by KD Miller
The boys experience a barber shop and dentist for the first time. (Theodore's POV - 1904)
Theo's POV - 1904
"Theodore, you are next!"
A sharp pain pierced Theo's stomach as he watched Francis hop down from the barber chair. He had to admit, his brother looked pretty good. The man had cut Francis's hair into the latest style, shaved close in the back and parted to the left. Then he took some powder from a tin can and fluffed it.
"Your turn, little brother," he whispered, passing by.
Taking a deep breath, Theo stood up from the wooden bench and with wobbly legs, walked stiffly across the tiny shop. A sign on the door read, "Men only," but, word had reached Mr. Thompson that Mrs. Frank Muller was bringing by her four male guests for haircuts, and for her to be admitted into the male dominated room as well.
"Your husband was just here," Theo remembered the elderly barbershop owner saying as he opened the door for them, then promptly placed the "Out for lunch" sign in the window, and pulled down the shades. "He informed me about your situation and asked to not allow any customers in."
"Thank you," Catrina perched silently on the bench, gathering them next to her. Something told Theo that his "temporary mother" didn't care too much for Mr. Thompson's male misogynistic attitude; if the old man only knew.
"Well, now, how old are you?"
Theo sat back into the chair and allowed a drop cloth to be tied around his neck. Across the room, his brothers were grinning back at him.
Dylan even stuck his tongue out. Shaking his head, he whispered, "Sixteen."
"Sixteen, huh?" The man placed his hands on his hips. "You look pretty tiny for that age. Do you shave yet?"
Theo stared at the bully in the mirror, as his brothers burst out laughing.
"Boys, be nice to your brother," Catrina cast them all disapproving glances. "I bet he'll be ready in a few weeks."
"I take that as a no," Mr. Thompson whispered in Theo's ear, as Millen, Dylan and Francis kept giggling.
Theo didn't answer; he just watched the elderly barber wet his hair with a sponge dipped in water from the basin. Taking a hold of the scissors he began cutting it. Raising his head back in a haughty pose, he looked down his nose as the man kept snipping. The room grew silent as more and more hair cascaded to the wooden floor. Theo wished to vomit.
"Goodness," Catrina exclaimed, "That's pretty short. This will definitely be a change."
Mr. Thompson dried Theo's hair with a towel and reached for the can of hair oil. "I've modeled his hairstyle after the one I give your husband, Mrs. Muller. Theodore is sixteen now, and it's time he had a proper haircut."
Clamping his mouth to stifle the retort on his lips, Theo could only sit in silence as the barber added a bit of oil to the top of his head, picked up a silver comb, and parted his hair in the middle. The man was correct, he did resemble Mr. Muller.
Theo didn't say anything, as the man removed the apron. Slowly stepping from the chair, he walked back to his brothers, who were staring at him in awe.
"Well," Catrina stood up and gathered her bag. "I think you look lovely, all of you do."
"Thank you," the twins seemed to have found their voice. They jumped up and down around Catrina, their curly hair bouncing around their face, when only a few months prior Millen's hair had been cut short to the scalp.
"You look good," his younger brother smiled, and lowered his voice. "Enjoy it while you can because this is the last time it will happen. Remember, we still plan on running off in three weeks. Your hair will grow back."
"My gosh, I was so scared he would..." Theo trailed off as Catrina interrupted them.
"How much, Mr. Thompson," she asked, opening her bag.
The elderly man waved his hand. "Your husband already took care of it, plus, you know I refuse to accept money from a woman."
Theo could see Catrina bristle. "Why not," she snapped her purse. "We share the same bank account."
With a tight smile, the man pulled up the shades and removed the sign in the window. "This is a barbershop, not a beauty parlor, Mrs. Muller. My wife styles women's hair at the salon and I tend toward the gentlemen. It would be unethical for a woman to pay for a man's haircut."
"I see," Catrina took a deep breath, and Theo could see the anger in her eyes. "Well, the five of us appreciate the haircuts. I will have to make an appointment to see your wife before our annual Christmas Party. We thank you and will see you later on."
Mr. Thompson smiled, and opened the door. He obviously thought nothing of what he said to Catrina. Theo knew his type. It didn't matter what social class you held from, in every group there were men who believed themselves superior to women in every way. In the slums of Brooklyn there lived homeless men, who slept in the alleyways with rats and roaches, who honestly believed they were higher up the social ladder than the wealthiest, most educated women on 5th Avenue based on the fact that they were born male. To Theo, it was absolutely ridiculous. Casting a smirk at Mr. Thompson, he gently pushed past the man, and followed his siblings to the drug store. If only he knew.
"That's four mugs of hot chocolate and one cup of peppermint tea for Mrs. Muller," the clerk smiled, revealing his dimples.
Theo loved the young man behind the counter. He reached out and took the hot mug being pushed in his direction. The boy couldn't have been any older than him, but unlike him, his hair grew over his ears and curled up like the twins. Mr. Thompson obviously wasn't his barber,
"Here," he whispered, his eyes locked into Theo. "Try some sugar with it." He pushed over a small tin box with a tiny spoon.
Theo felt a blush spreading across his face at the boy's gesture. Opening the box, he scooped up a tiny bit of sugar and slowly stirred it into his chocolate. He had seen his daddy do the same thing every morning for years with his coffee.
"Boys, this is Conrad Hicks," Catrina smiled as she took her cup of tea, "he's studying botany at Austin College and will be working as Frank's apprentice when he graduates."
Raising the porcelain to his lips, Theo carefully blew on the liquid and took careful sips, savoring each drink. It had been years since they tasted hot chocolate. He remembered it being Christmas Eve and daddy returned from work that night with a present for everyone and a tin of chocolate he had bought from a co-worker. Theo remembered momma boiling milk on the stove and melting the chocolate. The twins couldn't have been five-years-old at the time. Theo also recalled their gifts. He received a notebook from the drug store, Francis was gifted a second hand scarf that used to belong to the boy across the apartment and the twins received pillows. They had been resting their head on blankets.
Placing his empty mug on the counter with the others, his eyes swept the drug store, taking in the cheerful Christmas decor. He wondered what their Christmas Day would be like. They would obviously be sent back to Mr. Woodrow the following day, He wondered if the Mullers would give them any gifts. Probably not. The fact they were allowed to live in a mansion and be treated like royalty for three weeks was enough. With a sigh, Theo looked over at his brothers, who were admiring their reflections in the drugstore window. They seriously looked like the children of the wealthy Vanderbilt families with their fur trimmed coats, boots, gloves and hats. No one back in Brooklyn would recognize them, not even Mr. Tuscano.
Catrina chose that exact moment to walk over with a middle-aged man.
"Boys, this is the dentist, Dr. Drew. He wants to see you four in his office."
Dylan, who had been twirling, came to a dead stop and crashed into Millen. Both boys tumbled to the floor. Francis sighed, and heaved them up, while Catrina giggled.
"Sorry," they whispered.
"That's quite alright," the dentist laughed. "I was once your age. Now, if you would all follow me, I will teach you how to take care of your teeth. How does that sound?"
Theo shot the dentist a tight smile, while his brothers started to babble with excitement. They knew how to take care of their teeth, just that for the past year they didn't have any money to buy baking soda or salt to brush with. The orphanage didn't care if their teeth rotted to the core.
They followed the dentist to his office at the back of the store. Like the barbershop, there was a chair with a table full of strange devices behind it. To their left, a water pump had been built into the wall. They watched the doctor turn the pump and water slowly dripped into a bucket.
"Who wants to go first," he asked.
"Me," Millen ran ahead, his arms outstretched. Theo noticed the chocolate smudge on his upper lip. He had taught his brothers better than that.
The dentist scooped up Millen and placed him in the chair.
"Why don't you look adorable." He said with a laugh, as he removed his handkerchief and dabbed the mess from Millen's face.
Theo rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall, while the doctor examined his brother's teeth.
"Hmm," he muttered, as he trailed his fingers over Millen's gums. "How old are you?"
"Me and Dylan will be eleven in February! Francis will be fifteen in January! Theo will be seventeen in October!" Millen answered for all of them.
Catrina's eyes shot up in surprise. "Goodness, you boys have birthdays coming up! Are you excited?"
The twins began to squeal, while Francis turned his head to stare at Theo. "It's not like we will get anything...as usual," he whispered.
"Excuse me," Theo hissed back, while trying hard not to hit his brother. "Our parents made sure we all had some kind of sweets for our birthday. Let's not forget Mr. Tuscano baked and snuck up a strawberry cake for the twins last year. I also seem to recall him bringing you a cupcake on your day. He was going to do the same for me, but we were already at the orphanage by then."
Francis gave out a little snort and smirked. "I meant a real birthday party, little brother. With mountains of gifts, a cake, punch, and friends. You know something that we will probably never have."
Shooting daggers at his brother, he reached out to hit him hard across the back of the head.
"Ouch," Francis gave a little yelp.
Theo pulled his hand back and jammed it into his coat pocket. Serves him right. But, Catrina was already across the room.
"Francis, are you ill?"Her voice dripped with genuine concern, as she took his arm. "Come, sit with me and Dylan. You too, Theo."
Turning around, Francis stuck his tongue out. Theo responded by doing the same. If there was one thing he knew how to do better than anyone on their old street in Brooklyn that was to fight. Theo could take down anyone and he did the day Millen was almost kidnapped. He had to admit, their younger brother was gorgeous with his ebony hair, dark eyes, thick eyebrows, curly eyelashes and unusual skin tone. He knew the boy would be "adopted out" quick at an orphanage. He also knew he would be "adopted out" for a large price.
Their momma wasn't even in the ground yet at the cemetery when Millen gave a cry. Theo's head turned just in time to see an ugly, portly woman hauling him off! His whole world crashed before him and turned red. Barreling through the broken headstones he tackled the woman seconds before she reached her carriage. Her head hit the ground with a sickening crack and Theo honestly believed he had killed her.
"You bastard children," the driver had called out, as he tried to jump down from the wagon, but became tangled in the rope. Grabbing Millen, Theodore ran in the opposite direction where his brothers still stood by their momma's open grave. "Run, now!" They took off toward the bridge where their daddy had fallen to his death only six months prior. Hiding behind crates of rotting fish, they burrowed under water soaked tarps for hours. When they felt it to be safe, Theo poked his head out and wandered back to the cemetery. The woman and her carriage were long gone and their momma had been given her proper burial. Children catchers. Theo's blood still boiled at the memory. They kidnapped beautiful, orphan children as well as children from pauper families and sold them on the black market to families around the world.
At the orphanage, Theo knew he had to disguise Millen. Taking a knife, he sliced his brother's hair into a hideous haircut. Then with extreme caution, he used the blade on the boy's eyebrows, shaving them thin. Taking some coal from the fireplace, he smeared it under his brother's ears and on the tip of his nose, hoping to disguise his skin color. Thankfully, it worked. When a family did wander into the orphanage, they usually left with one of the babies. The farmers from upstate took the older boys for labor. Nobody seemed to want the four of them, until the headmaster read the ad in the paper.
"Millen how old did you say you were," the doctor asked, pulling Theo from his memory.
"Ten," he giggled.
Theo shook his head. If he only knew.
"My dear, you still have a lot of your baby teeth for going on eleven." The doctor reached for a silver backed mirror and held it up to Millen.
"You should have lost them a while back."
"Is that normal," Catrina asked.
A jolt of happiness raced through Theo's body. Their "temporary mother" seemed genuinely concerned.
"Well," the doctor placed his hands on his hips and smiled down at Millen. "I'm sure once he gets lots of good food in him, his body will react and start to grow. He should lose them all by March."
Picking up Millen, the doctor gently sat him down on the bench. "I guess its little Dylan's turn! You two are twins, am I correct?"
"Yes, sir," they cheerfully called out.
Noticing the odd look on Dr. Drew's face, Theo knew he had to leave before he said something inappropriate.
"Where's the privy," he asked. Everyone turned to stare.
"It's inside the stockroom," the doctor answered, and then returned to his patient. "Conrad will be happy to show you."
Hopping down from the bench, Theo wandered back into the drug store and came face to face with the young doctor from last night. He noticed the man was holding four burlap bags.
"Why, hello, Theodore," he smiled, revealing his pristine teeth. "I'm just picking out some items for you and your brothers. Catrina insisted that I knew more about boy's health than her. I reassured her that I did, but not as much as she believed I did."
Frowning at the odd mark, Theo tried to maneuver around the man, but was startled when he reached down and placed his free hand on Theo's shoulder. Looking up into the doctor's eyes, he knew he could take him, but it would be foolish to do so.
"You know," the man stared down at him, his mouth turning into a smile. "My office is directly upstairs. If at any time you have any questions and are embarrassed to mention them to Catrina or Frank, I will make time to see you. Just leave me a note if I'm out and I will come fetch you when I can."
"Yes sir," he answered. Did he know? What foolishness, of course he didn't.
"Here," the doctor handed one of the sacks to him. "Take yours now. The contents of it are of no importance to your brothers. Catrina and Frank will not look either."
Taking the sack, Theo silently stepped around the doctor. Across the room, Conrad, who had been carefully washing their empty cocoa mugs, caught his eye and smiled. With a frown, Theo spotted a small door beside a row of bandages and gauze. Ignoring the curious soda fountain worker, he walked briskly across the store and opened the stockroom door. A gush of winter wind hit him straight in the face. Spotting the privy on the far side of the bitterly cold room, he locked himself in.
"What a stupid man. There is no way he knows."
Glancing down at the burlap bag, he saw a painted chicken, with the words, Texas Feed, printed on it.
"I guess that's all we're good for."
Pulling the string, Theo opened the bag and stared down at the contents: lye soap, tooth powder and wooden brush, body powder, hair oil, straight razor and what was that cloth at the bottom? With a frown, he dug into the bag and pulled out what looked to be cross between a thick woman's apron and a baby diaper. Placing the sack on the dirt floor, Theo held the cloth out and studied it in the light from the hole in the roof. What in the world? Then it hit him like the time a boy in their neighborhood had accidentally struck him in the stomach with a bat while playing stick-ball. Wadding the cloth in his hands, Theo buried his face in it. No. No. No. No. No! Memories of their momma washing hers in the basement laundry vats while daddy was at work. The talk she gave Theo that day. The doctor knew!
Sinking to the ground, the room seemed to spin, Theo started to silently cry. The doctor would tell the Mullers and he would be shipped back to the orphanage. Mr. Woodrow wanted four boys, not...
"Theo, are you in there?" The doctor's voice called out. "Catrina is asking about you. It's your turn in the dentist room."
With a growl, he hauled himself from the floor, shoved the apron into the burlap bag, yanked open the door, only to find himself once again face to face with the good doctor.
"Like I said," he whispered in the most gently voice possible, "my office is open if you have any questions. I have a female nurse who will be more than happy to talk to you."
Grasping a hold of the door frame, Theo's body shook uncontrollably.
"Here," he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. "Let me dry your face."
"I can do it myself," Theo snatched it away and cleaned his face, before handing it back.
"The Mullers have no clue," he folded it back and placed it in his pocket. "This is your secret, not theirs. I do guarantee you that they will welcome you if you let them know."
"Never," Theo tossed his head back and walked toward the store. He could feel the man staring at him. All he wanted to do was go home and lay down. Frank did say at breakfast that morning that if they ever felt ill, they were to return to bed immediately. Perhaps, it was time to fake sick?