I hadn’t been planning on writing a sequel to this one because I wanted to focus on the next “Influencer” piece but someone requested it and I had a moment of inspiration, so here we go!
“Anybody home?” Kate’s voice called out from the kitchen.
“Uh, yeah,” Holly shouted. “We’re in the bathroom.”
Holly and Jane heard their roommate put her keys down on the kitchen countertop and toss her bag into the living room before making her way down the hall.
Kate was one of those people who started talking before she got to her destination, so she had not yet made it to the bathroom when she began: “Micah is coming over for pizza and a movie tonight, but don’t feel like you have to make yourselves scarce…” Her voice trailed off as she rounded the corner and approached the bathroom doorway, which was flanked by her two newly shorn roommates. Peeking behind them she could see four-inch lengths of brown hair and twelve-inch lengths of strawberry blonde hair strewn all over the bathroom floor, as well as the sink and tub. “Do I even want to know what happened here?”
”I was trying to trim my bangs…” Jane began, rubbing a hand over the top of her three-eighths inch brown buzz.
”I’ll say,” Kate observed, wryly.
”I cut them too short. So I thought if I cut the rest of my hair a little bit they wouldn’t look so weird, only…”
”Only then I burst into the bathroom and hit Jane in the arm as she was cutting her hair and she cut a huge chunk off and this was really the only solution unless she wanted to wait till Tuesday for a salon to open,” Holly finished somewhat sheepishly.
”And what’s your excuse?” Kate asked, eyeing the quarter inch of strawberry-blonde fuzz covering her second roommate’s scalp.
”And curiosity!” Jane added. “Apparently Holly had been looking for an excuse to shave her head for a while now.”
”Well okay, then,” Kate said, looking from roommate to roommate. “Can you at least clean up all this mess before Micah gets here?”
”Of course!” Jane said.
”Unless you want to join us first?” Holly teased.
Kate protectively touched her long, dark curls. “Uh, no thanks. And I think Micah might kill me if I did, anyway. You know how much he loves my hair.”
It was true. Whenever the group would watch tv together, Micah always unconsciously but tenderly ran his fingers through Kate’s hair. It was kind of cute, actually. Still, for a moment, Holly pretended to be indignant: “You mean you don’t want to stand in solidarity with your sisters because your boyfriend likes your hair?”
Kate rolled her eyes. “It’s not like you did this to make a political statement. Now clean up, would you?”
Kate turned to walk toward her bedroom, her curls bouncing below her waist. Jane and Holly looked at each other and burst into laughter. What a strange afternoon it had been!
”I’ll get the broom and dustpan if you grab the trash bags,” Jane said to Holly. Within half an hour, all traces of that afternoon’s misadventures were gone—all traces, that is, except for the distinct lack of hair on either of their heads.
Kate shook her head as she walked into her bedroom. It had been surprising enough a month and a half ago when Jane came home with her waist-length brown hair reduced to a chin-length bob with bangs, but that at least was for a good cause. And she’d thought Jane was planning to start growing her hair out right away! But now she was sporting a buzzcut, and somehow Holly, whose strawberry blonde hair had reached below her shoulders that morning, was, too?
Kate changed out of the leggings and t-shirt she’d been wearing at the library in favor of jeans and a flowy tank top, then fluffed her hair. It had taken her so long to learn to care for the kinky-curly locks she inherited from both her Jewish mom’s and Black dad’s sides of her family. But somehow the curly gene had skipped right over Kate’s mom, so even though her sisters and cousins all had thick, curly hair, Kate’s mother never knew how to handle her daughter’s hair. Hairdressers in Kate’s hometown never knew what to make of her hair, either, so they usually cut it bluntly at her shoulders, a look that didn’t seem bad leaving the salon but turned into an unflattering, frizzy pyramid shape the moment she tried to style it herself. The kids in grade school had been awful about her chaotic hair. One boy even “accidentally” spat his gum into her hair, right near her scalp. Her mother had no choice but to cut it out, and while the missing chunk of hair wasn’t exactly visible amongst the rest of the mass of her hair, Kate knew it was there and fondled it incessantly during the school day, seething with rage toward the classmate responsible for it.
Before her bat mitzvah, Kate had begged her parents to let her get her hair chemically straightened, and she wore it long and straight until college, when she got to know other Jews of color with similar hair (and similar stories about their hair), who helped her learn to love and care for her hair in its natural state. She chopped off much of the chemically straightened length into a longish pixie and immediately began to let her natural curls grow in, cutting the rest of the straightened hair off as soon as she could. She hadn’t looked back since.
The doorbell rang. She knew it was Micah but she wasn’t quite ready yet, so she figured Jane or Holly could answer the door. Only…he’d be in for quite the surprise when he saw them, wouldn’t he? She hurried to finish touching up her makeup and headed down the hall toward the kitchen, where Micah was standing with a six-pack of beer in one hand and a box of wine in the other, looking from Holly to Jane and back again as they offered the Cliff’s Notes version of their afternoon.
”Well,” Micah said at last, “you both look really great. The cuts suit you.”
”Tell your girlfriend,” Holly said. “We tried to get her to join us this afternoon but she said you wouldn’t approve.”
A flicker of something imperceptible played across Micah’s face as he noticed that Kate had entered. She approached, gave him a quick kiss, and took the drinks out of his hands, putting them into the fridge. “Are we ordering a pizza or what?” she asked, looking from roommate to roommate to her boyfriend, wondering just what that fleeting expression had meant.
After the pizza was finished and all the beers and some of the wine were drunk, the quartet went to the living room and started their movie, assuming their usual positions. Micah sat on the left side of the couch, with Kate laying across the rest of it, her head on his lap. Jane curled up in an armchair, and Holly brought the rest of the wine into the living room and put it on the coffee table alongside a few joints she’d procured earlier in the day, then threw herself into the giant beanbag chair in the corner.
As usual, Micah absentmindedly played with Kate’s hair as they watched the movie, but it seemed to her that his rhythm was off somehow. It was hard to explain, exactly—he’d just pause for a moment every so often before resuming the long, tender strokes. During one pause she craned her neck up to see what Micah was doing, but his eyes were focused on the screen. As she settled back into place, though, she noticed that both Holly and Jane had their hands on their heads, absentmindedly stroking their own hair—or what remained of it—and she wondered if that was what was throwing Micah off, too. “If it is,” she told herself, “it’s got to be because of the strangeness of it. It’s nothing to do with me or my hair.”
The movie was bad, but then that was often the point of Sunday movie night. Watch something that was completely intolerable to get through sober as an excuse to drink or get high or both. Soon the box of wine was gone and someone was ordering more drinks for delivery, but they had plenty of weed to tide them over while they waited. The movie ended before their booze had arrived, so the group sat around, sharing Holly’s joints and making small talk. Holly and Jane couldn’t seem to stop touching their heads.
Perhaps uninhibited because of the wine and the weed, Micah spoke up: “So what does it feel like?”
”Haven’t you ever had a buzz cut?” Jane asked him.
”Yeah, when I was little. But, like, for a girl. How does it feel?”
”Probably about the same as it does for a boy. Why? Do you want to touch it?” Holly asked.
Micah looked at Kate for permission. The weed was hitting her hard and she nodded without giving too much thought to the situation. Micah stretched his arm toward where Holly sat in the beanbag chair and she leaned over toward him, then pulled his hand to rest on the top of her head.
”Feels nice, right?” Holly asked him. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t take his hand off her head, either. “Like I said, we offered to do Kate’s hair, too, but she said you wouldn’t like it. Only thing is,” she continued, looking toward Kate, “I’m beginning to question that assessment.”
Micah pulled his hand back quickly and Holly and Jane laughed. “What?” he asked them.
”Admit it,” Jane said, taking a long drag on the joint and passing it to Kate, “You wouldn’t mind at all if Kate shaved her head, would you?”
Kate took a hit and blew the smoke into Micah’s face. “But I love my hair. And you love playing with my hair. End of story. Right?” Micah didn’t answer right away. “Right?” Kate repeated.
Micah put the joint to his lips and took a long, slow inhale, hoping it could buy him a few more seconds before he had to answer. “I do love your hair,” he said at last, exhaling a cloud of smoke and holding the joint vaguely in Holly’s direction. “But I have to admit Holly’s hair feels pretty awesome. And she and Jane both look pretty awesome, too.” He cringed, waiting for Kate to yell at him or accuse him of being suddenly attracted to her roommates or just to kick him out. Instead, she sat up, looked him in the eye, and thought for a minute.
”It might be the weed talking,” she finally said. “No, it’s definitely the weed talking. But what if you could get the best of both worlds?”
Micah looked at Kate blankly, but Jane and Holly sat up quickly, as if they understood immediately where Kate’s mind was going. “Do you know what am undercut is?” Kate asked Micah, who continued to stare at her. “It’s where you shave or buzz some of the hair and leave the rest longer. A lot of girls I know have them and you can’t even tell unless their hair is up. And…” she looked around for the joint, which Holly more than willingly passed back to her, “…I’d be willing to do that.” She looked resolved as she took another hit.
”I just want to be clear, in case you change your mind when you sober up, that I didn’t ask you to do this,” Micah said with a mix of anxiety and excitement.
”Better do it while I’m still high, then,” Kate replied.
The bathroom had barely been big enough for Jane and Holly earlier, so there was no way it would accommodate four people. As such, a makeshift haircutting station was set up in the kitchen. Kate perched on a barstool while Holly set out the shears and clippers Jane had bought earlier that day, and Jane took a comb and traced a horizontal line across the back of Kate’s head, just below her occipital lobe. Everything above the line she pulled up into a ponytail. Micah sat back and watched the proceedings, excited by what was about to happen and nervous that come morning Kate would hate him for it.
”Take off your shirt,” Jane said to Kate. “Trust me. Holly and I did this without changing clothes and it got really itchy.” Kate obliged as the doorbell rang. It was their booze. When Micah opened the door, it was clear the delivery guy could see straight into the kitchen where Jane was sitting on the stool, wearing nothing but a bra and a pair of jeans.
Micah signed for the delivery with a large tip and closed the door without saying a word, then turned to see Holly draping a towel around Kate’s shoulders. ”Everyone ready?” she asked. Micah and Jane nodded. “Kate?”
”Let’s do this,” Kate replied.
Holly picked up the shears on the counter and held them toward Micah. “Do you want to do the honors?”
”Oooh! No! Can I do this part?” Kate pipped up. She grabbed the shears out of Holly’s hand, took a tight hold of all the hair Jane had left hanging down below the part, and sliced down, assertively. A sizeable chunk of long dark curls were now hanging loosely in Kate’s hand. She let out a little scream. “Fuck! What did I just do?!”
Micah ran over to her. “It’s going to be fine. You’re going to look so fucking hot.”
Jane opened one of the recently delivered beers and handed it to Kate, who traded the can for the shears she was still holding. “Besides,” Jane said, “it’s too late to do anything about it now,” moving to stand behind her roommate, she finished cutting off the long locks that were still hanging down Kate’s back. “Micah,” she then said, gesturing toward the clippers, “do you want to take the next part?”
”I don’t know how to cut hair,” he objected.
”Neither do I,” Jane said. “Neither does Holly. That’s kind of how we got here in the first place?”
”Oh please, baby,” Kate looked up at her boyfriend pleadingly. “I’ll feel so much better if you do this part.”
Micah opened a beer for himself, relit and took another hit of the joint, and sighed. “Tell me how to use these things?” he asked Jane and Holly.
”You turn them on, you put them where you want to cut, and you keep going until you get to the spot where you want to stop cutting, then you pull them away,” Holly said. “I already put a guard on there for you, so no worries there. You’re not taking her down to the skin or anything.” She turned her attention to her seated friend. “Kate, honey, tilt your head down.” Kate did as she was told, then reached out her arms toward her roommates. Holly and Jane each took a hand.
Micah switched the clippers on. They came to life with a loud pop and then a hum. “You ready, babe?”
”No,” she said. “But I trust you all.”
Micah put the clippers right to his girlfriend’s hairline and began to push them toward the part Jane had created. When he was nearly there, he pulled the clippers away from Kate’s head. Short curls tumbled down to the floor and a two-inch path of dark brown velvet was left in their place, with no hint of curl left.
Micah readied himself to make another pass. “Wait,” Jane said. “Turn those off for a second.” He did as he was told. “Now feel the section you just buzzed,” she instructed.
Micah raised his fingers to Kate’s nape and ran them upward along her skull. It felt amazing, but not only that, he could see goosebumps appearing on her neck as she let out a very quiet but unmistakable “hmmmmm” sound.
”Not so scary now, is it, roomie?” Jane asked, squeezing Kate’s hand. Then she looked to Micah. “You may continue.”
Micah turned the clippers on again and returned them to Kate’s neck, making another pass. This time her little moan came simultaneously with the action. He could feel his pants growing right when he saw the results of this swipe with the clippers: more short curls on the ground, more velvet exposed. He readied his next pass.
Kate loosened her grip on her roommates’ hands. This was suddenly far less scary. Still, she did not let go until Micah seemed satisfied the job was done, running his fingers up and down and side to side among her nape to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. When he finally turned the machine off, he kissed the newly shorn area on the back of his girlfriend’s head and neck, and it seemed to him as if they both trembled with excitement.
”Let me take those,” Holly said, reaching for the clippers. “And move out of the way for a second, would you?” Micah obligingly stepped aside while Holly removed the guard from the clippers and tidied up Kate’s hairline to the best of her (limited) abilities. Then she released the elastic holding the rest of Kate’s hair in place. The undercut was immediately hidden. “There,” she said. “It’s just your little secret.”
”Can I see it? Can I touch it?” Kate asked. Holly swept the towel off her roommate’s shoulders as Kate, not bothering to put her shirt back on, ran down the hall to the bathroom in her bra and jeans. Jane’s mirror was still there, so Kate was quickly able to see the full effect of the cut by holding her hair up and letting it tumble down a few times. Then she raised a hand under her long curls to her buzzed neck. “This feels fucking incredible,” she shouted toward the kitchen, “and I don’t think I’m just saying that because I’m stoned.”
Micah came to stand in the doorway of the bathroom and removed behind her, pushing her hair over her shoulder and nibbling at the exposed section of her nape. “Let’s go to bed,” he growled suggestively in her ear.
”Guys?” Kate yelled down the hall to her roommates, “would you mind terribly if I don’t help with cleanup until the morning?”
In the kitchen, Holly and Jane exchanged a knowing look. “Not a problem at all,” they shouted back. “Sleep well!”
Epilogue: Six months later
Spring semester had just come to an end, and Jane and Holly were sitting at their kitchen counter discussing what they’d be doing for their few weeks of vacation before they had to return to campus to TA their summer term classes. Jane pushed a hand through her chin-length bob. The buzzcut had been fun but it was always her intention to let her hair grow back out and this time it seemed she would succeed. “I’m just going to spend a few weeks with my family,” she said. “Nothing special. I’ll see you back here in three weeks?”
”Yep,” Holly answered, rearranging the strawberry-blonde microbangs on her super short Mia Farrow-inspired pixie. Though no longer buzzed, she seemed committed to the short hair lifestyle and it suited her perfectly. “I’m not going anywhere. My folks are coming up here to visit. Thanks for letting them stay in your room, by the way.”
”Any idea what Kate’s going to be up to?” Jane asked. “I feel like she’s been so busy we’ve hardly seen her the last few weeks.”
”She and Micah are taking a proper vacation,” Holly responded. “Somewhere tropical. Costa Rica, I think?”
Just then the front door opened and Kate entered the apartment, with Micah a few feet behind carrying several shopping bags. She was wearing her curly hair in a big topknot. She had raised her undercut a bit over the last few months. It now stretched from temple to temple, about an inch above each ear. You still hardly knew the undercut was there when she wore her hair down, but she almost always had it up these days, and Micah certainly didn’t seem to mind.
”Costa Rica, yes,” she said, clearly having heard her friends’ conversation as she entered. “We leave tomorrow. We’re super excited to get a break. Gonna be really hot, though. Which reminds me,” she smiled toward Micah and then looked back to her roommates. “Would you mind if we bring the clippers with us, Jane?”
”I don’t see why not,” Jane said. “It’s not like I’m using them these days and Holly actually paid for her haircut so she doesn’t need them. You’ll just need to make sure you have a power adapter with you.”
”Already have one of those,” Micah said, lifting one of the shopping bags he was holding.
”Want to make sure you can keep your undercut maintained while you’re away?” Holly asked.
”Something like that,” Kate said. “You two going to be around for a bit?”
Holly and Jane nodded.
”Great. I’ll be right back. Micah, can you get set up in here?”
Micah grabbed a trash bag from under the sink and laid it out on the floor, placing one of the kitchen stools on top of it. “Can we borrow that mirror of yours, Jane?”
She nodded and went to retrieve the mirror, which Micah them positioned in front of the stool. Kate emerged from the bathroom carrying the box containing Jane’s clippers set and cutting shears. She sat in the stool, and from inside one of his shopping bags, Micah pulled out a barber’s cape and draped it over his girlfriend, fastening it at her neck.
Observing all this, Holly and Jane thought it seemed like a pretty big production for an undercut cleanup, something they knew Micah was becoming quite practiced at. They wondered what was actually happening as he plugged the clippers in. Without a word, he removed the number two guard that was almost always on them for Kate’s undercut maintenance and turned the machine on. Holly and Jane leaned in to better watch the proceedings as Micah held the buzzing, unguarded clippers to the base of Kate’s topknot, slowly severing it from atop her head. Wild, uneven curls pulled loose from the mass, falling messily back toward Kate’s head. Finally, the bun was fully removed and Micah let it fall to the floor with a soft thud. Holly and Jane were somewhat aghast—sure, Kate’s undercut had been creeping higher but they never imagined she’d part with all of her long curls
Kate laughed at her reflection in the mirror, at the ruination of six years of careful, loving maintenance, then she turned to her roommates. “Six months ago you tried to convince me to shave my head like you two did and the most I was willing to do, after getting very, very high, was let you give me an undercut. But tonight I want you to finish the job.”
Micah placed the number two guard back on the clippers and held them toward his girlfriend’s roommates. “So,” he asked, “who wants to go first?”
Jane stepped forward, having been the first roommate to use the clippers in the first place, and took them from Micah’s hand. She turned to Kate. “I’d ask you if you’re sure about this, but I don’t see that you’ve got many other choices if you leave tomorrow,” she said, turning the clippers on and placing them at Kate’s forehead. Without another word, Jane pushed them back toward Kate’s crown, leaving a wide path of near-nothingness while a mass of curls of all lengths tumbled down to Kate’s cape and the plastic bag beneath her. She returned to her starting point, shifted the clippers a little to the left, and made another pass.
Once Jane had reduced all of the hair on the right side of Kate’s head to stubble, she held the clippers, still buzzing, out to Holly. Gleefully, Holly hopped up and continued where her roommate had left off, peeling curls of varying lengths off the left side of Kate’s head and leaving a quarter of an inch of smooth dark velvet in their place. Finally, when only the back of Kate’s head remained—an area that was already short, but still longer than the newly buzzed sections, Holly handed the clippers back to Micah. “I think you should finish the job.”
Micah took the clippers in his right hand and placed his left hand on top of his lover’s head gently pushing her chin down. He went over her already buzzed nape, reducing the hair there until it was uniform with the rest of her hair, and then ran the clippers all over her head in all directions until he could be satisfied not one hair longer than a quarter of an inch remained on Kate’s head. Taking the guard off, Micah then oh-so-carefully tidied Kate’s neckline and the area around her ears before shutting off the clippers for good.
Kate stared into the mirror propped in front of her, turning her head this way and that to admire her new style, and then raised her hands to her head and gasped. “Oh my god this feels amazing!” she exclaimed.
Jane and Holly came around to flank Kate in her stool, and all looked into the mirror at the same time, leaning their heads toward one another. It was Kate who broke the silence first. “Why didn’t you make me do this six months ago?”
The trio laughed while Micah began tidying the makeshift hair salon he had set up. He and Kate had a lot of packing yet to do…but first, there was something else on his mind.