Then Broke Off More Pieces As She Went On

The girl had no particularly unique physical trait, so Alice dubbed her as the Customer Who Taught.

Alice liked to be cheerful just like anyone else. Even when she was lost or confused, even when she suddenly changed everything planned in her life, even when she ended up working in a pet store, Alice wanted to be cheerful. At first, she'd been timid and worried about her actions. But with natural tenacity, she grew. When customers came in to browse, she'd catch their attention. Soon, she was making jokes, sharing stories, joining in with laughter, and she found herself to be a successful salesperson.

But like everyone in the workforce working menial jobs, like most young people who were idealistic, Alice often questioned her worth and her capabilities. She often thought about other things she might be able to do just as well as this, other people she could become besides someone who sold animals and their accessories; especially when the streets were quiet and the store was empty and she sat behind the counter reading a book.

Alice liked to think about these things, but always found herself returning to the pet store because the position was safe. Her life, in which she went from home to work to home again, was comfortable. She made enough to support herself and was satisfied with the money. Whatever wasn't satisfied, she kept muffled with protests about the dangers of change and her own fear of the unknown.

When The Customer Who Taught entered the store, Alice had only just arrived herself.

She had barely reached the counter when she heard the door swing open and felt the cold winter air accompany the customer inside. Alice turned, surprised to see a customer so early in the morning.

"Good morning! My name is Alice, how can I help you today?"

The customer smiled and looked around.

"I'm looking for a dog. Can I buy one here?"

Alice led her to the kennels at the back of the store where dogs of different breeds were already awake. "What sort of dog are you looking for Miss?"

The customer thought for a moment. "Something friendly, and able to withstand the cold." She paused. "And smart. And able to eat a variety of things."

Alice glanced at her oddly. This was an unusual criteria for someone looking to buy a dog. It was also, in retrospect, the first thing about this customer that caught her attention.

"Well the Husky is used to colder climates and has a thicker coat. It's also very child friendly."

Alice unlocked a cage and carefully lifted out a large puppy.

"This one is male, 4 months old. As you can see from his size they grow to be very large."

The customer chuckled, "That won't be a problem. What does he eat?"

Alice handed the other girl the puppy. She took him obligingly and held him up to face her. He stated at her. She smiled cheerfully at him. His tongue fell out and he turned his head to lick her hands.

Alice smiled as the customer chuckled again. She liked selling dogs to good owners. She hated seeing them in their cages and whenever it was quiet and business was slow she always let them out to run around.

"Well, puppies always come with a bag of free food, a collar, and a starter's manual. So next time you come back you can just look for the same brand of food. If you have any other questions you can ask me. I'm here all day." Alice said.

The customer was holding the Husky close now, petting his ears thoughtfully. "Alright, that's useful. I've never had a dog before, and I'm sure she's never had one either." She followed Alice to the counter.

Alice looked over curiously. "Is this a gift?"

The customer beamed. "That's right! I met a new friend today and I decided that she needed a dog."

There was an awkward silence. Alice was sure that she had failed to hear correctly. "Uh...what?"

"This is for my friend. She needs a dog."

Alice felt that there was no point trying to understand the thoughts of her unusual customer, and tried to brush it off. "Well, you're a very good friend."

The customer continued petting her dog even when she set him down on the counter and watched Alice find the dog food and collar. "I try to be a good friend to everyone."

Alice nodded. Maybe, she thought to herself, if everyone was like that things would be a bit better around here.

"What's on your mind, Alice?"

Alice turned, startled. "Uh, nothing?"

The girl stood there staring and smiling. "No, no. You were thinking something. Tell me!"

Alice was beginning to feel uncomfortable and shook her head. She wasn't about to pour out her thoughts to some stranger.

The customer didn't look disappointed though. She rocked back and forth on her heels smiling and said, "I used to work in a bookstore." Alice wasn't surprised. People her age were always working whatever odd job they could find. "It was a decent paying job for someone who had been unemployed until then. I was comfortable and satisfied. And I was very bored."

Alice sneaked a glance behind her shoulder. The customer was playing with the dog, seemingly talking to him or even herself. But not to Alice. She turned back to the folders and continued looking for the puppy manual.

"I often wondered to myself while dusting off books and helping out browsers, isn't there anything else I can do with my existence? I wanted to go places, see things, and find out what sort of person I could be."

Alice pulled out the manual at last, but waited. She wanted to hear the end of the story.

"I've just started in my journey. And I don't know where I'm going yet, but I'm sure that no matter where I end up, no matter what I decide to do, I won't be bored."

Alice finally turned around and faced the customer. She was still standing, petting the fluffy Husky puppy and smiling. Then sun outside the window had barely risen behind her, but for Alice it still hurt to stare directly into the brightness.

"How much for the dog, Alice?"

"You're quitting?" The owner of the pet store asked with a mournful air. "That's a pity, you've been a great asset to this store, Alice."

It was a pity. She had no other job and her rent would be due at the end of the month. Alice still wasn't quite sure what she would now do. All she did know was that it was time to change.

"Sorry Mister D." Alice apologized to her kind boss. "It's been great working here. I just think that maybe it's time for me to learn more new things."

Alice stepped out of the store and into the bright morning light. It had been two days since The Customer Who Taught had entered the store to buy a dog. Alice wondered if she would ever see the girl again. She felt as if she had questions to ask, but wasn't entirely sure what sort of questions she had in mind.

A small Husky puppy ran past her on the street. A little girl ran after him. At a glance, she was just another pale, scrawny kid.

Alice froze, blinking.

"Kyle come back! Kyle!"

It was the girl who lived in the alley two blocks down. Alice had often seen her sitting in the gloom making a fire, every night when she was walking home from work.

"I met a new friend today and I decided she needed a new dog."

Alice began walking towards the little girl calmly. She had caught up to her dog and was holding his collar tightly, irritatedly. Alice knelt and held out her hand. "Uh..hi. Can I pet him...uh Kyle?"

Nye stared at her suspiciously and nodded.

Kyle recognized Alice immediately and licked her hand furiously. "Hey there buddy." She murmured, scratching him behind his ears. "I'm Alice." She said to the little girl. Nye didn't move or say anything so she went on. "Someone gave you this dog right?"

Nye's eyes widened and she nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! A crazy person! She's been feeding me too. Like she has nothing else better to waste money on."

Nye stopped, then looked down at Alice with a new perspective. She reached out her hand to help her up. "I'm Nye."

Alice smiled and took the hand.

"Let me buy you a coffee, Nye? I know a cafe that allows dogs. And it'll be warmer than out here."

"Okay...but you know I'm broke right?"

Alice turned and looked Nye over. She took in the thin windbreaker and extra large hat, faded jeans and sneakers. Then she grinned at Nye, making split second decisions. "So? I'm not. Let's go have something to eat and then I'll take you to my place. I'm sure I can find something new for you to wear."

Nye was astonished as she followed Alice, meandering on the sidewalk as she observed children walking down streets with hot chocolates and happy, pink faces. Suddenly, possibilities didn't seem so numbered for Nye anymore.

However if one were to measure each individual's gratitude at that moment, the Customer Who Taught was sure that Alice's would've been higher.

"We always thank those who we give aid to, for they allow us to reach out and fill the vacuum."