Beauty Queens


“We could spear them,” Mary Lou offered.

“With what?” Miss Ohio asked.

Mary Lou blushed. “Um, with a … spear?”

“Oh my gosh! My bad. How could I have forgotten to pack my spear for my beauty pageant?” Miss New Mexico snapped. The tray in her forehead shook.

“Because you probably left it in your competition’s back,” Miss Ohio snarked. Miss Montana high-fived her.

“Well, your evening gown looks like it was put together in the dark by a bunch of dyslexic sweatshop workers!” Miss Arkansas gave Miss Montana a small shove.

Miss Montana shoved back. “Oh really? Says the girl with flotation device boobs.”

“These are one hundred percent real!”

“So’s Santa.”

“At least my talent isn’t totally lame,” sniffed Miss Ohio.

Miss Arkansas laughed a loud HA! “Your talent? Are they letting people perform o**l s*x in these pageants now?”

Taylor clapped three times for attention. “Ladies! Ladies! My stars! That’s enough. Now. We all know Miss Arkansas’s girls are fake, Miss Ohio’s easier than making cereal, and Miss Montana’s dress is something my blind meemaw would wear to bingo night. And Miss New Mexico — aren’t you from the chill-out state? Maybe you can channel up some new-age-Whole-Foods-incense calm right about now, because we have a big job ahead called staying alive.”

“What do we do?” Brittani asked. She lay in the sand with her arm over her forehead.

“We need something we can use to turn these sticks into spears.”

“A knife!”

“A rock!”

“Two rocks!”

“Adina’s tongue.”

“Thanks. Thanks a lot,” Adina snapped.

Mary Lou pulled something from one of the suitcases. It was egg-shaped and shiny. “Pumice stone?”

Taylor examined the palm-size foot grater. “Good work, Nebraska. Sparkle Ponies and Lost Girls, start buffing and polishing those sticks into fish-killing machines.”

“But that could take forever. I’m starving now” Miss Ohio cried.

“Fine. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” Taylor grabbed a shell and gouged the sand, going deeper and deeper. She reached into the sand and brought up a white, cylindrical bug. It wiggled lazily in her palm. “Who wants to eat first?”

“What’s that?” Miss Montana asked with obvious distaste.

“It’s a grub and it’s packed with protein. My daddy said his unit had to survive on these for a whole month once. Who’s going first?”

Collectively, the girls took a step back.

“My stars, I thought y’all were hungry and wanted to survive.”

No one made a move.

“Well, then. I guess as team leader I will just have to draft someone as a volunteer.” Taylor looked over the girls like a general inspecting the ranks of new recruits. She stopped at Adina. “Miss New Hampshire. Congratulations. You’re the winner.”

“If you’re so keen on it, why don’t you go first?” Adina asked.

“Because y’all know I’ll do it,” Taylor answered. “This is about building trust. Take one for the team, New Hampshire.”

Adina had a memory of Alan and the ridiculous trust-building exercises he conducted for business retreats full of blowhard execs who apparently liked wasting money on glorified corporate camp. Once, Alan had asked her to fall backward with the assurance that he would catch her and that she would see she could trust him. But Adina balked. The only person she trusted was herself. She was not ending up on the floor with a concussion, and she was not, absolutely not, eating that filthy bug in Taylor’s hand just so she could prove her mettle and get a round of high fives from the beauty queen set.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “No. Sorry. Not doing it.”

“I’ll do it,” Miss Arkansas volunteered.

“No. This is about Miss New Hampshire. We are the Miss Teen Dream team. We are only as strong as our weakest link. There is no I in team.”

“There’s no U in ass**le, either, and yet …” Adina muttered.

“I’m dockin’ you another twenty-five cents for your potty mouth and bad attitude, Miss New Hampshire.”

“Fine. Let me just go to the JUNGLE ATM TO GET A WITHDRAWAL!”

Taylor leveled her gaze at Adina. “Do you know what your problem is, Miss New Hampshire?”

“You mean, besides the fact that my plane crashed on a hostile island, we haven’t eaten in days, you want me to chug a bug, and you keep calling me New Hampshire?”