Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Racetrack Higgins couldn't believe his luck. First, he'd lost his money in a bad bet on a horse that was even worse. Then, just when he was almost half-way to the bridge...it started snowing. And wasn't it just his luck that the first snow of the season had to be thick, whipping around in the wind and getting into his eyes, sticking to his coat and pants. Hell, he hadn't even worn his scarf. It sure didn't look like snow when he got up that morning. It didn't look like snow when he got to Brooklyn. It didn't even look like snow when the race started.

Just his luck.

As he waded through the snow that was starting to pile on the streets, Race started to get worried. He still had a walk ahead of him, and given the way the streets were clearing out, it didn't look like he had much of a chance of hopping on a cart. And it sure as hell didn't look like the snow was going to let up any time soon. The way it was falling, Race was pretty sure he knew what the headlines would be like the next day.

"SURPRISE BLIZZARD SHOCKS CITY!"

"CITY PARALYZED BY SNOW!"

"STORM OF THE CENTURY KILLS BROKE NEWSBOY!"

Well, maybe that last one was a stretch. Not that he wouldn't freeze to death, just that it sure wouldn't make the papes. The wind was biting through his coat, and he couldn't feel his hands, or his feet. He hadn't been able to feel his face for a while. But at least he could see the bridge in the distance. If he could just get there, he'd be as good as home free. He didn't worry about the money he'd need to stay in the lodging house. Jack'd loan him some, or maybe Blink. They knew he was good for it. Then he'd lie down in his warm bunk and tell everyone how he had almost froze to death, but he was able to pull himself up by his bootstraps and get through it by the sheer strength of his spirit.

Race had to admit, it was a nice story. Had a happy ending and everything. But it was looking more and more unlikely by the second. The snow was piling higher, and he was moving slower. The drifts weren't the only thing slowing him down. His legs were rebelling against him. They didn't want to move as fast as he wanted. They preferred to take their sweet time; he just wanted to get home.

Suddenly, his right foot hit a frozen patch of street. Race tried to throw his arms out to catch himself, but it was too late. He fell face forward into the snow. It promptly got in his eyes, and his nose, and he was just able to reach his arm up and brush it out. He tried to push himself up, but his arms and legs wouldn't cooperate. He ended up curled up in the snow, his legs against his chest. He had almost completely given up, when he heard a familiar voice above him.

"Ain't you a sight for sore eyes."

Race couldn't believe it. He turned his head and looked up.

There was Spot Conlon, looking down at him. His mouth and nose were covered by a scarf, and his hat covered the top of his face, but that voice, and those eyes, gave him away.

As Spot leaned down, Race tried to say, "I could say the same for you," but what came out was, "G-uh-uh," followed by some teeth chattering. He felt Spot grab his arms and haul him up. His feet hit the ground, and with Spot helping, he was able to stand. Spot took his scarf off and wrapped it around Race, then pulled him along and they started walking.

"Wh-what," Race managed to get out. At first, he didn't think Spot heard him. But then, Spot said through gritted teeth, "We're going to the lodging house, moron. My lodging house. So shut up and walk faster."

Race had to admire Spot's way with words. They made good time, with Spot practically dragging Race along. When they got inside, Race almost fell to the ground with thanks. He knew that it wasn't actually that warm, but compared to the way it was outside, it felt like Santa Fe.

"Almost didn't make it, boys," the man at the front desk said. Spot just frowned, and looked over at Race.

"Tell me you at least got money."

Race was trying to brush off all of the snow that had caked onto his pants. He looked at Spot, and shook his head.

"Nope."

Spot didn't say anything; just put money for both of them on the counter. They signed in, and made their way to the sleeping quarters. Race knew that the kids who usually saved their money and slept on the streets would have decided to pay up tonight. The place was packed. He saw that most boys had already doubled up in their bunks. Of course, one was still free. Race didn't even have to guess at whose that was.

They got ready for bed in silence. Race was pleased to discover that his toes hadn't frozen off. Spot climbed up into his bunk and, figuring there wasn't any other free place, Race climbed in with him. Now that he had thoroughly thawed out, he noticed the draft that swept through the room. Luckily, Spot's body heat radiated over to him.

"So," he whispered, "Uh, I guess I owe you one."

He heard Spot snort.

"You got that right." He turned over to look at Race. "Next time you want to freeze to death, why don't you do it somewhere far away from me?"

Race knew Spot wouldn't let him forget this. "I had it all under control. You just caught me at a...bad time. That's all. I woulda been fine."

"Oh yeah, you were gonna build an igloo for the night. I forgot how you were part Eskimo and all."

Race couldn't help but silently laugh at that. He felt Spot laughing with him against his back. They both quieted down, and Race let his eyes drift closed.

"I know you're Jacky's boy," Spot whispered after a few moments. "But...when you're in Brooklyn, that makes you my boy."

"Right," Race whispered back.

"And I ain't in the habit of letting my boys freeze to death in the snow." Spot let that hang in the air before adding, "Remember that."

"Yeah," Race said. "I will."

He knew he would, too. It was pretty hard to forget. After that they both stopped talking, and soon Race felt Spot's breathing deepen and even out. He couldn't believe his night. From almost freezing in the street, to sharing a bunk with Spot Conlon.

Just his luck.

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