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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3. Three

BEEP BEEP BEEP...BEEP BEEP BEEP...BEEP BEEP BEEP….BEEP BE-

I finally manage to grab my phone and silence the alarm, my ears ringing from the noise and my head throbbing like each ‘beep’ was a slap against my skull. I check the time- 9:45. I always try to be out of bed by ten of weekdays, if I’m not then I won’t be up until four in the afternoon, and then I fall behind on work and my grades slip and...well, I just like to stay on top of things. I’m not as obsessed as Tiffany, but I’m not as laid-back at someone like Elle either.

As I get up I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror...

I look like a complete mess.

Not changing out of my clothes last night has led to them look as if I’ve scrunched them all up and thrown them out of a window and onto a trampoline where they’ve been bouncing up and down all night long- or, you know… something like that. My hair's a mess too, I’m used to bedhead, but this is beyond tangled. If I shoved a fork in it would probably stay there. My make-up’s all smeared and smudged too. It’s a good thing I didn’t go home with anyone last night.

Despite all of this it doesn’t take me long to find a change of clothes, tidy my hair up, and cleanse and replace my make-up. By the time it’s 10:05, I’m done. I decide to take my assigned reading with me to the kitchen so I can read whilst I eat, I’ve got a lecture at twelve and I want enough time to catch up with Lily and Dani before I go.

There’s still some cornflake mess left on the floor where we missed spots last night, and the bowl is still in the sink. I avoid everything with ‘TIFFANY’ written on it in black permanent marker, and toast up some bread. Dani walks in on me examining the condiments cupboard, digging around for something to put on my toast.

“What has the least sugar in it? Strawberry jam or marmalade?” I ask, squinting at the labels as I struggle to read the dietary information.

“They’re both probably pretty similar, why?”

“I’m trying to eat more consciously…” I trail off, “I’ll have marmite instead.”

“That’s got a lot of salt in it.” She points out, taking a seat at the counter.

“You’re right...I’ll just have butter. Do we have any that’s low in saturated fat?” I decide, searching through the fridge.

“Cassie!” Dani laughs, “Stop worrying, you’re not overweight.”

“Yeah, but I’d still like to go down a size.” I argue, “And I’m not dieting, I’m just eating consciously.”

“Well then, eat toast with butter and jam ‘consciously’.” Dani mimics me, giggling, “And while you’re at it, put a few more slices of bread in there for me, I’m starving.” I can’t help but laugh with her, Dani has that sort of effect on people, her smile is infectious.

I finish up, spreading butter and a slither of jam over my toast and sitting down at the counter. Whilst she waits for her toast, Dani turns on the radio.

“...the big story this morning is of course that today Parliament will vote on whether or not to make the so-called ‘perfection operation’ legal here in the UK. The operation has been a big hit in the United States but many are opposed to it, and hundreds took to the streets last night to march up to Parliament in protest. The prime minister issued a statement this morning saying…”

“Did you have fun last night?” Dani asks me, turning the radio down.

“It was incredible,” I nod, “I sort of get why Elle likes going to so many of those marches...the energy there is electric.”

“I know, it’s something else.” Dani agrees, “Did you and Tiffany get back here safely?”

“We got back here safe, but Tiffany argued with Elle over cornflakes when we got back.” I sigh, finishing up my breakfast and placing my plate down in the sink.

“Cornflakes?”

“They were labelled.”

“Oh…”

“Morning all!” Lily burst in, unusually cheerful.

“What’s got you all hyped up?” Dani asks before I get a chance to, just as confused as I am.

“I’m just looking forward to celebrating tonight,” She shrugs, taking a seat besides Dani, “Elle said we can tag along with her and her politics buddies if we like.”

“Celebrating? Celebrating what?” This time I get in there first with the questions.

“Parliament voting against the perfection operation, duh.” Lily says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“But they haven’t voted yet, what if they actually make it legal?” Dani reminds her.

“They won’t...” Lily insists, refusing to listen to either one of us, “And if they don’t then we’ll stay up till two drowning our sorrows. So, are you both in?”

“It’s a Friday night...so yeah, I’m in.” Dani grins, “Should be fun.

“I’ll come too,” I agree, “But I don’t want to drink any of those ridiculous cocktails loaded with sugar and chemicals.”

“This isn’t that diet thing again is it?” Lily groans, rolling her eyes.

“She prefers it if you use the term ‘eating consciously’.” Dani chips in, laughing.

“Cassie…”

“Lily…” I copy her.

“You are okay though, right? You’re not like...not eating or anything?” She checks, concerned.

“Dani just saw me demolish a plate of toast with jam, I’m fine.” I promise her. She seems satisfied with my response, and moves on to talk about her maths work with Dani. Lily and Dani both study mathematics, and I tend to zone out when they start talking about it all. I’m an English student, I speak Shakespeare, not algebra. I pick up my book and begin to read, focusing on the stuff I do understand instead. The hour flies by, and the next thing I know it’s 11:20, time for me to head off to the lecture theatre.

It’s a pretty miserable day outside. There’s so much cloud cover that the world seems almost half-lit, and it’s drizzling with rain, the sort you don’t pay much attention to, but always get drenched by after a five or ten minute walk. I put my hood up, but don’t bother with my umbrella. Nobody else seems to be bothered by the rain, I might look odd walking down the street with a ‘pugs and kisses’ umbrella up over my head. It’s not far to the english and humanities building, and I soon come to the crossing where it lies opposite. I notice a tall man staring at me a bit whilst I wait for the green-man, but I try to ignore it. It’s not a perverted look, more of a confused daze, perhaps I remind him of someone?

“Sorry, but is that you under that hood Lily?” He finally speaks up, and I realise who he has me confused with.

“No, Lily Williams is my twin sister, I’m Cassandra Williams.” I set things straight, introducing myself. I don’t recognise him, which is odd, because Lily’s address book is practically identical to mine, maybe he’s a guest lecturer?

“Oh, right, that makes sense.” He nods, “I’m Dr Michael Sawn, I met your sister a week ago when she came to my one-off lecture on the golden ratio and symmetry in beauty. She stayed on afterwards to ask a few questions, she was very interested by it all, in fact-” Just at that moment, the lights turn red and I’m able to cross.

“I’m really sorry, but I have to go. It was nice to meet you though.” I call back as I walk away, crossing over the road and interrupting him mid-sentence. The more I think about it all the more confused I become. If it was a one-off lecture then how did he remember Lily so well? They must have only met each-other once, and just for a few hours too. She must have asked a lot of questions to stick in his mind like that.

I soon move on and forget about the encounter, settling down in the lecture theatre and getting my notes out ready. It’s time to swap Dr Sawn for Dr Jekyll.

-----

As I’m leaving the lecture theatre I get a text from Lily.

LILY: Can you call Tiffany and persuade her to come with tonight? I already tried and failed but she might listen to you.

I laugh, and quickly text back a reply.

ME: As if, she won’t change her mind. Btw, who's Dr Sawn? He mistook me for you this morning on my way to my lecture.

A few seconds later, I get a message back.

LILY: Doesn’t matter, just call Tiffany.

I don’t think it will do any good, Tiffany’s stubbornness is second to none, but I dial the number anyway.

“I’m not going.” She says the second she picks up the phone, practically yelling the words at me.

“It’ll be a fun night out. What’s the problem? It’s Saturday tomorrow anyway, you could sleep all day if you needed too.” I try to sway her, trying to sound more enthusiastic than I actually am.

“I...I’m still annoyed at Elle.” She reveals.

“Is this about the cornflakes?”

“Yes it’s about the cornflakes!” She snaps, “Well...it’s about Elle ignoring my labelling, do you know how long it took to write my name on all of those things? Elle never thinks about anyone else’s feelings but her own, and I’m sick of it.”

“Tiffany….please don’t turn this into something big.” I moan, “Both you and Elle had been drinking last night, she ate your cornflakes, you ruined her new shirt, can you at least call it even?” I suggest. Tiffany not coming out with us tonight is no big deal, but Tiffany starting a big fight with Elle would be a two-week long melodrama that would result in an awkward make-up full of stiff hugging.

“As long as she doesn’t do it again…” She gives in, thankfully.

“So are you on for tonight?” I check, glad to be back to the simpler problem.

“I’ll see how I feel later on.” I realise that this is probably the best answer I’ll get, and it should be good enough to please Lily and Elle too, so I’ll take it.

“Alright, see you soon.” I sigh, “Bye.”

As I pass the student union building, I see Elle inside in the corner of my eye, surrounding by other anxious-looking students all gazing up at something. I check my watch- 3:05. They’ll be announcing the result of the vote in Parliament anytime now. I decide to join them all inside, walking in and sitting down a few feet away from the TV screen.

“...and we wait now outside number ten for the Prime Minister to announce the result of the vote today and give her statement on the matter. She has previously been outspoken in her objection to the operation, but has experienced difficulty persuading some key members of her party to share her view. The home secretary announced he would vote ‘in favour of the freedom to choose’ today in a statement last night, and previously said that ‘people have a right to do what they want with their bodies’. Oh, and now the PM is exiting the building, ready to announce the result.” The news reporter finishes up after seeing the Prime Minister exit number ten, and silence falls on downing street, the only other noise being the fast clicking of cameras in the background.

“Today both houses voted on an important issue, whether or not to legalise the perfection operation in the UK and allow British consumers to sign up to the process which has a brutal and deadly reputation. Both houses voted favour of the operation, with only 208 MPs in the House of Commons voting against the operation. The result was closer in the House of Lords, but still voted for the operation. All I can say now is that I have done all I can to protect innocent, naive, and insecure women and men, young and old, from being persuaded to partake in this dangerous process. My best hopes now lie with you, and with the idealisation that as intelligent human beings, we are better and smarter than this, and we will not succumb to these ridiculous beauty ideals.” And with that, she walks back indoors.

Silence falls across the room. Nobody even seems able to move. I almost feel guilty for breathing. After a few seconds people begin to shift and turn to look at one another, adjusting to the strange new atmosphere in the room. Murmurs begin to escalate and conversations spark, everyone’s tone of voice full of detest, anger, and most of all, shock. Moments later, my phone buzzes in my pocket.

DANI: Did you just see the news?

ME: Yeah, I can’t believe it.

DANI: Do you know where Lily is?

ME: No, I’m at the SU

DANI: Kk, text me if you see her.

It’s a little odd for Dani to want to keep tabs on my sister, but she probably has a good reason so I ignore the slightly weird feeling I get from her messages. She might just want to share notes or something. I cast a look towards Elle, and immediately look away again. She is not happy. Stood in the corner, waving her arms around in the air, rolling her eyes and grinding her teeth...her black hair flying back and forth as she paces around. If there's one thing that impassions Elle more than politics, it's politics she doesn't agree with, and it's always best to steer well clear when she's mid-rant and fuming. With the hub becoming more and more heated and uncomfortable, I decide to leave and head back to the halls, tired and in a pretty bad mood.

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