“Three-thirty?” Mrs. Baker said. “Well, you see, earlier would be better, actually, because I have this-”
“Three-thirty,” I repeated, clipping my vowels. “Take it or leave it.”
There was a pause, some anxious breathing, and then she said, “I’ll be there.”
“Okay. We’ll see you then.”
As I hung up the phone, penciling her in, Talinga looked at me and said, “Remygirl, you are such a hard-ass.”
I shrugged. The truth was, I could deal with these women because most of them had that used-to-having-everything, me-me-me mentality, in which I was well versed because of my mother. They wanted to bend the rules, to get things for free, to run into other people’s appointments and still have everyone love them just so much. So I was good at this job, if only because I had a lifetime of previous experience.
In the next hour I got the two women waiting to their manicures, ordered lunch for Lola, did the receipts from the day before, and between two eyebrow waxings and an underarm job I heard every gory detail about Talinga’s most recent disastrous blind date. But by two o’clock, things had slowed down a bit, and I was just sitting there at the desk, drinking a Diet Coke and staring out at the parking lot.
Joie was located in a glorified strip mall called Mayor’s Village. It was all concrete, right on the highway, but there were some nice landscaped trees and a fountain to make it look more upscale. To our right was Mayor’s Market, which sold expensive organic food. There was also Jump Java, the coffee place, as well as a video store, a bank, and a one-hour photo.
As I was staring out, I saw a beat-up white van pull into the parking lot, taking a space by Gone to the Birds, the specialty bird feeder store. The front and side doors of the van opened and three guys got out, all about my age, all in dress shirts and ties and jeans. They huddled for a second, discussing something, then split up, each heading into a different store. A short guy with red curly hair came toward us, tucking in his shirt as he got closer.
“Oh boy,” I said. “Here come the Mormons.” Although we had a very nice sign in the window that read PLEASE-NO SOLICITING, I was always having to chase away people selling candy bars or Bibles. I took a sip of my Diet Coke, readying myself as the door chime clanged and he came in.
“Hello,” he said, walking right up. He was mighty freckled, which I guess a lot of red-headed guys are, but his eyes were a nice deep green and he had a decent smile. His dress shirt, upon closer inspection, had a stain on the pocket, however, and looked decidedly thrift store-esque. Plus, the tie was a clip-on. I mean, it was obvious.
“Hello,” I said. “Can I help you?”
“I was wondering if perhaps you were hiring?”
I looked at him. No men worked at Joie: it wasn’t a conscious thing on Lola’s part, just that frankly the work didn’t appeal to most men. We’d had one male stylist, Eric, but he’d jumped to Sunset Salon, our biggest competition, earlier in the year, taking one of our best manicurists with him. Since then it was all estrogen, all the time.
“Nope,” I said. “We’re not.”
He didn’t seem convinced, but he was still smiling. “I wonder,” he said, all charming, “if perhaps I could fill out an application in case an opening became available?”
“Sure,” I said, pulling open the bottom drawer of the desk, where we kept the pad of applications. I ripped one off, handed it to him, along with one of my pens.
“Thanks so much,” he said, taking a seat in the corner by the window. I watched from where I was as he wrote his name across the top in neat block letters, then wrinkled his brow, contemplating the questions.
“Remy,” Lola called out, walking into the waiting area, “did we ever get that shipment from Redken?”
“Not yet,” I told her. Lola was a big woman who wore tight, bright clothes. She had a huge laugh to match her huge frame and inspired such respect and fear in her clients that no one even came in with a picture or anything when they had a hair appointment: they just let her decide. Now, she glanced over at the guy in the corner.
“Why are you here?” she asked him.
He looked up, hardly startled. I had to admire that. “Applying for a job,” he told her.
She looked him up and down. “Is that a clip-on tie?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, nodding at her. “It sure is.”
Lola looked at me, then back at him, then burst into laughter. “Oh, Lord, look at this boy. And you want to work for me?”
“Yes, ma’am, I sure do.” He was so polite I could see him gaining points, quickly. Lola was big on respect.
“Can you give a manicure?”
He considered this. “No. But I’m a fast learner.”
“Can you bikini wax?”
“No, I sure can’t.”
She cocked her head to the side, smiling at him. “Honey,” she said finally, “you’re useless.”
He nodded. “My mother always said that,” he told her. “But I’m in this band and we all have to get jobs today, so I’m trying anything.”
Lola laughed again. It sounded like it came all the way from her stomach, bubbling up. “You’re in a band?”
“Yes, ma’am. We just came down from Virginia, for the summer. And we all have to get day jobs, so we came here and split up.”
So they’re not Mormons, I thought. They’re musicians. Even worse.
“What do you play?” Lola asked.
“Drums,” he said.
“Exactly.” He grinned, then added, in a lower voice, “You know they always put the redheaded guy in the back. Otherwise all the ladies would be on me.”
Lola exploded in laughter, so loudly that Talinga and one of the manicurists, Amanda, poked their heads around the corner.
“What in the world?” Amanda asked.
“Good God, is that a clip-on tie?” Talinga said.
“Look,” Lola said, catching her breath, “we’ve got nothing for you here. But you come down to the coffee place with me and I’ll get you a job. That girl owes me a favor.”
She nodded. “But come on. I don’t have all day.”
He leapt up, the pen he was holding clattering to the floor. He bent down to get it, then brought the application back to me. “Thanks anyway,” he said.