Beauty Queens


“Maybe I don’t like people asking so many questions.”

“Okaaaay. That’s kind of an important part of the competition.”

“It counts for forty percent of your overall,” Tiara said as she practiced a circle turn in place.

Jennifer relaxed. “Sorry. I don’t mean to get all up in your face. I’m just not used to this beauty stuff.”

“You aren’t?”

“No. First time. My guidance counselor got me into it. Some new program they’re trying out for at-risk girls.” Jennifer rolled her eyes. “Like this isn’t a gang. Please. It’s the freakiest gang ever.”

“Just curious: How did you manage to win Miss Michigan?”

“I didn’t. I was second runner-up.”

“What happened to the winner?” Adina asked.

“She tripped.”

“And the first runner-up?”

Miss Michigan cracked her knuckles. “She tripped, too.”

Adina swallowed hard. “Right. So, Miss Michigan, can you tell us about your platform? Please. I mean, if you’re okay with that.”

“Oh. Sure. My platform’s called Don’t Even Think About It. I go into schools and I say, ‘Whatever bad thing it is you’re thinking of doing, don’t even think about it. ’Cause I can see into your soul, and I will hide in your closet and come for you in the night, and the last sound you ever hear will be my sharp teeth popping through the flesh of my gums, ready to eat you.’ Their eyes get all big. It’s awesome. I love little kids, man. They’re the cutest.”

“Next!” Adina practically shouted. “Tiara, Miss Mississippi, right?”

Tiara stared. “Is that my question?”

“It is a question. I just wanted to make sure I got your name right.”

“Oh. Hi, y’all! I’m Tiara Destiny Swan from Jackson, Mississippi, which is spelled M-I-double-S-I … um … shoot.”

Adina looked to Taylor to end this travesty, but Taylor was trying to keep the signal fire going. The ominous clouds had moved closer to the island, and a strong wind came up, blowing sand and promising rain. “Tiara …” Adina had lost all steam. “What’s your favorite color?”

Tiara’s eyes darted left and right in fear and her smile was strained. “Um. Thank you, Fabio. I personally believe that we have a duty such as … as Americans … to help other people who are not Americans such as the peoples of the China and the Alaska and the freedoms we enjoy in our great nation and such and that is my opinion which I personally believe will make us a stronger nation. Thank you.”

Adina squeezed her hands against her head. “What are you even saying? You just made my brain die a little. You know, people, just being beautiful isn’t enough.”

Tiara looked confused. “But … it always has been.”

Petra gave a sudden cry, startling the others. “There it is!” She barreled down the beach in the direction of the skull-shaped rock and its long tongue of a jetty.

The cry went up. “Oh my God! Is it a ship? It must be a ship! Ship! Ship!”

The girls stumbled over one another on their way after Petra.

Nicole cupped her hand over her eyes. “Where? I don’t see anything but some nasty-looking clouds out there.”

Petra waded into the chest-high water, fighting the heavy surf, and grabbed at a small, green leather satchel. “Oh, Holly Go-Overnightly — thank God you showed up!” Grinning, she held the luggage aloft. “My overnight case — I found it!”

“Are you kidding me?” Shanti complained.

The wind rose, blowing sand into the girls’ faces. The cloud army advanced. It began to rain hard, then harder. The strip of beach seemed to vanish within seconds, and the girls were calf-deep in the sea.

Nicole pointed out at the horizon. “Um, does that ocean look kind of high to you?”

“How can the ocean get high? It can’t inhale. I know a lot about it. My platform is called Don’t Do Drugs Because They Make You Dumb,” Brittani explained.

“And I thought it was just inbreeding,” Petra quipped.

Nicole began to back away from the beach. “Hey, y’all, I don’t like the looks of that wave out there.”

The back of the sea curled up and fanned out, blocking the sky, threatening to bear down on the island.

Taylor gave three short, attention-focusing claps. “Miss Teen Dreamers! This is your team captain speaking. It is time to get our Rumpelstiltskins in gear and run for higher ground. Ready? Okay!”