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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6. Six

“Do you think Lily will be alright with Tiffany and Elle?” I ask Dani, already worried. I didn’t want to leave Lily alone at the house, and the second I told Dani about my plans she was determined to come along too, leaving just Tiffany and Elle to keep her distracted for an hour or so.

“Quit worrying, they’re playing monopoly, that game always goes on for months.” Dani reminds me, “Besides, they both seemed really worried about Lily, they know how serious this is.”

“You’re right.” I nod, “I’m worrying about nothing, it’s just...well, it’s just…”

“You’re worried about your sister.” Dani finishes for me, “It’s alright, I am too...anyone would be after what she’s been through. I can’t believe I left her alone with that creep Dr Sawn, I was such an idiot.” I look up at Dani, trying to read her vacant expression. There’s a sadness in those green eyes that seems to weigh her entire face down. It makes me wonder...

“Did...did you know about the offer?” I ask hesitantly. The words are sour in my mouth, and I don’t even want to think about what it must be like to hear them, but still, the flow out and into the air.

“Not really- I mean, I had a hunch, but I- I didn’t know for sure…” She struggles to form a reply, “I-I did sort of figure it out though, at the bar last night, when she was rambling about him wanting her face...I-it all sort of fit together after that.”

“Right…” I trail off, unable to think of anything else to say. “Anyway, I think this is it.”

We stop outside a tall, narrow office block, pausing in its shade. It looks so...ordinary. I walk past places like this all the time. Red bricks, dusty windows, and a doorbell with about eight different options. I step forward, pressing the buzzer labelled ‘Dr E.Sawn’, and bending down to be at ear-level with the speaker.

“Hello?”

“Hello? Uh...hi, this is Cassie- um, I mean Cassandra Williams. I’m here about my sister Lily Williams, or rather, I’m here on her behalf.”

“Do you have an appointment with Dr Sawn?”

“Not exactly...but I do really need to see him. I won’t take long, I promise.” I stammer, worried that the receptionist on the other end might send us on our way, “I have to deliver a message, that’s all.”

“I can pass on a message, what is it you need to tell him?”

“It really should come from me personally-”

“That’s not a possibility, I’m afraid.” She cuts me off, “Tell me the message and leave me a contact phone number that he can reach you on if he requires further information.”

“Okay, right…” I give in, trying to think of how best to phrase the message, “He already has her number, and the message is...the message is that Lily Williams says ‘no’, alright? Tell him that she doesn’t want it, and...and from me tell him that I want him to leave her alone. Is that clear? He has to leave her alone.” There’s a brief pause, and for a second I wonder if she’s stopped listening, but then I hear,

“Alright. I will pass on the message.” And with that, the intercom stops buzzing, and we step away from the door.

“Do, do you think it’ll work? Do you think he’ll stay away from her now?” I ask Dani, still uneasy.

“I think you certainly sounded serious,” Dani nods, “But that Dr Sawn is...weird, sort of half-way between determined and obsessed, I wouldn’t underestimate him is what I’m saying.”

“We’ll just have to watch Lily closely then.” I decide, “If we’re there supporting her then we can stop her caving in if he comes after her.”

“Right, yeah,” Dani smiles, “In the meantime let’s keep her distracted, you know? Try to help her forget all about this.”

“Yeah...we just need to put this all behind us.” I agree, but even as I say it, I turn my head back one last time to look at the building, frowning up at the grey windows, uncomfortable under its shadow.

--------

“Okay, I own all the stations, so that’s £200 please!” Tiffany grins, practically snatching the paper out of Dani’s hand, rendering her bankrupt. “Your go Lily.”

“Okay...eight, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8...who owns Pall Mall?”

“Me,” I pipe up, “That’s £10.”

“Here.” She passes it over, and I add it to my pile. I pick up the dice and roll it.

“Five, 1-2-3-4-5...great, now I’m in jail.” I sigh, moving my piece over to the other side of the board.

“Well since you’re stuck there for a while, how about you get up and fetch us all some drinks?” Dani suggests.

“You’re bankrupt, at least I’m still in the game. You do it.” I argue.

“I have to stay here and make sure Lily and Tiffany don’t cheat, unless you think you can drag Elle out of her room to come and moderate?” She smiles, already certain that she’s won.

“Fine.” I give in, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

I head downstairs to the kitchen, filling up four glasses and placing them all down on a tray with a packet of chocolate digestives. It’s already dark outside, and there’s an icy cold breeze flying in through the open window. I slam it shut, shivering. I’m about to head on up again when I hear a noise behind me. I recognise it immediately.

Lily’s ringtone.

I don’t even try to stop myself, I walk straight over to look at the screen.

Blocked number...It’s got to be him.

I should leave it alone, just let it ring...but what it he calls back? Or leaves a voicemail? He’ll got hold of her eventually. It’s like Dani said, he’s determined...determined and obsessed. Surely...surely this is my chance? Before I can think anymore about it, I pick up, deciding to take matters into my own hands.

“Lily?” I recognise his voice straight away. It sends shivers down my spine.

“She’s not available right now.” I tell him, only just able to stop my voice from breaking.

“Right...when will she be available?” He asks.

“Leave her alone.” I try to blink away the tears brimming in the corners of my eyes, but they’re persistent.

“What? I’m sorry, who is this?”

“Cassie.”

“Who?” He fails to piece it all together, “Wait a second...Cassie Williams? Lily’s twin?”

“That’s me.” I confirm, “You can’t talk to her.”

“Look, Cassie, I understand how this could be concerning for you, but Lily’s a grown woman who can make her own decisions-”

“And she’s decided no. So leave her alone.” I interrupt, I feel sick just listening to him talk.

“Until Lily tells me no herself I can’t be certain that you’re not lying to me Cassie, can I?” He argues, “So just let me talk to her for a minute and we can sort this all out.”

“She doesn’t want to talk to you.” I refuse.

“Just one minute-”

“No-”

“Look, I really think that-”

“I’m not going to-”

“I just need to-”

Leave her alone!” I yell, losing control. I bite down on my lip, looking around. Did Lily hear me? What would she think if she found me downstairs on her phone? I wait a few seconds but nothing happens, she can’t have heard.

“Listen, Cassie...I can understand why you’re upset, from your perspective this probably looks all wrong.” Dr Sawn tries again, his voice suddenly a lot softer than before, “But I’m not a bad guy Cassie, I’m a doctor, I help people. All I wanted to do was help Lily by offering her the operation that, well, she seemed to want quite desperately when we last spoke, but now I see that that has apparently changed, of course I’ll leave her alone.” There’s a brief pause, as if he’s thinking about how to word his next argument, “I chose Lily because of the symmetry in her face, it made her perfect for the process, and if she kept a video log of her experience other people may be able to make better informed decisions about whether or not the operation is right for them. Do you understand more now?”

“She doesn’t want it.” I reiterate, “You’ll have to find someone else.”

“Indeed I will…” He trails off, “How much do you know about the operation Cassie?”

“I know that it’s dangerous, possibly even deadly- and that it’s expensive, very expensive.” I tell him, a bit confused about why he’s asking me such a question.

“Mm...that’s what most people would say, but it’s actually a whole lot more complicated than that.” He sighs, “The operation has four phases: an intense diet, some simple toning, skin treatments and plastic surgery, and final perfections. Alone each of those stages is perfectly safe, it’s the fact that they’re all in there together that makes the process dangerous. But I’m a professional Cassie, I know how to time things to make the process completely safe. I truly believe that I can make anyone beautiful, at absolutely no cost to them whatsoever.”

“What’s with the sales pitch? Why are you telling me all of this?” I ask him. Why is he still talking? I’ve told him Lily said no, he should have hung up by now.

“Everyone wants to be beautiful Cassie, but barely anybody gets to actually achieve that aim.” He reminds me, his voice firm and determined, “But with my help they can. With my help...you can.”

“What are you saying? That...that you want, you want me to undergo the operation?” I stammer, my palms so sweaty that Lily’s phone almost slips out of my hand.

“You and Lily are twins, Lily had the correct symmetry but so do you. I’ll make you the same offer I made her Cassie,  I’ll do the whole thing for free, so long as you keep a video diary of all the events.”

“I-I don’t...I mean, no, I-I can’t-”

“Don’t give me an answer right now, think about it.” He urges me, “You know where to find me when you’ve made a decision.” And with that, he hangs up, not giving me the opportunity to say anything else.

Lily’s phone slips out of my hand, falling (fortunately) back into her bag, undamaged. Not that I could say the same for me.

I fall back into a chair, frozen. It’s disgusting- I’m disgusted, but also...just a tiny bit intrigued.

Mostly though, I just feel sick.

Unable to stop myself, I bend over, vomiting out all over the floor, as if his words have entered my system somehow and I’m trying to force them back out. I could get up. I could wash my face and rinse out my mouth and mop the floor, then head back upstairs and play monopoly.

But I don’t.

I just sit here.

Frozen.

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