“Oh, honey, of course not. I’m sure you mentioned your hair last time, and Margot is absolutely the best person in LA to do blondes, and she’s at a loss because she had a last-minute cancellation, which does not happen often, trust me. If I had any inclination to believe in fate, then I think this would be it. She does everyone and she’s an absolute sweetheart. She’s also a healer and will want to talk to you about all her past lives, which obviously I do not believe in, either, but occasionally I do let her read my energy just because it freaks Able out when I tell him. I swear he’s the last person in this city who still semi-believes in God.”
“Where is she?” I ask, the irony of her last statement not escaping me.
“She’s waiting in the car. Can I tell her to come out?” Emilia says, smiling sheepishly, and, of course, she does it all in a way that makes me think it was all my idea and that I’m actually doing them both a huge favor, because everything she does is seamless, designed to make you feel as special as she is. I realize then what an unusual opponent Emilia would be, the type who could slip under your skin when you least expect it.
* * *
? ? ?
Margot has a shaved bleached head and a tiny white tattoo of a shell in between her clavicles, right in the tender part that I will barely let anyone touch, let alone tattoo.
“What are you going to do to my hair?” I ask her as Emilia rushes around my house, pulling up a chair for me to sit on next to the kitchen sink and propping the dirty mirror from the bedroom in front of us, just in case I want to stare at my own puffy face for two hours.
“Oh, I forgot you’re really British! Are you from London?” Margot asks as she runs her fingers through my hair. It’s the most intimate I’ve been with anyone for a while, and it’s making me feel embarrassingly turned on.
“North London. Have you been?” I ask, shifting in my seat as she clips the top half of my hair up.
“I was a member of the Auxiliary Ambulance Service there in the Second World War. During the Blitz,” Margot says seriously, saying the Blitz in an English accent.
I’m working out how to respond when Emilia turns around, and our eyes catch in the mirror. We’re both trying not to laugh, and for a moment it feels like we’re old friends. My face heats up and I realize that this is something else I never learned, how friendship alone can make you feel safe.
“Right. Okay,” I say eventually. “That would be in another lifetime, I assume?”
“Of course. Another lifetime, another vessel.”
I make a noise that I hope sounds like I’m agreeing with her, thinking that if there’s any truth to what she’s saying, I better come back as a man next time, one who believes he can do anything, regardless of whether it’s true or not. I stop asking her questions, though, because while I can see how believing in some higher power or grand plan could be comforting, it still makes me feel sorry for her and for all of us for needing it.
“So, talk to me. What were you going for with this?” Margot says, holding up a chunk of my hair. The reddish root nearly reaches the tops of my ears now, followed by about five inches of yellow blond, ending just above my shoulders.
“Where was I going?”
“What was the desired result? You must have been trying to say something.”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I say, noticing how greasy the roots are again.
“It’s less a hairstyle than a cry for help,” Margot says, and Emilia, who has been keeping busy arranging a bunch of flowers that have miraculously appeared from somewhere, does laugh this time. “Do you trust me to fix it?”
“I don’t think I care enough to have to trust you,” I say honestly, because I’m not sure I could ever trust anyone who has a tattoo in the most vulnerable part of their body, or who believes that maybe we were once all just mosquitoes, a thousand lives ago.
* * *
? ? ?
Emilia makes a pot of tea and stands behind me. She watches Margot closely, and they both use familiar words in unfamiliar contexts when referring to my hair. After enough cools and icys to sink the Titanic, I slump lower in the chair, drifting off only to wake up feeling surprised that I felt comfortable enough to sleep in front of these women.
Emilia is murmuring something to Margot, so I keep my eyes closed.
“I don’t know what happened with him. I’ve been meaning to ask her. She obviously can’t live here forever.”
“She has a good spirit,” Margot says as she massages my hair with bleach, pulling it through to the ends.
“She’s a very smart girl,” Emilia says, and the pride in her voice makes me feel prickly and guilty, so I wriggle a bit and then stretch, opening my eyes and blinking a couple of times like the Golden Globe–nominated actress I am. Neither Emilia nor Margot seems embarrassed to have been caught talking about me. Emilia leans forward and offers me some more tea, made with fresh mint from Morocco. I have one sip before I place the cup on the countertop and somehow fall asleep again.
* * *
? ? ?
Margot taps me gently on the shoulder, and I open my eyes. Emilia is back by my side, and they are beaming at me like proud parents. My entire head is white and crisp with thick, crumbling bleach. I blink, looking between the two women in the mirror, unsure of what exactly is happening. It’s getting dark outside.
“Stand up then!” Emilia says, so I do. She whips my chair around and I sit back down, tipping my head into the kitchen sink under her instruction. Margot turns on the water and starts to rinse my hair, stroking it softly with her other hand as she sings something quietly. The water is warm and I have to fight to keep my eyes open again, slightly embarrassed that I seem to have turned into a narcoleptic.
Margot notices my embarrassment and smiles at me. “It’s my energy. People fall asleep around me all the time.”
I’m back in my chair a few minutes later, facing the mirror as Margot rubs something earthy-smelling into my hair. I can already see that my hair is now white blond up to the root, even though it’s sopping wet. I hold a strand and twist it around my finger, trying not to smile. Emilia has disappeared out onto the porch, apologizing profusely before taking a phone call.
“Do you like it?” Margot asks, grinning at me in the mirror. I run my fingers through it, and it feels softer than ever before, even slightly oily.
“It matches your spirit now. You have a lioness guarding everything you do, did you know that?”
I shake my head, knowing that it’s just bullshit LA talk, so it has to be the acrid smell of the bleach making my eyes fill with tears.
“Lions are the most courageous of all the spirit animals. They will fight relentlessly to protect you if they need to.”
I swallow as Margot straightens up and puts her hand on my shoulder.
“We’ll take you back to your natural color next time, but right now you need a blond moment,” she says.
“A Marilyn moment,” I say, frowning at my reflection as water drips down the back of my neck.
“I was thinking more a Courtney Love moment. Actually, shit—it’s your Kurt Cobain moment,” Margot says, grinning at me. She has a gold tooth that I didn’t notice before.
She leans forward and speaks softly in my ear. “I know that somebody hurt you. Now it’s time for you to fuck shit up, baby lion.”
For a while now, I’ve had this ninety-minute rule. I never spend longer than ninety minutes in someone else’s company, whether that’s for a work meeting, an interview with a teen magazine or just hanging out with someone at a party. I think that it’s easy to pretend to be someone for ninety minutes, but after that you can’t help but let your guard down. Maybe you tell a revealing story about your childhood or about a weird dream you had the other night; whatever it is, you end up exposing too much of yourself. Dylan is one of two people I ever spent more than ninety minutes with outside of a movie set, and the other is Able. Ninety minutes is the maximum amount of time I can pretend to be Grace Turner, and after that it’s anyone’s guess.
Despite my rule, when Emilia invites me back up to hers for a drink after Margot has left, I can’t think of a single reason not to. It’s Saturday night and my rental feels even bleaker than before the two women arrived, as if the echoes of laughter will now be reverberating off the bare walls around me, mocking me.
We sit in Emilia’s kitchen and she pours some vodka into a glass, topping it up with soda water and elderflower cordial. She leaves the vodka out of mine, and I know that she noticed my full glass of wine from the other day and figured it out.
“I’ve actually been thinking about you a lot, and not just your hair,” Emilia says, once she’s settled opposite me. Then she lets out a peal of laughter when she sees my face and misunderstands. “Not like that. God, I wish? Wouldn’t that be a story. No, I’ve realized that I never did ask what happened between you and Dylan.”
I pause, unsure of what to say that wouldn’t reveal too much of myself to her.
“I don’t exactly know,” I say slowly, buying time before deciding to use my old interview technique of lightly skimming the truth so that my words still feel authentic. “I think what mattered in the end was that I wasn’t who he thought I was, and he was exactly who I thought he was.”