Bottled Beauty: Part Three
I was in an oasis. The hot sun beat down from the sky, but I could barely feel its harsh rays. I was too entranced by the beautiful pond in front of me and the trees and green leafy plants. But the most prominent thing was the smell. A sweet smell, like flowers and rain and light wafted through the air, so beautiful as it cocooned my body in a wonderful fragrance...
My alarm clock jarred me to life. I immediately sat up in bed, like the doll inside of a jack-in-the-box. My ears were pounding as blood flooded to my head.
I glanced at the clock. 7:54. I had let my alarm ring for almost a half hour and hadn’t heard it. I was going to be late for school.
I jumped out of bed and darted out of my room. The purple glass perfume bottle on my dresser glinted as I ran past, but I was too rushed to give it any thought.
I left my house at 8:03, a piece of raw toast in hand. I’d thrown on the first articles of clothing I had seen, brushed my teeth, and ran out the door in a pair of my worn out sandals. I hated being late for school.
“Whoa Celia, trying out for a marathon?”
I turned my head and spotted Neil, a green Wocky, jogging to catch up with me. He was my neighbor, and a pretty nice guy. We hung out with the same people in school and he was always cracking jokes.
“We’re gonna be late for class,” I explained, slowing down only slightly so he could join me.
“I’m never late,” Neil said indignantly as he drew nearer, his teeth as white as the blazing sun overhead. But when he finally caught up with me, his smile faltered and his eyes widened. “Celia, did you do something different today with... everything?”
I felt my skin rouge. I hadn’t even looked in the mirror before I ran out the door. “I just threw on clothes,” I said, raking my fingers through my dark hair self-consciously. “Do I look that bad?”
“No no no!” Neil said, shaking his head so quickly that I thought his skull might detach. “You look really good today.”
“Nice try,” I said, shaking my head. School today was going to be embarrassing, I just knew it.
“No!” he protested again, his eyes wide. “Celia, really you look good!”
I shot him a look. Sometimes his jokes got old really fast. But I was too tired to press it. “Thank you, Neil,” I said, making no attempt to hide my sarcasm.
He seemed too caught up in staring at me to make a retort. I groaned and turned away. He didn’t attempt conversation; he seemed lost in his own strange daze. And I was all too happy for the silence.
We reached school in a few minutes, the sand yellow building landscaped by pretty green plants and small ponds that made it look like an oasis. I reached for the front door and slipped inside just as the bell rang signaling first period.
“Bye, Neil!” I said with a wave to the green Wocky behind me, slipping off to class before he could make another witty retort about my disheveled appearance.
“Good morning, good morning!” Mr. Gregor greeted as I hastily took my seat in his classroom. The beige Grarrl adjusted his tiny spectacles and reached for a stack of papers on his desk. “Let’s not delay the torture. Make sure everything is away except a paper and a pen. We’re going to have a pop history quiz!”
Everyone groaned. My stomach sank a little. As much as I loved history, I honestly hadn’t been keeping up with the reading in class. I’d been spending too much time at the bazaar with Milo hunting for historical gold.
The papers were passed back slowly, as if they were thick with glue. As soon as I got mine, I jotted my name down and looked at the first question standing out sharply in black ink: List the three trade items that the ancient Qasalans were most known for.
Glass, I wrote down immediately, remembering the bottle I had purchased a few days earlier. Pottery. But the third one I was drawing a blank. I bit the end of my pencil, leaving teeth marks in the yellow wood. Number three, number three, number three...
“Psssst!” I heard someone hiss from my left. I turned my head and spotted Mindy, a white Cybunny. As soon as I made eye contact with her she whispered, “You look really pretty today!”
What is she doing? I thought frantically, glancing up at Mr. Gregor to see if he had heard. He was my favorite teacher and I didn’t want to be accused of cheating. I turned away from Mindy, but her comments kept coming.
“Did you do something different with your hair?” she whispered in awe. “It looks so... shiny.”
“No,” I hissed back through my teeth, trying to focus on my test.
“How about your fur?”
“No, Mindy, I didn—”
“Celia!” came a rough growl from the front of the room.
Immediately everyone looked up from their tests as Mr. Gregor made his way down the aisle. My stomach sank. He was going to rip up my exam and give me a zero, I just knew it.
He paused in front of my desk, his height intimidating. I prepared myself for the worst.
“Celia,” he said, “were you talking?”
“I didn’t mean to,” I said honestly, swallowing.
He sighed and looked me in the eye. “Celia, cheating is absolutely not perm...” He trailed off, staring at my quizzically, his eyebrows furrowed. Suddenly he asked “Did you do anything different today? With your hair, perhaps?”
I blinked. “No.”
“Oh.” He blinked too, as if he had forgotten why he had come over to my desk. “Well, you look very nice.” He turned around and headed back to his desk. “Continue with your tests, everyone.”
It was at that moment that I finally realized something weird was going on.
“Do I look different today?” I interrogated Milo.
I had found him at his locker right after first period. He put his science book inside of the hulking blue locker and turned towards me. The brown Bori had a random sense of style, but he pulled it off well. Some days he wore preppy button-downs, while on others he donned casual shirts with band names. Today was the latter, and his grey t-shirt read “Stut” in curling dark purple letters. He gave me a once over with his dark brown eyes and shrugged. “I guess you look polished. Why?”
I closed my eyes. “Something weird is going on. Everyone is saying I look pretty.”
“So? It’s a compliment. You should take it.” He looked me over again. “I mean, you look a little more put together than usual, but it’s nothing that different.”
“But it’s more than that,” I protested, leaning my head against the locker. “Mr. Gregor was going to yell at me but instead complimented my hair! And Mindy and Neil said I looked nice today too.”
“Celia,” he said, rolling his eyes. “They’re just compliments. Nothing weird is going on.”
I was going to argue, but then I saw two girls walking by out of the corner of my eye. One girl, a pretty faerie Uni with long blonde hair, turned to the other. “Oh my gosh,” she said, sounding a bit out of breath, “that purple Acara over there is so pretty. I wish I looked like her.”
I shot Milo a look. “I don’t even know her!”
He sighed. “I give up.” He shut his locker and we started walking through the halls, heading to our math class. “Why do you think it’s so out of the ordinary for people to think you’re pretty?”
“Because I never get compliments. I mean,” I clarified, “I get them occasionally. Like when I actually take the time to piece something together in the morning, or if I do something different with my hair. But today I literally jumped out of bed. I didn’t brush my hair, I didn’t pay attention to my clothes. I was in a total rush.”
“Really?” Milo looked shocked. “You don’t look like that at all. Have you looked in a mirror yet?”
“No,” I admitted. “There’s no point. I know what I’ll see. Me.”
He suddenly stopped in the hall and took off his backpack, unzipping the top and reaching inside. He rummaged inside for a moment before pulling out a small round mirror. “Here,” he said, passing it to me.
I blinked. “Why do you have a compact mirror in your bag?”
“It’s from when I had braces,” he said, rouging a little. “I always had food stuck in my teeth. Now look.”
I sighed and held up the mirror. I saw my face staring back from the looking glass, a purple Acara. I looked like I had predicted: a little disheveled from my abrupt wake up this morning with some rumpled clothes and messy hair.
But suddenly, it was like my image shifted. I still looked the same for the most part, but there was something else, another layer to everything. My dark brown hair looked shinier, more luscious, the messy locks cascading gently. My purple fur was brighter and my blue eyes seemed to glisten like ancient sapphires unearthed for the first time in a thousand years.
I shivered and passed him back the mirror before I could stare for too long. “Something weird is definitely going on.”
He put the mirror back in his bag. “What, though, Celia? You look nice today. That’s not weird.”
“Something weird,” I pressed, rubbing my face with my hands. “I just don’t know what!”
“Well, did you do anything different today?” he asked as we reached our math classroom. It was empty, save for some wooden desks and bright posters with colorful triangles proclaiming “a²+b²=c².”
“I didn’t have time to do anything today,” I said. “It had to be yesterday.” I bit my lip and strained my memory, thinking back. Suddenly it hit me. “The perfume bottle!”
The Bori’s nose wrinkled. “You mean the one you bought at the bazaar the other day? What about it?”
“The bottle was different yesterday,” I said quickly. “It looked brand new. And there was perfume inside! I put a little on last night before bed.”
“You think this has to do with the perfume bottle?”
“It has to,” I said firmly. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. Come over after school today and I’ll show you.”
Milo didn’t look entirely convinced, but he nodded all the same. “Okay, Celia. If you think something weird is going on with that thing, then I’ll go over and give it a look.”
“Thanks, Milo,” I said gratefully, sitting down in my seat as the other students started filing in, most of them staring at me in awe. I knew that with his help, we’d be able to get to the bottom of things and find out what in Neopia was going on.
To be continued...