Wherein I take a band name from Scalzi’s Next Band Name list, and spend no more than 20 minutes writing the story with the band name as a title. I didn’t like the way this story was going, so I ended up spending 40 minutes on it, the first 20 writing it one way, and the second 20 writing it this way.
Ally knew something was wrong when David came to bed exhausted and smelled of flowers. He rarely smelled of anything other than soap or sweat, and neither of those were flowers.
“You smell different,” she commented when he rolled away from her.
He stiffened slightly next to her. She noticed only because she was close, touching him. He relaxed as he turned around. “New soap at work, I guess.” He kissed her gently on the nose, as he often did.
“Oh,” she responded, not quite believing him. “Okay.”
She didn’t think much of the smell until the following week, when he came home from work, and smelled again of flowers. The same flower smell, or close enough, and Ally was no longer convinced the smell was from new soap at work.
“Good evening?” she asked.
“Yeah,” David responded. “Out with the guys.”
“Mostly. We ended up in a couple fights, well, some heated discussions. Those were entertaining, and somewhat invigorating. The rest of it, hanging and all, yeah, that was fun.”
“Cool,” she non-committedly responded. “Going out again with the boys soon?”
“Yeah, probably next week, same day.”
Ally nodded, looking carefully at David, a concerned expression on her face. “Okay.”
The following week, Ally went to work in the morning, but begged off the late afternoon, claiming to be sick, and left work early. She hustled to David’s work, and waited outside the building for him to come out. She noticed several of his friends go into his building, and kept waiting. Eventually the group of five left the building, turned right and started walking along the street. They were joking around as they walked, though Ally couldn’t make out any words.
She followed them as they walked, feeling more and more foolish and they walked farther from where David worked. She recognized all of the friends with him. She was sure none of them saw her when she ducked into a doorway as they stopped and turned to go into a salon.
Ally waited for a short bit to see if they were going to come back out, before walking slowly and casually up to the salon window. She stopped to lean against the wall next to the window and wait for a good moment to casually look in. She brought her phone out of her purse, unlocked it, looked down at it, and pushed off the wall. Keeping her face as much towards the phone as she could, she looked into the window as she passed by the salon.
Ally saw the five guys all standing around a salon chair, but couldn’t really see much else. She continued walking, and made her way home. Yes, David was out with the guys, why had she doubted him?
He came home late that night smelling of flowers again. Ally noticed, however, his hair hadn’t changed from the day before. Walking into a hug, she reached up to put her arms over his shoulders. “You need a haircut,” she commented, teasing his hair.
He stiffened again, but relaxed immediately. “Nah,” he answered, leaning in for a kiss. “I think I’m going to grow it out.”
Ally went back to the salon the next morning. Walking in, the smell of flowers that was on David filled her nose. Yes, this was the source, she thought.
A woman approached her. “Hello. Welcome. Do you have an appointment?”
Ally hesitated. “I don’t. Can you fit me in?”
The woman smiled. “We have an opening, yes, but it’s an unusual experience. Instead of…”
“That’s fine,” Ally interrupted.
Lips pressed tightly, the woman nodded. Somewhat curtly, she said, “Okay, right this way,” and turned away.
The woman led Ally to the same chair the David and his friends had been standing around the previous night. Ally hesitated for only a moment, then sat down in the chair.
Immediately the giant full-wrap drape went on around Ally, and she was surrounded by four women. Feeling a little intimidated, she looked at the women in the mirror. They were all smiling, and standing close. They didn’t say anything. Ally wondered what was happening. No one said anything.
Just as Ally was becoming uncomfortable, a fifth woman walked up to her. “Hello! Welcome!” she said cheerfully. “Are you ready?”
Ally looked at her. “Uh… yes?”
“Wonderful! You should change your eye make-up. You have beautiful eyes, but you’re hiding them behind all of that eyeliner and mascara.”
Ally looked at her suspiciously. “What?”
“Are wearing foundation?” another woman asked.
Ally looked at the second woman.
“You need more foundation,” a third woman said.
“Cover up those blemishes,” chimed in a fourth.
“Even out your skin tone,” the last added.
Ally’s eyes darted from one woman to the next as they spoke, the comments becoming more personalized, more detailed, harder to keep track of. They talked about her hair, her makeup, her earrings, her skin. They talked about her coloring, the colors she wore, the wrinkles she didn’t have, the gray she didn’t know she had. Ally’s eyes darted from one woman to another, their words never stopping, none of them seeming to take a breath, none seeming to interrupt another, but timing so that the words didn’t stop.
The tension in Ally grew with each new criticism, until she just couldn’t stand it. “STOP!” she yelled, throwing up her hands.
The five women jumped back, clearly unexpecting the reaction.
Ally jumped up, ripped off the drape, grabbed her bag and ran out the door, her eyes stinging. She continued to run, tears threatening in her eyes. She pulled out her phone and dialled David.
He met her at the front of the building of his work, and gathered her into his arms as she finally started crying.
When she calmed, he managed to ask, “What happened?”
Ally looked down. “I went to the salon you went to last night.”
He looked down at her. “You went where?”
“The salon you went to last night.”
He closed his eyes. “Oh.”
He was quiet for a bit longer. Ally didn’t know what to do.
“You sat in the middle seat, didn’t you?”
She looked up at him.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“That’s the badger seat. There’s a competition going on to see which group can come up with the most number of grooming suggestions for a customer in fifteen minutes, or before they run away.”
Ally looked down.
“I’m guessing you ran away.”
“I’m also guessing you didn’t know what you were getting into.”
He pulled her back into a hug. She held on tighter.
“I really was with the guys,” he said.
“We’re currently winning.”