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Stephen picked up the receiver.

`It’s Margaret here Stephen. Two things. Firstly, I was wondering how the HSS report is coming along?’

`Ah hello Margaret, it’s almost done. Should be ready about 3 o’clock.’

`Good. Bring it to my office when you’ve completed it please. We can also deal with the second matter then too.’

`Sure. See you in an hour.’ Stephen replaced the receiver and got back to finishing the report.

An hour later he appeared at Margaret’s open door and knocked softly.

`Stephen. Good. Come in and close the door behind you.’

He came in and stood in front of her desk. `Here’s the HSS report. I think you should be happy with it’, he said, handing it across to her.

She looked up at him and smiled. `I expect so – you’re becoming a very reliable part of the business Stephen. Take a seat.’

He’d found Margaret’s tone and manner towards him softening in the weeks since she’d shaved him, at least when they found themselves on their own.

They spent the next few minutes discussing the report and then Margaret said, `Stephen, the second matter.’ She stood up and walked slowly around the desk, stopping next to his chair.

Stephen looked up at her. `What is it Margaret? Anything I can help with?’

She ran her hand across his cropped head, smiled down at him and said with a touch of mischief, `It’s now three weeks since I removed your pony-tail Stephen.’

Stephen tensed, averted his eyes and swallowed nervously.

`If I’m not mistaken, you did make a commitment to keep your head smooth for the next 12 months, didn’t you?

He’d been avoiding the issue, not quite sure what to do, whether to do it himself or go to a barbers or just see whether anyone really cared about him following through on the matter.

`Ah.yes Margaret. It’s just.well.I haven’t.ummm.’

`Haven’t had the courage to go through with it again?’ her eyes sparkling.

He nodded. `And I didn’t know quite what to do.

`You’re perhaps a little, shall we say, nervous? Scared even?’

He blushed and nodded his head slowly.

`It’s healthy to challenge one’s fears, Stephen.’ She paused, then said, `I like a man who overcomes his fears. But I also like a man who lives up to his commitments.’

Stephen knew he finally had to deal with the issue. He looked back up at her. `I’m sorry about dragging matters out like this, Margaret. I’ll make sure I visit the barber on the way home this evening.’

`Oh there’s no need for that’, she said with a little grin. `I’m quite happy to continue shaving you.’ Stephen was stunned by her words and manner.

`Ah.but.no.it’s okay, really, the barber’s on the way home and.’

`Nonsense. You can save your pennies.and we can start to build something between just the two of us.’

Build something between us? What!? Is she flirting with me? Stephen was completely thrown.

`I want to shave you. I simply won’t hear of it any other way.’ Her voice was direct but the twinkle remained.

Those eyes.he knotted up again, just like in the canteen when he felt stripped of any choice, any control over his destiny.

He answered meekly, `If you say so’.

She ran her nails across his scalp and said slowly, `I certainly do.’ She moved back to her seat and maintaining her smile, said, `Let’s say 5.30 back in my office then.’

He sighed. `5.30. Sure.’

The rest of Stephen’s afternoon was terrible. He’d felt humiliated enough already by having her – the Boss for Christ’s sake!- shaving him like she did, and in front of a hundred and forty others. The comments and ribbing from the other staff had only just started to settle down. Not again.

Regardless of what he was feeling, he knew what was expected of him – at 5.28 he turned the computer off, took a deep breath and made his way to her office.

When he entered he saw that a chair had been placed in front of a full-length mirror. After greeting him, she pointed to the chair and told him to sit down. `I’ll be with you in a few minutes.’

Stephen felt so awkward, so self-conscious sitting there looking at his – and her reflection – in the mirror. `I feel just like a little boy’ he thought, `waiting for Teacher to deal with me.’ He didn’t know what to do with his hands and kept shifting about in the seat.

Margaret put her pen down a couple of minutes later and made her way straight to her en-suite, emerging with a bowl of hot water in one hand, razor, brush and cream in the other, the black plastic cape draped over one arm. She took in his expression and smiled to herself. `Goody, finally another one to play with.’ She placed the items on a raised table next to him, lifted the cape around him and quickly enclosed him in it.

`It’s rather tight, Margaret’ responded Stephen through flushed cheeks.

`Yes, I expect it is. Now no playing with it.’ She turned and disappeared into the en-suite again, reappearing with electric clippers.

She plugged them into the socket commenting, `A razor would certainly do the job very well but I find clippers hold a certain `appeal’ for me. So we’ll start with them.’ She moved behind him, flipped them on and said in a slow, deliberate manner, `Stephen, please bow your head low and keep it there until I say otherwise.’ He promptly obeyed her, inevitability washing through him.

Stephen jerked his head and almost jumped out of the chair when the clippers touched his neckline. Straightaway the clippers died. `Stephen, there’s no guard on these so I insist you settle down. I don’t want to leave your scalp nicked and bloody. Now head down!’

He obeyed her, blurting out an apology. Margaret smiled to herself. `He could turn out to be very good!’ Her smile broadened.

The shearing was done in a few minutes, Stephen following all of Margaret’s directions to the letter and without hesitation: `lift your head up’, `keep your eyes open’, `tilt left’, `tilt right’, `sit still’, `sit up straight’. Just as he did when it came to the shaving.

Margaret removed the stubble-strewn cape carefully and gently shook it. `Now I want you to get the mini-vac from behind the en-suite door and make sure all your mess is thoroughly gone by the time I return. Then you can clean the bowl, brush and razor.’ As Margaret made her way out the door, she turned. `Now now Stephen, mustn’t look so glum. I happen to find the look rather appealing,’ she beamed at him before stepping out of the room.

He was in the en-suite putting the shaving implements away when she returned. She came in, looked at the shiny, clean bowl and basin and said, `Clean and tidy. Very good! I like a man who doesn’t leave hairs in a basin or bowl. Or anywhere else for that matter.’ Another smile. He blushed in embarrassment, as much from her disorientating compliments, as from what he’d just gone through.

`Oh you look so cute when you blush.’

His blush deepened.

She laughed and patted his bald head. `It looks fabulous, it really does. It wasn’t so hard now, was it?’

He shifted awkwardly, unused to this degree of closeness and physicality – from anyone. `Ah.well.no, I guess not.’

`I’m sure you’ll soon learn to look forward to these visits. And if you can’t learn, then at least adapt to them. Either way, it certainly won’t do your career any harm.’

Career! It was just a bloody job, nothing more, a means to an end. If there was anything else available in this rundown dump of a town he’d have been gone long ago. Still, she’d struck some bell in his head. He looked at her in surprise.

`Yes, that’s right. I find myself quite attracted to men who accept my firm.’ she hesitated for a second, `.direction and guidance. In my view such men are treasures and need to be looked after properly.’

Stephen tried to absorb the meaning of what he was hearing but didn’t know wh
at to say in response. The seconds ticked by.

Margaret decided to change tack – there would be time enough to explore `things’ with him over the coming months. `I’d like you here every Wednesday afternoon at 5.30. What do you say to that?’

His Dad played bingo on Wednesday evenings – it was the one night when he got to relax a bit at home by himself for a few hours without rushing around looking after his father. Damn.

`Ah, sure Margaret, sure, if that’s what you’d like.’

`I do Stephen, I do.’

To be continued.

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