Beauty Queens

13,061
05.03.2019

To Jennifer, the kiss was like a silent communication full of meaning. It wasn’t the best kiss she had ever had. That honor belonged to LaKisha Damian on a Friday night in September behind the bleachers while the South Side Panthers marching band played “Baby, One More Time” and LaKisha wiggled her hand into Jennifer’s jeans without ever losing her lip-lock. Sosie’s kiss was tentative but warm. A question more than a declaration. Jennifer kissed her back with more assurance. The third time they banged mouths.

“Ow!” Jennifer said, rubbing her lips. She tried again, and this time, they fit. Sosie’s mouth was warm, her tongue skittish. Jennifer made small circles around it with her own, drawing Sosie more into her mouth. She pulled back, cradling Sosie’s face in her hands, kissing her intently, hungrily. Shifting onto her back, she drew Sosie on top of her, letting her hands rest on the muscular curves at the back of her thighs, letting one hand wander to the small of Sosie’s back, pressing gently there.

To Sosie, Jennifer’s body was a surprise — the curves where she had expected straight planes, the pliability of a breast in her hand, the silky skin of her arms. She had made out with only two boys and had shared a quick, truth-or-dare kiss with a girl named Eve at a seventh grade dance party. This was very different, and her mind could scarcely keep up with all the new sensations. Was she a good kisser? Was she lame? With renewed vigor, she suckled Jen’s neck, wanting to brand her with a love bruise, then felt suddenly shy about it and stopped.

“Need some air,” she managed, before staggering out.

Sosie left the hut so abruptly that Jennifer was afraid she had done something wrong. She followed her and found Sosie stretched out on her back in the sand, watching the clouds and stars perform their own choreography. Awkwardly, Jen lay beside her, her left shoulder just grazing Sosie’s right. She didn’t know how far she should take things. Should she kiss her again? If she were her alter ego, the Flint Avenger, she’d sweep Sosie up into the sky and they would fly over the island, defying gravity with their kisses, building an exquisitely intolerable friction with the press of their bodies.

Jen finally found the courage to sign, “Okay?”

Sosie nodded, smiling. She snuggled closer and threaded her fingers through Jen’s, holding fast. There was more truth and hope in that one gesture than in all the things that had come before. These were the moments that kept you going, Jennifer thought. When you looked up to the sky and cried “Why?” sometimes the sky shrugged. Yet other times it answered with the warm assurance of linked hands. “Sorry,” it whispered on the wind. “Sorry for all the pain and loneliness and disappointment. But there is this, too.”

It was enough.

The girls had lost track of how long they had been on the island. During the daylight hours, they dove into the surf with abandon, emerging tanned and sure-footed, as if they were selkies who had let their timidity float out on the tide like a false skin. Only Taylor remained vigilant in her pageant work, getting up every morning, rain or shine, to go through the paces of her routine, from first entrance to talent to final interview.

“When we get rescued, I guess I’m the only one who’ll be in fighting form,” she’d say while circle-turning and practicing a stiff wave.

“I’ve been thinking about that book about the boys who crash on the island,” Mary Lou said to Adina one afternoon as they rested on their elbows taking bites from the same papaya.

“Lord of the Flies. What about it?”

“You know how you said it wasn’t a true measure of humanity because there were no girls and you wondered how it would be different if there had been girls?”

“Yeah?”

Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.”

Adina gazed out at the expanse of unknowable ocean. “Maybe.”

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.

They were becoming.

They were.

A WORD FROM YOUR SPONSOR

The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages. Of course, it’s not all right for girls to behave this way. Sexuality is not meant to be this way — an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before. No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion.