I first saw her at the laundromat during the summer of 1996. She was dressed down in track pants and a t-shirt. I thought she was cute, maybe not breathtaking, but attractive all the same. The thing that caught my eye was her ebony shoulder-length ponytail, which swung across the back of her neck like a pendulum while she loaded up the washing machine. She put in her change and started her wash, and pulled out a magazine from her duffle bag and started reading, leaning back on the machine and affording me a nice peek at her lithe body, though of course I pretended not to be looking.
I looked down at the floor and saw a bra that looked like it might have dropped from her laundry bag. I went over and picked it up from the floor. "Excuse me, miss? Is this yours?"
She looked over and smiled. "No, not mine. Sorry!" She had such a sweet smile, this woman. Her little-girl grin totally transformed her face.
I sheepishly went back to the folding table and tossed the bra towards the wall near the "Lost and Found" sign, leaving it for someone else to pick up. I then sat back down and re-opened the textbook I had brought with me. I was two months away from finishing my Mathematics degree and I needed to get in as much studying for my upcoming exams as possible. Through no fault of her own, however, this woman was making it difficult for me, shuffling her legs back and forth, pulling her ponytail forward, smelling it. I've always been a freak for women with long hair and I was quickly losing it. I pushed my nose back in my studies and tried desperately to concentrate.
"Excuse me..." I looked up and the woman was standing over me, shoulders pushed back and looking embarrassed. "Can I bum some fabric softener off of you? I forgot to bring some." That smile again. I was transfixed.
I handed her the bottle, flustered. "Uh, sure, it's all yours." I always forgot to use it in my wash anyway when I brought it, and this seemed to be as good a use as anything. She thanked me and hurried back to add the softener to the wash water, her ponytail swinging behind her. I could swear she was swivelling her hips at me as she walked away.
Well, there was no hope of getting any studying done now, I figured. And I wasn't about to give away my fabric softener without a fee. It's now or never. I took a deep breath and followed her over.
She looked up as I approached, and I tried on my best Marlon Brando posture. "Well, ma'am..." I hunched my shoulders reflexively. "Seeing as how you're using MY fabric softener, I think I deserve to know the name of the person using it."
She rolled her eyes mockingly. "I'm Mandy." She held her hand out, fluttering her small fingers with their neatly manicured nails. I shook it lightly. "Thank you, Mandy." Times like this, I was thinking, I could really use a dialogue coach.
She pulled her hand back. "Excuse me, but a gentleman kisses a lady's hand, he doesn't shake it." Jesus, what was this, Gone With The Wind? I re-took her hand and daintily placed my lips on her soft fingers.
"Sorry Mandy. I won't let that happen again."
She smiled and pulled her ponytail to her nose. With her lower face hidden your attention fixed itself on her doe-like brown eyes, large and lightly rimmed with mascara, which I hadn't noticed before.
"You keep smelling your hair, I notice?" Chatting up women is not my strong point, so I had to go with whatever opportunity to continue the conversation that presented itself.
She looked at the ends of her hair as she talked. "Yeah, I just washed it a few hours ago. I swiped my roommate's shampoo actually. I use a lot more of it than I used to and I ran out. It's nice smelling stuff, actually."
"You use a lot more now? How come?"
"Well it used to be a lot shorter. My boyfriend made me get it cut and it took me over two years to grow it out again, and I'm letting it grow longer. More hair, more shampoo. You know," she said this looking over at my textbook, "Mathematics! X plus Y!"
I was entranced, but still there it was, the B-word. Nothing kills the mood like it. All the same I soldiered on. "Why did he make you cut it?'
Mandy rolled her eyes again, this time in annoyance. It didn't seem like a pleasant subject for her. "Oh, he has this thing for Winona Ryder, and he wanted me to cut it like her. He said I would look just like her and he was all excited about it. It was the ugliest style you've ever seen. I swear I looked like Mr. Bean for three months because of him." She locked eyes with mine and batted her lashes. "You guys, you're all assholes!" Again the smile. Oh lord, this girl was killing me!
"Hey," I chided her, "we're not all assholes!" It sounded to me that maybe she was considering her options, and I sure as hell wanted on top of that list. "And besides, it was your choice to cut the hair for him, you should have said no. No guy has the right to tell you what to do with your hair or how you dress or anything. I know I wouldn't."
She looked down at the washing machine, which was now entering the rinse cycle. "Well, I know I'm not letting a guy push me around like that again."
The conversation lulled. I was trying to think of some way to re-start it, anything. "So where is your boyfriend anyway? I would think he should be helping with the chores."
She looked up and fixed gazes with me. "Ex-boyfriend, actually. Three weeks now." She started to laugh, rocking on her heels. I was in.
* * *
We met for coffee the next night at a shop near her place. We talked about school and what we were studying. She was in her second year of her Business Administration programme, and hating every minute of it. I tried to console her by telling her that at least she was taking a useful subject - I had been regretting my choice of studies for the past year, even though I resolved to finish with a degree of some kind. We talked about movies and rollerblading, which she had started doing on Sundays down at the beach. She even showed off her lower legs to me, hiking the sleeves of her bermuda shorts at the table - her calves were muscular and sexy. Over and over, however, my eyes kept wandering to her ponytail, that bundle of perfectly straight hair, not a split end in sight. I wanted to see it unbound and flowing over her shoulders, I wanted to run my eager fingers through its silky length.
As I was paying the bill I finally asked Mandy to untie it. She giggled and pulled the scrunchie from her ponytail. Her hair fanned out over her shoulders, shining under the neon lights, perfectly straight, framing either side of her lovely face.
Wow, wow, WOW! I felt dizzy with lust. I babbled mindlessly. "How... how could your boyfriend make you cut that?" I honestly could not contemplate how a guy could do such a thing.
She laughed and swung her hair back, tossing it behind her shoulders. It was not long enough to stay behind her shoulders for long and fell right back against her cheeks. "I don't know, he was a control freak. I tell you, though, it'll be a long time before scissors touch this!"
As we walked up the avenue she swung her head constantly to keep the hair out of her face. I was getting seriously aroused, watching the street lamp light play off her perfect shining tresses.
"Don't ever cut your hair. Promise me that."
She stopped walking and faced me, seeing that I was serious. She snorted through her nose and rolled those gorgeous brown eyes again. "Sure, whatever!" She pulled my arm around her waist and we continued back to her place.
After a few beers on her couch and midway through a truly lousy rental video, we made out for the first time. She was catching on to my hair fetish by this time and was playing to it, slapping her hair gently across my face, giggling teasingly. I removed her shirt and fumbled with her bra strap, the beer buzz catching up with me. I ended up rubbing her tight stomach while she finished the job and started working on the buttons of my jeans. We did just about everything our inexperienced minds could think of on that couch that night. I even took my first fumbling stab at cunnilingus that night, much to Mandy's amusement. I honestly did not have a clue what I was doing, lolling my tongue this way and that over her pubis, but she liked my adventurousness. After a few pointers from her she started moaning her approval. We finally started fucking, Mandy rocking on top of me, sweat glistening off her breasts, her ecstatic grin spreading beneath her veil of mussed hair. I had nev er seen anything so erotic in my life.
We finished and lay naked on the sofa for hours, her arms around my shoulders. She purred slyly in my ear as I ran my fingers gently through her mane, brushing it over her ear. We were both suddenly startled when her roommate entered the living room, bundled in a ratty bath robe and half-asleep, trudging down the hallway to the bathroom. It was all we could do to keep from laughing out loud as she disappeared around the corner. After we heard the door slam we gathered our clothes and rushed to Mandy's room for the rest of the night. It turned out her roommate never even knew that we were in the apartment that night. Me and Mandy laughed about that one for months afterward. What was she, deaf?
* * *
After I graduated me and Mandy got a place together. It took some time adapting to living together, but I can honestly say that the next ten months were the happiest of my life so far. I still had several thousands of dollars saved up from my student loan (I guess my Mathematics degree proved useful for something after all) and Mandy had money coming from home supporting her in her studies. We spent most of the days hanging out, fucking every chance we could get. She seemed to develop a hair fetish to match mine and her hair figured greatly in our lovemaking sessions. She would spread it over my stomach while she would go down on me, or flip it over my head like a veil, kissing me deeply. Once in a while she would just play with her hair, brushing it around her and moaning, slowly bringing her tresses over her face until she was covered in her own shining locks, while I pleasured myself. She loved turning me on every chance she got, though I was always careful to return the favour somehow. If I don't say so myself, I was becoming quite the master of the face job. Mandy was a good teacher, after all.
Meanwhile her hair grew quickly and by our first year anniversary it just reached the small of her back, and it looked better than ever. I could literally watch her for hours, sitting at her desk, her hair swinging back and forth in a sensuous mass as she studied. I bought all her shampoos and conditioners, even experimented with expensive vitamin supplements for hair and nails for a while. One of our favourite rituals was where I would shampoo her tresses gently every other night, working out her tangles, nurturing her awesome crowning glory. After lovingly drying her hair on a towel, we often made love for hours. We shared in the glory of her long hair and her radiant beauty night after night, and I felt like the luckiest man alive.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't starting to grow overly-protective of her. In public I imagined every guy's eyes on her. It wasn't like Mandy didn't encourage the attention - she had taken to wearing make-up and short dresses and low-cut shirts tied in a knot at her midriff when we went out, flirting shamelessly with me and teasing me over drinks at the bar, driving me out of my mind most every time. I held her tightly as we walked outside, though, marking my territory. Women often came up to her saying how much they admired her hair, maybe talking about how they wish they had never cut theirs. I wondered why they didn't just grow it back if they missed having long hair so much, but I couldn't help but feeling proud of Mandy as well. Some of the women would tell me how lucky I was to have a woman like Mandy, and I couldn't help but agreeing.
On the other hand there were times that a guy would come up to her on the street, with me standing right by her side, and start chatting her up. I couldn't believe the nerve of some of these guys. Sometimes they just came up to compliment Mandy on her hair, which I could appreciate as well, but a few even made passes at her, trying to get her to meet them at a pub or wherever later that night. At this point I had to find some way to step into the conversation and affirm that, indeed, she was taken. One time, some guy even came up to us and asked if Mandy would be interested in selling her hair for making wigs. I absolutely lost it with the prick, yelling at him to fuck off right in the middle of the crowded street. I completely snapped. He put his hands up and backed away, apologising profusely. Mandy was startled, asking me what the hell my problem was. As she turned away, I caught that girlish grin of hers. She may have felt protected, a maiden safe with her dashing kn ight, but I was slowly turning into a nervous wreck.
Unfortunately, things were going downhill for me in other ways as well. My money had finally run out and I was rejected from Grad School. I ended up taking a job as a Junior LAN Administrator at an office complex downtown, which might sound glamorous (Mandy was certainly very impressed, as were my parents) but it was really a low-paying, soul-crushing job with poor benefits and long hours. After four years in a university program intended as a fresh start, I had to break out my original textbooks from my days as a computer programmer and start all over again. Mandy and her ditzy bottle-blond friend Cynthia usually left me to my assignments at my work desk, where I slaved for several hours while they partied and had fun, or went to aerobics classes at the gym on days off from classes. I was starting to become bitter toward Mandy and her undergraduate freedom. She couldn't understand why I was tired all the time and she accused me of ignoring her. My usual response was to huf f and, well, ignore her. Some of us had work to do.
Two months after our anniversary, it was becoming clear to me that we were drifting apart. Our lovemaking was becoming less and less frequent. I became content to simply jerk off while she played with her hair, and let her finish herself off as I rolled over and went to sleep. We didn't talk an awful lot anymore. I found myself doing more and more work maintaining her hair as she had seemed to lose interest in it. It was becoming just another chore for me, like washing the family pet. I often scolded her for not taking better care of herself.
One time we were bickering and the subject of her hair came up. She turned to me and said, "you care more about my hair than you do about me, don't you?" I raised my finger in counter-accusation, but suddenly realised I didn't have any really useful comeback. She was really upset by my lack of a response. I could hear her crying in the bathroom later that night.
* * *
One Saturday Mandy came home from shopping with Cynthia and the girls. I said Hi without looking up from my computer screen. She stood over me, waiting for me to look up. When I finally did, I was stupefied.
Mandy was ecstatic. "So, what do you think?"
I stood, fists clenching in rage. "Mandy, what the fuck did you do to your hair? Christ, you wrecked it!"
She had bangs cut over her eyes now. She had chopped off two feet of perfectly healthy hair to make a miserable set of scraggly bangs that hung limply over her eyebrows. Worse, her hair was puffed out in an awful perm which made it look like crumpled black hay. Jesus, she looked like a bag lady.
Mandy was obviously expecting a positive reaction, and her smile was fading quickly. "Well, I had it permed and layered, I thought you'd like..."
"LAYERED?!" I was incensed. "What, the hell was wrong with your hair that you had to do that? I liked it all one length, it was perfect the way it was!" I was pacing the floor now, screaming and ranting. Our elderly upstairs neighbour was banging on our ceiling, his way of telling us to keep the noise down.
Mandy shook her head, her nose wrinkling. "Fuck, I try to do something nice for you, something... different..." Her eyes were starting to water and she started toward the bathroom door. I suddenly snapped out of my frenzy and realised what was happening. I grabbed her by the shoulders before she could escape me and I started babbling apologies.
"Look, Mandy, I didn't mean it. It's just that your hair... you're a special woman, you know that." Mandy was rubbing her swelling eyes, tears ready to flow any second. I continued, "I liked how your hair was, all one length. Do you remember when we met, how I had you vow never to cut your hair?"
She nodded meekly.
"Mandy, look, I'm sorry I yelled at you like that. I really am. Sometimes I forget how important you are. You ARE! You're everything to me."
I kissed her and held her tightly. Her arms hung limp at her sides, finally creeping up my back. We made love that night, as best as a make-up session could be under the circumstances (Mandy came, I didn't.) I saw a trace of her past happiness on her face as she slept, which made me feel a bit better. All the same, I couldn't sleep that night. I lay awake, thinking about an article I read about how longer hair doesn't grow as fast as the shorter hair, as if it's waiting sympathetically for the short hair to catch up in length. I was obsessed with the subject, though I would never admit it. In my head I was calculating how long it would take for Mandy's layers to grow back to their original length. I looked at her, sleeping, her knees drawn up partway to her chest, and I felt like a bigger jerk than ever before.
* * *
February came, a short, miserable month of snow and wet cold, worse than usual it seemed. Mandy and I rarely talked at all now, in fact we were seeing very little of each other these days. She had taken to wearing rumpled denim shirts and jeans, covering up the body she worked so hard to maintain at the gym - gone were the tight dresses and bright lipstick she used to wear when we used to go out. She also stopped caring for her hair altogether now, leaving it in a loose ponytail for days at a time. Her bangs, now grown out past her cheekbones, were usually kept off of her face with cheap plastic barrettes which were pushed carelessly into her tresses. I was shampooing her twice a week now, not saying anything. I was having a hard time caring as well. Her friends stopped talking to me in the streets - they just glared at me like I was a criminal. The end of our road together seemed around the corner.
Our big blow-up started as most of these things usually do, over something very trivial and unconnected to the larger issue at hand. I had left the bar of hand soap in the sink in the bathroom, gray with dirt. She laid into me on that one. I told her that she had some nerve lecturing me about cleanliness. "You barely take care of yourself, who cares about the damn bathroom?"
I wanted a reaction, and brother, I got one. "I take very good care of myself, shithead! I don't see you at the gym five days a week!"
"That's 'cause I have to work, Mandy! Some of us don't have the luxury of spending daddy's money and screwing around every night! You wouldn't know what it is to work, would you?"
"Your problem, you..." She jabbed her finger hard into my chest as she spoke. "Your problem is that you only think of me in terms of this!" She pulled up her ponytail roughly, it's once well-tended ends split and tattered. "I should just cut this shit off and let you two go have fun!"
"Well if you took care of it, it wouldn't look like shit, would it?" I was not aware that I completely missed her point, which enraged her even further. She stormed off into the kitchen, cursing me all the while. The upstairs neighbour was banging on the ceiling furiously, adding to the flurry of screaming.
I threw up my hands. I had just had it. I was thinking of places I could stay while I got my stuff out of the apartment. Enough was enough.
Just then she came back into the room with a pair of scissors, tearing the rubber band from her hair. "Here you go! It's all coming off, are you happy?" She opened the scissors and put them in her hair.
I stopped everything. My god, she was serious. "Look, Mandy, you don't have to do this."
Mandy help the scissors open in her trembling hand. She pulled the barrette from her bangs, letting them fall across her face. "I'm doing it, asshole! It's all coming off right now!"
I stood with my mouth gaping. I took a step forward, and Mandy stepped back in tandem. Her hand was shaking hard now. "I'm doing it, buddy! I'm cutting!"
I had no idea what to say. I was being held hostage to a woman threatening to bald herself. Mandy was breathing very heavily, staring angrily through her veil of black bangs. "Come on! Whip that pecker of yours out and have a blast! It only comes off once!"
I saw no way out of this. There was no point in trying to prevent what was inevitably going to happen. I was beside myself with anger over being put in this position. "Fine. Cut it off! I give up!"
I could not believe I was saying this. I continued anyway, pacing madly as I yelled at her. "I... give... UP! Do you hear me? You win! Cut it off! Hack it all to the scalp for all I care!" The upstairs neighbour was screaming at us in Portugese through the heating duct now, but I kept going, yelling up at the ceiling. "I want the world to think I live with a concentration camp prisoner! Come on Sinead! Snip snip snip! Go nuts!"
She stopped, staring in startled bewilderment. I leaned into her as I continued. "Your old boyfriend liked you with your hair all cut to shit, you can go back to him once you're done! You can get the fuck out of the place I pay the bills for! Let him put up with your whining and pay for your shampoo and your food and your fucking gym membership! I'm tired of footing the bill!" I was fabricating here - I paid for most of her stuff, but certainly not all. "I have just had it! I've had it with you, okay? Do you get me?"
I stood glaring, breathing heavily, all my rage spent. Mandy was too stunned to reply. The scissors dropped from her hands, clattering on the hardwood floor. Her face dissolved into a terrible pool of anguish. "You fucking... guys, you're... fuck... you're all the fucking same... assholes!" She took a step forward, then back, and then all of a sudden started sobbing uncontrollably, her fists flailing at her sides. "ASSHOLES! ASSHOLES! ASSHOLES! ASSHOLES! FUCKING..." Her voice was subsumed by heart-wracking sobs as she stood there, unable to move.
All of a sudden I realised what I had done. I moved toward her to apologise, but she swerved away, curling in the corner, her hands covering her face, her hair draped lankly over her, quivering with each gulp of air. I stood impotently over her, watching the woman I loved cry and cry.
In a final act of total cowardice, with no other option at hand, I turned away. I felt like there was no point in staying where I was not wanted. The damage was done. I went to the bedroom and closed the door. If I had scaled new heights of insensitivity and boorishness the last time I made her cry, I had now unequivocally topped my own personal best.
* * *
I slept fitfully. I was wracked with horrible dreams that night. In my dreams, Mandy would scream at me, chopping her hair and destroying herself. It was all my fault. All my fault, she screamed. She chopped and chopped and scraped with the scissor blades until her head was a skinless skull, her eyes floating and rolling wildly in their sockets. You did this to me! she wailed. I felt my chest being impaled with scissor blades, over and over. I was sinking in a grave, drowning in her bloody tears, choking on their bitter taste.
I woke up in a fit, drenched in sweat, muscles taut and knotted. I saw something move out of the corner of my eye and jumped, yelping upon seeing a figure hovering in the doorway. As my eyes grew accustomed to the half-light I realised it was Mandy. She stood drained and blank-faced, her eyes swollen and tearless. Her hair draped her shoulders, scraggly and damp, but uncut.
I spoke to break the silence. "Hey."
"Hey." Her mouth curled in a half-smile and dropped again. I stood up, naked, and approached her, and we wrapped arms around each other tightly, mumbling incoherent apologies. I unbuttoned her shirt and undid her jeans, letting them fall to the floor, and undid her bra as I led her to the bed.
We sat kissing, and my hands instinctively dug into her tresses, but she grabbed me by the wrists. "No. Not that." She looked at me, unblinkingly. "Not right now."
I wasn't sure what she was getting at. She lay back on the bed and threw her hair over the end of the mattress, the hair flopping onto the floor. "Make love to me. Not the hair. Me."
I put my hands around her sides and paused. I panicked. It was as if I didn't know what to do with this woman under me. Jesus, I was so used to making love to the hair that her body was a foreign landscape to me. I kissed her lightly, more to play for time that out of any affection.
She lay below me, waiting. Suddenly I had this odd, Zen-like moment of clarity. I looked at her angelic face, thinking of how she looked that first time I saw her at the laundromat, and I let my eyes trace a path over her torso. I noticed her stomach, gym-firmed and slender, tight as a snare drum under my palm. I noticed her breasts, youthful and high-set, nipples erect and surrounded by goose-bumped skin. I looked at her vagina, the labial folds moist and inviting. I looked at her legs, strong and smooth. It was as if I was seeing her for the first time, this incredible creature that hid all along beneath the long hair. Had I been blind all this time?
She saw my eyes wandering over her. "What's wrong? Why aren't you doing anything?"
I snapped out of my trance. "I'm just trying to figure out where to begin." My upper lip curled. This was going to be fun.
I dove tongue-first into her mouth, jousting with her and rubbing the sides of her waist. I traced my tongue over her body, lightly painting her breasts and shoulders, licking every salty square inch of her that I could reach. She squealed with delight and joined in the tongue-play, biting me on my back and shoulders. I made my way to her pubic region and got to work. She came in minutes, her eyes rolling heavenward. But I was only getting started.
I tried everything I could think of to make her scream. I licked her behind the knees. I fingered her breasts and squeezed them gently together, my penis inserting between. I hoisted her on top of me and she rode me in delirium. It was all I could do to keep her hair from swinging in my face, but I was determined to do this right for once. I turned her over and fucked her from behind, careful to throw her hair back over the end of the bed. I humped her as I rubbed her clit from the front, moving my hands to her breasts and up again to stroke her face, and then back to stimulate her clit. I had too few hands to play with her and there was too much of her to play with. Mandy was panting like I hadn't heard in months, grunting and growling like an animal. I had to do some serious mental gymnastics, math equations, TCP/IP configurations, anything to keep from exploding until the very end, after she was too exhausted to come again. We collapsed in a heap, stuck together by ou r sweaty flesh, and fell asleep.
* * *
The sun burst upon us as we awoke, my arms still folded over her waist, holding her against me. She turned toward me, heavy-lidded and slurring. "Hel-lo, there!" She leaned sleepily over me and purred huskily, licking the rim of my ear. It had been a long, long time since I had heard her purr like that.
We sat up and started talking about what we were going to do that Sunday afternoon. More lovemaking was out for now, as we were both too sore to resume. Mandy's hand reached to the ends of her mane. "My god, I can't believe what a mess this is." She looked up at me, newly excited, her lips twisting in that familiar way. "Help me untangle it!"
She turned away and started working the tangles out of the front of her hair, and I gladly joined in with her tresses in the back, just like old times. She hummed as she worked her fingers through her hair. "I've really let it go, haven't I?"
"We both have let it go." I was making my way to the ends of the first part of her hair. "I've let a lot of things go."
She turned back to me when she was satisfied with her work. Her long bangs flopped over her left eye. I said that maybe she should re-trim her bangs, as I brushed her hair over her ear. "I like being able to see your face."
She laughed at my compliment. "No, I think I'll just let it grow out again. I shouldn't have cut it in the first place. It was Cynthia's idea anyway. She's just jealous." She smiled playfully.
We kissed lightly and savoured the moment. "You know, though," Mandy continued, playing with the ends of her hair, "the real problem with my hair right now?"
With a lazy toss she threw her long mane over my right shoulder and then pulled the ends over my left. "It's still not long enough. I have to grow it long enough so that I can tie you to me and you can never leave."
I felt ecstatic. I told her I was looking forward to every minute of it.
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