"Pete's, this is Barbara, can I help you?"
"Babs. It's me. I'm running late," I said, "but I really need a cut. Are you going to be there another 15 minutes?" I had called in the morning to let her know I was coming. The shop didn't make appointments, but I always called to make sure Barbara was working that day before coming in. Now I was late.
"Sure," she said, cheerily. "There's one still waiting, but we flipped the sign off. I got nowhere else to be. I can fit you in."
"You're a sweetheart," I offered. "Thanks ... cya in a few minutes."
Barbara -- Babs to her friends -- was Barbara Thornton, daughter of Pete. Pete was the owner and proprietor of 'Pete's Barber Shop'. Imagine that? A female barber, you say? Yup. Maybe where you come from that's not uncommon. Around here, sleepy old Cape Cod, it's a rarity to be sure. Most women who decide to cut hair for a living become hairdressers in the fancy salons. Not Babs. She grew up in the barber shop and I guess when it came time, she decided to follow in the old man's footsteps directly. She always was a bit of a tomboy.
We grew up together, but she was two years ahead of me in school. In many places, larger towns, that would have meant we never knew each other. In this small town, everyone knows everyone else, and Babs and I had been friends for years. She was way out of my league in high school, a statuesque blond with curves in all the right places and an ass to kill for. I was the nerdy math and science geek. Babs got married just out of high school to a local guy, but it turned out his best years had been in high school. After one kid and years of struggle, he just up and left her one day. Last I heard, he was in jail in Texas. A real winner. Babs was too good for him anyway.
I turned my love of science and math into degrees in computer science and biology and moved back to the Cape after college to start and run a successful local software company. A software company on Cape Cod isn't the most glamorous of jobs, but being the boss was pretty cool. Someone -- the Chamber of Commerce, I think -- once tried to get more interest in the area by dubbing us the 'Silicon Sandbar'. It didn't stick and the recent national economic woes haven't left many of the companies that were here solvent. We do some specialized work for the government and the local national marine research lab, so things are usually pretty stable for us.
I had a big meeting in Washington in two days trying to make sure our contracts got extended -- maybe even increased -- and had been neglecting my personal appearance while spending 20-plus hour days preparing. Now I was ready for the presentations, but a quick look in the mirror had revealed a desperate need for a cut and Babs was the only person I trusted with my hair. Sounds weird coming from a nerd, huh? But I had done a pretty good job keeping in decent shape in recent years and was proud to not be the quintessential computer geek stereotype.
My 'growth spurt' had been a little late, though, and the string-bean of a kid from high school had filled out pretty nicely in college and beyond. I was always a surprise when I bumped into a classmate that I hadn't seen in many years. One particularly shallow former cheerleader from high school had insisted on seeing my driver's license at a recent social event. She pretended to be joking when she saw it, 'Oh, I knew it was you.' She wouldn't have given me the time of day in high school, but suddenly the successful, single entrepreneur was 'hot stuff'. I wasn't sure if it was my physique or my checkbook she was more interested in. I don't usually hold a grudge, especially from high school, but shallow is shallow and I could see right through her.
Babs, on the other hand, had always been a friend. As I said, even though she was two years ahead of me in school, she was always friendly and never 'too good' for anyone. To her infinite credit, she treated everyone the same way -- great. It's probably how she ended up married to the loser she got stuck with. She was too nice to say 'No'. I had tutored her in math and science in her junior and senior years. I was taking the same classes as her anyway, being the little brainiac, at least in those subjects. Of course, having a giant crush on her at the time -- still? -- didn't have anything to do with wanting to spend time with her, did it? Right.
I lucked into a parking spot on the street right in front of the shop and bounded up the stairs. As expected, the barber pole was off, but the door was open. Babs looked to the door and smiled warmly when she saw me. She was working on a fellow that I recognized, but didn't really know all that well.
"Hiya, Babs," I called from the doorway as I hung my coat and scarf on the rack near the door and came in from the February cold. "Hi to you, too, Pete."
"Always second fiddle around here ... in my own shop," Pete grumbled, but couldn't help hiding a smile as he said it.
Business had been great for Pete ever since Barbara started working in the shop, and I'm sure more than half the clientele came in hoping she'd be the one cutting their hair. With no appointments and first-come-first-served service, you got who you got. I usually planned my appearances for the end of the day and by unwritten rule, Babs always cut my hair, even if I had to go out of turn. It got me a few dirty looks from other patrons once in a while, but Pete always seemed to smooth things over, and me being Babs 'high school friend' usually settled any complaints.
Barbara looked particularly amazing today and it was no surprise why any guy would be fighting to have her running her hands through their hair. At 5'9", she was pretty tall. Not center-on-a-basketball-team tall, of course, but above average to be sure. Her legs seemed to go on forever and she was wearing heels today ... or at least now. I wasn't sure how she could walk around in those all day cutting hair, but I started at the dark shoes and worked my way upward as I slowly made my way to the waiting area. I grabbed a 'seat with a view' (of Barbara) and pretended to read a magazine while I continued to check her out. Thankfully, she was working on the guy in the seat nearest the door and waiting area.
The shoes were only the beginning of the show and as I worked my way up her body, trying to hide my ogling as well as possible, I followed her shapely, stocking-covered leg up to the short (for winter) black thigh-length skirt. It had a sexy slit in the side and when she moved just so, more of her fabulous legs came tantalizingly into view. The skirt was topped with a wide, shiny belt which led up to a tight-fitting, red, zip-front, long-sleeve, hooded cardigan. The zipper was down low enough to reveal a bit of cleavage, but not enough to raise too many eyebrows in small-town Cape Cod. Her hair (duh!) and make-up were understated, but lovely, and as I reached her gorgeous face, I was stopped cold. She was staring right at me and I had clearly been caught checking her out.
'Busted, ' she mouthed, but she winked and went back to her work. Turning away she offered, "Dad and I are almost finished with both of these fine citizens. I'll take you in a minute."
'I'd like to take you somewhere, ' I thought as I watched her move. My high-school crush had morphed into full-blown lust over the years, but timing and events seemed to always keep me from doing anything about it. It always seemed that one of us was either married or deeply involved in a relationship and if I was anything, it was respectful of that. Babs had supposedly been dating a local guy for a couple of years since her divorce went final, but I heard that ended a few months ago. I was just getting over a break-up with a woman who I thought loved me, but was apparently just another gold-digger. Thankfully I found out soon enough before half my company was hers in a divorce. It still stung.
I found a better magazine and settled in for the wait. It didn't look to be long, but I stole glances Barbara's way as often as I could and only got caught staring one more time. My phone went off -- the office -- but I was able to quickly answer the question and tried to stress to my sales manager that we were as ready as we were going to be for the meetings and to go home, see his family, and get some rest. He reluctantly agreed, and I was hoping I'd make it through the night without another call.
"Serves me right for sneaking out of the office 30 minutes early to get a haircut," I grumbled under my breath. Or so I thought.
"What was that?" Babs asked.
"Oh ... sorry ... I thought I kept that snarky comment to myself."
"Tough day?" she asked while brushing off her customer and carefully removing the cape, keeping all of the hair off him.
"Tough month. Months," I muttered.
"Well, come have a seat and tell Babs your troubles," she smiled. "I'll take care of Bob here and we'll be good to go."
Next to bartenders, I think barbers are probably the next best listeners in the world. Maybe even better than shrinks. They hear all kinds of stories, theories, local news, and outright fabrications in the course of a day, and usually have to remain pretty stoic and neutral. I don't think barbers have politics or religion. If they do, my experience is that they usually keep it to themselves. Wouldn't do much for business to be a right-wing republican in a town full of liberal democrats ... or vice-versa. Maybe it was just Babs and Pete that were this quiet. I'd been coming here for 30 years or more. Even in college, I'd find time to get home to get a cut.
.... There is more of this story ...