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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12. Twelve - Two weeks on

“You look unwell.” Dani sighs, passing me my foundation. “Your bones are sticking out all over the place, how much more weight does he want you to lose?”

“I’m not sure.” I mumble, wincing at the sight of myself in the mirror. “He just tells that all of this is normal, that I just have to trust him.”

“And do you?”

“Hm?”

“Trust him?”

“I...I don’t think I can afford not to at this point.” I shrug, brushing a thick layer of foundation across my cheeks, trying to add some definition to the thin layer of skin that now stretches out across them. It’s almost been three weeks since I started the process, and this diet is definitely working. I’m throwing up most of what I eat and burning off the rest during intense and painful hours at the gym. I live of water, nuts, and protein supplements. The result? I look dead.

Pale skin, heavy bags, and bones that are so defined they look like they might soon break through my skin. I don’t look like a beauty on the rise, I look like a body that’s been left six feet under for months. And then there’s everything else. The backlash. The concerned, yet bitter looks I get everywhere I go. The feeling I get in my stomach everytime Elle looks at me. The look I seem to give myself every time I glance in a mirror. And of course, Lily. Twenty whole years on this earth and I’ve never been separated from my twin sister for this long. It makes me feel even more empty somehow, like I’m incomplete.

“Do you think she’d mind if-”

“Yes.” Dani cuts me off before I can finish, sighing, “Sorry.”

“No, it’s alright...I understand.” I nod, shoving my foundation back in my bag and packing up. “Just, you know, send my love.”

“Of course I will.” She promises, gazing sympathetically at my reflection in the mirror. I smile back at her, but it tugs at my heartstrings to curve up my lips. I’m smiling, but I’m not really feeling. I’ve never felt so separate from my reflection. This was such a big mistake-

“I’ll be back around two, will you be okay until then?” Dani checks for the dozenth time.

“Of course.” We both know I’m lying, we both know there’s nothing either one of us can do about it.

“Alright...I’ll see you soon.”

And with that, she’s gone. And I’m alone.

Disgusted by my own reflection, I make a swift exit from the bathroom, heading downstairs to a meagre breakfast of dry granola.

Tiffany’s already sat in the kitchen when I get there, headphones in, listening to her audio-notes. She pretends not to notice me as I finish my brief meal, washing my bowl up in the sink and fetching a glass from the cupboard, filling it half-full with water and swallowing down my first pill of the day, before moving out of her way, through to my bedroom, where I sit on my bed, knees pressed up against my chest, waiting for the pain to come. I lean back and shut my eyes, breathing deeply. In...and out...in...and out...in..-

“Cassie?” I open my eyes, surprised to hear Tiffany’s voice coming from the doorway. I look at her for a moment, shocked. Tiffany’s barely spoken to me in weeks. “Can, can I come in?”

“Yeah, of course.” I nod, moving along to give her room to sit. She walks over, sitting awkwardly on the edge of my bed, as if she’s still undecided over whether to stay or go. For a moment we’re both silent, unable to look the other in the eye as we just sit there, waiting.

“You look terrible.” She sighs, her lip quivering. I just laugh, turning away slightly. “I...I just couldn’t, I mean, I, um, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Well not okay but...not in too much pain, well, you know…”

“I’m used to the pain by now Tiffany,” I try to reassure her, “I barely notice it at all.” The second part’s a lie, but I don’t think she notices, she wants to believe it’s all true. Silence falls again, but then, out of the blue she says

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” I ask, struggling not to laugh, “This is no-one’s fault but my own.”

“No, no don’t say that.” She shakes her head. I just shrug, trying to hide my discomfort from her. The pill’s kicked in now and I don’t want her to see my pain. Hesitantly, she places my hand in hers. “Cassie, this isn’t your fault. And I am sorry. I’m sorry for not being there for you these past few weeks, you’ve been through a lot and I’ve been selfish, avoiding you because it’s easier than trying to talk things through. You must be going through a lot, with everything that’s happening with the process, with Elle, with Lily...and I’ve been a really rubbish friend.” She nods through her speech, tears brimming in her eyes as she tries to find the right words, “Anyway, I-I was walking past the bathroom upstairs and I heard you and Dani talking and I, I guess I just realises how amazing she’s been, and how awful I’ve been in comparison. I want to be there for you Cassie, I really do, it’s just...just...look, I don’t even know, okay? It’s complicated. But I hate seeing you like this and if there’s anything, anything at all that I can do to help, just let me know and I’ll do it, I’ll do it straight away, alright? Because...because you’ve always been there for me Cassie, you’ve always been there for all of us, and now it’s our turn.”

“You don’t owe me anything Tiffany-”

“But I do, I do, like...like remember last Christmas? When I borrowed-slash-stole Elle’s piercing gun? I really wanted to pierce my upper lobe, and I was too cheap to go to a salon. I asked Elle to do it for me but she was mad because I’d lost the pen she leant to me few days before, so in the end I took it without asking, and did it myself, but then the piercing got infected and I was so worried she’d find out, but you- you took me to the doctor, and you bought me those super soft earmuffs so Elle wouldn’t notice when we went out, and...and you did all of that without me asking you to, you didn’t even seem to think about it, you just did it and...and Elle never found out, she still doesn’t know even now.” Tiffany laughs, tears streaming down her cheeks, “I want to be as good a friend to you now as you were to me then.”

“I gave you a lift to the doctors when you had an infection Tiffany,” I sigh, “This is...different, you don’t owe me anything.”

“This isn’t about me owing you anything, this is about me being your friend, and standing by you no matter what,” she persists, “Cassie...I have no idea why you did what you did, and I’m not sure you do either, but it’s done, and you can’t change that and I can’t change that and...and well, what good is ignoring you? What good is hating you, neglecting you, when at the end of the day nothing will have changed. I want to help you Cassie, in any way I can, and not because I owe you a favour or two, because it’s the right thing to do.”

And for once, I’m speechless.

I just sit, silent, opposite her, unsure of what to say, a fierce smile managing to break through my blank expression. I reach out for her hands, clasping her fingers, and I squeeze, and she knows...she knows. But as quickly as the moment comes, it goes, disturbed by the vibration of my phone in my pocket. I almost don’t believe the name that pops up on my screen.

“Oh my god...answer it.” Tiffany urges me, managing to read the name upside-down. Still stunned, I bring the phone to my ear.

“Lily?” Her name feels foreign on my tongue.

“Hey Cassie.” It’s her. It’s actually her. “You don’t sound too good.”

“I’m fine, I...I’m fine- I’m great even, how...how are you?” I can’t believe it. After two weeks of silence, I’m finally hearing her voice again.

“I’m okay,” she sounds so normal, so calm, “Listen, there’s a reason I rang. Mum called, she wanted to know if we were still planning coming home for Christmas this year.”

“...And? Of course we are, where else would we go?” I struggle to see her problem.

“That was before the operation,” she points out, “I know you still haven’t told them yet Cassie, how do you expect to hide this all from them when you visit?”

“I...I guess I hadn’t really thought about that,” I realise, biting down into my lip. It’s true, over the past fortnight I’ve been so consumed by dieting and exercising and keeping up with my studies that I almost forgot I hadn’t told my parents yet; in fact, I haven’t really told anyone other than my housemates about my decision. “Then I’ll tell them, before Christmas,” I decide, “I’ll give them a call and...and I’ll explain it to them.” I wait anxiously for Lily’s reply, listening intensively to her breathing on the other end of the line.

“Give me a call when it’s done.”

“Lily, wait, I-”

“I don’t want to hear it Cassie-”

“But I, I need-”

“And I don’t have time to hear it either, I need to give Sammy a lift to his lecture.” In my mind I’m ready to yell down the phone, to lecture my sister on her relationship with Sammy, on how stupid she’s being and on how awful a decision moving back in with him was and how the only place she should be driving him is off the edge of a cliff, but for some reason all that comes out is

“Okay.”

And then she hangs up.

And just like that, she’s gone again.

-----

“Physically I think I’m doing well, the side-effects seem to be getting more...manageable, and the pills have certainly worked, I’ve lost so much weight over these past two weeks. My life seems to be adjusting too, my friend and I had a really good talk, and my sister phoned me today for the first time in weeks.”

“That’s good Cassie, I’m so glad.” Dr Sawn smiles, “I did warn you that people’s first reactions could be negative, but people don’t often stick to their first reactions, and as the process progresses you’ll look better and better and people will realise what a good decision this was.” He gets up to turn off the camera, done for the day. “What did you and Lily talk about?” He asks, making conversation.

“Christmas,” I tell him, “I, um, I need to talk to my parents before we head home for the holiday, they, uh...they don’t know yet.” Dr Sawn looks up, intrigued.

“You haven’t told them? Why?”

“In all honesty, I sort of forgot.” I shrug, “I was so busy with studying and dieting that it just...slipped my mind.”

“Right...so you’re going to phone them after this to explain?” He assumes.

“Probably.”

“Probably?”

“I will,” I decide, “I’ll call them once I get back home.”

“Alright, make sure you do.” Dr Sawn sighs, grimacing, “The longer you leave these things the harder they become. Remember, first reactions can be tricky.”

“I’m sure I can make them understand.” It’s a lie, but he buys it. The truth is I have no clue how the phone call will go, how can I make them understand when I still barely understand myself? Two weeks in and I still feel lost among the pills and the food and the lifestyle. I decided to take it a day at a time so I could cope with it all, but living in the present seemed to somehow blur out the past and the future, and I’ve lost sight of the bigger picture here. The bigger picture is the only reason I agreed to all of this, does that mean I’ve lost sight of my reasons too?

I leave the office, heading out towards the bus stop, but before I reach it I pull out my phone from my pocket, inexplicably confident all of a sudden, as if there’s some new determination rising up inside me, fuelled by stubbornness and anger and the sheer fact that I have so little left to lose. I dial the number, and listen to it ring…

“Hello?”

“Hi mum.”

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