North By Northeast

masqExcerpt from Chapter 1

     Haley Parsons stared into the beauty salon's oversized mirror. A stranger stared back at her.
     The eyes, nose and mouth looked like hers, but the hair made all the difference. Blonde bangs over her forehead just cleared her eyebrows; long, shiny blonde hair curled under just above her shoulders. She resembled a movie star from the forties or fifties.
     “I can't do it.” She pulled off the wig and threw it onto the counter--already cluttered with bottles, Kleenex and hair clips--in front of her.
     “Right.” Roberta, her fellow school teacher, stood at her side. “Go like this.”
     “This” was huge spots of scalp between tufts of normally brown curly hair and had become unacceptable the moment Haley had heard the hairdresser's fateful words, "I'll have to cut the gum out, and I'm afraid--"
     She was afraid?
     "I can trim the rest to match so it won't be so noticeable," the stylist offered. “How on earth did you get bubble gum in your hair anyway?”
     “Just lucky, I guess.” Haley squeezed her eyes shut to blot out her view of the woman butchering what was left of her hair.
     Roberta filled her in. “Ever hear the expression, 'No good deed goes unpunished'? Well, our good Samaritan here agreed to watch another teacher's kindergarten class during recess. She normally teaches seventh grade,” she added, “but no other teacher was available this afternoon.”
     “So...?” the stylist prompted.
     “So, as far as we could figure out later, five-year-old Timmy Blake started the fiasco. He wasn't supposed to have any bubble gum in the first place, but somehow he had an entire bag of the stuff in his pocket. Pretty soon every kid wanted some and all were blowing--or trying to blow--enormous bubbles like Timmy's.”
     Haley spoke without opening her eyes. “Before I could put a stop to it, a little girl fell off the jungle gym and scraped her knee.”
     Roberta took up the story again. “A one-inch bandage would have been enough, but the four-year-old started howling like she was about to lose half her leg.”
     “Her screams,” Haley said, “carried all the way to the next street and she insisted she had to go to the hospital in an ambulance.”
     “With sirens.”
     The stylist, who had children of her own, grinned and nodded.
     “By then,” Haley said, “the bubble-gum blowing was out of control. Not just making bubbles. Some children were throwing wads of fresh-chewed bubble gum at other children, and when I tried to stop it, I got some right in the face.”
     “I can see where you got it,” the stylist said, “three wads of the sticky stuff were imbedded in your hair.”
Haley opened her eyes. The trimming the stylist had done to even it out had left her with hair less than half-an-inch long all over her head. The tears she'd been holding in turned into a wail.
     “I look like a refugee from a concentration camp.”
     “I’m sorry,” the stylist said, “but–“
     ”I've only a week before my vacation. What am I going to do? I can't go looking like this.”
     "Well, you could always cancel your trip." Roberta was not only a teacher in the same private school, she was also Haley's housemate, her best friend and, sometimes, surrogate mother. But, at the moment, she didn't sound a bit sympathetic.
     "I've been planning this for a year and already paid my money. You know how much it cost."
     "How about the insurance you bought?" Roberta asked.
     "That was in case I suddenly got sick. I don't think 'a bad hair day' will work."
     "Can you postpone it?" the stylist asked.
     "This is my Spring break. They only schedule the tour through the Antebellum South in the Spring. And besides, my history class is just about to study the Civil War. It was perfect timing."
     "And the three little angels had perfect aiming," Roberta said.
     Haley wiped her eyes and frowned at Roberta through the mirror. “This is no time to be funny.”
     Roberta picked up the wig and held it out to Haley. "I'm not trying to be funny. Only realistic. Do you want to go on vacation looking like a prison inmate or a beautiful woman? Your choice.”
     Haley stared at herself for another long moment, then reluctantly grabbed the wig and adjusted it on her head again.
     "See, what did I tell you?” Roberta said. “It's perfect. You're going on a glamorous train on your spring break and a blonde wig will give you a totally new look for the trip.”
     Haley made an effort to calm down. "Different, for sure. But it's not me.”
     "You don't have to look like a mousy schoolteacher who never wears make-up and seldom sees the inside of a beauty parlor. For the first time in years you're taking a vacation--on a fancy train at that--and this wig says 'glamor.'"
     "What it says is deception. I can't pretend to be something I'm not."
     "So it's deceptive, so what? Can't you be somebody glamorous at least for a week?”
     Haley gave her a stony look.
     Roberta took a breath and launched her scenario again. “Trust me, this will work. Next stop, the cosmetics counter. The clerk will show you how to do a great job with make-up. Take notes on how to do something like it yourself."
     "I don't want to learn how to apply make-up," Haley protested.
     But Roberta was in her steam-roller persona, when protests were often futile. She crossed her arms over her ample bosom. "You don't have to go overboard, but I'm older and wiser and I say you need mascara to bring out your eyes, and some color on your face. Especially with the blonde wig.”
     Haley didn't protest again, just sat looking in the mirror without really seeing herself. Roberta was often right. She was older--near retirement age--and wiser, widowed and childless, and had taken speedily to the role of mother hen to Haley. Haley's own mother had been the family breadwinner, leaving Haley's upbringing mostly to her grandmother. Gran had done her duty but decried make-up as “vanity,” “unsuitable,” and “unnecessary.”
     Roberta turned to the hair stylist. “We'll take the wig.”

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