Riley and Ruthie stand over me at the edge of my bed as I lay in a pile of used tissues and empty cookie boxes.
“Why would you dump Doug?” Ruthie asks. “He’s one of the only good looking guys our age in this entire town.”
“You wouldn’t understand,” I say, rubbing my temples with my fingers.
“Did you… eat all of those cookies?” Riley asks staring at the evidence all over my bed with her forehead scrunched up in disgust.
“Yeah I did!” I snap, “And what of it? I damn near starved myself in prepartion for the stupid pageant and I didn’t win.”
“In all fairness,” Ruthie says, moving the empty cookie boxes aside, “The scores were excruciatingly close.”
“And Trixie isn’t even all that,” Riley adds. “She’s so beyond basic.”
“Shut the hell up,” I respond, cringing. “You guys don’t have to lie to me. Don’t sugarcoat the truth to coddle me. I know Trixie is better than me. I know she’s prettier than I am. Otherwise, I would have won.”
The twins look at each other and then back at me. They are fully unsure of how to respond to that.
“It’s not that she’s prettier than you,” Riley finally says, “She just scored higher. It came down to mathematics.”
I stare at her blankly as if she is the biggest idiot to ever walk the earth. But I don’t say that to her. Instead I say what I need to say to get them out of my house.
“I’m sorry for taking my anger out on you guys,” I mumble. “You guys are the best. Seriously. I just don’t feel like I’m my best self right now so... maybe I should just be alone.”
“Okay,” Riley says, gently patting my leg. “Text us when you’re ready to be normal again.”
“Yeah,” Ruthie chimes in. “We miss what you were like before this stupid pageant failure happened.”
They finally leave. I wish my dad was home but he’s already back to his busy schedule at work.
I spend the following few days in a haze. Confused about everything. Pondering the meaning of life. Feeling ugly-- no, not just ugly. Hideous. And feeling rejected.
Is this what other girls usually feel like when they’re around me?
The seventh day of laying in bed watching reruns and eating junk food comes along and I realize I’m completely out of snacks.
I lean up in bed to pull my boots on and then stand up to wrap up in my coat. I’m actually going to leave my house. I’m actually going to go to the store. I’m actually going to have to finally interact with people.
For those out there who don't understand how devastating it feels to be a two-time winner who is unable to pull in her third consecutive win, it feels like literal torture. It hurts in ways that are too painful to describe. It goes beyond a bruised ego and trust me-- my ego has indeed been beaten to a lifeless pulp.
I head to the Hartford City convenient store and start filling my cart with everything that looks even sort of appealing.
Gummy bears, chips, cans of soda in multiple flavors, blueberry muffins, chocolate bars… I continue dropping everything into my cart until I reach the end of the first aisle and freeze in my tracks. This can’t be happening.
There she is standing there. Trixie Townsend. The bombshell who stole my crown. She’s talking with two elementary school-aged girls.
“Can we take a selfie with you?” one of the little girls squeals.
“Of course!” Trixie responds, bending over to match their height levels.
I slowly and quietly try to retreat backwards so I can disappear out through the exit but she looks up and sees me before I get the chance.
“Hold on, girls,” she says. She then skips over to me with a smile on her face. That same nonchalant smile as before, filled with something so cold, calculated, and deliberate. Maybe I’m exaggerating. I don’t know. I see something evil inside of this perfectly designed bombshell.
“Hey,” she says to me, reaching her hand out. “We saw each other backstage but we never actually formally introduced ourselves to each other during the pageant. I’m Trixie.”
“Hey,” I respond. “I’m Nora.”
“Such a random fluke that I won the pageant,” she says shrugging. “I moved here from Texas and I used to be part of the pageant circuit back home when I was much younger.”
“What brings you to Indiana?”
“My dad’s job transferred him here and at first I was really bummed about everything... but now that I’m here, and now that I participated in that pageant and actually won I’m starting to feel right at home.”
“Yeah. Congratulations on your win by the way.”
“Thank you! I heard you were the reigning queen for the past two years so you clearly know all about the ins and outs yourself.”
“I certainly do.”
“This town really is adorable,” she says, pointing over at the two little girls who are clearly in her fan club.
I couldn’t disagree with her more. I hate my town and want to move out of it more than anything. There is nothing adorable about being stuck in a boring town with nothing to look forward to.
“I’m going to buy this stuff and head out,” I tell her.
She glances down at my cart filled with junk food and raises her eyebrows. “Alright, well it was nice to meet you Nora.”
It actually wasn’t nice to meet her at all. In fact, it was cringe-worthy and detestable. I regret coming to this store in the first place because if I hadn’t come, I wouldn’t have had to deal with such a godawful interaction.
There is no way that I will be able to go the rest of my life without constantly comparing myself to this girl. I’m never going to forget what happened. I’m never going to forget the fact that what was supposed to be my third consecutive win in a row ended up being an embarrassing failure on my part. I’m never going to be able to block out the fact that Trixie is in fact way prettier than I am and there is nothing I will ever be able do about that. I won’t be able to forget about the fact that the little girls in my town are now asking her for selfies and not even acknowledging my existence. I won’t be able to forget the look of disappointment on my father’s face the moment he and everyone else found out that I was a loser.
I head over to the counter and see Tony Paulson working the register. I grew up with him and had him in almost all my classes starting back in first grade. He was at the pageant in the audience. He was one of the people who actually stood up to cheer for me.
“Hey, Tony,” I say as he starts ringing up my items.
“Hey, Nora. How are you?”
“Not the best… but ya know. I’ll survive.”
He leans and whispers, “You should have been the one to win.”
I look over my shoulder and see Trixie giggling with the little girls as they take selfies together on the other side of the store.
“She had it in the bag I suppose,” I whisper back.
“It really should have been you,” he insists.
“You don’t have to lie to try and cheer me up. Just like all is fair in love and war, all is fair in the pageant circuit too.”
“Well, I’m not lying. I’m being honest. I’ve never seen anyone paint something so beautiful the way you did in such a short amount of time. Pure talent.”
“I paint and draw a lot. Just for fun. I’ve got albums and albums of fashion designs that I picture Katy Perry and Rihanna wearing on red carpets someday.”
"You do?" he asks.
I laugh at myself. “Yeah. I can’t believe I just said that out loud.”
"What's funny about that?"
"Pipe dreams always sound funny when you finally say them out loud."
“Well… I’d love to see,” he responds, handing me my bags of junk food.
“Um... Okay. Yeah, sure. I guess I could show them to you.”
“Can I come by after I get off work?”
“Yeah. Why not?”
I take my bags and leave the store without taking another glance back in Trixie’s direction.
I wonder if there is more to her story or if she’s just some extraordinarily pretty girl who’s lived some extraordinarily charmed life. Are there layers to peel back when it comes to who she is as a person? Has she been through things that have helped her build character in any way? Or is she just floating through life with her head in the clouds while everything is automatically handed to her on a silver platter based on her perfect face?
Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge her when I don’t necessarily know very much about her at all. At first glance, people might think that I’m a pretty girl who’s lived a charmed life. They would have no inclination that I lost my mother at a young age and that my relationship with my father is close to non-existent because he buries himself in his work to distract himself from his loneliness.
Regardless, I’m going to entirely do my best to stop thinking about her. I’m going to do my best to forget about what happened at the pageant. I’m going to do my best to forget about the interaction I shared with her at the convenient store. I just want to forget everything and move on with my life.