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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16. Sixteen - Christmas Eve

“Well…that’s the last of the mulled wine.” Lily frowns, shaking her the empty bottle.

“Maybe it’s a sign that you should stop drinking?” I laugh, clearing our glasses from the table.

“Alright, I’ll switch to coffee...with baileys.” Lily winks, getting up and heading through to the kitchen.

“Oh...this is nice, isn’t it?” Mum sighs, curling up on the sofa, “I’ve missed you both so much.”

“It does feel good to be back home again.” I nod, smiling.

“Oh, look what I found - quality street!” Lily beams, rushing back in with a box full of chocolates. “Dibs on the purple one.” She dives into the box, pulling out a handful and tucking in. “Mum? Do you want one?”

“Oh, gone on then.” She grins, leaning over to take one. “What about you Cassie?”

I can tell she realises what she’s said a few seconds int saying it, her tone of voice changing...her face sinking, a solemn silence infesting the festive atmosphere, depressing the mood in the room.

“I’m good, thanks.” I nod, avoiding her gaze.

“...Do, do you really not eat any chocolate?” Mum asks, hesitantly digging deeper. I grimace, but deep down I can feel myself surrendering to the discomfort; after all, this had to happen sooner or later.

“I mean...I could,” I shrug, “But I’d have to be really careful about what I ate thereafter, it’s just not worth all the trouble.”

“I thought the diet phase was over?” Lily chips in. I look at her, confused- how come she knows that? I haven’t spoken to her about any of this. “Dani told me.” She adds, noticing my confusion.

“Well the initial diet is over, but I can’t go straight back to eating how I did before.” I try to explain, “For one, I can’t afford to put the weight back on;  and for another, my body’s still adjusting, it could be risky to give it any sort of shock to the system.”

“That’s why you don’t drink alcohol...or coffee?” Mum realises, starting to gain some sort of basic understanding. “How much exactly has this diet changed you biologically?”

“I don’t think it’s done anything that serious to my body,” I shake my head, “Sure, it’s been intense, but it hasn’t changed me ‘biologically’.”

“Do you know for certain?” Lily checks.

“Well, no but-”

“Then how certain can you be?” She points out, frowning, “I mean, do you ask any questions? Or do you just blindly go along with whatever he says?”

“What difference would questions make anyway?” I argue, “I can’t exactly say no...I’m in this now right up to the end, whether I like it or not.”

“There’s nothing smart about being ignorant.” Lily insists. I don’t disagree with her, but there’s nothing smart about signing up to a potentially deadly beauty operation either, and I still did that easy enough.

“I don’t expect you to understand.” I shrug, unable to come up with a better come back.

“Girls-” Mum tries to intervene, but Lily cuts her off.

“Of course I understand!” She yells, her anger escalating, “I was put in exactly the same position, but unlike you, I didn’t actually go through with it!”

“Yeah, probably because I go there first.” I wince as I realise what I’ve just said. It’s a low blow, and probably a lie, but it just sort of slips out… “Lily, I-”

“I’m tired, I’m off to bed.” She decides, not giving me a chance to mumble some sort of apology. Before I can object further, she gets up and heads out of the room. I get up out of my seat, ready to follow her, but mum objects.

“Leave her be, she needs some time alone.” She tells me, stopping me in my tracks, “Give her ten minutes to cool off.” Sighing, I sit back down, guilty and ashamed. “...I, I haven’t asked yet, and...and I feel like I should,” mum mumbles, grimacing, “Why did you do it?”

I feel my heart somehow sink even deeper into my chest. It’s a question I’ve been asked countless times, and I still can’t figure out an answer. It’s not that I’m not trying, I want more than anything to be able to know the true, honest answer...but every time I’m asked all I can think of is

“I don’t really know, it was a snap decision.”

And that will never be good enough, not for me, not for Lily, and not for my mum.

“I remember a year or so ago when I got a voucher in the post for 40% off botox and wrinkle treatments at that spa place in town, I wanted to chuck it straight in the recycling, but I ended up keeping it in the admin pile for weeks...thinking, what if? What if I went for it? Would it be worth it? Would it make me happier? In the end I chose to keep my money, but it didn’t feel like some great victory over my insecurities to chuck the voucher away, in fact, throwing it away felt pretty awful and I’ve often wondered if going for it would have felt better and-, and well I’m rambling now but, but what I’m saying is...is….”

“I get it,” I nod, smiling at her, “I get what you’re trying to say.”

“Alright…” she trails off, “You will stay safe though, won’t you?”

“I’ll try- I will.” I promise her.

“Good,” mum nods, “I can’t say I agree with what you’re doing, but I hope you get what you were after it the end, and I hope it makes you happy.”

“Thanks mum.” I sigh, struggling not to tear up.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted for both of you,” she continues, “So even if I don’t fully understand why you’ve signed up to this thing, or why your sister’s decided to forgive that boy, I’ll support you both, like a mother should.”

“And like a sister should too.” I wince, “I...I should go talk to Lily.” She doesn’t say yes, but she doesn’t say no. So, partly reluctantly, I get up and head towards our bedroom.

When I enter, Lily’s at the desk, textbook in hand, working away, desperately trying to distract herself. She even doesn’t look up as I walk in, doing her best to ignore me. Still, I walk over, sitting down on my bed behind her.

“I-I’m sorry Lily, I didn’t mean it...I...It just sort of slipped out,” I fumble around, trying to form some sort of decent apology, “I know you went through it too, I know how hard it was for you...I’m sorry if I made you feel like I was just ignoring all that.” For a few moments there’s only silence as Lily sats frozen at her desk, thinking things over. I wait patiently for her response, not wanting to test her further.

“I know you know,” she says at last, “It’s not about that anyway.”

“Then what it is about?” I ask her.

“It’s about...about- well, I don’t really know!” She sighs, “I guess, well, I suppose it’s…it’s…”

“It doesn’t matter, it’s okay if you’re unsure and confused-”

“It’s Sammy.”

I freeze, stopped mid-sentence by my sister’s sudden revelation. This isn’t about me, it’s about Sammy. She’s not upset that I yelled at her she’s upset that I’m not close enough to her right now to notice just how much she needs my support. I was right...I was right all along...Sammy’s managed to get to her all over again. For a few seconds we’re both silent, unsure of what to do next. Then, she speaks again.

“What I mean is...Sammy, he’s- he’s starting to turn back to how he was, ever since I agreed to start, you know, being with him again, he’s become more and more possessive...and I hate to argue with him especially when I’m arguing so much with you and Elle and Dani and, well, I just sort of go along with it all but- but…”

“He’s controlling you.” I finish for her, “He’s abusing you.”

“I don’t know if I could really call it abuse-”

“Oh come on Lily, of course it is-”

“But it’s still not as bad as it was last time!” She cuts me off, her eyes pleading with me to listen, “He’s not telling me what to do or where to go, he...he just likes to know what I’m doing, he worries.”

“He’s obsessed.” I shake my head, “We both know it will only get worse from here.”

“But...but it’s not as simple as that.” Lily sobs, “I- I don’t want to hate him Cassie, I want us to be happy together...and I need him, I can’t move back home, not now-”

“Of course you can!” I cut her off, “Of course you can move back home, I don’t want that stupid bedroom anyway.”

“It’s not about the bedroom, it’s that...I can’t, I can’t live in the same house as you whilst you’re...changing- I, I’m sorry.” She stammers, “It’s not that I’m angry, it’s not even that I’m upset. I...I just couldn’t bare it, watching you’re face change and thinking about how it could have been me….I’m sorry, I just can’t...”

“I understand,” I’m not sure if it’s a lie or not, but I know she needs to hear it, “But you can’t stay with Sammy either. You need to find somewhere else. Promise me...promise me you’ll look for somewhere else?”

“You’re right...I will.” She agrees, wiping away the tears from her eyes.

“Good,” I smile faintly, taking her hand in mine and squeezing it tight, “And Lily?”

“Hm?”

“What you said about not being able to argue with him whilst you’re arguing with everyone else...I, well, I just wanted to say, you don’t have to argue with us anymore. I understand, and they will too. We’re here for you, all of us, and none no more than me.”

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