The Walking Stick

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Chapter 21: 40 Sundays

“There are forty Sundays in this school year, and I want to spend every one of them with you, Pearl Winters,” Landon said cheerfully as he greeted her at her front door.

“You counted them?” Pearl chuckled.

“Yeah, off the school calendar, online. I just wanted to see how much time I had to look forward to sharing with you,” Landon said smiling. “Let’s start our first Sunday going for a walk today.”

It was the first Sunday after school started. Landon was already inundated with homework and football practice. Pearl was feeling the crunch as well trying to get back into the swing of school with Grandma Monday through Friday. Both were relieved to see one another after a very long first week of a demanding routine.

“Guess what I am wearing today? Two guesses,” Landon said cheerily.

“Hmm, let me think,” Pearl said as she hugged Landon. “You are wearing a great cologne and a wonderfully soft shirt,” she said smiling.

“True on both accounts, but that is not the correct answer,” he smiled. “Feel my shoes.”

“Feel your shoes? Okay,” Pearl reached down and touched Landon’s left foot. She felt rough ridges. “Are you kidding me? You actually wore those corduroy house slippers your grandmother gave you for Christmas?” Pearl laughed.

“Yeah, I did. I didn’t want you thinking you were the only one brave enough to wear awful slippers out in public,” he said teasingly.

“There you go again, knocking my pink slippers! You better watch it!” Pearl said light-heartedly.

Landon and Pearl made their way down Maple Lane and onto Hickory Street. This would be the walk they would take together almost every Sunday during the next ten months. Sometimes, they would stop by Katherine’s house and visit with her for an hour or two. And about once a month, Landon and Pearl would double date with Katherine and Boyd. The four of them became very close friends, and they did a wide variety of things together: playing at the local park (Pearl had not been on a slide in years – it was exhilarating for her), attending a sculpture exhibit (Pearl taught everyone how to feel a piece and to see it with their eyes shut), bowling, fishing, and even roller skating.

Pearl’s entire senior year was divided into two parts: her time alone and her Sundays with Landon. She felt like she was holding her breath, waiting to breathe again when Sunday arrived. At times, Pearl found it difficult to hear Landon, Katherine, and Boyd talk about their friends at school, the football games on Friday nights, or the trouble they were having with a particular teacher. These were experiences Pearl didn’t have. She kept her disappointment inside, only occasionally letting her sadness appear on her face. Landon could generally sense when Pearl was feeling left out, and he did his best to not talk about Northrich Hills High School.

Landon had challenges as well. As he expected, it was hard for Landon to separate his school life with the life he shared with Pearl. Landon’s entire senior year was divided into two parts: his time thinking about Pearl, and his Sundays when he was with her. Landon knew he was falling in love with Pearl. Their friendship had grown strong and solid. He had even thought of going to Rice University or the University of Houston next year so he could be near Pearl. He had not shared this with her yet: he didn’t want to scare her off. He just knew he was tired of the separate worlds, and he wanted to blend them into one – one where they could both share every day together, not just Sundays.

“Hey you two, thanks for meeting us today,” Katherine said to Pearl and Landon. Boyd was sitting next to Katherine on the bench outside the ice cream parlor. They were both sipping a chocolate malt and sharing a large banana split. “Go in and order. We will meet you out here,” Boyd said as he ate a big scoop of ice cream.

Pearl ordered a rocky road cone, and Landon ordered a strawberry shake. Everyone moved to a rectangular table underneath an umbrella just outside the main door. Pearl and Landon could tell something was up. They waited patiently until finally Katherine spoke, “Well, as I am sure you have guessed, we have something we want to tell you.”

“Go on,” Landon said casually, sipping his shake.

“Well, Boyd and I were just notified that the votes have been counted…we are going to be crowned Prom King and Queen of the dance!” Katherine screamed. Katherine reached over and gave Boyd a huge hug and kiss. Boyd and Katherine looked wonderful together. Their relationship had grown over the last year, starting when Katherine shifted from wanting everyone’s approval to wanting to be happy with herself. Katherine had come a long way, and Boyd was gracious enough to take the journey with her. They were deeply in love and were set to attend the University of Texas in Austin together. They would leave in July, just two months away.

“Ah, that is totally awesome!” Pearl gasped. Pearl leaned over and hugged Katherine. Katherine squeezed Pearl tightly.

“Pearl, I’m not embarrassed to say this in front of the guys. As you know, it has been a tough couple of years for me. I have struggled in every area that I had once thought I was invincible, perfect. Pearl, thanks to our talks, I opened up to my dad, and he eventually found his smile again; I was so glad I was there for him, just like you have been for me. And I don’t need to tell you that when I started this school year, I was afraid no one would want to be my friend anymore. I had changed. Pearl, because of you, I had changed. I didn’t want to exclude people anymore, and I had a much better understanding of what being a friend meant. Again, you showed me that. Anyway, I can’t say it was always easy, and some of those ‘friends’ that I had last year didn’t last long this time around. But, what did last was my resolve to be someone I liked, not necessarily one that fits into the perfect package. To my surprise, I gained more friends this year than any other. I have met people of all types – from the band, choir, and even Latin club. And you know what? There are some cool people in Latin club!” Katherine laughed.

Boyd reached over and held Katherine’s hand. Katherine fought back the tears as she continued. “Pearl, what I am trying to say and probably doing a poor job at it, is thank you. I honestly don’t think Boyd and I would still be together if it were not for you throwing me into the spotlight and forcing me to examine what I was becoming. You are a living testimony of what it means to live from the inside out. You’re my best friend, Pearl.”

Pearl’s rocky road ice cream had mostly melted on the top of the table. Pearl hadn’t touched it since Katherine started talking. Although Katherine had told her a time or two that she thought Pearl was a great friend, Pearl had no idea what an impact she had on Katherine. Katherine’s words humbled Pearl, and she had a hard time soaking in the role she had unknowingly played in Katherine’s transformation.

“Katherine, I don’t know what to say. Thank you,” Pearl said meekly. “You know, as much as you think I have changed you, you have undoubtedly done the same for me. I would have never dreamt of wanting to go out to an ice cream parlor, much less hardly anywhere in public before I met you. To me, the world outside my front door was reserved for sighted people: I did not belong, and I had no hope of ever fitting in. You took me off Maple Street and into to the world of the living – into a world that ignited my senses with the smell of hotdogs, the feel of lip liner, and the sound of a big screen movie at the theatre. I have lived more in the time I’ve known you than in the entire time I haven’t. That is the gift you have given me, Katherine Sparks. You have given me my life back.” With hands shaking with profound gratitude, Pearl was so very thankful that she not only felt this way but that she dared to tell Katherine how she felt. No telling where time would bring their friendship, through college and relationships; it was unclear when they would see one another again after their senior year. But one thing was clear; they were connected forever in thought and the heart. Through Katherine, Pearl had learned to be brave.

“Prom is just two weeks away,” Landon said quietly to Pearl after Katherine and Boyd left the ice cream parlor.

“Yeah, I think it is great about Katherine and Boyd. They deserve it. They look like a king and queen when they are together,” Pearl replied happily.

“I think it would be a good idea for us to be there; you know, show our support,” Landon said anxiously. He desperately wanted Pearl to go to the prom with him. He had rehearsed a hundred different ways of asking her over the last several Sundays, but nothing ever came out of his mouth at the right time. With the news of Katherine and Boyd, well, it just seemed like now would be the right time.

“What are you saying, Landon?” Pearl questioned nervously. Pearl had no desire to attend her old school, especially on the biggest night of the year. She couldn’t fathom being around all the people - all the people her age. She would never, could never, imagine handling herself gracefully enough to even look the part of “normal.” And she for certain did not know how to dance. This was entirely out of the question, entirely.

“What I am saying, Pearl Jean Winters, is would you please do me the honor of attending prom with me?” Landon knew this was a big question to ask Pearl. He had tried numerous times throughout the year to get her to attend one of his football games, but Pearl’s nerves got the better of her every time. He had made a habit of calling Pearl after each game, going over the highlights, and telling her if they won or lost. But prom was different. Landon wanted to go to his senior prom, and he didn’t want to go if Pearl was not his date.

“Yes,” Pearl said softly, pushing down all the reasons why this was absolutely the most preposterous thing she had ever committed to. Yet, if she was going to do something totally crazy, Landon was the one person she would be crazy for.

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