(A/N): Written for Circulation of the Newsies Pape Selling Competition.
Task 2: Write about a time when a newsie was forced to let go of their freedom for something or someone.
Prompts: green, chains, shouting.
Word count: 763
Racetrack bit down on his cigar as he counted the papers left in his bag. Only three left. After a selling day this good, he just might knock off early. He could find a bar that would let him in, sneak off to Brooklyn for a poker game...
"Race!" a small voice shouted.
Romeo. Race shrugged loftily. Guess it would be a kid-friendly adventure after all. That would work, too.
"Hey, pal," he said, letting his nearly-empty bag slip to the ground as he enveloped his little brother in a hug. Romeo's sticky hands and face caught his eye, and he frowned slightly. "What've ya been up to?" he asked.
Romeo sent him a winning smile, his tongue poking through the spot where his front tooth was missing. "I gotta candy apple," he said, holding the treat out to his brother. "Wanna bite?"
"Yeah, sure," Race said with a grin, taking the stick. He took a huge bite, crunching down on the sticky sweetness of the apple. "Where'd ya get it?" he asked around his mouthful.
"I nicked it from that stand over there," Romeo said, pointing.
Race almost choked on his bite. "Ya stole?" he demanded when he was done coughing. "Rome, ya can't be doin' that!"
"You steal," Romeo said with a tiny frown, his dark eyebrows knit together.
"I ain't a good person!" Race said, waving his hands for emphasis. "We'se talked about this, Rome."
"Jack steals, too!" Romeo protested. "And he's the best person we knows!"
"Jack's been ta the Refuge more times than any of us!" Race argued. "Do ya wanna end up there, Rome?"
He caught the younger boy by the shoulders and gave him a shake, trying to drive his point home. Romeo's lip quivered and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to fight off tears.
Race hastily changed tactics. "Hey, it's okay, pal," he said, crouching down to Romeo's level. He used the hand not holding the apple to pull him into a one-armed hug. "I'll fix this, I promise."
A piercing whistle cut through the air, and two figures came around the bend- a tall, blue-coated policeman with a silver whistle in his mouth, and a short, fat shopkeeper, his face red with anger.
"There he is!" he cried, jabbing a finger in the direction of the two boys. "That's the one who robbed my stand! Stole one of my best apples right out from under my nose!"
"Which one was it?" the officer asked, brandishing the handcuffs at his belt.
"How am I to know?" the shopkeeper said irritably. "These street orphans all look the same."
Race stole a glance at Romeo beside him. The little boy looked terrified, too scared to even move.
"It was me!" Race burst out. He gave Romeo a shove, causing him to stumble and drop his apple in the dirt. "Get outta here, kid," he hissed when the younger boy hesitated.
Swallowing back the lump in his throat, he turned to the officer. "It was me," he said again. He held out his wrists.
Slightly surprised, the man snapped the handcuffs into place, the silver links of chain icy cold against Racetrack's wrists. "C'mon, you," he said, hauling him roughly toward the police wagon.
Fighting back the terror rising in him, Race turned back for one last glimpse of the outside world. One last glimpse before he was locked away in the Refuge.
Tears dripped down Romeo's face, and his candy apple lay forgotten in the dirt at his feet. "Race!" he screamed.
"I'll be okay, Rome!" Race shouted back. The wagon started to move, and he frantically dug into his pocket as best as his handcuffs would allow. "Keep these!" he yelled, tossing his cigars out to Romeo.
The dark-haired boy caught them before they hit the ground and remained rooted to the spot, scrubbing at his tears as he watched the wagon lurch off down the street. "I'll tell Jack!" he cried. "We'll getcha out, Race. Don't worry."
Race didn't say anything, he just memorized it all. Romeo's round, innocent face. The forgotten green apple, the stupid thing that had caused all this mess. His brother shouting empty promises and reassurances over the thunder of the wagon wheels. He would remember those things, when he was in the Refuge. He would hang on to them when Snyder tried to break him. He would hang on to his freedom.