Nicholas looked up sharply, seeing a blue-coated police officer starting toward him. Without a second thought, he took off running down the street. The shrill notes of a whistle sounded behind him, and he pushed himself to run faster, to dodge the people, to block out the shouts and lose the bull who was on his tail. Finally, a good six blocks from where he had started, he stopped to rest, collapsing against a red brick store front to catch his breath.
Breathe, he reminded himself. Don't think. Just breathe.
"Don't think" had become something of a mantra to him over the past week. If he started thinking for too long, his thoughts would undoubtedly turn to the Refuge. Nick shook his head vehemently. He already saw that place every night when he closed his eyes. At least during the day he had some control over his mind.
With a sigh, Nick got wearily to his feet. Most people didn't like street kids hanging around in front of their stores. Those were the people who would just as soon call the bulls on him as give him the time of day.
Don't think. Just breathe. Keep moving.
As he started on his way, a flash of silver caught his eye. Was that...? No, it couldn't be. His breath catching in his throat, Nick picked the coin up out of the dust. It was nickel. A real, honest-to-goodness nickel. Nick sat down on the step, thoughts of the bulls pushed from his head. There were so many things a nickel could buy! A few pieces of candy, a hot lunch, a pair of socks. The possibilities were endless.
He was trying to make a decision when a group of boys ran by, jumping over barrels and hollering on their way to work. Nick recognized them as newsies from the World. He had seen them before, hawking ridiculous sounding headlines on every corner in Manhattan.
An idea struck him like lightning, and Nick almost smiled. What was there to stop him from joining them? He could buy a nickel's worth of papers, sell them during the day, and double his money by nightfall.
Pleased with himself, Nick fell into the back of the line and passed through the gates of the distribution center.
Nick's shoulders slumped in defeat. It was past noon, and he still had nine of his ten papers left. At this rate, he would lose money rather than gain.
"Hey, kid," an unknown voice said, startling him out of his thoughts.
Nick jumped, dropping his papers and whirling around to face the stranger. He stood face-to-face with another newsie, maybe eleven or twelve years old. The kid had a half-empty canvas news bag hanging off his shoulder, and, in spite of his age, had an unlit cigar in his mouth.
"You'se goin' about it all wrong," he said, bending over to pick up Nick's dropped papers. "You'se new at this, I can tell. Sellin' papes- it's a game. Like poker. Ya gotta bluff a little, go all in, but first you'se gotta find an angle."
At Nick's blank expression, he elaborated further.
"Ya see that kid over there?"
Nick moved a tentative step closer, craning his neck to see where the stranger was pointing. A small, blond-haired boy with a crutch was selling papers a block down the street.
"That's Crutchie," the kid said. "He's been dealt a bad hand, so ta speak, what with his gimp leg an all, but he's turned it into a tool for sellin'. The limp itself pulls fifty papes a week. And that guy over there?" He nodded across the square to a tall, gangly kid with a patch over one eye. "That's Kid Blink. He's new here, but he milks that eyepatch for all it's worth. And me? I sell down at Sheepshead." He grinned. "The boys call me Race, since I'm at the tracks so much."
If Nick had had anything to say, he wouldn't have been able to get a word in edgewise. "What's that got ta do with me?" he asked.
Race stared at him like he had two heads. "It means you'se gotta find what work for you," he said. "Then you're set. Ya can't go wrong with a pretty goil. Even if ya mess up, they'll still buy a pape outta sympathy."
Nick's head was still stumbling to catch up with the sheer amount of words the older boy spoke when a stylishly dressed young lady strolled past them.
"There's your chance!" Race told him, handing him a paper and giving him a push.
Nick stumbled forward into her path. "Hello, miss," he said, taking off his cap and sweeping a bow.
She laughed in amusement, spurring his confidence.
"Care ta make a humble newsboy's day and buy a paper?" he asked.
"Aren't you adorable?" she said. "I would love to buy a paper." Reaching into her coin purse, she handed him a nickel.
"Your change is four cents," Nick said. "But that smile's worth a million, miss," he couldn't resist adding.
The lady's face lit up in a smile. "You just made my day," she said. "Keep the change."
Nick's dark eyes lit up. Handing her her paper, he ran back to Racetrack. "A nickel!" he shouted. "Race, I made a nickel!"
The Italian grinned. "I saw," he said. "Way ta go, kid. You'se a regular little Romeo."
Nick bounced up and down excitedly. "Gimme another paper," he said. "I wanna try again."
Race handed eight papers over with a smile. "Have at it, kid," he said. "Oh, and another thing."
Nick turned around, waiting expectantly.
"Us newsies call 'em papes," Race said.
Nick's dark eyebrows knit together. "Am I a newsie?" he asked.
"Yeah," Race said with a shrug. "Ya sell papes, don't ya?"
Nick broke into a smile- his first since the Refuge. "Yeah," he said. "I do, don't I?"
"I made thirty-five cents!" Nick said, holding the coins tight in his hand. "I'se never had this much money- ever!"
Race grinned. "Well, if you'se willin' ta part with a nickel, ya can have a bed to sleep in tonight."
Nick tilted his head, thinking. "Is that where the newsies go every night?" he asked.
"Yeah," Race said. "We live at the Lodge House on Duane Street. None of us have folks, so we pay a nickel a night ta stay there."
Nick stared down at the coins in his hand. "I don't have folks, neither," he said slowly. He fished a nickel out of the pile and turned to Race. "Who do I give this to?"
Race's grin grew even wider. "Come with me," he said. "I'll introduce ya to Mistah Kloppman- and Butch. He's our leader."
Nick quickened his pace to a trot to keep up. "His name is Butch?"
Race glanced back at him. "Nah, we just call him that," he said. "He was a butcher's boy 'fore he joined the newsies. Say, speakin' of names, what's yours?"
Nick hesitated. Don't think. Just breathe. Keep moving. Don't answer any questions.
"Just call me Romeo," he said with a grin.
(A/N): Here it is! Chapter one of my new Romeo and Race series! I was blown away by how many of you liked my first story, That's What Brothers Are For. A lot of you requested more brotherly one-shots, but I thought this would be better. I'll be diving into the backstories of these two a little more, as well as showing some of the relationship between them.
I would love it if you reviewed! Thoughts, comments, likes, dislikes, constructive criticism, requests- anything. (Especially requests. I don't want to run out of ideas.) Literally just let me know that you read it and you liked it. Feedback from you guys keeps me going. :)
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