44. Girls in Bikinis

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The stage fright reached terminal velocity just prior to the swimsuit competition

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The stage fright reached terminal velocity just prior to the swimsuit competition.

Beth and I were "backstage," (the bucking chute with tarps draped over the gate) being treated like lepers by the other girls and their caretakers. We deserved it though. Well, I deserved it, Beth was collateral damage.

"Don't you dare throw up again, so help me God..."

Still green around the gills, I stood in the getting-arrested-pose. Beth was on her knees, methodically rubbing bronzing lotion all over my body. It was a good thing she'd thought ahead about that too, because I had a farmer's tan like nobody's business.

"I won't," I promised, but even as the words left my mouth, the vertigo was returning with a vengeance. It was awful, something like motion sickness, indigestion, and a wicked hangover all rolled up into one feverish sensation that made the walls shift back and forth in front of my eyes. I closed them.

"No, don't close your eyes again, that's what made you hurl the first time. Pick something and focus on that and only that," said Beth.

I did, picking the first thing I saw, Mary Beth's ass cheeks. She was arguing with Lucinda about her right to wear a thong.

But why would you want a thousand people staring at your bare ass? Oh God, a thousand people were sitting out there in the arena. And they were all going to be looking at me. And judging me.

My knees wobbled. To keep myself from going down, I blindly braced my hand against the top of Beth's head. Startled, she looked up and assessed the situation with keen eyes. Shifting tactics, she took a different approach.

She smiled, unnaturally bright, all teeth and quivering cheek muscles. "You're doing great, Layla!" she exclaimed in a too-chipper tone. "Between winning the evening gown competition and all that stuff at the auction last night, you're a crowd favorite. Practically Cinderella! Now all you have to do is get through this part and then it's the riding. And I know for a fact that you're going to ace that part." She frowned, reconsidering. "Wait, you've ridden competitions before right?"

"Mutton Bustin'," I mumbled.

"Mutton Bustin'," I mumbled

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