Beauty Queens


“I’m sorry.”

“Hey, do you fancy a swim with me?”

“What, now?”

“Why not?”

“Because …” And she couldn’t really think of a reason not to.

“Last one in’s a rotten egg,” he said. He shucked off his pants and shirt, and Adina, who had taken a life drawing class, Adina, who prided herself on her body comfort, that Adina blushed very hard. There was a world of difference between a body in the abstract and a body you desired, and Adina desired Duff’s body very much.

“The water’s bloody lovely,” he called, shaking the water from his hair.

“It’ll be fine,” Adina said to herself. She stripped down and eased into the waves. He was right. It was bloody lovely.

It is said that the moon is very powerful. It influences tides and weather. It has been worshipped and deified. Perhaps it was the moon that loosened the bindings on the night and the secret wounds held so close. For hours, Adina and Duff allowed the waves — also under the sway of the moon — to carry them as they talked easily about life, school, music, family. The rum lost its effect on Adina, and something more intoxicating took over.

“It’s just that my mom had been married five times. Five times!” Adina said. “And every time, she says, ‘This is The One, Deen. This is the guy I’ve been waiting for. My real life starts now.’ Except it doesn’t.” She let a tiny wave ripple her up and back down. “It’s so painful to watch. I just don’t want to be like that, you know?”

“I know. My dad played the field. Once he and my mom split up, I lived with him. He was always ‘the man’ and I idolized him. Always out with these beautiful women. Always a bespoke suit and a twenty for the guy at the door — and believe me, he knew all the guys at the door. Real flash.” Duff swam long, slow circles around Adina. “But after a while, I realized he couldn’t do it.”

“Couldn’t do what?”

“Couldn’t stick with anything — jobs, people, cities. It was a flaw in his design. In the end, he couldn’t even stick with me.” Duff ducked under the water for a moment. He came back up only to chin level. “He took a job overseas, put me in boarding school. We talk now and then. ‘How are things?’ ‘Fine.’ ‘Good to hear, good to hear. Got a girl?’ ‘Got five.’ ‘There’s a good man.’ It’s like spending hours opening up a perfectly wrapped package only to find there’s no present inside. Nothing but empty space.”

The moon was in a mood. She shined her full light on the water, and it seemed to Adina that nothing had ever been so beautiful, so clear: the night-gray sand, the sound of her friends’ laughter coming from down the beach, the warm press of water against her naked body, and Duff, so near, so right. She liked him. She really, really liked him. He was gorgeous and funny with a sexy British accent and a killer smile and she didn’t care if it was like something out of a bad romance novel. How could she stop this undertow from pulling her out to sea? There had to be a flaw. A catch. There always was.

“Hey,” she said suddenly. “Do you like Feast for the Fishermen?”

Duff made a face. “The emo band? Sorry. Listening to them’s like being beaten with an eleven-year-old’s diary. I’d rather take out my own liver with a dull butter knife.”

And Adina knew she was in trouble.

Duff McAvoy’s lips were incredibly soft, and he smelled faintly of the earth and salt air.

“Is this okay?” he asked, nodding to indicate his room. The ship’s cabin was close and the bunk wasn’t the most comfortable, but it beat a pallet of palm fronds in the sand.


“Hold on.” He reached over her head and fiddled with something.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing. Alarm clock that goes off sometimes. Just turning it off.”

Adina could hear the waves as they gently rocked the boat. She had a brief recollection of a bumper sticker she’d seen once — If this van is a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’— and it made her giggle.

“What?” Duff asked.

“Nothing,” she said and circled his tongue with hers.

His hands were ship-calloused but warm against her br**sts beneath her shirt.

“Adina,” he moaned. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you have an absolutely bangin’ bod.”

“No offense taken,” she whispered, and kissed him again. He pressed his body against hers. They’d been dry-humping for a while, and Adina felt nearly bruised by it, but she also didn’t want to stop.