Beauty Shop Christmas by Donna Jo Stone

I recorded one of my short stories for Christmas! I hope you enjoy. 

 

Beauty Shop Christmas

by Donna Jo Stone

The beauty shop was the heartbeat of the town, exactly as it should be, but Linda wouldn’t have opened on Christmas Eve if Doreen Lassiter hadn’t been a longtime customer. She’d kept her monthly appointment ever since the first week Linda had put out her shingle. 

Besides opening due to her appreciation for a faithful customer, Linda was willing because she desperately needed cash to add to the girl’s meager stockings. The teenagers were hard to buy for, but Linda figured everyone liked money. Maybe a bit of spending green would nudge the eldest, Rain, towards an attitude adjustment.

Linda turned the key, unlocking the door to the shop.Her feet ached from the previous day, and she would give her last set of false eyelashes for a solid twenty-four hours of nothing to do. Instead, a long day stretched ahead of her. Doreen was her only client today, but it would be the first Christmas Eve there had been teens, or children of any sort, in the house since her own distant youthful days. The turkey was in the oven, and a tree decked out with ornaments sat in her front room. Usually, she stuck the pre-lit tabletop tree in the window and called it done, but the girls deserved a happy Christmas.

Linda’s lips pinched up at the thought of her errant sister, who had yet to reappear since asking Linda to take the girls for a while so she could “figure some things out”. Determination stiffened Linda’s spine. The girls were going to have a good Christmas if it killed her.

She pushed the door . It stuck fast until she leaned her hip into it and shoved. A string of announcing bells jangled as she entered.

With the problem of Rain’s perpetual moodiness tugging at her mind, Linda began to set out rods and bottles of solution near the middle chair. Doreen would be here soon, and the woman always wanted her hair curled and permed, and she always, always, wanted the middle chair. The first seat was too hard, according to her sensitive rear, the cushion all buckled in the center from countless bottoms that had parked there over the years, and the third chair squeaked. 

As she arranged supplies, Linda tried to concentrate on being grateful for the bonus cash, but couldn’t help thinking about her comfy armchair where she usually spent the two-day holiday, resting after the flurry of beautifying the town required for the season. She scrunched her face up at herself in the mirror. If the perm solution didn’t give her a headache, Doreen’s incessant grumbling surely would.

A tapping caught her attention, and she turned to see Doreen through the glass, her hands cupped around her eyes as she peered in. In exaggerated movements, she pantomimed opening the door and then threw up her hands. It was stuck again. Linda hustled over, pasting on her usual wide grin. Grabbing the door handle, she hauled the stubborn thing open.

“Good morning,” she greeted Doreen with enthusiasm. From her tone, no one would ever know how exhausted she was. Of course, if the extra-large economy size bags around her eyes she saw in the mirror this morning were any indication, the trials and tribulations of becoming instant caretaker to two teenage girls was evident on her face.

“G’morning.”

Doreen couldn’t squeeze out an entire greeting, but Linda refused to let it bother her. “What can we do for you today?” As if she didn’t know.

“You cut it too short on top last time.”

Linda bit her lip and thought of Christmas spirit. “Come sit. Coffee?”

Linda got Doreen settled, but no sooner had she begun combing out the gray curls than Rain slouched through the door. Linda cast a quick glance in the mirror, expecting Doreen’s face to pucker up, but the woman’s expression didn’t change from the usual stony unpleasantness carved there.

“Aunt Linda,” the girl began, “I need to get something.”

Linda waited for further explanation, but Rain gave none, instead shuffled behind the counter and rummaged around in the office supplies. Linda didn’t mind, not really. It was just odd to have someone making themselves at home among her possessions, even if it was what she wanted. She wanted the girls to feel welcome. Didn’t she? Still, she wished the girl had manners. The idea of reprimanding the silent teen made the formerly childless Linda want to chew the jolly red polish right off her manicured nails,

Rain left without so much as a by your leave and Linda concentrated on her work. Pulling up a strand of hair, she met Doreen’s gaze in the mirror and indicated length with her fingers. “About right here?” Her jaw creaked as she forced a smile.

“A bit shorter.”

“Alrighty.”

Linda cut a millimeter longer than her guide. “Are you seeing your son for the holidays?”

Doreen’s complaints about her son soon morphed into general dissatisfaction with the mayor, town, and the current state of the world, which, according to her, was doomed and deserving of the trouble it found itself in. All Linda had to do for her end of the conversation was make sympathetic noises for twenty minutes.

Doreen paused in her tirade. “Do you pay Rain for working in the shop here?”

Linda had been nodding at the flow of Doreen’s talk, riding the waves of her grievances about doctors and poor customer service at the car repair garage, so the question brought her up short.

Why was Doreen showing an interest in Rain? Had the girl locked horns with their crotchety neighbor?

Impatient, Doreen raised her eyebrows. “I asked you a question, Linda.”

Fierce defensiveness welled up inside Linda, and she tried to tamp her feelings down, but the hairs on the back of her neck prickled in indignation. She was careful to modulate her tone, keeping her response as bland as rice pudding.

“Why yes, I do.”

Doreen sniffed. “She’s been feeding my dog, you know. And brushing him, too.”

Linda straightened her shoulders. She didn’t see what was wrong with that, but was sure Doreen had taken offense.

Doreen tipped her head to the side, gave a tiny shrug, and frowned. “I appreciate her caring for little Ruffie.” She flicked at the loose hairs on the cape and shifted, squirming in the chair. “Linda, let’s leave off the perm this time.”

Linda didn’t know what was more shocking, Doreen not wanting a perm, her calling Rain by her name, or the fact that Rain had been consorting with the neighbors and had been being nice. Rain was being nice to neighbors behind Linda’s back.

“I need to sit down.”

Linda plopped herself into the next chair over from Doreen, who stared at her with eyes as round as doughnuts.

“Are you all right?”

Linda fanned herself. “Perfectly.”

Doreen frowned, the creases around her mouth deepening. “You shouldn’t work if you’re sick. You might spread germs.”

“I’m not sick.”

“Well, what’s wrong with you, then? Hot flashes? Take some supplements, for Pete’s sake. What if you’d had a spell while you were cutting my hair?”

If it hadn’t been for the warm cozy feeling rising up in Linda at the notion of Rain caring, on her own accord, for grumpy old Doreen Lassiter’s dog, she would have been irritated at the woman. Instead, pride welled up in her. Maybe being instant auntie to teenagers wasn’t all bad.

Doreen narrowed her eyes at Linda and craned her head forward, blinking. “Your face sure is red. You look like a tomato.” She got up from the chair and retrieved her purse, a battered navy handbag that had seen better days. Opening it, she fished out an equally worn wallet. With a face that looked like she’d been to a lemon tasting contest rather than the beauty shop, she shoved folded bills at Linda. “You give that extra twenty to Rain, hear?”

Flabbergasted, Linda could do little more than nod as Doreen harrumphed and left the shop, the sticky door banging shut behind her. It was several minutes before Linda smoothed out the money in her hand. One twenty and two fifty-dollar bills. A hundred dollar tip?

Linda imagined Rain sneaking treats to Doreen’s dog in spite of the neighbor’s well-earned reputation as the town grouch. She considered the fact that Doreen had made today’s appointment only three weeks after her regular visit. In all the years she’d been coming in, Doreen had kept to her routine religiously, and never darkened the beauty shop’s door until her scheduled appointment, holiday or no.

A slow grin spread across Linda’s face as she thought about the two grumps who had blessed her with their company in the shop this morning.

Christmas spirit hid under all kinds of masks, even grinchy ones.