The Kind That Turns a Lady's Head
Crutchie was sitting on the curb after a long, freezing cold day. He pulled his coat tighter around himself and looked to his left, then right, at either end of the street. Jack said he'd be there around six, and though Crutchie didn't know exactly what time it was, he was certain it was getting close to that time. He knew there were blankets up on the roof, but Jack would kill him if he braved that climb on his own. That is, if he didn't fall and kill himself in the process.
"Hey," Jack said casually, appearing behind his friend.
He plopped down onto the curb beside his friend and leaned back, holding himself up with his arms behind him. Crutchie eyed him suspiciously.
"Where you been today, Jack?"
"Sellin' papes," Jack laughed. "Where you been today? Some secret meeting I should have known about?"
"No," Crutchie said. "I was just wondering where you were selling because you weren't on your usual corner."
"Oh, I just went downtown," Jack said nonchalantly. "Wanted to switch things up today."
"You was looking for something or someone," Crutchie accused.
"So what if I was? I sold all my papes for once," Jack said with a smirk, and threw his empty bag into Crutchie's lap.
"So did I with you out of my way," Crutchie said proudly.
Crutchie threw his own bag into Jack's lap and laughed.
"Good work," Jack said. He seemed surprised, and maybe a bit suspicious. "Hey, what's your demographic?"
"Girls, of course," Crutchie said matter-of-factly.
"Uh-huh," Jack replied skeptically.
"It's true," he said. "The ladies love me."
"The ladies feel bad for a crip," Jack said.
"Somebody jealous?" Crutchie teased, nudging Jack's side with his elbow.
"No, 'cause I sell to lots of girls, too."
"Well of course you," Crutchie said. "I mean, have you met you?"
"What's that mean?" Jack asked, amused.
"The ladies love you," Crutchie shrugged. There was a brief silence before he added: "But they love me more."
"Oh, you wanna bet?" Jack challenged.
"I'd be willing to, yeah," Crutchie nodded. "But how do you plan on determining that?"
"You see them girls up there?"
Jack pointed at a group of girls their age crossing the street a few yards away.
"Yeah. What about 'em?"
"Well, I was thinking it's a little cold out to be sleeping on the roof tonight," Jack said. "And I definitely don't wanna sleep down with all the guys. Specs'll kick me in the head in his sleep and Elmer's got some of the worst gas today."
"What're you saying?"
"You know. I don't have plans to sleep up there tonight," Jack said, smiling mischievously. "I'm betting you can't find somewhere else to be."
"You know what I mean, Crutch," Jack chuckled. "A nice warm bed and somebody to share it with."
"That's what I thought you meant..." Crutchie said tentatively. "I don't know about that, Jack."
"The ladies love you, remember? Let's see if you can do it."
"How many tries do I get?"
"You think you need more than one?"
"Three at least, if I can't do it on the first try," Crutchie wagered.
"Fine, three," Jack agreed. "C'mon, let's get you laid."
"Jack," Crutchie groaned embarrassedly.
Jack laughed and stood up before pulling Crutchie to his feet. They made their way down the street to where the girls were standing at the corner, talking amongst themselves. Jack elbowed his friend and whispered something encouraging that Crutchie couldn't hear over his heartbeat in his ears.
"Hello, ladies," Jack said.
"Can we help you?" one asked.
"Don't you have someplace to be?" another chimed in.
"I was hoping you could give me one," Jack said flirtatiously.
"As charming as that offer was," the first girl scoffed. "I'll have to say no."
"Maybe another time," Jack responded, barely discouraged.
"Put me down for a raincheck," a third said sarcastically.
"Last time I checked, it ain't raining," Jack said. "Crutch, your leg say rain?"
"No," Crutchie said meekly.
"Ha!" the girl laughed. "I didn't know idiots came in pairs."
"Oh, why don't you just beat it, Jack Kelly?" a short girl a few feet back spat.
"Kate, you missed me!"
Jack turned to saunter off, and Crutchie was just about to give up on that venture and follow Jack when –
"Hey, what happened to your leg?" a fifth girl asked in a quiet voice. "Did you get hurt?"
"Alice," one of her friends scolded under her breath.
"I'm just curious, Mae," Alice said.
"It's fine," Crutchie assured Mae. "I get it a lot. It doesn't bother me when people ask."
"He's a newsboy," one girl pointed out. "Alice, he's probably faking."
"He ain't faking!" Jack defended.
"It's fine, Jack," Crutchie sighed. "Alice, is it?"
"Yes, sir," the girl smiled.
"Not sir," he said with a little laugh. "You can call me Crutchie. That's what the guys call me."
"Crutchie," she giggled. "Fitting."
"Thanks," he said. "Um, I'm not the best at walking. That's why I got the crutch."
She laughed more and nodded. "Has it always been like that?"
"I wasn't born like this if that's what you're asking," he told her.
"I wasn't born like this either," she said, gesturing to herself. "I was a lot smaller and my hair wasn't as long. And my mother says my face was really pink when she first saw me."
She had a sense of humor. That was nice, he thought, and laughed at her joke.
"That was funny," he said.
"Come on, Alice," one of the girls said.
"I'm talking to Crutchie, Jane," Alice said. "I'll just be a few more minutes. You all can go on without me."
"Alright," Jane said, and she left with the rest of the girls.
"See ya," Alice said, waving to them.
"You aren't gonna go with them?" Crutchie asked.
"I wanted to talk with you some more," she shrugged.
"Wow." He was shocked. He didn't think he could actually keep a girl's attention this long, and he didn't even think he had done or said anything all that impressive to keep this girl's attention. Maybe all his bragging about being a lady's man wasn't so far fetched.
"So you're a newsboy?" she asked.
"I am," he answered. "What about you?"
"I'm in school right now."
"School? Impressive," he said.
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Not me."
"But you can't be that much older than me," she said. "I'm only seventeen."
"So am I, but I had to leave school when I was fourteen."
"Why would you have to do that?"
"Had to get a job to support myself after my folks died," he said. "But I've learned so much that school couldn't teach me living on my own and working out here on the streets."
"I'd love to hear more," she said.
"It's not that much to tell, really."
"Hey, Crutch, I think I'm gonna head on up," Jack said. "You know where to find me."
"You goin' home?" Crutchie asked. "I thought you was going somewhere else for the night."
"I may not stay up there all night. You know me."
"Good night," Jack said, patting his friend on the shoulder and giving him a wink before he left.
"Your friend seems nice," Alice said.
"One of the nicest guys alive." Crutchie laughed under his breath.
He watched as Jack walked effortlessly along the sidewalk and then pulled himself up onto the fire escape. Often, Crutchie wished he could do the things Jack could do; he frequently found himself wondering what it'd be like to be Jack. But not necessarily as much in that moment. Tonight, for the first time ever, it was Crutchie who got the girl, not Jack Kelly, and that was quite surprising to say the least.
"Where's he going?"
"Up to his penthouse."
"His penthouse?" she asked incredulously.
"The roof. That's where he and I sleep."
"You sleep on the roof?" she cried.
"It's got the best view in the city," he told her.
"It must get awfully cold up there."
"It does, some nights. It ain't so bad, though."
"My house is warm," she said. "You could stay with me for the night."
"Oh, I couldn't," he hesitated.
"I insist," she said. "I can't let you freeze to death."
"I'm fine, Alice." He shuffled his foot on the pavement.
"Crutchie," she said a bit more sternly. "I know it's too cold for you to sleep outside."
"I can't leave Jack," he said.
"I've seen that boy around," she said. "He'll be up there for an hour and then he'll be right back down here causing trouble again."
"Alright, just for one night," he sighed, giving in.
He wasn't one to do something like this, to spend the night with a girl for his own benefit; that was something Jack was known for, not Crutchie. But maybe it wouldn't be just for one night, and maybe it wasn't just for his benefit. Crutchie really liked this girl, and maybe, just maybe, they could be friends.
"For now," she giggled, taking his hand.