A Changing World

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The shop had been my pride and joy. Not that I’d ever call it a shop in front of anyone else. It was always a boutique. It had to be, to justify the prices that I charged. It was as exclusive as the surrounding area could bear, kitting out the well-heeled for weddings, parties and affairs. I’d had it for nearly five years, after a career as a fashion-buyer and then as a partner in another business. This one was my statement to the world, my independence. My independence until I met the man who’d keep me in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed, of course. That hasn’t happened yet, despite the effort that I’ve put in, the gym sessions, the spa sessions, the disappointing sex with guys who’d promised so much and delivered so little. I’m thirty-seven, going on spinster, so I use the shop as a showcase for myself as well as my stock. It gets me invitations to social events, trade fairs, places to meet potential mates. I put on quite a presentation when I need to: I’m five feet eight, trim, with just the right amount of backside and a generous helping of firm bosom, topped off with long blonde hair.

These days, I was alone in the shop much of the time, my regulars and walk-ins avoiding unnecessary trips into town because of the virus. I had sympathy with them, but went in each day more out of hope than expectation. There would come a point soon enough where I’d have to admit defeat and not bother opening.

I’d been trying to manage things down progressively, but a phone call late yesterday had reminded me of something that had completely slipped my mind. I’d booked a couple of models for an advertising shoot and they’d rung in to say that they weren’t going to make it. I understood their reluctance to come in to town and was hoping that the photographer would be equally as reasonable. I phoned him straight away and explained what had happened and had my hopes dashed. He wasn’t offering a refund and suggested that I find replacement models, because both he and his make-up artist would be waiting at the studio. I was just about to call him all the names under the sun when he suggested that I should be my own model. He switched to smooth-talker mode, rather than hard-nosed businessman mode and after a bit of flattery about my looks and my figure, he’d talked me into making the best of a bad job and seeing how it turned out. After I put the phone down, it dawned on me that there probably wasn’t any point doing an advertising shoot at the moment, but I could always stash the pictures for when the inevitable upturn came.

I spent the rest of the evening feeling more nervous than I should’ve. After all, it was a few pictures in nice clothes. How hard could it be?

By the morning, I’d managed to compose myself and arrived at the studio with a car full of outfits of various sorts, from casual to formal, because I wasn’t really sure what would work best. If in doubt, prepare for every eventuality, I always thought.

I’d already met the photographer a couple of times to agree details of the original shoot. He was exactly the way that you imagine a photographer to be: smooth, confident, eager to control everything around him. He introduced me to Carla, his make-up artist / hair-stylist / clothes stylist / jack of all trades, who was a lovely red-headed girl in her early thirties maybe. I looked at her when she wasn’t paying attention, just to try to gauge her approach.

She was interestingly simple in her choice of clothes, had very light make-up and hair that was so at ease with itself that it must’ve cost a good chunk of her daily rate. It was lazily-tousled, short, beach-hair almost, without the sand and salt. Whoever had done it for her knew what they were doing. I liked her from the moment that I saw her. She was a woman I could do business with.

It was Carla who suggested that I should do the first few pictures in my street clothes, just to get a feel for it without getting too stressed at having to showcase a particular outfit. I looked at the studio lights and took a deep breath.

I tried to forget that I was modelling and told myself that I was just dressed for an evening in the pub. That’s what I was dressed for really, jeans and a loose-fitting shirt. The stylist stayed close, trying to put me at my ease, clarifying the pose that the photographer wanted, taking the harsh edge off his commands. She seemed to understand what I was going through, right from when I walked in the door and she sat me in the chair to do my make-up. She hadn’t spoken much, but her voice had been soothing, just what I needed.

We dwelt on the smart casual look for a while and then went for the tailored suits. I knew that my costume changes were much slower than the photographer was used to, but there wasn’t much that I could do. The stylist stood ready, handing me outfits that we’d laid out previously, in a bid to make the process a little more streamlined. After the seventh change, she’d suggested that we just stay on set rather than going back to the changing room. The photographer gallantly turned his back while I stripped down to my underwear and put another outfit on.

‘Can we do something with the hair, Carla? It’s the same in every shot’ he called out.

‘We can, but it’ll take a while’ she replied.

I wondered whether I was going to have a say in this. It was my boutique, my clothes, my money that was paying for this, after all.

‘Let’s have a break’ the stylist said diplomatically.

I sat down while she poured us some coffee from the percolator that she’d set up when we started. I could see her looking at me, sizing me up. Adam left the room, probably for a cigarette or a comfort break.

‘He’s right, you know’ she said.

I looked at her.

‘Long blonde hair in every shot’ she clarified.

‘We could just call it my trademark’ I replied. ‘That’s why I booked two models though, for a bit of variety. One long, blonde and the other short and dark. Now here I am, trying to be all things to all men.’

‘Can’t be helped’ she replied. ‘Do you ever wear it up?’ she asked after a moment.

‘Very occasionally, but that would be for a wedding or something. I’d get my hairdresser to do it because I haven’t got the patience.’

‘I know what you mean.’

‘We could do that for the evening gown pictures, if you can help me.’

‘No problem, but then there’s the other outfits’ she observed. I took a sip of my coffee.

‘Don’t forget the lingerie’ the photographer chipped in, having come back into the room at just the wrong moment.

‘I think we’re going to have to forget that’ I said.

‘Nonsense, you’re a fine looking woman’ he replied.

I turned to look at him, giving him my most severe “Did you really just say that?” expression.

‘He’s right you know’ the stylist said. ‘You’d look great.’

‘Remember that I work in the shop and don’t particularly want every Tom, Dick and Harry to know what I look like in my undies’ I replied.

‘How about we do the shots and you have veto on them?’ he persisted.

‘We could do them as part of the evening wear shots. Have the lingerie on under the dress and just let Adam take a couple of pictures when you get changed. That way it isn’t as if you’re posing or anything’ Carla ventured, not waiting for me to object to Adam’s initial suggestion.

I took a sip of my coffee, avoiding a response to either of them.

The three of us finished our coffees and then it was back to work.

‘How are we going to do this?’ Adam asked, holding his camera expectantly.

‘How about we do the evening shots next. I can put Sophie’s hair up now and you can go and have another ciggie’ Carla suggested. I was starting to feel like a child who had no input into parental plans. They both talked about me, rather than to me.

Carla took my empty cup and waited for Adam to leave the room.

‘Do you want to put your undies on first, while he’s not about?’ she suggested helpfully.

It sounded like a plan, although I wasn’t overly keen on stripping down with just her there. It’s one thing being confident, it’s another being the centre of attention at a time like that.

I found the suitcase that had the lingerie in, regretting my choice of some of the items. I vowed to be more empathetic with any model that I hired in future and not just treat them like a show-pony without feelings. I tried to conceal the most revealing items, but Carla had been watching me like a hawk. Her out-stretched arm homed in on precisely the items that I was trying to conceal.

‘We don’t sell many of those’ I said hurriedly.

‘All the more reason to promote them now that you’ve got the chance’ she replied.

‘I really couldn’t put those on here’ I objected.

‘You’d look beautiful.’

‘Slutty in the bedroom is one thing, slutty in the face of the paying-public is another kettle of fish’ I replied.

‘You could do them just for you, you know, something to look back on in years to come. Adam does a fair bit of glamour work, as well as the corporate stuff. He’d be tasteful, respectful.’

‘He’s a man’ I replied, those few words containing everything that needed to be said on the subject.

‘How about you put them on and if you change your mind, we can go down that route and if you don’t, you just get changed into something you’re more comfortable in? Sound like a plan?’

‘I must be mad’ I replied, taking the flimsy material from her.

She busied herself while I put on the underwear, cursing her for having chosen a half-cup bra that displayed way more than I wanted to show in the circumstances. I was just fastening the stockings to the suspender belt when she came back.

‘Give us a twirl’ she urged brightly. ‘Maybe not’ she added, seeing my expression. I reached for the robe to put on while she did my hair.

She worked quickly and by the time Adam returned I was standing there in a black full-length gown with a dramatic split down the leg. My hair was done in some sort of sophisticated French braid and I felt great. All thoughts of what I had on underneath were gone and I posed this way and that, standing, sitting, draped over a chaise-lounge. Quite the professional.

‘How about we do the next one’ Adam suggested, losing interest.

Carla approached me, reaching for the zipper on the dress.

‘Deep breath. Just tell yourself that you’ve still got it on’ she whispered. I felt the zip moving downwards. My stomach did a somersault. She eased the dress off my shoulders. I could see Adam’s interest piqued. He hadn’t been asked to turn away or leave the room. This was “on the record” as far as he was concerned. He saw the bra and realised that he was missing a trick.

‘Hold it a sec’ he said, raising the camera to his eye. I heard the shutter. Me with my boobs half-out, saved for posterity.

‘Adam, have a bit of patience’ Carla chided.

‘I saw something, it was perfect’ he explained. My boobs mate, that’s what you saw, I thought.

The exchange was just long enough for me to be standing there in an expensive and very pretty excuse for a bra, panties that hid nothing, stockings and heels. And I was actually paying him to look at me like that! He started to raise the camera again, but stopped half-way.

‘Can you pose like before’ he said. I looked at Carla who just smiled at me. I really wasn’t happy, but tried my best in a bid to get it over with. I decided that this session was going to be cut short.

‘Carla, can you do something about the hair?’ he asked again, pausing for a moment.

‘What have you got in mind?’

‘Just make it different’ he said. She looked at him.

‘Different? How?’

‘We need contrast. A different look. Like we were meant to have’ he said, almost petulantly.

‘We can only work with what we’ve got’ she replied. ‘Up or down? Which do you want?’

‘Different he replied, lowering his camera. He didn’t actually seem to be that interested in me in my underwear. I was spoiling his artistic vision and that was just too much for him. He huffed and puffed for a moment.

‘Is there enough stuff for you?’ he asked. Carla looked at him puzzled for a moment.

‘I’m not a model’ she observed pointedly, realising what he was proposing.

‘I know that, but if you’re in a shot, you’ll make it look different from all of the others.’

‘I’m not sure that’ll work’ I objected.

‘Why not? If she’s in the same sort of stuff as you, you blonde, her red, that’ll work’ he explained, getting more enthusiastic as the vision formed in his head.

‘I haven’t got the budget to pay for another model, that’s why I’m here like this’ I said, gesturing at my semi-nudity with an expressive hand gesture.

‘You’ll help out, won’t you Carla?’ he said.

‘I’m not sure there’s stuff in my size’ she observed.

‘It’ll be fine. You’ll be in the background anyway’ he said.

Carla looked at me. I looked at Carla.

‘Be my guest’ I said, gesturing towards the suitcase of goodies.

I was starting to feel self-conscious and wished that Carla would hurry up. I could see her flicking through the case, the same as I’d done, in search of something suitable. I turned away as she started to strip, amazed at her gameness in the situation. I bet that she hadn’t expected to be doing a photo-shoot like this when she got out of bed this morning.

She walked towards me, clad in white, rather than the black that I was wearing. The sheer panties did nothing to conceal her narrow landing strip, although the bra did a better job of hiding her modesty than the one that she’d chosen for me.

‘Something like that?’ she asked.

‘Perfect’ Adam confirmed. ‘But we still need to do something about the hair.’

‘So I’m not enough of a distraction’ she jibed. I touched her arm lightly to show solidarity in the face of male exploitation or something like that.

She started to undo my braid, unravelling hair that wasn’t as straight as it had been previously. I watched Adam scowl.

‘Can you do something about that?’ he said.

‘Sure. I can go and wash it and dry it if you want to wait an hour’ Carla said. Good girl.

‘Just make it better’ he said, oozing understanding.

Carla started to brush my hair, standing behind me, which seemed to take Adam’s focus away from the underlying issue. He raised his camera and started to snap away.

‘That’s it. Long strokes of the brush. That’s great’ he said starting to get back into his stride.

‘Draw it away from her head, show how long it is’ he urged, really getting into it now. I didn’t know what sort of pose to strike, standing there like a spare part in my underwear while Carla worked away, creating the interest for Adam.

‘Drape it in front of her shoulders. That’s it’ he said when Carla did as asked. I was pleased for the concealment.

Adam looked at the tableau in front of him. ‘Can you rest your head on her shoulder, hold her round the middle’ he suggested. Alarm bells started to ring in my head.

‘Are you okay with this?’ Carla said, starting to do as he said. I could feel the warmth of her body against my back.

‘Hang on. What are we doing here?’ I asked.

‘I was just picturing something’ he said, clearly trying to choose his next words carefully. ‘I was thinking about a slow reveal’ he continued.

‘Well, you can think again…’ I started to object.

‘Hear me out’ he said, holding up the flat of his hand towards me. ‘I just had an image where we can reveal the product dramatically. If you’re covered up like that, Carla can do the reveal by cutting your hair. It falls away and there’s the product.’ he said, looking really pleased with himself.

‘Okay, when you say “product” are we talking garment or boobs?’ I asked, struggling to hide my irritation. I stepped away from Carla’s gentle grasp.

‘Garment, of course. We’re all professionals here, aren’t we?’

‘Okay, so you have this vision of me cutting my hair, is that it?’

‘Brilliantly simple’ he said.

‘Yes, you are’ I retorted, delighted to see his expression change. He tried to rescue the situation.

‘If we’d had that short-haired model, we could’ve worked on something similar, but circumstances…’

‘Circumstances dictated that you got me’ I replied.

‘And you’re doing great. We just need to go with the flow.’

‘And you think that my hair needs to go with the flow?’

‘I think that it’d be a great shot, don’t you Carla?’ he asked, trying to enlist support.

‘Maybe one thing at a time, Adam, eh?’ she replied. I smiled my thanks at her.

‘Okay, you don’t like my idea, what do you suggest?’ he asked, looking at neither of us in particular.

‘What do you say, Sophie? Shall we just see what happens and if Adam thinks there’s a picture in it, then he can snap away. How does that sound?’ Carla asked.

‘I’ll be guided by you’ I said, pleased that Adam appeared to have returned to his box.

Carla took my hand and spun me round gently so that she ended up behind me again. She placed her hands on my hips and then re-created the gentle bear-hug

of moments ago. Her chin rested on my shoulder and we both looked at Adam to see if we had done anything to interest him yet. Apparently not.

Carla’s hands parted, fingertips trailing across my bare midriff as they went. Her hands ran up my bare arms and disappeared into my hair fleetingly before emerging with my hair pony-tailed in her hands. She let it drop and her hands went travelling again, down my arms, back up my arms, she high-hugged me across my upper chest and then let her hands stray onto my throat. I closed my eyes briefly, opening them to find that Adam’s camera was up. I felt a hand venture lower, onto the first-swell of my chest. She was nuzzling me.

‘That okay?’ she asked, her mouth close to my ear.

‘Fine’ I replied, although wondering whether any of Adam’s photos would be usable.

The hand slid lower. That was more boob than first-swell. She felt me tense.

‘You’re doing great’ she said quietly. ‘We just need to show the effect that this underwear has on people. Show them that it’s not really underwear at all.’

‘What is it then?’ I asked, trying to tell myself that I wasn’t really enjoying being held like this. Despite several dates over the past couple of months, none of them had got me to this position, so it was as much as I could do to put on a show of indifference for Adam.

‘It’s foreplay’ she whispered.

‘It’s business’ I replied, trying to keep her focussed on anything other than my boobs, which she now fully-cupped in her hands.

‘You’re hiding the product’ I commented, mimicking Adam.

‘Sorry’ she said, releasing my boobs. Her hands snaked to my midriff, mid-way between bra and knickers.

‘Better?’ she asked.

‘Mmmm’ I replied, feeling safe in her arms, starting to forget my objections.

Her hands re-trod the same path as earlier, ending up with my hair gripped in her hand. This time, she pulled. It was gentle at first, but then firmer. My head was going back, my body arching.

‘Wonderful’ Adam interrupted, reminding me that he was there.

‘Ignore him’ she whispered in my ear. ‘Think about me. Think about me cutting this off’ she added.

‘I don’t want to’ I said, using my backside to push against her to signal my reluctance. The mood had changed.

Her hair-free hand snaked around in front of me to cover the front of my panties, such as they were. The flat of her hand rested there, covering me, protecting me from Adam’s lens. She planted a kiss on my exposed neck.

‘Wouldn’t that feel better without all of this hair in the way?’ she asked.

‘I think we’ve done enough pictures now’ I said, hoping that either one of them would listen.

‘We can stop if you want’ she said, the angle of her hand changing to allow its single finger width to slide between my closed thighs. I could feel the slightest touch where it mattered, but there was no attempt to gain entry.

‘I’m okay’ I sighed, lost in the moment.

I’d only ever had one semi-drunk dance-floor fumble with another woman before, so this was a novelty. I moved my feet a few inches apart, which prompted

Carla’s hand to shift and curl up protectively. The front of my panties was covered again, but the hand wasn’t cross-wise this time. Carla’s forearm was more upright, allowing her middle finger to snuggle the length of my slit, although she still wasn’t trying to cross the border. Her other hand increased the pressure, turning my head towards her so that she could look me in the eye.

‘Adam’s going to get the scissors for me, aren’t you Adam’ she said with just a hint of menace.

‘No, please, I don’t want to cut it.’

‘How about we colour it then? I’ve got a couple of packs in the car for another job. Ever thought of yourself with jet black hair instead of this blonde?’ she asked.

‘No, no colour’ I protested, wondering quite why I wasn’t just walking away. Carla had a handful of my hair, but it couldn’t be classed as a serious restraint. I was still there because I was turned on, pure and simple. I opened my eyes and it all fell apart. My photographer was standing there shamelessly, with his trousers round his ankles and his dick in his hand, enjoying the scene far more than he should.

‘For fuck’s sake’ I exclaimed, wriggling out of Carla’s clutches. I turned my back on him and strode purposefully towards my clothes, knowing that a rear view probably presented him with the same sort of opportunity as the view that he’d just been enjoying so much. I pulled my shirt on over my head, crucial buttons still fastened from where I took it off. I sat down to take off the heels that I was wearing and slid into my jeans. I just wanted to get away.

Clara appeared by my side.

‘I’m really sorry’ she said quietly. She reached round to unhook her bra, but I told her to view the underwear as a gift. I didn’t want them back, tainted by their association with Adam and his little distraction. She slipped her dress back on and a semblance of respectability returned. I looked across to where Adam was now fiddling with one of the many little cases that photographers always seem to need. He steadfastly ignored me. I turned my attention to cramming as many of the outfits as I could back into anything that would make it easier to get back to the car. I heard Carla offer to help, but forged on without her, desperate to get away from there. She caught me up at the car, handing over another couple of large bags.

‘I’m really sorry’ she said again. I tried to smile, but the spell was broken.

When I got home, I went in, leaving all the bags in the car. I headed straight for the shower, trying not to look at my reflection in the mirror while I took off my tart’s underwear. I stood under the jet for much longer than I normally would, trying wash away the image of Adam jerking off to me. I’m not sure why I found it so distasteful, but I did. I spent the rest of the day trying to forget.

A couple of days later, I tackled the bags in the car, hoping that the creases weren’t irrecoverable. It took me an afternoon to restore the stock to its rightful places in the shop, ending up with a selection of empty cases and bags on the floor. For once, I’d been grateful that no customers had come in. I gathered everything up in a final push to return order, but was stopped in my tracks by the door opening. It was the ever-depressing postman, who was no doubt revelling in the current circumstances.

He handed me an envelope and scurried back out of the door. I dropped it on the counter on my way to make coffee and only opened it several minutes later.

There was a greetings card inside with a couple of those little computer chip thingies that you get in cameras taped inside. Underneath were the words “This is everything” and a smiley face. On the opposite side of the card, a business card was stapled on. “Carla Webb, Make-up artist and stylist” it read.

I felt a tear well up. I’d dreaded those pictures appearing somewhere that they shouldn’t.

I wanted to send her some flowers, but thought that a text would be better.

“Thank you for everything, Sophie” I wrote and put a single “x”.

Before I’d finished my coffee, my phone pinged.

“Can we start again? My name’s Carla.”

I looked at what she’d written, memories of that time in the studio flooding back, despite my desire to have forgotten all about it. I shouldn’t have put that ‘x’.

The phone pinged in my hand. Another text. “Adam is no longer a client of mine.”
I looked into a space between the racks. Thought about the friends with the husband and kids. Thought about my apparent success and the lack of husband and kids. Thought about my imminent thirty-eighth birthday, looked at the empty space again.

I tapped the keys on the phone. “Hi Carla, my name’s Sophie. Pleased to meet you.”

We carried on in this vein for a while, texts giving way to a peck on the cheek when she arrived at the shop. I’d have preferred the neutral ground of a coffee shop, but that avenue was closed now and my shop felt more comfortable than anywhere else I could think of.

We chatted for a while about nothing in particular until the subject of Adam came up and she had me laughing with her tales of what happened once I’d left and how she’d forced him to surrender the memory cards from his camera. It was just what I needed. The time came for her to leave and it was clear that both of us were struggling with the best way to part. Hug? Kiss? Handshake? In the end, it was a slightly raised hand and a ‘See you.’

Would I? I wondered after she’d gone.

I thought a lot during the course of the evening, about how odd the whole situation was, how I’d possibly missed out on so much by being focussed on the search for a man that I could share the nice things in life with. That hadn’t worked out so well, so should I change tack?

I showered and dressed the next morning, checking emails and texts while I drank my first coffee of the day. There was nothing interesting. I started to type a message: “Thinking of a new hairstyle. Can you recommend a good stylist?”

My phone pinged while I was doing the dishes. I dried my hands and checked to see what it said.

“Me” was all that it said.

“Suggestions on a postcard” I replied, returning to my chores.

The reply when it eventually came wasn’t what I expected. It was a picture that she must’ve got off some dodgy site on the internet. I stared at it. It was a picture of a naked woman. A woman who was not only naked, she was bald.

“Seriously?” I texted back.

“You could always wear lingerie, that’d be sexy too” she replied.

I was disappointed. I thought that it would be fun to let her decide on a new style for me, but she appeared to be laughing at me. So much for that idea. It looked like it was time to get back to Plan A and to try to find a man within a reasonable radius that I hadn’t either already discounted or discarded.

Later that evening, the phone rang.

‘I shocked you. I’m sorry’ Carla said.

‘I thought it’d be fun to have you pick a new style for me’ I replied.

‘I did.’

‘It must’ve gone to someone else then, because I only got that picture’ I said with evident distaste, not wanting to prolong the conversation.

‘That was my suggestion’ she insisted.

‘Bald?’

‘You asked, I told, but I don’t want to fall out over it’ she said before attempting to steer the conversation in a different direction. We chatted for a while and by the time we were winding up, I was really pleased that she’d called. I’d enjoyed talking to her, particularly so late. Just after she said “goodnight”, she added ‘Think about it. I know I am.’ The phone went dead. I stared at it in my hand. I found the picture that she’d sent. I’d meant to delete it, but had forgotten. I ran a hand through my hair, my long blonde hair.

For quite a while I’d been annoyed by the time that my hair drained out of my day, so was quite receptive to the idea of going shorter. One reason why I’d kept it long was to signal to the prospective father of my perfect children that I was youthful and sexy, but that hadn’t worked so far. Hence the change in my thinking. I looked at the picture on my phone. I thought about seeing Carla in the studio, seeing the teasing, opaque-display of her carefully-tended pubes from a different perspective than I was taking now. Then she was just another woman in her underwear. Now she was possibly my woman in her underwear.

I looked at the picture again. I slid the zipper down on my jeans. That picture suggested that I needed to make a “commitment”. Was that the price of progress? My jeans were round my ankles, my hand inside my knickers. The vision of Adam jacking off leapt at me. I stared at the picture on my phone to banish him.

I tapped out a single word with my free hand: “When?”. I looked at its starkness. I pressed ‘Send’.

There was no reply and I went to bed feeling rather deflated after having built myself up to the idea of something so radical. There was nothing from her the next day either and I came to the obvious conclusion: she had been winding me up. My list of potential life-companions had just become shorter by one.

Another day farther on found me sitting by the cash desk reading a book. I’d taken a couple of chairs in to the shop to make myself more comfortable, given the amount of time that I was in there with nothing much to do. It was starting to become my little home from home, although the sensible thing to have done would have been to start moving personal possessions in the opposite direction, in preparation for when I made the decision to close the shop.

I was pleasantly surprised by the sound of the door opening. Another human, possibly one who would give me money, was coming in. I hurriedly put my book down and looked lively. The woman had started to have a look at the rail of skirts nearest the door, which gave me the chance to assess whether she was likely to buy anything. She was the right age-group from what I could see, nicely cut dress, good figure, gave the appearance of not balking at the price tags. All looked promising so far. I looked at the dark brown hair breaking over her shoulders. It was time to make a move.

‘Hi, can I help you with anything?’ I asked.

‘Sorry, I got distracted. I’m actually looking for Mrs Carter. I’m Eve, the home hairdresser’ she said.

‘There isn’t a Mrs Carter here’ I replied, disappointed that she probably wasn’t going to be my first sale of the day.

‘I’m sure this is the address she gave me’ the woman replied, looking at me intensely. ‘Are you sure you’re not Angela Carter? You’re the spitting image of her.’

I realised what had caught my attention before. It was the hair. There was something not quite right about it. I looked again and the penny dropped.

‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. Angela Carter? I’m Angela Carter’ I replied, hoping that I’d got the name right.

Carla smiled at me, flicking at her long brown hair pointedly.

‘I’m glad we’ve got that sorted out’ she said, clearly relieved that she hadn’t had to come out of character to explain to me in words of one syllable that we were playing some kind of game.

‘Is there somewhere that I can set up my things?’ she asked, holding up a bag to show that she did indeed have “things” that needed to be set up.

‘Through here’ I indicated, taking her to the little staff breakout area that saw little use. She looked around, assessing it rapidly.

‘Should you perhaps lock the door, so that we’re not disturbed’ she suggested.

‘Of course’ I agreed, realising that I should’ve thought of that straight away, but had been thrown off-kilter by such an unexpected scenario.

When I got back from turning the “Sorry, but we’re closed” sign, she’d set out her stall, using the small dining table to lay out scissors, a bottle of shampoo and some conditioner, amongst other things.

‘Have a seat’ she urged, pulling the kitchen chair a little further out from the table. Not quite a proper salon chair, but it would do.

I sat down, thinking that I hadn’t done any of this role-play stuff for quite a while and how uncomfortable I’d been then. On that occasion, I’d tried to get my head round the concept of me being a nun, but it really didn’t do it for me and that was the end of another relationship.

‘Now, what can I do for you’ Carla / Eve asked, putting her hands on my shoulders. I decided that I should think of her as Eve and enter into the spirit of things. I wished that she’d chosen a better name for me. I’d known an Angela at school and really didn’t want to be reminded of her.

I wasn’t sure how to reply.

‘I want to shave my head’ I said eventually, not quite believing that the words had come out of my mouth.

‘Why on Earth would you want to do that?’ Eve asked. I wasn’t expecting that. I was stuck for words, realising that I wasn’t actually very good at the this pretence, if I actually had a speaking part rather than just getting dressed up and spreading my legs for someone.

‘Er, um, I just thought that it would save me so much time each day’ I replied eventually, closing my eyes as she ran her hand tantalisingly through my hair.

‘You’ve got such beautiful hair, though. It’d be such a shame to cut it all off.’

Was this really the same person who sent me that picture?

‘It takes so long to do’ I repeated.

‘Why not just go a bit shorter? Up to here maybe?’ she suggested, indicating a point level with my collar bone. That would be a sizeable trim, along the lines of something that I could’ve seen myself asking for, if left to my own devices.

‘No, I think I just want to cut it off’ I insisted, intent on playing my part to the full.

She lifted her hand higher. ‘How about to here?’ I shook my head.

‘What about a lovely, feminine crop? Something that you can just get out of bed with and then give it a quick tousle.’

‘That would be quite high maintenance though, wouldn’t it, to keep it looking good?’

‘I could do that for you, no problem. A little trim every three weeks, what do you say?’

‘I think my mind’s made up’ I said, feeling as if it wasn’t actually me saying the words. Well, I suppose that it wasn’t, it was Mrs Angela Carter!

‘You just have a think while I put this gown on you. Don’t want to get you all covered in hair now, do we?’

‘We certainly don’t’ I agreed, although thinking about it from the perspective of not actually cutting my hair in the first place. I actually found it quite comforting that she was taking the line that she liked my hair and that I shouldn’t cut it, or at least not drastically. Sending someone a picture was one thing, actually doing something about it was quite another. The gown rustled and settled around me. I looked at the comb and brush on the table. Looked at the bottle of shampoo and wondered about the practicality of actually washing my hair in the little sink when it came to it.

She picked her bag up from where she’d put it down by the table and moved it to a position behind me.

‘Won’t be a sec, just need to protect my dress’ she said. I listened to the sounds of preparation, fabric rubbing against the sides of her bag. Unseen things coming out and going in.

‘Pop your head down for me’ she said, ready at last.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to do, but looked down towards the bulge of my gowned knees. What do you do as part of a role-play haircut, but play the part?

There was a soft, authentic buzzing sound and I felt her stroke the back of my neck and then move up towards my ear.

‘Your hair’s so beautiful, so soft’ Eve said, continuing to stroke me.

‘Thank you. That’s the benefit of expensive conditioner for you’ I replied, quite enjoying what she was doing. It was a million miles away from the images conjured up by the photo that she’d sent and wouldn’t have been out of place in any salon up and down the country.

‘Head up again’ she said. I looked straight ahead, wishing that there was a mirror in the room so that I could appreciate the scene fully. The flat of her hand was on the back of my head, moving slightly, its warmth soothing. She moved her hand down and I could feel her fiddling with the fastening on the gown, loosening it. I sensed her moving round to my side and then she came all the way round to stand in front of me. When she’d said that she needed to protect her dress, I hadn’t realised that she meant she was actually taking it off. That explained the rustling that I’d heard. I thought that she was covering up, but she’d done the opposite.

She stood in front of me, posing, legs provocatively apart. She was wearing black stockings and a black suspender belt. Nothing else. The flame-red landing-strip that I’d glimpsed during the photo-shoot was gone. Her mound was now hairless and smooth, clearly not the result of a blunt razor that had been lying on the side of the bath. Her pussy lips were pouting, inviting. My gaze travelled up her slim body to her perky, pink-nosed boobs. In her left hand she held a set of electric clippers, still humming expectantly. Her right hand held the dark brown wig that she’d had on when she’d arrived. She looked at me and smiled the smile of someone who knew that they’d just stunned someone. Her perfectly-cut russet, tousled hair was gone. She was bald. I was speechless.

She moved forward and straddled me, her stockings rustling seductively against the gown.

‘See anything you like?’ she asked, sitting slightly back for a moment. She tugged the gown gently so that it came away from me, just as she’d planned. She cocked her head to one side, waiting. It took me a moment, but I realised that she wanted me to undo the buttons on my shirt. I fumbled with the first one and she placed her free hand over mine, impatiently stopping me in my tracks. She put the clippers in my lap and then surprised me again. She gripped the two sides of my shirt and pulled sharply in opposite directions, ripping it open, reaching between the fabric to wrangle my left boob out of its bra cup.

She squeezed, I gasped. I’d liked that shirt, but it seemed so unimportant now. The scissors were within her reach and then appeared at my breastbone, separating the two halves of my bra. My boobs distracted her for a few moments, but then she returned to her original objective.

She picked up the clippers and brandished them at me momentarily. My reaction was to close my eyes. It was “Game over” in more ways than one. Angela Carter and Eve had gone, now it was just Carla and Sophie and the realisation that I really would be bald in a matter of moments, just like her. I opened my eyes as the clippers made contact at my forehead and tried to fix the image in my mind of a mostly naked, bald woman grinding on my lap while ridding me of my hair. Although it could be regarded as improper, considering that we hadn’t even had a first date, I slid a finger inside her and then doubled up. Even two fingers slid easily through her stickiness. I made it three for good measure.

Her face was a picture as she ran that machine over my head. It was a study in concentration, although whether that came from the task at hand or the hand that was trying to get fully inside her wasn’t clear. She picked a severed hank of hair from my shoulder and paused the shaving to hold it up in front of me. She swished it across my bare chest a couple of times and then pushed it into my mouth, gently, yet with purpose. I responded the only way that I could think of and tweaked the nose of each of her puppies, giving them a good tug. That made her look to the ceiling for a moment, but the distraction was fleeting. Her left hand swept my scalp, her right poised to deal with any stragglers, but she’d done a good job.

‘If you’d like to take your hand out, I can stand up’ she said, breaking the intensity.

‘Are you Carla now?’ I asked, picking the last of the strands of my hair out of my mouth.

‘Yeah. It was nice being Eve, but Carla has more fun.’

‘Eve probably wasn’t the best choice of name, not given the way things ended with Adam’ I laughed.

‘You got it, though’ she smiled. I nodded and changed the subject.

‘What made you do that?’ I asked, looking up at her head, as if it wasn’t obvious enough what I meant.

‘Something I stumbled into a while ago on the evil internet’ she replied. ‘I couldn’t understand why there was so much stuff about hair cutting and head-shaving; people discussing it, doing it, filming it. I do hair professionally, but it had never done anything for me, not that way. But the more of those films I watched, the more I found it exciting to see expressions, reactions, you know.’

‘Why now?’

‘I was thinking about the photo shoot. That was me “coming out” as a bit of a “hair perv”. I’d never done anything like that before, even in private. There was just something about the whole set up. You didn’t seem to mind me pulling your hair, so I went a bit farther and it really did it for me. Then you sent me that one-handed text and the clippers came out.’

‘You could tell that I was multi-tasking?’ I giggled.

‘Teenagers send one word texts. People like you don’t, not unless they’re busy with something else and I just guessed that you and I were on the same wavelength.’

‘Well, it all seems a bit weird to me and I just hope that you have one of those wigs for me’ I replied, running a hand across my not-quite-smooth scalp.

‘Let me see if I can change your mind about that’ she said, reaching across for one of the cans on the table. What I’d thought was hairspray, wasn’t.

‘Give me a moment’ I said, standing up. I gathered the gown, making a point of showing her the guilty wet-patch on it where she must’ve touched-down at some point. I slid my arms deliberately out of the wreckage of my shirt and let the ruined bra fall to the floor.

‘Sorry’ she mouthed.

‘So worth it, but not something that I can afford to do very often’ I consoled. I drew the zipper down on my jeans and cursed them for being so awkward to get off. This wasn’t a moment where I wanted to win “Rear of the Year”, it was a moment to feel the breeze between my legs as quickly as possible. When I stood upright again I was rewarded with Carla’s perfectly-aimed finger sliding inside me. I looked at her, pretending to be shocked, but her response was to slide a finger on her other hand inside herself, looking pensive for a moment.

‘I think you win’ she said, before withdrawing both fingers and holding them up to my mouth like popsicles. One was a first, the other wasn’t, but both together like that just pushed me on one step further, one step closer.

‘Shouldn’t we finish this?’ I asked.

‘You’re right. Work before play’ she agreed.

I sat back down, momentarily shocked by the hard surface on my bare backside, and she squirted shaving foam on my bare scalp. Now there’s a sentence that I never thought I’d write. She smeared the gunge around, signalling intent. The hand that wasn’t doing the smearing roamed her body, squeezing her boobs, sliding down to her pussy, preparing the ground for the inevitable. The razor came out and I resisted any urge to explore either her body or my own. There are certain times when it just isn’t appropriate. All that I could do was to watch things that until so recently had held no interest for me. I thought about all the times that I’ve been in changing rooms with women in their underwear and never felt a twitch. Now I most definitely felt something. All that it took was for a naked, bald woman to rip off my clothes and shave my head. Funny that I’d never stumbled on that before; it would’ve saved me all those hours half-crushed under sweaty men while they pumped away. I could only conclude that either I’d always been in the closet or I’d been dating the wrong type of man.

Carla saved me the indignity of bending over the sink by wetting a towel and wiping the last traces of shaving foam from my scalp. As she made the final few wipes, I realised that I’d felt my baldness, but not actually seen it.

‘Done?’ I asked, poised to get up.

Carla nodded and I stood up, both hands to my scalp, exploring the strange landscape.

‘That feels so much better’ I said.

‘Better than with hair?’

‘Definitely better than with stubble. The jury’s out on whether it’s better than with actual hair.’

‘So no immediate regret?’

‘I need to see it.’

She kissed my temple and let me get on with what she knew I wanted to do. She joined me in the bathroom, standing just behind me while I stared at myself in the mirror.

‘Is that really me?’ I asked, pressing myself back against her.

‘That’s very definitely “you” now’ she said ‘and if you don’t mind me saying, it’s a great improvement on “previous you”. Once upon a time, as recently as this morning, I’d have been deeply offended by such a comment, but now I only had one thing on my mind. I took her hand and guided it to where I needed it to be.

Carla was able to put her dress back on when we’d finished, and it only seemed right that I picked a dress off one of the sale racks, so that I too could leave the shop bra-less, knickerless-less and hairless to go back to my house for some home comforts. Carla had squirreled the wig away in her bag, insisting that neither of us should feel awkward about being bald in public. Not that there were that many people out and about at the moment. I wondered what my circle of acquaintances would say if I was spotted bald, arm-in-arm with another bald woman. My response? Fuck them!

It didn’t take long to get back to my house, where we waited impatiently for the bath to fill. While the water ran, I learned the first of many advantages of having another woman as a lover: no complaints about scented candles. We lay in the water until it got tepid, Carla leaning back against me, my hands getting used to another woman’s boobs as playthings, getting used to softness and curves. All of this was a prelude to the most memorable sex that I could recall. Gentle, tender, interesting. Whatever had led Carla to pull my hair during the photo shoot had passed and we fell asleep in each other’s arms.

Neither of us could know what the future held, but we looked forward to facing it together. Bald.

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