"Quit hoggin' all da sheets," Ruby muttered sleepily.
Snipeshooter leaned on one elbow and quietly watched her sleeping. She really is beautiful, he thought. He'd known her for six years, and loved her every single day. He still remembered the first few days she'd been there. She'd never been shy, not for a second. Ruby had always been the same energetic, talkative newsie with bright red hair and a sweet smile. She still looks da same, thought Snipeshooter.
She rolled towards him, blinked, and opened her sky blue eyes. "G'morning," she said softly. "I didn't kick ya, did I?"
Snipeshooter shook his head. "Guess we bettah get up b'fore da boys do, huh? Er else dey's gonna be tawkin', an' den Rose'll hear it, an' den yer mudda will hear it, an' den…"
"Yer right." She rubbed her eyes, ran a hand through her tangled copper curls, and sat up. She was soon dressed in the shirt and blouse she'd been wearing the night before. As she sat down to lace up her boots, Mr. Kloppman came in, yelling at the newsies to get up. She walked across the room to get her hairbrush from the small table she shared with Cap, Spit, and Spades.
"G'mornin', fellahs," she said as she brushed out her long curls and whipped them into a sloppy braid.
"Yer wearin' a skirt?" asked Spit incredulously.
"Well, I left me pants back at me mudda's, cause I was plannin' on spendin' da night dere, an' Jess washed 'em, an' dey wasn't dry when I got home. I'se runnin' back dere now," Ruby explained as she headed for the washroom.
But before she could, two children came tearing into the lodging house. They were both fairly short and skinny, with brown-red curls. The boy was dressed in typical newsie attire: shirt, vest, pants, and cap. The girl, on the other hand, wore a mix of hand-me-downs from her brother and sister. She wore a skirt, a girl's blouse, a vest, boys' boots, and a cap.
"Hey Cap! Hey Spit!" called the boy.
"Gabe, whatcha doin' heah?" asked Ruby.
"Ruby, Ma wants ya ta come home right away! Sumpin' happened ta one a Ma's sistahs, er her mudda, er sumpin'. Dere was a telegram fer us when we woke up. I only got a real quick look at it b'fore Jess told us ta go getcha."
"Ma was cryin' an' ev'ryt'ing!" added Rose. "An' Jess was sayin' sumpin' 'bout packin'. I t'ink Ma's goin' ta visit her fam'ly."
Ruby looked at Snipeshooter. "Awright. Snipes, I'll tawk ta ya latah?"
"Nah, I'se comin' witcha. I wanna know what's goin' on."
The four newsies tore out of the lodging house and into a rainstorm. They slopped through puddles and doged wagons as they hurried to the apartment building and up the stairs.
When the four entered the apartment, Mrs. Dryden was sitting at the table crying, and Jess was folding some clothes and putting them in a bag.
"Ma? What happened?" Ruby asked timidly. She picked up the telegram.
Mother's sick. Please come home.
- Your sisters
"Oh gosh. Gramma's sick? T'ink she's awright?"
Mrs. Dryden only shrugged and wiped at her eyes with her handkerchief. "I've got to go, and I've got to hurry."
"I'm going with her," Jessie said decidedly.
"What about us?" asked Gabe, speaking for himself and his younger sister. "Gramma was always wondaful ta us. Can't we go see 'er?"
"I haven't the money for five train tickets," Danielle sniffled.
Ruby counted it rapidly. "But ya got enough for four. Yous four go. I'll stay here an' make shoah da 'partment's awright. I'll help ya pack, Jess."
"All right. Thanks, Ruby." The two girls began packing clothes and food for the journey, while the two younger children tried to calm their mother down. As Ruby was folding the last of the clothes, Snipeshooter touched her arm softly.
"Ya awright?" he asked sincerely, looking sad himself. Any news in the Dryden family affected him.
Ruby paused before nodding. "I'se gonna be fine. Doncha gotta get ta da drugstoah?"
"Not taday. I'se gonna stay wit ya fer taday, if ya don't mind."
"Dat's okay. Ya should go. I mean, it's yer foist day, ain't it?" Ruby fastened the bag. "Here, Ma. Ya got yer udda bag and da money?"
Mrs. Dryden nodded. "I'll write when we get there, and tell you how long we plan to be gone."
"Awright. C'mon, I'll walk down ta da train station wit yous." The train station was only a few blocks away; a short walk when the crowds weren't bad. Snipeshooter took both the bags and led the way through the rain.
"G'bye," Ruby said, hugging her mother. "Tell Gramma dat I hope she gets bettah soon. An' tell Aunt Christine an' Aunt Laura dat I says hi, awright?"
Danielle Dryden nodded. "Take care of the house and yourself." While Ruby said goodbye to her siblings, Mrs. Dryden added to Snipeshooter, "Take care of her."
"Awright. G'bye. An' come back soon," he said. He and Ruby stood on the train platform and watched the train pull away.
Just as the skies were beginning to clear up and her clothes were starting to dry, the clouds rolled in again and water poured from the sky. Ann Dryden moaned. Gee, some luck I'se got, she thought. Whatta awful day. Foist dere's da telegram, an' Gramma's sick, an' she might die an' I might not even get ta say g'bye. Den dis stupid rain awl day. Den I barely sell awl me papes, an' now jist as I'se startin' ta get dry…
"Ruby!" called Snipeshooter.
She looked up. "Hey Snipes," she said despondently.
"What's da mattah?" he asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
"Aww, nuttin'. I jist had a bad sellin' day, dat's awl," she lied. Well, it ain't 'xactly a lie, she told herself. It jist ain't da whole truth.
"I t'ink we all did. Nobody goes out when it's rainin'," he reassured her.
"I'se goin' ovah ta Ma's."
"Awright," he said, watching her from across the room. She's bein' awful quiet, he thought. Sumpin' must be wrong.
Ruby dug through her belongings and shoved her hairbrush and a few other various items into a worn pillowcase.
"Ya leavin' now?" he asked her.
She surveyed the small table, then nodded and headed towards the stairs, avoiding his eyes. Snipeshooter stared at the stairs long after her figure had disappeared from sight.
"Wouldja stop dat pacin'?" asked Boots in an annoyed tone.
"What? I ain't pacin'," Snipeshooter said.
"Yeah, ya've jist been walkin' back an' forth fer da whole evenin'," Cap said, never looking up from his cards.
Sling stood up carefully, making sure not to move his bad arm too much. "Yer worried 'bout her, aincha?"
"Course I am! She barely said a single woid ta me awl day… didn't even say g'bye when she left… Did I say sumpin'?" asked Snipeshooter.
"Why doncha go over dere?" suggested Sling gently. "Tawk ta her. Ya know she won't tawk ta anyone else."
"Yer right. T'anks, Sling."
Sling nodded. "Go, b'fore it's too dark."
Ruby was enjoying being alone, for once. She didn't have to explain the complex thoughts running through her brain to anyone. No noise, no cards, no dice, nothing except the cool summer breeze blowing in the window and the darkness and the silence.
Then someone knocked on the door. "Ruby? Ya still awake?"
Ruby paused, contemplating whether to open the door and have to explain everything, or keep it closed and wallow in her own misery.
"Ruby, I know yer in dere."
She sighed. "Ya gotta key, doncha?"
After a brief moment, the door was unlocked and Snipeshooter came in, trying to adjust to the darkness. He came over and knelt next to the bed. She lay huddled under the covers, staring out the window.
"Ruby, what's wrong?" he asked her.
"Nuttin'," she replied sullenly.
"Ruby." He grabbed her shoulder gently and pulled her until she was facing him. "I ain't seen ya smile awl day. Dere's gotta be sumpin' wrong."
She sighed. "Jist da way dis is makin' Ma cry an' stuff… I wondah if it'll be da same way when Ma dies. It's depressin'! An' I was wonderin' if I'se evah gonna have grandkids dat'll be sad when I die, er if I won't have anybody."
"How can ya say dat? A course yer gonna have somebody! What about Gabe, an' Jess, an' Rose? Whatta 'bout Cap an' Spit an' Spades an' Sling an' Pip an' Slippery an' Boots an' all da udda newsies? Whatta 'bout me?"
"Yeah, yer right. Sorry I'se in a bad mood."
"Don't feel bad 'bout it. It's awright." He paused. "What were ya starin' at?"
"Nuttin'. Dere's nuttin' ta see. Jist da same old borin' city."
"It ain't always da same! It's diff'rent ev'ry single day!"
Ruby shrugged silently.
Snipeshooter sat on the edge of the bed. After a moment, he began tickling Ruby relentlessly. Soon she was giggling and shouting at him to stop. After a brief struggle, he pinned her back against the pillows and attempted to regain his breath. Ruby did, too. During the fight, her blouse had come half-untucked from her skirt and partially unbuttoned. Their eyes met, and that simple motion made Ruby's heart speed up a little.
"What?" he asked absently, running his hand across her stomach, and fully pulling her blouse from her skirt.
She shivered at his touch. "Nuttin'." She pulled his mouth down to hers and stopped listening to that nagging voice in the back of her head…
Ruby woke up with a smile as the memories of the previous night came flooding back. She looked to Snipeshooter, their eyes met, and she promptly burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"I dunno," she said. "G'mornin'."
"G'mornin'," he echoed, kissing her. "Ya wanna get up?"
"Yeah." She swung her legs over the side of the bed, stretching. "Hey, uh, ya don't t'ink Ma's gonna find out, do ya?"
"Naw. 'S long as ya don't tell nobody," Snipeshooter said as he pulled on his clothes.
"I ain't dumb enough ta do dat," Ruby responded. "Ya wanna go ta Tibby's fer breakfast? I can't cook at all. Almost killed meself makin' dinnah last night."
"I don't t'ink we got enough time. I t'ink ya got jist enough time ta go ta da distrabution centah an' get yer mornin' papes. An' if I run, I can git ta da drugstoah in time."
"Ya bettah leave now den. I don't wantcha ta be late." Ruby kissed him goodbye. "I'll meetcha at Tibby's fer lunch?"
He nodded, calling goodbye over his shoulder as he ran out of the apartment.
"Hiya fellahs! How ya doin'?"
"We's good, an' obviously yer doin' pretty well, too," Sling observed.
"An' I'll bet it ain't got nuttin' ta do wit da fact dat ol' Snipes spent da night at yer apartment," Spit said, raising an eyebrow.
Ruby smacked him with her hat. "Doncha got anyt'ing bettah ta t'ink 'bout?"
"Nah," he replied.
Ruby rolled her eyes. "Uh, a ham an' cheese sandwich, please."
Cap came in the door. "Heya fellahs! Ruby, Snipes is real busy at da drugstoah, an' he says he's sorry he can't come fer lunch." He slid into the booth next to Ruby.
"Oh," she said, looking down at the table. She wondered if Snipeshooter was avoiding her because of the previous night's events.
Cap lay a hand on her arm. "He was real busy. Honest. He barely had enough time ta tell me dat. Ya know dat he'd rathah be wit ya dan anybody else in da woild. He loves ya."
Ruby sighed. "Guess yer right. So how d'yous guys like ol' Kloppman's sistah?"
"She's great! Las' night she was playin' pokah wit us. Ya shoulda been dere!" said Cap.
"An' she won! She beat Spades! Honest!" crowed Spit, earning a sharp elbow in the ribs.
"I let 'er win!" protested Spades.
"Shoah ya did," giggled Ruby. "Yer da woist liar in da woild."
"No I ain't!"
"Well ya shoah ain't da best." Ruby bit into her sandwich and carried on her conversation with her four favorite newsies.
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