December 23rd, 1900
He stumbled. Gritting his teeth, he forced his wobbly knees not to give out, and blinked the sweat and dirt out of his tired eyes. Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, the seventeen-year-old slowly made his way along the river towards the newsie boarding house. He looked down at his hands and groaned when he saw that the tips of his fingers had begun to turn a sickening black color. It was late December and the first of the year’s coldest weeks in New York. He had become accustomed to selling newspapers in the winter, but never before had he been out for so long, or in such a condition as he was now. He knew that if he didn’t reach his destination soon, he would become another victim of the merciless New York streets.
The last year of his life had gone to complete shit, and most of it was his fault. He had lost his best friend, hurt those closest to him, and nearly lost his own life countless times. And here he was again, fighting to stay conscious as his own survival hung in the balance. The boy cursed aloud as he stumbled again, this time falling forward and crashing head-first into a well-dressed business man traveling in the opposite direction. The boy felt both the physical pain and the insult to his pride as the man pushed him away, causing him to collapse to the ground, land on his injured shoulder and give out a painful cry.
“Filthy street rat!” the man griped as he continued on his way without a second glance at the suffering boy in his wake.
The boy groaned again as his frozen hands grappled about his broken body, attempting to staunch the ever-flowing river of blood seeping through his thin clothing. How had his life come to this? Too weak to even stand on his own, and without a single friend to help him. At the thought of his friends, the boy felt an onslaught of mental pain. He had pushed them all away. His pride truly had become his fall.
Busy upper-class men and women bustled past him, going about their business. A few of them looked worriedly in his direction, but none bothered to stop. Some of the lower-class citizens gave him second looks and he could see the recognition in their eyes. So they’d heard of him. But either they were all too afraid of his reputation to help or they considered him to be the nobody that he was.
King of Brooklyn, my ass, he thought blandly.
Maybe he should just give up. As a small pool of blood began to form beneath his weary body, and the pain began to melt away with the growing numbness of his limbs, the thought of death seemed more and more welcome in his mind. He didn’t know what would come after death, but he was positive of one thing: anything would be better than the hell he was living in now.
“Screw Brooklyn, screw Manhattan. What did dey evuh do fawh me anyway,” he muttered to himself as he let his eyelids flutter closed. But even as the word Manhattan left his lips, she appeared in his thoughts. Her flawless brunette ringlets tumbling delicately across her shoulders; her sweet pink lips curling up into that irritatingly perfect smile; and her penetrating hazel eyes that he could never forget in a million years. He had pushed her away too. Just when she had needed him the most, he had given up on everything they had. And he knew that he couldn’t let himself die. If not for himself, if not for his boys, for his lost friends, he had to do it for her. He owed her that much.
He grunted in effort as he gripped the railing that separated the river from the busy streets of Brooklyn and tried desperately to climb to his feet. His bones cracked, and his entire body screamed in protest, but his unwavering determination gave him the strength to continue. When he finally managed to lift himself off the ground, he leaned heavily against the railing for support. He instantly began to regret standing up so fast as his vision began to fade in and out. Focusing hard on calming his heartbeat and maintaining consciousness, the boy’s entire body began to shake intensely.
“Spot?” The name sounded muffled and far away. Maybe he had imagined it and was simply going delirious as he succumbed to his injuries. He knew that no one was looking for him, so who would be calling his name? Whether it had been real or simply a figment of his tormented mind, the king of Brooklyn would never know, for at that moment, he stumbled once before blacking out entirely and slipping over the railing to crash into the icy waters of the river below.
16 Months Earlier
Jack Kelly wiped the sweat from his brow as he handed over the last of his papers for that day to a flirtatious young girl who couldn’t seem to keep her eyes off of him. She giggled as she handed him a nickel which was four cents extra than the regular selling price.
“Keep the change,” she said with another giggle as she batted her lashes at him and smiled suggestively. Jack forced a grin on his face and had to suppress a shudder of revulsion. The girl was not bad-looking until she flashed him that smile. Jack prided himself on not being too shallow when it came to looks, but he simply could not stop staring at those giant buck teeth. He could have sworn they shouldn’t have been able to fit in her mouth. There was a time when perhaps he would have overlooked her atrocious teeth and taken advantage of her obvious lust for him, but now he realized that his standards had raised considerably. He had been courting Sarah Jacobs for almost a month, and she had already become the highlight of every day. In fact, he couldn’t wait to return to the Manhattan boarding house where he knew she would be waiting. She got along well with all the boys and had made a habit of going to the boarding house with her brothers when she had finished school for the day. In a way she had become part of the newsies themselves.
Jack tipped his hat at the buck-toothed girl and ignored her disappointed look as he hurriedly brushed passed her and began to make his way back home with an excited skip in his step. Had he not been so distracted by the notion of getting back to the boarding house, he would likely have noticed the gold tipped cane that was thrust in front of his knees, causing him to clumsily trip and topple dangerously before regaining his balance at the expense of his pride. Straightening his disheveled clothing, Jack turned to glare at the perpetrator of the whole escapade. Spot Conlon stood bent over his knees as he rolled with laughter, his face turning purple at the lack of oxygen between his cackles. Jack’s ears turned bright red in embarrassment and irritation as he crossed his arms with a huff.
“Yuh should have seen de look on yuh face,” Spot choked out between fits of laughter. His snickers didn’t stop for a good thirty seconds, before he finally raised his eyes to meet Jack’s infuriated gaze. His expression became somber immediately and Jack swore he looked almost regretful.
“Ah come on, Jacky-boy, I’s only messin' wit' you.” Jack allowed himself to glare for just long enough to cause Spot to fidget in slight discomfort, before he felt the corners of his mouth curl up into a sheepish grin. Spot smirked back, and before the boys knew it, they had both burst into laughter. Spot made his way over to Jack and clung to his shirt as his legs became weak in the hilarity of it all. Jack patted him on the back as he desperately tried to stem his own chuckling. The two boys laughed for what felt like an eternity, clutching their stomachs, and eventually forgetting altogether what had been so funny.
Finally, their giddiness began to wane, and Spot lifted a hand to wipe the tears from his eyes as he gave Jack a genuine smile. These were the moments that Jack lived for. After the strike he and Spot had grown to be close friends. In fact, Jack would probably call Spot his best friend, even above his pal David. Spot and Jack understood each other and got along better than anyone else. They would often spend time together just talking about their lives while they shared a smoke or patrolling the streets of New York. Besides that, the two leaders had brought about a partnership between the Manhattan and Brooklyn newsies. While the other boroughs had gone their separate ways after the strike, Jack and Spot had remained united in friendship, and had built their two boroughs into an impenetrable force. No one messed with Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the boys felt as though they ruled the entirety of New York. Spot, with his renowned reputation as the King of Brooklyn, brought fear and respect to both boroughs, while Jack was the voice of their united front. It was true that Spot was more famous and seen as the “higher leader” of the newsies, but Jack didn’t mind. Spot was his best friend, and most people didn’t realize that sometimes he was just a boy, and not the ruthless King of Brooklyn. It was moments like these that Jack was proud to be one of the only people to whom Spot showed his true self. Spot had a reputation to uphold, and never opened up to anyone the way he did to Jack, with the exception of maybe Race. So as Spot gave him that smile, Jack felt like he was on top of the world, and like no one else would ever know what it was like to be friends with Spot Conlon.
“I ought tuh get back atcha fawh trippin' me, Spot.,” Jack said as he raised his fists like he wanted to fight. “Yuh know dere's nuttin' a man values mawh den his pride.”
“Hey now,” Spot said while he squared his shoulders and took on a threatening pose. “Yuh know dat no one messes wit' Spot Conlon unless dey're ready tuh meet dey're makuh.”
No one really knew who had coined the phrase. Whether it was one of Spot’s boys, someone he’d soaked, or even Spot himself, but, still, everyone in the lower class had heard it. Anyone who knew anything about gangs, or the newsies, or the life of the poor also knew to fear and respect Spot Conlon. When he walked through the slums people would whisper and avert their eyes as he passed. They bought his papers out of fear that if they didn’t, he would find them and kill them in their sleep. Jack thought it was all hogwash, himself, but he never said anything to Spot about it. Spot was proud of his reputation. He’d never killed anyone, to the best of Jack’s knowledge, but he didn’t mind if people thought he had.
Don’t mess with Spot Conlon unless you’re ready to meet your maker. Jack shook his head and laughed a little. The Spot Conlon everyone else knew simply didn’t match the Spot he knew. Of course, he could remember a time when he too feared the boy who stood before him. There was a time when he would have cowered at the look Spot was giving him now, but that was so long ago it seemed like another lifetime.
“What’s on yuh mind anyway, Jacky-boy?” Spot smirked knowingly. “Dat dame o’ yawhs?”
Jack punched him in the shoulder, causing him to lose balance slightly, the smirk never once leaving his face.
“Ah shut up, Spot,” Jack grumbled, but he couldn’t hide the smile that crept onto his face. What could he say? Spot’s happiness was contagious; it always had been. Spot smacked him on the back and the two began to walk down the streets of Manhattan.
“Yuh know, I’m not shoh whatcha see in huh, but damn she makes yuh happy. And dat’s what’s important, right?”
Jack didn’t answer. He simply smiled again before turning away from his friend to forge on toward the boarding house. Spot hurried after him until he fell in step beside him and they walked side by side in silence. It wasn’t an uncomfortable or awkward silence by any means. The two boys were comfortable in each other’s presence and didn’t need to make small talk. They had walked the streets together what felt like a thousand times in the past month, and by now it felt natural to both of them. When they came to the statue of Horace Greeley and were nearing the boarding house, Jack finally broke the silence.
“So, what are yuh doin’ in Manhattan today, Spot?” he asked testily.
“What? Can’t a man visit his friend wit’out havin’ a reason?” Spot gave Jack his infamous smirk. It was true the two of them were good friends and that Spot spent a lot of time in Manhattan, while Jack spent some time in Brooklyn. In fact, all the boys of the two boroughs could be seen at either location at any given time. When Jack and Spot had originally announced that they’d be joining the boroughs they had been met with some resistance, especially from the Brooklyn boys, but over time the newsies began to get along and some even formed close friendships. The Brooklyn newsies could often be seen teaching the Manhattan newsies to fight or shoot, while the Manhattan newsies would provide them with extra food or money. Sometimes Jack didn’t even know if his boys would be staying in the Manhattan boarding house or the Brooklyn one; it was almost like they all had two homes. The only exception was that every newsie always sold in their own borough. That would never change.
Spot, however, was different. Spot didn’t waste his time by coming to Manhattan just to visit. He always had a reason- a motive. Whether it was to talk business with Jack or gamble away his savings with Race, Spot never came just to hang out. Jack knew that this time was no different and he sighed.
“Quit playin’ mind games, Conlon, I know you’s up to somethin’.”
Spot’s smirk only grew bigger.
“Know what today is, Jacky-boy?”
Jack rolled his eyes.
“No, Spot, I doan know what today is. So would yuh quit bein’ such a scab, and tell me whatcha on about?”
“Why, Jacky-boy,” Spot place his hand on his chest and acted like he was in pain. “I’m hurt yuh fawhgot.”
Jack had had enough. He sighed in exasperation and threw his hands up frustratingly.
“Well maybe I’d remember if yuh just told me, yuh dumbass,” he said grumpily. Spot’s smirk never wavered.
“It's August 30th, Jack,” Spot stated proudly. “It’s me birthday and you, me supposed best friend, fawhgot all about it cawze yuh was too busy tinkin' bout yuh little girlfriend.”
Jack mentally smacked himself. Of course. How could he have forgotten? Spot had been going on about his birthday for weeks, and Jack had totally forgotten. And the suckiest friend of the year award goes to…
“Jeez man I’m sawhry. I can’t believe I din’t realize.”
“Ah it's okay. I ackshully came here tuh get me man Socks, who came here fawh de day cawze he felt sick. Said somethin' bout Brooklyn not bein' sensitive enough tuh take care of him.” Spot laughed, knowing full well that the Brooklyn newsies were ruthless fighters who would never stoop so low as to play den mother to a sick boy. They had all been whipped into shape by Spot himself, who was as ruthless as they came.
“Anyway, I din't expectcha tuh do anythin' fawh me birthday. Okay?” he continued. “I just thought it'd be fun tuh make yuh head go in circles.”
But despite this explanation, Jack still felt like a shitty friend.
“Well how about I make it up tuh yuh?” Jack said. “We'll head ovuh tuh de boardin' house togethuh right now, and I'll tell Sarah dat I can't hang out wit' huh tonight, cawze I gotta buy a drink fawh me best bud who just turned sixteen. How's dat sound?”
“Nah really, Jack, it’s fine-”
“I insist, Spotty,” Jack cut him off and grabbed his arm to begin pulling him toward the boarding house. Spot shook his head, but he followed his friend as they crossed the street.
Spot lagged behind the Manhattan leader as they made their way into the boarding house. Jack stopped to hold a conversation with Kloppman, who merely nodded at Spot as he passed by. Several of the Manhattan newsies patted Jack on the back or said hello to him with big smiles on their faces. Most of these smiles vanished almost immediately when their eyes fell on Spot, and they avoided his gaze as they went about their business. He recognized some of them: Skittery, Bumlets, Snipeshooter…
Boots was one of the only ones to acknowledge him, and Spot rewarded him by messing with his cap in a friendly way. He wanted to show the boys of Manhattan that they didn’t have to fear him as much as they did. He wanted their respect, sure, but he couldn’t help but feel like they would jump off a cliff if he asked them to. He wanted them to do some thinking for themselves and let him lead them out of reverence rather than solely out of fear.
Of course, he could hardly be friends with them. He didn’t even consider the Brooklyn newsies to be his friends. To be a strong leader he couldn’t become emotionally involved with anyone. Although to be entirely honest, Spot did have more friends in Manhattan than he did in Brooklyn. Before the two boroughs had merged Spot had allowed himself to make friends with some of the Manhattan newsies because he had never expected to become their leader one day. Now it was too late and there were a precious few in Manhattan who no longer feared the great Spot Conlon. Jack, Race, Boots and Kid Blink among them. As much as they drove Spot crazy when they rolled their eyes at him and proved time and time again that they didn’t fear him in the slightest, Spot was grateful for them. The life of a king can often times be the life of the lonely.
“Hey Spotty-boy!” Speak, or rather think of the devil, Racetrack Higgins appeared to Spot’s right and clapped him on the back.
“Hey, Race, how’s it rollin’?” Spot replied with his usual smirk in place. Race grinned back and began to spin a wild tale about the Sheepshead Races, and how he’d almost made a hundred bucks on his last bet but had been cheated by a rich gentleman with a rather long nose that made him resemble the likeness of a large rich mouse. Spot laughed along with him, knowing full well that not one bit of it was true, but enjoying the other boy’s company just the same.
He was so caught up in Race’s story, in fact, that he failed to notice the brunette beauty enter the room until he heard a groan of disapproval sent in his direction. Turning away from Race, Spot’s blue eyes were met with the annoyed hazel eyes of none other than Sarah Jacobs. She glared at him ferociously and crossed her arms.
“Who dragged in the dirt from the streets,” she huffed out, emphasizing the bit about Spot being dirt. Spot felt the smirk on his face grow ten times larger at the comment. Not deterred by her infuriated look, Spot sidled up next to her and snaked an arm around her waist. Sarah flinched and stiffened at his touch. He grinned broadly. He loved the effect he had on her.
“Why?” he spoke into her ear with as much mock seductiveness as he could muster. “Miss me, Princess?”
Sarah shuddered and immediately pushed him off her. She raised a fist and attempted to land a sock on his face, but Spot had been anticipating it. With a smooth side-step he avoided the punch and instead caught her elbow and once again pulled her closer to him. She let out an enraged scream as she struggled to escape his grip, but Spot only laughed. The other newsies who had been watching were holding back their own guffaws at the girl’s struggle, as they did not want her rage to turn on them. Just as Sarah’s face was turning red with anger and embarrassment, Jack finally entered the room and put a stop to the situation.
“Hey, Spot, what’s de mattuh witchu?” he complained as he pulled Sarah away. “Leave de lady alone, will yuh?”
Once she was free Sarah immediately straightened her dress and tucked a few stray hairs behind her ears. She glared vehemently at Spot and stuck her nose up at him as Jack clung to her protectively. Spot mentally rolled his eyes at the couple, but simply sneered and winked at the girl before turning his back on them and heading to the dorms to find Socks. He knew Jack would be annoyed at him for that, but he simply couldn’t help it. Sarah was just too fun to tease. Besides, Jack knew that it was all fun and games. He knew that Sarah despised Spot, and that Spot loved messing with her, he just didn’t know why exactly. In all honesty it had all started before the great strike had ever even entered the minds of the newsies of New York. Spot Conlon and Sarah Jacobs had met in early May 1899, just as the first days of the hot Summer sun had begun to emerge on the renowned city of New York…
Spot trudged through Central Park early on that Tuesday morning. The first signs of the rising sun were just appearing on the horizon; he figured it was close to six in the morning. Unbeknownst to any of his boys, Spot came to Manhattan every morning before sunrise. They all knew that he was always the first one to the distribution office, and that he left long before the start of a new day, but none of them knew why and nobody asked questions. They trusted Spot with their lives and never questioned his actions without necessity.
Reaching his destination, Spot began to make the climb up a small hill just outside of Central Park, facing Hudson River. The truth was that Spot did his best thinking in the mornings. Many a conniving plan brought about by the infamous King of Brooklyn had been conceived on the very mound his two feet stood on in that moment. It was a simple hill. Nothing special or flashy about it, and it was out of the way of the hustle and bustle of Central Park. Not many people knew of its existence, and that’s what Spot liked about it. He came here every morning to sit at the peak of the knoll and watch the sunrise. Even in the dead of winter Spot came here to feel the wind on his face, let the glory of the first rays of sunshine wash over him, and simply clear his mind of all troublesome thoughts and anxieties. It was his spot.
As Spot neared the climax of the hill, he stopped. There was a girl. There was a girl in his spot. For a moment, he simply observed her. She had long, slightly curled chestnut brown hair that draped across her shoulders delicately; she wore a simple brown skirt with a white blouse, and held a thin blanket wrapped tightly around her shoulders; she held herself proudly and her features were that of a headstrong young lady; she was pretty. But she was in his spot. And for that Spot could already feel the first prickles of aggravation building up inside him. Making his way over to her, Spot stood just behind her and cleared his throat loudly. She jumped, obviously startled, and whipped around to face the intruder on her peaceful morning. Her eyes met Spot’s, and he couldn’t help but stare. Her eyes were by far her most outstanding feature. Flecks of gold seemed to glow in a sea of hazel, and Spot could feel himself becoming captivated simply by the look of them.
“Who are you, and what do you want?” The sound of her voice broke Spot out of his reverie. She spoke like someone who had been educated. Middle to upper-class then. Remembering his annoyance, Spot’s composure soured into a sullen glare.
“Who are you, and what are you doin’ here, Sweetheart?” he growled out, never breaking eye contact. She backed up a step, slightly put off by his foul mood. Spot watched, amused, as she seemed to internally scold herself for revealing he’d intimidated her, and she immediately returned his glare and positioned herself mere inches from his face.
“I asked you first, you prick,” she said angrily, her eyes flashing in irritation. Spot stared at them, once again noticing their beauty. Her scent washed over him in waves, and he couldn’t help but notice the sweet smell of honey and vanilla. He smirked.
“I’m the King of Brooklyn,” he said haughtily. “Yuh will have heard of me, of cawhse.”
Spot was well aware that it was very likely that she hadn’t heard of him, as she was most likely from a higher class. He was mainly famous in the lower classes of the city, and his reputation had yet to extend to the middle and upper classes. Add that to the fact that she was also likely from this side of the river and not Brooklyn, and it was very unlikely that she’d heard the whispers and gossip about the leader of the Brooklyn newsies. But he still wanted her to know that he was important. The only way to do that was to act just arrogant and conceited enough to let her know that he had power and influence in these parts.
“For your information, I haven’t the faintest idea who you are,” she scoffed. “And I don’t have time for conceited little boys who think they can just swoop in, acting all high-and-mighty, and have me falling at their feet because they think I’m their sweetheart.”
Now Spot was angry. No one made fun of his size. No one. Spot may be short and thin, but everyone knew that he was one of the best fighters in Brooklyn, and that even though he may not look like much, you simply didn’t mess with him. Ever since he was a boy Spot had soaked people for ridiculing his size, and now they all knew not to mention it. He was small, but he was also unbelievably fast, and could pack a punch at any time.
In the blink of an eye Spot had reached out, latching onto her wrist in a steel grip. She struggled at first, but stopped when she met his infuriated gaze, and began to tremble at the sheer amount of rage and power radiating off the boy in front of her.
“If yuh know what’s best fawh yuh, Sweetheart, you’ll get de hell away from here and quit actin’ like you’s de princess of New Yawhk,” he growled, putting all his years of authority behind his voice. Her eyes widened as his grip around her wrist tightened. “Yuh may have not heard of me, but I can assure yuh dat I's not someone yuh wanna be messin’ wit’. Go ahead, go ask people about de King of Brooklyn. See what dey say.”
He released her from his grasp, and she immediately pulled her arm away and began to rub her sore wrist, where the red imprint of Spot’s hand could be clearly seen against her pale white skin. He smirked at that and peered at her expression. At first, he could clearly make out the trepidation sketched across her face, but even as he watched, her fear melted into anger, and she looked at him in absolute disgust.
“You know I was wrong, I have heard of you,” she said. Spot felt his smirk waver slightly, not expecting her to say that. “You’re that one boy, who thinks he’s so special that he flaunts about, ordering people around, thinking he’s some kind of king, when really he’s just a low-life, good for nothing nobody, who has no right to even speak to me.”
Before Spot could reply, she drew back her hand and slapped him hard across the face. Astonished by her show of defiance, he simply held his aching cheek as he watched her turn and run away, clearly terrified at his reaction. He had used all his intimidation on her, and still she’d had the guts to go and hit him. Some grown men had been too cowardly to do the same. He felt his lips turn up into an amused smile as he watched her until she disappeared. She may be an impudent little thing, but she sure had fire. Spot would never admit it out loud, but the prejudiced, cheeky young girl who had invaded his spot that day had completely and thoroughly impressed him.
The days that had followed Sarah had continued to come to his spot, clearly wanting to make it her own daily start of every morning. Whenever she saw him, however, she would immediately stomp away, muttering heatedly. They rarely spoke in those days, and when they did their conversations consisted of taunting each other and arguing back and forth about meaningless things. Spot took to calling her “Princess”, because he claimed that she desperately wanted to be the princess of Manhattan, which she absolutely despised. When he discovered that she hated the nickname, he refused to call her anything but, loving how livid it made her. She also never called him anything other than “insolent git,” and the two never bothered to exchange their real names.
After a couple weeks of their fighting for the spot every morning, Sarah had finally stopped coming. Spot supposed she simply decided it wasn’t worth it and gave up trying to win against the stubborn boy from Brooklyn. He was surprised to find that he missed the little squabbles he had with her every morning, and that his spot became considerably less exciting once she stopped showing up.
He never thought he’d see her again, and during the months between their first encounters and the days of the strike, he thought little about the obstinate, witty girl with the glowing hazel eyes. When Jack had first told him he was bringing a girl to the rally, he had not given it a second thought, so when he had arrived at the rally to find none other than the princess herself hooked around the arm of the Manhattan leader, Spot’s smirk had grown bigger than it ever had before. The look of sheer astonishment on her face had been enough to cause him to burst out laughing, and receive several, questioning looks from the other newsies in the room. Spot had played it off like he had never met her before and had introduced himself like he would to any lady, even, to her absolute horror, taking her hand and kissing it gently, and, as usual, calling her the princess of Manhattan. From then on, the two began to see each other quite frequently, and Spot never missed a chance to make her squirm. She often attempted to slap him, or strike him in one way or the other, but to Spot she had become quite predictable. He easily avoided her swings, and to her annoyance he had grown both taller and stronger over the Summer, and only continued to grow as time passed. He now stood at a tall 5’9 and was just a few inches shy of Jack’s own tall stature. He was finally growing out of his years of being the smallest boy around, and soon his profile would match the expectations held within his reputation.
Spot found himself grinning as he remembered the way he had met the princess, and he chuckled to himself at the thought of how angry he’d made her just moments before. He would never grow tired of teasing her, and it always brightened his day, even if he knew Jack would be on his back about it later. Jack would simply have to learn that he and Sarah would always act cholericly toward each other, and that things would never change between them.
After several long minutes of searching, Spot finally found Socks resting on a mattress in one of the back rooms of the boarding house. Waking the younger boy, Spot convinced him to make the journey back across the bridge, and the pair made their way back to their own territory. Before they left, Jack stopped Spot and told him he would be over in Brooklyn later to buy him that drink. Spot had simply nodded before leaving, knowing full well that Jack intended to keep that promise, and that he would not have fully enjoyed his birthday until the two of them had downed several drinks, and were completely and utterly intoxicated.
Alright so that's the prologue and chapter 1! Let me know what you think and please follow the story for more! I plan to update every weekend so I will hopefully finish this story before the end of the school year. Also, you'll notice that I have attempted to write in a New York/uneducated accent, but let me know if I mess anything up or if it doesn't make sense, and I'll do my best to fix it. Constructive criticism is always welcome! Thank you for reading!
Jack sighed contentedly. He and Spot were sitting on the docks by the Brooklyn newsie house with their drinks, quietly enjoying the late evening air. New York was filled with an assortment of smells, most of which were less than pleasant, but here by the water, late at night, when the city was calmer and the hot sun didn’t augment the awful stenches, the natural air wasn’t all bad. Sitting there, with his beer in hand and his best friend at his side, Jack Kelly couldn’t have been happier. If only they could stay like that forever.
But Jack knew that in the morning they would have to get back to work. Back to the grueling hours out in the unbearable heat, getting scorched red as tomatoes and making little profit as a result. The life of a newsie was never easy. Jack and Spot may be considered great leaders in the eyes of the lower-class, but that didn’t change the fact that they were both thread-bare poor. The elation from winning the strike had only lasted so long, and now every newsie was back under the oppression of the upper-classes. They had won, sure, but in the end, things would always remain the same: Pulitzer and all the other greedy autocratic bastards would always win in the long run.
Jack looked over at his friend. Spot took a swig from his beer and then leaned back against his palms as he rested his eyes against the scintillating moonlight. Spot was another story entirely. He knew authority and leadership like no one else. He had started from the lowest bottom anyone could possibly imagine, and yet he had worked his way up to the top of the lower class by sheer effort and determination. He had incredible talent in leadership and was the smartest person Jack knew. He may not stand out in a crowd, but Spot Conlon was not someone who should be overlooked. He was feared and respected for a reason, and Jack knew that, if he applied himself, Spot could really go places in life. He had the potential to be great; to really make a difference in the world. And yet, Jack worried for him. Everyone always talked about how, one day, Spot was going to be the biggest, most well-known crime boss New York had ever seen. That he was going to lead a gang of the toughest and most brutal men in the entire city, and that no one would even dare to speak his name. Jack didn’t doubt that Spot could accomplish all these things, but he didn’t want that for him. He knew just where a life like that would land Spot: prison. Jack’s own father was in prison for similar crimes, and Jack wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, especially on his best friend. It was something Jack thought about frequently: about where Spot would end up. About where he himself would end up. Would Spot become the fearless gang leader everyone expected him to be? Would Jack ever make it to Santa Fe? Would he marry Sarah and start a family? Would Spot have a family? Jack chuckled at the idea of their kids getting together for playdates. Sarah would throw a fit if her children went within ten feet of those of her sworn nemesis. But then Jack frowned. Would the two of them even remain friends?
Spot, who had heard Jack’s chuckle, peered at him curiously. He could tell that Jack was deep in thought.
“Hey, whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout?” he asked nonchalantly. Jack turned his gaze to rest on his companion. Spot gave him an odd look and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. Jack sighed.
“Do me a favawh, eh Spot?” he replied. “Doan let dem decide what becomes of yuh.”
Spot laughed nervously.
“What's dat supposed tuh mean, Jacky-boy? Yuh drunk or what?”
“Nah, man, it’s just…” Jack trailed off, but Spot looked at him imploringly. “I doan know, I just tinks we should control our own futuhs, yuh know? No one gets tuh decide what happens tuh us ‘cept us, right?”
Spot furrowed his brow and looked at his friend in confusion.
“I mean, I guess so…” he cleared his throat before continuing. “Where’s all dis comin’ from anyway, Jacky-boy?”
“I doan know, I guess it's just dat tings are changin' yuh know? You and me, we're gettin’ olduh and we can't be newsies fawhevuh. We's both gonna have tuh get real jobs someday and get lives in de real wawhld.”
“Yeah dat's true, I guess. But Jack tings may change and we may get olduh, but I know one ting fawh shoh, and dat's dat I will always be your best mate no mattuh what.” Spot slung an arm around Jack’s shoulder and smirked humorously. “Even when you's old and grey, and go by de name Franny, I's always gonna be around fawh yuh.”
Ever since Spot had learned that Jack’s real name was Francis, he had pestered him for it to no end. He loved to call Jack ‘Franny’ whenever possible, and where at first it had exasperated Jack substantially, it had now become a sort of inside joke between the two of them. Besides, Jack always returned the gesture by calling Spot ‘Patty’ after his middle name Patrick.
“Oh yeah?” Jack smirked back at him. “So does dat mean dat I'm gonna have tuh deal wit’ a grumpy old Patty, who's fawhevuh gonna complain about de fact dat he finally has tuh use dat good fawh nuttin' cane of his tuh help him wawhk, becawze he's too damn old tuh do it on his own?”
Spot snorted before pulling out his cane and jabbing Jack in the ribs with it. Jack yelped and began to laugh as he clutched at his side and fell on his back onto the boards of the Brooklyn docks. Spot laughed along with him, and laid back on his elbows, so the two of them both stared up at the late-night sky. The smog that endlessly surrounded the city, blocked any view they could have of the stars, but that didn’t matter to the two boys. Neither of them was really looking anyway, but rather they were both contemplating the things that Spot had just said. Jack knew that he’d meant it, that he really thought they’d be friends forever. And as they both sat there, deep in thought, it was as if eternity had already reached them, and, in that moment, Jack’s worries were put to rest, and he genuinely believed that he and his best friend would continue to take on the world together for the rest of their lives.
As Sarah climbed into bed that night, she replayed the events of the day in her head. After Spot and Socks had left, she and Jack had gone to Tibby’s for dinner, and then had walked the streets of Manhattan until he had left to head over to Brooklyn. The two of them had enjoyed themselves thoroughly and had a genuinely good time. Despite this fact, however, Sarah simply could not get the incident with Spot out of her mind. She couldn’t understand why he affected her so much, or why she let him get to her when she knew he was only trying to get a rise out of her.
Maybe it was because she hated all the praise he received from the people around her. It seemed like everyone she knew talked up the “great Spot Conlon,” the fearless and revered leader of the Brooklyn newsies; one of the best fighters in all of New York; the guy you don’t mess with unless you’re ready to meet your maker. Sarah scowled. She hated when people described him like that. She remembered how her own brothers had talked about Spot Conlon before she knew who he was. David had gone to Brooklyn with Jack to convince Spot to join the strike, and afterward he’d never stop going on and on about how intimidating Spot Conlon was, and how Spot Conlon had shot a beer bottle with his sling shot from twenty meters away, and how Spot Conlon was the most famous and respected newsie in all of New York and probably everywhere else. Spot this, Spot that, yada yada yada. By the time the big rally had come around, Sarah couldn’t help but be beside herself with excitement and anticipation to finally meet the renowned leader of Brooklyn. When none other than the rude, immature, and pompous jerk from Central Park had sauntered into view flanked on either side by Brooklyn boys and demanding the attention of the entire room, Sarah had nearly hurled chunks all over her best dress. She finally understood what he had meant when he’d called himself the ‘King of Brooklyn’, and she was absolutely appalled to discover that the conceited title held some truth in the life of the insolent git. He, of course, had been overjoyed at her discomfort, and had made it his goal in life to give her as much grief as possible. She could hardly believe the amount of arrogance that could be found in one boy, and her hatred for him grew every time she caught sight of his condescending smirk. Jack had asked her on several occasions why she hated him so, but she refused to explain. She knew that he and Spot were almost like brothers, and she didn’t want to come in-between their friendship.
Sarah was startled out of her abstraction by a loud clash followed by the sound of someone blurting out a string of curse words. Her heartbeat quickening, Sarah pulled her legs over the side of her bed and turned toward the noise, which resounded from the fire escape outside her window. She stared in shock as she saw none other than the insolent git himself, stumbling about the fire escape, creating a racket, and swearing every time he nearly toppled over the edge. She watched as he wobbled back and forth before finally regaining his balance and reaching into his pocket he extracted a piece of paper which he proceeded to attempt to jam underneath the glass pane of her window. Sarah could hardly comprehend his audacity. Here was Spot Conlon, completely wasted, fumbling about outside her house, leaving her a note of all ridiculous things, when mere hours before he had tormented and embarrassed her in front of an entire squad of newsies. What on earth did he think he was doing?
Sarah exhaled heavily before standing to her feet and making her way over to the window. As she came within arm’s length of the glass, Spot lifted his eyes to meet hers. Sarah froze. For a moment they both stood there, transfixed in a dream-like trance. It was like they were the only two beings in the entire universe, and Sarah felt an odd tingly feeling deep inside her chest. But just as quickly as the moment had formed, it was broken. Spot lurched into motion, and before Sarah could even consider opening the window to talk to him, he was gone, vanishing into the night as if he had never been there at all.
Sarah stood there for a moment, wondering what it had all been about. Why had they both frozen like that? And why didn’t she feel angry or annoyed like she usual did after a situation involving Spot? And what was this unfamiliar sensation welling up inside of her? Sarah didn’t have an answer to the nagging questions, but she knew for certain that she would do her best to find out the next time she saw him.
Sarah turned to head back to bed. But just before she turned her back on the fire escape, a flash of white caught her eye. The note. In all the excitement she had nearly forgotten that Spot had been trying to leave her a note of some kind. Slowly opening the window, Sarah was careful to not let the small slip of paper blow away into the dark night. Once she had the note grasped firmly in her hand, she pulled the window shut and flipped open the folded note excitedly:
I belivs that we both got of on the rong foot. I’s been misin you at the ol spot in Central Park. Plis com meets me ther agin tomaro and we can mabe start ovuh.
-Spot C. aka The Insolent Git
Sarah couldn’t believe it. Could the insufferable brat really have some decency in him? Maybe this was all a dream or some wild invention of her imagination. Sarah reread the note. She giggled at the atrocious spelling and grammar, especially humored by the fact that he had spelled ‘insolent’ correctly but had failed to spell simpler words such as ‘again’ or ‘please’. But no matter how she looked at it, she could not come up with a selfish motive behind the innocent note. Could it be possible that he really felt sorry for everything he’d done to her? Could she trust him?
Sarah set the note on her bedside table and crawled back underneath the warm sheets. She gazed up at the ceiling, not feeling one bit sleepy as she couldn’t seem to take her mind off the unpredictable turn of events. She smiled to herself, but she wasn’t sure why. After what felt like an eternity, drowsiness finally began to overtake her, and as she drifted off to sleep at last, Sarah knew that she would just have to go to Central Park the next day to discover just what the King of Brooklyn was up to.
Spot moaned and rolled over onto his side. He let his arm flail to his left and was surprised to feel his hand squelch into something wet and sticky. Opening his eyes he groaned as the bright sunlight assaulted his irises. He had a piercing headache and it took him several minutes to wake himself up. Blinking several times to grow accustomed to the light, he was finally able to look down at his fingers.
“Aargh!” Spot jerked up faster than he thought possible and vigorously looked around for something to wipe his hand with. Dripping from his fingers was a mass of yellow liquid, the likes of which Spot was sure he had never seen. As he surveyed his body he realized in horror that the stuff was not only on his hand but seemed to be covering nearly every last inch of him! He didn’t know what it was, but he could come up with a few guesses, none of which he wanted to be anywhere near him.
As Spot looked around he realized that he was in Jack’s room in the Manhattan boarding house. When the hell had he come to Manhattan? The last thing Spot remembered was Jack taking him back to the bar to bribe the bartender into giving them a few more drinks.
“Apparently we had more than a few,” Spot muttered to himself as he finally found a blanket on which he began to wipe off the mystery goop.
“Mmmmmh.” Spot jumped as the sheet he was using suddenly moved beneath his fingers. Stumbling away from the shifting form, Spot grabbed the first thing he found to use as a weapon. Brandishing nothing but a hair brush, Spot slowly creeped toward the unidentified entity in front of him. As he came close to it, the thing turned around swiftly and the blanket covering it fell to the floor from the sudden movement. Spot screamed. It screamed. Spot raised the hair brush ready to rain hellfire on… Race?
“Woah, woah hold up it’s me!” Race fell to his knees in front of Spot. “Please, have moicy, I din’t mean tuh frighten Your Highness.”
Spot rolled his eyes as he lowered the brush. Race always made fun of his status. He wasn’t scared of Spot one bit, and never failed to let Spot know it. He just loved to push Spot’s buttons and test the limits of the “feared King of Brooklyn.”
“I ain’t scared,” Spot grumbled under his breath.
“What was dat?” Race cupped a hand to his ear as he climbed to his feet. “I coun’t hear yuh ovuh de sound of your enawhmous ego.”
Spot glared at him fiercely before tackling him to the ground, initiating a playful brawl as they wrestled about the floor. Spot kneed Race in the stomach, who, in turn, elbowed Spot in the face, causing his headache to return with such ferociousness that he groaned and clutched at his skull.
“Yuh yieldin’, Conlon?”
“Never.” But before Spot could take Race on for a second round, an annoyed voice sounded from the bed on the other side of the room.
“Would you two ladies quit yuh bawlin’ and shut de hell up?” Jack lifted his head to glower at them before letting it plop back down onto his pillow. “A man can’t get any sleep around here.”
Spot and Race glanced at each other briefly before Race’s face broke into a mischievous grin. Spot watched in confusion as he tiptoed across the room and picked up a half-full glass of water from a small mantle. He turned to Spot, who, finally catching on, grinned back and nodded. Without further ado Race rapidly flipped the glass, causing its contents to tumble through the air before landing on Jack’s head with a resounding splash. Spot and Race exploded with laughter as Jack jumped a mile into the air and fell off the bed into a heap of twisted limbs on the floor. The look on his face was priceless as he frantically scoured the room until his eyes landed on the two boys keeling over from the amount of laughter emitting from their lips.
“I’s gonna kill de both of yuhs.” Jack struggled to his feet and advanced toward Spot and Race, but suddenly he clutched his head and stumbled backward until he collapsed onto the bed. Race burst into another fit of laughter, but Spot moved toward Jack in slight concern. After taking one step, however, Spot’s own head exploded with pain and he too grabbed his skull before sitting down hard onto the floor.
“Jesus, just how much d’ja drink last night?” Race asked as his laughter finally fizzled out.
“Too much,” Spot groaned as another wave of nausea coursed through his aggravated head. Jack wasn’t doing much better, as he too moaned and complained about his throbbing headache.
“Alright, up and at ‘em,” Race said as he took Spot by the arm and pulled him to his feet. Spot began to complain, but Race wouldn’t hear any of it. “Ah come on, Spotty-boy, I gots de poifect remedy fuh hangovers.”
“Oh yeah, Race? What’s dat?” Jack mumbled out.
“Watuh and a bath, me friend,” Race replied as he used one arm to pull Jack out of bed and the other to pull Spot along as they made their way out of the room. “Watuh and a bath.”
“And food?” Spot asked hopefully.
“Yeah shoh,” Race answered with a laugh. “But no mawh mustard fawh either of yuh’s.”
“Mustard?” Jack looked at Race in confusion. The three of them had just made their way into the main sleeping area for the other newsies, and Spot noticed that the room was empty, meaning that the other boys were likely already out selling their papes.
“Yeah,” Race grinned. “De two of yuh’s came roarin’ in here last night at about two in de mawhnin', drunk off yuh asses, and covered from head tuh toe in mustard of all tings. I still doan know where yuh could have gotten so much mustard in one night!”
Spot and Jack stared at each other, desperately trying to recall what had occurred the night before. It was obvious that they had both had a little too much to drink, and that things had gotten a little out of hand. Spot hated mustard. He always had, but Jack loved the stuff. Spot had no doubt that whatever they had gotten themselves into last night it had to have been entirely Jack’s doing, because there’s no way even a drunk Spot would willingly choose to do anything involved with that disgusting condiment.
As Spot and Jack began to strip off their clothing to wash up, Spot continued to contemplate his missing memories. The night truly was a mystery. Who knows what Spot could have done? He couldn’t remember who he’d seen, what he’d said, or even where he’d gone the night before. He just hoped that his reputation was still intact. It would be pretty sad if he tarnished his whole image as a result of one drunken binge. Out of all the mysteries and questions that floated around his head, however, Spot was just grateful to have one piece of the puzzle solved: at least now he knew the identity of the mysterious yellow liquid.
He hadn’t shown up. Of course he hadn’t, the scumbag. How could she have been so stupid as to think he could have had a change of heart? This was probably all just some ploy to make her feel even worse about herself, so that he could use it against her the next time he saw her. She could already hear his voice taunting her for falling for it. She wouldn’t be one bit surprised if she found out he had been hiding in the tree line all along, watching her wait for him and laughing at her stupidity.
But he was drunk when he left the note.
“Oh, shut up.” Sarah grumbled to herself. Her conscious just wouldn’t let that one go. True, she was ninety-nine percent positive that Spot had been completely wasted when he’d visited her the night before, but she still couldn’t help but feel betrayed somehow. As usual, she couldn’t understand why it all bothered her so much. Why did Spot have such an effect on her? He got under her skin like no one else, and she just couldn’t understand it. Even if he was drunk enough that he didn’t remember, that would also mean that he didn’t mean it, right? That the note and their moment the night before meant nothing to him.
But people are more open and honest when they’re drunk.
Sarah scowled. Her conscience was, as usual, correct. Sarah knew from the days of her father’s drinking that he would often be more truthful when intoxicated. This fact didn’t totally condone Spot’s failure to show up, but it did mean that he might simply be hungover and completely oblivious to what had occurred the night before.
So he deserves a second chance, then.
Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes at herself. She supposed that he did deserve a second chance, no matter how reluctant she was to give it. She would just have to come back again the next day and find out just how much sincerity was to be found within Spot’s note.
Told you so.
Once she had made up her mind to give Spot a second chance to prove himself, she continued with her day with a smile on her face. She didn’t realize it, but secretly she had wanted Spot to be a better person. She wanted to make up with him, and maybe even start some sort of friendship with the Brooklyn boy. With that desire buried deep within her unconsciousness, Sarah went to bed that night with a light feeling in her heart.
So sorry this update took so long. I had finals this week and haven't had any time to have a life lmao. Anyway, I finally finished the next chapter and decided to post it now. Hopefully now that I'm on Christmas break I'll have more time to write, and can get you guys updates sooner :)
Sean hid his face as another scream ripped through the dead silent air. He heard a crash and another angry yell. A woman was crying. A man was fuming. A four-year-old boy was hiding in the other room, listening as his own father viciously beat his mother over and over and over… The screams came to an abrupt stop. A door slammed. The only sound remaining was the mother’s sobs as she attempted to pick herself up off the floor.
Sean hurried through the door and was at his mother’s side in seconds. When she saw him she began to sob anew and pulled him close to her in a tight embrace. Bruises and lacerations were scattered across her tiny frame, but she didn’t care about the pain. All she cared about was keeping her son safe.
“Doan cry, Mama,” the child whispered softly. “He’s gone, he cain’t hurtcha no more.”
She smiled sadly at her son. He said those same words every time her husband left. No matter how awful the beating was, she knew that her son was just on the other side of the wall, and that he would be there to comfort her the moment her husband slammed the door on his way out.
Her husband detested her. They had fallen in love at a very young age, just before he was to head off to college. She couldn’t afford further schooling, herself, and he had made the decision to stay for her. Instead of going off with his friends to get a higher education he had sacrificed it all for their marriage. He was intelligent and studious and had he gotten a degree he would likely have the money to show for it. He blamed her for their poverty. The first years of their marriage had been as happy as they could be, but over time he had become bitter with regret and jealousy as he watched all his old school friends grow up to become rich and successful business men, while he continued to work in the factory to provide a measly sum to support his family. For a time he had bottled up his resentment and anger, but it was bound to spill over at some point. He had turned to drinking and violence to get his way, and his wife became the main focus for his drunken rage.
“Mama?” Sean’s voice broke through her reverie and she realized that tears were still pouring down her cheeks. Bringing a hand to her face, she wiped them away and squeezed her son closer to her still.
“I love you, baby boy,” she said gently as her deep blue irises looked on her son affectionately. “Don’t you ever forget that.”
“I won’t, Mama,” he said as he mirrored her actions with eyes identical to her own.
Spot woke with a pitiful yelp as he sat straight up in the air and wheezed as he tried to catch his breath. His entire body was covered in a thin layer of sweat, and his skin was a ghostly hue. His pupils were dilated as he visibly shook, and Spot was tremendously grateful to have his own room in the Brooklyn boarding house, as he could never allow any of his boys to see him in such a state. Every time he dreamed of his past, specifically of his mother, he woke up terrified and vulnerable, and if anyone ever discovered the truth they would call him weak and pathetic. He could not allow his past to affect him so.
The problem was Spot dreamed of his family more often than not. In fact, Spot hated sleeping. His nightmares were one of the reasons he had started waking before sunrise every day; he simply could not sleep any later. Even though he often went to bed very late, he could not sleep in, for it was as if his dreams had him on a schedule. They awoke him at roughly the same time every night: just before five in the morning. After years of this routine even on the nights when he wasn’t plagued with bad dreams he still woke at the same time. Spot simply didn’t sleep. He knew he was often sleep deprived, but he would rather suffer while awake than face the consequences of his restless nights.
Shaking his head slightly and rubbing his hands along his shivering arms, Spot attempted to calm his rapidly beating heart. After several minutes of allowing himself to calm down, he finally managed to fully return to reality, and he slowly lay back down as he stared at the ceiling in deep thought.
He wasn’t sure why he continually allowed his past to bother him. He was the King of Brooklyn; he wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything. But Spot knew that this was only foolish arrogance. People might believe that he had no fears, but it’s entirely impossible to be completely fearless. In all honesty, Spot was scared almost all the time, and was simply very good at hiding it. He was afraid for his boys, of what would become of them if anything were to happen to him, or if he misled them in any way. He was afraid for Jack and for Race and the other Manhattan newsies, and for what they would think of him if they knew about his past, about how he had come to power. He was afraid for his sister. He was afraid of letting her down.
Every time Spot closed his eyes his fears manifested into dreams of the one person he had let down more than anyone else. He could never stop the images of her lifeless corpse from entering his mind. She had needed him and he hadn’t done anything to stop the monster from taking her. He hadn’t done anything.
After the day his father had killed his mother and buried her remains in their yard to cover for his crime, Spot had vowed to never again fail someone so miserably. This is why he took his father’s beatings in the place of his younger sister. This is why he bore the physical and mental scars of his childhood so that she didn’t have to. This is why he began to work as a newsie at age six so that he could earn a living to support his sister. This is why when he rose to become the leader of the newsies at age ten, he finally turned his own father in for the murder of his mother, because he was finally able to make enough money to help his sister escape the terror inflicted by their own flesh and blood.
Spot protected the ones he loved with little care for his own well-being. He put on the cold-exterior of a selfish and powerful leader so that no one would question his authority, but on the inside he only wanted to protect his friends. He didn’t care what happened to him as long as they were safe. He knew that if he ever lost the people he loved that he would be broken beyond repair.
Spot sighed as he pushed these morbid thoughts to the back of his mind. He always felt lonely and insecure after a nightmare, but his mornings in Central Park always helped him clear his head. Pulling back the thin blanket that covered his legs, Spot slowly crawled out of bed, groaning as a headache hit him with the force of high-speed train. Rubbing his temples he made his way over to a small stack of neatly folded clothes and snatching the first shirt he saw he shrugged on his notorious pink suspenders, grabbed his slingshot, cap, and cane and trekked down the stairs and out into the fresh morning air.
As he made the voyage through the expansive city and across the vast Brooklyn bridge, his headache persisted the entire way. By the time his feet touched down on Manhattan soil his mood had turned quite bitter at his tenacious migraine, and Spot couldn’t help but think that the morning just couldn’t get any worse.
Sarah settled herself down onto the soft grass and shivered as a blast of cold wind whisked around her. Pulling her shawl tightly around her soldiers, she frowned at the unlikely weather. It was only the 2nd of September and already the air around her brimmed with the beginnings of the frigid winter to come. She sighed and reached down to check on the basket that lay at her feet. Inside were several stacks of freshly-baked cookies- a peace offering she hoped that Spot would accept. She was worried that he would have no recollection of leaving her the note, so she wanted to have something to help calm his inevitable temper. She remembered how deeply he valued the mound on which she sat, and she shuddered as she remembered the sheer amount of anger she had seen in him on the first day he had found her there. She was positive that on that day she had seen the Spot Conlon of whom everyone was so afraid. She would never admit it, but she had been terrified herself, and she hoped to never again have to see him with that murderous look in his eyes.
The very first rays of sunshine peaked over the horizon, and Sarah smiled at the sight. Although New York is called the city that never sleeps, she had always loved the tranquil mood in the early mornings. Before most anyone was awake it would be almost impossible to not see the peace that such a morning could bring. Unfortunately, it is far to easy for one to break that peace.
Sarah startled. She knew who it was without looking, and she could also distinguish by the tone of his voice that he was not in a good mood. She slowly stood to her feet as she brushed the dirt off her skirt. She could feel his presence just behind her left shoulder, but she dared not look for fear of seeing that petrifyingly furious look for a second time.
“What de hell do yuh tink yuh’s doin’ here?” he barked. Suddenly he placed a hand on her shoulder and she gasped as he forcefully wrenched her around to face him. What she saw as she met his gaze, however, was not the anger she expected, but rather something very different. He was annoyed and glaring at her, of course, but there was something underlying his irritation that she couldn’t quite understand. Something that caused his shoulders to sag, his eyes to be surrounded by dark circles, and his face to crease with wrinkles beyond his years. Yes, there was something going on that made him look… broken.
Taken aback by his appearance, Sarah didn’t notice that he was talking to her until he literally waved a hand in front of her face. Snapping out of her thoughts, she realized that he was looked at her expectantly with his arms crossed.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” she said with a wince as he glared even more fiercely.
“If yuh would quit daydreamin’ den maybe yuh would know de answer to dat, Princess. What, I ain’t interestin’ ‘nough tuh even pay attention tuh?”
“No, it’s not that, I was just-“
“Nevuhmind it ain’t important. What’s important is why de hell yuh tinks yuh have de right to be here, when yuh knows dat dis is my spot.”
“I…” Sarah wasn’t sure what to say and realized she had no idea how to bring up the night he had appeared outside her window, when it was obvious that he didn’t remember one bit of it. Or at least he was pretending not to. Spot raised an eyebrow at her, and she knew he was waiting for her to continue. She took a deep breath. “I was just hoping we could…” she struggled to find the words. “Talk! You know, about stuff…”
He gave her an incredulous look and she couldn’t tell if he was mad or if he simply thought she was an idiot. She felt her ears grow warm and a blush crept up onto her cheeks. Spot smirked at her and shook his head.
“Yuh full of surprises, ain’t yuh, Princess?” After a moment the smirk vanished from his face and was replaced with a vacant expression. Sarah was surprised once again at how broken and vulnerable he looked. “Unfortunately, I doan got no time fawh yuh silly games. Yuh no what, I’ll fawhgetcha was evuh here s’long as yuh doan let it happen again, okay?”
Without another word he turned around and began to head back the way he came. Sarah stood, watching him go for just a moment before she remembered why she was there in the first place. Hurriedly grabbing the basket of cookies she frantically scrambled down the hill to catch up with him.
“Wait!” she called as they both neared the bottom of the hill. Spot glanced in her direction as she finally reached his side, but he continued walking as if she wasn’t even there. Sarah rolled her eyes as she struggled to keep pace with him. He was now a good three inches taller than her, and his legs were much longer, and could therefore take much bigger strides.
“I made you cookies!” she panted out as she became winded from all the running. Spot came to a sudden halt and he turned to gape at her in surprise. His eyes first lingered on her face, before they drifted down to the basket in her hands, and then back up to meet her eyes. Sarah smiled at him and held out the basket for him to take. Spot stared for a moment longer before bursting into a fit of hysterics. Her smile twisted into a scowl as he keeled over from laughing so hard.
“Didja now? Fawh me? Yuh shouldn’t have!” he leered as he continued. “No, really though, yuh shouldn’t have. Jesus, Princess, what have yuh been smokin’?”
Sarah glared at him.
“For your information, I brought them because I thought they could be some kind of peace offering between us! I don’t know why you’re laughing, it wasn’t my idea to play buddies and make up. You’re the one who brought me that ridiculous note.”
Spot’s chuckles came to an immediate stop and he furrowed his brow in confusion.
“What note?” he asked as he scratched his head.
“Two nights ago you showed up outside my window and left me a note.” Sarah reached into the folds of her dress and pulled out the small scrap of paper. She handed it over to Spot who immediately read it with an addled look on his face. Suddenly it was as if realization dawned on him, and he sighed before crumpling up the note and tossing it to the wind.
“Hey!” Sarah protested, but before she could catch it the note was whisked away by the early morning breeze. She groaned in annoyance. “Just because you destroyed the evidence doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, Spot.”
“Yeah I knows dat. And I’s aware dat it did happen, but, Princess, I doan even remember dat night. Dat was de day of me birthday and Jack and I got completely wasted.”
“So? It still happened and as far as I’m concerned, it’s still a sincere sentiment.”
He rolled his eyes at her and groaned as he pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
“Look, Princess, if yuh wanna pretend we’s best friends and stop all de fightin’ dats fine, but I ain’t got no time fawh yuh silly fairytales. I doan want to start ovuh with you or nothin’ like dat, so yuh can fawhget about de whole ting. It ain’t my fault you’s stupid ‘nough tuh believe de words of a drunk man.”
Sarah felt her eyes fill with tears at the insult, but she immediately pushed them back. She couldn’t believe she had let him humiliate her once again, and that she ever could have believed he had changed. She glowered at him and threw the basket of cookies at his face. He jumped back in surprise and swatted it away as cookies tumbled out to litter the hillside.
“And to think I was under the impression that you had some decency left in you.” She ignored the slight look of guilt he gave her, thinking she had imagined it. “You really are just an insolent git!”
Sarah fled the scene before she would start crying in front of him. Once she was out of his sight she let the barriers fall, and tears began to stream down her face. She continually reprimanded herself for allowing him to catch her off-guard when she should have known that he would always disappoint her. She was just so sick and tired of letting him upset her over and over again, and she vowed right then and there that after that day she would never shed another tear over Spot Conlon.
Spot barreled angrily into the boarding house, slamming the door behind him, and causing a few younger newsies to yelp in surprise and scatter in fear. The other newsies in the room stared at him in shock and their eyes widened at the sight of their callous leader. He was furious; anyone could see that. In fact, the newsies could hardly remember the last time they had seen him so livid. They cowered when he glared at them, and visibly shivered in trepidation as he neared them.
“Well?!” Spot barked, eyes blazing with fiery rage. Several of the newsies witnessing the scene ducked down and covered their faces as if his words could cause them physical pain. “Ain’t it about time yuh get off yuh lazy asses and get tuh woik? Dis ain’t a boarding house fawh no slackuhs, yuh here me?”
The effect was immediate. Boys of different ages began to frantically scurry about, shoving the last of their breakfast into their mouths, hurriedly wiping shaving cream off their faces, and scrambling to find shirts, shoes, suspenders, and other clothing oddities. All the while Spot glared at them and crossed his arms in an authoritative stance. He was still seething over his visit with Sarah, and over the fact that because of her he wasn’t able to cool down after his bad dreams. He had nightmares more often than not, and he needed the mornings in Central Park to himself, simply to think in the peace and quiet.
Instead he was stuck here with this lot, and he couldn’t stop thinking about the audacity of the girl who had ruined his day before it had even started. She had been completely in the wrong by intruding on his hill, but somehow she had managed to twist the whole situation back on him and caused him to feel guilty despite of himself. As far as he was concerned, he had done nothing wrong, but his exasperating conscience was getting the better of him. Why did he even care? He didn’t understand it, but she had a way of getting under his skin more than anyone else.
“What’s de mattuh, Spotty? Wake up on de wrong side of de bed, or what?”
Scratch that, there was one other person who could dig his way even deeper under Spot’s skin: Rusty Higgins. Rusty was Spot’s second, his only legitimate friend under his rule in Brooklyn. He was his oldest friend and was in fact the first newsie Spot had ever met. Rusty’s selling spot was just a couple blocks away from where Spot and his family used to live, and when Spot was little he used to sit out in the yard and wait for Rusty to show up with his characteristic lemon drops. The kid always carried them, and no one bothered to ask where he got them; he simply always had the bright yellow candies. Spot remembered how much he used to look up to Rusty. The other boy was only a couple years older, but Spot had practically worshiped him and the other newsies back before he himself had joined. Back then he could only ever imagine a life free of his father, working for a living, and roughing it up on the streets.
When it came down to it, Rusty had become Spot’s key into the Brooklyn newsies. Although Rusty hadn’t been high on the totem poll of leadership, he had been able to get Spot a meeting with the leader at the time: Dick Clemmins. The kid was a complete joke and Brooklyn had been the laughing stock of the boroughs. His boys hadn’t respected him. They only followed him because he was as big and burly as a locomotive and soaked anyone who tried anything against him. They followed him solely out of fear.
Spot remembered the day he met Dick; he had been absolutely terrified. He was sure that he would piss his pants when Dick had laughed at his obvious nerves. In the end, however, Spot had been accepted into the newsies with little resistance and had faded into the background; he was simply the tiny, scrawny little kid who didn’t say a word. In fact, for the first year or so, he only ever spoke to Rusty. Of course over time he had grown more comfortable in the group and had begun to branch out his social network, but Rusty was the only friend he ever made in Brooklyn. He had been there since the beginning and knew Spot better than anyone else. This could be dangerous, however, for Rusty new both the good and the ugly of Spot. He knew just how to pull on his strings and knew all of his vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Spot would never be able to thank Rusty enough for being so loyal, but sometimes he did worry about just how well the other boy knew him.
Plus, the boy was Race’s cousin, and that could never be a good thing. Anything related to Race was bound to cause unceasing amounts of trouble.
“Lemon drop for yuh troubles?” Rusty stuck a piece of the candy under Spot’s nose and wriggled his eyebrows goofily.
“Ah get dat away from me, Higgins,” Spot said sourly. “I ain’t in de mood.”
Rusty’s smile faded and he furrowed his eyebrows. He could tell that Spot wasn’t simply in a bad mood; something was bothering him. Nodding his head slightly, Rusty proceeded to lead Spot out of the room, who followed while grumbling under his breath. Once the two boys reached Spot’s bedroom, Rusty pushed the door shut before turning to face his friend.
“Alright, now we’s alone so yuh can drop de tough-boy act, okay?” Spot crossed his arms stubbornly and glared at him. “Come on, now, Spotty, quit actin’ like a three-year-old, and spill. What’s really de mattuh witchu? Nightmares again?”
“Hey, I ain’t a three-year-old, okay?” Spot protested. “If anyone’s a three-year-old it’s dat Sarah Jacobs, alright?” he conceded. He decided to leave out the fact that Rusty was right about him having nightmares. He was the only person who knew about them, and, still, Spot hated that Rusty knew he had such a strong weakness.
“Aha!” Rusty grinned in triumph. “So what did she do dis time?”
“She was at me spot again! De girl doan got no sense, and she just makes me so mad, and I doan know… Ughhh.” Spot groaned in frustration and rubbed his thumbs in circles across his temples. His headache had grown progressively worse throughout the morning, and Rusty’s questioning wasn’t helping.
“Hmmm, well why de hell would she do dat?” Rusty asked. “She knows dat she shouldn’t, right? What did she want?”
“She made me cookies.” Spot muttered. When no reply came, he stopped rubbing his temples to look up at the other boy. Rusty was ogling at him with a ridiculous grin on his face, and he raised his eyebrows suggestively when Spot met his eyes. “What?” Spot asked confusedly.
“She likes youuuuuu,” Rusty answered while he playfully punched Spot on the shoulder. Spot scowled.
“She does not.”
“Yeah, she does,” Rusty insisted.
Spot felt his cheeks grow warm as he considered the idea. Could the princess of Manhattan really like him? No… Suddenly Spot realized that Rusty was beaming at him.
“She likes you, and you like huh back, doan yuh?” he said. Now Spot knew his face had to be red.
“No, I most certainly do not like huh, yuh dolt. Why would you-” Rusty cut him off.
“Spotty and Sarah, sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g,” he said in a sing-song voice. As he continued the childish toon, Spot pulled his cane out of his belt loop, ready to soak the living daylights out of him before he got to the part about the baby. But before Spot could make a move, Eaves, one of Spots birdies, came tearing into the room at full speed. Spot and Rusty both froze and stared at the small boy as he tried to catch his breath.
“Spot,” he said between heaves. Spot walked over to him and patted him on the back.
“Alright, spit it out,” Spot said a little too harshly. He was still simmering over Rusty’s ridiculous insinuations. Eaves immediately sucked in his breath and regained his composure to stand before his leader.
“It’s Manhattan, sir,” he said. “Dey’s in trouble. Queens decided tuh attack ‘em cuz dey tinks dat if dey take down Manhattan, den de’re one step closuh tuh takin’ you down.”
Spot felt his chest tighten slightly but didn’t let any signs of concern cross his face. He would never admit it, but he often worried over Manhattan’s weak defenses in the event of an attack. He just hoped that no one would get hurt. He knew that Eaves had friends in Manhattan and he could tell the boy was damn near panic. Deciding to reassure him, Spot smirked and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Well,” he said. “Den I guess dey’s about tuh find out just how strong Brooklyn can be, and dat we nevuh leave our own tuh rot.” Eaves smiled nervously at him. Spot chuckled and pushed him toward the door. “Go. Tell everyone tuh get dere slingshots and fightin’ rods and get dere asses tuh Brooklyn. We’s got friends tuh save, and Queens fishes tuh fry.”
Spot inwardly cringed. That one was bad. It didn’t even sound clever. He’d never been very good at making speeched. It still seemed to do the trick, however, for Eaves practically sprinted out the door, and the sounds of newsies preparing for battle could soon be heard coming from the floor below. Rusty came to Spot’s side and the two began to make there way down the stairs.
“Spotty and Sarah, sittin’ in a tree,” Rusty whispered into Spot’s ear. Spot, who was still holding his cane, brought the weapon down to smack Rusty over the head, who laughed and clambered away.
“Shut de hell up, yuh idiotic imbecile!” Spot called after him. He shook his head in disbelief. Imagine, him and Sarah… Blinking his eyes, he pushed the image to the back of his mind and focused on mentally preparing himself for the fight to come. Maybe he’d see Sarah in Manhattan and be able to clear this whole thing up once and for all.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Okay sorry this is long overdue... I've been crazy busy lately and I haven't had any time to write. I will assure you all, however, that I will finish this story eventually, it just might take a while. So without further ado I'll let you guys read, and also, sorry this chapter's short, the next will be longer I promise! :)
Jack grunted as a Queens newsie clouted him in the gut. Recovering quickly, he threw a punch at the boy's face and hit him square in the jaw, sending him sprawling backwards. Jack pushed his way forward and attempted to make his way through the fray of the numerous newsies of both boroughs to the Queens leader, Patch.
They had come out of nowhere. It had started out just like any other day when all of a sudden the Queens newsies had surrounded the boarding house and ordered surrender from Jack. He knew this was all a result of Patch's personal vendetta. The kid had been sulking about ever since the strike, claiming that Queens hadn't received enough credit for the victory; that Jack and Spot had stolen all the glory. He had made his anger and jealousy known on several occasions by soaking any newsies from either Manhattan or Brooklyn who ventured into his territory. Spot had wanted to retaliate after Patch had beat up a few of the boys, but Jack had talked him out of it, stating that Patch was partially right in saying that he and Spot had gotten much of the credit for the strike. Of course they had, along with David, led the whole operation to begin with, but Jack could still understand why Patch might feel cheated or left out.
Now Jack wished he had let Spot deal with Patch when he had the chance. The Queens leader was a nuisance and a massive pain in the ass and Jack could hardly believe that the kid had the nerve to attack them on Manhattan soil. He was demanding that Jack hand over twenty percent of his selling area to Queens, and also break up the union between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Was he mental or what? Did he really think Jack would ever, in a million years, agree to those terms? He had obviously tremendously underestimated the will and power of Jack, Spot, and the boys under their leadership. When Queens had attacked, Jack had immediately sent Eaves, one of the Brooklyn birdies who had spent the night in Manhattan, to alert Spot of the situation. He knew that Brooklyn would arrive at any minute, and that they would fight side by side and obliterate Patch's feeble attempt at gaining the upper hand.
"Patch!" Jack finally reached the other boy's side. Patch, who had been doing nothing but observing and yelling at his boys, narrowed his eyes at Jack, but didn't say a word. Jack, not deterred in the slightest by Patch's attempt at intimidation, simply rolled his eyes and smirked. "Man, yuh must be dumbuh den I tought. Yuh really tinks yuh can win dis?"
"No. I knows dat I can," Patch replied with an overconfident simper. "Everyone knows dat de Manhattan newsies are wawhthless when it comes tuh fightin', and in case yuh haven't noticed, we's winning, Jacky-boy."
Jack surveyed the situation. The Queens newsies had attacked in the early morning so Jack and his boys had been taken by surprise. They had been getting ready to go out and sell, so there were some boys fighting half-dressed, or with food in their hands, or even with shaving cream covering their faces. He swore he even saw Kid Blink running by wielding a toilet paper roll as a weapon. The Queens newsies had the element of surprise, and Patch was right in saying that the Manhattan newsies weren't great when it came to fighting, but despite these seemingly grim circumstances, Jack laughed. Patch scrunched up his eyebrows in confusion, which only made Jack laugh harder. Now Patch looked even more uncomfortable, and he began to shift his feet uneasily.
"Uh…" he said uncertainly as his eyes darted back and forth, attempting to unearth the humor of the situation. "Yeah, so uh… You's gonna hafta surrenduh, right? And I wants yuh tuh break de union wit Brooklyn, and give us a third of de Manhattan sellin' areas. If yuh surrender now-"
Jack cut Patch off as he burst into another round of incredulous howls of mirth. He clutched his aching belly as it took him several minutes to regain his composure enough to speak.
"Just wait, Patch," he choked out between guffaws. "You's an idiot."
As if on cue, there was a sudden earsplitting holler resembling an enthusiastic war cry. Bursting forth through windows, doors, and every direction came boys with guises that could kill. Bulging muscles, gritted teeth, and weapons of every kind from steel pipes to wooden sling shots were flashed ostentatiously at the newsies of Queens. The enemy began to quiver where they stood and each member cast wary glances at their leader, wondering despite their orders if they should flee the scene. Patch himself had gone stock still, his face as pallid as a ghost, and his hands tremoring slightly as his poise caved. Jack felt the corners of his mouth lift up in triumph and he sneered at Patch with a malevolent glint in his eyes.
"Never fear," he said slowly, tauntingly. "Brooklyn is here."
Queens didn't stand a chance. Once Spot and his boys showed up, the fight was already won. Notwithstanding Patch's failure to surrender, his boys had simply lost their zeal for victory. They knew that they had already lost; that they were no match for the Brooklyn newsies. They fought vacantly and half-heartedly and were soon laying down their clubs and conceding their dignity as they raised their arms in surrender. Patch himself had called off the skirmish and ordered a cease-fire. After a good telling-off from Jack and a few well-aimed punches from Spot, the Queens leader and his boys had all scurried off with their tails between their legs.
As Spot grinned at Jack in conquest, he sensed the gaze on him without looking around. Glancing down at the ground he slowly raised his eyes to meet those beautifully flecked hazel-brown ones that he still couldn't quite stare into without catching himself intensely admiring them and, to his chagrin, their owner. She stared back with that odd look on her face; the same one she'd retained since their encounter when Spot had first arrived on the scene…
Spot motioned for the boys to surround the building and met Rusty's eye as they dutifully followed his instruction. Rusty smiled broadly at him, and Spot glimpsed that unmistakable glint in his eye; the one full of anticipation and excitement for the encounter to come. He knew that his own expression would mirror Rusty's. It had been months since the Brooklyn newsies had seen any action, and the air was thick with foreboding eagerness and excited tension.
A loud clash sounded from the skirmish within the Manhattan boarding house, and Spot chuckled darkly beneath his breath. The Queens newsies wouldn't know what hit them. Without further ado, he flashed a mischievous grin at Rusty, before raising his cane into the air and hollering out with all the air in his lungs.
The response was immediate. Windows crashed, doors splintered, and fearsome war cries sounded from every direction as boys penetrated the boarding house from all sides, immersing into the fight with courage and pride in their hearts. Rusty, unable to contain himself any longer, bellowed out a cry of his own as he hurried to join the brawl. Spot was right on his heels, fully intending to stick to the plan and help his boys crush Queens into the ground beneath their boots… but then he heard it. A petrifying scream of horror sounding from the alley to his left, followed by loud bouts of protest in an unambiguous voice that he knew all too well.
Spot froze. He craned his neck to peer into the alley but could not see past the edge of the boarding house. For a mortifying moment he considered leaving her there. He was still angry after their argument that morning, and she was the last person he felt like saving, but when he heard another terrified scream followed by a pitiful sob, he knew that he could never leave her. Jaw set and determination in his steps, he marched purposely around the building. What he saw sent a flood of unbounded rage coursing up and down his spinal cord.
Two rather bulky Queens newsies had Sarah pressed firmly against the building wall. Her once clean white blouse had been ripped apart and was clenched into the fist of one of the boys as he held her arms down, and repulsively attempted to plant kisses across her collarbone. Tears were streaming down Sarah's face, and her shoulders shook as she continuously tried and failed to push him off her. Meanwhile the other boy had begun to drift lower and tug at her skirt.
Spot didn't like where this was going. Roaring with fury he surged ahead, a reeling locomotive of sheer anger and force. He gnashed his teeth together and squeezed his fists hard enough to draw blood on his palms. Grabbing the shirt of the first boy, he ripped him off of her with enough strength to send him tumbling to the ground where he landed with a thud. Rage still surging through his veins, he turned to the other boy who had jumped back in surprise at Spot's arrival but was now cracking his knuckles as he eyed Spot with evil intent. The first boy also quickly regained his composure, as he leaped to his feet and squared up.
They were big, Spot had to admit. Even with his newly acquired height, they easily stood five or so inches taller than him, and their fists looked like giant gavels attached to tree limbs. But Spot was not intimidated. He had lived his whole life playing the role of the smaller fighter, the one who had to be quick and smart to outwit his opponent. He thrived on being the underdog, and he knew that his fighting skills alone would tip the scales in his favor.
He smirked at them and goaded them on with a confident gesture. For a moment they exchanged hesitant looks with each other, before turning back to Spot and advancing with conviction. The first to reach him attempted a clumsy swing at Spot's face. Easily avoiding the jab, Spot whipped out his cane with lightning-fast reflexes and struck the boy firmly on the back of his calves. The Queens newsie grunted in pain as his legs wobbled and he fell to his knees. Spot leered at him victoriously, knowing a hit like that caused severe pain, and would likely leave a brazen mark. His glory was short-lived, however, as the second newsie advanced quickly and attempted to pull Spot's arms behind his back.
A rookie move, Spot thought as he resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. This kid had seen too many moves. Sure, hold back his arms so that your buddy can pummel the shit out of him; yeah, that'll work. But this wasn't a movie, and Spot was no easy target.
Feigning defeat, Spot struggled against his muscular arms for a bit, and even let the first newsie get a jab in for effect. He needed a mark to prove he'd taken them on anyway. He couldn't wait to recount the tale of his bravery and near-death experience with two, mountain-like, Queens newsies, and how he'd barely made it out with his life. A black-eye would simply add to the effect. Spending too much time in his thoughts, the first newsie swung again and his fist connected with Spot's jaw. Okay then, make that a black eye and a dislocated jaw. Suddenly a small barely audible whimper sounded from the other side of the fighting.
"Spot." His eyes found her, still huddled against the wall. She stared back at him with an expression of fear, horror, and something else Spot couldn't place. She clutched her tattered blouse against her exposed chest, and she visibly shook as her skin dawned a deathly-pale hue. Spot could see the beginnings of bruises rising in contrast on her slim neck and arms. She looked so helpless, and so miserable; and she was looking to him. It was all the encouragement he needed.
He jerked his left arm free with new-found strength and a deep guttural snarl emitted from lips. His elbow found contact with the second newsie's face before either of them knew what had happened. A satisfied smile graced his lips as the pointy part of his arm sunk deep into the soft flesh of the boy's left eyeball. The latter cried out in pain and released Spot from his grip. Pointy elbows do come in handy.
The other newsie had stopped mid-swing and was now staring at Spot with an expression of uncertainty and something resembling fear and apprehension. Oh, the joy of bringing that look to someone's face; Spot never grew tired of it.
Spot struck out and punched him square in the jaw, kicked him in the sweet spot, and clouted him over the head with his cane in rapid succession. The boy crumpled in an ungraceful heap at his feet. The bigger they are, the harder they fall; apparently this one didn't have such a thick a skull. He turned to the second newsie, prepared for another fight, but the boy brushed passed him and fled the alley, sporting a fresh black eye and depleted pride.
Panting heavily, Spot watched him go, slightly put-out at the loss of another good soaking. All thoughts of the fight that could have been left his mind, however, when he heard an exhausted sigh of relief and felt a presence just behind his right shoulder. He turned to peer at her and his eyes widened at the way she gazed back. She had that look on her face; the one he couldn't place. Was it admiration? Respect? Fear? God forbid she look at him with anything other than contempt. He knew he was staring but the way she appeared was just so foreign, it slightly unhinged him.
"Thank you," she spoke in a timid voice. It took him a moment to realize she'd said anything at all, but eventually he cleared his throat to reply.
"Uh, yeah. Yuh knows… anytime, er, it was no problem." An awkward air settled around them, and Spot began to shift his feet in discomfort. Sarah seemingly just remembered her torn shirt and her cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she covered her chest, once more.
"I, uh, have to go," she said hurriedly, and she began to scurry away, but not before giving Spot another dose of that odd look. He wanted to say something to ease the tension, he didn't think they should leave things so unsettled, but his mouth was dry and his tongue stuck in his throat. Just before Sarah disappeared around the corner of the building he finally called after her.
"Hey, wait, do yuh need any help o' anyting?" If she heard him she gave no indication and she was soon gone, leaving Spot alone with his thoughts. The Queens newsie at his feet groaned and began to stir, so Spot soon found himself following her example, and hurrying out of the alley. As he made his way into the Manhattan boarding house to join the fray, only one thought was going through his mind:
What de hell just happened?
Oh God, she was staring.
She began to absently fiddle with the hem of her shawl as she bit her lip nervously. She just couldn't stop thinking about it. The way he'd come rushing to her rescue and fought with such ferocious protectiveness. In that moment she'd been praying for someone to save her, but she never would have expected Spot Conlon, of all people, to help her like that. It was a dream come true, except it should have been Jack. Jack was the knight in shining armor type, not Spot. Hell, Jack was her knight in shining armor. So why did she find herself so captivated by the set of blue eyes locked with hers? Why did it feel like she wouldn't have wanted it to be anyone else?
Her feelings terrified her, so she did the only thing that seemed rational in the moment: she bailed. Without a word, she turned her back to him and began to push her way through the crowd of celebrating newsies, until she reached the door and burst out into the street. She breathed in a long, gratifying gulp of fresh air and let out a sigh of relief. After only a moment of relaxation, however, she heard a voice call out her name.
"Sarah!" She turned to see Jack jogging toward her, a look of concern sketched across his brow. As he ran up to her she began to turn away, but he put his hands on her shoulders and forced her to look at him. "Hey, are you's okay? What's de mattuh?"
"Nothing, Jack, I'm fine, really," she attempted to smile at him, but it came out as more of a pained grimace, and he looked at her skeptically. He could see right through her.
"Sarah, you's shakin'," he reached up and brushed a fallen piece of hair out of her face. "And you's as white as a ghost, come on, what's wrong?"
He pulled her in for a hug as he wrapped his arms tightly around her. Sarah had always loved Jack's hugs. He had a way of making everything feel alright even if it wasn't. He made her feel safe, and warm, and happy. But as he held her now, she felt none of this, and only felt trapped in his embrace. When she didn't reciprocate the hug, Jack only pulled her closer, and although she knew he only wanted to comfort her, she wanted nothing more than to push him off her immediately.
Then, as she peered over Jack's shoulder, her decision was made. She had to get out of there. Lingering in the doorway of the lodging house, was the cause of her troubled state of mind. She couldn't read his expression, Spot had always been good at putting a mask over his emotions, but she couldn't stand the way he made her feel. She gently pulled away from Jack and backed away, trying to ignore the hurt look in his eyes.
"I'm fine, Jack, I just felt suffocated in there. I just… I have to go." Without another word she dashed away, hardly even paying attention to where she was going. She couldn't believe how conflicted she felt. There were so many emotions coursing through her that she could hardly bear it. She felt fear and anxiety over what those boys had almost done to her and she felt guilty for leaving Jack the way she had, but more than those she simply didn't know how she felt about her rescuer. All she knew was that the moment Spot came barging into that alley with fists flying every which way, her respite and hatred of him seemed to have vanished altogether. Replacing it was somethin else entirely; something that made her as uneasy as ever.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Jack was hurt.
He couldn’t understand the way Sarah was acting. He could tell that something was wrong; she had seemed to be on the verge of falling apart entirely. He saw her flushed skin tone, her shaky hands, and don’t think for a moment he was daft enough not to take notice of the red marks and bruises marring her frame. To put it in the smallest terms possible, Jack was very worried for her, and didn’t know what to do. He wanted to help, but how could he when she wouldn’t even talk to him?
His shoulders sagged and he bowed his head in dejection as he turned to go back into the lodging house. As he entered the throng of celebrating newsies, the joy in their cries of victory hardly reached his ears. He felt someone bump him, but he didn’t react. Kid Blink grabbed his shoulders and shook him, trying to get a response. Jack offered him a brief smile that came out more like a grimace, but the other boy didn’t seem to notice as he moved on to celebrate with another group of newsies. Jack couldn’t help but wish they would all calm down and leave. He understood the feeling of ecstasy from their victory, but at the moment he only wanted to be alone.
Sighing to himself, Jack began to scan the room for the one person he only half wanted to see and talk to. Spot was the only person he felt like he could trust, and the kid was also supposed to be an expert on women, so Jack thought he might be able to shed some light on what had just occurred. After searching for a few seconds, his eyes locked with the bright blue eyes of his best friend. What he saw there, however, alarmed him more than anything else that had transpired that day. Spot’s eyes were not happy, or celebratory, and for once it seemed he was having a hard time veiling his emotions. The cold wall he usually set securely in place seemed to be crumbling, and he looked more vulnerable than Jack had ever seen him in his life. It wasn’t this break in character that astounded Jack, however, but it was the mix of emotions that were revealed in Spot’s eyes. The boy seemed to be in the midst of an intense inward struggle with himself, and Jack could clearly distinguish guilt plastered across his face. Spot looked as if he wanted desperately to turn away, and Jack couldn’t help but feel like that guilt was meant for him. What had Spot done to make him feel this way? Before Jack could move any closer to his friend, however, Spot finally seemed to snap out of his trance, and he turned and disappeared into the crowd, exiting the room, and likely the boarding house altogether. Jack had always been good at reading people, and, after that encounter, he knew one thing for sure: Spot was avoiding him.
The days that followed the fight, Spot began to have more and more trouble sleeping at night. His dreams had taken a creative turn for the worse, and he was now not only plagued with images of his dead mother, but her body would also morph into that of Sarah Jacobs. His father’s cold eyes would change into those of a bigger-than-life Queens newsie who would stand over Sarah’s body laughing and mocking him for not being able to save her. Spot would turn away from the scene wanting nothing more than to escape the horrifying image, but as he turned his eyes would always lock onto ones filled with resentment and hatred. Jack would glare at him with betrayal written all across his face, his scowl accusing Spot of what he had done, or rather, what he had not done.
“Yuh coulda saved huh.”
“Jack, please, I tried, I-” but before Spot could continue, Jack would begin to transform before his very eyes. Morphing into a petite frame with feminine features, Spot would then see his younger sister looking up at him. He was sure he could feel his heart break in two when he saw the look of confusion and sadness in her eyes. She had trusted him, and he had let her down.
“Sean,” she would say sadly. “Sean, where’s mommy?” He would try to respond, but the words would stick in his throat as a lump the size of a baseball would form there. She didn’t have to say another word before Spot would begin to break down as his emotions overcame him. He could have saved her, and he didn’t. He could have stopped the monster, but he let her die. It was all his fault.
At this point in his nightmare Spot would always wake in a cold sweat. It had been a tortuous, continuous routine for the past three weeks, and Spot was growing very tired of it. Often times he would be leaving Brooklyn for his spot as early as two in the morning, and he wouldn’t return to his bed until late into the evening. He knew that he was severely sleep deprived, but he simply had too much on his mind to fall into the bliss of a good night’s sleep.
Jack was ghosting him. Even though Spot had said nothing about what had happened the day Queens had attacked Manhattan, it seemed as though Jack had figured it out somehow. The other leader had not communicated with Jack since the brawl, and the Manhattan newsies had been showing up in Brooklyn less and less. Earlier in the week Spot had tried to venture into Manhattan to see if he could resolve the unspoken tension between them, but he had been told by the Manhattan newsies that Jack wasn’t around. Spot had the distinct feeling that Jack had been listening at the top of the staircase. He couldn’t understand the actions of his best friend, and he missed him terribly. Especially during times when his nightmares were worst, Spot relied on Jack to help him make it through every day.
“Extra, extra! Catastrophic explosion destroys local factory!” Spot called as he made his way along the edge of the river. People brushed past him, averting their eyes as they silently refused to pay him any attention. As the hot Summer sun began to recede and the first days of Winter rolled into the city, it had become harder and harder to quickly sell his papers. Not only were there fewer people traveling the streets, but it seemed like no one wanted to stop for even a minute to take a look at the news of the day. Even when Spot exaggerated about a small electrical problem in the factories, people still failed to even give him a second glance.
Spot frowned as he noticed a small droplet of water staining the front of the newspaper in his hands. Looking up at the taciturn, grey sky, he blinked his eyes as a drop of rain pattered against his eyelid. Cursing under his breath, Spot shuffled into a sheltered alley as the sky opened up, and a fierce downpour of thick pellets of rain and snow began to hurtle toward the ground with unspeakable force.
Nuttin’ like a little storm tuh match me mood, Spot thought sullenly as he miserably lifted his papers to shield his face from the ferocious torrent. The papers were entirely soaked through, and the ink had already begun to run together across the many pages. A day’s wages gone. Spot knew that his boys would likely be met with the same dilemma, which meant that all the money he’d already made that day would be given up to help those less fortunate. His philosophy as a leader was that his boys always came first, no matter the cost. His stomach grumbled just at the thought of passing up food for the day, but he knew what was necessary.
Sighing forlornly, Spot let his body slide down the alley wall as he sat with a thud and rested his tired head in his hands. His sleep deprived nights and stress-filled weeks seemed to finally be catching up to him, and he began to feel drowsy despite the cold drop in temperature brought about by the storm. Snapping awake with a shake of his head, he groaned as he moved his stiff muscles to climb to his feet. He knew that if he fell asleep in these conditions, he would likely catch pneumonia or, worse, he could freeze to death without proper winter clothing to keep him warm. He shivered at the thought and attempted to hug his thin shirt tightly to his freezing torso. Shuffling down the street, Spot picked up his pace as he drew closer to home. He sighed again at the thought of the night to come, knowing it would be long and hard, filled with the downcast spirits of numerous young boys who would likely be both without food and wages for the day’s grueling cycle of the hard work experienced daily as a newsie on the New York City streets.
David Jacobs frantically ran through the streets, tapping people’s shoulders and desperately pleading for their help. The few citizens who traveled the streets, however, took him to be nothing more than an insignificant beggar, and, ignoring his pleas, they roughly shook him off and sauntered away in annoyance. The more he tried, the more frantic and frustrated he became, and he felt on the verge of tears as his searching yielded no results.
A large water droplet fell onto his head and rolled slowly down the brim of his cap. David let out an audible cry of anguish as he knew that yet another storm was on its way. The past week had been filled with nothing but harsh rain and snow. After the first gale, many had thought that business would pick up as normal, but it seems that fate had other plans. The continuous rain and snow had seemed to set nearly all of the workflow on hold, and, especially as a newsie, that meant little to no cash intake, and no means to provide for his family. Usually this wouldn’t have been a problem, as David’s father had long since recovered from his accident and had returned to work in the factories, but as luck would have it, the Jacobs father and mother had traveled out of town before the severe weather and had become stranded outside of the city. David, Sarah, and Les had been left to fend for themselves, and their resources had begun to run out after just a few days… And that was before the current calamity.
David began to trek shamefully back home with nothing to show for his endeavors, but as he looked to the other side of the street, he saw what he thought to be a godsend. Attempting to hide his sense of eagerness and relief, he rushed across the road, catching up to the boy on the other side.
“Hey, Spot!” The Brooklyn leader lifted his face to see who had called for him, and David nearly stopped in his tracks as he caught his first real glimpse of the teen. Spot looked tired. No, completely exhausted. There were dark circles surrounding his eyes, and his shoulders sagged as he took painfully slow steps. David also noticed that he looked too thin and pale, and he knew that the past week must have hit the Brooklyn newsies hard. Gulping slightly at Spot’s vacant expression, David dredged up the courage to ask for the help he so desperately needed.
“Spot, it’s- it’s Les.” The rain began to fall harder around them and David shivered from the cold atmosphere. Spot’s exterior made no change and he simply observed David with a listless stare.
“He’s sick, Spot, he-” David’s words broke off as he choked back a sob. “He got caught in a storm while trying to sell, and he’s real bad off. Our parents are out of town and we don’t have enough money to pay a doctor. I wouldn’t be asking, but I’ve heard what people say: they say that you’re good with sicknesses, that you’re a real good nurse when you need to be-”
Spot cut him off with a scowl and a raise of his hand. David flinched at the irritated glare on his face and wondered what he’d said to elicit such a reaction. But just as soon as Spot’s anger appeared, it seemed as though all his energy rushed out of him at once, and his composure wilted in fatigue. Rubbing the back of his neck, Spot regarded his companion with disdain.
“Once a walkin’ mouth, always a walkin’ mouth,” he muttered tiresomely. “Yuh know, Davie, if I weren’t so damn tired, I’d soak yuh foh dat title.”
At those words, David realized his folly. Nurse. Nurse?! Had he really called the mighty King of Brooklyn, the ever-so-fearless Spot Conlon, the most feared newsie around, a nurse?! David mentally kicked himself and was even more ashamed when he felt a blush creep up onto his cheeks. How could he have been so stupid? He just blew any shot he ever had that Spot would ever help him in a million years. He lowered his head in despair and humiliation. Spot, noticing the other boy’s plight, decided to take pity on the Jacobs family. After all, he owed Sarah at least that much after the way he’d treated her for so long.
“Alright, lead da way, Mouth.” David jerked his head up in surprise, eyes widening in shock. He hesitated as he scrutinized Spot in suspicion, wondering if this were some sort of trap. “Whatcha waitin’ foh, Mouth, a signed petition or maybe a parade wit’ dancin’ elephants tuh help get da message into dat dumb ass thick skull o’ yawhs? I’s gonna help yuh, so get a move on, blockhead.”
David yelped and faltered on the curb in his haste to scurry away. He could hear Spot snickering at him behind his back, but he didn’t slow his gait. He knew enough about the King of Brooklyn to know that you didn’t take any of his favors for granted.
Sarah wiped the sweat from Les’s brow as she moved to replace the cloth there with a freshly soaked one. She felt tears well up in her eyes at his deathly pale complexion and glistening brow. The boy seemed to be fighting for every lungful as his breathing came out in ragged, sickly spurts. His entire body radiated the intense heat of a raging fever, and he visibly shook even though his small form was covered by several blankets. Wiping away a tear before it could fall, Sarah tried to put on a brave face. With her parents out of town, she had to remain strong for her brothers. They both looked to her in times like these and she promised herself that she would do everything in her power to help Les.
She stood to her feet as she heard voices at the door. So David had found help. She could almost have cried in relief, at least, until she saw who walked through the door. When Spot entered the room, the tension was immediate, and the two of them locked eyes as an unspoken strain settled between them. They hadn’t spoken since the incident with the Queens newsies, and Sarah knew that their entire relationship had been drastically altered. She wasn’t sure how she felt about him anymore, all she knew was that even the very thought of him was enough to cause her to flush and clam up. It didn’t help that things were tense between her and Jack, and Spot was partially to blame. Jack wanted to know what had happened the day Queens had attacked, and Sarah simply wasn’t comfortable speaking about it. She had still barely come to terms with what had happened herself, and she wasn’t sure why, but something about the entire situation made her very uneasy. Her mind kept telling her that she should simply tell Jack what had happened, that he would be happy that Spot had saved her from such a ghastly fate, but her heart was telling her that she couldn’t tell him. That part of her didn’t want to; it was almost like it was a personal secret between her and Spot, and she felt ill just at the thought of trying to explain it to Jack. She knew that he had his suspicions anyway, and that his and Spot’s friendship was suffering as a result, but she could only hope that the tension would fade with time.
Suddenly, from the small cot in the corner of the room, Les began to mumble incoherently in his feverish state. Spot didn’t hesitate before he was at the boy’s side, running his hand through Les’s hair and across his burning forehead, and carefully taking note of each of his sickly symptoms.
Sarah couldn’t help but noticed how calm Spot’s practiced hands were as he tenderly cared for her younger brother. She had never seen Spot act with such care and concern for anyone other than himself. In that moment, as she watched the boy she had hated become the help she had desperately prayed for, she realized just how selfish she had been to not realize the true nature of the rumored to be heartless King of Brooklyn. She also noticed how tired and hungry he looked, and she knew that he must work hard to provide for his boys. Only someone with a deep respect and care for the people around them could show the amount of tenderness Spot was showing for Les in his examination. She realized then that Spot should never have been her enemy. She had been deceived by the outward, arrogant shell of a boy who wanted to hide his vulnerabilities. She knew then that she wanted to pursue a true friendship with him, because she knew that he was the type of friend who would be unconditionally loyal, no matter the cost to his own personal wellbeing. She had been so blind before; she couldn’t believe her foolishness.
Spot turned away from his patient to the two anxious siblings waiting for his verdict. He pretended not to notice Sarah wiping tears out of her eyes, thinking it was only worry for her brother that caused her to cry. He had no idea of the revelation and inward change of heart she had just experienced, and he barely noticed how she looked at him in a different way than she ever had before.
“He has a severe case of pneumonia,” Spot explained as he wiped the sweat from his own brow. “I’s seen it many times in me boys, and I tink dat he’ll be just fine wit da right medicine.” Sarah let out a sob and David cast his gaze downward at the words. Spot looked at them in confusion, not understanding their reactions.
“Spot, we have no money,” Sarah explained. “We can’t afford any medicine, and our parents won’t return until the storms stop.” Understanding flashed across Spot’s face and he simply smiled. Now it was the Jacobs’ turn to be confused, as the smile seemed very out of place in the moment of crisis.
“Now, don’t yuh go worryin’ bout money, Princess,” Spot said. “I can get da medicine for yuh, just give me a few days.” David’s face broke out in a grin, and Sarah looked as if she could have smothered Spot in hugs and kisses. Taking a step away from her to avoid just that, Spot continued. “Until I return, make shoh he stays in bed, and give him plenty o’ fluids. Also give him baths when yuh can tuh try and control dat fevuh.” Sarah and David were both looking at him gratefully, and as Spot moved to leave, David stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
“Spot, wait,” he said. He seemed to be conflicted about the situation and Spot could see that he felt ashamed for not being able to provide for his brother himself. Understanding the feeling, Spot placed a hand on David’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring nod. David visibly relaxed, and he met Spot’s eyes as he continued. “How can we ever repay you?” Spot looked him in the eye for a moment longer before answering.
“Don’t yuh go worryin’ bout dat neither, Walkin’ Mouth. Considuh it a once in a lifetime favuh.” With that, Spot tipped his hat at the other boy, and hurried out the door.
After two days Spot returned. He had left the newsies in the capable hands of Rusty, and they did not question his actions as he would often disappear from the lodging house for days at a time. Figuring the boys would be okay without him for a bit longer, Spot decided to go immediately to the Jacobs household. Trudging through endless mud puddles and flooded gutters, Spot looked up at the vault of the sky, wondering if it had finally done enough damage to the world beneath it. The storms seemed to have come to a halt, but the effects of the relentless rain and snow could still be seen across the streets of New York. Along with the flooded and snow-filled avenues, the storms had also ushered in the first weeks of the frigid winter to come. Spot shivered just at the thought of selling papers in the soon to be far below freezing temperatures. The hardest months as newsies were upon them, and he could already tell that this winter would be harsher than most.
Reaching the Jacobs’ apartment complex, Spot pushed these morbid thoughts aside and focused on the task at hand. After climbing the staircase and locating the correct number, he rapped on the door loudly and waited impatiently for someone to respond. The sound of the lock sliding back could be heard, and he could soon see the pale, tired face of a very worried Sarah Jacobs. Her eyes lit up at the sight of him, something that he was sure had never occurred before, and she immediately stepped aside to let him enter.
“Oh, Spot, I’m so glad you’re back,” she said rapturously. He nodded at her once before quickly scanning the room and hurrying over to the bed containing one very sick boy. Sarah followed closely behind and watched anxiously as he removed the medicine from his pockets. He held three small vials in his hands: one containing antibiotics to fight the infection, one to help bring down the fever, and finally a simple aspirin to help ease the boy’s suffering. Spot heard Sarah draw in a long breath of relief at the sight of the medicine, and he jumped in slight surprise as he felt her hand rest on his shoulder. He looked up to find her looking on him in gratitude and appreciation.
“You’re a life-saver, Spot Conlon,” she said as tears of reprieve filled her eyes. “He’s only been getting worse, and I’m not sure what we would have done without you.” Spot was a but taken-aback by her fair treatment of him, used to only fighting and insults being exchanged between them. He also wasn’t entirely sure how to react to the look of admiration he was receiving at that moment and decided to pretend he didn’t notice at all. He cleared his throat and shifted nervously.
“Well, we ain’t out o’ da watuh yet,” he said testily. “He’s still got a long road tuh recovery ahead, yuh know.” Spot went on to explain the different types of medicine, how much should be administered and when, and other necessary information Sarah would need to nurse her brother back to health. She soaked in every word, and with each moment Spot only saw that look of admiration grow stronger. Whereas it still made him feel slightly unnerved, he couldn’t help but feel his sense of pride swell at the way she was acting. As his instruction came to a close, he began to make his way over to the windows, opting to take the fire escape down to the streets instead of the dark apartment hallways.
“Spot, wait!” Sarah called from behind him. He turned to face her questioningly. “I know you said we didn’t need to pay you, but it just doesn’t feel right,” she explained. “Please, is there anything we can do? David’s out selling papers right now, and maybe if it doesn’t rain or snow again, he’ll be able to-”
“Woah, slow down, Princess,” Spot cut her off as he placed a hand on the window pane. “A favuh’s a favuh, and yuh should just enjoy it cause it ain’t gonna happen twice.” Without another word, he smirked and winked at her before swinging his body onto the fire escape and once again beginning to take his leave.
“But Spot, please!” He paused once again and nearly groaned out loud as her call stopped him a second time. “Please, Spot, there must be something…” her voice broke at the end of her plea, and Spot felt his heart thud in a feeling of empathy. She had been through so much the past couple months, and most of it had been his doing. There was one thing that had been bugging him. A promise he’d made on his birthday on which he hadn’t exactly followed through. Making up his mind, he sucked in a breath through his teeth, and turned to face the girl who had haunted his thoughts daily. She was leaning out the window to look at him, and her face was filled with unbound hope.
“Alright, well, I guess there’s one ting,” he said nervously. Her face lit up at his words and he couldn’t help but wonder how she would react to his proposal. “Yuh know I wrote yuh dat note a while, back, and maybe, uh, maybe we could try dat again.” Her brow furrowed in confusion for a moment before remembrance took its place. Spot grimaced, sure that he had only made her upset as the last time they had tried to be friends things hadn’t exactly gone very well. But slowly, her lips curled up into a smile and she beamed at him happily.
“Well then, Mr. Conlon,” she said playfully. “I guess I have an appointment with you and your precious hillside in the morning then. I will see you then, insolent git.” But the once insulting name was not said in respite, but rather jokingly, and soon after she disappeared back into the apartment, shutting the window behind her. Spot turned to leave with a dumfound expression on his face. He couldn’t help but feel elated at her positive response, and he could only hope that the morning would transpire just as well.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Sarah looked over her shoulder for what felt like the hundredth time. She had been waiting on the hill for nearly ten minutes and she couldn’t help but feel haunted by the idea that he might not show up. What if he was having second thoughts? What if he decided this was all some crazy fantasy? She wrung her hands together nervously and shivered in the cold air.
The storms had calmed to gentle snowfalls, and flakes of white crystals surrounded her as they lazily fell from the sky. Standing on the hill she could see the peaceful countryside of Central Park covered in a blanket of dazzling white snow, the few morning strollers that walked about, the snow coated trees that covered the area, and behind that the outline of the city as the sun began to rise, flooding the scene with multiple shades of orange, pink, and yellow. The view was breathtaking and Sarah found herself caught up in the magic of it all.
“Beautiful, ain’t it?”
Sarah nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of his voice, but she quickly regained her composure and turned to smile at him. Spot stood behind her, his eyes staring off into the distance and settling anywhere but on her own. She could feel the nervous energy emanating from him and knew that he was just as anxious about this as she was. After a pause he slowly walked to her side, still taking in the extraordinary picture before them. As he stood beside her she found herself studying him carefully for the first time. He wasn’t wearing his hat, which she thought strange due to the cold weather, but she decided not to ask, and she realized she’d never really seen him in such an insouciant way. He closed his eyes against the sunlight as the golden haze washed over him. A gentle breeze sifted through his hair and blew the long strands away from his face, revealing the serene guise filling his features. The snow fell calmly around him and settled in his hair and eyelashes, speckling them with glistening flakes. Before she could stop herself Sarah began to drink in every facet. His flawless skin, his thin, but muscular frame, his long lashes resting peacefully on his cheeks. She had never really noticed before just how handsome the King of Brooklyn was. She had scoffed at the other girls who fawned over him and daydreamed about him, but even then she found herself doing the same thing. Could she actually be developing feelings for someone she had hated so much?
“Take a picture, Princess, it’ll last longuh.” Spot opened his eyes and turned to smirk at her. But instead of getting angry as she usually would at such a remark, Sarah found herself grinning back, a small giggle escaping her lips. Spot seemed surprised at her response, but soon his smirk turned up into a smile and he too began to laugh softly. That was all it took for the tension to break, and Sarah knew immediately that things were finally going to be okay between them. She teemed with contentment as she turned away from him to once again appraise the rising sun.
“Dats one o’ da reasons why I come here, yuh know?” He said. She hummed in response, not really understanding, but not wanting to ruin the moment with an out-of-place question.
“Da view, I mean,” he continued. “It’s always beautiful here.” She looked at him then, surprised when she found him watching her closely. She could finally see his eyes, and she found herself becoming lost in their deep blue color. They were absolutely striking.
“Is this where you got your name from?” she asked cautiously, knowing that Spot didn’t much like to discuss his past. She saw no irritation on his face, however, so she continued. “I’ve always wondered about that, you know, because I figured Spot isn’t your real name. You called this place your “spot” once, and it’s been bugging me ever since.”
“Yeah? Yuh tink about me dat much, Princess?” He said this jokingly, but Sarah still felt her cheeks flush as he raised his eyebrows at her.
“You’s right, though,” he continued. “I found dis place a long time ago when I first became a newsie. I didn’t have a lot of friends, den, and I liked to be alone a lot. I don’t even remembuh why I came to Manhattan dat day, but I knew da moment I saw da sunrise dat I would be spendin’ a lot of time here. Me man Rusty was de only one who really noticed and he took tuh calling me Spot cause he thought it was funny. Don’t think he ever thought the name would stick though.”
“So, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s your real name?” Spot gulped at the question and Sarah knew that she was treading on dangerous ground. She was about to tell him that it didn’t matter and that he didn’t need to tell her, but he answered before she could.
“It’s Sean,” he said resolutely, and she knew that she shouldn’t press the matter. She was simply happy he felt comfortable enough to tell her. Maybe they could be friends after all.
The couple hardly spoke for the rest of the morning, choosing instead to simply enjoy each other’s presence and watch as the sun continued to gradually peek over the skyline. As the morning persisted, the city began to wake around them, and the sounds of life began to fill the air. When the time came for Spot to leave he didn’t say a word, but simply gestured for Sarah to follow him as he made his way down the hill. They walked side-by-side until they reached the Brooklyn Bridge where they parted ways, each of them holding the events of the morning close to their heart.
After that day Spot and Sarah began to meet in Central Park every morning. They both secretly looked forward to these meetings and enjoyed the time they spent together. Each day they would brave the cold weather together and would watch the sunrise, sometimes talking about one thing or another and other times simply regarding the beautiful view without needing to say a word.
Over time they began to get to know each other and could easily call each other friends. Sarah, for example, had discovered quite early on that there were certain topics that Spot simply did not wish to discuss, and would be easily irked if she ever brought them up. One day she had tried to ask him how he’d gotten the medicine for Les and where he had gone for so long, but he had completely avoided the question altogether and had refused to give her a straight answer. He also seemed to have a strong wall put up around anything that had to do with his life before the newsies, and Sarah could tell that something disturbing had happened to him; something that she was determined to know about one day. Although it piqued her to no end, Sarah avoided these topics and would instead try to bring up the things she’d discovered Spot loved to talk about. He would tell her all about his adventures as a newsie, about his boys and the way he led them. Another topic he avoided, however, was exactly how he came to power over the Brooklyn newsies. When Sarah had asked that question he had completely clammed up and had cut the morning short, abruptly saying he didn’t want to talk about it and that it was none of her business. She remembered he was so upset that she was worried he wouldn’t show up the next morning. Needless to say she didn’t ask again.
When he did open up to her, however, she absolutely loved the way his eyes lit up when he spoke, especially when he brought up stories about Rusty, Jack, or Race, or really any of the boys under his wing. She quickly discovered that, despite the rumor that the King of Brooklyn had no heart, he really cared for the people in his life and would do anything for them. He relied on them and needed them to get through every day. Because of this, Sarah knew it was important that she help Spot mend his relationship with Jack.
It wasn’t easy to talk to Jack about what had happened, but she had brought Spot with her, and he had done his best to comfort her, cutting in whenever she needed help telling the story. Jack had been distraught and livid at what had happened and had Spot not stopped him he would likely have gone straight to Queens to murder the lot of them. Sarah knew that he was also confused and slightly hurt that she had not told him sooner, and that he didn’t understand why she had felt the need to withhold the information from him for so long, but he didn’t press the issue. She knew that Jack, like herself, was sick and tired of all the hostility between the three of them and that he missed having his best friend at his side. After that day, relations between Manhattan and Brooklyn had returned to normal, and the prodigious Spot Conlon and the noble Jack Kelly could once again be seen roaming the New York City streets together and leading a mighty covert of newsies.
The only thing that had changed was Spot and Sarah’s relationship. No longer one of resentment and hatred, the two were closer than ever before. They kept their sunrise meetings to themselves, but they felt no need to hide their newfound friendship altogether. Jack had noticed the change in their attitudes toward each other the day they had told him about the Queens newsies, and he had seemed relieved, if not thrilled, that his best friend and his girlfriend were finally getting along. Sarah was also very thankful herself, never realizing how exhausting it had been to continuously loath Spot as she did before.
Months passed, and the year was drawing close to Christmas time, the air filled with the jolly cheer that only came with the holidays. The winter that had started out so frigid had mellowed considerably, and the temperature was tame enough that Spot and Sarah could continue to meet. They were both elated by the fact, and they both felt happier than ever as Christmas time drew closer, and their relationship flourished as a result.
“Hey, Princess, how you doin’?” Sarah beamed at him. Spot stood in the entry way of the Jacobs family apartment, leaning against the door frame with his usual smirk in place.
“Spot!” she chirped. “What are you doing here?” It was late afternoon and they had already seen each other early that morning, Spot never mentioning once that he planned to visit her family household.
“Well, actually, I ain’t here tuh see you, Princess.” Sarah raised her eyebrows, waiting for him to explain. “Yuh see, I ran into Les while I’s selling dis mawnin’, and da boy wanted me tuh come ovuh. Said he had some new marbles and he wanted me tuh teach him how tuh shoot.”
Sarah smiled happily. After Les had recovered from his sickness and Sarah and David had told him what Spot had done, Les soon began to talk about no one else. It reminded her of how he’d acted the first time he’d met Jack; the way he treated Spot like he was some kind of hero. She had been somewhat anxious at first to how Spot would take to the boy, but the pair seemed to get along well. Les would often follow Spot around while he sold, and Spot had promised to teach him how to be a “tough newsie of New York”, as he put it. Les had been ecstatic at the idea and always looked forward to the time he spent with the Brooklyn leader.
“Sarah, honey, who’s at the door?” Sarah’s mother called to her from the kitchen. Stepping aside to allow Spot to enter the room, Sarah answered her. “It’s Spot, Mama.”
“Oh, Spot! It’s so good to see you!” The Jacobs’ parents had been tremendously grateful to Spot for helping their children while they were away, and despite his efforts to convince them that there was no need, they were constantly trying to find ways to repay him. “You’re just in time for dinner, won’t you join us?”
“I’d love to Mrs. Jacobs.” Spot smiled cordially at her and nodded his head. Mrs. Jacobs turned happily back to her cooking, delighted that he had accepted her offer. Spot exchanged a look with Sarah and she giggled at her mother’s behavior, causing him to smirk and roll his eyes playfully in return.
“Spot!” Suddenly Spot was tackled by a massive force, pinning him to the wall as he laughed boisterously. Les clung to his lanky form, grinning up at him with glee written all across his face.
“Hey, kid, how’s it goin’” Spot laughed as Les finally stepped away from him, still attached to his arm.
“It’s great, Spot, you gotta see these marbles, come-on, I’ll show you!” Les began to drag Spot across the room, the latter giving Sarah a somewhat exasperated look as he passed. She chuckled at his plight and raised a hand to wave at him good-humoredly. Spot scowled in return, but mirth danced in his eyes as he followed the younger boy through the kitchen to a separate bedroom. Sarah sighed happily and went to help her mother prepare dinner, the amused smile never once leaving her face.
“He’s a good boy, you know, Spot.” Mrs. Jacobs stated, studying her daughter with a knowing look in her eyes. Sarah turned to her, wondering where the thought had come from.
“Yeah, I know,” she answered. “He’s a really great friend.”
“Are you sure he’s only a friend?” Sarah jerked her head up in shock, completely taken by surprise at her mother’s words.
“Mama, what are you saying? Of course he’s just a friend, what else would he be?” Mrs. Jacobs didn’t answer but simply nodded her head, skepticism written across her face. “Besides, even if I did like him like that, which I don’t,” Sarah continued. “You know I’m with Jack, and I’m really happy about that.”
Mrs. Jacobs simply hummed away, choosing to ignore her daughter’s rambling. Sarah glared at her, frustrated by the thoughts that were now bouncing around her head. She couldn’t have feelings for Spot, it just didn’t make any sense. She had Jack, and that’s all she needed. She had been so excited when he’d kissed her after the strike and she wasn’t about to throw that all away because of some misled notion expressed by her nosy mother. Even as these thoughts coursed through her mind, however, Sarah began to wonder who she was trying to convince: her mother or herself.
“Alright, raise your arm like dis, and make shoh yuh still got de marble in de pocket. No, lower yuh arm just a bit. Here, lemme help.” Spot walked behind Les, and took his right elbow, guiding it downwards into a better position. The boy’s face was scrunched up in concentration as he gripped Spot’s slingshot, aiming one of his marbles at an empty glass bottle Spot had set up on the fire escape.
“Now remembuh what I told yuh, breath in and den out when yuh let go, and keep yuh arm steady.” Les took in a huge breath before releasing it while freeing the marble, sending it shooting through the air, just missing the glass bottle and crashing instead into the side of the apartment.
“Jesus Christ!” A voice from inside could be heard issuing a series of expletives before the window to the boys’ left was flung open and a head poked through, glowering at the two of them. “What the hell are you two trying to do, give me a heart attack?”
Spot and Les exchanged looks before bursting into laughter. Mr. Jacobs, the victim of their unintentional prank, continued to glare at them, but couldn’t help but allow his own lips to curl slightly in amusement. Mrs. Jacobs appeared beside him at the window, holding back a chuckle of her own as she placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“Come now, Mayer,” she spoke gently. “Boys will be boys.”
Mr. Jacobs shook his head in exasperation and shook a finger at the two boys who were still plagued with fits of laughter. “You boys should really learn how to use that thing before you shoot it. If you’re not careful you’ll take someone’s head off.”
“Oh, but Spot’s an incredible shot, Papa.” Sarah said, appearing behind her parents. “Go on, Spot, why don’t you show them? You can put my father’s worries to rest and prove that you’re a more than capable teacher for Les.”
“Nah, I couldn’t,” Spot said, feeling himself flush slightly at the praise.
“Aww come on, Spot, please?” Les pleaded as he grabbed Spot’s arm and looked up at him imploringly. Spot stared down at the boy, knowing that it would be hard for anyone to say no to that look. He would never admit it, but he’d always had a soft spot for kids. Giving in, he sighed and nodded before taking the slingshot from Les and making his way to the far end of the fire escape. While Les went to grab the marble he’d shot, Spot glanced at Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, checking to see if it was alright with them. Mr. Jacobs nodded and gave him a thumbs up, obviously intrigued to see if his daughter’s praise of the boy’s skill was well-founded. Les hurried back to Spot and handed him the marble before dashing to stand next to the window and out of the line of fire.
“Okay, here goes nuttin’” Spot loaded the slingshot and pulled the cord back, aiming with the ease of someone who’d done this a million times. From his position by the fire escape’s railing he stood a good twenty meters away from the glass bottle, a distance he could easily achieve, his record being at least three times as far. He couldn’t help but feel a little nervous, however, not used to having an audience. All this flashed through his mind in a matter of seconds, and no sooner had he cocked the slingshot than he was letting it go, causing the marble to zoom through the air, whistling passed the window and crashing into the bottle straight on, sending shards of glass in every direction.
Mr. Jacobs cocked an eyebrow at Spot, impressed by the spectacle, Mrs. Jacobs began to applaud, and Les whooped and hollered, but Spot’s eyes were drawn only to Sarah, who stood behind her parents, watching him with her arms crossed and a smile on her face, beaming with pride. Spot grinned widely back, keeping his eyes locked with hers, and barely registering Les running to recover the marble and Mrs. Jacobs admonishing him to take heed of broken glass. He made his way over to the window, and Sarah walked up to take her parents’ place, who had both returned to the other room after half-dragging Les inside and away from the scattered shards.
“Not bad for an insolent git,” she said teasingly.
Spot smirked and took a mock bow, adding extra flourish for effect. “I’s humbly honored tuh have impressed da graceful and beautiful Princess of Manhattan.”
Sarah laughed and playfully swatted him on the shoulder, causing him to smirk as he placed his hands on the windowsill, diminishing the space between them. Sarah smiled widely at him as his own expression sobered somewhat. “I’s not entirely kiddin’, yuh know,” he said seriously. “At least not da part about you bein’ beautiful.”
Sarah’s smile faded as she comprehended the significance of those words, and she found herself staring deeply into his eyes. Her shoulders began to rise and fall as her breathing quickened and Spot could all but hear her rapidly beating heart. He felt his own pulse accelerate as he realized just how close together they were, and he was once again transfixed by those stunning hazel eyes, the likes of which he had seen in no one else. Before he knew it he was leaning in, feeling her breath brushing delicately against his cheeks, her lips just inches from his own.
Spot and Sarah jerked apart at the sound of the voice, Sarah’s cheeks going beet red and Spot leaning casually against the side of the window, trying to act like nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. Les stood in the doorway to the kitchen, grinning at them, but giving no indication that he’d seen anything he shouldn’t have.
“Mama says to tell you it’s time for dinner,” he said quickly before skipping away, disappearing just as soon as he’d arrived. Spot looked over at Sarah whose face was still slightly pink, and wordlessly lifted his right leg to clamber through the window.
“Well, uh, I guess we’d bettuh get goin’,” he stated cautiously. Sarah startled as if she’d forgotten entirely that he was there, and she turned to look at him with an odd expression on her face.
“Yeah, uh, I guess we should,” she answered slowly.
Spot could sense her uncertainty and confusion and, hoping to comfort her, he reached over and took her hand in his own, interlocking their fingers and giving her a reassuring squeeze. She looked into his eyes then, and Spot watched as the bewilderment on her face melted into contentment. Spot smiled at her and began to lead her across the room, satisfied that the crisis was averted, at least for the moment. He knew that they would need to talk about what had happened, or rather what had almost happened, at a later point in time, but for the moment the two of them were both happy to simply enjoy the evening and forget about their problems.
Later that night, Spot prepared to leave the apartment. He had enjoyed a delicious dinner with the Jacobs, finding that he got along quite well with the family of five. David, who had showed up halfway through the meal after having been out selling late, had then asked Spot if he wanted to have a smoke, and the two of them had stood on the fire escape together, smoking while having a short conversation. Spot remembered thinking that it was the first time he’d really connected with the other teen. Spot had always regarded David as more of an acquaintance than a friend; he was simply a friend of friends, and they tolerated each other as a result. But during that conversation, in the midst of the innocent small talk, things had gotten a little more serious.
“You know, Spot, sometimes I worry,” David had said. He stared into the night, the many lights of the city flickering before them like a giant galaxy on Earth. Spot glanced at him before bringing his cigarette to his lips, choosing not to answer, but to wait instead to see where the conversation would lead.
“I worry about my family, about Les and Sarah, I worry about Jack and the other Manhattan guys. Sometimes I even worry about you, Spot.”
Spot snorted. “Well tanks, man, I’m flattered.”
David didn’t react. His expression remained neutral, and he puffed out a breath of smoke, stealing a glimpse at his companion, revealing the gravity on his face. Spot furrowed his brow, wondering what the other boy could be on about.
“It’s just that, everything’s been so good lately. Everyone’s been happy and getting along real well,” David continued.
“Uh, Davie-boy, don’t get me wrong, but uh dat don’t seem like much tuh worry bout,” Spot replied, confusion evident on his face. “Sounds all good tuh me.”
David turned to him then, looking him in the eyes in a way he’d never done before. Spot knew that David was intimidated by him, and he was astounded by the straight-forwardness of the boy in that moment, taken aback by the serious tone their harmless discussion had donned.
“Yeah, but that’s just it, Spot,” he said, still staring at Spot earnestly. “Everything’s good. Too good. I can’t help but think that we’ve had so much good, that the bad’s gotta be on the way. The scale’s gotta tip one way or the other, don’t you think?”
After those words, Spot had finally felt it; a sense of foreboding that completely overwhelmed him. He was pretty sure he’d been unconsciously aware of it for a while but had chosen to ignore it in the midst of the good. Now that David had brought it to his attention, however, he was completely overwhelmed by the feeling that something bad was going to happen. He had been distant for the rest of the night, hardly aware of anything that was going on around him. He’d abruptly said goodbye to the family and he knew that Sarah was disappointed by his failure to pay any extra attention to her, but he was much too preoccupied to deal with their confusing relationship at that moment. The sense of foreboding followed him the entire way home, and he couldn’t shake it, even as he climbed the stairs toward his bedroom. This is why, when he entered his room and lit the lamp beside his bed, he wasn’t entirely surprised by what he found. Stuck in the wall by a threatening, jagged and stained dagger, a piece of dirty cloth hung, displaying the clear mark of a blood-red handprint.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Sarah made her way down the hill with a frown on her face. Spot hadn’t shown up that morning. He’d seemed so distant and tense the night before, and she couldn’t help but wonder if their almost kiss was the cause. She kept replaying the moment in her head, trying to figure out what she’d done wrong. She shuddered, thinking that maybe she’d repulsed him, and had ruined their already precarious relationship. Everything had been going so well; things were perfect between them; why’d she have to go and mess it all up?
A single stray tear threatened to leak from her eye, but she immediately wiped it away, remembering her promise to never cry over Spot. For goodness sake, she was acting like some love-sick, sentimental school-girl. She needed to stop jumping to conclusions and get her act together. Maybe Spot had simply overslept.
Lord knows the boy is constantly sleep deprived, she thought sullenly. It was a Sunday so the newsies wouldn’t be out selling, so it was very likely that he’d just gotten distracted. Smiling shakily, Sarah decided to go to the Brooklyn lodging house to check on him. Maybe he was sick and she could repay his favor to Les by helping him feel better.
Sarah made her way through the city, across the bridge, and eventually to the Brooklyn newsies lodging house. It was a long walk and she couldn’t help but allow her qualms to grow the entire way. By the time she was walking across the docks toward Spot’s usual position at the top of his tower of crates, she was beside herself with apprehension. She was so inattentive that she didn’t hear the catcalls from the Brooklyn boys who whistled and called out as she passed, nor did she notice that Spot wasn’t even there until she had nearly walked passed his crates and on toward the lodging house itself.
Frowning, Sarah looked around, hoping to see a familiar face. All around her the Brooklyn newsies stared, ogling at her with none to pleasant expressions. Some of them eyed her like a piece of meat, and she felt a shudder of fear pass through her as she realized she had put herself in a slightly dangerous situation. These boys weren’t exactly known for being gentle and respectable, and many of them likely would not know who she was, nor that she was friends with Spot. They might try something with her, and she suddenly felt all the color drain from her face as she recalled the day the Queens newsies had attacked. She wasn’t about to go through that again. Clearing her throat, Sarah quickly scanned the lot of them, quickly noting that she was completely surrounded and had nowhere to run.
“I, uh, I’m l-looking for Spot,” she stuttered, cursing herself for sounding so afraid. “He’s a f-friend of mine.” Some of the boys paused and exchanged hesitant looks, wondering if they should listen to her, but many of them simply snickered, and continued to advance, thinking she would say anything to escape. Sarah swallowed nervously and began to panic as she realized they wouldn’t be deterred no matter how hard she tried to convince them of her relationship with their leader. Turning frantically around, she desperately searched for any last-minute escape route, becoming dismayed when she found none. Setting her jaw and closing her eyes, she determinedly decided not to cry, not wanting to give these boys the satisfaction.
“Sarah? Sarah Jacobs?”
Sarah felt a wave of relief as she heard the familiar voice. She swore she could’ve broken down in joyful tears right then and there if it hadn’t been for the multitude of eyes still watching her closely.
“Eaves!” she cried thankfully. The small boy ran to her side before turning to face the other boys and glaring at them ferociously.
“I know dis here lady, and you’s don’t wanna go messin’ wit huh, okay?” he demanded. “She’s Jack Kelly’s dame, and she ain’t lyin’ bout bein’ a friend o’ Spot’s.” A smattering of mutters sounded throughout the crowd of boys, some still looking at Eaves skeptically. After a moment, however, they all seemed to reach the verdict that they should leave the situation alone, and slowly each newsie returned to their leisurely Sunday activities. Sarah sighed aloud and attempted to regain control of her shaking fingers. Eaves, noticing her unease, smiled reassuringly at her.
“Ah, don’t worry bout dem none, Miss, dey’s just pretendin’ to be all tough like,” he said with a smirk. “Dey wouldn’t’ve hurtcha none, prolly woulda just brought yuh tuh Spot, who woulda cleared da whole ting up anyway.” He shrugged nonchalantly, and Sarah tried to smile back at him, but with adrenaline still pumping through her veins it was difficult to dampen her racing heart and tense muscles.
“W-Where is S-Spot anyway?” she murmured almost inaudibly. Eaves, living up to his name, heard her anyway, and shrugged again.
“I don’t be knowin’, Miss.” He paused as he seemed to ponder the question. “Maybe he’s off doin’ whatevuh it is he does wit’ da money we gives him.”
Sarah wrinkled her brow in confusion. “What money?”
“Oh, da money he collects every month,” Eaves spoke as if she should already have this information. When she continued to stare at him with a blank look, however, he continued. “Spot has us give him some o’ our earnins every month. We don’t know what he does wit’ it, prolly spends it on himself, honestly. It’s funny, he takes from everyone, even de poorest, but he says it’s good for us, dat we can’t be greedy. It’s always been dat way, really, even wit Dick Clemmins back in da days before Spot was leaduh. Course I wasn’t here yet, but I heard all bout dem days. D’ja know dat…”
Eaves went on to ramble about the days before Spot and enthusiastically divulge tales about the past. Sarah, however, had long since stopped listening. She tuned him out as she felt rage begin to boil inside of her, and she clenched her fists, attempting to control her temper. Spot was taking money from them?! One of the core reasons she’d decided to befriend him was for his love and care for other people which she thought to be completely genuine. He was constantly boasting about how he took care of his boys like they were his own brothers, and yet here she learned that he’d been taking advantage of them the whole time!
She suddenly lost all interest in finding Spot, and any inkling of worry she may have felt for him had vanished completely. How did she know he wasn’t taking advantage of her as well? He was just manipulative enough that he could have done everything just for his own personal gain. He had these boys completely fooled into thinking he stole from them for their own good! She felt the trust she’d built up with him crumble at her feet. Growling aloud she turned on her heel, stomping away from an adequately bewildered Eaves, she shoved one Brooklyn newsie away before tearing down the docks, heading home with nothing but anger coursing through her body. She found herself hoping that Spot would show up at the park the next morning, wanting more than anything to give him a piece of her mind.
Standing in her wake with a melancholy, bemused expression, Eaves gazed around at the other newsies. “Was it somethin’ I said?”
“Hey, Spotty-boy, what’d yuh do tuh Sarah?” Racetrack Higgins demanded as he strolled out onto the Brooklyn lodging house roof. “Eaves came lookin’ fuh huh in Manhattan feelin’ somethin’ awful. Said she’s mad atchu fuh somethin’ and de kid felt guilty fuh some reason.”
Race paused his stride as he took in the scene before him. Spot sat at a rusted, dingy looking table that was propped up against the side of the building by the ledge. He had his fingers crossed in front of him with his head resting on his hands, a grim look on his face. Rusty paced nearby, his own face a picture of foreboding and something that looked damn near panic. They both looked undeniably miserable.
“Hey, what’s de mattuh witchu two? Lose a bet or somethin’?” Race grinned. “Or d’ja wake up covuhed in mustard again?”
Neither of the two boys cracked a smile at his joke, and they hardly even acknowledged his presence. Race furrowed his brow, realizing that whatever was going on it had to be serious. He’d spent enough time with both of them to know that they never ignored a good joke. He walked first to Rusty, stopping in front of his cousin so that he would quit pacing. The two locked eyes for only a moment before Rusty sullenly nodded his head toward Spot and swept past Race to continue his gait. Race then walked over to Spot’s position by the pitiful excuse for a table, apprehension increasing with every step. As he drew near to the table Race finally saw the subject of the other two boys’ concern, and he instantly sucked in an alarmed breath.
“Where de hell did dat come from?”
Resting on the crooked table was a dirty cloth. Its edges were worn and threadbare and its once proud white color had faded to an ugly, stained brownish-red. Lying nearby was an ominous knife, stained dark with some substance Race had no interest in identifying. Neither the cloth itself nor the knife, however, is what caused chills to run up and down his spine, but rather what was printed threateningly on the material. The stark outline of a bloody handprint could be clearly seen, its very presence causing the air to turn cold around him.
“Found it by me bed last night,” Spot muttered, not moving an inch from his dilapidated posture.
Race felt his jaw drop open in horror. “But yuh know what dis means, right?” he said. “It’s de Scarlet Hand, it’s gotta be!”
The Scarlet Hand. The name sent fear into every man’s heart without a moment’s notice, causing even the bravest to tremble in trepidation. It was the symbol of New York’s most renowned and dangerous gang; one that was so mysterious, not a single member was known across the city. The Scarlet Hand rarely made appearances, but when it did it always left a dire mark. Rumors told stories of the members being cold-blooded killers who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. They were swift, but deadly, leaving no evidence but the bodies of those they’d murdered and a bloody handprint, usually found somewhere near the crime scene. Law enforcement had long since given up trying to catch the gang, giving into fear and to the frustrating lack of clues to develop a substantial case. Up until that moment Race had thought the gang to be nothing more than a silly story, made up to scare children at night, but with the proof resting in front of his own eyes he could no longer deny the truth: the Scarlet Hand was real.
“Spot… dat’s a summons, right? Yuh know it means dat-”
“I know what it means!” Spot snapped as he abruptly stood, turning his back on his friend to stand by the ledge, staring out at the city below. His face became placid and neutral, but his eyes clouded with the storm of emotions raging inside of him. Race felt the depressing mood descend upon him like a rainy day, his own expression becoming somber. Walking over to join Spot by the ledge, Race placed a hand on his shoulder, offering what little comfort he could. He felt Spot stiffen at his touch, but gradually the Brooklyn leader melted into the touch, closing his eyes, and eventually turning to embrace Race in a bolstering hug.
“I don’t know what to do Race,” he mumbled in the other boy’s ear. “Dey’s gonna come fuh me. Dey want me to join em, but… yuh know what people say ain’t all true about me… I don’t know if I can.” Spot’s voice broke, and Race tightened his hold, remonstrating any misguided notion that boys couldn’t show emotion. He would give anything for Spot, and at the moment he knew that Spot was scared, and simply needed comfort.
“Hey, we’ll figure somethin’ out,” he murmured back as he drew away so that he could see Spot’s face. He was astonished by the usually taciturn leader’s show of emotion, and he knew that the Scarlet Hand’s recruitment had his friend really shaken up. “Dey can’t just have whatevuh dey want, and besides, no one messes wit’ you, remembuh?”
Race saw some form of relief show on Spot’s face in that moment, and the Brooklyn boy melted into his friend’s arms, once again accepting the embrace with gratitude.
“Hey, wait a deep-fried minute, yuh guys can’t go about showin’ brotherly love wit’out me now,” Race heard Rusty complain. Suddenly two long arms were wrapped around both Race and Spot, effectively creating a group hug between the three of them. The emotional lapse only lasted for a moment, however, as Spot quickly snapped back to reality. He pulled away from his two companions and Race watched as his expressed hardened into the cold air he usually bore.
Spot smirked at them. “Leave it to de Higgins cousins tuh make me go soft, eh? Causin’ trouble wherevuhs yuh go, as usual.”
Race laughed and threw an arm around Rusty’s shoulders. “Hey, man, we’s just here tuh make shoh life don’t get too borin’,” he said.
“Yeah, but really, tho, we got yuh back, Spot,” Rusty stated a little more seriously. Spot nodded at him once, before striding back to the table and, seizing the cloth with one hand, he clenched it in his fist before hurling it over the side of the building, watching as it glided lazily downward until landing in the waters of the East River.
Spot didn’t sleep that night. After much debating with Race and Rusty the three agreed that nothing could be done until the Scarlet Hand attempted to contact him again. Essentially they had no choice but to sit on their hands and wait. Spot hated that feeling. Ever since he was young he’d had nightmares about being trapped or cornered. One of his father’s favorite punishments had been to lock him up in different places. Usually that meant in his room, but sometimes the man would get inventive and lock him in a closet or in the boiler room. Over time Spot had developed acute claustrophobia and was severely traumatized by these events from his childhood. No matter how hard he tried Spot couldn’t stop the memories from flooding his thoughts as he tried to rest, and he couldn’t help but feel totally helpless and defenseless against the ruthless gang. He swore that the walls were closing in on him, and he felt as if he was going out of his mind.
Throwing the covers off his sweaty body, Spot sat up as he swung his legs over the side of his bed. Sighing, he lifted his hands to his eyes, attempting to rub away some of the exhaustion and dry itchy feeling that resided there as a result of sleep scarcity. He tiredly wondered what time it was before realizing that it didn’t matter, and that he wouldn’t be falling back into the bliss of sleep for a long while. Glancing out the window he saw that there wasn’t a single sign of the morning, and he knew that he had some time before his usual meeting with Sarah. He’d missed her the day before because of his stress over the Scarlet Hand’s summons, and he hoped that her presence today could help pacify the raging sense of terror that settled subtly in his thoughts. He felt as though he were underwater, or as though a dense blanket were suffocating him, and he prayed that Sarah could at least keep these feelings at bay, if only for a short while.
Before he knew it Spot was on his way to Manhattan, crossing the vast bridge, and pulling his thin cloak tight around his shoulders as the winter air whisked around him in frigid gales. Christmas was not but a week away, but the cheer of the season did not reach the King of Brooklyn that morning, as the dawn remained grey along with his bleak thoughts. Part of him wished to waste away in the lodging house, giving in to the depression that lurked beneath his consciousness, but his feet seemed to have a mind of their own. They carried him through the city and to his spot. Their spot. To the one person who might be able to lighten his mood, even if there was no way in hell he would ever burden her with his troubles.
She deserved far better than that. His feelings for her had grown alarmingly strong, and he only wished he knew how to tell her. He had never been good at socializing; that’s why Jack always handled everything that involved speaking to a crowd. He was fine around his boys, and around the other girls he’d slept with, but he’d harbored no secret feelings for them. Sarah was like no one he had ever met, and he knew that with her he was treading on brand new territory. How he had gone from deriding her to falling for her, he could never understand, but he knew that his feelings for her were true.
He had been elated when she had moved to kiss him back the other night, believing that she too felt the change in their relationship. He would have thought that the moment they shared together would keep him going for days, but that was before the Scarlet Hand had interfered. The infamous gang had swept in and overshadowed his happy thoughts like an ominous cloud on a sunny day. He could think of nothing else, and he found that the usual bright mood he held on his way to meet Sarah had darkened to a mood as sour as Rusty’s lemon drops. By the time he reached their spot and settled down to wait for her, he was seething on the inside; reacting to the pressure in the only way he knew how: with anger.
Sarah paused as their spot came into view. She had woken earlier than usual on that frigid morning and had assumed she would beat Spot to their usual meeting. Suffice it to say she was very surprised when she saw his slumped form, kicking at something in the snow and muttering beneath his breath. Shaking off the nerves his presence brought her, she steeled herself for what she was about to do. She reminded herself again of what Eaves had told her; of how Spot was taking advantage of all the boys under his command. She had left her apartment that day prepared to confront him, and she intended to go through with it, no matter the butterflies that fluttered about her stomach.
Making her way up the hill, Sarah stopped behind him and took on an irritated pose, crossing her arms, and glowering at the taut muscles in his back. Loudly clearing her throat, she expected him to whip around, startled by her sudden appearance. Spot, however, didn’t even flinch at the sound. In fact, he made no move at all, remaining in the exact same posture, as stoic as ever. Sighing impatiently, Sarah stomped up to him and reached to place a hand on his shoulder. To her surprise, Spot reacted immediately, turning to face her and grabbing a hold of her outstretched hand, anger evident on his face. Slightly taken aback and wondering what he could possibly be mad at her for, Sarah faltered in her mission to confront him, and for a moment the two simply stared each other down, each attempting to prove their dominance in their malice and contempt. After only a moment, however, Sarah came to her senses and ripped her arm free from his grasp.
“Get your hands off me, you dirty scumbag,” she half-shouted, practically spitting in his face. If Spot was staggered by her anger he didn’t show it.
“Shut de hell up,” he seethed. “You ain’t got no right tuh be callin’ a king scumbag.” This was the side of him that she loathed above all else: his arrogant side. She would admit that she had grown fond of some of his other, less revolting attributes, but she would never learn to love his boastful pride. If she had been angry before, she was now on the verge of a raging melt-down.
“A king are you?” she spat. “What sort of king lets his people go poor and hungry, and then lies about it to better his own image?” Spot’s expression twitched slightly, and a flash of confusion glinted in his eyes. For some reason, this infuriated her further: the fact that he had the indecency to not even know what she was talking about.
“Doesn’t sound like a very good king, does it?” she continued. “Sounds to me like the kind of king who’s subjects secretly despise and plan to overthrow. The kind of king who would commit unspeakable crimes just to get his way.” At this point Sarah was nearly screaming, causing a nearby flock of pigeons to flutter away in alarm. “Well I won’t have it, alright! I won’t let this good for nothing, treacherous, low-life of a so-called king trick me for a moment longer!”
“Don’t you pretend for a second that you don’t know what I’m talking about, Spot!” she screamed at him. At some point during her tirade his anger had melted away, and he now stared back at her with a look of confusion and innocence. As she stared into his captivating blue eyes, she nearly let herself forget her fury, and instead she began to feel sadness creep up on her. She had imagined her and Spot’s future so differently. She mourned what could have been, but how could she ever care for someone who could be so selfish, and lie about it to her face? Determined not to let herself cry, she quickly banished those thoughts from her head, and set her jaw heatedly.
“How could you?” she said carefully, not wanting her voice to break or betray her emotions. Spot’s brow furrowed in concern and he reached to place a hand on her cheek, but she backed away from him and swatted his palm away. She saw the hurt on his face, but she forced herself to ignore it, and continued to scowl at him.
“Sarah, I don’t unduhstand, I-”
“Don’t.” she growled, her eyes flashing in irritation. “I trusted you, and you lied to me.” He stared at her, his eyes wide and filled with damage. She knew that underneath his strong persona Spot was filled with the terror and pain that the trials of his life had brought him, but she had never before seen this pain so clearly. Something inside her told her that something was wrong, that he had been so angry at first because something had happened; something that terrified him. But she would not allow herself to be drawn to his vulnerable side. She was always too quick to care for those who were hurting, but she could not allow him to fool her again. “You told me that you always put your boys first, that they were like family to you.”
“I do, Sarah,” he said urgently. “And dey are.” Sarah backed further away from him, and focused on a point behind his head, not able to look into his eyes any longer and say what needed to be said.
“You’re a downright, filthy liar, Spot Conlon,” she continued. “You know one of the main reasons I decided to trust you was for your care for other people. For your boys, for Jack, for Les… but it was all a lie! It was all for your own personal gain!”
“Sarah, it wasn’t, it’s not!”
“Don’t give me that, I know everything! By helping Jack you got to rule over twice the amount of newsies and have more power than ever before. By helping Les, you convinced the one person who wouldn’t accept you to love you.” At that Sarah hesitated, realizing what she’d said too late. Spot’s expression had changed altogether at her words and he now looked at her in an odd, disconcerting way. He once again reached for her, but she backed away from him for a third time, not wanting to give up just because of one slip-up. “How could you?” she said quietly, her anger deflating, replaced with disappointment. “How could you take money from them when you know they’re some of the poorest children in the city? How could you be so selfish?”
As she watched, she saw a range of emotions flit through his eyes. First, confusion, then something resembling shock, and finally understanding. And she knew then that he’d finally caught on. She knew his secret and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Sarah, yuh don’t unduhstand, it’s not like dat.”
“What isn’t?” she demanded. “You taking money from defenseless boys, or you lying about it to my face?”
“No, yuh don’t get it, I had tuh,” his voice had risen an octave, staggering on the lines of desperation. He didn’t want to lose her, but she didn’t know if she could ever forgive him. “I… Yuh have tuh unduhstand, I can explain everythin!”
Sarah raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, then, by all means,” she said derisively. “Explain away.” For just a moment he opened his mouth, as if he had something to say, but he quickly let it flop closed, and he hung his head as he settled into silence.
“So that’s it, then, isn’t it?” she half-whispered. He stood as still as a statue, without the integrity to even look her in the eyes. “You really are the insolent git I always said you were.” She shook her head sadly as she turned to walk away. “You know, I always hoped you would prove me wrong.”
She left him then, standing there, alone on the top of his hill, looking defeated and forlorn against the first rays of the rising sun.
Spot walked idly through Manhattan, barely paying attention to anything going on around him. He felt as though everything he cared for in his life was slipping away, and he felt powerless to stop it. He absentmindedly wondered how the day could get any worse. Had he known what the future held, however, he would have taken that thought back in an instant, not truly knowing just how much worse a day could get.
As the dejected teen made his way through the bitter New York streets, his distracted awareness took no notice of the dark shadow following closely behind him. Nor did he care when he wandered into a desolate alley, without a single soul in sight to witness what would happen next. By the time he realized he was not alone, it was far too late, and a swift knock to the head left him fading into darkness, the last thing he comprehended being the unnerving cackle of a cold, familiar laugh.
Jack hated Saturdays. Saturdays were supposed to be the start of the weekend; a good day to sit back, relax and take a break from the regular stresses of hard work well-done. The day when the sun shines and everyone else is all good and dandy and having a great time… but not for the newsies. While all the other workers in town hung up their hats and kicked back their feet, Jack and the others were forced into yet another workday. The state of New York considered newsies to be “independent contractors” which only meant that they weren’t subject to child labor laws. Their work continued day in and day out and Jack was growing tired of always feeling exhausted and overworked.
That Saturday seemed particularly morose as the morale of his friends seemed at an all-time low. For whatever reason it felt like they were all bracing themselves for bad news. The promise of a couple days off in the looming Christmas holiday could hardly bring a smile to even the cheeriest of their bunch. By midday when Jack returned from selling to find a frantic, nearly in tears, Eaves conversing with a glum-faced Race, his suspicions were confirmed: something was wrong.
“Cowboy!” Eaves cried when he spotted Jack’s approach. He took a step towards Jack, seemingly wanting to wrap his arms around the older boy for comfort. Thinking better of it, the young newsie instead brought his hands together and began to twiddle his fingers together in a nervous dance. Jack cleared his throat and anxiously shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“What’s de mattuh, Eaves? Did Spot send yuh?” Now that Jack thought about it he realized he hadn’t caught wind of the Brooklyn leader all week. It wasn’t unusual for Spot to become caught up in Brooklyn affairs and neglect to visit Manhattan, but Jack thought it odd that if the crisis was as dire as Eaves made it seem with his fidgeting and pale complexion, that Spot wouldn’t have made the journey across the bridge himself.
“I-It’s Spot, Jack, he-he’s missin’.” Jack felt his heart skip a beat and flutter dangerously close to his throat. Eaves’ eyes flooded with tears, and Jack could tell that the poor kid was trying hard to be brave, but the absence of his fearless leader had left him long passed distraught. He reached out and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, hoping to help him to calm down enough to explain, and, meeting his eyes, nodded reassuringly for Eaves to continue. Eaves took a deep breath.
“Yuh see, it’s like dis,” he continued. “Spot’s often goin’ off an’ not comin’ back foh a few days, but nevuh wit’out tellin’ at least Rusty, an’ no one’s heard from ‘im, and he’s just g-g-gone.” Eaves was no longer able to control his emotions and tears began to cascade down his cheeks. He reached up to brush away the tears with his fingers, but an arm reached out from behind Jack, offering the young newsie a handkerchief which he accepted gratefully. Jack turned his head to see Race’s concerned face taking in every detail of the exchange with Eaves.
“Alright, it’s okay, Eaves, let it all out,” Race spoke gently as he patted the boy on the back. “But just tell us dis one ting.” Eaves looked at him questioningly. “How long has ole Spotty been gone foh?”
The young newsie gulped back another bout of tears before he replied: “Five days.”
Race spluttered and Jack felt his heart drop from his throat all the way down to the pit of his stomach. Up until that moment he hadn’t been all that worried. After all, Spot had always been a lone wolf and could fend for himself, but Jack also knew that Spot wouldn’t leave for that long without contacting anyone. As he met Race’s eyes he knew that his friend had come to the same conclusion. Something had certainly happened to the Brooklyn leader; something that was likely extremely serious.
“He’s been missin’ foh nearly a week and yuh just comin’ tuh tell us now?!” Race cried out in alarm and exasperation. Eaves hid his face shamefully and looked as though he might burst into another round of waterworks. Jack opened his mouth to try to diminish some of the shocked apprehension in the room, but before anyone could make another sound a small voice sounded from the doorway.
“Who’s been missing for nearly a week?”
Gurgle, gurgle, CLANG! Drip, drip, drip drop.
Spot groaned as the noises reverberated through his aching skull. He didn’t know much about boilers, but he was sure it never used to make those sounds. Then again, it had been over six years since he’s last set foot in the house, and since then it had become run-down and worn from misuse. The boiler room in particular was covered in a thick layer of dust and soot and contained a musty stench that seemed to seep through the walls that surrounded him. The air was stale, and it was so dark he couldn’t see anything passed his own nose. He’d lost track of time long ago and had no sense of how long he’d been kept there, his entire situation leaving him feeling hopeless and filled with dread.
Spot jumped as another loud clatter sounded from the boiler, followed by a series of hisses and groans. With his luck the whole thing would explode and take him with it. He wasn’t sure which was a worse way to go: being melted by a boiler combustion or being tortured to death by his captor.
As if on cue, he heard the jangle of keys twisting in the lock outside the door. Yelping pitifully, Spot crawled away from the opening, wanting desperately to distance himself from the man who had tormented him for so long. After he had been jumped in the alley he had woken up in the boiler room at his old house. He had been confused and angry, so when he’d heard someone return for the first time, Spot had tried to attack and escape…
He heard the door rattle and the knob twist, and Spot tensed, ready for a fight. He could think of only one culprit who would have the guts to kidnap him, and who might know about his dread for his past, and that was the Scarlet Hand. In other words this wouldn’t necessarily be an easy fight. His captor had taken his cane, slingshot, and even his hat and suspenders, leaving him only in his baggy shirt and ragged pants, but Spot was just as good in a fistfight as he was with his signature weapons. The door creaked open, and Spot flew into action, hurling a powerful kick into the revealed man’s chest, sending him sprawling backwards and toppling to the ground.
As he left the boiler room with his fists held high, Spot only wished he hadn’t hesitated, but who could blame him? After all, he hadn’t seen the man in nearly six years, and he certainly wasn’t expecting his eyes to land on a face with similarities to his own. There, lying on the ground before his very eyes, was the monster; the murderer of his mother; Spot’s own blood; his father.
Spot’s hesitation was all the man needed. He was back on his feet in the blink of an eye, and it was then that Spot could fully perceive the range of changes his father had gone through in both demeanor as well as physically. The older man’s muscles bulged in nearly every body part, his stature was built from years of fighting and he stood like the giant to Spot’s David. His knuckles displayed old and new scars, laced between frames of pure steel made as though explicitly for breaking bones. What horrified Spot more than anything, however, was the crazed look in his father’s eyes. No longer a simple, but resentful man who despised the life in which he led; his eyes now held a madness that could only be described as insanity mixed with rage. The man that stood before Spot was not his father, but rather a maniac, a monster, who was hungry for blood.
And that monster held a gun to Spot’s head.
“Hey, Buuuuuddyyyy,” the monster said tauntingly, dragging out the old nickname insultingly while slurring slightly. Spot could smell the putrid stench of alcohol staining his father’s breath. Holding up his hands Spot attempted to placate the man, knowing that his life was in incredible danger.
“W-what are you… How did you…” Spot sputtered out, hating how his voice betrayed his fear. He’d had countless nightmares about this moment, but he never expected them to be realized. Now his mind was reacting in the only way it could: absolute petrification.
His father let out a guttural sound that seemed almost like a growl. Slowly the sound intensified until it formed into a haunting cackle that bounced off the walls and seemed to close in the spaces surrounding Spot’s mind.
“Foolish boy thought you got rid of me, eh?” Suddenly the monster’s eyes flashed with anger and he lashed out, striking the butt of the gun against Spot’s temple, causing stars to dance before his eyes as his body thrashed violently to the side. Reaching up to touch his tender head, Spot stumbled, attempting to stay conscious. He grimaced as he pulled his hand away and found blood coating his fingertips.
The blow knocked him back to his senses, however, and he turned back to his father, ready to fight for his freedom. This seemed to be exactly what the older man had been hoping for as he egged his son on, tauntingly opening his arms and dropping the gun to the side, asking for a fist fight. Spot gnashed his teeth in anger and advanced toward his opponent, immediately swiping at his legs, hoping to take him down quick and easy. His father seemed to be anticipating this move, however, and he easily dodged the hit, while attempting to connect his fist with the side of Spot’s head. Spot, ever the quickest one in a fight, spun out of the way and immediately landed a punch to his father’s gut. The man wheezed slightly, caught off-guard, but he hardly seemed affected by the hit.
The two eyed each other for a minute, each having gotten in one good strike, before they once again began to parry. Both experienced fighters, they began to dance around each other, sometimes blocking each other’s hits and sometimes taking them head on. Despite his size, Spot’s father was surprisingly resilient and didn’t seem to be tiring quickly. Spot, on the other hand, could feel his energy draining. Besides the fact that he had been sleepless and stressed for days, he’d also received two bashes to his skull in the past twenty-four hours. His head pulsated with every breath and his mind felt muddled and foggy. This is why he didn’t see the knife before it was too late.
At some point during their bout his father had pulled it out and plunged it deep into Spot’s left shoulder. Spot cried out as pain burst through his entire arm and vibrated through his body. While his mind attempted to deal with the shock his father carelessly twisted the knife, causing his son further agony. Spot’s breaths came out in gasps as his eyes watered. He tried to keep fighting, but it was useless. Despite all his hard work and training the past six years, his father had him beat, and the older man knew it. Grinning maliciously he pushed Spot back into the boiler room, the knife still embedded in his shoulder. When Spot’s back connected with the steaming hot machine and he screamed as the heat burned his skin and brought another onslaught of pain to his petrified mind, his father carelessly yanked the knife out and let go of his son, watching as his body crumbled to the concrete floor.
“You’re a good fighter, you really are,” the monster mocked as he knelt down to lower his head to whisper in Spot’s ear. “I’ve heard all about the so-called great King of Brooklyn.”
Spot lifted his gaze and glared at the man, who simply chuckled at his defiance. His father suddenly placed his hand on the back of Spot’s head and pushed it back down so that he could once again speak in his ear. Spot felt his body burn in shame as he was too weak to fight it.
“Yeah, you’re good, but not good enough,” he taunted. “You never were. You’re still that useless, scared little boy who couldn’t even protect his own mother.” Spot jerked in his father’s grasp, fury radiating throughout him at those words. He wanted nothing more than to rip the man’s head off, but each movement brought him more pain, and his strength had all but left him.
“That’s right, buddy, you’re weak,” the monster continued. “And you always will be. If you can’t save yourself, how do you think you’ll save anyone else?” Spot slumped forward, the fight finally draining from his broken form. His father stood up beside him and laughed coldly.
“Now I figure,” he said, “that because you and your hero complex sent me to prison for six years, that that’s how long I’ll be keeping you here.” Spot’s body began to shake against his will as he felt blood drip from his shoulder and sting in the burns across his back.
“Each day I’ll cause you pain until you beg me to show you mercy by ending your life. Then, after the six years are up I’ll finally leave you here, and you’ll die alone, just like little shits like you deserve.” With that the monster receded, slamming the door behind him and plunging Spot into complete darkness.
Gurgle, gurgle, CLANG! Drip, drip, drip drop.
That had been what felt like ages ago, and each day that followed had been more of the same. He could tell that his father had been pulling his punches a bit, probably so as not to kill his son too early. Spot felt sick at the thought. He wondered if he really would be stuck in that shithole for the next six years; he couldn’t even fathom the agony of such an existence.
The heavy metal door banged open loudly and Spot flinched at the sound. He squinted into the light pouring through the now gaping doorway, and as his blurry sight cleared, he made out the silhouette of the man he hated most. At first his father simply stood there, observing the abject appearance of his son. Spot opened his chapped lips to croak out a sarcastic quip, but his throat was so dry that all he managed was a barely distinguishable rattle that he thought resembled the sound of a cat choking on a hairball.
Great, he thought. There goes any last shred o’ dignity I had left. He couldn’t say he was surprised. He received water only once a day, if at all, and food even less. He could already feel the repercussions in his stomach’s complaining and he had known that his throat was bound to give out eventually.
As Spot was contemplating his bodily functions, his father’s shadow shifted slightly, and revealed a long stick clutched in his right hand. It took a moment for Spot to comprehend what the object was, but when he did he felt a swell of hope surge through him: his cane. His joy was short-lived, however, as he realized that the mere presence of the cane did him no good. It was familiar and comforting, sure, but he could already guess what the monster had in mind. He’d only ever been on the receiving end of his cane’s blows one time, and as he recalled it was not a pleasant experience.
As if he’d read Spot’s mind, the man began his approach, menacingly swinging the cane and slapping it against his palm. Spot’s rapidly beating heart synced to the man’s approaching footsteps, each thud sending nervous and painful energy coursing through his veins. He squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed thickly, hating how resigned he was to his fate, but knowing that there was no means to avoid it. The monster drew near, and Spot dared to slowly open his eyes and look up at his demented father. The man stared back, and for a moment father and son simply observed each other, eyes roaming over the other in distaste and anger.
Suddenly, without warning, the father brought the cane down upon his son. Lash after lash; blow after blow; Spot knew nothing but pain. He did his best to shield his face and skull from the endless assault, but this action left other areas of his body unguarded. The monster, ever devious and malicious, decided to pick just one, a spot located along Spot’s right ribcage, and rain strike after strike upon it until Spot was sure there would be a hole dug straight through his torso. Tears fell unbidden from his eyes and streaked down his face as he felt more than heard the ribs cracking under the pressure. Time became irrelevant as the agony increased and Spot’s vision became white with pain. At some point he escaped into nothingness, but even still, the torture continued into his dreams so that his brain could no longer tell reality from illusion.
Sarah’s eyes were raw from crying. Her hands shook, her hair was unkempt, and she could hardly drag herself out of bed. Her entire body drooped with exhaustion, but she couldn’t allow herself to sleep or eat. She knew that Jack and her brothers were beyond worried about her. They had known that she and Spot were close, but none of them had realized to what extent until Sarah had learned of Spot’s disappearance. She was absolutely inconsolable. No matter how hard they tried, she wouldn’t open up to anyone, and she’d spent the entire day and night in silence, emotions raging as she imagined the many things that could have happened to him, none of which were anything akin to pleasant.
It was Sunday morning. Christmas Eve. The sixth morning of Spot’s absence, and she found herself, partially out of habit and partially because some small part of her had hoped against hope that he would be there, making the journey to the Brooklyn newsie house. It was the longest walk of her life, the first time she’d been there since her fight with Spot the week before, and she felt sick with dread at the notion of facing the bitter day alone. Les was at her side, wanting just as badly for the return of his hero, but not even her baby brother who she loved with all her heart could fill the void in her heart.
It seemed as though the entire city felt the absence of its king as the days since he vanished had turned to harsh winds, biting cold, and freezing winter snow. Sarah shivered as a particularly austere breeze swept through the streets, pushing against her as if warning against her steps. She almost decided to give up right then; to lie down in the streets and let herself fade into nothingness. She had grown so accustomed to life with Spot that she couldn’t imagine continuing without him. She liked the time they spent together, even when she was angry at him. She wanted him back. She needed him. Now she knew, without a doubt, that she had indeed fallen in love with the boy who had been her tormentor. Despite his many flaws, his haughtiness, the ghosts of his past, she had never cared for anyone the same way, and she was convinced that she never would again.
These were the thoughts that kept her going. She couldn’t give up on him. Not yet. He was still out there somewhere, alive, she could feel it in her soul. As cheesy as that sounded, it was the reason she made the trek to Brooklyn that day, and it was the reason she would continue to scour the city for her lost love until he would be found.
As she and Les slogged passed a rundown shack in the midst of a suburban community, she would not have given it a second look had Les not pointed it out to her. Her heart began to beat rapidly as fear and apprehension raced through her. Through the shattered and rusty windowpane of the lowest window of the hovel, a small clanging sound could be heard. The source? The unmistakable crown of a gold-tipped cane.
His father had made a crucial mistake. Leaving the weapon in the room was a rookie move. When Spot had awoken to find the cane laying by his side, crested with blood, but very much his cane, he was surged with newfound hope. His entire body ached but he knew that he had no time to waste. Groaning, he grasped the familiar object between his fingers and attempted to climb to his feet. He stumbled and could only take one unsteady step before he collapsed back to the floor with a cry of anguish. There was not a single space on his body that didn’t scream in protest at his movement. Predominantly his shoulder, which had not been treated and he was ninety percent sure was infected, his severely bruised and broken ribs, and the tight, scorched skin across his back made his progress extremely difficult and slow.
Despite his injuries, however, Spot knew that he needed to take this chance. Hidden underneath the gold tip of his cane, Rusty had helped him fasten the fragment of a knife to make the weapon even more deadly. The Brooklyn second-in-command was known for his collection of knives, particularly rusted ones, the reason for his name, so when one had broken in two during a fight he’d had the idea to make Spot’s cane into a spear of sorts. Spot had originally thought the plan to be foolish and unnecessary as he could do just fine without the blade and didn’t fancy killing anyone by mistake if things got out-of-hand. Now, however, he was tremendously grateful that he had humored the other boy.
Turning the gold cap until he heard a click, Spot’s shaking fingers eased it off, revealing the blade beneath. Grinning, he crawled the rest of the way to the door, and feeling the lock in the darkness, he pressed the sharp tip of the cane into the hole, working the mechanism cautiously. After a few minutes of nervous fiddling, Spot let out a celebrant cry of relief as the lock broke and the door swung open. He wiped the sweat from his brow, tiring from the effort given for the tiniest of movements, and he shook from the very thought of escaping.
Making his way through the blackness of the cellar, Spot found his way to the staircase and began to ascend. The old wood creaked and groaned under his weight, and he felt sure that it would crumble at any minute. The smell of mold and mildew perforated his nostrils and he found himself wanting more than ever to escape the house and never look back. As he reached the peak of the stairs he was faced with another door. After a quick assessment he realized with dismay that it was padlocked from the outside. He felt his stomach drop and he banged against the door distraughtly with his fists. In a desperate effort, he attempted to jam the blade between the door and the frame and wedge it open. After only a few seconds, however, the already rusted knife tip snapped off the cane, and Spot cried out as he toppled backwards, falling dangerously down the flight of stairs until he landed in a heap at the bottom.
Spot groaned in pain, and before he could stop them, tears invaded his vision and his wiry frame was racked with sobs. He didn’t know how long he lay there, hopelessly crying into the darkness, but eventually he realized that the first light of day was seeping into the basement. Raising his head he squinted through his bleary eyelids and saw that the room held one window, high above the ground, but also broken. If Spot could only find something to stand on he could surely climb through and escape! Desperately scanning the space around him, Spot felt his hopes shatter for the second time that day. The room was absolutely barren; not a single item of furniture to be found. Despite this fact, Spot made his way over to the window anyway, and gazed up at it wistfully.
“Hello?” he rasped out. “Can anybody hear me? I’m down here!” He cleared his throat and tried again. “Please, somebody help me!”
After days of misuse, however, his voice was hardly more than a murmur, and he knew that no one would hear it through the bustle of New York. Struck with an idea, Spot reached into his pocket and pulled out the gold head of his cane. Refastening it to the weapon, Spot proceeded to lift it above his head. Barely reaching the window, Spot stood on his tiptoes and began to frantically knock the cane against the window’s old frame. He almost gave up hope that anyone would hear the pitiful noise, but then he heard it. A voice that sent trembles of joy reverberating up and down his spine.
“Spot? Spot is that you?”
Spot had never been so relieved and elated in his whole life and he answered immediately. “Sarah!”
Hey all! I'm really sorry this update took so long. I'm just really busy all the time lol. Anyway, thanks for your patience and thank you so much to everyone who followed and reviewed and left kudos! Keep doing that it motivates me to write haha :)
The air was gloomy and depressing on that Christmas Eve morning, and Jack was sure he’d never felt more miserable. None of the newsies felt much like celebrating and he couldn’t say he blamed them. Sure, Spot could be a hard asshole sometimes, but he was still their leader and their friend. He always had a knack for brightening up a sour mood with a wise crack or snarky remark. He drove Jack crazy sometimes, but it’s like he never realized how much he valued the Brooklyn boy’s sass until it was gone.
Sighing, Jack rubbed his eyes as he looked about the room. With the day being Sunday and a holiday, all the newsies had the day off. Some, who had families, had gone home for the holidays. Jack considered them to be the lucky ones. The rest of the assembly was sitting restlessly about, not entirely sure what to do with themselves. Some of the younger boys were playing games or skipping about, oblivious to the forlorn atmosphere about them, but most of the newsies seemed downright depressed. Just when Jack thought the morning could get no worse, the thick, tense ambiance was suddenly broken.
“Jack!” Les Jacobs burst into the room, heaving with a look of urgency. Jack, Race, and a few other newsies immediately shot to their feet and turned to the younger boy.
“What is it, Kid? What’s happened?” Jack inquired, wide-eyed.
“We found him! Jack, we found him! It’s Spot!”
“What?!” Jack’s heart began to beat rapidly as he placed a hand on Les’s shoulder, praying it was true. “Where? Is he alright? When didja find him?”
“Me and Sarah,” Les continued, finally catching his breath. “We were at the Brooklyn house and on the way back we heard this clanging, like, really quiet, but we did hear it— well I heard it anyway. Sarah would of just kept walking I think cause—”
“Hey, Kid,” Race interrupted. “Stick tuh de point, will yuh? Where’s ole Spotty at?”
Les’s eyes grew wide as if he’d just remembered why he’d come and he began to shake slightly underneath Jack’s hand. Jack furrowed his brow in worry and squeezed the boy’s shoulder in comfort. Les stared back at him as tears threatened to flood his eyes.
Les gulped and continued. “He’s real bad off, Jack. We found him in an old basement of this broken-down old house, an-and. He’s real hurt. Sarah sent me to get you cause, the doors all locked, and, and we need help b-bad.”
“Lead the way, Les,” Jack said grimly as the feeling of dread of which he’d become familiar during the past week settled forebodingly in the pit of his stomach. He, Race, Kid Blink, and Mush followed the kid out of the house, with a few other newsies straggling behind. The morning was dreary and a light sleet had begun to shower the streets, creating a thin layer of dangerously slick ice. Les hadn’t said another word about Spot’s condition or about where exactly he was, but he didn’t have to. They all knew that they only need to brace themselves for the worst.
His hands are so cold.
These were the only words going through Sarah’s mind as she waited for Les to return with help. After he’d left, Spot had tried to talk, likely to explain what had happened, but his voice was hoarse and he seemed choked up and unable to speak a single word. So, instead, Sarah had simply reached a hand down and grasped his for comfort. He had latched onto her like a lifeline, and it was only then that she realized the trauma he had experienced.
His fingers were freezing to the touch and they shook with tremors that resonated down his entire body. Despite the way he held onto her like his life depended on it, his grip was weak and strained, and he seemed to be exerting every bit of effort just to reach up and hold her hand. His eyes met hers and she could see the pain there; the agony. The basement in which he resided was dark so she had no view of the state of the rest of his body, but what she saw wasn’t good in the slightest. She didn’t even want to think about the sickening stickiness she could feel between their palms and the lingering smell of iron that hung in the air.
As they waited, his condition slowly began to deteriorate. It began with his hold weakening, and his shaking increasing. His eyes became unfocused, and his brow was dotted with beads of sweat. Ever so slowly she began to feel him slipping away, panic gripping her heart as she watched his state worsen. Suddenly his complexion paled to a deathly white and his eyes rolled back into his skull.
“Spot!” Sarah yelled as tears deluged her eyes. She could only watch as his hand slipped through her fingers and he plunged back onto the hard concrete below, into the darkness, where he lay in an unnatural heap on the floor. Tears began to fall down her cheeks as she felt so helpless, unable to help the boy whom she loved as he suffered alone in the hell below. Fear clutched her heart that the worst would occur. What if she lost him forever? Without ever being able to resolve the conflict between them? Without being able to tell him how she felt? She couldn’t bear the thought.
Just as her thoughts began to fall into a pit of dismay, she heard voices and approaching footsteps.
Jack nearly tripped over Les’s heels for the hundredth time as the boy finally came to a stop. He was having a hard time remaining calm as he followed the youngest Jacobs boy, and his breaths were coming out in rapid, short wheezes. The cold didn’t help much, and the excessive traffic of the holiday season was causing panic to set in early.
Spot was his best friend. Whatever bouts or disagreements they may have had in the past didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they found him, safe and sound, and brought him back to the lodging house so he could wise crack and holler about Christmas and all the “mushy goodness of the season,” as he would put it. That’s where he was supposed to be. Not in some run-down, old house in the middle of an abandoned neighborhood, injured and fighting for his life.
So when Jack came across Sarah, inconsolably weeping next to a broken windowpane with blood streaked across her palms and skirt, he nearly lost it. His limbs became frozen and the sounds around him were muffled as he tried to comprehend the severity of the situation. He vaguely noted Les running over to Sarah to comfort her and Race peering through the window as he began to spit out numerous expletives, but at that moment Jack would have rather rolled over and died than to have to lead his boys through the ordeal ahead of them.
The others who had followed behind were looking to him to tell them what to do, but Jack could hardly understand why. He’d never asked to lead the newsies, but leadership had been thrust upon him. Sure, he’d led the boys through the strike, but not without help. He’d had help from David, from Mr. Denton, and, most importantly, from Spot. Ever since the beginning, Spot had been at his side, giving him advice, guiding him, and encouraging his decisions. Who was Jack Kelly without Spot Conlon? This is what cemented his feet to the ground in that moment, and his mind was far from the situation at hand.
“Cowboy…” Jack blinked as he thought he heard something. “Cowboy, come-on, snap out of it!” Was someone touching him? He blinked again and raised a hand to grab the one that was shaking him. It must be Kloppman waking him up to start selling papes.
“JACK, YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING NOW!” Like a punch to the gut everything suddenly came rushing back to him. He realized where he was; he realized that his best friend was in trouble and needed his help; he realized that he was the leader and that he could do it on his own. He was Spot’s only hope.
He nodded at Mush and released the boy’s wrist, thankful that the usually soft-hearted newsie had stepped up and given him the motivation he needed to act. He turned to the attentive group beside him and began to take charge.
“Mush, you go around de house and check all de doawhs and windows tuh see if dere’s a way in dat Les and Sarah ovuh-looked. Kid Blink, you and de rest of yuhs,” he said while motioning to the remaining newsies in the group, “go around back and see if yuh can fawhce yuh way through, but make sure not tuh brin' too much attenshun tuh yawhselves, okay? We don’t know who could be roamin' about dese parts. Yuh with me?” They nodded and each hurried to their respective tasks. Jack turned to Race who had his arm around a distraught Sarah and worried Les Jacobs who was still attempting to calm down his sister.
“Les, listen tuh me, alright?” The younger boy looked up at him with large, tear-filled eyes. Jack felt a twinge of deep-set sympathy for the kid having to experience so much trauma at such a young age, but he put his feelings aside for the moment. “Yuh did a great job comin’ tuh find me at de lodgin’ house, but now I need yuh tuh do it again, yuh hear me? I need yuh to go as fast as yuh can tuh de Brooklyn house and get Rusty. Tell him whatcha told me and de two of yuhs get an ambulance and brin’ it here as fast as yuh can. Rusty will know what tuh do.”
Les nodded slowly and sniffled as he wiped away a tear that trickled down his cheek. Jack could tell that the boy was trying to put on a brave face, but all that had happened was starting to be too much for his innocent mind to handle. That’s why Jack knew that he had to remove the kid from the scene as quickly as possible and giving him a mission to complete away from that terror house was the perfect way to do that. Les, however, looked a bit hesitant as he reluctantly let go of his sister’s waist and looked up at her uneasily, still clutching at the folds of her skirt.
“Don’t go worryin’ bout her none,” Race said reassuringly as he followed the trail of Les’s eyes. “Jack and I’s gonna take real good care o’her, okay? And we’s gonna take care of ole Spotty too, but we need your help tuh get Rusty and de ambulance. Can yuh do dat?”
Les took a deep breath and let a small smile pass across his face as he gave Race a salute. He finally released his grip on his sister and turning, he gave Jack a salute as well before scurrying off down the icy street. Jack made eye-contact with Race and said a silent thank you for his help in bolstering the boy. Race simply smirked at him and bowed jokingly.
“As foh us,” Jack continued with a small chuckle. “We’s gonna check out dat broken window and see if we can clear enough glass away tuh get trough.”
The two of them made their way over to the window. Sarah followed behind numbly, a vacant expression in her glazed-over eyes. Jack felt his brow crease in concern for her condition; even though she’d stopped crying, her eyes were dead to look into. He knew they had to help Spot fast for her sake.
As they drew near to the window, Jack gasped in shock and stumbled back slightly. He was so used to seeing Spot saunter about with confidence and poise that he hadn’t been prepared to see the King of Brooklyn in such a precarious and helpless position. Although the room was too dark to see the full extent of his injuries, Jack could visibly make out blood coating his best friends torn shirt and bruises scattered across his body. The way the boy lay on the ground was unnatural and disturbing, and it seemed as if they were looking at a scene from a horror story. Jack felt dread clutch his heart as the thought crossed his mind that the Brooklyn leader looked to have no life in him whatsoever. He made a sideways glance at Sarah, who was gazing down at Spot with a terrifyingly deadened expression and decided that he best keep that thought to himself.
Race cleared his throat and scratched his chin in thought. “Now, we could break de window in all de way, but de problem is dat de glass might hit Spot and hurt him. Dere’s also de fact dat dis here window ain’t all dat big, and I don’t know if we can fit trough it. Had one too many beers, yuh know?” He winked and impishly elbowed Jack in the gut. “I’m betting dat—”
“Oh, would you stop looking at him like he’s one of your damn poker deals?!” Both Jack and Spot jumped in surprise at Sarah’s sudden outburst. “This isn’t one of your stupid games, it’s serious! Am I the only one that cares here? He could be dead down there, and you’re out here cracking fat jokes!”
Sarah glared at them heatedly as angry tears filled her eyes. She was evidently rattled by the day’s events and wasn’t thinking clearly. Jack figured that she was frustrated and desolate about what had happened to Spot and was taking her feelings out on them because she wanted someone to blame. He was, after-all, an expert on reading people, but what he couldn’t understand was why her emotions were coming off so strongly.
“Hey, woudja calm down a bit? Jack spluttered out before he could stop himself. “You don’t know dat he’s dead and yuh ain’t tinking normally. Besides, yellin’ ain’t helpin’ de situation none eithuh. Since when do yuh care so much about Spot anyway?”
Sarah took a step back as her cheeks flushed. Her eyes widened and she stared at him in surprise and speechlessness. Her mouth opened and closed, but not a single sound was divulged. Jack felt a little cruel for putting her on the spot when there were so many emotions running rampant in the situation, but before he could apologize and say they’d discuss it later, they were interrupted by a shout.
“Cowboy!” It was Mush, sprinting toward them as if the devil himself were chasing him. “I found anothuh way in!”
“Really? Where?” Jack replied hopefully.
“At de front, next tuh where I tinks dere used tuh be a poich. De window’s all broken in, and it’s easiuh tuh get trough den dis one. De only problem is dat it’s a little high up, so yuh might need a boost tuh get in, but I tink it’s worth a shot!”
“Good woik, Mush,” Jack said as he turned back to Race and Sarah, the latter of which was raptly studying the ground and refusing to make eye contact. “Come on, Race, let’s check it out. Lead de way, Mush.”
As the two boys followed Mush to the other window, Jack felt slightly guilty for leaving Sarah behind. She had made no move to follow them, and Jack hadn’t acknowledged her or asked her to come along. He couldn’t help but still feel angry at her. Ever since she had rejected his embrace after the fight with Queens and Spot had given him that odd look, he had known that something was off, but hadn’t wanted to deal with it. She had been so distant lately and hadn’t seemed to want to be around him anymore. At first he’d thought that it was a result of being traumatized by what those Queens newsies had tried to do to her, but as time went on and she only became more reluctant to spend time with him and refused to say she loved him back, he knew that something else was going on. He was no idiot, and he also realized how close she and Spot had grown ever since they decided to play nice. Maybe they were starting to get just a little too friendly for Jack’s comfort.
Jack shook his head and pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. There were more important things to deal with at the moment, and he could talk with Sarah later. After all, maybe it was all simply in his head… at least he hoped it was. He still loved her, and he wanted to know if he could trust her or not.
Sarah exhaled miserably as she rested her head in her hands. After Jack and the others had left she’d sat down on the remains of the decaying porch to wait for them. She felt sick to her stomach at the mess she’d made. She allowed herself to fall in love with a man who was not her boyfriend, and now she was paying the price for it. How could she have been so stupid?! Of course Jack would catch on eventually, he’s smart and not at all oblivious. He knew when someone lied to him or was hiding something from him and lately it seemed like that’s all she’d been doing. She dreaded the conversation they would likely have after all this was done, but she knew she had to stop denying her feelings for Spot.
Hearing frantic voices and the sounds of stomping feet, Sarah stood and brushed the snow off her lap as the first of the newsies emerged from the house. “I’s gonna run meet Rusty and de ambulance,” one of them declared as he rushed by. Sarah noted that his face was a sickly green and he looked like he might vomit at any moment. At first, she foolishly thought that he was perhaps simply feeling under the weather, but she would soon learn the truth.
Jack and Race came into view, Spot’s arms slung around their shoulders as they supported his weight. Sarah gasped at the sight of them and brought her hand to her mouth in horror. Now that he was out in the daylight, she could fully view the magnitude of Spot’s injuries. Most notably, his entire right arm sleeve was drenched with old and new blood, the stench of it coming off him in waves. There was a long gash along his forehead, and it seemed as if every inch of him were covered in cuts and bruises. Sarah could also see on the sides of his neck that the skin was a harsh red and blistering as if he had some sort of rash. Burns maybe? She didn’t want to even think about what the rest of him must look like underneath his tattered shirt.
Tears threatened to once again flood her vision, but she forced them back. Instead she hurried to their side as Jack and Race gently lowered Spot to rest on the ground with his back against the side of the house.
“Spot!” she called as she dropped to her knees beside him and placed her hands on the sides of his face. He was conscious again but didn’t seem to be aware of anything around him. He looked right through her and didn’t give any indication of a reply.
“What’s wrong with him?” Sarah asked as she began to caress her thumbs across his cheeks, hoping for any form of a response. She could feel Jack’s eyes on her, but she ignored him, instead turning to Race inquiringly. “What happened in there? Why’d it take you so long?”
Race glanced sideways at Jack and shuffled nervously before clearing his throat answering. “Took us a while tuh find de damn celluh, and den when we did dere was a padlock on it. Kid Blink had tuh bust it open. Den dere was de whole mattuh of gettin’ him up de stairs and out of de house—
He was cut off as Spot suddenly slumped forward into Sarah’s arms. His eyes once again rolled back into his skull and he began to convulse. Sarah screamed as the tears broke free and began to spill down her face. She cradled Spot’s head in her lap as he continued to shake violently.
“Spot!” she sobbed. “Spot please, you can’t do this to me! You have to get better; you can’t leave me! Spot… Sean, please, I love you!”
The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. As they did it seemed as though time itself had stopped moving. She could feel each thud of her heart in her chest and an uneasy feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. At some point the ambulance arrived and Spot was taken from her arms to the waiting carriage. There was shouting and bustling all about her as she climbed to her feet, but everything seemed as if in slow motion. When she finally got her bearings about her everything seemed a blur except the one pair of eyes that stared back at her; heartbreaking hazel eyes filled with hurt and betrayal.
Those three simple words had just changed everything.
The plot thickens... Please review and leave kudos!! I want to know how I'm doing and I love to hear your thoughts about what's happened so far!!