Caroline’s only remarkable feature was her beauty, so it was a shame when her face was stolen.
It truly couldn’t have happened at a worse time. She was scheduled to appear in a television commercial the next morning to advertise her newest venture, a cruelty-free foundation line for neon-skinned people. It was imperative that her face be in the commercial; the product simply wouldn’t sell without her. Only a tenth of the world’s population had neon skin, after all. The company needed Caroline’s celebrity to turn a profit.
She was up alone that night, awake way past the ideal bedtime suggested by Beauty Sleep, an app that regulated her sleep schedule to optimize for dewy skin and sparkling eyes. Her seaside villa had floor-to-ceiling glass windows that she kept open at night in order to let the breeze roll in. She wasn’t worried about intruders; the house sat at the edge of a steep, unforgiving cliff. It could only be reached by personal helicopter.
Caroline was up late because her paramour — was it appropriate to call him a paramour, if he didn’t allow her to post about him on social media? — had failed to show up at his pickup spot that evening. Her helicopter pilot waited an entire hour before bringing the news to her.
She didn’t know what to make of the situation. Her paramour had always been there at five-thirty on the dot, so that he could be in her arms by sunset. She liked to sit next to him, breathing in the sharp, woody scent of his cologne as they watched the sky paint itself red and orange and purple.
Why hadn’t he shown up today?
Was he okay?
Had he snorted too many pixels — his one flaw, besides the fact that he refused to see her when the sun was up, was that he was utterly addicted to the stuff — and woken up just as the helicopter was taking off?
Had he found another lover, some other world-famous celebrity influencer with her own cliffside mansion and multiple businesses that she kept afloat by provoking the rabid envy of her target audience?
Caroline didn’t know, but it wasn’t her nature to be worried for too long. Upset feelings — so bad for optics — caused microscopic lines to appear in one’s face. Good optics meant good business, and in her line of work, good business always outdid true love. So, after worrying for a few more minutes than she should have, she sank back into her freshly baked sponge cake bed and let the sound of the waves crashing onto the distant shore below lull her to sleep.
She dreamt that she was in a jungle, surrounded by violet palm trees that bore colorful jewels the size of her head. The sky was slowly becoming a dusky mauve; ahead of her was a stately white house with a beautiful Mediterranean roof. Instantly, though she couldn’t quite understand how, she knew that this was the home of her paramour. She was about to find out why he hadn’t come to her that evening.
As Caroline walked toward the house, the bells at the hem of her turquoise dress — an article of clothing that, while beautiful, made her feel a bit prudish — chimed the delicate notes of a song that she hadn’t heard since she was a little girl. The sounds made her want nothing more than to roll around in the grass and bask in the glow of the sun, so different from the urge for instant gratification she felt when awake. This strange longing, along with the fact that her paramour had stood her up earlier, gave her the uncomfortable sense that her life was somehow no longer her own.
She arrived at the house, surprised to find that she had shrunk. The door was now so high that she couldn’t see where it ended and where the sky began. The brass knocker stood several stories above her head. How was she supposed to go inside?
The door opened on its own at that moment, as though it had read her thoughts. She walked in, acutely aware of her heart thumping in her chest, to find an old-fashioned kitchen lit by a single beam of moonlight coming through a skylight in the roof.
Had it become nighttime as soon as she’d stepped inside? She turned around again, but the door was gone.
Oh, well. At least everything was normally sized again.
Even though she knew it was a dream — as if she’d wear that bell-dress in real life — she started to feel nervous. Maybe she was overdue for her hallucination vaccine; it had to be administered every five years or so. She made a mental note to check with her attendant once she woke up.
A cold hand on her shoulder disrupted her thoughts. She whirled around to find her paramour, naked save for the iridescent gold cloth tied around his waist. Glimmering pink tears fell down his gorgeous electric-blue face.
Her heart leapt at the sight of him. She willed herself to not show it. He had kept her waiting, after all. That was unacceptable.
“You’ve been snorting too many pixels,” she said coldly. The colorful stuff was known to turn one’s tears pink. “Is that why you didn’t show up today?”
“I knew you’d come find me,” he said simply.
In life, Caroline’s paramour was playful, unworried about things such as competition and profit. He was easygoing and kind, so different from what she was used to … but now, despite the shimmering gold cloth and the vivid tears, he seemed dim, melancholy, as though something had sucked all the joy out of him.
She made a note to talk to him about the pixel-snorting once she was awake.
“My launch is tomorrow,” she told him. “You kept me up.”
“It was I who inspired this beauty line in the first place. Isn’t it only fair that you think of me the night before you release it into the world?”
This was true. Without her paramour, she would never have been exposed to the gripes neon-skinned people had with the beauty industry in the first place.
“Caroline,” he asked now, “am I your muse?”
“Yes,” she answered, even though all she’d done was have her attendant seek out a struggling company and convince the CEO to put her name and likeness on the product.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
She hesitated. She loved plenty of things — the rush of adrenaline when she bought another luxury car for her collection, the first sip of a unicorn-spice frappuccino before the whipped cream deflated, the sunset that she watched religiously every night. But she wasn’t sure she felt the same about the boy who stood in front of her now, the one whose tears were making a Pepto-Bismol-colored puddle on the ground.
“I need to know, my love,” her paramour insisted.
Before she could answer him, Caroline was filled with a fervor that she couldn’t explain. It was like she was radiating warmth, like golden light was pouring out from her eyes and her fingertips and every pore of her body. She had felt something similar last year at an outdoor music festival, when an anonymous fan had given her some mysterious, sparkling pills for free. But their effect was nothing compared to this. She felt as though she herself was turning into pure light.
As this feeling overtook her, she realized that she had been nothing before, not even with her cliffside mansion and fleet of personal helicopters and servants — okay, attendants — who waited on her hand and foot. Not even with her rooms full of clothes or her legions of fans or her beautiful face. She wasn’t sure if she would ever feel good about herself again, and hoped that the light, whatever it was, would never leave her.
Caroline’s paramour had been watching all this. When the light started to overtake her, he knew that it was too late. The pink tears came faster and faster until he dissolved into them, melting into a lake of fuchsia and turquoise and gold.
The last thing he saw before his eyes disappeared was his love transforming into a golden glow. It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
Caroline awoke to the sound of one of her attendants screaming. At least, she thought it was one of the attendants — for some reason, she couldn’t see anything except for the strange golden light that had been in her dream. The feeling of warmth was still there, too, just as intense. She tried again and again to open her eyes, but they wouldn’t obey.
“Your face is gone!” the attendant shrieked.
Her hand flew up to her head, where she felt the soft butterscotch tresses she’d had done a few days before. Beyond that was nothing but a smooth, ridge-free surface — no eyes, no lips, no mouth, no nose.
The attendant was right. Her face was gone.
She no longer had a set of lips, so she couldn’t tell her attendant to shut up. She found that she could still breathe, though, and smell the fresh, salty air coming in through the window. And the light — oh, the light! The fact that she had a commercial to shoot and no face to shoot it with didn’t bother her at all. As long as she was in the glow of the light, she could never be bored or unhappy or dissatisfied.
Caroline never saw the sunset again. It didn’t occur to her to miss the way the sun sank into the sea, lighting the sky ablaze with violent reds and oranges that faded into pastel pinks and purples, passion and afterglow. It also didn’t occur to her to mourn the loss of her makeup line, which folded without much fanfare, or her paramour, whose body had been found a few days later in his Mediterranean home. He’d overdosed during a pixel bender and had drowned in a pool of his own tears.
How Caroline had gotten her face stolen remained a mystery. Nobody could have broken into the house on the cliff. None of her personal helicopters had been hijacked. There was no sign that anyone else had even been in the house that night. Her face didn’t turn up on the magenta market, either. It was just … gone.
Reporters and paparazzi swarmed her house in the weeks after the incident, the more ambitious ones chartering their own private helicopters just to get that shot of her sitting on her bed, windows wide open, blank face turned towards the ocean.
Caroline would have paid to have this much attention, once. Now, all she wanted was the light.
Although she could no longer sell things without her face, Caroline had enough money from her previous rackets to be comfortable for the rest of her life. It’s rumored that she’s still up in the house on the cliff, living out the last of her days.
They say that she just sits on her bed in silence, perfectly content, listening to the waves break far down below, watching the golden light with eyes that no longer exist. ✦