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look around you (at the faces that you see)

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Gretchen drummed her fingers along the vinyl arms of the salon chair. She peered around the room reflected in the huge mirror looking for something, or someone, to keep herself occupied while she waited for the right time to make her move. Making small talk was the worst, but now it was the lesser of two evils when the alternative was boredom.

Most women loved getting their hair done, she was sure, but Gretchen had never been able to stay still. Even when she was little she always had to be moving. She got in trouble every Sunday for tapping out rhythms on the back of church pews during the sermon until her mother made Lindsay hold her hands. Of course that just made Gretchen kick out at Mrs. Forrester’s pew in front until she was banished down to the hall, unsavable.

Gretchen crossed her eyes in the mirror until she noticed her stylist Hannah coming back with her requested coffee. “Here you are ma’am,” said Hannah.

Hannah handed the cup to Gretchen so delicately not a strand of her hair moved out of place. Gretchen wasn’t surprised. Everything about Hannah reeked of the sort of practiced poise that always alluded Gretchen.

“I told you, call me Gretchen, I’m not that old am I?” simpered Gretchen. It was probably overdoing it but she was so impatient. She’d worked out the timing in her head, run through scenario after scenario, and she knew she couldn’t just jump into the conversation she wanted to be having.

“You’re a baby still.”

Gretchen took a sip of coffee trying to figure out how to respond. She’d never been good at people really, knowing where the line in conversations was. But she’d been getting lessons lately. She could do this. She’d read up on conversational tactics, trying to learn how a con-man thinks. The lessons were surprisingly useful. When in doubt, give a compliment. But remember, don’t lie.

She took a sip of the coffee. “This is great, thanks!” Gretchen punctuated it with a grin. It felt fake on her face, plastered on like a cheap Halloween mask.

“Now what are we going to do with these lovely curls of yours?” Hannah worked her hands into them. Gretchen made sure to keep the smile on her face and not pull away from the touch.

She met Hannah’s eyes in the mirror and shrugged. “Not really sure, but I was thinking about going pink.”

Hannah laughed loudly enough to draw the attention of the stylist at the next chair over. “You want to dye that beautiful hair of yours pink?”

“I was thinking I wanted something different. I couldn’t before, I think my sister would have killed me if I went to her wedding last week with pink hair,” said Gretchen, dropping the first hint.

Hannah momentarily dropped her practiced customer service smile for a minute before shaking her head and plastering it back on. “I’m not sure who to handle that, let me just grab my coworker over there and we’ll see if we can sort you out.”

The two stylists went over to their back room, saying they had to see if they had any pink dye, though Gretchen thought that really those bitchy biddies were probably going to go gossip about how crazy she was.

Gretchen grimaced at her own reflection. She caught the woman in the chair next to her looking sympathetically and smiled, honestly this time. Time to get to work.

Gretchen turned her chair around and looked at the woman properly. Gretchen hadn’t seen her in person before. She was the kind of gorgeous that made Gretchen want to smear something on her face, bring her down to Gretchen’s level.

“For what it's worth, I think pink would look lovely on you. I don’t think I could pull it off.”

“Thank you, but I’m thinking their reaction seems more likely.” Gretchen made a face. “Probably best to stick with the blonde. Your shade is really nice, too, though I don’t think I could pull off anything that dark.”

“I’m actually a natural blonde.”

“You don’t see that much, going in that direction,” said Gretchen.

“I never felt like a blonde though.”

“I’m not sure if I do, either, but since pink is apparently an affront, I think I’ll stick with it.”

Gretchen repeated the sentiment loudly so that it would reach Hannah, who reappeared looking relieved not to have to attempt a hair color not found in nature. She got to work mixing up a blonde dye, smile firmly in place.

“You mentioned your sister just got married…” said Hannah, trailing off with an opening more obvious than a teenage boy buying lotion. Gretchen appreciated the conversational technique. You don’t have to ask a question to get an answer. Plus it gave her the opening she wanted.

“Yes, this past week. She’s on her honeymoon now,” said Gretchen.

“Were you in the wedding?” asked Hannah as she wrapped foils into Gretchen’s hair. She was forced to tilt her head to the left and away from the mirror. It was fine though, because now she was looking right at the woman in the next chair and was able to catch her eyes again.

“Maid of honor,” said Gretchen with a grimace.

The brunette in the other chair gave her a sympathetic look. “Dress that bad, huh?”

“It was actually pretty. My sister’s the sweet one, let me pick my own dress.”

“Didn’t like the groom then?”

Perfect.

“Robert is a very nice man, though I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical of him when they first got together. He isn’t a local. He does sales and travels all around so I expected him to be slick, but he just has this way of connecting with people,” said Gretchen. “I’ve always been bad with people.”

It was God’s honest truth. But in the long run it had been good for her. She’d been forced to watch people more closely to try and find out how they worked. It was a strength, she'd decided. Other people were a treasure map and now she had a key.

“But no, the wedding, it was fine, actually. I’m just not good at any of the usual girly stuff.” She’d never gotten along with girls. When she was young she’d thought boys would be better but then she’d grown tits and that had gone out the window. She was firmly back on team female now. “But I did have fun, I taped a lot.”

“Taped?” asked Hannah. Gretchen had almost forgotten she was there, she’d been so caught up in her conversation with the woman in the next chair. But the seque worked perfectly for Gretchen. Things were going to plan.

“I have a video camera and I just filmed everything so I can make Lindsay a wedding video. I’ve filmed so much and now I’ve been trying to cut it down a lot, and I haven’t even added in everything the videographer shot of the ceremony itself,” said Gretchen.

“Oh, I was actually watching my wedding video recently for my daughter’s genealogy project. It was beautiful but it was just the ceremony and a bit of the reception. I wish we had filmed more of the pre-ceremony events,” said the woman in the next chair.

“I'm sure it was lovely,” said Gretchen, because it had been. She’d watched it over and over after she’d found the DVD case in Robert’s house. No, in Bob’s house.

Gretchen pulled out her camera, carefully cued up. “Will it bother you if I watch what I have so far? I want to get this done by the time they’re back and I can’t have headphones on with all this,” she gestured up at the foils on her head, “and I think I have writer’s block. Or video block, if that is a thing.”

“Do you want a second pair of eyes?”

Gretchen had to stop herself from dancing in her chair. This was too easy. No wonder Robert could get away with so much. “Would you mind too much?” asked Gretchen, careful to keep her glee hidden under politeness.

Her target waved her hand in dismissal. “Such a chore to look over a wedding, the only problem would be if I cried; I’m not wearing waterproof mascara today.”

“It’s not that good,” demurred Gretchen.

“I’ll be the judge of that.” The woman stood up from the chair and walked over to where Gretchen was perched. Gretchen tilted the camera towards her and pressed play. She’d seen the video so many times already that instead of watching the camera screen Gretchen kept her eyes trained on the mirror.

It was obvious when Robert showed up on the screen. The woman flinched, shoulders going tense and sharp. Gretchen prepared herself for screaming, maybe even the camera being thrown, but all she got was the calm question, “And who is that?”

“That’s Robert, Lindsay’s husband,” said Gretchen.

“You said he works in sales,” said Cat, and it wasn’t a question.

Gretchen answered anyway. “Yes, he’s always gone. I don’t know how she does it, he’s away almost more than he’s home. But he makes her happy, so I suppose it works for them. I don’t think I could do that.”

“You just have to trust him,” said Cat, almost by rote. Gretchen supposed she’d had to give that explanation a lot. Lindsay had said the same thing the first time Gretchen had asked her about Robert being away so often.

The video ended with a shot Lindsay and Robert smiling at each other. You could the see the affection rolling off them. It was nauseating, even if you were blind to the reality of the situation. Gretchen had almost gagged when it happened, but she hadn’t said anything. Lindsay got to have the wedding she deserved.

Cat was as frozen as the screen. With her hair foiled she was Medusa incarnate. “So what do you think?” prompted Gretchen. “You can say it’s shit, I know I’m not the best editor.”

“They look really happy,” said Cat.

“They do, don’t they. It was her perfect day.”

“When was the ceremony again?” asked Cat. She was clenching her nails so tightly into the palms of her hands that Gretchen was surprised she wasn’t pulling a Lady Macbeth.

“Last Saturday,” said Gretchen brightly. “Thanks for watching it.”

Gretchen couldn't help but marvel at how calm Cat appeared. All those pageants when she was a kid had probably helped. When Gretchen had found out about Robert, or Bob or whatever he was calling himself today, she had been ready to tear his eyes out. But she had promised not to ruin Lindsay's wedding day, and so she hadn't.

“Ready to rinse this out, Cat?” asked Cat’s stylist, placing a hand on her shoulder. Gretchen didn't think Cat had even noticed she’d been hovering.

Cat nodded and started drifting over to the sinks, before abruptly walking back over to Gretchen, ignoring the impatient fluttering of her stylist.

“Actually, I had some ideas for that video of yours. Would you mind emailing that file to me so I can write up my thoughts?” asked Cat, pulling out a sleek card from her pocket.

“Oh, I couldn’t impose on you like that,” said Gretchen.

“No, I insist, please. Here’s my card,” said Cat, pressing it into Gretchen’s hand.

“Thank you,” said Gretchen, smiling. After all, that was what she’d wanted all along. Gretchen pressed replay on the video, going back to watching Lindsay smile.

Cat stayed quiet as her stylist rinsed the dye out of her hair, declining the blow out. As she left Gretchen called out to her, “It was nice to meet you.”

Gretchen meant it. She thought maybe, if things had been different, they could have been friends.

Gretchen had never made friends easily. She didn't always care about it, because honestly friends were high maintenance. They always wanted to know what was going on in her life, or, even worse, to make her care about what was going on in theirs. But she liked this woman. She deserved to know.

You could say what you want about that fucker Robert, but he had good taste in women.