Numb Like Her

Chapter 12

Talia could barely breathe. She had to leave him; she didn't know what else to do. She had felt like she was in a corner, suffocating, all these thoughts coming at her and she didn't know what to do with them. She wanted to stay, she wanted to go...She felt foolish for running away but these raging feelings inside her…

She'd kissed plenty of men before, nothing special. They're all rats with the same pair of lips.

But that...

That was something different.

And she wanted him. She wanted him like a tiger wanted meat. She felt desires she had never felt before. Real desires.

But she couldn't encourage them. Encouraging them would be setting him up for a great fall on his ass. She couldn't do that to him, the way she had done plenty of other men.

Some men had used her. But there had been times that she had led a select few to believe she loved them, that she was all theirs...for a price. She learned her lesson a few years ago, that some men go mad, even willing to kill her if they couldn't have her exclusively.

She couldn't do that to Jack. Not Jack.

For years, it was just sleeping around, no emotions attached and no big deal. Every movement was the same...every male body. It was a performance she had to do in order to live. It was something she did with men that made her feel dirty, worthless. And she had learned to hate it.

But when she thought about Jack; thought about his hands on her skin, his lips on hers, his body against hers…

Her bare feet carried her to the other side of the theater, through the backstage and up the wooden stairs to her room. She closed the door behind her and turned around, not moving any farther than the parlor. She covered her face with her hands and slid down against the door, sitting on the wooden floor. She had chills but she was sweating.

What was wrong with her?

When he had kissed her before, she hadn't felt much of anything; she was stunned by his aggressive abruptness...she was heartbroken that he had broken the rule. The rule that she was off limits to feelings of affections, of anything...When he had kissed her, she could have killed him. Because no matter how many times she denied it, she felt the same. But her nonchalance had become a part of her, to not get attached. And indifference can lead anyone to madness.

She would know.

She couldn't return it-those feelings- to him. She couldn't. It will kill him. She wanted him to stop fighting for her; every day he broke down doors, both ones in New York and inside her, just to get through to her. Because every time he fought for her, he traveled farther down the hole.

He's a damn fool.

This is silly. This is Jack Kelly, the boy (alright, young man) who bashes heads to solve his problems. The most hotheaded person she had ever met. The most inept and selfish man in New York.

But...

The night he had saved her from Rockefeller; he could've left her. He could have taken advantage of her at the Lodging House. His hands had been so gentle, so gentle she doubted they were Jack's.

He could've let her sink to the bottom of the bay.

Her heart caught in her chest and her eyes brimmed with tears. Why was she so emotional? She hadn't cried in years, not before Jack. But she remembered his face that foggy morning on the docks, staring at her, begging her to come to him. He always came across as someone who could care less about anyone, someone who wasn't bothered by anything. But he cared. A lot. Maybe the most caring of any man she had ever met.

It was almost insulting to compare him to the slugs she had been with.

He was brave. And he was a fighter.

And he had a great body.

She shook her head, placing her hands over her ears and closing her eyes.

This was not like her; she never thought this way. Especially not about Jack Kelly.

But she had thought about it several times, the way he had kissed her, and tonight...at the time, it seemed like a good idea. Something inside her told her to do it; she wanted to taste him. He had a smoky taste to him, like a dying fire that would flare up and within the same minute, die down again. He had so much energy, so much that he didn't know what to do with it.

And she had never wanted to kiss anyone. Not willingly at least.

These feelings…they weren't forced or lies…

They were real. Not a mask she had to put on to fool. Her heart pounded and she touched her lips, her fingers trembling.

She felt sick. What was the matter with her? Talia needed no one. Talia only needed herself. Talia…

Damn it was a good kiss.

She hit the back of her head against the door.

And she thought quitting prostitution was hard enough.

….

"'ey, Jack, how'd it go?" Mush asked as Jack walked into the bunkroom.

Jack had walked back to the Lodging House in a trance, not knowing if he had been going in the right direction. His head was still back at the theater, in the balcony, her shadowed face in front of him. Her soft lips moving against his.

Jack flopped onto the bottom bunk next to Mush, falling onto his back and staring up at the wooden beams of the bunk above him.

Mush, Kid Blink and Race exchanged nervous glances. The other boys had stopped talking, all glancing over to Jack.

Jack closed his eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumbs.

"I talked to her, so what," he said huskily, still remembering her tongue on his lower lip. "...an' she kissed me."

"Well, that's nothin' new. Ya've kissed her before," Race said bluntly. "Twice from what I recall."

The boys laughed.

"No, egghead," Jack opened an eye, looking at Race who was standing at his feet. "She kissed me."

There was a second of silence and then the room exploded with roars and shouts. Some whistled and crooned at him.

"Don't ya know you're tha luckiest son of a bitch on this side of tha bay?!" Race shouted, beaming down at Jack. "WOO! An' you-"

Race pointed at Mush.

"You owe me anotha two bits, ya lucky bastard!"

Mush cursed, reaching for his box under his bed, "Jack, you're killin' me, man..."

Jack glared at his friend.

"Man, I'd kill ta have a girl like Talia," Pie Eater said dreamily as he flipped onto his stomach on one of the top bunks.

"Yeah, an' she'd kick your ass," Specs yelled and everyone roared. Specs smacked Pie Eater on the cheek playfully and he threw his pillow at him, blushing red.

The whole room was deafening, a typical night in the Newsies' house with half of them in bed and half in the bathroom getting ready for bed, all walking around in their shorts.

"Man, 's never a dull moment with you two, is there, Cowboy?" Boots said as he went to the bathroom, shaking his head and smiling. He jokingly kicked Jack's foot as he passed by.

"That's great, right Jack?" Kid Blink asked as he sat next to his best friend, leaning on his elbow.

"No, 's not," Jack said.

The guys blew it off.

"Aw, come off it, Jack," said Skittery.

"What do you guys know about it?" Jack shot back. "Ya don' have a clue about how much of a pain in tha ass she is."

"It's a pain in the ass I'd be glad ta have any day," Pie Eater said, laughing.

"We fight ev'ry damn day," Jack groaned. "She's makin' me insane."

"Ya ever think it's because you two are tha same?" said Snoddy. "I mean think about it; ya both stubborn-"

"Hot headed-" said Skittery.

"Thick headed-" chimed Boots from the bathroom.

"And ya both like ta kiss each otha apparently," Race said with raised eyebrows. "Perfect match, Cowboy."

The guys laughed.

"A'right!" Jack yelled, irritated.

"But no fightin' tomorrow," said Kid Blink, still laughing. "We're all goin' to tha show, right Jack?"

"Do I have a choice?" Jack asked darkly.

"Nope," Race said, putting a new cigar in his mouth. He shouted to the whole room: "So let's shine up a bit, eh fellas?"

The guys shouted with excitement and one by one the bunks filled with their owners. Kloppman came in to make sure they were away in bed. He went over to Jack who was undressing next to his bunk, discouragement on his face.

"'ey, Cowboy," said Kloppman, his eye glasses sliding down his thin crooked nose. His voice sounded so frail, except for when he was waking them up in the morning.

"That new dancer at Medda's, she the one that's been 'round here?"

"Yeah," Jack said unenthusiastically. Why did everyone want to talk about her?

"She's real nice, Cowboy," said Kloppman, nodding to himself. "She made me an' Medda dinner last night. Real nice girl. Said she liked my playing."

Jack looked up, seeing the old man's face. Kloppman was just another fixture in the Lodging House; the boys said good morning and good night to him, never thinking about what the old man did in between, never thinking to really talk to him, to ask him questions. His body was slumped and appeared frail; Jack couldn't picture him playing a violin, let alone holding one. He couldn't explain why, but thinking about Talia and him having dinner made him feel good. Kloppman didn't know about Talia's past, only that she was a nice girl who danced.

She had a clean start. And if anyone was a good judge of character, it was Kloppman.

"Good night boys," the old man said as he left the room, turning out the lights.

"Night, Kloppman," the Newsies replied back.

Jack removed his pants and shirt, leaving nothing but his shorts, and he climbed into his top bunk above Mush's. Kid Blink was on the top bunk to Jack's right, over Race's. The room was beginning to settle, some boys were still restless, picking on their bunkmates. Jack remembered when they were younger, some would cry at night, missing their families, and some would pray. Some still prayed. But the crying stopped a while ago.

Jack was always the last to fall asleep, listening to the creaks of the bunkroom and to the boys' breathing. He didn't know how he was the last, he just knew it.

And he was fine with that.

"Night, fellas," Jack said.

"Night, Cowboy," the guys said sleepily.


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