No one wants to hear about it, but beauty queens are supposed to be smart.
"What the hell is this?" Delilah had demanded when Lana got a C in Earth Science and couldn't compete in Junior Miss. "Do you even want to be Rose Festival Queen?"
When Lana's mother got angry the veins in her neck looked like ropes connecting her head to the rest of her body.
"What do beauty queens even get anyway?" Lana asked.
"What do they get?" Delilah said. "They get to be the most beautiful women in the world!"
Lana pulled out her laptop and typed what happens to beauty queens? into Google.
Miss Texas 1992, Lulu McQueen, wore lettuce leaves for PETA to harass 4-H kids auctioning off cows.
Miss Teen America 2004, Stacey Ann Loeffeholtz overdosed on FatBGone and needed a machine to go to the bathroom.
Miss America 2007, Bethany Webber made porn.
The other beauty queens went to college and nobody cared.
The final notes of I Hope You Dance drift off stage. The contestant walking off, a girl crowned with ringlets, knocks against Lana as she passes.
At her last pageant, the girl's double-sided tape on her bikini top came unstuck and exposed a nipple like a brown button under the spotlight.
She was eliminated.
Lana's first talent routine, when she was 6, was a tap dance to Sinatra's New York, New York. She used to practice in the kitchen, listening to the clicks of the toes and heels.
These days she does the same routine to Beyonce's Single Ladies, adding wrist flicks and hip pops from the video.
She pivots away from the audience and contorts her face, curling her lips and flaring her nostrils. She faces the judges with a fresh smile.
When Lana didn't place at all in the Miss Crook County competition she thought her mother would be angry, but instead she took Lana to their spot at the edge of town. Delilah brought a blanket and spread it out on the sand. She dug Pall Mall Light 100's out of her purse.
"Look I'm disappointed in how bad you did today, but I want you to know why I pushed you to do this in the first place." Her mother only smoked when Lana's father wasn't around.
"I never could have been a beauty queen," Delilah said. "The only thing I was good at was waiting tables and still is."
"I appreciate everything you've done," Lana said, hoping this is what her mother needed to hear.
"God, even when girls I knew from high school came into the diner they wouldn't talk to me. No one forgets when you get caught fooling around with the prom queen's boyfriend. But now that you're on TV, they come up to me saying 'I saw your daughter on the local news the other day.'"
Delilah was on her third cigarette now, the other two smoking slightly in the sand.
Backstage, Olivia uses pieces of scotch tape to remove eyeshadow. With her fingertips she presses a strip into place and with a light whick sound rips it from her eyelid.
"Hi Lana," she says.
Lana nods and slides into a vanity beside her. Delilah presses cold spoons under her eyes.
"Did you hear girls are mixing cat litter with toothpaste? I thought that must be a pageant urban legend, but Dana says it's true."
"Sounds extreme to me," Lana says and rubs petroleum jelly on her teeth.
"I know, right?" Olivia says, pausing with a piece of tape hanging from her finger. "Why don't they just get their teeth bleached?"
The petroleum jelly makes Lana's lips peel back and expose her new white teeth that cost Delilah a car payment.
When Lana first saw Sam she was reading Gone with the Wind on the 5th grade playground. Over the top of the thick book, Lana noticed her freckles. She introduced herself and Sam told her about Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.
After Sam finished the book, they acted it out after school. Sam said Lana should be Scarlett because she was the beauty queen.
Lana thought Sam's freckles made her prettier.
Over and over again, Sam made her practice saying, "Oh, Rhett."
Softer, she'd say, you have to seem like you're in love with me.
Sam tipped Lana's head back and pressed her lips against hers. She tasted like lemon and mint, like the organic chapstick her mother bought her at Walgreen's.
Lana hadn't kissed anyone since.
Delilah said most girls stay away from pink because it's childish and tries too hard to be feminine.
Olivia's bathing suit is bright pink.
Olivia's mother spreads butt glue below her ass cheeks, sticking the bikini to it.
Delilah coats Lana's face, armpits, and thighs with cheap hairspray. She tucks silicon pads into the top of Lana's bathing suit and lines her chest and collar bones with bronzer.
Lana's skin shrinks until it's sticky and hard. Her cleavage shimmers.
Lana and Olivia are due backstage.
Lana watches Olivia do lunges while the contestant on stage makes her slow track to the posing points.
She counts out 5 for each leg and then switches. She carefully keeps her knee from knocking against the floor.
A woman in a headset motions for Olivia to go and for a minute Lana swears her thighs look tighter in the half-shadows. But under the spotlights she sees the hint of a jiggle, right where the pink bottoms cling to Olivia's ass.
A few years after Sam moved, Lana watched Gone with the Wind with her mother.
"You know, I never really understood this movie," Delilah said, pushing herself off the couch. "What's wrong Lana?"
Lana was crying.
Delilah sat back down and Lana wrapped her arms around her waist, burying her face in her chest. She sucked in Delilah's t-shirt with each wet breath.
Delilah rubbed her hands over Lana's back. She lifted her chin, rubbing her thumbs along the tear tracks. "There isn't always a happy ending. This is just the end of this story, it doesn't mean things won't change for Scarlett."
Shoving pageant magazines on the floor, Delilah let Lana cry with her head on her lap. They stayed there until both of their faces were in shadows. Until Lana's father came home and neither of them said anything. Until both of them fell asleep, Delilah curling herself around her daughter.
Lana thought about how Scarlett convinced herself she'd get another chance. That people like her always got second chances.
Olivia's dress for question and answer was the pink color of quinceanera dresses with a tulle skirt that shaped her like a bell.
Lana watched Olivia's face as she talked about the most significant event in American history, thinking of Bethany Webber.
In "Snake Charmer" a spray-tanned Bethany charmed the snake out of the pants of a guy in a turban. Lana closed the computer while she moaned, arching against gold silk sheets, but all Lana saw was the dead eyes staring back at her.
"Miss Lana Thompson," the interviewer says.
She walks towards the middle of the stage, stopping to sweep her eyes across the audience and smile for the judges.
"Lana, my question for you is what do you think it takes to be Miss Oregon?"
"Did you know my family used to be beekeepers?" Delilah asked Lana yesterday.
"Really? Did you wear those white suit things and mesh hats?" she asked.
"Sometimes," Delilah said, "but after a while the stings stop hurting."
"Did you ever see the queen bee?" Lana asked.
"No, she stays protected in the hive. I saw a virgin queen once though."
"What's that?" Lana asked.
"They take over when the queen dies."
"How does that work?"
"When they get out of their cells, the virgin queens try to kill each other. There can only be one queen."
Lana counts to 3 before she speaks.
She tries hard to look like she's thinking about her answer.
"Miss Oregon is aware of current events and motivated to make a difference in both her community and the world."
Delilah leans forward, crumpling her program in her hands.
"She inspires other young women, because because she gets scholarships "
Behind her mother, a girl in a puffy pink dress wears a sash that says Little Miss Oregon.
Off stage, Olivia's doing squats in her evening gown.
Bethany Webber said being a pageant queen helped her fake orgasms.
"I'm not the one," Lana says.
She looks at the giant scholarship check on a tripod behind the interviewer.
She looks at Delilah.
She unzips her dress and steps out.
The interviewer gestures at the camera guy to stop shooting, but his eyes are stuck on Lana.
She's wrapped underwear up in duct tape.
Olivia walks out on stage in only a plastic wrap corset. "My mom made me get veneers at 5," she says.
Behind her, Abstinence Girl cries. "I slept with Rob Finnegan."
A man in a gray suit flies from behind the judge's table and tackles the camera guy.
Miss Juliana McGuiness says Miss Anna Leighton's opera singing sounds like a goat, so Anna shoves her into a cardboard cut-out of former Miss Oregon.
Miss McKenna Hamilton admits she covered up her Girls Gone Wild wet t-shirt contest and shows off her GGW tramp stamp.
A poodle in a tiara fights Miss Shawna Hamilton for a bowl of ice cream she's gorging herself on mid-stage.
People upload pictures and video to Facebook with their iphones.
Delilah stares at Lana like she doesn't know where they are.
Little Miss Oregon runs naked through the crowd, whipping her sash behind her like a flag.
Olivia's mother yells at the camera guy to destroy the tape.
A girl holding the Miss Oregon crown knocks over the scholarship check and it slides to a stop at Lana's feet.
Lana realizes she's standing on the imaginary X for the queen and laughs with her mother.
Alexandra Ambrose works as an online English tutor and member of the Electric Glitter Gogos. She is currently obsessed with Arrested Development and compares everyone to the characters on the show. Her work has been published in SOU's student-run journal Severine.