The Walking Stick

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Chapter 22: Two Weeks

Two weeks. Two weeks until prom. Two weeks to find the perfect dress, the perfect hairstyle, the perfect handbag, the perfect everything. Katherine was ecstatic. “I am so excited! We are going to have so much fun! And don’t worry about the crowd, Pearl. I will be around you like the president’s top security guard. Everything will be fine. Let’s go shopping!” Katherine yelled happily.

It was Friday, only one of two Fridays left before prom. Katherine raced over to Pearl’s house directly from school. Katherine wanted to take Pearl to the dress shop before Dr. Holt came over for his usual Friday night dinner. That meant they had about two hours to shop before Pearl had to be home. “Come on,” Katherine scolded. “We must get going!”

“Hold up!” I just want to grab my shoes so I know what the dress looks like with them!” Pearl yelled as she quickly threw the shoes she wanted into a bag and headed out the door with her walking stick.

The dress shop Katherine chose was exquisite. Dresses were neatly displayed on padded hangers; none crammed together like at the department store. The saleslady offered to be of assistance, but they declined. Katherine and Pearl wanted to experience this shop like they were used to experiencing things together – by touch, talking, and lots of laughter.

“Katherine, we can’t afford this place,” Pearl whispered. “Let’s go before I accidentally trip and rip a thousand dollar gown,” Pearl laughed.

“Stop it. We are exactly where we are supposed to be. Ever heard of the clearance rack? Most everyone our age never steps foot in this place because it is so pricey, but that’s because they have never walked to the very back. At the very back they have tons of dresses marked down, some up to 60% off!” Katherine said with growing anticipation as she escorted Pearl to the back of the store.

With armfuls of dresses, the girls asked for a dressing room. At their request, the saleslady put their gowns in the bridal dressing area so they could both easily fit into one room. One by one, they tried on dresses. Katherine provided full detail of every right and wrong of each dress, making for a fun and lively time.

Katherine found her dress first. When the simple burgundy slip dress glided down her body, Katherine knew it was the one. Made of satin, the dress had a lovely pleated neckline and rhinestone spaghetti straps. A hidden zipper on the side gave the illusion that the dress was custom made for Katherine’s figure. This dress made Katherine feel romantic and sophisticated. Best of all, the discount price was within her price range.

Pearl was getting tired trying on dresses from her endless pile. She was glad Katherine had found her dress but was frustrated that she had not found the perfect one for herself. “Let’s just go!” Pearl said in an exhausted voice. “It is no use. It’s just not meant to be.”

As Pearl told herself this was her final disappointing dress attempt, the saleslady kindly interrupted. “If you don’t mind, I have a dress that I think would look stunning on you,” she said politely.

“Sure, thanks.” Pearl was surprised that the saleslady had been paying close enough attention to know she was about to give up. Pearl stood silently, waiting for the saleslady to return to the bridal room. From the amount of time she waited, Pearl gathered that the dress must be from the front of the store, not from the nearby clearance rack.

“Here you go, young lady,” the saleslady said respectfully. “May I help you put it on?”

“Yes, thank you,” Pearl replied. Katherine could have easily helped Pearl, but Pearl liked the extra attention she was receiving from the kind lady.

As the saleslady helped Pearl slide on the dress, Pearl felt that the beauty of heaven itself had caressed her body - the weight of the fine fabric, the quality of the seamstress, and the feminine lines of the dress molded to Pearl’s curves like a romantic kiss.

“What color is it?” Pearl asked quietly.

“Let me describe it to you,” the lady said, obviously aware of Pearl’s vision limitations. “The selection you have on is a strapless designer evening gown, with a sweetheart neckline, a fully beaded olive green bodice, and a dark chocolate ruffed organza skirt. This dress not only fits you perfectly, but it also looks outstanding with your red hair.”

“Katherine?” Pearl asked.

“I don’t need to tell you how wonderful you look, Pearl. You know it. All I have to say is Landon is one lucky guy. You will be the best looking girl at prom. No one will even come close,” Katherine replied.

“How much is it?” Pearl asked the saleslady, fearing it was well beyond her price range.

“Well, I happen to be the owner of this boutique. I think I can work out something for you that you will find reasonable,” she said as she helped Pearl out of the dress.

Pearl nervously waited for Katherine to payout. When it was Pearl’s turn, the lady said, “You are in luck, my dear. This dress just happens to be fifty dollars today - on special, especially for you.”

“Fifty dollars! Are you sure?” Pearl exclaimed. She was anticipating in the hundreds, definitely not any less.

“Yes, quite sure,” the lady grinned.

Pearl paid and generously thanked the lady. Once inside Katherine’s car, Katherine quickly pulled up the plastic covering from Pearl’s dress and read the price tag. “Oh my, Pearl, I knew it! This dress, ugh! You got an $800 dress for $50!” Katherine screamed. “The store owner totally gave you a special deal. The price wasn’t even red-lined. It was off the front racks!” Both Pearl and Katherine screamed almost the entire way back to Pearl’s house. Little did Pearl know, this wasn’t the only thing Pearl would be celebrating tonight.

Dr. Holt arrived right on time, as usual, for dinner. Earlier in the week, Dr. Holt had specifically requested that Pearl’s mom and Grandma make their famous spaghetti and meatballs for tonight’s dinner. Dr. Holt helped set the table, and Pearl joined in with filling up the water glasses. Katherine was invited to stay for dinner, and she helped Dr. Holt ice the chocolate cake he had brought with him.

“Thanks, Katherine,” Dr. Holt said pleasantly. “I had just finished making it at my house, and I wanted it to cool completely before I put on the frosting.”

“No problem,” Katherine replied as she scooped out chocolate cream frosting from the small store-bought tub.

“Don’t forget the candles,” Dr. Holt said to Katherine as he tossed them on the table near the frosting.

“What, may I ask, is the special occasion?” Susan asked Dr. Holt.

“You, of course, darling,” He replied as he kissed Susan.

Susan didn’t ask any more questions, but she speculated all throughout dinner what Dr. Holt might have up his sleeve. Dr. Holt looked mischievous and flustered. Pearl thought he looked like a nauseous fraidy cat. Finally, it was Grandma who spoke up. “Are you ill?” she asked Dr. Holt.

“No, I don’t think so, but thanks for asking,” Dr. Holt replied as he wiped his napkin on his forehead. “A bit hot in here, yes?” he asked.

“Actually, I am quite comfortable,” Grandma replied.

“Must just be me. Let’s finish up dinner, okay?” he said.

Everyone stared oddly at Dr. Holt. His behavior was so bizarre. Only Katherine and Pearl understood what was happening. They caught on to Dr. Holt’s nervous fidgeting and realized he was about to make an important announcement. “Could this be the night?” Pearl thought to herself.

“Cake! Let’s eat cake!” Dr. Holt shot up from his chair like he had ants in his pants. Susan looked confused, almost worried for Dr. Holt. Grandma looked annoyed; she wasn’t finished with her last meatball. And Pearl and Katherine couldn’t help but laugh. Even Hope ducked behind the couch, knowing something was unusual about this evening. Everyone quickly and silently cleared off the dishes from the kitchen table.

“Everyone gather around the kitchen table,” Dr. Holt announced. “I am going to light these candles, and, Susan, I would appreciate you blowing them out.”

Dr. Holt lit the candles. After they were aglow, he nodded at Susan to blow out the candles. In one breath, Susan blew out the two candles on the cake.

“Will you please tell me what is going on, Todd?” Susan asked.

“Yes, yes I will. Susan, we have been together a little over two years now. Each one of the candles represents a year we have been together. I feel you know everything about me, even that my favorite food is chocolate cake. You have become my favorite thing, my best girl, and the love of my life. I’m just a dorky research doctor without you. With you, I am the king of the world and you are my queen. I know I don’t deserve you; still, I am so thankful for you every day of my life. As you know, my birthday is in a few weeks. I just can’t think about being another year older without wondering if you would be interested in spending the rest of my birthdays with me. Susan, I want to be knocking wheelchairs with you one day in our retirement home. I want to hug our great-grandkids together and tell them stories of when we were young until they are too bored to listen. I am in love with you, and I will be in love with you forever and more. What I am saying, Susan Winters, is…will you spend the rest of your life in love with me? Will you marry me?”

Pearl and Katherine hugged, Grandma had to sit down, and Susan got chocolate icing all over the front of her blouse as she reached clear across the table and kissed Dr. Holt. “YES!” Susan exclaimed. “Yes, I want us to knock wheelchairs together! I love you, Todd!”

“I love you, Susan,” Dr. Holt replied. Both Susan and Dr. Holt cried in the kitchen, leaning over the chocolate cake.

“Oh, by the way, your ring is in the cake. We’re going to have to dig in to find it!” he said laughing. “I don’t remember where I put it!”

The evening progressed like a romantic comedy. Everyone was in high spirits, stuffed with chocolate cake in the name of finding the ring. Eventually, the ring was found, cleaned, and properly placed on Susan’s finger. Talk turned to possible wedding dates, location, and honeymoon sites. Pearl shared her news about prom, and Katherine told everyone the story of Pearl’s dress. It was an evening to remember. The feelings stored themselves above the events – and what was sifted out from the laughs and the words was a genuine sense of home, affection, and love.

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