A week later and Dahlia’s lighter mood had begun to darken again. Another show was approaching and she was starting to feel the pangs of anxiety creep up on her. Despite seeing the doctor twice a week now, very little seemed to help her pass through her panic attacks. All her usual tricks and confidence boosting routines were failing to inspire her and she felt flattened by the demands the show’s organisers were making. Not only was this a lingerie show – something that always unsettled Dahlia – but she was to wear the show’s masterpiece: a diamond encrusted bra and panty set, complete with angel wings!
The morning before the show, Tommy, her agent, had been on the receiving end of a firm rebuke. He had been trying to push Dahlia into yet another show, hot on the heels of what he assumed would be a great success tomorrow. But Dahlia had stood her ground. She had finally secured some time to herself and nothing, she repeated to Tommy – nothing – was going to disturb that.
Tommy had sensed the edge to her voice and knew better than to push harder. He had known Dahlia since she started out in the world of modelling some 20 years ago now. She had been his ‘greatest success’, after he had discovered the pretty girl in a supermarket of all places. While Dahlia had snapped up the opportunity he afforded her without much thought, Tommy had been a good influence on her. Diligent, if pushy, and honest, he had worked very hard to propel Dahlia to the heights she now inhabited. He was not going to stop till he had lifted her onto the pantheon of the very best models. Though the press had labelled her a ‘supermodel’, he knew, from inside the industry, that Dahlia still needed a few more notable appearances to achieve true greatness.
This was what was running in his mind when he tried, fruitlessly, to convince Dahlia to do one more show before the summer break. He knew at her age that time was not on her side, but conceded that Dahlia had been working hard. “Okay Dahlia, just this last show for this year and then, in the autumn, the big fashion shows start up again. We are almost there! I think one more season and you will have set your legacy in stone.”
Dahlia winced. Though the writing had been on the wall for some time, distracted as she was by her ‘games’ with the doctor, her heart had been set to retire. The thought of another, unexpected season sent a wave of sickness through her stomach. “We will talk about it as soon as I get back,” she answered trying to get him off the phone, before he could make her agree to anything rash. “Yes Tommy, I promise, no later than October…. Okay….. Yes… bye for now!” She breathed a deep sigh of relief as she finally hung up.
After a few moments of peace, she looked at her phone once more. Had she been too quick to bat Tommy away? She knew that, despite her name and cachet, she relied on him a lot to bring in her business. Perhaps she was too short with him? A sense of unease grew within her as she felt a twinge of guilt. It was then her eye passed over the bags concealed at the top of her wardrobe. A warm sense of forbidden pleasure made her sigh gently. She could not risk dressing up today. Melissa was downstairs and she had to stick to her pre-show diet of simple broths and proteins that would maximise her slim lines, crucial if she were to showcase the diamond-studded lingerie set.
As she stared forlornly at the top of the cupboard, a delicious thought crossed her mind. ‘No more shows for three, almost four months.’ She was sure she could dissuade Tommy enough to get to October with no big appearances. But that was not what was causing her insides to tug on her stomach, making her feel that delightful fizzing in her stomach: she just made a pact with the devil, at least in her own head. When she got back from her show - after subjecting herself to that angst-ridden ordeal - she promised herself a little ‘treat’. Perhaps a packet of chocolate eclairs? A whole custard tart? She would indulge herself like the other day. She would have months till her next show, so could afford to let go a touch, live a little and enjoy her time off.
Still that did not feel like enough. A slight tremor of anger rippled through Dahlia as she considered how her sister was getting in the way of what she wanted. If only there were some way of getting her out of the picture, she thought. Little did she appreciate that exactly the same thoughts were crossing Dr Mark Jacobs’ mind at that moment. He was compiling some notes for his meeting tomorrow with Melissa for what he hoped would be the start of a fruitful partnership, whether or not Melissa appreciated that.
It had taken some convincing but when Melissa had left her appointment with the handsome doctor, she had reluctantly – and unwittingly – agreed to help the doctor. In his dealings with Melissa, the doctor had seen from a very early stage that she was too easily corrupted or pulled back from any sustained path to self-improvement. He had spent weeks countering this and was finally seeing some results. Melissa herself had started to bring up the subject more frequently, showing that his prodding in that direction was helping, at least a little.
It was not entirely clear that Melissa’s antipathy towards her sister was that obvious to the doctor. While he considered himself an expert in the field of psychology, he had only just scraped through school and barely made the grade. He was no hard worker. In many ways he recognised Melissa’s bad points and understood only too easily how one can get dragged off course when you allow yourself to wallow in negativity. But the difference between them was that the doctor had never had to grow up alongside the luminescence that was Dahlia. For Melissa, almost every one of her negatives was laid bare by the basic fact that her sister was too perfect in almost every way.
That grated. It grated so badly that Melissa had gone to such lengths to avoid her sister in recent years and moving in with her these past few months was a massive setback for her. It brought back all the bad memories of having to grow up alongside such an example of good virtue. How at every step, she felt she was bettered by her older sister. Of course, that was normal to some extent. Every younger sibling needs a wholly different toolkit when growing up, compared to that used by their older sister. But for Melissa, the comparisons never ended. She never got a chance to just be herself – Melissa. Can you imagine being the sister of a supermodel? It was this deep-set dislike – maybe hatred? – that the doctor only saw as being skin deep and not the gaping wound it was, at least in Melissa’s mind.
Even if he had appreciated this, would it have changed the doctor’s approach to his latest ‘game’? He desired control of Dahlia, and Melissa - unwittingly at first - was key to that aim. For Dahlia to feel free to vacate her own life for a while, no matter how temporarily, she had to be sure that her legacy would be safe, that she would have a place to return to. For that he needed a trusted placeholder and that should be Melissa. But that was all a little off in the future. Right now, he needed to convince her to become more like Dahlia, just without knowing it.
The boot camp would make a start of instilling Melissa with the same steely determination Dahlia had. In fact, so much of what Dahlia was and how she perceived the world was rooted in that sense of duty and self-control. He was actively trying to weaken her tight grip, to let her see the world from different eyes. Eyes that would let her glance sideways once in a while and relax a little. As she let go, he would be there to catch her – and her purse!
The resort Melissa picked was wonderfully expensive and this time she had no second thoughts about the bill being sent to her sister. Her sense of agitation with Dahlia was heightened today as they had exchanged some cross words over breakfast. Dahlia herself had been annoyed at her sister’s lingering presence and the fact that the house was again a mess, and Melissa was just Melissa, her acid remarks finding their target all too easily.
Dahlia had regretted giving her sister a credit card and had come so close to revoking it on a number of occasions, though had never been angry enough to cross that line. Even if Melissa had maxed out the card, it represented a mere pinprick to Dahlia’s finances and, once used up, that credit may never be restored. Still, this time, Melissa had few regrets when she picked the very best resort. A wave of positivity, the like of which she had rarely experienced before, rippled over her. It felt like this represented a new start for her – a better her. She smiled to herself, thinking that maybe the doctor was not such a quack after all.
When she arrived back home, Dahlia was nowhere to be found. It was quite easy to lose yourself in that huge mansion and Melissa was in no mood for another argument. Instead she wrote out a note and left it on the kitchen worktop. Tomorrow was a new day in so many ways she was yet to appreciate: she had an early flight to catch and would be gone before her sister would be up.