That was what Shiori thought.
It had grown to be a bad habit, especially within the last few years, but she couldn’t help but think that may no longer be true. It helped with meeting the next day, sure, but when would things start coming to pass? How long would she have to wait?
The only way to find the answer was to keep going.
The lights flickered above, or did she just blink?
Another quiet day at TRF Hair Salon. Shiori liked quiet days. Although, it was her turn to close up shop. Shiori wasn’t too thrilled about that.
Sirens, people shouting, a gunshot. The bland, generic pop music did little in overpowering the natural sounds of downtown Stephenville. Shiori swept some hair into the corner, to be collected and thrown away later.
Everyone else had gone home already. As much as she liked her coworkers, she did prefer to be on her own. She didn’t quite connect with them like they did each other, which, over the years, was something she learned to not be so concerned about. Besides, they were more comfortable speaking to each other in their own language, she never took the time to learn Vietnamese. Also, perhaps it spoke to something within her own personality. She was better off on her own. Something she didn’t think she shared with her own offspring.
Although, there was a safety in numbers, and it was getting late.
She checked the clock. And again. An hour until closing.
The front door opened, the metallic clinking that followed signaled a new customer. Shiori turned. She smiled.
“Welcome. Ah, hi, Thomas.”
Thomas Thompson. A prominent lawyer who owned a prominent firm located at the heart of downtown. Handsome, in the traditional sense, despite being well into his middle-aged years. Fit, too. The suit he had on was form-fitting, and it was clear that he exercised regularly. The only signs of his age were the small, thin crinkles by his eyes, an olive green. His hair was a little unruly, which could explain his being here. A subtle pompadour, slicked back by gel.
Attractive? Absolutely. It was an opinion that Shiori wouldn’t be shy about sharing to the man himself. She did not, and would not, of course, because that would be rather odd. To clarify, it was strictly an opinion of a platonic manner. Like describing a rose as red. Obvious, plain as day. But more importantly, other than stating a simple adjective, Thomas was married. And Shiori was good friends with Kristin, too.
Also, he was the father of Katy Thompson, her daughter’s best friend.
Thomas replied back, calm. “Hi, Shiori.” He walked through the front waiting area and towards Shiori’s chair. “Mind if I get a quick trim this late?”
Shiori shook her head. “No problem at all.”
Thomas sighed, relieved. “Thank you.” He sat down.
Shiori began getting her equipment ready, taking out her scissors and combs. “Just the usual?” she asked as she wrapped a gown around him to cover his suit.
“Just the usual.”
She started with the spray bottle, spritzing Thomas’s hair with water. She combed through his hair to get out the product, and to get started with the cutting.
“Busy on the weekend?” Shiori asked.
“Absolutely, otherwise I’d come tomorrow. In fact, it’s a good thing I happened to catch you at this time.”
“What about you? Busy this weekend?”
“Yes,” Shiori said, as she snipped away some hair. “I am. It’s my daughter’s birthday, tomorrow.”
Thomas scratched his chin. “Oh, that’s right. Katy said something about that. She seemed to be looking forward to it, herself.”
She trimmed a little more off the top.
“Yeah, she said something about planning a party for her tonight.”
She cut again.
“I asked Alexis to come home early today.”
“I was probably wrong, then. Maybe she meant the weekend?”
Shiori continued cutting. Earlier in the morning, she had asked Alexis, her daughter and only child, to come home immediately after school ended. She had plans of her own towards celebrating her daughter’s birthday.
Against her own self-control, she went ahead and gave Alexis her birthday gift early, a black wristwatch. A simple but sleek design. A relic of a past she wished she could forget. But she wouldn’t tell Alexis that. Not yet. Maybe when she was older. And memories only meant something to those who had them. An item was simply an item. For now, she could just enjoy the gift as it was.
Next, was the meal she had planned. Fried chicken and miso soup. Those were Alexis’s favorite foods, back when she was younger, but Shiori hadn’t made that particular a meal in quite some time. She thought it would be a nice surprise, and a way for the two of them to spend some legitimate, quality time together. All throughout the week, she’d been visiting different farmer’s markets and Asian supermarkets, picking out the best ingredients to make the best versions of her daughter’s favorite dishes. A chore, but absolutely worth it.
To be honest, she was actually looking forward to it herself.
She just wanted to get home.
Thomas kept on the subject. “So, how old is she turning? Sixteen?”
“Sixteen this year.”
“Wow. Time flies. I remember when playing outside was enough to satisfy her and Katy. Now, it’s phones phones phones.”
Shiori chuckled. It was certainly true.
“It’s unbelievable,” Thomas said. “Now, they’re already getting ready to go to college. Does Alexis know where she wants to go, yet?”
Shiori paused. She too wanted an answer to that question. It wasn’t like she hadn’t asked, but the darting eyes, the mumbled words, the general unsure demeanor was much to be desired. Shiori decided not to push, for now, but things would have to get going on that front eventually. Alexis wasn’t going to be a little girl forever. Youth was valuable thing, but so loosely grasped by those who had it.
“She’s still trying to decide,” Shiori said, answering for her daughter.
“Still keeping her options open, then, not bad,” Thomas said, “Katy’s in the same boat, she’s looking at some of the Ivy League schools, and I’m fine with that, but it’d be nice if she stayed in-state. Certainly cheaper,” he said, before smiling, eyes closed. Shiori saw him in the mirror.
Sirens, people shouting, this time closer, louder. Shiori glanced out to the windows by the entrance. Waiting if the fire of a gun would follow. But it was too dark to see outside. The bars protecting the window didn’t help either. So she waited, anxious.
Her body relaxed. Somewhat.
“Crazy town,” Thomas commented, picking up on what just transpired. His tone was light, despite everything.
“Should you really be coming around this part of town, anymore?” Shiori asked, concerned. “Too dangerous.”
“I should be saying that to you,” Thomas replied. “Besides, that’s exactly why I do what I do. These gangs and cartels think they can hold control in the city forever? Don’t think so.” Thomas sharply inhaled through his nose. “Got a pretty decent case tomorrow.”
“Is that so?”
“Certainly is so. We finally nailed one of the upper guys from the Colombian Cobras. If all goes well, and I hope it does… Honestly, it will only momentarily slow things down, but it’s something. The whole thing’s being televised, so, can’t mess this up. Because, if we can secure a win on this, that will help me get a win in the long run.”
Shiori nodded, silently, trimming away at more hair. She wasn’t terribly keen to the particulars about the rampant gang violence that plagued the city, like the different names and factions and leaders and how they were all related. She only knew what she needed to know. Keep your head down, and don’t stay out longer than you need to.
Every day, it seemed, there was something on the news about the latest in Stephenville’s crime epidemic. A drug bust gone wrong, a drive-by claiming both innocents and those not so, or just simple, random acts of depravity with no connection to anything greater except as a symptom of the setting. It was to the point that it became background noise, something that was easy to accept as a part of daily life. Thankfully, Shiori hadn’t experienced anything like that personally, but the thought was always in the back of her mind.
If it only wasn’t so damn expensive. Also, there was Alexis’s own personal feelings to consider. Her roots dug much deeper into this city than hers ever did, for good or for ill. Alexis would not be so fond about that proposition. She might act out, protest in her own way. And things…
Shiori refocused on trimming Thomas’s sideburns. Now was really not the time to be dwelling on personal matters. That could come later.
“Good luck, and do your best,” was all Shiori said on the matter.
“Thanks,” Thomas replied, with a hint of cautious optimism.
Silently, Shiori continued her work, making sure each cut was made with precision, every trim clean and kept things symmetrical. She took the occasional step back, making sure things were even, eyeballing it. It was funny, in a sense. Years ago, people spent hours on her hair. Now, she was the one who was meticulously mulling over each strand on someone else’s head.
She slowly spun Thomas around in his chair, seeing how his hair looked from every angle.
She took a towel and started brushing Thomas’s ears and neck, a signal that she was almost done.
Finally, she handed him a mirror, and let him see for himself.
“Okay?” she asked.
Thomas gave a careful inspection of his hair as well, running his fingers through his damp scalp, putting it up, imagining what it would be like with gel. He took his time.
He looked up at Shiori, and smiled. “Looks great.”
She grinned back, satisfied at his satisfaction. “Good. Would you like gel on now?”
“No, I’m fine,” he said, taking off the gown and getting out of his chair. “I should be getting home, honestly.”
Shiori followed Thomas to the register, both taking their respective sides. She tapped on the register, inputting the cost of a single haircut.
“Nineteen ninety-five,” she said, “Cash or credit?”
“Cash,” Thomas stated, pulling out a wallet from his pocket. He handed her a bill.
“Fifty is all I have,” he said, almost apologetically.
“No problem.” She had to hide her envy that he could treat fifty dollars so casually. She punched in more buttons to calculate the change.
“Actually,” he said, stopping Shiori. “You can keep the change. Tell Alexis ‘happy birthday’ for me.”
It quickly became harder to mask her envy. “Oh, thank you very much.”
“No, thank you,” Thomas said, “For you service.” He turned, and faced the door that lead outside to Stephenville. “I’ve got it from here.”
“Good luck, again.”
“I appreciate it. ‘Walk straight with Thomas,’” he said, almost abashedly. “Wander no more.”
“See you again,” Shiori said, finally, then waved as he headed out the door. Clinging followed as it closed.
Shiori stood there, in the middle of the salon, tired yet excited. There was still quite a bit left to do, in terms of closing up shop. Checking inventory, cleaning up her station, sweeping… Her plate was full of things to do. And there was still dinner that she needed to prepare. It’d be a little late, but it would be worth it, she’d make sure of that. A quick check of her phone hadn’t shown any messages from Alexis, saying she was home. She should have made it clear to text her. She was a little worried, but not concerned. It would all be fine. She would go home, cook dinner, and they would enjoy a nice, peaceful meal between the two of them.
That was what Shiori thought.