After Kim and I returned to the shop, she produced a dummy head and began to go over haircutting techniques. I watched in amazement as she quickly worked her way around the whole head.
"You do it so fast," I said. She laughed.
"Years of practice. You'll get there. You've got great fingers."
I held up my hand in surprise. "I do?"
"They're actually pianist fingers," Kim said with a smile. "I almost hate to see them covered in band-aids."
I laughed. "Why would they be covered in bandaids?"
Kim wielded her scissors. "Do you know how sharp these are? These are five hundred dollar scissors."
My eyes widened. "Really?"
"They take forever to grow dull," Kim explained. "They make a good weapon, too."
I must have looked shocked because she gave me a good-natured wink.
"Not that I know personally."
I blushed. "Right."
She turned her slender wrist as she finished up the sides of the cute bob she was creating. She clicked her tongue.
"It's quitting time for you."
Kim put her scissors down, shaking out her fingers. "Time flies when you're having fun."
"I know," I said enthusiastically. "It really was fun."
Her eyes sparkled. "Good to hear. So we'll see you the day after tomorrow?"
"Absolutely," I said. "Are we going back to where we were today?"
Kim shook her head. "No, we'll be going to a nursing home next time. We go to the rehab center once a week on Mondays."
I don't know why, but that news saddened me. Cole flashed before my mind, but I pushed him to the back of my mind.
"Sounds good," I said with a smile. I grabbed my purse. "Thank you for everything."
Kim waved her hand. "No problem. I love corrupting new minds."
I smiled. "I don't know if I'm corruptable," I admitted.
Kim tilted her head. "Everyone's corruptable," she said seriously. "It's just finding an opening."
I shivered slightly. I didn't know if I liked the sound of that. Kim's easy smile returned.
"See ya, kiddo."
I let out a breath. "See ya."
Kevin and Joe were waiting for me outside the building. The truck was a new test hybrid, but it made all the noise of a regular truck. Kevin had his tanned arms propped against the steering wheel. When he saw me, he leaned over and opened the passenger door.
"Hey Ally," he said. I smiled. "He--woah."
My eyes had caught sight of the truck bed. A mountain of wood and bags of sand were piled back there. In the middle of it all was Joe, holding on to two boards and scowling. He had a gash above his eye.
"What happened to you?" I asked, forgetting completely about actually hopping into the truck.
"Child abuse," Joe said seriously. I jumped as Kev's fist hit the window. Joe swiveled around.
"You know the rule about lying."
Joe sighed. He turned back to me. I could tell he was a second from exploding. "I didn't duck when Kevin told me to duck and I got hit by the corner of a f--" he stopped, swallowing the word. "I got hit by the corner of a board."
"Are you okay?"
Joe squatted down. His pants were so baggy they were practically falling off him. "I'll live."
"Can you get in okay, Ally?" Kevin asked. I nodded. It took some maneuvering and the held of a thick handle above the door, but I swung myself in. Kevin put the truck into drive and took off as I closed the door.
"We're making a quick stop," he said.
Kevin's mouth twitched. "We need to get your brother a belt."
Our shopping destination of choice was Sadieville's Wal-mart. Joe walked next to me, slouched over and looking side to side as if someone might recognize him. Kevin walked ahead of us, heading straight towards men's apparel.
"He's crazy," Joe muttered out of the side of his mouth. "I got a leg cramp and he kept tossing damn boards at me."
Joe looked exhausted. Staring at the gash, I felt a pang of sympathy.
"If you just listen to him for a little while, I'm sure he'll let up on you," I whispered. Joe snorted.
"He's out for blood." He ran a hand through his hair. "What did you do at that girly place all day?"
I started to tell him about the trip of the rehab center and Cole, but we reached the belts and an argument immediately erupted.
"A geek would wear those," Joe said as Kevin held up three belts.
"It's not like you're going to Fashion Week in Paris," Kevin said impatiently. "You just need something to keep those pants up."
"My pants haven't fallen down yet, have they?"
They glared at each other. My eyes scanned the pillar of belts. I snagged one and held it up.
"What about this one?"
The belt I held in my hand was black leather. Imprinted all along the band were vibrant red tongues and pure white skulls. Joe smiled.
"Yeah, that will be perfect while you mix concrete," Kevin said. He wasn't amused. "Maybe I should get one too. That way we'll match."
Joe's face turned red and I was suddenly reminded of our family trips to the grocery store when we were both only about three of four. Dad always pushed me in one cart; mom in the other. Shelby would dart between the carts and see which one held the donut box. Then, when mom and dad were busy discussing what cereal to buy, she would sneak a donut out and smear the icing all over her face. I remember thinking it was hilarious, but Joe, the sugar-holic, had a major meltdown because she wouldn't share.
Luckily, before Joe could smash anything or make another run for it, Kevin's cellphone rang. He fished it out of his pocket and walked a few feet away. Joe looked at me and clutched the belt a little tighter.
"I'm going to die here Al."
"You're being dramatic," I said quietly.
Joe shook his head. "I can't do this. My hands are shaking. I need a cigarette. I need something."
I pressed my cheek against his shoulder. "That's exactly how dad probably feels right now."
"This is all dad's fault."
I lifted my head and closed my eyes. Joe's pessimism was getting to me; my good day was being dampered.
"I like your belt."
I opened my eyes. A boy around Joe's age wearing a baseball hat and overalls (overalls!) was studying the belt appreciately. Joe quickly hung it back up.
"It's all yours."
Before the boy could say anything else, Joe picked one of the belts Kevin had offered. He walked over to Kevin and tapped him hard on the shoulder; Kevin closed his phone.
"Yeah, whatever. Let's just go."
We had to pass the boy on the way out of the department. He hooked his thumbs in the overall and smiled again. His voice was still soft as if puberty had all but forgotten him.
"Have a nice day."
I smiled, but Joe tucked his head to his chest and sped up.
I couldn't help but think that Joe was lucky he hadn't lived about forty years ago. With the way he was acting, that belt wouldn't have been bought for his waist.
It would have been bought for his backside.