Table of Contents
After ten days of sitting on her butt in the hot, stuffy apartment, Jan’s firm rationalizations for not going to the country club melted into plain old excuses. Excuses were not enough to fill the void Mike’s departure had left inside of her.
Going to see Raven at the salon would give Jan exactly what she needed: non-judgmental attention. Raven was naturally secure with herself and the world around her. This quality nullified Jan’s ability to care about criticism, especially her own.
After she called Raven and set up an afternoon appointment, Jan called Nichole and pinned her down for a shopping spree the next day. If Jan was going to set foot in that club again, she was not going in a cami and sweats. Her family would be banned for ten generations for committing a crime against the sanctity of the country club’s dress code.
The majority of Jan’s wardrobe consisted of jeans, black pants, white capris, formal dinner wear, and various tank tops in shades of gray, green, and black. She did own a pristine pair of Adidas running shoes that she had purchased the same day she had picked up her “inspiration” jeans, but nothing else in her piles resembled name-brand workout gear.
Jan did own several thousand dollars worth of pink and red shirts, slinky black dresses, feminine skirts, beaded shawls, sparkly belts, and a vast assortment of other items that she never wore except when alone. She hid these, along with her femininity, in the back of her walk-in closet under her never-used ski suit.
It was from this rarely-disturbed pile that Jan selected her outfit for the day. She pulled on a sparkly red tank top, matching strappy Cathy Jean sandals, and a white gypsy-style skirt. Something about going to a counter-culture gothic-chic salon made Jan comfortable dressing like an all-American college girl.
At 1:45 p.m. Jan headed downtown to the Siren Salon. She was supposed to be there at 2 p.m., and it was a fifteen-minute drive, yet she didn’t arrive until 2:18 p.m. That’s just the way her life worked. Detours, road blocks, and parking issues were more common to Jan than sense or courtesy.
Jan smoothed her skirt outside the entrance to the Siren Salon and checked her reflection in the glass. Deciding she looked pretty good, she walked inside with her shoulders rounded only slightly.
Customers entering the Siren Salon were greeted by a small waiting room complete with blood-red curtains, a gargoyle fountain, and an assortment of black lights. Jan navigated the fake spider webs and walked between the curtains to the main room.
She spotted Raven immediately lounging on a divan just inside the doorway. She was barefoot, a pair of slip-on sandals sitting next to her on the floor, and covered head to toe in Bohemian black.
Raven hopped off the couch. “You’re early,” she exclaimed excitedly.
Jan laughed. She knew what Raven meant was, “You’re not as late as I expected.”
“For that, you’re getting an extra big hug.” Raven threw her petite arms around Jan’s ribs. Her requisite raven-black hair flowed around them both. Jan experienced ten seconds of breathlessness before the arms of steel were removed. Raven claimed her unnatural strength came from her intense connection to the Earth.
Raven stepped back. She rested her tiny chin in one of her teeny hands as she analyzed Jan’s hair.
Grateful for the reprieve, Jan took some deep breaths.
Suddenly, Raven lunged toward her.
“Ah,” Jan yelped as Raven grabbed her choppy hair and dragged her to a chair.
“Sit,” Raven commanded authoritatively.
Jan sat. She winced waiting for the lecture about butchered hair.
Raven placed a black vinyl robe around her and adjusted the seat for her four-foot-eleven stature. Once she had found the right height, Jan was basically sitting on the floor.
“This is...” Raven mused, pausing to pick up pieces of Jan’s hair, “... awesome!” Raven shrieked with joy. “Do you have any idea how many women in San Diego would kill for a style like this, and the presence to pull it off?”
Yeah, one. Me!
“Raven, I’m not Madonna. I can’t even pull off bangs.”
Raven pouted. “Ja-an,” she whined. “You’re such a child. Don’t you ever get tired of being so self-conscious?”
“No,” Jan said with mock contrariness. She would have thrown a fit if anyone else had accused her of immaturity, but Raven was special. Unlike most of the people she knew, Raven actually liked her. She therefore could do no wrong.
Except pull her hair. “Raven,” she whined as she was led hair first to the sink.
“Come on, whiny. We’ve got to get that hair washed and combed so I can un-even out the even sections.”
Jan shook her head. Nope, that still doesn’t make sense.
Jan screamed. Raven screamed. They all screamed.
Jan surveyed her new look in the mirror. Her ash-blonde locks barely reached her sternum on her right side and fell above her collarbone on the left. The rest of her head boasted similar disharmony, and yet it was masterfully done. Her wild coif gave her an exotic look and Jan finally understood what Raven meant about un-evening the layers. The unbalanced sides of her hair brought out the evenness of her facial features by comparison.
I have cheekbones. Who knew? She thought she looked almost... beautiful.
“Ja-an, you look be-eautiful,” Raven sang, echoing Jan’s thoughts.
“Beautiful,” chorused the other beauticians: Flame, Streak, Tease, Platinum, and Snippy.
Everyone had crowded around Raven’s station for the grand unveiling. Raven had insisted on cutting Jan’s hair behind oriental screens so no one could see the miracle in progress. When she had finished blow-drying her masterpiece, she had held a towel in front of Jan’s head before calling everyone over and whisking the towel away with the finesse of a bullfighter.
“Ta-da!” she’d announced and everyone had screamed, in a good way.
“Wow, Jan,” commented Platinum. “Your hairstyle totally brings out the symmetry in your bone structure.”
Streak nodded. “I love the way your bangs, like, frame your almond-shaped eyes.”
“And how they caress your cheekbones,” Tease hissed like an exotic snake.
They all congratulated Raven on a job well done.
“Thanks, guys,” Jan blushed. Her self-esteem soared.
Buzz. “Is that your phone?” Raven grabbed Jan’s cell off the counter. She looked at the display. “I think it’s your mother.”
Jan imagined her mother scowling at her eccentric new do. Her self-esteem plummeted.
“I’ll let it go to voicemail,” Jan said. “It’s probably just her secretary anyway.”
By the expression on Raven’s face, Jan could tell she wasn’t buying it. Jan never took her mother’s calls. It wasn’t that she deliberately wanted to snub her mother; Jan was just plain paranoid.
Did someone tell her I dropped out State? Is she mad that I haven’t checked in recently? Did I forget her assistant’s brother’s girlfriend’s dog’s birthday? Millions of possible infractions ran through Jan’s head.
Jan’s head snapped up. She had been staring at her phone as if it were a dangerous animal. Raven was waiting for Jan’s attention. “Just give me two seconds to clean my station and we’ll go eat.”
“Great.” Jan had been thrilled earlier when Raven had suggested lunch. Her stylist was very busy and rarely had time to hang out with her. Now, a feeling of dread stole through her drowning the earlier excitement. She wondered what her mother could possibly want. Her mother made it clear through words and actions how useless she thought her daughter was and yet she was always involving herself in Jan’s life. Jan sometimes wished she would just leave her alone, except to pay her credit card bills.
Jan went to the counter and handed the cashier her American Express card. She told the woman to add twenty dollars for the tip, but was politely refused. Raven had told everyone that Jan’s tips were no good. When no one was watching, Jan slipped a twenty dollar bill in Raven’s message box. She then speed-dialed her voicemail.
Raven bounced up to her.
“Everything all right?” she asked as Jan finished listening to the message.
“I hope so. She didn’t say anything was wrong, but she wants me to call her back.” Jan frowned. “I’ll call her after lunch.”
Raven shrugged. She put her hand on Jan’s arm and purred, “Then let’s go, sexy.”
“After you.” Jan held open the door and tucked her chin so her hair fell forward to hide her burning face. She knew Raven was teasing but she was embarrassed by the compliment.
The women walked side by side down Fifth Avenue in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. Jan walked slowly, taking Raven’s much shorter legs into consideration. Raven skipped to keep up with Jan’s longer stride. Jan ached to skip along with her, but her insecurities kept her firmly placing one foot in front of the other.
They were seated promptly on arrival at the Monsoon Indian restaurant, having arrived after the lunch rush. Jan ordered her usual bland dish of mushroom and peas prepared with mild herbs. Raven, on the other hand, chose her entrée by closing her eyes, running her finger up and down the menu, and ordering the item she was pointing to when Jan said, “Stop.” Raven was practically drooling with anticipation as she ordered her spicy bangalore shrimp dish.
Their waitress watched the routine with amusement. “So that’s one mushroom masala,” she glanced at Jan before smiling at Raven, “and one bangalore shrimp?”
The girls nodded and the waitress left. Raven turned a teasing smile on Jan. “So, Jan, how’s your boyfriend?” Jan grimaced. “He’s going to hate your hair, isn’t he?”
“I hope so,” Jan answered. “If I ever see that ass again, I hope he faints from the shock.”
“Not again.” Raven laughed. “I know girls who have pimples longer than you have relationships.”
“Well, maybe if these girls stopped caring so much about their complexion, their zits would disappear. It worked for Mike. He stopped caring about our relationship and poof, he has completely disappeared.”
“I’m sorry, Jan. I know you thought this guy was the One, but honestly, I never saw it working out between you two.”
Jan laughed uneasily. “I did? I don’t remember saying that.” Perhaps she had thought it occasionally. Since most girls were planning the wedding by the third date, Jan figured it was normal to think someone was her soul mate after a few months.
“Come on, Jan. You were with him all the time. You bought him gifts, brought him food, paid for his dry cleaning,” Jan was about to protest that she did that for all her boyfriends when Raven said, “and didn’t you say one of the reasons you started massage therapy classes was because Mike suggested it?”
Jan stopped breathing. He had, hadn’t he? she thought. She remembered the night Mike’s neck had been sore after pulling an all-nighter to work on a paper and she had offered to rub it. After thirty seconds, he had pulled away and suggested that Jan go to massage school and learn to give a decent neck rub. She had been pissed at the time yet had jumped at the idea of doing something that would make her more valuable to him. Besides, she had thought, she had nothing better in mind. Had she really talked herself into dropping out of school to pursue a career in massage, at the risk of jeopardizing her tentative relationship with her mother, because of a useless boy? Yep. Oopsy.
“That may have had something to do with it, but I really love massage.” Who said that?
“Really?” Raven was skeptical. She studied Jan’s face.
Jan tried her best to look convincing. She had learned to fake emotions well growing up.
Raven grinned. “That’s awesome. Good for you.”
Jan relaxed. She couldn’t bear the thought of Raven knowing the truth. She would probably suggest that Jan try something crazy like reevaluating her decision or returning to State.
The waitress returned with two iced teas and a cucumber salad for Raven. As Raven dug into her salad, Jan took the time to ponder her career path. Did she really love massage or was she simply avoiding more college? She hated traditional school. There was nothing she felt drawn to and she loathed the idea of wasting time getting a degree that she might not even use after graduation. Massage school was less stressful, the students less competitive, and grades non-existent. She liked the informal attitude of the teachers and how open students were with their feelings, even though it made her uncomfortable sometimes. She especially loved how she felt accepted when she received positive feedback.
“I think I like it, but I guess I don’t know for sure that I want to be a massage therapist when I grow up.”
Raven laughed. “I certainly didn’t know I wanted to be a hair stylist when I applied to beauty school.” Raven grimaced. She had rather different opinions on beauty than her school had adopted. “I enjoyed experimenting with my friends’ hair in high school. When I graduated, I figured it would be a good way to make some money until I knew for sure what I wanted to do.”
“And now you know, right? After trying it out for a while you decided cutting hair was what you wanted?”
“Not really. I’m still just having fun experimenting with peoples’ hair.”
Raven giggled, but Jan remained silent. She was a little disappointed. She figured Raven had all the answers because she seemed content with her life.
If massage wasn’t Jan’s thing, then what did she want?
“So, what happened with Mike? Are you okay? Did you get dumped again?”
Jan knew it was obvious. She might as well go down the street to a tattoo parlor and have “reject” permanently etched into her forehead.
“Yes, but I’m over all that. I’ve given up dating. I’m focusing on—” Oh no, I have to say something, “—school. And my health. I’ve started working out.” Jan hated lying to Raven, but rationalized that it was already tomorrow somewhere.
Raven cocked her head to the right like a curious puppy. “You’ve given up on dating?”
“Well, I’ve just realized that dating is a ridiculous concept and is better left to people without hearts.”
“Like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz?”
Jan took a drink of her iced tea. It tasted delicious after she had spiked it with three Splenda packets she had kept in her purse.
“No,” Jan answered. She began to feel confused again. She just didn’t know how to explain her logic. “It’s just that most relationships end in either breakup or divorce. So why bother? A lot of girls seem to jump into them even when it’s obvious that it’s not going to work out.”
Raven nodded. “Yeah, I know a lot of girls like that. Some guys too. They want someone to tell them they’re attractive, take them out, and to keep on reserve for weddings and parties. Sometimes, it’s worse though. They need a guy to give them an identity. If they aren’t someone’s girlfriend, they feel lost because they don’t know who they are.”
I wonder if she ever thought that about me? Jan fidgeted with her straw.
“It’s weird, isn’t it?” she agreed. She thought back on times she had panicked because she couldn’t find a date for a social event. “If you believe in soul mates then there’s only one person out there for you, so why stay with someone once it was clear they weren’t the One?”
“Well, define ‘clear,’” Raven challenged kindly. Jan couldn’t. “Besides, if a girl doesn’t know who she is then she won’t know what she wants out of a relationship. I hear things all the time in the salon from girls who date guys that never take them out, flirt with their best friends, blow them off consistently, and forget their birthdays or anniversaries. But these girls make up excuses instead of seeing the obvious truth that their boys just aren’t that into them.”
Jan opened her mouth to rant about what jerks those men were, but Raven cut her off.
“But it isn’t only the guys’ faults. These girls let them get away with it. They may verbalize to their guy that it’s not okay, but they stay with him no matter how many times he screws up. Their actions say it’s all right, so why would the guy change?”
Jan was stunned. It had never occurred to her that men may notice her actions and draw assumptions. She counted on people to listen to her words and forgive her tone, body language and actions inconsistent with what she said.
“But shouldn’t guys be considerate and loving to their girlfriends irregardless?”
Raven raised an eyebrow. “Why would you date a guy that wasn’t considerate to begin with? Why agree to become his girlfriend when his actions say that he doesn’t love you?”
Jan’s perception jumped to a new height. She felt like someone had switched on a spotlight and an iceberg had appeared in front of her. She choked on the emotions, ideas, and opinions clamoring for attention. She’d never really considered having a choice in becoming someone’s girlfriend, or that there should be a prerequisite for monogamy. Obtaining a boyfriend was the point of dating, wasn’t it? Why bother otherwise, and why take it slow if it was what you wanted? Then again, she had to admit that a lot of the guys she had dated had been jerks, some from the moment she had met them. So, why had she pursued them?
“I guess that makes sense,” Jan answered. “I’m not sure that people care so much about finding a great person that treats them well as they do about finding someone who’s attractive and willing to spend time with them.”
Raven shrugged. “Personally, I’m much happier spending time with my friends—male or female—that make me feel good, rather than with a boyfriend that brings me down.”
Jan couldn’t help but wonder, Is there any other kind?
Raven had to run off ten minutes later. She told Jan she had plans to go indoor rock climbing with some friends and invited her along. Jan declined. She was more terrified of heights than maxing out her Amex card. It was either say no, or be humiliated in front of a gym full of people when she had a panic attack ten feet off the ground.
Once home, Jan ran a bath and climbed into her tub. She poured lavender-scented bath gel under the running water and turned on some relaxing music.
As the hard rock sounds of Disturbed blasted out of her CD player, Jan wondered what she was going to do with herself for the rest of the evening. Nichole hadn’t answered her cellphone when Jan had called her earlier. She hadn’t felt like trying her home number. Lisa was MIA as well. Jan wondered if they were together somewhere having a great time without her.
She had called Nichole, she had called Lisa, who else was there? She considered digging up her class phone list and calling Juan. He had invited her over to talk once. She could always pretend she had a question about the homework and wait for him to ask her to hang out. If that didn’t work she could always fake trouble with her car or computer. It had worked numerous times in the past when she had wanted a guy’s company. After talking with Raven, she suspected that if she had to manipulate a guy to come over he probably did not want to see her that badly anyway. She decided she was better off waiting for someone to call her.
Jan stared intently at her phone. “Come on, phone, ring,” Jan pleaded.
Suddenly, the sweet sound of her “I Stand Alone” ringtone drowned out Disturbed. Jan leapt from the bathtub to answer the call. She paused momentarily to dry her hands and eagerly snatched up her cell as she would a favored pastry. She considered who it could be. Nichole, Lisa, Prince William?
“Eek,” Jan squeaked and dropped the phone onto the floor. Her caller ID said it was her mother. Jan retreated slowly into her bathtub and closed the curtains for good measure, as if her mother might see her through the phone.
Eventually, the ringtone stopped playing. Jan peeked out of her hideout. The phone was flashing blue to indicate a missed call, but it didn’t beep to indicate a voicemail message.
Jan whispered a thank you to the universe. She climbed out of the bathtub and tiptoed around her phone as if it were a noise-activated explosive. She dried off, turned down her CD, and walked out of the bathroom, gently closing the door behind her.
From then on, Jan had two mantras. “I will never date again” and “I will be careful what I wish for.”
Read Chapter 5.