“What about this?” Miss New Mexico pointed to the tray lodged in her forehead.
Taylor looked to Tiara and Brittani, who shrugged in unison.
“We can’t take it out. Not without surgery. I know my head wounds,” Nicole confirmed. She smiled and gave a small wave. “Hi. Nicole Ade. Miss Colorado, the Centennial State.”
Miss New Mexico broke into a full-blown wail. The girls tried to comfort her, to no avail.
“You know what would be cute on you?” Petra said with new authority. “Bangs. So 1960s chic. You’d hardly notice the, um, the … addition.”
“Love bangs!” Mary Lou said.
“Miss Florida was the only one who had bangs and she’s de — um, she’s no longer participating in the pageant system. So you’d really stand out.”
Miss New Mexico stared, dumbfounded. “Stand out? Stand out! I have a freaking tray stuck in my forehead!” She broke into fresh sobs.
Taylor clapped for attention. “Miss New Mexico, let’s not get all down in the bummer basement where the creepy things live. There are people in heathen China who don’t even have airline trays. We have a lot to be grateful for.”
“And a few things to worry about. Look at those clouds.” Nicole nodded toward the darkening sky. “Tropical climate. Trade winds. This place probably has a monsoon season. We should scout out some higher ground just in case of flash floods.”
Taylor beamed. “Excellent advice, Miss Colorado. Y’all hear that? That’s real Miss Teen Dream–thinking.”
“Meteorology was another one of my extracurriculars,” Nicole said.
“Awesome,” Shanti murmured.
“What were your well-roundeds?” Nicole asked, using the pageant terminology for the skills that gave a Miss Teen Dream an edge.
“Oh, nothing much,” Shanti said with practiced humility. “Opera. Botany. Chemistry. Fencing. Cello. Synchronized Tae Kwon Do. Indian dance. And, of course, I can make popadam as my mother and grandmother taught me. Family tradition is important, and my family is lucky enough to celebrate both our Indian heritage and the customs of this great country.”
She smiled right at Nicole, who immediately chewed on her pinkie nail.
“My family traditions are alcoholism and dysfunction,” Jennifer said. “Oh, and anything you can make from government cheese.”
Taylor clapped again for attention. “All right, ladies. This is your new team leader talking. Right now, we are not competitors. We are all one team. Let’s find a place to camp and look for firewood. Tonight, we’ll keep watch in shifts. When we’re rescued, The Corporation will be so proud of us, they’ll probably give us a summer variety show. ‘In the pageant of life, a girl picks up fallen sequins and turns them into a brand-new dress of awesome.’ Ladybird Hope’s How to Be Perfect in Every Way, page forty-two. Let’s build us a fire, Teen Dreamers!”
5The Shills, The Corporation’s wildly popular program about product placement and the teens who love it. Currently, it ranks #3 among the coveted 13–18 demographic, just behind What Would You Do to Be Famous? and My Drama So Tops Your Drama!
6Babez Dolls, the most popular toy for girls ages 4-10. Known for their oversize heads and fabulous accessories, including the Babez Peacock-Feather Sports Bra and the Babez Rockin’ Doc Cubic Zirconia Stethoscope/Microphone and Peel-away Lab Coat. Total sales annually: one billion.
“Gee, that went well,” Adina snarked to Mary Lou as they searched for anything remotely flammable.
Adina stopped. “What’s that mmm mean?”
“Nothing,” Mary Lou said quickly. “I mean, I don’t want to make you feel bad or anything.”
“Mary Lou, I’ve just survived a plane crash, and now I’m stuck on a hostile island with no food and no way off. Trust me, you’re not going to make me feel any worse.”
“It was talking about how good you are at your school newspaper that turned everybody off.”
“What do you mean?”
Mary Lou picked up a dried frond and added it to the meager pile in her arms. “I don’t know, maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, but where I’m from, you’re not supposed to brag about yourself. That’s what my mom says. She says you should wait for people to recognize your good qualities. And then you should say, like, ‘Oh, no. I’m not really that great at whatever-it-is. I’m just okay.’ And then they’ll say, ‘No, really. You’re great.’ And you say, ‘I’m really not, but thanks anyway for saying so.’ And they’ll say, ‘Yes, you are. You so are!’ And you say, ‘Gee, do you really think so?’ And they’ll say, ‘Totally!’ And then people think you’re good at whatever it is you’re good at, but they don’t think you’re braggy about it ’cause that makes you seem like a real tool. Plus, it’s unladylike.”