"So, dear, would you like to start off with the basics? Name, appearance, age, birthday, clothing style?"
"First things first, don't call me dear. Or anything like it. At all. Ever. Second, what does any of that have to do with this interview? What are you even interviewing me for? My mom didn't tell me anything, just that somebody would be asking some questions. I didn't sign up for this, you know. Not that that matters, she never asks--"
"Please, please, wait! I'm sorry to have sprung this on you. It was my understanding that you knew what I was here for. Your mother arranged for you to be featured in an article we're writing on past pageant winners."
[There is a long pause in which the girl stares down her interviewer. The room gets tense and uncomfortable before she finally (after three quiet minutes) pastes on a smile and speaks.]
"Stella Raeanne Hines. Estella, technically, but I'd rather die than be called that. Literally anything else is fine. My birthday is on November 10th, 1997 which means I'm sixteen now which also means I can't wait until November for my seventeenth 'cause I actually hate being sixteen. I've got pretty dang long blonde hair; it looks sort of frizzy and dry sometimes, but I promise I take good care of it. And by that I mean I don't take a bunch of hot metal things to it to make it straight or curly. All I really do is clip in colorful hair extensions and usually braid or tie it back. Gets in the way when I'm running. My eyes are brown. Mom says I could play them up with mascara and eyeliner and other gross stuff that just makes them itchy and dry. So, no, I'm not going to blow any money on makeup, thanks. I'm definitely not short; I think last time I was actually measured, I came up to five feet, eight inches? It's mostly long legs, I think. There is literally one word for the clothes in my closet: colorful."
[The interviewer looks a little stunned at how fast and how much this girl talks. They are thankful for the tape recorder and not having to write this down.]
"Okay. It's nice to meet you, Stella. Anything else to add before we move on?"
"Well, you asked for it. I'm attending school at Baum Academy right now as a junior. It's alright, I guess. The work is just getting harder and the people more annoying, but I figure that's how high school works. I don't know yet if I plan on going to college, but my mom will probably pressure me into something. I don't have a job because I can't actually sit still long enough for an interview -- which is why you should consider yourself lucky. Besides, people don't want some obnoxious, noisy, irresponsible girl who is always late working for them. Which is fine. I'd rather throw myself off of a cliff than actually work somewhere. Listening to my teachers is bad enough, I don't want a boss ordering me around, too."
"You sure can talk, huh? How about your childhood? How was it living in Arizona and moving to New York?"
"I don't ever stop talking. Ask anybody. My parents will probably tell you I was born running my mouth. But seriously, growing up in Arizona was excellent. I'm all about the heat so three digit temperatures were my favorite. It's a lot of desert out there so there was plenty of room for running. Never mind the cacti and rattle snakes. It sucked that there wasn't a lot to do but I had enough friends that we usually went to the movies or something. Although for a long time, I did do that pageant thing you wanted me to talk about."
[Stella pauses and the interviewer looks hopeful that she'll mention the days of dresses and tiaras but then Stella gets this wicked glint in those brown eyes of hers and whatever hope the interviewer had disappears.]
"School was okay out there. I sometimes thought maybe campus layouts weren't the best idea -- just because it was so hot and I'm sure one big air-conditioned building would've been a lot more comfortable. I've been into running all my life so I've been on track for as long as I can remember. I've attended every meet and practice and even races that my school weren't in just so I could get ideas on how to be that much quicker, y'know? Actual 'important' classes like math and science were not my thing. English wasn't bad but history was horrible. I've taken music and art and basically every other extracurricular there is. I just haven't stuck around long enough for them to matter."
"So, the only part of school you liked was gym?"
"Pretty much. Running and gymnastics and dodgeball and capture the flag. A lot of the times, people wanted me on their team. I was almost always the first picked for something just because I was better than pretty much all the other girls. And some of the boys, even. Not to sound really cocky, though. Just stating facts here, okay? I liked recess, too, and lunch. And study hall, I guess, but only because I could sit and listen to my music during it. I got sent to the counselor a lot for constantly fidgeting. Not the principal, 'cause I guess they didn't think my impatience worthy of his time. Whatever. The counselors grew to actually know me and usually had cookies when I inevitably showed up that week. It was actually kind of nice."
"Sounds like it. Do you want to talk about the beauty pageants now?"
[Stella stiffens and looks away. She looks unhappy but after a long couple of minutes, she sighs in defeat.]
"I used to be a beauty queen. Yeah, you can fucking bet I won. I won a couple of them. I'm sure you've seen that show with like three year olds in tutus and tiaras. That was me. The earliest I competed, I was... God, um. I was four years old. ... Wow. Hmm. At the time, I liked it. I was really into it. I was more into running than anything, as I've said plenty of times already. But I really liked dressing up, making my mom happy, and winning. Winning was the best part. Making my mom happy meant getting things I wanted as a reward. And she knew that. She knew that if I went along with the stupid fucking contests and swimsuits and talents-- whatever. She used me. Since she'd gotten too old for pageants anymore, she tried to live through me."
"I'm... sorry. I didn't realize how negatively--"
"Of course you didn't. You adults never realize anything until it's too late and your kid is really fucked up because of it. My mom didn't notice and my dad might have but he didn't say a word because mom's ALWAYS RIGHT, ISN'T SHE? ... Fuck. Once I got old enough, eleven I think, I realized how unhappy I was. I was sick of all that makeup and the hairspray making my hair all crunchy and the heels, oh God, the heels. I was done. I had enough ribbons and trophies. So I flat out told my mother the next time she brought up a pageant happening in Phoenix. I said, I still remember exactly, I said to her: "mom, no. I don't want to compete anymore. If it's not a race, I don't want anything to do with it." The look on her face was scary at the time, but I find it sort of priceless now. She broke down crying."
[Stella pauses; she looks guilty. She looks like she regrets what her eleven year old self did. She looks like she could have let her mother live that dream a little bit longer, like she could've put up with the choreographed dances and the stupid talents. But then she shakes her head, blonde hair falling into her face, and sighs loudly.]
"It was in the middle of dinner and she broke down crying. My dad sat there, awkwardly patting her on the back, while she blubbered out excuse after excuse. About how I had such a future in performing and how she loved me so much and she just wanted the best for her only child and how I had so much potential. Which... kind of hurt. I didn't have potential outside of pageants? Really, mom? Thanks. Even after that night, she kept trying to put me in dresses. She'd bring home these poofy lacy hideous dresses and heels and jewelry to match. I had to remind her every single day that that's not what I wanted. I... it... We aren't quite the same after all was said and done."
"Let's talk about something else. New York?"
[Stella looks grateful to switch topics. She wipes at her eyes quickly though it certainly hadn't seemed like she'd been crying. She pulls in hair back into a high pony and clears her throat before continuing.]
"A couple of years later, the summer just before I turned fourteen, we moved to New York. I wasn't exactly unhappy but I wasn't too pleased, either. Turns out my mother had enrolled me at Baum Academy completely without my knowledge and once I'd been accepted, we packed up and left. Arizona was my home and I barely had a chance to say goodbye to what friends I had. It sucked. New York was huge which meant lots of room for running, sure, but it was also cold in the winters and everything was gray or green as opposed to blue blue skies and brown trees. I initially hated Baum. Fucking private schools. I already sucked at classwork and now it was ten times more difficult. The only reason they accepted me was because of my exceptional work on the track team. Ended up joining Baum's and I thought I would be their star athlete or whatever. Wasn't actually that big of a deal."
"You said at first. Did the school grow on you?"
"It was the people. I actually made some really good friends early on. My first ever roommates, Sunny and Teegan, who were just the sweetest and quietest girls, respectively. My Chemistry tutor, Xander, wasn't all bad. Thursday who helped me ditch one day, Pascal was gonna teach me how to steal (oh, don't give me that look), Gracie who I raced with, Silas bought me pastries, and Jackson who I do sports announcements with. Yeah, the people were pretty nice. Everybody on the track team was great. I tried out for a couple of other teams but never stayed more than a week and yet they didn't seem to mind. Most of the school, though, knows me as the really loud and bright one. Pretty much everybody thinks I'm annoying, even if they are my friend. Oh!"
[She stops suddenly, looking like she's thinking long and hard on whether or not she wants to finish her train of thought. The interviewer coughs and she rolls her eyes.]
"Eddie. He's one of the ones that thinks I'm really annoying. We got partnered up for this history project and it was awful because we already hated each other on sight and then he called me lazy and I got really mad. We did okay on that grade, though. But pretty much every conversation we were disagreeing or arguing or flat out insulting each other. It was stupid, honestly. We started to get along somehow or another except then I went and drew a mustache on his face while he was sleeping in class one day. And, uh. It didn't... he sort of... well, let's just say I made a stupid mistake and we both said some really dumb things, and there was this whole thing at the docks. And I don't want to talk about it. Let's just. Stop. Okay?"
[Stella looks like she didn't mean to talk that much about whoever Eddie is. She's breathing fast and she looks like she might tear up but she shakes her head and gets this defiant gleam in her eyes that seems to say she won't cry, in fact, she never cries, just like she never loses a race or never tells a soul about her pageant days.]
"Okay. We talked about what I wanted to talk about. You have the floor now. Anything you want.
"Yes! My favorite thing to do! Well, other than running. I guess there are other favorite things too, like bright colors and sunsets and loud music and track. Definitely not dresses or any sort of work and especially not being told what to do. I hate that! My grades are always rising and falling just because I hate classwork but I have to keep a B average if I want to stay on the team. I just hate sitting still. I fidget a lot but when I'm not moving around, I'm pretty good at focusing on certain things at a time. My mom says that makes me high strung? Like, easily spooked, I guess? Which is not an invitation to try and scare me! I just get really into something and sort of forget there are people around me. Sorry not sorry. I actually think it comes from my mom; she's always very busy, constantly rushing around due to errand after errand. The fast talking is 'cause of my dad, I know that much. He's an auctioneer so he's almost as quick as me. Almost."
[Stella looks like she could continue but the interviewer holds up their hand and she begrudgingly shuts up.]
"I think I know you better now than I know myself. It was such a pleasure meeting you, Stella."
[Stella shakes the offered hand and stands up. She glances down to the recorder on the table and without much thought, snatches it up. The interviewer winces, knowing already what the girl plans to do. Stella grins widely and books it to the door, yanking it open, and running out of the room. It's so Stella: terribly mischievous and fast as lightning and downright infuriating.]