Racetrack Higgins had sold all his papers. It was dusk and Irving Hall was it up brightly. He sighed mournfully. He couldn't afford to see a show, but god, how he wanted to see her. Those shiny red ringlets, those beautiful diamond-like eyes, those red lips. Only once had he been close enough to smell her sweet perfume. Sure, she was at least thirty, but she still had all the life of an eighteen-year-old.
He wiped the sweat off of his brow as he rounded a corner of the building. Summers were disgusting in New York. It felt like rain even when there wasn't a cloud in sight. He felt the sweat collecting in the fabric of his sleeves. "Ya try to look good," he muttered angrily to himself.
He heard a door shut and looked up. He stopped. It was her. It was Medda Larkson. He licked his lips and started walking again.
As he neared her, she took one last drag on her cigarette and put it out, stamping it with her lavender boot. She watched as he went by.
"Miss," he said, tipping his hat.
"Wait a minute," she said suddenly.
He felt his face flush and he turned around, removing his hat entirely.
"Do I know you?"
She had no accent like the Swedish one she used in her show. She
smiled. "Wait, are you one of those newsies?" She remembered!
"You came to the rally?" He nodded, afraid to speak. "What's
the matter?" She frowned. "Cat got your tongue?"
"No, ma'am." She laughed. "We've met before. It's Racetrack, remember?"
"Oh, yes!" She touched his shoulder lightly and he flinched. "Now I remember! You know how it is, I meet so many men."
What was that supposed to mean? he thought.
"Well, I've got to get back." She opened the door and turned around. "Come by some time, Race." She smiled at him and went inside.
He had practically fallen over when he noticed her cigarette on the ground. Making sure it was put out, he slipped it into his pocket and made his way back to the lodging house. He took off his jacket and sat down on his bed, carefully placing the cigarette on the bedside table.
"What's that?" someone said, coming up beside him. "Got an extra smoke, Race?" He reached for the cigarette.
Race slapped his hand away. "Blink, get off it! This ain't for smokin', awright?"
Blink ran a hand through his blonde hair, confused. "Then what's it for, huh?" Race didn't answer and Blink hit him upside the head. "C'mon!"
"Hey!" Race jumped to his feet. "Whatsa matter with you?"
"What? I'm low—I need a smoke."
"You don't need nothin'," Race said, taking a seat.
Blink sat down across from him. "C'mon, what's it for?"
Race sighed, rolling his eyes. He glanced around shiftily. "All right, it's Medda's."
"What?" Blink asked, bemused.
"Medda Larkson dropped it on the ground and I picked it up," Race elaborated with difficulty.
"You did what?" Blink laughed. "Geez, Race, I knew you were sick, but I didn't know you were that sick."
"I ain't sick!" Race shook his head. "I wouldn't expect you t'understand."
"You know me, huh, I
ain't that smart," Blink retorted sarcastically. They were
silent a moment. "Looks like you like her a lot, huh?"
"Her lipstick's still on it," Race said, observing the cigarette.
"So'd you talk to her?" Blink asked, trying to get his friend's attention back.
"And?" Blink prompted.
Blink looked exasperated. "What'd she say?"
Race smiled, amused. "Well, aren't we eager." Blink tapped his foot impatiently. "She said I should come see a show."
Blink deflated. "That's it?"
"You're the one who wanted to know," he said without sympathy.
Suddenly Blink stood up. "What time is it?"
"Six-thirty. Why?" Blink grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. "Hey, what's the big idea?"
"We're going," Blink said simply.
Race shook his head. "Oh, no. No, no, no—we ain't goin' nowhere."
"You wanna see her, don't you?" Race shrugged. "So, c'mon!" He dragged his friend all the way to Irving Hall, though at some point Race decided he'd better walk on his own.
They walked in through the front doors and started into the theatre when a large burly man stopped them. "Hold up, boys—you gotta pay to see the show."
Race looked up at him and said boldly, "Listen, pal, Miss Larkson asked me to come."
"Yeah?" The man crossed his arms, displaying some very large muscles. "And what's your name?"
"Racetrack Higgins," he said proudly.
The man thought a moment, and then narrowed his eyes. "I guess she did mention you." He turned to Blink. "Now, who're you?"
"A friend," Blink replied confidently.
"Now, let us in, huh?" Race said, pushing his way through.
"Sorry, boys." The man stepped in front of them. "After the show's started, no one goes in."
Race looked at his friend. "So, what do we do now, huh, Blink?"
"Wait till she comes out?" Blink suggested.
So they did, or rather, Race did. Blink left—the show ended up being quite long. Race sat on the back steps, knowing she would eventually come down them. And she finally did at about eleven-thirty.
"Excuse me?" she said roughly. She tapped his shoulder. "Kid, you can't sleep here."
Race was suddenly jarred out of his slumber. He looked up and found himself staring up at an angel. "Medda," he murmured. He came to his sense, jumping to his feet and removing his hat. "G'night, Miss." He gently took her hand and kissed it.
"Oh, Racetrack," she said, smiling.
"I waited for you," he said.
"Couldn't you get in?" she questioned, confused.
"Uh, nope, full house," he lied. He would not let on that he was dirt poor. "You've got a lot of admirers, Miss."
"Oh, Race, call me Medda! Friends don't use those formalities."
"Right," he said nervously. He was sweating again. His palms were hot. "Erm…since we're out here, could I walk you home?"
She smiled. "That
would be lovely." They were quiet for a while until she said, "So,
what's your name?"
He was a little confused. "Race, you know that."
She giggled. "No, I mean your real name."
Race smiled crookedly. "What? Racetrack Higgins, that's my real name!"
Medda narrowed her eyes. "I find it hard to believe your mother named you Racetrack."
"Well, I never knew my mother, so it don't make much of a difference, does it?" He put his hands in his pockets.
"Sorry," she said.
He looked at her. "It ain't your fault."
"Well," she began, "this is my place. Do you want to come up for some coffee or tea?"
Race's eyebrows shot up. He really wanted to go up. "Uh, no, I'd better not. I got an early mornin', y'know." He stiffened, nervous again. "Um, well, g'night."
"Good-night." She watched him start off toward his own home. "Oh, Race!" she called after him. He turned around. "Come see me some time, would you?"
He waved and walked off, thinking, she loves me. The woman can't get enough of me.
It wasn't until he had gotten into bed near one o'clock that he heard a voice above him.
"Didn't think I'd be seeing you till morning," Blink said. Race could see his arm hanging down from the bunk above him. "I'm guessing you got a little more than talking out of the lady, huh?"
"Shut up," he retorted, though he couldn't help but smile. After all, she had invited him up for coffee.