Numb Like Her

Chapter 33

It seemed like she stared at them for a lifetime, their wide glinting eyes staring back. They didn't know her from Eve, didn't know of her past. Their innocent naïve eyes made her tremble inside.

They were so small, sitting on the floor with their legs crossed. To her, they were fragile; the wrong words could break them. She remembered what that had been like, to be breakable. So long ago.

Seven girls: she already knew their names, memorized them when the parents had introduced her. She had noticed the red head had her mother's eyes, her father's ears. The two sisters had giggled from behind their aunt's skirt, staring up at Ira. The blonde had been very shy, hiding behind her father's leg.

The parents had left and now Ira was standing in front of them. She had gotten as far as introducing herself as Miss Ira but beyond that, she stared.

She hadn't forgotten the lesson; she had forgotten where she was. She couldn't look away from them. To her recollection, it was the first time she had been around children since becoming a prostitute.

Fear didn't describe their expressions. No, they were fascinated with her.

She felt as though she was in a haze but they followed her kind order to stand up. She turned to face the mirror, seeing them standing behind her, waiting for her instruction.

She thought of her teachers in Russia, their cold barks slapping her. But as she looked at their reflections, their beautiful faces, her heart broke in more ways than she cared to think on. No, she would teach her way.

She smiled gently, "Don't fear mistakes. They are to help you. Watch me."

She moved slowly, each movement executed with graceful purpose, and they copied her. She smiled a little at their unsure arms, their shaky legs. But she repeated the steps. She repeated them maybe twenty times. But she didn't mind. Not at all.

At first, she had expected to be impatient with them. But they were so eager to please her, to copy the steps correctly. She even felt the tiniest joy when one did it right, then the other girl next to her, their eyes watching each other. She had taught them that.

She couldn't be impatient with them, it was impossible.

One had fallen, landing hard on her knee. Ira unthinkingly went to her side and lifted her, placing her feet in the correct position. The girl, Molly, didn't even cry. Her eyebrows were knitted, watching Ira in the mirror, studying her.

The hour and a half passed in a blur, quicker than she would have liked. The parents and guardians came to collect them; they were well-off families, their clothes well washed and their faces clean, mostly middle class. But two mothers stood out, the hem of their skirts dirty and their sleeves rolled up. They must have worked in the factories.

Medda was in charge of the business aspects of Ira's dance lessons. She had made them very affordable.

Ira followed them outside, waving to the owner and his wife in the pub as they walked to the front door. Outside, the sun was beginning to set and Jack and the boys were waiting for her. They smiled and waved their hands at the little girls, laughing kindly.

Ira was walking to the Newsies when she felt something from behind. She turned, saw nothing, and looked down: a head of long brown curls was buried in her skirt, her little arms wrapped around her legs. Ira became still, not knowing quite what to do. The child was hugging her tightly, her little hands so sure.

Ira's hands, frozen above the girl in surprise, lowered and touched the brown curls, feeling their softness under her fingers. The little girl, Molly, smiled up at her.

"Thank you, Miss Ira."

The little girl quickly let go of her and ran to her mother, who waved to Ira as they walked down the street.

Ira watched them, exhaling. She glanced down to her hands, thinking about the small ones that had just been around her. Such small hands…she had thought about such a touch before now, but had never desired it so strongly.

She couldn't help the thought: the child was so foolish, so naïve. She hadn't the faintest idea of what she used to be, what men did to her. Ira's past was filthy, marred. But that was Talia, not Ira. She, sweet little girl, didn't know. Ira was a beautiful dance teacher. The innocence of it all...

She felt Jack's hand on her back. He leaned over her, looking at her face.

"Ya a'right?"

She was about to question him when she felt the wetness on her cheeks. She looked at him, her lips parted, her eyes undoubtedly showing her heartache.

She had to look away quickly; seeing his eyes, she didn't like the thought her mind had jumped too. Seeing his eyes on a much smaller face with little hands...

Too much. It would never happen, not for her.

"Yes," she answered indifferently, turning to look at David, Kid Blink, Race and Mush. She managed a quick smile, "It was good."

They read her face and seemed to understand why she looked so sad.

"Let's go ta Tibby's," Kid Blink said, smiling at her. "Ya look like you could use some food."

She nodded and Jack put his hands in his pockets, huffing as he looked up to the darkening sky.

"C'mon," he said gently to her, walking by her side behind his friends. None of them looked at her, giving her privacy. She appreciated them for it, because the tears were unstoppable.

But after a few weeks, it became easier. And her class grew. She was rumored to be the best dance teacher in New York: your child will be dancing like a ballerina in two weeks, she'll transform them.

The girls' small smiles beamed at her as they followed her movements, and she smiled back, her eyes watching them as they walked away from her each night, their fathers and mothers holding their little hands.

For an hour each day, they were hers, even if she had to give them back when the clock struck four. Their little arms crowded her after each lesson, reaching for her and tugging at her skirt. She would smile and though she would not encourage their hugs, she longed for them.

She didn't understand why they cared for her so, why they were so drawn to her. She was kind but firm, never impatient. Dance had become such a necessity in her life; she only hoped that she was giving them what they needed, too.

They were hers for a small moment each day, and she treasured each lesson, each face. They were the faces their parents dreamt of, and now she dreamt of them too.

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