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There is a picture of Willow on the right, BTW <3 --------------->

I remember my first day of school as if it were yesterday. 

The crisp, autumn air gently blew my light brown hair over my shoulder, whistling at my red dress, my white ankle socks forever crawling down my legs, so I had to keep stopping to yank them up. My mother was leading me across the bustling playground, but I leaned back on my heels, stopping like a ship with an anchor. 

“Mummy! I can’t. I’m scared.” 

“There’s nothing to be scared of, darling!” said Mum in a light, reassuring tone. “It’ll be fun.” 

“No it won’t! It’s big and scary and I don’t like it,” I whined, as a couple of towering juniors smirked at me. 

“Please, let’s go back,” I pleaded, tears of anguish starting to well up. A couple spilled over, stinging my cheeks. 

Mum inhaled sharply, holding the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger for a moment, and then breathed out slowly. Then she gave me a sunny, if not exasperated, smile and gently wiped away my tears. 

“C’mon- you’ll love it, you wait and see, sweetheart.” 

I was sure I wouldn’t. I nuzzled into Tara,my teddy bear, rubbing my nose against her woollen warmth; she made me feel a little braver. But before I knew it, I was in the classroom. 

I stared around; children were squealing, pushing, playing lots of different games. There was a little group of girls clustered around the doll house; some boys had play dough up to their elbows, laughing and singing; and there was a little solemn group of both boys and girls, who weren’t quite sure what to do with themselves. I looked in fear and yet fascination, until a familiar lady came up to us. 

She grinned at me. 

“Hello, poppet,” she said cheerily. “What’s your name, then?” 

I looked up at my mum. She smiled encouragingly, which, again, helped me pluck up a little courage. 

“Willow,” I whispered, in a hoarse, almost inaudible voice. 

This lady smiled again; she had little creases either side of her eyes, which suggested that she smiled a lot...I always was an observant little girl. This helped calm me considerably. 

“Willow, eh? What a beautiful name.” She consulted a book, briefly running her finger down it, until it stopped and stabbed at the page. “Ah yes, Willow Darwin.” She placed the book on her desk. “So you must be Mrs Darwin?” 

Mum laughed. “I wish.” She raised an eyebrow significantly, though I didn’t understand it at the time. “I’m divorced, you see. But Willow still has her father’s name. I’m Leigh Ryder.” She extended a hand, and the two women nodded and smiled as they shook. “And you must be Miss Gladwin?” 

“That’s me.” 

“Willow, this is your new teacher, Miss Gladwin. She will look after you while you’re at school. You’ve met before, at the open day,” Mum explained. “Now, darling, I’ve got to go now. I’ll pick you up later, ok? You have a good day; I’m sure you will.” 

She smiled at me, placed down Tara Teddy and walked away, leaving me. 

I was on my own. 


“Now then, Willow,” Miss Gladwin said kindly. “What would you like to do? Sandpit? Play dough? Or maybe join the other girls at the doll house?” 

I dithered, not really wanting to do anything; I was far too shy. But I saw a sincere-looking teddy bear in the corner, and my chest swelled with love. 

Miss Gladwin saw me eyeing the teddy bear. “You want to play with Jasper?” 


“The big teddy. Then your teddy and Jasper can be friends. Would your teddy like that?” 

I swallowed, wondering what to say back. Then, an involuntary smile spread across my face. “Yes, I think she would.” 

I crossed the carpet, almost tripping in my haste to meet him and get him associated with Tara. I sat cross-legged in front of him, making Tara look shyly up at him. 

“Hello,” he said, in a funny, gruff voice to Tara; it made us both giggle. “Who are you?” 

“Tara,” she replied coyly, nuzzling into my neck. “And you are Jasper.” 

“I am Jasper, yes. Would you like to be my friend?” 


I got so caught up in my game that I didn’t notice a little boy sit next to me. He tapped me on the shoulder. I jumped in alarm, looking all around, and my eyes settled on his face. He smiled shyly, almost as shyly as Tara Teddy. All the other children scared me slightly, but this boy didn’t. He had a friendly smile on his angelic face, a shiny, dark fringe which covered his forehead, and a light spattering of freckles. A little, honey-coloured teddy occupied the crook of his arm. 

“Hello,” he said, smiling. “What are you called?” 

“W-Willow. Willow Darwin. Who are you?” I managed to say. 

“Josh Charlton. I wanted to introduce my teddy to you.” He held the little bear forward for inspection. I took hold of him, smiling at his sweet expression. 

“What’s he called?” 


“Just Bear?” 

“Yes. My mummy said I should call him something more special, but I didn’t want to.” 

“It suits him.” We laughed, slightly nervously. Then we stopped and smiled. 

“Tara, this is Bear,” I said, giggling again. “Bear wants to be friends with you.” 

“Yes, I do,” said Josh in a growly voice, which made us laugh again. 

Things were looking up. School didn’t seem nearly so scary by the end of the day, and I’d made quite a lot of friends, but my best friend was Josh. We sat together at lunch; we went together when we did partner activities. We stayed friends throughout the lower years, and right into high school. We still are. 



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