Dylan's night routine included at least 15 minutes of inspecting his face in the mirror.
At fourteen, his acne problem was a real problem. It started with one or two pimples along his hairline until it became something uncountable, like a few drops of rain turning into a light drizzle, then a rainstorm.
He would pop all the zits that looked ripe enough, and he got some kind of twisted pleasure from watching the way the pus shoot out and land on the mirror with a satisfying tap. In the morning, he would work over them again, the ones that had already been harvested the night before, before he searched for new ones to squeeze.
This morning he noticed something different. It was more than a year ago when he first saw a thin layer of hair on his upper lip, but now his chin looked darker with stubble. It was nothing like the charming full beard his dad had. It was patchy and made his face look a worse mess than it already was.
"Can you teach me how to shave?" That evening, he asked.
"Funny you should ask." Dylan's mom set down a small plastic bag. "I don't know what type we should use, so I bought both."
She took out an electric razor, a disposable razor blade, a can of shaving cream and a bottle of aftershave lotion. They decided to try the blade first, thinking it would offer a closer shave. Dylan caught her eyes in front of the bathroom mirror. She smiled at him, and he could see the apology on her face.
I'm no good at this, but I'm trying.
He smiled back. For some reason, he felt apologetic too.
She squirted the cream onto his fingertips and taught him how to make lather. They let it soak in for a while. He ran the blade over his cheek, careful not to press too hard, and then he made his way towards his chin.
"Downwards. Yes. Wait—"
He felt a sharp pain and knew he had nicked himself.
"I'm sorry, Dill. I think you have to stretch the skin a little bit with your other hand."
The cut stung, but Dylan didn't pay much attention. In time, he would learn that it was the kind that passed very quickly, like a lot of other things in life.
A razor burn lasted a night, at most. A mustache grew back within a few days. Acne came and went.
His face cleared up by the time he turned 16. There were still some pimples hidden on his scalp, but he realized that once he shaved his hair off (with the electric razor they didn't use that night), it got a lot better. Girls thought he looked tough like that. Hot, even.
The kind of things that stuck and stung were stuff like, my mom taught me how to shave. When he thought back to it, however, he felt bittersweet.
It wasn't ideal but they were coping. They were trying.