“Why do you have to be sorry?” Nicole asked.
“Well … I don’t know.”
“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?” Nicole asked. “You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it’s longer than three sentences or she’s expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, ‘Sorry for the rant’ or ‘That may be dumb, but that’s what I think.’”
“I say sorry all the time. The other day, this lady bumped into me with her grocery cart, and I said I was sorry,” Mary Lou said, shaking her head.
Shanti raised her hand. “I move we officially ban the word sorry from our vocabularies while we’re here.”
“I second that, if that’s okay,” Petra said, grinning. “If not, sorry.”
“I third it. Sorry.”
“I just scratched my nose. Sorry.”
“I just scratched my ass. Sorry.”
“I’m getting up to stretch my legs. Sorry.”
“Sometimes I just want to burn down all the rules and start over,” Mary Lou said. Everyone waited for the punch line of “sorry,” but it never came.
“What would you really like to say up there to that studio audience?” Adina asked.
Petra pretended her fist was a microphone. “Well, Fabio. I’m glad you asked.”
“Don’t you dare call me Fabio,” Adina said, giggling.
“Would you rather be Fabiana?’Cause you know I’m flexible. I’d say …” Petra crossed her legs, tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “I’d say, I am too f**king fabulous for one gender. Oh, and can we please get rid of the cheesy dance numbers? It’s like torture by step-ball-change.”
“I’d say I am not a race. I am an individual,” Nicole said.
Brittani hugged her. “You’re so nice, Nicole. It’s like you’re not even mad at me for being white.”
Nicole cut her eye at Brittani, then looked over to Shanti, who rolled her eyes.
Sosie moved her fingers gracefully, but no one understood. She waited for a moment. “I would say, learn to hear me in my own voice. I’m hearing impaired, not invisible.”
“I feel invisible sometimes, too,” Tiara said softly.
“What would you say, Bollywood?” Nicole asked.
Shanti had been telling her story at pageant after pageant: How her parents came to this country — the land of dreams and opportunity — from India. How they had opened a business, a restaurant, and taught their daughter that with hard work, she could be anything she wanted to be. How they taught her to honor where she was from but to love and embrace the customs of the new country. Shanti had told her story so many times, she had even started to believe it. She’d built herself into something perfect and unassailable. Now, under the clear night sky, she wondered if it might be the time to break it all down like some elaborate pageant set the day after the show. But what to put on the bare stage that remained?
“I’d say I need more fish!” She reached for what was left on Miss Ohio’s plate.
“Hey!” Miss Ohio protested, but she let her eat it anyway.
“You know, instead of some old, backassward pageant competition, we should have a con. A Girl Con! How awesome would that be?” Adina said.
“What would we do at Girl Con?” Jennifer said, giving the words a cheesy announcer’s voice.
“We could have some wicked cool workshops — writing, film, science, music, consciousness-raising… .”
“Comic Nerds with Ovaries!” Jennifer shouted. “I will lead that one. And a seminar on DIY zine production.”
“My platform is about climate change,” Miss Montana said. “It’s so beautiful in Montana. I really do want to save our environment.”
“Miss Montana is down for a Save the Environment panel,” Adina said. “Who else?”
Miss New Mexico raised her hand. “I always wanted to make films. I love French New Wave. Godard. Truffaut. I made a short about my school cafeteria called Meatloaf, Tu Es La Morte à Moi.
“I work at a center for LGBT kids. I was thinking of starting my own nonprofit LGBT center in college,” Petra said.
“Love it!” Adina yelled. She lay sprawled in the sand, her head resting on a tree limb.
“Can we also … sorry! Was I interrupting?” Brittani winced.
“Thou shalt not say sorry!” Mary Lou chided in a deep voice.