Buy Me Some Kisses and Cracker Jacks
The Monday morning of April 30th was like something out of a storybook: a sky so blue it hurt to look at it, a breeze so gentle it barely moved the laundry hanging between the tenements, and a sun so bright it sent rays of early-morning warmth from its perch just above the horizon. It was, in short, a perfect day for selling papers. Which was why David was so startled when, as he and Les approached the schoolhouse, Jack stepped out of an alleyway, his arms devoid of papes.
"Jack!" Les called, racing over to him, as David raised a skeptical eyebrow and followed at a slower pace. Jack bent down to pull Les into a hug and ruffled his hair a bit before standing up straight again.
"Hi, Jack..." David replied, hesitantly. "What are you doing here?"
Jack put on his most winning smile. "Well, I was gonna ply you with small talk for awhile, but since you asked... I want you to come with me."
"Come with you? Where? I have school, you know that." David gestured vaguely in the direction of the schoolhouse, only a few hundred feet away.
"Can't tell you, it's a surprise. And you can miss one day of school. You're the smartest guy I know; missin' a few lessons won't hurt nothin.'"
"I... I can't. I'll miss important things. And my parents will kill me."
"Your folks don't gotta know."
David could feel his resolve crumbling as he shook his head, and Jack, clearly sensing this, pressed on. "Look, Dave, I already sacrificed sellin' today to come get you like this. Ain't no more papes to buy. If you don't come with me, I gotta walk around all day with nothin' to do and a day's money missin' from my pockets. Now, are you really gonna leave me like that?"
David sighed, taking mental stock of what he'd be missing. There were no tests today, and no really important lectures. He'd miss a little bit of American History and Latin, probably, but he could catch up easily enough by reading the books and asking John McDonnell for his notes...
"Fine. I'll go with you," David said, resigned. "But what'll Les do when school ends?"
"Blink offered to pick him up and take him home," Jack responded, clearly prepared for the question.
But Les had perked up at the sound of his own name. "Can't I go too?" he asked, his eyes pleading.
Jack bent down again. "Now, kid, your brother here, he's already had lots a' schooling. In fact, I bet his brain's about to burst from all that learnin'. But you still got awhile to go to catch up to that, and missin' lessons ain't gonna help."
Les pouted. "It ain't fair! You guys have all the fun."
"Don't say 'ain't,'" David scolded automatically.
Jack paused a moment to gather his thoughts. "Tell you what. All you gotta do is go to school, and let Kid Blink take you home. Then you tell your folks that Davey's out with me, but don't tell 'em he missed school. If you can do all that, just like I said, I'll treat you to ice cream some night this week. Just me and you, out on the town. How's that sound?"
Les scrunched up his face, considering. "Can I wear your hat?"
Jack smiled. "Sure you can, kid."
"'Kay!" Les replied, and with that he ran off in the direction of the school.
"Make sure not to forget your books when you come home!" David called after his back, but by that point Les was well out of earshot, reaching the doors of the school building.
"So," David asked, turning toward Jack and beginning to follow him down the street, "Where is it you're taking me, again?"
Jack smiled mischievously. "All in good time, Dave. All in good time."
Some time later, when the sun was considerably higher in the sky and they'd just crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, David began to wonder in earnest where it was he was being taken.
"Isn't this kind of far? And are you sure you know where you're going?" He tried not to betray his anxiety or annoyance, but he was fairly sure he was failing at both.
But Jack laughed. "It ain't too much farther now. We'll be back in Manhattan before dark. And if you think I don't know my way around Brooklyn, you don't know me real well."
David nodded, thoroughly unconvinced. "If you say so."
And so they trudged on, in companionable silence, a smattering of small talk breaking the rhythm here and there. "So how's your sister doing?" Jack asked, as they turned onto 4th Avenue from Union Street and headed southward.
"Getting herself worked into a frenzy about the wedding. Jim's been practically living at our place these past few weeks; he says he's there to help her make all those last minute decisions, but I'm pretty sure he's mostly there to keep her from blowing steam out her ears." Sarah had gotten engaged to Jim Zebrowski, a local shopkeeper, in February, and had talked of nothing but her impending wedding ever since.
"I guess that's why I ain't been invited much lately, huh?" Jack noted, his voice carefully casual.
David looked pained. "I'm sorry, Jack. It's just been crazy there. After the twelfth, things'll go back to normal. Mama was just mentioning the other day how much she missed you."
Jack nodded, looking genuinely reassured. "Well, tell Sarah I wish her the best. I hope she ain't still sore on me about last summer."
David shook his head. "She knows it wouldn't've worked out between you. And besides, if you hadn't ended it, she wouldn't have met Jim. So she's not mad."
"Good to know," Jack nodded, shielding a hand over his eyes and squinting into the distance. "Looks like we're just about here."
David looked up, peering in the direction Jack had been looking. As they got a bit closer, crossing Carroll Street, a large park came into view. "You're taking me to... a park?" David asked, skeptically. "There are plenty of parks in Manhattan, you know."
"Not just any park. Washington Park. Home of the world-famous Brooklyn Superbas." Jack gestured grandly, smiling.
"The... Superbas. The Dodgers? Really?" They'd reached the park itself, and David noticed, for the first time, the rather obvious baseball diamond in the center, with bleachers rising high on both sides. His face, he was sure, conveyed his shock. "You took me to a baseball game?"
"You don't like baseball?" Jack asked, sounding somewhat upset. "I coulda sworn I heard your pops talkin' about it one day..."
"No, no! I love baseball." And it was true. When his father was a boy, there was a big field near his house where all the neighborhood kids used to play pickup games of baseball, and it had given him an early love for the sport that he'd retained throughout his life and eventually passed on to his children. David himself had never played or even seen a game himself, but he knew all the rules and kept track of the scores posted in the papers, and he knew that the Superbas were just about the best team playing right now. He'd just never imagined having the time or money to watch them play for real.
"But how'd you get tickets? Aren't they a bit... expensive?"
"Don't need tickets," Jack replied. Walking around the stands, running his hand along the picket fence surrounding them, Jack suddenly stopped. "Here," he said, motioning to the fence. David raised an eyebrow, and Jack, smiling theatrically, pushed on the fence posts. Sure enough, two adjacent boards were loose enough that, with some amount of contortion, a teenage boy could squeeze himself through.
"It's good to have connections in Brooklyn, that's all I'm sayin'," Jack said, in response to David's surprised look. "Come on."
When they got inside, they found that the game had already begun, and the stands were full of spectators. So they resigned themselves to standing in an alcove between two bleachers and settled back to enjoy the game.
The opposing team, the Boston Braves, were batting, and doing a fairly lousy job at it. The Superbas' star pitcher, Joe McGinnity, wasn't pulling any punches, and it wasn't long before the home team was at bat. By the end of the first inning, second-baseman Tom Daly had managed to score his first run, giving the Superbas a great early start.
David was thoroughly enraptured by the game, but by the bottom of the third inning, with the score tied 1-1, Jack seemed to be getting antsy. "I think we need some food. What do you say? Frankfurters?"
"Um, sure," David said, not wanting to tear his eyes away from the game. Willie Keeler, by far the best player on the team, had just made it to second base off of a fantastic hit to left field, and chances looked good that he'd be scoring another run imminently. "Let me get out my money."
"Nah, don't worry about it. I got enough for the both of us." And by the time David looked up from his pocket, Jack had vanished into the crowd in search of a sausage vendor. David frowned slightly, but he was too transfixed by Willie's too-close-for-comfort slide into home plate to pay Jack's actions much mind.
Jack was back ten minutes later, two hot frankfurters in hand. "Here ya go, Davey," he said, passing over the food and leaning against the side of the bleachers to enjoy his own. David nodded his thanks and reached once again for his pocket, but Jack stopped him. "I dragged you out here, made you miss school. Least I can do is pay for your food."
"You... really don't have to do that," David said, but Jack only shrugged, and soon enough the Braves were back on the field, stealing David's attention.
It was the bottom of the seventh inning before Jack got antsy again, and the Superbas were winning, 4-2. Fielder Jones had gotten in a spectacular hit in the sixth inning that pushed two of his teammates over home plate, and he probably would have made it home himself if not for shortstop Bill Dahlens' subsequent strikeout. The prospects for the Superbas were looking good, and David found himself on the edge of his (proverbial) seat, cheering and booing with the rest of the crowd at all the right moments, completely wrapped up in the game. Which explained why he didn't even notice that Jack had left until he'd returned, two boxes of Cracker Jack in hand.
"You bought more food? Here, please, let me pay..." But David had barely managed to move his hand to his pocket before a portly, mustachioed man in an official-looking uniform appeared out of nowhere.
"Hey, kids," he said, and his voice was strong without sounding harsh, "Why ain't you in your seats?"
"Oh, we was just takin' a little walk," Jack replied immediately. "We'll be back in a jiffy, don't worry. Sir."
David nodded vigorously in corroboration, but the man looked unconvinced. "Let me see your tickets."
Jack looked blank, and David stepped in to attempt damage control, pretending to search through his pockets for the nonexistent tickets. Finding them empty, he put on an anguished expression. "Well you see, sir, while we were wandering around, they must have fallen out of my pocket. I'm sorry, but, honestly, we were just on our way back to our seats, and..."
The official was unconvinced. "Uh huh. Come on, boys, playtime's over. Why don't you come back again when you can actually pay for your admission, huh?" Jack opened his mouth to protest, but David knew it was pointless, and he indicated as much by grabbing Jack by the arm and dragging him in the direction of the exit, where the official was leading them.
They reached the gates, and the official gave them an apologetic smile. "Look, if you sit outside the park, right next to the stands, you can still hear everything that goes on. Should be able to figure out the results if you stick around long enough. Just listen for the cheering." And with that he left, leaving Jack and David alone on the grass of the surrounding park.
"Aw, I'm sorry, Dave," Jack said, as they made their way around the stands to find a place to sit down and take the official's advice. "I shoulda stayed with you; that guy prob'ly followed me from the Cracker Jack vendor. I didn't mean for that to happen." He held out a box of caramel-covered popcorn in apology.
David took the box and shrugged good-naturedly, still on a high from the game. "Don't worry about it. That's still more baseball than I've ever seen in my life. Or that I ever expected to see, for that matter."
"So you liked it?"
"Are you kidding? I loved it!" And for emphasis, he reached into his box and threw a piece of Cracker Jack at him.
Jack laughed. "Oh, so that's how it's gonna be, huh?" And he proceeded to reach into his own box and drop an entire handful of nuts and popcorn over David's head.
After that, it was all-out war. Cracker Jack flew left and right, shoved down shirt collars and ground into hair, and when that was all gone they were on the ground, wrestling like little boys and rolling around in the grass. Eventually, David managed to get the advantage over Jack and pinned his shoulders to the ground, straddling his chest and grinning triumphantly.
Jack smiled. "Looks like you got me," he conceded. But instead of moving to push David off of him, he continued to stare up into his face, a puzzling expression on his face. David relaxed his grip on Jack's shoulders, confused by the stare, and in that moment, before he could even process what was happening, Jack grabbed David's face in his hands and pulled him down into a solid and completely intentional kiss.
David gasped a little, allowing his lips to split apart enough for Jack to tentatively slip his tongue between them. And then, suddenly, it was over, and Jack let his head and hands fall back to the ground below him.
David had no idea how to react, what to think, or, for one of the first times ever, what to say. He stared for a moment, gasping out nonsensical syllables, and then, finally, he reacted in the only way he could think to react: he climbed off of Jack's torso, settled himself on the grass beside him, and burst out laughing. "Is that what this is all about?"
"What what's all about?"
"All... this," David said, gesturing vaguely. "The game, the sausage, the Cracker Jack. Are you courting me?"
Jack tried valiantly to look cocky, but his face looked more sheepish than anything else. "I guess I am. You mind it?"
David thought about it for a second. The kiss hadn't exactly been unpleasant. In fact, if he was going to be honest with himself, it had been more than a little pleasurable. "No. No, I guess I don't." He paused. "So... what does this mean, Jack?"
"I ain't got a clue. Was hoping you did. But I guess it's a good thing, right?"
David thought of the lessons he was missing, of the permanent holes he'd always have in his memory of colonial Virginia and verb conjugation. He thought of his pants, the fabric streaked with grass stains from their wrestling, and how much his mother would have to scrub to get them clean again, and the lies he'd have to tell about how they got there. And then he thought about the baseball game behind them, and the warm heat of Jack's body next to him, and suddenly the first two things didn't seem so important anymore.
"Yeah," David said. "I think so, at least." And as the crowd in the stands cheered Willie Keeler's game-winning homerun, he leaned in to kiss Jack again.