Numb Like Her

Chapter 15

"I swear ta God, Cowboy, if you come home tonight, I'll kill ya," Racetrack said darkly as the Newsies left the pub to head back to the lodging house. Half of them were drunk. The other half was between drunk and passed out. They were all laughing for reasons they did not understand. But Race was in his right mind, even under the influence: he wasn't going to lose, even if it meant giving Jack a nudge in the "right" direction.

Jack, the only sober one, shoved Race, glaring at the street. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Medda and Toby with Talia between them, strolling back to the theater.

"Man, leave him alone," Mush said, his eyes anxiously watching Jack's face. "Jack can do whatever he wants. An' besides he doesn't wanna look desperate... right, Jack?"

Jack ran a hand through his hair, his brows furrowed. His fingers were still tingling, his lips still warm...Her smell was in his nose. And he wanted to follow it like a thirsty bloodhound.

He glanced at Race and Mush, both watching him. He grimaced,

"'ey, ya bums wanna stop makin' bets on me before I soak you two?"

"Who, us?!" Race said. His voice pitched and squeaked and the others laughed at him as he played off Jack's accusation. "Jack, we would neva."

But Mush was sweating bullets.

"Man, I can't lose two bucks, Jack," Mush croaked, cracking under pressure. "I don' even got two bucks, Jack!"

And Jack was going home with these bums? To hell with it.

Jack stopped in his tracks and his friends stopped too, looking at him.

"Jack," David said in a serious tone. "Forget about bets, forget about everything else. Do what you want to do. No one will hold it against you."

David was pretty sober...his cheeks were red but he wasn't slurring his words. Jack thought for a moment...

"But we won't let him live it down either," Specs said loudly, laughing with the others.

Jack scoffed at them, "You guys needs ta get a hobby."

He waited a moment, sensing everyone's eyes on him.

"Nah," he finally mumbled. "Someone's gotta make sure you dumbasses make it back to tha house in one piece."

"Aw, Jack!"

"C'mon, man!"

"'ey, can it!" Jack barked.

"'ight," Mush said with the widest grin Race had ever seen. "Pay up, sucker."

"I didn't say where I'd be sleepin'," Jack said in Mush's ear as he walked past.

The crowd of half drunk boys crooned at Jack and howled after him as they ran down the street into the night, their voices bouncing off the buildings before fading away into the city.

...

"Don't ever use that word with me," Talia snapped at Medda, her Russian voice cruel. "Never."

But Medda's smile remained; she may have upset her young friend but she knew what she had seen in the pub.

"Whatever you say, dear," she said sweetly.

They were in Talia's apartment, lounging on the chaise lounge and velvet couch. Well, Medda was lounging. Talia was pacing around the living room and kitchen, pinching her fingers.

The one time she really needed a drink...damn Medda's rules...

"He's not like that," Talia said quietly. "And I'm not like that," she said with more force.

Frustrated, Talia slumped against the wall next to the fireplace, facing Medda who was smiling gently at her.

Talia stared at her hands resting on her knees, playing with her long fingers. "Even though he may feel something...he'll never say it. And I don't wish him to. He needs to keep it to himself."

"And what if he doesn't?" Medda mused.

Talia glared at her.

"Ah," Medda said. "You'll run away."

"No," Talia said but she knew it was a lie. Damn it, Medda.

"He can't," Talia said. Her voice was thick and sore from laughing in the pub, from kissing Jack...

"He doesn't know what I could do to him."

"But you do?"

Talia's icy blue eyes stared at Medda, "Yes, I do."

"And what's that, dear?"

"I'll make him mad, crazy. Because I can't give him what he wants. It's happened before...He-he won't stop pushing-"

"So give it to him," Medda said. "Because I think...what he wants, you want."

Talia read her face; so many years and stories, so much wisdom and life...Medda had been in her shoes. She knew what Talia has been through. Why shouldn't Talia trust her?

Medda rose from the couch and knelt in front of Talia, placing her hands on Talia's knees. She leaned close to her and their eyes bore into each other.

"Don't be afraid," Medda whispered. "I know you are. But believe me when I say that the world becomes a better place when you stop turning away from it. Stop hating every good thing that comes down the road. Or else the good things will stop coming."

Talia breathed heavily for a moment, staring at her friend, her mentor. After a long pause, she nodded.

Medda kissed Talia on the forehead and rose to leave.

"Oh, and someone left these for you, dear."

Talia stood and went to the door, her brows knitted in wonder. Medda pointed to the chair in the corner. There were white roses, a dozen.

Talia's heart dropped to her stomach and she felt the floor disappear from under her feet but she remained standing. The back of her neck felt cold and her hands shook. She knew only one person that would leave those flowers for her.

And for once, she wish it had been Jack.

"Dear?" Medda asked urgently, seeing the color drain from Talia's face. She grabbed Talia's arms, "What's wrong?"

Talia met Medda's eyes, her expression suddenly fierce, "Do not tell Jack."

Medda stared at her face, taken aback by the tone of her friend's voice.

"Promise," Talia hissed.

Medda read Talia's face and reluctantly nodded. Talia went for the flowers as if she meant to kill them and stuffed them in a kitchen cabinet, slamming it shut.


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