Disclaimer: I don't own Newsies or any of its characters.
I met Jack Kelly on a Tuesday afternoon in 1899, three years after I came to this city of lights.
I had woken up late that morning, I remember. Hair in curly disarray, a different shoe on each foot, I ran from the apartment to millinery, falling and scuffing my mismatched shoes until they resembled the burn victims I had seen being hauled out of the store next door the other night.
Fast, faster, fastest – I couldn't be late.
I knew it wasn't going to be a good day.
It was summer, and it was hot. Even in early morning, sweat beads grew along my neck and poured down my chest as I ran to the millinery, dodging children on my way.
I was greeted at the front door with crossed arms and a hard look at my massacred shoes. A deliberate push on the shoulder brought me inside, where I proceeded to trip once more.
"Gracious, Isabel. It's a wonder you can walk down the street."
(Should I tell her I often wonder the same thing?)
"I'm very sorry, Ms. Woods," I said, smoothing out my dress. "I won't be late tomorrow."
Caroline Woods looked at me silently for nearly a minute (she had a habit of doing that). She then clasped her hands in front of her.
"Do make sure that you aren't, Isabel." I watched as her right index finger tapped the adjacent hand. Then, "I need you to take this hat to Mrs. Parker. I believe you know where her house is, no?"
I nodded and went immediately for the door, desperate to get out of the suffocating air of the shop.
"And Isabel," she called from where she stood. "For goodness sake, don't be late."
The perfect last-minute jab. She is really getting good at those, I thought to myself. Mumbling and stumbling out of the store, I walked through the streets, hat box in hand.
I will admit that I do not have the best sense of direction, but Caroline Woods was right in that I did know where Mrs. Parker lived. It wasn't too difficult, as everyone knew where Mrs. Parker lived, seeing as she was the most prolific socialite the world may have ever seen.
I despised going to her house. Oh, but silly me! It wasn't a house in the traditional sense of the word; it would most accurately be described as a mansion. And she was sure to let everyone know, too. From the second you walked in her front door there were twisting stairwells every which way, running from here to there, elegant but a bit too much, you know? You might understand, but well, she obviously didn't.
And boy, how she disliked me. The first time I delivered a hat to her mansion she must not have seen the box in my hand, because she laughed mirthlessly at my presence and closed the door. Humiliating, to say the least. I heard a woman chuckle at me under her breath as she cleaned her stairs. I had to knock again (begrudgingly). She finally saw the box and let me into her mansion, checking behind me for mud tracks.
Oh, and the kicker? Every time I showed up at her house, she would give me a full over glance at my less-than-perfect dresses and would tsk-tsk at me. I hated the tsk-tsk's. Do I look like a horse? A dog, perhaps?
Better not answer that.
Let's forget about her. So there I was, minding my own business, walkingwalkingwalking, on my way to The Mansion. I have a habit of staring at the ground when I walk, which usually helps me avoid stumbling over bumps and dents, but that morning it was my downfall.
BOOM! One minute I'm walking the streets of Manhattan and the next I'm meeting the gutters of Manhattan.
I had attributed my yet another fall to my eternal clumsiness, but was surprised when I was invisibly (to me, at least) picked up from my well-known place on the ground.
Hat box still in hand, I whipped around (in confusion, mind you, not anger).
The first thing I saw was a red bandanna. Odd. Then a ten gallon hat, and then finally the wearer himself. A boy, I noted observantly, and probably around my age.
"Watch where yer goin' next time," the displaced cowboy said to me.
"Why are you wearing that?" Nice one, Izzie.
"What?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"That hat," I said, glancing at it suspiciously.
He looked at me for a minute, not bothering to address my question. "You ain't from around here, are ya?"
"I know what it is; I'm asking why you're wearing it," I said.
He raised his other eyebrow. "'Cause it's mine. Is that good enough for ya?"
I didn't respond; I just kept looking at that hat.
"Yer an odd girl, ya know that?" he said.
"So I've been told."
He laughed, but only a little. Then he looked at me, sizing me up like he was checking for bruises on an apple he planned on buying. "So, where are ya from?"
He looked around. "I'm talkin' to ya, aren't I?"
I bit my cheek.
"What?" he said. "Ya can't tell me where yer from?"
"I don't know if I should. I mean -" I said, trying to soften the blow. "I don't really know who you are."
"Can't blame ya for that."
He didn't look particularly suspicious, except for that ridiculous hat. Caroline Woods would probably like it, I thought. When I didn't respond, he shrugged and turned around to walk away.
It was that hat that did me in. I know, it sounds ridiculous that a hat could persuade me to give up my personal details, but I figured I could trust someone who so naturally wore it around in a place where it didn't belong. I identified with that hat.
"Cuba," I said.
"What?" He turned back around.
"That's where I'm from."
He then proceeded to look me over. "Yeah? Didya come before or after the war?"
I raised my eyebrows. "You know about that?"
"I'm a newsie, Cuba. I know everything."
Ahh, a newsie. That explained the tattered clothes and the devil-may-care attitude. Now that the war was over neither my father nor I tended to read the newspaper much, but Caroline Woods always had one of her girls buy a paper for her in the morning, so I remembered them perfectly well.
"Where'd ya learn to speak English?" he asked.
I suddenly became self-conscious of my accent. "Oh… well, I learned a little back in Cuba, but mostly from living here."
"Ya speak pretty good."
"Thanks," I said, picking at my fingernails.
"Here, ya dropped this," he said, kicking me right out of my reverie and handing me the hat box I had carelessly dropped on the ground.
"What is it?"
"Oh," I said, looking at the box in my hands. "It's a hat."
"Yeah, I'm supposed to deliver it." I had forgotten about Mrs. Parker. I slapped myself on the forehead, knowing it would leave a mark yet again. Bad habit.
The cowboy kid looked at me strangely.
"I'm sorry," I said as I gathered up the box that had fallen out of my hand once again in my surprise. "I really need to go."
I nodded a sort of goodbye and starting shuffling away from the boy. I desperately wanted to run – and knew I needed to if I was going to get to Mrs. Parker's on time – but I didn't want to look too desperate in front of a boy I had just met, especially one as subdued as he.
"Where does she live?" he called after me. I cringed.
"Excuse me?" I asked, turning around.
"Look, I'm the one that made ya late, so I'll help ya get there. Where does she live?"
"I know how to get there," I said, pivoting to walk off again.
"Maybe, but I know how to get there faster."
As I saw it, I had no choice but to tell him. To continue arguing would only waste more time, so I told him Mrs. Parker's address and hoped that he actually knew what he was doing.
As soon as I had told him the address he took off at a jog, and I was obliged to follow. He laughed as I tripped over a crack in the alley street and when a pigeon frightened me as it flew out of its dark nest.
"So you deliver hats?" he asked, a couple paces ahead of me.
"Among other things," I said, brushing a damp cobweb out of my eyes. "I also polish my boss's shoes and kiss the ground she walks upon."
He laughed and it echoed warmly against the brick walls. "So ya really like her, huh?"
We stepped out of the alley into disturbing sunshine – so disturbing I had to cover my eyes. "She might not be so bad if I didn't have to work for her," I replied.
"All bosses are like that."
He was right.
"So how'd ya end up workin' for her, anyway?"
I thought for a minute. "I delivered bread before. I think she was looking for someone to do her deliveries, saw me running around and hired me."
He chuckled as he ran. "I can see why."
"You're fast, kid. Not many people can keep up with me."
I could feel the corner of my lip slipping upwards. "Let's hope so," I said under my breath.
We took a right behind a textile factory I had passed a couple of times on my way to the Parker Mansion.
"How in the world do you find these short cuts?" I called out to him, who was still ahead.
"Newsies gotta know how to get themselves outta sticky situations," he said. "I can get ya just about anywhere in half the time."
I took the chance to prod. "How did you become a newsie?"
He stopped at the corner we were on and looked around, but I wasn't sure if his silence was because he didn't know where to go next or because of my question.
"I needed money."
No more questions. I got the picture.
"We're almost there," he said. I looked down the street and there it was: Mrs. Parker's mansion, standing it all its overdone glory.
"How'd –" I started but realized he was already running down the street, so I followed, stumbling along the way. We were on her front doorstep in mere moments.
"Well, here it is," he said.
I looked back at where we came from, as if it had happened in double speed. "Thanks," I said dreamily.
He nodded and started to walk away. He hesitated and turned around.
"What's yer name?"
"Izzie Romero," I said. I figured I had already told him where I was from, he saw the general area I worked in – I might as well give him the full details.
"Jack Kelly," he said with a fleeting nod of his head. "Nice to meet ya, Izzie Romero. Maybe I'll see ya 'round."
I stared after him like a dope. I was glad for his shortcut, as weird a coincidence as it was to have met him (at least I thought it was a coincidence). A passing car knocked me back into reality. I tapped on the outrageous front door of the mansion and waited. The door opened and I hoped with crossed fingers that the shortcut had been short enough.
Made-up, angry eyes and delicately flared nostrils told me it hadn't been.
During both my lectures (courtesy of both Mrs. Parker and Caroline Woods), I cursed Jack Kelly from New York to Cuba and back again.
A/N: Constructive criticism is welcomed, especially if you find any characters OOC, but flames are not.