"And what are we having done today?"
Valarie had been dreading the question for days. If not for her work as a receptionist - where she was the first face of a corporation she cared nothing for - she wouldn't be getting anything done at all. She was content to snip away at the dark veil that crowned her head. Not because she was good at it though, in fact she was rather dangerous with scissors as far as the hairdresser would be concerned. She looked up at the lady in question. She waited nearby, her tapping foot betraying her patient smile.
"Just a tidy up. A little trim," she almost whispered. "for work." she added. She could have just as truthfully said "To keep my job." Her boss had at first suggested that Valerie get a haircut, but today she had yelled it. Karen seemed to think that not being able to see the receptionist's eyes made the whole company appear untrustworthy. Valerie thought selling customer information to advertisers was untrustworthy.
The lady with power over her appearance didn't ask any further questions - instead she got to work. Valerie felt the mist of water after several sprays sounded behind her, followed by the steady snipping that lightened the load carried by her neck. Valerie's stomach twisted, She's taking off too much.
At any time Valerie could have looked up into the mirror and checked for herself, but she hadn't peered through her bangs to the reflective surface since noticing it from the waiting area. "Not too much, I hope." her soft voice didn't reach the hairdresser and she had to try again - two more times - to be heard. She flushed hot with embarrassment, the type of shame she only felt when having to repeat a sentence she already knew would not be received with kindness.
"You can trust me dear, I've been doing this a long time. Have a look, we can see much more of your pretty face."
Valerie's heart dropped, taking what was left of her voice with it. Despite her loathing of mirrors and what they said to her, she needed to know. If it's visible I... Valerie moved slowly, as if in front of her was a fierce beast ready to pounce and devour her.
Her eyes moved up from her lap which was covered by a black apron to the counter top. A few different sized brushes and combs were arranged neatly on the surface, scissors and clippers hung from hooks on the wall above that and then - the shine of a chrome frame pushed Valerie's eyes back down to the combs. She clenched her fists under the thin plastic apron and continued her journey upwards. She reached the chrome shine and pressed upward, next was the folds of her black plastic apron, the sight of her pale neck quickened her pulse but she carried on. Her chin was sharper than she remembered, her cheeks flushed red standing out from her otherwise pale complexion like strawberries in the snow. But that wasn't what scared her. On her nose rested black rimmed glasses, in that moment she decided they didn't suit her. Behind the lenses her own eyes stared back at her, her pupils so wide that they threatened to cover her hazel irises. Her eyes were dry so far, but she knew that what lay above would make or break the dams that held back her tears. Hair still covered most of her forehead, but something peaked through below, a reddish mar on her skin birthed from what she wished to forget.
She stared at the mark, it looked different to when she last had the courage to check. She raised her hand slowly, navigating the plastic apron with some difficulty. The hairdresser had noticed her movement and stopped her trimming to watch. Valerie tried her best not to notice her stares through the mirror, instead raising her hand to her head. Her fingers hovered by her hairline a moment too long for the hairdressers liking.
"You alright, love? I can stop if you want."
Valerie took hold of the hair that shielded her from what she would usually try not to think about. She moved it aside despite the tremors that plagued her. She had looked down again without meaning to. She forced her eyes up again, her vision flicking between her fingers and the scar. That scar held meaning to her, a meaning she wished would disappear. She forced herself to stare where she wouldn't for so many years.
"It's faded," she whispered. Tears brimmed at the edges of her eyes, they streamed down to meet the slight smile of her lips. The scar had faded. Dull red remained where deep crimson had once been. No further discoloration marred her, no more purples and yellow - only dull red. She touched the skin - wincing in anticipation - but it was smooth and didn't hurt to touch. Her hand shook and her lips quivered.
She turned to the hairdresser and made eye contact, the genuine type of eye contact she had not been making. "Just a little more will be fine."
It didn't take long for the lady to finish, during which time Valerie managed some small talk. She paid with a couple a hundred dollar note and left the store looking forward, not down at her feet. She looked around her, noticing so many people around her were walking in different directions. Some of them had their eyes forward too, but many looked down. Maybe they have scars that are still healing too.
She passed a man who sat on a street corner with a cardboard sign. He didn't have much of anything with him but perhaps once he did, maybe he could again. Valerie placed her change in front of him and smiled. He smiled back and offered a short prayer of thanks. Valerie turned and kept walking, a warm glow spread through her, like the sun had risen once again after a long cold night.