The young woman with dark auburn locks tucked into an old-fashioned, crocheted hair snood looked out the plate glass window before turning the open sign off and rolling down the security shutters on the front of the building. The interior of the building revealed it to be a small, neighborhood-style hair salon. It is obvious from the posters on the walls and the magazines in the waiting area that it serves both sexes but that night there was only one customer. A man with matted and seemingly unkept ginger hair and beard was sitting in the barber chair.

Stepping behind the chair and meeting the man's eyes in the mirrors she told him, "Come on Love, I think I can fix this; it'll just be a bit of a trim."

"Look Tam, I know you are … are …" Adam Ross, double master in Biochemistry and Forensic Science from NYU, Lab tech at the New York crime lab, and everyone's idea of a nice man and good guy, stared at the mirror and scowled in anger at the mess his hair and beard had become. "Dammit, just do what you can. I'm getting friggin' tired of everyone looking at me."

"Now Love, they're just concerned for you."

Almost angrily he growled, "Well they can stop it. I'm fine."

"Adam, as your long-time friend I am going to claim a privilege to say something that needs saying. Stop pretending. If you're mad, then be it. If you're sad, then be it. Or if you're anything else or a combination of things then allow yourself to show it. Stop holding it all in just because your father didn't know how to manage his emotions or whatever politically correct term they use these days for being a complete and totally abusive ass." Tamara felt somewhat relieved to hear Adam give a snort of capitulation and watch some of the tension leave his shoulders as he leaned back into the chair she used for her best customers.

Adam said, "I'm not pretending."

Tamara rolled her eyes so theatrically Adam couldn't miss it in the mirror where she stood behind the barber's chair. "OK, so you're not pretending … as much as you could. But you still act like you have to protect everyone from your feelings. You're have a right to feel betrayed … and angry … and sad … and any number of things. And your friends – which I count myself one – are not going to shatter. We know we can't fix it for you but we would like to at least be part of whatever will help with what you are going through."

Throwing a hand up in a sort of surrender he said, "So help by doing something with the hair. I've finally given up getting all of the tar out of it. If you have to cut it all off then whatever."

"Well, you're in luck laddie because I'm as fond of all that fur on your face and head as you are and I have an idea. You may not like it however."

"It doesn't matter, just do whatever. I can't stand it anymore. "

Tamara Byrne was really concerned for Adam. They'd met while he was in college and she just barely a teenager and the cousin of one of his roommates' girlfriends. It was an odd story. Jack, the roommate, had a slew of little sisters at home and never minded when his girlfriend Jordon had to drag her young cousin along. Why she was constantly underfoot was part of why he didn't complain, but in general Jack was just a nice guy. But he was always broke. Hair cuts were way down the priority list for what cash he did have … after food and date nights. Since Jordon liked Jack's priorities, but her father hated Jack's unkept look, she had Tamara provide a trim whenever he needed it but made her promise not to rat out the reason to the rest of the family. Tam's mother had been a hair dresser as had several women in her family going back many years. In the same way that her grandfather and great grandfather had been barbers. It was a trade her family had plied since coming to this country in the late 1800s with the boatloads of other Irish immigrants.

Tam was a natural, if there was such a thing, but had never had the ambition to take it much beyond the neighborhood shop that had been in the family for a couple of generations. Being a hairdresser was something she did, a means to an end, it wasn't who she was, even if she was very good at it.

Since being broke was a state that most young men in college existed in, Tamara wound up giving many of Jack's friends a trim at least once or twice. Most didn't want it known that they had a "kid" doing their hair but when Jack brought Adam around – looking lost and incredibly sad – Tamara knew that here was a special case. It turns out that Adam had needed a haircut before going home to bury his beloved grandmother. The next year she was giving him a trim to go back to Arizona, no longer a place he even pretended to call home, to bury his mother. It was to her he came when he had his first job interview out of college. So on and so forth.

Most of the trims she'd given the man over the years had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that his hair grew fast and it grew in every which direction and not just anyone could do a good job of keeping it tamed … or getting Adam to sit still while he got the trim. She wasn't his exclusive hair dresser, though she had been called upon to "fix" his hair a couple of times when he'd gone to people that had no clue how to deal with the thick, ginger mess that seemed to have a mind of its own. She'd trimmed his hair for the night he planned to formally propose to Michelle … or was going to propose to Michelle … and she had been excited for him to seemingly be putting all of his past behind him and moving on. But that night was also in part why Adam is where he is now and in the shape he's in. It is also why he looks like a side of beef that had been had at by Rocky Balboa during a training session.

"Okay if I start Love?"

"Yeah, just do what you have to Tam. Uh …"

"There's no one in the shop. Girls have all gone home. I've turned the sign off and dropped the shades and security shutters. It'll take me a bit because I don't want to rush things so if you want to take a snooze, go ahead. I'll use the scissors rather than the trimmer. 'K?"

"I … I just need to close my eyes. For a few minutes. That's all."

"Like I said, do what you have to Love. I'll be right here doing my thing."

Tar. Of all the things those jackasses could have done. Tamara was furious but knew if she showed too many emotions Adam would shut down. And after so long she wasn't just his sometimes hairdresser but she was his friend as well even though they rarely saw each other except while she had scissors and combs in her hand. Adam took open pride in so little; his hair, beard, and 'stache was one of the few places he always tried to exhibit some self-esteem. When the hair got disordered you could bet that Adam was feeling the same way.

Tamara had figured out over the years Adam's hair was like a bit small psychological peek into his psyche. It had something to do with virtually appearing to be the unwanted, red-headed step child to his father even though there was no denying their biological connection if you'd ever seen them side-by-side. Their eyes and hair line were mirror images, the only difference being the emotions you saw in each man's bright, blue orbs. And Tamara knew this for a fact because she volunteered time at the assisted living facility where Adam's father now lived. Even Alzheimer's patients gained some benefit from maintaining their grooming though not all of them appreciated it all of the time. Still, it was something she could do so she did.

She gently trimmed some more tar out of the scruff on the back of Adam's neck, noting either the tar had irritated his skin or he'd done some damage trying to get the tar off. Carefully cleaning the area and making sure she used antiseptic on her equipment, she noted to herself she'd need to trim that area up a little higher and tighter than he normally liked it but she had a picture in her head that she was working with, something she'd itched to try for a couple of years only Adam had never cooperated. If everything worked out he'd come out looking a bit like an Irish 007. Frankly given the man was no longer a college kid and was slowly moving up the ranks in the lab where he worked, putting a bit of maturity and dash into his style was not anywhere near a bad thing in Tamara's opinion.

She finished the back of his head and neck and carefully leaned him back and then leaned the chair back so he wouldn't slide out of it. She saw him really relax for the first time since he'd knocked on the shop door right at closing time. She'd been shocked by his appearance and he'd told her what had happened in a stumbling, rambling explanation that she nevertheless understood.

It had started that night he'd been going to surprise Michelle with a proposal as a follow up to the fact they been talking about spending forever together since she had moved in with him six months earlier. Adam had even gone to Michelle's father and asked his permission, surprising the man and greatly changing his opinion of Adam for the better. He had had it all planned out. There had been dinner ordered from her favorite restaurant. He'd had her favorite music playing softly on the stereo system. There had even been her favorite bubble bath waiting for her to get home from work so she could relax while he set the table and lit the candles. All very romantic. All designed to set the mood.

Instead she walked in the door hyper, looked around, and then laughing gaily asked, "Oh my God! How did you know?!"

The conversation spun in an odd, surreal mess of mixed up signals and bad communication with Adam talking about one thing and Michelle talking about another until Michelle announced she'd been noticed by a producer while she'd been working at the coffee shop and had been offered a job on a movie set that was filming down in one of the old subway tunnels. She'd taken the job but hadn't told anyone since she'd all but given up on her dreams of acting at that point and was tired of the embarrassment of the failures she'd had to admit to. But her performance as an extra had gotten her noticed by someone else and she'd just received an offer to work out in California with a six-month contract in her hand … that she'd already signed … without discussing it with anyone, especially not with Adam.

Well things went downhill from Adam's shocked reaction to Michelle storming out in tears saying that Adam had ruined everything and didn't want her to be anything but a barista for the rest of her life. They disagreed so rarely that neither one had had a clue how to handle an actual fight and things were said by both of them that couldn't be unsaid. After a sleepless night Adam had gone looking for Michelle and when he hadn't been able to find her had gotten frantically worried and called her father and had nervously confessed what had happened. Bad timing. Michelle had actually gone to her mother's house for the night but had told no one what had really happened; in fact, had fabricated something that made Adam look like an ass when the mistakes had been mutual.

When it had all come out it was a mess and Michelle blamed Adam for being embarrassed. Her parents had divorced only a couple of years earlier, in part because they had chosen their careers over their marriage, and were occasionally still contentious with each other and sensitive to the problem their daughter now faced. Adam felt guilty and lost in the emotional maelstrom and tried to mediate things into a calmer state. Right as the adults involved were calming down Michelle's younger brothers put two and two together and came up with five and decided the fault for everything was to be laid at Adam's feet and that he had to pay so that their family could be made whole again.

Three younger brothers aged 15, 16, and 17 and a cousin of the same age range, caught Adam late the next night as he'd been going home after working a double shift. Adam of course recognized all four of them and hadn't fought back as brutally has he could have … probably should have. It was four against one and then Adam slipped after tripping over a bucket of tar they'd brought into the alley with them. At least the tar had been the cold version of the stuff rather than hot. Hot would have likely caused shock with as much as he got on him, and could have actually killed him.

Someone from the new stand that knew Adam called the cops thinking a investigation had gone bad. Adam had cracked his head pretty badly on the way down to the ground and though he couldn't remember clearly, a witness said the boys had actually kicked him several times while he was down. The cops, knowing Adam to be one of their own, were not gentle with the boys as Adam was taken away in an ambulance. He'd been disoriented and bleeding heavily from the scalp wound and it was a while before he could convince everyone that his injuries were relatively minor.

It took Adam over forty-eight hours to pull in enough favors to keep the boys out of adult jail and to keep what they did from becoming a permanent criminal record. The district attorney, a man adamant on being tough on juvenile crime, was inclined to make an example of them for assaulting someone with a badge. As quietly as possible Adam pulled strings until it was ultimately decided to leave it in the hands of the family court but even there very little allowance was made. The boys each had two hundred hours of community service they had to complete, they had to attend counseling as individuals and as a family, and attend a "scared straight" course. In school they also had to maintain no less than a 2.5 GPA, no truancy, and no behavioral problems which would be monitored by their high school's Resource Officer. If they adhered to the conditions then, one year from the date they were taken into custody, their record would be expunged. It was the best the prosecution would offer.

For his part Adam promised Michelle's parents that he wasn't out for revenge and that he would completely back away from their family to prove he wasn't out to sabotage the boys' chances. He tried to apologize for what had occurred to cause the boys to feel as they had but surprisingly no one blamed Adam for what the boys had done, and that they were actually grateful he'd gone so far to save them from the consequences of their actions. The lawyers and judges that had been assigned had simply been the luck of the draw and it could have been much worse. Adam still felt guilty and terribly sad; no one was under any illusion that his and Michelle's relationship was repairable. She wouldn't even speak to him to say goodbye.

One of the reasons that Adam was so tired was that he'd been taking cat naps in the lab break room so he wouldn't go back to his place until Michelle was finished moving out. But it had meant being on display with no respite for all of his co-workers to see. Having Mac call him into his office and suggest he needed to see someone for his mental health was the last straw. Adam had stormed out of the lab and had wound up at the Byrne Salon in desperation, trying to prove he was handling everything just fine … or at least that he had the appearance of doing so.

Using special chemicals she had at her disposal for correcting hair coloring mistakes, Tamara had gotten out most of the remaining tar though it fried the ends of the hair sufficiently that she'd been pretty severe with the trim. Adam hadn't even moved while Tamara was shaving him with a straight razor to get the new contour for his beard. Luckily he'd been growing the beard out longer fuller to try and hide the more mature chin line he was developing so it was easy to use that to advantage. However, it was all over and Tamara was both eager and nervous to see Adam's feelings on his new do.

"Adam. Adam Love … time to wake up."

Adam's eyes fluttered open and despite looking himself straight in the mirror his first thought was, "Who in the hell is that guy giving me the eye?" When he realized what he was seeing he jumped and moved so he was nearly nose to nose with his reflection.

"Whhoooooaaaaa."

"Um, I know it isn't your usual but I thought you could give it a try. As fast as your hair grows it won't take any time for us to put it back if you don't like it."

Adam didn't answer her but just kept staring at himself so seriously, turning this headway and that like he was examining a piece of evidence. Tamara started getting really worried until Adam turned to her and his old, infection grin peeked out and he said, "What uuuuup?!"