“Aw, quit whining Davey, ain’t nobody’s died from a summer rain.”
David Isaac Jacobs (Vice President of the Newsboys Union of Lower Manhattan, the brains behind the strike of 1899, and “the walking mouth” to his friends and compatriots) was currently soaked to the bone. His selling partner, Jack Francis Kelly (President of the Newsboys Union of Lower Manhattan, renegade cowboy who once escaped the now defunct Refuge on the back of Teddy Roosevelt's carriage, and soon to be part time illustrator at the New York World) was crouched under the makeshift umbrella of newspaper ads David held over his head. He sketched haphazardly on a small leather sketchbok with his initials engraved on the binding; a gift from Katherine. In front of them was a dead pigeon, its neck cracked at an unnatural angle and its insides spilling through a gash from where the trolley had hit it. David didn’t know what was worse; the fact that his friend was keeping him outside during one of the worst downpours of the summer where there wouldn’t be any customers, or that any customers they could get would be scared off by their proximity to the bird corpse. He tapped his boot impatiently while Jack began to shade in the skewered beak. Jack pretended not to notice.
“It’s a metaphor, see Davey? The bird is the working folks of New York, and the trolley that sliced it represents the bosses that work ‘em to the bone and leave ‘em to die when there’s no more use for them.”
“You sure the World would let you publish something that radical?”
“Well, I’m not gonna actually tell ‘em that.” Jack turned his head to give his friend an exasperated look. “I’ll tell the editor it’s about littering or something, but the readers will know.”
“How is anyone supposed to see a worker in a dead pigeon?”
“Maybe I’ll put a little hat on him.”
Even with the rain soaking through his boots David couldn’t help grinning. It was hard to tell sometimes whether Jack was being facetious or he really was just that sincere. He had a tendency to go head first into whatever new passion he had, and his naturally infectious charisma usually dragged at least twenty other newsboys with him. His only fault as leader was in the long term planning. That’s where David came in. He had gotten this far in his short life being cautious to a fault, and while Jack often could help quell his fears and bring him outside of his comfort zone, Davey balanced Jack out by filling the gaps in his plan and pointing out potential outcomes to Jack’s sporadic actions. That’s how they won the strike. That’s how they worked their union. And that was how they would protect the working kids of New York until they outgrew it and the reigns were passed down to someone new. At his most cynical David had to admit that his father’s injury was one of the best things to ever happen to him. In only a few months of being a newsie he had changed so much he hardly recognized himself. He was louder. More confident. He didn’t shuffle anymore, he walked with a stride and held his head up, his hands free from his pockets. He was less anxious and cared less what other people thought of him. He was happier. It was almost like-
“Christ, Jacobs! Is that you?”
He knew that voice. Jack stood up, grabbing David’s papers with him so he could continue to shield himself while looking across the street to see where the noise had come from. David didn’t move a muscle. He felt a field mouse in one of his old biology texts, trying to blend in with his surroundings so he wouldn’t get eaten alive. Across the street were three boys around David’s age, their hair varying in levels of towheadedness. Sarah always joked that all goyim looked the same to him, but then again she had never been to never been to David’s school. Jack squinted through the rain.
“No one, they’re nobody. C’mon I think we might catch some customers coming out of the barber shop on 15th if we move quickly.”
“Wait, let me just finish up the wing-”
“Aw jeez Jack-”
“Look, if it’s about those towheads crossing the street I ain’t moving. If they have a problem with us we deal with them the way newsies do-with our fists out and their jaws broken.”
David didn’t have the time to explain to Jack that street logic didn’t apply anymore, maybe if he could just turn around quickly enough-
“Jacobs, I can’t believe you’re not dead! We thought you choked for sure after you stopped showing up to school. Hey Walter, you owe me a dime-” David instinctively grabbed Jack’s fist as the tallest blonde made his way over to their corner, flanked on either side by the smaller two. David turned back to his friend.
“Let me handle this.” He took one last look at the dead bird to his left, then turned to face his former classmates with an expression that he hoped displayed the right amount of confidence and disinterest. Then he grinned. “Hi fellas, long time no see.”
Tall blonde grinned back. It didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I’ll say! It was real lousy not having you around, there was no one copy homework off of for the rest of the year. I nearly failed geography ‘til Walter over here managed to bribe Mister Johanson with some real nice cigars. They were what, Red Dots? Real nice.”
Walter, the stockiest of the three, nodded in agreement. “Real nice.”
David could hear Jack quietly snort behind him. They both knew Race wouldn’t have been impressed by their choice. David’s grin tightened slightly. “That’s nice.”
Tall continued. “But man, working stiff? That’s a real bummer. Makes sense though, can't keep you yids away from that quick cash, huh?”
David reached back again to block Jack’s fist; instead he was met by his chest. He was standing at his full 5’9” height, both hands in fists, chest puffed out, and a sneer on his face previously reserved only for the Delanceys. His voice was unnaturally quiet. Quiet for Jack anyway.
“You call Davey that again and I’ll sock you. You open your mouth again and I might just sock you anyways. So think real hard boys about what your next move is gonna be, you understand?”
“Didn’t mean anything by it, didn’t mean anything by it!” Tall held up his hands in mock surrender. He was still grinning, but David could sense a new nervousness in his stance. “He knows we’re just joking, we used to talk like that all the time back in school, right Davey?”
The two others snickered quietly behind him as he drawled out the last phrase, imitating Jack’s thick downtown accent. In a swift motion Jack grabbed the blonde boy by the collar and hoisted him off the ground, his other hand clenched in anticipation. David forced himself between the two boys, pulling Jack to the other side of the street corner. His cap had been knocked off in the scuffle, and the rain seemed to speed up its traction, drenching his face and blurring his vision. Even through the rain he could see that Jack was furious.
“The hell are you doing Davey? They’re just a bunch of punks, we could take ‘em on easy!”
“It’s not like that Jack! These aren’t some street kids, I used to go to school with them.”
“So?” David looked back at the boys. The tall one looked shaken, talking quietly to his friends. This was clearly not the way he was expecting his afternoon to go. David turned back to Jack, who was anchoring up his fist for another blow.
“See that guy, Walter? His dad manages a textile factory. My mom does work for sometimes. Scrawny kid next to him, his dad’s a green grocer. Cheapest prices on the lower east side, and we’re already on thin ice with him ‘cause he’s not always thrilled about Jews dirtying up his nice Polish establishment.” To his credit, Jack seemed to be a bit cooled down, though his hands were still tightly wound.
“And who’s the tall one with the mouth, his dad Van Wyck or something?” David shook his head.
“Superintendent of my school.”
“So why the fuck do you go to school with these goons? You’re clearly not from the same neighborhood.”
“It's...it's a long story, but can we just go now, okay? You’re...your bird’s getting wet.” Jack looked down at his damp sketch pad. Tears of ink and rain water were smearing across the half finished bird, its broken wing melting into its spilled out stomach. Underneath the drawing in Jack’s shaky hand was written:‘How Much Longer Must We Wate?’
The two boys snuck into the entrance of the train station on the next block over. The high awning allowed them to dry out the papers that hadn’t been fully protected by their bags, while also catching the afternoon rush of business men leaving their Manhattan offices for their homes in Westchester. David distracted himself by shaking out the rainwater that had gotten lodged in his cap, which he now found to be smattered in thin patches of mud from where he had dropped it. He had rubbed most of it off on his pants, bracing himself for whatever his mother would say when she saw his ruined clothes.
David let Jack finish up their last sales for the day while he aired out the pages of his sketchbook. Pencil and ink sketches flipped through David’s hand like a picture show; Katherine at her typewriter, a study of Crutchie dozing off by the fire escape, a recreation of last week’s suffragette rally, and then to his surprise Les, grinning ear to ear as he hawked papers from on top of an overturned crate by Hester Street. Jack finished his last sale for the day, and reclaimed his notebook with a playful shove. He took a pencil that seemed to miraculously appear behind his ear and opened to a fresh page. He leaned up against the brick alcove, one boot against the wall, looking every bit the cool and casual leader David knew he personally could never imitate. As it was right now, he was still scraping dried mud onto his one good pair of pants. Jack wetted the charcoal tip on his tongue and began to sketch.
“So, these goons. Why the hell have I never heard of them before?”
“Are you drawing me?”
“Maybe I am. Don’t deflect the question Davey. How does a kid from the lower east side end up at a school where all the brats are blonde?”
“It’s a long story.”
“The rain ain’t letting up anytime soon.”
“I’ll need to get Les back home soon.”
“Crutchie probably took him back to the lodge by now. He’s fine. But you really need to give a better excuse than ‘they’re richer than me’ to explain why we couldn’t kick their asses back there.”
David exhaled loudly, letting his shoulders deflate as he sunk into his side of the wall. He put his hands in his pockets and tried to mimic Jack’s stance, but found he could not let go of the tenseness in his body. He finally slid into a sitting position, one hand wrapped around his knee.
“So remember how I told you my father taught me not to lie?” Jack raised an eyebrow but continued to draw silently.
“We may have let that slip...once. But not anything bad, we weren’t hurting anyone. It was just...we may have lied about our address so I could go to a different school.”
This time Jack looked up from his page. “What was wrong with the one you had?”
“Well, there were fifty kids to a class for one thing, and we had a lice outbreak every other week, and there weren’t any good English classes because half the kids were still learning English…” God, he sounded like such a jerk. He could be pretty much describing the crew at the lodging house. The only difference between them and his old classmates was that most newsies were at least second generation. The ones who knew their parents at least.
“My parents...well, they’re really intent on me going to college. All of us, Les and Sarah too. But I’d need scholarship money to afford it, and you can’t get scholarship money if you don’t get good grades, and you can’t get good grades if the teachers don’t bother to show up most days, so…”
Jack’s face was unreadable. Come to think of it, Jack never mentioned attending any school in his life. The newsies were pretty good at teaching the younger ones the basics of making change and deciphering headlines. Any other night schooling or vocational training was up to the individual to figure out on his own. Where did a newsie go after he got too old to sell papers anyway? David’s stomach churned, recalling how desperate Jack was to get to Santa Fe only a few weeks ago before he was convinced to stay. He finally understood why. Jack returned to his sketch.
“Okay, so your old man messes around with some forms and you get to go to the hoity toity school. No one figured out you were from the wrong neighborhood?”
“Oh, they did. Pretty quickly. I told them I was living with an aunt to finish my education. By the time the principal came around to it I got a couple of teachers to speak on my behalf, saying I had so much potential and it would be a tragedy if I had to leave and so on…”
“So you got to stay cause other people begged for you?”
David gave a noncommittal shrug. Jack stuck his pencil into the bow of his book and pushed his cap back, his hand shaking from laughter.
“I dunno if that's the saddest or most impressive thing I ever heard.”
“Oh come on, it's not like I could just go in there and stick a knife to his throat ‘til he allowed me to stay. It’s called diplomacy Jack. Last time I checked I was pretty good at it.”
Jack smirked and picked up his pencil again, using it to scratch the tip of his nose.
“Christ, sometimes I forget what a mess you were when we first met.”
David scuffed his boot against the floor. “That's just how things were Jack. You play the system the best you can, and when you’re caught you roll over and beg for forgiveness. It wasn't until I met you that-” David forced his mouth shut, feeling a rush of heat behind his ears. This was territory he vowed he'd never go into. Jack was still sketching, oblivious to the slip up.
“-I mean, until I met the newsies, I'd just deal with it that way.”
“So when that guy calls you a yid….”
“Trust me, they’ve called me worse before.”
“And you let them?”
“I don’t let them! It’s just...if I let it get to me they’ll just keep egging it on. It’s not just about me being Jewish to them; it’s what I wear, it’s how I talk, where my parents work, the fact that my mother even works at all…”
“So like the Delanceys, only a little more scrubbed behind the ear.”
David grinned despite himself. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“So what’s stopping from dealing with them the way we do with the Delanceys?”
“It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you Jack, the rules are different there! You can't get fired for messing with the Delanceys. If I lost my temper just once that would be the end of my school career. Have you ever seen my folks get angry?”
“Never when I'm around.”
“Exactly! They don't get angry, they get disappointed. And trust me, it feels a million times worse.”
“But that ain’t a way to live Davey! After everything we’ve done, everything we’ve been through, you ain’t the same person anymore! None of us are. Are you honestly gonna let those creeps treat you like dirt when your pop gets back on his feet? What’s gonna happen when you go back to school?”
School. The word sent a chill down his damp spine. How could he have forgotten? The past few months had gotten him so swept up in the strike and his new friends and his new life that the very concept seemed alien to him. What happens when his dad gets back on his feet? If he ever gets back on his feet? Yet Jack had said it so naturally, he almost seemed to speak it into existence. Of course David would go back to school. What else was there for him to do? Sell papers until he aged out? Work in a factory like his dad and get his own leg crushed?
And how the hell was he ever supposed to catch up? Continue to feed his family? Get money for college, now that any chance of getting scholarships was close to nil. And for that matter, what would become of Les’ future? Or Sarah’s? Or any of his new friends who would be entering their eighteenth year with no education to speak of. David looked into the cloudy shop windows across the street, where condensation had gathered between the rain and muggy heat. He could feel his heart pounding at rapt speed. The world seemed to be swirling around him. Footsteps into puddles, the clock ticking over the station’s entrance, the yells of passersby all seemed to fall into a rhythm that mocked him from his shelter. This wasn’t permanent. Nothing was permanent.
“Huh?” David looked up to see Jack standing beside him. He looked concerned. For Jack, anyway.
“You alright? You look like you might be sick.”
David reached up to mop his brow, only to realize he was still holding the leftover ad section of yesterday’s paper, now reduced to a grimy pulp. The ink had run wet and was staining his hand a milky greyish black.
“No, I’m fine. Just thinking.”
"Listen, I gotta meet Katherine at four, but this talk ain’t over. You’re looking far too shaky to be ‘fine’ Davey.” He leaned over to give a playful shove, then wordlessly ripped a page from his notebook and handed it to him. Adjusting his hat against the harsh downpour, Jack hurried across the street, dodging streetcars and carriages until his silhouette disappeared into the rain and smog and the thousands of people forcing their way through the New York heat.
David looked down at the paper, cupping his hand over the side to protect the fresh charcoal from smearing. It was him, crouched against wall; his cap askew, hands in his pockets, one knee up against the chest, the other stretched before him. There was shading on his pants that David suspected to be dirt, and Jack even managed to get the small hole that was forming on the sole of his left shoe.
The one thing it didn’t have was a face.
So first of all, credit where credit's due-the concept of the Jacobs family lying about their address in order to send David to a better public school came from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, where the family basically does the same thing so their daughter can go to a nicer district. Mind you it's been at least five years since I picked it up so the details are a little iffy to me, but I wanted to explore the character of Davey and his unusual position class wise to the rest of the cast.
Because while he's way more privileged than the other newsies, his family is still not doing well financially and the end of show leaves his fate ambiguous on whether he and Les will be able to go back to school, or even if their dad is healing (yes I am a little bitter that they cut the extended Jacobs family from the show. Like I understand why, but still).
The title comes from the song from Ragtime, my other favorite musical that takes place at the turn of the century.
Also David/Darcy will be included later on because I ship them like hell and there are maybe only two other fics that feature them and I am on a one woman crusade to change that.
Also Also please leave a comment if you can, this is my first fic and I'd love to get as much feedback as I can! Thank you so so much for reading!
Chapter 2: September
Guys. GUYS. I'm so sorry. I just George Lucased you.
I originally published an earlier version of this chapter back in late April/Early May because I felt obligated to release something, and shocker: I wasn't happy with the way "September" turned out.
It wasn't because I felt it dragged (which it did) or it was stuck too much in Davey's head (which it was). The main issue was that the chapter ended on a bleak, sour note that didn't move the plot forward (yes, there's a plot. I promised you guys character development and a slow burn gay romance, and that's what you're gonna get dammit!)
I'll still keep the original version of this chapter up on my tumblr for the 2.5 people who are curious about what changed, but for now here's the definitive chapter that I promise you will remain the same (except when I randomly go back and edit for spelling) so I can finally move on and get to my other million and a half fic ideas.
Like I said in the author's note for the first version "September", this has been a Frankenstein of a chapter, with a million different odds and ends stuck together to make something passable. But if the book Frankenstein has taught me anything, it's to love your creation no matter how ugly it is, and not abandon it in it's time of need.
Hope y'all can forgive me and enjoy this one. Please comment if you can <3
The one thing you could say about Katherine Pulitzer was that she was always straight to the point. It was the natural journalist in her, David guessed. He was still fretting over the confrontation from a few weeks ago when she slapped her notebook and pen down in the middle of the poker game he was playing (and losing) with Jack, Crutchie, and Race. Her grin was megawatt.
“I got my first byline.”
With a whoop, Jack tossed down his cards and swept her into a long kiss, ignoring the groans and wolf whistles around them. Race took the opportunity to peek at Jack’s cards before his hand was swatted away by Crutchie.The two eventually broke their embrace and Katherine perched herself on Jack’s knee as he checked to make sure his cards hadn’t been meddled with. Crutchie put down his own deck.
“So Ms. Reporter, what’s your first big article gonna be?”
“Long term health effects of the city’s factory workers. Apparently the amount of job injuries in the U.S. has gone up by about….15% in the last twenty years, I think? Actually, that’s why I wanted to talk to you Davey.” David looked up from his own cards.
“Yes, I’d like to set up an interview with your father. Ask him about about his accident, how’s he’s coping, things like that.”
It took a moment for David to fully process what she meant.
“I mean…I guess. I’ll have to ask him first, I don’t know how comfortable he’d be talking about it.” Actually, David wasn’t even sure how comfortable he’d feel about her coming over at all. It would have to be at their apartment; Mayer Jacobs still struggled getting down the stairs most days even with a cane. An interview at Jacoby’s would be out of the question.
“Look, he’s still not in great shape right now. If you interview him, you’ll have to come over to our place, and-”
“Katherine’s coming over?” Les bounded over from where he had been dishing marbles with some of the other younger newsies. “That’ll be great! You can meet mom, and Sarah too! Katherine, you’ll love Sarah. She’s real mouthy, like you!”
“Les!” David looked up apologetically. The rest of their friends, Katherine included, were shaking with laughter. Jack grinned broadly.
“Mouthy girls are the best kind, Les. They keeps you on your toes!” Katherine swatted him playfully with her notebook. “Anyway ain’t Davey the one in your family who don’t shut up?”
David rolled his eyes as Les answered. “No, he hardly talks at all when we’re home. It’s Sarah that does the talking mostly, she’s got too many opinions! That’s why she and Kath will get along so good, they can’t keep it to themselves.”
“Yeah, speak for yourself kiddo.” Jack playfully pushed down the brim of Les’ bowler. He turned back to David.
“Hey, if Kath is coming over let me in on this too. I could use another one of your mother’s knishes, I think I’m turning into a regular addict from her cooking.”
“Only if they want us, of course!” Katherine seemed to sense David’s trepidation. “It’s perfectly fine if your father doesn’t want to talk, I’ve got plenty of interviews lined up.”
Les piped up again. “Aw, I’m sure he won’t mind, will he Davey?” He looked up at David with that winning gap toothed grin. No wonder the kid was selling prodigy. David couldn’t help but break into a smile of his own.
“We’ll ask him tonight.”
David hated to admit it now, particularly to Jack, but there was a point in his life when he really, really, really did not like Katherine.
That was on him, looking back on it now. He had projected on to Katherine, who, with her nice clothes and high class accent and confident demeanor, reminded him of the kids who wouldn’t give him a second glance at school. It didn’t help that the first time he met her she had come off as haughty and a bit of a snob, calling their freshly formed union a “rag-tag group of ragamuffins” and asking if they even “had a chance”. David hadn’t exactly behaved either, telling Katherine they would rather save their story “for a real reporter”. He knew if Sarah had heard that comment he would’ve slugged before he could get another breath in.
And at the end of the day, Katherine did all that she had promised and more. She got them on that front page. She helped him organize the rally. And she brought out the best in Jack, turning him into the leader she knew he could be just when they needed him most. She had even gotten her own friends in on it. David never thought in million years that he’d be rubbing shoulders the heirs of the biggest newspaper moguls in the country, much less breaking the law with them. They had been surprisingly friendly too, Darcy in particular. The newsies owed a lot to Katherine. David in particular owed a lot to Katherine. And to his own surprise, in the last few months they had even developed a close friendship. After all they had been through, Katherine had simply become one of the gang.
Except it wasn’t that simple, was it? When David brought Jack over to his apartment for the first time, he had been embarrassed because he was acutely aware how little Jack had in comparison to him. Now with Katherine visiting he realized he was fearing the opposite.
It wasn’t that he was embarrassed by his family’s situation. He never had the need to be. Everything happened so fast after his father’s accident he hadn’t really had the time to assess the situation. The few teachers he had told before he dropped out were properly sympathetic and had offered to get him caught up as soon as he was able to come back. There were no friends to tell at school because he didn’t have any to begin with. The newsies, of course, had been refreshingly blaise. His and Les’ sob story was nothing compared to Henry watching his family’s deli go under after his dad died or JoJo spending his first few years with some of the nastiest nuns this side of Harlem. Everyone was poor, everyone had pain, and there was no use mulling over it. It wasn’t until he had bumped into his classmates a few weeks ago that David had truly reflected on the full extent of his family’s situation. Katherine coming over would be like picking at an old scab and praying it wouldn’t bleed. That wasn’t a fun image to start out your evening.
The Jacob’s apartment was on the third floor of a seven story building. The location had been pretty ideal up until Mayer’s accident, when the two flights up became a nearly impossible task on his leg. His left leg had been broken just above the ankle where the delivery truck had hit it, and there was still no confirmation on how well it would heal. It made leaving the building exceedingly difficult, and even basic duties, like going to the outhouse, required assistance. David remembered Crutchie once bemoaning how only fancy buildings got special assets like elevators while he had to tangle through staircase after staircase at the lodging house.
“It’s the poor that are more likely to get crippled than the rich. The least they could do is put the kitchen on the first floor or something.”
David was hoping to avoid any such awkward topics tonight. But now they were at the end of the hallway heading towards the Jacobs’ door, marked so with their tell-tale mezuzah guiding the way, and things so far were fine . At least they felt fine. No, they were going to be fine. They’re fine. Everything’s fine. Everything’s gonna be just-
“Mama, Papa, we’re hoo-ome!” Les pushed past David and bounded ahead the group, pushing the open the door with an energetic bang.
“Oh for Godsakes Les, I was napping!” That was definitely Sarah. David quickly followed Les into the apartment with Jack and Katherine on his heels. He was met by his very tired looking sister; her long, brown hair disheveled, wearing the same skirt and blouse she had on yesterday. Her eyes, though, were as sharp and furious as ever.
“Hey David, do you want to tell that brother of yours not to enter every room like he’s the next Barnum and Bailey?”
David rolled his eyes. “He’s your brother too Sarah. Try not to be too much of a jerk tonight, we have guests.” He gestured with his head to his two friends behind him. Sarah’s face lit up.
“Jack! And you must be Katherine, right? It’s so good to finally meet you!” She swept them both into a tight hug, then called over her shoulder.
“Mama, Jack and Katherine are here!”
“Oh really? I had no idea from all that shouting.” The Polish lilt in Esther Jacobs’ voice sounded especially dry from the stove on the other side of the room, her body half masqueraded by a heaping pile of fabric that overtook their kitchen table. Mayer Jacobs sat nearby, his foot propped up on a small stool that had once belonged to Les. He was smoking a cigar, puffing out as much as he could towards the open window that lead onto the fire escape, and rereading the morning edition of The World. David felt a tinge of guilt.
“Here Papa, we got you the evening edition.” He handed his father the paper from his messenger bag and turned to give his mother a kiss. Esther wrinkled her nose.
“Eugh! You smell David, like street sweat. Get you and Les to wash up before we eat, yes?”
“It’s good to see you too Mama.” He finally managed to plant one on the center of her cheek. His mother swatted him away affectionately. David called for his brother.
“Hey Les, you need to wash up in the hallway before dinner. And not just your hands, you gotta your whole face this time.”
If Les had heard him, he was doing a great job of ignoring him, choosing instead to give Katherine the grand tour of the apartment by pointing to things and guiding around by her arm.
“...and this is mine and David’s bed. I used to sleep on the outside so he wouldn’t squish me, but then one night I fell out ‘cause he rolled over on me so now I sleep on the inside and he sleeps on the outside. And these are my books, I have all of the Frank Merriwells, except the one where the girl almost gets hit by the train ‘cause Mama said it was too violent. And this is where everyone else sleeps-”
“Les, don’t show our guests the second room, it’s a mess!” Esther gave David a Look that he instantly got the meaning of. He casually loosened Les’ grip on Katherine and guided her and Jack over to his parents.
“C’mon kid, both of us need to get washed up….Mama, Papa, this is Katherine and you know Jack…”
At the end of the hallway David crouched down beside so he and Les were at eye level. Les turned on the spigot and began to vigorously splash his face, making a big display to show how clean he was getting.
“Listen, I’m gonna need you to be on your best behavior tonight. This is a part of Katherine’s job, and she’s gonna be asking be asking questions that might make dad uncomfortable, so try not to interrupt, okay?”
Les gave a dramatic sigh. “Fine, I’ll shut up. But only if you quit acting all twitchy.”
David tried to straighten his shoulders a bit. “I’m not twitchy.”
“See, you just did it then!”
“I did not!”
“You did too! I’ve been watching you all day David, it’s like you’ve got bed bugs or something. Are you nervous?”
David thought about lying for half a second before deciding against it. “Yeah, maybe I am a little nervous.”
Les shrugged his shoulders “Well, don’t be! It’s just Katherine. We’ve had friends over before, it’s no big deal. Just don’t think about it.”
God, David wished he was still nine.
Back in the apartment, David had found that his mother had prepared knishes, much to Jack’s delight (though she admitted this time they were a donation from Ruthie Chernin at the synagogue, Jack assured her that hers tasted much better). Sarah and Katherine hit it right off like just as Les predicted, and were soon in a lengthy discussion about the suffragette movement. Even Les had held up his promise and had fallen asleep immediately after he finished eating. David never ceased to be impressed of what his brother managed to sleep through, considering their bed was only a few feet away from the kitchen table.
Sarah said something to Katherine that made her burst out laughing. She put a sisterly arm around Sarah and turned to Mayer.
“I’m sorry Mr. Jacobs, I’ve been neglecting you all evening. I still have a few more questions I need to get down.”
“It’s no problem at all Miss Katherine.” Mayer stroked his handlebar mustache. “You were asking me about compensation, yes?”
Katherine nodded. “You sent a letter to Broadwell, right?”
“The day after the surgery, when the doctor gave us the bill. I still didn’t know I had been let go then, so we thought it was worth a try.”
Katherine winced slightly as she scribbled a few notes on her pad. “I’m guessing that didn’t go the way you planned, huh?”
Mayer shook his head. “They didn’t even bother to send a letter back. Only a telegraph: ‘ Sorry Mister Jacobs, but your dutys are no longer needed here at Broadwell Cigars. ’ They didn’t get the spelling right, did they David?”
David looked up from the cabinet table where he was piling dinner plates to be washed later. “No, Papa. ‘Duties’ has an ‘I E’ when it’s plural.”
“American spellings.” Mayer gave an exasperated wave. “It’s like they go out of their way to confuse you.”
“And how long had you been with Broadwell Cigars before the accident happened?”
Mayer looked thoughtfully down at his plate. “I was hired shortly before Les was born, so I’d say around...twelve years or so?”
“And did you ever get a raise in that time?”
Mayer shook his head. “None. I never bothered to ask, the men that did would always get accused of ‘communist sensibilities’ or something like that. I thought if I had just did my job and kept my head down everything would be fine. Guess I had my head down too much, I couldn’t see that that truck coming.”
David coughed and gave a weak grin. This had become Mayer’s way of coping with the accident; making jokes to divert from the pain. It didn’t always work
Katherine gave a tight lipped half smile. “What about the man who had been driving the truck, did you ever consider pressing charges against him?”
“Oh, we wouldn’t want to do that!” Esther interjected. “The man has a family of his own, we didn’t want him to lose a job too. Mayer tried to contact him about helping out with the hospital bill, but...well,” She gave a sharp exhale and looked sadly over at her husband. “We still haven’t heard back from them.”
“They didn’t even take responsibility for the accident,” Sarah said suddenly. “Broadwell, the driver, nobody! You know what they told us at the end of that telegraph? They said that because he wasn’t inside the factory, it technically didn’t take place on their premises!” She snorted as she began to spoon Katherine’s pudding into several chipped dessert cups. “Papa got hit by a truck, of course it wasn’t inside! Like they would have responded any different if he had slipped on a strip of tobacco or something.”
“Sarah, you don’t need to be so crude!” Esther admonished. “The important thing is that your father is still with us. What’s happened has happened. You’ll wear yourself out getting angry over it.”
“I’m already worn out Mama.” Sarah closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I did two shifts at the glove factory today, I’m allowed to get angry.”
“But still-” Esther did a quick jerk of the head towards Katherine. “It’s impolite to talk about it in mixed company. Miss Katherine just wants the facts, not some big outburst.”
“I am giving her the facts, Mom.” David inwardly winced at Sarah’s very American tone.“You supported David and Les when they went on strike, why couldn’t you do the same for yourselves?”
“The newsboys’ strike was different.” David could hear a new edge in his mother’s voice. “It was about wages, and it affected a whole group of people, not just one person. They had a clear list of demands. It was simple .”
“Well, it was hardly that simple-” Jack began before getting a quick kick to shin under the dinner table from Katherine. He cleared his throat and went back to finishing his peas.
Sarah was now scraping the sides of the bowl to get the remaining pudding out. “I’m just saying, you’re placing your hopes in the wrong basket. Broadwell isn’t going to magically come to its senses and pay our bills. We’re gonna be stuck with this debt for the rest of our lives.”
She tossed her spoon down on the table with an angry clang. David could practically see the fumes in her eyes. “And you know it would be a different story if that truck had gotten damaged instead of Papa’s leg.”
“That’s enough Sarah.” Mayer’s voice was just above a whisper, but the resonance it had swallowed the room in an icy silence. Sarah’s cheeks flushed and she rubbed the corners of her eyes. She wordlessly passed around the dessert bowls, then briskly left the table and stormed into the family’s bedroom, slamming the door behind her. Jack and Katherine shifted nervously in their seats. Mayer Jacobs looked over at David with a new tenseness in his face.
“David, do you have anything to add?”
David almost matched his father in quietness. “No sir.”
From his corner of the room, Les stirred.
“Whassa happenin’? Did I miss dessert?”
The evening had ended as quickly as it had begun, much to the relief of David. He had walked Jack and Katherine to the front door of his building, and had gotten long hugs from both of them.
“Thanks for having us over tonight Davey, I really mean it.” He had never seen Katherine look this sincere before. Or this sad. “I know this wasn’t easy for your family, but...I’ll be sure to send my rough draft to you before I publish it, I want to make sure I’m doing your father’s story justice.”
David gave a small grin. “I think we all have a different idea of what that means.”
“Also-!” Katherine ripped out one of the back pages of her notepad. “Make sure to Sarah my address. Tell her she can contact me any time.”
David’s grin widened. “Thanks Kath, you’re a real mensch.”
Jack cocked his cap down slightly and gave him a pat on back. “See you bright and early partner.”
David wished it could stay here forever, just him and his two friends on a dark street corner, where he could relieve himself of this goddamn pressure and finally breathe.
But he knew he eventually had to make his way upstairs. Sarah would be curled up on her cot, pretending to sleep as tears rolled down her cheeks. Les would be confused, angry he was being left out of the conversation yet again and not completely sure why. His parents would be arguing; quietly, viciously, a continuation of the same argument they’ve had since the accident, an argument with no ending in sight.
David wouldn’t say anything at all.
David blinked a few a times and raised his head from his pillow. Was it five already? It couldn’t be five, it was far too dark for it to be that close to morning. Adjusting his eyes, he could make out the silhouette of his mother’s slight frame against the black surroundings, her hair framing her face like a halo.
“David? Are you awake?”
He rubbed his eyes, trying not to look annoyed.“Yes Mama, what is it?”
“Your father needs to use the bathroom.”
Every breath David took was slow and deliberate; in through the mouth, out through the nose. The dark blue of the sky was slowly giving away to a more softer, pinker tone. David strained to look at it between the overbearing outlines of gray-black buildings that surrounded him. Anything to keep him distracted from the stench of the outhouses. Or the fact that he was waiting for his father in one of them. He heard a knock on the one closest to his left, and ran to open the door. He ducked his head so Mayer could rest his arm on his shoulder, then led him out, cane first, onto the dirt floor of the apartment building’s backyard. The two of them hobbled together to the back door, then braced themselves for the three flights of stairs that awaited them. Step by step, they limped in silence. Then Mayer spoke.
“You were quiet at dinner tonight.”
David shrugged. “Didn’t have much to say, Papa.”
“You’ve always been a quiet boy, even when you were young. I’ve always wondered what you’re keep up there.” He tapped the side of his head with his free hand.
“You know,” Mayer continued, “When I was your age, I was quiet too. My parents...they were very German. Or at least they tried to be. I guess, being Jewish, they over… over…”
“Overcompensated?” David readjusted his grip on his father’s side as they made their way onto the second floor.
“Yes, that’s the word. It was always the same arguments over and over them. Mostly with your Uncle Otto. There’s a lot of Sarah in him, I guess you could say. But they would frustrate me too.” Mayer paused and looked at his eldest son. “We could could never complain with them, you know? We could never talk about our troubles because we would just be told that someone else in the world had it worse. But if you don’t talk about what’s wrong nothing will get better, yes? That was what made me and Otto move to America, to get away our parents ways. Last night I realized I became my parents.”
David felt slightly taken aback. He had never his father be this forthright before. They had finally made it to the third floor, and David could feel his eyes begin to droop again. He bit down on his lower lip, hoping it would help him remain conscious ‘til the end of their trip.
“I need to apologize to Sarah, before she goes to work. But I must apologize to you and Les as well. What’s happened to me...it’s been hard on the whole family, I know. And I don’t know when things are going to go back to normal for us. So don’t keep quiet anymore, yeah boychik? If you need something or want to talk about anything, just be honest with me, please?
They were now finally at the door. David looked at his father, and for the first time saw how much his features mirrored his own. Same nose, same long face, same grayish green eyes framed by thick dark brows. But his father’s face seemed to have been permanently glazed in aura of exhaustion. His mustache was twinged with gray that seemed to have gotten more and more noticeable since the accident. He just looked so defeated. In his deepest fears, David wondered if he too would look just as defeated twenty years down the line. Maybe it was the haziness of the early morning, but he knew if he didn’t speak he probably wouldn’t get the chance later.
“Actually Papa, there is one thing I want to talk to you about-”
“-How would you feel about me going back to school?”
The rest of September ended up being a lot busier than it had any right to be.
‘99 was one of the earliest high holiday seasons in years, maybe even centuries. It was also the first year David had to balance them with a full time job.
Rosh Hashanah was surprisingly the easiest to handle; the Jacobs’ synagogue allowed for evening services, followed by large dinners shared with several other families in their building. Sukkot was ignored, as usual (though David had a vague recollection of his mother trying to stick a couple of poles in the back lot years ago when they first moved to the building, before giving up after a few hours because of the smell).
It was Yom Kippur that was the main issue. That was the one day every year the Jacobs never seemed to miss. The fun holidays could be overlooked, but ignoring the day of atonement was one of the few things David’s mother could not abide by. Think of it as washing your undergarments or getting a lice check. Unpleasant, but ultimately necessary in living a wholesome life in Esther Jacobs’ book. Mayer, the more secular of the two, would still go to work, but he’d drink an incessant amount of coffee before the fasting began in order to curb his appetite for the rest of the day. And anyways, Mayer was the man of the house. If he wanted work, his wife wasn’t going to get in the way of that. But after his injury the dynamics had quietly begun to change in the Jacobs’ household. And the children were still very much under Esther’s domain.
So his parents argued. They argued the way they always did; sequestering themselves in the second room and talking in a Yiddish so rapid and hushed David could barely understand them. Sarah covertly moved her cot next to the boys’ bed just in case the fighting lasted late into the night, and the two of them tried to distract Les by having him read some of his dime novels to them out loud.
Ultimately economic necessity won out and the children were allowed to work, just as long as they fasted for the majority of the day. But as David was about to leave for the morning edition, his father snuck a pair of leftover Rosh Hashanah apples into his bag.
“At least make sure Les has one, I don’t want you boychiks to faint on my account.”
Les gratefully took his apple around midday, and David gave his own to one of the younger newsies who had slept in an alleyway the night before. He felt the need to atone for something, or at least try to get back in God’s good graces. Anything to get his family through the rest of the year relatively unscathed.
“I don’t get it,” Jack said, as Davey clenched his stomach for what felt like the millionth time that day. “Your people already suffer all the time. Why create a holiday just to suffer some more?”
David was too woozy to bother coming up with a proper response.
So yes. David had been busy. Very, very busy. Which was why it was well into mid-October when he finally made the half hour trek back to his old school. He had, after all exhausted all his other choices. Night school was essentially a repeat of his old primary school days, only more tiring, and trade schools weren’t giving him the curriculum he wanted.
“I just wish there was some type of program that did pre-college schooling and didn’t interfere with work hours.” He complained to Specs once as the two of them looked over at a flyer advertising training sessions at the local electricians union.
“When they let Negros into college I’ll let you know if I find anything.” Specs replied dryly, and David felt a pang of guilt shudder in his stomach. He really needed to remember how lucky he still was sometimes. It was bizarre how quickly he could go sometimes from throwing a self-pity party to feeling like the most privileged person on earth. At least when he was around his friends. The larger world was a different story.
As he made his way towards his old school, David’s heart lurched. He kept his distance, waiting for the majority of his class to leave the building before he could grasp up the nerve to duck inside. It was definitely weird, watching as an outsider as his class passed through the gates, seeing them chatting casually with each other with their school satchels slung over their backs. They looked almost alien to him now, with their too clean faces and lack of world weariness in their eyes. It was hard to believe he was one of them only a few months ago.
Soon the crowd began to wane, and David walked through the gates, his cap pulled extra low to obscure his face. God, this was stupid. He had every right to be here, he shouldn’t be trying to hide himself. If he just focused on getting from point A to point B; from the courtyard into the building, he should be just fine. Just a few more steps and-
“David? Is that you?”
He was halfway across the courtyard heading when he heard his name. Dammit. He did not want a repeat of what happened in August, only now without Jack to defend him. But the voice sounded softer this time. And less mean spirited. Whomever was calling to him seemed as if they had good intentions, at least better ones than the classmates he met downtown. He turned around and was met by a tall girl in glasses, her two braids in loops and held together in the back with a green bow. She was looking at him quizzically.
“Oh, Alice, hi! I…wasn’t expecting to see you.”
“I could say the same for you as well, doofus.” She gave him a playful punch. “You disappeared on us completely a few months ago. I didn’t even see you for final assessments.”
David felt his heart drop a bit. “Oh yeah…I forgot I missed those. How was the ranking this year?”
Alice gave a small eye roll. “It was pretty typical. Clarence got top marks again in everything except English Comp. Marlene McPherson beat him this year, can you believe it?”
David grinned. “I bet he took that well.”
“Oh, you know Clarence, he was a regular angel. He threw this big tantrum about how some girl mick couldn’t’ve done better than him, and demanded the teachers recount the grades. And of course they wouldn’t, so he- “
“-Had them call his father?” They both finished the sentence together and laughed. David forgot how much he missed this. Alice van Ness had been his lab partner in biology for the last two years. They two of them originally stuck together out of necessity, her being the only girl in the class, and him, well… David was sure his classmates could list several reasons for not pairing up with him. Most of which included his last name and home address.
Alice never seemed to care though. Or, at least, she cared significantly less than the rest of the school. She looked at him warmly. “Gosh, I’ve missed you David. I’m sick of doing all the lab work alone. Frog dissecting isn’t the same without you.”
“Oh, yeah…well, I got busy.” David played with his cap, trying to dance around the subject as best he could.
“Clearly.” She leaned in slightly and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Listen, you should probably know, Walter and the others have been talking about you. They said they saw you downtown a couple weeks ago selling newspapers with this big Irish boy.”
“…Did they now?” David tried his best to keep a blank face, unsure of how to respond. He wasn’t going to deny it; that was the coward’s way out. But confirming would lead to a much longer conversation, one that he really didn’t want to have right now. “I didn’t realize I was that interesting to talk about.”
She held up a reassuring hand. “Don’t worry, no one really believes them. They’re just a bunch of jerks who get bored easily. Everyone knows you left because you were sick, why else would you be away for this long?”
“Oh, well…” David’s mouth felt heavy and dry. There was a part of him that desperately wanted to tell her. To sit her down and explain everything that’s happened to him in the last few months. But he liked his friendship with Alice. He liked being liked by her. And he wasn’t sure if that would continue if she knew the truth.
“Listen, I gotta get going. I want to meet with some of the teachers before they escape for the day.” He started to back away, keeping his face towards her. “But it was great catching up with you Alice!”
“You’re coming back, right?” She called out to him as he passed through the open front doors. He pretended not to hear her.
The best way David could describe Mr. Mouldan was soft. At least physically. In school he was known for being one of the toughest teachers the history department had to offer. But that never betrayed his general demeanor, which was always warm and comforting. He had a heavyset frame, besieged by a round balding head and spectacles that gave him an owlish look. His expression was unreadable. But then again, David had never been good at reading people.
“And what can I do for you, Mister Jacobs?”
“Um, well… first of all, thank you for seeing me, sir. Um, I really appreciate it, and-”
“Save the formalities, David. You don’t need to give me a preamble. I know why you’re here.” He gestured for David to take a seat.
“Oh…you do?” David pulled a chair from one of the front tables to Mouldan’s desk. His former teacher leaned forward in his seat, linking his fingers together and resting them under his chin.
“First things first, how’s your father doing?”
“He’s fine…he’s better than he was in July at least.”
Mouldan nodded understandably. “He was working at Broadwell, right? As a floor manager?”
“Well...sort of. He did a lot of different things for them.That’s why he got hurt, he was helping load the trucks, and...” David didn’t want to finish that sentence.
Mouldan sat back in his seat and exhaled loudly. “Listen, David, I like you. I always have. And I think I can speak for most of my colleagues here that letting you stay at this school was one of the best investments we made. You’re a real credit to your people, son.”
“Um… thanks.” David’s mouth felt like chalk.
“Now then, about you coming back, I’m of the opinion that if you can prove to us that you haven’t fallen too behind in your studies, we can offer you a spot in the current junior class. But that’s only if-”
“Well, sir, that’s why I came to see you, sir. I was hoping we could discuss...alternate options towards getting my diploma.”
Mr. Mouldan raised an eyebrow. “Getting your diploma? You do realize you have two years left of high school left to complete?”
“I know that, but with the way things are going right now with my family… and our finances… I can’t afford to be back at school right. Not while my brother is still working too.”
“If you like, I could speak to them. I understand things might have been done differently back in the old country, but I’m sure if I could get them to understand the importance of education…”
It took all of David’s self restraint not to immediately storm out of the room. “My parents understand the importance of education, thank you sir. It’s just that right now we have different priorities.”
“Well, shouldn’t school be your first priority?” Why couldn’t this guy stop talking in circles. Race would’ve slugged him by now. As would’ve Albert. And Finch. And Sniper. Hell, even Crutchie would’ve been done by this point.
David leaned forward in his seat, his keeping his voice as calm as possible. Any nervousness he had before was since vanished.
“Mr. Mouldan, I am asking you if there is anyway for me to finish high school while still working. I don’t care if I have to give up sleep, or rearrange my schedule, or-”
“Where do you work right now, David?”
David took a deep breath, bracing himself for any reaction he was going to get. “I’m a newsboy, sir.”
“Not the same ones who won the strike against Pulitzer, I presume?”
Which other newsboys are there? David bit his tongue to keep from saying it out loud, and cleared his throat. “Yes, me and my friends were a part of the strike. We started it actually, here in Lower Manhattan. There was an article done on it, do you read The Sun?”
“Ah, this is starting to make sense now. That must have been an exciting time for you, making new friends, earning your own money. Having a rebellion against authority, if you will. I think that’s healthy for any young man. But it’s also important to eventually settle down, to prioritize what’s really important in life and-”
“Thank you, Mr. Mouldan. It’s been a pleasure.” David was on his feet, his legs stiff and his back stick straight. He bit his mouth into a straight line and headed towards the door.
“Mr. Jacobs, my offer still stands. I’d ask you to please consider it. After all, what does working on the streets give you that a school environment couldn’t?”
“AND IT’S….NO! NAY! NE VAH! NO NAY NEVAH NO MOOOORE! SHALL I SAAAAIL THE WILD ROVAH…NO NAY NEVAAAAAH! NO MORE!”
"Sit your ass down, Race. I don’t want Kloppman thinking I’ve been getting youse all drunk. This is a good Christian establishment." Jack looked back down at his cards, shaking his head affectionately. Les rested his head on the lodging house table beside Jack's arm.
"Do Christians not drink?”
“Oh sure they do.” Jack gave a mock-serious nod. “Us real ones, Cat’lics drink all the time. Them Proddies though, they like to keep it under wraps. Say that they’re all for temperance, then they swig from the bottle when they think no one’s looking.” He tossed a card onto the main deck and gave David a nudge. "Hey, speaking of Proddies, how'd it go back at your old turf."
David sighed and started to reshuffled his hand. "About the same as I expected. It was like talking to a brick wall with a posh accent. I don't think he even listened to me half the time I was there. I don't know how I managed to survive that place for as long as I did."
Les nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, school's awful. I'm glad we don't go there anymore."
"Les! No, that's not what I meant! School's very important! It's just that...certain schools work better for some people than others." He made sure he was looking at his brother directly in the eye. "Once Pop's on his feet, you're gonna be the first one back, not me."
Les adverted his gaze and fiddled with the corners of his brother's cards. "Great, I can't wait to learn all about lice checks again."
"Hey, why don't you tap Katherine head for ideas? She's done plenty of school." Jack wiggled his eyebrows from above his deck.
"I don't really have a lot of ambition to get into Barnard, Jack."
Jack looked exasperatedly his friend. "Hey, it's worth a shot. My girl's real creative, you can't be a lady reporter by eighteen if you ain't. You've got friends here Davey, don't push away help just 'cause you think you gotta do this alone."
Before David could respond a lanky, dirt stained arm wrapped around his shoulder. It's twin fell on Jack's head a gave it a small noogie. Jack playfully swatted away. "Christ Racer, you really need to stop hanging 'round Brooklyn so much. They're making a real lush outta you there."
Race leaned down and gave the older boy a kiss on head. "I do as I likes, ain't no can tell me otherwise. C'mon Jackie, let's show 'em how we Irish boys do it- NO NAY NEVAAAA! NO MORE!"
Cookies for whoever got the accidental movie reference ;)
But yeah. This fic is baaack. This chapter in particular has been on the back burner for at least three months and was completely put on hold when I chose to start another multi chapter fic (was that stupid plan? Yes, yes it was). But I've outlined/half finished two more chapters for this one so this'll be my focus for a while. ADHD sucks sometimes guys.
Also, I shortened the name. It's less gangly sounding this way and with the passing of Marin Mazzie I wanted to use the song's actual title, not just an awkward quote from it. You can't really pay tribute to one of the greatest Broadway stars with a friggin' Newsies fanfiction, but I wanted to do something. Or at least try to do something.
Thank you to all the amazing who've commented and left me kudos, you guys are rock stars <3
Also the song Race sings is an old Irish drinking song called "The Wild Rover". Try it at the next party sometimes. It's fun, I promise ;)