Title: Not Your Year
Genre: Epic time travel returns with 20x less epic? I took my snippet from last week and ran with it.
Characters: Our boys, some listies, and an OC or two.
Summary: Time travel to 1899, so unoriginal yet I'm doing it anyway (again). Yanked some names from former NMLers, trying for a plot but really mostly just trying to get Liz to write more of her Newsies fic.
“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” the young woman muttered under her breath, pushing her glasses further up the bridge of her nose and frowning into the mirror. Her flatmates downstairs were debating politics and smoking up a storm in the kitchen, the aroma of smoke drifting upstairs and mingling with the stale smell of cigarettes already present in the hall as their voices echoed off of the thin walls. Nine AM was all too early for politics or smoking, the young woman thought, though she didn’t really mind the smell. It was comforting in a world of thick accents, thick beer, and thick textbooks. Giving her stubby ponytail one last tug, she collected her bag, laden heavily with archaeology textbooks, and trudged down the stairs.
“Morning Sunshine,” one thick brogue broke through the rest, “how is our favorite Westerner this morning?”
“Coffee,” came her sole reply.
“Tired, then?” he pried.
“Just don’t care much for tea,” she smirked in response. The two shared a small smile before she turned to pour creamer in her coffee, the smile not falling from her face but remaining fixed there. His eyes didn’t miss the lingering smile, just like they didn’t leave her face until a number of moments later. She felt them but didn’t have long to think about it. She was going to be late. Pouring the coffee into a travel mug, she gave a hollered farewell to the lot of them and hurried out the door, down cobbled grey streets and through the soaking rain.
The young woman did not feel like she belonged to this city. Nor did she feel like she belonged to the place she came from. She clinged to change, hoping just once to get it right. But still she felt she stuck out like a sore thumb, as much as her bright green jacket stuck out amongst the crowds of black moving along the
The air around her seemed to shift, but she chalked it up to the wind. Feeling someone jostle past her, she opened her eyes and nearly fell backwards. The view greeting her was not the one she’d left. Tight river and houses leaning inwards were replaced by a vast expanse of water, flanked by city on either side. She stared at the bank to her left in disbelief. The skyline was altered, more bare than she remember, but she’d know it anywhere.
“She’s been sitting there for two days Gracie, hasn’t budged an inch! She needs help!” the voice above caused her to stir for the first time in ages. She couldn’t feel her limbs, and felt her head droop again against her will, the cold pressing in on her.
“You can’t help every street urchin you see, Elisabeth! She could be dangerous!” hissed another voice.
“Don’t be such a ninny pinny, she’s the same size as the both of us, it’s not as if she’s going to knock our heads in,” the first voice returned again. Hands were shaking her but she wouldn’t respond, couldn’t if she wanted to. The voices above her began to swim together as she felt different hands, strong hands pulling her to her feet, stronger than she would have imagined either owner of the voices to possess. Then the darkness claimed her a second time.
It was still raining when she came to, though it was now dark outside and she felt considerably warmer and drier.
“Ah, you’ve come back ta’ us,” a voice with a lilting Irish accent exclaimed. The young woman felt her heart stop as she thought for one moment that things were back to normal. But one quick glance at the room around her and she knew things were not. A number of girls of various ages were leaning in towards her, all of them dressed so strangely. Beds lined the wall, about 15 in total if she counted correctly. And all of it was wrong.
1899. She knew it, had seen it on a discarded newspaper when she was wandering, but she refused to acknowledge something so ridiculous.
“What’s your name?” the soft voice came again. She paused, feeling her mouth dry and her lips cracked.
“Jo. Josephine,” came a rasped voice she hardly recognized as her own.
“Where are you from?” a new voice broke in. Jo recognized it, from the street that day… however long ago it had been.
“Not here,” Jo whispered, feeling lost as the tears welled up in her eyes.
“Shush now, you’ll be alright. Gracie and I, we found you and now you’re safe, and we can help you. Jack, he’s the one who carried you back here, said he’s sure we’ll be able to get you a place at the factory and—”
“And whatever Jack says goes because Elisabeth is sweet on him,” another voice cut in. Elisabeth’s outraged cry caused Jo to wince.
“The lot of you, clear out!” the girl with the Irish accent hissed at them, standing up to shoo them away with her hands, her long skirts swishing around her. “So, where are you from, love?” the accent comforted Jo, made her feel secure somehow.
“I don’t know,” she said honestly. She couldn’t understand what was going on. And she felt she must be going crazy, that she’d sound crazy if she admitted to not be of this world. Their world.
“Well, you know your name, it’s a start,” the girl said brightly, “I’m Miriam.”
“What is this place?” Jo asked, finding herself a bit curious about her surroundings.
“Rose Street Girl’s Lodging House,” Miriam said proudly, then noticed Jo’s blank look, “We’re factory girls, work in the textile factories around the city. Not a bad livin’, ‘least it has its moments. And, well, you seem ta’ ‘ave already hit the bottom if you don’t mind me sayin’, so this can only be an improvement. Jus’ don pay ta’ much attention ta’ what the other workin’ girls say ‘bout us,” Miriam grinned broadly.
“What do they say?” Jo laughed. She found this motion hurt her ribs but didn’t care much, it did her good to let something out, anything. Her laughter seemed to encourage Miriam as she settled back in her chair a bit and smiled pleasantly at Jo.
“Some a’ the hoity-toity types say we’re low class, no manners t’all. The woman who runs our lodging house, Addie Dervaux, she’s a suff-rah-gette,” Miriam stumbled through the word best she could, then continued, “Has all sorts of mad ideas about women an’ our rights. Surprised they let her get away with any a’ it, but I suppose we’re not important in the grand scheme of it all. But she let’s us do a lot of t’ings that are a bit, er, unseemly,” Miriam offered, the mischievous sparkle clear in her eyes.
“Like talk to boys and wander on your own and think big ideas?” Jo laughed.
“Well, yes, actually,” Miriam seemed a bit taken aback by Jo’s easy acceptance of these facts, “You one a’ those suff-rah-gette types, too?” she asked suspiciously.
“Something like that,” Jo conceded with a laugh, struggling to sit up in bed.
“Well, you’re in better spirits in any case,” Miriam nodded her approval.
“So long as I don’t think too much,” Jo murmured.
“Well, let’s see then, t’ink you can learn some names? I’ll go through everyone here,” Miriam offered, then continued with an encouraging nod from Jo. “The girls who helped you, that’s Elisabeth and Gracie. Twins an’ different as night and day. T’en there’s Kate with the red hair, we call her Ginger most times an’ a real temper to watch out for, the little one next to her is Lily, no clue to her real name, she came to us when she was four, didn’t speak a word of English! Jewel an’ Damsel are t’ick as thieves,
Well… I’m Jo no-last-name-like-you-lot Josephine and I imagine you’ll all find me very odd,” Jo offered with a grin. It was easier to accept this than to think on it, she was learning.
“Well, pleased ta’ meetcha, Miss. Jo,” Miriam said, holding out a hand. Jo took it enthusiastically.
Jo spent the next few days in bed regaining her strength. It seemed Miss. Dervaux had a habit of taking in the lowest forms of “street urchins” and didn’t mind spotting Jo the lodging so long as she meant to get a job at the end of it all. And she did: Miriam found a placement for Jo at the same factory as her and thank God for that, because Jo was terribly lost her first day as manual labor was really not her strong point. She’d been a student back home but found all her knowledge to be of little use in this world.
But Miriam taught her the ways and life fell into a sort of routine. Jo did not think about anything prior to that first day in the Lodging House, did not consider why or how she was here, did not think about the possibilities of time travel and what this would mean to her life, her dreams, her comfort. In fact, she thought as little as possible these days. This suited most of the other girls fine: Ginger could win every argument with Jo, Eire could con her into reading out loud to her any day and Jewel and Damsel would play endless pranks on her while she took it all in good humor. Only Elisabeth and Miriam seemed unhappy with Jo’s lack of explanation or opinion on, well, anything. But even they were getting used to her vacancy.
The days went by and she’d work in the factory. Sundays they would go to the park after church. The other girls met up with boys from a nearby newsboys lodging house and flirted, though Jo doubted they called it that at this point in time. Sometimes the boys would come to the girl’s lodging house and under Miss. Dervaux’s somewhat absent-minded eyes, would talk with the girls. If Miss. Dervaux had been heavy-handed with the cooking sherry she snuck when she thought the girls weren’t looking, then the boys would stay later and talk louder and play cards with the girls. This always made Jo smile, thinking this must be considered quite the house of sin in good old 1899. For her part, Jo did not partake. She spent spare hours at the public library consuming books or writing her own stories. She and Miriam got on well because of this, both possessing vivid imaginations. And so they would talk about the books they’d read. It was not lost on Miriam the likeness of Jo to her namesake in the novel Little Women: forward-thinking, brash, unladylike and creative. And Jo began to wonder if her novel look-a-like was not also a girl out of time and place.
One such night of sherry-drinking (purely by
Home. That was what she called it now.
“You read a lot,” a voice observed from above her. She flicked her eyes upwards and spied a bowler hat covering brown curls, further below that a pair of bespectacled eyes and below that, a smirking grin.
“Well-spotted,” Jo replied, letting her eyes snap back to the pages in front of her.
“Well, what do you get from all that?” the boy continued.
“Culture. Something you apparently lack,” Jo mumbled.
“Woah-ho now! Seems you could give Ginger a run for money with that attitude. Now what’d I ever do ta’ you? Do you even know my name?” the boy grinned winningly. Jo let her book snap shut and sat up, tucking her legs back under her skirt.
“Yes. They call you Specs,” Jo responded evenly, avoiding his eyes. She knew the boys thought her odd: fuelled both by anecdotes from the other girls and partially from what they’d observed of her themselves. Her confusion at things they saw as everyday did not escape their attention and it was becoming generally accepted that there was something distinctly off about Jo.
“Right, and you’se Josephine,” Specs nodded.
“Jo,” she corrected him but found herself smiling warmly, “So, is there a reason you decided to grace me with your presence?”
“Well, I was actually wonderin’ if you’d mind callin’ Jewel down from the dorm. Even with Miss. Dervaux off ta’ her sherry, I think that might be oversteppin’ a boundary, and, well Damsel might retaliate and throw something at my head,” Specs nodded gravely. Jo just rolled her eyes in response.
“Should I be fetching anything else while I’m up there? Maybe a companion for your friend over there?” she asked sarcastically, motioning in the direction of Specs’ friend, who was looking rather put-out at being abandoned and yet was avoiding any attempt of Jack’s to be drawn into conversation with Miriam and Elisabeth.
“Skittery’s just sour I dragged him over here, thinks you lot are a waste of time. I think he’s just bitter he can’t get any girl to look twice at him,” Specs winked.
“Tell him if he keeps making that face, it’ll stick that way,” she said, noting Skittery’s grimace. Specs laughter followed her up the stairs. She found Damsel and Jewel perched on one of the beds, giggling madly over their sewing.
“Specs wants to talk with you, Jewel,” Jo said as the two of them fell over each other, still giggling. “Oi, c’mon now, it’s really not that funny!” She could not for the life of her remember why anyone would act this idiotic at the age of 17. Though she supposed 109 years gave quite the hindsight bias. “Honestly,” she sighed, heading back down, Jewel trailing behind her, now smiling shyly as she caught sight of Specs.
Jo settled herself back onto the stairs with her book and held back laughter at the girl’s one-eighty in behavior. She could remember, even if only vaguely, what it was like to hang on someone’s every word, to giggle and wonder what it could become, to hope things might go your way. She remembered lingering smiles and coffee too early in the morning. The thought made her sad for a moment before she let it harden into cynicism. Thinking about boys a century in the future would not get her anywhere in this mess.
“Jo, we should really get Lily ta’ bed,” Miriam startled Jo from her reverie, appearing out of nowhere and standing nearly on top of her.
“She’s been asleep an hour,” Jo tried to argue but was already being dragged up the stairs and back to the dormitory, “Mim, what’s got you so riled up?” Jo grinned despite herself, falling onto her own bed and peering curiously at the other girl.
“Are you completely daft, Jo? Skittery!” Mim exclaimed.
“Er, what about him? You fancy the guy?” Jo asked, rubbing her temples. She despised the tendency these girls had to chat endlessly about who was sweet on who.
“No, you ninny! Specs told him you said his face was goin’ ta’ stay in that awful sulky look if he kept it up, and he looked completely shocked! Stared at you the full five minutes you were back downstairs,” Mim was positively ecstatic at these news. Jo couldn’t really see the big deal.
“Five minutes, eh? That’s quite the attention span,” she joked.
“For Skittery it is! He won’t even give t’ose hoity-toity high class ladies the boys always fawn over a double take. You’d think he wanted to marry Mr. Pulitzer wit’ the dedication he gives those papes!”
“Mim, you’re a bit beside yourself here,” Jo rolled her eyes.
“Well, you’re 21, you know. You’re going ta’ have ta’ marry sometime…”
“So I’m going to marry a newsie, am I?” Jo shot back, suddenly enraged.
“Well he can get a factory job if he needs ta’ support somethin’ more substantial, I’m just sayin’, Jo!” Miriam countered, catching the look on Jo’s face.
“Been here a month and you’re trying to sell me off already? Who says I want to marry? Who says I’m sticking around here?” Jo regretted these words the second they came tumbling out. It always made the girls uneasy when she talked of not marrying (they couldn’t imagine such a thing, even given Miss. Dervaux) and she felt bad for hinting she might leave Miriam on her own to watch over the girls when all she really wanted was to leave behind the Lodging House as much as the rest.
“Right. Of course. I don’t even know where you’ve come from, who’s ta’ say you’re not goin’ back. I had no right to interfere,” Miriam said, stoney-faced. Jo heaved a sigh and let her head drop to her hands.
“I’m sorry, Mim, I didn’t mean it. I’m just so tired these days, I just want some peace and quiet, y’know?” she mumbled into her hands.
“Yeah. I know,” Miriam responded from somewhere to the left of her. Looking up again she met Mim’s eyes and they shared a knowing look. It was out of habit that Mim nagged, because if she didn’t act as a mother to these girls, who would? But she never said a word about her own prospects, her own age, her own interests in the working boys they knew.
“Would you have any of them? The boys we know?” Jo asked curiously. Miriam thought about this for a long while before she answered.
“I suppose if Specs weren’t courting Jewel… but it’s silly to think, because he is. And who would mind you lot if I left? You’d burn this place down!” Miriam laughed but it sounded empty and false.
“And who minded you when you were younger?” Jo asked softly.
“No one. I mean to say… I came here when I was fifteen. And I always minded everyone, just as my mam minded me until she passed,” Mim seemed shocked to find herself saying this, but trundled on all the same, “My da’ paid for me ta’ come ta’ America, said he’d join me later. I was ta’ stay with my aunt. I stayed one night in the tenement and felt so awful for being anudda’ t’ing she had ta’ t’ink about, that I found this place the next day. The job followed a week later. My da’ never came for me,” Miriam finished. Jo nodded, knowing there was no response to the question Miriam never asked (why?).
“I’ll tell you mine, one day. One day I’ll get it off my chest,” Jo said, leaning back now and staring at the ceiling. Her pendant lay heavily against her skin, resting just above where her lungs were laboring, rising and falling. Maybe one day she’d get it right. Just once, she’d not be out of place, time.
“But he’s alright, Skittery. He’d do you good,” Miriam was continuing now.
“He’s alright,” Jo agreed, more to placate Miriam, than anything else. “He’s cute,” she conceded finally with a sigh, getting up to change into her night things. And for a brief moment she wondered if this boy, too, could give lingering smiles.