Amélie found herself staring in her mirror one misty morning. She tilted her head. Something didn't feel right. She squinted her eyes. She opened her mouth wide. She squished her hands to her rosy cheeks. She then lifted each carefully braided ponytail high into the air above her ears. Her lips drew into a straight line. She thought for a moment, eyes closed in concentration, then took a few bills from the small lockbox under her bed and picked the worn book off her overflowing shelf. She found a paper and pen in the kitchen and neatly wrote a note for her father.
Going to the shops for a little while. I'll be back soon.
Amelie slipped out the front door, book under her arm, and began to walk along the narrow pathways of her Parisian suburb. She almost walked past the tiny hair salon nestled in the corner of the block, the glass storefront revealing a bored woman in a purple cheetah print shirt and black apron standing behind a desk. One hand was in her bleached blond hair with her elbow on the table and the other hand drummed restlessly on the counter. Amélie cautiously pushed open the door to the salon, which was silent except for the air conditioning whirring and the quiet ding of a bell. The lady at the counter snapped out of her stupor, jerking upwards and smiling broadly.
"Hello, young miss. What brings you here?"
Amélie glanced around at the empty store, and softly spoke. "Do you have an opening for an appointment?"
A few moments later, Amélie sat in the pleather, peeling chair as the salon lady took apart the girl's braid, revealing the soft, bouncy curls hiding within. Amélie noticed the name tag on the lady's apron, which in loopy, cursive writing spelled the name Claudette.
"So, what do you have in mind?"
Amélie took her book from her lap and opened it to a page bookmarked with a ribbon. On the page was a full picture of a Egyptian papyrus section, illustrated in color. In the center of the hieroglyphics and pictures of plants and animals, kneeled a woman with wings running down her arms. She had dark, shoulder length hair and bangs that reached her eyebrows, and a beautiful face with a knowing smile. But perhaps the most striking part of the image was the scale that lay in front of her, with a feather on one side and what looked like a human heart on the other.
Claudette blinked and stepped backwards. "Um, that's nice, dear, but why are you showing me that?"
Amélie kept looking at the page, speaking softly but confidently. "This is a drawing of the goddess Ma'at. She helps to figure out who gets to go on to the afterlife. Do you see this?"
Amelie pointed at the scale, and Claudette peered over Amélie's shoulder, but still kept her distance.
"This is the scale that she weighs the souls on. She can see everything they've done, good and bad."
The girl smiled, and Claudette leaned over to look at the goddess's face.
"Can you imagine being able to understand a person's heart like that?"
"Honey, I can barely imagine getting a real place to sleep, let alone something like... that." she remarked, gesturing suspiciously towards the image.
Amélie's eyes widened, and her eyebrows raised. "You don't have have somewhere to live?"
Claudette quickly shook her head. "Oh no no no, I just meant to live in a real house and not a little apartment! They get cramped after a while, you know?"
Amélie slowly nodded, but after a pause, furrowed her brow. "But isn't it nice to have somewhere to live all for yourself?"
Claudette chuckled. "Of course, but those things get old. Eventually you'd want someone to keep you company."
"Well, I live with my dad right now, and I think I'd rather live by myself.'
The hairstylist rolled her eyes with a knowing smile. "Oh, are you in one of those phases where a girl hates her parents? Don't worry, you'll love him eventually."
As Claudette began to walk away, Amélie paused for a moment before she spoke, looking down at the floor. "Parent."
"I'm sorry? I couldn't hear you over the water." Claudette called out over her shoulder, washing her hands in the nearby sink.
"I only have one parent. My mother died two years ago when a suicidal tourist jumped on her in Paris."
Claudette's expression dropped, and she walked over to the girl.
"I'm so sorry, dear." Claudette gently put her hand on the girl's shoulder.
A moment of silence passed between them before Claudette pointed at the Egyptian goddess in the drawing.
"So you want your hair to look like that?"
Amélie shrugged. "Something like that."
Claudette straightened her apron and got into position behind the chair. "Well, you have absolutely lovely curls, and I wouldn't want to do a thing to change them, especially since you hair is so young and undamaged. As for the bangs, I don't think such a straight across cut would work for you. How about bangs swept to the side?"
Amélie shifted in her seat. "Do you have a picture of what that would look like?"
Claudette put her hands in her pockets and exhaled through her teeth. Then she turned to a box high on top of a cabinet, standing on her tiptoes to wiggle the box down. Amélie peered over as Claudette opened the lid to reveal what looked like hundreds of fashion magazines. After looking through the box and its seemingly infinite contents, the hairstylist eventually found the one she was searching for. It was the cover for a magazine Amélie had never heard of, with a lithe, pale model draped in a sheer dress that gathered around her like curtains.
Claudette pushed the magazine to Amélie. "Here you go, this is pretty close!"
Amélie held the magazine cover up to her own face and looked in the mirror. Claudette clapped her hands together in joy when she saw a grin on the girl's face.
"You like it?"
"I think it's perfect." Amélie said as she kept looking at the mirror.
As Claudette got to work getting out all her equipment for the haircut, Amèlie was falteringly trying to imitate the model's gaze by lifting her chin and pouting her lips. Claudette looked over and laughed.
"Don't worry, you look perfectly fine as you are, um..." Claudette trailed off.
"Amélie." The girl smiled.
"Amélie." The hairstylist returned it.
Amélie's chair was rolled over to the hair washing station. The girl closed her eyes. She breathed in the scent of orange blossom shampoo and felt the cold water running over her scalp. She stayed like that for a while, perfectly still, drinking in the moment as the hairstylist did her work. After a quick drying with the soft cotton towels, the girl sat down in the chair again, with a spring in her step. Claudette covered her with the hairdressing cape with a soft swish. After a few preparatory brushings, Claudette began snipping the scissors, freeing dark curls to fall to the floor.
Claudette meticulously continued her work, but then she stopped suddenly.
"Wait, it's a Tuesday, isn't it?"
Amélie continued to read the book in her lap, not even looking up. "Yes, I think so."
"Well, dear, shouldn't you be in school?"
Amélie spoke in an even voice. "I'm homeschooled. I have an easily excitable heart."
"Now I've heard a lot of excuses for cutting class, but that-" she remarked, pointing to Amélie's reflection in the mirror with her scissors, "is one of the strangest."
"No, honestly! I learn about geometry and painting and history and everything else!"
Claudette paused for a moment, then nodded. "If you were really skipping, I'm sure you'd have something more fun than getting a haircut."
Amélie smiled and swung her feet. "This is pretty nice, though. Better than learning about geometry."
Claudette threw her head back and laughed openly. "Darling, I think nearly anything is better than geometry."
The hairstylist tapped the girl's shoulder as she continued her work. "Teenagers are a lot more honest then they used to be, truly. I used to skip school all the time."
Amélie closed her book, sat up straighter, and made eye contact with the hairstylist in the mirror. "Really?"
Claudette nodded, a small proud smile on her face.
"How long ago was it? What did you do?" Amélie asked, eyes glowing.
Claudette rested her hand on her hip, eyes pointed upward in thought. "When was I in high school? Oh god, it was so far back! You probably weren't even born yet, Amélie."
Amélie was nearly bouncing in her chair. "Where did you go?"
"Oh, I probably shouldn't say this to a kid like you but..." She leaned closer to Amélie's ear "I usually ran around with a boy."
Amélie covered her mouth with her hand, eyes wide as dinner plates.
"Yeah, he sure was something!" Claudette smiled wistfully. " It was nothing dangerous, just to things like the movies. We'd buy one ticket and stay in different movies all day. Or we'd go to the park and just stare at clouds." Claudette giggled. "One time, we got dressed up and went to the Ferrari dealership. We drove those cars all afternoon because we pretended we wanted to buy one!"
Amélie looked up at Claudette, mouth wide open. "How did you get out of that?"
Claudette could barely hold in her laughter. "We told them the cars were too low-end!
The two of them started laughing loudly and unabashedly, filling the corners of the otherwise abandoned salon with joy.
As Claudette wa wiping the tears from her eyes, Amélie chirped, "So what happened to the boy?"
Claudette smoothed down her apron and sighed, still smiling. "He tried to propose to me at the end of our last year. I wasn't ready to go settle down yet. When I turned him down, he broke up with me."
"But did he love you?"
Claudette had a small smile and looked at nothing in particular.
"Yes. Yes, I suppose he did, Amélie. But you'll find out that love is a funny thing, especially love like that. It leaves easy, but eventually it comes back, sort of like..." Claudette borrowed her brow and absentmindedly tapped her foot. Then her eyes lit up and she started to run her hands through Amélie's hairstyle.
"Love is like hair, Amélie!"
Amélie raised an eyebrow.
"Hear me out! Love, pretty much, is always the same, right? But sometimes, it needs to change. And change isn't a good thing or a bad thing, usually. It's just something that has to happen. Like new hairstyles! Or new colors!"
Amélie smiled as she looked in the mirror. "That makes sense."
Claudette grinned radiantly. "See, the crazy salon lady is right sometimes!" She looked down at the girl. "But the story about the boy is our little secret, right?"
Amélie nodded without hesitation.
The hairstylist resumed cutting the girl's hair. "Thanks, dear. I just don't want any friends of your getting any ideas to go get new cars, you know?" Claudette laughed.
Amélie looked down at her feet for a few seconds before looking up to speak. "Miss Claudette?"
The hairstylist was absorbed again in her work. "Yes?"
"Can I say a secret too?"
Claudette looked up. "Of course, Amélie."
Amélie looked at her feet and spoke with caution. "I... I don't really have any friends."
Claudette stopped her scissors mid-snip. "What do you mean, dear?"
"Um, I don't really get to go out much, because my dad is afraid of my heart getting overexcited. He just... well, he doesn't really leave either. It really is...it gets lonely at home, just me. I mean, I have the books, but..."
Claudette's expression softened. "Goodness, you must be awfully lonely, sweetheart."
Amélie didn't look up from her lap, but her voice started to waver. "I'm really glad I found someone to talk to. I wish that I could..." Amélie was interrupted by the fat teardrops falling from her eyes onto the hairdressing cape, one by one.
Claudette rushed over to her desk to dig out the emergency box of tissues, and then raced to the young girl crying in her salon, wiping the tears from her cheeks.
"Just cry if you need to dear, that's all right."
Amélie sniffled, and the tears stopped falling.
"I just realized something, Miss Claudette."
The hairdresser smiled warmly. "What is it?"
"I do have one friend." Amélie looked up at Claudette, with still-glossy eyes. "You."
Claudette, put a hand to her heart, eyes starting to brim with tears, then embraced the little girl sitting in the chair. "You're my friend too, Amélie."
The hairdresser then stood up, smoothed down her apron, and turned Amélie towards the mirror. "There, your finished haircut!"
Amélie put her hands to her new curls that lined her neck, and reached for the new bangs that framed her forehead.
Claudette stood behind her, waiting in anticipation. "Well?"
Amélie grinned, her smile nearly radiating light.
Claudette squealed in joy. "Oh, I'm so glad you love it!"
The girl jumped out of her chair, knocking the hairdressing cape to the floor, embracing the hairdresser with such force that they nearly fell over. "Thank you, Miss Claudette."
Amélie then dug into her pockets and extended a few bills in her hand. "This is enough, right?"
Claudette took the money, counting the money deliberately. "Yes, this is the perfect amount!"
Amélie smiled, but then pursed her lips and frowned. "But then that means I don't have enough money for a tip."
Claudette chuckled and pat Amélie on the shoulder. "It's perfectly fine, I had so much fun learning from you! Especially about the goddess girl and the..." She tapped her foot and snapped her fingers. "What did she weigh again?"
Amélie grabbed her book off the chair and opened it to the bookmarked page. "The feather and the heart!"
Claudette put her hand on her forehead. "Oh, of course! How could I forget? I really ought to remember things better."
Amélie held out the tome. "You can borrow it, if you want! It can be your tip."
Claudette hesitated for a second, then took the book. "Thank you so much, Amélie!"
The girl headed for the door with a lightness in her walk, waving goodbye to the hairstylist. "See you soon, Miss Claudette!"
"See you soon, Amélie!"
Claudette watched as Amélie headed down the narrow walk, leaving behind a book, hair clippings on the floor, and a smile on the hairdresser's face. Claudette went back to her desk, waiting for a moment before she opened her new book and began to read.
She became so absorbed that she did not notice a young girl walk by a few hours later, wearing a floral silk scarf around her head, wide sunglasses, and a trench coat that trailed behind her other dirty road and had long sleeves that swallowed up her arms. The girl affixed a tiny package to the handle of the salon door and then sprinted away, her scarf fluttering in the wind.
When the hairstylist locked up the shop at dusk, she noticed the package and unwrapped the twine surrounding it. Inside the package was a small, smooth white pebble, with a feather painted on it with a steady hand. There was also a note, carefully written, which read,
Dear Miss Claudette,
I realized that my book is not really a "tip" if I need to take it back, so I made you this. I hope you like it! My dad was not very happy that I went out, but he isn't quite so mad anymore. I think he likes my haircut. Thank you so much for making me feel so happy.
Claudette slipped the rock into her pants pocket and smiled as the Parisian sun illuminated the cobbled streets with heavenly purples and oranges.