Even though it was a Monday night, Andrew got a few people to agree to dinner and hanging at Liz’ new apartment. The place was so small that eight or nine people were going to pack it to the walls, anyway. He made sure his Red Hot Chili Peppers CDs were in the truck that morning, so he wouldn’t forget them. They were Liz’ favorite band, and from what he’d seen, she’d lost her music somewhere along the way.
Liz had been lukewarm about the idea, mostly because she didn’t think anyone was interested enough to come and see her. Andrew had sensed the interest behind her nobody-loves-me attitude though, and made the calls. If Liz really didn’t want to do it, she’d have said no. When he talked to her at lunchtime she sounded tired and covered with fish–yes, it was possible to sound fish-covered, he had learned–but she was almost bubbly with excitement at cooking for friends she hadn’t seen in years. She waxed ecstatic about rushing out before her break ended to score a basket full of fresh veggies to cut up, and she was planning to make both chicken and seafood. Looking forward to stir-fry made the day go quickly.
Andrew and Peach comprised two-thirds of the IT staff at a small supplier to Ford Motor Company, and the servers and desktops they oversaw seemed to run hot or cold as far as trouble went. Andrew liked the ‘hot’ days better than the ‘cold’ ones, especially since the management had decided that they shouldn’t be playing games during their downtime; one could only sit at the desk surreptitiously surfing the Net for so long, after all. ISO 9001 took all the fun out of life.
Right before five Liz called again. She didn’t sound so good any more; her voice was haunted and hollow. “Ondrew, come over early, please. I need your help. Please.”
“Sure, I was just about to leave,” he said. “What’s the matter?”
“I just need your help, Ondrew. I need your help.” She said something in rapid-fire Japanese.
Shit. She was having DTs. Andrew checked the clock. He could get to Ypsilanti in twenty minutes, if he hauled ass. He had told people to show up by seven or seven-thirty. Plenty of time to throw Liz into the shower with some aspirin and let her have a nap. Or whatever she needed. Of course, that meant he’d be spending the evening in business casual…oh well. He left the office at ten to five; Peach and Frank could cover for him.
Liz let him in when he got there. The furniture was in disarray; she’d pushed the table up against the kitchen counter and piled the chairs on the couch. The place smelled of Pine-Sol. Her hair was in a towel, her shirt was dripping wet. She smelled of shampoo, and practically dragged him through the door. He had a two-second fantasy that she was going to rip his clothes off and screw his brains out on the kitchen floor, and that wouldn’t have been at all a bad thing.
The look in her eyes made him feel like shit for even letting the idea form, though. Andrew had never seen her eyes the way they were; frantic, trapped, terrified.
“Sheezus, Liz, what’s up? It’s me, Ondrew, you’re okay. What do you see?”
“You need to help me,” she said. Her hands fluttered up toward her head, and he caught them with both of his.
“Tell me what to do.”
“There are grasshoppers. In my hair. I can’t get them out. I need you to cut it off.” She was perfectly serious.
That explained the shampoo, at least. “How about if I wash it for you?” he offered gently.
She jerked her hands away. “I already tried that! It doesn’t work! They’re in the hair, and I can feel them. I need to shave my head, but I don’t want to cut myself. I’m shaking too much.”
Andrew sat her down at the kitchen table. She reached for his hands again, and he let her take them, squeezing as if to press the tremors out. He could feel her pulse in her palms, racing. Her face was flushed, too–shit, what was her blood pressure? The towel was wrapped so tight around her skull that it had to be cutting off her circulation. “Okay, Liz. It’s me. You know I’m here, right?”
“And you know that they’re not real, right? There aren’t any grasshoppers in your hair, or anywhere. It’s supposed to snow this week.”
She nodded again. “I can feel them, Ondrew,” she said with a shudder.
“I know. It’s just DTs.” He felt dirty saying that word, somehow. Like it was an insult. “You’re gonna be okay,” he continued.
“I know,” she said. “But I can feel them. They don’t wash out. You need to cut it all off, Ondrew. Please.”
“They’re not real, Liz. If you cut your hair, it’ll be gone for real.”
“I don’t care!” Her voice cracked–man, could she scream. There were tears in her eyes, too, which shocked Andrew more than any of her raving. He had known Liz for almost five years, and he’d never seen her cry, not even at Mikey’s funeral, and she had loved him like a brother. “There are grasshoppers in my hair, and I know they’re not real but they’re in my hair, and I can feel them, Ondrew, and if I don’t cut it off they’re never going to go away!” Her hands started to flutter toward the towel, and he held them down.
“You’re going to look funny with a bald head, when everyone gets here,” he said. She needed him to be his normal light-hearted self, he guessed. An ally. Her Ondrew. He wanted to pull her into his lap and hug her, but that had never been his place in her life, and would probably frighten her more.
She took her hands away. “Then get me some vodka. That’ll make it go away too,” she said sullenly. She looked up at him, expecting a pitying frown.
Andrew was grinning, though. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll do it. I’ll shave your head. Will it make you feel better, even though you know they’re not real, and your hair is?”
A tear of relief escaped her eye. “Yes. Thank you, Ondrew, thank you so much.” She thanked him in four different languages, which made him laugh.
“Don’t thank me. Just don’t kick the shit out of me when you see yourself tomorrow.”
They went into the bathroom, where Liz gingerly unwrapped the towel, as if unveiling a fragile sculpture. Her faded green and black hair fell onto her shoulders, and she shuddered visibly when it touched her. Andrew stuck Blood Sugar Sex Magik (her favorite album, last time he’d checked) in the pawnshop-bought CD boombox by her bed, found a pair of scissors and her pink Lady Gillette, and proceeded to cut all of her hair off.
He left a lock untouched in front of each ear, and all together it didn’t look too bad. Liz was almost back to normal once most of her hair was on the floor around her, and she began braiding one of the locks. The frantic look was gone from her eyes. Andrew realized that he might have been willing to shave his own head to make that look go away.
“Thank you,” she said again.
“No kiss?” he joked. “You look like a Shao-lin monk with tits, by the way.”
“Wrong race,” she said, and gave him a chaste peck on the cheek. “Help me cut veggies now.”