Returning to the dance hall, the fox spotted the wolf standing alone, holding the wall beneath the balcony.  The lights were beginning to dim and a voice on the loud speaker announced that the next dance would be the last of the night.

“Sorry I took so long,” she said sheepishly.  The wolf said nothing.  He took her by the hand and led her to the center of the dancefloor.

The final dance was an Argentine tango.  Just as before, their bodies moved effortlessly to the rhythm of the music, as though rehearsed to perfection.  Even so, he seemed to handle her with a roughness that was not present before.  The twists seemed sharper.  The embraces seemed firmer.  The quebradas were so sudden that her necklace swung to the side.

As the dance went on, the owl’s comments crept back into her consciousness.  How did she know they barely knew each other?  Was she jealous?  Had she been his lover before?  Was she just offering conventional words of caution, or was there some reason for her to worry?

These fleeting thoughts did not trouble her for long.  The fox allowed herself again to be swept away in the wondrous sensations of the moment.  She danced with a vigor and sensuousness that she had never imagined before in her life, matching her partner step for step, stare for stare, until it was difficult to tell which of them was in control.

As the song came to an end, he leaned her over the floor with his arm cupped around her waist in a climatic final pose.  Their breathless faces lingered just inches from each other.  With her arm draped over his shoulder, she was overcome by an urge to kiss him.  And so she did.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming out tonight!” boomed the voice on the speaker.  “We hope you’ve had a splendid evening!”

The wolf was taken off guard by the unexpected kiss, though his lips were complicit.  He lifted her back onto to her feet so that they were facing each other.

“I had a wonderful time tonight,” said the fox, with a twinkle in her eye.  Again, the wolf said nothing.

He turned and led her by the hand to the marble staircase.  Up the staircase they went, along the balcony, and then down a long hallway lit by rows of laterns until they reached Suite #330.

The wolf retrieved a key from his pocket and unlocked the thick mahogany door.  A pleasant smell greeted them as it opened.  Inside sat a plush king-sized bed with at least a dozen pillows.  An elegant painting hung above the headboard.

The fox strolled around the room, admiring its amenities.  The wolf remained by the door.  She glanced back at him hesitantly.

“Are you ok?  Is something wrong?” she asked.

The wolf turned toward the door and locked it.  He removed his mask, and turned to face her.

She covered her mouth and took a step back.

It wasn’t the rider from the beach.

It was him.

“Aren’t you tired yet?” inquired the wolf, at the end of another dance.  The night was no longer young and the guests were slowly beginning dwindle.

The fox shook her head with coquettish innocence.

Bemused, he took a few steps in the direction of the men’s room.  “Well look, I have to take a quick break, but when I come back we’ll do one more.”  He glanced back at his insatiable guest, “but just one more.”

She nodded enthusiastically.

The fox took the opportunity to visit the ladies room as well.  Amidst the bright marble and brass interior, her eyes were immediately drawn to the collection of – apparently complimentary — beauty products lining the countertop.  A godsend for a girl miles away from her purse.  She fell victim to the allures, and twenty minutes later she was still painting a Mona Lisa in the bathroom mirror.  A woman in her mid-thirties entered and occupied the sink next to her.

“Oh dear, could you pass the blush?  There doesn’t seem to be any on this side,” she asked of the now-maskless fox.  The fox politely complied.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed to be enjoying yourself out there,” commented the woman, touching up her makeup in the mirror.  “It’s always nice to see fresh faces.”

“So nice that we insist that they cover them up!” she added with a shrill laugh.  

“Of course, everything here is so amazing,” replied the fox.  “I feel like I’m walking around in a dream.”  She glanced over and noticed an owl mask on the countertop.

“Well I’m glad you’re having fun,” said the woman.  “I assume you will be staying with us for the night?”

The girl paused.  “Well, I don’t exactly have any other arrangements.”

“Excellent,” said the woman.  “I’m sure Stanley will show you to one of our guest suites.”

An awkward silence tensed the air as they finished freshening up.

“It’s not my place to tell you to be careful with men you barely know,” the woman advised as she leaned over and replaced the blush on the girl’s side counter.

“But,” the owl continued.  Their eyes met briefly.  

“Be careful with men you barely know.”

Our New Miss America

So, this year I decided to take a nap before the Miss America pageant and ended up sleeping right through the entire thing.  When I awoke, I checked the results and my first reaction was that something must have gone terribly, terribly wrong.  I was immediately relieved that I didn’t watch it.  Spared myself the anguish.

Four of the top five contestants did not come from my initial group of 20 contenders.  Neither of the top 2 finalists were on my radar.  My predicted winner, Miss Minnesota, did not even make it into the Top 16.  Lo and behold the state of Wyoming — you heard me, Wyoming — had cracked the top 5 for the first time in history and beaten all but one of my favored contestants.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Recently I sat down and watched a replay of the pageant.  I realized, to my surprise, that I actually did pretty darn well.  For the first round of finalists, Miss Kentucky was called.  Yes, she was one of my favorites.  Also Miss Maryland.  She was one of my favorites too.  Also Miss Oklahoma, Miss Illinois, Miss Texas, and Miss Florida.  All of them were on my finalist list.  Then came Miss Utah and Miss Indiana, who were among my initial list of contenders.  (Sidenote: Miss Alabama somehow was left off my entire intro post, but I’ll have you know that I claim her as my own.)  In fact, it seemed to take quite a while before anyone who didn’t draw my pre-competition consideration was called.

All told, four of my top eight picks made the Top 10, five of my top eight made the finals, and 8 of my original 20 were among the 16 finalists.  Those last two numbers equal my results from last year, and all are better than the year before.  Arguably, my predictions fared almost as well this year as they did last year, when I celebrated overwhelming success.  I was left scratching my head as to why I was initially disappointed with the results at all.  From the beginning, I was set up for a great night.

It just so happened that once they made the finals, all my favorites faded.  Probably another reason why it was good I didn’t watch it live!

Anyhow, aside from grading my personal pageantry prognostication, this post is mainly intended to welcome the former Miss New York, Mallory Hytes Hagan, as our new Miss America.  After watching a replay of the pageant, I can say that she is clearly deserving of the title.  She is the first tap dancer in history to win the crown, and anyone who saw her perform “Get Up Off Of That Thing” at the competition knows why.  I have never seen a tap dance routine that could easily be called the most crowd-pleasing performance of the night, but there it is.  Anyone with legs surely felt the urge to get up off of their thang and start dancing along with her.  She performed with the kind of carefree enthusiasm that you would only expect if she was dancing in her backyard in front of family and friends.  For the first time in the history of prime-time television, a tap dance routine was the highlight of the night, a feat made possible only by Miss Hagan’s infectious personality.

Throughout the night, she seemed immune to the enormous, suffocating pressure of being evaluated by millions and millions of onlookers across the country.  When I reflect upon the pageants I’ve seen, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone carry themselves the way she did.  I have seen many examples of poise, elegance, and grace.  The most memorable (e.g., Miss America 2009, Katie Stam, who actually served as one of the judges in this competition) shine with an angelic-like presence under the bright lights of the big pageant.  But I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone who just seemed to simply be in an entirely different place than everyone else on the stage.  Mallory Hagan might as well have been strutting around in her pajamas in her bedroom while everyone else was on eggshells at a stiff black tie affair.  If she felt any pressure at all, she didn’t show it for a second.  This was a girl being herself, having fun, and doing what she loved.  The fact that she had superior talent, had a deceptively toned swimsuit body, and a glowing white evening gown were just background music to the cakewalk.  Anyone watching the pageant was left with the unavoidable impression that Mallory Hagan simply seemed much, much more comfortable out there than anyone else.

I fully support the judges’ decision to crown her the winner, and truthfully, it wasn’t that close.  True, she was not among my finalists.  Neither was the runner-up, Miss South Carolina.  That’s fine.  I made a mistake by not including them.  The judges were right, I was wrong.  I really do feel like this was a well-judged pageant.

Of course, I would have loved to have seen Miss Minnesota included in the finalists, and I am puzzled by why she was left out.  I still feel she would have made an excellent Miss America.  There are some contestants who made the finals who I don’t necessary feel were deserving.  But overall, I think the process worked out pretty well and that we ended up with a fine representative for the youth of our country.

So here is my long-overdue salute to our new Miss America 2013, Mallory Hytes Hagan!