Crutchie groaned as he lay on the ground, his papes strewn across the street. Why did those Delanceys find it so fun to trip him up and leave him struggling? They only did it when Jack wasn't looking, because they knew Crutchie found it hard to physically defend himself.
With a sigh, Crutchie pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around for his crutch, which had been kicked out from under him. Ah, there it was, lying just out of reach. Crutchie stretched out his arm as far as he could, and after a few failed attempts, he managed to grab the wooden support and pull it towards him.
His next problem was getting up. He really didn't want to have to call Jack, who was selling in the next street, and so he was somehow going to have to get himself upright. He looked around for something to lever himself up with, and his eyes fell upon a nearby pillar box. If he could just reach it...
"Can I help?"
Crutchie froze in surprise. He had been so focused on reaching the pillar box that he hadn't heard anyone approaching. He looked up and found himself gazing into the smiling face of a pretty young girl with raven black curls and deep blue eyes...
Crutchie shook his head to bring himself back to reality, and it was only then that he noticed the girl's outstretched hand. He paused for only a second before grasping it gratefully, and a sudden warm shiver ran up his spine at her soft touch as she helped him to his feet and allowed him to lean on her while he positioned his crutch under his arm.
"Thanks," he whispered, standing on his own once again.
"You're welcome," she replied coyly, and Crutchie caught a hint of an accent in her voice. French, perhaps?
He continued to smile stupidly for a second longer before remembering his manners and introducing himself.
"I'm Crutchie, by the way." He held out his hand and the girl took it with a small chuckle.
"That figures. My name is Loosha."
Loosha. The name reverberated around Crutchie's brain and made his senses tingle. He turned to look at his fallen papes in an effort to distract himself, but it didn't work.
"Would you perhaps like to grab some lunch with me?" he suddenly blurted out, completely surprising himself. Then he saw the curious expression on her face and groaned inwardly, cursing his impulsiveness. Of course she wouldn't want to have lunch with him; he was nothing but a good-for-nothing, crippled orphan boy-
"Yes, I would like that very much."
Crutchie, still inwardly raging at himself, didn't immediately register her words, and instead hung his head.
"I'm sorry; I shouldn't have asked you," he almost whispered.
"Why are you sorry?"
"Well, most girls – in fact most people – want nothing to do with me because I'm an orphan who sells newspapers for a living, and also because I'm a crip, which makes me a liability. So I shouldn't have just assumed that you'd want anything to do with me just because you showed me a little kindness," the boy said miserably.
"But I already said yes," said the girl, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
The words were quiet and gentle, but still they penetrated Crutchie's brain, and he looked up sharply, surprised and a little confused, wondering if this was a trick.
"But I'm a crip!" he repeated, a little alarmed, "I don't want you to feel you have to humour me just because I have a bum leg."
Loosha let her mouth crease into a smile.
"Just so you know, I am not humouring you. I am hungry, I am not all that familiar with these streets, and a handsome, evidently decent young man has offered to buy me some lunch. Why would I refuse that?"
She couldn't help but grin at his shocked expression before continuing. "And also, my little brother had a bum leg too, just like you. Polio caught him also. It was difficult to adjust at first, to him suddenly needing a crutch to help him walk and requiring extra help about the house, but it didn't make me love him any less. And, like you, he didn't let it defeat him, remaining strong and steadfast right until the day he died."
Crutchie had the grace to look a little guilty, despite his shock at the vehemence of her words.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," he whispered.
"How could you have known? We've only just met," replied Loosha simply, bending down to gather up the boy's scattered papers. She straightened up and handed them to him, waiting while he stuffed them carefully into his satchel before speaking again.
"So," she said, gently linking her arm through his, "where are we going to eat?"
Crutchie recovered himself and grinned at the girl by his side. "Well, me and my pals usually go to this place called 'Tibby's' to eat. It's small, but the grub's really good...especially if you've got a small budget..."
And as they moved off slowly along the road, talking companionably and occasionally laughing, Crutchie looked at the girl by his side and decided that today, he was the luckiest crip in the world.