The rain had stopped but it was still too cloudy for any stars to be seen, Jim saw a woman with two bags in her hands at the kerb look behind her. He turned right as the lights changed in his favour. Hearing rather than feeling the bump, he stopping, got out and saw the woman sitting on the wet road, a cardboard suitcase next to her and a shopping carrier bag that had spilled a few small items where it had dropped. She wore a thin jersey over a blue T-shirt and a denim skirt. Her fingernails were painted deep red and about an inch and a half long. The tips of her curly tangled blonde hair were soaking up the dirty water from the tar as Jim came to her and asked if she was hurt. She looked up, abject terror reflected on her face; she shook her head, looking around her like a trapped animal. Jim offered to take her to a hospital but she refused. Helping her up, he saw that she was unsteady on her feet, probably from shock. He again offered to take her to a hospital. She looked at him blankly and then agreed.
After putting her possessions in the back of the car he helped her get into the front, putting on the seat belt.
“Please go quickly.” she said softly, pulling at a fingernail that had broken when she fell.
Jim moved off, assuming that there was an injury that needed attention. He asked her if she knew where the hospital was, being unfamiliar with the town. She directed him, more by pointing than by giving him instructions. When they reached the hospital Jim drove to the casualty entrance but the woman asked him to park in the parking lot, the only open spaces being in a dark section.
“I am not hurt, a little shaken but not injured,” she said. “I am trying to escape from someone and was looking back to see if I was being followed when I walked into your car. I have nowhere to go but I must get away, can you drop me off somewhere, I have about a hundred dollars on me which should see me through for a while.”
“That won’t see you through for long, not very long at all I’m afraid, incidentally my name is Jim, Jim DeVane.”
“Sorry, I’m Lynn.”
“I am actually on my way home to LA after a Pharmaceutical convention here in Fresno, I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Any idea how I get out of here?” he asked.
She said hesitantly “I have a rough idea, will you take me with you please, the farther I can get away the better.”
“Not some domestic problem. is it?” queried Jim, not wishing to become involved in a disagreement of this nature.
“No, I was being held by a man and have managed to escape from him. I was virtually a prisoner, but it is a long story. Are you in pharmaceuticals?”
“I own a drug store and dispensary in Manhattan Beach in LA, I try to get to a convention every few years.”
“I was studying Pharmaceuticals and was due to write my final exams when this mess started.” she said, starting to liven up as they left the lights of the town behind them. “I guess I must look a sight.” She leaned her head against the side window and was soon asleep. Forty-five minutes later Jim shook her. There were lights all around and she saw that they had stopped at a roadside service, alongside the ladies restroom.
She turned to him and smiled in gratitude, making it seem as though she had received very little consideration recently. Mouthing a ‘thank you’, she reached for the shopping bag in the back of the car.
“I’ll wait for you here, then we can get something to eat, I’m famished.”
“Thanks, I am a bit hungry too.” She got out of the car and went into the restroom, while Jim poured over a map, discovering that he was on the right road again after a short unplanned detour.
Lynn came out about twenty minutes later. She had rinsed off the tips of her platinum blonde hair but it was still damp, being too thick to dry easily. It was now pulled back in a loose ponytail but her hair bunched around her head and spread out across her back below the gather. He saw two gold rings hanging from her ears, both passing through tunnels each about the size of a Dime. She had washed her face and had put on some dark pink lipstick; there were signs of an unsuccessful attempt to cover an old bruise on her left cheek.
Jim drove around to the burger place and ordered a cheeseburger and Coke with a side order of French fries, Lynn had the same. Seated at a table, she finished her burger and fries as Jim watched in amusement. She had some Coke and started eyeing Jim’s fries until he pushed them towards her. She took them and started eating, Jim smiled and Lynn smiled back self-consciously. For the first time Jim had an opportunity to study her face. She was really very attractive, probably in her late twenties which made her a few years younger than he was, her blue eyes were unnaturally sunken into their sockets, her nose was pert with the slightest hint of a upward turn in the tip, her lips could be full, but seemed drawn and she could do with a little extra weight. He also noticed the dark hair roots where her natural colour was growing out again. In the bright overhead lights he also noticed that her eyebrows consisted of about a quarter of an inch of hair, the rest was painted on in a line that was made to look as natural as possible. Something about her looks worried him; it was almost a feeling of déjà vu.
“Still hungry?” Jim asked.
“Yes, sorry, I haven’t eaten since last night, and then I did not have very much. Could I have some fries to take with us.” She picked up the remains of her Coke as Jim bought a large order of the fries.
“Are you married?” she asked between a mouth full of fries.
“Widowed, sort of.”
She stopped chewing. “How can you be sort of widowed?”
“My wife left me, went off to South Africa with my one time friend, they were both shot in a car hijacking that went horribly wrong. Happened about five months ago.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.” putting more fries in her mouth.
“No need for apologies, we had started talking about divorce already. And you?”
She sat silently. Eventually, with a certain finality, she said “Never.”
Finishing her fries and the rest of her Coke, she sat staring out of the windscreen, her head drooping and then jolting up again as she snapped awake. Jim asked her if she wanted him to get her a blanket out of the back. She shook her head, took off her jersey, folded it and put it against the window, resting her head against it. She said sorry and was soon asleep. Jim stole a look at her every time she was lit up in the headlights of a truck. The larger of each ring in her ears was large enough to touch her shoulders, the smaller one being about half that size. He took a double take when in the particularly bright lights of a big truck; he saw a strange design tattooed around her upper left arm.
Lynn let out a little whimper, she tried to retreat into the corner into which she was wedged, raising her hands in defence, then she opened her eyes in bewilderment. Jim reached across to her but she shied away momentarily before she realised where she was. She closed her eyes again; squeezing out a tear which clung to her long eyelashes. The girl whimpered again several times during the journey until Jim woke her as they reached the outskirts of Los Angeles.
At three in the morning they pulled up outside his apartment building, Jim taking Lynn’s case and his own, she taking her bag. Once inside the apartment Jim put the kettle on for coffee, which they drank at the kitchen counter.
“I’ll put you in the guest room, we’ll have to make up the bed. My wife last used it just before she left six months ago. You will be comfortable in there. If you need anything, my room is the second one from there, just call or knock on my door. Have you got anything to sleep in?” Jim asked.
“I had to sleep in the nude for the past three years but I have a few T-shirts that I can use.” she said almost guiltily.
“My wife left quite a bit of her clothing when she went, you are almost the same height and a bit thinner than she was, I am sure we can find something for you, come.” Jim stood, holding out his hand to assist Lynn up. She reached up, but then pulled her hand back, afraid of the contact. She followed him up the stairs of the duplex to the bedroom area. In a drawer in the guestroom they found a sleep shirt which Lynn was contented with. Jim showed her where the bathroom was and gave her a toothbrush, something she did not have. He put out a towel and said goodnight, using his own bathroom to prepare for bed.
He was awakened by a cry a little later; it came from the guestroom. Slipping on his gown, he went to investigate. The bedside light was on and Lynn was huddled in a tangle of bedclothes, pressed up hard against the headboard. She was crying and letting out stifled screams, trying to move away from something more than a nightmare, it was a subconscious act of fleeing from some terror. Jim gently shook Lynn’s shoulder, she tried to shake his hand off and let out a cry of anguish as she opened her eyes and saw a man so close. He moved away and let her collect herself in her own time.
When she had regained some semblance of composure he said he would be back, giving her time to sort the bed out. He came back after a while and handed her a glass of warm milk. “Take this, it’s a Prozac, it will calm you down and help you sleep. There is no need to get up early. We’ve had a long night and I only go into the store late on Friday afternoons.”
The apartment was quiet when Jim woke at ten. Slipping into his gown again, he went to the guestroom, the door was open and the bed empty. He saw Lynn sitting on the balcony of the room, the nightshirt pulled over her knees and her arms clutched around her legs. She was smoking a cigarette.
“Morning, didn’t know you smoke?” he said, sounding as cheerful as he could.
“Morning Jim, yes unfortunately, I was forced to. He started me off by getting me to light his cigarettes in the car, then in the house as well. When I was used to it I always had to have a cigarette in my hand when I was with him, I smoked as much as three packs a day when he was home. Actually this is my first one in about two days, I hope to quit now.”
“What would you like for breakfast, there is some cereal, if you don’t mind long-life milk, there are some eggs but I don’t recommend the bacon or I could go buy some bread if you like.” said Jim, still trying to break the underlying tension.
“Cereal will be fine, you are a very kind man.” she said, looking at the Pacific over the houses below.
They had breakfast together on the balcony. After a cup of tea she lit another cigarette. Jim watched her smoke, she would inhale deeply and then exhale the smoke slowly out of her nose, or she would talk with the smoke coming out with the words. Never once did she blow out smoke through her lips in the normal fashion. When Jim remarked on it she said that it was the way she had been made to do it and stubbed out the cigarette before it was fully smoked.
She started stroking her hair, still in the ponytail from the previous night. “Jim, would you do something for me please?” she asked.
“Cut it off!” she answered.
“What must I cut off?”
“My hair, please cut my hair off.” was the startling explanation.
Unsure, Jim stammered, “How do you want it cut?”
She indicated a position above the band that held the ponytail “Here, but I must warn you, my hair is very thick and curly, it will probably jump out like a Brillo Pad. What I actually want is to have it about three inches all over if you want to try that.”
“Are you sure you want to cut your long hair that short, it must have taken ages to get it that long.” he said, somewhat surprised by the request.
“It took three years, and I hate it, I have hated it for almost that long but I had no choice.”
Jim wanted to ask about the three years that she continually mentioned, but knew it was not yet the right time. He fetched a large pair of dressmakers shears and waited for instructions
“Cut the ponytail off first, then we can work out a strategy for the rest, but hurry please, I have dreamed of this moment for ages.”
“Shouldn’t you rather go to a hairdresser for this?” he asked. Lynn shook her head, looking trustingly at him to cut it for her.
Jim took hold of the hank of hair, which was so thick and springy that it almost filled his hand. It took several cuts before it was liberated in his hand. Lynn shook her head and beamed for joy, it was the first time Jim had seen her anywhere near happy since picking her up the previous evening.
“Now pick a measure, you can use your fingers or gauge it from the shortest hair in my neck and just cut. My hair is so thick that you can hardly make a mess at that length. Please?”
Jim worked out a measure using four fingers and gripping with his thumb, surprised how relatively easy it was to maintain an even length. It still took another half an hour to completely shape Lynn’s hair and have it looking respectable. He had been looking at the rings in her ears, lifting one; he was amazed at the weight. “They are almost solid gold, and they have a permanent clasp, I cannot remove then. I am…. was, forced to wear them, I also hate the tunnels.”
“How were they inserted, they are about three millimetres thick?” asked Jim, disgust in his voice.
“My ears were stretched progressively over a period of a year, every few months bigger tunnels were forced into the holes and then the rings were inserted and locked into the balls with strong adhesive.”
Lynn went quiet for a while, then she got up and went in to look in a mirror. She came back and touched Jim briefly on the cheek. “Thank you, this is perfect, all I need now is get it back to my normal colour.” She became quiet again and starter picking up what she could of her hair. Jim bent to help her and their eyes met. She looked sad. “I must work out what I am going to do, you have been wonderful and I could not have picked anybody better to run into, literally, but I cannot impose on your kindness.”
“I have to go to the store a little later, can we discuss it tonight when I get back?”
She nodded. “Please bring the hair you have in your hand.”
She led him to the toilet and threw half of the ponytail into it. “I hope it doesn’t clog up the works.” She said as she flushed. The water rose almost to the rim before taking the mass of hair down in a swirl of white. With glee she flushed the remainder of her hair after it, taking three more flushes to do it.
“I must go now, there are several burger stands on the beach front or you can scratch around here for something if you like, there should be some frozen dinners in the freezer, help yourself. I’ll be home for dinner and I’ll phone you during the afternoon to find out how you are doing.” he said, saying good bye as he left.
Jim phoned around four, Lynn was initially guarded on the phone, till she was sure that it actually was Jim. He agreed to bring home Chinese take-aways and some groceries before ringing off.
He arrived later with a bag full of white containers and the groceries, Lynn greeting him at the door with a smile. She had obviously had a bath and washed her hair. It framed her face like a frosted halo. She wore no makeup except for a touch of lipstick and had taken special care with her eyebrows. Her face was less drawn, more relaxed, again Jim had an uneasy feeling about this woman that was in his apartment. She held out her hands, all her nails had been trimmed to about an eighth of an inch beyond her fingers and were now an attractive pink colour.
“I did a bit of snooping around the guest room, I hope you don’t mind. Your wife left a lot of stuff behind, I used what I needed,” she said guiltily.
Supper was a messy affair, they passed the containers around, Lynn battling to get used to the chop sticks again. She even laughed shortly once or twice and had rice and chicken bits down the front of her T-shirt. Jim brewed some Jasmine tea and they sipped it with their bowties. His fortune cookie slip read ‘Do not be afraid of things that go bump in the night’. He frowned, chuckled and showed her “I wonder who thinks up these things.” Lynn’s face remained impassive; she would not show him her slip.
“Jim, I can’t stay here, I have to make my own way through life now, I have had a demoralising three years and must learn to stand on my own two feet again. Perhaps you have some ideas of what I can do?” she said softly.
Jim placed his hand on her arm; she did not pull away. “I have to open the store early tomorrow morning and will be back by nine, then I will be free for the rest of the weekend. Please stay till at least Monday, I like having you here and I am sure you can do with not having any worries at present.”
She shook her head vigorously and immediately grabbed for her ears letting out a small cry of pain. “My hair always restrained these damn rings, now they fly around and hurt me.” she whimpered.
Jim smiled and got up. He brought back a tool box and took out a large pair of wire cutters. Holding them up he said, “Shall we?”
She nodded her head enthusiastically, only to grab for the rings again. Moving closer, she held her right ear to him. Jim took the larger ring and effortlessly cut through the metal. He cut through the other ring and opened them so they could come out of the tunnel. He repeated the process on the other ear.
Lynn felt her ears and her head dropped onto Jim’s chest as she burst into tears. He put his arm around her and through the sobbing heard her say. “I am frightened, I must go, you are so kind to me, he started off like this as well.”
Taking her by the shoulders, he looked into her tear filled eyes. “What has been done to you? What has affected you so? …..You are free to leave at any time, but you do not need to be afraid of me.”
She got up and went upstairs. A few minutes later he followed and knocked on her partly open door, receiving no reply, he pushed the door open and saw her on the balcony looking over the moonlit sea. He went to stand beside her, looking at her face reflected in the glow of the cigarette.
Presently she flicked the butt away and turned to Jim” I would like to go to bed now, do you mind?” she asked in a small voice.
He shook his head; “Will you be here when I get back in the morning?”
“Do you want me to be here?”
“Yes, I would be hurt if you were not here.”
She came to him, fleetingly seeking security in his arms before saying good night and moving away. Jim cleared up the supper things and went to bed himself.
He returned at nine the next morning as promised and walked into a breakfast nook laid out for two. “My mother taught me to cook, but I haven’t had a chance to do so for a long time, I hope it’s edible.” she said as she served up a near full breakfast.
After they had cleared up Jim asked if he could show her the beach front, she looked at him apprehensively tugging at the tunnels in her ears. “I don’t want to go out like this, I hate these things.”
“Remove them and let’s have a look.” he answered, as Lynn reached up and manoeuvred the tunnels out of her ear lobes. The sight was not pretty, the holes were red and wrinkled, almost the size the tunnels had been.
“See what I mean, I look and feel like a freak.” she wailed, “the bastard has ruined my life.”
He indicated to her to go to the breakfast nook and went out, coming back with a small wooden box which he emptied onto the table. “Cheap junk, she took all the good stuff,” he said as dozens of earrings and other pieces of jewellery poured out. He selected a large pair of clip on earrings and gave them to Lynn to try on, they sat oddly, one clip actually going through the hole in her ear and turning downwards. She took them off. “No good.” she said, pushing them back.
He selected a pair of stud earrings that looked like daisies but the butterfly just passed through the large holes. Scratching around, he found a clear plastic bottle and cut two discs about an inch across. Making small holes in the middle, he placed these under the butterflies and refitted the earrings, which slid down but did not fall out and fully hid the holes in her ears. Lynn went out to look in a mirror, she came back, put her arms around Jim and kissed him on the mouth, “Thank you.” pulling away quickly and putting her hand over her mouth as she realised what she had done. Jim smiled at her and gently stroked her cheek.
They walked through the crowds on the beachfront, Jim occasionally putting his hand on Lynn’s back to guide her or touched her arm to draw her attention to something. She was astounded by the sights around her, mentioning that she could not believe how things had changed in three years, but continually looking furtively behind and around her, expecting somebody to be shadowing her. They found a jewellery store that bought gold. After some haggling she eventually got $250 for the remains of her earrings. The next stop was the hair care section in a small general store where she looked through the dark brown colour range, but did not buy anything. Lunch was a giggly affair of hotdogs dripping mustard and a variety of other sauces, the meal was topped off with ice-cream cones eaten under a palm tree.
They got back to the apartment after four, Jim taking Lynn out onto the main bedroom balcony where they sat sipping a light wine, watching the sun drop towards the ocean. Lynn reached for a cigarette but Jim handed her a small spray container. “Don’t you want to try this rather, spray it into your mouth when you have the craving, you did say you wanted to quit.”
“Why are you doing this for me, you owe me nothing and I’ve done nothing to warrant this kindness, I know what you said yesterday, but you must understand if I appear cautious.”
“For the first time in many months I now look forward to coming home, I feel I have somebody who needs me and I did not realised until now how lonely I’ve become. Even though subdued, you are like a breath of spring that has come into my apartment.” there was emotion in his voice and Lynn reached across and squeezed his arm.
“I am taking you out to supper tonight and I’m paying, nothing fancy but my treat and no arguments!”
“If you insist, but it isn’t necessary.”
She smiled at him; “I haven’t eaten out for so long, it will be an adventure for me as well. OK?”
They were getting ready a few hours later when Jim was startled by a loud scream. He ran to Lynn’s room and found her standing with her mouth open, a roll of bank notes in her hand. She held out the notes to Jim, they were all $100 bills. “I had to get him to pass out from a laced drink to make my escape and I just grabbed these notes from a box he kept in his room when I left, stuffing them into my bag without looking and assuming that they were tens or something. I have about $20,000 here,” she said breathlessly.
“What do you want to do, from what I can gather you deserve to keep it, and you can’t very well take it back, now can you?”
“It means that I might be in danger if he finds me, and I am definitely not going anywhere near him again, I certainly deserve at least this, ten times over, now let me finish so we can go to eat.” she said assertively.
Amongst Jim’s late wife’s clothing Lynn had found a pink blouse, with the three-quarter sleeves that she now favoured when she went out, and matching slacks. There were even pink sandals that fitted, although she had to tighten the straps a little. Her makeup was carefully applied and softened the lines on her face, even her eyes appeared less sunken. She wore a pair of bulky gold coloured earrings that covered half her ears.
They had a wonderful meal; Jim unable to believe how much Lynn could eat. She used her little spray can after coffee was served and squeezed his hand. “I had almost forgotten what it is like to be a normal human being, thank you for being who you are when I needed someone.”
They got up late the next morning and Lynn served brunch on his balcony.
“I never needed that Prozac last night, that dream appeared only once and then I was able to sleep peacefully.” the gratitude evident in her voice.
He nodded his approval, “Get dressed, I have a surprise for you, I think you will enjoy where I’m taking you.”
They spent the afternoon at the Santa Monica Pier. Lynn was first scared to go on the roller coaster, but after the first time, insisted on going twice again. Jim had no objections, her joy was infectious and she clung to him on the big descents. They ate cotton candy, looked at the stalls and tried some of the other attractions before heading home as the sun started to set.
Over pizzas that evening Lynn said “Jim, I would like to do something about my hair tomorrow.”
“Does that mean that you are staying?”
“If I may, I enjoy being with you, you make me feel safe. Anyway, I saw a salon in Santa Monica, I thought I would phone them and try get in, I can take a cab and should be home before you get back from work.”
Jim opened the door on returning home that evening; He put his brief case down and walked into the lounge to be greeted by a loud “SURPRISE”. He turned around and went pale, almost falling over an armchair. “My Gawd, Jackie!” he exclaimed, sinking into a chair, his face in his hands.
“Jim, Jim, it’s me Lynn, Jim, what’s the matter?” running to him, she grasped his shoulders and shook him. “It’s me, Lynn, please Jim, look at me, it’s me!” She took his face in her hands and lifted it up to hers. He opened his eyes slowly and looked at her, recognition dawning on him.
Lynn’s hair was dark mahogany, the sides and top had been had been trimmed to a maximum length of two inches to softly frame her face, the tight curls softened to give the hair a smooth wavy effect. The back had been tapered into the nape of her neck, ending in a neat square cut. Her eyebrows were sharply defined with dark brown pencil, she wore a touch of brown eye shadow and her lips and nails were a reddish brown.
“Jim, this is my natural hair colour and I had it styled, please tell me what the matter is.” Jim stood up shakily, recovered himself and went to the sideboard; he scratched through a drawer and handed Lynn a large photo in a frame, saying nothing. Lynn was looking at herself. “Jackie, your wife?” she asked.
Jim nodded “I thought there was something alarmingly familiar about you the first time I saw you properly”.
Lynn stood up and went to her room. A little while later Jim followed, her small case was on the bed and some of her clothes had been thrown into it. Lynn was on the balcony smoking. Jim went out and stood behind her.
“I can’t stay, I’m sorry for what has happened, I was beginning to think there was a possibility that we might be happy together, but it seems I have achieved the opposite. Can you forgive me?” she said without turning around.
“There is really nothing to forgive, if anything I should be apologising to you and there is really no reason for you to leave. I want you to stay, you may be the spitting image of Jackie, but I assure you that looks is where the similarity ends.” he laid his hands on her shoulders, “Please stay.”
She threw away her cigarette and turned around. Her makeup was streaked with tears. She hugged him and said softly, “Supper is in the oven.”
After a subdued meal Lynn pushed her plate aside and brought out a bottle of wine, pouring two glasses.
“Before you finally decide if you want me to stay, let me tell you my story. I was studying to be a pharmacist at the California State University in Fresno. I needed a job because my mother was not all that well off and my scholarship barely saw me through. All the jobs at drug stores and pharmacies had been taken so I took a job as a waitress at a smart restaurant. The owner was a young Egyptian and he took to me. After a while he persuaded me to move in with him, citing rent savings and other advantages. Slowly his hold over me increased; I was eventually not allowed to go anywhere alone, he or his brother always accompanied me. I became a prisoner, having to drop out weeks before my final exams, I think he wanted to prevent me from getting my diploma and thereby any independence.”
She took a sip of her wine and continued. “He would have friends around for all night card games and I would have to serve them, at first in my waitress outfit, and then topless, my hair by then being just long enough to cover my nipples. The skirt eventually became a skimpy apron with nothing underneath, his visitors being allowed to lift it at will to view my pubic area, which had been permanently depilated. I would have to be smoking all the time, also lighting other people’s cigarettes and eventually cigars. Fortunately he drew the line when someone wanted his pipe lit. Sometimes I would be handed a cigar and bets would be placed on how long it would take me to smoke it to a certain mark or how many draws it would take. My discomfort was always an amusement to the crowd. The prize for the winner of the bets, me, I would have to perform oral sex on the winner with everyone watching. Only he was actually allowed to have sex with me, which he did, whenever and wherever he wanted, I had a loop fitted. His brother sometimes forced himself on me, my silence ensured by threats and forms of mild torture that did not mark me.”
It was with difficulty that she carried on. “He took me to have the tattoo done and took away most of my clothing, destroyed all my bras and all but two pairs of panties. The only time I was not in the nude was when strangers came around and he needed a partner, otherwise I was subjected to that constant humiliation. He wanted to shave my eyebrows completely, but I managed to retain the little bit after much begging, telling him that I needed a point from which to paint my eyebrows. I was subjected to regular beatings, for the slightest thing and I was often covered in bruises, only a week ago he punched me on the cheek, I was out cold for ten minutes. Imagine what he would do for his twenty thousand dollars.” she murmured.
“No wonder you needed to escape.” he offered soberly.
“That was not the reason I had to escape.” her voice rising fiercely. “This week he was going to have my nipples pierced and large rings fitted, I am sure they would have ended up like my ears and I want to have children, I want to have a baby suckling at my breast.”
Jim poured the last of the wine into their glasses, taking a long drink; he said simply, “Please stay.”
A few evenings later Jim came home to find Lynn pouring over some of his advanced pharmaceutical books, making notes on a pad next to her. She stood up, gave him a hug and said, “This is all coming back to me, I can remember everything I have gone through, if it was not for the fact that I could be traced, I would consider finishing my diploma.” She took his finger and rubbed it across her brow. “Feel, they’re growing back, isn’t that wonderful, if it just wasn’t for my ears. The holes seem to be shrinking, but they still look terrible and will always identify me.”
Jim took out a small package and gave it to her, it was a pretty friendship ring which she slipped onto the index finger on her left hand, putting her arms around his neck and giving him an impromptu kiss “Oops” she said.
“Do that again.” she did, making it momentarily longer, but still with closed lips.
One Saturday morning a few weeks later Jim burst into Lynn’s room and switched on the light, “Lynn, Lynn.” shaking her roughly. She woke with a start and sat up. “Lynn, I have just had a brilliant idea, I know it will work and will sort out a whole lot of problems. Listen to this. You can become Jackie, you look exactly like her, and do more so every day as you put on weight. She was a pharmacist, you could work in the store, take over her diploma, I have her documents, they were sent to me by acquaintances in South Africa, it is perfect.” Jim carried on enthusiastically until Lynn held her hand over his mouth.
“Whoa, you want me to become your wife?”
“Yes, why not? I have grown very fond of you, I think I love you.”
“What about Jackie’s friends and family, all the people who knew her well?”
“She was an introvert; she was anti-social and did not have friends. Her parents are both dead and she never saw her family. My staff at the shop are all new, we had a high turn-over of staff, she chased just about everybody and avoided serving customers, and those she did serve probably never came back.”
“What about her ID documents, driver’s license, social security, finger prints, passport, what about the authorities, they must know that Jackie is dead?” Lynn couldn’t believe that she was hearing this, trying to find loopholes where she should be rejecting the suggestion out of hand.
“One thing at a time, I received Jackie’s passport, driver’s license and all her personal documents, including credit cards and a death certificate in the post from South Africa. I thought it strange because the authorities should have kept those and passed them on to the American Embassy. Things are pretty chaotic in South Africa, so the chances are that nobody was informed of the death of an American national. I never did anything this side, being rather upset with Jackie and the whole story. She had never been fingerprinted.”
“Her signature, what about her voice, what about her previous memories, what about my abilities as a pharmacist?” she was also trying to convince herself that the idea was ludicrous.
“You will have to practice her signature, very few people ever heard her natural voice, she did little more than grunt most of the time. Few people ever had conversations with her. We will do a home crash course in the latest pharmaceutical curriculum and I can get hold of last year’s exam papers. If you pass those I see no reason why you cannot pose as Jackie.”
“If we can pull this off, Lynn can disappear, I will be safe. One thing that bothers me is stepping into a dead woman’s life. Let me think about it.”
Nothing more was mentioned during Saturday. Jim was wakened during the night by a warm body slipping into the bed with him, “Move over, a wife should sleep with her husband.” Lynn felt for his face and kissed him, the first time she really kissed him with her mouth open, her tongue searching for his. They kissed and explored each other’s bodies, Jim being fascinated by her perfectly smooth pubes and more than surprised when he discovered the ring pierced her vagina hood. He felt her wetness as she turned onto her back and opened up to him. Their lovemaking was warm and rewarding, each succumbing to a desire they had suppressed for some time, both unwilling to make the first move. He kissed and caressed her for a long while and muttered “Thank you Lynn.”
She placed her fingers on his lips, “Jackie, I am Jackie. We both have to get used to the name. Lynn was a gullible little fool, it is best that she disappear permanently.”
A few days later, posing as a cousin, Lynn phoned one government department after another, surreptitiously trying to gather information on the real Jackie. Those, which had information, gave her as alive and well at the present address, there was not even indication that she had left the country. She passed this information on to Jim. Meanwhile she was also studying pharmaceutical books loaned to them by one of Jim’s young employees; she had no problem absorbing the knowledge.
“I am still worried about being a dead woman, if I change my looks a little, do something that anybody would do normally, I might feel more at ease. What if I change my hairstyle, have it cut short, real short, how would that be?” she asked him.
“With my hair so thick and curly, I could have it about a quarter of an inch long and it would still cover my scalp completely. I have often wanted to try it, and ultra-short hair for women is now a trend, I thought of leaving a slightly longer bit across the front so that it doesn’t look too severe.” From her look it was obvious that she wanted an affirmative answer.
“I think you could get away with it, your face is the right shape and beautiful enough to get away with any hair style, why not go to that salon in Santa Monica again?”
“No, this one I want done in a barber shop. I picture a style that can only really be effectively done with clippers, will you take me?” she begged.
He nodded, “From tomorrow I am going to start saying that my wife has come back, and then I want to slowly introduce you around.”
They found a barbershop in Redondo Beach; it was the typical old-fashioned shop, three chairs but only two barbers. Lynn asked Jim to wait in the car, she wanted to do this on her own again. One barber was busy, the older barber motioned Lynn to his chair as she entered the shop. It was evidently not the first time a woman had wanted a haircut there, so he floated the cape around her as soon as she was settled in big the seat.
“What will it be madam?” he asked, carefully covering his surprise as his customer had reasonable short hair already.
“Short, clipper cut. Leave the front as it as at first, try with the longest guard you have first please… Brad.” she said, looking at his name tag. He showed her the number four guards, which gave a cut of about half an inch, Lynn nodded.
“Head forward please.” He said as he reached for his clippers and switched them on. “Are you sure about this?” Lynn nodded.
Placing the clippers in her neck, he pushed them up, slowly because of the dense mass of hair that it had to negotiate. Brad stopped about at about the middle of her head. He took another cut to the left and then to the right, widening the path with each cut. It only took a few minutes to reach the stage where Lynn could reach up and feel the results.
She tugged at a few hairs and said, “Could it go shorter?” Brad held up a number three and two guard. Lynn pointed to the shorter of the two.
“It may not take off very much because your hair lies naturally close to your scalp, but we can try it.” answered Brad. The clippers did not remove the full quarter inch they should have, only really smoothing off some of the straggler hairs that had refused to lie flat. The effect was a smooth, dark shiny helmet that covered her whole scalp.
Lynn rubbed her hands over the back of her head and turned to Brad. “I pictured a bit of a fringe at the front, with it slanted down to the left, can we try that?”
Brad combed the fringe forward and shaped it more or less as described, the hair retaining the shape because of its thickness and curl. With scissors he shaped the back and sides, blending it into a smooth cap all over. He passed Lynn a hand mirror and she surveyed the finished style.
“The back, can we taper the back some more, use the bare clippers and blend in over about two inches, please?” Brad took a few minutes to fulfil her request; Lynn beamed as she looked at herself in the mirrors.
“Wow, you look great” Jim blurted as she got back into the car, and he playfully rubbed the short hair at the top and back of her head, pulling her to him and kissing her passionately.
“The barber said that there was still quite a bit of damaged hair that he had to remove, he said that if I had come in any time earlier he would have probably suggested a complete clipper shave to remove all the old hair.” Jim’s eyes opened wide and then he looked down, avoiding Lynn’s eyes, but she saw the red creep up his neck and onto his cheeks. “Jim, what is it?” she lifted his chin, saw that he was blushing a deep red and was extremely embarrassed, he just shook his head.
“Come on Jim, I can see something has shocked you, out with it.”
He just shook his head again, “It’s nothing, really.”
“I don’t believe you, Jim, the way you are blushing…………, hey, you have a hair fetish. When I mentioned shaving you got all withdrawn, tell me.” She asked.
“All right, I do have a thing about bald women, nobody knows except you, and Jackie knew, that is what possibly started the split up. I tried discussing it with her but she said I was kinky.”
“Jim, it is nothing to be ashamed about, different strokes etc. etc., come here you darling man.” She put her arms around him and kissed him on the forehead, whispering in his ear “maybe I will let you shave my head someday.”
“You mean really shave it?” he asked unbelievingly, “completely?”
“Yes, shaved – razor – lather – totally smooth. When you have had nearly a whole life of waking up in the morning knowing that the day is going to be another bad hair day, just shaving it all off sometimes sounds like an enticing solution.” She replied in all sincerity, “but in my time, OK?”
After recovering himself, Jim said “There is one thing more, and then we must get home, I have somebody coming over tonight.” Stopping at a jewellery store, he said. “Jackie was stripped of her jewellery in the hijacking so I do not have any of it, but I would not expect you to wear her rings anyway.” The jeweller showed them several combination engagement/wedding rings, Lynn liking a half-carat stone, with large clasps on either side of the gem for the engagement ring. The wedding ring that matched it had very small stones around the center of the band, spaced at about three millimetres. The jeweller warned them that the stones were cubic zirconias, but that he could have them replaced with diamonds if they were prepared to go to the extra expense and to wait a week.
Lynn was thrilled with the rings as they were, and they fitted perfectly. Once back in the car she undid the wrapping, handing the rings to Jim she held out her left hand. Jim put the rings on her ring finger, she slid over to him, took his hand, placed it on her breast and kissed him “Thank you, thank you, I cannot tell you how much I love you, I had dreamed of a white wedding but I will nevertheless be a perfect wife to you, I promise.” She kissed him again.
At eight their guest arrived, Jim brought him in, having given Lynn a bit of background on their visitor.
“John, you remember Jackie.”
“Yes, it’s been a long time, you look as lovely as ever, like your hair.” John said, taking Lynn’s hand as she came forward.
They chatted idly for a while, then John turned to Jackie, “I believe you have been a naughty girl, trying to be too hip.”
They all laughed. “I stretched my ear lobes with cones and eventually tunnels, and now I feel I have out grown that phase.” she lied, removing the earrings that covered the holes as John moved closer to inspect the damaged lobes.
“I have had similar cases, these will be easy. I will have to cut through the skin inside the hole and then suture them up. I may have to do a cover with a skin graft. It will take a while to heal, but with luck you should have perfectly shaped earlobes, you can even say how you want them shaped.”
“Normal, without holes, ever again.” They laughed and John promised to fit in a theatre appointment for her. The operation was carried out a week later, Lynn spending a few days with heavy pads over her ears. When the dressings finally came off, the repaired ear lobes were perfect, albeit very red and tender. Lynn was thrilled, “Now just that tattoo!”
The tattoo proved to be no problem at all, just rather expensive. John had told them that tattoo removals used to leave scars and he had been against any such attempt. Laser removal was now the preferred method. Jim and Lynn discussed it and Jim told her that he did not really object to the tattoo but she could have it removed if she wanted.
The laser treatment consisted of five sessions and each was painful, but after a few weeks there were no signs that there had ever been a tattoo on her arm.
Lynn had been studying, especially while recovering from her operation, and after five months, felt that she was ready to sit the exam. Under the guise that his wife wanted to return to work after a lengthy lay-off, Jim got hold of an old college friend turned professor, who agreed to invigilate a re-write of the previous year’s papers. Under normal exam conditions in their home, Lynn sat the papers. She was allowed a few minutes extra to complete one extremely difficult paper, but otherwise completed each paper within the allocated time.
The results came back a week later; she would have scored an overall 87% had she sat the exam legally. To celebrate, they went to Las Vegas for three days. On the second evening Jim took Lynn to one of the many wedding chapels in the resort. They hired a white wedding gown and, just before walking down the aisle together, he removed her rings and changed them to her right hand, putting an identical engagement ring on her left hand. Having said that they wanted to renew their wedding vows, they were ‘married’ there, using a new wedding ring that was the same as the old one. After the ceremony Jim told her that he had had the new rings specially manufactured but that the new ones were real diamonds. Lynn liked the novelty of wearing matching ring sets on each hand.
Lynn started working in the Pharmacy, usually the same hours as Jim. She was well liked by customers and while lacking practical experience, was always sympathetic and gave friendly advice. The staff accepted and respected her and Jim detected a slight but steady increase in business.
One night while snuggled up together in bed almost a year after they first met, Lynn said that there was something that she felt she must do; she had to go back to Fresno. It was organised for two weeks later, much against Jim’s wishes.
They checked into the motel on the outskirts of Fresno and dressed for dinner, having made a reservation a few days earlier. Lynn wore a grey sleeveless blouse over a pleated black skirt. Her hair had been cut a little shorter than usual and the fringe was more pronounced. Her eyebrows were full, beautifully arched, and entirely her own. She had done everything possible to enhance her features, not disguise them.
The restaurant was basically as Lynn remembered it and Jim was impressed with the Egyptian decor. Lynn saw him during the first course. He walked out of the office and spoke to a waiter after which he walked out amongst the guests, chatting at several tables. He came to their table and stopped, after asking if they were satisfied Lynn found him looking at her, a puzzled expression crossing his face as he moved off.
After the main course Lynn said it was time to make her move. She got up and went to the counter, asking if she could use the phone, saying her cell phone battery had run down and the car charger did not work. Removing the large clip-on earring from her left ear, she punched in a local number she had seen on a closed shop front and after a few rings spoke into the hand piece. “Lynette? Jackie. Is Davie all right….. Still coughing a bit? Give him another dose of the mixture and just keep an eye on him. We should be home in an hour, make sure that Jeanie gets to bed soon……OK, see you later….. Bye.” She ‘accidently’ pressed a few buttons as she replaced the receiver, making a redial check impossible.
He stepped closer, “Daring hairstyle, it suits you, I personally prefer long hair. You look familiar, haven’t we met before somewhere?”
“I don’t recall, perhaps around town.” she saw that he was looking at her ear as she slowly replaced the earring.
“You speaking to your sitter, I once knew a Lynette, but she was blonde, bleached. She had a tattoo on her left arm.
“I cannot understand people having tattoos” she said, “What if you get tired of the design, you are stuck with it – crazy”. She turned to go and said, “Thanks for the phone.”
“No problem Lynn.” he said softly.
She started to spin around but caught herself in time. “Lynette is my sitter, my name is Jackie, Jackie DeVane, I didn’t catch yours.”
“I am sorry, it’s Abu” he said, extending his hand. Lynn took it, her flesh crawling at the touch. “I must get back to my husband, wonderful meal, thank you.”
Back at the motel Lynn was amazed at the passion aroused by the earlier adrenalin rush and the emotions released by the encounter with Abu, Jim was overwhelmed. Rising late the next morning, they had a leisurely breakfast. Lynn showed him a bit of Fresno, at one point she asked him to stop, pointing a little way down the road she said, “Remember that corner?” He looked, turned to her and nodded, leaning across he kissed her, gently caressing her short crisp hair.
Leaving Fresno, they headed for Atascadero, then up the coast to join the tourists at the Hearst Castle. After the Casa Grande tour they made their way back to Grover City where they checked into a small motel perched on the edge of a cliff. They had an early supper, buying a bottle of wine to take back to their room.
The sun was setting over the Pacific as they sat down on the little bench on the patio of their room. Lynn handed Jim the small slip of paper that she had carried in her purse for over a year. He opened it and read ‘Kindness will bring many little joys.’ Placing her hands in his she looked at the identical sets of rings and said lovingly, “Being with you has fulfilled all my dreams, I have a man I love and who loves me in return, I have always wanted to be a pharmacist and have an interest in a small business, and now my dearest wish has come true as well. I am going to have your baby, you are going to be a father…………. Don’t worry, I have not forgotten my promise to you, it will just have to be shelved for a while.”
The End, perhaps.