Happy Book Birthday to my novelette, In Buffalo With You, which is available now! This book gave me headaches and butterflies, anxiety and elation, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. I hope you will be, too!
This book was more rich with history than the last—the Newsboy Strike of 1899, real-life soprano Nina Morgana, and a particularly memorable event from the Pan-American Exposition that shocked the nation. I learned so much! And, of course, the romance is sweet and meant-to-be.
In Tommy’s view, the best thing—indeed, one of the few undeniably good things—about being a young newspaper hawker at the turn of the century was the sunrises. He relished the slap of feet on the pavement and the night’s cool air melting into daytime warmth, but nothing beat a cloudless, radiant sunrise, like the one he’d witness peeking over Buffalo’s skyline within the hour.
Everywhere he went, he could count on a pretty sunrise to start his morning, just as he could count on the morning parade of newsies. Tommy could always tell when there were new kids joining him on the sidewalk. The newer you were to the job, the more you craned your neck as you walked up the sleeping streets to buy your bundle of newspapers. The new kids walked slower, too, oblivious to the favoritism shown to the earliest newsies, who snapped up all the papers without egregious ink smudges and bent corners.
Tommy knew better, but he didn’t act like it. He cast his eyes skyward as often as any of them. Before dawn, the pinpricks of starlight in the lightening sky soothed him with the promises of a new day, and a chance for things to improve.
Until someone inevitably tried to run him over.
The smack to the middle of Tommy’s back stole his breath, and he almost stumbled forward as he hissed a string of expletives.
“Oh, so sorry about that, mister, so sorry!”
The high pitch of the voice alone would’ve given him pause, but “mister?” Tommy turned around to find that the newsie who’d shoved him was two-thirds his height and perhaps half his age—about ten or so.
Before Tommy could reassure the boy there was no harm done, one of the other, more experienced newsies hollered at him from up the street. “Hey, what happened to those quick feet of yours, Tommy Rabbit?”
Without missing a beat, Tommy flashed a winning smile at his peer and kicked up his feet in the air, which got him and half a dozen of the other boys laughing.
“Wow,” whispered the boy. “How’d you learn to jump like that? Are you really Tommy Rabbit, from the paper? Could you teach me that?”
Tommy rubbed the back of his neck. The kid must’ve been staring at that article for hours to be able to make out his tiny, grainy face in the background of that picture with Kid Blink and the rest. They’d all appeared side by side in an article after the news broke that the strike had reached as far as Providence, Rhode Island. Weeks later, after the union had more or less fallen to pieces, Tommy was trekking northeast, selling whatever paper the town he planned to sleep in that night had to offer.
The strike’s success in rallying the troops had amazed Tommy. He wasn’t very high up in their little makeshift union’s ranks two years ago—though he was one of their oldest at eighteen—but he was good enough friends to get an earful whenever he wanted. And there was always lots to hear about.
Then a deal was struck, and the fire they’d stoked over two hard-fought weeks died out overnight. The union disbanded, and everyone went their separate ways.
Tommy pushed back the brim of the boy’s frayed tweed cap to get a better look at him in the dim morning light. “I need to know your name before I give away all my trade secrets.”
The boy’s face twisted up in thought, then: “Cappie McCoy.”
It wasn’t that the boy had so clearly nicknamed himself just that second that got Tommy chuckling, and it wasn’t the way “Cappie” took a bow so deep, the cap came off altogether. It was a combination of the two, plus a recognizable gleam in his eye. “How about you try that again, ‘Cappie?’”
The boy kicked a rock in his path. “Well, that’s what I’d sure like to be called. But my real name is Clancy McCoy.”
“Well, I can appreciate the pluck, but you don’t go nicknaming yourself. Where’s the fun in that? You gotta earn your nickname.”
Clancy mulled this over as the pair began walking again. “So how did all creation come to call you Tommy Rabbit?”
Tommy knew the question was coming, but that didn’t prevent his heart from leaping into his throat. And if he told Clancy the truth, he knew which questions would come next—how he could possibly eke out a living on the pennies he earned per day, how he came to Buffalo, whether he planned to stay in this city, this time, at least a little while.
The answers would only disappoint poor Clancy. And any explanation Tommy could offer could only make him feel worse.
Tommy considered making something up, but that was no use. If Clancy was anything like the other young newsboys that’d taken a shine to him, he’d sniff out the truth in a second. It was one thing to lie and get away with it, but it was worse to be caught in the lie, then have to wriggle your way out of it.
Clancy’s insistence startled him. They must’ve been walking in silence for a while. Tommy cleared his throat. “I’d like to save that story for another time, if it’s all the same to you. Besides”—he gestured with an open palm—“we’re here already.”
Across the street, the sun was not quite peeking over the top of the building that housed the Buffalo Express. It was a usual-looking building. Only the hand-painted letters on the awning betrayed its identity, but that was more than a big enough clue for newsies, who’d already formed a line outside the door, two blocks long.
Most of the kids were on the younger side. Their eyes weren’t on the twinkling stars or the rising sun anymore, but on their little hands that held their coins. Some picked them up, turned them over, then put them back down again. Some cupped both hands like they’d trapped a firefly. They did this while chatting with their peers, debating what the clouds were trying to tell them about the day’s weather.
Tommy frowned at the sight. See, this is why the union shouldn’t’ve given up so easily, he thought. He cast a glance at Clancy, who had dug out his own money to count and recount.
Clancy must’ve felt the eyes on him, because he looked up at Tommy and said, “What?”
“I was just wondering what you’re doing here, that’s all.”
Clancy’s brow furrowed. “My old man was in the army, and he hasn’t come home, so Mom had me read the Express and the Courier and a lot of other newspapers to decide which one I liked the best to sell. I picked the Express.” He beamed. “And I’m glad I did because I got to meet you, Tommy Rabbit! You’re living history, you know that?”
The door to the Buffalo Express swung open. Tommy couldn’t tell much else about what was going on from where he stood, but suddenly the line began to shrink instead of grow, and all the newsies came to life as whispers of what the day’s headlines shot up and down the line.
Tommy knew you couldn’t trust half of them, but one rumor about the day’s news in particular interested him. He didn’t let himself get caught up in the excitement until he and Clancy were inside the building, four kids away from where a portly man the other newsies called Mr. Langhorne distributed the bundles. Only then, when he caught a glimpse of the words printed in black and white, did Tommy believe it.
M’KINLEY WILL DO THE PAN!
It could be exactly what he’d been wishing on all those stars for.
“What are you smiling for?” Mr. Langhorne huffed.
Tommy just shook his head as he slid the dimes across the wooden counter. With a wink in Clancy’s direction, he slid two fingers under the twine that held the papers together and used his other hand to beckon Clancy to follow him, ignoring the wide eyes of the other newsies.
“But I haven’t—”
“Don’t worry about it,” Tommy said, winking again.
Tommy led them out of the Buffalo Express and down Washington Street. When he was sure the other newsies were out of earshot and wouldn’t get overexcited, he gestured to the headline.
“I don’t get it,” Clancy said.
“Can’t you read, li’l McCoy? The President of these United States is coming to Buffalo to see the Pan-American Exposition. And he’s coming in a week!”
“Let me paint you a picture.” Tommy slipped the top paper out of the stack, shoved the paper into Clancy’s hands, and threw his arm around Clancy’s shoulder. “President McKinley arrives at the Pan. He meets with the people. He shakes hands with the people. Maybe he shakes my hand, huh? Maybe I can bend his ear for a minute?”
“And tell him what?”
“And tell him about this kid I know named Clancy McCoy—”
Tommy chuckled. “Right, sure, Cappie. And I tell him about the plights of all the little newsboys and newsgirls—and our brothers and sisters who work in factories, canneries, farms, and mines. We’re paid less than grown-ups for work that’s just as or more dangerous. And why, ‘cause we’re shorter? ‘Cause we’re told to listen to adults who know so much more?” Tommy shook his head. “That’s not right. We’re lucky to sell papers, no mistake about it, but not because we get to drop out of school and be entrepreneurs—because so many other kids have it worse. You ever seen a kid your age with a limp, or with part of their hand missing?”
“Sure, loads of times.”
“Well, how d’you think that happened?”
Clancy paled, which was exactly the kind of response Tommy was hoping to get from McKinley.
This was it. Tommy could feel it. The chance to make things better for the newsies.
Clancy glanced at the bundle of papers. “Is that why you bought so many?”
Tommy nodded. “I took a gamble. This is triple what I usually buy. How much did your mom give you to buy papers this morning?”
Clancy brought out his coins again, and Tommy watched him mouth the numbers to himself. “Thirty.”
Tommy loosened the twine around his newspapers, ran his finger down the stack, and pulled out fifty. “Take these and keep your money, all right? Maybe this’ll give you a good head start, so you don’t have to come back so many times. But until then, how’d you like to be a team? We’ll sell your fifty papers first and get you your money for your family, and then we can work on selling the rest of mine. As a duo. What do you say?”
Clancy’s grin was so wide, Tommy thought the boy’s teeth might pop right right out. Then the light in his eyes faded. “What about your family?”
“I don’t have one, and that serves me well here. I don’t have to take money home at all—I’ll save it all. I don’t care if I have to skip my coffee and ration a bagel to last me the whole day.” Tommy placed his hand on top of Clancy’s cap like he imagined McKinley would’ve placed his hand on the Bible as he was sworn into office, with his other hand raised high in the air. “Clancy, I swear to you on my honor that I’m going to purchase myself a ticket to the Pan-American Exposition, I’m going to meet President McKinley, and you’re going to see the whole world turned on its head. Just you wait.”