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A Man of Many Colors

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April 1991 -- Mourning

He measures the water into the pot -- one gallon of water for two packets of Kool-Aid -- and turns the heat on high. When Aunt Maureen's boyfriend dumped her, she came over and stared out the window every evening for a week, and then one day her hair was six inches long and white-blond. She was cheerful after that.

This isn't the same -- Daniel squashes a wish that he were old enough to have a girlfriend and get dumped, that that was all the pain he had to feel -- but maybe the same principal applies. He's coping so well, everyone says. He knows they only say that because he's not very good at crying, and because his one defense against the vacuum pulling at him every moment is to be very, very polite.

The boiling water burbles, and he mixes in the Kool-Aid and some of his mom's conditioner. The recipe he has says ketchup, too, but he thinks that'd turn his Blue Moon Berry purple, and he leaves it out.

He's not coping, he's pretty sure, and the misconception bothers him. He's not his father's strength or his mother's solace in This Time of Grief. (He hears the capital letters when people talk over him. They cluck their tongues over the Terrible Tragedy and give him pitying looks. At least now he's giving them something to look at.)

He soaks his hair under the kitchen faucet and then he traces his hairline with Vaseline, smearing the stuff across his forehead and over his ears. He's containing the dye, confining it to his hair. Maybe by the time it fades, things will…

He's not 'stable.' He's just a kid whose brother died in a Fatal Accident. (He hates that phrase more than he hates 'car crash' or 'mangled' or 'drunk driver' or even 'dead.') He doesn't think he believes in the resilience of youth.

He splashes dye onto his hair and massages it in, blue on reddish-blond. His hands are as dark now as his tongue after a raspberry sucker. A trickle snakes along his bare back - like blood, he wonders? Probably not, too thin. A single drop soaks into his sneaker. That's appropriate, he thinks. His hair can't hold all the dye, after all.

He waits four hours, like the instructions say, and then he steps into the shower. As soon as the first spray hits him he knows he's made a mistake: turquoise rivulets stream down him, along his arms and stomach and pooling in his bellybutton. He squeezes his eyes tight against the sting and scrubs at his hair, scrubs until his scalp is sore, and then he realizes it's not just dye and now-tepid water leaking down his face. He drops his hands and lets the relentless spray numb his face and misses Cody, and he cries.

 

November 1993 -- Choices

Still Kool-Aid, but Daniel's gotten smarter; he'll use one of the sugar-free flavors this time. He'd take one that was flavor-free, too, if they sold them. He is briefly amused (distracted) by the thought of sugarless, flavorless Kool-Aid. But when he's done being amused he's still standing in the Sav-Mor in the aisle sparkling with jeweled-toned fruit juices in liter bottles and papered with a rainbow of drink mix powders. So many choices.

Mom, or Dad?

He hates making choices.

The strawberry lemonade and the plain are both too pale, and it makes him feel a little better, lets the breath come just a little easier to dismiss those options so easily.

Double Double Cherry and Tropical Punch are both red. He doubts there's much difference in their shades -- that's a relief, too, getting a choice that makes no difference -- and he grabs the fruit punch because it's closer. He takes one purple packet of Triple Awesome Grape in the other hand, and then he considers both colors, both flavors, both hands.

Mom, or Dad?

He's tired of being the level-headed one. He's tired of laying out the reasons for Mom (San Diego, the dog he could never have before because Dad's allergic, Serena who they say is still too young to have to choose, Mom) and for Dad (staying in Sunnydale, living near Aunt Maureen, the car promised as soon as he has a license, Dad) and trying to make sense of them. You can't compare.

They're not apples and oranges; they're a dodecahedron and a platypus. That's not a choice.

He lets Mom be red, because it's her favorite color and Dad doesn't care. He shuts his eyes, holds the packets behind his back and shuffles them between his fingers, back and forth and back and forth until he's sure, he's positive he has no idea which is which. He drops one to the gray linoleum and looks at the one that's left.

He nods to himself, once, and grabs another packet of the same. If he rides his bike hard he'll have time to let the dye set and wash it out before his parents come home. His hair will be purple when he tells them.

 

June 1994 -- A Name, a Guitar, and Some Hair

They have the guys, Devon says. They have the names. (Ranny, Devon -- his middle name, he says there is no cool variation of Vincent -- and Oz. Oz. Daniel Osbourne rolls the name on his tongue, lets his teeth linger on the 'z.' Oz. Yeah. He likes it.) They have the guitars (and also the drums, and strictly speaking Devon doesn't have anything at all except the mic he's borrowing from his sister, but hey, who's Oz to interrupt Devon when he's on a roll?). They even have the garage. (Because, Oz agrees, the world isn't ready for its first gazebo band.) All they need now is the hair.

Suggestions of red and green and blue laze back and forth over Oz's head, but he's not following. Dyeing his hair isn't... a fad. For a moment he considers just not doing it, showing up the first night of 'official' practice and telling them all he dyed his hair strawberry blond.

He repeats his name to himself, softly. Oz. What kind of a guy is Oz? What color does he dye his hair?

Brown, he decides. While all the other guys are green and purple and stripesome, Oz would get a kick out playing his first gig with dyed brown hair.

 

November 1997 -- Canapé?

He hasn't dyed his hair in three years.

Her name is Willow. She's shy and sometimes she hides behind hair so rich and red he wants to just bury his face in it and breathe. She has the sweetest smile he's ever seen, and he wonders if he'll ever have the nerve or the opportunity to tell her. She's smart -- the kind of smart that gets on the honor roll, not the kind that fails history tests because the night before he was busy trying to figure out what the hell Kant was talking about.

But he talked to her. He offered her canapé. This is big. It's even worth repeating: this is big. And he's going to talk to her again. He promises himself he is. In the meantime, he's got hours until band practice and just this once, the E-flat diminished ninth isn't stirring his fingers like a siren call.

He's not the shout-it-from-the-rooftops type; he wonders sometimes if that's why Cindy got bored. But today this feels like the most important thing that's ever happened to him - maybe the most important thing that will ever happen - and he needs to prove it somehow. He needs to tell the world, and he isn't bothered by the fact that the world won't hear.

He looks at himself in the mirror: two hoops in the left ear, pale eyes that change hue with the weather, a week's growth of gotee.

He hasn't dyed his hair in three years. Now would be a good time, he thinks.

 

February 1998 -- The Wolf

The youngest, least rational part of him wonders if he brought this on himself because he didn't let the brown grow out. He always did before. But it was his Willow-hair and he didn't want to let it go, so he kept touching it up.

He'd let it grow out now, but it's too late. His honesty requires that the color change. Less honest, he tells himself it's for Willow, for that kiss snuck before the bell rang - which is, no quibbling, at the top of his list of fairly fantastic kisses, as much for what it promised as what it was.

But that's not it, and he knows it. Willow is, well, she's Willow, and once in a while he finds himself actually gushing to Devon about her - that would be gushing in a monotone, for fifteen seconds at a stretch -- but he looks at his parents and he knows that sometimes even 'ever after' is only until the first commercial break. But this new thing... this is three nights a month for forever. No negotiation, no outs.

He tells himself, too, that the reason he wants to dye it back to the natural reddish blond is because Willow said she missed it. Which was nice, sure, but not the point.

Blue for grief. Purple for - well, grief, and confusion, and rebellion, and taking charge of something that he shouldn't have needed to. Brown for being himself. Brown for being himself for Willow. What color for fear?

He's not afraid. He has a cage and a plan and many arduous hours of practice at being calm.

What if he killed someone? He's pretty sure there's no color for that. He doesn't want to ever find out.

Reddish blond, because he really hopes that he'll never have to dye his hair again.

~Finis