“My daddy bought me that pink teddy bear but I never liked it. I used to beat it up.” Tiara wiped her nose on her arm. She looked up at Petra through a broken curtain of hair. “You sure you want to be a girl? It’s a lot of work.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Don’t tell anybody, but sometimes, I just don’t want to sparkle.”
“This is all I know how to do.”
“That’s not true.” Petra gestured to the flower-bedazzled hut.
Tiara smiled a little. “Do you really think my hut is cute?”
“Are you kidding me? It’s awesome.”
“Thank you.” Tiara reached over and took one of the flowers from the wall. It was a deep blue tinged with black around the petals. She pinned it to Petra’s hair like an old-fashioned movie star. “You look pretty.”
Tiara closed her eyes and blew out five sharp exhales. Then she opened her eyes again. “I’m a winner, I’m a winner, I’m a winner,” she intoned. She fingered a section of freshly hacked hair. “I guess I really messed up my hair, huh?”
“Well, you could start a whole new career as a deranged Muppet. Okay. Not funny. Sorry.”
Tiara bit her bottom lip. “Can you fix it? I don’t care what you do. I just want something different.”
Tiara swung the machete around and Petra jumped back. “Let’s be careful with the sharp objects, okay?”
Petra wielded the machete with surprising grace. Chunks of bleach-blond hair hit the sand. Tiara’s hair was darker underneath and there were bits that had been kissed by the sun. At last, Petra stood back and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “All done.”
Tiara’s ’do was short and spiky with a longer strip sticking up in the middle, warrior-style. Petra held the machete sideways. Tiara gazed at her reflection in it. She ran her hands across her scalp, over and back, examining her head from left and right, and Petra braced herself for sobbing. Instead, she smiled and her face opened like a blossom.
“I guess this isn’t princess hair,” Tiara said.
“Sure it is. It’s warrior princess hair.”
And Petra tucked a flower above Tiara’s ear.
That night, the girls cooked up a dinner of slightly burned fish, grubs, and bulrushes. For dessert, they scooped the sweetmeat from coconut shells, licking the juice from their fingers. The fire sent up wispy smoke messengers that vanished before they cleared the tree-tops. The girls were taking turns with the pumice stone, scraping it along the ends of sticks to make spears. The air was warm, the sound of the waves soothing. And they fell into contented conversation, as if they’d been lucky enough to con all their parents into letting them have a colossal sleepover with no supervision.
Jennifer pretended her hand was a microphone. “Miss New Mexico, can you tell the audience about your day?”
Miss New Mexico adopted a fake-cheery voice and an artificially wide smile. “Well, Fabio, judges, I spent my day digging for grubs in the most disgusting mud you can possibly imagine. Then I helped build a desalination still. Oh, and my shoes are by Cheri of Paris.”
“I made a hut out of mud, palm fronds, and ripped-up swimwear. And walking in the sand is toning my calves while I work!” said Miss Arkansas.
“I used seaweed to reinforce the walls on my lean-to,” Miss Montana chimed in. “And worked on my tan.”
“I peed in the ocean,” Brittani said.
Miss Arkansas made a face. “Which part?”
Brittani looked confused. “All of it.”
“I know this is going to sound weird, but this is kind of fun,” Nicole said, grinning. She stuck a piece of fish on the end of her stick and turned it in the fire.
“All we need now is a scary movie to watch,” Mary Lou said.
Miss Ohio snapped her fingers. “Ooh, like that one about the crazy stalker guy who hunts girls down and kills them off one by one.”
“Which one?” Adina snarked.
“I think it was called I See Your Naked Blood Naked.’ Miss Ohio tossed bark peels into the fire. “The main girl has to strip down to her underwear to get away from the killer.”
“You’re thinking of Sorority House Bloodbath,” Miss Montana said.
“No,” Shanti piped up.” Sorority House Bloodbath is the one with Verity Bootay25 where she tricks the psycho killer into watching her do a sexy striptease before she nabs him through the eye with her stiletto.”