Nicky had decided that he and Parker needed some cash for the ice cream man, so he raided the freezer in the home, made two pitchers of frozen Minute Maid and started an OJ stand. People bought, too. All he’d had to do was stand with a badly spelled sign, a sweet smile and throw out a couple of lines of a sales’ pitch and people forked over their dimes and quarters.
Parker had been wearing a dress with a stain on the collar and one near the hem. Her hair had been in messy pigtails. Nicky had said, “You have to be the girl. Like in that show, when they wanna show off the stuff.”
“Price is Right?” she’d asked. Parker had loved that show—all the colors and how excited people got and the way they won money just for playing stupid games.
“Yeah! You know, like the girls. With the stuff.”
So Parker had stood and occasionally poured a glass or two, but mostly been The Girl With The Stuff. She must have done a good job, because they sold out.
It wasn’t until later that they both figured out the ice cream truck never bothered to come to their neighborhood.
It was true that Parker had gotten into thieving early on, but not before she’d explored her other options, at least to some extent. For instance, in one of the homes, she’d figured out that she could earn money by watching other people’s kids. She tried that once, but stopped after the parents yelled at her for hours when they returned home and found their kid still searching for her in the Best Game of Hide ‘N Go Seek Ever. Parker couldn’t help it that she was really good at hiding. She hadn’t realized it had been over an hour since she’d sneaked into her spot.
If she helped with the dishes and the cleaning in the house, some of her fosters would give her a few dollars here and there. The money was never good, though, and more than once she’d gotten hit or screamed at or just plain sent away for doing something like dropping a glass or messing up the vacuum cleaner. She was pretty sure her talents lay elsewhere.
She tried finding a way to be The Girl With The Stuff, but after extensive research at the local stores, nobody had an opening for that sort of thing. In fact, the only place that seemed to have those types of girls was a restaurant Parker’s foster dad wasn’t supposed to go into, but he did. Parker had found the matchbook from the place on him more than once when she was rooting through his pockets.
She knew there were girls who were only a little bit bigger than her that made money some other way. She saw them with their tight jeans and shirts that looked like they should be too cold and makeup that was too bright and looked beautiful to her, but their expressions were empty or mean when she tried to approach them, so she couldn’t ask what exactly it was that they did.
In the end, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of ways for a girl to make money. When she figured out how good she was at stealing, it seemed more of a crime not to pursue it than anything else. After all, the world needed thieves too, right? How else were policemen supposed to provide for their families?
On her fifteenth birthday, Parker did not have a cake or candles or anyone to celebrate it with. She did give herself a wish. Secretly, she wished for a friend, another girl-thief that she could share all her best tactics with and laugh at all the mistakes other thieves made with and just be herself around. Guy-thieves were either too competitive or had their own lives (families) to go home to. Parker just wanted someone who understood, someone she didn’t have to filter herself around.
She didn’t tell anyone. After all, if she told someone, the wish wouldn’t come true.
Early on in their association, Parker asked Sophie, “Why are there so many more female grifters than thieves?”
Sophie frowned and said, “There aren’t that many of us.”
“More than my kind,” Parker pressed.
Sophie was careful then, the way Parker would later come to figure out that Sophie was when she understood something, but didn’t know how to explain to Parker, whose context was always different. Finally she said, “Thievery is…it’s something women are told not to do, it’s outside the lines, wrong. Grifting is just an extension of the way women are taught to make men believe they’ve made the decisions, let others see themselves as in charge.”
“But women are good at making decisions and being in charge, too,” Parker said.
“Accomplished at stealing things as well, the world just likes to ignore that part of the equation.”
Sophie smiled. “Find the answer to that, my dear, and you’ll never have to steal again.”