I sometimes think I became a hairdresser just because I like finding out about people. The only person who ever hears more secrets than I do is the priest in the confessional or the therapist beside the couch. I get all the same advantages without the vow of celibacy or the need to try to sort people out. And I get a string of women’s heads to play with while I do it – and let’s face it, female hair is one of the loveliest things in the world to touch. The name of the game is job satisfaction.

Oh, half my clients think I’m gay, by the way. The other half are very surprised to find that I’m not. I once told a client that this is actually the perfect job for a straight man – we get to caress the heads of hundreds of lovely ladies, have the fun of making them look even more beautiful. She laughed. Mind you – she was in the middle of a much-awaited change from waist-length locks to a short bob and was so nervous she’d probably have laughed at anything.

I will freely admit I do persuade a lot of my ladies to go for short hair sooner or later. Not all. Some of them come for months or even years before finding the confidence to have more than the statutory half-inch cut off – and that’s fine by me. One of my regulars has a magnificent head of dark brown hair she can sit on. I’d just love to get at it – but she’s never going to change it. I tease her every time she comes in that this time my hand might just slip a little… and then she gets her normal trim and goes off – back in two months. But others do finally take the plunge – and then the challenge for me is to make sure they aren’t in any way sorry afterwards. Short hair on a woman is incredibly sexy – it displays a wonderfully kissable neck, makes eyes huge and lustrous… but it does take confidence to carry it off. Particularly if the lady in question has been used to hiding behind a heavy curtain of hair for years… the main thing then is to prove to her that she never needed to hide in the first place. What I want is for her to gaze in the mirror at the new short-haired lovely there and say, “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” I always then say the same thing. “You did it when you were ready. Now go out and show yourself off!”

Yes – I like my job. And I have a great time with my regular people – I get to know them better than their friends or family in the end. But the newcomers walking in are always the challenge for me – form the moment they walk in the door I’m making my guesses – who is this one, what’s she going to ask for, will I suggest something else… it’s become a matter of pride for me that I can usually sum them up before they ever sit down in my chair.

But there’s always the odd one that surprises you…

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It was late on a summer evening – I always open late on a Thursday – but it was in the middle of a summer holiday, most of my regulars were away and the place was deserted. I was thinking about shutting earlier and going home – then the door opened and a couple entered the shop.

That was my impression first of all – then I changed it and decided they weren’t a couple. She seemed too sure of herself and he seemed too unsure – if a guy ever comes in while his girlfriend’s getting her hair cut, he’s usually come to make sure she doesn’t get too much cut off because he likes it long. And you can see the girls glancing towards the guy for approval almost before they speak. This one had an impish smile on her face… there was something going on here I didn’t understand.

I gave the pair of them a grin. “Last customer of the day then? How can I help you?”

She pushed her hair back from her face – it was a hot day. “Well – it’s a bit of a long story…”

I offered her a cape. “How about sitting down while you tell me it then?”

She slipped the cape over her shoulders, walked over towards the chair nearest the window and settled down in it. I’d done my usual lightning summing up as she walked across the room. Late twenties-early thirties – smooth clear skin but the eyes were older. Tall, long legs – not slender, but giving the appearance of being so because she carried herself so well. Dishwater blonde hair falling almost to her shoulders and cut in a slightly uneven long bob – fine texture but in good condition. It’s rare to see a woman with hair that shade – if they have that sort of dark blonde hair they invariably streak it. But she’d made no changes to nature – and was wearing little or no makeup. Her whole appearance was a sort of challenge to an onlooker – here I am, this is how I am. Take me or leave me, I don’t need your approval.

I reckon that most guys would happily take her – given half an ounce of encouragement. Including the guy she came in with. But I was more certain than ever that he wasn’t her partner – and that confused me still more – occasionally a female friend’ll come in with a client – sometimes for moral support if they’re getting a lot cut off. But never a man.

She eyed her reflection thoughtfully in the mirror before swivelling the chair round to face me. “Well – to cut a long story short – if you’ll pardon the pun… Paul here is about to lose a lot of money. And it’s entirely his own fault.”

I laughed and glanced at Paul. “Oh yes? And how’s that then?”

Paul also grinned – rather sheepishly. “Well – Jackie here was complaining about the heat earlier – and she threatened to chop her hair short. I said she’d never have the guts to do it. She wanted to know how much money I’d stake on that. I… well, lets just say I put some money on it.”

I glanced back at Jackie, who’d got the same mischievous smile on her face. “Well – Paul was it? – I learnt years ago never to bet against a woman. One way or another – you always lose. But I can’t see why you thought she wouldn’t have the ‘guts’ to cut her hair short – after all, it’s not that long now.”

Jackie winked at me and reached for her shoulder bag. “The operative word there is ‘now’,” she added – and withdrew a long braid of dark blonde hair from her bag, which she laid on the counter.

I picked it up and whistled. Easily a foot and a half long – and that explained the long bob she wore – long in the front, shorter in the nape. The exact shape that hair falls into when cutting through a braid or ponytail at the nape of the neck. “I see I must revise my ideas – you did this today?”

Paul grinned and took the braid from me. “She did it roughly five minutes before we walked in your shop. We’d just had the conversation, made the bet – she turned round to the guy out there with the stall selling knives – politely asked him if she could borrow one, picked up her braid and cut it off. You should have seen his face. Poor bloke nearly had a heart attack.”

I laughed. “So you want me to repair the damage now?”

“Not quite.” She pushed the uneven bob back. “I want you to cut the rest off. Well – most of it anyway. Paul tried to welsh on the bet, saying it still wasn’t short enough. So I told him we’d come into the first hairdressers we saw and he could tell me what he considered ‘short enough’. Then he can pay up afterwards.”

I winked at Paul. “So – what is short enough? Crewcut?”

He grinned. “Don’t tempt me. Clippers in the back. No longer then her ears on top. There you are, Jackie – go through with this and I’ll agree you’ve won.”

He couldn’t have made a better suggestion. I’d had a picture forming in my head ever since the conversation started – something close to what used to be called an Eton crop – a schoolboy’s haircut, clipped short in the sides and the back, but texturised on top to give that hint of disarray – one of the sexiest cuts a woman can wear – and this one had the features to carry it off – strong jaw, high cheekbones, just that hint of softness in her face to contrast nicely with the severity of the cut. “Well, Jackie?” I made my tone teasing, light… this was still the moment when she could back out – and I’ve learned how to handle them over the years, coaxing them up to the final fence. “Shall we go ahead and rob this poor innocent of his money?”

She glanced up at me laughing – and again I revised my opinion – it’s rare that I’m wrong twice in such quick succession. This one didn’t need any encouragement – and wasn’t going to back out. The look in her eyes was so sure that I started to really wonder about this bet – Paul may have thought that it was all his own idea – but I was starting to reckon that Jackie had had this in mind all along and had manoeuvred him into the teasing comment that started the challenge. A very dangerous young woman in that case. “Go for it then. I’m trusting you”

I picked up a comb, combed the longer hair on top of her head forward and pinned it up there, dropping the heavy mat on her shoulders that I use for collecting clippings. I picked up the clippers and selected a number three guard for them, turning them on just beside her ear. Now that’s usually the moment of truth for a woman who’s never worn a short style – you can see them jump. But Jackie never twitched. I could see her watching me in the mirror, her face a mask of totally detached polite interest – except for those dancing eyes that were full of laughter. And I started to realise something else about Miss Jackie. This wasn’t the first time she’d had her hair cut with clippers. Given the length of the braid, she can’t have had her hair more than trimmed for at least three years – but I was certain she’d had short styles before that. And few women ever go that short unless there’s a reason. Let alone cut it again after three years of growth. Whatever game she was playing, it was an elaborate one.

I pushed her head forward. A last tease. “Any last requests before sentence of the court is executed?”

She laughed softly from under the curtain of hair in front of her eyes. “Too late to plead for mercy?”

“Much too late.” I set the clippers at the base of her neck and slowly pushed them up the back of her head, sending a shower of dark-gold hair slithering down the side of the cape and onto the floor, shearing right up to the occipital bone and leaving a pelt of soft velvet hair behind. She gave a tiny shiver at the feel of the hair being shorn away – that was the only movement she made at any stage. Her body was completely still as I buzzed the rest of the back to match the first furrow – but the stillness was the stillness of a controlled tension, taut as a bowstring with some powerful emotion being held firmly in check. That also puzzled me – it isn’t an uncommon reaction in a woman who’s having her crowning glory go under the clippers, with only a hope and trust in the hairdresser that the end result is going to look all right! But Jackie wasn’t in the least nervous – I’d have staked my fifteen years of experience on that.

I glanced across at Paul to find that he was watching, mouth slightly open, in utter fascination, as I passed the clippers up and over her ears, leaving only the faint glitter of close-cropped hair behind. And I was starting to think that I’d learned nothing about people in all my years in the job! Because any idiot could see that he was aroused – becoming more so – and yet as I said, I’d been sure they weren’t a couple – and I’d been sure the whole idea had been Jackie’s, with Paul her unsuspecting dupe! But if he was about to lose the bet and the money – he looked like a man who was getting more than his money’s worth. There’s always a few men who like me are very much turned on by a woman with short-cropped hair – and Paul was obviously one of them. How long then had he known her? And how long had he looked at that dangling blonde braid and plotted?

I turned off the clippers, set them down and unpinned the remaining hair, letting it fall down to hide the clipped portions. Another moment of truth usually – it’s a very strange sensation, the longer hairs rubbing over the shorn areas, and most women react to it – often put a hand up to touch their head at this stage. Jackie didn’t move – but the tension in her body never lessened, and her eyes in the mirror had darkened as the pupils dilated, half hidden behind the tumble of hair falling forward. And that answered another question for me – she was aroused as well. Very much so. I get the occasional hair fetishist turn up here – they’re generally lesbians – don’t ask me why this should be so, except perhaps that very short hair is more widely accepted in the lesbian community – they usually get crewcuts, and you can see they’re enjoying every minute of it. But if Jackie was one of those – then why has she grown her hair out to this length? And how had she and Paul ended up here if they weren’t a couple? Just some sort of lucky accident?

Taking up scissors, I cut the rest of Jackie’s hair into a rough bowl shape, just falling over her ears, and then with scissors and comb began the work of blending in the taper of the longer hair, slice-cutting the top layers for irregular length, to give the fine hair some lift. It’s a precision style, and I took my time about it but at last the style was done and I ran the tiny edging clippers up her neck to give a clean line there, then I ruffled a little wax though it to send a few strands tumbling forward over her face – sexy and teasing. “Well, then, ma’am? Do you think winning the bet was worth it?”

She passed a hand up the back of her head, accustoming herself to the new feel, and stepped out of the chair, slipping the cape off and offering it to me folded over one arm. “Very much worth it. I love it. Thank you very much.” She glanced across at Paul. “Would you say I won fair and square then?”

Paul looked like he was having trouble saying anything at all actually, but he finally managed to blurt out a strangled agreement. Jackie laughed. “Payback this evening then – starting with the meal you promised me. And I think you owe this gentleman the price of the haircut?”

He fumbled with his wallet – eventually finding the right money – and losing the argument over the tip – as the owner of the salon I won’t accept them. And in truth, I’d probably have done this cut for nothing, just to hear the whole story. But I knew I’d never get that.

As they walked out of the shop together I saw her laugh and say something to him – and saw him put a hand up and very lightly stroke the cropped hair at the nape of her neck. Her reaction to it was electric – a stretch and arch of her back like a cat – and the look on his face was that of a man who’s in heaven. For a few seconds. Then they went on round the corner and I never saw them again.

As I cleared up, I went on wondering. Question, questions, without answers. If a man has a fetish about haircutting – what’s the chance of him ever having a partner with it? One in a million? More? But if two friends discover – by whatever means – that they share the same fetish – then maybe both of them played out something they needed tonight? With nothing that either of them couldn’t have told their own partner – and yet a deeper mutual experience than any affair could be? And was there ever really a bet? Or had two excellent imaginations cooked up a cover story for my benefit?

Like I said – I started this job because I like people. And I pride myself that I can usually sum them up before they ever sit down in my chair.

But there’s always the odd one that surprises you.

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