“Oh come on,” Lou Lee Eller put her hand on her hip and looked out at her would be audience while rehearsing her talent for the Miss JCHS Pageant, “Michael Jackson’s not dead. He’s alive and well. He just goes by the name of Justin Bieber now.”
The girls and sponsors watching from their own preparations laughed. Lou Lee continued. “He’s everything he always wanted now, totally white and 100% annoying.” She launched into a perfect imitation of Michael’s “Rockin’ Robin” then segwayed into another dead on impression of Bieber’s “Baby”.
After two stunning impersonations, Lou Lee returned to her normal self. “Can you honestly tell a difference?”
She took a comic beat. “Well, except for the hair…”
Vonda Kay Moretz turned to her sister Vista Kay. “She is so funny.”
“And she can impersonate anybody.” Her twin sister agreed. “She’s gonna be hard to beat in talent after all.”
“This is so much better than her original idea of snorting spaghetti up her nose in time to “Take a Chance on Me”.
“Although I do have a soft spot for ABBA”, Vista sighed.
“You know I just have no idea whose gonna win, do you?” Vonda attention was drawn by the sporadic applause as Lou Lee completed her routine. She looked up at her. “Oh my, Lou Lee. That was wonderful, just wonderful.”
“Thank you, Miz Moretz. I’ve worked so hard.”
“It shows.” Vista nodded in agreement. “But honey, you might wanna cut that part about Michael Jackson wantin’ ta be white. It’s funny, but it’s also just a little offensive.”
“Why don’t you just say ‘He’s now everything he always wanted to be’ and leave it there. Maybe make some kind of facial expression to let the audience know they can fill in their own joke.” Vonda suggested.
“Oooh….that’s a good idea.” Lou Lee beamed. “I like it.”
“Good.” Her mentor smiled. “Now go get ready, as soon as Louie gets done, it’s your turn for the mock photo shoot.” Lou Lee shot her thumbs up and dashed out of sight.
Vista picked up a clipboard and started going down their list. “Okay looks like everything is under control.”
“Except Marcella Tater.” Vonda frowned. “She still hasn’t bothered to show up.”
Her sister threw up her hands. “I told both Marcella and her mother that if she didn’t show up tonight she was out of the pageant. She’s way behind the other girls as it is.” She placed the clipboard on a table and glanced at the older lady hunkered down trying to be invisible.
“Mama!” She scolded. “What are you doin’?”
Ruby Acres tried not to look guilty. “Nothin’.”
Vonda Kay put her hands on her hips and respectfully chided the 86 year old. “Now Mama, we lock the girl’s cell phones and IPods away. It ain’t fair for you to be a playin’ with yours.”
“I’m sorry. Morgan Fairchild responded to one of my Tweets.” She beamed. “And when Morgan Fairchild responds, you get right back.”
“Morgan Fairchild?” Vonda asked. “Morgan Fairchild follows you on Twitter?”
“Oh no.” The woman everyone else lovingly called Maw Maw responded. “I just found out she was on Twitter and followed her. I tweeted how much I enjoyed her and she responded back.” The old lady smiled. “What a classy broad.”
“Oh, I love her!” Vista cooed. “I still get chills rememberin’ her goin’ through that plate glass window on “The Secret Storm” all those years ago.”
“I remember that!” Vonda jumped in. “She was s’mean to Eunice and John. I just loved to hate her.”
“And she hasn’t aged a bit.” Vista added. “Mama, tweet her an’ ask her what her secret to stayin’ young is.”
“Oh child, you know she either bathes in virgin’s blood or there’s a pitcher in an attic somewhere just a goin’ ta hell.” Mama said as she busily and expertly punched at her Droid. “Let’s just chalk it up to good genes and healthy livin’. It’s dull, but I’m sure that’s what does it for her.”
“Regardless, Mama…” Vonda Kay pointed at the gizmo in her mother’s hands. “Put that thing away.”
“Fine…” Maw Maw hit one last button and started to slip it in her pocket.
Vonda cleared her throat and held out her hand.
“Fine again…” The mother handed her daughter the phone. “But make sure I…
Ruby Acre’s attention was drawn to the back of the auditorium. “…Speakin’ of a pitcher goin’ to hell look what clawed its way outta the dirt and is limpin’ this way.”
The girls turned their heads around to see Arzella and Marcella Tater, nasty looks on their faces, stomping toward the ladies.
As soon as Arzella caught Vonda Kay’s eye she screamed from the back of the room, “Vonda Kay Moretz, who do you think you are tellin’ my daughter, the next Miss JCHS, that she was outta the pageant!”
“Now, Arzella that is not what I said.” Vonda kept her tone calm and respectful. “I simply informed both you and her that if she didn’t start showing up for rehearsals that there was no way she could catch up. All the other girls have put in so much work. It just isn’t fair.”
Arzella Tater screwed up her face and looked down her nose. “When I ran this pageant it was like a steel trap. We didn’t need rehearsals. The girls just showed up in time to get ready on Saturday night and things went just fine.”
“That explains a lot”, Maw Maw snorted.
“Ruby Acres…!” Arzella’s furs started to stand up.
“What Mama meant was that should explain why we are havin’ so many rehearsals Arzella.” Vista made up.
Vonda smiled and picked right up. “We are havin’ to work so hard because you have set the bar so high.” Vista nodded her head and stepped in front of her mother at the same time to keep her out of view. “This is such hard work, and we do not want to disappoint the many Johnson Countians who have come to expect the high production values you always guaranteed.”
“Uh hmmm.” Vista bit her tongue so she wouldn’t giggle.
“We will be so glad when you take back over next year.” Vonda added.
“Well that makes a little sense.” The woman snorted, “You must work on your tact though, Vonda Kay. It sucks.” Arzella reached into her huge black purse and pulled out a yellow note pad. “And knowing how incomp…er…inexperienced you are I took the liberty of double checking a few things.”
“And I must say, although I am not surprised, I am disappointed.”
“About what?” Vonda Kay swallowed hard.
“Well, first of all, Inez Fulkerson says you haven’t gotten any sheet music to her…but I promised her I'd drop it off at the home after leaving here tonight. I assume with all the ‘rehearsing’ you’ve been doing you have some idea what music she’ll need to play.”
“Music?” Vonda Kay raised one eyebrow.
“You know, runway music…accompaniment for the girl’s talent?” Arzella sneered. “Inez is a wonderful musician but she’s old and cain’t sight read for squat anymore.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Arzella. I thought she understood.”
“Understood, what?” Arzella barked.
“We aren’t in need of her services this year.”
Arzella laughed out loud. “Oh I see. You gonna have all these losers just move their mouths to records?”
“Actually, we’ve enlisted the talents of 22 professional musicians for an orchestra this year.” Vonda smiled broadly at the way Arzella Tater’s mouth dropped open.
“That’s one of the reasons we moved the pageant to Heritage Hall this year.” Vista twisted the knife just a little. “The stage there is bigger.”
“Professional?” Arzella wasn’t buying. “You got 22 piece orchestra for fifty bucks?”
“Of course not.” Vonda held up her hand to stop Arzella from saying anything until she added. “You remember my baby brother?”
“That’s the one.” Maw Maw piped in. “He’s in show business, ya know. He called in a few favors and got some friends of his to volunteer their services for us.”
“Whatever.” Arzella rolled her eyes, ripped off the top sheet from her pad and handed it to Vonda. “Now here’s the list of judges I contacted. They will all expect a high class dinner. I always get them fried chicken from Hardees.”
Vonda smiled. “Uhm…Arzella, once again, that’s already been taken care of, but thank you.”
“But I’ve already…”
“Arzella, we have nine judges already lined up. They will all be here Friday night to begin the judging.”
“Friday night?” Arzella looked confused. “The pageant isn’t until Saturday night.”
“Yes, but the interviews are all on Friday.” Vista turned to Marcella, oddly quiet during this time. “Marcella your interview is scheduled for 5:20.”
Marcella stopped twirling her rainbow colored hair. “Interview?”
Vonda Kay smiled. “It was all in the packet you were given three weeks ago. Didn’t you read it?”
The girl looked at her mother. “Mama?”
“You mean that little envelope you handed me?” Arzella waved her hand in the air. “Oh, I just tossed that nonsense. Marcella watched me run this pageant for ten years. She knows what to do.”
“Obviously not, Arzella.” Vista smiled. “We’ve made a number of changes.”
“Besides the opening production number…” Vonda turned to Marcella and touched her arm. “…it’s not difficult, honey, but the girls will have to help you catch up.”
Vonda turned back to Arzella. “We’ve also added two new elements to the competition, to make it more than a simple beauty pageant.”
“Vida Leigh insisted on something more substantial this year and she seemed very pleased with what we came up with. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you about them.”
“Oh God.” Arzella’s face fell. “You really are gonna make them have a Bible drill during swim suit, aren’t you?”
The sisters laughed. “Of course, not.” Vista Kay assured her. “We’re making the judging more like the Miss America Pageant.”
“Yes.” Vista informed her. “Each girl will be interviewed for twenty minutes by the judges.”
“Interviewed…” Marcella was chewing the inside of her jaw. "...About what?"
“They’ll just asked questions about current affairs, pop culture, get each girl’s opinions and thoughts about what’s going on in the world.”
“What?” Arzella said. “This is absurd….”
Vonda Kay cocked her head to the side. “The school board actually suggested it.”
“You said a couple of things…” Marcella was bordering apoplexy. “What’s the other thing?" And quietly as if to herself she added, "Oh God, don’t make it awful.”
“Oh it’s not awful honey.” Vonda Kay put her arm around the sweaty girl’s shoulders. “Friday morning you’ll be administered a test.”
“Yes, each of your teachers has submitted questions, general knowledge things from each of your classes you show know. Each girl’s teachers did the same for her. The study guide was in the manila folder your mother threw away.” Vonda pinched the girl’s very white cheeks. “Don’t worry, hon. It’s easy stuff and I’ve got a copy of your study guide if you like.”
“This isn’t fair.” Arzella stomped her feet.
For the first time, Vonda Kay Moretz raised her voice to match Arzella Tater’s. “If you had bothered to allow your daughter to participate with the other girl’s from the beginning there wouldn’t have been a problem.”
“Arzella, no excuses. Fortunately Marcella is a bright girl and your inexcusable behavior shouldn’t hurt her chances.”
Mrs. Tater took a deep breath and patted her hair. “It’s really no big deal. Your silly little test is just one tiny element in the judging.”
Vista Kay repeated herself as she handed a copy of the tossed folder to Marcella. “Fifty percent, the interview and scholastic scores will be fifty percent of the total score; talent 30; swim suit, evening gown and casual wear each ten.”
“Casual wear?” Marcella looked up from the papers.
“Don’t worry honey.” Vonda Kay, arm still around her, patted her again. “It’s all taken care of.”
A beautiful young girl that Vonda motioned to came right over. “Marcella! So glad you finally made it. You’ve missed it. We have been having soooo much fun!”
The girl hugged Marcella, who kind of pushed her away. “Do I know you?”
The girl laughed, “Of course you do.”
Arzella Tater took her hand and pushed the girl back, quickly turning to the sisters. “What is going on here?” She looked at all the girls in the auditorium. “Who are all these girls? I don’t know a single one. Are you stacking the deck with ringers, trying to pass them off as students, so my daughter will lose?”
“Of course not.” Vista held up a paper of the contestants names so they could both see. “That’s Lou Lee Eller…over there is Vernette Krueger…and up on stage, that’s Louie Kirk.”
Marcella Tater’s mouth dropped open. “Louie Kirk’s actually a girl?”
Vista nodded her head. “She’s beautiful isn’t she? Somehow our Louie has become our Louise. You’ve got some stiff competition, young lady.”
“Alright some of them look a little familiar.” Arzella insisted and pointed at the young girl in front of them. “But you! I know I have never laid eyes on you in my life.”
“Yes you have, Mrs. Tater. I was in your homeroom last year.”
“You were not." She insisted. "I never forget a student!”
“Even the ones you made sit in the back corner every day until the bell rang because you said their face made you nauseous first thing in the morning?” The girl smiled.
Vista Kay was shocked. “Arzella Tater, you actually said that to a student?”
“Yes, ma’am, yes she did.” The girl respectfully said before turning back to her Freshman Homeroom Teacher. “My name is Isadene Icenhour. You probably don’t remember that because you always referred to me as…”
Marcella Tater’s eyes lit up in shock, “…Uglirella?”
Isadene smiled. “That’s me…well that was me, but there really are Fairy Godmothers.”
Arzella Tater cleared her throat. “Well, Ug…Isadene you clean up quite nice. I’m sure you’ll do quite well in the pageant. I can’t wait to see your evening gown.” The woman coldly looked down on the beaming girl. “Will you be wearing your mother’s wedding dress, the one she bought at Ramsey’s 5 & 10?”
Mrs. Tater sneered and leaned into Isadene as she added, “If I remember correctly you and three other contestants could probably wear it at the same time…”
“Arzella Tater!” Maw Maw had had enough and stepped toe to toe with the woman. “You can be rude and nasty to us adults all you want, but this young lady is one of your students…”
Isadene put her hand on Ruby Acres shoulder. “It’s okay Maw Maw. Mrs. Tater can’t ever hurt me or any of these girls again. If there is one thing you all have taught us these past few weeks is that some people can only feel good about themselves when they make everyone else around them feel ugly. Don’t lower yourself to her standards, ma’am. We’re all better than that.”
She took Marcella’s hand. “Come on, Marcella. Let’s go look at some of the stuff we put aside for you.”
“Put aside?” Arzella curled her lips. “My Marcella doesn’t need any one’s hand me downs. We’ve purchased all her things at Target!”
Vonda Kay smiled. “And if Marcella still wants to wear any of them that is her choice. But honey, go take a look at some of the stuff the girls put aside for you. You might like some of it.”
“…Okay…” Marcella looked at her mother in fear.
“Vonda Kay, what is going on?”
She smiled. “Oh that’s right, you didn’t read the packet.” Vonda Kay reached over to Marcella’s hand, flipped a few pages and pointed.
“Oh my!” Marcella cooed. “Mama they got a bunch of dresses donated from designer shops and some celebrities. We get to keep anything we wear!”
“Designer, huh?” Arzella looked dead into Isadene’s eyes. “Marcella’s dress is designed by Old Navy. Who’s your designer, sweetie?”
Isadene looked just as dead back. “I keep forgetting her name.” She snapped her fingers. “Oh yes…Vera Wang.”
As Arzella clutched her hand to her chest, Isadene took Marcella’s arm. “Come on, I can’t wait to see if you like what we picked out for you.”
Marcella dropped her voice an octave lower. “It’s not all tent size, is it?”
Isadene shoved her playfully. “Don’t be silly. Most of its vintage stuff.”
“Yeah, we thought it suited you best.” Isadene grabbed a sparkling cocktail dress off the rack. “Ooh, I thought this one would bring out your eyes for casual wear.”
“My eyes?” Marcella fondled the dress and tried not to show how wonderful she thought it was.
“It’s one of your best features. George said to highlight your best features.”
“George Guzman. He won an Emmy for Hairstyling on “The Young and the Restless”. We had a number of Skype sessions with him, and Nadia Bjorlin and some others to teach us hair and makeup.”
Marcella’s face fell. “You did?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll all help you.” Isadene pulled two evening gowns off the rack. “And I’ve been texting George. I bet he’ll do a special session for you, since you missed all the others. Now which do you like better? This one I think is a Bob Mackie, but this is my favorite. It’s an Edith Head.”
Marcella couldn’t help but be awed. “Edith Head, where did you get it?”
“Maw Maw and Coach Cheesy tweeted and called people, explained what was going on and stuff just started pouring in from people’s closets.”
Speaking of Maw Maw, she appeared out of nowhere. “That would be lovely on you Marcy Girl.”
She smiled and held it against her. “You think?”
“Go put it on, hon.”
“I’m afraid it’ll be too tight.” Marcella hesitated to admit.
“Don’t worry bout that honey. You put it on and let Maw Maw wave her magic needle and thread wand over it. We’ll make it look like Ms. Head made that dress just fer you.”
Marcella nodded and started to rush off. “But why?”
“Why are you all bein’ so nice to me?” She jutted out her hip. “You know I’m gonna win.”
Isadene smiled. “Oh Marcella, I think that would be wonderful.”
“You don’t wanna win?”
“Marcella, after seeing the look on your mother’s face,” She grinned from ear to ear. “I have already won more than any banner that says Miss JCHS.”
“And that’s what it’s all about.” Maw Maw added quietly.
Vista Kay popped into the set up costume alcove. “Marcella, honey, before you do anything else, you wanna practice your talent? Louie’s still busy so we have plenty of time to get some initial light and sound cues set for you.”
Marcella straightened up her back. “Mama says…” She chewed the inside of her jaw a bit. “Never mind what Mama says.”
“That’s m’girl.” Maw Maw patted the youngster on the cheek.
She rooted through her purse and handed Vista a CD. Just dim the stage lights and start the music.”
“Oh yeah. This is gonna blow your mind.” Marcella giggled. “Soooo spectacular.”
“Can’t wait.” Vitsa took the CD. “Head to wherever you want to be and let us know when you’re ready.”
“I’ll hold these for you ‘til you’re ready.” Isadene carefully took the two dresses and hung them gently over her arm.”
Marcella let out an excited breath. “I can’t wait to hear what you guys think.” She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and smiled.
Maw Maw came up behind her. “Child,” she touched the spiky, stiff locks of her hair. “Why don’t you pick a favorite color and we’ll go from there.”
She tilted her hair to one side and thought a moment. “Just one?”
“Well, narrow it down to two…”
“Marcella?” Vonda Kay shouted from the middle of the auditorium. “We’re ready when you are.”
“Go for it Marcy Girl!” Isadene encouraged her.
Marcella hiked her purse up on her shoulder and walked to the middle of the stage, plopping it down at her feet and looking out toward the auditorium. “Okay dim the lights, then give me just a minute.”
“You got it honey.” Vista Kay walked over to her sister. “I’ve heard bragging about this for two months. This better make me lose control of my bowels.”
“Arzella dreamed this up.” Vonda shot her sister a look. “As long as I don’t lose the contents of my stomach. I’ll be happy.”
“Okay.” Came Marcella’s voice in the dark.
The sisters and everyone in the auditorium peered toward the darkened stage with baited breath. The opening rift to “Dueling Banjos” could suddenly be heard over the intercom. When the second rift came through Marcella flipped on a flashlight, then a second. As the music continued Marcella flipped the flashlights on and off in time to the music.
As she began twirling the flashlights like batons and keeping the lights flashing in the rhythm of the music, Vonda Kay discreetly leaned over to her sister.
“Well, I think we finally have a talent worse than Sula Keppel playing the Doctor Who Theme on water glasses.”
Vista Kay sighed. “I don’t know. I do have a soft spot for Doctor Who…”