Shannon watched them all, her stomach tied in knots. She studied each one carefully, searching for any slight difference between them that she could highlight and use to guide the girl in a different direction. But they were all the same. The most disturbing thing was that some were clearly not random pictures from beauty sites or awards shows. Some of them appeared to be shots of girls sitting in a classroom. One of their faces even looked fairly familiar.
“Are these…some of your friends at school?” Shannon asked curiously.
“Not my friends,” Lily said wistfully, gazing at her phone. “But they’re perfect. They’re the ones who come here, actually. I overheard them talking about it. So I was hoping I could come here, and maybe look a little more like them.”
Shannon sighed. A million different thoughts and pieces of advice clamored through her mind, but she could not decide what exactly would be the best thing to say.
Lily interpreted her silence another way. “Can you do it?” she asked eagerly.
“I can,” Shannon said carefully. “But are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Definitely. It’s how their hair always looks now.”
“Okay, but if that’s what they all do, maybe you would rather do something different?”
“No. They don’t like people who are different.”
“That’s too bad for them then,” Shannon mumbled, but she had a feeling she was not about to change this girl’s mind. Unfortunately, she also knew how this could end, and didn’t expect things to go smoothly. “So you’re absolutely sure this is what you want?”
Shannon bit her lip, then tried one more time. “I think you might be disappointed.”
Shannon considered how she should go about doing this. She gathered the usual supplies, staring at Lily’s hair with trepidation. Lily’s eyes glazed over as she continued to study the pictures on her phone. More words of wisdom sprang to mind, but Shannon doubted that the girl could be convinced by mere words.
Finally, after deciding on a plan, she set to work. She kept her lips pursed, wondering if Lily would notice anything. But the girl never glanced up from her phone.
Eventually Shannon felt brave enough to start up the conversation again, hoping she could weave their way to a revelation. “So these girls told you about this place?”
“No. They don’t talk to me. But I heard them.”
Shannon tried to choose her words carefully. “Are they…are they nice girls?”
The girl paused at the question. “They’re not mean to anyone. Everyone likes them.”
“Everyone wants to be liked.”
“Yes,” Lily agreed quietly.
“I used to be like that,” Shannon admitted. “But I think it’s fun to be different.” She pointed to her purple hair to prove a point, but Lily’s attention had returned to her phone. So Shannon continued to work in silence, ready to tear her own hair out.
When she had reached a clear end, she stepped back and took a deep breath. Lily had not even noticed that the scissors had stopped and the foils were gone. She also clearly hadn’t noticed that very little time had passed at all.
When the silence became distressing, Shannon cleared her throat and forced her biggest smile. “Ta-da!”
Lily’s head jerked up…and froze. She stared at her reflection as if seeing herself for the first time.
In a way, she was.
Shannon waited nervously, wondering if she should have called someone over. Maybe she should have even called Lily’s parents. She was afraid that maybe she had inadvertently caused even more of a crisis, and expected Lily to dissolve in tears.
But her face remained still, stunned. Her scattered thoughts were coming together to create a tangible truth.
“It looks exactly the same.”
She touched her hair and watched her reflection do the same, willing herself to accept that this was real.
“Yes!” Shannon cried in exasperation. “Your hair already looked exactly like that. I just trimmed it a little.”
Lily nodded slowly, her hand still resting on her hair.
“You know, while you were busy admiring those girls, maybe they were the ones actually trying to look like you.”
Something that could have passed for a smile spread across Lily’s face.
“I mean it!” Shannon continued, emboldened. “And they had to come to me to get it. You had it naturally!”
Lily’s smile spread into something real.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“You’re welcome! Come here.” She led Lily over to the counter where Erica was waiting at the register. “She changed her mind, so no charge,” she explained. “I didn’t do anything.”
To her surprise, Lily wrapped her in a hug. “You did plenty.”
And she walked away, her beautiful head held high.