"Okay, Boots, keep your eyes closed!" a girl called happily, watching her companion stumbled up a few steps.
He stretched his arms our in front of him so as not to run into anything. Of course, Boots wasn't expecting a large coil of rope to be set in his path either. He tripped and in a moment was sprawled out on the hard wooden floor.
"Don't open your eyes!" the girl said, giggling.
"Maggie," he groaned. He felt her hands clasp his and she helped him to his feet. "What's next? You gonna give me a black eye?"
"Only if you want one," she said teasingly. "Just hold on, we've almost there."
He sighed and kept walking. He felt so weak, blind like this. It was dark, he could tell that much, and the air was very dusty. Maybe she had brought him into somebody's attic.
"Okay." He stopped. "Open your eyes."
He did. "Maggie, I can't see a damn thing. Get a candle or some—" She tore off the blinds that covered up the window and a blinding light filled the room. He covered his eyes. "Wow, Mags, that's some candle."
"Shut up and uncover your eyes." She skipped over to him and pulled his hands away from his face. When she did, he gave her a quick kiss. "Boots!" She stamped her foot.
"What's the matter?"
She put her hands on her hips. "My parents wouldn't approve."
He tried to grab her hands. "So? They ain't here." At her angry look, he glanced over his shoulder, questioning, "Or are they?" She didn't respond. "Hey, Maggie, where are we?"
"My attic," she said simply.
"Oh." He became quiet.
"Now," she began, her cheery smile returning, "I brought you here to give you something." She heaved a crate to the floor and, after prying off its top, took a small box out. "Happy birthday," she said, blowing off the dust and handing him the box.
He opened it up and pulled out a small picture frame. The glass was cracked and the picture inside had faded substantially. Boots stared at it, puzzled. "So, what's this?"
Gleefully, Maggie pushed up next to him. With a small and dirty finger, she pointed at it. "This is my family." He nodded. He could see an old man and an old woman. They were sitting in front on two chairs. Behind them were another man and woman, only much younger. Off to the side was a slim black woman, wearing a plain outfit. The others were very flamboyantly clad. "That's your mother."
"What?" Boots didn't hear her at first.
"Your mother worked for my family until she had you," Maggie said, a sad smile upon her face.
"This is my mother?" Boots asked, awe in his tone. "She's beautiful," he said breathlessly. He ran a finger along the picture. "I wish I'd known her."
Maggie stiffened. "When I found this, I asked Father who she was. He said she had a son and died shortly after giving birth to him." Boots remained silent. "Mother was already pregnant with me at the time—they couldn't keep you. The nuns at the convent took you in for a while, but not for long."
Boots shook his head, befuddled. "How d'you know all this?"
She shrugged. "Mother and Father looked out for you. Because of them, you ended up at the lodging house. The old man put you up there as a favor to my father."
"I'll remember to thank Kloppman," Boots murmured. He smiled at her. "Thanks, Mags." They embraced. "You're a good friend.
"You too." She pulled away, looking into his eyes. She kissed his cheek, smiling. "Um…"
He didn't let her speak any further, but kissed her fully on the mouth. She kissed him back, her hands gripping his waist. When they broke apart, he gave her a gentle kiss on her forehead and said softly, "I'd better go."
When she opened the front door to let him out, she said, "Don't be a stranger."
He smiled. "Don't worry, Mags, I won't." As he walked home, he thought about his mother. Boots didn't blame himself for her death—it was out of everyone's control—but he would have given anything to have known her.
He met another newsie on the way in. "Hey, Boots."
"Hey, Snipes. How'd it go today?"
"Fine, you?" Snipes replied.
"All right," Boots shrugged. "Guess who I saw today?"
"Who?" Snipes asked.