On the Clock

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On the clock at The Center. Brie stands before the full-length mirror in the employee lounge, buttoning her smock. That's what the girls call them, but it's more like a fitted white doctor's coat with a plunging neckline and quarter sleeves, to be worn over a designer dress and three-inch heels. (Anything higher is for divas.) The idea is to demonstrate medical authority while exemplifying the youthfulness people come here to purchase. And she's encouraged to lie about her age, in the wrong direction. As far as Brie's best clients are concerned, she's forty-three and getting younger every day.

She leans into the mirror to examine the little crinkles reemerging around her eyes after three glorious months without them. Truth is, Brie woke up this morning with a pit in her stomach thinking about the Mush. He hasn't called. She shattered his heart into a thousand pieces, and in the stark reality of morning her list feels childish and destructive, born of some unconscious fear that he might discover she is less than advertised and be the one to leave. She mists herself with a caffeinated hydrosol to pep up her complexion and considers herself in the mirror. Men will still want her, won't they? That ginger-haired girl with the sun flecks on her nose and flashing green eyes is still here with us, though six laser sessions followed by three overnight bleachings nuked those freckles to Hell.

Today's calendar is busy, which is good. Awards season is on the horizon, so the Botox is flowing, nasolabial folds are being filled like trenches, and a spike in microdermabrasion has the celebrity side door squeaking. Brie smooths her wisps and dons the prescriptionless green eyeglasses that cause nearly every woman she encounters to ask if she wears colored contacts. Sorry, no.

Brie takes a breath and pushes open the double doors, gliding into the Waitrium with her shoulders back and her chin held high, just like her mentor taught her. If they want to be you, they'll buy anything you tell them to. These words of wisdom are responsible for this Rag & Bone dress, the A4 in the parking lot, and the ability to pay off 65% of her monthly credit card bills, even though she doesn't. Her apartment is crap, but if she gets the sales exclusive on that breast injectable people are whispering about, she'll be moving on up to that larger apartment with wood floors and a washing machine in no time.

The new intern rushes up. "Oh my god, did you hear? A container ship carrying, like, a million pounds of Restylane alternative sank in rough waters somewhere off the coast of Japan. Appointments are going to start blowing up because word on the beauty blogs is that we've got the biggest stockpile on the West Coast."

Brie grins and nods until the intern turns and buzzes away. Too much matcha. The young ones always overdo it in the beginning. Brie walks through the Waitrium, awash in natural light. It's a beautiful glassed-in room with soaring skylights, Zen water features, and a thriving bamboo grove, but the brightness makes the clients nervous. When you approach someone they often back away, their every unwanted hair and wrinkle in full sight. They call it "smartchitecture." When they put the skylights in, new treatment sales jumped 35%.

Brie steps behind the counter and swipes through today's appointments on the screen. First up is a new client under forty, her favorite. They're like scared little does looking for their mothers. The trick is to hook them early, at the first signs of aging. If you're lucky, she's got sun damage, facial hair, and excess weight in her thighs and belly. You can often tell by their highlights how much they're willing to spend. Every woman wants to be beautiful, but only some are willing to spend a fortune trying. Luckily for The Center, that number is increasing every day.

Amber, the bodywork specialist, nudges Brie in the ribs. "There he is, looking at you." Every Wednesday for a month now, a man Amber calls the Silver Fox comes in for shiatsu and watches Brie with hungry eyes. "Did I tell you?" Amber says. "He asked me about you last week. What your name was... whether you had a boyfriend. Wait, do you have a boyfriend? There's a rumor going around."

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