Numb Like Her

Chapter 7

The boys found Talia a place three blocks away from the Boarding House, near the market. They moved her things into her two bedroom apartment, only taking up a small corner, and she bought a wooden framed bed which the boys helped to set up. It was a small place but cozy; wooden floors and a small galley kitchen and a bedroom with a small bathroom with a washtub; Talia had never had a place of her own before.

She found a job as a maid in the Upper East Side, cleaning townhouses for the well-to-do. She didn't like the stiff gray dress and white apron she had to wear and the guys poked fun at her. She eyed them carefully, "Keep laughing, and your next headline will be: 'Crazy Maid Kills Newsies'." They laughed harder.

Slowly but surely, with what she earned, Talia paid the first month's rent and bought used furniture from the market just down the street. She bought new clothes, that actually fit, and proper women's shoes and undergarments, not ones that emphasized her assets. She bought a hair brush and combed her hair every day, liking the way it felt between her fingers, like dark water falling down her back. She also liked to buy fresh flowers. She liked the colors.

Jack and the boys watched with amazement and curiosity the transformation Talia accepted within the first two weeks in her new environment; her eyes were wider and no longer looked at them with a narrowed gaze. Her skin looked healthier and seemed to glow with a fresh clean radiance. She smiled more and laughed, something Jack wasn't quite used to. He enjoyed the sound and he found himself smiling more too. Talia, overall, appeared softer, more approachable.

She seemed like a different person, a happier person. Jack could see it in her eyes, that this was the true form of Talia. It took time for it to come out, trying to escape to the surface, but soon it shined in her gray eyes: the Natalia that longed for life.

The Newsies came in groups to see her after their routes, taking up her small creaky couch and floor space. She greeted them with smiles and offered them fresh foods from the market. There were fresh flowers on the small kitchen table and glass vases lining the windowsill, sunlight gleaming through them and casting patterns on the floor. She enjoyed buying used things from the market; she still had money left over from her time in the brothel. She said she had been saving as much as she could because she never knew when she'd need to run.

She was still healing; only Jack, Mush, and Kid Blink understood. They saw the hurt, the wounds, beneath the surface and she hid it well from the others with one of her many masks. Jack caught her humming more than once and wondered if she did that to distract herself. She always seemed to be moving, never able to stand still. And it wasn't until the third week of living near the Boarding house that Jack realized she didn't like being there alone; when the Newsies came over, she seemed more excited than usual, relieved even. She had bags under her eyes, just barely visible. He asked how she was sleeping and she ignored it by asking a different question.

But she carried on and each day she seemed to get stronger. But Jack would see a tiny glint in her eyes, a gleam of fear and panic. He could see the wheels in her mind turning, planning, and it made him stay on edge. As the third week turned into the fourth week, a month and half, two months, the panic slowly grew and touched her other features; he could see it in her face as the days passed on and he and the others would exchange glances, knowing she couldn't fool them forever. She became distant and jumpy and soon she didn't even look Jack in the eye.

And it wasn't until August that they discovered what was wrong.

Jack, Racetrack, David, Mush and Kid Blink arrived at her door on a Tuesday afternoon, wanting to take her to dinner at Tibby's, their favorite joint. They knocked and heard a strange sound from inside the apartment: a bottle breaking.

Jack stared at the door, "Talia?"

Jack turned the knob and opened the door, seeing a shattered bottle on the wooden floor. Jack looked up and saw her; she was standing above the mess, her left palm touching her forehead. The hem of her skirt was damp from the liquid that now pooled on the floor. Her eyes were dark and her cheeks were rosy. She had been drinking.

"Go away," she mumbled, lowering to her knees to collect the broken glass.

"'s matta?" Jack demanded.

She looked up, her hair falling off her shoulders, and she saw them standing in the door way, looking at her and the messy apartment. She looked down, dropping her head.

"Please, leave."

The boys looked at each other and Kid Blink went to help her, looking at Jack nervously; none of them understood why she was acting like this. But they knew something had not been right...

Jack's dark eyes glanced back to her bed room and saw the bed was unmade and there were clothes on the ground. He noticed her clothes; her shirt was unbuttoned, revealing her undershirt and collar bone which was covered in a light sheen of sweat.

Talia stood and wobbled, wincing and touching her head again.

"Wanted ta see if you wanted to go to dinner," Mush said quietly, taking her by the elbow to help steady her.

She looked at Mush, studying him for a minute. She looked confused, as if she didn't recognize him. Then she looked at Racetrack, "what day is it?"

Race's eyebrows knitted together, "Where have ya been? It's Tuesday. August 12, 1900 if ya want the whole date."

"She's been drinkin'," Jack said evenly. "That's where she's been."

She glared at Jack, her body slumping, "Who are you to judge me… cowboy?"

Jack said nothing, only stared at her tired eyes.

She strode over to him slowly, smirking at him. His heart thumped heavily in his chest: he knew that look in her eyes. She used to look at her "customers" that way. She had never looked at him that way before...

She stopped in front of him and lightly touched the red bandana tied around his neck, looking up at him through her thick eyelashes. This wasn't Talia. He was looking into the eyes of the seductress, the part of her that she wasn't ready to let go of. He wasn't happy to see her.

"You could stay and drink with me," she purred softly. Her lips were less than an inch from his, "If you'd like..."

His jaw clenched tight.

She studied Jack's expression and her smile quickly faded. The seductress left.

She looked at Mush over her shoulder. Jack could see sadness in her eyes.

"Thanks, Mush," she said huskily. "…But I can't tonight."

Mush stared at her, his eyes reading hers. It seemed like she was trying to tell him something, asking for help almost…

"C'mon fellas," Jack said after a moment. "Let's get outta here."

"But Jack-" Kid Blink began.

"She doesn't want us here," Jack answered. He looked at Talia, "Let us know when ya want to sober up."

Kid Blink finished cleaning the glass, all of them standing around awkwardly as he threw away the shards, and they left her standing in the middle of her apartment to deal with her headache.

At Tibby's, Jack was in a foul mood. He only ordered a soda and he mostly stared at it, his eyes dark. The others tried their best to distract him as they woofed down their food.

"Anotha race tomorra," Racetrack said, lifting his eyebrows and smiling cleverly. "'s gonna be a golden one too."

"Man, I don't see why ya keep bettin'," Mush said, looking at his friend. "Ya always lose."

"If I stop bettin', then I will lose, see what I'm sayin'?"

"No," Mush said incredulously.

Jack stared at his sweating glass, twirling it around on the checkered table cloth.

"Jack," Kid Blink said gently, leaning towards him over the table, "You're worryin'."

"Who said I was worried," Jack said in a sinister way as he took a drink.

"Well, I am," Kid Blink declared. "And I'm goin' to check on her before goin' to tha Boardin' House, whether you go with me or not."

"Yeah, Jack," Mush chimed in, "I am too. I think she's pretty sick…I don't think we knew how hard this was gonna be for her, ya know?"

"She's a tough one, I'll give her that," Race said as he took a bite of his burger. "But she's out of her element now; she's a lost puppy."

David shook his head, his eyes thoughtful, "No. I think she doesn't want to face reality. She's on her own now. She doesn't know how to be on her own…."

Jack remembered the look in her eyes the night she had moved out of the brothel, when she was sitting on her cot, staring at him.

"I'm scared, Jack."

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and ran his fingers through his hair, huffing angrily. He couldn't get her face out of his mind.

"Damn it," he said forcefully, standing from the table. He threw some coins next to his plate and began walking out the door. The others quickly followed suit.

The streets were dark now, the lamps were being lit, and people were returning to their homes after a long day's work. The summer heat lessened but the night was sticky and humid. The boys approached Talia's building and Jack saw a sight he was anticipating but still clenched his fists when he saw it: two men leaving, tucking in their shirts.

Jack froze on the street and he felt his breathing shorten and his muscles tense. The others saw the men too and they looked at Jack's pale face, his jaw clenched tight.

"Aw, man," Mush groaned. "Not again..."

"Jack…" David warned. "You don't know that-"

"The hell I don't," he said angrily as he strode to the front door, ripping it open. The boys ran after him, calling his name.

"Don't do anything stupid!" Race shouted up the stairs as they bounded after their friend.

Jack reached Talia's door on the third floor and banged his fist on the wood, making it shake against the doorframe.

"Go away," he heard her say directly on the other side.

"Open tha damn door," he said.

"No."

Jack took a step back and his friends watched as he lifted his foot. Before they could stop him, he kicked the door in once, twice, three times and the door swung open and banged against the wall inside loudly.

"JACK!" Kid Blink yelled but Jack was staring at Talia who was across the room, bent over her couch, clutching her stomach. She was dressed only in a robe and slip and her hair was knotted.

She looked at him with dark hatred, "I said, go AWAY!"

She picked up a glass from the wooden table behind her and threw it as hard as she could. It hit the wall next to the door and shattered.

"WHAT THA HELL IS THA MATTA WITH YOU?!" Jack yelled, his voice booming.

The boys rushed into the apartment and closed the apartment door, afraid that the neighbors would calls the bulls. But the door didn't close all the way; Jack had broken the knob.

"I said get out!" Talia shouted.

Jack stared at her, his blood boiling under his skin. He thought she had changed, thought he would never see a man leave her room ever again, let alone two. Fury didn't come close to what he was feeling.

Her cheeks were wet with tears and her eyes were red. She had been drinking again.

"How long?" he demanded.

"GET OUT!"

"How long have ya been sleepin' around and lyin' to us?!"

"Why do you care!" she threw the nearly empty bottle of whiskey that she had been holding in her other hand. It hit the corner across the room and whiskey and shards of glass sprayed the wall. The boys jumped back, on edge and ready to run from the apartment. They moved around the couch, out of the line of fire, towards the window.

"Talia-" Kid Blink began but stopped when she ran to the kitchen, opening the cabinets.

She threw a plate at Jack. He ducked and looked at her with wild disbelief.

"Would ya cut it out?!" he shouted, not caring who heard him.

"It's all your fault!" she screeched.

Jack ducked again as a plate went flying over his head, breaking on the floor.

"My fault?! What tha hell are ya talkin' about?!"

"You ruined me!" She screamed, tears pouring down her face.

"Ya did that to ya self!" he shouted back. Another plate flew at him, this time hitting Race in the ankle.

"GAH!" Race yelled, bouncing up and down on his other foot. "Damn...good aim," he mumbled.

Jack looked back at Race and then back to the wild look on Talia's face.

"I'd be in the bottom of the bay right now if it hadn't been for you!" Her accented voice pierced their ears; they had never seen her so violent before.

All Jack could do was stare at her and watch the tears roll down her face.

"I had a plan! And you ruined it!" She sobbed, throwing a vase but with less force. It landed behind the couch, thudding and rolling across the floor. "I never wanted this…" she sobbed harder, reaching blindly into the cabinet for anything to throw. "What do I do now? Tell me, Jack Kelly!" she spat, throwing another plate.

Jack took his chance between throws and dashed at her, throwing his arms around her. With his arms locked around her tightly, he pulled her from the small kitchen, her legs kicking, and threw her up against the wall. The boys shouted at him to take it easy but he looked at them and they stopped in their tracks, not wanting to cross him too. They looked at each other, not knowing what to do or who to save from injury first: Jack or Talia.

Jack looked down at the girl between him and the wall and tried to slow his breathing. She struggled against him, her eyes wild.

"Calm down!"

"Go to hell!" her Russian voice hissed.

"Fine!" he shouted in her face. "I will! And you can fuck all the men ya want for all I care!"

"JACK!" Kid Blink shouted. But David placed a hand on his chest to stop him, watching Jack intently. Kid Blink looked at David, shocked, and David nodded towards Jack. They all watched, wondering what David was seeing that they couldn't.

"Why do you care!" she screamed back. She looked at the others, "Why do any of you care?! I'm not good like you! I can't do what you want me to do! I can't be good, it's not who I am! Just let me be! It's my life!"

"And I'm in it!" Jack shouted.

Talia stopped and her eyes stared into Jack's, suddenly lost for words. The boys watched Jack anxiously, anticipating the thing they'd been waiting to happen for a while: Jack's honesty.

"Ya think it's all about you, don't ya?" He said, gripping her arms tighter, shaking her. "Eva since I met ya, I've been there, waitin' for ya to leave that place and want betta for yourself. You—ya can have anythin' ya want! We can't!" he motioned to the newsies across the room, watching them silently. "I thought ya'd changed!"

"Old habits die hard," she purred viciously in his face, remorse nowhere to be seen in her eyes.

Jack lost it; all he could see was red.

"Ya want ta be treated like a whore?" he asked darkly. "Then I'll treat ya like one."

David and Racetrack had to use all their strength to hold back Mush and Kid Blink as Jack pushed Talia against the wall, her head snapping against the panels. His hands gripped her waist as he pulled her into him, crushing her. His pelvis pressed into her lower abdomen and though she didn't show it, a sting went through her, still fresh from an hour ago. She had bruises on her back and they throbbed.

Jack panted in her ear, breathing into her hair, and she lifted her face to the ceiling. She could feel him, all of him, and she wanted to cry. But she didn't. She was too experienced to break like that. Especially for Jack.

When she didn't respond, he pulled back and studied her face: she showed no sign of pain, no sorrow, no anger. She went numb. But he saw something clear as day, there in her eyes as she looked at him, something he had always seen but never recognized before now.

"That," Jack said as he pointed to her face, breathing hard. "That is not hatred for me."

He let her go and stepped back, still staring at her.

Fresh tears formed in her eyes at his cruel words. But she knew he was right. And she hated him for it.

The newsies across the room looked at her, seeing the self loathing now in her eyes, something she had concealed well before. Their hearts suddenly felt heavy.

"As long as ya hate yourself," Jack said, his voice gentle, "You'll neva been more than the money men throw at ya."

She shook her head, tears spilling over her cheeks, and her voice came out strangled, tired and weak, "Why do you care?"

He growled, literally growled, and quickly advanced towards her again. "You are tha stupidest girl I've eva met!"

He gripped her arms tightly and pulled her to him, crushing his lips to hers. He kissed her. Hard.

The boys on the other side of the room froze, their mouths falling open.

Talia's body went limp and Jack was the only thing holding her up. She didn't fight him but she felt her heart breaking.

Jack kissed her for what felt like hours. But within a minute, he broke away from her, panting through his parted lips as he looked at her.

She looked at him with such sorrow and despair; there were so many feelings playing across her face and he couldn't tell what they were. But she wasn't numb anymore.

"And I'd do it all ova again," he said gently but firmly, still trying to catch his breath, "I'd put up with your stubbornness and your dumb mistakes if it meant havin' ya here for one more day instead of in tha bottom of that bay."

She dropped her gaze but he lifted her chin, holding her face firmly.

"End it," he said, his eyes staring intensely into hers. "No more lettin' othas use ya. No more foolin' yourself. Ya hear me?"

She shook her head and leaned back against the wall, pity shinning in her eyes as she looked at him.

"You're a fool, Jack."

He stared at her, his dark eyes glinting, "'s what they tell me."

The others across the room stayed silent for a long moment, staring at Talia and Jack, who were staring at each other. Then, Racetrack extended his hand to Mush who was still too stunned to speak.

"You owe me two bits," said Race.


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