The Walking Stick

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Chapter 18: The Reveal

“On the count of three,” Katherine yelled at Pearl as she walked out of her room. “Don’t come out until I count to three!”

Upon Katherine’s direction, Pearl’s mom, Grandma, and Dr. Holt gathered in the living room. Everyone was dressed especially nice, but no one could have guessed how enchanting Pearl looked this evening on her eighteenth birthday.

“One…two…three!” everyone shouted together.

Pearl opened her door and gracefully stepped into the living room. Pearl was not accustomed to wearing high heels; fortunately, her walking stick took over when Pearl questioned her balance. Everyone remained quiet with such explosive energy that Pearl felt as if the room were a balloon about to pop.

“Say something!” Pearl said eagerly.

Susan was trembling with awe and happiness. She had never seen her little girl so grown up. It was as if a woman had emerged from her child’s bedroom. Susan knew it was Pearl, but it was not her little girl anymore. Pearl was a lady, a strikingly beautiful lady. “Oh, my Lord, Pearl. You are a vision. I don’t know the words to describe how you look. You radiate. You are glowing, Pearl, glowing,” Susan whispered as she squeezed Dr. Holt’s hand.

“What did you do with that freckled-face, pony-tailed girl that went into that room earlier this afternoon?” Dr. Holt smiled. “Is she hiding somewhere?”

“No,” Pearl said bashfully, “she is right here.”

“Well, I must say, Pearl, you look absolutely stunning.” Dr. Holt walked over to Pearl and kissed her on the cheek.

“Move on out of the way and let her grandma love on her,” Grandma said playfully to Dr. Holt. Grandma gave Pearl a warm hug, held both of her shoulders squarely, and said, “Darling, you are the sunrise and sunset rolled into one. You couldn’t paint a prettier picture. It just wouldn’t be possible.”

“Speaking of which, I think we should take some pictures of this crew before we get going. No guarantees when you’re going to get me in a suit again,” Dr. Holt said playfully.

As the camera bulb flashed and smiles were captured, Pearl felt a small ache in her heart. She so wished for her father to be here right now to see the transformation Pearl made from child to teenager, from teenager to old lady, and from old lady to a young woman. Pearl knew her father would be proud of how far she had come over the last several years. Holding on to the cross necklace her dad had given her, she quietly spoke to him, “Thanks, Daddy. Thanks for everything. I love you so very much.”

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Pearl’s mom said lightly. “This is for you, for your walking stick, actually, from all of us. Go ahead, open it before we go.”

Pearl sat down and unwrapped the small box tied with a deep pink velvet ribbon. Inside the box, Pearl uncovered a petite silver heart charm with a pearl nestled in the center. The heart was attached to a silver clasp. Pearl felt the piece earnestly with her fingertips.

“We had it made for you. The pearl came from the baby bracelet your father picked out for you when you were just a few weeks old. He was so proud of you, and he dearly loved your name, you know. I am sure you still remember his reason for naming you Pearl,” Susan said.

“Yes, I do. Dad believed that real beauty is found from within: as the oyster holds the pearl, so does the body hold the soul. And a well-kept soul nourishes the heart so it can be brave and love without fear,” Pearl said these words as a tear ran down her cheek. “Sorry Katherine, I’m afraid my makeup is running,” she laughed.

“That’s okay, Pearl. The mascara is waterproof,” Katherine chucked. “Here, I’ll get you a tissue.”

“Pearl, the clasp is so you can clip it on the leather strap of your walking stick. We thought about getting you a new stick but figured there was probably no way you would part with that crazy old thing.” Susan had always thought the bond Pearl had with the walking stick was unusual. She knew there was a special relationship there, but never could put her finger on why exactly it meant so much to Pearl.

“You’re right about that. This stick has saved me more than once and has pushed me along on many days when I didn’t want to go further. It has seen me at my worst and taught me to persevere. It is magical.” Pearl hooked the heart charm onto the leather strap. “Because of all of you, I have started to be brave and love without fear. Thank you for not giving up on me. Thank you for helping me to become what my dad knew I could be one day.”

“Well, I didn’t wear waterproof mascara. So, if we are going to keep this up, I better just get out the cold cream and start over,” Grandma smiled through teary eyes.

“Let’s go celebrate!” Katherine shouted joyfully.

They arrived at Massimo’s Italian restaurant. The roundtables were covered with white table clothes, fine silver, and crystal wine glasses. The glasses reflected the small candle centerpiece and the soft lighting of the large chandelier in the middle of the dining room. A gentleman played eloquently on a black baby grand piano in the far corner of the room.

“Thank goodness you made me wear a coat and tie,” Dr. Holt said as he kissed Susan. “This place is top-notch.”

“Your table is right this way,” the hostess said as she led them to a comfortable table near the piano. “According to your reservation, you have two more joining you, yes?” the hostess asked.

“Yes,” Dr. Holt confirmed. “They should be here any moment - two young gentlemen.”

“I will direct them to your table upon their arrival,” the hostess said respectfully as she left to return to her post.

Dr. Holt ordered a glass of wine for Susan and Grandma and a cocktail for himself. As a special treat, he ordered a non-alcoholic pina colada for Katherine and Pearl. Everyone was just about to toast, when Katherine said excitedly, “There they are! They are coming. Wait!”

Pearl sat completely still, all except her palms that she nervously rubbed against her thighs under the tablecloth. “Holy cow, what am I doing?” Pearl thought to herself. “I have not been this nervous since the Pierce Panthers Elementary School spelling bee in third grade,” she concluded. She heard Dr. Holt stand up. “Hi, gentlemen, glad you could make it. Let me introduce you to these four glamorous ladies,” Dr. Holt said in a rich voice.

Dr. Holt proceeded around the table naming everyone and complimenting them at the same time. Pearl thought he certainly has a way of making a lady feel special, and she hoped one day soon Dr. Holt would ask her mom to marry him. He was a good catch, and her mom was a remarkable woman. Together, they made a great pair.

“And you are?” Dr. Holt asked after introducing himself to the young men.

“I am Boyd, Boyd O’Neil. I belong to Katherine,” he said jokingly. “And this is my best friend, Landon Livingston.”

It took all Pearl had to swallow her shock before it came out in a flabbergasted cry. “Could this be the Landon, her Landon?” she thought wildly. Katherine and Pearl remained seated next to one another, with Landon sitting to the left of Pearl, and Boyd sitting on the right of Katherine. Dr. Holt ordered the boys the same drink as the girls, and everyone made small talk until the waitress delivered Boyd and Landon’s non-alcoholic pina coladas.

Dr. Holt lightly tapped his fork to his wine glass. “Please raise your glass for a toast: a toast to the birthday lady on her eighteenth birthday. Pearl, your grace and beauty transcend time. We are honored to love you and share with you on this most special day. Here, Here!” Dr. Holt cheered as glasses touched in celebration.

After the food orders were placed and drink refills were made, everyone settled into casual conversation. Pearl couldn’t help but torture herself with thoughts of, “Does he not remember me?” She tried to no avail to hide her walking stick from Landon. She desperately attempted to kick it under her chair and even under the table. She did not want Landon to know she had lost her vision. Pearl wanted Landon to see her as he remembered her - that is if he remembered her at all. “But, of course,” Pearl presumed, “Boyd would have already told him I am blind.”

“Pearl, I think you might have accidentally dropped your stick. I felt it hit my foot,” Grandma said politely. “Can you reach it, or do you need some help?”

“No, I got it,” Pearl replied, mortified.

As Pearl reached down the left side of her chair, Landon spoke to her for the first time that evening. “I’ve got it. I watched you try to kick it away. Is that your equivalent of dropping a handkerchief for me to pick up?” Landon said warmly. “By the way, I was surprised you didn’t yell ‘fire’ when I was introduced,” he said with a kind-hearted laugh bubbling up behind his deep voice. Landon picked up Pearl’s walking stick and propped it up against the backside of her chair.

Pearl thought her heart would surely stop at that moment. He remembered: Landon remembered. Not only did he remember, but Landon recalled how Pearl had made a moron of herself at the lake thinking he was a crazed pervert about to attack. “I can’t breathe,” Pearl thought as her palms went cold and clammy. “I am absolutely, completely, madly, horrified and exhilarated all at the same time,” she told herself.

“Katherine, would you please join me in the ladies’ room?” she asked quietly, trying to tame her cracking voice.

Landon wasn’t sure if what he said offended Pearl, or if she simply was brushing him off. “Maybe,” he thought, “she doesn’t remember me.” Landon gave Boyd a questioning look as the girls excused themselves and went to the ladies’ room. Boyd had never mentioned to Katherine that Landon knew Pearl; rather, Landon wanted it to be a surprise. Over the last several months, Katherine talked to Boyd regularly about Pearl. In turn, Boyd mentioned Pearl to Landon several times during the last couple months. Landon had moved into Boyd’s neighborhood on the other side of Prader Road during the same summer he met Pearl at the lake. Since then, Boyd and Landon have become close friends. They play on the football team together during the school year, and during the summer they hang out at one another’s house almost every day when Boyd isn’t at work.

Landon knew when Boyd mentioned Pearl’s name the first time that it had to be the same cute girl he had met at Blue Eagle Park. After all, Pearl is not a common name. Landon even remembered where her name came from. Boyd couldn’t believe Landon had retained so many memories of a girl he only talked to for less than five minutes two years ago. So, when the opportunity arrived for Boyd to invite a friend to Pearl’s birthday dinner, he knew Landon would pounce on the invitation.

“I’m telling you, I know Landon!” Pearl screeched as they entered the ladies’ room.

“Are you sure that pina colada didn’t have alcohol in it? You couldn’t know Landon, Pearl. He just moved here two years ago. You haven’t met anyone in the last two years.” Katherine was taken back at how disturbed Pearl seemed; it was as if Pearl had seen a ghost.

“Yeah, two years ago is right!” Pearl snapped back. “I met Landon at Blue Eagle Park two years ago. I was on a camping trip with Grandma. I was sitting on a rock looking out at the lake. Landon came up from behind me and said something about the view. He frightened the daylights out of me. Anyway, he told me his name was Landon. I could still see pretty well then, and I remember he was the most handsome guy I had ever laid eyes on.” Pearl said as if she were lost in a memory.

“Okay, so what does he look like?” Katherine said firmly, still questioning whether Pearl was dreaming or telling the truth.

“Tall, wavy blonde hair, tan skin, muscular arms, and a dimple in his chin. Any other questions?” Pearl retorted.

“Holy cow, Pearl! Why didn’t you tell me about Landon before? I could have set you two up long before now!” Katherine exclaimed.

“Once my eyes started getting worse, I tried my best to forget about him. I figured a guy like that could get any girl he wanted. Why would he want me? Why would anyone want me?” Pearl said pitifully.

“You are a stubborn fool, Pearl Winters. I don’t know why I haven’t put you in your place before now. You listen to me, and you listen well. Pearl, I have never met anyone like you. And I am not talking about a blind girl. I’m talking about someone as great as you. You are smart, gorgeous, creative, soulful, kind, funny…,” Katherine said, throwing her arms over her head. “Good grief, Pearl. You are twice the person I am. Yeah, I might have a lot of popular friends. Sure, but not one of them has ever made me feel worth a damn. And you know what? I never made them feel special either. I didn’t know I could, and I didn’t know I was special until I met you.” Katherine let her words flow like ink on an open diary page. “Pearl, you have something deep inside you that most people never find. You have a vision in you, a special set of eyes that sees the good in others, despite our stupidity. And if you don’t think you are worth being loved, then I have a mind to just leave you in this restroom until you do. You just ask the next lady that comes in here to take you back to your seat. I’m sure anyone would pity a blind girl that doesn’t think she’s worth anything!” As these final words erupted, hot tears coated Katherine’s cheeks.

Katherine stormed out of the bathroom, leaving Pearl alone inside. Katherine leaned her back against the wall next to the bathroom door trying to regain her composure. Katherine knew she had blown her cool at Pearl, but she also knew it had been a long time coming. Pearl needed a good tongue lashing. Katherine had grown tired of Pearl continually doubting her ability to fit in with kids her age.

Katherine waited, knowing full well she wasn’t going to allow a stranger to take Pearl back to her seat. However, she wanted to put a scare in Pearl that would hopefully jolt her from the pity party she had been attending over the last two years – that seemed to be the one party where Pearl didn’t mind being the center of attention. Katherine watched nervously as a lady passed by and went into the bathroom. She heard muffled noises, and Katherine knew Pearl was talking to the lady inside. Eventually, the lady emerged with Pearl holding on to her left elbow. Katherine quickly wiped the tears from her underneath her eyes and said quietly, “It’s okay. I’ve got her. I’ll take her back to her table. Thanks anyway.”

“I thought you had left me,” Pearl said smugly, as she reluctantly took Katherine’s arm.

“I thought about it. But, I didn’t get too far. I wanted to see if you would actually ask some stranger to help you or if you would stay in that bathroom and drown yourself in tears until your mom or Grandma came to save you.” Katherine knew she was harsh, and she almost felt guilty for the tough love she was dishing out to Pearl.

“I thought about it,” Pearl said with a half-smile. “But, I figured I needed to start working on saving myself. A real angry friend of mine screamed at me one time that I am worth being loved. I think I’ll start with myself. Maybe if I get that right, I could catch the attention of that handsome guy sitting over there with the wavy blonde hair.”

Katherine and Pearl laughed softly. “I need a tissue,” Katherine said. “I have angry snot coming out of my nose. Don’t you ever get me that upset again! It is horribly unattractive,” Katherine said jokingly.

“Deal,” Pearl replied. “Now get me back to our table. I have a guy to impress,” Pearl said as she straightened her back and smoothed out her dress.

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