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Jack and Kat's New Year's Eve

Chapter Text

December 31st, 1903
“Come here, chickadee.” Jack said. He plucked his 9-month-old daughter from his wife’s lap. “When you wake up, it’ll be a whole new year.”

Daisy babbled sleepily into Jack’s shoulder.

“One more kiss of 1903, baby girl.” Kat said.

Jack planted a dramatic kiss on Daisy’s cheek, then on Katherine’s. “Mwah! Mwah!”

Kat giggled, then took Daisy and laid her in her crib. They softly shut the door to the nursery.

“Fellas comin’ soon.” Jack said. “Ya need help with anything?”

“Nothing.” Kat said, smiling. “I’ll just put some makeup on.”

Ever since they’d gotten married just a few months after the strike, Jack and Katherine threw the best New Year’s Eve parties. Kat loved taking care of the boys and the boys loved free food. Some years it was just the original pack of guys, and some years they brought girlfriends. They usually invited younger newsboys who needed a decent meal and some love on a cold night. This was the first year they had to include a baby in their plans.

Kat hummed to herself as she touched up her curls and red lipstick. Jack went to the living room and stirred the fireplace with the poker. Orange sparks leapt from the coals. Jack set two more logs on top, then poured himself a drink, sat down, and stared into the warm, dancing flames. Their two-bedroom apartment was quaint by Katherine’s standards and lavish by Jack’s, perfect for their little family. Perfect when filled with his brothers.

The first knock at the door was Crutchie, Specs, and Tommy.

“Good to see ya, pal.” Crutchie said. He gave Katherine a quick hug, then peeled off his coat.“Slick as hell out there.”

“Y’all up for some rummy royal?” Tommy asked. He pulled a deck of cards from the inside pocket of his coat. “Once the others get here.”

“Of course.” Jack said. “Hope ya ready to lose.”

“You boys are brave to gamble with Race.” Katherine said.

Specs handed her his coat. “Thanks, Kat.”

“Ah, I ain’t scared of him.” Tommy rolled his eyes. “Maybe he’ll reign it in once he’s a married man.”

They paraded into the living room to sit by the fire. Tommy, who flirted with the idea of being a bartender, mixed everyone drinks.

“Have y’all met Davey’s new gal?” Specs asked. His cheeks were still pink from the icy evening.

“She’s a hoot.” Crutchie said. “What a lucky fella.”

Jack reached across the arm of his chair for Kat’s hand. “As lucky as me?” He said.

Kat interlaced her fingers with his. “I’m excited to meet her. We haven’t seen you boys enough, since Miss Daisy’s been born and Jack’s been working so much.”

“Daisy should sleep the whole time.” Jack said.

“Hopefully.” Katherine said. “She napped most of the afternoon.”

There was another loud knock at the door and Jack jumped up to answer it. Davey’s new girlfriend, Rebecca, was nearly as tall as him and filled out her green velvet dress. She stuffed her gloves into the pocket of her coat, but kept her black hat on.

Katherine came to the door to welcome her friends. “You must be Rebecca.” She said, extending her hand. “I’m Katherine Kelly. I adore that hat--how fashionable!”

“Thank you.” Rebecca said loudly as they shook hands.“Thank you so much for inviting me.”

Davey gave Jack a hug. “It’s good to see you.” He said. Rebecca shuffled around in her purse and pulled out a shiny bronze ear trumpet with a long neck and a wide bell. “Rebecca is Deaf.” Davey said. “Er, mostly deaf. But she talks great.”

Jack smirked. “We’ve got a crip already and a half-blind kid got us into the newsing business. Why not a deaf gal, eh?” He said. “It’s a pleasure to meet ya, Rebecca.”

She shook his hand. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Jack Kelly.” She said.

“All good, I hope.”

“Not at all.” Rebecca said, struggling to hide her smile. “I heard you were the greatest rascal in all of Manhattan.”

Jack and Davey laughed. “Well, I’ll take it.” Jack said.

Race and his fiancée Lydia knocked on the door before Rebecca and Davey could even sit down.

“The fellas are wanting to play rummy royal.” Jack told them as they walked into the living room. “Ya ever play poker?”

Lydia shook her head shyly. “No, but I can learn.”

“Hell yeah, ya can.” Race said. “That’s how we stoked the fire in the newsies lodge, Lyd. Competition. Keeps the spirits up.”

Tommy got up from his chair and patted Race on the back. “That’s right, bud. Who needs supper or a cozy bed when ya got the satisfaction of winning to keep ya warm at night?”

“Like you’d know!” Crutchie said.

“Aw, shut up.” Tommy said.

The group migrated to the dining room table. There were only four chairs so they crowded around in a mismatch of arm chairs and kitchen stools. Tommy and Jack nimbly dealt cards and poker chips, Kat brought apple cider and sandwiches, while Race tried to teach Lydia and Rebecca his favorite card game.

Rebecca shook her head and laid her ear trumpet next to her pile of cards. “Hang on, is a straight or a flush better? Which one was which again? Sorry.”

Race opened his mouth to try to explain again, and Rebecca held her trumpet to her ear and fixed her big brown eyes on Race’s face to try to lipread.

“Here.” Kat said. A scrap of notebook paper fluttered onto the table in between Rebecca and Davey. It was the list of poker hand rankings in Kat’s neat, curly script. “I have to look it up every time.”

“Thanks, Kat.” Lydia said.

The girls were smart and with Kat’s cheat sheet picked up on the game within a few hands. Race and Specs lit cigars, and Jack rested his hand on his wife’s knee. The massive fire Jack had built glowed, comforting and bright.

“Do...do they always turn into children when they’re together?” Rebecca softly asked Lydia, who nodded.

“Okay, but I was not the one who jumped off the fire escape!” Jack was arguing with his brothers.

“Oh hogwash, Jackie, of course it was you!” Tommy said.

“Nah, it wasn’t Jack, it was Elmer and Romeo.” Crutchie said. “They thought they could use a sheet as a trampoline.”

“I remember that now. Damned miracle none of us was killed.” Specs laughed. He took a swig of his drink, tossed a card into the center of the table, and looked at Rebecca and Davey. “Sooo, how’d you two meet?”

“Shul.” Davey said. “Um, temple.”

“Bet ya mama’s thrilled ya found a nice Jewish girl.” Jack said in a high singsongy voice.

Davey rolled his eyes. “Your impression is uncanny.”

Lydia, petite and bookish and barely 19, turned to Kat. “We’re choosing our flowers for the wedding this week.” She said.

Kat grinned and squealed. “I’m so excited. It’ll be a lovely wedding.” She tapped lightly on the corner of the table and Rebecca turned to Kat. “Anthony—Racetrack— and Lydia are getting married in May. Aren’t spring weddings just beautiful?”

“That’s wonderful.” Rebecca agreed.

Daisy’s wailing crescendoed from the bedroom.

“Someone’s awake.” Davey smiled. Kat jumped up to check on her.

“She’s gotta be huge now, ain’t she?” Crutchie said.

Jack nodded. “She’s just started crawling all over the place. It’s wild, fellas, how fast this tiny little thing can move.”

Kat appeared at the edge of the hallway with a fussing Daisy on her shoulder. “Jack, come here a minute, please.”

Chapter Text

Jack followed Kat back to the nursery. “You heard all the fun and wanted to join the party, didn’t ya, a storin ?” He reached over Katherine’s shoulder to play with Daisy’s blonde curls. Tears streamed down her pink face.

Kat patted her back. “I changed her diaper, but she won’t calm down. This isn’t like her.” She said. “Does she feel warm to you?” She handed Jack the baby.

Jack held Daisy under his arm and pressed his huge hand to her cheek, then her forehead then her other cheek. “Huh.” He mumbled. He used his thumb to wipe her tears away. “Yeah…Shhh.” Jack soothed. “Shh.” He gently kissed her forehead, then licked the heat from his lips. “Yeah, Kitten, she’s definitely got a fever. And her nose is running.”

“What do we do, Jack?” Kat said. Her voice was quiet and tense. “She’s never been sick before.”

Jack sat down in the rocking chair and held Daisy in his lap. Her cries slowed to hiccups; she looked back and forth between her parents with big green eyes.

“Maybe give her a bath or something to cool her down?” He said. “I dunno, Ace. I ain’t never done this before.”

“Neither have I!” Kat said. She took a deep breath. Across the apartment, their friends laughed loudly.

“We better send the fellas home.” He said.

Kat frowned. “Man, some hosts we are.”

“Ain’t ya fault ya not feelin’ good.” Jack said to Daisy, then stood up and handed her to Katherine.

“I’m gonna see if I can get her to nurse.” Kat said. She traded him places in the rocking chair. “Tell everyone how sorry I am.”

“Yeah.” Jack said.

His friends were still laughing when he got back to the table. “Hey hey, Jackie, ya gotta hear this story!” Race said. The girls had parted from their beaus, leaning close together to gossip. Jack’s half-finished drink and half-decent poker hand laid in front of his empty chair, but he couldn’t sit down.

“Miss Daisy joining the party?” Crutchie asked.

“Did Katherine get her back to sleep?” Davey asked.

“Actually, fellas,” Jack said. “Daisy ain’t feelin’ so good. She...she was fine earlier but now she’s got a fever.”  

A chorus of awwws and oh no came from the table. Tommy stood up, cigar still hanging from his lips, and began collecting his cards.

“Katherine and I’s real sorry to have to kick y’all out.” Jack said. “We just...I...she ain’t never been sick before.”

“Hey, man, life happens.” Crutchie said. He finished his drink and looked around for his crutch.

“Don’t sweat it, Jack.” Race said. “Take care o’ ya family.” 

Jack began to pace, wearing a line between the dining room and the parlor. “She ain’t never been sick before.” He repeated. Daisy’s long, high-pitched cries were loud enough to be heard through the closed bedroom door. “Poor kid.” Specs muttered. Jack did a couple restless laps around the couch.

“‘Ey ‘ey, what's all this fretting for?” Race grabbed Jack by the shoulder and stood with him in front of the dying fire.

“Jack.” He said quietly. “You one of da best guys I know, a’right? Ya a great dad. Ya took care of plenty of sick newsboys and we didn’t have nothin ’, ya know. We’s all out there begging for bread and hacking out headlines wit the Christmas plague every dang year.”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember.”

“But you’re married to an heiress, Jackie. Y’all got everything ya need.”

Jack shook his head. “She jus a baby, Racer. Listen to her.”

“I know, buddy.” He said. “But she gonna be fine.”

Jack looked into the coals. Tommy walked past them, lugging an ottoman they’d pulled up to the table back to its place.

“What y’all doing?” Jack said. Specs and Crutchie were clearing the table, lugging stacks of cider mugs and plates into the small kitchen.

“Helpin’” Crutchie said. “Kat don’t need to worry ‘bout a sick baby and cleanin’ up after a party.”

Jack followed them into the kitchen, a stuffy, awkward space at the back of the apartment. Davey was putting the extra sandwiches in the ice box. Lydia and Rebecca pumped water into the sink.

“We can get out of your hair if you’d rather, Jack.” Lydia said. “But it won’t take us a moment to do these dishes up.”

“Y’all!” Jack said. “It’s a holiday. It ain’t even 10 yet. Go out. Enjoy ya selves.”

His brothers pretended not to hear him. Rebecca, who actually didn’t hear him, turned around. “Where is your soap, please?”

“Hey, Jack.” Davey said. He leaned against the wooden ice box.  “If it helps, Les coughed through every winter til he was four or five and our mother always gave him peppermint tea. Or I remember sometimes taking him outside and breathing the cool air helped.”

Davey took a bite of a sandwich. Jack ran a hand through his hair. “Ya too dang smart, ya know that?” Jack said.

“We got this handled.” Specs waved his hand. “Go take care o ya girls, Jackie.”

 

Chapter Text

While Jack was panicking, Katherine’s maternal instincts had kicked in.

She rolled up the sleeves of her party dress and filled the bathroom sink with cool water. (Kat’s beloved claw foot tub was so large Jack said he’d teach Daisy to swim in it.) Jack leaned against the door frame, staring, as Kat gently ran a washcloth over Daisy’s flushed face, her round belly, her tiny toes. She stopped screaming.

“Yeah, that feels good, doesn’t it, honey?” Kat said softly. Daisy splashed.

Katherine hummed as she dressed Daisy in her favorite pajamas. The front door opened and shut as their friends snuck out.

Daisy patted Kat’s chest, leaving tiny wet handprints. With her daughter balanced on one arm, Katherine reached to undo the shiny black buttons that ran down her spine.

“‘Ere.” Jack took a step forward. “This I can do.” The red fabric was soft between his fingers.  

Kat squirmed. “For the love of all that is good, why did I wear a corset?”

.

Daisy rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, half-heartedly sucking her thumb while Kat scratched her back. The oil lamp on the dresser wrapped them both in a soft, flickering yellow light.

“You should go to bed, Jack,” Katherine said. She’d kept the rocking chair moving steadily for almost an hour. “No reason for all of us to be up all night.”

He was perched on the foot stool a couple feet away. “I ain’t tired.” He said. He put his elbows on his knees.

“Daisy is.”

“D’ya need anything?” Jack asked for the dozenth time. Kat shook her head.

The baby whined in Kat’s ear. “ Shhh . I know, darlin’. You just can’t get comfortable long enough to stay asleep, can ya?”

“Poor gal.” Jack said. Daisy sneezed; Kat wiped her nose with the edge of her blanket.

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! The clock struck midnight. Jack stifled a yawn into his fist. “Happy New Year.”

“Yippee.” Kat said flatly.

Fireworks exploded throughout the city—Twelve or fifteen rapid bursts rang out in celebration. Daisy lifted her head and looked around for the source of the noise, but didn’t cry. Jack looked into the empty crib, like staring at Daisy’s bed would make her fall asleep. They all sat for a few minutes, suspended in a silvery stillness.

“I wonder if a drop of that cough syrup would help.” Kat said. “It’d knock her out, at least.”

“I’ll get it.” Jack jumped up. He rummaged around in the bathroom cabinets until he found the small glass bottle. A newsboy would spend a whole day’s pay, maybe two, on Kat’s favorite remedy.

Katherine used a dropper to draw up a tiny bit of the amber syrup. “Daisy. Open your mouth, love.” She cooed. “It’s sweet—you’ll probably like it.” Daisy took it like a baby bird. “Good girl. Good girl.” Kat rubbed her back. “Bet that’ll help.”

“It’s saved a newsie life or two fa sure.” Jack said. 

 

Something finally put Daisy to sleep, whether it was the medicine, or the incessant rocking, or sheer exhaustion. Kat cautiously stood up and laid her in the crib. The baby stuck her thumb in her mouth, but didn’t awaken.

Katherine and Jack tiptoed out and shut the door. Jack sighed heavily and Kat disappeared to wriggle out of her dress. He followed her into their dark bedroom and flopped onto the bed.

“Change clothes, Jack.”

“Don’t wanna move.” he mumbled. Kat threw a shirt at him. “Thanks.” He sat up slowly and pulled on his pajamas.

Katherine crawled into bed and Jack wrapped his arms around her. “You’re amazing, Ace.”  He said. Kat drew small circles across his chest with her finger. “How’d you know what to do?”

“Intuition, I guess. She’s liable to be up again soon. Might call a doctor tomorrow if she’s not better.” She yawned. “When I was a little girl I always thought house calls were so special.”

“Yeah.” Jack said. He didn’t think he’d been to the doctor in his life, let alone a house call.

“When I was sick when I was younger, my nanny would bring me tea and make me stay in bed all day, so I’d let down all the sides of my canopy bed and hoard all my sister’s paper dolls.”

Jack smiled a crooked half smile. “Ma told stories.” He remembered his mother’s cool, soft hands on his face and the old Irish legends that wrapped around him like a quilt. God, my sisters and me was always sick. Cause the pipes leaked, ya know.”

Kat nodded. “You’ve said. That’s horrible.”   

He closed his eyes and saw the narrow, musty apartment. It wasn’t horrible. It was their home for the first eight years of his life; he didn’t know any different.

His earliest memories remained vivid and haunting. Sometimes, he was still five years old, half asleep, puzzling over his baby sister’s ashen face and his parents’ tears.

Jack used to wonder when he’d stop thinking about Molly, or about that long, drizzly winter when the Russian Flu swept through their apartment complex. When he’d stop seeing himself, seven years old, standing on shaking legs watching the hearse disappear up the street. When he’d stop yearning for his mother and Ciara.  That day hadn’t come yet.

And he still thought about his father, who sometimes carried himself like an old man at only 33.  

He still thought about rows of bunk beds full of coughing, thirsty newsboys every winter, without enough food or medicine to go around.

He remembered nine-year-old Crutchie the day they met, slumped in a stinking alley with his black eye and twisted foot and dirty clothes. He remembered Crutchie returning from the Refuge after the strike, tired and bruised.

Kat remembered expensive medicines on silver trays and cozy tea parties with a nanny.

“You don’t get it, Ace.” he muttered. “It ain’t fair.”

“No, it isn’t.”

They both knew the hardest memories live in the deepest parts of the brain. Fear and fatigue unlocked the maze and brought them center stage.

“Daisy’s sleeping good.” Kat whispered. “We’ll check on her again in a little bit, yeah?”

Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Daisy was here. Kat was here, rubbing his arm. “Yeah.” he said. “Yeah.”  He was so tired. Fireworks still shot off in the distance, and the grandfather clock struck one.

“We’re all okay, Jack. Promise.” Katherine buried deeper into the crook of his arm and fell asleep.

.

Jack always woke up at dawn to draw. As the sun rose on New Year’s Day, he hopped up and went to Daisy’s room.

She was awake, talking to herself, and beamed when she saw Jack.

“‘Ey, a mhuirnin (uh WER-neen, darling or sweetie),” He said. “Ya feelin’ better?”  He scooped her up, heavy and sleepy in his arms, and kissed her head. Cool as a cucumber. The tightness in his shoulders melted and he smiled back at her.