I’M ON THE balcony at a party, flirting with a guy named Jeff. He has dark eyes and a slightly crooked nose, and he stands with his arms crossed, looking me up and down and making somewhat insulting comments about my appearance. He's mean, and I find that sexy. I think about what my therapist would say then I put her out of my mind.
“And what the hell is this?” Jeff plucks at my blue cardigan. “Are you trying to look like a school marm?”
“I’m cold,” I say, pouting my lip.
“Unacceptable. Take it off.” He yanks on one sleeve, and I allow my arm to slip out.
“A girl like you should wear as little clothing as possible.” He takes my sweater, balls it up, and for a moment I think he's going to throw it off the balcony into the street. He doesn't, though; he just tosses it onto the nearby plastic table.
I rub at the goose bumps pimpling my bare arms. It was warm earlier, before the sun went down. Now the night sky above us is a dark, smoggy gray that chokes out the stars.
“What would you recommend for me, wardrobe-wise?” I ask Jeff.
“Mini-skirts and tank tops. I should be able to see more skin.”
I smile. “Maybe you should give me a makeover.” I’m pleased with how confident and clever I sound. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an interaction like this. I haven't allowed myself.
Jeff takes a step closer to me. “You have thin hair,” he says. “It’d look better short.”
I feel my face flush.
“But you’re probably too scared to cut it. Girls like you always are.”
“I’m not,” I say. “It’s just hair.” The truth is, it took me a long time to grow my hair out, and I like it long. But I don’t want him to think I’m afraid. I want him to think I'm confident and cool.
The next thing I know, Jeff is going inside to find a pair of scissors.
I sit down in one of the plastic chairs. My therapist isn’t going to understand when I tell her about this. I can see her thinly-plucked eyebrows rising up over the rims of her glasses. “I thought we’d gotten beyond this type of destructive behavior,” she’ll probably say. “You were making so much progress.”
Jeff comes back through the sliding glass door, smiling strangely. “You ready?”
“Let’s do it,” I say, clapping my hands. This is my decision. I want this.
Jeff circles me a few times, shark-like, his dark, greasy hair ruffled from running his hand through it. He stops behind me and lifts my ponytail, weighing it in his hand. He pulls out the elastic band slowly, and I think of underwear rolling down a pair of legs.
He touches the cold blade of the scissors to the back of my neck and laughs when I shudder. He really is an asshole, and I wonder why, after everything that's happened to me, I still find that attractive.
He pulls my hair tight, and my scalp prickles. “You really want me to do this?” he asks, his voice condescending.
I don’t. But how can I back down now?
“Do it,” I tell him, feeling stupid. The blades clamp down on a chunk of hair. I hold my breath as the locks fall in silent ribbons to the ground. All those years of growth, gone just like that.
Eva Langston received her MFA from the University of New Orleans, and her fiction has been published in The Normal School, The Sand Hill Review, The GW Review, and others. She won third place in the Playboy College Fiction contest and was once nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Currently she works as a Skype tutor for Ukrainians and a math curriculum consultant, but she's trying to make writing her real job. Follow her adventures at inthegardenofeva.com.