Christmas Eve for David Jacobs
David had lived his whole life in New York. He was used to the cold. He was also used to wearing his father's old coats – at least since he was old enough to not drown in them – and while he wouldn't freeze to death, they were well loved, as his mother liked to say. What that really meant was the wind whipped through the wool like a knife. So David, the born New Yorker he was, walked extra fast and didn't linger when he met people he knew on the street. Why give the wind the opportunity to cut him open?
Jack was from New York, too. They both walked fast, patched boots thudding on the dirty sidewalks, hands buried deep in pockets. David had more of a coat than Jack did and the taller boy's shoulders were hunched up, head down, hair wet from snow and a scowl twisting his normally amiable expression, a damp cigarette hanging pathetically from his lip. They'd spent the day selling and David had been given permission to spend the night in the lodging house with his friends, a lenience that had had to be wrangled out of his father. Meyer liked Jack, but didn't trust the company he kept.
The snow was wet – not sticking except to form slushy puddles that were starting to soak through to David's socks. But his pocket was full of coins – some of which had been promised to him for whatever he wanted – the last Hanukah present he was getting. He was too old for them now, his parents had decided, but the next time he went selling with Jack, some of his earnings were his. David didn't sell regularly. He was back in school. The strike was over and David was just on a different path from everyone else. At least that's what Meyer was always saying whenever David expressed a desire to work.
It wasn't something that he and Jack had ever talked about explicitly, but sometimes David could see that Jack resented him. The whole Sante Fe idea had been Jack's promise to himself that he had a road out of being a newsie, out of poverty and the city. He'd given that up to stay in New York with his friends, and now one of those friends – the closest one – was going to be disappearing into some university somewhere, if David could manage to scrape money together, or find a school willing to help him along. Meyer seemed to think it was inevitable. David wasn't so sure and he didn't know what Jack thought. He just knew his friend's jokes were particularly sarcastic when they were about education.
David glanced up at Jack in his usual way – taking in arched brows over brown eyes, tanned skin paled by winter sun, the cut of his jaw – quickly and hoping Jack wouldn't notice. Sometimes he did. Sometimes their eyes met and David had to either swallow and hold the look, or he couldn't manage it and would turn away, red cheeked. Jack usually just looked smug. In fact, there were a few times during which David was so caught up in catching glances at Jack – hoping not to be caught, hoping to see that wicked, pleasant kind of light in the other boy's eye that had made him so compelling in the first place, like jumping off a high pier – that he forgot to pay attention to where he was going. This wasn't to say he would run in to people, or trip. He would just…forget to pay attention where he was being led, and then he would find himself at a brothel in Greenpoint, or a craps game in some Manhattan back alley, when Jack had told him they were going to Tibby's, or the lodging house, or up to some really cheap, amazing Jewish deli that sold enormous pickles that kept your stomach full all day.
This was one of those times.
"Jack. Where are we."
"It's a church, Davey. I know you ain't real familiar. M'not either."
Jack was stepping forward after pausing briefly, but David had stopped cold in his tracks, looking up at the tall dark windows. It was well past the time anyone would be inside. "Why are we here."
"Just come on, Davey, stop askin' so many questions. Always with the questions."
"Right, like you're so stoic." He skipped ahead to catch up with Jack, boots scuffing through dirty slush. "Jack. Jack! Oh god, what are you – do you have a key? What are you - Jackwhatareyoudoing?"
"Relax." What he was doing, now obvious, was breaking into a church. Jack flashed a crooked grin back over his shoulder, visible even in the very dim lamplight, and then was wiggling his way through the window he'd managed to work open a crack. "Better suck your stomach in, Dave," he whispered, "it's real tight."
Once Jack was inside, David had one of his crises of faith. He had these often, since becoming friends with Jack Kelly. To do, or not to do. To rip off that fruit stand, or to not rip off that fruit stand. To lie to Sarah about Jack's whereabouts or to not lie to Sarah about Jack's whereabouts.
To strike, or not to strike.
Usually these crises of faith came out in Jack's favor. David wasn't quite sure why that was. All he did know for certain was that with Jack inside – probably already having fun – and with David outside – standing in freezing wet snow, with soaked socks, a runny nose, feeling decidedly like a stick in the mud – he could feel the draw to do whatever Jack urged deep in his gut. It was like someone had attached a string to his bellybutton, and they were tugging. Hard. He stood there for a long time, waiting for Jack to reappear, to convince him to follow, or to explain. He didn't.
David huffed a sigh, watched it dissipate into the air, then stepped forward to slide one leg in through the narrow opening, straddle the windowsill, and wiggle his way inside.
It wasn't much warmer inside the church and he tugged hopelessly on his coat, as though if he could just get it moving, it would be more inclined to do it's job. "Jack?"
"Shush, Dave." The voice came from behind him and David turned to face a tall wooden door, a sliver of faint light escaping from underneath. "Come in, and keep it down."
Rolling his eyes, David threw his weight against the door and it slowly creaked inward, revealing the sanctuary with its high ceilings, vaulted and arched, and the long rows of pews, orderly and cushioned. "You know," David started, the door still his focus, "there are some people who go to this church who probably think I'm a Christ killer. I'm not sure breaking into a church will win me any fa-"
"Look up, Davey."
He looked up, and stopped talking. In the time between getting inside, and David finally convincing himself to follow, Jack had managed to light what seemed like a thousand long tapered candles. They lined the aisle, they framed the pulpit, they stood along the stained glass windows, illuminating the faces of the saints, who looked down impassively at the two delinquent boys who had broken into their house of worship. They didn't, however, seem to mind.
Jack stood at the far end of the aisle, grinning as wide as ever, arms spread. "Great, right? Merry Christmas, Dave."
"Christmas?" David stood dumbstruck, looking around and up at the shadowed, wooden crosses, at the organ pipes that disappeared up into darkness that even a thousand candles couldn't illuminate.
"Fine, Christmas eve. So particular."
"Christmas eve?" he repeated stupidly. "I didn't even realize…"
"Didn't realize!" Jack threw his hands in the air. "Jeeze, Davey. What'd you think this was all about! Good present, right? My ma us'ta take me here when I was small, every Christmas eve. Kids sang and shit – carols, the wise men, all that. I never much thought church was so great, but man…" He looked up as well, the two boys mirrors of each other as they took in the vast space. "What's your favorite Christmas memory?"
David came back to Earth and looked down at Jack to see if he was serious. He seemed it. "Jack, I'm Jewish, remember? Me and my family, we don't celebrate Christmas."
Brown eyes went wide and landed on David in surprise, much as David's had landed on Jack. There was a moment where David was afraid Jack would be angry, that some how, miraculously, he'd missed this fact about his friend and didn't like it much at all.
"Shit that's right." Jack smacked a hand to his forehead. "No Christmas. No. Christmas." He wrinkled his nose and David's anxiety spiked.
Of course, he should have known there was nothing to worry about.
"Eh." Jack snorted and gave a huge shrug, hand slapping down against his legs in a gesture of dismissal. "Christmas was never that great anyway. I mean yeah, people feel even badder about poor freezin' kids on the street around Christmas, you pull in more money, but it ain't like I spent all these Christmases sittin' around a fuckin' tree, drinkin' egg nog or somethin'." His smile returned and he started toward David, pacing quickly down the aisle. "But the lights…still great, right?"
David ducked his head, hiding his own shy smile, only looking up with a firm, calloused hand thudded down on his shoulder, giving a squeeze. Jack was close – closer than he'd been all night, and David was grateful for the dim light to hide his blush.
"Don't go writin' poetry about them or somethin'," Jack warned seriously, giving David a strong shake, making the smaller boy take a step back to steady himself, "they're just some fuckin' candles."
"Don't say fuck in a church, Jack."
"Thought you was Jewish."
"I am, but still. God is watching. Or something."
Jack barked a laugh and it echoed. The flames fluttered slightly, a small draft catching them, and the movement rippled along the length of the sanctuary, sending both boys back into silence, turning to watch, with Jack's hand still on David's shoulder. They were both quiet for a long while, blinking in the glow, upturned faces cast in moving gold, shifting inlay that made David's hair gleam, that made Jack's sharp eyes softer. The light was so beautiful that this time, it was David who didn't notice when Jack's gaze turned to him, to his profile, but perhaps – even as he was unaware of the attention – he could feel it, because inexplicably that strange sense of vertigo came over him, the feeling when his foot would slip on a step and his body would drop, but his insides would stay in place, lurching up into suspended space. The sense he would get when Jack would smirk at him with that unforgivably devious look in his eye, the sense he'd always gotten since the day he'd stood on the statue of Horace Greely and declared a strike.
"So what do you celebrate?"
David actually started, head whipping around to meet Jack's eyes. "Um."
"Oh, that thing with the candles, right?"
David sighed and shook his head. "Let's put out the candles."
Without protesting, Jack moved away, his hand dragging down from David's shoulder, to his arm, to his elbow, to his wrist, and then the spot where his hand had rested last went cold as the contact broke. David stared after him.
"What else?" Jack licked his ink-stained thumb and forefinger and started to snuff the flames.
"What other holidays?"
David caught his breath and began helping him. One by one, the candles went out, and they found themselves in increasing darkness.
"I don't know, Davey. Is that even real?"
"We need to start going to that Jewish Deli more often."
Maybe next year, he'd take Jack to temple.