"Alright," I tell Brook after her first couple of days with me, "it's time you stopped leeching off me."
She looks up from the crumpled piece of paper she's been reading. It looks like it's been stained, cried on, ripped, and taped back together. Her eyes are distant. "Hmm?"
"You need a job. Remember, I mentioned dog walking?"
"Oh. Yeah." She folds the piece of paper, puts it in a Ziploc bag, and shoves it back in her backpack. "I was just thinking that I need fliers or something. And a phone number."
"If I'm going to look like a reputable person, I'll need a phone number."
Sighing, I stand up and motion around us. "If you haven't noticed, kid, we live in a dumpster. We eat out of trash cans, we drink out of public water fountains. How the heck do you think we'll be able to afford a phone?"
Brook groans. "I need a job. It's a catch-22."
I flop out on the grass and think. "How much are you going to charge?" I ask.
"The going rate for a commercial dog walker is ten dollars for a half-mile walk. I figured I could charge seven, then two dollars more for each additional dog."
"You did some research?"
"I went to the hospital. They have computers you can use there."
I shiver. I used to love hospitals. After I watched my dad die in one, I hate them. "Go to the library next time, kid."
"I know, but there you need a library card, and they ask for your contact information--address, phone number, stuff like that."
"Make something up," I tell her, picking a blade of grass and splitting it in half lengthwise. "You know they'll never actually use it."
"Do you have a card I can borrow?"
I roll my eyes. This kid can't do anything by herself, can she? "You have to be eighteen. Don't you know anything?"
"Thanks for your help, Yank," Brook says. I can't tell if she's being sarcastic or not. What do I care? She'll get a job, she'll find a nice place to stay, then she'll forget all about me. I'll keep washing cars and eating out of dumpsters until I die. It's how the world works.
I look up to scold her about it, but she's already gone.
I've gotten used to washing cars with Brook by my side. Now that she's gone, everything's lonely. It's a good day--I make fifteen dollars, and I only get stiffed once--but I enjoyed having her help. She'd do the parts of the windshield that I can't reach. Now, there's always that stubborn streak up the middle that my arms refuse to reach.
Between car washing and dumpster diving, I don't see Brook again until past midnight. And when I do, she's smiling through her exhaustion. "I got a job," she said.
"I went to the assisted living place, and there's this sweet older lady, Melva, that can't get around like she used to. And she's got this huge husky, beautiful dog named Checkers. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays--that's twenty-one dollars a week!"
I'm too tired to hear most of what she says. "That's great, kid," I tell her, crawling into the dumpster and burrowing into my blankets.
"Oh, never mind. I'll tell you in the morning."
We go our separate ways, Brook walking dogs for old people, me washing cars and getting flipped off and cussed out half the time. I seriously think of changing careers when Brook comes home on Friday night with fifteen dollars and two combo meals from Wendy's.
"Melva told all her friends about me," she said happily. "I've got three clients now. I figured we could celebrate."
I dig into my hamburger. It's still warm; I can't remember the last time I ate something warm. I eat slowly, relishing every bite, and it fills me up so much I save my fries for breakfast.
"Thanks, Brook," I tell her.
She smiles. "Don't mention it."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.