Ivy had never felt so embarrassed. The pageant girls had some large tents to dress in, and while everyone giggled and primped themselves, Ivy was sitting slumped in a wooden chair with her arms crossed over her chest. Ginny had been wrestling with her sister’s hair for over an hour now in a desperate attempt to get it into an elegant updo, but there were some locks of hair that just refused to be tied down. Ivy considered those to be the curls that didn’t betray her.

“You know, it’s good that you have such thick hair,” Ginny said. “It’s better than having thin hair. Especially when you get old and your hair starts falling out. You’ll never have to worry about wigs.”

“None of this is making me feel better,” Ivy mumbled.

Ginny sighed and practically stabbed one last pin into Ivy’s scalp, making her wince. She then stepped back to take a look at her work. Ivy couldn’t help but look back at Ginny. She really was a beautiful piece of work in her bright green dress and the flowers weaved into her golden hair. She might has well have been handed the crown already.

A couple of the other girls approached them, excited to talk to Ginny. They pulled her away for a moment to introduce themselves, and Ivy took the opportunity to step away and look at herself in the mirror. She looked cute. Never breathtakingly gorgeous, but cute. The updo was clinging on for dear life and she felt like once she took the pins out all of her hair would fall out. The dress fit nicely, but the pink frills made her look like some kind of pastry. She didn’t pay much mind to the girl who stepped up next to her, also examining her reflection. She seemed like a simple girl, too. Ivy couldn’t help but stare a bit, and the girl noticed her, giving her a polite smile.

“It’s madness, isn’t it?” she giggled.

“Huh?” Ivy frowned. “The pageant?”

“Girls parading around like prize vegetables at a fair,” she said. “No one here would donate on their own, but the moment they have the opportunity to buy a woman they’ll be throwing their money away. I wonder if it counts as prostitutioon.”

“No, because we’re not getting paid for it,” Ivy said slowly. “So, you’re not excited for the pageant, either?”

“I used to do a lot of pageants,” she admitted. “My family just moved here from Everglenn. We had pageants there, but they were much smaller. And the environment was a little bit less... hostile. The girls here can be pretty vicious. And everyone is so beautiful.”

“Don’t pay the vicious ones any attention,” Ivy suggested. “They rise up by bringing others down. I’m Ivy, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “I’m Samantha. I moved here about a month ago. I haven’t been able to make many friends yet.”

“You’re pretty, you’ll make plenty,” Ivy reassured her.

“You think so?”

“You’ll find out exactly how pretty you are when the charity date auction comes around,” Ivy said.

“Oh, um, can I tell you a secret?” she said softly.


“I’m going to ‘accidentally’ miss the auction,” she said with an excited whisper. “See, I got this note in a bouquet of flowers this morning.”

Ivy looked at the note Samantha pulled from her pocket.

Dearest Samantha,

I have not been able to stop thinking about you since the day we met. Please, we must see each other again. Meet me by the old post office after the pageant.

-Your Secret Admirer

“Well,” Ivy said. “Isn’t this romantic.”

“I think I know who it is,” she said. “He’s quite shy, and it comes as no surprise that he would send me a note like this.”

“Who is it?”

“I don’t want to say just yet,” Samantha said. “I don’t want to jinx anything. But I’ll tell you all about it when I get back. We’re friends now, right?”

“Right,” Ivy said with a smile. “Good luck.”

Samantha gave her hand a light squeeze before hurrying off to get ready, and Ivy didn’t have a chance to see her again before Ginny ushered her towards the stage for the start of the pageant. As Ginny said, it all started with introductions. Each girl walked the stage and was introduced, then answered a few questions before they moved on to the next girl.

From backstage Ivy peeked out of the audience, which mostly consisted of the bachelors of high society, drinking and whistling at the girls who came on stage, cheering on the ones who they would later be placing bids on for dinner dates. When Ginny went on stage she had the most applause, which made Ivy’s heart pound in her chest. They went in alphabetical order by last name, which meant she was next. Everyone dreaded being the one to walk after Ginny. She smiled as she did her twirl and walked over to the host, who began his interview.

“And here we welcome back out three time Spring Queen, Miss Genevieve Brownwell,” he announced. “Miss Brownwell, it’s good to see you back.”

“It’s good to be back, George,” she replied in a voice so sweet that Ivy was ready to vomit.

“Now, let’s begin,” he said. “Why do you want to win the Spring Queen crown this year?”

“Well, as a three time champion,” she started. “I feel like I know the immense amount of weight the crown carries. That’s why I’ve taken the time to truly get to know my community, and how I can serve them.”

“Bullshit,” Ivy mumbled. “She didn’t even answer the question.”

Then it was Ivy’s turn. The way the audience silenced when Ivy walked out after Ginny was embarrassing. There were a few claps, just for politeness. Or they just felt sorry for her. She knew she must have had pain in her eyes with her forced smile and unbalanced twirl at the front of the stage. She practically scuttled like a bug back to George.

“And Miss Ivy Brownwell,” he announced. “For the first time. Tell us, why did you choose to enter our pageant this year?”

My father made me, she thought.

“I did it for the charity,” she lied. “For the, uh, dying children. This pageant will surely end their suffering forever.”

“Bring back the other Brownwell!” someone called out from the audience.

Ivy glared at him.

“I’ll show you the other Brownwell,” she snapped, taking off her shoe.

She nearly threw it at him, but George grabbed her by the wrist and laughed uncomfortably.

“THANK YOU, Miss Brownwell!”

Ivy was ushered off the stage as she put her shoe back on, still frustrated. Ginny shifted and gave her an awkward smile.

“You did great,” she said.

“You’re a liar,” Ivy told her.

“Have you decided what you want to do for the talent portion yet?” she asked,

“Oh no, I forgot about that,” Ivy frowned.

Ginny lit up with excitement. “Do the thing!”

Ivy didn’t say anything. She was incredibly embarrassed, but it didn’t seem like she had much of a choice. It was alright, no one out there would remember her when they sobered up anyways. She watched assorted singers, dancers, and musicians go on. All of them seemed to have such elegant talents to match their elegant appearances. Ivy lingered backstage, looking back out at the audience as Ginny began to play her piano. She wasn’t paying much attention, used to Ginny’s music echoing through the house. Her eyes landed on one face in particular in the audience, and she felt her blood turn to ice.

Flynn was there. In the audience. Watching the pageant. And Ivy was about to go on stage. She felt like her feet were glued to the floor and she was frozen solid. What was he doing there? This didn’t seem to be his type of scene at all. As Ginny finished up the other girls started to nudge Ivy forward, but she just shook her head and refused to move. It took three girls to force her to go, and as she walked out she knew she must have looked like a ghost.

She stood there for a moment, feeling nerves come out of nowhere. The audience members didn’t seem too impressed with her and waited impatiently for her to get started. Finally, she took a deep breath and pushed her nerves aside, turning on her heel to the boxes of instruments and props used for the other talent displays. When she returned, she was holding five balls in her hands. She held three, set one on the ground by her feet, and handed the fifth one to the host. There was an audible surprise from the crowd when she started.

Ivy had learned to juggle when she was a little girl, but it was never intended to be seen by anyone. She did it with bread rolls for her family, and it would always make her parents and sister so happy. She always felt too embarrassed to show anyone else. Unfortunately, she had no musical talents. So this would have to do.

She started slow before she started to get fancy with it, starting with three balls and throwing them a little higher each time. She did some underhand tosses and once behind her back. The crowd seemed to get a little bigger and heavier when she was on, people who weren’t interested before suddenly trying to get a glimpse of the “circus pageant girl”. She tossed the three balls higher and quickly ducked to get the fourth ball by her feet, adding it to the mix. When she did, there was some cheering that sounded from the audience. She then gave a nod to George, and he tossed the ball he was holding for her. She didn’t catch it with her hand, but managed to bounce it up with her foot and balance it on top of her head. She finished with that, dipping into a bow as everyone cheered for her.

When she came back up, she was red and flustered. She expected to be laughed off stage, but it seemed that maybe her little act was the first interesting thing any of them had seen out of the pageant. She wasn’t sure why she felt so shy all of a sudden. Maybe it had to do with being noticed for once. She scanned the crowd for Flynn, who she spotting grinning and applauding her with everyone else. She smiled back and gave him a quick wink before gathering her things and hurrying off stage.