Chance Meeting

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1.

Back then I was living in the city, working three jobs to make ends meet, trying to make it as a journalist. The night my life changed forever, I was in a club with my friend Lucy. She’d dragged me out for the night, even though I didn’t usually do that sort of thing.

“You look stunning!” she smiled at me and linked her arm through mine.

I was wearing a silver halter neck top with skinny jeans. My hair was wound on top of my head, but I would probably take it down later, to run my hands through it as I danced.

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” I grumbled as we queued up next to a dirty brown wall. The music from the club throbbed out into the night. Despite myself, I was excited.

A member of the security team emerged from the doorway and whispered something into the bouncer’s ear. He was a huge, heavy-set guy with linked tattoos like bicycle chains over each bicep.

The bouncer spotted us in the queue and motioned for us to come forwards. The other customers complained loudly, and one girl in a tight blue dress even tried to step forwards with us.

I wondered who the bouncer had noticed: me or Lucy.

She was a petite blonde, with curving breasts and narrow hips. She was toned from the gym and had a winter tan from her recent beach holiday with yet another rich boyfriend. I was taller, paler, and more understated. My best features were my thick eyelashes and my long hair. It was like a classical painting: soft, thick, dark brown waves that fell over my body like silk. I loved brushing it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

The centre of the club was heaving with people, neon-lit, flashing, with red velvet walls. The hours soon blurred together as Lucy and I downed a few shots at the bar. I didn’t need much alcohol in my system to feel a buzz: I was getting high off the crowd’s energy.

I ran my hands through my loose hair as I danced, gathering it up and then letting it fall as I tipped my head back. I danced for four songs before I realised I was being watched.

A woman was sitting on the first floor of the club, which had a gold rail like the boxes in a theatre. An exposed section ran the length of the curved wall above the dancefloor, before disappearing into the shadows.

She was leant forwards slightly over the rail, still sitting in a velvet booth, sipping a drink. Her eyes were fixed on me. I swallowed, unnerved.

I kept dancing. I closed my eyes and tried to shake off the feeling that something was going to happen: something big and scary that would change my life. When a hand gripped my upper arm, I thought a dancer had got too handsy and tried to shake it off. The hand tightened and started pulling me through the crowd. I blinked, trying to see past the sweat in my eyes.

One of the security guards, the same one who’d whispered to the bouncer earlier, was manhandling me through the crowd. I’d lost sight of Lucy: she was lost in the sea of dancers. I felt suddenly claustrophobic.

The bouncer pulled me past a rope leading to the upper floors.

He unceremoniously plonked me down in the velvet booth with the mysterious woman.

“Here she is, Mrs. Hackman,” he said gruffly, and backed away.

She turned to me and clicked her red nails against her glass. She was wearing cream suit trousers with a black top with sheer, billowing sleeves. Her medium-length blonde hair was clipped up and her makeup was flawless. She was about 40, if I had to guess.

“Thank you,” she smiled at the security guard. Her voice was educated and smooth. Something about her tone made me shiver.

Left alone, she bent over slightly and pulled a decanter and another glass from underneath a low table. The noise of the club still bounced around us, but the thick, velvet ceiling and floor absorbed a lot of the sound. The velvet was soundproofing, I realised, so we could hear ourselves talk.

“So,” she said casually, “What’s your name?”

I pushed my sweaty hair back from my face and sat up in the chair.

“Amy.”

“How old are you?”

“20.”

She smiled again, her teeth small and white. She poured me a glass and handed it to me. I held it nervously for a few seconds before sliding it onto the table.

“What do you do for a living?” she asked.

“Umm… I waitress at night, I do a couple of days a week in an office, just- ”

“I see,” she interrupted. “I don’t think that’s your dream life, though, is it?”

“No, I guess not.”

“So, Amy, what is it that you want to do?”

My dropped my gaze. Why did I feel hot all over? My hands shook slightly, and my stomach felt strangely light, like I was floating. I knew I should stand up and go back to Lucy, wherever she was in the mass of people below. But I couldn’t move. I was rooted to the spot.

“A journalist,” I said after a moment. My voice was hoarse.

“How would you feel if I offered you a job? I have connections in the city, I could set you up at a newspaper like that.” She snapped her fingers for emphasis.

“You don’t even know me. Why would you do that?”

I was a drunk girl in a nightclub. What did this woman want with me? Why was I here?

“Because I like helping people. I’ll interview you myself before getting in touch with my contacts, I don’t like to be embarrassed. Or let down. There is one condition, though.”

I swallowed nervously. She leant towards me across the table of the open-plan booth, close enough for me to smell her heady, drug-like perfume. My lips opened slightly. She reached out a hand and picked up a strand of my hair. Her hand brushed my rib lightly as she ran her fingers down the strand to the end.

She made me stand up and show her the back of my hair: thick and heavy, it ended in the small of my back, and spilt over my hips.

I knew I should leave, but I couldn’t make myself. I sat back down and faced her, nervous as hell, but also knowing that I’d made my decision. I didn’t know what her condition was, but I would say yes. I couldn’t refuse her anything.

She leant towards me again and felt my hair.

“The problem is, Amy, is that when you have a professional job, you have to look the part.” She raised her hand to my chin and pressed the side of my palm against it. She moved her hand up my face, and I was utterly spellbound. I pressed my legs together and held my breath. She traced my lips with the tip of my hair. “The only question,” she said calmly, “Is when? Would you do it tonight?”

I stared at her in confusion.

She ran her hands through my hair, from the roots to the tip, her touch slow and sensuous.

“It’s time to go, Amy.”

I should go and find Lucy. I should run down the stairs. I should ask Mrs. Hackman what her problem was. I should pull my cloakroom ticket out of my jeans and get my jacket and bag. I should phone someone.

But I didn’t do any of those things.

Instead, when she held out her hand, I took it.

And together, we walked deep into the shadows of the first floor.

 

2.

Every one of the security guards seemed to know Mrs. Hackman as we walked down the corridors, going through archways and through side doors, until we were in what looked like a hotel room. It was covered in red draping, but somehow the effect was luxurious rather than tacky. The hues of the room were dark, and the décor minimalistic.

The focal point was a gilt mirror hanging from the wall. I could see myself in the mirror, still holding Mrs. Hackman’s hand. Was that really me? My cheeks were flushed and my eyes bright.

In the centre of the room was a silver chair, with a black robe draped off the back. A smaller stool and table sat next to it. On the table, I could see something gleaming. I looked closer. It was a pair of hairdressing scissors: cold, sharp, lethal.

Oh no. How could I have been so stupid? I made to leave the room, but Mrs. Hackman pulled me as I tried to back out of the door. She leant around me and clicked the lock shut. I heard the whirring sound of the electronic door mechanism.

“It’s a keypad and only I know the password,” she smirked, “So don’t even think about leaving. You came here of your own free will.”

She stepped back and examined me. I stayed pressed against the door, my hands still shaking ever so slightly. Her heels were soundless against the carpeted floor. I knew what she was going to do to me, and I couldn’t stop it. I ran my hands through my long, thick hair for the last time. It was so beautiful. I’d never been without it.

“Sit down.”

My legs didn’t move.

“Sit down,” she said again, smiling. She wasn’t angry at my disobedience because she knew there was no way out of the room. I swallowed nervously and walked forwards to sit in the chair. As soon as I was seated, she clicked a button on the chair’s base and thick manacles suddenly clicked out of the metal. They slid over my wrists, waist, and thighs, effectively pinning me to the chair.

I was completely helpless. She could do anything to me.

In the mirror, I watched as she shook out a black hairdressing cape and slid it around my body, doing it up at the neck. You couldn’t even see that I was bound. I felt her hands on the back of my neck as she pulled my hair from the collar of the cape and let it slide down the chair.

“You have to tell me you want it.”

“What?”

I didn’t recognise my own voice, it was so breathless and shaky.

“I’m going to ask you want you want from me, and you will say ‘Cut my hair please.’”

I shook my head, but she held my head firmly between her hands so I couldn’t even twist my neck.

“So,” she said, smiling at me in the gold mirror, “What can I do for you today?”

She ran her hands over my hair look a normal hairdresser. The heat rushed to my cheeks.

“C-cut my hair, please.”

Mrs. Hackman brushed out my hair, and span the chair to the side so I could see how long it was in the mirror. She placed her hands above my shoulders, at the base of my neck.

“I think a bob would suit you. Let’s start by getting rid of the bulk of your hair and give you a sharp, neat bob. Long hair is so messy, don’t you think?”

She lifted up my hair and let it fall back against the chair. It thunked audibly against the metal. I shivered.

“That is what you want, isn’t it?” Her eyes gleamed as she spun the chair back around so I could see myself face-on. “A nice bob?”

Tears gleamed in my eyes. I was completely helpless.

“Y-yes,” I stumbled.

“You came into this room with long hair, didn’t you?”

“Y-yes.”

“And you will leave this room with a sharp bob. Piles and piles of hair will slide down your cape and onto the floor by the time we’re done.”

She picked up the scissors from the table and clicked them through the empty air. They were so sharp and intimidating, her weapon of choice for me. She gathered my hair into a loose ponytail; my hair was so thick that she could barely hold it all at once, and some chunks spilt out.

Then, with no warning, she hacked through my hair with the scissors. Hearing the scissors cut off 20 inches of shiny, healthy hair was like a sound from a nightmare. She held the hair up and dumped it into my lap, letting strands drift across my face. It heaped up in my lap and tears ran even harder down my face as I stared at it. I couldn’t even lift my hands to slide it onto the floor. I just had to stare at it.

The chunks of hair that had escaped the massacre still hung around my face. She lifted them up to show me how much she had taken off, comparing the newly shorn strands to the long ones. My roughly chopped hair hung at collarbone length, the shortest it had ever been, a bob.

“Do you like it at this length?”

“Y-yes.”

“Should we stop?”

She walked around in front of me and leant down into my face, so I could feel her breath against my cheek. She traced my lips very lightly with the point of the scissors. They were ice cold against my skin.

“Y-yes,” I replied.

She smiled.

“Wrong answer.”

She ran her hands through my new haircut.

“No, it’s not short enough. I’m going to cut off more. You need a short bob. You came in here tonight with some of the longest hair I’d ever seen, but you’ll leave here with a short bob. How does that make you feel?”

Tears ran down my face.

“I – I don’t know.”

She picked up a spray bottle and started wetting my hair with it. Then she tipped my head down and started combing my hair, then sectioning it off and clipping parts of it up. She worked quickly and competently. All I could see was the heap of hair in my lap.

Then I felt something cold and sharp that made butterflies explode in my stomach: the feel of the scissors against the nape of my neck.

“You know,” she said conversationally, “I was originally going to cut to collarbone length, but I changed my mind. I want to cut -” She paused and put a finger on my jawline below my ear “- to here.”

I was still crying.

“All one length,” she continued, “with a fringe, no undercut, and layering at the ends so it lies well. A short bob.”

“P-please don’t.”

“You have a beautiful face, you know. Short hair will only draw attention to it more. You will look beautiful, Amy, I promise.”

Her sudden compliments and the use of my name sent shivers through me.

Then she started to cut: snick, snick, snick went the scissors.

The wet pieces of hair tickled my face as they fell, sliding down the cape with a noise. I could feel the blades of her scissors against my nape. I squeezed my eyelids together.

“You have really short hair now,” she said, with satisfaction plain in her tone. She ran her hands through my hair, but there was barely any left to run through. Her hands slid through for a second before falling into empty air. She tipped my face up so I could see myself in the mirror.

I looked like a different person. I couldn’t believe it.

She got the hairdryer out and the round brush. As she blow dried my hair, I sat there in complete shock. It was like someone had taken away something I loved, but at the same time they’d freed me. I didn’t know what to feel, or what to think.

When my hair was dried, it was shiny and neat. A short, sharp bob, exactly like she’d said it would be.

“Bobbed and banged,” she murmured to herself as she came towards me with the scissors. She started snipped away, angling her comb at the same time. I watched as chucks of hair flew past my vision.

“There you go Amy, a fringe that shows off your eyes.”

She ran her hands over the top of my head, her long red nails raking against the scalp. It was almost painful, but it felt so good at the same time.

She uncaped me and unleashed the manacles. I rubbed at my wrists and legs before I even thought to look at myself in the mirror. Without the black cape on, I could see just how short my bob was. I could see my collarbones, my shoulders, and the white column of my neck. I could see my chin and my jaw. Everything was exposed.

My silver top looked even more exposing than before, now I had no hair to cover it. No hair. Not my long, wavy hair anymore… but a sharp bob. I ran my hands through it in wonderment and traced my bottom lip where my hair grazed it.

It was like I could see myself for the first time.

“I meant what I said, Amy.”

She pulled me into a standing position, and my legs shook from being held down for so long. The mounds of hair on my lap slid to the floor, ready to be cleaned up and put in the bin. All my lovely hair.

Mrs. Hackman slid a stiff, cream business card into the back pocket of my skinny jeans and smiled. Her eyes were excited and her lips red with pleasure.

I touched the sharp, freshly cut edges of my bob again. It tickled my face.

“Hair grows back,” I said shyly, more to myself than her. “I’ll just grow it long again.”

Her hand locked around my wrist.

“Once you have a job, your dream job that I’ll get you, I’ll be checking up on you. You’ll get regular trims to keep it like this. As long as you want to be a journalist, I’ll give you access to my contacts, my money, my properties. The best in the business will train you, Amy. But you’ll always have a short bob, you’ll never have long hair again.”

She leant past me and pressed the numbers on the keypad. The door opened with a click and I stumbled into the velvet corridor. I’d forgotten everything: the club, Lucy, the dance floor.

Did I believe she was really offering me a job? Was it a bargain I was willing to make?

“I might let you grow it to your chin.” Mrs. Hackman ran her hands along my jawline. “But it will never be longer than a bob.” She grinned. “Call me,” she said, before shutting the door in my face.

 

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