Megan took her coffee outside and sat at a picnic table overlooking the boating lake and got out her magazine. It was a beautiful, sunny morning in late August near the end of the summer holidays and she had come to the café in her favourite London Park to enjoy a last chance to unwind. After she had read all the stories and got herself a second drink Megan turned to an article telling her that autumn was on its way.
‘The American writer William Cullen Bryant called it: “Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” What makes you smile about autumn? Tell us in twenty-five words or less for a chance to win our September prize.’ -promised the article.
‘I’m sure there are lots of lovely things about autumn’ said Megan to herself, ‘…trouble is they all get outweighed by the inescapable fact that school starts back up in September!’ It was hard enough saying goodbye to the summer, as if she was packing it away with her holiday clothes; but the start of the Autumn Term was something that she never much looked forward to.
Her mum always said you can spot a teacher the first week in September – they’re the ones walking around with their bottom lip sticking out saying ‘I don’t wanna go back to school!’ and having to be pushed through the gates on the first day. This year she would need to do something positive to cheer herself up. If she didn’t it was too easy to dwell on the fact that yet another summer had gone by without a hint of a holiday romance. You’d think with six weeks off the least she could manage was to catch someone’s eye, but she had just never seemed to meet anyone special.
‘You need to make a list!’ said her ever practical sister on the phone that night. Lisa was a full time mum to Katie, Emily and baby Jack; and with three children under seven years old she needed to make lists to organize every aspect of her hectic life. Everyone in the house had their own column on the calendar so that nothing was forgotten, and there were lists fixed to the fridge, and post-it notes stuck everywhere in her tiny kitchen.
‘Make a list of the ten best things about autumn so you have things to look forward to when you go back. Stick it in the front of your school diary and look at it when you’re feeling tired or fed up.’
‘So that’ll be lunchtime on the second day?’ laughed Megan.
‘I’ll start you off, have you got a pen? Right…. Number One: Autumn leaves, obviously; two: no more wasps in your sandwiches; Three: harvest festival at church.’
‘Do you remember that year we collected toiletries for the women’s refuge rather than traditional harvest gifts?’ Interrupted Megan.
‘Yeah, and you got into trouble for singing “Bringing in the shampoo” instead of “Bringing in the sheaves” giggled Lisa.
‘Okay Number Four: … Oh! I know! Not having to suck your stomach in wearing skimpy tops because you can wear your sloppy jumpers again!’ she said with feeling.
‘Well if you will have three kids by the time you’re 27 what do you expect?’ said Megan fondly.
‘It’s alright for you!’ said Lisa, ‘you’ve always been tall and skinny – lamppost!’ reverting back to her childhood nickname. Megan had hated her younger sister calling her that when they were growing up, but over the years had come to enjoy being willowy, it meant she could eat whatever she liked while Lisa was always conscious of her expanding middle regions. She had never had a moment’s resentment that Lisa had got married before she did, and she doted on her nephew and nieces, but it didn’t stop her wishing for a happy family life of her own.
Typically her mum and dad had very similar ideas to each other for numbers five and six.
‘I love it when the setting sun catches the trees and highlights all the different colours. Especially if I’m admiring it while enjoying a cup of tea and a cherry and walnut scone.’ Said her mum.
‘Definitely the heather up on the moors and the way the hills in the distance are all different shades of mauve.’ Was her dad’s offering. Despite being well into retirement, both of her parents enjoyed walking two or three times every week. Autumn is always beautiful when you live five minutes from the stunning countryside of the Peak District. It’s a bit harder when you live five minutes from the A22.
‘How do I put a positive spin on the nights drawing in?’ thought Megan as she was in the classroom the week before term started, getting her classroom ready. Very soon it would still be dark when she left the house and she would need to dig out her scarf and mittens for her stints in the playground. Number seven: Autumn schedules on the TV – she did enjoy a Sunday evening curled up on the sofa with a good drama, not to mention the return of ‘Strictly’.
She had an old group of university and school friends who met up once a month and they came up with eight and nine on the final Saturday evening before the kids started back. Sitting out in the beer garden of a country pub making the most of the light evenings, Greg, the only one not working in education, said: ‘I know! ….Only seven weeks til the next holiday!’ It was a standing joke that most teachers could only cope for a couple of months without a break. Bidding farewell to the others she went to her car thinking: ‘Number nine: we all look a bit more fit, tanned and less tired than we did in July – hopefully!’
She was still trying to come up with number ten as she walked through the doors into the main school building on Monday morning. Maybe she’d have to make do with how cute the reception children looked in their brand new uniforms that were at least two sizes too big and their shiny shoes.
‘Miss Hughes… could you come in here for a moment please.’ Called the headmaster, smiling through the hatch in the entrance hall.
‘I’ve only just arrived…I can’t have done anything wrong yet!’ she thought. What was it about being called into the head’s office that was just as terrifying now as it had been when she was caught talking in assembly when she was four? ‘I’m thirty-two for goodness sake!’
‘Hello Megan … good holiday? Glad to be back? You remember your colleague Maggie was going hill-walking in Snowdonia? Well she was on her way down from one of the ridges and slipped on some loose rock and well, she took a nasty fall and she’s broken her leg in three places…. Yes I know, poor thing …that reminds me, can we organize some flowers, Sheila?’ he said to one of the ladies in the office.
‘Well Maggie’s still in Hospital in Wales; they’ve put her in traction, and she won’t be on her feet until after half term. I’d like to introduce you to Matthew Jameson. He’ll be taking Puffins class until Maggie comes back.’ She hadn’t really looked at the tall stranger in the office until then.
‘Do not blush, Do NOT blush’ she told herself firmly as he shook her hand, because he was quite simply the most utterly, amazingly adorable man she had ever seen! She felt like she should go home and knit him a little hat – he was that gorgeous.
‘So will that be okay then Megan …?’ asked her boss. She realised her mind had been somewhere else entirely, and judging by the hint of a smirk on her headmaster’s face and the broad grins of the office staff it had been quite obvious to them where her mind had wandered off to as well!
‘Of course. Let me take you to your classroom and show you where everything is. Have you taught this year group before?’
‘No, reception is new to me; I’ll probably be popping in all the time asking questions.’
‘Fine by me.’ She thought. She soon found out that this was his first teaching job; before that he had spent five years helping his parents with their B&B in Derbyshire until they had retired and he could finish his qualifications. He was easy to talk to and they found they had a lot in common.
Walking home one evening about three weeks later, Megan fished her diary out of her bag to check when the school harvest festival was – and saw her list.
‘Excellent!’ she said to herself. ‘I can do number ten on my list of things to look forward to … AND say what makes me smile about autumn all in one go!’
‘Number ten – I am looking forward to my next date with Matt on September 30th, and I have a feeling that this autumn will definitely be something to smile about!’