Jack tugged nervously at his jacket; it was too tight in the shoulders. It was the same suit Pulitzer had bought him over a year ago. He had planned to sell it but he kept it just in case.
But he didn't think he'd ever need it to see Talia...
"Relax, man," Mush said, laughing at his friend. "Ya look good."
"Man, he's just anxious to see his girl," snickered Kid Blink.
"Shut it, Blink," Jack grumbled as he shoved his best friend. "She's not 'my girl'. She's Talia."
"Sure," Race said as he handed his ticket to the ticket man.
Jack glanced at the posters outside as they waited in line. He saw a big poster of Medda with pictures of different countries around her. The caption read: "Irving Hall Presents The World".
Medda saved the boys fifteen tickets for the second row in front. They glanced around nervously at first, feeling out of place amongst the suits and dresses. But they began to cut up and laugh, their nerves disappearing.
"Man, this place had a different crowd the last time we were here for a show, huh?" David mused, looking at the families and men. "The Newsie Rally seems like it was five years ago."
"I miss it," Boots said thoughtfully. "It was when we gots to see everybody, ya know?"
David put a hand on Boots' shoulder, "Yeah, I know."
"I'd love ta see Spot get into it with Talia," Race said, hitting his fist into his palm as they walked into the velvet clad lobby. "I'd bet on Talia."
The boys laughed as they bounded through the double doors and down the isle to their seats in the second row. Soft voices and laughter of children filled the room as the audience entered the theater. The chandeliers were bright and the heavy red curtain was drawn over the stage.
"'ey, Talia," Race said loudly to the curtain, cupping his hands around his mouth. "We're all here in the second row."
Race never minded making a fool of himself.
"What if she's not back there?" Mush said, laughing.
Race shrugged, leaning back in his seat and propping his feet on the chair in front of him, "She's back there."
Kid Blink smacked Race's legs down and laughed as Race almost slipped out of his seat.
When the candy man, Toby, came down the isle, the boys looked at the colorful candies and treats in his box, their eyes wide.
"Medda's treat boys," Toby said, his clown makeup cracking as he smiled. "Help yourselves."
The boys all moved towards Toby, gumdrops falling onto the floor as they shoved their hands into the piles of candy. David and Jack stayed in their seats, watching them and shaking their heads.
"Like they needs more sugar," Jack said.
David laughed, "I wouldn't want to go to a show with anyone else."
Everyone began taking their seats and the lights flashed three times. Then the theater went dark and Jack swallowed as his eyes adjusted. He glanced around the room, his eyes looking at every man's face. While the others were having a carefree time, his hands were sweaty and tense, ready to bust someone's face in...
Wondering if the men in the seats staring at the curtain were here for the same reason he was. Because if something happened to her here, he wouldn't know where else she could go.
Then, the curtain opened and the room filled with applause.
Talia waited on the side of the stage, twisting her fingers as she watched the performance of "Germany". The stage lights were nice and bright but she still saw them, sitting in the second row. Her breath caught when she saw his face, watching the performers. He even laughed a few times.
She'd been practicing for hours for the past two days. Her legs were sore but she welcomed the familiarity. Her teacher had been very complimentary, saying she had picked up the steps fairly well. She wasn't a Russian teacher, cold and unforgiving, but Talia preferred her. She practiced in her bedroom and in front of Medda. She knew the dance but she was still surprised that Medda put her in the show so quickly.
"You're a natural," Medda had told her. "And naturals already know the dance."
It was a Russian number. Talia knew it very well. It was a part of the new show and, of course, she represented "Russia". Different countries, different dances. Medda was very proud of it.
Talia took a deep breath, looking down at her dark purple costume, the beads glinting from the stage lights above. It was the prettiest costume she'd ever worn, including the ones she had in Russia. Sometimes she thought about it; her home and her life there where the winters lasted for months and hope was as rare as the sun. Even though sometimes she missed it while she danced, she tried not to think about it too much; too many bad memories. Her accent was beginning to fade as a result of her suppression.
Medda came up behind her, dressed in red with a white parasol in her gloved hands. Medda's eyes glistened with excitement, "You will be spectacular, my new star."
Medda put her hands on Talia's cheeks, reading her eyes.
"You're nervous," she said with a smile.
Talia shook her head, "And it's not because I'm next."
"Don't think about him," Medda said sternly. "There's no one out there. It's just you. You're dancing in your living room. Only the only one here."
Talia nodded and Medda quickly kissed her forehead before turning away.
Medda walked onto the stage as the performers exited to the other side. The audience cheered and she clapped her hands.
"And now!" she said loudly, moving her arms theatrically. "We take you Russia! A country where the winters are cruel but the people are strong, like the resilient winter flower."
Talia had told her that, last night when she was in Medda's room...
Medda asked her, "So, what is Russia? When you think of your home, what comes to mind?"
Talia thought for a moment, staring at the delicate tea cup in her hands, the steam swirling up to her face.
"A flower, the ones that survive the winters," she said slowly, lost in her thoughts. "Not matter how hard you crush it, it is still beautiful...and worth fighting for."
Little did she know the truth of her words at the time; she had no knowledge of the cruelty and turmoil her country was facing. Every now and then she would see the papers in the Newsies' hands and catch a small headline, reading "RUSSIA-" but she would turn her head and forget that she ever saw it. She did not want to read it; she did not want her heart to break.
The curtains closed and the stage hands moved quickly to set up Talia's scene. Talia took her place on stage and watched as the men rolled out a wooden replica of the Kremlin in Moscow. It was her first time seeing it; whoever had painted it had made it bright and colorful, its unique towers spiraling up to the dark rafters. Talia remembered her first time seeing the real Kremlin in Moscow...with her father. The cold on her face, fur coats and dark colors, not like the bright colors on the wooden replica.
The violin began and she took her position. Even though the music was somewhat uplifting, her heart was breaking; she was unable to stop the flow of memories of her home, so far away... as if they were memories from someone else's life, someone much different than her. She felt cold.
The cello weaved through her and the curtains lifted, the lights blinding her. The audience gasped and Talia opened her eyes as snow silently fell from above.
Jack's body tensed when he saw her and he wanted to look around to the audience, to see if anyone was watching her...with a certain interest. But he couldn't look away from her; he forgot about everything as he watched the fake snow fall from the stage rafters, the lights bathing her in a red glow.
She was dressed in a classic Russian dancer's costume, the deep amethyst striking against her skin. She looked like a delicate flower, dusted lightly with snow. And as she began to stretch her limbs, she was more than graceful; it was as if she did not touch the floor as she moved about. Her face was heartbreakingly sweet, her eyes crying invisible tears.
It was completely silent and Jack suddenly felt as if he was the only one in the entire theater: she was dancing for him.
She danced through the snow and the stage seemed to disappear, the curtains and walls vanishing. Jack forgot that she was Talia, forgetting that she was even human. When she glanced up, her eyes caught the light, like flames. She was breathtaking, like a rare bird flying in and out of reality, her lithe arms beckoning him to follow her.
It ended much too soon but after a quiet pause, the audience stood and applauded, the boys next to Jack shouting the loudest of any.
"That's our girl!" Mush yelled, beaming and clapping his hands. Kid Blink whistled between his fingers and Race waved his hat above his head, standing on his seat.
Talia curtsied, smiling politely and blushing, emerging from her trance.
David glanced at Jack and smiled gently.
"She was perfect."
Jack clapped until his hands went numb, watching her as she flitted off stage. Just before she disappeared behind the curtain, her eyes found on him.
"Yeah, she is."