pablo (15)

Chapter One (excerpt)

“Welcome to Jeanine Marcus Salon and Spa.  How may I help you?”

“Oh, my God… What did you do to your hair, Arianna?”

I looked up from examining my nails, the one on my index finger black and the others blood red.  Being the receptionist at the mall salon was a mostly mindless job, but when I heard her voice, it was like being in high school all over again.  I was the unpopular girl with the thick glasses and the awful acne, too afraid to ask my crush to dance at prom.

“Mandy Snyder,” I said, trying to keep my face pleasant and my tone professional.

Mandy raised a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow at me.  “I never expected to find you working here.”

I smiled thinly.  “I try to be unpredictable.  Are you here for a root touch up?”

Mandy touched her hair, where the dark brown protested the platinum blonde that trailed halfway down her back — probably extensions, anyway.

“No, an eyebrow wax.”  She glared.  “I’m seeing Desmond at 2:00.”

I checked the computer screen and confirmed her appointment.  “Ah, there you are.  Have a seat.  He’ll be right with you.”

“Oh, before I go, I just wanted to say, you know, like…sorry about your parents.”

As she pivoted and nearly hit me in the face with her faux-hair, I breathed in deeply and exhaled.  She sounded anything about sorry, of course.  I was still reeling, a month later, from the phone call I’d gotten that had changed everything; the plane my parents were on as they were flying back from their twenty-fifth anniversary honeymoon in Europe had crashed somewhere in the Atlantic.  A freak occurrence of engine failure or something equally not understood by me.  The whole thing was something I couldn’t wrap my mind around.  First shock, then gut-wrenching grief, leaving a shell of emptiness in its wake.  And here I was in the company of Mandy Snyder, whose false sincerity was just another reminder that my life was stuck on a downward spiral.

I touched my hair, playing with the ends, knowing my mom would have hated that it was now bright red, like a fire engine.  I’d also gotten two more piercings since their death — one in the le bret and one on my left eyebrow, which mirrored the long-established right eyebrow.

What did girls like Mandy Snyder know, anyway?  I tried not to seethe as Desmond Rousseau — our salon’s resident gay French hairstylist who bragged about his experience working in the Big Apple — came and escorted her back.  Her parents were probably toting the bill every two weeks when she made her visit to the salon.

Last time Mandy had seen me, my hair had been its natural dark brown.  And my parents had been alive.

Not that Mandy had been any nicer toward me then.

I fished my cell phone out of my purse, surreptitiously glancing around the lobby to make sure no one was watching.  I smiled that I had an unread text.  Maybe Brad had finally taken ten seconds to text me.  I opened it, scowling at the twenty percent off reminder from one of the mall’s department stores.  I’d only signed up for the stupid texts to get five percent off a purchase for my mom last Christmas, so finally done with receiving the store’s reminders, I texted “STOP” to the number, hoping it would work.

“Text OK to confirm that you no longer wish to receive text messages from Quentin Quincy’s,” came the auto-reply as my phone pinged.

I groaned and typed a quick “OK,” only it went through as “PK.”  My phone alerted me again with the reply, “Invalid response.”

Now I growled at the stupid thing.  Not only was my phone my enemy in that moment, but what kind of name was Quentin Quincy’s for a store?  Everyone dubbed it “Double Q” around here, which was just was bad.  Just as I was about to toss the worthless piece of battery-draining tech back into my too-light-on-cash and too-heavy-in-credit-card-debt purse, a cold voice said, “I hope that’s not a phone I see, Arianna.”  Damn you, Brad.  Why couldn’t you have at least been the reason I’m in trouble with my boss?

I guiltily stuffed the phone between my thighs and looked directly into the face of my ice queen supervisor, Gwen Hall.  Gwen was one of those women who tries to dress like she’s twenty when she’s well over forty.  Despite her stick-thin figure and Botox-injected face, she wasn’t fooling me.  Her five-inch heels clicked with the same cold as her voice on the faux-marble flooring as she came to a halt at the desk where I was sitting.  Drumming her freshly-manicured nails on the surface, she raised an eyebrow at me.  

I wanted to tell her where she could shove her plastic ass, but I just painted on a smile worthy of any fake model and said sweetly, “No, Gwen.  Of course not.”

“Hmm.”  She wasn’t convinced.  She withdrew her claw from the desk and glared down at me.  She really didn’t need the extra five inches to be intimidating to most people at her five-ten height, but she didn’t scare me.  “Don’t let me see you at it again.  How do you expect to ever finish beauty school and work here if you can’t even do the job you’ve been given?”

She turned away.  I frowned at the back of her inverted-bob, the auburn hue one of our new shades for the fall.  Did she think this was charity, that she was personally doing me some sort of favor?  I was working here to pay for the exorbitant cost of beauty school.

“You’d better stick to it this time, Arianna,” my mom had reminded me on multiple occasions.  “There was that attempt at a veterinary assistant degree, and then you thought you’d try real estate.  How many different majors have you declared?”

I had a measly associate’s of arts degree from Tri-C and little to show for it.  I turned twenty-four last week and was living with my grandma now that my parents were gone.  I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, even though she was no longer here to breathe down my neck about my failures.

What I’d give now to feel her breath on my neck, to hear her criticisms.  At the end of the day, I knew she’d only been concerned for me.  She’d seen the way I dressed and had always encouraged my individuality, but I was old enough now to know that I could’ve been a better daughter.

Mandy was back, snapping me out of my thoughts.  She didn’t look any different as she forked over her credit card to pay.

“Do you wish to leave a tip?” I asked.

“Desmond already has it.  Like, you know I always tip in cash.”

“Right.”  After the receipt printed, I asked her to sign.  She practically tossed the pen at me when she finished and turned with a flick of her hair.  “Have a nice day,” I called saccharinely after her.

She didn’t look bac

To be published winter 2020…