Please enjoy another snip from Guy Next Door by DL White.
COMING IN JUNE… MAYBE. PROBABLY. LIKELY.
The shop erupted in laughter so loud that, with the background music going, none of us heard the door swing open. It wasn’t until a male voice called out, “Excuse me?” that any of us— Tamera, Leslie or me— noticed someone had come in.
Well, not just someone.
Taj stood at the front of the shop near the door, looking good enough to eat in a thin, long sleeved striped sweater and dark blue jeans slung low on his hips, pooling slightly at the ankles before falling over a pair of spotless white sneakers.
When he said he worked odd hours, he meant it. I hadn’t seen him since I’d moved in. I heard the garage door roll open at various times, mostly well into the evening. He never stopped by to say hello, never popped by for no reason.
Much to my disappointment.
“Hey.” I waved a pair of tweezers at him, catching his attention. “This is a surprise. You want your brows done?”
He smiled, showing off blinding white teeth against cocoa skin. The man must sleep with Crest Strips in. “I heard someone named Tamera gives a great cut. Thought I’d stop in for one.”
Leslie and I pointed at Tamera, whose chair happened to be empty. She propped a hand on her hip and looked him up and down. He didn’t seem disturbed by the scrutiny. “You’re sure you don’t want to be at Guys N’ Dolls, across the lake? They do men’s hair over there.”
“Actually, I went there and the chairs were full and so was the overflow line. The manager said if I wanted a good cut to come over here and ask for Tamera. Are you her?”
“Unh huh. That’s me.” Tamera nodded, her frown beginning to disappear. “ She grabbed one of the new black capes with the bright white Curl & Dye logo and motioned Taj toward her chair. He slid into it and sat back, watching the satin float on air and settle onto his form. “You like anything in particular? You want your goatee touched up, too?”
“Keep it simple,” I heard him answer. “I don’t have time to hit the barbershop every week so I want to keep it looking fresh for a minute. You can hit the chin, too. Line me up some, make it nice.”
“I got you.”
With a flick of a finger, the air filled with the sounds of hair clippers and Janelle Monae. Normally, this would signal another round of salon talk, but the shop was suddenly devoid of chatter. It was so unusual, it made me uncomfortable.
Leslie sent Cara over to the hair dryers and got her set up under a hood. Cara pulled a magazine from her bag to flip through. Or pretend to flip through, because Cara had come to love beauty shop gossip as much as any of us.
“So, you know our Evonne, huh?” Leslie tapped Taj’s thigh and smiled as she passed Tamera’s chair. “What’s your name, young man?”
Taj smiled, obviously holding back laughter. “I don’t know about that young man stuff. From what I hear, you and I aren’t too far apart, age-wise. But my name is Taj. I work over at Lakeside Regional Clinic.”
“Ohhh. Okay.” She nodded, keeping busy with mundane things she didn’t have to do, but did just to stay in his face. “I didn’t realize Doc Moore was bringing in such young blood. What’s your specialty?”
“Like… Cardiology or Pediatrics or Internal Medicine? Or are you a General Practitioner?”
I watched Taj’s facial expression change with his effort to contain a sarcastic comment. I didn’t know him well, but by now I knew what that look meant. I busied myself with cleaning my station and prepping for my next appointment. Angela would be coming in for her regular maintenance ritual— a wash and roller set, round brush blowout, facial, brow threading and mani-pedi. She would be my last client of the day.
“Actually,” he replied, “I’m a Registered Nurse at Lakeside. I did a tour when the clinic was under construction and I was impressed. I applied when they started adding staff.”
“Oh! Well… good.” Leslie’s smile brightened and she wasn’t even pretending to work anymore. She sat in her salon chair and crossed one leg over the other. “So, you live here in town, then? When did you move here? Did your uhm… family move with you? I’ve just never seen you around. You’re not on the basketball league or… anything?”
“I live close to the clinic, that side of town. My family is back in Jacksonville, so it’s just me. I’ve been busy buying my house, then renovating and decorating and getting settled in. And I work as much as I can. I pretty much just… work.”
Taj pressed his lips together, as if that put an end to the discussion. He didn’t know the stylists at the Curl & Dye. A discussion didn’t end until they were ready for it to end.
“Buying a house. Renovating. Mmmhmmm…” Leslie nodded, then turned her head toward me and gave me the silliest grin. I knew exactly what she was doing and if I could have, I’d have been blushing.
Tamera flipped the clippers off, removed a guard and put a different one on, then flipped them on again, this time bending close to his face to fine tune the sharp line of his goatee. “Do not move, or this won’t be right and I’ll have to shave you bald. You can’t walk out of here looking wrong. I have a reputation to uphold.”
“And so… how do you know Evonne?” Leslie pressed.
“The night I fell during that crazy rainstorm? He was my nurse at the clinic. Fixed me right up. ” I showed my bandage- free hand with the tiny scar that couldn’t be seen unless someone was looking for it. Just as he’d promised.
Tamera flipped off the clippers and hung them in their slot, then used a brush to remove loose hairs from his neck. She handed him a mirror so he could inspect her work. It wasn’t anything special or intricate, but it was super sharp.
The way Taj grinned when he saw himself, taking in the view from one side and then the other, he must have agreed.
“I cut it close, so it won’t be out of control in a week. You just come back and see me when you’re ready for a refresh.”
“I think I’ve found my new barber,” said Taj, then gave a nice low whistle. “Unless…” His eyes flicked up to mine and that sarcastic half grin flashed at me. “You make house calls?”
I grabbed a pair of oversized scissors and snipped them in his direction. “Sure! I’ll bring these home and fix you right up.”
The moment those words left my mouth, I knew I’d messed up. Tamera and Leslie exchanged a look between them, but neither said a word. Tamera removed the cape and shook the loose hair from it, then hung it over the back of her chair, lowered the pump and gave Taj a tap on the shoulder.
“Front counter. I’ll ring you up there.” Taj followed her, produced a card when she told him his total and tucked the receipt into his wallet when she handed it to him. He also took an appointment card from Tamera.
As soon as the doors closed and we’d all watched from the window as he climbed into a jet black Mercedes, both Leslie and Tamera wandered over to my station, arms crossed. I glanced around them, hoping the door would swing open and Angela or… anyone would walk in.
Nothing. The door stayed shut and those two stayed in my face and Cara was practically bent over sideways trying to eavesdrop.
“Home?” Tamera asked, one eyebrow cocked high.
“And house calls?” Leslie added. “Something you’re not telling us about Nurse Taj?”
“It’s not what you think.” Nervous for no reason, I grabbed a few items from my cabinet and began setting them out for Angela’s appointment.
“Well, what is it, honey?” Cara called from across the room. “Because it sounds like something delicious.”
“You holding out on us, Evonne?” Tamera asked.
“Because you seemed to know him,” added Leslie. “And he seemed to know you.”
“And just I’m going to ask again, in case you didn’t hear me… home?” asked Tamera.
Caught. Dammit! “Well… you heard him say he’s been buying a house and settling in. Taj is my landlord.”
“Landlord,” Tamera repeated. “Y’all live together?”
“Not exactly. I live adjacent to him. I rent his guest house. We share a garage and there’s an entrance to the house from there. Otherwise it’s a completely separate space.”
I glanced from Tamera’s face to Leslie’s and back. “Seriously! I told y’all I hadn’t met my landlord, and that it was just a company name on the lease—”
“But now it appears that you have,” Tamera interrupted. She slowly turned, heading back to her station. “So is Taj single?”
“I… don’t…” I blinked. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen a woman or another car at the house, so….” I shrugged.
“Mmm…” Leslie hummed, tapping two fingers on her chin. “If he was dating, you’d have seen a woman. She’d come around to mark her territory, make sure you see her, know her. And there’s no way a woman let that man rent to the hotness that is Evonne Girard. At least…”
She sighed, tossing her locs behind her shoulder. “I wouldn’t let Kade do it.”
“And Erik better not form his lips to suggest such a thing,” said Tamera. “I’ll knock that big head clear off.”
Leslie stuck up two fingers, moving them between us, back and forth. “Be sure to keep us posted on important developments. Vonne. And don’t leave anything out. I’ve got my eye on you, little secrets keeper.”
“Developments? He’s my landlord and that’s all.”
“He was giving quite a few lingering glances,” Cara butted in again. “I know an interested man when I see one. Are you sure he’s just your landlord, honey?”
“Look, it’s not my business but I detected a little something with one of the nurses at the clinic, so—”
“See how she deflects when she’s the subject of gossip,” Tamera teased.
“I’m not deflecting!” I argued, laughing. “I just don’t know what the big deal is.”
“The big deal is you were hiding some good gossip and in this town– and this shop, that’s a sin.” Cara closed the magazine she’d never read and tucked it back into her bag. The dryer had shut off, so Leslie motioned for her to move to the shampoo bowl. “Did I ever tell you ladies how I met Garth?”
She settled into the seat and leaned back. “He was my mailman! It was five years of here’s your mail, Ms. Cara, before he got up the nerve to ask for my phone number.”
I was thankful to Cara for taking the heat off of me. I went back to prepping my station and trying to regulate my heartbeat. I hadn’t really thought about Taj since I’d moved in… but now he was on my mind.
And I couldn’t wait to get home.