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The AfterImage

"ALL MY LIFE I've avoided bathing suits, and now this!" The blonde pulled irritably at the strip of spandex spanning her ample ass and sighed gustily.

Privately, Brandi agreed. The only thing that kept her from bolting was the thought of the scholarship money. "Harvard Business School," she said to herself reverently, and felt her courage rise even as she avoided looking into the full-length mirror.

Besides, Trish had hidden her clothes.

"Just a precaution, darling," her svelte and stylish manager had gushed. "Can't have the fans mauling your things."


"Harvard Business School," she repeated, barely aware of the murmur of her voice.

"Huh?" The blonde turned toward her. "You say something?"

Brandi started. "Oh! Just that this is the worst part, isn't it? My manager says the BeforeVid is always a skag. She says that the thing to do is to keep the AfterImage in the front brain. She said to look in the mirror and tell myself, 'This is the last time I'm going to have to appear in public like this, ever.' "

The blonde laughed. "Pretty good."

She faced her mirror, hands on jiggling hips, thrust out her barely-restrained tits and announced, "This is the last by-God time I'm going to have to look at that fat bitch in my life. Amen." She laughed again and blew a kiss to her reflection before turning back to Brandi. "Your turn, sugar. Kiss that puppy good-bye."

Reluctantly, Brandi aligned herself with the mirror; looked up and caught the reflection's dark gaze. Nice eyes, she allowed. I've always had nice eyes. Not that anyone could see them through the glare of her glasses; not that she could see anything without the glasses. She was among the rare half-percent of the world population with eyes too sensitive to tolerate contact lenses. Nano-tech could have repaired the myopia in three weeks. But nano-tech was fabulously expensive.

The Miss-New-You Beauty Contest was cheaper. Even if you did have to make the BeforeVid. You got to keep the new-you as consolation for that embarrassment, even if you didn't take top prize.

"Harvard Business School," Brandi whispered and glared at the woman in the mirror, with her horsy face and draggled, unmanageable hair. The spandex top of her bathing suit showed two bulges the size of chestnuts. Her waist was thick, her hips thicker, her thighs pale and pocked with cellulite. Sturdy legs tapered slightly to thick peasant ankles, and the feet in the chic gold sandals were stubby and hammer-toed.

"God, what a wreck!" Brandi cried, with a passion that surprised her. "This is it! The last time I have to be seen like this! The next time I stand in front of that camera, I'm going to be gorgeous!"

"That's the ticket," squealed the blonde and quashed her in a fragrant, wriggly hug just as a chime sounded through the dressing room. "That's the line-up call. Let's knock 'em dead!"

* * *

THE MUSIC WAS honky-tonk, a strut-your-stuff sexbeat out of vogue in even the steamiest dance-houses on Baltimore's Block.

From her position as Miss New-You Maryland, Number 21, Brandi watched each contestant walk the 50-foot ramp, the vidcameras following every step.

Miss Alaska, a tall, unremittingly plain girl with flat pinkish hair, went, head up, eyes straight and shoulders back, at a stately military march totally removed from the grinding music, reached the end of the ramp and stood at parade rest for the count of five, letting the studio audience look their fill before turning and marching off, stage left.

Hawaii, short, brownish and tidy, glided down the ramp on plump, perfect feet, face averted, until a piercing hiss from her manager jerked her head, puppet-like, straight up, showing the vidcameras and the audience pock-marked cheeks and blue eyes nearly hidden within the epicanthic fold.

"Look at those dummies," muttered the blonde, who had turned out to be Miss Louisiana. "Don't they know how to give the marks a show?"

The music ground on, the cameras recorded, the audience stared. Occasionally, a manager would cuss or hiss.

"Number 19," the announcer called, "Miss Louisiana!"

The blonde thrust a jiggling leg forward, paused to catch the beat and swung out with the music, hips grinding, shoulders moving, tits bouncing. She threw her head back and shook her hair, executed a jouncing pirouette and came to rest, still ticking time with her hips, at the end of the platform. She threw two fat handfuls of kisses to the stunned audience and made her exit, stage right, at one with the music.

"Wick-ed," breathed Miss Maine as Brandi gulped for air. "My meme always said southern girls were shameless."

"Number 20," the announcer wheezed, dabbing at his temples with a blue kerchief. "Miss Maine!"

Her turn next. Brandi took a deep breath, then another, as she stared at, but did not see, wiry Miss Maine stride purposefully down the ramp, looking neither to the left nor the right.

She's right, Brandi thought. The blonde's right. Excel at whatever you take in hand, isn't that what Mom used to say?

"Number 21!" brayed the announcer. "Miss Maryland!"

"Harvard Business School," Brandi whispered. She pushed her glasses up on her nose, waited for the music to come around and began her strut down the ramp.

* * *

"DARLING, YOU WERE wonderful!" Trish finished tucking in the velour blanket and touched the intercom switch. "Take us home, Peter."

The limo surged down Ventnor Avenue, shouldering aside lesser vehicles. It swept through the Atlantic City business district, accelerated smoothly through the traffic circle and headed for Margate.

"It won't be long now, darling," Trish cooed, handing Brandi a chilled glass bubbling with pale yellow liquid. She sat back and clasped her beringed hands together, eyes glittering like an owl's in the limo's dim interior. "Wherever did you learn to dance like that?"

Brandi sighed and took a cautious sip from the glass, expecting the salt-bitterness of champagne. The wine was surprisingly good--sweetish and light. She had another sip.

"I grew up in Fells Point. We all used to think it was a big joke, back in high school--bunch of us would take the bus over to the Block, sneak past the bouncers, order rum-and-cokes and watch the strippers..."

She sipped, leaned back and closed her eyes, thinking it was just like her manager to be impressed with the dancing--the glitter, more than the substance. Trish made her living by making ugly girls pretty, after all. Brandi snuggled under the soft blanket and waited wearily for the next question.

But for once Trish was silent. Brandi relaxed into the seat, raised the glass and sipped without opening her eyes, thinking with a sudden, light-headed elation that she had done it, had made the BeforeVid; that tomorrow morning they would start the make over; that in six weeks a new Brandi Schenk would walk down the ramp and deliver her speech before an awe struck and admiring audience. She would win. It was certain that she would win--there were the IQ tests that Trish had given her during the pre-qualifiers.

* * *


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