Task Chosen: Task four (Change means "controversial" and it is up to a person to decide if it is good or bad.
Word Count: 1,446 (not including author's notes)
Written for the Newsies Pape Selling Competition.
Fifteen-year-old Romeo leaned against the rooftop railing and lit a cigarette. Breathing out a cloud of smoke, he gazed out over the city. A feeling of uneasiness grew in his stomach, and he tried to ignore it. As of tonight, Manhattan was without a leader. Racetrack had announced today that he was leaving. He had held down the fort for a year or so after Jack had left, but by now he was aching to move on. Race was a smart-mouthed eighteen-year-old, and he longed for a job with better hours than dawn to dusk and better pay than a penny a pape.
Romeo frowned. He had never seen Manhattan like it was now. Leaderless. He had been a newsie for seven years now, since he was a scrawny eight-year-old kid, and he had never worried about borough politics before. But the strike had changed a lot of things.
It had changed Jack, that was for sure. The former leader no longer scorned the idea of love. In fact, with a steady job of drawing cartoons for the World, Jack was actually considering marriage as a future possibility. On the day they won the strike, he let go of his dream of Santa Fe and held tight to his new dream, a dream of a future with Katherine. And in September of 1900, that dream came true. All the newsies were present at the wedding of Jack Kelly and Katherine Pulitzer.
Racetrack Higgins had taken over as leader then, and Manhattan did well under his leadership. They were a bit wild and boisterous, maybe, but Race preferred that over a stoic, unfeeling army like Brooklyn. Race had done good, but now he was leaving, too.
Taking another drag on his cigarette, Romeo wondered who would take the reins next. Davey was the closest friend to Jack and Race, but he had left for college. Most of the older boys had left in the past year, too. They were all like Davey and Race and Jack; too old, too restless, or too in love to stay. Specs, Mush, Albert, JoJo, the twins- they had all moved on. Crutchie was still around, but only because it was difficult for a guy with one working leg to find a job in New York City. As soon as he found a decent job, he would likely leave, too. He was the oldest boy left in the Lodge House, but he had been denying the position of leader for years.
Even though a large group of boys had left their ranks in the past year, their numbers had remained about the same. Nearly a dozen boys had become Manhattan newsies as of late, not one of them older than thirteen. Manhattan wasn't much to look at now, half-full of new kids, young kids, but in a few years they'd be quite the force to reckon with. Not much to pick from in the way of leaders, though.
Crutchie, at sixteen -almost seventeen, he would have protested- was the oldest guy left. Most of the boys who had lived through the strike were around Romeo's age, in the fourteen to fifteen year range. Romeo shook his head, flicking the ash off the end of his cigarette. No wonder Race wanted out. And no wonder little Les was having more fun than ever. Yes, Jack was gone, but he wasn't the youngest anymore. He fit right in with this new generation of newsies. Romeo ran a hand over his face to smother a grin. The kid seemed to think he was the best candidate for the next leader of Manhattan. He was dead set on being just like Jack.
Romeo was so lost in thought, he didn't notice Race's presence until the older boy had flung his arms around his neck, catching him in a headlock and making him drop his cigarette.
"Ow, Race!" Romeo protested, squirming out of his tight hold. Finally, he yanked himself free, shaking out his burned fingers.
Race grinned, slinging an arm around the younger boy's neck. His "little brother" had a good three inches on him height wise, but he didn't care- much. He would always be the older brother, anyhow. "Whatcha doin' up here?" he inquired.
Romeo lifted on shoulder in a shrug. "Just thinkin'," he said. "'Bout what ya said."
Race grinned. "Yeah," he said. "Ain't it great? I'se got a real job, for once in my life, and I'se got an apartment all lined up, too. Aw, I'me really livin' now, Rome. And don't ya think you'se seein' the last a' me. None a' this leavin' and disappearin' for two weeks crap that Jack pulled."
"Race, he was on his honeymoon," Romeo protested, laughing.
"Yeah, well, I ain't doin' that!" Race said, smiling. "As soon as I'm all settled inta my new place, I'm havin' ya over for dinner."
Romeo shook his head, still laughing. "You'se losin' it," he said. "Straight crazy."
"Yeah, maybe," Race said good-naturedly. "Anyway, what was ya thinkin' about?"
"Just who's gonna take over once you'se is gone," Romeo said. "I mean, when Jack left we all knew it'd be you. Ya were his second, and he trusted ya with everythin'. But now... well, I dunno. Almost all the older fellas are gone. We'se got so many new boys around the place practically looks like a nursery-"
"They ain't that young," Race interrupted, but Romeo continued.
"Only a coupla us've been around long enough ta even think about takin' over," he said. "Buttons, Kid Blink, Elmer, Finch-"
"You'se forgettin' one important name on your list, Rome," Race said with a smirk.
Romeo looked up, his brow creased in concentration. "Who?"
"I'll tell ya, if ya evah stop talkin'," Race said easily. He stuck his cigar in his mouth and leaned against the railing, enjoying watching Romeo squirm. The poor kid had to be wracking his brain, trying to figure out who he forgot. Finally, Race decided to put him out of his misery. "It's you, kid."
Romeo's head snapped up. "What?"
"You," Race repeated.
"I heard ya," Romeo said slowly. "Race... why me?"
"You'se been a newsie for goin' on seven years now," Race said, counting off on his fingers. "You'se watched three different guys lead Manhattan, and learned somethin' from each of 'em. And the youngah boys always go ta you when they'se wake up cryin'." He spread his arms outwide. "Jack chose me ta take his place, and now I'se choosin' you."
"Race, I can't be the leader!" Romeo protested. "I'm fifteen! Are ya stupid, or are ya crazy?"
"Jack was fourteen," Race pointed out, ignoring the insult. He had faith in Romeo, and he was determined to prove it.
"Yeah, but... but..." Romeo faltered. He was running out of arguments. "I ain't ready, Race," he finished lamely.
Race smiled slightly, clapping his brother on the back. "That's how I know ya are. Ya think I was ready when Jack sprung this on me? But I did okay. At least I hope I did," he joked.
"Ya did great," Romeo said automatically.
"And so will you!" Race countered. "Me, I took ovah for Jack Kelly. Talk about a tough act ta follow. You'll be okay, kid."
Romeo's whole world was spinning, but he managed a smile. "That's... thank ya, Race."
"I'll stick around for a day or two, of course," Race went on, talking a mile a minute as usual. "I ain't throwin' ya to the wolves just yet. I-"
"Should I tell the boys?" Romeo interrupted, turning from the railing.
"Nah, I already told 'em," Race said. "They think you'll do great, too."
Romeo half-grinned at that, but his smile faded as Race headed for the door. "Hey, where're you goin'?" he called. "Ya said ya weren't leavin' yet."
"I ain't," Race assured him. "I'se just gotta tell Jack ya said yes."
"Did everybody know 'bout this but me?" Romeo protested, but he was smiling.
Once Race had gone, the new Manhattan leader lit another cigarette and brought it to his lips, gazing out over the city. His city. He stayed up there for some time, thinking everything through. Race could hold down the fort for one last night.
Throwing back his head, he laughed out loud. Look at me, I'm the king a' New York!
(A/N): Hey! I hope you guys liked this oneshot. Romeo leading Manhattan is a headcanon I've had for FOREVER. Consider this a little sneak peek to the future of A Regular Little Romeo. ;) Please leave me a review, and please check out my other stories! I also love requests, if you have any!