Chasing New Beginnings
Summary: Mush and Blink's last day as newsies at the Duane Street Lodging House. Saying goodbye is the hardest part of starting anew. Set three years post strike. Movie 'verse. Blink/Mush pairing.
Sometimes even monumental days started out just like any other. Mush and Blink's last morning at the Duane Street lodging house was like that. Mush hadn't slept much. His mind had been all over the place, but mostly he'd been thinking about how he'd never sleep in his bunk again, and how different the night would sound without thirty other boys all breathing, snoring, tossing and turning around him. Itey talked in his sleep, usually in English these days, even if he'd still slip in an Italian word here and there. Snitch had taken to sleeping with mittens on to try and keep his thumb out of his mouth, but he spent the night flopping around like a fish until Tumbler got annoyed, stomped over to Snitch's bedside, and yanked the gloves off him without even waking him up. After that, Snitch sucked away happily, and everything was a lot more peaceful. Racetrack woke up to smoke for exactly an hour each night. When he saw that Mush was awake and watching him, he put a finger to his mouth to keep Mush quiet. It was too bad, because Mush was going to miss talking to Race a lot, even though the two of them had never been best friends, and he was just about bursting to give him a hug and tell him that before it was too late.
Kloppman came up the stairs at the usual time, and that was interesting too. His heavy footfall was just such a regular thing. Kloppman shouted for the boys to get up, Boots, Snitch, Snipeshooter, Tumbler, Itey, and all the others. Maybe Mush was just imagining it, but the old man seemed to pause for just a second over Blink before nudging him awake. He shook his head, like he couldn't believe Blink could be sleeping at a time like this, and Mush agreed a little, even though he knew Blink was tired from working real hard the day before.
Mush hopped down from his bunk before Kloppman could reach him.
"I'm already up Mr. K! You don't gotta wake me. I'm up!"
"You hear that boys! At least one of you don't sleep his life away! The presses are rolling, now get outta here and sell the papes!" Kloppman patted Mush on the shoulder, before moving on to the tiredest of the boys, like Dutchy, who could just about sleep through an earthquake, because he'd been up late trying to convince this new kid, Fritz the Frog, that there weren't monsters living under the bed.
Mush was just happy that Kloppman knew he wasn't going to sleep his life away. He liked Kloppman a lot, and he wanted Kloppman to think that he was going to be good and useful. Sometimes Mush wished that he was little like Fritzy, even if that meant having to worry about monsters that weren't there, because that wasn't so bad when you had a whole family of newsies to watch out for them with you. Mush hoped that the newsies would still be his family once he left them, but it was hard to tell. Things were changing, and people couldn't help but change with them.
"I'm gonna go out like a king," was Kid Blink's valiant announcement. He'd bought himself a great big hulking stack of a hundred and fifty papes, and Mush guessed that he was determined to sell each and every one of them or die trying.
"If people don't wanna buy 'em off you, you can just tell 'em it's your last day," Mush suggested. "Maybe then they'll feel sorry and buy out your stock."
"Come on, Mush. It ain't like we're dying. Just going on to new and better things." Blink threw his arm around Mush's shoulder, but he was carrying such a big load that the gesture nearly knocked him off balance, and the exertion of trying to keep them both from falling over put a smile back on Mush's face. He and Blink had figured out their apartment together, and made all the arrangements to their own liking, so it wasn't as though Mush didn't know that there were fun times ahead, it was just that they couldn't begin without giving something up and getting a lot of uncertainty in its place.
"Beat it! You're holding up the line," warned Smasher, the boy who worked behind the distribution center. He was big enough and mean enough to be as scary as both the Delanceys and Weasel combined, and that was after only one month of the job. It'd taken the Delanceys almost a year and Jack's constant goading to get really nasty. Mush waved goodbye to him anyway, just because it didn't make sense to leave anybody on the wrong foot, even an enemy.
"See?" whispered Blink. "Ain't you glad you ain't sticking around in his place? You could be working behind that counter, but instead you and me is going to live together and be happy."
"I couldn't do it. Work the counter, I mean. You know I couldn't. They'd be payin' me to keep the other fellas in line, and I'd feel rotten doing it, or else I'd feel rotten taking their money and not doing my job. Your job is like a duty, so I gotta find a good one."
Mush had been thinking about it a lot. The offer of the distribution center job had come as a shock. The way Race told Mush, he was like puppy that didn't know he'd grown up to be a giant mastiff with rows and rows teeth. Mush had never seen a mastiff before, but Race said that it was a big mean dog that got bred to fight bears. It wasn't a nice thing for Race to say. Maybe moving out was the first step to proving that he wasn't a mastiff, or any kind of dog at all. Moving out and making their way in the world was what men did, and Mush figured that after today he'd be one of those.
He just had to finish up the Newsie job first. He said bye to Blink, and head off carrying his own twenty papes. Mush didn't do cold sales anymore. He had a little group of people he delivered to. Old Lady Westerna was the first and the most important. At eighty-nine she couldn't hear so good or walk so good neither, but she liked to keep up on the news. Mush had been selling to her since he was a little kid, back when she'd been able to get around on her own. He gave her her newspaper, and helped her to clean up around the house. She gave him three cents and a piece of bread with jam for his troubles. He'd probably still help out Old Lady Westerna once he found himself a new job. At least he'd still check in on her from time to time, and help her do her grocery shopping on Sundays.
Mush's next eight deliveries were friends of Old Lady Westerna, most of of them in the same tenement as her. It was a lot of stomping up and down stairs and knocking on doors, hellos and goodbyes. Miss Maggie Anne O'hare needed Mush to help her open up a jar of stewed tomatoes, because she'd never got married and had a son to open stewed tomatoes on her behalf. Mush was happy to do it. She even gave him some cheese and an apple.
After that Mush walked nine blocks to Mr. Seward's candy shop. Mr. Seward had gone blind in an accident four years ago. Mush had always sold him papers, but when he stopped being able to see, he started reading the papers to him, but only the good news. Mr. Seward said he was too old to listen to bad news, so Mush always found something nice and interesting in the papes for him. Mush stuck around for with him for forty-five minutes. Mr. Seward gave him five cents and some boiled hard candies. Mush guessed he would have to keep delivering papes to him once he got his new job too.
The rest of Mush's clients were shop owners, all of them nice people who didn't have much time to go out on their own to get the news, and needed someone to give it to them. One of them, Mr. Krouger, gave Mush a dime and said he wished he could take him on to work in his shop. Mush wished that he could too, but when he told Mr. Krouger that he be happy to take the job, the older man just looked uncomfortable and said it couldn't be. There was no reason for it. It just couldn't be. It left a sour taste in Mush's mouth, and he didn't want that conversation to be the last one he had as a Newsie, so he went back to Mr. Seward's to chat with him some more. They ended up sharing an early dinner of bony sardines on toast. That was more the way Mush wanted to finish things off. He was satisfied. He'd been the best Newsie he could, right up until the last. He'd sold his papes honestly, which wasn't something many could say, and he'd made some nice old people happy while he did it. It was time to move on into the great wide adult world.
"When do we get to pay you a visit, hey Mush?" Mush was packing up his few belongings, and Dutchy was draped over him watching, arms around his neck.
"Tonight! You and all the guys can come tonight if you wanna."
"How's about lunch tomorrow," Dutchy offered. "Gotta help old Kloppman take care of things 'round here."
"You're real lucky like that. It's like you get to stay a Newsie forever."
"Sure, till Kloppman wants to keep the rest of you lot from smoking or gambling your life away, and I gotta pretend like I got the authority to keep you in line. And it ain't like sticking around all day and cleaning up after all of you is half as social as pushing papes."
"I'll make sure my stuff's neat and clean before I go. I'll make the bed."
A few bunks down Blink was smoking on his own bed, and telling a bunch of the other boys, with big sweeping hand gestures, just how nice their new life would be. He looked happy and golden, dedicated to this dream. Living with him was going to be great. They were going to sleep in one bed, learn how to cook, and finally have a few things all their own. Mush took one more look around the room, saying his goodbyes without saying them. ' Goodbye' had to be the hardest word in the English language. Just thinking it put a lump in Mush's throat and he just couldn't push past it. Dutchy gave Mush a tight squeeze, then let go.
"I'm glad we're buddies," Dutchy said. He raked his hand through his blond hair. "That we got to be kids together, ya know? I always tell myself it's a good thing that all the rest of you is heading out. Kloppman wants me to teach the other lodgers to behave all clean and moral-like, but it's hard doing that with guys you used to make trouble with. Now that you're going the two of us can make trouble together again."
"That makes me feel a lot better. Thanks, Dutch! I can't wait to make trouble with you."
Mush said his goodbyes to Snitch and Itey next. Snitch must've been listening to him and Dutchy, because he lectured Mush on being a 'pillar of society' and not getting in trouble. In turn, Mush gave that same lecture right back to Tumbler as a going away gift, because Tumbler got in the most trouble of anyone else Mush had ever met.
Blink and Mush walked shoulder to shoulder down the stairs, to meet Kloppman at the front desk, and sign out of his book of log book, this time forever.
"You two behave. No jokes, you hear me?" Kloppman shook his fist at the two of them, but Blink especially.
"I'm going to learn how to turkey drumsticks," Mush told him. "I'll bring you some to try."
Kloppman shook his head and clicked his tongue, but Mush didn't take it personally, even when he muttered 'turkey drumsticks' under his breath in a disbelieving tone. Kloppman was too old to believe in much, but he'd always been kind to Mush, like a cross between a sweet little grandfather and an angry zookeeper who only got mad because it did the monkeys and elephants good to hear him shout sometimes. Mush was going to send him a Christmas card every year from now on, until Kloppman died, and then Mush would go and put the Christmas cards on his grave.
"Don't open these here," Kloppman said, handing a sack to Blink and then another to Mush. "You got places to be, and I got work to do."
"Bye Mr. K," Blink said. He shook hands with Kloppman and Mush did the same, then Kloppman opened up his log book to write something in it, and Blink turned away quickly and went for the door like he was being pulled out by a magnet.
The door shut behind them, and that was it.
"He doesn't want us to look at his presents 'cause he's afraid we'll start blubbering," said Blink. "Imagine that. Us! Blubbering!"
"It's 'cause the article's gonna be in there."
"It's on account of no one ever gave me a whole bag of gifts before."
"You ain't gonna hold it against me, is you? If I blubber a little later?"
"Nah." Blink rubbed his hand over his face. "Blubber all you want. I'm gonna stick by you like glue, no matter what you does. If one of us blubbers, we blubber together."
The apartment was on Mulberry street, but no Mulberries grew there, just big tall tenement houses, and sidewalks with cracks in them. Blink and Mush's place was on the twelfth floor of a building that looked older than Kloppman.
It was just one room, but it was a good room. There was a bed, and a drooping blue couch in the corner. There was a dresser and two shelves. The light was electric. Blink turned it on and off four times before even putting down his stuff. Mush took his shoes off in the doorway to keep the floor clean. They'd have to meet their neighbors soon. They'd be sharing a kitchen and a bathroom with the other people on their floor. Mush hoped they would all become friends.
More importantly, Mush wanted to open up his presents first of all.
"Come on, Kid! Let's see what we got!"
Mush sat down on the bed, and Blink sat with him, shoulder to shoulder. They both set about opening their bags.
They each had a toothbrush, a cup, and a pair of warm socks. Mush got some postcards of animals, and Blink got a mystery book about a stolen car. Both of them got a ham sandwich.
"It's smart of Kloppman to know we can't cook yet, don't you think?" Mush asked.
They were down to the bottom of the sack now, and the most important part. They each had one, neatly folded, but faded with age.
NEWSIES STOP THE WORLD!
Mush unfolded his paper slowly, careful not to break it. Kloppman had saved several dozen of this prized edition of the New York Sun from the summer of 1899. None of the boys had known until Pie Eater had left the lodging house and been given his copy. Good old Pie Eater had been the first of the strikers to go, and since then Kloppman had kept up the tradition of sending the strikers away with the article and some gifts, as long as they told him when they were leaving.
Mush ran his fingers over the familiar faces. Some of them, like Jack, had gone so far away that Mush didn't think he'd ever find them again. Others, like Skittery and Specs, were around if you cared to look for them. David visited with Mush two or three times a week without fail. Spot was in prison. Crutchy was doing really well for himself. Jake was dead.
Blink still looked a lot like he did in his picture, but Blink was with Mush - real, solid, loyal, and persistent. Everything a best friend and partner ought to be. Sometimes Mush couldn't believe how lucky he was to have Blink in his life, one person who would change with him as he got older.
Blink seemed to be thinking the same thing because he wrapped his arm around Mush where they sat.
"That was a great thing we did," Blink said. "You think we'll ever do anything like that again?"
"Nah. Guess I wanna do good things now 'stead of great ones."
"I wanna get rich."
Mush nodded solemnly. He hoped that Blink could get rich too, if that was what would make him happy.
"You know, Kid, I bet heaven will be just like the lodging house, and all of us will be together again... Jack, and Swifty, and poor old Jake, and Skittery, and David, and you, and me, and Bumlets, and Dutchy, and..."
Blink laughed, but not unkindly. "I think heaven's got more than one room and nicer beds. But It'd be good to see all the fellas again. Real good."
Mush swallowed hard several times, before reaching out for the bag Kloppman had given him.
"I'm feeling kinda emotional Kid," Mush admitted. "So I'm going to eat my ham sandwich."
Kid Blink just smiled real broad, and kissed the back of Mush's head. "Let's eat together."