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It was nearly midnight and I was clicking the remote, trying to find a movie on TV I hadn’t seen before.  It seemed like all of the cable channels had joined in a conspiracy to keep showing the same old films.  After ten or twelve showings even The Terminator gets pretty boring.

Then I landed on the Sci-Fi channel.  Johnny Depp was playing in a movie I hadn’t seen before.  After a few minutes I began to make sense of the story.  Johnny is cast as an astronaut who starts acting strangely after coming back from a space mission. His wife, played by Charlize Theron, suspects that his body may have been taken over by aliens.  It wasn’t a great movie, but more interesting than anything else on the tube that night, so I continued watching.

After ten or fifteen minutes my wife Sarah began stirring on the couch where she had been dozing.  “What you watching?” she asked sleepily.

“It’s called The Astronaut’s Wife,” I informed her.

“Is that Johnny Depp?” she inquired.

“Yes, he’s the astronaut.”

“And who’s the blonde?” she continued.

“That’s Charlize Theron.”

“The same actress we saw as the superhero mom in Hancock last month?”

“The same,” I answered.  “It was one of her early roles.”

“She’s very pretty,” my wife observed and I agreed, “but she hardly looks the same today.”

“For one thing, she’s ten years older and her hair is much longer,” I offered.

“Yes, there’s that,” she agreed.

The movie was nearly over by this time and we watched to its conclusion.

“So, what did you think?” she asked as the credits rolled on the screen.

“It was okay, I guess,” I concluded without much enthusiasm.  “Not the greatest picture ever made.”

“I’d like to see it again sometime, from the beginning,” she said. 

Two days later Sarah came home from the video store with a copy of The Astronaut’s Wife in her bag.  Shortly after dinner she popped it into the DVD player and sat down with a bowl of popcorn.  I didn’t pay much attention to the movie but my wife was glued to the set.  Frankly, I couldn’t figure why she found the film so fascinating.  Normally she didn’t watch science fiction.

The next night she sat down to watch the movie a second time.  I was puzzled.  “Sarah, what’s the big deal with this movie?  It’s not such a wonderful film.  Have you got the hots for Johnny Depp?”

“No, it’s not him.  More like I’ve got the hots for Charlize Theron,” she confessed.

“You’re not turning lesbian on me, are you?” I joked.

“No, hon, nothing like that,” she assured me.  “But I do love her haircut.”
 
Her statement took me by surprise.  “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” I responded.  “Her hair is shorter than mine.”

“Yes, but don’t you think she looks smashing?” Sarah persisted.  I could see that she wasn’t joking; she actually was captivated by the super-short haircut worn by the Hollywood star.

I didn’t share her opinion but tried to stay noncommittal, not wishing to offend my wife.  “She’s a very attractive actress,” I acknowledged.  “She’d look good in any hairstyle.” 

Sarah said no more about it that night, but the next morning at breakfast she picked up where we left off.  “Rob, I’ve got a question and I need your honest answer,” she began.

I didn’t have a clue on what was coming next, but it was clear that Sarah was about to ask my opinion on a sensitive issue.  Whenever she began a conversation this way I knew there was treacherous terrain ahead.

“Sure, hon,” I answered.  “What’s on your mind?”

“What would you say if I cut my hair like Charlize Theron?” she asked.

Her question caught me completely off guard.  Never before had she even hinted that was thinking about cutting her hair.  “You mean, real short, like a boy?” I stammered.

“Yes, as short as that,” she confirmed.

“Why would you want to do that?” I protested.  “Your hair looks just fine the way it is.” 

“Yes, I know you like my hair like this,” she informed me, “but a girl gets tired of the same look after a while.  It seems like I’ve worn my hair like this forever.  It’s time for a change.”

“I can understand that,” I said sympathetically, “but why such a drastic cut?  There are lots of other styles much less extreme that I’m sure would look good on you. ”

“I can’t say exactly,” she mused.  “There’s just something very intriguing about the look.  I’ve never had short hair and I’d like to try it.”

I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing.  In the ten years we had been together—four years before our wedding and six years since—Sarah had always worn long hair. 

The length had varied a bit, but always considerably beyond her shoulders.  Right now it hung nearly half way down her back.  Sometimes she pulled in back into a pony tail.  When she went to work at the Leon County District Attorney’s office she usually twisted it into a bun.  Around the house she usually let it flow freely—the way I liked it best. 

Sarah’s gorgeous mane was the first thing that caught my attention when we met at a Florida State fraternity party.  While most of her Kappa Delta sisters were bottle blondes, Sarah’s golden color was one hundred percent natural.  With her perfectly straight hair parted down the middle and blunt cut across the back, she looked like she stepped out of a Pantene commercial. 

Her trim, athletic figure also was-eye catching.  At five feet four inches and 110 pounds, Sarah had shapely legs and a tight little butt.  I soon learned that she stayed in shape with regular workouts in the gym and the pool.  Her breasts were on the small side, but, unlike most of my buddies, I never really fixated on women with large boobs.

When I introduced myself I sensed that Sarah was rather reserved.  She didn’t chatter mindlessly like many of the coeds who came to these parties.  Perhaps she was tired of guys always hitting on her, which they did frequently.  She wasn’t interested in dancing, but she did agree to go for a walk with me later that evening.  As we strolled around the campus I did most of the talking.  Sarah answered mos
t of my questions with brief responses.  When I invited her to come with me to the FSU football game the next weekend she said matter-of-factly, “I don’t like football.”  For most sorority girls getting a date to the Seminoles’ home games was a high priority item.  They saw this as an opportunity to dress up and be seen by all their friends.  Sarah obviously marched to a different drummer and I found that attractive.

Later that night, after I returned to the Tau Kappa Epsilon house, my roommate Ed was waiting up for me.  “I see you left the party with Sarah Page,” he observed.  “Did you have any luck?”

“No, not really,” I conceded.  “I asked her to go to the football game and she told me she wasn’t interested.”

“That comes as no surprise,” Ed said.  “She’s not called the Ice Queen for nothing.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“She’s very beautiful and all the guys want to get into her pants, but she stops them cold; won’t let anybody get close to her.  She’s just frigid, an iceberg.”

“Maybe she’s just shy or insecure,” I proposed.

“Not with those looks—no way.  She thinks she’s too good for the likes of us.  You’re wasting your time chasing after her,” he counseled.

Despite my friend’s warning, I persisted.  Since Sarah didn’t like football, I decided to try a different approach.  When I called and suggested a study date in the library she surprised me by saying yes.  Although she didn’t utter more than a dozen words, I sensed that she was at ease being with me.  As we walked back to her sorority house we passed the Sweet Shop.  “Would you like to stop for a milk shake?” I asked.

“Yes, I’d love that,” she replied. 

That set the pattern for the rest of the semester—study dates two or three times a week, usually followed by milk shakes.  It wasn’t a storybook romance, but I felt I was making progress getting to know the serious girl who dwelt within that beautiful body.  My TKE brothers teased me mercilessly.  “How’s it going with the Ice Queen?” they teased.  “Get to first base yet?”

As the semester neared its end I was preparing for finals at the frat house when Ed called me to the phone.  “It’s for you, lover boy.  The Ice Queen wants to speak with you.”

I wondered what was up.  Sarah had never called before.  “Hello, Rob,” she began.  “I’ve got a really big favor to ask you.” 

“Sure, Sarah.  What is it?”

“I need you to be my escort,” she said.  That was just like Sarah.  She never beat around the bush; she always got straight to the point.

“Your escort for what?” I asked, slightly befuddled.

“The Christmas Ball.  It’s this really big event back home on the day after Christmas.  Usually I find some excuse not to go—I hate these fancy dress-up parties.  But this year my mom is chair of the organizing committee.  She insists that I have to make an appearance and she’s threatening to fix me up with one of her friends’ sons if I don’t come up with a date.  I know these guys and they’re awful.  They get drunk early and then spend the rest of the night either hurling in the john or trying to molest their dates.”

“It sounds pretty grim,” I said sympathetically.  I knew exactly what Sarah was talking about.  She had just described the majority of my fraternity brothers.

“Rob, you’ve got to help me,” she pleaded.  “I told mom she didn’t have to find a date for me; I would invite my boyfriend from college.”

This was the first time Sarah had referred to me as her boyfriend.  I didn’t realize we had reached that stage in our relationship.  I understood that she might just be saying this to pacify her mother, but I wasn’t going to question this unexpected turn of events. 

“Sure, Sarah,” I told her.  “I’ll be happy to be your escort.  Tell me what I need to do.”

“You’ll need to rent a tuxedo, of course.  Show up at my home around five o’clock on the 26th.  There’s a big dinner beforehand and then the ball itself at the country club.  Afterwards you can stay in our guest room.  You’ll have to meet all of my parents’ friends and their children—the kids I went to school with.  It’s going to be perfectly awful and I can understand if you don’t want to suffer such an ordeal, but it would be a really big favor to me if you came.”

“Yes, of course I’ll come.  That won’t be a problem,” I assured her.  “I wasn’t going to be doing anything besides watching football games.  Besides, I’d love to see you get all dressed up.”

“Oh, Rob, thank you.  You’re so sweet,” she cooed.  I smiled at those words.  It seemed that the Ice Queen was thawing a bit.

It was a six hour drive from my folk’s Clearwater home to Sarah’s house in Pensacola.  I left early so I didn’t have to rush.  Her precise driving directions brought me to the wealthy part of town with large estates and carefully manicured lawns.  Soon I was standing at the front door of a rather pretentious two-story colonial style home. I rang the bell and was let in by a black maid.  “Why you must be Mr. Rob,” she said.  “Let me get Miss Sarah.”  I felt like I had just stepped onto the set of Gone With the Wind.

Before Sarah could be summoned, a beefy middle-aged man charged into the hallway.  “You must be Sarah’s beau.  Welcome to our humble home, son.”  He grasped my hand in a crushing handshake and slapped me on the back.  With his thick neck, huge frame, and aggressively friendly manner I concluded that he was a former football player—a fact that I later confirmed after inspecting a collection of photos from his younger years in the uniform of the University of Florida Gators.  I wondered why Sarah had never mentioned that her dad was a football star.

“We are so happy you came to take our daughter to the Christmas Ball.  Most years she stays home or goes with a bunch of girlfriends.  This is the first time she’s going with a date,” he cheerfully informed me.  I got the feeling that he would have been happy to see any guy as long as his daughter had a date.

Soon we were joined by a slender woman with frosted hair who obviously was Sarah’s mother.  With a great figure, tanned limbs, and a brilliant smile she looked like a former beauty queen.  It was easy to see where her daughter inherited her good looks.&nbs
p; She gave me a polite hug.  “Hello Rob, I’m Carolyn, Sarah’s mom.  We’re so glad you could be with us.  She’s told me so much about you.”  Sarah had never mentioned her mother in any of our conversations.  I got the impression they weren’t particularly close.  I wondered whether Mrs. Page was just saying this to be polite.

“Sarah’s busy getting ready,” her mother informed me.  “Why don’t I show you to your room so you can get changed?  We’ll be leaving for the club around six.”

I followed Mrs. Page to the spacious guest room and took the tuxedo from its traveling case.  My struggle to get all of the formal wear properly attached required nearly half an hour.  Despite my best efforts, the bow tie came out lopsided.  When I returned to the living room I found Sarah’s mother decked out in a revealing evening gown. 

“Here, let me fix your tie,” she offered, just as my mom had done before my senior prom.

Sarah’s dad was standing by the bar with a bottle in his hand.  “What are you drinking, son?” he asked.

“I’ll have whatever you’re drinking, sir,” I answered.

“Call me Buddy, son,” he told me.  “That’s what everybody calls me.”

“You bet,” I replied although the thought of calling a man thirty years my senior by such a juvenile nickname was hard to swallow.

Sarah’s dad had just handed me a glass of bourbon and water when his daughter walked into the room.  Although everyone at FSU knew Sarah as a campus beauty, I doubt that any of them had seen her looking as lovely as she did on this evening.  She was wearing a strapless emerald green evening gown that revealed a daring bit of cleavage.  A pale green wrap modestly covered her shoulders.  Her face was expertly made up with crimson lipstick and green eyeliner.  She even wore three-inch high heels dyed to match her dress.  My eyes were immediately drawn to the elaborate coiffeur that crowned her head.  Her long blonde hair was curled into ringlets that were gathered on top and dangled around her face.  It was a marvelous creation that must have taken hours to arrange.

“Hello, Rob,” she said as she walked to my side.  “I see that you’ve already met my mother and father.”

“Sarah, you look fantastic,” I gushed.

“Yes, doesn’t she look lovely?” her mother agreed.  “We do enjoy getting dressed up for the Christmas Ball.”  Behind her mother’s back, Sarah rolled her eyes to show that she didn’t share the enthusiasm.

“I do believe we have before us the two most beautiful women in the entire state of Florida,” her father said, lifting his glass in a toast to his wife and daughter.

I could see that Sarah was fidgeting uncomfortably in the excessive praise from her parents.  “Isn’t it about time to be going?” she suggested.  “We don’t want to be late.”

“Rob, you and Sarah want to ride with us?  Lots of room in our big old car,” her father offered.

“Of course not, Buddy,” his wife interjected.  “The young people want to go on their own.”

“You drive careful, young man,” Sarah’s father sternly warned me.  “I don’t want anything to happen to that pretty little girl of mine.”

When we finally were alone in my car Sarah said, “So you met my parents.  What do you think?”

“You should have warned me.  I didn’t realize your dad was a big football star for the Florida Gators.”

“Not to mention six seasons with the New Orleans Saints,” Sarah added.  “Football is a really big deal in our family.  That’s how dad met mom; she was a cheerleader.  After he retired from the NFL his football connections helped him get the Cadillac dealership that supports our lavish life style.”

“But you said you don’t like football,” I reminded her.

“I don’t.  I think it’s a vicious, brutal contest with oversized men trying to main and injure each other.  I haven’t seen a game in years.”

“Your dad can’t be too thrilled about that,” I observed.

“Let’s just say that we agreed to disagree,” she informed me.  “That’s why I went to FSU instead of Florida.  In Gainesville the pressure of being Buddy Page’s daughter would have been too much.”

“So has it been difficult living with a legend?” I asked.

“That’s putting it mildly.  Dad’s the big football hero; Mom’s a real southern belle; our house looks like it belongs on the cover of Southern Living magazine.  And they want me to be their perfect little daughter.  I thought Mom would have a heart attack when I joined the swim team instead of trying out for the cheerleading squad in high school.  Daddy almost cried when I told him I wanted to attend FSU and not his alma mater.”

“But they seem like nice people.  I’m sure they only want what’s best for you.”

“Yes, I’m sure they do, but their version of the good life and mine are 180 degrees apart,” Sarah insisted.

“Sometimes you’ve got to compromise,” I suggested.

“Believe me; I’ve done plenty of compromising.  I’ve spent my whole life compromising.  FSU was a compromise—I wanted to go to Duke but they thought it was too far away.  I pledged the Kappas because it was Mom’s sorority, just to make her happy.  And now I’m going to their stupid Christmas Ball to please them.”  Sarah’s contempt for her parent’s comfortable lifestyle was palpable.

“Well, I’m glad we’re going to the ball.  It gives me a chance to see what you look like all dressed up,” I said, trying to turn the conversation in a more agreeable direction.

“That’s another thing,” Sarah shot back testily.  “Do you realize I had to sit for two hours while the stylist fixed my hair like this?  Then I spent another half hour while she applied the makeup.  I feel like a Barbie doll all dressed up for her big date with Ken.”

“I think it’s fun to get all gussied up for special occasions once in a while and you look lovely,” I told her truthfully.

“Thanks for the compliment, Rob,” she said sweetly.  “Your being here makes this a special occasion for me.”

In that five minute chat Sarah revealed more about her relationship with her family than she had shared in the months we had been seeing each other.  I realized that much of her reserved personality was a reaction against the football saturated world in which she had grown up.  She was aloof and serious in contrast to her outgoing, socialite parents.  She enjoyed solitary athletic pursuits like swimming, not the team sports her father passionately supported.  Her folks wer
e hard-drinking party animals; Sarah’s idea of a good time was a solitary evening with a good book.  Growing up in that household must have been very hard for her.

At the dinner I was introduced to dozens of the Page’s close friends.  Sarah’s mother told everyone within earshot that I was Sarah’s boyfriend from FSU.  After the men inquired about my fraternity affiliation they wanted to know what sport I played.  When I informed them I was a miler on the track team the conversation stalled.  The idea of running any distance longer than the length of a football field seemed to be foreign to their experience.  Not one of them asked my major.  Apparently, in their minds the main reason for attending college was participating in athletics. 

When we moved from the banquet hall to the ball room the young people separated from the older generation.  That’s when Sarah introduced me to her brother, Steve.  He was five years older than his sister and nearly as large as his father.  I learned that he had also played football for the University of Florida, but a knee injury cut short his promising career.  Now he was learning the car business at his father’s dealership.

Steve pulled me aside and talked confidentially like I was his long-time buddy.  “Rob, I can’t tell you how thrilled my folks are to see you.  Sarah’s been at FSU for three years and you’re the first boyfriend she’s mentioned.  We were beginning to wonder—a beautiful girl like that without a love life—something must be wrong.  Even in high school she never dated any guy more than twice and, believe me, they were lined up around the block.  You know what they called her, don’t you?” he asked.

“The Ice Queen?” I guessed.

Steve nodded.  “I see that nickname has followed her to Tallahassee.  Well, good luck, buddy.  If you can defrost the Ice Queen, you’ll be the first.”

That evening I saw a different side of Sarah.  Surrounded by a gaggle of her high school girlfriends, she gradually became more relaxed and animated than I had ever seen. 

We even danced five or six times which was a first for us.  “Are you having a good time?” she asked half way through the evening.

“You bet.  It’s been very educational.  I’m learning a great deal about the mysterious Sarah Page.”

“Like what?” she inquired playfully.

“Well, she’s a very good dancer for one thing—very light on her feet.”

“What else?” she continued.

“She’s got a reputation that she doesn’t deserve.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you know.”

“You mean Sarah the Ice Queen?” she asked.

“Yes,” I acknowledged.  “I think it’s a bum rap.”

“Thanks, Rob.  You’re sweet,” she whispered as we held each other closer.

It was nearly two in the morning when we arrived back at the Page home.  Her father’s Cadillac was parked in the drive. 

“We better be quiet,” I cautioned as we entered the house.  “Don’t want to wake your parents.”

“You saw how much they had to drink,” Sarah informed me.  “They’ll probably sleep ‘til noon.”

Sarah stood on the first step of the stairway leading to her bedroom.  She looked me in the eye and said, “Thanks for coming, Rob.  I don’t think I could have made it through this night without your support.”  She kissed me warmly on the mouth and turned to climb the stairs.  I headed toward the guest room pleased with how the evening had gone, but wishing that it had ended with more than a good-night kiss.

I changed into my pajamas, brushed my teeth, and had just slid between the sheets when the door to my room opened and quickly shut.  I saw Sarah standing in the dim light by the side of my bed.  She was dressed in a sheer white chemise.  Her hair was undone and hung around her shoulders in tight ringlets.  She put her finger to my lips to silence any questions and climbed into bed beside me.  “Sarah, what are you doing?” I whispered.

“Something I’ve wanted to do since I first met you,” she answered.  “Do you have any protection?”

“I have a rubber in my shaving kit.”

“Well, put it on,” she ordered.

When I returned to bed I could see the contours of Sarah’s naked body beneath the top sheet.  Her gorgeous hair was spread out on the pillow. She beamed up at me. 

“Be gentle,” she said, “this is my first time.”

As I ate breakfast with Sarah’s parents the next morning I tried hard not to look guilty.  I wondered what Mr. and Mrs. Page would do if they learned I had deflowered their darling daughter in their guest room the night before.  Sarah, on the other hand, seemed perfectly composed, chatting merrily with her parents as she sipped her coffee.  Her hair was pulled back into a loose pony tail with the curls from her elaborate hairdo still in place.  She gave me a warm, knowing smile and it was all I could do to keep from ravishing her again right there in her parent’s kitchen.

Sarah and Mr. Page walked me to my car as I prepared to depart.  “Well, son, I hope we’ll be seeing more of you,” he said warmly.  “My daughter seems to take a shine to you and that’s plenty good enough for me.”  That was my fervent wish as well.

Sarah blushed at her father’s words.  “See you back at school, Rob,” she said innocently as she stretched to kiss me on the cheek.  “Thanks for last night.”

On the long drive back home I reflected on our passionate encounter in the guest room.  I couldn’t believe that I was the lucky guy who finally broke through Sarah’s icy protective shield.  I wanted to call my frat brothers and tell them how I bedded the Ice Queen even though I knew that one indiscreet word would spoil my chances with Sarah forever.  She was not the kind of girl you bragged about in the locker room; not the kind you dumped after a one night stand.  Sarah was a keeper.  I fervently prayed that this was the beginning of a lasting relationship.

The day after Sarah returned to campus following Christmas break she invited me to take a walk with her.  As we wandered hand -n-hand toward the athletic fields our conversation turned serious.  “Rob, when we made love it was more than just a sign of my affection for you, it was an act of commitment.”

“Yes, it was for me too,” I agreed.

“So you know what comes next?” she asked.

“You want to get married?” I replied, not knowing what else to say.

“No, silly,” she laughed.  “At least not rig
ht away.  But I do want you to promise that you won’t see anyone else.”

That part was easy.  I hadn’t even looked at another girl since I started seeing her.

During the spring semester our study dates became a nightly ritual.  Everyone soon realized that Sarah and I were “an item.”  We weren’t “pinned”—Sarah didn’t believe in those foolish courtship rituals—but we were committed.  All of my TKE brothers wanted to know if I had had sex with the Ice Queen.  I refused to satisfy their curiosity.  Her Kappa sisters were shocked to see Sarah and me dancing all night at the Spring Fling.  They had never seen that side of her.

As graduation neared Sarah’s parents wanted to know what she planned to do with her college degree.  Her dad offered to find a place for her in his business, either in sales or in management.  Her mother had observed Sarah giving swim lessons for six summers at the country club and thought she would make an excellent first grade teacher.  Their daughter surprised them both by announcing that she had been accepted at the FSU law school.  “Why in the world do you want to go to law school?” her father asked.  “Doesn’t the world have enough lawyers already?”

“Not enough lawyers who are willing to protect battered women and their children,” Sarah replied.

I could see that her parents weren’t thrilled with her choice of careers, but they finally accepted her decision just as they had every other time she went against their wishes.
Sarah’s plans fit nicely with mine since I was accepted into the FSU graduate program in Public Administration.  In my spare time I volunteered as an assistant coach for the track team.  We moved into a small apartment in an older complex not far from campus.  Her folks kept asking when we planned to get married.  Sarah put them off saying, “We’ll think about it when we finish school.”

For three years our routine was pretty boring.  During the day we went to classes; most evenings we studied in the law library.  Just to relieve the tension we sometimes would lace up our running shoes and go for a long run together.

When she studied Sarah put on reading glasses and pulled her hair back into a bun.  Because of her scholarly look I dubbed her “Sarah the Schoolmarm.”  She was as beautiful as ever, but tried to downplay her attractiveness by forsaking makeup and wearing androgynous pantsuits.  I suppose this was her way of discouraging horny male law students from making passes and convincing her professors that she was a serious student.

I don’t recall that Sarah cut her hair once during the three years she was in law school.  By the time she was ready to graduate it reached to her butt.  When we made love in the missionary position she tossed her hair to the side so it wouldn’t get pinned behind her back.  When Sarah rode on top of me, however, she let her golden mane hang down over her shoulders.  As her silken locks lightly caressed my face and chest, the scent of her herbal shampoo never failed to bring me to a quick climax.
Eventually the length of Sarah’s hair became a point of contention between mother and daughter.  Mrs. Page wore a moderately short, trendy style and always looked like she had come straight from the beauty parlor.  There couldn’t be a bigger difference between mother’s and daughter’s appearance.  “I don’t see why you can’t get a proper haircut,” Sarah’s mom admonished during one of her monthly visits.  “With your hair so long you look like you belong to one of those Holy Roller cults.  You have such pretty features.  I can’t understand why you want to look like a plain Jane.”

“Mom, would you give me a break,” Sarah complained heatedly.  “I’m concentrating on my course work.  I don’t have time to be fussing with my hair.  Besides, Rob likes my hair long.”

That settled the argument temporarily, but when we announced our plans to get married in the summer after Sarah finished law school the dissimilarity between mother and daughter surfaced again.  Her folks wanted a big church wedding; we wanted a simple affair.  We compromised on a traditional ceremony in the Methodist church.  Sarah would have three attendants, not the eight or ten her mother envisioned.  The guest list was pared to 100 close friends and relatives.  Buddy’s business associates and the members of Carolyn’s women’s club were not invited.  Sarah chose a simple but elegant wedding gown without the veil and long train her mother had wanted.

Then, three days before the big event, Sarah and her mother got into a big spat over her hair.  Sarah wanted to wear it long and unadorned; her mother nearly had a fit. 

“Your hair is so beautiful, honey.  It would be a crime not to do it up.  You don’t have to get it cut, but you should let Helen give you a proper wedding hairdo.”

“Mom, you’ve got to stop running my life.  I’m twenty-four years old.  I’m not your little girl any more.  Why can’t you let me wear my hair the way I want?” Sarah screamed as she stormed out of the room.  Her mother trailed behind trying to placate her furious daughter.

Eventually the two women compromised as they usually did.  Sarah agreed to have her split ends trimmed and to let her mother’s stylist braid her long hair into an elegant crown adorned with dogwood blossoms. 

Sarah made a stunning bride.  Her father was bursting with pride and her mother couldn’t stop weeping as we recited our vows.  I couldn’t believe that I was marrying the once untouchable Ice Queen.

Now, six years later, Sarah still wore her hair nearly as long as she did on our wedding day.  Although she occasionally complained that keeping her locks in perfect condition was a major hassle, I never dreamed she would consider cutting them, but she seemed to have her mind made up. I tried to think of some way to talk her out of this rash act.  “Please promise me one thing,” I begged.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t rush off and have your hair hacked off on the spur of the moment.  Think it over for a while,” I pleaded.  “Please don’t do something you may regret later on.”

“Okay, Rob.  That seems reasonable,” she agreed.  “I’ll think about it.”

A month passed and Sarah said nothing more about cutting her hair—not one word.  I assumed that the desire to have her lustrous blonde locks cropped short like Charlize Theron had been a passing fancy, mere
ly a foolish whim that disappeared in the cold light of day.  But I was wrong.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast before heading off to work.  Sarah looked up from the newspaper and casually remarked, “I may be a little late coming home tonight.  You’ll have to start dinner without me.”

“Oh, why’s that?” I inquired.  “Have they moved up the trial date for that case you’re working on?”

“No, that’s not it.  I have an appointment to have my hair cut,” she casually informed me.

It was such an offhand remark that I didn’t take any special notice.  Sarah had her ends trimmed every couple of months and it was about that time.  I continued munching my granola without comment.

After a moment, she continued.  “Rob, I think I should warn you.  When I get home tonight, you are in for a big surprise.”  I looked up from the sports page.  Sarah was pulling her hair tightly back behind her head.  “Try to picture me with very short hair,” she provocatively declared.

“Oh my God,” I exclaimed.  “You’re not going to get your hair cut like the astronaut’s wife, are you?”

“Yep,” she replied with a rather satisfied smirk on her face.  “That’s exactly what’s going to happen.  At five-thirty this evening I will walk into the Jean Pierre salon with long hair and by six o’clock I’ll be transformed into a short-haired woman.  I’ve been thinking about this ever since we saw that movie; can’t get that picture of Charlize Theron out of my mind.  You said I should take my time to think it over and that’s exactly what I’ve done.  It’s been thirty days and I want to cut my hair more than ever.  I only hope that I’ll look half as good as Charlize did.”

“But, Sarah,” I entreated.  “That’s such an extreme haircut.  Half of the guys I work with have hair longer than that.  Aren’t you worried about what people will say?”

“Oh, I’m sure people will talk, but let them,” she answered dismissively.  “It’s my hair and I’ll do what I like with it.”  Her attitude was determined, almost defiant. 

I realized that trying to talk her out of this outlandish notion would be futile.

“I don’t suppose there’s anything I can say to make you change your mind?” I asked, not really expecting an affirmative answer.

“Nope,” she answered firmly.  “This is something I need to do.  Please don’t be mad with me.”

“Well, I’m not thrilled about it,” I told her halfheartedly, “but it seems you’ve got your mind made up.  I suppose I should just shut up and try to be supportive when the new, short-haired Sarah walks through the door this evening.”

“Yep, that’s exactly what I’d like you to do,” she blithely concluded.  Sarah rose from the table, bent over and kissed me on the forehead.  “See if you can fix something special for dinner, Rob.  I’m going to feel like celebrating.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said glumly as she turned to the door.  I stared wistfully at the golden locks hanging down her back, saddened by the knowledge that this would be my last view of Sarah’s gorgeous crowning glory.

All that afternoon I had trouble concentrating on my work; my thoughts kept turning to Sarah and her impending haircut.  What would she look like, I wondered, with her hair cut so short?  Would I still find her attractive?  Would she regret making such a drastic change?  How would it affect our relationship?

I tried to put myself in Sarah’s shoes; tried to imagine what could possibly motivate her to part with a magnificent mane that most women would die for.  I understood that fashions change and a woman needs to keep up with the times.  But the haircut Sarah was planning certainly was not a trendy choice.  In fact, there wasn’t a single female in our circle of friends who wore her hair anywhere close to the extremely brief hairdo that Charlize Theron sported in that movie.  No, this was not a decision based on fashion; there had to be some other explanation.

I knew that when Sarah came home she would expect me to compliment her on her new look and say how smart she looked with her hair closely cropped.  It’s an unwritten rule of marriage that a husband must never criticize his wife’s new hairdo; no matter how bizarre or extreme.  Anything less than complete and enthusiastic approval, whether real or faked, was grounds for a major falling out, if not divorce.  I resolved to do my best.

On my way home from the office I stopped at the market and picked up a thick piece of sirloin.  My culinary skills are limited, but it’s hard to ruin a good steak on the grill.  Add baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, a fresh garden salad, and a nice bottle of cabernet, and you had a simple dinner that Sarah would love.  Perhaps the good meal would compensate for my lack of enthusiasm over her haircut.

I had only been home for twenty minutes, hadn’t even begun to fire up the grill, when I heard Sarah’s car pull into the driveway.  Moments later, the front door slammed and my wife stormed into the kitchen.  To my surprise, her hair was the same length as when she left the house in the morning. 

I could see that she was very upset.  “What’s up, hon?” I asked.  “I thought you were going to get your hair cut.”  For a moment I thought that she must have changed her mind, but I was mistaken.

“That’s what I thought too,” she exploded.  “Can you believe she refused to cut my hair?”  Sarah didn’t wait for my reply, she was much too angry.  “When I showed Misty the photo of Charlize Theron and told her that’s how I wanted my hair cut, she said no, she wouldn’t do it.  Said she didn’t think it would suit me; said it would ruin her reputation if people learned that she cut my hair like that.”

“What happened to ‘the customer is always right’?” I asked, trying to be supportive.

“Damned if I know,” Sarah retorted.  “I’ve been patronizing Jean Pierre’s salon for four years; spent hundreds of dollars for their overpriced haircuts; and this is the thanks I get!”

“Why don’t you sit down, honey?” I offered, trying to console her.  “I’ll pour you a glass of wine and we can come up with plan B.”

“I don’t want a glass of wine,” she crossly declared.  “I want to get my hair cut.” 

Never in our years together had I seen my wife so distraught.  I tried to think of something that would&nbs
p;pacify her.  “There must another salon where you can get your hair cut the way you want.  I’m sure you can find some other stylist who will be willing to give you a short haircut.”

“Yes, Rob, there other places that aren’t so particular,” she agreed, still seething.  “The problem is that I want to get my hair cut today.  I’ve been planning this for weeks.  It’s six-thirty now and nearly every place closes by seven.  At a minimum, I’ll have to wait twenty-four hours or maybe longer.”

I could see that Sarah was not going to be satisfied until she achieved her objective.  Spending the evening with her in this pissy mood was not a pleasant prospect.  Reluctantly, I became an unwilling accomplice in her pursuit of this extreme haircut.  “Well, honey, there is another alternative,” I offered. 

She looked up at me with questioning eyes.  “What’s that?” she said.

“You could go to that new unisex shop in the mall, you know, the place that opened a few months ago.  They’re probably open until nine.”

There was a flash of recognition on her face.  “Yes, I know the place you mean—over by the J.C. Penny store.  But isn’t that basically a men’s barber shop?” she objected.  “It doesn’t seem like a place where a woman would go.”

“You’re right, honey,” I agreed. “Most of their customers probably are men, but with the kind of haircut you’re looking for, I don’t think it will make much difference.” 
Sarah appeared to be seriously considering my proposition.  Still, she was not convinced.  “I don’t know, Rob.  There’s a big difference between a stylist and a barber.” 

“Yes, Sarah, I know,” I told her.  “But if you want your hair cut today, that’s probably your only alternative.”

“I know, Rob,” she sighed.  I could see that my wife was conflicted.  On the one hand, she desperately wanted to get her hair cut now.  On the other hand, the thought of patronizing a men’s barber shop was disturbing—something well beyond her comfort zone.

“Tell you what, Sarah,” I volunteered, “why don’t we drive over to the mall and you can check it out?”

“I suppose that couldn’t hurt,” she said.  “I can look it over and, if I get up the nerve, I may go in.  If not, I can always wait a day or two.  Okay, let’s do it.”  Instantly, she was on her feet and ready to go.

I put the steak back in the refrigerator, grabbed the car keys, and headed for the door behind Sarah.  On the way to the mall she relaxed a bit.  “I’m sorry to be such a bitch, Rob.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so pissed off,” I commented.

“You’re right.  I just never dreamed that Misty would do that to me.  All day I was anticipating the big event, and then, bam, without warning she pulled the rug out from under me.  I was so disappointed—not to mention angry.  I didn’t know what to say.”

“Well, you have to admit that what you were asking for was a bit out of the ordinary,” I observed.

“Look, Rob, I don’t want to discuss it anymore,” she remarked abruptly.  “Just drive.”

We rode the remaining two miles to the Eastgate Mall in stony silence.  Sarah stared out the window, giving no hint about what was running through her mind. 

The parking lot was almost deserted and I had no difficulty finding a parking space close to the south entrance near the unisex shop.  Sarah and I entered the mall together and quickly found the shop.  “Don’t go in; just walk by,” she told me under her breath.  I glanced in the window and saw two men getting their hair cut and a third younger guy waiting his turn. 

We stopped in front of the 31 Flavors ice cream store next to the unisex shop.  “Well, what do you think, Sarah?  Do you want to go in there?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Rob,” she answered.  “You saw those guys in there.  I really don’t relish the idea of them gawking at me until my turn comes.”

“Then why don’t we get some ice cream and wait ‘til the place clears out,” I suggested.

“That sounds like a good idea,” she allowed.  Sarah ordered a dish of rocky road and I purchased my usual mint chocolate chip.  We found seats on a bench that offered a view of the barber shop.  My wife nibbled her ice cream slowly, not wishing to finish the dessert before the shop was empty.

The first customer left after five minutes and the second exited ten minutes later.  We could see the third guy sitting upright in the barber’s chair as female barber buzzed his head with large clippers.  “Shouldn’t be much longer now,” I commented.  Sarah said nothing, just nervously circled the plastic spoon in her empty dish.

Finally, the last fellow strode out of the shop with his dark hair clipped close to his scalp.  Sarah rose slowly.  At first I thought she was going to head for the exit, but instead she marched resolutely toward the door of the unisex shop.  I could see that her mind was made up at last.  “You coming, Rob?” she called over her shoulder.
I followed Sarah into the shop just as the middle aged man who seemed to be in charge was asking my wife, “May we help you, miss?”

“Yes, I’d like to get my hair cut,” she declared resolutely.  “You do cut women’s hair, don’t you?”

“Why, yes, of course,” he answered.  “It’s nearly closing time, but we can squeeze in one more customer.  Jeannie will be happy to take care of you.”

An attractive younger woman, her collar length brown hair streaked with blonde highlights, put aside the magazine she was reading, rose from her chair and greeted my wife.  “Hi, I’m Jeannie,” she said warmly.  “Why don’t you come with me?  Your boyfriend can come too if he likes.”

I followed my wife and the stylist to a secluded station in the back of the shop.  “Thought you’d like some privacy,” Jeannie said.

“Thanks.  I’m Sarah, by the way.”

“Just take a seat, Sarah,” the barber directed and Sarah slid into the waiting chair.  Jeannie opened a white cape and spread it over my wife’s shoulders, fastening it securely behind her neck.  “You certainly took your time,” the young woman observed.

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Making up your mind. You must have been sitting out there nearly half an
hour trying to decide.”

“You were watching me?” Sarah replied indignantly.

“Sure.  I didn’t have any customers and there wasn’t much else to do.  I could tell from the way you were studying us that you were trying to make up your mind whether or not to come in here.”

“I didn’t think I was so obvious,” Sarah remarked.

“No big deal.  It happens all the time,” Jeannie assured her.  “Besides, you helped me win five bucks.”

“You were betting on me?”

“You bet.  We could see your boyfriend didn’t need a haircut.  You were the nervous one.  I knew that you were trying to make up your mind.  Charlie said you would get cold feet and leave.  I predicted you would be brave and come in, so I won.”

“So that’s why you were happy to see me?”

“Yep.  Besides, it’s always nice to have female customers.  Sometimes I get tired clipping the gents.  No offense, buddy,” she said in my direction.

“So, what are we going to do today?” Jeannie asked my wife.  “Just a trim or something more?”

“Something more, I’d say.  Here, let me show you what I have in mind.”  Sarah reached under the cape and pulled out the picture she had been carrying in the pocket of her slacks.
 
Jeannie took the paper from my wife and examined the photo of Charlize Theron.  “My, my, my,” the barber marveled.  “This is going to be a major makeover.”

“Yes, I’m looking for something different.”

“Well, this is just about as different as you can get,” Jeannie remarked.  “Now I understand why you hesitated so long before coming in here.”

“You’re not going to try to talk me out of it, are you?”

“No, of course not.  Why would I do a thing like that?”

“Because when I went to my regular salon and showed the stylist that picture, she refused to do it.  She told me that I would look awful with my hair that short.”

“That just shows how some people have no imagination.  Honey, I think you’re going to look absolutely marvelous with your hair cut like that.  You’ve come to the right place.”

“Actually, it was my husband’s idea to come here,” Sarah acknowledged.

“Well, perhaps I should give him a commission or a finder’s fee for referring you,” she joked.

“That won’t be necessary,” I told her.

“This haircut is going to take a while and I want to get home before midnight, so why don’t we get started?” the barber announced as she picked up a comb and pair of scissors.

“First, tell me how you’re going to do this,” Sarah requested.

“Well, I’m going to begin by removing the bulk.  That means I’ll cut your hair fairly short all over.  It’s not going to look so hot at first—you’ll have to have faith.  Then

I’ll trim the back and sides.  They’ll be pretty short.  I’ll leave the top a little longer and taper the sides to blend in.  Basically, I’ll be giving you what we call a standard boy’s cut, but with more pizzazz.”

“Will you give me bangs?” my wife inquired.  “I haven’t had bangs since fourth grade.”

“Yes, this cut calls for fairly short bangs, but you can always brush them back off your face if you prefer, like Charlize did in the movie.”

“Okay, I guess I’m ready,” Sarah announced hopefully. 

“One more thing,” Jeannie said.  “You want me to save your hair?  Maybe you could have a wig made for yourself if you’d like to go back to longer hair on occasion.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Sarah remarked.  “Yes, I guess you should save it.”

“So here we go,” Jeannie announced as she began to turn the chair away from the mirror. 

“Why are you doing that?” my wife asked.

“You can watch if you lik

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