Beauty in a Bottle

Jessica Greene was an average woman. She was of average height, with brown hair, and brown eyes to match. She lived alone in her apartment, with her two cats—Margo and Mitten. She has always been a romantic, since she was a young girl. Dreaming of her knight in shining armor, to come sweep her off her feet and take her away to be married, and have kids in a nice family home. There was one problem, though.

Jessica Greene was not beautiful.

She was smart, educated, and open-minded. She was even funny and caring—but she was not beautiful. And beauty is what men really want.

She tried all kinds of products, in an effort to better her image. She would read magazines about fashion and beauty products, buying every new item that came out. She read numerous blogs and articles every day, searching for information, testing new products. Even so, no matter what she tried, she could never look like them—the girls in the magazines—strutting, throwing back their hair, teasing her with all of their beauty.

She went out one day, to visit a new beauty supply store in town. It had been open for a couple of weeks now, and didn’t get much attention, but she thought she’d look anyway—in case she could find something no one else had.

She walked in and began to sift through the merchandise. There were only a few other ladies milling about, idly browsing the shelves. She too looked around, but saw only titles that she was all too familiar with.

The other women eventually left, with only one remaining by the cash register as she finished up her purchase. Jessica was about to follow her out, disappointed with the store’s collection, when the store clerk said, “Excuse me, Miss?”

“Yes?” she replied, as he stopped in front of her.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disrupt you. I’m the owner of the store, and I couldn’t help noticing that you didn’t seem satisfied with any of my products.”

She looked down and rubbed the back of her neck nervously, being embarrassed that he had approached her in such a way.

“Well, I—” she began, but he cut her off.

“Perhaps I can offer you a new skin-repairing beauty cream that I’ve just received. It’s not on the shelves yet, but the testers gave great reviews, and the company is well known in France for making some of the best products that women all over the world use every day.”

She eyed him suspiciously. Sounds like a scam. “How much are you charging?” she asked, certain that he would name a ridiculous price.

“I will give it to you for free, Miss. And if you like it, just come back and buy more—it should be on the shelves by then.”

She hesitated, thinking that it was too good to be true. But it was worth a try; the product was free, after all.

“Come with me,” he said, walking over to the register. She followed him, and he went behind the desk, into a room in the back. When he returned, he was holding a small bottle of cream in one hand—about the thickness of two fingers, and the length of a pinky—and he offered it to her.

She took it and read the title: Beauty in a Bottle. She searched the tube for the company name, but couldn’t find it anywhere.

The man looked at his watch. “Well, would you look at that. It’s closing time. Sorry, Miss, but I’ll have to ask you to leave now. Please come back any time though, I’m open weekdays from noon to eight.”

She looked outside—it was dark. Didn’t I come here at 4? How could it have been so long already?

The man walked over to the door and held it open for her. She walked over slowly, still eyeing the bottle.

“Thank you,” she said, walking out.

“Anytime, Miss,” the man replied, as he let the door swing shut behind her—and locked it.

Back at her apartment, Jessica kicked back on the couch with one of her cats and engaged in some mindless TV, the mysterious skin product all but forgotten.

Later, when she went to the bathroom, she saw the bottle on the counter where she had left it and decided to give it another look. She walked over and picked it up, turning it over to read the back.

Massage into skin and let set overnight. Rinse face upon waking.

“Well, that’s pretty simple,” she mused, “and perfect timing, too.”

She rubbed the cream into her face, emptying the tiny bottle, then stared at her reflection. She shrugged—having little hope for the product—and went to bed.

When she woke up the next morning, she went about her daily routine—making some coffee, and pouring herself a bowl of cereal. Lastly, she entered the bathroom to take a shower, glanced in the mirror—and screamed.

Her face looked like plastic. Like it wasn’t real, like it was some doll that was made to look like her.

She quickly turned on the faucet, scrubbing her face with her hands, and dried it with a towel, then looked back into the mirror.

She stood motionless, stunned. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

“Beautiful.” She whispered the word, touching her reflection, then her face.

The cream had formed some sort of perfect mask: collecting on her cheekbones, making them more protruding, and on the sides of her nose, just enough so that it didn’t look as pointy.

She screamed again, this time with excitement, and ran to her phone to call in sick to work.

She instead went to the mall, strutting around, buying all sorts of clothing that she couldn’t afford. Everywhere she went, she got looks of admiration from the men, while the women stared at her hatefully.

She returned home, and called one of her friends that she hadn’t seen in quite some time. They made plans to go to a club together that night, with Jessica eager to show off her new look.

She arrived at the club early and got herself a drink. She was sitting alone at a table when a man approached her.

“Hey,” he said, “I’m Jake. I—I saw you from over there”—he pointed across the club—“and uh . . . sorry that I’m so nervous, it’s just that, well, you’re so beautiful.”

She looked down at the table and blushed. “Thanks.”

They danced together; they downed shots with his friends. Jessica got so caught up in the moment that she forgot to meet her friend, paying no attention to her cell phone. And, with her new appearance, her friend was unable to find her.

Jake eventually took her back to his place, where they drank some wine, talked for a while, and eventually ended up in bed.

Jessica woke up first the next morning and found Jake beside her, lying on his chest and snoring. She got out of bed with a smile, and walked to the bathroom to look at herself.

. . . only to be startled by the discovery that she was the same old Jessica again.

She panicked, covering her mouth to mute a gasp. She quickly got dressed, rushed out of Jake’s apartment, and drove back to hers. Once there, she grabbed a scarf to wrap around her face, and went back to the beauty supply store.

She rushed inside and shoved a lady out of the way as she dashed up to the register.

“Oh, hello again,” the man said, recognizing her even with a scarf wrapped around her face.

“I need more of that cream,” she replied, frantic.

“Sure thing, Miss. I’ll just be a moment.” He went back to the room, and again came out holding the small bottle. She tried to reach for it, but he pulled his arm back.

“Nuh-uh, you have to pay for it this time,” he said with a gently patronizing smile.

She quickly paid and left, speeding back to her apartment. It was once again dark outside when it should have been mid-day, but Jessica paid no attention.

The days passed, and Jessica formed a routine, having learned of how the cream worked and for how long. She quit her job, got rid of her cats—which shed too much hair for her new lifestyle—and eventually moved in with Jake, who was wealthy enough to take care of her. She started stocking up on the cream, keeping it hidden so Jake would never know her secret.

The cream didn’t only change her looks though, it changed who she was. She became proud of her beauty, and dumped her old friends, opting instead for wealthier women more in sync with who she now was. She strutted around everywhere she went, head held high, wrinkling her nose at each person who attempted to speak to her.

One day, she went out with her friends to an upscale restaurant. Jake was gone for the month—on a cruise for a business trip—but she didn’t care, because he left her a credit card. They were all talking and laughing, having a great time, when Jessica’s face suddenly felt itchy. “Excuse me a moment,” she said, getting up from the table to go to the restroom.

She walked in and looked in the mirror.

It was wearing off.

She was hysterical, digging through her purse to pull out a bottle, and spread the cream hastily on her face. Of course, it had no effect, because it had to sit overnight.

She had no choice: she ran from the bathroom and out of the restaurant, trying to cover her face with her shirt. She drove back to her apartment and stayed there for the night.

When she woke up, she rinsed her face and was beautiful again, just like that. She went over to her stash to see how much she had left, but it was empty.

Grabbing the credit card, she drove back to the beauty supply store.

“Ah, Miss,” the man said. “How can I help you?” He always acted like he didn’t know why she was there.

“I need more,” she said, with an attitude.

He raised his eyebrows, then walked to the back room. “Right away, Miss,” he said.

Why are they still not on the shelves? she thought for a moment, but then quickly dismissed it, too eager to receive the cream.

He came back out with a bag full of the little bottles and rang them up. “That’ll be seventy-six dollars and fifty-four cents.”

She handed him her card and he swiped it.

“It’s been declined,” he said,

“Then swipe it again!” she yelled at him.

He swiped it again, then a third time.

“I’m sorry, it looks like you don’t have the funds,” he pulled out a pair of scissors and cut her card in half.

Jessica’s mouth dropped open, “What the hell, you idiot?!” she shouted, reaching over the counter.

He backed up, out of reach. “Miss, if you don’t calm down, I’ll have to call the police,” he said, his voice shaking.

She ran behind the counter, reaching for the bag, punching him, kicking him, and—in a manic daze—she picked up the scissors and stabbed him, straight through his eye and into his skull.

He fell against the side of the counter, then slowly slid to the floor. Her body, flooded with adrenaline, took a moment to recover. When it did, she grabbed the bag and ran into the night.

Jake returned from the cruise, and Jessica acted as if nothing had happened. She went about every day as if she had not killed a man—for a bag of beauty cream.

She called her friends, made up an excuse for why she disappeared from the restaurant, and they resumed their usual outings and activities. Life went on as normal.

Then one day, Jessica was walking down the street when two police officers turned the corner at the other end of the block. They looked at each other, then started jogging toward her, yelling, “Excuse me! Lady!”

Jessica knew that she was the one they were after.

She turned around and took off running at a full sprint.

They chased her for a couple of blocks, as she yelled, “It’s mine! You can’t have it! They’re all mine!”

Just as she was about to get away, one of the police officers got on his knee, and fired a single shot.

Jessica dropped forward onto her chest, the blood pooling up around her.

A single bottle of beauty cream lay next to her, having fallen from her purse.

In the corner of her eye, she saw a man walk over to her, kneel down, and pick up the bottle.

He looked at it, then looked at her, smiling. She reached for it, but he pulled back his arm. “Nuh-uh, Miss,” he said. “You’ll have to pay for that now.”

Her hand dropped to the pavement. “Mine . . .” she breathed, as her heart gave its final beat. Her arm was still stretched out, her eyes wide open, reaching for, staring at, the Beauty in a Bottle.