Winter had stayed too long – it was already April, and the buds on trees were only just beginning to open. Specs hated the cold, so the past few months had been difficult for him. He could never understand why the other newsies didn't seem to mind it much; after all, it wasn't as though any of them had enough in the way of warm clothes to keep from being frozen all the time from November until whenever spring decided to start. The other boys would shove each other in the snow and even stuff the snow down the back of each other's shirts while Specs huddled inside the Lodging House, perched over the solitary stove, hands outstretched in a vain attempt to keep warm.
But now, thank goodness, it was ending. The snow had melted away, the sun was out, and as he strolled down the street, smiling from having sold all of his papers before noon, he heard a bird chirp somewhere not far off. Winter was over and spring was here, at long last.
Somewhat absent-mindedly (who could focus, now that the weather was becoming so nice?), Specs turned a corner, and was immediately blindsided by something big and heavy. The force of the collision spent him sprawling to the ground, and knocked his glasses right off of his face.
Whatever it was that had hit him, it had landed right on top of him, knocking his breath right out of his mouth and leaving him gasping. Dazed, he blinked several times, sucking air into his lungs.
"Ow," he managed after a moment. "What the-" He squinted, trying to bring his vision at least slightly into focus. The object that had barreled into him hovered above him, a beige circle surrounded by a halo.
... a halo?
He squinted a bit more, and the details resolved themselves ever so slightly. It wasn't a beige circle with dark spots in it, it was a face, and it wasn't a halo, it was simply a mane of blond hair of a shade surely only found on one person in this city.
"Dutchy!" he snapped. "Get offa me!"
Even without his glasses, Specs could see that Dutchy wasn't wearing his usual happy-go-lucky expression, but his face was as distracted as ever. "Specs?" he asked, sounding every bit as out of breath as Specs felt. "What're you doin' down there?"
"Whaddaya mean, what am I doin'?" Specs replied irritably, attempting to shove the blond boy away. "You'se the one who hit me."
"Oh, that was you?" Dutchy blinked. "Didn't see you there." He turned his head to look behind him and went stock-still.
"You'se still on top of me, Dutchy," Specs said angrily, but Dutchy was no longer listening. His pale skin suddenly went so white that even the half-blind Specs could see it.
"Uh oh," Dutchy muttered, and he sprang to his feet, pulling Specs behind him. "C'mon, let's go."
"Go where?" Specs tried to shake Dutchy's grip from his wrist, but the grip felt like iron. "Let go!"
"Gotta move!" Dutchy said. He broke into a run, still pulling Specs.
"Dutchy, my glasses!"
"We can get 'em later," Dutchy panted.
Specs attempted one last time to wrest free and locate his glasses, but it was no use. Somehow, Dutchy was much stronger than he looked, and his grip was implacable. After a few seconds, Specs sighed and gave up, allowing himself to speed up to a jog, deciding that he would just have to soak Dutchy later and steal his glasses. There wasn't much of a chance of him being able to find his own again, after all. Dutchy would just have to suck it up and find himself a new pair somewhere.
Trying as hard as possible to stay on his feet, despite the fact that he could barely see, Specs gasped, "Why are we running? ... Why am I running?" There was no response.
His wrist was really starting to hurt where Dutchy was gripping it.
Though he could no longer see where they were going, he could tell from the various twists and turns that they were headed away from the Lodging House towards a more residential area. He breathlessly wracked his brains, trying to come up with a reason, any reason that Dutchy would bring him here. The only possibility that sprang to mind was that the blond boy had somehow gotten in trouble over a girl and was now being chased by her very large, very angry brothers.
The thought annoyed him, though he really wasn't sure why.
Stumbling over a curb that he hadn't been able to anticipate, Specs finally managed to tug his arm out of Dutchy's grasp. It took Dutchy a few seconds to realize that he no longer had a grasp on Specs, and turned backwards to look at him, a half-confused, half-alarmed expression on his face.
"What're you doin'?" Specs snapped. "You made me lose my glasses. You made me run. I ain't runnin' no more, Dutchy." He crossed his arms angrily.
"But... but we gotta hide!" Dutchy exclaimed.
"Hide? From what?" Specs wasn't really expecting an answer... and he didn't get one.
Dutchy heaved a huge sigh and trotted back to where Specs had planted himself. "C'mon, Specs, they'll catch us if we'se standin' in the middle of the street like this!"
"Who? Who's gonna catch us, huh?"
"I'll explain, just come on," Dutchy wheedled, pulling Specs over to a nearby fire escape ladder.
"This is ridiculous," Specs muttered.
"Climb," Dutchy suggested in response.
Specs climbed the ladder up to the fire escape as slowly as possible, taking a perverse delight in Dutchy's grumblings and warnings to hurry it up. Upon reaching the second floor, Dutchy simply pushed Specs towards the ladder up to the third floor. Starting to realize that Dutchy wouldn't explain yet and wouldn't take no for an answer, Specs climbed in silence, beginning to worry that Dutchy was in some real trouble. Why else would he go to all this effort to hide?
Finally, both boys stood atop the squat apartment building. Specs sighed. "Now will you explain?"
"Get away from the side," Dutchy hissed. "They can see you if you stand there."
"Fine, fine." Specs stomped to the middle of the roof. "Now talk. And it better be good." He sat down cross-legged on the warm concrete.
Dutchy sat down next to him. "Well," he began, "it's kinda embarrassing..."
"Imagine that," Specs said dryly. If Dutchy told him that this was about a girl, he might have to beat him up. Not that he was jealous or anything. No. But he didn't like being dragged all over town without his glasses... which he was still very annoyed about, by the way.
"So here's the thing," Dutchy said, the words suddenly seeming to tumble out of his mouth, "I was talkin' to Race earlier, and we was talkin' about Brooklyn, and I said something like, 'I don't care if Conlon got his nickname 'cause he can always spot anyone he's lookin' for, and if I wanted to hide, he couldn't find me,' and Race asked if I'd put my money where my mouth is, and then somehow, I ain't sure how Spot actually heard about it, and now he's runnin' around Manhattan, and I think he wants to hurt me, and-"
"Wait," Specs interjected. "Hold on. You insulted Spot?"
"I didn't think he'd hear 'bout it," Dutchy said shamefacedly.
"And now you'se hiding from him?"
"So what am I doin' here?" Specs raised an eyebrow.
"Obvious, ain't it?"
Specs shook his head.
Dutchy sighed. "If Spot found you, you would've told him that you'd seen me and which way I was goin', wouldn't you?"
"Well, yeah, I guess, but my glasses-"
"You'se really more concerned about your glasses than my neck?"
Specs couldn't be sure, but it really looked like Dutchy was pouting.
"Yes," Specs replied. "Without my glasses, I can't see."
"Well, here." Dutchy slipped his own glasses off his face and offered them to Specs.
He blinked. Though he'd been vaguely planning to take Dutchy's glasses later, he couldn't believe that Dutchy would just give them to him.
"I can't take 'em," Specs replied uneasily.
"Sure you can."
When Specs made no move to take the glasses, Dutchy gently set them on Specs' face and smiled. For his part, Specs could only gape.
He wasn't sure if it was the new glasses or if it was that he couldn't remember the last time that someone had done something for him like that, but when he looked at Dutchy now, it was like looking at him with entirely new eyes. Specs had never really noticed before just how blue Dutchy's eyes were. His hair was... well, it was still blinding. But the biggest change was the look on Dutchy's face. Suddenly, it appeared clearer than Specs had ever seen it before, and the expression on his face wasn't goofy or nervous, but something else entirely, something sweeter and purer.
Specs blinked and shook his head. What was wrong with him?
"Look, Dutchy," he said, "thanks for the glasses, but I ain't gonna keep 'em. They ain't mine."
"It's my fault, though, ain't it?" Dutchy shrugged. "Keep 'em. My eyes ain't as bad as yours, anyway."
"Keep 'em," Dutchy repeated firmly. "They look better on you anyway."
And then, inexplicably, Dutchy laid his head on Specs' shoulder with a sigh that sounded far from unhappy. Specs licked his suddenly dry lips.
"You sure 'bout this?" he asked, his voice squeaking slightly. He didn't know if he was asking about the glasses, or about something far less explainable, but Dutchy seemed to understand.
"I'se sure," came the quiet reply. "Heck, if Spot does find me, I'd rather die happy."
"Oh," Specs managed.
After that, there didn't seem to be a whole lot more to say.
...except for when Dutchy muttered that Specs really needed a shave because stubble was scratchy. But that didn't matter too much.
After all, it was a beautiful spring day.