Beauty Queens


“It’s what we’re going to do instead of pageants,” Tiara explained.

“Ugh.” Adina pushed aside the bottle of rum. “No more rum. I’m sorry. We have to break up, rum. But we’ll still be friends.” Adina stifled a burp and made a face. “Or not.”

Duff stood and offered his hand. “Want to go for a walk on the beach? Fresh air would probably sober you up some.”

“I take umbrage at that, sir! I am not drunk.”43 Adina took a step and stumbled over her feet.

Duff helped her up. “I admire a girl who can use umbrage even when she’s not-drunk drunk.”

“Well, a little tipsy, maybe.”

Duff squeezed his thumb and forefinger together. “Maybe a little.”

“Walkies,” Adina said decisively.

Duff lit a torch and they walked along the curve of beach for some time, back and forth, until Adina’s head was not so rum-muddled. The tide sucked at the sand beneath their toes. The sea breeze was bracing. Stars glistened in the velvet dark beside a fat white moon.

“Hey! Did you see that?” She pointed in the direction of the volcano.

“What?” Duff said, following her finger.

“Over there, in the fog. I saw lights.”

For a split second, the fog pulsed with red light. “Yeah. That’s really weird. It’s like some kind of signal. Are you sure you’re the only people on this island?”

“We haven’t seen anybody else. But we haven’t explored all the way over there. It’s a long way.”

“Maybe it’s one of those towers that tries to make contact with deep space or track weather.”

“Except it’s not a tower. It’s a volcano. Volcanoes only do volcanoey things. And that” — she pointed to the distant point — “is not a volcanoey thing.”

“Yeah,” Duff said. “Weird.”

Adina gazed at Duff. His bare chest was an advertisement for living shirtless. Oh God. She was objectifying him. Reducing the sum of him to the hotness of his parts. She couldn’t help it.

He caught her staring and she looked away quickly.

“Can I ask you something? Why don’t you like me?” he asked.

“I-I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

Adina stooped to pick up a shell. “I don’t not like you.”

“Thank you,” Duff said with mock seriousness. “I can’t tell you how much that sentence has restored my ego.”

Adina laughed. She palmed the shell. “It’s just, all the girls were losing their shit over you guys, and I just …” She tossed the shell back into the ocean. “I’m immune to the romantic pirate trope. Nothing personal.”

“Right. Romantic hero. Got it. And I’m hiding a deep and tragic wound which I mask with arrogant wit and pained grimaces?”

“Absolutely. Comes standard.”

Duff picked up a shell, too, and rubbed the sand from it. “What if that weren’t a lie?”

“Right,” Adina said, saluting him. “Moon’s high. Stars are out. Your deep and tragic wound, take one.” She clapped her hands together. “Action.”

Duff tossed the shell into the sea. “Never mind. Let’s head back.” “Wait!” Adina grabbed at Duffs arm. “What did I say?”

“You think I’m an ass**le.”

“What? No! I — I’m sorry. I’m not great at this.”

Duff rocked back on his heels, his hands in his pockets. “You do make it hard for a guy to open up.”

“I’m sorry,” Adina said. “Deep and tragic wound, take two. For real. How did you end up on this ship of fools?”

Duff walked in the tide and Adina kept pace. “It was my sister’s idea, actually. She thought I should audition for season four. She kept bugging me about it.”

“Wow. Your sister really wanted the PlayStation to herself, huh?”

“No. She died of leukemia.”

Adina closed her eyes briefly in embarrassment. “Oh God. I am so sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. That was such a jerky thing to say and —”

He held her hand and she felt the warmth in her toes. “Adina, it’s okay. Really.”

She nodded. “I’m sorry about your sister.”

“Thanks,” Duff said. He picked up a conch and wiped the sand from it. “Anyway, I went a little crazy after that. Ditching school. Breaking and entering. Me and some blokes I knew stole a car and ended up in jail. I was headed for nowhere good when I saw the casting call notice for season four. The producers were looking for a bad boy. I was looking for a way out of Newcastle.” He shrugged. “There you go. Deep and tragic wound explained.”