Chapter 1: Dollhouse - Melanie Martinez
A repetitive buzzing noise pulled me from my dreamless slumber. I slowly opened my eyes, ignoring my headache. The neon red letters read: 5:02. To put my throbbing temple out of its misery, I mustered up the smidgen of energy I had and reached out to silence the alarm. I settled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling. The sun had yet to grace Manhattan with its presence. The lightening darkness and sounds of the city waking from its momentary slumber was comforting; they kept me from being alone with my thoughts.
I pushed back my covers when I had gathered the necessary strength. I put on my robe and tied the plush belt as tightly as possible around my waist as I shuffled to my private bathroom. I kept the lights off as I went to bathroom and washed my hands; it made it easier for me to avoid seeing myself in the mirror for as long as possible. I switched it on when it was time to brush my teeth.
My heart sank when my eyes settled on my reflection. My skin was a lifeless dingy-yellow hue. Heavy bags were saddled under my amber eyes, causing the brown freckles that dusted my cheeks and the bridge of my nose to look more out of place than usual. The chubbiness of my cheeks made my stomach knot. I smoothed them up and over with my fingers, trying to discover and see my cheekbones. I pursed my lips together to help. Even when I could see it, I hated what I saw. Tears collected in my eyes and I shifted them down to the marble countertop.
I removed my retainer and placed it in its case. I brushed and flossed my teeth without sparing a single glance at myself. I had no choice but to pay attention to it as I went through my daily skin regimen. I’d get a mouthful from Genette if I didn’t. My hair used to be naturally thick and wavy. My mother’s side of the family was from Colombia. As I got older, though, its texture shifted to a hybrid of my father’s Euro-hodgepodge ancestry and limp, brittle noodles.
Before leaving the bathroom, I went to the scale by the tub. I silently prayed as I stepped onto it slowly, removing my robe. When the digital screen finished calculating, the digital decimal of 82.7 lbs registered in my mind as practically 8000. I internally vowed to lose what I could before the party my family was scheduled to attend that evening.
I dressed in oversized workout clothes and went downstairs in pursuit of the kitchen. I stumbled upon the camera crew as soon as I looked up from the landing. They were filming my stepmother and my three-year-old half-sister Interacting. Genette was personally fitting Sophia in one of the latest fashions from her children’s line in our sitting room. On an ordinary day, she’d have her assistant Candice do it as she barked impossible demands at her. Candice was seated on the side, silently taking notes as Genette acted her heart out to portray a loving mother.
Soph kept moving her hips and arms, unable to stand still as is the case with all young children.
“You’ve got to stay still. I don’t want to stick you.” Genette looked up at Soph from her seat on the floor with a dazzling, pearly white smile.
“I’m a ladybug, Mama!” She hopped and flapped her arms.
“You’re too beautiful to be a bug. Pick something pretty, honey.” Genette placed a kiss on her cheek.
“They have spots. I love spots!” Soph continued with a bubbly smile and bright eyes.
She went on to happily announce all of the other things she enjoyed about ladybugs.
I could feel her mother’s composure crumbling as the producers made comments among themselves about the lack of “usable scenes” that had shot that day.
“Goooood Morning, ladybug!” I literally hopped into the inner circle as I hear Mount Genette began to erupt, putting my hands on my knees to look Sophia in the eye.
“Izzie bee!” She squealed with joy and threw her arms around me. I picked her up and spun.
“How was flying?” I placed her back onto the pedestal after a single spin.
“FUN! Again! Again! ” She clapped, her big blue eyes sparkled with joy.
I forced the same expression onto my face. “You can’t do it just yet, ladybug. You’re still growing. Your little wings need time to rest. If you stand really still for a while, you’ll be able to fly again later.”
“I have some other places to buzz today, but we’ll do it tomorrow. You’ve gotta rest those wings, though. Got it?”
She nodded, never losing her smile.
‘Never let them take this away from you’ I thought as I kissed her on the cheek.
I take a deep breath and stand up straight, keenly aware of all of the eyes on me. I know better than to look at them, especially the ones made of ice that would see I paid for interrupting her moment.
My dad was a world renowned plastic surgeon, one so successful that they developed a television show around his practice and his private life. My supermodel stepmother was a fixture in his life before the show aired, but she would no longer be in it if she failed to produce the image the producers pitched to the network. She had to be superior to all in all things, a model of beauty, motherhood, and business -- all without smudging her makeup or wrinkling her mini-dress.
My older sister Audrena and I were from his first marriage. My parents divorced when I was five. It was messy -- VERY messy. So messy that my mother developed drug and alcohol problems. She lost custody of me when Aud moved out to go to college. We have the same origin, but Audrey and I were treated differently by our father and Genette.
At 27, Audrey was a promising chemist at a pharmaceutical company. She married her childhood best friend, who coincidentally grew up to be the lead vocalist of America’s hottest band. Our father practically begged her to be a regular on his show, “spontaneously” stopping by our home to convey a close-knit family. She declined, stating she didn’t want to be in the public eye more than she needed to be. He made do by mentioning her and her accomplishments every fifteen minutes.
He made me invisible for the most part. I was present when it would’ve raised questions if I was absent, but I didn’t record talking heads. I wasn’t enabled to welcome America into my personal life, showing them what made me special. He and his producers felt I lacked a sparkle that made me interesting. It was a heavy burden to carry, but I had ballet to turn to. It’s demands gave me something to bury my heart and soul into.
I escaped to the kitchen without a word. I was politely greeted by members of the staff. Their presence was humiliating as I complied my breakfast. It took it with me as I went to our private gym, uncomfortable eating in front of others.
I turned on the light and locked myself in there. I sat down on the bench. I broke my rice cake in half. I ate the first sliver slowly, allowing my body to register that it was taking in food. Unable to stop myself, I granted myself access to the other half ahead of schedule. Disgusted with myself, I was on the verge of crying as I forced down gulps of my revolting master cleanse mixture. When drank an adequate amount, I stood up, put on my headphones, got on the treadmill and ran at a high intensity to achieve a runner’s high. I ran for two hours non-stop. One of my tennis shoes skidding on the sweat pouring from my body is what yanked me out of my alternate reality. I immediately got off the machine, rattled.
I stripped down to my long sleeved shirt and shorts. I used a towel from the rack to wipe away the moisture sopping from my pores. I momentarily peeled forward my shirt and dabbed beneath it, not daring to work out in just my sports bra. I picked up a bottle of water from the small refrigerator in the room. I sat down on the leg lift bench. I drank it as I did curls, not wanting to lose my momentum.
Once I had finished my drink, I performed old dance routines in front of the mirror, doing what I could to perfect each mistake I noticed in the performance recordings.
I stopped when I fell ill. I rushed to my room, and got sick behind the privacy of a locked door.
I took an ice cold shower when my internal hell was over. I put on comfortable clothes and climbed back into bed. I cuddled with my childhood comfort item -- a stuffed bunny dressed as a ballerina, and fell asleep. I was woken up hours later by a knock on my door. I groaned and held my head as I sat up slowly. I crept out of bed and unlocked it.
Candice was standing on the other side of the door, holding a garment bag. She offered me a timid smile.
“Hi, this is your dress for Everett’s record sales party tonight. Genette sent me up here to help you get ready.”
“Right.” I put a hand in my hair. “Come on in.” I stepped aside and allowed her to enter.
“Your room is so beautiful.” She mused as she walked in.
“Your boss decorated.”
Her expression saddened. She silently placed the bag on my bed.
“You can say it. The door’s closed.” I coaxed.
“She pays my bills. I’m not allowed to hate her.” She smoothed her hands on her pants, keeping her eyes on my bed.
“I’ll do it for both of us, then.” I stated to put her at ease as I approached my bed.
She spared a glance in my direction. “Your dad is really nice.”
I pursed my lips together. “Mmm.”
She unzipped the bag and revealed the dress to ease the tension my outburst created. It was a pale powder pink ruffled mini dress, with fuchsia waistband, a long bow detail that accentuated the waist, and thin shoulder straps. It looked like a dress suitable for a barbie doll. I knew I would never fit that mold.
I brought my hand to my mouth and started nibbling on my nails as I analyzed it.
“It’s not exactly your color. I would’ve put you in black – a blue, if she was determined to put you in a pastel. It has a built in corset. At least it’ll do something for your girls.” She offered lightly in condolence.
“I don’t really have those, but – um, it’s beautiful.” I swallowed my distaste for it. “Is it alright if I put this on in the closet? I need to change into formal underwear.”
“Sure, no problem. Privacy’s a thing. I understand.”
“I’ll be right back.” I picked up the dress by the hanger and went into my walk-in closet.
I zipped on my dress without sparing a glance in the mirror. I felt uncomfortable with my shoulders exposed. I shifted through my closet until I found a black motorcycle jacket. Once I had stepped into a pair of black heels, I walked out of the closet.
Candice was setting on the cushioned bench in front of my bed, working from her phone.She looked up when she felt my presence.
“I don’t understand why we don’t let you dress yourself. You have taste. Your personal arrangements to what we lay out for you tend to suit you better anyhow.” She commented, tucking her dyed burgundy hair behind her ear.
I forced a smile, unsure of how I should respond.
“Sit down at your vanity. I’ll start on your hair and makeup.” She gestured to it.
I went to where I was told and sat down. I looked down at my hands instead of in the mirror. My bare nails looked as though they had recently been caught in a wood chipper. To give myself something to do, I filed them down to smooth edges and painted them black. Things were silent as we worked.
I walked down the stairs with Candice after she finished my makeup. My father was in the foyer. His salt and pepper hair was handsomely parted and smoothed back. He was decked out in an expensive Italian suit and polished dress shoes. He momentarily glanced at his platinum watch, before returning his eyes to his smartphone.
“Hi, Daddy.” I greeted, forcing a smile as I made my way closer to him.
“Isabella.” He stated simply, keeping his eyes on his work.
“Hello, Dr. Hales.” Candice greeted with a smile.
He looked up with a dazzling one of his own. “Candice, how are you? I hope Isabella and her friends weren’t too much trouble for you.” He offered her his hand to shake.
“Uh, no – friends?” She smiled through her confusion.
“The ones that were over earlier. They were walking out as I came in.” He pointed to our personal elevator with his thumb as she returned her hand to her side.
“Oh, no, Sir. Those were models for the fashion show next week. Kurt finished up fittings while I helped Izzie get ready. Genette’s been busy fitting and filming.” She corrected with a flirtatious giggle.
He nodded in understanding, still putting on the charm. “My mistake. You can have the rest of the night off, if Genette hasn’t already given it to you. I’m sure a lovely girl like you has people anxious to meet up with her.”
“Really?!” She beamed. “Thank you so much! My best friend just got a new job. She really wanted to go out to celebrate, but I thought I’d be working past midnight.”
“Go now. I insist.” He nodded to the door.
“You’re the best, Dr. Hales. Thank you.” She waved goodbye before walking off to fetch her belongings.
He watched her butt as she walked away. She switched her hips more than necessary to put on a good show.
He always had a thing for the young ones. Candice wasn’t a day older than twenty-two. There was a reason the live-in nanny was male. Genette wasn’t oblivious.
He finally looked over at me when she was gone.
When he opened his mouth, I thought he was going to notice how tired I looked or comment on the amount of makeup I was wearing, like a normal father.
“Genette said something about you wanting a rhinoplasty.”
I looked down at my shoes. “She said I should get a nose job. I just didn’t say no’.”
“Do you want it?”
What I craved was his approval. “Do you think it would make me look better?”
“Everyone could afford to improve their appearance. Nothing major, simply expanding your dorsum a touch. It’d make your nose much more compatible with the rest of your features. It’s too insignificant as it stands and makes everything else appear larger. My partner can do it. He owes me for his wife’s breasts. –“He touched his index finger to the bridge of my nose for a moment.
“If we do it soon, It will be completely healed by the time school starts in the fall.” He added as he continued to check out my flaw from an objective standpoint.
My chest constricted. I willed myself not to cry because of our close proximity. He lifted his phone and snapped a picture of me without warning.
“Do you mind turning to the side?”
I swallowed hard and did as told, my bottom lip quivering ever so slightly.
“How is school?” He stepped back and started making arrangements.
"Fine.” I blinked back tears and put my hand on the strap of my crossbody purse to give myself something to do.
“Isabella, we’ve discussed this. Your posture is important. Hunching over like that’s doing nothing for your figure.” Genette instructed as she glided down the stairs.
“You look beautiful, Darling.” My father smiled at her.
She was a classic beauty, a modern-day Marilyn if there ever were one, and it was neither his, nor his colleagues' doing. Her striking features weren't composed of magazine clippings; she was woven of genes and prayer. That's why she and Sophia are a part of his brand and I never will be.
“Thanks, Darling.” She placed her cheek on his and made a kissy noise, not wanting to transfer her lip pigment.
“Your clothes look beautiful.” She served her backhanded compliment with a smile.
“Thank you.” I spend the air left in my lungs to reply.
By the time three of us had arrived at one of NYC's hottest night clubs, night had fallen. It was a beautiful late spring evening, perfect for a red carpet.
The car door was opened by the driver. They exited first, smiling and holding hands for the eyes that were watching. My ankles trembled beneath me as I joined them outside. A wave of vertigo hit me the moment I reached a standing position. I inconspicuously steadied myself. I pushed my shoulders back and tilted my chin up.
We walked the red carpet together. Most of their photos excluded me, but the ones that did painted us to be the perfect family. I stayed on my mark and forced my smiles. I was rewarded with the ability to drink as long as I didn’t get sloppy. I was sixteen and looked less than it, but they never carded at industry parties, one of very few perks.
There was a line outside the women’s restroom. I walked into the men’s without hesitation. It was completely empty in there. After locking myself inside one of the stalls, I finally let myself break down. I collected a wad of toilet paper and dab my eyes as tears refused to stop falling. I knew I had to get a hold of myself and return to the party. I took deep breaths and stared up at the ceiling.
When my tears finally came to a stop, an impulse popped into my mind. Without thinking myself out of it, I forced myself to vomit. I rose to my feet, wiping my mouth off with the back of my hand as it trembled. I tossed in my tissue and flushed. I walked out after taking a deep breath. I wet a paper towel and removed my smeared makeup. I reapplied what I could with what was in my bag. I fixed my hair with my fingers. I rinsed my mouth out and inserted a mint. I wandered out, allowing myself to behave drunkenly to play off using the men’s room.
I walked over to the bar alone. “Two vodka cranberries and a shot of Grey Goose, please.” I ordered when one of the bartenders made their way over to me.
I placed my hands on the counter and looked down at them. The bar was lit. I allowed myself to be fascinated by the shadows I could make on it by contorting my fingers in subtle ways. Within a matter of minutes, tall narrow glasses were slid over to me. The deep pink liquid glowed because of the light illuminating the glasses. The short one that was added lastly was clear in color. I tossed it back, swallowing hard to remove the burn.
“Thank you.” I tipped him before I walked away.
I found an isolated table and sat down. As I drank the first one, I put all the fruit garnishes into the second glass, allowing them to absorb alcohol.
I was finished with it in under ten minutes. I sipped the second, enjoying the taste and the numbing it would soon create.
“You can’t steal Soph’s dress to drink like an old pro.”
I opened my eyes to find her full lips contorted into a playful smirk.
Even while wearing her horn-rimmed glasses and significantly less makeup than everyone else in the room, she was notably the most beautiful in the room. And she looked just like our mom. She always had.
“You better be careful around the cameras. Your coworkers might learn about your double life, Dr. Hales-Woods.”
“They are all well aware of who my husband is. They hold him hostage at the karaoke machine at every one of our holiday parties."
"He goes to those?" I crinkled my nose.
"Loves them. Refuses to miss them. Let me tell you, the sweaters he finds for us have gotten more and more elaborate over the years. I wouldn't be surprised if this year's set have toy trains circling around them."
I let out the first legitimate laugh in a painfully long time.
"He's ridiculous, but I love him." Her cheeks flushed she rolled her eyes.
"Where is he?" I slurp down the last of my drink.
“Around here somewhere, likely with food. Would you like anything?"
"I've got all that I need right here." I removed the line wedge that adorned the rim of my glass and put it into my mouth.
As I was eating, my drinks finally hit me and I felt warm and fuzzy inside.
"Have one of my mini quiches.” Her tone shifted from playful worried.
“We don’t like quiche. You’re the one that calls them lying pies.”
“I know. They smelled really good, so I went for it. They taste even better. I cleared a tray to make this pile. There’s bacon.”
“Big lunch.” I blew my blew a stray hair out of my face for something fun to do.
“Izzie Bee, --“She called to me sternly.
I looked up. I didn’t realize how drunk I was until I tried to focus my eyes on her. She pursed her lips together instead of saying something.
“Eat.” She slid her plate closer to me.
My mind jumped to work, counting the calories present. The cheese, bacon, and eggs sent off major warning signs. I picked one up and ate it reluctantly, knowing she wasn’t going to stop pressing me.
“Happy?” I spouted sarcastically, wiping the crumbs from my mouth with my fingers.
She gave me her glass of water. “Drink it.”
“I’m not -- I’m not taking your drink. I’ll get my own.”
“No, you’re drunk.” She snapped in a hushed tone.
“I’m good.“ I started to get up from the table.
She placed her hand on my shoulder and eased me back down to my seat. “Stay. I’ll be back.” She left the table.
I sighed heavily and rested my head in the palm of my hand as my elbow was propped on the table. My eyes drifted shut and I gently swayed in my seat as I enjoyed the ride and the music.
“It’s strange seeing you with clothes on.” A male voice shattered my drunken dream cloud.
“No - no, go away.”
“You are so drunk, Princess.” Colt chuckled lightly as he sat down.
My eyes bore into his blur menacingly.
“No need to be feisty. We’ve been through this song and dance before, Princess. You sit by yourself, acting all dark and mysterious. I come over, you play hard to get, we drink together, and then you get very friendly.”
Anger surged through my body, recalling the fractured memories of our time together. I pushed all of the table’s contents onto him in one swift motion.
“YOU’RE CRAZY!” He howled.
My legs felt as though they were made of twigs, they shook as I attempted to gain stronger footing. I walked away with as much conviction as I could muster, ignoring the attention I drew. The more I moved, the more light-headed I became.
I couldn’t understand what the people around me were saying, like they were speaking an alien language. A horrible feeling crept across my stomach as my vision rapidly depleted. Blurry images soon transitioned into black dots, overlaying everything in my line of sight.
And all at once, I lost the will to fight and let myself fall.