Lucy And Sarah

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Lucy DeCourtney was halfway through the trim when she started to get the feeling something was wrong. She paused, frowning.

"What's wrong, Miz Lucy?" inquired her client, the venerable Sarah Jones.

"Oh, probably nothin'," said Lucy, but she didn't sound convinced. "Is this about the cut you wanted, Mrs. Jones?"

Sarah smiled, teeth brilliantly white in a face as black as coal, and spoke. Her voice was soft and low and, like Lucy's, had the traces of an accent from speaking French as a young girl long ago. "Like always, Miz Lucy, you knew jus' what I wanted. You good like that, you know."

Lucy smiled. "Yeah. 'Course it doesn't hurt that I've been doing your hair for ten years, either."

Sarah laughed. "First time I came in here I was thinking I must be crazy, 'cause no white lady hairdresser was gonna understand how to do black lady hair. But Ginny had just retired, and I was right outside, and your daughter Rose, she just smiled at me and opened the door, and she said to me you'd know just what I wanted and just how to treat my hair, and she was right."

"Funny about that," said the tall redhead, grinning. "Rose always had a way of knowing things."

"Well, yes," said Sarah. "Kind of a sensitive child. I always thought your daughter was, you know, there somehow in a way most kids ain't. Always one step ahead of you wherever you were going. She reminded me of some of those old Vodun ladies - not the ones, you know, that live in N'Orleans and advertise or work for the tourists, but the old ladies out in the small towns and bayous who always just - well - who just ... know." She gave a dry chuckle. "But I'm talkin' too much. I always liked your Rose."

"Yeah, I know," said Lucy. "I tried to convince her to stay, but she doesn't care for small town life. She moved out to the west coast last year after she graduated from Louisiana State. She always had her own ideas." Then she added with a rueful laugh, "She takes after her mom that way, I guess." The wrong feeling was getting stronger. She tried to ignore it.

With a dozen deft cuts and a few strokes of a long-toothed comb, she put the finishing touches on Mrs. Jones' hair. "There you go, Mrs. Jones. Just like you wanted it. You headin' into N'Orleans today to see your Estelle?"

But Sarah Jones was not looking at herself in the mirror, she was looking at Lucy. "Miz Lucy, you got my hair perfect like always. But I been comin' in here ten years, and I ain't never seen that look on your face. What's wrong?"

"I ... I don't know," said Lucy. "It's just a feeling...."

"It's about your Rose, ain't it," said Sarah. Lucy was floored by her sudden directness. It wasn't a question at all.

"I.... " She shut her mouth, realizing that Mrs. Jones was right.

Suddenly the moment that felt like lightning striking was gone, and Sarah smiled a kind, sympathetic smile. "Well, when you talk to her, Miz Lucy, you tell her Mrs. Sarah says hello."

Mrs. Sarah got up and left, and Lucy DeCourtney, troubled, swept up around her barber chair. For a moment, she closed her eyes, and then, suddenly, remembered the nightmare that she and her daughter used to have together, years ago. The cruel fairy who would come and take her child away. But ... this was Rose. And Rose could ... Dear God, over fifteen hundred miles away? It would be early morning in California now, the time of deepest dreaming. The poor girl must be really miserable if ... but there was just no way to know, was there?

She went next door to get a cup of coffee and think things over. When she came back, the answering machine gave her Rose's message, but Rose's phone was busy. When she tried again an hour later, she talked to Rose's answering machine. A half hour after that she tried Morey's bookstore, but Rose wasn't there either, and her boss wasn't at all reassuring. Next, she called the San Francisco Police Department. She thought things over, then finally picked up the phone one last time to talk to a travel agent.

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