In Love with a Haircut
Is it possible to fall in love because of a haircut? It sounds crazy, I know, but that's what happened to me.
Let me explain.
I was standing in the checkout line at Sam's Supermarket. As usual, it was moving slowly because Gladys, the head cashier, had to inquire about every ailing family member and pass along all the latest gossip. In a village like Turtle Creek a trip to our only grocery store means more than buying food for the week; it's a substitute for the local newspaper that folded five years ago.
As I waited I found myself staring down at the small, shapely head of a woman ahead of me in line. Her short dark hair was flecked with gray and bristled straight up from her crown. The length was choppy and uneven; the longest tuft was no more than three inches. The sides and back were even shorter. I had seen extreme hairstyles like this on television and in magazines, but never up close in person. It was not the kind of haircut you saw on a Turtle Creek woman.
I was captivated instantly. Short hair on women has always intrigued me and this was an exceptional sight. I had to summon all my self-control to keep from reaching out to tousle her boyish locks. Although only a little more than five feet tall, she appeared strong and independent; her haircut said that she was not bound by old-fashioned conventions. Well-worn brogans and paint spattered jeans told me she worked with her hands-another point in her favor.
Who was this mystery woman? I hadn't seen her around town before. When Gladys rang up her purchases she made none of her usual small talk, a sure sign that this was a stranger. There were two plausible explanations: either she was a vacationer escaping for a week or two of cool mountain air or she was a recent transplant from the city. Her cart contained none of the fancy cheeses or expensive cuts of meat usually bought by out-of-town visitors. I concluded she was a new resident of our small community.
I had been examining unattached women more closely than usual since being dumped by my long-time girl friend six months earlier. I couldn't really blame Emily for ditching me. Given the choice between a fast-talking, Porsche-driving stock broker and a slightly paunchy, semi-balding, sporadically employed plumber, most women would have made the same decision. She claimed that my long-term prospects were "limited." Between giving ski lessons in the winter and installing showers and bathtubs in warm weather I supported my bachelor's lifestyle, but that would never provide the comfortable home and furnishings Emily desired. One day in January she threw her clothes and CDs into the back of her Toyota and waved good-by as she headed for a new life with her well-heeled boyfriend.
I couldn't get the short-haired woman from the market off my mind. There was nothing soft or feminine about her androgynous appearance, yet I found her incredibly sexy. Maybe I was just horny after half a year of involuntary celibacy, but I started dreaming up ways to run into her again. I returned to the market a week later at the same time hoping that she was a creature of habit. My plan was to collide with her shopping cart and start a conversation, but she didn't appear. A quick survey of new hires at the outdoor supply stores and restaurants that catered to the tourists turned up no trace of her either. My buddies in the building trades provided better information. Doug, a contractor I sometimes work for mentioned that he had done some carpentry for a woman matching her description at the old Jenkins farm on Bald Mountain Road. I knew the place because I had repaired a toilet there a few years back. It was a small, solid log cabin six miles down a dead end dirt road with magnificent views of the surrounding peaks; the kind of house someone seeking solitude would select.
It was two weeks before I spotted this fascinating woman again. She was leaving the post office and driving off in a battered Subaru. Alice, our veteran postmistress, was the logical person to ask about the object of my curiosity. If she had a local address, the postal service would know. I hesitated for a moment because Alice has a well deserved reputation as a busybody. If I inquired about our new resident, everyone soon would learn of my interest. I decided it was worth the risk. "Who is that woman who just left?" I asked.
"Oh, that's Grace Spaulding," she volunteered without coaxing. "She's fixing up the old Jenkins place. Why do you ask, Hank? Getting lonely out there?"
"No, Alice, nothing like that. Just curious," I lied.
My opportunity finally came the week before the Fourth of July. I was exiting Buddy's Party Store with a six-pack of Anchor Steam when I spied her in the parking lot trying to wrestle a half keg of Heinekens into the back of her station wagon. "Here, let me help you with that," I gallantly volunteered.
"Thanks a lot, Hank," she said after I had secured the beer.
"How do you know my name?" I asked in surprise.
"Well, it's not exactly a state secret," she explained, pointing to the business logo stenciled on the side of my truck. "I'm Grace Spaulding, by the way," she said, extending her hand.
"You gonna drink all that beer by yourself?" was my stupid response.
"Some friends are coming from the city to help me celebrate the Fourth," she explained.
As much as I wanted to get better acquainted, I couldn't think of any way to extend the conversation. "Have a good party," I called as she drove off.
Two days later I had just finished putting new spark plugs in the truck when my phone rang. "Hank, it's Grace Spaulding. You remember, the lady you helped with the beer keg," she said.
"Yes, of course. This is a surprise," I told her.
"Well, it's kind of a crisis," she began. "I've got a backed up sink and twenty-five guests waiting to use the bathroom. Do you make emergency house calls?"
"Sure, Grace. Where do you live?" I asked, not seeing any advantage in letting her know that I already knew her address.
"I live in the old Jenkins place on Bald Mountain Road."
"Be there in fifteen minutes," I told her. I scrubbed the engine dirt off my hands and changed into clean jeans and a fresh shirt. Normally I don't dress up when I'm going to unclog someone's plumbing, but for Grace I didn't want to look like a slob. Two dozen cars were parked along the winding drive leading to her cabin, mostly Volvos and older Mercedes. Grateful Dead tunes were blasting over a loud speaker and the smell of grilling meat filled the air.
I grabbed my toolbox and found Grace waiting at the door. I noticed that her hair was much shorter that it had been two days earlier. Despite the worried expression on her face, she looked sexier than ever. "Thank God you're here, Hank," she said as she guided me toward her small bathroom where four inches of stagnant water stood in the sink.
"This shouldn't take too long," I said, opening the cabinet beneath the sink and grabbing a monkey wrench. "I'm gonna need a bucket to catch the water when I open the pipes," I told her.
She returned in a minute with a large plastic pail and I opened the U-joint that appeared to be the source of her problem. After the water emptied from the sink I removed the piece of pipe and showed it to Grace. "Here's the trouble," I announced. The pipe was clogged with a wad of her short dark hair.
"Uh oh," she said in recognition. "Guess the next time I cut my hair I shouldn't try to dispose of the remnants down the sink."
"Try a waste basket instead," I offered lamely.
Grace invited me to stay for the party, but I didn't feel comfortable at a gathering where she would be the only person I knew, so I excused myself and finished off my six pack at home listening to exploding firecrackers and thinking how I could get to know her better.
The next day she called again. "Hank, I'm so grateful to you for coming to my rescue yesterday. I'm embarrassed that I let you get away without paying. What do I owe you?" she asked.
"You don't owe me nothing," I told her. "It wasn't a business call, just a friend helping a friend."
"That's sweet, but I definitely want to make it up to you. How about coming over tomorrow night and I'll fix dinner?" she offered.
How did she know I was a bachelor starved for home cooking? Was it that obvious? Perhaps she had been scouting single men just like I had been checking on her. "Sounds great," I replied, trying hard not to sound too eager. "What time?"
"How about seven?"
I arrived at her cabin bearing a big bottle of Yellow Tail that Buddy had recommended. "Come in, Hank," she said as she gave me a peck on the cheek. "I'm happy to report that the plumbing is working properly today." Her hair, still damp from the shower smelled like herbal shampoo. She wore no make-up, sandals, and a simple cotton shift, but she was the best looking woman I had seen in months.
"My tools are in the truck just in case," I joked.
Before we ate she gave me a tour of her place. She had converted the old horse barn into a studio crammed full of art in a variety of media-oils, pastels, charcoal sketches, even photography. As I suspected, she was an artist-a very accomplished one from what I could tell. "I see you're pretty versatile," I remarked.
"Some people would say I can't make up my mind. Guess I get bored easily. After working in one medium for a month or two, I feel the need to try something different." I picked up a photo of a woman's head that had been tinted purple and silver. The distinctive hairdo looked familiar. "Is this you?" I inquired.
"Yes, a self-portrait on a bad hair day," she explained.
"I like it. It captures something about your attitude-determination and strength. It's very good."
She returned to the kitchen to finish preparing a salad. I looked at the photos arranged on the mantle above her fireplace. "This your kid?" I asked about an attractive young woman in a formal studio portrait. "Yes, that's my daughter Jennifer. That was her high school graduation picture. She's twenty-four now and living in San Francisco."
"She doesn't look much like you," I observed.
"No, she takes after her father; lives with him too, or used to," she commented.
A second photo caught my eye. It showed a younger Grace standing on a rocky beach with waist length hair streaming in the ocean breeze. "This you?" I asked.
"Yes, that was taken at Half Moon Bay about ten years ago just before Robert, he's Jennifer's father, and I broke up."
"I hardly recognized you."
"Yes, my hair was much longer then."
I was curious about her motive for shedding her long feminine tresses for such an extreme boyish style. "Why did you cut it?"
"It was an impulsive thing, just a fit of anger. I had just discovered that Robert was screwing the woman I once considered my best friend. I was furious. I wanted to show him how much his cheating hurt me. He always had been very possessive about my hair; called it my best feature and forbade me to cut even an inch. We had been married for fifteen years and I never had a haircut, never changed my hairstyle. So I grabbed my sewing shears and stood in the middle of the living room shouting at him. `How could you betray me like this? I thought you loved me.' Stuff like that. He was yelling at me to stop. `It didn't really mean anything. Don't do something you'll regret.' I was crying and screaming back at him. `I regret the day I married you. I regret ever trusting you.' I reached up to my head and grabbed a fistful of hair. Then I took the scissors and hacked it off. Robert's expression changed from desperation to horror when he saw the three foot lock of severed hair in my hand. `Don't do this, Grace. Don't destroy your beautiful hair,' he pleaded. That just fueled my anger. It seemed he was more concerned about preserving my hair than saving our relationship. I threw the hair in his direction and cut off a second piece, then a third. When he realized I wasn't going to quit, he just turned and walked out slamming the door behind him. That was the end of our marriage. The next day he came back, packed his things, and left without another word.
"Fortunately, Jennifer was spending the night with a friend," Grace continued. "It was quite a scene-long pieces of my hair all over the carpet-but it worked. When Robert left I sat down on the floor and sobbed. When I saw myself in the mirror I cried even harder."
"Did you regret it? Cutting your hair, I mean."
"No, not really. My hair that night was an absolute mess-short in some places, still long in others. I had no idea what to do so I called Sarah, a beautician friend of mine, who came over and helped calm me down. `Well, Grace,' she said, `your long hair was spectacular, but you'll look really stunning with short hair.' She went to work, removing the parts that escaped my rage and fashioning a brief pixie style. I've kept it pretty much the same length ever since. Of course, when Jennifer came home she was devastated. She couldn't understand why her father was gone; she was convinced I drove him away. She thought my hair looked awful and said so. As soon as Robert found an apartment, she moved in with him."
"I hope you'll forgive my curiosity, but in a place like Turtle Creek we don't see women with hair like yours very often."
"Yes, I noticed," she chuckled. "All I can say is that it makes my life much simpler. I don't have to pay big bucks at the beauty salon. Never worry about keeping up with the latest fashion. Just wash and go in the morning. No rollers to fuss with in the evening. When it gets too long I pull out the scissors and trim it back as you discovered on the Fourth. I'm pretty good creating things with my hands. With practice I got to where I could give myself a pretty respectable haircut. The style has evolved over the years, but I keep it short. It's kinda become my trademark." I had to agree that she did a great job.
We ate steaks on her deck and watched the orange sun descend behind Bald Mountain. It took another two hours to finish the wine. I learned that after the breakup Grace found a job at a gallery where she worked during the day while she painted at night. Jennifer stayed with her father and didn't approve of her mother's rather bohemian lifestyle. Now that her daughter was living independently, Grace decided to move to the mountains so she could concentrate on her art full-time. "I wanted to get away from the hassles of city life. I needed a less expensive environment where I could support myself by my art alone. Fortunately, I had saved the money from my divorce settlement so I could buy this place."
When the conversation turned to my story Grace was surprised to learn that I had studied engineering at the state university. "Why did you quit?" she asked.
"Didn't like city living. I missed the mountains, so I left after four semesters. My folks were pretty upset-I was the first member of our family to attend college-but I decided a life of genteel poverty doing what I wanted was preferable to living on a suburban cul-de-sac and commuting to a job I hated."
"I can relate to that," she agreed.
As I got up to depart she said, "Wait just a minute, Hank," as she dashed into the barn. She returned with the self-portrait I had admired. "Just a small thank you," she said as she handed me the photo. That gift confirmed my hunch that this would not be the last meal we shared.
In the weeks that followed Grace's calls came on a regular basis. It seemed that every weekend there was something around her house that needed fixing. She prepared dinner and I brought beer or wine. Some evenings we rented a video; other times we just sat and talked until midnight. Despite the differences in our backgrounds, we found we had similar tastes in music and films. She taught me about art and I tutored her on the basics of construction. I guess we found ourselves in the same position-middle aged and single, trying to live alone, but needing the companionship of a steady partner.
The first time we made love was during a mid-August thunderstorm. A lightening strike on a transformer had knocked out her power. Grace called in a mild panic. "Can you come over, Hank? I'm afraid in this storm." I pulled on a slicker and drove through the downpour to her cabin. She was waiting at the door with a candle in her hand.
"Looks like the power's out all down the mountain. Not much we can do but wait till this storm blows over," I reported. I started a fire in her fireplace while she placed dozens of candles around the room. We snuggled on her couch as the rain drummed on the roof of her cabin.
"I feel so much better when you're around, Hank," she said. "Would you like to spend the night?" How could I refuse? When we finished making love Grace rested her head on my chest as I stroked the short hair on top of her head. "I think you like my short haircut, don't you, Hank?" she observed without waiting for my response. "You know, when I first cut my hair I thought that I wouldn't have to worry about men hitting on me; they wouldn't be interested in anyone with such short hair. But I was wrong. I discovered that some guys find short hair a real turn on; I suspect you're one of them." I had to admit that she had me pegged.
One Friday evening in early September, after putting away the dinner dishes, Grace announced, "It's time to visit the beauty parlor." Her hair had grown quite a bit since her July home haircut. Instead of sticking up, it now lay flat on her head and was beginning to curl around her ears. I could tell it was bugging her; all through dinner she kept pushing her bangs back off her forehead. Grace produced a comb and scissors from a bureau drawer and marched toward the bathroom. "Wanna watch?" she called over her shoulder. I followed and observed breathlessly as she first chopped her bangs back to an ultra-short fringe. Next she selected a lock at random from the top of her head and sliced it off only an inch above her scalp. More cutting followed in rapid succession until her crown resembled a lawn mowed with hedge clippers. Finally she snipped around her ears and trimmed the back of her head. When she was done her hair was even shorter than on the Fourth. "Well, what d'ya think?" she asked flirtatiously. There was no mistaking my reaction. "No need to answer. I see that you approve," she smirked as she patted the bulge in the front of my jeans.
Then she turned her attention to me. "Say, Hank, what do you say that I give you a haircut? You sure could use one." We went into the kitchen and I sat down on a straight backed chair while she carefully pruned my shaggy mane. The finished job was a good bit shorter than I usually wore it, but I had to admit it was a big improvement. I no longer resembled an aging hippie. That evening Grace and I made love with a special ferocity. The next day she invited me to share her cabin. I still parked the truck at my house to keep up appearances, but for all practical purposes we were living together.
Shortly after Christmas Grace warned me that her daughter would be coming for a three day visit. "You'll have to move your gear back to your place while she's here," she told me. Lack of space was the excuse, but I knew she didn't want Jennifer to discover that she was sleeping with a man who was not her father. I inquired about the occasion for the visit. "Jenn didn't say, but I suspect she's planning to marry her current boy friend."
"Does she need your permission?" I asked.
"No, nothing like that. She's pretty independent. More likely she wants to tell how I should behave. She's always trying to reform me."
Grace invited me over for dinner the Saturday after her daughter arrived. Jennifer was nearly six inches taller than her mother; her light brown hair was professionally streaked and impeccably groomed; her make-up was skillfully applied. Even in a sweater and jeans she looked like a fashion model. I noticed that Grace was wearing an expensive looking outfit I hadn't seen before; her hair was neatly combed and she wore a trace of lipstick and mascara. It seemed like she was making a special effort to dress up for her daughter.
As we talked during dinner, I soon found out why Grace had been apprehensive about Jennifer's visit. The young woman spent the better part of an hour bragging about her fiancée, a politically ambitious assistant district attorney. We heard about all the important cases he was trying, the many influential connections he had made, and his plans to run for office in a few years. It was obvious to me that Jennifer would make an ideal spouse for a rising young politician-attractive, articulate, and bright. Still, I couldn't imagine how she came from Grace's womb; the two women were so completely mismatched
"So, Hank," Jennifer said after expounding at length on her future husband's career in California politics, "Mom says you're a plumber. How's the plumbing business these days?" The note of condescension in her voice rubbed me the wrong way. It was clear that she wasn't interested in my work, but she had been taught that it wasn't polite to talk about yourself all evening.
"Actually, that's my summer job," I informed her. "In the winter season I'm a ski instructor."
"That must be fun," she replied and t
hen abruptly changed the subject to the plans for her upcoming wedding.
I could see that Grace was pained by Jennifer's terse dismissal of my work, but there was nothing she could do. For the next hour we listened to descriptions of her wedding dress, the bridesmaids' apparel, the wedding cake, the menu for the reception, the invitations, the orchestra, the photographer, the flowers-on and on she went. It seemed that every small detail required a ten minute exposition. Finally, I could take no more. "Well, gotta get up early tomorrow," I said as a got up off the couch.
"Hank, it's been so nice meeting you," Jennifer cooed as I was putting on my parka. Her voice reeked with insincerity.
"I'll walk you to your truck," Grace offered. As soon as we were out the door she started apologizing for her daughter's behavior. "Hank, I'm sorry. Jennifer inhabits a very different world. Now you see why I didn't want you staying here."
"Yeah, another hour listening to her chatter about her wonderful boy friend and their storybook wedding and I probably would have stuffed a sock in her mouth."
"I wish she turned out differently, but she's her father's daughter," Grace said with a shrug of resignation. "There's not much I can do now."
Through the winter months Grace didn't cut her hair. I figured she wanted extra insulation against the cold, but when April came with no haircut I needed to know the reason. "Grace, have you decided to grow your hair longer?" I asked.
"Yes, Hank, but it's only temporary. I know you like my hair short, but I told Jennifer I would grow it out for her wedding."
"You let your kid boss you around like that? Grace, I don't believe it," I exploded.
"I know it's pitiful, Hank, but she's my only child. She said she wouldn't invite me to the wedding if my hair was too short. Most of the guests are going to be Robert's business associates and James' political cronies. She doesn't want me to be an embarrassment."
I couldn't believe that a child could show so little respect for her mother. "If she was my kid I'd smack some sense into her pretty little head."
"But she's not your kid," Grace reminded me. "She's my problem and I'll deal with her in my own way. If I want to see her get married it's going to be on her terms. You'll just have to be patient."
When the weekend of the wedding arrived Grace asked me to drive her to the Mobil gas station that doubled as Turtle Creek's bus depot. Her car hadn't been running well so she was going by Greyhound. I offered to drive her to San Francisco, but she insisted on traveling alone. "It's simpler this way," she claimed. Four days later she phoned from town where the bus had dropped her. "Hank, come get me," she called.
When I arrived at the corner I barely recognized the short dark-haired woman standing on the curb with a suitcase at her feet; Grace's hair was professionally styled-poofed out and sprayed into place; she was wearing a thick layer of eye shadow and mascara; she was dressed in a skirt and blouse instead of her usual unpretentious attire. "You clean up real good," I teased as I tossed her bag into the back of my truck.
"Get me home fast," she commanded. "I can't wait to get outta these clothes."
"You look like a real proper lady, Miz Spaulding," I continued. "I don't know why you'd want to be seen hanging out with the hippies in these parts."
"That's enough, Hank," she warned in a suddenly serious voice. "For three days I went back to the life I used to lead, but now that Jennifer is married I can resume being me." She opened the door to her cabin and headed straight for the bedroom. "You wait here," she told me. Grace emerged a few minutes later wearing her usual patched blue jeans and a clean white t-shirt and carrying an unfamiliar square box.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Oh, just something I picked up in the city," she remarked casually, "a little present for both of us." She laid the box on the kitchen table and began removing several small plastic implements and a larger black instrument with a long electrical cord.
"What you got there?" I inquired.
"A new toy. Hank, come here. I want you to be my barber tonight." I saw that the device in her hand was a Wahl hair clipper, the same kind my barber used.
"But I don't know how to cut hair," I protested.
"It's not that hard," she replied. "I read the instruction booklet on the ride back. You just plug it in, turn it on, and run it over my head. It's practically foolproof."
"Won't it cut your hair awfully short?" I protested.
"Yes, that's exactly what I want. Growing my hair out for the wedding nearly drove me crazy. Now that Jennifer's married, I want it short again, as short as possible."
I examined the clippers more closely. "If I cut your hair with these you'll be nearly bald," I observed.
"That's why they include these attachments, silly," she said, pointing to several plastic gadgets on the table. "You slip one of these over the blades to regulate the length of the cut. Each one is set for a different level. Why don't we try number four?" she said merrily as she snapped one of the guides in place over the bare blades.
Grace sat down on a chair in the middle of the kitchen, draped a white bath towel around her shoulders, and looked up at me. "I'm ready any time you are," she said expectantly. The prospect of clipping her hair off gave me a powerful hard on, yet I feared that I might mess up and leave her looking awful. My hands trembled slightly as I switched on the power. "I'll start with the back," I told her as I circled behind the chair. I figured that if I made a mess of things, at least she wouldn't be able to see it. I tentatively placed the humming clippers at the base of her neck and slowly pushed them up into her curly tresses. A thick layer of dark hair fell from the blades as I guided them toward the top of her head. I pulled them away to reveal a two inch wide furrow where the hair was barely half an inch long. I repeated the upward motion several more times. Each stroke expanded the clipped area until the back of her head was completely shorn. To my immense relief, it looked half way decent. Cutting her hair was easier than I had imagined; the clippers practically drove themselves. Still, I worried that she would freak out when she saw how short it was.
Six months worth of dark hair now completely covered the towel and much of the floor around my feet. I switched to the right side of her head, clipping around her ear and up to the temple. Then I cut the left side to match.
Now only the hair on top remained at its original length. "Don't stop now, honey," she urged me. "You need to finish what you started." I placed the clippers at her forehead, just below her bangs, and drove them back along her crown revealing another wide stripe of short hair. Clipped hair tumbled down her nose, landing in her lap. She held one of the freshly shorn locks between her fingers and inspected it with idle curiosity. Yet she didn't seem to mind the damage I was inflicting on her head. "You're doing fine, honey," she sang. "I feel much better already." I completed buzzing the top as quickly as I could. After six more passes I had reduced three inches of hair to half an inch of fuzz. I switched off the power and brushed some of the severed hairs from her ears and face. Grace remained seated beneath me. "Bring me the small mirror from the bedroom so I can see how it looks," she commanded. The buzz cut I had administered was much shorter than any of the haircuts she had given herself. Fortunately, her head was a nice round shape without any unsightly bumps or scars. I prayed that she wouldn't object.
Grace held the mirror in her left hand while she playfully rubbed her newly shorn head with the right sending a flurry of tiny hairs into the air. She examined herself critically trying to make up her mind. Apparently my amateur haircutting effort did not satisfy her. After a long silence she spoke. "You did a nice job, Hank, but it's not short enough. You should try again, this time use the number two attachment."
I couldn't believe my ears. I had just cut off nearly all of her hair and she was asking me to cut it shorter still. "Are you sure you want it that short?" I demanded.
"That's what I want, Hank. To get rid of every trace of the old Grace. If you're not willing, give me the clippers and I'll do it myself."
"No, I'll do it, Grace," I insisted. "I just wanted to make sure." I removed the number four attachment and replaced it with number two. I switched on the power to the clippers and mowed her head one more time. With much less hair to cut, the second buzzing was accomplished more quickly. I passed the clippers back and forth across her head and around her ears, sending another shower of fine dark clippings onto the towel. When I finished her hair was a quarter inch long all over. She resembled a young military recruit, kinda like Demi Moore in "G.I. Jane."
Once again she used the small mirror to inspect the finished haircut. "Wow," she exclaimed. "It's just amazing. You did a great job, Hank. This is just what I hoped for." I must admit that Grace looked much younger with her hair so short, almost like an adolescent boy heading off for summer camp. Her bright blue eyes sparkled as she lowered the mirror. She dropped the towel and wrapped her arms around my waist. "Go ahead, baby, you can feel it. I know you want to," she invited.
I rubbed my hands across the top of her head. Her short hair felt like velvet to my fingers. "Ohhh, baby, you're too much," I crooned as I steered her towards the bedroom.
She felt my throbbing penis. "I guess I don't have to ask if you like my new haircut; Mr. Wiggly speaks for both of you."
It was early December when I answered the phone call from Jennifer. "Hi Hank," she greeted me. "Can you put my mother on?" She sounded rather troubled. I handed the phone to Grace who promptly disappeared into the bedroom. It was nearly an hour later when she emerged looking grim.
"Hank, we need to talk," she said. I feared what was coming next. Jennifer must have delivered some mighty bad news. "Jennifer and James are breaking up," she announced.
"That's not such a bad thing," I quipped. "You said he was a pompous jerk. Perhaps it's for the best."
"Under other circumstances I would agree with you, but she's four months pregnant," Grace reported.
"That does put things in a different light," I agreed. "What's she gonna do, move in with her father?"
"That's what I suggested, but there's a problem," she said. "It seems that Robert's current girlfriend feels that his condo isn't big enough for both his lover and his daughter. He wants her to patch things up with James."
"What does Jennifer want to do?" I asked.
"She says she'd like to move in with us, at least until the baby is born," Grace informed me.
"And what did you say?" I continued.
"I said that I'd have to talk it over with you."
"But that's what you want, isn't it?" I responded.
"Yes it is," she confirmed.
"Even after she treated you so shabbily at her wedding?"
"Hank, she's got no place else to go. She's my baby; I can't turn her away."
"If she moves in with all her stuff this old cabin is going to get pretty crowded."
"It'll only be for a few months. In spring, after the baby is born, we can add on an extra room if she decides to stay."
I could see that Grace had her mind made up. Having Jennifer living with us was going to make life much more complicated, but I couldn't think of any alternative. I didn't want to lose Grace; I realized that I would have to share her with Jennifer, at least for a while.
The next weekend I borrowed a small moving van and drove to the city to pick up Jennifer and her belongings. I barely could fit all her stuff into the truck. Many of the boxes looked like wedding gifts that she had never opened. There were a dozen large boxes of her clothes, most of which didn't fit her now that her belly was starting to bulge. She seemed sad to be leaving her high tone lifestyle behind as we headed back to the mountains. She was pretty quiet until we reached Turtle Creek. "Hank, I'm sure you're not thrilled to have me moving in with you and mom, but I hope we can be friends." It was a peace offering of sorts; a sign to me that things might work out okay after all.
I found a job for Jennifer tending toddlers at the day care center run by the ski resort where I gave lessons. She rode up the mountain with me in the morning and back home in the late afternoon. We gossiped about our fellow workers and gradually became friends. I could see that she was making an effort to fit into our rustic lifestyle. Her designer fashions had been replaced by two or three maternity outfits; she wore an old pair of hiking boots; most days her hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail. Although still a striking beauty, she was no longer the glamour girl who first moved in with us.
In the middle of March Grace announced it was time for haircuts; we both were rather shaggy and badly needed clipping. She sat down on the kitchen chair with a towel draped around her shoulders while I plugged in the clippers. "You mean you're going to do it right here?" Jennifer exclaimed. The idea that her mother would let me cut her hair must have shocked her. She watched in disbelief and apparent fascination as I ran the clippers back and forth across Grace's head, buzzing her hair back to a microscopic length. Then we changed places so Grace could clip my hair.
After Grace was done with me and before she could pack up the barbering gear Jennifer asked, "Mom, do you think you could cut my hair?"
Grace looked nearly as surprised as I was. "I guess I could," she replied. "Want me to trim your split ends?"
"No, I want a real haircut. I want you to cut my hair short, Mom," she announced rather proudly.
"Honey, why would you want to do that? You've never had your hair short. Your hair is lovely like it is," Grace objected.
"It's time for a change. This is something I've been considering for months, ever since I moved in with you two. I'm getting ready to start a new stage in my life and I think a new hair style would be a good idea."
"How short do you want me to cut it?" Grace asked.
"Not as short as yours, Mom," she said. "But a good bit shorter, kinda like you used to wear it after you and dad broke up."
"I thought you hated my hair like that," Grace remarked.
"I was just being spiteful. I was mad at you for breaking up with dad, but actually I thought your haircut was pretty cool. I just couldn't bring myself to admit it."
"So you really want a pixie?" Grace insisted. I sensed that she was secretly pleased that her daughter wanted to copy her old look, like she was switching sides in the contest for her allegiance.
"Yep, go ahead," Jenn commanded.
I was starting to get turned on by the prospect of this next haircut. I didn't want Grace to see me getting a hard on for her daughter so I excused myself. "I'm gonna go for a walk. You girls have fun."
"Hank, I thought you'd want to watch Jennifer's haircut," Grace remarked.
"Nope. I've had enough fun for one night." Grace didn't try to stop me. I think she understood my reason for leaving.
When I returned half an hour later Grace was sweeping up the remains of Jennifer's long hair. Her daughter sat with a mirror in hand inspecting the feathered cap of short brown hair that adorned her head; no trace of her blonde streaks remained. She no longer resembled a society debutante; now she looked more like the young mother she soon would become.
"Looks real nice, Jenny," I observed.
"Thanks, Hank. It's gonna take a while to get used to the new me," she said, rather unsure of herself.
I continued driving her back and forth to her day care job until the end of the ski season. By that time she was eight months pregnant and having difficulty keeping up with the little kids. As we rode home after the closing day party Jennifer said, "Hank, I'm sorry I was so mean to you when we first met. Frankly, I'm surprised you don't hate me."
"You were going through a lot of changes then, Jenny. It was a rough time for you."
"But that's no excuse for being such a bitch. I just want you to know that I think you and mom make a great couple. I can see that she's really happy around you. Even before she and dad split they were always fighting. Dad tried to dominate her and she needed her freedom. I didn't understand that then, but now I do. I think you guys should get married."
The idea of marriage had been on my mind too, but I knew Grace would be unwilling; she was kind of down on marriage in general. "We've got a good thing going. Why mess it up?" she protested when I first proposed. But I was insistent. After three decades of bachelor status I yearned for the permanence of a legal relationship. I kept up the pressure and Jennifer joined in. "You should do it, Mom," she chimed in. You'll be a beautiful bride." Finally, on Memorial Day Grace consented to be my wife. We planned a July wedding, almost exactly twenty-four months after I first stood behind her in the supermarket line. A lot had changed in those two years.
Jennifer delivered a healthy baby girl in May, just before Mother's Day. She named her Abigail, an old fashioned name that seemed to suit the infant. I began working on an addition to the cabin-a good sized bedroom and a second bath for Jennifer and her daughter. It looked like they were going to be permanent residents of Turtle Creek. In two short years I had gone from being a single dude with no good prospects to being surrounded by three generations of beautiful women. I can't say that I minded my new situation; it definitely was a change for the better.
It had been three months since Grace's last haircut; she was beginning to look shaggy again. Shortly after we broke the news of our wedding to our friends she approached me with a question. "Would you like me to keep my hair longer for the wedding or shall I cut it short again?"
"Actually, I've got something special in mind for the wedding, if you'll agree, that is," I informed her with a wink and a grin.
Grace knew me well enough to realize that I was getting bored with her buzz cut. She probably figured that I was thinking of a different short haircut. "It doesn't involve shaving my completely bald does it? I don't think I could go that far."
"Nope, this doesn't involve shaving your head, but it will require the services of a professional barber."
"Okay, I see that you want to keep it a surprise. I can go along with that," she told me. It seemed that she found the prospect of another short haircut nearly as exciting as I did.
Two days before the wedding my friend Charlie who runs the barbershop in town arrived at the cabin with the tools of his trade in hand. Jennifer had taken Abigail to the doctor's office for a checkup so we had some privacy. "Grace, your hubby-to-be has asked me to give you a special haircut, but before I do I just want to make sure you're okay with it," he checked.
"I don't know what Hank has in mind, but as long as it doesn't involve shaving me bald, I'm willing."
"Okay Grace. Let's get started." Charlie plugged in his clippers and Grace obediently took her usual seat on the kitchen chair. He's a pro and worked quickly; clipping the back and sides of her head to the length she usually wore. Then he began on the top. Instead of following the contour of her head as I had done, he used his comb to lift her hair up and then ran his clippers along the comb on a horizontal line. He continued buzzing the top of her head until a perfectly flat surface emerged. After five minutes of intense concentration Charlie paused, brushed the top of her head into line, and handed the mirror to Grace. I prayed that she wouldn't freak out when she saw what he had done. Grace stared intently at her unfamiliar haircut. Slowly a smile spread across her face. She passed her hand back and forth across the top of her head, apparently enjoying the strange sensation. My hunch was right-she looked fantastic with her new flat top.
"If you don't like it, Charlie can go back and give you a buzz like before," I assured her.
"Why would I want him to do that?" she asked. "It would ruin this perfectly wonderful haircut." She popped up and kissed Charlie on the cheek. "Hank, you need to pay the man so we can be alone," she told me.
As my barber friend headed down the driveway Grace already had stripped off her jeans and was calling to me from the bedroom. I was only too happy to join her there.
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