The Price of Beauty

331076
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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11. Eleven - present day

I watch it all unclose from the cafe across the street.

Lily storming out of her car towards the front door, pushing past Elle who’s frantically waving her arms around in the air, most likely yelling about how stupid and irrational she’s being...Dani standing in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest as she looks down at her feet, unable to bring herself to look. I can see a Tiffany-like figure just inside the hallway, pacing back and forth, undecided about whether or not to do something...

And then there's me.

Just sat here across the street, magic matcha detox tea in hand, staring at it all as if I’m watching it all play out on a cinema screen. I decided this morning that I should make myself scarce before she got there. If I was there I’d be like a catalyst, only making things worse. Just the sight of me would probably drive her even further over the edge...and nobody needs that right now. I’m much better placed over here. I know that. I just wish knowing that made it easier to watch. I feel so helpless just stood here, staring out across the street, making wild guesses at what’s going on.

Lily disappears off indoors, Dani following after her, but Elle and Tiffany remain outside. Elle’s arms are still flying around as she rants, kicking the dustbin. Tiffany just stands back and letts her calm down, glancing up the stairs every now and then, clearly anxious. A few minutes later she re-emerges, carrying a box full of her belongings and taking them out to a car, ignoring Elle’s shouts as she follows her around. Once she’s stashed them in the boot Lily turns back around, confronting Elle, and Dani ends up stepping between them, forcing them apart. Lily sighs and storms back indoors to fetch another load. Leaving Elle to be talked down by Dani, who’s calm and rational facade seems to be breaking more and more by the minute.

Lily comes out again, arguing without stopping as the cycle repeats over and over again, until her car is full of her things, and she’s ready to go. Now’s my chance. I could run out across the street and try to stop her, I could apologise and explain and try to make her see things the way I see them, I could at least try to get her to listen…

But I don’t.

I just stand still and watch as she drives off, breaking the twenty-mile speed limit as she races to get away from the house as soon as possible.

And then she’s gone.

And I finally start to move; walking out of the cafe and crossing the road over to the house. I go straight to the living room, assuming correctly that I would be able to be alone there. I sit on the edge of my sofa-bed that I still haven’t shrunk back since last night, burying my head in my hands.

Before I have a chance to run to the toilet I throw up all over the carpet, unsure whether it’s the drugs or my sister’s absence that’s causing my breakfast to re-emerge. Sighing, I get up and head to the cupboard, looking for some carpet cleaner and a mop.

When I shut the cupboard door again Elle’s shadow is behind me. Tall. Silent. Unmoving. I pause in front of the door, waiting for her to move, or at least to say something, but all I can hear is the sound of her heavy breathing behind me, like the beat of a drum. Doing my best to ignore her I move away and head back through to clean up my mess. All she does is turn so her gaze can follow me as I go. My hands shake as I get to work, my entire body trembling under her stone cold stare. I don’t even have to glance up to know what sort of look she’s giving me. A look of disgust. Of hatred. Of pure, acute, silent anger. Before I can stop myself I’m bent over again, throwing up whatever it is actually left in my stomach, rocking back and forth over the puddle...tearing up and tearing apart.

And then Elle finally reacts. She laughs.

It’s an empty, hollow, spiteful sound that seems to spread easily out across the space, sending sparks down my spine. But beneath it, there’s a choking noise…

Tears.

Elle walks away, heading upstairs to be alone. I sit up, staring down at the mess I’ve made. And then, with so little else to do, I begin to laugh too.

--------

“Well your vitals all seem normal...your body seems to be adjusting well to the drug. How are your symptoms at the moment? Is it getting any easier?” Dr Sawn asks me, taking the blood-pressure monitor off of my arm.

“The drug is still pretty painful,” I admit, “And I can’t keep a lot of my food down-”

“Perfectly normal.” He cuts me off, “That’s all perfectly normal, trust me. Just make sure you rehydrate and have a small snack afterwards, a glass of water and a handful of nuts will do it.” He reaches behind him, pulling out a small black keycard. “Now, since you’ve pretty much adjusted to the drug, I think it’s time you started going up to the gym daily to do about an hour’s work of cardiovascular exercise. I’d suggest half an hour on a treadmill, fifteen minutes on a bike, then some sort of cool down activity. This card will get you access to a small, private club, with plenty of trainers around to assist you- the address is one the back.”

“Right, and-”

“Trust me, exercising will only make you feel better.” He interrupts me again, “Now, how about we get on to the video diary?”

“Um, okay...sure.” I agree, moving to sit down in front of the camera.

“Fantastic,” he grins, starting to record, “Now Cassie, it’s been a good number of days since you first came on the drug. I understand you’re now ready to start the exercising part of the process too?”

“That’s correct,” I nod, “My body has adjusted to the pill. I’m struggling to keep food down, and I still experience a lot of pain in my stomach and abdomen, but I’ve been assured that this is all completely normal and will start to get better soon-”

“Yes, yes of course.” Dr Sawn confirms, “And what about other aspects of your life since you began the process? I understand that some of your friends have been...struggling to come to terms with your decision. What would you like to say to them and others who would argue that you’ve made some sort of ‘stupid mistake’?”

“Uh…” I trail off, a little taken aback by the question, “I- erm...I, uh, I guess-”

“Obviously you don’t agree with them otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen to partake in all this?” He prompts me, trying to help me shape an answer, “Why was that Cassie? Why did you choose to go through the perfection operation?”

“I...I mean I, I guess- I guess that’s obvious, I wanted to be beautiful.” I place my hands in my lap to hide the fact that they’re shaking, suddenly a lot more uncomfortable in front of the camera.

“Great, and what about-?”

“Actually, actually could we end the interview there for today?” I ask, cutting him off mid-question.

“Of course, no worries.” He smiles at me, turning the camera off, “I’m sorry- I didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t.” I lie, “I...I just don’t want to be too late back tonight.”

“Right, of course.” He nods, “Well then, sorry for keeping you. I’ll see you tomorrow, same time- but remember to get up to the gym before then, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah I will.” I call back to him on my way out, all too glad to finally escape that small, compact room... and the glaring camera-lens. Sometimes that place makes me feel so claustrophobic.

The house isn’t really any better, mind. As soon as I get through the door I head to my room, not wanting another encounter with Elle, or to disturb anyone else more than I already have. But before I make it to my bed, I notice something on the stairs. A scarf. Dark blue, with a red and green tartan, spread out across the steps like a small spillage of fabric. I’d recognise it anywhere. It’s Lily’s. It must have fallen out of something whilst she was rushing out. I bend over and pick it up, wrapping the fabric once around the palm of my hand, balling my hand into a fist clutching onto it. I’ll keep a hold of it for her. I gave her her space today but sooner or later we’ll have to confront one another, and when they day comes, I’ll bring her scarf. Until then, I’ll keep it safe. I’ll keep myself safe too. That way, both of us can come back to her eventually.

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