Beauty Queens

13,065
05.03.2019

“Yes. As a journalist, I am compelled to know the answers.”

“As a girl, I am compelled to protect what’s left of my manicure,” Petra said.

“But what if the rescuers are looking for us there and not here? What if …” Adina swallowed hard. “What if there’s somebody else on this island with us?”

“Somebody with food?” Mary Lou asked weakly.

“Or somebody who wants to make us into food,” Adina said.

Mary Lou’s eyes widened. “Oh, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”

Taylor smoothed the wrinkles from her wet dress and wiped her hands on her knees. “I am team captain. And I say we’re doing our pageant prep first, according to plan. Priorities.”

“Shouldn’t our priorities be food, shelter, and rescue?”

“Miss New Hampshire, I appreciate your concerns. But I am eighteen. This is my last year to compete. I do not intend to lose my edge. Besides, I’m sure the rescue team will be here today. And we want them to find us at our best. Miss Teen Dreamers! Let’s get to it!” Taylor clapped in a cheerleader rhythm for attention and began to give the day’s structure. Adina cupped a hand over her eyes and squinted in the direction of the volcano. The top disappeared into mist. It seemed unassailable and uninhabitable. She’d probably imagined the lights.

After a breakfast of rationed airline pretzels and four sips each from the rescued water bottles, the girls worked on their opening dance number. Each girl had received a DVD of the dance steps in her prep packet, but they’d never had a chance to rehearse it as a unit. That’s what this week before the pageant was supposed to be about. Now, without the choreographer, it wasn’t coming together smoothly. Somebody would inevitably high-kick when it was time for spirit fingers, the timing was off on the contagion, and the whole thing was such a disaster that Petra pronounced it “so dinner theater on Mars.” After an hour of work in the hot island sun, Taylor called a break.

Nicole tapped Adina. “Taylor wants you to play Fabio Testosterone9 and ask all the questions.”

“Why me?”

Nicole faltered. “Um, I guess because you’re smart and good at questions and …”

“Because you pissed her off,” Petra said, dabbing self-consciously at the sweat on her upper lip. “Count me out. I already know where to find Iran on a map and I have to look for my overnight bag.”

Nicole whistled. “That won’t make Taylor happy.”

“Tell her I’ll keep a watch out for a rescue ship. That I’m taking one for the team.”

“Tell her I’m doing that, too,” Adina seconded.

“I got there first,” Petra said.

Nicole patted Adina’s shoulder. “Sorry. Guess you better go round everybody else up, Fabio.”

Ten minutes later, the girls lined up as they had in every pageant. It was a relief to know this part. All they had to do was be charming and answer the questions with confidence.

“Remember, don’t show fear,” Taylor called. Over the firewood, she struck two rocks together, trying to catch a spark. “Judges are like dogs: They’ll smell it. If you don’t know the answer, answer it like you do anyway.”

“Can I get started?” Adina snapped. The heat was making her bug bites itch and she hadn’t had a decent meal since yesterday. “Our first contestant is Brittani Slocum, Miss Mississippi.”

“I’m Miss Alabama,” Brittani corrected.

At the end of the line, Tiara raised her hand. “I’m Miss Mississippi.”

Adina looked from one tan, blond southern goddess to the other. They both cocked their heads to the left and smiled in a practiced, patient way.

“Whatever,” Adina grumbled. “So, Miss Alabama, Tiara —”

“Brittani!”

“Brittani Slocum. First question. The pageant has come under fire for perpetuating an unrealistic image of superthin girls as beautiful, and many people feel this is harmful to girls’ self-esteem. What do you say to these critics? And what do you personally feel about these narrow standards of beauty?”

Brittani’s smile remained Vaseline smooth, but her eyes showed fear. “Um, what does perpetuate mean?”

“Keep something going.”

“Keep what going?”

“No, perpetuate means to keep something going.” Like I am perpetuating your stupidity, Adina thought.

“Oh. Um, well, I would say that being skinny and stuff is good because you can, like, fit into supercute jeans, unlike my friend Lisa? She totally ballooned up to a size six and none of her pants fit, and she had, like, three-hundred-dollar Sandeces10 jeans!”