Most of my clothes are scattered about the side of the road. I had them folded, but it's windy today and they're scattering. I scrub harder and hope they don't blow away.
"Don't forget the windshield," the driver snaps at me through the open window.
I climb on the tire and get as much of the windshield as I can reach. I hate being short. I hate being twelve in general. I hate having to stand by the side of the road and wait for someone to ask me to wash their car.
"The light's green," the driver says.
He swears at me and drives away, and I grab what's left of my clothes. My long-sleeved shirt, my hoodie, my short-sleeved shirt, the pants that are two sizes too big on me--I'll need most of them if I'm here late and it gets cold. But right now, I can work in my tank top, secondhand Nike shorts, and New York Yankees cap.
I've washed five cars, got paid three times, and made eleven dollars today. If that one older couple hadn't given me seven bucks, I'd be a lot more disappointed than I am now. But I shake it off, toss my sponge back in my bucket, and take up my sign again.
Yank's Car Wash, it reads.
If I had more cardboard, it would say a lot more things. Best In Detroit. Four Years' Experience. Taught by Best Dad in the World.
I wish I could put that last bit on there. "You must love your dad," so many people would tell me. "I did," I'd tell them back. "He was killed in a car crash two years ago." "Oh, that's terrible," they'd say. "Do we have any more cash? Good--here's ten dollars, dear. Get yourself something to eat."
I try to tell myself that would never actually happen. People aren't nice like that anymore. Not that they ever were. If people were still nice, they'd let me work at actual car washes instead of the side of the road. The foster care system wouldn't be the mess it is. Kids at school wouldn't pick on me. I could probably stop going to school entirely and no one would notice, but I really need my high school diploma so I can get an actual job.
The light turns red, and I get another car to wash. This time, I get three dollars. That's enough for two water bottles, a week's worth of clearance Walmart bread, or a package of hot dogs.
I take a sip from my water bottle, and someone sees me. A pedestrian. Great. This never ends well.
It's a female--long brown hair, lighter than my jet-black ponytail. Jeans and a T-shirt with a jacket around her waist. She looks rumpled and tired and pretty dehydrated.
"You good?" I ask when she's within earshot.
"Can I have some of your water?"
I hand her my water bottle, but she goes straight for my bucket of soapy wash water, soaking her arms and her face and pouring some down her shirt. "I hate this weather," she breathes.
I give her a drink, and she accepts it eagerly. "You're not the only one," I tell her. "But it sure beats getting your hands frozen off, washing cars when it's fifteen degrees out, with a wind chill of negative two. Because that sucks."
"I'm sorry you have to do that."
She finishes my water bottle, and I can't say I blame her. The nearest building with a water fountain is three blocks away, and I'm tempted to send her to refill it. But she'll probably forget, and I'll be down a water bottle, and I hate it when that happens.
"I need a job," the girl says.
"How old are you?"
"Diploma or GED?"
I consider rolling my eyes. "Did you graduate high school?"
"Have you tried fast food?"
"You need an address and a social security card, and I don't have either."
I sigh. "What are you good at?"
"Try dog walking."
"Thanks." The girl stands up, a bit shakily, and I stand up after her.
"You need to rest for a bit," I tell her. "Find a gas station or something. Drink some Gatorade, chill in the AC, you're going to get heatsick. You have cash?" She shakes her head, so I hand her three dollars. "Come back with the change. I'll show you how to use it. I'll be here until seven or eight tonight."
"Thank you so much." The girl takes the cash, then smiles at me. "What's your name?"
"Call me Yank." I point to my New York Yankees cap. "You?"
She hesitates. "Brook, I guess." Her red, apprehensive face smiles a bit. "Nice to meet you, Yank."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.