“Yep. Hey, you!” shouted Patrick.
A taller boy in a cowboy hat turned. “What?”
“How much money ya get for sellin’ those papers?”
“Penny a pape. You buy ‘em two fer a penny. It costs fifteen cents to buy thirty, ya sell ‘em, ya gain fifteen cents. Ya interested? Cause I know a few guys who could use a sellin’ partner.”
“I already got one. Dis here’s Stacey Cliffton, I’m Patrick Meyers, an’ we’re interested.”
“Yer new here.”
“We ran away.”
“Den don’t go by yer actual names. Too easy fer the bulls t’find ya. Got nicknames?”
Stacey grinned. “Mush.”
“Spacey,” he retorted.
She glared. “Fine, fine, fine. So, what’s yer name?”
“Cowboy. How old’re ya?”
“I’m twelve, she’s eleven.”
“All right. Welcome t’Manhattan. We’ll go t’Tibby’s, an’ ya’ll meet the rest of the guys. We stay at the Newsboys’ Lodgin’ House on Duane Street. First night’s free, every night afta that’s five cents. If yuh eva need money, see Sella, Speed, or Wind. They’ll spot ya some. Speed’s the leada a the Manhattan newsies. Spot Conlon is the leader of Brooklyn - look out, he’s a tough one. There’s lotsa boys fer ya t’meet, an’ they’s all real nice - don’t worry ‘bout fittin’ in. We got a few udda goyls 'round. An’ we don’t wanna turn ya ova t’the Bronx - South Bronx is tough, no place fer a little goyl like you.”
“I ain’t little!” Spacey said defiantly.
“Yer small, dough. No match fer big guys wid brass knuckles, who don’t like goyls in deir territory. Well, dis here’s Tibby’s. Da second home a da Manhattan boys.”
Inside, dozens of boys were eating, laughing, and talking loudly. Cowboy lead them over to a tall boy with messy blonde hair. “Heya, Speed. Dis heah’s Mush an’ Spacey, an’ dey’s joinin’ up wid Manhattan.”
Speed nodded. “Nice t’meetcha. Need money?”
“Nah,” they both said, pulling money out of their pockets. They ordered lunch and sat down at a table with Cowboy. The newcomers were introduced to all the newsies. They ranged in age from seven to near twenty, and had come from every conceivable background. All the boys were very nice, it seemed, and Stacey was looking forward to getting to know them better.
“Seems a whole lot longer,” muttered Racetrack.
“What’s wrong wid ya? Ya’ve been bein’ mean t’me all week.”
“Oh, so ya did notice. Maybe ya ain’t as dumb as ya act,” added Kid Blink.
Mush laughed and punched his companions good-naturedly.
Spacey stared at them for a few seconds, then took off running. She half-expected Mush’s familiar voice to call her back, but wasn’t too surprised when she didn’t. She ran until she reached the park, then slumped down onto a bench.
What’s wrong with all the guys? She thought. They’ve been acting really strange lately. Really mean too. And then Blink’s comment there - that hurt. Even if I’d never admit I like him, I still do. Spacey sighed exasperatedly. He’s so handsome. And then he insults me! Racetrack, too. They’re awful people. They act like they don’t want me here anymore. She paused for a moment. Is that what they really want? Well then, fine. One more incident, and I’m out. Who knows where I’ll go - maybe the newsgirls’ boarding house in the Bronx…
The next day, Spacey and Mush were selling alone by the Horace Greeley statue. “Extry, extry, read all ‘bout it! Th’ world’s comin’ to an end!” screamed Spacey.
“What, what, where’s it say dat?” asked Mush, panicked.
“Calm down. On da last page, it says dere’s a newspaper in Philadelphia called th’ World, an’ it’s shuttin’ down.”
“Oh,” Mush laughed. “A course.” Then he calmly turned and walked a few steps away as a customer approaced Spacey.
“Dere ya go, ma’am,” she said, glancing suspiciously at Mush as she pocketed the penny.
“Is she gone?” he called a few minutes later.
“Yes. Mush, what’s wrong wid you?”
He took a deep breath as they started walking slowly towards the lodging house. “Dat’s me mudda.”
“What?” Spacey dropped her papes and began to mutter curses.
“Don’t worry ‘bout it. It’s late, nobody else is gonna buy ‘em anyhow.”
“But Mush… it don’t surprise ya, seein’ yer mudda afta she’s dead an’ all?”
“Actually, I’ve been meanin’ t’tell ya fer a while. Y’know how I always said my parents were dead?”
“Mush…” she said in a warning tone.
“Well, they ain’t.”
“Shaddup an’ lemme tell da story! Anyway, I usedta live in New York. But my papa was real mean - made me steal stuff fer him, an’ beat me, an’… he was awful. He was so mean t’me, I couldn’t stand it anymore. My mudda was real greedy too. Acted real nice an’ sweet t’everyone, always said she loved me, but she beat me just th’ same an’ beat me even worse when I didn’t steal somethin’ for her.”
“But… ya was only seven! Ya walked by yaself all the way to th’ orphanage?”
“Nah. I hitched a ride on a wagon. I didn’t know where I was headed, but Miss Blair caught me. I was beggin’ on th’ streets, an’ I lied an’ said I had no parents - more people’ll give ya money that way. But she took me into th’ orphanage.”
Spacey sighed. “Ya’ve been lyin’ t’me an’ everybody all dese years ‘bout yer mudda bein’ dead?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“What else’ve ya been lyin’ ‘bout, Mush?”
“I don’t believe ya.” They were in front of the lodging house, and Spacey stopped and turned to him, hands on her hips.
“Mush, ya lied t’me. Ya’ve been lyin’ t’me for six years! How do I know dat yer not lyin’ ‘bout otha stuff?”
“What else would I lie ‘bout?”
“Everything! What if yer name ain’t Patrick? What if you ain’t thirteen? Maybe yer workin’ for a gang an’ yer plannin’ t’kill me, I dunno.”
“Ya take dat back.”
“Take it back, Spacey.”
“No,” she said, glaring.
He pushed her. “Shuddup!” By now, the other boys had gathered around on their way into the lodging house, but Spacey couldn’t hide her anger towards Mush.
“Oh, so now yer gonna start abusin’ me, huh? Is dat how it’s gonna be? Reel me in wid some tears an’ a sad story - buncha lies, dat’s all it is. No wonda yer sucha good newsie - ya’ve been lyin’ yer whole life. An’ now yer just turnin’ inta yer fadda. Abusin’ women. ‘Fore ya know it, ya’ll be pickin’ up goyls walkin’ on th’ streets an’ abusin’ ‘em too-“
At that, Mush lunged forward, tackling her legs and pushing her into a puddle. They were screaming and swearing at each other, tearing at whatever skin they could reach and throwing punches left and right. After a few minutes, Blink pulled Spacey away.
“Lemme go!” she shrieked.
“Oh, I’ll let ya go, awright,” he said, pushing her back into the puddle. She stared in amazement. “Get out.”
“Yer a bad newsie, a bad person, not a single one of us likes ya, an’ we don’t care if ya end up ripped t’shreds, lyin’ in a gutter in South Bronx. I’ll give ya a minute t’get yer stuff an’ get out, an’ if ya don’t, I’ll call th’ bulls an’ tell them yer a runaway from Pennsylvania an’ ya’ll be back dere faster’n spit.”
She stared, open-mouthed. “You’re all traitors, every last one of you,” she said, forgetting her accent in her anger. “And as for you, Patrick Meyers, good riddance.”
“Same t’you!” shouted someone else in the crowd.
Spacey pounded up the lodging house stairs, grabbed her things (and a few other valuables that happened to be lying around) and took the fire escape out to avoid the newsies.
“I’m sorry, but she isn’t here,” Jeanie, the owner of the Bronx Newsgirls’ Lodging House, insisted.
“Yes, I’m sure. Now why don’t you go on and finish selling your papers.”
“Can I just check t’ see if Spacey’s up dere?”
“I can assure you, young man, ‘Spacey’ is not here.”
Spacey leaned over the banister and peered down, her short brown hair falling into her face. She saw a nothing but the top of someone’s hat - and a crutch.
“Crutchy!” she called joyfully.
“Dere ya are, Spacey - I knew ya was around here somwhere. Jeanie can’t fool me!” he said as he gave her a feeble one-armed hug. “How are things in da Bronx?”
“Let’s go sit upstairs so we can talk - ya ain’t inna rush, are ya?”
“Great! Jeanie, we’ll be upstairs.”
“All right, Anastasia.”
Spacey made a face and led Crutchy upstairs and out onto the fire escape. “Gosh, it’s hot,” she muttered.
“Shoah is. So, how d’ya like it here?”
“Not much betta dan I did last time you was here. Don’t da guys wonda why you’s always ova here?”
“Nah. I don’t always tell ‘em, anyway.”
“It’s real nice a ya t’come an’ visit me,” she said appreciatively.
“I don’t mind. I always liked ya. ‘Sides, it was awful mean a Blink t’kick ya out like dat.”
“Well, I don’t mind,” she lied through her teeth. “It’s betta fer me here.”
“Yeah. It’s all goyls here. Dere real nice.”
“Make any friends yet?”
She shook her head, embarrassed.
“Spacey… ya’ve been here for more dan a year! When are ya gonna make some friends?”
“Soon, Crutchy, I promise. By da next time ya come, I’ll have a friend here.”
“Dat’s my goyl.”
“Speakin’ a which…” A devilish grin crept onto her face. “Ya gotta goyl yet?”
“Oh no. No no no. Don’t get started.”
“I ain’t discussin’ dis wid ya again.”
“Fine den. So, did ya have a reason for comin’, or was ya just in da area?”
“No, I got a reason. Yuh know how th’ price a da papes got raised, ten cents a hundred.”
She shook her head. “Actually, I’se still gettin’ ova me cold, an’ Jeanie won’t lemme out yet.”
“Well, da price got jacked up. Now it’s sixty cents a hundred.”
“What? Dat’s gonna break me!”
“I know. It’s gonna break all a us. So we’se goin’ on strike. An’ we could use a liddle help - ”
“I ain’t dat little, Crutchy,” she said, the threatening tone creeping into her voice.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean it dat way. Anyways, wanna go on strike wid us?”
“Crutchy, ya outta know betta! If I join da strike, dat means woikin’ ‘longside wid da same scabs dat turned me out inta da cold. An’ dey’s all so stubborn, dey’d neva have it I’d love ta, but I can’t.”
“Aww, c’mon, ya can pretend yer someone else!”
“Dey’d know. I’m sorry, ‘cause I do think dat we outta fight da price raise, but I can’t just waltz inta Manhattan an’ say ‘Hiya fellas, I’se back’ an’ expect ta live.”
“Guess ya gotta point dere.”
“A course. But good luck wid it. An’ if dere’s anything else I can do fer ya, jest lemme know, awright?”
“Awright. Hey, ya know where Storm or Action’s sellin’ taday?”
“Nope, sorry. If I see ‘em, I’ll tell ‘em ta stop by Manhattan t’see ya.”
“Awright. Bye, Spacey. Feel betta,” he said, hugging her briefly.
“Bye. T’anks fer stoppin’ by,” she said. “I ‘preciate it.”
“Any time.” She watched him slowly take the stairs out. It was like watching hope retreat. She had always hoped Manhattan would take her back, and she always would.
Well, at least Crutchy’s still nice to me, she thought gloomily, much later that night. That’s one person in the entire city. Someday I’m getting out of this city. Then she suddenly remembered a conversation from five years prior…
“I wish I could get away.”
“You will! Someday.”
“Not ‘til I’m twenty, prob’ly.”
“If I’m not out by the time I’m twelve, I’ll run away.”
“New York City, of course. Where else?”
“Will you leave me notes? I put a hatbox under the bushes, just outside the gates.”
“Every chance I get.”
“Thanks. I’ll sure miss ya.”
“I’ll miss you too.”
Liar, she thought. Just like the rest of them. Funny how getting into New York City was my only dream, and now my only dream is getting out. Well, there’s a whole country to see. I don’t need a single one of them. I’m not part of a group - not part of Manhattan anymore, not really part of the Bronx, not even part of my own family. I’m just a single person and I don’t need anyone, she thought defiantly, focusing on a single star shining in the sky. It’s not part of a group either, and it’s just fine on its own. It’s like me. That’s my star, my hope star. I’ll always try to remember that I’m just fine on my own. As she drifted off to sleep, her star still burned.
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