After lunch, JZ took Elle to his makeup artist. “Do you think it’s possible to cover all this up? I’m taking her out tonight.”
“I can try,” said the makeup artist poking and prodding Elle’s bruises. “I’ve never seen them so black…like…a black widow.” He paused and adjusted his glasses then hesitantly asked, “Did you slap her face?”
“No,” JZ responded in his serious tone. “Can you cover them up or not?”
“If makeup doesn’t work, would you consider temporary tattoos?” the makeup artist asked as he was still examining Elle’s bruises. She looked up at JZ’s mad face and added, “Temporary tattoos that incorporate her bruises, like body art.”
“Will you be able to do that here or do I have to go to a specialist?”
“I have someone here to help me.”
“What do you think, baby,” JZ asked Elle’s expressionless face. He said to himself, “Even her eyes aren’t saying anything. Maybe nothing is what she’s saying or is it everything she’s saying?” He took a chance and asked. She didn’t respond. He took out his phone, typed what he said and put it in her hands. She bent her neck down to look and typed back.
He read, “If they used to say so much, and now they say nothing, doesn’t that generally mean they’re mad at you?” He immediately typed back, “There’s nothing general about you. There’s always something more.”
She read it and tried not to smile but he caught the corner of her lips, the same lips that don’t hide their feelings. “You’re an observant student.”
When he read it, he sighed and smiled. “If makeup doesn’t work, make her look like an animal,” he said casually. “Her legs, too.”
“Alright Mr. JZ,” the makeup artist said with chipper.
“I need you to do this in an hour and a half or less.”
“In that amount of time, I won’t be able to do both completely, Mr. JZ.”
At the hair salon, “Oh, you’re back!” said the owner, now with blonde hair and a hot pink sequin vest, white short-sleeve shirt, and hot pink hot pants. “Oh my goodness! What…is…going…on…with…her?” he asked with his eyes wide and jaw dropped when he noticed Elle.
“Don’t worry about her,” he simply replied like this conversation was a waste of time.
“Tell these people not to be shocked,” the owner countered, pointing at his clients sitting in their chairs and his employees, all with their eyes wide and mouth gaping open, staring at the spectacle that doesn’t belong in the salon or in JZ’s arms.
“I need you to work your magic again. I’m taking her out tonight and she will be seen by more eyes than these.” JZ kicked the owner’s shin to get him back to reality.
“Don’t get my hot pants dirty! Nobody makes hot pants anymore, and this is the only pair that matches this vest!”
“Pay attention then,” said JZ, getting frustrated. “She will be seen by a lot of people when I take her out tonight and I need you to make her look phenomenal.”
The salon owner led him to an empty chair away from the nearest client. JZ gently placed Elle on the chair.
“Hair up to show her face or hair down to hide it?” asked the owner.
“Hair up to show her face. Can you make it curly, but not over curl it, and decorate her hair with tiny flowers with diamonds?”
“I sure can. What color do you want?”
“I want them in white with a blue diamond in the center of each flower. Do you have that?”
“I don’t. I only have white ones with normal colored diamonds.”
“Do you have anything that has blue diamonds? Something like the hair clip I got last time is the kind of blue I’m looking for.”
“How is that hair clip, by the way? My shelf looks incomplete without it.”
“I broke it.”
“YOU BROKE IT?! THAT WAS A WORK OF ART!”
“I know. It lasted almost two whole days.”
The salon owner stopped breathing, then hyperventilated. He returned to the conversation momentarily and said, “You know what, I’ll just use the cheap stuff. That way, if you break them again, they won’t matter.”
“There’s nothing good enough for my girl, but use the real ones. She’ll be taking care of them this time.”
The owner was staring at JZ, not quite believing him. “Follow me,” he said, leading him to the wall where all the hair accessories were. “Here’s what I have. You can choose and I’ll get someone to switch the stones.”
JZ was looking and asked, “Can you be done with her hair in an hour or so?” He suddenly had an epiphany. “Can you come back to my place and do her hair? You wouldn’t have to wash her hair because she would have already taken a shower.”
“What time do you want me to be there?”
“About 6:00. I’ll order take-out.”
“I have a date at 7 o’clock. He’ll be taking me to a concert afterwards.”
“Are you going to Nine Hands’ concert?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“That’s where I’m going. Bring your date to my apartment and I’ll order for the four of us. But we’re going to the concert separately. I want privacy with my girl. What do you say?”
“Get us backstage passes, autographs, and I want pictures with them.”
“If I get you all of that, I won’t pay you for your travel expenses and whoever you decide to bring to help you, and labor, and I want the accessories free of charge.”
“That’s a bit much, don’t you think?” the owner said with a frown.
“Meeting Nine Hands is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I can agree to the travel expenses and labor, but not the accessories. I’ll take 10% off,” and folded his arms.
“Make it 50% and you have a deal.”
The owner could not hold in his excitement any longer, and just jumped and shouted, “YES! OK! YES! I’M GOING TO TELL HIM RIGHT NOW!” and continued jumping.
JZ continued looking at the precious stones and did not see any like the ones he saw on the hair clip. He looked back at Elle and she was still sitting in the chair expressionless and motionless like a statue. He remembered how happy she was when she had that blue dress on and he ruined her day by saying “I’ll let you know when we’re expecting our child.” He was still uncertain why she was so upset at that. “A battle for another day,” he thought.
“We’re coming! We’re coming!” the salon owner excitedly said and continued jumping.
“Ok. I’ll take the diamonds on that one,” JZ said, pointing to a hair comb with nine topaz stones on it on the high shelf.
The salon owner’s face was in shock again, his eyes wide and jaws gaping wide. “You know that’s…why do you always have to ruin works of art?” he squeezed out, his whole body looks like it’s in pain.
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” JZ answered seriously. “It’s a blue that’s closest to the one I want. It has nine stones and we’re going to Nine Hands’ concert. Heaven speaks.”
“Fine. I assume you want nine white flowers?”
“I do. Can you take the comb down for me?”
“Sure,” he said with his voice sounding blue.
“The more I look at it, the more I want to use that instead of putting the tiny flowers in her hair,” he said, trying to ease the owner’s nerves. “Like you said, it’s a work of art.”
“You know,” he said cheerfully, “it’s a hair comb for certain people. Are you planning on asking her an important question?” he fished curiously.
JZ let out a really hearty laugh, a sound so strange it made even Elle turn her head. A minute later, he regained his composure and said, “Thanks, I really needed that. She’s not that type. Now let me take a look at that,” taking the hair comb from the owner’s frozen hand. JZ looked at the comb for a second then looked at the white flowers, then back at the comb, and then back at the white flowers. “I want the stones in the tiny flowers,” and took nine of them from their box.
The owner led him to the front and tabulated the total. JZ ripped off the receipt and saw the correct amount charged, so he took out his credit card and handed it over. “Do you have a small bag or something to put these in? I don’t want to accidentally lose them or crush them.”
“Let me see if I have something in the back,” the owner said and swiftly went to the back. He quickly returned with a small box. JZ put everything in and took a pen on the counter and scribbled something on his receipt. “Here’s my address. It will take about 45 minutes to an hour to get from here to there. Come no later than 6:00.”
“Alright!” the owner said happily, and took the receipt.
JZ went back and put the box in between Elle’s arms, then carried her to the car. “Hey, you mind opening the door for me?” JZ shouted at the salon owner from his car.
JZ arrived at the studio, placing Elle on the couch in the common room.
“Send a mass text asking if anyone has pliers or tweezers,” he firmly ordered Deng.
She pulled out a phone and began typing. Thirty seconds later, her phone began to play one of JZ’s songs. “New Guy can get pliers from his quarter. CeeCee, Hong, Hero, Xiao Li, and I have tweezers.”
“Tell them to bring it to you and I’ll come back and borrow it, but tell Hong to stay. I have something else for her to do.” JZ scooped Elle back into his arms and quickly went to his grand piano room on the third floor. He sat her on the piano seat, closed the door, and took out the false wall that led to his private bathroom. He went in, did what he needed to do, and washed his hands. After placing the box on the piano, he brought Elle in to the bathroom, noticed the toilet seat was up, so he put the toilet seat down, then placed her on it.
“How creepy is that for him to watch you do your business? Then waits for your to get toilet paper knowing the skirt is too short,” she said to herself. “If he seriously won’t leave, let him have it.”
There was an odor in the bathroom and JZ decided to close the bathroom with him on the other side.
“Finally some privacy,” she said to herself. “At least he didn’t pick you up prematurely. That would’ve been-” “That would’ve been better. Knock some sense into him.”
JZ heard a flush and the faucet turn on, and decided to wait for Elle to open the door. When she finally did open the door, held his breath and quickly wrapped and placed her on the piano seat. She flopped over and he hurriedly left the room.
He returned minutes later with all the tools that he expected, and placed them on the grand piano next to the box. With a very focused face, he used the tweezers with the narrowest tips to straighten the metal corners holding the stone in place on the white flowers first. He broke one corner, then another, then quickly exited the room. He returned a couple of minutes later with Xiao Li.
“Can you take these out? I can’t seem to straighten the corners without breaking them. See?” he said as if he was in a hurry.
“You’re too anxious about altering something as delicate as this. You have to be calm and gentle. Treat it like you’re doing surgery on a baby,” Xiao Li responded. “Like this,” she said and demonstrated. “I’ll try to get all of it done in…” she glanced at her watch, “20 minutes.”
“Can you stay a little bit later? If these stones aren’t successfully put into those, I’ll be behind schedule.”
“You know you’re talking about hair accessories, right?”
“I know. I have other things that I need to do before I take Elle to a concert.”
“Speaking of Elle, where is she?”
“She’s on the piano seat,” he said simply.
Xiao Li took a step over to the side and saw Elle’s body very uncomfortably lying on her side. She returned to her spot and said, “She looks very uncomfortable. Maybe you should let her sit somewhere where she can rest on her back against something.”
JZ looked over at Elle and said, “She looks ok from this side.”
“You’re looking from the wrong side.”
JZ went on the other side and saw Elle’s body strangely moving up and down as she breathed. He quickly went to her and sat her up and leaned her against his chest.
“Where did you buy her clothes?” Xiao Li asked.
“I had Mike and Xiao Xing make it for her,” he replied without thought. “Why?”
“The girls and I want to invite her to girls’ night with us, but we haven’t found a store that sells party dresses in her size.”
“Stores don’t have anything in her size; that’s why I had them make it for her.”
“Did Xiao Xing or Mike tell you that you’re not supposed to have her wear the top piece for a long time?”
“Because everything is squeezed into a smaller space, it’s giving her lungs less space to work and causes other damage to her internal organs. It’s not good for anyone to wear that.”
“How long is a long time?”
“More than a couple of hours. Didn’t you notice her breathing changed?”
He had a look like he failed her.
“She stopped breathing last night and you put her in something that makes it harder for her to breathe in today.”
“Stay here and finish,” he said and was out the door with Elle in his arms.
“Girls, he’s taking her to a concert tonight and he’s having me switch out diamonds on hair accessories,” Xiao Li quickly texted.
“Where are you?” CeeCee sent, then Hong and Deng.
“In the grand piano room.”
One by one, the four girls rushed to the grand piano room.
“You see what’s so special about these hair accessories?” Xiao Li asked.
“They definitely remind me of something, but I don’t really know what,” answered CeeCee.
“Me too,” said Hong.
“Keep thinking,” Xiao Li said with a smile.
There was a silence.
“Why am I the one switching diamonds and not you, Hong? You’re his assistant.”
“He told me to send out this text message and answer questions if there were any. All of you received it, right?” asked Hong.
“The weird one about a company party with our grandparents this Saturday?” asked Deng.
“Yeah, that one,” answered Hong.
“My grandparents aren’t old enough to be at that party. Can I still come?”
“Yeah, you can. You can bring your family. He’s very strict about bringing friends and outsiders, though. I’ll have it organized by then.”
“Why am I still doing this all by myself? Pick up your tweezers and help so you’ll have an excuse to be here when he gets back,” said Xiao Li.
“By the way, he told me to do another job at around 6:00, so I’ll come a little late,” said Hong.
“No worries. You’re a lightweight,” said CeeCee with a laugh.
“Did you see what happened to her skin?” Deng suddenly asked.
“No,” said Hero, CeeCee, and Hong with intrigue. “Yes,” Xiao Li answered disinterested.
“What happened?” asked CeeCee, Hero, and Hong like they were on the edge of their seats for a thriller.
“What happened to who?” asked JZ, returning without Elle in his arms.
“I was telling them that you had a job for me in the evening, so I will arrive to girls’ night a little late. Now you all know,” said Hong, trying to sound casual.
“Clubs don’t get rowdy until 10 o’clock anyway. Who goes to clubs on a Thursday?” he asked.
“Xiao Li goes home on Friday, so we go out on Thursday,” answered CeeCee.
“Oh. The job should only take about an hour or an hour and a half, Hong. That will give you plenty of time to get to the clubs.”
“I still have to get ready,” said Hong. “Girls take a really long time to look presentable.”
“All of you already look good.”
“Awwww,” simultaneously said the girls, and fluttered their eyelashes at him.
JZ’s serious face did not change. “Save that for single guys.”