Then came the standard beauty questions:
“What have you contributed to your school, your community, your family, and to your country?”
Did we ever get some good answers to that question! A girl named Kacy wanted to be the first woman president, Carly Adams said she contributed leadership to the school, another girl said she contributed love and support to her family and friends. I just wanted to grow up and work for all kids to receive the best possible education to better the country, get ahead, you know?
Round two and there were four of us left. Carly was one of them and I was hanging in there. I looked out at the panel of judges. There was Mr. Sanders our principal. This cheered me up, since he had always liked me ever since I volunteered to help tutor students in English. I was hoping for second place and felt I might have a good shot with him. I really needed that money.
Backstage, I was with the other finalists. Kacy, Amanda and Carly. Carly wouldn’t speak to the rest of the girls. Amanda was looking for some cigarettes she had hidden. Kacy turned to me,
“Do I know you from somewhere?”
“Probably not, I don’t normally enter pageants like this?”
“Really?” she said in a most disinterested fashion.
“So who do you think will win?”
“I’ve no idea,” I said.
“Well, everybody knows Amanda smokes, so she isn’t a good example. Carly might win if her daddy paid enough money. Nobody takes you seriously from what I understand, so that gives me a pretty good chance,” she smiled a fake smile and walked away.
I was astounded and a little hurt. What was I doing here anyway? All that was coming from Joey putting me up to this was that I was gonna be embarrassed. This was a hard lesson to learn. I was making my way to the bathroom. I thought I would just slip out the back way.
“Where do you think you are going?” Jane Fields asked me with her short little voice.
“Umm, nowhere,” I answered.
“You just turn right around and head on up to that stage and take your place.”
I did just that. The third runner up was announced. The second runner up was Carly Adams. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was gonna get second place after all.
“The first runner up is Kacy Jones, Mary Ann Davis is Miss Rutherford County!”
Damn! I was stunned. I was Miss Rutherford County! This was worse than Miss Merry Christmas. I never meant to win. I just wanted second place. Something had to be wrong here. The roses were stuffed in my arms and I walked straight and smiled and waved at everyone in the whole darn county. Joey was jumping up and down, waving at me. I was happy but humiliated all at the same time.
After the contest was over, and I collected the prize money and the scholarship, I got ready to leave for California. I had managed to get in to the medical assisting school, and had even gotten another scholarship. Grandma and Joey were sad, guess they thought I would never go, but I had to try. Anyway, I could always come back. We said our goodbyes and I walked off that big front porch. It was harder than what I thought it would be. I drove through the streets of the little town one last time, half expecting Ollie Oliver jump out and chase my car down the road and do his siren imitation, but he was nowhere to be found. I turned my car onto the main highway and passed the median that ran down the center of main street. I saw Rudy Bobby on his tractor plowing his fields. He didn’t see me, and I thought that was best. Out on the highway, I saw the road sign that said Dallas was 340 miles. In my rear view mirror, I caught a glimpse of another sign: