Numb Like Her

Chapter 14

The show proceeded and Talia didn't have any more performances. But she stayed behind the curtains, watching the boys, watching Jack. After another forty-five minutes, the show ended and everyone came out for a bow. Talia received the loudest applause, even from the other dancers and performers. Talia covered her laugh with her hands as the second row erupted with shouts and whistles. Jack watched her silently, his eyes glinting strangely. She secretly enjoyed it, his eyes on her.

Medda hugged her when she came off stage and she spoke into her ear, "Get changed, dear. We are all going out. My treat."

Talia dressed in her apartment, her costume laying on the wing backed chair in the corner. She dressed in a plain white blouse with her new favorite blue skirt, a gift from Medda. It was made with a soft thick material and fell to the floor. Nothing too fancy but it suited her just fine.

She unpinned her hair, falling in waves down her back. She stared into the mirror on the dresser; her cheeks were still flushed and the delicate collar of her blouse looked strange around her neck, her skin covered. She rolled up the sleeves, feeling a little less constricted.

Down stairs, the performers were undressing and changing and the girl dancers smiling at Talia and congratulating her on her first performance. They were nice to her, unlike the girls in the brothel. They accepted her as a fellow dancer, not as a threat. Talia returned the smiles and meant it. It seemed everyone associated with Medda was overly nice and pleasant.

Medda was still in her costume when Talia entered the velvet-clad lobby. Medda was smiling and laughing with the Newsies and some of the other performers with Toby at her side. He had taken off his clown makeup; he was actually quite handsome.

Medda spotted Talia and reached out to her.

"How about a round of applause for my newest star, huh?" She said loudly, beaming.

The Newsies cheered and took turns pulling her by the arms to wrap her in a hug. Kid Blink even kissed her on the cheek, hugging her around the neck. Jack stood back, watching her. She smiled at him and looked away, ignoring the warm feeling in her cheeks. It was from the dancing, not Jack.

Medda and Toby led the Newsies and performers to an Irish pub three blocks away. When the door opened, Irish music welcomed them, the drums pounding along with Talia's heartbeat. It smelled like warm tobacco and the room was lit with dim red lamps. There were dancers in the middle of the room, their feet light on the floor as their heels clicked, and the tables and chairs pushed against the walls. When Medda entered, many heads turned and smiled at her, waving as they continued to sweep across the floor. The barman and owners waved to Medda from behind the bar. Medda skipped across the floor and hugged the owner's wife, kissing her on the cheek. The owner's wife-Rebecca-smiled at Medda, laughing at what she was saying in her ear. Talia had never seen such red hair before.

Medda shouted to her friends over the music, "This is my troupe; put them on my tab!"

The pub owner and his wife nodded, beckoning the newsies and theater performers inside. They occupied the tables near the back and beer was passed around; Medda took full responsibility for the boys. They eagerly accepted the pints of beer.

"Try not ta fall on your arse if the bulls come in," said the owner's son, Teddy, his accent friendly and rich.

The boys laughed and Race shook his head, "Can't make any promises."

Race turned to Talia who was sitting next to Mush.

"A little drinking game, Talia?"

Talia eyed Racetrack carefully, "I don't think you want to play any such games with me."

Her accent didn't seem to fit the room. She glanced around nervously but everyone was smiling and laughing.

Race slid a pint to her and she grinned at him. They chugged their beer and the boys around them beat their hands on the table along with the music, cheering. Jack laughed as Talia began drinking faster than Race, the beer disappearing down her throat.

Talia was the first to set her pint upside down on the table and Race gasped, staring at her in disbelief. She leaned across to him, smiling coyly with narrowed eyes.

"Let me know when you want to go again," she purred.

The boys roared and Race sulked as they slapped him on the back out of sympathy.

She laughed until Medda came up to her; Talia didn't like the sly look in her friend's eyes. Medda held out her hands.

"Come dance with me," Medda said, her eyes sparkling.

Talia shook her head but Mush pushed her and Medda pulled her up from her chair, swinging her into the spinning circle.

The boys were pleasantly surprised at Medda's quick footwork: her and Talia flew across the floor, their feet barely touching the wood. Medda pulled the other girls from their seats and came back to the Newsies' table.

"My girls need partners, gentlemen," Medda said sneakily.

The boys shook their heads but she pulled them up and shoved them onto the floor. The girls grabbed their hands and pulled them into the frenzied round robin. Talia laughed as she grabbed David's hands.

Medda sat next to Jack who was laughing at David's face.

"She's quite the free spirit," she said, watching his eyes.

Jack stopped laughing and stared for a moment, watching Talia's hair fly about her face. She was smiling and laughing as everyone joined hands, moving faster around the middle of the floor. The owner and his wife were sitting on the bar next to the makeshift band, clapping their hands and shouting.

Talia was thrown into the middle of the circle and she pulled Mush with her. The crowd cheered as they jumped and kicked their feet, their rhythms matching perfectly. Mush had always been the best dancer among the newsboys. Talia and him laughed as they held hands, trying to outdo each other. He had never seen her smile like that or have that much fun.

She was actually enjoying herself.

"Yeah," Jack said with no particular inflection in his voice, his eyes following her.

The Newsies danced three more songs and then they sat down for another round of drinks. The band slowed into a favorite drinking song and some sang along, the Irish voices growing louder. Jack always liked the Irish; they really knew how to throw a party.

Someone said something to Jack but he didn't hear it. The boys glanced at each other and Race's eyebrows furrowed as he stared at his friend: "'ey, Jack. Earth ta Jack."

Race looked at the boys then they looked to Talia, her fierce eyes locked on Jack, too.

"Aaand they're off," Race said as he tipped back his pint.

Mush eyed Talia and Jack and then turned to Race.

"Wanna bet on it?" he asked, his eyes narrowed. "Our usual. Double or nothin'."

Race thought for a moment, weighing the situation.

"Name your terms," Race said as he sat down with Mush at the table, his eyes glinting.

...

She was across the room at another table, talking to her new theater friends, her chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath from the dance. She had unbuttoned the top three buttons and he saw the sheen of sweat on her collar bone. It must have been close to 1 a.m. The Newsies had finally mustered their courage to mingle with the theater dancers, smiling and playing around.

But Jack couldn't focus on his friends; he couldn't think of anything else as he watched her. He stood up from the table and moved to the beam next to the wall, leaning against it, the laughter and music joining into one sound, blocking out everything else. Energy was rushing through him and he couldn't sit still. He took another sip of beer.

Talia glanced to the Newsies' table through the dim lighting. When she didn't see Jack, she glanced around until she spotted him, leaning against a beam. His friends were laughing and Race said something to him but he didn't acknowledge Race; his focus was on her. And his eyes were hungry.

Chills went down her arms. And she liked it.

Talia had been so accustomed to being numb to all feelings, all excitement. Men didn't excite her; they bored her. They all had the same lines, the same moves...stale. And sometimes limp...

This was new for her. It was something that made her breath catch, something that made her hungry but not for food... It was something that stayed in her head and wouldn't leave her alone no matter how many times she tried to push it-him-away. She used to have such control, such indifference for any man that approached her. But Jack...with Jack she couldn't ignore the look in his eyes, the sound of his voice, his presence. But she wasn't one to "chase" men. They chased her. And one minute, she would think he was chasing her. And every time she found herself giving him too much attention, too much time, she'd stop dead in her tracks.

That's not me, she said to herself. I am the flame. Men hunger for me. But what happens when there are two flames, both burning with the desire to consume?

You get scorched.

She looked away quickly only to look back at him again.

Maybe a burn is just what she needed.

She knew he wasn't drunk: Jack Kelly was one for control and had to have it at all times, never wanting to lose himself to the giddy feeling of drunkenness. But she wondered if he was feeling something because Jack Kelly was never one to make a move in public. At least, that's what she thought.

He set his pint on the table and made his way around the tables nonchalantly, pushing his fingers through his hair the way he always did. His eyes stayed on her, burning into her. She watched him carefully with narrowed eyes; Jack was as unpredictable as a loaded pistol...

But when he approached her, he didn't stop at her side. He didn't say a word. Instead, he grabbed her arm, his fingers rough and warm on her skin, and pulled her away from the tables. He led her across the room to a hallway behind the bar were the bathrooms were. It was dark and hidden from sight. All the noises and music seemed to faded away as if they had stepped into another room.

As soon as they were in the shadows, he turned around and roughly planted his lips on hers, his ridged fingers on her back like claws. She was surprised but she kissed him back immediately. Her skin prickled with the anticipation she had been feeling all night. She wanted this. She wanted him.

His lips and hands were eager but he did not go too far; his hands gripped the back of her shirt, pulling her closer, and he pushed her gently to the wall, trapping her. Her arms were wrapped around his neck, feeling his hair between her fingers, and-as much as she hated to do so-she had to part from him every once in a while to breathe. Their breath was short and hot and it only made them crave more.

Jack placed his hands on the wall and he pressed his body to hers and she welcomed him.

He felt like he was losing his mind: he relished in the touch of her soft lips and even moaned a little, wanting her to the point of pain.

He also wondered if his talk had gotten through to her, if she finally trusted him. The fact that she was still here, under him, was evidence enough.

Talia didn't know this Jack: he was gentle and yet so beast-like; a tall hard pillar that she couldn't push away even if she wanted to. He was animalistic and he had a strong craving for meat that he had been suppressing.

But he did not hurt her. Though she heard him emit a soft growl, his lips were still soft against hers, his tongue caressing hers. He was perfectly capable of throwing her around, to be rough with her, but she knew by the gentle sucking on her lower lip that the thought would never cross his mind.

And it was that thought that made her want him even more.

God, what was happening? She didn't know.

And she didn't care.

She opened her eyes and saw his staring back, dark. And very, very hungry.


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