shine brighter—the green edged out by blue until it became a beautiful, vibrant aqua—the same shade as the dress I was wearing.
My guide had left me in the dust. Effortlessly moving onto fifteen while I was stuck at twelve. And yet, if he could see how quickly I’d just progressed, I was sure he’d be as awestruck as I was. The only thing that marred the transformation was that stupid, barely there glimmer of mine.
“Is everything okay?” Messalina peered at me, her face clouded with concern. “Are you not happy with the new you?”
I glanced between our reflections, unable to see my dismal green glow as anything other than what it truly was—a constant reminder of what I’d done wrong. A painful memory of what I’d already learned. And it’s not like lugging it around was doing me the least bit of good.
Messalina didn’t glow. Neither did any of the other ghosts I’d seen around the ludus. And if the goal was for me to find a way to fit in as best as I could, well, then it was clear that my glow-on needed to move on .
I lowered my lids, imagining the way I’d look without that annoying, greenish-tinged glow—and when I lifted them again, it was gone. Easy-peasy—simple as that. Leaving me with a perfected version of the newly improved, glorious me.
Messalina stared, her eyes bright and anxious, playing at the rings she wore on her hands, eager for me to react in some way, let her know how I felt about my sudden transformation, and I was quick to relieve her.
“This is everything I’ve dreamed of for so long!” I ran my hands over my dress as my face curved into a grin. “I feel like a butterfly that just burst free of its cocoon.” My eyes met hers, wondering if there was any way to express the full depth of my gratitude. “I truly have no idea how I’ll ever go about thanking you,” I said, meaning every last word.
Messalina smiled and reached toward me. Capturing my hand between hers, she led me away from the room. “No need
to worry about that right now,” she said. “We’ll have plenty of time for that later, to be sure. But for now, just a few final touches.” She stopped before a beautiful tray where she scooped up a pile of glimmering, golden rings, taking careful consideration of the offerings before selecting two she then handed to me. “They’re exact replicas of the ones I wear.” She smiled, holding her hand up and wiggling her fingers for me to see. “I hope you’ll consider this as a seal of our friendship.” She watched as I slipped the rings onto my fingers, her grin growing wider when the task was complete. “Actually, we are closer than friends now, we are more like sisters, wouldn’t you agree?”
I frowned, all too ready to disagree. Being friends was one thing, pretending to be sisters was another thing entirely. I already had a sister—one who I loved, and admired, and greatly missed—one who could never, ever be replaced.
I was just about to tell Messalina as much, when she ran a light finger across the width of my forehead and the strangest sensation swept over me. A swarm of kindness, and acceptance that made all of my former loneliness disappear, until I couldn’t help but think: What the heck? What could it hurt to pretend?
And the next thing I knew, I was smiling and giggling, ready to follow wherever she led. Crooking my arm around hers as she said, “So now, sister, we must hurry—we have ourselves a very glamorous party to attend!”
I know it sounds vain. I know it sounds completely self-centered and more than a little obnoxious—but I couldn’t help it—I just couldn’t stop staring at myself.
Every reflective surface I passed became another opportunity for me to gawk, and gape, and marvel, and basically just outright ogle my shiny, new self.
It was the makeover to end all makeovers, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.
“You are quite beautiful, I assure you,” Messalina whispered, her voice far more amused than annoyed,