ThatMomentGrunts and squeals and the occasional “Oh, my goodness” could be heard coming from the bathroom, where Marie Christie was putting on her dress before the prom.

She flung open the door, let out a “Woo!” and, with one hand behind her head and the other on her hip, struck a pose for the camera that’s constantly hanging from her stepmother’s neck.

“I look beautiful,” said Marie, who was still wearing her leggings underneath.

This was probably Marie’s fifth prom, said her stepmother, Paula Christie. The first was almost three years ago, when Caleb Dunlap asked her to be his date to his prom at Gorham High School. They’ve been together ever since.

Friday’s dance was a little different. Instead of a hall, it was being held at a church, and it wasn’t just for teenagers, but all ages. Everyone who goes gets crowned king or queen. Everyone also has special needs.

Put on by the Tim Tebow Foundation, the second annual event, called Night To Shine, is held at churches across the country on the same night and attended by more than 20,000 people.


In Portland, it’s at Eastpoint Christian Church. Marie and Caleb, both of whom have Down syndrome, went last year, and there was no question they were going again.

Marie would talk about it with anyone who would listen at the Maine Mall last week, when she was there looking for a dress.

Kaylee Daly, who worked with Marie a few years ago at Affinity, a skill development program, had taken her shopping. She said Marie insisted she wanted something short, which is hard to find for her, even in the juniors section at J.C. Penney. Although Marie will be 23 next month, she still wears kids-sized shoes. Caleb is 20 and about a head taller.

Daly said Marie tried on eight dresses before settling on a black sleeveless one with beading around the waistline and straps.

The next day, Daly came back to help her with her hair and makeup.

Marie sat still in a chair in the kitchen of her home in Portland, where she lives with her parents and sisters, as Daly wrapped strands of her short brown hair around a curling iron.


She covered her eyes with her hands as Daly doused her in hairspray, then tried to keep them open wide when Daly brushed mascara onto her lashes.

“Ah, that tickles,” she said.


Marie always loves a reason to get dressed up. She also loves to dance, especially with Caleb.

The couple get together at least once a week. They’ll hang out at his apartment at Strive University, an education program in Portland for young adults with developmental disabilities, or go to a social that’s held every Friday in South Portland.

They talk on the phone every day for hours, said Paula Christie. She’s not sure what about, but she hears Marie laughing and giggling the entire time.


Caleb’s sense of humor is one of the things Marie likes about him. He’s also sweet and handsome, she says.

They have a lot in common, too. They both like Pizza Hut and romantic movies and, most of all, kissing, which they rarely stop doing when they’re together.


As soon as Marie and her family walked into Caleb’s apartment Friday before the dance, the couple fell into an embrace.

He gently rubbed her back as she held her head to his chest, her eyes closing as she let out a sigh.

“You look cute, Marie,” he told her.


“You’re handsome,” she said.

As Paula Christie took pictures of the prom-ready couple, she asked them to kiss for the camera – something they hesitated to do in front of the people gathered in the apartment, but soon wouldn’t stop.

“I love you,” Marie said as she lifted her head up toward Caleb’s.

“Love you,” he said back and smooshed his puckered lips against hers.


When they got to the dance, a roped-off red carpet was lined with dressed-up guests holding silver pompoms and cheering for everyone who walked through the door, including Marie and Caleb.


Before going in to find seats at a table, they had their pictures taken, got a crown and tiara placed on their heads and were interviewed by a TV news station covering the event.

After sharing a pretzel rod by biting it from both ends, like the spaghetti from “Lady and the Tramp,” they took a ride in a stretch limousine around Portland International Jetport and back, kissing the entire time – when they weren’t talking about getting married.

“Do you want to be my wife, Marie?” Caleb asked.

“Yes!” she squealed. They wondered if they could make it happen that night.

Back at the prom, they got in line for dinner – chicken tacos with every topping imaginable.

When Caleb went back for seconds, Marie watched him as he stood in line.


“Caleb’s handsome,” she said.

They were still eating when the lights went down and pop songs started blaring through the room, lit with strings of blue lights hanging from the ceiling.

The dance floor filled up fast and, a couple of songs in, Marie and Caleb were at the front of it.

Although she prefers to slow-dance – possibly the only place they differ – she couldn’t keep Caleb from shimmying through the songs.

They held each other by the neck or the waist and would grab each other’s hands, pulling them back and forth to the beat. They twirled each other around, smiling, laughing and kissing the whole time.


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