Disclaimer: I do not own Newsies, which is the property of Disney and is only used here for fan-related purposes that are not for profit. Any unfamiliar character is the property of its creator.
Author's note: The characters do not always speak properly. This is a first-person narrative, which means there are grammatical errors - run ons, silly drawn out thoughts. These are intentional. The narrator is well-read, yes, but that does not always mean she follows grammatical conventions. Thoughts are not always arranged perfectly. But if there are any they're/their, it's/its, etc. mistakes, feel free to point them out. Those are not intentional.
I: "You're not that special."
"You're not that special." We were standing three feet apart. I remember wishing there was more distance between us, a physical buffer in lieu of the emotional one that would never be.
"I know." They say that what you don't know won't kill you. But if you know it, and accept it, it seems not to hurt anymore. "It's been an advantage." He could not argue with that. Straight brown hair, blue eyes, average height. Small nose, but it had a bump. Freckled fair skin.
He was smirking and cold, like an ice sculpture of Adonis. "That's why you're not special. You assumed I meant what you look like. What I meant is that you're not that smart." I've read more books than you, asshole.
"How much information have I collected for you?" I growled. "How many alleys have I snuck through? How many traitors dealt with because I heard their girls talking about them in the cotton mills, or while twisting wire stems onto silk flowers? I can slip into the tenement district as working class, and leave the other side looking like a rich girl who is lost without her governess."
"Can you fight?" he asked. The ropes and nets hanging from the structures on the dock cast thick, shadowy veins across his face. He already knew the answer. It's why we were here. "You can't fight, little girl."
My heart clenched, pressed hard between the hot plates of a medieval torture device called shame. "I tried," I said, once I knew I wouldn't stammer.
"Life's a bitch if all you can do is try. Which is why someone got soaked within an inch of life. They were choking him to death. He has bruises on his neck shaped like goddamn hands. His face and fingernails were blue. He couldn't breathe. You probably have some fancy word for it." Spot Conlon did not spit his words. He enunciated them, adding and subtracting emotion as careful as a cat's step. In this case, he had chosen to emit cruelty by speaking casually. "You do, don't you?" I didn't answer. The false civility ended, and the acid boiled up. "Say it." A command. He was establishing already confirmed dominance, but not because he felt threatened. A bird didn't threaten him. He was just sadistic.
I looked down at my scuffed brown boots and muttered, "Asphyxiation." I felt like that now, maybe because of karma, or maybe because his glare was as good as a pillow for smothering.
He uttered a sound that I think should be written as "Hm," but it wasn't pondering. It was a breathy, derisive, one-syllable laugh. "Dictionary?" I nodded. "You just spew what you read. And I mean the street spew, and since you're too good for that I'll translate: it means you vomit what you read back up. Vomit. That's what I think of what you say."
I couldn't glare, couldn't tell him the feeling was mutual. Be quiet, so he'll want your information. Be meek, he's the reason you have Medda.
"You know what you're supposed to do with your life? What everyone else does. Work to feed yourself, get married to someone you can at least stand and feed each other. Then make the idiot mistake of having kids so you'll feel closer to one another, as if having some whiny, wobbly-headed things with both your blood will make everything bet—look at me." I hadn't looked away but for a moment, had barely gotten a breath from that smothering gaze. But I complied, because I had to, and he continued. "Then the woman has to stay home and take care of them, the kids, and that means there are more mouths and one less job and the husband and wife learn to keep away from each other at night so it doesn't get worse. He'll use gin to warm himself, and if she's lucky he isn't an angry drunk and will hopefully split his paycheck between bottle and home."
"I came from a place like that." That was all I could say, and it made my lower lip tremble.
Spot rolled his eyes away from me, using the classic display of annoyance to hide his unwillingness to make eye contact now, when I pulled him into territory he never wanted to touch. "And I came from a Catholic orphanage."
I bit my lower lip, let out the tense air that had collected in my lungs. "Before the orphanage," I began, "you came from a place like that, too. And you won't look at me, because then that's admitting that in that respect, neither of us are special."
He was looking at the water. The summer night had gone lukewarm. "Go home, little girl." His voice was rough, but it didn't grate against me anymore.
I looked at the same spot of water he was, where the moon cast her image from above. "What's in the moon's reflection, Spot? Memories?" He offered no verbal answer, and I could take none from his face. There was no emotion left. I stayed with him, staring at the moon's rippled reflection as it skimmed the waves. I asked, in a voice as hollow and fragile as a sugar candy stick, "Am I in any of them?" I just wanted to know. We can't define what we are, what this is, and it confuses us. It's because we're proud and shy at the same time. It's never a good place to be.
His voice, when he spoke, was tired. "Little girl – it's late. Medda's probably fussing about you. Go home."
Now I turned to him, staring at his profile because he was too stubborn to look at me. "You know how long her shows go." He only offered a tiny nod. "I think I'd rather look at the moon with you." I tried speaking with a quiet firmness, like Medda can when she's not being the Meadowlark, when she's taking care of me, testing me on my catechism and making me study at night so I don't turn out like her, smiling in her brown skirt and creamy blouse, laughing until her eyes crinkle in the corners without worrying if it will give her wrinkles.
I thought it had been the right thing to say, the right tone to use until his jaw turned hard. "We're not looking at the moon," he said bitterly. "Just her reflection. It's fake."
"It's a real reflection," I offered, still looking at his profile. I thought, This juxtaposition of fake and real. Fake one way, real another, depends on how you turn it. That's like what we have, Spot. I wanted to say it, but instead I prepared myself for eye contact and said, "Look at me."
He did. Those three words and the action that was supposed to follow were as close as we might ever get to saying another three words. "I'm looking," he said. There was a path between our eyes, it seemed, waiting for Hansel and Gretel's despondent bread crumbs.
I didn't know what to ask. Do you like looking at me or the moon's reflection more? Why do we always speak in cryptic codes, like "look at me"? Is "do you like looking at me or the moon's reflection" cryptic or poetry? And then I realized I was just staring and he was just staring. "I wanted to ask something profound," I said. "But I can't seem to think of anything... I..."
He moved to speak, and I expected something cruel or curt like, "That's because my hat is smarter than you" or "Tail so-and-so, and don't fuck this one up" but instead he said, "Come over here."
I closed one foot of the distance, which in the cryptic pidgin language that the two of us created yet could barely comprehend meant, "You need to meet me halfway." He walked a foot towards me without protest, which meant he understood.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"There's a lot of questions." I knew that. They filled the foot of space between us, flitting between our heads. He looked at the watery reflection of the moon again. "There's a lot of questions," he repeated.
"Yeah." I followed his gaze. "Are we looking at the answers?"
"Nothing below the water besides seaweed and rust," he began. "That's why you shouldn't trust pictures of the moon."
"'Luna' is Latin for moon. That's where we get 'lunacy' from," I said, trying to support him.
"Stop that," he said, frustrated but not angry. "That isn't what I meant. Damnit, I just meant don't trust the thing's reflection. You don't need to drag Latin into it. Can we just – stare at the moon together? The real one?"
Juliet didn't want Romeo to swear his love for her by it, because it always changes. The 'inconstant moon'. But we weren't swearing love, we were careful to avoid anything that could be affirmed as "love" or "I love you", opting for "look at me" instead. So we stared in the night, not touching because we didn't know if we should, until he said, "Home, now. I'll walk you." It was a command, but I was pleased by the lack of diminutive.
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