David’s father’s arm had healed and he was back at school the next month. He’d gotten weird looks for his messy hair, his slightly changed accent, his newfound aggressive attitude. But the worst part was the schedule change: from eight until four he spent his time in a stuffy classroom while his friends sold papers.
While he knew his friends would probably kill for the chance at an education, for the chance to better themselves, he found himself longing for the ability to free roam the streets. He missed the laid back attitude, and although he had many responsibilities he didn’t much mind them. The work was hard but enjoyable.
Most of all he missed Jack.
He missed his best friend, his partner in crime, his and his brother’s constant and ever-loyal companion. He missed the other newsies too of course, but none could really compare to Jack Kelly. No one’s quick mouth was as endearing, no one was quite as sweet, no one took him seriously. To the other newsies he was Jack’s follower, an obnoxious walking mouth with no sense of humor. But when he spoke, Jack made him feel special.
It was Jack’s best quality. His easy going attitude was what made him so lovable: he laughed at everyone’s jokes and had no preconceived notions of anyone in the room. He was everyone’s best friend. And David felt like an asshole any time he would try to reach out to the kid.
He was always initiating the contact. He was the one who’d pass messages through Les, ask Katherine how he was doing constantly, once in a while he would leave notes at the lodgings. He would always get a response, usually in the form of Jack talking to him from the fire escape. But although Jack always seemed to enjoy it, David always felt like shit every time he bothered Jack.
So he stopped.
And today he was poured out over his textbooks, memorizing date after date for his upcoming biology exam. Because like an idiot, he took up one of the most difficult courses in his school and needed to study all hours of the day he wasn’t actually in the class itself.
Sarah knocked hard on the door, waking him up from his reading.
“Sarah, it’s your room too.”
“I know, but I don’t want to disturb you.” She smiles empathetically and places a hand on his shoulder. “The boys are down at Jacobi’s, I just got off work there. They told me to tell you they say hi.”
David’s body tenses and he feels the burning in his eyes from the strain of staring at pages too long start to take hold. “I don’t give a shit where they are.”
“Surely you don’t mean that.”
“I don’t, but I wish I did. I miss them.”
“I know you do.” She presses a kiss to her brother’s forehead. “I brought you dinner, David. Let me know if you’re done soon so I know whether or not me and Les are sleeping in here tonight.”
He nods to Sarah and turns back to his books. “You can always sleep here.”
“Yeah, and listen to your mental breakdown? No thanks. I have work tomorrow.” She shut the door and called another quick “goodnight” through the thin material.
David bothered himself with more facts and figures on the digestive system, his readings made him nauseous, and his head was so clogged that when heard knocking on his window he barely flinched.
Jack stood on the fire escape with a wide grin, sweating and breathing heavy from climbing up the many flights of ladders. David barely had the strength to open the rusty window but managed nonetheless. He was still unresponsive to Jack tapping him on the arm through the newly opened gap in the wall.
“Heya Davey! Haven’t seen ya all week!”
David simply nodded as a reply.
“Whatcha been doin’?” Jack’s voice held a slight edge of worry, although David was sure in his delirium he was imagining it.
“Selling papers for the journal, what do you think?” David gestures to his textbooks. “It’s just the same anatomy shit. Respiratory system.”
“Oh, like the heart and all that?” David silently nodded. “Gross.” He watched David lose interest in his words and steered the conversation. “Hey, hey wait—I came here to ask ya somethin’.”
“Yeah. I uh.. You never come to the lodges anymore. You promised us you’d visit and I uh… I missed you.”
“I told you I’m busy. School and all that. Besides, you didn’t invite me out tonight.”
“We knew you was gonna say no.” Jack’s voice nearly cracked on that one.
David sucked in a breath and suddenly the air was too thick for him to inhale. “You never asked.”
“Well we was foolin’ around about it. Tonight was Race’s birthday, thought we’d treat ‘im. We really do miss ya, but we ain’t gonna stop our lives because you went back to school. We got a right to be happy.”
“I know. I know. I fucking..” David carded a hand through his curls to ground himself. He felt his breathing quicken. He didn’t notice that he started to tear at them. “I know.”
Jack looked down at his friend in the chair, his eyes now fully overtaken by worry. He pulled himself into the apartment and shut the window behind him with some difficulty. “At Jacobi’s today we was jokin’ about-“
The mention of the outing was all it took before David boiled over. He slammed his book shut, crumpling notes along with it, and his head fell into his hands.
“Shit, Davey I didn’t mean… Fuck.” Jack wasn’t sure what to do, so he just inched closer to his friend and stared at him at eye level.
“I should’ve been there but I just.. I can’t. I think.. I think of you guys. All the time but. It’s not enough. Half the time I feel like you forget I exist, and I can’t do anything about it because of these fucking classes.”
“Davey, we could never forget about you. I mean. We never see each other, but we still all-“
A sob ripped itself from David’s throat, and he choked on it while trying to swallow it down. He dropped from his chair and pulled his arms around his knees. “I.. I feel like such a fucking idiot…” He stammered. “You’re all out there and I should be with you but I’m not and I… I miss you so fucking much. Crutchie and Race and Al and Blink and… Everyone. But not like you. I can’t fucking go a day without talking to you. Without thinking about you. Selling papers with you is hard but it’s so fucking good and I miss it and I’m too much of a coward to skip classes, to fail out, I’m such an idiot and I-“
David struggled to get the rest of his words out, babbling incoherently and suddenly Jack’s arms were woven tightly around him.
“Do you really think I forgot about you? After all this?” Jack said, freeing David’s fingernails from their spot bored into the back of his other hand.
“But you will. With all the other..”
“I couldn’t forget about you if I wanted to. David Jacobs, the infamous walkin’ mouth of Manhattan, the brains behind the newsboy strike of 1899? Never.”
David laughed softly at the voice against his ear. “I just miss you all so much. I’m so busy but I don’t want to be. I just want to sell papers with you again.” He felt Jack smile against his forehead and press a gentle kiss to the area. Tomorrow they would have to talk about this, about how this changes things. But for now all that mattered was Jack telling him that he was gonna be alright.
Jack stood up only when David stopped crying. He helped the taller boy up. David smiled and gave Jack a hug which lingered longer than necessary. Jack was the one to break the embrace, and he pointed to the book. “That stays closed for the rest of the night. Call Les and Sarah in, tell them they can stay. You’re sleeping tonight.”
David looked unconvinced, but for Jack’s sake nodded.
“I’ll be here tomorrow, same time? I’ll even bring Race and Crutchie wit me.”
David smirked. “Crutchie is gonna climb up the fire escape?”
“Oh there he is, the walkin’ mouth returns.” Jack returns the smirk and pats David on the shoulder. “I’ll carry’im if I hafta. Whadya say?”
“I’d like that very much.”
“Good! Then I’ll see you tomorrow. And Davey?”
“Eat your dinner. The soup’s prolly cold by now.”
“Right. Goodnight, Jack.”
Jack slid open the window and slipped out. “Night Davey.”
David slept a full night’s rest for the first time that week, and to no one’s surprise got every question on the exam correct.