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I don’t hear from my cousin Genevieve terribly often; birthdays and Christmas, and the odd phone call in between when the blur of her London life slows occasionally.

So it was quite a surprise to hear her voice on the phone last night.

“Ella, we need your help.”

“What’s wrong, Gen?” Her usually drawly voice was clipped and tense.

“It’s Lucy.” Her eighteen year old daughter, who as far as I knew was sailing unsullied through her teen years and being a model child. “Can she come and stay with you for a few weeks?”

“Well, I suppose so. I’m on holidays at the moment. Is she in trouble?”

“Not exactly. She’s had an operation and needs, well, time away from her friends to recuperate. I’ll put her on the three o’clock train tomorrow and she can tell you all about it.”

Needless to say I was intrigued by the scenario. Had Lucy gone off the rails and into teenage pregnancy? Josh and I wondered about it over dinner and our summer evening cycle through the country lanes.

When we returned from our ride Josh tossed his helmet into the mudroom and rubbed his head. I’d been shaving it now for four months and it had a gleaming suntan. I still couldn’t get over how good he looked bald. “I’ve got bristles, Ella. Want to shave me?”

Oh, an offer too good to refuse! Our regular ritual which we did at least every second night, me lathering his scalp and shaving it super smooth, then rubbing oil into his head in a sensual scalp massage. Followed inevitably by great sex. Genevieve, Lucy and their problems were far from my mind as I stroked Josh’s bald scalp.

The next day I waited at the station for Lucy. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years and was looking for a podgy child instead of the slim, tall teenager who gave me a wan smile when she saw me.

“Lucy!” I hugged her. “Why are you wearing that awful hat?”

Despite the heat of the day Lucy had a football beanie (Spurs, I thought) pulled almost down to her eyes. Her hair, which looked to be an untidy bob, stuck out at ragged angles around the edges. I tried to take her hat off but she pushed my hands away.

“Don’t! It’s so embarrassing!” She was near to tears.

Instead I took her trolley of suitcases – three of them; just how long was she staying!? – and we walked to the car.

Lucy barely said a word as we drove home apart from “It all looks so green,” and “I’ve never seen so many birds”.

Josh was still at work and I gave Lucy an orange juice. “So what’s the problem, Lucy? Why are you here? And why did your mum want you away from your friends?”

“They’ll make fun of me,” she muttered. “Look.”

She pulled the beanie off her head and ran her hands through her hair. Her thick, shiny brown hair had three great shaven gaps in it, each punctuated by a thin, angry red line barely visible through the fuzz of regrowth.

“What happened? Were you in an accident?” I looked closely at her head and she shut her eyes in shame, a tear trickling down one cheek.

“I had cysts on my head. Three of them. S-S-Seb-Sebaceous cysts. Big lumps. I wanted to get them cut out so Mum took me to the doctor. I heard you could get them cut off by a plastic surgeon, and they don’t shave any of your hair off, but the doctor said he could do them on the spot, no need to go to a plastic surgeon, so Mum said do it. And before I knew what was happening he was shaving half my hair off,” sobbed Lucy. “I look hideous! It’ll take MONTHS to grow back and I can’t see my friends `cos they’ll laugh.” She hiccupped into her orange juice and wiped her nose on her sleeve when she thought I wasn’t looking.

I felt a flush of anger towards Genevieve. Always in a hurry. Oh yes, let the doctor do it on the spot so she didn’t have to waste time taking her daughter to someone who’d do a better job cosmetically. And as for Lucy’s friends.

“They can’t be good friends if they laugh at you,” I said gently. “They should be supportive. You’re not little kids any more, you’re young women.”

“They’ve all got gorgeous hair,” wailed Lucy. “Not hair with bloody great shaved bits in it!” I handed her a tissue to save her sleeves and she blew her nose loudly. “How long will it take to grow back, Ella?” Her eyes brimmed with tears again. “I have to go back to school in a month.”

I regarded her head. One shaved patch right on the top, right at her hairline, one on the right side and one at the back, which mercifully was covered most of the time. The one on top of her head was the worst; it must have been at least two and a half inches square. And there was no way of covering it up. Most of her fringe had been shaved off.

I was about to give her the bad news, that hair only grows half an inch a month, when Josh noisily opened the back door, whistling as usual, and chucked his briefcase into the kitchen.

“Hi, darling! Hi, Lucy! Long time no see!”

Lucy’s eyes bulged. She hadn’t seen a photo of Josh in his bald glory. “What happened to your hair, Josh?”

“Ella shaved my head. In fact, she shaves it just about every day,” Josh said cheerfully. “It’s a great low maintenance style. And what,” he said, peering at her, “happened to yours?”

Lucy was about to burst into tears again, so I told him her story. “And she has to go back to school in a month.”

“With horrible hair!” wailed Lucy.

“It doesn’t have to be horrible,” said Josh, “Why not ask Ella to give you a haircut and try and fix it up?”

Well, the only way it could be fixed up was if it were all taken down to the lowest common denominator, which appeared to be about a number two. Not a job I’d say no to, as haircutting has a wonderful effect on my libido. I could imagine what Lucy’s reaction to that would be though!

Lucy turned pleading eyes on me. “What can you do, Ella?”

I thought quickly. How could I phrase this to appeal to her? “You know, cutting it all off and starting again might be the best thing.”

“I don’t want my head shaved!” Lucy jumped out of her chair, ready to bolt.

“That’s a shame, as it’s such a cool look,” I said mildly. “But you don’t have to shave it. Just cut it all really short so it grows out evenly. By the time school gets back you’ll have a funky, super short look. You’ve got the beautiful face and bone structure to carry it off. And,” I added the clincher, “Your mum will probably hate it.”

Lucy didn’t bolt. Her eyes widened and she sat down again on one of the kitchen chairs. “Do I really have a beautiful face?”

“Yes, but you’d never know with all that hair hanging around it.” I pushed Lucy’s chunky bob back behind her ears. “Fantastic cheekbones. Cut your hair really short, put some makeup on and you’d be a stunner. Looks a lot of girls would die for.”

Josh was grinning at me. “Don’t make her too gorgeous or I’ll fancy her myself.”

“Yuck, you’re way too old for me,” retorted Lucy, her old spirit returning. “You must be thirty.”

“Thirty two,” Josh agreed. “So what do you think about a haircut? The sooner you get it cut, the more it will have grown back before school starts.” Oh, my lovely husband! Every woman should have such a supportive man!

Lucy ran her fingers through her hair, fingering the fuzzy patches. “You’d have to cut it this short,” she said mournfully. “I’ll look almost bald!”

“Only the most beautiful women can get away with a buzzed head,” I said encouragingly. “I’m sure you’ll be able to. And it’ll be nice and cool for summer. It gets hot here in the country.”

She gave a huge sigh. “Ok. Do it.”

Josh galloped upstairs to get my haircutting kit while I kept telling Lucy she’d look great. Talking to her, as if calming an upset animal, I slipped the cape around her neck.

“Are those scars sore?” I asked, touching the red lines.

“Not any more. They were at first, but I had the stitches out a couple of days ago.”

“Let’s get this over with, then, shall we?” My cordless clippers were fully charged, and I clicked the number two guard into position. As I
turned them on I saw tears begin to well in Lucy’s eyes again. I did feel sorry for her. Poor girl; heartless treatment by her mum and doctor. Teenagers have enough insecurities about their looks. But I’d do my best to make her stunning.

I started at the back, so Lucy wouldn’t see hair raining down on the cape. Carefully I parted the hair down the middle of the back, then, without pausing, ran the clippers up from her nape to her crown, straight down the part. Lucy gave an audible sob.

“I can’t stop now,” I said to her. “You’ll look REALLY silly.” I clipped another path up to the right of the first, and clipped over the first of the shaved patches. I was delighted to see that my judgement was right and her hair had grown out to a number two. She now had a seamless pelt where the shaved patch was. “It really will look MUCH better,” I assured her, shearing up the left hand side of the back now, and enjoying the sight of her thick brown hair falling away, onto the floor.

Josh, standing out of Lucy’s eyesight, gave me a thumbs up.

Carefully now I clipped up behind her left ear. I tried to grab the falling hair but I was too late, and the first clump hit Lucy’s knees. She gave a loud wail.

“Oh! My hair!”

It looked far longer cut off than it had on her head. Bobs can be deceptive. “Lucy, it looks fine. Please trust me. You’ve got nice thick hair; another week and you won’t see the scars any more at all.”

Now I buzzed in front of her ears, taking in her weeping eyes and red face. Tears covered her cheeks and more welled out as clipped away. Best to get it all over with as quick as possible, so a couple of quick passes up the side of her head saw the left hand side covered in a thick, rich seal brown pelt.

I moved to the right hand side and began to shear her hair away as she hiccupped and tried to stop crying. “Feels all funny,” she muttered.

“Nice funny or bad funny?”

“Nice funny. Vibrating. Like a massage.” She gave a huge sniff but still winced as another fat clump of hair slid down her shoulders onto her lap.

“Just the top left now.” I stood in front of her, clippers at her forehead. The last of her long hair awaited my attention. Steadying her head with my left hand, I pushed the clippers in with my right, taking long strokes from the front to the back until her head was entirely buzzed to a number two fuzz.

I decided to leave her hairline natural at the back, as it looked feminine and had a pretty shape. But I trimmed her sideboards into wicked points with my scissors. “Stay there,” I ordered, “and don’t move. Don’t touch your hair. Nothing.”

Lucy looked at me with saucer eyes, but I fled for my makeup bag. Her first view of herself had to take her breath away.

I returned with makeup and a damp flannel, and wiped the tears and tiny hairs from Lucy’s face. Her skin tones were similar to mine, and I swiftly covered her face in foundation, followed by blusher to bring out those cheekbones. Then it was time for eyeliner, and this I applied in spades. Black lines top and bottom, coming to an upward point on the outsides so her eyes looked like big almonds. Then eyeshadow; first a light neutral grey on her eye socket, then dramatic darker grey on her lower lids, so her eyes became wanton and mysterious. I risked a light coat of mascara, and told her not to cry under any conditions. Finally I considered her lips, and decided on a pale pink lip gloss. I didn’t want her to look like an S&M tart, but like a catwalk model.

“Oh, yes!” Josh clapped his hands as I whisked the cape and all the hair away with a flourish. “You look dynamite, Lucy! Or jailbait perhaps!”

“Now,” I said, “Touch the back of your head.”

Lucy warily lifted her hands and encountered what was left of her hair. She yelped. “I’m scalped! Ella, Ella! I’ve got no hair!” She was about to start crying again.

“No crying, Lucy. Not till you’ve seen in the mirror.” I stroked her shorn scalp, and ran my fingers up the back of her head. She shuddered. “How does that feel?”

“Um, actually, quite nice.” This time she did it for herself. Having got over the shock of a brutally short haircut, now she couldn’t keep her hands off it, running them all over her buzzed head.

I led her to the bathroom. “Look.”

Lucy gasped. A stunning girl with a short crewcut and a beautiful, sexy face gasped back at her. “Oh, wow! I had no idea! I look.sort of.hot!” She stroked her hair again, caressing the velvety pelt.

I left her in the bathroom, transfixed by her new image, and returned to the kitchen where my husband was pouring us each a glass of wine.

“So,” said Josh quietly, “Are you really going to let her grow it out before she goes back to school? You looked like you were enjoying yourself.”

“Oh, I was. But it’s up to Lucy to decide whether she wants a weekly buzz.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“I might have to let your hair grow for a few months so I can do it to you,” I whispered, stroking his bald head and kissing his lips.

I thought briefly of calling Genevieve back to tell her what I’d done, but decided against it. She’d have a shock coming to her when Lucy returned in four weeks’ time, with her hair only half an inch longer than it was now – perhaps.

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