“Try using fresh coconut milk. It’s a crazy-awesome moisturizer.”
“Cool. Still trying to get used to that Valley accent, Bollywood. It’s, like, so Galleria!”
The two of them lay back and let the warmth of the water work on their tense muscles. They were relaxed from the water and giggly with their shared adventure. Talk came easily now.
“Can I ask you something, Nicole?’
“Sure. Wait — is this gonna be a sex talk? ’Cause I’m still a virgin.”
“Me, too. It’s not a sex conversation. So why are you doing Miss Teen Dream? No offense, but it doesn’t seem like you’re really into it.”
“I want the scholarship money for medical school.” Nicole usually stopped there. Everybody understood that answer. But she decided to be honest with Shanti. “But mostly, it’s to make my mom happy. She really wants me to be a star. I think she’s the one who wants to be a star.”
“So what if you stood up to her, told her how you feel?”
Nicole slowly bicycled her legs out in front of her. “You try standing up to my mom. She’s a force of nature.”
“Are you going to let her run your life forever?”
Nicole sank down, letting the water rise to her chin. She thought about one time, after a local pageant, her second, when she didn’t place. Afterward, she stood with her mother in the busy Doubletree Hotel hallway, girls posing and pirouetting all around, while her mother talked to the coach. “What can she do to improve her chances? What are the judges looking for?” her mother had asked. The coach had hemmed and hawed and looked uncomfortable. “Don’t be too ethnic,” she’d finally said. And Nicole felt her mother’s hand tighten on her shoulder for a second, saw the pull at her jaw. “Thank you,” her mother had said. They’d walked in silence to the car.
“So why did you sign up for Miss Teen Dream?” Nicole asked, changing the subject.
Shanti thought for a minute. She’d answered the question a million times for an audience. All those half truths and outright fabrications, giving people what they wanted without stopping to think about what she really wanted. “I think I was bored.”
Nicole burst out laughing. “Bored? What, was the mall closed?”
“Shut up!” Shanti laughed. “Okay, that’s not one hundred percent true, but sort of. I mean, I’d won everything else. It was the one thing I couldn’t seem to conquer. I just felt like … I don’t know.”
“You had something to prove?”
“I know that.”
Shanti bobbed up and down in the water, enjoying her buoyancy. “The thing is, I don’t really want it anymore. Not really.”
“What do you want?”
“Everything!” Shanti laughed.
Shanti rested her head against the bank and let her body float out in front of her. “Okay, secret want? Like, pinkie-swear-you-can’t-tell secret?”
Nicole rolled her eyes. “Who am I going to tell?”
“I kind of want to be a DJ.”
Nicole laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Everything in my life has always been about the goal, about being perfect and not letting the seams show. But, like, with DJing? It’s about finding that groove. It’s like you have to play around. It’s, like, process.”
“Like, that’s deep.”
“Shut up!” Shanti laughed. “If we were up onstage right now in front of the judges, you know what I would say when they asked me my life goals? I would say, ‘You know what? Let me get back to you. I’m still figuring it out.’ We should wash this stuff off now. I can barely move my lips.”
The girls splashed their faces with warm water, rubbing off all the clay. Nicole ran a finger over her cheeks.
“Wow. That really works. My skin is silky smooth34.”
“Yeah. I might have to make this part of my skincare line. Shanticeuticals. I could do a whole cosmetics line for ethnic skin. The packaging would be killer! Sort of a henna tattoo thing?” Shanti said.
Nicole laughed. “Good. You’re back. For a second there, I was starting to worry.”
“I still like to win,” Shanti said, grinning. “I’m not saying I’m not, like, totally Type A. I just need a B side, too.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Just promise me that Shanticeuticals will not have a bleaching cream.”