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?Guess what, Bailey?? my older sister Brianna asked. I couldn?t guess, but whatever it was made her grin like an idiot. ?Rob and I have set a date. We?ll be married on May 8!? I squealed in delight and hugged her, our heads thumping slightly. ?Ouch,? she said, ?That?s no fair! Your head has more padding on it than mine does.? She rubbed an imaginary sore. Brianna is bald. When she was fourteen, nine years ago, her hair began to fall out. Within a month, it was all gone, and has never come back. Alopecia universalis, they called it?total hair loss, all over her head and body. She always wears a wig out in public?well, almost always?but here in our house it sits on a wig stand so she can be comfortable. We live in a small town and, of course, everyone knows about her condition, and generally everybody is cool with it. At the time it was pretty traumatic, for her and for us. I was only nine at the time, and I remember lying awake at night wondering if my hair would fall out like my sister?s. It?s a wonder my hair didn?t fall out just from worrying about it. Some kids at school made jerks of themselves trying to ridicule Brianna or put her down, and the same kids teased me for being her sister. (I punched out one of them?it gained me detention, but also some nervous respect from the boys.) Brianna was strong and didn?t let that kind of garbage get to her?most of the time, anyway. She learned to live as if it didn?t matter. We all wondered if Brianna would ever find somebody to marry her, who could look past her condition and love her for who she was. She had had several boyfriends, though. But now it looked as if Rob were Mr. Right. Oddly enough, Rob and Brianna had the same condition in common. They had met at a support group in the nearby city where Brianna now lives and works, and they connected instantly. Their personalities meshed beautifully, and we already liked Rob well enough to consider him one of the family.

?Bailey, I want you to be my maid of honor,? she said. ?You?re my first choice. You?ve always stood by me, no matter what, and I want you to stand beside me when Rob and I say our vows.? I squealed and hugged her again, this time careful not to bump heads. ?I take that as a yes,? she said dryly. ?But there?s one thing you should know before you commit yourself.?

?Will it be a really, really ugly dress that I?ll have to wear?? I asked, teasingly.

?No, it will be a small wedding and there won?t be any bridesmaids or groomsmen?just four of us in the wedding party. You?ll definitely get input on your dress. The thing is, I don?t want you to be embarrassed.? Her face looked serious.

?Why would I be embarrassed? You wouldn?t embarrass me, even if you decided to leave your wig at home.? Brianna?s mouth turned up in a wicked grin. I grinned back. ?Wait! Is that it? You?re going to stand up there as your real self, so you and Rob are a matching set?? She nodded yes to my question, and grinned a wide smile. ?Mom might flip, but it?s fine with me,? I said. ?It?s different, but it?s cool! I?ll be proud to be up there with you.?

?Thanks, sis. I thought you would be okay with it. There?s something more, though. Rob?s brother was going to be Best Man, but you know he?s in the Army and he has deployment orders. Rob asked a couple of other good friends with hair and they had conflicts, too. So Jeff Mason, another guy from the support group, will stand up with us?he?s a lot of fun. I think you?ll like him. So what that means is that you?ll be the only one in the wedding party with hair?except for the minister, of course. Will that make you feel awkward??

?Maybe a little bit. It does make a picture, doesn?t it? Three shiny heads and one elegant updo, with tendril curls.? I grinned, teasingly. ?Or I could just shave it all off and shine along with the rest of you!? Having a bald sister, I have from time to time wondered what it would be like, what we would look like together. We do look a lot alike, once you get past the little difference between hair and hairlessness. I?m built a little smaller than she is, but our facial shape, our eye color, everything, is a pretty close match.

?No!? Brianna protested. ?I do not want you to even think about that. Bailey, I love your hair, and I want to see you looking lovely in that elegant updo. Please don?t feel guilty for having hair when I don?t. This is me, right? And you are you. I?m comfortable in who I am. After the wedding, I?m not even planning on wearing my wig on our honeymoon, and I?m only going to wear it when absolutely necessary when I get back. So at the wedding, I?ll look pretty in my own way, and you can look pretty in yours. But just in case you get tempted, let me remind you. Your last two weeks of high school come after the wedding. You don?t want to be remembered as that crazy girl who shaved her head just before graduation, do you??

I was a bit taken aback. ?Hey, sis. I was just kidding, okay? Actually, though, if you had asked me to shave it off so we could all look alike, I would have blinked three times, swallowed hard, and said yes. You?re the bride, after all.?

?Again, no,? she said. ?I would never ask you to do that. Don?t even think about it, okay?? But I did. Not every day of course, but I thought about it. My sister was trying to protect me. I kept telling myself that it was her wedding, after all. What would be best for her? Would it be best for us all to have our hair styled the same way?no hair at all, or would I distract attention away from her if I took up the bald look too? I couldn?t decide. Mother didn?t flip when she heard of Brianna?s plans to have no hair under her wedding veil, but you could tell she wasn?t happy about it?and she sternly told me not to get any bright ideas.

The next week, I was at a sleepover with Kristy, Brit, and Nicci, three good friends. We talked about senior stuff, boys, classes, boys, graduation, and boys. Along about midnight, I told them about Brianna?s plans for the wedding.

?She?s not going to wear her wig? Gross!? Kristy blurted out. ?Oh, I?m sorry, Bailey. Brianna?s not gross. She?s completely cool. But at a wedding, it seems like that?s when you want to look the very best that you?ll ever look in your life, and I think that she looks better with her wig than without it.?

?She thinks that it?s artificial looking for her to wear her wig, like she?s trying to hide something she?s ashamed of. But she?s not ashamed of being bald. She doesn?t want to hide behind her wig anymore. She wants the world to accept her as Bald Brianna, and if they don?t accept her, they?ll just need to deal with it,? I explained. ?It?s the real her.?

Brit pondered. ?Brides always look artificial looking, though, and they spend thousands of dollars trying to look like the ideal bride. The wig isn?t much different than one of us being a bride and wearing an elaborate hairdo that looks nothing like how we normally wear our hair. Come to think about it, if a bride wants to look like herself, why should she wear clothes at all?? We all giggled hysterically, and went on to describe all these graphic images of a nudist wedding.

Nicci said, ?I think it?s totally cool. I say, go for it, Brianna. But what about you? Is your hairstyle going to be like your sister?s?? The other two gasped and giggled. ?You two are so close and everything, I think that would be neat.?

?Well,? I said, ?I can?t help thinking about it. Brianna told me not to, though. I don?t think that she wants me to do it because I would feel bad afterwards, during the last two weeks of high school.?

?Feel bald afterwards, you mean!? shot Brit. We all giggled again. ?I?d never do it because I wouldn?t have the nerve, but you?re gutsy enough to try it, right??

?I don?t know,? I admitted honestly. ?I?ve thought about it. If she were getting married in the summer, then maybe. But it would be scary walking the halls of old Hoover High with a shaved head.?

Kristy surprised me by saying, ?You could always borrow Brianna?s wig, if she said that she wouldn?t be using it. I?m not saying that you should do it, or anything, though. But if you do, I?ll still hang with you.? The other two agreed. We talked about it for half an hour as we redid our nails to yet another color, weighing the pros and cons of what I should do with my hair for the wedding, but didn?t come to any kind of decision. We all though that I shouldn?t shave it?that was the safest course?but that if I did, they wouldn?t be ashamed or embarrassed. I wasn?t going with a boy at the time, so I didn?t have to consider what implications it might have for my love life. Kristy said, ?Just don?t expect us to go bald with you?we?re not that brave!? The others agreed.

Wearing Brianna?s wig?that was an out. Or was it? It looked good, not like a wig at all, and it should. It was really expensive, and made from human hair. But it didn?t look like my hair, in thickness, texture, wave, and color. Anybody who had paid any attention to the way I look now would know immediately that it wasn?t my real hair. Of course, our town?s small enough, everybody would know anyway, from the day of the wedding. Sure, I would look normal with a wig. But I wouldn?t look like me.

I was frantic, combining all the activities of my senior year with wedding preparations. In spite of all the jokes about bridal attendant dresses, the one that Brianna and I chose was gorgeous?navy blue, classic and elegant, with just a hint of sequins?and it draped beautifully on me. I felt five years older. It was definitely a dress that I would wear again. Of course, I got pumps to match. We made appointments for Saturday morning at the beauty salon, so mom, Brianna and I could be done together. Brianna would arrive a little later, though, since she was obviously not having her hair done.

Long before Friday, May 7, came, I had made the sensible decision to honor Brianna?s request and my mother?s wishes, and go to the wedding with an elegant hairstyle. Then, that night, we had the rehearsal dinner and the rehearsal. There I met Jeff Mason, the Best Man. He and Rob were a wild pair! It?s hard to read the age of a bald person. Rob, I knew, was twenty four, two years older than Brianna. Jeff, who was short and slender, moved with athletic grace, and had green eyes to die for. I was surprised to discover he was only nineteen, a year older than I. I wasn?t surprised to discover he was on a college swim team, and a pre-med major. You could see his athleticism in a very sexy body and lively intelligence in his eyes and in his animated face. He also?surprise! had sexy eyebrows, real ones, made of hair, unlike Brianna?s tattooed ones. His hair loss wasn?t complete. ?Nice hair,? he grinned at me when we were introduced.

?Nice scalp,? I shot back. Brianna and Rob were standing close by. ?And I definitely feel outnumbered here.?

?That?s something we baldies feel every day of our lives,? said Jeff. ?But don?t worry. I really like your hair?the rest of you, too.? Jeff had a great smile, and an open, friendly face. I could make out some dark shadows of hair stubble on his head, and commented. Jeff answered. ?Brianna and Rob both have alopecia universalis?complete hair loss all over their bodies. It?s pretty rare. But I?m sure you know that. Mine?s more common and less severe?alopecia areata. Most of my hair is gone most of the time, but there are still patches that sometimes come, and sometimes go. It?s kind of a nuisance, really, having to keep it shaved, or it would look like total crap. But enough about me. Tell me about yourself?who are you besides being Brianna?s kid sister?? I gave him a thumbnail sketch, and unlike most guys, he listened carefully.

We kept teasing and joking the rest of the evening, but when we all marched in during the rehearsal and got into place, I really did feel like the odd one out. ?One of these things is not like the other,? they used to sing on Sesame Street. The three did everything to make me feel welcome, but it still felt odd, and I?m sure it looked odd.

After the rehearsal, Jeff invited me to double with him, Brianna, and Rob, to go dancing at a local club. It turned out that they carded me and wouldn?t let me in. The bride and groom to-be decided to go in anyway, and Jeff and I just drove around, laughed and joked. It?s funny how two people sometime just seem to hit it off, to be as comfortable in each other?s company as if they had known each other for years. That?s the way it was with Jeff. I needed to go home fairly early since tomorrow was the big day, so Jeff dropped me off before he returned to his hotel. He stepped outside the car with me, gently touched his hands to my shoulders, and raised an eyebrow. I smiled, nodded, and looked up, and we kissed?a soft, gentle first-date kiss, but very nice!

I didn?t sleep much that night. On Saturday morning, mom and I left to be at the beauty salon at 9 to get our hair all fouffed up and our makeup and nails just right for Brianna?s big day. Brianna was going to meet us there at ten, since she only needed makeup and nails. When we got there, mom started flipping through the style books again, even though we?d looked at them many times before and had made decisions. But now I was going to make another. Mom wouldn?t be happy.

?Mom, I just think that it will look like I?m a vain little airhead to be up there with my hair curled, tendriled, sprayed, and flowered when nobody else in the wedding party have any hair at all.? I looked her straight in the eye.

?What do you suggest, then?? she asked, her face darkening.

?A hairstyle like Brianna?s.? She winced visibly at my words. As she opened her mouth, I went on. ?Look, I know all the arguments, I know that it won?t be easy being bald for my last week of high school, and I know that it might bring back some of the pain you felt when Brianna lost her hair. But it?s really the best thing, and I think you know it.?

?Is this about Brianna, or is it about Jeff?? she asked sharply.

?No, mom. Jeff?s cool about it the way I look now. It?s about Brianna, and about me thinking that it?s great she has the guts to stand up there in front of everyone without her wig. I want to stand there with her, and to me that means with a hairstyle like hers. I?d rather do it with your permission than without, but I am going to do it, even if I walk out of here now and go find a barbershop. What do you say??

?I?m not happy, but you?re old enough to make the choice. You know your own mind. Go ahead, but I don?t want to watch. Go to another booth.? The tear that trickled down her cheek as she spoke was contagious. I hugged her and thanked her. I turned to Clarice the stylist and she just nodded and led me back to the chair.

?No use washing it, I guess,? she said. ?Have a seat.? I bit my lip a little as I sat down. Although I was determined that this is what I wanted to do, I was still scared to death. Clarice pulled off the pink elastic band holding my pony tail and set it on the counter. ?You won?t be needing that for awhile.? She gathered my hair and pulled it tight, almost so my eyes squinted. ?Your head is shaped enough like Brianna?s that you can carry the bald look. It has a nice graceful curve to it. If this is what you really want to do, I can run the clippers over it. But I don?t have any real experience with a razor shave, and we?re not authorized by state law to do that anyway. So if you want it really smooth, maybe you should go down the street to Pete?s Barber Shop for the whole deal.?

?Can you clip it off?? I asked. ?I?d feel more comfortable if you did it, then maybe I could go to Pete?s and have him do the razor part if it wasn?t close enough.?

?Sure,? she said. ?Are you ready?? She held a big pair of electric clippers in her hand.

?Start down the middle, so I can?t change my mind,? I said. The clippers buzzed into action, and my eyes went up, following them on their path to my hairline. My skin felt the cold, vibrating touch of the clippers as they met my hairline, and loose hair started flying down in front of my face. It tickled my nose, so I giggled and stuck out my lower lip to blow upward, and then hair got in my mouth. By the time I had spit it out, the clippers were back over the crown of my head. I looked ahead at the white racing stripe down the middle of my head. The electric cord dragged across my cheek as she widened the path, and more hair tumbled down past my face. My hair is fairly thick, and it was amazing how much each pass produced. By now, the whole crown of my head was bare, down to a short, dark stubble. ?So this is what male pattern baldness looks like on a female,? I said. Clarice just smiled, lifted the hair from the back of my neck, and started working upward. It was funny?the clippers on my skin was a new experience, but it felt cool, all tingly and relaxing and exciting all at the same time. Clarice caught my eye in the mirror and smiled back at my grinning reflection. Soon the clippers traced their way up and around my right ear, and only a few tiny tufts stuck out. Then Clarice cleaned up the left side, and most of my head was covered with tiny, velvet stubble. I reached up and felt it, all prickly on my fingertips, sort of like my dad?s whiskers.

?We?ll get it closer,? Clarice said. ?I used a number one guard to cut the hair short without taking a chance of it nicking your scalp. Now that it?s nice and short, we can take the guard off.? The vibration was even more intense as the tiny stubble exploded outward from the clipper?s path. Soon, no tufts?just a dark shadow marked where my hair used to be. I frowned just a little. Shaved didn?t look as good as bald. My hand went up. It didn?t feel prickly any more, but it wasn?t quite smooth, either. ?Even if Pete shaves it off with a razor, you?ll have a little shadow, but it will look better than it does now,? Clarice advised. ?I could call him and see if he?s busy.? She did, and reported that he offered to come over to the beauty shop and do it here on his midmorning break. I agreed to it.

Mom was still getting her hair done further back in the shop, and so I just smiled as Clarice led me to the nail station. Diane, the nail tech, assured me that she thought my hair looked good short, as she prepped my nails to add the acrylics. Soon she was attaching them to my fingertips, then painting them two shades of blue?navy to match my dress, with pale blue tips. As I held them in the warm air dryer, a middle-aged man with a flattop, wearing a barber smock, walked in. He saw me and smiled. ?You must be Bailey,? he said. ?Clarice did a nice job with the clippers, but I bet you?ll enjoy me finishing the job.? We moved back to Clarice?s station. ?You must really love your sister,? he said to me, ?but I don?t think that for you it will be that big of a sacrifice.? He started laying out some safety razors, a can of shaving cr?me, and a little case that looked like it was made to carry a thermos bottle.

?What do you mean?? I asked, puzzled.

?My theory is that a shaved head accentuates a woman?s looks. If she?s homely to begin with, a shaved head will make her look more ugly. If she?s pretty to begin with, her beauty will be more striking. And you fall in that second category. Don?t think for a moment that this is taking away your good looks. It?ll accentuate them.? He opened the thermos case, pulled out a wet towel and wrapped it around my head. I was surprised that it was almost hot. ?It makes what hair is left stand up, so we can cut it off nice and smooth,? he said. We talked a little more, and he took off the towel. Phhht came the bubbly cr?me out into his hand, like whipped topping for a pumpkin pie. But my head was the target, as he deftly slathered it around. Then with slow, smooth, careful swipes, he used the razor to pull off the foam and my hair stubble with it. I didn?t enjoy it like I had the clippers, for it was a little harsh as it tugged. But I did like the results. When he finished the last swipe, he surprised me by shaking out more shaving cr?me and going over my scalp a second time, stroking in different paths. Finally he finished, and my head was smooth?but it was still a little darker than the rest of my skin. Smooth as it was, it wasn?t slick like Brianna?s. I thanked Pete and offered to pay him. Clarice said that she?d add it to our bill and reimburse him. ?Good luck at the wedding,? he said, ?You?ll knock ?em dead.?

Clarice went back to work on my makeup, adding subtle, elegant color to my face. Then she opened a new container of foundation and started spreading it over the top of my head! I would look more natural now, more like my sister. I grinned as she rolled on tiny pieces of navy blue glitter around my scalp. That would look great with my dress, shoes, and nails!

Just then mom walked by. She winced at first, then forced a smile. I asked, ?You don?t think that I?m too ugly, do you??

Her face wrinkled a bit. ?No, dear. Never. A long time ago, when I had two girls with hair, I might have thought that. But I?ve had to accept Brianna?s special beauty. I prefer you with hair, but you do look stunning, I?ll have to admit.? We hugged.

Just then Brianna came in. Her eyes widened as she saw me, and she burst out laughing. ?Is it that bad?? I asked.

?No, no. You look great, sis,? she said. ?I didn?t want you to do it for a lot of reasons, but deep down secret, I thought you might, and maybe I hoped you would. You?ll fit right in now. We?ll be the most stunning wedding party the world has ever seen.? Both of them had said it now. Stunning. I guess that was me.

We were, I had to admit. After the session at the salon, we went to the church?s changing room and I slipped into my navy dress. We joked and laughed and cried, and then it was time. Bouquet in hand, I moved down the aisle to the organ music, and grinned as I heard the gasps and giggles of my friends. Pastor Watkins had seen the wedding party before hand, so he just smiled as the four people with their shiny heads lined up before him. After the opening remarks, Brianna handed me her bouquet and stepped up to the altar. I straightened the train of her gown. It was so neat to see the obvious love in their eyes as Brianna and Rob exchanged vows and rings. Too soon, the postlude began, and Jeff and I followed the newly married couple down the aisle.

Brianna?s wig felt heavy on my head Monday morning when I went back to school. Of course, everybody knew what I had done, and people that I didn?t really know were offering comments?telling me how brave I was, or how idiotic. I had been tempted to go to school without the wig, but our principal had reminded me that the school grooming code wouldn?t allow it. But that didn?t prevent me from cruising around town in the back seat of Nicci?s convertible, with my wig sitting on my lap like a little dog.

That was last May. It had grown into a fuzzy pelt by graduation day when I tossed the mortarboard into the air, and was about two inches long by the time I started college in September. It?s the same college where Jeff Mason goes, and we?re going together! Neither of us know how serious it will be, it?s too early to tell. Jeff?s in for a surprise tonight, though. I?m not too crazy about this pixie cut, and I have a stop to make before supper. I keep remembering how I enjoyed that haircut last May, and so I have a date with the clippers at Ernie?s Barber Shop before my date with Jeff tonight.

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