And Carrots

[Inspired by the descriptions of holiday dinners LD posted over at No. 9 Duane Street]

Bumlets sighed and wiped sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. It was snowing heavily outside, the kind of cold where it hurt to inhale. But the kitchen was so hot it was uncomfortable. But that was what happened when you tried to make a meal for 600 boys -- the oven and the fireplace had both been lit for hours, and there were a dozen boys inside, plus two cooks, which meant it was crowded. But Kloppman had asked for volunteers, and Bumlets figured sweating in a kitchen was better than braving the crowd and trying to elbow his way into getting a spot at the table.

Bumlets hated crowds. He could live with them, work with them; they were a fact of life in New York. But all he wanted was space. Even the kitchen, though much better than the swarm of boys in the dining hall, was more crowded than he would have liked. He just wanted some space.

He sighed heavily and went back to the vegetables he was slicing -- real, fresh produce. The donors who'd made the newsboys' feast possible had spared no expense. He'd never seen food so good.

A pale hand snaked down in front of his knife and snatched up a carrot. Bumlets followed it to its source and saw Dutchy -- paler now in winter than usual, which was saying something -- stick the carrot between his teeth and crunch. "Love those," Dutchy said, his mouth full.

"Mm," Bumlets answered, then shooed him back to his own station. Dutchy gave him a shrug, a grin, crunched is carrot again, and went back to work.

--

The kitchen volunteers were the last people in the house to eat -- Bumlets didn't mind that either, because after everyone had been served, they all sat around the big wooden table in the kitchen and ate in there. Dutchy sat next to him, and he dug into the food with obvious pleasure.

"I want this," Dutchy said between bites.

"Want what?" Bumlets asked. "More greens?"

Dutchy shook his head. "A farm. I want a farm. My grandparents had one -- my pa always said, leaving to come here was the worst mistake he ever made."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Think about it -- on a farm, you got all the food you want. Fresh, every day. Animals, and milk, if you want 'em, too."

"Sounds like hard work."

"No harder 'n selling papes." He shoveled a few more bites into his mouth. "I'd go west if I could afford the land. Maybe I'll go anyways, find a job. Save up some."

"Mmm." Bumlets ate a few bites himself. He had to admit, it was good -- much better than their usual fare.

"You'd like it," Dutchy said. "On a farm, I mean."

"Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah. It's all big open land, that's what they say. Miles and miles of just -- space, and nothing on it but you and your crops and your cows."

"You know," Bumlets said. "I think I would like that."

"I know," Dutchy said, then turned bright red. Not from the heat of the still too-warm kitchen. "I mean -- you always go out by yourself at night, up to the roof or out on the stoop, all alone."

Bumlets shrugged. "Nice to get some time alone. I like to hear myself think sometimes."

"You think more than any other guy I know," Dutchy said. "I mean -- I just figure, 'cause you don't talk the way most guys do. Most guys, they're so busy talking they never stop to think at all, but you… I mean, listen to me. I'm just talking, ain't thinking about a darn thing I'm saying. It show?"

"Little bit." Bumlets gave him a smile. "You talk enough for both of us."

Dutchy shrugged. "Maybe we go good together." He turned red again.

Bumlets paused, fork halfway to his mouth. "Maybe we do."

Dutchy's face lit up with a grin. "Maybe someday, you and me can go out west together, get a farm. Just you and me and acres of land."

"And carrots," Bumlets said.

"And carrots," Dutchy promised solemnly. And under the table he reached for Bumlets' free hand, intertwined their fingers. "Happy Christmas, Bumlets," he murmured.

Bumlets leaned closer to him and gave his hand a squeeze. "Happy Christmas, Dutchy."