Bottled Beauty: Part Five
When I walked into school the next day, I felt like a celebrity.
“Can I carry your books for you?” a Draik asked me, appearing at my side as soon as I had walked through the door. He looked as if he had been battling his nerves for some time before approaching me, but the boldness had won out.
I wasn’t dressed out of the ordinary. Jeans. A short-sleeved shirt. But I knew that he was experiencing the effects of the perfume. I had looked at myself in the mirror that morning and noted the subtle changes that made me, an average purple Acara, look beautiful.
“Um...” I said when the blue Draik stayed by my side. “Sure.” I had never had anyone offer to carry books for me, and he took them with such vigor that he almost yanked me to the ground.
“I’m so sorry!” he apologized, appalled at what had happened. “It’s just... Celia I’ve never realized how pretty you are!”
“I’ve been getting that a lot recently,” I admitted as we strolled to class.
However, he wasn’t my only ardent follower. As I made my way down to history class, a group of students started amassing around me. A posse of sorts. It felt so odd and yet at the same time, it was nice. Nice to have people I barely knew fawn over me.
“Your hair is gorgeous!” one Tuskaninny sighed, fingering her own locks sadly. “What shampoo do you use?”
“No, her eyes are gorgeous,” a Gnorbu said, staring at me with a lovesick look on his face. “Like pools of water. A sea. Or a brilliant blue sapphire...”
When I reached my history classroom, I was surprised to see Milo outside waiting for me, dressed in a navy button-down. “Celia?” the brown Bori asked, frowning at the swarm of neopets behind me.
“Hey, Milo,” I said, smiling at him brightly. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have biology or something?”
“Yeah, but I wanted to give you an update on the perfume...” He looked at the crowd, obviously eavesdropping on our conversation. “Um,” he said, addressing them awkwardly, “could you guys go away?”
They didn’t move. Instead, they all turned to me in unison to see what I would say. Despite the awkward feeling of having at least thirty pairs of eyes on me, I felt a small rush of power.
“Um, yeah, guys,” I said to my followers. “I’ll see you after this class, okay?”
There were a few grumbles, but eventually the Draik handed me my books, the crowd dispersed, and Milo and I were alone.
“Celia,” he said, looking at me. His face was serious and inquisitive at the same time. “Did you use more perfume?”
“Just a little last night before bed,” I admitted. I looked up at him. “Can you tell?”
He shook his head. “You still look the same to me.”
“Oh,” I said, a little surprised. “That’s weird.”
“Celia, I don’t like that perfume bottle,” Milo admitted. He shifted from foot to foot, as if unsure of what to say. “Did you see that crowd behind you?”
“Of course I did.”
“Celia, they’re all drooling over you,” Milo said.
“So? Other people get drooled over all the time,” I said. “It’s no big deal.”
“It’s like mind control,” Milo said. “I don’t think this is right.”
“No one is getting hurt by it,” I said. “I’m just getting some compliments. You’re the one who told me yesterday that there’s nothing weird about getting compliments.”
“That was before I saw the bottle,” he stressed. He ran his fingers through his dark hair. “My mom is swamped with work, but she said she’ll look over the tag as soon as she can. Probably sometime tomorrow. I think it’s a good idea to lay off on the perfume until she decodes it.”
“Milo, we know what it does,” I said. “There’s some sort of beauty spell placed on it. I don’t really need the translation anymore.”
He looked pained. “Celia, I’m worried...”
“Don’t be,” I said, sharper than I intended. Immediately I saw his face change, as if I had physically hit him. “Please, Milo,” I said, softening my tone, “don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
“Okay...” he grumbled, but he didn’t seem happy about it. Suddenly he held out his hand to me. In his grasp was a white piece of paper. “I’m going to head to my class. But I also stopped by here because I thought you’d like to see this. I pulled it off the wall near the boy’s bathroom.”
Curious, I took the half-crumpled paper out of his hand carefully and smoothed it out as well as I could with one hand. In big letters on top it read “Pretty List.” However, there was only one name under the heading: mine. Celia.
I looked up. “Milo, this is—”
But the brown Bori had already disappeared down the hall.
Dinner that night was a magnificent display of culinary expertise. My mom had gone out of her way to make a really fabulous dinner. Vegetable soup with thick broth, juicy steak, mashed potatoes, and a salad sprinkled with cranberries were all spread out on the kitchen table, steam curling off the top and wafting through the air. And besides the mass of food, everyone was present. Usually Cara was off at a late night rehearsal or my dad was busy working, but everyone had gathered for the meal.
“This is really good, Mom,” I said, savoring the mashed potatoes as they melted in my mouth. I could taste a hint of garlic and loads of butter, just the way I liked them.
“Thanks, Celia.” She grinned, setting a bowl of chocolate pudding down on the table. She wiped her green Kougra paws on her apron and sat down across from me.
“This soup is amazing, honey,” my dad complimented, sipping the broth. “Mmm!” the Shadow Ogrin said, his eyes widening. “Is there tchea fruit in this?”
“Fresh from the market.” My mom beamed, ladling out some soup for herself.
The only one who wasn’t speaking was Cara. I glanced over at my sister. The blue Blumaroo was eating, but she seemed lost in thought, her eyes staring thoughtfully into space. She had zoned out on a picture hanging on the kitchen wall of the vast sea as seen from an Altador port.
“Cara,” I said, slipping a piece of my long hair behind my ear, “don’t you usually have rehearsal? I thought that with the show being tomorrow night, you’d have practice today.”
She blinked, snapped out of her thoughts, and turned to me, looking puzzled. “You mean Mom and Dad didn’t tell you yet?”
“Tell me what?” I said, starting to get nervous. I immediately thought something bad had happened to someone in the cast. “Did one of the girls break their leg or something?” My head turned away from her to my parents.
“No, no!” my mom said, shaking her head. “Nothing of the sort. Everyone is fine. The recital is still tomorrow.”
“Oh,” I said with a sigh of relief, reaching for a glass of water set near my plate and taking a sip.
“Cara’s just not going to be in it,” my dad explained.
I nearly spit out the water all over the table. Instead, I forced the liquid down and started spluttering. “W-What?” I turned to Cara, my hair whipping across my face. “What happened?” I glanced down at her leg, making sure she hadn’t broken anything, but there wasn’t a cast in sight. But at the same time, I couldn’t imagine Cara doing anything to get kicked out of her recital, especially so close to the show. “How could Miss Lisa take you out of the performance?”
“She didn’t,” Cara said, staring at me as if I had sprouted an extra head. With all of the magic perfume I had been using, it easily could have happened.
“Then why aren’t you going to be in the recital?” I demanded.
“Because of the Beauty Contest tomorrow night.”
I blinked. “You’re going to skip the recital you’ve been rehearsing for for half the year because you want to enter a Beauty Contest?”
“No,” my mom said calmly, looking at me with her brilliant emerald eyes. “We entered you into the Beauty Contest.”
“What?” I shouted. My heart started racing, blood pounding in my ears. “Why? It’s Cara’s show tomorrow! We all knew that for like, five months!”
“Celia, calm down,” Cara said, putting her hand on my arm. Her hand felt cool against my flushed fur. “Mom and Dad didn’t make me drop out. I did it.”
“But why?” I asked, my voice cracking. I couldn’t understand her, the way she was looking at me so calmly, yet so... admiringly. It was odd seeing that come from my older sister. “I don’t understand.”
“Celia,” she said, taking her hand off my arm and reaching for her fork so she could eat, “I have recitals every year and you go to each of them. And yet I never go to anything of yours. So I thought...” She trailed off to take a bite of mashed potatoes, and then looked back at me. “After I saw you yesterday, I... I realized how pretty you are. So I told Mom and Dad we should enter you into a Beauty Contest and support you, like you always support me.”
Her words felt so raw, almost pained, and I immediately felt my eyes start to water. “But Cara,” I said, “you’ve been practicing for so long...”
“I have recitals all the time, twice a year at least,” she said simply, her blue eyes sad but immensely kind. “The Beauty Contest is only going to be in the Lost Desert tomorrow. Then it goes off to Altador and won’t be back here for almost a year. Please, Celia. Enter the contest. I know you’ll do well.”
I gulped and looked around the table. My mom, dad, and sister were all looking at me hopefully, willing me to say yes. There was only one thing to do.
I nodded slowly. “Okay. I’ll enter.”
* * *
The perfume bottle was in my hand again, shining like a diamond as it reflected the moonlight through my bedroom window. It was a full moon, I noted absently, but the bottle had easily stolen my attention, glittering with silvery magic. I could feel the hum of the bottle now, a slight vibration in the cool glass, and smell the heady perfume even with the stopper in.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew that my beauty had come from the bottle in my hand, and I needed that if I wanted to win the contest the next day. And it was obvious I needed to win. I needed to make up for the fact that Cara was skipping her recital for me.
Cara... How could she do that?
I couldn’t understand how she could have given up her recital to give me a chance in the spotlight. It seemed too nice, too selfless.
But at the same time...
Me, in the spotlight. I remembered school, everyone flocking around me. I hadn’t felt like plain Jane Celia. I had felt wanted, special. It had been intoxicating.
And Cara had said it herself; she had recitals all the time. When did I ever have the chance to be the center of attention? Never. I had always been the one in the audience, clapping as the curtain rose and handing her a bouquet at the end.
“I’m allowed one time in the spotlight,” I reasoned, whispering to myself as I unstopped the bottle.
And taking a deep breath, I slowly dabbed on some more of the magic bottled beauty.
To be continued...