Numb Like Her

Chapter 5

Jack was still sitting against the wall next to Talia's cot when he woke. Gray sunlight was pouring in from the windows and he heard the boys laughing in the bathroom. His eyes blinked open, heavy and tired, and he rubbed his face and ran his fingers through his hair. It must have been at least six in the morning; he could feel the dark circles under his eyes.

He turned to look at Talia. But she wasn't there. He looked around the bunkroom, standing up.

"Where is she?" he asked loudly.

The boys in the bathroom all looked at him, looked around the room, and looked at him as if they were coming out of a daze, unsure.

"She was 'ere when we came in, Cowboy," said Boots.

"'ey, Cowboy, she left," said Specs as he stepped out of the shower.

"Left where?" Jack demanded.

Then, Kid Blink and Mush came into the bunkroom, breathing hard and bent over their knees.

"She's left, Jack," Kid Blink panted. "We tried to find her. She's not at the brothel. I don' know where she's gone, Jack. But I don' have a very good feelin'."

"Me either," said Mush. "Her dress is gone too."

Jack looked around the bed and saw that Mush was right: every sign of her was gone. Jack strode to his bunk and ripped a button up shirt from his bedside table and his gray vest. He dressed as he walked to the door and past Mush and Kid Blink. They turned and followed him down the stairs.

"I'll stay 'ere, Jack," Racetrack said solemnly, "In case she comes back."

Jack nodded and he bounded down the stairs, his friends following him.

Jack knew she wouldn't be going back to the brothel. Not yet. He knew her better…he knew where she was. But he couldn't explain why his heart was about to burst from his chest. Like his best friends, he didn't have a good feeling.

They went to the boat docks, the early morning sun bathing the city in hazy golden sunlight. The water was covered in a light fog, blocking the view of the other side of the bay. Ships passed slowly, like dark creatures crawling on the water. It was eerie.

They ran along the docks, their eyes scanning and their boots thumping on the worn wood. They passed the dock workers who shouted at them that they shouldn't be here. They ran to the farthest ends of the docks where it was abandoned. They ran until Kid Blink shouted, "Talia!"

Jack saw her, wearing her dress from last night, standing barefoot on the edge of the boat dock, staring at the fog floating over the water. Her long dark hair was tangled and dirty, falling down her back, and her skin was the palest it had ever been. She looked thin, like a different person. They ran to her dock and Jack motioned for them to stay back. He walked closer to her. Her head turned a little.

"Talia," Jack said, gasping for air. His brow furrowed: what the hell was she doing?

"You shouldn't have come here, Jack."

"Ya know me betta than that," he breathed. "Why'd the hell did ya leave?" he asked angrily.

"Because I shouldn't have been there in the first place," she said. Her accented voice was dark and slow, tired. She turned her face back to the water. She was holding something but he couldn't see her hands.

She looked out to the bay, "I've come here many times, early in the morning, when I feel like the only person in the world. I come where no one's around, none of the men see me or bother me...It makes it easier…but I've never been able to do it before."

"Jack…" Kid Blink warned. He saw it, the thing in her hands, before Jack did.

"What are ya talkin' about," Jack asked, confused and, though he would never admit it, scared. This wasn't like her. Or maybe it was. He couldn't tell what was her and what wasn't anymore.

She turned her head, meeting his eyes. Her face was pale and streaked with tears, her dark hair blowing gently around her face. Jack looked at her hands and saw she was holding a heavy boat chain, what the sailors used to lower the anchors. It was wrapped around her hands and fell to her feet, coiling on the dock. Then he saw the how close her feet were to the edge.

She shook her head, the ghost of a smile playing at the corner of her lips, "After last night, I think I can do it now." She shook her head more as tears pouring down her cheeks, "I can't do this anymore, Jack."

He only stood there, staring at her. She looked tired, so tired.

Then, like becoming another person in a blink of an eye, she glared at him, "Leave, Jack."

"Tha hell I will," he said, his eyes on her hands.

"Whether you leave or stay," she said louder as she turned back to the water, "I'm going to do what I came here to do."

"Talia, come back with us," Mush pleaded. His dark eyes and Kid Blink's were locked on her and her feet, which seemed to inch closer to the edge of the dock.

She shook her head, "I can't. I can't drift from one day to the next, drifting without feeling a thing. I can't…live life like that. Life can't be like this, so numb. I can't take it anymore- the men, the lies, the looks you give me." Her voice thickened with tears and Jack knew she was talking to him. He took a step towards her.

She dropped her head and he could she the heartbreak on her face.

"I feel…ashamed, Jack. I couldn't live with that. I felt nothing before I met you. I could be numb. Now you've made me feel dirtier than they ever did."

Jack took more steps towards her, listening and watching her body, the beads on her dress glinting in the dim morning light.

"I can handle men and their rough, cruel hands. But not yours, Jack," she said breathlessly.

He took another step and she turned around quickly and threw herself over the dock's edge, the chain following her like a snake.

"NO!" Kid Blink shouted. But Jack was already diving after her.

The water was still warm from the summer's heat but it was dark and dirty. Jack kicked as hard as he could, feeling his boots hitting each other. His hands grazed the end of the chain before it fell away quickly. He heard splashes above him and opened his eyes, seeing Talia's dark hair and pale face, her eyes glaring up at him.

She wasn't sinking as fast as she had wanted to and he was able to reach her just as Mush reached her. Together, the three of them pulled her up. She began kicking, trying to break away from their hands. Jack swam behind her, struggling against his own body to stay under with them. He wrapped his arms around her chest and kicked as hard as he could, the guys pulling on her arms.

Their heads broke through the surface, their mouths gapping and gasping for air. Mush swam quickly to the dock and pulled himself up the old wooden ladder a few yards away.

Talia was struggling against Jack, making it hard for him to stay afloat with her. She was still holding the damn chains.

She growled and sobbed, her legs tiring quickly as the dress tangled around her ankles. Kid Blink pried her hands open and forced her to let go. The chains quickly sunk.

Mush reached down and Jack lifted Talia. Mush grabbed her arms and pulled her up. Jack and Kid swam to the ladder and when they were on the dock, they collapsed, trying to catch their breath.

Jack blinked through the water dripping from his hair and looked over, seeing Mush kneeling next to Talia. She was laying on her side, facing away from Jack, her hair tangled around her shoulders and her dress dripping with water.

After a few deep breaths, his lungs stinging, he stood and went to her, standing over her soaked body.

"Get up," he said sharply.

"Jack..." Mush said. But Jack's deadly glare silenced him.

"Do her a favor an' stop goin' easy on her," Jack said. "I said, get up."

Talia turned her face, her hair streaked across her face.

"Go to hell," she said. Her voice was barely above a whisper but it was the cruelest thing he had ever heard. If she had a gun, she might have shot him.

He read her eyes for a long moment, seeing the wounded tiger within her more clearly than before, once so fierce and now too tired to fight for herself. Her beautiful face finally showed him the years, the sleepless nights, the countless bruises and scars, all glowing dimly beneath the surface. There were too many, too many for her to hide anymore. Her icy eyes were dull, like a cold sea. She didn't need to kill herself; she was already dead.

Jack knelt next to her, leaning on his knee, and he dropped his face to hers.

"After you," he said.

She grimaced and quickly lifted her hand to slap him. But he grabbed her wrist and held it while she tugged against him.

"You've ruined me!" she hissed, her Russian voice cracking.

"Good," he said. His face was emotionless but inside he was breathing hard. She could be dead right now. He couldn't think about it.

"I hate you," she said hoarsely.

His lips tugged at the end, threatening to show his smirk: he should have believed her, the way her dark Russian accent wrapped around the threat. But he saw what she meant in her eyes; she would never admit it, but she was glad he was there.

"Good," he said again.

She glared at him. After a long moment of staring into his eyes and her chest heaving, she dropped her hand and stared out to the water.

Mush and Kid Blink looked at each other and Kid flopped back onto the wood, closing his eyes and wiping the water from his face.

"You owe me, Jack," Talia finally said, emotionless.

"I thought we was even," he said, smirking.

She shook her head and sat up, still watching the fog over the bay. "You've made me feel like a human, Jack. And that's the worst thing you could've ever done to me."

"I'll make it up to ya," he said quietly.

"Yes, you will," she said. She looked to Mush and Kid Blink who were straining their ears to hear them.

"Starting today," she said. She met Jack's eyes, "I'll need strong hands to help me move my things."

"Ya mean-" Mush began, his heart leaping. He looked at jack, smiling.

"You're going to find me a new place to stay," Talia said, glaring up at Jack. "Since you won't let me end my torment. And after last night...I can't go back to that hellhole."

She did not smile but there was a new look in her eyes. Whether it was contempt for Jack or a little relief, he couldn't tell.

"And seeing as I can't shake you three," she said as she looked back at Kid Blink. She dropped her eyes, feeling ashamed. "I might as well move a little closer."

Kid Blink smiled a little, his eyes still closed as he lay on the wood. Jack just watched her; she meant what she said but there was still sadness. He thought about what she had said to him, about the looks he gave her, his hands...

"Besides," Talia mused as she stood, wringing the water from her dress. She walked past Jack, Mush and Kid Blink and began making her way down the dock back towards the city. "I'm tired of the smell."

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