The Newsie Princess Of Brooklyn


I've known Jack forever. I knew him when he was still Francis Sullivan, since before he was even a newsie, and I'll know him after newsies are a thing of the past.

It was my brother Spot that got him in the business in the first place. After his father got thrown in jail, we were his family. He was fifteen and looked twenty; I was thirteen and looked ten. Spot took him home, fed him, put money in his pocket and showed him the ropes. He's nice like that. Even though he would never let anyone think it.

People would be surprised to learn that I was a newsie before the great Jack Kelly. But when I was as young as six Spot would take me out to help him. I was cute then-I'm not good-looking enough to sell papes anymore, Spot likes to say, at which point I am inclined to box his ears-and could beg a nickel off anyone. I was a skinny kid, and we made sure to dirty my face and dull my blonde hair with dust, and I would play the poor little girl that had to go to bed hungry. Spot would ham it up, telling people he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he couldn't feed his baby sister, and didn't they wanted to buy more than that? Those were the best times I had, out on the street corners with Spot when he was still just my big brother and not the newsie king of Brooklyn. Those were the best times of my life. Until Jack came.

He learned fast, Jack. He was always smart. And Spot taught him well. Within a month he was one of the best, and that year our friendship was at its strongest. On summer nights we would stay out on the docks until dawn- it was too hot to sleep, or even talk. It was when we were still a family, when we could still talk about anything. Spot and Jack and I were thick as thieves back then-the newsie royalty of Brooklyn. And then Jack left. And nothing was the same again.

The days got shorter and the times tougher. Jack still visited, but it wasn't the same, and Spot and I grew farther and farther apart, with days going by without us even talking. Three years passed in a blur of headlines and shouting and pennies and papes, papes, papes. I was sixteen and I couldn't play cute anymore, instead tucking my long hair under a cap Jack had left behind and calling in a voice coarse with regret-as usual, I had only realized how I felt by the time it was too late to take action. Because by that time the strike had come and gone, and with it came glory for Jack and the rest of the newsies, newspaper articles and rallies and the end of the refuge. And Sarah.

But I didn't have to think about that. I was sitting on the dock with Jack. It was nearly midnight, and chilly-Autumn had at last arrived-but I was never one to complain. We were alone together, for the first time I could remember in nearly a year. We sat cross-legged on the bare wood, and Jack had an apple out, cutting it into wafer-thin slices with his pocket knife and dividing them between us. The moon was bright and full. If you could see beyond the smog and the lights and the stink of fish, it was really almost beautiful.

The strike had been over for near two weeks, and Jack was telling me, for the thousandth time, about his ride in Teddy Roosevelt's carriage. I never tired of the story, and it was a good thing, too; I suspected I would be hearing it until the day I that I died. Jack cut another slice from the apple and handed it to me. I put it in my mouth, letting the sharp flavor melt on my tongue; I hadn't eaten all day and only realized it when I took that first bite.

"...and then, when I got back, Sarah was waitin' for me." He smiled. "An' you know the rest."

I nodded dully. "Jack," I said quickly, before I could think better of it or even think at all, "do you care about me?"

"Jesus, Sammy, what kind of a question is that?" he said. "I do. Of course I do. I love you like-"

"A sister," I finished for him, sighing almost inaudibly and taking another slice of apple from his outstretched hand.

"No," Jack said. "Not like a sister. Like...a brother."

"A brother?" I said, less hurt than confused.

"Yeh, like a brother. I mean...I can talk to you about things. Things I could say to the guys, y'know? You're one of my best friends, Sam. I can say anything to you, and you'll understand. Not like other girls. I mean take Sarah-I'm crazy about her, but I can say things t' you that I could never say to her."

I blushed from head to toe. Thank god it was too dark for him to see me. "How is Sarah?" I said reluctantly.

And how was Sarah? Oh, wonderful, just as she always was. She was sweet and smart and so, so pretty. Hearing this I couldn't help but compare myself to her. I was sixteen now, but I still looked like I was twelve. More accurately, I still looked like I was twelve and male. I had seen Sarah before. She was a real lady, and not only that, she was a woman. My hair was the only thing that kept people from thinking I was a boy. It was, as Spot said, yellow as a lemon pie, and it had never been cut. Still, I looked down at my stubborn body, as if it might have changed that night. It hadn't, but I saw now that I was shivering, and Jack must have too, because he took off his coat and offered it to me that second.

"Jack, don't be stupid, I'm fine," I said, but he gave it to me anyway, and gratefully I accepted. Helping me to put it on his rough hands brushed my neck. I felt like I was going to melt right there. But who was I kidding? Sarah was pretty as a picture and he was head-over-heels in love with her. I would just have to be happy with apples at midnight.

"Come on," said Jack, startling me. "We should go. I gotta get back to the lodgin' house, you know how it is. C'mon, Sam." He took my hand and lead me inside. When he left me a few minutes later, I didn't watch him go.