Numb Like Her

Chapter 10

Jack looked at her like he'd never seen her before. She was a new person, a new face with a different story from the one he'd known. She was strong, almost to a fault, but when she had been dancing, he had seen the emotions she had kept bottled up-the pain-and he wondered how anyone could keep from breaking. She was an artist, painting a new picture of something he'd never seen before. Even as she came down from the stage to smile at the guys, she looked different. Her eyes were alive, filled with a cool fire that hadn't been there before.

He couldn't take his eyes off her. He wanted her: the energy she emitted, the life that shown in her eyes. He wanted it. He wanted her.

And he hated himself for it.

She was smiling and laughing with Mush and the others who were fawning over her, completely in awe of her. Jack could still see the deep, almost permanent hurt in her eyes but he knew it would take time to go away. But a glimmer of the girl beneath the surface, the real Talia, had been revealed to them on stage. He wanted to take away the pain in her eyes, to let her true self come to him.

He shook his head, looking down at his shoes and scratching his ear. He really had to snap out of it. But he heard her laugh…he looked up and saw her actually smiling. Though his face showed no emotion, beneath the surface of his skin, he was on fire.

He couldn't deny it much longer. He still felt the ghost touch of her lips on his when he had kissed her in her apartment…

He ran his fingers through his hair and huffed in frustration. None of the guys were looking at him; their eyes were on Talia. But he was paranoid that his thoughts would burst from his brain at any moment. He kept his distance, watching from his seat.

Soon Medda took Talia upstairs to see her new apartment. Kid Blink, Mush, Racetrack and David followed them with Jack tailing behind them. The other Newsies left the theater to hoot and holler their way through the streets back to the Lodging House.

The Newsies had noticed Jack's strange quietness and knew that look in his eyes. They had smiled and punched his arm playfully as they had passed him, shouting that they would see him tomorrow at the docks. He ignored them.

At the top of a flight of creaky stairs, carpet lined a dark narrow hallway. Medda's door was on the right. Talia's was at the end on the left. Medda opened the door and let Talia step in first, followed by the curious boys.

The room was warm, colored with deep purples and greens. Lamps filled the dark rooms with light and they could hear the nightlife of the city: carriages and horses clipping along on the street, men shouting as they returned from the factories. Someone was playing a violin.

"That would be Kloppman," Medda said. "He practices here some nights, up on the roof."

"Wait a minute," Race said, glancing at the guys. "Our Kloppman? Old man Kloppman?"

Everyone was silent for a moment, listening to the sweet sound of the violin, weaving through the room, muffled by the closed windows. Talia liked it.

Medda smiled sneakily at the boys, "Don't know him as well as you thought you did, huh?"

Mush, Race and Kid Blink looked at each other. So that's why Kloppman stepped out some nights for hours at a time, only to reappear in time to wake them. They suddenly felt ashamed; they had no idea...

There was a kitchen to the left of the front door, stocked with dishes and cookware. There was even an ice box. Past the kitchen in the living room, there were two couches facing each other, velvet, on a rug that covered the entire floor. Pictures hung on the walls, posters of shows. Windows lined the wall from the dining room through the living room and to the bedroom door, hung with dark curtains to keep the sun out when drawn.

In the bedroom, a queen size bed with burgundy feather bedding greeted Talia. The sheets looked so clean, she hesitated to touch them. On the other side of the bed there was a wardrobe with a small door that led into the bathroom, equipped with a porcelain wash bin and bath tub supported on golden "feet".

It was elegant and sparkling. Talia went back into the sitting room and looked at Medda nervously, expecting her to tell her it was all a lie.

The woman smiled, lifting her eyebrows.

"So, what do you think?"

Talia looked around the room again and the boys smiled at her reaction.

"It's…it looks expensive."

Medda laughed, "A sharpshooter; I like her."

"So do we," Mush said affectionately.

"I don't know what to say," Talia said quietly, glancing around uncomfortably.

Medda placed her hands on either side of Talia, gripping her arms gently. She lowered her face, looking into Talia's cold eyes, "Not a thing. You stay here, work for me, and help me run the place. And no alcohol, no men. Except for my boys here."

She winked at Jack who was leaning against the wall but Jack was looking out the window, gazing out to the dark sea of rooftops.

"All you have to do is dance," Medda smiled warmly at her. "You'll be wonderful. Alright boys, go get her things already!"

The boys jumped into action and told Talia they'd be back with her clothes and whatever else they could carry. She told them not to worry about the couch or her bed.

Medda left the room quietly and Talia and Jack were the only ones left in the room. The room was quite dark despite the number of gas lamps with glass domes, casting beautiful patterns of light onto the floor. Jack's face was partly shadowed, veiling his eyes. He stared out the window, his mind far away.

Talia's eyes squinted inquiringly as she watched him.

"Why did you do this?" she asked quietly, stepping closer to Jack until she was standing next to him.

He was leaning against the wall on his side, facing the window, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He turned towards her, his back on the wall. His eyes were blank but his chest was heaving.

He shrugged, "Ya needed it."

She stared at him and she saw the uncomfortable feeling inside him. He huffed and licked his lips, thinking.

"Yeah, well…I knew—well David knew that Medda'd be able ta help you. It was really all his idea."

He looked away from her, scuffing his shoes on the rug. His hair hung down over his eyes as he stared at the floor. "Ya did good up there." He looked up at her, reading her eyes.

"Is that it?" she asked. A flash of annoyance crossed her icy eyes.

He looked at her and took in her frustrated expression. She was breathtaking, even when mad. He hated those thoughts...His hands were tense. He huffed again.

He couldn't deny it anymore.

"Nah," he said, stepping away from the wall, "'s not it."

He quickly took her by the arms and pulled her to him, kissing her hard on the lips the way he had in her old apartment. But this time he kissed her for as long as he wanted to.

She didn't resist him but she didn't encourage him either: she allowed his lips to move against hers, to part her lips, and to taste the inside of her mouth with his tongue. His hand traveled and knotted in her hair, holding her firmly to him. She opened her eyes and saw the desire in the eyes staring back at her.

But it was more than desire. She just couldn't understand it…it was something that had been there for a while, just waiting to brim over the edge. Something he'd been itching to do. And yet, at the same time, she couldn't help but feel like he wanted to run: his body was tense and ready to bolt. She could practically feel his self loathing for being so "vulnerable". She knew him well.

But…

He didn't run.

The muscles under his shirt were tight as he held her firmly, but he didn't do anything else.

As their lips moved together, she could feel her urge to run too and she could feel her wall coming up, ready to part from him. He was too close. She felt the panic…

He could feel that she wanted to pull away but he held her there, making her kiss him. He opened his eyes and saw her looking back. He saw fear.

He turned and guided her, gently pushing her backwards until her back met the wall. He reached behind her with his left hand, feeling the wallpaper beneath his fingers. He pressed into her gently, feeling his body light up like the city of New York. But he wasn't trying anything: he was blocking her, trapping her within his arms and legs.

He pulled away from her and looked at her face, seeing the uncertainty in her expression, the hesitation. He licked his lips and tried to slow his breathing. He wanted to try again. This time he touched her lips gently and kissed her as if she were something delicate in his hands. The delicate girl who'd been tough for so long, the girl he wanted to protect.

Never in her whole life had she been kissed like this. She didn't know what to do. If she wanted to run before, it was nothing compared to the horror growing inside her now. She was trapped, he wouldn't let her go, and he was so determined to keep her here…

If he left her now, walked out the door and never saw her again, she'd hate him forever. He would break her.

He pulled away again and looked at her, panting through his parted lips. He kept his hands on the wall and his head was leaning towards her, almost resting his forehead against hers. His eyes flickered between hers and his body felt like it was tingling all over. He felt lighter than air. But she…

She looked terrified. But she didn't run.

She stared back at him and she slowly parted her lips. "You don't know what you're doing, Jack," she whispered quietly.

He stared back at her for a long moment, wondering what in the hell he had done. Now they were something. Before they were just…well, he didn't know what they had been. But now, they were definitely something. But as he looked into her eyes, he didn't regret anything.

"I neva do," he answered huskily.

She apprehended him for a moment, her eyes wide as she searched his face.

Her wall was still up. He could see it. He had a strong desire to take a hammer to it, to be the one on the other side of it with her, to know everything about her. To remove the mask she had always worn so effortlessly. He didn't understand why but he was determined to do it.

"What are we doing, Jack?" she asked, her bright eyes boring into his.

"I don' know," he said with a huff.

He ran his fingers through his hair and Talia took the opportunity to slip out from under him, feeling the air fill her lungs again. She placed her hands over her face, standing between the two velvet loveseats. She knotted her fingers in her hair and looked back to Jack who was leaning against the wall next to the window again, watching her indifferently.

"We don't follow the rules very well, do we?" she asked.

"I guess not," he looked down at the floor, his brow knitted.

"What's the matter, Jack?" she asked suddenly. She saw it in his face: he was angry. She felt her skin prickling; she wanted to get mad at him too, to fire off at him. She wanted to make him leave.

"When are ya gonna get it outta your head that I'm not like the othas?" he shot back, his dark eyes meeting hers.

She looked at him blankly.

"I'm not afta what the othas were afta."

"Then what are you after?" she asked angrily, bitterness in her eyes.

He shook his head, "I don' know. What you're afta, I guess."

"I'm after something?" she scoffed. "What would I ever get from you?"

He took a quick step forward, his eyes shining fiercely. He stopped in front of her and spoke quietly but fiercely in her face, "The thing you feel wheneva you weren't locked up in your room with some man off tha street. Wheneva we're on tha docks, walkin' in tha street, wheneva you're with me."

"And what's that?" she shouted, her eyes wild.

He stepped away from her, trying to keep his anger under control; he didn't like it when she shouted at him. He could take the Newsies or the Weasel shouting at him. But not her.

He took a deep breath and exhaled quickly, letting go of his frustration.

"Freedom," he said.

She regarded him for a long minute. She looked away from him and went behind the velvet couch, running her fingers over it, her thoughts taking her away. Her voice was low when she spoke: "I've got many bad habits, Cowboy."

She met his dark eyes, "And I'm not talking about my drinking or sleeping around."

He only stared at her, watching her move around the room, touching things with her finger tips, afraid they would break if she lingered on them too long.

"I'm a good liar, Jack," she said softly. "I have been for a while."

He looked away from her, his irritation returning.

"I-I don't want to hurt you."

"Hurt me all ya want," he said, frustrated. "I'm still not goin' anywhere." He went back to the window, leaning against the wall.

He glanced back at her and saw she was looking at him.

Her eyes were smoldering, looking at him in a way that made his skin craw, and her full lips were parted slightly, her chest heaving slowly as she breathed. She was still only wearing her chemise and skirt, her perfect breasts barely visible at the edge of the delicate lace. But his eyes stayed locked with hers as she approached him slowly. She seemed to be waiting for him to do something, to act: she moved slowly, her muscles tense and ready to run if she felt that she needed to.

But he stayed still with his head leaned back against the wall behind him, his narrowed eyes curious. She moved closer until she was barely pressed against him, trapping him now. She was almost his height, her eyes level with his. He saw a freckle on her right cheek that he had never notice before. Her skin was so smooth… her striking blue eyes were unlike any eyes he had ever seen; he thought she could see right through his.

She had always seemed older than him, knowing more than he did. And maybe she was, by a few months at least. She was so jaded. Even more than him.

He was surprised when he felt her hands on his stomach, her fingers splayed over his shirt. Her hands traveled up and over his chest. Her head was tilted down, her eyes looking up at him through her dark eyelashes. She leaned closer to him, her nose barely brushing his upper lip. He could smell her dark hair.

"So, this won't hurt you?" She purred. "Every day, the same thing, and you won't feel anything?"

His eyes darkened. This wasn't her; this was her mask. She was hiding. She was trying to make him run, to prove a point.

She was trying to push him away.

She lifted her face and her lips were brushing his, softer than silk. He tried to ignore his body; he felt like a loaded gun, ready to smoke.

Her eyes were smoldering, seductive and almost playful. He didn't want her to play these games with him…to pretend. But he still saw the fear inside her.

"Didn't they warn you…" she murmured, her lips brushing his as she spoke, "don't fall for prostitutes?"

He took a few breaths, looking at her face, her horrible beautiful face.

"They don' call me a fool fa nothin'."

"You are a fool, Jack Kelly."

He felt her breath on his lips and he watched her, fully aware of his body's reaction...

She paused, feeling his body against hers…all of his body. His hands on her…his warm breath in her face…it felt too familiar.

Her mask broke. This isn't what she wanted.

She pushed away from him, turning to the door to hide her pained face. Her breath caught; sweaty skin, hard gasps in he ear, rough hands all over her-

Too much.

It was too much for him, too.

"Why ya gotta do that?!" he shouted. "Why ya gotta pretend?! I don't want that! Damn it-stupid girl!"

He'd never met anyone like her; her emotions changing every two minutes. He didn't know where she would be in the next five. He didn't think he could take anymore.

Then there were footsteps on the stairs and a quick knock on the door. Talia went to answer it while Jack watched her for a moment. Unable to hide his frustration with her, he opened one of the windows and slipped onto the wide fire escape, disappearing into the dark street below.


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