Water Lily by Sherrie Hansen

Once upon a very long time ago, Jake Sheffield and Michelle Jones graduated from the same high school.

Jake can’t wait to take a trip down memory lane at their 20th class reunion. Being with his old friends is like guest starring in a favorite episode of Cheers. Everybody knows your name. Everybody’s glad you came. 

The last thing Michelle wants to do is dredge up a lot of old memories and relive a part of her past that wasn’t that great in the first place.

Will the murky waters of the past destroy their dreams for the future, or will a water lily rise from the depths and bloom?


    “I would change a lot of things about that night if I could.”
    She said nothing. She didn’t want to say it hadn’t mattered when it had. This was ridiculous. What was he doing here, and why was she even… Oh, Lord. He was going to ask her to dance.
    “I blew it the night of the reunion. I’m hoping you’ll give me a second chance.” Jake held out a hand.  “Michelle Jones, would you do me the honor of dancing with me?”
She frowned, but it was hard work. She really felt like smiling – like dancing. But this was Jake Sheffield, and starting something that would just come back to haunt her was so not a good idea.
    “I can’t dance with you here. Now.”
    “I owe you a dance,” Jake said, sounding uncharacteristically stubborn. “If you won’t… If I… What would you like me to do?”
    “Go away and let me forget that the 1980’s ever happened?”
    His face caught her off guard. He looked genuinely sad, and very tired. For a second, her heart went out to him.
    “What was so bad about the 80’s?”
    She closed the chink and folded her arms over her chest. “Nothing if you like constant rejection and perpetual humiliation.”
    An expression that she couldn’t quite place – except that it was definitely unsympathetic – flitted over his face. He seemed truly disappointed. Not just about the dance, but in her.
    She turned away from him. Why was he doing this? Rooting around in places best left undisturbed was only going to… “High school was just a bad time for me. It was nothing you did.” No. It was her mother telling her she had stringy hair, crooked teeth, a fat face, big knees, and bad posture. It was Tracy teasing her about her wiggly tits and freckles. It was Liz Allen, and the fact that women like her existed. And in a way, it was Jake, and every other man who appreciated beauty more than brains.
    “You need to start accentuating the positive,” Jake said. “If you look hard enough, you can always find the good in things.”
    She probably looked at skeptical as she felt.
    “There was some great music in the 1980’s.” He set his boom box on the old walnut church pew that lined the wall of the foyer and flipped a switch. Chris De Burgh started to sing Lady in Red just like he used to in the 1980’s.
        I’ve never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight
        I’ve never seen you shine so bright…
    “Michelle Jones, may I have this dance?”
    Okay. So he was trying very hard to make things up to her. Which was very nice of him, but… “Don’t you think the moment has passed?”
    Jake reached out his hand and waited.
        I’ve never seen that dress you’re wearing…
    “This is ridiculous. I’m in my nightgown. We can’t just…” She wrinkled her brow.
    “You’re beautiful just the way you are.”
        Or the highlights in your hair that catch your eyes.
        I have been blind…

    Her hand reached out to take his as though it had a life of its own and could act independently of her brain.
        The lady in red is dancing with me,
        Cheek to cheek.
        There’s nobody here,
        It’s just you and me.
        It’s where I wanna be.
        But I hardly know this beauty by my side.
        I’ll never forget the way you look tonight…
    It was her fantasy come to life. Jake’s hand caressed her back through her silk robe, then pulled her close.
    His cheek was cool against hers, just-shaved soft. She melted into his arms, their bodies seamlessly joined.
        I’ve never seen you looking so gorgeous as you did tonight,
        I’ve never seen you shine so bright – you were amazing.
       Her heart fluttered with excitement. It had to be a dream – another crazy dream, just like the others she’d been having ever since the reunion…Jake’s body – his hard, muscular body – pressed into her soft, womanly curves. Trust me, her body said. This is no dream.
        And when you turned to me and smiled it took my breath away.
        And I have never had such a feeling such a feeling
        Of complete and utter love, as I do tonight.
        The lady in red is dancing with me,
        Cheek to cheek.
        There’s nobody here.
        It’s just you and me.
    Jake swirled her around the room, taking her with him on a magic ride from just-left-of-the-moon fantasy to modern day reality. This was happening. It was really happening.
        But I hardly know this beauty by my side.
        I’ll never forget the way you look tonight.
        The lady in red,
        My lady in red,
        I love you.
    The song ended and Jake continued to hold her in a tender embrace. It took her a few seconds to come back to her senses, but she did.
    She pulled away before he did. “I never did look good in red.”
    He caught her arm. “You have red highlights in your hair.”
    “It’s not red,” she said, feeling cantankerous and not even knowing why. “Maybe strawberry blond.”
    “Your cheeks turn red when you blush,” Jake said.
    “Rose. They’re rosy. My cheeks,” she said, taking another step back. The only thing red about her was going to be her eyes when Jake left and she was alone again, crying her heart out.
    “Can we at least agree it’s a good song?”
    “Yes.” She looked down. “I’m sorry, Jake. I just can’t…”
    “Too many bad memories, I guess. Past, present…”
    “Yah. Well. Life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries for a lot of us,” he said.


    “So, what kind of clothes do you need?” Michelle said.
    “It’s for Heritage Week,” Theodora said. “Every day we have to wear clothes from a different decade. Thursday is the 1980’s.”
    Fine, better now than a week from now when she’d re-forgotten Jake Sheffield existed. “Your mother must have clothes from when she was in high school.”
    “She’s not a pack rat like you are,” Theodora said, then blushed, realizing too late that the phrase she was repeating might not have been meant as a compliment. “Besides, I’m built like you. Mom’s stuff is all too small.”
    “I don’t think you look anything like me!” Michelle kept the rest of her thoughts to herself. She didn’t want to give Theodora a complex like her mother had her. “But I do have quite a few things tucked away. I loved playing dress-up when I was younger, so I saved some classic pieces from each era.” Thinking her own children would play with them. “We’ll just have to see what fits.”
    She really doubted anything would – Theodora wasn’t fat like she’d been. Big boned like many of their family, and nicely developed, as opposed to Tracy, who always had always had a boyish figure, but not at all fat. She doubted she had anything that wasn’t going to be absolutely huge on Theodora’s girlish figure. Theodora was twice as skinny as she’d been at thirteen.
    Theodora picked out a few things she liked and slipped into the bathroom to try on the clothes.
    “I could call Rae and see if she could come for lunch if you can stay that long,” Michelle said while she and Tracy were waiting. “Ian is getting so cute.”
    Tracy wrinkled her nose. “We really have to get going. Trevor’s out of town and Titus is home alone watching Timothy. I promised I wouldn’t be gone for too long.”
    Michelle was biting her tongue when Theodora came strutting out in a pair of tight Jordache jeans and a fitted crop top that Michelle had worn under a baggy big shirt.
    “You… look great!” Michelle said, shock rippling through her body.
    The jeans she’d worn in high school fit Theodora to perfection. The top accentuated her niece’s small, high breasts and the indention of her waist. Her first thought was that she’d been insane to be dissatisfied with that body, that beautiful body, her second, to be furious with her mother. She’d grown up believing that she was unforgivably fat and inherently unlovable, when all the time, she’d looked like that?
    She reeled as the truth peeled years of misconceptions from her eyes. Her whole self-concept was based on a lie. The only one who had though she was fat in high school was her mother – her mother, and the daughter who had been insecure enough to believe her.
    “Do you like it, Mom?” Theodora asked.
    Tracy hesitated.
    “You look incredible, Theodora,” Michelle said again. “You’re beautiful – absolutely beautiful.”
    Tracy cleared her throat. “My baby is growing up.”
    “Mo-oo-mmm,” Theodora said.


Sherrie Hansen is a 1975 graduate of Austin High School, and the daughter of Everett and Mary Ann Hansen of rural Austin. Sherrie was co-editor of the Austinian, sang in High School Choir, and was active in Enterprise 4-H Club and Grace Baptist Church. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, and University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. She moved back to the Midwest to be nearer to her family and opened the Blue Belle Inn Bed and Breakfast and Tea House after living in Colorado Springs, CO for 11 years. She is married to the Rev. Mark Decker, Bethany Lutheran Church, Thompson, IA, who formerly served at St. Olaf Church, Austin, MN.


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