The Price of Beauty

A new operation is available, it will burn your fat and clear your skin, it will shape your face and add shine to your hair...it will make you beautiful. But at a cost. Not only is this operation unbelievably expensive, it's extremely dangerous too. The eight-month long process pushes your body to its limits, and can even prove to be deadly.
When Cassie's twin sister Lily turns down the operation Cassie is offered it in her place free of charge. But what is the price of beauty? And is Cassie willing to pay it?

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5. Five

I wake up the next morning with a single thought: Lily.

What happened last night? Why did she run off and get drunk like that? And what was all her mumbling about? She said that someone was trying to ‘take her face’, what does that even mean?

It seems I might have to wait a little longer for my many questions to be answered, because Lily is still sound asleep when I get up.

“It’s probably not a good idea to wake her up,” Dani reminds me, “After last night she needs a lot of rest.”

“You said you had an idea of why she might be so upset?” I press her for some information.

“I-I can’t tell you Cassie, I’m sorry, it’s not my place to say.” Dani shakes her head, “I’m sure Lily will tell you everything once she’s up, you just have to wait a few more hours until then.” I sigh, but not wanting to argue with her further, I decide to attempt to distract myself with my next set text instead. A minute or so later Elle bursts through the door, grumbling.

“Ugh, is she still not up yet?” She asks, walking straight over to the fridge, grabbing a bunch of leftover pizza from last night.

“Don’t be like that...” Dani rolls her eyes.

“We were supposed  to have a fun girls night.” Elle reminds us, frowning, a small amount of cold mozzarella sticking to her cheek.

“No, we were supposed to go out and drinking together. You can’t moan about Lily disturbing our plans for a movie night when you were the one who disturbed our plans in the first place.” I chip in, coming to my sister’s defense.

“She’s right Elle,” Dani agrees, “Don’t be a hypocrite.” Elle just glares at us both and mutters something inaudible, before getting back to her pizza.

I try to get back to my book but it’s hard to focus on the chapter when my mind's elsewhere. I can’t stop thinking about Lily, last night was so odd. Come to think of it, yesterday was just odd in general. It all started when that guest lecturer Dr Sawn stopped me in the street...who is he? What’s his role in all of this? I look up at Dani, who’s too preoccupied in washing up to notice my stares, she definitely knows more than she’s telling...but what? What is it that no-one’s telling me? My ‘glance’ at Dani is beginning to turn into a stare, so I force my eyes away, but they still refuse to focus on the words on my page. These carefully crafted words that have survived centuries are suddenly just black scribbles to me.

“I’m going jogging.” Dani announces, grabbing her headphones from the counter and making her way towards the door.

“What? Now?” Elle looks up from her food, confused. “It’s five degrees outside, you’ll freeze!”

“I’ll soon warm up once I’ve started,” Dani assures her, “And I’ll wear an extra layer too. I just need some air, you know? I’ll be back soon- promise.” Before either of us can quiz her more she darts out of the kitchen, heading back down the hall to her room to change.

“That’s odd,” Elle sighs, “Do you know what’s up with her?”

“No.” I lie, shrugging. Dani left to get away from me and my questions, I’m sure of it. Whatever it is she knows about Lily, she’s in no mood to share.

“...I always have a big glass of orange juice when I have a hangover-oh! And some peanut butter...I usually have it on toast with jam. It works for me anyway so it might work for you…hey Cassie, hey Elle.” Tiffany emerges from the hallway, followed by a very pale, very hungover Lily. She looks like a ghost. Her eyes are exhausted with big, saggy bags, shadowed by a purple-ish black ring. Her entire face is sagged, and her hair stands statically on ends...she even looks a bit green.

“Peanut butter isn’t what you need to cure a hangover idiot, the only real solution is a full, fatty fry-up.” Elle argues, “You need to double up on everything too: double up on eggs, double up on sausages, double up on beans-”

“I’m on a diet.” Lily cuts her off, her voice broken and hoarse, no louder than a whisper.

“You and Cassie with your diets…” Elle trails off, grumbling. “Just eat something! You’ll feel better, trust me.” Lily manages a little laugh, a smile cracking across her chapped lips.

“We’ve got some left-over fruit in the fridge, I’ll blend you up a smoothie.” I decide, getting up.

“Alright,” Lily agrees, “But don’t put anything weird in it like kale or spinach…keep it basic, stick to strawberries and bananas.” I smile, heading over to the fridge and getting out the fruit. Lily moves over to the counter, gradually lowering herself down into a stool. It takes her a while, she almost seems to shake as she does it.

“What happened to you last night?” Elle asks bluntly, failing to notice the sensitivity around the topic.

“I- uh...I, erm, I got drunk.” Lily stammers, looking down towards the floor.

“Well duh,” Elle rolls her eyes, “How did that happen? Did you go out with a group and they ditched you? Did you mistakenly let some dude buy you a drink? Did you-?”

“No, no, I-I went out alone.” Lily cuts her off again, “I-I just needed some time to myself.”

“Why?”

“Elle…” I step in, seeing that her questions are making Lily uncomfortable. I try to think up a reason for her to leave, “We’re out of tea bags will you go and get some?”

“Me? I drink coffee.” Elle moans, “Get it yourself.”

“I have to make Lily’s smoothie,” I remind her, “Please?”

“Fine.” She snaps, caving in.

“I’ll come too,” Tiffany decides, “I’m running low on cornflakes…”

I try to hide my relief when they both head out, leaving me alone with my sister, but it must show because it makes Lily smile.

“Thanks.” She sighs, happy for the space.

“Here.” I pass her the finished smoothie, “It’s got mango, strawberries, blueberries, and bananas...but no kale, I promise.” She takes a small sip, then grins, a little bit of colour returning to her cheeks. I give her some time to get comfortable, waiting until she’s half-way through the glass before I finally ask her the question.

“What happened last night Lily?”

Her face sinks automatically, her smile fading, melting back into her cheeks. Lily opens her mouth as if to speak, but then closes it again, as if the invisible words are forming a gag around her mouth. I almost feel sorry for asking, but I had to, I couldn’t go on guessing.

“Who’s Dr Sawn?” I try a different approach, sitting down beside her, placing my hand in hers.

“He was a guest lecturer here a week or so ago.” She finally manages to speak, able to get out at least the more known facts. It’s not much, but it’s a start, now she’s starting it’ll be just as easy to continue than to stop.

“Dani said he kept you behind after the lecture to talk about something,” I nod, giving her a moment to pause before I ask, “What did he talk to you about Lily?” She winces at my question, pursing her lips shut tight. I don’t dare say anything else. I just let her take her time, trying to seem calm and neutral. I count the seconds: 1...2...3...4...5…6..-

“The...the perfection operation.” She admits. I didn’t know this for sure, but I was sort-of aware of this fact too, so I still push her for more.

“...What about the perfection operation.” 1...2...3...4..-

“H-he said that the symmetry of my face made me p-perfect…” Lily begins to open up, her hand is shaking in mine and there are tears in her eyes but I don’t look away, I stay perfectly still, and just listen. “H-he said that, that I was s-special, that I could be...I could be something incredible.”

“He tried to persuade you to get the perfection operation.” I realise, thinking out-loud. Lily can’t speak, she just nods, her hand trembling so much that it actually falls out of my grasp.

“H-he said t-that m-my face was exactly the right s-sort of one for the process…” Lily tells me more, “T-that it would be easy for me…Cassie, he...he said he’d do it for free.

“What? The operation? Doesn’t it usually cost millions?” I check.

“Mhm…” Lily nods, sobbing, “B-but he said if I...if I kept a video diary to persuade more people to, to do it t-then he’d d-do it for free.” I sit back, letting the information sink in. Dr Sawn is licensed to complete the perfection operation, he guest lectured about the mathematics of beauty where he met Lily, who he noticed for having the perfect facial symmetry for the operation. He then kept her behind after the lecture to offer her the operation for free, so long as it was legalised by Parliament, on the condition that she would vlog about it to encourage more people to go for it too? That’s unbelievable.

“What...what did you say?” I ask, needing one final piece of information from my twin. Lily pauses her tears, taking a deep breath and meeting my gaze once more, her eyes looking at me with a stare that seems to be screaming ‘help’.

“I told him I’d see how Parliament voted on the operation.” She confesses, her voice breaking off and shattering at the end as her tears return. “I thought they’d vote against it Cassie, I didn’t think they’d make it legal! Now he’ll find me again and he’ll take my face, Cassie, my face! What am I going to do?” Panic replaces sadness as she fires words out like bullets, only just speaking slowly enough for me to understand her.

“But he needs your consent Lily, can’t you just say no?”

“It’s not as simple as that!”

“It’s not?”

“Of course it’s not!” She yells. For a second we’re both silent, sat opposite one another, just staring...but then Lily’s anger melts, and she speaks again, much, much quieter than before.“It won’t be long before he contacts me again, Cassie, what am I going to do?” I don’t have a clue. But I can’t tell her that. She’s told me this in confidence, assuming that I’d be able to offer at lead a shred of sound advice...but my mind is completely blank. I don’t have a clue.

“Do you know where to find Dr Sawn?” I ask her, hiding my cluelessness behind yet more questions.

“I-I have his business card.” Lily nods, reaching into her jean pocket and pulling it out. She hands it over to me, there’s an address and a phone number, nothing else. Slowly, an idea begins to form in my head.

“Can I keep this Lily?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I want to go and meet him.” I decide, “That way, you don’t have to do anything. What I mean is, I’ll do it all for you. I’ll be the one to tell him no.” I try to read my sister’s expression, unsure whether she likes the idea or not...is that a grimace or a smile? “Lily…? Is, is that alright?” I only have to wait a split-second for my reply. Without warning she launches herself on me, tugging at my top, pulling me closer in a tight, frightened hold. I embrace her hug, gently raising my arms up and stroking her back.

“Cassie?” She murmurs.

“Mhm?”

“I, I...it’s just- you’re the best.”

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