The Walking Stick

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Chapter 24: Prom

The well-dressed couples arrived at Creede Steakhouse, one of the town’s nicest and most popular restaurants where reservations and a coat and tie are required. Thanks to the fact that Landon’s dad frequents this establishment on a regular basis, Landon was given preferential treatment with his table reservation. Indeed, several prom couples were spotted throughout the restaurant, a popular place to impress a date. The hostess sat Boyd, Katherine, Landon, and Pearl in an intimate circular booth in the main dining room. A huge concrete fountain with five sleeping cherubs sitting beneath a sculpted flower arrangement was displayed prominently in the center of the room. The cascading waters around the cherubs made for a peaceful sound and view.

“Enjoy your dinner,” the hostess said politely.

Before opening the menu, Landon took a few minutes to describe the fountain and their immediate surroundings to Pearl. The tables were made of dark wood, the windows filled with etched glass, and the cigar room was full of rich burgundies, brass, and expensive smokes. On the center of each table, a cream colored candle was lit next to a small vase that held a single red rose. The silverware was heavy and oversized, the beige napkins were starched and thick, and the dinnerware was beige bone china. The service was impeccable - one waitress to take the drink order, one to take the food order, and several in-between to refill drinks and to clean up as necessary.

Water was brought out for everyone at the table. As soon as the waitress placed Pearl’s water glass down, Landon quietly whispered in Pearl’s ear, “Your water is just to your left.”

“Thank you,” Pearl replied kindly. Landon was wonderful at pointing out things that Pearl might have a run-in with, such as her water glasses or her food being delivered over her shoulder. Pearl felt secure, unafraid to enjoy herself. Landon so successfully laid out the room before her that Pearl knew everything from where the salt was on the table to where the chocolate mouse was displayed on the dessert tray. Yet, Landon’s narrative didn’t distract from conversation or from the energy of the evening. Landon’s role was understood, and Katherine and Boyd easily respected Landon’s devotion towards Pearl. After all, anyone who looked at Landon and Pearl realized within moments that their connection reached far deeper than what would normally be presumed of a young couple their age. Rather, Landon and Pearl had become teammates working together to experience their world in a much different, yet, spectacular way. They had grown into being best friends and were soul mates in the making.

From the cheesy garlic bread to the filet mignon, dinner was superb. The meal ended with raspberry cheesecake and cappuccinos for all. Everyone was delightfully stuffed and ready to go to the dance. Once back inside the limousine, Pearl thanked Landon. “If the evening ended right now,” Pearl said, “it would be the best time I have ever had.”

“CONGRATULATIONS SENIORS” was painted on a gigantic banner above the gymnasium double doors. Pearl could hear the music from inside as soon as she stepped out from the limousine. Immediately, Pearl wrapped the fingers of her right hand tightly around her walking stick. She brought the stick despite Landon’s request for her not to. Pearl reasoned she would rather receive funny looks because she was carrying an oddly painted stick than have snickering laughs from falling splat on the floor like a fool. She knew she could trust Landon, but she wasn’t ready to trust herself yet.

“Pearl, this place is bursting at the seams!” Landon said excitedly. “Come on! Let’s get inside!”

Landon and Pearl followed Boyd and Katherine into the gymnasium. Knowing they were going to be crowned Prom King and Queen, several people clapped when they saw Boyd and Katherine. In a steady succession, couples came up to Landon to say hello. Landon politely introduced Pearl to every one of his friends. For some, Pearl had heard Landon talk about them previously, and it was interesting to hear their voice and gauge their appearance by a handshake or hug. For others, their meeting and departing was a blur – an instinctive exchange of pleasantries. Again, Landon was spectacular at assisting Pearl throughout the crowd. Landon held Pearl’s hand gently and released it only when it was time for Pearl to extend it for a handshake. And he guided her so effortlessly around the room that, at times, her walking stick didn’t even touch the ground.

The music pounded Pearl’s bones. The rhythm vibrated through her body as if she were a boombox speaker. At times, Pearl found it difficult to hear Landon when he spoke to her. Knowing that she relied heavily on her hearing, this made Pearl feel awkward and jittery. “I need you to stop when you talk to me. Stop and talk into my ear, okay? I can’t hear you otherwise,” Pearl shouted to Landon as they moved toward the tables.

“Okay, calm down. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Landon repeated. Landon stopped for a second to catch his breath. This was new for him too. He had to remind himself to slow down when walking and to make sure Pearl could hear him when he spoke. Landon knew these things already, but it was the colliding of both his worlds that made it a challenge tonight. With Pearl at his side, several football friends jumped on his back to say hello while others, simply patted him on the shoulder as they walked past. He wanted to move about freely, but he had to be careful that no one bumped into Pearl. Landon was up for the challenge; he just needed to refocus and take a deep breath. “Let’s find a table and sit down for a little while,” Landon said into Pearl’s ear.

Pearl and Landon found a small round table where they sat and talked for a long time. Katherine and Boyd brought Pearl and Landon each a ginger ale and joined them briefly. After they left, Landon described the dresses, tuxedos, and decorations to Pearl. Pearl imagined the entire scene. “What an incredible night,” Pearl thought to herself. She had yet to dance, but she didn’t mind that. Pearl felt bad for Landon like she was forcing him to stay put instead of mingling with his friends.

“Go on, Landon, I will be fine right here. Talk to your friends. You will know where to find me. I want you to have fun tonight,” Pearl said sweetly.

Landon considered what Pearl said, and he was even slightly tempted to do so. However, Landon knew he would much rather stay seated with Pearl at his side than to hang out with people he probably wouldn’t see again until their ten-year reunion. “I think I have a better return on my investment staying right here,” Landon told Pearl as he kissed her on the cheek.

“Well then, tell me all about the ugly girls around me,” Pearl joked. “I want to visualize the pageantry before me.”

As Landon and Pearl people watched, they laughed until they both were in tears. Landon pretended to be a pageant host as he described the unknowing contestants. Landon did an impression of a mix between Donny Osmond and Barry Manilow. Pearl could barely contain herself, and her stomach hurt from laughing. The evening whirled around like a music box ballerina, beautiful and timeless.

“Attention! May I have your attention please?” a loud voice on a cracking microphone interrupted. “May I have your attention, please? Uh, I am Rainey Foster, this year’s prom coordinator. And it is now time for the principal to come up and announce this year’s Prom King and Queen. Everyone, please put your hands together for our principal, Mr. Douglas Arnim.”

Everyone in the room applauded and whistled as Principal Arnim approached the microphone. “Thank you, thank you. I just wanted to begin with a word of congratulations to this year’s senior class.” Everyone roared with applause. “I wish each and every one of you the best in your future lives. Remember me when you are famous,” Principal Arnim chuckled.

“And now for the reason why I am here this evening. All the votes have been counted and recounted. And I think it is no surprise when I tell you this year’s senior class has chosen Mr. Boyd O’Neil and Miss Katherine Sparks to be your Prom King and Queen of Northrich Hills High School. Come on up to the stage, Boyd and Katherine!”

The entire room erupted with excitement – screaming, whistling, shouting, clapping, and even a few threw confetti as Boyd and Katherine made their way to the stage. Principal Arnim and the vice principal placed the pair of crowns on top of Boyd’s and Katherine’s head. Pictures snapped from cell phones and disposable cameras. Landon and Pearl stood up, clapping and shouting at the top of their lungs, “Whoa! Way to go Boyd and Katherine! Yeah!” They didn’t stop until Boyd began to speak into the microphone.

“Thanks, everyone. This is a very special night for all of us. All our friends are here; I can see most of you as I stand on this stage. What a nice-looking senior class!” Boyd shouted. “I bet none of us look this good at our twenty-year reunion,” Boyd laughed. “Seriously, what a ride, man. A lot of us already have our futures mapped out – college, job, marriage, family. Whatever it is for you, I wish you the best. And if you get tackled along the way, just huddle up, get back on the line, and go for another play!” Everyone cheered and applauded. “Katherine has something to say. We are going to break tradition here in a moment, and I would appreciate everyone’s support. Katherine…”

As Katherine took the microphone, everyone started clapping again. “Thank you! This is awesome! I love you guys!” Katherine yelled to her friends in the audience. “Anyone who has been around me this year knows that I have gone through some significant ups and downs trying to figure out who I am and where I want to go. I can proudly say that I have figured out both of these things thanks to a dear friend of mine. She doesn’t attend this school anymore, but she once did. I consider Northrich Hills High School is her Alma Mater too. This is a lady who can turn a stick into a set of eyes, a walk into an extreme adventure, and a normal day into the most beautiful thing you could ever imagine. This is a friend who turned me from someone I didn’t like into someone I want to love. Pearl Winters is truly magical. And she is here tonight with her date: many of you know Landon Livingston.” Everyone applauded wildly.

“It is tradition here at Northrich Hills High School that that Prom King and Queen dance on the center stage after being crowned. Tonight, we are going to break that tradition. Landon and Pearl, please come on up to the stage. We have a dance we want to give you,” Elizabeth said proudly. Boyd and Elizabeth started clapping, and everyone in the gymnasium joined in.

“Did you know anything about this?” Landon asked Pearl in a shocked voice.

“No, did you?” Pearl asked defensively.

“No!” Landon shouted.

Landon and Pearl slowly and nervously made their way through the crowd and up the steps leading to the stage. Boyd and Katherine hugged each of them tightly. As Katherine hugged Pearl, the walking stick slipped off of Pearl’s wrist and onto the floor. As Pearl quickly reached down to recover it, the stick rolled itself just out of reach. “I’ve got it,” Katherine said softly. “Go on, Pearl, dance. I’ve got your walking stick. Go dance with Landon!”

Everyone got to their feet and started clapping. They applauded a girl some remembered, and a guy everyone liked. It was an unusual sight, but one that everyone quickly picked up on as a rare and important moment in Pearl’s life. The news spread like wildfire that Pearl was blind. And as that news spread, the cheering and encouragement grew louder and louder.

“That wretched stick!” Pearl cursed to herself. It had slipped off her wrist on purpose and rolled away so not to be caught. “If I weren’t on a stage in front of several hundred people, I would snatch that thing up and walk off as quickly as I came!” Pearl thought angrily. In an instant, Pearl went from behaving confidently to feeling like a child on a tightrope about to fall. Frozen in fear, Pearl had not realized the cheering that surrounded her was for her. Her agony was interrupted by Landon, who firmly took hold of Pearl’s right hand and smoothly led her to the center of the stage.

“Thank you for trusting me,” Landon whispered in her ear. His voice sounded strong and in control.

The applause continued until Landon and Pearl began to dance. It was not until that moment that Pearl understood that the shouts and the whistles were for her, for her and Landon. Hand in hand they moved, slowly and purposefully. “Just like when we danced in your room, Pearl. Just like that,” Landon reassured Pearl. Pearl felt like she was floating. Her feet barely touched the ground as Landon twirled her around and around. Landon moved Pearl in closer with his arm wrapped around Pearl’s waist. Pearl laid her head down on Landon’s chest. She could hear his heart beating, beating as fast as hers. Pearl smiled.

“Fire,” Pearl said.

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