‘Hi,’ she says, ‘I’m Melissa.’ She holds out her hand and smiles warmly.
‘Hi,’ I say, ‘I’m Adie.’ I extend my hand also, as I take the seat next to where she has been waiting for me.
Scanning the room, I’m feeling a little anxious. What if Francesca is here? What if she sees me with Melissa? Oh God, why couldn’t I have arranged to do this somewhere else? It’s too late now, I guess.
Melissa asks me about my day, while a young girl approaches to take a drinks order. I’m not really listening to either of them; I’m too concerned about being caught out by Francesca, and wondering why I’m doing this at all. Is Francesca really all that bad? What would she say if she saw me here? Would she confront me in front of everybody? Unlikely, I decide. But would she really be that hurt to find me going behind her back? I mean, it’s just a casual arrangement that we have, it’s not as though we’ve been together for years. In fact, it’s only been a few months.
So why am I feeling so guilty?
* * * * * * * *
‘It always feels a little like you’re cheating on one with the other, when you change hairstylists in the same salon,’ my wife tells me, as we meet for lunch a little later. ‘Maybe you really should have gone somewhere else.’
‘I guess I should have,’ I say, smiling.
‘What made you book Melissa, anyway?’
‘Nothing, really,’ I say, ‘I just fancied a change.’ I check myself in the reflection of the restaurant window. ‘To be honest, I think I prefer Francesca.’
Nat considers my new cut, taking my chin in her hand and turning my head from side to side. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘so do I … I think Melissa’s missed a bit.’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘I feel even more self-conscious now.’
‘We can’t all look as good as me,’ she says, and leans over to kiss me.
‘What do you think salons do with all the hair they brush up,’ I ask, as I tip the remnants of our wine bottle across our two glasses.
‘Well, I’d like to think that they have it drug tested in order to blackmail clients,’ she suggests.
‘Interesting,’ I say. ‘Personally, I think they use it to clone individual clients, so as to have the faux-clients commit crimes for them.’
‘They might even be using the hair en masse,’ Nat continues, ‘as the base ingredient with which to build a vast clone army, so as to one day take over the world.’
‘I’ve heard rumours,’ I say, lowering my voice and looking around furtively, ‘that they may even be making wigs from it.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she says.
* * * * * * * *
Four weeks later, I’m back; this time with Francesca, whilst trying hard to avoid eye contact with Melissa.
Forty or so minutes and a much better job later, Francesca and I are saying our goodbyes. She has her diary up on screen as I pay, and reminds me that I can get 10% off my next cut if we book the next appointment now.
It’s while we are doing this that Melissa walks right by me. I know she’s seen me, though she’s pretending she hasn’t. This makes me pretend I haven’t seen her either … which only adds to my discomfort.
‘You’ll get a text the day before, to remind you,’ says Francesca, enthusiastically and, I feel, rather too loudly.
‘Thank you,’ I say, quietly and cowardly, while the ‘Screw You’ of Melissa’s silence continues to ricochet off the walls and around my head.
‘By the way,’ I whisper, as I turn to leave, ‘what does the shop do with all the dead hair it collects?
‘I think we just bag it and bin it,’ Francesca tells me.
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘That’s disappointing.’