As soon as I saw her, I knew she was the one. From the first day of beauty school I did everything I could to partner up with her, be in the same group as her, or just strike up conversation with her. I’d literally spent months biding my time and getting to know her. What started out as a casual friendship in class grew into studying together, eating meals together and even having drinks on the weekend. Now, unexpected good fortune had fallen into my lap. Nicole was looking for a new place to live.
“I just can’t take it anymore,” Nicole said, “my allergies are crazy. Ever since my building started letting residents have pets – I can’t breathe, my eyes water, it’s nuts. I’ve got to find a new place right away.”
Those words got my wheels spinning. “Well, you know ” I began, “I’ve been living alone in a three-bedroom flat for almost six months, it gets a little lonely. I’ll cover utilities if you’ll split the rent with me.”
This was no empty offer. I’d been thinking about getting a flat-mate for at least a month. In part to help with the rent, but in part because it did, indeed, get lonely. I hadn’t made many friends in the two or so years since I’d moved to San Francisco from Inverness, Scotland to attend Golden Gate University. I’d had big dreams of becoming a lawyer and making loads of money. Unfortunately my dreams and my realities didn’t align very well.
“Are you serious?” Nicole asked. As I nodded, she put her arms around me and said, “Caitlin, you are the absolute best!”
My heart was fluttering, beating a million beats a second as I smiled back at her. “It’s my pleasure,” I said, “when do you want to move in?”
“As soon as possible. I’m month-to-month at my current place. I’ll just eat the last week of the month so I can get out of there. Thanks again, I’m gonna start packing right now.” She hugged me again before leaving with a little extra bounce in her step.
I slowly turned away from the door as a smile crept across my face. I was completely ecstatic, but I didn’t want to let too much show as there were still several people in the salon. I really felt like Nicole was my soul-mate. Sure, it started out as lust and infatuation, but who could blame me. Nicole was tall, probably five-foot-eight or nine, thin, athletic, and absolutely gorgeous. Her wavy blonde hair (natural, but enhanced by some great highlights) reached midway down her back with some longer, sideswept bangs. Her azure blue eyes were large and pear-shaped and she had the cutest button nose and a wide, toothy grin. Her sense of style was impeccable (way better than mine at least) and she always dressed great.
The more I hung out with Nicole, though, the more I realized that the outside wasn’t the most beautiful part of her. She was so kind, completely genuine, funny, sweet, and caring. She had gone out of her way to make me and several other girls in our beauty school group feel included. She was an All-American beauty, and just what this Scottish lass needed.
I had figured as a teenager that I might be a lesbian. I was always more attracted to other girls than I was to boys. Growing up in a Presbyterian household, however, I played the part of the average teenage daughter. I had a boyfriend and went on dates. I even lost my virginity to him and got the big talk from my parents about safe sex and being careful and whatnot.
Despite all of this I never really felt like myself. I knew I was different, but I wasn’t really ready to accept who I was until after I moved to the States. When I got to Golden Gate I quickly realized that in the big city a girl who likes girls isn’t a pariah, or even a novelty. I gradually made a few friends, or maybe acquaintances is a better word, since I really wasn’t too close to anyone. I found a group of girls who were €˜experimenting’ with each other, though really what it was was a group of closet lesbians and non-traditional girls who couldn’t get a dick if they tried. That’s where I had my first actual lesbian experiences.
The sex was fun, but not gratifying or fulfilling in any way. Nonetheless it cemented in my mind who I was and what I wanted. I was grown up, an adult living away from home. It also made me realize that this lawyer thing wasn’t going to work out, that became plain as day. There was no point in continuing to waste my time in classes that I neither liked nor understood. Before I was two months into my second semester I dropped out and enrolled in a local beauty school.
I had always been into hair and fashion and fascinated by different hair styles, or more accurately by women and girls who made dramatic changes to their hairstyles. I can vividly remember the day late in primary school when Lauren MacDonald walked in with her brand new perm. Her dark brown hair had been stick straight and down to her bum just the Friday before, but that day, wow! It was only just past her shoulders and full of bouncy, full curls. Looking back now I must’ve come off very creepy, I asked her if I could touch it, if I could smell it, I even rubbed it against my cheek. The intoxicating smell of the perm solution hung heavily around her for several days and the way the curls danced as she moved her head was mesmerizing.
When I was 16, our neighbor down the lane, Mrs. Magnusson, got divorced from her husband. I remember that there was a lot of gossip around the dinner table about what had happened and why it happened and this and that. But the biggest development in my mind was that within a week of Mr. Magnusson moving out, Mrs. Magnusson had lopped off her shoulder length, straight hair into a sleek, fashionable wedge cut. I delivered biscuits or some other kind of baked goodie to her and her little boy nearly every day for two weeks on the pretense of sympathy. However, what I was really doing was getting high off her new haircut. To be honest, I still get a little wet thinking about that wedge.
Tuesday and Wednesday nights we spent moving all of Nicole’s belongings from her old place to my place and unpacking, arranging and the like. We talked as we went and stayed up well past midnight both nights. It was so much fun to spend this time together and it seemed like she was really looking forward to living with me.
Thursday evening I was the only student in the salon, finishing up a gentleman’s clipper cut a few minutes after closing when Nicole burst through the door with a worried look on her face. After the customer paid and left I looked at Nicole and asked, “What’s the matter? And don’t say €˜nothing’ because I can tell that something’s wrong.”
“Caitlin, I have a problem. I just realized that for all the dummy perms I’ve done, I haven’t done a live perm. Tomorrow’s the end of the term and I have to get a live perm in,” she said.
“It’s ok,” I said, “I’m sure we can figure something out, let’s look at your schedule.
“That’s just it,” she responded, “my schedule for tomorrow is nearly full, and there’s not a perm anywhere to be found. There just aren’t that many ladies, except maybe a few old ladies, who get perms anymore.”
A solution immediately popped into my mind. At first I wasn’t sure, but I realized how much she meant to me and what a bind she was in, so I figured I might as well just go for it. “Nicole,” I said, looking directly into her eyes so that she would know that I was serious,” I’ve been thinking of changing up my hairstyle for a while now. I didn’t think it would be this, but what the hell, I’ll be your live perm.”
Nicole’s eyes lit up and a huge smile spread across her gorgeous face. “Are you sure?” she asked. “You really don’t have to do this.”
“You’re my friend, and now we’re roommates. Friends help each other out in a pinch. If I don’t like it, after you get your grade, I can just shave it off,” I said in jest but really hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
“Oh my God, Caitlin, you are the best, best, best!” she yelped as she threw her arms around my neck for the third time in less than a week. “I promise you’ll love it. I’m really very good at perms, dummy perms at least,” she said, still smiling. “And I’ll make it up you, anything you want. Steak dinner, whatever.”
“Well, let’s get started then,” I said, making my way to the shampoo bowl. I couldn’t recall being this nervous in a very long time. I supposed that I’d probably feel this way when I came out to my parents, but that hadn’t happened yet, so
“I really, really appreciate you doing this for me,” Nicole said as she got me laid back and began to warm the water in the sink. “I owe you big time. First the apartment, now this, Caitlin, you’re the best friend I’ve had in a long, long time.”
With that comment, I started feeling bad about having ulterior motives to our friendship. That guilt quickly dissipated however, as she began massaging the shampoo into my scalp. The feeling of her hands in my hair was simply brilliant. I realized shortly that I was getting quite turned on and I had to cross my legs to make sure that a wet spot wouldn’t betray me. This was absolutely a dream come true.
The euphoria continued as Nicole moved me to the stylist’s chair, fastened a cape around my neck and began to pat my hair dry. Soon she was combing through each section of shoulder length ginger hair to remove any knots or tangles.
“Cait,” she said as she finished combing through my hair, “do you mind if I cut it a little bit before the perm? If you don’t want to, I really don’t have to, but I think a shorter style would look really good on you.”
I halfway didn’t hear her question. She had called me Cait. No one had called me Cait since my favorite aunt died in a car crash when I was nine. I had always considered it our special connection that she called me that, and I had told others not to, to call me Caitlin. But I liked it when Nicole called me Cait. It felt good, familiar. I decided then and there that if I was going to let someone call me Cait again, that someone would be Nicole.
“Um, ok,” I started hesitantly, but then, with a burst of courage added, “you know what, this is your assignment and I am your model, so you do what you think is going to get you the best mark. I am totally at your mercy.”
“Alright then, here we go!” she said as she picked up the shears and held them just below my chin on the right side of my face. Without any hesitation I heard the metallic sound of a sharp pair of scissors slicing off about three inches of my hair. The butterflies in my stomach became quite active as the shorn bits tumbled down onto the shiny gold cape that I was wearing and came to rest perched precariously on my right breast. Before I could process what had happened a second snip occurred, releasing more hair from its attachment to my head. After a few more snips, Nicole casually reached over and brushed the hair off of my breast, making enough contact to make me blush bright crimson as blood rushed to my face and €˜other’ areas. She made quick work of the haircut, taking off the length and adding layers, even sculpting a little bit of shape in the back, a really gradual a-line. Nicole was great at this. It was no secret that she was the best in the class at scissor cuts. She really was quite the artist.
Once the cut was complete, Nicole went to retrieve the perm cart. I took this opportunity to really absorb what I was seeing in the mirror. I fingered the ends of my freshly cut hair that sat about an inch below my jaw line. Despite my affinity for all things hair-related, I’d kept the same, bland style for most of my life. My hair had been one length, about to my shoulders or maybe a bit longer and parted in the center for as long as I could remember. If I wanted to look fancy I’d part it on the side or plait it, or maybe put it in a bun, but I was afraid of changing my style too dramatically.
It may have stemmed from being uncomfortable with my own sexuality. Perhaps I thought that changing my hair would cause a domino effect and people would find out that I was a lesbian. Now that I was becoming more comfortable with myself, I was more comfortable with the idea of changing my hairstyle.
After returning with the cart, Nicole took a moment to part my hair a few different ways and to make a plan for what she wanted to do. Then she dove right in and began to roll my hair. Though I’d done a few, I’d never had perm before and so I didn’t know what to expect being the one in the chair. I didn’t realize that I would feel so much pulling and tugging as Nicole wrapped each lock of hair around a rod with a little white paper to help hold the ends in place. It looked like she was doing a combination perm, which wasn’t unheard of, but was a little difficult and a lot of cosmetology students didn’t do well with them. I recognized elements of plain curl and spiral perms being used in different places around my head.
I suddenly realized that I really wasn’t very nervous anymore; I was actually quite chuffed to be sitting in the salon chair and having Nicole work her magic on me. It was easy to see that, even though this was her first live perm, she was very talented. She worked with precision and quickly finished the perm wrap. Having her hands press against my head as she double checked every rod sent shivers down my spine and gave me an excited kind of feeling that I’d never had before.
Once again I wasn’t quite prepared for what hit me when Nicole began to apply the perm solution. I was ready for the smell – that was something that I’d experienced before, but the cold was something that I didn’t expect. I tensed up a bit as Nicole proceeded to saturate each rod with the chemical solution that would break the bonds of my straight hair, allowing them to be reformed around the curlers.
After Nicole moved me under the dryer, she sat next to me and we talked and flipped through magazines. I was still reveling in the experience until the topic of conversation turned to Nicole’s boyfriend, Lance.
“I really think he’s going to propose soon, we’ve been getting really serious,” Nicole noted, switching to a new magazine.
“Really?” I asked, trying my best to mask my disgust at the topic. “Nicole, Lance just doesn’t seem like the kind of bloke who settles down. Those kind seem to view every relationship as short term.” I’d only met Lance a handful of times, but from what I’d seen he defined the stereotype. “I’m afraid you’re setting yourself up to be hurt,” I added.
“Oh, Lance would never hurt me,” Nicole professed. “He’s too sweet and sensitive.” She tucked a stray strand of golden hair behind her ear.
Evidently she and I were talking about different Lances. Either I had become ultra jaded in my opinion of men, or she was being blinded by the pecs and biceps.
“And of course he’s gorgeous,” she added. There it was. “What about you, though? Are you seeing anyone?” she asked.
“Um, no,” I replied a bit sheepishly. “Not since I broke up with my boyfriend back in Scotland.”
“That’s too bad,” she said sympathetically. “Is there anybody you’ve had your eye on?”
Oh, boy, this was going to get awkward fast. “Well, yes, I guess there is,” I said. I don’t know why on earth I wasn’t lying.
“Oh, who is it?” she asked eagerly. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but aren’t roommates supposed to talk about this stuff? And besides, I really want to know.”
My mind was racing. Should I risk everything and lay it on the line right here, right now? Should I come up with a lie? How convincing would that be? “I, uh, well it’s complicated, but, uh ,” I began. Miraculously, before I could get another word out, the timer for the dryer buzzed.
“Hold that thought,” Nicole said, jumping up and turning off the dryer. I had been saved by the buzzer. She did a quick check of the perm rods on my head and announced, “Yep, you’re done!” We moved back to the stylist’s chair and once again I there was a bit of shock as she applied the cold neutralizer to my curls. “This just needs to sit for about five minutes,” Nicole said, “but of course, you already knew that,” she laughed. “I’m going to tidy up real quick,” she added as she began to sweep up my hair from off the floor and put a few things away.
I looked at myself in the mirror once again. A simple, but not unattractive lass stared back at me. My head was covered in a mass of tightly rolled perm rods and I had bit of cotton lining around my face, but, I thought, given the circumstances, I actually looked rather sexy. Of course I might’ve simply been trying to convince myself of that seeing as how it was just me and the most radiant girl that I’d ever met alone in the salon.
“Ok, let’s finish you up,” Nicole said as she came back and removed the cotton from around my head. She began to unroll the rods one by one. My eyes got wide as I watched each beautiful, perfectly formed curl twist off of its roller and fall down next to my face. My mouth was hanging open and I let out an audible gasp as I watched Nicole unwrap the perm. “I’m glad you like it,” Nicole said, grinning from ear to ear.
Once all of the rods were out, I ran my fingers through each new little ringlet. The feeling of holding the brand new curls in my hands was amazing. I slowly followed a single spiral down from the crown of my head to its tip, caressing its smooth surface with my finger tip. Once I reached the bottom I gave it a little tug and watched it coil back up like a wee bouncy spring.
After I played for a few minutes, Nicole rubbed a little mousse between her hands and finger combed the curls into a beautiful, modern style. She unsnapped the cape from around my neck and I stood up to look more closely in the mirror.
I shook my head gently from side to side and reveled in the feeling of the mass of curls on my head swinging and bouncing back and forth and then returning to their perfect place when I stopped moving. The finished look was absolutely gorgeous.
“Wow, Cait,” Nicole gushed, “you look unbelievable. This turned out even better than I thought. Thank you again so, so much.”
“No, thank you,” I replied, still mesmerized by my reflection in the mirror.
We finished cleaning up the salon and locked up for the night. Once outside, we locked arms as girls are sometimes wont to do and began to walk home. I quietly reflected on the evening I had just experienced, walking home arm in arm with Nicole, beaming and on top of the world.