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