Numb Like Her

Chapter 3

Days passed and neither Jack nor the other Newsies had seen Talia. They knocked on her window only to find she was not home and often left disappointed, hoping she was alright. Jack fought the anxiety in him, thumping and pounding in his chest, and he waited for her to come around to the boarding house after he had finished selling his papes. But she was nowhere to be seen.

Until Mush saw her on the street one day, two weeks since Jack had last seen her, with her arm was wrapped around Garrison Rockefeller's.

"I saw her," Mush said with bright eyes as he came into the bunkroom. The boys sat up and Jack's dark eyes pierced into Mush. They had all been laying around the bunkroom, trying to keep cool, their shirts laying scattered on the floor.

"Is she okay?" Kid Blink asked eagerly from the bunk above Jack's.

Mush fumbled with his hat, not looking at Jack. "Yeah, she looks fine…she was with that Rockefeller again. Sorry, Jack…"

Jack's eyebrows furrowed and he shrugged his shoulders, "why should I care?"

"She was wearing a new dress…they were out shopping I think…she looked happy."

Kid Blink shook his head, "Ah, I don't trust 'em."

"Me either," said Mush. "His eyes were all over her…I don't think she saw me."

Jack impulsively slammed his foot into the wooden post of his bunk and everyone watched him as he left the room, thundered down the stairs, and burst through the front door.

…..

Talia had never seen such beautiful things. Garrison watched her with a smile as she walked about the shop in her new dress that trailed behind her, covered in lace. She had new stockings and shoes and new corsets. Typically women didn't let men buy them corsets, especially in public, but Talia didn't see the harm in it. He picked them out himself.

She tried on blue dresses, yellow dresses, pearls, diamonds, silk gloves and hats with long ribbons. She felt she was living every girl's dream, a fantasy. She felt special and admired. Garrison couldn't take his hazel eyes off her.

He was a handsome young man, twenty-three years old, and wore his brown hair slicked back. He wore new suits every day it seemed and he always carried cash. He bought her anything and everything she tried on; anything that looked good on her.

He took her to friends' parties, family dinner parties, and social gatherings. Some knew she was not of the social elite because Garrison was known to bring around lower class girls dressed up in the fancy clothes he had bought them hours before. But Talia didn't know.

He would pinch her leg under the table and she would smile at him even though she didn't care for it at all; it ruined the fantasy. She would be reminded of who she really was, not one of the dolls she saw parading around at the parties.

His family took no interest in her. The only one who did was Garrison; he looked at her like she was a prize, a gem he didn't want to lose.

But little did she know, other eyes watched her too.

…..

It was a cool night, three weeks since Jack had sat with Talia on the docks.

He was with the older Newsies, Kid Blink, Race, Mush, and David and some others like Pie Eater, Snoddy, Specs, Skittery, and Jake. They were walking the streets, laughing and smoking freshly rolled cigarettes they had made with their day's earnings. Jack tried not to pay attention to their destination, close to the brothel. But right as they were nearing its front doors, Talia came walking out. She was looking down the street when her eyes fell on them.

Jack stared at her as the others yelled in excitement and ran up to her. She was wearing a long fitted burgundy gown, embroidered with beads and jewels, her breasts exposed a little, with long matching gloves that covered her elbows. Her dark hair was pinned up and she had diamonds hanging from her ears. She looked like a woman from a picture, someone else.

She smiled at them, "Hello, boys."

"Look at you," Race said, raising his eyebrows in appraisal and taking her hand to lead her down the steps. "I've neva seen so many things on a woman that could blind me."

"You look beautiful," David said, his voice full of sincerity.

Kid Blink and Mush looked at each other with broad smiles then rubbed David's head with their knuckles and pushed him playfully.

"What?" David laughed. "I was being serious."

She laughed awkwardly; it was obvious she did not want them there; she looked ashamed and Jack saw it.

She met Jack's eyes and her cheeks turned pinker under her rouge, "How have you been, Jack?"

"I'm good," he replied. He felt the bitterness growing inside him, ready to bubble over. "I see you're movin' up in tha world."

Talia shrugged. Her movements and manners didn't match with the dress she was wearing.

"I'm only taking advantage of the opportunities that have been given to me," she purred, her accented voice dripping from her painted lips.

Jack nodded, his eyes on the ground as he kicked up a cloud of dirt. He could hear girls' laughter and men's deep voices from inside the brothel. As much as he hated to think it, he wished she was inside there instead of out here, waiting for Garrison.

Talia's smile faded as she watched him. She saw it in his eyes, the look he always got when he was irritated.

"Say what you are thinking, Jack."

He shook his head, laughing to himself, "you don' wanna know what I'm thinkin'."

"Jack…" Kid Blink pleaded.

Jack looked up to his friends, all watching him, knowing he was angry. Disgusted.

He scoffed, "What? You don' want me ta ruin her night? Her night ta pretend?"

Talia's eyes turned to stone. "Listen, Jack-"

Jack stepped towards her, "No, you listen."

She was surprised by his abruptness and how close he was to her face. Her eyes were level with his and she could feel his breath on her face. She felt her body tense, becoming defensive.

"You think you fit in now but ya don't. You're in with tha sharks, Talia, the deadliest people in tha city. They can ruin ya life with one word and take everything from ya and everyone but you knows it. They'll eat ya alive and won' give a damn."

Something inside her snapped.

"Men eat me alive every night and don't give a damn!" she shouted viciously, her eyes full of emotion. Her voice echoed off the buildings around them, piercing their ears. "What do you know about it?!"

The boys stared at her, not wanting to listen but too surprised by her outburst to look away. Jack's jaw tightened, his eyes burning into hers. He didn't like what she said.

She breathed deeply for a minute, trying to control herself. Then she laughed humorlessly, deciding to let Jack have it. He'd opened the door.

"You think I enjoy what I do? Being a servant to the sick fantasies of men? As sick as tying me to my own bed and having their way- as long as they're satisfied then what else matters? So determined to have their fun that they can't hear my screams and don't care if I wake up after I'm out cold? You think I enjoy that, Cowboy?"

Mush looked down the street, covering his mouth, not believing what he was hearing, what she was saying. He felt sick. They all did. Jack glanced around, his face hard as stone.

Talia's eyes gleamed with hatred as she read his eyes. "I've been doing this for ten years, Jack. Ten years! And it's gotten me nothing except a handful of sweaty money and bruises. I can't live like that anymore. And if this is how I get out, then so be it."

Jack felt a pain go through him and it wasn't because of his healing wound. Her words; he had said those words to David when he had become a scabber back when the strike was almost over and he had given up. Jack was determined to betray himself to get what he thought he deserved. Talia was giving up. though she thought it was better than sleeping with scum, fading into the world of the Rockefellers was worse. Much worse.

"Talia, you're not one of 'em."

"Jack, c'mon," Mush said. "Let it go."

"You think I wanna see her hurt?" Jack said angrily. He paused and looked down, frustrated with the way he was talking. He thought the words but he didn't want to say them out loud.

Mush backed away, his eyes glancing at Talia. She looked at Jack's face, still close enough to hers that she could see that he'd meant what he'd said.

"I won't get hurt, Jack."

"Like hell ya won'," he said bitterly, stepping away and then closer to her. "No matta what dress he puts on ya," he quickly touched the sleeve of her dress, his fingers grazing her skin, "They'll still see a street rat."

Talia slapped Jack hard across the face.

Jack looked at the ground for a moment, the sting warm on his cheek, and then looked up at her cold eyes. She breathed heavily as she stared at him, her eyes wild.

"The only rat I see," she said evenly, "is you."

After looking at the boys one last time, Talia turned and walked briskly down the street.

"I've gotta bad feelin', Jack," Kid Blink said, watching Talia's figure disappear.

Jack spit on the ground and wiped his mouth. He looked up at the sky.

"An' we can' do a damn thing about it," he said huskily.

"We'll stay here," Much said as he clapped Kid Blink on the shoulder. "Keep a look out, huh?"

Jack nodded and began walking back down the street. He needed to get away.

…..

Talia's night was filled with champagne and dancing. She met Garrison's schoolmates and danced with them. Their eyes made her skin crawl but she fought it with a smile on her face.

Faces swirled past her eyes, her head began to swim from the champagne and she stumbled through dance after dance with at least five different men. Her feet swelled in her shoes and she wanted to sit down but hands kept reaching for her. She breathed, becoming numb, and pushed through it. After everything Garrison had done for her, she wanted to live this night to its fullest. And she knew she had to get used to the parading if there were to be more nights like this one.

She barely noticed the circle of young men around Garrison at the high paned windows.

"She's a real Russian beauty," said one of Garrison's friends.

"She'll be worth every penny," Garrison told him with a sly smile.

Garrison's friend handed him a stack of money.

"I bet she will."

…..

Garrison smiled down at Talia who was hanging on his arm, carrying her shoes in her other hand. Her breasts were heaving with every breath she took and he looked back over his shoulder, seeing the hunger in his friends' eyes as they walked behind them.

Rockefeller took her shoes out of her hands, "Allow me."

She smiled at him and he stopped walking. He held her hand and pulled her closer, kissing her shoulder. She glanced back at his friends behind him and tried to pull away. Her stomach suddenly lurched and she didn't know why.

"Wait 'til we get to my place…" she said in his ear.

"Why wait?" he asked, nipping her neck.

Talia's heart skipped and she pushed away from Garrison, stumbling backwards and tripping on her dress. She regained her balance and stared at Garrison.

"Something wrong?" Garrison asked.

His friends walked closer, encircling her. They had been so nice and charming to her in the ballroom, dancing with her and complimenting her like she was one of their girls. She looked at them all now, seeing the twisted fantasies in their heads; the fantasies that would've made the girls in their world faint, too disgusting for men of their stature. Hatred appearing on her face. She should've known.

"It won't be so bad, beautiful," purred Garrison. "You're used to it right?"

She reached between her breasts and pulled out a small switchblade. She held it tightly in her hand, pointed at the man across from her. He was tall and dark and his fingers were ridged like claws, his broad shoulders pulling at his tux jacket.

"Do not touch me," she hissed. It was the best she could do; she knew she was more than outnumbered. She could see the switchblade in her hand shaking and so could they.

Two of the five men came at her, holding her arms. She fought and kicked as hard as she could and someone took the knife from her hands. She bit at them and kicked and she heard Garrison chuckle.

"Have to admire her spirit."

"Makes it more fun," one said to him before walking towards her.

She bit one's hand and he looked at her in disgust before slapping her hard across the face, his cufflink cutting her cheek.

The other men came to help. Two took her between two buildings where the shadows covered them. Garrison followed, his hands in his pockets as he watched with an amused expression. The men held her to the wall of a building and the other three began feeling up her skirt and squeezed her breasts until she cried out. Bunch of mindless apes dressed in suits.

She began screaming when they began unzipping their pants.

"LET GO OF ME!"

She could only think of one person and she screamed as loud as she could, hoping against hope that he was near by. But it was unlikely.

"JACK!"

Two blocks away, Kid Blink and Mush heard the screams. Mush ran down the other street to find Jack and the others; they were half way across the city at the Boarding House. Mush hoped he would find them in time, dirt kicking up in his wake.

Kid Blink ran towards the screams, his hat blowing off his blonde hair. After turning a corner, he saw Garrison and heard the screams coming from the alley. Kid Blink ran into the alley and saw them: two men were holding Talia and the other three…

He didn't stop to comprehend what they were doing; he ran at them, punching and kicking until one hit him in the face. He managed to hit the man in the jaw but was knocked to the ground by another who kicked him in the ribs.

"Kid Blink!" Talia screamed.

They kicked him again.

"KID BLINK!"

She fought as hard as she could, feeling one of the men press hard against her, shoving his hand up her dress. She grunted. He gripped her, hard. And the pain was unbearable. His fingers were inside her.

"I'll get what I paid for, whore," he threatened. His expensive cologne filled her nose as he gripped her flesh tighter.

A growl escaped her lips and she bit his neck as hard as she could. The man screamed in pain and slapped her again, her head hitting the wall. She slumped against the wall.

Then the weight of the man was gone; someone pushed the man off her and she felt the others let go of her arms and torso. Without the men to hold her up, she fell down against the wall, her head pounding.

She heard running footsteps and saw the men in tuxes running away into the street. She heard shouting, the newsies shouting.

The men were outnumbered. All the older Newsies, too many to count, were there in the street, four to a tux. They knew the bulls would arrive soon with that many of them shouting and fighting.

Jack turned to Rockefeller who was being held against the building by Mush and David.

"Rockefella," he said cordially as he wiped his lip on the back of his hand.

"I'll have you all arrested," Garrison spat. "Bunch of rats."

Jack punched him in the face, his head cracking against the wall. Mush and David dropped him and he lay still on the sidewalk, moaning.

Jack went back into the alley and saw Talia laying on the ground. He knelt in front of her, ignoring the dull pain in his side, and reached out to take her arm. The moment he touched her, her hand struck at him, almost hitting him in the face.

"Don't touch me!" She shouted, opening her eyes.

Jack froze and his eyes roamed over her: her hair was matted with blood and he saw fury in her striking eyes.

The men disappeared down the road, leaving Garrison behind, and other newsies watched from the alley opening, panting hard and keeping an ear open for bull whistles. Talia looked deadly, like a snake about to strike, but they could see the fear in her eyes, the hurt.

She stared up at Jack, her chest heaving with every angry breath, and her red eyes watered. Jack stared, unsure of what he was seeing: he had never seen her shed tears before. It didn't seem right.

He wanted punch Rockefeller one more time. But she needed him.

Her mouth shook as she spoke, her voice like a hiss, "is this what you wanted?"

Jack's brow furrowed as he looked at her. She was like a dark wounded animal, wild with fury, the tiger with a thorn in her side. But he refused to feel sorry for her.

He reached towards her and she flinched away from him, not wanting him to touch her. But he persisted and put his arm around her to lift her to her feet. She began hitting him, trying to push him away. He got her to her feet and she pushed him away. She wobbled and he held her by the arms to hold her up. She began hitting him, determined to hurt him. Wanting to hurt someone, anyone close enough for her to hit.

Jack remained silent and waited until she was done, still holding her up by her arms. She hit him as hard as she could and he began to think she was hitting someone else. His chest pulsed and throbbed with every hit and he watched her face twist with rage. Then her fists became to heavy to lift and her face went pale. Her body slumped, her eyes rolling with dizziness as her head fell back. Jack wrapped his arms around her before she could fall to the ground.

"'s alright ," Jack said quietly, a little to himself; he was still shaking with rage but those scabbers didn't matter anymore. He had to take care of Talia.

He placed his hand behind her head, cautious not to wake the animal inside her again. "'s alright."

Jack could smell the alcohol on her breath. He expected that something had been in whatever Garrison had given her and was beginning to take affect. He picked her up in his arms and she did not complain or push him away. She moaned in pain and a sob escaped her lips. Jack pretended to not hear it.

They managed to get her to the boarding house without running into the bulls. Jack carried her up the stairs and into the bunkroom. Race, David, Mush and Kid Blink told everyone else to beat it while Jack helped Talia. The rest of the Newsies went down to sit on the stoop to wait and watch for trouble while Kloppman was out.

Jack laid her on a regular creaky bed near the back window and he crouched next to her on the floor. He didn't know what to do.

She tossed and turned, moaning and gently sobbing, not knowing where she was. Her eyes were cloudy, roaming over Jack's face and looking at the others like she's never seen them before. She was sickly pale, a sheen of sweat on her forehead.

"These sheets are clean..." she mumbled tiredly. Her voice was thick, like she had been shouting for hours.

"What's wrong with her?" Mush asked, watching her eyes roll around like she couldn't see.

"She's been drugged," Race said angrily. "Rockefellas can probably afford the most expensive concentrated drugs on this side of the bay."

"Jack, you may not be able to avoid a doctor on this one," David pleaded. "She could be in more pain than she even realizes."

"She'll be arrested," Jack said evenly.

On hearing Jack's voice, she shifted towards him, her face pale.

"Jack..."

"I'm here," he said. His face was like stone.

"Something hurts…" she whispered, her tired eyes confused. She pulled at the skirt of her dress, now ruined with dirt.

He untangled the skirt from around her ankles and lifted the fabric over her shins. The boys made uncomfortable noises: blood was trickling down her legs.

"Someone get some rags," Jack said darkly as he rolled up his sleeves.

Mush, Race and Kid Blink broke from their still statue-like stances to help and David ripped a blanket off one of the bunks, setting it next to Talia. Kid Blink got her a glass of water and set it next to her bed. Mush got damp rags from the bathroom.

"We'll be downstairs, Jack," said Kid Blink, his unpatched eye unreadable as he looked at Talia.

"Jus' wanna give her some space," Mush finished.

Jack nodded and the boys left.

He was alone with her, a girl who'd been beaten and tormented and he was supposed to fix her. He had no idea what to do. A part of him didn't even want to undress her, afraid of what he'd see underneath.

But he had to.

Wrapping his fingers around the hem of her dress, Jack watched Talia carefully as he slowly lifted the fabric over her legs. She looked at him expressionlessly.

"I'm not gonna do anythin'," he said deliberately.

Her eyes narrowed, still foggy, and smirked mercilessly. "I'm used to hands, Cowboy," she said slowly, her words slurring. "Yours are no different."

He stared at her for a moment and then took one of the rags Mush had put next to him. He wadded the cloth in his hand and pulled her skirt up further until he saw the curve of her inner thighs and the lace cloth of her slip. Jack felt her eyes on him as he slowly placed the cloths between her thighs. He breathed slowly, his heart racing. But it was Talia, hurt, and though she would never admit it, she needed him. That was the thought he told himself to keep steady.

She shut her eyes tightly, feeling the sting.

"No," she sobbed gently.

Jack instantly stopped and looked at her. "I'm not gonna hurt ya, Talia."

"No," she said, shaking her head from side to side as if trying to forget. "I need a shower."

Jack took his hand out from between her thighs and saw the rag was coated in fresh blood.

Talia sat up slowly and struggled to get out of the constricting dress. Jack steadied her with one hand placed on her back and helped undo the buttons on the side of the dress. He slid it off her shoulders, leaving the light pink silk slip on. But she slipped that off too, revealing her breasts and everything else, not seeming to care. He swallowed the hard lump in his throat.

Her body was bruised, badly, and he fought not to look at her or the bloody mess between her legs; there were deep scratches and fingernail marks. He scooped her up into his arms and lifted her from the bed. She fought to walk by herself but she hung like a ragdoll. Her skin was warm against him.

He took her into the bathroom, a room with stalls of showers and toilets with a row of sinks in the middle. It was a warm humid room and still damp from the morning steam. Jack opened a stall door and closed it behind him, setting Talia on her feet. He turned on the faucet and Talia groaned under the cold water. Jack took off his button down shirt but left everything else, his pants, under shirt, and shoes on. He didn't notice or care.

He held Talia until the water turned warm and he stepped away from her. But she grabbed his arm and he stepped closer to her again. She didn't say anything; she didn't have to.

He took a cloth that was draped over the door. He rubbed the wet cloth over her forehead, washing away the blood, and rubbed it over the rest of her. He tried not to linger too much on her skin. When he glanced at her face, he saw her eyes looking at him and for reasons unknown to him, he felt ashamed. She looked so broken.

He washed her clean: he washed away all the men, every man that had taken her away, every man that had ever breathed on her, every man that had hurt her. Without realizing, he found himself letting his fingers trail over her skin. The warm water poured over her perfect body and he watched her as she tilted her head back, letting the water roll down her neck, her chest.

He glanced down to the bruised wound between her legs. A circle of small cuts were on the outside. He hoped there weren't any wounds inside her... His jaw went ridged and suddenly the pain of his own wound seemed to be nothing now.

And he held her. Water dripped down his hair and clothes but his eyes stayed fixed on the shower floor, seeing nothing but feeling everything; his finger tips felt sensitive on her skin and every time she brushed his bare chest, he felt like he was on fire. She breathed evenly and seemed to melt beneath him, her body pressing into his.

Soon the water turned cold and he turned the faucet off. He picked up her wet body and carried her back into the bunkroom to the bed. He wrapped her in a sheet and went to close the door. He knew the boys would stay outside all night if he asked them to. But he would join them once she fell asleep.

He came back to her and sat on the foot of her bed, staring out the window. He rubbed a hand over his face.

She stared at the ceiling and her eyes almost looked normal again.

"You were right, Cowboy," she said quietly.

Her voice was hoarse but Jack heard something else too. He turned to her, seeing her beautiful face, and waited.

She laughed darkly, "I had it coming."

"Don' do that," he said, shaking his head as he looked away. "Don' say that."

She began to sit up, gathering the sheets around her, "I shouldn't be here."

Jack looked at her in disbelief and grabbed her arm forcefully as she tried to throw her legs over the side of the bed, the sheets hanging on her body. She managed to stand but he stood with her, blocking her.

"You're stayin' here," he said firmly, his eyes level with hers.

She stared at him with an amused smirk as she leaned back against the wall, sliding to the floor. He knelt in front of her, his brow furrowed; the drug seemed to be wearing off. He could see the hatred returning to her eyes. But the hatred was not for him.

"I wish they would have killed me," she said slowly.

Her face looked pale and sickly and her eyes were gray, drained of color and emotion. She was worse than wounded: she was scarred.

"At first, every time, I would cry," she said. "Russian men are much more...aggressive...than the men here. I used to sleep on the floor so I wouldn't have to feel the mattress beneath me when I slept. On a bed, I forgot whether I was awake or asleep…"

Jack saw that her mind was elsewhere, lost in her own thoughts. Maybe it was the dehydration or the drug but he didn't say anything. He only listened.

"Then I stopped crying," she said, smiling. "I forgot how. Soon your body becomes a drawer: men open it when they like, take what they want and close it when they're done. You become numb."

She closed her eyes, exhaling, "I was nine when my father sold me for the first time."

Her face tensed and she met his eyes.

Her voice cracked, "I was a whore in Russia and I became a whore in America. I lied to you, Jack; I wanted to go back to Russia but my mother told me to stay here when they left. She knew I was no good but said I had a better chance here. It was all I knew. And I was good at it. I became the best."

Jack looked away.

"I could make men fall to their knees," she purred, leaning closer to him. She pushed his hair away from his forehead with her fingers, leaning forward until the sheet around her fell around her waist, revealing her. But Jack looked at her with no emotion, pulling his own mask over his face. He was looking at the seductress, not Talia.

She stared into his eyes, reading him, and then scoffed.

"Now I'm the one on my knees. Because I need them." Her eyes were locked with his but she was seeing something else, far away. Then her eyes focused on him, lingering in his cold gaze.

"I don't deserve you, Jack Kelly."

"Wha's that mean?"

"Because you don't look at me the way they do. That's how I know."

"I could," he said quickly, his eyes flickering darkly with desire.

She shook her head, now laughing at him, leaning away from him.

Jack moved towards her and laid his hand on her neck below her jaw, making her look at him. She watched him with narrowed eyes and he looked into them as his hand traveled. His rough fingers left trails on her skin, traveling down to the curve of her left breast. Then he stopped. He placed his hand on the other side of her neck, directing her face towards him. He could feel her breath on his cheeks, his lips. He didn't understand why she was trembling.

He looked intently into her eyes, his nerves on fire, "I could be like them, Talia. But I won'. Because I don' want what they pay for."

She shook her head, "If you're looking for something, Jack," she smiled sadly, "You won't find it here."

"I think you're bluffin'."

"Don't," she said loudly, pushing his hands away. "Don't waste your breath, Cowboy…"

"Stop tellin' me what ta do," he said.

She rested against the wall again, staring at him. He fought not to look at her exposed breasts and flat stomach. There were bruises on her ribcage.

Slowly, he took the sheet around her waist and wrapped it around her. Her brow furrowed as she watched him. He helped her to get her back into the bed and he sat next to her on the floor, resting against the wall. He leaned his head back, sighing and staring ahead of him.

"I don' care what you say, Talia," he said. "People can still surprise ya."

He looked at her, seeing her smiling softly, the softest smile he had ever seen on her lips, which were still stained from her lipstick that she had put on hours ago. But there was still that anger, deep inside her and shown in her eyes like a flame burning just beneath the surface. He knew it would stay there for years, maybe her whole life. But she was safe with him and that's all he cared about.

"Get some sleep," he said. "I'm not goin' anywhere."


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