Trying to Be Cool

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Trying to Be Cool

Cathryn

Who’s dumb idea was it to eat outside, anyway? Despite the umbrella that cast the small cafe’s table in the shade, the heat and humidity of the mid-July afternoon conspired to render Cathryn nothing more than a puddle where a graduate assistant once sat.

She gathered the thick mass of raven locks hanging halfway down her back and pulled them into a funky ponytail, clutching it against the crown of her head to give the nape of her neck a little relief, even if it was only temporary. For a moment, she wondered if the summer would be easier to survive as a cute blonde, or — heaven help her — she kept her heavy, one-length mane as short as the curly, round bob Annie wore her red locks in across the table from her.

Her friend was gorgeous, with perfectly petite features that were complemented by the mess of red ringlets surrounding her like Renaissance halo, but she was also an anomaly and always the most daring of the sweltering trio at the table.

Glancing to her left, Cathryn took solace in the fact that Krystina probably felt just as miserable, though she had at least had the good sense to gather her stick straight, golden blonde locks into a thick braid that let her neck breathe. Formed from a mane a bit longer than Cathryn’s, the braid’s neatly trimmed ends fell in front of Krystina’s right shoulder and almost to her waist.

Catching Cathryn’s eye while taking a long sip of her mimosa, Annie set her drink down and made a show of leaning back in her seat and flicking her cute, springy curls about, as if to emphasize how they didn’t come close to touching her bare shoulders. “It’s such a pleasant day, isn’t it?” The redhead lied. “I’m so glad you suggested eating outside, Cathy.”

Cathryn sighed. She’d almost let herself forget eating out here was her own dumb idea.

She shook her head as Krystina laughed along, and let her dark hair fall against the back of the chair with a plop. “Spoken like someone who doesn’t have a wool blanket attached to the top of her head.”

You know,” Krystina began, “there is something you can do about that, right?” She nodded toward the street before licking her bottom lip and taking a long sip from the straw of her iced tea.

Cathryn glanced across the way, her heart dropping a little when she saw the funky little hair salon Krystina had nodded toward. The lower half of its window was covered with posters for the local movie house and ads for upcoming concerts by local bands, but above all of them sat a sign scrawled with purposeful sloppiness that said Walk Ins Only, followed by a stylistic pair of shears.

I wish,” she sighed.

What do you mean you wish?” Krystina asked, her brow furrowed. “Just get up and walk on over and ask them to chop it all off. There’s no trick to it.”

Are you kidding? Do you know how long it would take to grow back?”

But it would grow back,” Annie replied. “And you’re super cute. I think you’d look great without all that hair overwhelming you.”

Cathryn stalled by taking another long pull from her own mimosa, though introducing alcohol to the moment probably wasn’t the best thing to do. The fact was, at barely over five feet tall, her hair did tend to overwhelm her. More than once people referred to her standing out in a crowd as the mass of hair with legs. Maybe a change wouldn’t be the worst thing. But still…“Malaysian girls don’t wear short hair.”

You really do have an awful lot of it, though,” Krystina added.

Oh, looks who’s talking, Blondie!” Cathryn teased. Not only was the gorgeous blonde’s hair longer in relation to her figure, but even more so since she stood half a foot taller. “If anyone could use a haircut, it’s you.”

Krystina waggled her eyebrows, bring the shades that had been perched atop her head down in front of her crystal blue eyes. “I’m not the one complaining about the heat.”

Cathryn grumbled at the simple truth of that statement. And Krystina had been growing her hair out from a shoulder-length chop for years; there was no way she would ever consider cutting it.

Maybe that could be a way out.

Cathryn settled back into her chair, trying to match the cockiness of Krystina’s attitude. “Well, I’ll tell you what, then. I’ll go over there tell them I want to be cooler just as soon as you do, okay?”

Annie chuckled, but said nothing.

You’ll just go in and tell them you want to be cooler, and you’ll let them do whatever they want?”

As soon as you do, yeah,” Cathryn replied, feeling like that point really needed to be emphasized.

Krystina set down her drink. “Okay, let’s go.”

Wait, what?” No answer to her question was provided, with Krystina’s focus instead turning toward Annie.

Get the check?”

Will do.”

Cathryn could only let out a small squeak as Krystina grabbed her hand, tugging her from her seat and practically pulling her across the street toward the little salon.

This was not going how she expected.

Krystina

The bell above the door jingled softly as Krystina pushed it open, her other hand still hiding firmly onto Cathryn’s. Although the shop was well lit, she had to pull off her shades and blink a few times when she entered out of the sunlight.

It was a barbershop. Or, on second sight, an odd hybrid of a barbershop and a salon. The waiting area was sparse, with harsh looking, simple seating rather than chaises or plush sofas, but unlike barbershops, there were several shampoo sinks and three low-backed stylist chairs.

Two of the stylist chairs were occupied, one by a young man getting his 1930s slicked-back style cut by a ruggedly handsome barber with purple hair and a thick beard. The other was occupied by a young woman getting a chin length bob meticulously evened up. A similarly attractive woman with sharp features, warm eyes and a dark shag attended to her, glancing up only to gesture toward the seating area where another young man waited.

Dragging Cathryn along behind her, Krystina picked out two seats against the wall and settled down, her hand absent-mindedly running down the length of her thick braid. She almost felt bad for Cathryn; her friend had probably thought she played some sort of get out of jail free card by laying down a challenge she was sure Krystina would refuse.

But Krystina had already decided to chop most of her hair off, and even had an appointment in two weeks with her usual stylist. So Cathryn’s unacceptable challenge was actually very easy to accept — either Krystina would only have to walk around with a bad haircut for a couple of weeks until her usual stylist could fix it, or she could cancel that appointment easily enough.

So we’re just giving them free rein, right?” She quietly asked Cathryn. “That’s what you said, right?”

Cathryn nodded, and Krystina had to force herself not to laugh at her friend’s suddenly pale complexion.

They sat in silence for a few moments, trying to ignore the furtive glances given by the fellow waiting for his haircut, until Annie finally arrived and sat on the opposite side of Cathryn.

Are you getting yours done, too?” Krystina asked.

Annie shook her head, her adorable curls dancing against her cheeks. “Not for another ten years or so. I want Merida curls.”

Personally, Krystina doubted those red ringlets would ever get much past Annie’s shoulders, much less her hips.

Soon enough, the gentleman in the first stylist’s chair was replaced by the one in the waiting area, and butterflies began to float around in Krystina’s stomach. She thought about undoing her braid and letting her fingers play through the soft, silky locks at their full length one more time, but she didn’t want to risk any second-thoughts. Instead, she flipped the braid behind her back and chewed her bottom lip and the pretty stylist finished cutting the other girl’s perfect bob and peeled the cape away from her, spilling a small pile of lush auburn clippings to the floor.

Okay, me first, right?”

Absolutely,” Cathryn replied. “I don’t want to go through with it only to have you back out.”

Krystina smiled. “No chance.”

It wasn’t long until Krystina found herself in the pretty stylist’s seat, her own fidgetiness somewhat amplified by the Fairuza Balk essence the woman oozed. While Krystina had never been or attempted to be with a woman, that had never precluded her from recognizing when one was absolutely stunning. And this stylist, who had introduced herself as Diana, absolutely was.

Do you mind if I let this all loose?” The woman asked, her fingers slipping up and down Krystina’s thick braid.

Not at all.” It would have obviously needed to be done anyway, but asking for consent was always nice.

Your hair is gorgeous,” she continued as Krystina’s soft locks loosened and finally fell free. Diana pulled out a wide-toothed comb and ran it through the shiny lengths, one corner of her mouth rising in a bit of a happy smirk. “So what were you thinking of having done?”

Nothing in particular,” Krystina said. As expected, the stylist looked back at her with a raised eyebrow. “I just want something cooler.”

Cooler as in ‘all the rage today,’ or cooler as in dealing with the heat?”

Krystina grinned at Diana’s reflection in the mirror in front of her. “Preferably both, but mostly the latter. This heat has been insane, and the hair has to go.”

Diana took on a more speculative expression, her eyes narrowing as her fingers played through Krystina’s hair. “You’re not the first person to come in here for that reason. And you’re saying it’s my choice?”

Krystina tried to hide the jittery nerves that made her squirm in the seat, and nodded. Then she looked over to Cathryn and, holding eye contact, said, “Yep, just as long as it’s a whole lot cooler.”

Diana smiled. “Fun.” Reaching for a black cape, Diana flung it out over Krystina’s lap and tucked it back behind her shoulders. Krystina leaned forward so it could be snapped into place, but Diana lifted her chin so she was looking straight forward again. “I’m just going to do a general chop first, then we’ll wash it and settled in for the fun stuff.”

They way the term chop was thrown around in regard to her own hair for probably the first time ever forced Krystina to bite down on her bottom lip again to stifle a nervous squeal. Again and again, Diana ran the comb through the golden tresses that Krystina had spent so much time regrowing from when they’d been ruthlessly cut off at her shoulders rather than trimmed, but she was ready this time.

Or at least she hoped she was.

The combing eventually stopped, and Diana reached around Krystina to pick up a pair of long, silver shears. Without providing any indication of where she was going to cut, she simply asked, “Ready?”

Krystina swallowed and nodded. “Have at it.”

Diana’s fingers brushed against Krystina’s right cheek, gathering up a thick hank of the long, straight tresses. She carefully trapped it between two fingers and then lifted her scissors. Krystina’s eyes widened as the blades, with one quick, brutal crunch, the sharps hears severed the silken lengths level with her cheek. The lost length slid down into Krystina’s lap, curling in on itself in a way the stick-straight hair never would while it was on her head.

A startled gasp sounded from the waiting area, and then there was another crunch, and another lock fell away. Krystina’s mouth hung open as she looked at her right earlobe, both it and the dangly bit of jewelry that adorned it left completely naked as the rough cut edges of her once meticulously manicured mane hung halfway down her ear. Another crunch followed, this one so much closer to her scalp, and a breathtaking lock was unceremoniously dropped to the floor, followed by another and another as the gentle breeze stirred by the ceiling fan began to tickle her suddenly naked nape.

Krystina couldn’t look away from her reflection — on her left side, she remained the quintessential long-locked homecoming queen, but on her right she looked like a haggard hillbilly boy who’d hidden from the barber for far too long. Soon enough, though, thanks to the incessant gather-chop-drop rhythm of Diana’s work, the homecoming queen was completely lost to the hillbilly boy.

She was going to get it cut anyway in two weeks, she reminded herself. But that was only going to be to a shoulder-length bob. She hadn’t been planning on anything as drastic as… this.

Trust me, we haven’t even gotten started yet,” Diana assured her as she gripped the cape and pulled it away, spilling previously pampered tresses onto the floor. “I promise you’ll look great when we’re done.”

Looking at her reflection and trying to clam her breathing, Krystina wondered whether Diana might be promising too much. She lifted a hand to her shorn locks, their uneven ends sticking out from her head like wild bramble, and was at least relieved to feel the familiar soft silkiness. Coupled with the curves her white, spaghetti-strapped top revealed, that gave her just a bit of hope that maybe she would still be a bit of a hottie, even without her trademark golden fleece.

Cathryn

Her heart raced within her chest as Cathryn watched Krystina’s beautiful blonde hair get chopped brutally short. At one point, Annie took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, but that did little to quell the rising panic as the bearded barber cashed out his previous client and stepped toward her. His hand was out, he said his name was Frank.

His voice, Texan accent and all, had a weird little echo to it, and Cathryn began to wonder whether she was having an out of body experience as she followed him to his chair. Somehow, she convinced herself to sit in it when he patted its back and asked her to have a seat.

So, did I hear your friend right?” His reflection in the mirror asked.

Cathryn looked at herself, her dark eyes and small features framed by a gargantuan amount of thick, heavy black hair that had only barely been lightened at all by the summer sun. As Frank played with the soft lengths, it fell in front of her shoulders and gently curled under her breasts, perhaps for the last time.

Finally, she nodded. “Yeah. We’re looking to get a bit cooler.”

Did you have anything specific in mind?”

For just a moment, she wondered how mad Krystina would be if she quietly asked for a long bob. But no, that wouldn’t be right. Not now that all of Krystina’s hair had been chopped off.

Just whatever you think would suit me best, and keep me from sweating through my clothes every day.”

The stylist grinned. “I think we can manage that.”

Just as Diana had done with Krystina, Frank combed through Cathryn’s hair until it framed her face beautifully, falling in perfectly straight waterfalls on either side with a carefully crafted center parting. Frank also pulled out a cape, but this one was bright white with subtle pinstripes. Although it looked fairly flimsy, Cathryn felt a substantial weight settle on her shoulders when it was wrapped around her, her hair suddenly so much brighter and shinier when it was spread across the fabric again.

Unlike when Krystina was in the chair, however, Cathryn’s head was gently nudged forward so the cape could be carefully tightened around her neck and then snapped into place. She was then guided to look forward again, watching as Frank stood behind her and began combing her hair back. Silver shears rode along with his right hand and the comb sat in his left, and when he was satisfied with how her hair was sitting, he gathered the locks that were threatening to slide forward over her right eye and trapped them between two fingers that barely floated above her scalp. The scissors attacked those long tresses like a hummingbird, darting in quick and taking tiny bites, glistening and flashing in the light as a slack-jawed Cathryn watched two foot long strands of her thick mane plummet into her lap.

She barely got to notice what was left of the butchered locks before Frank gathered up another bunch and repeated his assault, moving with such ruthless efficiency that there was a near constant rainfall of treasured locks spilling down in front of Cathryn. Again and again she watched as beautiful, shiny masses were lifted away and shorn off, leaving behind a raven-colored wheat field moving toward her crown in their wake. Over time, as the pile in her lap grew heavier and heavier, the thick, jagged bangs did begin lazily form a cresting wave across the top of her forehead, and she could see Frank carefully creating a barely-there side parting where there once was a middle-part.

Soon, there was a nudge to lean to her left. Without talking, Frank carved away the envy-inducing locks that had hidden her ear for so long. There’d be no more ear-tucks, no more cute pigtails or intricate braids, that was for sure. She wasn’t even sure there’d be any more flirtatious glances from the boys at work — would the guy who had been eyeing her and Krystina up in the waiting area even notice her now?

She was silently commanded to look downward into her lap, to look directly at the shiny pile of what had once been her crowning glory. Why hadn’t she just worn it up today? Why hadn’t she taken the time to make sure it would be off her neck so she wouldn’t complain about the heat? It felt like Frank’s blades were brushing directly against the skin at the nape of her neck, slowly moving upward as they stole away her best feature.

Good god, it would take so many years to grow back…

She was guided to lean to the right, and felt the cool silkiness of her hair against her left cheek for just a moment more before it joined the rest of the lengths in her caped lap. When Frank stepped away, she looked down again, barely noticing as the chair was spun away from the mirror. She was too focused on how the change of position affected how the light played across the highlights among the darkness of her locks.

She guessed highlights would be something the sun would have to start with at the beginning, now that those it had worked so hard to form so far had all been chopped off.

A loud pop and hum sounding behind her made her jump, and then a gentle hand on the crown of her shorn scalp held in position as a cold bit of plastic pressed against her nape and slowly made its way upward. They continued on until the curve at the back of her head, ceaselessly sending shivers and tingles to her fingertips before they were pulled away, only to be applied once more at her nape and sent upward again. Frank worked his way to either side, carefully sculpting what little remained around her ears and changing the head of the clippers often. After he finally put them away, he pulled out a toothy pair of shears, sliding them through the soft pelt that still adorned the top of her head and raining small clippings down to tickle her cheeks and nose.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he loosened the cape that had imprisoned her in the chair and dumped Cathryn’s sacrificial crowning glory to the floor before gesturing toward the shampoo basins in the back.

Resisting the urge to slap her hands against her head to feel how little hair she had left, Cathryn forced herself to bravely walk to the back of the salon, as if everything had gone to plan. It was only when she heard another set of clippers come to life that she almost jumped out of her skin.

Krystina

The sensations Krystina felt during her shampoo were an odd combination of glorious and terrifying; the former because of Diana’s skill and gentle touch, but the latter because of how easily the stylist’s fingers moved through the abbreviated lengths of Krystina’s hair. For as wonderful as it felt, it was over far too soon, and before she knew it Krystina was back in Diana’s chair, her hair towel dried, and everything two inches above her ears pinned up and out of the way.

When the clippers came to life, Krystina realized why.

Covered again in a dark cape which she was asked to look down at, Krystina held her breath as the nibbling clippers moved through the thick, soft hair that had been left behind at her nape. After they crested her occipital bone and almost moved past the crown of her head, their collected load was dumped into her lap. Soft, fluffy locks just a few inches in length, like clustered paint brushes. Most of their color was the same pure gold she had always been proud of, but the slightly brunette ends that where harvested from close to her scalp betrayed just how short her hair was being shorn.

Again and again the clippers sheared her like a nervous lamb, removing all thoughts of wearing the bob she had originally planned on for at least two or three years — well after she finished her graduate studies and entered the work force. With that thought, she wondered whether she had worn her last braid today, forever lost to a moment of brashness coupled with an eventual need to look professional and respectable in her future career.

The thoughts she lost herself in caused her to miss the baring of her ears. They looked perfectly normal to her, but… what if she was just kidding herself about that?

The clippers were turned off and set aside, and the gorgeous goth sculpting Krystina’s hair set the remainder free from the clips she had trapped it in. At first, Krystina thought she might be receiving an elegant sweep to contrast the harsh undercut. But then Diana’s scissors began clacking together, and golden locks that were four or five inches in length began to fall.

Krystina’s eyes were wide in her reflection, but no matter how hard she tried to make them normal again, she just couldn’t. Diana just kept chipping and chopping at her hair, alternating between taking off most of what remained and then carefully breaking up the three inches left behind with little snips. The further back from her hairline the scissors moved, the shorter the hair left behind was. But Diana kept at it, her teeth nibbling her bottom lip as she worked at whittling away Krystina’s lush mane.

In time, just after she saw a just-as-drastically-shorn Cathryn being led back to Frank’s chair, Diana set her scissors down. She stood behind Krystina again, working her fingers through the ultra-short, unparted pixie cut until the little bit of length that was left had been styled to look like the smallest of flickering flames reaching toward the sky.

So, is this cool enough for you?” Diana asked.

Krystina turned her head this way and that, finally letting herself reach up to touch the soft velvet at her nape and around her ears. Little shivers of delight zipped up and down her spine, and she could not help but smile at her reflection.

Do my ears look goofy?” she finally asked.

Diana raised an eyebrow. “Not at all.” Then, ever so lightly, traced the back of a pale finger along the curve of Krystina’s right ear and then down her neck, turning the shivers of delight into absolute shockwaves. “And they’re all the easier to tease and nibble now, right?”

The cape was pulled away, and Krystina smoothed out her skirt as she stood up. Paired with her flimsy white top and the strappy sandals she wore, she somehow loved the contrast created by her new brutal but kind of hot haircut. With luck, it would force everyone’s attention to her beautiful eyes. The sharp bone structure of her nose and cheeks had become more evident, and her jawline… arching her chin up and stretching her neck out, she couldn’t believe she’d never realized how amazing her jawline was.

Okay, this is a bit more severe than I expected,” she said as she ran her fingers back through her new style, “but if I’m being honest… I may never have long hair again.”

Cathryn

Frank’s towel work was a bit rough, as if Cathryn were a rambunctious puppy that had somehow wound up in his chair after a bath. And when he pulled it away, Cathryn was left stunned by both the wildness of her insanely short hair in her reflection and the fact that it was completely dry already. Just, completely. And on such a humid day — that had never been possible before.

But, then again, only about an inch of length remained atop her head, and the sides had been clippered short enough to leave pale skin visible through the dark stubble that, just a few minutes ago, had been long enough to cover her breasts. It was a perfectly sculpted fade, starting from nothing at her nape and eventually blending in to the expertly styled side part that Frank was now revitalizing with his comb and fingertips.

The thinning he had done added an amazing texture to the style, bringing to mind the image of a well styled hedgehog. Cathryn felt like an Asian Anne Hathaway, right at the start of her grow out so many years ago, and despite the shearing being completely unwanted… she couldn’t deny that the result flattered her. Her dark brown eyes were suddenly larger and somehow luminous, her soft pink lips formed a perfect shy smile, and her cheekbones… well, just existed in a way that let them actually be noticed.

I’m practically bald,” she whispered.

Not quite,” Frank said, ruffling the bits of hair that were struggling to be actual bangs.

Taking the scissors, he indulged in just a few more snips here and there, but hadn’t even bothered to recape her. It was only a few moments later when he asked, “Okay, all set. What do you think?”

Cathryn stood up, casting an unbelieving glance toward her fellow ultra-pixie Krystina, and stepped closer to the mirror. Coupled with her simple t-shirt and khaki shorts, she suddenly had a faerie tomboy look, a kind of wallflower that would savage boys’ hearts without realizing it. “I kind of hate it and love it at the same time. It looks amazing! But it’s going to take so, so long to grow back…”

If you grow it back,” Krystina said.

A camera clicked, and Annie came closer while snapping a series of photos. “You two look amazing!”

Are you next?” Frank asked the redhead, gesturing toward his empty seat.

Uhhh…” Cathryn had seen Annie’s hair straightened a couple of times before, and the beautiful red locks were probably a foot and a half or more in length — yet, when curly, couldn’t reach the girl’s shoulders. That was way too much to risk on a whim, right?

I’m good,” Annie finally answered, much to Cathryn’s relief. “Let’s go get some celebratory drinks. Somewhere outside, and you two can find out if you feel as cool as you look.”

-end-

Hope you liked this one — as always, any input is appreciated! You never know what might inspire the next vignette.

 

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