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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13. Thirteen

“It was strange...I couldn't really tell what she was thinking,” I try to explain to Dani, “She didn't get angry with me, but she sounded upset...but yeah, I don't know. It was different explaining it over the phone, as if a part of me wasn't really there.”

“And you’re still going down there at Christmas?” She checks, “Because you know my parents are abroad this year so I’ll be staying here over the holidays, and you’re welcome to join me if you prefer.”

“It’s a tempting offer...but I think I have to go, phone calls won’t be enough in the long-run, and I need to see them face-to-face.” I decide, twiddling my thumbs. It’s a really tempting offer...a really tempting offer… but I need to exercise some self-control, grow a backbone, and face my family...all of them, which includes…

“Do you think Lily is ready to see me yet?” I ask Dani, “I mean, she did phone me, maybe she’s finally starting to adjust…?”

“Lily is...busy at the moment,” Dani grimaces, avoiding my hopeful gaze, “She’s been…’distant’ since she got back with Sammy.”

“Distant?”

“Busy.”

“So she’s closed off? Not spending time with her friends? Not spending time with you?” All my questions are rhetorical, I know what’s happening, I’ve seen it all before. “She’s dating Sammy again.” I realise.

“Apparently he’s different now…”

“Bullshit-”

“He’s promised to do better, he seems really sorry about before-”

“He promised they’d just be friends when she moved in with him, now look what’s happened!” I yell, so angry that I’m shaking. I hate Sammy, I hate him more than I’ve ever hated anyone and I’ve only spent a total of twenty minutes with him in my life. It’s not about what he’s done to me, it’s about what he’s done to Lily...what he’s doing to Lily, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that, deep down, I know this is all happening because of me. It’s the ripple effect in action, and I cannonballed into shark-infested waters.

“Nothing’s really set in stone yet, they haven’t even told people that they’re dating again, Lily’s very keen to take it slow.” Dani explains, trying to calm me down, “In fact, I think I’m the only one she’s talked to about it.”

“So are they together or not?”

“I don’t know!” Dani sighs, burying her head in her hands, her calm facade melting away, “I don’t know Cassie...and I wish I did but, but I think you’re right about one thing, once they start spending more time together it’s just a slippery slope back down to the bottom. I want to help her, I want to take her hand and drag her as far away from him as possible but I can’t, I can’t get through to her Cassie...she’s too distant.” I wait for a moment, letting the silence settle and soothe us both, before I shuffle over the sofa, close enough to wrap my arms over her shoulders.

“When we were little, and Lily got upset, she would go upstairs to our room, tuck a blanket into the top bunk, then get into the bottom, using the blanket as a shield so nobody could see her, so she could be alone. I remember one afternoon she spent over two hours under there.”

“What made her come out?”

“She didn’t, I ripped the blanket down and followed her all around the house until she finally stop running away from me.” I chuckle, “I’d decided she’d had enough time alone.” Without warning, I get up, picking up my bag from the floor and swinging it over my shoulder. I have an idea.

“What are you doing?” She asks.

“I’m off to find Lily,” I tell her, heading towards the door, “It’s time to rip off the blanket.”

-----

I walked down the street like I was ten minutes late for the most important appointment of my life, I was a woman on a mission, driven my a new sense of purpose. I’d spent weeks waiting for Lily to come to me, giving her space and staying patiently in the shadows, avoiding all confrontation...but enough was enough, Lily was never going to get to a place where she’d come to me, she was too angry, too hurt. If I really wanted to mend our bond I would need to go to her, and I would need to make her listen, to make her understand. We’ve both made mistakes, and we’ve both landed ourselves in messes we need to climb back out of, but if we stay mad at each other, we’ll need to do that all alone; I need to at least try to reach out to her.

I turn the corner, storming down the street towards Sammy’s house, but as soon as I reach the door- I freeze. Breathless, I just stand there, panting, staring at the doorbell, unable to find the will to move my arm up and ring it. All the energy that brought me here suddenly seems to disappear, gone in an instant, and all I can think about now is how much easier it would be to turn back, but before I can, the door swings open in front of me, and Lily stands, surprised, in the doorway.

“You? What are you doing here?”

“I, I came to talk to you-”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she shakes her head, “And I don’t have time either, I’m just heading out to the library.”

“Surely that can wait-”

“I said no Cassie, get out.” She snaps, her tone hurting even more than her words.

“Technically I’m not even in yet,” I point out, “Please Lily, we need to talk.”

“No we don’t,” she argues, being stubborn, “We don’t have anything to say to each other.”

“Yes we do!” I insist, growing desperate, “This isn’t even about me Lily, it’s about you. Dani told me that you and Sammy are thinking about dating again and I- I had to come, Lily you can’t get back together with him...you know you can’t! He’s a monster, don’t you remember all of the shit that happened last year?”

“Of course I do, but this time will be different, and honestly you have no right to lecture me over making risky decisions right now-”

“Exactly!” I cut her off, “Exactly Lily, that why I’m here. We need each other right now.”

“But I don’t need you-”

“Well I do!” I yell, “I need you Lily, look at me! I’m pale, boney, weak and sick, and I know it’s all my fault and I probably don’t even deserve your support but I need it...if I’m going to get through this, then I need it- I, I need you.” I’m out of breath from all the shouting, standing feeling weak in the knees in front of my sister, a tight knot in my stomach, absolutely exhausted, waiting for her to finally let me in.

“I suppose I could spare ten minutes,” she caves in, parting from the doorway to let me through, “Come on in.” I sigh in relief, getting inside before she can change her mind. “Sammy is out with his mates right now anyway, so it’ll be just us.” That’s good. As much as I’d want to confront Sammy, it’s probably better if it’s just the two of us. “Tea?” She offers, trying to fill the silence.

“I’m good, thanks.” I shake my head, taking a seat.

“It’s no trouble, really. I’m having one.” She shrugs, moving over to the kettle regardless.

“I, uh, I can’t have caffeine at the moment...or alcohol, it’s all part of the process.” I admit, staring down at the floor, I would have liked to have gone longer than ten seconds before bringing the operation up again.

“Oh, right…well, would you like a glass of water?”

“I’m really not thirsty, but thanks.” I tell her, “So...you and Sammy, are you...you know, together?”

“I thought we were talking about you, not me.” She avoids my question, “And if we were, it wouldn’t have anything to do with you, so let’s just leave it at that. As for you, you...look awful.”

“I’m nearly done with the pills now, next we-”

“I don’t need to know the details, thanks.” She cuts me off, bringing her cup of tea over and sitting down opposite me.

“...What do you want to know?” I get to the point.

“Why you did it,” she decides, “And I don’t just want you to say ‘I don’t know’, or ‘I’m not sure’, or ‘It was a snap decision’, because we both know that’s all bull...what I mean is, did you, well, did you do it for me?”

“I don’t understand...what do you mean?” I struggle to see her logic. In what universe did signing up to an eight-month long beauty operation help Lily?

“I mean....did you do it to protect me? Because I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and, well, I couldn’t help but wonder if...if you took the operation so Dr Sawn would leave me alone and I wouldn’t have to make the decision myself?” She explains, “Was...was it my fault? Did you do it for me?”

“I...I guess I never thought about it like that,” I confess, “I was really worried about you at the time, but...but no, I didn’t do it to protect you. It wasn’t your fault. When I made that decision, all I was thinking about was myself.”

“Right…” She trails off, “I’m not sure if that makes this better or worse.”

“I didn’t realise how tough the process would be when I signed up,” I tell her, getting back to the original question, “At the time it all seemed so simple, so easy...and I for a moment it seemed like perfection was at arms-reach. So, yeah, that’s why I did it...to be beautiful, to be perfect.”

“Nobody’s perfect,” Lily sighs, “And even if this process does make you ‘perfect’ on the outside, it can’t make you perfect on the inside.”

“Thanks.” I sit back, a little hurt by her comment.

“No, I don’t mean it like that...I mean, you have a good heart, Cassie, but hearts are delicate, and volatile, and...if you’re not careful, you’ll end up losing it.” She avoids my eyes, looking anywhere she can but at me, “That’s um, that’s actually why I got back with Sammy. I know what he did to me last year was wrong, but I love him Cassie. Being with him was hard... but being without him was harder.”

“What could possibly be harder than being with such an unsupportive, manipulative-”

“See? This is exactly why I didn’t want to talk about this, you’ve never understood-”

“You brought it up!” I remind her, “But I...I’m sorry, I’m not judging you I promise, I’m just...concerned.”

“Well you don’t need to be,” she shakes her head, “I’m fine, really. In fact, I should be thanking you, because of you I reached out to Sammy again, you gave me a reason to give him a second chance, and honestly, he’s doing really well at not ruining it.” Yet. I can’t help thinking it, the thought invades my mind before I can divert it. He’s not ruined it...yet, but he will, I know he will, and deep down, deep deep down, so does Lily. She’s just...stalling, trying to make the most of the good times before everything starts turning sour. And the fact that I did this-that she’s thanking me...it makes me feel sick. But all I can bring myself to say to her is

“I’m glad you’re happy.” She smiles, taking my hand in hers and squeezing it gently.

“I’m glad you’re happy too.” I smile back. We’re both smiling, both lying, both one hundred percent aware that we’re secretly miserable. But just for the moment, I don’t care. My sister is smiling at me, my sister is talking to me, and she’s finally back in my life. Who cares if it’s based on white lies and naive dreams...right here, right now, we’re together, and we don’t have to climb out of our ditches alone.

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