Stunning

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Sarah sat before her vanity, combing out the long spirals of her strawberry blonde hair as she studied her reflection in the mirror. The brushed curls filtered through the comb’s teeth and settled again at her waist. She took a deep breath, realizing it had been just over a year ago that she’d first arrived in this strange new city, with its busy streets and odd new customs. It was a far cry from the remote, countryside village where she’d grown up before she’d married, and she’d adjusted fairly well, but so many little things reminded her she was an outsider. Still, she liked the new surroundings, and loved learning about the new ways of the city. The city women never ceased to fascinate her, with their ever-changing fashions and easy confidence. Most of all, their many, many hairstyles. The women here often kept their much shorter than she’d seen before, sometimes as short as men. In her village, short hair was seen as a sign of shame, and women almost always kept their hair at least to their waist, if not longer.

And so had Sarah. For nearly her whole life, her strawberry blonde curls cascaded down to her waist, only the very ends being trimmed once every few months or so. She’d cared for it well, despite the long amount of time it took to keep it shining and healthy. She’d taken a great amount of pride in its beauty, how its shade danced along the border of blonde and red, shifting depending on the light that shone on it. She loved the way its gentle weight draped along her back and over her shoulders, like a comforting curtain or gorgeous cape.

Seeing all those short-haired women, moving through the city streets with confidence, Sarah realized short hair did not have the same association with shame that it did in her village. In fact, it was those same long curls that marked her as the odd one, as even longer hairstyles she’d seen here rarely reached the waist.

And so the seed planted in her mind. At first, just a whimsical thought: what would feel like to have short hair? Or even to just cut hers to the shoulder? What would she look like? How would she even know what style best suited her? Of course, she’d never…but it was a fun thought.

The “fun thought” continued to plague her, however, even as she brushed it aside as a silly fancy. She loved her hair, how could she think of cutting it off?

There were practical considerations, of course. Time spent washing, combing, and styling seemed to take up most of her mornings and evenings. Even a slight breeze caused endless tangles if she didn’t keep it braided. And in the daycare where she worked, the children often tugged at her long tresses, so unlike the neatly trimmed strands of their mothers. The little hands could yank hard, leaving soft sticky gunk that could take ages to wash out. She soon understood why her coworkers kept their hair up and away from the curious little fingers.

And thus the little fancy of a haircut continued to needle her, preoccupying her imagination each time she spotted a cut she liked, slept in just a bit too long, felt another snag in her hairbrush. She told herself it was just her imagination that caused her long locks to feel so much heavier, so much more burdensome.

Of course, there was also Liam to consider. He loved her beautiful curls, it was the first thing he’d noticed about her when they’d met, the attribute that first drew him to her, the shy country girl encountering a sophisticated urbanite. She’d later discover that his childhood home was not far from her village, but he’d left it long ago in search of an opportunity. He returned an incredibly successful business owner. He’d always been ambitious, and it served him well, his unfailing confidence that one way or another, he’d get what he was after. Before long he was after her. She fell hard for his self-assured charms, his sly sense of humor, the way he cared for his family back home, and his surprisingly humble nature despite his success. She’d been overjoyed when he’d proposed. They wasted in no time in moving her out to the city, building their new life together. He loved her, but she worried he’d find her less attractive without her best feature. She was convinced he’d protest if she’d voiced her desire, and surely he’d talk her out of it.

That night, over dinner, she’d broached the subject. “I seem to have run out of shampoo,” she’d said, casually. “I need so many washings anymore, so much smoke in the air makes it feel unclean.”

Liam smiled at her from across the table. “Ah, yes, they call it pollution. You get used to it after awhile. “ He paused as he sipped from his wine glass. “But your hair seems to have suffered no less for it.”

Sarah glanced down at her plate, blushing as she gathered her courage. “I was thinking of…changing it, actually. My hair.”

Liam raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Well, so many other ladies have it short and I guess I got…curious…about what I would look like?” She nervously smoothed a hand over her curls before shaking her head. “Just a thought.” She braced herself for the protest she was sure would come.

Instead, Liam simply shrugged. “Why not?”

In her shock, Sarah sputtered. “You…you wouldn’t mind?”

“Why would I?” Liam asked, running a hand through his own, jet black strands. “It’s your hair. And I suspect you’d look quite cute.”

“But…you love my hair.”

Liam reached forward and squeezed her hand. “I love you more.”

Sarah smiled, a sense of relief washed over her. “I guess I’ll be getting my hair cut.”

Weeks later, and Sarah’s hair remained long as ever despite her claim. Though she desired a shorter style, often marking pictures in magazines that she’d like, her courage always evaded her at the last minute.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. First she’d stepped into the small salon chain near her daycare that welcomed walk-ins. There was an opening for a haircut, but as soon as her turn came up she simply could not step into the chair when the stylist called her name. She claimed at last minute emergency and bolted out the door.

Next, she’d tried making an appointment at the mid-level independent salon just a few blocks away from her and Liam’s apartment. She’d hoped once the appointment day arrived she’d have plenty of time to gather her nerves and get her haircut. Yet as she stepped inside the fear returned. In the end she’d meekly asked for a small trim, barely even half an inch off. She’d kept her appointment, but not the promise she’d made to herself.

A week later, the topic came up when her new friend Jane stopped by to visit. Jane had often given haircuts to neighborhood kids as a teen to make extra cash and save for college, and still trimmed her own from time to time. She’d offered to cut Sarah’s hair right in the privacy of the apartment. Sarah agreed, and they’d set up the bathroom by lying down newspaper, pulling in a chair, and gathering the tools. No sooner had Jane raised her scissors than Sarah’s fear returned. What if she hated the cut? Would Jane’s feelings be hurt? Would she be angry with Jane? In order to spare Jane’s feelings she claimed a headache and ran into the bedroom until her new friend left.

With each failed cut, Sarah felt both immense relief that her locks had been spared and crushing disappointment that she couldn’t carry out her own wishes. And sure enough the failed attempts did nothing to quell her urge to cut her hair.

Not long after Jane’s visit, Liam watched as Sarah combed out her tresses. Her eyes met his in the mirror, and he stepped forward until they were face to face. “Hey,” she said.

He cupped her chin with his hand, tilting her chin upward. “Hey.”

“I’m almost finished,” she added, noting the late hour.

He grinned. “Take your time, love.” His fingers trailed through her long strands. “You’re so beautiful, my sweet wife.”

Her heart surged. She set aside the comb and wrapped her arms over his shoulders. “I’m so glad I found you, Liam. You’ve made me so happy.”

He cocked his head. “You’re adjusting well, then? I know I haven’t been as attentive to your needs as I should be, work has been so crazy lately. I know the city takes some getting used to-”

“Don’t worry, love,” Sarah soothed. “I am truly enjoying our new home. In fact, I’m hoping we can spend more time exploring together.”

Liam brightened. “I’m glad to hear it, as that’s exactly what I have planned for us tomorrow.”

“Is that so?” Sarah asked, intrigued. “May I ask what you have planned?”

“No,” Liam replied, a sly look in his eyes. “Just be up early.”

As he’d asked, Sarah woke early, up and out of their bed at the first hint of sunlight. She showered, dressed, and brewed coffee before Liam had even roused. Though she had no idea what to expect, she looked forward having Liam all to herself for the day. She supposed he was excited as well, as she thought about the night before, how his kept caressing her hair, kissing the soft curls on occasion while he held her after they’d turned out the light.

Their first stop was breakfast at a small hole-in-the-wall near Liam’s office. The older waitress was on a first-name basis with him, and she was delighted to meet Sarah at last. She quickly brought over the sausage and eggs that Liam preferred, while Sarah tried the french toast.

“How did you even find this place?” Sarah asked, drizzling the syrup over her toast.

“Avoiding every hot new eatery catching all the buzz,” Liam shrugged. “I get tired of seeing the same hipsters desperate to take pictures of their food. Sometimes I just want a good quick bite and some quiet.”

The french toast was quite good, as though it had been prepared just for her by her grandmother. Not fancy, just exactly what she wanted. Before long, they’d finished and the check was paid, with the waitress imploring Liam to bring Sarah by more often.

“Oh, we’ll be back,” Liam promised. “But we’re off to our next destination, I’m afraid.”

“And where is that?” asked Sarah.

The knowing look returned to Liam’s eye. “Just a few blocks away. You’ll see.”

She followed Liam out of the door, keeping step with him as he lead her down the city streets. This was a much more high-end part of the city she’d never seen before, and she could only guess at what was coming next.

At last they came to an unassuming building near the high-rise that housed Liam’s offices. They rounded the corner, reaching the building’s entrance. As Liam opened the door, Sarah stepped inside, taking in the familiar look of a waiting area filled with magazines, plush leather seats, spiral staircase leading to the second floor, and friendly receptionist behind the desk.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Liam as he shut the door behind Sarah. “We have the appointment with Robert. 10:30 am.”

“Ah yes,” the receptionist chirped. “Right this way. He’s finishing up his previous client, but I can get you set up.” She lead them up the stairs. The telltale chairs and large mirrors told Sarah exactly what was happening next.

“Liam?” she asked.

“Relax,” he whispered, lightly squeezing her shoulder.

The receptionist lead them past the main salon floor and into a smaller, private room towards the back. This area held a single salon chair, and just one hair cutting station.

“Can I get you anything else?” asked the receptionist.

“That will be all, thank you,” Liam replied.

As the door shut, a swell of fear rose in Sarah’s chest. “Liam, I can’t…”

But Liam simply shook his head. “Yes, you can. And you will. Today.”

She eyed the cutting tools laid out beside the seat, her heart pounding. “No, I just…can’t do this. I…I don’t want to…”

Liam leaned forward and grasped her shoulders. “Sarah. Listen to me. You will be fine. You will look stunning when this is over. I would not have arranged this if I didn’t fully support your desire. Robert and I go way back. He knows what he’d doing, and we reserved the private room so you can say goodbye to your long hair in peace. Just trust me. Do you trust me?”

Sarah glanced at the chair and back at Liam, catching the reassurance in his eyes and nodded. Her heart still pounded, but she straightened up and took a seat in the chair. This was happening.

Moments later, the door opened. In walked a stylish man who looked to be about Liam’s age, but with a long lean stature and impeccable elegance and style. “Liam!” he cheered as he caught sight of Sarah’s husband. “How’ve you been?”

Liam stood and greeted the newcomer with a warm hug. “Fantastic, Robert.” Now their attention turned to Sarah. “This is my wife, Sarah. Sarah, this is Robert. I helped get his salon set up a few years back.”

“Ah, so you’re my new client,” Robert said, extending his hand. Sarah shook it quietly, tongue-tied in her fear. Now Robert moved behind her, examining her hair.

“Oh my,” he breathed, his hands carding through the long strands. “It’s gorgeous. Almost none of my clients manage to get their hair this silky and soft. No wonder she’s been so reluctant to cut it.”

“Well,” Sarah started, “I…I’m not necessarily sure how short-”

But Robert silenced her with a quick shake of his head. “The service Liam requested is the Stylist’s Choice haircut and style. I will be cutting your hair in the manner I’ve determined will best suit you.”

“Okay.” Sarah squirmed. Robert’s words did little to calm her nerves. “So how short are you…”

“Wait and see,” Robert chuckled. At this, he spun the chair around so that Sarah’s back was facing the mirror. She would have no idea how much hair she would be losing until well after it was too late. There really was no turning back. All she could do was breathe, and have faith.

She started slightly as a cape draped over her front, with Robert fastening it behind her neck.

Liam cleared his throat, taking a seat near the back of the small room. Robert pulled up his cart of tools, and Sarah eyed the various shears, the razor, and the many clips and combs, wondering which he’d be using on her, and how.

For now, Robert combed out her mane, working out the small tangles with relative ease. Sarah sighed and closed her eyes, enjoying the luxuriant pull of her curls one last time. One by one, Robert clipped sections of her hair above her head, leaving only the very back of Sarah’s neck hanging lose.

Now he picked up the shears from the cart. They disappeared from the corner of Sarah’s eye, but the cold steel against her neck told her they’d found her locks at last.

Snip. Snip. Snip. The shears almost seemed to whisper in her ear. She clutched the armrest of her seat as the first long curls slid down her back and onto the floor. Before long another section of hair tumbled free from the clip, only to be claimed by the shears seconds later. Then another. And another.

Sarah’s face paled as she began to see the fallen curls sliding onto her cape. Each snip sent yet another long lock of her beautiful hair onto the floor. The part of her, the one that remained the sheltered girl from a small village, cried out in protest. How dare this man think to cut off her hair? Didn’t he know how much shame he would bring upon her back home?

She chocked back a small sob as another lovely tendril fluttered onto the floor. It was then she glanced over at Liam.

Liam watched quietly as the shearing continued, but there was no sense of the desolation that Sarah currently felt over the loss of her curls. His eyes were wide, a look of admiration, of awe in his eyes. He was enjoying her transformation, clearly pleased at the progress as the haircut took shape. He met her eyes, and leaned over and reached beneath the cape, lightly squeezing her fingers.

In that moment, her fear vanished. It really would be okay. She took in a deep breath, and smiled. All along her jawline, freshly snipped tendrils tickled her skin, and she now noticed the gentle air against her newly exposed neck, and the weight gradually leaving her head. This was enjoyable, and inwardly she began to anticipate the shears as they relieved her of each and every burdensome lock.

Robert paused for a moment, setting aside the shears. Sarah noticed a few stray strands clinging to the blades, realizing they’d once belonged to her. A fallen curl lay draped over Sarah’s foot, and she kicked it away until it lay scattered on the floor. All around her chair, soft strawberry blonde locks lay in piles on the floor, over her shoulders, and gathered in her lap like little clouds.

Now Robert’s fingers worked a sweet-smelling product into her severely shortened strands, and Sarah suspected, with some disappointment, that the haircut was over. He ruffled the curls, checking to see if they were even and laying just how he wanted.

“Just a little more, I think,” he remarked, as the picked up the shears once more. Sarah looked over her once-long locks and wondered how much she had left that could even be snipped. But it seemed there was still more cutting to be done.

A second round of snipping began, sending smaller tufts of hair onto the cape. Sarah lightly cradled the locks in her lap, saying a quiet goodbye.

Now Robert moved in front of her, the straight razor in hand. He lifted the strands around Sarah’s forehead, sliding the razor into the curls at an angle. Sarah stood still, watching as the razor thinned out much of the leftover bulk.

“And we’re done at last,” Robert said, untying the cape. Sarah’s lap of locks scattered to join their fellow discarded tresses. “What do you think?”

Liam grinned from ear to ear, dazzled by what he saw. “I love it.” He stood, looking over Sarah as though she’d somehow turned even more beautiful than when he’d first met her. To see the look in his eyes made her more eager than ever to see her new hair.

Finally, the chair spun around to bring her face to face with the mirror. She gasped, in shock from how short it was. The once waist-length curls now just barely reached her jawline, the back even shorter, stopping right at her nape. A deep, side fringe partially covered her forehead, grazing over her right eye. The style was both an amalgamation of the many potential styles she’d marked in her magazines, and uniquely her own. Her comforting blanket had now been replaced by a soft-fitting cap. Her eyes looked wider, her features more delicate. Even her neck now held a swan-like grace that her hair once concealed.

“Well?” Robert asked.

“It’s…it’s perfect,” Sarah said softly, reaching up a hand to feel the newly cropped ends. The little curls now felt impossibly soft and light.

“Shake your head,” said Liam.

Sarah gave her head a quick shake, and laughed as the curls bounced and moved with her. “I love it.”

“See,” said Liam as he helped her out of the seat. “What did I tell you?” He placed a kiss to the back of her neck. “Stunning.”

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