(For Teens to Young Adults)
Plain Helen, frumpy, dumpy, frizzy haired freshman Helen ? who will love plain Helen? Certainly not the handsomest, smartest, even-tempered, good-humored High School Senior, scholar, football athlete, hunk. Though he notices her kind innocent sweet nature, he is quickly tempted away by other girls, some just as sweet-natured, and prettier. Like many of the girls in school, Plain Helen has a crush on Kurt and never quite forgets. Ten years later, slightly less frumpy dumpy but still plain rainy day frizzy-haired Helen, employed in a publishing firm, is offered a promotion to an editorial position. But first she must apprentice with a full-fledged editor. She accepts and the following morning walks into the office of her new boss who turns out to be Kurt. Of course, she sighs, he doesn’t remember her. Why should he? Or does he?
LILAC IN THE SPRING
Helen sat quietly, eyes cast down, studying the round tips of her black leather pumps. Her feet tapped to the beat of the music coming from the stereo on the stage of the school auditorium. She had turned fifteen yesterday, and her parents had finally allowed her to attend the monthly school dance with her classmate and friend, Jenny, a ruby. That’s what she and several of her not-so-popular schoolmates called the pretty, popular girls, the ones whose hair always looked as if they had just stepped out of a beauty salon.
Ruby Jenny was the right height for her fifteen years, and slim and athletic. Her outfits were always Teen Vogue. She was almost never cast as a defense on the girl’s basketball team. Helen couldn’t make a basket if her life depended on it. Defense was all — out of compassion — that the gym teacher allowed her.
Weight-wise, she wasn’t obese, not in the real sense of the word. Overweight, yes, some. Baby fat, that’s what her parents still called it. As for height, in her estimation, five feet was short. Her parents assured her she would grow at least another three inches by the time she was twenty-one.
A mirror with a balancing bar anchored across it, covered the gym wall on her right. The ballet class met here. Helen cringed, although she was spared that humbling activity. It was optional and voluntary. Bad enough to spend two hours scrounging through her closet for an outfit that would make her look a bit self-assured, cool, fashionable, mod — she’d never been able to keep up with the high school lingo. She was not stupid, not laid back or dense. But neither was she super-smart, or up on all the teen slang. Blame it on being raised by old fashioned grandparents on her father’s side, substituting most of the time for both her mother and father who worked long hours in a local bank (her mom, a bank teller, and her dad, a guard) to keep up mortgage payments on their home. They wanted the best for their only daughter. A college education and a chance at a career, if she wanted it.
The disc jockey on the stage — Patrick, from room 205, a junior — trying his very best to imitate the disc jockey who had managed the entertainment and music at his older sister’s wedding, applauded the dancing couples on the floor, and announced the next tune, a slow oldie, It Had To Be You, No one else would do.... Okay, Helen thought, resigned. Why did I bother? I could have stayed home and watched an old romance on AMC. Sapphires (the tall, handsome, smart and athletic young men) never asked a wallflower to dance a slow dance when there were so many rubies afloat to hold in their arms, even if they were as nice as Kurt Lance.
Jenny had a crush on Kurt, as did more than a few girls in school. Helen didn’t blame them, as she had a crush on him, herself. Leading Quarterback, Senior Class, Academically top-notch, Full Scholarship winner to a prestigious college. Her mother, attending a football game at the high school with her on one of those rare occasions when she didn’t have to work overtime, had remarked, “Now there’s a guy you could go for.”
Helen had glanced at her Mom non-plussed. “What makes you say that? You know him?”
Her mom had smiled that knowing smile Moms like to sport. “Oh, I’ve known his mom for years. He’s a good kid.”
“Yeah, mom,” Helen laughed. And thought, but he’s a sapphire.
The oldie tune, slow and melodious, floated across the dance floor. Helen sighed and lifted a hand to adjust the lilac spray clipped to her hair at her right temple. She had used a straightening cream hoping to acquire that long flowing smooth look, but all it had accomplished was to make her hair thin and slippery. The curls in her hair had minds of their own.
Humid or rainy days were her worst hair days. Curls turned to unmanageable frizz. She felt certain her ego had scarred for life, when some weeks ago in the hallway changing classes, one of the nastier rubies pointed to her and called out for all to hear, “There goes frumpy, dumpy, frizzy Helen.”
The clip holding the lilac spray at her temple gave up the fight and slipped to the floor. “Oh, wonderful,” Helen grimaced, hoping no one had noticed. She glanced around. Everyone was busy choosing and accepting partners. Quickly she bent over to retrieve the flower, lost her balance, tried to regain it, but only succeeded in tipping the chair sideways and side-slipping to the ground with a loud thump.
Mercilessly, the slow melodious tune did nothing to mask the noise, and everyone turned in her direction. Helen wished she were dead.
She heard the snickers as she turned to sit upright. The worst was yet to come, she thought, her face flushing with embarrassment. She had to get up, but that meant getting on her knees and maneuvering herself up. Maybe she should just sit there until everyone tired of watching her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and her lips trembled.
“Are you all right?” a young man’s voice asked.
Black and white sneakers and blue denim jeans. She gazed up slowly, past a white long-sleeved T-shirt under a black sport jacket. Finally her gaze encountered a strong neck, a pleasing jaw, firm mouth, nicely shaped nose, and a pair of wide blue eyes filled with what seemed honest concern.”
Kurt Lance asked, extending a hand, “Here, let me help you up.”
Tongue-tied, embarrassed and at the same time flabbergasted that Kurt Lance was asking to help her up, Helen stammered a thank you and tried to hide the quiver that ran up her arms when Kurt placed his hands about her elbows and lifted her to feet in one fluid motion.
“Okay?” he asked.
Helen nodded. “I-I lost my balance. My-my hair clip fell.” She pointed to the lilac spray, feeling a desperate need to explain that she wasn’t normally a klutz.
Kurt bent and picked up her lilac spray and to her astonishment, clipped it back on her hair. “Looks nice on you,” he said, smiling. “Tell you what,” let’s finish this dance.
I’m dreaming, Helen thought, as she nodded timidly and heard a definite intake of female breaths when Kurt cupped her elbow and led her on to the dance floor.
He’s a nice kid, her mom had said. Oh yes, mom, he is. But he’s not a kid, he’s a young man. Helen hoped he did not hear her heart thumping loudly as he placed his arms about her. She noticed some of the dancing couples pause as he began to lead her across the floor. She imagined what the rubies were thinking, Sapphire is taking mercy on a wallflower. His good deed for the day. He might be laughing at her. It could all be a cruel joke, the Carrie plot, except that she didn’t have telekinetic powers.
It took her a few moments to muster the courage to meet his gaze head-on as they danced. She gave him another timid smile. He returned the smile. She felt her knees weaken, and nearly stumbled, but his arms, strong yet gentle, tightened imperceptibly, just enough to help her keep in step. Oh my God, she thought, he’s an angel. She absolutely would never forget tonight!
The music slowed to a stop, and he let go of her waist. But he kept his other arm about her shoulders. A true young gentleman, he’ll probably lead me back to my seat, she thought.
A fast tune shot out from the DJ’s equipment on the stage. Most of the couples on the floor began to shuffle and swing. Helen stood very still. He hadn’t moved. Was she supposed to walk away? Did he intend dancing with her again?
“Come on, let’s dance,” Kurt said.
Helen’s eyes widened with surprise. He must have understood her hesitation for he nodded. She couldn’t restrain the good-natured giggle. Later she would think how silly she must have sounded. She began to dance, letting her body move with the music, her feet stepping lightly to the music beat. Kurt was a good dancer, and his moves natural, not affected or goofy, or inappropriate. She took his lead for the most part, enjoying the freedom of swaying her shoulders and arms and hips to the liberating notes. She forgot to count the seconds and the minutes, thoroughly enjoying her second dance with a handsome young partner, the boy of her dreams.
It was indeed a night she would never forget. Three more dances — one rock’n roll, one slow, and then a waltz, The Blue Danube. She was glad that over the years her dad had taught her the basic steps whenever they attended family affairs. She felt a worthy partner as Kurt waltzed her across the floor, half empty, as several of the rubies had never bothered to learn the steps to this old and beautiful dance. As Kurt and she glided across the room, the auditorium appeared to vanish from her realm of reality. And for a few moments she was Cinderella at the ball dancing with her dashing Prince.
At length, both of them pleasantly exhausted, Kurt asked Helen if she would like a glass of punch. “Yes, I would,” Helen replied, wishing this enchanted evening would go on forever, but expecting any moment to awaken and find it all a beautiful dream.
Kurt escorted her to the refreshment table supervised by one of the faculty. Ruby Jenny broke the spell. “Hey, Lilac, our ride’s here.”
The use of her nickname jolted Helen back into the real world. She was a fifteen year old high school freshman at her first dance. Their ride was Jenny’s mom who had come to drive them home.
Helen fought back the urge to refuse to go. She stoically blinked back the tears that threatened to fill her eyes and gave Kurt her sweetest smile. “I have to go home now.” She immediately regretted her next words, “Thank you for your kindness. I had a wonderful time!” She saw Kurt frown and realized she had just committed a faux pas. Once again, the frumpy dumpy frizzy-haired wallflower, “Bye,” she whispered, and walked out with Jenny.