“And what does the power of hope mean to you?” Cassie looked around. The porte cochère reached off the side of the Wrigley mansion—home to the Tournament of Roses—like a stray limb, the old Italian architecture giving way to an addition that looked like a bunker. Behind her, dozens of girls lined up beneath the arbor in the rose garden, and she wondered if they had all practiced their smile in the mirror. Each rose had a label beneath it. Sweet Surrender, Sexy Rexy, Gold Marie, Crowd Pleaser, Miss All-American Beauty. She imagined pruning the roses, clipping them down to the roots and watching them bloom again. It was like a Monet piece she’d seen at the Norton Simon. Birds of paradise and sundresses, floating in a sea of floribunda. She wondered if all those seventeen-year-olds thought they would be the Rose Queen, parading through Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Maybe some of them were aiming to be a princess, or some just wanted a ticket to the dance. Cassie just wanted the scholarship. She looked at Sydney next to the KTLA van parked on the grass, entertaining a reporter, before returning her gaze to the panel of adults in front of her. “I think hope is about, um, always believing in the—” “That’s time. Next!” *** Every morning and every afternoon since they were eight, Cassie and Ray walked across the Colorado Street Bridge between their homes and school. They knew it as the suicide bridge. New barriers framed the sweeping structure, stopping those who wished to take one final flight into the dry Arroyo. They hadn’t gotten rain last season, so the concrete river carried nothing but lizards and trash. They walked and looked out at the Rose Bowl Stadium in the valley and the San Gabriel mountains above. Cassie imagined how beautiful it must have looked before the 134 highway blocked their view, before the trails below became a smoke spot her mom told her to avoid. A dry and powerful September Santa Ana wind kissed their skin. “So how’d the court thing go?” Ray asked. Cassie looked at her sneakers. “I didn’t make it.” “Every year it’s always some rich girl who studied rocket science in Japan or something.” “Well, I still get a ticket to the Rose Ball. And a plus one.” They reached the end of the bridge. “You wanna come?” “Yeah. I guess.”
“I’m going Airitarian for the week.” Cassie stopped chewing and looked up at Sydney. They had been friends since preschool. Sydney lived on the other side of Pasadena, in one of the mansions near San Marino. “It’s like a diet where you only eat air. I mean obviously I’m still gonna eat. I’m not anorexic or anything. I’m just gonna cut back a little.” Sydney took a bite of her salad and smiled. “I have my second interview tomorrow!” Cassie lost her appetite. She told Ray about it on the way home. “Are you surprised? I mean, Sydney was bred for this stuff. First, she’ll get on the court, then she’ll go to USC, and then she’ll marry some dude with a fancy last name and move back. It’s kinda sad if you ask me.” “I don’t know. I think it might be nice to have your whole life all mapped out. She seems happy.” A truck honked on the 134.
The bridge looked different from the Uber. “You know we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” “I put on a tie. We’re going.” It was loud inside the hall, and Cassie felt the bass of the music in her bones. Frantic adults were checking people’s bags, and wrist bands and confetti littered the floor. Someone handed her a light-up ring. To one corner, kids were taking pictures in white thrones. In the other sat a rounded coach. Ray laughed. “Come on, Cass, we have to take a picture in the carriage.” So she sat with him in the white coach, squinting through cordate filigree and LED lights. Red roses and vines covered the door like a wedding arch. “Smile!” They went to the dance floor. Confetti was falling from the sky like a desert snow, landing in a landscape of fog machines and strobe lights. Cassie’s gaze made its way up the 40-foot walls. They were projecting photos of all the girls still eligible for the court. Each held a bouquet of flowers, but they looked more like brides than pageant queens. The slide switched to Sydney right as she walked up to them. “I told them that was my bad side!” Sydney said. “You look great, your highness.” Ray bowed before giving her a hug. “People are saying you’ll be queen.” The three of them danced for a few minutes before Sydney peeled off. Cassie didn’t resent Sydney. She just wished her life were that easy, that she wouldn’t have to do a year at Pasadena City College if she wanted to go to USC. She wished that she could drive to school instead of walking over ghosts twice a day. Ray went to get their bags.
*** They walked down Colorado Boulevard in silence. When they got to the bridge, there were no cars, and one of the streetlights was out. She didn’t remember when it happened, but she found her fingers intertwined with Ray’s. A cold wind picked a petal off her Miss All-American Beauty corsage, and they watched as it floated up over the fence and down, until all they saw was a speck of dust, disappearing into the concrete river below.
Jeffrey Pendo is a first-year student at Pomona College.