Beauty Queens

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05.03.2019

Mary Lou smiled. “You can still tell me that.”

“Okay. I love you.”

“Even though I’m a wild girl who likes sex and adventure? Even though I’m not a pure and chaste princess who needs rescuing? Well, technically, I do need rescuing. We both do. But that’s not the point.”

“I love you for who you are, not for who the world thinks you should be.”

Tane stretched his hand through the ropes as far as it would go. He was just able to grasp the tips of Mary Lou’s fingers. Mary Lou’s eyes filled with tears. “Wouldn’t you know, just when I feel okay about myself and find a cool guy, I’m gonna be killed off.” The rope jerked harder this time, and both Tane and Mary Lou reacted. It swung out a bit, bringing them close to the ledge. Mary Lou could almost touch it with her feet. She had an idea.

“When my sister and I were kids, we used to have this old tire swing, and we’d swing out over this creek every day in the summer.”

“Seems an odd time for reminiscing, but go on.”

“See, we’d hold on and swing really hard and try to make it to the other side. If we use our weight, I’ll bet we could reach that ledge.”

“Dunno. That rope’s a bit dodgy. Could snap if we pull too hard, and then we’re piranha food.”

“We’re piranha food if we don’t. I don’t know about you, but if I’m gonna be chained to a rock by the gods, I’d rather go out as the person who brought fire back from the mountain than as a pure princess who didn’t have the sense to say to everyone, “Oh, hell no, you are not sacrificing me to some sea monster!”

“You’ve got a point. Let’s do it.”

Mary Lou wasn’t sure if her plan would work. Plenty of times, she and Annie had fallen right into the cold creek. But it was worth a try. It took a second to get it — Mary Lou went right when Tane swung left and they twirled around in a dizzying circle for a second. But then they got the rhythm. They pendulumed from side to side. Below, the piranhas zipped about in a frenzy. Overhead, the rope frayed with its next sharp drop, and Mary Lou screamed. But she did not stop swaying. Her feet scrambled at the ledge, scraping rock into the water.

“We’ve got to build up speed,” she shouted.

“If this one doesn’t work, the rope will break for sure.”

Mary Lou looked up. She bit her lip. The rope was pretty frayed.

“Worth a shot,” she said.

They swung heavily and slowly at first, but picked up speed, swinging farther with each pass. Once. Twice. Mary Lou’s feet almost touched! Third pass and she knew they’d make it.

“You know what, Tane?” she shouted as they came around again.

“What?” he shouted back.

“I totally want to make out with you!”

She swung with all her might, reaching for the other side in defiance of gravity. There was an audible crack as the rope snapped.

CHAPTER THIRTY

When the girls had finished picking out their clothes and bathing suits for the pageant, compliments of Ladybird Hope’s pageant-wear line, Harris showed them around, enjoying his role as beauty queen escort.

“So how did you end up here?”

“Summer internship,” Harris said “My dad’s CEO of The Corporation. Well, he was. He kinda ‘mishandled’ things.” He put mishandled in air quotes.

“Mishandled how?” Adina asked.

“He sort of lost some revenue. The Corporation posted second, third, and fourth quarter losses totaling around forty billion? So, you know, they had to make some sacrifices, let some workers go.”

“How many workers?”

“About forty percent.”

“Forty percent?” Shanti said, incredulous.

“Yeah. Sucked. But the good news is that they worked out a deal with my dad. He got a sweet twenty million in severance, plus a full staff, use of the corporate jet and yacht for three years, and we did not have to unload the house in Bimini, thank God, because, hello? The surfing there? Crazy-good.”

“When I run Shanticeuticals, I will not overexpand, screw over my workers, and run it into the ground,” Shanti whispered to the others.

Jennifer sidled up to Harris. “My mom was one of those forty percent of workers laid off. She got one week of severance, and it definitely wasn’t twenty million. Lost her health care, too. I wouldn’t brag about that, if I were you.”

They were waiting for the elevator when two black shirts passed them by. One of them said something that sounded suspiciously like …