Luke leaned against the wall of the convenience store, dressed in street clothes and sipping at a bottle of soda. He was waiting for Ronan to arrive, so that they could go shopping together. But it was after two, and he wondered if maybe the guy wouldn’t be able to make it after all. It wasn’t as though he could call Luke and tell him that he had to cancel…or maybe he’d lost his nerve. Whichever, maybe he should just leave and see if Ronan showed up tomorrow when he had to work.
But, just as he straightened up, he saw a familiar figure slouching toward him. Ronan was walking in his usual manner, head down and shoulders slightly hunched. He looked like he was intent on his dirty tennis shoes. Luke felt relief and pleasure wash through him at the sight of Ronan approaching. He didn’t just want to help give Ronan a make-over; he also wanted to spend time with the other man and get to know him. He was sure there was much more to his stalker than met the eye, and he couldn’t wait to find out more about him.
“Hi, Ronan!” he called as the other man came nearer. “You ready to go?”
Ronan’s head shot up, and he stared rather wildly at Luke. It occurred to him that Ronan hadn’t expected him to be here; that he’d thought that Luke would blow him off. Pity surged through him again. He put on a bright smile so that Ronan could see that he was happy to see him. “I thought we’d take a taxi, unless you have a car?”
Ronan shook his head. “I usually ride the bus or the train,” he explained softly.
Luke nodded. “Me, too. I’m a poor student, I can’t afford a car. Here, let me call a cab company,” he flipped open his cell phone and punched in the number for the company he normally used whenever he had to take a cab for whatever reason.
Ronan stood beside him waiting, his hands half-buried in the fabric of his usual plaid shirt. He looked acutely nervous. Luke finished the call and lowered the phone. “There we are,” he remarked cheerfully. “We’ll be on our way soon. Listen, we’re going to go to a salon where a friend of mine works first. That okay with you?”
Ronan nodded uncertainly. “You don’t mind getting your hair cut?” Luke prodded, wanting to make sure that Ronan really was okay with this. He didn’t want to push the man into doing something that he didn’t want to.
“No,” Ronan half-whispered. He pushed futilely at his out-of-control bangs with one hand. “It’s just…I don’t know where to go to get a good hair cut. I cut it myself most of the time.”
Luke grimaced at this statement. “You should never cut your own hair,” he told Ronan. “It’s not a good idea.”
“Yes, I know,” Ronan’s teeth worried at his lower lip a little, which drew Luke’s eyes to that shapely pink expanse. He felt a stirring at his crotch, and he took several deep breaths to steady himself.
Their cab pulled up at the curb. “Let’s go,” Luke said, leading the way to it.
Ronan followed him, and slid into the cab’s back seat after him. Luke gave the driver the address of the salon where his friend Kim worked. He knew she’d take good care of Ronan, and give him a much more flattering haircut than the one he had now.
A nervous silence filled the back of the cab. Nervous on Ronan’s part, anyway; but Luke could see how anxious he felt in this small space, so he said nothing and simply leaned back against the seat and folded his arms over his chest, trying to look as at ease and relaxed as possible.
The cab pulled up in front of the salon. Luke got out of his side, and started to pay the driver. But Ronan appeared beside him and shoved some money at the man. “Keep the tip,” he said, and the cabbie looked pleased as he drove away.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Luke protested.
“Yes, I did,” Ronan insisted. “You said you’re a poor law student, and I have a good job. And you’re only doing this to help me, so I should pay for everything,” he added firmly.
Delighted by this show of spirit, Luke grinned at him. “Okay, I’m not going to complain,” he replied cheerfully. “I really am poor, that’s why I work at that convenience store.”
Ronan nodded, and went with him as he pushed through the door of the salon. “Hey, Luke!” a light voice called, and his friend Kim came over to hug him tightly. “How’s everything, babe?” she asked as she pulled back.
She didn’t notice the expression on the face of the man standing just behind Luke, the thinning of the lips and the way the man’s head turned away. Luke didn’t see it either, since his back was to Ronan. But if he had seen it, he would have understood. A pretty blonde girl had just hugged him and called him ‘babe’. He didn’t know that this girl had a lovely girlfriend already, and wasn’t the least bit interested in men. She and Luke were as close as brother and sister, and had been since junior high.
“I’m great, Kim,” he replied. “This is my new friend, Ronan Gryffudd,” he went on, turning to indicate the man standing just behind him. “We wanted you to work your magic on him and give him a really great haircut.”
“Ah. Nice to meet you, Mr. Griffith,” she responded, since that’s what his last name sounded like. Ronan had had to spell it out for Luke yesterday, in fact. “Welcome to The New Wave. Do you know what kind of cut that you’d like?”
He shook his head helplessly. “I was thinking something with a few bangs, the rest of the hair maybe half-way to his shoulders, and give it some body and style,” Luke remarked. “I don’t think you should cut it off all the way; he actually looks pretty good with longer hair.”
“I agree,” Kim said thoughtfully, looking Ronan over. “A romantic style, I think. Come over here and we’ll get started,” she waved at Ronan, who followed her nervously over to a chair. “We’ll shampoo your hair, then I’ll cut it,” she told him. “Lean back,” she added as she draped a cloth over him to keep his clothes from getting wet.
Ronan was tense, so Luke sat next to him and talked cheerfully about not much to reassure him as Kim wetted, soaped, and rinsed his hair. Then she straightened the chair up, and used a comb and scissors to begin cutting his hair, first attending to the too-long, shaggy bangs. Once she’d cut them into a becoming shape that wouldn’t hide Ronan’s eyes, she started on the rest of his hair. He held his thick, ugly glasses in his lap and squinted myopically at the mirror in front of him, clearly not able to see much at all. Kim began to layer his hair, ruthlessly chopping off the last few inches that were damaged and scraggly.
Luke studied Ronan’s face now that he could see it properly. Good bone structure, that shapely, kissable mouth, a pair of blue-grey eyes and what looked like good skin under the acne…very nice. Ronan was going to be SUCH a hottie after they’d finished with him! And while Luke wanted to help him gain friends and a better life, he also wanted to see Ronan transform into the total cutie that he definitely could be. Was that so wrong? If it was, he definitely didn’t want to be right…
Kim finished at last. “I’d like to put a few highlights in your hair,” she remarked to Ronan. “Is that all right?”
He looked rather desperately at Luke. “You should let her do it,” he told Ronan. “It won’t take long, and it’ll make your hair look even better.”
“Okay,” Ronan mumbled.
“I thought we should to an eye store next,” Luke said as Kim began to apply the highlights to Ronan’s hair. “And get you an eye exam. With eyes as bad as yours obviously are, they won’t be able to make you glasses right away. They’ll have to have them custom-made and shipped in.”
“Yes, that’s what they usually do,” Ronan agreed.
“Have you ever thought of wearing contacts?” Luke asked him.
“Yes, but when I tried they made my eyes so dry and itchy that I couldn’t wear them anymore,” Ronan replied apologetically.
“That’s okay. It happens sometimes,” Luke reassured him. “But we can definitely get you thinner lenses, because they have all of these light blends of polymers now. You don’t have to wear coke-bottle lenses anymore, so the frames can be thinner too. And people will actually be able to see your eyes, which is important. People get nervous when they can’t see your eyes, because then they don’t know what you’re thinking. That’s why eye contact is so important when you’re first meeting someone, and why people think you’re shifty if you won’t meet their eyes.”
“All done,” Kim remarked, pulling the cloth away. “What do you guys think?”
Ronan put his glasses back on, and stared at himself in the mirror as Luke smiled in lazy satisfaction beside him. The horrible greasy bangs were gone, with only a smattering across his forehead instead of the thick pony-like bangs obscuring half of his face. His hair, shaped and layered, framed his face rather than just hanging around it limply. The lighter highlights really brought out the color of his rich brown hair, and made Luke itch to run his fingers through it.
“Is that…me?” Ronan asked in a small, disbelieving voice.
“Yep. That’s you,” Luke replied. “Great work, Kim. He looks awesome.”
“Of course he does,” she replied tartly. “I do good work, you know that.”
“Yes, I do. Do you like it, Ronan?”
He nodded silently. “Alrighty then. We need to get a move on, so let’s pay for your new cut and beat feet. I’ll call you later, Kimmy.”
“You do that, Lukey. It was nice to meet you, Ronan.”
He mumbled something that might have been ’nice to meet you’ in return, positioning himself behind Luke once more as though to hide from her. She grinned and walked away with a last wave to them, and Luke took Ronan up to the front counter so that he could pay for his new haircut.
Another car ride and an hour’s patient waiting by Luke later, they emerged from the vision center with a promise that Ronan’s new glasses would be ready in about a week, along with the new frames they’d picked out. They were a rich, almost mottled brown color that Luke thought would go wonderfully with Ronan’s new haircut. “Now for some clothes shopping,” Luke said. “I know you’re starting to get tired,” he added when Ronan’s face fell, “But we’re almost done. We’re only going to one store, because they have everything we’ll need. After that, we’ll go get something to eat together. Okay?”
Ronan nodded. “Oh, I meant to ask you,” Luke said after he’d called another cab for them, “Do you have anything to treat your acne with? Because if you don’t, I’ve got some stuff I can recommend to you that I used to use.”
“I do, actually,” Ronan replied, surprising him. “It’s supposed to be really good, but I forget to use it all the time.”
“Oh, I see. Well, is there any way that you could remind yourself? Like a timer or something?”
He perked up at this suggestion. “I can set my computer to have an alarm go off every day twice a day,” he said eagerly, "And bring up a reminder on my screen!”
His excitement made Luke smile. “That’s great. Just stop whatever you’re doing and go and use the stuff like it says on the directions. If you do it consistently, your face will clear up in no time.”
Ronan looked up at him. “Thank you for helping me, Luke,” he said seriously. “I’m just…I never know how to act around other people. I know they think I’m weird and creepy, but I can’t help it.”
“I know you can’t, Ronan. That’s why we’re taking this one step at a time. Changing your appearance is just the first step. After that, we’ll work on your people skills and your conversational skills. Having a better appearance just means that you’ll get along with the shallow people who only care about looks. If you want more real friends, you have to learn how to talk to them. But I know you can do it. I mean, some people would have balked just at changing the way they looked so drastically, but you’re doing it even though it probably scares you a bit. That takes guts. With that and some patience, you’ll be able to become the person you want to be. The guy with lots of friends who everybody likes,” he added, gently punching Ronan on the arm.
A delightful blush stained the now hair-free cheeks. “Do you really think so?” Ronan asked hopefully.
Luke nodded. “I know so,” he replied, meaning it.
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