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Looking in the mirror his eyes scan his body. As his fingers trace his figure's curves, disgust twists his face and tears spring to his eyes.
“Nicole! Your appointment is in ten minutes. Hurry up!”
His mother's voice breaks his trance, and he is grateful. He doesn't want to look at this body that makes him something he isn't – the only thing people see about him. He picks up a blue sports bra and tugs it over his head, flattening his chest. He pulls on a pair of American Eagle boxers, a white T-shirt, a heavy sweatshirt, and a pair of baggy jeans. Opening the door, he heads down to the foyer, where his mother is impatiently tapping her foot.
She sighs heavily. “Why do you have to dress like that? You look like a boy.” She heads out the front door.
Good. That's what I want, he thinks, following her to the silver Honda gleaming in the sunlight.
Trees dance by his eyes and clouds mesmerize him as he stares out the window while quiet music plays in the background. His mother clears her throat and he rolls his eyes, turning to face her.
“Sweetie, you should put your hair down. It's so pretty.” Reaching over, she tugs at the ponytail holder, releasing his long brown locks. “See, now that looks better!” she exclaims, not taking her eyes off the road.
“Are you sure you want to do this? You look like such a pretty young girl,” his mother continues.
No, not the g-word. No.
“Yes, I'm sure. This is what I want,” he replies, staring down at his Vans.
His mother just shrugs and pulls into the shopping center. Leaving the cool air-conditioned car, second thoughts chase around his head, but when he pushes open the salon door, a strange calm settles over him. His mother goes to the reception desk, and he sits, twitching nervously as he looks at the hair-care products.
“You can still change your mind,” his mother says, sitting next to him.
He simply shakes his head, and his mother turns away. Reaching down, he picks up a magazine, aimlessly flipping through pages of feminine haircuts.
“Nicole?” a cheery voice pipes up.
In front of him is a small, exuberant woman with bright purple hair. She flashes a smile.
“I'm Lana,” she says. “So, what're we doing today?”
He pulls out his iPhone and brings up a picture of a girl with short, masculine hair. His mother looks at it disapprovingly, making a face that says, “At least it's not a boy.”
“Sure, I can do that,” she says. “All right, come with me.”
He gets up and follows her to the hair-washing station where he places the back of his neck against the porcelain sink. Lana turns the water on and takes his long hair in her hands, running her fingers delicately through it. As the warm water rushes and Lana begins to massage his head, he suppresses a sigh of pleasure.
The next thing he knows, he's sitting in a chair facing a large mirror. A stranger sits in front of him who looks like him and moves like him, but isn't him.
Lana comes up behind him with a small pair of scissors, clipping them together.
“Are you absolutely positive about this, dear? There's no turning back,” she whispers in his ear.
Images of a bad haircut, of looking too feminine, of still being called a girl fill his mind, almost making him change his mind. But the mental picture of looking like a guy and not having to endure another second with long hair make it easier to get the words out.
“Yes, this is what I want.”
Suddenly, his head feels lighter as a large chunk of hair glides down his back. He feels almost giddy at the thought of what's happening. He closes his eyes and gets lost in the sound of the scissors and the chatter in the salon.
Images flash behind his eyelids of him with a pretty girl on his arm … a beard on his face … walking into the men's bathroom …
“What do you think, sweetie?”
He opens his eyes, the light momentarily blinding him before he sees his reflection in the mirror. Finally, the reflection of who he really is.
A boy is staring back. His hair is slightly shaved on the sides and short on top, the front flipped up slightly. A smile brightens his face and he nods with pleasure, unable to speak.
“It suits you, Nicole,” Lana says, sweeping up the locks of his hair.
“Please, call me Toby,” he politely asks. A look of surprise encompasses her face, and he surprises himself in the process. When had he decided on that name? Lana nods in understanding. The name feels right somehow.
They walk to the front where his mother is waiting. She says nothing but purses her lips slightly as she reaches into her purse to pay. He stands behind her, carefully touching his hair, running his fingers through the softness.
“I'll meet you in the car,” she says without turning around, and he knows he's been dismissed. He practically skips out into the darkening evening, the cool air caressing his face. He walks with a confident stride, head held high, leaving behind the old him.
He is Toby. A new man.