Friendly Workplace Competition

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“Hey, Becca, fancy a cuppa?”

“Oh, you read my mind, Lex…” Becca called out to the voice from the backroom. “Be there in a sec.”

Rebecca drifted over, shoving the door aside in search of a place to sit down. She slumped into the cheap plasticky, and unsurprisingly rigid, sofa that functioned as their break area. Alexa turned and joined her, handing her a steamy mug as the kettle’s whistle faded. Her face twisted as stiff joints rearranged her into a seated position.

“Damn, quarter to five…” Alexa let out with a sigh.

“Done for today, then?” Rebecca asked.

“Ugh, I wish. Last minute appointment – the owners friend or something. God I hope its quick…” She vented. “You?”

“Yep, few things to tidy and I’ll be off… Until tomorrow, to do it all again, I suppose.”

“Am I detecting a hint of apathy? From bubbly Becca no less.” Alexa teased sarcastically.

“… It. It’s just… Gotten a bit dull, Y’know?” Rebecca knew she could confide in Alexa. Lord only knew what secrets they held from their gossiping. “I had ten appointments today, right. Two were just dye jobs, the rest were trims. Like, barely an inch, trims.”

“… Yeah, pretty much same here.” Alexa looked down into her cup, thinking along the same lines.

“I don’t even know… Just thought it’d be more exciting by now. I don’t even remember the last time I had to sweep up more than a light dusting… Alexa, what happened, I miss sweeping!!” She started laughing at the absurdity.

“Why don’t we make it a bit more interesting, eh?” Alexa hooked Rebecca with a vague proposal.

“… With?”

“A bet.”

“As in, a challenge? What do you have in mind?”

“Well. Us stylists provide insight and suggestions, yes?…” Alexa paused to see Rebecca nodding along. “… So, what if we encouraged our clients to try more drastic changes.”

“… Uh huh…”

“And whoever can talk their client into the biggest wins. We’ll give until, say, end of the week.”

“Wins what? Not much of a bet without a reward.” Rebecca put out her hand to shake. “£100?”

“C’mon, you know I’m saving right now. Something else… Maybe, like, uh…” She struggled to think, before suddenly jumping up. “Ah, I know. Loser gets whatever haircut the other won with…”

Rebecca sat back for a moment, stunned. She was hesitant, but didn’t want to shoot it down.

“… OK. OK, but with some rules: Excludes men, clients must start with at least shoulder-length, and no extra incentives. Agree?”

“Agreed. I wonder what you’ll look like…” Alexa joked as they shook hands.

“Keep dreaming… We’ll start tomorrow, I’ll have to find my clippers…” Rebecca jabbed back.

The next day arrived, as did both stylists, reaching the salon with a revived excitement for a day behind the chairs. Doing their prep and checking their bookings, there was a sparkling tension between them. 9:30 struck, and the first clients arrived on the dot. Each put on a performative greeting, trying to out-do the competition simultaneously.

“OMG, Jessie. Babe, I saw just the style for you last night!” Becca announced, hoping to be overheard.

Frustratingly for Alexa, the consultation turned quiet. A minute or two passed. Phone screens flashed up and down, heads both shaking and nodding, before the ladies ceased talk with a smile. Becca turned, shooting a wink Alexa’s way. The game was on.

Becca led Jessie back from the wash station to the chair, her client unknowingly paraded before the discreetly willing audience. The taunting was well and good, but now she had to execute. She took a deep breath, prompting her client to copy as the shears made their irreversible mark. Schnick, schnick. It felt like the whole salon stopped to watch. Murmurs escaping the ambient hums. Alexa’s benchmark to beat was set, and set high. The stylist looked on, jaw practically resting on the floor, as her colleague sliced away the bra-strap length locks leaving a precise line across her nape – at earlobe level.

Oh, wow…’ Alexa thought. Her appointment had deflected her polite insistence, meaning she was firmly on the back foot. She shook it off and did her job. Post-appointment, her autopilot cleaning was interrupted by gasps and cheers ringing out. She looked up to see Becca’s finished product.

“Damn, girl, so sexy! Wish I could rock that…” the receptionist called out as the young woman approached the desk.

Jessie, who had entered as a mid-twenties ‘blonde bombshell’ with elegant, silky locks, blushed at the attention. Not that it would stop when she leaves. Becca had taken her short, real short. Right up to an ear length bob. Sleek, chic, blunt, and angled perfectly to showcase her tightly lined now-prickly nape. Add the full fringe across her brow, and Her ID may as well be invalid, it certainly didn’t show her anymore.

“… I reckon that’ll look great on you, Lex. What do you think? Get it booked in now?” Becca teased.

“Funny. Don’t worry, I’ll have your new cut picked out soon…” She laughed back.

A few unsettling days flew by. Both remained upbeat and enthusiastic, taunting and teasing each other as friends do. The time for a comeback was dwindling. Thursday, late afternoon, and it was beginning to seem like a foregone conclusion – a bit of a dampener having only seen the one chop. Alexa tried relentlessly, beginning each appointment by ‘spontaneously’ mentioning a hot new short hairstyle and how it was perfect for whoever happened to be sat in her chair.

It seemed like another lost day as the setting sun pierced the windows. They both turned, attention called by the chiming door as it swung open. A cascade of glossy, dark-treacle waves danced effortlessly as the woman chatted with the receptionist. She looked up, shooting a smile back at the two stylists and began to head over. Alexa calmly shooed Becca away, a wry smile on her face as her 4:30pm arrived. ‘Showtime…’ she thought.

In her excitement, Alexa almost let slip the game. She kept it zipped, though, smiling intensely – almost concerningly so – whilst she caped what she hoped was a persuadable young woman.

“… So, what are we doi…” The usual hairdresser spiel was cut-off.

“… Something different. I don’t really know. Sorry, I just… Need a change, I was hoping you might have some ideas.” The woman admitted, talking to Alexa via the mirror. “… Sarah, by the way.”

“Ok, no problem, we can definitely do ‘something different’, Sarah.” She returned, almost snapping her shears with excitement.

Becca watched, splitting her attention between her own client and her opponent’s moves. She zoned in from across the salon, noticing the overly chatty pair getting up from the wash basin. Every now and then, the client’s mouth and eyes widened to whatever Alexa was saying. They wandered back to the stations. Lexi shot Becca a smile. A cheeky raise of the eyebrows to let her know the game was on.

Sarah gently dropped into the minimalist, chic black and chrome chair and was swiftly turned to face the mirror – Lexi even shuffled the chair up close to her rack of tools, perhaps subconsciously making every effort to prevent a last-minute escape. She lay Sarah’s impressive volume of sodden silk down the back of the chair. Carefully, the stylist worked her comb through it. It was almost teasing how she softly smoothed out the waves, though it would be the last tender care it would see if all went to plan. Complete, the brunette’s strands stretched past her mid back. Sarah tucked her hands under the pristine white of the salon branded cape as she waited patiently.

“Right then, any last-minute thoughts? Doubts?… Any last words?” Alexa asked after a deep breath, lightly laughing as she tried to ease Sarah’s mind.

“… Chop it.” Sarah hesitated, her heartbeat almost broadcasting itself to the world, before throwing her trust into Alexa with a nervy grin.

Alexa responded with a firm nod as she raised her scissors. Sarah’s weighty locks filled the hairdresser’s grip as they were pulled back into a loose, low pony. Sarah’s hands raised under the cape, firmly clasped, her jaw clenched as she tried to fight the nerves, the worry and the anticipation. The room fell silent. At least it seemed that way to Stylist and Client.

Slicing echoed around the room. With each encroaching snip, more was freed to be held only by Alexa’s grasp. What remained attached – shoulder grazing lengths – swung back as the tension stopped, in an instant reducing bouncy mid-back waves to a crudely carved lob. Sarah’s interlocked fingers trembled. Alexa, despite how it seemed, was trying to speed through it – to rip the band-aid off – but the tresses just wouldn’t allow it. Thick and luscious and dense, and now severed. The blades struggled, but even gradual progress was progress.

Once detached, Alexa raised the bunch clear into view of the mirror. Becca caught herself staring, realising she may soon be similarly stripped of her mane. Sarah swallowed her concern, painting on an unconvincing smile for the swarm of eyes she sensed were watching. The fistful was unceremoniously discarded. Waves of rich brown spread out on the spotless polished floor. Such a vast amount it could almost be heard upon contact.

“Whew. That, was a lot of hair… Still up for it?” Alexa checked in.

Sarah’s eyes darted around. Up to Alexa, to her scissors, at the freshly sliced ends sitting at her shoulders and back. She shut her eyes and raised her shoulders with a deep breath, before swiftly releasing her tension.

“… uh huh…” She squeaked, followed with a nod.

The hairdresser, now working with intense focus, rummaged through her tools. Sarah was too engrossed in her anxious fidgeting she didn’t even notice the cable brush against her arm as it moved behind her. With a snap, Sarah was brought back to the moment. The same snap that brought Alexa’s rarely used clippers to life. No words were exchanged. Simply, a gentle hand reached out to guide chin to chest. The ever-inescapable hum grew closer, and louder, as the steel reached her neckline.

They crept up her nape. They – the clippers, the buzzing machine carving a trail along her scalp, that Sarah had never considered would be anywhere near her head. The first strip, much like those that followed, was mighty. A mountain of glossy swirls stacked up as the clippers pushed on, only to be dumped as Alexa flicked away from Sarah’s occipital. Each excavating pass uncovered more of her delicate nape. Not that she was clued into the finer details, but as she sat, Sarah’s back and sides had been taken down to a #3, leaving just a centimetre of fluff around her ears.

Despite her suppressed concern, Sarah didn’t immediately hate it, contemplating: ‘it is different, and I did ask for different…’. She was left to inspect whilst Alexa went searching at her station. It was eerily quiet. The perceived peering eyes returned. For the moment, she stared back at the awkward, half-complete mushroom-esque, result of the clipper’s nipping at the top lengths.

Becca’s chit-chat became stunted and awkward, not able to focus on her client whilst looking at the fleece of dark-tinted syrup that pooled around her colleague’s feet. Her mouth became dry, her pulse elevated, watching more and more be scraped off the young woman. Knowing she was beaten – at least for now with little time to strike back – she imagined if she’d even get the opportunity. And failing that, if she could wriggle her way out of their agreement. Her head dropped with each glance across the shop.

On the inside, Sarah itched with anticipation. The appointment felt like it was crawling along watching the precise and technical clipper work – but she could appreciate the effort. If she was doing this, and it still didn’t feel real yet, it had better be done right. The initial buzz had since been blended down to skin as it met her neckline, initiating her into the lady-fade club.

“… Can I touch it?” Sarah almost made Alexa jump; she was so deep in focus.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Go for it!” she said, returning her clippers back to storage.

She reached up, hand tentatively inching out from under the cape. Her shoulder was stiff. Fighting the resistance, her fingers stretched towards her temple. The stubbly spikes tickled her fingertips, but just barely. It was hard to even tell anything was there, Sarah was positive she was feeling nothing but bare scalp – though the mirror confirmed a pale grey blanket of hair around her clippered back and sides. Like a child being scolded, she instinctively retracted her arm seeing Alexa turn back to her, letting the cape once again swallow her up.

The stylist hastily combed through the still, somewhat, long hair that was clipped on top of Sarah’s head. Without warning, the blades of her shears spoke up. A flurry of heavy schnicks preceded a shower of damp clumps. Sarah’s gaze was drawn down, mesmerised by the dark brown locks sliding into her lap against the snow-white cape that draped her. Before Sarah realised, Alexa had finished and grabbed a hand mirror to give her client the final overview.

“… So, what do we think?” Alexa questioned.

Sarah took her time to examine, and admire, the transformation. Having wandered with snaking waves the bounced around her mid-back, she now sat staring back unrecognisable. Brutally short sides, buzzed and faded to skin. The top reduced to a couple finger’s widths – scarcely over an inch she guessed – gelled to one side with an aggressive parting etched in by the trimmer. Her locks converted from deep hues of treacle and cocoa and coffee-bean to a monochromatic palette of her naturally dark shade. A gradient of diminished tints demonstrated her new lady-fade whilst exposed scalp peeked through the gaps of her slick cropped crown.

“I, I think I love it…” Sarah admitted, sounding astonished to be saying those words.

“That’s good.” Alexa chuckled, “c’mon, let’s get you sorted and then you are free to go and wow the public…” She unclipped the cape and invited Sarah towards the front desk.

Becca watched, gobsmacked that Alexa had pulled that off. Sarah walked cautiously to the desk, distracted as she rubbed her palm up and down her nape and handled the firm spikes on top. She almost felt off-balance without her previous waterfall dragging behind her.

“… Uh, hello, Earth to Becca…” Alexa snarked.

Becca returned from her zoned out state, only to be met with her colleague and competitor grinning ear-to-ear. Her eyes rolled dramatically as she leaned into the playfulness.

“Hi, sorry I was… Distracted.” She snapped back.

“Oh yeah, I could tell. You like it?” Alexa prodded. “… Love a big change, right?”

“She definitely suits it, or it suits her…”

“… Well, and of course there’s still some time, but I’ve got an opening at 3:30pm tomorrow if you want. Should we get you pencilled in?”

“… Lexi, I swear…” Becca couldn’t hide her annoyance with defeat all but finalised with a few hours – and no opportunistic bookings – left.

“Plus, I’m all warmed-up with the clippers now…” Alexa winked. “Amazing how short they cut, and quickly too” she remarked while twirling Becca’s bra-strap raven locks.

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