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Lilly slowly walked into Super Cuts and was immediately hit with a burst of cool air. The door slammed shut behind her and she stood, alone, fingering a twenty dollar bill and staring at the gumball machine, as if she was tempted to waste all the money on it. Her cargo pants were frayed and muddy with her red hair pulled into a messy bun on the back of her head. Jannie, the most loyal hairdresser, walked by looking Lily over and smacking her gum, until she disappeared behind the counter.
“Hey, ya see that little girl over there?” she asked her fellow hairdresser.
“Uh, yeah why? She looks like that hair hasn’t been cut for ages.”
“I know. Who do ya think has the duty to chop her mane off?”
“Not me, I’m on break. But I would just looooove to hear her story, wouldn’t you Jannie?” The hairdresser turned around to find Jannie had already gone and was already to the girl.
“You here for a haircut?” Jannie inquired.
“Well I guess, is twenty enough?”
“Unless ya plannin to perm and dye it ya’ll be fine.”
“OK then um, one haircut please.”
“Is your mama here? I don’t wanna be cutting off your hair without her permission.”
“Oh, she is-she is running to the grocery store for some, groceries.”
“Are ya sure she’s good with this?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m sure.” Lilly quickly looked away from Jannie and longingly looked out the window.
“Well I won’t waste another moment of your time; let’s go wash your hair.” Jannie suddenly felt responsible for this girl she had never seen and with the swift movement of her arm, she was leading Lilly towards the sinks.
Jannie, with years of experience turned the knobs different ways until the water was warm to touch. It spluttered out of the old sink at varying speeds until it became a rhythmic flow.
“OK, ya can hop up on the chair now, honey.” Lilly looked at the chair with a fear in her eyes and quickly started wringing her hands.
“Dear, its alright, the chair won’t bite.” Lilly bit her lip but slowly and cautiously crawled into the chair. Jannie held her ruby hair lightly in her hands and examined the frayed string holding the bun together. With a swift movement, she untied the string and Lilly’s locks fell down her back almost going to her waist. Jannie moved to throw the dirty little string away but Lilly quickly grabbed it from her hands,
“No! Please don’t throw that away. It’s OK, I can keep it.” Jannie was confused to why the girl wanted the worn string but replied,
“If you would like, there are hair ties upfront for only a few dollars.”
“No, it’s fine, this string works fine.” She gingerly fingered her string and stuffed it into her pocket and with a sigh, leaned back into the chair. Jannie was unsure of what this girl’s problem was, but knew something was different about her.
Jannie did her job and felt the eeriness of the silence that surrounded them. She speculated her options: talk, stay quiet, or talk to another customer. Most people around the store she knew for they were regular costumers but were all very different. A few sinks away, the elderly man with the seeing eye dog sat happily in his chair, chuckling to himself. She also recognized the dirty blonde with the spray tan texting on the newest phone she could get. Jannie just decided to mind her own business and finished washing Lilly’s thick hair meticulously.
“Alright honey can you get up now,” Lilly squeezed the chair arm and sat swinging her feet while Jannie squeezed the excess water from her hair. She pulled it into the towel while carefully leading Lilly towards her hairdressing station. Lily hoped in the chair much easier this time and began looking at all the pictures taped to the mirrors.
“Is that your family?” Lily pointed towards an old picture filled with smiling people all gathered around an elderly woman.
“Yeah, that was my Granny’s 90th birthday a few years ago. She passed last year but she had a good life.”
“Oh, I am sorry..” Lily’s voice trailed off and the silence once again enveloped them as they stared into opposite directions. Jannie longed for a conversation so she tried again.
“How about your family, where ya’ll from?”
“I uh, it’s just me and my mom, we live, by- by the bridge.”
“That’s nice, what school do ya go to?”
“I-I don’t go to school, my mom, she home schools me.”
“Where does she work?” Lily began wringing her hands nervously and looking around the salon.
She stopped, looking into the mirror, looking and Jannie’s face and blurted,
“I am sorry I am sorry. I lied, I lied. My mom, she didn’t drop me off, I haven’t seen her since I ran away from home a few months ago. I am sorry I am so sorry. Mom!” With that, Lily burst into tears and they ran down her cheeks in a torrent of anguish and regret, like a pop can that had been shook had finally exploded, leaving Jannie speechless for the first time in years. She saw so much of herself in this girl, she felt so responsible for this girl, this girl she had just met.
“Dear, it will be OK, it is goin’ to be OK. What is your name?”
“Li-Lily Jacobs,” she said in hysterics.
“Where have you been living for these past months, have you been living on the street?”
“The-there is a sh-shelter over by the br-bridge where I sleep at nights.”
“How in the world do you get food?”
“I-I took a little b-bit of money when I left home. Th-this was my last twenty.” Lily’s eyes began to water again and they ran silently down her cheecks. Jannie immediately hugged her and held her tight, feeling like Lily was her own daughter.
“Now where did you run away from in the first place?”
“Isn’t that about ten miles up the road?” Lily gave a short nod and wiped her nose on the worn sleeve of her sweatshirt.
“What is your momma’s number? Can you tell it to me?” Lily recited the number by heart and, with punctuated movement, Jannie copied it down to a sticky note.
“Alright, now I am gonna finish off your haircut but then I am going and immediately callin’ your momma because I can tell ya now, she’s worried sick.” Lily gave another short nod and started crying again.
“Th-Thank you so much!”
“It isn’t a problem dear, I gotta make sure you look well cleaned when your momma gets here though.” Jannie tightly squeezed Lily’s hand and stood back up with a sigh. She made sure each cut was perfect, but this one in particular had to be perfect, for so many reasons. Jannie finished then dried her hair and turned her around to face the mirror. Lily’s mouth dropped as she saw the short pixie cut in the mirror. But her surprised turned into a wide smile and she began to see how well it fit. Janie leaned over and whispered in her ear,
“It is short, rebellious, and new. Just like you.” Lily jumped up from the chair and gave Jannie a hug.
“Well c’mon now, let’s go call your momma.” Jannie took Lily’s hand and together they walked to the back room where Jannie made a beeline for the phone. Holding out the sticky note she dialed the number eagerly. She stood, listening to it ring until suddenly, a woman picked up the phone. Lily stood staring wide eyed at the phone, as if it was going to catch on fire.
“Hello, my name is Jannie, is this Mrs. Jacobs?” Lily heard muffled sounds coming from the phone and debated turning and running but knew that she had to go home, go back to where she belonged.
“Mrs. Jacobs, I actually have your daughter, Lily. She’s right here and wants to come home, would you like to talk to her?” After a moment of silence, Jannie laughed and she replied,
“Well alright, here she is.” Jannie held out the phone towards Lily and Lily gingerly held it in one hand and moved it towards her ear.
“Mom? Yes, Mom. I am fine, can you come and get me?” Lily erupted into tears again but this time it was from joy, not sorrow. Jannie heard the muffled sounds of relief coming from the phone and couldn’t help but break out in a smile.