The Final Exam

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With life’s busy pace and the career demands of a young professional keeping up with close friends can be an arduous task to say the least.  Despite that we maintained our pact to get together monthly for cocktails or dinner.  Our group had been fast friends from high school and no matter what we upheld our commitment to each other.  Sure, we changed over the years but never grew apart.  Greg andI had managed to navigate law school and landed jobs in two well respected firms.  Sarah and John had completed medical school and were starting their residency at the University Hospital.  Kate on the other hand had bounced around waiting tables and tutoring while she decided what to do with her degree in abstract art and history.  Recently, she came into an inheritance and decided to go to barber school and open a vintage shop in downtown the seems to be all the rage these days.  She loved the idea of nostalgia and creating her own space.  We were all happy for her.

This month we choose our stand bye gastro pub and were able to get our favorite spot in the back.  Greg and I arrived first with Sarah and John rushing in as usual in scrubs straight from their shifts.  We all ordered the first round as we usually did adding on the Manhattan we knew Kate would want when she got there 15 minutes late.  As we reflect and joked about the week gone by the drinks came shortly followed by our lovely Kate.  We immediately noticed the new look.  Her hair was dyed honey blonde and was super short.  She spun with a smile “Like it?  One of my classmates did it.  Check out the undercut.” as she lifted her top to reveal her sides were shaved nearly to the skin.  Rubbing her nape laughing “It feels so damn good.”  In unison we all laughed with Sarah confirming “Love it girl.  If anyone could pull it off it is you!”  She smiled as she sat down between me and Greg.  I have to admit she did wear it well and as usual I had to control my attention to Kate.  I had always wondered what might happen if I we were more than friends but never moved forward out of fear of breaking up our group.

We had a great night as usual and all decided to turn in a bit early as it had been a long week and our doctor friends were scheduled to work the next morning.  Just before we were signing the check Kate piped up, “Let me tell you why I was late.”  In unison we reminded her that she was always late over a laugh.  “Yeah, yeah.  Listen I am taking my final exam for barber school tomorrow morning and we have to do a haircuts for my instructor in groups of five.  The catch is we have to bring our own client and we don’t know the cut until we are starting.  Do you guys know anyone who might volunteer?”

Laughing Greg said “Count me out!  That reminds me of when my mom would take me and my brother to the barber the day after school got out.  She would direct us up to the big red chair and request a “summer cut that would last”.  The barber would confirm the request and shave our heads nearly bald with the clippers.  Good luck Kate!”  John breathed a sigh of relief “I might do it but unfortunately you know I am working tomorrow!”  Instantly I was the center of attention.  Sarah broke the silence “Nick, what about you?” Winking “You are looking a bit shaggy.”  With the group chuckling I stammered “I am free tomorrow…what kind of haircut would it be?”  “That’s just it, we won’t know until the instructor tells us.  They are trying to simulate a client walking in and us executing their request on the fly.”  Kate admitted.  Not taking the time to consider and influenced by Kate’s pleading gaze “I’ll do it.  It’s just hair and it will grow back if I don’t like it. Right?”  “Really?” Kate clapped and hugged me a bit longer than anticipated as I felt myself blushing.  “Thank you SO much!” We gathered our things as we walked out.  Greg laughed with John patting me on the back “Good luck tomorrow Sir!”  I laughed back as Sarah tousled my hair from behind “She will do a great job.”  Kate smiled “Ok, so tomorrow at 10 am at the barber school on 20th and 5th downtown.”  “Yep, see you then.” I nodded.

I overslept a bit the next morning waking at 9:30.  As I was rushed I took a quick shower, threw on some clothes and ran a comb through my hair and headed downtown.  I parked around the corner and made my way to the Barber College.  Kate was waiting outside looking sharp with a black smock on.  “Nick, I cannot thank you enough.  Just so you know, my instructor will probably ask me to do something a bit shorter than you are used to at the salon.  The barber trade is about tapers and sharp lines.  To be honest, you could definitely pull off a shorter style in my opinion.”  “No worries.  Like I said.  It will grow back.” replying with the intent of confidence.  She again hugged me tight taking my hand “Let’s go then!” as she ushered me into the door.  The air smelled of aftershave and soap.  It was a small clean shop with 5 chairs.  4 other clients, three guys and 1 girl, we already in chairs with pinstriped capes on.  It was right at 10 so it appeared I was holding things up a bit.  A tall attractive woman in a similar black smock approached us “Looks like your boyfriend didn’t chicken out after all Kate.” she smiled with a soft laugh.  “Oh, he’s just a really good friend Miss Johnson.”  Kate blushed.  “Well get this handsome young man caped up so we can get started.”

Kate guided me efficiently to the chair applied a tissue to my neck and secured the pin strip cape.  Miss Johnson began in an authoritative tone, “Ok ladies and gentlemen.  Let’s get started.  You will have 30 minutes to complete your assigned haircut.  I will assign each barber in training a cut.  You will have 2 minutes to ask me for clarification.  When that is done you will all start your assigned cuts.  I will observe without comment during the 30 minutes and perform an assessment on each cut at the end.  Got it?”  The students indicated their understanding.  Kate placed her hand on my shoulder whispering into my ear softly “Thank you Nick.”  Smiling, I nodded wondering what I had gotten myself into and feeling a bit uneasy.

Miss Johnson made her way to the first chair pulling out an index card and reading out loud. “James, business man’s cut with a low taper.”  He nodded in understanding.  “Beth, short back and sides with a hard part.”  Beth inquired about the length “Number two tapered and 3-4 inches on top.”  Moving on “Krista, low bald fade Caesar cut.”  “Got it Miss J.” she acknowledged.  Miss Johnson moved to chair four with the girl sitting next to me.  “Tam, why don’t you do a short undercut pixie like you did on Kate yesterday but take the back and sides tighter with a skin fade?”  “Yes ma’am.” Tammy said with excitement as the put her hand on the shoulder of her nervous appearing friend who glanced Kates way in anticipation.  Miss Johnson moved to my chair smiling.  “Kate you picked just the right guy for your cut.  His strong jaw and cheek bones will be well suited for the military cut I selected for you.”  Kates hand embraced my left shoulder firmly.  “Miss Johnson, I wasn’t expecting anything extreme.” Kate said in my defense.  “Kate, we have to be prepared for all clients, all the time to build a successful reputation.”  Looking me in the eye Miss Johnson addressed me “You can definitely pull this off.  Trust me.”  With a lump in my throat and not wanting to let Kate down I nodded.  “Ok then.  Kate we are going to give him a very short flat top.  Do a low horseshoe and skin the back and sides.”  Miss Johnson instructed with a sparkle in her eye.  “Yes ma’am Kate” Kate accepted reluctantly.  “Nick, sure you are down with this.  It’s gonna be REALLY short.  I have always wanted to try this cut but never thought it would be on you!” exclaimed.  Feeling her excitement and noticing that I had become strangely aroused I said “Go for it girl.”  Smiling she moved behind me “Ok, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Miss Johnson announced “You have 30 minutes.  Start now.”  Kate placed both hands on my shoulder and whispered  in my ear “Here we go, you’re about to get buzzed.”  “Let’s get this bulk off first.” Kate stated as her clippers began to buzz.  She clipped on a guard to a large red clipper and began passing them up my sides and back as hair tumbled down the cape.  Passing the clipper from my forehead back she commented “This is a number 3, I will leave me with what I need to work with.”  I could already feel a breeze as she changed clippers.  “Head down.” as she gently guided my head with her hand on my crown.  “This is my balding clipper.  It will get your back and sides nice and clean.”  I could feel the cold blades peel away what hair I had left with precision.  As she moved to my right side and guided the clipper through my sideburns my pale white scalp was revealed.  “Damn that is short girl!” I stammered.  “Just wait until you feel it when I am done.” she said through a grin.  Miss Johnson passed by grinning with a nod of approval.  Sitting there feeling cold and exposed I inquired “What is the horseshoe thing she mentioned?”  “Oh, that’s the flat top.  It is real short and the middle ends up so short the crown of your scalp is visible leaving what some people call a landing strip.” Kate laughed.  “Here we go now.”  She changed clippers and began steadying my head.  She moved the clipper forward from the back my head down the middle.  Then switching clippers she used a comb to position my hair while she cut the top.  She spent quite a while focused on this saying nothing.  Applying some product she continued to work on my top.  Satisfied and smiling she stated “Time to clean up the sides.”  Applying warm foam she massaged my sides and back.  I could hear the scratch of the stubble underneath her finger tips leaving me almost in a trance.  The next thing I knew she adeptly used a straight razor to remove the cream and stubble from my scalp about half way up the side of my head and then shaved my neck clean.  After wiping me down with a warm towel she used a foil razor “Lets get this line blended in and you’ll be done Sir.”  This razor buzzed loudly awakening me from my previous state of consciousness.  Then the razor became quiet.  “You are almost done.  Let’s get some product and style the top and apply some toner to your sides.”  With her soft hands she applied the cool toner which created a shocking but exquisite feeling as the alcohol evaporated from my bare scalp.  She then applied lotion and massaged my head and neck for what seemed like forever commenting “You feel great Nick.  Smooth as a baby’s butt.” Kate giggled.  Apply a styling product she styled the top with precision.  “You are all done and I love it Nick.”  Handing me a mirror for inspection.  Barely recognizing myself I blushed.  I was nearly bald lest a small and tightlymanicured flat top.  Tilting down to inspect the top I realized what she meant by a landing strip.  “Damn, that’s short.” I exclaimed as I touched the back of my cleanly shaven pate.  Kate followed caressing my sides with both hands “Doesn’t if feel awesome?”

“Times Up!” Miss Johnson broke our connection abruptly.  She began her inspection chair by chair with generally positive commentary.  Arriving at my neighbor she “Commented, that looks awesome! Let me see the fade.” as she inspected the young lady who had clearly been in a similar predicament as me as her back and sides were reduced to stubble.  “I used a 000 blade to a high bald fade with the foil shavers and left her some length on top to keep it feminine.” Tammy proudly announced.  “Great Job Tam.”  Miss Johnson calmly stated as she turned her attention to me.  “Well you look like a new man!” she exclaimed.  “Kate, you sure did peel him didn’t you?  It looks perfect.”  She approached me extending her curled index finger to my left temple gently brushing upward, “Tight!  Do you like it?” Miss Johnson inquired.  Kate and I responded in sync, “I love it!” blurted out Kate overpowering my “It may take some getting…”  Smiling at Kate “I wasn’t talking to you dear.  I can tell you like it.” Miss Johnson caused her to blush like I had never seen before.  Miss Johnson moved back to the front of the shop.  She announced “You all pass!”  Everyone celebrated with Kate hugging me from behind the chair.  Calming the room Miss Johnson looked our way, “Kate will receive the honor certificate and a small award for the best cut.” as the class applauded her.  Miss Johnson dismissed the class and Kate uncapped me.  I stood to again admire my new self as Kate beamed at me.  Miss Johnson approached inquiring “You two sure you are just friends?”  Both of us blushing and unable to respond she announced, “Kate, take him out to dinner on me tonight, just the two of you.  Try and figure that out.”  she smiled. and walked away.

Let’s just say we figured out Miss Johnson’s question and I get all the free haircuts I can handle.  I just don’t have much choice with regard to the style.  I just know it will be short!

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