Grace began climbing the long stairway up to her apartment. A broad smile ran from ear to ear. She had had a great day at the station. She had been chosen to work on a new case with Eric. Someone had been smuggling cocaine across the border from Mexico, and Eric and she had been chosen to work on the case together. The last few months had been going great. Since the Miss United States pageant, everything had changed for her. The men at the station began treating her with a new found respect. She had more confidence in herself.
She entered her apartment and threw down her belongings. She noticed her machine was flashing so she walked over and hit the button. She then made her way across her small kitchen to the fridge for something to eat.
"Um, hi Grace, this is Melanie, Cheryl's mom. I have some bad news. Um, well, I don't know any other way to tell you this." The speaker's voice began to crack as if they were about to cry, "Cheryl was killed in a car accident. She was hit by a drunk driver" By this time the speaker was crying aloud, "Call me. I can give you all the funeral information."
The can of soda Grace held in her hand fell to the ground. She made her way over to the couch and sat down. She held her head in her hands and began to cry. She would never admit it, but she had grown to love the girls she had gotten to know in the Miss USA pageant. They had become her friends in a difficult time. When she was on her own, they took her under their wings. Now, her best friend had been killed. She remained transfixed on the couch for several moments. Silent tears fell as she thought of the times she had spent with Cheryl. She slowly rose and made her way to the phone.
"Hello, Melanie? Yeah, this is Grace. Thank you for calling. How are you doing?"
"Ok," There was a moment of awkward silence. "We're getting by." "When did it happen exactly?"
"Wednesday night, at one Am. She stayed out late for a banquet for drug and alcohol prevention."
"Isn't that ironic?"
"Yeah, I know." Melanie paused. The two thought of Cheryl. She always thought of others before herself. She was killed by somebody she was trying to help. "Well anyway, the funeral is Saturday at noon. It'll be held at St. John's, the church we used to go to when Cheryl was a little girl. Do you think you will be able to come?"
"Oh yeah, of course. I'll be there. I'm calling the airline right now." Grace hung up the phone and called Eric. "Guess what happened?"
"What is it, is everything ok?"
"No, Cheryl was killed by a drunk driver."
"Oh my gosh, Grace I'm so sorry."
"Thanks, do you want to come to Rhode Island on Saturday with me?"
Eric met Grace at her apartment building on Friday and they drove to the airport together. The flight flew by much quicker than Grace had anticipated. She wanted to go to the funeral to pay her respects, but she felt by going she was admitting that her best friend was gone. She did not want to do such a thing. The two arrived at the hotel and walked silently to the main counter. They had made reservations prior to their flight. Eric had hoped that they would share a room, but didn't want to push Grace. He didn't know how she would react so they had reserved two separate rooms. He knew he should leave her alone for awhile. She was in pain.
The next morning they arose early and began their journey to the church. Cheryl's mother had given her directions. The two remained quiet the whole way there. Grace had so much on her mind. Cheryl and she had become such great friends. She couldn't believe she was gone.
"We're here," Eric announced as he pulled into the church parking lot.
"Huh? Oh ok," Grace had been staring out the window, day dreaming. Her mind had wandered back to the pageant days. She would never willingly tell anyone how much she had enjoyed the pageant. She would have rather done anything else. But in reality, she ended up having more fun than she could have imagined. She had met some awesome girls and made a new best friend. But now her best friend was gone.
"Yeah," Grace opened her door and stepped out. They walked slowly into the church. There was no hurry. Cheryl was still dead. Grace felt that by waiting longer to see her body, she was postponing the reality that Cheryl was dead.
Eric and Grace made their way in and were greeted by familiar faces. Hawaii, California, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New York, they were all there.
"Grace!" a familiar voice called out from behind.
"Vick!" Grace quickly hugged her old friend. "What are you doing here? I mean..."
"One of the girls called me and told me what happened. I can't believe it. She was such a sweet girl."
"Yeah, I know. I still can't believe it. Oh, I think its starting." The three found seats together and sat down. The pastor approached the podium and began the eulogy. Grace found it hard to concentrate. Her mind kept wandering back to the pageant days. She hadn't realized how much fun she had had. She hadn't realized just how close Cheryl and she had become. They went out for dinner every time Cheryl was in town. She was one of the first people Grace would tell exciting news from the station. Tears began to fall down her cheeks. She removed a tissue from her purse and tried to wipe them away. Grace was never a sensitive person. She was not used to publicly expressing her emotions. But in the end, she allowed the tears to fall. She could not hold them in. No one could. She peered over at Vick. Tears poured from his eyes. Eric couldn't cold them back either.
When the service ended, many people remained to talk. Grace was approached by a familiar face. "Hey Grace," Miss Texas greeted Grace. "How are you doing?"
"So this must have come as a big shocker, I'm sure."
"Yeah, I can't believe she's gone."
"So have you talked to the pageant people yet?"
"No, why should I?" A confused look fell over Grace's face. "Well, you were runner up."
Grace suddenly understood what she had been talking about. Grace had almost forgotten. She had been runner up in the pageant. "In any event that the winner cannot fulfill her duties as Miss America, the runner up will take her place," Grace said to herself.