Davey learns Crutchie’s real name, but that’s not the only thing he learns.
// This story contains references to child abuse. If that kind of content makes you uncomfortable, proceed with caution! //
“So, I’ve kinda got a question,” Davey asked, wondering silently how he wound up playing cards with the King of Brooklyn and the King of Brooklyn’s (best friend? Boyfriend? Davey didn’t know) , on some random Tuesday night in the middle of summer.
“You always do, Mouth,” Spot said, while Race asked, “What is it?”
“So, what’s with the whole nickname thing? Like,” Davey glanced around the dim room, wringing his hands together. “Why do some of you guys go by nicknames ‘nd some don’t?”
“Why you askin’ us?” Spot said, not bothering to look at Davey when he spoke to him.
“I mean, Race goes by a nickname ‘nd you don’t, so..”
“You really think Spot is my real name?”
“Oh my god, Davey,” Race set the cards down, huffing out a laugh as he did. “What the hell kinda parents would name their kid Spot?”
“Considering you’re the smart ‘Hatten newsie, you’re real thick.” Spot added, crossing his arms and pulling his eyes away from Race to look at Davey.
Davey hesitated for a second.
“W-well in my defense, I’ve got no clue why Spot’s your nickname, so I just assumed.. Plus, it’s always paired with Conlon. I just thought it was you’re first and last name.”
“‘Course it’s paired with my last name. I ain’t gonna let people call me just Spot. ‘Specially not my enemies. ”
“Cause Spot’s a dog’s name-” Spot began before Race cut in, voice sounding amused like he’d heard Spot give this speil a hundred times.
“When you add a last name, it’s a person’s name.”
“I ain’t no dog.”
“Well, ‘course not. I guess not knowin’ where it came from made me guess it was your real name..” Davey trailed off, Spot’s eyes on him starting to make his skin crawl.
“I used ta be covered in burn marks from my dad’s cigars,” Spot said, shrugging, lifting up his shirt a bit to show a sky’s worth in stars of faded pink circles, some raised from the skin and rough looking. Now that Davey was looking, he could see similar marks on Spot’s arms that he’d never noticed before. “Ise still gots the scars, but they ain’t near as noticeable as fresh burns, which I ain’t gettin’ no more.”
Davey was kind of afraid to ask why.
“Okay, so maybe you don’t go by you’re real name, but other newsies do! Like.. like Jack, for example.”
“Pfft, that’s cute,” Race said, picking up the deck of cards and starting to shuffle them again.
“W-what? What’s cute about that?”
“How you think Jack Kelly’s a real name.”
“What do you mean? Jack isn’t a-”
“Where exactly you see this conversation goin’, Mouth?” Spot interrupted. “We invited ya ta play cards, not interrogate us.”
“I’m just curious.”
Spot rolled his eyes, no longer looking at Davey, instead gluing his eyes on Race’s hands as he finished shuffling the cards and began distributing them between the three.
“It’s sorta a respect thing for some people,” Spot explained. “You gotta earn people’s real names for some. Like, only a hand fulla people know my real name.”
Race gave Spot a knowing look.
“Alright, alright. One person knows my real first name.”
Race smiled. “That person bein’ me.”
“Whatever.” Spot rolled his eyes again and Davey swore that Spot Conlon, King of Brooklyn, was smiling. This might just be the weirdest night of his life.
“Some newsies don’t care too much ‘bout it, but gettin’ called by your nickname just becomes second nature. Some folks just stick with their real name ‘cause it doesn’t bother ‘em. Like, everyone calls ya Davey cause it don’t bother ya.”
“You call me Mouth, though.”
“Yeah, cause that’s what you is.”
“The nicknames come from physical things or how people act,” Race said, setting down the last card in the pile in front of Spot, then picking up his own pile. “You talk too much. Youse a mouth. I’m a gambler- Racetrack is just a lil more personal to my taste in what to bet on.”
“Don’t people find that offensive, though? Like, maybe not so much Specs cause glasses ain’t like, a bad thing, but-”
“Youse offended by us callin’ you Mouth?” Spot asked, sounding amused as he picked up his cards.
“No, it’s fine. You don’t have ta stop.”
“Good, ‘cause I wasn’t gonna, no matter what you said.”
“Still, though. How does like.. Crutchie not get offended. We’re calling him directly by his disability.”
“Crutchie likes bein’ called Crutchie,” Race said, looking somewhat upset by the implication that he’d call his friend something he didn’t like. “If he didn’t we’d call ‘im somethin’ else. Plus, Crutchie’s name ain’t even that far off his real one.”
“What’s his real name?” Davey asked.
“Charlie,” Race said before he could stop himself.
Spot was giving Race a sharp look, one that made Davey’s heart start to pump faster in his chest. Davey couldn’t really tell what was happening anymore- Race and Spot were having an entire conversation without saying a word. He hesitantly picked up his cards, attracting both their attention with the noise.
“We ain’t talkin’ ‘bout this anymore.” Spot said, still giving Race a look out of the corner of his eye. “We’s playin’ cards. Nothin’ else.”
“Hey, uh,” Race said, earning himself another glare from Spot, but a less angry seeming one. “Pretend you didn’t hear that. ‘Specially not from me.”
A few days later, Davey and Les arrived at the distribution gates to see the hoard of Manhattan newsies standing around and talking. They made their way over to Jack who was rubbing at his arm nervously.
“What’s wrong?” Les asking, looking up at Jack.
“Eh, Crutchie’s leg’s givin’ ‘im trouble this mornin’. Said he’d be right behind us but he ain’t here yet.”
“Why don’t you go check on him?” Davey asked.
“And leave the rest ‘a the boys here with the Delancey’s?” He scoffed. “Ain’t happening.”
“We don’t need ya protectin’ us Jack,” Romeo said, crossing his arms. “Go check on ‘im.”
Jack grumbled something incomprehensible.
“I’ll go check on ‘im,” Specs said, stepping out of the group of Newsies, rolling his eyes at Jack overprotectiveness. Davey watched as Specs took off towards the lodging house.
“I hate this,” Jack said quietly.
“Hey, I’m sure he’s fine,” Davey said, putting a hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“Yeah, yeah.” Jack mumbled. “I just worry about ‘im. ‘Specially since the strike. It just..” He trailed off for a second, staring down at the ground. “I hate seein’ ‘im hurt.”
Davey nodded sadly. Davey had hated seeing Crutchie hurt too, hated watching the Delancey’s drag him off by his bum leg, and they were nowhere near as close as Jack and him were at the time. Davey couldn’t even imagine how Jack felt when it happened.
After a couple of minutes, Specs returned with Crutchie walking next to him. The pace they were walking at was slow and Crutchie’s face was pained. Davey knew this happened sometimes. There’d be days when his leg was aching so bad he couldn’t get out of bed, much less sell papers. While he didn’t look quite that bad now, Crutchie didn’t look good. His face was clammy and pale, his grip on his crutch looked desperate, and even from the distance Davey could see him biting down on his lower lip.
Jack perked up visibly, uncrossing his arms and straightening his back. “Crutchie!”
It happened suddenly. One instant Crutchie was calling back to Jack, and the next he was wincing as his crutch fell out from under his arm, too much of his weight landed on his bad leg, and he crashed to the ground. Jack was running- Davey was running. Specs couldn’t grab him fast enough- Crutchie hit the ground and yelled out- grabbing his leg groaning.
“Crutchie!” Jack screamed, Davey running behind him.
Specs was crouched down next to Crutchie when Jack and Davey reached him. Crutchie was sitting down then, his bad leg extended and his good one curled against his chest, his crutch laying on the ground at his side. Specs was rubbing Crutchie’s bad leg with both hands, asking every few seconds if he was okay and making sure he wasn’t hurting him.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay,” Crutchie mumbled through his clenched teeth.
“Damnit, Crutchie,” Jack mumbled. “If your legs hurtin’ you this bad just tell me. You ain’t sellin’ papes like this.”
“It’s fine, Jack, my leg ain’t too bad-”
“That’s a lie ‘nd we both know it.”
“I agree with Jack. Let’s get get ya back to the lodging house, Charlie.”
Davey didn’t even realize what he’d done till he noticed Crutchie’s hands tighten around his leg and his shoulders tense up.
“What- why- why’d you call me that? Who gave you my name?”
“I didn’t mean to-”
Suddenly, Jack shoved him backwards. Davey nearly fell down as he stumbled. Jack gave him a sharp glare that Davey understood immediately. Back off.
Davey walked back over to the other newsies at the distribution gate.
“The hell was that about?” Romeo asked quickly.
“Why’d Jack shove ya?” Race questioned, and Davey blocked out the chorus of other questions being thrown at him.
Before Davey could answer Specs came walking over. Behind him Davey could say Jack helping Crutchie back up, who glanced over his shoulder and said something quietly. The two then started walking back to the lodging house.
“Jack’s gonna wanna talk to ya,” Specs said. “Give ‘im a little ta cool off first. He said he wants you to meet him at the lodging house in fifteen minutes.”
“Oh god,” Romeo said from behind him and Race mumbled, “What the hell’d you do, Davey?”
Davey ignored them both and reached into his pocket and handed Les a few coins, telling him how many papers to buy for the day, and then instructing him to stick by Specs till he got back.
When Davey arrived at the lodging house Jack was waiting for him at the door.
“Shut up. Just follow me,” Jack mumbled, standing and walking towards the fire escapes ladder. Davey followed him silently up the ladder, then sat on the box Jack pointed at for him on the rooftop. It was hot outside, but that wasn’t the only reason he was sweating. Davey had upset Crutchie- and from what he understood, Crutchie was one of the most important things in Jack’s world. God, Davey thought. I messed up bad.
“So, who told you ‘is real name?” Jack spoke as he pulled a box up next to Davey’s.
“It came out when I was playin’ cards with Spot and Race the other day.”
“I’m gonna kill ‘em,” Jack grumbled.
“Listen, Jack, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean ta call ‘im by it. It just-”
“I ain’t the one you need ta apologize to,” Jack said, turning his head from the cityscape to face Davey.
“I’ll go apologize to him right now-”
“No, Davey. Sit. Crutchie needs a little time ta.. Calm down, I guess. Ya freaked ‘im out. It’s been a long time since he’s let anyone call ‘im that name.”
“Not even you?”
“Nah. It.. connects ‘im back to a bad time in his life.”
“What do you mean?”
Jack sighed. “Why’s you always gotta ask so many questions?”
“Oh- sorry, if you don’t wanna say it’s fine. It’s not my place to-”
“Calm down. It didn’t mean it.” Jack turned his head away from Davey and back to the city, looking out over all the buildings.
“Crutchie didn’t have a good home life. Most ‘a us don’t have ‘em the best.. Most of us don’t got ‘em at all anymore. Crutchie don’t got a family no more- not blood at least. But when he did.. It was real bad.”
Jack stopped talking to a second, rubbing at his arm absentmindedly while he collected his thoughts. Davey didn’t say anything, just watched him.
“I didn’t meet Crutchie till the worst of it was already over. He told us later on why everythin’ had happened. His uh.. He got polio when he was real little. Maybe four he said, he don’t really remember exactly when cause it’s a slow thing. Anyway, his family was ‘im, his two brothers, and his ma’ and pa’. His ma’ got polio shortly after he did. It wound up killin’ her.”
Jack paused again, swallowing roughing.
“His pa’ drank a lot. His dad and one of his brothers, the older of ‘em, blamed ‘im for his mother dyin’. They beat on ‘im, but it wasn’t too bad. Crutchie couldn’t fight back at all or anythin’. He couldn’t walk with his leg gettin’ worse. He didn’t even have a crutch back then. He had ta drag himself around, from what he told me.
“Anyway. Things, uh, escalated. His dad lost ‘is job and he found a new one but it didn’t pay half as well.. They stopped givin’ ‘im food, for the most part, ‘cept what he took for himself, or one of his brother’s could sneak to ‘im. His dad got mad if he caught ‘em though.
“Eventually, it uh.. It all came to its head and ‘is.. They decided to get rid of him.”
Jack stopped talking then. His eyes were wide and fixed on the ground, his back hunched over. Davey felt like he was gonna be sick. But he needed to know. He needed to know.
“What.. what do you mean?”
Jack took in a hung gulp of air then let it go. He looked over to Davey.
“His dad tried to kill ‘im. He tried to choke him to death. Crutchie doesn’t really.. remember most ‘a it, but he said one his brothers was screamin’ his name. Beggin’ their dad to stop. He chickened out in the end- he threw Crutchie out on the street, barely conscious. Crutchie said the last thing he remembers is his dad sayin’ to his brother that he’d kill ‘im if he went after Crutchie. Then his memory goes out.
“I don’t know how long he was layin’ there on the sidewalk, unconscious. All I know is it was night time when we found ‘im. Real late. Me and Specs dragged ‘im back to the lodging house. We couldn’t really.. really tell if he was alive or not. Or if he’d make it, if he was. He looked.. awful.
“He was covered in bruises and scrapes and he was so small. He still is but.. It was so much worse back then. You could see his bones- every ridge of his spine. Everything. It was.. Horrible.”
Jack froze up, frowning, shaking his head softly. He looked over to Davey.
“Sorry. I’m rambling.”
“It’s okay,” Davey mumbled, desperately wanting to reach out and touch Jack- to put his hand on Jack’s back and try to comfort him. But he didn’t. “I ask you to tell me.”
After a moment’s silence, Jack started again.
“He didn’t move a whole lot the first couple of weeks. Everyone pitched in to pay his stay and to feed him. He looked miserable. Really, none of us thought he’d live but.. we weren’t gonna give up on him. We got ‘im a crutch and eventually he was able to start walking around, slowly but surely. We made sure he didn’t overdo it. He couldn’t talk to tell us his name. He had these.. dark purple bruises- practically black- circling his neck from his father’s hands. It hurt for ‘im to talk, so he didn’t. We called him Crutchie cause it was easy ta remember, and he didn’t seem ta mind it.
“He never told any of us his real name till kinda recently, actually. He said not to call him by it though cause it takes him back to that day with his dad ‘nd his brother. He doesn’t like to think ‘bout it. Or talk ‘bout it. You can imagine why.”
Jack stopped talking again, but this time Davey knew it was because they’d reached the end of the story. His nausea hadn’t died down- in fact, it was slowly getting worse. The story was awful enough on it’s own- but knowing the he had taken Crutchie back to that day… He couldn’t handle that. He couldn’t handle the guilt swelling up in his stomach and choking him (just like Crutchie’s dad had done to him- oh god- he was gonna throw up-)
Davey stood up and stumbled away, spilling the contents of his stomach as far away from Jack as he could get. Jack got off his box and appeared behind Davey, rubbing his sympathetically.
“God- god- I’m such an idiot,” Davey mumbled, rubbing his sleeve across his mouth. “I can’t believe- what I did to him-”
“You couldn’t ‘a known,” Jack said, sighing. “I shouldn’t ‘a shoved ya. I overreacted.”
“I upset Crutchie. I deserved it.”
Jack didn’t say anything in reply to that, he just frowned and rubbed Davey’s back until stood back up to his full height.
“Sorry about- uh- throwing up on your penthouse.”
“It’s fine. I’ll clean it up later. Let’s go down. Crutchie’s probably calmed down by now.”
Davey nodded, following Jack over to the edge of his roof and back down the fire escape. He followed Jack inside and over to the bed Crutchie was laying in, the one in the furtherest corner of the room. Crutchie was curled up in it, the sheets thrown to the side, facing the wall and picking at loose threads from the pillowcase silently, aside from the occasional sniffle.
Jack held out a hand, telling Davey to wait by one of the other beds that was a little ways off. He watched as Jack walked over and tapped Crutchie’s shoulder gently.
Crutchie shifted in the bed carefully to avoid upsetting his leg any further but so that he could see Jack.
“You doin’ better, Crutchie?”
He nodded softly, carefully pushing himself into a sitting position.
“I’m doin’ better, yeah. I ain’t caught back there anymore.” Crutchie said through his teeth- still clenched from pain.
“And your leg?”
“It’s been better, but I’ll live,” He replied, shrugging his shoulders lightly.
“Alright. Glad ta hear it. Youse gotta start takin’ better care of yourself,” Jack said softly, reaching out to run his fingers through Crutchie’s soft hair. “No one cares if you ain’t feelin’ well. We all want ya safe, even if it means not sellin’ for a day.”
Crutchie nodded, leaning into Jack’s touch and closing his eyes. He was exhausted.
“Hey, Crutchie. Davey has some stuff he wants ta say to ya. I’ll give ya both some space. I’ll be just outside. That alright?”
With that, Jack gave Crutchie a long look, eyes sad and full of caring. He stood up from the crouched position he’d been at and walked away, sending Davey over before exiting the lodging houses’ door.
Davey’s body language was timid. His shoulders were hunched over so that he wasn’t at his full height, he was wringing his hands together nervously, and his face looked slightly green. He couldn’t force himself to look Crutchie in the eye- he felt so awful about what he’d done. He’d hurt Crutchie- he’d taken him away from his life with his friends and his family- his real family, the family that mattered , that loved him unconditionally- and thrown him back to his old life, where he was starving and his father had his hands wrapped around his neck and he was gasping for air- he was suffocating and-
“Hey, Davey, calm down,” Crutchie said, his face painted with concern. “Ya look like youse seen a ghost.”
Davey noticed how short his breaths were coming, but he couldn’t deepen them.
“Davey, hey. It’s alright. Sit down with me, hm?” Crutchie adjusted himself so that his legs were hanging over the edge of the bed and he was facing out into the room, making space for Davey to sit beside him. He patted the mattress softly, and Davey sat down in the empty space.
“I’m guessin’ Jack told ya everythin’?” Crutchie asked, and Davey nodded. “Sorry ya had to hear ‘bout all that. ‘Bout my sad life. It ain’t important anymore.”
“Crutchie,” Davey breathed out, voice sounding exhausted. “You don’t have anything to apologize for. I’m the one ‘a us that messed up today. And it is important. I didn’t have the right to know your real name- much less to call ya by it. You’ve got every right to be mad at me.”
“I ain’t mad, Davey.”
“W-what? Why not?”
“You scared me, sure, but I ain’t mad at ya. I mean.. it ain’t like you coulda know how it’d affect me. It sucked for me ta get taken back there but.. it ain’t your fault that’s where my name takes me. That’s just my lovely brain, doin’ me a favor by remindin’ me of that night.”
Crutchie huffed out a humorless laugh that only made Davey feel sadder.
“Still though. I shouldn’t ‘a called you by your name without your permission. Crutchie, I’m so sorry that all that happened to you. I didn’t know.”
“It’s all in the past know. Ain’t nothin’ that can be done ‘bout it anymore. I’ve moved on. It doesn’t matter to me anymore. My dad.. He was just tryin’ to do what was best for my brothers.”
“You didn’t deserve it. You know that, right? There’s no excuse. It doesn’t matter if it would’ve helped your brothers. You were his child. He was supposed to take care of you.”
Crutchie nodded. He felt tears start to well up in his eyes again. He sniffled.
“Yeah, youse right. Givin’ ‘im an excuse makes it… easier to swallow sometimes. Makes it easier to understand why he’d.. he’d try ta..”
He couldn’t force out the last word. It caught in his throat at the circle of bruises that once found themselves home there. He wasn’t sure when the tears had escaped his eyes and started to make their way down his cheeks, he just knew he could feel them against his burning face. Davey wrapped an arm around Crutchie’s shoulder and pulled him in close, letting Crutchie rest his head on his chest and cry against him. He rubbed soothing circles in his back gently. Davey didn’t know how long they sat there like that.
“It sucks,” Crutchie mumbled, voice muffled by Davey’s shirt and his own sobs. “I ain’t worthless. I know that. But.. my family sure did think I was, huh? Makes me wonder sometimes if.. if my dad woulda done it if I was different. If they woulda kept me. If I woulda had a family..”
“Hey,” Davey said softly, pulling Crutchie away from his body so he could see his face, meeting his eyes. “You do got a family. Just not one by blood. Blood don’t make a family. Blood doesn’t matter if there isn’t love behind it.”
“We’s a family?” Crutchie asked softly- happily, because he already knew the answer.
“Of course we are.”
Later that day, after everyone had sold all their papers and they were meeting at Jacobi’s Deli for dinner, Davey and Jack went over to the lodging house to check on Crutchie and see if he was feeling better.
“Yeah, yeah,” Crutchie said, pulling himself out of bed slowly with Jack’s help. “I’m feelin’ back to a hundred percent. I wanna come.”
“Good to hear it,” Davey said, grabbing the crutch from the place it leaned on the wall and handing it to Crutchie.
They moved slowly, just to be safe, but none of them minded. The sun was getting low and the heat was starting to die off, so the walk was peaceful instead of miserable.
“By the way,” Crutchie began as the walked, “I never did ask- who told you my real name?”
“You know when I went to play cards in Brooklyn the other day?”
Crutchie nodded and hummed. “So it was Race?”
“Yeah- how’d ya know it wasn’t Spot?”
“‘Cause Spot gets it better than Race does. I’d never tell his name, he’d never tell mine.”
“Wait- I thought only Race knew Spot’s real name?” Jack asked, sounding genuinely surprised.
“What Race doesn’t know won’t kill ‘im,” Crutchie replied, shrugging lightly. “Spot ‘nd Ise better friends than you’d think.”
There was a brief silence as of sort of awestruckness fell over Davey and Jack.
“Beside the point, though. For the sake of fairness, ‘nd maybe revenge, pray tell, Race ever told ya his real name?” Crutchie asked.
“No,” Davey said, shaking his head. “But wouldn’t telling make you a hypocrite?”
“Maybe,” Crutchie shrugged again. “But it’ll be funny to see the look on his face tomorrow.”
Crutchie stopped walking for a second and grabbed Davey arm, pulling him close. Davey had to bend down slightly so that Crutchie could reach his ear. He cupped his hand over his mouth and whispered…
“Hey guys!” Davey yelled, running up to the gates of the distribution center, Les trailing behind him.
“‘Sup, Mouth?” Race asked through a chorus of ‘Hey Davey!’s and ‘Hiya David!’s
Davey couldn’t help but smile.
“Not much. Sup with you, Anthony?”
Davey watched as Race’s eyes widened with shock and the nearby Newsies fell silent. Race suddenly clenched his fists at his sides.
“Crutchie! I’m gonna kill you!”
Through the crowd Crutchie’s laugh could be heard, clear as a bell, as he took off running, Race chasing after him.