Loop

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————————-Loop 1—————————

 

I was just finishing up blow drying my hair in the hotel mirror, while watching the morning news show when the text came in.

-Great opportunity!!! Only one small catch.

————————-———-What’s the catch?

-You have to get a haircut.

————-————-——-I’ll pass

-but you haven’t even heard what the opportunity is yet

——————————–It can’t be that good

I tossed my phone aside on the bed, and looked up at the mirror.  My hair looked perfect.  My butterfly cut had just the right amount of bounce.  My color and highlights looked completely natural. A quick blow dry was all it took for it to just fall perfectly in place. Considering what the hairdressers charged the show I worked on, it sure as hell should be perfect.  

It was impossible that any opportunity could possibly be good enough to give up these perfect locks.  Besides, it would be a breach of my contract.  My hair  was much admired on all the fashion sites, which was exactly what my show’s producers were aiming for.  Not that I loved that it was mostly only fashion sites that paid attention to me.  I wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist.  Of course, who I was made that both easier and harder at the same time.  

I tried to distance myself from my famous family as much as I reasonably could without simply rejecting them, since it wasn’t my family members I resented, just the fame that surrounded us.  My sibling delighted in it and embraced it, going by our mother’s well known and distinct surname and running businesses that featured it.  I used my father’s bland common surname; Thompson. Legally I was Carol Jane Thompson, though professionally I went by C.J., Ceejay, having always hated both Carol and Jane, which sounded like old lady names to me.

Having come from a famous family meant that the minute I graduated with my journalism degree, I had an offer from a news show with a focus on entertainment.  Everyone said I should take it, everyone said it was a great opportunity.  

I ignored everybody at first, I turned it down and tried to get a job in regular news.  I sent my resume off to news papers and hard hitting news shows, but nobody was taking me particularly seriously, and the only things I was being offered were completely entry level.  Entry level positions that came with salaries that were a very small fraction of what the entertainment show was offering me.  So, I gave up and took the job.

At the time, I figured even if I didn’t really agree with everyone about how great it would be, it could be a stepping stone to more serious journalism.  I’d been wrong though, it had been a trap.  

All I was doing was basically entertainment industry advertising, not actual journalism.  Behind the scenes movie interviews tailored to get the public excited about the movie.  Tours of musician’s homes timed to let them talk about their upcoming tour or show off the piano where they wrote the song for their latest album.

I sighed, looked away from the mirror to the TV, and turned up the volume.  I watched the very perky anchor hand off to the reporter in Pennsylvania where the groundhog was about to emerge from its den.  I watched thinking about how even that lame assignment was closer to real journalism than what I was doing today.

Maybe I could make the switch to morning shows one day.  It wouldn’t be exactly the same as becoming the next Rachel Maddow, but it would mean more than what I did now.

I turned away from the TV, and got on with my day.  I had an aging rock star turned ski lodge owner to interview, and of course a ski lodge to tour.  At least I would be getting to work with the same cute camera man as yesterday.  It would be just him and me today, because the producer who came with me on this trip got food poisoning yesterday morning and was currently resting and being rehydrated at the nearest hospital.  

The show trying to get the most out of having flown us out here, had lined up three days worth of interviews.  Yesterday it had been a snowboarding actor, tomorrow I would be horseback riding with a country music star.

 

————————-Loop 2—————————

 

I was just finishing up blow drying my hair while watching the morning news show when the text came in.  It had been a strange day.  Somehow, everything I was seeing on the news felt oddly familiar.

-Great opportunity!!! Only one small catch.

——————-——-What’s the catch?

The question felt oddly familiar, even more so than the news had.  Even odder, my response felt familiar as I typed it.

-You have to get a haircut.

———————–——-Didn’t you bring this up yesterday?  I already said no.

-I don’t know what you’re talking about, 

-I only just got contacted about this a half hour ago.

——————-—-——-I guess it was just deja vous, 

—————————-Anyway, answer is still no.

-but you haven’t even heard what the opportunity is yet

———————–———-It can’t be that good

I tried to shake the feeling of deja vu as I turned up the volume on the TV and watched the reporter talking about the history of Groundhog Day.  I furrowed my brow.  This was way beyond a vague feeling of deja vu, I knew Groundhog Day had been yesterday.

I pulled up my schedule, there slotted for today was the name of the the exact same eighties rockstar who had bought the ski lodge just 3 miles from the hotel I was staying in, the rockstar I had interviewed yesterday.

What the fuck was happening?

Confused as I was about the situation, I couldn’t figure out anything to do about it, except to give in and relive the day.  I must have just had a strangely accurate dream about today last night.



————————-Loop 3—————————

 

I was just finishing up blow drying my hair in the hotel mirror, while watching the morning news show when the text came in.  The bizarre feeling that today was the exact same day as the last two days was overwhelming.

-Great opportunity!!! Only one small catch.

———————-———–NO

I tossed the phone aside and turned up the volume on the TV.  I watched as once again, the anchor handed off to the field reporter.  I watched as again she chatted about the history of Groundhog Day.  I watch as once again Phil got dragged out of his den.

When I got to the ski lodge, I looked over the list of questions I’d written out what was last night according to my calendar, but felt like days ago.  I’d asked them yesterday, or what felt like yesterday anyway, and the day before, and only gotten bland answers.  I decided to toss them, and just try letting the conversation flow naturally.

I did things deliberately differently all day.  Different outfit, different lunch, different research for tomorrow’s interview, different time calling to check on my producer’s recovery, different dinner, different shows before bed, different everything.  I went to bed with my fingers crossed this was all just a really insanely weird dream.

 

————————-Loop 4—————————

 

I went through the motions of the day.  The day I knew I had lived already three times before.  I just simply let it all happen, not trying to control it, just observing.

 

————————-Loop 6—————————

 

After I finished the same day again, I decided to try staying up all night.  It wasn’t like it wasn’t something I’d done hundreds of times before.  So I started a movie at around 11 o’clock, and sat up watching it.  I looked at the clock around 11:52, and wasn’t feeling sleepy at all, but before I made it to midnight, I seemed to have drifted off to sleep.

 

————————-Loop 18—————————

 

I woke up back in bed again in the morning.  I’d once again tried to stay up past midnight, this time downing coffee at the 24 hour diner.  I’d failed, I had drifted off sitting on a stool at the counter while chatting with the waitress around 11:55.  I remembered the heavy sleepy feeling coming over me, then everything just receding into black.  Then I woke up here, back in my hotel room.

 

————————-Loop 22—————————

 

After weeks of repeating the same day over and over, I decided it was time to just tell someone what was happening.  I needed help, I didn’t know what was happening.

 

————————-Loop 29—————————

 

I woke up grateful I was back in my hotel room, grateful yesterday had been erased.  Last night at the emergency room as my agent arranged to have me admitted into the psych ward and the needle full of haldol was slipped into my thigh, I was terrified that what they said was true.  I was terrified I’d be waking up in the psych ward of the same local hospital where my producer was recovering from food poisoning.

I’d spent a week trying to convince them to believe me.  Over and over they told me it was all in my head.  The first few days I had remained pretty calm.  Even while I was completely calm, they’d all just made the same suggestions about seeing a therapist.  I had admittedly become less and less calm each day for the last few days.  Yesterday, I had been completely not calm.

It was time to give up trying to convince anyone I had been reliving the same day over and over.  I’d given it a good effort, but it was never going to work.

I just lay in bed staring at the ceiling for a bit.  I ignored the text that came in.  I lifted the hotel phone instead and called down to the front desk.

“Good morning.  Is today Groundhog Day?” I asked the desk clerk.

“Why yes it is.” He politely replied.  “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Yeah, where is the nearest bar, and what time do they open?” I asked.

After the clerk gave me the information I sought in a rather judgmental tone, I set an alarm for 15 minutes before the bar was going to open, and went back to sleep.

 

————————-Loop I’ve lost track—————————

 

I woke up once again in my hotel room; same as I had for god only knows how long.  Yesterday I had drunk so much I blacked out, yet here I was once again, no hangover feeling great.  Like I’d gone to bed early the night before after a normal dinner, and some herbal tea.  In my mind that early night with herbal tea had happened months of hard drinking ago.  As far as my body was concerned though, it was last night.

This wasn’t getting me anywhere, there wasn’t a point to this.  My liver should be completely shot, but of course it wasn’t, because yesterday was just an illusion.  I needed to stop anyway, I needed to refocus.  I needed to start over.

I went through the motions of the day, exactly the same as I had the first time I’d lived it months ago.  

I got up showered, answered the text, watched the anchor hand off to the field reporter in PA, watched the chubby rodent predict the weather, went and read the prepared interview questions, toured the ski lodge, had the dinner, and went to bed.

 

————————-Sober Restart Loop 2—————————

 

As much as I had needed to just go through the day following the original schedule yesterday, today it was time to start researching my situation and doing something about it.

I picked up my phone, and called Tom, my agent, before he had a chance to text me.

“Hey, I’m not doing great today.  I think I might have eaten a little bit of what made Gabby my producer sick,” I said to him.  “I’m not going to make it to that interview today.  I really don’t feel up to dealing with the producers and camera guy and stuff.  Can you do me a favor and deal with all that for me?”

“Sure, anything for you.” He easily agreed.  “Are you ok?  Do I need to get you a doctor?”

“I’ll be fine,” I assured him.  “I think I just need a day in bed, if it’s not better tomorrow, we’ll see about a doctor.”

I opened my laptop and started doing research.

 

————————-Sober Restart Loop 16—————————

 

I woke up in my hotel room again just as I had for months.  I’d watched the movie “Groundhog Day” over and over.  I’d read Descartes and about reincarnation.  I’d studied half the religions of the world.

It was time to methodically start changing things, one thing each day.

 

————————-Sober Restart Loop 47—————————

 

The text from Tom came just as it had every single morning I hadn’t called him first.

-Great opportunity!!! Only one small catch.

———————————-What’s the catch?

-You have to get a haircut.

I was about to just respond with my usual no, when it occurred to me, this could be the thing I change today.

—————————–That’s a damned big catch.

-It’s a pretty interesting opportunity.  I’m going to email you the details.

I settled down to look at the email.  Tom forwarded an email he’d received inviting me to experience The Pine Grove Center For Personal Growth.  There was a brochure attached to the email.  

The brochure was rather obviously aimed at parents and family members, not the people who would be going to the center.  It promised to take the out of control family member and return them as presentable, cleaned up, polite members of society.

It had a few details about a bootcamp like approach that included lots of exercise, tutoring so they would not fall behind or could catch up academically, and a “proper conservative” haircut.  It was mostly aimed at parents of teens who could simply be forced to attend, but there was a section about ways to manipulate or force reluctant adults into agreeing to attend.  It even said they could help getting a lawyer to set up conservatorships. 

The invitation to actually experience being a “guest” at the center for three days was for two weeks from now.  That obviously wasn’t going to work.  I googled the address, it was only about an hour from the ski lodge I was going to be leaving for in just a half hour.

I picked up the phone and called Tom. “Hi.  I’m not doing the immersion thing.  I’m not going to actually check into this place and let them cut my hair.  What I can do is an interview and tour after I finish up at the ski lodge today.  And it has to be today, if you can arrange it.  I’ll go there around 3 o’clock this afternoon.”

—————————————————

As soon as I finished up the tour of the ski lodge, Paul, my local camera man, and I hopped in the van and started heading out to The Pine Grove Center For Personal Growth, grabbing lunch from a drive-thru on the way.  

We pulled up at the front gate, the place was surrounded by a high metal fence with spikes on top.  As well as a security booth, there was a perky young lady at the gate waiting to escort us.

The whole tour felt like a sales pitch.  Which wasn’t really unfamiliar to me, the tour of the ski lodge had felt like a sales pitch too, but there was this extra level to this.  Plus I had a really strong feeling like the place didn’t live up to the sales pitch I was getting.  This feeling that things were being very deliberately obscured.

————————————————————-

“Did something about that place feel off to you?” I asked Paul as he drove up to the 24 hour diner for a later dinner before dropping me back at the hotel.

“Everything felt off about that place.”. He responded.  “They kept redirecting us, and I just got the feeling they’d rearranged things 5 minutes before we got there.”

“I’m going to have to try again tomorrow,” I sighed.

“Huh?  How would we do that?” Paul asked.  “Besides, we’ve got that horseback riding interview tomorrow.  Though I have to admit, that is going to be a pain in the ass to film, so if you have other ideas, I am all for it.”

I sighed, knowing that the chances that tomorrow would be happening were slim.  I felt like I might be on the right track, but I also had a feeling I’d only just barely scratched the surface and that probably wasn’t enough.

“Let’s just play tomorrow by ear.” I said as we pulled into the diner’s parking lot. 



————————-Sober Restart Loop 73—————————

 

As I’d gone back each day, and steered the conversation a little differently each time, I had become more and more convinced that Pine Grove was somehow the key to the time loop I was stuck in.  After having taken the same tour several times, I’d started just going off in other directions, our nervous guide making excuses about guest privacy to try to keep us on the planned course.  

What I saw was not good. “Guests” seemed more like inmates.  The boys and men all had their hair buzzed down to stubble and wore identical black trousers and white button down shirts, the only variation was some wore navy cardigans and some didn’t.  The girls’ and women’s hair was mostly cropped, not quite as severely  as the boys but messily with little care, but a few here and there were also buzzed down to stubble.  They wore white blouses and black skirts instead of the shirts and trousers, a few had the same navy blue cardigans as the boys.

More disturbing than the uniform clothes and haircuts was that many had visible  bruises.  They definitely acted scared of the staff.

I was pretty sure I’d learned as much as I could by taking the tour and doing the interview.  It was time to go for the immersion.  

When the text came in, and I called Tom, my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest.

“Hi Tom,” I said, keeping my voice as steady as possible.  “I’ll do the immersion, but you’ve got to schedule it for today.  I can’t do it in 2 weeks.  I’ll call the producers and cancel today’s interview, and take Paul straight there this morning.”

Tom had been a bit confused and argued, but in the end I had gotten my way.

———————————————————————

“Hi, you must be CJ,” the same woman, Maddy, who’d given us tours, greated us once again at the gate.   “I’m Maddy.”

She of course introduced herself, not knowing that I had met her dozens of times before.  That was in many ways the hardest part of the time loop, not being able to admit that I knew people who thought we’d only just met.  It was especially hard where Paul was concerned.  Over the dinners at the diner, the long drives, the takeout lunches, I’d gotten to know him rather well and liked him.  Each morning though, Paul thought of me as someone he’d met just one day before and who he had only ever briefly exchanged a few words about camera angles and stuff with.

The immersion was really pretty much like the tour had been, I very much got the feeling I wasn’t getting the real experience as I was talked through the long check in process and simply told that real guests would fill out and sign paperwork that I was skipping.  We had a vaguely edible lunch, not with any guests, then Maddy had taken me to the room I’d be staying in and offered me the uniform, talking about how changing outward appearance helps put one in the right mind frame for inner growth.  

Once I’d changed, we continued.  Nervous as I was having seen the way the guests looked, I knew nothing really bad was going to happen to me with Paul following us around with a camera.

“Paul, there are some young guests in the next room, so can you pause filming for a moment to protect their privacy?” Maddy smiled as we stood in front of one of a door.

“Yeah sure,” Paul lowered the camera, but I noticed the light was still on, he’d be. filming the floor, avoiding capturing faces, but still have the audio to document what was going on.  He was a rather clever camera man.

Maddy slipped through the door without us, and I heard her talking to someone else in the room. “Just take them out for now, and bring them back in an hour.”

Three kids were escorted from the room, a boy with typical teenager slightly shaggy hair, and two girls; one with long dark natural looking hair, and one with shoulder length pink hair.  The girl with pink hair softly sobbing as she passed.

“Come in CJ,” Maddy smiled and beckoned me and Paul to enter.  “As part of the philosophy that outer change makes one more open to inner change, our guests are encouraged to get simple comfortable haircuts when they check in.  To facilitate that, we have renowned stylist Michael Seagull on staff.”

“Hello,” the creepy looking guy said, obviously sizing me up.

“Michael previously worked on movies.”. Maddy said as though I should be impressed.  Of course she wasn’t aware that I had seen Michael’s handy work when I had lived this day before.

“My, that’s impressive.” I decided to play along, as I looked around the room.  It had a few regular wooden waiting chairs against the wall to the left of the door, and a stylist’s chair facing a counter, above it a mirror on the wall.  It was directly across from the door.  To the right of the door was a small cabinet with a set of ponytails on top of it.  “What’s with the ponytails?”

“Oh ummm…”  Maddy stammered, I could tell that wasn’t something I was supposed to have seen.

“Sometimes guests choose to donate their hair to charities.” Michael said smoothly.  “I simply take care of all the paperwork and stuff for them.”

“So, if you’ll just take a seat, Michael can take you through the next step of the Pine Grove experience.” Maddy said with a fake smile.

“Tempting as that offer is,” I said, barely bothering to pretend it wasn’t one I would avoid like the plague, “my contract states that I must consult with my producers before I make any significant changes to my appearance, even haircuts.”

“Oh ummm.”  Maddy obviously hadn’t been prepared for me simply turning down the haircut.  “I guess that would make it a bit of a problem… You aren’t going to get the full immersion experience, but I guess we can just move on.”

“How about I simply put your hair back in a simple french twist.”  Michael offered.  “It will help you fit in, but I’m sure you producers won’t mind.”

I didn’t particularly want Michael touching me at all, but figured it was better to go along.  So I sat nervously in the styling chair, and tried to relax.

Though I was used to having my hair done not at my own request really regularly, I never enjoyed it.  The stylists who came to my dressing room before we filmed each and every show were incredibly nice and would talk to me, but we all knew they weren’t there to do what I wanted, they got their directions from the producers.  Since the stylists were focused on maintaining the set style, when they would suddenly decide it was time to trim a little was rather unpredictable.

The butterfly cut had been spurred by the producers saying they thought my image needed a little extra feminine softness, and this being the stylist’s suggestion for achieving it.  The entire discussion happened between the stylist and the producer, my only inclusion was the stylist asking me a quick “Ok CJ?” after the decision had already been made and she had scissors in her hand.

At least I’d been happy with it when the butterfly cut was done, not everyone on the show was so happy with what the producers wanted.  Once I was in Cloe’s dressing room going over some details about an interview I’d done, when the stylist who had been combing out Cloe’s wet hair remarked that it could use a trim.  Cloe had stated that she was hoping she could grow it out a bit for her wedding in a few months.  

So a producer was called in, and said “no” to growing it out.  He insisted that keeping Cloe’s hair above the shoulders was necessary for the image they wanted for Cloe; a younger, hotter, perkier version of the soccer mom.  So, Cloe sat there as the barely noticeable quarter inch of hair was trimmed away.  It wasn’t a lot of hair, but since it was going to happen regularly for the foreseeable future, it crushed her dream of long hair for her wedding.

It had felt like quite an achievement when I convinced the producer that I could handle blow drying my own hair and putting on my own makeup for this trip.  I think the real motive for giving in wasn’t so much faith in me, but the cost of hiring a stylist to come to my hotel each day.  Especially considering the look we were aiming for was casual and sporty anyway, since all the interviews were set against outdoor activities; snowboarding, skiing, and horseback riding.

Of course this wasn’t a real assignment, I wasn’t actually supposed to be here, I hadn’t even had time to bring the proposal that had been sent to my agent to my producers, who probably would have been completely uninterested.  Though if they had said yes to the segment, they actually might have also said yes to the haircut.  The producers were very fond of drama, and episodes where we covered celebrities getting new looks did always get a lot of views.

If producers were involved, I’m sure there’d be phone calls discussing whether preserving my image was most important or if they thought the drama of letting these weirdos cut off my hair was worth having to create a new look for me.  

As I sat, Michael shook out a styling cape with the logo of a shampoo company on it.  I watched in the mirror feeling icked out everytime he brushed against the skin on my neck as he twisted my hair up, then secured it with a random jumble of mismatched bobby pins he had in a jar.  I suspected he’d just saved them from heads of hair he’d shorn sloppily.

——————————————————————-

“Are you sure you want me to just leave you here tonight?” Paul asked me.  “I feel like something about this place is off.  I feel like they’ve been hiding things.”

Of course he was right, this was a terrible place to leave me, but I needed to see this through, and unfortunately there was no way I could explain to him how I knew that.

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” I assured him.  “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Paul raised his eyebrows at me, and gave me a look.  

“I’m just going to bed at this point.  I’m just going to go to sleep.  Just get here bright and early in the morning and we can see how the schedule they gave me full of meditation works out.”

“It’s against my better judgment,” Paul felt the need to state, “but you are the boss, so it’s your decision.”

“Good night to you too.” I said with a smile.

I went into the room I was assigned to, and changed out of the blouse and skirt into a plain white t-shirt.  I figured I’d do a bit of research till the irresistible urge to fall asleep slightly before midnight hit me like it had every night since this started.

They’d tried to take my laptop from me during my mock check in, but I’d said no, giving the excuse that since I was here as a reporter, I needed to type up my thoughts each night.  There’d been hesitation, and hemming and hawing, but in the end I had won the argument simply by saying there was no point in me doing this if I couldn’t document it properly and I would leave.

I was looking at background I had dug up on Michael Seagull, which was an alternative spelling of his real name.  His film career was short and unimpressive.  He’d been hired as an assistant on just one film and fired halfway through it.

I yawned, and looked up at the clock. it was 11:37.  I was thinking about how the urge to sleep would be hitting in just about 20 minutes, and trying to think of what I wanted to get done before that happened, when I heard a strange rushing sound and everything ended extremely suddenly.



———-Sober Restart Loop 74, or Definitely on the Right Track Loop 1————

 

I startled awake in my hotel bed, sitting straight up panting.  I was wearing the PJs I always did, but it felt different from every other morning.  The sun was nowhere near rising, and my alarm hadn’t gone off.  I was covered in a very cold sweat.  I groped for my phone, and pressed the power button.  

12:02.

I checked the date, February 2nd, Groundhog day.  

Something had happened, but I didn’t have a clue what.

Every single other time I had woken up at a 8 o’clock with my alarm clock going off.  Every single other time, whether I’d just gone to bed, been drugged, tried to stay awake, whatever, there’d been a fading out, and a sense that time had passed and that I’d had a normal night’s sleep.  This time, it had just felt abrupt, I’d been there and now I was here.

This was significant, this meant something.  I was now that much surer I was on the right track to figuring out what had stuck me in this time loop.  I was also completely terrified.

I lay back down and stared up at the dark ceiling.  FUCK!

 

—————-Definitely on the Right Track Loop 10——-————

 

I’d said different things, asked different question, each day, today I was just kind of bored as Paul and I were once again shown to the room with Michael and his stylist chair.

“Come in CJ,” Maddy smiled and beckoned me and Paul to enter.  “As part of the philosophy that outer change makes one more open to inner change, our guests are encouraged to get simple comfortable haircuts when they check in.  To facilitate that, we have renowned stylist Michael Seagull on staff.”

“Hello,” Michael said the same he always did.

“Michael previously worked on movies.”. Maddy said.

“Ok” I just said blandly.

“So, if you’ll just take a seat, Michael can take you through the next step of the Pine Grove experience.” Maddy said with a fake smile.

“No thank you.” I said not bothering to use the excuse I’d been using for days.  

“Oh umm…” Maddy stammered, and I realized she must usually handle someone

just saying no completely differently most of the time.  

“Certainly even though you ‘encourage’ guests to get haircuts they don’t all choose to get one?”  I pointed out.  “I’m sure I’m not the first person who said ‘no thank you.’  I mean you can’t just cut someone’s hair without consent, that would be assault.”

Maddy looked like a deer in headlights. 

“Of course most of our guests are eager to fully participate in everything the center has to offer to help them grow into a better life.” Michael claimed.  “Many of our guests are minors, so of course in their case, the decision is their parents.  For adults, it is their decision, so if they turn down the opportunity to shed this particular reminder of a life they are trying to leave behind, then they are given space to meditate on the subject and the offer is made again later.”

“Well, I guess I will meditate on it.”

 

—————-Definitely on the Right Track Loop 52——-————

 

I’d continued my habit of changing things up each day. I had found if I stayed the night at Pine Grove, the same rushing sound then immediately waking up in my bed back at the hotel.  If I wasn’t there, I woke with my alarm feeling rested.

 I alternated days doing the immersion and just digging into the place with research.  The research reminded me of my days back in college when I had thought I would actually get to do serious journalism.  As I dug, a picture became clear, Pine Grove was a place families sent the inconvenient or embarrassing relatives to be hidden away.  I just wished that I was able to save notes from day to day, instead of relying on memory. though relying on it was honing it as a skill.

On the days I was at Pine Grove, I tried changing all kinds of things, so far none had stood out as the key to breaking this loop.  This morning, staring in the mirror waiting for the invitation to be a guest at Pine Grove while I blow dried my hair, I realized there was one thing that I hadn’t tried yet.

If this worked and broke the loop, I was going to be pissed that I had to live with the consequences of it for a couple of years.  Nevermind the producers were going to be pissed.  Of course, they were already going to be pissed that I was skipping the ski lodge tour.  

—————————————-

Paul and I were once again shown to the room with Michael and his stylist chair.

“Come in CJ,” Maddy smiled and beckoned me and Paul to enter.  “As part of the philosophy that outer change makes one more open to inner change, our guests are encouraged to get simple comfortable haircuts when they check in.  To facilitate that, we have renowned stylist Michael Seagull on staff.”

“Hello,” Michael said the same way he always did.

“Michael previously worked on movies.”. Maddy said.

“Cool” I just said nervously.

“So, if you’ll just take a seat, Michael can take you through the next step of the Pine Grove experience.” Maddy said with a fake smile.

“Ok,” I swallowed as I nervously sat in the seat, looking at Paul who looked a bit shocked that I was going along with this as he looked at his camera, I suspected if he’d seen Michael’s handiwork like I had, he would have spoken up to stop this.  “Make sure you’ve got a good camera angle, because we can’t repeat this.”

“I gotcha,” Paul assured me.

“It’s not going to be too severe is it?”  I asked Micheal with fear thinking of the sloppy crops I had seen what felt like months ago.

“Don’t worry,” Michael assured me as he swung the cape with the shampoo logo over me, and fastened it under my long locks.  “Just a gentle transformation to help with embracing growth and change.”

As Micheal began combing my hair, he said to Maddy, “I ran out of water in my spray bottle earlier today during my last haircut could you fill it?”

I watched Maddy pick up the spray bottle from the counter, I saw a spider web break, and the spider scurry away.  There was a slight clean circle in the dust left where the bottle had been sitting.  He was obviously lying, he hadn’t used that spray bottle in days, possibly weeks.

He just kept combing through my long blonde locks as we waited for Maddy to return with water.  

“I would suggest donating it, but if I’m not mistaken,” Michael said as he examined the strands he comb glided through, “You dye your hair.”

“My regular stylist just lightens the color very slightly.” I admitted feeling a bit embarrassed about being the typical bottle blonde.

When Maddy got back, Michael wet my long hair down, then picked up the scissors, which didn’t have dust around them, from the counter.  He combed down my neck, to just above my shoulders and inserted the blades under the comb.  I felt the cold metal on my neck, as I heard the hiss of the blades severing my long layers.  I listen to the long locks slither down the nylon cape, then plop to the floor.

I let out the breath I’d been holding.  He wasn’t cropping my hair the way I had seen on the guests the time I diverted from the tour.  I watched nervously in the mirror as my hair was trimmed into a boring blunt lob.

When I stood up, I was only a little shaky. It was a competently done blunt lob, but nobody under 30 had blunt lobs any more.  It wasn’t as bad a haircut as I had been scared it would be, but it sure as hell wasn’t a fashionable one.



—————-Definitely on the Right Track Loop 52——-————

 

I startled awake just after midnight in my hotel room, in my pajamas.  I raised a shaky hand to my head and ran it down the length of my hair.  To my overwhelming relief, it went all the way down past my shoulders, to the long layers that hung around my waist.

I just started laughing hysterically with a weird relief.  I sat there just feeling grateful that that hadn’t been the key to the loop.  I’d been terrified I was going to wake up February 3rd with a bad haircut.

 

———-Definitely on the Right Track Loop 82, or Undercover Loop 1————

 

I was pretty sure I had learned everything I could from research and while being escorted around by Maddy.  I took a deep breath and picked up the phone.

“Hello?” the familiar voice said really groggily.

“Hi Tom,”  I said to him.  “I’m sorry to wake you up so early, but I need you to help me make it seem like my family is blackmailing me to check myself into The Pine Grove Center For Personal Growth.”

“Huh?”  Tom.

“Oh, and I’m going to use my full name, Carol, so they hopefully won’t realize I’m CJ the reporter.” I continued to explain hoping he was awake enough that information was sinking in.  “They may contact you later today inviting me there, just act like you don’t know anything about the place.”

“CJ,” Tom said still a bit groggy, but awake enough to sound worried. “This doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

I sighed, how was I supposed to tell him he was right, but that I had to find out what had trapped me in this loop.  I took it slow and just focused on what I needed him to do, not explaining why.

———————————————-

Checking in had been a little bit like a cross between the being checked into the psych ward in the loop where I had tried to get people to belive me about the loop thing, and getting arrested for disturbing the peace during one of the loops where I had given up and was just drinking all day, but much less professional.  I was pretty sure as we were going through it, that I could pretty easily sneak in a small camera or phone, the search was done so poorly.

I’d brought Paul along to pose as being a representative for my family, who supposedly were holding the gambling debts I had over my head saying they would only make the payments to my bookie if I agreed to stay at Pine Grove for a few months.  Paul had left once I was signed in.

I’d changed into the white blouse and black skirt, and was being shown to the room I knew was Michael’s little salon, much more quickly then when I’d been here as a reporter, but of course, I had to act like I had no idea where we were heading.  

“Sit down, and wait.  It’s a busy morning.”  The lady who had walked me to the room ordered then just left.  

I looked around.  Michael was hacking off the hair of a sobbing girl with trustafarian dreads.  

“God this stuff is disgusting,” he grumbled at her, while he sawed at the base of a dread with a big pair of shears.  “do you ever wash it?”

The girl just sobbed harder instead of answering.  Michael suddenly noticed I was there.  

“Sit down, I’ll get to you in a minute,” he ordered me not bothering to fake being nice like he had when he knew I was a reporter.

I sat, as I watched the last of the girl’s long dreads hit the floor.  Her hair was still a bit matted looking.  I sort of expected him to start trying to comb it out, but he didn’t.  He just grabbed a set of clippers from a charger sitting on the counter and flicked them on.  He placed them against her forehead, and began to pull the clippers across her scalp, shaving her down so just slight blond stubble that her pale scalp glared through.  I watched the matted hair begin to hang loose, but not fall since it was still matted to other hair still on her head.  He brought the clippers back to her forehead again, and started a second pass, a few chunks of hair fell to her caped shoulder with the second pass, but others remained tangled.  It took maybe ten minutes for him to buzz away the last matted tufts, leaving her with a completely bare head.

“Go sit and wait for someone to come and get you.”  He barked orders at the sobbing girl as soon as he’d taken the cape off her, then he turned to me.  “I’m ready for you princess.”

“You’re ready for what?”  I asked as I stared at him standing surrounded by the cut off dreads.

Michael looked at me with a calculating gaze, and shifted his expression.

“Don’t worry,” he said in his fake nice tone.  “I’m not going to have to shave your head since your hair isn’t matted.  We’ll just start with checking for lice.  Nothing to be nervous about.  So come sit.”

I knew he was lying.  I knew he was just saying that to make me come to his chair willingly, figuring that getting me in the chair would make it easier to talk me into accepting the haircut.  I also had no good way to say no to letting him check for lice since it was a pretty reasonable part of check in.

I got up and went over to the stylist chair.  I would just have to be cautious to be clear saying no to the haircut I knew I was going to be offered.  I sat nervously as Michael started shaking the cape and swinging it over me.

“You don’t need a cape to check for nits.” I pointed out.

“I just find it easier to see them against the black fabric.”  He claimed.

He started parting my hair with his grubby fingers.  I sat there thinking it was more likely there were nits on his fingers than in my hair.  He pushed my head around, looking it over closely.

“This is dyed?” He asked.

“Why do you care?” I challenged him.

“Nevermind,” he said, and bent forward and picked up the scissors on the counter.

“Hey,” I said standing up and pulling off the cape. “You said this was just a lice check.”

“I said we were starting with a lice check,”  he said slickly.  “Sit down, it’s just going to be a little trim.”

I didn’t believe that for a second.  I wasn’t totally sure if he was planning to cut it to just above my shoulders like he had when he knew I was a reporter, or if he planned to crop it the way I had seen on guests when I had diverted the tour.  Either way, I wasn’t letting him do it.

“No,” I stated.

“Do you think you have a choice?” He challenged in a calm but menacing tone.

“If you cut my hair without my consent that’s assault, and I will press charges.” I warned him.

“Do you want your family hearing that you aren’t participating in our process?”  He threatened.

“I don’t give a shit.” I chuckled truthfully.

I’m sure that was an effective threat pretty often, but of course I wasn’t actually here because of my family.  I stood there firmly, confident that I had won and I would be skipping the haircut.

“Fine, you can meditate on the subject.”  Michael said with what sounded strangely like confidence that I would change my mind after a little meditation,  “Go sit and wait for someone to come get you.”

I rolled my eyes, and went and sat in one of the waiting chairs, next to the sobbing girl who’d been shorn to stubble.  Michael started sweeping up the dread locks and short matted tufts scattered around the chair.  The lady who had dropped me off earlier, came back after a while.

“Hi Gladys,” Michael said, then nodded towards me.  “That one needs to meditate on being willing to participate in our process for a little while.”

“I see that.” Gladys chuckled.  “I’ll drop her off at one of the meditation rooms, then come back to take the cry baby to lunch.  We’ll see if she’s ready to be cooperative after she’s spent lunch in the meditation room.”

I rolled my eyes at the idea that having lunch by myself in some peaceful setting was going to make me reconsider letting that creep cut off my hair.

“If she’s the only one, I’m not going to stick around all afternoon waiting in case she changes her mind.  I suspect she’s going to need more than a few hours.”  Michael said.  “It’s not worth my time anyway.  That hair is pretty worthless, it’s heavily layered, and I suspect she dyes it.”

“Stick around.  We’ve got 3 new ones coming this afternoon.” Gladys informed him.  “Two girls, so a decent chance at least one of them will have a salable ponytail for you.”

“We’ll see.”  Michael said while he poked the sobbing girl’s dreadlocks in the dust pan with the broom.  “Look at this worthless crap.”

“The parents will be glad to see that gone.”  Gladys observed.  “But yeah, nobody’s giving you two cents for it.”

Somehow, I wasn’t surprised that the ponytails weren’t actually being donated.

—————————————————————-

“Here we are Carol.” Gladys smiled at me as she opened the door next to the small plaque that read Meditation Room 4. “Meditate on your willingness to go along with the program, and I’ll see you after lunch.”

I could barely see into the dark room that Gladys was directing me to enter ahead of her.  I just barely stepped in and waited for Gladys to follow and turn on the light.  Instead of coming in though, Gladys shut the door behind me.  The room went from dark and shadowy because the light coming through the door wasn’t adequate to see, to pitch black.  I heard a click.

“Gladys?!”  I called out as I carefully reached out to feel for the wall.  “GLADYS?!

I groped around trying to find a light switch near the door.  I tried the door handle.  I threw my weight against the very solid door.  I stumbled around the small room that was probably only about the size of my walk-in closet at home.  The only thing I found was a bucket in the corner, I hoped it wasn’t for what I thought it was.  No light switch, no window, no chair, not even a matt, just the cold cement floor.

I had no idea how long I had been sitting in the corner opposite the door, when it opened and a flashlight was shined directly at my face, keeping me blinded.

“Ready to get with the program Carol?”  Gladys asked me.

“Is it lunch time?” I asked.

“Lunch was an hour ago.” Gladys chuckled. “Lunch is part of the program, and you rejected the step in the program that comes before lunch.  Now, do you want to start participating in the program and come let Michael give you a trim before dinner time?”

I was hungry, but not that hungry.  “No.”

“Meditate more then, and I’ll ask you again in the morning.”

Gladys shut the door again, leaving me there.  I prayed I would wake up in my hotel room.  As the time passed with no way for me to track it, I grew more and more fearful that I had broken the loop just to end up trapped in an even worse hell.  I kept reminding myself that if the loop was broken, Tom and Paul had strict instructions to come and get me in the morning.

When I thought I would go completely mad, I heard the rushing sound, and it was over.

 

———-Undercover Loop 2————

 

I startled awake in the bed at the hotel.  Even with all the lights off and the semi-opaque curtains drawn, it was much brighter than Meditation Room 4 had been.  I pulled the blanket around myself, curled up in a ball, and just started crying.

 

————————-Undercover Loop 32—————————

 

I stood in front of the mirror, brushing out my hair.  I’d avoided the haircut each day, but doing so had kept me from making any progress.  

If I refused to let Michael near my hair, I ended up locked in Meditation Room 4.  If I had Paul tell them my family didn’t want my hair cut, they kept me isolated like when they knew I was a reporter.  I closed my eyes and swallowed.  

It was time to give up.  It was time to give in.  Paul would be here soon with the miniature camera for me to hide in my bra, then he’d be taking me to Pine Grove again.

———————————————-

 I watched as Michael once again finished buzzing the girl’s dreadlocks off. 

“Go sit and wait for someone to come and get you.”  He barked, then he turned to me.  “I’m ready for you princess.”

I couldn’t make it seem too easy, so I asked “You’re ready for what?”

“Don’t worry,” he lied in his fake nice tone.  “I’m not going to have to shave your head since your hair isn’t matted.  We’ll just start with checking for lice.  Nothing to be nervous about.  So come sit.”

I sat nervously as Michael started shaking the cape and swinging it over me.  He pushed my head around, looking it over closely.

“This is dyed?” He asked.

“Yeah.”

“Oh well,” he said, and bent forward and picked up the scissors on the counter.

“Hey,” I said, but didn’t bother standing up and pulling off the cape like I had before. “You said this was just a lice check.”

“I said we were starting with a lice check,”  he said slickly.  “Now relax.  It’s just going to be a little trim.”

“No,” I stated.

“Do you think you have a choice?” He challenged.

“If you cut my hair without my consent that’s assault?” I told him, but this time I tried to sound less sure.

“Do you want your family hearing that you aren’t participating in our process?”  He threatened.

I decided I would pretend that actually was important to me, and just acted the way I figured most did before giving in.  “You fucking asshole!”

“Just sit still and don’t make my day hard and I won’t take it all off like I did on her,” Micheal gestured at the sobbing girl.

I sat nervously dreading what was about to happen.   Michael, lifted a thick lock at the crown of my head straight up. He raised the sharp silver blades to it, just a couple of inches from my scalp.

Schhnap 

Michael carelessly dropped the bright lock down to the floor which was still covered in dreadlocks.  He lifted another lock, he didn’t bother to comb either this new one or the one he’d cut before it.  He didn’t bother to match them up.  He just roughly estimated the same distance as before, and placed the scissors.

Ssssnip

Michael kept snapping off lock after lock, only approximating the length.  I was obviously getting the rough crop, not the blunt lob.  

I blinked and felt a warm drop roll down my cheek.  Michael obviously didn’t care as he pushed my head to the side, so he could hack off the soft layers around my ears to choppy tufts.

He inserted the scissor into the face framing layers  halfway up my forehead.  The blonde locks fell before my eyes down to my lap, landing in the black nylon stretch between my knees.  I was left with short slanted bangs.

I had never had my own hair cut really short before, the lob was the shortest I’d ever gone, but I’d seen enough short haircuts done to know how carelessly this one was being done.

Michael shoved my head forward so he could chop off the hair at the nape of my neck.  I was forced to stare down at the light colored locks that had been my face framing layers while I felt the hair on the back of my head lifted up, pulled uncomfortably taut, then the tightness released with the sound of the scissors crunching through my longest locks.

I felt the cold blades held flat directly against my neck.  It didn’t feel like he was shaping the neckline, just getting rid of the wispy arches that extended down to points on my neck.

Michael buried his fingers into the short hair at the crown of my head, clutched it painfully tight, and pulled me up roughly by it to look at the mirror.  I stared at my reflection, my hair was roughly cropped short, my makeup had run with my tears, my eyes were red.

“See,” Michael chuckled cruelly, “just a little trim.”

Michael ruffled his grubby hand through my hair briefly, and snipped off a few long stragglers, then started removing the hair covered cape.

“She’s all yours Gladys,” Michael announced as he turned towards the waiting chairs.

“That should take her down a peg or two,” Gladys, whom I hadn’t noticed come in and sit down, observed.  “Hopefully we’ll have an attitude adjustment with all that pretty pretty princess hair gone.  I’m surprised you didn’t get a ponytail out of it.”

“The ponytails are never worth much when it’s that heavily layered,” Michael explained like he wasn’t talking about my hair right in front of me.  “And it was lightened, which makes it completely worthless.  Though not as bad as those dreadlocks, I’d be scared they’d make the whole collection stink of patchouli if I tried to save them.”

“The parents were very eager for the dreadlocks to be gone when they dropped that one off.” Gladys shared as she turned and looked down at the sobbing girl.  “That one actually looks better bald than she did with that disgusting mess.”

“Any reason for me to bother sticking around longer?”  Michael asked.  “I’d rather just deal with any late arrivals tomorrow morning unless there’s something good.”

“We’re expecting three after lunch, two girls so decent chance of something worthwhile.” Gladys said to him.

“I guess I’ll stick around then.”

“Come on Carol and crybaby,” Gladys said walking towards the door.  “Since you were good girls for your haircuts, you get to join the others for lunch.”

 

————————-Undercover Loop 71—————————

 

I stood as unobtrusively as possible in a corner near Gladys’ office.  I’d just figured out yesterday, that this was another spot where the heating vents made eavesdropping good.

I’d found several such spots, and had learned a lot since I’d given up and just started letting Michael hack off my hair each day.  It had almost stopped mattering to me, since each time I startled awake just after midnight, my long blonde layers were back.  Today, I hadn’t said no, just begged him not to make it too short.  I hadn’t called him an asshole, I’d even said please while begging him to not go too short.  I just sat politely looking a bit sad.  He’d still roughly cropped my hair very short, but he hadn’t been as deliberately mean about it, it was pretty even, and the too short bangs weren’t slanted.

In previous loops, my eavesdropping had informed me that Maddy was contacting a dozen or so reporters with the same invitation I had gotten in an attempt to generate business and to try to silence critics.  I’d learned that Pine Grove billed families $300 for the damned shitty haircuts, and Michael got $100 of that, plus of course he got the ponytails to sell.  I’d learned that they had to bribe the fire inspector frequently and some other inspectors too.

Eavesdropping also got me enough information about staff to look them up.  Almost half of them had lost licenses to practice whatever they did in some other state.  

The program itself was a joke.  Guided meditation time was us just being put in a room and told to shut up and think about why we were there.  Exercise was being sent to another room and told to do calisthenics.  Hikes were us walking the inside of the fence perimeter while a staff member stood near the door and watched.

I’d gotten it all on video using the little camera hidden in my bra, well except the haircuts, since the cape covered the camera lense.  The problem though was that at the end of each day, it was like none of it ever happened.  Whatever I recorded here eavesdropping near Gladys’ office would be gone at the end of the day.  I listened anyway, whatever I recorded on my last loop would have to be sufficient, if I could just figure out what the key to this was.

“Gladys, I don’t know what to do!!!” the voice said sounding on the edge of panic.

“What happened?” Gladys’ familiar voice asked.

“She hit her head, and then had a seizure and now isn’t moving.”  The panicked voice explained.  “I think she might be dead.”

“Who?” Gladys asked firmly.

“Peggy Smith.” 

“Ok, that’s not too bad.” Gladys said with what sounded like relief.

I wonder how the hell could the name of the potentially dead person make this situation less bad.

“Peggy’s stepmom isn’t going to sue us.”  Gladys explained.  “She won’t make a fuss at all, she wanted that girl gone anyway.”

I stood there feeling cold at the callous attitude towards Peggy, who admittedly I’d never met, but was a fellow human.

“How did she hit her head, does it look like a legitimate accident?” 

“She found out she turned 18 already,”  The panicked voice told the story.  “Some one casually mentioned that it was Groundhog Day near her.  When she found out it was Groundhog Day, she knew that we were lying to her.  As soon as she realized she was legally an adult she started making a huge fuss about how she was leaving and we couldn’t keep her here anymore.  I was trying to make her sit and trying to come up with something I could tell her to make her stay, but her stepmother doesn’t really have anything to hold over the girl.  It’s not like with most of the adults.  As soon as that girl turned 18 legally the money from her father’s estate reverted into her control.  Her stepmom only had control of it while she was a minor.  I was just supposed to hide the birthday from her long enough for the stepmom to get a conservatorship for Peggy, so she could keep Peggy here indefinitely.”

“So there was a struggle?”  Gladys asked and paused, I assume the panicked woman nodded.  “Did you leave any bruises when you were trying to make her sit?  Anything that makes it look like more than just an accident.”

“I don’t know.” The panicked voice moaned.  

“Well show me,” Gladys said.  “The faster we take care of this the better our chances of just sweeping it under the rug without an investigation we don’t want.”

I watched Gladys and the panicked person walk down the hall in the opposite direction, my heart pounding that they might see me, but fortunately their backs were turned..

When they were finally out of sight, I let out the breath I’d been holding.  I wasn’t a lawyer, so I wasn’t sure if that was second degree murder, felony murder, or manslaughter, but I sure as hell knew it was something criminal and it sounded like it wasn’t the first time.

I knew that if I looped again, I had to get to Peggy Smith before they did.  This must be the key to not looping: Save Peggy Smith.

 

————————-Undercover Loop 78—————————

 

“Hi Mom, sorry to call so early,” I said into the phone nervously.  “I need a really big favor. I need you to send me enough stuff that I can pose as Nora.”

**Why do you want to pose as your little sister?** my mother asked. the obvious question.

I sighed, trying to think how to explain it to her.  I’d figured out the only way to get close to Peggy Smith was to be placed with the teenagers instead of the adults.

“I need to get into somewhere only teenagers are allowed, because I’m following a lead.”  I explained, then realizing it wasn’t a great explanation added, “I don’t have time to get into detail, can you please just trust me that it’s important?”

**Ok CJ,** Mom agreed, since she was big on trusting us.  **Text me a list of what you need, but it will probably take a bit for me to arrange to have it sent, I’m up in Monterey, not home in LA.**

——————————————————-

It was almost noon by the time I was ready to be checked into Pine Grove under my sister’s name.  Things were a bit different from when I was checked in as an adult.  I wasn’t required to sign anything, no threats were made since I didn’t need to be convinced to cooperate.  

As soon as I was checked in, I was taken to go change my clothing.  We were one flight of stair up from where they kept the adults.  It was also different people taking me around than when I had checked in as an adult.  I carefully hid the little camera in my bra by simply acting shy.  

As we were walking towards Michael’s room, I noticed we passed to the meditation rooms.  It felt like it might be useful information how close the meditation rooms were to the stairs up to the floor with the teenagers.

When we got to the room that was set up like a bit of a mini-salon, it was late enough that the three young people were there waiting, instead of the girl with the dreads.  I was just told to take the last seat after the staff member who was waiting with them.  

“Hey Susan” Michael said to the staff member as he returned to the room, I assume from his lunch break.  “Gladys said there were only three this afternoon?”

“Blondie here was an unexpected addition this morning.”  Susan said about me, not caring that I was listening.  “Mom seems barely involved. Just informed us the kid would be brought in by some representative she hired, but wasn’t sure exactly when.  She’s some Hollywood celebrity, guess the kids are just for show.”

Mom had been a reasonably involved parent when I was actually still a kid, her current lack of involvement in my day to day life was just part of the normal letting go that came with my transition to adulthood.  I hated that they were making that assumption about her, but of course it fit the narrative of being sent here.

“Hmmm.”  Michael then asked, “Any special instructions?”

“The parents all just gave us permission to do whatever we usually do.” Peggy simply said, but then added.  “We warned the parents of the one with the pink hair, that we’d be getting rid of the pink, and they were perfectly happy with that since they said her dying it was the last straw in their decision to send her here anyway.”

I looked over at the others, the boy with the shaggy hair just looking mildly pissed, the girl with long dark hair looking scared, and the girl with the pink hair was already sobbing.  I had a sinking feeling that getting rid of the pink didn’t mean dying over it.

“Let’s get started kid,” Michael said to the boy with the shaggy brown hair sitting in the first seat.

“Whatever.”  The kid just rolled his eyes and walked over to the chair.  “It’s not like I care.  They cut it all off at the military academy, grew back when I got expelled.”

The amount of protest from the kid made me suspect a bit of false bravado.  Michael just ignored him and shook out the nylon cape before draping it over the kid.  Michael lifted the same clippers he’d used on the girl with the dreads.  

Michael placed the humming clippers on the kid’s forehead and just started pulling them slowly back.  The path left behind was a fine brown stubble over the pale scalp.  The kid’s hair simply slid down, onto his shoulders then down the back of the cape to the floor.  It took just a few minutes for Michael to reduce the kid’s whole head to stubble.

“All done kid.” Michael said in a bored tone as he unfastened the cape, and turned to the girl with the long brown hair.  “Hurry up, you’re next.”

“What are you going to do?”. She asked fearfully.

“We’ll just start with a lice check.”  Michael used the same lie he’d used on me many times.

“Start?” She picked up on the catch in the phrasing.

“If you are cooperative the girls get to keep it longer.” Michael said coolly.  “If you aren’t cooperative, you get the same cut as the boys.  Are you going to get in the chair now?”

She got up slowly, obviously reluctant, but forcing herself to do it anyway.  She walked over to the chair, and sat down as Michael shook the cape again.  He swung it over her, at first trapping her long straight brown hair under it.  He pulled her long hair out from the neck of the cape, and tossed it in front of her shoulder and retightened the collar.

He took his comb and began to carefully examine the hair.  He very quickly parted it just above her neck, and looked closely, but then started looking over the length of it.

“Have you ever dyed or permed this?”  He asked her.

“No” she answered nervously.

“Perfect,”  Michael said.

Up to this point, all of this had gone really similarly to how my numerous haircuts had gone.  What happened next was rather different though.  He started very carefully combing through the long locks, smoothing them around the girl.  I’m sure he was giving her false hop that she was about to get a pretty decent haircut, but I suspected that the care he was showing had a very different motive.

He picked up a pair of alligator clips from the counter, and clipped most of her hair forward leaving just a bit hanging down her back.  He smoothed it out, and lifted it up as a bundle.  

While holding the bundle tightly in a fist, he picked up the large shears, and raised them to the handful of hair.  He placed the silver blades just an inch or so from her scalp, and closed the scissors.

Sssssschomp

The girl sat there, nervous and sad looking.  I knew she couldn’t actually see how short he had cut it in the back, she was probably holding out hope for a fairly feminine haircut.  Since he had started at the base of her neck, thinking he might do a bob was still a pretty reasonable assumption.  It would be what I would have assumed if I hadn’t been here before.

He held the bundle of hair tightly as he walked to the counter.  He picked up an elastic, and began to fasten it around the cut end of the bundle.  He placed the fastened hair down on the cabinet off to the side where he had a small collection of ponytails already.  

Michael returned to the girl, undid one of the clips, and combed out a new section of hair before replacing the clip.  The girl furrowed her brow as she watched Michael once again raise the blades to her shiny hair.  She visibly cringed as the blades closed.

Ssssrrrrrunch

He had once again cut the swath of hair close to the back of her head, leaving little more than inch long tufts.  Just higher up this time.  It was obvious as he worked that the care and time he was taking was about making sure the hair he harvested was as long and well ordered as possible, and not to make what he left behind look nice.  

He kept just working forward on the same side of her head, not bothering t worry about symmetry. Michael pulled the hair above her ear straight out, not bothering to shape it as he cut it off.  As it became more and more obvious that her hair was simply being cropped short all over, the glimmer of hope that she would be getting a bob or bowl cut, or even a decent pixie faded from her face.  She went from looking nervous to just looking defeated.  Especially when the scissors closed on the hair right in the front be her part, eliminating the possibility of having anything on top.

As Michael cut the hair from the other side of her head, he didn’t do anything to make it match beyond that it was all very short.  When he cut the last lock, he tended to the harvest, leaving the girl just sitting looking at her unevenly cropped hair forgotten.  After he’d put the small rubberband around the last lock, he took out a cable tie and bound the locks together into a thick ponytail.

When he was done with the ponytail, he went back to the chair with the sad girl.  He spent barely a minute snapping off any vaguely long lock, but not bothering to really even out her hair or shape the perimeter.  Then he simply took off the cape.

“There you go.” he said,  “longer than what the boys get.”

“Barely.” She spit out the truth.

“If you don’t want to lose anymore, you’ll say ‘thank you,’ and go sit in the waiting chair politely.” Michael warned her.

“Thank you,” she said with no conviction as she got up and went to the waiting chair next to the pink haired girl.

“You’re next.” Michael stated looking at the crying pink haired girl. 

She got up, her shoulders low as she hung her head already in a defeated pose.  She just sat in the styling chair silently staring at the mirror looking at the cheerful bright pink color that had angered her parents enough to send her here with the knowledge it would be gotten rid of.  Michael shook the slight scraps of the brown haired girl’s lock to the floor and swung the cape over the pink haired girl.

Michael didn’t bother with the scissors, just picking up the same clippers he’d used on the boy.  Just as with the boy, he placed the bare bladed humming clippers on the girl’s forehead.

As he pulled the clippers back, the shoulder length pink locks slid away down the sides of the girls head and landed on her shoulders.  Left behind was a strip of pink stubble.

“When did you dye this?” Michael demanded of the girl with annoyance, as he placed the clippers back at her forehead and widened the stubble.

“Yesterday,” she sniffled in a small voice.

“There’s no roots here yet.”  Michael turned to the staff member.  “I’m not going to be able to get all the pink off by buzzing it.”

“The pink has to go,” the staff lady insisted. “It’s not just that it’s something her parents requested, it’s a matter of discipline.”

“Assuming I won’t be going to the expense and trouble of dying over it.  We can either wait a week or two and buzz it down again,” Michael explained as he started buzzing away the hair around the girl’s ear, locks sliding into her lap, “or I’m going to have to shave her to the skin.”

“No, please don’t shave me.” the girl begged, obviously terrified of that final stage for some reason even though she was already damned near bald anyway.

“I can’t have her walking around with pink stubble.  And keeping her isolated for two weeks will be a pain.” The woman answered Michael ignoring the girl’s pleas. “Shave it all the way.”

“I don’t keep shaving supplies here.” Michael stated as he continued to run the clippers over the girl’s head going up the back.  “I’m going to need water, shaving foam or soap, and a safety razor.  You guys have that right?  You make the boys shave everyday.”

“Yeah,” she said getting up. “I’ll go get the foam and razors.  How do you want the water?”

“Fill that spray bottle with water as hot as the tap goes.” Michael nodded at the spray bottle I knew a spider had spun a web on.

She picked up the bottle, ripping the web and sending the spider I could barely see from the distance scurrying.  Michael continued buzzing off the last of the girl’s cheerfully colored locks, sending them to the floor to join the boy’s shaggy brown hair.

“Go wait for Susan to get back.” Michael said to the girl with the pink stubble as he took the cape off her, then he turned to me.  “Come on blondie. I can take care of you in the meantime.”

As the girl with the pink stubble slunk back to the waiting chair, I stood and approached the chair.

“Please don’t cut it too short.” I begged, trying to sound contrite, knowing it would make him a little less cruel and rough.

“Yeah, yeah.” Michael said in a bored tone.

I sat in the chair and let Michael drape the cape over me as he’d done before.  He roughly moved my head around as he looked over my hair.  

“Yeah you dyed this shit didn’t you?” he asked me as always, maybe a little more impatiently it being the end of the day and him only having gotten a single salable ponytail out of it.  I just stayed silent, worried that while posing as a teen admitting it might get me buzzed down the way the pink haired girl had been.  “This shit’s worthless.”

Having determined that he couldn’t sell it for wigs or extenion, he no longer felt any need to be careful.  He simply grabbed a large shears.  He grabbed a chunk of hair, held it out, and began to hack away.  I stared blankly ahead as the hair I loved was once again cut off.  The sound as the sharp blade bit into the dry hair.  He simply dropped the handful of hair to the floor and grabbed another.  There was no care about style, just a desire to remove the hair quickly and efficiently 

He simply moved my head around by tugging the hair how he needed me to bend, not caring if it was painful.  I tried to just go along, not fighting it, knowing that if I didn’t resist it would pull less.  Knowing that as long as I was polite Michael wouldn’t deliberately make it hurt like he did if I pissed him off.  Michael dropped the long locks to the floor.

“Here you go,” Susan announced as she returned.

She casually placed the spray bottle, can of shaving cream and a couple of disposable razors on the counter in front of me.  Though I knew the items weren’t actually meant for me, something about the way they were placed in front of me made my stomach flip.  I glanced over at the terrified looking teenager with pink stubble.

“I’m done with this one,” Michael said as he took the cape off me, my hair once again chopped off in a careless crop.  “Shaving that one is going to take a bit, why don’t you take these others off while I deal with it.”

“You don’t think you might need me if that one gives you trouble?”  Susan asked as I stood up and stepped over the mound of my long hair on the floor.

“I expect she’s going to sit very still for me.” Michael said rather confidently facing the scared girl.  “Since I am going to remind her right now, that shaved off hair grows back, but if she causes me to cut her with the razor, the same can’t be said for places where there are scars.  You’re going to sit nice and still aren’t you?”

The scared girl nodded solemnly, resigned to her fate.  Her eyes were big as she stood on shaky legs, and started heading back to Michael’s chair.

“Come on, you lot.” Susan ordered as she opened the door.

As I walked through the door, I glanced back at Michael draping the cape over the scared girl he was about to shave the last of the pink hair from.

————————————————————

As we walked towards the stairwell back up to the teen section, I noticed once again we passed the mediation rooms, after that I paid particular attention to the fact that we didn’t pass any more locked doors before we were upstairs.  I was beginning to form a plan, but of course, I still didn’t have enough information.

—————————————————————

After dinner, I still hadn’t found Peggy Smith yet as I sat pretending to study from the out of date SAT preparation book I’d been handed and looking around at the dozens of bored looking silent teenagers “studying.”  The brochure had said there would be academic instruction.  In reality, we were handed study guides and told to sit down, shut up, and read them.  

Susan sat in one corners, scrolling through facebook on her phone.  The “teacher” was playing chess online on a laptop.

The big difference between the adult section and the teen section seemed to be that adults would occasionally threaten to check themselves out and staff actually took the threats seriously enough to remind them of supposed consequences of doing so.  Teens of course didn’t have that option.  Though I’d gotten the impression many of the adults’ families had conservatorships that meant they also didn’t get to check themselves out.

I knew that we were probably getting pretty close to when the accident with Peggy happened, Though it was possible that me just being here had changed something else and interrupted the chain of events that led up to Peggy overhearing the date and figuring out she could just leave.

“Hey, Susan.”  Another staff member came in.  “I’ve got the overnight shift tonight.  Is it ok if Janet stays late so I can go out for a couple of hours?  I’ll leave at 7 and be back before 9.  My kid’s elementary school is doing a play for Groundhog Day. he’s playing the groundhog’s shadow.”

“Is today Groundhog Day?” A girl looked up from a GED practice test.

Susan put her finger up to her lips in the classic ssshhh gesture.

“Yeah, it’s Groundhog Day,” the boy who’d had shaggy hair just a few hours ago spoke up.  “Who gives a shit, it’s the lamest holiday in existence.”

“It is a lame holiday,” the girl said coldly, staring at Susan. “It’s a lame holiday that happens to fall the week after my birthday.”

“Peggy…just calm down.” Susan said as Peggy started getting up from her seat.

“Don’t give me that bullshit. I’m 18 now.”   Peggy was laughing strangely.  “Yesterday you reminded me again that I could check myself out after my birthday, and you fucking knew I was 18 already.  I’m leaving NOW!”

Peggy started walking towards the door.  Susan got up and blocked her about halfway to it.

“Peggy, be reasonable.” Susan reached her hands out towards Peggy.  “Sit down, it’s almost 7 o’clock, it’s too late to check out tonight.”

NO!” 

Peggy tried to push past Susan. There was an open seat behind Peggy, Susan started pushing back, obviously trying to steer Peggy into the seat.

“It’s cold outside Peggy,” Susan said, “and a 2 mile walk to the nearest business.  You’ll die of hypothermia before you make it to a place you can make a phone call from.”

“I’m leaving.” Peggy shifted her weight to try to side step around Susan.  

Susan, instead of letting her, tried to twist Peggy back towards the chair, obviously putting muscle into the action.  Susan had at least 20 pounds on the slender girl, so easily put enough muscle into it that Peggy was pushed towards the chair.  Susan had also hooked a foot behind Peggy’s leg trying to force her to sit. The problem was that it wasn’t Peggy’s butt that was falling towards the chair as I’m sure had been Susan’s plan, Peggy had lost her balance completely and her head was falling towards the chairs back with extra momentum from the way Susan had been pushing her back and down.

Even though I had kind of known it was coming, the twack as Peggy’s head hit the chair made my heart stop as a sickening feeling went through me.  Peggy fell to the floor and started twitching as a pool of blood grew behind her head.  The twitching only lasted 30 seconds or so, and then Peggy just lay there completely still.

Susan just stood there, staring in shock, not doing anything.  It was the staff member who had wanted to leave who came over and pressed her fingers against Peggy’s neck feeling for a pulse I presumed.  She started feeling around on Peggy’s chest, using her hand to try to figure out or remember where she was supposed to begin the rhythmic pumping.  She obviously had learned CPR a long time ago and hadn’t done it in ages, but was doing her best to remember.  When she seemed to have decided the right spot, she began pressing, mouthing the words to Staying Alive.

“GO GET GLADYS” she said firmly to Susan, her presses faltering just slightly as she spoke before resuming mouthing the words to Staying Alive, and pressing at the correct steady rhythm.

I watched hoping Peggy would start moving again, now knowing that when Susan gets to Gladys’ office and says she thinks Peggy is dead, she is just guessing.  Of course even if Peggy is dead, I have a plan for how I’m going to save her and break this damned loop tomorrow.  I’d known the chances of my having enough information to save her today was slim, I had started today viewing it as an information gathering day.  If I had thought today was going to be the last loop, I would have made an effort to keep them from cropping my hair.

When Gladys arrived with Susan, Gladys ordered us all to go to our rooms.  I sat there, unable to get up, transfixed, watching.

“Nora,” one of the other girls in the room I had been assigned to gently tugged my arm, “you don’t want to be sent to a meditation room.”

 

———————————Loop Save Peggy————————

 

I’d had a simple plan and it had totally succeeded.  Peggy was alive; I still had long hair; my producers were pissed and my life was ruined.  

I’d gone in in the morning, canceling my interview and checking in as an adult under my full name.  I’d made the fuss, and refused the haircut.  I was escorted to Meditation Room 4, where Gladys thought she could trick me into just walking in like she had the first time.

That was when I’d made my move.  Instead of walking into that room, I ran for the stairs up to the teen floor.  I’d found Peggy, told her she was an adult and I was there to get her out.  I’d threatened filing charges, and we both left as a pair of adults had the legal right to do.  Paul picked us up.

What I hadn’t planned for was for Maddie to leak the details about my supposed gambling addiction to the press long before I had a chance to put together my exposé on the place.

The cherry on the cake was that my exposé was a total flop.  I’d been so focused on saving Peggy, that none of the footage I’d gotten was particularly damning.  

So at 11:45, I was sitting in my hotel room, in front of my laptop, getting yelled at by everyone.  Even my segment producer, Gabby, was on the call looking pale from her hospital bed.

**C.J. honey,** my mom said sweetly, **why didn’t you tell us about the gambling problem sooner?  We could have simply gotten you into private therapy.**

“MOM! For the thousandth time, I don’t have a gambling problem.” I screamed with exasperation.  “I was just using it as an excuse to get into Pine Grove.  And who let you into this meeting, this is a work meeting with my producers!”

Mom just gave me a look, because it wasn’t like any of them would have had the chutzpah to not have let her in.

**Can we get back to the total and complete lack of evidence that there was anything wrong at Pine Grove,** Jack, the executive producer insisted.  **You keep saying that if you hadn’t skipped your assignment and gone there, Peggy Smith, the girl you are accused of kidnapping, would have died tonight if you hadn’t rescued her.  I can’t understand why you had any reason to believe that.**

“It’s hard to explain, but obviously they were keeping her there against her will”

**That’s really not particularly obvious.** Jack sighed. **The footage from that is you telling Peggy you’re there to save her, then mostly you shouting as you drag her out.  According to her stepmom, her willingness to just leave a place where she was well cared for with a crazy woman is just further proof she should be granted conservatorship over the girl.**

 “What about the forced haircuts?”  I pointed out desperately.  “I have footage from those.”

**Not really.**  Jack challenged.  **We see this man cut off the girl’s dreadlocks sure, and yes she is crying, but you don’t have any footage of her saying ‘no’ to the haircut.  Not being happy about a haircut and refusing it are two different things.  I didn’t like the haircut I got when I joined the army, but I also didn’t refuse it.  I’m pretty sure most people would look at that hair and think cutting it was necessary, they weren’t carefully maintained locks, they really were just glorified mats.**

“What about them threatening me for refusing a haircut?”

**ONE. We only have your word for that.  The footage has him asking you over to the chair to do a lice check.  Then everything is muffled under a cape for several minutes.  Then when the cape comes off, you still have all of your hair, messed up only a little from the lice check and are told to go wait.** He complained.  **TWO.  Even if we just take your word for it -and C.J. that’s a big if, at the moment your credibility is very low- that the reason you were being taken to a meditation room was because you refused to get a haircut, and not because you were not following the program some other way, being told to meditate isn’t exactly cruel.**

I sighed, because of course they had no idea what Meditation Room 4 was actually like, since I had no footage of it.  An involuntary yawn escaped my mouth, I looked at the clock 11:55.

As the inescapable sleepiness came over me, I heard very faintly coming from the background of the executive producer’s office,  **Jack, you need to see this…..**

 

—————-Loop Save Peggy 2——————-

 

I just listened to my alarm going off staring at the ceiling on yet another groundhog day.  Obviously just saving Peggy wasn’t good enough.    I’d felt so so so sure that saving Peggy was the simple key, I felt the weirdest combination of extreme frustration that it hadn’t broken the loop, and relief that I the entire world no longer thought I had a gambling problem, and I was not facing a kidnapping accusation, I hadn’t breached my contract by not doing my assignment. 

I guess I needed to save Peggy without ruining my own life.

 

————-Loop Save Peggy Without Ruining My Own Life 26—————-

 

I sat up at 12:02am, turned on the light, and started typing my plan for the day.   What had I missed, what footage had I not gotten, what check box had I not ticked off.

I rested the weight of my head on my elbow with my hand to my forehead and thought, my hand creeping back into my soft hair.  That was footage I was missing, someone unequivocally saying “NO” to the haircut and them doing it anyway.  I sighed, I’d still been trying to escape this loop with my gorgeous, perfectly highlighted butterfly cut hair intact.  

———————————-

I was escorted to Michael’s little salon room as I had been so many times before.  Michael was already buzzing off the boy’s hair.

I’d figured out I could simply suggest that we go to the ski lodge earlier to get footage in the snow before it was trampled down.  Paul had loved the way the early morning light had kept the snow from being glaring too.  It left us plenty of time get to Pine Grove where I was checked in under the completely fictitious identity Carol Jansen age 17.

I got footage of Michael simply harvesting the brown haired girls valuable locks,  I got footage of Michael buzzing off the pink haired girls offending tresses, and them talking about that being the reason the poor kid’s parents dumped her here and discussing shaving her bald.  Since I didn’t just cooperatively let Michael crop my hair while we waited for Susan to get the shaving supplies, I even got footage of Michael shaving the sobbing teen.  

Then it was time.  Susan was there to act as muscle to get me into Michael’s chair.  I would say ‘no,’ but I knew they were going to do it anyway.

“So we have to do this the hard way.” Susan growled. 

“Please don’t cut my hair.” I begged.

“Come on, Carol be good while Michael gives you a trim.” she dragged me over, my arm twisted behind my back.  I was sure I was going to have very visible bruises pretty soon.  Those bruises meant Susan should be facing assault and battery for what she was doing to me, even if she was never going to face manslaughter or murder charges for what I planned to prevent her from doing to Peggy. 

Shoved down into Michael’s chair, I continued to voice my objection, even though I avoided fighting back physically in a way that might give them an excuse to claim my bruises were a result of self-defense on their part.  Michael shook out the nylon styling cape and swung it over me.  I pulled it down to my lap before he could fasten it around my neck, I clutched the loose fabric tightly in my fist.  The cape would not be blocking the camera or covering the microphone this time.  Michael cropping my hair sloppily was going to be well documented this time.

“NO!”

Michael grabbed the long hair that hung down my back.  He held it painfully tight in a ponytail.  The soft layers around my face the only parts escaping his grasp.

“I guess you want the boy cut then.” Michael taunted me.

WHAT?! NO!”  I screamed, somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that I wouldn’t just get an extra rough version of the crop he’d given me so many times now.

Michael, just roughly controlling me through the painful grip he had on my hair.  He leaned forward forcing me to twist towards him as he picked up the clippers from the counter.  I watched in wide eyed disbelief as he switched them on.

“NO! NO! Please, I’ll sit still and let you cut it to the crop like you did on the first girl.”  I begged giving in even though I hadn’t planned to.

“Too late princess.” Michael scoffed.

Between the pain and panic, I was gasping shallow breaths when Michael placed the humming clippers against my head in between my left eyebrow and ear.  I felt not in control as my eyes blinked alternated between scrunching shut and unable to look away.  My hands still clutching tightly to the damned nylon cape as though it might be useful.

Michael pulled the clippers back.  The very front layers of my hair fell over his grubby hand.  He was pulling too fast and too hard, the blades tore through my hair painfully as they traveled past my temple towards the crown of my head. 

When the blades reached the top of my head, I got to see the path of destruction left in their wake.  It was mostly stubble, but not completely, there were a few longer tufts and stands littering the strip, making it look patchy and worse than just plain stubble would have.  My face framing layers were strewn across my shoulders and torso.  The longer locks hung from Michaels hand, still part of the ponytail he pulled on painfully, but with severed ends dangling from the other side.  Some long strands dangled from his other hand and the clippers.

“Stop struggling and it will hurt less.”  Michael told me.

I forced myself to relax, even though every cell in my body was still screaming fight.  I forced myself to stop pulling against the ponytail Michael grasped firmly.  I let myself sink into the seat.  I still clutched the cape, but not so tightly that my nails dug into my hand.  I deliberately slowed my breathing.  I was still shaking with adrenaline, but not fighting, not struggling to get away.

Michael brought the clippers back to my forehead, right at the top this time.  I was still unable to control my eyes, as I alternated between shutting them and staring.  Michael more slowly pulled the clippers backwards.  Not quite as slowly as he had for the not struggling teens who had been left with an even covering of stubble, but slow enough that hairs weren’t being ripped out.  

When he placed the clippers back at my forehead and pulled back again, he didn’t bother to line them up carefully, and left a thin strip of quarter inch or so tufts between the areas of not exactly even stubble.  At least he had relaxed his grip on my ponytail somewhat.  

I watched as the hair fell away strip after strip.  My shoulders getting gradually more and more covered in the soft locks.  Some fell to my lap covering my hands that still clutched the useless cape.  I felt sick and empty watching my once beautiful reflection transformed.  Michael’s hand holding what became more and more just a tangled jumble of hair and less an orderly ponytail as less and less of the hair was attached to my head.

Michael pushed my head down, forcing me to stare at the tangled refuse in my lap, as he buzzed up the nape of my neck and over the back of my head.  The spot where I could still feel him holding the hair taut gradually getting smaller and and more focused on a particular spot right at my occipital.  

When Michael ran the clippers through the last few strands that he pulled, the sudden absence of pain was a strange relief, but of course it meant I had no long hair left.  I raised my head, looking at the horribly uneven mess.  Michael didn’t bother to start evening it out really, only bothering to lift up and use the clippers to slice through a few bits that were still several inches long.  He didn’t even bother to buzz them down close to matching the stubbly length, leaving them sticking out an inch or two.

I sat there shaking as Michael put the clippers back into their stand.  I wanted to quit.  I wanted to let this day pass.  I wanted to just give up and start over again.  Though I had just given up plenty of times when I didn’t want a particular loop to become permanent, I hadn’t done it since the loop where I had watched Peggy die.  

Once I had known what I had to disrupt to keep that from happening, I had prevented or at least tried to prevent it every time.  Not always by getting her out of here, one time I’d just made sure she wasn’t studying when the Groundhog Day play was mentioned, but I had never simply let her die.

I took a deep breath.  I let go of the cape.  I pushed the remnants of my once glorious hair off my lap.  I wiped the tear from my cheek.  I wasn’t going to let Peggy die just so I could try for another loop where I might not lose quite so much hair.  Besides, it had to be some pretty damning footage.

“If you adjust your attitude and are cooperative for the next week, maybe Susan will let you come back and get that evened out a bit.” Michael said.

I just scowled at him coldly knowing that I would never let him touch my hair again if next week ever came.

I stood up, determined to just move on with what I needed to do.  I knocked his fucking cape to the floor, I dusted the loose hair from my shoulders.  I had footage to record of them discussing upping the bribe to the inspector from the fire department, I had numerous safety violations and abuses to document.  And I needed to get it all done in time to record my story, save Peggy, and submit it in time to make the next news cycle before Maddie could discredit me.  I didn’t have time to be upset about my hair.

————————————————

This time the zoom meeting was going differently.  For one thing this time my mom hadn’t strong-armed her way into the meeting.

**C.J. seriously, you should have discussed this with a producer BEFORE hand, this whole thing could have gone really badly.  And I’m not going to pretend I’m not pissed off about the hair.** Jack said even though he didn’t actually sound as pissed as he claimed to be.  **I have to admit though, that footage of them forcing you down and half shaving your head was what got the regional news director to squeeze the story in at the last minute like that.**

“I can get a wig or something till it grows out enough for extensions.” I reminded him, honestly wishing I had one already.  I felt weird and ugly looking at my little square in the meeting.  I was embarrassed by how many people were seeing me like this.

**We’ll move your flight up, and get that taken care of as soon as possible.  It’ll be fine.** Jack promised sensing that it was a touchy subject for me.  **It was worth it, the authorities actually thought the safety violations you documented were serious enough that they are evacuating the place tonight.”

Behind Jack in the background of the executive producer’s office, I saw movement and heard another voice coming from the person approaching him  **Jack, you need to see this…..**

I watched Jack’s eyes go wide as he looked at the tablet he’d been handed.  I glanced at the clock, it was 11:58 and I wasn’t feeling like I was about to fall asleep.

**HOLY SHIT!** Jack exclaimed then looked at me with a weird awe.  **What did you say earlier about just knowing that girl you took out was going to die if you didn’t do this today?**

“I uhhh, just had a gut feeling.” I said uncomfortably, thinking about how I’d taken Peggy with me and had her calling a lawyer I’d found about a dozen loops ago as Paul had filmed me giving my report.

**I don’t know how you knew, but you were right.** He said, which confused me, since the events leading up to Peggy’s death never happened.  **She would have died along with dozens and dozens of others!**

“What? How?”

**Shortly before 11:40 this evening, the furnace that they had bribed an inspector to certify as safe even though it wasn’t, exploded.  Half the building collapsed.  Fortunately people from the county had just finished evacuating the building and there were only minor injuries since everyone was outside when it happened.**

“Oh god.” I said, raising my hands to my mouth, and glancing at the clock, in the corner of my screen.  It was 12:04 February 3rd.

I had assumed I needed to save Peggy without ruining my own life to break the loop.  It hadn’t occurred to me that it was actually about the whooshing sound that happened each night I stayed there.  It had never occured to me that I had to save everyone.

**Is Paul there still?** Jack asked.

“Yeah, he’s right over there.” I lifted my laptop and turned it towards Paul who waved vaguely from the seat he was waiting in.

**Well I’m going to need you to get out there A.S.A.P., ** Jack ordered.  **You’re the closest reporter, and awake, with a ready to go cameraman. I need you guys to start interviewing witnesses and getting footage.**

“Ok,” Paul said, getting up and coming to look over my shoulder at the screen.

**C.J. is there anything you can do about the hair?** Jack looked pained as he asked.  **Tonight it will be dark enough out there that it’s not super noticeable, and since it’s outside and cold you can get away with wearing a knit cap, but in the morning, I just know they are going to want to have you live on the morning show.**

“I could call my mom, and have her meet us out there.” Paul offered, I looked up at him with confusion.  “She happens to be a barber.”

**We usually get stylists not barbers to do C.J.’s hair** Jack complained.

“She really barely has any hair.” Paul pointed out, and I winced a bit at the reminder, my hand going up to the stubble and tufts.  “I’m pretty sure the only option is to pretty much just shave her head anyway.”

Jack sighed deeply.  **Fine, do it.**

 

———————February 4th, Finally Not Groundhog Day——————

 

“Hey there.” Paul smiled at me as I walked into the 24 hour diner I had asked him to meet me at.  “What’s up?”

“My flight is in a few hours, and I wanted to talk to you.”  I said.  “I’m going back to LA for now, but chances are I’ll be coming back east in just a week or two.”

“Oh?” Paul asked, smiling.

“Yeah, the station wants me as a more general field reporter, instead of a dedicated entertainment one.”  I explained.  “They keep insisting it’s a lateral move, not a promotion, but it comes with a lot more freedom.  So I told them I would like to get away from LA.  They agreed, since I’ll be traveling to locations anyway, so it doesn’t really matter where I all home base, as long as I’m a quick drive to a good airport, and frankly with LA traffic, almost anywhere is a faster drive to the airport.”

“That sounds great.”  Paul just kept smiling.

“I would like to have a cameraman I trust and feel confident with on a regular basis.” I explained. “I’d like to have you.”

“Me?” It was Paul’s turn to look confused.  “You’ve only known me a few days.”

“It’s felt like a lot longer,” I said knowing I was the only person on earth who knew how true that statement was.  “And I’ve seen how well you think on your feet.  I’ve seen how well you think outside the box.”

“I guess.” Paul said.

“Hey who else would have thought to call their mom to sort of fix my hair.”  I joked self consciously, raising my hand to the little bit of stubble that stuck out underneath the wooly hat I wore even though we were inside.

“I’m not sure you really think that was a good thing considering I’m pretty sure you’ve been wearing that cap non-stop for the last 24 hours.” Paul teased.

“I took it off to sleep.” I assured him.

“I guess you’ll get your wig for wearing on the air in as soon as you get back to LA,”

“Actually, they want me to just let America watch the hair grow back slowly, as a follow up to the drama of watching the footage of the haircut.” I sighed, then gestured at my head.  “I’m going to have to get used to this.”

“So, take off the cap.” Paul suggested.

“You really want to sit there staring at a bald woman over lunch?”

“Are you saying my mom did a bad job fixing it?” Paul challenged me, raising an eyebrow.

I took a deep breath, he kind of had a point.  “Your mother did an amazing job with a nearly impossible situation.”

I remembered back to the wee hours in the back of Paul’s van, his mom assuring me I was so pretty I didn’t need hair.  She tenderly apologized as she explained she would have to cut it to something she described with a zero, and then promising the razor was only for shaping the outline and that she wasn’t shaving me completely bald.  I’d felt pretty scared as she’d done it even though she’d been so nice and gentle about it.

I reached up, and pulled the hat off.  The wooly yarn wanted to stick to my head a bit like the stubble was velcro. I shyly brushed my hand over the mousy brown stubble that was just a bit scratchy.

“There, you look beautiful.”  Paul said.

“I hope you’re not saying my wooly hat is ugly.” I teased back, “my little sister Nora knit it for me.”

“You look just as lovely in it, as you do without it,” Paul said very genuinely. “It just looks a bit warm for indoors.”

“Thanks” I smiled shyly looking down, feeling vulnerable, then I remembered, I was trying to offer him a job.  “What do you say, will you be my cameraman?”

“Yes.” Paul nodded.  “It will be an honor working with someone who has such amazing instincts.”

I smiled back.

7 responses to “Loop

  1. Was it yesterday? Or is it still today? Did I read this before or not? It seems vaguely familiar…

    Just joking…

    What a big story, I had to postpone my dinner (better said: skip) to finish reading this one…
    In the beginning I was thinking, what is she writing about… until the coin dropped and I was sucked in into the story. And now I’m gonna work on my own story to make it ready for the air…
    Thank you for this one! I’ll read it again to appreciate more of the starting.

  2. Great story, thanks for sharing it. For some reason it reminded me a little bit of old-school text adventure games (yeah, I’m that old), going back and trying over and over again to figure out the right thing to do. You captured the frustration of the lead character very well.

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