Chapter 9: Glory
The Miss Colorado preliminaries were to be held at the mall, with the preliminary talent portion in view of the public. The 120 contestants were divided into three groups. Throughout the week, group A went to a hotel for the interview portion of the competition, while group B went for the swimsuit and gown portion and group C performed their talent routines live, on the main stage. With all the drama with Jason, I had forgotten which group Cece was in.
I would like to say, that by pure luck, Jason and I (with a police escort) were allowed to watch Cece perform her routine, but that was not to be. Her group was in the interview portion. Apparently, she had already performed her talent and modeling earlier in the week while I was still in the hospital. Oh well. On the bright side, I learned that Cece had also won an award. Hopefully that meant I would have the chance to see her performance in the finals.
Since I had been bleeding very badly, the decision has been made to surgically remove even more of the tissue of my leg. Via Marni’s summery of events; I had been unconscious for a little over a day, while Jason had been awake immediately. That certainly explained how and why Jason was able to observe me, while secured to his own bed. But even with the logical explanation, the whole situation was creepy as fuck.
Since Cece would not be performing at the public stage that day, Jason was taken back into police custody, pending a transfer to Mississippi. His lawyers were still trying to negotiate a plea to avoid a life sentence; he was junkie who made a mistake- a mistake that almost cost him the love of his life. At least’s that’s what I heard from the local sheriff’s office. Due to Jason’s priority level, the custody transfer could take up to a week to process. This meant, my daughter could visit him, but that decision would have been up to her.
“Daddy!” Cece joyfully leapt into my arms. She had been wearing chunky platform shoes to look taller, but she easily ditched the fake footwear to sit on my lap. “I believe it! Mom said, if you didn’t wake up, they might’ve had you transferred back to the base hospital.” She held me close, burying her face in my shoulder. “I miss you so much!”
“I miss you too, Sweetheart.” My voice choked with emotion.
The turned her head to whisper in my ear. “Is he gone?”
Her words sent shivers down my spine. “Jason?”
“Yeah,” Cece asked, still whispering. “I-Is he gone?”
“Actually, he wants to talk to you.”
“B-But why?” her voice trembled with disappointment.
“Um,” I stuttered, as I stroked her face. “He said you never heard the full story.”
Cece glared at me, her eyes on the verge of tears. “I lived the full story.”
‘Oh, Fuck.’ The answer was clear. She wanted me to kill him, she wanted me to protect her. I failed my daughter. “I-I’m so sorry.”
Cece nodded. “Where is Jason now?
“He’s in prison, pending a transfer.”
“Ok.” Cece nodded. She stood up, brushing off her dress. “So, do you think I should talk to him?”
“You know, I can’t make that decision for you.”
Cece pursed her lips, as she took deep breaths through her nose. I could tell she was contemplating her choices, in relation to how they could affect my love and respect for her. “What exactly did Jason tell you?”
“He told me about his father. About your friendship; I didn’t know you were friends ever since you were kids.” That answer seemed to only make her more upset.
“Do you want me to meet with him?” Cece now sounded stoic, like someone was on a job interview. “Would it make you proud?”
I realized I may have been speaking too positively about the boy who nearly ended her life. “It’s not a matter of what I want. He claims he never had the chance to apologize. Whether or not you want to give him that opportunity is up to you. I can’t and won’t judge you.”
“Ok, Daddy.” Cece looked down at her hands, her personality transforming before my eyes. “Could we go tomorrow? Or do we have to make an appointment?”
As it turned out, we did need an appointment. We needed to give the police a few hours for Jason to be ‘prepped.’ My family was led to an interrogation room with a two-way mirror. I sat in the corner, in my wheelchair, with my wife by my side.
Cece was given a chair at a table in the center of the small room, nervously tapping her fingers on the faux wood surface.
“You can do this, Cece.
The door opened and Jason was led in by two officers. He wore both arm and leg cuffs, in addition to the neck brace. “Hey, Cece,” Jason said through his still healing throat wound.
“Hey,” Cece said in a whisper, her voice noticeably breaking. “It’s been a while
“Yeah, that was a wild night.”
“You mean, the night when you fed me to the wolves?”
“I-I was a coward. I should have protected you. I should have died to save you.”
“But you didn’t.” Her voice was cold, robotic.
Jason nodded. No amount of apologizing could fix the awkward situation.
Cece reached her hand towards him. “Jay, there may come a day when I can forgive you, but it’s not today.”
“I wasn’t looking for forgiveness.” With Jason’s hands secured in front of him, he couldn’t have touched her even if he tried.
“Then what? What do you want from me?”
“I wanted to see you looking strong and beautiful, the way you deserve to be.”
“As opposed to assaulted and left for dead?” Cece laughed.
“Yeah, I guess.” Jason nodded slightly, looking genuinely ashamed.
Cece stood up, and walked over to Jason’s side of the table. She cupped his injured face looking into his eyes, “Goodbye Jason.” She kissed his lips more passionately than I would have liked. But she followed her act of love with a child-like boop to his nose. “Now, if you excuse me, I have a pageant to win.”
The guard held back a chuckle. “I guess we’re done here. On your feet, kid!”
My family left the room in silence. May daughter had said all that needed to be said. But as we stepped out into the parking lot, with my wife pushing my chair, I felt the need to reach for Cece’s hand. “I’m proud of you.”
“I know, Daddy.” She gave my hand a tender squeeze. “I know.”
The day of the final competition started with a trip to the airport at four in the morning. General Alyssa Blake had flow in on her own dime. I had to assume that the blonde beauty was determined to stay on good terms with her superiors. Because that was the only reason I could think of, as to why any sane person would craft a travel plan that would result in less than a weekend of vacation time.
“Oh my god! Adam, it’s really you!” My best friend squealed with a level of energy that could only come from surviving on caffeine for twenty hours straight. “You look great!”
I chuckled from my wheelchair. “Easy to look good before the sunrise. And when your better half does all the driving.”
“I wish I knew a little about that,” she said through her beauty queen smile.
“Don’t worry about it. Living the single life isn’t that bad. If I had accepted his proposal wouldn’t have the time to spend with my best friend and his kick-ass family.” Alyssa Blake stayed in touch since I left Alaska. She knew of all my fuckups and knew all of her drama. Including how she was recently single. She flew in the day of the event, with plans to fly back to Alaska on a red-eye, all because she loved my family as her own. “Well, retirement looks good on you.”
“Medical retirement,” I muttered.
Alyssa playfully ducked behind my chair and kissed my cheek. “Don’t make me tell your hot, goth-chic, better half that her medically retired husband is being a buzz-kill.”
“She’s waiting at the car park” I started to roll away, in my wheelchair, hoping Allyssa would walk beside me.
Instead she jumped on my back. “What are we waiting for? Give me a ride!”
That was how we rolled up upon my wife. Marni rushed from the driver’s seat and gave Alyssa a hug.
“You’re looking good, General Blake.” Marni managed to pull her off me and the two women kissed in a way that seemed playfully sexy.
“You too, Babe,” Alyssa said as she licked her shinny lips.
I couldn’t wait to go back to our hotel and catch up.
Cece was still asleep on the sofa, with her baby brother in her arms. She had to wake up in a few hours to get to the venue, to do whatever publicity required by the organizers. “General Blake,” she said with a yawn.
“Hey, sweetie.” Alyssa put down her small, overnight bag. She took a seat next to Cece and showed her to gifts she brought from Alaska.
Since I was able to get out of my chair on my own, I got back into bed, relaxing with some early morning television.
My eyes felt heavy. I dozed off to the sound of infomercials overlaying the conversation of my wife daughter and best friend.
I awoke to darkness. I was alone, cold, and my body was in pain. So much pain. Chest is in pain. I cross my arms. My hands are small, my body is small. My voice, “Mama?” I want to scream. I want to cry.
“Hey, baby,” said a distant voice. “You’re okay, my love. Everything will be ok.” I knew it was my mother’s voice. “You’re so strong, Adam.” I could feel her hand on mine, as if she was trying to hold my hand, but lacked the strength to close her fingers. “You’re my strong little boy.”
I turned to look at my mother, but all I could see was a mass of blonde hair streaked with dirt and blood. “Mommy? Where are you? I want to go home.”
As I look down, I can see her hands; frail, broken. But still she holds on. “You’re going to be ok. Let the angels are going to guide you home.”
Leo? Please, Leo get me out of here!
I awoke again, reclining comfortably in the hotel bathtub. The room was bright, the water was warm, and the blonde next to me was clearly my healthy, alive best friend.
“Hi Adam,” she said softly, her voice like honey. “You gave us a real scare.”
“Yup, it’s me,” she said as she stroked my face and neck with a wet wash cloth. “But I can go by Mama if you like.”
“You heard that?” I reclined my neck, letting the warmth cover my shoulders. Part of me wanted to disappear in to the bathwater.
“Did you see your mother?” she asked with a sweet smile.
I had to take a moment to think of an answer. She didn’t ask if I had dreamt of my mother, she’d asked if I actually saw her face. “The thing is, I barely remember her. I just know she was blonde, tall, kind, and strong.”
Alyssa’s blue eyes seemed to sparkle. “Do you think she looked like me?”
“I guess I’ll find out soon enough,” my voice quivered as I forced a laugh.
Alyssa leaned forward, gazing lovingly into my eyes. She cupped my fingers between her gentle hands and tenderly kissed my knuckles. “Not before we watch your daughter kick some Miss Colorado ass.” Alyssa had some pageant and modeling experience so, the plan was, she was going to accompany Cece as her coach.
The finals were held in an auditorium of a local high school, with ticket proceeds going towards local charities. Not that it mattered since I was watching from backstage with Alyssa and the other assistants. I tried to stay in my little corner, out of everyone’s way. But with a perfect view of the back of the stage.
Each contestant got about two seconds of stage time, to shout their name and sash title. Cece rounded out the second group. “Felicity ‘Cece’ Severgine, representing Colorado’s military community.” She struck a pose and flashed the peace sign.
May daughter’s sash literally read, ‘Colorado Military Community.’ She technically represented each and every military base in the state despite the fact that the majority of them fell under other city and counties. In short: Cece had been given a free title, in exchange for becoming a walking billboard for the US military.
So, it came as no surprise that when Cece was announced in the top twenty there were noticeable jeers from the crowd. Alyssa quickly pulled her backstage to prepare for the athletic wear round of competition. “Fuck those haters,” Alyssa said with her usual confidence.
Cece nodded. “I-I know.” She took a series of deep breaths, but there were tears in her eyes. “I’m going to rock this.”
Alyssa turned to me. “Adam, do me a favor: if anyone so much as breathes on her prep-station, you cut their throats.”
I knew what she meant. It would be so easy for one of the contestants or coaches to sabotage Cece’s makeup, costumes or personal belongings. I took a seat in her station, positioning my wheelchair where my daughter would have sat to do her makeup. I had no interest in seeing her attempt to model in a leotard, with her scars on display. But I would be there for her.
The finalists had maybe five minutes to change. This was where Alyssa’s assistance came in. I can’t even describe the Disney-level of magic the occurred in those five minutes. When it was over, Cece’s looked breathtaking.
Her dark blue gown was paired with chunky silver jewelry that Alyssa brought from Alaska. “How do I look, Dad?” she asked with a shy shrug.
This was the most elegantly beautiful I had ever seen her. I wanted to tell her she looked like a mermaid, a princess, an absolute ethereal creature. But the first thing that came to mind was, the fact that I wouldn’t live to see her wedding day. This would be the last time she ever looked at me with the dolled-up face of a Hollywood angel. I wouldn’t see her college graduation or any other big moment in her life. “Y-You look perfect.” Before I could say anything more. She was swept off to the stage for the lineup.
I continued to guard her belongings, giving me no view of the stage. But that was fine. I had already seen her gown in all it’s glory. I took the moment of alone time, to try and contain my emotions. I could still hear the stage clearly. The top ten were announced; Cece had made it.
There were still jeers, but that didn’t matter. Cece ran back to her station, leaping into my arms. “Oh my God! I can’t believe it!” She was screaming, laughing, as tears streamed down her cheeks. She pressed her lips to my ear, careful of her makeup. “I get to dance for you.”
“You need to get changed,” Alyssa said, already holding Cece’s next costume; a silver and gold piece, with halo-sequence along the skirt.
In a blink of an eye, Leo materialized, sitting cross-legged on the desk of Cece’s station. His body was transparent like a stereotypical ghost. He placed a finger to his upper lip, comically miming the ‘shh’ motion. In that moment, the world seemed to blur.
After helping Cece dress, Alyssa moved my chair to a spot where we would have a view of the stage. Leo reappeared by my side, leaning his head on my shoulder. “She’s really something special.”
“Yeah she is.” I turned to Leo, assuming he was only visible to myself. “Would you have let me kill Jason?”
“No,” he said with an impartial shrug. “But I wouldn’t have stopped you.”
“What?” That answer made no sense.
“God has a plan. but all living creatures have freewill.”
“I guess I can understand that.”
We watched a singer, a gymnast and a violin player, then it was Cece’s time. The announcer spoke into the mic, from off stage, “Performing ballet en-pointe to ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, Felicity Severgine.”
Cece stood up and took her place center stage. She struck her opening pose. My angel seemed to be bathed in a heavenly glow.
I couldn’t help but smile, even as my heart was breaking. “Leo, what do you see?”
“You mean the future?” he asked, running his fingers through his long majestic rainbow hair. “The future is never written in stone.”
“But what do you see? Will she be safe, happy, loved?”
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. “She’s going to go to college, while staying in touch with Jason. He’s going to get clean, sober, and even get his degree. In about ten years they’ll get married and start a life together. Is that what you want to hear?”
“I guess,” I said with a sigh. I was afraid. I had given up so much, I just wanted to know it would all be worth it.
Leo placed his transparent hand upon mine. “You gave her your strength, so that she could know happiness and hope.”
I nodded. I could feel his hand squeezing mine. “Thank you.”
“It is because of you, Felicity Severgine dances with the strength, and courage of a thousand soldiers.”
The music started. Cece’s feet seem to float on air. My daughter moved with the grace and poise that I remembered. Every leap, point, and graceful gesture felt so brave and true. Her soul was filled with power, and her heart with peace and tranquility. This was her victory dance: this was my daughter reclaiming her life.
After her ninety-second routine, Cece took her final bow to thunderous applause. I saw her turn towards me and smile.
I returned the approving nod. “You did good, Cece.” I knew she wouldn’t be allowed off stage. The top ten was cut to five and Cece easily made it, and this time there were no jeers. She earned her place.
For the final round, each of the girls drew a random question from a deck of cards. The questions ranged from personal to political, and Cece’s was no different. “Colorado is one of the most progressive states when it comes of legislative reform. What is the next issue that you feel our state should spearhead?”
The question was easy enough, she could have said anything. She could have called attention to homelessness, increase veteran benefits, or even campaigned for support for military families. But that’s not what my daughter said. With sweet, child-like innocence and poise, my daughter stated, “I believe that sexual assault should be punishable by death or life imprisonment.”
The auditorium went silent.
Leo cupped his hand over his mouth laughing. “Wow, way to send a message to her ex. Maybe they won’t keep in touch.”
Marni, my beautiful wife who will always be an absolute bad-ass, started a slow clap. When little Gregory started to laugh and cheer the rest of the crowd was swayed. It took a good minute for the applause to die down enough to allow the next girl to take a question.
When it was all over and done, Cece ended up in third place. She also won the ‘Best in Talent’ award, and the community service scholarship prize. The total amount awarded would be enough for her to start school (at a local university) in the coming semester. She posed for pictures with the other winners, before being allowed to return to her station.
“Oh my God.” Alyssa was laughing. “What was with that answer?”
Cece shrugged with an innocent smile sweeter than sugar. “Only one girl gets the crown. I wanted to go viral.”
I smiled despite the pain in my chest. “You have your mother’s balls.” My lungs were starting to hurt. No, it wasn’t my lungs, it was my heart.
“Daddy?” Cece cupped her hand to my face.
I knew my hands were trembling. “I just,” the words choked in my throat. I had felt pain before but at this moment, the pain made me want to crawl into a hole and die. “I need my meds. I’m going to catch up with your mother, you stay here with Alyssa.”
“But…” Cece was about to argue when she was swarmed by press. A few photographers wanted pictures of her with her crippled veteran father, but she quickly changed the subject back to the topic of her platform.
My daughter would get her wish to go viral. In the months that followed, Cece would ride her wave of fame. Local new outlets interviewed her, giving her a podium for her military charity work. She also took to her role as an icon for rape survivors. Her beauty and strength took the internet by storm. And to see her dance was truly inspiring. Though local performances she gained legions of plenty of fans.
In the end, Jason would be going back to prison, I would be heading to hospice. And that would have to be acceptable.