The first day of school can be even more important, as Grace is about to find out.
"I've always loved the first day of school better than the last day of school.
Firsts are best because they are beginnings."
-- Jenny Han
The buzz was electric. The first day of school, only this time she was a teacher. All the hopes and dreams of the future written on their little faces. Twenty-six little humans all focused on her. It was a lot for Grace to take in, but she was ready. Grace had wanted this for most of her life, and she finally had her chance. Teaching third grade may not seem like a dream to others, but it was exactly where she was meant to be.
Her room was ready, she had spent hours hanging up new decorations for the new class. She wanted it to be welcoming and inspirational all at the same time. Grace wanted her kids to know they could do or be anything they wanted, a teacher, an astronaut, a housewife, or president. The back wall was dedicated to the words “Dream Big”, and she meant them. Even if her family called her naïve, she believed it.
At twenty-four, Grace knew she was young for this kind of responsibility. The classroom was where she had always been comfortable, though her siblings thought she was absolutely crazy for wanting to continue her education and willingly going to college. All three of them had left school once they had been handed diplomas and never looked back. For Grace, it was the experience. Every day was a chance to learn something new.
She had been awake well before her alarm had gone off. Grace was always early, especially when it was such a big day. She had laid out her first day outfit the night before and head been ready well ahead of time. The neat navy skirt and the new blouse made her feel professional but wouldn’t hinder her from working or playing with the children. Her mink brown hair was pulled into a sensible braid. The small pearl earrings she wore had been a gift from her parents when she’d graduated from Indiana University last spring.
“Good morning, Miss Baylor,” The older woman greeted Grace with her first Miss Baylor. Ms. Jackson was well over 60 and the more than 35 years at the school showed on her weary face. The look was at least accepting, if not welcoming. She’d worn the same expression even when Grace had been her student years ago.
“Good morning Ms. Jackson. Beautiful day,” Grace answered. She didn’t try to keep the smile from her face. The weather was sunny, birds were chirping, and the students would soon be filling the halls. Even the smell of industrial cleaner and floor wax seemed comforting today. It was simple, expected, and just familiar enough to keep Grace’s nerves from taking over.
“Let’s make this year a great one,” the younger woman parroted the often-quoted Ms. Jackson’s famous new year welcome.
Her hazel eyes focused on the prize, the morning flew by in a flurry of smiles, nauseous tummies, and excited voices chatting about new clothes, backpacks, and the like. Most of the children, as Grace suspected, had known each other for ages already. They exchanged stores of their summer trips and days at the lake. It was a good life for most of them, Grace knew. The two new students found solace with each other and by lunch time she was sure they would fit in without any interference from her.
Lunch was a rushed affair in the teacher’s lounge, and Grace hurried through, wanting to get back to the room before the children had completed their lunch recess. So excited that she wasn’t paying any attention as she ran straight into a very solid wall of … male chest?
“Ooof.” The soft sound seemed overly dramatic, and if a pair of strong arms hadn’t caught her, Grace might have stumbled.
“Where’s the fire?” a warm baritone voice asked. She looked up and found herself lost in a pair of the most beautiful blue eyes she’d ever seen.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized.
“No harm no foul,” he agreed. It was Cam Murphy no less, the town’s local hero. Ok, so a hero as far as she was concerned. He’d been a senior when Grace had been a freshman. His dark hair and blue eyes were legendary, at least locally. He’d been Prom King to Gina Liotta’s Prom Queen that year and everyone’s Most Likely to Succeed. And boy had he.
He’d moved to New York City for college and then his first novel had made the best seller list. Talk about a success story! He’d moved back to town just a few months before, though why on earth he would do that Grace had no idea.
“Mr. Murphy …. I really am sorry,”
“Cam, please. Grace, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Grace was practically rooted to the spot. He remembered her? She could feel the blush creeping up her cheeks. Damn! You would think she was still a silly 14-year-old.
“You must be rushing back to class. Maybe we will crash into each other again.” He suggested.
“Hopefully not so literally,” she managed. He returned her smile, so maybe she hadn’t come off as quite the nitwit she had feared.
“I’m here all week. Substituting for Mr. Radcliffe, he had an emergency appendectomy yesterday.”
“Gets me out of the house,” he admitted. That smile of his again. Truthfully, his dimples ought to be illegal.
“It’s great you can lend us a hand.”
“Wouldn’t miss it. My little boy is a kindergartener, so helping out here is actually very convenient.”
Grace nodded. She’d heard his wife had died just last year and that he had a small son, Carter. Now it kind of made sense, Cam had moved back for family support. Being a single parent had to be hell, even if you had money. And surely the cost of living in rural Indiana was a lot less than in The Big Apple.
“I suppose it couldn’t just be all the big paycheck,” she teased, proud of herself for sounding halfway normal instead of some geeky, star struck reject. They both laughed at the sheer lunacy of anyone making bank in the education field.
Of course, he didn’t need the cash. Cam’s dress shirt was of much higher quality than any of the other teachers, with the blue pin stripes accenting his all too attentive eyes. Grace would bet the last piece of chocolate in her desk drawer that his navy slacks were tailored. Somehow, he managed to be put together without even trying.
“I think you might need this,” he teased. His smile was enough to nearly stop her heart as he bent to pick up her purse that had fallen onto the tile floor. Had this whole exchange really taken less than thirty seconds? His hand brushed her shoulder as he assisted with putting the strap back where it had originally been before Grace had been so clumsy. So much for living up to her name.
“Thank you …”
“I really should watch where I’m going,” she apologized.
“Then make it up to me.”
The words had Grace’s attention. Her eyes widened as she waited literally with bated breath. How could she ever make up for coming across as such a klutz? True, it wasn’t an actual first impression … but he hadn’t seen her in years.
“How could I possibly manage that?” she asked, her voice not much more than a whisper.
“You’re going to have to go out with me … keep me in adult company for dinner sometime.” She blinked; positive she had misheard him. Her heart raced and she wondered if she had suddenly been struck dumb.
“Love to.” Somehow, she managed to sound almost normal in spite of the daze she was in. He’d only been her childhood crush and the blueprint she’d measured every date against since her 15th birthday and the disastrous first dance with Bill Epperson.
Cam nodded, gave her a wide smile, and moved on down the hallway leaving Graze in a daze. Life did take some amazing twists and turns It was indeed an amazing first day. One she was bound to remember for years to come.
Word Count 1367