Numb Like Her

Chapter 9

Jack split from the guys and they knew he would be going to Talia's to tell her the news. They parted on the Lodging House stoop and Jack told them to tell everyone to be at the theater in two hours. He ran the three blocks to Talia's, eager to tell her. And also nervous; she hadn't danced in years…and even though Medda was overly kind, she was still a tough broad to crack when it came to her theater. Maybe Jack could convince her to still help Talia if things went south.

He bounded up the stairs to Talia's apartment and when he reached her door, it opened when he barely touched it. He forgot he had broken the knob. He walked in and couldn't see a thing: it was pitch black inside. He took out a booklet of matches and struck one to light the lamp on the dining room table, filling the room in a soft golden glow. He looked around until his eyes rested on her sleeping figure, still on the couch.

He went to her side and kneeled next to the couch, his face level with hers. She looked so peaceful, her lips slightly parted. She looked worry-free and Jack hesitated to wake her.

But he lightly shook her arm, "'ey."

She stirred and he waited as she slowly came to, her eyes heavy from the hours of sleep.

She looked at him, her eyes fighting to adjust, "Jack…?"

"Yeah," he said quietly.

"What-What time is it?"

"'s almost seven. Ya sleep tha whole day?"

"I guess I did." Her voice was thick with sleep and she moved slowly to sit up. She rubbed her eyes and looked at him.

She smirked "I told you it's been a while since I'd slept."

"No kiddin'," he said lightly. "But listen, I got something ta tell ya."

She looked at him carefully but he held his hands up.

"Jus' hear me out, a'right?"

She waited and he breathed in deeply, his chest expanding. "There's a friend of mine who owns a theater, Irving Hall, and she wants ta meet you."

Talia stared at Jack for a long time and he could see the skepticism growing inside her head.

"What for?" she asked carefully, her eyes narrowing.

"I think she can help ya," Jack said gently, his dark eyes glinting softly as he looked at her, noticing her thin cheeks. "She can give ya a place ta stays for free, in the apartment above the theater. Ya won' hafta pay a dime."

Talia's eyes flickered between Jack's and her eyebrows knitted, even more confused.

"Why does she want to help me?" she asked quietly. "What's the hook?" she asked louder, her Russian accent coating her words darkly.

Jack looked her in the eye, "all ya gotta do is dance for her. Tha's it."

Her face fell.

Jack glanced down at his hands, "She's a friend of my father's. She's good people."

"I don't dance anymore, Cowboy," she said emotionlessly.

"Then you'll stay a maid, cleanin' other people's mess and livin' in this place with a broken door and no food."

Her cheeks reddened; she hadn't bought food in days.

"She'll even hire a dance teacher for ya."

"I haven't danced in years. I don't know if I even remember how…" she sounded unsure and Jack didn't like the nervous look in her eyes.

"Don' doubt yourself," he said as he stood. He held his hand out to her and she regarded him for a minute.

"C'mon," he said. "What the hell have ya got ta lose?"

He thought she wouldn't get up, that she'd stay on the couch defiantly and tell him to leave. But slowly, she pulled back the covers and took his hand. He pulled her up and watched her as she slowly put her shoes on. Her eyes were jaded; she didn't trust him fully, but he didn't care at the moment.

They made their way to the theater; the night air was warm and clouds moved over the sky slowly from the east. Talia had passed Irving Hall many times, reading each new poster they hung in the glass cased frames on the brick walls. The marquee was bright and on it was a picture of a redheaded woman wearing a purple dress, lying on her side and smiling at the people below with welcoming eyes.

Talia hesitated and Jack opened one of the doors, motioning inside.

"Get in already," he barked.

She glared at him but obliged. Inside there were carpeted floors and red velvet ropes marking paths to the doors of the theater. The ceilings were high with glass domes, the prettiest ceiling she'd ever seen. Jack opened the door to the theater hall and Talia froze when she took a step inside. Practically every seat in the front was occupied by a Newsie. They cheered for her, stood and clapped and waved their hats in the air, all smiling at her. Jack placed a hand on the small of her back and led her-more like pushed her-down to the front. The room was massive, holding maybe 1,000 seats, and the stage was lined with lights. Dark red curtains hung on either side.

The red-haired woman from the marquee was sitting on stage, laughing at the Newsies' enthusiasm, and there was a three man band next to the stage. The woman stood and walked up the side stairs, motioning for Talia to join her. Jack gently pushed her.

"Quit bein' scared," he said in her ear.

She glared at him but he grinned in reply. The room was echoing with whistles and cheers, Talia looked out and saw the Newsies from Jack's group in the front row. There were even some she had never seen before. Jack took a seat between Kid Blink and David, his eyes anxious.

Talia went up the stairs and approached the woman, who smiled warmly but her eyes glinted seriously. At the moment, nervous didn't describe how Talia was feeling. But she held her shoulders back and her chin high; she did not want the boys-or Jack-to see her fear. Though her heart was about to leap out of her chest.

"Hello, Talia," the woman said warmly, her smile growing. "I'm Medda Larkson. David tells me you dance."

"Not for a long time," Talia answered.

"Ooo," Medda said, her eyebrows knitting. She looked down at Jack and David, "You forgot to mention she's Russian."

The theater of boys laughed.

"Tha most spirited Russian you'll eva meet!" Racetrack shouted.

The boys laughed louder and Jack even joined them. Talia stuck her tongue out at Race and he clapped.

Medda looked back at Talia, her eyes concentrated on hers.

"Russians are known for their spirit," Medda said theatrically. "And even more so for their dancers."

Talia looked the woman in the eye, not saying anything.

"I'm sure Jack told you my offer," Medda continued in a business-like manner. "Free room and board, with lessons and a bit in my show. But... you've got to show me." Medda motioned out to the empty stage and looked down at the band.

"A Russian number, boys," Medda said as she walked off stage, standing in the shadow of the curtain. "Take your time to prepare."

Talia took a deep breath and slowly took off her shoes, looking down at Jack. She wanted to kill him. She hated to make a fool out of herself. It had been years and dancing only hurt her heart when she thought about it…it was an unachievable dream.

But she fought through the memories, remembering back to her training in Russia; the cold floor beneath her feet, the wall of mirrors and the cold air against her skin. Suddenly the theater was gone, the faces vanished, and she could see herself reflected back to her in the mirrors. She removed her blouse, revealing her lace chemise, and felt at ease when she could move her arms freely. She tucked some of her skirt into the waistband until it hit her shins. She stretch a little, touching the floor and rotating her shoulders, stretching her back. Her muscles adjusted quickly, remembering.

When she felt ready, she took a deep breath and stood still, forgetting everything.

She heard the keys of the piano, their sounds filling the room, and then the deep voice of the cello, weaving through her. She knew this piece...she ignored the emotions it stirred in her, the memories of her home. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. On release, she lifted her arms and felt her body rise and leave earth.

In the seats, the boys fell quiet. Perhaps it was the melancholy of the music or the response of the dancer on stage that had stunned them. In an instant, she had changed everything: the theater seemed colder and she seemed to reflect their own sorrow, their loneliness. Her heart was broken, and the sorrow was too much for words. They were in awe.

Jack was leaning on his elbows, his hands clasped in front of his mouth, his eyes following her every movement. He wanted to leave. He suddenly didn't want to watch. It was too much, too personal. He felt like an intruder, as if she were undressing in front of him without her knowing. And she looked frail, breakable; every movement she created was so fragile, he'd never seen her so beautiful before. She was innocent.

He wanted to leave. But something—she—kept him in his seat. He couldn't breathe and his heart felt heavy. She was…he couldn't find the words.

Medda watched, her bright blue eyes entranced by the young woman. She may not have danced in years but her body flowed like water as the steps and poise came back to her. Her lines were almost perfect, her leg lifts almost flawless, and her back arched and bent effortlessly. She may not have danced in years, but a dancer never forgets.

Talia strained her body, wanting to push it as far as it would go. She opened her eyes and saw herself in the cold broken mirror in the Russian dance studio, her skirt wrapping around her legs as she lifted into an arabesque, so graceful she doubted it was her. The movements came back to her as if through a fog; the twist of her torso, her pirouettes, and the graceful reach of her arms were ghosts of memories. The pains of her body left her, leaving through her finger tips. The tightness in her legs spread and disappeared with every lift and curl. From inside out, she escaped, letting her body move freely, her thoughts fading. No man could take this from her.

The song slowed and she felt her body coming back to the wooden floor and the warm lights of the stage. She stopped moving, her thoughts returned, and she could feel the air flowing in and out of her lungs. She opened her eyes and saw the faces staring at her and she looked back at them, doubt in her eyes. She saw Jack.

Suddenly, he was the only one there. He was staring at her, his dark eyes hungry but it was not the hunger she was accustomed to seeing in a man's eyes.

He stared at her…and he saw her.

Medda walked out onto the stage, her arms folded, and Talia tore her eyes away from Jack to look at the woman.

Medda's eyes narrowed, "You were not perfect. Your body needs to be retrained. And you need discipline."

Talia, with her chest rising and falling, stared at Medda. She felt like a little girl again, receiving criticism from her teacher…

"But," Medda continued, stepping closer. Her eyes met Talia's, two seas staring at each other, and a smirk appeared on her face.

"Russia cried the day you left her, my dear."

Talia felt overwhelmed, the air within her lungs expanding, and she fought not to release the sob building inside her. She always strove to be hard, to be an impenetrable rock that no one could ever break. But this was beyond emotions, beyond her fears. She had found her passion again.

She took a deep breath and nodded.

The theater exploded with applause. The boys stood and yelled to the top of their lungs, clapping until their hands stung.

Medda laughed and put her arm around Talia, turning her to face the Newsies. Talia couldn't help but laugh a little at Racetrack who was on Mush and Kid Blink's shoulder, clapping and pointing at her.

Jack was clapping too but he was not smiling.

"So," Medda said in Talia's ears, smiling at her. "When can you start?"

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