(A/N): Written for Circulation Two of the Newsies Pape Selling Competition.
Prompts: Red; anger, violet; romantic.
Word count: 2,098
Katherine paced back and forth in her tiny apartment, glancing at the clock for the hundredth time. It was just past seven. "That Jack Kelly!" she fumed. "He avoids me all day, he doesn't walk me home, he doesn't stop by to see how I'm doing. We've been dating for almost two years, it's not like he doesn't know my birthday."
A part of her wanted to forgive Jack, to kiss and make up and maybe go out tomorrow. After all, he had a lot on his mind lately. For some reason, her father had drastically increased Jack's work hours for the past few weeks. Not to mention the fact that he would be leaving the Lodge House soon and was trying to prepare the boys for his departure. But another part of her, the more childish part, was angry and hurt. After all, what kind of man forgets his girlfriend's birthday?
With a sigh, Katherine looked in the mirror. Her brown eyes were unhappy, and her cheeks were flushed as red as her dress. Her new red dress from her father, that she had worn just for her date with Jack. Forget angry, she was lonely. Her tiny apartment that she had moved into on her quest for independence had never seemed so big and empty.
A knock at the door caused her to leap to her feet. No, Katherine, she reminded herself sternly. You're mad at him. You're going to go out there and give him a piece of your mind. With a look of determination, she crossed the room and flung the door open. "Crutchie!" she said in surprise.
The blonde boy grinned back at her. "Hey, Kath!" he said, using one of the many nicknames the boys had given her.
She refused to smile. "So Jack sends you to do his dirty work for him, huh? Why doesn't he come apologize for himself?"
Crutchie's grin only widened. "Miss Pulitzah," he said with a clumsy bow. "Allow me to escort ya to the five star restaurant Jack has picked out for your date tonight."
Katherine's anger started to melt away. "He... what?"
"He's been settin' this up for days," Crutchie explained, his excitement growing. "Made us promise not ta tell. May I?" He offered his elbow to Katherine, that ever-present smile still on his face.
A smile burst across Katherine's face, and she slipped her gloved hand into the crook of Crutchie's elbow. "You may."
Crutchie led her down a series of streets she knew well- the way to the Lodge House. She figured they must be picking Jack up there before heading to whatever restaurant he had picked out for the evening.
At the doorway, Crutchie stopped. "I'se supposed ta give ya this," he said, handing her an envelope. "See ya, Plums." With that he disappeared, moving surprisingly fast for a kid with a crutch and one working leg.
With a slight smile, Katherine tore open the envelope and found a single sheet of paper and a small purple flower.
Heya Ace, the letter read. I remember once ya said violets are your favorite flower. Well, I got ya nineteen of 'em- one for each year you'se been alive. Head on inta the Lodge House and find the others. Love, Jack.
Laughing out loud, Katherine pushed open the door. A trail of flowers led up the stairs to the roof. She counted them as she picked them up, but when she got to the top she only had eighteen. "Did I miss one?" she said out loud. She almost turned around to look again, but muffled voices on the other side of door drew her attention. Her curiosity got the best of her, and she let herself out onto the roof.
The boys leaped to attention as she came through the door, and Romeo bounded forward to hand her the nineteenth flower.
"Why, thank you, Romeo," Katherine said with a smile.
Romeo sent her a winning grin in return. "Anytime, Plums," he said with a wink.
"Hey, Romeo," a male voice said. Katherine's heart stuttered as Jack made his way over with that easy, cocky swagger of his. "Cut it out. Ya were supposed ta give her the flower, not flirt with me goil."
"I wasn't flirting, I was just sayin' hello," Romeo protested.
"Yeah, with you that's the same thing," Jack said, pushing him good-naturedly. Then he turned his gaze over to Katherine. "Happy birthday, Ace."
Katherine's cheeks flushed. "Thank you, Jack," she said shyly. He had cleaned up for the occasion. He no longer had the harried, overworked appearance she had seen in him so often in the past few days. He was wearing a clean shirt, he had shaved the stubble he had been sporting recently, and... was he wearing a tie? Katherine tried unsuccessfully to suppressed a grin.
Jack's brown eyes twinkled as he gestured around the rooftop. "Welcome ta my penthouse, doll," he said. "Specially decorated for the birthday of one Miss Katherine Pulitzah."
For the first time, Katherine pulled her attention away from Jack long enough to take in the scene on the rooftop. Jack and Crutchie's mattresses were put away somewhere, and in their place was a table set for two. Half a dozen stubby, mismatched candles were gathered on the tabletop, matching the twinkling lights of New York City below.
"Oh," Katherine gasped, going to the railing. After a few moments, she felt Jack's arms wrap around her from behind.
"Beautiful, ain't it?" he said softly, resting his chin on the top of her head. They stood that way for some time, drinking in the view and each other, before whispering voices behind them reminded Jack that they weren't alone.
"Right," he said, releasing his hold on Katherine. "Ready ta eat?"
He pulled her chair out for her -"Like a real gentleman," Katherine told him, making the corners of his mouth twitch in a smile- and as soon as they were seated Crutchie limped over to their table, a big smile on his face. "Your menus," he said, handing them each a piece of paper.
There was one word on the menu- spaghetti, written in pencil in Jack's usual careless scrawl. Katherine pretended to study the menu before making her decision. "I'll have the spaghetti," she decided finally, handing the menu back to Crutchie.
Jack grinned, pleased with her playing along. "Yeah, I'll have me some of that, too," he said, passing his menu to Crutchie.
Katherine watched as the blonde boy rejoined the others, all gathered together and whispering back and forth. "Was he wearing a bow tie?" she asked in a low voice.
Jack grinned, shaking his head. "Yeah," he said. "Not sure where he found that old thing."
Katherine laughed. It didn't miss her notice -that sharp reporter's eye, Jack liked to say- that the boys had stopped whispering and Race was sending them off in different directions. Ordinarily she would have been worried, wondering what they were up to, but she had faith in Jack. He had obviously spent a lot of time on this, planning the evening and delegating tasks to his boys.
"So whaddaya think a' my surprise?" Jack asked, lounging in his chair in typical Jack fashion.
"I was definitely surprised," Katherine admitted.
Jack grinned. "Crutchie said ya were stewin' when he showed up."
"I wouldn't say I was stewing," Katherine countered, a sparkle coming into her eyes. "More like a righteous fury."
Jack laughed, sitting up and reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "Ace, ya know me bettah than that," he said. "Since when would I forget ya birthday?"
Katherine's cheeks flushed, and she leaned across the table toward him. Jack closed the distance between them, but his lips had scarcely brushed against hers when Race came out of nowhere.
"Come on, we ain't even served the food yet!" the Italian boy protested. "Getta hold of yourself, Jack."
Jack swore under his breath. "Race!" he scolded, swatting at him with his cap.
Race dodged easily, laughing. "Your dinner is served," he said, setting a plate of spaghetti in front of Katherine. He jerked his head for Albert to bring the second plate over to Jack. The red-headed boy did so, flashing Katherine a quick grin.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, get outta here," he said, picking up his fork.
Katherine tried not to laugh at his obvious annoyance. She wondered exactly how long he had spent planning this.
Jack's next words answered her question. "Sorry for blowin' ya off these last coupla days," he said apologetically. "I was pretty busy gettin' stuff togethah for tonight."
"I love any time I get to spend with you," Katherine told him truthfully.
Jack didn't say anything, but his cheeks flushed pink with pleasure.
The rest of the dinner passed without event. They had just finished eating, and Finch and Albert had cleared their plates away, when some of the boys started arguing at the other end of the roof. Jack ignored them at first, raising his voice to talk over them. "Ace, we'se both nineteen now," he said. "I'se gonna be leavin' the Lodge House soon, and I wanted ta know..." The sharp sound of breaking glass made them both flinch, and Jack jumped up out of his chair. "I'll be right back," he promised, setting his jaw.
Katherine twisted around in her chair, watching as he stormed across the roof to his boys. He had his back to her, but she saw his heated gestures and she heard his muffled, angry voice as he berated his boys for whatever they had been fighting over. In a few minutes he was back again, grinning sheepishly as he retook his seat.
"They really wanted ta help tonight, the no-good bums," he said, his rude words not matching the fondness in his tone. "They promised they'd be good. I just made 'em good on that promise."
Katherine nodded politely, laughing a little, but her mind wasn't on the boys, as much as she loved them all. "What was it you were saying, Jack?" she pressed. "About you leaving the Lodge House?"
"Oh," Jack said, looking suddenly flustered. "Uh... I... I got ya somethin' for your birthday," he diverted, reaching into his vest pocket.
Katherine tried to hide her disappointment. Jack was so reluctant to talk about the future, and she had hoped they were finally getting somewhere. Her disappointment turned to delight, however, as he handed her one of his drawings. It was one she hadn't seen before, a picture of the two of them. They were laughing. She traced her fingers over Jack's outline, memorizing every detail. Jack rarely drew himself, which made it even more special. Her lips quirked in a smile as she saw how he had drawn her. She often complained that he drew her as more beautiful than she was, and Jack always had the same answer: "That's how I see ya, Ace." In this picture, she wasn't just beautiful. She was radiant.
"We look so happy," she murmured.
Jack ducked his head, always uncomfortable with his work being praised. "Well, that's how I'm hopin' you'll look," he said. "When I ask ya this." Slipping his hand into his pocket, he dropped to one knee in front of her. "Katherine Pulitzer, will ya marry me?"
Katherine's hand flew to her mouth, and the drawing fell unnoticed to the floor. "Jack, I..." She broke off, unable to continue as her eyes filled with tears.
Jack grinned shakily. "I hope that's a yes," he said. "I drew a lotta cartoons and sold a lotta papes ta get this ring."
Jack's strange work schedule from the past few weeks suddenly made sense. "Oh, I love you," Katherine breathed. "Jack, yes."
With a loud whoop, Jack lifted her off the ground in a hug. "I already asked your fathah," he assured her as he slipped the ring on his finger. "He gave us his blessing, believe it or not. I love ya, Kath, ya know that right?"
Katherine pulled him closer by his tie and kissed him. "I do," she said.
Jack pulled her into a hug, laughing, and for one shining moment, they matched the couple in the picture.