It was late. Bluejay slipped silently out of the bed and pulled on the pale blue dress she was wearing before her customer came in. It was torn in the back, so she pinned it quickly and pulled on her tattered coat. Standing up gingerly, she stretched out and slopped her shoes on. Quickly finding the wallet in the pocket of the man's pants, which were discarded on the floor, she robbed him blind, grabbed her slingshot, and left. She walked quickly down the street, sensing a storm was coming. She didn't really know her way around Manhattan, as she was just sold here from Jersey about a month ago and she hasn't been outside of the brothel much since she came. She didn't realize how much looser the security here was then it was back in Jersey, so when she realized, an escape was an easy feat.
She didn't find any shelter, and as she walked, it began to rain. Her jacket became soaked, so she took it off. Her jacket became too heavy for her weak body to carry, so she discarded it on the street and trudged on. She walked for what seemed like hours before she saw something promising: a tall, old building, with fire escapes on the sides. There were words on the front that she couldn't read, and despite the late hour, the laughter of boys, the clinking of beer bottles, and the loud chatter of a playful game of cards could be heard out on the street. The warm glow of the lights through the window shone on the wet pavement, and Bluejay suddenly realized how alone she was.
Bittersweetly, she climbed the fire escapes until she reached the top. She settled against the metal bars. She felt her fingers go numb, then her toes, then her ears, then her nose. She tried to convince herself she was comfortable. The rain continued to pour brutally on her, and the noise started to fade and the light from the grimy windows slowly became no more. Just as she was drifting to sleep, the click of a door being shut above her and the thump of a crutch woke her up. She also heard footsteps, and soon, soft words.
"Hey, Jack, it's rainin' pretty bad."
"Yeah, I know Crutch. But I can see the whole city from'ere, and I maybe might see where he's off to." The older boy said sadly.
"He's comin' back, Jack, no way he ain't. You know Race, can't last more than a day without comin' back home."
More soft thumps, and the door. "Well, Jacky, it's real cold out, and I'm gonna head inside, ya know, make sure the fellas are in bed and such. Come in soon, you's gonna catch a cold." There was a pause. "Good night, Jack."
"Good night, Crutchie."
Bluejay came to her feet, struggling to see the boy over the tall edge of the rooftop. She wasn’t tall enough. She stood precariously on the slick windowsill, staring at the boy she could finally see. He was older than she was, maybe 17, 18. He looked tired, but not sleepy tired. Just everything tired.
The boy, Jack (she assumed), must have felt eyes on him because he glanced over. Panicked, Bluejay tried to get down, but she slipped- of course she did. She fell right on her ass, causing quite the noise. Jack hurried over, confused, and peered over at her. A few boys flung open the windows and asked about the commotion.
"Woah there, who might you be?"
"My name is, um, Bluejay, sir."
"Where did you come from?" Bluejay looked into the boy’s kind eyes and quickly realized he wasn’t a threat.
"I ain’t come from nowhere. I ain’t snoopin’, neither, I just needed a spot ta’ sleep at. I’ll go, I shouldn’ta’ come." She said meekly, stumbling over her words. Threat or not, this boy looked kind and she didn’t know what to do with that.
"You’s gotta come from somewhere, Bluejay."
"I’m from a house in Jersey. See’s why I didn’t think to tell ya. I ain’t go there of me own accord, if you was wonderin’."
“I ain’t thinkin’ that. You don’t look the type.”
“Gee, thanks, mister. I ain’t here to cause you no trouble. I’ll go.” She turned to leave awkwardly. She didn’t want to, but this boy was good and she was not. She didn’t belong. As she was stepping over the fire escape, a strong, calloused hand pulled her back by her wrist. She jumped.
“Sorry, darlin’, wasn’t tryin’ to scare ya’. Why don’t ya’ stay here? It’s a lodgin’ house fulla’ rowdy newsboys, sure, but I imagine it’s better than what ya’ came from.”
“I couldn’t make ya’ do nothin’ up for me.”
“It ain’t a problem, Birdie, seein’ as one of our own just moved to Pennsylvania for work, and we’s got an extra bunk. I’m sure the other boys’ll lend a lovely lady like yousself some clothes, cause you’s soakin’ wet. It’s no hassle, I swear it.” He looked at her up and down, not seeing much. A bolt of lightning flashed and Bluejay jumped. She was terrified of storms. Desperate to hide her fear and appear strong, she bit her tongue.
“And, girl, you’s freezin’. You ain’t gonna last much longer out here. Come inside.”
She hesitantly agreed. Jack put two large hands on her starving waist, fingers meeting eachother easily. He looked kind of sad, but he pulled her up over the ledge anyway and held her hand as they climbed down the stairs into the lodging house.
The first thing Bluejay noticed is how warm it was. Her face flushed pink and she began to shake. She was freezing. The second thing she noticed was the smell. It smelled like beer and salt and smoke and newspapers. Bluejay loved it.
The boys were all asleep, until one boy grabbed his glasses from the tiny chest between bunks and popped them on. “Who’s that, Jack?”
“Nobody, Specs. Go backta’ sleep.”
“Nah, Jack, Who is that?”
“They’s awfully small.”
‘Well no shit, Jojo, it’s a girl.”
Bluejay smiled despite herself. Soon, lamps were lit and boys were out of bed. Jack pulled Bluejay further into the bunkroom, pulling out a tiny box from under an empty bunk. It had boy’s clothes in it. He tossed her an old blue shirt and a pair of boxers. She looked at him confused.
“I know it ain’t the best, but they’s clean and Racer ain’t here right now so he’s gonna have ta’ share. You can have his bunk here,” Jack patted the bunk he was sitting by, “ Or over there, take Sniper’s. Your pick. You can change ya’ clothes in the washroom over there, and leave ya wet clothes on the floor and I’ll wash ‘em up for ya’.”
“Thank you, Jack. Really. I ain’t ever met no one as kind as you.” Truth it, she ain't ever met nobody kind.
When Bluejay returned from changing, most of the boys were back in bed, chatting and laughing. Bluejay made her way to the boy Race’s bunk, because his shirt smelled comforting and she needed more of it. As she settled in, the boys asked her lots of questions and she answered them all the best she could. Eventually, a boy named Crutchie told them to settle down because it was bedtime, and they all obliged.
As she was drifting off to sleep, she saw another flash of lightning, and some thunder. She hugged the boy’s pillow tightly, and tried not to sissy out, although she was terrified. She clawed at the skin on her hands and wrists, trying not to make a sound, and begging the sky to cool it. If she woke the boys, she’d be eternally guilty, after all they’ve done for her.
The storm continued to get worse and so did Bluejay. She was shaking and holding herself as tight as she could, when a door slammed downstairs. She panicked, breathing speeding up and pulse skyrocketing. She heard footsteps climbing up the stairs, opening the door, and approaching the bunk. She looked over, and instead of seeing something scary, she saw a beautiful boy with big blue eyes and a mess of blonde hair staring at her. She wiped her tears away, trying to look calm.
“Oh, hello.” The boy smirked. “And who might you be?”
“I-I’m sorry, Jack-k made me st-stay.” Her breathing was staggered. As another thunderbolt hit the sky, she whimpered, and Racetrack realized what was happening.
“Hey, it’s okay, doll. I’m Racer.”
“Are you ‘fraid of the storm? It’s okay, dollface, it’s just some noise.” Racetrack looked at her and smiled. She was awfully pretty, and Race was a gentleman. He’d comfort the lady.
He grabbed her hand, and looked at her to make sure it was okay. She nodded, and he grabbed the other one. Another lightning flash and thunder bolt sent Bluejay flying forward into Race. Race laughed lightly, before putting his arms around me. “Ain’t I popular?”
He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, and she pulled away from him looking guilty. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have-”
“It’s just fine, doll. I’se got ya just fine.” He put his arms around her again and she relaxed a bit. He turned around to lean against the wall and sat up on the bunk, keeping her comfortable. She was still crying, and shaking, but she was doing better.
Well, at least she thinks she has. Bluejay's brain stopped buzzing with romance and general almost-okayness abruptly. You're just a night walker. You ain't nothin' good for him. She couldn't help but think about what would happen if she went back to the brothel. She'd get beaten, sure, but she'd be where she belonged. She wouldn't burden anyone, she won't cost anyone anything, and this boy can have his bed back.
After making the difficult decision to leave, she pried herself out of the arms of the now sleepin stranger, sitting up and taking a good look at the boy for the last time. Glory, he was a pretty one, straight out of a dream. He looked younger while he was sleeping, and Bluejay didn't want to stop looking.
She couldn't bring herself to look away but at the same time it hurt to keep looking. It stung real bad, looking at them. Not so much the looking part, but the fact that these boys ain't ever met her and suddenly she had a bed, a boy to hold her while sissied under a thunderstorm, a room full of friends and a older boy with big brown cow eyes and a kind voice and strong hands sleeping just upstairs who was ready to protect her.
She ain't ever had that before, and it was pretty nice. Sure, it had only been a few hours, but they were all so eager to help her get warm and dry and rested. They all cared about her. She ain't ever met someone who cared about her before, let alone a whole room and a rooftop of them.
Standing up, she took a deep breath and let out a sad, shaky sigh. She began to change back into her damp, wrinkled dress, when a sad voice broke her silence. "Keep em'."
She turned around swiftly. Race was sitting up, slumped over looking sad. He sounded hurt but she couldn't figure out why. "Nah, I couldn't. Shit, I already got you bendin' over backwards to find my sorry was a place to sleep. There ain't anythin' else I could ask from you." She replied, trying to find his eyes in the darkness.
"No, really, keep em'. You ain't about to ask me for anythin' else, and I get it. But how 'bout I ask you something?" He asked meagerly, his voice wavering slightly. He prayed she didn't notice. (She did.) He looked to her for confirmation, and was met with a slow nod. "Why are you leaving?"
She didn't expect that kind of question. She didn't really have an answer, but seeing him sit there like a sad puppy broke her heart. "Because this ain't my place."
"Because this just ain't. I ain't the kinda person you all are."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what? I changed my mind- I am askin' you another question. That boy, the one with the big hands- Jack?- and the smaller one, were talkin' about you. You're Racer, right? Them boys were talkin' about how you didn't come home and how you couldn't last more than a night away. Guess it's true. Where did you go?"
Now it was Racetrack's turn to not have an answer. He looked down and then turned red from the cheeks to the ears, and he looked up, failing to meet her eyes. "I was seein' someone- meetin' someone! Meetin' someone. I was meetin' someone real important."
"You ever heard of Spot Conlon?"
"Yes." No. She hasn't really heard of him, on account of only being in the city for a short while, but she needs the rest of the story.
"King of Brooklyn. He's all tough and all, you know? But he really isn't." He smiled sheepishly, finally meeting her eye. "He's actually kinda soft. Still scary, though. He's tough and independent but he is real protective and good to me."
"You mean..?" Race nodded and smiled.
Now Bluejay was confused. This boy just came and laid with her, held her, and calmed her and made her feel okay. She was ready to marry him on the spot if she stayed. Now apparently he was queer? Sounds fake, but okay.
"Yeah. Well, I'm kinda both. I like both. And you's awfully pretty and all, but I think I'm exclusive." He looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Bluejay couldn't help but feel happy for him.
"Well, I'm happy for you. Even if ya' lead me on." She laughed.
"Now that we've cleared the air, will ya' do me a favor?"
"Will ya' come back to the bed and stay this time?"