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“Meet me in New York.”

She gasps. The four words flicker on her screen.

The instant message back popped up on his screen seconds later. Just a joke, a testing, perhaps? He couldn’t be serious. Humor him, she thinks. “But it’s just getting warm here. I need to work on my tan.”

“Meet me in New York.”

The same words. Breaking a boundary. Offering an opportunity. Promising so much. The chance for two similar souls to indulge themselves. A chance to break the bonds of cyberspace for the freedom of meat space, the real world.

She draws a breath. It has been a thought, since way back in December. Smiling, then fearful she types, slowly, as the barrier melts away. W-h-e-n ?!?

It pops up on his screen. Unexpected. A dream. Pure pleasure. Two friends, who could meld their considerable powers of sensuality and fantasy. He smiles. And quickly types, before his courage wanes, “Next Friday…And don’t forget your wig. Your equipment. And your toys.”

The tension running from one screen to another crackles. They both know New York means a certain famous barber shop, one where you can walk in, but your hair can never leave. Already two minds are racing. “Delightful,” she types. Where shall I stay?

“At the Royalton, a trendy hotel on 44th. Get a suite,” comes the instruction after the beep. “I’ll get one on the same floor.”

Her plane arrives shortly before noon, but it takes an hour to taxi from the airport, check in, unpack all that she ferried from Texas. Fortunately she has a fascinating magazine to keep her occupied in the cab. His plane gets in early from California, thanks to a tailwind. It is, he thinks as he hops the cab, a promising sign.

It is a beautiful May day, breezy and sunny. Warm, but not hot. He checks in to discover she is already there. He calls from the lobby, hearing her voice for the first time, another corner of the picture filled. Soon, much more of it would be complete. The anticipation over a week has been unbearable. Minutes later she breezes into view. They exchange the smiles old, knowing friends save for each other. A hug. Genuine. Lingering. Then a soft kiss. A little awkward at first.

“Pretty shaggy there gal,” he kids. “Well,” she says, “look at you. All that horrible hair practically to your shoulders.” More smiles that dissolve almost to leers.

He takes her hand and announces they are to take a stroll through the city, then have a late lunch. First, a cab ride to Soho to browse some of the shops. In one, he suggests a pair of dark, clunky shoes, half-kidding. She pauses, biting her lip in thought. “Perfect. Smooth,” she exclaims. They laugh. It is an old line that has become a joke between them. Later, they find a shop with handmade jewelry. There are a pair of earrings and a bracelet. Just right. Mementos.

“I’m starved,” he says. She nods. They hop a cab. Getting out at the Park Avenue Cafe they hustle in to find the restaurant nearly empty in the aftermath of the business lunch crowd. They request and get a table in the back corner. There, eyes linger on the other, fingertips occasionally reach out to stroke a wrist or run along a shoulder. Familiar friends exploring physical being. There is a nervous fear riding just over a roaring current of tension.

The waiter comes and he turns to her and asks, “Champagne or wine?” “Champagne,” she decides after a pause. He is not a champagne guy, but it seems appropriate for this occasion. The waiter has to return twice before they are ready to order. In cyberspace, they discover, you can communicate, but in real life you truly can converse. And there is so much to tell, so much to know. And, of course, an undercurrent that has their hearts beating faster with every touch, every coy look, every glance from him in the direction of two months growth of honey blonde atop a neck even more graceful than he imagined.

Food arrives. Typically daring fare from the Cafe. It’s wonderful, of course. But they hardly remark about it. There are other things to explore, other subjects to cover, coy asides, gentle prods. The nervousness dissipates. The excitement builds.

The afternoon begins to fade and the shadows outside grow longer. “What time is it?” he asks since he never wears a watch. She looks down, then up at him, shock on her face. After 5. They are warm, a little loose from the champagne. Beaming.

“Let’s go,” he says. He asks for the check and by the time they get out and find a cab it is closer to 5:30 and traffic is heavy. He follows her into the back seat, running a gentle finger along her hip as she slides in. “Broadway and Astor Place,” he tells the driver, who, of course, has to ask twice.

When he turns from him to look at her there is a positively sinful grin on her face. She snuggles a little closer. He reaches around and begins stroking her nape. He leans over and plants a sweet, slightly moist kiss behind her left ear. She squirms a little. “You are going to love this,” he says. “You are going to be absolutely out of your mind when you walk in.”

Traffic is heavy so the ride stretches on but they rarely speak, talking instead with their eyes, their breath, their hands and that ineffable connection. The trance is broken as the cabbie says, “Which side, left or right?” “Left,” he says, smiling. His heart is racing. He feels the flush. Her color, too, seems high. He fumbles with his cash, stumbling out of the cab first, waiting for her to stand up and gently squeezing her hand when she is at his side.

They cross the street headed for the dingy shop next to the pharmacy. A red curtain and posters of Polaroid snapshots cover the picture window, obscuring the view inside. To the right an open door beckons two steps up. They pause at the pictures briefly to gawk. Shots of celebrities. John F. Kennedy Jr. Emilio Estevez. Andre Agassi. Harry Connick Jr. and others who have been shorn here. She starts for the door. His grip on her hand firms. No, he says, downstairs first. To the right of the door is the Astor Place annex, the cellar below street level. They walk down as a young black man with a freshly clipped fade comes up. Through one set of doors and the panorama of the cutting floor is visible. She gasps. He gently guides her through the second set of doors, pushing one open and allowing you to go in first. He follows very closely, his breath hot on her nape.

Before them there are chairs filled with customers. Perhaps two dozen chairs. People standing around watching. Men and women in waiting chairs entranced by the action. It is early on a Friday night when haircutting is a spectator sport at Astor Place. Hair Affair Heaven. To the right near the rear the sight of a middle-aged male barber repeatedly running his clippers over the head of a twenty something man catches her eyes, wide with amazement. She could not possibly have imagined the place would be like this. To the left, a long-haired woman has her mid-back length tresses trimmed a few inches. “Too bad,” he mutters. She smiles. “We should talk to her,” she says.

“Let’s take a tour,” he suggests. They walk to the right, circling the chairs slowly then move to the left where a lady barber is running the clippers up the nape of a woman with a shelf cut, longer on top but buzzed three inches up the nape. “Look closely at the female barbers,” he says. Her look begs a question that is not asked.

They move from the main room to another room off to the left. There, a lady barber in her mid-forties with sharply cropped black hair buzzes the neck of a thirty something businessman. They pause. In the next chair, a pot-bellied young barber with stark Italian features scissors the blonde hair of a woman, using the shears over comb method to expose an ear. They turn the corner by a stairway and a young woman, maybe 23, reaches into her pocket to tip her barber. Her back is to them and they are confronted by a nape shorn so close white emerges as the background for her thin brown hair. She turns to breeze by them and they see she has a waif crop only buzzed at the sides a
nd back. Oooohhh, she mutters involuntarily. And they look at each other, smiling, hearts pounding. “Shall we go upstairs to the real barbershop?” he mutters.

Unsteadily, they climb the stairs. A gruff, gray-haired man at the top asks “haircut?” “Yes, but first we’re looking,” he tells him. On street level there is another stairwell leading up to a small mezzanine. Surrounding it are eight chairs, all filled. Six with men and two with women customers. Most are businessman’s cuts though one man is being clipped closely around the ears. Of the women, one is a professional getting a chin-length bob. The other a younger lady being scissored to semi-shortness. All the barbers are men except for the tall obviously-dyed blonde at the third chair inside the door. She’s in her late thirties and is working her black clippers at the nape of a young man in jeans and big black boots. Snapshots of haircuts adorn her mirror.

She steps near to look and the barber gives her a smile.

“Which lady barber will it be?” he asks leaning closer, smiling. She pauses, pondering. A beat passes. She never thought this moment would arrive. Her own cropping in the world’s most famous buzzcut barbershop. He moves in closer and whispers.

“For me,” he says firmly.

Like sunlight freed by a passing cloud so it can race across a field, a grin brightens and spreads above her strong jaw line. A little giggle. One beat passes. Then two more. Then two more. She is enjoying the play. “Either her,” she says nodding to the blonde, “or the cropped cropper downstairs.” “Well?” She looks at him squarely. He awaits his fate.

“The cropped,” she says.

They head down the stairs, quickly now. The cropped barber is just whisking the cape off the businessman. He gulps. “Next here?” he wonders. “Him,” she says, pointing to a man in a chair tucked back into the corner. “Then you.” She smiles and gives him a look up and down at all that hair. “Then you,” she adds again, terrifying him.

“What,” he thinks, his heart racing now, “am I doing?”

The barber tends to her customer, placing the tissue tightly around his neck, followed by the cape. They withdraw a bit, trying to look nonchalant though that is simply impossible. Around them everywhere hair is falling and they tease and elbow each other to point out the best cuts. She leans over, stroking her fingers through his long hair and whispering in his ear…”Perhaps a crewcut?”

He flushes. Suddenly, the cropped barber is removing the sheet from the middle-aged man and smiling at them. That was quick. She gives him a gentle push and pinch on the behind.

“Enjoy,” she says, “I will love watching.”

He steps up into the chair and the cape is quickly wrapped. She turns him to face the mirror and begins pecking at his thick hair with her comb. Disgustedly, it seems. “What ARE we going to do?” she teases.

He takes a breath, glances at her and pronounces, “Short sides and back and take plenty off the top.” “Come over here and we’ll shampoo you,” she says. The cropped spectator snickers. “No need,” he quickly says, motioning with his right hand from under the cape. “Do it dry.”

She smiles and turns to her shelf to pick up her scissors, tapping them against the comb and rhythmically opening and closing them. Her blue eyes burn into his. “Uh,” he stammers, “with the clippers on the sides, ok?”

“Oh,” she says, beginning to realize. “You want it short?” Yes, he nods. She places the shears back on the shelf and picks up her red clippers, giving them a flick with her wrist as she hits the switch. The sound rises and so does the color in his face. Her face, too.

The barber steps to the side and there is a waterfall of curls suddenly rolling down the sheet. His ear sees light for the first time in nearly a year. She works quickly taking the bulk off, moving around my right ear, then stepping in front, pulling the cord along to go at his left ear. As she does, the smiling spectator, relieved she is escaping this spring ritual, steps forward to grab a big handful of curls, smiling, breathing towards his ear. Her eyes, eyes he could bathe in, peer with promises.

As the barber finishes on the left side, she steps behind and her hears the spectator mutter, “Head down” with a seriousness touched by glee. The barber turns and smiles at this bit of help from the shearing gallery.

A nod passes between the two of them, unseen by him. He is already beginning to lower his chin as she pushes against the bump halfway up his neck with her left hand, finishing the movement to her satisfaction. She pauses. And he wonders. First he hears it. Then he feels the warmth, followed almost immediately by the lightness and the coolness. And finally a tickle. The barber flicks the clippers off and he looks in the mirror, mounds of hair – that scent in his nostrils – puffing on his shoulders.

Looking in the mirror as she replaces the clippers he sees his head has suddenly become more elongated. In the pause she steps close and softly runs a hand over the short side by his right ear.

On top, a field of cornstalks rise from clippered sides, making him look ridiculous. She quickly goes to work on that with scissors. When she is finished, the hair lies short and flat. There is a pause. The barber is behind him. His cyber friend in front. Their eyes meet. In the mirror, he sees the clippers raised. He hears the hum…

A minute later, she is flicking away the cape and he is feeling the soft stubble. He rises a little unsteadily, hands her a big tip and they are off. As he comes to her side his right hand flies up to his neck to feel. It is joined by her left hand and they explore gently, a shared secret. “Let’s go,” he says. “What about me?” she asks.

“Oh,” he says, “I have plans for you. Big plans. But not here. At least not this trip.”

He pays on the way out and when they get up the stairs dusk is coming fast. The lights of the city flicker, offering a soft, gauzy focus. A cab happens by on Broadway. They are lucky. No waiting. Hopping in, he directs the cabbie to the Royalton. She squeezes in close, stroking his ear and neck. His hand reaches for the inside of her knee, fingertips wandering in circles over her bare legs and moving slowly up her inner thigh under her skirt.

Suddenly, there is a long, tongue-mashing kiss. A gentle thrusting of hips drives them together, ever closer. Then they pull back, aware they are not alone. Yet.

The cabbie drops them off and they practically race into the elevator, groping like two teenagers when the doors close. The doors open and he follows her to the door. As she turns the key, he strokes the blonde hair on her neck and follows her in, shutting the door with a crack behind him and grabbing her right wrist to swing her around and take her in his arms. A kiss. Long, full. Then his hand slides to the back of her head, pushing her face past his lips and into his nape. He melts as her tongue traverses the distance from ear to clippered hairline. His hand slips the zipper of her skirt down, then pushes it to the floor around her ankles. Moving quickly now, that same hand unbuttons her blouse and she releases her arms from around him to let it fall, too. She slips out of her low heels and stands facing him with only a bra and panties. Not for long. Snap, and her pert breasts are unveiled. A slide and a soft, fuzzy mound beckons. He drops to his knees.

Suddenly, he steps back and she helps him with his belt, then his zipper as he unbuttons his own shirt. They suddenly stand naked before each other, discovering what they have only imagined. But they do it with their eyes, almost as if they just couldn’t stand to touch.

“So,” he whispers in her ear. “I have penchant for tension and waiting do I? Not today my dear. Not in real life. Let’s go. Sit down.”

She follows him across the room to the chair placed in front of a mirror. Nearby on a dresser sit all the barber tools and a few toys she has kindly brought from home. With his hands firmly on her shoulders, she lowers herself onto the seat as
he stands behind. She gazes into the long mirror, naked, nipples hard, him behind her, newly shorn.

He massages her shoulders, kisses her back then steps away. He returns in seconds and from his right hand hair falls, sprinkling her shoulders, her breasts, clumping on her thighs and sifting between her legs. “Mine,” he says. “I thought you might be tickled by it.”

At the bad pun, she groans and he bends down and begins blowing the hair off her shoulders, following his breath with his tongue. Her shoulders bare of hair, he tongues down her back then slips around to blow on a breast, brushing hair away softly with my hand then suckling with lips, a tongue sliding between them to tease and flick…Then more on the other breast and nipple. He looks up from under his eyebrows. Her eyes are closed. Now her left hand wraps around the back of his head applying gentle pressure, forcing his tongue harder against her nipple.

She follows his eyes as he stands up and moves to the side, then picks up the red Wahl clippers from the dresser. Quickly he is behind her, clippers in his right hand. They exchange glances in the mirror. Oh, how many times they have played this scene typing one line at a time as their actions moved over telephone lines. Now, though, it is real. Live. The sensations are nearly too much.

“I’ve waited long enough, I’ve fantasized long enough. Haven’t you?” he says. “Enough virtual buzzes,” he adds, sneering.

She nods. Real, yes. She feels a wave rising inside her already and tries to suppress it. Her head starts to bob as her chin moves towards her chest, her blue eyes peering up at his reflection in the mirror.

“And now,” he says, “for some of my favorite words. Head down. Now.” She finishes complying with the command even before the third word of the command. He flicks the switch and their favorite song begins to play. With absolutely no hesitation he pushes against her neck with his left hand and places the clippers in the middle of her nape. They run up quickly, a pitched zippered rasp. It is a movement without restraint. Total abandon. Hair tickles her back. Then another stroke, to the right of this one, slower this time. More restrained. Lingering even. This time he takes the opportunity to kiss her new whiteness.

Her breaths shorten and come faster. He bumps against her side as he moves to her right ear and runs the clippers over there, hair falling off her shoulders, slipping over her breasts. Then the left ear. In the mirror she sees blonde atop her crown. And white everywhere else.

“Now,” he says, “you can help make sure I die a happy man. There’s one fantasy…” She looks up, smiling.

He wills himself to control as they contort their bodies to finish the final few ritual passes with the clippers. Then it is back to the chair where he takes a brush and softly spreads shaving cream all over her head.

“Sorry,” he says, “no straight razor. I couldn’t possibly hold my hand steady.” Finally a towel, warmed in the sink, envelopes her head. And when he snatches it off, she sees a gleaming white beauty in the mirror.

He showers her head, nape, ears and lips with kisses and soft, teasing touches. Then it’s time to abandon all restraint, though possibly not the restraints. Later, they call room service ordering appetizers and bottled water to go with the scotch. And they please each other. Again. Then again. Each time a little differently. Each time exploring different aspects of what the other needs. She discovers his tongue is inexhaustible. That his eyes sparkle when he is inspired to explore another option, another position, another sensual area. He discovers she has the endurance of a teenager to go with the mind, imagination and assuredness of a real woman.

Hours pass. He awakens and notices the clock reads 3 a.m. Her smooth head rests on his slightly fuzzy pecks, his arm around her neck, his fingers softly buffing her scalp.

Suddenly, the phone rings. He picks it up, startled. “Hi, can you come in to work early tomorrow?” says the distant voice.

“Uh, yeah,” he stutters. He frowns. The daydream is over, vanished in a wisp of cyber fantasy.

He punches up the file of tomorrow’s schedule, slumping. Back in the real world. Hair curling over his ears.

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