I chose this because I still haven't finished the novel it goes with and hope this will encourage me to get back to it. Also, it received a great deal of criticism and a low rating the first round. I'm interested in seeing if a new audience has the same opinion.
Melissa Etheridge wailed an appropriate sentiment through the car speakers as Rachel backed out the drive and proceeded to the corner.
I cannot run,
I cannot hide,
it came with me,
the bough will break,
the cradle will fall,
it only takes one call.
Rachel lowered the windows, inviting the nippy autumn air inside, and stopped at the corner to look at the contents of the large envelope again. Her hands shook in a state of combined fear and anger that edged so close to loss of control that it frightened her. She sorted through the baggies that had come stuffed in the envelope: several small bags containing long, single auburn hairs, and a bigger one full of trimmings, obviously collected from a salon floor. What kind of lunatic had followed her around collecting hair, and then mailed it to her?
A sociopathic lunatic according to the police; yet, they still refused to arrest him. Since she had survived his first attack with no permanent (physical) damage, and neither collecting nor mailing hair violated his probation, some legal brainiac decided she would have to deal with it, or hope he did something worse. Neither seemed fair.
She watched for a safe opening and made the turn, squealing the tires when she floored the gas pedal and dared anyone to get in her way or try to stop her. To hell with the speed limit. If laws didn't apply to sociopaths, their victims should also be exempt. She turned the volume up and shrieked the chorus with Melissa. The ends of her hair escaped through the window, floated on the wind, and tugged at the roots still connected to her head, challenging the rest of her to want the same freedom.
So you're having a breakdown,
so you're losing a fight,
so you're having a breakdown
I'm driving and crying,
unraveled, I'm flying,
I'm coming to your breakdown tonight.
What started as a mad drive suddenly developed purpose when she remembered a walk-ins welcome sign on a shop she had passed in the mall. She drove up the interstate ramp and activated cruise control, since tears and the irrational decisions proved that self-control had abandoned her.
She rushed through the mall, hoping this was the correct mall, and she wasn't too late. Luck was with her. Not only was the shop there, between the pet and toy stores where she clearly remembered it now, the receptionist escorted her immediately to a station and promised someone would be right with her.
"Beautiful hair," an over-zealous stylist repeated several times as he circled the chair, fluffing Rachel's hair around her face. "We need to take a few inches off, and put some layers around your face."
"Cut it all off," Rachel said. "Short. I want something sassy and sporty."
The stylist folded his arms and stepped back to examine her. "As sweet as that might look on you, it's too drastic. And I would hate to cut off this gorgeous hair." He ran his fingers through her hair, from scalp to hips.
"Can I donate it to cancer patients or something?" she asked. "I have to do this tonight, before I lose my nerve."
He bobbed his head several times with his brows drawn together. "So this is an impulsive decision?"
"Not entirely," she said. Strangely, he seemed more upset over the situation than she felt. "I've thought about it for years, but let a man stand in the way of my decision. I'm ready to let go, of both of them. The hair and the man."
Rick, whose name she saw on the stack of business cards sitting on the vanity, let out a hoot and clapped his hands. "So this is a revenge cut. Honey, I'd never stand in the way of vengeance. As long as you're positive you want to do this."
"Positive," she said, feeling the first twinge of doubt.
Rick wrapped a cape around her shoulders and led her to the sink. "It'll be so much easier to care for, and you'll save a small fortune in shampoo," he said as he wet her hair with the sprayer. He lathered, reached for the shampoo bottle a second time, and whistled. "Girl, you've got more hair than I've ever seen on one person. I wish I had cut about a foot of it off before I brought you back here."
"Can I donate it?" she asked. "I'll feel better if I don't just leave it on your floor."
He wrapped her hair in a towel and guided her back to the seat. "We aren't set up for that. But you can take it home with you and check it out later."
After he had combed her hair and tied several ribbons around it, Rick cut off a two-foot ponytail and handed it to her. She stared at the hair in her hands, afraid to look up, even though her back was to the mirror. "I expected to feel immediate regret." The words gave her the courage to meet his eyes. "I don't know how to describe what I feel." She shook her head. "I feel free. Yes. I don't think this is a negative feeling."
The hostess brought a binder to Rachel. "Thought you might need these. Pictures of different styles."
"No." Rick said. "I know exactly what I want to do with her."
Rachel shrugged and returned the book to the hostess. "I'll trust him."
"Low maintenance, air dry, no products," Rick said. "That's you, right?"
She nodded. "You got it. But, I'll probably need make-up if you give me a little boy cut."
He clucked his tongue. "I won't let you down. I'm going for a soft, tousled look that I promise will not make anyone mistake you for a little boy."
Rachel threw her hands up. "Okay. Do it."
He snipped and chatted, keeping the chair turned so she couldn't see anything until he had finished and spun her around to face the mirror. By then, she was the only customer left in the shop. The hostess and two remaining stylists had come to watch her reaction.
A nervous giggle escaped before she spoke. "I love it!" She ran her fingers through the fringe around her face and watched it fall back into place, giggling again. "I look ten years younger."
"And still like a girl," Rick said.
Her audience offered compliments; both to her, for making the decision, and to Rick, for creating the perfect look for her. She continued to play with her hair and smile. "I don't know how to thank you."
"Pay me so I can go home," he said. "We're holding up mall security."
She jumped up, embarrassed, and pulled a credit card from her pocket. "I'm sorry I kept you late," she said, handing the card over and picking up her ponytail from the vanity. She thought about telling him this was the most fun she had had in months, but realized that made her sound like a total loser, unless she explained that she had been holed up, hiding from her stalker, in which case he might still think she was a total loser.
The other employees left. Rachel followed Rick to the desk, eyeing herself in another mirror while he processed the card. "Thanks again," she said. "I can't tell you how pleased I am with the cut."
"I am too," he said. "Now, I hope this will open new doors, and you'll stay away from whoever's mistreating you. No one deserves to be punched around like that."
Rachel looked in the mirror again, this time seeing everything. "Want to hear something funny?" she asked.
"Sure." He came around the counter and walked her out.
"I forgot all about my face while I was here. Until you brought it up."
"No. It's nothing to be sorry about," she said. "You gave me an hour of safe, stress-free fun. I can't tell you what that means. Know why?"
"Nope," he said, waving at the security guard as they passed him and stepped off the curb into the parking lot.
"You looked at me like a real person. No sympathy, no disgust, no judgment. You aren't a cop or a co-worker. Or a parent. Because you didn't react, I forgot for a little while. Thank you."
"The black eye doesn't keep you from being a real person," he said. "You'll need a trim in about a month," he said. "I'll bet your bruises are gone by then."
Rachel pressed the buttons on the remote and opened her door. "I'll hold you to that bet. See you next month," she said before getting in the car.
She put her ponytail in the glove compartment and ejected the CD before leaving the parking lot. At the first red light, she tossed the envelope of baggies out the window and pulled the visor down for another look at her new self.
Sociopath beware; the breakdown is over.
(Song lyrics from Breakdown written and performed by Melissa Etheridge.)