"Awright! Read 'em an' weep, boys," cried Ruby triumphantly, displaying her cards.
"Dis deck 's rigged!" announced Skittery, throwing down his cards in disgust.
With a grin, Ruby swept the coins up. "I guess ya don't wanna play 'nothah game a gin, Skittery?" she joked.
Skittery glared at her. "I gotta git outta heah fer a while," he said as he got up and left the room.
Snipeshooter and Ruby glanced at each other. He handed her a cigar, and she took a quick drag off it before handing it back.
Pie Eater, Snoddy, Itey, and Snitch also got up and scattered. Snipeshooter got up and glanced out the window.
"Ya wanna go fer a walk in Central Pahk?" he asked nervously.
Ruby nodded, grabbed her coat and cap, and followed Snipeshooter downstairs. "'Ey... let's try ta see who ol' Kloppy's been talkin' ta fer so long."
"Yeah, dey've been in dere all day," Snipeshooter whispered back.
The door was opened a crack. Ruby peered in sideways, and Snipeshooter peered over her head. They could clearly see Mr. Kloppman standing up, but they had a better view of the lamp and wall than anything. But they could hear a woman laughing with Mr. Kloppman.
"Oh, John, it's so wonderful to see you after all these years!" she laughed.
The woman went on to say what she had been doing since she had last seen Mr. Kloppman. The conversation was boring to the two newsies. Didn't the woman have anything interesting to say? She had to be someone important. Maybe her an' ol' Kloppy was engaged, an' den she left. Er maybe he left. Er maybe dey was married, and den sumpin' happened, thought Ruby, who had an overactive imagination at times and who, in the last day, had developed a liking to romantic stories.
Snipeshooter was growing bored, and felt an itch near his ankle. He couldn't bend over to reach it, so he tried scratching it with his other foot.
Suddenly, Snipeshooter lost his balance. He tried to grab Ruby in an attempt to keep him on his feet, but unfortunately it didn't work. They both fell to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.
Mr. Kloppman heard the noise outside his living quarters and hurried to the door to see what those boys (and girls) had done now.
"C'mon!" yelled Snipeshooter. Ruby grabbed her cap and was pulled out the door.
"You kids! You'll be the death of me!" shouted Mr. Kloppman after them.
Ruby laughed. "So, which way is Central Pahk?"
"Dis way," answered Snipeshooter, steering her towards the park.
The two sweethearts took a long walk through Central Park, chatting the entire time. They both had plenty to say, and found themselves interrupting each other on a frequent basis.
They were just about to turn around and head to Tibby's for a late lunch/early dinner, when Ruby spotted four people that she knew.
"Hi! Merry C'rismus!" called Ruby.
Danielle Dryden looked up. "Hello, Ruby! Merry Christmas to you, too!"
"Dis is me, uh, best friend, Snipeshootah. Snipeshootah, dis is Mrs. Dryden. An' dese 're her kids, Rose, Gabriel, an' Jessie," said Ruby politely.
"Nice to meet you," said Mrs. Dryden, smiling at the little girl. She glanced at the young man with her. He was short, just a bit taller than Ruby, with a gray cap perched lopsidedly on his brown curly hair. She noted that he was holding Ruby's hand awfully tightly.
"Well, we's just on ahr way ta Tibby's ta get sumpin ta eat. Nice seein' ya," said Ruby.
"Would you two like to come back to my house for dinner?" blurted out Danielle.
Ruby turned. Danielle had a hopeful smile on her face. Ruby glanced to Snipeshooter, who shrugged. "Awright," replied Ruby.
"Wonderful! Come, let's get home, or the turkey I put in the oven will surely be burned." Danielle quickened her pace and led the way. The two little girls skipped behind her, hand in hand. Next were Ruby and Snipeshooter, hand in hand, and Gabriel tagged along with them.
"Dis 's great, ain't it, Snipes? We's gettin' a free dinnah! An' some real good food," said Ruby eagerly.
"Yeah," he replied. "Dis 's toinin' out ta be an awful good c'rismus, ain't it?"
"Yup!" giggled Ruby.
Danielle Dryden led the way up the narrow staircase to her apartment and unlocked the door. The aroma of good food, something Snipeshooter hadn't had for years and years, filled the small apartment and spilled out into the dirty hall.
"Here, sit down. Dinner will be ready in a moment," said Danielle as she filled the plates with turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and buttered bread.
"Gee, t'anks, Mrs. Dryden," said Snipeshooter. "Dis 's awful nice a ya. I mean, I don't even know ya."
"You're quite welcome, Snipeshooter. I feel bad for all the newsies. You should all be in school, but you can't afford it. So many people look down on child laborers."
Ruby and Snipeshooter barely said a word through the meal, for they were so busy eating. They looked as if they hadn't had a good meal in months, and in the back of her mind, Danielle figured that perhaps they hadn't.
Half an hour later, as the two newsies were finishing up their pie, the door banged open and in stumbled a tall, fairly good-looking man with a large, nearly-empty bottle of beer in each hand.
"Billy! How nice of you to come home. This is Ruby, and-"
"Shut up, ya vixen!" shouted Billy, striking Danielle across the face with one of the bottles. She crumpled and fell to the floor. "Where did these two come from? The milkman?" sneered Billy.
"Billy, dat's Ruby, an' dat's Snipeshootah," piped Gabriel. "Dey's newsies. An' Mama asked dem ta have dinnah wit us."
"Oh, is that so?" asked Billy, grabbing Ruby's face between his thumb and forefinger. "Ya look like Danielle's older daughter."
Ruby stared Billy in the face, not wanting to say anything. As Billy was opening his mouth to speak again, there was a tremendous bang!
Ruby gasped. Snipeshooter was holding a pan in one hand, and he had hit Billy over the head with it. "C'mon, let's git outta heah!" he said urgently, grabbing Ruby's hand and pulling her out of the apartment. He pulled her all the way back to the Lodging House and up the stairs.
"'Re ya awright?" asked Snipeshooter nervously.
"Yeah. 'E just scahed me so much! I tot he was gonna kill me, Snipes! An' den I tot he was gonna kill you," she said in a small voice, a single tear rolling down her cheek.
Snipeshooter wiped it away, then hugged her tightly. "It's awright now. 'E can't getcha heah. We won't let 'im."
Ruby pulled away slightly so she could look him in the eye. "Ya promise?"
Snipeshooter nodded. "Cross me 'art," he said.
Realization suddenly struck Ruby, and she giggled.
"What?" asked Snipeshooter.
Ruby simply glanced upwards at the bunch of greenery hanging in the doorway. A sly smile crept onto Snipeshooter's face as he pulled Ruby closer and kissed her square on the lips. For a few minutes, Snipeshooter and Ruby could feel nothing but the other's lips and their entwined hands.
"Aww, ain't dat da cutest t'ing in da woild," snickered someone.
Ruby unhappily pried herself away from Snipeshooter and glanced down the stairs. "Well if it ain't da t'ree muskateahs," she said. Racetrack, Kid Blink, and Mush were standing a few stairs down, laughing and cracking jokes about Snipeshooter and Ruby.
"Don't mind us. We ain't heah," said Racetrack. "Jist go back ta what yous was doin'." The other two laughed and playfully slapped at each other.
"No t'anks. Not wit yous cheeseheads watchin'. Yous guys wanna play cahds?" asked Snipeshooter.
"Shoah!" the other four newsies agreed, and Racetrack went running off to get his prized deck of cards. Snipeshooter retrieved the last two cigars from the box he'd purchased the week before, and the newsies assembled in a cluster on the floor.
And so Christmas in the Newsboys Lodging House ended...
The next morning, the newsies were all reluctant to get up and sell the papes, but they did, just as always. The usual promises to meet for lunch were made, and the newsies scattered, in small groups, pairs, or alone.
Jack Kelly was one of those who was alone. He had been the last in line, and had only bought half his usual hundred papes. He quickly sold the fifty papes he had, and then headed off for a small house at the edge of town. The crowds weren't so thick there, and an ghostly silence surrounded the area.
Jack went up to the door, hoping this was the right place. The door opened, and there stood a small, dark-skinned girl with long black hair and glittering blue eyes.
"Can I help you?" she asked, even though she knew better than he did what he wanted.
"Yeah. Um, ya helped me goyl, Lucky, when she had blood poisonin'..."
"Yes, I remember her."
"Well, I know dat ya can tell da fuchah, and I was wonderin' if ya could help me out."
"Certainly. Come in." Raven led him to a small, round table. They sat opposite each other.
"Well, uh... I was wonderin'... what me fuchah's gonna be like."
"Anything in particular?"
"Yeah. Me an' Lucky... I wanna know if we's gonna stay tugethah, er if she's gonna wanna leave, er sumpin. I love 'er so much, an' I know dat she loves me, but I wanna know jist how serious she is. Y'know?"
"Why don't you ask her?" asked Raven quietly, thinking that a talk with "Lucky" could help the young man more than she could. "Talking with her could help."
"Yeah, but I... I dunno. Guess I'm noivus. I don't wan' 'er ta t'ink I don't trust 'er, er nuttin.'"
"She won't think that. I can guarantee it," said Raven.
Jack nodded slowly. "Awright. An' Raven?"
"Yes?" she said, looking up.
"T'anks," he said, grinning, as he bounded out the door.
Raven nodded slowly. Another day in the life of a gypsy, she thought.
Meanwhile, Snipeshooter and Ruby had just finished their lunch at Tibby's, and were heading out to the street near Danielle Dryden's tenement. They usually sold a lot of papes there, and the people there usually gave nickels out freely without expecting change.
"Extra! Extra! President leaves office! Country left unattended! No one heah ta pratect us! Extra! Extra!" shouted Ruby. "T'anks! Gooday ta ya, mistah!"
"Hello, Ruby," said a woman quietly.
Ruby spun on her heel. "Heya, Mrs. Dryden! Ya okay? Yer husband seems like he hit ya awful hahd," she said with concern. Her mother was nicer now that she didn't know that Ruby was Ruby, and Ruby was concerned.
"Ya, 're ya okay? 'E was scahrin' da bof a us," said Snipeshooter, leaning an elbow on Ruby's shoulder, as he often did.
"Oh, I'm fine," replied Danielle, fingering the big kaleidoscopic bruise on her left eye. Her eye was swollen shut.
"Ya sure? Dat bruise looks like hoits a lot," said Snipeshooter. "An' I know, cause I'se been beat up by scabs more dan a couple times."
"Yes, it will heal in a few days, I'm sure of it."
Someone tapped Snipeshooter on the shoulder for a pape, and he attended to his business. While he was turned, Mrs. Dryden handed something small and soft to Ruby, paid her for a pape, and left, smiling over her shoulder at Ruby.
Ruby looked into her hand. There were a small, wooly pair of blue mittens. Ruby squealed out of pure joy. She put them on immediately and put the cord around her neck so she'd never lose them (as she'd managed to do with every other pair she'd ever had.)
"Ya ready ta go?" asked Snipeshooter, coming up behind her and speaking directly into her ear.
Ruby jumped and dropped her papes. "Geemaneez, Snipes! Ya scahed me outta me mind! Don't do dat!"
"Sahry!" he replied, taking her hand. "'Ey, wheah'd ya git dese?"
"Me mudda. Ain't she nice?" asked Ruby happily.
"Yeah." Snipeshooter paused. "Why doncha go live wit 'er?"
"Cause I don't want dat scab ta beat me up all da time. An' I don't wanna live wit dose bratty kids. An' cause if she found out who I am, den she'd go back ta bein' mean ta me. An' cause I don't wanna leave da newsies. An' I 'specially don't wanna leave ya," Ruby said softly, looking up at Snipeshooter.
He looked back and grinned. The two best friends walked on in silence.
"'Ey Jack, ya ready ta go?" asked Blink. All the newsies had finished their meals and were leaving Tibby's.
"Nah. I wanna talk ta Lucky alone, witout all yous cheeseheads listenin' ta every woid I say," said Jack.
Blink grinned and nodded as he ran to catch up with Mush and Racetrack.
"So, ya wanna talk ta me?" asked Lucky casually. Inside, she was very nervous. Jack wanted to talk to her privately? Usually there was nothing that he kept from the newsies. Sure, they all listened in on their conversations, but it was never anything private. Lucky's head sped up by the second, until she thought she would explode.
"Yeah. Um... Lucky... how d'ya feel 'bout me, honestly?"
Lucky blinked, taken by surprise. "I love ya, Jack. Ya know dat." Dis can't be good, she thought.
"Well, I was t'inkin'... I can't go on bein' a newsie ferevah."
"What, yer leavin'?" asked Lucky quietly, even though she felt like screaming.
"No! No! Nuttin' like dat. I jist... Doncha evah wanna settle down, get married, stuff like dat?"
"I dunno. Nevah really t'ought 'bout it."
"Well, I was t'inkin' dat if I got a bettah job dat got me more money... den maybe someday we could settle down... tugethah... get married..." Jack stopped fiddling with his napkin and looked up at Lucky.
"Jack Kelly, yer right. I'se way too goylish. Lookit dis, ya made me cry twice in two days!" Lucky sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
"'S dat a yes?" asked Jack.
Lucky nodded, a tremendous grin on her face. "Ya wanna go fer a walk?"
Jack agreed and they were out of Tibby's like a flash. They walked around Central Park well into the night, talking about their dreams for the future. Jack planned to sell less papes and spend his afternoons looking for a job.
"Dis 's da best day a me life, honest," said Lucky. "I sweah, I ain't nevah been happiah."
"Me neddah." Jack pulled Lucky into his arms and softly kissed her.
Lucky and Jack stumbled in around midnight, and most of the newsies were asleep by then. Lucky undressed and went to bed, as did Jack. While the latter fell asleep quickly, as he did when he was particularly content, the former stayed awake, staring at the ceiling.
"Wheah was yous two all night?" whispered a voice.
Lucky sat up to see a certain short, scrawny, redheaded newsie peering over the foot of Lucky's bunk, looking quite curious.
"C'meah," whispered Lucky, pulling Ruby onto her bunk. "Me an' Jack was out walkin' in Central Pahk."
"Walkin'? Ya shoah dat's all yous was doin'?" snickered Ruby.
"Look who's tawkin'!" joked Lucky, playfully batting at Ruby. Ruby hit her back and they giggled. "Shh!" warned Lucky. "Okay, so we was doin' more dan just tawkin'. An' ya know what? 'E said dat 'e's gonna try ta get a bettah job dat gets more money, an' whenevah I'se oldah, an' 'e's got some money, we's gonna get married!"
"Really?" asked Ruby, feeling very much like a girl for the first time in quite a while.
"Yeah! Ain't dat great?" asked Lucky. "So how're ya an' Snipes doin'? I hoid from Blink dat da two a yous has been doin' more dan tawkin', too."
Ruby blushed, but the darkness hid it. "Yeah, 'e's real nice! I like 'im a lot, an' I t'ink dat he likes me, too!"
"Yeah, I t'ink 'e does. Well, I'se real tiahed. G'night, Ruby. See ya in da mornin'."
The month of January was going by quickly for the newsies. They sold their papes, had their fun, and were getting along fairly well. Both the couples were doing well, and Jack had a new job at Irving Hall, cleaning up and selling tickets. Between that and selling his papes, he was making quite a bit of money and knew that he could easily save enough for he and Lucky to buy a small place and settle down by the time they wanted to.
Ruby and Snipeshooter often spent time with Mrs. Dryden and her children. They occasionaly dined there, whenever Billy wasn't around (and he often wasn't) and the children especially enjoyed their company.
"Ruby! Ruby, look at the dolly dress that Mama made me!"
"Ruby, lookit da slingshot dat da nice people 'cross da hall gave me! Dey say I'se a good boy!"
"Ruby, can you fix my hair ribbon?"
Gabriel especially liked when the two newsies visited. He longed to be a newsie. Even though he was only seven, he knew that money was running low, and that Billy wasn't making any more. He had seen newsies about his age, and he knew that he could sell the papes just as well as they could. But he didn't have the heart to ask his mother. She denied the fact that money was low. Gabriel only hoped that one day he could muster up the courage to ask.
One particularly frosty evening, Ruby was in the middle of a card game when Mr. Kloppman came upstairs. Specs pulled out his pocketwatch. It was only eight o'clock, so the neighbors couldn't be complaning yet.
"Ruby! There's some people downstairs to see you," he said, turning around and leaving as quickly as he'd come.
Ruby set her cards down face-down, thought better of it, and shoved them in her pocket. She hopped up and ran to the stairs, with Snipeshooter close behind.
Huddled nervously inside the doorway were two small, crying girls and a small, frightened-looking boy.
"Gabriel? What're yous doin' heah?" cried Ruby, coming over to her sisters and brother.
"Billy beat up Ma, an' she's in da hospital. Da people 'cross da hall took 'er dere. But da hospital wouldn't let us in, an' we got nowheah else ta go, so... we came heah."
"'S she awright?" asked Ruby.
"I dunno! Dey wouldn't let us in."
"Awright, den, I guess yous guys'll just have ta stay heah tonight. Mistah Kloppman, heah's fifteen cents. Dis 's Gabriel, an' Rose, an' Jessie Dryden, an' dey're gonna stay heah tanight."
"Is there three empty bunks?" he asked slowly.
"Dey're all full. Well, I'll jist sleep on da floah, an' dey can have me bunk."
"I'll sleep on da floah, too," offered Snipeshooter. "One bunk ain't enough fer t'ree kids."
"T'anks! Dat's awful nice a ya," said Ruby sincerely. "C'mon, yous t'ree." She ushered them up the stairs and showed Jessie and Rose to her bunk. "'Re yous t'ree awright?"
"Billy hit me," whimpered Rose.
"Me too," added Jessie. She rolled up the sleeve of her dress to reveal a nasty-looking cut and bruise on her upper arm. Rose had abundant small cuts scattered up her legs and arms.
"'Ey, onna yous guys go get Mistah Kloppman's medicine an' stuff," instructed Ruby. "An' some watah, an' a washcloth, please."
Crutchy and Boots returned with the requested items, and Ruby quickly washed out their cuts and applied bandages. Snipeshooter sat on Crutchy's bunk and told the girls a wild story about some guy he'd soaked, exaggerating so much that the two little girls were giggling hysterically by the time he was done.
"Now yous two go ta sleep, ya heah me?" asked Ruby, pretending to be serious. They giggled, Ruby tickled them, and they finished undressing for bed. The two little girls climbed into the bed and quickly fell asleep.
"Now whatta 'bout yous, Mistah Allmighty Gabriel Dryden?" asked Ruby. "Did dat scab hoit ya?"
"Not much," he replied, trying to be brave.
"Out wit it. I can tell dat yer lyin'."
"How?" he asked curiously.
"Cause ya ain't lookin' me in da eye. An' cause I can tell dat undah dat shoit, yer ahm's bleedin'."
Gabriel's smile faded. "Yeah, an' it hoits like nuttin I'se evah felt b'fore."
Gabriel pulled off his shirt and rolled up the sleeve of his undershirt. His arm was red, and looked very sore. Raw skin showed, and dried blood was all over his arm.
"Ooh, dat's gotta hoit," noted Snipeshooter.
Ruby wet the washcloth. "Dis 's gonna boin, A LOT, but youse gonna be brave an' ya ain't gonna cry, right?"
"Yeah! Boys nevah cry," he replied.
"Datta boy. Hold still." Ruby bit her lip as she gingerly wiped away the caked blood. Then she smeared medicine all over the area and put a tight bandage on.
"How d'ya know all dis stuff?"
"Aww, when I was liddle, I was always gettin' hoit. I was always fallin' outta trees, er fallin' in da street, er gettin' in fights wit guys at school, an' I jist picked it up, cause me mudda was always fixin' me up. An' den I stahted takin' care a me lil sistahs an' me lil bruddah, cause dey was always gettin' hoit, too."
"Me sistah usedta take care a us," Gabriel said, nodding towards his sleeping sisters.
"Yeah, yer mudda told me 'bout 'er." Ruby paused. "Ya miss 'er?"
"A lil. She was nevah very nice ta me. She was always off, bein' by 'erself. But sometimes she was nice ta me."
Ruby finished her work on his arm. "'S dat all? Dere ain't any bruises er cuts anywheah else?"
Gabriel shook his head.
"Awright, den. Go ta sleep."
"I ain't tiahed!"
"Ya need yer rest."
"But I wanna play cahds, an' smoke cigahs, an' all da uddah stuff dat yous guys do."
Ruby rolled her eyes. "Gabriel, if yer mudda found out dat I let ya stay up all night, an' smoke cigahs, den she'd kill me!"
"I ain't gonna tell 'er. I ain't stupid, ya know," he protested.
"Ya ain't smokin', an' dat's dat," said Ruby. "But I guess Race heah could teach ya how ta play cahds."
Gabriel looked hopefully to the Italian boy. "I guess," agreed Race. Gabriel grinned and scampered over to let Racetrack teach him how to play poker.
The newsies finally went to sleep around one o'clock in the morning. Snipeshooter wasn't very tired, so he went over to talk to Ruby. They sat on her makeshift "bed" and talked quietly.
"Dat was real nice a ya. Ta take care a dem, I mean."
"Yeah, well, I couldn't jist let 'em bleed an' stuff."
"Yer real good at it."
"'S dat true? Dat ya jist picked it up?"
Ruby nodded. "Maybe I could be a nurse someday. I mean, I ain't too bad at it."
"Yer real good at it," corrected Snipeshooter. "'Re ya evah gonna tell yer mudda? I mean, not go an' live wit her. Just... tell 'er. Stay heah, but..."
"Y'know, dat's a good idea, Snipes. Maybe someday I'll tell 'er. But... I dunno, I jist don't wanna tell 'er yet! Maybe when I'se oldah... er sumpin."
"Dat's a good idea. An' if she gits mad atcha, den... I dunno, we can leave fer a while. Jist till she stops bein' mad atcha."
"T'anks, Snipes. I nevah had friends like ya back wheah I usedta live. An' I really 'preciate ever'body bein' so nice ta me. If ya evah need sumpin, jist let me know, 'kay?"
He nodded. "I'se kinda tiahed. G'night." He leaned over and kissed her, then quietly crept to his bed across the room. Ruby felt the icy gold chain shift around her neck and suddenly remembered that she hadn't prayed since she arrived at the lodging house. Most of the newsies didn't believe in religion, so Ruby had no reminder of her beliefs. She knelt at the foot of her bed.
"Ruby, what're ya doin'?" hissed Snipeshooter.
"Prayin'," she replied.
"Oh. I didn't know dat ya believed in dat," he said. "G'night."
Ruby prayed silently, for she didn't want to wake her two little sisters. Deah God, please make Ma get well real soon, and please don't let Billy beat 'er up no more, cause she don't desoive it. An' please look out fer Rose an' Jessie an' Gabriel, cause dey don't desoive ta get beat up, eiddah. An' please look out fer all da newsies, an' please don't let Snipeshootah evah stop likin' me, cause 'e's me best friend, an' I like 'im a whole lot, an' I t'ink dat someday I could love 'im, so jist look out fer ever'body I care about, forevah 'n' evah, amen.
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