The Walking Stick

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Chapter 5: A Secret Toast

“Well, here we are. Cabin number 2-B,” Grandma said as she put her cabin check-in receipt and a duffle bag on top of her cot. “Got to love roughing it for a week, huh, Pearl?”

“Yeah, gotta love it,” Pearl said as she eyed the dusty cots and the torn mosquito netting over the windows. “This will be a blast, Grandma,” Pearl said trying to convince herself. “Where are the bathrooms?”

Grandma chuckled. “Honey, the showers and restrooms are down the dirt path a ways. Not too far off.”

Pearl decided right then and there that she would not be showering all week. No way would she put herself in the position to be seen naked by a snake or raccoon, or worse, a stranger. “Wonderful,” Pearl replied sarcastically.

“Come on, now. None of that talk. This is going to be fun. We are here, and we are going to enjoy ourselves. We have enough time to go on the paddle boats before it gets dark. Let’s finish unloading the car and head that way.”

Grandma did not wait for Pearl to reply. Instead, she started unloading the ice chest and grocery bags. Pearl followed silently behind her and picked up the remaining bags. Pearl was in no mood to go paddle boating with her grandmother. It seemed like a silly and juvenile idea, and Pearl had more important things on her mind.

“Get your swimsuit on. You should probably put your junk shoes on in case there is glass or trash on the ground. I don’t want you getting hurt.” Grandma started undressing in front of Pearl. She did not seem to mind that there was no privacy in the cabin, just a big room with two cots. Pearl did not want to see her grandmother naked, so she quickly turned her back and pretended to organize her clothes.

“What are you waiting on? Let’s go before it gets dark! Get changed!” Grandma barked. “I’ll meet you outside. I am going to check out the restrooms before we go.”

Once Grandma left, Pearl quickly got changed into her swimsuit and shorts. She grabbed a towel, slipped on her shoes, and headed out to catch up with Grandma. Pearl, also, had wanted to check out the restrooms since the large Coke she had at Dairy Queen.

“Ugh, the smell!” Pearl shrieked. “It is awful! And hot! Totally disgusting!”

“Well, I will have to agree with you there, Pearl. It is gross. But, I still have to go. You better go too since we won’t be back for awhile.” Grandma took the lead and went into one of the muggy stalls. Pearl checked each of the remaining toilets and picked the one with the least amount of discoloration and the most toilet paper. So far, this entire experience was grossing Pearl out. “What next?” Pearl thought.

The water was ice cold. Just to have it touch Pearl’s feet made her scream. “It’s okay; you will get used to it. Calm down and get in the boat,” Grandma shouted.

Pearl managed to slide in next to Grandma in the bright yellow paddle boat. Pearl thought they looked ridiculous in their orange life vests paddling around the lake. Grandma’s patience was wearing thin. She was tired of Pearl’s snotty attitude, and she did not want the trip to continue as it had started.

Without notice, Grandma jumped into the water. Pearl immediately thought something was wrong and jumped in after her. Grandma laughed so hard Pearl couldn’t tell the tears from the lake water on her face.

“I thought you had accidentally fallen out!” Pearl shouted. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Bet you’re not thinking about how cold you are anymore, are you?” Grandma laughed. “I gotcha in the water without complaint. I would call that a victory for Grandma!”

Pearl was enraged by her grandmother’s trick. Raking her arm across the water, she splashed Grandma. Grandma took it in stride and splashed her back. After a while, to Pearl’s surprise, they were both laughing.

“We’re going to be cold when we get out. Let’s get back in the boat and head back to the cabin. I could use some dry clothes and a Twinkie,” Grandma said smiling.

They quickly headed back to the cabin and put on fresh clothing. Pearl nestled up to Grandma on her cot and tore open the Twinkie box.

“This is the good life,” Grandma said as she bit into the cream-filled sponge cake.

That evening Grandma made ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches on croissant bread. One thing Grandma was known for was doing things just above the norm. She sliced up some fresh strawberries and put them inside the sandwich. Pearl had to admit, although she had never had a sandwich like this one, it was very good.

“Wanna play cards?” Pearl asked. Pearl had packed a deck of cards just in case she got bored and wanted to pick up a game of solitaire.

“What did you have in mind? Poker?” Grandma said with a smile.

“Poker? I don’t know how to play poker, and we don’t have any chips.” Pearl’s first instinct told her that Grandma was joking; however, she was starting to understand Grandma’s ways and it was very possible that she was telling the truth.

“Yeah, you’re right about that. There is still enough light out. How about you go fetch us some sticks? We’ll snap the sticks up in different sizes and use them as our poker chips. I’ll teach you how to play 5-Card Draw. While you’re out, I will get the lanterns going so we have some light to play by. Just don’t go far. I don’t want to have to pull apart the entire park looking for you.”

“Okay, cool. I’ll be back later.” Pearl was excited about the opportunity to roam around.

“Make it thirty minutes at the most,” Grandma huffed as she scoured through the plastic tote looking for the lantern supplies.

“Deal,” Pearl said as she grabbed her disposable camera Grandma purchased for her at the grocery store. Pearl enjoyed taking pictures. Her room at home was covered with pictures she had taken - photographs that made her smile and fashion styles she would like to wear.

Pearl starting gathering sticks right outside of their cabin. Within five minutes, she already had plenty to get them started on the game. Not ready to go inside yet, Pearl laid the sticks on top of their ice chest and headed out further away from camp. Passing the restrooms, Pearl almost gagged. She couldn’t believe a building so small could contain such a foul odor. The last time she smelled something this horrible was when she babysat for Mimi Blevins, the neighbor girl. Mimi was engaged in a movie and did not tell Pearl she needed to go “number two” until it was too late. What a mess! A disgusting odor mixed with Pine-Sol hung in the air all evening. That is exactly the smell of the Blue Eagle Park campsite restrooms!

Pearl picked up her pace as she went past the restrooms and the remainder of the cabins. She wanted to get as far away from the smell as possible. Soon Pearl found herself in a beautiful clearing that framed the lake perfectly. The sunset was reflecting off the water and spreading itself over the entire lake like butter on bread.

“Looks nice, doesn’t it?” A voice called out from behind her.

Pearl jumped off the rock she was sitting on and quickly turned around. She was anticipating fighting off a creepy guy, or worse, a pair of creepy guys. Her first thought was to yell, “Fire!” Her mom had told her that most folks would respond quicker to screaming “fire” than to “help.” Pearl always thought this was odd, but at this moment it was the only thing that popped into her head.

“Fire!” Pearl screamed as she looked directly into the guy’s eyes standing over her.

“Fire! Where?” the boy yelled back as he looked in all directions.

Pearl took a moment to process what she had just yelled. Actually, there was no creepy pervert standing before her as her imagination tricked her into believing. Rather, standing before her was an amazingly handsome guy about her age. He was still looking everywhere for the fire.

“Ah, sorry. No fire. You just scared me. It is a silly thing I learned to say when someone frightens the daylights out of me.”

The boy looked half irritated and half amused. “You’re serious? Funny. Okay, yeah, I think I remember hearing that you should yell “fire” when you are in danger. I have never had anyone yell it at me before; but hey, okay.” He ran his hands through his wavy blonde hair. His tan skin showed off the lines of his arm muscles. He was wearing bright orange swim trunks and a white t-shirt. Pearl immediately smiled when she saw the small dimple on his chin. He was a hunk.

“I am really sorry. The worst thing about it is that no one came running to help. So much for the “fire” theory,” Pearl said with a small laugh. “What is your name?”

“Landon. I am here with my family in cabin 5-B. How about you?”

“Pearl. I came with my grandmother. We just got here and will be here all week. I am already bored!”

“Well, it is nice to meet you, Pearl. This place is not all that bad. There is a great hiking trail just up the road. A small cut out path on the right will take you on a walk that you would like, especially if you want to take pictures,” Landon said as he eyed Pearl’s camera. “Just curious, where did your folks come up with the name Pearl?”

“My Dad believed that real beauty is found from within: as the oyster holds the pearl, so does the body hold the soul. And a well-kept soul nourishes the heart, so it can be brave and love without fear.” Pearl had said these lines a thousand times, each following the same question of how she was named. Being a romantic, her dad loved to read and write - his world was a living poem.

“Wow! That was deep. I was thinking you were going to say it was just a family name. I like your name. It suits you. I don’t know about the brave part, but the rest fits,” Landon said with a smile. “I gotta go. It is getting dark, and I promised my little sister I would make s’mores with her tonight.”

Pearl stood perfectly still basking in the compliments Landon just gave her. “Okay, nice to meet you,” she managed to say shyly.

She watched Landon until he blended into the twilight. Pearl ran back to the cabin before the light faded into darkness. As the sunset rocked itself to sleep, Pearl felt like Cinderella when the clock was about to strike midnight. Her heart raced just as fast as her feet because of the boy she had just met.

Grandma didn’t know what had happened to Pearl, but her attitude had done a turn-about. Pearl was upbeat and smiling the rest of the evening. They broke the sticks and played poker until late in the evening. They toasted their first night with one more Twinkie and a cup of milk. Pearl added a secret toast in her mind…to one day see Landon again.

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