The Walking Stick

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Chapter 23: Fire

“Are you for real? When are they getting married?” Landon asked on their usual Sunday stroll down Maple Street.

“I think they have decided over the Christmas break. That way I can come home from college and be in the wedding. I want you to come, of course,” Pearl replied casually.

“Of course, Pearl. That brings up something I have meant to discuss with you,” Landon said in a serious tone. “I want to talk to you about our future, our future together.”

“Yes?” Pearl said as her heart skipped a beat. She didn’t know where Landon was going with this, and her mind immediately thought the worst.

“Nothing bad, maybe good if you agree; you see, I applied to Rice University. I found out last week that I got in on a partial academic scholarship. Thank God I wasn’t completely relying on my football skills,” Landon laughed. “Good news is they will let me play football. I want to get my teaching degree, so I can teach and be a coach at the high school level. I had a long talk with my dad, and he has finally agreed to let me plan my future. I want you in my future, Pearl.” Landon stopped walking and waited for Pearl to soak in what he had just told her.

“Did you apply to Rice because of me?” Pearl asked.

“Yes, definitely because of you. I am not ready to let you go. I’m not sure I ever want to let you go. I thought we could just give ‘us’ a try if you are willing. I looked up your college, and it is only forty-five minutes away from Rice. We could see one another anytime. I could be with you whenever you wanted - whenever we wanted. What do you think?” Landon said as he hugged Pearl.

“I think…I think that is wonderful, Landon. I don’t know what to say. I…I love you,” Pearl said for the first time. “I love you!” Pearl screamed.

“I love you, Pearl Winters,” Landon gently replied as he placed her hair behind her ears.

They both walked back to Pearl’s house, discussing with each step the in’s-and-out’s of their college years and what they would see and do with one another. They planned trips to the lake, study weekends, and even anniversary get-a-ways. Once again, Pearl’s cheeks hurt from smiling. This time, she knew Landon was smiling too. She could feel it in his touch and hear it in his voice. Landon was in love with Pearl, and Pearl was in love with Landon.

Once at Pearl’s home, Landon followed Pearl into her room to look at her new dress. Landon thought it was lovely and couldn’t wait to see it on Pearl. He was excited about prom but still sensed Pearl was uneasy about next Saturday night.

“What is the matter, Pearl? Have you changed your mind about going to the dance?” Landon asked.

“No, I want to go to the dance with you. To be honest, I just don’t know how to dance. Holding on to you, my stick, all the while not trying bump into anyone…it just sounds impossible,” Pearl said embarrassingly.

“Why don’t you count on me for one evening to be your eyes? Leave the stick at home and just count on me,” Landon said as he held Pearl’s face in his hands.

“I don’t know about that, Landon. I have never left my walking stick at home. It is my stability, my security,” Pearl said in a timid voice.

“How about you let me be your stability and security for one evening, Pearl?” I’m just asking for one night…one night, just let me lead you,” Landon said sincerely.

“I’m not sure I know how to do that,” Pearl replied.

“Let me show you,” Landon said as he slowly loosened the strap of the stick from Pearl’s wrist. He laid Pearl’s walking stick on top of her bed. Just wait right there,” Landon spoke gently. Landon put in one of Pearl’s CDs in her stereo and selected a slow song. “May I have this dance?” he asked in a remarkably charming voice.

“Yes, you may,” Pearl replied shyly. She felt her nerves were completely exposed, and the vulnerability of the moment made Pearl feel weak and frightfully captivated by Landon.

“Wait, wait for a second,” Landon said.

Pearl heard him go near the door. “What are you doing?” Pearl questioned.

“Turning off the light,” Landon replied. “I figure if you are going to be learning how to dance in the dark, so should I.”

In the blackness, surrounded by nothing but music, Landon and Pearl swayed together. Their nerves were completely overshadowed by their friendship and love for one another. It was the first time in Pearl’s life that the color black took on a positive feeling – the feeling of dancing.

“Fire,” Landon whispered in Pearl’s ear.

“What?” Pearl asked, confused by what he said.

“Fire, isn’t that what you are supposed to say in an emergency?” Landon chuckled softly.

“Yes, but…” Pearl was about to continue, but Landon leaned down and gently kissed her before she could finish her sentence - Pearl’s first kiss. Her heart beat wildly, and her legs shook without notice. Pearl thought she would surely fall, but Landon held her close.

“Fire,” Pearl whispered back.

The final week before prom was a blur for both Pearl and Katherine: appointments at the hair salon and nail parlor, visits to the shoe store and accessory shops, and even an all-day excursion to find the perfect handbag. Tying up loose ends nearly made them both too tired to even think about dancing. By the time Saturday rolled around, their scalp hurt from modeling potential hairstyles, and their wallets hurt from all the money they had spent in the last seven days.

“It is tough being a girl,” Katherine said dramatically. “We’ve got to get ready, Pearl! Tonight is the night!” Katherine shrieked with childlike excitement. “I’ll run up to Mackenzie’s Flower Shop to get the guy’s boutonnières while you hop in the tub. Remember, don’t get your expensive hairdo wet!” Katherine rushed out of Pearl’s house. Earlier that afternoon, both Pearl and Katherine had their hair done at the salon. Katherine had her hair done in a slick French twist with tiny rhinestone pins tucked neatly around the wrap. Pearl’s hair was styled down with big wavy curls throughout, and a dainty rhinestone butterfly placed above her left ear. After their hair appointments, Katherine had brought over all her things to ready for the night at Pearl’s house. Pearl’s room had been transformed into pre-prom madness. Dresses, makeup, purses, hairspray, hosiery, and shoes decorated the place like a girl’s princess dress-up party.

As Pearl stepped out of the bathtub, she wrapped a thick pink towel around her body and stood in front of the mirror. She could not see her reflection; but unlike times before, Pearl was at peace with knowing the way she felt mirrored the way she looked. Without questioning herself, Pearl kissed the mirror. “You’re beautiful, Pearl Jean Winters,” she said aloud.

Pearl clasped on her strapless bra and then poured herself into the spandex underwear and hosiery that Katherine told her was a “must have” to smooth out all the things that needed smoothing out. Pearl felt like a tennis shoe whose laces were tied too tight. “This can’t be normal,” Pearl thought to herself.

“Okay, the boutonnières are in your refrigerator. Don’t let me forget them! Don’t get started on your makeup. I’ll do it for you in just a minute. Stay put. I’m going to take a quick bath,” Katherine shouted as she darted into Pearl’s bathroom.

“Am I supposed to be able to breathe in all this spandex?” Pearl shouted to Katherine. Katherine didn’t hear Pearl as the bathwater was already running. Pearl managed to clear a spot on her bed and uncomfortably flopped down. Pearl’s thoughts were being trampled by fear: fear of being in a gymnasium full of kids her age, dancing, falling, tripping, or otherwise making a complete idiot out of herself, and fear of knowing that this dance signifies the end of a chapter – the chapter of her childhood. She had started becoming a young woman the day she met Katherine. Pearl had more growing pains in the last two years than she did in her entire younger years. It wasn’t easy being responsible for your actions and having to live with the consequences of those actions. Pearl hadn’t always made the right choices, but at least she kept trying. She felt good deep down inside – inside where the soul is fed.

After Katherine finished Pearl’s makeup and then her makeup, they both slipped into their dresses. Katherine helped Pearl with the back zipper of her dress. As the zipper was being pulled up, Pearl’s heart skipped a beat. A shiver ran down her spine. “You’re not going to get all wiggy and nervous on me, are you?” Katherine asked jokingly. “Now grab your shoes. It is time for us to be waiting like queen bees in the living room for our dates to arrive!” Katherine said with a laugh.

“You are not serious, are you? I thought you were joking at the store!” Katherine said as she looked at Pearl’s shoes.

“Yes, I am serious. No one can see. My dress goes all the way down to the floor,” Pearl said proudly.

“I want to take some pictures, girls, hurry it up!” Dr. Holt shouted from the living room where Pearl’s mom and Grandma waited impatiently.

“Are you ready?” Katherine asked softly as she grabbed Pearl’s hands.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Pearl said with a big smile. “Let’s go!”

Flashbulbs went off like two celebrities had just walked into the room. Whistles and clapping, shouting, and hollering radiated throughout. The room was filled with the energy of a fireworks show. Before the flashbulbs faded, the doorbell rang.

“They’re here,” Pearl said as she tried to brush off her nerves. Pearl held on tightly to her walking stick, leaning on it for physical and emotional support.

Boutonnières were pinned, corsages put on wrists, and compliments were passed freely among Pearl, Landon, Katherine, and Boyd. Group pictures were taken, poses were made, and final good-byes to the family were said.

Pearl and Katherine were escorted by their gentlemen into a handsome black limousine. It wasn’t until the noise settled that Landon whispered to Pearl, “You are the loveliest lady I have ever laid eyes upon. When I saw you, I was speechless. The only thing I could think of was surely this amazingly good-looking woman is not my date. I am the luckiest guy in the world.”

“Yeah, lucky for you I am blind,” Pearl laughed. “No, seriously, I remember how handsome you are, and when we are out together, I can hear other girls talking about you. So, what is my handsome date wearing tonight to the prom?” Pearl asked with a grin.

“You’re too funny. Well, since I already knew the colors of your dress, I made sure that we coordinated perfectly. I am wearing a dark brown chalk striped tuxedo that has a three button single jacket, chalked colored stripes, and satin covered buttons. My pants match the design of the jacket, of course. And I am wearing a satin band bow tie, olive green in color. My shoes… well, let’s just say since I was wearing brown….”

“Landon Livingston! You didn’t! You better tell me you didn’t wear those pathetically ugly brown corduroy house shoes to prom!” Pearl laughed so hard she nearly messed up her eye makeup.

“Yes, well, as a matter of fact, I did. It is our little thing, and who cares what anyone else thinks?” Landon said boldly.

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” Pearl said as she lifted the bottom of her dress up to expose her puffy pink slippers.

“We are the perfect pair!” Landon laughed in disbelief.

“Great dorks think alike,” Boyd chuckled.

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