Under THIS Roof! – Joan Rathburn
Laura Alexander sat awkwardly at the dinner table as her Aunt Rita got up to get the dessert. The eighteen year old girl’s parents had left earlier in the day to begin the family’s move to Florida and her father’s promotion, and it was decided that Laura would finish out her senior year by living with her mother’s sister and joining the family in June.
The girl crossed her legs self-consciously, not yet used to the skirts that her aunt insisted Laura wear while in her charge. It would be a transition, being under her aunt’s authority— early bed times, extra chores, and even spankings were the rule of the house—but the girl was grateful for her aunt’s generosity, and vowed to herself that she would accept the stricter regime without complaint.
Despite her strictness, Rita Simmons was an unusually kind woman who dearly loved her niece and was happy to have her staying under her roof. The 39-year-old divorcee had two children of her own—Jennifer, aged seventeen, and Allison, aged fourteen—but accepted her new lodger with open arms as another daughter with neither disallowances nor special privileges.
The three girls smiled to each other as Rita brought out her famous German chocolate cake and set it in front of them for consumption. As Laura began happily devouring her own piece, Aunt Rita sat beside her.
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“Thank you for not putting up a fuss about wearing a dress, Laura,” the woman said as her niece smiled warmly at her. “I just couldn’t live with myself seeing a pretty girl like you running around here in blue jeans.”
“It’s no problem,” responded the girl sincerely. “I’m just happy you’re letting me stay here.”
“Well,” replied Aunt Rita with a smile, “you and I have a big day tomorrow. We need to do some shopping, and I want to have the tire on the car looked at, and we need to take you for a haircut…”
The last words caught Laura’s attention. Her curly brown locks cascaded half-way down her back, and she usually only went in to have it trimmed once every six months. It never occurred to her that her aunt might want her to change it. Laura opened her mouth to protest, but Rita was way ahead of her and began explaining before the girl could open her mouth.
“I’m not having a girl living under this roof tying up the bathroom washing her hair and clogging the drains,” said Rita in a compassionate, but no-nonsense way that quieted the girl into submission. “I don’t like long hair, and if you want to live here, you can’t have long hair. End of discussion.”
Laura didn’t bring up the subject again that evening, but couldn’t think of anything else. Jennifer and Allison both had very short hair that stopped above their ears, and the style Aunt Rita wore was almost a crew cut. The short cuts flattered the three, Laura admitted, but she had had long hair all of her life, and that was the way she liked it.
The three girls went to bed at their appointed 9:00, but Laura didn’t get any sleep that night. She kept wondering to herself how short Aunt Rita was going to make her cut her hair? Her stomach tied itself in knots every time she pictured herself in the short haircut her cousins wore. But surely Aunt Rita wouldn’t make her cut her hair THAT short? She would probably only have to get it cut to shoulder length, probably a few inches longer than that. Still, Aunt Rita made it clear that she wouldn’t get any preferential treatment…
Laura was still tossing and turning when 6:30 rolled around, and she had to get up and do her chores before breakfast. She got up and made her bed, showered, dressed, and began to do her little assigned tasks around the house as Aunt Rita prepared breakfast. The four females sat at the table and made friendly conversation over bacon and eggs, while all Laura had on her mind was the haircut she was supposed to get that day. But Rita never mentioned it again, and Laura didn’t bring it up.
At 9:30, the breakfast dishes done, Jennifer and Allison went off to meet their respective friends. Rita picked up her purse and smiled warmly at Laura.
“Are you ready?”
It would have been a very pleasant outing, had it not been for Laura’s mounting tension. Rita was in her usual warm mood, Laura picked out several pretty new dresses, and the trip to the garage came and went quickly. But all the while, Laura felt a time bomb ticking in her stomach, a bomb that seemed ready to explode as Aunt Rita pulled into the parking lot of a mini-mall that housed a little shop called “Betty’s Salon.”
The pair said nothing as Rita pulled the car into a space and parked, but there was an ominous silence between the two as they got out of the sedan and began walking towards the salon. Rita’s pace was brisk and forceful, but Laura’s was sluggish and clearly reluctant; so much so that Rita had to back-track and grab her niece by the hand so that she could keep up. As they walked through the door, all Laura could hear was the pounding of her heart.
Betty, the owner of the establishment, was a 35 year old beauty whose dirty blonde hair stopped neatly at her chin in a straight line that proudly displayed the back of her tanned neck. She gave a warm smile to Rita, who had been frequenting her establishment for years.
“Hi, Rita,” she said in a kindly voice. “I wasn’t expecting to see you back so soon.”
“I’m not here for me today,” responded Rita in a tone that betrayed the unspoken tension between her niece and herself. “This is my niece Laura. She’s going to be staying with me for a few months, and I’d like you to cut her hair like you do the girls.”
Betty studied Laura’s flowing tresses and the drooping frown that was exhibited on the girl’s pretty face. After a moment, the stylist directed her attention back at Rita.
“She’d be out of place at your house with hair like that,” said Betty with an ironic smile. “Why don’t you sit down at the shampoo sink, Laura, and we’ll get this over with.”
Laura hesitated until Aunt Rita shot the girl a homicidal look, which propelled her slowly to the leather covered chair. She sat back sadly as Betty threw a towel over her and began running warm water over her endless curls. The warmth of the wash and the stylist’s soft, gentle hands rubbing the shampoo into her tresses felt almost hypnotic, until she broke the mood with a curt instruction.
“Get up and sit in chair number three.”
Laura felt her spine crawl as she padded slowly towards the dreaded chair, the knot in her stomach getting tighter and tighter. As she sat back, she could feel the sweat from her back make contact with the cold upholstery, giving her another cold chill.
“How short do you want it?” asked Betty to Rita, as though Laura weren’t even in the room. Her aunt paused for a second, picked up a lock of the girl’s brown curls and studied them.
“I want all of this mess gone,” said the buzz-cutted woman. “As long as she staying with me, I want to be able to see her ears.”
Laura’s eyes widened as she saw the stylist grab a pair of shears and bring them towards her head. Just as the woman was about to make the first irrevocable cut, the girl started babbling in a stream of consciousness.
“PLEASE don’t cut my hair, Aunt Rita!” she screamed as Betty jumped back in surprise. “I promise I’ll be good and do everything you want, but LET ME KEEP MY HAIR! I’ll be good, but I don’t want my hair cut! I’ll do anything you say!”
The girl was nearly in tears, but Rita was unimpressed. “As long as you’re staying with me, you’ll do as I say!” she began as Betty stood by awkwardly. “While you’re under MY roof, you’ll cut your hair the way I tell you to. Is that clear?”
Laura couldn’t respond, so Rita motioned for Betty to continue. The bile seemed to rush to the girl’s throat as the stylist grabbed the first lock at ear lobe level, and hacked it off with a single loud SNIP! As Laura saw the long brown curls float softly to the ground, she broke into tears. Aunt Rita snapped.
“Do you want a spanking right now?” asked Rita as Laura continued her crying. The woman was a firm believer in corporal punishment, and had no compunction with baring a naughty girl’s bottom and giving a hard spanking, no matter how public the place.
“N…no,” responded Laura shyly. She had gotten spanked by Aunt Rita, and knew that this was not an idle threat.
“Well, let’s get this over with,” piped in Betty, who had witnessed Rita spank her daughters several times in the shop while playing out this same scenario.
Rita shot Laura a final hard glance, and the girl sat meekly back in the chair. Betty went to work in earnest, chopping away at Laura’s tresses rapidly in the hopes that she could finish without any more emotional displays. But the girl had a huge mound of curls to shear off, and soon had tears rolling down her face again. As the stylist made her final pass with the scissors, Aunt Rita was steaming with anger.
“I don’t want to have to go through this again while you’re staying with me,” warned Rita. “Betty, go ahead and give Laura a crew cut so that she won’t need another haircut in the next three months.”
Laura’s tears started flowing like a broken damn as Betty grabbed the clippers, anxious not to have to play out this scene again herself. The loud hum of the electric buzzer was drowned out by Laura’s sobs. Within seconds, the girl’s head was covered only by stubble.
As soon as Betty had finished the clipping, Aunt Rita’s countenance transformed abruptly. She smiled warmly at Laura, and picked the girl gently in her arms. The pair disappeared into the shop’s small bathroom for fifteen minutes, as Betty busied herself with other things. Finally, Rita and Laura emerged from the small chamber smiling, the girl clutching onto her aunt like a small child.
Rita paid Betty, as Laura flushed an embarrassed shade of scarlet at the women’s overflowing compliments at her new look. As Rita and Laura walked out of the shop still cradling each other tenderly, the stylist heard the aunt address her niece tenderly.
“Let’s go get some ice cream,” she said.