Magazines scattered across the bed, each one meticulously circled for the best tips, the best products, the best looks. The desk had been overtaken by every possible product—face masks, toners, eye creams, lip liners, glosses, mascara, shadows, highlighters and bronzers, all of it painting a rainbow of color from neutral to neon.
Sarah sat in the middle of her rug, staring at her open closet door and at the myriad shoes lining the shelf below overcrowded hangers.
This was beautiful, she was told. Beauty was having the best looks, the smoothest skin, the shiniest hair. Beauty was being someone who knew the fashion trends, who knew how to coordinate outfits.
Beauty was a lot of work and it offered nothing but emptiness as she stared at it.
The front door opened with a rattle and faint creak. “Honey?” Her mother’s voice cut through the quiet of the house.
“In my room,” she called.
The moments that followed were noisy. Her mother’s keys were set on the side table, clinking together. The thud of shoes being kicked off into the front closet. A clatter of something else being set down.
When her mother did appear in her doorway, it was with a soft smile and bright eyes. There was no color on her perfectly shaped lips. She’d pinned her dark tresses back in a practical, simple bun which left messy strands dangling on the one side. The blue scrubs of her hospital uniform made her figure almost blocky.
“Everything okay?” Gentleness touched her tone.
“Yeah,” Sarah answered and tried to smile.
Her mother sighed and came in, carefully moving the magazines up so she could sit without destroying the order they’d been in. At last she inhaled. “Did you talk to your father?”
“Yeah,” Sarah answered. “He and Mary are going to Italy. They won’t be back until after my party. He said he’d send me a present.”
Silence filled the room before her mother inhaled. “Well, what are you going to ask him for?”
“I don’t know,” she said and shifted so she could lean against her mother’s legs. One hand came down to stroke Sarah’s hair; dark and voluminous as her mother’s. “I was just thinking about it. I don’t really need anything.”
“Then don’t ask for what you need, ask him for something you want.”
What she wanted was for her father to be there for once. For him to spend time with her, rather than sending her another gift from some exotic location.
What she wanted was to be pretty enough to get him to pay attention.
“I don’t know what I want,” she murmured.
Her mother laughed and bent forward, kissing the top of her head. “Well think on it,” she said. “In the meantime, you need to eat. You only get pretty when you take care of your body, and that means dinner. How about Chinese?”
Sarah thought about it. “Can we have sloppy joes instead?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind making a salad to go with it.”
“Okay, but let put my stuff away.”
Her mother laughed and stood up. “It does look a little demolished in here. Just meet me in the kitchen.”
She wanted to be beautiful.
Beautiful just like her mother.