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Ashley caught a glimpse of herself in the salon mirror as she took off her coat. She had to admit that she was looking good. This time last year, she was 70 pounds heavier, but hard work and determination had made the difference. She unconsciously tossed her hair back. It was thick and growing quickly down her back. She did realize how long it had gotten.

Alex called her over to his chair. ?You look better each time I see you!? Ashley blushed, still finding it hard to accept a compliment. ?And you are also lucky. I am taking tomorrow off to get ready for my New Year?s Eve party tomorrow night. I had not planned to work so late, but since it was you??

?You are good friend. How many years have I been coming? Or should I ask how many relationships have we nursed each other through??

?You?ve got that right!? Alex started combing her hair. ?If I remember correctly, my wife had just left me. Then I took up with my second wife. Those were some rough times.

?It was when I was in college, so late 80s. And I believe you left your first wife for your second. I know number one was a bitch, but the second was no great winner.?

Alex ran his fingers though her hair. ?Didn?t you have layered hair then??

Ashley grimaced. ?Like I said, it was the 80s and mullets were the thing.?

?Don?t say that word around me!?

?Mullet, mullet, mullet!!? Alex reached over and covered her mouth as they broke into laughter.

?I am not sure if want to leave or not.? Matty walked from the back with her coat on. ?But the daycare will charge me if I don?t pick up the kids by 7:00. I will be back to open up first thing and ready to party tomorrow night! Has he talked you into coming??

?Yes, she will be there.? Ashley started to protest but found her mouth covered again. ?Get out of here and get your kids! Oh, and will you lock the door behind you? I can?t hear anything back here and don?t want some stranger walking in.?

?Good night!?

??night!?

?She is sweet. How old are her kids?

?One is 11 and the other 7. I was fortunate when she applied here. Anyway, what are we doing to you hair tonight? It is getting long, even for you.? Ashley?s hair had grown about three inches past her shoulders, but since it was always in a ponytail, she had not really noticed.

?I don?t know, same thing as usual, I guess. Did I tell you Tony and I are no longer an item??

?What happened??

?We just called each other less and less and then last week, I saw him at the grocery store. We decided next to the milk that we should officially end it. Actually, I feel relieved.?

Alex walked around behind her and brushed her hair. ?Are you sure you are okay? You two were together a couple of years.? Ashley gave him a look of indifference. ?I am glad. Really, really glad.? Alex slowly stroked her hair. ?You said the usual??

?Whatever you want. You know I trust you.?

?How much do you trust me??

?What do you mean?? Ashley seemed surprised by the question.

Alex gripped her scalp and gently massaged it. ?You have lost so much weight and this length is pulling you down. I have a style in mind, a departure from what you have now. Are you up for it? New hair for the new you in the new year??

Ashley looked at the mirror and thought a couple inches off might be a nice update. She really should wear her hair down more and maybe this is what she needed.

?Are you up for a new style?? Alex snipped the scissors in the air, jokingly.

?Sure. Go for it!?

?Do you trust me?? Alex picked up the hair on her right side and held it out.

?Always!? Ashley said with a laugh.

With the final okay, Alex stepped just enough to block her view of what was going to happen. He took the newly sharpened scissors and quickly slid them up the lock so she would not realize how much he was going to cut. Then he quickly closed the blade a few times and backed away.

?ALEX??? Ashley cried out and then could find no more words. She looked at her reflection and the shorn hair sticking out everywhere. On the right side of her head, from above her ear straight up the side, her hair was 1 ? 2 inches long. She then saw the hair in his hand.

?It is going to be okay. I knew if I did not do something dramatic, you would back out. This way, you really have no choice. Please don?t cry; I am not doing this as a joke. I have seriously been thinking about this style for you. You don?t have to hide behind long hair anymore. You have always been beautiful, but maybe now with your weight loss and new hair, maybe you will finally see the beauty everyone else has always seen.? But Ashley was not going to listen. She tore off the cape, grabbed her purse and ran out the door. All the way home, she kept feeling the newly shorn hair and kept crying.

Once she got home and calmed down a little, Ashley called her neighbor who came right over. ?Alex did this? I believe you, but this is not like him. I started going to him when I moved here, based on your recommendation. Let me see.? Eve ran her hand through Ashley?s hair. ?I don?t know. I have never cut hair and I don?t want to start with this. I mean, if you really want me to try, but there is so much to cut that I would be afraid I would mess up.? Ashley started crying again. ?I am sorry! Please, please stop crying. Let?s wait until tomorrow and go to another salon. They could do something.?

?But I don?t want anyone to see me like this! Can you cut some of the length so they won?t pity me too much? I could not stand that.?

?Okay. Just remember, YOU asked me. Where are your scissors?? Eve found the scissors as Ashley had described. ?I will start in the back so you won?t see it.? Ashley held her breath as she felt her hair being tugged at the back of her head. ?This won?t work. When was the last time you sharpened these? They are too dull and aren?t cutting anything. Let me run over to my house and get my sewing scissors. Will you be okay??

?Yeah. I think I will fix a drink. Want one??

?After I cut.? Eve went outside and started to cross the shared yard when she heard her name.

?Eve! Eve! Over here!?

?Who is that??

?It?s Alex. I came to see Ashley.?

?ALEX!? You are the LAST person she wants to see right now. What were you thinking? She is a mess in there!?

?Hurting her was the last thing I wanted. She has always been so beautiful but she keeps hiding behind her long hair. I knew I had to put her in a situation where she would have no choice. That is why I went for it. I see now that it was wrong.?

Eve sighed. ?Why don?t you come in and talk to her? I am not saying it will do any good, but it may calm her down some.? Alex was silent as they entered the house and hung back in the shadows as Eve entered the kitchen. ?Are you doing okay??

Ashley was starting her drink. ?How could he do this to me? I trusted him. He has always taken such good care of me. What happened? Look at me.? She tugged her shorn hair. ?Look at this. I am so ugly.?

?No, you are not and you never have been!? Ashley turned toward the dark hallway as Alex emerged. ?I had no idea this would hurt you and if I had thought for one half second it would, I would not have done it. I just wanted to give you a style that matches your wonderful personality. I style that I could create for you and give to you. You see,? Alex paused, ?I love you.? Ashley let out a sarcastic laugh. ?Please hear me out. A couple of years ago, I had a horrible customer right before you came in and you called me at home that night to see if I were doing okay. You stopped by the next day and brought me lunch, again just to check on me. I realized that I was a stupid fool for not seeing you as anything but a friend. But you were with Tony and I was not going to make things difficult for you. But when you told me that you had drifted apart, I knew the time was right.?

?So you wanted to cut my hair so no other guy would want me? So you could have me for yourself? You bastard!? Ashley threw the glass into the sink and shards went everywhere. ?You had no right to do this and I hate you for this!?

Alex looked at Eve. ?Ashley, do you want me to send him away? I have to be at work in a couple of hours, so if you want me to cut your hair, I need to start now. Or,? she paused, ?you could let Alex finish it.? She whispered in Ashley?s ear, ?Think of it, let him play with your hair as he fixes it, thinking he has won you and then toss him out. I know it is cruel, and I would normally never suggest such a thing, but he set the rules to this game.?

?Alex, Eve makes sense. You are the only one who knows how to style hair and I can?t go around looking like this. Do you have anything to work with??

?Yes, I tossed some things in the car in hopes you would forgive me. I am so happy, thank you! You will never regret this!? With that, he went running to he car.

Eve looked suspicious. ?Are you sure you are going to be okay? I can call in sick and stay here.?

?No, I will be okay. You are right; he thinks I have forgiven him. You know, if he had only told me what he wanted, I might have given in. Especially if he had been honest with his feelings. The idea of someone in love with you, creating a masterpiece just for you? wow! That would have been nice.? Ashley looked at the floor. ?It really would have been nice.?

The two women hugged as Alex came back in. ?You have no idea how happy I am! I am finally able to be honest with you and in addition, set you hair free!? He emptied a duffle bag of tools from the salon. ?Have a seat on the stool and I will get the cape.?

?Why don?t I just take off my shirt instead?? Alex could barely contain his excitement as he hugged her. ?There will be time for that later. Why don?t you finish the cut? But remember, not too short. I don?t want to walk around with a bald head.?

?Your wish is my command! And I would never shave you completely bald, unless you asked.? Something in his voice unnerved her. ?I won?t have to pin anything up if I start from the top. Hope you don?t mind.? Ashley fought back a tear of anger. ?Don?t be so tense, my love. I now what you will look like and you only have to trust me.? Ashley bit her lip to keep quiet. She trusted him once. She sat for what seemed an eternity while he messed around with stuff from the bag. She did not dare turn around for she did not want to see the instruments of her torture.

Finally, the cut began. While she did not have a reflection to see what was happening, she had a good idea. The tugging had started at the back of her head, moving quickly around the left side, where her torture kicked into high gear. The closer he moved toward her face, the slower he cut. After each snip, he let the shorn locks fall across her face onto her breast and into her lap. 16-20 inch locks one after another after another after another. ?Feel the soft hair against your body. Don?t you love the way it glides down and down?? Had this been her choice, maybe she could have enjoyed it. Maybe. But not like this.

?Alright, my love, I am through with the first part of the scissor cut.?

?First part? Is there any hair left?? She could not hide the anger in her voice.

?Of course there is, nothing to be uptight about. I wanted you to get as much pleasure as I am getting, so I am cutting in stages.?

?Look, I would prefer that you get on with it. Skip the stages and get to the final cut.?

Alex massaged her shoulders and kissed her neck. ?My little eager beaver! If that is what you want, we shall get to the real fun right now.? He pushed he head down firmly and there was a loud pop behind her. She felt vibrations on the back of her neck and knew he was using clippers. Her rage was at the boiling point, but she thought it would only be a bit longer. The clippers stopped abruptly and she heard some snapping noise. ?You are still so tense. Why don?t I get the top done so you can see what I am going for.?

With that, he firmly pulled her head up and put his had over her face to stead it. Clippers came back to life, but the sound was in front. IN FRONT??? Before she could react, the vibrations were on the top of her head going quickly straight back. The noise would change as the clippers were lifted to take another pass. Over and over and over they went, take more hair off. ?So you like this?? Ashley wondered how stupid could this guy be. ?Well, I guess I should keep going to make sure there are no stray hairs.? And he repeated the paths, again and again. Finally, the clippers stopped.

Ashley did not look, thinking the worst was over and he was putting the clippers away. ?I am just changing the guard.? She had no idea what that meant. But the clippers were back on and starting at her temple. Little hairs were flying everywhere and Ashley was about to black out. ?I want to shape up the sides and back; they need to be shorter to show off the top.? Over and over her neck and temples, Alex kept cutting and cutting, when surely there was nothing left to cut. But he seemed to be doing it more for pleasure that for style.

Suddenly, there was silence. Alex walked around in front of Ashley and studied his work. ?The perfect cut for the perfect girl! This brings out your features and when you walk! Let me see you walk!? She obeyed and walked around the kitchen. ?I love you and I love that you trusted me! I will do anything for you, anything!!!?

?May I see what I look like??

?Of course! Where is a bathroom??

Ashley slowly led the way, dreading what she would see. With a flick of the light, a stranger was standing in the bathroom with them – a stranger with barely visible hair on the side and maybe a quarter inch on top. There was nothing left of the woman who stood in front of the same mirror that morning and brushed her long locks without a thought. Then she noticed Alex kissing the back of her neck. She felt violated. She was not given a choice and had not asked for anything even remotely like this. ?Alex, why don?t you put your stuff back in the car while I freshen up??

?My love, you don?t need to freshen up for me. I want to take you right here right now.?

?But I would feel better if I had a couple of minutes. Please? For me??

Alex slowly brushed his lips over her bare shoulder, still covered with tiny hairs. ?Better hurry because it won?t take me two minutes.? He backed out of the bathroom slowly and then walked down the hall. He tossed his tools in the bag with careless disregard and almost ran out the door. What he did not hear was Ashley behind him. As he locked his car, he did not hear her lock the door. But as he came up the walk, he saw her standing in the door. He heart was pounding with excitement until he tried to open the door. He looked at her through the glass, confused. ?Ashley, it?s locked. What?s going on here??

She just stared at him, her face revealing no emotion.

?Ashley?? He kept trying the door. ?What?s wrong? Let me in.? She did not move. ?Ashley! Open the door!? He started pounding the door. Still, she did not move.

After a minute or so of this, he finally stopped and just looked at Ashley. ?Why are you doing this to me? What have I done??

Ashley reached and turned off the porch light. Alex could see her walk across the hall and turn off the inside lights. He stood there for at least an hour, hoping she would come back. He knew she had to come back. He loved her. But she never came back.

The next day, Alex received call after call from guests canceling for this party that night. Only six came, but had all left by 9:00 pm. Alex sat in front of the TV and rang in the new year with Regis. Over the next few weeks, clients cancelled with various reasons, but he found his station empty most of the time. Matty turned in her notice in mid-January, saying she wanted to stay home with her kids. By June, the shop was closed.

Alex had some savings, and took some time to reflect on things. That fall, he was at movie theater when he saw Ashley. Her hair was a bit longer, but still very short. She looked great and he started to speak to her when a guy came up and put his arm around her waist. When Ashley put her arm on top of his, Alex saw the engagement ring. He could only stand and stare. Then he felt a tap on his shoulder and he turned. It was Eve.

?If you had only asked, she would be in your arms right now.? With that Eve walked away. Alex turned and the couple was gone. Just like his shop, his friends and all he new ? gone.

If only he had asked.

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