It was undoubtedly the weirdest party Anja had ever been to. For all the odd Swedish stereotypes about Norwegians, she’d never heard any mention of haircut-based matchmaking. Birgit made it sound like the most normal thing in the world, though Anja very much doubted it was. It probably wasn’t coincidence that all three of Birgit’s tag-alongs were from abroad; Anja and Linnea were Swedes, while Maria was Icelandic.
No one seemed to know exactly who had organised the event, but it was held in the university union, which did slightly reassure Anja. An extravagant building full of attractive, scantily-clad twenty-somethings sounded like a fun time, especially when alcohol was provided for free.
The women were to wear lingerie, and the men to wear only boxers. Considering the idea was to partner up with a member of the opposite sex, that part wasn’t entirely outlandish. Anja had no objections to checking out hunky men, and she didn’t mind being admired in return. After all, she put the work in to make herself look as good as she did.
The only part she didn’t like was the requirement to have her hair cut. Her chestnut locks fell to her lower back, meticulously straightened to accentuate their glossy sheen. She kept the ends as sharp as possible, trimming her hair every few months so that it stayed blunt and one-length. It was without doubt the single thing she prided herself on most of all. To cut it even to the middle of her back would probably bring her to tears, as much of an overreaction as her friends would call it. But Birgit had convinced Anja that she could find someone sympathetic enough to do the bare minimum, and fear of missing out did the rest.
The rules were straightforward enough. Mingle, have a few drinks, find someone to partner up with. Once paired up, the man was to cut the woman’s hair whichever length they agreed on. After doing that, they would be given a ring each to identify themselves as taken. For those still single by the end of the night, the remaining men got their pick of the untaken women, in which case they could give them whichever haircut they wanted. That was a scenario Anja endeavoured to avoid.
Anja and her three girlfriends began the evening as a group. They weren’t to stay together very long, almost immediately being chatted up by various young men. Within twenty minutes it seemed Maria had found her match for the evening, as she and a handsome, athletic boy splintered from the group the girls found themselves talking to.
Maria’s hair was even longer than Anja’s, grazing her tailbone, but nowhere near as obsessively pristine. While Anja made sure not a single hair fell out of place, Maria allowed hers to do what it wanted. She’d brush it out and make sure it was well-maintained, but otherwise let it be. She was effortlessly beautiful, though in a different way to Linnea and Birgit. Her charm was more subtle and subdued, more laidback and carefree. She was always soft-spoken but not shy, whereas Anja got tongue-tied the minute a handsome man complimented her. Not all men were drawn to Maria, but those that were inevitably became fixated on her. It didn’t surprise Anja that she was the first to disappear with a good-looking suitor.
Birgit followed soon after, practically throwing herself at a gorgeous Norwegian boy and using their shared mother tongue to steer him away from Anja and Linnea. It wasn’t a new tactic; she did the same thing almost every time they went out together. To Birgit’s credit, it always worked. Anja consoled herself with the fact that there were many others to pick from, now without a bubbly blonde constantly talking over the top of her.
The two Swedes floated through a couple of rooms together in the hopes of catching some eyes. It didn’t take much effort to get people to come and chat to them, though finding men they were interested in in return took a couple of false starts. However, they finally found two such men half an hour after starting; a Norwegian named Olli, and a Welshman called Elis.
It was Elis that immediately got Anja’s heart pumping. Tall and well-built with dark, floppy hair and stunning green eyes, she practically melted even before he smiled at her. When that didn’t finish her off, his accent certainly did. Olli was more Linnea’s type, with a neat beard and long blond hair. Unquestionably attractive in his own right, but a little too Viking for Anja’s taste.
Whether by luck or choice, it seemed both boys were interested in the girl currently drooling over them. What began as a group conversation soon split in two. Anja was too busy hanging on Elis’s every word to keep tabs on Linnea, almost entirely forgetting about her friend until she tapped her on the shoulder.
“I think I’m going to go with Olli,” Linnea said. “Will you be alright on your own?”
She glanced towards Elis, trying and failing to keep a grin from stretching across her face. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine.”
They watched Linnea and Olli walk away with their hands linked together.
“Cute,” Elis said. “They go well together.”
“They do. He’s exactly her type.”
“Not your type, though?”
“I’m more into the whole ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ thing.”
He gave her another smile. “Ah, I see. Does it help if he has a funny accent?”
“It might. I’m quite curious, how does a Welshman find himself in Norway? Especially at an event like this?”
Elis chuckled. “Yeah, I feel a bit out of place. Came out here for a year on Erasmus, and my flatmate somehow ends up invited to this thing and drags the rest of us along. Can’t say it’s something I’ve done before, but it’s kind of exciting. I don’t know if this is something you normally do in Scandinavia, but…”
Anja shook her head. “God, no. I’ve never done anything like this either. I thought it sounded weird and the whole thing makes me a bit nervous, but my friends wanted to come, so here I am.”
“Which bit’s making you nervous?”
“I…” She felt her face redden. “I don’t know why it gets me so worked up, but every time someone mentions getting a haircut, my heart goes twice as fast. Kind of embarrassing for a twenty-two-year-old to be worrying about something like that, but I can’t help it.”
“No, no, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Your hair’s really pretty, it makes total sense that you’d be protective of it. But don’t be nervous either, right? Plenty of guys here would rather keep your hair long than cut it all off.”
“Would you happen to be one of them?”
Elis flashed a grin. “Afraid not. I’d really love to see you with a bob.”
Predictably, her heart began to thump against her ribcage. “Oh. I’m not sure that would suit me.”
“It definitely would. But don’t let me or anyone else pressure you into anything you don’t want, right?”
“I won’t. But I have to ask, have you ever…” It took half a second for her to swallow the lump that suddenly appeared in her throat. “Have you ever cut anyone’s hair before?”
“A few times. Last time was only a couple of weeks ago, actually. Mhairi – my friend who brought us to this thing – she’s got a pretty thick Scottish accent, even when she’s speaking Norwegian. Some of the locals don’t understand her whether she speaks Norwegian or English. She didn’t want to risk ruining her hair, so she asked me to do it. Can’t do anything fancy, just blunt cuts really, but she was fine with that. She better not need me to fix it for her after tonight, though.”
“I guess that depends on what she gets talked into.”
“True. Assuming anyone understands her. Maybe I should be on translator duty instead of talking to pretty Swedish girls.”
Anja giggled. She’d never particularly liked her laugh, but she’d learned to accept that she came across as cute rather than classy and to play to her strengths. “I’m sure the pretty Swedish girl would rather you stayed here and flirted with her.”
“Yeah, I think that sounds more fun. Any chance I could get you a drink?”
“I’d love one.”
He led her to the bar with his hand against the small of her back. They flirted all the way there and back, continuing through a second and third round of drinks. They clicked in a way Anja hadn’t thought possible, completely enthralled with each other. Her face hurt from non-stop smiling, but she never wanted him to stop teasing her. Though she’d never been one for the concept of soulmates, Anja suddenly felt like she was living in a dream.
She was brought back down to Earth when another girl approached them. “Elis?”
“Oh, hey Sim. How’s it going?”
“Fine, mostly. But I need to borrow you for ten minutes.” Her accent was hard to pinpoint, but it seemed vaguely eastern-European.
Elis raised an eyebrow. “Right now?”
She nodded. “Just for ten minutes.”
After a long sigh, he downed his drink and tossed the plastic cup aside. “Alright, fine.” He looked to Anja. “Looks like I gotta go. Maybe I’ll see you again later? I’m still hoping you might change your mind on getting a bob.”
“We’ll see. I’d love to see you again though.”
“Cool. Catch you later then.”
Anja watched him walk away, grumbling to Sim on their way out of the room. Losing the hunk she’d been hoping to couple up with left her deflated, but on the plus side Elis clearly wanted to continue their flirting later. In the meantime, she supposed at least it gave her the opportunity to find someone who didn’t want to cut her hair.
She wandered by herself, employing the same passive tactic that she and Linnea had used earlier. Men approached her without much effort from her side, but none of them were particularly charming. Several played up the aloof bad boy act. Why any of them thought that was what women wanted was a mystery to Anja. Their supposed disinterest in her made sure the conversation didn’t last long, and she escaped as soon as there was a gap in the conversation. Others did the opposite, bombarding her with enough compliments to drown in. Somehow that was worse.
Still, she preferred the guys who were over-eager but well-meaning to the creeps that only wanted to give her a haircut. There seemed to be an increasing amount of them the more people she talked to. Those that tried to butter her up were entirely see-through before they even mentioned her hair, but a surprising amount were upfront about what they wanted to do to her. After turning down a third offer to have a set of clippers run over her head – a mental image that made her shiver – suddenly Elis’s earlier nudges towards a bob didn’t seem so bad.
She continued to drift through the union, never finding what she was looking for. The longer it went on, the more desperate she became. When she once would have declined anything above her waist, now anything below her shoulders seemed like a good deal.
Then, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something that made her heart skip a beat. At the opposite side of the room, a familiar handsome figure stood with a drink in his hand, laughing as he chatted to a girl with dirty-blonde hair that spilled around her shoulders. Anja instantly panicked, fearing her dreamy Welsh boy was being snatched from her. However, when she started walking towards them, she spotted the green ring on her finger. Elis didn’t have one.
Upon noticing her, he beamed at her. “Anja! I was hoping I’d run into you again.” He gestured to his friend. “This is Mhairi. I think I mentioned her earlier.”
The Scottish girl offered a handshake and a wide grin. “Nice to meet you, Anja. You must be the gorgeous Swede he won’t stop talking about.”
“Really?” Anja asked, glancing in Elis’s direction. He was the one to turn red this time.
“Mhmm,” Mhairi said. “Quite right too, you’re stunning.”
“Thank you. So are you.”
She batted the compliment away with one hand. “Och, stop it. You should be flirting with him, not me. Assuming you’re still single, anyway.”
“I will say, you’re leaving it pretty late to couple up. With hair like yours, I don’t know if I’d be leaving it to chance.”
“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to Elis about,” Anja said.
He suddenly had a grin to match Mhairi’s. “Came around, did you?”
“Well… it’s more that your offer sounded the most reasonable. I don’t particularly want a bob, but if it’s that or a buzzcut…”
“Is that what you wanted to do to her?” Mhairi asked Elis. “That’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
“She’d look amazing with a bob.”
“She looks amazing right now! Hell, you already told me that she’s the prettiest girl here.”
Both Anja and Elis blushed again. They locked eyes, and she managed a sheepish smile.
He mirrored her. “It’s the truth. I do honestly think you’re gorgeous. I just think you’d look even better with a bob.”
Mhairi groaned. “Swear to God, Elis, you’re such a choob. If you want Anja to like you, maybe consider being a nice guy and doing what she wants.”
He scanned Anja up and down, lips pursed while he considered. “Turn around for me.”
She did as he asked. Elis smoothed both hands over Anja’s sleek hair, carefully combing from top to bottom with his fingers. She liked how gentle he was, how slowly he stroked her. If only long hair was his preference, she’d happily let him play with it the same way for the rest of the night.
“I have to say, I do love how silky your hair is,” Elis said.
Mhairi copped a feel for herself. “Oh, wow! Oh, it’s so soft. You can’t make her cut it all off, Elis.”
“Alright, alright. Maybe I’m asking a bit much.” With his hand horizontal, he drew a line just below the top of Anja’s shoulders. “Would you consider shoulder-length?”
Mhairi tutted before Anja could give an answer. “That’s still too short. Here, let me.” She ran her hand across Anja’s mane in the same fashion, marking the middle of her shoulder blades. “There. That’s, what, ten inches? You get to fulfil your weird fantasy of cutting her hair, but she gets to keep it fairly long.”
Not a deal Anja would have taken at the start of the evening, but a compromise she was eager to accept now.
However, Elis held all the cards, and he knew it. “I’d really prefer another couple of inches, but I’ll make you a deal, Anja.”
“I’ll go with the length Mhairi suggested, so long as you give me your number and let me take you out on a date.”
A date with an intriguing, handsome, funny guy from a foreign country? It wasn’t even a question. He came across as sweet, certainly more so than anyone that had approached her since, and much more fun to boot. The fact that he had close female friends was a good sign, and he must have been reliable if they came to find him when they needed help. And even though he seemed fixated on cutting Anja’s hair shorter than she intended, he wasn’t overly pushy about it. He could have given her the ultimatum of a bob or nothing at all, but he’d backed down in favour of keeping her at least somewhat happy.
“If you promise me you won’t go any shorter,” Anja said, “then yes, I’d like that.”
“Then we have a deal.”
“Great.” He combed his fingers through her hair one final time, then leaned over her shoulder. “Let’s go downstairs then, shall we?”
She agreed, and when he offered his hand, she took it. His was far bigger than hers, cocooning hers comfortably inside. His hold was gentle and his skin soft and warm. She couldn’t help but let her mind wander, wondering how it would feel to be caressed by them. Perhaps she’d find out later.
They strolled back through the rooms until they made it to the stairwell. He led the way to the basement, which had been converted into a makeshift salon for the night. The room was somewhat crowded, more than any of the rooms upstairs. Anja supposed it shouldn’t have been a surprise given some of the people she’d talked to over the course of the event.
There were six chairs in total, each a few metres apart. They weren’t proper hairdressing chairs, merely backless stools. Hair of all colours, textures, and lengths covered the floor, almost making the wood feel carpeted beneath Anja’s bare feet. Five of the six chairs were occupied, with varying levels of interest around each of the girls currently having their hair cut. A few girls getting the merest of trims garnered little attention, while a handful watched a cute redhead lose a couple of inches. Another chair was completely surrounded by a wall of people, presumably watching something more drastic happen.
Elis led Anja towards the free stool, clearly aiming to get in and out as quick as possible. However, he was beaten to it by another tall, dark-haired man, who made a lady with blonde hair the same length as Anja’s take a seat.
“Guess we’re waiting, then,” Elis said.
The guy combed the girl’s long locks out, nowhere near as careful with her as Elis had been with Anja. He finished his preparations within half a minute.
Equipped with a bulky set of clippers, he leaned over the girl’s shoulder. “Ready?”
With a pop, the clippers hummed to life. He weighed up his entry point, combing her hair upside down with the comb. Then, with a thick portion of hair gathered close to her head, he ran the blade straight across the comb and sheared away well over twenty inches of hair.
Anja covered her mouth with her free hand to smother a gasp. To her relief no one paid her any attention, but a ring of spectators quickly formed around the chair to watch such luscious blonde hair be clipped short. The girl fidgeted with her fingers as her pretty locks fell across her bare arms and legs, eyes pointed at the floor rather than the cheering onlookers.
It clearly wasn’t the first time her partner had done this; he was too fast, too efficient, too confident in his technique. He scooped a big section of blonde hair in the comb, ran the clippers across its face, let the butchered locks fall, then repeated. Scoop, buzz, splat. Scoop, buzz, splat. The girl barely lasted a minute before she’d had the bulk sheared, now covering her like a blanket. But he wasn’t done, still to shave the shaggy remains down to a zero all-over.
Anja strongly doubted this was how the poor girl had thought tonight would go. She kept her mouth shut however, desperate not to draw any attention to herself for fear the same would somehow end up happening to her. She clutched Elis’s hand tighter.
He squeezed her back, then leaned in to murmur in her ear. “Don’t worry, right? I made a promise and I’ll keep it. You’ll be fine.”
She nodded, unable to find any words to answer with.
With the girl completely shaved, the clippers stopped droning. The barber dusted her off, and after a forlorn look at her once-pretty locks in a pile on the floor, she vacated the stool to a round of applause. Some of the crowd left with the couple, but some stayed to watch the next haircut.
No one immediately took the spot on the empty chair. Most of the onlookers already wore green rings, though a couple of other girls still didn’t. Anja glanced between them for a sign that either would be next, but they both stared back. As she looked to the rest of the crowd, she realised all eyes were on her.
“I think we’re up,” Elis whispered to her.
She couldn’t reply.
“Come on. Faster we do it, faster we can get out of here.”
He gently tugged her hand. After a moment’s hesitation, she made her way to the chair and sat down, stepping over as much as possible of the fresh cuttings that littered the floor. Elis smoothed Anja’s hair down her back with both hands.
“I hope she’s getting the same,” someone said.
Elis gave a single wry chuckle. “Not quite.”
He grabbed the same comb that had been used on the previous girl. He didn’t bother dislodging the blonde hairs that clung to it, instead swiping through Anja’s tresses to get rid of them.
“There aren’t any scissors,” he warned her, “so I’ll be using the clippers. Nothing to worry about though, right?”
As soon as he clicked them on, Anja’s feet began to tap anxiously. She gripped the sides of the stool to try and steady herself, but it did little to settle her.
Regardless, Elis got started. Without hesitation, he plunged the clippers into the perfect canvas in front of him. The clippers buzzed loudly as they chewed through Anja’s thick mane. He pressed the cold metal all the way to her bare skin. She felt the blade sever the strands it touched, sending chestnut silk sliding down her back to add to the debris on the floor. She bit her lip to try and distract herself, but her efforts to ignore the sensations only made them more invasive. After each chomp of the clippers, Elis paused to brush through Anja’s hair a few times. It dragged the process out and made her feet tap ever quicker.
Much like the girl before her, she couldn’t bring herself to look at any of the spectators. They were markedly less energetic than they had been for the last haircut, but somehow that made the experience more embarrassing. Beyond a few murmurs of approval, they were dead silent, leaving nothing but the sound of shears to fill the air. She willed it to end.
Elis tilted her head up and instructed her to sit straight. When she did, he nicked a further inch of her hair to bring it to the middle of her shoulder blades as promised. He trimmed and re-trimmed and re-re-trimmed the ends to get them as blunt as possible, stealing extra millimetres from her tresses in doing so.
Finally, after far too long, the clippers stopped buzzing. Anja got up as soon as Elis gave her permission, instantly seeking his hand again for reassurance. She caught only an accidental glance of her precious locks at the foot of the chair, glinting under the lights across the ceiling. She wished she hadn’t; it was too tragic a sight. Stifling the tears that wanted to come, she raced out of the basement, dragging Elis with her. She felt so exposed without her comfort blanket, as if every pair of eyes in the room had locked onto her.
At the top of the staircase, Elis stopped her. “You alright?”
She nodded, dabbing at her watery eyes. “Yeah, just… I didn’t like that.”
“I know, but it’s done now.” He moved his hand to her cheek and caressed her softly. “The rest of the night, I’ll do anything you want me to. Which reminds me, I’ve got something else for you. Give me your hand again.”
She held it out for him while he slid a green ring onto her finger.
“There,” he said, putting an identical ring on his own finger. “I think that means you’re mine now.”
“Or maybe it means you’re mine.”
“That’s probably more likely. You already stole my heart anyway.”
Anja giggled, admiring the way his pretty eyes lit up at the sound. “I shouldn’t really be thanking you for cutting my hair, but thanks for not making it too short.”
“Don’t thank me, thank Mhairi. It’d have been shorter if it wasn’t for her. How d’you like it, anyway?”
She stroked her fingers through it. “Well, it’s shorter than I’d like it to be.”
He smirked. “And longer than I’d like it to be.”
“I guess that’s the point of compromising.”
“Mhmm.” He brushed his hand over her head and down her back to where her hair now ended. “Honestly, I quite like it. Much better to play with.”
“Yeah. It was a little too long before, y’know? Very pretty, don’t get me wrong, but you did need a big chop. This length’s much better on you. Who knows, maybe I’ll get to see you with that bob someday?”
She very much doubted that would ever be the case, but she didn’t burst his bubble. Instead, she leaned in to kiss him gently, to which he replied in an equally careful manner. When they pulled apart, he petted her mane again.
Anja giggled again. “How about you come home with me and play with my hair some more, since you like doing it so much?”
“Absolutely. Lead the way.”