This was going to be one of the last days of the year that outdoor lunches were possible, Denise was almost sure of that. As such, she was glad she and Cara had been able to get together between classes. Well, between Cara’s classes, at least. Denise’s classes were already done for the day, and she was taking advantage of that fact by leisurely sipping her drink as she watched the crowds move through the plaza near their university.
Cara meanwhile, had to keep glancing at her phone every few minutes as the time to leave drew near. But she gave people watching an effort, though mostly she spent time thoughtfully considering the ends of her golden blonde-hair after she’d gathered it over her left shoulder. “Do you ever just want to chop off all your hair?” She asked. “Just be done with it? Get a cute bob or something.”
Denise looked at her friend and raised an eyebrow. Her own hair was naturally medium brown, but well-placed highlights designed to look as though they weren’t placed at all gave her a rather lovely collection of dark a lights browns, the kind of mix that gave her thick, waist-length locks a shiny glow even in a darkened room. Though it didn’t have any sort of curl to it on its own, carefully maintained layers and selective use of a hair waver resulted in a ton of body, so much to the point she sometimes felt like her own hair was abut to overwhelm her entirely. Could she possibly think of cutting it all off?
“Every damn day,” she said.
Cara lifted her eyes to her. “Seriously?” Her light green eyes, peering over her sunglasses, darted to Denise’s hair and then back. “I was only being rhetorical. You can’t be serious.”
Denise shrugged a bit more of her soda through its straw as she leaned back. She was sitting with her seat perpendicular to the small bistro table; all the better to people watch, and ran her fingers through the shoulder-length layers that fell aside her hazel eyes before lookin at her friend again. “I could not be more serious. It’s pretty much one of my first five thoughts every morning.”
“Seriously?” Cara asked. She checked the time on her phone one more time and then started gathering her stuff together. Hefting her book bag into her lap as she did.
Denise nodded, suddenly quite aware of her glossy hair brushing against her cheeks in the moment.
“Hmm. I can’t even fathom that. If I had your hair, I’d be growing it down to my ankles if I could.”
Denise laughed. “Yours is gorgeous, too, babe.” That wasn’t a lie — Cara’s hair was a beautiful fall usually found on Hollywood-production cheerleaders, perfectly straight, perfectly one-length, and perfectly small-town all-American, just like the girl it adorned. “Why would you want to cut it?”
Cara shrugged. “Just for something different. Tired of being pigeon-holed as cute rather than hot, I guess.”
“Well, then you should understand why I think about chopping mine, too. It’d be nice to be noticed for something I’ve actually done, rather than something I just let happen.”
Cara shook her head as she got up to leave. “No. I would go so far as to forbid you from cutting it because I need you to be my hair inspiration, but I don’t think you have the guts, anyway,” she teased. “You get too much attention for it.”
Denise gasped, and quickly balled up a napkin projectile before Cara got out of range. Unfortunately, her aim was pretty terrible.
With a wave, Cara called out her goodbyes and headed back to her car, her cutesy skirt and beautiful hair blowing in the breeze as she walked.
“She says she doesn’t want to be seen as cute, but every bit of her style is geared exactly toward that.”
Realizing she was being catty, she allowed herself a deep sigh and tried to brush the annoyance aside.
It didn’t work. “Forbid me?” She asked no one. “I don’t have the guts?”
The waitress suddenly appeared and Denise damned the fact that her phone wasn’t close enough to pretend she was on a call. She smiled at the other girl. “Yeah, talking to myself.”
“We’ve all been there.”
“And I… will no longer be here. Let me get out of your way.” She gathered up her things and started walking, though she wasn’t sure quite where to. It was a gorgeous autumn day, though, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But getting home to get started on some of the lab reports with approaching due dates probably wouldn’t have been a bad idea.
Every store window she walked past reflect he bouncing brown locks, which in turned reflected the way Cara said “forbid” and “guts.” Sure, Cara didn’t mean anything by them, and maybe she really was trying to be complimentary, but Denise was tired of hearing that sort of thing. It suggested she had no value without her hair.
She couldn’t count the number of boyfriends who obsessed over it. Couldn’t calculate how many times she’d been told never to cut it. As if it wasn’t solely and completely her decision. As if she wouldn’t be the same person without it.
An ill-timed breeze encouraged her thick locks to get all up in her grill, and with a frustrated sigh she pushed them out of her face and looked for something, anything, to tie them back with in her purse.
“I need puppies,” she decided. There was a pert store near the car lot where she parked, and taking some time to coo over the puppies and dogs and kittens up for adoption there would probably go a long way toward brightening her mood. Then she could consider bearing down on her schoolwork.
And if the puppies didn’t work, there was always a stiff drink or two.
It wasn’t a far walk to the pet shop; within a couple of minutes it was in sight. But that still allowed for plenty of window and plenty of reflections and plenty of rekindled annoyance in the meantime. It was only by chance that she happened to focus her gaze through one of those reflections and saw her biology lab partner, Sandi, sitting within.
Sandi seemed to notice her at the same moment, brightening with a smile and waving.
Denise stepped into the shop, no… it was a hair salon. And a really nice one, too! Though small, with just a few stations and some sinks tower the back, it looked like all of the fixtures were really high-end, with something of a minimalist/industrial feel. Definitely not one of the run-of-the-mill chains. Only one stylist seemed to be working at the moment, a tall… brunette? Blonde? Denise couldn’t be sure, but she immediately fell for the woman’s sense of style, and wondered whether the weird feeling she got as she looked at the gorgeous braid those brown/blonde locks was what hair envy felt like. She was curling the raven locks of her client, who seemed perfectly at ease in the chair — something Denise couldn’t say she could relate to.
“What are you up to today, Denise?” Sandi asked.
Her attention snapped back to Sandi. “I was having lunch with a friend and she annoyed me a little bit, so I was on my way to try to play with some puppies at the pet store.” She looked around a bit more. “How about you?”
Sandi smiled again, a very bright and warm expression that took the edge off her usual sarcasm. “What got you annoyed? Something you want to talk about? I can take a break.”
Denise shook her head, tresses caressing her cheeks again. “No, no. No need for that.” She leaned on her elbows against the counter, tugging at the sleeves of her oversized sweater. “It’s stupid. Just one of those things where someone says something and you start questioning stuff about yourself and who you really are.” Suddenly feeling self-conscious and self-centered, she decided to jujitsu the conversation in another direction. “Your hair looks incredible straightened, by the way.”
Another smile, and Sandi dramatically shook her head, tossing about her usually-curly, dark hair. It was stick-straight today, its glossy lengths reaching further past her shoulders than usual as a result. “Thanks. One of the stylists did t for me before we opened this morning. Took way too long to do very often, but…. Occasionally it’s nice.”
“I’m actually really tempted to see whether you have a opening right now, but I this doesn’t look like a walk-in kind of place.”
“It’s totally a walk-in kind of place. My cousin Rebecca and her friend Brad just opened it together recently, so if there’s availability, there’s availability.”
Denise quieted in thought. Sure, she’d literally just been really annoyed at her friend for saying that she wouldn’t dare change her hair, but there was a difference between having the guts to do it and just randomly letting any old stylist do it.
But then she saw the stylist. He came out of the back room, a tall, dark-haired fellow with broad shoulders and a jaw you could… well, it was sharp. It was Superman’s jaw. A hairstylist had somehow stolen Superman’s jaw and clearly worked out enough to make this a believable assumption without going overboard about it. He set some towels on a shelf near the wash stations before turning to the front.
Denise wasn’t sure what exactly you would call the color of his eyes, but they were a shade of blue that overrode any desire she had to maintain her own dignity, and that dignity slipped through her lips in the form of an unintended “Huh.”
Sandi glanced over her shoulder and then back to Denise. The warm, kind smile had become a yeah, they pay me to be here smirk. “So… would you like a walk-in appointment?”
Denise swallowed. “Certainly couldn’t hurt to get a trim, right?”
“Certainly not.” She turned away. “Brad, looking to make a new client today?”
“Always,” the man… rumbled? Purred? Sang with the soul of a thousand angels raised on nothing but nectar and ambrosia of the gods? He stepped up to the front desk, standing maybe half a foot taller than Denise, and held out his hand. “I’m Brad. And you are?”
Bradley. She rolled the name over in her mind several times, loving the feel the second syllable gave it. Much better than Brad.
“And you are?” He repeated.
“Denise,” she finally said. “Sorry.” A deep breath. “Denise.”
He smiled and motioned her toward one of the empty stations, but by then she switched her game face on. Yes, he was a gorgeous specimen of a human being, but… fuck it, so was she. She was attractive and confident and she could talk to a guy like this because, frankly, he should be glad he had the chance to talk to her. Game on.
Sandi had said that Bradley and Rebecca had opened the shop together recently. If it could be assumed they took care of one another’s hair as a result, then there was a lot to be said for their skills. Brad’s dark hair was styled immaculately, held in place with just enough product to show he cared about it, but not so much to make you wonder why. And Rebecca’s… yeah, the hair envy was already highlighted.
Denise set her book bag aside, refusing to focus on how many points having it alongside her may have deducted from her score in the flirtation game, but the fact remained she was on the correct side of twenty, even if just barely. Bradley could offer her a beer and wouldn’t have to worry about police breaking down his door. She just might not be able to drink more than that one because of an early class the next day, was all.
“So, what were you thinking of today?” Bradley asked, his hands resting on the chair behind her shoulders. His shirt was tight enough to let her know he knew just how fit he was, and she couldn’t help but smirk and wonder whether the current pose was carefully practiced to show off the trapezius on either side of his gorgeous neck.
Denise considered her reflection, with her beautiful, pampered locks laid out in front of either shoulder, tumbling toward but not quite reaching her lap. They were he trademark, her calling card. Admittedly magnificent but kind of annoyingly so. She loved how the highlights shone almost blonde under the current lighting, the shortest layers sweeping off of her forehead and to the side, but constantly threatening to fall forward to hide a shy, flirtatious eye or being in need of a quick, coy tuck behind her ears.
She knew why everyone loved her mane. Knew why they either wanted it or wanted to bury themselves in it, but… she just wanted to be her. And it was her choice, after all. Her decision, whether she was anyone hair inspiration or not.
“One question first.”
“Do you style Rebecca’s hair?”
His brow furrowed.
“It looks freaking amazing.”
The furrow faded and a smile burst across his face. “Yes, I do.” He gave a theatrical glance over his shoulder. “Though it gets pretty easy to do the same thing over and over.”
The reflection of Rebecca in mirror before Denise glanced over her own shoulder in turn, her tongue making a cameo appearance as she made a fairly immature noise in response.
Denise smiled, feeling more and more at ease the longer she was in this place, and that wasn’t always easy. “So, I’ve been thinking about doing something different for a while, but people keep telling me not to.”
He nodded knowingly. “No, you can’t cut your hair…. No you have the perfect color,” he chimed in a voice that would have been more suitable for a Saturday morning cartoon. “I can understand that. So what is it that you want to do?”
“I’m not sure. All I know is that I want something that’ll leave me…. Instead of being someone’s hair inspiration, I want to be their style inspiration. I want to be their guts-inspiration.” She met his eyes with her own. “I want it all gone.”
He pursed his lips and made a thoughtful sound. “Define all gone,” he said, slipping to the side to grab a few things from his counter. When he returned to his position behind her, there was a comb in his hand, a few bands around his wrist, and the handles of a very silver set of shears sticking out of what looked like a pocket protector on the perfect pec of his black shirt. He was doing nothing with her hair, though. He just stood there, listening.
Her heart was racing, mores than she expected. She felt like she was a skyjumper, and the plane had just taken off. Even though she’d taken the first step and the ground was falling away beneath her, she could still easily call it off at any moment.
So what did she mean by all gone? That was a very good question. Did she just want to take enough off to shock everyone? To leave Cara as the hair goddess of the group? Did she still want to be able to braid it or pull it back, or even just have pigtails now and then?
In her metaphor, the plane door opened when she lifted her hands to her chin. “Here. With layers, so it has lots of movement.”
He smiled, and she suddenly felt like a sheep in the eyeliner of a hungry wolf, though god knows what she’d be willing to do to get this wolf to eat her. The wolf followed up with more questions than she anticipated, asking about how she cared for her hair, what products and styling tools she used… all the right questions that let her know she was in good hands. Good hands, by the way, that were slipping through her long, silky locks, playing and caressing and teasing to the point where he had to repeat some questions more than once. Her entire scalp was tingling and her entire body was on the brink of a catastrophic flush when she realized her hair had been pulled away from her shoulders, gathered back into a long, heavy ponytail that Bradley had corralled within his grasp.
“Now, one of the great benefits of short hair, I think you’ll find, is how easy and quick it is to shampoo. And if it’s alright with you,” he said with a smile as his eyes met hers in the mirror. “I’d like to introduce you to that experience now.”
He pulled the scissors from their sheath as he held her ponytail — her gorgeous, glorious, magnificent ponytail — in his other hand. “Are you sure about this?”
In her metaphor she was standing at the door of the airplane, with Cara standing behind her. “You don’t have the–“
He smiled. “Positive?”
She leaped again. “Absolutely.”
The first crunch froze her soul, as did the disembodied gasp coming from Sandi at the front desk. Again and again the scissors slid open and closed, severing and chopping through her glorious mane even as it resisted as har as its soft, silky lengths could. But they were no match. The constant tugging, the sweet tension at the nape of her neck started to ease and more and more of her glorious tresses started to swing forward, teasing her ears and brushing against her cheeks as their butchered ends swung free above her slender shoulders.
In time, the crunching finally stopped, and Bradley was handing her a massive ponytail of envy, admiration and unsolicited compliments. Of assumptions and demands and expectations.
Of freedom, of sorts. And courage.
And, goddamnit, just some really gorgeous, beautiful silken locks and perfectly placed highlights.
“Oh. My. God.”
“Didn’t think you had the guts?” Bradley asked.
“No, not really,” Denise squeaked.
Bradley took the ponytail from her and set it in front of the mirror, and then lifted her chin so she looked away from it and instead at herself in the mirror. Her glorious mane… was still glorious. Rough and choppy, sure, but…
She shook her head back and forth, letting it swing and bounce without the hindrance of so much extra weight. She lifted her hands to it, running her fingers through the soft tresses and gasping every time those strokes ended so much sooner than they used to. “Holy cow.”
“Yeah, everyone usually thinks that.” He stepped back and motioned toward the washing stations in the back. “Shall we?”
Denise followed as beckoned, glancing back at her severed ponytail, then to Sandi with a giggle, and then forward again as she shook her hands through her shortened hair once more. “I really can’t believe I did that.”
“It grows back,” Bradley assured her as she settled in and he began wetting her hair. He set about washing it as promised, using a wild flower scented shampoo that eased any remaining nerves she may have had. She crossed her arms as he worked, his fingers gently massaging and caressing her scalp, teasing and brushing against her ears and nape. She let herself sigh, but refused to focus on her lack of boyfriend at the moment. Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem for long.
Toward the end, Bradley smoothed her hair back, and when she opened her eyes she caught him looking down at her thoughtfully. She arched an eyebrow, and he smiled harmlessly. “Just checking out your bone structure and ears. Much easier when the hair is slicked back.”
A soft towel pressed against her forehead, and he gently guided her up out of the seat and back to his chair. With what was probably a well-practiced flick, he ensconced her in a black cape and carefully secured it around her neck, easily brushing her wet, shortened locks out of the way.
As she looked at her reflection with the unfamiliar hair, Denise realized how vague she had been in her guidance as to what length she wanted to be left with. She wondered how he might interpret that — would it be left closer to her shoulders than her chin, or would he take liberties and go even shorter than she requested?
And would she mind if he did? Would she mind if it really was all gone?
The short, unfamiliar locks were easily sectioned and pinned out of the way, something that used to take much, much more time, and Bradley’s comb slipped through the locks that remained loose to hang down the back of her neck. Gently, he nudged her to look downward, and then the comb came again, halting just beneath her hairline and then turning up. There was a pause, and then soft, slow crunching. Another stroke, and another quick flick, then more crunching. He did this a few more time, each time higher on her nape and further from the length she asked for. Her breath quickened…
“I’m just doing this so it lays right,” he said, as if he could read her mind. And then he gently caressed her shorn nape, rubbing the backs of his fingers up and down and she desperately hoped he could not, in fact, read her mind.
The next section that was let loose had the benefit of his fingers being laid against her nape before they were shorn, and soon after that his fingers left her head completely, maybe regrettably so. Occasionally, though, they would return to lift the locks and let them fall again, trimming away a bit from those that did not fall exactly as he wanted them to.
Before long he was on her side, loosing vast swaths of her thick hair. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting — she knew exactly what she had asked for, and yet her eyes still widened in surprise when the first cut stole away another three or four inches of her treasured mane — maybe treasured by others, but still treasured nonetheless — to leave what remained hanging perfectly at chin length. He worked slowly and deliberately, deftly working the layers to add movement and remove what he deemed to be too much volume. Her ears weren’t as hidden as they used to be, still covered, sure, but the slightest tilt of her head would probably leave them bared to the world now.
After he brought the other side up to match the left’s length, he began shortening the last few sections, leaving her with layers that might hint at former bangs, sweeping from the part of on her left to come down and hide her right eye from view before teasing her right cheek and jawline.
“What do you think?” He asked.
She stared at her own reflection, at this style that was so, so much shorter than her trademark mane once was… and yet, it was still perfect and amazing. “I love it,” she said.
He ran his fingers through her locks once again. “Not quite all off, but close enough.”
The words cut a little, but she wasn’t sure why. Then she looked at herself again, reached up and played with the new style, the new her, and wondered whether she really fulfilled her desire of showing everyone the guts she had. Yes, she’d cut a lot off — a ton off — but even so, this style was so well done she could just skip a few haircuts and she’d have a gorgeous ponytail again in no time.
Bradley fingers pressed against the nape of her neck as he sought to loosen the cape.
He stopped, raising his eyebrows.
“Could we go a bit shorter?”
The right corner of his mouth lifted. “Of course.” He moved his fingers from the cape, and instead moved them into her hair, letting their tips rush ever so lightly against her earlobes. “How about to here?”
Denise swallowed. Was she really about to go from short to short—
She nodded. “Sounds like a good start.”
Bradley definitely caught that, and riled as he reached for his mister. He wet her hair down and sectioned it again. He followed the same pattern as before, starting at her nape with his scissors and comb, but this time taking it higher… and higher… and higher. The crunching sounds of her looks being shorn away grew louder and louder, and what she could see of their mass between the reflections shared among the small salon’s mirrors grew larger and larger, and suddenly Bradley’s fingers were laying flat just beneath her occipital bone as he cut away her glorious locks. His first cuts on either side freed another five or six inches, with the shorn lengths shortening as he drew closer to her ears, where he snipped only maybe another three inches.
The angle of the cut had not been discussed, leaving Denise feeling flustered that so much more had been cut away, but, at the same time… she absolutely loved it. This was a style. This was a decision, and something people would envy her for doing, rather than just envying her hair for existing.
Bradley’s last cuts were those that separated several more inches from her face framing layers, leaving the wanna-be bangs with the same sweep they had before, though now they rested solely on her right cheek rather than at her jawline. She looked down at the amount of hair in her lap, absolutely unable to believe that much had been on her head even after her massive ponytail had been shorn.
Bradley tucked her hair behind her left ear. “I have one more idea, if you’re feeling bold.”
She looked at the girl in the mirror. That girl with the super short bob and naked neck — she was the living definition of bold. So hell yes, she was feeling bold.
“Perfect,” he opened one of the drawers in his station, pulling out a small black and silver machine and some clips. “Now, there’s going to be some noise, but don’t be scared.” He showed her the clippers. “These don’t bite; they only make you look fantastic.”
She grew a little nervous at the warning about the noise, but nodded anyway. Bold. She was bold.
Bradley approached her and turned the clippers on with a snap. Smiling warmly, he gently urged her to tilt her head to the right. She closed her eyes as she did, and felt the cool plastic of the clipper guard pressed against her cheek. It sat there for a moment, and then slowly begin to move upward, its constant whirr shifting in tone as it met her hair. It sounded like a monster chewing through its captured feast, and quick flick of Bradley’s wrist sent a thick lock of her shiny hair tumbling down into her lap.
He took another pass after that one, and then another, working up and around her ear, rising the clippers higher and higher, above her eyebrows and almost to the parting of her glorious locks. Then he began working back, shearing — no, buzzing away any and all length that was able to show a shine or hold a highlight. When she opened her eyes, Denise was startled by just how dark the remaining pelt was, completely robbed her careful coloring and the summer’s sunlight.
Bradley tilted her chin down to her chest before the clippers began nibbling at her nape, chills and thrills of both fear and enjoyment rifling through her very confused body. She didn’t know whether she was supposed to be terrified or turned on, so apparently her hormones decided to do both.
Over time, the clippers guards were changed, then the clippers themselves replaced with smaller trimmers to perfect every detail. All that remained of the magnificent bob she’d had a short while ago was the dramatic, sweeping mix of light and medium brown locks that hid her right eye and ear, a small hint at how fantastically normal she might look with a run of the mill bob instead of how amazing, gorgeous, and, yes, bold she looked with the new sidecut.
“Never in a million years did I think my hair would ever look like this when I woke up this morning.”
He showed her her nape — her brilliantly shorn, clippered nape, formerly home to a massive ponytail that reached her waist but now was completely naked and bare. Barely anything was left at its base, with the shorn fuzz gradually lengthening as she ran her hand up toward her crown.
She nodded. “Yeah… just.. shocked, too. I didn’t think I had it in me.”
He chuckled, undoing the cape and carefully pulling it away. Mounds of light brown locks tumbled to the floor, and again Denise shook her head in disbelief. Her hair swept forward as she looked down, but it was just so damn easy to flick it all back when she looked up again. She used to need both hands for that and it would take a full on toss-back of her neck to swing her mane around… but now…
Not so much.
She followed Bradley to the front desk, where a stunned Sandi waited to ring her up. “Now that is an iconic look,” Sandi said. “You look great. I wish I had your guts.”
Bradley started to say something, but was cut off as Rebecca snapped a towel at him.
Denise had the inclination to say something sly, like that she wanted to take the new look out for a spin, and maybe Bradley would want to join her for a drink… But while she had proven herself bold, she wasn’t bold enough to ask her lab partner’s boss out right in front of that lab partner.
Instead, she settled for, “So, can I get another appointment?”
“Of course. Four weeks for a cut, but you might want to swing back around in two so I can keep your nape looking sharp.”
She nodded. “I can do that.”
“It was nice to meet you, Denise. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again.”
She let that be the goodbye, not confident that she could come up with anything that would improve the moment. She paid her tab, left a very nice tip, and waved goodbye to Sandi before heading for her car. On the way, she texted Cara.
“Sorry if I got snippy today. We should do lunch again soon. You free in two weeks?”
Hope you enjoyed it. Letting me know if/what you liked about it will help me with future endeavors.