Numb Like Her

Chapter 21

Jack and the boys laughed their way down the street to the theater, jumping on and off stoops and punching each other playfully. The ten of them, all older Newsies, were hoping to catch Medda and Talia after rehearsal for a bite to eat and some beer at the pub. It was Friday night and the city was their playground; nothing was off limits. Their voices rid the streets of any quietness and their dirty faces smiled at the passersby. Some looked down on them. Others couldn't help but respond to such enthusiasm with a smile of their own.

"So," Racetrack began, throwing his arm around Jack's shoulders, "Peace was made?"

The boys around them smiled at Jack.

Jack sniffed, "I guess you could say that."

They crooned at him and pat his back and tousled his hair. But they knew not to take it too far; what Talia and Jack had was something like a secret, not something to throw around like some joke. Jack knew they'd be respectful and for that, he was grateful.

"Great," Snoddy grumbled, "Now we'll neva see you."

"What are ya whinin' for?" Jack demanded.

"Man, everybody knows girls change everything," said Specs.

"It's not just a girl," Mush said defensively. "It's Talia. And besides she's more Newsie than girl."

They roared with laughter, agreeing. Jack put his arm around Mush's neck.

"I couldn't keep away from you guys," he said, just low enough for Kid Blink, Mush and Racetrack to hear.

Mid-August was upon them, the heat still ever-present, even at night, and schools were starting back. School boys and girls were returning home with their books, eager to share their day's ventures with their parents.

Jack watched them expressionlessly. He didn't want the school part, just the part that offered a possible decent future.

The Newsies entered the theater, their shouts and yells echoing around the velvet-clad lobby, and they spotted a woman in the doorway to the theater, wearing a blue dress with her red curly hair in a bun. They called out to her, happy to see her, but when she turned to face them, the boys' smiles faded when they saw her pale face and the fear in her eyes.

"Medda?" Kid Blink asked.

"'s matta?" Jack barked. His stomach dropped. He didn't like the frantic look in her eyes.

"Come with me," Medda said as she took Jack's arm, leading him into the dark theater. The boys eagerly followed them as they went backstage and up the wooden stair case to the apartments.

"I hadn't seen her all day," Medda said in a low voice. "I came up to check on her…"

Her hands shook as she fiddled with the keys. Race reached out and placed his hand on hers, nodding at her as he took the keys from her. He unlocked the door and they flooded the living room.

Jack entered first, his expression hard as stone as his footsteps landed hard on the floor. His eyes roamed over the apartment, seeing the corner where they had been last night…She wasn't here. He went to the bedroom and saw the unmade bed…He went back into the living room, seeing everyone staring at him.

"Where is she?" Jack asked loudly.

Medda shook her head, "I thought you were still with her—but-"

He couldn't help the rosy color in his cheeks, avoiding his friends' eyes. Jack rubbed his hand over his face, trying to keep calm.

"She was here when I left," He said, not looking at Medda. "I left through the window."

"I'll check outside," Kid Blink said. Snoddy followed him.

"She had rehearsal this morning," Medda explained. "I thought she was still in the bathroom..."

Medda passed Jack and went into the bedroom. The boys followed her and watched as she pushed open the bathroom door. She went to the tub where a towel lay on the floor but the Newsies' eyes were drawn to the mirror above the sink; the glass was cracked in the center, like someone had been pushed into it.

The boys made low noises, some angry, some wincing as they imagined the forceful impact on the mirror. Mush stepped forward and pulled a hair from the broken shards. It was long and dark. He glanced at Jack then to Medda.

"The water was still warm when I came in," Medda said. She picked up the damp towel from the floor and looked to the boys in the doorway, their eyes locked on her face.

Tears formed in her eyes but she kept her voice level, "I saw the mirror …and when I came in, this smelled like cologne. Talia doesn't wear perfume."

"She let him in?" Jack asked evenly.

Medda shook her head, "She couldn't have. I've been in my apartment all morning and I would've heard him-" She covered her mouth to stifle a sob. Jack looked up at her, seeing her pale face, her blue eyes watery.

"I thought I heard her say my name but I thought I was hearing things," she said. "I thought you were with her, Jack."

"I should've been," he said darkly.

They heard footsteps on the fire escape and looked to see Kid Blink and Snoddy climbing back through the window.

"Nothin' on the roof, Jack…oh my god," Kid Blink said as he joined the boys, seeing the mirror. He put his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling, hiding his worried expression from Jack. Mush patted Kid's shoulder.

"There's nothin' any of us could've done, Jack," Mush said. "You didn't know…"

Jack stepped into the bathroom and looked around the small room, panicking. He looked at the towel in Medda's hands for a moment and then looked to the mirror, seeing the jagged glass shards. She must have put up a good fight.

His anger boiled over and he let it overtake him; he grimaced before lifting his foot to slam his boot into the wall.

His foot went through the wood and he ripped it back, his chest expanding rapidly with his hot breath, his thoughts blurred. The boys said nothing; they just stared at their leader, waiting. No one dared said anything, especially what was on their minds.

But something caught Skittery's eye on the messy white bed sheets.

"What's this?" he asked from the bedroom.

Jack looked up to see Skittery holding a bouquet of white roses that had been left on the bed. He went over to Skittery and looked at the flowers. They were the same ones that had been in her cupboard.

He turned at looked at Medda, his dark eyes deadly, "She said they was from you."

Medda swallowed, "Someone left a bouquet of those same flowers for her after the first show. When she saw them, she was terrified. She made me promise not to tell you. Whoever left them for her…I don't think she wanted them to come back."

"Rockefeller," Racetrack said darkly.

The tension in the room intensified; they didn't think Rockefeller would care enough to come back…

"She wouldn't've let him in, Jack," Pie Eater said. "He must've come through the window, after you left."

"Why would she leave with him?" Specs asked. "He couldn't carry her down tha fire escape."

"He probably had a gun," Race said from the window. "And even if he didn't, I don't think she had much of a choice; Rockefeller brought friends."

Race held up two old cigarette butts.

"Oh my god," Medda sobbed. Kid Blink put his arm around Medda. Tears fell silently down her cheeks as she watched Jack.

Jack went to the window and Race watched him carefully. Jack eyed the windowsill and traced his fingers over the faint claw marks that had been etched into the wood. Someone's fingers had dug in, holding on for dear life.

Jack looked at Race, "Get David. I want every Newsie down stairs. Now."

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