“Angel’s Lips, Snips, and Tips,” I said when I picked up the phone in my salon in Syracuse. It was past closing time, and I should have let it go to voicemail. There was silence at the other end. “Hello? Can I help you?”
“Joe? It’s me.”
Angel. Her voice hit me like a punch to the gut, knocking me into the rolling chair behind the desk. It took a minute to recover and find my voice. “Honey, why you calling me so late?”
She said nothing as she cried on the other end of the phone.
“Is everything okay? It’s kinda hard to talk right now.” I glanced over my shoulder. “Maria’s in the back room. She’d kill me if she found out I was talking to you.”
Angel sniffled one more time and said, “I’m in trouble, Joe.”
I eased my Ford F-150 onto Interstate 90, which was almost deserted at this hour, on my way to some motor lodge on Cape Cod to find Angel. We hadn’t spoken since the day she left with her junkie boyfriend and his screamo band. What a pile of fuck up that day was. She’d told me she was leaving, but I didn’t expect her to take a thousand bucks from the safe in my office with her. Maria, my sister and business partner, caught her red-handed while I stood near the front desk, talking to the boyfriend, trying to wrap my head around the sudden announcement that Angel was leaving the salon she’d helped us build to tour with the band as their stylist. I’d met the band. Their ridiculous hair didn’t need a stylist, especially one as talented as Angel. I was thinking that a weed whacker would do the job, but I shook his hand and wished both of them well.
Maria’s shout stopped me in mid-shake. “Call 9-1-1!” I hadn’t even let go of the boyfriend’s hand when Angel ran to the door, clutching her bulging purse. “You get back here, bitch!” Maria ran after her, but her heavy frame kept her from moving fast enough.
“I’m sorry, Joe,” Angel yelled as she rushed by on the opposite side of the desk. “I swear, I’ll pay you back.” I couldn’t catch her in time, and before I gathered my wits, they were gone.
That was five years ago.
I sighed as I set the truck’s cruise control and cranked the air conditioner. I hoped it would be cooler in Massachusetts. The calendar still said summer, but it was after Labor Day. The temperature should have been dropping, but we were stuck in a six-day heatwave with no end in sight. I took a sip from my gas-station coffee and let the memories wash over me.
I was a stockbroker for years until I burnt out in my early forties and my wife divorced me. A buddy of mine was picking on me one night at a bar when I was feeling sorry for myself, and he said the craziest thing. “Man, you know what you should do? You should be a fucking hairdresser.”
“Do I look like a fag to you?” What an idiot this guy was! A fucking hairdresser. Jesus.
“No, really. Think about it. You’d meet ten women every fucking day. And the job wouldn’t be stressful. Seriously!”
I shook my head and looked at my watch. “What makes you think I would be able to do anything with hair? Look at mine, for Christ’s sake.” I ran my hand through the mess of curly, salt-and-pepper locks on the top of my head.
“Nah, you go to school. They teach you how to do it. Then you get your own hairdressing place. What do you call that?”
“Yeah. A salon. Seriously.” He drained the last of his beer. “Think about it.”
When I sobered up in the morning, I acknowledged that the idea had some merit. I had plenty of money stashed where my ex-wife couldn’t vacuum it away from me, so I checked out beauty schools.
I expected to be the only guy in class. I was close; I was the only straight guy. The other two were typical, swishy hairdresser types. Angel was the first person in class I talked to. I admit that my intentions were less than pure when I first said hello. I was forty-two years old; she was eighteen, right out of high school. My wife had been gone for a year, and I was desperate. I tried not to let it show when I introduced myself.
“I’m Joe. I’m the straight guy,” I said, getting that out of the way.
“I’m Angel. I’m straight, too.” Shoulder-length blonde hair, upturned nose dotted with freckles, hazel eyes, perky tits. Adorable. “I’m not looking for a date or anything though.”
I laughed right out loud. She saw right through me. I gave her points for that. “I’m not looking for a date either, honey. I need a new career is all. My sister does hair, and she seems pretty happy. I thought I’d give it a shot.”
She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow at me. “You don’t look like a hair stylist.”
“Yeah? What do I look like?” I couldn’t hide my grin. This kid was delightful.
She tipped her head and scrunched up her nose, thinking about it. “Hmm. A computer guy.”
Class started, so I didn’t get to respond. I grinned to myself, thinking that this spunky blonde was a hell of a lot of fun, even if she wouldn’t go out with me.
About three months into the nine-month program at Marquis Beauty Academy, the “kids” in my class invited me out to The Rooster Hut with them for their weekly wing night. Hanging out with people who were young enough to be my children wasn’t my idea of a good time, but it was an opportunity to get to know my future competition and enjoy a night with someone other than my boxer puppy.
Most of the group came with boyfriends, even the other two guys. I went to the bar for a beer before sitting down, and when I returned, Angel waved me over to an empty seat next to her. I was grateful. Most of those girls were bitchier than my ex-wife. I didn’t need that shit.
“Hey, Joe,” she chirped when I sat. “I saved you a seat.”
“No boyfriend to keep you company?”
“I told you I wasn’t looking for one.” She slapped me on the shoulder and wrinkled her nose. For a moment, I wished she was. I could have fallen in love with that nose wrinkle.
“I figured you were blowing me off gently, honey. And I don’t think you’d have to look too hard to find one.”
She waved me off, as the waitress arrived with platters of wings. “We just get a bunch of wings and pitchers and split the cost,” Angel said. “It’s easier that way.”
“Can I get you something, sir?” the waitress asked. I raised my glass and shook my head. I thought maybe I’d pick up the tab at the end of the night and win some favor from the group.
“Sir,” Angel said with a giggle. “That makes you sound so old!”
“Listen, young lady. I’m old enough to be your father. That earns the respect of being called ‘sir.’”
“Do you have any? Kids, I mean.”
I had a wing in my mouth, so I shook my head while I chewed. “No. My ex-wife wasn’t the maternal type. She was content with her yappy Bichons, which she took with her when she left. Thank god.” I took another bite before she could expect me to say more.
Conversation at the table turned to dream salons. I tuned in, mostly because I didn’t think any of these kids had a shot at making it in business. After hearing some of their plans, I had even less faith in their success. You’d think they were independently wealthy the way they dreamed. I fought to control my rolling eyes as one of the gay guys talked about his rainforest salon, Jungle Cuts. His Vietnamese boyfriend was a painter, and the plan focused murals of the Asian jungle rather than hair styling equipment.
Korri’s idea was the most extravagant. The queen bee of the group was planning an aquarium theme with salt water tanks lining the walls. Korri’s Kolorful Kuts she’d call it. Until she went out of business anyway.
Angel’s was the best of the bunch: Angel’s Lips, Snips, and Tips. Efficiency and a modern atmosphere was her focus, and I liked the name. “That’s actually pretty good,” I said. “It’s got your name in it, it lists the services you offer, and it rhymes, so people will remember it.”
Korri snickered. “It does have her name in it. Right, Angel Lips?” The vicious look on her face when she laughed with Mackenzie told me exactly what she implied, but she turned on me before I spoke up to defend Angel. “Hey, Joe!” Korri shouted from the other end of the table. “That was a nice curling job you did the other day. Your model looked great.”
Angel’s head spun towards me. The look of indignation on her face was comical. I’d made a mess out of my model’s hair; I knew that. I had no talent for any of what we did in class, but I was going to muddle through this course, earn my cosmetology license, and open my salon. I didn’t have to be great, I just had to pass the tests and find some talented people to work for me. My sister had already started dropping hints that she’d like to go into business with me. “It’s okay, Ainge,” I said to her, placing my hand on her arm before she could bolt out of her seat. Life never changes. There are always bitches.
“Thank you,” I said loudly with a wave to Korri.
“They are not being kind to you,” Angel said. “They are mean, and they’re making fun of you.”
“Honey, I know that, and I can take care of them myself. Bitchy women are a part of life. I have more years’ experience handling girls like those two than they have being bitchy. What goes around, comes around.”
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