"Okay, so what are we doing today?"
I release my hair from its lank ponytail and gaze into the mirror. Dark caverns attack my face. Dry, chapped lips. One rogue hair sprouting from my chin. It feels wrong for me to be here, in this place of jojoba infused conditioning treatments. I find myself apologizing.
"Sorry I didn't wash my hair. Paul didn't get home until late, and the boys were...." I trail off, as I catch Natalie glance at a picture of her boy, Landon. Her boyfriend is presently deployed, and she cuts hair while her mother babysits. He smiles at her from his place on the mirror, clutching his beloved Tow Mater.
I feel, once again, like such an asshole. My life isn't hard. I don't work. I mean, yes, I am home with the boys, and that is work. I plan adventures and pack sliced strawberries in the lunch sack. Boxer shorts are folded and placed in drawers. Little fingers curl around mine as we cross busy streets.
And yet, on days like today, I feel invisible.
Natalie lifts my hair in small pieces, examining her craft. "Are we doing the short bob again? That is the best cut on you. And what about color?" Her eyebrows lift, waiting.
The words release, "I want you to dye my hair FLAMING red."
I laugh, twisting my fingers under the cape. "I mean, it's just hair, right?"
Natalie frowns. She flips a few strands, examining my roots with scientific precision. "Red is one of the hardest colors to stick. Do you plan on swimming a lot this summer?"
I nod, "Just bought a summer pass." If my boys don't burn off energy in the water, I cannot be responsible for the subsequent damage to the upholstery.
"Hmmmm. If we did red, you would need to get touch-ups probably every two months."
She knows me. The last time I cut my hair was around Christmas. It is now late May. I came to the appointment late, sitting in the car with the boys, waiting for Paul to relieve me. I almost had to cancel.
"I mean," she adds, "I think it could be....fun. But I'm not sure if you would be happy with it." She speaks with the confidence brought by full schedules and glowing referrals.
The image of my vibrant, red-headed self sputters, an engine stalled. "Okay," I say, "I need something. What do you think I should do?"
She purses her lips, and says, "We could do some auburn lowlights? Maybe add a bit of spice to it?"
I nod. "And the same bob, please."
She grins. I know she loves doing a razor cut.
She returns with the mixed color, and we talk about children, if we're going to Rehoboth, and how hot it is. This is our summer conversation. At my other appointment, we talk about children, our Christmas shopping, and how cold it is.
I want to tell her that I dream about returning to work, of being something more than a professional snack dispenser/sparring partner. I want a classroom. Dress clothes. Adrenaline.
But I also want to drink my coffee at the kitchen table while the boys draw. To swim in the Chesapeake until we are properly brined and pruny. To fill the hours with puzzles and Curious George.
I want everything for me and everything for them. Or at least really amazing hair.
Soon we're drying and styling. The cut is sleek, and my cheekbones come out of hiding. The color? It's brown. I pay over a hundred dollars to have really nice, low-lighted, subtle brown hair.
Natalie says, "It's better for people to see a beautiful face than a loud hair color, don't you think?"
I nod, "I think so."
But inside, there are flames of red still burning, still waiting to meet the air.
This week's Red Dress Club asked us to write about what our character wants most. All feedback is appreciated. I've attempted to remain in present tense, which is a struggle. Please don't hesitate to let me know if I strayed.