â€œI donâ€™t have much time.â€ I say as I find Nick. â€œI told them that I needed to pee.â€
â€œHave you found her yet?â€ Nick asks as he hugs me close.
â€œAs far as I can tell, she has moved past the initiate phase which Iâ€™m still in.â€
I notice that we are getting curious stares from people passing by. Though people in this town are used to seeing cult members dressed as I am, cult members normally stick to each other. A person who looks like a cult member embracing someone who doesnâ€™t is weird.
â€œAmy, letâ€™s go somewhere more private.â€ Nick has noticed the stares too.
â€œGood idea, but where?â€ I ask. â€œWe donâ€™t have time to go anywhere. And remember donâ€™t call me Amy, they think my name is Laura.â€
â€œWhere did you say youâ€™d be going to the bathroom?â€
â€œFollow me, but try not to look like youâ€™re with me.â€
I lead him to the store that has the convenient bathroom that I said I would use. The hall down to the menâ€™s and ladiesâ€™ rooms is empty, so we talk there.
â€œWe have very little contact with anyone except the elders and the leader who are preparing us to join the fold. We also stick together almost constantly and never leave the building that has our dorm and a couple of meeting rooms. Except when they send us out on errands around town. There is almost no chance Iâ€™m going to find Cathy as an initiate.â€ I explain. â€œItâ€™s going to be a couple of more weeks before I am welcomed in. Then I should get more contact with members. Then I should be able to find Cathy.â€
â€œLetâ€™s not risk making contact again then until after that.â€ Then he adds with curiosity in his voice, â€œwhy do they send initiates to run the errands instead of full members?â€
â€œThe full members donâ€™t fit in as well.â€ Nick raises one of his eyebrows giving me a quizzical look, but I donâ€™t explain further. Iâ€™m being deliberately vague. I know heâ€™ll fuss if he knows the details.
â€œShould I be worried?â€ His expression shows he already is.
â€œNah, itâ€™s nothing permanent.â€ Which is technically true, I hope he interprets it to mean they just dress even funnier than the initiates.
â€œSo, I wonâ€™t be able to meet you in town after you become a full member.â€ He looks down at me, then glances around to make sure weâ€™re alone still. He brushes his fingers over my cheek and up over my tightly pulled back hair, before he kisses me. â€œIâ€™m still parked on that farm, about a mile from the compound. I told the farmer who owns it more details about why I had asked if I could park there, and he is really understanding. Said heâ€™d do the same as you if it was his sister. He even lets me shower. So, Iâ€™ll either be there, or leave a note.â€
â€œOk, Iâ€™ll see you in a few weeks. Now in case anyone saw you come down here, leave and Iâ€™ll go spend a few minutes in the bathroom so we arenâ€™t leaving at the same time.â€
On the ride back to the compound, I thought about how much chance I might have of finding Cathy before I am expected to join the group as a full member. I know I was right when I told Nick it was almost impossible, but I really hope Iâ€™m wrong so I donâ€™t have to become a full member, I really donâ€™t want to.
Then I feel guilty about her being with this group at all. I had been trying to get her out of our abusive stepfather’s house legally for weeks before she decided it was taking too long and to just run away instead a couple of months ago. It took a bit, but I tracked her to this cult. Itâ€™s just not very easy for a 20 year old to get legal custody of a 16 year old, especially since our stepfather is careful to never leave bruises. After Cathy ran away though, mom agreed to let her live with me voluntarily.
The two weeks pass with no luck, I still havenâ€™t found Cathy. Iâ€™m going to have to become a full member of this cult to find her. I am not really worried about most of it. We are to give up all our worldly possessions, but everything I brought with me is just stuff Nick and I bought cheap at a thrift store so that I would have some things. None of it actually matters to me. Iâ€™m still nervous though, since every full member Iâ€™ve seen has sloppily cropped short hair. The longest Iâ€™ve seen is about 2 inches long. I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that this is the day that will happen.
Most of the ceremony is predictably filled with the warm fuzzy feeling to make us feel emotionally attached to the leader and feel like part of a community. It goes on and on, There are plenty of full members participating, but I canâ€™t really see them well enough to look for Cathy. The ceremony goes on and on for hours. Finally as I feared, haircutting becomes part of the ceremony.
I sit on the floor watching as the first initiate submits to the haircut. She kneels in front of one of the elders as she is directed. First the elder lets down the initiates hair, which is held in a tight bun, the same as all the other long haired initiates. The hair spreads out over the initiateâ€™s back. It reaches her waist. It is smooth and a rich chocolate brown. The elder picks up a shiny pair of scissors.
My heart is pounding, but the initiate looks calm and downright blissful. I wonder if she is pretending, or if she is just so happy about being welcomed in as a full member that she is happy to give up her bouncy hair.
The elder grasps a long lock of the initiateâ€™s hair. I watch as the elder raises the scissors to the initiate’s head. They start biting into the hair. As the lock falls away, I can see that much less than the inch or two I had expected was left behind. I suppress a gasp as my heart skips a beat. It seems the initiation cut is more drastic than what the members keep their hair at. I do my best to pretend to be blissfully happy as I can see the other initiates around me are.
The elder drops the shiny hair. The foot long lock floats into the wide shallow basket next to the elder. As it lands it coils into a pile. Itâ€™s suddenly lifeless.
The elder reaches for the next lock. He hacks it off. The length doesnâ€™t really match the last one. The lock joins the last one in the basket. Itâ€™s barely landed when the elder has the next lock in his hand.
The pile in the basket grows swiftly. The initiate soon has a very sloppy crop. Some bits look to be as long as a half inch, but others are much shorter. In a couple of spots you can see her scalp. I breath deeply thinking about my own long hair.
The next initiate to go and kneel before the elder is a guy with short hair. The elder doesnâ€™t bother trying to hold the locks of hair, he simply cups his hand under the falling hair to catch it as he cuts it off close to the scalp. Heâ€™s not taking off much length, but mostly just removing random chunks creating another uneven crop.
I watch the basket of hair fill as the hair of more initiates is hacked off. I think of Cathy. This must have happened to her, I feel sick to my stomach as I imagine her bright blond curls dumped into a basket like the one in front of me.
The initiate next to me gets up, and I know itâ€™s about to be my turn. I watch as the initiateâ€™s strawberry blond bob is let down by the elder. He once again starts lifting up locks of hair and hacking them off with no care to make it even. He seems to be leaving hers slightly longer, simply out of carelessness. I hope that in his rush to finish, he will leave me with a bit more hair also.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, itâ€™s time for me get up and go kneel in front of the elder. I breathe deeply and focus on looking happy as I slowly get up off the the floor. I hope any visible nervousness will be interpreted as excitement. I walk over trying not to look shaky, before I kneel in front of the elder with the scissors.
I feel the elder pulling out bobby pins from my hair, heâ€™s being careless and hairs are getting pulled painfully. I concentrate on smiling through it. Iâ€™m supposed to be happy that Iâ€™m becoming a full member, of course I couldnâ€™t care less about that. I am happy that Iâ€™m getting closer to finding Cathy though, so I concentrate on that.
My hair is all loose now. I can feel it hanging down my back. I can see the tips of my grown out side swept bangs hanging in front of me. My hair is darker than Cathyâ€™s bright blond. Mine is an almost brown golden sandy color. Itâ€™s also just slightly wavy instead of curly like Cathyâ€™s. It hangs almost to my waist with just a few long layers.
I feel the tension as the elder lifts a lock of hair from the crown of my head. My heart pounds.
I hear the crunch as the scissors start biting into my hair. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and try not to think about what is happening. The sound of the scissors slicing through the lock is too present though, and with my eyes closed I canâ€™t help but imagine what my hair looks like. I imagine my head covered in uneven tufts. The tension releases as I hear the scissors snap closed.
I feel the elder pick up the next lock. The scissors cut through it with a crunch-snap. I wish I could reach up and feel it to know how bad it is, but none of the other initiates had so I restrain myself. Swiftly the next lock is lifted and cut.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my hair being dropped on top of the pile of hair off to my side. It looks so long. I swallow down my feelings and continue to try to look happy. I wonder if some of the initiates who had looked perfectly happy as they lost their hair, were actually as upset as I was about it, and just pretended they didnâ€™t care. If they were just pretending, I hope Iâ€™m doing as good a job at pretending not to care.
I have no mirror to look in, I have no way to know if heâ€™s rushing and leaving me a bit more hair or is itâ€™s being l cut very close like the first few initiates where he was most thorough.
Then it happens, the moment I know itâ€™s close. I feel the cold metal directly against my scalp just as I hear the crunching starting again. It must be very very short in that spot on the back. I feel the metal a few more times as he goes, on my neck and again in the back.
The cutting keeps going on and on. The top layer of the hair in the basket is almost all mine at this point, I keep wishing for it to stop, so so desperately.
Finally I watch as my bangs are lifted up. I can feel them being held straight up as the crunching begins again. Then I feel them falling back to my forehead, they donâ€™t reach my eyebrows. They donâ€™t even come close to my eyebrows.
I feel the tap on my shoulder that lets me know itâ€™s over and I can get up. I am horribly scared to see what I look like, so in some ways Iâ€™m glad there is no mirror. Yet I desperately want to see. I have to hold on to the slight hope that it isnâ€™t as bad as I fear it is.
The ceremony goes on for a few more hours, before we finally get assigned to new beds and get to go to sleep.
Laying in the dark, I have the opportunity to run my hand over my scalp and feel the damage. It canâ€™t be more than an inch at the longest. Itâ€™s incredibly uneven. Worst of all, there are spots in the back that are little more than stubble.
I cry myself to sleep, thinking about what Nick is going to say when he sees it.
Now that Iâ€™m a full member, I am assigned a regular job. I said that I love to garden. Since Cathy loves to I figured it was the best chance to get assigned to the same job as her. As it turns out, I was right. I spot her in the apple orchard where we are supposed to be pruning.
I manage to get her alone, and we talk. She cries a lot, but soon as Iâ€™ve reassured her that she doesnâ€™t have to go back to our stepfatherâ€™s house, she agrees to leave with me.
Getting out isnâ€™t too bad. They try to convince us to stay, but I warn them that Cathy is a minor and they will face being charged with harboring a runaway if they donâ€™t let me take her. Then there is the long walk to the farm where Nick has parked and camped off the access road to the sheep shed for the last month.
I see Nick sitting in his car, just resting as we approach. As we get near, Nick notices us and gets out of the car. The look on his face is so conflicted.
â€œThank god you found her.â€ Nick says. â€œAre you both ok?â€
â€œWeâ€™re ok.â€ I say, wrapping my arms around Nick.
He hugs me back, but almost immediately one of his hands is up in whatâ€™s left of my hair. â€œIs this what you meant by full members not fitting in?â€ He whispers in my ear.
I just nod slightly. I donâ€™t want to discuss it in front of Cathy. Sheâ€™s been through enough, I donâ€™t want to upset her more.
An hour later, Iâ€™m stepping out of the shower at the nice farmersâ€™ house. Nick had gotten to know the farmers really well while waiting for me to find Cathy. They are an older couple, Trevor and Marge. Their children are older and have all moved out to start their own families, so they have a bunch of empty rooms.
I hadnâ€™t looked at myself in the mirror before the shower, I just ignored it. In the shower though, the way my hair felt under my fingers as I lathered it reminded me constantly of what had happened, I could only ignore it so far. Then as I rubbed the towel over my head, and had no long hair to dry, it was completely impossible to ignore.
Itâ€™s time to look now, I canâ€™t keep putting it off. I wipe the condensation off the mirror.
I see myself for the first time. My hair is as short and uneven as I feared, it has no shape, it just sticks out at all kinds of odd angles. The left side seems to be mostly longer than the right side, itâ€™s just an incredible mess.
I shake my head at myself. Then remind myself that I had to do this to save Cathy.
I walk to the guest room they are letting Cathy and I use to change in. Cathy is laying on one of the twin beds asleep. I sit next to her for a moment. Her hairâ€™s not as bad as mine, between having had a month to grow out, and the curls camouflaging the unevenness a bit, it doesnâ€™t look good, but itâ€™s not a total disaster like mine is.
I put on the clothing that I had packed into Nick’s car. The blue jeans feel extremely stiff after spending a month in loose cotton gauze skirts and tunics.
I go downstairs where Nick is talking with Trevor and Marge. Nick sounds upset, though Marge and Trevor sound pretty calm. I catch bits of the conversation as I walk quietly down the stairs.
â€œShe told me it wasnâ€™t permanent, itâ€™s going to take years for that to grow out.â€
â€œA long time isnâ€™t the same as permanentâ€¦â€
They stop talking awkwardly as I come into view.
â€œCathyâ€™s asleep.â€ I announce as I go to sit next to Nick.
â€œThatâ€™s good, sheâ€™s probably had a very emotional day.â€ Says Marge. â€œI bet youâ€™re pretty exhausted too.â€
Everyone is silent for a few moments. I can tell Nick is fighting with himself. Finally though, he takes in a deep breath.
â€œI canâ€™t believe you let them hack off your hair like that.â€ He blurts out. â€œCouldnâ€™t you have said no?â€
I canâ€™t think what to say, as my ears burn red and I look down at my hands. My eyes feel wet and Iâ€™ve got a lump in my throat.
â€œI know youâ€™re upset, but you know Amy just did what she had to Nick.â€ Trevor speaks sternly to him like a father.
Now Nick looks embarrassed. â€œIâ€™m sorry Amy. I didnâ€™t mean to make it sound like it was your fault. Itâ€™s just been such a shock.â€
â€œI know.â€ My voice breaks as I say it and a tear rolls down my cheek.
â€œLook at the two of you, so miserable over this little thing. You should be happy, you got Cathy back safe. Amyâ€™s hair will grow back.â€ Marge says with pursed lips. â€œHaving it evened out will help you look and feel more normal while it does.â€
â€œTrevor, why donâ€™t you take them to Georgeâ€™s now to get it fixed.â€
â€œThat sounds like a great idea Marge.â€ Trevor agrees immediately and gets up and starts getting his hat and jacket on.
â€œWhat if Cathy wakes up?â€ I ask.
â€œDonâ€™t worry, you wonâ€™t be gone long, dear, and if she does, Iâ€™ll be here.â€ Marge reassures me.
In Trevorâ€™s pick up truck Iâ€™m squeezed in the middle between Trevor and Nick. Iâ€™m glad Iâ€™m hidden in the middle so that people wonâ€™t be staring through the window at me. I snuggle against Nick as much as I can, while I wonder what Georgeâ€™s is like.
Itâ€™s pretty much the same drive into town as we made when we ran errands for the compound.
We pass the hardware store that I know, and head further down main street to a part of town I donâ€™t really know. We pull up and park in front of a shop. The awning above has â€œGeorgeâ€™s Barber Shopâ€ scrawled across it in bold letters. Off to the side is the classic red and white swirling pole.
â€œThis is where Marge goes?â€ I ask, thinking about Margeâ€™s white hair that doesnâ€™t quite reach her shoulders.
â€œMarge goes to a beauty parlor, she thought this would be better though. She used to take all our daughters with her to the beauty parlor, but the middle one, Lisa, would complain they didnâ€™t do well with the short hair she wanted. So, Lisa started coming here with me. Marge figured, if this worked better for Lisa, it was probably going to work better for you too.â€ Trevor explains.
It feels so strange to hear this. They hadnâ€™t just been talking about me, theyâ€™d been making plans for me, which is making me feel that much more self conscious. That and it reminds me that fixing it just means Iâ€™m going to have a professionally cut really short haircut, instead of the unprofessional hack job. Iâ€™m not getting my hair back, itâ€™s gone.
I look up at Nick, who has been petting my hair since we parked. Heâ€™s frowning, but doesnâ€™t look surprised, I guess he was part of the conversation I missed. He bends down and kisses me on the forehead.
â€œItâ€™ll be ok. I really am sorry about over reacting earlier.â€ Nick says to me quietly. Then gives my shoulders a quick squeeze before unbuckling his seatbelt.
As we head in Nick has his arm around my shoulder, and Trevor holds the door open. Every head in the shop turns our way as the bell above the door jingles. They continue staring with curiosity. I know the three of us must be a very unusual sight. As I feel the eyes on me, my hand reflexively goes to my hacked off hair as Nickâ€™s arm tightens around me protectively.
â€œHi, Junior.â€ Trevor says to the middle aged man standing at one of the chairs.
â€œHey, Trev.â€ Junior responds. â€œI have a feeling thereâ€™s a story here.â€
â€œThis is Amy and her boyfriend Nick. Amyâ€™s little sister joined that cult that moved onto the old Johnson farm a few years back, up the road from me. So, Amy infiltrated them to get her sister back.â€
I feel every eye on me as a collective â€œwhoaâ€ goes through the crowd of men. On the waiting bench there is a shuffling to make room for me to sit. I am bombarded with questions as Junior and the other barber go back to work. Turns out that even though, they all are used to seeing the initiates around town running errands they know almost nothing about what actually happens on the compound, Iâ€™m not that surprised knowing how much the elders tried to hide things. Â I answer what I can and explain that I was only there a month when they ask stuff I donâ€™t know.
They had no idea that the people they saw around town were just initiates, and not full members. Which leads to me explaining about the hair that needs fixing.
â€œAmy, Iâ€™m ready for you.â€ Junior calls out.
Nick squeezes my hand as I get up. I slip out of my hoody and hand it to Nick before walking over to Juniorâ€™s barber chair. I watch myself in the mirror as I sit down; god my hair is a mess. The bangs falling on my forehead are completely crooked.
Junior shakes out his striped cape and tosses it over me. He tightens it around my neck, making me notice how dry my throat suddenly feels. I feel so nervous looking at myself in the mirror unrecognizable with my hair hacked off and the cape covering me. I keep trying to remind myself that Juniorâ€™s just going to trim it to make it even, not really take off too much more length.
â€œI need to take it down to an eighth of an inch up to here,â€ Junior suggests as he holds his comb against my head a bit above my ear.
My heart pounds wildly, I thought he was just going to trim it, not take most of what little length is left off. I suck in my lips and take a deep breath.
â€œWhat if you donâ€™t and trim the half inch thatâ€™s there?â€ I ask in a shaky voice. â€œYâ€™know, just make the left and right sides even?â€
â€œThe spots where you have chunks missing back here will still show.â€ Junior taps the highest spot where I am reminded I felt little more than stubble with his comb. â€œWant to see it in the hand mirror, so you can decide if youâ€™d rather live with it?â€
â€œNo, just do what you need to to fix it.â€ I shake my head as I answer.
Junior starts combing the hair on top up. â€œI can save about a quarter of an inch around the crown, and should be able to save the full half inch in the front. Ok?â€
Whatâ€™s there to say? I donâ€™t really want it to be shorter, but the other option of having odd bits missing sounds way worse. So, I just swallow and nod.
Junior picks up his clippers, and fusses with them for a minute before turning them on. They start out very loud, but settle after a moment to a steady hum. The lump still feels huge in my throat.
Junior comes around behind me, and tilts my head down with the hand holding the comb. Iâ€™m looking at my lap covered in the white cloth with light blue pinstripes. The cape is bouncing slightly as one of my legs is shaking. I place a hand on my thigh under the cloth to settle it down.
I feel the clippers against my neck. They slowly travel up into my hair. The short hair starts to tumble over my ear and fall into my lap in chunks. The clippers are flicked away after they go over the spot with the missing chunk. There had been a chilly spot there before, now the whole strip feels cold.
The clippers are away from my head for only a moment. Soon I feel them on my neck again, pushing back up into the hair next to the cold strip. More hair falls past my ear to add to the carpet on my lap. I watch as a drip fall into the hair on my lap, itâ€™s followed shortly by another one. My cheeks are getting wet.
Itâ€™s not just this haircut that Iâ€™m crying about. Itâ€™s the hurt I feel from Nickâ€™s reaction, and the exhaustion from the month on the compound. Itâ€™s not having to pretend constantly anymore. Â The clippers are getting close to my ear now that the third pass has started. They seem louder so close. The hair in my lap is now very thick.
Junior makes the next pass with the clippers to the other side of the first strip. The hair tumbles over my other ear, landing on top of where my hand rests to steady my leg. As he continues to strip the back of my head, I tilt my hand back and forth examining the hair that landed there. Iâ€™m surprised by how much there is of it.
The clippers are now by my other ear. After the pass close to my ear, Junior runs the clippers back over the already clipped area more swiftly. The hair that sprays down now is just a dusting.
Junior is now guiding my head back up. He starts running the clippers around and above my ear.
Hair falls to my shoulder, which now resembles my lap.
As Junior buzzes the hair in front of my ear, hair sticks to my damp cheeks.
When he moves to cutting the other side, I get to see what the eighth inch looks like in the mirror. It doesnâ€™t fully hide my scalp, the hair is just a shadow. Maybe I should have lived with the uneven tufts.
Junior puts down the clippers and I sigh with relief. A moment later, he is spraying water into the hair on top of my head. He combs it as he sprays making it evenly damp. Junior puts down the spray bottle and picks up his scissors. I swallow yet again as I know heâ€™s about to attack what little hair I have left on top.
Junior starts towards the back, just above the occipital bone where the clippered area ends. The comb scrapes through my hair, lifting it. Then the blades of the scissors meet it.
Junior starts slicing through my already too short hair, up against the comb. The scissors rasp against the teeth of the comb. The cold wet hairs hit my neck.
Junior snips away at the top quickly, cutting against the moving comb. He works gradually toward the front going back and forth. The heavy wet hair knocks some of the lighter dry hair covering my shoulders off as it lands, it rolls to my lap or down to the floor.
The scissors flash back and forth in the mirror. Hair falls all about me. I watch as my hair gradually becomes neat and even. But shorter, so so short.
Junior is tilting the comb gradually higher as he moves to the front. The falling hair begins to hit my face occasionally. It mixes with what had stuck in my tears earlier.
He stops running the comb back and forth for a moment and instead combs my bangs straight down. They are still really uneven. He starts next to the shortest point on them, and starts snipping up into them, going across my forehead matching the length from that shortest point. They are well above my eyebrows. When he reaches my temple, he goes back to the short point where he started and works his way across in the other direction. When he has finished, he combs them up and starts cutting on the top again for a few minutes more.
Junior turns back to his counter, and puts down the scissors. I look at myself. the short hair on top looks smooth and even again. Though I hate how short it is, I have to admit it looks so much better than it did when I first sat down. The top and the sides look awkwardly disconnected though. Iâ€™m considering saying something when I hear the clippers start again.
I bite my lip and breathe in sharply.
Junior combs the edge where the top meets the buzzed sides. Then he runs the clippers over the comb. They make a zshoop sound as another dusting of hair rains down. He goes around the back, blending the transition. The sides now changeover gradually to the top, it looks much sleeker.
Junior tilts my head back down and starts using the clippers at my neck. I feel them being flicked up all along the neckline, and behind my ears.
Junior puts down the the clippers finally, and I think heâ€™s done and itâ€™s over with. But, he doesnâ€™t undo the cape to let me go. Instead he picks up something else.
He is pumping something into his hand from a dispenser on his counter. When he turns around to face me, I see he has a small amount of foam in his left hand and his right is holding a straight razor.
I want to say something, because Iâ€™m terrified. I am too terrified to actually say anything though, so I just sit stiffly as Junior yet again tilts my head down, and spreads the foam around the edge of my hair.
I listen to the strange sound of the razor scraping through the foam. Junior is holding my skin very taut as he goes carefully around my hairline. Iâ€™m holding my breath.
I sigh with relief once again as he puts down the razor and starts wiping me off with a wet towel. Then heâ€™s dusting me off with a soft powdered covered brush. The cape is released and carefully removed from me and Junior gives me a hand mirror as he turns the chair so the back faces the large mirror. I see the back in the hand mirror.
The back of my head looks like a guyâ€™s. I would never think someone with such short hair was a girl from the back. Another tear rolls down my cheek.
I reach up and try to discreetly wipe the tear away, but suspect they all saw it. I move my hand up to feel my hair.
It feels quite wonderful under my hand, actually. When I was a kid, a friend of mine had a pet rabbit. His ears were covered in fur about the same length as my hair. everyone else always wanted to pet his fluffy body, but I loved the way his velvety ears felt.
I hear a bunch of the men around the shop reassuring me that it looks great and will grow out in no time, confirming that they all noticed me wipe away the tear. I havenâ€™t heard Nick say anything. I look up to see Trevor nudge Nick hard with his elbow.
â€œItâ€™s not nearly so bad now.â€ Nick offers.
Everyone glares at Nick, then I get a fresh round of compliments.
The compliments feel empty. They just want to make me feel better. They all know Iâ€™m upset and just want to ease the pain.
I smile and thank them. Though I donâ€™t really believe the compliments, I appreciate the kindness of the gesture. Nickâ€™s the one being honest, itâ€™s not good, but itâ€™s not as bad as what I walked in with.
I get up and retrieve my hoody from Nick, who stands up to put it on me and once again wraps his arm protectively around me.
â€œLetâ€™s get back to the farm before your sister wakes up.â€ Trevor suggests as he walks over to the register and starts reaching for his wallet.
â€œIâ€™ve got this.â€ Nick says as he rushes over realizing Trevor was planning to pay.
Out in the truck, I climb back into the middle again. I snuggle up to Nick again as Trevor starts the engine. Nick holds me very tightly the whole drive. Nobody talks.
â€œDid Cathy wake up?â€ I ask Marge as soon as we get back.
â€œNo dear, sheâ€™s still fast asleep.â€ Marge sounds so calm and steady. â€œYou look much more normal now. I see you had to go really short to make it even. Donâ€™t worry, itâ€™ll grow out quickly, Lisa went almost that short one really hot summer. She was complaining about it being hot again within two weeks.â€
Itâ€™s not the empty compliments I got earlier, just an understanding reassurance. It actually does make me feel better.
â€œI know you just planned to get changed and head back to the city, but itâ€™s pretty late to head out. Weâ€™ll be having dinner in a couple of hours, and you are welcome to spend the night. We have another spare room for Nick.â€
I smile, in part because itâ€™s such a nice offer. In part because Iâ€™m amused that she feels Nick needs a separate room from me even though I live with him.
â€œYouâ€™ve already done so much for us, I donâ€™t want to impose.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry about that, dear, itâ€™s no trouble at all.â€ Marge has a wide genuine smile on her face. â€œIn fact, if you and Nick would go feed and water the chickens it would be doing me a favor. Nick knows where it is, heâ€™s done it for me a few times. Then you two could spend some time out on the porch swing, Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve got a lot of catching up to do.â€
After Nick and I have fed the chickens we sit on the swing. Nick is petting my head again, I turn to look at him, he still looks very miserable.
â€œYou hate my haircut that much?â€
He pulls away from me. He sits leaned forward his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together. I watch as his face contorts through several emotions. Nick has absolutely no poker face.
â€œI shouldnâ€™t have let this happen to you.â€ The pain in his voice is obvious as he says it. â€œI was here to keep you safe, and I couldnâ€™t. I should have been the one to go in. I knew something bad might happen to you.â€
A tear is trailing down his cheek. He wipes it away.
â€œYou know I needed to be the one to go in, we didnâ€™t know how separate they kept men and women, and Cathy might not have been willing to leave with you.â€ I stroke his back. â€œOn the scale of bad things that happen, this haircut is nothing. I have Cathy back, Iâ€™m so happy about that. If you would just forgive me for letting them cut my hair, everything will be perfect.â€
â€œI donâ€™t need to forgive you, you did everything right.â€ Nick looks into my eyes as he says it. â€œIt’s easier now that your hair is evened out not to imagine what they did and get angry every time I look at you. I canâ€™t stand the thought of someone hurting you.â€
I smile and snuggle up to Nick again. His arms go back around me holding me very tight again. His scratchy chin rests on the back of my neck as I feel another one of his tears fall on me. I know now that he’s angry at them, not me.