Beauty Queens


Taylor gave her a sharp look that was not softened in the least by a new smile. “Anybody else want to run for leader?”

No one spoke.

“Okay. Well, looks like —”

“I do,” Adina said quickly.

“What are your leadership qualifications?” Taylor asked.

“I won awards for my work on the school newspaper. And I’m a member of the National Honor Society.”

“No offense,” Taylor said, “but this is a little different from running the school newspaper.”

Adina had gone to state twice with the Quarry Quarrelers debate team. Her argument in favor of having a contraception fund-raiser for the junior prom had been rock solid — her debate captain, Mr. El-Shabaz, had said so — and it wasn’t her fault that the administration was so sexist and backward-thinking. At times, Adina’s whole life felt like one giant push against a paint-stuck door. But there was no way she was going down to this overgrown Babez Doll6 with misplaced priorities. These birdbrained beauty freaks needed her. Squaring her shoulders as she’d been taught to do on those afternoons in the portable building where the debate team practiced, she faced her audience.

“Hello. I am Adina Greenberg, Miss New Hampshire, and I would like to be your team leader. Point A: We need to think realistically. It could be weeks before we’re rescued. I submit that our goal should not be the continuation of the pageant, but survival. We need to find food and potable water. Also, out here in the open we’re totally defenseless. I think we should find some kind of shelter; a cave or something.”

“I don’t want to do that! What if there’s, like, a creature living in the cave?” Tiara said. “Seriously, I saw this show once where these people were stranded on an island and there were these other people who were sort of crazy-slash-bad and there was this polar bear creature running around.”

“What happened?” Miss Ohio asked.

“I don’t know. My parents got divorced in the middle of season two and we lost our TiVo.”

“In conclusion,” Adina shouted, “I am great at organizing a team and making things happen. I am willing to make tough decisions even if it means people won’t like me. In short, I would make an excellent team leader. Thank you.”

The girls glanced around awkwardly. Mary Lou clapped; it was followed by halfhearted applause by the others. Taylor moved forward. She tossed her already tousled hair and beamed. “Judges ready? Hi, y’all. I am Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, Miss Texas.”

“In the history of the pageant, there’s never not been a Miss Texas in the Top Ten,” Petra whispered.

Adina rolled her eyes. “So? You do need a few more qualifications than that to be a leader.”

“Like what?” Tiara asked.

Taylor stood in a perfect three-quarters stance, arms hanging easily at her sides. “I have been class president three years in a row, homecoming queen, a National Merit Scholar, and a member of the National Honor Society, and I am a proud, card-carrying member of FAF — Femmes and Firearms. I can shoot a thirty-aught-six as well as a nine-millimeter and a Pink Lady paint gun. Last year, I took down my first buck, which I cleaned, filleted, and vacuum sealed, and with my taxidermy skills, I stuffed the head and used the antlers as a supercute jewelry tree, which I plan to market for the Armchair Shopping Network in the spring. That is American ingenuity. It’s what makes this country great, and if elected, I would be proud to serve. Thank you.”

For a moment, the roar of applause drowned out the rough surf. Adina’s stomach clenched. It was just like fifth grade all over again, when she lost hall monitor to Ryan Berry, who couldn’t even spell hall monitor but who did a rap routine about lining up in an orderly fashion for his in-class presentation and totally killed.

Taylor flashed Adina a wolfish smile. “All righty, then. Let’s put it to a vote! All y’all who want to elect Adina team leader, raise your hands.”

Three hands were held up: Mary Lou, Jennifer, and Miss Arkansas, who couldn’t lower her hand due to the bandaging.

“All y’all who want to vote for me, Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins of the Lone Star State, raise your hands.” A sea of fingers waved in the breeze. “Looks like I’m the winner. But you’re first runner-up, Adina. And you know what they say — if anything should happen, you’d assume the responsibility and the privilege. Now. When we get rescued and get to Paradise Cove, America’s gonna be wantin’ to see a pageant. And I do not intend to let them down. So. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be back to working on our dance numbers and our walking, talent, swimsuit, and evening gown presentations, just like nothing ever happened.”