My father was true to his word. The website earned some praise from him, a rare commodity indeed. He was impressed with how well I covered most of the technical details, but he still managed to find some points for improvement. Clients were required to front specialized training costs and ten percent of the service charge in advance after the details were settled, though nothing thus far required any training on my part.
In the two weeks since the business officially started, I only had three clients. One was an elderly lady who wanted to make sure her dogs were walked and fed while she was out of town for a couple days. The second needed a best friend to help setup a new TV and stereo system. The third wanted me to help him move tomorrow, which would be the best paying one thus far at least. The largest problem was needing to show considerable profit within the time frame my father set for me.
Making roughly equivalent to what I could flipping burgers wouldn’t be enough. My father wanted to see at least half again that much profit with potential to grow higher. I needed to find not only more clients, but higher paying jobs. As to how I could advertise to the right people, I didn’t yet have a clue. There was a way to pull this off, but I just had not thought of things the right way.
For now, I had to wish there was something more to occupy me until my next job. I needed a company logo, and the best with which I could come up was a cartoon-like depiction of my face having an exceptionally cheesy grin. Here I sat at my desk, looking at the thing and trying to think of how I could improve upon it. My chestnut hair was represented by a dull brown, and my eyes were too dark a shade of blue. I would ask my mother for help, but she’d have to charge me or suffer my father’s ire.
I just headed to bed after staring at it for a while. The best artist at my school was, unfortunately, Regina, and I didn’t want to know what she would charge. I needed to find someone else if I wanted a better logo. There were probably primary school kids who could do better than I did. The next morning I was still thinking about my logo when my bus came to a stop. Buses were depressing. Even though my clients covered bus fare and taxis, I still wanted a car.
Robert Williams got a promotion a few months back and was moving to a larger apartment, as he told me when we discussed his needs. This part of Elm street seemed a bit dilapidated. I double-checked the street address as I walked up to 27313 East Elm Street, a red brick building with horrid brownish-green shutters on every window. I read through the hand-written listing of names by the buzzers until I found the right one.
“Hello,” came the nasally voice over the static-filled speaker, “who is it?” Assuming I did have the right place, I replied, “James, you’re friend of the day. I believe you need help moving.” The buzzer on the door sounded as it unlocked, and the voice came again from the intercom saying, “Hey, pal! Come on up!” Heading inside, I wasn’t surprised to find the decor indoors was equally unkempt.
A tattered carpet runner vaguely resembling a Persian design went down the center of the narrow, faded orange hall. The doors varied in color holding numbers that were obviously replaced at different times. I knocked on seventeen which was already partly opened, and a surprisingly large man opened the door. Bulging muscles fitting a fitness trainer startled me after the high, nasally voice on the intercom. Robert’s face, however, seemed more fitting on the high school’s chess master than the mid-twenties, muscular man he was.
“I’m so glad I stumbled across your site. My lease is up today, and none of my friends could get free from work. You’re a bit younger than I expected, but are you ready for some lifting?” I smiled and replied, “Don’t worry. A friend’s here when you call.” The man laughed and showed me what all we were taking, which seemed to be far more than what should have been in an apartment that size, unless the boxes were half-empty.
I was tired after loading and unloading the truck Robert rented for the second time; the boxes weren’t half-empty after all. He ordered pepperoni and sausage pizza for the both of us when we took a break at a parlor near his new residence. I had to say the food was great. The new neighborhood seemed much better kept. Robert apparently played football in college as well as, ironically, being a fan of chess. “I never felt so well at ease with someone outside of my close friends before. I really appreciate this, James.”
A response was forming on my lips when I noticed a girl with very long, auburn hair standing in the street, staring up at an apartment across the way. “That’s why I’m here, Robert. Everyone needs a friend.” A bus was turning the corner onto the street, the driver apparently not able to see the short, slim girl. I sprinted like I was running the 100-meter dash, lifting the girl into my arms the moment I reached her. My best record was 10.53 seconds. I’m sure I would’ve beaten it at that moment if I was running a full 100-meters instead of the short ten between us.
Tires squealed as breaks were pressed by the drivers in the next lane over. I hurdled the concrete divider and dodged through the next two lanes of traffic before stopping on the opposite sidewalk to set the girl down. I was ready to ask the girl, “Are you alright” when she beat me with, “Unhand me! What are you doing?” I gaped. After just saving her from being a decorative design on a bus’s front end, I was expecting at least a “thank you.” What kind of girl yells at her savior? I liked the accent though.
“Me? I saw a bus coming at you and barely got you out of the way. Then I was going to ask if you’re alright when you decided to be snippety.” Her arms crossed and bright violet eyes glared up at me. Before I could say anything else, glass shattered above me. I shielded the girl with my body, pulling her against me. Gently pushing my arms away, she stepped back a moment later and peered upward. Smoke poured out of the broken window and ash scattered on the wind.
Seeing this, she merely turned to me and said, “Thank you then. I am Alma Lucy Pendreigh V. You may give me a lift home.” I was flabbergasted. Was this girl completely insane? “I’m actually working at the moment. Let’s step away from the burning building.” Alma shrugged. “You don’t look like you eat for a living. I suppose I’ll catch the trolley then. Rude not to tell a girl your name, by the way.” She started to stroll away as I called after her, “I’m James, James Michael Somerset III, and you’re welcome!”
After watching her turn a corner, I used the crosswalk barely before the firetrucks arrived. “You’re FAST, slick. The girl looked a bit young to get her number though, and what was up with that fire? I thought I saw a guy leap through that window, but burning bodies don’t disintegrate in the wind. Maybe I’m moving to the wrong neighborhood.” I laughed. What could I say. “I think she’s just short for her age, but yeah.. that was crazy.” Robert then inquired, “Still up for finishing the job? I wouldn’t hold it against you if you’re not.”
“I’m fine. That was just completely strange,” I told him. We finished eating, and answered a few questions for the police after I was pointed out by some delayed drivers. Then Robert and I finished moving his stuff into his new place. We setup his couch, television, and console after he argued that I deserved some overtime. The man was good at his football games, but I destroyed him at first person shooters.
I arrived home a bit late, and explained to my parents that I earned some extra cash for it. I left off the part with the girl and fire, thinking they wouldn’t approve of anything resembling danger during my work. My mother told me to throw my shirt out. I apparently managed to tear it at some point. Father said I needed to get clothes suitable for whatever job came up, and I needed to count their cost against my earnings unless my clients bought them. He at least offered to loan me money if needed. I wondered what he would think if he knew I was paid for playing video games the last four hours.
That night I laid in bed thinking about the tiny girl with the violet eyes and calf-length hair. What were the odds of finding a girl with a number tacked onto her name? At least her name was interesting though. I never met an “Alma” before, and her accent was definitely not from around here. England maybe? I figured her origin didn’t really matter too much, since I wasn’t likely to see her again. Part of me was feeling that riding the bus for now wouldn’t be so bad with a girl like that on it occasionally. Would life as a best friend for hire continue to be so strange?