Jillian scrubs furiously at the oil stain on the once perfectly white dress.
She’d scoped the dumpster out back of the banquet hall when they’d driven in. She managed to convince her mom that she was okay getting ready by herself, all so she could jump in that dumpster for extra parts for her project car. She wasn’t sure what she needed to fix it, but she’d know it when she saw it. She’d found some good bits, but her pageant dress had also found something: a spot of oil on the lip of the dumpster as she was climbing out. A big spot. A good 6 by 6 inch spot. Right on her boobs. Rest in fucking pieces, floor-length white ballroom gown she hated.
She scrubs even harder, but public restroom soap is not known for its strength. She really should’ve just kept that oil-remover she made for the shop with her at all times.
She distantly hears her name being called.
Looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, she resigns to her fate…
Her mother is going to kill her.
“If I could have dinner with anyone, it would have to be God. Because what they say is true: God is great.”
Jillian pinches the bridge of her nose. She can hear the girls in front of her in the pageant from backstage. Amber is a nice girl, really sweet too, if she could just afford a better outfit, she might stand a chance. But she couldn’t, so she didn’t.
She hears the claps and the piano and another name being called.
“If I could have dinner with anyone, it would have to be my grandfather. I love you papa.”
She rolls her eyes at the tearful lilt in Corbin’s voice and the murmurings of the crowd. God, she couldn’t believe she’d made out with that girl freshman year. What a tool.
“And now, also from Bodeen: Miss Jillian Holtzmann.”
Well, here’s how she dies. She marches gracefully from behind the curtain and up to the stage as the polite applause start then stop with the fumbling of a piano. A glass falls and shatters. She hears a judge gasp. Perfect. Everyone sees the oil-stain on her dress.
She walks calmly up the podium and begins her bit in a small and polite voice, “If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be Marie Curie. Because not only was she a pioneer in physics and chemistry, but she was a great woman of history.”
There are polite applause as she looks out upon the masses. And then she sees amidst the pristine white hall, full of pristine white people at pristine white tables: her mother’s eyes, boring a hole into her soul.
It had been a nice life. Maybe she’ll come back as a ghost and haunt the beauty pageant circuit, trying to scare off girls to better places.
She meets her mother in the parking lot. She’s out of the dress and into a Zenith shirt and her paint-stained overalls. Ah, no more unwelcome crotch breezes, at long last.
Her little sister Shania is standing there, holding a junior division trophy bigger than herself, because of course she is. Her mom is holding her teeth together in a grimace. That’s so much worse. Jillian tries to breeze past them, but her mother’s not having it and flanks her as she almost sprints to the car.
“So enlighten me: what was the little stunt all about? You trying to sabotage your chances? Or was it just your biological urge to make your mother look like a jackass?” Her mother gets more Southern the angrier she gets. Jillian’s sure it’s charming to an outsider, it’s just aggravating to her.
“I’m sorry, I was just grabbing something outside and I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Oh and how’d that work out for you?”
“Not so great?” It comes out as a question rather than a statement, but her mother’s already flipped into happy pageant mom mode as she greets Corbin and her mother. A temporary reprieve. She gives Corbin a congratulations and a hug. Jillian gags a little.
“Thank you Mrs. Holtzmann, Jillian is usually so hard to beat,” Corbin says sweetly.
Corbin’s mother adds, “Well the Blue Bonnet Pageant is right around the corner.”
“Oh and we’ll be there, c’mon honey,” her mother says as she’s ushered to follow.
In the car, she starts back into it, “I’m sorry that these pageants don’t live up to your high moral standards. But there’s a lot you can learn from them no matter what you go onto be in life…”
Jillian tunes out the tired old speech as Corbin flashes her a smug look from the car beside them. Jillian tries to become one with the backseat of the station wagon.
She hears her sister say something about wanting to be Miss America. Jillian thinks she knows what hell would be like.
Her dad’s waiting for them when they get home. Earl Holtzmann gives a nod to the neighbours as he narrowly dodges on of their arrant footballs on his way to greet his girls. Her dad doesn’t say it, but she knows he’d rather have had two girls like their neighbour Ronny, rather than little miss pageant queen and whatever hot mess she’d become.
Arms outstretched and with a long drawn out “hey!” her sister leaps into their father’s arms.
“I won another one!” Shania proclaims proudly, handing over the trophy.
“Lord, child, you are unstoppable,” her dad turns to Jillian then, “And if I’d known what you were up to I’d have bought a ticket,” he says with a laugh. She grins back at him.
“Earl,” her mother scolds.
“I mean dangit girl what is got into you?” Earl attempts stern, but he still has a lilt of amusement in his voice.
She gives her best nonchalant teenage shrug, “Just defective, I guess.”
“Nice parenting, Earl,” her mother smacks his arm.
“C’mon now,” she hears her father smack something (she assumes her mom’s butt, because her parents were gross).
Jillian walks inside before she has to suffer more.
She’s laying on the hood of her project car in the autoshop when they come in. Corbin and company.
Kevin tells her about it, “Hey, there’s some people here about a thing. Can you handle it? I’m gonna head out to the rink.”
“What rink, Kev?” she asks, more as a half-hearted sigh than as actual words. It was their little game, because she always got the same answer.
“Ah, you’re funny, Jilly.”
And there it was.
She waves him off and slips off of the hood. Kevin was as big as he was dumb, blonde and Australian. He was attractive, if you were into that Norse god look. She knew nothing about him, except that he came and left as he pleased and that he had a dog named Mike Hat. How he’d ended up in Bodeen, Texas was a mystery that she had long given up on solving. She was normally very good at solving mysteries.
She’d started working at the autoshop after the mechanics had realized she was around a lot anyways, always asking for parts for a project of some kind. She’d always say it was for school, but, truth be told, none of the teachers at school cared about her projects. Except for when they exploded in her locker, that is.
“What do you guys need? Hey Corbi.” Jillian says as she shuffles up to her classmates, hands in her overall pockets and eyes downturned. She briefly flashes them up at Corbin.
“What are you, like, alternative now?” Corbin asks with a scoff.
“Alternative to what?”
Corbin’s boyfriend interjects to the thrilling banter, “My cars making a weird squealing noise. Kinda like Corbi.”
He grabs Corbin by the waist then and tickles her. Corbin plays along with an over-the-top squeal.
She couldn’t believe she had been friends with these people.
Her mom walks into her room as she’s tinkering with a device that will gradually cut a hole in someone’s tire (she had the opportunity, might as well use it).
“Since you’ve seemed… I was thinking maybe we could go to Austin and do some shopping.”
Jillian pops up from her work instantly. “Really?” She asks in a small excited voice.
The long car ride and eternally long mother-daughter garbage popular music singalong that was just for her mom and Shania were worth it. Two hours later she’s fallen in love with some army boots in an overcrowded “alternative shop” as her mom called it. Until she looks up at the look on her face, that is.
“You hate them.”
Her mother relents, “Well they don’t have duct tape on them, that’s an improvement.” She’s referring to the old sneakers Jillian refuses to throw out, that are now more duct tape than anything.
Jillian gleefully brings the boots up to the counter. Her mother hands over her credit card and gives her a little sideways hug.
“Ooh pretty vases,” her mother mistakenly comments at the well… at the bongs in the glass case under the counter, as they wait.
The cashier in the tight t-shirt and neck scarf behind the counter snickers, “They’re great for tulips, really.”
Brooke Holtzmann, anti-drug crusader, kicks in and before Jillian can react. Her mother grabs back her credit card and moves to walk out of the store. She says politely, “Um, thank you. Changed my mind.”
Jillian manages to catch her before she storms off. She tries to play it off, “Don’t be embarrassed it’s funny.”
“I’m supposed to buy you shoes from a headshop, does that really strike you as responsible parenting?”
Jillian rolls her eyes, “Because shoes are a gateway drug.”
Her mom phones her dad. Great. Peachy. Excellent.
“Hello Earl, Can you please explain to your daughter why it’s inappropriate to buy shoes from a head shop?” Her mom hands her the phone.
“Dad, it’s not like that!” She tries to explain.
“You took your mother to a head shop? Are you off your nut?” He guffaws from the other side of the phone. It sounds like he’s watching the game in the background, not working like he’s probably supposed to be doing. Good ol’ papa Holtzmann.
“Y’know, if she wasn’t here and I used my own money, it wouldn’t make a difference,” she tries not to sound like a petulant teenager, but it doesn’t come out as convincing.
“That’s not the point,” Her mom interjects.
“Look, I am in the middle of deal here, okay, so whatever y’all work out is fine by me.” Her mom’s ear is so close to the phone, she hears his reply and snatches the device up.
“Earl, you know how hard I worked to raise these girls in a drug-free environment…”
As her parents bicker over the phone, she takes matters into her own hands and pays for the shoes herself. As she hands over the money to the cashier, she sees them out of the corner of her eye. Three women, rolling into the store on skates in a flurry. They laugh as they hop over the threshold of the door and Jillian audibly gulps. One has long brown hair that flows behind her as she skates and a baseball tee with a ghost on it, the second is in a blue sundress and wide-brimmed glasses, has her hair tied up in a red handkerchief and her arms emblazoned with tattoos, and the third has her jet black hair braided with red and blue highlights and the biggest hoop earrings Jillian has ever seen.
They talk to the cashier about leaving some flyers, but Jillian doesn’t hear them because her eyes are taking up too much brain power. They leave in the same flurry they came and her heart is racing out the door with them.
She notices her mother and sister leaving and manages to grab one of their flyer as they leave. TXRD exhibition game. Friday night. $10. It has a woman in a Catholic school girl uniform on roller-skates with an expression of fury and determination.
She stares at it all the way home.
She’s got Friday night plans for once.