Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Disney and his likeness is only used for fan related purposes.
Author's Note: Well, I went and saw the new Newsies! the Musical last Sunday and, overall, I really liked it. Though they entirely changed the character of Jack, I still liked what he stood for - I was glad he still had his fascination with Santa Fe - and I guess this little one-shot is the result of that. As a challenge to myself, I tried to stick to the new canon, and that's including the new spelling of Crutchie and the new Medda Larkin character (she ended up being a little different from the Medda Larkson we all know and love with her new-ish costume and new song number).
Therefore, I just thought I'd warn that there are spoilers below for the musical. It's going to be different from my other stories - at the very least Jack has dark hair and is now an artist - and I just want to make sure that it's stated up front. Other than that, if you read it - please enjoy it!
A City Out of Clay
Close your eyes, come with me, where it's clean and green and pretty,
and they went and made a city out of a clay...
Jack Kelly scratched his head of dark hair, his brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed on the canvas in front of him. Canvas, of course, being a generous term; it was more like an old white sheet stretched tight across the backdrop fixture in front of him. Granted, it worked well—in his frustration, Jack had already sketched out his feelings for Pulitzer and his price hike on the back on the make-shift canvas—but, dreamer he may be, even he couldn't pretend an old white sheet was anything like a real artist's canvas.
Then again, to have a real artist's canvas, he had to be a real artist. Not just some big mouth kid from New York who could do nothing better than get in trouble, no matter what he did. Smacking his cap against his thigh as he remembered all too vividly the events of last night, Jack let a bitter scowl mar his handsome features just long enough for him to remember that he promised a new backdrop for Ms. Medda for that night and damn if he would break his promise to her.
Especially after he already broke his promise to Crutchie—
Jack gave his head a clearing shake and jammed his cap back onto his head, freeing his hands. Then, hitching up his worn trousers, rolling back the sleeves on his light blue button-down shirt, Jack squatted down to look at the paint supplies Medda had rounded up for him. He nodded appreciatively. Plenty of oil paints, countless colors, and that brush right there looked like it cost a couple of bucks at least. For this haul, he decided as he reached an ink-stained hand out and started to sort the colors, he could forgive her for the old sheet.
Reds. Oranges. Browns. For the picture in his head, those were the sorts of colors he would need. And, since this was to be the backdrop for another of Ms. Medda Larkin's vaudeville performances, Jack allowed for a liberal amount of dark pinks and light purples to round out the scene.
He could see it all. Santa Fe. Sometimes he wondered how he knew what a small town in New Mexico looked like but he was sure he could capture it in his art as easily as he could pluck any horrendous memory from the Refuge—the rats, the stale food, three boys to a bed—and give it life with his pencil and a scrap of paper. Sketching Katherine Plumber's face that night in this same theater had been just as simple, a need to capture it with some sharp strokes and a touch of shading. Jack would turn his attention to this backdrop the same way.
It was the least he could do. It was something, something to keep him busy, to keep his mind off of yesterday. Dipping his brush into the oil paint, he started to attack the sheet, his thrusts in time to the memory of the fight that took place in Newsie Square. Damn Weasel and damn the Delancey brothers too, and damn Joseph Pulitzer most of all for jacking up the price! It was because of them... because of them that the stupid Newsboy Union was disbanded before they could really be a membership. Because of them that Crutchie...
His belly churned with guilt again; he winced when he thought of Crutchie, bruised, battered Crutchie, so beaten by the damn Delancey brothers that he could barely put any weight on his good leg. Crutchie, locked in the same Refuge Jack had escaped from, riding out on Teddy Roosevelt's carriage as if he was somebody, and not some New York nobody destined to drop in the gutters. This city was keeping him down, but not for long. The first chance he got, Jack would take it and he would get the hell out the big city.
Santa Fe... Let these bums keep their small life in a big city. All Jack wanted was a big life in a small town.
The red gave the scenery a little life. For Santa Fe, a city out of clay, he needed the bold reds, trying hard not to think of the blood shed, the blood spilled all because Jack Kelly, Jack the big mouth, Jack the blowhard, Jack had to open his mouth without thinking. That's what he told Katherine: he was the voice. Davey was the brains. The new boy hadn't wanted to join up, he hadn't wanted to fight the price hike, but Jack had and look where that got them. Crutchie, locked up. Davey, probably back home with Les and—Jack gave another vicious jab with his paintbrush—his folks. And Jack, hiding. Fresh on the run from Snyder again, he heard that familiar shout of "Kelly!" and, with only the smallest of glances back at his fallen pal, left Crutchie to the Delancey's as he ran.
That was why he was hiding out, lying low at Medda's theater again. Not because he wanted to paint her new scenery for her, but because he couldn't even think about meeting up with the fellas and not see Crutchie with his gimp leg and his crutch waiting at the window for him with a smile on his face and adoration in his eyes.
Jack promised him Santa Fe, with its clean air and a white palomino so Crutchie could ride around in style. All he gave his friend was hell.
And it was all his fault.
Jack had the sudden urge to break out of this dark room and climb to his rooftop and pretend, if only for the moment, that he was away from New York City. Santa Fe, his sweet siren song, was calling to him and he clung to that, never once putting his brush down. He let his mind go blank, pushing past the images of newspapers being torn and shredded and thrown into the air, past the images of the young boys being pushed around and bloodied, past the cops coming in and throwing their weight around... he stubbornly chose to let it all go, focusing only on Santa Fe.
That was all he had left.
Sweat began to trickle down from his hairline; it stung when the sweat touched his eyes and, embracing the pain, he simply wiped the back of his hand across his forehead and continued to paint. At some point Jack took off his newsboy cap—it lay, forgotten, somewhere between the umber paint and the towel he used for wiping his brush. He only had eyes for the sheet which, he admitted after awhile, was the best canvas he could've hoped for. Highlighting the shadows, the lumps of clay, the clouds with Medda's favorite shade of garish pink, the scene was coming along nicely. The Santa Fe in his mind was on display for anyone to see, if they managed to stop ogling the seasoned vaudeville performer long enough to notice.
In that case, he mused, it be a wonder if anyone saw it at all.
Jack wasn't alone for long—or maybe he was by himself for forever, and it only seemed that way. Whatever the reason, whether he was lost in his work, lost in himself, or just plain lost where nowhere could find him, Jack took it for granted that he could stay by himself... until Medda came around, checking up on him.
He smelled her perfume before he saw her, and that was saying something. A whiff of flowers on the stale, smokey air was so strong that Jack raised a hand to cover his mouth, certain he could taste lilies and roses. The clacking of her heels against the stage warned him she was coming next and he took his head down from the New Mexico clouds just in time to see her coming.
Medda Larkin was approaching from the other side of the backstage. Wearing one of her more modest costumes, Jack was reminded of the other afternoon when he brought Davey and Les there. Poor kid, it was like Les had never seen a lady's legs before. He wondered how Davey explained his younger brother's new education to their mother and, for the first time that morning—was it even morning anymore?—Jack had the urge to laugh.
"How's it going, kid?" she asked, a coy lilt to her voice that had long since stopped from making Jack's pulse quicken. Medda was an old friend, the closest thing to family he had that wasn't the newsies, and he could even manage to look her in the eye instead of, ahem, elsewhere.
Wiping his hands on his trousers, Jack dropped his paintbrush down to the stained towel Medda lent him. He took a step back and tried to take a look at his painting with someone else's eyes. He shrugged. "I think it looks all right."
She joined him, standing at his side, her finger on her chin as she took in the painting. Her eyes twinkling in delight, Medda reached over and patted him on the shoulder, impressed. "I don't know how you do it, Kelly."
"I guess... I don't know, Ms. Medda, I guess it's just somethin' I see in my head."
"That's better than some of things my customers see in their heads, let me tell you." Medda patted the back of her red hair, giving Jack a cheeky grin. "Ain't we lucky you see such pretty pictures. There isn't anyone else in this city that could do work like you do. Such a steal."
"I don't do it for the money," Jack said, and even as he said it, he knew it was true. There were better ways to get out west to Santa Fe than that. Until then, a painted city would have to do.
"Sure, sure. And I own this building here because I've got an eye for real estate," Medda teased, adjusting the bosom on her costume until it was high enough to be modest, but low enough to draw in the crowd. "So, you think I'll be able to use this set for tonight's number?"
"Yeah, as long as you don't bump back into the, uh, the canvas. Paint'll still be wet."
Medda pinched Jack's cheek and Jack let her. He was too used to Medda by now to think anything of her waywardness. "I wouldn't mess up this art for the world," she said and Jack, looking at the painted sheet, saw where the sun would fall on the clay and hurriedly retrieved his paintbrush from the towel on the ground.
Seeing that spark of creativity in a fellow artist, Medda walked away then, humming "Don't Come a-Knocking" under her breath, accentuating each beat with a shake of her hip as if she were already rehearsing for that night's performance. Already lost once more in the picture in his head, Jack barely noticed she was leaving, though he sighed in relief when she was gone. He just wanted to be alone.
That thought made him pause, his paintbrush halfway to the gold-colored paint at his feet. A small smile, a ghost of the charming grin he'd sported at Katherine only a day ago, it flickered across his face. Alone... That was New York for you. Nowhere else could a newsie run to a vaudeville joint for a little peace and quiet. Even in his remorse and his guilt, he had to recognize that. Recognize it and, if only for that one crazy moment, embrace it.
It wasn't Santa Fe, but then again, Jack thought as he started on the sunlight, he wasn't a cowboy, was he? And, at least with a paintbrush in his hand, he couldn't get anyone else hurt.
Not again. Not for him.
Just be real is all I'm askin', not some paintin' in my head,
'cause I'm dead if I can't count on you today...
End Note: I couldn't help myself with that little dig at the end ;) If there's one thing I just couldn't get over when I watched the show, it was the absence of the whole "Cowboy" persona. I mean, it worked, but can Jack Kelly really be Jack Kelly without his cowboy hat? Hmm...
This might be the first of musical-based one-shots I can explore with. I'm going to see it again in Millburn, NJ on Sunday as a birthday present from my sister (my birthday is Monday), and if I get any more inspiration, I'm sure you'll see it pop up here :)
- stress, 09.28.11