Good Days (Abridged)

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***This story is a sequel to “Bad Day” and “Long Day.”   Because I have been abridging this series, some parts may seem slightly disjointed.  It was started in May ‘21 with the idea it would be completed in early June ‘21 when it is set, but I didn’t make it, so that’s why it may seem slightly unseasonal.***

 

I was just buttoning up my blouse in front of the full length closet mirror, when Ray walked in and wrapped his dark arms around me.  37 years ago, those arms had been slender and hard with wiry muscle, these days they were a bit round and soft, but still strong and loving.

“All ready for a crazy Jane’n Maggie gone wild weekend?”  Ray joked.

“I’ve been ready for this for over a year.”  I said thinking about the planned June 2020 trip we’d had to cancel.

Though this weekend like many of them was technically a few days in the middle of the week, this time Sunday through Wednesday.  Maggie and I had been doing girls’ weekends for decades.  Since before Ray and I bought the cabin on the lake.  Usually 2 or 3 times a year, but we hadn’t been on one for almost 2 years.  For the past year, we’d had practically no chance to socialize outside of work.  Our lives, along with everyone else’s, had been put on hold for over a year.  But Maggie and I were finally both fully vaccinated.

I finished buttoning my blouse as I enjoyed the comforting warmth of Ray’s arms around me.  When I finished the last button, my eyes went up to my hair.  It was a mess.  The long faded dyed brown ends were incredibly thin and stringy.  The roots were bright white and beyond obvious.  Then there were all the short new little hairs that stuck out and created a fuzzy halo around my head.   I still wasn’t used to looking at myself and seeing that, it was a shock everytime.  I don’t think a million years would be long enough to make me not be shocked to see my hair that bad looking.

At the start of 2020, my hair had been exactly what it should be.  It reached a little bit below my shoulders with the perfect amount of layering to give it extra fullness and volume, but not enough to look dated.  The color was a slightly deeper, richer, and more dimensional version of the natural light brown it had been in my youth, the graying roots never allowed to go long enough to be visible without extremely close inspection.  My hair was the epitome of middle class tastefulness.  Not too long, not too short, not too layered, not too blunt, a natural color just turned up a notch.  Neither extreme nor bland.  Everything one would expect from the middle aged owner of a salon and spa that catered to upper middle class and wealthy suburbanites.

But then once 2020 really got going, that along with everything else changed.

After I recovered from covid, I started to feel like my hair seemed a little thin.  At first, I told myself I was being paranoid.  When it got to the point where I had to make 4 loops with the hair elastic to hold it in a ponytail, I knew I wasn’t being paranoid.  My hair was falling out.

There had been many possible reasons; 2 likely ones, one of which was extremely likely, plus several less likely ones that I had gone to the doctor to rule out.  The first somewhat likely possibility was hormonal hair loss caused by menopause.  I prayed it wasn’t that.  My genetics were pretty good for it not being that, neither of my grandmothers had super thin hair.  I wasn’t sure about my mother though, since the last time I saw her around 35 years ago, she hadn’t gone through menopause yet.

The second and more likely possibility was that my body was just taking a break from growing hair while I recovered from covid.  I knew this was most likely, and that I should just relax and that my hair would start growing back if I gave it a little time.  

Waiting had been hard.  First I had to decide if I wanted to start treating it as if it was menopausal just in case and use something with minoxidil, because the sooner you start the better the results.  I finally decided that even if I was sure it was hormonal hair loss, I didn’t think the possible side effects were worth it.  It wasn’t like it was likely to return me to what I’d had before, just keep it from getting worse fast.  So, I got the best lace wig money could buy and waited.

Waiting paid off.  My hair was growing back.  It still looked terrible right now though.  Half of it was much shorter than the rest.  Plus the contrast between the dyed hair and roots was awful.  The roots were now pretty much all bright white.  Before covid, though there was enough white that I had been dyeing it, there was still enough light brown to blend in, but all the new growth was pure snowy white.

Of course the dilemma of the moment was how do I wear it for this trip.  Do I wear the wig I had been wearing to work everyday for months?  Do I put on a scarf or a hat?  Do I just go around looking awful?  OK, there was no way I was going to go out with the roots and thin ends showing.  

I turned and kissed Ray.  “Let me finish getting ready.  Maggie will be here to pick me up any minute.”

I went over to my bureau and pulled a scarf that matched my blouse out of the drawer.  I quickly twisted the long thin hair up into a very simple bun, then tied the silk scarf over it.

By the time I had my makeup done, Maggie was texting that she was outside.  Ray walked out with me carrying the heavy cooler,  while I carried my much lighter weekend bags.  Ray said a quick hello to Maggie and slightly longer goodbye to me before I hopped into the car.

In some ways, the trip was just like the dozens of others we’d taken over the last two decades.  In some ways everything had changed and the world felt totally different.  We were different people than we had been over a year and a half ago on our last trip back in September 2019.  Maggie wasn’t the happy excited bride-to-be planning a wedding anymore.  I was no longer the woman who was never too tired to stop at a 24 hour diner after work, no matter how long the day had been.  Of course the 24 hour diner we had usually gone to had permanently closed anyway.

The start of the drive felt a bit like old times.  We took turns choosing CDs.  Maggie started with Melissa Ethridge’s “Yes I Am.” I picked U2’s “Joshua Tree” next.  We stopped at the last gas station before the PA border to fill up where we wouldn’t have to pump it ourselves, and we’d save some money buying it at the cheaper Jersey rate.  It wasn’t until we headed into the convenience store to pick up a few snacks and use the bathrooms, that things really stopped feeling like old times as we donned our masks.  

It was my turn to drive as we pulled back onto the highway and headed over the bridge into PA.  It was Maggie’s turn to choose the CD, so she put on Green Day’s “American Idiot.”  When we got to the back roads, we rolled down the windows and just enjoyed the feeling of the wind.  It was my turn to choose the CD, so I put in R.E.M.’s “Fables of the Reconstruction.”

We finally pulled onto the dirt road that led to the small secluded cabin.  I parked next to the woodshed, turned off the motor, and handed the keys over to Maggie, since It was her car.

We both stepped out of the car and walked to the edge of the lake, just taking in the scenery.

“Are we going to have to start with a major cleaning?”  Maggie finally broke the silence.  “Has the place sat empty collecting dust for over a year?”

“Actually, it’s been booked solid.”  I said with a chuckle.  “It’s an isolated cabin in the woods, where you don’t ever see other people, ideal for quarantined vacationing.  It was even booked over most of the winter.  The cleaning service came after the last guests left yesterday.  So, we can just walk in and enjoy ourselves.”

“Perfect.”  Maggie stated simply with a smile and turned to walk back towards the car and started unloading our stuff.

I took a last deep breath and went to go unlock the cabin’s door.  It was a small cabin, with just 1 bathroom and just 1 real bedroom. We entered into the main room, which had a large stone fireplace as its focal point.  It took the open floor plan concept to the extreme, the large rectangular room serving as livingroom, dining room, kitchen, and guest bedroom thanks to the pullout sofa.  The kitchen in the corner was just a single small counter space with a large farmhouse style sink, that predated them being trendy a few years back, flanked by a small gas powered refrigerator at one end, and a two burner stove on the other.  At the back was the door to the bathroom on one side, and the door to the grownup’s bedroom on the other.  In the middle of the back wall between the doors was a ladder that led up to an open loft area filled with bunk beds that served as the kid’s bedroom.

It only took us half an hour or so to unload everything from the car, and put the food from the cooler into the fridge.  We soon found ourselves standing in the main room, free to start just enjoying ourselves.

“I know the water is still going to be freezing this early in the season, but want to go for a dip anyway?”  Maggie asked.

“Uh,” I hesitate, but not for the sensible reason that we were going to freeze our asses off.  “Yeah, ok,  BUT you have to promise you won’t laugh.”

“Why?”  Maggie teased.  “Did you forget your swimsuit?”

“No,”  I said, rolling my eyes.  Then I got serious.  “My hair looks terrible though.”

“You said it was growing back?”  Maggie asked cautiously.

“Yeah, but I haven’t done anything with it since it got thin.”  I explained, a little embarrassed even though I knew Maggie understood.  “The roots are glaring, the ends are thin, and there are all these little baby hairs coming in.  Which reminds me, did you bring your kit like I asked?”

“Of course,” Maggie said, talking in her soothing tone.  “I don’t really understand why you didn’t just want me to do this at the salon after hours, but if this is what you’re comfortable with.”

I’d heard Magie’s soothing tone many times over the 2 decades we’d known each other.  She used it on nervous clients countless times.  I’d heard her use it with her wife Rachel several times.  Till about 10 months ago she’d never once used it on me though.  She never used it on me till we started talking about my hair falling out.

It had been a strange conversation to have.  In the end, Maggie had said exactly what I had needed to hear…

 

“I know it’s terrifying right now, but we’ve both seen this before: Client goes through some illness or goes under anesthesia and a few months later their hair is super thin.  Then it starts growing back again in a few more months.  

“You aren’t the only person I’ve seen with thinning hair right now,  I have a few clients who were pretty sick with covid and now have really thin hair.  I know covid is new, but thinning hair after a really high fever isn’t.  There’s no reason to think your hair won’t start growing back in a few months.  Ok?

“Getting a wig is definitely overkill, I would never suggest it to a client whose hair had only thinned as much as yours has, BUT you’re in a more complicated situation than most of my clients.  None of my clients are salon owners, their careers don’t depend on having perfect hair.  You are not going to be comfortable at work everyday unless you can just count on your hair looking good.  You can’t try to ignore it.  You don’t need the stress of styling it to hide the thinning every morning.  You can’t just wear a scarf over it.  Get the wig, and just let your hair rest.  The less stressed you are, the sooner it will return to normal.  You don’t have to feel guilty about splurging on a really good wig.”

 

It wasn’t like she’d said anything I hadn’t already known, but the reassurance was good.  The fact that I had the wig as a backup made taking the risk of asking Maggie to do what I was thinking about doing a lot easier.

“Do you want me to get my kit and do your hair now?”  Maggie offered.

“Neah,”  I shook my head.  “Let’s just relax today.  We can get to that in the morning.”

We both headed into the cabin’s only real bedroom and opened our bags.  I pulled out my favorite board shorts and rash guard.   Maggie pulled out her usual tankini.   Maggie faced the wall opposite from me as she pulled her t-shirt up, I faced the wall with the mirror that came with the dresser.  I tentatively reached up and slipped off the scarf tied about my head.

The scarf’s pressure had only tamed down the halo of white baby hairs slightly.  I attempted to smooth them down with my hand, even though I knew better.  To make the fluff lay flat would require product which felt silly to use right before jumping into a lake.

My hands shook slightly as I unbuttoned my fly, and pulled down my blue jeans. I’d never felt super self conscious undressing around Maggie before, it felt rather silly to feel this way over the state of my hair.  Heck, Maggie had seen the hair when it was still falling out and I had a mile wide part.  That was different though, the hair falling out was just something that happened to me, outside of my control.  The current state of my hair screamed neglect, it was more like a choice.  I tried to ignore it as I finished putting on my swim suit.

“Let’s go freeze our asses off in that lake.”  I said and started heading to the door as Maggie grabbed her hoody.

 

———————————————————————————————————-

 

The lake had indeed been freezing, but jumping in it had gotten our blood pumping.  After we’d each taken warm showers, and I’d taken a nap, I’d heated us up the tupperware containers of Ray’s chili and my cornbread for dinner, while Maggie had built a nice fire for us.  We now sat in our PJs facing the big stone fireplace just enjoying it while I poured us a couple of glasses of chilled zinfandel and Maggie rolled a joint on the coffee table.

Having a little smoke was something else it had been over a year since we’d done.  Maggie was especially unhappy about it, since Rachel didn’t allow it in the house at all because of the twins, even though the twins had been staying with their dad for most of the pandemic.  As a mom, I understood, I didn’t allow it around my kids either, though my kids were only barely kids anymore, but relaxing such rules on grown up weekends without the kids was another matter.  Of course Rachel was in a more vulnerable position because of the custody arrangement with the twin’s dad.

Which got me once again thinking about Maggie’s wife Rachel.

“Is Rachel going to be coming in soon to get her hair touched up?”  I asked Maggie.  “The color must be fading by now.”

“Probably not.”  Maggie leaned back on the couch and sighed as I put one of the glasses of zinfandel on the coaster in front of her.  “I kinda screwed up again.”

“Please tell me you didn’t lose your temper and say she was too old for pink hair.”

“No, nothing like that.”  Maggie quickly assured me.  “When I suggested she come in to get the color touched up, I added that I should clean up the undercut and her hairline.  So, now she doesn’t trust me to do anything with it.”

“I’m confused.  Why would she not trust you over that?”  There were times when I had started to get Rachel, but there were many more times when her behavior just baffled me.  “It’s been almost 2 months, I’m sure she needs a haircut by now, and you’re a very good stylist, plus her wife, who loves her and has an investment in her looking good.”

“Yeah, well Rachel hates getting her haircut under the best circumstances,”  Maggie grumbled.  “And now she is convinced I don’t want her to grow her hair out.”

“Did you explain that you could clean up around the hairline without touching the hair on top and that it would just grow out better?”

“Of course, but Rachel is really skittish when it comes to her hair.”  Maggie reached forward and picked up her wine glass and started twirling it.  “Do you remember how much I complained about her not letting me trim the split ends when we first started dating?”

I shrug and waved my hand noncommittally, since I only barely did.  I mean, I remember her describing Rachel as having gorgeous long blond hair that needed a trim really badly, but at the time, I hadn’t realized it was a complaint about Rachel not agreeing to let Maggie do it.  I had a vague memory from a couple of months after I had met Rachel of Maggie showing me a before and after picture of having done a tiny trim on the long blond hair and acting like it was a huge feat.  What I did remember rather clearly was the very first time Maggie got Rachel to come into the shop.

 

“Rachel, you don’t have to take them all the way to Dave tonight, I can help you with that….Yeah, just bring it by the salon around 5:30 and I’ll look at it with you and we don’t have to cancel tonight…. It’s silly for me to go all the way to my apartment then for us to just have to drive back here since the theater is just 2 blocks from here…. Really, the salon is just a few doors down from the restaurant where I asked you to meet me…. I’d really rather not try to fill out forms at a restaurant and risk getting guacamole all over them…. Just come to the salon and you can meet everyone, Jane’s going to think I’m making you up if she doesn’t get to meet you soon.”   Maggie looked at me with an amused expression on her face.  I rolled my eyes as I continued to apply bleach to my client’s hair.  “I swear, I am not trying to get you into the salon for any reason other than I don’t want to either have to rush through dinner or be late for the concert tonight…. You don’t even have to come back to my work station, when you get here, I’ll meet you up in the reception area and help you fill out the forms up there…”

“Maggie, your 2:00 is here.”  Lauren let Maggie know. 

“Ok, thanks.”  Maggie called up front with her finger over the mic of her phone.  Then she ran a hand through her auburn pixie-bob and went back to talking into the phone.  “Listen Rachel, I have to go, my client’s here…. Just come by at 5:30, I promise not to say a single thing about your hair, Ok?….Bye babe.”

I’d wanted to ask Maggie what that had been about, but we both had clients to focus on.   A few hours later, I was looking through a catalogue of office and cleaning supplies while I was between clients when the salon’s receptionist and office manager, Lauren, came back to talk to Maggie and me.

“You guys didn’t plan renovations or something without telling me did you?”

“No, of course not, I would have mentioned it.”  I answered.  “What would make you think that?”

“Well, a truck pulled up out front with some construction company logo on the side of it. A lady got out and came in with a thick folder full of papers and said she needed to go over them with Maggie.  I figured it might be an estimate or something, that I need to look over with you guys.”

I was just confused, since I had no construction plans at that particular moment. 

“Oh,”  Maggie said.  “That’s Rachel, you know the woman I’ve been dating for a few months.  She just needs a little help with getting her kid’s forms for summer camp mailed out before she misses the deadline for the early enrollment discount.  She’s got twins, so the discount is pretty significant.”

“You’re dating her?”  Lauren said with undisguised surprise.  “She’s wearing the exact same Carhartt jacket my brother in law, who’s a plumber, has.”

“She came straight from work.”  Maggie said as though it explained everything, as she combed down some more of her client’s long brown hair.  “Can you just tell her I’m running a tiny bit late?”

Maggie was in the middle of a mom-cut that was taking much longer than it was supposed to because she kept having to pause.  The young new mom, who like so many, was just tired and done with having long hair that the baby had begun to grab and pull. She had brought her own mother along to try to keep the baby from fussing, but it wasn’t really working.  The mom couldn’t leave them at home because the baby wouldn’t take a bottle, so the grandmother had the baby up at reception, but kept having to interrupt things for the mom to calm her crying baby.  

I looked towards the reception area, just visible through the opening, I could see there was the grandmother pacing back and forth bouncing the swaddled infant, and a very disheveled looking young lady peering around the corner staring at Maggie with a deep frown.  

Maggie had said Rachel was beautiful, it was hard to see.  The long blond hair was braided into uneven pigtails that stuck out from under a black knit cap.  The bulky utilitarian jacket and baggy torn jeans hid her figure.  The disgusted frown twisted her face.  It was totally possible that a well dressed, properly groomed, happy Rachel was incredibly beautiful, I wasn’t exactly impressed by the version I was looking at though.

“She’s going to a concert dressed like that?”  I asked.

“It’s folk music.”  Maggie once again acted like that was an explanation.

I wasn’t exactly happy about the chaotic atmosphere that having three people, none of whom were waiting for salon or spa services, hanging around the reception area was creating. Then Rachel actually cringed as Maggie closed the scissors and another long damp brown lock of the client’s hair slithered down the cape.  I decided I needed to do something before the exhausted and hormonal new mom, who had been a little unsure about getting her hair cut short during the consult, saw Rachel’s reaction to it happening.

“I’m going to take Rachel to the breakroom, to wait.  She looks uncomfortable up there, and then you will be able to spread out the papers on the table and talk uninterrupted.”

“Thank’s Jane.”  Maggie said as she glanced over at Rachel.

Rachel seemed to shrink back as I approached her.  She clutched her folder defensively against her chest as I forced a hopefully at least somewhat convincing smile onto my face.

“Hi, I’m Jane.  I’m so glad to finally meet you Rachel.”  

“Maggie mentioned you.”  Rachel said very shyly, not offering any pleasantries.

“Maggie’s going to be a little while, so I thought you’d be more comfortable in the breakroom.”

“Oh, thanks?  But, Maggie said to wait here.  If I’m in the way, I could wait in my truck.”

“It’s freezing out.  The break room is very comfortable.”  I assured her, and started walking towards it hoping that she would feel obliged to simply follow.  After about 5 steps, I glanced over my shoulder, she looked nervous, almost scared, but was following.  She’d picked up one of her long braids and was brushing the tasselled end of it over her lips.

“I’m sure Maggie will be done soon.”  I promised Rachel as I held the door of the breakroom open and ushered her in.  “The wifi password is ‘chimes18’ all lowercase.  Feel free to help yourself to any of the cans of soda-pop in the fridge.”

“Soda’s too sweet, it reminds me of lollipops.”  Rachel made the strange statement softly, almost more to the air in the room than to me.

“There’s sparkling water too.”  I stated before closing the door, rolling my eyes, and getting back to work.  

 

“Why does Rachel hate lollipops?” I’m sure the question seemed like a non sequitur to Maggie, but I was wishing I hadn’t just ignored the statement 3 years earlier when I hadn’t understood it.  

I had a sinking feeling I knew why Rachel hated lollipops.  I think I knew why it had come up in that moment.  I should have known at the time.  I should have gone into the breakroom with Rachel and been nicer to her.

“I’m not sure,”  Maggie said thoughtfully, furrowing her brow.  “She once seriously went off on me about not bribing the twins with them.  I hadn’t even been serious about it, they were 12 years old at the time, too old to find a lollipop a real motivation.  It had just been a joke.”

Another, much older memory came back to me from 30 years earlier when Ray and I had briefly lived in Mississippi.  I was packing my things into a box, looking down at the huge pile of red curls on the linoleum floor, and not able to shut out the sound from the other end of the beauty parlor of the sobbing little girl saying she didn’t want a lollipop over and over while Mildred tried to convince her it would make everything better.  

Over the decades, I had wondered many times if I had made a mistake that day when I had refused to do it.  I’d lost my job for “being rude to a customer.”  The adorable hair had been cut off anyway, since stepmom had decided the curls were too much trouble to deal with.  And I was pretty sure the results would have been better if I had done it myself instead of Mildred doing it.

I had felt rather torn about being fired that day.  On the one hand, I had taken the job because I felt like Ray and I needed the money, so getting fired was bad.  On the other hand, I was also pretty damned relieved to be out of there and away from Mildred.  It wasn’t like any part of me was glad about it happening, it was more that I wasn’t sure if I felt shittier about being fired or I felt shittier that I had taken the job in the first place.

Though I had disliked Mildred a little from the start, that particular day, I absolutely loathed her.  The way she’d said “the stepmom is paying, not the kid, so that makes her the customer” felt cold.  The way she’d agreed with the step mom that curls were impossible to work with right in front of that little girl had felt down right mean.  Nevermind that a decent hairstylist should learn how to work with curls not just feel they should be cut off.  When she said “the kid will get a lollipop at the end” I wondered if she was at all capable of empathy.  The idea that a lollipop that would last for all of 10 minutes, was going to make up for losing what would take years to grow back while the poor kid had to go to school everyday looking like a very bad knock-off version of Little Orphan Annie was beyond insulting.

Later that night in the shower I thought I should have asked Mildred if she would let me cut all her hair off if I promised her a lollipop when I was done.  I wished I’d thought of it on the spot, but at the time, all that went through my head was what sounded like my blood boiling in my ears from the anger and hurt.  I wonder what my blood pressure would have read if I’d gotten it checked.

I had often wished that I could track down that now adult kid and ask, if knowing that at least one adult had thought her feelings mattered had made any kind of difference in her life.  If it had, it had been worth getting fired like that.  The kid was probably just about the same age as Rachel, maybe a little older.  Maybe I should ask Rachel what she thought, or maybe I shouldn’t because I was beginning to think there were old wounds there that shouldn’t be opened carelessly.

Maggie leaned forward and picked up the joint she had rolled.

“Hang on.”  I said, before she could light it.  “I want to discuss something while we’re still pretty much sober.”

“Ok,”  Maggie said, putting the joint down.  “What’s up?”

“Remember when I bought the building and opened Wind Song, I asked if you wanted to be my partner?”  I began my pitch.  “The timing was bad.  Laura and you were buying the condo, and you didn’t feel up to taking on a business loan at the same time as a mortgage.  So, I just scaled back my plans for Wind Song and I rented out the other store front in the building and the office space upstairs?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the other storefront is currently vacant.  The lawyer renting the office upstairs is planning to move to a larger office a few blocks away.  So it’s a really good time to consider expanding Wind Song into what I had originally planned.

“I open into the other storefront, then I can add more private rooms for massage, waxing, and such.  I was thinking of putting in a sauna.  Turn the office upstairs into a yoga studio.   Really up the spa aspect.”

“Ok?” Maggie nodded.  “It’s a bit of a risk, there might be a resurge.  The variants might become vaccine resistant.  But it could be a long time before you have the opportunity again.  It could pay-off pretty well, and it is what you always wanted.” 

“The thing is, I don’t have the capital.  I had been saving for the possibility of expanding, but I took a huge financial hit because of the pandemic.”  I took a deep breath as I was coming to the ask.  “Would you like to buy in now?”

Maggie sat there looking thoughtful again, and took a small sip of wine.

“I know you can only either give me a ‘no’ or a ‘maybe’ right now, not a yes.  You need to talk it over with Rachel and look at the books and everything.  If it’s a maybe, I will hire a consultant to give you an objective estimate on the value of Wind Song.”  I paused briefly looking at Maggie, then continued.  “It’s not just about raising capital though.  I have always wanted you to be my partner, but after last year I need it more.  Not just financially, I don’t have the energy I used to.  I need someone to share the responsibility with me.  So, ‘no’ or ‘maybe?’”

“How stressful is it owning a business?”  Maggie asked.

“Very,” I admitted.  “But you’ll be coming into it with a partner to share the burden.  There are many long days.  There are some bad days.  The good days out number them though.”

“You ask my opinion now, but ultimately, you make the decisions.”  Maggie said, twirling her wine glass with one hand and leaning her head against the other hand as her fingers worked through the hair I had cropped 6 weeks earlier even though she’d been growing it out.  “What happens if we don’t agree when we’re partners?”

“Rock, paper, scissors.”  I state dryly.

“Ok,”  Maggie laughed.  “It’s a maybe.  Let me talk to Rachel first before you go hiring a consultant.”

Maggie leaned forward and picked up the joint again, but then suddenly looked at me suspiciously.  “Hey wait.  Are you planning to leave firing Madison up to me?”

“I really am still hoping it doesn’t come to that.”

“You are very optimistic aren’t you.”  Maggie said as she brought the joint and lighter to her mouth, took a long hit , then held it in as she passed the glowing joint to me.

 

———————————————————————————————————

 

BLEEP, BLEEP, BLEEP, BLEEP…..

“I’M SORRY” Maggie yelled from the main room as the smell of smoke drifted into the bedroom where I had been asleep.

This had happened enough times that I knew the smell of smoke and triggered alarm meant Maggie was cooking, and not that the cabin was on fire.  I grabbed my robe and walked out to the main room calmly.

“I made omelets for us.”  Maggie made the most terrifying statement I had ever heard.  “Rachel showed me how the other day.”

I sat down at the table next to the disconnected smoke alarm, and contemplated possible ways to get out of this situation politely.  I tried to consider the possibility that Rachel’s cooking lessons had maybe helped matters, but was extremely doubtful.  

“Onion and mushroom,” Maggie claimed as she placed the burnt object in front of me.

I poked it cautiously with my fork, lifting up a bit of the very burnt egg.  A few nearly raw pieces of mushroom and onion rolled out onto my plate.  I took a deep breath preparing to be brave, and instantly regretted it as the raw onion burned my nostrils.  I carefully cut off a small bit of the burnt eggs, figuring that at least since they were burnt there was less risk of salmonella.  I lifted the fork to my mouth and took a bite.

I immediately reached for a napkin.  Discreetly as I possibly could, I spat out the extremely salty concoction, and wiped what I suspected was egg shell off my tongue.  I picked up the glass of water that was thankfully on the table and gulped it down.

“I think you used too much salt.”  I said when I could finally talk.

“I couldn’t find the pepper so I substituted in extra salt.”  Maggie stated just before she actually swallowed some of her omelet, then frowned.

“You can’t make substitutions, Maggie.”

“Rachel makes substitutions all the time.”

I contemplated how to make my next statement nicer, gave up and just made it blunt.  “That’s because Rachel knows what she’s doing. You don’t.”

Maggie stared daggers at me as she gulped down her water.  I got up, picked up the 2 plates of what didn’t deserve to be called omelets and took them to the trash.  Maggie was too busy drinking water to object.  I returned to the table with a box of Cheerios, then went off to the fridge to get the milk.

“Except for the salt, I did everything the way Rachel showed me.”  Maggie claimed as she collected bowls and spoons for us.

It had long baffled me how Maggie could be such a bad cook but a very good hairstylist.  The skills necessary to do color and cook seemed so similar in many ways: mix ingredients in the correct proportions, allow to process for the correct amount of time, watch the temperature, judge doneness based on color.  

“So,” Maggie began after she swallowed a spoonful of cereal.  “You want me to do your hair now that it’s growing back?  Layer it up to blend in the new growth?  Did you bring color for me to do here, or are you just going to do that yourself later?”

“Actually.”  I said, trying to be as positive as possible and put down my spoon.  “I’m ready to embrace the gray.”

“Seriously?”  Maggie raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“Yeah.  I figure it’s a pretty good time to take the plunge.  The roots are the longest they’ve ever been.  And while I know you’re good and could blend the new growth in pretty convincingly, just going short is probably the better option anyway.  Plus, if I really regret it, I can just keep wearing the wig.”

“Good points.”  Maggie agreed, nodding before eating another spoonful of cereal.

“You really think it’s a good idea?”

“Yes Jane.  You’re going a good shade of silvery gray, and now is a good opportunity for all the reasons you said.”  Then she teased, pointing to her own cropped hair.  “Besides, it lets me return the favor for you doing this to me.”

“Yeah, yeah,”  I dismissed the threat.  “I know you loved it.  Talking about that, it’s been several weeks, so unless you are going to grow it out, you’re due for a trim.”

“I kinda want to grow it out.”  Maggie said without a lot of enthusiasm while poking Cheerios down under the milk.  “But I’ve been trying to convince Rachel that I didn’t let you do this because I felt guilty about what I said to her the night I had to cut her hair off, and getting it redone a few times would probably help.”

“You don’t think being honest with your wife is important?”

“Not putting an extra emotional burden on her, isn’t the same as being dishonest.”

I didn’t really agree, but also didn’t really think it was my business, so I just gave a whatever shrug.  It wasn’t like I didn’t think Maggie should get a haircut.  Considering that we were heading into summer, and there was no way Maggie was going to be able to get the current length up off her neck, keeping it really short made sense anyway.  I certainly thought the short crop was really cute on Maggie or I wouldn’t have given it to her.

 

——————————————————————————————————-

 

“Are you ready Maggie?”  I called impatiently into the bedroom.

I’d heard the shower shut off a good 15 minutes earlier, and everything was all set up and ready to go.  I’d rolled the rug back.  The chair was placed in front of the only mirror in the main room.  Both my tools and Maggie’s were laid out on one of the side tables.

“I’m coming.”  Maggie called out just moments before she emerged from the bedroom wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans with a towel flung over her shoulder.  “You’re awfully eager to do your regular job on your day off.”

“I’m just ready.”  

Thinking about it, she was right, there was no reason that I should be so eager.  I guess some of it was the enthusiasm carrying over from the possibility that Maggie was going to buy in and become my partner.  The rush itself I could explain, I was a little worried she’d change her mind if she thought about it too much, then I would be stuck all summer listening to Maggie complaining about her hair being uncomfortable.  The complaining in the summer of 2019, when she’d decided to dye over the auburn and grow out the pixie-bob had been near constant.  I’d much rather she wait to start growing it out till there was at least a hint of autumn’s chill in the air.

Maggie plopped herself down in the chair, and looked ahead at the mirror.  She pulled the damp towel from her shoulder down to her lap and ran a hand through the mostly dark brown hair that had just a touch of the highlights that I was also sort of to  blame for.  She sat forward in the chair, obviously still a little unsure about commiting to allowing me to recut the cute crop.  The chocolate brown eyes that followed the movement of her hand through her hair were full of doubt.

“Come on Maggie, you can start growing it out in September.  June is not the right time to do it.”  I said as I started shaking out the folded up cape.  “Besides, this way I can get rid of the last of the bad highlights.”

“For somebody who has such a strict policy of never allowing unwanted haircuts on little kids at the salon, you’re awfully pushy.”  Even though she was complaining, Maggie was also sliding back in the chair to sit up properly.

“Am I wrong?”  I challenged.

“I suppose not.”  Maggie said with a tight lipped expression as she put her hand down to allow me to toss the cape over her.  

Maggie tilted her head down, making it easy for me to fasten the velcro of the white nylon cape.  I combed through the damp hair sectioning it as Maggie gradually relaxed.

“If you really want to start growing it out right away, I can just shape up around the neckline a little and not touch the top,”  I offered, realizing I was indeed being bossy.  “Then you could show Rachel what you were offering to do for her, but that would mean you had to admit you wanted to grow it out right away.”

“Just go for the same length again.  You’re right, it’ll be comfortable for summer, I will be glad when the highlights are gone, and of course I don’t want Rachel thinking I got a haircut out of guilt.”  Maggie paused for a moment.  “Besides, though I hate to admit it I did actually really love how I looked.”

“Of course you did,”  I smiled as I teased her.

I combed up a lock of hair and snipped about three quarters of an inch off the ends.  Then I repeated the process over and over.  The damp ends fell swiftly as I cut them against the backs of my fingers.  A simple trim, the same routine thing I‘d done many times a week for decades, just usually not in a quiet cabin in the woods.  It was more meditative, the sound of the snapping scissors and occasional bird song, not having to stay on schedule.  Though I missed some of the equipment, it was a nice change of pace.

By the time I’d taken off the length I needed to, Maggie’s hair was completely dry.  I skipped blow drying, and just went straight to texturizing.  I didn’t texture it as heavily as I had when I first cut it about a month and a half ago, that time I’d been aiming to break up the too chunky highlights Madison had given Maggie.  I cleaned up her neck with the little trimmer, then refined the shape just a little more with the points of my scissors.

Finished, I took the cape off Maggie. The clippings of her mahogany hair along with the last of the highlights I had cut off fell to the wooden floor.  The shorter hair really suited Maggie, it not only looked good on her, it went with her personality.  I’d always thought of her as a short hair person.  Up until she decided to grow it out 2 years ago, she’d had somewhat short hair since the day I met her in 1999.  Never long enough to touch her shoulders.  I wasn’t sure what had made her decide to try growing out her hair, but I suspected it had something to do with Rachel.

Maggie may have looked great, but I was suddenly remembering why hairdressers normally wore black, and closed toe shoes.  I started dusting myself off, and trying to wiggle the itchy hair clippings out from between my toes.

“Happy?”  I asked, knowing she was.

“You’re not going to show me the back?”

“I didn’t bring a hand mirror.  It’s pretty much the same as last time.”

“While I trust that you aren’t hiding something, I do really just want to see it anyway.”  Maggie said frowning, then a thought seemed to pop into her head.  “Can you hand me my phone?”

I looked around, and spotted it sitting on the edge of the dining table.  I handed it to her, and she turned her back to the wall mirror and used the phone’s front camera and screen to admire the reflection of the back of her head in it.  She tilted her head this way and that while stroking her bare neck.  As much as she complained about how when I’d first cut it I hadn’t really given her a choice about it, it was quite obvious she really did like the style.

“Ok.”  Maggie looked at me with a devilish smile.  “Your turn.”

“If you’re thinking about payback, remember you actually really like yours, so pay me back with something I will like.”  I joked.  “Plus, I’m still your boss for now.”

“Yeah, yeah.”  Maggie laughed and patted the chair, inviting me to sit.

“I take it, you want to cut it dry?”  I asked.

“I want to start it that way so I can see the new growth better.”  Maggie said as I sat down.  “I’ll probably wet it down part way through.  Oh, where’s my spray bottle?”

“Over next to the sink, I wasn’t sure if I should fill it or not.”  I pointed over to the counter next to the dish rack where our breakfast dishes were still drying.

Maggie gave me a quick pat on the shoulder and walked over to the sink.  While she was there, I looked at myself in the mirror.  I undid the claw clip that had been holding my long hair up in a simple twist, and let it fall over my shoulders.  I ran my fingers through my hair yet again, lifting it up and looking at the roots.  Maggie was going to have to take it a lot shorter to get rid of all the dyed hair than she would to just blend in the short bits enough to camouflage them.  

It had been a long time since I’d had short hair.  My mother had brought along a TV guide with Dorothy Hamill on the cover last time I got my hair cut short.  We’d only kept it for a year before I grew it out, neither of us had really loved it.  Since then, it’s been many different styles over the years, but always at least some of it hung to my shoulders.

I could call this off and just dye it back to brown.  

I started to imagine my mother’s reaction to my letting my hair go gray before 60.  I remembered her gossiping over a cup of coffee with one of her friends about one of the other PTA moms just letting her hair go gray instead of dying it.  “She’s just completely letting herself go.  Next thing you know she’ll be complaining about her husband’s wandering eye.”  

I had to face the possibility that people were going to be gossiping about me letting myself go grey.  If I ended up hating the gray, I could always just dye it, but then I would be sacrificing a lot of length for no good reason.  Well, it will look thicker short, but still.

“Teasing aside, you actually look nervous.”  Maggie stated when she got back, and placed her hands on my shoulders.  “I’ve never seen you nervous about a haircut before.  Are you sure you want to do this?”

“The nerves are more about keeping the gray than the haircut.  I’ve got my mother’s voice in my head telling me going gray means looking old, messy, and frumpy.”  I explained.  “I’m just thinking about it now, because if I change my mind about the gray in a couple of days and dye it, then I won’t have needed to get it cut nearly as short.  If I’m just going to give into the voice in my head, I might as well do it with not too short hair.  I may not be like Rachel, but I’m not as much of a short hair person as you are.”

“Hmmm, I guess I am going to have to take it pretty short to get rid of the dyed ends,” Maggie said while examining my roots.  “I would have expected them to have grown out more than this considering how long it’s been since the last time we did your color.”

“Me too,”  I concurred, it had been a little over a year, they should have been at least 6 inches long, 7 or 8 if they’d been growing at what I thought of as a normal rate, but they looked more like 4.  “I wasn’t sure whether or not it was my imagination, but it feels like it’s been growing extra slowly since I recovered.  So if we go ahead with this, I’m going to have to have very short gray hair.”

“How about we stop calling it gray, and refer to it as what it is, a lustrous silvery white.”  Maggie suggested as she lifted up a large lock of my hair and hid the dyed ends behind her hand so all I was looking at was the white roots.  “Think Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’  I’ll update it, but that can be the vibe. It’s going to be shorter, but that should feel more updated anyway.  Not old, messy, and frumpy; but instead mature, confident, and impeccable.  Ok?”

“The difference between old and mature isn’t very well defined.”  I sighed out.

“The important thing is you will look great and very professional.”  Maggie reassured me as she placed her hands on my shoulders.  “And even if you do want to go back to the brown in a few days, cutting it shorter is still a good idea.  I could get away with trying to blend in the new growth with layers, but it’s going to look so much thicker and healthier short.”

“I’m just nervous that my mom was right.”

“Was your mom right about you and Ray?  Was your mother right about anything?”

I took a deep breath and let it out, feeling better about ignoring my mother’s voice in my head.  I reached up and pulled Maggie’s arms down and hugged them to me.  Maggie was right, my mother had been completely wrong about the gloomy future she told me to expect from a life with Ray, we’d made a great life together.  

“That’s the kind of wisdom that makes me want you as my partner.”  I smiled at her through the mirror.  

After a few moments of just relaxing into the awkward hug, Maggie straightened saying “So, you’re ready for this?”

I nodded, and wiped away a tear I couldn’t explain why was running down my cheek.  Then put the claw clip back into my hair to hold it up out of Maggie’s way till she was ready.

Maggie reached for the cape, and gave it a quick shake out, before draping the billowing fabric over me, completely covering my linen blouse and khaki shorts.  It was a little odd sitting in the ladder back chair in front of the little mirror, instead of a comfortable salon chair with a large mirror.  Maybe I should have asked her to do this in the shop after hours, or at one of our houses, but I really had wanted time to get used to it before facing people’s reactions.  This way, I’d have a couple of days of just me and Maggie for me to adjust to the new me.

I heard a bird singing outside, and remembered, there were other advantages of doing this here.  As much as I tried to make Wind Song a very soothing quiet and meditative space, I never could totally remove it from the busy suburban shopping street just outside.  I wondered if there was a way to bring in more quiet and nature to Wind Song.  I had tried playing birdsong CDs, whale song CDs, I’d hung wind chimes, etc, etc, but there was still always the jarring sounds of hair dryers and traffic outside.

Maggie started adjusting the cape, interrupting my thoughts about birds and nature.  Feeling Maggie’s hands pulling the cape up over my shoulders marked off another step along the way to accepting and embracing the white hair.  If I was going to change my mind, it was now.  I could still change course and ask Maggie to try to fix what I had and be a long haired brunette.  Maggie snapped the cape closed, and opened the claw clip letting the long faded hair drape over me.

I didn’t say anything, just swallowed as I looked at myself in the not quite as big as would be ideal mirror.

Maggie picked up her comb and scissors and looked me in the eye through the mirror for about 10 heartbeats.  She then wordlessly began.  

She combed up a lock from the side of my head, Looked at it closely and clamped it between her fingers.  The dyed strands dangled from her hand, till she brought the scissors to them and sliced.  A foot or so of hair drifted towards the floor.  She released the short white lock to lay against my head, not reaching my shoulder.

Maggie looked at me through the mirror again, an unspoken question on her face.  I gave her a nervous smile.

Maggie continued more earnestly.  She combed up a lock from the top of my head.  One that couldn’t easily be hidden or blended in.  She sliced through, her sharp scissors making barely a whisper of a crunch as they bit through the dry lock before they closed with a click.  The lock fell against my shoulder, then slivered to the floor.

When Maggie combed up the next lock and ignored the one she’d just cut completely, not using it as a guide like she usually would, it was obvious she was focusing just on finding the border between the white roots and the dyed ends.  I understood what she was doing, getting rid of what was in her way, so she could see what would be left to work with and focus on style from there.  It made sense.  It also made me irrationally nervous.

I watched as Maggie kept cutting off the long locks in a manner that felt almost haphazard even though I knew it wasn’t.  One of the long locks slid forward over my shoulder and into my lap, soon followed by a second.  I looked down at them.  They were almost completely the old dull brassy colored hair.  The severed ends had only the tiniest bit of white.

As the pile of long dingy locks on my shoulders and lap increased, there began to emerge a swath of short silver waves on the top of my head.  I closed my eyes, and just listened as the sound of the scissors snipping through my hair a slightly slower version of the ch-ch-ch-ch-ch of the cicadas in the trees that surrounded the cabin.

I could feel Maggie working her way around my head.  I had a fairly good idea of what was happening, even without looking.  My technique was a little different than Maggie’s, after all we’d gone to different schools on opposite coasts about 15 years apart, but not so different that I couldn’t still see what was going on in my mind’s eye.

I knew what it looked like, the 4 inch long white locks slightly uneven, mostly just shaggy and unshaped.  The long locks Maggie hadn’t gotten to yet hanging down the back even more straggly than they already had been before we started this.

I was relieved when I finally felt the comb at my neck line combing up through the baby hairs and lifting the long tresses away.  I listened as once again the scissors crunched through and felt the weight of the strands hit my back before sliding away.  I felt the short locks slap against my neck.  The freshly cut ends turned under slightly, so that there was the faintest prickle at the bottom of my neck.

It wasn’t long before the last of the long hair that still rested on my shoulder was combed up and snipped away to join its brethren scattered on the floor.  Maggie began to run her fingers up through the short coif and fluff it out.  I cautiously opened my eyes, and looked in the mirror.  The top of my head was capped in white and bright silver.  Around the sides darker steel gray strands were generously sprinkled in.

Maggie was playing with it, molding it with her hands obviously contemplating how she was going to shape it, sculpt it.  I watched, thinking along in my head.  She smoothed back the sides and pushed the front up and forward.  She spent several moments seeing how the front wanted to bend around my eyes.

“What do you think?”  Maggie asked as she held the sides very close to my head.

“You’re thinking of taking the sides that tight, huh?”

“And a fair amount off the top too, to keep it from having that outdated aline Karen look.”  She explained as she once again pulled the lock at the front around my eye.  “Sound good or do you want to do something else?”

“What about more of a bob shape?”  I suggested, even though I knew it wasn’t actually going to look as good.

“It’s going to look older, especially since you don’t really have the length on top to really get the shape quite right.”  Maggie said as she moved her hands to fold under just the bottom she would trim off to achieve a sort of bob.  “I’m sure you can see that as well as I can.  Being with Rachel has taught me that hair length choices aren’t always about aesthetics though.  You’re allowed to have an emotional attachment to your hair, that isn’t about how it looks.  I understand if you are just more comfortable keeping it a little longer.”

I took a deep breath and slipped my hand out from under the cape to run it through my hair.  About half of the pile of faded brown hair slid off my lap to the floor in front of my feet, just brushing my toes.  I turned my head back and forth looking in the mirror at the hair I had left.

Maggie had kinda hit the nail on the head.  It was a question of choosing between what was a little more comfortable and familiar, and what I knew was going to look so much better.  

I thought of the first time I’d ever made love.  I’d leaned over Ray, my long hair hanging down, he’d reached up and twirled a lock around his finger, just before I started kissing him.  Ray and I in the back of my Volvo wagon.  I had been so disappointed when my parents gave me that car on my 16th birthday.  I had wanted a Jeep.  When Ray and I met, Ray had thought I was so lucky to have a car, any car.  When my parents found out about Ray, the first thing they did was take back the keys to that car.

When I showed up newly carless and homeless with Ray at his family’s apartment his mom insisted I had to sleep in his sister’s room until Ray and I could legally get married after we turned 18.  In those months of having nowhere to make love we would ride the bus together to school, our jobs, whatever, and Ray would put his arm over my shoulders, and wrap a lock of my hair around his finger as we tried to ignore the dirty looks we would get from strangers.

I’d changed my hair many times over the years, but there was always enough left for Ray to wrap around one of his fingers when he felt like it.  If I got it as short as Maggie was suggesting, as short as I knew it should be, that wasn’t going to be possible anymore.  It was already going to be pretty damned hard though.

Ray had been so happy for me and proud of me when I opened Wind Song.  I needed to look the part of the put together fashionable boss.  I let out the breath I had been holding.

“I’m being silly and sentimental.  Forget I said anything about bob length.  Make it look good.”

“You’re sure?”  Maggie checked as she picked the spray bottle up.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded.

Maggie squeezed the trigger of her sprayer.  I listened to the rhythmic squeak as my hair slowly began to drip.  Then the comb started smoothing it out.  Maggie slowly made the sections in my hair, and clipped them up out of her way, till just a bit hung down in the back.  Like I had, she worked at a relaxed pace, no need to stay on schedule.  

The comb once again slid up under the hair at my neckline.  I listened as the scissors sliced off the wet locks against the comb and they fell against my neck.  From the angle of the comb, I knew it was going to be very short back there, under an inch at the bottom.  I tried not to think about how Ray was going to react to the change, as I listened to the shlook of the scissors slicing through the hair and the plops as the wet locks hit the cape.

Maggie gradually worked her way up the section of loose hair, changing the angle of the comb slightly, tapering it so it would be slightly longer at the top of the section.   I felt her release the clip holding up one of the sections and expected to feel it slap down against my shoulders and back, but instead it barely reached my neck, reminding me how much of the length I’d lost already.  

As she cut, the severed locks did land heavily on my shoulders.  This whole haircut, almost every bit of hair had hit me on its way down.  When long hair is trimmed, you have room to hold the ends out and away from the body so only a few hit the person occasionally.  With short hair though, you have to work in close to the body.  The shorter it is being cut, the more frequently it will hit.  I felt some land pretty much with every snap of Maggie’s scissors.

I watched intently as Maggie worked her way around the bottom towards the front.  God it was short.  She was doing scissors over comb behind my ear.  I hoped I wasn’t going to regret this.  I hoped Ray was going to forgive me.

I watched as she kept at it, taking the side pretty short.  Then she moved on to the top, there she took off just enough to give it a better shape.  I stifled a sigh of relief when she finally put down the scissor and comb.

Maggie picked up her hair dryer and stood looking down at the wall below the mirror.  Then she started looking around.

“Where’s the nearest outlet?”  She finally asked.

I pointed across the room to one on the opposite wall just beyond the couch.

“Well crap,”  Maggie wrinkled up her face.  “I don’t suppose you have a 20 foot extension cord handy?”

“We can just go over there for you to finish.  When you’re done we can do a big reveal like on the home and garden channel.”

I stood up.  Tons of hair spilled off of me to the floor and the seat of the chair.  I looked down at the pile of it on the floor.  Thin as my hair had gotten, it was still a pretty impressive pile.  Most days at the salon, it was just client after client who wanted their current style maintained, creating a small pile of half inch to inch long clipping.  When they did want change, it was more likely to be about adding bangs or changing the layers than about giving up much length.  The drastic change that created piles, like the one I was looking down at, was far from an everyday occurrence.  It only happened maybe once a week or so at the salon.  I lifted the chair, tipping it forward so that the hair on the seat joined what was on the floor.  I was going to have a lot of sweeping up to do.

I lifted the chair up and started walking over to a spot next to the outlet.  Maggie followed, her arms full of everything she needed.  We settled into the new spot where Maggie could plug in the blow dryer.  I tried to just relax as the brush pulled my hair up into the shape Maggie was aiming for.  The hair dryer’s droning sound filled my ears, drowning out the birdsong and cicadas.  I needed to look into if any quieter hairdryers had come out since the last time I had looked into it.  Maggie finally turned off the dryer, my ears relaxed gratefully into the quiet.

I watched as Maggie put down the dryer and brush on the edge of the couch, and picked up her thinning shears.  I bit my tongue as the thought of suggesting she learn to texturize with her regular shears went through my mind.  She knew how, she just preferred to do it differently from the way I liked to, and I reminded myself different wasn’t bad, and I can’t always control everything.  I took a cleansing breath and released it as I let go of the thought.

Soon the shears were clacking closed above my head, and loose strands of white and gray hair filled the air, fluttering slowly down all around me.  A new small soft pile of hair started building up in my lap, as I looked across the room at the much larger pile of long brown hair.

I made the right choice.  I made the right choice.  I made the right choice.  I made the right choice.  I made the right choice.  I repeated the mantra over and over in my head.  I made the right choice.  

I heard the clacking of the shears stop, and Maggie tussled my hair looking at me from different angles.

“I think it will look a little better if I take it a little shorter.”  Maggie stated a little tentatively.  “Do you want to go look?”

“I’ll just take your word for it.”  It was easier this way, Maggie’s opinion wasn’t clouded by emotion the way mine was.  “Go ahead and make it look good.”

My eyes went back to the pile of long brown hair.  I made the right choice.  I made the right choice.  

I felt the cold metal of Maggie’s shears against my neck as she took the back higher.   I made the right choice.  I felt the comb scoop hair away from the tops of my ears, and when the snipping ended it didn’t touch them any more.  I made the right choice.  I felt the trimmer clear the last little baby hairs from my neck.  I made the right choice.  Oh god, but what if I hadn’t, well I did have the wig.

Maggie was unfastening the cape.  It was about to be time to go find a mirror and experience the big reveal I had suggested.  I should be getting up to look, but nerves were getting the better of me.

“Not ready to go look?”  Maggie asked patiently.

“Let’s get this place cleaned up.”  I said avoiding the subject with a smile.  “I’ll go grab the broom.”

I stood up and started dusting myself off.  I looked around, there was hair, mostly mine, everywhere.  I sighed and raised my hands to my naked neck.  I could feel the smile slipping and my brow wrinkle.

“I’ll take care of cleaning up.  Come on, come take a look.”  Maggie reassured me, gently guiding me towards the bedroom with the larger mirror.  “It looks good, thick and healthy again.”

We entered the room, and headed to the mirror, Maggie taking the lead.  I took a deep breath as I took in the mirror.

My hair was short but full.  The sides were quite short as I had figured, tapering gradually.  The top was longer, but not so long as to hang down into my eyes or over my ears.  It wasn’t disconnected, it was blended to the sides.  Maggie had styled it into a soft wave going across my forehead.  

“It looks perfect.  Not all thin anymore.”  I said, trying to sound positive, forcing myself to smile.  “It’s what I hoped for.  Professional, polished, healthy again.”

“It’s ok to be a little sad, even if you know this is what made the most sense.”  Maggie reassured me, as she put an arm around my shoulders.

“You did great Maggie.”  I explained my feelings, brushing my fingers through the short hair above my ear..  “I just wish I was 20 years younger and had never gotten covid.”

“I understand.”

Maggie tightened the arm around my shoulder in a half hug, as we just stood there looking at my reflection.  She just waited there with me patiently comforting me.  I petted the soft pelt of hair on the back of my head for a little bit, trying to be happy about what I knew was the best thing and looked really good.  It did feel amazing, soft and prickly at the same time, cool and fresh.   I couldn’t quite manage to really be happy.

I turned and pulled Maggie into a real hug.

“Thank you,” I whispered into her ear and gave her one last squeeze then released her.  “I’ll go get that broom.”

I headed to the kitchenette with determination.  I seized the broom and dust pan from their spot in the corner behind the fridge and headed over to the large pile of hair by the mirror.  I began to push the pile of long locks into the dust pan collecting them to go in the trash.  

It wasn’t the first time I’d ever swept up my own hair, but never this much.  I found a lump forming in my throat.  I looked down at the unmoving broom head resting at the slanted edge of the dust pan full to almost overflowing already even though I’d collected less than half the locks.

“You don’t have to do this Jane.”  Maggie said as she carefully pried the broom handle from my grip.  “I’ve got this.  Why don’t you go relax for a bit.  We can both take naps then we could canoe over to that sandy beach this afternoon.  OK?”

“Ok.”  I said, releasing my grip and letting Maggie take over the clean up.

I went into the bedroom with my phone to start doing a little research.  I fell asleep almost immediately.

 

————————————————————————————-

 

By the morning of our last day, looking at myself in the mirror and seeing the short silver coif as I got ready was no longer a shock.   I styled it pretty much the same way Maggie had.  I put on makeup, though much of the day was just going to be the two of us in the car for the long drive home, we’d be stopping here and there, which meant being out in public.  My first time out in public with gray hair.  Then at the end of the drive, would be Ray’s reaction to me no longer having hair he could wrap around his fingers.

We packed up, locked up the cabin, and hit the road.  Maggie put on Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Californication,” which I had mixed feelings about.  We stopped at a sculpture garden on the way back and had lunch, making the most of the meandering drive.  

I fell asleep for part of the ride, waking when Maggie pulled off the highway.  I texted Ray that we’d be there in about 20 minutes as we made our way through the square blocks with rows of houses.

It was just about dinner time when we pulled into the driveway of my house.  Ray was in the backyard, tending to the charcoal grill.  He smiled and came to the car when he saw us.  

I took a deep breath and opened the door.  I stepped out and waited by the door for Ray to reach the car.  His smile never faltered.

“Hi Ray,”  Maggie said as she got out of the car too.  “I’m just going to run in and use the bathroom before I head home if it’s not a problem.”

“Go right ahead,”  Ray said to Maggie, still smiling, still coming.  “The back door’s open.”

I stood nervously as Ray finished his approach.  My hands were still clutching the car’s door frame and I had started biting my lip.

Ray opened his arms for a hug just as he reached me.  I let go of the door and sunk into the safety of those arms, leaning against his chest.  His chin rested briefly on my head, before he bent slightly to whisper in my ear, “I missed you.”

I sighed, and a tear started rolling down my cheek, again I wasn’t totally sure why.  It could have been relief, though he hadn’t said anything about the hair yet, at least he didn’t seem super disappointed.  Maybe I was sad he hadn’t immediately expressed great excitement about the change.  I just leaned in more as his five o’clock shadow scratched my ear, and he rubbed his hand up and down my back.

After a few moments, he pulled out of the hug just enough that he had room to give me a warm kiss on my lips.  When we finished he slid his hands down so he was holding mine, but able to stand back enough to look at me.

“So, no more wigs and scarves, huh?”  He asked cheerfully.

“That’s the plan.  Sorry it meant cutting it so short.  It was the best way to get it to stop looking so thin.”  

“You don’t have to apologize for wanting to look nice.”  Ray assured me as he put his arm around me and we started walking towards the patio.  “I like it when you look good.”

“I thought you might be upset you couldn’t wrap it around your finger anymore.”  I pointed out.

“Do I do that?”  Ray asked with a thoughtful look, while I nodded.  “Well that’s ok, I’m sure I can find something else to do with my hands.”

To prove his statement, he gave me a little tickle on my side.  I screeched happily since he’d taken me by surprise.

“Stop that.”  I playfully ordered while giggling.  “Maggie and the kids will hear.”

“Maggie is leaving, and every single one of our offspring has found somewhere else they want to be tonight.  Izzy got a last minute invite to go down the shore with some of the girls from her sorority, RJ is spending the night at Jason’s house playing video games, and as you know Tommy is still on that overnight field trip.  So it’s just you and me.”

“Well, I guess we can spend the night finding new things for you to do with those fingers since you can’t just twirl them up in my hair anymore.”  I said finally feeling relaxed.

“I am very much looking forward to finding a new hobby.”  Ray teased giving me another kiss before I sat at the table and he returned to the grill and put on a few veggie burgers.

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