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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4. Four

“So it’s all been cancelled?” Dani checks.

“That’s what I said isn’t it?” Elle nods, her sarcasm only fueling Dani’s frustration further. Neither one of them is in a good enough mood to be bickering like this right now.

“What happened to ‘drowning our sorrows’? I thought we were heading out tonight no matter what?” Dani sighs, frustrated. Elle came back about ten minutes ago with the news that the plans to head out tonight following the vote had been cancelled because people weren't in the mood anymore. I didn’t care too much, but I think Dani had actually been looking forward to it. Still, I wish they’d find a better place to argue, can’t a girl eat her dinner in peace?

You can still head out if you like.” Elle suggests.

“On my own?”

“I’m sure someone would go with you, where’s Lily?”

“Not a clue,” Dani snaps, “But that’s not what we’re talking about! Are you really going to let a bunch of old grumpy politicians come between you and a fun Friday night out? Come on Elle, even Tiffany was on board!”

“It won’t be a fun night out though, will it?” Elle groans, “Everyone will be in a bad mood now and then there’ll be catcalling to put up with, and guys staring down my dress...I just can’t deal with all of that right now, okay?” She collapses down into the seat beside me, resting her head in her arms on the counter. Before I get a chance to stop her, she snatches a handful of my sweet potato fries, and loads them all into her mouth in one go.

“Well then, how about we stay here?” Dani comes up with a solution, “We can put a film on and eat popcorn and get drunk…all without leaving the house.” I can see Elle considering it, her stubbornness beginning to melt away at the promise of cheap food and alcohol.

“Sweet or salty popcorn?” She asks, slowly warming up to the idea.

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters!”

“Fine. Both.” Dani decides, not in the mood to deal with another of Elle’s weird food-related issues. Elle smiles, happy with the compromise. I’m happy with it too, glad to have some peace and quiet return to the kitchen. I wash up my plate and pick my book back up, returning back to where I last left of, only half-aware of the world around me as I read. I’m nearing the end of the final chapter when I hear the door shut again, with Dani walking through carrying bags of snacks for tonight. I hadn’t even noticed her go. I put my book down to help her pour everything out into bowls and set up her tablet with the film. “I bought pralines for you Cassie, I know they’re your favourite.” She tells me, “Go on, have on, you can eat it ‘consciously’ if you like.” I sigh, but take one anyway...they’re just too good. “What film do you want to watch?”

“Not sure.” I reply, films aren’t really my thing. They’re fun to watch with friends and all, but I find curling up with a good book just so much more intense. There’s nothing quite like being transported somewhere else for a while as you stare some inky scribbles on a page.

“How about this one?” Dani suggests, showing me a chick flick I vaguely remember from a few years ago.

“Sure.” I nod. Moments later, Tiffany comes in, carrying a big bag of...trail mix.

“It was on offer.” She shrugs, noticing me staring. “Besides, I’m stressing eating, and I figured if I’m going to stress eat I might as well stress eat something reasonably healthy.”

“I’ve never been one for stressing eating, retail therapy’s always been my bad way of coping.” Dani sighs, pouring some of Tiffany’s trail mix into a bowl, “When I’m worried about being able to pay the rent I go out and buy a pair of boots that I can’t afford.”

“What about you Cassie? What do you do? Read?” Elle guesses, laughing. The ironic thing it I think she means it as a joke.

“Of course she stress-reads, it’s Cassie.” Dani reminds her, completely serious.

“I read cheesy awful romance novels meant for brain dead teenagers,” I nod, “Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and read something without having to think about the cultural context behind each chapter.”

“Well when I’m stressed I take an evening off and curl up with a large spicy pepperoni pizza.” Elle says, “Speaking of…” She grins, already dialing the number.

“We have plenty of food already.” Dani mutters, rolling her eyes.

“Can we just get started and watch the film?” Tiffany grumbles, frustrated.

“But Lily isn’t here yet, we can’t start until she arrives.” Dani argues.

“Did she reply to your text?” I ask.

“No, but she saw it so she know what we’re doing. She’ll be here soon.” Dani insists, although I don’t think she’s really convinced by her reply either. It’s not like Lily to be late for anything, and she loves movie nights, she wouldn’t miss this if she had a choice. And none of us have heard from her since lunchtime.

“I’ll call her.” I decide, “Just to make sure she’s alright.” Before anyone can call me silly or overprotective, I dial the number and listen to the repetitive ringing, stepping outside the kitchen to speak to my sister. I wait and wait, but it goes straight to voicemail. I’m about to head back inside when it starts ringing again, and I pick up.

“Hello?”

“Cassie?” I hear Lily’s voice down the phone. She sounds….off, tired perhaps?

“Lily, where are you? We’re having a girls night.”

“Um...I’m in town, er- I think the bar is called Betty and Eddie.” She mumbles. I realise suddenly that she’s not tired, she’s drunk. By the sounds of things she’s very, very drunk.

“Have you been drinking? It’s only just gone seven.” I ask her, now more concerned than before.

“Mhm.” She confirms, “I’m a little bit lost….can you come and get me?”

“Um, sure. Where exactly are you?”

“I don’t know do I I’m lost!” She snaps, unexpectedly losing her temper.

“Okay...okay,” I try to calm her down, “What was the name of the bar again?”

“Uh...Bella and Eddie? No, Bettie and Eddie...I think. You’ll find it.” She rambles.

“I’m sure I will,” I promise her, “I’ll see you soon.”

Sighing, I go back into the kitchen.

“Lily’s drunk at some bar in town,” I tell them, “I’m going to go and pick her up.”

“Is she alright?” Dani calls out after me, concerned.

“Probably not.” I sigh, fiddling with the buttons of my coat.

“I’ll come to.” Dani decides, putting on her jacket.

“But what about girls night? You can’t both go!” Tiffany moans.

“Yeah, if Lily’s drunk that’s not your problem.” Elle agrees.

“Start the film without us if you like, we’ll be back within the hour.” Dani suggests, not taking no for an answer. No-one can be bothered to argue further, and me and Dani set off for the bar, leaving the comforts of the heated halls for the bitter, wet, streets of London.

“Honestly, it’s just a bunch of women crowded around a tiny screen...we’re hardly missing the event of the year. I love Tiffany and Elle but sometimes they can really-”

“Can you search ‘Bettie and Eddie’ on your phone? I have no idea where we’re heading.” I cut her off, wanting to get on with this. The sooner we find Lily the sooner we can go back.

“Alright...it looks like there’s a bar called ‘Bettie and Ellie’ just over half a mile away, do you think that’s it?” She passes me her phone. I look at the address, it’s only five minutes away from the main library, so it seems likely. Lily probably saw the news, got upset, and started walking back to the house when she noticed it and mistakenly decided to stop for a drink. Lily’s always making quick in-the-moment decisions, she was probably drunk before she’d finished properly thinking things over. But why get so upset? The vote is disheartening, sure, but I’m more angry than depressed, and I assumed Lily would be too. This isn’t like her.

“Has Lily spoken to you much about the vote before? It not like her to get so messed up over something like this.” I ask. Dani spends more time with Lily than I do, maybe she knows more?

“She wasn’t really bothered by it until a week ago, but then this guest lecturer held her behind after his lecture to talk to her about something, and she’s been a lot more interested in it all since-”

“Was the guest lecturer a man called Dr Sawn?” I cut her off, thinking back to this morning at the crossing.

“Yeah, I think he was.” She nods, “Bit of a creep if you ask me...he was staring at us throughout the whole thing, I just ignored it.”

“Do you know what he wanted to talk to Lily about?” I try to dig a little deeper. Dani shakes her head, grimacing.

“She said it wasn’t important.” I’m about to pry even further, when I see a big neon sign in the distance. We’re a good few meters away, but I can still just about make out the words ‘Bettie and Ellie’.

“I think that’s it.” I tell Dani, pointing up towards the letters.

As we get closer I begin to see the outline of the bar, it’s a long rectangle, decorated with yellow-tinted fairy lights hanging from the doors and windows. It doesn’t look like the sort of place Lily would usually go to, but sure enough, I notice her sat at the bar, her head in her hands and her hair spreading out all across the smooth wooden surface, the second we walk in.

“Lily?” I walk over to her, “Lily, it’s Cassie.”

“And Dani.” Dani adds on, moving so she’s stood on her other side. When Lily doesn’t react, I try again.

“Lily? Lily? We’ve come to take you home.” Still nothing, has she passed out? “Lily? Tiffany and Elle are waiting for us back at the house, we’re going to have a movie night.” Finally, she moves, wriggling around on the bar stool and gradually sitting back up. She looks awful, her make-up smudged and gone everywhere, turning her entire face into a messy canvas of black, purple, and navy blue. I don’t think she’s looked this bad since prom, when she snuck off to get drunk and tripped fell down a hill into the bushes. “...Lily? Lily, what happened?” She doesn’t reply, her eyes are darting about everywhere, rolling around, unable to focus on anything. Her lip begins to quiver, and before I can say anything else, her head is back in her hands as she sobs endlessly onto the bar. I look to Dani for advice, but she’s just as confused as I am. Cautiously, I step forwards, placing my hand gently on my sister’s back and bending down to talk to her. “Talk to me Lily,” I urge her, “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I-I won’t let him do it…” She trails off, whaling.

“Let who do what?” I ask, still none the wiser.

“H-he c-c-can’t, c-can he?” She stammers, looking up at me, her eyes wide and frightened, as if the threat is right here in the room with us.

“Who Lily? Who?”

“H-he wants my face Cassie, my face!” She exclaims, getting up out off her stool without warning and launching herself into my arms, crying into my shoulder. I wrap my arms around her waist, pulling her in close and letting her have her moment. I wait patiently for her to finish, not wanting to upset her further. She’s shaking.

“I think we should get Lily home now Cassie.” Dani suggests, coming up behind us.

“Look at her Dani, we can’t just send her off to bed like this, we need to know what’s wrong.” I argue, trying to speak quietly enough for Lily not to hear.

“I-I think I already do,” Dani confesses, “But if I’m right then it’s for Lily to explain, not me.” She quickly clarifies, not giving away anything else, “Right now we just need to get her home, trust me.” I think for a moment, then nod, Lily’s nowhere near sober enough to give sensible answers to my questions anyway.

“Lily? Lily do you want to go home now?” I whisper in her ear, gently trying to ease her off me. She mutters something that vaguely sounds like ‘yes’, and trips around trying to get her things together.

“Let me.” Dani offers, stepping forwards and putting everything back in her bag for her, before swinging over her shoulder.

“Put your arm over my shoulder.” I tell her, noticing her stumbling. She does as I suggest, glad for the support. Together, Dani and I lead her out of the bar and out onto the streets.

She mumbles under her breath as we walk, but I can’t make any of the individual words out, and decide it’s better to just ignore it. I’ve never seen Lily like this before. She’s gotten drunk before, sure, but it’s always been recreational, she’s never been much of an emotional drinker...something must have really pushed her over the edge.

“Keep walking.” Dani says out of the blue, I turn to question her about it, when I see them. A couple of drunk men having a cigarette break outside a club, staring right in our direction. I immediately look the other way, trying the ‘you can’t see me if I can’t see you’ tactic, but sure enough, they whistle as we pass them, sniggering from the shadows.

“Where are you ladies off to?” One of them shouts after us. I just carry on, keeping my head down.

“Slow down, stay with us here a while.” The other yells. I’m scared that they might be following us, but I don’t dare turn around to check.

“Cassie-”

“Shh.” I hush my sister, “Just ignore them, don’t react.”

“But Cassie-”

Not now Lily.” I stress, picking up the pace a little, wanting to get as far away from here as possible. She must get the message, because she doesn’t speak again after that.

I’m thankful when we finally make it back home, relieved to be off the streets. I’ve barely had the chance to hang my coat back up when I hear a loud thud coming from the stairs as Lily struggles to make her way up to bed. Sighing, I walk on over and give her a hand up. She doesn’t speak as I lead her into her room, she just wanders around like a ghost, slowly getting changed and ready.

“I brought you some water, Lily.” Dani comes in behind me, a tall glass in hand. “I’ll take the top bunk tonight if you like, to save you having to get up there.” Lily just takes the glass from her and nods, drinking it all down before sliding into the bottom bunk and pulling her duvet up all around her. “I’ll just go and tell Tiffany and Elle movie night is cancelled, I’m going to call it a night now too.” Dani murmurs, heading back downstairs. I turn to leave, when Lily calls out to me.

“Cassie?”

“Yeah, what?” I turn back around, bending down to sit on the edge of her bed.

“Do-do you think your beautiful?” She asks, taking me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

“I-I, um...well, erm, sometimes, yeah.” I stammer, not sure of what to say.

“Only sometimes?” She checks.

“W-well, I- erm, I guess we all feel a little less beautiful now and then.” I nod, really not sure where any of this is going.

“Does that mean you don’t think I’m always beautiful?” She sits up, leaning forwards, trying to read my expression as I answer.

“What? Of course I think you’re beautiful Lily!” I tell her, wondering where on earth she got that thought from.

“But we’re twins, aren’t we? So you can’t think I’m always beautiful if you think you’re only sometimes beautiful.” She reminds me, her tricky drunken logic giving me a headache. She’s being completely ridiculous.

“Trust me Lily,” I assure her, taking her hand in mine and squeezing it tight, “You’re beautiful.” She stares at me for a few seconds, judging my expression before letting go of my hand and lying back down, going to bed at last. I turn the light off for her, and as I leave I hear her muttering something quietly into her pillow.

“Not my face...he-he can’t, he can’t have my face…”

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