"So, how long have you two been together? If you don't mind me asking, of course," the woman asked sweetly, as Miles applied the highlights to her honey colored hair. Miles inwardly groaned, but before he could snap a retort, Bass jumped in:
"Oh, we've been partners for over ten years, but we've practically been together our whole lives," he said with a huge grin and a twinkle in his eye that made Miles want to deck his smarmy ass.
"Bass, that's not-"
"Oh, that's so sweet," the woman said with a practiced smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, as Miles finished applying the color and wrapped it in tinfoil. "I have no problems with alternative or unconventional lifestyles, my husband and I are very open minded- we always said that we would have no problem if our son was gay, not that he is, mind you, but if he was- hang on a sec," she answered her ringing phone. "Jason, what is it, honey? What are you two fighting about this time? You know your father didn't mean that, just a sec," she covered the phone. "How long do I have to keep this on?"
"About forty minutes," Miles said.
"I'll be back," she got off the chair and walked out, talking on the phone a mile a minute.
"Why'd you have to go and tell her we were gay?" Miles turned on Bass, the minute she was out of earshot.
"She said we were gay, I just didn't correct her," Bass said innocently, trying hard not to grin. "It's not my fault if she had the wrong idea about us. Besides, it was worth it just for the look on your face."
"I hate you."
"No, you don't- you love me and our "unconventional" and "alternative" lifestyle," Bass air quoted, mimicking their customer's tone.
"Yeah? Well unless you want an "unconventional" and "alternative" face, I suggest you knock it off," Miles said gruffly. "And just for that, you're on cleanup duty until Danny gets here."
"You do realize we're equal partners and I don't actually work for you, right?" Bass asked as he took the bowl and brush to be rinsed. "You really miss having men under your command to boss around."
"I can always boss Danny around, one of the perks of having an underling."
"You refer to your nephew as an 'underling', that's nice, Miles," Bass replied. "I don't think Rachel would approve, want to ask her?" He motioned with his head towards the window, where they could see Rachel approaching their salon. She opened the door and smiled at the two.
"Bass, it's good to see you," she gave him a hug. "It seems like we hardly see you these days."
"Been a bit busy," Bass said apologetically.
"She's doing great, now that she's finally over her morning sickness."
"That's great. You two should come over for dinner one day, so we can catch up."
"Will do," Bass promised.
"Miles," Rachel turned to him with a quirk of her lips; she gave him a quick embrace, before stepping back. "You have been blowing Ben off the last few times he invited you over for dinner."
"Been busy," Miles said shortly.
"Doing what?" Bass asked. "Drinking and moping?"
"Stay out of it, Bass," Miles warned him, before turning to an expectant Rachel. "Look, I just haven't been in the right mood lately, that's all."
"We're family, Miles," Rachel argued. "It's just dinner, you don't have to mentally prepare yourself it."
"It's not just dinner, I know Ben will try and set me up with one of your co-workers, which would be a disaster-"
"Why would it be a disaster?"
"Because, all your co-workers are brainy, boring scientists-"
"-And way out of my league."
"Nice save," Bass interjected.
"Shut up Bass, you're not helping."
"Wasn't trying to," he said with a cheeky grin.
"Look, just come to dinner this Sunday and I'll work on Ben and get him to ease up on the matchmaking, ok?" Rachel asked.
"Yeah, fine," Miles said dismissively.
"I appreciate it," Rachel said. "I also appreciate you giving Danny this job."
"It's not a favor," Miles shrugged. "He works, we pay him, that's it."
"I know, but still, I think this job has been good for him," Rachel said. "I know Ben and I can be… Overprotective sometimes, because of his Asthma, we can't help it. But you two… I think you make him feel normal, which he is, but he doesn't always feel like he is- you don't cut him slack or handle him with kiddie-gloves, so thanks for that."
"Don't mention it," Miles said, a bit uncomfortably, before he cleared his throat. "So are you just here to nag me, or do you want to do something with your hair?"
"A bit of both," Rachel grinned slightly.
"Right, well Danny isn't here yet, so I'll wash your hair," Miles said, walking over to the hair washing chair.
"Actually, I prefer Bass to do it," Rachel said with a slight wince.
"No offense Miles, but you wash hair like you're de-fleaing a dog," Rachel explained. "Bass has a more… Gentle touch."
"That's what all the girls say," Bass winked at her, as he took Miles' position by the chair and got Rachel a towel.
"Fine, whatever," Miles shrugged and walked away in a huff. After Rachel was finished and left, Mrs. Neville came back to rinse out her hair and get it blow-died. About an hour later, Danny walked in with Charlie in tow; Miles hauled Danny over to the storage room to take care of inventory.
"Charlotte," Bass gave her a toothy smile, as he hugged her. "We just did your hair last week, you'd better not be here to mess with perfection."
"I want to cut if all off," Charlie said darkly, as she sat down in one of the chairs and swiveled on it. "Get spikes, or dye it all black or something."
"Right," Bass said slowly, backing away. He opened the door to the storage room and yelled: "Miles- come out here! You niece is fighting with her parents again."
"Why is she always my niece and my problem when that happens?" Miles muttered, as he came out. "Ok, kid, what happened this time?"
"They're impossible!" Charlie said in frustration. "I told them I didn't want to apply to any colleges for next year and they totally flipped."
"Why aren't you applying for college?"
"Because- I don't know if I want to even go to college," Charlie said. "Maybe I want to travel, go pack-packing or something, maybe I'll enlist like you did, I mean it's a family tradition, right?"
"Yeah, I enlisted, but that's because I didn't have a lot of options, but you do. You're a smart kid."
"That's what mom and dad say," Charlie complained. "They keep thinking I'll be a doctor like grandpa or a scientist or the next President or something," she rolled her eyes. "But I'm not smart like them and I don't want to be those things."
"What do you want?"
"I don't know," Charlie sighed. "That's why I want to take some time, to figure things out. I remember when you'd send me something from every hole in the wall you were stationed in, like my own private postcards... Other than visiting grandma and grandpa in Willoughby, or going to Jasper as a kid, I haven't really ever traveled, you know? I just want to travel a bit and see the world, before I get stuck in school and work and settle down. Is that so wrong?"
"Nah," Miles sat down in the chair next to her and swiveled to face her. "Look, I'm not getting in the middle of your relationship with your folks- that's your business and your problem to figure out. But whatever you decide to do, I'll support you, no matter what."
"Even if I decide to cut off my hair and get a million piercings and tattoos?" Charlie asked with a grin.
"Except for that, not gonna let that happen."
"Grandpa told me that mom did crazy things when she was my age," Charlie said defensively.
"Yeah, well adults are hypocrites, you're still not touching your hair," Miles said. "You're 18, I can't stop you from getting tattoos or piercings, but if you touch your hair- I'll disown you."
"Ok," Charlie said with a smile, as she got up and hugged him. "Thanks, uncle Miles."
"Any time, kiddo," Miles assured her.
"Is it safe to come out?" Danny asked from the entrance to the storage room.
"Go mop the floor or something," Charlie said snidely.
"Children," Bass warned, as he followed Danny out of the storage room. "Play nice, or you won't get any ice cream for dessert."
"You're buying us ice cream?" Danny asked incredulously.
"Well, I won't if you behave like a brat," Bass warned, ruffling Danny's hair. "Your hair is getting too long, when are we going to cut it?"
"I'm growing it out," Danny said defensively.
"He's trying to turn it into a bird's nest," Charlie said mockingly.
"Stop fighting like you're five," Miles complained. "And Charlie- what have you been telling the girls in your class?"
"What? Nothing, why?"
"Because a bunch of them came over the other day and were gawking at us through the window, whispering and giggling."
"I didn't say any- oh."
"Well, last week a few girls asked me about my new hairstyle-"
"Your awesome new hairstyle," Bass interrupted.
"-Right, so I told them my uncles were hairdressers."
"And?" Miles prompted.
"And I may have mentioned that you were living together."
Bass burst out laughing, causing Miles to scowl. "First Bass, now you?"
"Technically, if we're talking timeline here, she did it first," Bass argued.
"Shut up, Bass. Why would you say something like that?"
"Because you are living together right now."
"I'm crashing at Bass and Shelly's apartment, I'm not living with Bass and you guys need to stop telling or implying to people that we're gay!"
"Why do you care?" Bass asked.
"Easy for you to say- you've got Shelly, it doesn't matter if people think you're gay."
"So you're worried about your game?" Bass asked. "I hope you weren't planning on scoring with Ms. "unconventional and alternative"- who is married by the way- or with a bunch of barely legal teenagers."
"Of course not! I'm just trying to preserve my reputation."
"What reputation? Of being a lazy, drunken schmuck?"
"Screw you, Bass."
"Careful now, you don't want to feed into those rumors," Bass grinned. "You know, I think you're protesting a bit too vehemently."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If you were gay, that'd be okay-"
"Very funny, Bass."
"-I mean 'cause hey, I'd like you anyway."
Charlie joined him for the next line, while Danny hummed along. "Because you see, if it were me-"
"Wait, this is an actual song? I thought you were making it up."
"-I would feel free to say that I was gay, but-"
"I'M NOT GAY!" Miles shouted in frustration, causing the other three to burst out laughing, which just confused and annoyed him further. "I'm going out to get a drink."
"Miles, it's four in the afternoon," Bass protested, once he recovered from his laughing fit.
"Whatever, if you want anything, that's your problem, try not to burn the place down while I'm gone." He grabbed his jacket and shoved the door open roughly, letting it slam after him.
"Miles seems pissed," Charlie said, worried. "I didn't mean to imply anything to those girls-"
"I know," Bass said. "Just give him some time, he'll cool off."
"I guess it's a touchy subject," Danny said, scratching his head.
"You can say that," Bass agreed with a sigh. "Your grandpa and great-grandpa were both military men and tough sons of bitches. Miles going to the Marines made sense to your grandpa; becoming a hairdresser? Not so much. It wasn't masculine enough for him and it led to all kinds of insinuations about Miles."
"And you," Charlie added.
"Yeah, well we were always inseparable, we've been dealing with those rumors all our lives," Bass shrugged. "Difference being, I didn't have a family to disappoint or fight with, Miles was my only family."
"I barely remember Grandpa," Charlie said. "I just remember that he always smelled like liquor and cigarettes."
"I don't remember him at all," Danny said.
"He was a hard man," Bass told them. "He wasn't bad, not exactly, just set in his ways and beliefs and uncompromising. He and Miles fought and had stretches where they wouldn't even talk to each other- both of them stubborn like mules- they were going through a rough patch when your grandpa had his heart attack; they never reconciled before he died."
"I didn't know," Charlie said quietly.
"Yeah, well, it is what it is," Bass shrugged. "Miles doesn't really like talking about feelings and emotional baggage."
"We've noticed," Danny snorted, earning him a smack from Charlie. "Oww!"
"You guys are still at it?" Miles asked when he came back with a soft drink, thankfully and a packet of smokes. "Cut it out, stop fighting like a bunch of kids. If you've got to fight, take it outside, can't have potential clients seeing you two at each other's throats."
"We'll behave," Charlie promised, Danny echoing her.
"Good. If you want to drink, grab a glass." He told them as he placed the bottle at the side and put the smokes in his jacket pocket, hanging it up. Things settled in after that and Charlie went to sit by the register, cracking open her books and getting some studying done, while Danny helped around the salon.
"I think someone is trying to decide if to come in or not," Danny said, as he finished sweeping the floor.
"Who? That blond chick?" Miles asked, glancing up and squinting at the window.
"Well, she's passed by twice, stopping by the window and then walking away; either she's trying to decide if she wants to come in or not or she's a spy for a different salon that's not very good at her job."
"You watch too many movies," Miles rolled his eyes. "But you'd be a good scout."
Bass walked over and opened the door, catching the woman off guard. "Can I help you with something?"
"I'm… Not sure yet," the woman said with a distinct English accent, seeming hesitant. "I don't want to waste your time, until I'm sure-"
"It's a slow day, we've got time," he said with a shrug and a grin. "Come inside, maybe we can help you make up your mind." He opened the door and held it for her.
"Thank you," she said, walking inside and standing awkwardly in the middle of the salon.
"You can sit down, can I get you anything to drink?" Bass offered kindly.
"No, thank you," she smiled slightly.
"I'm Bass, my silent and grouchy partner over there is Miles and these are our minions," Bass introduced, earning a scowl from Miles and an enthusiastic wave from the other two.
"I'm Maggie. Look, I'm sorry, I'm not a very… Spontaneous person by nature, but I have a conference later tonight and I just… I felt like doing something different."
"Haircut or hairstyle?"
"I'm not sure, maybe a bit of both? Mostly the style though," she said, self-consciously, pushing an errant curl from her face.
"What kind of conference?" Miles asked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Is it a bunch of stuffy academics types? More casual? What are you planning on wearing?"
"I don't see how that's any of your business-"
"You'll have to excuse Miles, tact was never his strong suit," Bass glared at Miles and received a silent 'what?' in return, before he smiled disarmingly at Maggie. "He treats everything like it's a potential battle plan, he keeps forgetting he's not in a war zone anymore."
"You were in the Army?"
"Marines," they both said indignantly. "We both were," Bass added. "Miles was just trying to understand what kind of event this is, so he could help you figure out what image you're trying to present. He's just never quite learned to express himself in a non-confrontational way."
"I see," Maggie said mollified. "It's a medical conference and I'll be wearing a business suit."
"You've come a long way for this conference," Miles pointed out. "Not that I'm complaining, your accent really classes up the joint."
"I'm not sure what that says about the state of the "joint" to begin with," she quipped with a quirk of her lips. Miles gave her an assessing look and a small grin.
"Right, so not casual," Bass interrupted. "Personally, other than trimming the edges, I wouldn't touch the hair too much or straighten it. You probably want your hair up or maybe half up. I can get some catalogues and have you look through them, see if there's anything you like."
"I'd appreciate that, thank you." Bass brought her a few catalogues and let her sit with them for a few minutes. Charlie walked over and sat down next to her, pointing at a few styles she liked, until Maggie settled on one of the half up hair styles. She sat in front of the mirror on the swivel chair, biting her lip and playing with the ring on her finger.
"Look, I'm just going to cut the edges, ok? It's not a total makeover, so you don't have to look so terrified," Miles said as he picked up the scissors.
"May I ask you a personal question?"
"That depends on the question."
"Do you cut your own hair?" Maggie asked, eyeing him dubiously. Behind him, Bass, Danny and Charlie started to giggle.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Miles asked, affronted.
"It means your hair looks like Cousin Itt," Bass snickered. "Sometimes I'm worried it'll go down the hall in the middle of the night and kill me in my sleep."
"Oh, shut up."
"He's right, Uncle Miles," Charlie said sweetly. "It's definitely got a life of its own, we even named it."
"And to answer your question, no he doesn't cut his own hair," Bass told Maggie breezily. "I cut his hair, when he lets me, which is the real problem. But don't worry, you're in good hands, Miles is very good with sharp objects and he cuts Charlie's hair." He indicated Charlie, who flipped her hair and struck a pose.
"You guys are all hilarious," Miles groused. "And lady, it's really not a good idea to offend the guy with scissors who's about to go to town on your hair."
"I apologize," Maggie said earnestly. "I'm not myself lately, I'm normally more polite and tactful. I... I'm just going through some personal things right now," she rolled her ring with her fingers, before she settled her hands in her lap.
"Marital problems?" Miles guessed. At her questioning look, he added: "You keep playing with your ring, it's kind of a dead giveaway."
"Yes, well, I suppose my hair isn't the only change I'm currently going through," she said with a sad half grin.
"Or maybe it's why you need a new look," Charlie piped in from the couch, going through a catalogue. "Uncle Miles can relate; he's growing his hair out in mourning over breaking up with his girlfriend."
"Charlie!" Miles rebuked.
"Sorry," she said with a small smile. "But you two have a lot you could talk about."
"Ignore the unruly lackeys," Miles said gruffly, as he picked up the scissors again. "Let's get this show on the road." He worked mostly in silence, trimming the frayed ends and then started to style her hair, putting up strands with pins, with a few helpful suggestions from Bass. In the end Maggie sat in front of the mirror, examining her hair closely, before a rare smile bloomed on her face.
"It's beautiful, thank you," she told Miles sincerely.
"Just doing my job," Miles shrugged.
"How long is the conference?" Bass asked conversationally, after sharing a significant look with Charlie.
"Three days," Maggie answered. "Then I have to get back to England and my kids."
"Well, feel free to drop by afterwards and tell us how it went," Bass said, glancing at Miles. "Just so we know if the new you was a success."
"If I have the time, I'll be sure to do that," Maggie said, gathering her things. She paid and waved a final goodbye, before exiting the salon.
"What's with you guys?" Miles asked Charlie and Bass, once Maggie was out of earshot.
"What's wrong with us? What's wrong with you?" Charlie asked him. "You guys were flirting-"
"What? No we weren't."
"You were bickering, which is like a twelve year old's version of flirting," Bass commented.
"She's single, you're single…" Charlie said with a suggested eyebrow raise and a grin.
"She's married, got kids and she's not local," Miles listed. "So, not an option."
"But you thought of it," Bass said pointedly. "Look, nobody's saying you go to Vegas and get hitched, but her marriage is clearly over- she needs to get back to her kids, not her husband and she's looking for a makeover- a little bit of rebound fling never hurt anybody."
"I am not discussing my love life with your guys," Miles shook his head.
"That's because you don't have one," Bass argued. "Ever since Nora dumped you, you've been moping around, when what you really need to do, is get yourself out there and find someone new. Hell, you couldn't even go to your apartment and pick up your shit, you sent me there."
"That's because Mia threatened to cast- kill me if I ever came near her sister again," Miles said with a wince.
"You’ve met Mia."
"Point taken. Still, not that we mind having you crashing with us, Shelly likes you-"
"She tolerates me."
"-She likes it when you clean the house as gratitude for her awesome hospitality, not so much when you're passed out drunk on the couch."
"I'll be out of your hair soon," Miles promised. "I'm looking at apartments, shouldn't take me too long to find something."
"That's not the point," Bass sighed. "Look, you're my brother and you've been there for me when- when my family died," Bass winced slightly at that memory. "So I have no problem with you crashing for a while, it's the least I could do, I just want you to be…"
"What- happy?" Miles said with a sardonic grin. "Look at you- one serious relationship and a baby on the way and you've turn into a mushy, touchy-feely sap."
"Screw you, Miles," Bass rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean, stop being such a dick."
"Yeah, ok, you're right," Miles admitted. "And I will, but not with her, she deserves better."
"We'll leave your self-worth issues for another time," Bass shook his head. "Right now we have more important things to deal with."
"What?" Miles asked suspiciously, as he saw Bass, Charlie and Danny sharing look.
"You're getting a haircut," Bass told him ominously. "Charlie- block the door, Danny- grab the broom and if he tries something, you have my permission to whack him." Miles rolled his eyes and sighed as the two played their parts, their faces serious, but their eyes twinkling.
"Fine," Miles gave up and plopped himself on the hair washing chair. Danny walked over with a victorious grin on his face and popped her knuckles. "Laugh it up kiddo, but you're next." Miles promised and grinned mirthlessly at Danny's panicked expression.