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Stumbling Forward

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Bea swept her area in silence as her coworkers went on gossiping about their clients like they always did. It's been years since she's indulged in such things, having become a topic of discussion herself. That was right around the year that Harry got sloppy about giving her bruises in visible places, or he just stopped caring. She's always thought the latter. When there was no one that really gave a shit about her outside of Debbie, their daughter, there was little reason to be scared of the cops being called on him. She'd called them once before. One of the biggest mistakes of her life.

“You sure you're good to lock up then, Bea?” one of her coworkers asked. The bobbed brunette was a bit younger than all of the other women and yet she'd ruled the place ever since she was hired. Her dyed blue hair was a mockery, if you asked Bea.

“It's no problem,” Bea answered. She volunteered to close up shop at least once a week, more if she could. If she stayed long enough, Harry would be drunk and passed out by the time she got home.
That's the best she could hope for during a bad week. It's been a bad month this go round.

The women grabbed their things, most of them already finished packing up their gear, areas tidied up for tomorrow. Michelle, the young new girl, however, liked to leave quite a mess and tended not to take her stuff home to clean things as thoroughly as Bea herself liked to. Whether it was to pass the time or not was irrelevant, because it was part of their job really. And it was a job that didn't involve Harry, like cleaning the house, cooking, making sure the bills were paid were. The only other thing in her life that wasn't entirely tied to Harry was her relationship with Debbie. Making sure she was alright, despite the circumstances of her life.

She hated that her daughter knew about the beatings, and that she'd walked in countless times to see the monster her father was. But most of all, that she'd seen how weak Bea was in those moments. Day after day, year after year, always getting worse and never getting better. Not for long, anyways. Is that what marriage was like? Bea wasn't sure herself. She didn't know if maybe she was living the ultimate reality of things. Romantic love an illusion. Even the women she worked with, though they weren't being physically abused at all, complained about love being shit. Usually just a few weeks after gushing about some idiot.

As she mopped the floor she tried to come up with a plan. She didn't make enough money as a hairdresser to take care of both her and Debbie, so she'd been thinking of getting a second job. Something basic like a cashier at the local market. Though the idea of bumping into any of her coworkers or any of Harry's friends while working at the market made her uneasy. Proving she was fit to raise Debbie on her own was what really mattered though, and so far she'd only gone to the cops during the times where there was no physical evidence of abuse. Right then, while he was being sloppy, she could change that. This time she didn't want to get any sympathetic looks and lectures about going to marriage counseling, and oh but we hear he's a good guy. But each time she took a hit for evidence was a moment Deb could see what's happening, or one step closer to Bea losing it and –

The last time he hit her, her eyes had suddenly found the knives on the counter. She'd just washed them, dried them, and set them aside. All the while Harry had been complaining about the steak being dry. About her attempts to kill him and Debbie with her horrible cooking. She couldn't even do that right anymore, he'd said, and then whack. Right across the face. Her eyes were on the knives. She'd show him what it looked like when she tried to kill him, over and over, the blade diving in. Growing red.

The floor was clean, windows locked, and she had her kit on her arm. For a moment she let herself imagine it was her kitchen she'd just cleaned, all evidence gone, but she shook off the image. She was going to do things right. After flipping the lights, she walked through the door expecting to close the it and lock it behind her, but instead she stumbles on something on the top step. She drops her bag and knocks said something to the ground, barely catching the quiet 'umph' as she stopped herself from falling completely to the ground.

“What the hell?” she asked, frowning deeply at her sprawled hair equipment. But when she realized it was a person she had kicked over and stepped on, she swallowed hard. “I'm sorry.” Times she'd made 'mistakes' at home rose to the surface, and she nearly curled into herself to prepare for impact.

But the person didn't even stand up. Didn't make any sudden movements at all. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

“It was my fault. Thought the place was empty.” Long arms slowly reached towards the ground, gently picking up the hair dryer, various sizes of scissors, a thin comb.

It was a woman, younger than she was. Her long hair poked out from the hood of the black hoodie she wore, which didn't help Bea see her face well. The woman had been eating, but the food was now on the ground next to Bea's curler and conditioner.

“I didn't see you,” Bea said, quickly.

“Obviously,” the woman laughed. She was still picking up Bea's items and had gotten a lot of it back in the bag by the time Bea bent over to help. “You don't look like the type to knock the shit out of someone just for kicks,” the other woman continued.

In the light of the sidewalk, Bea could only see grinning lips in the shadows of the younger woman's hood. She didn't look mad at all if that grin was any indication, hadn't turned to look at her food once. There was no impending impact, no twisted faked pleasantries followed by a quick jab to the stomach. Just the silence as they gathered everything and put it all back in Bea's bag. Once they had picked all of Bea's equipment up, Bea reached into her purse and pulled a few bills out of her wallet.

“Ah no, don't,” the younger woman started, holding out a hand to fend Bea's away. “No worries about the food. Shouldn't've been sitting on the steps.”

“Please,” Bea said, holding out the money anyways. Yeah, she'd been saving up her tips and things to have cash for her and Debbie, but the thought of someone missing out on a meal because of her made her feel uneasy. The need to fix her fuck up was part of her years of abuse, she realized, but this woman wasn't Harry. “Take it.”

The woman pulled her hood back, letting her dirty blonde mane fall around her shoulders. It was unmanaged but full, beautiful even. Her eyes studied Bea's for a while, giving Bea enough time to notice the split lip right beneath what looked like a dark freckle. Then the blonde was reaching for the money. “Thanks.”

Bea jumped at the feeling of the blonde's hand grazing hers. If it hadn't been for the woman already holding parts of the bills, they would have been another thing Bea accidentally forced the blonde to pick up off the ground. She felt embarrassed by the woman's noticing her jumpiness. The way her blonde hair bobbed as she chuckled to herself for a moment.

“Not gonna bite ya,” she said.

“Of course not,” Bea laughed. “Sorry again. I've gottta...”

“Righto. Have a good one,” she said, shaking the bills for a moment.

Bea quickly locked the door, awkwardly stepping around the blonde with a mumbled, “excuse me.” She started her walk down the sidewalk toward the employee parking on the side of the building, peeking over her shoulder once to see the woman watching her walk away with that same grin on her face. Bea turned around quickly, picking up her step a bit, then right before she turned the corner she glanced back one more time to see that the woman was sitting on the steps again. The blonde picked up the food that had been knocked to the ground, reorganized it, and took a huge bite.
Bea felt sick to her stomach.

 //////////

To her relief, Harry was asleep when she got home but she was not able to avoid him the next morning. Thinking he was gone because she heard the garage open and close, she headed downstairs to make Debbie a quick breakfast. Apparently it was just another time he was toying with her mentally. He was leaning against the sink when she walked into the kitchen, looking smug about his ability to fool her like he did every few months.

“You got home late. Again.”

“Closed up the shop,” she explained, pulling a pan out of one of the lower cabinets. She watched Harry out of the corner of her eye, could see how tensely he held his shoulders.

His eyes were hard and focused. “Isn't everyone responsible for their own area?”

After walking over to the fridge and grabbing the eggs, Bea grabbed a bowl and cracked the eyes open, spilling the inner contents into a bowl to be whipped. He'd asked these questions before. “Of course, Harry. But it's better to have one person stay behind and mop the whole place than us shuffling around each other making shoe marks.”

It was true, and logical, but it felt like a long lie nonetheless. Having them all do it wouldn't be so bad, but hearing them gossip right before she went home was tiresome. Silence without any feelings of impending violence was rare. Unfortunately, once she got home the night before, the image of that young blonde woman eating the food off the ground kept reemerging. Eventually she had been able to fall asleep, but that feeling of being sick to her stomach hadn't subsided entirely by the time she had.

“Look, you have a family.” Harry stepped up beside her as she greased the pan and poured the eggs in. “And since you make shit for money, I figure you should be a more appreciative wife.”

She scoffed. Freezing mid push of the eggs with a red spatula.

“What was that?” he asked, hot breath penetrating through her hair into her ear.

Her heart hammered in her chest. “Nothing,” she whispered, slowly continuing to scramble the yellow goop as it solidified. “I'll try to get Je--”

“You won't just try.” He grabbed her arm, forcing her to turn to look him in the eyes. This is how he was during his sloppy times. Bursts of anger over anything, and everything. Bruising grabs of her limbs.

Bea stared him in the eyes, trying to hide her slight shake. He was aggravated further by the weakness he created in her, ironically. She suspected it was whatever little guilt he felt rise to the surface. Expressed as anger because he knew nothing else really, not towards her. Any other woman in his life, coworkers, Debbie, he was sweet to. Patient with. Not Bea though. He hated her, and she hated herself for ever caring about him at all.

“Breakfast almost ready?” Debbie asked from the entryway.

They all looked between one another for a few moments before Harry angrily released Bea's arm. He grabbed his work bag and headed for the door. “I'll pick something up,” he said, patting Debbie on the shoulder as he walked out the door.

Debbie looked at her mom, both of them exchanging a nod as a signal that everything was okay. Bea felt a mixture of guilt at being caught in such a position, and a bit guiltier thinking about that being a bruise she could have used to report him, along with a few others. There needed to be no doubts. No need for Debbie to testify. Hard evidence was the best sort of evidence.

“Is it cool if I stop by Ronnie's tonight, to work on a project? You come and grab me tonight?” Debbie asked, taking her place at the table.

Bea popped some toast into the toaster, grabbed some fruit from the fridge and sat down. “No prob.”

“Cool,” Debbie said with a smile. They both knew, though the project was actually real, they were both subject to finding reasons to be out of the house until as late as possible. When the toast popped to a ready, Debbie got up to retrieve it for the both of them.

The rest of the day was as ordinary as the start. Her scheduled clients came in, got their typical wash and cut, or with some random horrible idea to try on a look fit for someone half their age. A lot of Bea's clients were about her age or a little older, not because of her capabilities but because of the air about her. At least, that's what some of her coworkers thought. She just wasn't lively enough, vibrant enough. Where an older woman appreciated the silence and a bit of time to be heard, the younger crowd wanted high levels of entertaining interactions. Doing hair was how Bea found her calm so she didn't mind that her clients tended to be of a certain age group. Though they weren't always the best tippers when they didn't have mum and dad's cash to spend.

Still, she made quite a bit on certain days and today had been a good one. Her coworkers and her had all done well, gotten to start to clean a bit early and do their usual bit of shop talk as they packed up their personal items. They were a bit kinder on those sorts of days. Less likely to poke fun at the horrible dye job one of their clients tried to pull off on their own. As if they hadn't themselves been the victim of a self inflicted bad dye job when they'd started. Bea just didn't understand such cattiness. Which made her feel rather old.

The floor was mopped, Debbie had text her back letting her know she'd be ready when Bea arrived, and Bea had her things on her shoulder. She flipped the lights off and walked out the door, a slight smile at her face at having an easy day, though not helpful in terms of her building a case. Still, a day of peace was so rare. She looked the door and turned to descend the few steps to the sidewalk, but there was that blonde from the night before, standing at the end of them.

“Hello again,” the woman said.

Bea took a small step back but remembered the door was there before her back could hit it. “Hi,” she said, eyeing the blonde suspiciously. She hesitated but walked down the steps, turning her body so it wouldn't touch the other woman's.

“I just wanted to thank you,” the woman said, starting to walk beside Bea as she passed. “For the cash.”

That you probably didn't use for food, Bea thought, desperately trying not to look the woman in the face so maybe she'd take the hint. She thought of seeing the blonde eat off the ground, barely had to wonder what the money was probably used for, though she felt bad for speculating. The split lip could have been from some shitty asshole, but the slightly dirty clothes, the untamed hair...Bea heard stories of why it was a bad idea to give certain people cash instead of food.

“No problem,” Bea said, lips tight. She hoped that would be the end of it, but the casual stroll beside her continued.

“I'm Allie. Allie Novak,” the woman said, holding out her hand. Bea didn't take it. Alli laughed. “You a hairdresser at that shop? Not much of a charmer, eh. Hope the tips are alright.”

“Are you thanking me, or insulting me?” Bea asked, stomach dropping the moment the words left her lips. They'd both stopped walking and she'd somehow found herself looking at this Allie Novak, annoyed by her smile, the glint in her eye. She was teasing Bea.

Allie held her hands up in mock surrender. “You're right. Thank you.”

“You're welcome.” Bea turned to walk off, rounding the corner with a sigh of relief but it was let out too soon. Allie jogged to catch up to her.

“Grab you something to eat to pay you back?” she asked.

Bea actually laughed a bit, nearly dropped the bag on her shoulder, “I'm sorry?” Who was this woman, disrupting the peaceful day she'd had? She threw the blonde a look, trying to show her that she'd rather continue on alone and the woman's pace actually slowed to a stop. Bea kept her pace steady. She walked over to the driver's side of her car. Her cheeks felt warm despite her agitation, a foreign lightness in her skull. The day had turned to strange.

“Ouch, alright then,” Allie called. “Maybe I'll come in for a cut and color then. If you think you can handle the mess.”

Bea didn't object, but she didn't confirm it being a good idea either. She got into the car, turned the key and drove by Allie with only a slight glance through her window, ignoring the small wave sent her way. Debbie's friend, and partner, home wasn't too far away from the shop which Bea felt appreciated. The encounter with Allie had left her a bit shocked. It was true that Allie could have been simply asking to repay her by buying her a late dinner, a friendly dinner, but there had been something about the way she'd asked it. That teasing, but inviting tone that she had never heard when she'd had friends before. Even close ones. They also didn't smirk at her like the blonde had. She didn't understand what had brought on such advances. Surely her mumbling and stumbling about was a repellent to the human species.

Harry hated it.

Debbie hopped into the car and tossed her backpack into the backseat. “Okay day, Mum?” she asked.

Bea smiled. “It was alright. How was yours?”

Debbie started to detail her day as Bea backed out the driveway and headed down the road. It was good to hear her daughter talk about her classes, projects, and friends. All Bea wanted was for the girl to have some sort of average teenage experience, outside the reach of Harry's reign on their house. These were the few moments they could laugh and smile at the silly things in life, encourage one another, and love one another without the fear of violence.

They were sitting at a stop light, one of those stupid ones where the timing was off by the looks of it. After a while, Bea started to look both ways, a frown above the smile on her lips.

Bea realized then that Debbie was staring at her. “What?”

“You just seem...I don't know,” Debbie said, looking her over. “Off.”

“Off?” Bea scoffed.

“Yeah. I mean, okay you've had a nice day, but there's something else too. Score a new client?”

“Nah, nothing like that.” The light finally turned green. She eyed Debbie out the corner of her eye and laughed when she saw the girl staring expectantly. For a moment she thought about saying nothing at all and filing the experience away in the weird young blonde woman box that was suddenly there to be managed. The blonde shouting about coming into the shop played through her mind. “This young woman, from the shop--”

“Agh, is Michelle being a twat again?”

“Debbie,” Bea said, with a surpised expression. “Don't call her that...Even if it is true. But no, not Michelle.” She took a moment, turning onto their street slowly. “Not one you've met. She was, I don't know,” she said, thinking about her first encounter with Allie and the one from earlier that night. That stupid grin, wild youth. “She was just weird.”

When she pulled into the garage and reached back to grab her stuff, Debbie was still glancing at her repeatedly. A subtle smile mixed with questioning eyes, but she didn't ask anything else. Just shrugged and grabbed her bag. “Weird, sure.”

/////////////// 

Bea sat down at her station in hopes of eating a bit of a snack and looking over one of the new magazines before her next client came in. She had just opened the magazine in her lap and reached her hand inside of her lunch bag when the worker at the front counter called her name. Bea sighed, rolling her eyes without turning around. She figured it was another thing she needed to do because of someone slacking during their shift.

“Bea, this woman says she's got an appointment, but I don't see her on the list,” the desk woman said, her voice a bit shrill.

Tossing the magazine aside, Bea stood with an agitated expression. She turned to walked towards the counter. “Charlotte I've told you it's best that you call before,” she said, but she stopped walking seeing long blonde hair. Quite the opposite of Charlotte's pixie cut. It had been a week. A whole week since she had seen the blonde, and she had honestly figured the woman had gotten bored with the idea of her, moved on to more exciting things. “Allie?”

It had been almost a whole week. Bea had been busy collecting photos of any bruise Harry left, applying for jobs. Sure she'd thought of the blonde a few times, as random the two times they interacted, but for the most part she'd figured she'd seen the last of the mysterious stranger.

“So you do know her then,” the bunned woman at the desk said. “Could have told me someone new was coming in,” she said, dramatically sitting back in her seat.

After giving the receptionist a look, Bea looked back to Allie who was leaning against the tall desk, smiling down at her cockily. “Bea,” she said, cooly. “Came for that cut and color.”

The one they hadn't agreed to, Bea thought. Allie looked different. Cleaner. The part of her lip that was split last they saw each other had pretty much healed, her face was nicely made up, and her hair, still wild, looked like a comb had actually made it through it at some recent time. The younger woman looking more, what, civilized? It didn't put Bea at ease, and yet she thought it should.

She looked around the shop and realized a few of her coworkers were watching them closely, two of them whispering with prying eyes. A new, way younger client. She swore she heard one of them say they thought maybe it was Harry's mistress, but she didn't want to wait to hear more. Gesturing for Allie to follow her, she kept her head down as they walked over to her station.

“I was right, then,” Allie said, taking a seat after Bea put her snack and magazine away.

“What?” she asked, checking her clock. Really, she wasn't sure she had time to deal with the situation. Charlotte was a regular who tipped well. Allie was a woman she saw eating off the street and still felt comfortable approaching Bea, not that she knew Bea had seen her eating off the ground.

Allie waited until Bea had covered her with the protective shawl. “About you not being much of a charmer.”

The smile on the blonde's face was supposed to level out the insult, but Bea felt it anyways. “You just surprised me is all. And not just today.” It was true. The monotony over the years left her unsure of how to handle whatever Allie was doing. Her years with Harry made it difficult to confront anyone, and also made her crave some kind of interactions that lacked the harshness and judgment she was typically subjected to.

“Hmm,” was Allie's simple reply. Bea began to gather a few things, noticing that Allie was studying the room. The young woman caught her eye in the mirror after a few moments. “I get it.” She tipped her head towards Michelle laughing with her bad dye job client. “She hates her,” she said, talking about Michelle as she gave a fake laugh that could be heard across the shop. “Better to be the silent, endearing type than a plastic bitch.”

A burst of laughter fell from Bea's lips. She pressed a few fingers to them in shock. Sucking in her cheeks as she straightened her face, she turned to Allie, uncomfortable by how close she had to stand next to the blonde. “What would you like?”

“I'm not sure.”

A hairdresser's worse nightmare. She watched as Allie ran her fingers through part of her hair, pulling the ponytail holder out and letting the fullness of her hair encircle her face and shoulders. It was thicker than Bea had realized. Thinning it out would do the blonde some good, a few inches cut off to get rid of dead ends and even it out a bit.

“What do you think?” Allie asked.

Bea hadn't realized the woman was watching her so closely until their eyes met. The pleasant expression on the blonde's face was much softer than the grin she wore the last times they saw each other. That put Bea more at ease than the cleaned up version of Allie sitting in her chair.

“It's your hair, so—”

“Come on. You do this for a living, right? And your color looks good. Give me what you got.”

Typically, in the rare moments that Bea had a client new enough to not know to show up with at least a few ideas, Bea would continue to push the client to decide. She would show her magazines, have her take a seat and think it over. A patient but rigid smile on her face. Today there was no time to tell Allie to take a seat in the waiting area, have some water and look over the magazines, and the young woman didn't seem likely to budge.

Bea nervously walked to stand behind Allie, hesitating with her hands just above the woman's hair before finally letting her fingers touch the dirty blonde locks. The smoothness of it surprised her, but her assessment of it was correct. “Let's give it a wash.”

“Lead the way,” Allie smiled.

Over at the sink, Bea's palms began to sweat a little as Allie lie back. The woman gazed up at her, which was normal for a client in that position at first. But the leering wasn't usually part of it. In fact, it never was. Fortunately the feel and sound of the water as she wet Allie's hair eased her tension, and made that feeling of being stared at fade away. She poured some shampoo and began to massage it into Allie's scalp, hesitating when she both felt and heard the hum of satisfaction from her surprise client.

“Alright, I get it. No need to talk when you've got the fingers of a goddess,” Allie said, closing her eyes slowly. She let her head turn easily in Bea's hands, giving her access to the sides, the ability to reach to the back of the skull. “How long have you worked here?”

She wanted to comment on Allie saying there was no need to talk and then asking a question, but stopped herself. “A few years,” she answered.

“Been doing it longer than that though, from the feel of it.”

Looking down at Allie's face, Bea shook her head. She wasn't shaking her head no. Allie wasn't watching her to see her disapproving of the small compliment. Part of her wanted the blonde to just accept the cut and color, and stop with the attempts of being slick, but the other parts of her tingled and warmed.

“I really do appreciate the cash from the other night. The kick to the back, not so much. But this wash alone makes up for that.”

Bea couldn't help but picture Allie on the steps again, organizing the dirtied food. “I'm still sorry about that.”

“Good. You've got a hell of a hard shin.”

Bea was smiling again, so much that it hurt her face a little. They were silent until she finished the wash and towel dried Allie's hair. Back at the station, Bea looked through her scissors in her drawer. When she turned back she saw Allie's eyes jump to her face, not even having to wonder where those eyes had been. She just didn't understand. Why was Allie so set on having more interactions with her after she'd kicked her off the steps? What kind of person was so casually forward with someone who was clearly awkward under scrutiny?

Bea began to part and cut, layer by layer. The music in the place was actually tolerable at the moment, so she found a good rhythm that she hoped would enable to finish in time for Charlotte's appointment. “Is it alright if I cut quite a bit off?” she asked.

“I'm trusting you,” Allie answered. “You really are this quiet with everyone?”

Questions and comments without a bit of insult, or teasing, appeared to be impossible for the blonde. “Not everyone.” She gestured towards a photo that was on the corner of her section of the shop's mirror. “That's my daughter, Debbie.”

“She's gorgeous. The teen years must be rough for you as a mum. Fending all the trouble makers away. That's all I remember about high school anyways. Sleazy pubescent losers.”

“You're scaring me,” Bea joked. “Debbie's a good girl. Not much of an issue with trouble makers.” Harry would probably scare the shit out of them anyways. A simple stare during one of his moods and they'd see the darkness in him. “I'm sure you kept your parents busy though,” she added, and truly believed it.

“I'll take that as a compliment, Bea.”

The way Allie said her name was so pointed. Probably to rub in the fact that she found out what it was despite purposely not telling her, but there was a certain weight behind the first letter that shook Bea. “She'll graduate and be off to university sooner than should be possible, but I'm excited for her.”

“You should be,” Allie said with a genuine smile. “Every good parent's dream.”

Even the more innocent of compliments stung, apparently. “Yeah.” Bea finished up the cut and started to apply the little bit of color just to brighten the blonde in Allie's hair. Once applied, she had Allie sit while she went and cleaned some of her supplies. None of her coworkers were turning to look at the blonde anymore. That didn't mean that they wouldn't talk later, but it was nice to see they had moved on pretty quickly. When she finally looked over at Allie herself, she was first startled to see that the woman was watching her, but breathed easy when the blonde looked away.

The woman fascinated her, she had to admit. From their first awkward encounter, to the invite to dinner, to coming to the shop. No part of their encounters led Bea to understand why Allie had persisted, but the feelings of curiosity lowered any instinct to be as cold and distant as she initially intend. Plus, the woman was a client in that moment, and Bea had promised herself that she'd give her clients that bit of peace she found in her work, too.

She didn't go back over to her station until it was time to wash out the dye, despite that promise. And the washing was quick before the blow drying began, preventing them for talking for a bit longer. Something Bea was grateful for, honestly. She watched as the hair fanned dramatically around Allie's head, the way the blonde would carefully check her phone when she needed to hold her head down, tap her fingers on the chair when she had to turn this way and that. When the blonde's hair was dry Bea heated the straightener to give it a very slight curl.

“It looks great so far,” Bea said, studying her work. The heat of the straightener was a good distraction from the now even softer hair. “What do you do?”

Allie's eyebrows rose for a moment and then settled back into the same pleasant expression. “It's a bit like what you do. Making people feel good about themselves. Not for as long as this cut and color will last, thank goodness,” she laughed. “A bit more TLC though.”

Hearing the nonanswer, Bea couldn't believe what came out of her mouth next. “You're full of shit,” she said, laughing and covering her mouth. “Sorry.”

“No, you're right. I am, aren't I?” Allie asked. “Seriously though, the cut, color, bonus massage disguised as a wash – I get the whole spa day thing now. You guys wouldn't happen to have a steam room around here, would you?”

Bea shook her head, cheeks tight as she fought off the painful smile on her face. “Enough. Almost finished here.” It was true, in a few more moments Bea was finished. She pushed back the shorter strand in the front. “All done,” she said, letting her eyes drop to Allie's. The woman was staring up at her, no smile, or smirk. Bea's hand dropped from Allie's hair and the blonde caught it gently between her fingers. Bea gasped, pulling her hand back quickly. She cleared her throat and walked to remove the shawl, glancing around to see if anyone was watching.

Allie decided to acknowledge Bea's anxiousness this go round. “How much do I owe you?”
“Just the flat rate up front,” Bea said, her voice cracking even though she'd cleared it. She felt bad charging the blonde anything seeing her usual state when she popped up, but she didn't want to insult her either. The flat rate was cheap enough. And one lost tip wasn't so bad with Charlotte up next.

“It looks fucking fantastic, really. Thanks for not kicking me out. This has been oddly...fun, you avoiding me at the sinks for a while there aside.”

Bea started to deny it, opening her mouth and then closing it. Her palms were sweating again. “You're welcome.”

“Bye, then. Good luck closing up tonight.” She reached into her pocket, and put something on Bea's counter in front of the mirror before heading to the front desk to pay.

“Bye,” Bea said, too quiet to be heard at that point. She watched as Allie happily approached the desk, planting her elbows on top of it as she spoke before paying. Then the blonde turned towards her and waved. Bea waved back. The light flowed in through the door and overtook Allie's form, the bell above dinging loudly. Looking back towards the mirror, Bea walked over and picked up what turned out to be way too generous of a tip wrapped in a rubber band to hold a piece of red paper to it. She pulled the paper free and unfolded it. Inside was a phone number with a note.

'Love to hear from you. – Allie.'