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October soon melts into November, turning Hopton Hills into a kaleidoscope of oranges and reds

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October soon melts into November, turning Hopton Hills into a kaleidoscope of oranges and reds. With each passing week, the dull ache that longs for home diminishes. With my weekly Skype sessions to Shropshire, Friday night football games and each cup of coffee that Delilah pours, my heart fixes itself.

My decision to forgo all boys - especially Whittingham boys - proves easiest when I spend my evenings between cheerleading practice, Anna-Beth's sprawling mansion and studying alone. The last one also has the pleasing result of boosting my now-perfect grades. With a lot of work and several extra credit assignments, even American History is now up to an A.

Oxford is still in my grasp.

A flurry of crunchy leaves sweep into Delilah's as Anna-Beth enters, pulling her navy cardigan around her small frame. Before she reaches the counter, Miss Delilah - now swimming in amber beads and maroon velvet devore that matches her 'Fall hair' - pours out a steaming cappuccino and places it by the rest of us.

'Dang, y'all. It's cold out there today.'

'It will be when you dress like it's summer,' Elodie says, looking at Anna-Beth's flimsy, white dress and bare legs.

'I'm wearing a cardigan!' she cries, holding the steaming cup of coffee in her hands to warm them up.


'I can't get over the fact that Tennessee gets cold,' I say, receiving a trio of raised eyebrows. I raise my hands in defence. 'Hey, it always looks hot in the movies.'

We let Anna-Beth finish her coffee before turning our attention to the four baskets that sit on the counter in front of us. When Cricket had explained the Founder's Day tradition of women preparing picnic baskets to be bought at auction, I had scoffed. It's laughably unfeminist and very far from my 'no-boys-only-books' rule. Yet, somehow, she talked me into spending last evening buying a basket and baking brownies. She'll be a great politician one day.

'I still can't believe this is a thing.'

'I love it. It's my favourite town tradition,' says Anna-Beth dreamily.

'But it's so sexist! Why should the women have to bake while the men pay?'

'Oh, get off your high horse,' says Cricket. 'It's just an old tradition.'

'And so romantic,' says Anna-Beth. 'Getting to share your picnic with the suitor who paid for your basket. Mama and Daddy met at this event.'

'Plus,' chips in Elodie, 'it's a way that we raise money for the town. Last year, all the money paid for a new fence around Miss C's dance studio. This year, it's going towards the church roof.'

Knowing that I'm outnumbered, I back down. My key hesitance is that it breaks my self-imposed boy ban.

Without warning, Miss Delilah swoops in, leaning low on the counter to whisper something into Anna-Beth's ear. With a knowing look, she inclines her head towards the back and Anna-Beth follows through the push doors and into the kitchen.

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