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Chance Encounter with an Old Flame

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Peggy Cole is a self-published author who enjoys writing fiction stories, book reviews and articles about simpler times.

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The clock moved closer to nine, opening time at the salon where the six of us worked. We'd been joking around trying to make the best of working on Mother's Day, a Sunday. The gathering at a nearby restaurant was winding down when conversation came to a screeching halt. Everyone looked up at the guy standing next to our table.

It took me a moment to recognize the face I hadn't seen in a dozen years. When I did, my heart skipped a beat and I nearly choked on a mouthful of pancakes. He hadn't changed much. He was still wearing the same Jack-o-lantern grin and shiny, boyish face.

I had been the first to arrive that morning which put me against the inside wall of the booth. Two bodies kept me from making a quick exit to take the conversation somewhere away from my coworkers' curiosity. Instead, all eyes were on us when he started to talk.

"Hey, I when I looked across the room, I thought that was you," he said, confident as ever in his endearing charm. Scenes from football games, drive-in movies, and that first kiss in the Haunted House at the amusement park played in my head as I stammered for a proper greeting.

"Um, yes, it is me." I mentally slapped my forehead at the dorky retort.

High school seemed worlds apart from where I found myself that day, surrounded by flashy stylists whose outfits and hair styles failed to match how he likely remembered me. The vibrant make-up of the eighties accentuated high cheekbones and eyes while the big-haired perm and padded shouldered look replaced my former bland fashion choices.

No matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away."

— Haruki Marukami

I'd traveled thousands of miles since those days when his adoration once held me captive. For a brief moment in time, we'd been more than casual friends. His band played at school functions and, thrilled to be included, I had a permanent back stage pass to every show. That was before I discovered the magnetic draw musicians exude on young girls.

The others seated at the table looked on with unconcealed interest. They had already met my fiancé and they knew this wasn't him. I'd pay a price later when the teasing would turn an ordinary work day into something more interesting. We made small talk across the syrup smeared plates while my companions began to fidget and look at their watches.

"Are you here alone?" I asked.

"No, I'm with the family." He pointed to a table with two small girls and a woman who clearly looked perplexed at his absence.

"Well, if you ever need a haircut, I work at the mall." I instantly regretted telling him that. So ingrained in drumming up business, I'd blatantly disregarded the rules of engagement.

Our group made their way toward the exit and I waved goodbye at my one time boyfriend. Part of me envied his darling children while the rest of me knew how changed my life would be in his wife's shoes. I imagined the ear full he'd get when he returned to his table and I smiled.

A couple of hours later I looked up to see him standing at the reception desk. Panic struck, I thought for a moment it was a coincidence. I never mentioned the name of the salon where I worked. The customer seated in my chair sensed my uneasiness.

"Is something wrong, Dearie?" she asked. She was a regular who worked at a toll booth on the causeway. Her head wobbled uncontrollably from some unknown ailment.

I whispered into her ear, "It's someone I haven't seen for years, at least, not until this morning." She nodded forcefully up and down, fighting the usual back and forth movement of her head.

"Please don't interpret my palsy as disapproval," she said quietly. I put the final touches on her hairstyle, sprayed it firmly into place and showed her the back with my larger-than-life hand mirror. She smiled and winked, knowingly.

“Old flames never die,” she told me. “They just smolder until the time is right.” She left me a five dollar bill on the counter and went up front to check out at the register. I hoped she was wrong. As he walked toward my chair grinning, I desperately hoped she was wrong.

I shook out the cutting cape and fastened it around his neck with trembling hands. He craned his neck around to look at me, rather than talk to me in the mirror like the other patrons did.

"What are you doing here?" I asked. I couldn't imagine what excuse he'd given his wife to leave her on this special day, the mother of his children at home while he dredged up old memories.

"I needed a haircut," he explained with a shrug. "And you told me to come in." My words came back to haunt me as he continued. "So here I am." He craned his neck around and flashed me a big smile.

I could feel the eyes of the other stylists from across the aisle and on either side of my chair. The noise level, usually boisterous and merry, seemed absent. Our words carried into the four corners, echoing around the room.

"I wrote you a few songs," he said, twisting his head again. With firm fingers on top of his head, I guided his face toward the mirror in front of us. "I'd like a chance to play them for you." His voice had a pleading whine that reminded me of all the reasons for our break up those many years ago.

I finished the haircut in record time and turned on the blow dryer. Under the din of the noise, he said nothing further. I dusted off his neck with my barber brush, removed the striped cape and folded it. He remained immobile in the chair until another man approached.

My fiancé walked up, wrapped his arm around my waist and planted a sloppy kiss directly on my mouth. When I turned around, my styling chair was empty. He didn't even leave a tip.

© 2016 Peg Cole

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