Beauty Queens


Brittani smiled. “Right. I forgot. Sor — I mean, can we do makeovers at Girl Con?”

“Do we have to?” Adina said with a sigh. “How is that empowering?”

“Things don’t have to be empowering all the time. It can just be fun. Way to cut a fart in the middle of the party, New Hampshire,” Jennifer said.

“And I like makeovers,” Tiara said.

Petra gave her a high five. “So do I.”

“And me,” Shanti added. “If I only had ten minutes left to live, I would spend it at the makeup counter at the Nordstrom in the Galleria.”

“Really?” Adina made a face.

Shanti shrugged. “If you find me in that jungle dead of a rare spider bite, make sure you put my eyeliner on.”

Miss Ohio flailed with excitement. “Makeovers are so fun! It’s like the Superman phone booth of girl.”

Adina sat up. “It’s denigrating and objectifying.”

“No. It’s eye shadow and lipstick and sex and mystery and magic and transformation and fun. And nobody’s taking that away from me. You will pry my Petal Power lip gloss out of my cold, dead hands,” Shanti insisted.

Adina rolled her eyes. “Okay. Democracy rules. Makeover panel, too.”

Tiara clapped. “Yay!”

“Dancing,” Sosie called out defiantly.

“Sex Monkey!” Petra shouted.

Miss Montana sputtered. “Sex Monkey? What’s that?”

“I don’t know. I just really want to go to a workshop called Sex Monkey.”

“Honoring Your Inner Wild Girl,” Mary Lou said softly.

“Wow. Great title,” Adina said.

“You calling us wild, Nebraska?”

“Huh? No! It’s … nothing. Sorry.”

“SORRY!” the girls yelled as one before dissolving into laughter. Mary Lou didn’t laugh. Somebody passed around half a coconut and everyone took a small bit.

Nicole chewed on a piece of bulrush. “We could take the world by storm, you know? It’ll be like we proved ourselves, like all those heroes’ journey stories about boys, only we’re girls.”

“Damn straight.” Adina high-fived her.

Taylor emerged from the shadows. The firelight deepened the planes of her face till she seemed an X-ray of a girl. “You know, ladies, I’ve been listenin’ to y’all over here talkin’ while I work out because I am a very good multitasker. This is not about Girl Cons and Sex Monkey workshops, which, frankly, makes my mouth feel soiled just sayin’ it. This is about Miss Teen Dream! The pinnacle of teen girl perfection.”

Adina stacked pieces of fish on her stick and twirled it over the fire to cook them, as she’d learned to do. “Taylor, I think we’re kind of beyond Miss Teen Dream now. I mean, look at us — look what we’ve built here in the past however long we’ve been here.”

“Beyond Miss Teen Dream?” Taylor sat on a log and stared at the girls, dumbfounded. “Miss Teen Dream is all I ever wanted from the time I was six years old. This is the big one. The one that matters. Don’t y’all remember why we’re here?”

The girls looked at one another.

“Maybe that’s where I started, but I’m not sure now,” Miss New Mexico said. “Doesn’t seem like enough anymore.”

“Well, you can be a quitter if you like, Miss New Mexico. I’m in it to win it. And as team leader, I say that we need to get back to practicin’ and beautifyin’ if we’re gonna be ready to go when we get back. Once they rescue us.”

“But what if they don’t rescue us?” Nicole asked.

“They will.”

“But what if they don’t?” Nicole said. “I just think maybe we should think about trying to rescue ourselves. Sorry, it’s just what I think. I mean, no, I’m not sorry. It’s what I think.”

Taylor fell into her three-quarters pose, a reflex, a battle stance. “Miss Teen Dream is the ideal of young womanhood.”

“The ideal? What ideal?” Sosie asked. “Says who? All they do is keep raising the bar, adding things we have to do or prettify or fix to be accepted. And we take the bait. We do it. That’s what Miss Teen Dream represents. Well, not me. I’m out. I mean, Taylor, what are you going to do when your pageant years are over?”

“Over?” Taylor repeated. “They’re never over. Life is a pageant, Miss Illinois. Everything I’ve learned will help me on my path.”

A bloodcurdling scream interrupted the standoff. “My ring! It’s gone!” Mary Lou held up her ring finger. All that remained was a band of pale skin where the ring had been. “You have to help me look for it! Please!”