Coco Raeburn stared down at the display on her bathroom scales, excitement rising in her as she scanned through the figures on the screen. Actually, the chrome and glass device on which she was standing was much more than a set of scales; it was a body composition analyser, informing her not only of her weight but also her body fat percentage, her total water content, and her BMI. By now, Coco was so used to seeing her fat percentage displayed that she didn’t bat an eyelid at the brutal truth; and today it was a mere eight per-cent. Under ten per-cent body fat! That was wonderful enough in itself, but the real prize was the main display, the large figures in the centre of the screen –
There were only two of them. Two figures. She had done it; she’d reached her goal, cracked the hundred.
Ninety-eight pounds. She could hardly believe it. In fact, she stepped off the scales, let the screen clear, and then tapped the base of the scales to restart them. Cautiously, almost tentatively, she set one bare foot, then the other, on the rubber indents, watching, breath held in anticipation, as the monitor scanned her once more and then spat out the figures that by now – as far as she was concerned - defined Coco more completely than anything else.
Ninety-eight pounds, again. Not only had she cracked the hundred, but she had an extra pound to spare in case of any slipbacks.
Well, there won’t be any of those, she told herself, determined. I’m staying at ninety-eight if it kills me.
Coco shivered in the air-conditioned bathroom; the trouble with only having eight per-cent body fat was that you felt the cold much more acutely. But she didn’t go into the hallway to adjust the temperature on the built-in thermostat: she couldn’t drag herself away from the sight of her thin, thin body in the full-length mirror set into the wall. With approval, she noted how much bone and muscle she could see. Her tummy had sunk in below her ribcage, a tight concave band of muscle, firm from all her Pilates classes and training sessions with Brad. She pummelled it lightly with her fists: hard as a rock. She could count every one of her ribs, the top ones slatted like a set of Venetian blinds. People commented on those, and the protruding collarbones. I need high-cut necklines to cover them, she thought. DVF is doing some great blouses for spring/summer - I’ll get someone to call them in.
Blouses with high necklines and long sleeves: those would be ideal. Coco was dressing very differently than she had done when she’d been what she now considered huge, an English size 12-14. Gigantic! She shuddered at the thought of how fat she’d been. Then, she’d shown off her rounded shoulders, the boobs that she’d now completely lost. Now, folds of fabric hung on her skinny frame as if from a hanger, concealing not only the too-visible bones, but the bruises and chafe marks that patterned her pale skin.
Around her hips, perfectly parallel, were five livid purple imprints on each side, where a man’s hands had dug into her, held her down. Big hands, which spanned half her body with ease, now that she was so thin; the bruises were so clear that a police pathologist could almost have taken fingerprints from them. On her stomach, a pattern of small red smudges bore witness to hot wax that had been dripped on her, her abdomen so hollow now it was like a shallow bowl he had taken pleasure in filling. And on her wrists and ankles – well, Coco took for granted, now, that she needed to cover them whenever she was out in public. She worked out in long leggings and slim, long-sleeved tops, careful not to let the cuffs slide back and show the dented, reddened, indentations on her skin. If they were planning a trip to St Barts, to a beach where she would be on display, if there were any chance that someone might see Coco’s body, he switched to velvet-lined restraints well in advance, so that there would be no tell-tale rope marks on her.
Anyone entering the bathroom at that moment would have gasped aloud in shock at the sight of Coco’s white, almost skeletal body, the visible vertebrae like a fragile tower of stones reaching from nape to coccyx, the contusions on her almost-flat buttocks, the welts around the wrists and ankles. They would have rushed forward, reached for a towel or dressing gown to cover her vulnerable, bruised nakedness, asked what had happened to her, if she had gone to the police.
But then they would have noticed the faraway, otherworldly look in her eyes as she stared at herself, raising one hand to her neck, where two faint thumbprints could just be made out, one above each collarbone point. And they would have realised that this was not a woman who had been subjected against her will to a series of attacks which had left their livid evidence on her body. Coco’s expression was dreamy, hypnotised; her gaze passed right over all the marks, not even noticing them apart from the faint, daily registering of what she needed to cover up, protect from the critical attention of the outside world.
She was looking, instead, at her extreme weight-loss, and feeling dizzyingly proud of herself.
Her elbow joints were almost wider than her forearms, her kneecaps dwarfed her skinny legs. Her inner thighs didn’t touch at all as she crossed the bathroom floor and almost reluctantly drew on her Leigh Bantivoglio silk robe, wrapping it around her waist, tying it with the matching sash that could have gone round her twice. Briefly, Coco remembered the days, back in London, when she would never, ever, belt a robe or a coat, convinced it made her look like a potato on legs. She’d never been able to tuck in a shirt, or wear a pair of jeans without making sure that her top fell below the first few inches of the waistband, concealing the tell-tale area where the top of the jeans dug in, the button fastening them pulling at the buttonhole, stretching it with tension, her soft flesh bulging gently over the top.
Well, those days were long gone. She was what everyone in fashion dreamed of being: size zero. The awareness was as heady as a drug running through her veins. Coco reached down and, through the silk of her robe, tried to pinch that area above the hipbones, below the waist, where the last ounces of fat always clung.
Nothing. Her fingers couldn’t get any purchase. Not a lump or a bump. Nothing at all.
Heart beating fast with anticipation, she crossed the bathroom, passing the floor-to-ceiling glass window set into the brushed-concrete wall, into the bedroom, which also had floor-to-ceiling glass windows. This apartment building had been thrown up just last year, and the developers knew exactly what their market of hyper-rich, hyper-trendy customers wanted: cutting-edge design that was as stripped-down and sleek as their clientele, a dazzling array of built-in gadgets and devices, and huge walls of glass windows that were perfect for exhibitionists who worked out every day of their lives, watched their weight like hawks, and were more than happy to show off their slim, toned bodies for the benefit of their neighbours across the narrow street – who, of course, were doing exactly the same.
The Halston was in the hippest area of what insiders called ‘the city’ and outsiders called Manhattan. On the Bowery, once a slum best-known for its drunks and dive bars, it was a forty-storey glass and steel palace, towering over the wide avenue, signalling clearly that the Bowery and the Lower East Side were the latest destination for the torrent of gentrification dollars that were flooding through the city, sweeping out the crumbling buildings, filling up disused lots, throwing up fabulous edifices into which the next generation of Manhattanites were ready to move. The starving artists, the performers, the drag queens, had colonised this section of the city which once had been full of sweatshops and cheap brothels: now they were moving on, priced out of the city, crossing the bridges to Brooklyn and Hoboken, washed away by the green river of new money.
Coco’s bedroom floor was dark walnut, underfloor-heated in winter, smooth and cool in summer. She dropped the robe onto her wide, low bed and padded naked to the far wall, which was entirely filled with fitted cupboards, discreet lighting snapping on as soon as she slid open the frosted glass doors. Flicking through the carefully-curated racks of clothes, knowing how lucky she was to have this apartment, she still couldn’t help a moment’s envy flickered through her when she thought of her boss, Victoria’s, Upper East Side townhouse. It was large enough for Victoria to have a whole room dedicated to her wardrobe, the corridor which connected it to her bedroom lined with shoe racks on one side and handbag shelves on the other, all velvet-padded to protect her priceless accessories collection.
Very soon, Coco thought, ambition fizzing in her like bubbles in carbonated water. Very soon I’ll have everything Victoria has - the job, the house, the no-limits expense account, the status right at the top of the New York society pecking order… just as soon as I get married, I’ll have everything she has and more…
Coco reached for a padded hanger at the very end of the cupboard, a black silk dress, fragile as a whisper of cloud, draping from it. No hanger appeal, said her razor-sharp fashion editor’s brain, slicing through categories of clothes. Has to be seen in movement. It was trimmed in charcoal lace, elaborate, exquisite hand-made lace that was marginally heavier than the silk to which it was appliquéd, a slip of a dress that billowed around the shoulders and narrowed to a tiny, clinging skirt.
It was Chanel, of course. A present from her fiancé. Coco had never been able to do up the zip before; now she stepped into it, easing it up over her protruding hip bones, slowly and with great care to avoid snagging the delicate silk, slipping her hands into the wide draped armholes, shrugging the dress over her shoulders, settling it into place before she dared to reach around behind her back – a gesture that made her collarbones jut out as if they were about to break through the paper-thin layer of skin that was their only covering – and start to raise the tag of the concealed zip.
It kept sliding up. Past her almost non-existent buttocks, past her waist, up each visible knob of her spine, right up to her shoulderblades. One hand was pulling up the zip, the other holding the dress up at the nape of her neck, almost unable to breathe, sucking in everything she could as she went. Until the zipper tag found no more teeth to slide up, until it snicked to a halt at the very top…
Coco spun to look at herself in the mirror, letting out her breath, her heart pounding. The dress was perfect, a sexy, flimsy wisp of silk that ended high up on her slender thighs, managing to be both seductive and elegant, its sleeves double-lined chiffon, gathered at the wrists to hide the reddened skin there.
Perfect with my new Balenciaga shoes, she thought instantly. The shoes were high-cut, fastening around her ankles, concealing the restraint marks. She raised her hands to the nape of her neck, lifting her beautifully-streaked light brown hair, hand-painted by her colourist in artful soft shades of butterscotch, ash and honey. Definitely hair up and back to show off the neckline. And those huge Lara Bohinc earrings I got in London, with the crazy faux-pearls in rose gold.
Oh God, he’s going to love me in this.
It was momentous. She turned slowly, appreciating, with a professional eye, the way the skirt clung to her bottom, making it seem positively minuscule, the superbly-cut float and drape of the silk over her shoulders. You could always, instantly, spot couture. This dress had been made specifically to her dimensions, but she had never been able to wear it before, never been able to draw up the zip with such effortless ease - because it had been specifically tailored to the measurements she would have when she was a perfect size zero.
After all this effort, all the extreme dieting and the exercise and the ironclad self-denial, here she was, standing in her perfect designer apartment, in her perfect designer dress, the perfect designer size. This was it.
Coco Raeburn was finally perfect.
And as she looked at her image in the mirror, she had to press her left hand against her bony chest to calm herself down, reassuring herself. On her fourth finger was her engagement ring, an enormous, two and a half-carat princess-cut diamond set in a simple platinum setting, so big it made her hand look impossibly fragile, so big it looked as if it weighed almost as much as she did. In America, the rule was that the fiancé should spend two, possibly three months’ salary on an engagement ring. But Coco’s fiancé was so rich that, as her friend Emily had commented in awe, she could never have, for daily use, a ring that had cost him that much money; she’d have to be shadowed by a pair of bodyguards wherever she went.
Size zero. She had reached her goal. Their goal. She was beyond excited, into some realm of high altitude that made her head spin with exhilaration and terror. Coco recognised the sensation: it was the same disoriented, light-headed dizziness that she experienced when he fucked her, when he held her down, tied her up, slid the ball gag between her lips, fastened the eye mask over her face. Deprived her, utterly and completely, of any freedom, any ability to move, to speak, to protest anything he might choose to do to her.
Coco had given herself over to him completely. The gigantic ring was a symbol of her dependency, just as much as the bruises on her body and the chafe marks on her limbs. She was too tiny now, and the ring was too huge. Everything in her life was out of proportion. She was caught now, carefully and skilfully brainwashed by him, pinned down in his net, starved to skin and bone. Bucking under him as he dripped hot wax on her, her pain and pleasure sensors so blurred together by everything he had done to her in the last months that she could no longer have said whether she would have screamed in ecstasy or distress, would have pleaded for him to stop or go on, if she could have made anything beyond a flicker of sound around the firm rubber sphere of the ball gag fastened between her lips.
With him, she was wordless, sightless, but never deaf. He wanted her to hear the sounds he was making, his grunts and moans of pleasure, the snap of the match as it lit the candle whose melting wax she was about to feel, the flick of the rubber whip as he tested it against the post of the bed before bringing it down on the backs of her thighs. He wanted to hear her try to gasp in anticipation, to guess where she would feel him next. If she would recoil at the unmistakeable sound of him returning from the bar in the living room, ice cubes clinking in their metal container, knowing that he would be merciless with them, would slide them over her body and trail them, slowly, tantalisingly between her legs, making her jerk and try, futilely, to escape their burning cold on the most sensitive areas of her body. Hoping that his hot mouth would follow them, licking and biting her, sending her into spasms of orgasm that seemed even more intense because she couldn’t see, couldn’t speak, could do nothing but buck against her bonds, coming over and over again, feeling him drive her beyond anything she had thought she could take, over a dark precipice where she nearly fainted with the terrifying intensity of one orgasm thudding after another, all the while knowing that his teeth and lips would leave her wincing and sore.
Or nipple clamps, a tiny little snip of sound as he flicked them open and closed before attaching them to her, pulling the soft pink flesh, hearing her whimper. Bending over her, listening to the tiny sounds she was struggling to make, before he pulled out the ball gag, tossing it aside, and straddled her, giving her barely any time to gasp a breath before his weight settled heavy on her chest, his cock hot and wide in her mouth as it drove into her, her lips eagerly closing around it, sucking and pulling hard, hearing his groans of encouragement above her. Knowing how much she was pleasing him, trying to make him come as hard as he had just made her writhe with orgasm, drinking his come down with fast, practised gulps as he flooded her mouth with hot, salty, almond-scented liquid. She had learned to suck it down swiftly, a series of short, frantic swallows so that she didn’t choke, her mouth distended with his stubby thrust of cock, her throat full of come.
Eighteen months ago, Coco had been a girl who had a well-developed sense of humour, a quick wit. But she was too tense now, too skinny, her nerves were too on edge for her to be able to relax enough to see the funny side of anything, to think ironically:
This is the only time he doesn’t worry about the calorie content of what I’m eating. The only time he rewards me for swallowing something - instead of gently pushing my plate away when I’m halfway through, and telling me I’ve had enough, that I still have more weight to lose…
He’ll be happy now. Surely he will. Now that I’m perfect.
But beneath her pride in her achievement was a creeping fear. Not so much of him, but of herself. Because she had been starving herself for so long that she was frightened that she wouldn’t know how to stop.