Everyone winced and covered their eyes as the stage lights flipped on. Compounded by the glittering gowns and oiled skin, the white light was as painful a transition as Reggie’s last-minute entrance to the pageant world. What in the hell.
His teenage daughter had begged and pleaded his ex to do an after-school activity and Reggie signed the permission slip without a once-over. But Christ this was a far cry from knot-making and cookie selling. For fuckssake is butt glue?
Reggie tailored his professional driving schedule so he could be present on her “Big Day” and Stone Cold Steve Austin have it, his ex came down with the flu. He had no idea what the “Big Day” meant. He figured it was some ceremony handing out participation patches and consolation trophies. Not smoothing out gown trains and gluing on rhinestones.
And of course, his ex had signed up to be a “backstage mom” during the event, or competition, as he was informed. Which left him here to fill in for her. Backstage. With 24 anxious, flittering teenage girls.
He adjusted his 49ers cap and straightened his worn jean jacket. You don’t need to be fancy when on the highway with 18 wheelers. In fact, you want to be as damn comfortable as possible. Well, shit, his jacket suddenly felt scratchy, and he shuffled from leg to leg, trying to keep the dried mud on his boots away from the colorful frilly fabric.
Reggie just about screamed when someone gently tapped him on the shoulder.
“Oh, sorry,” the soft, red haired mom said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“No, no that’s on me, ma’am,” Reggie said, turning to face her, relieved to see another adult. “I’m just not used to … to this… kinda thing.”
“No, not many men are,” she smiled warmly, “neither being so behind-the-scenes.”
Reggie chuckled and scratched the back of his neck, wishing he’d gotten that haircut he’d planned.
“I figure you’re Bethany’s dad?” she asked.
“Yep, my ex - sorry, her ma - was supposed to be here -”
“Oh yes, she texted us, and told us you might need some help,” she gestured to Reggie to follow her as she walked further into the wings. “And it turns out we have an extra momma here tonight to help out with all the fittings and pinnings. You don’t need to worry yourself one more bit about those rhinestones.”
Reggie remembered he was holding about seven pea sized stones, something “borealis”, that glittered like a rainbow. Death clutching more like. As he opened his hand to drop them in her palm he noticed they’d left seven deep impressions in his skin.
“If you’d still like to help backstage, I know Tony needs some extra hands with the talent props and curtains?” she offered, smiling.
“I’d, I’d like that very much” Reggie exhaled. “Wait, will I still get to see Bethany?”
“Even closer than if you were in the audience.”
“I’m Sandy. Pleasure,” and stuck out her hand. After a firm handshake she pointed Reggie toward an aging Tony and headed back to the squirming pageant competitors.
Reggie was noticing that her hair was the exact same color as his favorite sunsets in Arizona when Bethany popped in front of him.
“Dad!!” she squealed.
“Kiddo!” Reggie blurted, his sweet little girl now standing up to his shoulders.
“How do I look?” she said and twirled. Airy white fabric swished up to her knees and she turned in a giant, teetering circle.
Reggie watched her for a minute as she got her footing in the 2.5 inch heels and was able to smooth out the circle, slightly.
“Like my little angel,” he said and coughed, turning away to wipe his face with his hanky. “I’ve never been prouder of you, kiddo.”
“Eee!” she chirped, and rushed back to the parents on the other side calling her name to line up.
Reggie got in his own line with Tony at a table littered with juggling balls, pom poms, and a tuba. He let out a big sigh. Shook his head. And decided there was no place he’d rather be.