Get to know Shayla . . .


It was almost an hour later and Shayla sat staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair stood upright, wiry and springy, away from her skull like a cartoon character who’d stuck their finger into an electrical outlet. It was as uneven as she’d feared, and a little dry. And long, but not nearly as frightening as she expected. Whenever she’d gotten her braids redone—about every seven weeks or so—she never paid attention when they were removed, never even looked in the mirror until the job was done. This was the first time in two years that she’d taken a good long look at her own hair. Longer, in fact, because before the braids, she’d used a relaxer on her hair and had since she was thirteen.

She stared for a moment more and then reached up to test the texture, raking her fingers over her scalp.

Oooh. That felt good.

Next to her, Trey smiled. “I like it,” he said.

Shayla laughed out loud. “You’re nuts if you think I’m going to leave it like this,” she said.

Trey’s face fell. “What’re you going to do to it?”

“Well for tonight, wash and moisturize and hope to God I remember how to do a fishbone braid or something so I don’t look like a lunatic at this party tonight. And then tomorrow I’m going to a hairdresser and get a trim and . . .  I don’t know, but something.” She shook her head, still not taking her eyes off her reflection. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

“I’m glad I did,” he said. And then he nodded. “I can see you now.”

Shayla’s eyes met his in the mirror and they stared at each other. Sometimes when they looked at each other like this, she felt a literal chill over her entire body, like he’d reached inside her and unexpectedly touched some secret place that was not meant to be touched.

“Get out of here,” she said after a few moments. “I have to go wash this bird’s nest and figure out what the heck to do with it for tonight.”

When she was alone, Shayla took a closer look at herself. Her hair was just something short of black. Darker than she remembered it, and certainly much darker than she used to keep it. Back then she used to get highlights. There were long hours in the beauty salon while the hairdresser painstakingly pulled strands through the highlighting cap. Sometimes she would be there for five hours or more, making sure it was absolutely perfect. Justin would pick her up afterwards and he would look her over with appreciation and for that moment in time, she would once again feel as though she pleased him.

Pleasing Justin had once been her primary mission in life. Seeing that smile on his face could alter the trajectory of her entire day. Her entire existence was colored by his moods. If he was happy, she was too and her day would go well. If he was in a bad mood, she knew that it wouldn’t be long before he ensured that she knew it.

In the mirror, her face had changed. Just thinking about him made her look different. Sometimes lately, she caught herself wondering how he was, where he was and whether he ever thought about her. It was hard to imagine that she could ever live a life that did not somehow include thoughts of him, and of them, and of what they had been to each other. It frightened her to think that in that way, he still owned part of her, just as he had then. But that wasn’t exactly right. Back then he hadn’t owned part of her, he’d owned all of her.

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Woman-Centered Fiction Writer, commenting on books, culture and the human condition.

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