Audio Version (Different by Thursday | Youtube)
“Bingo…” She thought aloud, dragging the box into the light.
She blew dust off each item, raising them out of storage. A trio of shirt, shorts and socks, iconic to her younger self. The old university colours… ‘Grape and papaya, technically’. She chuckled at the tacky colour scheme, recalling fond memories, along with regrets. This new opportunity began reigniting the old spark.
“Hey, babe, how do I look?” Lauren gave a twirl as she entered.
“Wow.” Tom eyed her up and down. “Not sure anyone could pull that off… Apart from you, of course.” He jumped up from his seat.
Lauren blushed. His fingers pushed her hair back for a kiss. It’s shade wasn’t far from the kit’s stripes. ‘Aggressively ginger’ as Tom described upon first meeting his now long-time girlfriend. Flicks and swirls danced down to her mid-back like a lit fire as they embraced. An inferno of 3A curls swallowed her head, barely leaving room for her pale, freckled face to be seen. The fiery locks held movement even when still, flowing around her with magnificent volume, wildly extending from her scalp.
Moving across the country to live together was, at best, hectic. Amongst finding a house, work and saving money, Lauren was forced to compromise. Forgoing a nearly monthly salon schedule, however, had allowed her flames to blossom. Gains estimated at 8 and a half inches when pulled straight. It grew on her. She embraced the extra femininity and tolerated the impracticality – helped by added attention from Tom.
“All set for tomorrow?” He asked.
“Uhm. Yeah, think so. Boots, bag, gumshield… This tasteful little outfit.” Lauren posed sarcastically, displaying her figure in the tight-fitting jersey and shorts.
“Great. The girls are all lovely, just get stuck in and have some fun…” He replied, genuinely proud to bring her into the club.
Tom ruffled her hair. Lauren’s nose scrunched, wispy bangs tickling her eyebrows. An adorable smile formed between rosy cheeks. She gazed up at him with bright eyes. Deep emerald centres sparkling in sunlight from the window. The week had crawled along after he spilled that the captain was expecting her. She’d patiently waited the six-day notice, now it was just around the corner as the weekend faded.
The next day whizzed by, especially by Monday standards. Desperate to impress, her thoughts began to run as she strolled into the club grounds. Doubts creeping in about her abilities and, most worrying to her, fitting in. Following the path, a sign emerged from the bend:
Riddlestone Ravens RFC
Open Training Session
15/08 8:00pm – Pitch 1
Checking her phone confirmed she was 10 minutes early, though a large gathering could already be spotted. Lauren took a moment. A couple of deep breaths letting her put on her brave face.
Her stature was somewhat deceiving. Small, or short, rather, standing a smidge over 5’1. Paired with youthfully round cheeks, it hardly screamed violent rugby player. Making up for it, however, was a dense physique. She wasn’t lumbering. Nor bulky, necessarily. Every inch of her curves was packed with muscle. Powerful, explosive thighs and unending core strength, arms that would put some of the men’s team to shame. The dividends from years of training.
“Aha… You must be Tom’s…” A battle-scarred figure called out.
“Oh. Ha-ha, yeah, the very same. Lauren, nice to meet you.” She responded, cringing at her awkward phrasing.
“Ella, or El, and likewise. You’re probably the last newbie, so we’ll get started…” The captain welcomed her.
Lauren stood, eagerly tuned in. It was the standard spiel, but Ella’s tone brightened up for the last part, almost disconcertingly coming from the 6’0 tank of a woman.
“There is a… Welcoming ceremony before each season. All our wonderful ladies took part upon joining.” Lauren shivered hearing Ella, hoping this wasn’t going to be some degrading public act. “In a moment you’ll pick a number from the scrum cap which corresponds to a hairstyle…”
Ella glanced over at Lauren. Her blazing locks twisted into an immense bun, defying physics to remain steady. Thickness undeniably remarkable. As was its colour in the sunset rays, fringe and face-framing pieces glowing around her like a lion’s mane – a connection only heightened when worn free. The rest of the group bounced with excitement.
“Next week I’ll text over your appointments – you just turn up. Thursday training we’ll have a big reveal, eh. By the way, you must keep it for at least the first match. Sound good?” Skipper raising her eyebrows awaiting response.
Gwen tentatively dismissed herself. Black, collarbone length braids not up for negotiation. Leah stepped up. High dirty blonde ponytail reaching her bra-strap, a bold wager, but she was game. Lauren stood, paralysed by the stares.
“Fuck it. I’m in.” She announced after what felt like forever.
She shot a look of nervous solidarity to Leah. Both played into the team’s excitement, swirling the options before fishing one out. Fanfare over, training commenced. It was a tough session, even without full contact. Exactly what Lauren had been craving. She had to repeatedly stop herself from boring Tom with every miniscule detail of their drills. The couple sat eating in front of the TV as Tuesday evening rolled in.
“So… When were you gonna tell me about the initiation?” Lauren probed.
“Didn’t know they did that stuff in the women’s team. Anything gross?” Tom asked.
“… A haircut…” She said nonchalantly, noticing Tom’s ears stand to attention.
“… Huh, so like, just, any particular one?” His reaction was mixed. Not knowing if the topic was sensitive, or if she could read the disappointment plastered on his face.
“Lucky dip, I’ll find out soon. Better make the most of it now, it’ll be… different by Thursday night.” She warned, partly to herself.
Later that night, Tom was particularly attentive during their bedtime ‘routine’. In his mind, her hair was cherished by them both, strange to see Lauren so relaxed about giving it up. He kept opinions to himself, holding zero authority over her hairstyle. Though, he’d be the first to secretly admit it would be a shame to lose, so he settled for a passionate send-off.
Wednesday, late afternoon, and still no instruction. Lauren found herself relaxing in the tub, giving her lengths the mother of all treatments. Indulgence in conditioning easing the tension. It crossed her mind that it may all be a bluff, but just then her phone buzzed on the counter.
‘Hey, it’s El. Sorry it’s short notice, appt. at 6pm tonight. Can you make it?’
‘Yeah, ofc. Where @?’
‘Tom was right, you are a good’un. ‘Guerrilla Slick’, over by the retail park. Knock, they’ll be closed, but expecting you.”
‘Yep. I’d tell you, but I think you should get a surprise too ????’
‘Alright. 6, I’ll be there.’
Finishing her therapeutic soak, she tidied herself in preparation. Functioning on autopilot, her thoughts free to unleash their theories. As was practically tradition, Lauren fashioned her hair into a messy bun before leaving the house. Flustered, she’d arrived excessively early.
30 minutes to kill, the young woman squirmed with her thoughts in the car. Seconds ticked, a metronome for swaying feelings. Lauren texted Tom searching for an escape route, asking if she should back out. She closed her eyes, fondling her updo, taking in each and every detail. It’s thickness and healthy shine. The baby hairs curling around her ears. Everything was on the line.
One side of her cried out, reminding her it wasn’t too late. The other emphasised her commitment. Think of all the care and affection… But you promised, what would they think, of you and Tom… Message received, not 5 minutes after her question.
‘If you really want to. But I say go for it, tho’
‘I thought you loved my hair?’
‘Cmon, I love you. Plus, now I’m intrigued’
It wasn’t the compelling excuse Lauren hoped for, though she begrudgingly accepted he was right. The commitment was made. She owed it to herself, and the team. Minutes disappearing, she psyched herself up, trying to flush away expectations and the accompanying worries. Stepping into the late summer sun, possibilities weighed on her mind as trembling legs navigated to her destination.
Arriving, she stood in disbelief, simply staring at the shop. Closed blinds, a tinted door, no sign of life. Standing outside wasn’t yielding any clues, nor was it getting it over with. She wandered closer, praying for intervention, entrance well within reach now. Lauren balled her fist and paused to summon her courage.
Knock… It swung open without delay as she struck.
“… Lauren?” The man inquired from the doorway.
“Uh-huh.” She nodded as he invited her inside.
“I Saw you through the door… Wanted to let you, uh, make the choice yourself…” He opted for a diplomatic explanation. “Look, get yourself settled. No rush. Then… Well then we’ll start.”
Lauren looked around. Her first sightseeing trip inside a barbershop challenging a few preconceptions. She felt relieved, thankfully Ella hadn’t sent her to some cigarette-stained hangout for old men. No, this was a modern reimagining. Rustic, but with mod-cons and a heavy vibe of americana. Lit delicately by a series of warm, dimmed lamps. Some pointed up, drawing the eye to curated displays. Decorations littered the walls: Old automotive signs, faux hunting trophies and a couple of guitars. Even the practical furnishings oozed style.
Mounted on the wall were grand mirrors. Without a hint of streaks or smudges, sitting in frames of carved patterned artwork. The whole room colour coded to the earthy, old-west inspiration. Beneath, a mahogany countertop provided utility. Stainless-Steel tool hooks placed along its edge, with drawers hanging under. Above, the deep swirls of red, brown and black glistened through the varnish in spite of chips and scratches. She tip-toed towards the workstations.
Standing over it, the first chair tempted her to sit. More like a throne than the dainty office chic seats in women’s salons. At a squeeze it could probably fit two of her. Once more, the colour scheme showed itself. This time a lighter, nuttier brown shade on the leather cushioning of the white and chrome framed seat. Lauren lowered herself gingerly, remaining wary of the unfamiliar surroundings.
Adam, owner of ‘Guerrilla Slick’ and Lauren’s barber for the evening, sprang into action. He was young, at least more-so than expected, she placed him as early 30’s. With his client settled he whipped out a cape. A flutter of nylon rustling placed it over her. He set up efficiently, firm hands keeping the neck-strip in position as he fastened the cape. A distinct snap locked her in for the ride.
She observed the mirror as he pumped the pedal, bringing up the chairs height. All focus drawn to her head, poking out from the dwarfing, tent-like cape obscuring everything below. Each pump made her sway, the motion fully attenuated before passing to the static cape. Which, in sharp contrast to the room, was a crisp, unnaturally clean white. Along the length ran pinstripes. Vintage cherry red and lapis blue, approximately an inch thick, the first trace of ‘classic barbershop’ in the place.
“Right, Lauren. Has Ella… Told you?…” Adam checked before following orders.
“Kinda. A surprise apparently…” Lauren said.
“Yes, I. I wanted to make sure. And you are sure? You’re up for it?” He asked, defensively, looking to avoid bearing the brunt of any reaction.
“… Yup. All good, hopefully…” She shrugged, putting on an uneasy smile.
“Wonderful. Try and relax…” Adam’s voice fatherly and comforting.
Adam tenderly inspected his canvas for the evening. Lauren’s true length remained concealed in serpentine form. He held the bundle, briefly releasing the downward pressure, clearly impressed.
“Geez, this must weigh a tonne…” He muttered.
His eyebrows jumped as he recalibrated his internal scales to the magnitude, Lauren catching him through the mirror. The expression showing his unfamiliarity with such clientele as he gently removed the supporting pins. Both watched on silently. Unravelling, the momentum built. Locked on, the barber’s eyes traced the bun’s path as it dismantled. The swinging mass enough to manipulate Lauren’s posture, almost generating an audible swish against the still air. Wild locks settled wherever they chose. She remained politely still, despite how it irked her not to tidy them, letting Adam lay it in a centre part.
Soothing strokes caused her shoulders to slump. A peaceful massage going far to ease the nerves. Finishing, Adam gifted her time for a personal farewell, his concentration turned to his tools. Even the pampering couldn’t distract from the peculiarity of her current circumstance. Minus the distracting world, she examined herself.
Cruel irony, perhaps. Or maybe she simply never stopped to admire. These final moments, however, afforded consideration of overlooked beauty. Glowing orange spilled outwards, reaching for the cape. Viscous waves of amber honey crashed along the ridge of her shoulders, whirling beyond as the curls dangled far down the back of the chair. Raw and unfiltered. Less elegant chic, more natural charm. Though, the former certainly achievable when needed. A gift. One, in hindsight, which possibly shouldn’t have been gambled.
“So… Ever done something like this before?” Adam shattered Lauren’s solitude with friendly chit-chat.
“… Nope, never.” A quiet chuckle puffed from her nose. Surely that’s obvious, she thought. “Have you?… Done anyone else from the club, I mean.”
“A fair few. Ella sends two or three my way each year. Although, none quite like you…” His attempted charm bordering on flirty.
Lauren rolled her eyes, dismissing the cheap flattery. Sweet talking aside, Adam approached. First part of the ritual looming, he readied himself to console, hoping it unnecessary. She perceived his cheery demeanour dipping. Then, with silent looks exchanged, the atmosphere turned icy. Her grip tightened on the armrests, heart beginning to flutter.
“Ready?” Adam asked, direct and straightforward.
Under pressure, Lauren’s vision first scooted around her reflection. After a fleeting uncertainty, she cautiously nodded. Maintaining the motion in an attempt to convince herself. Adam’s smile refreshed. Stepping to the side, he directed her to tilt her head.
Lauren’s jaw clenched. A shudder rattled her spine. Aggressive buzzing engulfed the room. Noise from the clippers echoed off every surface. A cacophony aimed at her, sending her anxiety sky high. They came nearer. Breathing quickened. Vibrations now touching below her sideburn. Wincing, her eyes slammed shut, leaving the first cut to be experienced by sound and touch.
Raspy scratching integrated with the ear-splitting hum. Polished chrome Wahl’s carved upwards. Fistfuls of silky strands released into Adam’s grasp as they surrendered to the clippers. He tossed the limp embers into Lauren’s lap, her now wide-eyed gaze tracking like a hawk. Full length casualties hit the cape, the majority sliding over the horizon of her draped knees.
Intense vibration crept up the side of her head. The forced shedding picked up. Adam no longer handled the tresses, preferring to let the clipper-fuelled cascade run free. She felt the edge of rapidly oscillating blades pressed firm, scraping away. A crescendo of humming and tearing as paths were shorn around her ear.
Lauren’s muscles pulsed, fighting to remain calm. Feeling faded in her extremities as adrenaline flooded her system. The grand, spotless mirror beamed visuals straight to her retinas. Unable, possibly unwilling, to avert her eyes. She nearly squealed at the sight.
“First time feeling these, eh?” Adam waved the shearing device between passes, facing Lauren via her reflection.
The young woman sat timidly, staying mute. He worried he might’ve accidentally overstepped.
“… Sorry. I bet it’s a hell of a surprise, though… Figured, maybe, best to just go all in from the start…” He blabbered, trying to blend lightening the mood with his justification.
“Yeah…” Lauren cut him off. “It… It’s my first time.” A smile developing out of reassurance as she saw his of sympathy. “I. I, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Oh, no, no, all good. How you likin’ it?”
“It’s definitely new…” Lauren struggled to describe it. “So far: Scary. But, I can’t believe I’m saying this, kinda… nice in a way.”
“In that case…” Adam brought his clippers into position.
His craft was on full, meticulous exhibition. Short bursts of action followed by flicks of the wrist. Her dense curls threatened to jam the clippers. Several repeat passes were made, guaranteeing no stragglers. Reaching higher and further back, Lauren was offered a glimpse into the bold hairstyle she’d soon be wearing.
Fucking hell, she thought, he really has gone ‘all in’.
The clippers worked tirelessly, transferring ginger waves to her surroundings. Shorn down, all the way down, no guard on his close-bladed clippers. Nakedness fully encompassed the side of her head. The drastic alteration was surreal. Two thirds of her mirror image held vast layers of bouncy tresses. Eerie absence filled the remainder. Adam switched to her left, precious idle seconds letting Lauren get visually acquainted. Turning to the side, her breathing faltered as the extent became clear. A bright panel of pale skin. Odd specks of ginger clippings clung either to barely present stubble or managed to stick where they tumbled.
Unreal, she pondered. All of it… There’s Nothing left.
Turning back for Adam to continue, another sensation hit. Previously insulated by a bundle of flaming strands, air penetrated the fuzzy remnants. Scalp nerves lit up, startled into life by the breeze. She blushed, realising she’d made a face in reaction by Adam’s giggle. His well-oiled Wahl’s rammed once more into the luscious locks, penetrating the boundary between hair and hairless. Sheets of hair fell from her left sideburn.
Both, now more at ease, watched, absorbed in the spectacle. Lauren especially, staring down the falling clumps, finding strange satisfaction as they slid into the growing pile at her lap.
Knowing she had little input, she relaxed herself. Soaking up the atmosphere, compiling a record in her mind, doubtful this would ever be more than once-in-a-lifetime. Aromas complimented the western inspired theme. Soothing notes of sandalwood and leather with a piercing chemical after-taste, courtesy of the open Barbicide jar.
As a barbershop, it was puzzlingly intriguing to Lauren. Old-school, barebones macho with a coating of contemporary cool, seamlessly blending together. Add to that a well-dressed, young, but a little rough around the edges barber. She was glad not to be here during open hours, fearing what intimidating characters might be regulars. Beneath the surface, though, she could sense the charm. However, for the time being, she’d be a one-off customer in her eyes.
By now, most of her left was bare scalp up to the top. Lauren was feeling the chill from both sides, and beginning to question where her appointment was heading. She flinched, Adam’s attempt at brushing clippings away tickling his newly shorn customer. He continued, Lauren watching the clippers rise higher and higher. Autopilot kicking in, Adam almost forgot Lauren was a first timer in the barber’s chair as he moved on from buzzing the sides.
She almost screamed for him to stop. Noticing her sheepish terror, Adam paused with concern. Progressing as instructed, the next path to be cut down had placed the whirring blades at her hairline. Something about it, an instinctive avoidance to clippers sitting at her forehead. A singular idea shot to her brain, the one outcome she’d pre-emptively dismissed out of fear.
Bald… I’m gonna be bald. The thought panicked her to the core.
“It’s probably a bit late for second thoughts…” Adam joked. “Now’s the crazy bit, you with me?”
Lauren took a set of deep breaths, hoping to fill both her lungs and her courage.
“… Do it…” She commanded.
A triumphant hum escaped the clippers as they ploughed, beginning to expose the shape of Laurens skull. Starting from the corner, they flew back, sending sheets of wigmaker’s gold down to the floor. Again, the clippers moved from hairline all the way to neckline. Each strip a centimetre or two over from the last. He made another 4 or 5 full passes, with many more shorter strokes to finish. She was stunned when Adam switched off the clippers, gawking at the inch-and-a-half wide stripe of long – in some parts untouched – locks that had endured.
“… Go on, give it a feel…” Adam suggested, walking over to grab his shears.
She rubbed carefully, discovering the alien surface of her head as she got to grips with the feel of a close buzz. The top was… Bizarre. What hair was left compelled her to run her hands through it, but the contact of long tresses and shorn scalp in the space of her palm confused her senses.
Lauren’s hands retreated under the cape as Adam returned, this time leaning over from in front. He pulled forward a section with his comb, holding it taught, ready to be cut. Strands still long enough that the excess flopped down into her face. In the absence of clippers, the crisp ‘Schnick’ of each slice rang loudly. Quick and precise, the shears left their mark. Pulling stopped and a cloud of ginger drifted onto Lauren’s nylon covering.
Adam worked accurately from front to back. Each patch of her glowing tresses reduced to a uniform inch. He spun her around as needed, depriving her of view until the big reveal. He re-purposed the shears for some point cutting. A final touch of layering to complete the style. He placed the scissors on the counter. Loudly slapping the backrest of the chair, signalling a reveal was coming.
“… And you, Lauren, are all set.” Adam said, spinning her back into mirror’s view.
“I…” She drifted off, astonished. “… Well. It’s not… totally bald…”
“Ha-ha, what made you think you’d be bald? Is that good?” Adam chuckled, laughing at her apparent relief at keeping a few centimetres of mohawk.
“… Had me fooled.” She confessed.
“I’m sure El wouldn’t mind me sending you back bald instead…” He teased.
“Oh, woah, no, no, this will do, thanks.” She said, quickly shutting down his suggestion.
Making full use of the gleaming mirror, she thoroughly reviewed the final look. Innate reactions compelled her to lean forward for a better view. Her pupils remained fixed as she distorted her neck in every direction, feeling like she was staring at a stranger. Occasional sounds of discovery were made. Subtle ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ escaped. Extreme and punky was as radical a departure from her usual self she could’ve had.
She ran her hands over her head, tentatively, feeling like she needed special permission. Long – relatively – and exceptionally short bristles prickled across her skin. Fingertips and palm transmitting tingling straight to her spine. Her head was glowing under the barbershop spotlights, only this time it was pale scalp in place of her trademark reddish flames.
“… Wow…” She almost groaned before remembering she wasn’t alone.
“Here, let me…” Adam stepped in, delicately undoing the cape. He shook the glossy pinstriped sheet in front of her, drawing Lauren’s gaze toward the floor.
Free from under the cape, she began to stand. Her progress halted, if only briefly, as the magnitude of discarded hair sank in. She looked all around, pile after pile surrounded the chair’s base. Loose curls sat eerily still. Some mounds reaching peaks of over an inch. Lauren hopped down from the footrest. With each step she waded through the ginger swamp.
Her head remained bowed, observing the sizable clumps bouncing off her sporty trainers. Lauren felt off balance without the swinging densely packed waves to counter. She and Adam giggled as she stumbled, nearly slipping as her feet became lost in the clippings. Reaching clear footing, she looked back, eyes tracking top to bottom.
Her orange racing stripe drew immediate attention, sitting on a ghostly white head that she never realised was so small on her shoulders. It seemed to alter her entire figure, though she reasoned the ‘need to get used to it’ phase was beginning to kick in. Bright chrome glinted bringing her gaze back to the chair, reminding her that she had – in fact – just had all her hair cut off. In a barbershop no less. Lauren shook her head in disbelief.
“… So, uhm…” Lauren said, unaware of the appropriate etiquette for this scenario.
“Already paid, you’re free to go. Unless you need anything?” Adam reassured her, fetching his broom.
“Right, of course.” She tried to play it cool, fending off an impending freakout as reality started to hit. “Well, uh, thanks. I guess…”
“Happy to help.” He cracked his friendliest smile yet. “Feel free to call, if you feel like keeping it or need a trim or anything.”
The two laughed after an awkward exchange. Lauren made it to the exit, stopping in her tracks as the summer breeze wafted in through the door. As she stepped forward the sun began baking her head. Too late for doubts, now her anxiety took centre stage.
“See you soon…” Adam called out, catching Lauren by surprise.
She smiled and nodded back politely, the most she could muster in response. She checked her phone.
‘Hey babe… Did you do it??? Can’t wait to see, hopefully it’s not too short’
‘I did. It’s definitely different ????’