Chapter 30

Saturday morning dawned cool and drizzly, which suited everyone's mood perfectly. Meaghan Pruitt's funeral was held at 10:00 that morning. Though the sanctuary was large, the church had had to put folding chairs in the aisles to accommodate the crowd; most of the Junior class and all the school staff were there. Most of the young people had never attended a funeral before, but felt it was the last thing they could do for their friend. They were respectfully silent during the service, though many voices broke when they stood to sing hymns.

Gracie leaned her head on Kelly's shoulder. "Oh, they're going to do the slideshow now. I hate those things! They make me cry worse than anything the preacher said."

Kelly put his arm around her shoulders and patted her arm. "Go ahead and cry, Gracie. But look at the pictures, and remember Meaghan."

The slideshow began, complete with sappy music, and Gracie was hardly the only one to sob. Having expected this, the ushers had placed boxes of tissues in all the pews and people began passing them around as needed.

"Meaghan would hate for us all to see that one," Gracie whispered. The giant screen displayed a 4-year-old Meaghan dressed as a tiny Princess Leia.

"I think it's cute," Kelly whispered back.

"It's just that they seem so personal, like only her family should see some of them," she protested, albeit feebly.

"And you don't think her mother would open up those albums to you if you went to visit her?" he asked facetiously.

Gracie made a wry face and continued to watch in silence. She was surprised to see herself in a few on the later photos. She made a mental note to see if she could get copies of those, then realized that the disc would probably be handed around and copied endlessly. At last the service was over and people began solemnly filing out past the coffin, paying their last respects and saying goodbye to a friend.

Most of the mourners followed the family to the cemetery for the graveside service as well. Gracie and her friends hung back on the edge of the crowd, allowing church members and Meaghan's closer friends a better view. Kelly wanted to leave when the thankfully short service was over, but Gracie insisted on going through the line to speak to Meaghan's parents.

Cynthia Pruitt wore a stylish black suit, but her eyes were red and swollen from crying. She looked at Gracie as if she couldn't recognize her. Steve Pruitt was as well-dressed as ever, yet he stared straight ahead at nothing.

"It's Gracie, Mrs. Pruitt," Gracie said softly. "I am so very sorry that this happened." Having issued the commonly-accepted condolence phrase she paused, unsure of what, if anything, she should say next.

Cynthia focused on her face and something seemed to click; she grabbed Gracie's hand. "Gracie, Dear, thank you. Thank you for bringing my daughter's killer to justice."

Gracie blushed a little. "You're welcome."

Steve stood up and turned to face her. "It won't bring her back, she's in Heaven now. But justice has been done, and no other families will have to suffer from that poor deranged girl's actions."

He reached a hand out to shake Gracie's, then suddenly threw his arms around her and began sobbing uncontrollably. Gracie was shocked, but realized the man needed to let his grief out. Awkwardly she put her arms around him as well, and patted his back. Cynthia stood, her legs wobbly from emotion and exhaustion. Gently she substituted her body into her husband's embrace and let Gracie back away.

"Steve, we must help that girl," she told him through her tears. "We must show her that God loves her despite what she's done. Everyone else will revile her, but we can show true Christian spirit in doing this."

Tears still running down his cheeks, Steve looked at his wife first in surprise and finally in loving agreement. "Yes, who better?" he asked.

Gracie took the opportunity to walk away, genuinely moved by the scene she'd just witnessed. Personally she didn't think she could ever forgive Amy for all she'd done, but she couldn't fault Steve and Cynthia for trying. She rejoined her friends at the edge of the thinning crowd and explained what had happened. As she talked the sun broke through the clouds, warming the day and turning the last few raindrops still clinging to the grass into dazzling crystals.

"Can we go home now?" Kelly asked. He wiggled his tie in a manner suggesting he'd like nothing more than to take it off immediately.

"Wait!" Shawna said. "That's Jake talking to Meaghan's parents. I wanna see what happens."

"Yeah, let's get closer so we can eavesdrop," Cheryl suggested.

Gracie shook her head. "Give them some privacy, will ya? It's none of our business."

They all turned to watch. Jake's face was solemn as he spoke to Steve and Cynthia, but whatever he said was brief. He shook hands with both of them, but it didn't look very cordial. As he walked away Gracie supposed that Ken had explained things to them, including Jake's involvement, but somehow she doubted that they truly believed that he would've been their son-in-law. Perhaps that was for the best, now.

Kelly began edging away from the scene but the three girls stayed where they were, somehow feeling that there was something else to be done before they left. Brittney and Andrea walked up to the group.

"I still can't believe Amy tried to poison me!" Andrea said. "I went out with Jake maybe twice, and dated other guys too. Honestly, I didn't think he liked me all that much."

"Well, when the hottest guy in school asks me out, I'm not gonna turn him down," Brittney said. "Even if he was really more interested in getting a tutor," she added with a wry grin.

"I suspect Jake will have a little harder time finding dates now," Shawna said with a small laugh.

"Are you kidding?" Kelly asked in amazement. "He'll be more popular than ever!"

Bobby Summers walked by, almost unrecognizable in a sports jacket and tie.

"Bobby!" Gracie yelled after him. She beckoned for him to join them and he did so apparently reluctantly.

"I'm surprised you came," Cheryl said. "Er, but glad. It was very nice of you to do it."

"Bobby, I am so sorry," Gracie said. "You must feel terrible. If it helps any at all, Amy swears you had nothing to do with her schemes."

Bobby shrugged his shoulders rather helplessly. "Thanks. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; nobody seems to like me."

"That's not true, Bobby!" Shawna protested. "It's just that…well, us girls don't know anything about cars so we don't know how to talk to you."

"I don't know anything else," he replied. "My folks don't have a lot of money for fancy electronics so I don't know nothin' about music and video games, and I gotta help Dad at his garage."

"You're learning a trade," Andrea insisted. "Someday you'll own that shop yourself. Besides, I've seen that car of yours; it's got far more style than the new ones, and I bet when you get it painted you'll choose something great like those fire pictures."

Bobby chuckled. "They're called 'flames'," he told her. "Mustangs look better with graphic art, but that's expensive unless you do it yourself."

"I can design it, if you can paint it!" Andrea replied.

Bobby perked up. "Really? You'd help me?"

"Sure, it'd be fun," Andrea said.

"I'd help, too," Brittney said. "Except I can't draw a straight line with a ruler. But I'm pretty good at organizing; maybe I could help plan things out, you know with the money and stuff you'll need."

Bobby looked at both girls with suspicion. "You're just trying to be nice to me, because of Amy and all."

"Maybe just a little," Brittney admitted. "But Bobby, I think you have to be pretty smart to know how to put all those pieces together to make a car run, and I like smart guys. I'm tired of guys being jealous of me because I get good grades."

"Wish I had that problem!" Andrea said. "But seriously, Bobby; I've never taken on an art project the size of a car, and I'd love to try. And I've got lots of music on my iPod, so you can learn what's popular."

"And then decide what kind you really like," Brittney threw in.

"Please, can we go now?" Kelly asked plaintively.

"How about we all go for ice cream?" Gracie asked ingenuously.

"You've got my vote!" Andrea said. "But I get to ride in the Mustang."

Kelly and Bobby simultaneously reached for their ties, loosening the knot and pulling them off. Gracie took one last look at the crowd.

"Uh-oh, let's go now," Gracie said. "Ken's heading my way and somehow right now I don't want to think about anything to do with crime."