“I just want to be beautiful Jaiden, that’s all.” Sixteen-year-old Serena said as she applied mascara to her eyelashes in the bathroom mirror. She was leaning over the sink and using an ever-steady hand to gently brush the tiny hairs of her eyelids. She was already a pro. The bathroom was small; the tub-shower combination seemed to have been placed in after the construction of the rest of the room. There was barely enough space on the toilet to sit comfortably, especially with someone standing at the sink. But of course, Jaiden had a special fixation for being in places that he probably shouldn’t be.
“You already are beautiful Serena,” Jaiden said to her, not even able to break concentration from his handheld game.
“You’re only thirteen, you wouldn’t understand,” Serena spoke, switching to her other eye now. She looked at her brother as he took on whatever adventure it was that had him enraptured. He was a bit lighter than she remembered him. She smiled to herself, turning back to the mirror.
“But it’s not real,” Jaiden said in almost a whisper.
“What’s not real?”
“Your beauty. If you have to paint it on your face every day, then how can it be real? You’re just putting another mask on.”
The older sister glared at her brother through the mirror’s reflection.
“Shutup! You don’t know anything, just stay quiet for once in your life.” Serena hissed. Jaiden finally raised his head from the mind control device.
“Hey! What was that for?” He scrunched his face, becoming visibly upset. Poking his bottom lip out, he made himself look completely miserable. This was his puppy dog face. Serena, regretting her brash delivery, feigned ignorance to his dramatics.
Jaiden crossed his arms and pouted. She still treated him like a little kid, even after all these years.
“I’m not a baby. You don’t have to treat me like one.” Jaiden spewed back.
“Yes you are, you’re always gonna be my wittle baby brother,” Serena said in response, with a mock-baby voice. “Besides, I’m the oldest.”
“Barely! Only by a few-”
“Uhuh!” She said, cutting him off. “I don’t want to hear it. Mom said I came out first, so I’m the oldest.” Serena stuck her tongue out at her twin brother. His dark green eyes locked with hers, his face is somber.
“How is she?” She asked, realizing her choice of words were less than careful.
“She’s great actually. She’s beautiful Rena, without all that makeup.” Jaiden replied, jeering at his sister, trying to lighten the mood.
“She always was.”
The two remained quiet for a moment, drifting off to the memories of their mother. Serena shook her head, freeing herself from the depths of her imagination to continue her makeup application.
“Do you know what time it is Serena?” Jaiden asked. The cellphone on the edge of the sink shown bright with the digital time.
“You know that I know what time it is Jaiden,” she half-replied while in the middle of choosing between eyeliners. “Why’d you even ask?”
“You already know why I asked! Why did you even ask?”
“Smart ass.” Serena began adding dark purple eyeliner to her face. The bruise near her right eye had gone down significantly throughout the day. She caught her brother staring at it, unable to remove the solemn look from his eyes.
“Frozen carrots really do the trick right?” She chuckled meekly. “Can’t say mom didn’t teach me anything. Thank her for that one for me will you.”
The sarcasm in her voice was not lost on her younger brother, or herself, she was terrified. Her voice had begun to noticeably crack the deeper the two got into the conversation. Her hand was shaking, making this entire process that much more difficult. She glimpsed herself in the mirror and finally saw her reflection, only half of her makeup was done. She could barely recognize her face as her eyes began to water. Her lips were broken and bloody, her left eye almost swollen shut.
“Freaking stuff stings so bad.” Serena lied, trembling violently now. She grabbed pieces of toilet paper and started patting her eyes. The tears started to form anyways, regardless of how vigorously the cotton cloth was dabbed.
“Rena, you have to get out of here, I don’t know why you’re still here. He’s a monster, and he never stops.” Jaiden pleaded to his sister. He stood beside her, looking at her through the reflection in the mirror. She was now an inch or two taller than he was. “I’m afraid for you.”
“Well, that makes two of us baby brother. I’m afraid too.” She started to apply concealer, pushing and pulling aggressively at her skin. “I’m afraid when I wake up. I’m afraid when I make breakfast. I’m afraid when I leave, and I’m afraid every time I come back. I hate coming back here. But I have nowhere else to go. I have nothing. I have nobody. Everything I ever knew, changed or left me. Everything. I don’t have a choice but to stay.”
“Yes, you do! You can run away like we used to talk about. You can make it to California Rena, I know you. You have to make it Rena, mom and I didn’t. If anyone can do-”
“SHUTUP JAIDEN! Enough.” Serena screamed. Her breathing was heavy as she held the sides of the sink to control her convulsions. Tears were beginning to roll down her face, destroying her cosmetic efforts. “I’m not ten anymore. The real world doesn’t work like that, its cruel and cold. Nobody cares how much you hurt. People look away from your bruises because they don’t want to have to ask. They ignore your absences because they don’t want to have to care. They keep their distance from you because they don’t want to feel your pain. The only people I ever loved both left me. I don’t have anything left in me. So yes, you’re right. This is fake. But it makes me feel beautiful on the outside, isn’t that all that should matter?”
Serena turned to look at her brother, only to be greeted by an empty room. He was gone. But she wasn’t stupid. He was never really there in the first place. She looked down at her phone, 5:27. Three minutes. She had three minutes, to try to become beautiful again. If only on the outside.