Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of Disney and are only used for fan related purposes.
When Jack Kelly awoke with a start that Monday morning, the first thing he did was rub his chin in a curious and, most importantly, very hopeful manner. His callused thumb and pointer finger glided over the smooth skin once, twice before he sighed and, closing his eyes again, laid his head back up against his damp pillow.
It had been such a real dream, too. He could practically still hear the cheering—
—wait, was that cheering?
Jack strained to listen, shaking the sound of the adoring crowd and applause out of his head. It had been weeks since the strike ended, weeks since the working boys' hero became just another working boy, and he could still remember how sweet the victory sounded. But now? Nah, that wasn't cheering. It was the sound of old Kloppman's boots clopping up the stairs, on his way to do his duty.
Great, he thought with a scowl. He'd woken up just in time to be woken up.
But no one knew better than Jack did that night was the dreamer's only time of day. For a newsie, though, daytime—the real time, daylight hours underneath a scrutinizing sun—was working time and time to forget about strange dreams that left him wondering about a whole lot of things. With a groan now, echoed by the other boys Kloppman poked, prodded and gently slapped awake, Jack opened his eyes again and stretched, trying to put another nighttime fantasy behind him.
That, of course, was easier said than done.
His mind still on the flashes and the images and the sound of cheering he just couldn't get out of his head, Jack climbed out of his bunk and started to stumble towards the washing-up area before he stumbled right into Mush Meyers.
Mush was way too good in the morning. He grinned expectantly up at Jack.
"How'd ya sleep, Jack?"
Except Jack didn't even seem to notice he had stumbled into Mush. "Huh?" he said, shaking his head as if to clear it again. It didn't work. "What was that? You say somethin'?"
Mush's morning smile dimmed; he looked serious, if not confused. He asked Jack the same question every day—and got the same smart-ass response every day. But not that morning. Jack had missed his cue which could only mean one thing. Now, If only Mush knew what it was...
"Um... you feelin' okay, Jack?"
Jack rubbed his chin thoughtfully again. "Yeah... yeah. Fine." Then, patting Mush on the shoulder, he walked away vaguely, every inch a man with something on his mind.
He met Racetrack Higgins at the mirror. Race was busy making kissy faces at himself in the glass, combing his slicked-down hair with as much gusto as he could. Only then, when every black strand was in place, did he notice the pull of face Jack was making next to him and he frowned.
"Huh. You alright there, Cowboy?"
"Yeah. I guess ya could say I'm thinkin'—"
Race's frown quirked up into a smile real quick. "Really?" He raised his voice. "Someone alert Pulitzer, our Cowboy's got another think a comin'!"
"It ain't nothin' like that," Jack said, swatting Race on his arm.
But Race's shout had alerted the attention of some of the other boys milling around the bunkroom. Mush came shuffling over, still thrown out of sorts since Jack left him hanging, and Crutchy hobbled after him, the thump of his crutch reminding Jack of the sound of clapping again.
"What's goin' on, Jack?"
"Ya remember how ya slept yet, Jack?"
Jack looked at Mush if only just seeing him for the first time; he didn't know how to answer Crutchy just yet. "On me back, Mush, like always, if ya can even call it sleepin'." Reaching down, Jack grabbed his shaving kit: a mug full of white foam ready for the mixing, his brush, a dull razor he'd swiped across his chin every day since he turned seventeen. He set it up on the counter in front of the mirror and then, realizing that Race, Crutchy and Mush were all watching him, he said, "What?"
"If ya wasn't sleeping, what were ya doin'?"
"I dunno, what do you do when you're supposed to be sleepin'?" Jack asked Race.
A look of surprise crossed the short gambler's face and Jack quickly stopped that sort of gutter thinking by quickly adding, "I was dreamin', ya bum."
Race's relief was obvious. He chuckled and, for good measure, ran his comb through his hair again. "What were ya dreamin' about? Davey's sister?"
"If I was dreamin' about Sarah, I wouldn't be complainin'." Jack shook his head. "No, I was dreamin' about... I dunno. It's kinda hazy... ya know how, in dreams, ya remember some parts of it right but somethin' else... it's weird?"
Mush nodded solemnly in agreement. "Oh, yeah. I have dreams like that all the time—ya can't help but think they're real, and next thing ya know you're runnin' after a button in Bottle Alley."
For the moment all they could hear was the grumble of the other newsboys rising and getting ready for the day. A flush somewhere indicated the water closets in use, and Kloppman's gravelly wake-up calls were still going strong. None of the three boys around the wash basins had anything until—
"Sure, Mush," Race said at last. "Whatever ya say."
The way Jack figured it, nothing he could say would sound half as out of it as Mush's contribution. And, well, maybe if he started to talk about it, he might understand some of it himself. "So," he began, "my dream, right? There was fightin', I definitely remember fightin' goin' on. Real fightin', too, in a ring and everything—"
"Like the boxers down by Newsies Square?"
Jack nodded. "Yeah, like that, Crutchy. People were cheerin' and I musta won, I remember feelin' like a winner, but..."
"I tell ya," Jack said, tapping his palms against the edge of the counter, antsy, "it was strange. I had to have won the fight and, well, they gave me Oscar."
"Oscar?" echoed Mush.
"Ya mean, you dreamed you was fightin' Delancey?" asked Race.
And Jack realized then and there that, nope, he sounded even loonier than Mush now. Still, he tried to explain. "No, that's why I think my dream was so damn strange. They told me I won Oscar, and everyone was clappin' again. And then... then I woke up."
Racetrack snorted. "Not much of a prize, if ya ask me."
"And, ya know, that wasn't even the strangest bit," Jack went on to say, turning to look from his captivated audience to the supplies he had set up on the counter in front of him: the mug of shaving cream, the brush, the old, dull razor. He rubbed his chin again where, despite all evidence to the contrary—such as his routine of shaving every day—he'd never sprouted so much as a whisker.
Crutchy was the first one to ask the question all the other boys wanted to ask: "Really, Jack? What's stranger than gettin' a Delancey handed over to ya as a prize?"
Jack dropped his hand, revealing a chin as smooth as a baby's bottom.
"I had a beard."
End Note: I couldn't help myself. I was so excited that CB won the Oscar for The Fighter last night and, well, what else could I do? I mean, this short fic just wrote itself - and what was up with that beard? Heh. So, yes. Just a couple of words in celebration - and a kick in the pants to get me writing again. I should have more on Who Am I? and High Stakes fairly soon!
- stress, 02.28.11