Chapter 7—Friday Morning, Dallas

“C’mon over here, Sugar,” Alex called from the shampoo sink. “Leave all your bits and pieces at my station and we’ll begin. See? I already have the Synerfusion ready. That perm works so well on your gorgeous hair.”

She complied, placing her big black purse, umbrella and the smoothie on the spot he had indicated, walked over to the sink and sat down. Leaning back, she rested her neck on the thick towel Alex provided, and began to relax as he pulled the pins out of her hairdo and ran his fingers through her long, thick hair. She sighed happily as he began running warm water over her head.

“How have you been this week, Darlin’? Have you been to the big linens sale at J.C. Penney?” He went on without waiting for an answer. “I haven’t had a chance yet though Lord knows I need new bed linens. It’s just that, with a king-sized bed, each sheet simply costs too dear. I can’t bear to sleep on anything less than 400-count pure cotton, but now they are on sale for only $45 each, isn’t that marvelous? I saw identical linens for $149 at Niemanns just last week.”

“Yes, Alex, it is truly marvelous the way the Lord does know what you need. He knows all of your needs, and your greatest need is spiritual. I’m not saying that’s true for only you, dear. For all of us, our spiritual needs are greatest.”

Alex cursed himself inwardly for even a casual mention of “the Lord.” He might have known she’d jump on any chance to preach.

“Oh, honey, I know that,” he chortled, “that’s why He sent you in here for a perm today. He knew I’d need the extra money.” She was a great tipper, he remembered.

“I didn’t see Tina when I came in. She still works here, doesn’t she?”

“Why, how sweet of you to ask about her!” he enthused, patting her on the shoulder to emphasize the word ‘sweet’. “You know she lives in our apartment complex now, don’t you? Well, I saw her as I left to come here today, walking her dear little doggie as she does every morning. I’m sure she’ll be in soon. She probably didn’t have a nine o’clock.”

She didn’t hear her cell phone when it rang. Alex had set the timer and put her under the dryer to process her perm. It took three rings before he figured out that the sound emanated from his station where she’d stashed her purse. He brought it to her and made the phone call signal with his thumb and pinkie. He lifted the dryer hood to minimize interference, and frankly eavesdropped on her side of the conversation.

“What’s the matter? Why are you calling here?”

“What do you mean, missing? Missing from where?”

“Lost Austin?! How could they lose Austin?”

“Have you called the police?”

“I’m not screaming!”

“Never mind my tone of voice, Will! Tell me what’s going on!”

As her voice increased in volume with each remark, all stylists and customers in the salon stopped whatever they were doing, probably so they wouldn’t miss anything about a juicy story that had the makings of becoming more exciting with every telling.

“I can’t leave right now, I’m in the middle of processing. I’ll come as soon as I can.”

“Processing. I’m having a perm.”

“You’re handling it? You’re handling it? What are you doing to handle it?”

“Where are the girls? Is anyone watching the babies?”

Alex clamped his hands to his cheeks helplessly, listening with an open mouth. Gloria’s voice had launched itself into whole new octaves.

“I am not hysterical! Stop telling me how to feel!”

She pulled the phone away from her ear, stared at it, and fainted, slumping gracelessly in her chair and sliding to the floor in slow motion, oblivious to her nosy audience. After a few seconds they all regained their voices at the same time and rushed over to her.

Alex fluttered his hands ineffectually while moving first to one side of the dryer chair and then the other, making little mewling noises, beseeching Gloria to talk to him.

“Is she dead?” he cried out to Tina as she walked into the salon just in time to hear eight stylists yelling questions and instructions at each other while ignoring the woman who lay in a heap on the floor.

“Back off,” she barked. She knelt down, gently straightened Gloria’s legs, and considerately pulled the unconscious woman’s long skirt over her knees.

She grabbed a couple of clean towels to put under Gloria’s perm-rod-covered head, and began fanning her with a magazine from a rack beside the dryer chair, all the while laying one hand on her shoulder and talking softly, almost crooning.

Alex heard a word or two now and then. He guessed she might be praying and felt relief in spite of himself. He caught himself wishing he remembered how to pray.

Everybody jumped when the timer went off, and it apparently brought Gloria back to full consciousness, too. She began sobbing.

“My grandson. My beautiful grandbaby boy. He’s gone. I can’t do this again.”

For a few rare seconds, the salon was silent, but quickly erupted again in a general buzz of disbelief.

Alex stepped forward and offered his hand to help her up, his affected speech abandoned.

“Listen, Sugar, we have to finish this perm and send you home. C’mon now, you can do it. I’ll work ever so fast and we’ll have you looking fabulous in no time.”

One arm over her shoulders, he led her back to the shampoo sink so he could pour on neutralizer and finish the perm. As she sat down he patted her arm awkwardly.

Questions came at her from every side. All she did was weep, murmur thank-yous and grab the tissues offered with each question.

Alex, confused and incredulous himself, shooed away the noisy gallery with “I’m sure you all mean well, dears, but Gloria is my customer and I must insist you afford her some privacy in her hour of need,” and applied himself to finishing her perm as fast as he could. Poor woman! As tiresome as he usually found her, he hated for anyone to be so terribly upset.

“Will your handsome hubby be coming here to pick you up, Sugar? I don’t want you to be driving out there in the condition you’re in.”

That seemed to be the wrong thing to say. Her shoulders shook with sobbing.

“Tina, honey, can’t you do something?” He stared at his hands as he realized he’d been rubbing his head with both of them. He rinsed them off before continuing to remove perm rods while Tina talked to her.

“What about Will, Gloria? Shall I call him and tell him to come for you?”

Tina’s questions were answered with furious head shaking, greatly distressing Alex, and renewed sobbing.

One by one the stylists returned to their stations, and Gloria gradually calmed down but she still couldn’t speak, or wouldn’t, nor did she raise her eyes to look at anyone.

Tina paused for a moment, but she couldn’t see any way to help Gloria at the moment, and her own client waited at her station, hair parted off and ready for color application.

Tina’s shiny, new-copper-penny-colored tresses inspired her less gloriously crowned clients to beg her to transform their mousy-drab locks, hoping that by copying her hair color they could somehow become as stunning and winsome as Tina.

She tried.

She had developed a number of tints and toners, depending on the shade the client presented, and frequently the reflection in the mirror pleased the subject. Just as frequently, she would receive a phone call a week or two later complaining that after shampooing it just wasn’t the same.

That was a mystery to Tina until she carefully observed one woman after another, as she styled their hair after coloring, and found that a woman’s eyes invariably met her own in the mirror, rather than looking at her own face and hair. Evidently her clients somehow expected to look like Tina when they returned to their real lives.

This morning she wasn’t concerned about that. Of course she tended with great care the intricacies of mixing colors and toners, but her mind never strayed far from her friend Gloria, so very grieved, in Alex’s station.

Alex cast quick glances at Tina, his eyes begging for understanding, but Tina felt as befuddled as he seemed.
Missing? Gloria’s grandson, missing? She searched her brain, and as nearly as she could remember, Gloria only had one grandson, a little boy. A very young boy, if her memory served. How awful. No wonder Gloria was beside herself. Who wouldn’t be?

Perhaps Jake would have some ideas about how to find the boy. She made a mental note to ask him about it when she saw him tomorrow.

On the other hand, that question might be too painful for him. He had told her all about his son, Joey, of course, and the terrible thing Jake had been accused of doing to him. She remembered saying something like that to him—“the terrible thing you were accused of,” and of Jake becoming very upset.

“The terrible thing I was accused of wasn’t nearly as terrible as what was really happening to him—maybe still is,” he’d said. Because of the pain in his voice, she had thought it was time to change the subject, so she began chattering about something else.

He’d touched her cheek so tenderly then. “I’m all right, Kitten. Don’t be afraid to talk to me about Joey, or Annie, either. I can’t help thinking about them all the time, but being with you helps me feel better.”

That same evening, while they sat outside on a bench, waiting for an available table at Macaroni Grill, a young family with three little boys—stair-stepped in height—waited with them. When they became impatient and whiny, Jake had dashed into the restaurant and emerged a minute later with paper cups. He then sat on the concrete in front of the family, and engaged the boys in a sleight-of-hand game, hiding a quarter under one of three cups. He slid the cups around as fast as the pavement allowed, and asked them to tell him which cup hid the quarter. The boys’ wide-eyed amazement gave way to giggles when Jake occasionally “found” the quarter behind one of the boys’ ears.

“Are you a Dad?” one of them asked.

“Naww, he’s an uncle, I bet. Dad’s don’t do stuff like that; uncles do,” his brother countered.

At that moment their buzzer had gone off, indicating their table was ready. Jake rubbed the nearest kid’s head and started to walk away, but the other two insisted on having their heads rubbed, too. “Bye, Uncle!”

“I know you’re a great Dad,” Tina had whispered.

She remembered that he’d held her hand more tightly than he ever had before.

“I could be,” he’d said.

Alex worked feverishly, but it was nearly an hour later by the time Gloria’s heavy hair was dry and coifed stylishly in her customary French twist. In all that time she never said a word. He oohed and ahhed, the way he always did, about how beautifully streaks of her graying blonde hair, almost white, folded into the twist and made the soft curls surrounding her face “positively glow.” But she didn’t respond as she usually did with proclamations of his styling proficiency.

Wordlessly she paid her bill, gave him a handsome tip, and left.

next chapter


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