“A makeover?” Yasmine asked London, who’s smile had gotten bigger and bigger.
“Why not?” London shrugged, turning to her friend. “It would be so much fun! They supplied us with a bunch of makeup, and I have an adorable dress I think you’d look amazing in.”
“I don’t know, London. Our styles don’t exactly dovetail.”
“Sure, they do! I know you didn’t want to borrow my crop top, but this dress is totally different.”
Yasmine rolled her eyes but smiled at her friend’s enthusiasm. “All right. What do we start with?” She asked gamely.
London pressed a finger to her lips, thinking, before blurting out, “Makeup!”
She grabbed Yasmine’s hand and led her to the vanity and forcing her to sit.
“What should I start with?” Yasmine asked.
She had a usual routine of applying minimal makeup, making sure there was just enough to complement her features. Being a busy businesswoman, she didn’t focus much on transforming her face into a piece of art each morning – she’d simply do her normal routine and head off to work, intending to get things done before others came in. It just wasn’t in her nature to get dolled up. She preferred the simplistic approach, but had come to admire the other girls in the house who could work magic with their makeup.
“Just start playing around,” London said, sitting back down on her couch.
Yasmine picked up powder and liberally applied it to her face, watching as little bits landed on her top. She sighed before brushing them off and continuing.
“Uh…London?” Yasmine questioned, turning to the couch. “Is this what it’s supposed to look like?”
London looked up from the book she had been skimming and jumped at the sight.
“Um, not exactly,” She said timidly. “Why not try again? Practice makes perfect!”
Yasmine examined herself in the mirror and nodded.
This time around she was more careful, taking time to put a light dusting of blush on her cheeks and perfectly straight eyeliner to bring out her almond eyes.
“It looks terrible, doesn’t it?” Yasmine cried, covering her face.
“I can’t look.” She continued, turning away.
“Yaz!” London cried, standing up and placing her hands on her friend’s shoulders. “Look – you’re beautiful.”
Slowly, Yasmine turned around to face herself. She had to admit it – she did look good! It wasn’t overboard – just dark, red lips and and some dark eyeshadow. She felt a flutter of excitement in her stomach.
“What’s next?” She asked, turning to face London.
“I don’t know about this,” Yasmine spoke, her voice garbled from behind the bathroom door.
“Oh come on!” London called. “Did I steer you wrong with the makeup?”
“Yes!” Yasmine fired back. “I had blue eyeshadow! BLUE!”
London giggled at the outburst. “Just come out, okay? If you don’t like it, you can change!”
Yasmine stepped slowly out of the bathroom, smoothing the light blue dress as she went.
She lifted her narrow shoulders in a slight shrug. “What do you think?”
Yasmine had brought pearls that her mother gave her before Yasmine left for the competition. She hadn’t had any cause to wear them yet, but decided now was as good a time as any.
“Yasmine, you look gorgeous!” London remarked.
Just in time too, as a swift knock came from the front door.
“Yasmine?” Stellan called. “Are you in there?”
The two girls silently screamed as they jumped up and down.
“Okay, okay!” London whispered, adjusting Yasmine’s necklace. “Go get that man!”
Yasmine chuckled as she opened the door and met Stellan in the hallway. The two linked arms as they walked down the grand staircase.
“You look stunning, by the way.” Stellan smiled, patting the hand she had rested in the crook of his elbow.
“Thank you,” Yasmine smiled demurely. “I can’t take credit for it though – London gave me a makeover.”
Stellan laughed. “For all I care, you could be wearing a llama suit and still be beautiful.”
Yasmine laughed alongside him, allowing a small blush to creep up her cheeks.
“Where are we off to?” She eventually asked.
“Actually, we’re here.”
Stellan pushed open a swinging door and held it for Yasmine. She gasped as she walked in. A huge, industrial-sized kitchen surrounded her. Multiple stoves, fridges, and appliances were scattered through around the pristine countertops. A huge baking machine sat to the right – she had only seen one in magazines and advertisements, but never in real life.
“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Yasmine whispered.
Stellan smiled. “I thought we’d do a bit of baking to pass the night,” He explained.
“Oh! Well, what do you want to bake?”
Stellan shrugged. “Your pick! Tonight, I’m your sous chef- just tell me what to and I’ll do it.”
“I like the sound of that,” Yasmine laughed melodically.
“Let’s do biscotti – it goes great with coffee.” Yasmine decided, heading to the fridge. She grabbed all the ingredients and began mixing them together, explaining the basics of baking to Stellan as she went.
“Can I try mixing?” He asked, stepping towards her.
“Sure!” She said, handing him the wooden spoon.”It’s not difficult – just try to get all the ingredients to combine.”
“Easy.” Stellan proclaimed, puffing his chest out. Yasmine laughed at the display, but laughed even harder as Stellan got milk all over himself and the kitchen.
“Maybe you’re more of an electric-mixer kind of guy,” Yasmine chuckled, finishing up the stirring for him.
Stellan gasped mockingly. “Are you saying I can’t bake?”
“No,” Yasmine said patiently before bursting out into laughter again. “I’m saying you can’t mix!”
When the biscotti came out of the oven, Yasmine showed the prince how to properly decorate it.
“Just a light sprinkle,” She said while adding a few toppings. “Want to try?”
“No way,” Stellan scoffed. “I can’t even mix.”
“Well, at least you can admit it.”
“I bet I can use this weird robot thing, though.” He ground out, marching to the baking machine.
“Stellan, I don’t-”
“Hush!” He interrupted, pulling a lever and pressing a random button. “I’ve totally got this.”
Yasmine covered her mouth, trying not to laugh. Stellan continued to smack random buttons and even went so far as to pat the machine and tell it that it’s doing a marvelous job.
“Ha!” He shouted as a plate of plain donuts rolled out of the machine. “I did it!”
Yasmine laughed at his excitement. She was seeing a different side of him than most people knew. Gone was the serious prince – now, he was just a silly kid acting like he’d gotten an A on his test.
“We should decorate the donuts, too.” Yasmine said, taking them to the counter.
“Oh no, I’m not touching those babies.” Stellan objected, waving a hand in the air.
“Fine, fine,” Yasmine conceded. “Why don’t we make one more thing? You start it and I’ll decorate these donuts.”
And that’s just what they did. For some time, they worked in companionable silence, enjoying the peaceful calm that had washed over them.
It didn’t last though.
Stellan made sure of that.
He added milk to the batter he was attempting to mix again. It sprayed all over his shirt, causing him to jump back in horror. Yasmine turned at the commotion, and without a word, tossed a towel at him. An embarrassed grin swept Stellan as he dabbed the liquid, watching Yasmine finish up with the donuts.
At the end of their baking fiasco, they each grabbed some plates and carried them into the dining room. After taking a seat across from each other, they dug in.
After the first bite of biscotti, Stellan turned his attention back to Yasmine.
“So!” He started, leaning forward. “Where did you learn to bake like that?”
Yasmine smiled, recounting the memory. “My parents were never exactly strict, but they did want what was best for me. I usually spent my days after school studying or working on my extracurriculars while my parents worked. But on Saturday nights, my mom would take me into the kitchen and teach me how to cook and bake. She’s Indian, and knows a bunch of amazing tricks and recipes that she passed down to me. I still visit my parents every Friday to go cook dinner with them.”
“That’s amazing,” Stellan mused. “They sound like great people.”
“Oh, they are.” Yasmine said, softening. “My dad’s a lawyer and my mom owns her own restaurant. She used to be a doctor, but retired when I was born. She wanted to be really involved, and couldn’t do that when she was on call. They showed me what true love really is. If my dad has to stay late at the office, my mom will cook dinner and bring it to him so they can eat together.”
“Wow. My parents were never like that. They loved each other, but respected the other’s work that had to be done. If my dad was working longer than usual in the office, my mom would just nod in understanding and tuck me into bed by herself.”
“I guess all relationships work differently,” Yasmine said.
“What relationship do you think we’d have?” Stellan asked, taking another bite of biscotti.
Yasmine paused, genuinely considering the question. It was a loaded one, and she knew it was serious.
“A balanced one, I think. One where we’d eat breakfast together every single morning, and make a point to have one date a week. I would want to run a bakery, and together we’d take some goods and deliver them to the people that can’t afford them.”
“We’d let kids into the palace some days and we can teach them how to bake.” Stellan paused. “Well, you’ll teach them…and teach me.”
Yasmine laughed, and the two spent the rest of the night talking and laughing.
The next morning, the girls were woken up early by the intercom system.
“Morning, ladies!” Simcess called, her voice crackled through the speakers. “Meet me in the catacombs in twenty minutes for your next challenge!”
The girls grumbled as they rolled out of bed and did their best to look somewhat presentable within the small time frame. They descended into the dark basement again, already feeling the stress. If today’s challenge was anything like the maze, they were in trouble.
“I see you all made it here,” Simcess said, smiling at the contestants. “Let me put your mind at ease for a moment – there’s no maze behind that door.”
The girls let out sighs of relief. London practically teared up out of sheer happiness.
“Well, not a real maze.”
This time, groans.
“You will be ushered into individual rooms and have both doors locked. At a given time, all the doors will be unlocked and you will proceed into the room. Inside lays a…special friend. That’s all I’ll say for now – let’s go!”
The girls all made their way into their assigned rooms, fidgeting with nerves. No matter what anyone said, this was just like the labyrinth. Short walls, poor lighting…this time London actually cried.
All at once, the doors unlocked. The eleven women stepped into the large room and gasped at what stood across from them.
Once again, the intercom crackled to life, filling the room with Simcess’s voice. “Yes, that is a cowplant! She’s okay right now…but soon she’ll get very, very hungry. There are no winners today – only one loser. If you manage to survive the cowplant, you’ll be sent to the Redemption Room. If you don’t…we have a graveyard out back. Have fun!”
And with that, the room went dead silent.
The girls looked around, observing the twisting turns of the fences blocking their path. So many dead ends, so many shortcuts. Who would be tempted?
After standing for hours upon hours, the cowplant made a strange noise, drawing everyone’s attention to it. The plant reared back before shooting out it’s tongue, revealing a delectable piece of cake.
All at once, the promises each girl made to herself went out the window.
A few different girls scurried forward, eager to take a bite. Raina charged forward, but was met with a fence providing her movement forward. Lyric started walking too, but found herself backed into a corner. Slowly but surely, Ming had begun to make her way forward.
But she was too late.
In a mere matter of seconds, Shirley had seen the cake, and was intoxicated by it. With greedy hands and wide eyes, she grabbed the cake and went to take a bite.
Not to be thwarted by a colourful character, the cowplant opened its wide jaws and swallowed Shirley in one bite.
The girls stared on in horror as the cowplant hacked Shirley far into the recesses of its mouth, making horrible sounds as it did.
The cowplant returned to its normal state, removing the cake from its perch.
Shirley was gone.
However, no urn formed.
More minutes passed.
In one big hack,the cowplant spit out Shirley onto the ground, covered in green mucous. She scrambled away, intensely uncomfortable. Girls rushed forward to hug her before noticing the smell she was emitting.
“Sorry, Shirls,” Lyric said, taking a step back. “But you need a shower.”
“Or ten,” Kara muttered.
Simcess walked in and went to Shirley, keeping a safe distance as she did so.
“I’m sorry, Shirley, but it looks like you’re headed to the RR.”
“Better than the bowels of a cowplant,” Shirley muttered, following Simcess out of the room.
And with that, Shirley was locked in the Redemption Room.