Right off the bat, Anthony loved Pinky Falconetti. He was like the brother he had never really had, except that in this case his brother always told stories that began with "So we were in this bar in the Bowery and all of a sudden Sully pulls a knife", had a number of fascinating scars, some resembling the outlines of major constellations, and wasn't afraid of anything. He also knew how to steal, lie without giving himself away, fistfight, hold his breath for exactly three minutes, and was the best poker player in Brooklyn. He still let Anthony win, though. With Valentine, he didn't have to: she had learned from her father, and was just as good a player as he was, if not even better.
But there was one thing about Pinky that Anthony loved especially, more than anything else about him: he made Valentine happy. And that was the best of all.
For the first time since their father died, she didn't seem to be carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders anymore. All her stories had happy endings; she opened the window as she did the laundry late at night after returning home from the factory, and sang into the street. People down below tilted their heads up and shouted, cheerily, "shut the hell up, you Wop whore!" at which point she called down, just as brightly, "VAFFANCULO!" and then began to sing even louder. She laughed more. She would knock off work to go to Sheepshead Bay with Pinky and Anthony, or down to Coney Island, to ride on the rollercoaster and have cotton candy for breakfast. (The best part for Anthony, though, was always the ingenious ways they came up with to get him out of school: once, Pinky burst into the classroom in the middle of a geography test, his eyes wild, to all but drag Anthony out the door with barely enough time to get out of his seat, yelling the whole way: "Quick! To the docks, boy! The lobsters are rebelling and we need every good man…they're ganging up on the fisherman—when you see Fat Angelo…OH, THE HUMANITY! THE STREETS ARE FLOWING WITH RIVERS OF BLOOD… — oh, hello Miss Šťovček, yes, we'll have him back tomorrow, don't worry — no, I'm fine, I lost that finger years ago…ANTHONY! What are you doing? THE LIVES OF INNOCENT MEN REST IN YOUR HANDS! NO, WE CAN'T TAKE YOUR GRAMMAR BOOK. HURRY!")
Valentine had to marry Pinky, Anthony decided. Everything would be better then. They could move out of the apartment on Prince Street and into the Brooklyn lodging house, and Anthony could be a newsie too (at this point, being a newsie seemed to be the most noble profession in the world, except for trapeze artist, obviously). He would change his name to Falconetti; no one in the entire city would remember who he used to be. And he would never have to grammar homework again.
They always went back to Valentine's room. Late at night, after they were both done with work, or in the small hours of the morning, when he would climb up the fire escape and through her window. He never really needed much sleep, he said. And then he would slowly undo her braids, running his quick fingers through her long, dark hair that smelled of soot and sweat and something sweet beyond all that, and he would bury his face in the coolness of her neck, just to breathe her in. And she would kiss him: just softly, on his closed eyes, his cheeks, his rough hands. Every night he seemed to come to her more bruised and battered then before, his breathing a little harder, his eyes a little less hopeful. And she waited for him: so she could hold him, and touch him, and calm for just a few hours the rage and heat of desperation that he felt.
She was so gentle sometimes, it made him feel almost like crying. But he hadn't cried in years, not since he was a child, couldn't even remember the last time—and he didn't think he could ever have done it now, not even if he tried.
Once in a while, he held her just too tightly, and pale skin bruised easy. He got wild sometimes, desperate, clawing at her heart, tearing at her sheets. Afterwards, when she held his head to her chest to feel his heartbeat, he wondered who would notice it.
"No one," Valentine whispered. "Maybe Katie. My mother wouldn't."
"How can you tell?"
"She doesn't notice you when you come in, does she?" She ran a hand through his short dark hair, her fingers pricked and ragged from feeding bobbins all day long. "She doesn't notice anything."
"Too drunk." She smiled. "Did I tell you what happened the other morning? Anthony's on his way to school, she leans out the window, asks him, why's he walking like that, he feet all curled up? Says he's worn through the soles of his boots, there's nothing between his feet in the pavement."
"What did she say?"
"Nothing. Just went back to bed."
Pinky looked up, furrowing his brow. "Well, what about your old boots? He could wear those, couldn't he?"
"No…I'm wearing my old boots."
He frowned. "I'll steal some new shoes. For both of you." He smiled, and leaned upwards, kissing at her throat and using his teeth to trace the lines of her collar. She noticed, as he was illuminated by the lamplight, just how drawn his chest was beginning to seem, how clearly she could make out the outlines of his ribs.
"Do you know what you said, when I first met you?" she asked him, smiling.
"You said I hate children. I was never a child."
"You seem to have changed your mind, Falconetti."
He looked her in the eyes, smiling his wolfish grin. "Don't go getting knocked up, Val. I've just…changed my mind about a few things."
And she smiled and rolled over on top of him, dark curls falling across her soft cheek, tangled in the threadbare white sheets. "Never, Falconetti," she whispered, and she trailed her hands down his chest, so lightly it made him shiver. Her lips were hot with blood when she kissed him, and he moaned beneath her touch.
Later, when they were lying in each other's arms, the sun as it brightened the sky signaling that it was time for him to go, he kissed her one last time on the forehead, and wound a lock of her hair around his finger. "All I want to do is be with you," he whispered. "And all you make me want to do is be a better person. I only have so much time."
She didn't know what he meant by that, and thought it over as she lay in bed, after he had gone. Something about the way he had said it, so urgently, had puzzled her: and how, later that day as she was stripping the bed, she found the faintest stain on the pillow where his head had been, three little drops like a pattern of stars, the color of blood long dried.