Oliver showed up to Candace’s room in the late afternoon. She had curled my dark hair and pinned it back. She applied her makeup and did Jane’s but never did mine. I was not going to complain. I never liked wearing makeup.
Candace did not mention Ben again. The odd knock came to the door throughout the day, but Candace yelled at them to go away. They all listened to her.
She told me to wait for her to help me get into my dress. I raised an eyebrow but did not find any use in arguing with her. Jane’s white dress flowed but stopped above her knee to put her transplanted feet on display. Candace’s dress had a plunging neckline that showed her thick scar running down her chest. She pulled my dress off the bed. She loosened the corset, and I rolled my eyes. Of course, Oliver would find the most uncomfortable dress for me to wear.
I hesitated to take my old dress off in front of Candace. She held the dress out in front of me, and I knew I was going to have to. I slipped my dress and bra off. I covered my chest as I stepped into the lace dress. I held onto the bodice as she pulled the ribbon tight. I sucked in a deep breath as she gave it a final tug.
Not long after, Oliver knocked on the door. Candace looked over at her clock before opening the door. Oliver stood there in a suit with a dark red tie. No one said anything, but Oliver held his hand out. I struggled to breathe and this dress was not helping. I fought with my feet to convince myself to move forward. Oliver smiled as I came closer. I ignored his hand and walked past him into the hallway.
It had quieted down from this morning and I could only hear the odd voice. I jumped when Oliver grabbed the glasses off of my face. He folded them, put them in a case, and slipped them in a pocket in the inside of his jacket.
“You look beautiful, Diana,” he said. “I can’t wait to show you off.”
“You can’t sell me,” I blurted out. “I’ve been studying. I promise. Let me come back to Canada.”
“Listen, Kitten,” Oliver said. He cupped the side of my face. I curled my fingers into the bodice of the dress to stop myself from pushing him away. “I have been talking to Dr. Phillips, and I need to be smart about this. In my next operation-”
“Which I can help you with,” I cut him off. “I’ve been studying. I can help you.”
There wouldn’t be another surgery. I just needed to get back to Canada so Ben could get us out of here.
Oliver closed his eyes and stayed silent for a few moments before removing his hand from my face. He placed his hand to the small of my back and pushed me forward. We continued down the hallway.
“I’ll think about it,” he said. “I just need you to behave.”
I bit down on my lip as Oliver punched in the code to the door. It slid open, and he guided me through Gregory’s house. I could hear music and chatter. Oliver walked me through a series of back hallways.
He brought me into a large ballroom. There were small circular platforms spread out throughout the room. Most of the platforms had a girl in a white dress or a man in black pants and a white shirt. Oliver showed me to one of the platforms in the middle. I kept my head down and the eyes of multiple people were staring at me. Oliver held out his hand and helped me up onto the platform.
I stood straight like Ben had taught me how to do during his practice. Oliver straightened the skirt of my dress. The remaining subjects came into the room and got onto their platforms. I squinted, but I could not make out any of their modifications. One familiar face did come in.
Ben walked in with Bethany. Unlike the other men, he did not have a shirt on so that his skin was on display. Ben stood on the platform across from me. Ben’s eyes were staring at me. I shifted my weight between my feet. I realized that I was not wearing any shoes. I looked around at the other subjects to see that they all had bare feet too.
Two large doors opened wide and light flooded into the room with the soft sound of music. A few of Gregory’s servants were walking around the platforms with trays of food and glasses of champagne.
Bethany slipped her arm around Oliver’s waist. She had on a tight red dress, and her lips were painted with a similar shade of lipstick.
“Stop worrying. It is going to go great.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. “I am going to go say hello to Dr. Whitaker.”
I looked to see a crowd of beautifully dressed men and women wandering in. Bethany made her way across the room to a lady with short white hair.
A man walked over to my platform. He was older, and his hair was peppered with grey. A glass of champagne was in one hand, and he reached his other hand out to Oliver.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard you finally brought a subject, Dr. Sweeney,” the man said. “I knew I would have to see it right away.”
I broke my perfect posture to glance at Oliver to see his smile waver.
“Thank you, Dr. Price,” Oliver said. “This is Diana.”
Dr. Price grabbed my chin and pulled my face down. I gasped but remembered Ben saying that the doctors may grab me. I took a look over to see Ben watching us.
“What is this?” Price asked. “A cat?”
“It is, sir,” Oliver said.
“How did you keep her a secret?” he asked. “This is incredible.”
“Her operation was only two weeks ago.”
My chin was still in Price’s hand when he looked over his shoulder.
“Christine. Azita. Come see this,” Price said.
Two women came over to the platform. The one woman was in a long black ball gown. The other woman had a black gown, but hers was covered in intricate gold detail. She was wearing a hijab and her eyes were covered with skillfully done makeup.
“This is Dr. Sweeney,” Price introduced him. “This is Dr. Holland and Dr. Nabizada.”
Oliver shook each of the women’s hands.
“This is Diana,” Price said. “Two weeks ago he performed her operation. He used a cat.”
He finally let go of my chin. The woman in the ballgown put her hand on Price’s shoulder and pushed him to the side.
“Can you see, Diana?” she asked and spoke with an Irish accent.
“Yes,” I said.
I noticed a few more doctors had gathered around the platform. Ben had his hands behind his back. I looked a bit to the side to see Candace standing on the platform next to him. A heart monitor was attached to her and on a stand. She was staring at me, and I took a glance around the room to see most of the subjects had their attention on me. I took a deep breath, and the dress seemed to get tighter.
“She’s well behaved for only two weeks,” Azita said.
“I have had Benjamin helping her,” Oliver said. He gestured over to him.
“Ah, yes, Benjamin,” she said. “He has always been a charmer.”
Always? Candace said he always acted like the perfect patient, but he disagreed. My chest burned as I struggled to breathe.
“How do you feel?” the other woman asked. “Experiencing any pain?”
“No, I feel fine,” I said.
“She is no longer on pain medication either,” Oliver said. “The only complication she experienced was some swelling, but that was soon resolved.”
“Amazing,” Christine said.
Bethany came to Oliver’s side. She slipped her arm around his waist. She had a glass of champagne in her hand. A sickening smile was spread across her face.
“Didn’t he do such a good job?” she said. Her voice had a more high-pitched tone than she normally speaks with. “I’m so proud of him.”
She let out a giggle and got up on her toes to kiss his cheek. He tightened his arm around her.
“I knew Diana would capture everyone’s attention.”
Everyone turned around when they heard his voice. The people parted as Gregory approached. His body jerked and he seemed to be shuffling his feet. A few people clapped, but he did not seem phased.
“She is very beautiful, isn’t she?” Gregory said. “I invited Oliver down early so that I could get a better look.”
“Is it as impressive as it seems?” Price asked.
“It is,” Gregory said. “I would love to add her to my collection, but Oliver does not want to give her up.”
“We’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” Bethany said.
“Really?” Gregory smiled. “Did you talk some sense into him?”
“We’ve been talking a lot.”
“I really hope you’ll sell her to me,” Gregory said. “You’ll be able to give Bethany the fairy tale wedding she wants.”
Bethany chuckled. My knees buckled as I fought to maintain my posture. The dress was crushing my ribs, and I struggled to get air into my lungs. They were talking about my fate like it was nothing. They took my future away and were laughing about it. The sweat was building on the nape of my neck.
Ben must have seen my face go pale. He stepped down off of his platform and joined the crowd.
“Ben,” Bethany said. “What are you doing?”
“Diana looks a little sick,” he said.
Gregory snapped his fingers. “I need a glass of water.”
One of the servants hurried over with a tray of glasses. Oliver took one of the glasses off of the tray and handed it to me. My hands shook as I brought the glass up to my lips. I took a sip and felt the icy cold water run down my throat.
“Do you feel better, sweetheart?” Gregory asked.
“Yes,” I said. Oliver was scowling. My attempt to try to impress the doctors so that Oliver gets accepted and I don’t die is being ruined because of this stupid dress. “I am so sorry.”
“It is okay,” Gregory said. “You’re new and this can all be overwhelming.”
He turned around to face the group of doctors.
“I don’t know about all of you, but I am hungry,” he said. “Let’s go to the dining room.”
Gregory walked away, and a line followed him. The servants showed the other doctors the way to the dining room. Bethany pulled herself away from Oliver. She crossed her arms over her chest.
“What is wrong with you?” she asked.
“I can’t breathe,” I said as I grabbed the bodice of the dress.
“Sit down, Diana,” Oliver said.
“Don’t baby her, Oliver!” Bethany yelled. “She just embarrassed you.”
“If she passes out it will look worse.”
Bethany let out a deep breath and she rolled her eyes.
“Well I’ll go apologize on your behalf,” she said.
She stormed away and Oliver ran his hand down his face. He watched her leave the ballroom.
“Sit down, Diana,” he said.
I tried to lower myself, but it was difficult with the stiff corset. Ben sat on the edge of the platform.
“Drink the water and calm down,” Oliver said. “Everyone will come back in an hour. Ben, I want you to stay with her. If she gets worse, send someone to notify me.”
“I will, sir,” Ben said.
“I’ll see you kids in an hour,” Oliver said before walking away.
Ben put his hand on my back. I sucked in a deep breath and squeezed my eyes shut. He rubbed my back and I curled my fingers around the glass.
“Hey,” Ben whispered into my ear. “It’s okay.”
“I want to go home,” I said softly.
“I told you we’re getting out of this together.”
His hand on my back slid to the side of my head. He pressed my head against his shoulder. I closed my eyes and took in a few steady breaths.
“Way to embarrass yourself,” Candace said.
Ben’s body tensed and I looked up. Candace was standing in front of us.
“Leave her alone,” Ben said.
“I should say the same to you,” she said. She held her hand out. “Come on, we’ll get you freshened up, Diana.”
“No,” Ben said. “She’s staying here.”
“Listen, she’s not your puppet, doll, or whatever you’re trying to make her. I’m trying to help.”
“Don’t pretend you’re so selfless, Candace.”
I stood and set the empty glass down. She grinned, but I shook my head. Ben grabbed my hand and I ripped it away. I was glad my vision was blurry because I knew all of the other subjects were watching us.
“Give me a second,” I said. “I need to be alone for a moment.”
I heard Ben calling out my name as I hurried out of the room.