REUNION (part one)
(A sequel to "First Love" and "The Brush")
Dressed in black, the charges set for five minutes, Hendrickson made his way past the various beams and sensors. Their lives depended on a fast, yet cautious exit - to the end of the hall, down the stairs, around the corner, and out the side door, with the lock he disabled on the way in.
"Where are you, Willis?" he hissed, with the hostility of a cornered pit bull. Fucking rookie, he thought for the hundredth time on this mission. I can't believe those fuckers in Langley sent a fucking rookie along, and a woman, no less! I'd be out of here already if Parker had come along like the old days...
"Here," she whispered. "I had to..."
"Watch that beam! Jesus, you trying to kill us?"
"Sorry," she said, as she stopped, looked, and then crouched under the bright red laser, made visible by basic household dust, packaged exactly to Agency specifications.
"Quit apologizing, and do exactly what I do," he ordered. "Fucking rookie!"
Moving down the stairs, both heard a 'plink, plink, plink...'
"Quiet!" he hissed, but she didn't hear him. This disastrous first covert op had just taken a turn for the worse, if anything else could go wrong. She had already been late for the rendezvous, and succeeded in rousing the guard dogs as they reached the house. Hendrickson had had to silence them with his silenced pistol - he hated wasting ammo. And now, she felt a shift in balance on her head, and instinctively reached back with her hand as most of the large mound of hair piled she thought securely on her head slid down her back. Oh, God, my hair! she thought. I knew this would happen! Why didn't I tuck it in my shirt? Why did I have to leave it out and up? He told me to hide it! She desperately tried to hold as much as possible with her hand, and hoped Hendrickson wouldn't see it until she had a chance to put it back up outside.
"Come on! One more beam to step over, and we're outta here. Lets go!" he whispered, looking back at her.
She saw the beam, about 18 inches up, and gingerly stepped over it. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Horns blared, bells rang, and lights blinded them.
"What the..." he said, and after a pause: "Fuck! You tripped it! Lets go!" He grabbed her free hand and dragged her to the side door, which was closing in front of them. She almost lost her balance, and dropped her hair trying to steady herself with her other hand. He blew through the door, and yanked her out after him. She felt the door hit her shoulder as it slammed shut.
Then, she felt her head snap back, and pain on her scalp. "My hair! MY HAIR! It's stuck!"
"Come on," Hendrickson yelled. "Move it! We have to clear the fence before anyone shows up!"
"I can't!" she screamed back in absolute panic. "My hair, it's stuck in the door!" She felt her way back to where it was wedged between door and frame. "I can't!"
"Well pull it out and get going, dammit!"
"It won't come out!" she said, hysteria setting in. She tugged and tugged. "It won't come out, it won't..." and tears started streaming down her face.
"Move your hands, I'll cut it," he said, and retrieved his knife from his ankle scabbard.
"NO! You can't cut it! No, No!"
"If you want to get out of here, lady, you'll let me cut it!" he yelled, as she hit him on the shoulder with her free hand.
"NO! Not my hair!" she cried, her voice turning into a pathetic squeal. "Anything but my hair!"
Now she looked like the cornered pit bull. He was surprised at her strength, and shocked at the look of complete fear and dread in her eyes - like someone about to die, he thought.
"C'mon," he shouted over the increasing din. He reached for her hair about six inches from the door, got a firm grip, and sliced downward.
Karen sat bolt upright in her bed, sweating, crying, and trying to catch her breath. She froze for about five seconds, until reality set in.
"Oh, no," she repeated, hyperventilating as she pulled her braid into her lap. She pulled and pulled until she saw it was all there, and then breathed a sigh of relief, and sank back into her pillow.
"Is this what it is coming to?" she asked herself, the tears finally stopping. She knew she wouldn't get back to sleep tonight, and looked over at her alarm clock. 3:30. An hour early.
She slowly climbed out of bed, and went in to the bathroom, where she wiped her face, and drank a glass of water. She would do the same thing she always did when afraid, uncomfortable, tired, or just not sleeping.
She picked up her favorite brush, and moved to the window, holding her braid looped twice over her arm. She took her ends, letting the braid plop to the floor, and held them up to the window, looking through them to the lights of the valley outside.
Then she slowly started to unwind her braid, pausing every once in a while to stroke out the unbound hair. She repeated her question: is this what it is coming to? While she stroked, she thought about how extraordinarily long her hair had gotten, and how big a part of her life it was.
She looked down at the braid in her hands. Hair fell forward until it just touched the floor. An incredibly thick braid - she could not get her hand around it - fell back, and laid on the floor for a foot before climbing up to her head. Fifteen feet! Every time she said that number, she didn't believe it, even with the proof in her hands.
Thirty-nine for a month now, she hadn't cut her hair in thirty years, and it looked as vital, alive, and thick as it did when she was a teenager. Silky and smooth, each strand seemed to sense freedom from the confines of her braid, and moved about as she continued to unwrap her braid.
Her braid was more of a chore now, as was everything about her hair. What did she expect? After all, it was almost three times longer than her height. When let down, nearly ten feet of hair trailed behind her.
It wasn't just long, it was unnatural, it was crazy, it was incomprehensible. She could shrug off comments when it reached her ankles, or even longer - at least that was within the realm of probability. She had so much hair now, it was... obscene. That was what one woman called it. Not vulgar, but excessive. It was way too much. It took 10 or 15 seconds just to run her had through the whole length! She had to put it up, but it was too much to put up.
A long time ago, her hair was pure joy. Back in high school and college, when it was to her ankles, and just on the floor. Her favorite feeling of all - being surrounded by hair, and having it sit on top of her feet - came with little effort. Now, she could pile a huge amount of hair on her feet, but oh, how much time went into that hair!
Before she knew it, her alarm rang, waking her from her trance. She set about the business of getting ready for work, the most time consuming part of which was putting her hair up into a huge, braided contraption on top of her head. Re-braiding her hair took forever. Cross over once, cross over twice, and separate, pulling the entire fifteen feet through her fingers, carefully. She had to repeat that process what seemed like a hundred times.
She let the braid slither around behind her, or she looped it around her shoulders while she ate breakfast and got dressed. Then she put it all up. She usually settled for the tall look because it was easy to do, and it kept her hair completely out of the way. Yes, it looked a little odd - it added about a foot to her height - and it made her slouch in the car (just a little!), but she could put it up without thinking.
Another day, another dollar, another day closer to having
to wash all of this again.
"I'm afraid Her Ladyship has the fever, Captain," said Womble, the surgeon.
"I assume you have quarantined her, and have kept her condition confidential?" James Grey, Commanding Officer of HMS Hastings, sixty four, whispered.
"Aye, sir, but it won't be long before the crew knows what is going on," Womble replied.
"We will partition off a portion of my quarters," Grey said, "so she will be away from the prying eyes and ears."
"Yes, sir, that would be a good idea. And one other thing, sir..."
"Go on, Womble."
"It's her hair, sir," Womble said, almost apologetically. "She refuses to let me cut it off. If she is to have a chance of surviving, well, it holds the fever. Keeps it around her. It has to go!"
"I understand, Womble," Grey said, lapsing into thought. "I'll talk to her."
Lady Catherine was a mere passenger on Hastings, returning to England from Tahiti after her husband's death, but had already become a legend of sorts on board. Not only did she bathe frequently, behind screens made by the sail maker, of course; she also washed her hair! And what magnificent hair it was! It was much longer than she was tall. On sunny days, she would come up on the bridge and let it blow in the breeze....
"Catherine, there is no choice," Grey said softly at her side. "The surgeon says it must go. I trust his judgment."
"Please, don't cut it," Lady Catherine said, in near delirium from the fever, matted locks of her hair clutched in her hands. "Please!"
"You'll die for sure, Catherine. You have to to have a chance."
"I'll die if you cut it, James, I will! Please don't..."
"Catherine, please. Trust me."
"Promise me you won't," Catherine said, fading into sleep
again. "I'll die, I'll die..."
Karen shot up again, just like the night before. Cold sweat, shaking, the works.
"Oh, God, I have to stop this!" she said, pulling her braid into her lap again.
Karen had a voracious appetite for books. Often, there was little else for her to do while her hair was drying - read a book, doze off a little, watch some TV. The longer her hair got, the more it trapped her when it was drying. The dreams were based on the books - she always dreamed about the books she read. She always loved a Ludlum style spy thriller, and had recently gotten into sailing adventure novels: Horatio Hornblower, Richard Bolitho and the like. But the past couple of weeks were different. She wasn't just dreaming the novels, she was losing her hair in them. Nightmares of the absolute worst kind for her.
Thirty years! For thirty years she had doggedly continued to grow her hair. Against all reason, against all fashion, against all sanity. She had shot down every reason in the world to cut her hair, even though she knew it was way too long, even for someone who enjoyed having a pile of hair resting on her feet while standing, and wasn't ever bothered when she stepped on it or got it stuck on something. But for thirty years, she could never bring herself to cut anymore than the fractions of an inch at the ends that got snipped every two months.
She had often thought about cutting all of her hair, or losing it accidentally, but was always able to dismiss the thoughts as she brushed her hair every night. But now, the thoughts were invading her sleep.
"Why do I put up with all of this?" she asked herself aloud for the thousandth time as she stood once again at her window, undoing her braid and brushing her tresses. She thought about all of the sacrifices she had made for her hair over the last thirty years - many deliberate, and some unintended. She didn't mind the two nights a week that she gave her hair, nights that grew longer as her hair grew longer, and occasionally stretched into the next day. Looking back, she didn't mind the jobs she lost because she refused to cut her hair - it all came out well in the end. She didn't mind the loss of privacy that came with minor celebrity, and some of the longest hair in the world. But her marriage...
Karen knew there were other reasons, many other reasons that she and Bill separated, and she knew her hair wasn't one of them. Their marriage wouldn't have worked no matter what her hair looked like, but her hair always seemed to wind up in the middle of their arguments. Bill was one of the few people she had ever met who was indifferent about her hair. Most people loved it, or thought they did, anyway; and some people didn't like it at all, but Bill didn't care one way or another. That was one of the things she had liked about him. Gradually, he came around, and liked it more and more, and he sure loved it in bed. It drove him crazy there. But then he slowly pulled away, and her hair was the first thing he pulled away from.
The longer her hair got, the more she needed his help with it, but the less he gave. The arguments came more and more frequently, and became more and more hurtful. When Bill found out that he could really score some points, he would bring up her hair. "You don't love me, you just love your hair, that's all!" he would say. She would repeat over and over again that her hair had nothing to do with it, but she started wondering. Then she found out about his affair, and he was gone the next day. That was six months ago, and the divorce was close to final.
Six months ago was the closest she had come to cutting her hair since she was in high school. In tears, and blaming herself, she had the scissors in hand many times, but every time she would draw them near her hair, her hand would tremble uncontrollably, and she'd lay the scissors down. She'd call her friends - the ones who weren't trying to get her to cut her hair - and talk with them to calm down. And she'd always lovingly brush out the length of her tresses as if nothing had happened. Even when the scissors were less than a foot away, when she was blaming her hair for everything from her marriage to overcooked vegetables, she treated her hair like a fragile antique, like an old picture she sometimes thought, full of history and memories, and absolutely priceless.
One thing she did come to realize was that she missed having a man touching her hair - brushing it, braiding it, just running his fingers through it. One of her friends, an amateur shrink, said it had to do with validation and self worth, but Karen, she just liked it when men paid attention to her hair. This was a small problem, because she was very protective of her hair, and by the time she let her defenses down, most guys were intimidated or scared off. For the first part of their marriage, Bill treated her hair better than she ever could, but he slowly lost interest, and...
* * *
"Karen? Is that you?"
"This is Karen Willis. Who am I speaking to?"
"This is Joe Young. Remember me?" the voice on her office speakerphone said.
Joe.... Joe Young. It took a minute to register.
Then it came to her. Janet Young was her best friend in high school, and her younger brother.... She picked up. "Joey?" she said, quietly. "Little Joey Young?"
"Well, I'm not so little anymore, but yeah, it's me."
Joe went on to explain that he was in San Francisco on business, and after receiving her Christmas card last year, he thought he'd look her up. Joe remembered Karen and her magnificent hair that flowed to her ankles - how could he forget? The picture she sent him in that card was already tired and dog-eared, and still in his wallet. He had had a huge crush on her back then. He was only fourteen at the time, but he sometimes thought that he still hadn't met any woman that could compare to Karen and that hair.
"I gotta run, but how about dinner tonight? Bring along your family if you like. I'd love to catch up with you."
"The kids are at their grandmothers, and Bill is away, but I'd love to see how that little punk kid came out! Of course, you'll tell me how Janet's doing?"
And the date was set.
"Little Joey Young. Well I'll be!" Karen said quietly after hanging up. "Now there's a memory!" She still used the brush he had given her a few days before she left for college. How he got the money, she still didn't know, but it was a beautiful brush. She had tried a few others, but always came back to Joey's brush. They had written a few notes back and forth, but she hadn't heard a thing about him in at least ten years. He was a good kid back then, how did he turn out? After all, he did have a special place in her heart. And how was Janet? They were the best of friends in Junior and Senior year, but slowly grew apart after marriage and a couple of moves.
"Joey and Janet would surely be shocked to see me now, that's for sure! How am I going to fix this hair?" she said to herself, already figuring out her schedule for the rest of the day. It would be a nice break from all the sad memories of the last couple of years.
Joe was beyond looking forward to dinner with Karen, he has nervous and excited as a schoolboy on a first date. His day was shot, that was for sure. As soon as Janet had mentioned her name, the schoolage memories had come flooding back, and he was both excited and apprehensive. His memories of Karen were both a joy and a burden. Every woman he ever met was compared to Karen - at least her hair was compared to Karen's - and he couldn't help it. He could never completely come to grips with his hair fetish, and Karen's hair was the most magnificent....
"Stop it, Joseph!" he commanded himself. "Get back to business. Surely you can keep your mind on your business for what, six more hours?" Besides, she probably cut it, he thought. She probably got tired of it all and has a perky little bob or something like that. No way could she keep a couple of yards of hair this long. How old is she? Thirty-eight or thirty-nine? Nah, don't sweat it. Just a friendly reunion over dinner, that's all.
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