Keeping Up Appearances
He's here again. It's always the same. At first he came every two months, then every month, now... even more often. Too often. Even with all his hair, I don't think he's the type to be obsessed with it, much less the sort that wants every wash of it to be conducted by a professional.
Meaning my partner. Business partner and occasional friend, that is. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar.
The guy with the hair is Duo Maxwell. He's been a regular customer at our salon for over a year now. My business associate would be Heero Yuy, both of us hairstylists. We have diplomas to prove just how good we are at that. Of course, the best proof lies in satisfied customers. Stores hand out plastic bags brimming with their own advertisements, turning their customers into walking billboards. That's their way, and that's all well and good. Our advertisements not that obtrusive, but they are far more visible. Very few get their hair done only to cover it up again. Word of mouth and a good reputation are crucial elements in our line of business.
Heero finishes the last careful snip, and guides his client to the washbasin again, making sure Duo is comfortable in the reclined chair before methodically washing and rinsing the long, coarse tresses. It's clear enough he isn't merely playing with the mass of hair, as he occasionally does with that of other customers. No, with Duo, he caresses the hair, practically worships it.
Duo knows it, too - that sly smile of his gives it all away.
It's sickeningly sweet to behold. Idly I wonder if my partner has ever invited Duo to the salon after hours for other activities than hair care.
My imagination presents illustrations. With a frown, I shake my head, ridding my mind of the thoughts. I have my own client to deal with. Not that it takes much effort. Two more snips, and the crew-cut is finished. "There, all done," I inform the guy. He gets up. It's a big guy, a little too muscular for his own good. You'd almost think it was all air, by the puffy appearance. Certainly, he carries a lax enough expression to suggest his head is full of it. I walk over to the cash register, customer in tow. "That'll be-"
Airhead pulls a credit card out of his pocket. A swoosh and some astonishingly quick typing later, he's out of the store. I check the logbook; no further customers for me today. At least not any reservations; you never know who might drop in at random. I give a lopsided smirk as I skim the lists in the book. There's a fairly clear separation there on names - or rather, gender.
I consider it one of the great ironies of the universe that of our customers the women prefer Heero's services while the men tend to prefer me.
You see, Heero is gay. He's certainly not obvious about it, far removed from the flaming stereotypes - but he is. If you could see the way he rinses Duo's hair, you'd know too. That isn't merely good, attentive service - it's currying good favor; possibly more.
I, however, am very much straight. Once or twice, Duo has told me I'm a little too straight for my own good. He kissed my cheek once, and made me blush in the process - part embarrassment, part rage. Heero was not happy with me that evening either, even though I couldn't possibly be blamed for what happened. Of course, making him jealous was all part of Duo's plan. It worked, too. It was pure luck I didn't get a shiner in the process.
The blow-dryer comes to life, as do the combs. I shake my head at the sight, and turn away to restock some of the shelves instead. Lately, a fad has created an increased demand for a specific line of hair products. Our new orders can barely keep up with it.
At least it spares me of witnessing the interaction between my associate and his client.
They finish up pretty much the same time I do. Duo's hair looks unnaturally shiny. He pays up and leaves, turning to give Heero one last wink as he slips out the door. At least, I presume it was for Heero, and that I was merely in the line of fire. I turn to Heero, wanting - once more - to discuss the special discounts he usually gives Duo. He seems a little lost in thought, however, and looks past me, out the storefront window. "I'm leaving now, Wufei."
I nod. "Fine, I'll close up. It's only half an hour left of the day anyway, and we're not booked." He acknowledges with a nod of his own, not taking his eyes away from... something. Or rather, someone. I turn to glance outside too, just to confirm it - and sure enough, there's Duo, idling by his car, grinning our way. I face Heero again, and take note of that star-struck expression of his, tainted by the slight leer. "Date tonight?"
The leer widens, and he nods.
I sigh, give him a lopsided smirk of my own. "You know, he's probably going to exploit you. He just wants a good wash and rinse. He's going to lure you to his place and trick you into giving special treatments to that enormous thing of his for free."
At first, Heero gives me a baffled look. Lacking a better term, call it a mild shock. Then, he bursts out laughing. If you knew Heero Yuy, you would know how disturbing that sound can be. A chuckle or a snicker, fine - but all out laughter? "God, I hope so..."
From outside, Duo blows us a kiss and steps into his car. The rear lights flare up.
Heero grabs his jacket, tosses it on and takes long steps towards the door. "Bye, Wufei - see you on Monday!" He's out the door before I can blink, and the tiny bell above the door doesn't stop chiming before he's seated in Duo's car.
I shake my head in resignation again, allow myself a smile for his happiness and good fortune, and watch as they drive away. Only after I start sweeping the floor do I realize what I told Heero earlier. I chuckle to myself, feel my cheeks warm up. Sometimes, the subconscious plays great tricks on you when you form sentences.
Under the chair Duo sat in, there's a flurry of short cut-offs - barely that of a millimeter or two, practically dust. Contrasting those are a few ridiculously long strands of hair brushed out of Duo's mane.
Another sigh, all to myself. Yes, I'm glad on Heero's behalf. And yes, I'll even admit to being somewhat envious. Not of Duo in particular, mind you, but of finding someone he really likes. Loves, for all I know. They haven't exactly said so yet, but sure looks like it, sometimes. Being single isn't as fun as you may think. Then again, we always crave what we don't or can't have. Single people want to get married. Married people want to be single again, only to crave another relationship, and so on. The grass is always greener on the other side, until you run out of grass, or compromise by sitting on the fence.
Of course, balancing on a white picket fence isn't easy. Or particularly comfortable.
Heero and Duo are good-looking men. I don't feel ashamed for saying so; merely stating a fact does not mean I'm interested beyond friendship with either of them. Granted, Duo finds teasing me much too amusing for the safety of our future friendship - but Heero has been my friend for as long as I can remember. For his sake, I do my best to ignore Maxwell's impish side.
Why fate led me into hair care, I still can't fathom. It just... happened. Heero and I applied for various places, and he marked this line as one of his choices. We had a bit of an argument of it. It started out with me mocking him for it. It ended with him getting me to sign up, too. By the luck of the draw and the nature of our grades, we both ended up there.
I don't regret it, even if my hands object from time to time. Chemicals made for hair treatments don't always agree with bare skin. Luckily, trial, error and science has landed us at a point where it isn't as great a risk as it used to be - as long as you're careful.
Of course, there's the stereotyping. Male hairstylists are frequently assumed to be gay. Straight guys just don't go for such lines of work, right? It's all nonsense, of course. It's like suggesting women can't lay electrical wires, drive trucks or install plumbing.
I've gotten the bad end of that prejudice a few times - mostly from other guys, including one incident with a gay guy. That turned out somewhat awkward, but he took the news fairly well.
I was tempted to sick him on Heero, but already back then it was fairly obvious Heero had his eyes on Duo.
Heero thinks the prejudice against our profession is one of the reasons I've taken to favor hobbies like swordplay, martial arts and deep meditation - as if I needed to reaffirm my masculinity and balanced calm at the prospect of being thought gay - and thus not 'manly' enough by the biased world at large.
Of course, one look at Heero scowling at you is usually enough to make you realize 'gay' does not equal 'feminine', not by a long shot. Although... when you notice how mushy the usually stern-faced Heero turns when Duo sits in his chair, you might doubt it a tad. Love changes people. So does lust.
I really need to talk to Heero about that discount he gives Duo. Initially, they were given just so Heero could be absolutely sure Duo would come back. Yes, Heero was that infatuated already from Duo's first visit. I thought it was his hair fetish finally coming out in the open, but now, I think it's far more than that. I wonder how he'd react if Duo told him he wanted to cut it all off. I smirk at the image of how far and fast Heero's jaw would drop at such news.
The discount, though... If they're going steady now, the discount shouldn't be necessary anymore. I know Heero will merely scowl at me for even suggesting he stop favoring Duo, but sometimes, even the lovesick need to listen to reason. We still have the bottom line to worry about.
The doorbell clings again, and a young woman with honey blonde hair, a prim dress and mild distress across her pretty face. "Is Monsieur Yuy in?"
Only with great effort do I avoid rolling my eyes at that. It had started as an inside joke, long ago - right around the time Heero and I graduated and set up this place for ourselves. We had a tough time trying to think of a good name for the place. After hours of brainstorming, our best bet was 'Yuy-Chang Studios'. As a joke, I suggested we shorten it to 'Yuchan Studios'. Unfortunately, I didn't get the laugh I was angling for. Heero actually took a fancy to the name, and so it went up in neon. Lime green, not pink. One of life's smaller mercies. Thankfully, few of our customers think twice about the name of the place.
Of course, a select group of customers recognize it as 'foreign language' but when they fail to recognize just what sort of foreign language, they presume it is French for something. After all, all the fashionable styling studios has French names. And gay hairstylists. I suppose we choose to profit on ignorance.
This also applied to titles. Thus, Heero and I find ourselves to be 'Monsieurs', against our will. Frankly, I even prefer Duo calling me 'Woof'. The face Heero had right after the first time he called me that stays with me as one of his most amusing expressions ever. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera handy.
Heero insists my face from back then is just as priceless as his. Duo is still lobbying for us to frame the photo and hang it between our diplomas on the salon wall.
At any rate, this particular customer would be part of the 'it must be French' enclave. Her name is Relena Peacecraft, daughter of a wealthy local dignitary. She probably overheard it from others and took it in as 'fact'. After all, it only made it more 'hip' to visit this tiny and rather obscure hair salon. Titles are everything to some people.
I shake my head. "I'm sorry - he just left, Miss Peacecraft." Yes, I remain polite. She's still a good customer. I don't give her the act of a slight lisp. Heero does that on occasion - particularly with the newer and blonder clients. I know this one won't fall for that, though. She has been here too often for that. I can't remember if Heero pulled that act on her when she first came here.
With a slight pout, she appears to remember herself, and straighten up, emitting an aura of almost haughty dignity again. "But it's an emergency!"
It takes a great deal of willpower not to snicker. Oh, hair care is always an 'emergency' to some people - usually women who unexpectedly find themselves a prom or high society ball short of a new hairdo. From appearances, that is probably the case here too - although as best as I could recall, Miss Peacecraft sat in Heero's chair no less than three days ago, and left rather cheerful.
I sigh, and put the broom aside. I could deal with the rest of the floor later. "Well, I'm not Monsieur Yuy, but I will do anything I can to help, Miss. Will that suffice?"
She thinks about it for a second, then hangs up her flimsy, white coat. "Yes, thank you, Monsieur Chang."
Since her back is briefly against me, I don't bother hiding my cringe. It isn't just my aversion to the title, but also how some people apparently mix up my first and last name - and Heero's, for that matter. For some customers, I have a hard time telling whether they're trying to be formal - or polite. It isn't easy to call which of them actually know which is which of our first and last names.
I brush off a chair, and guide her to sit. I reach for the smock and fasten it, making sure to lift her long honey blonde hair out of the collar before attaching it. "So, what seems to be the problem, Miss Peacecraft?"
She tilts her head to give me a sad-stricken glance from the corner of her eye. "Can't you see?" She raises her arm and points to a slight tangle in the midst of the hair at the back of her head, and I finally notice it. Chewing gum. By appearances, a small, but sticky wad. I know better than to ask how the hell a piece of gum could find its way to the back of her head. No need to add to her embarassment. Instead, I study the situation, evaluate how to best proceed. All in all, it wouldn't be that difficult to remove.
"Oh, this we should be able to fix, Miss. I will have to cut a little around here, but-"
Alarm targets me. "But that would show!"
I struggle not to frown. What does she take me for? I'm a professional; I have a talent with this sort of sticky situations, damn it. I bite down my resentment and present my thin default service-smile. "Oh, it will be fine, Miss. We have a special solvent for situation like this, but the hair will still take some damage. It will need a little trimming, but it would hardly be noticeable, and-"
She's on the verge of tears. If she were a less composed person, I'd call it borderline hysteria. "I'll be a laughing stock at the gala tonight!"
I sigh. "No, Miss Peacecraft, I very much doubt that - but if you wish, we can set your hair up for tonight. That way, this minor injury certainly won't be visible to anyone else. Will that suffice?"
The young woman hesitates, but finally nods in agreement. Satisfied, I take one of the sample picture books and hand it to her, leaving her to browse through the various styles and make her choice while I fetch the mild solvent.
You'd be surprised at the number of gum-in-hair incidents we've seen. That is fairly simple to fix, with the proper tools. There are far worse substances to encounter in hair. Hairstylists can have just as strange stories to tell as proctologists.
By the time I get back to her, she has picked a style from the book, gently tapping the picture with her finger. I recognize it right away. Heero gave her that exact look six months ago, for one of the galas her father hosted. She even dared invite Heero as her escort back then. Miss Peacecraft had carried a not-so secret crush on him for several months up until then. Heero hadn't picked up on it, smitten as he was about Duo. Of course, after being asked out by Miss Peacecraft, he told her of his preferences, in his typical blunt fashion.
As I recall, she had been mildly shocked at first, perhaps saddened - but by her next visit, I got the impression she had simply assumed this was the way with male hairstylists - that we all had to be gay.
The thought didn't go well with me then, and doesn't now either. The girl probably thinks I'm gay, too. I shake my head to clear my mind. It doesn't matter; she is still good money. Regular customers, especially those with significant social connections, loose money and a frequent desire for change in hairstyles are worth a little mental discomfort to satisfy.
"Now, please relax, Miss Peacecraft," I cautiously ask, and go to work on her locks. In the mirror, I see her closing her eyes, smiling softly. She remains tense, though. For a moment, I wonder if she doesn't trust me. I push the thought aside, though. It is an unfair speculation.
The solvent foams just a little - like a low-grade conditioner. Once rubbed in, I leave it to work for a few minutes, and ready the combs and scissors for the next jobs. I glance at the mirror, and find her reflection looking at me, a wavering smile on her face. "Are you sure this will work, Monsieur Chang?"
No, I'm confident it will lead you to remain bald for the rest of your life. "Of course, Miss Peacecraft."
Polite flash of teeth. "Oh, please call me Relena."
I nod, and search out the right scissors for the light snipping job; a long, thin piece of jointed metal.
"I hope this will turn out fine..." Given that I know she's nervous, I resist the urge to roll my eyes at it. I'm certain Heero would not have suffered such little barbs to his professional pride. Then again, maybe I'm just more sensitive to such things. "It's a very important event, after all," she continues. "My father is arranging a charity ball - we're raising funds for Saint Wilhelm's Orphanage - do you know it? The one on Crawley Street?"
Again, I nod to the mirror.
Her smile turns a tad conspiratorial. "Of course, that's the part we wrote on the invitations. My father has greater plans than that, you see."
And so it begins. Why some think it an acceptable idea to spill their secrets to people who are pretty much strangers, never ceases to amaze me. I certainly never signed a non-disclosure document, and there's no sacrosanct pledge given hair care students - not any official ones, at least. Yet, we're told things people would hesitate to tell their priests, doctors and lawyers. Then again, who tell their lawyers their secrets?
While I wait for the solvent to do its job, I listen to her rant, giving the occasional sign of acknowledgement as I pretend to double-check my equipment. It appears Relena's father wishes to set up a large trust fund for charities - so large that it could operate merely on interest and careful investments. She mentions some of the hurdles. I can think of a few more right there, but I don't voice them. Let the rich deal with their own problems.
"So, I have to look my best tonight to charm politicians, influentials, industrial leaders, old and new money into helping out - perhaps shift their viewpoints a little." She gives a light laugh. "Few people have truly locked views. If you find the right buttons to push or the proper wheels to grease, people can be very agreeable."
Granted, it surprises me that she has a somewhat devious side - but I recover fast from surprises these days. Heero's boyfriend has trained me in that department. "Sounds intriguing," I say in a detached voice, deciding the solvent has had enough time to soften up the gum.
She sees me reach for the narrow scissor and a comb. "Please be careful."
"Of course," I respond, a little insulted. Tentatively, I manage to slip most of the gum off, and seek out the few strands that remain tangled. A few careful snips later, the last remnant of gum is gone. The damage isn't all that great. With a little careful combing, it would be very hard to spot even with her hair down like this.
I'm not dumb enough to suggest that, though. The customer is always right, and Relena has already given me her order. I'm very careful as I comb out her hair, too. Walking, talking billboards work best when lit up and happy, not while they're dark-mooded and brooding - unless you're advertising for a horror movie.
While I work, she goes on about the ball. Again, I fade most of it out, though I gather she's really excited about it. In her world, I imagine this sort of thing is the ultimate of human compassion - giving breadcrumbs to the needy, and all.
Yes, I have a bias against wealth. I don't have it, and thus resent those who do - and aren't willing to share liberally of their riches. I am a hypocrite, as far as money is concerned. Of course, the plan Relena suggests is more than breadcrumbs. It isn't a one-time handout, but a gift intended to keep on giving - in moderation, that is.
The idea is noble enough. Still, it remains to be seen if it will work. At least I'm doing my part - meaning Relena's hair. "Miss Peacecraft, if you would come this way..."
I lead her to the washbasins. She'll need a quick rinse before we try to shape her hair the way she wanted it. We get seated; she in the recliner chair, me on the barstool behind the basin. She keeps talking as I treat her hair, though. "Monsieur Chang?"
"I feel silly for having to ask this, but - what is your full name?"
I pause slightly at the question, then continue, smirking. "Chang Wufei."
She doesn't react as I thought she would, though. Perhaps she is one of the few of our customers used to the Asian order of names. Then again, maybe she picked it up from Heero. They always seem a bit chatty. "Wufei... That's a nice name."
Solitary chuckle. "Thank you."
I get a few seconds of silence, but she's insistent on filling the void with something else than the sound of running water. "So, what do you like to do when you're not working, Monsieur Chang?"
I bite down the answer 'meditate in silence'. Insulting the customer is bad form. Still, I want to throw her off. I prefer to concentrate on her hair, not the small chat. "I don't know... Martial arts, fencing..."
She giggles. How can that sound be so appealing yet so annoying?
Fine, so I've been single for a long time. And she's fairly attractive.
Again, maybe an understatement.
But she's still blonde. And rich. And out of my league - or interest. Mostly.
Then she takes me by surprise again. "Ah - if you don't mind me asking, which do you prefer - the saber, foil or épée?
Though she stumbles on the pronunciation of the latter, I didn't expect her to be able to name types of fencing swords. It takes me a few seconds to recover enough to reply. "To be honest, none of them - but there are few places where you're allowed to wield sharp, wide blades these days."
"Such as? Broadswords? Katanas? Scimitars?"
I find it oddly uncomfortable that she even knows those words. Still... "Something like that. Collectors' items, these days. Not something that would be permitted in a duelling club."
She gives a ghost of a nod. "And of what you're allowed to wield?"
I shrug at that. "The foil, probably. The direct fencing style suits me better."
"I see... Well, it wouldn't do if you got your hands bruised by a hard hit of a saber."
Despite myself, I snicker at that. "We're done here, Miss Peacecraft. Let's move back to the other chair, please." I help her up and escort her there. Still, my curiosity gets the better of me. "Where did you learn about fencing, Miss Peacecraft? You don't strike me as the type of woman who would enjoy things like that." Come to think of it, I only know a handful of women who would-
"Oh, I picked it up from a good friend of mine. She loves fencing. She told me it's something about the honor of a duel - about outwitting your opponent and the implied danger of failing to parry the attacks." Relena sits down in her chair and lower her voice. "But I think it has more to do with all the young men in the fairly tight, white suits."
Yes, I think I could guess who she had talked to now. "Dorothy Catalonia?"
She lights up again. "Ah, so you know her?"
I nod, reach for the blow-dryer and a comb. "I believe I'm one of the young men in white." Though, Miss Catalonia seems more interested in taking her energy and frustrations out on us, than trying to pick anyone of us up. Then again, we all have different styles of flirting - and a few of the young men at the club have fallen for her - literally, and otherwise.
Relena's smile wavers, unsure. I smile at her through the mirror. "We're in the same fencing club. She's very talented, that friend of yours." Scary, more like. Miss Catalonia is one of the most stubborn women I've ever met - and she can be very deceitful, at least in duelling - which makes her relationship with Miss Peacecraft all the more puzzling. Of course, they are both part of higher society. They probably grew up in the same ballrooms.
"I've heard a few things from Heero, too."
She nods slightly, but stops when she realizes I'm still working on her hair. "Yes. Heero and I have had many good conversations. He's a very nice young man..." She sighs. "The good ones are always gay or taken, aren't they?"
Snort. "Or both," I add.
She laughs. "So very true..."
For a moment I want to ask her which she thinks I am - but of course, the conclusion could also be that I'm not one of the 'good' ones. I'm not up to finding out.
To be honest, I don't know what she sees in Heero. I don't know what Duo sees in Heero, either. It isn't merely because I'm straight.
Perhaps I'm merely jealous of how everyone is attracted to him, and none seem to be to me.
Distracted by that thought, I pull a little too hard on the comb.
I relent immediately. "Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Peacecraft - I didn't mean to-"
She waves me off. "It's okay..."
I nod, and resume my work. She goes off chatting again; about the impending ball this time. I feel like she's giving me the entire guest list of the honored elite, as well as stray tidbits of uninteresting gossip. I play along, giving minor sounds of acknowledgement every now and then.
I know some people like to talk. I'm just not one of them, most days. Especially not when the topic is pointless small talk.
Heero wasn't much of a conversationalist, either - until he met Duo, that is. Duo used just a few scattered hours in the chair to pull things out of Heero I hadn't been able to do in a lifetime of friendship. That stung a little, until I realized what else Duo had hooked - Heero's heart.
With Duo's influence, Heero has grown rather chatty. He even tries to pull me into the futile babbling, sometimes. As long as it sticks to things like politics, news or sports, I don't mind too much, and respond most of the time - but when he wants to debate the movie of the week, I step away.
He's learned to live with it.
After all, he has Duo to empty those topics on.
Relena's hair takes some effort to curl up properly. Sure, it's nice and straight to begin with, but it's deceptive in its aura of softness. It's almost a bit coarse. Still, as she rambles on about the party, I get the job done.
She keeps her eyes closed for the last fifteen minutes of the treatment. I'm not sure if it is because she's finally getting tired of studying the mirror for my reactions, or because she wants to be 'surprised' when she sees the finished hairdo. Either way is fine with me. "There, Miss Peacecraft. We're done."
She opens her eyes, blinks, then studies the mirror. I grab the small, round hand-held one to show her the back. She tilts her head, smile growing wider. "Oh, it's wonderful, Monsieur Chang. Really, it is." She glances up at the clock on the wall, draws a slight gasp. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Monsieur Chang. I didn't realize how late it was. I didn't mean to keep you here after hours for-"
I snicker a little, partly in good humor, partly from watching her squirm a little. "That's quite all right, Miss Peacecraft. It was an emergency, wasn't it?"
She relaxes a little as I take the smock off of her. "I suppose so... How can I ever repay you?"
To hell with it, I think, and say the first thing that came to mind. "How about a kiss?"
That certainly startled her again. "Monsieur Chang!"
High-society prudence has always annoyed me. Yes, she's a valued customer - but her face right now is priceless. Still, it stings a little. She must be one of those who assume all hairstylists are automatically gay - at least since her experience with Heero.
I keep my smirk on, though. "Yes, I'm straight, Miss Peacecraft. Shocking, isn't it?"
To my surprise, she doesn't slap me in the face, or keep up her stunned expression. Instead, her eyes mellow, and she's smiling slightly at me again through the mirror. "Oh, I know that, Monsieur Chang. I might be blonde, but I'm not an idiot."
I snort at that, lose my own smirk and practically glare at her reflection.
"In fact, it's pretty much obvious - you being straight, that is. I believe those of my friends that come here think so too."
I'm frowning now. Sure, Relena and her circle of friends frequent our place to get their hair done, but- "But all of you seem to prefer Heero. Why-"
She gives a delightful, light laugh, so delightful it stabs at me. "That's because he chats along with us, Wufei. He plays the game the way we want to play it - it has nothing to do with presumptions about your sexuality, or bias to his looks. It's the small talk, you see. Some of us prefer to talk while we get our hair treated. Some of us don't. I believe that is what customers choose between the two of you from. You've always been a bit reserved with words - Heero was too, but he changed."
I think about that for a little while. She's right, damn it. No wonder Heero has been admonishing me to lighten up and chat - it would help our business. Maybe even more than that.
Heero had actually used the expression 'lighten up', as well. To the best of my recollection, he had never used that before meeting Duo. I have a feeling I know where it originated. Duo has teased me about it a few times, too. He likes teasing people, and Heero and I are his current favorite victims - albeit, in very different ways.
She has gotten to her feet while I was lost in thought. I don't really wake up again until-
-until she places her lips on my cheek. "Thank you, Monsieur Chang."
Something is wrong with my jaw. I can't seem to pull it back up and close my mouth. My eyes follow her steps to the cash register, and slowly I regain enough control of myself to follow.
She pays with her credit card, and starts walking towards the door.
Now or never. "Miss Peacecraft..."
Stop, glance over shoulder. "Yes?"
"Would you consider going out with me sometime?" Okay, so I find her interesting, after all. Besides, how many women could I possibly find who know what an épée is? And don't mention Dorothy Catalonia; I want a date, not a castration.
She gives me a soft, shy smile, starts to speak, then stops herself, before finally letting out a quiet "Maybe..."
It's a good thing I'm already leaning against the counter. I struggle not to sigh; at least it wasn't a no.
She puts a digit to her chin, as if to indicate she was considering something. "Tell you what - if this hairdo is a success, I will agree to a date. Would that be okay?"
Relief. I smile. "That would be fine, Miss Peacecraft."
She makes a mild giggle. It sounds bittersweet in my ear - but ever more of the latter. "Oh, call me Relena, Monsieur Chang."
I nod. "Then please, call me Wufei. If I hear 'Monsieur' one more time, I'll-"
She all out laughs, before regaining control of herself. She nods. "I know, Wufei. Why do you think I keep using it? You get this funny little twitch around your right eye whenever I say it."
Before I can reply, she gives me half a curtsey and slips out the door.
I finally get around to closing up shop, feeling oddly light-headed. Perhaps it is finally my turn for a little happiness.
The next morning I get a call. With a minute, the rest of my day is booked off - and for once, being idle would bring good things, not evil.