A Secret in Store by Sean O'Hare (with inspiration from SC, you know who you are :)
I was not looking forward today. Stocktaking is always painful but this year my store was going to get Ms Susan Stinker - sorry that should be Tinker - from head office to oversee us. It's 8.45 now and I know she'll be arriving shortly.
I had hurriedly checked my e-mails - nothing there yet - and I wouldn't have a chance to check until much later, which was disappointing. It was going to be a long day.
The paperwork is already on my desk - I had been in since 7am - and now it is just a question of waiting. I'm leaning back in my chair, with my hands lifting the long hair which cascades down my back. I allow my hands to explore the area under my hair and a smile forms on my face, fuelled by the events earlier in the week. I start to drift... when suddenly there is a knock on the door.
"Er, yes. Come in." Momentarily flustered I jump up smoothing my hair and adjusting my unfamiliar clothes. I normally don't wear a suit to work but today is one of the occasions I thought I should. My simple black jacket and shortish skirt purchased from the store, worn over a simple white top is hardly going to compete with Stinker's designer wear but I feel reasonably presentable. I had taken a bit more trouble with my makeup today, but toned down the earrings to just a pair of simple diamond studs. Not that they can be seen of course as my hair is loose, as it now needs to be.
The door opens and in marches Ms Tinker. "Good morning Sarah, and how are you today."
"I'm fine thanks Susan." This familiarity always makes me feel a little uncomfortable but she insists. As expected she's dressed well. A beige suit, clearly more expensive than my own and with a skirt a good few inches shorter. Her black hair in it its usual well-cut, shoulder-skimming bob shines brightly. As usual her appearance served to make me feel slightly dowdy.
"Good. Your hair's looking very nice. It looks a little different. Have you had it trimmed?"
"Thanks. Er, yes I have a little." If she only knew!
"It suits you." Her eyes linger on my hair, with a slightly puzzled expression. And then she turns away.
"Sarah, from your reports things seem to be going well. Well done." I nod in recognition. "But now to business." That was Stinker. A few pleasantries and then straight into it.
And we worked hard. We didn't stop for lunch with sandwiches being brought in around 2.30 and then we did a tour of the store to see that everything was progressing satisfactorily.
It's 7.30 in the evening and I'm whacked. Even Susan is showing signs of tiredness as we both sip yet another cup of black coffee... and, in my case, wishing I could have a sip of the gin locked away in my desk drawer, reserved for the tiring late shifts that I often spend here alone.
"Well Sarah you appear to run a pretty tight ship." She was watching me from across the desk. "No problems at all today, which is very unusual. Well done."
It IS unusual - the stories of Stinker on the warpath are legendary in our region. I relax a little and begin to dream of the G&T that I believe I have earned. I lean back in my chair and run my right hand through my hair in a gesture of exhaustion.
"Thanks I..." Susan's eyes have suddenly opened wide, and I realise what I have done. Shit! I hurriedly release my hair but too late. I can see that.
"Sarah? Your hair - is it, well, er shorter underneath?"
Shit! "Yes it is... a little. I, er..." I er what? How do I explain this? The first person to notice and it has to be Stinker. I don't know what to say.
"I see. That explains why it looked different."
"Yes." I can't think of anything else to say. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl, which is quite surprising given that I've now turned 30!
"I see. That's unusual. Is it very short?" she enquired. Her demeanour and expression has changed little, although it was clear that thoughts were buzzing through her mind.
"Yes." I'm running through all the regulations about hairstyles in the company's rulebook in my mind. I've needed to enforce them a few times. Hair covered in the food areas. Tied back if long - including the lads. However, to be honest, it was rarely a problem with most of the staff only too keen to take advantage of the services of the in-store salon which is one of the perks of the job.
"Would you show me?" I must look shocked, surprised, whatever as she smiled encouragingly. "Please?"
I feel a little foolish now. This was supposed to be Steve and my little secret and now I have blown it. And possibly prejudiced my job too.
I slowly reach behind with both hands and gather my hair into a loose ponytail and lift, turning to one side slightly.
"Hmmm, that's rather unusual. How did that come about?" Her demeanour had now changed completely. She looked much more relaxed but her expression was one of genuine interest.
I began to think of all sorts of stories. But all sounded weak and wouldn't hold up under Stinker's investigations I was sure.
"Well I... that is...."
"Sorry to interrupt Sarah. It's been a long day. Do you have a bottle locked away in that desk of yours?" I try to feel indignant in the hope that that is the image I'll portray. She giggles. Actually giggles. "Don't worry - when I was in that chair I did too. I still do in my desk at head office. Shouldn't, I know!"
I open the drawer, take out the bottle and pour out two healthy measures of gin into paper cups and top up with a little tonic. I swallow a healthy gulp of my own and, because her cup remained untouched on the desk I walk around to place the cup in Susan's hand. As I wait there, holding it out she stands up.
"May I?" She holds out a hand, not for the glass but towards my hair. What was I to say to that? I simply nod. She slowly pushes my hair up and to one side, and then I feel her other hand pass over the clipped hair above my ears and down to my nape. I tensed. Her touch was like Steve's, but somehow different. The increasingly familiar tingle courses through me and I'm ready to melt. But this is my boss! A woman!
"Hmmm, nice." She giggled a little. After a minute or so she releases my hair but, having already started my G&T, I was actually in no hurry for her to stop. "Very nice," she whispered a little breathlessly.
She sinks back into her chair and begins to sip her drink. The atmosphere feels quite electric as we stare at each other over paper cups.
"You were telling me how it came about...."
"Yes, of course." I hadn't drunk too much but the alcohol was helping me feel a little more confident. "Well it was my husband's idea."
"Steve. I remember him from the Xmas do. Nice guy, you're very lucky."
"Thanks. Well Steve has always had this thing about punk hairstyles on women. Always seemed pretty harmless to me and he has often jokingly talked about cutting or shaving the sides and back of mine. I already let him trim it anyway. But of course to keep this job - not to upset you," she smiles at that, "I need to keep it fairly conventional. But I had been thinking of a change of style for some time and a couple of weeks ago Steve said, 'Is today the day I give you the Annabelle cut?' - she was a punk singer, don't know if you remember her?" Surprisingly Susan nods her head. "Well, I thought if I'm going for a change anyway why not let him fulfil his wish. It didn't seem like a big thing to me then. So I said, 'OK, do it.' The second I said it this odd feeling came over me. I bet you think that's really strange."
She shakes her head. "Not at all." She drains her cup and holds it out for a refill, and so I oblige. "Please go on."
"I looked back at Steve and he was frozen to the spot, his eyes almost out on stalks. 'What?' he asked me, genuinely lost for words. And I just said, 'Do it. My birthday present to you.' The fact that it isn't his birthday for 2 months was lost on him. 'Er OK, if you're sure.' I knew this was a turn-on for him - it was visible if you know what I mean." I realised what I was saying - to my boss. "Er, sorry, I'm not embarrassing you am I?"
Susan smiled. "No of course not... and I know exactly what you mean."
"Ah!" Ah indeed! "Steve began to slowly comb through my hair and then I felt him make a parting around my head, about an inch above my ears." I lift my hair to indicate where I meant although now of course it is obvious. "He then took the black scrunchie that I had placed around my wrist before he started trimming, and secured the top hair in a ponytail at my crown." I did the same now and Susan could clearly see the bareness that remained. "Then he picked up the scissors, placed them just above my ears and cut. It was deafening. I've never had my hair cut short and as far as I know Steve has never cut long hair short. We both stared as the 15 inch tendril slid down my shirt and caught just here." I patted my chest.
"We didn't speak but I could feel Steve trembling a little as he moved the scissors slightly and sliced off the next chunk of hair. There was no stopping him then - within a couple of minutes all the hair below the parting was on the floor, in my lap, or here." I demonstrated once more.
"And then he clippered it all off?" Susan enquired. "A number 1 by the looks of it." Well that surprised me. What did this woman know about clippers?
"Well not then. We didn't have any. Using scissors and comb he carefully trimmed it all to about half an inch. He took ages but I didn't mind - I was sort of enjoying it." I look up and Susan is staring straight at me... and nods in what appears to be understanding.
"I know he was nervous to start with but he soon got into it, and was clearly enjoying it a lot. When he finished it, I felt it and it was like electricity shooting through me. I pulled out the scrunchie and my hair cascaded down and hid the clipped area fully from view. What was nice was is that - you know my hair is quite full - well now, as you see, it lies much better. The other benefit was the effect it had on Steve - and looking, the effect it had on me - we didn't get up very early the next morning!"
"I can imagine." she gave a small laugh.
"Well, over the next few days I found myself touching it, imagining what people would think if they could see it, and looking forward to having it trimmed again. And last Friday Steve, bless him, brought home a little present. For me? For him? Who cares. A set of hairclippers. He first of all used a guard which didn't take much off and then reduced it to a Number 2. He loved cutting it - and I loved spending the weekend with him!"
"I'm sure you did."
"Sorry I've rambled on. You didn't want to hear all this did you?" I was trying to hide how my feelings over my hair have developed over the past couple of weeks. It is all very strange, and I don't quite understand it. But it was exciting, a little scary, but great fun.
"On the contrary Sarah. It's fascinating. Especially all your little details. You have quite a way with words."
I had noticed, increasingly, that Susan's breath seems to be coming in shorter gasps as I speak, she seems fidgety - crossing and recrossing her legs and her hand often creeping to her own hair and, whenever she notices, pulling it smartly away.
A silence falls. I had finished talking and there didn't seem anywhere else for the conversation to go. Susan stands up, I assume preparing to go. I stand also.
"Come with me please Sarah." We walk out of my office, down the corridor. She marching ahead, me following slightly behind. We enter the now deserted store, all my colleagues having finished their stocktaking tasks and now departed. We walk through the deserted restaurant and through the door at the back. Does she know where that goes? I am thinking. I did.
As I enter the fluorescent lights are flickering on and the store's moderately-sized salon was laid out before us. It looks very different from daytime when it is always busy, with hair on the floor, dryers going and the smell of chemicals. Now it looks pristine - white floor tiles, pale lemon walls, and wooden fittings. And of course the four black chairs fitted to the floor at each styling station.
I was feeling a little uncomfortable. What is this woman up to? This all feels very strange.
Susan smiles at me and walks to the nearest styling station and examines the contents of the small trolley that stood next to it. She put a blow-dryer to one side and selected a round hairbrush, but continued to rummage through the contents of the trolley. "Sarah will you please come here. I'd like you to brush my hair for me."
Her hair. Well that's OK. For a minute I thought she had some sort of designs on my hair. I slowly walked towards her and watched as she picked up a pair of scissors and popped them on the counter. Then a comb. Then she lined up one, two, three small plastic comb-like items next to them. She hands me the hairbrush and then lifts up a large set of clippers from the trolley and sits in the chair, cradling them in her lap.
"You would like me to brush your hair Susan?"
"Yes please." She doesn't look up. She's distracted by what she holds in her lap. She slowly uncoils the mains cable and I begin to brush through her thick, glossy, well-cut, black hair. It hardly needs it. Her hair always appears perfect - the sort of hair that looks as though each strand has been hand-crafted and shaped.
I place the brush under her hair and it glides through like silk. It is a nice feeling. A sort of comforting feeling. I feel a slight stirring.
"Mmmm, that's nice. After such a long day."
I look down at the clippers in her lap - she is turning them over, examining the blades, the various adjustments. She seems fascinated. Their black finish and silver blades contrasting with the short pale skirt and the long legs that emerge from under it.
She reaches forward slightly, as I continue to brush her lovely hair, and watch her plug the clippers into the socket. Holding them in both hands she pushes the switch forward and a sudden POP fills the silent room, followed by a gentle buzzing sound. I recall last Friday - and what happened afterwards with Steve - and I smile. The stirring within me increases.
I've stopped brushing. Susan continues to look down. "Mmmm, that's an odd feeling. I can feel their vibration all through my body." She rests her hands on her thighs and squirms in the chair. "Oh my!" she utters, and flicks them off and tries to regain her composure. She smoothes her skirt and pulls the hem. It makes little difference - as she sits there a good nine inches of her legs are visible emerging from under the skirt before continuing past her knees.
Having stopped brushing, it now seems a good time to depart. "Shall we go now Susan? Perhaps have another G&T?"
"Later. Yes, a little later. First of all we have something to attend to." The uncomfortable feeling was returning slightly, but now mixed with the increasing stirrings starting to come in waves from deep within me. I have a sense of anticipation. But I'm not sure for what.
Susan took a deep breath. I held mine. "I would like you to cut my hair. Just like yours. Please." She stared straight ahead and our eyes made contact. She's looking a little nervous but a smile flickers at the corners of her mouth.
"Cut your hair?" She nods vigorously. "Like mine?" She continues to nod. I had never cut hair before. Why did she want me to do it? But then neither had Steve, and I know why he wanted to. Ah!
All sorts of thoughts and emotions began to flow through my mind. It feels like our eyes have been locked for hours, whereas in reality it must have been seconds. There are so many questions I need answers to. But one kept returning - 'Do I want to cut this woman's hair?'. And the answer was always a resounding 'Yes!' or rather 'Yes please!'
"Very well." All other questions seemed irrelevant now. Both our expressions visibly relax and we smile.
I lift a folded cape from under the counter in front of us and flick it open, its pure whiteness almost dazzling. I drape it over Susan and fasten it at her nape, noticing for the first time the pure whiteness of her skin which seems to merge with the cape under the bright lights.
I take the comb from the counter and select a white scrunchie from the trolley beside me. I place the comb at her temple and begin to part the hair, combing the upper layers upwards and gathering them with my other hand. The scalp shows through at the parting, pure white contrasting with the black silkiness of her hair.
I continue to work around her head. It feels strange being this intimate with another woman's hair, but somehow also the most natural thing in the world as if I have been doing it all my life. I try to appear professional and remain detached - trying not to look in the mirror. But whenever I glance I can see Susan's eyes flicking between my face and my hands.
The hair is now collected in one hand and I ease it into the scrunchie. This is perhaps half her hair and it still feels so heavy and thick although not as long as my own.
I comb through the loose hair, and this also seems long and thick, and of course still falls into a perfect bobbed shape skimming her shoulders, slightly longer at the back. I was transfixed by the white line of her visible scalp that now arced around her head like a line of chalk.
I reach past Susan and pick up the scissors from the counter. I can feel her warm breath on my cheek, and see the cape rise where it covers her chest.
I move the scissors to rest on her nape, encircling a one inch strand of silky glossiness. The coldness, or perhaps just their touch, causes Susan to flinch visibly.
I feel very excited. "Ready Susan?"
She appears frozen upright in the chair as if any movement would result in her hair being severed. I see her clear a lump in her throat. "I..." she coughs, "I, er, am ready Sarah."
"Great." I feel a sort of release. Sort of in control. A heady feeling. I also feel a slight sense of regret at cutting this lovely, immaculate hair. And then I close the scissors.
SCHNICK! I'm surprised at how difficult it is to cut through, at how noisy the scissors sound. Such perfect hair, in great condition.
A lock of which I now find in my hand. I hold it up for Susan to see and her face breaks into a broad grin. I release it and it slides down the cape into her lap. Her hands move underneath the cape, I assume to retrieve the lock of hair. But they do not reappear...
I continue cutting. I want to cut slowly - to prolong the activity - but I'm excited. I want to see more hair fall... and it does as I cut off the next lock. Then another.
Susan's excitement is also clear. Her expression is so different from her normal demeanour of efficiency. She's wearing a permanent smile, which seems to increase with each cut.
So much hair has collected on the floor, it's blackness contrasting with the white floor tiles.
Now like Steve did with mine, I begin to comb up through the hair at the nape and snip it off. Susan's hairline was now showing. It looked perfect.
Each time I combed upwards she seemed to rise in the chair. "How's it looking at back there, Sarah?"
"It's looking nice. Nice and short." I run my palm up her nape - I know how this feels and I almost regret having done it.
"Phew, Sarah, that feels so... well, you know." Indeed I do. "Were you turned when Steve cut your hair?"
What! "Not really first time," I answered truthfully. "But later, yes."
"Mmmm, I am too Sarah. Thank you for doing this for me." She stretches in the chair and it was clear where her hands now lie under the cape.
"That's OK. And it will get even better." She looked at me questioningly in the mirror as I reach to the counter for the clippers.
"Ah, I see." I hesitate over which guard to use. "Number 3, perhaps?"
I give a little laugh and select the number 1 guard. "Oh no Susan, we shall start much shorter than that."
Her smile nearly left her face and her expression showed a little fear. "I hope you're ready for this Susan. I'm about to shave all this off." I ran my palm up and down the clipped nape and watched as her lips parted and her breath come in short gasps.
"Yes Sarah. Do it. I'm ready." Her whole body shuddered as the hair on the cape fell to the floor.
I flick the switch on the clippers and a buzz fills the air. I place the clippers at Susan's nape and slowly push upwards. Like a knife through butter the hair peels away to reveal a white scalp covered in dark bristles. I'm feeling distinctly turned on by what I'm doing. I guess this is how Steve felt.
"It's very short now Susan. Just bristles." I run a fingernail over the clipped area and she sits upright with a jump and then seems to just melt in the chair, the movement of her hands no longer a secret! I lean down and lightly brush my lips over the same area.
"Oh wow! Sarah...." I continue with the clippers and widen the path at her nape pushing upwards once more to reach the straight line of the parting. I move the clippers behind the ears and Susan is almost squirming in the chair. "Oh Sarah," she says again, almost squealing with delight.
I have nearly finished, regretting that I had nearly finished. But it was quite a sight to see that I have clipped nearly half the hair from this beautiful woman's head.
I reluctantly switch off the clippers and there was also a look of disappointment across her face.
I pause. Then I remove the guard which I toss on to the counter. "Sarah I'm not sure about that. There will...."
"Yes, shave it bare. Head down a little please." I flick the clippers on once more and swiftly pass them up Susan's nape and nothing remains except pure white skin. I feel a little shocked, a little surprised but continue.
I can't believe how effective these clippers are. How white her skin is. Her hairline is barely visible.
Again I finish. Had I gone too far. I picked up a mirror and held it behind her. "You can look now Susan." Her head was still bowed.
She slowly raised her eyes to the mirror, looking apprehensive. And her eyes widened. "Oh Sarah, it's so short."
I release the cape and pulled it away. She looks a little flustered as she pulls down the hem of her rather creased skirt.
Her appearance was striking. The smart business attire contrasting with the shaved nape. Her hand reaches back and cradles her nape. Exploring.
"Thank you Sarah, that feels pretty amazing." She pulls the scrunchie from her crown and the hair cascades down - into a perfect bob shape once more, although a little less full. All the shaved area is hidden. Her normal demeanour returns and I wonder what this has all been about. And then she winks at me, and reaches one hand under her own hair and the other under mine.
And we stand facing each other...
This story is dedicated to SC - you know who you are ;) Thanks so much for the fun, the chats and the inspiration.