Chapter Two, In which Bumlets and Swifty spend the afternoon together.
His face was calm that afternoon, and as we rounded the corner and turned down Broome Street, we harked out headlines with voices of angels. It was a good spot, a little more upper class than the areas around the lodging house. Ladies walked and the both of us tipped our hats when we saw one particularly worthy of buying our humble wares.
It was all a plot, a game for more money. Perhaps today we would be able to eat more than just what we could not sell. A nice supper at Tibby's Restaurant, a place I recalled vividly when thinking of the strike, would fill my stomach and heighten my spirits. The days I had scraped together enough to have more than a coffee were good.
Though the morning's events plagued my mind bare, I tried to smile and retain my usual countenance. Appearances made the newsboy, after all. Pie Eater's loneliness had been so obvious, and my lack of care for him was cruel. Yet there I stood, papers under one arm while waving the other about, stick in hand.
"Italian King assassinated by lunatic silk weaver!"
Though the headlines were hot, the afternoon was cooler than the previous day. The muggy clouds that hung low in the air did not stop our work, and I hoped that the sky would not explode with the wrath rain incurred. Selling under awnings did nothing compared to when we could roam the streets.
He was glancing at me through our separation in the crowd, the determination in his eyes turning into a knowing smile as he saw me peering back at him. Small delicacies let me see further into his thoughts, and as I turned again to scream out a headline, I felt a rush in my chest unlike what was proper. The burning continued through every pore of body, and fingers almost itched as I thought about something more than inappropriate.
As we parted through the crowd and joined together once more, a clap of thunder was heard in the sky. People were scattering while the two of us stood in the middle of the way. A glance up to the sky revealed we still had a few more minutes before the rain would it.
His hand latched onto my shoulder. An innocent touch for most, but I knew why he did it. His forwardness struck me and I pulled away almost instantly, smiling shyly to hide my embarrassment. "What do you think? Try and sell the last twenty, or take cover?"
"The rain doesn't look like it's going to be weak, so if we don't sell them now, we'll never sell them when the evening editions come out!" Wetting a finger and putting it into the sky, he shook his head. "We have to go for it."
Nodding, I trusted his instinct. He was smarter than me about things like the weather, and so I went off of his every word. Breaking away from him again, we hit up opposite sides of the street. Some had brought their umbrellas out in anticipation for the strong shower that was waiting to break out. Ten each. Not too bad for the morning edition, each of us having sold around ninety. Certainly, we had beaten our selling from the previous day.
What words slipped past my lips I could not have been sure, for though I sold with a genuine fury, I could not rip my mind away from other thoughts. I must have been good for as I jogged down the way, paper after paper was sold until only two remained.
Indeed, I had disassociated myself with Pie Eater, and for what?
Swifty had beaten me and came back to me with empty hands, prying away one of the last two papers from me as he went to sell again. There was a reason for his name, a truth that could be told in it. He was fast, agile. Most likely it had to do with the orient brimming in his blood.
Though I had never met another Japanese, I had heard a lot from stories. Quick and small, able to beat any Westerner with the use of mighty intellect. There had been many bad things too, but I knew that (at least in Swifty's case) they must have been lies.
Lovely, the way he ran, springing over the landscape as though he could really fly. It made me smile, and in the moment I paused I was late to see that someone had lined up and was handing me the correct amount for my last paper.
Nodding, I exchanged money for goods and went on my way, after Swifty.
The same moment brought another gleam of lightning. Following quickly was the clap of thunder, and all at once the heavens exploded with a gush of rain. We were both caught in the torrents. The one last newspaper still in his hand, Swifty laughed out loud as he ran for cover. It only took moments of running, stung by the bullet-rain, before we were completely soaked.
Squish of water in my shoes, I pursued the puddles, flashing momentary footsteps Swifty left behind. He was leading me back, back past the crowded overhangs, back past Irving Hall, and into the empty crevice of a covered alleyway.
We stopped together, both of us laughing then as we shook off like the dogs we were. The action did little to aide us, and in the warm summer heat the impromptu shower felt rather pleasant. Arm reached for me again and Swifty held out the last paper, murmuring, "We almost did it."
"Don't worry! We made good time," I assured him, looking out into the street. Though it was only near noon, the rain had caused the sky to darken over, giving the appearance of a time close to dusk. Under the protection of the covered alley, we must have been practically invisible to anyone passing by.
He did not pull away and with our bodies hidden, pushed in just a little closer. A brush of his knee against mine sent me back, digging into the wall with a sort of expectancy in my actions. Another look out of the alley and I was satisfied there would be no problems. If we went even a few steps backward, no one would even know we existed.
Thinking the same as I, Swifty tugged my arm, guiding me gently further into the alley.
Pounding of rain against the tin roof masked the noise of our voices. In fact, Swifty had to lean in closer for the sake of my comprehending what he had to say. "You don't suppose we could rest here for a while?"
"Until the rain has passed, I doubt we have any other choice." My words returned back and as I spoke I could feel my breath resounding against the skin of his cheek, against the gently carved ivory of his neck. A look passed between us and I smiled once more, catching him before he could capture my lips.
It was obvious, really, the way that I felt about him. Just as obvious as the way he felt about me. There was a deadly dangerous aspect of the attraction, though, that caught me every time. I was a Catholic. God would send me to hell if I wandered down the wrong path. I'd probably go there on thoughts alone.
I knew that the hesitation always disappointed him, but as he pulled slightly away he smiled a more kind, less intimate smile. Like he dissented to his failure. The pain that I made him feel was hard enough. "Here, sit down."
Wooden boxes, half-rotted from the damp summer air, sat scattered about the alleyway. Each was chair-sized and so I took one, leaving him with another. Taking the moment to just admire the dark outline of his face in the nighttime-like dull of the alley, wet my lips. What was there to talk about?
"Do I make you uncomfortable?" Swifty asked after a moment, lips pursing in a sort of pout.
Shaking my head, I rubbed my hands together. Still soaked, the damp wool of my clothes itched slightly. "No, of course not. You're my best friend, Swifty." The assurance must not have been very convincing because the way he tilted his head indicated a small amount of disbelief.
"And you're the pal of my heart, Bumlets."
Love that dare not speak its name screamed out of the half-illuminated brown in his eyes. Most likely that love echoed itself in my own features. I wanted to reply with the same fervor, but found myself lacking the power to reply at all.
It disheartened him visibly. "If you let me kiss you, even just once," he suggested, words trailing off. "You'd understand it's not something bad, what we feel. It's not unnatural. It can't be."
He was not Catholic. I doubted highly if he was anything at all. And though he was a heretic and I prayed for him in my dreams, I could not force his changing. He had grown from a woman of no religion at all. He did not know how to read, how to interpret the word of the Bible. For him, understanding the wrong in what we felt was likely impossible.
"God could strike us both down," I replied lowly, feeling more than unenthusiastic about denying him once more. "Or worse if someone saw us." "No one is going to see us in here," his tone revealed his frustration. "And whatever god you believe in, he's got to be wrong. I know the way I feel."
Swallowing, the beating of my heart quickened, unsteady. "We shouldn't."
A memory flashed into my mind and its message confused me. The orphan asylum, such a young age held such deep secrets. Deepest impact on my mind was the flickering of candles, the gentle caress of a hand against my cheek. The old mildew smell of confession box.
"Don't worry so much, Bumlets. Just once. And you can say Hail Mary as many times as you want afterwards." Adventure sparkled and through the darkness I could discern the twinkle of Swifty's eyes, urging me on. Hand reaching across for a firm grip, seizing my shoulder, he seemed to wait only for a word from me.
Eyebrows must have furrowed because he tried to look more and more endearing. I took my time in responding. A slight nod sealed my fate, and as our bodies slid closer together, I could not help but feel the guilt melt away, being replaced with desire.