Disclaimer: Disney owns Newsies.
It was nearly noon when they came bounding up Duane Street the next day. Mush rounded the corner, calling for Ruby to keep up. Blink saw them through the window of the Lodging House and waved excitedly. He ran out the front door to meet them, but stopped short when he saw Ruby up close. She looked incredibly tired. Obviously, she had not slept at all last night. But there was a sincere and excited smile on her face, as though she didn't mind one bit that she hadn't slept a wink.
"Sorry we're late," Mush said in between huffs. Ruby caught up several seconds later. He grinned triumphantly. "We're finished! Does Kloppman know?"
"He has no clue. You guys have no idea how hard it was to keep him from gettin' his hands on the tree," Blink muttered. It was tradition for Kloppman to distribute the gifts from under their small tree on Christmas morning. And it had been Blink's job to stall him from doing so today. "None of us opened our presents yet," he assured. Blink grimaced slightly then. "I had to spill hot chocolate on Klopps at one point - he didn't even blink an eye. Damn, he really loves his Christmas…"
Mush had left for the shop early in the morning to pick up Kloppman's gift from Ruby. It was apparent that she had been working through much of the night, for everything came out beautifully. Mush wanted to put all the finishing touches on the gift; she helped him with the task and wrapped it up tidily, and as she sent him out the shop door to make sure he got back to the Lodging House on time, Mush turned on his heel and grabbed her hand, urging her to come with him. She refused repeatedly, but then he snatched her keys from her pocket - a trick he picked up from Swifty - and locked her out of her own shop.
The three entered the Lodging House, Ruby trailing behind apprehensively. It was a small foyer - seeming even smaller considering the number of people crowding the room - but there was a certain welcoming air of homeliness about the place. Kloppman had decorated the Lodging House as usual, and the ornaments seemed to become more festive, more colorful each year. The red of the poinsettias and the green of the Christmas tree warmed the room, while the scent of spices like peppermint and cinnamon danced and mingled delightfully with the sweetness of chocolate.
There were other girls visiting the Lodging House - and Mush could tell Ruby was both relieved and hesitant: relieved that she wasn't the only female in the building, and hesitant because the one group of girls she had ever befriended turned out to be a cruel pretense. But Mush knew these girls, and he knew them to be genuine and understanding, and he knew Ruby needed people like them to heal the hurt and betrayal she had endured. And he knew Christmas was the perfect time to start the healing, which was why he had asked them all, with Kloppman's permission, to come join them Christmas Day.
And so Mush nudged Ruby towards them until she plopped down onto a chair.
"Now that we're all here," Kloppman announced, "let's get started, shall we?" He immediately began pulling presents from under the tree and calling out names.
All the younger boys eagerly tore open their gifts, smiling broadly all the while. The lobby floor soon filled with crumpled papers. Mush was opening a present of his own when Tumbler zipped past him, papers flying behind him, and jumped on Skittery's back with a grateful and excited shout. Race was casually waving Jack off with a "Yeah, yeah, you're welcome," but Jack pulled the shorter boy into a one-armed hug.
Kloppman, in the meanwhile, was kneeling on the floor, still fishing around under the tree to see if he had missed any. Mush stood then and made his way towards the tree, carefully avoiding the mess that had accumulated. Standing over Kloppman, Mush said, "You missed one."
Kloppman squinted and adjusted his spectacles, still not looking up. "Well, where is it, boy?" he asked, clearing papers out of the way under the tree.
Mush grinned broadly. "Right here."
The Superintendent glanced up. "Oh," he uttered with a chuckle. "I don't know how I missed that one," he said, taking the gift from Mush's outstretched hands. He cleared his throat to read out the recipient's name. "Klopp…" He paused to make sure he was seeing correctly. "…man."
All the boys in the room had the same rather stupidly self-satisfied grins on their faces - they knew they caught him completely unawares. They were excited to see his reaction.
"Whatcha waitin' for?" said Jack.
"Open it!" Snipeshooter encouraged.
Mush watched Kloppman slowly rise from his knees and sit himself on the chair nearby. Kloppman was just staring at the gift in disbelief. The old man was touched. He finally began to unwrap the present, his fingers moving carefully. Soon the photograph album was unveiled and Kloppman took it all in, every single detail, with his eyes and his hands. He opened the book and let out a chuckle upon seeing the first page. There, on that first page, was a group photograph of the boys looking very solemn and deep in thought. He flipped to the next page and this time a hoot of laughter escaped his lips. "Look at you boys!" he said, pointing at the next picture. Then everyone gathered behind him, eagerly trying to see themselves immortalized in photograph. In the second photo, the boys were gazing into the camera, each and every one of them grinning like goofs. There was one with the boys playing a game of craps, another of Tumbler and Boots and Snipe hiding amongst stuffed animals, another of Race with Skittery holding up a cup, Crutchy and Bumlets play-fighting with their walking staffs. There were individual photos, too: there was Mush gazing intensely into the far distance, Blink sitting atop a stack of papers, Jack with his Cowboy hat pulled down low over his eyes, standing next to a wooden train set.
"These are just… these are wonderful," Kloppman murmured.
"Yeah, well, we know how much ya love us. Now you can look at us all day," said Jack, winking.
Kloppman sent him a lightly exasperated look and shook his head, provoking chortles from all the kids. He closed the album delicately and stood from his seat. He quickly excused himself, saying that there was more hot chocolate to be had, and shuffled into the back kitchen, holding the album tightly to his chest. It was obvious Kloppman was trying to hide his sentiments, but Mush saw it - he saw the unmistakable emotion in Kloppman's misty eyes and he knew that the old man was incredibly moved by their gesture.
The boys continued their celebrations, reveling in the new gifts they received, and cheering when Kloppman returned with more steaming mugs.
Mush peeked over to where he had left Ruby and saw her conversing animatedly with two other merry guests. Pie Eater, Specs, and Dutchy were with them and Mush overheard the boys thanking Ruby for all the photos. "Ya even made Pie look decent!" Dutchy exclaimed in mock astonishment, which earned him a smack across the back of his head from Pie. Jack clapped Ruby firmly on the shoulder - his way of conveying his gratitude. Others soon joined in, imparting their thanks and expressing how impressed they were.
"See?" Mush said, pulling up a chair next to Ruby.
"See what?" she asked.
"I told you they'd like you," Mush said proudly. "Thanks," he added quietly. "Did ya see the look on Kloppman's face? He loved everything."
She didn't respond and turned away, focusing on her hands in both uncertainty and bashfulness. Tumbler suddenly appeared by their side and he pulled eagerly at Ruby's sleeve, asking her if she could teach him how to use a camera and to take pictures the way she and some person named Denton did. She chuckled softly, and upon seeing the earnestness in his face, Ruby promised that she would be happy to show him the ropes. Tumbler, immensely satisfied with her answer, skipped away happily to tell his friends.
"No, Mush," Ruby said finally. "Thank you."
Author's Note: The End. Thank you to everyone who followed along with this holiday fluff. Shoutouts go out to Bekah, Repeat, stress, Hedgi, and huffle-bibin - I really appreciated all your encouraging feedback!
(And in case anyone was wondering, Kloppman and his hot chocolate love is a reference to last year's holiday story, Allegretto. :) )