The Latest Hashtag Challenge

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There was only a few months left until graduation, but it seemed like an eternity to Naomi. The stress of the upcoming final exams, graduation, and getting into a good college was taking its toll and Naomi just wanted to let loose and have some fun for once.

Coming home from school to an empty house was common for Naomi, the daughter of busy, professional parents. Her mom was an environmental scientist who worked long hours trying to come up with solutions to California’s water shortages. And as an epidemiologist for the Department of Health, Naomi’s father had been busy ever since the beginning of the pandemic three years ago.

Naomi’s parents were pretty laid back, as long as Naomi stayed out of trouble and kept her grades up. Since she had been accepted at Stanford and was well on her way to a career in a STEM field, everything was going her way. Her family had high expectations of her, and she wouldn’t dream of disappointing them.

Flopping on the sofa, Naomi was bored out of her mind. There was no school today because of teacher meetings. She grabbed her phone and started scrolling through the pictures and videos on her favorite social media app – ShareShack. She was always trying to keep up with her friends and gain as many “Likes” and new followers as possible. 

As she flipped down through her homepage, she discovered that a lot of her friends were posting pictures and videos of the latest hashtag challenge – #FiveFingerDiscount. Jenny posted a clip of her trimming her fingernails with her #FiveFingerDiscount nail clippers she swiped from Drug Depot. Raegan posed with a phone charger that she pocketed from Wireless Wonderland. Lillie posted a video of herself dancing to music blaring out of a boom box that had tags from Power Plaza hanging conspicuously. All of these had received hundreds of views and hundreds of “Likes”. Naomi sighed, not sure how she could compete.

That afternoon Naomi and her friend, Jenny, pulled into the parking lot at the Horizon Shopping Mall to look for dresses to wear to the senior prom. Naomi hopped out of her  Jeep, locked the doors, and dropped the keys into her enormous bag. She loved shopping and she was looking forward to finding something that would make her look perfect for her boyfriend, Kole, at the last big dance of her high school years. 

Smiling at herself in the dressing room mirror at Sandra’s Formal Fashion Boutique, Naomi was elated at the beautiful gown she was wearing – midnight blue corset style, made in floral lace with beaded embroidery, with a drawstring back and puffy sleeves. It was straight out of her favorite series – Royal Loves. With her shoulder-length, wavy chestnut colored hair and dark brown eyes, this dress was going to be awesome. Charging her purchase with the credit card that her parents paid off for her, she gathered up her shopping bags and headed out into the mall with Jenny.

“Let’s see if we can find something you can post on ShareShack for the #FiveFingerDiscount Challenge,” Jenny suggested as she started looking around the aging shopping mall. 

By the looks of it, the mall hadn’t been updated since the 1980s, decades before the girls were even born. How difficult could it be to grab something on the way out the doors to the parking lot? There were clothing stores, jewelry stores, a food court…and then Jenny saw the best target. On the upper level near the exit was a hair salon – Hair Couture Studio.

Hair Couture Studio had been a fixture at this mall since it opened. From the mall you could see into the entrance, a reception area with purple vinyl seats and geometric tables that displayed hairstyle books and magazines. Beyond that you could see purple styling chairs, with silver framed mirrors. There was a sign displayed on the reception counter that said, “Now under new management!!! Hiring stylists!!!” 

In front of the salon was a large table set up with bottles of discontinued hair products, various styling tools, costume jewelry, and what appeared to be the ancient contents of the storage closets of the back room of the salon. A sign announced, “Beauty Bargains!!!” Jenny elbowed Naomi and pointed, smiling mischievously.

“Perfect!” Jenny squealed. “Give me your phone. I’ll hold the camera and we can record you getting a “FiveFingerBeautyBargain” on ShareShackLive! It’ll definitely go viral!” 

Jenny grabbed the phone, opened the app, and hit the Live button. Within moments, she could see the viewers joining in. She held the camera up to Naomi, who smiled and waved her fingers while saying, “All right, Followers! It’s the FiveFingerDiscount Challenge!”

Jenny followed behind Naomi as she walked quickly up to the table, grabbed a bottle of Vibrant Volume Shampoo and slid it into the shopping bag with her new dress. The girls kept walking quickly toward the door. 

They were almost out of the mall when two security guards stepped out from behind the mall directory board. They grabbed at the girls. The phone clattered to the slick, tiled floor. Jenny got away and ran out the door. But Naomi slipped and fell. The guards grabbed her and the phone and walked her back to the salon.

They hustled Naomi past the table, through the salon to a back office. They sat her down in a gray plastic chair, pulled her arms behind her back and handcuffed her. Outside the office door, she heard a woman say, “Thanks guys! I can handle things from here. I’ve closed the salon for the rest of the day. Could you lock the door and close the mall gate for me? I don’t want to be disturbed.” 

Naomi could hear the merchandise table being moved into the reception area. The door was pulled shut and she could hear the gate rumbling down to the floor. 

The office door opened. A tall woman with long, straight brown hair strode in and stood behind the desk. She was wearing a crimson colored sleeveless top that showcased her muscular arms and a black miniskirt. Her mall ID badge indicated that she was Regina Phelps – Owner of Hair Couture Studio. She wore high heeled black boots that click clacked on the floor as she walked. She was holding Naomi’s phone and smiling.

“Well, Naomi Palmer, your friend’s clumsy phone handling has provided me with everything I need to prosecute you for shoplifting: your name, address, and your ShareShackLive video.”

Suddenly Naomi’s stomach lurched as she thought about the trouble she was in. Her parents would be furious and a police record could jeopardize her acceptance to Stanford University. Tears started to well up in her eyes.

“Please don’t call the police! Please let me go. I’ll pay for the shampoo. Please…”

“Oh, you’ll pay all right, Naomi,” replied Regina. “I know that a privileged young woman  like yourself probably doesn’t think much of people that have to work hard in this world. I have spent years saving up to buy my own salon. I am pulling together every cent to redecorate this place and hire new stylists. When you kids rip me off to play your hashtag challenge pranks, it really ticks me off!”

“I’m really sorry…Please don’t call the police….Please!” Naomi was sobbing.

“I’ll tell you what…You have a choice. Either I call the police to come and get you or you agree to have a complete makeover streamed live on your ShareShackLive! If you agree to the makeover, I will drop the matter,” Regina leaned back in her office chair and smiled.

Naomi felt like she didn’t have much of a choice, since she didn’t want this prank to ruin her life. 

“What kind of makeover?” Naomi whispered timidly.

“You will pay for your prank with ALL of your hair. If you submit completely, you can go on your way. If you don’t cooperate, I will share the video of your crime with the authorities. What’ll it be?” Regina asked menacingly.

Far off in the distance she could hear music and laughter coming from the mall. A clock was ticking on the wall. The afternoon was slipping away and her parents would expect her home. She nodded weekly.

“Perfect!” Regina beamed and stood up. Removing the handcuffs, she gestured for Naomi to follow.

She led Naomi out into the brightly lit salon. Regina’s shoes clicked on the floor as she moved about. She placed Naomi’s phone in a special holder and adjusted it so it was pointed at a purple vinyl styling chair. She opened Naomi’s ShareShack app and typed in “Will be LIVE in a few minutes with the epic results of my hashtag challenge! #FiveFingerDiscountFail!!!” 

“Here we go!” Regina chirped brightly. She saw that hundreds were tuning in to view and she touched the RECORD button.

With a sweep of her arm, she gestured to Naomi to have a seat in her chair. Naomi felt numb as she backed into the chair. Regina swiftly turned the chair so that Naomi was facing away from the mirror and toward her phone. She could see herself in the small screen.

“Welcome Viewers! And now you all can see your friend, Naomi, and what happens when you rip off a hard working business owner, such as myself!” Regina announced like she was a professional television emcee.

She ran her fingers through Naomi’s long, luxurious hair. She swept it all into a pile on top of Naomi’s head, securing it with a big clip. She wrapped a tissue around Naomi’s neck. Then she brought out a gray, shiny plastic cape and draped it over the front of Naomi and secured it in the back. She folded the tissue down over her collar. She pulled the hair clip out and Naomi’s tresses cascaded down around her shoulders.

Naomi’s chin quivered and tears were starting to fall onto the cutting cape. Regina simply looked at the phone and smiled. Using her foot, she pumped the chair up several inches so that Naomi was at a better height for the camera. Taking a hairbrush, she used long long strokes to pull Naomi’s hair into a ponytail on each side of her head. Naomi just looked down into her lap.

Regina reached for her scissors laying on the counter. She took ahold of the right side ponytail and started working the scissors into it. In about fifteen seconds she had worked the scissors through. She held the ponytail up in the air triumphantly and laughed. Laying it on the counter, she immediately started working on the left ponytail. Soon it joined the other one on the counter. Naomi took a deep breath. 

Regina picked up the electric clippers with her right hand and a comb in her left hand. With a click, the clippers buzzed to life. She pushed Naomi’s head down, plunged the clippers into her hair at the nape of her neck, and raised them up to meet the comb in Regina’s left hand midway up the back of her skull. She immediately clipped another pass to left of the first pass. She continued clipping and combing around the back of her head several more times until she reached Naomi’s left ear. Then she took the clippers to the right of the first path, clipping and combing around to Naomi’s right ear.

Naomi felt dizzy and hot. Tears continued to stream down her face, while Regina smiled brightly into the camera.

Regina popped the guard off the clippers and placed them at Naomi’s hairline and pulled them back across the top of her head to the line that had been cut in the back. She immediately brought the clippers back up to the top of her head and made another pass. Pass after pass, Naomi could feel her scalp being exposed to the air and her dark hair was falling everywhere and piling up in her lap.

Regina picked up a soft brush and gently swept loose hairs off the top of her head and face. The clippers buzzed back to life as Regina continued getting the rest of the hair off of the back and sides of her head. She gently folded Naomi’s right ear forward and Naomi felt the ticking buzz get all around her ear. Oddly enough she was starting to feel more relaxed as the buzzing continued. She felt warm and tingly as she leaned back a little into the clippers. Regina worked the clippers around the back of her head and around her left ear. 

Once again, Regina went all over Naomi’s head with the big soft brush. It felt so strange to have the bristles stroking the bare skin on her scalp. She again picked up the clippers and worked them around Naomi’s head, making sure that she didn’t leave a single hair. Setting the clippers down, she picked up her soft brush and shook out a bit of powder on it. She dusted the sweet smelling powder all across Naomi’s head as she brushed off stray hairs. 

She picked her clippers up again and got a few more strays on Naomi’s neck. Then brushed it softly one more time. Regina picked up a smaller, more compact hair shaver.  She clicked it on and with a higher pitched buzz, she started at Naomi’s right temple and worked it in passes over her head. Naomi was surprised there was any hair left, but she could tell by her image on the phone screen that Regina was making her head completely smooth. She started to wonder how her parents and friends would react. 

Regina worked around the side of her head and around her left ear with the shaver. Every now and then she ran her hand gently across Naomi’s bare head, feeling for stray hairs and making sure it was smooth. Naomi really liked the way Regina’s hand felt. The shaver buzzed along the right side of her head and around her right ear. The buzzing seemed to go on forever. 

Regina set the clippers down. She picked up a hair dryer and shot the warm air all over Naomi’s head and down her body, blowing stray hairs off. Naomi heard the whine of the shaving foam dispenser. Soon the warm cream was being applied to her head, all over. She got a glimpse of herself on her phone’s screen. It was unreal. 

Regina brought a warm towel over and wrapped it around Naomi’s head on top of the shaving cream. With both hands she pressed it gently onto her scalp, moistening and softening the stubble. She removed the towel and applied a fresh layer of the shaving cream. 

“Hold real still, honey,” said Regina. With a straight razor in one hand and her other hand holding Naomi’s head, she removed what ever bits of stubble were left. Pass after pass, until finally she was done. 

Regina placed another warm, moist towel over Naomi’s head and washed away the bits of shaving cream that were still there. She picked up the hair dryer and blew away any debris that was left. She took off the cape with a bit of a flourish. Naomi’s hands automatically reached up and she was shocked by how strange her head felt.

“And there you go! Your brand new look!” Regina laughed and turned to the camera, and speaking directly to it said, “Be sure to Like your friend’s makeover and you all definitely want to hit the Share button so EVERYONE can see it. Make this go viral!”

As Naomi was taking up her phone, Regina said, “Be sure to leave the video up for 24 hours. Then we will be even, and I will delete the video of you shoplifting.”

Naomi smiled weakly and started toward the exit. 

Regina smiled wickedly and handed her the bottle of Vibrant Volume Shampoo that she had swiped. 

“Here, you can keep it! One day, you’ll be able to use it! Hope it was worth it!” 

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