Of all the things Miles hated, hiccups had to be the highest thing on his list.
They always came at the worst time; when he was about to do a presentation for class, trying to explain something to his parents…or now, after one the of the hardest days he’d been through in a long time.
As he walked home from work, he tried to stay as far from people as possible. It felt stupid to be embarrassed by a simple case of the hiccups, but imagining what people would see was enough to keep him away from busier areas: a short, sandy-haired teenager scurrying through the park, covering his mouth at each squeak and hiccup.
He quickened his pace, feeling his bag bump against his back as he did. All he wanted was to get home.
To put it simply, today hadn’t bee the best day. Within only eight hours, he’d managed to be late for work, forget his lunch, spill his drink on a co-worker, and get yelled at by said co-worker who demanded he pay for a replacement uniform. Working at the farmer’s market always had its troubles, but today had been particularly challenging.
And now, to top it all off, he had the hiccups. The universe is laughing at me right now.
At least I’ll be home soon, he thought as he pulled a pair of earbuds from his pocket and connected them to his phone. Cutting through Eastside Park – the small park a few streets down from his home – had become his new route to and from work because of how quick it was. He’d be home in a few minutes.
He put on some music – piano, like usual – and kept walking, trying to avoid eye contact with strangers. As he went, he caught sight of the old picnic table sitting under an oak tree. Instinctively, he looked for the Girl.
But she wasn’t there today.
He frowned. The Girl had been sitting at that table everyday for almost the entire summer. She was always there when he walked back home, round blue eyes focused on a bright notebook with doodles on the front, her pencil scraping against the paper as she drew. Every single day, she was there. Miles sometimes wondered if she noticed him, too.
Disappointment settled over him. It wasn’t a big deal – barely important – but he couldn’t help but think that maybe today would have been the day he’d talked to her. Maybe he would have finally mustered up the courage to say hello, or to at least smile at her as he passed.
Not that things could go any farther than that. He wouldn’t have enough time to actually get to know her before his parents—
Before he could finish that thought, he collided with something in front of him. The impact sent him to the ground, making him fall on his rear in the middle of the path. The earbuds slipped from his ears.
“Ow,” said the thing he’d slammed into.
Wait. Not a thing. A person.
He quickly readjusted his glasses, which had nearly slipped off his face in the fall. He looked up and saw short, light blonde hair, and sapphire blue eyes.
The Girl with the notebook.
He scrambled to his feet. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see–“ He hiccupped, quickly slapping a hand over his mouth to smother the sound.
The Girl blinked, then smiled. It was a friendly, open smile, like…sunshine. Not the time for corny metaphors, Miles.
He’d never been this close to her before. He’d only seen her from a distance, sitting at that table. Now, he could see that she was slender and petite, with light freckles and a small, pretty mouth. He glanced at the flower earrings she was wearing – there were multiple on each ear, lined up like they were part of a garden.
“It’s fine,” she said as Miles returned his attention to her face. “Got the hiccups, huh? I hate those.”
“Y-yeah,” he stuttered. “Are you alright?” He glanced her over, checking for injuries.
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine. It would take more than a little bump to annoy me.”
“Oh, uh, right.” Say something, you idiot. This is your chance! “Uh, I’ve seen you–“ Hiccup.
She laughed. Openly. Miles felt his cheeks grow hot.
“Sorry,” she said, seeing his embarrassment. “I’m not laughing at you. Well, technically I am, but…you get what I mean.” She glanced down at her watch. “Ack, that time already?” she muttered to herself, then said to Miles, “I gotta get going. See you around!”
With that, she started to walk away. Miles opened his mouth to say something, anything, not wanting to let the moment to go waste.
Ask her what her name is. Ask her now, before you lose your chance!
He hiccupped again, interrupting himself. The Girl, already halfway down the path, didn’t seem to hear.
He cursed under his breath. There went his chance. Weeks of seeing her, of trying to find the courage to talk to her, and he blew it.
Sighing, he turned in the opposite direction and started back through the park again. His house was the way she went, but walking along the same path as her, right behind her, seemed too creepy to do.
So, he shoved his hands in his pockets and trudged on. He was beginning to wonder if this day was cursed to be awful.
The Park was busy in the late afternoon. The air was starting to warm with the beginnings of summer; it was June, after all. As Miles walked, he spotted a group of kids racing across the grass to catch up with a soccer ball. The sight of the ball made his stomach clench, reminding him that he had practice the next day. He wondered if he could skip. But he never skipped, and Coach Evans would be more than angry if he did. He had no choice but to go.
Maybe I should quit. He cast that thought out immediately. Best to not even entertain ones like that. He knew he had no choice in that matter – his parents, Coach…no one would let him leave soccer behind. And he wouldn’t have the courage to ask to quit, anyways.
He was so lost in thought that he almost didn’t notice when he passed by the Girl’s usual spot. Or when a piece of bright color flashed in the corner of his eyes.
He stopped in his tracks.
Right under the picnic table lay a brightly colored notebook, as if dropped. From his spot, he could see the collage of stickers and doodles on the front cover.
The Girl forgot her notebook. She forgot her notebook.
He didn’t even think, running over and snatching it from the ground, then racing back down the way he’d came. His eyes roamed the path, searching for her.
But there was no sign of her.
He began running, glancing at the road that ran alongside the park in hopes that she would be nearby. But…nothing. It was like she’d disappeared.
He stopped at the end of the path, right at the beginning of the street that connected to his. His chest was heaving – he’d ran a long way.
She was gone.
He looked down at the notebook in his hands. She’d been drawing in that thing for weeks – how was she going to feel when she learned that she’d lost all her work?
Listen to yourself. She’s a stranger. Why do you care so much?
He could always just put the notebook back where he found it. She was bound to come looking for it. But in the park, with the animals, children, and weather? It wouldn’t survive the afternoon.
Best to keep it with him, until he had the chance to return it. If he had the chance. He slipped the backpack off his shoulders and put the notebook inside, handling it gently, like it was priceless. He straightened, then headed down the street, towards home.
Now he had a girl’s notebook in his backpack, with no way to give it back. He sighed. Yeah. This day was definitely cursed.