Preference by L'Oréal

1. Put on colorist gloves. Squeeze entire contents of Color Creme into the Developer bottle and shake thoroughly until mixture is totally blended.

The summer after community college I was twenty years old, living at home with my parents, feeling like a very tall child. When Steve asked me out, I didn’t say yes right away. But he was persistent, and getting out of the house was appealing.

2. Do a strand test by applying color to a small section of hair before covering your whole head. This will give you an idea of how long to keep the color mixture on in order to achieve your desired results.

That summer, he would take me on dates to the museum, the tiny art house cinema, a Thai restaurant where he could gaze at me while our curry warmed romantically over a tea light. He was so adult, extravagant in his affection, compared to adolescent fumblings in dark basements of high school boyfriends past. Despite all this, my lack of attraction to him embarrassed me. I thought that with my time and presence I could cover it over.

3. Apply color to root area until completely saturated.

Two days before our outing to the art institute, I’d mentioned in passing that I was planning to dye my hair. I hadn’t expected much of a response, but I got one. “That’s not allowed.” The idea of coloring over my natural self was baffling to him. He couldn’t be with someone who would do such a thing. I had scoffed at his outrageous pronouncement and dyed my hair anyway. A nice, unassuming auburn.

We fought. We argued until we were exhausted, just like every other fight we’d had that summer, arguments I had trouble believing were real in their hostility, in the way they made me unrecognizable to myself. Until Steve, I was always too nice to fight, always ready to smooth over edges so everyone could get along.

4. Apply remaining product to the rest of the hair. Make sure all the hair is completely saturated.

When he picked me up for our date, he mercifully seemed to have let it go. On the drive we made small talk. And then, during a lull in the conversation, he turned to me with a strange grimace on his face and whipped off the beanie he’d been wearing. His hair was the color of lime Jell-O. We stared at each other a moment, his eyes flashing vengeance, waiting expectantly for me to scream, yell, demand to turn this car around, refuse to be seen with him.

I laughed so hard I almost fell out of the Jeep. My payback was to witness this ridiculous, hilarious clash of generic preppy persona and neon green head? As I hooted, his triumphant expression quickly turned to one of chagrin. It had been a lengthy two-step process, he explained bitterly, to get such a violent shade. “I had to bleach it first and then do the green!” An A+ effort for what was clearly not the desired result.

5. Let develop for 30 minutes.

Steve was so irritated by both my nonchalance and the looks he was getting from fellow museum-goers that we barely spent any time in the galleries. The incongruity of a head of hair like that with khakis and a crew team windbreaker made him far more conspicuous than if it were your stereotypical punk or goth type, but he was still attempting to maintain his Revenge Hair bravado.

We had made it to the Degas sculptures when a little girl, about five years old, began to point at his head.

“Mommy, look! Look at his HAIR.”

Steve glued his eyes to a Gauguin and tried valiantly to ignore this. I tried, and failed, not to smirk.

“His hair is like OSCAR the GROUCH.”

6. When time is up, add a small amount of warm water to the hair and lather. Rinse until water runs clear.

Steve looked like he would happily make the nearest trashcan his home. Without a word, he stomped to the exit and I followed. It seemed the wrong time to mention that no one had noticed my new color. The car ride home was silent.

7. Condition and style as usual.

The next and final time I saw him, his head was shaved clean.

Brooke Middlebrook grew up in the hills of western Massachusetts but currently resides in Houston, Texas, where the landscape is entirely too flat. She is a medical writer by day and an essay writer whenever she can make the time. Her work has appeared in Gravel.