I've finished my GCSEs, I've got the whole summer stretching in front of me, and I'm standing in the sunshine with two of my favourite people.
My best friend, Harriett, and my prom date, James.
My boyfriend is also there (yes, I had a boyfriend and a prom date), and so is Harriett's.
I'm wearing a pale pink, floor length dress that doesn't quite fit properly, and my hair has been twisted into all kinds of shapes in a pile on top of my head.
We are at our year eleven prom.
Imagining our reunion.
I had the clearest picture in my head.
We'd look more or less as we do now- except we'd be wearing trouser suits (because that's what people as old as twenty six do), and we'd be sipping wine instead of apple juice. I'd have my hair done in the amazing bun style that my mum had at a posh charity dinner a few years before.
Harriett and I would obviously still be best friends, so we'd go together. One of our husbands would probably drop us off, and the other pick us up.
It would be in the school hall, in a very similar set up to the prom.
We'd all have name stickers on, and would stand around bopping in that adult way, chatting about our spouses and kids and the good old days of school.
I would be a hugely successful events planner by then, and would have organised the whole thing myself. People would keep complimenting me on its huge success, and on how much more elegant and beautiful I had become since school.
Fast forward ten years.
I'm alone in my little red Ka, pulling in to a pub car park.
I'm wearing leggings, shorts, and a plain top, my hair is in a pony tail, and I'm about to walk into my ten year reunion.
I walk in.
Which I think is a very brave thing to do on my own.
There are two girls just inside the door way. I don't recognise them at all, but they're around my age and very dressed up. They both look beautiful. One of them has a huge bun piled on top of her head, and the other is wearing a maxi dress.
I look like I just wandered out of work.
I did just wander out of work.
(Actually I did get changed. I don't wear leggings and shorts to work.)
Still, I looked...plain.
I take a deep breath and walk right into the pub, secretly hoping I'll find the wedding party that the beautiful girls wandered out of.
No wedding party. No other beautifully dressed people. Nobody I recognise.
I remind myself that they haven't closed the pub down for the reunion- if I don't see anybody I know I can just pretend I'm meeting a friend. Yes. If I don't see anybody I know I'll do an elaborate mime with my phone to demonstrate to everybody that my friend has just text me telling me to meet her in a different pub.
I can be an excellent actress when I need to be.
I'm about to pull my phone out of my bag when the outrageously tall man standing at the bar turns around, calls my name, and scoops me up into his arms.
It's Prom Date James.
The last time I saw him he was a tiny bit taller than me. had spiky brown hair and a pale pink tie to match my dress.
Now he's at least nine foot tall (he's insisting that he's 6.3 but I'm sure that's not true), has those huge, fashion glasses, and a successful career as a building surveyor. Oh, and he's no longer James. He's now Jimmy.
Next I saw Andrew (now Andy) and Bobby (still Bobby), who- like James- went to the same Primary and Secondary school as me.
Both tell me that I haven't changed since Mrs Richards' class. (She taught us in Reception.)
"Literally has barely even grown since we were five- she's so tiny!" somebody voices behind me.
"She actually might have shrunk," another adds.
Nothing has changed. I may as well be standing beside my locker getting my things together for Spanish.
Only one thing is missing.
If I had left school knowing that seeing Harriett again in ten years would be a treat rather than the norm, I doubt I ever would have left. She was my best friend in the entire world. I hug her super tight, and note- somewhat stupidly- that she smells exactly the same as she did in 2005.
We sit in a group and begin catching up when the glamorous girls from earlier appear and join in with the group beside us. So they are part of the reunion.
"I don't remember them at all. They both look gorgeous. I thought I'd got the dress code totally wrong when I saw them looking so beautiful."
"I don't like girls with buns," Jimmy says, grinning. "And what do you mean they look gorgeous? You gay now?"
Jimmy has reverted back to being James. We've all reverted back to being sixteen. I'm sure he doesn't say things like that in front of his surveyor pals.
I thought that I had school at the forefront of my mind a lot of the time. I want to be a teacher, I work with children, I visit schools at least once if not twice a week, and I have a stepbrother and sister who are both still there, but somehow- I realise as the conversation develops- I've forgotten so much about school life...
1) The teachers.
I do think of some of my teachers every now and then. My mum loves to tell the story of the art teacher who threw my- and only my- clay pot in the bin, saying it 'would be a waste of the kiln.'
(Just to be clear my mum tells it a lot because she's still angry, not because she agrees that my was worth nothing.)
I rarely think about these though....
- The teacher that only had one arm. I was terrified of being around her. Not because I was worried in any way that she would hurt me or was scary, but because I was convinced that one day I was going to accidentally shout 'you've only got one arm' at the sight of her and be expelled forever.
- The time my tutor group laid the lockers on their side and put them across the classroom door whilst my tutor was in there, then danced about waving at and taunting him.
- The time the tiny, evil PE teacher was shouting a normally very well behaved girl (me) who was not taking it seriously enough. She was marching toward the girl as she humiliatingly shouted at her in front of everyone. The teacher- too focused on the girl to notice- walked straight into a volleyball net and got completely caught up in it and had to abandon her shouting. I have never laughed so much in my life. Especially not in front of a teacher.
- When we used to (and by we I genuinely mean in no terms me) knock on the underside of our tables so that the teacher would go out into the corridor to find out what was going on.
2) The rumours...
- If you stare at her fake arm too long she'll hit you with it.
- The teacher who makes the girls stand on chairs whilst he walks around looking up their skirts at their underwear. (Nobody you knew was ever made to do that but a friend of a friend was so it's definitely true.)
- The PE teachers that were actually a lesbian couple.
- The French teacher that was having an affair with the Physics teacher. It was definitely true because the cleaner was your friends' mum's friend and she had caught them in the cupboard after school one Thursday evening. (I shouldn't joke about this one because I'm quite sure this really did happen once.)
- The teacher that had a nervous breakdown because 8F hid her shoes in the drama cupboard.
(I should make it clear at this moment that I do not want to be a teacher in a secondary school.)
3) The trends...
- Trouser skirts. You weren't cool unless you were wearing both trousers and a skirt. Why?
- Converse trainers. More specifically in my school (not sure if this was a nationwide trend)- different coloured converse with different coloured laces. I used to wear one lime green one with pink laces, and one bright pink one with white laces. I was so cool.
- MSN messenger. Spending all day at school thinking of the most poignant song lyrics to put in the top bar to let him know how you felt. aNd tHeN WrItInG tHeM LiKe ThIs. Waiting all evening for him to appear online, playing it cool for a few minutes to see if he'll say hey first and....you need to get off the internet so that your mum can make a phone call. Your whole life is ruined.
- Nokia 3310. It could only hold seven messages and played havoc with those of us too sentimental to delete. Harriett reminds me at the reunion that I used to cover my eyes and tell her to delete them for me.
"Okay, it's from Jake and it says he couldn't believe what happened in The OC either."
"Oh nooo, not that one, don't delete that one. Fine. Do it. Just don't let me look."
- Louise Rennison books. I used to cry with laughter on the beach on my summer holidays then spend the whole first term of school quoting them at Harriett.
- Limewire. You could almost instantly listen to your new favourite song. When the internet was fast enough. And nobody else needed the computer. And you could find it among the thousands of options. It was brilliant until my dad's friend told him he could get arrested if I kept using it.
- Combat trousers with tassels. I had them in green and pink, and had net vest tops in the same colour. They were my non-uniform day outfit of choice three years in a row.
I spent the whole of my school life being told that "school is the best time of your life," and to "make the most of it, life will never be like this again."
So I did. I soaked up every second. Enjoyed all of it. Immersed myself in everything- including the desperate dramas of secondary school like the fact that Tom- the boy who looked just like Calvin from S Club Juniors and who I was so certain I would marry- saw me in the card aisle in Asda with my mum and my life was OVER. Like the fact that my dad confiscated my phone phone for one WHOLE night and I may as well consign myself to a life alone there and then because WHAT WAS THE POINT ANYMORE?! I stressed outrageously about my year nine options. I- stupidly- took my teachers seriously when they told me my options would determine the rest of my life. I worked bloody hard. I entered the school talent show. I did all my homework to exam standard- even Art which I hated and was horrendous at. And I made sure I appreciated every second of it because it would never get better than this.
One of my absolute favourite songwriters- John Mayer- wrote a brilliant song about school that says "they love to tell you stay inside the lines, but something's better on the other side."
College was even better than school. University was even better than that.
My first three jobs were better still.
Then I moved to Walt Disney World.
When that happened I really did think that life would never get better.
Then I met Dale. Jack was born. I discovered that Reese's peanut butter cups do exist in the UK.
Still, I'm delighted that I was told that life would never get better than school. It's instilled in me the ability to appreciate every second: to be grateful, always.
As I sit with James, Bobby, Andrew and Harriett, laughing at old times, and catching up on everyone's current lives, something nothing short of profound hits me.
This is the real world they told us about.
All those years spent at school being told "you won't get away with that in the real world", "you're going to have a shock when you get into the real world," and you wait until you get into the real world."
Guess what? We're all here, and we're all okay.
My memory flicks back over the past few months.
I'm at Pumbaa's house. It's about 10pm. We're sitting on the sofa eating pizza and Haribo, having just said goodnight to her husband.
Suddenly, he bursts back into the room.
"You evil, evil woman."
"I'm just making the girls' teas."
"I don't care!" He replies, half angry, half trying not to laugh. "Go upstairs and fix it now. I can't do it myself. I'll make their teas."
They both start laughing, as they play fight in an attempt to be the one to make the tea.
Not the one to put the sheets on the bed.
This is the real world. Play fighting with your husband about who does the awful job- the job that never stops being awful- of making up the bed.
I'm at Minnie Mouse's house. She's more or less just given birth. (A few days, give or take.) Pumbaa's husband looks around at Minnie, her husband, his own wife and me.
"Feels a bit weird having a baby with us and no adults."
This is the real world. Being twenty six. Feeling sixteen.
The next line of that genius song by John Mayer pops into my head.
"I wanna run through the halls in my high school, I wanna scream at the top of my lungs. I just found out there's no such thing as the real world. Just a lie you have to rise above."
I've been listening to that song for at least ten years. And it finally makes sense.
As I kiss these brilliant adults goodbye, vowing not to leave it until 2025 to meet up again, the final lines of the song fill my head...
"I just can't wait 'til my ten year reunion, I wanna bust down the double doors. And when I stand on these tables before you, you will know what all this time was for..."