Anyone who’s been a teenager knows money is hard to come by, and it was no exception for me. What passed as allowance had suddenly dried up, probably because my parents thought I would spend it on reassignment surgery or something; who knows? They weren’t really talking about it.
Still, if I was going to have any kind of life I needed a way to make cash.
“Dog walking, huh,” Mrs. Hirschfeld grimaced.
“Are you sure? Queenie can be a bit of a handful,” Mrs. Thompson hummed.
“I can’t afford to pay you very much,” Ms. Simms reasoned.
“I’m juggling three kids and the hubby isn’t home ‘til nine,” Mr. Gonzales exclaimed. “Honestly, a dog walker would be a godsend!”
Mrs. Stevenson sighed as the boxer laid at my side. “Max was my son’s dog,” she began, “and when he moved into an apartment he couldn’t take him. Regardless, we couldn’t let him out of the family. Unfortunately he’s young and full of energy, and my hips can’t keep up sometimes.”
With hands folded in front of me and a smile sparkling like a ruby I gave her the same speech I’d recited to every other house for three blocks. “It would really be no trouble,” I told her. “Max would have a solid workout with the other dogs, and it would only cost a small fee; no more than you’d pay for a cup of coffee.”
She scanned me up and down, same as she used to when my family still went to mass. Did she recognize me? I’d changed a lot in the years that had passed; I was chubby back then, not to mention everyone thought I was a boy.
“I don’t drink coffee,” she muttered, “but I do need someone to see to Max.”
With a dozen clients willing to hand me their leads you could say that business was good; then again some money was better than none. With any luck it would soon mean having more wardrobe options than I had when being Kaira was just ‘pretend.’
Soon it was time to work. I stopped from house to house and received my charges. The dogs pulled for most of the way, but soon learned to follow where I lead them; past the school, around the strip mall, behind the dog park, and to a clearing surrounded by trees where nobody would find us.
One by one I released them from their leashes and let them wander in circles. What was their new master doing? Slowly they started to explore, sniffing at the dirt, investigating; at least until I removed a red ball from my sweater pocket. All animals turned, paused and stared.
“Hopefully you get as much out of this as I do,” I told them. A smirk crept through the corner of my mouth as I threw the object.
The dogs gave chase, with the larger breeds bounding ahead.
I crouched and counted the seconds. “Three. Two. One.”
Gold erupted from every atom of my being, transforming me from schoolgirl to superhero. I pushed the burst through my feet and flew forward, chasing after the ball to snatch it for myself.
The canines stopped as I overtook them; all except for Max who threw himself into the dirt and wrapped his jowls around the ball before I could reach. When I landed beside him he sat, dropped it, and panted with anticipation.
Wow, a dog beating a superhero in a race?
“Good boy,” I told him, and gave him a rub.
I picked up the ball and threw it again, and again, and again, racing the animals to get the prize. Gods, it must have looked crazy, but the mutts were keeping me on my toes.
It must have been ten minutes before I noticed the girl watching us. Thank the gods it was only Tanya, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. At least she seemed to be enjoying the show.
Soon the sun started to set, and it was time to reign the dogs in. The bounded at a casual pace, probably just as ready for the day to end as I was.
“Don’t you think that was a bit risky?” Tanya asked on the way back.
I fought the collection of leashes in my hands and smirked. “The only reason you found us was because I told you where we were. Nobody was around to see.”
“Someone might have seen,” she argued. “You can’t count on being alone every time you want to hide away.”
My lips curled and tightened, as did my brow. “I know, but…”
She gave me that look again; you know the one, that said she was right and I knew it.
“I can’t keep these powers under wraps all the time,” I sighed, “especially if I’m going to keep doing the hero thing. I need practice, and this seemed like a good chance to learn. Do you have any idea how hard it is to turn when you’re flying? Laws of motion, inertia, all that junk.”
Tanya huffed and crossed her arms. “Just be more careful, okay?”
“Yeah, I will. Promise.”
Near the strip mall one of the larger dogs stopped to sniff a post, while a terrier continued to trot, anxious to return home.
“Are you coming to see the meteor shower tonight?” Tanya nudged.
“I said I was. What makes you think I changed my mind?”
She raised a brow and grinned. “Oh, nothing. Just that with the gloss and sheen of the superhero life I wonder if maybe you’ve forgotten your friends down here on Earth.”
I laughed. “Well, tonight’s my night off. Something like this only comes once in a lifetime. Besides, I wouldn’t want your mom to think I hated her or anything.”
“Yeah, she says she misses you,” Tanya hummed. “First you come out and she declares you her third daughter, then you never visit. What’s up with that?”
“Maybe if she knew she’d adopted Glimmer Girl…”
After returning the first five pets to their owners we came upon the house of Mrs. Stevenson. Her boxer, Max, pressed into my side as I pulled him away from the pack. Tanya held close to the rest as I walked him to the front doorstep, and knocked.
When the woman answered her expression was stern and she did not meet my gaze. Without a word she took the leash from my grasp and wrestled with something on her tongue.
“Max was such a pleasure. I’m sure he had a great time as well,” I chirped. “I’d really love to be able to do this again sometimes if you-”
“You’re Alan and Liz’s boy, aren’t you?”
I stopped. A breeze could have knocked me over like a cardboard cut-out. What was I supposed to say to that?
“Yeah,” I murmured. “I mean, I was. I’m… I’m actually a girl, and-”
“Don’t give me excuses. I don’t want to hear them,” the old woman sighed. “No reason can justify meddling with what God has given you. Whatever you tell everybody else I want no part of.”
If I said that the opinion of that witch meant nothing it would be a lie; I clenched my fists and held together. “I’m sorry that you feel that way. I guess I can just take my money and-”
The door closed and the locks clicked into place.
I lingered, stared at the stained glass and ground my teeth.
“Are you freaking kidding me!?”
My first day on the job, and I’d already lost a customer for the worst possible reason. I turned to Tanya, wide eyed, and threw up my arms. Was this kind of thing normal? I hoped, oh gods I hoped, that this would be the only time.
To be continued…