Artemis pulled up to the salon forty-five minutes after her first appointment.
“Shit,” she said for the fifth time that morning.
“Mom, I don’t wanna go to your work!”
Artemis twisted in her seat to face her son in the back. “You shut the hell up,” she hissed. “You’re the reason why I’m late, you little shit.”
“But I don’t wanna––”
“I don’t care what you do or don’t wanna do.” A tendril of red-dyed hair fell over her right eye. A strand coiled under her eyelid as she tried to blink it away with her false lashes. “Now you listen to me.” With a hand that had lime-green painted claws, she swiped the hair out of her eye. “You’re goin with me to work today, and you’re goin to behave yourself.”
“But I don’t wanna miss school.”
She let her long legs out of the car. “Yeah, well, that’s what you get for makin me late.”
The car door slammed with an unsatisfactory whap. Instead of waiting for him to get out of the car, she headed into the salon.
“Artemis, is everything okay?”
“Find, Gene. Fine.”
Quietly, Gene said, “You still have a curler in your hair.”
She reached behind her head and felt a curler tangled within her rat’s nest. Fingering it out with both hands, she said, “Can you make sure Vince gets out of the car for me, please?”
Gene looked out at the car like Artemis was joking. When she realized she wasn’t, she asked, “Why isn’t he at school? Is he sick?”
Christina, filing her nails, swiveled in her chair. “Oh, I can’t get sick. My sister’s comin tomorrow and I can’t get sick. Nuh-uh.”
Artemis threw the curler and a few strands of hair on her counter. “Vince isn’t sick,” she assured. “Where’s my chips?” She searched through her drawers and found a half-eaten bag of potato chips. “Amanda, did my first appointment show?”
An obese woman painting another’s nails answered, “Yeah, she waited around for about fifteen minutes and left. Wasn’t too happy, either.”
“No shit, she wasn’t.”
That was a new client, and new clients were as good as gold to her ever since Gerry skipped town.
“She tried calling,” Amanda said, breathing in the fumes of the red polish, sweating even though it was sixty-five degrees in here.
Artemis plopped in her chair. “I wasn’t home.”
The bell clanged as the door opened. Vince held a firetruck and three green army men to his chest and had his backpack slung over one shoulder. There were fresh tears in his eyes, his cheeks flushed.
Artemis felt pity, love, and anger looking at him. “Stop mopin around,” she said, arms crossed. “I’ll take you to school after lunch.”
His bottom lip quivered as he sat down at one of the cushioned chairs in the waiting area. The girls patted him on the arm, gave him tissues, and made him hot chocolate.
Artemis didn’t know what she was going to do if she didn’t build up her clientele soon. She resisted the urge to call her first appointment to apologize and reschedule, telling herself she wasn’t that desperate yet.
Vince pulled out a math book and worked on unfinished homework. Christina sat next to him, still filing her nails.
“What’s that you got there? Math?”
She could barely hear him. “What are you on now?”
She made her eyes big. “That’s too much for me. I never liked fractions. How are you liking school?”
He sniffed. She noticed a few wrong answers but didn’t correct him.
“Not so bad,” he said. “I’m the biggest kid in my class.”
“I bet you are.” She glanced at Artemis and saw her glaring their way. As she wrapped her second appointment’s frizzy hair in foil, eating a chip in between, guilt crept into her stomach, irritating her ulcer.
Vince was also glaring, but at his math homework. Artemis knew who he was mad at, why he was glaring. She also knew that he could snap Christina in half if he was mad enough.
He went on glaring at this homework, even after Christina left. Artemis felt his anger change once he closed his math book and picked up his firetruck. His anger scared her in its unpredictability. Watching him in the mirror, highlighting this woman’s frizzy hair two shades lighter than she asked, satisfying her hunger, fear overtook her guilt.