Charlotte, Part 2 – Accepting Challenges

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The second part of the Charlotte’s Fresh Beginnings trilogy

Continuation

‘On time … again,’ Cassandra sneered in mock surprise. Still bleary-eyed, I acknowledged her with a nod. ‘You have time for a quick coffee when you make mine. Hopefully, it will perk you up as it looks like you need it. You will have an even busier day as there are more tasks to add to your list today. And do not forget, you must always remain cheerful for the customers.’

‘Yes, Cassandra,’ I replied sweetly, forcing a smile. Right away, Cassandra, three bags full, Cassandra, I continued sarcastically, but kept my thoughts to myself.

Sipping my still hot coffee, the bell above the door tinkled and an old balding guy wandered in with hardly enough hair to warrant a visit. Casandra had prepared me for the “half-price for seniors” morning. It was not such a great prospect for helping me survive until home time. The previous day a steady stream of hot younger guys came in. When I was glammed up behind the beauty counter such men were always keen to flirt. Wearing the cheap nylon overall in my new lowly role, if they glanced at me at all then they did so with pity.

‘Morning, Cassie,’ the sprightly old chap said, while my boss leaned casually against the tall reception desk.

In a panic, knowing it was my role to greet the customer, I tried to rush my coffee. Agreeing with Cassandra that I needed the caffeine to perk myself up, I only succeeded in scalding my mouth and throat. My boss smiled and held up a hand with fingers splayed, suggesting I had five minutes to finish my coffee and be ready to start work. I was surprised by her unusually relaxed attitude.

‘Morning, Bill. How are you today?’ Cassandra responded to the new arrival in such a way as to suggest familiarity.

“I’m feeling grand, thanks, Cassie,’ he replied, allowing the barber to guide him to her chair. ‘I say, isn’t that Tom Hawkins girl? The hoity-toity one who works – well, worked, I suppose – in the posh shop?’

‘Yes, Bill. She is my assistant now,’ Cassandra said smugly, in a way that suggested she was not telling him the full story.

‘Oh dear. A bit of a come down for the girl,’ he concluded, implying that I was now the lowest of the low. ‘I hope you’re treating her well, Cassie.’

‘I’m treating her exactly as she deserves to be treated,’ my boss sneered, lowering her voice. However, I was still able to hear her words although I was confused as to her meaning. ‘So, just the usual, Bill?’

Bill nodded and, as Cassandra searched for hair to cut on Bill’s head, I downed the rest of my cooling coffee and greeted the next customer that came through the door.

Frustration

It was relentlessly busy throughout my second day in the shop but, consequently, the time passed quickly. The most tiring and repetitive aspect was the need to continually tuck the floppy sides of my bobbed hair behind my ears. It would stay in place briefly before flicking forward once more whenever I moved. I did attempt to find enough hair to tie it back and out of the way. Despite the ridiculous stumpy tail poking out the back of my head, it did make things a little easier. But Cassandra saw it, and she shamed me into undoing it immediately.

Finally, the last customers had left. I had ensured the shop was spotless, ready for the next day.

‘Goodnight, Cassandra,’ I said as I grabbed my large coat, checking my watch to confirm that I would just be able to make the next bus that was due.

‘Not so fast, Charlie,’ my boss ordered.

I failed to suppress a sigh, an unintentional slip that resulted in Cassandra raising an accusatory eyebrow. I bowed my head deferentially to acknowledge and apologise for my error.

‘You’ve done okay today,’ she went on. I am sure she classified that as showering me with abundant praise, I thought sarcastically. ‘But what is that business with tucking your hair behind your ear every few seconds, not to mention putting it in silly little ponytails?’

I was frustrated beyond measure given that it was her precipitous action with the scissors on my hair that had caused my irritation. I snapped. ‘Well, it was you who -’

‘Yes?’ she smirked, raising her eyebrow once more. ‘Do go on,’ she invited.

‘No, that’s okay … nothing,’ I grumbled, wondering if I had enough cash in my purse for a cheap bottle of wine to get me through the evening.

‘Good,’ Cassandra chuckled. ‘Well, we need to resolve this business with your annoying hair. So, Charlie, you better pop back into my chair and we will see what we can do.’

‘What do you mean?’ I blurted out.

‘I mean you can move your cute little derriere that the “seniors” have been ogling all day, position it in front of my chair and then allow your body to fall backwards onto the seat,’ Cassandra explained with a grin.

I graced her explanation with a timid chuckle. I might have even found it mildly amusing a couple of days earlier, but not now. However, I did not want to provoke her unnecessarily. ‘Yes, I see, but my bus …’

‘Bus? Do you not have a nice sporty convertible?’ I nodded. ‘Red?’ I nodded again. ‘Very nice car for a barber’s assistant.’ It still filled me with pride, so I tried not look smug. ‘But not using it today, Charlie?’

‘No. Well, I thought the cost of … or more the difficulty of … well, you know, the parking … and the bus stop is conveniently just outside my door,’ I spluttered.

‘I see, Charlie. How wise,’ she smirked, before using her index finger to emphasise exactly where she wanted me to place my “derriere” for reasons that remained unclear.

Trepidation

As soon as I sat down in Cassandra’s fateful chair, her cape billowed in front of me. As it settled over my body, she tied it securely around my neck and began combing through my hair. I felt anxious over what she had in mind.

I knew it would be a long time before I could afford to have extensions fitted to restore my hair to its former glory. Therefore, I had concluded that my best option for an acceptable appearance and to enjoy increased practicality was a slightly shorter bob. Around chin length seemed a sensible choice. Studying myself closely in the mirror, I remained satisfied with that suggestion.

Preparing to voice my opinion, a strident noise interrupted my thoughts. It was the sound of the roaring motor of Cassandra’s awful hairclippers that had become increasingly familiar over the previous two days. It was an unexpected sound, as no customers requiring their application were present in the shop.

I tried to turn my head to see if I might have misheard, but Cassandra’s large hand suddenly gripped the top of my head and firmly clamped it in place. She then forced my chin downwards so that it touched my chest and prevented me from moving. I felt cold steel halfway up the back of my head, followed by an insistent vibration. I suddenly realised, to my horror, she was using those evil hairclippers on me.

Although I was unable to move, I tried to remonstrate. ‘What the -’

However, the loud roar of the hairclippers drowned my complaint. I felt hair sliding down my neck, tumbling over my shoulders and gathering in my lap. More worryingly, I felt the cool breeze of the overhead fan caressing my neck where once there had been hair. With deft, downward swipes of the inverted clipper blade, she shaved off all the hair above my left ear. She swiftly did the same on the right.

Cassandra eased the grip on my head, allowing me to raise it a little. She had extended the blunt line of my short fringe all the way around my head. It looked as though someone had cruelly placed a bowl on my crown and shaved off all the hair that showed below its rim.

Continuing to use the clippers, she sharpened the blunt perimeter of the bowl. Then she shaved everything below that line so that only bare skin was apparent.

‘Perfect,’ she declared as she whisked away the cape and took a step back. ‘Charlie, the bowlcut girl,’ she announced grandly.

I stared disbelievingly into the mirror, tremulously feeling the bare skin on my neck and above my ears. Less than ten minutes earlier, I had a passable woman’s hairstyle and now I looked like a schoolboy.

‘Why?’ I implored.

‘Your hair is short enough now so that you don’t need to tuck it behind your ears or tie it back in a ponytail,’ she patronisingly explained.

‘Oh,’ I acknowledged. I was devastated but what could I do, I asked myself. I need the job. Complaining about my treatment would serve no purpose, other than amuse Cassandra.

However, I needed to say something. I thought carefully about a suitable riposte. ‘Thank you, Cassandra,’ I finally uttered, chickening out of complaining.

‘You are most welcome, Charlie,’ she chuckled. ‘Now, you better run along to catch your bus.’

Derision

It was on my journey home that I had really missed being alone in my car. On the bus it felt like everyone was staring at the strange woman with half her head shaved. They usually looked away if I caught their eye. They never spoke directly, but I had heard a murmured ‘dyke’ as a gang of teenagers jumped off the bus laughing.

A very confused looking young boy with a haircut like mine had not been able to drag his eyes away from my head. His mother had finally noticed and scolded him for staring. The woman looked like she was about to apologise to me. However, on recognising my haircut as the same as the one she had inflicted on her poor son, her eyes had widened in surprise, she stifled a giggle, and she had quickly turned away.

Mercifully, the bus had reached my stop soon after that episode. I had stuck my tongue out at the boy as I hopped off the bus and the doors closed behind me. It had only been a small victory in another awful day, but it had helped a little.

What had also helped was the cheap bottle of wine I had scraped enough cash together to buy before returning to my flat. I had drunk it far too quickly and, in my intoxicated state, I had the good fortune of not being able to taste how bad it was.

I had sat in front of my dressing table mirror. With a glass in one hand, I had used the fingers of the other to ineffectively tug at my ridiculously short hair. However, it was no surprise that I had been unable to make it longer before I fell asleep.

Once again, I had not set an alarm, but I woke up sufficiently early, albeit with a thumping headache from the previous night’s cheap wine. The previous morning, I had looked in the mirror to see a messy, floppy-haired version of my former self. One day later I saw a neat cap of hair perched on my crown with the remainder of my head shaved to the bone. Even after a shower, my new hairstyle dried perfectly with minimal attention required.

I slipped on my short nylon tunic, pulled my coat over the top and caught the bus. I did my best to ignore the stares and the murmured comments about my hair.

‘On time … and your hair is still looking good,’ Cassandra smirked, fully aware of my discomfort. ‘There may be boys coming in today who ask me for the same haircut as you. Make sure you promote the style and its benefits to any prospective kids and their parents.’

I did not rise to her jibes and simply got on with my tasks to get the shop ready for the day. As previously, Cassandra’s constant flow of regular customers never left me any time to myself. Most did a surprised double take of my haircut, but I only received a couple of direct comments. One old guy christened me the “Pudding Bowl Girl” and I was hopeful that others would not follow his lead. It did not surprise me that no one asked Cassandra for the same style as mine.

At the end of another tiring day, Casandra had me sit down again and I forced myself not to say anything about missing my bus, but I had no idea what she had in mind.

Maintenance

‘As you’re working in a barbershop,’ Cassandra declared, ‘I do not want any of my customers thinking that my standards are dropping, so each day – morning, evening, or both – I am going to shave the back and sides of your head. Every week I will trim the whole haircut.’

‘What?’ I reacted, stunned. ‘There’s nothing left to cut,’ I stated, running my fingers over the faintly detectable stubble on my neck.

‘I’ll be using a foil shaver,’ Cassandra explained, ignoring my protests. ‘You will be surprised what it will find that requires shaving. So, Charlie, head down.’

My limited experience with Cassandra had shown me that there was no point complaining about my treatment. With that thought in mind, I obediently lowered my head. The gentle throbbing of the shaver felt quite different to the insistent vibration of the hairclippers. However, as she had promised, they were exceedingly efficient.

‘That’s so much better,’ Cassandra announced excitedly, rubbing my bare skin.

‘Oh, right,’ I said with far less enthusiasm than Cassandra had exhibited. I examined my neck and above my ears with my fingertips and the skin felt as smooth as glass.

‘Charlie, it would be easier for me if, at the end of each day, you could sit down here – without me needing to ask you – and ask me to shave the back and sides back of your head, Cassandra dictated. ‘Is that understood?’

‘Yes, Cassandra,’ I accepted meekly. ‘Thank you, Cassandra.’

Determination

The next few days had continued to follow the same pattern. But each day became even busier as the weekend approached. However, I did all that Cassandra expected without question. Occasionally I received her grudging thanks for conducting necessary tasks that she had forgotten about.

Each evening, I sat in her chair and bowed my head. ‘Please could you shave my neck and temples before I leave, Cassandra,’ I asked politely. She did so thoroughly and efficiently, and it became increasingly apparent that she revelled in my submissive manner. Why? I was unsure, but I believed I was starting to understand.

By the time Sunday came, I was exhausted. In the past, I would have spent a considerable time dressing in my latest outfit and accessorising it appropriately. I would have jumped in my red convertible and joined friends at an expensive country pub for a long and leisurely lunch. It was an enjoyable way to spend the day.

After a week in my new job, on this Sunday, I had a different task to perform. As before, it involved the car. I had tried to work out any way that I could afford to keep my lovely sports car. But, if I wanted to stay in my flat and pay all the other regular bills with my severely reduced income, then my pride and joy had to go.

I drove to the local dealer and lied. I told them I had grown bored with the colour. They allowed me to cancel the lease without too much penalty, and even gave me a lift home. For the rest of the day, I slouched in front of the TV working my way through undemanding boxsets and countless packets of crisps, and I tried not think about the week ahead.

2 responses to “Charlotte, Part 2 – Accepting Challenges

  1. I like your stories, thank you for writing and sharing!
    I particularly like this story. Who knows, maybe she has to yet really convince parents for real of the benefits of her haircut. The belittling/ more masculine aspect is interesting, or could be a side- effect. Hardly any better haircut to show that, well in my view at least.
    Your story, please do not feel as if I would want to impose. Keep on writing, and thank you!

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