A Good Tidy-Up: The Missing Six Months: Chapter 1

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“Thank you Mrs. Simmonds, that was delicious.” Andy sat back on his chair and patted his stomach. Maria’s mother beamed at him.

Maria stood up, smoothing down her long pleated skirt and began to clear the plates. Andy gazed lovingly at her.

“What?” She demanded, noticing his vacant expression. “Have I got gravy on my chin or something?”

“No, I was just thinking, um, how nice you look.” He replied, bashfully. “I really like you with your hair short. And I know it seems strange, but I think it actually looks more feminine than your long hair did. Don’t you think so Mrs. S.?”

“Oh yes. It’s so nice to have her finally looking like a grown up. And it’s more than just your hair, dear. That skirt and blouse really look so much nicer than those skimpy things you used to wear.”

Maria raised her eyebrows at Andy, but he was already agreeing with her mother. “She’s right, you do look lovely like that.”

Maria shook her head, but their obvious shared happiness made her smile as she walked out to the kitchen, calling over her shoulder. “Shall I put some coffee on?”

With Maria out of the room, Andy turned to her mother and smiled. “You know, Maria looks much more like you, with her hair short. I wonder how she’d look if she had it curly, like yours?”

“Oh my! Maria with a perm? I don’t know if she’d ever do that. I used to put her hair in curls sometimes when she was little, but she didn’t really like it even then. And once she got to be a teenager, well, you’d have thought I wanted to cut her arm off if I as much as suggested curling it.”

Pam Simmonds looked thoughtful for a moment. “It would be much the best thing for her though. She’d look such a lovely, respectable young woman, and it would be so much easier for her. You know her hair is naturally quite unruly; It’s wavy so it gets messy very easily, but not wavy enough to curl up properly. So even though it’s short, she still has to blow dry it every morning to keep it neat. With a nice tight perm, she could just wash and go, like I do, and she could still have it set if she needed to look smarter.”

Maria, in the kitchen with the kettle boiling, heard nothing of this, but was peering at her reflection in the oven door. Her neatly parted short hair, and soap and water face were a huge change from the way she used to look, but in the week since Wendy had sent her to Jean’s, and Jean had given her the shortest haircut of her life, she had pretty much got used to it. It had certainly altered the way she dressed; the short, tight and revealing outfits she used to love simply no longer worked, so she had found herself increasingly turning to the end of her wardrobe with the long skirts, prim blouses and conservative dresses that her mother loved to see her in. In fact, most of these items had been bought by her mother, but had previously only been worn under duress, for family occasions when her mother insisted that she look smart. Pam was, of course, delighted to see Maria dressing this way, and had offered to lend her clothes, and even take her shopping. Maria had so far declined, not feeling quite ready to give up on all of her trendy outfits.

The surprising thing was how Andy had seemed to actually prefer the way she now looked. She had always thought that he had liked to see her flaunting her figure and showing off her long hair, but he had hardly stopped telling her how much he liked her new short haircut, and how pretty she looked with her face scrubbed clean of makeup, and however modest and conservative her outfit was, he would always tell her that she looked beautiful.

Whilst Maria had initially been hugely relieved that Andy had accepted her new toned-down appearance, she had subsequently realised that this would make it even harder if she ever wanted to return to long hair, short skirts and makeup. Was this such a bad thing though? She began to wonder why Andy was so taken with her new appearance. Could it simply be that he felt secure in their relationship, and no longer felt the need to show off his sexy girlfriend? That he thought long hair and short skirts were all very well for a no-strings quick fling, but wanted the girl he settled down with to look smart and grown-up, to reflect a grown-up relationship? Thinking this gave Maria a warm tingly feeling. Whilst she and Andy hadn’t made any specific commitment to each other yet, she had begun to think that he was ‘the one’, and if his embracing her toned down image was an indication that he was thinking the same, then that surely boded well.

Mind you, she thought, if he did want to have a neat and tidy young lady on his arm, then perhaps he needed to make a few changes himself. He had made a bit of an effort today, putting on a shirt and tie (at Maria’s request) but his collar-length hair was as untidy as ever. She knew that his mother was frustrated by his reluctance to have what she called a ‘proper haircut’ and she had already pointed out that his hair was now longer than his girlfriend’s. Maria couldn’t help thinking how smart he would look with his hair clipped nice and high over his ears and neatly combed and parted. With that happy image in her mind, she put the lid on the coffee pot and took it through to the dining room.

 


 

Maria checked her hair in the mirror and sighed. It was her lunchbreak, and she’d popped into the ladies on her way out of the office. It was now a month since her haircut at Jean’s, and she was amazed at how quickly it had grown. Her fringe now reached far enough down her forehead that it annoyed her, and she had started to wear it brushed back out of her face. The little pointed sideburns Jean had left her had been even more problematic. As her waves had grown back in she had been forced to push the hair back behind her ears, though it wouldn’t stay put.

She could hardly believe it, but she was actually relieved that the time had come for the return appointment Jean had steamrollered her into. She was even wondering whether she would have to have her hair cut shorter than the last time if it was to stay tidy and manageable. She slipped out of the ladies, and out of the office, hoping that no-one would spot her.

 


 

The bell above the door tinkled as Maria walked in. The salon was just as empty as on her previous visit. She supposed that Monday was usually quiet, after a busy weekend.

“Ah, Maria, pop your jacket on the peg and sit yourself down. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Maria was still blissfully unaware that Wendy had arranged her first haircut with Jean, or that she had spoken to her afterwards, thanking her for giving Maria such a no-nonsense short haircut. When Jean had gleefully informed her that Maria was booked in for a month’s time, Wendy had asked her to take her hair up a bit shorter, just to drive home that she was now a short haired girl, and if possible, to start to steer Maria in the direction of a nice tight perm. Jean was, naturally, happy to oblige.

Maria was rapidly gowned and Jean briskly dragged a comb through her hair. “Now, what are we doing  today, young lady, just a good tidy up? Or should we make you look a bit smarter? Quite a few of your colleagues come here for a shampoo and set. You’d look nice with some curl in your hair.”

“Oh, er, no, I, er,” Maria was horrified that Jean might send her back to the office with the kind of stiff, lacquered bouffant that some of the older ladies at the bank wore. She couldn’t really say that though, so she did her best to be polite.

“I, er, I don’t think I’ve got time for that today, I need to get back to work.” She smiled at Jean, hoping she hadn’t taken offence.

“That’s fine dearie, we’ll just get this looking neat and tidy again. We can give you a nice smart set next time, maybe.” Jean started to wet down Maria’s hair from a spray bottle.

“Mmmmm.” Maria made the most non-committal noise she could. Jean hadn’t wasted any time, and was already snipping away at Maria’s dampened hair.

“Now I see this hair over your ears has been giving you trouble. I’ll just take it up a bit higher round here, and get rid of those fussy little bits in front. “ Jean dug her scissors in tight around Maria’s left ear, ensuring that she wouldn’t be needing to tuck anything out of the way for a while. “There! Much smarter.” The job was repeated on the other side, and Maria’s ears were revealed once more, this time with clean white skin showing all the way around.

Jean carried on snipping away, trimming Maria’s hair a little shorter than her first cut. “And I see you’ve been wearing the fringe brushed back, which does look very smart on you, so I’ll cut it that way, and style it back out of your face for you.”

“Er, OK, thank you.” The fringe, though it had initially softened the appearance of Maria’s dramatically shorter hair, had indeed annoyed her as it grew, so she supposed that she probably was better off without it.

After a few more minutes Jean put down her comb and scissors and picked up a small pair of battery operated clippers.

“Head down please.” She didn’t give Maria much choice, as a hand on top of her head firmly pushed her chin into her chest. Maria felt the high pitched whine approaching her nape.

“Now I’m just taking your hairline up a little bit to even it out. Now that you have such a neat and tidy haircut, it’s a shame to spoil it with a messy hairline… There you are. I always like to send my ladies out with nice clean necks. Head up again.”

Jean then used the clippers to quickly remove the remnants of Maria’s little pointed sideburns, making sure that there was nothing but clean white skin in front of her ears. She put down the clippers and picked up her hairdryer. She blasted Maria’s hair briefly, and produced a bottle of pale purple liquid which she shook vigorously over Maria’s still slightly damp hair. Maria was a little puzzled by this, but it smelt pleasant enough, so she didn’t complain. Jean then picked up a shiny chrome curling iron and wrapped a section of Maria’s hair around it.

“I know you have to get back to work, dearie, but it’ll only take me a minute to get some curl into the top, and that will just finish you off nicely.” Jean was rapidly working her way through Maria’s hair section by section, and Maria, though really not wanting her hair curled, felt powerless to resist. The resulting  tight, neat curls were gently teased together with a comb, and she was once again given a thorough coating of Jean’s favourite firm-hold Elnett spray.

“There!” Jean was clearly satisfied with her efforts. “Nice and smart for the office, and with the setting lotion and the spray, that should stay in shape for you for a good few days. You’ll need to wear a hairnet to bed, mind. When you do need to redo it, make sure you use a nice small iron to get the curls tight enough.”

She showed Maria the result in a mirror. Maria was, if anything, slightly relieved. It wasn’t the full-on teased and lacquered bouffant she had been fearing, though perhaps, she thought, that was just because her hair was too short! The general effect was of tight, neat waves, and was very smart, as Jean said, but also distinctly old-fashioned, and oddly, despite being more styled, somehow looked even plainer than her last haircut. It was similar to her mother’s hair when she’d had a shampoo and set for a family function, and Maria really didn’t feel that it suited her. There wasn’t much she could do about it now, though, so she did her best to smile.

“Thank you, that’s lovely.”

Privately, she resolved to wash it out as soon as she could. The idea of spending three or four days without washing her hair, not to mention wearing a hairnet to bed, was completely alien to her. It wasn’t even as if she really liked the way Jean had done her hair. She knew though, that she would have to go back to the office like this, and there was no hiding the fact that she had been given an extremely smart and conservative hairstyle.

 


 

She was half-way back to the office before she remembered that she was seeing Andy after work. She hadn’t told him she was having her hair cut, and had been looking forward to seeing his reaction when she turned up neatly trimmed up like last time. She had wondered whether he would be just as enthusiastic, because he really did like her hair short and tidy? Or would he be disappointed, as he was only trying to be supportive, and had hoped that her hair would be allowed to grow out again?

This plan had rather gone out of the window though. With Jean enthusiastically cropping her hair  shorter than last time, and then curling and spraying the top stiff, she wasn’t at all sure that she wanted him to see her like this. What if he hated it and thought she looked like an old woman? Or, perhaps worse, what if he loved it and wanted her to keep it tightly cropped and curled? She had tentatively accepted that her hair was staying short, at least for now, but she wasn’t at all sure that she was prepared to adopt the kind of primly traditional style that Jean had given her.

She was still dithering about what to do about Andy when she got back to the office. She dug a compact mirror out of her handbag and checked her hair. Unsurprisingly, it looked just as it had in the salon. There was no point stalling any more though; she would simply have to face her colleagues. She breezed in through the door, trying to conceal her nerves.

Fortunately Kevin was on his lunch break, and his stand-in didn’t bat an eyelid as Maria walked past. She headed for the coffee counter, feeling that she needed a caffeine boost to get her through the afternoon.

“Can I have a flat white please?”

“Yes of course dear,” Mrs. Reeves, behind the counter, smiled at her. “Your hair looks lovely, dear, have you just had it done?”

“Oh, yes, thank you. It was getting a bit out of hand, so it needed tidying up. I don’t normally have it curled, but she just did it without asking.”

“Well it makes you look very smart. I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it’s so nice to see some of you youngsters with what I’d call proper hairstyles. I know all you girls like showing off your long hair and fancy highlights, but if you ask me, it’s not really suitable for the office. A neat and tidy little head of curls might not be very fashionable, but you do look much more grown up like that.”

“Oh thank you Mrs. Reeves. It was a bit of a shock when I first had it all cut off, but I think you’re right; it is much smarter, and better for work. Do you really think it looks good curled, like this? I wasn’t sure it suited me.” She looked doubtful.

“Oh yes, dear. It’s really lovely. You look like a very prim and proper young lady. I’m sure your mother will be delighted to see you wearing such a traditional hairstyle.”

This didn’t really reassure Maria, who already knew that she had a hairstyle that would please her mother, but was rather less sure that such an old fashioned style would impress her boyfriend. Perhaps Mrs. Reeves, who was probably even older than Maria’s mother, wasn’t the best person to ask. She reassured herself with the thought that her hair was at least less severe than Sarah’s tight poodle perm, and that she could, unlike Sarah, wash her curls out. She headed for the office door, coffee in hand, and glanced across towards Stephanie, the ultra-glam blonde receptionist.

Stephanie had actually been looking somewhat less glamorous for the last few weeks. There was office gossip suggesting something of a stand-off between Wendy, who wanted Stephanie held to the same dress code standards as the rest of the office, and Stephanie’s boss, Adrian, who apparently rather liked her short skirts, long nails and big hair.

It had seemed that Wendy had won the battle, as Stephanie had been reluctantly wearing the regulation knee length skirt and low heels, and had kept her blouse modestly buttoned up. She’d managed to avoid the hairdressers’ scissors, but her long peroxide mane had been restrained in a tight bun, and her makeup had been toned right down. Maria had refrained from commenting on Stephanie’s more professional appearance at the time, fearing that anything she said would be taken the wrong way, but they had actually had some pleasant conversations, with Stephanie seeming much less arrogant and aloof, and Maria had hoped that this might be a turning point in their relationship.

Today though, it looked like Adrian was once again insisting that Stephanie should be exempt from the normal rules, or perhaps she had just had enough of maintaining a smart and professional appearance. Either way, she was clearly flaunting the untidy, teased mane which so infuriated Wendy, along with a full face of warpaint. Her nails too, had been short and clean last week, but today the bright red acrylics were back. Adrian was leaning on Stephanie’s desk, superficially making conversation, but really just gawking as she primped her hair and undid another button on her blouse.

Maria wondered if Stephanie would continue being more friendly and approachable now that she was all glammed up again, and how long it would be before Wendy tried to assert her authority once more. At least, she thought, Stephanie was too preoccupied to pass comment on Maria’s tight curls today. She straightened up and held her head high as she made her way through the office door.

 


 

She kept her eyes straight ahead and walked quickly to her desk, not wanting to attract any attention from her colleagues, and gave a small sigh of relief as she sank into her chair. As she did, Sarah looked up and her eyes widened.

“Oh Maria, your hair looks really lovely. Have you been back to Jean’s?”

“Oh, er, thank you. Yes, it seems to grow so fast, and it needed tidying up.”

“Well you look very smart. And have you had a shampoo and set?”

“No! I don’t want to look like… “ She tailed off, not wanting to say something that might cause offence, then tried again. “I didn’t really want it curled at all, but she just started in with the curling iron, and I couldn’t really tell her to stop.”

“There’s nothing wrong with having your hair set,” Sarah said, primly. “You know I have mine done every Saturday with Mum, and she really appreciates me looking so smart for church.”

“Well, yes, I know, but I’m just a bit worried that It would look too old-fashioned, and, well, I don’t know, dowdy.

“I’m not saying you look like that, Sarah,” she added hastily, seeing Sarah’s expression, ”but I don’t want to look like my mum. And I’m seeing Andy after work tonight, what’s he going to think?”

“I expect he’ll think you look lovely and smart. I thought he liked your hair short, anyway?”

“Well, he keeps saying he does, but what if he’s just trying to make me feel better about it?”

“I suppose you’ll find out later, won’t you.” Sarah replied, not unkindly. “For what it’s worth, Steve loves my hair short and curly. Maybe Andy feels the same.”

Sophie sat quietly, fingering the ends of her grown out kitchen cut bob. Despite a certain amount of nagging from both Wendy and her mum, she hadn’t found the nerve to go to a hairdresser’s and have it cut properly short, up over her ears like the other two girls. In fact, despite telling Sarah that she had left all of her vanity on her mum’s kitchen floor, along with her hair, she had recently begun to wonder whether she should allow it to grow back out, to her shoulders maybe, while her high blunt fringe gradually became a long, side swept version.

She knew that Wendy wouldn’t be impressed, but staff appraisals were in the past now, and by the time next year’s came she could have her hair long enough to tie back neatly, and a few hairgrips would keep her fringe tidy. She hoped that growing her hair out wouldn’t affect her relationship with the other two girls, as they’d become much closer over the last few weeks. It was alright for them, though, she thought; they both had boyfriends who inexplicably loved their hair in smart, practical but thoroughly unfashionable styles. She was single, and it was hard to imagine being picked out of a crowd with her prim, matronly bob; still less with the sensible, over the ears crop that her Mum had kept her in as a teenager, and would no doubt return her to, given half a chance.

 


 

Maria sat nervously in the coffee shop, waiting for Andy. She had decided against telling him about her hair, hoping to get an honest reaction. Stephanie had been mysteriously absent from the desk as she’d left, and she’d only had positive comments from the rest of the office. Wendy had been quietly delighted that Jean had both taken her shorter and given her some prim, tight curls, and had told Maria how pleased she was to see her looking smart and professional. She sipped at her coffee, still too hot to drink.

“Hello?” Andy sounded a little uncertain, approaching Maria from behind and not quite sure if the neatly cropped and curled hair did indeed belong to his girlfriend. She turned around.

“Oh, it is you. You didn’t tell me you were having your hair done.”

“Yes, well, it was getting a bit out of control, and it needed sorting out. You know I need to keep it looking tidy for work.” Maria sounded rather defensive. “You’ll just have to get used to it, I’m afraid. You’ve got a neat and tidy short-haired girlfriend now, not a trophy girl with a fussy long mane.”

“Oh, I know, and I really do prefer you this way, It honestly does suit you better than your long hair did. And it’s all curly, too. It looks really nice.”

“Really?” She sounded sceptical. “I didn’t ask her to curl it, and I thought it looked a bit, well, old fashioned.”

“No, I really like it. You look really smart. You should keep it like that.”

“Hmm… I’m still not convinced. But I’m glad you like it.” She smiled at him, relieved at his positive reaction.

“I bet your Mum will like it too.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “Yes, I expect she will. She always wanted to curl my hair when I was younger, and the number of times she’s told me how easy it would be if I just had it permed….”

She shook her head. Andy decided that now wasn’t the time to push his luck, and tried to be diplomatic. “Well at least you’ll be making her happy then. That’s got to be a good thing?”

“Well, yes, that’s true. It is nice not arguing with Mum all the time.” Relieved that Andy approved of her hair, she relaxed, not having realised until then quite how tense she had been. “And I’m pleased you like it, too.” She smiled, happy in the knowledge that her boyfriend really did appreciate the way that she looked.

 


 

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