The Prom Queen

A new chap­ter beck­ons in this gen­tle short story by He­len M. Wal­ters.

The People's Friend Special - - REAL LIFE -

YOUR suit­cases are lin­ing the hall­way. How much stuff can one eigh­teenyear-old need, I ask my­self as I walk past them to get to the kitchen.

I’m a bit bleary-eyed due to the ear­li­ness of the hour, but your dad wants to make a prompt start in case you hit traf­fic.

We de­cided a while ago that it would be bet­ter for him to take you. I’d only cry, and then you’d cry, too, and it wouldn’t be the best start to your new life.

I don’t want that. I want you to be ex­cited by the fu­ture. Thrilled to be start­ing a new phase of your life.

I want to be thrilled for you, if I can only over­come my nerves.

The rites of pas­sage have been com­ing thick and fast just re­cently, I re­mem­ber as I put the ket­tle on to make a pot of tea. Your eigh­teenth birth­day only seems like yes­ter­day.

We went for a fam­ily meal at one of our favourite res­tau­rants in town, be­cause that was what you wanted, even though we’d of­fered to pay for you to have a party with all your friends.

“No,” you said. “I’d rather be with you two and gran.”

So that’s what we did, and I was filled with pride all evening, my face hurt­ing with the ef­fort of hold­ing back tears of joy at what a won­der­ful young woman you’ve turned out to be.

Then there was your school prom. We didn’t get to go to that with you, of course, but I had tears prick­ing my eyes when you stood there in your ball gown wear­ing shoes with such high heels that I felt dizzy on your be­half.

And my heart stopped in the face of how beau­ti­ful, how grace­ful and how very grown up you looked. A real prom queen.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when you came home – not un­der your own steam, but be­ing given a piggy-back by your boyfriend An­drew.

You were both gig­gling, I re­mem­ber. High on life, your youth and the un­ac­cus­tomed al­co­hol I could smell on your breath.

The first thing I no­ticed was your bare feet.

“What on earth’s hap­pened to your shoes, Janie?” I asked.

You gig­gled again and An­drew an­swered for you.

“Don’t worry, Mrs Collins. Janie had to take them off be­cause her feet were hurt­ing. I’ve got them in my ruck­sack.”

He’s one of the good guys, An­drew. I’ve al­ways trusted him to look af­ter you.

Al­though we did have one bump in the road, didn’t we? I feel cold in my stom­ach now as I think of it.

The day I was clear­ing out your room and found a used preg­nancy test hid­den away in the bot­tom of your wastepa­per bas­ket. My heart stopped for a mo­ment, un­til I re­alised the test was neg­a­tive.

We had a bit of a chat af­ter that, and you re­as­sured me that you and An­drew were be­ing care­ful and I didn’t need to worry.

You were right and we haven’t had any scares since. And now you have your whole fu­ture ahead of you and it starts to­day.

As I put the tea cosy on the pot, I re­mem­ber a phase of your life from much longer ago.

The pom-pom on the tea cosy is one of many dozens that you made when you were about eight. I re­mem­ber help­ing you cut out the rings of card­board, then watch­ing while you wound many dif­fer­ent colours of wool around them, your tongue stick­ing out of your mouth as you con­cen­trated so hard on your amaz­ing cre­ation.

You were a pom-pom queen that year.

I check my watch. You and your dad will be down any minute now. You both have an unerring abil­ity to smell tea brew­ing from any­where in the house.

We don’t have cooked break­fasts very of­ten, but to­day you have a long jour­ney ahead of you, and I don’t know when I’ll next get a chance to feed you. So I want to send you off fully fed and nour­ished.

There you are, hair still damp from the shower, just in time to eat the ba­con and eggs that are now siz­zling in the pan.

“Are you ready?” I ask, keep­ing my voice as light and up­beat as pos­si­ble.

“Yes,” you say. “I’ve done my pack­ing and Dad’s just on his way down.”

As I look into your eyes I can see a shade of ner­vous­ness along­side the ex­cite­ment, and I’m re­minded that you are only just eigh­teen. Al­though you are a con­fi­dent, self­pos­sessed young woman, you are still a lit­tle girl in­side.

You’re sure about what you want to do. You’ve done all the re­search and I

That’s how you’ll al­ways be re­mem­bered, whether at home or 200 miles away . . .

trust you to have made the right de­ci­sion.

You sur­prised us both by an­nounc­ing that you didn’t want to go to univer­sity like all your friends. Like An­drew. Like we’d as­sumed you would.

In­stead you found your­self a ju­nior po­si­tion in a big graphic de­sign com­pany in a city two hun­dred miles away.

“It’s what I want,” you ex­plained at the time. “I’ll be learn­ing on the job, and go­ing to col­lege on a day-re­lease pro­gramme. I’ll be a step ahead of all the peo­ple who have gone to univer­sity for three years be­fore even get­ting started.”

Al­though you’re only eigh­teen, you have your ca­reer all thought out.

I worry that your re­la­tion­ship with An­drew, and your other friends, won’t sur­vive as you take such a dif­fer­ent path from them. But I have to trust your de­ci­sion.

Be­fore I’m ready, you and your dad fin­ish break­fast and pile into the car ready to set off on the jour­ney that will take you to the next stage of your life.

And as you go, I wave you good­bye. My Janie. My prom queen. My pom-pom queen. My some­thing in be­tween.

Never stop sur­pris­ing me. Never stop tak­ing my breath away. But make sure the heart-stop­ping mo­ments are for all the right rea­sons from now on.

The End.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.