Katherine tugged at Jack's hand, stopping in front of the Newsboys' Lodging House. "Aren't we going in?"
Jack glanced nervously at the building before pulling her around the corner. "No."
At the fire escape, he moved to the side to allow her to precede him up the five flights of steel stairs. At the top, he scaled the ladder to help her get to the long, narrow deck on the roof.
"The Penthouse," she sighed with a smile. "I love this place." She looked around with pleasure at the city's lights below.
"What's not to like?" Jack inquired sarcastically. "Rusty deck, chimney smoke. It's Paradise, all right."
"It's also got a marvelous view, a nice breeze, and relative privacy," Katherine added, moving to stand beside him. "Jack, what's the matter? You've been acting strangely all evening." She reached to brush a lock of hair off his forehead.
"Ain't nothin' wrong," he grumbled, moving past her to the other end of the deck.
"Something is bothering you," she insisted. "You've barely said a dozen words to me all night, you haven't kissed me at all, and you act like I'll give you the plague if we touch." She stood before him trying to make eye contact, but he was looking everywhere but at her. "And it's definitely not like you to come here without checking on the boys." She touched his arm.
He flinched and walked away.
For the space of two or three breaths he said nothing. "There ain't nothin' wrong."
"No!" He banged his hand on the railing. "No," he repeated softly, turning to rest against the railing. "I's just got something' on my mind is all."
He studied his feet. "I've, uh, decided to do something but I don't know how to do it."
Katherine waited, but he didn't elaborate. "Is it something I can help you with?"
"Uh, maybe. I don't know."
"What is it you've decided to do?"
He turned his back to her, gazing sightlessly out over the city. "Since almost before I can remember, I's dreamed of going to Santa Fe. I don't know how the idea got there—maybe my old man put it there—but dreamin' of startin' over in a place like that—warmth, bright light, open spaces—everything the city's not—kept me goin'. It got me through winters too cold to mention, summers so hot ya melt, and all the days in between when things didn't go so good. It's how I made it through The Refuge." He took a deep breath and released it slowly. "No matter what Snyder did, he couldn't take Santa Fe from me."
Katherine wanted to take him in her arms and soothe away his pain, but she just wrapped her arms around herself, afraid of shattering his mood. Jack did not often open up like this.
Jack took a steadying breath and moved to look off the other side of the deck, bracing his arms on the railing. "But then the strike happened and because of that I met you." He tossed a smile at her over his shoulder before returning his attention to the view. "I ain't never had the money for a ticket, but I always felt I could just up and go any time I wanted to. Only now I couldn't go because I was somehow in charge of fightin' one of the most powerful men in New York. Kids getting' hurt, arrested. And Crutchie," his voice cracked. "The Scabs beat 'em up! The Bulls mowed 'em down! Snyder takin' up where the others left off! And Pulitzer wavin' his magic wand to keep everything all stirred up!" He flitted his hand like he was waving a wand as he finally turned to face her, his body and voice tense with anger. "And everyone lookin' to me for what move to make next! How the hell should I know? I ain't never done nothin' like that before! Who decided I was in charge?" He pounded his fist into his hand a few times as he tried to get his emotions under control.
"And then you." He waved his hand in her direction. "You." He drank in the sight of her for a moment before he shifted to look at the sky, blinking furiously trying to contain the tears that were threatening to overflow. "You were there. Everywhere. Lookin' so pretty and bein' so smart. Workin' so hard to get our story out so's people would hear about it."
Katherine could barely breathe. Why was he telling her this?
"And it worked. We beat Pulitzer. They's workin' on laws to help the kids. The strike was over. Only it wasn't. Things didn't go back to the way they was before. You didn't leave. We didn't hafta strike no more, but the fight still has to be fought every damn day and somehow I get to be the one to do it. How did that happen? I still don't know what I'm doin', but I got elected to do it!
"I got a good job now, too. Pays more than any other job I ever had. I like it, but there's still the kids workin' too hard just to get one meal a day." He waved his hands to indicate the building below them. "How can I like my job so much when they's workin' so hard only to still go hungry? I gots shoes, a coat, a place to live, and plenty to eat! It's not fair!"
"I know," Katherine whispered.
"And then there's you."
"Stealin' a little more of my heart every time I look at ya."
Her heart fluttered with hope.
"Only what with you and the job and the boys and the union, I figured out I's never gonna get to Santa Fe."
Her heart shattered.
Mustering what dignity she could through the tears sneaking down her face, she calmly stated, "I see." A shaky breath later she continued when he didn't add any further explanation, "Well." She gathered up her skirts. "I certainly do not want to stand in the way of your dreams. I wish you safe travels, and I hope you find what it is you're seeking." She turned from him as her voice cracked. "Just please promise me you'll always remember that I love you." She ran the couple of steps to the top of the ladder.
"Jesus, Katherine!" Jack reached her before she took the first step down. He swung her around, placing himself between her and the ladder. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I'm going home."
"It's customary to do so when you're no longer wanted by the man you're with."
"Whaddaya mean—who—you mean me? You think I don't want ya?"
"There aren't all that many men up here, so, yes, I mean you." She tried to move past him to the ladder, but he wouldn't budge. She got angry. "And what exactly am I supposed to think when you say you want to leave me to go to—"
"I don't wanta leave you! I wanta marry you!" he yelled, fear and desperation in his voice.
Katherine's eyes widened to saucers. Her mouth opened, then closed again. Her knees suddenly lost the ability to hold her upright and she sank to the floor.
Jack, ever the protector, rushed to make sure she wasn't hurt, then settled in, facing her, hip-to-hip.
Still stunned by his proclamation, she could only stare at him, burning questions filling her eyes.
He reached out to caress her cheek but pulled his hand back. He rested his arms on his knees and stared straight ahead. "Sorry. I didn't mean to say it like that. I knew I wanted to ask ya, and I's been worryin' 'bout it all damn day. I wanted it to be all romantic and stuff for ya, but I didn't know how. I don't know no sappy poems or nothin'. So's I thought if I brung ya to one of our favorite spots, I might could be inspired by that. Only as I tried to explain everything, you tried to leave, and I didn't know how to make you stay." His voice cracked and he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes.
"You want to marry me?" Katherine whispered in wonder.
"Yeah," he huffed, still not looking at her. "Pretty silly, ain't it? 'Gutter Rat and Heiress Gets Hitched'." He waved his hand to map out the invisible headline. "Not likely." He finally looked at her. "But we've been seein' each other for a year, now, Kat, and it's killin' me when I have to leave you at your house and I'm alone the rest of the night. And the nights we ain't together are pure misery.
"I was talkin' 'bout it to Crutchie and he says why don't I just marry you? Then we won't never have to be apart. So's I got to thinkin' 'bout it and thinks it sounds good, but every time I thinks I might ask if it sounds good to you, I gets scared." He jumped to his feet and paced the small deck like a caged animal. His breathing was getting shaky. "God, Kat, I am so damn scared you'll wake up one morning and realize what I am and who you are and decide never to see me again!
"Medda said I's bein' a fool and to stop actin' like a idiot, but if I couldn't do that, then I should maybe just let you go. So I tried. God, Kat, I tried, but I couldn't do it." He dropped to kneel in front of her. "I had to be near you whenever I could. When I wasn't, all I could think about was how to get near you again. And when we was together, I wanted to slow down time so it wouldn't never end."
He reached out to almost touch her again, but this time, she captured his hand and gently kissed his knuckles. He choked back a sob.
She brushed at wetness streaking down his face. "But just now, it sounded like you wanted to leave me so you could go to Santa Fe?"
His tear-filled eyes met hers and he squeezed her hand as he held it to his chest. "Kat," he whispered hoarsely, "you are my Santa Fe."
Her breath caught.
Her heart skipped a beat.
She was certain the world stopped spinning for just a moment.
She rose to her knees to better meet his pleading gaze. Her hand brushed away a tear from his cheek then rested on his shoulder. "Fer sure?" she asked with a joyous, yet watery, smile.
Jack snatched her hard against his chest and held on tight. "Oh, God, Kat, yeah! Fer sure, fer sure!"
He buried his face in her neck as sobs wracked his body. Katherine held him as tightly as she could. It wasn't long before he was once again rubbing at his eyes with the heels of his hands. Katherine reached into his pocket to get his handkerchief and dabbed at his tears. He smiled self-consciously as he took the cloth from her to finish the job before he gently cleaned up her face, too. When he was done, he lowered his eyes as he nervously toyed with the handkerchief.
"Jack?" She dipped her face to get into his line of vision.
He lifted his face and looked at everything but her. "Um, yeah." He cleared his throat nervously. "Uh, I's just wonderin' 'bout what you said. Did ya really mean it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Just there." He indicated the opening to the ladder. "As you was getting' ready to leave, you told me to remember that you—, that—"
A lone tear escaped down his face and his chin quivered as he fought to maintain control of his emotions.
She took the handkerchief from him. "Yes." She wiped at his face once more. "I meant it."
His eyes flew to hers in disbelief.
She smiled. "I love you, Jack Kelly. I have almost from the first."
His heart stopped. His mouth opened, then closed again. He caressed her face before cupping it in his hands. "Fer sure?" he asked, hoping desperately that she really meant it.
She looked him directly in the eyes and told him, "Fer sure."
He pulled her to him. His kiss told of all his longing, fears, and doubts. Hers reassured him that all was well. His arms moved down her arms and across her back to pull her more closely to him, and the kiss changed to promises of love and devotion.
He broke the kiss after several minutes and leaned back to drink in the sight of her being in love with him. It was astounding! He couldn't believe it! "So, do ya think getting married is a good idea?"
"I do," she agreed. "But I have a couple of conditions."
A guarded look veiled his eyes. "What's that?" he asked suspiciously.
"First, can we sit down? This grate is starting to kill my knees."
He looked at her in confusion, not having expected something so trivial. But he twisted to sit, leaning against the railing, settling her across his lap. "Better?"
"Much," she agreed, giving him a quick kiss that evolved into more kisses.
He broke off again. "What's the other conditions?"
"Just one, and it should be easy."
"Just tell me already!"
"You have to ask me."
"You have only said that you want to marry me and that you think it's a good idea. You have not actually asked me to marry you."
He growled under his breath. "Let me get this straight. You know I wanta marry you."
"I know you wanta marry me."
"So's we want to marry each other, but you still needs me to ask ya?"
"I do. It will only happen once, and I would like it to be done properly." She giggled, destroying her mock air of high-society respectability. "Please, Jack?"
He growled again. "It better be only once…" He moved her off his lap as he stood, then held out a hand to help her up and pulled her into his embrace.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and snuggled against his chest.
"Medda told me she asked me mother how she knew she wanted to marry me father. Me mother said that she knew because the only thing she could think of was me father, all day and all night. Kat, that's how I feel about you. When we's apart, I just want to get back together. When we's together, I never want it to end." He leaned back to look down at her, tangling his fingers in her hair, his thumbs brushing her cheeks. "I love you, Kat. There's no words that I know that can tell ya how much, but I do know that I don't never want to be apart from you again. Will you marry me so's we can be together all the time?"
She looked at him for a long moment, her heart thumping in anticipation, loving this man in her arms more than anything else in the world.
He looked down at her, his heart thumping in nervousness, wondering if she would leave him now or—
—accept his proposal—wait—what? Did she accept? Did he hear her correctly? "Yes?" he repeated, making sure he wasn't hearing only what he wanted to hear. "Yes?"
She raised up on her toes to kiss him. "Yes," she repeated with a heart-stopping grin.
"Yeah!" he shouted in triumph.
She laughed in delight as he gathered her up and swung her around and around.
He finally set her down and looked deeply into her eyes. "You're sure? You mean it? You won't be changin' your mind?"
"I'm absolutely certain. I definitely mean it. I will not be changing my mind."
"What about your father—?"
"I don't think he'll be much of an obstacle, but if so, I'm old enough to get married without his consent."
"You really mean it," he whispered in awe.
"I do." She brushed hair off his forehead. "I love you. I don't like being apart any more than you do."
He just stared at her for a long moment, wondering at his luck at having such an angel in his life, and she was his, she wanted to be with him. "I have this," he told her, reaching into his pocket.
"What is it?"
"I know it's not much, and you can get a different one if you want to."
"What? Show me," she urged him, curious about what was in his hand.
He opened his fist to reveal a ring. It was gold with a small emerald flanked by three smaller sapphires on either side. "Medda gave it to me. She said me mother gave it to her as payment for watchin' out for me."
"You've never mentioned your mother."
"Yeah. I never really knew her. She died when I was about three or four."
"I'm so sorry."
"She was sick or somethin', knew she was gonna die, that's why she gave Medda the ring. Pops would have to work so I had to go somewhere 'cause I was too young to wander the streets by myself."
"I ended up doin' that pretty much anyway. Medda couldn't keep me still long enough to keep me in one place, but at least I had a place to go. One of the guys that used to work there showed me how to draw. I would help him paint the back drops and other stuff around the joint.
"So when I was there asking Medda for advice, she told me the story about me mother and gave me her ring. You know, just in case I's able to stop acting like a idiot." He grinned sheepishly.
Katherine chuckled. "You're still an idiot," she teased. "But you're my idiot."
"She said me mother liked jewels with color in them, so she picked these because she liked the colors, but that they also had special meanings."
"Emeralds represent fidelity and love. Sapphires are for wisdom and truth."
"Sounds about right for a weddin' ring, don't it?"
He cleared his throat, nervous again. "Um, I know it's prob'ly not what you're used to or anything, but I was wonderin' if you'd wear it, at least just for now. We can get another one to replace it if you want to. But would you wear it just for now, so's people can see it? So that they'll know you're mine?"
Panic enveloped him. "Why!"
"Jack, if you place that ring, with its beautiful story and place in your family's history, on my finger tonight, it will not come off. Ever. I will not wear it 'just for now.' I want it understood that I think that ring is among the most beautiful I have ever seen, and once it's on my finger, it will be there forever."
His shoulders drooped with relief. "You really want to be with me," he stated in wonder.
She caressed his face. "Yes, Jack. I do."
He leaned down to kiss her. "Maybe one day I'll figure out why someone like you falls in love with someone like me, but tonight…" he reached for her left hand. "Katherine 'Plumber' Pulitzer, I love you."
"I love you back," she whispered, her hand shaking as she watched him slip the ring onto her finger. It was, amazingly, a perfect fit. She looked at the ring for a long moment, wondering at the magnitude of what it meant to be perched there on her finger, then she looked up at him. Words escaped her so she threw her arms around his neck and held on tight.
He chuckled and wrapped his arms around her, loving how she felt within their embrace.
Startled, they broke apart and looked down at the ladder. Race was there, his head just poking up above the floor.
"Hey, Jack, is you a fancy gent, yet?"
"Yeah. Least ways, I think so
They looked to Katherine for confirmation.
"A fancy gent," Jack explained. "Ya know, when the girl says 'yes' and gets a ring?" He help up her hand and lightly rubbed her new ring with his thumb. "After that, they's Fancy, ain't they?"
Katherine laughed. "Yes, I suppose they are!" She caressed his cheek. "You are my fiancé, and I am yours."
"Sounds pretty fancy to me!" Race declared. "Like any of us would've expected any different." He scoffed. "Anyways, we been waitin' too long for you guys, so are ya ever comin' down?"
"Give us a minute, we'll be there," Jack said as Race scampered down the ladder, announcing to everyone within hearing distance, "Hey guys, Jack's a Fancy Gent!"
"And what was that all about," Katherine demanded with a grin. "As if I couldn't figure it out."
Jack smiled sheepishly. "I many have let Race and Crutchie know I was gonna ask ya to marry me tonight. They've got a party all set up." He headed down the ladder.
"Is that so? Am I so transparent that they knew the outcome before the proposal was made?" She followed him down.
"I dunno 'bout that." He lifted her off the ladder and set her down in front of him. "But I s'pose it was clear to everyone but me that we was in love with each other, so there's only one thing left to do, and why would anyone say no to yours truly?"
"Why, indeed?" She pulled him close for a quick kiss before hooking her arm in his as they headed down the stairs. "Let's go to our first party together, Mr. Kelly."
"We've been to parties before."
"Yes, but this time, we're engaged."
He stopped. "Does that mean that people will know we's gonna get married to each other just by looking at us?"
"Yes, but this ring on my finger will help." She waved the fingers on her left hand to show off the ring.
He pulled his arm from hers and draped it across her shoulder, pulling her into his side. He kissed the top of her head. "Well, then, let's commence with bein' engaged."
She laughed in delight as they entered the front door to the Newsboys' Lodging House. "Fer sure." And she kissed him full on the lips, right in front of everyone, with their whoops and hollers of delight and triumph ringing in the background.