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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9. Nine

I wake up feeling awful, but this time it’s not just a physical feeling. Yes, my stomach hurts like it’s being pelted with stones, and it feels like there’s a power drill working its way through my small intestine...but all of that comes second behind how ashamed I feel. I can still see the look in Lily’s eye when I told her, she seemed to encapsulate confusion, anger, and despair all in one stare. And the worst part is I know I deserve it. She’s right, I am a hypocrite. That’s not victim-blaming or name-calling... that’s just a fact.

“Cassie?” There’s a knock at my door, before Dani enters, placing a tray down on my bedside table, “I brought you breakfast. A cup of tea, with milk and no sugar, orange juice, cereal, and paracetamol for the pain.” I sit up, a little taken aback by the gesture. “Is that all okay? I wasn’t sure what to bring.”

“It’s...it’s amazing, thank you.” I smile, “I-I wasn’t expecting anything like this.”

“Well I stayed up later last night googling the operation to try and learn as much as I could. There wasn’t an awful lot of information available, but a lot of sites seemed to talk about maintain healthy levels of vitamins and minerals, and taking painkillers regularly, so I thought this might help.” She explains, “I think what’s happening to you sucks, and I think you think that to, so I want to be able to help.”

“Aren’t you...you know, angry?” I think back to last night, and how mad Elle and Lily were.

“Yes.” She nods, “But not at you. I’m angry at that stupid doctor who managed to talk you into this. Trust me, if I ever see him again he better run in the opposite direction. But you Cassie, you I’m not angry at.”

“Then how do you feel?” I ask, “You must feel something, and I don’t exactly think you’re happy for me- so how do you feel?”

“I guess I’m...disappointed.” She decides, “And a  little frustrated too. I’m struggling to imagine how you got yourself into a position where you were willing to accept his offer.”

“It was a snap decision.” I sigh, “I wasn’t really thinking...I-I just…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Dani cuts me off, “You can’t do anything about it now anyway. You just need to try and make the best of a terrible situation.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I nod, leaning over to look at my breakfast. “This all looks so good Dani, thank you.”

“Yeah well, I figured you could use a pick-me-up.” She smiles, “I have to get to my lecture now, but I’ll be back just after lunchtime. In the meantime...take care of yourself, okay?” I nod, and she gets up and leaves. Now about one hundred and ten percent happier than when I first woke up, I get out of bed, and tuck into my meal.

I feel better after eating, it gives me the strength to actually get up and dressed, ready to face day two. Dani’s right, what’s done is done, what matters now is how I handle the situation. If I’m strong, and resilient, and smart, then I might just get through this unscarred. I stare down at the capsule waiting for me next to my glass, and I don’t hesitate, I swallow it whole. Because whether Lily likes it or not, whether Elle or Tiffany or Dani like it or not, or whether I like it or not, this is my reality now...I need to stop sulking and get on with living it.

I take one final look at myself in the mirror before I go, I’m pale all over, apart from two dark violet rings under my eyes, but look just like your average tired student, not someone who spent most of yesterday attached to an IV in constant pain.

I sigh a little in relief when I see the living room is empty, glad to have some more time alone. I pick up my book and a highlighter and try to get to work, but after ten minutes of half-focused reading I feel the pill kick in and I have to stop.

“Will the pain lessen as my body gets used to the drug?”

“No, but you will get used to it.”

It’s only my third time experiencing the pill, but I’ve already got a pretty good idea of what happens. It all starts in my stomach, this sharp, deep, clenching feeling that starts of strong then somehow grows even stronger. It seems to expand out across all of my body, like an electric charge, rippling through my veins, charging through under my skin unit every last inch of my body is captured by the pain. The first few minutes are the hardest, but the pain quickly becomes ordinary, I actually manage to remain conscious this time. Although I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, I pain leaves me paralysed on the sofa, gasping for air, barely able to twitch my fingers. After an hour or so the feeling begins to numb, and I can move again. I sit up and bend over, breathing deeply, trying to get my heart rate back up again. Gradually, I get to my feet. It’s not so bad now. More like an indigestion-type feeling. I walk on through to the kitchen, getting a tall glass of water.

“Is it poison?”

“What?” I turn around to find Tiffany in the doorway, staring off into the distance.

“The pills he makes you take, are they poisonous?” She asks again.

“Um...I-I don’t know what you...what you mean?” I stammer, walking over.

“I could hear you when I came downstairs, it sounded like you were having a heart attack or something...and then I looked through the doorway and you were lying there breathless, all pale and tense and I just thought ‘it must be poison’, you know, a dilute form that won’t kill you, but is strong enough to do the job you want it to do.” She explains, “So is it? Poison I mean?”

“I...um, I-I don’t know what’s in the pills.” I tell her, “Dr Sawn said they were weight-loss pills. I have to take them twice a day.”

Have to?”

“If...if I don’t then it could really mess up my body chemistry.” I confess, “That’s why I can’t just quit this thing- I made my decision when I took the first pill, if I stop taking them then-”

“Stop, I...I don’t want to hear anymore.” Tiffany cuts me off, “I only came down to pass on a message.”

“What is it?” I ask her, a little worried. Tiffany looks concerned, and not just for me.

“It's Lily...she's decided she can't live her anymore, not whilst your...changing," she winces, avoiding my gaze, "She's moving back in with Sammy.”

“Sammy?” I check, not quite believing what I'm hearing, “But she, she can’t...you know what he did to her last year Tiff- she can’t be within one mile of him let alone living in his house!” I shout. I understand that Lily is mad but this is just plain stupid, Sammy was a complete control freak when they dated last year, it wasn’t healthy...it took weeks for her to build up the courage to end things with him.

“I know...I know, believe me I know Cassie...but she’s got it into her head that this is the only way,” Tiffany sighs, “Dani’s with her now trying to talk her out of it.”

“Maybe I should talk to her? I could apologise again, maybe then she’d listen?” I suggest, already forming up a plan in my mind.

“Honestly Cassie, I think that would only make things worse.” Tiffany shakes her head, sitting down, “I mean, it's not too bad, they're not back together or anything, they're just...housemates." I can tell she's lying, and she knows that I can tell, she's not even making an effort to believe it herself.

“This is all my fault,” I realise, falling back into my seat, “It’s barely been twenty-four hours since I swallowed that stupid pill and it’s already ruined everything.” I wait for her to tell me that I’m being silly, that this isn’t all my fault and I shouldn’t beat myself up over it. But of course, she can’t, all I get is a long, painful silence.

“There are six other people living in that house...” Tiffany points out, trying to comfort me some other way, “And Lily’s smart, she’ll get out if she has to.”

“Will she?” I look up, tears starting to build up in the corners of my eyes, “She didn’t last time.”

“People learn from their mistakes-”

“Not all the time, not all mistakes.” I shake my head, tearing up, “Some mistakes are hard to notice when you make them, and some mistakes...some mistakes are addictive.”

“Getting upset isn’t going to solve anything,” Tiffany argues, frustration rising up in her voice, “Try looking at things from Lily’s perspective, she believes Sammy when he says that he’s changed, she believes that they can live together and not ‘be’ together, she believes that she has more of a home with him then she does with us right now. In her eyes, this is the right thing to do. The best thing we can do is be there for her when and if she needs us.” Tiffany’s phone buzzes in her pocket, she unlocks it and stares at the screen, her face sinking. “Dani just texted, Lily’s mind is made up, she’s moving...right away too, she’s going straight there, Dani’s going to take her essentials over, and she’ll come back in tomorrow morning for the rest. She...said to tell you goodbye, and good luck.” I bury my head in my hands, the words hurting incomparably more than the drugs currently working their way through my stomach. “If it’s any consolation, I think she’ll come round soon Cassie. I remember last night I got so emotional I could barely think...but I woke up this morning a little bit clearer, and- and whilst I’m still not happy about this, and I don't want any part in it, I don’t see how getting angry will help. Lily will come around soon too, just be patient.”

“And what’s going to happen in the meantime?” I cry, unable to find any comfort in her words, “Sammy’s a monster, and it’s my fault she’s gone back to him. I…I ruined everything.”

“Yes, you did.” Tiffany nods, not bothering to be gentle about it, “Which is why it’s your responsibility to fix it, and you’re not going to do that by crying, are you? So get up, get tough, and prove to Lily that you can survive this thing...if not for yourself, then for the rest of us.”

I sit up, wiping away my tears. She’s right...again. If this has taught me anything it’s that my decisions don’t just impact me. I decided to take that pill, now I have to deal with the consequences.

“So, what are you going to do now?” Tiffany asks me.

“I’m going to give Lily her space,” I decide, “I’m going to get some lunch, go to my lecture, see Dr Sawn at six, go to bed, and when Lily comes back here tomorrow morning for her things I’ll be ready. We’ll talk then, and see if we can’t sort this whole thing out.”

-------

“I did warn you about people’s reactions,” Dr Sawn sighs, “People tend to naturally react badly to this sort of thing. But your friend was right. They’ll all come around eventually.”

“I expected some arguing, yeah, but I didn’t expect anything like this. I don’t know how to explain it, but Sammy, he controlled Lily. It was terrifying. I just can’t believe she’d let him back into her life again, even to avoid something like this.” I shake my head, “And if something happens this time then, then it will be on my conscience. I...I don’t know if I’m strong enough to handle that.”

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again Cassie, you are strong, stronger than you know.” Dr Sawn assures me, “I could see it before and I can still see it now. Not many people would be doing so well on just their third day of treatment, I’ve had patients submitted to hospital at this stage, but you, you’re thriving. This is going to be great, you’ll see.”

“I don’t feel like I’m thriving, I feel like I’m dying.” I tell him, “Those pills...they’re difficult.”

“Like I said, you’ll get used to the pain eventually.” He reminds me, “Now, as you seem to be doing fine physically I think it’s time we move on to part two of our little deal, the video diary.” As he speaks he pulls back a curtain to reveal a video camera and a chair.  “I just need you to sit down and answer my questions as honestly as possible, is that alright?”

“Yeah...yeah that’s fine.” I nod, getting up and walking over, “What sort of things are you going to ask.”

“Nothing too personal, don’t worry.” He promises me, “I just want to make sure we give people a good idea of what this process is actually like to experience.”

“Sounds...right.” I sit down, ready to begin. He presses the record button at the top of the camera, and picks up his clipboard with the questions on it.

“So Cassie, you’re just about at the end of day two. How are you feeling?” He asks the first question.

“Um, I guess I’m feeling how you’d expect me to be feeling. I won’t lie to you, I’m in a lot of pain, the weight loss pills have some pretty serious side-effects. I’ve been throwing up a lot, I’ve had a migraine this afternoon too, and I’ve only just stopped passing out from the-”

“That’s good Cassie, could you talk more about how you’re feeling mentally? Are you optimistic? Hopeful? Excited?” Dr Sawn cuts me off, rephrasing the question.

“Right, mentally…” I trail off, hurriedly thinking up an answer on the spot, “I suppose I’m a little excited, this is obviously a big thing for me and I hope to have improved a lot by the end of the process. I’m a little bit scared too, I’m not really sure what I signed up to, but I know that this was my decision and I have to see it through. I’m determined to get through this. I’m determined to be strong.”

“That’s great Cassie, well done, I think we’ll end it there for today.” Dr Sawn decides, turning the camera off.

“Is that all? I though there’d be more.” I get up, a little bit surprised.

“There isn’t much to ask at this stage of things, they’ll be more to talk about further on I’m sure.” He explains, “For now though, that was brilliant.”

“Alright…” I trail off, getting up to leave, “Same time tomorrow? Here at six?”

“I’ll see you then.” He smiles, getting the door for me. “And in the meantime Cassie, don’t worry too much about your sister. Sometimes when people are being stubborn, it’s best to give up and look the other way.”

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