Author's Note: Wow, it's been a crazy couple of weeks, but the release date is finally here! Thank you so much to everyone who has been patiently waiting and eager to read the beginning of the final installment. I hope y'all enjoy every second of it. Also, I think the 'pattern' for this one will be a new chapter every Monday and Friday, at least until I finish writing it. If I manage to get it done pretty soon, I might make the updates come more often. Don't forget to review and let me know what you think of the first chapter of A Matter of Trust.
Guys, I'm so sorry that this came out so late. I know I promised May 21st and I pulled through in my part of the country (it's 11:27pm). I meant to get this up this morning, but it's been I've been running back and forth all day trying to get things done. So sorry! Thanks for all of your patience, guys!
Chapter 1- Moody
~ March 11, 1906~
Alison Jacobs shifted the weight of the basket that hung from the crook of her right elbow.
"I wish you'd let me carry that for ya," Runner complained. The fifteen year-old stood beside her with a nearly diminished stack of papers sticking out of the side of another basket that swung in his left hand. Al rolled her eyes and placed the apples she had just bought into the basket at his side.
"You're lucky I'm lettin' you hold that one."
"Keep complainin' an' it'll be back to sellin' papes for you."
"As if you could get the basket from me," he teased as they moved down the booths of the market.
Al rested a hand on her belly, heavily swollen with pregnancy, and threw a playful glare at her younger friend. "So chivalrous."
He tipped his cap and smiled wickedly before setting off toward the next booth. Al followed at a slower pace, keeping an eye out for Les. If she knew anything about her husband, or Runner for that matter, the youngest Jacobs boy ought to be showing his face sometime soon to help her out as well. She shook her head. Ever since she had found out she was pregnant (about six months ago), they had been coddling her as if she might break at any moment. She knew they meant well, but Al wasn't the type to take well to people treating her like china. It was times like these that she missed Racetrack and Jack sorely. They never treated her like she was delicate, even during those times when she was closest to breaking.
David was usually pretty good about not treating her that way, but her pregnancy was a bit of an exception. All bets were off when it came to her health now. This was, in a major way, due to what had happened to Maggie almost two years ago now. Al had spend weeks arguing with David about how Maggie had been sick and Al was both healthy and strong, but all arguments fell on deaf ears. David was constantly on edge and, because of that, Al was counting down the days until she had given birth and he would be back to normal again.
Turning her thoughts away from a topic that would only sadden her, Al gathered her skirt with her free hand and hurried after the newest leader of the Manhattan newsboys.
"Slow down, ya runt!" she called after him. She rolled her eyes and turned down the next street toward the butcher's, knowing Runner would guess where she had headed when he realized she wasn't with them.
She received her usual order at the butcher's and met Runner on her way out.
"To the florist's?" he asked, mimicking the affected voices of the gentlemen he sold papers to on a daily basis. He held out his free arm and she rolled her eyes playfully before taking it with her own.
"To the florist's," she agreed.
The florist was just across the street and the shop was owned by Eugenia Peters, a good friend of Al's. They had met two years ago when she came across the Alantic from Ireland. She had come alone and Racetrack, who happened to work on the ship on which she came over, had taken an immediate liking to her. In fact, that was an understatement. He had fallen head over heels for her long ginger curls and smattered freckles at first sight.
She, on the other hand, had only a passing tolerance of the gambling ex-newsboy. She made that clear from the beginning, but he had been persistent and she, not knowing anyone in this strange new land, had allowed him to introduce her to David and Al. She and Al had taken to each other right off the bat. Now Race no longer pursued her. He made a passing flirty comment to irritate her every now and then when they saw one another (much like what Spot Conlon used to do to Al), and they now had something of a friendship.
The shop bell chimed as Runner and Al stepped indoors. Eugenia (or Genie, as she much preferred to be called) had a quaint little shop. It was rather small, but accommodated her needs and she was thankful for it. It was hard for a woman to make a living on her own, especially in a town so filled to the brim with immigrants who all desperately wanted to make their way toward the American dream.
Genie was pretty easy to spot. Even in the shop filled with colorful flowers, the bright red bun on the back of her head was hard to miss. She wore a long blue apron over a white shirt and brown skirt and the freckles on her face crinkled with her eyes as she smiled at the customer she was currently helping.
While they waited to catch her attention, Al and Runner perused the merchandise. Al had always adored flowers. The had become a frequent source of pleasure for her, particularly when she wasn't allowed to express her feminine side during her time masquerading as a boy at the Lodge. She used to steal flowers when she was younger and keep them in the washroom or near her bed. When she got a bit older and most of the Lodge boys knew her secret, some of them would bring a flower or two home for her so as to keep Kloppman from being suspicious about the particular boy with an affinity for flowers. Once her gender was revealed, she made sure to always keep them in the house, even if that meant snatching a couple of wildflowers from the midst of Central Park or sparing a few pennies for a rose from the flower girl down the street.
Now that Al had grown close to a florist, she made sure to get her flowers from the Irish girl as often as she could afford it. David's job kept them pretty secure, but there certainly wasn't a lot of room for superfluous spending. Still, it was nice to help a friend out and be supplied with a few flowers at the same time. Genie usually gave her a pretty good discount on top of all that.
"Well if it isn't me favorite newsies!" Genie's beautifully Irish accented voice called out once she was done with the customer she had been helping. She hurried over and wrapped each of them in the bear-like hug she was so fond of giving.
"I haven't sold papes in more'n two years," Al reminded her with a lopsided grin reminiscent of the sort her brother generally offered.
"Doesn't mean yer not a newsie anymore. It's in your blood now, just as flowers are in mine," Genie retorted. "Ya even married a newspaper man."
"That mean you're gonna marry a gardenah?" Al quipped.
"Laird bless me, let's hope so."
Al laughed and rolled her eyes at her friend.
"And what're you doin' shirkin' yer responsibilities?" the ginger woman asked, elbowing the boy who stood at least a half foot taller than her.
Runner smiled. "Al needed some 'elp with the shopping."
"Ah, and what a good lad, you are." She smiled and reached up to pat him on the shoulder. For being almost exactly the same age as Al, she tended to address the newsboys in a much more matronly manner. "An' what flowers would ya like today, Ali?"
"I'll take some red tulips for myself an' a couple o' purple irises for Logan."
Genie nodded solemnly. "How's 'e doin'? Anniversary's comin' 'round pretty soon." She moved toward the indicated flowers, quickly forming small bundles with a blur of fingers and string.
Al sighed. "He's always a lil' moody this time o' year, but then we all are. He'll be alright."
Genie finished tying up the knots and threw a smile in Runner's direction. He was sniffing the yellow rose bouquet wrapped in ivy that must have been part of the wedding order Genie had told Al she received a few days ago. "He's growin' like a weed."
"I know," Al responded in a tone of disbelief as she settled the bundles in her basket. "It's odd seein' him as the head of the newsies'n all. He's so different from my bruddah, yet they're so much alike. He'n Les remind me o' Jack so often now I feel like burstin' into tears sometimes."
Genie gave her a sympathetic smile and patted Al's cheek. The former newsie flinched a little when the hand came close, but it didn't phase the Irishwoman. She'd grown used to Al's 'peculiarities' by now. "That'll be the pregnancy's doin'. I know you miss yer brother, though. Heard any more word from 'im?"
"Not since the lettah I showed ya last month, but I oughta be gettin' anothah one soon."
Al handed over the couple of coins she knew she owed her friend, but Genie only accepted a little over half of them. "Let the irises be from the both of us." She gave them both hugs and headed back to the cash register, calling over her shoulder, "You two stay outta trouble now!"
Runner and Al left the florist and made a quick detour to the apartment she and David shared to drop off her purchases. She bade Runner to go ahead and get back to the Lodge while she put everything away, since he was clearly dying to get back to his boys, but he refused. He said he knew she was going to the Lodge and she might need his assistance.
Al rolled her eyes as she arranged the tulips to her liking in the little glass vase Sarah had given her for Christmas. "You've been hangin' 'round Davy too much," she grumbled. Runner chuckled in response.
Still, she picked up her pace and snatched up the irises before following her young friend out the door.
Al and David's apartment was only a few streets away from the Lodge. It wasn't quite as convenient as the old one she had shared with Jack, but it was just a bit bigger and afforded them more privacy from the Lodge boys (who were well-meaning but not exactly accustomed to giving others their own space). President Roosevelt had ended up buying the apartment from the Lavenchis and it was now the quarters of the Lodge owner, Logan Bryant. He had really done well with the place, cleaning out the attic to create a makeshift schoolroom and using Kloppman's old quarters to house even more boys in the Lodge. Things were running nicely and Kloppman even came around every few months to check up on and visit with everyone that was still around.
And not many of the old boys were still around. Most of them had gone off to different jobs in and around New York City, leaving their roots in carrying the banner behind and not bothering to look back. Runner, Listener, Matches, Tumbler, and quite a few of the other boys were still living there, though. And Les frequented the building on an almost daily basis. They and the new recruits had more than enough energy to keep spirits high and papers selling.
Runner held the door open for Al as they reached the Lodge and she was nearly bowled over by some of the younger boys.
"Mama, look!" one of the younger boys cried, holding up a quarter he had somehow acquired during the day. The smaller boys now often referred to Al as "Momma" or "Momma Ali." She had discouraged it at first, but they were insistent and she finally admitted defeat. Besides, it was rather endearing, all in all.
"Good job, Tim," Al smiled gently, rustling the boy's hair. More and more of the boys went by their real names now, though they still received nicknames upon arrival into the newsboy ranks. Newsgirls were also becoming more and more common and they generally stayed at a nearby lodging house for girls, if there was any room for them. Even now two or three girls could be spotted milling about among the boys outside.
Al pushed through the crowd of small ones to get to the stairs, knowing that Logan would be up there somewhere, likely mending another broken pipe or cleaning another mess the boys had set up for him. True to form, she found him bending over the pipes in the washroom with Listener leaning up beside him, doing his best to be of service.
"Heya boys, how's it rollin'?" she asked, sitting herself down on a stool nearby. She may spend most of her time lately defending her ability to function on her own, but she was definitely needing to sit after a long morning of walking. Her watermelon of a stomach was definitely a heavy load.
"Almost done, Cap," Logan told her over his shoulder. He twisted a couple of knobs and told Listener to turn on the faucet. It worked like a dream. Logan gave a satisfied smile and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "I don't know how Kloppman kept this place in runnin' order, 'specially when we were always around to tear it up."
"We weren't nearly as bad as these boys," Al laughed as Listener leaned down to give her a hug. He was getting pretty tall. At fourteen, he had almost caught up to Logan, who had always been known for his height.
Al stood when Logan did. He sent Listener to take the tools they had used down to the utility closet and he scampered off, ever the loyal helper. Logan wrapped Al in a warm hug.
"Belly's gettin' bigger," he commented with a sad smile. Holding her at arm's length and looking down at the belly in question. "When're you due again?"
"'Bout two months, I figure."
"You got a midwife ready?"
"Yeah, Genie's Ma was a midwife and taught her." Al pressed her lips together in annoyance at the concerned look he gave her. "And she's delivered plenty o' babies 'erself."
"And how're you feelin' lately?"
"Skittery," Al laid a hand on her old friend's shoulder. He hardly went by that name any more, but Al still used it at times, especially when she could see he was all worked up. "I'm fine, I promise. Stop worrying." She kept her voice soft and low. After all, how could she be upset with him for coddling her after what had happened to Mags? Honestly, that was why all the older newsboys and her friends had been treating her like china since the news that she was pregnant. But Maggie had been sick and, as Al kept reminding them, she was healthy and strong.
"Where is little Margaret, anyway?"
"I'm right here, Aunt Ali!"
Al turned and saw the little blonde girl with curls to rival those of her father piled atop her head. Her little hands were on her hips and her dark brown eyes were gleaming with an obstinate look that immediately faded upon seeing the flowers in the older woman's hand.
"Ooh, pretty," she cooed, coming up to get a closer look.
Her father picked her up and put the girl on one hip. She reached out to touch the flowers and giggled when she made contact. Al pulled one of the irises free and handed it to the little girl. She beamed in response.
"Those were ya momma's favorite," Al explained to the little girl. Margaret nodded and begged to be put down. The second her feet hit the floor, she was running for the stairs, eagerly yelling about her new prize. Al turned toward her friend. "The rest are for you," she told him lamely, feeling her heart ache at the pain in Logan's eyes.
"Thanks," he told her hoarsely. He stared at the flowers forlornly for a few seconds and then dropped his hand, as if forcibly removing them from his line of sight.
It had only been three years since Maggie's passing. She and Skittery (or Logan, as he had started being called around that time) had enjoyed nearly one full year of marriage before the realization that she was pregnant. They had been so excited. Skittery had been eager to tell everyone they knew, sending letters to every friend that had moved away and eagerly reminding each of his friends that were still around that he was a father now. Al had never seen him smile so big for anything else, barring his wedding day.
During those early stages of her pregnancy, Maggie had a glow about her that made her even more beautiful than she already was. But around the end of her second trimester, she started to get sick. The warning signs started innocently enough. Maggie was more tired than usual and had to take more breaks; she developed a cough. Being the first among their friends to get pregnant, no one was too concerned. Granted, Maggie's mother was a tad worried, but she didn't want to scare the mother-to-be and kept any of her concerns to herself.
It wasn't until the third trimester was underway that Maggie got really sick. The coughing grew more intense, sometimes producing blood, and she started having pain in her stomach. Al had convinced them to call a doctor, promising that she and David would take care of the bill. She took a turn for the worse and the fear of God struck all of their hearts. Logan did his best to keep her healthy and she was confined to bed rest.
During that time, Al and Racetrack took care of everything with the Lodge. He quit his job as a cook at Tibby's and slept in his old bunk for a few weeks while Al made the trek over every morning, often staying until the wee hours of the night in order to make sure everything was taken care of. Those were the days when David was still rather new in the newspaper industry and would also be working late into the night. He would drop by the Lodge to pick up his wife, rubbing at his eyes and yawning up a storm, and was often found sleeping on the couch in the front hall waiting for her to be done with whatever business she had been caught up doing.
Then she went into labor unexpectedly. She was so weak. Logan, her mother, and Al were the only ones in the room besides the midwife. The labor was long and they had all been so proud of Maggie for her dedication to pulling through this. Al had never seen someone so weak, yet so strong. When the baby was finally born, tears of joy poured from her eyes when the girl was placed in her mother's arms.
"She's so beautiful," she had whispered, her face pale and drained of blood.
Logan was beside her, his hand trembling as he pushed her sweaty locks of hair out of her face. "She is," he agreed.
She passed a few seconds later, the baby in one arm and the other hand gently holding Logan's. The baby was screaming almost immediately. Her grandmother swept her into her arms as Logan held his wife's face, sobbing as he begged her to come back to him. The midwife had turned to the grandmother to explain how the baby needed to be fed while Al went to Skittery's side, tears streaming down her own face as she struggled to calm her longtime friend and keep herself from the reality of the having lost a dear friend.
Even now as she remembered it, she felt tears doing their best to surface and she blinked them away.
"Genie says they're from her too."
"Give 'er my thanks."
Disclaimer: Al, Runner, Genie, the Lavenchis Matches, Listener, Maggie (the mother), and Margaret (the daughter) are all property of Kirsten Erin. The rest are all original Newsies characters