Although Vera has done well enough for herself to have people open the salon for her, Vera is still the first one to arrive at four thirty am. Hair is in her blood, it’s why she’s managed to be successful. To her the practice is more just a technique, it’s an art form. Vera approaches hair as a form of expression. Hair tells the story not only of our heritage or our ancestral history but also of our individuality. Her perspective on styling hair has not only given her a knack for knowing what crowns will make women look and feel their best, but it’s given her a leg up against her competition.
Vera turns on the desktop and looks through her appointments for the day. Booked, as usual. She scrolls down the list of names. Frances, Erica, Audrey, Ruth, Charlotte, Maria … she stops at a name that gets her excited and clicks on it.
Burgundy Red. She pencils in for a client named Maya.
Unable to contain her excitement a wide grin cuts across her face and forces her cheeks to almost shut her eyes. She’s so pleased with herself for finally piecing what it was about Maya that people didn’t often see, her fire.
If Vera tells you to cut your hair, grow it out, braid it, loc it, go platinum blond, add ombre tips, put touches of green or even, shave it all off, you might want to listen to her. She’s normally right about these things. Much so that her clients have nicknamed her Midas for her golden touch. Women have often reported back personality shifts, more confidence, endless compliments and in her married clients, sex like it had been back when they’d first met their husbands. Vera always pretends to be shocked by these things and graciously accepts her “Midas” nickname, but deep down she knew what it was. It was her ability to listen. Vera could hear what a person was saying both with and without their use of sound. Vera saw herself more as somebody who rubbed off some of the dirt clouding the gold already there.
“Vera! What a surprise to see you here this early?” Hazel teases as she walks into the salon.
Vera rolls her eyes in that same teasing energy at the fresh-faced Hazel. It’s five am and Hazel is as energetic as any normal person would be at eleven am. Vera concludes it has something to do with Hazel being in her twenties although, Vera has no recollection of ever being such a ball of energy, not even as a child. And in Hazel’s case, ball of energy lends itself to a ball of optimism, a ray of sunshine, a bowl of sugar, a breath of fresh air … there wasn’t a cliché that was too early in the morning for Hazel not to fit.
Hazel turns on the light and breaks Vera’s bad habit of doing things in the dark.
“Didn’t the doctor tell you to stop doing things in the dark?” Hazels tells more than asks Vera. Vera takes a minute to adjust her eyes to the light.
“My desk light is a light,” is her response. Around that same time, Mila and Linda file in. Mila and Linda are neighbors, so they carpool every time they are working the same shift which Vera had worked out to be most of the time. Mila who is slightly younger than Hazel has tattoos running up her arms to her neck and is oftentimes quiet, but upon provocation, Mila has proven to be the proud owner of a smart, dry cutting mouth. She’s also very good with makeup and according to Vera, the best hair dye whisperer she knows.
Vera greets them as they walk in and calls Mila over to her and shows her the note on Maya.
Mila nods politely as her face folds into an expression formed by trying to force all your facial muscles to hold back what you’re really thinking. Vera understands it to mean that she doesn’t quite see the color on Maya but pushes on with her request anyway.
“Could you mix this for me before you leave today?” Vera asks.
“Is her appointment after I’m gone?” Mila asks and Vera nods.
“Sure thing, no problem!”
“Thank you.” Vera says to Mila but when Mila is paces away in their break room adds “this color’s gonna work on her.”
“I don’t see it,” Mila says at the drop of the hat.
Linda, nicknamed “mom” sets up her homemade chocolate chip cookies on the front counter by Vera for the early morning clients. Linda is a sixty-three-year-old woman with five children, seven grandkids and a love for baking. She works two part-time jobs. She works for Vera at the salon and at the Prudenceville Library, both of which she enjoys.
Linda had lived in Queens New York her whole life, but having grown tired of city life moved to the suburbs of Prudenceville Massachusetts, a town she and her husband were surprised to grow fond of. In her old life, Linda had been a middle school teacher and had braided hair part-time at several shops in Jamaica on weekends. She’d told the last part to Vera one time when she was getting her hair done a couple of months after she’d moved to the town from Queens. Linda hadn’t known Vera long but had liked her well enough to take her up on her offer part-time. A decision she’d never once regretted in the five years she’d worked there.
Vera sees Linda seeing her pretend not to see the goodies.
“I put walnuts in the brownies,” Linda says to Vera.
“You made brownies today?” Vera says still playing the game. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“What about now?” Linda says and plops down a brownie on a napkin in front of Vera in a sassiness signature to Linda. Vera smiles and Linda carries on as though the exchange never happened.
Hazel walks over and sets up the coffee pot and Styrofoam cups by Linda’s display for the customers before pouring herself a cup and disappearing to the break room.
Vera looks at the time on her screen. Five thirty. In fifteen minutes her son, Brooklyn will be up and about getting ready to catch his bus. Although he’s in high school and can get himself ready for school, Vera still likes to call him and check in on him before school. Ray her boyfriend would also likely be up by around five forty-five. Not because he had to be at work early or anything, but because he also liked making sure Brooklyn didn’t forget anything. His head especially. Thinking of Ray always gave Vera butterflies. He was one of the most caring men she’d ever met.
Done with her errands, Vera looks around the salon. Everything looks clean and the air smells like coffee and baked goods. Although the layout is spacious, the salon gets packed. Vera takes in the quiet of the place, remembering a time when this had been the norm for the salon. Back before her business had taken off and anybody knew about her. Gratitude fills her heart. She takes one more look around before joining the others in the break room.
Over the years the salon had undergone changes here and there to accommodate new ideas. One such idea had been the addition of a break room. Although the salon was not on the upscale end, the breakroom was nice. It had a sink, a microwave, a coffee maker, two cabinets over the sink, a refrigerator, a table by the wall with three retractable chairs, a couch, hooks on the wall that the ladies used to hang up their coats and pocketbooks, a communal charger for both the Apple and non-Apple devices and lastly, everybody’s favorite feature the plant. A palm plant in a beautiful brown and white sisal pot in which gave the plant the aesthetic of it transporting you somewhere relaxing.
The clients liked the break room too. It doubled as a hub where clients would chat with whoever was on break. Vera would often frequent the breakroom between clients to catch up on the latest in town gossip. Not that there was anything ever tabloid-worthy, but it was good fun.
Vera finds the ladies sitting quietly with their eyes glued to their devices and Vera joins them to do the same. Hazel and Linda are on the couch, so Vera takes the chair opposite Mila at the table and pulls out her iPhone. On Instagram, Vera sees that Linda has already posted a motivational quote for the day, and Hazel and Mila have already liked it. Vera follows suite in liking the picture and scrolls further down her feed. Vera’s mind wanders to Ray and how if he were to walk into the break room would say something along the lines of “get off your phones and actually face time.”
The thought of Ray prompts her to check the time. “Time to start the day,” Vera announces once she sees it’s ten minutes to six. The four ladies link arms and Vera leads them in a quick prayer.
* * * *
By eight-thirty, everybody’s energy levels has peaked to what it’ll be for the rest of the day and the chit chat rises above the music that plays in the background … for the employees at least. The clients are still making their climb. The coffee helps.
Vera takes the empty tray and coffee pot to the break room to restock them.
“Do you want a boy or a girl?” Vera overhears a voice ask who she assumes is Mila.
“I haven’t thought that far ahead actually, I mean, did just decide to keep it.” Vera hears Mila say. Vera’s phone buzzes before she can get a chance to hear more of the conversation.
Ray’s name lights up her screen and she feels her heart rate quicken.
“Hi,” she says through a smile.
“Hey,” he says in his baritone that ripples straight down to her vagina. “Do you want anything from Dunkin?”
“No thank you,” Vera says trying to hide the thirst in her voice that would betray what she’d really like for him to bring her. “How was your morning?”
“Aside from the fact that I worry for Brooks, it was alright,” Ray tells her. “I have a couple of minutes before I need to hit the highway. Wanna hang out in my car if you’re not busy?”
“I’d love that!” Vera beams, “see you in a few.”
Vera rushes the coffee and the cookies out before running to the bathroom to make sure that she looks alright. She wads a piece of toilet paper and wipes off her coffee-colored lipstick, replacing it with a crimson red she knows that Ray likes. She unbuttons the top buttons of her blouse and runs her hand through her hair in an attempt to straighten any of the stray hairs that could have gotten loose from the bun she’s tied behind her head.
Vera wonders what’s gotten into her. It’s not like they’re a new couple. They’ve been dating four years and had already lived together two of those years. Not to mention she’d had him plenty the night before. How her appetite for him was still not satiated was beyond her.
“Fuck it,” Vera says and takes out her bun entirely letting her curls fall.
Thank God I’d tied my bun behind my head and not in a high bun Vera thinks as she fluffs out her gravity-defying hair.
A knock on the door startles her.
“One minute,” she calls.
She spritzes herself with somebody’s perfume called Tease. They don’t get a lot of guys at the salon but after work, Mila (when she wasn’t pregnant), Hazel and a few of the other girls love to Uber to Boston from work and hit the clubs.
Vera meets with Hazel when she opens the door. Hazel’s eyes drop straight to Vera’s chest and back up to her hair. She smiles knowingly although she doesn’t say anything.
“Ray’s bringing me breakfast.” Vera defends.
Hazel smiles and nods vigorously but still doesn’t say a word. Vera walks around Hazel who has deliberately planted herself in front of the doorway.
“I thought the walk of shame was when you were coming from the guy, not going towards him,” Hazel says just as Vera thought she was in the clear. Vera turns around and makes a swing for Hazel with her open palm but misses. Hazel who’d probably anticipated some kind of retaliation ducked quickly into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
“Next idea for construction,” Vera pitches to herself “is a back door. How the fuck do we not have a back door? That’s gotta be some sort of fire hazard.” Vera says a silent prayer that’ll help her slip out unnoticed but, it doesn’t work. Linda and Mila’s comments prompt catcalls from the clients not too tired to tease her on her way out.
Outside the store, Vera can’t help but smile. She spots Ray’s car which she’d calculated would already be there by the time she’d gotten out. The Dunkin was five minutes away from her. Another reason she’d been so enamored by Ray. Before they’d started dating, he’d use it as an excuse to drop by at her salon. You’d think since they were dating he’d have let up the ruse but he never did. Ray even had a Dunkin at his office complex Vera learned, but for whatever reason, the one by her was his favorite.
Vera gets the reaction she’d hoped to elicit from Ray when she gets in the car.
“How much time do you have?” she asks smiling.
“Enough,” he tells her, pleasantly surprised by what’s about to go down.
“Let’s go to the spot behind the Dunkin Donuts?” she tells him and Ray practically speeds there.
Vera knows about the place from Mila who had worked at the Dunkin Donuts in high school. According to Mila, the only day that Dunkin Donuts employees would ever be at the back was when they were receiving an order, and everybody in town knew what day that was. Their huge ass truck delivery truck was a hard thing to miss. According to Mila, the two types of people who went back there were people who’d bought weed when it hadn’t yet been legalized in the State, and people who fucked in cars. Now, it was just the latter. Police cars would also cruise by but that would only ever in a blue moon, or when the department had mandated a number of tickets be handed out.
Anticipation rises in Vera’s chest as she kisses Ray hungrily. Ray moves his seat back as Vera climbs onto his lap. Vera knows she doesn’t have much time. She kisses his neck as her hands work their way down to his belt buckle. He untucks her blouse as his hands find their way inside her shirt, caressing the skin on her back and pressing down hard on her ass. Startled from the pain and rawness of his grip her breath catches.
“Fuck!” she lets out breathily.
“Sorry babe,” Ray apologizes loosening his grip.
“It’s okay,” she says smiling and looking into his eyes “I kinda liked it.”
Ray looks at Vera puzzled. She seems … hungry for him, like he’d never seen.
If you asked Vera, she’d tell you it was more than that. It was hunger, craving, lust and desire all rolled up in one. Vera had known early on that she’d struck a gold mine with Ray but, what she hadn’t expected was the appreciation of having Ray in her life to have penetrated her soul as deeply as it had. So deep that every now and then the feelings she felt of mutual respect, gratitude, adoration for him just to name a few, would overwhelm her and leave her feeling compelled to both ride and suck on that gold mine till she struck actual gold.
Ray’s kisses take on an aggressive form, and it becomes clear that whatever had come over her, has now infected him.
* * * *
“I changed my mind about not wanting something to eat,” Vera says to Ray back in the passenger seat.
Vera leans over to kiss Ray goodbye but he takes the keys out of the ignition and smiles at her.
“I’m already running late,” he tells her. For the most part, Ray had buttoned his shirt back up and straightened his blazer, but he didn’t look as sharp as he had before his lunatic of a girlfriend jumped him. She could see the wrinkles that had formed on his pristinely ironed shirt from their … back and forth. Still, he retains that dapperness about him. If you’re looking at Ray, you’re not looking at his clothes. Not with all that fine chocolate complexion he’s got going on and that, devilishly handsome face.
“Sorry,” Vera says but hears excitement more than she does apology in her tone.
Inside the Dunkin, Vera is surprised to see how many people there are. And to think, not too far from all of them, she and Ray had been getting it on. A wave of something washes over her. Guilt? Shame? Whatever it is, all she knows is that she doesn’t want to make eye contact with anyone. Not even Dana at the register who’s always so nice to her.
On the pavement outside the Dunkin where she’s seated, she spots a familiar-looking car. Unable to place it however, she brushes it off and continues to work on her bagel. On any other day, Ray would have sat by her but he doesn’t want to get his jeans dirty so he leans against the railing by her.
“Isn’t that Mila’s?” Ray asks striking up a conversation from what Vera was looking at.
“Isn’t what Mila’s?” she asks inquisitively, extending her search beyond the parking lot to across the street trying to and identify what Ray’s talking about.
Ray puts his hand on Vera’s head and gently navigates it to what he was talking about. “There, green car. I saw you looking at it”
Vera stares at if for a couple of seconds before it dawns on her that it is Mila’s car. Mila had been carpooling with Linda for so long she’d forgotten what the car even looked like.
“Yeah!” Vera replies shocked that Ray recognized the car. “Her boyfriend uses it to get to work since she carpools with Linda.” He was probably inside, Vera realized. “Erm … Noah,” she tells Ray.
“Doesn’t he have his own car yet?” Ray asks.
Vera thinks about it. “I don’t know actually,” although he’d been using Mila’s car for a while so probably not.
“What does he do?” Ray asks.
“He works in construction,” Vera tells him.
“How long has he been in construction?” Ray asks.
“About a year,” Vera tells him.
The ignition sounds and the brake lights turn on. Vera watches absentmindedly waiting on the car to reverse and drive away but instead, the passenger door opens and a blonde-haired girl steps out. She looks familiar. A little bit like Hazel but something about her is different. Violet! Vera pieces. Hazel’s older sister.
Violet shuts the door and walks off the parking lot headed down the street. Vera tries to see where she’s headed but is cut off by Noah reversing. Instinctively she stands up but by then, Violet’s out of view. Noah whizzes past her and Ray driving off in the opposite direction Violet had gone, not seeming to notice them or more likely, recognize them despite how many times they’d met.
“She kept walking that way but I didn’t see where she went after she crossed the street either,” Ray tells her.
“He told Mila he had to be in Boston at six. That’s why Hazel’s taking her for her ultrasound appointment later today.”
“Noah’s trash,” Ray doesn’t hesitate to say “Boston’s forty minutes out, and he’s almost four hours late to the site? I can bet you money he’s lying about working in construction.”
“Maybe he just lied about the time he needed to be there?” Vera says.
“Construction workers make good money. If that kid actually worked in construction, he wouldn’t be driving Mila’s car. You said Mila let him use it because he didn’t have his own car, right? And once he got a job, the first thing he’d buy was a car. It’s been a year.”
“You don’t think he’s saving money?” Vera asks.
“Vera, he has sneakers that cost more than what wearing combined. He’s too flashy for Mila’s car. He’s not upgraded the car because he doesn’t want to, it’s because he can’t afford to. Watch, I got a gut feeling about this,” Ray says sure of himself.
Vera wasn’t as quick to draw conclusions about people but Ray made a lot of sense.
“Don’t stop talking to Mila about Noah being trash. I know she’s sick of hearing it but if she’s keeping the baby, she needs to start thinking about what’s best for the baby as well, and in no universe, does that include Noah.”
“Do you think he was cheating?” Vera asks.
“A fuck boy and a blond with a rep for getting around step out of a car together. It wouldn’t surprise me,” he says.
Note from the writer : Hey you! I hope you enjoyed meeting Vera. Tune in next week to meet Mila. Also, it would be remiss of me not to say this. Getting caught having sex in public can lead to a fine, up to 6 months jail time depending on the State you live in and lastly, it will go on your permanent record. So to all my freaks out there be safe, exercise some common sense and don’t get caught I guess 🤷🏾♀️