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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7. Seven

BEEP BEEP BEEP….BEEP BEEP BEEP….

It takes a great sum of effort to convince my hand to turn my alarm clock off. For a few minutes I just lay in bed listening to it, like a reverse-lullaby, bringing me reluctantly back into the real-world, forcing me away from my dreams. I wish I didn’t have to face the day. I could just stay here, and I wouldn’t have to think, all my problems could wait for another day...and I wouldn’t have to think. I could just stay here, I could just stay here and dream…

“Cassie? You up yet?” Dani knocks at my door, pulling me even further away from my fantasies.

“I’m awake.” I call back to her, “I’ll be up in a minute, I promise.” Not convinced, she opens the door and comes into my room, pulling my duvet straight off me.

“You have a lecture this morning.” She reminds me.

“Oh leave her alone,” Elle defends me, walking past, “She was sick last night...probably has a stomach bug or something.”

“Is that true?” Dani checks with me, suddenly concerned. I just nod, snatching back my covet and curling up under the covers. “You seemed fine when we were playing monopoly.”

“It must’ve been something I ate.” I quickly come up with an excuse, keen to move away from the topic and get back to my lie-in. “I feel better now though, I’ll get up in a minute.”

“Alright…” Dani trails off, “Lily’s making waffles for breakfast, do you want some?”

“Mm.” I smile, digging my head deeper into my pillow, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Dani leaves, but it’s too late, I’m awake. I shut my eyes, but all I feel is frustration that I can’t seem to get myself back to my dreams. I cave in, getting out of bed and shoving on the first top and pair of jeans that I see, deciding at last that it’s time to face the day.

Inside the kitchen everything is pretty much as it always is. Tiffany’s sat at the counter, defending her cereal like her life depends on it. Elle’s across the room, her nose in her phone as she attacks a plate of cold leftovers. Lily and Dani are preparing a hot breakfast together, coating the surfaces in syrup and waffle mix. I sit down next to Tiffany, yawning.

“You look terrible.” She remarks, not bothering to be subtle about it.

“Thanks.” I sigh.

“She’s got a stomach bug.” Dani tells her, grimacing.

“I’m fine.” I try to assure them.

“You didn’t seem fine last night…” Elle argues, raising her eyebrows. I don’t bother saying anything else, I just let the room fall into silence, and everyone gets back to their little jobs. Meanwhile, I just sit here. Not frozen- but not free either, sort of...stiff. I try to think about something else, anything else, like my lecture this morning: what do I remember about the reading I did for it? Or lunch...what will I do for lunch? Should I eat out or come back here? Maybe I’ll skip lunch and go to the library...that way I could get some more coursework out of the way.

“Waffle?” Lily offers, passing me a plate. I take it, staring down at the golden square. “Syrup?”

“I’m alright.” I tell her, pushing the bottle away, “I’ll just eat it as it is.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.” I nod, swallowing down a mouthful just to prove it to her.

“What’s the point of a waffle without syrup?” Elle walks over, putting her phone on charge. “I’m not sure if I can trust someone who doesn’t put extra sugar on things.”

“Then don’t trust her.” Dani comes to my defense, rolling her eyes, “Leave her alone Elle, if she was sick last night then it’s no surprise if she’s got less of an appetite this morning.”

“Whatever…” Elle mumbles, washing up her plate.

“I have to go.” I decide, glancing at my watch. My lie-in cost me some valuable minutes and I’m keen to find some more alone-time. “I’ll clean up my mess when I get back, I promise.” I don’t wait for a reply, I just leave, rushing out in such a hurry that I almost leave my house keys on the table.

It’s freezing outside, a typical mid-November morning in London, but I can’t bring myself to turn back, head inside, and pick up a pair of gloves and a hat. I just shove my hands in my pocket and pull up my hood instead. It’s a pretty miserable walk to the lecture theatre, but I manage it, breathing out a sigh of relief when I walk through the doors into a heated building once again. I make my way into the lecture theatre, getting out my copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ and powering up my laptop.

“Why does Heathcliff envy Edgar so much in Wuthering Heights?” My lecturer asks, starting the session with a big question for us too all think over. “There are many reasons... the most obvious ones being Catherine’s love for Edgar and Edgar’s wealth and good fortune...but there are more subtle ones too. For instance, in Chapter 7 he tells Nelly he wishes he had Edgar’s ‘light hair and fair skin’, does this mean that Heathcliff envies Edgar’s handsome features too?” I find the page in my book, searching for the quote. “Why is this? Does Heathcliff envy Edgar’s looks because he thinks that they make him attractive, or because he recognises that Catherine finds them attractive? Is this jealousy stemmed from his personal definition of beauty, or the definition from the woman he loves? Let’s see what you think, just a show of hands- who thinks is is Heathcliff’s own ideals that cause him to say this?” A few hands go up around the theatre, but not many. “How many think it is Catherine’s ideals rubbing off on him?” Many more hands go up, but my own stays down, I don’t really have a clue. “It is an interesting question: do we define beauty by our own means or by what other people tend to tell or show us? Anyway, Heathcliff also says he wants to be wealthy like Edgar, telling us that…”

The lecture continues, but I remain paused, still thinking about that question. Do we define beauty by our own means or by what other people tend to tell or show us? I find green eyes attractive, but that doesn’t mean that I think you need green eyes to be beautiful. I don’t find flat stomachs attractive, but a part of me worries that gaining weight would make me ugly. I’m not overweight, I have fairly clear skin, and vibrant hair...those are all beautiful things, and yet, when I look in a mirror, I still don’t see someone who’s beautiful. Why is that? What is my definition of beauty... and how have I come to reach it?

“Heathcliff’s envy of Edgar poisons his relationship with Catherine, she calls him ‘foolish’ and she decides to ‘break both of their hearts by breaking her own’. It brings to question an idea that perhaps, if he was able to abandon his jealous thoughts, Heathcliff may be able to win over Catherine and form some kind of relationship with her. Is this Bronte using irony? Humour? Pathos?...” I lean back in my seat, getting comfortable, and zoning back into the lecture.

---------

DANI: What time will you be back? My lecture starts in 1hr and I don’t want to leave Lily alone.

I re-read the message for the fifth time, then again for a sixth, wondering what I should put. Do I rush home now? Do I stay out a little longer? Do I stay out a lot longer? Do I just ignore the text and act like I never saw it? I don’t want Lily to be alone either, but at the same time, the thought of being in a room alone with her, talking this over with her like the biggest hypocrite on the planet...it just makes me feel sick all over again. Why haven’t I contacted Dr Sawn yet? I should go to his office right now, march in there and just say ‘no’. It would be easy. Wouldn’t it? I mean, I’m not actually considering this, am I? I don’t want that stupid operation. I don’t. I’m fine just the way I am. I just have to tell him that. Right now...or at least, as soon as possible.

ME: I’ll be home soon, promise.

I quickly text Dani a reply, shoving my phone back in my pocket, and turning in the direction of home. I’ll just walk back to the house, spend the afternoon with Lily, and find some opportunity to get her phone so I can contact Dr Sawn and tell him to stay the hell away from both of us. It’ll be easy.

It doesn’t take me long to arrive back at the house, and Dani’s there waiting for me when I get in.

“Lily’s upstairs in her room working on coursework,” She tells me, “I’ll be back by four, Elle’s at model UN until three, and Tiffany’s grocery shopping, so it’ll just be you two for a while.”

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” I promise, “Have fun at this guest lecture thing.”

“Thanks, I will.” She grins, heading out the door. I can’t help but look back at her as she goes, staring at her long black hair as it flies out against the wind, wondering what she sees when she looks in a mirror. Dani always seems so confident, so assured, so content...does she think she’s beautiful?

“Lily? I’m back. How are you?” I call out as I clamber up the stairs, heading into her bedroom. She’s sat at her laptop when I enter, typing away, a notebook scribbled full with equations and sums besides her.

“I’m working.” She tells me, not looking up from her screen.

“Do you want me to get you anything?” I offer, “A glass of water...maybe a snack?”

“I just ate.” She shakes her head, “I’m fine.”

“Alright then…” I nod, heading back out of the room to leave her in peace. I’m not sure if this is her stressing over work, distracting herself from Dr Sawn’s harassment, or if she’s just trying to get rid of me. I think it’s probably the second. I know I could certainly use a distraction right now. No matter what I do Dr Sawn’s voice still echoes in the back of my mind, a haunting mantra, itching away at my brain.

“Everyone wants to be beautiful Cassie, but barely anybody gets to actually achieve that aim. With my help they can. With my help...you can.”

I want to ring him up right now and yell down the phone at how I already feel beautiful, how I don’t need his help, how he’s got in all wrong and he needs to leave me and my sister alone...but then I remember the night of the protest, and what I’d said to Tiffany.

“I think Lily is much prettier than I am, her hair always seems to look so perfect…”

I glance at my reflection in the mirror. I look at the tangled, frizzy dull blonde curls...the scattering of untidy freckles, the messy eyebrows… because the truth is, I don’t feel beautiful.

...but I want to.

I want to so badly that it actually hurts, there’s a sinking pain in my stomach that comes up everytime I look in a mirror, a frustration, not only at my appearance, but at my inability to see the beauty within it. My imperfections shine out like bright lights, blinding me from the better bits, leaving me empty, without confidence, and without spirit. Could Dr Sawn really fix all of that? Could he really change me so everyone, including me, would view me as beautiful? I mean, it couldn’t hurt to try…

Normally this operation is expensive, I could have it for free. And sure, it’s dangerous, but Dr Sawn is a licensed professional. So really...what’s stopping me? I can afford it, and I want it, more than I care to admit to myself...

I want to say yes.

That’s the twisted, numbing truth of it all. That’s the real reason why I haven’t called back yet. I want it. I don’t want to say no and carry on as normal, only to see on the news a few weeks later that some other girl agreed and is now more beautiful and happy than ever before. I don’t want to give up the opportunity to be perfect…

I want to say yes.

--------

I left Lily a note, saying I realised I had an overdue library book to return as soon as possible. I told her I’d be back soon, and I will, and I’ll tell her and all the others the truth then. I couldn’t have done it over a note anyway, that would’ve been the worst way to break it to them. It’s best to do it in person afterwards, that way I can explain it all to them individually, and none of them can talk me out of it.

“Dr Sawn will see you now.” The receptionist tells me, gesturing towards the door. I get up and walk through, suddenly a lot more nervous.

“Cassie, hello. Please, sit down.” He greets me, I do as he says, struggling to feel comfortable in small leather-topped seat. “Let’s begin, shall we?” I can’t speak, so I just nod. “Now, the pill itself is extremely effective, I promise…”

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