"Ma! Ma, c'mere, ya gotta getta look at dis!" called Ruby, bursting into the apartment.

"Ann Dryden, will you hush? You'll wake the neighbors!" hissed her mother.

"What's all the fuss about?" asked Jessie, coming to the doorway.

"Hey Snipes, what's she yellin' 'bout?" asked Gabriel.

"What? What?" cried Rose, pushing between her brother and sister. "Where'd you get dat ring?"

"From Snipes heah," announced Ruby, grinning broadly at him.

"Is dat what da big news was? Is dat what ya couldn't tell me?" asked Rose.

"Good t'ing ya didn't tell 'er. It'd be in da papes by now, an' dat'd be a pretty awful headline ta try ta improve," joked Gabriel.

"C'mere, Gabe! I'se gonna soak ya!" threatened his older sister.

Realization dawned on the middle Dryden girl. "They're getting married, aren't they, Mama? Oh, how wonderful! When?"

"Dey's gettin' married! Swell! Ya'll be ahr brudda, fer real dis time, Snipes!" said Gabriel.

"Well well well, I had absolutely no idea! This is news to me," said Mrs. Dryden.

Ruby looked at her mother, then at Snipeshooter, then back at her mother again. "Ya knew! Ya knew, an' ya didn't tell me?"

"I was sworn to secrecy," Mrs. Dryden protested. Snipeshooter laughed.

Ruby glanced between the two of them. "Ya nevah, evah, EVAH keep secrets from a Dryden! It's impossible. Doncha know dat by now?"

"Yeah, guess I ought ta. What wit dat incident last Christmas," Snipeshooter said with a groan.

"Yeah, I found out all 'bout dat, didn't I? T'anks ta me liddle spyin', sneakin' sistah heah," Ruby said, pulling her younger sister into a headlock and rubbing her hair the wrong way. "'Ey Ma, can I please go ovah ta da lodgin' 'ouse? I can't wait ta tell da boys! Ya didn't awready tell 'em, didja?"

"Are ya kiddin'? Dey couldn't keep a secret any bettah dan Race can stay 'way from da tracks! Ya woulda known da second dey knew," said Gabriel.

"I suppose tonight is an exception, now, isn't it?" said Mrs. Dryden with a smile. "Go on. And tomorrow, we must go buy a wedding dress."

"Tamorrah? Ya serious?"

"Yes. Sell your papes in the morning, and in the afternoon, we'll go to the dress shop on Duane Street."

"Gee, t'anks Ma! Yer da best!" Ruby hugged and kissed her mother. "I'll meetcha back heah tamarrah… say, t'ree o'clock?"

"Make it two."

"Awright. G'night! G'night Jess, g'night Rose, g'night Gabe! See yous guys tamarrah!"

"Da boys 're nevah gonna leave ya 'lone, once dey see yer wearin' a dress," Snipeshooter pointed out.

"No kiddin'. Ya t'ink I didn't know dat? Jess was yellin' at me, cause me pants were all dusty an' doity an' junk. She said she was gonna wash dem, an' dey'd be dry by mornin'. I'll get 'em tamarrah. It ain't dat big a deal, is it?"

"Well, dis 's da foist time I evah saw ya weah a dress b'fore, an' I've known ya fer six years."

Ruby paused. "Yeah, I guess so! I wore skirts all da time b'fore I came here. Da guys'll get used ta it. Skirts ain't as bad as I remembered. But I still like me pants bettah," Ruby reassured him. "Oh, I can't wait ta tell all a dem!"

The lodging house was as noisy and crowded as ever. Spit and Spades were just coming in from that night's escapade to the dark corners of New York City, and they congregated with Snipeshooter in the entraceway.

"'Ey Mistah Kloppman! Lookit what I got," Ruby said, extending her left hand across the desk.

"Well well, what's this?" he asked, peering over his glasses.

Spit leaned over her shoulder. "Wheah'd ya get dat ring?"

Spades pulled her hand closer to him. "Pretty fancy. Wheah'd ya swipe dat from?"

She smacked his head. "I didn't swipe it! Use yer head fer once!"

"How'm I s'posed ta use it if ya keep smackin' it, huh?"

Ruby raised an eyebrow. "Da kid's witty. Keep it up Spades, an' ya'll be a regular smahtmouth by da time yer sixteen."

"Like you?"

"Yeah, jist like me. So, yous cheeseheads figure out wheah I got dis very bee-you-tiful ring?"

Boots walked in. Having missed the entire conversation, he decided to make a joke and hopefully be clued in. "What's all da fuss 'bout, boys? Ruby an' Snipes finally gettin' hitched er sumpin?"

Suddenly, Spit and Spades realized. "Dat's it? Yer gettin' married?" asked Spades.

"Is dat it? Is Boots right?" added Spit.

"Yep! Ain't dis da most wondahful news in da woild?" said Ruby.

While Kloppman and Boots congradulated the pair, Spit ran upstairs and yelled out the news. All fifty of the Manhattan newsies pushed each other down the stairs and crowded in the doorway. The two "babies" of the group, Pip and Slippery, ducked under the pushing arms and between legs to get to the front of the group.

"Ya gettin' married, Ruby?" asked Slippery.

She nodded.

"Do I have ta dress up?" whined Pip, making an awful face.

Ruby giggled and tickled him. "Long as ya don't show up in nuttin' but yer undaweah, I don't care what ya weah! 'Kay?"

He nodded and grinned.

"Hey, when ya have kids, we'll be like deir… uh… uncles, right?" asked Cap. "Cause ya always said we was like yer bruddas."

"Da poor kids, havin' fifty bums like yous fer uncles," joked Snipeshooter, ducking away as hats and various other objects were thrown at him. He muttered various comments. "Go upstahs, ya bums! Finish yer pokah er whatevah yous were doin', an' leave us alone!"

Grumling, but knowing they should listen to him, the newsies headed back upstairs. Spit, Spades, Snipeshooter, and Ruby were busy signing in and trying to scrounge up their five cents for the night when the door creaked open.

"Who's dat? Ain't all da boys upstairs?" asked Ruby.

A tired-looking woman with curly blonde hair crept in, carrying a worn bag in one hand. "Is Mr. Kloppman here?" she asked quietly.

"Mary?" said Mr. Kloppman, coming out from behind his desk. He put an arm around her shoulders and led her into his private living quarters, only closing the door partway.

"Hey," whispered Snipeshooter. "Remembah da foist C'rismus you was heah? Ain't dat da same lady?"

Ruby crept towards the door and knelt down, peering in. Snipeshooter, Spit, and Spades assembled behind her, leaning on one another and trying to hear the conversation.

"Mary, why are you here?"

There was a sigh. "I couldn't stand it. Couldn't stand him. And I especially couldn't stand Mother and Father watching my every move."

"You had them pretty worried while you were gone."

"They're probably even more worried now that I left."

"You left?"

"How d'ya think I got here, huh? Stole the money and left."

"Just like last time?"

"Just like it." A pause. "So how's my big brother, huh?"

"Brudda?" said Spit, louder than he had intended.

"Spit, Spades, what are you two doing out there?" asked Mr. Kloppman.

"Oh, real slick, Spit! Ya moron! Ya ain't s'posed ta yell out stuff!" said Spades, punching at his brother.

"I didn't mean ta!"

Ruby rolled her eyes. "We'se busted now."

Mr. Kloppman came to the door. "You kids… too curious! Why can't ya mind yer own business?"

"Oh, John, they're just kids."

"Hey, we ain't kids! We'se sixteen, an' Snipes 's eighteen! Da little guys, Pip an' Slippery, an' Cartwheel, dey's kids. But we ain't," said Spades.

The woman smiled. "I'm Mary Kloppman."

Ruby held her hand to her mouth, prepared to spit, then remembered this was "a lady"- and Mr. Kloppman's sister. Ruby extended her hand. "Ruby Dryden, nice ta meetcha. Dese bums 're Spit an' Spades, an' dis is Snipeshootah."

"Nice to meet you," said Mary. "I think I'll be staying here for a while. You do have room, John, don't you?"

"Yes, yes, there's an extra room in the back. I'm sorry it's so small."

"That's all right! I don't mind a bit. Ruby, is it? Would you mind helping me unpack my things?"

"Shoah," Ruby said, following Mr. Kloppman into a small room at the back of the lodging house. There was a single bed and a small nightstand next to it, with a small window for fresh air and light. A desk and chair were squeezed across one end of the room, and a small trunk sat beside the bed. "So why're ya heah? 'Less ya don't wanna tell me," she quickly added.

Mary Kloppman unfastened the clasp on her small bag. "No, I don't mind at all. I suppose I ought to start at the beginning." She began removing her items from the bag and placing them on the bed. "John and I always got along, and he got along well with our parents, but I never got along with Mama and Papa. We were too different. They believed a woman's duty was to settle down, get married, and have children. But I was always too independent for that, and I didn't want to rely on a man for my whole life.

"When I was sixteen, John was twenty-eight, and was living here, in New York. The Bronx, to be exact, in a small apartment. We grew up in Michigan, by the way. I was very popular among the boys. They came by with their buggies constantly and asked to take me riding. I always went, but never pursued anything beyond that. My parents desperated wished I would marry one of the boys. They were all rich, you see, and we weren't. Well, I didn't want to get married. So one night I packed all my things in this very bag- I didn't have many possesions, being from a poor family- and I took the little bit of money I had, and a bit I found in Papa's wallet, and I left. I climbed out a window and ran.

"I paid for a train ticket, and I got to this wonderful city. I lived with John for a while, and I worked, and I saved up my money. One day, after I'd been working for about two months, John received a letter from our parents. They were searching for me, and they would offer him a great deal of money for any information. I took the money I had and fled. John, being a loyal older brother, didn't say a word, of course. I used the money I had, and the money he lent me, and I took a boat over to France. I became a nurse, and worked there until 1900."

"Dat's da C'rismus ya came heah, ain't it?" Ruby quietly interrupted, folding a dress and placing it in the trunk.

"Yes, it was. John told me that our parents were still searching for me, and they were worried. I returned home, and they were mad, to say the least, but they let me live there for a while. And I began courting one of the men I'd known since I was young. He proposed, and my parents insisted that I accept. I was feeling quite desperate, because I hadn't found anything in France, and nothing here, either. So I married him last year.

"But a few weeks ago, I realized things were horrible. I wasn't happy with my life, and I never would be, and I couldn't let my parents live my life for me. I did the same thing- packed my things, stole enough money to get me here, for I'm too old to be running on these old legs." Mary chuckled. "And here I am. I think those boys upstairs could use the influence of a lady, though I certainly don't fall under the category of a lady, and I hope I never will."

Ruby laughed. "Dey's a nice bunch, all in all. Long as ya don't mind swearin', smokin', an' gamblin'."

"As long as they watch their mouths around me, I don't care what they do when they're alone," she said.

Ruby nodded. "I'll tell 'em." She yawned.

"It is getting late, isn't it? I suppose I shouldn't keep you up. I'll see you in the morning. Good night, Ruby."

"G'night, Miss Kloppman."

"Mary," she corrected.

"Mary," repeated Ruby, grinning. "G'night."

While that was going on downstairs, the older boys were talking about the younger of the two women downstairs.

"When're ya gonna get married?" asked Spades.

"Dunno yet. We really gotta tawk 'bout it," Snipeshooter said, leaning back on his pillows contentedly. "Can't believe she said yes."

"Ya've been goin' wit her since ya was thoiteen years old, an' she was 'leven! Why da heck wouldn't she say yes?" asked Boots.

"Dunno. Nevah t'ought she was real serious."

"I've seen da two a yous gettin' pretty serious," joked Sling.

"Yeah, when ya t'ink we ain't watchin'," teased Cap.

"Ya guys've been spyin' on us?" cried Snipeshooter.

"Naw. Nope. Not us. Ya must be t'inkin' a dose sneaky newsies from Brooklyn. Like dey's ghosts er sumpin," said Sling. He disliked Brooklyn strongly and wasn't afraid to say so.

Snipeshooter squinted at the assembled newsies. "Against me bettah judgement, I'se gonna believe ya," he said. "Anyways, how long d'ya t'ink we should wait?"

"Why wait at all? If I had a goyl dat I'd been goin' wit fer six years, I'd be married by now!" said Spit.

"Ya'd marry any goyl dat'd say yes, witout givin' it a second t'ought!" said Spades, pushing his brother lightly. "Ya don't ask 'less yer serious. An' ya are serious, right? I mean, ya ain't just askin' 'er cause ya want 'er ta stick 'round, right? Yer askin' 'er cause ya wanna spend da rest a yer life wit her, an' ya love 'er, right?"

"A course! Ya t'ink I'se jist some goyl-huntin' guy who jist wants…"

"I nevah said dat!" cried Spades. "Geez."

"I nevah said ya said dat," retorted Snipeshooter. "But now dat ya mention it…" He grinned slyly.

All the newsies burst out laughing.

"So what 'xactly 're ya plannin' ta do, Snipes?" prodded Cap.

"What haven't dey done?" laughed Spit.

"I ain't discussin' dis wit bums like yous! 'Sides, it ain't polite ta tawk 'bout goyls when dey ain't 'round. 'Specially not in da way dat yous fellahs 're tawkin' 'bout 'er."

"Yous fellahs 're eiddah tawkin' 'bout me, or me sistah, but from da way yer laughin', I'se pretty shoah I don't wanna know what yer tawkin' 'bout. 'Sides, since when d'ya care 'bout what's polite?" joked Ruby, flopping down on Snipeshooter's bed. She lay on her stomach, kicking her heels absently in the air.

"I care!"

Ruby snorted. "Whatevah." She inspected her new piece of jewelry. "I love dis ring," she said. "It's beautiful."

"Jist like you," Snipeshooter whispered.

All the newsies glanced at each other and scattered. Ruby grinned. "Now dat dey's gone, guess it ain't rude ta do dis." She sat up and kissed him, wrapping her arms around his neck.

Meanwhile, from several bunks away, Pip and Slippery peered down at the pair and made faces at each other. Spit and Spades glanced at each other, nodded, and each went to one of the "little guys," covering their eyes and hauling the little ones off to their bunks. The other newsies finished undressing and blew out all the candles.

When Ruby finally pulled away, it was dark and quiet. "Geez. T'ink we just broke ahr own record. An' wit da guys watchin', too."

"Ya didn't mind?"

"Nah. I don't mind dat much at all. Do you mind?"

"Not anymore. Cause we'se engaged now."

"What, ya t'ought I forgot, er sumpin? Why'd ya feel da need ta remind me?"

Snipeshooter shrugged. "Dunno. So, when're we gonna have dis wedding?"

Yawning, Ruby replied, "I dunno."

"Ya tired?"

She nodded. "Hey! Who took me… Cartwheel took me bunk!"

"I'll get 'im ta move," Snipeshooter offered.

"Nah, leave 'im dere. Can I borrow a sheet er sumpin? I'll just sleep on da floor."

"Jist stay up here. I'll sleep on da floor."

"No, it's yer bunk."

Snipeshooter rolled his eyes. "I know ya ain't gonna let me sleep on da floor… why don't we just share da bed?"

Ruby raised an eyebrow.

"Not like dat! Nuttin' indecent," he promised. "An' if ya t'ink yer mudda'd get mad, ya don't gotta mention it. But I know ya won't let me sleep on da floor, an' I won't let you sleep on da floor."

Ruby nodded slowly. "Awright." As Snipeshooter undressed for bed, she unpinned her long braid of copper-colored curls, untied her boots, peeled off her socks, and undressed, leaving only a sleeveless undershirt and boys' shorts. Her skirt and blouse piled on the floor with her other clothing. She slid under the covers and curled up.

"Y'know da guys 're nevah gonna let us live dis down," Snipeshooter said as he climbed in beside her.

"Oh, who cares? Bettah dan sleepin' on da floor. Dey've done it b'fore."

"Not wit a goyl."

"Yeah, guess yer right."

"I'se always right."

Ruby snorted. "You wish ya were always right. I'se always right."

"No ya ain't."

"Yes I am."

"No ya ain't."

"I'se too tired ta argue. G'night." Ruby rolled over to kiss her fiancé for a final time before peacefully drifting off into sleep.

Forever 'N' Ever Amen II
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