Beauty Queens

13,237
05.03.2019

“Ooh!” Jennifer mock shuddered.

“You will be powerless against it.”

Jennifer dropped to the ground and sat, arms crossed, a defiantly amused expression playing across her face.

“Okaaay …” Sosie said in warning. She stood perfectly still, her hands held stiffly before her chest, her head tipped to one side, a blank expression on her doll-like face. With startling precision, Sosie’s feet began to move one way while her torso inched the other direction. Her hands jerked up and down like pistons. “Dance, earthling, dance.”

Jennifer’s mouth twitched toward a smile. “Are you doing … the robot?” She spelled out robot. “Oh. My. God.”

Sosie frowned. “Robot. Is. Sad. Because silly bitch. Will. Not. Dance.”

With that, Sosie dropped quickly to her knees and backed up, moving with tremendous skill. It was as if she were made of liquid and elastic. Her arms worked independently of her shoulders, and her neck swiveled back and forth like a pendulum. Somehow, she incorporated a mechanical beauty queen wave, which exploded into a motion where she seemed to pull herself up by an invisible string. It was ridiculous — and amazing.

“Sad. Sad. Sad.” Sosie lurched toward Jennifer, who laughed.

“That is messed up! Get away!”

“Dance, silly bitch,” Sosie intoned.

She made a strange whirring sound and watched wide-eyed as her arm shot out, machinelike, toward Jennifer’s. She pulled Jennifer to her feet, and this time Jen didn’t object. Sosie snaked an arm around Jennifer’s waist and bent her side to side as if they were a robot couple taking a turn around some factory dance floor.

“Robot. Getting. Happy. Robot. Like. Girl. Who. Can’t. Dance.”

“Hey!” Jennifer said, but she couldn’t stop laughing.

“Robot girl give rhythm chip for disability,” Sosie said, starting to lose it. “Do not let bad-dancing disability define you, bad-dancing girl. We will have benefit concert to help you. Can’t-Dance-For-Shit-A-Thon.”

Both girls laughed uncontrollably — full, body-shaking guffaws. In the laughter, the girls’ feet became entangled and they fell to the ground, Sosie on top of Jennifer, their faces separated by no more than an inch of warm jungle air. Jennifer looked into Sosie’s eyes. A small, involuntary sigh escaped. Sosie felt the breath soft and warm on her face and something fluttered deep inside her. A dance she did not yet know had begun.

Sosie tensed and jumped to her feet. “Robot leave girl alone now.”

“Thank God,” Jennifer said, but she didn’t mean it.

They glanced nervously at each other.

“Maybe you could teach me?” Jennifer signed.

Sosie smiled. “Sure,” she signed back.

The bird scrabbled into view. Seeing the girls, it squawked and darted into the dense jungle growth. With a war cry, Sosie grabbed her spear, and she and Jennifer ran after it, full-bore, without second-guessing.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Brittani raced into Petra’s hut, her voice full of alarm. “Petra, come quick! Tiara’s freaking out!”

A crowd had gathered around the hut Tiara shared with Brittani.

“What’s going on?” Petra asked.

“Tiara grabbed the machete and started going all women’s prison movie on her hair,” Miss Ohio informed her. “She said something about sparkle hips and pretty feet and princess hair.”

“She won’t let anybody in. She keeps waving the machete around,” Brittani said. “And the earrings I wanted to wear are in there.”

“Why me?” Petra asked.

“She likes you,” Brittani answered.

“She thinks I’m a freak of nature.”

“I know. She says she’s a freak, too, and you’re the only one who would understand.”

Petra went inside. Tiara sat on a rock, sawing through a section of hair with the machete. Her hair was a mix of short and long pieces. She pointed the machete at Petra.

“Whoa! Whoa, there. Can’t a friend just drop in and say hi?”

Tiara blinked. She gave a vague smile. “Oh, hi, Petra. Come on in.”

“So. Going for a new ’do?”

“Yeah. Something new,” she said in an empty voice. A clump of hair hit the sand. “My parents are gonna be so pissed, though.”

“Your parents aren’t here. Can I have the machete?” “Huh-uh.” Tiara pulled a long piece of hair in front of her face and examined it. “Split ends. Guess I’ll have to get some princess hair when I get back.”