Numb Like Her

Chapter 8

Jack and the others cleaned Talia's room. Every glass shard was removed and every liquor bottle, there was more than one, was thrown out.

"No more drinkin'." Jack said, practically yelling at her.

But she didn't respond. She sat on her bed with a shawl around her shoulders, staring out the open window. It was nearly two o'clock in the morning and she had told them to go home and get some sleep but they refused to leave with glass all over her place, even if it wasn't their fault.

"Wouldn't want ya ta get hurt," Race said with his cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth. "Like me. Nice aim, by the way."

She still said nothing. While the boys cleaned, she and Jack glanced at each other, both looking away quickly. Kid Blink and Mush gave Jack knowing smiles, lifting their eyebrows, nudging him. He only had to look at them once and their facial expressions would drop and they'd get back to work on sopping up the whiskey.

Talia's eyes were tired but she was far from sleeping. Too many thoughts were running through her mind, too many words yelling at her.

When the apartment was clean, the boys looked to Jack. He glanced into the bedroom at Talia's still form and looked back to his friends, huffing.

"Stay, Jack," David said softly. "She needs you."

"I think I'm tha last person she wants around right now," he said as he looked down at his hands, fiddling with a piece of glass.

"Trust me, Jack," David said with a reassuring smile. "Stay."

"Someone needs ta stay," Racetrack declared as he pointed to the door, "Because some jackass decided it'd be a good idea to bust in the door."

Jack sighed and the others sniggered.

"A'right," Jack sighed.

"Alright, Cowboy."

The boys clapped their friend on the shoulder and he watched them as they bounced down the stairs and left the building. He closed the door as much as it would and leaned his head on it, closing his eyes. Well, this was a situation…

He pushed his fingers through his hair and looked into the bedroom, seeing Talia still sitting there. He shuffled into the room and leaned against the doorframe.

He looked down at his hands again, "The othas left. I told them I'd stay because the door's broken…hope tha's a'right with ya."

She turned her head slightly, her eyes blank, "it's alright."

Jack pushed off of the doorframe and moved in front of her, kneeling so he could see her face. Her eyes were still red.

"Would ya look at me?"

"You have no idea what you've done," she said clearly.

He stared up at her, thinking.

"I know. But I meant what I said."

"I'm just going to hurt you, Jack."

"I've been hurt lots of times."

"I'm being serious."

"So am I."

She looked up, meeting his eyes. She was frustrated but she saw the sincerity in his expression, the softness. Tears rolled down her face.

"I can't give you what you're looking for."

"Who says I'm looking for something?"

"Would you stop talking in riddles and hear what I am trying to tell you? I don't want you!" She rose from the bed quickly and moved closer to the window, her arms crossed over her stomach.

That one got to him. He knew he wasn't the best with words or girls but Jesus...

Jack stared up at her for a long moment before standing up, standing close behind her. He put his hands in his pockets and tilted his head to the side, so close to her that he could smell her hair; he couldn't remember the last time he'd been this close to her. Except for when he pushed her up against the wall a few hours ago…he tried not to think about it.

She turned around to look at him. Their faces were inches apart and they could feel each other's breath on their cheeks. She read the dark eyes that stared back at her.

"What do you expect to happen now?" she asked gently. "Love? Affection? I can't promise any of those things, Jack."

"I'm not askin' for those things," he said quietly. Then he laughed once, his eyes lighting up, "I don't even know you're last name!"

"Then what do you want!" she asked. Her voice cracked and Jack could hear the stress and emotions raging within her. She looked tired.

"You," he said simply, reading her eyes before looking away. Uncomfortable was an understatement at the moment. What the hell was he doing?

He shuffled his feet around, doing anything to keep from being still and looking at her. But he glanced up at her from under his heavy brow, seeming to ask for her permission.

"Well," she said hoarsely, "Here I am, Cowboy."

His heart was racing and he knew how horrible he was at this. But it was all he had. He turned away to go back into the living room.

For another hour, Jack cleaned the apartment more (and looked for alcohol bottles). Talia made him soup, something she had fixed the previous night. He ate in silence and Talia drank water, leaning against the stove and watching him with an unreadable expression. When she couldn't hold her eyes open any longer, she went into the bedroom.

"We can share the bed," she said over her shoulder.

"No."

She looked back at him, questioning him with her eyes.

He shook his head as he chewed a piece of potato. "I ain't sleepin' on that bed. An' neither are you."

She huffed, falling back to lean against the doorframe. "Last time, you didn't mind sleeping on a whore's bed."

He shot her a dark look.

She rolled her eyes, "Fine. There are we going to sleep?"

He glanced at the couch across the room, "You take the couch, I'll take the floor."

They gathered every blanket and pillow they could find. Talia had collected them from the market; she knew there would be nights the Newsies would need to stay at her place. They were always on the run from someone, it seemed.

Jack made a makeshift bed on the floor and Talia curled up on her side on the creaky couch, wincing as she tried to get comfortable.

Jack looked at her as he turned off the gas lamp, noticing her pained expression.

"You ok?"

"I'm fine…just a little sore…from earlier." She saw the dark look in his eyes as he remembered. "Don't worry about it," she mumbled.

Jack removed his vest, bandana, shirt and socks, letting his suspenders hang at his sides. He lay on the floor with his hands behind his neck, looking up at the ceiling.

"You didn't have to stay," she whispered, her Russian voice soft. Her eyes trailed over his bare chest...she looked away.

"I know," he said, huffing air out his nose. "I broke your door. 's tha least I could do."

"That's not why you stayed."

He turned his face towards her, seeing her eyes glinting from the moonlight coming in from the window. She was looking at him differently; there wasn't anger or darkness in her eyes. Though there wasn't much emotion anyway: she was drained. But her face was softer. He could see she felt safe. The way she always felt around him. Her dark hair was draped over her shoulder and the curves of her body fell gracefully up and down under the cotton blanket.

He looked back to the ceiling. It felt different now. She knew his thoughts now….knew that he thought of her. There was no way to hide it or take it back now. But there was a strange kind of openness; a wall was gone that had been there before, a wall that had kept her from looking in. Now she could see everything. He didn't like it. But at the same time…

Damn it, it was a good kiss.

He heard her inhale quickly, gasping. He turned, lifting up on his elbows.

"'s matta?"

"Nothing," she gasped. She was clutching her stomach.

He felt his anger stir but he ignored it as he got up to get her a glass of water.

"Drink it," he said, holding it above her.

She obeyed and she leaned gingerly against the pillows, breathing slowly. He crouched next to her, looking from her face to her hands over her stomach. Then a thought popped into his head…

"Are ya pregnant?" he asked tightly.

"No," she shot back. Her eyes burned into his and then slowly softened.

He didn't know why she was looking at him like he had just slapped her…

"Ya sure?"

"Positive," she said blankly, looking away, far away.

There was silence and Talia could practically hear his thoughts…She knew he would ask.

She looked back at him and he was staring at his hands, his fingers playing with the edge of her blanket. She didn't want him to think about it, but she knew he was.

"So... how do ya keep from gettin'-" he scratched the back of his head, his hair falling over his eyes. He swept it back with his fingers, looking uncomfortable.

She knew what he was asking. It was the question she didn't want him to ask. But out of everyone that could've asked her, she was almost glad it was Jack.

"You don't want to know," she whispered.

It was enough of an answer; she didn't need to say more. He looked away, his eyes dark.

He looked back to her and saw the fresh tears in her eyes, heartbroken.

"Have ya eva been pregnant?"

She looked away, closing her eyes. Tears escaped and rolled down her cheeks. "Yes."

"How many?" he asked gently.

"Four." Her lips formed around the word carefully, like a delicate secret.

He stared at her, surprised. He tried to imagine…

"The first time...I was so scared. I was only fourteen. The girls told me to go to a man in Queens. He wasn't a doctor but he was able to do it..."

"Ya could've killed yourself."

"I almost did," she said with a sad smile. He regarded her for a moment, unable to comprehend.

"But I had no choice." Her voice pitched as if she were pleading to him, asking for forgiveness. He wondered how many secrets she had...not that it mattered to him.

"Two were boys," she said to herself, smiling sadly. "The others I didn't know. It hurt more to know. One...I think was Garrison's..."

Jack's entire body tightened. He felt his skin grow hot and he wished she hadn't said that.

"But now…" She touched her stomach and closed her eyes tightly. "I can't."

"Eva?" he asked quietly.

Tears dropped onto her lap and her face twisted sadly. She covered her face with her hands.

Jack stared at her for a long moment, listening to her breathe. He couldn't pity her. He wouldn't.

But he reached out to her, brushing her hair back over her shoulder.

She stayed still for a long time. But soon she slumped over on the pillows and closed her tired eyes. Jack watched her for what felt like two hours, watching as her breathing deepened. He didn't think about anything that she had said or what had happened hours ago. He only watched her.

He lay on his back under his blanket, his chest exposed to the air. Soon his eyes closed too and his mind raced with strange images and colors. They were indiscernible and probably for the best. He didn't want to dream about anything.

But soon after he fell asleep, he felt something move next to him. It was a light movement but it pulled him from his strange dream. He turned over and felt her next to him, lying on her side, facing away from him.

…..

The next morning, Jack woke to the bright sunlight. He stretched, feeling his back pop and his muscles strain. He looked over his shoulder and saw Talia sleeping on her stomach with her face buried in her folded arms and tangled hair. He sighed and rubbed his hand over his face, tossing away the blanket. The sunlight bathed his chest and he stretched his arms and shook his hair. He wanted to meet up with the guys.

He looked back down at Talia and wondered if he should wake her. Instead, he lifted her and placed her back on the couch. He didn't think she'd be waking any time soon.

He dressed and bounded down the stairs and into the morning street, dust clouds rising up behind horse drawn carriages. He arrived at the Newsboys' Lodging House and took the stairs three at a time up to the boys' bunkroom. When he entered the door, everyone looked towards him, about thirty dirty faces, and they smiled and crooned at him, teasing.

Jack made a face at them, rolling his eyes. He even playfully punched a few passing boys in the arm.

"About damn time, Cowboy," Pie Eater smirked. "Bet she got tired of waitin'."

Jack shoved him and he laughed.

He went to Kid Blink, Mush, Race and David who were all laid out on Boots' bunk, laughing and teasing David about his hair.

"What's wrong with my hair?" David asked innocently, rubbing his fingers over the brown waves.

"Nothin'," Mush snickered.

Kid Blink muffled his laugh into Race's shoulder.

"Just looks like brown noodles," Mush said before erupting with snorts and laughter.

Kid Blink's laugh filled the room and Race clapped, laughing so hard that no sound came out.

"It does not!" David whined.

"Sure, whateva you say," Mush said.

"'ey, Jack," Kid Blink said after catching his breath. Jack leaned against the bed post, looking at his friends with an incredulous face.

"Ya done bein' stupid?" Jack asked as he took a seat. The boys laughed but when Jack rubbed his face with his hand, Kid Blink saw the stress under his dark eyes.

"How's she doin'?" he asked gently.

Jack shrugged, "she's a'right. Still pretty sick. 's just gonna take some time, ya know?"

"Maybe someone could help her," David said.

Jack met David's eyes, "no docs."

"No, no that's not what I meant," David defended. "I was thinking another woman could help her."

Racetrack raised his eyebrows, "What 'woman' do you know?"

"Medda," David said with a clever grin. Everyone stared at him, all humor gone.

"Medda?" Race asked.

David met Jack's curious gaze, "Just think about it: Medda could give her a job, a real job... She could dance at Irving Hall."

The boys thought for a moment and Jack began nodding his head, the wheels in his mind turning.

"'s not bad, Dave."

David beamed.

"You an' me, we'll talk ta Medda after we sell our papes," Jack said.

They all agreed and along with the other Newsies, they flooded the stair case, all leaping and bounding into the street to the Pape Docks.

Jack was greeted by many faces he hadn't seen in weeks; his fellow Newsies clapped him on the back and shouted, "'ey, Cowboy, how's it goin'?" "Missed ya, Cowboy!" There were at least fifty, all crowding the street to get their papers, all laughing and smiling; despite their circumstances, they were always in high spirits.

Jack went to the front of the newsboy throng and waited at the closed gates with the others. He actually smiled and cracked jokes with them, making them roar.

"We've missed ya, Jack," Boots said in a slightly serious tone.

Jack rolled his eyes, pushing Boots' hat over his eyes.

"Don't get all sentamental on me."

The gates creaked open and Jack was about to stride in when he saw the Delancy Brothers standing on the other side, smiling at him.

He glared and the other Newsies gathered around him, telling him to ignore them.

"'s not worth it, Jack," Kid said into his ear.

"Let's just get our papes and go," David said.

"What's new, Kelly?" Oscar asked with a sickly grin. "How's your stomach?"

Jack didn't answer; his wound had been healing but still hurt from time to time. He glared at Oscar.

"Ya know," Oscar began. "I've been seein' ya with that Russian whore lately…"

Kid Blink and Mush tensed and everyone else watched Jack, seeing his back muscles harden. Jack had forgotten that the Delancy Brothers had been to the brothel...

"I don't blame ya," Oscar continued, stepping closer but staying far enough away so Jack couldn't reach him.

Oscar's lips curled and his eyelids drooped as if he were remembering something.

"She's a screama," he hissed.

"Oh, dear God," David muttered, looking to Jack.

But it was too late.

Jack didn't know what happened, couldn't remember how he'd gotten Oscar to the ground and sat on top of him, beating his face in, pounding his head against the ground. Noise erupted from everywhere and every Newsie was shouting and trying to get at Oscar's brother, Morris, to hold him back. They wanted to see Jack soak Oscar.

Jack saw red, he felt on fire, and he wanted to beat Oscar 'til he was dead. He nearly did if it hadn't been for Kid and Boots that pulled him up. Jack struggled against them and soon David and Mush jumped in front of him, trying to calm him down. He saw their lips moving but he didn't hear anything. His ears were ringing.

Racetrack stepped in front of Jack. Morris was released from the crowd of Newsies and he went to his brother's side to pick him up. Every Newsie was shouting at them, creating an impenetrable wall of sound.

"Jack!" Race shouted, taking his friend by the shoulders. Jack's eyes were wild. "He's a lyin' son of a bitch, Cowboy, don' listen ta him!"

"You're a real piece of shit, Oscar!" Mush shouted as he held onto Jack's arm.

"The hell I am," Oscar shouted, holding his jaw. "Her mouth practically hung open for me."

There was a disapproving groan from the newsies and Jack jerked against his friends' hold. But they held onto him; the last thing he needed on his record was murder.

Oscar laughed, "And I gave her all of me...and she took it."

"Ya no good rotten scabba," Race shouted. "I knows for a fact ya neva had her."

"Who's ta say I didn'?" Oscar said as loud as he could through his busted mouth. He smirked at Jack, "She really is tha best, Cowboy." He laughed at the look on Jack's face.

"Yeah an' so's your defective equipment," Race shouted back.

There was a pause and suddenly everyone except the Delancy's were rolling with laughter. Jack looked at Race questioningly and Race shrugged his shoulders.

"Talia told me," Race said with a clever grin.

Morris fought to pull Oscar back to the dock and the newsies poured in through the gates, now laughing and shouting at Oscar and Morris.

Jack straightened his shoulders and sniffed, trying to shake the anger. He looked at Race, "did she really tell ya that, Race?"

Racetrack lit his cigar and looked up to Jack and the others who were waiting for his reply.

"Yeah," he said at last. "He come in ta tha brothel a few weeks before they ambushed us. She says Oscar came ta her room and when it was time ta do tha deed…" Race held up his index finger and bent it. The boys laughed and Jack shook his head.

"Figures," Kid Blink laughed, putting his arm around Jack. "She's too good for 'im, right Jack?"

Jack huffed and looked at his best friend, grinning a little. "Yeah."

The boys clapped Jack on the back and they made their way to Weasel at the front desk to buy their papes.

The day passed slowly and the sun seemed to beat down on them more and more as each hour crept by. Their fingers turned gray from the news ink and their arms grew tired every time they lifted the banner. Even though Jack had skipped out on a few days here and there to help Talia, he was more than used to it. So used to it, he didn't even try to yell anymore; he just had to say that one line in that woman's ear to make her turn or to make that man pull out a dime. He knew how to sell them better than anyone.

He thought about Talia.. He guessed, in a way, she knew how to sell too.

When five o'clock was upon them, the boys fought hard to sell the last of their papes and met up at Irving Hall. When Jack turned the corner, he saw Mush, Kid Blink, Racetrack and David sitting on the front steps, waiting for him. They went around to the back door and Jack knocked on the cold metal. A poster of Medda, a beautiful red headed woman, smiled at him. He smiled to himself; he missed seeing Medda. If anyone could help Talia, it would be her.

A man with dark hair and clown makeup opened the creaky door. He looked at Jack and squinted.

"'s that you, Kelly?"

"'ey, Toby," Jack said with a nod. "Medda here?"

"Just got off stage," Toby said, opening the door wider. The Newsies filed into the cool backstage area and they waited at the base of a wooden staircase. Applause and cheers flowed in from upstairs and a band was playing. Jack heard footsteps above and looked up to see Medda dressed in a green frilly silk dress at the top of the stairs, peering down into the darkness. Her curly red hair framed her pale face and her red lips smiled as she recognized the boys.

"Jack Kelly," she said fondly as she saw his sweet smiling face. She descended the stairs and Jack took her hand, guiding her down.

"How's it goin', Medda?" Race asked with a charming grin. He kissed her hand and she waved her hand at them, smiling.

"You boys sure know how to treat a lady."

"We came ta ask ya somethin'," Jack said seriously.

Medda lifted her eyebrows, "I see. This way gentlemen."

They followed her to a door under the stairs that was concealed behind a velvet curtain. Inside the room there was a large desk with a high backed chair and a long velvet couch. There were posters covering the walls, all from different shows, and a piano was against the back wall, lit by a red oil lamp.

Medda sat on the desk, crossing her legs, and motioned the boys to sit on the couch. All five of them fit snuggly with room to spare.

"So," she began, smiling at them and wrinkling her nose when she looked at Jack. "What can I do for the Newsies today?"

The boys looked to David.

"Well…" he began, looking at Jack for guidance. "There's this girl…"

Medda raised her eyebrows, "Oh, why David! You scoundrel. I like it."

The boys snickered, except for Jack.

"No!" David exclaimed. "No, it's-" He looked at Jack.

Jack shot him a look but David didn't have to say; Medda saw Jack's expression.

"Oh," she said, a slow smile spreading over her lips. "Well, well...she must be quite special to catch this one's eye…"

"She's sick, Medda," Jack said, meeting her blue eyes, all traces of a smile gone. "Real sick. An' David and us thought you might be able ta help her."

She nodded knowingly, "How sick we talkin'?"

"Messed up," Jack said as he rubbed the back of his neck. "In tha head...She needs somethin', ya know? Somethin' ta keep her busy."

"And what can she do for me? How can I help her?"

"She's a dancer," David answered quickly. "And…well, she hasn't had it easy."

They explained Talia's situation and told her story. All the while, as David talked, Medda only listened, her expression intrigued, never disgusted. And while Jack's muscles clenched at some parts in the story, Medda never faltered. Jack admired that about her, her willingness to never judge. David was right to ask her for help.

But Medda was watching Jack as David told Talia's story. She noticed the way his eyes flashed when David said her name and the way he squirmed in his seat, restless, when Rockefeller was mentioned. She saw it, there on his face as clear as day. This girl, whoever she was, excited him and scared him at the same time.

"And…she needs something good in her life. And I think dancing would help her."

Medda nodded, "Is she any good?"

"Well, I've never seen her dance…" David trailed off and Medda smiled at him but her eyes glinted like a business woman looking for new stock.

"Bring her in," she said, hopping off the desk. "Tonight. I want to see what she's got. And if she's good, I'll hire a teacher and she'll have her own bit in the show. And she can have the apartment next to mine up stairs, free stay. But on two conditions: she'll have to stay clean, no alcohol or nothin', and you boys will come around more often."

She winked at them, enjoying their surprised faces.

"Wait 'til she hears this, right Jack?" Kid Blink asked enthusiastically. "It'll be the best thing for her, Jack."

"Free stay?" Mush asked, smiling.

"So," Race began, smirking, "I's can dance too ya know, Medda."

Medda laughed.

As the Newsies were preparing to leave, Medda caught Jack at the back door to the theater. The boys went outside, the streets just beginning to get dark, and Medda crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe, smiling at Jack who avoided her eyes.

"She must be pretty special, Jack," she said sweetly. "And if she's important to you, she's important to me."

"She's just a friend," he said indifferently. But even the words sounded strange to him.

She shook her head, sighing, "Keep tellin' yourself that."

She kissed Jack on the cheek and pushed him lovingly out the door. The boys tipped their caps to her.

"See you boys later," Medda said with a wink.

The boys were all smiles and laughter on the way back to the Lodging House, too excited to stay still.

"This is it, man," Kid Blink said with a wide grin, putting his arm around Mush and David's shoulders. "What a break for Talia."

"Let's hope she's good," Race said. "For her sake."


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