Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, my hands braced against the counter, I stared at my reflection. I wasn’t seeing my face as it was now, marred by time and freckles, but was instead remembering the one that used to stare back at me. The face of the girl who existed before my life took a route no one could have predicted. The girl who’d existed before what was supposed to have been my future was ripped from me in such a horrifying and painful way.
It seemed as if several lifetimes had passed since that fateful day, but even so, I could remember in vivid detail what it had felt like to be that girl. Could recall the way people had stared at me wherever I went, could recollect with perfect clarity the certainty my beauty had brought to my world. Back then, my future had been full of promise. A life of ease. Of adoration. Of fame. Back then, I had been able to stop conversations by simply stepping into a room. Golden hair, pink cheeks, and blue eyes that shimmered with the kind of self-assurance only beauty could bring a girl growing up in this world.
It was the same splendor I could see developing in my daughter, Symphony, who had my full lips and high cheekbones, and an oval face and almond shaped eyes coveted by both men and women alike. There was a perfection in the girl’s looks even at the age of five, just as there had been in mine all those years ago.
Most parents would have rejoiced at such a thing, but I knew better. Understood what my daughter faced as a result of that beauty. What appeared to be a charmed life full of money and adoration was actually something much more sinister. A golden cage. A life of servitude and abuse wrapped in a pretty bow. It was what I would have been forced into if not for the incident, and what my daughter now faced.
I can fix it. It isn’t too late.
My stomach twisted the way it always did when the thought went through my head. It was wrong, horrible. Symphony would never forgive me, would never understand. I couldn’t do it.
I blinked, and the reflection in the mirror transformed from the fresh-faced girl I’d been all those years ago to the woman I was now. I turned my head, bringing the right side of my face into clearer view. For years after the incident, the sight of the scar had sent a jolt through me, almost like I was being burned all over again, but those emotions had long ago morphed from pain and shock to something less offensive. Resignation at first, then acceptance, and finally, gratitude. It was what I felt now as I studied the ugly scar on my cheek. The uneven skin tone, the puckered flesh that had ruined my nearly flawless appearance.
If I turned my head the other way, I could glimpse the woman who would have been. An exquisite profile and breathtaking beauty that even the blemishes of time could not hide. It was still there, although few people could see it. In a world where beauty was coveted above all things, most people were too distracted by my flaws to see the woman beneath the scar.
I was still looking at the undamaged side of her face when I reached for the drawer, still thinking about the past and what might have been as I slipped my hand inside. When I wrapped my fingers around the scissors, the cold metal against my skin was as shocking as the heat searing my cheek had been all those years ago. My hand trembled as I pulled the scissors free, and tears filled my eyes, blurring my reflection but not wiping the image from my mind. Symphony was asleep now. I could do it. It would be so easy, would be over so fast. I could end things before they started, could save my daughter from a life of pain. Could give her a real future.
Like a dozen times before, the thought pulled a sob from me. It was loud in the quiet bathroom, and I covered my mouth when more threatened, squeezing my eyes shut as shame swept over me. Would it be immoral to do what I was considering, or was it the most moral thing I could ever do? I didn’t know the answer. I just knew with a certainty I’d never felt about anything else that I did not want my daughter to follow in my friends’ footsteps. I had to stop it. No matter how much this thing would hurt us both, I had to take this step.
Not now, though. Later.
I slipped the scissors back into the drawer, blinking away the tears so I could once again see my reflection. Like before, my younger self stared back at me, and it gave me comfort.
Symphony was only five. There was time. I would wait until she was older and explain. I would tell her about the Institute, about the training and the competition, about the hatred and jealousy, but also about the friendships. I would tell my daughter about the girl who had stolen my beauty, and the future she sentenced herself to on that fateful night.
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