"I love baseball. Don't you?"
Mush looked over at Blink, and weighed his options. As usual, he knew he couldn't lie to Blink, so he shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't know much about it," he answered quickly.
"Mush, I've told you everything you need to know about baseball at least a million times. How come it never sticks?"
Mush screwed his face into his best pout, the one with the watering eyes, and Blink sighed. "Don't you go making them faces at me," he warned. "You know I hate it when you do that." Mush continued with his act, and a tear slid down his cheek. "Goddammit, Mush," Blink whined. "You're pathetic."
Mush dropped the pout. "Why, 'cause I don't know nothing about whatever it is that them baseball guys do? Catching and pitching and all that." Mush rolled his eyes. "Who cares, 'long as I got a bed to sleep in and food to eat? Baseball ain't nothing to sleep on or nothing to fill my belly, so I don't care much for it."
Blink pantomimed falling off the curb they were walking on. "Mush! How the hell are we best friends when you say things like that?" Mush blinked prettily at him and Blink felt his heart flutter a little, but he ignored it and concentrated on the more pressing matter at hand. "Sure, baseball ain't no feather mattress, and it ain't no steak dinner. But it's baseball! Baseball ain't nothing if not a blessing from God above, and... and it's more than a place to stay and a free dinner combined! It's got spirit and freedom and hard work and perverseness-"
"Perseverance," Mush corrected absent-mindedly.
"Yeah, that too." Blink was talking quickly, his entire face lit up. "My dad used to take me to games, and it was the first thing I really loved."
"Blink, love is all well and good for stories and stuff, but I'm pretty sure it don't really exist. Not in real life. Not for street kids, at least."
Blink stared at Mush. "You serious? You! The kid who’s filled with the most love out of all of us, and you say you don’t believe in it." Mush shrugged.
"Yeah, pretty much."
Blink stared at him, then shook his head, half in disbelief and half to get his thoughts back in focus. "Back to baseball. Spirit and hard work! And it's entertaining, too! Nothing like watching that team take the field, and the smell of dirt and sweat and blood-"
"I get plenty of the smell of dirt and sweat and blood in old Kloppy's lodging house, thanks," Mush quickly cut in. "I don't need to pay a fortune to smell professional stink."
Blink reached over and smacked his hat so that it flew off of his hair. "Blink!" Mush complained, bending to snatch it back up. "What was that for?"
"For being the biggest blockhead this side of the Hudson," Blink answered, but with a teasing smile.
Mush immediately retaliated with a couple of quick jabs, and soon the boys were tumbling in the street. The more respectable citizens of New York pretended they didn't see the two, and they ended up tangled in a gutter, laughing happily, pleased with themselves. Blink looked into Mush's eyes, and grinned. "Mush, I'm gonna teach you to love." He coughed. "Baseball."
"Don't bet on it," Mush answered warningly. Then he giggled and began tickling Blink's stomach until Blink, writhing with mirth, had to call uncle.
Racetrack was lounging upon the stoop when Blink and Mush got to the lodging house that evening. "Heya, fellas," he called. "No use going in there."
"What're you talking about, Race?" Blink asked, his eyes sideways in case Mush decided to swoop in with a sneak attack. He was always looking sideways at Mush. ...Just in case he was about to attack, of course.
"I got it on good authority that it's gonna be the first night of the year where lodging houses are for the strictly wealthy. Weather's gonna be nice and warm. Those who should be saving might as well be carryin' the banner tonight." He raised an eyebrow. "And it's common knowledge you two spend more time wrestling in the streets than selling papes, by a pretty wide margin. You might as well save whatever pennies you managed to scrape together."
"Who'd you hear your information from? God sending down weather bulletins to you?" Blink asked, laughing.
"Lady up at the races. She's never wrong," Race answered, chewing on the end of his cigar. "She's the reason I got five whole dollars in my pocket right now." His smile was proud and smug.
"If she's a respectable lady, what's she doing at the races?" Mush mused.
Racetrack's face clouded. "What are you saying, Mush? Eh?"
"Yeah, Mush," Blink said, laughing a bit. "Are you..." He struggled to find his word, and finally settled on "incinerating."
"Insinuating," Mush supplied. "And I wasn't saying nothing, Race, honest." He looked up at the sky. "You sure you trust this woman? Looks like rain to me."
"Listen to him!" Racetrack said loudly to Blink. "Just listen to him! I should bust his face open, I should."
Blink held up his hands. "Whoa, whoa there, Race. Mush didn't mean no harm. We're just gonna walk on off down the street. Thanks for the tip on the weather. Glad to know it's finally gonna stay warm." He grinned cheerfully, and, though Race stared at him uncertainly, he let them leave.
"Tell me what a shortstop does," Blink said.
Mush rolled his eyes. "I don't know and I don't care." He stretched out on his side in the alley's dust and looked up. "Tell me that don't look like rain. Goddamn Racetrack."
Blink didn't look up, just sighed. "Mush, why won't you learn about baseball?" His tone was a bit of a whine, but he didn't care.
"Because I don't need to know it, Blink." He was still looking at the sky. "Seriously. Ain't those rain clouds?"
"Probably," Blink said, still not looking up. "This one's easy. What's a pitcher do?"
"Pitches," Mush said, sighing.
"And the first baseman?"
"I don't know, stands at first base."
Mush let out a battle cry and hurled himself to his feet and then on top of Blink in one fluid movement. Blink didn't even have time to brace himself, and by the time he realized what was going on, he was flat on his back on the hard alley ground. Mush sat on his stomach, looking triumphant. Then Blink flipped over and Mush went sprawling. As soon as Mush turned onto his back, Blink straddled his stomach victoriously. Then a solid raindrop hit the top of his head squarely. He looked up just in time to catch another one on his nose.
Mush burst into laughter. Blink looked down and saw that a couple of other drops had fallen onto Mush's face as well. "Looks like you were right," he said.
"Yup," Mush agreed, grinning. "Can't wait to rub it in Race's face." He shrugged as best as he could while lying down, pinned to the dust. More rain fell down, wetting his face. "Kloppy won't take us in now, it's too late."
"It's still warm though," Blink pointed out. "Thank God." He held up his hands and they were soon polka-dotted with water. "This sure is some rain. Big, fat drops and all."
"Yeah it is," Mush agreed. "Say... you wanna let me up?"
Blink raised his eyebrows. "Do I look like the kinda fella who'd wanna let you up?"
Mush chuckled. "Nope." He lay still for a moment, and Blink smiled down at him. Mush's hand reached upward, and Blink thought for a second that he was cupping it to catch water, but it kept stretching up until it caught hold of Blink's bright blond hair. He twisted the lock, and Blink wondered how exactly he was supposed to react to this. Mush didn't seem nervous or embarrassed, so Blink decided it must be all right. Then Mush began running his fingers through the knotted strands, and the touch made Blink's entire scalp tingle. He blinked rapidly as the rain began to pour down into his eye, soaking his clothing, weighing him down on top of his best friend whose fingers were gently combing, combing.
Blink's eye was still trained on Mush's gaze, and he felt apprehensive and deliciously unpredictable even to himself. Then Mush lowered his hand, and Blink suddenly instead felt a tremendous sense of loss. His hand raised and caught Mush's midway to the ground, and his fingers were shivering but held on to Mush's somehow anyway.
"Blink?" Mush asked, but it wasn't entirely a question. Blink wondered suddenly how it was that Mush could know so very little about the most important sport in the world and yet so much about everything else.
And he leaned down, using the rain as a cover from the rest of the world, and wasn't really sure what he was doing at all, but suddenly his lips were pressed fantastically against Mush's, and his fingers were woven with Mush's, his free hand caressing Mush's cheek, that soft pastel brown cheek too soft and smooth for a street kid, and Mush's mouth was opening, their tongues mixing, and somehow their bodies were fitting together perfectly in a synchronization that had never quite been there for all of their wrestling matches.
Blink smiled into Mush's mouth as the rain poured on, and thought that maybe Race's lady had had some luck up her sleeves after all.