Beauty Queens


“Princess hair?”

“That’s what my mom calls the hairpieces we use. Princess hair. They cost a lot, about five or six hundred dollars.”

Petra made a whistling sound.

“The dresses, too. And you need new dresses for each pageant.”

Petra did the math in her head. “You could start a business on that. Or pay for college. Well, state college.”

Tiara hacked off another bit of hair.

“Hey, could I see that awesome knife for a sec? It’s so cool!”

“No, thank you. I like the knife.” More hair hit the sand.

Petra needed to distract Tiara. She glanced around the hut for something that might help and noticed that Tiara had bobby pinned fat, blue flowers to the walls. It was crazy-cool and very adorable. “Wow, you did this?”

Tiara looked up for a moment and gave a weak smile. “Mmm-hmm. I wanted to give my hut a jungle theme.”

“Tiara, I think they’ve all got a jungle theme,” Petra said. “But yours is definitely the most creative. And hella cute.”

“You think?” Tiara seemed to come alive. The knife stopped its mutilations. “Can I tell you something? I kinda always wanted to be an interior decorator.”

“You’d be great at it.”

The empty stare returned to Tiara’s eyes. She flicked the blade against her arm, drawing blood.

“Hey. Don’t do that. Please.”

“My parents want me to do the Miss USA pageant after I’m too old for this one,” she said.

Petra sidled up next to her. “Is that what you want to do?”

Tiara gave the smallest of shrugs. “It’s all I know how to do. I did my first pageant when I was two weeks old.”

“Two weeks!” Petra sputtered.

“Mmm-hmm. But my parents said I really really wanted to do it. They could tell by the way I was crying.”

“Babies cry. That’s pretty much their job description.”

“Everything they did, they did for me. Because I loved doing it,” Tiara whispered. She sliced a jagged arc across a new section of hair.

“How do you know?”

“They told me. They said I was always perfect and happy and so good. Except for once. Only once.”

“What happened?” Petra kept her eyes on the knife in Tiara’s hands.

“It was at a Mega-Glamour Pageant. We’d just come off a Glitter Pageant and before that a Miss Pizzazz Pageant. I was really tired. And when it was almost my time, I threw myself down on the carpet at the Holiday Inn and pitched a fit. I just didn’t want all those people looking at me. It was like, the more they looked at me, the less I felt like anybody really saw me. Does that sound stupid?”

“No,” Petra said. “Not at all.”

“My mom was all, ‘Come on now, pretty girl. It’s time to do your sparkle hips. You know the judges love your sparkle hips. Don’t you want to be Mommy’s good little girl and blow kisses and get a crown?’ Then my dad told me I was his special princess and he’d buy me a big pink teddy bear if I’d go onstage and show everybody how good I could dance to ‘Mama’s Gotta Go-Go.’ I still wouldn’t get up.”

“So what happened?”

Tiara dug her big toe into the sand. “My mom said I was embarrassing her. That she guessed the other girls just wanted it a little more than me. My dad said those dresses cost a lot of money and that’s why he was working two jobs. They both said they were doing this for me and not them and they’d sacrificed a lot for my dream.”

“Wow. Guilt trip much?” Petra said. “And did you get up?”

“No. I kept pitching a fit.”

“Good for you.”

Tiara sniffled as a tear rolled down her cheek and plopped into the sand. “That’s when my mom told me that I was being a bad little girl and nobody loved bad little girls. So I’d better straighten up, stop crying, be quiet, and get my best smile on, or she was gonna sell all my crowns and trophies.” Tiara sniffled again. She wiped her eyes so quickly it was like it didn’t happen. “I stopped crying. Mama hurried me off to get my spray tan and this lady named Mirabella put on my eyelashes and makeup. My mom gave me my princess hair and sprayed it up high. Daddy put the flipper back over my teeth so my smile would be all perfect. And I went out in my big, blue, fluffy petticoat dress, and swished my sparkle hips, and blew kisses to the judges with a wink. That night, I won Miss Grand Supreme.”

“Does that come with fries?”