Vanity: Part One
“Come on, Sarah.” Andrea pounded on the white wood of the bathroom door. “You’ve been in there way too long.”
There was no response. Andrea pounded harder, putting all her weight into it. “Sarah!”
“I can’t very well go out looking like every other pet if I plan to win the beauty contest.” Sarah’s voice was calm from behind the door.
“Well...” Andrea’s breathing quickened with her frustration. “What if I was entering, too?”
Sarah pushed the white door of the bathroom open slightly so she could see her sister. “You are going to enter the beauty contest?” She raised one eyebrow and stared at Andrea who nodded, regretting her outburst.
A laugh escaped Sarah’s mouth and soared into the air around Andrea’s head. “You?”
“Yes, me.” Andrea put both hands on her hips, wounded. “Why not?”
“Andrea,” Sarah said, still chuckling to herself. “Okay. What is this?” She held up a tube of lipstick. Andrea could see each of her sister’s nails was smoothed and painted to perfection.
“Lipstick.” Andrea’s voice was deadpan and she looked at her sister from under lowered eyebrows.
“Yeah, I know what lipstick is.”
“Well, you never use it,” Sarah retorted, looking back to the mirror and applying the pink to her lips. “I just don’t think you’re the beauty contest type. There are beautiful Acaras out there who would knock you out in a second.” A smirk crossed her face and she turned to face Andrea. “And you’d be up against me.”
“I can do it.” Her mind was screaming doubts at her, but she didn’t want Sarah to know that, so she tried to stay the nervous twitch at her upper lip.
Sarah only snorted softly through her nose as she fluffed her fur in the mirror.
Something sparked in Andrea’s heart. She could hear the blood pumping in heavy beats through her brain. “I’m entering that contest! And I’ll win, too! I’ll beat you and all those other snotty Acaras!” She stomped off down the hall toward her own room.
Before she went into her room, Andrea heard the bathroom door close with a soft click.
* * *
Now her anger had turned into regret, and Andrea was having second thoughts. The other competitors would treat her like sludge on the bottom of their shoes. She knew there was no way she could win; she was just an ordinary shade of green. She didn’t know the rest of the contestants, but if they were anything like Sarah with her brilliant purple fur and impeccably-placed orange freckles, she would be in last place.
She had just decided that it was a bad idea and not worth the trouble when Sarah came out of the bathroom. She popped her head into Andrea’s room, her orange-dotted cheeks glowing with mischief. “See ya at the Beauty Contest sign-ups.” Her singsong voice was mocking and she stayed a moment longer than was comfortable before sauntering down the hall.
Andrea waited for the front door to shut behind her sister before she went down the hall and grabbed some lipstick from the bathroom to smear on her lips. She’d watched Sarah do the same hundreds of times, but somehow getting it to look just right was harder than Sarah made it seem. When Sarah put on lipstick, it looked natural, like she had been born with perfect, glossy lips. Looking at her own handiwork in the mirror, Andrea could see the result was anything but natural. The lipstick refused to stay on her lips, and where it did stick, she could see the cracks in her lips where the lipstick had settled.
She didn’t know when sign-ups closed, so she decided some kind of makeup was better than none and ran down the street to the huge tent that had been pitched next to the post office for the occasion.
Once inside the tent, she almost fell right back out the flap that served as a door. There were so many pets inside milling around, it was hard to breathe. And every one of them looked stunning. The ones that noticed her looked at her as if she were dung in their berry baskets.
After a few deep breaths and many “sorrys” as she stepped on various feet, she noticed the sign-ups went alphabetically by species. That explained the abundance of Zafaras standing by her and meant the Acara line was at the far end of the room. She took a deep breath and plowed through the crowd, stepping on gorgeous outfits and swatting at stylish hairdos as she went. She pushed past a brown Elephante with a gold monocle and nearly tripped on the sparkling train of a white Lenny’s dress. When she reached her line, she stood at the end, trying to catch her breath.
“Wow. You really did show up.” Sarah was right in front of her.
“I said I would, didn’t I?”
“You know,” Sarah said, leaning in as if she had something confidential on her mind, “lipstick is supposed to make you look better.” She straightened up and giggled.
“Oh, ha ha,” Andrea responded, wiping off the lipstick with her paw. But Sarah didn’t hear. She was already involved in a high-pitched conversation with the Acara in front of her.
The line was long. Andrea couldn’t even see the extensive desk that she’d caught sight of from time to time fighting her way across the room. She occupied her time by looking around at the other pets. The nervousness that had been gnawing at her stomach now grew worse as she saw that Sarah was right. She wasn’t nearly glamorous enough to win this contest. And of course Sarah knew something about the contest. She didn’t have ten trophies sitting on display in her room for nothing.
“Hello?” The crabby-looking Acara with fading pink fur that sat behind the desk had obviously been trying to get her attention for some time. Andrea hadn’t realized how long she’d been standing there, lost in her thoughts and moving with the line.
“Oh, sorry, I was thinking,” she blurted.
“If you want to think, try the Lenny Conundrum,” replied the desk Acara without a hint of humor in her voice. “What’s your name?”
“I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want--”
“Her name’s Andrea,” Sarah interrupted with a strange glint in her eye.
Andrea watched as the desk Acara wrote down her name on a list and then on a slip of paper, which she handed to her. “All right, this is to remind you of the rules. I’m supposed to particularly point out that there is a strict rule against using any device which will change your species before the end of the contest. No visits to the Secret Laboratory and no morphing potions. If your species changes before the end of the contest, you will be disqualified.”
Andrea could feel herself nodding, but could scarcely breathe. The same thought kept running laps around her brain. I’m in the beauty contest. When she stepped outside the tent and became conscious again, she was holding the piece of paper in her paw. As she trudged home, she studied the rules and information without really reading.
Sarah was waiting for her with a smirk when she came in the door. “You’d better get busy. We have a contestants’ brunch tomorrow and I know you’re not going looking like that.”
“Contestants’ brunch?” Andrea stood in the doorway, dazed.
“I guess you’re not going with me, so I might as well just tell you where it is. It’s in the restaurant of the Neolodge. Noon. Now, excuse me, but I have to buy new clothes.” Sarah pushed past her sister, and traipsed down their front steps.
Andrea spent the rest of the afternoon shut in her bedroom, trying to do something with her fur to make her look more glamorous. Her fur seemed like it had a matte finish; she didn’t know how Sarah got hers to be so shiny. After hours of brushing and fluffing and trying different hairpins she had acquired, she gave up completely.
Usually Andrea liked her clothes just fine, but as evening fell she faced her wardrobe with a newfound fear. She knew without looking that there was nothing in there even halfway suitable for a beauty contestant. She kicked herself for spending all her neopoints on her kite collection, but sighed as she realized that even if she could go shopping, she wouldn’t know what she was looking for.
She flopped onto her bed in frustration. It had been a long day. She would just take a little nap and come at the problem from a different angle when she woke up.
* * *
“Good-bye!” Sarah called loudly from the kitchen.
Andrea awoke with a start. What time was it? Good-bye? It was almost noon! She fought the urge to just crawl under her covers again. Sarah would never let her hear the end of it if she didn’t show up. She threw open her wardrobe and grabbed the closest thing at hand. Five minutes later, she was running down the street, still rubbing sleep from her eyes.
The sun had just reached its zenith as she opened the door to the Neolodge. Fortunately, the restaurant was just to her right. A speaker at the front of the room was standing at a lectern preparing his notes, so she quickly took a seat in the back next to an Ogrin.
“Good afternoon,” the speaker began. “Brunch will be served shortly, but I want to congratulate all of you for taking this opportunity to get to know one another.”
“Know thine enemy,” Andrea heard someone to her left say with a giggle. She didn’t look, but she knew the voice was her sister’s.
“This contest is not merely about winning or losing,” the speaker was saying. “It’s about instilling confidence in the population and helping to beautify Neopia through our work for the public. Let me explain this a little more because I know we have some first timers in the group. In order to obtain votes, it’s very important that you not only attend the functions set up by the beauty contest board, but that you do other good deeds publicly. This will benefit you in the end because the public is who votes and it’s the public that you want to make happy.”
Andrea heard giggling and chortling coming from her left. This time she looked and saw Sarah at a table full of Acaras. One of the guys had obviously just said something they all found very funny, and they were trying unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter.
“What an annoyance,” remarked the Ogrin next to her.
“And lastly, I know that some here today have come from as far away as Mystery Island! Let’s give them a round of applause.”
Everyone in the room clapped politely for them and then again as the speaker stepped off his podium.
A red paw holding a plate came in front of Andrea’s face, startling her. But as quickly as it had appeared, the paw was gone and a beautiful breakfast sat before her.
“I’ve heard the ‘just out of bed’ look is becoming very popular,” she heard her sister’s voice remark. “But personally, I think it just makes people look like slobs.”
Andrea looked over at this last comment. She knew it was directed at her. But Sarah wasn’t even facing her, she was busy trying to eat her pancakes daintily.
“What’s your name?” asked the Ogrin. He hadn’t even touched his food.
“Andrea.” She smiled and stuck out her paw, thankful for some conversation.
“Chastings,” he replied, returning the smile and shaking her paw with his hoof. “First time in the beauty contest?”
“Yes.” She felt uneasy all of a sudden. Was he going to make fun of her, too?
“Welcome.” Andrea searched his face, but all she saw was a genuine smile, the kind that permeates the eyes. Usually she thought Ogrin were a funny-looking species, but Chastings looked very dignified in simple black pants and white button down shirt. The outfit complemented his blue and black body well.
“Thank you. Although I have to admit, I don’t feel very welcome.”
“Been having a rough time?” He sounded like he could believe it.
“Well, that’s my sister.” She pointed to Sarah.
She wanted him to elaborate on what he meant by that, but he just picked at his food a little and changed the subject. “If you want to get a head start on some votes, I’ll be hitting the shops in Neopia Central later on this evening.”
“Oh, no thank you,” she said, pleased and flustered all at once. “I... I have to--”
“Andrea. Each Neopian can only vote for one pet in each species. If you get an early start, you’ll be that much ahead.”
He chuckled as she blushed at the rashness of her voice. “I thought you might.”
* * *
“Rolled out of bed just in time, huh?” Sarah had caught Andrea as she was walking out of the lodge.
“Yup.” Andrea had a reason to smile now; she had someone who was willing to help her along.
“What are you so happy about?” Sarah looked more than a little suspicious.
Andrea looked at her sister slyly out of the corner of her eye. “Oh, Sarah!” she exclaimed in mock gratitude. “Thank you so much for this chance! I never would have done it without you!” Then, right in front of the crowd spilling from the lodge, she gave her sister a huge hug.
“Get off me!” Sarah protested.
Andrea let go and went skipping down the road toward home.
* * *
“You freaked me and everyone else out this afternoon,” Sarah said as Andrea came into the bathroom that evening.
“Really? I think everyone else rather enjoyed it. Perhaps they thought I was strangling you.” Usually Andrea would be embarrassed after a sarcastic outburst like that, but that night she felt she was justified. Sarah had been picking on her almost nonstop since she had signed up for the beauty contest.
Andrea stood behind Sarah and pretended to inspect her teeth while she watched her sister put on her makeup, making sure to pay special attention to how Sarah applied her lipstick. She absentmindedly picked up a comb on the edge of the sink, thinking she would at least try to fix a cowlick that had appeared in her fur.
“Hey!” Sarah shrieked.
Andrea almost dropped the comb. “What?” She looked around for a Mootix or some other bug that Sarah would feel was threatening.
“That’s my comb!”
“So? Your dinner tonight was my Seafood Pastry.”
“This comb,” Sarah snapped as she snatched it away, “was given to me by Princess Amira herself. It can only be used by the most beautiful pets.” She looked her sister up and down. “Pets like you will just tarnish it.”
Andrea had hardly looked at it. Now that she did, she realized the comb was stunning. It was a gold color that glittered like the sun on the ocean and all around the handle it had elegant designs in a warm silver. She caught her breath as she noticed tiny gems sprinkled around the designs.
“Why haven’t I seen it before?” she asked, still staring at it in amazement.
“I keep it locked up. I think you can see why.” Sarah opened a box of deep brown wood that Andrea had also never seen. It had been polished so much Andrea could see her reflection. She sighed, knowing even the wooden box was more beautiful than she was. Sarah flipped open the lid to reveal the layers of purple silk that served as a bed for the magnificent comb. She slid the comb in and shut the box, then carried it back to her room.
“Wow,” Andrea murmured to herself. “What else don’t I know about my own sister?”
To be continued...