NA: This is written for the awesome, wonderfully amazing Stress in the Secret Santa exchange on the NML. She requested a story about Jack and her OC Stress, and I hope it lives up to her expectations. The East Coast is buried in snow right now so this story feels very fitting.
Jack never thought he would help Stress build a snowman on a Manhattan sidewalk - but he did. Luckily it turned out better than he expected.
Stress scrunched her eyebrows together in concentration as she stared at the blank, snow covered street in front of the Bottle Alley Home for Girls. Her mind canvassed the empty lane, working hard to imagine what it would look like if a snowman were added to the scene.
It would be odd – not everyday a snow figure stood on a New York street after all.
Snow was nothing new to Stress and her friends. Every December it blanketed the city, inconveniencing everyone who was forced to trudge through it daily.
It wasn't a little amount of snow either. All those little flakes stacked up to several feet before spring came. It fell mercilessly, shutting down parts of the city, clogging roads, and forcing people inside. This winter was no exception.
Unfortunately, the city's daily activity had trampled the previous snowfall, leaving the it all but pure and clean. Another storm last night covered over the mess, renewing the sight of a white snow covered city.
The kind of sight that created a winter wonderland that inspired Stress' imagination.
Caught up in the momentary beauty of snow-covered New York, she wanted to add a snowman to the scene before the snow was trampled or melted. It was just an idea. Then before Stress knew it, her thoughts carried away, until she stood outside in the chilly afternoon air. With every passing minute she further envisioned her masterpiece.
Jessa Rhian smiled at her own silliness.
Could a snowman be considered a masterpiece?
Probably not she reasoned, but it was worth a try. No one was there to tell her otherwise.
The other girls, her friends at the Bottle Alley Home for Girls, thought her crazy for wanting to spend another hour outside instead of warming herself by the fireplace. Needless to say, none of them wanted to join her.
They just didn't understand.
She wouldn't be surprised if some of the girls were watching her from the windows right now as she stood on the sidewalk in front of the Home, still dressed in her warm winter wear: her warm boots, wool socks, black coat, green scarf, and tan mittens, and gray cabbie hat.
It wasn't too cold Jessa reasoned to herself, just chilly. Cool enough for a heavy snowfall in the early morning, wool mittens, and rosy cheeks on her fair Irish skin.
Stress wanted to build a snowman, and that's exactly what she planned to do, with or without the company of her friends.
To her luck, the frigid December temperatures that brought most the snow warmed to a toasty twenty-some degrees. Compared to last week, it felt like July again. The tiny heat wave warmed the snow, providing the perfect conditions to pack the snow - as she had witnessed when the World newsboys got into a snowball fight this morning.
The thought made her grin too as she remembered watching them. Boys will be boys, she reminded herself, shaking her head in amusement.
With a final gesture to her thoughts, she nodded and pulled down the brim of her hat more comfortably over her ears. Stress tucked her skirt beneath her legs and knelt beside a tall snowdrift.
To her delight the snow packed together easily. She scooped a handful together, grabbed another and did the same. When her ball was large enough, she stood and rolled the pile through the undisturbed snow along the side of the building, letting it grow and grow with every push.
Rolling snow was more exhausting than she thought. She was already tired from a full day's work and her muscles told her so. After a few pushes, when it was large enough to satisfy her, she stepped back to check her progress. All the snowmen she had ever seen had been pictures in books and shop windows. They looked perfectly round, white and pristine. Hers didn't look as neat. Instead it was lop-sided and smudged with little patches of dirt picked up the from street.
The image didn't deter Stress. She was far too determined to give up on her snowman now.
She stepped forward to roll into place it beside the building.
A few blocks away Jack Kelly walked through the snow covered streets with a relaxed and casual ease. In his hands were a few spare newspapers in hand to take back to the lodging house to keep the fireplace a little warmer. Now he and the other newsies had the chance to refund their extras, but in the winter each the boys decided heat was more important than profit. Like all the other newsies, he had already finished selling the single Sunday edition and was headed back downtown to meet his friends. Who he found didn't matter, though he had someone particularly in mind.
This morning's snowball fight with the guys, fun as it was, never gave him a chance to talk with Stress as she walked past the distribution center on her way to work. Seeing her from a distance, he waved quickly, only to have Skittery take advantage of the moment and nail him in the side with a particularly hard ice ball.
That being said, he wanted revenge on Skittery, but more importantly, Jack wanted to see Stress. Maybe that's why his feet were unconsciously taking him toward the girl's lodging house.
He wasn't allowed within a block of that building. Both the Girl's House administrator, Mrs. Cook, and Kloppman would lecture him about disturbing hardworking young women if they found out he had been anywhere near it. Still, he moved onward finding no harm in walking the same route Stress did as she returned every day, hoping to meet her along the way.
As he came closer to the Home he saw one of the girls outside. To his amusement she was trying, and failing, to move a huge ball of snow. The girl pushed and heaved the big ball that stood high as her waist and as round as a wagon wheel. She comically ground her heels into the snow covered pavement, but the ball refused to move. Entertained at her efforts, Jack smiled wondering who the girl was. Odds were he knew her.
Out of curiosity, he wanted to who she was, and he figured, at the very least she could tell him if Stress had come back yet.
Even from a distance the girl looked familiar.
As he approached, suddenly he realized, it was Stress. The closer he went, the more more sure he became. He recognized her familiar coat, gray skirt - the one she refused to patch the hem of, and her pinned back light brown hair.
"Stress!" He called, getting her attention.
She stopped trying to push the giant snowball and looked over at him, instantly smiling. There was no other person she was be happier to see.
"Jack!" The surprise and excitement in her voice mixed, greeting him warmly. Her green eyes lit up as she stepped away from her snowball, momentarily forgetting it. They hugged in greeting. "What are you doing here?" Her tone softened to remind him. "You aren't supposed to be here."
"I was looking for you." It was so simple an answer, but it's the one she wanted to hear.
"What are you doing?" He asked in return, looking back at the pile of snow at her hip. If nothing else it distracted her from shooing him away, though he knew she wouldn't.
"Making a snowman." Stress answered in a matter of fact way as if everyone should be building one on a Manhattan sidewalk.
"A snowman? Jack questioned aloud in amusement. He didn't bother asking why simply because she was Stress. How the idea came about didn't matter. When she had one in her head, she ran with it, come Hell or high water. Jack understood; he loved that about her.
"Yeah. I figured why not." She reasoned enthusiastically, eyes alight in excitement. "The snow is perfect, it's not too cold out. It just felt like the right thing to do today."
Jack nodded, not being able to argue against that logic.
"Could you help me move it against the wall? It's stuck right now." She gestured a mittened hand a few feet away toward the building where she wanted it placed.
"Yeah." He dropped his newspapers next to the building to keep them safe and stepped up beside her. Together they pushed the giant snowball, having little more success than Stress did alone. It was harder than Jack thought. They shoved it harder, and finally the snowball rolled forward. Slowly, with another push, they moved it against the building, beside Jack's newspapers.
"Thanks, Jack." Stress answered earnestly, brushing the extra snow off her skirt. "So are you headed back now?"
He shrugged. "Not yet. It's still early, I got time to kill."
If he wanted to go back to the boy's lodging house to warm himself, he could have taken chance and she wouldn't hold it against him. He rather stand outside in the cold, watching her make a snowman just to spend time with her.
Thrilled he was staying, Stress bent down to take another handful of snow and made a new snowball. Jack, not seeing how he could be useful, leaned against the brick building, watching her. Soon enough she'd need his help again.
"How was your day?" He asked casually.
Stress packed a new snowball, rounding it perfectly "Not as good as yours."
It wasn't what he expected to hear. "Why's that?" Jack asked curiously.
"You were out here all day in the open air and snow and sun. I was in a room with dozens of gossipy factory girls. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the gossip," she pointed out with an air of seriousness, "but it gets annoying."
A chuckle came from Jack, causing Stress to quirk an eyebrow in his direction. "What?"
"You're one of them, too."
"I am not" She defended quickly. Too quickly "Not always. . ." She added as an afterthought, giving the new ball another push, rolling it closer toward the first. "I'm not as bad as them. They just talk to talk. I always have something to say; there's a difference."
Jack nodded, believing her. Stress, being an opinionated young woman, always voiced her mind.
"I'd rather be warm like you." He admitted. "You know it doesn't snow in Santa Fe?" The familiar afterthought rolled through his mind. "It's always warm there."
"It wasn't that cold."
He watched her roll it along the sidewalk. "Not today. Just wait 'til it's below freezing. The ice, wind and frostbite - need help?"
This time Stress had maneuvered the smaller, but still substantial ball near the first. There was no way she would be able to lift it by herself. She glanced at the ball again, hoping she hadn't made it too heavy to lift.
"Yes." Stress said gratefully.
Jack took the side opposite hers and together they lifted it. This ball was heavy too, almost too heavy. For a moment Stress thought it would fall from her grip because she couldn't hold it any longer. With Jack's help, they set it on top of the first snowball.
Stress's muscles shook from the effort. Building a snowman was certainly not a one person job she realized.
The two stepped back to admire the headless snowman again, each in their own way. To Jack it hardly looked like having the potential to become a snowman. He only saw two dirty lumps on the sidewalk. Jessa on the other hand beamed. To her it was already a snowman. She saw the round head and smiling face . . .
Stress paused in mid-thought. They had nothing to use for the face. Somehow the thought never occurred to her earlier. Perhaps without the snow the two of them could dig around an alley to find little pieces of wood or stone, but not now. Not with the streets buried in snow.
"Jack," She turned to him in concern, "What are we going to use for the face?" He watched her, not knowing the answer himself. "There has to be something, buttons, rocks, wood . . ."
To her surprise his eyes lit up with an idea. He stood up straight. "I'll be right back."
Jack hurried down the street, turning left and disappeared, leaving Stress to wonder where he was going and exactly what he might bringing back. Where was he going to find anything from the streets? They were covered in snow. Though she knew, if anyone could find the material she needed, it was Jack. Like any newsie worth his dime, he knew every inch of the city.
In the mean time, Stress created the snowman's head, the final, smallest, and easiest of the three body parts.
A few minutes later she finished and placed the head on the body, making it a few inches shorter than herself. Jack came back to her grinning as he held something carefully between his mittens. Stress' curiosity rose. When he was beside her again he held out his hands to show her a handful of jagged, uneven chipped pieces of red brick.
They were perfect.
"Where did you get that?" Stress asked incredulously. The alleys were full of spare materials, but the weather had buried them all.
He smiled his classic, charismatic Jack Kelly smile. "They were chipping off the back of Third Avenue. I just helped them out a little."
He dropped a few of the bricks splinters into her mittens, keeping some in his own hands. Stress looked them over before choosing two chipped pieces of the same size. Both were large, flat and made perfect eyes.
Jack stepped up to the snowman, with a renewed interest. As she made snowman;s eyes, he made the mouth. The brick pieces he placed created a goofy, lopsided, but no less smiling mouth. Stress couldn't help but smile at his artistry.
He thoughtfully saved the final piece for her to place. Grateful, she took it from Jack's hands and added it, straightening the snowman's crooked smile.
He looked a content and happy fellow standing outside in the snow with his creators.
Both Stress and Jack felt pleased with their work. It was a beautiful snowman and would catch the attention of anyone passing by tomorrow. But something felt missing. Stress couldn't quite put her finger on it.
The snowman had three body parts, two eyes, a brick-chipped nose, and a lopsided grin. Still, something was missing . . . something she just couldn't name.
While thinking, she pulled the brim of her gray cabbie hat down, keeping it snugly in place on her head. As her finger tips touched the well worn material, recognition dawned on her. She knew what had forgotten.
Without a second thought she took the cap off and placed it on the snowman's head at a fashionable angle.
Now it was perfect.
Stress grinned, watching Jack and his reaction. Their snowman looked complete with it's big smiling face and gray cabbie hat.
"It looks like a newsie." Jack remarked, turning to her and grinning.
Stresses' eyes glanced up and down the snowman with his cabbie hat and dirt smudges, before her eyes landed on the little stack a newspapers Jack had dropped beside it earlier. Her face lit up into a grin, too.
So it did.
Have you built your snow newsie today?
pen 'n notebook (Repeat)