It was a summer day in Santee. A hot, dreadful summer day, like all July days in this suburb of San Diego. The mercury topped 102, again just like every day of the past two weeks. She sat across the courtyard of our apartment complex, under an umbrella at a gaudy lawn table that was the color of a tequila sunrise. I’d seen her before, too many times to have never said hello before. I swallowed my inhibitions and offered her a Sam Adams. The smell of Mexican food wafted from across the street. It was too hot for food, so my stomach was empty, except for beer. That probably made me more buzzed than I usually get, and more bold than most times.
“Oh, god, yes,” she said. Her name was Roddy, her skin was tan, without a blemish and she had a winning smile. Her hair hung just past her shoulders when she wore it down, today she had it pulled back to keep as much heat as possible off her neck. Two weeks earlier I’d gotten my usual summer buzz cut. Like I said earlier, this wasn’t a suburb as much as it was a piece of desert that someone decided would make a great place for college students and young families to live cheaply. Nice houses, clean apartments, good schools; the only downside was the sun beating down from June through early October.
“You got a haircut, didn’t you?” she asked, the sweat from the beer bottle cooling her head as she rubbed it across her face.
“Yeah, every summer, whether or not it looks dorky,” I answered, stunned that she’d noticed me, thrilled actually.
“If this heat keeps up, I’m gonna shave my head too,” she said, probably joking.
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“Really?” I ask, hoping she would. Hoping she’d let me.
“Well, no. I love my hair too much. Most guys say it’s my best feature.”
She wasn’t being immodest, her hair was beautiful, and her face was average. Nice, friendly, but average. She worked out often, you could tell, but she lacked confidence in her face. Her smile was immediate though. You could tell she was a nice person just by looking at her, the deep green eyes with a glint in them day or night, the slightly crooked smile, the 1960’s go-go outfits she’d wear on her way out the door at night. I’d seen her many times, never once thought to talk with her. Never once wondered if she’d say hello or bite me or anything in between.
We drank a few more Sam Adams and went inside to watch a movie in the air-conditioned comfort of my apartment. Her small talk up to this point was polite, general stuff: she hated “chick films” and loved baseball. She loved retro clothing, but didn’t like the Marcia Brady look so many younger women were sporting these days. She was majoring in criminology at State, she was from some small town in Wisconsin and had only been in California three months. My blabbering was more along the lines of a guy trying to pick up on a girl; she was either being more coy than anyone I’d ever met, or was too oblivious from the heat to notice.
Inside my apartment she sat on the ragged futon that occupies the spot under my window. I’m the dirt poor college student that everyone sees working behind the counter of a 7/11 late at night. Making ends meet on a scholarship that doesn’t provide enough for much beyond food, books, and shelter. She asked if I was single, the first sign that she was thinking anything about me other than “here’s a way to get out of the heat.” I told her I was, and with my new haircut, I probably would be for a while.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, laughing. “It looks okay, you just need to even out the top a little.” She rubbed my head back to front, noticing the rough spots. “I love the way that feels,” she said, her eyes dancing from the coolness of the room, the effects of the beer, and just maybe, me.
“Really?” I said. “Would you clean it up for me?” I asked, neither one of us really watching “Replacement Killers” which I had rented the night before.
Into the bathroom we went. She draped a towel around my shoulders and did her best with the old Oster I had. When she was done it was more even, it even flattered my features which was a switch. I’d usually cut it myself, in an effort to save the $10 to get a haircut. I tilted my head looking in the mirror.
“You next?” I said, wanting her to say yes, feeling a burning nervousness in my stomach.
She rubbed her neck with a cool washcloth, still feeling the effects of the swelter outside. Her eyes got blank, she was deep in thought. After what seemed like a long time, her head gave a slight nod. “What the hell, new town, new life, new hair,” she said, covering her shoulders with the towel. “Cut me and I kick your butt, okay?” she said, her smile beaming.
What if I screw this up? I thought to myself, what if she ends up bald? I cleared my throat. “You got it.”
The 1/2″ attachment slid on easily, the afternoon turned surreal. She stood there, her 5’5″ body totally still, her face open with excitement. The first pass over her head snagged a little.
“Hey, careful okay?” she said, still smiling.
The next four swipes were smoother. Her head had a perfect round shape, her neck was a sight to see. It was exposed now, I thought of nibbling on it, but didn’t want to press the issue. I grabbed the 1/4″ attachment and went to work blending the sides and back. As an amateur on his first attempt at cutting someone else’s hair, I did a fairly good job.
Roddy rubbed the sides. “This will take lots of getting used to,” she said. She took the clippers from me and cleaned up the uneven parts. The whiteness of her scalp showed itself slightly, it would tan up nicely in a day or two.
“I can’t stand the way hair feels on my body, let’s shower and get this stuff off of us,” she said, pulling her top off with no inhibitions. I was nervous: eager, but nervous. I slipped off my shoes and reached over to turn on the water. But that is a story for another day.
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