Beauty Queens

13,058
05.03.2019

“What’s going on?” Tiara asked.

“Not sure,” Adina said. “But we’re going to find out.”

In the fog, the moon was filmy as an onion’s husk. Down by the dock, the lights shone over the black water. Adina, Petra, Tiara, Nicole, Jennifer, and Shanti huddled in the bushes watching the guards, who were, in turn, watching the area around the volcano’s secret door. The girls had been there for twenty minutes, proposing ways of getting inside, rejecting all of them. They were tired and uneasy and had begun to argue.

Tiara stood and smoothed her dress.

“What are you doing?” Shanti asked. “Do you want to get us killed?”

“No. I just want some gummi bears,” she said, and marched toward the volcano.

“Hold up!” The guards leveled their guns at Tiara. “You can’t be here, miss. It’s restricted.”

Tiara smiled and struck a pageant pose. “Hi. I’m Tiara Destiny Swan. Miss Mississippi. I’m real sorry to bother y’all and everything, but there’s only one thing in the world I want — well, besides world peace and free makeovers for everybody — and that’s some gummi bears. And y’all have a vending machine right inside. Can I pretty, pretty please go get some?” She put her hands together prayer-style.

The guards exchanged glances. Tiara danced around them butterfly-style. “Pretty pretty pretty pretty please? Pretty pretty pretty pretty …”

The guards shrugged at each other. “Sure.”

“Oh, yippee!” Tiara jumped and clapped. She motioned to the girls. “Oh, my friends need to come, too. We’re girls. We travel in packs.”

“Unbelievable,” Petra whispered in awe.

The girls emerged from their hiding place. The guard held up a hand.

“I can’t let all of you inside.”

“You have to let Petra come in because she’s my best friend,” Tiara said.

“And you have to let me in because I have my period,” Adina said.

“And you have to let me and Shanti in or else you’re totally racist.” Nicole glared.

“You have to let me in or I’ll cry,” Jennifer said, working up tears.

“Whoa, whoa, hold on. Look, we have our orders and —”

“Oh my God! Please tell me you have a tampon! I need a tampon!” Adina screeched.

“Okay! Okay! You can go with her.”

Nicole stepped up to the guard. “What about the rest of us, whitey?”

“Westerfeld?” The one guard looked to the other. “Did you read the Corporation pamphlet on racial sensitivity in the workplace?”

“No. I read Sexual Harassment and You: Why Sally Cries When You Touch Her in Meetings.”

“Well, I’m not getting my butt handed to me by corporate.”

The other guard shrugged. “They’re a bunch of girls. How dangerous could they be?”

“Okay. But be quick.” The first guard punched in the code, and try as they might, the girls couldn’t make it out. The doors opened. “Fourth floor.”

“Thanks!” they said, and held their breath as the elevator shot them down.

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

“Gummi bear?” Tiara held out the bag.

Petra shook her head. “Where are we?”

After getting the candy and taking some beauty samples from the product room, they’d taken a door to a hallway and followed the stairs to the mysterious fifth floor and the door they were looking for. But it was locked, and they were stuck in a hallway lit by a dim red light.

“Now what?”

A flashlight beam bounced down the hall: one of the workers making the rounds. His card key bounced against his tubby belly.

“Quick, hide,” Shanti whispered. She grabbed Tiara’s face. “Tiara, can you make a sad face?”

She stuck out her lip.

“Great. When he comes, you make a sad face, tell him you’re lost and need help. And then we’ll clobber him over the head and take his card key.”

“Okay,” Tiara said. The girls ducked behind some large pipes. “Wait … what?”

“Hey!” the guard shouted. “What are you doing here?”

Tiara’s eyes widened and her lips quivered. “I came down here for some gummi bears and I got lost.”

“Really?” the guard said, tucking away his flashlight.

Tiara smiled. “No. Not really. I’m supposed to get you over here so my friends can hit you over the head and take your card key.”