Forever 'N' Ever Amen
by Spacey Cliffton

Disclaimer: "Newsies" and all its characters belong to Disney. Lucky (aka Cassandra Jasper and/or Cassie), Raven Boromi, and Mr. Bucket / Bouquet belong to Sharkbait. Anybody not previously mentioned belongs to me, Spacey. Whatever and Ever Amen belongs to Ben Folds 5.
Thanks to: Rae, for, in a round-about way, getting me hooked on Newsies; Sharkbait, for letting me borrow Cassie & Mr. Bucket; Scribe, Grace, & Ink, for their positive feedback; & all the fanfic writers on the net, who have inspired me more than anybody.

Ann walked up the road through the snow to her old, run-down house and was stopped by a wagon.

"Ma! What 're ya doin'?" cried Ann.

"Move out of the way," her mother said crisply.

"But wheah 's all yous guys goin'?" demanded Ann. Her little brother and her two little sisters were in the back, looking scared. Ann's mother was driving the wagon and her mother's "friend" Billy sat beside her. What looked like everything the family owned was crammed into the wagon.

"It doesn't matter where we're going. We're not coming back, ever," Ann's mother said, sending the youngest girl into tears. "Now move out of the way."

Ann was prepared for a fight, but her mother sent her a deathly glare and Ann obliged. She watched the wagon disappear. Then she started running. As she was running into the house, she crashed into someone.

"Tommy! Tommy, Ma left! An' she took Billy-" Ann shuddered. "An' Rose an' Jessie an' Gabriel!"

"I know, Ann. Git outta me way, kid."

"Tommy, you ain't leavin' too, 're you?" she cried.

"Yeah," he answered simply.

"Take me! Er Pa's gonna send me ta dat lousy goyls' school an' fergit about me. Please take me!" she cried, clinging to Tommy's arm.

"Shut up, Ann! I ain't takin' ya!" snapped Tommy. He started walking faster and shook Ann away.

"Fine, den, ya lousy, rottin', stinkin', scumbag! I'll see ya in hell!" she shouted, flashing a quick gesture behind his back before turning around. By the time Ann had made all of the five steps back to the house, she had decided that she, too, would leave. She banged through the door in a nasty mood and saw that the house was nearly empty, except for her father's favorite chair and a bunch of bags.

"Annie, look what da men brought. Some purdy dresses fer me li'l Annie, who's goin' off ta goyls' school," Ann's father slurred, obviously drunk.

"I told ya a million times, ya lousy bummah! I ain't goin' ta no goyls' school!" said Ann forcefully.

He patted Ann's head. "You's gonna like it."

"Ya said dat when Rose an' Jessie an' Gabriel was born, an' I didn't like 'em none, did I?"

"Watch yer mouth, ya brat."

"Shut up, ya lousy drunk! I ain't stayin' heah wit ya, an' I ain't goin' ta no lousy goyls' school. I'se leavin'!" Ann headed for the ladder to the loft, which was where she slept.

Her father knocked the ladder down. "Ya ain't leavin' me, Annie!"

"Yes I am!" Ann jumped straight up in the air and grabbed the edge of the opening. Kicking madly, she pulled herself up and managed to kick her father in the face in the process.

It only took a moment to gather her things. Her knife, the little bit of money that she had, the oversized coat that Tommy had outgrown two winters ago and passed on to Ann, and two shirts. Lying on the floor were two pairs of pants that Tommy had discarded. Ann grabbed those, too.

Ann peered down to the lower level of her house. Her father was beginning to stir. In a moment of desperation, she ran to the window, kicked all the glass out, and jumped. Through some lucky twist of fate, she landed on her feet. Without wasting a second, she took off running...

A while later, when Ann figured her father would've given up, she stopped by a small stream and drank greedily. While she rested, she made a plan. New York City wasn't far away, and there were lots of opportunities there.

"Theah's more opportunities fer boys, dough," she thought out loud. After a moment, Ann reached back and untied her long braid of copper-colored hair. Grabbing her knife, Ann quickly cut her hair above her ears. Then she tugged off her skirt and pulled on one of the pairs of Tommy's pants. Of course, they were too big, but after she cut them to the right length, they were fine, though a little baggy.

"So," Ann said, turning to a small dog drinking from the stream. "Do I look like a boy?"

The dog looked at her, came over, sniffed her hand, and curled down around her feet.

"'eya, dog. Ya wanna go ta Noo Yawk wit me?" asked Ann. She shoved her knife and money into her pocket. Grabbing the bag of clothes, Ann set off, the dog trailing behind.

Two days later, Ann stumbled into New York City. For a moment, she was frightened of the enormous crowds of people, wagons and carriages, and the merchants selling things on the streets.

Don't be scared a nuttin', Ann, she told herself. Boys ain't scared a nuttin'. Ya ain't scared a nuttin', eidder. Ya knows how ta fight, an' ya knows how ta steal. So don't be scared, ya baby.

Just then, a small boy tore past, pushing her into a puddle of muddy snow.

"'ey, ya lousy bummah! Watch wheah youse goin'!" shouted Ann.

By the time the sentence was out of her mouth, the boy had turned around and was coming back.

"Jeez, I'se sahry! I gotta watch wheah I'se goin', huh?" he asked sympathetically. "Ya ain't hurt, 's ya?"

"Naw," Ann said confidently. She shook herself off and grabbed her bag.

"Ya new around heah, aintcha?" the boy asked.

"Yeah," answered Ann.

He spit on his hand and held it out. "I'se Snipeshooter."

Ann spit on her own hand. "Ann Dryden."

"Wait, youse a goyl?" the boy asked incredulously. "Ya got boy's 'air!"

"Yeah, well, I cut it. I ran away an' me fadda's lookin' fer me. 'E's too dumb ta t'ink that I'd cut me 'air an' come heah."

Ann's dog barked, demanding some attention.

"An' dis 's... well, 'e ain't got a name. But 'e's mine."

"How old 're ya?" asked Snipeshooter.

"Ten an' a half. Eleven, in January," replied Ann.

Snipeshooter nodded, obviously in thought. "Ya know anyone heah?"

"Naw. I ain't nevah been heah."

"Ya wanna be a newsie?"

"A what?"

"A newsie. Y'know. Sell da papes. Dat's what I do. I had a real good day. Sold all me papes."

"Huh. Well, I ain't got a job, an' theah ain't much I kin do, so... why not?" said Ann, smiling.

Snipeshooter smiled back. "C'mon, let's go back ta da lodgin' 'owse. It's real nice dere."

"'S dere any udda goyl newsies?" asked Ann curiously.

"Jist Lucky. She's been wit us fer a couple a months now. She's real nice. Not like me mudda, though. She's like one a da guys, now."

For most of the walk to The Lodging House, Ann and Snipeshooter were silent. It was early evening and the sunset made the city all sorts of lovely colors instead of the bland white and gray it had been earlier.

"Dis 's it. Da lodgin' 'owse. Home sweet home." Snipeshooter turned to Ann and said, "C'mon in. Ya gotta meet Mr. Kloppman. 'E's real nice, too. Like me grampa." He bounded up to the door with Ann close behind.

"'eya, Kloppy!" said Snipeshooter cheerfully. "Dis 's Ann Dryden, an' she's new heah, an' she's gonna be a newsie."

"Oh! It's about time we got another girl around here, isn't it?" he chuckled. "Hello, Ann."

"Hiya!" she said.

The attention-demanding dog barked loudly three times.

"Oh yeah, an' dat's her dog," added Snipeshooter.

"Well well well! We've never had a dog here before. Cats of all sorts..." Snipeshooter suddenly sobered, as did Mr. Kloppman. Ann wondered why. "And we had Cowboy's rat. But never a dog. Well, as long as it doesn't cause too much trouble, it can stay," offered Mr. Kloppman.

"T'ank ya, Mr. Kloppman! 'E won't be too much trouble," promised Ann.

"C'mon, Ann, let's go meet ev'rybody!" cried Snipeshooter, running up the stairs two at a time. Ann followed eagerly. Snipeshooter stopped at the top of the stairs and Ann, who had been looking behind her to make sure the dog was following, crashed into him.

The large room, which had been very noisy, suddenly fell silent.

"Who's dat?" a voice inquired.

"I dunno... none a ahr boys got red hair like dat," another said.

Ann sat up nervously. Snipeshooter stood up and announced, "'ey, everybody, dis 's Ann Dryden an' she's gonna be a newsie!"

The room remained silent.

"'ey, what 's yous guys bein' so quiet fer?" someone said. "Yous guys 's nevah quiet when we tells yous ta be quiet, an' now when yous should be bein' noisy, yous ain't! What's wrong wit yous guys?" The owner of that voice came over to the steps. "'eya, Ann. I'se Lucky. 're ya okay?"

"Yeah, I'se fine." As Lucky helped Ann to get up, the boys began chattering again. "Ya da only goyl around heah?"

"Yeah. Don't worry about it. Youse gonna be fine. C'mon, ya gotta meet Jack. 'E's da leader of all da newsies in Manhattan. 'E's real nice. So 's all da rest of da guys." Grabbing Ann's hand, Lucky pulled her down the rows of bunks, calling hello to all the guys and laughing.

Near the end of the row of bunks, a bunch of guys sat around playing cards. The air was thick with smoke.

"'eya, boys, dis 's Ann. Ann, dis 's Race an' Blink an' Specs an' Dutchy an' Boots an' Snitch an' Jack."

All the boys looked up and said hello. Jack set down his cards, stood up, and looked at the much smaller girl. Ann nervously looked up at him.

"'ey, Snipes! Gitcher rear ova heah!" shouted Jack.

Snipeshooter trotted over. "Yeah, Jack?"

"Wheah did ya find 'er?"

"Don't remembah."

"Well, how'd ya meet 'er?"

"I crashed inta 'er an' pushed 'er inta a puddle," he answered simply. "'eya, Race! Gimme onna dose cigahs?"

"Git yer own, ya bummah!" answered Race.

"Ya pushed 'er inta a puddle? Real nice a' ya, Snipes!" said Lucky jokingly, ruffling his hair.

"I didn't mean ta push 'er! It was a accident! Honest!"

"It was," added Ann.

"Well," said Jack slowly. "I guess we got us a new newsie."

Ann's small mouth spread into an enormous smile. Acceptance was never something she had much of, with her family. Her father had always been drunk, her mother was always "busy," Tommy was rarely home, and Ann had always ignored Rose, Jessie, and Gabriel.

"Lucky, show 'er around, awright?"

"Yeah. 'Ey, what bunks 're empty?"

"Uhh... dat one between Bumlets an' Crutchy. Below Specs."

Lucky nodded. "C'mon, Ann. Dere's room fer ya over heah. Jist put yer stuff over heah."

"'ey!" someone shouted. "Dat lousy dog jist stole onna me cigahs!"

Ann leapt up and found her dog with a cigar in its mouth, shredding the thing to pieces.

"Ya stupid dog! What'd ya do dat fer?" she cried, smacking it. "Bad dog!"

"Dat's yer dog?" asked Race.

"Yeah. I'se real sahry 'bout dat... Race?"

"Yeah, I'se Race."

"Look, I'll pay ya back fer it. I sweah."

He smiled and ruffled her hair. "Nah. Don't worry 'bout it, kid."

"Me name ain't 'kid,'" Ann growled. "Me name's Ann."

"But ya need a newsie name. Me mudda didn't call me Race, an' Lucky's mudda didn't call her Lucky."

Lucky, who had come over about halfway through the conversation, smiled and said, "Call 'er Ruby. Her hair's da culah a one."

"Yeah," agreed Race. "'ey, guys, listen up! Dis 's Ruby from now on, awright?"

All the guys agreed, and went back to whatever they had been doing. Ruby went back to her bunk and lay down. She was very tired, and was glad to have a real bed for the first time in three days. The dog curled up at the foot of her bed and, despite the noise, Ruby quickly fell asleep.

"Get up! These kids, they sleep the whole day! Get up! Skittery! Boots! Dutchy! Specs get up! Cowboy, c'mon, wake up. Lucky! Get up! Get up! Sell da papes! Sell da papes! Bumlets!" Mr. Kloppman was busy trying to wake up all the newsies, and the ones that were awake were getting dressed and heading for the washroom.

Ruby rolled over and muttered a string of obscene words. Maybe if I t'ink 'bout it hahd enough, 'e'll go away, thought Ruby.

Someone laughed. "So yer not a morning person, are ya, Ruby?" the voice asked cheerfully.

Ruby opened her eyes and saw a boy with brown hair and glasses laughing good-naturedly. "Naw, but obviously you 's," she muttered, finally sitting up and banging her head on the bunk above her in the process. "OW!"

The boy on the other side of her laughed. Ruby turned and glared at him, only making him laugh harder. She slowly stood up, stretched, and rummaged in her bag for her other pair of pants and a clean shirt. Once those were on, she followed the other boys into a large open washroom.

"Watch it, ya scabbah," someone growled as Ruby bumped into them in the confusion.

"Sahry," she hissed sarcastically. She looked up. Lucky, her long dishwater-blonde hair rumpled, was rubbing her eyes tiredly. "Aww, sahry Lucky! I didn't realize it was you. I ain't much of a mornin' poisson, I guess."

Lucky smiled and put an arm around Ruby. "I ain't, eidder. But Mush an' Skittery an' Specs an' Crutchy an' Blink 's. Dey's da nicest guys ta talk ta, dis early. Dey put ya in a real good mood." Lucky led the way to the water pump, where both the girls washed their faces with cold water.

"'eya Lucky! 'eya Ruby!" a boy called cheerfully.

"'Eya, Crutchy! How ya doin'?"

"Aww, I'se fine. How 're you?"

"Doin' real good. I'se in a pretty good mood already."

"That's a first," commented the boy with brown hair and glasses.

"Aww, shaddup, Four-eyes! It ain't like youse nevah in a bad mood!" laughed Lucky, pushing him jokingly.

"Specs ain't nevah in a bad mood. Really, 'e ain't," Crutchy commented.

"Now Skittery... well, 'e's a whole odda story," Lucky laughed. She finished combing her hair, tossed the comb to Ruby, and began tucking her hair up into her cap.

A tall boy with messy brown hair just glared at Lucky. "For a buck, I'll forget you ever said that."

"Ahh, youse as bad as Race," Lucky said.

"'eya, Lucky. G'mornin', Ruby," said Jack.

"G'mornin'!" said Lucky cheerfully as she kissed Jack.

"'Ey, 's da two of yous in love er sumpin'?" asked Ruby.

"Now dere's some old news," said Race as he walked by.

"Yeah, we 's, ya gotta problem?" challenged Jack. He laughed at Ruby's panicked look. "I'se jokin', kid. Lighten up."

"Why do ya always call goyls 'kid?'" asked Lucky suddenly. "When I foist got heah, it was 'kid,' 'kid,' 'kid!' Well maybe goyls don't like bein' called 'kid,' ya evah t'ink a dat?"

"Sahry, Lucky. I don't even t'ink 'bout it. I'll try ta stop, dough," he said. "Yous goyls done?"

"Yeah," said Ruby, handing the comb back to Lucky. "'eya, Snipes! I've been lookin' fer ya all mornin'! Wheah ya been?"

"I'se been right heah, Ruby," he said cheerfully. Suddenly, barking alerted everyone of Ruby's dog's presence.

"I gots ta name ya," Ruby commented. As she passed her bunk, she grabbed her winter coat. December weather in New York was intensely cold.

Jack looked down at the little curly black dog. "Night."

"What, like onna dose guys who rode around on a horse with a sword, an' wore all da metal clothes?" asked Ruby. "We learned 'bout 'em in school."

"Well, I meant like... like not day, y'know? But 'e could be da odda kinda night."

"Knight it 's," said Ruby cheerfully. "G'mornin', Mr. Kloppman!"

"Good morning, Ann," he replied.

Ruby and Snipeshooter bounded out of the door ahead of Lucky and Jack. Snipeshooter led the way, chattering away and barely letting Ruby get a word in edgewise.

"'ey, Jack, I think Snipes has got his self a goyl friend," said Blink as he caught up with Lucky and Jack.

"Ya t'ink?" asked Lucky, watching Ruby and Snipes walk along ahead of them.

"Naw, I don't t'ink," said Jack. "Ruby's too li'l. She's... how old 's she, anyways?"

"I dunno. I don't think she told nobody, yet," Blink said. He, Jack, and Lucky came up to the gate of the circulation center.

"'Ey, Mr. Bucket! Ya wanna let us in?" shouted Jack, scrambling up to the top of the gate.

"Dese 's for da newsies!" a voice shouted. With a triumphant yell, Jack pushed the gate open. He led the pack of boys into the circulation center.

"So how many ya buyin', Ruby?" asked Lucky. "Two fer a penny."

"What do ya t'ink? T'ink I could sell fifty?"

Lucky shrugged. "Staht out with twenty er so. Den come back fer more."

Ruby nodded. "I'se gonna git thoity," she said.

"Lucky, ya tellin' da kid how many papes ta buy? Don't listen ta 'er, Rube. When me an' Jack first found 'er, she had two hundred papes left."

"Aww, shut yer mouth, Race! I sold a hundred dat day, in case ya don't remember," she said, shoving him jokingly. "Thoity's a good numbah ta staht out wit, Ruby."

Ruby nodded, pulling a few coins out of her pocket. She was next in line, and only Crutchy was ahead of her.

"Next!" a man's voice called.

Ruby bravely stepped up to the counter and set the coins on the counter. "Thoity papes."

"Well, if it ain't a new newsie," the man said slowly.

"Put a lid on it, Bucket!" yelled Race, as Lucky said, "Shut yer mouth, Bucket!"

"I told ya kids a million times. It's Bouquet. Boo-kay. Can ya say dat?"

"Give da goyl her papes, Bucket," demanded Lucky.

"Oh, another goyl newsie, eh? Yous goyls. So demandin'."

Jack came over to the window. "Put a lid on it, Bucket, er we'se gonna be headin' straight ta Hearst. Er da Sun. Still early enough ta git ovah ta dah Sun, an' sell some papes."

The man grumbled. "Thirty papes!"

Ruby grabbed the papers and moved out of Lucky's way.

"C'mon, Ruby! Let's go sell da papes!" said Snipeshooter eagerly.

"'Ey, Snipes, why dontcha let me an' Lucky look out fer da goyl today?"

"But, Jack, I know all da rules! We ain't lyin', we's jist improvin' da truth. An' no drinkin' on da job. An' headlines don't sell papes, newsies sell papes. An' always say t'ank you," Snipeshooter rattled off. "'Sides, I found her an' I told her 'bout bein' a newsie! Aww, c'mon, Cowboy! Please? I'll make sure that she stays away from da Delancy bruddas, an' I'll keep 'er outta trouble."

"I kin keep myself outta trouble!" cried Ann.

"Snipes, ya ain't very big ta be keepin' anyone outta trouble but yerself. Jist let me an' Lucky show 'er da ropes fer today, an' she kin go witcha tomorrow, awright?"

Snipeshooter frowned. "Awright. See ya later, Ruby!" He bounded off, shouting, "'ey, Boots, wait up! Boots!"

Lucky came over, carrying a huge bundle of newspapers. "So, 's da two a yous bummahs ready ta staht sellin' da papes?"

"We sure 's, Lucky," said Jack, shouldering his huge bundle of papers. "So, Ruby, do ya remember all da stuff Snipes said?"

"No drinkin' on da job," she answered quickly. "Uh... we ain't lyin'?"

"Naw, we ain't. We's jist improvin' da truth a li'l. An' headlines don't sell papes. Newsies sell papes. An' always say t'ank you. Kin ya remember dat?"

"'Course I kin! I ain't stupid," Ruby said quickly. "So... wheah we goin'?"

"All over da place," Lucky laughed. "We'se gonna sell a couple a papes, an' ya see how da expoits woik."

Ruby smiled. "So, 's yous guys da best?"

"We sure 's, kid. Er, Ruby," Jack said. He glanced over the headline. "'Mayor's daughter ta be wed tonight.' Huh... Blink's gonna be heartbroken..." After a moment, Jack shouted, "Mayor's dautta marryin' street trash! Extry! Extry! Read all 'bout it!"

People lined up to buy papers from him. Lucky was still perusing the papers when Ruby spotted a headline. "Small trash fire in former lodging house."

"Extry! Extry!" shouted Ruby. "Major lodging 'owse in flames! Thousands a dollars worth of damage! Extry! Extry!" The people lined up just as quickly as they had for Jack, if not faster. "T'ank you, sir! T'ank you, ma'am! 'ey, Lucky! Look, I sold all me papes!"

Jack and Lucky glanced to the flame-haired newsie, then to each other. Was it true that the small girl had just sold thirty papers before Lucky even sold one?

"'ey, Ruby, how old 're ya?" asked Jack.

"Ten, an' I'se gonna be eleven in January," she replied. "Why?"

Jack raised his eyebrows. This kid was a born newsie. She was even better than Lucky and Jack had thought that Lucky was the best... well, after himself, of course. Sure, the younger newsies always sold more papes, but that was because they acted young. Ruby hadn't.

Finally, Jack said, "Oh, I was jist wonderin'. Ya did real good, Ruby."

"T'anks!" she said, her face lighting up. "So wheah we goin' now?"

"We's goin' back ta da coiculation centah, ta git ya s'more papes," Lucky answered.

Forever 'N' Ever Amen
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by Emily H., 2000