'Tween pavement and stars
Beeswax candles flickered in their brass holders, casting a warm light over the crowded dinner table. Jack smiled happily as he settled back in his chair and crossed his legs under the table, listening to Mayer's low chuckle and David's animated tone.
"He really didn't believe me, but I told him -- right, Jack?" David glanced over for corroboration, and Jack nodded agreeably, although he hadn't actually been following the conversation. "-- So, I told him that the whole area used to be butcher shops that dumped all their waste in the lake, and that's why they eventually had to fill it all in."
"Careful!" Sarah cried as Les's knobbly elbow jostled the water pitcher when he stretched to grab a third roll. David reached out quickly to steady it and then continued with his story as Esther watched with a smile playing around her lips.
"So then he told me that he didn't believe it because he heard that the city's going to build tunnels underground for the streetcars, and they wouldn't be able to blast through Five Points. It sounds crazy, though, building underground like that." David's brow furrowed and he shook his head slightly.
Jack knocked his ankle lightly against David's under the table and smirked when David rolled his eyes. "I dunno," he finally put in, "I seen this tunnel right near City Hall. Some guy built it a long time ago and then it got abandoned -- it's all empty now, but I been down there."
"Huh." David cocked his head curiously, and just then Les managed to knock the silverware off his plate with a loud crash.
"The snow's getting heavy, Jack," Esther observed with a worried frown, pulling back the embroidered curtains to gaze at the white streets below. "You'd better stay here tonight. I don't know what people are thinking, going out to all those New Years Eve parties on a night like this." Turning from the window, she smiled and gestured to Mayer.
"Well, I guess our own party is good enough," he responded mischievously as he went to unlock the small cabinet next to the fireplace.
In the corner, Sarah tucked Les into bed, his fringe hanging loosely over his closed eyes, moving slightly with each breath. Settling herself into the rocking chair with her lacework, she aimed a mock glare at the boys. "Papa, I know what you're doing, and it's not fair."
Mayer turned from the cabinet holding two small tumblers full of amber liquor and presented them ceremoniously to Jack and David. "I guess you boys are old enough now for a little celebration," he patted them on the back and nodded laughingly at Sarah, who blew out an annoyed sigh in an attempt to cover her smile.
David held his glass gingerly, eyes wide. "Are you sure, Papa? I mean," he rallied quickly, straightening up, "Right. Thank you."
Jack grinned and chucked David on the shoulder, then held his glass up for a toast. Mayer's and David's joined his, and Jack announced, "To the best year I ever had. And thanks to all you folks for makin' it that way."
"Hear, hear," Mayer repeated, sipping. Esther moved to his side, eyes bright, and wrapped an arm around his waist.
Jack smiled, quietly contemplating the floor for a moment, and then tossed back the brandy. It burned all the way down to his stomach, where the warmth gathered and spread out again.
David followed Jack's lead, then promptly coughed, wheezing slightly as the liquor worked its way down. Jack grinned and slapped him on the back a few times, and David grimaced at the aftertaste.
"Happy New Year," Sarah called, just as the clock on the mantel whirred its way into morning.
"It's a new century," Jack whispered into the darkness.
The sheets rustled, and David corrected quietly, "It's not really. Not until next year."
Turning over, Jack snorted. "It's 1900, ain't it? That's a new century. Don't go gettin' all technical about somethin' simple."
"I'm just saying," David laughed, sitting up in bed and letting in the cold draft from the nearby window, "if you're going to insist on counting up from A.D., the least you could do is count accurately."
"'S cold," Jack complained, shifting to sit beside David and wrap the quilts around them more securely. The boys were silent for several minutes, both gazing out at the still night. The snow had finally subsided around one, and now the drifts sparkled pristinely below the whorls of smoke rising from the chimneys.
"Let's go out," Jack finally broke the stillness that had settled over them.
"Go out?" David muffled a laugh. "Are you crazy? Where would we go?"
"We could get up to the roof, I bet," Jack shrugged equably.
David snorted, but didn't protest. Tip-toeing around the apartment, the boys dressed, gathering up scarves and mittens before inching open the window onto the fire escape. The metal steps were covered in a deep crust of snow that swallowed up the boys' feet as they trudged upward. David wrapped a cabled scarf securely around his neck, grumbling under his breath, and Jack smiled to himself.
The rooftop looked barren, drifts of snow up against the dead potted plants and the picnic table, icicles strung along the stiffened clotheslines. David cast a long-suffering glance at Jack, and then pulled a pair of mittens out of his pocket and began to use them to sweep off the top of the picnic table.
"Aw, it ain't that bad, Dave," Jack cajoled in a low voice, not wanting to break the rare quiet of the city night.
"It's freezing," David glared, gingerly seating himself and hunching up his shoulders around his reddened ears.
Jack jumped up next to him and questioned teasingly, "Then why'd you come out, huh? You're supposed to keep me from doin' stupid shit like this. That was the deal."
David snorted and beat the excess snow off his mittens. "I would never make a deal like that. Trying to stop you from doing dumb things is a full-time job with a union salary. I've got my hands full as it is." He frowned as he tried to pull on the mittens, wiggling his fingers uselessly against the too-tight knitting. "I think these are Les's," he finally admitted, sighing.
"Give 'em here," Jack gestured. He stuffed them into his pocket with one hand and pulled his right mitten off with his teeth.
David smiled crookedly as Jack grabbed his right hand, and let him work the spare mitten over his stiff fingers. "Great," he remarked, "now we just need to trade off every five minutes to avoid frostbite."
Jack gave him a smartass glance and then took David's left hand with his right one. "Sometimes you gotta improvise, that's all. Ain't nothin' wrong with that." He scooted closer, sandwiching their clasped hands between their thighs. "See? Warm." Jack grinned cheerfully.
David laughed under his breath, flexing his fingers against Jack's knuckles and the wool of his coat. "Yeah," he conceded.
A slight breeze drifted across the rooftop, sifting snow off the chimney and ruffling the boys' hair. Jack breathed in deeply and squeezed David's hand. "You think they really will run streetcars underground?" he asked after a minute, squinting at the dim lights of downtown.
David frowned slightly and puckered his lips in thought. "I don't know," he admitted after a moment. "I guess it can be done. It would be strange, though, to have a whole different world under the city. You know?"
"Yeah," Jack agreed. "But I kinda like the idea. It seems like the sorta thing you could do in 1900, I guess. All futuristic."
David laughed. "How about I go to architect's school and learn how to build your 20th century tunnels?"
"Okay," Jack weighed the idea and nodded. "I think you could do that."
David smiled wryly and cast his eyes down for a moment. "You do, huh?"
"Absolutely," Jack met his gaze squarely. "You're smart, you know? You're gonna do somethin' big in this city. If you wanted, you could build a whole new city underground." He raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Hell, I'd live there if you did that!"
David looked down again, a slight blush tinging his cold cheeks. "Well, I'd build it for you if you thought I could."
Jack stared out across the rooftops for awhile, a pensive look on his face. "Thanks," he finally said, somewhat gravely. "I guess I don't really mind it up here, though. You know, for now." He cut his eyes sideways, then smiled.