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 on changes in the first chapter: If you read the very original first chapter, before I got extra finicky and changed her name to Janey (because I realized a non-newsie has no need for a newsie name, which seems like something I should have figured out earlier), know that her name is now Janey. Because "Zade" was a Mary Sue waiting to happen. *is shot*
Author's note on time/distances: It's a common misconception that the newsies could go gallivanting all over the city in one day. Google map it, people. Brooklyn to Manhattan is a little under fourteen miles. Most people walk a mile in twenty minutes. That's four hours of walking.
II: "Our kitchen smelled like tea."
Our kitchen smelled like tea. That's where she was, sitting at the table, pulling pins from her hair when I walked into the apartment. Spot had walked me to the entrance of the complex, but I took the rest alone.
"Janey," she said as she dropped them one by one into the small chewing tobacco tin, "you are two hours past curfew."
I was supposed to be home when she was, around one in the morning. "I walked four hours." And my legs feel like it.
She knew why. "Information delivery? You don't need to do that, you know. You don't owe him anything." She was so confident.
This woman was the reason I could get an education. She wasn't Pulitzer-rich, but she didn't need to be. She reused her costumes, you know. Only a few dresses, with different combinations of ribbons and loops of pearls attached by hidden buttons. She was clever like that. The money she didn't spend on costumes she put away, or into our four room apartment - two bedrooms, a bathroom for the two of us, and a kitchen/common area. We were lucky to be outside of a tenement. I didn't have run around the city all day collecting information and sneaking into the factories I would never have to work in, thanks to Medda. There was a teaching certificate in my near future. But the reason I had her was Spot. "He introduced us," I said, looking at her.
"Out there, it's a man's world," she said bitterly.
"I know," I said, unlacing my boots. I'd heard this before.
She took a breath. "In here, it's our world. And I wouldn't give you up, just because you left that behind."
I stood and kicked my boots off. Naturally I was inclined to let them lie haphazardly on their sides, but out of respect for Medda I stood them up neatly next to her, laces tucked in. "It's not that, it isn't. But without Spot, there would be no you."
"We've been here, together, for five years," she said, gesturing to the walls around us, stopping at a small photograph of us. It was only a year old, the dark areas around my eyes lighter. "You've been walking four hours each way, every day, since you were twelve.
"I don't walk there every day," I muttered tiredly. I could already tell it was the only way I could get out of the situation: pretend to be tired, worn down.
She shook her head. "You spy every day. You've paid your dues."
She didn't know I took a small amount of money. Spot knew not to tell her. But even then, I reasoned with myself, it's only a penny or two a day, from Brooklyn's emergency fund. Spot had been surprised to find out none of the other boroughs kept one. I was surprised none of the other boroughs had figured out he had one: Spot's boys always got doctor's care, always had at least a bit of food once a day, a semi-warm jacket, paid for by everyone's monthly dues. They didn't care, either - that they had to pay. They knew it had covered everyone's ass: Spot let them know it paid a secret bird a small sum. Two territory invasions avoided, thanks to this mysterious unnamed bird. He had planned it that way, the payment. Small, so everyone assumed it was to supplement the income of someone who was already a newsie. And the payment existed to prove my nameless existence: yeah, the bird exists. We pay the bird. So it must be true Queens is on the move into our territory, because Spot wouldn't pay a dumbass. He had offered to pay, and I hadn't refused. I'd saved it up, in case she didn't want me anymore.
"There is no love there; it is infatuation. Your infatuation only, Janey, we both know it is one-sided." So there. She had decided it was a crush, unwittingly creating a cover story. At the time, it was insulting she had reduced me to an infatuated girl-puppy at the heels of someone we both knew would never pat my head. I was infatuated, yes, stupidly so. But that was not why I stayed. I stayed because I owed it to him that I had Medda, and if I lost Medda I needed the money and security.
I pretended to sulk. This new story required a different escape tactic than tired, though it was much easier to perform: sulky girl, caught in the throes of teenage heartache. "I don't want to study."
She rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't make you. It's three in the morning. Go to bed." I pretended to pout until I slipped into the safety of my room. It was plain, like I liked it. I could never work or sleep in a place like Medda's room: who could do mathematics in a frothy pink pastry? I sat on the blue blanket that covered my bed, iron painted white, and pulled off my stockings. The drapes were closed, the window locked. I double checked both before I left home each morning. I went through the mundane routine of getting prepared for bed: nightgown, dressing gown, ignore Medda at the table, still plucking those infinitely numbered pins from her hair, on my way to the bathroom. Brush teeth, wash face, look at yourself. When I was younger, I wanted to cut the small bump off my nose. I would have, if the scar and the pain would not have been worse, if it would not have made me an easy mark when the rest of me was so perfectly normal.
I looked at myself in the mirror, at the dark circles Medda fussed about because she loved me and Spot mentioned because lack of sleep negatively affects productivity. I had to get up at six, get out of the door by half past, and wander around Manhattan. That's what Spot said when we were two blocks from my home. "Wander around Manhattan, and get what you can."
"Anyone in particular?" I asked
"No. You'll be doing it for a few days, though. Don't bother reporting unless something interesting happens."
"When do you want me to report?" He glared, maybe because he thought I had made it clear already. "If something doesn't happen that's worth it."
He sighed. "By Sunday."
I nodded. "Right."
We walked in silence until we were just a shadow away from the door to my building, hidden in the darkness cast by a nearby grocer's awning. He stopped, and I wanted an embrace, but only if he would mean it. And he wouldn't, ever. Girls made eyes at him, but they were the ones who made eyes at everyone. He didn't respond to them right away, though I caught him staring at some girls when he didn't know I would see it. Not beautiful girls, necessarily, not Guineveres and Godivas. The smart ones. And it was a stare of blank respect, that could or could not turn into more if given the opportunity. He was too busy to pay attention to that opportunity.
"Are you staying here tonight?"
He looked at me like I was an idiot. "I'm heading home."
"But you have to sell tomorrow. It's another four hour walk."
He shrugged. "I'd hafta make it in the morning anyway. Go."
I assume he watched me walk to the door. Couldn't lose his secret, couldn't let me out. I was too important.
So what would happen if I did like Medda said? Stopped this sleepless existence. What's in Manhattan anyway? We've never had to worry about Jack's boys. Another gang? A rival one?
I looked at myself in the mirror again. I should wash my hair, I thought, and slung a towel over my shoulders. She loves me. I love her. She's better than my real mother. Always has been. I wanted to trust that her funds would never go to support a latent drinking or opium problem, but I couldn't count on that, just like I couldn't count on Spot making it back to Brooklyn. I'd got home late, but I would still have to be out at my usual time in case he was hanging around to make sure I was out on time.
Would he do that? I thought, dunking my head into the basin. I lifted it out, squeezed out the extra water, and began scrubbing with rose-scented soap. She never bought completely plain anything. Is he that calculating, to keep me in Brooklyn that long? To see if I'd still get up, still do my two-penny job?
The answer was yes. I could see it in the circles around my eyes, growing a deeper blue-black each year. I rinsed my hair, wrung it out again, rubbed the towel across it like Medda told me not to since it breaks your hair.
I was five whole years of tired.
Author's note: Okay, I'm going to go work on a paper that's due tomorrow. I do appreciate reviews, they help so much. Anonymous reviews enabled :)