Beauty Queens

13,097
05.03.2019

“It’s too complicated,” Nicole said. “We need to simplify.”

“It’s not too complicated. You’re just not getting it!”

“Whatever!” Miss New Mexico said. Her face dripped with sweat. “Do you want drinking water or not?”

“That’s the whole point.”

“Then we need to try it another way.”

Shanti crossed her arms. “Like what?”

“Excuse me?” Tiara raised her hand. “One summer when I was about nine, my dad went off to rehab for his dryer sheet addiction. He used to huff ’em down in the basement, box after box. Then he’d come upstairs and start making these dioramas out of old cake mix boxes right on the kitchen floor and tell us that we should leave him alone because he was a serious artist and needed space for his work but that it was okay because the Fluffy Soft™ Laundry Puppy22 would look after us. I always wondered why he smelled like Spring Freesia.”

Adina dropped down into the sand. “Does this story have a point?”

“Anyway, after my mom flipped out, my dad went off to rehab to heal his wounded chi and he got this spirit guide named Astral, who was kind of annoying because my dad would be all, ‘Let’s ask Astral about that,’ even if it was just about whether or not to have Hamburger Helper for dinner, and my mom said she would personally kick his Astral to the curb if he didn’t shut up, and so he went to Jesus rehab instead, and my mom sent me to sleepaway camp for the rest of the summer. I loved it in the woods. But there were no toilets or anything, so we had to build a latrine.”

“’Kay. I’m now officially scared of where this story’s going,” Adina said.

Tiara’s cheeks reddened. “I let you talk.”

“Sorry, Tiara,” Adina said.

“Anyway, it was probably a dumb idea.”

“No. Tell it. I want to hear it. Go on.” Petra silenced the others with a glare.

“Well, I was just thinking that if we dig out the sand like a latrine and stretch the dress across it and hold it down with some rocks or something, maybe the water would catch in there?”

“How’s that going to help?” Miss Ohio asked.

“Hold on.” Shanti pulled the dress taut. She surveyed the sand around it. “That could work.”

“Yeah?” Nicole asked.

“Yes.”

Tiara brightened. “I said a smarty?”

“You definitely said a smarty.”

The girls used coconut shells to dig a deep trench. They packed sand around the edge into a high wall, stretched the evening gown, which they had ripped open to make it bigger, across the hole, and weighted the dress’s edges with rocks. Beneath the dress, they placed anything that could collect whatever rainwater fell through the fabric’s pores: empty coconut shells, high heels, and a jewelry cleaning unit they’d rinsed four times with seawater.

“Not bad,” Shanti said, inspecting it. “Not bad at all. Now we just have to wait for the afternoon rain shower.”

“I can’t believe we’re gonna drink out of a ground toilet!” Tiara trilled.

Adina put a hand on her arm. “Please never say that again.”

Right on cue, the skies opened up. Normally, the girls cursed the rain that soaked them and brought the bugs out after. But now, they cheered it. They do-si-doed around the dress like an offering dance and cheered as it filled up with water and tipped down to pour into the waiting coconuts.

“Bottoms up!” Petra said, and guzzled from the half shell of fresh rainwater. Her eyes grew large. She grabbed at her throat. The girls backed away. Petra grinned. “Needs a slice of lemon, but otherwise, it’s really good,” she said, and drained the shell of the last few drops.

By the end of the week, the girls had managed to erect eight huts, and Taylor announced that there would be a Miss Teen Dream cutest hut contest. The girls went about the business of survival, collecting rainwater, identifying and gathering edible plant life, catching small fish with their straightening irons. Miss Montana, who turned out to be from a family of fishermen and women, showed them how to plait seaweed and vines to construct loose fishing lines, which had netted them a decent catch in addition to the straightening iron haul. The whole thing had come to resemble a giant science fair, with teams of girls proudly showing off their various projects.

“Hey, you guys, over here, please!” Miss Ohio called. The girls lined up to see what Miss Ohio had put together. She’d shoved two sticks into the sand and rigged a piece of metal plane wreckage between them so that it caught the sun’s light.