Jess softly dusted the trimmings off her latest customer, letting her nails softly graze around the freshly exposed skin around his ear.
“That looking ok for you?” she asked as she held up the mirror for him to see the back.
“Perfect as always Jess!” He nodded in appreciation at his freshly cut flattop. He left a generous tip when he paid and left beaming.
Jess flopped into her barber’s chair and let it spin around slowly, letting her bra strap length honey brown hair fall off the back of the headrest. Glad that the opening rush was finally over and she had a chance to relax and ease off. She saw her sister still engrossed in conversation with her customer. Jess had done two cuts while Chrissy was still doing a simple short back and sides. She wondered how on earth she could be to taking so long before smirking to herself as she realised she must be angling for a date.
She crossed her legs and leant back, the leather of the chair squishing and squeaking quietly as she did. The chair was one of four newly acquired belmont barber chairs with half black, half shiny red leathery in keeping with the theme. “Quinns Clippers” was a barbershop with a quirky theme based loosely on the batman character Harley Quinn. As such, black and red were prominent colours. Three girls worked well together in the shop with a cleaner come trainee as a fourth. The agreed “uniform” was just black or red clothing or some combination of the two. Although all the girls liked to abuse the vague dress code and wear some very tight attires to ensure they had return customers, the Harley Quinn strapped corset being a particular favourite for Jess. The shop had originally part of a franchise barbers chain that went bust so Mia, who had worked there the longest, managed to get a business loan from the bank and all the girls ran it together with Mia in charge.
Jess nodded to Asha, the cleaner come apprentice barber, to come and tidy up around her station. Asha was the younger sister of Mia. She was just a teenager, fresh out of school and looking for work and really still trying to decide what to do with her life. The girls had jumped at the chance of getting someone else in to do the cleaning and sweeping up and Asha seemed keen enough and was learning the trade fast.
Jess eyed the hairline around her ears and neck. Unlike the rest of the girls, who could wear there hair how they wanted, Asha had to keep her hair up in a ponytail as a subtle reminder that she wasn’t an equal member of the group until she had finished her training. Jess had showed her how to do the so-called “Perfect Ponytail” when she had first started and it was expected she would rigorously keep to that brief. This morning however, her deep amber hair made it obvious she hadn’t managed to get many of the wispy and stray hairs around the back up into the hair band. Jess decided to have a little fun.
“You’re looking a little scruffy Asha.” she reached her hand out to hold her still, plainly looking at her hair.
“I.ahhh.I had to rush in. Forgot to set my alarm and didn’t get a chance to do it properly this morning.” she replied warily. Ever since Asha had started Jess and her sister had kept a running joke, teasing her that she had to get an induction haircut to truly become a barber. At one point they thought she might actually buy it until her older sister Mia found out about the plot and had ordered a stop, threatening to give Jess and Chrissy any haircut they gave Asha.
Jess slipped out the chair and offered it to her,
“Come on then, jump in and I’ll give you a quick lather’n’razor. All that candy floss hair needs to go.”
Asha nervously chewed her lip, avoiding Jess’s gaze and shifting on her feet. She wasn’t sure if this was the “induction cut” joke in a new form.
“Come on Asha, get in! I’m too scared of your sister to do anything crazy. And you know she wouldn’t be happy with you were working with all this” she coiled her finger around one of the stray hairs that was sticking out.
“Ok ok.” she relented “No funny business though” she wagged a finger at Jess, doing her best impression of her sister as she stepped up into the chair, shimmying her small frame back against the leather.
Jess smiled to herself as she went to the hot lather pump. That finger wag was almost as if Mia was in the room, telling her and Chrissy off for hiding each other’s gear or some other antic. She pumped the white foam onto her fingertips, grabbed her razor and returned to Asha who was already dutifully leaning forward and holding her ponytail forward out of the way. Jess started delicately spreading the hot lather around the neckline from one ear to the other until it looked expertly piped icing. She found a towel and wiped her hands before placing it over Asha’s shoulder. Flicking the razor open and moving the blade back and forth in light a few times, she took a ritual long, slow, deep breath before stepping in. The blade travelled through foam like a knife through butter, taking with it all the wispy strands that been caught. Jess noticed Asha had barely given any reaction to the blade but she knew was captivated, the goosebumps rising over skin gave away her true emotion. She was almost done shaping the hairline when she heard the cry.
“ASHA!!!” The whole shop jumped at the scream “JESS WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TO HER?!” Mia demanded as she stormed through the door and towards the chair.
“She’s just cleaning me up sis.” Asha replied quiveringly after a few heart stopping moments. “I.I didn’t want to look a mess at work.” Jess would have hugged Asha if she could, trying to take some of the misdirected heat off her.
“I’m just doing her neckline. No funny business.” Jess calmly assured Mia, pointing to the towel which held the shaven lather that had been wiped from the blade. She could see Mia had been crying, her make-up was perfect but you could still see the redness and the usual eloquently controlled demeanour was nowhere to be seen. Her hazel eyes burning below the curved curved fringe of her bowl cut.
“I..sorry.from the outside it looked like.sorry Jess.” Mia said quietly before going to the back, avoiding eye contact with everyone.
Jess took a moment to compose herself before going back to Asha’s neckline, softly stroking the lather away.
“Looks like they’ve been fighting doesn’t it?” Asha asked softly, aware the door to the back was still open.
“Yeah it does, doesn’t it.” Jess replied as she rubbed the towel of her neck and started to redo Asha’s ponytail.
“It’s been two months since they moved in together and every week they have a huge fight about something else. Money, the furniture, nights out. A fortnight ago they had a screaming match about what milk to get. It’s insane!” Asha remarked as she handed Jess a fresh hair band.
Jess couldn’t think of a reply. Asha was out of school but still too young to understand what Mia was going through. To her credit Asha had been happy and almost casual when her sister came out. Jess suspected however she hadn’t yet picked up on their parents virtually disowning her older sister. In an act of defiance Mia rushed into moving in with her girlfriend and they were having to rapidly work out the compromises of living together, usually in some raucous and vehement argument over something most would see as trivial.
“Now that is a ponytail of perfection.” Jess smiled in the mirror at Asha who nodded in agreement.
“Thank me by refilling my lather pump. It felt a little low.” With that she left the shop floor to go and find Mia. She found her in the back, still with her coat on and vacantly staring out the window.
“What was it about this time?” Jess asked as she stepped in beside her friend, giving her shoulder a squeeze.
“Oh.” Mia looked at her confused for moment, still lost in her own world. “She wants to invite my parents over for a dinner. Help them see how happy I am. I.I don’t think she realises what it’s like with them. She’s lucky, her family is lovely and didn’t make a fuss at all when she came out. She doesn’t get how they just feel ashamed of me. Like I’m the black sheep of the family all of a sudden. I can’t face all that again Jess”
Jess could feel her body shaking as she tried to fight back more tears. She grabbed a tissue for her started to reassure her.
“Look, we all know these past couple of months have been hell for you and you’ve been working almost every day. No sick days, no long weekends or anything like that.” she had already decided for her as she finished the sentence. “Take a couple of hours and go across to the beauty place down the road and get a massage or something. Take some time to just zone out and forget about everything. Me and Chrissy will be fine until you get back. A bit of pampering will do you the world of good. And I PROMISE I’ll never touch another hair on your sister’s head without your leave.” She gave Mia with a playful nudge. A hint of an embarrassed smile broke across her face.
“Thanks Jess. A bit of personal time does sound good. And sorry about.earlier.” she finished sheepishly.
“Don’t worry about it. Just don’t screech at me like that again when I’ve got my razor out.” they shared a giggle as Asha poked her head into the room.
“I take it it’s safe to come in then?” she asked playfully.
“Hush you.” replied Mia, regaining her authoritative air, “None of that would have happened if you could keep yourself presentable like I’ve told you twice before. Come in with a ponytail as scrappy as that again and I’ll have it off myself.”
With that she strolled out the shop, leaving Asha wondering if her sister was sarcastically teasing her or if she should start adding a little gel into her ponytail routine just be sure.
The next hour went by like most others in the shop. Jess had a couple of her regulars and Chrissy finally got the number of her, as she put it, enthralling customer. Things were starting to get a little more busy when Jess noticed a the same red hatchback go past the shop for the 3rd time in as many minutes, this time she caught a glimpse of the driver and had to hold back a groan of frustration as she rolled her eyes. She should have guessed sooner or later she would show up. The woman finally parked the car right in front of the shop and with the typical air of unwarranted confidence strutted in through the open door.
Jess didn’t greet her as she entered like she would anyone else coming into the shop, choosing to pretend she was too engrossed with her current customer to notice and letting Asha tend to her.
“Oh hi Rachel. Mia’s not here just now. She went…”
“To pick out our new towel steamer” Jess cut in, not trusting Asha to give a tactful response instead of the truth, “Speaking of which, there’s a pile of dirty ones that need to be washed Asha.”
Rachel and Jess exchanged looks as Asha scurried off to the back.
“Will she be back soon? I really want to talk to her.”
“She’ll be back once she’s decided what she wants” replied Jess replied deliberately, her scissors snapping shut a little more forcefully than she intended making her customer flinch. She saw that the remark stung Rachel before she responded.
“I’ll wait here for then, if that’s ok with you.” she didn’t wait for a reply before going and sitting in the waiting area, taking her phone out and thumbing through it. Jess thought about telling her to wait outside, that the waiting chairs were for customers only. Instead she choose to bite her tongue, get back to work and ignore her.
She had first met Rachel when she had picked Mia up after work. They hadn’t announced they were a couple yet but Jess knew straight away, she had learned to trust that intuition when she noticed a look between two people. She had also noticed the snooty once-over that Rachel had given the shop when she first walked in. Jess immediately took a dislike to her. Rachel showed homes for a living so the pencil skirt, power suit jacket and blouse seemed to be permanently glued on. Her soft amber hair was always up in a ponytail or donut like to today. Her whole demeanour and appearance screamed of someone who looked down at people who worked with their hands and grafted. She couldn’t tell what she and Mia saw in one and other, maybe she was different at home or once you got to know her but Rachel hadn’t done much to enamour Jess.
It wasn’t long before Rachel was constantly glancing up from her phone and giving Asha and Jess looks before glancing out the window. Her legs would be crossed one way and then with a pronounced sigh she would cross them the other way, her fingers began to steadily drum her leg as she obviously grew more impatient. Jess hadn’t had a customer for almost 15 minutes and the tension in the shop was beginning to irk her. She thought for a moment, concocting some amusement for herself and wondering if she could get away with it. As Asha finished wiping the mirrors she decided to go for it. Catching Asha’s eye she brought her over and whispered so Rachel couldn’t hear.
“Go over and say something about her donut bun will you. I’ve got an idea to loosen her off a bit.”
Asha looked confused for moment before leaning in excitedly, keen to finally be a part of one of Jess’s plots.
“What do you want me to say?”
“Just say something about how it looks like she made a good effort with it. And then play along with me.” they shared a snigger before Asha moved away. She worked around the room before getting to Rachel.
“Your hair looks really nice today. To be able to do that in a rush in the morning, imagine if you took the time you do for a night out”
Rachel sensed the tone, she knew Asha was commenting on an imperfection in her appearance. She couldn’t be sure if it was just a childish barb because she was Mia’s sister and they had been fighting or a genuine critic. She searched Asha’s perfect ponytail, looking for something to say in return but was found wanting.
“What do you do in the morning then?” Rachel replied, trying to seem humble.
“Oh Asha isn’t as good as she’d like you to think Rachel” Jess spoke up from her chair, “I had to do that ponytail again after she came in looking like she’d stuck her finger in a socket.”
“Oh yeah.” Asha face lit up as she caught on to what Jess had in mind. “You should let Jess do your hair too Rachel. She can get rid of all the wispy hairs just like mine.” she showed her her ponytail, running her fingers along the crisp clean neckline.
“I..ahh.no it’s alright really. I’ll fix it once I get into the office” Rachel replied guardedly.
“Oh come on, don’t be like that.” Jess jibbed. “Mia might not be back for a while and I’ve got a free chair. I’d be happy to touch you up, no charge for the boss’s girlfriend too.” she gave the seat of her chair an affectionate pat.
Rachel felt trapped. She would never dream of getting a into a barbers chair let alone the chair of someone with Jess’s reputation but the perceived insult from declining might come back to haunt her. Praying none of her colleagues would go past the window and spot her she strut her way into the chair with as much fake confidence as she could muster.
“I’ll take your jacket” Asha said and without waiting for a response slipped off her power suit and hung it up. Rachel felt dwarfed in the chair, not confident enough to place her hands on the armrests she simply lay her hands on her skirt. Jess had the black and red diamond patterned cape ready in hand as soon as she sat. Whisking it over her she let it lay unbuttoned for a moment as she stretched the neck strip around her neck before doing over the studs. Jess spotted Chrissy watching in the mirror and gave her sister a cheeky wink as she started removing the bobby pins holding Rachel’s bun up.
“Gonna have to wet all this so I can see what I’m doing around your neckline hun.” Jess said as she pulled out Rachel’s roller donut and tossed it onto the counter.
“Ahhh.ok.” Rachel replied quietly, obviously not comfortable having her mane being handled so roughly.
Jess grabbed the spray bottle and went to town, completely saturating the amber hair, water making it look more like a light brown colour. She took a little pleasure in ruffling up Rachel’s hair as much as could. She could feel and see how much heat damage it had suffered as she used her nails to drag it this way and that, getting the spray in root to tip, especially at the nape. She split the hair on top into two rough halfs and clipped them up and out of the way, leaving a section out that went straight across from the middle of one ear to the other.
She went to the counter and purposefully let Rachel see her sharpening straight razor on the leather strap which hung on the counter. Jess could see the blade slowly regaining its mirror shine as she counted each back and forth movement in her head. She noticed Rachel was now almost bug eyed with fear watching her.
“Don’t worry, we do a complimentary neckshave with every one of our cuts. Both male and female customers” she re-assured her a coy smirk.
“You do women’s hair here?” Rachel asked a little aghast.
“We do. We take turns doing each other’s hair too. Mia told me you loved my version of a bowlcut on her.”
She took her place behind Rachel and pushed her head down with firm instruction of not moving an inch.
Jess started on the right side of her nape, just below the ear and pushed the blade down the same as she had with Asha, some of water soaked wisps of hair coiled up and clung while others floated harmlessly down to the wooden floor. Jess repeated the motion again and again over the same spot, waiting too see if Rachel would tense up or react to the touch of the cold blade. She didn’t, and after almost a dozen strokes in the spot Jess went for the kill. She moved the blade over a few centimetres and pushed down again, right into the long hair on Rachel’s nape. The amber hair peeled away like it was being wiped away with a cloth leaving behind baby smooth skin. Jess caught the long strands with her thumb before they fell, desperate for enough time to do irreparable damage to Rachel’s locks.
Jess could see Asha and Chrissy stifling laughter as they watched and she mouthed “Quiet!!” as discreetly as she could. She moved the blade over a little again and began stroking down, certain that Rachel would feel something was amiss as she now had a completely shaved section more than an inch across from her ear. She held the razored hair again to stop it from falling, the wet chunk held under her thumb getting larger by the moment.
“How long do you usually take to do your hair in the mornings Rachel?” Jess asked, trying to stop her voice from squeaking and breaking from laughter.
“Oh..I don’t usually have more than half an hour before I need to rush out”
“Well something tells me it’ll take a little less time tomorrow.” Jess replied softly, confident that there was no turning back now for women sat in front of her. Chrissy and Asha were now folding their fists to their mouths to stop from bursting.
“I’m actually thinking of getting some extensions put in.” Rachel remarked “But I can’t find anywhere that can match my colour just right.”
“Well maybe you can give them this for reference!” Jess retorted gleefully as she dumped the clump of Rachel’s hair into the cape. Everyone burst out laughing. Everyone aside from Rachel who stared down at the hair, bewildered by all the laughing. She turned her head to look at others and felt it, somehow she knew the cool breeze behind her ear wasn’t the same as moments ago.
She moved her shaking hand out from under the cape to where she felt the breeze. Her fingers grazed the shaved patch and cross to long hair she still had. She started pawing desperately, hoping that her senses were tricking her somehow. That the hair in the lap wasn’t hers.
“You bitch….” she said frightened, but she could see her words were no threat to Jess as she gave her a devious smirk in the mirror. Asha and Chrissy had tears running down their cheeks from laughing so hard.
“What’s so funny?” came the authoritative bark from the open door. Mia had returned.
Asha and Chrissy both quietened down instantly and gave a guilty look in reply. Like a pair of schoolgirls caught passing notes to one and other.
“Mia!? Look what this psychopath’s done to my hair!!” Rachel said angrily, holding up the clump of hair and showing her the shaved patch.
Mia surveyed the scene for a moment before walking to Rachel and looking over her hair. She immediately recognised the technique Jess had used. Mia had learned how to shave a head to the skin with just a sharp razor and water during a ritual festival on holiday in India. She had passed it onto Jess and Chrissy simply as a novelty. Obviously she had found a use for the skill.
She gave Jess an inquisitive look and asked “Well?”
Jess looked between Rachel and Mia before calmly replying “I thought she needed it. And you only forbade me from touching Asha’s hair, you’ve never said anything about your girlfriend.”
Mia could only hold her glare for a few moments before she started losing out to the urge to smirk, prompting all the girls to start giggling again, much to Rachel’s obvious annoyance.
“What are you waiting for?” she demanded, “Fire her or something…anything!! She’s ruined my hair!!” she wailed.
“Firstly…” she replied coldly and with the familiar fiery glare, “Don’t dare tell me what to do in my barbershop.”
She fixed Rachel with a menacing look until she finally dropped her head apologetically.
“Secondly, I think an undercut might be really hot for you. It’ll give you a cute little exotic edge. I know I wouldn’t mind giving you massages with it either.”
Rachel could barely believe what she was hearing.
“I….I can’t wear my hair up with something like that…” she protested.
“Then wear it down then. I’ve always said you look better with it down anyway. I’ll even help you do your hair in the morning now. The undercut will be our little secret.” She began to caress the shaved patch behind Rachel’s ear. She felt her skin come up in goosebumps as she did.
“I’ll make you deal babe.” Mia pressed home. “Let Jess finish this and we’ll have my parents for dinner this weekend. I’ll do all the cooking.”
Rachel pondered the offer, looking down at the clump of hair she still held in her hand.
“You’ll help me cover it every morning?”
“Every morning. As long as you let me redo it every week” she added.
Everyone was silent for an instant as Rachel slowly nodded and said “Ok” before giving Jess a curt nod, turning around and bowing her head back down.
Mia gave Jess’s shoulder a squeeze and whispered in her ear “Be gentle with her.”
Jess didn’t wait for any more prompts. She took her razor and placed it right in the middle of Rachel’s nape and pushed it downwards. Hunks of lifeless wet hair tumbled to the floor as she worked. The blade was sharp enough and she was skilled enough to go as tight to the skin as possible. She went over the whole nape again and again, finding every tiny hair that was left on Rachel’s nape until she was satisfied. The pale skin that had been revealed still shone from the water. She ran the edge of her hand from one ear all the way around to the other and felt the warmth off Rachel’s scalp as she obviously came a little flustered.
She stepped away and let Mia blow dry and style Rachel’s hair like she had said. Leaning against the counter she thought about how Mia had interrupted earlier began reflecting on finding a new way to give Asha her induction haircut.