Anita stepped over to the mirror, switched on the lights surrounding it, re-positioned the chair and beckoned to Pen. “Come and sit over here.”
Penny went over, sat in the chair, and looked straight at her reflection. For a moment she was speechless. “Bloody hell,” she murmured.
It was like sitting at the hairdressers. Yet, somehow it was worse and she’d never thought that could ever be possible.
Anita was frowning at her, her gaze narrow and thoughtful.
“You’re frowning. Is it that bad?” Pen said nervously. “Because from here, it looks hideous.”
“No.” Anita shook her head, but was still frowning as she scrutinised Penny. “I’m just deep in thought, just thinking about how best to attack this problem. And note to self.” She checked her own reflection. “Stop frowning. I’m anti Botox.”
Pen stared despondently at herself. “I’m not. Not now I’ve seen this. Is this lighting necessary?”
Anita grinned. “You don’t need anything like Botox. However.” She leant across Pen towards the mirror and appeared to be examining her own forehead in depth. “I have frown lines that are deepening as I sleep. I can’t help that.”
She smiled at Pen’s arched eyebrows in the mirror. “It’s what I do. I frown when I think. Carl says it gives new meaning to the term ‘deep thinker’.” She pointed to her mouth. “See this?”
Pen stared. “Your lips?”
“No.” Anita traced lines vertically down from her mouth with her forefingers. “These are muppet lines. Nasolabial folds. The beginning of them anyway. See this?” She adopted a sad expression.
“Whoah,” Pen said.
Pen said, “I see what you mean. They’re really obvious.”
Anita sighed. “They’ll be hideous in thirty years’ time. Dermal fillers will fill them out but I can’t justify the cost.”
“Third wave feminism?” Pen queried.
Anita looked rueful. “No. Carl likes me just the way I am. But Penny, this is all about you, and I have ideas.”
There was a glazed look across her eyes as she scrutinized Penny some more, and oddly, Pen was reassured by it, because she recognised it. She saw it in every person she’d ever met who was so involved with their work, it became a passion. Anita was focusing on Pen. For now, Pen was her passion.
Pen’s mind slipped back to Michael. Wondered if he was thinking about her. Wondered if he was thinking of taking back his offer…
What if he was. What if she’d just blown-
“Your thoughts, Penny.”
Penny gulped. “Ah.” She stared at the mirror. Focus, Penny. Focus. “My hair for a start. I was wondering whether I should go really short?” Her mind flicked back to the woman at Michael’s party. “Would I suit a cute pixie cut?”
Anita stroked Pen’s hair, then let it fall between her fingers. It felt amazingly soothing.
“No.” She shook her head. “We can’t go too short. It won’t suit you. Your face is round.”
Pen almost sighed with relief. She’d been attached to her hair for years, and the idea of having it short filled her with a sense of panic. No doubt another way she was a psychiatrist’s dream case. “What would suit me then?”
Anita pressed her lips together thoughtfully. “You have such amazing hair that I think a few inches off and some layering, but nothing too severe. And then we straighten you. Much as I like these curls, it only gets frizzy in Auckland humidity and with you being in a kitchen, I imagine disaster with a capital D.” Anita smoothed down Pen’s hair with her palms. “You never know who might step behind the counter to compliment the chef. Straight will completely change you and give you more inner-city sophistication, and there are some excellent flat irons to straighten hair on the market now and you’d only need to work it every second day. It would take time, granted, and you’d need the top product, and I can tell you that a basic chain store iron isn’t going to work on hair like yours. You’ll need the best.” She sighed. “I wish I had hair like yours, Penny.”
“Really?” Penny stared at Anita’s simple, straight, trimmed hair.
“This?” Anita flicked it in disgust. “It’s so fine I can never put it in a ponytail and you’d be shocked at the amount of product I spray and massage and comb through to give it this pathetic amount of bulk.” She ran her hands through Pen’s hair. “You’d benefit from high and low lights.”
“There are low lights?”
Anita tut-tutted in a ‘where have you been’ tone.
“But,” Pen said, staring at Anita’s hair, “your hair is natural, isn’t it”
“Are you kidding me? Three hours in the stylist’s chair every four weeks and the dent in the income to prove it. The colour stylist will advise but something to bring out your eyes is imperative. Take off your glasses.”
Pen took off her glasses and Anita took a step back, and said, “Contacts?”
“I can’t wear them. I get allergic.”
“When did you last try a pair?”
Pen thought. “When I was around eighteen.”
Anita nodded. “You need contacts. I’m sure there’s something out there that won’t irritate your eyes, but we’ll try glasses as well. Something trendy and small. Black frames maybe.”
“I wondered about rimless?”
Anita shuddered. “Good grief, no. They’re old person’s specs, and unless you can get a catwalk gig for a Victoria’s Secret show, don’t bother. Although that is just my opinion. And in the end, it’s you who has to feel good about this, Penny, and don’t forget that.” She met Pen’s gaze in the mirror. “I know I’m opinionated. It’s my job. But this is all about you, and if you don’t like what I suggest, then don’t do it. I’m hot on that.”
Strangely, as Anita leant forward and pulled Pen’s hair back from her face and scrutinised her even more, Penny realised she liked it. There was something non-threatening about the way Anita looked at her. As if she was a work of art and she, Anita, just needed to add the finishing touches.
“I can’t tell you,” Anita said then, stepping back with a satisfied smile, “how long I’ve been dying to get my hands on you.”
“You make it sound as if I’m a project.”
“Does that worry you?”
Pen shook her head. “The end justifies the means.”
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