Anya woke to the sound of her buzzing phone. It was barely 7 a.m. Only Beth would be texting her this early. She was inclined to switch the device back to do not disturb, but then she remembered why Beth was probably texting her. She’d chosen the first two possible hairstyles for Anya’s ongoing haircut fundraiser.
She sat up in bed and pushed her significantly-shorter-but-still-long red curls out of her face. With the back of her hand, Anya started to brush her hair off her forehead, only to have it fall right back down. “Oh right,” she said aloud to herself. “I have bangs now.”
Anya’s phone was still buzzing beside her. She picked it up. Beth had sent seventeen messages in the last thirty minutes:
6:23 a.m. Okay, so, I’ve been thinking…
6:24 a.m. Technically you could donate another 14 inches of hair to Wigs for Kids.
6:25 a.m. But if we cut that much off right away, it significantly shortens how long we can run the fundraiser for.
6:26 a.m. At the same time I don’t want them to feel cheated, you know?
6:27 a.m. Hold up, I’m going to check something on Reddit.
6:35 a.m. According to Reddit, a lot of these organizations just sell the hair they get to wig makers and then use the cash to fund their organizations.
6:37 a.m. So, like, I’m thinking let’s not donate any more hair, but if you want we can make a donation equivalent to what that amount of hair would sell for.
6:43 a.m. I just checked. Did you know there are actually hair price calculators online?
6:45 a.m. It’s about $400, btw. You can totally send them that much from the donations you collect on your next cut.
6:48 a.m. Aaaannnnnyyyyywaaaaayyyys…
6:50 a.m. Unless you strongly object, let’s plan to cut less than fourteen inches.
6:55 a.m. You’re not replying, so you’re probably still asleep. But I’m choosing to take your silence as agreement.
6:57 a.m. That said, here are your options.
6:58 a.m. Drumroll, please…
The last three messages to come through, all timestamped at 7:02 a.m., were the photos of Beth’s selected styles, followed by a gif of the Final Jeopardy! screen—an indication that Anya didn’t have time to get back to her.
Anya zoomed in on the first photo. The model was blonde, but had both a similar face shape and curl pattern to Anya’s. The featured cut was a sort of modern shag. At its longest, the style hit at about the collarbone. The layers were much more pronounced than in Anya’s current cut, especially around the model’s face. The haircut was a bit more rock’n’roll than any style Anya had worn since she was growing out that Felicity cut in high school, but she thought she could pull it off if she had to.
Anya closed the first photo and zoomed in on the second option Beth had sent. It was actually two photos in a single frame—a front and back view. From the front, Anya saw a dark-haired model sporting a cut pretty similar to the one Beth gave her last night. It may have been a few inches shorter, but it still hit well below the shoulders. It was in the back where the haircut was very different from Anya’s new style. The model held her hair in a high ponytail above her head, making visible a triangular undercut that was carved into the model’s hair. It was subtle, but still very short. Anya reached instinctively to the nape of her neck and, remembering the feel of Beth’s new haircut, she wondered what it might feel like to have that same kind of soft, short pelt on the back of her own head.
Anya’s phone buzzed again. It was Beth, of course.
Okay so I lied. With that second option you can totally donate a little more hair.
Calling you in a second, Anya replied. Just waking up.
Beth responded with another gif. Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein shouting: “It’s alive!” Then she immediately followed that up with a promise: Now that is a curly hairstyle I will never present to you as an option.
Years of early-morning flights and photo shoots had turned Beth into an early riser. She was up before the sun that morning, and after a quick workout, a long shower, and a cup of coffee, she couldn’t wait any longer. She knew Anya rarely got out of bed before 8, but dammit, this was too exciting. She loved planning makeovers—the more dramatic, the better—and because she hadn’t worked much since the pandemic started, she was pining for the chance to do one.
The last big restyle Beth was responsible for, nearly a year ago, was at a shoot for a major designer’s upcoming advertising campaign. One of the models there was set to wear a black gown with an ornately beaded back—only her waist-length, strawberry blonde hair covered the detailing. Beth experimented with a few updos that would uncover the garment, but the art director wasn’t happy with any of them. “What if we just cut it off?” he asked her, well within earshot of the terrified-looking model. “I think a really short cut would be an amazing contrast with such a feminine dress.”
“What do you think?” Beth asked the model. “Would you be willing to do that?”
The model was still relatively new in the business and this was her first major campaign. She didn’t want to lose it. She called her agent over from where he was chatting with another stylist and they spoke in hushed tones. “Okay,” she finally said to Beth and the art director. “Let’s do it.”
“How short were you thinking?” Beth asked the art director. He held his thumb and forefinger about two inches apart. “That okay with you, sweetie?” she asked the model, who gave her a curt nod, clearly holding back tears. “You’re going to look great,” Beth reassured her.
Beth gathered the model’s hair into a ponytail and picked up her clippers, removing the guard. “I know they’re in a hurry and this is going to be the quickest way to get through all this hair of yours. I promise, we’re not shaving your head.” Beth turned the clippers on and placed them just above the elastic that held the ponytail in place. They sliced through the model’s hair like butter. She held the severed ponytail up so the model could see it in the mirror. “Do you want to keep this?”
The model nodded sadly and raised a hand to feel her now chin-length hair. Beth put the ponytail on her counter and sectioned the hair at the top of the model’s head off from the rest, clipping it out of the way. She grabbed her number four guard and put it on the clippers. “Head down, please,” she instructed, gently placing one hand on the crown of the model’s head. Once again the clippers hummed to life. Starting at the nape of her neck, Beth guided her clippers up, up, up, higher than the tops of the model’s ears and leaving a path of soft, shortened hair in her wake. She repeated this process again and again, moving toward the model’s left temple; soon the entire left side of the model’s head was reduced to half an inch in length. The right side soon followed, the model’s hair putting up no resistance against the clippers’ powerful blades. Once finished, Beth changed the guard on her clippers and began to taper the cut until it blended with the model’s fair skin—it was hard to tell where flesh ended and hair began.
Beth then released the hair at the top of the model’s head. Though it was already far shorter than what the model had walked in with, it was a stark contrast to the velvety fuzz that was hidden below it. Working from the back of the model’s head toward the front, she began cutting the model’s hair just two inches from her scalp. Six-inch locks of hair dropped to the floor with a soft thud. She called the art director over as she neared the front. “Do you want me to leave this longer, or do you want it short all over?”
“Let’s go for short all over,” he said, walking away. He barely acknowledged the model as anything other than a head of significantly reduced hair.
Beth placed a hand on the model’s shoulder and gave a sympathetic squeeze. Then, she got back to work, continuing to snip the model’s hair until no strand was longer than two inches in length. When the last lock was severed, she went back in to soften and texturize the cut, giving it some shape. Then she dampened the model’s hair with her spray bottle and rubbed a small amount of gel through it. Finally, she took a paddle brush and combed all the remaining hair forward and slightly off to one side. “Well?” she asked the model, standing back.
The model leaned forward toward the mirror and turned her head from side to side. Her neck looked longer, her high cheekbones higher, her perfect nose just a bit perkier, and her blue eyes even bigger. Finally, she smiled. “I think I actually kind of love it.”
The art director was thrilled with the result, and it seemed the fashion industry also took note. A few weeks later, Beth heard the model was going to be featured in a big spread in Vogue. And finally, she was going to get a chance to do another restyle, this time on her best friend.
Beth’s phone sounded the special ringtone reserved exclusively for Anya’s calls—“Just a Girl” by No Doubt, a nod to their younger days and their first concert together.
Anya didn’t wait for Beth’s greeting before she started talking. “You woke me, you know.”
Beth grinned, even though no one was there to see her. “That was a risk I was willing to take. You get the pictures?”
”Thats why I’m calling.”
”I don’t know. Maybe? That second photo, with the undercut. That feels like too big of a change if the goal is to stretch this out as long as possible.”
”Nah,” Beth protested. “A little undercut like that at the nape is pretty easy to work around. If anything, that first photo is going to limit subsequent haircuts.”
”How so?” Anya asked.
”Look at the photo. See how distinct the layers are? That means there’s not as much hair for me to blend into another cut. I’d probably have to take the next cut almost as short as the shortest layer you see in the photos.”
”That’s almost to her chin!” Anya gasped. It was clear she wasn’t ready to go that short so quickly.
”Yeah, I mean, because I’m the one giving you the cut we have some discretion in terms of overall length and length of each layer. But still, just about any haircut I’d give you after that one would be pretty significant. With the undercut, you’d be able to keep most of your length for at least a little longer.”
”Except for that part you’d shave off the back of my head.”
”Not shave. Clipper.”
”Same difference, Beth.”
”Not really, Anya.”
Anya was silent for a few seconds. Beth knew her friend was trying to figure out whether to protest any further. Finally, Anya spoke again. “Okay, tell me more about the undercut style.”
”I’d separate a section of hair at the back of your head and buzz it off. What more is there to tell you?”
”How big of a section? How short are we talking?”
”Well, I don’t want to make the undercut too big, or else it could wind up dictating some of our subsequent cuts. I can angle the sides pretty gradually so the peak of it is just a little higher than your earlobes. That would still leave us a lot of options for the next haircuts—I could use the high point to mark where to draw a straight line, take the triangle steeper, even do a 360 undercut.”
”What’s that?” Anya asked, clearly trying to keep up.
”Its where the undercut wraps all the way around your head, from ear to ear.”
”Okay but isn’t that more like 270 degrees?”
”Do you really want to be a smart-ass to the woman who will be holding the clippers?” Beth teased.
”Fair point.” Anya paused again. “And how short will the undercut part actually be?”
”No more than half an inch long. Probably shorter than that.” Beth could tell from the silence on the line that Anya wasn’t excited. “But it would be totally hidden by the rest of your hair unless you want to wear it up. Nobody will even know it’s there.”
”Except for the million or so people who follow me on Instagram.” Another pause. “Listen, if I vetoed either of these cuts, do you already have backup ideas?”
”Yes, but honestly they’re not all that different from the ones I sent you.”
Anya let out a sigh. “Okay, then I guess we’ll go with these.”
Anya emailed the photos to her virtual assistant, along with a note to set up three separate fundraising links, each with a sample photo (the two haircut options from Beth, plus one of Jack’s photos from last night, in which she hoped her hair looked good enough to convince people to contribute to her keeping it just as it was), and the text for a post to publish on Anya’s Instagram and link to elsewhere:
ICYMI, last night I cut off more than a foot of hair to donate to Wigs for Kids, after raising more than a hundred thousand dollars for cancer research. I also announced an extension of my fundraiser. Each week, I’m going to set a new fundraising goal and you can make a donation to vote on whether I should stick with my current style or get one of two haircuts @bgoldenstylesyou has chosen for me. If we meet our fundraising goal, the fate of my hair is in your hands.
This week’s fundraising goal is $7,500. Let’s get down to it…
The first photo you see here was taken by @jacktakespics last night after my initial cut. I have bangs! That’s thanks to an extra $5,000 we raised during the livestream. Photos two and three are the cuts Beth picked—ignore the models’ hair color when you vote and focus on the cut. To vote, visit the link in my profile and then make a donation toward whatever look you want to see me with this time next week. Assuming you donate enough, I’ll be getting a new haircut every week until I decide I’m finished getting my hair cut.
P.S. I should mention that I’m not going to know what you all pick for me until next Tuesday, when we have our next livestream scheduled. Beth is going to keep track of your donations and I’ll find out the fate of my hair the same day you do!
That done, Anya looked at her content calendar for the week. She had two cooking videos planned, plus she’d need to get photos before, during, and after to post around the videos, and of course she had to actually write the recipes up as well. It was time to focus on work, not her hair.
Of course, Anya wasn’t expecting the flood of notifications that would hit her phone after her VA posted the photos. Her screen kept lighting up with comment notifications. People saying they loved her new hair, or weighing in with their opinions about the potential hairstyles or the format of the expanded fundraiser. She switched her device to airplane mode, determined not to think about her hair for at least a little while.
Anya emerged from a productive several hours of recipe planning and switched off airplane mode so she could check her email. Her social media apps each carried several dozen notifications, which she knew could wait. There were also two text messages.
From Beth: Girl, we have already raised so much money. We’re going to hit that goal no problem. Ready to say goodbye to more of that hair of yours? Anya replied with a scowling emoji.
And from Jack, her photographer friend who had taken her before and after photos the day before and also made sure the cameras for the livestream stayed focused and connected during the whole broadcast: Probably should have asked you last night, but are you going to want me again next Tuesday? I still have a lot of time on my hands with so many out-of-town gigs still on pandemic pause.
Jack asked a totally reasonable question and Anya needed to get him an answer. She sighed to herself. She had hoped, when she saw he’d texted, that there would be something more personal in his message. Last night after Beth left, Anya had helped him get the last of his equipment back into his truck. The hug he gave her before he left felt just a beat too long to be a “goodnight, friend” sort of hug and she didn’t mind at all.
Although Anya had known Jack for several years, it was only recently that she’d thought maybe she wanted more. She hadn’t even told Beth, although she suspected that Beth knew. But anyway, there was no hint of anything beyond the pragmatic in his text. She answered in kind: That would be awesome, if you really don’t mind. We won’t need you all day this time, just maybe 4pm on? Will pay, of course.
His reply came a few minutes later: No you won’t. I’m doing this as a friend, and because I’m bored.
Anya noticed the three telltale dots flickering at the bottom of her screen, a sign that Jack was about to say more. She stared at those dots, willing the next message to come though. When it did, she wasn’t disappointed: And to see you, of course.
Anya wasn’t sure how to reply, so after a few minutes of deliberation she just wrote: See you Tuesday! Then, she added a smiley face before hitting send.
Somehow, a week had flown by and now it was the day for Anya’s next haircut—or, she hoped, the lack thereof.
She just had to finish one last video before Beth arrived. She didn’t want to risk a continuity issue if her hair wound up looking too different tomorrow. She was in the process of putting away her equipment and cleaning up the last traces of her cooking demo when the doorbell rang about half an hour earlier than she was expecting. She figured it was Beth, coming to work Anya up a bit before the livestream. All week, Beth had been sending Anya text messages comprised of nothing but the scissor and money emoji, so it made sense that she’d want a few bonus minutes of teasing before they got down to work.
Instead, when Anya opened the door, Jack was standing there. He ran a hand through his thick, wavy hair. “Sorry, I know I’m early. I tried calling to see if you thought you were going to want a few ‘before’ photos outside but I kept getting your voicemail. The sun sets so early this time of year and I was worried we’d miss golden hour if I didn’t get here till four, so I figured I’d just risk it and head on over.”
Pragmatic as always, Anya thought to herself. “Sorry, I was recording and my phone was off. But…yeah, golden hour sounds good, I guess? Want to get set up wherever while I finish tidying up?”
Anya had never finished her post-shoot cleaning routine so fast.
The light outside shone perfectly onto Anya’s red curls, turning them to the color of molten copper. But Jack succeeded in taking only a few photos of Anya outside before she insisted she was cold.
”It’s January,” Jack told her in a gently mocking tone. Despite Anya’s protestations he kept snapping photos as they talked.
”Listen, I’m not one of those swimsuit models you photographed in Iceland because someone thought it would be hilarious to put a bunch of half-naked women in the snow in order to sell—vodka, was it?”
”Hey, that shoot was not my idea. I was just the agency’s hired gun.” He paused. “And anyway, you’re prettier than any of those models were.”
”You’re just trying to build up my self esteem in case I wind up looking awful after tonight,” Anya said.
”You would make any haircut look good,” he replied, lowering his camera. “Listen…do you want to grab dinner tonight? After the livestream?”
”Shouldn’t you wait and ask me after you can be sure you won’t mind being seen in public with me?”
“Anya…” Jack began to protest, but the doorbell rang before he had a chance to say anything else. “I guess that would be Beth,” he said, turning to walk across the deck. He reentered the house to admit their stylist friend.
Anya, who only moments ago couldn’t wait to head back inside and warm up, lingered in her spot for a few minutes longer, watching Jack through the glass. “Did you just ask me out?” she asked, knowing full well he couldn’t hear her. She went in.
Because Anya had been taping that afternoon, her hair already looked great. Beth made a few small adjustments to it and then set about touching up Anya’s makeup and picking an outfit for her to change into. Jack was only a few feet away so Anya couldn’t tell her friend about what had just transpired on the deck.
Still, Beth caught the pair looking toward each other once or twice and hoped these two were finally closer to getting together. She decided to try to assist in that regard. “Jack? Could you come over here? I need your expert eye.”
Jack finished positioning a ring light in their designated shooting area and walked over.
”What’s up, Beth?”
”What do you think of this outfit? Will it work well for the livestream?”
”Does it matter that much?” Anya asked from where she was posed in a wrap dress and boots. “I’m going to be caped for like 90% of the video.”
”Of course it matters,” Beth answered. “Jack?”
”I think it’ll work, yeah,” he answered diplomatically.
Beth clearly didn’t get the enthusiastic answer she hoped for. ”I forgot to ask you last week, Jack, what do you think about Anya’s new haircut?”
“I think it looks great. She looks great.”
Beth shot Anya a deliberate glance, then looked again to Jack. “It’s going to be a shame if the voting donors want me to change it, right?”
Jack looked from Beth to Anya. ”I think Anya is going to look good no matter what happens to her hair.” Over his shoulder, Beth gave her friend a thumbs-up.
After Anya’s outfit was finalized—she still didn’t know why it mattered so much—Jack took a few more “before” photos under Beth’s direction and then retreated back behind the livestream camera setup.
Anya sat in the same stool she had been in this time last week, her thoughts boomeranging between: “Why did I let Beth talk me into doing this?” And “Did Jack just ask me out?” Beth stood behind her, readying her equipment: clips, combs, shears, a couple of hand mirrors, and—deliberately placed so Anya could see them—a set of clippers.
Anya started to say something but Jack held his hand up to indicate they were about to go live. Ever the pro, she put the boomeranging thoughts and the peripheral clippers out of her mind and smiled into the camera. Jack signaled that they were on.
”Hi, friends. I’ll just get down to it tonight: last Wednesday evening, the day after my big donation haircut, I posted photos of three possible outcomes for my hair tonight and asked you to vote for your favorite by making a donation to cancer research at the styles’ associated links. One option—one I really hope you considered—was my hair staying just like this. Then there were two possible haircuts my alleged best friend over here picked out for me.”
”Hey! Not nice!” Beth interjected, hamming it up a bit for the cameras.
”I think you all know Beth Golden by now. If not, you should definitely follow her @bgoldenstylesyou. Beth has been keeping track of your donations this week. She even changed the password so I couldn’t check on the voting. Earlier tonight Beth told me we raised more than $8,000 this week. So we hit our goal, but that’s all I know about how the voting went. She brought a big piece of poster board with her tonight, which I’m guessing has the winning haircut on, it big enough that all of you at home can see.”
”Correct,” Beth confirmed. “And I’m going to point it at the camera before I show Anya, too.” For added effect, and also because she knew Anya might be able to see the poster in the monitors facing them from offstage, Beth spun Anya’s stool around. With the same sort of flourish she usually used in caping her clients, she grabbed the rolled poster behind her and unfurled it toward the cameras. She saw the comments and reactions light up immediately.
”Well?” Anya asked when she felt Beth had been holding the poster toward the audience long enough. Beth lowered the enlarged image and handed it to her friend, then spun the stool back to face the cameras. Anya studied the image briefly and gave a little nod. It was the undercut.
Anya gulped, hoping her microphone wouldn’t pick it up. “Okay then,” she said to no one in particular. At least she got to keep most of her length for now.
”One thing,” Beth said. “Like we said before, consent is important. You’ve already consented to this as a possible outcome for tonight. But I think we should also state that consent can also be revoked at any time. It’s as true in this setting as any other. So I want to make sure you’re still okay with this.”
”What about the donations?” Anya asked, terrified she might be called a hypocrite.
”I added a question to the donor form asking people if they would still donate if you changed your mind and didn’t go with the winning style, or if insufficient funds were raised and you weren’t going to get any more haircuts. A lot of people said they would still make the donation. So no matter what, you’ll be giving a generous amount to cancer research.”
”But not everyone said they would?”
”Not everyone, no.”
Anya didn’t hesitate. “All of those donations are important. Let’s do this.”
Beth did something for this haircut she hadn’t done for the last: she secured a piece of neck paper around Anya’s neck. Then, she grabbed her cape and in one smooth motion unfolded it and draped it over Anya. Beth spun Anya’s stool so her back was to the cameras and her audience could get optimal view of her mini-shearing.
Perhaps to calm her nerves, Anya spoke: “You know, the only reason I’m not totally terrified of what you’re about to do is because you let me feel your undercut after you cut your hair.”
Beth’s undercut had made its social media debut the day after she showed her newest haircut to Anya, so it wasn’t like it was a secret. Still, from the wave of excited and heart-eyed emoji that appeared on the monitor, Beth got the impression a lot of their viewers hadn’t seen it. “I guess it’s only fair if I show you guys,” she said toward the cameras. She grabbed a hair elastic from her supplies and quickly threw her hair into a ponytail, then turned her back to the cameras so the audience could take it in. “Maybe I’ll leave my hair like this while I’m cutting Anya’s. Double your undercut pleasure.”
Beth started to gather all but the bottommost layers of Anya’s hair onto the top of her head, securing it with a few large clips. Then, the stylist studied the curtain of red curls that remained. For both Anya’s benefit and the audience’s, she explained: “I’m trying to figure out exactly the right shape and angle for the undercut so we’ll have maximum flexibility for any future cuts, but it will also be dramatic enough that you notice it when Anya wears her hair up.” Finally, she took the end of her comb and began to trace a gentle slope that started at the outer left edge of Anya’s hairline and stopped at a peak just above earlobe height, then pinned up the remaining hair on that side so it was safely out of her way. She repeated the process on Anya’s right side, then stepped back to make sure she was satisfied the section that still hung down was symmetrical.
Beth gathered that hair into a small ponytail and secured it just an inch or two from Anya’s scalp. “I’m not sure if there’s enough hair here to make a big difference to what Anya is already sending Wigs for Kids, but she hasn’t mailed her donation yet so I figured we would add this to what she’s sending.” She picked up her shears and leaned over Anya, patting her on the back. “Ready?”
“As I’m going to be.”
Beth positioned herself where she wouldn’t block the cameras and then began to take little snips above the elastic in Anya’s hair. Because she was working so close to Anya’s head she wanted to be careful. The sound of staccato scissoring and crunching hair was being picked up by a nearby microphone so the audience could enjoy that unmistakable sound. Soon, Beth was holding a small ponytail about a foot and a half in length in her left hand. A cropped patch of hair remained on Anya’s nape, so short that here was very little sign of curl to it.
Anya realized she had been holding her breath and finally inhaled as she felt the hair come away. Her hand flew up from under the cape and touched the back of her head. “It’s so short! It’s already shorter than that Felicity cut I had in high school.”
”And it’s still going to get a lot shorter,” Beth said. “Get your hand back under your cape, please.” The stylist picked up her clippers and attached a #3 guard before switching them on. Anya jumped. “Yeah, they’re a little loud at first. Head down, please,” she instructed Anya, gently pushing her chin toward her chest.
Beth inserted a comb into Anya’s hair above the now-shortened section to keep the longer hair out of the clippers’ path, and then placed the humming machine at the base of Anya’s neck. Their pitch changed as they made contact with Anya’s thick hair. Beth slowly slid them up toward where she held the comb and then angled them up and away from her friend’s head. A clump of short red hair landed on the floor; on Anya’s neck, a two-inch wide strip of red velvet was left between two patches of longer hair. Beth placed her clippers slightly to the left of where she made her first pass and again slid them up and then away from Beth’s scalp. Another clump of hair hit the mat, and the velvet strip that remained was wider now. After two more passes, the left side of the nape undercut was buzzed down to three-eighths of an inch in length, standing in sharp contrast to the hairs on the right side that had already seemed so short moments ago. Beth clicked the clippers off and moved her comb, taking a moment to evaluate her work so far.
“That actually felt really nice,” Anya said, lifting her head up and turning slightly to her friend. “Can I touch it yet?”
”Not yet. I’m only halfway done. Put your head back down.” Beth gently pressed her friend’s chin back toward her chest and turned her clippers back on. They popped and then hummed back to life, and Beth returned them to the center of Anya’s neck. She repositioned her comb to keep the pinned up hair on this side out of the way and made another pass with her clippers. More hair on the floor. More velvet on Anya’s neck. Three more passes and the last clump of hair fell away from Anya’s head.
Beth switched her clippers off. ”Hmm,” she said.
”Good hmm or bad hmm?” Anya asked. She started to raise her hand to her nape again, but Beth pushed her arm back down.
”Just hmm. Your hair is so thick that it barely looks like an undercut. It just looks like your hair is pulled up tightly in the back.” She paused a moment to think, then continued, partly to Beth and partly to the audience: “The whole point of this exercise is that the change in your hair should be noticeable. I think we should take it shorter so we can see a little hint of your scalp through your hair.”
”I mean, how much shorter are we talking?”
”A number two would take you down another eighth of an inch, so it would be a quarter of an inch all over. A number one would get you to an eighth of an inch all over. That might be a little short for the next cut, but we’ll be safe with a two, I think. Sound good?”
”You’re the boss.”
Beth switched the guard on her clippers. “Head back down, please,” she instructed Anya, once again inserting her comb into the longer hair to keep it safe. She turned her clippers on and without hesitation ran them up the center of Anya’s neck. A rain of short hairs caught the light as they came down. “Yeah,” she said aloud, mostly to herself. “I think that’s going to work.” She made another pass, then another, and another. The hair on Anya’s nape seemed to lighten in color, but it was really just a hint of her skin beginning to show through. Finally, Beth seemed satisfied that all the hair left was of uniform length, and she she turned her clippers off again.
”Can I touch it yet?” Anya asked. She sounded impatient.
”One more sec.” Beth put the clippers she had been holding in her right hand down and picked up the smaller, guardless pair she used for edging and clean-up. These made a higher-pitched whine when she turned them on. “Don’t move.” Beth placed her hand on top of Anya’s head and held it in place, then used the tool to carefully tidy Anya’s hairline. “Okay,” she finally said, stepping back. “You can touch it now.”
Anya’s arm flew up from under her cape. She placed her hand on her nape and rubbed it up and down. “I’m still a little nervous about how it’s going to look, but I have to admit that feels amazing.”
Beth turned Anya back toward the cameras and let loose the hair she had pinned up. Anya’s red hair tumbled back into place, almost as if nothing had changed. The monitor showing the audience’s comments were filled with enthusiastic emoji reactions.
”So we’re done, right?” Anya asked.
”Not quite,” Beth answered. “When you get an undercut and your hair is layered you’re basically getting rid of the bottom layer of your haircut. That makes your hair appear shorter overall but it also means your other layers might not look quite right. So we need to get you cleaned up a bit.”
”I thought I wasn’t losing much length with this cut?”
”You aren’t losing much. But you have to lose some or else it looks like I gave you a bad haircut. And that makes both of us look bad.”
”Oh fine. Do your thing.”
Beth began combing through and then sectioning Anya’s hair again. “Sorry if this part is less exciting, folks,” she said into the cameras. “But if you stick around I’m going to do a quick, casual updo on our friend here so she can show off her new haircut.”
Beth turned Anya’s stool backward again. “You know, I’m going to get dizzy if you keep spinning me around,” Anya said to her friend.
”You’d better not. If you fall off this stool I can’t promise your hair won’t suffer for it.”
Beth returned to her cutting position. One section at a time, she examined the remaining length and how well it blended with the section beneath it. When she was ready to cut, she did so strategically, placing her shears at the precise point at which the curls would maintain their shape. The red locks that hit the floor varied between two inches and half an inch in length.
”That looks like a lot of hair.”
”It’s not,” Beth said. Soon enough, she finished the final section, deciding to leave Anya’s long, curly bangs untouched. Beth grabbed her spray bottle and again spun her friend to face the cameras. She misted Anya’s hair to reactivate the product she already had in it, careful to dampen all her layers and not just the top.
Anya inhaled sharply as Beth was spraying the bottom layer. “Oh! I wasn’t expecting to feel the water on my neck! There’s usually hair there.”
”You get used to it,” Beth said, putting down her bottle and picking up her blow dryer. “Folks at home, you may want to mute your devices for the next couple of minutes.” She attached a diffuser to the end of the device and began lifting and fluffing Anya’s hair as it dried, then instructed her friend to flip her hair forward so she could dry the underside—and so the audience could enjoy their view of Anya’s new undercut. Once Beth was satisfied, Anya sat back up, flipping her red curls behind her and back into place. A dozen mermaid emoji appeared on the monitor.
Beth made a quick circle around Anya to make sure she was still satisfied with the cut and pushed some of Anya’s hair forward, over her shoulders. “See?” asked. “It’s still pretty long.” Anya looked much the same as she had after her haircut last week. A mass of perfect red curls framed her face and ended below her shoulders. Sure, her hair was slightly shorter—but only slightly, unless you counted that nape undercut.
”Not bad, if I do say so myself,” Beth remarked. “And now for the updo.” She began to pile Anya’s hair on top of her head, clipping everything but a thin curtain of hair there. Beth talked as she worked, her hands moving fast while she explained what she was doing to the audience. She created two small French braids snaking upward from Anya’s nape, perfectly framing the undercut so that it was sure to stand out. Then, she gathered the ends of the braids and the rest of Anya’s hair and pinned it all into a messy bun, choosing not to tame the curls that tried to escape. “Okay! All done!” Beth slowly gave Anya one last spin in the chair, showing off all angles of the style, and removed her cape and the paper that was still around her neck.
“Well then, I guess that’s us for the evening.” Anya reclaimed her emceeing duties. She could see her face reflected in the monitors but couldn’t tell yet how her hair, especially the back of it, really looked. “Beth is going to send me two potential haircuts for next week’s livestream and I’ll post them on social by tomorrow night, along with our next fundraising goal. Remember: you have to donate to vote, and we have to hit our goal before I sit back down on this stool. Okay? That’s it. I’m going to go find a mirror and try to get used to not having hair on the back of my head. G’nite, everyone!”
Jack signaled that the stream had ended and Anya immediately reached up and began rubbing her buzzed nape. “This feels so weird,” she said.
”But also kind of awesome, right?” Beth said, leaning over and running her fingernails up the back of her friend’s neck and into the soft patch of freshly mown red hair at Anya’s nape.
”Yeah, that definitely feels awesome. I just hope I like how it looks.”
”Well, you don’t have to look at the back of your head all that much, so I expect that won’t be a problem.” Beth looked toward Jack, who was dismantling their video set-up. “Jack, what do you think of Anya’s hair?”
Jack turned toward the two women. “Oh, uh, it looks great,” he said, then returned his attention to the cable he was in the process of wrapping.
”How can you tell from way over there?” Beth asked. “Come over here and take a better look!”
”Beth!” Anya quietly hissed at her friend, rising from her stool. She could feel her cheeks reddening as Jack dutifully approached.
”So, how do you like the close-up version?” Beth asked him. “Why don’t you give a little spin, Anya?”
Anya rolled her eyes but did as her friend requested. Beth stopped her halfway around, with her back facing Jack. “Here,” she said, taking his hand and guiding it toward Anya’s neck. “Feel this.”
”Oh, uh…” Jack stammered. “Only of Anya says it’s okay. Consent, right?”
“Anya,” Beth said, giving her friend’s shoulder a light squeeze. “Can Jack feel your undercut?”
”Uh…sure. If he wants to, I mean.” She really hoped he did.
Jack didn’t object, so Beth continued to guide his hand toward Anya’s nape, letting go of him as he made contact. He gently glided his fingertips down the curve where her skull and neck met, back up, and down again. Then, almost as if he was afraid he’d taken too many liberties, be dropped his arm back to his side.
Anya felt goosebumps on her arms. She hoped Jack didn’t notice. She was almost certain Beth did, though, because a moment later, Beth grabbed her phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen. “Shit! I missed four calls from one of my clients in LA. A director told her she needs to change her hair for this movie she’s doing and she’s freaking out about it because we already planned all her awards season looks. This could take a while. I think I’m going to head out and give her a call.”
Anya had heard variations on this story before and she knew it was very likely Beth was just trying to leave her alone with Jack. She looked questioningly at her friend, who winked back. The stylist kissed both her friends on the cheek and said she’d come back for her stuff in the morning. She left so quickly she didn’t even sweep up the red hair that was still on Anya’s kitchen floor.
Jack went back to disassembling the video equipment that was still mostly set up in the kitchen. Anya grabbed the small hand vacuum she kept under her sink and turned her attention to the hair on her floor. She was surprised, when she turned the machine off, to find Jack had moved closer and was looking at her. “Does the back of my head look that awful?” she asked him, reaching reflexively up to the newly buzzed pelt on her nape.
”Not at all. I kind of dig it, actually.”
”You know, it’s just occurring to me that I haven’t actually seen the finished product.” She picked up the two hand mirrors Beth had left there and handed one to Jack. “Here, hold this,” she instructed, turning her back to him and holding the second mirror up so she could get a clear view of the braid-flanked undercut. “That’s kind of fun, actually. Too bad I’ll never be able to replicate the French braid by myself.” Then, a sudden thought occurred. “Oh no! We forgot to take any after photos. Beth left so fast. Do you think you can get a few before you finish putting everything away?”
”For sure. Sorry, I should have remembered, too.”
“It’s pretty dark outside. I guess we’ll just stay here in the kitchen?”
”I mean, isn’t that your domain anyway?” Jack asked, a hint of playfulness in his voice.
Over the next half hour, the two chatted casually while Jack photographed Anya as she prepared a pie. She was dying to return to their conversation from earlier but didn’t want to be the one to bring it up, in case she had misunderstood Jack’s intentions. So they talked about friends and work as Anya rolled out the pastry until it was large enough to fit in a pie tin, mixed a pint of blueberries with sugar and lemon zest in a bowl, and poured it into the completed crust, finally topping it with a second crust.
Jack knew he was mostly supposed to be getting Anya’s “after” photos but he shot her her from all angles, making sure to get some good photos that she could use for other purposes, too. He loved the way she moved about her kitchen and wanted to capture that. As Anya placed her pie in the oven, Jack photographed her from above and slightly to the side. “I think I have the cover of your next cookbook,” he said as she shut the oven door.
”Oh?” Jack turned his camera toward her so she could see his most recent shot. There were her signature red curls, trying to escape their messy bun. And then you could clearly make out one of the braids framing Anya’s new undercut and the vague shape of the other. In the photo they served not only to show off the style but also to make her neck look longer, somehow. Because of the angle of her head, you could just see where Anya’s bangs nearly met her eyelashes, extra long thanks to the lash extensions Beth had insisted they get together a few weeks ago, and then the shape of her nose below. Her arms were extended in an improbably graceful way as she placed the pie onto her oven rack. As unfamiliar as her new hairstyle was, the photo still felt very her. “Wow,” she said, for lack of anything better. It was just a quick snapshot but she felt it conveyed something deeper. She passed the camera back to Jack, and their hands touched briefly.
”About dinner…” Jack began. “I mean, you didn’t really give me an answer when I asked if you wanted to grab dinner.”
“Yes,” Anya answered, louder and more enthusiastically than she meant. “If you still want to, after…” she gestured toward Beth’s supplies, still set up across the kitchen.
Jack’s face lit up with a big smile. “Definitely.”
”Good, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle being rejected over a haircut. This way, no matter what happens with my hair next week, we’ll at least have had the one night where I was still attractive enough that you wanted to go on a date.” She reached up and started to pull a pin out of her hair and saw Jack’s smile fade slightly. “Oh…god, is it not a date? That’s embarrassing. I’m sorry. Forget I said that.”
”No,” Jack said. “It’s definitely still a date. It’s just that I was just hoping you’d leave your hair up.”
Beth pushed the pin back into place. “Okay then,” she said brightly, sliding her arm through Jack’s. The oven dinged, signaling that her pie was ready. “And maybe after, we can come back here for dessert?”
To be continued…
Note; I had originally planned on this being a four-part story but I don’t think Anya is ready to get to her final cut yet. So stay tuned for a to-be-determined number of future incremental haircuts, as well as a budding romance with Jack and an impending style change for Beth, who has already had her current hairstyle for almost a month and will soon be looking for something different herself.