A while back — a *long* while back — I accidentally wrote a first chapter to a novel I didn’t realize I wanted to write. I posted it here, and at the time I called the book Apart, but now I’m calling it Reverie. Now I am actively working on this story, and for the most part, it’s been pouring out of me with a feverish ferocity that I haven’t felt since To Have Loved & Lost.
Here’s an excerpt from what is currently Chapter 2. Remember, everything I post as a work-in-progress is subject to change (heck, *likely* to change) by the time the final version comes out!
Georgie’s isn’t actually called Georgie’s, Lucinda realizes as she approaches the salon, even though that’s all she’s ever heard anyone call it before. The words Beautiful You are stenciled on the plate glass window that faces the street in curving, large, orange-red letters, obscuring the rows of blue-haired women within reading magazines while they wait to get their hair “fixed” for the week. The “Y” in “You” is fashioned to resemble a pair of scissors, making Lucinda pause and stumble over the word a few times before her eye recognizes what it’s supposed to be.
The bell tinkles pleasantly overhead when she opens the door and steps inside. Georgie’s is replete with all the familiar sounds and smells of a hair salon, which makes something inside Lucinda unwind just a bit, a metal coil in her gut that she hadn’t known had tightened in the first place.
An African American stylist in the back leans an older woman back into a hair-washing station, and they both talk over the sound of the water spraying into her long, blonde hair. Two more stylists have customers in front of the long mirror that takes up one wall, pinning and trimming and clipping as they chatter. One of the stylists is remarkably young, Lucinda notices, and she chews her gum in perfect, harmonious gusto to the rhythmic string of, “Uh-huh. Yeah. Mmm, uh-huh,”s she gives to the woman in her chair.
An elderly woman sits beneath one of the three hair dryers that take up the other wall, her eyes lightly closed, her wrinkled skin molded around the arms of the chair as she waits for her time to be up.
Four more women — one of them a young African American woman in nurse’s scrubs who Lucinda thinks might actually be a caregiver for the elderly woman under the dryer — sit in a row along what must’ve once been a church pew but which now serves as the Beautiful You waiting area. A bookshelf sits in the corner, crammed with magazines and Christian self-help and a beat-up radio crooning out staticky country music; an old-fashioned electric fan rests on top of it, trying but failing to circulate air through the stuffy shop.
Three of the four women sitting on the pew turn to look at Lucinda when she walks in, the fourth remains absorbed in a magazine, flipping pages so quickly that she can’t possibly be reading them.
None of the stylists see her, though, so Lucinda takes a few steps forward, standing awkwardly next to a pile of hair clippings until the young stylist with the gum turns to acknowledge her.
“Can I help you?” the girl with the gum drawls, trying to smile but failing to hide the fact that she isn’t thrilled about Lucinda interrupting her work. Before Lucinda can respond, she adds, “If you’re here for a haircut, you can take a seat with those ladies over there.” The girl, whose dyed, platinum blonde head barely reaches past Lucinda’s chin, gestures at the pew with her scissors. The stabbing point is near enough to Lucinda’s face that she leans backwards on instinct.
“I’m actually here to talk to Georgie,” she says softly, eyes flitting from the girl to the tall, lean stylist her own age who’s bent over her client’s head with a black comb.
The older stylist straightens, looks Lucinda over with interest, and Lucinda thinks her guess that this woman is Georgie must’ve been right.
The blonde one glances at the older one expectantly.
“What can I do for you?” asks Georgie, and her accent is every bit as thick as the girl’s, but her smile is far more genuine. The necessary warmth of a small-town business owner.
“I’m Lucinda Hamilton, Hank Anderson’s cousin? He said y’all might need someone to fill in for one of your girls when she has her baby.”
Georgie puts down the comb on the counter, says something in her customer’s ear that Lucinda can’t hear over the hair dryer, the electric fan, the country music. Then Georgie strides over to Lucinda, offers a firm handshake.
“Lucinda!” she says, smile growing even more broad, showing off teeth too perfect for a woman her age between pink-lipsticked lips. “Welcome to Reverie, we’ve heard so much about you from Aggie and Hank. How are you finding it here so far? Friendly enough for you? Although Hank says you spent your summers her with him when you were young, so I s’pose it’s not entirely new to you, right? Did Hank tell you that he and Aggie are practically my closest neighbors now?”
The stream of questions overwhelms Lucinda, and she doesn’t know how to start answering them all, so she chooses the one that came last.
“Yes, ma’am, I do believe Hank said something about you and your husband moving in down the street from him.”
“Mm-hmm, Don and I — our children are all out of the house now — can you believe that? They grow up so fast. Don and I decided to downsize some, didn’t need the big ol’ farm we’d been living on, and plus we wanted to be closer to town.”
Lucinda’s mind snags on the word “downsize,” because she knows that the houses near Hank’s place, which used to be her Aunt Sophie’s place, before she passed, are stately old Victorians, and not one of them are small. But, she supposes, maybe it would be easier to maintain one Victorian on a two-acre plot of land than managing an entire farm.
“Anyway,” Georgie says, “listen to me rambling on! And I’m sure you have other things you need to get to today. But my girl, Kathy is her name — bless her heart, her doctors want her on bedrest for the rest of her pregnancy. And she’s only six months along, mind you, which means we have just been scrambling to keep up with everyone. Hank says you have a lot of experience cutting hair?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lucinda answers. “I worked in a salon for thirteen years in Georgia, before I moved here.”
She worries that the next question might be Why’d you move to come here? because Reverie isn’t the kind of town you choose to move to without a good reason, even if you do have kin here, even if you did spend your summers here, but Georgie only nods and says, “Aggie says you’re good, and you know how picky that woman can be about her hair! When can you start? Is tomorrow too early? Or do you still need time to settle in?”
“I… Yes, I suppose I could start tomorrow,” Lucinda says, recovering from the shock of suddenly having a job without being asked about her cosmetology license, her salary needs, her references.
But this is Reverie, and Georgie is neighbors with Hank, and does Aggie’s hair, and might’ve even done Aunt Sophie’s hair and Aggie’s mama’s hair, and might’ve known Lucinda’s mother before she moved her family to Georgia. In other words, Georgie already has Lucinda’s references and then some.
“Good,” Georgie says, softening with what appears to be sheer relief. She lowers her voice conspiratorially. “I’ve been covering my clients and Kathy’s clients — that’s my pregnant girl — for the past two weeks, and girl, pardon my French, but I am as tired than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. You can take over Kathy’s schedule tomorrow. First appointment’s eight-thirty AM, I b’lieve. Is that alright?”
“Yes, ma’am, I can… do I need to bring anything?”
“If you got anything special you like to use, then go right ahead. Otherwise, you can use what we have here.” Georgie smiles broadly again, takes one of Lucinda’s hands in both of hers and shakes it vigorously, squeezing too hard. “It’s good to have you on board, Lucinda. Now, if you don’t mind, I really should get back to my customers.”
“Thank you,” Lucinda says. “I appreciate it. I really do.”