Beauty Accentuated

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 15, 2019

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Submitted: July 15, 2019

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Beauty Accentuated

~~~

A Woman’s Salon

 

When she stepped down from the bus at North Point Mall, Beth stepped into a small, grassy, triangular park just at the edge of the sidewalk where two streets came together. The tiny park had a bench with a back to it, and two small trees. There was a trash bin with shiny blue paint, and no trash was on the ground, not even a gum wrapper, or crumpled potato chip bag or a cigarette butt. Two old white guys were setting up a chessboard on the bench. She’d never actually watched anyone play chess, but she recognized the pieces from TV. There was a thermos sticking out of the pack on the ground beside them. Neither of the men had looked up when the bus stopped. She was glad not to be noticed.The little park was cut from the mall’s big parking lot. North Point wasn’t a huge mall, or new, but its buildings were freshly painted. There was no spray paint or scuffs along the walls. Northpoint Mall looked clean and safe. 

Before Beth crossed the parking lot, she began to scan the signs above the shops from left to right. Her eyes paused slightly at each of the marquees above the storefronts until they passed the “L” turn where the mall stopped going south and began going west. It boxed the parking lot in on two sides. She kept scanning, and finally found what she was looking for. The words, Beauty 

Accentuated, were spelled out in vivid coral. Beneath that was a turquoise design, then smaller coral words. She squinted and could read them: a woman’s salon. It was between a repairman’s business and a place that sold potted plants. She took a deep breath.

None of the cars in the parking lot seemed to be over fifteen years old except for a couple of well-maintained classics, an old 1950s Chevy with new shimmering purple paint and fancy hubcaps and an old, vintage VW, also with new paint. She stopped for a moment to admire the VW, then patted the envelope tucked in her shoulder bag, took a deep breath, held it in, then let it out very, very slowly. She’d learned that trick from a nurse in the hospital when she was in labor with Joshua. She felt calmness come over her as the air left her lungs, just as it had a year ago. Joshua came out okay.On this day, she told herself, she would come out okay. She stepped off the grass and onto the asphalt to cross the lines of cars and began walking toward Beauty Accentuated

Most of the vehicles she passed were SUVs. Someday, she would have a car. Not like the Lexus that just stopped to let her cross one of the parking lot’s roadways. She wouldn’t have to ride a bus anymore. Most of the cars were white. When she was a little girl, cars were more colorful, but since she got into her teens, white had become the most popular color. Here, where there were so many new ones, they almost all seemed to be white. 

Her mom believed in signs. Maybe the number of white cars was a bad sign.Maybe it was telling her that she didn’t belong here at North Point Mall. Except for two laughing Mexican women getting into one of the white SUVs, the people walking to and from their cars all had skin that ranged from pink to beige.But she had the envelope. Tessa would be embarrassed if she turned around and went home. She would never embarrass Tessa.

An old woman, wearing good clothes, but not new—a jacket when it wasn’t cold—was coming toward her holding two big shopping bags. The woman stumbled where the asphalt buckled a little. She didn’t fall, but the bag in the woman’s left hand dropped to the asphalt. Beth ran forward, bent to pick it up. “Here you go, Ma’am. It’s okay. I think nothing got broke.” 

The old woman had sky-blue eyes in a wrinkley face. She steadied herself and clutching the bag that hadn’t fallen, she reached for the bag Beth held. Beth recognized Fabulous Frivolous, a soft dye that lots of the old women who came into Apex chose. “Oh, my dear,” the old woman said. “Thank you so much. It gives me much pleasure now-days when young people will go out of their way to be kind.” 

Beth smiled back, and said, “Take care now. Would you like me to walk with you to your car?” 

“No, sweet child.It’s right here.”She pointed at a white Honda Accord, not the newest on the lot, but not old either. She gave Beth another wide smile and said, “You take care too, dear girl.” 

As the woman turned to unlock the trunk of her Honda, Beth put her shoulders back and walked on. Maybe she didn’t need to be so scared. Maybe this old woman was a good sign. She reached into the shoulder bag and touched the envelope.

***

KayTee Baker was behind her shop’s cash register. She was having a bad morning. Six cases of Redken and four of Paul Mitchell product had been delivered already, although it wasn’t yet 9:30. She needed to get the boxes opened and product on the shelves, but there had been five phone calls from clients she didn’t know who had urgent needs for appointments. One client, Margo Bachelor, had been rudely demanding. Three of the five wanted to come in today, a day she was booked solid. One of her Thursday morning regulars, Sarah, was in the chair, waiting for KayTee to begin her shampoo. Crabby ol’ Mrs. Roberts was already here sitting up front, looking at magazines, waiting, a half hour too early. And by 10:30 the next appointment would be in. They’d be overlapping every 45 minutes until 5:30. It was excellent that business was so good, but sometimes she dreamed of selling the shop and taking off to Cabo San Lucas. She’d be happier working as a bartender for minimum wage. She liked Mexican music. 

Sandy and Jill, her independent chair renters, booked their own appointments. Jill wasn’t in yet and Sandy was as busy as KayTee. Until a few months ago, she’d had two employees in addition to the two renters. But Marge, who’d been with her from her first shop on Washington Road, retired with her husband to the coast last year. KayTee still managed a big clientele with just Patty on half time, until Patty got a job as a teacher’s-aide at her kids’ school. KayTee’s life had become an exhausting sort of Dante’s Hell where she went from sink to dryer to sink to counter to the stink of color dyes from sink to being sad and twice divorced and tired.She could pay her mortgage, shop lease, and do okay. But, she missed the income from those empty chairs that Patty and Marge had filled. 

She called one of the women on the scratch pad back. Not Margo Bitchelor. She picked a woman who had sounded young and polite, and offered her a 6:45 appointment that evening. Amy Barcellos’ was happy to get it, and her name went into the appointment book.

It meant no lunch, and no supper until late.It was a good thing she’d hadn’t skipped breakfast. On the scratch pad, there was another woman’s name. Her voice had been pleasant and her name seemed familiar. Maybe, she thought, and the thought converted to question. “Sandy, could you squeeze a client in this afternoon?

“Ya. I can. I’ve had a cancellation. You know Debbie, that long-haired girl who comes in every couple of weeks? She finally went into labor. Her baby is three weeks late. I knew they should have induced…”

 “I don’t have time for talk,” KayTee called sharply from the counter. She grimaced. She’d like her chair renters better if they weren’t so chatty. “Yes or no?Her name is Walker and she needs color. Can you fit her in?” 

Sandy didn’t seem to notice that KayTee was abrupt with her. “Ya.At 2:30, but no later. I have two clients coming after 3.”

The salon owner relaxed. Stephanie Walker’s name went into the appointment book for 2:30. KayTee picked up the phone to called her to tell her Sandy would be her beautician when she arrived.

Both of her tenants were good beauticians. They were honest, tidy, cleaned their spots well before they left, took a place at the cash register when customers came in—when she was at a place with a client where she couldn’t stop—or had to run an errand. They knew how to push product for the shop’s benefit even if it didn’t go into their pockets.

Just as she left the counter and went back to finish old Sarah Cox’s shampoo and cut, the bell rang over the door. She looked up to find that the silly, annoying young man from the gym. He just didn’t get it. He was not welcome in her salon.

 “Hi, Miz Baker.Changed your mind ’bout doing my hair?”

The kid wasn’t joking.He’d cornered her out in the alley once, making her crazy by asking if she’d take him as a client. There was no way a man was going to ruin the tranquility of her salon.She didn’t want to see him here at the counter. “Go away, Shon. Read the sign. Beauty Accentuated, A Woman’s Salon. Go find yourself a barber.”

 “But, Miz Baker.You can do exactly what I want. You’re right here. I’m not askin’ for a discount. I just know you can do exactly what I want. Angela who works at The Doughnut Hole says you did her hair. It’s amazing!”

 “Out of here. Git.”

 “C’mon, Miz Baker.” He pushed his face forward, and gave her a big-eyed, begging little boy smile. “Please. Angie told me you were about the best in the f-ing city for foil weaves. That’s all I want.” He hunched up his shoulders half-hanging over the counter. “Please,” he begged. I want little golden spikes just like Angie’s.”

 “Out!” 

“Please, Miz Baker!”

KayTee’s waiting client was taking this all in. That was too much. “Out of here,” she repeated. 

KayTee lowered her voice. “I don’t want to have to have a talk with your aunt, Shon.” She felt smug as she watched him leave. He knew she would talk to his aunt. Clara Bauer owned the gym, not her nephews. KayTee didn’t like turning down women who could be new clients this morning. But she didn’t mind in the least turning down a pushy, muscle-bound hot shot of a young man. 

***

KayTee tipped Sarah’s head under the spray. Tessa better be sending me someone dependable and compliant, she thought. She’d hardly begun squirting the shampoo, when the bell on the door tinkled.

She looked toward the front of the salon to see who had come in. It was a tall, black girl with a shoulder pack. This was a surprise customer. Beauty Accentuateddidn’t even stock the kind of product a black girl’s hair would need. The girl glanced over the shop quickly, and then sat down on one of the chairs near the front counter, not far from where Mrs. Roberts sat. The girl looked around again, slowly.Her eyes stopped on Sandy, then came to KayTee. The tall girl smiled slightly. OMG, KayTee thought. This must be the girl Tessa promised would come today interviewing for a job.

Sandy, two sinks down, noticed the girl too. She twisted around so that the black girl up in front wouldn’t see her face, and she shook her head, ‘No.” at KayTee.Sandy’s pencil-sculptured eyebrows were pinched together as tightly as possible, and she was pursing her lips in a theatrical annoyance. KayTee scowled back at Sandy. It was her shop, not Sandy’s. KayTee, as the salon’s owner, didn’t miss much. She had picked up on the fact that the client in Sandy’s chair raised her eyes from the glossy copy of Southern Living when the girl came in. The client, too, had appraised the new girl. But Sandy’s client wasn’t a dang racist like Sandy. She just went back to looking at the magazine.

KayTee blasted Sandy another look to remind her that she, KayTee Baker, Kathryn Theresa Baker, was the boss, and Sandy was just a tenant lucky enough to even rent a chair at the North Point salon.Then, KayTee gave a gentle pat to Sarah’s springy, now foamy, gray-haired head. “Give me a minute or two,” KayTee said to her client. She slipped off the latex gloves and went to the front of the salon, hoping that the girl would agree with $15.00 an hour, and a 60-40 split on clients served. As KayTee went forward, she said a prayer that Tessa had come through for her. She’d have some help. 

The girl stood up as KayTee approached the front of the salon. KayTee reached out to take her hand, saying, “Hello, I’m KayTee Baker. Are you from the Apex School of Beauty downtown?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am,” Beth said, reaching into her bag for the envelope. “I am. I’m Beth Jackson. Tessa, oh, I mean Ms. Asadurian, gave me this letter for you.” 

“We called her Tessa when I was in beauty school too. Beth, I have to get back to my client, but look around, see how we are set up. The bathroom is the door on the right in back. We keep our lockers and supplies in the door to the left. I’ll have more time to talk to you in about twenty minutes.If you want to go out and walk around the mall, get something to eat, go ahead, just be back in twenty.” 

“I’d rather wait here. Is there something I could be doing here while I wait?”

Ah, precious relief, KayTee thought. Lord, you came through for me, but what she said was, “Go to it. There is a cardboard cutter and two tall stacks of boxes back in the supply room. Open the boxes, and you can set up the bottles of product on the shelves behind the counter and over in the corner. The labels will clue you to where the product should go. New product to the back of the shelf, older ones up front. You’ll figure it out.” KayTee paused, nodded her head toward the supply room. “The locker closest to the window is empty. You can use it for your things. There is a stack of smocks like the one I’m wearing. Don’t want you to ruin your clothes, Beth Jackson.” 

KayTee feeling more optimistic than she had in over a year, grinned. “Beth, huh. Short for Elizabeth?” 

 “No, Ma’am. Short for Bethlehem.” 

“Born on Christmas?”

“Two days before, Ma’am. Mary and Joseph hadn’t gotten to Bethlehem yet. But it was near enough, so my Mother gave me that name.”

“A good name. Oh, you don’t need to call me Ma’am. Everyone calls me KayTee. Okay, now, have fun with the boxes. I’ll get back to my client. See you in twenty.” 

The owner of Beauty Accentuatedwatched the tall girl clip the length of the shop and disappear into the supply room. Bethlehem, she thought. She knew there was something good about this girl.KayTee walked back to the sink where Sarah waited for her. Sandy was still glowering, but KayTee knew she’d calm down. Jill, who’d be in at noon, wouldn’t even notice the new girl’s skin color.She wasn’t like Sandy. 

Twenty minutes later, Beth — wearing a smock identical to the ones worn by KayTee and Sandy — had opened the boxes, re-stocked the shelves, and was dusting the window sill.KayTee’s second client was under an old fixed dryer, so she was free to talk to Beth Jackson. KayTee nodded to Sandy, “Watch the counter. Okay?” then she led Beth out into the back alley. The alley air was tainted by the cars and the trash bins parked along the walls that separated North Point from the subdivisions around it. Still, the trees in backyards gave out oxygen. KayTee took a deep breath, and cleared the salon’s chemical smells from her nose and lungs.

 “The blue bin is ours, Beth. We never put our waste in any of the others or we have to pay a fine. I’m glad you broke down the cardboard boxes. They take up so much space.” KayTee paused to look at the girl as she changed the subject a little. “Do you think you might like working here?”

“Yes, Ma’ma. I do. And, Tessa wouldn’t have sent me here if she didn’t think it a good place for me.”

“Well, I’m a strict boss. I’ll expect work for your pay. A lot of this job is janitorial. You won’t just be shampooing, styling, and doing color all day. You’ll have to clean the salon, supply room and bathroom, sometimes the alley. I need to know you are competent with those other duties before you’ll start working on clients. Then I’ll start you out on our older, regulars. If you don’t mind.” KayTee looked at Beth to make sure that this was acceptable. KayTee herself didn’t like working on old women. Beth was nodding her willingness. So KayTee continued. “You’ll work the counter too. Working the counter means you sell the product on the shelves, as well as dealing with the cash, checks, and credit card payments. Product is important. It brings in as much money as clients do.” 

“Really?” 

“Yes, we sell the quality lines drug stores don’t. Women drive here from all over the city to buy what we stock.” KayTee kept talking. “I think you’ll be happy enough with the pay.I’d give you a base pay of $15.00 an hour, that’s a 9 AM until 5:30 day, with short breaks when you need them, and a half-hour for lunch. On top of the $15 an hour, you’ll get a 60/40 split on client money, but you can only keep cash tips.” She looked at Beth to make sure the girl was paying attention. “It is just too hard for me to manage the check and credit card tipping. 

“60/40 is the standard, and it means you’ll have to keep a business log of any client you serve. I’ll ask for your log every Thursday evening, so I can have your check made out and ready by Friday morning when you get to work. Does that sound okay?” 

“Yes, Ms. Baker. KayTee. It means I’ll be getting $120 a week, minus deductions, plus 40% of client fees and any cash tips.” Beth cocked her head and grinned down at her new boss. “Okay.”

“You can take your lunch break early on Fridays if you want to get to the bank.” KayTee felt relieved Beth was interested in the job. There was more to work out though. “I have some things of my own that I’ll expect from you. First, breaks are flexible, but I don’t want you to take advantage of that. Also, I don’t want you smoking anything in my shop or near it. There is a little park…”

Proudly interrupting, Beth cut in with, “I don’t smoke anything, Ma’am.”

KayTee was relieved and pleased. “Good,” she said. But quickly her face tightened. “Another thing,” she said and her voice became brittle. “I don’t like men in my place. This is a woman’s salon, no men allowed. I don’t want any boyfriend or husband or any guy showing up in it, or hanging around in front of it, or waiting for you in here in the alley. If some man wants to meet you for lunch or after work, use your phone and arrange where you’ll meet. I don’t want it to be here.”

“KayTee, I’m not married, and the only boyfriend I have or want is my baby boy. He won’t be coming to work with me.”

“You have a baby?” KayTee hadn’t expected that from this young girl. She frowned. 

“Yes, Ma’am, I do. He’s almost a year old.”

KayTee’s brows came together. “Well, Beth, I don’t want to hire someone who is going to be missing work all the time. Kids get sick.”

“Joshua is very healthy, Ma’am. We live with my mom. She’ll take care of him when I’m at work. I promise I’ll won’t be missing any days.”

KayTee glanced at the cars in the alley. “You can’t park back here. Sandy and I fill the two slots we’re given. The others belong to other shops.

“It’s not a problem. I’ll be coming by bus.”

KayTee was surprised. “Bus?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I don’t have a car.”

The owner of Beauty Accentuatednodded. KayTee couldn’t remember talking to anyone who’d ridden a city bus in thirty years. “Oh, one other thing,” she said, as she remembered something else that was important.“I’ve seen too many shops where the beauticians looked like they’d just come off a three-day drunk. I want you to look as well-groomed as you do today always. No tats, and no rings anywhere but your fingers. If you have tats, cover them up. This might not seem fair, Beth, but those are my terms. If you agree, and want the job, you can have it.” 

 KayTee relaxed, stretched, then added, “Oh, I forgot. You’ll need to get along with Sandy and Jill, but understand you don’t work for them, you only work for me. They are independent space renters. They bring their own supplies and have their own clients, clean up after themselves. They make their own appointments. But we share sinks and dryers. That takes a bit of cooperation on busy days. If this suits you, you are on payroll as of this morning.”

“It does suit me, and I promise I’ll work hard.”

“Sandy takes a bit of getting used to, but she is a good person at heart. She’s worked here for eight years. You just have to be a little tolerant. You’ll like Jill. She’ll be in at noon.” 

Beth looked quite satisfied with the terms, and KayTee didn’t have to fear the prospect of tending bar in Cabo. This girl was tall, slim and classic looking, which would be good for business. And she had a willingness to work hard. 

When the two of them went back inside the salon, KayTee Baker beckoned her next client to her chair. Sandy moved away from the counter to prepare for her next client. Beth Jackson looked around. She noticed that a couple of the mirrors had splatter spots, and went to find a bottle of Windex in the supply room. Beth learned how to work the counter that afternoon.Sandy was nicer than KayTee implied, and Jill had greeted Beth with a giggly, huggy welcome. She had gone to Proteus for job help. Its counselors tested her aptitudes and enrolled her at Apex Beauty School. And now she had a real, full-time job. The day had been a marvelous success. 

***

At the end of that day, Sandy was slow to leave the salon. KayTee thought about the years that they had worked side by side. Sometimes Sandy stayed past five thirty to talk to her or Jill, but not very often.

Tonight, Sandy was dawdling. She spent an unusual amount of time packing up her supplies. KayTee wondered if Sandy was waiting for Beth and Jill to leave. Something was up. Would she make a scene over KayTee’s hiring of Beth? 

The clock above the door reached five-thirty. Jill was still busy with her last client, but as soon as Beth said goodbye and went out the door, Sandy said, “KayTee, when you get a minute, I want to talk to you out back.” Kaytee didn’t want to lose Sandy. She was honest and reliable. They’d gotten along well.But, NO tenant was going to tell her who she could hire.

She finished off her last client. There was enough time before Amy Barcellos would arrive. So, KayTee went into the alley to face the dragon-fire that was going to come breathing out of Sandy’s mouth over Beth’s hiring. Sandy looked around to make sure no one was nearby to eavesdrop, then she did let her anger spew out.“KayTee Baker, how could you be so damn mean to Shon?All he wanted was good color. A simple thing. He’s a nice guy. He is kind and helpful. He’s really, really a nice guy.” Sandy’s eyes squinted. “What you said to him was just plain cruel.”

KayTee was startled. This certainly wasn’t what she’d expected to hear. “The guy from the gym? This is all about that silly boy from the gym?”

“Yes, it is. You know I work out there. I know the staff and Shon’s a sweet kid. It bothers me that you were so rude to him. You had no reason to be so mean. All he wanted a foil weave. It wouldn’t take long. You were just plain mean.”

KayTee tried her best to sound cool and professional. “Sandy, this isn’t your business. It is my salon and I don’t want men in it. This is my decision to make, not yours. I’m not making any changes to the way I run things.”

Sandy puffed her chest out and slid to the right, blocking KayTee from the backdoor to the salon. Sandy’s posture wasn’t quite menacing, but showed that she certainly wasn’t giving up the fight.When she spoke, she wasn’t loud enough for anyone in the alley other than KayTee to hear her, but her voice was harsh. “I work out in the gym three evenings a week. Shon is the kindest person, who works there. He’s always ready to help with the equipment or spot us so we don’t get hurt. 

Pointing a finger at KayTee, Sandy raised her voice. “You are a bigot, KayTee Baker.You are a gender bigot! That is just as bad as being a black person bigot. You gave me a hard look this morning because my face reminded you I didn’t want to work with black people.Well, I don’t. They’ve scared me since I got beat-up by a big black girl when I was a little kid. And still, you saw that I was nice to Beth today. I can be nice.” She pointed to herself. “I can. Even though she’s tall I knew it wasn’t her who beat me up.” She didn’t want to cry, but she was getting teary-eyed.

“You are no better than me, KayTee Baker. I don’t know what some guy did to you once, but you should have gotten over it by now. It wasn’t Shon who did it. The least you can do is be nice to him. Don’t be such a goddamn bigot.”

KayTee didn’t know what to say. A bigot? Nobody, in her entire life, had ever accused her of being a bigot. She just stood there, her eyes getting bigger as she listened to what Sandy was saying. “If you don’t want to do Shon’s hair, I can do it. I’m not as good as you on foil weaves. So, he wants youto do his color. But I can if you won’t.” Sandy sniffed, wiggled her nose, and went on. “Jill could even do it. Besides, think about it the business opportunity. There are lots of other guys out there who want salons to do their cuts and color. Guys want style. It isn’t 1980 anymore. It isn’t 2000 either. It is time for you to catch up.”

Almost a full minute ticked away with the two women standing silently in the alley staring at each other. Then, KayTee nodded her head. “Okay,” she said.“Okay. When you work out next time, tell Shon I said he could come in and I’ll schedule his weave.”

“You will?”

“Yes. I will. But I’m not changing the marquee, and I don’t want him strutting around acting like some rooster in my shop. He has to act like an ordinary client.” 

“Thank you!” Sandy’s face brightened and her teary eyes found their twinkle again. She looked at KayTee and asked, “We’re okay?”

 

***

KayTee and Sandy went back inside the salon at just about the same time that Beth finished crossing the length of the parking lot and was back in the little park, waiting for the bus. She noticed that the parking lot was still quite full, but the old white guys and their chessboard were gone. Beth was anxious to get home to play with Joshua and to tell her mom about the day. She had a job in a pretty salon with flowery wallpaper and nice people. Soon she’d have the salon’s work mastered and she would be able to accentuate clients’ beauty in all the ways she’d learned at beauty school. 

She looked across the cars to scan the mall as she had that morning. There was a toy store. On Friday, she’d buy something for Joshua. Her mother loved plants. There was a greenery shop with pretty ceramic pots in its window right next door to Beauty Accentuated.

Beth could make plans. First, she’d begin by helping her mom financially. Eventually, she’d buy a car. Reverend Morgan’s brother sang in the choir with her. He was a mechanic. If she asked him, he’d make sure she got the right car, one with a good engine and new tires. It could be warm burgundy, or emerald green, or a shimmery dark blue. Not white, silver or gold, she didn’t want those. She wanted a pretty color for her car. 

Just then, with the swish of air brakes and a squeaky glide of its door opening, the bus to the south end of town arrived. Bethlehem Jackson got on.

 

 

Sylvia Rosscprt.2019

(4996 words)

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty Accentuated

~~~

A Woman’s Salon

 

When she stepped down from the bus at North Point Mall, Beth stepped into a small, grassy, triangular park just at the edge of the sidewalk where two streets came together. The tiny park had a bench with a back to it, and two small trees. There was a trash bin with shiny blue paint, and no trash was on the ground, not even a gum wrapper, or crumpled potato chip bag or a cigarette butt. Two old white guys were setting up a chessboard on the bench. She’d never actually watched anyone play chess, but she recognized the pieces from TV. There was a thermos sticking out of the pack on the ground beside them. Neither of the men had looked up when the bus stopped. She was glad not to be noticed.The little park was cut from the mall’s big parking lot. North Point wasn’t a huge mall, or new, but its buildings were freshly painted. There was no spray paint or scuffs along the walls. Northpoint Mall looked clean and safe. 

Before Beth crossed the parking lot, she began to scan the signs above the shops from left to right. Her eyes paused slightly at each of the marquees above the storefronts until they passed the “L” turn where the mall stopped going south and began going west. It boxed the parking lot in on two sides. She kept scanning, and finally found what she was looking for. The words, Beauty 

Accentuated, were spelled out in vivid coral. Beneath that was a turquoise design, then smaller coral words. She squinted and could read them: a woman’s salon. It was between a repairman’s business and a place that sold potted plants. She took a deep breath.

None of the cars in the parking lot seemed to be over fifteen years old except for a couple of well-maintained classics, an old 1950s Chevy with new shimmering purple paint and fancy hubcaps and an old, vintage VW, also with new paint. She stopped for a moment to admire the VW, then patted the envelope tucked in her shoulder bag, took a deep breath, held it in, then let it out very, very slowly. She’d learned that trick from a nurse in the hospital when she was in labor with Joshua. She felt calmness come over her as the air left her lungs, just as it had a year ago. Joshua came out okay.On this day, she told herself, she would come out okay. She stepped off the grass and onto the asphalt to cross the lines of cars and began walking toward Beauty Accentuated

Most of the vehicles she passed were SUVs. Someday, she would have a car. Not like the Lexus that just stopped to let her cross one of the parking lot’s roadways. She wouldn’t have to ride a bus anymore. Most of the cars were white. When she was a little girl, cars were more colorful, but since she got into her teens, white had become the most popular color. Here, where there were so many new ones, they almost all seemed to be white. 

Her mom believed in signs. Maybe the number of white cars was a bad sign.Maybe it was telling her that she didn’t belong here at North Point Mall. Except for two laughing Mexican women getting into one of the white SUVs, the people walking to and from their cars all had skin that ranged from pink to beige.But she had the envelope. Tessa would be embarrassed if she turned around and went home. She would never embarrass Tessa.

An old woman, wearing good clothes, but not new—a jacket when it wasn’t cold—was coming toward her holding two big shopping bags. The woman stumbled where the asphalt buckled a little. She didn’t fall, but the bag in the woman’s left hand dropped to the asphalt. Beth ran forward, bent to pick it up. “Here you go, Ma’am. It’s okay. I think nothing got broke.” 

The old woman had sky-blue eyes in a wrinkley face. She steadied herself and clutching the bag that hadn’t fallen, she reached for the bag Beth held. Beth recognized Fabulous Frivolous, a soft dye that lots of the old women who came into Apex chose. “Oh, my dear,” the old woman said. “Thank you so much. It gives me much pleasure now-days when young people will go out of their way to be kind.” 

Beth smiled back, and said, “Take care now. Would you like me to walk with you to your car?” 

“No, sweet child.It’s right here.”She pointed at a white Honda Accord, not the newest on the lot, but not old either. She gave Beth another wide smile and said, “You take care too, dear girl.” 

As the woman turned to unlock the trunk of her Honda, Beth put her shoulders back and walked on. Maybe she didn’t need to be so scared. Maybe this old woman was a good sign. She reached into the shoulder bag and touched the envelope.

***

KayTee Baker was behind her shop’s cash register. She was having a bad morning. Six cases of Redken and four of Paul Mitchell product had been delivered already, although it wasn’t yet 9:30. She needed to get the boxes opened and product on the shelves, but there had been five phone calls from clients she didn’t know who had urgent needs for appointments. One client, Margo Bachelor, had been rudely demanding. Three of the five wanted to come in today, a day she was booked solid. One of her Thursday morning regulars, Sarah, was in the chair, waiting for KayTee to begin her shampoo. Crabby ol’ Mrs. Roberts was already here sitting up front, looking at magazines, waiting, a half hour too early. And by 10:30 the next appointment would be in. They’d be overlapping every 45 minutes until 5:30. It was excellent that business was so good, but sometimes she dreamed of selling the shop and taking off to Cabo San Lucas. She’d be happier working as a bartender for minimum wage. She liked Mexican music. 

Sandy and Jill, her independent chair renters, booked their own appointments. Jill wasn’t in yet and Sandy was as busy as KayTee. Until a few months ago, she’d had two employees in addition to the two renters. But Marge, who’d been with her from her first shop on Washington Road, retired with her husband to the coast last year. KayTee still managed a big clientele with just Patty on half time, until Patty got a job as a teacher’s-aide at her kids’ school. KayTee’s life had become an exhausting sort of Dante’s Hell where she went from sink to dryer to sink to counter to the stink of color dyes from sink to being sad and twice divorced and tired.She could pay her mortgage, shop lease, and do okay. But, she missed the income from those empty chairs that Patty and Marge had filled. 

She called one of the women on the scratch pad back. Not Margo Bitchelor. She picked a woman who had sounded young and polite, and offered her a 6:45 appointment that evening. Amy Barcellos’ was happy to get it, and her name went into the appointment book.

It meant no lunch, and no supper until late.It was a good thing she’d hadn’t skipped breakfast. On the scratch pad, there was another woman’s name. Her voice had been pleasant and her name seemed familiar. Maybe, she thought, and the thought converted to question. “Sandy, could you squeeze a client in this afternoon?

“Ya. I can. I’ve had a cancellation. You know Debbie, that long-haired girl who comes in every couple of weeks? She finally went into labor. Her baby is three weeks late. I knew they should have induced…”

 “I don’t have time for talk,” KayTee called sharply from the counter. She grimaced. She’d like her chair renters better if they weren’t so chatty. “Yes or no?Her name is Walker and she needs color. Can you fit her in?” 

Sandy didn’t seem to notice that KayTee was abrupt with her. “Ya.At 2:30, but no later. I have two clients coming after 3.”

The salon owner relaxed. Stephanie Walker’s name went into the appointment book for 2:30. KayTee picked up the phone to called her to tell her Sandy would be her beautician when she arrived.

Both of her tenants were good beauticians. They were honest, tidy, cleaned their spots well before they left, took a place at the cash register when customers came in—when she was at a place with a client where she couldn’t stop—or had to run an errand. They knew how to push product for the shop’s benefit even if it didn’t go into their pockets.

Just as she left the counter and went back to finish old Sarah Cox’s shampoo and cut, the bell rang over the door. She looked up to find that the silly, annoying young man from the gym. He just didn’t get it. He was not welcome in her salon.

 “Hi, Miz Baker.Changed your mind ’bout doing my hair?”

The kid wasn’t joking.He’d cornered her out in the alley once, making her crazy by asking if she’d take him as a client. There was no way a man was going to ruin the tranquility of her salon.She didn’t want to see him here at the counter. “Go away, Shon. Read the sign. Beauty Accentuated, A Woman’s Salon. Go find yourself a barber.”

 “But, Miz Baker.You can do exactly what I want. You’re right here. I’m not askin’ for a discount. I just know you can do exactly what I want. Angela who works at The Doughnut Hole says you did her hair. It’s amazing!”

 “Out of here. Git.”

 “C’mon, Miz Baker.” He pushed his face forward, and gave her a big-eyed, begging little boy smile. “Please. Angie told me you were about the best in the f-ing city for foil weaves. That’s all I want.” He hunched up his shoulders half-hanging over the counter. “Please,” he begged. I want little golden spikes just like Angie’s.”

 “Out!” 

“Please, Miz Baker!”

KayTee’s waiting client was taking this all in. That was too much. “Out of here,” she repeated. 

KayTee lowered her voice. “I don’t want to have to have a talk with your aunt, Shon.” She felt smug as she watched him leave. He knew she would talk to his aunt. Clara Bauer owned the gym, not her nephews. KayTee didn’t like turning down women who could be new clients this morning. But she didn’t mind in the least turning down a pushy, muscle-bound hot shot of a young man. 

***

KayTee tipped Sarah’s head under the spray. Tessa better be sending me someone dependable and compliant, she thought. She’d hardly begun squirting the shampoo, when the bell on the door tinkled.

She looked toward the front of the salon to see who had come in. It was a tall, black girl with a shoulder pack. This was a surprise customer. Beauty Accentuateddidn’t even stock the kind of product a black girl’s hair would need. The girl glanced over the shop quickly, and then sat down on one of the chairs near the front counter, not far from where Mrs. Roberts sat. The girl looked around again, slowly.Her eyes stopped on Sandy, then came to KayTee. The tall girl smiled slightly. OMG, KayTee thought. This must be the girl Tessa promised would come today interviewing for a job.

Sandy, two sinks down, noticed the girl too. She twisted around so that the black girl up in front wouldn’t see her face, and she shook her head, ‘No.” at KayTee.Sandy’s pencil-sculptured eyebrows were pinched together as tightly as possible, and she was pursing her lips in a theatrical annoyance. KayTee scowled back at Sandy. It was her shop, not Sandy’s. KayTee, as the salon’s owner, didn’t miss much. She had picked up on the fact that the client in Sandy’s chair raised her eyes from the glossy copy of Southern Living when the girl came in. The client, too, had appraised the new girl. But Sandy’s client wasn’t a dang racist like Sandy. She just went back to looking at the magazine.

KayTee blasted Sandy another look to remind her that she, KayTee Baker, Kathryn Theresa Baker, was the boss, and Sandy was just a tenant lucky enough to even rent a chair at the North Point salon.Then, KayTee gave a gentle pat to Sarah’s springy, now foamy, gray-haired head. “Give me a minute or two,” KayTee said to her client. She slipped off the latex gloves and went to the front of the salon, hoping that the girl would agree with $15.00 an hour, and a 60-40 split on clients served. As KayTee went forward, she said a prayer that Tessa had come through for her. She’d have some help. 

The girl stood up as KayTee approached the front of the salon. KayTee reached out to take her hand, saying, “Hello, I’m KayTee Baker. Are you from the Apex School of Beauty downtown?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am,” Beth said, reaching into her bag for the envelope. “I am. I’m Beth Jackson. Tessa, oh, I mean Ms. Asadurian, gave me this letter for you.” 

“We called her Tessa when I was in beauty school too. Beth, I have to get back to my client, but look around, see how we are set up. The bathroom is the door on the right in back. We keep our lockers and supplies in the door to the left. I’ll have more time to talk to you in about twenty minutes.If you want to go out and walk around the mall, get something to eat, go ahead, just be back in twenty.” 

“I’d rather wait here. Is there something I could be doing here while I wait?”

Ah, precious relief, KayTee thought. Lord, you came through for me, but what she said was, “Go to it. There is a cardboard cutter and two tall stacks of boxes back in the supply room. Open the boxes, and you can set up the bottles of product on the shelves behind the counter and over in the corner. The labels will clue you to where the product should go. New product to the back of the shelf, older ones up front. You’ll figure it out.” KayTee paused, nodded her head toward the supply room. “The locker closest to the window is empty. You can use it for your things. There is a stack of smocks like the one I’m wearing. Don’t want you to ruin your clothes, Beth Jackson.” 

KayTee feeling more optimistic than she had in over a year, grinned. “Beth, huh. Short for Elizabeth?” 

 “No, Ma’am. Short for Bethlehem.” 

“Born on Christmas?”

“Two days before, Ma’am. Mary and Joseph hadn’t gotten to Bethlehem yet. But it was near enough, so my Mother gave me that name.”

“A good name. Oh, you don’t need to call me Ma’am. Everyone calls me KayTee. Okay, now, have fun with the boxes. I’ll get back to my client. See you in twenty.” 

The owner of Beauty Accentuatedwatched the tall girl clip the length of the shop and disappear into the supply room. Bethlehem, she thought. She knew there was something good about this girl.KayTee walked back to the sink where Sarah waited for her. Sandy was still glowering, but KayTee knew she’d calm down. Jill, who’d be in at noon, wouldn’t even notice the new girl’s skin color.She wasn’t like Sandy. 

Twenty minutes later, Beth — wearing a smock identical to the ones worn by KayTee and Sandy — had opened the boxes, re-stocked the shelves, and was dusting the window sill.KayTee’s second client was under an old fixed dryer, so she was free to talk to Beth Jackson. KayTee nodded to Sandy, “Watch the counter. Okay?” then she led Beth out into the back alley. The alley air was tainted by the cars and the trash bins parked along the walls that separated North Point from the subdivisions around it. Still, the trees in backyards gave out oxygen. KayTee took a deep breath, and cleared the salon’s chemical smells from her nose and lungs.

 “The blue bin is ours, Beth. We never put our waste in any of the others or we have to pay a fine. I’m glad you broke down the cardboard boxes. They take up so much space.” KayTee paused to look at the girl as she changed the subject a little. “Do you think you might like working here?”

“Yes, Ma’ma. I do. And, Tessa wouldn’t have sent me here if she didn’t think it a good place for me.”

“Well, I’m a strict boss. I’ll expect work for your pay. A lot of this job is janitorial. You won’t just be shampooing, styling, and doing color all day. You’ll have to clean the salon, supply room and bathroom, sometimes the alley. I need to know you are competent with those other duties before you’ll start working on clients. Then I’ll start you out on our older, regulars. If you don’t mind.” KayTee looked at Beth to make sure that this was acceptable. KayTee herself didn’t like working on old women. Beth was nodding her willingness. So KayTee continued. “You’ll work the counter too. Working the counter means you sell the product on the shelves, as well as dealing with the cash, checks, and credit card payments. Product is important. It brings in as much money as clients do.” 

“Really?” 

“Yes, we sell the quality lines drug stores don’t. Women drive here from all over the city to buy what we stock.” KayTee kept talking. “I think you’ll be happy enough with the pay.I’d give you a base pay of $15.00 an hour, that’s a 9 AM until 5:30 day, with short breaks when you need them, and a half-hour for lunch. On top of the $15 an hour, you’ll get a 60/40 split on client money, but you can only keep cash tips.” She looked at Beth to make sure the girl was paying attention. “It is just too hard for me to manage the check and credit card tipping. 

“60/40 is the standard, and it means you’ll have to keep a business log of any client you serve. I’ll ask for your log every Thursday evening, so I can have your check made out and ready by Friday morning when you get to work. Does that sound okay?” 

“Yes, Ms. Baker. KayTee. It means I’ll be getting $120 a week, minus deductions, plus 40% of client fees and any cash tips.” Beth cocked her head and grinned down at her new boss. “Okay.”

“You can take your lunch break early on Fridays if you want to get to the bank.” KayTee felt relieved Beth was interested in the job. There was more to work out though. “I have some things of my own that I’ll expect from you. First, breaks are flexible, but I don’t want you to take advantage of that. Also, I don’t want you smoking anything in my shop or near it. There is a little park…”

Proudly interrupting, Beth cut in with, “I don’t smoke anything, Ma’am.”

KayTee was relieved and pleased. “Good,” she said. But quickly her face tightened. “Another thing,” she said and her voice became brittle. “I don’t like men in my place. This is a woman’s salon, no men allowed. I don’t want any boyfriend or husband or any guy showing up in it, or hanging around in front of it, or waiting for you in here in the alley. If some man wants to meet you for lunch or after work, use your phone and arrange where you’ll meet. I don’t want it to be here.”

“KayTee, I’m not married, and the only boyfriend I have or want is my baby boy. He won’t be coming to work with me.”

“You have a baby?” KayTee hadn’t expected that from this young girl. She frowned. 

“Yes, Ma’am, I do. He’s almost a year old.”

KayTee’s brows came together. “Well, Beth, I don’t want to hire someone who is going to be missing work all the time. Kids get sick.”

“Joshua is very healthy, Ma’am. We live with my mom. She’ll take care of him when I’m at work. I promise I’ll won’t be missing any days.”

KayTee glanced at the cars in the alley. “You can’t park back here. Sandy and I fill the two slots we’re given. The others belong to other shops.

“It’s not a problem. I’ll be coming by bus.”

KayTee was surprised. “Bus?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I don’t have a car.”

The owner of Beauty Accentuatednodded. KayTee couldn’t remember talking to anyone who’d ridden a city bus in thirty years. “Oh, one other thing,” she said, as she remembered something else that was important.“I’ve seen too many shops where the beauticians looked like they’d just come off a three-day drunk. I want you to look as well-groomed as you do today always. No tats, and no rings anywhere but your fingers. If you have tats, cover them up. This might not seem fair, Beth, but those are my terms. If you agree, and want the job, you can have it.” 

 KayTee relaxed, stretched, then added, “Oh, I forgot. You’ll need to get along with Sandy and Jill, but understand you don’t work for them, you only work for me. They are independent space renters. They bring their own supplies and have their own clients, clean up after themselves. They make their own appointments. But we share sinks and dryers. That takes a bit of cooperation on busy days. If this suits you, you are on payroll as of this morning.”

“It does suit me, and I promise I’ll work hard.”

“Sandy takes a bit of getting used to, but she is a good person at heart. She’s worked here for eight years. You just have to be a little tolerant. You’ll like Jill. She’ll be in at noon.” 

Beth looked quite satisfied with the terms, and KayTee didn’t have to fear the prospect of tending bar in Cabo. This girl was tall, slim and classic looking, which would be good for business. And she had a willingness to work hard. 

When the two of them went back inside the salon, KayTee Baker beckoned her next client to her chair. Sandy moved away from the counter to prepare for her next client. Beth Jackson looked around. She noticed that a couple of the mirrors had splatter spots, and went to find a bottle of Windex in the supply room. Beth learned how to work the counter that afternoon.Sandy was nicer than KayTee implied, and Jill had greeted Beth with a giggly, huggy welcome. She had gone to Proteus for job help. Its counselors tested her aptitudes and enrolled her at Apex Beauty School. And now she had a real, full-time job. The day had been a marvelous success. 

***

At the end of that day, Sandy was slow to leave the salon. KayTee thought about the years that they had worked side by side. Sometimes Sandy stayed past five thirty to talk to her or Jill, but not very often.

Tonight, Sandy was dawdling. She spent an unusual amount of time packing up her supplies. KayTee wondered if Sandy was waiting for Beth and Jill to leave. Something was up. Would she make a scene over KayTee’s hiring of Beth? 

The clock above the door reached five-thirty. Jill was still busy with her last client, but as soon as Beth said goodbye and went out the door, Sandy said, “KayTee, when you get a minute, I want to talk to you out back.” Kaytee didn’t want to lose Sandy. She was honest and reliable. They’d gotten along well.But, NO tenant was going to tell her who she could hire.

She finished off her last client. There was enough time before Amy Barcellos would arrive. So, KayTee went into the alley to face the dragon-fire that was going to come breathing out of Sandy’s mouth over Beth’s hiring. Sandy looked around to make sure no one was nearby to eavesdrop, then she did let her anger spew out.“KayTee Baker, how could you be so damn mean to Shon?All he wanted was good color. A simple thing. He’s a nice guy. He is kind and helpful. He’s really, really a nice guy.” Sandy’s eyes squinted. “What you said to him was just plain cruel.”

KayTee was startled. This certainly wasn’t what she’d expected to hear. “The guy from the gym? This is all about that silly boy from the gym?”

“Yes, it is. You know I work out there. I know the staff and Shon’s a sweet kid. It bothers me that you were so rude to him. You had no reason to be so mean. All he wanted a foil weave. It wouldn’t take long. You were just plain mean.”

KayTee tried her best to sound cool and professional. “Sandy, this isn’t your business. It is my salon and I don’t want men in it. This is my decision to make, not yours. I’m not making any changes to the way I run things.”

Sandy puffed her chest out and slid to the right, blocking KayTee from the backdoor to the salon. Sandy’s posture wasn’t quite menacing, but showed that she certainly wasn’t giving up the fight.When she spoke, she wasn’t loud enough for anyone in the alley other than KayTee to hear her, but her voice was harsh. “I work out in the gym three evenings a week. Shon is the kindest person, who works there. He’s always ready to help with the equipment or spot us so we don’t get hurt. 

Pointing a finger at KayTee, Sandy raised her voice. “You are a bigot, KayTee Baker.You are a gender bigot! That is just as bad as being a black person bigot. You gave me a hard look this morning because my face reminded you I didn’t want to work with black people.Well, I don’t. They’ve scared me since I got beat-up by a big black girl when I was a little kid. And still, you saw that I was nice to Beth today. I can be nice.” She pointed to herself. “I can. Even though she’s tall I knew it wasn’t her who beat me up.” She didn’t want to cry, but she was getting teary-eyed.

“You are no better than me, KayTee Baker. I don’t know what some guy did to you once, but you should have gotten over it by now. It wasn’t Shon who did it. The least you can do is be nice to him. Don’t be such a goddamn bigot.”

KayTee didn’t know what to say. A bigot? Nobody, in her entire life, had ever accused her of being a bigot. She just stood there, her eyes getting bigger as she listened to what Sandy was saying. “If you don’t want to do Shon’s hair, I can do it. I’m not as good as you on foil weaves. So, he wants youto do his color. But I can if you won’t.” Sandy sniffed, wiggled her nose, and went on. “Jill could even do it. Besides, think about it the business opportunity. There are lots of other guys out there who want salons to do their cuts and color. Guys want style. It isn’t 1980 anymore. It isn’t 2000 either. It is time for you to catch up.”

Almost a full minute ticked away with the two women standing silently in the alley staring at each other. Then, KayTee nodded her head. “Okay,” she said.“Okay. When you work out next time, tell Shon I said he could come in and I’ll schedule his weave.”

“You will?”

“Yes. I will. But I’m not changing the marquee, and I don’t want him strutting around acting like some rooster in my shop. He has to act like an ordinary client.” 

“Thank you!” Sandy’s face brightened and her teary eyes found their twinkle again. She looked at KayTee and asked, “We’re okay?”

 

***

KayTee and Sandy went back inside the salon at just about the same time that Beth finished crossing the length of the parking lot and was back in the little park, waiting for the bus. She noticed that the parking lot was still quite full, but the old white guys and their chessboard were gone. Beth was anxious to get home to play with Joshua and to tell her mom about the day. She had a job in a pretty salon with flowery wallpaper and nice people. Soon she’d have the salon’s work mastered and she would be able to accentuate clients’ beauty in all the ways she’d learned at beauty school. 

She looked across the cars to scan the mall as she had that morning. There was a toy store. On Friday, she’d buy something for Joshua. Her mother loved plants. There was a greenery shop with pretty ceramic pots in its window right next door to Beauty Accentuated.

Beth could make plans. First, she’d begin by helping her mom financially. Eventually, she’d buy a car. Reverend Morgan’s brother sang in the choir with her. He was a mechanic. If she asked him, he’d make sure she got the right car, one with a good engine and new tires. It could be warm burgundy, or emerald green, or a shimmery dark blue. Not white, silver or gold, she didn’t want those. She wanted a pretty color for her car. 

Just then, with the swish of air brakes and a squeaky glide of its door opening, the bus to the south end of town arrived. Bethlehem Jackson got on.

 

 

Sylvia Rosscprt.2019

(4996 words)

 

 

 

 

Beauty Accentuated

~~~

A Woman’s Salon

 

When she stepped down from the bus at North Point Mall, Beth stepped into a small, grassy, triangular park just at the edge of the sidewalk where two streets came together. The tiny park had a bench with a back to it, and two small trees. There was a trash bin with shiny blue paint, and no trash was on the ground, not even a gum wrapper, or crumpled potato chip bag or a cigarette butt. Two old white guys were setting up a chessboard on the bench. She’d never actually watched anyone play chess, but she recognized the pieces from TV. There was a thermos sticking out of the pack on the ground beside them. Neither of the men had looked up when the bus stopped. She was glad not to be noticed.The little park was cut from the mall’s big parking lot. North Point wasn’t a huge mall, or new, but its buildings were freshly painted. There was no spray paint or scuffs along the walls. Northpoint Mall looked clean and safe. 

Before Beth crossed the parking lot, she began to scan the signs above the shops from left to right. Her eyes paused slightly at each of the marquees above the storefronts until they passed the “L” turn where the mall stopped going south and began going west. It boxed the parking lot in on two sides. She kept scanning, and finally found what she was looking for. The words, Beauty 

Accentuated, were spelled out in vivid coral. Beneath that was a turquoise design, then smaller coral words. She squinted and could read them: a woman’s salon. It was between a repairman’s business and a place that sold potted plants. She took a deep breath.

None of the cars in the parking lot seemed to be over fifteen years old except for a couple of well-maintained classics, an old 1950s Chevy with new shimmering purple paint and fancy hubcaps and an old, vintage VW, also with new paint. She stopped for a moment to admire the VW, then patted the envelope tucked in her shoulder bag, took a deep breath, held it in, then let it out very, very slowly. She’d learned that trick from a nurse in the hospital when she was in labor with Joshua. She felt calmness come over her as the air left her lungs, just as it had a year ago. Joshua came out okay.On this day, she told herself, she would come out okay. She stepped off the grass and onto the asphalt to cross the lines of cars and began walking toward Beauty Accentuated

Most of the vehicles she passed were SUVs. Someday, she would have a car. Not like the Lexus that just stopped to let her cross one of the parking lot’s roadways. She wouldn’t have to ride a bus anymore. Most of the cars were white. When she was a little girl, cars were more colorful, but since she got into her teens, white had become the most popular color. Here, where there were so many new ones, they almost all seemed to be white. 

Her mom believed in signs. Maybe the number of white cars was a bad sign.Maybe it was telling her that she didn’t belong here at North Point Mall. Except for two laughing Mexican women getting into one of the white SUVs, the people walking to and from their cars all had skin that ranged from pink to beige.But she had the envelope. Tessa would be embarrassed if she turned around and went home. She would never embarrass Tessa.

An old woman, wearing good clothes, but not new—a jacket when it wasn’t cold—was coming toward her holding two big shopping bags. The woman stumbled where the asphalt buckled a little. She didn’t fall, but the bag in the woman’s left hand dropped to the asphalt. Beth ran forward, bent to pick it up. “Here you go, Ma’am. It’s okay. I think nothing got broke.” 

The old woman had sky-blue eyes in a wrinkley face. She steadied herself and clutching the bag that hadn’t fallen, she reached for the bag Beth held. Beth recognized Fabulous Frivolous, a soft dye that lots of the old women who came into Apex chose. “Oh, my dear,” the old woman said. “Thank you so much. It gives me much pleasure now-days when young people will go out of their way to be kind.” 

Beth smiled back, and said, “Take care now. Would you like me to walk with you to your car?” 

“No, sweet child.It’s right here.”She pointed at a white Honda Accord, not the newest on the lot, but not old either. She gave Beth another wide smile and said, “You take care too, dear girl.” 

As the woman turned to unlock the trunk of her Honda, Beth put her shoulders back and walked on. Maybe she didn’t need to be so scared. Maybe this old woman was a good sign. She reached into the shoulder bag and touched the envelope.

***

KayTee Baker was behind her shop’s cash register. She was having a bad morning. Six cases of Redken and four of Paul Mitchell product had been delivered already, although it wasn’t yet 9:30. She needed to get the boxes opened and product on the shelves, but there had been five phone calls from clients she didn’t know who had urgent needs for appointments. One client, Margo Bachelor, had been rudely demanding. Three of the five wanted to come in today, a day she was booked solid. One of her Thursday morning regulars, Sarah, was in the chair, waiting for KayTee to begin her shampoo. Crabby ol’ Mrs. Roberts was already here sitting up front, looking at magazines, waiting, a half hour too early. And by 10:30 the next appointment would be in. They’d be overlapping every 45 minutes until 5:30. It was excellent that business was so good, but sometimes she dreamed of selling the shop and taking off to Cabo San Lucas. She’d be happier working as a bartender for minimum wage. She liked Mexican music. 

Sandy and Jill, her independent chair renters, booked their own appointments. Jill wasn’t in yet and Sandy was as busy as KayTee. Until a few months ago, she’d had two employees in addition to the two renters. But Marge, who’d been with her from her first shop on Washington Road, retired with her husband to the coast last year. KayTee still managed a big clientele with just Patty on half time, until Patty got a job as a teacher’s-aide at her kids’ school. KayTee’s life had become an exhausting sort of Dante’s Hell where she went from sink to dryer to sink to counter to the stink of color dyes from sink to being sad and twice divorced and tired.She could pay her mortgage, shop lease, and do okay. But, she missed the income from those empty chairs that Patty and Marge had filled. 

She called one of the women on the scratch pad back. Not Margo Bitchelor. She picked a woman who had sounded young and polite, and offered her a 6:45 appointment that evening. Amy Barcellos’ was happy to get it, and her name went into the appointment book.

It meant no lunch, and no supper until late.It was a good thing she’d hadn’t skipped breakfast. On the scratch pad, there was another woman’s name. Her voice had been pleasant and her name seemed familiar. Maybe, she thought, and the thought converted to question. “Sandy, could you squeeze a client in this afternoon?

“Ya. I can. I’ve had a cancellation. You know Debbie, that long-haired girl who comes in every couple of weeks? She finally went into labor. Her baby is three weeks late. I knew they should have induced…”

 “I don’t have time for talk,” KayTee called sharply from the counter. She grimaced. She’d like her chair renters better if they weren’t so chatty. “Yes or no?Her name is Walker and she needs color. Can you fit her in?” 

Sandy didn’t seem to notice that KayTee was abrupt with her. “Ya.At 2:30, but no later. I have two clients coming after 3.”

The salon owner relaxed. Stephanie Walker’s name went into the appointment book for 2:30. KayTee picked up the phone to called her to tell her Sandy would be her beautician when she arrived.

Both of her tenants were good beauticians. They were honest, tidy, cleaned their spots well before they left, took a place at the cash register when customers came in—when she was at a place with a client where she couldn’t stop—or had to run an errand. They knew how to push product for the shop’s benefit even if it didn’t go into their pockets.

Just as she left the counter and went back to finish old Sarah Cox’s shampoo and cut, the bell rang over the door. She looked up to find that the silly, annoying young man from the gym. He just didn’t get it. He was not welcome in her salon.

 “Hi, Miz Baker.Changed your mind ’bout doing my hair?”

The kid wasn’t joking.He’d cornered her out in the alley once, making her crazy by asking if she’d take him as a client. There was no way a man was going to ruin the tranquility of her salon.She didn’t want to see him here at the counter. “Go away, Shon. Read the sign. Beauty Accentuated, A Woman’s Salon. Go find yourself a barber.”

 “But, Miz Baker.You can do exactly what I want. You’re right here. I’m not askin’ for a discount. I just know you can do exactly what I want. Angela who works at The Doughnut Hole says you did her hair. It’s amazing!”

 “Out of here. Git.”

 “C’mon, Miz Baker.” He pushed his face forward, and gave her a big-eyed, begging little boy smile. “Please. Angie told me you were about the best in the f-ing city for foil weaves. That’s all I want.” He hunched up his shoulders half-hanging over the counter. “Please,” he begged. I want little golden spikes just like Angie’s.”

 “Out!” 

“Please, Miz Baker!”

KayTee’s waiting client was taking this all in. That was too much. “Out of here,” she repeated. 

KayTee lowered her voice. “I don’t want to have to have a talk with your aunt, Shon.” She felt smug as she watched him leave. He knew she would talk to his aunt. Clara Bauer owned the gym, not her nephews. KayTee didn’t like turning down women who could be new clients this morning. But she didn’t mind in the least turning down a pushy, muscle-bound hot shot of a young man. 

***

KayTee tipped Sarah’s head under the spray. Tessa better be sending me someone dependable and compliant, she thought. She’d hardly begun squirting the shampoo, when the bell on the door tinkled.

She looked toward the front of the salon to see who had come in. It was a tall, black girl with a shoulder pack. This was a surprise customer. Beauty Accentuateddidn’t even stock the kind of product a black girl’s hair would need. The girl glanced over the shop quickly, and then sat down on one of the chairs near the front counter, not far from where Mrs. Roberts sat. The girl looked around again, slowly.Her eyes stopped on Sandy, then came to KayTee. The tall girl smiled slightly. OMG, KayTee thought. This must be the girl Tessa promised would come today interviewing for a job.

Sandy, two sinks down, noticed the girl too. She twisted around so that the black girl up in front wouldn’t see her face, and she shook her head, ‘No.” at KayTee.Sandy’s pencil-sculptured eyebrows were pinched together as tightly as possible, and she was pursing her lips in a theatrical annoyance. KayTee scowled back at Sandy. It was her shop, not Sandy’s. KayTee, as the salon’s owner, didn’t miss much. She had picked up on the fact that the client in Sandy’s chair raised her eyes from the glossy copy of Southern Living when the girl came in. The client, too, had appraised the new girl. But Sandy’s client wasn’t a dang racist like Sandy. She just went back to looking at the magazine.

KayTee blasted Sandy another look to remind her that she, KayTee Baker, Kathryn Theresa Baker, was the boss, and Sandy was just a tenant lucky enough to even rent a chair at the North Point salon.Then, KayTee gave a gentle pat to Sarah’s springy, now foamy, gray-haired head. “Give me a minute or two,” KayTee said to her client. She slipped off the latex gloves and went to the front of the salon, hoping that the girl would agree with $15.00 an hour, and a 60-40 split on clients served. As KayTee went forward, she said a prayer that Tessa had come through for her. She’d have some help. 

The girl stood up as KayTee approached the front of the salon. KayTee reached out to take her hand, saying, “Hello, I’m KayTee Baker. Are you from the Apex School of Beauty downtown?”

 

“Yes, Ma’am,” Beth said, reaching into her bag for the envelope. “I am. I’m Beth Jackson. Tessa, oh, I mean Ms. Asadurian, gave me this letter for you.” 

“We called her Tessa when I was in beauty school too. Beth, I have to get back to my client, but look around, see how we are set up. The bathroom is the door on the right in back. We keep our lockers and supplies in the door to the left. I’ll have more time to talk to you in about twenty minutes.If you want to go out and walk around the mall, get something to eat, go ahead, just be back in twenty.” 

“I’d rather wait here. Is there something I could be doing here while I wait?”

Ah, precious relief, KayTee thought. Lord, you came through for me, but what she said was, “Go to it. There is a cardboard cutter and two tall stacks of boxes back in the supply room. Open the boxes, and you can set up the bottles of product on the shelves behind the counter and over in the corner. The labels will clue you to where the product should go. New product to the back of the shelf, older ones up front. You’ll figure it out.” KayTee paused, nodded her head toward the supply room. “The locker closest to the window is empty. You can use it for your things. There is a stack of smocks like the one I’m wearing. Don’t want you to ruin your clothes, Beth Jackson.” 

KayTee feeling more optimistic than she had in over a year, grinned. “Beth, huh. Short for Elizabeth?” 

 “No, Ma’am. Short for Bethlehem.” 

“Born on Christmas?”

“Two days before, Ma’am. Mary and Joseph hadn’t gotten to Bethlehem yet. But it was near enough, so my Mother gave me that name.”

“A good name. Oh, you don’t need to call me Ma’am. Everyone calls me KayTee. Okay, now, have fun with the boxes. I’ll get back to my client. See you in twenty.” 

The owner of Beauty Accentuatedwatched the tall girl clip the length of the shop and disappear into the supply room. Bethlehem, she thought. She knew there was something good about this girl.KayTee walked back to the sink where Sarah waited for her. Sandy was still glowering, but KayTee knew she’d calm down. Jill, who’d be in at noon, wouldn’t even notice the new girl’s skin color.She wasn’t like Sandy. 

Twenty minutes later, Beth — wearing a smock identical to the ones worn by KayTee and Sandy — had opened the boxes, re-stocked the shelves, and was dusting the window sill.KayTee’s second client was under an old fixed dryer, so she was free to talk to Beth Jackson. KayTee nodded to Sandy, “Watch the counter. Okay?” then she led Beth out into the back alley. The alley air was tainted by the cars and the trash bins parked along the walls that separated North Point from the subdivisions around it. Still, the trees in backyards gave out oxygen. KayTee took a deep breath, and cleared the salon’s chemical smells from her nose and lungs.

 “The blue bin is ours, Beth. We never put our waste in any of the others or we have to pay a fine. I’m glad you broke down the cardboard boxes. They take up so much space.” KayTee paused to look at the girl as she changed the subject a little. “Do you think you might like working here?”

“Yes, Ma’ma. I do. And, Tessa wouldn’t have sent me here if she didn’t think it a good place for me.”

“Well, I’m a strict boss. I’ll expect work for your pay. A lot of this job is janitorial. You won’t just be shampooing, styling, and doing color all day. You’ll have to clean the salon, supply room and bathroom, sometimes the alley. I need to know you are competent with those other duties before you’ll start working on clients. Then I’ll start you out on our older, regulars. If you don’t mind.” KayTee looked at Beth to make sure that this was acceptable. KayTee herself didn’t like working on old women. Beth was nodding her willingness. So KayTee continued. “You’ll work the counter too. Working the counter means you sell the product on the shelves, as well as dealing with the cash, checks, and credit card payments. Product is important. It brings in as much money as clients do.” 

“Really?” 

“Yes, we sell the quality lines drug stores don’t. Women drive here from all over the city to buy what we stock.” KayTee kept talking. “I think you’ll be happy enough with the pay.I’d give you a base pay of $15.00 an hour, that’s a 9 AM until 5:30 day, with short breaks when you need them, and a half-hour for lunch. On top of the $15 an hour, you’ll get a 60/40 split on client money, but you can only keep cash tips.” She looked at Beth to make sure the girl was paying attention. “It is just too hard for me to manage the check and credit card tipping. 

“60/40 is the standard, and it means you’ll have to keep a business log of any client you serve. I’ll ask for your log every Thursday evening, so I can have your check made out and ready by Friday morning when you get to work. Does that sound okay?” 

“Yes, Ms. Baker. KayTee. It means I’ll be getting $120 a week, minus deductions, plus 40% of client fees and any cash tips.” Beth cocked her head and grinned down at her new boss. “Okay.”

“You can take your lunch break early on Fridays if you want to get to the bank.” KayTee felt relieved Beth was interested in the job. There was more to work out though. “I have some things of my own that I’ll expect from you. First, breaks are flexible, but I don’t want you to take advantage of that. Also, I don’t want you smoking anything in my shop or near it. There is a little park…”

Proudly interrupting, Beth cut in with, “I don’t smoke anything, Ma’am.”

KayTee was relieved and pleased. “Good,” she said. But quickly her face tightened. “Another thing,” she said and her voice became brittle. “I don’t like men in my place. This is a woman’s salon, no men allowed. I don’t want any boyfriend or husband or any guy showing up in it, or hanging around in front of it, or waiting for you in here in the alley. If some man wants to meet you for lunch or after work, use your phone and arrange where you’ll meet. I don’t want it to be here.”

“KayTee, I’m not married, and the only boyfriend I have or want is my baby boy. He won’t be coming to work with me.”

“You have a baby?” KayTee hadn’t expected that from this young girl. She frowned. 

“Yes, Ma’am, I do. He’s almost a year old.”

KayTee’s brows came together. “Well, Beth, I don’t want to hire someone who is going to be missing work all the time. Kids get sick.”

“Joshua is very healthy, Ma’am. We live with my mom. She’ll take care of him when I’m at work. I promise I’ll won’t be missing any days.”

KayTee glanced at the cars in the alley. “You can’t park back here. Sandy and I fill the two slots we’re given. The others belong to other shops.

“It’s not a problem. I’ll be coming by bus.”

KayTee was surprised. “Bus?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I don’t have a car.”

The owner of Beauty Accentuatednodded. KayTee couldn’t remember talking to anyone who’d ridden a city bus in thirty years. “Oh, one other thing,” she said, as she remembered something else that was important.“I’ve seen too many shops where the beauticians looked like they’d just come off a three-day drunk. I want you to look as well-groomed as you do today always. No tats, and no rings anywhere but your fingers. If you have tats, cover them up. This might not seem fair, Beth, but those are my terms. If you agree, and want the job, you can have it.” 

 KayTee relaxed, stretched, then added, “Oh, I forgot. You’ll need to get along with Sandy and Jill, but understand you don’t work for them, you only work for me. They are independent space renters. They bring their own supplies and have their own clients, clean up after themselves. They make their own appointments. But we share sinks and dryers. That takes a bit of cooperation on busy days. If this suits you, you are on payroll as of this morning.”

“It does suit me, and I promise I’ll work hard.”

“Sandy takes a bit of getting used to, but she is a good person at heart. She’s worked here for eight years. You just have to be a little tolerant. You’ll like Jill. She’ll be in at noon.” 

Beth looked quite satisfied with the terms, and KayTee didn’t have to fear the prospect of tending bar in Cabo. This girl was tall, slim and classic looking, which would be good for business. And she had a willingness to work hard. 

When the two of them went back inside the salon, KayTee Baker beckoned her next client to her chair. Sandy moved away from the counter to prepare for her next client. Beth Jackson looked around. She noticed that a couple of the mirrors had splatter spots, and went to find a bottle of Windex in the supply room. Beth learned how to work the counter that afternoon.Sandy was nicer than KayTee implied, and Jill had greeted Beth with a giggly, huggy welcome. She had gone to Proteus for job help. Its counselors tested her aptitudes and enrolled her at Apex Beauty School. And now she had a real, full-time job. The day had been a marvelous success. 

***

At the end of that day, Sandy was slow to leave the salon. KayTee thought about the years that they had worked side by side. Sometimes Sandy stayed past five thirty to talk to her or Jill, but not very often.

Tonight, Sandy was dawdling. She spent an unusual amount of time packing up her supplies. KayTee wondered if Sandy was waiting for Beth and Jill to leave. Something was up. Would she make a scene over KayTee’s hiring of Beth? 

The clock above the door reached five-thirty. Jill was still busy with her last client, but as soon as Beth said goodbye and went out the door, Sandy said, “KayTee, when you get a minute, I want to talk to you out back.” Kaytee didn’t want to lose Sandy. She was honest and reliable. They’d gotten along well.But, NO tenant was going to tell her who she could hire.

She finished off her last client. There was enough time before Amy Barcellos would arrive. So, KayTee went into the alley to face the dragon-fire that was going to come breathing out of Sandy’s mouth over Beth’s hiring. Sandy looked around to make sure no one was nearby to eavesdrop, then she did let her anger spew out.“KayTee Baker, how could you be so damn mean to Shon?All he wanted was good color. A simple thing. He’s a nice guy. He is kind and helpful. He’s really, really a nice guy.” Sandy’s eyes squinted. “What you said to him was just plain cruel.”

KayTee was startled. This certainly wasn’t what she’d expected to hear. “The guy from the gym? This is all about that silly boy from the gym?”

“Yes, it is. You know I work out there. I know the staff and Shon’s a sweet kid. It bothers me that you were so rude to him. You had no reason to be so mean. All he wanted a foil weave. It wouldn’t take long. You were just plain mean.”

KayTee tried her best to sound cool and professional. “Sandy, this isn’t your business. It is my salon and I don’t want men in it. This is my decision to make, not yours. I’m not making any changes to the way I run things.”

Sandy puffed her chest out and slid to the right, blocking KayTee from the backdoor to the salon. Sandy’s posture wasn’t quite menacing, but showed that she certainly wasn’t giving up the fight.When she spoke, she wasn’t loud enough for anyone in the alley other than KayTee to hear her, but her voice was harsh. “I work out in the gym three evenings a week. Shon is the kindest person, who works there. He’s always ready to help with the equipment or spot us so we don’t get hurt. 

Pointing a finger at KayTee, Sandy raised her voice. “You are a bigot, KayTee Baker.You are a gender bigot! That is just as bad as being a black person bigot. You gave me a hard look this morning because my face reminded you I didn’t want to work with black people.Well, I don’t. They’ve scared me since I got beat-up by a big black girl when I was a little kid. And still, you saw that I was nice to Beth today. I can be nice.” She pointed to herself. “I can. Even though she’s tall I knew it wasn’t her who beat me up.” She didn’t want to cry, but she was getting teary-eyed.

“You are no better than me, KayTee Baker. I don’t know what some guy did to you once, but you should have gotten over it by now. It wasn’t Shon who did it. The least you can do is be nice to him. Don’t be such a goddamn bigot.”

KayTee didn’t know what to say. A bigot? Nobody, in her entire life, had ever accused her of being a bigot. She just stood there, her eyes getting bigger as she listened to what Sandy was saying. “If you don’t want to do Shon’s hair, I can do it. I’m not as good as you on foil weaves. So, he wants youto do his color. But I can if you won’t.” Sandy sniffed, wiggled her nose, and went on. “Jill could even do it. Besides, think about it the business opportunity. There are lots of other guys out there who want salons to do their cuts and color. Guys want style. It isn’t 1980 anymore. It isn’t 2000 either. It is time for you to catch up.”

Almost a full minute ticked away with the two women standing silently in the alley staring at each other. Then, KayTee nodded her head. “Okay,” she said.“Okay. When you work out next time, tell Shon I said he could come in and I’ll schedule his weave.”

“You will?”

“Yes. I will. But I’m not changing the marquee, and I don’t want him strutting around acting like some rooster in my shop. He has to act like an ordinary client.” 

“Thank you!” Sandy’s face brightened and her teary eyes found their twinkle again. She looked at KayTee and asked, “We’re okay?”

 

***

KayTee and Sandy went back inside the salon at just about the same time that Beth finished crossing the length of the parking lot and was back in the little park, waiting for the bus. She noticed that the parking lot was still quite full, but the old white guys and their chessboard were gone. Beth was anxious to get home to play with Joshua and to tell her mom about the day. She had a job in a pretty salon with flowery wallpaper and nice people. Soon she’d have the salon’s work mastered and she would be able to accentuate clients’ beauty in all the ways she’d learned at beauty school. 

She looked across the cars to scan the mall as she had that morning. There was a toy store. On Friday, she’d buy something for Joshua. Her mother loved plants. There was a greenery shop with pretty ceramic pots in its window right next door to Beauty Accentuated.

Beth could make plans. First, she’d begin by helping her mom financially. Eventually, she’d buy a car. Reverend Morgan’s brother sang in the choir with her. He was a mechanic. If she asked him, he’d make sure she got the right car, one with a good engine and new tires. It could be warm burgundy, or emerald green, or a shimmery dark blue. Not white, silver or gold, she didn’t want those. She wanted a pretty color for her car. 

Just then, with the swish of air brakes and a squeaky glide of its door opening, the bus to the south end of town arrived. Bethlehem Jackson got on.

 

 

Sylvia Rosscprt.2019

(4996 words)


 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


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