Identical No More

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Ever since they had been born, Jessie and Julie’s mom made sure her identical twins were, well, identical in every way. They wore the same dresses, the same shoes, even the same underwear every day. At bedtime, they wore the same pajamas. Their thick, blonde hair was always cut and styled identically, too. They would show up for school in matching braids or ponytails or with their hair pulled back in barrettes. On the day that Julie leaned a little too far forward to learn how her art teacher’s paper cutter worked and wound up losing a four-inch lock of hair to its sharpened blade, the twins’ mother took sat them both down in the kitchen and cried as she cut their hair from below their shoulders to chin-length bobs. When the twins’ hair grew long again, their mother kept it that way, only occasionally trimming the split ends and being extremely careful not to cut even a fraction of an inch more of hair from one of her daughter’s heads than the other’s.

The twins resented their mother’s insistence that they always match, but at least it allowed them to occasionally pull pranks on the teachers in their elementary school who couldn’t tell them apart.

In middle school, when when most kids are beginning to express themselves as individuals, Jessie and Julie not only continued to dress the same way but also participated in all of the same after-school activities. Both ran track. Both sang in the choir. Both took ballet lessons. It didn’t matter that Julie hated running or that Jessie had stage fright. As far as their mother was concerned, it was almost as if she was raising the same child split into two different bodies. “You’ll get your entire adulthood to decide what to do and how to dress,” their mother would tell them, “but for now I’m in charge.”

By high school, Jessie and Julie had had enough. They wanted to take different classes, participate in different clubs. They wanted to dress in a way that represented their own style, not their twin’s or their mother’s. So they began to bring a separate set of clothes to school every day, running to the bathroom to change their clothes and restyle their long blonde hair as soon as their mother had pulled out of the parking lot. They signed up for the extracurriculars that interested them, but always covered for one another, Jessie calling their mom to say track practice was running long because even though practice had been finished for half an hour, Julie was still rehearsing a scene for drama club, or Julie telling their mom their biology study group had to meet up for an all-day study session on Saturday when in fact she was creating an excuse for Jessie to be gone all day for a volleyball tournament.

The girls always changed back into their matching outfits before they went home, and somehow the ruse lasted through their senior year. But graduation was coming up and with both Jessie and Julie both receiving honors at the commencement ceremony for activities their mother did not know they participated in, it was time to come clean. They enlisted their guidance counselor, who had helped them coordinate their schedules for the last three years, for help breaking the news.

“You lied to me?!” their mother exclaimed in the meeting. “All this time, you’ve been lying to me? Here I thought I had these perfect twins and I find out they’ve been lying liars all along.” She turned to the guidance counselor. “And you! You’ve been helping them!”

“With all due respect, ma’am,” the guidance counselor began, “you have raised two exceptional, brilliant young women. And like most people their age, they needed to learn who they are as individuals. You’ve known since the fall they would be attending different colleges. They won’t be together that much longer, and it’s healthy for them to explore their identities safely while they’re still living at home, rather than going hog-wild when they get to university. Be proud of them for standing firm in their beliefs; don’t punish them for what’s ultimately a pretty minor act of teenage rebellion.”

Jessie and Julie stared pleadingly at their mother. “Please don’t be mad, Mom,” Jessie said. “We didn’t do this to hurt you.”

“No,” Julie added. “We did this to help ourselves out.”

Their mother seemed slightly chastened. “I didn’t know how much you hated the way I made you dress, and I thought you liked sticking together in your activities. I never had sisters and I would have loved to have someone there for me at every turn.”

“They’ll still be there for each other,” the counselor interjected. “That won’t change. But the girls are about to turn eighteen. Maybe it’s time to treat them a little like adults.”

Their mother sighed. “I want you two dressed identically in my presence until graduation. And then I guess we can all take this summer to figure things out.”

Jessie and Julie nodded. That was actually a better offer than they’d expected.

***

After graduation, Jessie and Julie’s mother took them to a few discount and thrift stores and let them choose outfits of their own liking. It was hot out, and Jessie favored shorts and simple t-shirts, while Julie filled her closet with sun dresses. The two girls were finally beginning to assert themselves as individuals and their mom…well, she was coming around.

One thing hadn’t changed, though: their thick, blonde hair, which now reached to their waists. Their mother, who had cried when she’d given them those bobs in elementary school, begged the girls to at least keep their hair identical for a little while longer. And surprisingly to Jessie, it seemed that Julie agreed with her mom on this subject.

One night after their mother had gone to bed, a few weeks before they were both to head to their separate colleges, Jessie looked at Julie across their shared bedroom. “I think it’s time,” she said.

“Time for what?” Julie asked.

“To change our hair. When I get to college I don’t just want to be known as that girl with the long, blonde hair, you know?”

Julie nodded. “I know. It’s just…we’re going to be so far away from each other, and I feel like wearing our hair the same way is one thing we can still share across the distance.”

“Oh, we can still wear it the same way, if you want,” Jessie said. “But only if you want to get it cut the same way.”

“What were you thinking?” Julie asked.

“Something shorter,” Jessie replied vaguely.

Julie grabbed a handful of her hair and examined it. “It has gotten awfully long, hasn’t it? Maybe a haircut won’t be so bad.”

***

Jessie wasted no time in booking them hair appointments. She called a trendy-looking salon downtown and scheduled two concurrent appointments for the following Friday, only a few days before they were to leave for college. That gave them time to break the news to their mother.

“How short are you planning on cutting it?” she asked the twins, who both shrugged at her. “But at least you’ll have it done the same way?”

“That depends,” Jessie said, “on whether Julie wants to cut her hair the way I’m cutting mine. Or vice-versa, I suppose.”

The day of the appointment, the twins both put their long blonde hair into ponytails and headed to the salon. They arrived and were quickly ushered to adjacent chairs and caped. “I’m Randi,” said the stylist at Jessie’s station. “And that’s Tina,” she continued, gesturing toward the stylist behind Julie. “I don’t think we’ve ever worked with twins before. What are we doing today?”

Julie took her hair down from its ponytail and let its golden lengths cascade down the back of her chair, reaching past the seat. “As you can see, it’s quite long. We’re about to go to college and want something a little more grown up. I did some research about donating hair and because neither of us has ever dyed our hair, I was thinking we should cut enough to donate. So maybe cut it to about here?” She gestured to her shoulders and Tina nodded.

From behind Jessie’s seat, Randi said: “I heard a lot of ‘we’ and ‘us’ in there. Is that what you’re thinking, too?”

“Not exactly,” Jessie replied. “I love my sister’s donation idea, but I was thinking I wanted to go shorter than that.”

Julie turned to her sister. “Okay but if we’re still going to have the same haircut how short are you thinking?”

“That’s the thing, Jules,” Jessie said. “I’m thinking very, very short. I know you think it will help us stay close and connected if we walk out of here and go to our respective colleges with the same haircut, but I’ve had the same haircut as you for eighteen years. You can’t get much closer than twins, and I don’t think getting different haircuts is going to change that. If you disagree, you’re welcome to get the same haircut I’m getting. But something tells me you won’t.”

“And may I ask what this haircut is?” asked Randi, still in her position behind Jessie.

Jessie nodded assertively. “A quarter of an inch.”

Beside her, Julie breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, I can go a quarter of an inch shorter than where I was gesturing. That was a rough measurement anyway.”

“No,” Jessie said. “A quarter-inch buzzcut.”

Julie gasped. “Jess, no!”

“It’s hair. It will grow back. If I want it to. But I want to prove to the world I’m my own person. Unless…” Jessie’s eyes twinkled, “…it’s so important to you that we still have the same haircut that you want to do it, too.”

From behind Julie, Tina piped up. “It would be very flattering on you. On both of you.”

Julie shook her head, tears welling up in her eyes. “No,” she said. “I guess we’re going to college with different haircuts.”

“Then it’s decided!” Randi exclaimed. “We don’t usually do a shampoo before big donation cuts but I think you might both enjoy having one last shared experience with your matching hair.” She and Tina took the twins to the sinks where two salon assistants gave Jessie and Julie long, luxurious head massages as they washed and conditioned their hair.

“You sure about this, sis?” Julie asked from her seat at the shampoo sink, feeling decidedly less tense. “It’s going to be a while before you can get this kind of treatment.”

“Absolutely positive,” Jessie replied.

A few minutes later, the twins’ heads were wrapped in towels and they were shown back to Randi and Tina’s stations, where the stylists awaited them with blowdryers and round brushes in hand. “We like to cut hair dry here, especially for donations,” Tina explained.

“We were also thinking it might be fun to do a little before and after photoshoot—if you’re up for it. We figured that if you are, your before photos need to be as great as your after photos,” Randi added. “We have a photo area in the back.”

The twins looked at each other and nodded, and the stylists set about blowdrying their long blonde hair until it fell as a silky-smooth blonde curtain across both their backs. Once finished, the girls were temporarily uncaped and shown to the photo area, where the salon receptionist—evidentially a photography student at the local arts school—took several photos and sent them back on their way.

The girls sat and Randi and Tina once again draped them with capes. “So,” Randi asked Jessie. “Still the same plan for you?” Jessie nodded enthusiastically.

“And you?” Tina asked Julie.

Julie took one last look at the identical side-by-side reflections of her and her sister. “Yeah. Actually. No. Maybe a little shorter?” She held her hand a few inches above where she’d previously indicated, halfway between her chin and her shoulders. “There?” she asked.

Tina nodded. “That’ll look great on you.”

Tina gathered Julie’s hair into six small ponytails, secured with elastics just above her client’s shoulders, and then quickly braided them and secured them again toward the bottom. “Ready?” she asked.

Julie gave a quick nod, and her stylist picked up her shears and began to efficiently cut through each individual braid, holding the severed hair up for a moment so Julie could see, and then laying them on her counter.

Randi, in the meanwhile, had gathered Jessie’s hair into four thick ponytails: one at her nape, one at her crown, and one on either side of her head. She secured the elastic bands about an inch and a half from Jessie’s scalp and then, like Tina, braided each section and secured the bottom of each braid with another elastic. But unlike Tina, Randi did not pick up her shears. Instead, she took up her clippers, removed their guard, and turned them on with a loud pop that made both twins jump. “It’s faster to remove the bulk this way when your hair is so thick,” she explained to Jessie. And then, without a word, she pulled the ponytail ponytail on the top of Jessie’s head taut and inserted the humming machine between the elastic band and Jessie’s head. Their tone changed as they began to chew through Jessie’s thick blonde hair, and soon the first braid was severed. Randi held it up in victory, and Jessie laughed at the short tufts of hair standing up in all directions from the top of her hair. Looking into the mirror, Julie could see her twin’s reflection and she also laughed at how absurd Jessie looked, with three long braids attached to the back and sides of her head and all those short hairs sticking up.

“I always start there so there’s no way you can change your mind,” Randi explained to the giggling twins.

Julie tried to focus on her own reflection in the mirror. Tina had parted her shortened hair into sections and, one piece at a time, was shortening the hair just a little further, trimming a precise line that was just ever so slightly shorter with each layer she let down so Julie’s lob would naturally curl in slightly. But she couldn’t stop stealing gazes at her twin, who was laughing as Randi again took her unguarded clippers to Jessie’s hair, this time to the braided ponytail on the right side of her head.

The stylist must have been telling Jessie a joke, because the two began to laugh uproariously as the second ponytail came loose. Jessie’s hair stuck straight out to the side, like a cartoon character who had just stuck her finger in a light socket. This, of course, got her laughing all over again. Julie chuckled, too, but she was afraid to laugh too hard lest she should move her head and cause Tina to make a mistake.

Randi plunged her clippers into the base of the ponytail on the left side of Jessie’s head next, soon leaving the twin with an extremely unflattering mullet—short, messy hair on the top and sides of her head, but a gloriously long ponytail still cascading down her back. “Last one,” the stylist said. “Are we ready?”

“Oh god yes!” Jessie exclaimed, but Randi was already working on severing that ponytail before Jessie had given her answer. Soon, the stylist switched off her clippers and the braid joined its three brethren on Randi’s counter.

“So,” Randi asked Jessie. “What do we think?”

Jessie turned her head from side to side. “I hope it doesn’t look this awkward when it’s growing back in.”

“I mean, if you want it to grow back in.”

“Excellent point,” Jessie conceded.

“Shall we continue?”

“Please!”

Julie’s haircut was still in progress, with Tina making the smallest, most precise snips. Still, she could see Randi picking up a guard and putting it on her clippers before turning them back on. And she could see the stylist place the clippers at her twin’s forehead and draw them backward to her crown. And she could see the bits of blonde hair tumbling to the cape and the patch of fuzz left in the clippers’ path. And she could see the excited look on her sister’s face.

Jessie let out a gasp. “Oh my god! Can I touch it?!” Randi nodded, switching her clippers off, and Jessie shot a hand out from under the cape and right to the spot Randi had just run the clippers through. “That is SO COOL!” she exclaimed. Then, meeting her sister’s eyes in the mirror, she said: “It’s not too late, you know.”

Julie said nothing, but quickly broke eye contact and returned her focus to Tina’s reflection.

Randi’s clippers went back on, and she proceeded to carve a second path across the top of Jessie’s head, making her way toward Jessie’s right ear, even folding the ear down to make sure she didn’t miss any errant tufts of long—at least by comparison—hair, and soon nothing was left on the right side of Jessie’s head, the side facing Julie, but soft blonde fuzz. Jessie’s smile was widening by the second.

Randi returned the clippers to Jessie’s forehead and made another pass toward her crown, this time working her way toward Jessie’s left ear and folding it down, too, so all of the hair on this side of her head was the same quarter inch in length as the right. The only traces of Jessie’s once-glorious blonde mane were the short tufts of hair still on the back of her head.

Randi put her left hand firmly on Jessie’s crown. “That feels so weird and cool!” Jessie exclaimed.

Randi smiled. “Point your chin down, babe.” Then she placed her clippers at the nape of Jessie’s neck and began moving them upward, so that nothing but stubble was left there, either. Once satisfied she’d gotten the last tufts that had remained from the severed ponytail, Randi ran her clippers all over Jessie’s head in every direction, making sure all the hair left on her head was a uniform quarter of an inch in length. “Now,” she asked her client. “Do I leave you like this and just clean up your hairline, or do I taper it a bit first, so your hair gets shorter and shorter as it goes down.”

“What do you think will look best?”

“Definitely the taper.”

“Do it!” Jessie exclaimed.

Julie’s haircut was still in progress and she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You’re…going even shorter?” she asked her twin.

“Only on the back and sides, hon,” Randi answered for Jessie. The stylist replaced the guard on her clippers with a smaller one and instructed Jessie to put her head down again, then she began running the clippers upward toward her client’s occipital ridge. She continued all the way around Jessie’s head, stopping at an even height with each pass, and then swapped her guard for an even shorter guard still and repeated the process, stopping a few inches lower than her previous pass. Finally, she exchanged her clippers for a second, smaller pair, running them up an inch or two above Jessie’s natural hairline and around her ears. That done, the stylist turned her clippers off and stood back to look at her client. “Do you mind if I define the shape a bit more in the front, too?”

“Go right ahead.

Randi took her small edging clippers to Jessie’s forehead and began carving a curved line toward her right temple, steepening the angle of the curve just by Jessie’s ear so the tapered buzzcut had very deliberate look to it. This was no home-done buzz. An expert clearly made this happen. Once she was satisfied with the shape, Randi returned to Jessie’s forehead and began to repeat the shape toward her left ear. Finally, she turned the small, humming machine off and stood back. “Well, my dear,” she said. “What do you think?”

Tina was just adding the finishing touches to Julie’s hair as Randi stepped back and held a small mirror behind Jessie so the short-haired twin could appreciate the full look. “Aaaah!” Jessie squealed. “I love it!” Randi took Jessie’s cape off, short blonde locks of hair falling to the floor, and Jessie immediately brought both hands to her head. “This is amazing. It looks amazing. It feels amazing! Julie, you have to come feel this.”

Tina removed Julie’s cape, short locks of blonde hair falling to the floor there as well, and the longer-haired twin, with her precision-cut, mid-length lob, stood and approached her sister. “You do look great,” she said as she approached.

“Yeah, but come feeeeeeeel!” Jessie cajoled her.

Julie reached out a hand and placed it on her sister’s head. She was expecting it to feel rough, like sandpaper, but instead it felt smooth and soft, almost like velvet. “Oh,” she said softly. “Oh wow.”

“Jealous?” Jessie teased?

Julie studied her own new haircut in the mirror. It flattered her face perfectly, and it would look so cute with those summer dresses she’d been accumulating lately. Still, she hesitated before she answered her twin, who now, for the first time, looked so different from her. “No,” she said without much confidence.

“Are you sure?”

“Not jealous. Just…I don’t know. Wistful? Your haircut is great and my haircut is great but for the first time in our lives we don’t have the same haircut and I’m just kind of wishing I were bold enough to match my twin.”

Behind them, Randi and Tina stole a glance toward one another.

“What if…” Randi began. “What if you matched your sister…halfway?”

Julie turned to look at her with confusion. Tina piped up. “An undercut, sweetie. We could buzz just the underside of your hair so that part would match your sister but as long as you’re wearing your hair down, no one would know.”

“YES!” Jessie exclaimed. “Do it!”

“I don’t know…” Julie hesitated.

Jessie grabbed her sister’s hand and put it back on her head. “Think about how amazing this feels. Don’t you want this on your own head, too? At least a little? Plus, when you’re away at school and I’m away at school we can both just rub our heads and reconnect with each other, you know?”

That last point swayed Julie. “Let’s do it.”

Tina guided Julie back to her chair and, for a third time, covered her client with a cape. “How high do you want the undercut?” she asked.

“Oh, um. I don’t know. What do you think?”

Tina very quickly twisted up the top half of Julie’s hair and clipped it to the crown of her head. Then she took a comb handle and traced a more precise line across the back of Julie’s head, just below her occipital ridge. She clipped up any additional hair she didn’t want in her path and held a mirror up so Julie could see the back of her head. “This seems like a safe place to start. It’s below the tops of your hears so it won’t wrap all the way around. It’s just your nape.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s fine,” Julie said.

“Omigosh, Jules,” Jessie said. She had gotten out of her chair and come to stand next to her sister’s. “You’re going to be so bad-ass.”

Tina affixed a plastic attachment to her clippers and turned them on, then placed her left hand on top of Julie’s head. “Chin down, please.” No sooner than Julie had tilted her chin toward her chest could she feel the buzzing blades of Tina’s clippers moving up her neck, changing their frequency as they encountered her hair, and then pulling away from her head at the point where Tina traced the part. Tina stopped her clippers for a moment. “Do you want to feel it?”

Slowly, tentatively, Julie snuck one hand out from under her cape and touched the shorn strip on the back of her head. She let in a sharp inhale.

“It’s awesome, isn’t it?” her twin asked.

“It’s…something.”

Tina turned her clippers back on. “Well, nothing to do but finish it now.” She pushed the clippers up Julie’s nape again and again until the area from her neck to the part running across the back of the twin’s head was reduced to nothing but the same sort of velvet that now covered her sister’s entire scalp. Before she unpinned the top of Julie’s hair, she held the mirror up again so Julie could see her work. Julie’s hand again emerged from her cape, this time less tentatively. She rubbed the back of her neck. “Okay actually that does feel pretty great.”

“Told you!” Jessie shouted.

Tina let the rest of Julie’s hair down, so the undercut was completely covered and she was left once again with a perfect lob. Then she removed Julie’s cape.

The stylists escorted the twins back to the photo area and gave a few suggestions on how to really show off their new hairstyles while the receptionist took the girls’ after photos. Then, they hugged their respective stylists, who encouraged them to come back to the salon when they came home for winter break, and followed the receptionist to the counter, where they paid and left generous tips for both Randi and Tina.

***

Jessie and Julie’s mom was in the front yard doing some gardening when the twins came home. She saw Julie in her long bob first and began to say something, but then Jessie stepped out from behind her sister, her blonde tapered buzzcut reflecting the sun’s rays. “And that’s not all!” Jessie announced to their speechless mother. She held her sister’s hair up. “Turn around, Jules.”

Julie did as her sister asked, showing their mother that she, too, had a run-in with the clippers that day. Their mother gasped. But then, much to the girls’ surprise, she did something else. She began to laugh.

Jessie let go of her sister’s hair and the two ran to their mother, who embraced them both.

“I see now that my plans to raise you two exactly the same so there was never any favoritism or special treatment or competition between the two of you might have earned me two rebels,” she said. Removing her gardening gloves, she placed one hand on each of her daughters’ necks and ran them upward, feeling the buzzed hair they both sported at their napes. “I’m going to miss your long golden locks, my girls. But I’m proud of both of you for ignoring your mother and showing the world who you really are.”


I wasn’t planning on writing another story until I got the next “Influencer” installment done but after seeing some of my favorite writers, as well as my own most recent story, get pushed off the front page because a few contributors posted multiple stories over the course of the weekend instead of being respectful and spacing those stories out by a few days, I’m trying to help push some of that onslaught down the homepage. #sorrynotsorry, folks. HSN only shows the latest 20 stories at a time, after which it can be tough to find recently published content. Please be courteous and don’t bogart the front page. My righteous indignation and I are going to bed now.

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