Millie sits on the grass, her back against a tree and watches the puppy play. It scampers around while its owners walk the boundary of the park, flitting between their legs. The dog almost trips the lady.
‘Scout,’ she says tersely. She then mutters something to her partner, which Millie can’t hear. A lead is brought out from his pocket, though, and the dog—Scout, she knows its name now—dashes off before they can grab its collar.
Scout is darting towards Millie. The dog’s ears flip around in its haste. Millie freezes as it leaps towards her; its paws press onto her tummy and she smells its breath. Stale dog food, gross. Millie tumbles backwards, her right arm grazes against the bark of the tree. She lands on her back while Scout licks her face and sniffs her hair.
Footsteps thump in Millie’s direction.
‘Scout!’ It’s the dog’s owner, the lady. She pulls Scout off Millie, cradles the dog in her arms. ‘Oh honey, are you OK?’
Millie stands, dusts her clothes off. She avoids looking at the woman, cross that she only seems to care about her dog. It’s only a little thing, but it was just climbing all over her.
‘Sweetheart,’ the lady says. She crouches down to a squat position and looks directly at Millie. ‘Are you OK? I’m so sorry about our puppy. She’s a bit mental at the moment.’
Millie’s cheeks flush, embarrassed by the attention and that she’d wrongly assumed the woman wasn’t worried about her. ‘Oh, yes, thank you. I’m fine.’
‘Are you here with your mum and dad? I’d like to apologise to them as well.’
Millie shakes her head. ‘No, I’m waiting for my friends. They should be here any minute.’ Millie had sneaked off from home. She wasn’t waiting for friends, because she didn’t have any. She figures it’s best not to disclose this information though to a stranger, even one with a cute, exuberant puppy.
‘Oh well then. Are you sure you’re alright? Scout didn’t scare you or hurt you at all?’
‘I’m fine. Thanks for asking.’
The woman begins to turn away. Her partner waits, leaning on a tree near the path on the boundary line.
‘Excuse me?’ Millie asks, her voice croaks. She’s never been this bold before. ‘Can I ask why you named your dog Scout?’
The woman smiles. ‘Yes, of course. She’s named after a character in my favourite book. Have you ever read To Kill a M—‘
‘Mockingbird.’ Millie says, nodding. ‘It’s my favourite, too.’ Millie pauses, draws breath and continues, ‘Well, I have lots of favourite books, but yeah, this one’s high up on the list.’
‘Tell me some of your other favourites.’
Millie shoots off titles like bullets from a gun. After she’s named at least ten books, she notices the woman is looking down at the ground, so Millie lets her voice trail off. ‘Sorry, my mum always tells me I talk too much and I bore people to tears.’
The woman looks up sharply. Millie wonders if she’s broken an adult code: dobbing on other grown-ups is a no-no, perhaps. But the woman speaks, ‘You aren’t boring me. Quite the opposite. I’m absolutely smitten by your conversation about your favourite books.’
Millie frowns. ‘Why?’
‘I’m a children’s author. You named about six of my books just then.’ She smiles broadly.
With eyes as wide as plates, and trembling fingers, Millie stares at the lady, speechless.
‘I’m Sally Brown. But you’d know me better as Sally Spinacle.’ She holds out her hand. ‘Pleased to meet you.’