“Let’s play a game,” Leela suggested to the three other girls at the post-midterms sleepover she was hosting in her off-campus apartment. They had just finished their third pitcher of margaritas and they were feeling like having some fun.
”What did you have in mind?” her friend Carla asked.
”You know that game truth or dare? This is similar, but I call it ‘Truth or Hair.’ When it’s your turn you either tell one of your deepest, darkest secrets…or you get a random hairstyle drawn from this bag.”
”Wait…none of us knows how to do hair,” another guest, Vanessa, objected.
”The styles in this bag don’t require much skill,” Leela assured her. She pulled a few slips of paper out of her pouch and showed them to her friends: bangs. A two-inch trim. Dip-dyed ends.
“Well I guess that doesn’t sound too bad,” Amanda, the fourth guest, ventured. “And besides, I’m an open book, so I seriously doubt you’ll be touching my hair anyway.”
“Fine. I’m in,” Vanessa said. “Only Leela, it seems like you have an unfair advantage, since you put the styles in the bag and you know what you’re risking.”
”She’s right,” Carla chimed in. “This could be fun, but Leela can’t be the only one who knows what we’re in for.”
”Fair point,” Leela conceded. “Why don’t you all add some styles to the bag? Just remember that they have to be doable by amateurs.” Leela procured some paper and pens for her friends, and they spent the next few minutes adding styles to the bag while she went to get the supplies they thought they’d need for their game: combs and brushes, shears, a measuring tape, hair elastics, clips and hairpins, peroxide, boxed hair dye, and—just in case—hair clippers.
“Okay, are we ready?” Leela asked on her return, placing her supplies on the coffee table. The other girls nodded enthusiastically. “Awesome. Let’s draw straws to decide who gets to go first.” She pulled four drinking straws out of a kitchen drawer and cut one shorter than the rest. Then she hid them behind her back, mixed them up a bit, and held them in front of her friends. Carla, Vanessa, and Amanda drew their straws, leaving Leela with one in her hand. Ultimately, it was Carla who had the short straw.
”Cool, I’m going first! So, I pick Amanda. Truth or hair?”
Amanda confidently smoothed her thick, straight brown hair, which fell to mid-back length. “Sure,” she said, “but like I said before, I’m an open book. So, truth.”
Carla thought for a minute. “Tell us about the most public place you’ve ever had sex,” she finally asked Amanda.
”Easy. Trevi Fountain when I was studying in Rome. That the best you got?” Carla shrugged and sat down. “I guess I get to go next,” Amanda continued. “Leela, our hostess: truth or hair?”
Leela confidently pulled her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “Truth,” she said.
”Okay…so when you were going to all those extra office hours with Professor Macintosh last semester…were you two actually having an affair?”
Leela flushed. “I guess if I change my mind now and say ‘hair,’ you’ll be able to guess at the answer. But out of a desire not to divulge any details, I’m changing my initial answer.”
”Hair, then?” Amanda asked.
”Hair,” Leela confirmed.
Amanda picked up the pouch containing hairstyle options and drew from the bag. She showed the slip of paper she drew to Leela and read it out loud for the sake of the other two young women in the room. “Cut six inches of hair.”
Leela gulped but nodded, handing the paper back to Amanda. “Tools are on the table. Get on with it, then.”
Amanda grabbed the measuring tape, a comb, and the set of shears that Leela had previously brought in. She ran the comb through Leela’s hair a few times and then measured six inches from the ends of Leela’s hair. Once satisfied, she quickly inserted her shears into her friend’s hair and made a long, straight cut, reducing a sizable amount of Leela’s hair from her bra strap to just brushing the tops of her shoulders. Then she put the tape aside and returned her comb to Leela’s blonde hair, using it to guide her as she made more precise cuts across the rest of Leela’s hair. Soon enough, the blonde hair was universally shortened, and a mass of six-inch lengths of golden hair lay in the floor.
Leela grabbed her cellphone and put it into selfie mode so she could examine the results. “That’s not bad, actually. It should take a heck of a lot less time to dry, at least.” She put her phone back down and turned toward her friends. “Carla, it’s your turn. Truth or hair?”
Carla had recently cut her dark, curly hair from waist length to her collarbone and she had already been thinking that she might go even shorter next time. “Aw, what the hell?” she said. “Hair.”
Leela reached into the bag and withdrew a slip of paper. She looked at it and frowned. “Well, this is one I definitely didn’t put in there,” she said.
”What is it?” Carla asked.
”A bowl cut,” Leela answered, showing Carla the paper. “Do you want to go for ‘truth’ instead?”
Carla laughed. “No,” she said. “Would you believe that’s one of the styles I put into the bag? I guess it serves me right.” She took a seat on a stool in front of Leela. “I’m ready when you are.”
”Am I supposed to actually use a bowl, or…?”
”I have no idea, actually.”
”Might I suggest a quick YouTube consultation?” Amanda piped up. The girls crowded around Amanda’s phone while she pulled up a few videos that demonstrated bowl cuts methods. Ultimately, they decided that using an actual bowl was too risky—it could slip, and then the style would be uneven.
Instead, Leela combed Carla’s hair down so it hung completely around her friend’s head, and made a straight cut across her forehead at about eyebrows-level. Seven inches of dark curls landed on Carla’s lap, and she giggled at the sight.
Carefully, using a comb as her guide, Leela continued shearing this line all the way around Carla’s head, taking the hair completely off her ears. After she finished her circle, Leela asked Carla whether she should finish the cut using the clippers like they had seen in some of the videos they watched, or if she should just make an effort to clean up her nape and sides with her shears.
”Oh, clippers for sure,” Carla said. She grabbed the device from the table and affixed a number four guard to them before handing the apparatus to her friend. “I assume that because you own these things you at least kind of know how they work?”
”I used to buzz Luke’s hair in the summertime,” Leela said, referring to her ex-boyfriend. “But this is different.”
”Just do it like in the video,” Vanessa chimed in. “Pin the bulk of her hair to the top of her head and use your comb to hold it out of the way, then have at it with the clippers.”
Leela followed her advice and soon Carla’s already shorter hair was pinned to the top of her head. Leela then turned the clippers on with a loud pop and instructed her friend to tilt her head downward and stay very, very still. She made her first pass up the back of Carla’s head and neck, ending at her occipital bone. A thick strip of dark brown carpet remained in their path. Any previous sign of curls was gone.
”That felt so cool!” Carla exclaimed.
”Just don’t hate me if I screw it up,” Leela said, placing her clippers back at Carla’s neck and pulling them upward once more, widening the path she had just mown. Seemingly more comfortable after that, she continued to pass the clippers up the back and of Carla’s head before moving to her left side. “Can you hold your ear down?” Leela asked, and her friend dutifully complied. Leela carefully peeled Carla’s hair away from this spot and finished the area around and in front of Carla’s left ear before repeating the whole process on her right. That finished, she turned off the clippers. “Do you want me to clean up your neck a little? I used to do it for Luke.”
”Definitely!” Carla exclaimed. It was clear she had been enjoying the last few minutes.
Leela removed the guard from her clippers and evened out Carla’s hairline and then rid her neck of any straggling hairs. “Okay,” she said. “All done. Don’t hate me?”
Like Leela before her, Carla put her phone into selfie mode to examine her new cut. “Oh it’s cute!” she exclaimed. “Or it will be, when I style the top a bit. It’s a little frizzy from being combed. Once I wet it and scrunch some product in it’s going to look awesome. In fact, would you mind if we take a quick recess so I can do that before we keep playing?”
The other girls shook their heads, so Carla retreated to Leela’s bathroom. A few minutes later, the sound of a hairdryer could be briefly heard, and then Carla re-emerged with a mop of curly ringlets encircling her head and falling over her forehead. “Ta-da!” she announced. The other girls couldn’t help but agree that the bold new cut was actually quite flattering. “And now, Vanessa, I think it’s your turn. Truth or hair?”
Vanessa raised a hand to her wavy, light brown hair. She had been working so hard to grow it to waist length the last few years, and it was almost there. “Truth,” she answered immediately.
”Okay,” Carla said. “When you said you and Carter broke up over another woman…who was the one who was actually cheating with said other woman?”
”Me,” Vanessa shrugged. “To be fair, it started as the occasional threesome. It’s just that eventually we stopped including him.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “So now that that’s out of the way, are we going another round or is the game over? Because I still haven’t gotten to ask anyone and I really, really want to have a turn.”
Leela looked at her friends, who all nodded that they were up to go again. “Go for it.”
”Cool,” Vanessa said. “Amanda…truth or hair?”
”I don’t have any secrets from you all,” Amanda said. “So once again: truth.”
Vanessa smiled. “I’m ready to test that theory. So…who fucked you better: me or Carter?”
Leela and Carla let out a little gasp. Sure, they knew both Vanessa and Amanda were bi, but had no idea they had hooked up even once, let alone over an extended period of time.
”Relax, ladies,” Amanda said. “This shouldn’t be so earth shattering that it ruins our fun. Vanessa and I are cool—there’s no animosity here. But I do feel like she kind of painted me into a corner with this question. So…” she sighed, once again smoothing her thick brown hair, “I guess…hair.”
Vanessa smiled mischievously as she reached for the bag containing potential hairstyles and pulled a slip of paper out. “It just says ‘sidecut’ on it. I guess it’s up to me to decide what that means, unless you want to go back to your first pick and answer my question?”
Amanda smiled back. “I’m going to sacrifice some hair to spare our friends all our sordid details. Besides, I trust you.” She sat on the stool most recently occupied by Carla, as Vanessa pulled out her phone and swiped through a few photos.
”Because I am a benevolent friend and generous former lover,” she said playfully, handing her device to Amanda, “I’ll let you pick between these three options.” Carla and Leela craned their necks to see what photos Vanessa had selected, but to no avail. It appeared Amanda’s final look would be a surprise.
”Not that one,” Amanda said, pointing at the screen, “but you can choose between the other two.”
Vanessa nodded and put her phone back in her pocket. Then she brushed most of Amanda’s long, thick brown hair off to the left to get it out of the way. Grabbing a comb from the coffee table and placing its handle just above Amanda’s right eye, Vanessa proceeded to trace a straight horizontal line through her friend’s hair on the right side, stopping about an inch behind her ear. Then she used the same comb to trace a vertical line from the point where she stopped, straight down to Amanda’s hairline. Any hair that fell outside of the square she had just drawn on the right side of Amanda’s head was pinned out of the way.
Vanessa gathered the hair that remained hanging down into a ponytail that, while only about one inch in diameter, was more than two feet in length. She picked up the shears and in an instant, cut the hair cleanly off, tossing the ponytail into her friend’s lap. Tufts of hair no more than two inches in length stood out at all angles on the right side of Amanda’s head.
Amanda picked up the ponytail that was strewn across her thighs. “It’s a good thing I date women as well as men,” she said. “I hear most guys aren’t too into this look.”
”It’s their loss,” Vanessa said, putting the shears down and picking up the clippers. “But I assume you want me to leave you with some hair here?
”It’s technically your call, but I’d prefer it if you didn’t take me all the way down to the skin.”
Vanessa pondered the clipper attachments laid out on the coffee table and eventually picked up a number two. She affixed it to the clippers and turned them on. Amanda jumped slightly at the noise. “Don’t worry,” Vanessa reassured her, “I think you’re going to look very cute.” She placed the humming machine in front of Amanda’s ear and dragged it upward, angling it slightly away from her friend’s head as she neared the part she had created. A velvety strip of dark hair, so short Amanda’s skin shone through, emerged. Tufts of dark hair landed on Amanda’s shoulder as Vanessa readied herself for another pass. This time, Vanessa gently put her hand on Amanda’s crown, encouraging her to tilt head toward her left shoulder, and then used that same hand to hold Amanda’s right ear down while she buzzed the area around it, first in long upward strokes and then moving side to side to make sure she didn’t miss any longer hairs. Once Vanessa was confident the area around Amanda’s ear was clear, she moved behind it, making her longest passes yet, from Amanda’s hairline up to the horizontal part. As she neared the vertical part, Vanessa also made some short horizontal passes from front to back, so the area demarcating long hair from short was uniformly cut. Vanessa then ran her clippers all over the buzzed part of Amanda’s head a few more times. From their seats, Carla and Leela noticed Amanda had closed her eyes and was smiling slightly.
Finally, Vanessa switched her clippers off. She ran her fingers along Amanda’s new sidecut and whispered something in her ear the other women couldn’t hear, but could guess at based on the way their newly side-shorn friend giggled and looked slightly away. The rest of Amanda’s hair was unclipped and while it was clear she could mostly hide her new sidecut if she wanted to, it was equally clear, as she looked at herself in her phone screen and flipped her hair from side to side, that she had no intention of doing so—at least not that night.
Amanda stood up from her stool and gave the clippered side of her head a thorough rub, smiling. “I guess it’s my turn again. I chose Leela last time, so Carla, I’m picking you. Truth or hair?”
”Well, I think I’ve already lost enough hair today so let’s see what happens if I choose truth this time?”
”Hmmm,” Amanda began. “Okay, I’ve got one. When you did that play with Jeremy last year that had the sex scene in it and everyone was talking about how realistic it was…were you, like, actually having sex with him on stage?”
”On stage? No. But Jeremy and I definitely got some practice in during the rehearsal process. Our director was either the most naive person on the planet or the biggest perv on campus. Either way, it was fun while it lasted.”
”You didn’t keep hooking up after the play?”
”Maybe once or twice, but it turned out we didn’t have that much chemistry when we weren’t in character.” She paused. ”My turn next, right?”
Carla’s friends nodded. “Okay, so I think it’s only fair that Leela goes last since this game was her idea. So that leaves Vanessa. Truth or hair?”
Vanessa realized she was the only one of her friends who had not wound up selecting “hair” that evening, yet she was still concerned about losing any of hers. She knew that some of the options Leela had originally put in the bag were for minor cuts or easy color, but the fact that so far nobody had drawn one of those made her worry that perhaps those less extreme options were far outnumbered by more drastic changes. “Uh…truth. Again.”
Carla sighed but complied with her friend’s request. “Fine. If you had the opportunity to be in a committed relationship with Amanda, would you accept?”
”OKAY HAIR!” blurted out Vanessa, before Carla even really finished the question.
”I don’t know whether to be flattered or offended,” Amanda said from across the room.
Vanessa laughed awkwardly. “Neither, I hope. Just not something I want to talk to our friends about if it’s not even something you and I have ever talked about.” She dutifully took her seat on what had by then become the haircutting stool.
Carla reached into the bag and pulled out another slip of paper. She smiled at Vanessa. “It’s your lucky day, V. You’re just getting away with bangs.” She grabbed a comb and created a v-shaped section of hair at the front of Vanessa’s head and pulled a curtain of hair over her face. Then, without hesitation, Carla cut a straight line across the hair, level with her eyebrows. Two and a half feet of light brown waves landed in Vanessa’s lap, but that was the beginning and the end of the cut.
Vanessa took a quick peek in selfie mode on her phone and decided she didn’t entirely hate the bangs, even if they were perhaps a little too short. Then she stood and looked at her host. “Okay, Leela. You have the dubious honor of being last. This was your idea, after all. So, one more time: truth or hair?”
”Truth,” Leela answered again.
Vanessa studied her friend for a moment. “I’m taking it from your last answer, or lack thereof, that there was at least something going on between you and Professor Macintosh, and that you don’t want to talk about it. That’s totally fair and we won’t make you share any details you’re uncomfortable sharing. But I am going to ask you whether you ever had any sexual relations in a classroom, lecture hall, or professor’s office anywhere on this campus, and if so, where.”
”Does masturbation count?”
”Nope, but I feel like there’s a story there.”
”Are you sure? You already went with ‘hair’ once.”
”Yup. Because answering your question would be pretty incriminating, so…”
”Okay. Your call,” Vanessa said, reaching into the style bag one last time. She looked at the strip she drew, then back to Leela. “Are you really, really sure you want to choose ‘hair’? Because if you stick to it, you’re losing a lot more hair than you’ve already cut tonight.”
”You do realize I suggested this game, right? I’m aware of the risks.”
”Yeah, but this one isn’t in your handwriting so I’m not sure how aware you actually are.”
”Look, if I answer your question and one of you ever let it slip…”
”We won’t!” Carla and Amanda piped up in unison.
”But if something happened and you did…some people are going to wind up getting fired or expelled. I don’t want that on my conscience. So for the last time: hair.” She sat down on the stool. ”Well, what are you waiting for?”
”Do you even want to know what I drew from the bag?” Vanessa asked.
”No, because I don’t want to waver in my resolve.”
“If you are absolutely, positively sure, then…”
”One hundred percent,” Leela affirmed.
”Okay then.” Vanessa reached behind her for the clippers and noticed they still bore the same number two guard that she had used on Amanda’s sidecut. She hesitated, hovering her hands over the other attachments on the table, and then decided to keep the same guard in place. “Close your eyes,” she commanded Leela. Then Vanessa brought the clippers to Leela’s forehead and flicked them on at exactly the same time as she began to pull them back through Leela’s hair, all the way to her crown.
Leela’s eyes flew open. “Perhaps I was being a little short-sighted,” she said, looking up toward Vanessa.
”Too let to do anything about it now,” Vanessa said, returning her clippers to Leela’s forehead and making another pass toward her crown. Nearly a foot of blonde hair tumbled to the floor and a wide, pale strip had begun to appear on top of Leela’s head. Vanessa continued until she had completely buzzed the top of Leela’s hair, leaving nothing but soft, pale fuzz behind. She then moved on to the sides and back of Leela’s head, first making long, smooth passes and then moving the clippers side to side and back and forth until not one hair on Leela’s head was longer than a quarter of an inch…and it looked shorter because it was so blonde.
Leela’s face had been impossible to read during this whole time. She stared blankly off into the distance, as if she was imagining herself to be in some far-off place where her blonde tresses were still blowing in the breeze. Carla and Amanda sat transfixed, watching their friend transform into someone no less beautiful, but certainly very different, from the Leela they had known for nearly four years.
The shearing complete, Vanessa took the guard off her clippers and tidied Leela’s neck, just as Leela had previously done for Carla. Then she ran her fingernails across the top and sides of Leela’s freshly buzzed head, which seemed to bring the seated girl back to the present.
”That…feels amazing,” she said, without looking up toward Vanessa.
”I figured you might want to know it’s not all bad. So…do you want to see it?” Vanessa handed Leela her phone, already set to selfie mode.
Leela scrutinized herself in the screen, turning her head this way and that before finally running a hand over the top and sides of her head. She noticed how big her eyes were, how high her cheekbones, how long her neck. She looked so different from the person who had looked back at her through the mirror for the last several years.
Leela’s friends all awaited her reaction. She handed the phone back to Vanessa. “Well,” she began, “I can’t say for sure whether I like it, but I don’t think hate it?” The three other women let out an exhale they didn’t realize they’d been holding. “But what I want to know is, which one of you added a buzzcut to the hairstyle bag?”
Carla, Amanda, and Vanessa all looked at each other. Nobody said a word.
Graduation day. Leela had been growing her hair out since Vanessa buzzed it off during their inebriated night of “Truth or Hair,” and she was now sporting a short pixie about an inch and a half in length on the top. A few days earlier, she had visited a stylist to have the back and sides taken shorter so she would look presentable in any photos that were taken that day.
Immediately after her commencement ceremony, Leela ran into Professor Macintosh—Peter. They had, in fact, been surreptitiously seeing each other over the past year, even though neither would admit it. Leela had been surprised the first time she saw him after her game of “Truth or Hair,” when he had been not turned off but rather intrigued by her new, radically short style.
She had just finished wishing a few friends well when he approached, wrapping her in a tight embrace. Now that she was officially no longer his student, they could be more public with their relationship. “I got you a little graduation present,” he said, presenting her with a small wrapped box.
”Should I open it now?”
Leela tore the wrapping paper off the package and saw a hinged wooden box. Inside, there was a brand new set of clippers.
Leela looked up at her now-less-secret lover. “Thank you,” she told him. “I expect we’ll put these to good use.”
It turned out that margarita-fueled game of “Truth or Hair” had been one of the best decisions Leela had made during her entire college career.