The Walking Stick

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Chapter 20: The Painted Picnic

Finally, Pearl heard the sound she had been anticipating all day: “Ding, dong,” the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!” Pearl yelled.

“We know that, Pearl. We would probably be mowed down if we even attempted to answer that door,” Grandma chuckled.

“Hi, Pearl,” Landon said calmly. “You look great.”

“Thanks, so do you. I mean, I’m sure you do too,” Pearl laughed. Landon did look great in his rustic blue button fly jeans with a dark red jersey polo and beige slip-on canvas shoes.

“These are for you,” he said as he handed her a huge bouquet of sunflowers. “I know they’re big, but they remind me of your smile,” Landon said bashfully.

“Thanks! They’re perfect,” Pearl said as she invited Landon inside so she could put the flowers in water. Landon stood awkwardly waiting for Pearl to return from the kitchen. Susan got up and helped Pearl, saying hello to Landon from the kitchen. Grandma immediately shot up from the couch and started asking Landon questions. “What college do you want to go to?” she pried.

“Grandma!” Pearl shouted from the kitchen. “Leave him alone!”

“Sorry about that,” Pearl said as she made her way back to Landon.

“Are you ready to go?” he asked.

“Definitely,” Pearl smiled as she looped her hand around Landon’s arm.

Down the porch steps they went. “Well, here we are,” Landon said.

“Here we are? What are you talking about? We are still in my front yard,” Pearl said confused.

“I know, but for tonight, it is the place we met - that wondrous clearing at Blue Lake Park where I saw you for the first time. You were sitting on a large rock, the lake in front of you, the sunset in your hair. I’d never seen anything so pretty.” Landon took Pearl’s hand and led her to a soft blanket that was laid out underneath the big tree in Pearl’s front yard.

Landon explained what everything looked like around her, both real and imaginary. With the help of Dr. Holt, Landon had placed tiny white lights around the trunk of the tree and in the surrounding bushes. Using an extension cord, Landon had placed a small stereo near the blanket. Soft music played in the background, the kind of music that makes your body sway without you even realizing it. On the blanket itself, two cream bean bag chairs were positioned across from one another. And in between the chairs was a chilled bottle of sparkling cider, two crystal wine glasses, a bucket of fried chicken, and a chocolate cake. The utensils, plates, and napkins were in a plastic sack on the corner of the blanket.

“Wow!” Pearl said. She was flabbergasted once more at the effort Landon had put into treating her extra special. “This is beautiful, Landon, just beautiful. I really don’t know what to say.”

“Well, this is just what is really here. Now, let me tell you what is here in my mind. This is the place we met at Blue Park Lake,” Landon said as he painted a mental picture for Pearl that was nothing less than the most charming place in the world: a place full of large trees, sleepy clouds, serenading birds, sunset skies, whistling winds, and a restful lake.

“This is the best place you could have taken me tonight, Landon. I’ve never seen something so lovely. It feels like home being at Blue Eagle Park with you again,” Pearl smiled. “Who taught you to be such a romantic?” Pearl asked.

“I got it from my dad,” Landon said. “He is a true romantic. He treats my mom like a princess, always doing little things for her ‘just because’ – I always thought that was something I wanted to do for the lady I cared about one day. Tonight just seemed like a perfect opportunity to get started.”

Pearl couldn’t help but blush. Until recently, she had never really thought of herself as a lady before, much less a princess. Pearl felt grown-up and adored. “My dad was a romantic, a true romantic. He treated my mom the same way. He would think what you did tonight was wonderful,” Pearl said thoughtfully. Pearl discussed with Landon her father’s passing, Grandma’s moving from Austin to live with them, and even how Dr. Holt came into the picture. The minutes turned into hours; yet, they didn’t seem to notice.

“These retro beanbag chairs are great! Where did you get these?” Pearl asked as she rubbed her hands up and down the sides of the puffed leather chair.

“I got them out of our media room. My mom would have my neck if she knew I took them, but it was worth the risk,” Landon replied.

“Media room? Let me guess. You live on the other side of Prader Road?” Pearl said knowingly.

“Yes, I do. It’s no big deal. I bet you a thousand bucks I don’t have a media room when I have a house of my own.” Landon had definite ideas of what he wanted to do with his future, and it didn’t include focusing on making a ton of money. “My dad is upset with me because I don’t want to become a doctor like him. My grandfather was a pediatrician; my dad is a surgeon – even my little sister dreams of one day becoming a doctor,” Landon said as he shook his head.

“What do you dream of becoming one day?” Pearl asked quietly.

“You’ll probably laugh, but I want to be a high school football coach. I don’t think I will get a full-ride football scholarship like Boyd, but I do think I could get a partial scholarship to a state school. I would like to study education, and maybe be a science teacher and a football coach at a small school somewhere, a place where there are lots of trees, a big lake, and a pretty view kind of like here,” Landon smiled.

“I think that is a wonderful dream. And I am sure you will make it happen, Landon Livingston. You just have the right amount of confidence and willpower to make just about anything happen. Heck, you can even turn an ordinary front yard into Blue Eagle Park. What can’t you do?” Pearl grinned.

“I can’t move my bean bag chair over next to you to hold your hand without you saying it is okay,” Landon said with a little laugh.

“I give you my permission,” Pearl replied softly.

Landon scooted his chair next to Pearl’s. He gently held her hand as they continued to talk. “What about you, Pearl? What would you like to do when you grow up?”

“This will sound ridiculous to you, but I want to be an artist. Not sure how I would do that, being blind. Landon, I have pictures in my mind that are just waiting in line to come out on canvas. I love to paint, but I stopped about two years ago. Even still, that is my greatest passion. There is a college for the visually impaired in Houston. I will probably go there after my senior year.” Pearl was somewhat uneasy wondering what Landon must think about what she just said. Who in the world had ever heard of a blind girl painting - better yet, painting well?

“Wow, Pearl. When you aim, you aim high. I respect that about you. If there is one person on the planet that can do it, I know it is you. Just promise me, when you are rich and famous one day, you will give this poor football coach an original, signed painting of yours? Okay?” Landon said as he squeezed Pearl’s hand.

“You got it. I promise,” Pearl smiled. Pearl hadn’t ever smiled so much in one evening. Her cheeks hurt from smiling. Pearl wondered if Landon had been smiling all evening too; she had a gut feeling he had.

“Pearl, I would like to see you again, if that’s okay with you. School starts up in just over a week. Things will get crazy for me with football and everything. Maybe we can try to get together on Sunday afternoons. What do you think about that?”

“That sounds good,” Pearl said with a hint of uncertainty in her voice. Pearl knew it would be different once school started. She knew she couldn’t change how different she was from Landon; however, she hoped the ways that connected them would be stronger than the things that seemed to separate them.

Landon was also nervous about school starting up. His world would change drastically: football games, homework, pep rallies, parties, college visits, etc. He knew Pearl’s world would pretty much stay the same, and he felt guilty leaving her alone while he went about his busy schedule. A part of him knew it would be very easy to justify being too busy to see Pearl, but a bigger part of him knew he didn’t want to be anywhere else but with her. Only time would tell how their senior year would play out: Landon was hoping for a victory.

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