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June 8, 2010
By , Palatine, IL
The final days of fall had set upon the small town of Middleton. Halloween had come and gone, pumpkins and apples had been picked toll there were no more. The town was getting ready for winter, hiding away all outdoor toys until spring came around again. The air was crisp, and the leaves started to turn. Brilliant shades of amber and orange, deep reds and golden yellows. They floated to the ground gracefully in the breeze and blew every which direction. The world was starting to slow down, but not everyone.

John Hughes was stilling living each day like snow wasn’t just around the corner. He knew winter was coming but he hadn’t started packing up for the colder months to come. No matter what the calendar or the weatherman said, he could not start winter until he did one more thing.

One day he called in sick for work. He was a history teacher at Middleton High School, and had been teaching there for 35 years. It was common knowledge thought that Mr. Hughes would always take off the day one week before Thanksgiving. No one knew what he used this day for. Students and teachers alike speculated, but never asked. He had three children, but they were all grown, spending the final days of the season with their own families. John was on his own today, just the way he liked it.

After he cleared his schedule he walked upstairs, making every other step creak under his foot. He went into the guest bedroom and slid open the closet door. It was empty except for some empty hangers and two old moving boxes sitting on the top shelf that had been there since he moved into the house. He carefully pulled one of the boxes off the shelf and placed it on the bed. Lifting the lid he could start to smell last year’s autumn again. His leather jacket was resting on top exactly where he had left it last year. He unfolded it and a dried out leaf from a year ago fell to the floor breaking into several pieces. It still felt as smooth as butter like the day he bought it, just worn with a little more love. He slipped each arm into the sleeves of the jacket and sighed. It felt good, right. He went back downstairs heading to the garage with a new spring in his step. When he got to his garage he walked over to a large cloth covered item. He pulled off the fabric to reveal a glossy black Harley Davidson motorcycle. His hand traced the contours of the bike and his heart rate accelerated. It was time.

He pulled the garage door open and kick started the engine. Slowly crawling, the bike rolled down the driveway. He stopped there at the end for a minute to take a picture. He placed a Polaroid camera on the top of his car and took a picture of him standing next to his motorcycle. He took the picture from the camera and tucked it into a pocket inside his jacket. He closed the garage door and got back on his motorcycle. Through the town he rode his motorcycle, feeling the light wind blowing through his graying hair. Once he reached the edge of town he kicked the speed up a notch. He flew down the highway. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings he’d ever felt. This was his favorite part of fall, his final motorcycle ride before the snow started. He laughed quietly to himself. He could just imagine the looks on his students’ faces if they ever saw their 60 year old History teacher riding a motorcycle and wearing a leather jacket. About twenty minutes later he slowed down when he reached the sign for the cemetery. He parked his motorcycle just inside the entrance gates. He opened up his saddlebag and reached in to grab a modest bouquet of yellow and purple daisies that he had put in there earlier that morning. He set off into the cemetery on foot towards the back. As he walked he straightened wreaths and flowers of other graves. Finally, he reached his destination. He looked longingly at the headstone of Mary Hughes, beloved wife and mother. He placed the daisies on her grave. Though he never had much patience for them they had always been her favorites so he would always bring them. The ring on his left hand suddenly felt much heavier. Ten years, and he still hadn’t taken it off. He looked at it reminiscing over the best years of his life. He remembered the picture he had put in his jacket pocket before. He smoothed it out and rested it against the tombstone.

“Happy anniversary,” he whispered.

He remembered how cool he thought he was when he was twenty years old. He had been wearing a leather jacket and standing next to his motorcycle when he met Mary. He thought all the girls would be completely in love with him, until Mary walked up and told him how much of an idiot he looked like. After they got married he only wore the jacket and rode his bike every once in a while because she would still make fun of him. That’s why he wore it when he went to visit her. If it wasn’t for that jacket and that motorcycle they might have never met. He used to take this day off to spend with his wife and in a sense he still did. He updated her on their kids and grandkids. He sank into grass and leaned against a large tree and told her about his students, work, friends, and anything that she might want to know. He knew that she couldn’t really hear him, but he liked to believe that she was there with him taking in every word he said. He stayed there all morning and part of the afternoon.
Eventually, he stood up and said goodbye to Mary. He headed back towards his motorcycle and started towards town. Just when he reached his street it started to snow. He was glad Mother Nature knew to wait until the end of the day. But now fall was over, and winter would begin. He parked his bike back in the garage and covered it up for next spring, when he would take his first ride.

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