Lenore’s nimble fingers kept braiding as she spoke. Ken marveled at her patience and stamina.

Curtis squirmed around his chair. “You’re taking too much-”

Ken grabbed Curtis’ head firmly between his hands and aimed his gaze straight forward. “Stop moving.”

“Your ass is fine,” Felix drawled from behind his book. There was a pause as everyone looked at him and he slowly lowered it to peer over the wellworn edges. “I meant that it’s not fat. Not that it’s...”

“You saying my ass ain’t fine?” Lenore shot him a cross look, her fingers still braiding.

“So it is fine?” Yolanda arched both her eyebrows, gazing into the mirror in front of her at his reflection.

“Just don’t answer them, Felix. They got you trapped,” Curtis advised.

“You have no idea how wicked I can get.” Yolanda winked.

Ken was amazed at how red Curtis’ scalp turned under the golden strands of hair. “You made him blush, Yolanda!”

“It ain’t that hard. Curtis is our sweetie, ain’t you?”

Ken wondered how red he could turn.

“He’s always making sure everyone minds themselves and he is always super sweet and gets me coffee when I’m on duty in the communication center.” Yolanda smiled affectionately at Curtis.

Curtis darted out of the chair so fast, Ken almost stuck him with his scissors. “Hey!”

“I...um..I can’t pay nothing and can’t tip you. I feel bad about that.

Maybe I can get Bill to let Lenore get more supplies-”

“Just gimme a kiss and we’re even,” Ken said, trying to sound and look serious.

“I’m just teasing, Curtis!” Ken burst out laughing. “I wasn’t done. Sit your ass back down.”

Turning, Curtis ran his fingers over his hair, fussing with it a little. “It will do. I’ll see you later.” He was moving so fast, he nearly shoved Peggy back out the door as she entered. Mumbling an apology, he darted past her and vanished.

Peggy screwed up her face, frowning. “What is up with that boy?”

“I just teased him a little about Linda,” Yolanda answered.

“Oh, there is dish here. Spill it!” Ken began to clean up around the chair, sweeping up the tiny bits of hair he had trimmed.

“I caught him consoling Linda in the communication center.” Peggy paused for dramatic effect. “They were naked.”

“Oh, yeah. They were buck ass naked and going at it. Well, actually Curtis’ pants were around his ankles, but they were doing the naked tango just fine.” Peggy smirked as she slid into the vacant chair in front of Ken.

“I will never sit in that chair again,” Yolanda declared. “Curtis’ nasty, naked pasty ass on that chair is too much for me to deal with.”

“I have nothing better to do, so you might as well go first.” Felix cracked his book back open with dramatic flair that impressed even Ken and went back to reading.

“I just need a little trim and some fresh bangs.” Peggy messed with her hair a bit, showing off her abundance of split ends.

“Okay, I suggest taking two inches off the bottom, skip the bangs and do a little bit of layering in the front instead and let me put a little bit of a lighter color in.”

“Honey, I ain’t got a man to impress no more. Just chop it so it’s easy to deal with.”

Ken frowned at the back of Peggy’s head and ran his hand slowly over her hair. He wanted to hack it off and make it stunning. The thought of a mere trim was too terrible to bear.

“Hey, you got an opening for me? I need a serious shave and some of this hair whacked off.” The voice was big and booming, yet strangely comforting and warm.

In unison, everyone in the room looked toward the doorway. A stranger stood there filling it completely. He was tall, muscular and shaggy. Ken thought he looked like a big ol’ cuddly bear. And he wanted the big man to cuddle him right up. He felt his jaw drop, but didn’t care.

“Twinkle toes is gonna trim my hair, but you can take a seat,” Peggy answered.

“I’ll check back in then. I gotta go check in with some Juan guy,” the big man answered.

“I can make time for you,” Ken managed to squeak out.

“When he’s done with my hair,” Peggy added, giving Ken a dark look.

He ignored her and took a step toward the newcomer. “I’m Ken and more than willing to help you fulfill your grooming needs.”

“If that ain’t a come on, I don’t know what is,” Lenore muttered.

Ken flipped them both off.

The big guy laughed and shook his head. “It’s all good. I’ll just come back.

Name is Dale. I’m glad to meet all of you.”

“I’m Ken, and the rest of these bitches are Peggy, Lenore, Yolanda, and that’s Felix.”

“I’ll be back, Ken. Thanks.” The big guy flashed a wide grin, then left.

“You could have let him go first!” Ken wailed, whirling around toward Peggy.

“Oh, no way am I supporting your sinning ways. You practically threw yourself at that poor man.” Peggy folded her arms, giving him a disdainful look “Ugh! I hate you,” Ken pouted. “I’m chopping off your hair and dying it, you old bat!”

“Fine! But make it snappy!” Peggy smiled slowly. “Besides, he was kinda cute in a bear-like way. Maybe I should look a little more presentable.”

“I’m going to shave your head,” Ken growled.

Peggy just chuckled and waved a hand at him. “You’d like to, but you won’t. Cause then I could tell everyone you ruined my hair.”

“Ugh! You’re evil!” Ken frowned, but began his work. Soon he was consumed in his task, but he still couldn’t help but think of the big, brawny guy with the great smile.

Hopefully, he would come back for a shave and a trim. Smiling at the thought, Ken continued to snip away as the ice continued to ping against the window.

Travis sighed the second he saw Stephen Mann briskly walking down the hall toward him. This wasn’t going to be pleasant. The sleet was coming down hard and he contemplated ducking out into it to escape the determined man bearing down on him. The thought of being pelted by the ice rain and the harsh wind was enough to keep him from opening the door. He was trapped and knew it.

Slowly, he turned away from the door leading out onto the construction site and headed down the hall. As he knew he would, Stephen fell into step beside him.

“Make it fast. I got things to do other than to hear your latest complaints,”

“Okay, I deserve that. I know that I have complained at times-”

“-since we arrived here, but it has been very difficult for Blanche to adapt.

She struggles to fit in and she’s not doing too well.”

Stephen ran his hand over his hair nervously. “What do you mean?”

“Blanche does not try to fit in at all. She yells at everyone all the time and is a right, royal bitch. She lied to Linda about the Imotrex and accused her of stealing. She also shoved my very pregnant wife when Katie tried to calm the situation down. So do not tell me that Blanche is trying.”

His brow puckering, Stephen averted his eyes, obviously weighing what his next words should be. “Okay. So maybe she’s not trying, but this has been difficult for her. She was raised dirt poor, but her Mama always took good care of her and treated her like a princess. When she married me, I made sure she got everything she deserved.”

Travis sighed, rubbing his tired eyes. “Stephen, why are you telling me this? What do you want?”

Stephen fumbled with the buttons of his shirt nervously. “We want to go home. Blanche hates it here. She wants the Hummer back and anything you guys took from our estate and she wants to go home.”

“No. The Hummer is an important part of our defense and anything salvaged from your home is part of the fort’s inventory now. If you want to leave, we can get you a car, a few days of food, and a gun, but then you guys are on your own.” Travis hated the words coming out of his mouth, but this was the law of the new world. As mayor of the fort, it was his responsibility to keep its inhabitants safe and as healthy as possible.