Clara stared at the razor blade in her hand. She tilted it to the side, letting it catch the morning sun streaming through the window. The edge wasn’t particularly sharp. She could run it along her hand and not break her skin. Nothing like when she’d picked up one over-sharpened by an enthusiastic fellow apprentice. She’d learned her lesson about trust when it came to razor blades early on, and she had the scar to prove it.
Clipping the blade into her belt, followed by her scissors, she was ready for the day, but Lemon Tree Bay didn’t appear ready for her. The salon was empty. Ten o’clock Friday morning, the Andretti salon in Double Bay would be heaving with wealthy and beautiful patrons, sipping expensive coffee, listening to carefully curated playlists, and telling their stylists their concerns like a form of complementary therapy provided with the expensive haircut, scalp massage, and colour treatment. Lemon Tree Bay on the other hand? Sleepy Hollow. Clara hadn’t had a customer all morning, and her first wasn’t expected for at least an hour. Was there anything else she could do? The hair care product inventory was up-to-date, the tiles had been mopped, the dog-eared gossip magazines had been stacked, and the fraying towels had been washed.
The bell on the door chimed, a merry jingle-jangle echoing through the salon. She turned to find a man in the doorway, bathed in the golden morning haze.
“Are you open?” He arched his brows, a hopeful smile on his attractive face.
“We are.” She ran an eye up and down his suit. Trendy and expensive-looking, it fitted perfectly on his broad shoulders, but he was completely out of place. Few people wore suits in Lemon Tree Bay, especially during the humid summer. Most of the blokes she knew around here didn’t own a tie, let alone the skills to construct a perfect Windsor knot like the one nestled against this man’s crisp, white-collar.
“Do you have time for a trim?” He ran his hand through his dark, carefully styled hair.
“Sure, come through.” She gestured towards a chair. “I’m Clara. Welcome to Wave Length.” Her jaw clenched into a grimace at the lousy pun name of the salon.
“Lucas.” He smiled, revealing a neat row of white, bright teeth that instantly elevated his looks from nice looking to handsome. As he sat, she threw a cape over his shoulders to protect the expensive-looking fabric of his suit and royal-blue silk tie.
“I’ve not seen you around town,” she said.
Removing his glasses, he perched them on the counter before him. “I’m visiting for a few weeks to help my uncle.” He straightened the glasses to a perfect angle, so precise as if he’d nipped down the road and grabbed a leveller from the hardware store.
“Who’s your uncle?” Clara inspected his face. She’d only recently returned to Lemon Tree Bay, but she knew most people and their family trees. Lucas had a straight nose, a defined jaw, and long dark lashes. She couldn’t place him, or any associated gene pool. She’d have remembered someone as gorgeous as him.
“Hugo Rivers,” he answered.
“The same Hugo Rivers who owns the accounting practice?”
“The one and only.”
“Ah. There we go.” Hugo did books for most of the local shops and businesses. Rivers & Associates sponsored the Maths prize at the high school and the Christmas carols in the park. She didn’t know him well, but like so many locals, he was part of the town’s fabric.
After confirming how Lucas wanted his hair cut, she set about trimming. “What are you helping Hugo with?”
Lucas cleared his throat. “He’s selling his firm. I’m an accountant as well, and I’m here to help him prepare the business for sale.”
“That’s the end of an era. He’s had that office since I was a child.” She paused. There was something familiar about the scent of his hair. Rosemary? Did he use a shampoo brand she was familiar with, perhaps?
“Oh, did you grow up around here?” Lucas asked.
“I did.” She leaned back and inspected the section she’d already cut.
“Nice spot. It’s the first time I’ve been here.”
She glanced up at Lucas’s reflection in the mirror. “You’ve not visited Hugo before?”
“No.” He looked towards the street. His shoulders straightened and his neck stiffened. Lucas appeared to be in his late twenties, and he’d never visited his uncle? Perhaps they weren’t a close family. “The surfing is quite good, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Do you surf?” This was doubtful. Surfers, by nature, were nowhere near as tightly wound as this guy. He’d be knocked over on the first wave. Her ex-boyfriend, Adam had always said surfers should be “rubbery” when on the board. Lucas wasn’t “rubbery”. He was tense.
“No. I play tennis. Is there a court around here I could get a game?”
“The tennis club on Seaside Street should be able to help you.” As she leaned in, the familiar smell of rosemary and cedarwood bark once again tickled her nose. It was unmistakable. “Do you usually get your hair cut at an Andretti salon?”
He glanced up, his mouth twisting into a surprised smile. “Yes. How do you know that?”
She continued to trim. “I did my apprenticeship with Andretti. I could smell the rosemary in the hair serum. It’s their top-secret formula.” Only sold in Andretti salons. At a huge cost.
“Did you do your apprenticeship in Melbourne?” He looked impressed. Of course, he was. He’d paid an exorbitant Andretti bill.
“No, in Sydney, when he expanded the brand there.” The blow-dried, fake-tanned Alberto Andretti owned a hair and beauty empire stretching to a dozen salons in Australia’s most exclusive locations, making him the hottest and most famous hairdresser in the country.
“He has quite the business empire. Err…what made you come here?” Lucas furrowed his brow.
Clara understood his confusion. Not many of Andretti’s glamorous and highly skilled former employees ended up in tiny, poorly lit salons with peeling paint, in remote, surfy towns like Lemon Tree Bay. “I wanted to be near my mum.” She brushed loose hair off his collar and removed the cape with a flourish. “You’re all done.”
“Thanks.” He returned his glasses to his nose and ran a hand through his hair. “This is great. What do I owe you?” He stood, and removed his wallet from his pocket.
“Thirty.” She gestured towards the counter.
He raised his eyebrows and held out a platinum-coloured credit card. “It would be triple that at Andretti on Collins Street.”
She tapped his card against the machine. The bars indicating Wi-fi strength flickered valiantly, as if summoning up as much energy as it could to find the town’s crummy internet signal. “Well, as an accountant, you’d recognise we have somewhat lower overheads here. No fancy coffee or herds of apprentices to sweep up hair.” A shrill beep sounded, and she handed him back his card.
“Labour costs, utilities and incidentals all add up.” He slotted the card inside a fawn-coloured leather wallet, which was impeccably laid out with licenses and cards in careful rows. No faded receipts or tatty post-it notes lived in there, unlike her own messy purse.
“Do you want me to book another appointment for you? As you can see, we’re run off our feet here, so I recommend booking early!” She waved around the empty salon, to which he gave an unexpected, but gorgeous smile.
She returned his smile. His was a natural grin that couldn’t be denied. It was hard not to beam back when good-looking people smiled at you. It was as if they were bestowing you with a gift that must be reciprocated. It was the law of good-lookingness.
“I don’t know if I’ll need another appointment.” His eyes dimmed in response. “I probably won’t be in town for that long.”
“I hope you can sort everything out with Hugo’s firm while you’re here,” she said.
He placed his hand on the door handle, then turned back to face her, swallowing. “Where’s a good place to get a drink around here?”
Heat spread across her cheeks. Was he asking her out, or simply in need of somewhere to loosen that heavily starched collar on a Friday night? “The Lemon Tree Bay Hotel is good. A lot of locals go there. Balcony Bar is popular with the in-crowd and the cashed-up tourists.”
“Which one do you prefer?” he asked.
“Neither. I mean Balcony Bar is nice to eat at for a special occasion, but it feels too formal for every day. I like Esmeralda’s. It’s near the beach. Casual, sort of surfie. They have great music and awesome fish tacos. Don’t be put off by the outside; it’s a bit run down, but it has the best views.”
He cleared his throat. “Could I buy you a drink there this weekend?”
It had been a long time since she’d been on a date. There’d been endless other things to occupy space in her brain recently, but maybe this was exactly what she needed. And why not with Lucas? Guys this impeccable looking didn’t wander into her salon every day. “I’d like that. I’m free tomorrow night.” She removed a card from a plastic holder on the counter. “My mobile number is on this.”
“Great. I’ll give you a call to confirm the details.” He took the card and smiled as he slipped it into his pocket. Maybe he wasn’t as uptight as she’d thought. With all that grinning, he appeared far more relaxed than when he’d walked in. He was even gazing at the round jar of red, handmade lollipops. His lips curled into a boyish, whimsical grin. “May I?” He tapped the lid of the container.
“Of course. Enjoy!”
He removed one of the lollipops. “Thanks. These remind me of when I was a kid.” He inspected it carefully, turning it over in his hand. “I can't think where I’ve seen them before.”
“There’s a lolly shop a few doors down. They make them on the premises.”
“Ah. Well, thanks again, and I’ll call you later.” Butterflies hurtled through her stomach as he left.
She leaned on the counter and bit her lip as he walked up Pelican Parade towards the accounting firm, admiring his broad shoulders. As she mentally selected an outfit for their date, the phone rang, so she answered it then booked a client appointment.
Returning the phone to its cradle, a mobile phone in a leather case was perched next to her appointment book. She frowned. Lucas must have put it down when he became nostalgic about the lollipop. She ran her fingernail along the length of her appointment book. There was plenty of time to return the phone before her next client arrived.
Slipping the phone into the pocket of her fitted, black work trousers, she then placed the ‘back in ten minutes’ sign out, locked the door, and walked towards Hugo’s office.
Tourists with shopping bags, locals chatting in small groups and surfers hauling their boards back from the water lined the streets. Clara weaved her way through them, including a family carrying toy buckets and spades to the beach, children dressed in bright coloured bathers trailing behind. Clara pushed back some strands of hair to allow the rays of sunshine to warm her face as she continued past the rows of shops on Pelican Parade, the main street in their cosy seaside town situated halfway between Melbourne and Sydney. The varied boutiques and eateries catered for the local surfer and retiree crowd, plus the chaotic tourist market, which was starting to quell after a busy January as the holiday season drew to a close.
She turned her head at the soft jangle of the wind chime tied to the veranda of Moon Magic, her mother’s shop on the opposite side of the street. Mum read tarot cards and palms. Lemon Tree Bay, with its beachy, hippie, laid-back nature was the sort of place where people liked to embrace their inner spiritualism, and were also prepared to pay for some extra enlightenment to take back with them to the suburbs and cities. Reaching the door of the Rivers & Associates accounting firm, she rested her hand on the heavy, metal doorknob, which had been warmed by the sun. A group of seagulls fought over an abandoned bread roll near the front step, squawking as they battled for the prize.
She pushed the door open then she stepped inside the office, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. Few lights were on and most of the blinds were closed. A phone sat silently on a desk, a red light flashing to indicate messages had been left. A pile of manila folders, neat and untouched were perched next to a blank computer screen. Was the firm closed for the day?
Clara glanced over her shoulder—the front door had been unlocked, suggesting they were open for business, and the air-conditioner was pumping cool air through the foyer. But where was Lucas, or Hugo or anyone else who worked here?
“Lucas?” she called, her voice echoing off the walls. “Are you here?” She bounced on her heels on the grey carpet, and when no one answered, she tentatively moved across the room, then peered down the hallway.
Gasping, she covered her mouth with her hand and stopped in her tracks as Lucas stood with his head in his hands over Hugo’s motionless body.