"Towns ain't nothin' but crap," Mom muttered as she hauled herself and the nine year old girl down the road. The heavy pack slung over her back did nothing to slow her down.
Agatha pressed her over-sized, tapped glasses further up her nose, then chewed on her finger. Her eyes darted about, momentarily focusing on bits of grass that forced its way through the buckling blacktop, eager to absorb the first rays of morning that threatened to come spilling over the horizon. Crab grass squirmed its way up through the cracks of what use to be a pristine side walk eager to do the same. Only the handful of trees seemed disappointed by the promise of a new day. Rounding a corner, the girl stared at the bare concrete slabs all along the road, wondering what a suburban house looked like and why they were built so close together.
In truth, the former housing track was not what concerned Agatha at the moment. "Mom?" she asked her voice barely above a whisper.
The muttering woman didn't respond.
This time, Agatha gave a tug on her mother's hand, repeating, "Mom?"
"Not now, Aggy," Mom stated through clenched teeth.
Jerking to a halt, the woman rounded on her daughter. One arm gestured towards the expanse of barren concrete lots. Agatha flinched. "I know. I'm not blind, but do you see anywhere to hide?" Mom sighed, brushing back her tangled brown hair. "I'm sorry. This isn't your fault, but we need to keep moving. Maybe we'll find some place further up the road, before it gets too hot."
"Why do we have to leave again?"
"Because some people are stupid and make stupid assumptions."
Agatha stared at the ground and chewed on her finger once more.
Releasing her daughter's hand, Mom leaned down and brushed some of the russet strands of hair away from the girl's hazel eyes. "We don't need them, though. Being alone is nothing to be afraid of. Being lonely is nothing to be afraid of. It's just another state of being." She held her calloused hand out to the child. "Now come on. We've got a long way to go before the sun reaches the top of the sky. Think you can keep up?"
Timid fingers reached up and took her mother's hand once more. She gave a slow nod, but continued to chew of her finger.
Cutting across another slab, they paused under a tree with twisted branches and yellowing leaves. Mom fished a canteen out of her green pack and passed it too the girl. "Drink," she ordered while scanning the mostly empty land.
Copying her mother, Agatha also stared out between sips. Her eyes traced over the bits of burnt wood and trash that still dotted some of the slabs. Scanning over an angular pile, something moved. She shoved the canteen back into her mother's hands without taking her eyes off the spot.
"What?" Mom questioned.
Agatha squinted her eyes and adjusted her glasses. "Something's alive," she whispered.
Mom tossed the canteen back in her back and knelt down to her daughter's height. "Where?" Agatha pointed to the pile. "I don't see how. Gotta get a 104 out in the sun unless—"
Suddenly, it moved again, poking just over the pile for a second. Mom smiled and gave Agatha a pat on the belly. "Good job, kiddo. Where there's something alive, there's shelter. Let's go."
Practically skipping across the street, the two quickly descended on the garbage. A small gray creature with floppy ears suddenly darted away from the garbage, letting out a loud yelp as it went. It dropped off the slab and disappeared behind a pile of burnt wood. Mom grinned from ear to ear and chased after it. She skidded to a halt right next to the wood.
Waving one hand, she called, "Aggy, come 'ere! This house has a basement!" and disappeared behind the wood too.
Agatha leaped over the trash and was stunned to find the stairs leading into the earth. She could already hear Mom cooing "Awe, here boy." inside. Placing her hands along the side wall, the girl took a deep breath and descended into the darkness below.
When she came to the bottom, she found her mother had thrown off her pack and was sitting on the ground holding the little gray creature and giving it some of their jerky. The creature was squirming a little, but mostly it was wagging its stubby tail and letting out a murr sound with each bite. Its big blue eyes were focused on the food, but its floppy ears were twitching towards Agatha.
"What is it?" the girl asked as she slowly approached.
Mom gave a gentle smile. "A puppy. Looks part boxer, but I've never seen one this color before."
"What're we gonna do with it?"
"Why keep 'im of course. Had a pup of my own when I was your age. Probably time you had one too." She felt up the puppy's bony side. "Needs some more meat on 'im, but we can fix that right enough." Pulling the hard jerky out of the squirming creature's reach, she gestured for her daughter to take him. "Well go on. You found him, he's yours. Gotta give him a name."
Taking a seat, Agatha pulled the pup onto her lap. Mom gave the jerky back to the pup, and he continued chewing on it.
"How 'bout Boxie," the girl suggested.
Mom tilted her head to one side and quirked an eyebrow. "Boxie? Well, alright, Boxie it is, and Boxie can join us in being alone…" She kissed her daughter on the top of her head. "…together."