Shave or 17K?

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Some friends recently participated in a charity couch or 5K, in which they could choose whether to donate to participate in the run, or to sit on a couch watching other runners. The catch was, if for some reason you couldn’t finish the race, you were welcome to sit on the couch—but you had to pay for the privilege. So it got me thinking: what else could people pay with, if they couldn’t finish a race?

This was supposed to be a short piece, but once again it got away from me. I thought about dividing it into two installments but there wasn’t a clear place to break it. So here you go…

“It’s 10 miles! You’ve got six months! You can train up no problem, Mel!” my roommate, Sarah, said as I stared at the race sign-up on her phone. Over the last year, Sarah had gotten into running—like really into running—and now she was preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen. I was not usually one of those anyones, much as Sarah tried to convert me, but we’d gotten drunk with our other roommate, Ana, at home one rainy night, and at some point I complemented Sarah on how good her legs looked.

We were supposed to have gone out that night and were already dressed for the occasion, but when we saw that it was going to cost us $90 to take an Uber fourteen blocks, we opted for a girl’s night in. Sarah was wearing a hot pink bodycon dress that stopped at mid-thigh, and a pair of heeled black booties, and her legs really did look fantastic.

“Your legs could look this good too, if you ran,” she’d said, flipping her long, black ponytail from one shoulder to the other..

Maybe it was because I was feeling a little self-conscious about my own body last night—earlier in the evening, when I still thought we were going out, I changed from a dress about the same length as Sarah’s into a pair of faux leather leggings because I was feeling self conscious about my thighs—but for the first time I acquiesced. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll start running. If Ana does, too,” I said, looking at our third roommate.

Ana was a regular practitioner of yoga and pilates, and pretty fit, but she didn’t seem to like running. She rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “It’s not as if either of you is going to shut up about running now.”

“So how do we start?” I asked, opening another bottle of wine and pouring way too much into our glasses.

“A lot of runners find, and this worked for me, too, that if they sign up for a big goal-race in the not-too-terribly-distant future, it motivates them to train up for it. So, like, I signed up for a half marathon nine months ahead, did a lot of training runs and a bunch of shorter races—5Ks, 10Ks, 10-milers—and by the tie I got to the half, my body was ready.”

“Okay,” I said, conscious of the fact that I was swaying slightly where I stood. “So if I want to do something in…” I paused, trying to remember what month it was. “…Six months? What should I sign up for?”

“Does six months work for you, Ana?” Sarah asked.

“Hey, I’m just along for the team effort here,” Anna shrugged, twirling a blonde curl around her finger as she started to scroll through TikTok.

“Okay,” Sarah said, “that puts us in September. Let me pull up the all-city running calendar and see what’s going on then.” She launched a website on her phone and scrolled until she saw what she was looking for. “So, I don’t think six months is enough time for a half-marathon, but you can probably train up to 10 miles if you really train for it. And, it looks like…there’s exactly one 10-miler six months from now. Actually…it’s a 17K, so it’s about ten and a half miles. Here.” She handed me her phone.

Sarah had launched the site for the race in question before passing the device over. It finished loading, and I looked at the race name listed at the top of the page:

Shave or 17K: a Fundraiser for the Metro Children’s Hospital

“Um, Sarah?” I asked. “Why is this called Shave or 17K?”

“Oh, I did this one last year—I remember now! It’s so people who want to raise money but opt out of running can still participate.”

“By…shaving their heads?” I asked, clutching at my long, red hair, which I’d spent an hour styling the natural waves out of before we decided not to go out that evening.

“For cancer.”

“But by shaving their heads?” I repeated.

“Yes, Mel. For cancer.”


“It’s called Shave or 17K, Mel. Either/or. Not both/and. You sign up for the 17K part. The ‘shave’ is just for people who don’t want to do the run. Or…” she paused, “for people who don’t finish the race within three and a half hours.”


“If I remember correctly, when you sign up for the race, you agree that if for some reason you can’t finish the 17K, you’ll agree to the shave.”

“What if someone gets seriously injured?”

“I’d imagine they’re exempt. Like, it would be pretty shitty to call an ambulance because someone had an asthma attack, and then to say to the paramedics when they arrive, ‘Sorry, could you hold on a sec? We have to shave her head before you put her in the ambulance.’ This is more for people who didn’t train well and give up, or who knowingly veer from the course.”

“Did that happen to anyone last year?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“What if I drop out beforehand? Will I still have to show up and be shaved?”

She took her phone back from me and scrolled a bit. “It says here you can drop out up to one hour before and only forfeit your entry fee. It’s just if you show up and then don’t finish the race. See?” she pointed to the FAQ she was reading. “Now,” she continued, handing the phone back to me, “here’s the sign-up page.”

“This seems like a bad idea,” I objected.

“It’s 10 miles! You’ve got six months! You can train up no problem, Mel!”

“Are you okay with this, Ana?” I asked our other roommate, who was by that point fully immersed in her phone.

“Yeah, whatever, it’s fine, sign me up.”

“And I’ll obviously run it with you, too,” Sarah added.

“You know you wouldn’t have been able to talk me into this if I were sober,” I said a few moments later, handing Sarah’s phone back to her, the “thank you for entering” screen still on display.

“Then I suppose you should have some more wine,” Sarah said.

Training went surprisingly well and I was feeling ready for the race. Sarah worked with a friend of hers who coaches distance runners and they came up with a training schedule for Ana and me that wasn’t too brutal and didn’t interfere too much with our lives. I hated the early morning runs and the earlier-morning 5K and 10K races we signed up for as part of our regimen, but I had to admit I was feeling better than I had for a while, and my legs were beginning to envy Sarah’s.

Ana seemed less excited about the way running made her feel or look than about the new TikTok followers she’d gained after she started posting about training. The week before the race, I discovered that she was not paying attention to my conversation with Sarah the night we signed up for the race, and so she missed the whole part where if you didn’t finish the race, you were committing to shaving your head and might not have learned about it at all had one of her followers not left her what she described as a “weird” comment. “Mel? Sarah?” she asked, staring at her phone while the two of us stretched out after a run. “Why did this person leave me a comment that says: ‘For entirely selfish reasons, I hope you DNF’?”

Sarah tool Ana’s phone and tapped through to the commenter’s profile. “Oh, um, probably because he’s a hair fetishist? Look.” She read from his bio: “26. M. Love to watch hair fall. #buzzedisbetter.”

“I don’t get it,” Ana said, looking puzzled.

“DNF means ‘did not finish,'” Sarah began.

“I know that part.”

“So I guess he’s hoping you DNF because then you’ll have to, you know…”

“No, I definitely don’t.”

Sarah and I filled her in on the race rules.

“WHAT?!” Ana exclaimed when we were done, desperately clutching at her golden curls.

“We asked you about it when we were signing up, and you said it was fine!” I explained.

“I was drunk!” Ana protested.

“So was I!” I responded. “So was Sarah!”

“I never would have said yes to this if I were sober.”

“Neither would I,” I conceded, “but there’s seriously nothing to worry about. The ‘shave’ part is only if you DNF. We’ve both been training for this and we should be able to run the race no problem. But if you’re worried, you can withdraw from the race and then it’s a nonissue.”

“I can’t do that! What would I say to my followers?!”

“So then I guess we’re sticking with the plan!” Sarah butted in. “Next Sunday, we’re running 17K together, and we’re crossing the finish line and not one hair on any of our heads will be touched.”

Race day conditions were perfect. It was crisp but not cold, and the sun was shining bright overhead. Sarah, Ana, and I arrived at the starting line at 6:30 in the morning and saw a stage being set-up, equipped with three barber chairs. I thought I noticed Ana shudder slightly as she passed, but I didn’t think we had anything to worry about. We were going to get through this race no problem.

We headed toward the 14-minute mile corral. I thought we could run faster than that, but Sarah assured me that it was better to be a faster runner in a slower corral than the other way around. And besides, even if we ran the 14-minute pace, we’d still finish long before the three-and-a-half-hour time limit that would doom our hair.

A woman in a pacesetter vest with a grown-out pixie stood by the sign that indicated we’d found our spot. “Good morning ladies!” she called out as we approached. “Gorgeous day for a run, isn’t it? I’m Cindi” We nodded in agreement and took our place near the pacesetter, but Cindi clearly wasn’t through talking to us. “If you don’t mind my saying so, you have beautiful hair!” I wasn’t entirely sure how she could tell what Sarah’s hair looked like, as she wore her thick black tresses in a french braid, or mine, as my red waves were secured tightly to the top of my head in a topknot. And then I realized she must be talking to Ana, who wore her blonde curls in a high ponytail that cascaded down her back. Sarah and I had both suggested she do something more practical, but she said she wanted to look good in her finish line shots for social media.

Ana seemed to understand the compliment was directed at her. “Thank you!” she said, giving her ponytail a little toss over her shoulder.

“I take it you’re feeling pretty confident about today’s race, then?” Cindi continued.

“Oh yeah,” Ana answered brightly. “We’ve been training for months!”

“That’s what I said the first time I ran it,” Cindi said, just as brightly. “And then I got really excited when I could see the finish line about a quarter of a mile away, and I started looking for my husband, who was cheering me on. And I guess while I was looking out for him I wasn’t watching where I was going and I tripped on a rock and landed on my hands and knees and didn’t wind up finishing the race. So…” she imitated a buzzing sound as she passed her hand over her head.

“I thought they’d make exceptions for anyone who was seriously hurt?” I asked, suddenly more anxious than I had been for months.

“They do. But I wasn’t hurt all that badly. They actually gave me the chance to opt out, but it was my own stupid fault that I didn’t finish so I let them shave my head. Besides, I’d seen people who got way more hurt than I did agree to have their heads shaved if they DNF’d. The unwritten rule, at least amongst the die-hards here, is that unless you get hauled off the course in a stretcher, if you don’t do the full 17K, you do the shave. I started the race with hair almost down to my butt, and I went home with less than an eighth of an inch of hair on my head.”

Ana gasped softly and I felt my stomach tighten. Only Sarah seemed sanguine about the whole thing.

Cindi laughed at Ana’s and my stricken faces. “Oh, honestly, it wasn’t so bad. They donated my hair, so some lucky kid got one hell of a wig out of it, and I got to experiment with all kinds of different hairstyles while my hair grew back.”

“They donate the hair that’s shaved off?” I asked.

“When they can, yeah. If it’s long enough and hasn’t been bleached. Mine was very long and very natural.”

“How long ago was this?” Sarah asked, still quite calm.

“About…five years ago?” Cindi mused.

“Your hair is still so…short” Ana observed quietly.

“Oh this?” Cindi ran a hand over her head. “It grew quite a bit after that first shave—almost as long as it had been before. I started pacesetting, so I kind of had to finish the races, you know? But I had it shaved again last year. I was too pregnant to run the race but I still wanted to contribute to the cause, you know? Besides,” she added with a mischievous grin, “if I’m being honest, I kind of missed it. I’ll probably do it again, when this gets a bit longer. Maybe next year—I’m not sure I can wait another four!” A group of runners approached our corral, looking a bit lost. “Excuse me,” Cindi said. “I have to go help them out. But I’ll be your pacesetter today, so I’ll see you on the course!”

As Cindi walked away, Ana wheeled on Sarah. I turned, too, if not as quickly. “Sarah?” Ana squeaked.

“It’s going to be fine,” Sarah reassured her. “We’re going to finish the race and leave her with your precious ponytail intact.”

“Mine too, Sarah,” I said sternly. “I’m not planning on leaving here today with any less hair than I arrived with.”

“You’ve got this,” she said. “We all do. Now, who’s ready for a run?”

We did all have it, for exactly eight and a half miles.

That was the point at which my stomach began a familiar grumbling. The  pizza from the night before was catching up with me. I knew it would, but I had hoped that wouldn’t happen until after the race—my lactose intolerance usually comes with a 12-hour delay but I guessed with the jostling from the run, things were moving more quickly. Runner’s trots, I’d learned this phenomenon was called early in our training.

Mercifully, there was a port-a-potty about 50 yards ahead of us. We slowed our pace considerably. “Go on without me,” I told Sarah and Ana. “This could take a while.”

“We’ll do no such thing!” Sarah exclaimed, although Ana, stroking her long ponytail, seemed ready to finish the race and ensure her hair stayed attached to her head. “We’re in this together and we’re not running to win. As long as we finish before time is up, what does it matter that you took a bathroom break?”

I didn’t have time to worry about the fate of my own hair as I sped to the bathroom. When I finally emerged, who-knows-how-long later, Sarah was leaning against a tree, and Anna was sitting cross-legged on a conveniently located park bench nearby. “Ready?” Sarah called to me as I approached.

“So ready!” I called back, unsure whether my readiness was to keep running or just to get to a real toilet.

Ana stood and stomped her right foot a few times. “Hold on, my leg fell asleep!” She made a few more stomps. “Okay,” she declared, “I think I’m ready.”

I took that as my cue and started to run. “How are we doing on time?” I asked Sarah over my shoulder.

“Good!” she said catching up to me. “We still have more than an hour to finish, with two miles to go. Piece of—”

“Shiiiiit!” Ana screamed from behind us. Sarah and I stopped and turned to see Ana sprawled on the ground. We ran back to her side.

“What happened?” Sarah asked in full coach mode.

“I guess my leg was still asleep,” Ana replied, holding back tears as she sat herself up. “I must have kicked something and not felt it, and I just went down.”

Other runners, from the slower corrals, began to run past, looking at us with curiosity but not stopping to make sure we were okay. I thought I noticed one or two of them smirk as they observed the three long-haired women who found themselves in this predicament, knowing what was coming if we DNF’d.

“You okay?” Sarah asked, looking Ana over and brushing some dust off her clothes. “Anything broken?”

“I don’t think so,” Ana pouted. “Just my pride.”

I extended an arm to help Ana stand. “How’s that leg?” I asked. “Still asleep?”

Ana shifted weight into her right foot and let out a little yelp. “Well, it’s not asleep anymore,” she said, “but I definitely screwed up my ankle. I don’t…” a look of dawning horror came across her face as she realized the implications of what she was about to say. “I don’t think I can finish the race.”

“Hey,” I tried to reassure her. “You know they’re exempting runners who DNF due to injury.”

“You heard what that woman said, Mel,” Ana said in a monotone. “The unwritten rule.”

“Amongst the die-hards,” Sarah contributed.

Ana shook her head fiercely. “I can’t let my followers think I backed out.”

“Okay, so then what?”

“You two go ahead of me. Finish the race. I’ll start limping toward the finish line. You said we have more than an hour, right? Maybe I can make it and everything will be okay.”

“I’m not leaving you out here alone,” Sarah said. Then she turned to me. “Mel, you keep going. Finish the race and then ask them if they can send one of their golf carts back for Ana. It’s not quite getting carried out on a stretcher, but it should be enough to exempt her from even the unwritten rule. I’ll…” she hesitated, knowing that she was about to DNF voluntarily—and what that meant—then steeled herself. “I’ll stay with her. You can tell them I DNF’d and once I get her taken care of I’ll report to the shaving station.”

“Sarah, no!” I objected. “I can’t let you suffer for helping your friend. Besides, if you and Ana hadn’t had to wait for me outside the bathroom for so long, this never would have happened. I’ll stay.”

“Absolutely not,” Sarah said. “I dragged you into this, so if one of us is having her head shaved today it’s gonna be me.”

I looked around me. The running pack had thinned and we were clearly toward the back. The race was designed so that even the very slowest corral would have time enough to finish it if they kept a steady pace, so if we were behind even them, there wasn’t much time to spare. “New plan,” I declared. You take Ana’s left shoulder. I’ll take her right. We’ll finish this race together.”

At our corral pace, we should have been able to run the last two miles of the Shave or 17K race in less than half an hour, still with plenty of time to spare.

But we were not moving anywhere close to our pace. We had to go slowly and took frequent breaks, practically carrying Ana. Her ankle seemed to be worse off than we thought. It was already swelling and turning a brownish shade of purple. She couldn’t bear any weight on it at all, and she was clearly nauseated from the pain. So although Ana was rather petite, Sarah and I struggled to get her across the finish line with any haste whatsoever. We crossed at the very back of the pack.

Our final finishing time was three hours, forty-two minutes, and seven seconds. Technically, we all DNF’d.

The medical support team came running up to Ana so they could assess how badly she’d hurt her ankle, and I heard a familiar voice behind us—Cindi’s. “Hey,” she said. “The organizers are fully exempting Ana from the shave. It’s optional for the two of you. Technically you DNF’d voluntarily, but because you were helping your injured friend they’ll let it slide.

I looked at Anna, who was filming herself being tended to by the medical team, then at Sarah who was glancing nervously from Anna to me. “No,” I said. “It’s my fault Ana rolled her ankle. I DNF’d because I hurt her, not because I helped her.”

“You sure?” Cindi asked, her eyes drifting to the large red topknot perched atop my head. “It looks like you have a lot of hair.”

“Let me ask you this: what would you have done in my situation?” I asked her.

“I’d already be at the shaving station,” Cindi replied.

“Then let’s go,” I said, trying to sound more confident than I really was.

“Wait!” exclaimed Sarah. “If you go, I go.”

“No,” I protested. “Stay here with Ana and make sure she’s okay. This wasn’t your fault.”

“Ana will be fine, and I pushed you into signing up for this race. I’m coming with you.”

“Shall we?” asked Cindi, as she began to lead us toward the stage we’d seen getting set up.

“Not so fast!” Ana shouted from behind us. We spun and saw her hobbling toward us. She had let her hair down and her blonde curls were flying behind her as she made the quickest approach she could. Had they seriously already given her crutches?

“Ana! You need to get to a doctor!” I exclaimed.

“That lady in the med tent is a doctor. She said it’s probably a sprain and gave me some ibuprofen and these crutches.”

“Okay fine,” said Sarah. “But at the very least we should get you home so you can put your foot up and get some ice.”

“I’ll ice it later, and the ibuprofen should kick in in just a few minutes,” Ana said. She was wincing, but defiant. “I can’t let you go up there and shave your heads. You both would have finished the race if I wasn’t so eager to start running again that I ignored the obvious signs that I needed a little more time. You only DNF’d because of me.”

“Ana, it’s fine,” Sarah said. I’m calling you an Uber. We’ll be home soon…just looking a little different.”

“No,” Ana said, setting her jaw as she shifted her weight on her crutches slightly. “You shouldn’t have to do this because of me. But if you’re so determined to have your heads shaved…” She blinked and shook her head, as if surprised by what she was about to say, “I am, too.”

The race had been over for quite some time before we arrived at the shaving station, but there were still several people on site, most staring intently toward the stage where the shaving station had been set up.

All three chairs were occupied. An adolescent girl, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, sat smiling as a barber made quick work of her long ash-colored hair, so light in color that she looked truly bald by the time she stood. Across the stage from her was a man who appeared to be in his late 20s, whose thick, black hair fell almost to his shoulders before the barber behind him placed an unguarded set of clippers at the man’s forehead and drew it back, slicing a two-inch-wide chasm through his dark curls. He, too, was finished off quickly, only a shadow of his black hair remaining on his head as he exited the stage. In the third chair, a woman about my age, with high cheekbones, sparkling eyes, and a stunningly beautiful curtain of auburn hair that fell in carefully manicured waves to the middle of her back, was being caped.

“That’s Dawn,” Cindi pointed to the woman in the center chair. “One of the organizers. She grows her hair out for a few years, and then she has her head shaved here at the event, just like I did.”

“She has beautiful hair,” Ana squeaked beside me, knowing her time with her own beautiful hair was short.

“She’s a beautiful woman,” Cindi said, pointing her chin toward Dawn. “Wait till you see her without all that hair.”

As if on cue, the barber standing behind Dawn fired up his clippers and plunged them into the long hair at her nape, pushing them up and over the top of her head. Long strands of auburn hair tumbled past her face and onto her lap, and she was left with a white landing strip that bifurcated the two sides of her head. Dawn laughed heartily as the barber continued to strip her beautiful hair away, one pass with the clippers at a time. And all the while a barber’s assistant stood by to collect Dawn’s hair as it fell, creating little auburn bundles that would no doubt be donated. Would he be so careful with my hair, when my turn came?

Cindi had procured a chair for Ana to use as we waited and set it down beside me, then moved a few feet away from us as if to give us some space. My beautiful blonde roommate sat in the chair, gripping my hand tightly as she breathlessly watched the events unfolding on the stage. I felt awful for her. Not only would she be on crutches for the next several weeks, it seemed, but she was also parting with her crowning glory, those thick blonde ringlets that were, in that moment, shining like gold in the morning sunshine.

Standing on Ana’s other side was Sarah, who watched the stage stoically. Her braid had loosened over the course of the morning’s events, and black tendrils that had escaped the plait framed her angular face. How long would it be before those tendrils returned to soften her sharp features? Would she look feminine at all in their absence?

I reached a hand up to my own hair, and in a swift movement released it from its topknot. I wanted to feel my neck and shoulders enveloped in my red waves one last time. I had worn my hair short before—a chin-length bob in the fifth grade, when my sister was born prematurely and my mom announced that she simply did not have time to brush out the tangles that magically materialized in my hair every day while also caring for a very sick baby, and then again my senior year of high school, when I was vying for a state championship as a swimmer and had my long hair chopped off at my earlobes, willing to make the unflattering sacrifice if it would get me onto the podium. It worked, but I decided not to swim in college, and I’d been growing my hair out ever since. Now six years away from that cut and the ensuing trophy, I found myself wondering how long it would be before my hair even reached my earlobes again.

On stage, Dawn’s cape was being removed as the crowd that still remained roared their approval. She stood and gave her nearly-shaved head an enthusiastic rub, then grabbed a microphone to thank the crowd and provide an update on the day’s total donations, both in dollars and in hair. I watched the confident, clippered woman on he stage and, much as I hated to admit it, Cindi had been right: though Dawn’s hair had been pretty, and she pretty along with it, this closely-cropped Dawn was an absolute stunner. I could only hope I’d look half as good when I got up from my seat on that stage.

Dawn asked if there was anyone left who would be losing their hair before the event came to a close, and we three roommates looked at each other, each hoping there was at least one more round of shavees to go before we were expected to take the stage. But no one in the audience made a move toward the shaving station. Sarah and I drew closer to Ana, flanking her. “At least there are three chairs up there,” Ana observed. “That way we’re all up there at the same time to support each other…and nobody can back out.”

Cindi hollered toward Dawn that there were at least three more to go, and approached the stage for a brief confab with the organizer and the three barbers. When they were done, I was surprised to see two of the barbers go back to their chairs and begin packing their things. Cindy walked back over to us. “Looks like it’s just you three still to go,” she said brightly. “Only thing is two of the barbers have to leave to get to their actual jobs, which means, I’m afraid, you’re going to have to do this one at a time.”

Between us, Ana gripped Sarah’s and my hands tightly. “I’ll go first,” she volunteered.

“Ana no,” I objected. “You should go last. That way if you change your mind, you can.”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “This way, I can’t change my mind and you both have to do yours. As you keep reminding me, it’s all your faults.”

We helped Ana up and Cindi began to walk her to the stage. Halfway there, the pair stopped and turned and I thought for sure Ana was going to say she’d changed her mind. Instead, she held her phone out toward Sarah and me. “I need you to record this,” she said, as we trotted up toward her. “I suspect it’s going to make for a very popular video.”

Sarah took the phone. “Okay,” she said. “No problem. I guess we should video all three of us.”

“Yes!” Ana’s eyes lit up. “And let’s not look at our reflections—or in our phones—until we’re all done and we can do a video of all of us reacting to seeing ourselves bald for the first time.” It was funny, I thought, how now that she was in content creator mode Ana seemed significantly less bothered by what she was about to do.

Cindi and Ana reached the stage, accompanied by the crowd’s applause Sarah’s and my encouraging cheers. Dawn introduced Ana as Cindi helped our beautiful blonde roommate into the barber’s chair, giving her shoulder a little reassuring squeeze. After finding a milk crate Ana could elevate her injured foot on, Cindi did not leave the stage but rather stepped to the side of the stage so she could hold Ana’s crutches and help her back down when she was finished.

Sarah began to record, and we watched as the barber draped Ana with a cape and spread her hair out over her shoulders. It gleamed like liquid gold, especially beautiful in the moment because it would so soon disappear. Then the barber took out a comb, lifting sections of Ana’s hair up to see what he was working with and chatting with her as he went. Finally, he began to tie haphazard pigtails all over her head until she looked like a blonde Medusa. The barber leaned and said something to Ana, clearly still trying to smile now that she was being recorded, but I could tell by the way she nodded to him that she was nervous.

Reaching to the tray beside him, the barber picked up a set of clippers, which he promptly brought to Ana’s right temple, severing the pigtail there with ease. A few in the crowd shouted their encouragement as those first golden locks were handed off to the barber’s assistant. Ana had spent years researching all the ways to make her hair grow thick and strong, but no matter how thick or how strong it was, it was no match for the barber’s machine. A few seconds later, he pulled the pigtail away from Ana’s head, holding in his hand more than three feet of blonde curls. I studied my friend. There was a very discernible missing chunk on the right side of her head, but still, with a little work it could be shaped into an edgy sidecut. Ana could quit now, if she wanted.

But the barber’s next move eliminated that hope. He next moved to the pigtail right in the center of Ana’s forehead and repeated the process, placing the humming blades below the rubber band holding the hair together and pushed them back, clearing a swath of hair from the top of Ana’s head that could not be easily concealed. She now bore a hairline strikingly similar to my Uncle Pat, who insisted on keeping his hair long enough for a ponytail even as the hair on the top of his head seemed to cut a rather hasty retreat from his forehead.

Ana could not see herself but she was well aware of what was happening to her, and as she felt that section of hair come away, she began to laugh. And then to cry. She would alternate between these feelings for the rest of her shearing.

The barber next tackled the pigtail near Ana’s left temple, making quick work of it, and then went on to denude the whole left side of her head. That done, he returned to Ana’s right side and repeated the process, placing his clippers below the rubber band and as close to Ana’s head as possible so that not a hair would be wasted. From where I stood, it looked as if he was shaving her bald, but I knew from Cindi that the clippers were going to leave an eighth of an inch of hair in their wake, not that you’d be able to tell, with how blonde Ana was.

Soon, the right side of Ana’s head was cleared of all hair, and the barber began to tackle the top and back of her head. It was easy to see, now, what Ana would look like when this was finished, and for the foreseeable future. Her face was wider than I’d realized when it had been framed by all that hair, heart-shaped, tapering to a pert, pointy chin. As the barber finished the top of her head and moved on to her nape, Ana closed her eyes and bit her lower lip, gazing up toward the sky. Then she began to laugh again, until she cried once more.

The barber held up his last triumphant pigtail. All of Ana’s enviable golden curls had been taken from her, and while it was strange seeing her without her mass of hair, like Dawn before her, I could honestly say that Ana looked gorgeous. What were the odds, I asked myself, as the barber ran his clippers all over Ana’s head one last time to check for spots he’d  missed, that I’d look even half as good?

The barber removed Ana’s cape and with some help from Cindi, she rose while the crowd cheered. Aided by her crutches and the helpful Cindi, our roommate—still so beautiful, but now so different—returned to where Sarah and I stood as we offered quick, encouraging compliments.

“Who’s next?” Cindi asked, as Ana got settled back into her chair, looking slightly rattled. From that proximity, I could see the blonde fuzz that still covered her head, the barely-there pelt that still managed to shine under the sun’s rays.

I began to step toward Cindi but Sarah pulled me back. “Nope. I’ll go. You handle this.” She handed me Ana’s phone and I aimed it toward the stage. Sarah, uninjured, did not need an escort to the stage like Cindi had, and she took the short flight of stairs to the stage two steps at a time. Was she eager to be shorn, or eager to get the shearing out of the way? Who could tell? She was just so blasé about it.

Dawn introduced Sarah to the crowd, which again cheered encouragingly. Sarah sat and the barber draped his cape over her, lifting her heavy black braid out of the way so he could close the snap. This time he did not use his comb to determine his best course of action, nor did he try to engage Sarah in conversation. He just said something brief to her, and she nodded emotionlessly. Then, without unbraiding Sarah’s hair, he took up his clippers and placed them at the center of her forehead, his other hand holding onto the plait to support its weight as he worked.

The barber pushed his clippers into Sarah’s hairline, stopping after just a few inches, when he reached the start of her braid. He placed the clippers at her forehead again, just to the side of where he’d made his first pass, then pushed them back again, stopping at Sarah’s braid. In Ana’s phone screen, from which I was filming Sarah’s shearing, I could see the hair peeling away from Sarah’s scalp and hovering above her head, the loose ends pointing in every direction while the braid itself stayed more or less intact. The barber repeated his abbreviated pass from hairline to plait, as more of Sarah’s hair came unloosed in his hand. One of the long tendrils that had come loose from Sarah’ braid earlier fell to her shoulder, no longer attached to her head nor to the braid. Reaching Sarah’s temple, the barber made a slightly longer pass than he’d been making on her crown, but still stopped short of the braid. It was clear by that point he would be tracing the shape of Sarah’s plait the whole way around, until only the center section remained. Much of the braid would be unwoven by that point, but he’d still be able to remove the last traces of her long black hair in a way that might better resemble an unkempt wig than the totality of a head of human hair.

I wondered what Sarah was feeling, as the hair she’d worn long since childhood was severed close to her scalp, revealed to the world for the first time. As the surface area to which her hair was still attached decreased, did the weight of the hair start hurt her? Or was the barber’s hand supporting the braid enough to keep Sarah from feeling as if her hair were being pulled out at the root? I studied Sarah’s face in the camera app as the video continued recording, but her expression revealed nothing. No laughter, no tears, just a blank gaze off into the middle distance as the barber’s clippers continued to slice through her hair, no more than an eighth of an inch from her olive skin.

Soon, it was only the braid that was left connected. Above and around it, the bulk of Sarah’s hair seemed suspended in mid-air, slowly untwisting out of the braid. In the barber’s hand, though, I noticed the tail of Sarah’s braid was very much intact. A few other long tendrils of shiny, ink-black hair had joined the first on Sarah’s shoulders. I wondered whether the barber’s assistant would be collecting these as part of the donation of Sarah’s hair, the way he had picked up Dawn’s shed hair, or if these strands would simply be discarded.

Working carefully, the barber slipped his clippers under the top of Sarah’s French braid. Instead of making a pass, lifting his clippers, and repeating, this time he made short pulses back and forth, the way you might if you were trying to remove a sticky label from a hard surface. Get too ambitious and the label rips apart. Take your time and it comes off in one piece. Even knowing that the top of Sarah’s braid would unloosen significantly when it was no longer attached to her head, the barber was trying to remove it from her head in one piece.

I zoomed the camera in, figuring that if Ana posted Sarah’s video in addition to her own, her followers might appreciate the close-up…but also because I was intrigued by the process and wanted to see it more closely. Slowly, more and more of the braid came detached, the barber working up over Sarah’s crown and then pausing to readjust himself and his machine at the back of Sarah’s head where I could not see what he was doing, though I guessed he was now working from her nape up to her crown. It seemed like everyone watching was holding their breath until the deed was done. And then, all of a sudden, the last of Sarah’s hair came away in the barber’s hand. I felt the entire crowd exhale, then burst into enthusiastic applause.

The barber ran his clippers back and forth across Sarah’s head to rid her of any straggling strands of hair he’d missed on his first pass and removed her cape. She stood and, without a word, left the stage to more applause from the audience and walked back to where we were waiting for her. I had wondered if Sarah’s angular features would make her look less feminine when she was stripped of her hair, but the close crop against her olive skin only made her look exotic, not masculine. Not in the least. “You look stunning!” Ana shouted as Sarah rejoined us, Cindi following behind. Sarah had been so stoic through this process, but now she smiled with relief at Ana.

Now I had two roommates who were nearly bald. Bald and gorgeous. I had almost forgotten, as I watched them being shorn, that soon enough, I, too, would be having my hair peeled away from my scalp. Cindi brought me back down to earth, though. “You’re up next, Red,” she said, turning toward the shaving station. I heard cheers of “Go Mel!” from my roommates as I followed the pacesetter-turned-escort to my hair’s demise.

Dawn confirmed my name as I took the stage. Noting my long red hair, falling in waves toward my waist, she announced into the microphone: “Let’s give it up for Mel, our final shavee of the evening. Looks like we’re about to get quite the finale!” The crowd shouted their approval and I looked out at them, noticing how many of the heads turned toward me were devoid of hair. Many, I noticed, still wore their running numbers. I doubted they had all DNF’d, so I guessed there were plenty of people in attendance who voluntarily took on both the shave and the 17K.

But then, in a way, what I was doing was voluntary, too.

I looked toward my practically hairless roommates, who each gave me an encouraging thumbs-up, then sat down in the barber’s chair. It was surprisingly sturdy and comfortable for something that had only been brought in for the occasion, and would be taken away before the morning was out.

The barber draped me with a cape. “The two before you, those were your roommates?” he asked as he freed my hair from beneath the cape and fastened it at my neck.


“Cindi kind of filled me in on what happened,” the barber said, taking up his comb and using it to lift up sections of my hair like he had to Ana’s. “It’s really nice of you all to do this, especially since you all have enough hair to donate.”


“Is that the only word you know?” he asked, a hint of kindness in his voice.

“No. Sorry. Just nervous, I guess.”

“Ever had short hair before?”

“Not this kind of short.”

“But short?”

“I guess.”

“Okay, so you know hair grows back.” I could see him smiling out of the corner of my eye. “What are you nervous about?”

“That I won’t look as good as Ana or Sarah, I guess.”

The barber circled around in front of me, looking intently at my face. I hadn’t noticed it before, because I was so focused on what was happening to my roommates, but he was quite attractive. Chocolate-colored skin and chisled features, topped by very short, freshly barbered hair. “I would’t worry about that,” he said.

“How can you be so sure?”

“I’m a professional. I can tell.” I must have shot him a skeptical look, because he laughed at me. “I mean it! You’re going to look just as good as your roommates. Possibly better.”

“I guess we’ll find out in a minute.”

“How do you want me to do this? Lots of little pigtails like Ana? Just go for it like I did with Dawn? I think you were already here while she was in my chair, right?”

“I was, yeah.”

“I noticed your hair,” he smiled. His teeth were perfect, and his eyes lit up.

I winced. “Guess it’s going to be a while before a guy spots me across a crowd because of my hair.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said. “I’m George.”


“I know.”

“Oh! Right.”

I heard Dawn come back over the microphone. “Looks like someone might be getting cold feet,” she said. “Better make a decision, Mel. Some of us have to get home.” Her tone was light, but it was clear she wasn’t willing to wait much longer. By the time she’d been in George’s chair as long as I’d been there, she was already halfway bald.

“So, how do you want me to do this?” George asked again, meeting my green eyes with his deep pools of brown.

“What’s your favorite way?”

“For hair like yours? Straight down the middle. More dramatic.”

“Okay,” I said, steeling myself. “It can still be made into wigs that way?”

“Yes,” he said, nodding to the assistant who hovered nearby. “Honor over here will collect it and make sure it gets bundled up for the donation.”

I nodded, looking first at George and then at my smiling roommates. “Go for it.”

George didn’t need to be told twice. I didn’t even realize he was holding his clippers until he flipped them on and immediately dragged them from my forehead to my crown. The vibrating blades were surprisingly warm, even as I felt a rush of cool air hit the top of my head, something I’d never felt before. George quickly rubbed a thumb over the newly mown path that ran along the center of my skull. Another new feeling, of my head being touched without any hair in the way. “No turning back now,” he said, again bringing his clippers to my forehead and pushing them into my hair. This time, the hair he’d shaved off blew forward, onto my lap. I couldn’t believe it. More than three feet of hair—my hair—just lying there instead of attached to my head. I picked it up and caressed it, trying to imprint in my mind one last memory of what my hair felt like, as Honor approached to gather it and the hair from George’s first pass.

On his fourth or fifth pass, when the top of my my head was surely truly exposed based on the breeze I felt on it, I realized the warmth from the clipper’s blades was spreading, traveling all the way down my spine. My cheeks felt hot. “This feels kind of nice, actually,” I said to George, “if I forget the fact that you’re shaving my head.”

“How about you focus on that first part. That it feels nice. That’s the whole reason some people do this.” He tilted my head to one side so he’d have better access to the hair on the other.

“They shave their heads because they like how it feels?”

“Yeah. The clippers.”

“Even if they ultimately hate the way it looks?”

“Sometimes.” He was clippering around my ear now, and if the work on the top of my head felt “nice,” this part felt even better. Still, I couldn’t imagine shaving off my hair again just to return to this feeling, especially if I didn’t think the look suited me. “For some people, the experience outweighs the outcome,” George added.

“Hedonists?” I asked wryly as the clippers continued to make short work of my long hair. I’d seen much more of it fall, Honor always at the ready to pick it up.

“Perhaps.” George readjusted the tilt of my head and began to attack the other side with his clippers. “You know technically, I’m not shaving your head. You’re just getting a very short buzzcut.”

“What’s an eighth of an inch between friends?” I joked. How was I joking just then? A very attractive man, who said he spotted me because of my hair, was now shaving—buzzing—all that hair off.

“You’d be surprised. Some people want to be really smooth. And you can see the difference.”

“So have you ever…”

“Shaved someone’s head completely, or gone for it myself? Both, actually. As a barber, of course, I’ve given my share of full headshaves—to men and women. And I’ve given myself the full Mr. Clean once or twice, usually because I was going too fast and messed up my fade. But aesthetically, I like the buzz better than the complete shave, both on myself and on other people.” George did not stop working as he talked, but kept running his clippers up the side of my head. The more hair I saw land on the floor or my lap, or get scooped up by Honor, the less, I knew, was on my head. At this point I doubted I even had half as much hair attached to me as I started with. That realization was momentarily chilling, and I kept talking to distract myself from what was happening.

“Okay,” I said, deciding we were already pass small talk and niceties. “So as a rule you prefer buzzed over bald. What about buzzed over…hair of any length?”

“For me, personally, I keep it tight. I start to look real sloppy if my hair gets much longer than this. For other people, I mean, it depends. Some dudes look amazing with long hair, but others can’t pull it off at all.”

“What about women’s hair?” I tried to make the question sound innocuous enough, but there was a part of me that also desperately needed reassurance that there was at least one man who was not going to be repulsed by my new look.

“That depends, too,” he answered vaguely. “Head down.” George oriented my chin toward my chest, an indication that the only hair I had left was on the back of my head. I felt him place the clippers on my neck and then push them upward.”

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, as I felt all of my synapses momentarily short circuit. The clippers had felt good so far, but I was not expecting…whatever that was. I just hoped I didn’t shout loud enough that the audience heard me, but with my chin so low, I couldn’t see them to be sure.

George laughed and pulled the clippers away from me. “See? some people just really like how it feels. You just have to decide if it’s worth it to you.”

“I guess I’ll have a better idea when I see a mirror.”

“Can I keep going, or do you need another second to recover?”

“Go for it. Now that I know what to expect I think I’ll be okay.”

George returned his clippers to my neck and again pushed them upward. My reaction wasn’t as extreme as before, but I was still taken aback by the sensation. “You didn’t really answer my question,” I said to him as he readied another pass.


“About how you like women’s hair. You just said it depends.”

“I mean, that’s sort of an answer.”

“Not a very complete one.”

George positioned his clippers for another pass. “I like long hair,” he said. “Most guys do.”

“Oh,” I said, trying not too betray my disappointment at the fact that George would likely not find me attractive once he finished, though he hinted he did when he saw me in the crowd. “That’s…ironic.”

“I wasn’t finished,” he said. “I like long hair, but I don’t prefer it. My preference is for short hair.”

I perked up slightly. “How short?”

“Longer than razor-shaved, shorter than a bob.”

“So, like a pixie?”

“That works,” he said, “or, you know, something closer to this.” George made one final pass up my nape with his clippers as he said that and I felt as if I might explode. I started to say something but stopped when he put one of his large hands on my head and began to gently feel around, occasionally landing on a spot where he’d place the clippers that were in his other hand to make sure everything was even. Then he ran the clippers all over my head, as he had done with Ana and Sarah—and Dawn, before them. It seemed as if he perhaps lingered on my nape a little longer than he had with the others, but who could tell?

Finally, George switched off the buzzing machine and whisked my cape away, to boisterous cheers from the crowd that was somehow still assembled. “There,” he said. “Perfection.”

I might have swooned if I weren’t still sitting. Still, I didn’t know for sure that George meant what he’d just said about his preference for extremely short hair was sincere, or if he had just been trying to reassure me. “Do you want to see it?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “my roommates and I are going to do a reaction video of the first time we see ourselves.”

“Right,” George said. “Ana had said something about that. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Do,” he said, offering a hand to help me out of the deep chair. “I know you know your roommates are both beautiful, with or without hair. Believe me when I say you, Mel, put them both to shame.”

I blushed, but I wasn’t sure I fully believed him. How could I look beautiful with my most beautiful feature stripped away? “What if I disagree?”

“You won’t.”

“But what if I do?”

“If you look in that mirror and don’t see that you’re stunning, I’ll buy you dinner.”

“And if it turns out I agree with you?”

“Then you’ll buy me dinner.” He slipped a business card into my hand. “Either way, I’ll see you at Chez Michelle tonight at 8?”

I felt butterflies rise in my stomach. “How do you know I don’t have plans?”

“I already asked your roommates.”

And with that, George smiled confidently and walked me toward the edge of the stage, where Cindi was waiting to bring me back to Ana and Sarah.

We knew there was no way the three of us would get home without getting at least a glimpse of ourselves, so we decided to tape our self-reveals before we went home. Cindi volunteered to help, and Ana had he idea that we could have her turn each of our cameras into selfie mode and start recording, then hand them back to us with the screen facing down. She’d also use her own phone and the mini tripod she had in her car for some reason to record us as a group, and on the count of three, we’d all turn our phones to face ourselves. Ana would have plenty of footage for TikTok, although now I was wondering if I should have one of my own, given that there was apparently a market for this kind of content.

Cindi got everything set up for us and stood back, making sure the tripod was straight and her video was rolling. “Okay,” she said. “Ready when you are.”

Ana, Sarah, and I counted down in unison. “Three…two…one!” Then we flipped our phones over.

We watched the footage after we got home and Ana had a chance to ice her ankle for a while. The video taken from her phone shows Ana first stare at herself wide-eyed, before tentatively bringing a hand to her head. Then she laughs until tears come to her eyes. “It’s a good thing y’all follow me for running content and not for styling tips,” she says, looking into the camera. “Because it’s going to be a while before I’ll have enough hair to style. Guess it’s going to make running easier, though!”

Sarah reacted in the opposite order as Ana. She had been so stoic throughout the entire process that it was surprising, watching her video, to see her burst into tears as soon as she was confronted with her own image. Like Ana, she, too, raises a tentative hand to her head, stroking what was left of her hair as if to comfort it for the indignity it had suffered. But then the pattern of the stroking changes, and so does the look on Sarah’s face. The tears slow to a trickle, then stop. Sarah keeps stroking her head. And then begins began to laugh, the deep-throated belly laugh I could pick out of any crowd. “Ohhhh,” she squeaks at her own reflection, “I’m going to have to buy a winter hat.”

In my video, you see me freeze for a moment, a deer caught in headlights, then begin studying the red dusting of hair that still covered my head. Slowly, sneak a hand up to my head, not on the side like Sarah and but to my nape. As I run my hand up the back of my head and over my crown, you see me close my eyes and smile at the sensation of eighth-inch-long hair that’s still surprisingly soft moving under my hand. I open my eyes again and release my hand, then turn my head from side to side. It’s still me in the video, obviously, but my neck looks long and elegant, my facial features more defined, but not severe. “Dammit,” I say into the camera. “I owe someone dinner.”

The video Cindi shot shows all of this happening in tandem, but also captures what happened after we stopped recording ourselves. Sarah and I, both standing, turn toward Ana, who is sitting between us, and suddenly rush toward each other, stooping in order to sandwich Ana in a big hug. We pet each other’s heads and laugh and cry, but mercifully less than we laugh, while a chorus of “you’re beautiful!” “no, you’re beautiful!” drifts toward the microphone. Cindi was standing too far away to capture everything that we said then, but I can remember the conversation that followed.

I had kneeled down next to Ana’s chair and was absentmindedly petting her head like a pet cat. For anyone else, this would have been annoying, perhaps even insulting, but Ana pushed her head against my hand to encourage me to keep going. Practically purring, she asked me a question. “Did George ask you out? He had wanted to know if you’re single.”

“And he asked me if I knew if you had any plans tonight!” Sarah added. She had also knelt beside Ana, and rested her head in her lap, sticking only to Ana’s good leg, while Ana lovingly stroked Sarah’s head and neck. Sarah had, unexpectedly, taken her new look harder than Ana or I had taken ours, and Ana had sensed she might need some more comforting. Still, our formerly raven-haired roommate was happy to play matchmaker.

In the frenzy that had erupted at our reveal, I had almost forgotten about my date that night. “Yes,” I answered Ana’s question. “We’re having dinner tonight at 8. My treat.”

“Your treat?” Sarah asked. “After shaving off all your hair, the least he could do was buy you dinner. I honestly wasn’t sure whether he’d still want to take you out after he shaved off all your hair, seeing as he specifically called you “your friend with the beautiful red hair.”

I filled her in on George’s professed preference for short hair, as well as the bet we had made, without the part where he said I was prettier than either of my roommates.

“Well, you do look gorgeous,” Ana said, planting a kiss on the back of my head. “Now let’s get home. My ankle really does hurt quite a lot.”

The video captures Sarah and me rising to help Ana up and getting her into the car. You see Sarah catch a sliver of her reflection in the side-view mirror as she shuts the door. She pauses, standing tall, before getting behind the wheel. I turn and wave to Cindi, asking her to send us the video when she can, and get into the car. The video ends on a shot of us driving out of the parking lot and pulling onto the main road.

It was a year later, day of the next Couch or 17K. Ana and I had both grown our hair into short bobs, hers curly and mine wavy, the biggest difference being that she had bangs and that I sported a hidden 360-degree undercut given to me by my barber boyfriend as a compromise between his love of super short hair and my longing for hair long enough that I could style. Occasionally, he’d express his desire for me to let him cut the rest shorter. I knew he wouldn’t suggest anything that he didn’t think would look good on me, but I missed my long red waves.

Sarah, surprisingly, had done a 180 on her haircut after she took a few days to get used to it, and was keeping her hair quite short, now sporting a micro-pixie that was just long enough on the top for her to wear tousled and softly spiky or slicked down with a sharp side part, tapering to nothing near her hairline. She had actually been letting it grow a bit longer until a few weeks ago, when an Instagram follower lamented in a comment on a selfie Sarah had posted that she used to have such nice hair, and that he was glad to see she was finally letting her hair grow out, and a few other followers—all men—chimed in to agree. The very next day, she asked me to call George and see if his shop was busy. He said he usually had a lull around 3pm, and at 3:05, Sarah and I walked into her camera. She started an Instagram live and explained that this was what she thought about those comments she had received the other day, then handed her phone to me in order to livestream George reducing the hair on the back and sides of Sarah’s head with his clippers and cropping the hair on top of her head to no more than two inches in length. After, she had me snap a photo of her leaning against George’s barber’s chair, tongue out and two middle fingers raised. She posted it with the caption: “This is what I think about those comments I received yesterday.” Her critics were silenced, and she gained several new followers amongst some of the platform’s short hair enthusiasts.

We were neither planning to run nor to be shaved at the event, but we were volunteering, checking in racers and enrolling any unregistered shavees who felt moved to participate. George was back manning the center chair, flanked as before by two barbers. I watched as volunteer after volunteer sacrificed their hair to the cause, some losing just a few inches, others losing several feet like my roommates and I had the year before. Dawn was once again emceeing the event, her grown-out hair styled in a Louise Brooks-style bob, and toward the end of the morning, Cindi took the stage and sat in George’s chair. We had become quite close with her after the events of last year’s race and knew she’d be making good on the comment she made to us that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to wait to let her hair grow long enough to donate before she shaved it off again. She was pregnant again, and her husband had perched their nearly-two-year-old son on his shoulders and cheered loudly as Cindi’s shoulder-length “mom bob” was reduced to stubble.

Surprisingly, Cindi did not leave the stage after she stood up from George’s chair. Instead, she walked to Dawn and whispered something in her ear, then stood beside her. Dawn waited until the other two barbers had finished with their two volunteers—a teenage girl in thick-rimmed glasses whose dyed-green hair was quickly being reduced to blonde stubble, and a middle-aged man with a classic “businessman’s haircut,” who would not be looking quite so traditionally businessy on Monday. As they left the stage, Dawn walked toward George and handed him her microphone. My mouth fell open. He hadn’t told me he was going to be speaking today.

“Uh, hi, everyone,” he started. George wasn’t used to public speaking, but he was so naturally charming that I had no doubt he’d be great up there. “Almost exactly a year ago, I was standing up here on this very stage, shaving the head of our beautiful organizer, Dawn, when I looked out into the crowd and saw an absolutely stunning redhead watching me work. What I didn’t know was that a few minutes later, I would be stripping all of that beautiful red hair off her head.”

I felt frozen in place. Sarah and Ana stepped up from behind me and took me by the elbows, steering me closer to the stage.

“Even more surprising than that,” George continued, “was that less than twelve hours later, I would be sitting across the table from that beautiful redhead—and yes, she was still a redhead, even though I’d helped her out of most of her hair that day—on the single best first date of my life.”

I reached the stage and could see that George was fumbling for something in his pocket. The newly-shorn Cindi ran down the stairs and took me by the hand, leading me up the stairs and over to George. He turned to me and fell to one knee. “Mel,” he began, “my stunning redhead. Would you marry me?” He produced the object he’d been fumbling for in his pocket: an absolutely perfect engagement ring, set with a ruby rather than a diamond—a nod to his nickname for me, Red.

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Absolutely yes!” George slipped the ring onto my finger. It fit perfectly.

I extended both hands to help George stand, then pulled him in for a kiss. The whole crowd cheered, and Ana and Sarah rushed onto the stage to hug me. They had known this was coming for weeks.

Dawn took the mic back from George. “Let’s hear it for the happy couple!” she exclaimed. “And thanks to everyone who donated, who ran, who signed up to help out, and who volunteered to be shaved. We’ll see you next year!”

As the crowd dissipated, I gathered Ana and Sarah in a big hug and told them I’d be staying at George’s that night, which they probably could have assumed.

“You’re getting married!” Ana exclaimed.

Sarah gave me a playfully affectionate pat on the cheek. “I’m so happy for you, Mel!” As she withdrew her hand, she tousled my hair, and tucked a few strands behind my left ear, revealing my undercut. “I’ll see you when you get home. Whenever that is.”

I watched them walk away, tucking my hair behind my right ear to match the left, and gave my undercut a gentle rub. It still sent shivers down my spine sometimes. I turned to help George—my fiancé!—load up his tools. “We should celebrate tonight,” I told him.

“I already made us a reservation at Chez Michelle.” He smiled and pulled me in for a kiss.

“Perfect!” I said. “But I have an idea for something we can do first.”


“Do you have the keys to your shop?”

“Yep. I figured I’d drop my stuff off on the way home. What’s up?”

“I want you to cut my hair. However you’d like.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I thought you wanted to keep growing it out?”

“Think of it as my engagement gift to you,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck. I could feel him harden against me.

“However I’d like?”

“Anything. I didn’t know what our life together will have in store, but I am determined for it to start on the right foot. I can’t think of any better way to mark our engagement.”

George chuckled.

“What?” I asked.

“On the right…foot. Isn’t that how we got here?”

I began to laugh, too. Ana and her sprained right ankle. I’d been so upset in the moment, knowing what I was giving up by making sure my friend was okay. And yet it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. “Come on,” I said to George. “I cant wait to see what you have planned for me.”

He handed me his bag of haircutting tools, then scooped me up and nuzzled his face behind my ear, into the exposed part of my undercut. As he carried me off the stage, he murmured into my ear: “And I can’t wait until I can do that without having any other hair in my way.”

I knew, as we walked across the starting line to get to George’s car, that my bob was not long for this world.

I couldn’t’ve been happier.

6 responses to “Shave or 17K?

  1. Generally, clippershaves are not my favorite, but I think this one was just amazing. I love how you included a variety of almost every aspect, from color and style to the method of the cut to each of their reactions. It was just perfectly done — and I absolutely loved the one-year update, because that sort of thing is really up my alley.

    Thank you for taking the time to write something so in-depth and share it with us!

    1. To be fair, I never said whether a guard was used or not. 😉

      Thanks as always for reading! Will admit to thinking of some of your stories when I added that one year later tag…

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