“Does it really work?” Julia Burrell asked the clerk behind the counter. “Because this is important.”
The clerk held the dark bottle between flabby fingers that were fitting extensions of his squat frame topped with a slicked-down comb over that didn’t quite reach. “It always is.”
“Lots depends on it.”
“It always does. Rejuvenex will rewind your appearance by twenty years, or your money back. Satisfaction guaranteed.”
Julia gazed around the quaint and homey apothecary shop, nothing like the fancy health and nutrition outlets she’d been trying for months now without any of the results that hope demanded. The old-fashioned wooden shelves were lined with many of the same products, but this store had advertised some boutique items not boasted by the others, including the contents of the plain bottle the clerk now laid between them on the glass counter. Behind him, a display case, outfitted with sliding glass doors, hung from the wall containing an assortment of smaller unmarked bottles. The display case was currently locked.
“How much?” Julia posed, ruffling a hand through the blond hair that had turned noticeably limp these past few years.
“First month’s supply of Rejuvenex is free. Call it a trial period.”
“I’m a model, an actress. I can’t get work anymore.”
“I know,” the clerk said.
“Did I tell you?”
“You didn’t have to.”
* * *
As soon as she was back in her car, Julia used the eye-dropper top of the bottle to carefully deposit five drops onto her tongue as the dosing instructions indicated. She had tried every product on the market that claimed to strip years from her appearance, but so far none had. Not even close. That night, though, as she swallowed down her fifth dose of the day while gazing in the mirror, Julia could have sworn her face looked brighter, shinier. Her skin would take no more lifting or tucking, leaving her only with pharmaceutical means to maintain at least the measure of a career. The phone had stopped ringing long ago, just before her agent had stopped returning her calls.
She had already downsized to a smaller apartment, a smaller car. Sold everything she had ever amassed of any value, down to her last ten thousand dollars in the bank. A fortune made and banked having withered away to almost nothing.
Julia slept fitfully that night, her dreams haunted by visions of women younger and more beautiful than she, varying versions of herself from years ago when the phone rang regularly. But in the morning her face looked different, looked . . . younger. Had to be psychological, of course, what with the trial period having barely begun. Only the that day, a barista in her local Starbucks made a point of telling her how she good she looked, and the day after that Julia was conscious of looks being cast her way just as they had years before.
“Hey,” someone asked her right on the sidewalk, “aren’t you famous?”
* * *
“How much?” Julia asked the apothecary shop clerk, after her supply of Rejuvenex ran out a few days short of the trial period’s close. Most recently, she noticed her body looked toned again. Much of the fat trimmed, the flab filling out the back of her arms gone. Twenty years erased from the clock as promised. Just like that.
“Nineteen ninety-five,” he said and fished a fresh bottle from beneath the counter.
Julia handed him her credit card, breathing a sigh of relief. “I’ve got representation again, and I just booked my biggest job in years.”
“I just thought you should know. A kind of testimonial from a satisfied customer.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
“What are those?” Julia asked, tilting her gaze toward the contents of the locked display case.
“Our most expensive line. More medicinal in nature, a different solution for a different problem.”
* * *
But something was different about this second batch of Rejuvenex. Every morning she didn’t look quite as good as the night before, until she deposited her first dose of the day on her tongue. That kept the eyes tilting her way and phone ringing, making her feel alive again for the first time in longer than she cared to remember. Still, it was only three weeks this time before she had to return to the apothecary shop for a third bottle and just over two before she went back for a fourth. Her mirror turned enemy again, showing her lapsing quicker and quicker back to the woman she had been before Rejunenex. Against the stated instructions on the bottle, she first doubled and then tripled the dose, necessitating a return this time after a mere week.
“I need two bottles this time.”
“I know,” the clerk said, having already placed them on the counter. He took her credit card. “That’ll be thirty-nine-ninety.”
* * *
Julia began dosing herself hourly, spending much of the intermittent time in front of the mirror willing her face not to change. Some days she convinced herself it was working, but the lack of stares cast her way and lingering gazes told her otherwise. Her hair, too, had lost the sheen and luster it had regained, falling flat to her shoulders instead of bouncing beautifully past them. And she’d awoken the last few mornings to find dried clumps of it collected on her pillow. Her arms had turned fleshy again, chiseled torso again retreating behind a growing layer of flab. The wrinkles and crows’ feet returned deeper and more pronounced than ever, the twenty years she had gained lost just as quickly. In fact, she looked worse than she had prior to starting the Rejuvenex regiment, as if the stuff had ultimately accelerated the aging process instead of reversing it. So Julia went to her final callback for the big modeling job slathered in make-up and bronzer.
The photographer told her they’d decided to go in a different direction.
* * *
“The phone’s stopped ringing, no one returning my calls,” she told the clerk. “I can’t go through this again.”
“Of course not.
“The Rejuvenex isn’t working anymore. You have something else, right? You must have something else.”
“As a matter of fact, I do.”
The clerk slid toward the locked display case with key ring in hand. He emerged with a single small clear bottle and laid it on the glass counter in the very spot he’d first placed the Rejuvenex.
“It’s called Rajeunir. From France, composed of very rare organic materials not yet approved in this country. Just five drops in water, juice, or a soft drink daily.”
“Twenty-five thousand dollars.”
Julia’s mouth dropped. But she took the bottle in hand, cradling it as if not intending to let it go. “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
The clerk regarded her compassionately. “The fee is payable over five months, the first month a free trial. After all,” he continued, smiling for the first time Julia could remember, “satisfaction guaranteed.”