Pop Fly

It never occurred to Mush that the eye patch might somehow impair Blink's vision, that if a fly ball came barreling at him at just the right angle, he wouldn't know to duck. So of course it was Mush's duty to pass the ball he was about to pitch to Jack and escort Blink off the street. They sat on Blink's bed in the empty bunkroom of the Newsboys' Lodging House. The room was sweltering and humid. Moisture collected and gathered on their foreheads and dripped down the tips of their noses. Dark stains spread across Mush's back, and Blink kept his arms pinned to his sides, to hide his damp pits. Blink held a cool, wet cloth to the side of his face. The iceman had already come, early in the afternoon, and the cold chips they'd beggared off his wagon had long since melted and evaporated.

Mush offered his best friend an apologetic grin and slapped him awkwardly on the back. "It's too bad about that fly ball, you know, but I bet Conlon was still smartin' from that double you scored on him."

Blink grinned and shrugged with poorly feigned humility. "It was a lucky hit."

"Nah. You probably saved the whole game. I bet Brooklyn won't be able to get over that one even after two innings." Mush elbowed the other boy and got to his feet. "I can't wait to see Spot's face when the guys crush Brooklyn."

Blink chuckled and followed his best friend out the bunkroom door. "He's been gettin' too big for his britches ever since last summer."

The two boys made it out the door just in time to catch Spot Conlon strike out David Jacobs. The stiff, edgy boy didn't stand a chance against the quick, graceful arc of Spot's pitch. As each Brooklyn boy left his position to cheer and crowd around Spot, David, Jack and the others hung their heads in dismay and turned back towards the lodging house. Jack narrowed his eyes at Kid Blink and Mush and passed the two boys without a word; the rest of the newsies followed suit.

"It ain't your fault, Blink." Mush turned to the other boy once the others had all returned inside. "You saw how Davey barely even swung. He's just Jacky's golden boy. Nobody's gonna blame him."

Kid Blink shrugged and smiled weakly. "Why don't we just head out for a little while?"

"Yeah. We'll give 'em all a chance to cool off." Mush and Blink headed downtown, ignoring the jeers of the cocky Brooklyn boys still littering Duane Street. The two headed down Centre Street to Park Row and City Hall, finally stopping in the park. A seamstress passed the two boys, her whicker basket and kit pressed against the shapely curve of her hip. Mush turned on his heels and whistled, swiping the hat from his head in the same moment. Blink nodded at her and smirked, hat in hand also. The girl ignored the two newsboys and continued on her way, and Blink shook his head at Mush, mock-frowning. "You scared 'er off."

"She wasn't worth my time anyway," Mush shrugged and plopped down on the park green, motioning for Blink to join him. As the blond took his seat, Mush made a careful study of his best friend. Blink was a proper youth. Despite the eye patch that covered so much of his face, Mush had to admit that Kid Blink was one of the handsomest newsies. His blond hair, not yet shorn for the summer, fell across his forehead, curling to frame his sharp features, and his full lips were always twisted in a wide grin. The scowl he wore now, though false, didn't suit Kid Blink; there wasn't a friendlier face than his in all of Manhattan.

Mush felt guilty about forcing Kid Blink to join the stickball game. Normally, the blond hung back and watched with Crutchy and the younger, uncoordinated boys like Snipeshooter and Les. Blink could joke and fight with the best of the newsboys, but he never jumped about and flipped off stoops and benches and climbed statues like Mush did. While Mush was the frantic ball of energy, Blink was the clever, sometimes raunchy quipster. Both boys were strong and clever newsies, well respected by every newsboy in Manhattan. The two were used to separating. Mush would run off to games of stickball or mock fights with Swifty, while Kid conferred with the older boys, bumming a smoke off Race or Skittery.

Lately though, Mush disliked splitting up. Earlier that week, Bumlets had been trying to teach Mush to flip off a hitching post, while Kid Blink knelt nearby, playing dice with Race. Every time he looked up to find Kid grinning at Higgins, Mush's chest tightened, and when Blink and Race left without warning, the surprise of seeing that the two had disappeared together jolted Mush right off the post, knocking the air out of his lungs as his back crashed into the ground. When he opened his eyes, he found Kid crouching over him, holding out an ink-stained hand to help Mush to his feet. Since then, Mush had made sure to keep Blink at his side, to prevent any more strange feelings and falls.

"Look, 'm sorry about making you play today. I know stickball ain't exactly your forte."

Blink grinned and shrugged, laidback as always. "It was fun. Maybe 'f I keep playin', I'll get better." He slapped Mush across the back. "'sides this way I can nag you all day long." His hand settled at the nape of the other boy's neck.

Mush felt his chest tighten once again and lay down in the cool grass. Blink lay down beside him and started babbling about the stickball skills of various Brooklyn boys. Mush hid a grin, pleased that his best friend was so eager to play again. Now he wouldn't have to leave his friend in the sidelines, and best of all, Race wasn't any good at stickball.