Beauty Queens


Mary Lou didn’t want to cry. Pirate queens were not weepy. They lived and died by their own code. “Look at that moon. Pretty happening tonight.”

“Yeah. Impressive,” Tane said, but he was not looking at the moon. “Tomorrow it’ll be even bigger.”

“You never know about tomorrow,” Mary Lou said. She pulled Tane to her for a deep kiss.

Under a three o’clock sky, they explored each other with their mouths. He slid down along the curve of her stomach until she could no longer see his face and her hands were in his hair. It was exquisite, this thing he was doing to her, and she closed her eyes tightly and cried out, and it joined with the shrieking of birds who took to the unfettered skies with the powerful push of their wings. When this happened, she was sure that all those things she’d been taught about feeling shame were wrong. It was not a curse to fully inhabit your body. You were only as cursed as you allowed yourself to be.

After, when they were a sweaty tangle of limbs, she told him, “I’m not ready for the other things yet.” He was quiet and she wondered if this would drive a wedge between them. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that I’m starving and I have a candy bar in my bag. You want half?”

It was caramel and nougat, her favorite. She licked the chocolate from his fingers, which led to more kissing and exploring, and when the moon paled against the dawn, Mary Lou tucked her St. Agnes medal into Tane’s pocket. She inhaled the scent of him so that she’d have it with her no matter what.

“You have really good hands, Tane Ngata,” she said and kissed the sleeping prince good-bye.

Mary Lou was not the only girl awake under a three o’clock sky. The sound of rain had woken Jennifer. She rubbed sleep from her eyes and remembered fragments of a dream in which she was Wonder Woman and Sosie was Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. From under her pillow — a wadded-up evening dress — she brought out her pen and notepad and began to draw. Her style was rough; her people had heads too big for their bodies, but Jennifer liked the feel of drawing the same way some people enjoyed singing in their showers.

In the panel, the Flint Avenger and her loyal sidekick, Sosie, had been trapped in the island lair of the archvillain, Madame Travatsky.

“You vill tell me ze location of ze nuclear submarine or I vill use ze ZombieRay on your little girlfriend, Flint Avenger!”

Jennifer mouthed the words while she drew.

“Don’t do it, Flint Avenger! It’s a trap!” Sosie’s speech bubble said. In the panel, she was clearly signing.

“I can’t let her hurt you, Sosie! Because …”

“Because … what?”

“I love you!”

Jennifer concentrated on the next panel, Sosie’s face. The light dusting of freckles across her pert nose. The dark eyebrows that gave her face a brooding quality. Silk-straight bangs. She worked hard on the eyes, and in the panel, they were very open with surprise and a sudden joy.

“What are you doing?”

Sosie’s voice startled Jennifer. She dropped her pen.

“Nothing.” Jennifer patted around on the sandy floor in the dark. Sosie reached over her for the notebook. Jen tried to swipe it back, but Sosie was too quick. Giggling, she sat down to read. She stopped giggling and stared at Jennifer. The last time Jennifer had felt like this, her grandmother was holding her copy of Women’s Basketball Weekly in one hand. But Jennifer hadn’t really cared too much about Grandma Huberman. It was different with Sosie.

“Give it back,” Jennifer signed. “Please.”

Sosie gave her the notebook. Then she took Jennifer’s hand in hers, gently bending Jen’s fingers to form the letters. “R U G-A-Y?”

Jen’s heart beat faster. She nodded. Then she bent Sosie’s fingers to form her own question. “R U?”

Sosie wasn’t sure how to answer. Since she could remember, she’d had crushes on both girls and guys. They were person-specific infatuations — Brian Levithan’s wicked sense of humor was every bit as sexy as Valerie Martinez’s sweet smile and amazing krunk routines. It seemed odd to Sosie that she had to make some hard-and-fast decision about such an arbitrary, individual thing as attraction, like having to declare an orientation major: I am straight with a minor in g*y.

With her hand waiting in Jennifer’s, she thought about this now. She liked Jennifer, liked her lack of pettiness, her tough-but-fair stance, her honesty. If Jennifer were a dance, she would be the Agnes de Mille dream sequence from Oklahoma! Strong. Romantic. Forthright. Graceful. No wasted movement. Sosie didn’t know if she was a lesbian; she was, however, a Jenniferian. And so she leaned forward and kissed her.