“Oh my God, Willa. I hope I don’t die looking like this.”
The girl was Gorgeous, from the tall arch of her lovely red eyebrows to the hand-painted diamond pattern across her toenails. She is so pretty and pale, with Irish red hair in loose curls. She should have worn red. Maybe a little bit of lip liner. I liked the look of her mascara running black rivulets down her cheeks. It made her look disheveled in a romantic kind of way.
The girl’s face was mostly intact. It had a calm expression, as though death was a relief. Blood dabbled her neck in a cosmetically pleasing way. Her collarbones protruded, forming little pockets where blood collected against her neck. But then, as my eyes drifted a little lower, I saw she was wearing a faded t-shirt from some sports team, ruining the effect. The t-shirt was soaked in blood; it seemed to be the only thing holding her torso together. At least she had a good pair of pumps close by. They were high stilettos, polka-dotted with pink over orange; I’d die for those pumps.
She really should have worn red.
I relayed the scene to Willa over my cell phone, watching as the police stood around the girl. They looked disinterested; there was no question as to this one’s cause for jumping. Not with the black-rimmed “G” tattoo on the inside of her wrist. The same “G” that was inked on the inside of mine.
“Lackluster,” I mourned. “Crazy Gorgeous only got one Leaving and she wasted it.”
Willa made a half-hearted sound on the other side of the phone.
“Are you at another Leaving site, Willa?” I asked, my feathers ruffling at her lack of attention. “Who is it?”
“No one we know; she was a retro Gorgeous. Too old school for our girls. All poodle skirts and curlers. A most Gorgeous death though.” She outlined the details in a bored tone that suggested she could do better. We’d see; Willa would get her shot soon enough. “I really like this forest green dress with the pink accents; I might be able to swipe that.” Willa sounded as though she were walking now, her breath heavily in the phone. “Just got a text, there’s 30 year old Gorgeous that just jumped off of the Ridel Bridge. Want to meet me there for coffee and critique?”
“30!?” I was shocked. Gorgeous never lived that long. “I would love to, but I have a meeting downtown with my agent at one.” I clicked my tongue, looking down at the crystal watch around my wrist. “Which I’m going to be late for as it is. Tonight?”
“Yeah. Later, Harper.” The phone clicked in my ear. I took one last look at the Irish Gorgeous, broken and bleeding in the middle of the alleyway before turning away, heading east toward the subway. Brick buildings rose on either side of the alley, their dark windows like eyes watching over the proceedings.
I had to push my way through the gathered crowd. A few gawkers and reports were there, but most of the people were pretty girls with coffee cups, tiny G tattoos on the insides of their wrists. Most looked shocked, a few disgusted. I pushed past the faces, barely registering any of them. Of all the heavily made-up girls, none were familiar. I got a few stares and sneers my way; I ignored them all, sweeping past all of the others. I tried not to look any of them in the face.
Towards the back of the crowd, there was a young girl, her hand pressed over her mouth. She was pretty in a fresh-faced sort of way that made her stand out, made me stop and look, her makeup-free complexion catching my gaze. I spent most of my twenty-five years on this planet partying with some of the most sought after and beautiful Gorgeous this world had ever seen. But this girl was
I had ever seen
Her skin was achingly clear and pure. Her eyes glittered like sapphires under the sparkling lights of the jewelry counter at Tiffany’s. She wore simple, light-colored clothing, denim and cotton. A simple wardrobe that made her face all the more exquisite. Tears shone at the corners of her black lashes, spilling over her rose-kissed cheeks. She was pretty-crying, something few Gorgeous ever mastered. It was best to avoid crying in public all together. Save it for when the doors were closed and the world was locked outside.
It was a bold move. And she was pulling it off like a master.
I couldn’t seem to stop staring at her. The pretty thing had her eyes locked on the body of the Irish Gorgeous, crying like she actually missed her. The Gorgeous was better off. I wanted to tell the pretty girl that, but I knew there would be no consoling her. The living could be so selfish.
The girl’s eyes flicked to me for a split second, back to the Gorgeous on the ground, then back again to me. It was like her gaze was drawn to me. I flushed. Gravity seemed to lock our gazes together for a moment. Her blue eyes widened, her unpolished fingernails dropping from her mouth, revealing perfect lips. I just knew those would be perfect too. Her mouth was red and shaped like a rose petal, soft and full.
She stared long enough that I started to get weirded out, so I broke eye contact, hurrying toward the subway without looking back.
I really hoped she wouldn’t follow me.
It came out even more snappish then I meant it. With my arms crossed and my lips pursed, I knew I looked fierce. I’d practiced this pose in the mirror a million times. I always practiced new facial expressions; best not to look foolish in public.
“It doesn’t look good for you.” Her agent said, not looking up from the screen in front of him. “They are looking to give the contract to, yah know, Diamond, since she is,” he made the air quotes as he spoke, “‘more exotic looking.’” Greg was grotesque. I wasn’t sure how he ever managed to be successful in an industry focused around beauty. Everything from his oily hair to his 1970s mustache offended me, but I dealt with it. Barely.
I’d vomit later. That would make me feel better.
“Being exotic wasn’t a prerequisite,” I stated, my lip quivering in anger.
“No. But they thought she, yah know, fit the brand better. Tribal looking and, yah know, mysterious. Exotic. I’m sure they’ll contact us next time they need a, yah know, All-American girl or an African Queen.” Greg waggled his eyebrows at me and I almost gagged.
His office was a clutter of papers, the stacks upon stacks nearly reaching the ceiling. The window sills were lined with used coffee mugs and cups, some of them still contained liquid. The whole room stank of dust and old java. I could feel my skin drying out as I sat in his cheap pleather chairs trying not to ugly cry all over the stack of newspapers immediately in front of my feet.
“Come on, Greg. If I don’t work, you don’t get paid either.” I said, coaxing, using my best vixen voice. It was was a charming thing, watching the ugly man blush a little, trying to hide under his thick beard and throat clearing.
“I’ll find something, but you will have to forget about the, yah know, Apple project. Let me make some calls and I’ll get in touch with you tomorrow morning.”
“Afternoon?” I asked, hopefully. I didn’t like to wake before noon.
He sighed, heavily, his brown glasses slipping down over his nose. “Afternoon then.” He stood up and held out his hand. I shook it, feeling the cool sweat of his palm spread over my skin like a disease.
As I stood from his office, I mulled over the dwindling jobs I’d been called back for recently. As the mirrored elevator closed its doors around, enclosing me my own reflection, I studied myself. I had brash, thick eyeliner bruising my eyes, the remnant of the party last night. I still hadn’t taken yesterday’s makeup off. I looked delightfully disheveled from my cutoff denim skirt to the torn tights and the boyfriend shirt that hung off of one delicate shoulder.
I was beautiful still. Wasn’t I?
I stepped closer, my eyes lingering on the slightly darker skin under my eyes. But there were no lines or blemishes. My skin was a silky brown, as it had always been, my pink-tinted curls perfectly messy. I was still a Gorgeous, still earned the right to wear the “G” on my wrist. It would be a few years before my beauty would start to fade. A few years before the call of Leaving would have me jumping off of someone’s roof in a killer pair of pumps. Someday soon, that Irish girl in the alleyway would be me. And if my Leaving was perfect enough, they would put me in the papers. The world would remember me as beautiful forever, my image poured over the news and captured in headlines.I threw up in an empty bathroom on the first floor and immediately felt better.