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Lemonade – check.
Sandwiches – check.
Two fresh brownies – double check.

I grabbed the picnic basket and ran out of the house. The wind whipped my long black hair around my face, across my sunglasses and into my mouth. I shook my head impatiently and slowed to rapid walk, smiling at the neighbors as I passed by. It was Saturday and this was my six-week anniversary as a new wife, in a new town, living with a man who made my body and heart sing.

I navigated the cracked sidewalks that led to Doug’s new barbershop just four blocks from our house and marveled at how quickly he’d swept me off my feet. I’d met him in the city when he was attending Barber College. At some point, Doug had made it his daily habit to stop in at the downtown diner where I worked as a waitress to pay for my college courses. The first time we met, his electric blue eyes jolted me out of a 6 a.m. stupor and had me smiling at the floor and sneaking glances at him as I waited on other customers. I’d never felt so drawn to anyone before and I couldn’t decide if it was his broad shoulders, his good-humored face or his decidedly confident air that had me fluttering around him like moth to a flame.

Three days later, when he asked me for my phone number, I calmly wrote it at the bottom of his receipt and walked into the kitchen to do a touchdown dance in front of my amused coworkers. We combusted on our first date, and when he asked me to marry him six weeks later, it never occurred to me to say anything but yes. His proposal was the only time I’d seen him tentative. It’d only made me love him more.

“I know I’m just starting out Ellie, and I’ll understand if you’d rather wait,” Doug said as he walked me home from the movies. “But this is my last week here and I can’t imagine being apart from you now that I found you.”

I felt the same way. Maybe it was because both of us had lost our parents at an early age and reveled in the deep connection we now had. I’d been raised out of duty by my mother’s sister. Doug was much closer to his bachelor uncle, who’d established a barbershop in a nearby small town and encouraged Doug to follow in his footsteps so that he could inherit the business. The two had a strong family resemblance, helped along by the identical flattops they wore on their blond heads. After we married, Doug’s uncle deeded him the shop and helped us make a down payment on a house.

“You’re doing this town a favor,” Uncle Ned said, after his generosity rendered us both speechless. “Folks don’t want to drive all the way into the city every time they need a haircut or catch a cold. You won’t be making what a doctor makes, but people here are going to appreciate you just as much.”

I could understand his point. For the next two years, I was going to be making a 90-minute drive to and from the city three days a week so that I could finish my teaching degree. I swung the picnic basket in my hand as I thought about how much better off we’d be when I got a job. My salary could support a second car, I thought, or let Doug hire part-time help at the shop. That made me grin. With extra help, maybe Doug could bring someone in to work Saturday mornings. I could bring him brunch in bed.

The bell over the barbershop door chimed as I walked in. Doug was sweeping up after his last customer, who had apparently been in dire need of shearing. His smile made me smile, and he slid past me to flip the open sign to closed before he swung me close and kissed me.

“So what’s in the basket, sweetie?” Doug said as he groped for the handle. “Last week you made me apple pie.”

“Brownies.” My giggle turned to a yelp as his watchband caught on my wind-tangled hair. I dropped the basket to the floor and did a funny dance as I turned and caught his wrist in an attempt to get my hair loose. By the time we’d freed me, Doug was looking at me thoughtfully and I instantly started shaking my head.

“No, no, no,” I said, backing away. “We’ve had this talk before. I like my hair long and that’s the way it’s staying.”

Doug smiled slightly and dropped into a chair in the waiting area. He leaned forward to snag the basket and pulled out a ham sandwich. I sat next to him and pulled my hair protectively over my shoulder, combing it out with my fingers. It wasn’t just vanity that had my hair snaking down my back to my waist. It was a statement of independence. My aunt had never liked long hair, and when I arrived on her doorstep, an eight-year-old orphan, one of her first actions had been to sit me in a kitchen chair and hack off the braids my mother had loved to plait before school each morning. It was another loss on top of another loss, and I’d hated her for making me look like a China doll.

“El, you know I love everything about you,” Doug said as he unwrapped his sandwich. “But I want you to think about something. I didn’t want to tell you this, but Uncle Ned said you should know.”

He sighed and set the sandwich down. His playfulness had evaporated and it made me a little apprehensive.

“Look, I’m just starting out here. This still might be called Ned’s Barbershop, but I’m the new barber and people are watching to see how I do,” Doug said, his eyes locked on mine. “It’s hard to expect them to have any faith in me when my wife is running around town with her hair in a mess.”

“Did somebody say something to you?” I asked, slightly outraged. “What I look like is nobody’s business but my own. And my hair’s not usually a mess. I’m just fine when the wind’s not blowing.”

Doug laughed at that.

“Honey, a lot of somebodies have said something to me about your hair. You have to remember, this isn’t the city. We’re in a conservative little place where everybody knows everybody and talks about their business. And I’m relying on them to bring their business to me.”

“So what does that have to do with me?” I pulled my hand out of his because my palms were starting to perspire.

Doug sighed again and retrieved my hand.

“El, you and me, we’re partners. Can’t you trust me to give you the kind of haircut that people around here will respect? Can’t you show them that as my wife, you trust me enough to take care of you?”

I wanted to bolt. I knew the moment he brought trust into this that he’d won the argument. He knew it too, but when my eyes started to well up, he shook his head and pulled me into a hug.

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he whispered in my ear. “Just forget about it.”

“No,” I said, gripping him hard. “You’re right. We are partners. I should do my part. I j-just can’t believe my hair is such a big deal.”

“So you’ll let me cut it?” Doug pulled back and looked into my now-red face. “Honey, you don’t have to do this.”

I nodded my head and walked slowly to the one old-fashioned chair in the center of shop. I’d sat in it before on the Saturdays I’d brought Doug his lunch and marveled at how well it could accommodate two people stacked one on top of the other. Thoughts of that usually filled me with anticipation. All I felt now as I sat against the black leather was dread.

Doug swung me around and leaned his forehead against mine.

“Trust me,” he whispered, kissing me. “You’re going to look fantastic.”

We didn’t talk much after that. Doug pumped the chair up before he pinned my hair up, wrapped some paper thing around my neck and swirled a white pinstriped cape around me. He combed through my hair for a long while before he began plaiting it into a braid. I felt the tears come as he made the first cut and I realized he was taking my hair shorter than it had ever been. The metal blades of the scissors were moving across my hairline, cropping away at least 25 inches of hair. When the braid came free of my head, Doug laid it carefully on the counter and began running a comb through what was left.

“Just keep still,” Doug said, pushing my head forward. I didn’t understand the import of his words until he turned the clippers on. When he placed them at the base of my neck, I began quietly sobbing.

“Doug, don’t take
it all,” I whimpered, trying to lift my head. “God, leave me something.”

“It’s all good, El,” Doug said as he pushed the clippers into my hair. The smooth buzzing noise transformed into the sound of popping short circuits as the clippers labored through the thickness that was left. Five times, Doug ran the clippers up the back of my head before he stepped to the right side and began running it over my ear.

I shivered under the cape as my hair was clipped short. I had no idea if I had any hair left at all because I was facing the wall, not the mirror. If the breeze I felt from the air conditioner was any indication, my husband was turning my head into an egg. I glanced into my lap as a hank of hair that used hang at my left temple hit the cape and began to cry harder, convinced that I was going to be bald.

Doug flipped the clippers off and stepped in front of me, his face creased in concern. I started reaching for my head, but he took my hands and pressed them to the arms of the chair.

“El, honey, give me a chance here,” Doug said, thumbing away the tears on my cheek. “I know you’re upset, but I promise, you’re going to look great. I’d never make you look bad.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, taking deep breaths and trying to stop crying. “But why can’t I see?”

Doug had moved behind me and I heard a clicking noise.

“I don’t want you to get any wrong ideas,” Doug said. “You can see when I’m done, when everything looks the way it should. Now, trust me?”

“I do,” I whispered, wiping my nose against my shoulder. That made me want to weep again. For the first time, I couldn’t feel any hair swinging against my cheek. My ears were showing and I wasn’t sure that was going to be good.

Doug appeared beside me again holding the clippers and a large black comb. He inserted the comb at my forehead and brought the buzzing device to the front of my head. I was suddenly unable to breathe, choking on the thought of what he was doing.

“You’re giving me a flattop! Doug, I’m not a guy. You’re making me look like a guy!” My voice was almost a shriek and I gripped the chair arms as if someone were about to push me off a cliff.

“Relax, El,” Doug said as sent the last of my locks cascading over the cape. “This isn’t a guy flattop. Now hush, and don’t move.”

The realization of how short my hair was going to be petrified me. I sat still as Doug finished my haircut and I moved like a limp noodle when he gently pushed my head down again. I felt him carve away at my neck and around my ears with a smaller set of clippers and I suppressed the urge to sneeze as tiny bits of hair got stuck on my wet face. He rubbed gel through what was left of my hair and then briefly blew it dry.

I braced myself to see the devastation wrecked on my head, but Doug didn’t turn the chair to the mirror. Instead, I heard him turn the water on and he moved in front of me to wipe my face off with a damp towel. As he blotted my cheeks, he kept his eyes on mine and ran his other hand up the back of my neck, fingering the stubble that was left. He threw the towel aside and then cupped my head between his hands and kissed me.

“You’re beautiful,” Doug whispered against my lips. “And you do me proud.”

He stepped back and finally turned the chair to the mirror.

I gaped. My husband stood beside a woman I in no way recognized. The brown eyes looked familiar, but they were larger than the ones I was used to seeing in my face. The woman in the mirror had a statue’s face, elegant, oval, with defined cheekbones and full lips. The hair was short – almost brutally so – clipped to nothing around the hairline and increasing in length to a sparse half-inch around the crown. The top was longer, spiked to attention with help from gel. I didn’t look awful, but I did look extreme.

Doug kept running his hand up the back of my head and I couldn’t help leaning into his touch. He began nibbling on my newly exposed ears and I let out a moan.

“What do you think?” he said softly, leaning down to me. “Do I get to come home tonight?”

“Does this mean you still think I’m pretty?” I whispered, touching on my biggest worry. I couldn’t quite look him in the face when I asked.

Doug chuckled and unsnapped the cape. After he pulled the paper off my neck, he spun me around again, dropped the chair low and pushed up my skirt. When he straddled me, I felt his erection nudge my thigh.

“Honey, there’s your answer. And just think what Saturdays will be like from now. This is a haircut that needs to be trimmed every week.”

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