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“Beauty pageants are overrated, frivolous, and a total waste of time and money." Sophia Montano's careless, cynical remark earns her teacher/former beauty queen's ire and becomes the catalyst which sparked a new, unique concept of beauty contest in their school. Of course, Sophia herself becomes a contestant. She has to, otherwise, she will not graduate in high school. The school pageant requires the anti-social, introvert senior to work side by side with Mike Roman, the most popular guy in school, along with several students, in a community service project involving cancer-stricken children. Slowly and unexpectedly, she rediscovers herself and learns some valuable lessons on family, friendship, life, and love. But Sophia has a well-kept, terrible secret which is in danger of being exposed to the whole school by the one person who knew about it---unless she backs out of the pageant. Torn between the need to save herself and the welfare of the children she has grown fond of, she has to make a stand. Will she be brave enough to right the wrong she committed at the risk of losing the crown, and worse, the boy she likes?

Other / Romance
Mayumi Cruz
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Ever had at least one single day when you can’t do anything right? You know, when bloopers became your shadow which followed you everywhere, when you botched everything, antagonized everyone, and every step you made produced blunder upon blunder?

Me, I didn’t just have one. I had a series of blunders. Yep, organized, reserved ol’ me, a Reliable Realist, according to my Myers-Briggs personality profile. In case you didn’t know, it’s a simpler word for ISTJ, or Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging personality. ISTJ people were known for being precise and reserved. Imagine a formidable-looking robot clumsily tripping over again and again, and you’ll get the idea.

But guess what? Those series of goofs and dumb moves I made resulted in my ultimate benefit. Those bloopers turned out to be a step-by-step means for me to become better. More importantly, they paved the way to clean up the biggest mess I’ve ever done in my entire life. How about that?

That’s how life is. Sometimes it’s a mess before everything falls into order. Sometimes it’s a mish-mash before it becomes a neat file. Life is a lot like a Rubik’s Cube. In the beginning, the thirty-six colors jumbled together looked like a disorderly shamble of intertwining squares which we have to solve by aligning not just one, but all sides. It can only be solved by turning, spinning, and shifting it in a million different ways, messing it up over and over again, before all the colors lined up perfectly. Of course, putting in time and not a little effort are required. In the end, when the greens, the blues, the yellows, the reds and the oranges have finally fallen to their proper places, you marvel at the beautiful creation and realize all your efforts were all worth it.

I didn’t imagine I’d see the day when I’ll say, I couldn’t be happier that I made all those bloopers. Yep, couldn’t be happier, indeed.

It all started on a Friday afternoon, on the month of July, two days before the beginning of my senior year in high school. From the comfort of my home, I was summoned by His Royal Highness, the Principal, Mr. James Jackson, to come to his office, ASAP. Grudgingly, I put down my Kindle, gathered my hair into a loose bun, put on whatever clothes that greeted me first from my closet, and took off. I didn’t even bother putting on a lipgloss or glancing at my face at the mirror.

It turned out there was a mix-up in the books issued to me. My strand was ABM, or Accountancy, Business and Management, but I was given the books meant for the STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics strand.

Balding Principal Jackson was very apologetic, his thumb and forefinger constantly adjusting his glasses which kept sliding down his nose. He blamed the newly hired staff for the confusion and expressed his apprehension on the many “new things, new people” that the School Board installed this year.

After enduring Principal Jackson’s almost endless litany and snatching the right set of books, I hurriedly walked out of there for a salon appointment due in fifteen minutes.

Forcibly pulling open the main doors, I slammed head-on with a solid wall—a sweaty, damp, hard wall.

Holy macaroni. Fleetingly, I glimpsed said wall has a muscular chest, broad shoulders and athletic arms. The unexpected force of the collision was too strong that my weight, all one hundred thirty-three pounds of it, made said wall fall backwards. But not before said wall grasped my arms, taking me down with it.

We went down hard. My round, Harry Potter eyeglasses flung off, my messy bun bounced wildly, and the wind was knocked out of my lungs as we both toppled over, legs flailing. Said wall’s butt hit the floor with a resounding thump, followed with an irate voice:

“Aww! What the hell?!”

Holy macaroni. Said wall spoke! I slowly opened my squeezed-shut glass-less eyes and found myself staring down just inches away at a pair of equally stunned, but definitely more chocolatey brown eyes fringed with amazingly thick, black lashes under naturally perfect groomed brows.

Horror of all horrors, said wall was Mike Roman. The Mike Roman.

Oh, shush. He’s a nobody, really. Just Mr. Popular, MVP in basketball, Mr. Smart, and Mr. Gorgeous rolled into one. And my ultimate crush since forever.

So, there I was, committing the first of many blunders I didn’t know will unfold in the succeeding days.

I never considered myself pretty but I was sure, at that moment, I looked my worst. To describe myself as a dishevelled wreck was being kind. Loose tendrils of my waist-long, frizzy hair framed my face, myopic eyes bulged at him, tint-less, cracked mouth horrendously gaped, and my heavy, voluptuous body pinned down his lean, muscled, six-footer frame. Mortified, I darted my eyes up and down, taking in the rest of him. Dressed in black jogger pants and plain white shirt, he obviously came from the gym. But he still looked like he’s modelling for a cover in a teen magazine while I was wearing an old, faded denim dress which had seen better days and dirty flip-flops. How unfair can life get?

“Hey, Sophia,” he whispered, his brows suddenly unfurled, recognizing me.

“H-hey, Mike,” I whispered back, stuttering. “S-sorry for this.”

He didn’t reply. He was looking at me lengthily, in a strange way. At first, I wasn’t able to put a finger to it. Then I got it. He was studying me. Like I had an octopus plastered on my face. It was making me feel uneasy. Especially when I noticed how close our faces were to each other I can smell his minty breath. Add to that the fact that my hands were splayed across his rigid pectoralis major (pecs, in short). Biting my lower lip to hide my rattling nerves, I struggled to get up, wriggling my body.

“Uh…,” he sucked in his breath, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Puzzled, I saw he was looking at me sheepishly. Then, he cast his eyes down between us. I followed his gaze. That was when I realized our lower bodies were perfectly molded together, and that a certain part of him—down there—was beginning to burn.

My gasp sounded like a rat’s shriek. “Oh my…!” I scrambled to get off of him, but in my haste, overwrought with tension and everything in between, I couldn’t. Instead, I ended up squirming violently atop him. Cursing under his breath, Mike’s arms grasped mine tightly, willing me to be still.

“Stop. Sophia. Let. me,” he said in a strained voice, punctuating each word. I froze, mainly because his tone was close to pleading, like he was in so much pain. Effortlessly, he pushed my body upward, away from him. My hands automatically propped themselves up on his chest as my feet found the floor, enabling me to get off of him. Shakily, I got to my feet and picked up my glasses, which mercifully didn’t break, my hands nervously straightening up my dress.

Avoiding his eyes, I muttered, “Uh. S-sorry, Mike. R-really sorry for that,” and fled. Vaguely, I heard him call my name but I didn’t turn back. I was already scampering away from him like Tweety Bird running from Sylvester the Cat.

You guessed it. Blooper Number One. And what a Major, Major blooper it was!

Walking hurriedly out of there, I tried my best to get Mike out of my mind. As if he’s not already there, ever since I crushed on him way back in kindergarten. I mean, who wouldn’t? It wasn’t only his perfect looks, smart brain and great basketball skills. He had this certain genuine charisma that made him popular. In our small community where almost everybody knew everyone, you cannot ignore someone like him. But me, I successfully did. I stayed out of Mike Roman’s way over the years. Well, aside from that one brief moment in fifth grade, when we were partnered for two hours in a field trip to Subic, Zambales and we were required to hold hands as we walked in line.

This recent super duper awkward encounter though, was one for the books! I covered my face with my hands in shame as I walked, thereby bumping into a lamp post. Ouch!

The pain from that stupid bump didn’t lessen the chagrin I was nursing, though. Or prevented me from wondering about his, um, burning thing. How on earth can someone as ordinary as me affect him like that? Or was it a boy thing? You know, the saying, boys will be boys? Of course, that’s it! I bet if the lamp post I just collided with was wearing a skirt, his lower part will still spring to attention.

My face flushed hot at the memory. That was a first for me; I’m sure it wasn’t for him. I haven’t had an encounter like that. For one thing, I’m a NDSB. That’s No Date Since Birth, in case you didn’t know.

But Mike? If I was to believe all the rumors circulating about him, he had dated lots of girls in school since tenth grade, among them Vanessa Ledesma (uh, will get to that later). Although no one lasted more than two weeks, being Mike’s girl has its advantages, among them, instant popularity. It was like being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. I heard the new addition to the list was pretty, petite Ingrid Abrera.

Something was odd, though, about Mike back there. He was staring at me in a peculiar way. Like it was the first time he’d laid eyes on me. And what was more curious was, it was a look laden with fascination, like a scientist unlocking a secret formula. Did I make sense? I didn’t think so, either. Okay. Better stick with the lamp post theory.

Forcing myself to forget what happened and focus on the present, I arrived in time for my salon appointment. I scheduled myself for a trim like I always do before every new term. That’s right. I only reward my hair the luxury of scissors once in a year. And why not? I love my hair. Others may see it as a heavy mess, textured and frizzy, but excuse me—this is my hair. I love to let my black, thick, full-banged, waist-long tresses cover my face in addition to my glasses. Doing so made me invisible to everyone. It’s my own Cloak of Invisibility. And that was just fine with me.

Being a once-in-a-year salon customer had its downside, though. Surprise! My favorite hairstyler had quit. I was given a new hire whose name was Athena, a middle-aged, full-figured woman, with skin obviously Botoxified, hair bleached blonde, unusually pouty lips, and bodycon dress clinging to her huge body. She also managed to make me feel small and insignificant when she rolled her false-lashes-laden eyes on first sight of me.

Everything happened so fast it was like a dream (more a nightmare). I was hauled unceremoniously into a chair, my feeble, gibberish attempts to explain what I wanted done with my hair pointedly ignored, was roughly ordered to close my eyes, and voila! After twenty minutes or so of Athena’s snipping, pulling, cutting and swearing, I opened my eyes—and saw the ugliest haircut of them all in the mirror.

My mouth dropped to the floor, joining the massive pool of black mane that came from my head. My face looked back at me in horror. My face! Remember, the upper part of my anatomy that I wanted invisible? It was made blatantly visible, exposed by the pixie cut Athena did to me.

I felt like shrieking colorful expletives at her and wailing loudly, especially when she backed away from me, inspecting her creation (or devastation), smiling like a Cheshire cat. Shooting murderous glares her way didn’t dampen her high spirits.

I wanted to collect my hair from the floor and take it home with me. Maybe glue them back on? All those hair! I’ve never been without them ever since kindergarten. Dr. Nefario’s words echoed in my brain: I miss you already.

The thought of suing Athena also crossed my mind, flashes of courtroom scenarios involving me and her popping in my head. After all, my mom wasa lawyer. Maybe there’s a law against hair violation? Or hair butchery?

Of course, I did none of those. How could I? I was just a seventeen year old girl who made the mistake of coming into a jampacked, hectic salon one cloudy but humid July afternoon and allowed an evil, experimenting hairdresser cut my hair. Blooper Number Two.

So I just got off the chair, paid the cashier, leaving no tip for Athena (served her right), and stomped out of there. You know what was more irritating? Her lilting voice followed me as I walked out, saying, “You’ll thank me someday, sweetie! You have a lovely heart-shaped face, it’s a sin to hide it!”

Heart-shaped face? Yeah, right. It’s her heartI wanted to tear out from her estrogen-injected breasts. Dang you, Athena!

Forgive me for that bad thought. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting this! I just wanted my hair to be trimmed and not cut off. Maybe you’d understand if you knew about my personality type. I love consistency. I hate changes.

Ergo, I hate Athena for changing my hair.

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