. He exhaled lightly, the barber spinning the chair towards the mirror, and then the chair was locked into place.

Dante took the hair-dryer hanging from one of the hooks and turned it on, aiming the stream of warm air on Theo’s dark hair. He closed his eyes, stealing himself for what was to come; the ever crucial part where he needed to tell Dante what he wanted.

Once his hair was relatively dry, the towel around his shoulders was taken away and tossed into a laundry basket under the barber station.

Theo’s fingers shook. He grasped the armrests a little more tightly to stop the light tremors. ‘Relax’ he told himself in his mind. Easier said than done.

The man expected Dante to inquire about his hair, but he didn’t. He reached into a drawer, pulled out a box, and pulled out a soft white strip of material from it; the box had blue writing which wrote out “Gibson’s”.

Dante came behind the chair, strip in hand. His eyes bore into Theo’s. “Lift your chin,” he demanded.

Theo obeyed, lifting his chin to let the man place the strip around his neck. There seemed to be a sticky part to close it, as it stayed put around his neck. Wondering just what the strip was for, Theo was about to ask, but the words stayed stuck in his throat at the sight before him.

Dante swung a white barber cape around him, closed it around his neck, and folded the strip securely over it.

“Now,” Dante spoke, hands firmly placed on Theo’s tense shoulders, “What should we do with your hair then?”

XXXXX

TBC

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