April in New York City is not normally one of the warmest months of the spring. April is the month for the last of the chilly drizzle and biting winds. Not ideal newspaper-selling weather in any sense, but when there's only a sleeting standing between you and sleeping on the streets, well, there's not much of a choice. And that is exactly what the newsboys of the Duane Street Lodging House expected to wake up to one April morning.
"C'mon guys, wake up! Get out there and carry the banner!"
The seemingly perpetually awake voice of Harry Kloppman cut through the humid air of the bunkroom. He went from bed to bed, shaking the shoulders of the younger boys and administering Skittery's smack of the day.
Amidst yawns and groans of protest, Kid Blink, the one-eyed newsie lucky enough to sleep atop an upper bunk, yanked his thin sheet over his head and snuggled into the mattress, hoping Kloppman would pass by his bed and grant him a few more minutes of sleep. In the neighbouring bunk, Blink heard Mush mumble a sleepy 'g'morning' as he jumped to the floor. The sounds of many bare feet across the wood floor disappeared into the washroom and Blink closed his eyes, glad to have gone so far unnoticed.
After a few minutes under his blanket, however, Blink became uncomfortable in sudden stuffiness. He rolled over, trying to find a cool space on the mattress, but only encountered another fold of smothery sheet.
"Perfect." The disgruntled boy thought. "Good morning humidity."
As far as New York goes, the only time of year Blink can't stand is the onset of spring humidity. Bothers the poor kid's allergies.
He kicked his legs around, trying to get comfortable. Finally, his feet touched a cool space and immediately he rolled over, tangled in his sheets, to try to get back to sleep.
It was too late when Blink realized that he had kicked off the mattress.
He would have preferred a daily morning slap to this.
Blink lay there on the floor, exasperated and still wadded up in his sheet. His cheek touched the smooth wood of the floor. Cringing, the now-bruised newsboy was about to haul himself off the floor when he heard footsteps approaching.
Quickly, he looked up, meeting the amused brown eyes of his companion Mush. Blink groaned and let his forehead fall back on the grainy floor. Mush sat down next to him and lifted a corner of the sheet, peering underneath.
"Keep doing that and you'll lose the other eye." Mush joked as Blink thumped his forehead against the ground.
"Cripes Mush, you didn't just fall offa your bunk."
"No, but now that we're both out of bed, your way was more artistic though, I must admit, I'm going for a shower."
Ah. Showers. Blink didn't seem the type, but his favourite part of his morning routine just had to be his shower. On most days, he was careful to wake up slightly earlier than the other boys, just to try to get into the warm water before the other kids with dirtier hair and feet smudged up the towels and lost the soap.
Mush pulled Blink to his feet, untangling him from the sheet.
"C'mon, I'll even let you share my sellin' spot today."
Blink smiled halfheartedly and followed Mush into the washroom.
His bunkmates scrambled around the sinks and stalls, yanking towels and brushes off the shelves. Blink shuffled over to the second shower - his personal favourite - and knocked.
"Occupado!" Came the annoyed voice from inside. Blink sighed. Bumlets. The boy with the record time for longest morning showers. An unsaid record, but definitely common knowledge. Mush checked the other stalls.
"All full. Sorry man, looks like it's the washcloth for you."
Blink turned around and riffled through the pile of cloths on the shelf. Dirty... smudged... ergh, that's what Kleenex is for... and finally found a relatively clean cloth about the size and constitution of a handkerchief.
"Fine... this'll have to do." There was no way that Blink would resign himself to a non-showered self on such a muggy morning. Ew.
Mush pulled a bar of soap from under the cabinet and sniffed it.
"What is this, Kloppman's going grandmother on us?"
He held out the soap for Blink to smell.
"That's... mildly amusing."
"Spring Rain Fresh!" Mush chirped, reading from the soapbox.
"Spring rain my ass." Blink replied grumpily, taking the soap from Mush. "What am I gonna do, take a bath in the sink?"
"Uh... there's always Snipeshooter's tub?"
"Are you kidding? That thing's got a permanent dirtring. No tellin' what kinda germs that little nosepicker could give a person."
Mush sighed and looked out the window absentmindedly. Moisture gathered on the outside of the panes, as if mocking them with the promise of rain. Mush grinned.
"Y'know, I think someone left a big metal tub in the hall closet a while ago. Used it for laundry or something. Why don't we go check?" Mush suggested, grabbing his friend's hand without waiting for an answer. Blink startled. It wasn't like Mush to be so... forward.
Reluctantly, and still clutching the cloth and soap, Blink followed down the stairs to the lodging house's coatroom closet. He opened the door and peered in, squinting into the darkness.
"I don't see any --- gwah!"
Mush took his opportunity while Blink had his back turned.
He whipped out a towel and looped it around his friend's neck, half-dragging and half-laughing him over to the front door. Opening it with his foot, Mush yanked a very surprised Blink around and shoved him out onto the front step.
"What the --?" Blink let his arms drop and looked in disbelief at Mush through the front window.
"You wanted a shower." Mush said through the grimy glass.
"A shower, yes, but a shower is radically different from being locked out of my own building, at 5 in the morning, in my underwear..."
Before the last words even left his lips, Blink heard a small rumble of thunder. The humidity in the air seemed to condense above him into a smothering layer of foggy fluff. Something small hit the top of his head. Then something else. Blink looked up.
A sheet of cool rain fell on the dusty street. The last words Mush could discern from Blink, dripping from head to toe, but standing still outside the window, were:
"Well, aren't you going to take a shower?"
Mush grinned and grabbed his towel. Before rushing back upstairs for another bar of soap, he looked back at Blink, who was now perched under a stream of water running off the roof.
Mush darted back upstairs and retrieved another bar of soap and a handful of (dirty, but maybe if he's desperate for towels enough, Blink won't notice) cloths.
Once back downstairs, Mush watched Blink, still under his makeshift shower and still, fortunately enough for the nearby nuns, clothed in his pajamas. Mush opened the door and stepped out uncertainly, raindrops quickly soaking his hair and shirt.
"I brought you more towels." He said, offering his cloths and setting them under the overhang of the roof.
"Are they dirty?"
"Blink Ballatt, you are an impossible clean freak."
Blink just laughed and splashed a stream of water at Mush, spattering across his chest. Mush smiled and stepped closer, letting rivulets of rain refresh his face from sleep.
"How did you know it was gonna rain like that?" Blink wondered aloud.
"I hoped for something to cheer you up. Something to make you smile because I know you hate sticky weather. Something to give me an excuse to be around you..."
"Alone?" Blink finished his sentence.
Mush blushed and fidgeted with the bar of soap still in his hands.
Curious, Blink stepped closer and tilted Mush's chin up. The tan-skinned boy had gone a furious shade of pink, and, despite his embarrassment, still grinned. Realizing what his friend meant, Blink leaned in and gave Mush a chaste kiss on his forehead.
"Thanks." A whispered word in Mush's ear almost lost in the pattern of the rain. Mush breathed happily and inhaled the rainy smell of Blink's clean skin.
"New soap, huh?"
Blink sniffed the blue bar again.
"It's not so bad. Even if I do end up smelling like a girl."
Mush laughed and looked back into the lodging house.
"Looks like everyone's come downstairs. We'd better hurry up and grab our papers before there's none left."
"I have a better idea." Blink whispered conspiratorially. He lifted his towel and looped it around Mush's neck, leading him around the side of the building to the outside staircase.
"I bet those showers are empty now."