This story follows on immediately from ‘Stephanie’s New Start‘, and before that, ‘Wendy Investigates’. I’ve tried to make it work standalone, but it probably makes more sense if you’ve read those first.
“Hi Babe, how are, er, what’s that on your head?”
“It’s a rain hood. It’s to protect my hair from the rain.” Stephane pursed her lips primly.
“Oh, er, yeah, er, Mum sometimes wears one. But, er, I er, didn’t really expect….” Kevin tailed off.
Stephanie glared at him, then yanked the hood off.
“Look, Jean just did this without asking, OK?” She pointed to her stiffly lacquered waves. “I told her I was meeting your mum, and she gave me this little old ladies’ shampoo and set. I know it looks awful, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so we’ll both just have to live with it.”
Kevin’s eyes widened slightly. He had never liked Stephanie’s long, messy bottle blonde waves, much preferring the neat and tidy little head of mousy-brown, tightly permed curls she had recently adopted. This was something else, though. The stiff, formal shampoo and set indisputably made Stephanie look not just modest, prim and proper, but also a great deal older than she really was. He knew better than to tell her that, though.
“Don’t be like that! It’s er, I actually really like it.”
“Yeah, right. I know what it looks like, Kevin.”
“No, really. It’s really smart and, erm, what’s the word… Classic!”
Stephanie eyed him sceptically.
“Honestly.” He insisted. “It’s really nice. It was just a bit of a surprise, at first. I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
“Hmph. You and me both.” Stephanie pulled down the sun visor to look at her hair again.
“Well, I still think I look about 60. I just hope your mum’s impressed.”
Stephanie was incredibly nervous as they drove to Kevin’s parents. She was desperate for them to like her, and really wanted to get off on the right foot with them.
Kevin had asked her to wear the same dress that she’d bought for their first date, and she was thankful that she’d decided to wear it to the salon, as she now had no time to go home and change. She’d debated with herself over the woolly cardigan, but decided that the day was chilly enough that she needed it, and that it went well with her dress. Along with her opaque navy tights and low heeled, well polished, court shoes she had felt that she looked both smart and feminine, and hoped that Kevin’s mum would appreciate the effort she had gone to.
She nervously smoothed her dress down over her knees, fussing with the pleats to keep them straight.
“Stop fretting!” Kevin grinned at her. “You look lovely, relax.”
“Easy for you to say.” Stephanie peered into the wing mirror and primped her stiff curls again.
Stephanie let herself into her flat, leant back against the door and took a deep breath. She’d been on edge all morning, and finally felt able to relax.
Despite her nerves, meeting Kevin’s parents had gone really well. To her relief, the rain had stopped by the time they got there, so she was spared the indignity of standing at the door wearing the plastic rain hood. Kevin’s mum had immediately asked Stephanie to call her Mildred, and had complimented her on her dress.
“And your hair looks lovely, dear.” She continued. “There’s really nothing quite like a traditional shampoo and set.” She patted her own silver curls, just as tightly and primly set as Stephanie’s mousy brown ones.
“Oh, er, thank you, Mrs, er, Mildred.” Stephanie smiled awkwardly.
“So many young women these days seem to insist on having these ridiculous long mops of hair hanging down their backs, and faces plastered with make up. I don’t know what they think they look like.” She shook her head, sorrowfully.
“I’m so glad that Kevin has found himself a well turned out young lady.” She continued. “Someone who understands the importance of looking presentable, and who appreciates traditional hairstyling. Your mother must be very proud of you, dear.”
“Oh, er, yes, I, er, um.” Stephanie recalled the last time she’d seen her mother, and the comments that had been made about her appearance, her lifestyle, and the kind of man she ended up attracting. She didn’t think that pride was quite what her mother had been feeling. She flushed with embarrassment.
Fortunately, Mildred didn’t seem to really want an answer, and carried blithely on, telling her husband to go and put the kettle on.
Stephanie had enjoyed her tea and home-made cake, but despite Mildred doing her best to make Stephanie welcome, she spent the whole time on edge, worried that she would say or do the wrong thing. She had hesitantly accepted an invitation to go to the church coffee morning the next day, but that just made her worry even more about what she should wear.
As they were about to leave, the rain started up again, and Mildred’s protective instincts kicked in.
“You’ll not want to get your hair wet, dear. Have you got a rain hood?”
Stephanie reluctantly fished in her handbag and produced the plastic bonnet that Jean had forced on her.
“Oh, I should have known you’d be prepared. Sensible girl.” She nodded approvingly as Stephanie tied the tapes firmly underneath her chin.
Stephanie made herself wait until they had driven around the corner before irritably pulling the hood off once again.
“I can’t wait to get home and wash this out.” She muttered, pushing awkwardly at her stiff curls.
“Oh, aren’t you going to keep it in for tomorrow?” Kevin sounded disappointed. “Mum seemed really taken with it, and I think she wants us looking smart tomorrow. She told me I had to wear a tie.”
“And she told you that you needed a haircut.” Stephanie reminded him. “Which I told you last week!”
“Look, I’ve been busy, OK.” Kevin sounded rather defensive. He usually kept his hair reasonably short and tidy, with only minimal nagging from Wendy, their boss, or his mother, but he was a few weeks overdue for a trim, and was starting to look a bit shaggy.
“Hmmm…. Well maybe it’s not such a bad thing.” Stephanie mused, half to herself, fiddling with the hair over Kevin’s ear. “Don’t just get it all buzzed off, like you normally do.”
“Well what then?” He demanded. “Mum always wants it short, and Wendy will be on at me if I don’t have it cut up off my ears.”
“Um.” Stephanie hesitated, not quite sure how Kevin would react to this. “I was just thinking, you’d look really smart with a proper short back and sides, and a side parting.” She blushed slightly.
Kevin screwed up his face. “Really? I’ll look like a real geek.”
“And I’m at the height of fashion, am I?” Stephanie demanded, suddenly angry with him. “If you want to see my hair like this tomorrow, then you need to get straight down to the barbers when you’ve dropped me off.” She glared at him.
“OK, OK,” Kevin tried to placate her.
“And you ask them for a proper short back and sides. Yes?”
“Yes, alright.” Kevin knew when he was beaten, and he could see Stephanie’s point. “I suppose that’s fair enough.”
Stephanie smiled at him, her anger gone as quickly as it had come. “Thank you. I know it can be a bit scary, but it will be lovely to have you looking nice and smart.”
Back in her flat, Stephanie’s relief at the success of the morning gradually faded, and she began to worry about the next day. She felt like she should wear a dress, but she only had one that she thought was suitable; the one she had worn today. And she had no idea what she would need to do to keep her hair in shape.
A thought struck her, and she pulled out her phone. She hesitated before hitting the dial button, but couldn’t see any alternative.
“Hi Sarah, have you got a minute?”
“Sure, what can I do for you?”
Stephanie haltingly explained the morning’s events, knowing that Sarah had been through the same experiences recently. Her own transformation, from fashionable and sassy to traditional and modest, had been in order to impress her new boyfriend’s conservative parents, but she had thoroughly embraced her new style. Sarah now kept her hair in a plain, wash and wear poodle perm for work, but when Stephanie had last seen her, she had been to the salon with her mother, and had her hair put into a prim, formal shampoo and set. Stephanie had been somewhat dismissive of Sarah’s stiffly lacquered hair, and was now embarrassed to admit that she had allowed Jean to give her exactly the same kind of style.
“So…..” She concluded. “I really need to keep my hair looking its best for tomorrow, and, er, I wondered if you had any tips.”
“Ah, I see.” Sarah sounded distinctly amused at Stephanie’s predicament. “Well you’ll need a hairnet. I’m surprised Jean didn’t give you one. You can probably get one at the chemist.”
“Pop that on to sleep in, and then you just need to give it a quick comb up and some hairspray in the morning.”
“You make it sound very easy.” Stephanie said doubtfully.
“Well, it takes a little bit of practice, like anything else. Tell you what, why don’t I pop over tomorrow morning, I can give you a hand.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful, Sarah.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “I think I made a good impression with Mildred yesterday, but I’d hate to spoil it by turning up looking scruffy tomorrow.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re looking spick and span. I’ll bring some clothes over, too, so you can see if you want to borrow something.”
Stephanie hung up and allowed herself to relax. She was sure that with Sarah’s help, she’d look perfectly presentable the next day. She just hoped that Kevin would honour his commitment too.
“I see you found yourself a hairnet, then!” Sarah laughed, as Stephanie opened the door in her dressing gown, a thick pink net still firmly in place on her head.
“Yes, well, I thought I’d better leave it on until you came.” Stephanie replied, a little defensively. It was still early, and she hadn’t seen any point in getting dressed, if she was going to be trying on Sarah’s clothes.
“I did get a bit of a funny look from the girl in the chemists.” She smiled as she remembered the puzzled expression. “I don’t think she quite knew what to make of a twenty-something, with a prim little shampoo and set, buying hairnets and lacquer!”
“I know what you mean.” Sarah grinned back. “I get quite a few double takes when people realise I’m not as old as they thought. You get used to it. Now let’s have a look at this hair.”
Sarah quickly restored Stephanie’s waves to perfect order, and blasted her liberally with the old-fashioned lacquer which Stephanie had spotted next to the hairnets.
“This is the same brand that Maureen uses.” Sarah remarked. “It really does keep your hair solid. Mum won’t use anything else now.”
“I see what you mean.” Stephanie prodded tentatively at the rigid helmet that she was now sporting. “Well, at least I won’t have to worry about it lasting!”
“Hmmmm….. I’m not sure about this, you know. Isn’t it a bit, well, formal?” Stephanie frowned into the mirror.
“I thought formal was what we were going for? It is Sunday, so I think that ‘Sunday Best’ is absolutely called for. And I’m sure that Mildred will be impressed with how smart you look.”
“Well…. Maybe.” Stephanie considered her reflection again.
Sarah had rummaged through Stephanie’s wardrobe, and coaxed her into a starched white blouse with a high, ruffled collar. It was one she’d recently acquired from a charity shop, but then changed her mind about when she got home.
“This is gorgeous!” Sarah had exclaimed. And I’ve got just the thing to go with it.” She produced a charcoal-grey calf length skirt, and a matching fitted jacket, which she made Stephanie button all the way up.
“I suppose I do look smart.” Stephanie still sounded dubious.
“And that’s exactly what you need to impress Mildred, yes?”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Stephanie sighed.
Stephanie looked impatiently at her watch and sighed, for what seemed like the hundredth time. Kevin was only about ten minutes late but with Sarah coming around so early, she’d been ready for hours. She crossed to the mirror and checked her hair again. It still looked just as Sarah had left it. She jumped as the doorbell rang.
“About time too.” Stephanie muttered to herself. “And you’d better have had your hair cut!”
She pulled the door open, and gasped. Kevin was standing there, wearing not just a shirt and tie, but an immaculate grey suit. She had never seen him looking so smart. It took a moment for her to realise that he had, indeed, had his hair cut, and cut short.
“Don’t you look handsome!” She exclaimed, a smile spreading across her face. “Now that’s what I call a proper haircut.”
Kevin’s hair had been clippered very short on the sides, high over his ears, but the top had been left longer, firmly parted down the left and slicked tightly back off his face. Stephanie moved to the side, trying to get a better look at the back, but was thwarted as Kevin turned with her. She realised that he had one hand behind his back.
“What are you hiding?” She demanded.
Kevin blushed slightly as he produced an enormous bunch of flowers.
“I, er, I just wanted to say ‘Thank you’, you know, for, um, well, for coming along today, and for keeping your hair like that. You look really smart, and I know Mum was impressed with it.”
“Oh, Kevin, they’re beautiful. Thank you.” She took the flowers and went to find something to put them in. “I suppose I have to thank Jean for that,” she called over her shoulder. “I would never have asked her to set my hair like this, but it did seem to go down well. Now, let me have a proper look at yours.”
She had plenty of time to admire Kevin’s haircut as he drove them to the church and slightly awkwardly recounted his experience from yesterday.
“Well I thought after what you’d done, I really owed it to you to do it properly, so, I er, I went to this really old fashioned looking barber, down the end of the high street?” He glanced at her, looking for her reaction.
“I’ve walked past it before, but I never thought I’d go in, but, well, it seemed like the right sort of place for a haircut like this.” He gestured vaguely.
“And?” Stephanie prompted him. “What happened?”
“Well, I told him that my girlfriend wanted me to smarten myself up a bit.”
“Was that all?”
“Er, no. He asked me why, and I, er, told him that you’d started going to a very traditional ladies’ hairdresser, and that you said I needed a proper haircut, to fit in with you.”
“Mmmm, well, you look very smart, and I’m proud of you. It’s lovely and short, and I knew you’d look handsome with it all neatly combed, and a parting.”
Kevin grimaced, remembering the old barber’s insistence that his hair was thoroughly greased with sticky white haircream.
“Your young lady will appreciate this,” he had chuckled, forcing an arrow-straight parting into Kevin’s hair. “It makes sure that your hair stays neatly combed all day.”
A jar of the cream had been thrust at him from a stack next to the cash register, and added to the bill, but he could hardly complain, it was still a good deal less than he normally paid for a haircut.
He had washed the sticky stuff out when he got home, but discovered that his hair just flopped untidily over his forehead, so this morning he had bowed to the inevitable, and rubbed a handful into his hair before carefully combing in the sharp side parting. He had reluctantly admitted to himself that he did look a lot smarter that way, and hoped that Stephanie would appreciate it.
“Thanks.” He smiled at her. “It’ll take a bit of getting used to, but I’m glad you like it. It’s nice to be able to do something for you.”
Stephanie suddenly realised that Kevin’s hair now looked very much like the cut that Wendy had made Adrian get. The difference, though, was that Adrian clearly resented the situation, and seemed to perpetually have a scowl on his face as he slunk around the office. Kevin though, even if he didn’t particularly enjoy being properly smartened up, had looked delighted when Stephanie had said she was proud of him, and as they got out of the car, he stood up straight, ready to face the world.
As Kevin drove her back home, Stephanie could feel herself relaxing. She had been so keen to make a good impression with Kevin’s parents, but there really had been no need to get herself wound up. Mildred had taken great pride in introducing Stephanie to her circle of friends, where she had felt relatively at ease, though she found herself feeling rather more awkward with the girls closer to her age, the daughters and daughters-in-law of Mildred’s friends.
They had initially greeted her with wide eyes, rapidly followed by disdainful looks. Long highlighted hair was pointedly flicked back out of their faces with manicured nails, as they clearly wondered why anyone their age would choose to look so frumpy and matronly.
Mildred had wasted no time getting one up on her friends, not-so-subtly comparing Stephanie’s prim suit, scrubbed face and lacquered curls to the short skirts, heavy makeup and excessively long manes of the other girls. There had been a mixture of grudging admiration for Stephanie’s appearance, and frustration that their own charges were so unwilling to make the same concessions to respectability.
“It’s nice to see that some young ladies know how to make themselves presentable.” One of them commented, acidly.
“Perhaps it’s time that the rest of them bucked their ideas up.” Another replied. “My two are certainly well overdue for a trip to the hairdressers, and I don’t mean for a little trim!”
“You’re quite right,” agreed the first. “A good short haircut would do them all the world of good, not to mention an application of soap and water.” She glared sharply at her own daughter.
Mildred sensed her moment. “Indeed. I feel that it’s a question of having a little respect for tradition. Church should be a place for modesty and humility, not vanity.”
This was met with nods and murmurs from the older members, and restrained eye-rolling from the younger.
Mildred raised her voice slightly, to make sure that everyone heard her. “So next Sunday, can we all make a special effort, please? Clean faces, modest hemlines, and those scruffy manes given a jolly good tidy up. Let’s see how smart you can all look if you really try.”
The looks of alarm this prompted on some of the girls’ faces were matched with delight from their mothers. Stephanie had smiled quietly at their discomfort, patting her curls primly.
“Well,” she smiled across at Kevin. “I think that went pretty well.”
“What? Oh, yes, Mum seemed really happy.”
Kevin had received some fairly cursory praise from his mother, who had declared that it was “about time that he had a decent haircut” but Stephanie was pretty sure that she’d been delighted to see him looking so smart.
“Mmmm, yes.” Stephanie paused, considering. “She definitely approved of this.” She reached over and ran her hand up the short bristles covering the back of Kevin’s head. He shivered.
“Yes, she’s always liked my hair short. It seems like she’s not the only one.”
Stephanie blushed. “Well, I think if we’re to stay in her good books, then you need to keep this short, and I need to keep going to Jean.” She paused for a moment. “I hope she won’t mind if I don’t always have it set.”
“Oh, I’m sure she won’t.” Kevin reassured her. “She definitely appreciated you having it done properly today, but it looks really nice when it’s just curly, too.” It was Kevin’s turn to blush now. Stephanie just smiled back at him.
“There you are, dear. That’s you looking nice and smart again. Now we need to make sure it stays that way, so I’ll just give you a bit more lacquer.”
Jean once again deluged Stephanie’s head with the sweet smelling spray. Stephanie held her breath until Jean had finished, and waited for the haze to dissipate. She examined her hair in the mirror that was being held up.
It was four weeks since Jean had first taken it upon herself to give Stephanie the same traditional and conservative shampoo and set that she usually reserved for her older clients. She had very much enjoyed cutting, perming and colouring Stephaine’s hair when Wendy had first brought her in, and viewed the prim and ladylike hairstyle as the final step in turning the brassy blonde trophy girl into a modest and respectable young lady.
“Thank you Jean, that looks lovely.”
Jean’s decisive action four weeks ago had been, in part, down to Stephanie’s remarkable change in attitude. Jean had been delighted when Stephanie had booked herself in for a tidy up so soon after her first cut and perm, and overjoyed when she turned up wearing a wonderfully modest floral dress, her face scrubbed and her nails trimmed. Jean had decided on the spot that as Stephanie was so clearly embracing her newfound respectability, she deserved to be treated just like all of her regular clients, and sent home with a strict, formal head of curls, and enough hairspray to last her for the week.
As Stephanie nervously inspected Jean’s handiwork, she reflected on how quickly circumstances could change. Even after her initial makeover, she had been taken aback at how much older Sarah looked with her old fashioned shampoo and set hairstyle, and could scarcely imagine wearing something like that herself. Somehow, though, she had found herself in Jean’s chair for each of the last four Saturday mornings, submitting to Mildred’s polite but firm requests that she have her hair done ‘smartly’ for whatever church or WI function they were attending that weekend.
Today, though, was different. It wasn’t Mildred she was trying to impress, but someone even more important. She gave her hair one last check in the mirror, and made her way over to the cash register.
“Ah, you’ll be back then. I wasn’t sure if you would be.”
“Oh, er, well, er, yes. My, er, well, that is, I, we, er.”
“Let me guess.” The old barber smiled. “Your young lady approved of the haircut I gave you, and she wants you to keep it like that.” He gestured to the empty chair.
“Um, well, yes, except. Er.”
“Come on son, I haven’t got all day.”
“She asked me to have it a bit shorter, at the back.”
“Ah, well shorter is never a problem. Sit down, and we’ll soon get you smartened up.”
Kevin nervously sat down. He knew how significant today was to Stephanie, and so he had agreed not only to go back to the old-fashioned barber, but also to ask for an even more severe haircut. That didn’t stop him feeling apprehensive.
His nerves were not helped by the barber’s abruptness. As soon as the cape was secured around Kevin’s neck, a heavy hand forced his chin down to his chest. A roaring filled his ears and he felt the chattering teeth of the clippers riding alarmingly high up his neck. He gritted his teeth, realising that there was nothing he could do at his point, and hoping that at least Stephanie would appreciate what he was doing.
The clippers were replaced and Kevin’s head released. He tentatively lifted it, only to feel it being pushed firmly to one side. The barber’s comb ran up the side of his head, followed by the flashing scissors. Not a word was said as Kevin’s head was pushed one way and another, his hair being cropped down to an absolute minimum consistent with maintaining the smart, traditional side parting his girlfriend expected from him.
The scissors were returned to their place, and a large blob of sticky white cream was rubbed firmly into Kevin’s remaining hair. A razor sharp parting was carved down the left side of his head and his fringe combed firmly back from his forehead.
“There you go. Short enough for you?” He smirked. “Or perhaps I should ask if it’s short enough for your girlfriend?”
Kevin flushed with embarrassment. “Er, yes, that., er, that’s great, thank you.”
He hurried to pay, suddenly realising the time.
Stephanie frowned, checking her watch again. Kevin had many admirable qualities, but timekeeping wasn’t one of them.
Finally, his battered Ford appeared around the corner. Stephanie rolled her eyes as she got in and pointedly looked at her watch again.
“I’m sorry.” Kevin did his best to look contrite. “I, er, well, I just lost track of time, really.”
Stephanie was too nervous to be angry with him. She just shook her head in exasperation.. “Well, at least you had your hair cut. It does look very smart. Thank you.” She smiled, nervously.
“How does mine look?” She fretted.”I told Jean it was a special occasion, and that I wanted to look my very best?”
“It’s really nice!” Kevin enthused. “I’m sure that your Mum will be very impressed.”
“Well, she won’t be impressed if we’re late. Come on, we need to get going!”
Stephanie sat quietly, lost in thought, as Kevin drove to her Mum’s. She hadn’t been back for so long, ever since she had let slip to her Mum that Adrian, who she already disapproved of, was married. Mum had made it pretty clear that Adrian was no good for her, and though she hadn’t actually said it, that the two of them wouldn’t be welcomed back.
Stephanie smiled ruefully to herself as she realised that her Mum had been absolutely right about Adrian. Quite apart from all the strife at work, and nearly getting her sacked, he had never been going to leave his wife, and had just been stringing her along.
No, she was much better off without him, and to be honest, most of her previous boyfriends hadn’t been that much better. Even if they hadn’t been married, none of them had treated her well. Looking back, they all just seemed to want the recognition of having a glamorous trophy girl on their arm, constantly urging her into shorter skirts, tighter tops and higher heels, regardless of what she might want. She hadn’t dared to let any of them see her without a full face of makeup, or with her hair pulled back into a practical ponytail.
This, she realised, was why she was so blown away by Kevin. Not only did he treat her with respect, he was always complimentary about how she looked, and he even seemed to prefer her looking neat and conservative, with a modestly cut floral dress and her hair in a sensible short perm.
Kevin was lost in his own thoughts, remembering the revelation he’d had when Stephanie had appeared that fateful Monday morning, hair short and curly, face scrubbed clean and her blouse primly buttoned up.
Before that day, she had always seemed aloof, perhaps even a little bit stuck-up, consumed with her own appearance and far too glamorous to look at the likes of him twice. The new Stephanie though, was far less cocky, and much more approachable. He had also realised that without the camouflage of her makeup, high heels and extravagant blonde mane, she was actually really pretty, in an understated way. She was no longer out of his league, but was exactly the kind of girl he could settle down with.
The satnav pinged, and Kevin pulled up outside the unassuming semi with a carefully tended rosebush by the front door.
“Yes.” Stephanie almost whispered. She shouldn’t have been nervous, but her mind was racing, not quite able to believe what she was doing, or imagine what her mum’s reaction would be.
She found herself on the doorstep, hand poised over the bell. She was steeling herself to press it when Kevin broke in.
“Yes?” She glanced at him, distracted.
“I kept meaning to ask you, but it never seemed like the right time. Er. What, er, why did you cut your hair, and, er, all the other stuff?”
Stephanie blinked, not quite sure how to answer. She glanced at her reflection in the window by the door. A smart, conservative young lady in a modestly buttoned floral dress looked back at her, her face bare of makeup and framed by stiff, formally set hair. She looked worlds away from the Stephanie of just a few months ago, but somehow, she looked, and felt, so much more herself than when she was hiding behind the makeup, big hair and tarty clothes.
“I’m really not sure.” She finally replied, almost to herself. “I just needed a new start, really.”
She looked back at Kevin, smartly suited, hair cropped short, parted and shiny with brylcreem.
She smiled at him. “I’m very glad that I did, though.”
She raised her hand to the doorbell again, suddenly full of confidence that she now knew was going to stay with her for good.
(with thanks to hairscribe)
Also published at https://f35hstories.wordpress.com/