A Touch of Male

Student Life

By Cherish Shirley

‘Oh no, that won’t work, because I’ve now got to pick my daughter up from school at that time and then it’s just too hectic after that. Don’t you have anything earlier?’
‘I’ll just check for you.’

After waiting an inappropriately long time for a response, and after an attempt to resolve this problem with several agitated ‘hello’s’ Mrs Gee concluded that the receptionist at the ‘Soul Glow Beauty Salon’ had become occupied elsewhere, and hung up the phone. The phone that had been lodged between Priscilla’s ear and shoulder and then waved to and fro in a hectic attempt to find it a resting place, was now laying on a shelf amongst the priciest range of cosmetics and the framed photo of the all female salon team. There was a man at the door. He was tall and built; with Mediterranean sea-green eyes that Priscilla struggled not to lose full concentration to as she clumsily unlocked and opened the door.
‘Hi, how can I help?’ she started, ‘we’re actually closed now, but is there anything I can help with?’
Priscilla felt extremely unfortunate to feel and look flushed at this time. She reached up a set of slightly parted fingers to comb back her frequently complimented golden locks, but soon remembered that today she had chosen the ‘bun of sophistication’; her hand slid back down her neck and crept into her pocket.
‘Uh hi,’ the deep male voice returned, ‘I’ve actually come about the job.’
Priscilla looked confused. The confusion was soon diffused as she began reconciling the idea of male model type with beauty therapist and marrying the idea of the man of her dreams with her everyday reality.

‘Weren’t you expecting me?’ continued the man, interrupting Priscilla’s thought process.
‘No, uh, I mean yeah, yes I was; we’ve been waiting for you to arrive…come in.’
The applicant was shown a seat and a range of magazines was spread before him. Priscilla was determined to carry things out properly from this point forward; properly of course meant with charm and seduction: she clicked off through the double doors with precision of step.
When Priscilla entered the staff room her colleagues were discussing breast size over flapjacks as Sharon changed out of her tunic and into a low cut top.
‘Your chest is huge Shaz,’ perked up a half asleep Marie.
‘Yeah, it seems like it’s constantly getting bigger,’ commented Sharon, her ‘yeah’ prolonged because of her American accent.
Although most attention in the room was on Sharon’s breasts, Emily noticed Priscilla at the door.
‘Was that a client?’ Emily casually questioned her.
‘When? Where?’
‘On the phone.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Priscilla responded remembering the woman who had to pick her daughter up from school at 3:15 pm. She swiftly moved on.
‘Who’s supposed to be staying behind to interview the job applicant today?’ Priscilla asked the room.
‘Well I’m supposed to be doing it babe,’ replied Marie, ’Maggie asked me to do it and to make sure everything was sorted here before we close up, but to be honest I can’t be asked, I’m half asleep.’
‘Oh well that’s alright Marie, you can go on home; I’m sure I can take care of the interviewee and lock up. What exactly do I need to do?’
‘Thanks for the offer babe, but you’ve got to know how to massage and wax so you can see that she’s doing it right.’
‘Well I’ve had massaging and waxing done by all of you loads of times. I’m sure I’ll be able to work out whether he’s worth keeping or not.’
‘He?’ jumped in Rose.
‘He’s a man?’ questioned Sharon.
‘Yeah’ responded Priscilla as casually as possible.
‘What is he already here babe? Have you already met him? Why didn’t you tell us? What, is he waiting in reception?’ fired Marie.
There was silence in the staff room for a few seconds: the silent sound of four active minds which rose into the sound of chair legs sliding from under the table, and the fluttering of the group of women past Priscilla, down the hallway, through the double doors, and into the eyes of the interviewee.
‘Hello, you must be the man I’ve been waiting for’ said Marie pressing through what felt like a crowd to shake the hand of the interviewee, ‘my name’s Marie, and I’ll be stepping in for our manager who is away today on a training course. And your name is?’
‘Andrew,’ the job applicant replied, slightly startled by the sudden appearance of five women with all eyes fixed on him.

‘Yes, hello Andrew,’ said Rose, the most mature therapist in age, ‘and we’re the girls, well not quite me anymore as I’m sure you can see, who you may potentially be working alongside: Sharon, Emily and myself, Rose. And of course, you must’ve met her earlier, our lovely receptionist Priscilla.’
Sharon’s long eyelashes fluttered at a high frequency on her introduction, and Emily offered a broad smile to welcome the candidate. Priscilla had been standing on her tiptoes peering over the huddle ever since they had lodged themselves in the passageway. On her introduction the swarm parted to expose the receptionist, who feeling terribly embarrassed sank back into her shoes and gave a half-hearted smile before turning her red face to a poster on the wall.
‘These girls are going to be heading off in a minute. Do you want to just follow me and we can conduct the interview in my room?’ Marie lead Andrew through the girls and down the passageway, ‘it’s called the ‘peace room’; I just love it because it…’ Her words trailed off as she and Andrew entered the room and Marie closed the door behind them.

The hallway was still, except for the shuffling eyelids of the women who were looking from one fellow therapist to the next. Sharon was the first to speak.
‘Well, how would you guys put it? He’s a bit of alright,’ she joked rather loudly putting on an East London accent.
‘Shhh’ whispered Emily.
‘Why?’ questioned Sharon keeping up the same volume, ‘he knows he’s hot, it’s no secret!’
Nobody commented.
‘Okay,’ Sharon continued, ‘so you guys weren’t melting at the knees when you saw him? Yeah right. Oh my gosh, look, Priscilla’s cheeks are still red as rubies to prove it!’
The women laughed, apart from Priscilla who marched through them back to her position at front desk and started ruffling through some salon paperwork.
‘What do you think of him Emz?’ Sharon questioned the generally quite timid twenty-two year old who the others so often felt the need to mould and train. ‘I bet you love a man with a bit of muscle!’

Emily responded as expected:
‘He is good looking, but not really my cup of tea. And you know what I think anyway: outer beauty is only significant if there is inner beauty to match or exceed it.’
Sharon rolled her eyes light heartedly and was about to begin what the others could predict would be an entertaining speech on the philosophy of beauty; hands on hips, pouted lips, when Priscilla’s head appeared from the reception area:
‘Excuse me Shaz, but I’m still trying to work here, and Marie is conducting an interview; I don’t think this is an appropriate time for you to be vocalising your opinions on men as pieces of meat and so on; especially not at the top of your lungs.’
Sharon’s eyes widened under her raised eyebrows.
‘Whoa! And what’s wrong with you?’ she said flinging a pointed index finger in Priscilla’s direction.
‘Nothing,’ Priscilla responded in a reasonable tone, ‘I’m only saying that I really just want to get on with this, so you girls should go off and enjoy yourselves; Marie and I will finish up here.’
‘Oh I don’t think so; go home and miss out on all this excitement? I’m staying right here!’ declared Sharon.
‘What excitement Shaz?’ giggled Emily.
‘We don’t know what you’re talking about Sharon,’ Priscilla mumbled into a small mirror that was hovering over her eyes as she topped up her mascara.
Rose surged towards the receptionist at once:
‘don’t you give me that love. Don’t think I can’t see past you!’
Sharon and Emily looked on in silence as the authoritative tone of Rose’s strong Scottish accent caused the mirror to find its place back on the desk, and made Priscilla’s bottom lip quiver guiltily.
‘No way are you staying here until past seven to sort out a few notes that’ll take seconds to look over in the morning. And as for you two lasses,’ Rose said manoeuvring her large hips so she was facing the other two women, (to Priscilla’s great relief), ‘I know you’re thinking exactly the same, that you’ll find as many jobs to do tonight as possible just so you can stick around and steal some of that poor boy’s attention! Well, aren’t I right?’
Emily was not sure if she could be bothered to respond to Rose’s patronising evaluation of her intentions, and was willing to leave the question unanswered when Sharon howled:
‘You are damn right! That guy’s gonna need to exemplify his massage skills, and when he does, guess who’s gonna be available to play the client?’

Emily, who considered Sharon to be a breath of fresh air and could rarely resist laughing at her boldness, smiled amusedly. But she was providing what Priscilla, who had resumed her former make-up applying position in order to observe Sharon’s elaborate gestures in the reflection , considered to be an audience for an amateur who had no place on the stage. Sharon’s voice was grating on her today. It occurred to her as she glared into the reflected image just how false Sharon looked with her ridiculous gems at the ends of her eyelashes, and those little painted-on flicks at the corners of her eyes. Who wore sparkly lip gloss? Only little girls; little attention seeking girls. The ‘peace room’ door opened releasing a jovial cackle: it was Marie’s. Her fingers coiled round the door frame; her smug face soon followed.

‘Alright ladies?’ she asked beaming, ‘still here?’ She looked at her watch confusedly. ‘I thought you would’ve gotten off by now.’
‘No,’ answered Rose instantly. The eyes of Sharon, Emily and Priscilla leapt on her just as quickly, terrified that she might be about to make an unnecessary comment. Andrew had now appeared in the doorway next to Marie. Rose continued:
‘All of us are going to stick around actually and help out. After all it’s not fair for one person to have to endure all that unnecessary waxing; you only had your legs done the other day Marie, didn’t you love? And you look so tired,’ she said, her face now close to Marie’s, her hand rubbing Marie’s shoulder, ‘would you just look at those bags! Maybe you should let Andrew try out a facial on you. Oh that’s it, our revitalising eye treatment. Are you familiar with that Andrew?’ She turned to face the young man, ‘perfect for diminishing dark circles.’

Marie’s smile that had progressively deteriorated as Rose had weaved her way in between herself and Andrew, had now entirely disappeared.
‘Actually Rose,’ started Marie, laying heavy emphasis on all four syllables in ‘actually’, ‘ Andrew and I have already planned what is going to happen in this interview and what he is going to need to do, and actually no additional help is needed. Thank you.’
Marie swivelled round on her tiptoes, the intimate connection of the rubber soles of her salon shoes with the floor generating a fiery squeak. She placed a firm hand on Andrew’s arm, bypassing Rose. The two proceeded to re-enter the ‘Peace room’. But Rose had a further question for Marie:
‘Aren’t your kids at home waiting for you Marie?’

Marie sharply returned to her former position: eye to eye with Rose. Marie was a single mother of two. Although she was thirty-eight years old she was often complimented for looking much younger. She was a tall full-figured black woman with a rich brown complexion, large slightly slanted eyes and a pair of symmetrical almond nostrils to match. On Marie becoming angry both features would automatically become enlarged; on this occasion Marie’s nostrils were pulsating.
‘Why are you bringing up my kids Rose? Who asked you to be concerned about my kids?’ boomed Marie, interrogating Rose but leaving her little room to answer. ‘Have you got something to say? A point to make about me being a mother? Huh? Well then say it. You know damn well my two boys are at their grandmas now like they are every evening so do not try and play this humiliation game with me. Understand?’
Rose was not one to be corrected, in fact she was rarely ever at fault, in her opinion. As close to Rose’s face as Marie had bent her head, Rose now leant in so that the two were even closer.
‘Now Marie, my question was far from offensive lass. I mean was there really any need for all that shouting in front…’
Marie jumped in ‘I am not shouting Rose. You need to know that I’m not going to accept being spoken down to. I’m not stupid Rose, I know…’
‘Now just calm down lassie,’ roared Rose raising her index finger, ‘this kind of scene won’t do.’
‘Do not talk to me like that Rose…’

Sharon, who had resolved that there would be no opportunity for her to break into the heated argument with a joke or comment that would be likely to quench the fire, ran over to Andrew wrapping her hands (as far as they could go) around each of his thick muscular upper arms.
‘Andrew,’ she said in a gentle voice winding her head around his body until his eyes met hers twinkling below, ‘shall we give massage a go?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ Andrew replied almost instantly.

Priscilla watched from behind the desk as the ‘peace room’ door closed for the second time, resenting Sharon for doing what she wished she had done, or could have done if she had the confidence. Meanwhile, the two fuming ladies had broken off their battle and gone their separate ways: one to the staff room, the other to the bathroom downstairs. Emily picked up a broom and began sweeping fluff and nails on the floor into a corner of the room; they really needed a cleaner.

‘So Andrew,’ Sharon said hoisting herself up onto the salon bed. ‘Oh, can I just say, I love the name Andrew. It’s so English! It sounds like the name for a prince; is there an English prince named Andrew?’
‘I think so, but actually I’m not English’ replied Andrew, ‘I grew up in Spain; I only moved over here recently. My real Spanish name is actually Andrés.’
‘Oh, Andrés.’ Sharon attempted to imitate Andrew’s accent but it was tainted by her strong American one.  ‘Of course, I see it now; the tanned skin; I bet you never need to use the sun bed! Unlike pasty old me. Oh, but I’m not English either though, I’m from the States.’
‘Oh, right,’ Andrew said scanning the table of waxing equipment.

‘So what kind of massage do you fancy giving today Andrew?’ asked Sharon, her eyes alight with excitement.
‘Uh, I don’t know, I guess whatever needs massaging Sharon,’ replied Andrew, his soft deep subtly Spanish accent vibrating the fine hairs on the back of her neck.

‘Well.’ Sharon’s voice quivered. ‘Oh damn it!’ She suddenly cried.
‘What is it?’ Andrew asked concernedly.
‘This room doesn’t have any massage stuff.’
‘Like what?’
‘You know, the oils and towels and stuff.’
Sharon groaned disappointedly.
‘Well why don’t we just get some from another room,’ Andrew suggested.

‘Oh. No let’s not do that,’ said Sharon, aware that the chances of making it back into the room after they’d stepped into the passageway would be slim. ‘No, let’s just test out your waxing’ continued Sharon, smiling half-heartedly: a dramatic change from her former elation.
‘Right, well I kind of need my eyebrows done, shall we do those?’ Sharon questioned, regaining some of her former enthusiasm.
‘Okay,’ Andrew said slowly.
Sharon began reclining on the bed and Andrew hesitantly approached the table. After Sharon had finished rearranging the way that her hair fell over the sides of the bed, and had discreetly and quickly coated her lips in a thick layer of glittery lip gloss, she turned to Andrew who appeared still to be selecting equipment from the table.

‘Andrés,’ Sharon called softly and seductively in a poor Spanish accent. ‘Are you ok? The strips are ready cut I think.’
Andrew picked up a large rectangular paper waxing strip.
‘No honey, those are for legs, there are the ones for eyebrows.’
Sharon pointed to a small box on the table. Andrew took a handful of the strips out and said:
‘Ah, yes, nice and thin for the eyebrows.’

After Sharon had pointed him in the direction of the wax, the wooden wax applicators, the tweezers and the after wax cooling gel, Andrew was finally ready to start. Sharon had closed her eyes. From beneath her lids she could sense the shadow of a large figure slowly descending on her, she felt the warmth of body heat intermingled with hot deep breathing. She waited as long as she could, (seconds), and then slowly opened her heavily lashed eyes. A surgeon like figure wearing a serious expression was looming over her with a thin stick dripping with wax in one hand and a pair of tweezers in the other. A large drop of wax fell onto Sharon’s shiny brunette fringe. She closed her eyes again.
There were three pairs of eyes on Sharon when she opened the door of the ‘peace room;’ Marie had remained in the staff room since the confrontation.
‘What the hell happened to your eyebrows?’ shrieked Emily.
‘Oh, what! You can still tell? I thought I’d managed to disguise them with eye pencil! Oh!’ Sharon cried, speeding off towards the stairs, ‘this is terrible, just terrible.’

The three women looked at Andrew. One of his hands was cupping his lowered head and the other was in his pocket. Emily felt sorry for him; Priscilla was behind the desk trying to suppress her amusement at the thought of the eyebrow-less Sharon.
‘So I suppose my interview is over now,’ said Andrew, eyes fixed to the floor.
Emily and Priscilla looked at Rose:
‘Well not necessarily. We can see that you obviously still need a bit of work on your waxing technique, but that doesn’t mean you’re not any good at massage. So why don’t you step into the ‘love room’ and prepare yourself and I’ll be in shortly.’
Andrew swiftly made his way into the ‘love room’, the one Rose had claimed as her room.
‘I don’t mind taking the risk of having the massage performed on me Rose,’ said Priscilla meekly.
‘Priscilla, when are you going to accept that you are just a receptionist? How on earth are you going to be able to tell if he’s got the touch if you haven’t got a clue about massage?’

‘I’m not just a receptionist,’ Priscilla declared, ‘I’m a trained nail technician as well.’
‘Oh,’ Rose chuckled, ‘well you’re fully qualified then!’
Priscilla dropped her wad of papers on the desk, picked up her mobile phone, mirror and mascara and clicked heavily down the hallway and into the staff room.
‘Anyway darling,’ Rose continued despite being aware that Priscilla could no longer hear her, ‘what is required here is professionalism, something I’m afraid you lightheaded girls don’t have at the moment. Right,’ she said, entering the ‘love room’.

When Emily strolled into the staff room Marie was sitting at the table talking to Priscilla; her hands as well as her mouth were moving at a fast pace:
‘Me? I’m fine love. Let her have him. You don’t want a man like that anyway Priscilla, no backbone. Didn’t you see the way he just crept off into that room with Sharon whilst I was defending myself against Rose? It was out and out rude. After I’d started the interview with him and we’d arranged everything, for him to just slink off with some girl who flutters her eyelashes…I mean, how unprofessional. He better think twice if he’s banking on getting a job here.’
‘Oh come on Marie, I don’t think he meant to be rude. He was just in an uncomfortable situation and took an opportunity for escape as soon as it came along,’ Emily attempted to explain.
Marie’s eyes widened.

‘Emily, you’re acting like you were born yesterday. Even if you won’t admit it, I know exactly why he went off with Shaz.’
‘Why?’ both Emily and Priscilla asked in unison.
‘It, my darlings, is because I am black.’
‘Whoa,’ cried Emily, surprised by the unexpected response from Marie.
‘It is true. He wanted to get away from me fast. He went straight to Shaz. That’s what those men are like, they don’t like black women. We’re too much for them to handle: we have opinions, we stick up for ourselves, we have self-respect. What they want are those easy dizzy girls who bat their eyelashes and flick their hair, stupid and shallow but glamorous and well presented.’
‘That’s why he chose me is it Marie?’

The question came from the doorway. The women were unsure how long Sharon had been standing there. At first glance she looked angry, but the tears that were welling up in her eyes soon became apparent. Before anyone had a chance to say anything further she fled for the stairs again.

Laying on her front on the bed, trousers off with the potential therapist smoothing her calves in oil, Rose was beginning to wonder why she had nominated herself for such treatment. As Andrew slid his hands from her ankle to the back of her knee, she realised that his technique was one of gradual progression up the leg. She wasn’t sure where he’d been trained, but this certainly wasn’t the standard procedure. Under any other circumstance she would have spoken up, challenged his technique and probably sent him home, but for some reason she couldn’t speak. His slow gliding movements were now reaching above the knee. Her hands clenched onto the pillow she had buried her face in. She felt trapped. She wanted to leave, to turn around and say ‘that’s enough;’ she wanted to stay, to let him finish what he had started; she didn’t want to feel like this, not now, not at her age, she didn’t think she could feel this way again. She could feel his hands rippling over the cellulite on her thighs. It was too much for her; she felt like any moment now she’d shoot through the wall in front of her into the reception area. ‘What next?’ she thought as his hands slid up her thigh just a little further, ‘what next?’ she internally screamed. It was over. He had begun a version of the hacking technique. She suddenly felt naked, unloved, unclean. Tears that seemed as though they’d been stored somewhere deep within for years rose to her eyes and brimmed over her eyelids drenching the pillow that was her only protection.

‘Okay,’ Andrew said rubbing the excess oil into his hands, ‘I’ve finished’.
‘Okay okay,’ Rose swiftly responded, lifting her head just high enough out of the pillow to enable audibility. ‘I’ll be out in a minute; you go, go to the other girls.’
Marie’s voice was faint and unsteady. She heard the door close behind her. She instantly leapt to her feet, locked the door, and then fell onto the bed and wept.

Emily was just on her way downstairs with Sharon’s make-up bag when Andrew emerged from the ‘love room’.
‘Hi,’ she said in her naturally mousey voice, ‘how did it go?’
‘I’m not sure, Rose hasn’t told me yet. She’s getting changed at the moment. Is there something else I should do now?’
‘Umm one second.’
Emily poked her head around the staff room door:
‘Marie, what should Andrew do next?’
‘I dunno love, get him to do a head massage or something. But you do it with him, I’m not in the mood.’ Marie was still seated at the staff room table, filing her nails; Priscilla had gone downstairs to check that Sharon wasn’t too distraught.
‘Okay,’ Emily said, returning to Andrew, ‘we’re now going to see what you’re like at head massage, but we’re going to have to go downstairs to my room so follow me.’

When Priscilla heard heavy footsteps coming down the stairs, she quickly checked her hair and make-up in the mirror in the bathroom, where Sharon had taken up residence since fleeing the staff room. Timing her departure carefully Priscilla stepped out of the bathroom just in time to catch Andrew following Emily into her room. Priscilla released a frustrated growl.

‘Does this room have a special name as well Emily?’ Andrew asked inquisitively.
‘Ah yeah, it’s called the ‘faith room,’ replied Emily taking the band out of her dark brown hair and shaking it until it hung down untidily around her face.
‘Okay,’ Andrew said, taking a deep breath as he dipped his finger tips into Emily’s hair and searched for her scalp. Her head felt so small he was scared he’d crush it with his rough manly hands. His touch was consequently very light, something more akin to a tickle, causing Emily to jump and giggle.
‘I’m sorry,’ Andrew said, ‘I’m not very good at this…’
‘No,’ Emily broke in, ‘you are good, it felt really nice…I mean, you know, good. You were doing well, it’s just that that wasn’t exactly an Indian head massage.’
‘Yes I know, shall we just leave it; I’m no good for this.’
‘Well how about I show you how an Indian head massage should feel?’
‘Really?’
‘Yeah, why not.’
Emily and Andrew swapped places. Emily placed her hands gently on his shoulders:
‘You’re quite tense Andrew, you need to just relax your shoulders. That’s it. Now follow my breathing rhythm: in…and out, and in…and out.’
Soon the two were breathing in unison. The music that played into each room of the salon twinkled in the background. After some resistance, Andrew’s lower and upper eyelids drifted together.

‘Your touch is beautiful Emily,’ he accidently said out loud as the young therapist began to squeeze and release the tight muscles in his shoulders.
Emily didn’t respond. She could feel her hands growing hot and moist as they made contact with his skin.
‘Is this music supposed to guide your mind to different places?’ Andrew asked inquisitively.
‘I don’t know,’ Emily gently replied, ‘I know it’s supposed to be soothing, to get the client to relax their mind.’
Nothing passed between the two for several moments apart from the breath of one on the neck of the other.
‘I’m in the sea,’ Andrew started; Emily swallowed. ‘The water is rippling and washing over me, like it wants to cleanse me, and now the water is becoming waves and coating me. I’m not on the sand; I don’t think I was ever on the sand. I’m flying like an acróbata, but something is holding me, it is the wave holding me like a bird in its hands from above.’

Emily couldn’t see Andrew’s face, but she could hear his smile through his speech.
‘Emily, the sea is so warm; it is like a blanket, folding me in it. I can’t swim. Emily I can’t swim; my mother died, she died in the water, it was too cold and she couldn’t get out. I won’t go near to the water.’
The swift circular movements Emily had been making beneath Andrew’s hair slowed to a halt. She felt her fingers spread out over his scalp until his head was consumed by her hot clasp.

‘But now I am buried in the water, and I shouldn’t breathe, but I can. There is something controlling the water. It is a rhythm.’
Emily began massaging the head in her hands from the top of the neck to the forehead.
‘There is a beat in the water. Like a heartbeat.’ The sound of Andrew’s voice trailed off on the word ’heartbeat’. ‘I know where I am,’ he sighed, ‘I’m in the womb.’
A fire had been kindled deep in Emily’s throat. It raced all over her face, and caused a liquid heat to build up in her eyes and roll down her cheeks in heavy droplets. Andrew’s head was now pillowed beneath Emily’s chest against her stomach. She cradled it in her arms. He was sleeping.

‘Is everything alright in there?’ Emily heard Priscilla questioning from outside the ‘hope room’ door.
Emily’s initial reply came out as a blend of whisper and squeak.
‘Yes,’ she said again, this time louder and clearer, waking Andrew and causing Priscilla to reluctantly release the door handle that Emily could see twitching. Andrew stood up looking slightly bemused, turned round, smiled timidly at the masseuse and then left the room. Priscilla led him up the stairs, racking her suddenly blank mind for a question, anything, to ask him. But they had made it to the top of the stairs and it was too late; Marie was waiting at the staff room door with Andrew’s jacket in her hand.

‘Right Andrew,’ Marie said as he followed her into the reception area, ‘thank you very much for coming in today. We can’t let you know anything at the moment, but my manager will be in contact within the next couple of days to let you know how you’ve got on. Any questions?’
Andrew shook his head. He slung the jacket over his shoulder and began to exit through the front door. Sharon stumbled up the stairs just in time to say ‘bye Andrés.’

Andrew turned around and met with the eyes of Sharon, Priscilla, Marie and Rose, who had just emerged from the ‘love room.’
‘Goodbye,’ he said, and proceeded down the street.
The door slammed shut. It shook the shelves on the wall causing two sticks of lipstick to stumble and the fragile glass frame to fall from the shelf and shatter on the floor, leaving the photo of the salon team exposed. The women gravitated towards the wreckage.

‘That was such a special day,’ said Rose surveying the photo from above, ‘I didn’t think it was possible for such a diversely aged group of women to have such fun.’
‘Yeah, it was such a lovely photograph,’ added Marie.
‘It still is a lovely photo,’ Sharon said, recovering it from beneath the shards of glass and holding it between two of her fingers. ‘All we need to do is reframe it.’
‘You do look gorgeous in that photo Shaz,’ Marie said. She looked over at Sharon:
‘I’m sorry for what I said earlier girlfriend, I didn’t mean it. You can’t help it if men love you.’
‘So it’s not because I’m an airhead?’ Sharon questioned.
‘No. Definitely not,’ Marie firmly reassured her.
‘Okay, forgiven,’ Sharon said, weaving an arm around Marie’s waist. She then drew Priscilla in with the other arm and gave her a noisy kiss on the cheek. Emily appeared at the top of the stairs.
‘Has he gone?’ she questioned the women huddled together in reception.
‘Yeah,’ Priscilla answered.
‘Just like that?’ Emily calmly asked.
‘Yep, just like that’ said Sharon.
Emily joined the group.
After suddenly remembering why they were all still stood there at nine o’clock in the evening, Marie said:
‘So, after all that, how was he girls?’
She looked at Rose.
‘Terrible. Not a clue,’ the fifty-three year old said.
‘Not great,’ answered Emily.
‘Uh, hello?’ exclaimed Sharon pointing to her eyebrows. All five women couldn’t resist laughing.
The salon phone rang; Priscilla went to answer it. It was an automated message from BT informing her that she had missed a call that day at 12:46 pm, and that the caller had left a voice message. Priscilla tapped nine on the phone keypad:
‘Hello, my name is Anna. I’m supposed to be coming in today to be interviewed for the therapist position. Unfortunately I’m feeling terrible today, and simply won’t be able to make it. I’m sorry about any inconvenience. I’m still very enthusiastic about the job. I will call you back tomorrow hopefully, if I’m feeling better, and hopefully we can rearrange. Thanks a lot. Bye.’

Priscilla flicked open the salon diary. There written in the 7pm box was ‘Anna Smith: interview’. Priscilla scanned the page and the pages before and after it for any mention of another interviewee’s name; there was nothing. Then she reached the first page of the week. Scrolled along the bottom of that page was the message: ‘cleaner expected to pop in at some point towards the end of the week, Andrew Riviera.’
Priscilla slowly lifted her head and looked at the women.
‘Girls,’ she said.

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