The sun starts to set, and thank God, the world starts to cool down. I'm able to put my short-sleeved shirt back on over my tank top without feeling like dying. I'm hungry. Seven o'clock comes and goes, rush hour dies down, and still, I'm standing there with my cardboard sign.
Yank's Car Wash, still open.
The brown-haired girl--Brook, I guess--comes back. I'm guessing she's acting more like herself now. She holds her head higher, she walks faster, and she seems more sure of herself. Being heatsick can really mess with you. Ask me how I know.
"You doing better?"
"Yeah. Thanks." She hands me a dollar and seven cents. "Where do you live?"
I shrug. "I've got a base of operations in the park. Wanna see it?"
"I'd love to."
"Come on, then." I put my clothes under my arm, pick up my sign and my bucket, and start walking. "It's a decent hike. Don't complain."
I glance at Brook-I-Guess. She seems helpless enough. She definitely hasn't been homeless long enough to get caught up in a gang or make many enemies. In fact, I might well be her first friend. "How long have you been on the streets?" I ask.
"This was my fourth day."
"The first few months are the hardest. And winters."
"Don't you have a family?"
This girl's sweet enough to give anyone a toothache, but I guess she deserves an answer. "My dad's dead, my mom's either in jail or in drug rehab, all my aunts and uncles still live in Japan, and God knows where my brother is. Probably still in foster care. You?"
She sighs. "Long story."
"Longer than the one I just told you?"
"Okay. My parents live in Toronto, my mom got tired of raising me, so she shipped me off to live with some--I guess friend, relative, college roommate or something--over on Armistice Street, when I was six. So now I've got my quote-unquote 'mom' Jetta St. George and her kid Sophie. Sophie's not bad. She'll be sixteen in a few days. It was Jetta I couldn't stand."
"Let me guess. They called you something other than Brook."
"They called me Christa."
"Jetta sounds like a witch."
"I guess. She drank a lot, but she just got silly when she was drunk. It was when she was hungover that life was miserable."
We stop at an intersection and wait for traffic to clear. A gust of wind nearly blows my hat away, but I grab it just in time. "One of the cool parts about living on the streets," I tell Brook, "is that you get to pick what everyone calls you. You think my parents named me Yank?"
"I guess not. What is your name?"
"It's Yank, as far as you're concerned."
We finally cross the street, and I lead Brook into the patch of woods right behind the park. There's a dumpster there that everyone's forgotten about. I turned it on its side and propped the lid up with sticks, lining it with a discarded mattress, providing me with a decent shelter. I even grabbed a toilet off the side of the road and put it behind some plywood. All in all, I've got a sweet little house.
"You got living arrangements yet?" I ask Brook.
"If I let you stay here, can you follow some ground rules?"
"The laundromat is a once-a-month deal, but sponge baths are daily here. You get lice, you get your hair chopped off. Also, I do not waste money on shampoo. Wash your hair with regular soap or brush the oils out of it, your choice. If you've got extra clothes, put them under the mattress. When we're not home, the dumpster is closed. When you scavenge, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods are your safest bet. Meat, cheese, and egg products can and will give you food poisoning. Should you contract food poisoning or any other gastrointestinal ailment, you are not allowed in the dumpster unless you feel like cleaning the mattress and blankets yourself. You're cool with that, Brook?"
"Great. Now, fix yourself up, and bring some clothes you don't mind getting dirty. We're going to Texas Roadhouse."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.