Disclaimer: I own only the hope that I will have enough money from taxes to fly my butt to New York to see Newsies on Broadway with the greatest people I know. It's a small wonderful hope. I also own the chocolate chip and almond cookies ingested while writing this story, because I bought the ingredients and baked them. Boo and yah.
Summary: Jack came back for the funeral.
Characters: Jack Kelly, Sarah Jacobs
Notes: based post-Newsies and wholly on the idea of Jack eventually leaving New York to make his way to Santa Fe. Also: features "off-screen" character death.
Jack came back for the funeral.
He slipped in quietly near the end of the service, concealed among the black hats and grim faces. At the back he was overlooked, his silent arrival unattended by eyes he hoped, for now, to avoid. He stayed long after the graveside service was ended and the mourners departed, watching until the last of the muddy sod was turned into the hole.
To any observer, his appearance over the mound of fresh soil would have seemed neither abnormal nor interesting. Though his face as a youth had been carefully trained to curtain emotion and conceal the hopes of his heart, age and neglect had worn down the elaborate pulleys his shameful past had created until now his pain was clear on his lined countenance. He mourned openly and alone the one buried beneath his feet. Whispers were rent from his lips by the wind, churned into a storm of too-late apologies and regret. And when finally he had uttered his last sorrow, Jack turned up his collar against the chill and began to walk.
It was a cold, wet March. He'd forgotten that Spring could be either. Out West even the rain tasted different and there was hardly any winter to speak of, save the occasional frosted mist before sunrise. Yet, these things were familiar friends: the biting wind, the steel-grey clouds. Though friendship, long-estranged, had turned at bit sour in the gathered years of his absence; the wet New York air was not kind to his dust-coated lungs and he'd barely ceased coughing from the moment he'd stepped off the train. Until, that is, he'd reached her door. Thought the air outside was ice-cold and harsh, the old apartment greeted him with warmth.
His boots were muddy and he worried they would stain the rug. But she had ushered him in so quickly and seated him at the table so swiftly that he hadn't had the chance to think or breathe or say any of the things he'd ceaselessly rehearsed, let alone untie his boots. He wondered if there was any good in it now, after the damage was surely done, but his attention was drawn away by the room in which he sat: the middle of the Jacobs' apartment.
Sarah hadn't changed much, or anything at all that he could see. The colors were the very same, muted and pale. The furnishings were sparse, but the things that were set out and hung on the walls had a feeling of endurance and memory and love. It was just as he recalled, sharper now that he was back in its center than the faded memories he'd cherished over the years. The four walls did not crush, as his nightmares once had threatened, but welcomed him, more so than he expected.
More than he deserved certainly.
It was that first night, long ago. Young again, seventeen and quick. Sweet was the cake and the celebration to which he'd been welcomed, placed at the table like he belonged. How easy it was to trust that traitorous hope. To look at these people and their smiling eyes and imagine himself to be one of them. To look down at his hands and see them calloused and strong…
The vision blurred and the present came sweeping back into focus. Before his eyes his hands reverted to what time and experience had crafted, darkened by sun and aching with ugly memory.
Jack looked from them quickly and caught Sarah's eyes as she set the coffee before him at the table. She had been inspecting him, watching as the faraway look had crept back from his eyes. Whether she begrudged him the bittersweet moment, or pitied the little pleasure he found in it, he did not know; Sarah gave away no modicum of her thoughts, ill or otherwise, as she settled herself in the chair next to him. Looking at her then, Jack realized how far the years had taken them from the people they once were.
Her body was older now, the soft edges of a young girl polished off. Her hair was twisted up and pinned against her head, soft wisps brushing her neck and falling around her ears, dislodged by the mourning-hat she'd taken off since returning from the graveyard. Her arms looked thinner, yet stronger, and he wondered only fleetingly if they would feel as they did once, encircled around him.
It was her eyes that bore the greatest change. They were beautiful still but their color had darkened; now a heady chocolate, they shone forth no illusions of childhood but illuminated instead the weight of great loss and sadness, and her weariness.
Jack felt a sharp blade of regret strike him in the heart.
Not-surprisingly it had been David who'd called after him (and called him out) in letters sent harsh and firmly-written, a boy reaching out from the depths of betrayal. Jack would read each one, the heavy burden of his decision bearing down on him. Yet none would turn his course back to New York. His way was set and he had to stay true, for once, for himself. At first the letters would find him, wherever he traveled. And then they began to die out, the envelopes arriving weary and worn, postmark outdated. When they stopped altogether, Jack let the silence trouble only the corners of his mind, chalking up the absence to another new address harder to find, or an anger that had finally died out.
He'd left it all, running from more than memory and shame. In truth, he'd never meant to stay so long in the dust. But time had blinded him and Fate's hand had been both sweet and bitter, entwining him in circumstances that sent him wandering, lost and sinking until he'd finally resurfaced with a letter. It was the trapdoor in the gallows of his existence, his saving miracle, though it spoke of the impending death of one beloved.
Les sent the letter, his handwriting was something Jack would never have hoped to recognize if not for the signature at the bottom. But the message was clear: David was ill. And it was time to go home.
David Jacobs died when Jack was yet on the train, only a day's journey from Manhattan.
Neither David or Sarah had ever married. Les had been the only one of them all to make his way into the future as a husband with his wife. Sitting now at Sarah's table, across from her bare fingers, Jack was more painfully aware of these facts than ever before. Yet it meant nothing. Not now anyway. Maybe in a time that had long since passed it would have been important. But today, it simply was what it was.
He took a drink from his cup. The coffee was strong and hot and perfectly sweetened. Jack shifted his feet and heard the squish of wet fabric. He winced.
"I'll make it right," he vowed softly, not realizing the words he spoke until they flopped into the silence that followed them. The hand upon his cup tightened.
Sarah said nothing. She took a small, thoughtful sip from her coffee -her eyes wavering beyond him for only a moment in some faraway place- and then she rose and returned with a box. Another soft tendril of hair had fallen loose around her face. Jack resisted the urge to brush it back as she came back to stand close to him, the box big in her small arms.
"David and I… we kept these," she confessed, her voice quiet. She set the box on the table and returned to her seat, turning her face for the first time away from him and toward the window. "We always believed you'd come back for them."
Jack barely remembered what he'd left in New York until his eyes passed over the objects again. How distant they seemed, their significance lingering only like a shine on tarnished silver, speaking to a sentimentality he struggled to feel again. The box was barely half full, but caringly arranged: a few sheets of paper; a folded shirt or two; a pocket knife. His mother's Bible was in there too, at the bottom, a worn picture sticking from between its passages. A long time ago, it was his whole life inside that box. An entire heritage. All the little things that mattered. Now, he made no move to retrieve a single item. How long had he been consumed with these things already, each new turn a new regret; something great and terrible to ignite his pain?
Jack Kelly had come back to New York. But not for a box of trinkets.
This was the nature of redemption. Sarah and David had forgiven him for the little ways in which he had broke their hearts; it was rather Jack who had been unable to forgive himself. But this was it, his moment of clarity, and sweet acceptance.
With a confidence he thought he had lost, Jack reached across the table and laid his hand over Sarah's.
His heart felt a tender hope; a surge of life, renewed. Old wounds would take longer to mend than an hour's reunion in the cold of spring, but Sarah didn't pull her hand away. And he had time.
Jack had come back to New York. He had come home.