I wrote this delightful little tale for Raggazzed12, the wonderful admin of the Pape Selling Competition and my Secret Budsie! Raggs, I hope you're happy with what you made me write. Enjoy your Crutchie feels!
Each scratch, each stroke of pencil over paper, each mark. Every single one brought forth another memory, another tear, another racking sob. Each line that added to the image, every last one made Jack remember more, each addition of a smile line or an eyelash, each building block to the face forming ever so slowly.
The time he had almost fallen off the roof trying to reach a bird's nest on a ledge across the alley.
The time, right after he arrived, when he'd ended up under the table after dropping his crutch and had laughed so hard at himself he'd wet his pants, lying on the floor at the deli.
The times he woke up early to get to the ground before the bell.
The times he'd listened to Jack, payed attention to every word and comforted him, even when he'd been so much worse off.
So many memories, all being contained in a single sketch, already stained and smudged with tears. The candle lighting the small, closet-like room he had locked himself in flickered, and rain began to fall outside the closed window. Jack never looked up from his paper, his pencil never stopped moving, the face never stopped forming. It came into being slowly and steadily, a lopsided smile and big, bright eyes. He paused, finally, and just looked at the drawing for a little while.
"I loved you, Crutchie." He whispered, touching the paper gently. "You were my brother, an' I never told you, not even once. I never said the words. I never told you." Jack's tears were flowing hot and fast, staining the paper even more. "I loved you. I need you. What am I going to do without you?" There was a gentle knock at the door.
"Jack? Can I come in?" Jack wiped an arm over his face, clearing away some of the tears, dirt and snot.
"Yeah." He said quietly. The door opened slowly, and Katherine slipped inside.
"The boys told me you haven't come out of here since...for a while."
"No. I don't want to."
"You need to eat, Jack." She put a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm not hungry." He folded the paper in half, placing it and the pencil on the barrel, next to the candle. "I just want to stay up here."
"You can't lock yourself up for your whole life, Jack."
"Well I don't want to be out there right now, okay? I just want to be up here!" Katherine moved like she was going to sit on the cot across from his, but he grabbed her arm and stopped her. "Don't sit on his bed! He didn't like it!"
"Jack, he's not-"
"Don't say it! I...I don't...I can't…"
"Jack." Katherine sat down next to him and rubbed his back as his body was wracked with more sobs. "It's okay. It's going to be okay, Jack."
"N-no, it won't! He was sick and didn't tell any of us, an' now he's gone! He's gone an' he ain't comin' back! An' I never even told him!"
"Told him what?"
"Told him that I loved him! That he was my brother! That I need him an' care about him an' can't do nothin' without him! Nothin' is gonna be okay ever again!" Jack hunched over his lap. "He never even told me he was sick until it was too late!"
"He didn't want to worry you."
"But if he'd told me, he would still be here!"
"Jack, he's gone, and the boys need you to be helping them, not locking yourself away up here!"
"I can't face them right now, okay, Ace? I need...I need to be alone." Jack turned away from Katherine and looked out the window. "I need time."
"Take some time, then. But don't forget that the boys are out there, needing you, right now. They need you to be strong for them."
"I can't be strong right now."
"Come back to us soon, Jack." Katherine left, closing the door softly behind her after kissing Jack's head.
"I want to be strong for you, Crutch. But I need you back. I need you here." He hunched over again, the tears coming hot and fast. "I need you." He sat up straighter and looked out the window to see rain pouring down, washing the winter's grime down the buildings, melting snow and becoming ice. "Why didn't you tell us? The Doc says if you had told us before you started coughing up blood you would have made it. You knew it was worse than a cold, you knew you were sick, and you didn't tell us. Why not? Why?" Jack picked up the half finished drawing again, and began to scratch away at it once more, adding the hair and more details until the face was complete, smiling goofily up at him. "Why? I miss you, Crutch, I miss you and I need you and I love you and-" Jack's sobs stopped him from continuing to whisper. He crushed the drawing in his fist, curling himself into a ball on his side. "Why? Why did you go? Why did you leave me?"
His brother was gone, Crutchie was gone, and Jack felt absolutely helpless. He cried until his stomach hurt, until he was empty and all he could do was hug his knees to his chest and stare at the cot across from him. The crutch was against the wall, the strike banner was visible folded beneath the pillow. Not one of his things had been moved in the days since he died. The rain had stopped falling, and the sun was going down. It was almost silent in the lodging house. Almost.
But when he really listened, he could hear the only reason he had to keep living. He could hear his older boys trying so hard to be there for the younger ones, trying to keep back their tears. He could hear the little ones sobbing for the boy who had always been there to help them when they were scared, who was always there to encourage them when they thought they couldn't make it. And he could hear the older ones breaking down with them, giving up the ruse that everything was going to be all right, crying with them. He heard the voices of boys who he'd never seen cry, who'd never come up to the roof with a nightmare, sobbing. He heard them talking together, laughing through the sadness with stories and memories. Remembering the bundle of laughter and joy, of hope and optimism that had been Crutchie Morris.
And Jack knew that Crutchie would have been out there with them, helping them cope, if it had been him. If Jack was gone, Crutchie would have been in the bunk room crying and laughing with them, doing whatever he could do to help. And here Jack was, locking himself away, crying alone in a room while the boys he was responsible for, the boys who looked to him as leader, were falling apart. That was wrong.
So Jack stood up. He smoothed the drawing out and folded it into his pocket. He took a deep breath and opened his door, taking in the sight. All the newsies were huddled, arms around each other. Even the toughest newsies in Manhattan, the ones who never showed hurt, were there, hugging their brothers with their tears flowing freely. They looked up and quieted when Jack stepped closer, and he could see the streaks of dirt on their faces and the grief in their eyes. And when Romeo started sobbing, and he saw the young boy's face collapse, Jack couldn't keep his tears back anymore, and he leaned forward and hugged the newsie. The rest of the boys congealed around them, until they were a mess of tears and boys in a heap. Crying together, remembering together, mourning together. Being together. Healing together.
Merry Christmas, Raggs. Are you happy now? Because I'm not. You made me kill Crutchie. I hope you like it, though, because I'm pretty proud of this one. And you wanna know something funny? Your prompts gave me so many ideas that you have your own folder in my Google Drive. I try to avoid that folder when I'm in a good mood. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, all that jazz!