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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8. Eight

I wake up still at Dr Sawn’s office, on some sort of examination bed, an IV attached to my arm. I tilt my head to the left to glance at my watch, it’s 9am...I’ve been here all night. I’ve slept for fifteen hours but I still feel exhausted. My stomach is numb but heavy, as if someone’s dug a hole through the middle of it and stuffed it with bricks, and my whole body just feels...bruised. I try to think back to last night, I remember coming here in the evening, ready to accept Dr Sawn’s offer, I remember sitting down with him and talking through the process, he had a pill for me to take...and I took it. Then everything began to hurt, and I...I must have blacked out.

“Good morning Cassie,” Dr Sawn walks into the room, “Ah, don’t try to sit up.” I do as he says, staying on my back. He walks over, picking up my wrist to take my pulse. “How are you feeling?” He asks.

“Awful.” I tell him honestly, my voice hoarse and tired, “What happened? Did I have a bad reaction to the drug?”

“Oh no, not at all, no this is completely normal.” He assures me, “It takes time for your body to get used to the drug, usually around 48 hours...but you’ll feel a bit better every minute, it won’t be long before this all turns into some minor stomach pain. In the meantime, all you need to do is rest and relax, let the drug run its course.” He’s so positive, so confident, it’s hard not to believe him.

“My friends...they don’t know where I am, I didn’t tell them I was coming, I thought I’d be back before this, they’ll be worried.” I realise, beginning to panic.

“Not to worry- here, call them.” He hands me his mobile, “I’ll leave you alone for a minute or so whilst you do, but pull that red string if you need me urgently, I’ll just be outside.” I nod, and he leaves, giving me some privacy whilst I make the call. I dial the home number, assuming at least one of them will be in.

“Hello?” I hear Tiffany’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Tiffany? It’s Cassie.”

“Cassie? Oh wow, where are you? What happened? You’ve been gone all night did some guy corner you or something? We were all so worried- Dani even went out looking for you…”

“Tiffany, I’m fine.” I promise her, cutting her off, “I’m sorry I panicked you all, I-I didn’t realise I’d be gone for so long.”

“What happened? Did you go somewhere else after the library?”

“I-I never went to the library…” I trail off, a lump swelling up in my throat as I think about what to say next, “I-I went...I went somewhere else.”

“Where?”

“It’s…it’s hard to explain.” I mumble.

“‘Hard to explain’? What?” Tiffany sighs, “Cassie, what’s happened?”

“What I mean is...is...it’s better to, um, it’s better to explain it in person.” I stammer, “I’ll be home later I think, I’ll explain everything then.”

“Well...where are you now? If it’s easier we could come to you. Everyone will really want to see you Cassie, you can’t expect us to just sit and wait for the rest of the day.” Tiffany presses, me for more information. It’s understandable, of course it is, but I still wince at every new question.

“I’m somewhere safe, I promise.” I dodge her question, “Really Tiffany, I’m fine-”

“You don’t sound fine-”

“Look, this isn’t the sort of conversation that should be had over the phone.” I interrupt her again, “I’ll be back as soon as possible, then we’ll talk.” Before she can say anything else I hang up, my hand shaking as I put the phone back down on the table beside me. I choke a little as tears begin to build up in the corners of my eyes, suddenly the pain in my stomach is irrelevant, all I can feel is the heat in my cheeks. How am I going to tell them? I’ve spent the past day and a half convincing Lily to turn this exact operation down, only to go ahead and accept it in her place. Are they going to be angry? Upset? Disappointed? I can’t imagine any of them reacting well.

“It’s about time for you to take another dose,” Dr Sawn comes back in, “That will bring back the initial pain again, you’ll probably faint again, but after that, you should be good to go.” He puts a pill box down on the table, taking a capsule out for me to swallow. “You’ll need to take two of these a day for the next month, then one a day for the following month after that. Then we’ll move on to stage two.”

“What’s stage two?”

“Toning.” He tells me, “Once you’ve lost the weight we’ll need to move all your remain body fat to the right areas, and build up some muscle in others. But I’ll tell you more about that when we get to it. Right now all you need to worry about it taking the pills and exercising, in order to lose as much weight as possible.”

“Will the pain lessen as my body gets used to the drug?” I ask, hopeful, thinking back to last night, when I last took the pill.

“No, but you will get used to it.” He tries to be assuring, “And it will all be worth it in the long run, won’t it?” He passes me a plastic cup half full of water, along with the capsule. I don’t really have much of a choice, it’s too late to go back now anyway, so I swallow it, laying back and waiting for the pain to arrive....

Let’s just say, it doesn’t take long.

--------

I wake up feeling ten times worse.

My head hurts as if I’ve run into a wall, just thinking seems to intensify the pain ten times more. My vision’s turned funny too...everything’s sort of blurred and fuzzy. But most of all I just feel sick. Really, really sick. Like really bad motion sickness, only I’m perfectly still. Slowly, I reach up for the remaining water in my glass, but every swallow seems to made my stomach churn, and it only makes me feel worse. I check the time - half past two...I didn’t sleep for as long this time, I didn’t sleep through the side-effects.

I reach over and under the table for the sick bucket, letting it all out.

I really wish I hadn’t just finished my water now.

“Ah, you’re up.” Dr Sawn comes back in, “That’s good. How are you feeling? Better? Worse?”

“Worse, definitely worse.” I sigh, “I threw up more stuff than I knew I even had in my stomach.”

“That’s good, it means the pill is working.” Dr Sawn promises me, “But you should definitely eat something now….ah- here you go.” He passes me over a banana. I take it, my only thought being where’s the rest of it? I just threw up everything but my vital organs, shouldn’t I be eating a three course meal right now?

“Shouldn’t I eat more than just this? I threw up a lot of stuff.” I prompt him for more, my stomach hurting now more in hunger than in nausea.

“Bananas are high in potassium and full of protein, they’ll fill you up more than you’d think, but if you want a little more that’s fine…” he trails off, walking over to his desk and fiddling around, “Here you go.” He hands me a small tub of nuts and seeds. “You need to eat smartly now Cassie, foods that are low in fat and sugar, but high in protein. You shouldn’t eat more than 1600 calories a day whilst you’re on the pill, ideally less than that. I’d recommend a banana for breakfast, salad without dressing for lunch, and some sort of warm vegetable dish at dinner. Where you can, stick to a vegan diet too.”

“Right…” I nod, starting to eat. It’s not much of a meal, but I’d take anything right now. I’m so hungry that it all tastes ten times better than usual anyway. “You said there were four stages, how long do they all take?” I ask, suddenly aware of how little I actually know. I probably should have asked these questions before I agreed to start the process.

“The diet is the longest phase,” Dr Sawn tells me, sitting down, “It could take as long as a couple of months, but it will likely be around five or six weeks. After that we move on to toning, as I said already, which should only take three to four weeks. The last two stages are the fastest, and arguably the most crucial too. In stage three I’ll perform multiple surgeries to install ideal symmetry in your face, and enhance all your other features too. Stage four will be a series of less-major surgeries and treatments to add some final finishing touches. After that, you’ll be done. In total you’re probably looking at four to six months of treatment, and a two month recovery and adjustment period thereafter. Is that clearer now?”

“I guess so.” I shrug, “Thanks.”

“No problem, I’ll of course answer any questions you have.” He reminds me, “Now, do you feel any better after eating? Do you think you’re ready to make your way back home yet?” I think for a moment. I’ve still got a nauseating, heavy pain in my stomach, but I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon, and I do really need to get back to the house so I can explain…

“I’m ready to go.” I nod, sitting up.

“Great, that’s very promising.” He smiles, “Before you go I need you to sign a couple of documents, and pick up your pills from the desk on your way out. Take a one capsule dose twice a day, preferably after eating, and don’t forget to come back every evening so I can do a quick daily check up.”

“What time?”

“Say...six?” He decides, “But if you feel unwell at any stage of the day contact me or dial 999- not that that’s likely of course, you should be fine.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll see you soon I guess.” I make to leave, getting up off the table, surprised at my immediate need to cling to the wall. My legs feel like jelly.

“That numbness will pass once you start walking, don’t worry.” Dr Sawn tells me, noticing my confusion. Using the table to support me, I take another step, and another, and another, gradually making my way out of the room and back into the reception area. I pick up my medication, and limp out of the door, onto the street outside.

It’s absolutely freezing, but I barely feel the cold with my stomach eating away at itself. Each time I take a step I need to stop and pause, bending over ready to throw up, but somehow unable to. It’ll pass soon. It’s not far to the house from here anyway. The cold air probably makes it worse or something. I force myself to walk on, despite my legs aching more than I thought humanly possible, focused on getting home, getting warm, and getting this whole mess all sorted out as soon as possible. Still, the more I walk the worse it seems to get, a warm liquid burning up and down my throat as I battle with my body. By the time I reach the front door, I’m exhausted. I’m just about to find my keys and get inside when it all finally becomes too much for me, and the measly banana and nut meal returns for an encore, forcing itself up my throat and out of my mouth.

“Cassie? What the…?” Dani swings the door open, choosing the worst possible moment to notice my arrival. “A-are you sick?”

“I need to sit down.” I sigh, practically falling through the doorway.

“Yeah, right...come in,” she nods, “I-I’ll just go and tell the others that you’re back. They’re all upstairs.” Still breathless from my trek home, I stumble through into the living room, laying down with my back on the sofa, groaning out in pain.

“Cassie? What’s going on? You look like you’re dying!” Tiffany burst in, “Are...are you okay? D-do you need anything?”

“Paracetamol wouldn’t hurt.” I suggest, suppressing the urge to cry out or yell. I have to seem as healthy and happy as possible, if I come in here half-dead and tell them what I’ve agreed to it will only make their reactions ten times worse.

“Here.” Tiffany returns with the pain-killers, handing them over.

“You’re back? What happened?” Elle comes through the doorway, Dani and Lily trailing on behind her.

“Yeah Cassie, that was one long library session…” Lily manages to crack a smile, but I can tell that behind her grin she’s really concerned.

“We thought something might have happened to you, that- you know, some guy got to you and…” Tiffany trails off, looking away, getting upset.

“It was nothing like that.” I promise them, “I’m sorry I put you all through that, I-I just didn’t realise how long I’d be gone for. I’m sorry.”

“You can be sorry later, for now just tell us what happened.” Elle argues, “You look like you got hit by a bus or something.” I move to sit up so I can face them all, wanting to do this right.

“There...there isn’t really any easy way to say this,” I begin, biting down on my lip, “What I mean is- no matter how I put it you’re all going to get upset, so...so I guess I should just say it: I went to see Dr Sawn last night, the guy who offered Lily the operation for free before, and...and I, well, I agreed to take Lily’s place.”

“W-what do you mean?” Lily asks, her face breaking, “Y-you didn’t…”

“I did.” I sigh, burying my head in my hands, “I did.”

“Wait, you’re not saying that...are you telling us that you agreed to let him perform the perfection operation on you?” Dani checks, refusing to believe it.

“I am...I am.” I nod, unable to bring myself to look up and see they’re expressions. Reading expressions is how we read people’s thoughts, and I don’t want to know what they’re thinking.

“B-but it’s not too late, right?” Lily stammers, “Y-you could phone him up right now and cancel.”

“She’s got too….I mean, you don’t really want to do this do you Cassie?” Elle agrees.

“Yeah...yeah we should phone him right now, who has his number? We’ll-”

“Phoning him won’t do any good.” I interrupt Tiffany, “I-I already took the first pill. I’ve started the process.”

“That’s where you’ve been” Dani realises, “You’ve been at his office recovering from the first dose.” I can’t speak, so I just nod.

There’s an unbearably long pause.

….then there’s another.

We just all sit still, frozen, letting the information sink in like a long, thin needle, digging deeper and deeper into us with each millisecond that passes-

“How could you?” My sister’s voice breaks the silence, her whisper hanging in the air like the smoke of a candle.

“Lily, I-”

“I don’t want to hear it.” She cuts me off, “You hypocrite Cassie! How could you spend two days lecturing me about how stupid and dangerous that operation is only to go and snatch it all up for yourself? You told me not to do it and less than twenty-four hours later you went out there and did it yourself!”

“I know...I know…”

Then why?” She yells, “Why would you do it?”

“I guess...I guess it was just different w-when it was me.” I sigh.

“What does that even mean?” Elle gets involved, getting to her feet, “Face it Cassie, there’s nothing that you could say that would excuse this.”

“That’s a little harsh Elle,” Dani defends me, “Cassie may have made a mistake but she deserves sympathy and support not bitterness and blame.”

“Of course you’d think that! You live in your own little positivity-cocoon, always viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses-”

“Now you’re just being argumentative for the sake of it-”

“Guys stop- this isn’t what we should be talking about.” Lily cuts in, trying to get the conversation back on topic.

“Whatever, I don’t care anymore;" Elle decides, turning her back and getting up to leave, "I’m walking away.”

“Would it kill you to show some empathy once in a while?” Dani calls back after her, fuming. Oh god. I did this. This is my fault. I have to fix this. I have to try...

“Lily, what I was trying to say is that...that I...I just- it was a snap decision, okay? I wasn’t really thinking.” I try to get through to my sister, “What’s done is done now anyway, I can’t quit now even if I wanted to.”

“And do you? Do you want to?” She snaps.

“I-I don’t know…”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” She shakes her head, getting up, “I’m out too. Sorry Cassie, you’re on your own.”

“Tiffany?” I look up, hopeful. She's been quiet all this time, sat shell-shocked next to me, her hands shaking in her lap.

“I-I’m sorry Cassie,” she tears up, walking away, “I-I just can’t…”

“Well I’m still here.” Dani reminds me, sitting down beside me, “I think your stupid, sure, but I’m not going to beat you up about it.”

“Thanks.” I mumble.

“Here,” she passes me a tissue, “Don’t worry about them Cassie, they’ll all come around eventually, they’re just shocked, that’s all. Once they realise that this is the way it is from now on they’ll have to come to terms with it, then they’ll realise that the best thing to do is be there for you, and support you.”

“It’s alright,” I promise her, “I know I don’t deserve their support. I sort of like their anger.” I deserve it. Everything they said was true. I was stupid. I am a hypocrite.

“Why did you do it Cassie?” Dani sighs, finally letting loose the all-important question.

“I...I guess I just wanted to be beautiful.” I shrug, still not able to provide a decent answer.

“You were already beautiful.” Dani murmurs, staring down at the floor.

“Then... then I guess I wanted to be perfect.”

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