A Flute Player's Story

Letters to Home

Castel and I took the train as far as we could before walking to Mama's people. It was a long walk, but the weather was nice and it was enjoyable and we reached the plains just before the Thanksgiving feast. Our grandmother welcomed us with hugs and kisses.

"Welcome, little ones. But you are no longer little, no? Cha'akmongwi, you have grown so tall. And Lenmana, you are so beautiful. You must have many men flocking to you." She continued talking as she led us to where we would be sleeping. "Here you are. Set your things down and come join us for the meal. You can get settled after you visit with everyone."

"Food!" Castel whispered to me as Grandmother left. "I'm so hungry I could eat a whole turkey."

I giggled. "Not if I get to it first. I could eat two turkeys!"

"Race you to the food."

"Naw, I don't-ready set go!" I dropped my bag and took off, giggling the whole way.

"No fair!" Castel raced after me, quickly catching up to me. We reached the food at the same time, still laughing.

I sat next to my Aunt Cha'Risa and her daughter Chepi. Cha'Rise wanted to know how Mama was doing and Chepi was mostly just interested in boys. Between all their questions I could hardly get a bite in.

"Are there any boys at your school?" asked Chepi. She was 16, just a few months younger than Castel and I, and much more interested in boys than I was. "Are they cute? Do you want a Spanish boy like your Papa or a Native American one? There are lots of cute boys around here. I could introduce you to them." Chepi looked so hopeful I laughed. She gave me a pleading look, but I shook my head.

"I would like to meet some of your friends, but I am not interested in meeting boys."

"How do you know already? Is there a boy in New York? Is he Spanish? No let me guess, he's an Irish boy Uncle Federico disapproves of so you have to meet him in secret."

"I already know because yes, there is a boy in New York. He's Italian, not Spanish, and Papa hasn't met him. Well, they've met, but he doesn't know."

"Tell me more!" Chepi squealed. "I want to know everything. How did you meet? What's he like? What's his name?"

"Antonio Alessandro Higgins. We met at a theatre that I play my flute in and he is the sweetest boy I know, besides Castel." Chepi squealed some more and asked some more questions.

"Dear, let the poor girl eat," Aunt Cha'Rise interrupted. She turned to me and asked some questions of her own. "How is your Mama doing, dear? Last time she wrote me, she told me you weren't doing well in school. Do you still have troubles reading?"

I nodded. "The girls tease me something awful when I have to read out loud. I hate it. I only want to play my flute and I don't need to read to do that. Why should I have to go to school?"

Aunt Cha'Risa patted my arm kindly. "Maybe I can write to that papa of yours and talk some sense into him. What do you say dear? Would you like me to do that?"

Castel and I turned to each other. We hadn't thought about what to do if someone wrote to Mama and Papa. If someone wrote to them, they would know we were here and they might make us go back home. I turned back and shook my head. "No thank you. I don't want to bother them at all."

"I should at least write to them and let them know you arrived safely. Do they know you're here?"

Castel and I shared another look, this time one filled with alarm. What should we do? We couldn't tell our aunt that we were running away, but we couldn't lie. I clearly hadn't planned this adventure very well. I thought hard for a minute before coming up with an idea. "Uhh…it was a last minute trip. Castel and I didn't have time to plan all of the details. But we can write and tell someone that we got here safely. In fact, I will go do that right now." I quickly excused myself and ran outside, breathing hard. That was close. Too close.

"Dear Race,I'm sorry I had to leave without telling you. Please don't be mad. It's hard to explain everything in a letter, but I had to go. I only hope that someday I can explain it to you in person and that you'll forgive me. Until then, I will understand if you don't want me to be your girl anymore. I won't be mad if you hate me or find another girl. Be safe. Te amo."

The letter was as impossible to read as the last note Ally had sent me, but this time I didn't have Rooster there to help me understand it. This time, I could figure out what she meant without help. She ran away and didn't want to be tied down, probably because she was out meeting plenty of Native American boys right now and she didn't want to feel guilty about leaving me behind. I crumpled the note in my hand and threw it at the wall without looking where I threw it. It bounced off the door and landed at a pair of feet.

"I hope you weren't aiming for the trash," a startled female voice said. I looked up to see Crutchy and Kid Blink entering with their girlfriends. I waved a greeting to them but didn't reply, not wanting to snap at them. Laura signed something to the others and Carey looked at me. "Yes, what is the matter, Race? Is there news from Ally?"

"Ise still don't knows where she is, if dat's what youse was askin," I said. I hoped the others didn't think I sounded as close to tears as I thought I did. "And Ise think she broke up wit me."

"I'm sorry." Laura signed as well as spoke. She had recently decided to try talking as well as signing and I still wasn't used to hearing her voice, which sounded like she had a pile of stones in her mouth.

"It's okay." I tried making the signs as I spoke. I was one of the few newsies who didn't know many signs, as I had always been busy teaching Ally English when Laura had been teaching everyone signs. Thankfully Laura and Carey were never far apart, so if I ever needed help, I didn't have to look far.

"Youse know, Ise kinda miss hearin Rooster's cries in da mornin," Blink said, climbing up on his bunk and hanging his head over the edge. "It feels strange wakin up witout all da noise. Ise still ain't use ta it, even afta two weeks."

I flopped backwards on my bed, leaning my head over the edge as well so I could see Blink's face. "Ise know. Ise still wake up expectin ta hear da bummer sayin he's sorry and didn't mean ta."

"Does he really sound like a rooster?" Carey giggled. "I've never met anyone that does that."

"He don't sound like a rooster, he sounds like a whole flock of dem," Crutchy said, sitting next to Carey and putting an arm around her shoulders. "He talks in his sleep too. Says all kinds of interesting things." I smiled slightly as everyone laughed. It was true; Rooster didn't even stop talking in his sleep. One night when some of us couldn't sleep, we gathered around his bed and had a whole conversation with him while he slept. We brought it up the next morning, but he didn't remember a word of it. Ally had laughed until she cried when I had told her that day. Ally…I suddenly frowned, remembering that she was gone and I wouldn't be able to tell her stories like that. Laura noticed and put a hand on my shoulder. I couldn't stop the tear that started trickling down my face and wiped it away before anyone noticed. Apparently I was too late because Carey also came over and put a hand on my shoulder.

"It's okay to cry. We know you miss her and we won't think less of you if you need to cry."

I didn't bother to stop the next tear that fell. I sat up and faced the girls kneeling on the floor. "She didn't say good-bye. Ise thought Ise meant more ta her den dat, but she left in da middle of da night witout even a good-bye note. Not dat anyone could read it…" With that, the dam broke and a flood of tears came out. No one said anything; Carey and Laura just patted my back as Blink and Crutchy went outside to make sure nobody came in.

When I finally cried all my tears, Carey handed me something to blow my nose on and Laura went to the door to let the boys back in. I was surprised to see a whole group of them. I hadn't realized how late it was. Looking out the window, I could see it was already dark.

"Youse okay?" Jack asked as he walked past. I just nodded, not trusting my voice yet. Boots and Snipeshooter patted my back as they walked and Skittery-in an unusual move-gave me a smile. He held out his hand silently, holding a bright green ribbon that had belonged to Ally.

"Ise went ta Medda's today. Dat friend of hers said she left it behind and thought youse would want it." I looked at him and he shrugged. "Wat?"

I shook my head and took the ribbon. "Nothin. Just…thanks. It means a lot."

"Don't mention it. Ise got a reputation ya knows." I actually laughed as I nodded. It felt good to have friends that would stick around and not ask questions when I needed them.

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