They left the restaurant parking lot. “Where are we going?” Elle asked calmly.
“We are going to get your hair done,” he replied simply.
“What’s wrong with my hair? You don’t like my hair?”
“Uh oh,” he thought and quickly said, “Nothing is wrong with your hair. Of course I like your hair.”
“Then why are we going there?”
He took a risk. “They can do cool designs with your hair. If you want to impress my parents, you need to look even more perfect than you already do, which includes having a hairstyle that matches the dress you chose for the restaurant we are going to.”
“I don’t understand what you said,” she said, and picked up the charging phone. Elle was still trying to hit the correct letters to form words she wanted. She finally finished when he parked in the salon’s parking lot.
“They use chemicals that make it difficult for me to breathe,” he read.
He gave her a look that said, “I’ll do everything I can.” She returned a look that said, “I’m putting my trust in you,” and he went over to the passenger side to open the door for her while she grabbed her purse from the backseat. He helped her out of the car and held her hand as they entered the salon.
“Hey JZ!” happily said the thin man with straight dirty blonde hair with black streaks in a grass-green sequined vest and teal dress shirt, waiting for him by the door. “So I finally get to meet the infamous girl you’ve been keeping,” said the owner, sizing Elle up and down.
“Yeah, here she is,” said JZ with his hands in front of Elle like he was presenting her to a crowd.
“Is her face red because she has the hots for you?” the owner curiously inquired.
“She had an allergic reaction to something she ate, but she’ll be fine. I don’t mean to be rude, but we’re in a hurry, so what do you think you can do for her that would look good with this dress?” JZ asked showing a picture of the dress Elle had decided on.
“How about I pull her hair from the sides and the center of the back up into a bun, and softly curl the back’s sides,” he said drawing a sketch on a sketch pad so both JZ and Elle could see his vision.
“Is there any way you can do this without using hairspray or other chemicals? She said chemicals make it difficult for her to breathe, but I’m afraid she might have another allergic reaction if you use chemicals around her.”
“I think we can do it. We’ll just have a Styrofoam ball or something to shape the bun while using lots of pins to get it to stay together.”
“Can you take the actual materials that you would actually use so that we can see it, and then quickly show us how you’re going to use them?”
“No problem, come with me,” the owner said, and waved a hand to signal them to follow.
JZ held Elle’s hand and followed the owner. They ignored all of the other customers and employees who were loudly whispering over the hair dryers with their hand shielding their mouths. The owner led them to the back wall where all the materials were used to make unbelievable hairstyles for award ceremonies, fashion shows, and other events where lots of picture-taking would take place.
The owner held up a medium-size Styrofoam ball. “See, I’ll take this and cut it in half,” tracing the ball with his fingernail, “but cutting it so that it would shape as much of the back of her head as possible,” lightly pressing the ball against the back of his head, “so she has as much comfort as possible.” He put the ball back in its box and retrieved a fistful of bobby pins. “I’ll be using a lot of pins to keep it together,” he said and put all the pins back except one, and picked the ball back up and pressed it against his head, took a lock of his hair, and folded it over the ball, tracing a line with his finger where the rest of Elle’s hair would be able to reach the other side, and he would pin it.
JZ looked at Elle and asked, “Do you like it?”
“Like,” she calmly answered. She looked at JZ and saw him looking back at her, and she mouthed, “Your parents will really like it.”
“Please take a seat right here,” he said pointing at the chair that had the back rest lowered to the laying position in front of the basin, “so I can wash your hair.”
“I have to go to the restroom,” she said.
“Sure, it’s right there,” the owner said and pointed at the door with a zebra print on it, right next to the chair she was going to lay on.
“Thanks,” she said and walked there while JZ was watching closely. “Where is the doorknob?” she asked herself as she groped the door. “Finally, all these stripes are killing me.” She groped the wall for the light switch and flipped it on, and three bright light sources came at her. She exhaled quickly and deeply as if her breath had been sucked out of her, and she quickly tried to shield the indoor suns from her eyes, while leaning on the door frame. JZ sped and stood in front of her, pressing her head softly against his chest, and flipped the switch off.
“Can the lights be dimmed?” JZ asked the owner, trying to remain calm.
“Yeah, let me do it,” he said, and went in the restroom and turned the knob that dimmed the light, then flipped the switch. “Is this better?”
She held onto him for a moment until she could get her eyes and head to stop hurting and her vision stabilized. “Why can I feel his heart thumping against my forehead so fast?” she asked herself. She turned her head slightly to the side and saw his grass-green sequined vest in a much darker room but everything in the restroom was still visible.
“Ok, ok,” she quietly said.
JZ bent his neck down to look at her face and said, “We’ll just be on the other side of the door,” as JZ and the owner got out.
“Don’t listen,” she quietly said and gently closed the door.
“Is she allergic to light?” asked the owner. “I heard that that condition is rare, but it exists,” hoping that JZ would not be so mad.
“No, she is not allergic to the light,” he said trying to keep his voice down. “You’ve seen cameramen and photographers follow her in the daytime and nothing happened to her. Those lights in there were even brighter than the sun at its peak. You could’ve blinded her. Her health is not the best right now, and you know that because I told you she had an allergic reaction to something she ate.”
“Sorry JZ, I didn’t intend to almost blind your girlfriend,” the owner said sounding like JZ was overreacting. “How about I work extra hard to make her hair the envy of all women throughout history?”
“There’s a reason I brought her here and it’s not because of your personality. You’re supposed to work extra hard because I pay you good money for your high-quality work. I want you to use that in her hair, and she can keep it,” JZ said, pointing to the sapphire-studded silver hair clip in the shape of water dancing.
The owner was outraged at the absurdity, but he took a deep breath before responding. “Do you know how much that hair clip costs?” he asked in a high-pitched voice.
“I can see the price on its pedestal. It’s less expensive than getting her eyes fixed.”
“Only if she needs it.”
They heard the restroom door open and Elle appeared with one hand leaning against the wall.
“How are you feeling?” JZ asked quietly.
“Today is a like a very long day,” she responded in a couple of breaths.
“So you’re not feeling too good?”
“Right now no.”
“What do you see?”
“Sometimes I see black, sometimes I see different colors,” she answered. “There used to be a chair there, so where is it now?” she asked herself. “JZ,” she called, “come and help me, I can’t see the chair clearly.”
He came over and stood side-by-side, held her hand with one hand, while placing the other on her hip. “Take a few steps forward and then another few steps to your right,” JZ softly said as he led her to the chair. When they reached the chair, Elle said to herself, “I still can’t see the chair,” so she stuck her free hand out and tried to feel for the chair. “Is there a chair here?” she asked. JZ took her free and lowered it, then glided it back and forth so she could feel the direction of the chair.
She slowly turned around and got on the chair herself and said, “Rest a moment.” Then she slid her hand to feel the left side, then the right side, then behind her. “Ok, what do I do?” she asked.
“Lay down and rest your neck on the neck rest,” said the owner.
She slid her hand further toward her left side to reach for the neck rest but could not find it. She scooted herself more to the left and reached again and found it. “It’s so far,” she said to herself. “Brace yourself one more time and take a bigger scoot. Then brace yourself one more time and lay down. Remember that the dizziness will eventually stop. Once the dizziness stops, your head and eyes will hurt less.” “Ok.” That’s what she did, the pain closely following. When she laid down, she gathered all of her hair and released it behind her head, before she tightly closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead.
“Why don’t you start,” she suggested to the owner, “I don’t have time.”
“Alright. Water is coming,” he said in a sigh, not really believing her difficulty.
JZ was lying on the chair next to her, resting his head on an elbow. He asked the owner, “Am I a good customer at your salon?”
“You are an excellent customer; your credit card is never declined, you’re almost always on-time, and you almost always come in knowing what you want. Sometimes it’s quite hard to get the look you want but I learn from those experiences. A week later, I get plenty of young men who want the same hairstyle as you.”
“I’m glad I contributed to those extra customers.”
“I get the hint and I will give you what you want,” he replied. To Elle he said, “I’m done washing your hair. Why don’t you sit up and I’ll put a towel on your back so your hair won’t wet your shirt. After that why don’t you walk over to that chair just a few steps in front of you, and I can dry your hair and create your hairstyle.”
“Don’t dry her hair with the towel,” advised JZ.
“Alright,” the owner replied.
“Ok,” she said and got up with her hair held up and then a towel landed on her back. She adjusted it and her hair flopped against her back. “Let me rest a bit,” she added.
“Does your head still hurt?” JZ asked a little concerned.
“Yes, but I will walk to the chair myself,” she insisted. “It’s just a few steps forward,” she said to herself. She got up and slowly walked, trying to keep her head as still as possible, extending one hand so she could identify the chair while holding two corners of the towel so it does not slip. “Is it this one?”
“Yes, please take a seat,” said the owner.
She felt the chair and walked around it with her hand leading. With one hand still on the chair, she lifted her foot to find where the bar to rest her feet. She found it and used her foot to trace the bar. She stepped over the bar and pushed herself on the chair. The owner was waiting for her behind the chair with a hair dryer in his hand, and began drying her hair. JZ took a seat next to her.
“Can you get it for me after you finish drying her hair?” JZ asked the owner with a tone of victory. “You have the key and I don’t want to accidentally break something.”
“Will it be safe in your hands then?” he joked.
“Let me put my hands on you and see what happens,” JZ joked back.
“Don’t tease me,” he said coyly. “I have a boyfriend.” He finished drying her hair and retrieved the hair clip.
“JZ,” Elle said softly, “can you bring me the water bottle? It’s in my purse.”
“Of course,” he responded kindly. He scanned the salon and did not see it. “Where did you put it?”
“In the restroom.”
He smiled and went to get it. He opened her purse and thought, “If this is all she brings with her, why does she have a purse this size before she bought the dictionaries?” He quickly took out the water bottle and closed the purse like he did not look inside it longer than he was supposed to. He was standing next to her when he opened the bottle and held her hand to meet the bottle.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling and drank until she heard the owner say, “Here it is.” Then extended her hand toward JZ and he took the bottle from her. He twisted the cap on and put it back in her purse, and took the clip from him.
“It’s bigger than I thought,” said JZ examining the clip. “It doesn’t matter, everything looks pretty on her. Don’t you agree?” he asked the owner who was busy doing Elle’s hair.
“I guess so,” he said, conversing passively. “Tang! Come!” A thin woman of about thirty years quickly came. “Hold this while I pin her hair.”
“Is there an easy home-version of this style?”
“I can make a wig for you to buy. This is the only way I can make this now. Use a lightweight placer and wrap her hair around it. If I were to use hairspray, she would have more security of it staying put,” said the owner trying to concentrate. “Girls who have more hair could do this without the Styrofoam. Her hair is thin too, so when I cut this ball in the correct size, she’ll look like she has much more hair than she actually does. If you want, we could use hair extensions.”
“She’s going to say, ‘I don’t need hair extensions,’” said JZ, not daring to imitate. “Besides, with all that you’re going to put on her head, I don’t think adding hair extensions is a good idea,” he said, watching the hair magic happen with his chin in his hand and sitting casually in the chair next to her.
“Maybe she would like a lace covering the top of her head and just past the eyes instead of that hair clip,” the owner said in a sly voice.
“Although everything looks pretty on her, no lace covering is comparable to this,” he casually said, not falling for the owner’s trick. “By the way, make sure you save enough space for this.”
JZ’s phone rang. He looked at who was calling him. “Excuse me,” he said, hopped off the chair, and quickly walked outside to answer his phone. He returned ten minutes later. “Sorry, it took so long. Are you almost done?” he asked the owner with glee in his eyes.
“I’ll be done in about five minutes. I only need to curl her hair and clip the hair clip.”
“Good. I’ll let you concentrate then.”
“I need to let you know something.”
“What is it? Why do you sound concerned?”
“Because I’m not using hairspray or any other chemical spray, these curls will only last a few hours. There’s no other way she can get it to stay like this unless she brings a curling iron with her and curl it herself,” he said, showing the first curl.
“I think that would be alright; a few hours is all I need … if my plan doesn’t get poked.”
“Where are you guys going?”
“Somewhere secretive. All you need to know is, it’s important.”
“Fine then, don’t tell me. I’ll find out one way or another,” he said with a slight playful attitude and released the other curl. “Hair clip,” he said, in a serious tone. The owner watched the hair clip being placed in his hand and held it tightly, in slow motion. Then he found at the most strategic point and slowly inserted the clip. He clasped it, backed away from the ornament with his hands in front of him. There was a wide grin on his face. “Perfection,” he said as he exhaled.
“I need to go to the restroom,” Elle quickly said, and carefully got out of the chair, stepped over the bar in front of her legs, and walked as fast as she could without moving or bouncing her head or hair. JZ and the owner heard a long exhale come from the other side of the zebra print door, and laughed a bit.
“How much is this going to cost me?” asked JZ, as the owner and JZ walked to the register. The owner pressed a lot of buttons tallying the total and the receipt came out. He handed it to JZ, and he had a very shocked face. “This is obviously for the hair clip,” said JZ playfully, reacting to a ridiculous amount of money and pointing at the largest amount on the receipt.
“Oh, is it?” the owner said trying to sound innocent. “Sometimes my fingers have a mind of their own.”
“Sure they do. Now put in the real total so I can pay. Don’t you like getting paid?” JZ asked trying to speed up the process.
“Alright, alright.” He pressed the keys on the register again and handed the receipt that subtracted the largest amount to JZ. He handed the owner his credit card. Swipe. Return. Done.
JZ went to the chair where he had left Elle’s purse and retrieved it, when he heard the door in the back open and saw Elle emerge from the dimly-lit room. “Wow,” he said to himself, and took a moment longer to gaze at his angel before going to her. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered in her ear, and kissed the side of her face.
“Really?” she asked, not believing that she looked as beautiful as he thought, since could still feel her over-sized face and she could not really see what she looked like.
“Really,” he assured. “I already paid the bill, and Mike and Xiao Xing are done. Let’s go,” he whispered, and kissed the other side of her face.
“Ok,” she said, and he held her hand to go to his car. “Bye!” they said to the owner and each waving a hand. “Bye!” he said back in a cheerful voice, “Come back soon!”
JZ led her out, opened the car door for her, and helped her in. He got in on the driver’s side, put her purse in the backseat, and started the engine. When he looked at her, he was amused at her posture; her lower-back about three inches from the back rest, her hands gripped the seat and the door handle, her back arched forward, her seatbelt under her curl, her neck was straining straight like she was reaching for something with her face, and her head facing forward with a look that showed her determination. She felt him looking at her with joyful eyes, and she said in a determined tone, “Hurry. Drive.”