Last Place: Part One
The Beauty Contest Registration Office stood tall and proud in the mid-morning sunlight. The distant rays of sun shone a faint glow about it as it loomed over the sidewalk, casting shadows on those who passed it as they went about their business.
Presently, a pink Eyrie and a faerie Uni trotted out from the building’s swinging glass doors. In their hands they held registration papers and slips with numbers printed on them – #28 and #29. They took two steps when suddenly a piece of paper was thrust into their faces.
“Flier?” a slightly nasal voice queried from behind the printout.
“What’s this?” The Eyrie raised her eyebrow and took the paper, revealing a blue Kau girl with long, parted brown hair and huge, round framed glasses. She was plain-looking, to put it kindly, and was wearing a light blue sweater-vest over a white shirt and khaki pants. In the crook of her arm were at least a hundred more fliers, neatly printed on white stock.
“A flier,” the Kau repeated, nodding as though she were speaking to a small child. “Excuse me, but do you know what Beauty Contests are doing to the self-esteem of Neopia’s youth? Well,” she continued, without waiting for an answer, “recent studies show that at least 27% of Neopia Central’s citizens have felt or expressed concern over the establishment of a Beauty Contest, and 10% more would describe it as an ‘outdated practice’. Furthermore, 19% of all Beauty Contest contestants have felt, on one or more occasions, personally discriminated against by the Contest’s rules or judging practices based on their species, paint color, or personal appearance...”
The two girls stared blankly at the rambling Kau, who seemed all but ready to pull out a pie chart and begin a probability and statistics seminar. The Uni glanced down at the flier, the heading of which read ‘BEAUTY CONTESTS – HARMLESS FUN? OR SPAWN OF DARIGAN?’. She furrowed her brow and nudged her friend in the side. They scurried off while their engager was looking about in her messenger bag for a facts sheet.
“Hey!” yelled the Kau, seeing that her prey had escaped. “I wasn’t finished with you!” She shook her head, readjusted her glasses, and regrouped— turning on her heel, she tried to interest the next pair of girls walking by. “Say, would you girls like to take a brief survey...?”
Cherie sat at her vanity admiring herself. She was looking gorgeous this morning— well, she looked gorgeous every morning, but this morning in particular. Her long, wavy blonde hair was perfectly coiffed. Her eyes shone with a pert vitality. Her fur was sleek and glossy; she finished brushing it and sat up from her chair. Grabbing her purse from its place on her bedpost, she fixed herself one last time and headed out the door.
It was a beautiful morning out. Cherie smiled, strolling casually on her way to work. She had a day job as a specialist at the Beauty Parlor— it wasn’t much, but it paid the bills, and in any case she enjoyed it. She hummed a tune under her breath as she crossed the street, giving a pleasant nod to the pets she passed on the way.
Presently, she stopped humming. Her ears pricked up and she listened— she could hear the faint sound of someone talking. The fact that she thought she recognized the voice gave her pause. But just whose voice was it?...
“...Oh, no...” A look of realization suddenly washed over the Faerie Kau’s face. Oh yes, she knew exactly whose voice it was. With a hugely exaggerated groan, she began bee-lining her way down the street, hoping it wasn't too late to do some damage control.
Her sister was haranguing a small group of teenage girls as she approached.
“...Beauty Contest contestants have felt, on one or more occasions, personally discrimin—”
Cherie clapped a hand over the blue Kau’s mouth, laughing embarrassedly. “Oh— hi, girls. Don’t mind my sister here, she’s just... er, she’s quite the actress. Likes to practice publically for her upcoming parts. She’s auditioning for the role of stuck-up activist lady for a play at a local theater... you ought to come see it... but, ah, we were just leaving... sorry to take up your time!” She shooed her sister away, her hand still firmly planted across her snout.
When they were far enough away, she released her, a look of extreme annoyance flashing across her face. Her sister coughed, wiped her mouth, and lolled her tongue out with defiance.
“Stuck-up?” She raised her eyebrow. “Who’re you calling stuck-up?”
“Oh, come on, Cora,” Cherie huffed. “You know how I feel about you soliciting for your weird causes on my work block.”
Cora’s eyes widened considerably; she waved her hands about, shaking her head. “It’s not YOUR block, Cherie!” she cried. “It’s the city’s block, and the Neopian constitution states that I can practice free speech wherever and whenever I want as long as I’m speaking the truth. And I AM speaking the truth, as this fact sheet clearly proves—”
“Save it, Cora,” the Faerie Kau replied. “All I’m asking you is to please take it someplace where I won’t have to see you up on your soapbox every morning. It's embarrassing to have to explain to my co-workers.” She shook her head. “I don’t even understand why you’re doing this, to be perfectly honest. I mean, have you even been to a beauty contest?”
“I don’t have to go to one to know exactly what they’re about,” Cora asserted. “I’ve seen enough dreams crushed, enough undeserving flashily-colored pets awarded heaps of trophies and attention to know that it’s a gross waste of time and resources. Imagine if all the money that went into those asinine beauty contests went to, oh, I don’t know— building new schools? Improving transportation? Refurbishing the pound?”
Cherie’s expression became indignant. “Hey hey hey there, sister. I’ve been in plenty of beauty contests— remember who you’re talking to.” Her eyes shifted. “And, well, I don’t know what would happen, Cora-- do you? Do you think the world would magically become a better place? That all the evil in Neopia would just suddenly disappear if the beauty contest was shut down? What about those pets whose lives are actually brightened by taking part in the beauty contests? Or those whose jobs depend on it— judges, hair stylists, makeup artists?”
“There are clearly better and more fulfilling things to do with one’s life than catering to the well-bred and painted.”
Cherie struggled not to explode. “Just— just— okay. Just stop parading on THIS street. Okay? I’m begging you. Now I’m going to be late for work if I don’t get going; we’ll talk about this more at home, all right?” She blew a quick kiss to her sister and zipped off down the street.
Cora watched her go, waited until she was out of plain sight, and then turned to a passing Grarrl.
That evening, Cherie came bursting into the Neohome, grinning ear to ear.
She found her sister sitting in her bedroom, her pencil working furiously as she sketched out ideas for a planned protest. Completely disregarding the DO NOT DISTURB sign she had pasted onto her door, Cherie whipped it open and shouted, “Oh baby si-ster, I have a surprise for you...!”
Cora’s pencil stopped. She blinked twice, and then slowly lifted her head to look at her sister.
“What,” she asked flatly.
“Good thing you’re sitting down, Cora, because just look at what your big sis has done!” The Faerie Kau rooted around in her purse for a few seconds before drawing out a slip of paper with the number 52 on it.
It took a few seconds for Cora to process what this meant. When it finally dawned on her, her eyes blew up tenfold their size.
“Ah- bup- bup! No need to thank me, kiddo! This is all you! The contest starts on Saturday and I’ve already filled out all your registration papers. All you’ve got to do is show up!”
Cherie smiled, dropped the slip on the dresser top and left the room. Cora, now having partially digested what her sister had done, jumped up after her.
“Wow, Cherie. Wow. You must really hate me, don’t you,” she said, following her into the kitchen. “You must absolutely despise me.”
A look of exaggerated offense came upon Cherie’s face. “Why... such harsh words, baby sister! You know I love you!” She tweaked Cora’s cheek, then turned and began to rummage in the refrigerator.
“Oh— so now you’re just being condescending.” Cora rolled her eyes. “Well, you know what, Cherie? I just won’t show up! There we go. I’ll lose the entrance slip and hide come next Saturday.”
“Oh really? How sad... I’ll just have to tell all our friends you’ve chickened out and won’t be able to make it. A shame, since I’ve already got them all tickets to the awards ceremony...”
Cora’s eyes widened in shock once more. “You WHAT!” The blue Kau let out a bemoaned wail and began rubbing her brow. “Of all the things, Cherie... I mean, I can’t believe you actually did this. How...? Why...?”
Cherie turned around, a sandwich in her hand, and lowered her eyelids. “You want to know why I did it, Cora? Because I think, if you’re going to go around preaching your little tales about discrimination, you could stand to see what the contests are all about. I think you'd be surprised, I really would. They always tell you ‘don’t knock something till you try it’ and I think that’s exactly what you’re trying to do. So... stop it.” She shrugged and took a bite of sandwich.
Cora let out a defeated sigh and slumped over the kitchen counter. “Fine,” she moaned. “Fine, fine, fine. I’ll do your stupid contest. Fine.” She let out a gigantic exhale and started back off towards her room.
“But I’m coming in dead last!”
“Sounds good, sis!” Cherie shouted back, before reaching back into the fridge for something to drink.
To be continued...