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Five Headlines Jack Couldn't Sell, And The One David Could

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5.

David stepped off the school grounds, wrapped in a coat and scarf and a hat and mittens, and his gaze immediately fixed on a flash of red across the street. Which he knew somewhere at an instinctive level meant two things: one, Jack was waiting for him; and two, Jack didn't have a scarf, only his bandanna wrapped around his neck. David was going to kill him if the cold didn't first.

"Jack!" he called, dodging across the busy street. He wasn't surprised to see Jack there, turning to him with a wide but blue-lipped smile, but he was surprised that Jack still held a stack of papers. And he was appalled that Jack didn't seem to have mittens. His fingers were angry pink.

"Dave!" Jack said, shivering. "I knew you'd be off soon. Let's go somewhere warm… What're you doing?"

David was peeling off his scarf. He grabbed Jack's papers with his free hand and thrust his scarf into Jack's other hand.

"Dave -- "

"Put it on, you're freezing," David said.

"You sound just like your mother."

"Put it on, Jack." He scrutinized Jack as he did so, then continued, "Why do you have so many papers left, anyway?"

"Take a look at that headline," Jack said. "You really didn't need to give me this, Dave."

"Yes, I did." David glanced at the headline. 'Cold Spell Continues Another Week.' "It's not that bad," he concluded. "Kind of dull, but since when does that matter?"

"It ain't that it's dull, it's that… everyone knows it's cold already," Jack explained, as they started walking. He reached for his papers, but David gave him a dirty look.

"Put your hands in your pocket. What happened to your mittens?"

"Lost 'em," Jack said, tone light and easy. But he didn't argue with David, and his teeth were chattering as he did what David instructed.

David knew that tone. He frowned, but pressed ahead. "So why aren't you telling people what they already know?" he asked. "There must be some stories in here you can work with. People must be freezing to death, falling in the river or something."

"Yeah, but…" Jack shrugged. "Just, people dyin' of the cold an' all, that's depressing. I don't even want to think about it, neither does anyone else."

David glanced over at Jack, who looked almost as worried as he looked cold. And David remembered that winter was much worse on poor kids than summer; at least in the hotter months, sleeping outside couldn't kill you. "What really happened to your gloves?"

Jack ducked his head. "How'd you know…" He cleared his throat. "Gave 'em to one of the kids. A little one. He didn't have any, and I didn't want him spendin' pennies on mittens when I knew sellin' would be bad and no one can sleep outside tonight. Just… he's a kid, Dave."

David was willing to be there was a similar story about Jack's scarf. At least he still had his hat. It probably didn't provide much warmth, but pulled down it could keep the wind off of Jack's ears, at least. As they walked in the direction of the distribution hall so Jack could drop his unsold papers off, David thought about it. Jack had given away his winter things; he'd be spending his hard-earned pennies to replace them soon. He was shrewd enough to make sure he'd be sleeping inside no matter what, but if it was dinner or a scarf…

"You should come over for dinner," David concluded. "My mother's chicken soup will warm you right up."

4.

David was used to Jack waiting for him after school ended for the day; he wasn't as used to Jack greeting him for lunch. Not that he minded at all when he heard Jack's voice outside, yelling a headline. He grabbed his coat and hurried out.

Jack jogged over as soon as David stepped out. "Hope you don't mind me botherin' you at school," he said quickly.

"It's no bother at all," David said. "But this isn't your usual selling territory. What brings you all the way…?"

"It's just, this headline," Jack said, handing a paper to David. The above-the-fold headline was standard, New York life as usual; David was sure Jack could make something of it, but Jack told him, "Flip a ways, page eight. See, there?"

David furrowed his brow. "Doctor Claims Earth is a Giant Magnet?" he read.

"Yeah," Jack said. "Sounds interestin', but I can't make sense of it. This guy, he says the planet's a magnet. I tried to tell some businessman that, when he asked if there was anything actually interestin', an' he said it was crazy. I thought maybe you'd understand it. The guy, he said it would mean, like… people go around attractin' one another all the time, like metal. "

David glanced up from the story and found himself gazing up right into Jack's eyes. Jack's very brown eyes.

"Yeah, crazy," he agreed.

3.

"How was selling today, Jack?" Mayer asked, as Esther poured them all coffee.

Jack smiled and picked up his cup. "It was… oh, fine."

David raised his eyebrows. He'd seen Jack after school, as was now a regular occurrence -- one he looked forward to, if he was fully honest about it -- and he'd seen the stack of papers Jack had still had with him. "Good headline?" he asked dryly.

Jack almost snorted his coffee. "Coulda been better," he admitted. "Well, I thought it was interestin', but I guess…"

"What was it?" Sarah asked.

David bit back a wave of irritation as Jack looked up and flashed his smile at him, even though he knew Jack well enough to know there was something false about it. It was the smile Jack gave young women when he was selling, not the one he got when he really laughed.

"Well, see, there's a new train running," he explained. "It's all the way in Africa, Egypt, even. It's the first one they ever got."

Sarah gave him a blank look. Jack's smile got a little strained.

"See," he continued, "it's about… about civilization, and technology. It's gonna make the world better. I thought that was interesting. Thought people'd want to know."

"People aren't interested by what's going on in the world?" Mayer asked.

Jack shrugged. "Guess not," he said. "Unless it's a war or a royal wedding or something."

"Any weddings recently?" Sarah asked, chin in one of her hands, eyelashes fluttering.

Jack coughed, practiced smile flickering, and took a sip of his coffee.

2.

"You know what's boring?" Jack asked, obviously aggravated.

David fell into step with him easily and suggested, "Sarah?"

Jack laughed. "She ain't so bad; she's your sister."

"You don't live with her." But David smiled. "What?"

"People who been dead for a couple thousand years."

"Okay," David said. "Does this have anything to do with your unsold papers?"

"You know what's goin' on in the world? Last month, Brits were fighting Boers, an' last week, a lady just hanged for killin' babies, an' 50 miners died in an explosion. So you know what Pulitzer thinks is interestin' today?" He shoved a paper at David. "Some rich guy bought an island or somethin' and thinks he found a Greek myth."

David skimmed the article. "Jack, this is a major archeological -- "

"It's boring, Dave. They been dead a thousand years, ain't like anyone cares now."

David laughed. "Just because you can't sell it doesn't mean it isn't interesting." He elbowed Jack gently as they walked. "Besides, since when do you care what the story is? I thought you could sell anything."

"Sure, until someone went and told me to be honest," Jack said, and elbowed David back, smiling broadly. "You know, I made a lot more cash before I met you. Used to be, I could move a hundred papes a day, no matter what the headline was."

"So I finally convinced you not to lie," David said.

"Not about the important things," Jack agreed. "Like… Dave…"

David glanced at him, eyebrows raised. Jack flushed, or maybe his cheeks were pink from the breeze. It was chilly, though it had finally lost that winter bite now that March was winding down. "Like the labors of Hercules?"

"Yeah, whatever those are," Jack agreed quickly.

1.

Jack wasn't there when David got out of school. Not that David was disappointed or anything. But he couldn't blame Jack; it was the first really nice day of spring, with a warm breeze and sun, and the closest thing to fresh air the city ever had. It was too gorgeous to spend inside; David had spent the whole day staring at the window instead of at the blackboard, wishing he could be out selling with Jack. And now it seemed like everyone in the city agreed with hi. No one could stand being cooped up inside for another second, and they'd all flooded the street and sidewalk.

Selling was probably great, David thought wistfully, winding his way slowly through the crowd. He could even hear some kids shouting headlines.

"Dave? Dave!"

David dodged towards the edge the nearest shop's doorway, just so he'd have enough room to turn and look around. He stood on his tiptoes until he made out a cowboy hat in the crowd, then waved. Jack elbowed his way through and finally made his way to Jack's side a few seconds later.

"I wondered where you were," David said.

Jack grinned at him. "Took me awhile to just get through the crowds. It's a madhouse outside today!"

"Must be good selling."

"Don't I wish," Jack said. "I guess the headline writers got so excited about the weather, they wanted to write about parks."

"Parks?"

"Turns out some king named Leopold, he just gave up all his land to be parks. Nice gesture, but it ain't exactly… scintillating."

"You'd think everyone would be interested," David mused. "I mean -- with this weather, who doesn't wish for more parks?"

"People ain't got time to go out walkin', they gotta work for a living," Jack said. "An' we've already got Central Park and a bunch of others." He paused. "Speakin' of which… You need to get home right away?"

"Uh, no, I don't think so," David said.

Jack grinned. "Great, 'cause the park's gorgeous today. You spend too much time inside, you need a little fresh air. C'mon. Maybe you can help me get rid of the rest of these." He handed a couple of papers to David, who laughed and hoisted them up to his shoulder. He knew they'd get ink on his nice school clothes, but somehow wasn't bothered. Just the small gesture brought him back to the previous summer, long hours in the sun with Jack, and pockets full of jangling change.

He had gone back to school that September, and hadn't let himself think too much about it, or how much he'd missed it. But falling in to step with Jack, calling out a headline -- even a boring one he'd never sell -- and wandering the busy streets like he didn't have a care in the world… It felt right.

Jack glanced over at him and caught his eye, smiling widely. His real smile.

David just smiled back.

0.

For the most part, spring brought good headlines with it. Someone shot at a senator, England squabbled with some islands in the Pacific, and there was a World Fair. The warmer the weather got, the more David longed to be outside and doing something, instead of reading aloud and doing math problems. But at least every afternoon found Jack waiting across the street from the school, hanging around even though it wasn't a very good selling spot. As days got longer, that meant there was more time in the evening for David to spend with him. They'd wander the streets together, selling the rest of Jack's papers -- or, if there was a bad headline or they sold out early, just walking.

It was a comfortable routine, with only small daily changes. Sometimes David convinced Jack to join the family for dinner after -- a more rare occasion now that the fear of sleeping outside was lessening, and whatever was between Jack and Sarah seemed to have stopped. Sometimes Jack would insist David come back out, if it was a weekend, so they could go to the theater. Sometimes they'd pick up a late afternoon or evening edition and sell until it was too dark, if there was big news that day.

And some days, Jack didn't show up at the school. Not often, but those were the worst. David's mind always went to the worst places first -- what if something had happened to Jack, and he was hurt or sick? No one would think to tell David, he wouldn't know for days, until it was too late to help. Or else Jack had up and skipped town, the way he'd always wanted to, and David would never know where he'd gone or what happened to him. Or else he was off somewhere, with a new selling partner, or a girl…

"Hey, Dave," Jack said, jostling him, bringing him out of his thoughts. "What's on your mind? Ain't selling today, obviously."

David glanced at Jack's -- their -- stack of unsold papers. "I'm surprised you haven't duped some new guy into selling with you yet," he said.

"Wouldn't mind having Les's face to help move some of these. It's like the weather's so nice, people all forgot to murder each other for awhile," Jack lamented, then, "Dave? You know… you know, I'd never sell with no one else."

"Anyone else," David corrected, absently loosening his collar. Then, as he realized what Jack had said, "Really?"

"Sure." Jack shrugged. "I figure, I only got a few months left sellin' anyway, before Kloppman kicks me out and I've gotta get a real job or somethin', so I'd rather just sell with you anyway. Might as well enjoy it." He elbowed David. "Even if you're so busy daydreaming you ain't sellin' at all."

David flushed, feeling much warmer from the idea that Jack wanted to spend time with him than from the weather. Aloud, he said, "It's not like you've sold much all day, anyway. I can do better than that."

"Really?" Jack got a gleam in his eye that David wasn't sure he liked.

"Really," David said, mostly bravado. His best impression of Jack, really.

"Well, okay then." Jack laughed and counted their papers quickly, handed exactly half to David. "Then I tell you what, you just try to sell all these before I've sold mine."

"Okay," David agreed. "So what do I get if I do?"

"Dunno yet. Somethin' great, though. If you can do it. I been doing this my whole life, remember?"

"Well, I'm a natural," David teased back, and hurried down the block with his share of papers. He could hear Jack yelling out headlines behind him, ridiculous things with no real connection to the paper, apparently forgetting his long spell of honesty. David stole a glanced back over his shoulder and rolled his eyes.

He could do this, and do it honestly. Probably.

The only news of the day was an expedition towards the North Pole, plus some political machinations in the House of Representatives. Jack had written the expedition off as too boring and too far away for people to care, but David gave the story another look. It was the farthest north anyone had ever gone, an Italian exploration, and they'd planted a flag.

He could work with that. He cleared his throat, cupped his hand by his mouth, and called, "Extra! Extra -- Italy's trying to take over the world! They've set up a secret camp at the North Pole where no one else can find it, it takes over a hundred sled dogs to get there! Who knows what they could be doing?"

Okay. Maybe it wasn't the most honest thing in the world, but it sure sold papers. They all but flew out of his hands, and he was even able to finagle a few decent tips in the process. He strolled back down the street cheerfully and found Jack with three papers left. He waved and Jack raised his eyebrows.

"Didn't think you'd have it in you," Jack said, after finally selling off the last of his papers. "Figured you'd be out of practice."

"Hey, I still sell almost every evening," David reminded him, nudging Jack.

They wandered towards David's street. The sun was sinking behind the rows of buildings now and they walked in companionable quiet, until Jack mused, "Spot actually says, he thinks he can get a couple of us jobs at the docks. Wouldn't be so bad during the summer, I think."

"Might be nice," David agreed. "You'd at least be able to jump in the river when you get too hot."

"Right," Jack agreed. "Just, it's all the way in Brooklyn. I know they're buildin' that train now, but it's pretty far, you know?"

"From what?" David asked.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Ain't like I've got family, Dave. Just a sellin' partner. And it ain't like you need my help, obviously, but… I'd miss your mom's cooking, for one."

"If you want to come over for dinner, all you need to do is ask," David said.

Jack laughed. "Well, I'd like that, but you know it ain't really what I meant." They turned up David's street, and Jack abruptly grabbed David's wrist and yanked him into one of the small alleys between buildings.

"Jack?"

"I owe you," Jack said. "Something great, remember?"

"Jack…" David breathed, as Jack glanced nervously around the alley, then darted forward. He pressed his lips to David's quickly, barely brushing them, then stumbled back a few steps, eyes wide.

"I just," Jack said. "I don't know that I want to be that far away from you." He was breathing hard, staring at David.

"Oh," David said. His pulse raced and he thought about how annoyed he got whenever Jack smiled at Sarah, and how irrationally worried he was when Jack didn't meet him after school. And… that all made a lot more sense, if Jack wanted to kiss him. If David liked that Jack wanted to kiss him, which he was pretty sure he did. It had never occurred to him before, but now that it had, it felt just as right as selling papers together did.

So he took a breath to try to calm himself down, and said, "That was supposed to be something great?"

"What? Dave -- "

"Jack," David laughed. "All I'm saying is, I think you can do better. Next time." He caught Jack's eye. "And Brooklyn isn't that far away, you know."

"Yeah," Jack said. "I know." Then, as if he was just catching up to David, "What do you mean, next time?"

David just smirked, and maybe swaggered a little as he walked back towards the street.