Arthur Burton stepped away from the printer and up to his computer. He’d been told using the standing desk was better for his figure. Standing all day wasn’t fun and by the end of his shift, all he wanted to do was sit down. Oh well. All in a day’s work, right? He’d completed his workout before he’d arrived at the office, so at least he’d burned off calories.
He stared at the notification on his computer. One new review. Despite his better judgment to delete the notification, he looked. He prided himself on doing good business and being the best insurance salesman in Norville. He groaned. This review wasn’t positive. The wording was downright negative and mean. He cringed—he wanted to do right for people who came to his office.
A dull throb started behind his eyes. He sold insurance for a living, which made him the butt of jokes in the dating world. For some reason, guys didn’t see him as a sexy man. They saw him as trying to sell them something. He might have been a personable man, but he was lonely. He’d dated a few times and thought he’d found love in college, but no. Kevin wasn’t in it for the long-term. Kevin wanted to play around and hadn’t loved Arthur in return. He’d also said Arthur should go by his middle name, Lee. Why? He liked his first name.
He’d been told he was too sensitive. He cared too much about what others said and having the correct appearance. The business was his livelihood. If he didn’t keep it going and thriving, then he’d lose everything he’d worked for.
“Boss.” Kathy, his secretary and one of his few friends, rested her knuckles on his desk. “Wow. Okay. First, you need to close that tab. You’re not going to please everyone. Second, I remember the person who wrote that review.”
“She claims I didn’t pay attention to her. I didn’t correctly create her quote.” He rubbed his forehead. “I think I remember her, too. It was for a truck she wanted covered that she owed money on. She wanted minimum coverage and we can’t offer that if she has a loan on it.”
“Right.” She closed the tab on his computer. “She’s upset over something we can’t change.”
“Maybe.” One bad review wouldn’t kill his business, but he didn’t want any negativity like this. He strove to fix all problems and make them right. He couldn’t fix this. He sighed. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I need to let this go.” He needed to remember not everyone would be happy.
“I know you try to make everyone happy and most of the time, it works. You’re a good man and you work hard, but some people can’t be placated. Besides, you’re going to give yourself an ulcer.” She leaned forward and stared at him. “You also seem to have forgotten you’ve got an appointment at Dye Hard Style in half an hour.”
“I do?” She was right—he didn’t remember the appointment. “In thirty minutes?”
“Yes.” She stood tall. “And it sounds like you need to have a chat with James.”
“Why?” Normally, his secretary didn’t get this involved in his life, but she did care about him, so he should listen to her. “What do you think?”
“You need to get laid.” She shrugged. “You need to see James to have him work his magic on your hair and your love life. I also believe you need to relax. You keep yourself so buttoned-up and proper—so much that you’ll make yourself sick. Stop doing that.”
“I need to stay business-like.”
“I know.” She rested her hands on her hips. “But there’s a difference between being professional and being an automaton. You have so much personality and you hide it. You don’t even wear crazy socks or ties. Doesn’t bland blue and brown get boring?”
Yes. “No.” He groaned. “People expect me to be a certain way. I can’t get silly.”
She rolled her eyes. “There’s silly and there’s ridiculous. You’ve never been ridiculous. That said, wearing argyle socks or a patterned tie won’t make you look silly.”
“I’ll think about what you’ve just said.” He rounded his desk. He wanted to say more, but he wasn’t sure how. She’d made her point—a good one, too. “I’ll head over to Dye Hard. Thanks.”
“Good.” She sighed. “I’ll prod you toward the right direction, but you need to get moving.”
“Thanks.” He needed all the help he could get. He watched her leave his office. If he were into women, he might have tried to make a play for her. But he wasn’t. He preferred men. The tattooed, purple-haired woman didn’t fit into his visual ideal of a secretary, but Kathy did her job well. Despite her ink, piercings and wild-colored hair, she managed to look professional. He admired her freedom and confidence. She looked happy and didn’t seem to care what others thought. He needed more of that confidence in his life.
He ensured he had his keys, wallet and phone tucked into his suit coat, then turned his computer screen off. “Kath?”
“Yes, sir?” She appeared in his doorway. “What’s up?”
“I’m going over to the salon. Maybe James is running ahead.”
She snorted. “That’s not going to happen, but you know that and should still get moving. The fresh air on the walk will do you good. Might even help you clear your mind.”
“You’re right.” He glanced back at his desk, then left his office. “I’ll return as soon as I can.”
“I’ll hold down the fort.” She clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ve got this.”
“I know you do.” He trusted her more than she knew. If she were licensed, he’d make her his co-agent. “I’ll be back.”
“See you.” She waved. “Come back sexy.”
He laughed. “I doubt that’ll happen.” But he could let James try. He left the office and walked the three blocks to Dye Hard Style.
Along the way, he drank in the views of Norville. His hometown wasn’t a big one. Norville had a state-of-the-art softball complex for the girls’ softball teams, wonderful parks and a pretty circle in the center of town, but not much else. The townsfolk alternatively loved and hated the roundabout. The statue at the center of the circle was supposed to be the image of the town founder, Clarence Norville, but the nose had long broken off and one arm had been damaged in a windstorm. People claimed the statue was the spirit of Norville, rather than any one person.
Spirit aside, nothing much happened in Norville. The festivals were long gone and people tended to gather for the yearly softball tournaments and football seasons. The girls’ softball team dominated each year, often winning at the state events. The high school football team wasn’t so hot, but the players tried and the town was dedicated to the sport.
The one thing the town did have going for it was the architecture. Almost all the buildings along the main drag were over a hundred years old, looked their age, but still managed to be structurally sound and beautiful. All had ornate carving in the brickwork and names embedded at the apex of each. Many featured stone entryways and flower boxes that the business owners lovingly kept full of blossoms all spring and summer. Arthur worked hard to make his storefront shine along with the rest.
The one building that stuck out was the old movie theater. Movies hadn’t been shown there in years, but the neon and chrome on the building still glimmered. The neon was the signature look for the salon that had taken over the building. The concession stand served as the counter for buying hair care products and scheduling appointments. The rest of the room belonged to the styling stations. The auditorium had been turned into an event hall for weddings and social gatherings. He admired the owner’s decision to keep the original façade for the building and worked with the spirit of the space, rather than changing it. The modifications ensured the building was used and appreciated. No one knew the owner, though. If he’d come to the chamber of commerce meetings, Arthur had never seen him.
Everyone in town knew to visit Dye Hard Style. James, the head stylist, did wonders with all sorts of hair. He also knew how to couple people up.
Arthur opened the door to the salon. A scruffy dog trotted in beside him and strode right past the scheduling station. Arthur frowned. Did the dog belong to the owner or James?
“Hi.” Clarke, the receptionist, beckoned from the ticket counter. “Did you bring your pup along? He’s rough around the edges, but cute.”
“He’s not mine. I don’t know him.” He stopped at the counter. “I have an appointment.”
“Arthur.” Clarke grinned. “James is ready for you.”
“He is?” He was early.
“He is.” Clarke frowned and opened the gate. The dog trotted in first and made himself comfortable strolling along the styling stations. Clarke snorted. “Looks like the dog wants a style, too.”
“I guess so. Maybe James knows him.” He ventured over to James’ chair.
James knelt in front of the dog. “You’re back.”
“I just got here.” Arthur petted the dog. “Or do you mean him?”
“Him.” James scratched the dog behind the ears. “He’s shown up every day this week. No tags, no collar. I even asked around and no one has ever seen him before.”
“Maybe he’s adopted you.” Arthur folded his arms. “He might have. Do you want a dog?”
“I never thought about it.” James stood and retrieved a bowl. “I’ve fed him and he gets water.” He filled the bowl with water. “Let me finish here and wash my hands.”
“I bet he adopted you.”
“I think you’re right.” James gestured to the chair. “Now, you’re here for a cut and style.” He washed his hands. “Sit. Do you know what you want? Any ideas for your style? Tell me your troubles. Remember, I’m like Vegas. What’s told to the stylist stays with the stylist.”
Arthur took his place in the chair and waited until he’d donned the cape. “I need to think about anything but the semi-crappy day I’m having.”
“Then let’s polish you, beautiful.” James turned the chair around and tipped it back. “What happened, doll? Why is your day semi-crappy?” He turned on the water, wetting Arthur’s hair.
“It’s silly really.” He loved when someone washed his hair. The act relaxed him. He bit back a sigh as James shampooed him. “I got a bad review and I let it get me down.”
“Oh, honey. We get the odd bad reviews, too. You can’t make everyone happy.” James rinsed Arthur’s hair. “They get a color they begged for but don’t want, or say they want everything cut off then change their mind after the haircut. I can work miracles, but not every one of them will be miraculous.”
“I get it.”
James sat him up and covered his head with a towel. “So, forget the review, honey. Focus on what you can change.”
“I’ll keep doing my job, then.” That sounded easy enough.
“Then there you go.” James turned him around to face the mirror. “So, what are we doing?”
“A trim and polish. Just neaten me up.” His heart sank. He was too buttoned-up already and not getting out of his comfort zone wasn’t helping much.
James stared at him through the reflection in the mirror. “May I try something? It won’t be too drastic, but I want to try a slightly different look for you.”
James had the ability to style individuals to make their uniqueness shine. If he had an idea for Arthur, who was he to argue? “Okay.”
“Yeah?” James grinned. The piercing in his bottom lip sparkled. “You’re sure?”
“I am.” He needed something. This could be the small change required.
“Good.” James combed Arthur’s wet hair. “Why do you look so lonely and sad, doll? Not because of that review? Talk to me.”
He kept so much bottled up. If he couldn’t tell his stylist, who could he tell? “Because I am lonely.”
“Why? You’re handsome, have your own business, are smart…” James parted Arthur’s hair, then began trimming. “What’s not to like about you?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t give myself the chance to look for guys, that’s one thing.” He cringed. “That sounds doofy.”
“No, you sound scared and like you need a little help.” James continued cutting. “You need a matchmaker.”
“I do.” He shouldn’t have admitted that out loud, but oh well.
“What do you want in a guy?” James asked.
He sighed, buying himself some time to think. “I want a man who is kind, considerate, who will work with me and make me better. A partner. I want a guy who isn’t afraid to date an insurance agent. Someone who sees beyond the shell and won’t let me get complacent.”
“And looks?” James stared at their reflection. He narrowed his eyes, then resumed cutting. “You must have a type.”
“Not really. I like guys based on their attitude and ability to empathize. It’s about being drawn to the man,” Arthur said. “You know? If there’s a spark when we’re talking, then that’s the thing. If there isn’t, then I don’t bother.”
“I do.” James finished cutting, then combed Arthur’s hair. “Sometimes, you just know the guy is right.”
“Yes.” That was it exactly.
James stopped touching Arthur. “Well…try this.” He turned Arthur away from the mirror, then finger-combed Arthur’s hair. “Okay, this.” He swiveled Arthur back to face the mirror. “Well?”
Arthur stared at himself. He looked like him, but the haircut with his part on the left looked more correct. It accentuated his eyes and appeared professional. “That’s awesome.”
“Yeah?” James plunged the comb into the blue solution and his scissors into the sink. He wiped his hands. “About your dating situation…go to Club Jester on Friday at nine. Dress like you, but be casual. I want you to meet my friend, Summer Rain.”
“A girl?” He’d never heard of anyone named Summer Rain.
“No, he’s a guy.” James removed the cape. “A great guy who ticks your boxes.”
“Named Summer Rain?” It seemed like an odd moniker for a man.
“Yes, and trust me. I have the golden touch.” James picked up a tablet. “Do you want a two-month appointment or six weeks?”
“Six weeks.” He set up his next slot with James, then offered his credit card to pay. “You said nine on Friday night?”
“Yes. Club Jester. His name is Summer Rain. It’ll be great.” James swiped the card. “If you don’t hit it off, then the next appointment is on me.”
He had nothing to lose. “Okay.”
“You’ll be meeting your destiny.” James handed him back the card. “Plus, you look fierce. Any man would be nuts to pass you up.”
He wasn’t sure he believed James, but why not? “You’re right.”
“I know I am.” James winked. “Feel better?”
“I do.” Almost like he could conquer the world. He handed James a twenty as a tip.
“Then there we go. Thank you and I’ll see you in six weeks.” James grinned. “Maybe I’ll have named the dog by then.”
“I’ll bet you do.” Maybe he’d find love by then, too. It couldn't hurt to try.