The gang reads

Chapter 10

Chapter Ten

A/N: I do not own the Outsiders

Two-Bit cleared his throat and said, "Alright. Chapter nine."

It was almost six-thirty when I got home. The rumble was set for seven, so I was late for supper, as usual. I always come in late. I forget what time it is.

"Isn't that what got this started in the first place?" Tim asked.

"I fell asleep in the lot," Ponyboy reminded him. "Losing track of time had nothing to do with it."

Darry had cooked dinner: baked chicken and potatoes and corn—two chickens because all three of us eat like horses. Especially Darry.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Darry asked Pony, a smirk on his face.

"Exactly that."

But although I love baked chicken, I could barely swallow any. I swallowed five aspirins, thought, when Darry and Soda weren't looking.

"You did what now?" Soda asked his brother. "You know how dangerous that might be?"

"Sheesh Soda, as I've been telling Darry about smoking, it ain't gonna kill me."

I do that all the time because I can't sleep very well at night. Darry thinks I take just one, but I usually take four. I figured five would keep me going through the rumble and maybe get rid of my headache. Then I hurried to take a shower and change clothes. Me and Soda and Darry always got spruced up before a rumble. And besides, we wanted to show those Socs we weren't trash, that we were just as good as they were.

"We do that just by living," Tim said with a smug grin.

"Soda," I called from the bathroom, "when did you start shaving?" "When I was fifteen," he yelled back. "When did Darry?" "When he was thirteen. Why? You figgerin' on growing a beard for the rumble?" "You're funny. We ought to send you in to the Reader's Digest. I hear they pay a lot for funny things."

"Ah, there's the little smart-alec we all know, love, and really hope doesn't get directed at us," Two-Bit said fondly.

"You know that made absolutely no sense, right?" Steve asked.

"Yep."

Soda laughed and went right on playing poker with Steve in the living room. Darry had on a tight black T-shirt that showed off every muscle on his chest and even the flat hard muscles of his stomach.

"His favorite one," Soda said with a smirk. Darry just rolled his eyes at his brother. At least he didn't spend five hours in the bathroom.

I'd hate to be the Soc who takes a crack at him, I thought as I pulled on a clean T-shirt and a fresh pair of jeans.

"Hey thanks kiddo," Darry said smiling, pulling Ponyboy into a one armed hug.

I wished my T-shirt was tighter—I have a pretty good build for my size, but I'd lost a lot of weight in Windrixville and it just didn't fit right. It was a chilly night and T-shirts aren't the warmest clothes in the world, but nobody ever gets cold in a rumble, and besides, jackets interfere with your swinging ability.

"Ain't that the truth?" Soda sighed. He'd tried wearing a jacket to a fight once, lets just say it didn't end up too pretty.

Darry frowned though. The signs were all there that Pony wasn't ready for this rumble. Why'd he let him fight?

Soda and Steve and I had put on more hair oil than was necessary, but we wanted to show that we were greasers. Tonight, we could be proud of it. Greasers may not have much, but they have a rep. That and long hair.

"And family," Soda said seriously. "Those Socs may have more in means of money, but family's better than that any day."

"Agreed." Steve said.

(What kind of world is it where all I have to be proud of is a reputation for being a hood, and greasy hair? I don't want to be a hood, but even if I don't steal things and mug people and get boozed up, I'm marked lousy. Why should I be proud of it? Why should I even pretend to be proud of it?) Darry never went in for the long hair. His was short and clean all the time.

"Of course it was," Soda sighed.

"Well, it's easier to maintain and so I'm not spending five hours drying it later on after a shower," Darry defended.

I sat in the armchair in the living room, waiting for the rest of the outfit to show up. But of course, tonight the only one coming would be Two-Bit; Johnny and Dallas wouldn't show. Soda and Steve were playing cards and arguing as usual. Soda was keeping up a steady stream of wisecracks and clowning, and Steve had turned up the radio so loud that it almost broke my eardrums. Of course everybody listens to it loud like that, but it wasn't just the best thing for a headache.

"You really need to speak up when you don't feel well," Soda said. Steve nodded. After hearing what Two-Bit had said, he felt a little bad that he'd been tormenting the kid and didn't even know it.

"You like fights, don't you, Soda?" I asked suddenly.

"You ask the most random things," Steve said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, sure." He shrugged. "I like fights." "How come?" "I don't know." He looked at me, puzzled. "It's action. It's a contest. Like a drag race or a dance or something." "Shoot," said Steve, "I want to beat those Soc's heads in. When I get in a fight I want to stomp the other guy good. I like it, too." "How come you like fights, Darry?" I asked, looking up at him as he stood behind me, leaning in the kitchen doorway.

"What were you doing there anyway?" Pony asked.

"I wanted to get to the kitchen. You were in my way," Darry said with a smirk.

He gave me one of those looks that hide what he's thinking, but Soda piped up: "He likes to show off his muscles." "I'm gonna show 'em off on you, little buddy, if you get any mouthier." I digested what Soda had said. It was the truth. Darry liked anything that took strength, like weight lifting or playing football or roofing houses, even if he was proud of being smart too. Darry never said anything about it, but I knew he liked fights. I felt out of things. I'll fight anyone anytime, but I don't like to.

"That is so like you, kid," Steve smirked.

"What does that mean?" Ponyboy shot back.

"That you're the only greaser who doesn't like fights."

"I don't know if you ought to be in this rumble, Pony," Darry said slowly.

"I can't believe I let you," Darry said quietly.

"Read the next sentence, Two-Bit," Ponyboy urged.

Oh, no, I thought in mortal fear, I've got to be in it. Right then the most important thing in my life was helping us whip the Socs.

"See?" Ponyboy asked.

"Not really. It shouldn't have mattered how bad you wanted to be in it. You were sick. I shouldn't have let you."

"Darry, stop guilt trippin' and let me get on with the story!" Two-Bit announced.

Don't let me stay home now. I've got to be in it. "How come? I've always come through before, ain't I?" "Yeah," Darry said with a proud grin. "You fight real good for a kid your size.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Pony asked Darry.

"It means you're short and a good fighter." Darry told him, rolling his eyes.

But you were in shape before. You've lost weight and you don't look so great, kid. You're tensed up too much." "Shoot," said Soda, trying to get the ace out of his shoe without Steve's seeing him, "we all get tensed before a rumble. Let him fight tonight. Skin never hurt anyone—no weapons, no danger."

"More importantly, how did I let you talk me into letting him go?" Darry asked Soda.

"Cause I'm awesome?"

"I'll be okay," I pleaded. "I'll get hold of a little one, okay?" "Well Johnny won't be there this time…"—Johnny and I sometimes ganged up on one big guy—"but then, Curly Shepard won't be there either, or Dally, and we'll need every man we can get." "What happened to Shepard?" I asked, remembering Tim Shepard's kid brother, Curly, who was a tough, cool, hard-as-nails Tim in miniature, I had once play chicken by holding our cigarette ends against each other's fingers.

"I must be getting old, because I know I didn't just hear that," Darry growled, looking over at his brother. Ponyboy, not Sodapop.

We had stood there, clenching our teeth and grimacing, with sweat pouring down our faces and smell of burning flesh making us sick, each refusing to holler, when Tim happened to stroll by. When he saw that we were really burning holes into each other he cracked our heads together, swearing to kill us both if we ever pulled a stunt like that again.

"What in the Sam heck were you thinkin'?" Darry and Tim both shouted at the same time, looking at Ponyboy.

"Ah!" Steve shouted.

"What?" Two-Bit asked, alarmed.

"Saying the same thing at the same time is not just a Curtis thing! It's contagious! First with Darry and Soda, and Ponyboy and Darry, and Ponyboy and Soda, and now Darry and Tim!"

I still have the scar on my forefinger. Curly was an average downtown hood, tough and not real bright,

"Hey!" Tim shouted. He did have to admit, sometimes his brother was dimmer than the bulb on their front porch.

but I liked him. He could take anything. "He's in the cooler," Steve said, kicking the ace out of Soda's shoe. "In the reformatory." Again? I thought, and said, "Let me fight, Darry. If it was blades or chains or something it'd be different. Nobody ever gets hurt in a skin rumble." "Well"—Darry gave in—"I guess you can. But be careful, and if you get in a jam, holler and I'll get you out." "I'll be okay," I said wearily. "How come you never worry about Sodapop as much? I don't see you lecturin' him."

"Like I said before, I am awesome," Soda said with a smirk.

"Man"—Darry grinned and put his arm across Soda's shoulders—"this is one kid brother I don't have to worry about."

"Nah. Instead of losing his cool in a rumble, Soda here's a lady's man," Darry chuckled. "That is worrisome."

Soda punched him in the ribs affectionately.

"You know, that was really hard," Darry shook his head at his brother. "I think someone had too much sugar."

"Oh, shut it," Soda grumbled.

"This kiddo can use his head." Soda looked down at me with mock superiority, but Darry went on: "You can see he uses it for one thing—to grow hair on."

"Burn!" Two-Bit shouted. He looked around to find that no one was throwing pillows.

"Just read, Two-Bit," Steve rolled his eyes. "I'll hit you with a pillow later."

"Yay!"

"You are so weird."

He ducked Soda's swing and took off for the door. Two-Bit stuck his head in the door just as Darry went flying out of it. Leaping as he went off the steps, Darry turned a somersault in mid-air, hit the ground, and bounced up before Soda could catch him.

"I had thought he'd lost his mind," Two-Bit said. "Then I remembered about the rumble." "Welup," Two-Bit said cheerfully, cocking an eyebrow, "I see we are in prime condition for a rumble. Is everybody happy?"

"What was that for?" Two-Bit asked after Pony whacked him over the head with a pillow.

"For asking a stupid question," he replied. "Now read."

"Yeah!" screamed Soda as he too did a flying somersault off the steps. He flipped up to walk on his hands and then did a no-hands cartwheel across the yard to bead Darry's performance.

"What was it? A contest?" Steve laughed.

The excitement was catching. Screeching like an Indian, Steve went running across the lawn in flying leaps, stopped suddenly, and flipped backwards. We could all do acrobatics because Darry had taken a course at the Y and then spend a whole summer teaching us everything he learned on the grounds that it might come in handy in a fight.

"Well it could," Darry said at Tim's look of disbelief. They were greasers for crying out loud.

It did,

"See?"

"No one disagreed with you, Dar." Soda said with a smirk.

but it also got Two-Bit and Soda jailed once. They were doing mid-air flips down a downtown sidewalk, walking on their hands, and otherwise disturbing the public and the police. Leave it to those two to pull something like that.

"Idiots," Darry said, shaking his head and grinning. "Never a boring moment with you two."

With a happy whoop I did a no-hands cartwheel off the porch steps, hit the ground, and rolled to my feet. Two-Bit followed me in a similar maner.

"You couldn't have thought of anything else?" Pony asked Two-Bit,

"I was a little drunk and yours was the least likely for me to kill myself."

"When ain't you drunk?"

Two-Bit ignored him, and proceeded to read. He broke out in a big grin.

"You guys remember that chant we did that night?"

All but Tim nodded.

"Let's see how much we remember."

Soda grinned. "I know I went first. I think I did something like '"I am a greaser, I am a JD and a hood. I blacken the name of our fair city. I beat up people. I rob gas stations. I am a menace to society. Man, do I have fun!"

Steve popped up. "I was next. I did something like 'Greaser…greaser…greaser…O victim of environment, underprivileged, rotten, no-count hood!

"Juvenile Delinquent, you're no good!" Darry laughed.

"Get thee hence, white trash. I am a Soc. I am the privileged and the well-dressed. I throw beer blasts, drive fancy cars, break windows at fancy parties." Two-Bit continued. He'd turned over the essay so no one could accuse him of cheating on his part.

"And what do you do for fun?" Pony smirked.

"I JUMP GREASERS!" All of them yelled, laughing at the end. Two-Bit picked up the esssay and proceeded to read.

"I am a greaser," Sodapop chanted. "I am a JD and a hood. I blacken the name of our fair city. I beat up people. I rob gas stations. I am a menace to society. Man, do I have fun!"

"You got that right!" Steve yelled. Everyone else looked at each other in shock.

"Greaser…greaser…greaser…" Steve singsonged. "O victim of environment, underprivileged, rotten, no-count hood!" "Juvenile delinquent, you're no good!" Darry shouted. "Get thee hence, white trash," Two-Bit said in a snobbish voice. "I am a Soc. I am the privileged and the well-dressed. I throw beer blasts, drive fancy cars, break windows at fancy parties." "And what do you do for fun?" I inquired in a serious, awed voice. "I jump greasers!" Two-Bit screamed, and did a cartwheel.

"Word for word," Darry said, a slight awed undertone in his voice.

"Guess Pony's not the only one with a safe for a memory," Tim said with a smirk. He liked seeing how the gang acted before they'd gotten to the lot.

We settled down as we walked to the lot.

"Darn it," Tim muttered.

Two-Bit was the only one wearing a jacket; he had a couple of cans of beer stuffed in it. He always gets high before a rumble. Before anything else, too, come to think of it. I shook my head. I'd hate to see the day when I had to get my nerve from a can.

The room got silent. Everyone looked at Ponyboy as if they hadn't seen him before. Then Steve chuckled and grabbed Pony in a big bear hug.

"That was the best diss I've ever heard," he said through his laughter. "Nice one kid."

I'd tried drinking once. The stuff tasted awful, I got sick, had a headache, and when Darry found out, he grounded me for two weeks.

"For the record, I had planned on making it three weeks," Darry said.

"Kid, I didn't know you'd ever tried booze," Two-Bit commented.

"Once before, never again," Ponyboy responded.

"Your loss," Two-Bit shrugged.

"Don't encourage the kid!" Steve scolded.

"Besides, you say it's my loss but I like to think of it as my gain," Ponyboy replied.

But that was the last time I'd ever drink. I'd seen too much of what drinking did for you at Johnny's house.

Two-Bit got up and threw out his bottle. "I ain't gonna be like them."

"Two-Bit, you're too nice to be like 'em."

Two-Bit thought for a minute.

"Then why'd you let me throw out my beer?"

"Cause it was funny." Pony smirked.

"Hey, Two-Bit," I said, deciding to complete my survey," how come you like to fight?" He looked at me as if I was off my nut. "Shoot, everybody fights." If everybody jumped in the Arkansas river, ol' Two-Bit would be right on their heels.

The reading had to be paused on account of the laughter that was coming from Soda and Steve.

"What is this, Make Fun of Two-Bit Day?" Two-Bit asked.

"Yep."

I had it then. Soda fought for fun, Steve for hatred, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity. Why do I fight? I thought, and couldn't' think or any real reason. There isn't any real reason for fighting except self defense.

"And this was for self defense," Tim pipped up. "Without the rumble, Socs would be coming into our territorry any time they wished."

"Listen, Soda, you and Ponyboy," Darry said as we strode down the street, "if the fuzz show, you two beat it out of there. The rest of us can only get jailed. You two can get sent to a boy's home." "Nobody in this neighborhood's going to call the fuzz," Steve said grimly. "They know what'd happened if they did." "All the same, you two blow at the first sign of trouble. You hear me?" "You sure don't need an amplifier," Soda said, and stuck out his tongue at the back of Darry's head. I stifled a giggle. If you want to see something funny, it's a tough hood sticking his tongue out at his big brother.

Darry had Soda in a headlock through that whole sentence.

"Uncle!" Soda cried. Darry grinned and let go, messing up Sodapop's hair in the process.

Tim Shepard and company were already waiting when we arrived at the vacant lot, along with a gang from Brumly, one of the suburbs. Tim was a lean, catlike eighteen year old who looked like the model JD you see in movies and magazines. He had the right curly black hair, smoldering dark eyes, and a long scar from temple to chin where a tramp had belted him with a broken pop bottle. He had a tough, hard look to him, and his nose had been broken twice. Like Dally's, his smile was grim and bitter. He was one of those who enjoyed being a hood. The rest of his bunch were the same way. The boys from Brumly, too. Young hoods—who would grow up to be old hoods.

"The kid knows us well," Tim smirked. Darry and Soda looked at Pony, who shook his head.

"I. Am. Friends. With. Curly." he said slowly.

I'd never thought about it before, but they'd just get worse as they got older, not better. I looked at Darry. He wasn't going to be any hood when he got old. He was going to get somewhere. Living the way we do would only make him more determined to get somewhere. That's why he's better than the rest of us, I thought. He's going somewhere.

Darry glanced at his little brother. It was amazing how his opinion of Darry changed so quickly, though it must have taken days in real life.

And I was going to be like him. I wasn't going to live in a lousy neighborhood all my life.

"No! Pony, don't go to the dark side!" Soda cried.

"But they have cookies," Pony pouted.

Tim had the tense, hungry look of an alley cat—that's what he always reminded me of, an alley cat—and he was constantly restless. His boys ranged from fifteen to nineteen, hard-looking characters who were used to the strict discipline Tim gave out. That was the difference between his gang and ours—they had a leader and were organized; we were just buddies who stuck together—each man was his own leader. Maybe that was why we could whip them.

"You lose one fight and they all think they can whip ya," Tim muttered.

Tim and the leader of the Brumly outfit moved forward to shake hands with each of us—proving that our gangs were on the same side in this fight, although most of the guys in those two outfits weren't exactly what I'd like to call my friends. When Tim got to me he studied me, maybe remembering how his kid brother and I had played chicken.

"One of your more idiotic moves, Pony," Soda said, shaking his head.

"You and the quiet black-headed kid were the ones who killed that Soc?" "Yeah," I said, pretending to be proud of it; then I thought of Cherry and Randy and got a sick feeling in my stomach. "Good goin', kid. Curly always said you were a good kid. Curly's in the reformatory for the next six months." Tim grinned ruefully, probably thinking of this roughneck, hard-headed brother. "He got caught breakin' into a liquor store, the little…" he went on to call Curly every unprintable name under the sun—in Tim's way of thinking, terms of affection.

"Kid, they were Socs. You don't need to feel guilty about somethin' they're probably not gonna know." Steve chuckled.

"Yeah, yeah."

Tim felt a little guilty at being so glad about the death of the Soc, but squashed it. He was a Soc, for crying out loud!

I surveyed the scene with pride. I was the youngest one there. Even Curly, if he had been there, had turned fifteen, so he was older than me. I could tell Darry realized this too, and although he was proud, I also knew he was worried. Shoot, I thought, I'll fight so good this time he won't ever worry about me again. I'll show him that someone besides Sodapop can use his head.

Darry glanced at Soda. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?" he whispered.

"Cause it's Pony?" Soda whispered back, "and his plans tend to fail?"

"You were the youngest?" Two-Bit asked.

"You didn't notice?"

"I was drunk!"

One of the Brumly boys waved me over. We mostly stuck with our own outfits, so I was a little leery of going over to him, but I shrugged. He asked to borrow a weed, then lit up. "That big guy with y'all, you know him pretty well?"

"Talking about me?" Darry smirked.

"I ought to, he's my brother," I said. I couldn't' honestly say "Yes." I knew Darry as well as he knew me, and that isn't saying a whole lot.

The smirk fell slowly off Darry's face. He knew two things he'd have to do after this. One: pound something heavy, like a Soc's face. Two: have an outing or something with Pony. Try to reestablish their relationship they had before Mom and Dad died.

"No kiddin'? I got a feelin' he's gonna be asked to start the fireworks around here. He a pretty good bopper?"

"You bet he is!" Soda cried.

He meant rumbler. Those Brumly boys have weird vocabularies. I doubt if half of them can read a newspaper or spell much more than their names, and it comes out in their speech. I mean, you take a guy that calls a rumble "bob-action" and you can tell he isn't real educated.

"Pony, be nice." Darry warned but his smirk was on his face. He disliked the Brumly boys as much as the next greaser.

"Yep," I said. "But why him?" He shrugged. "Why anybody else?" I looked our outfits over. Most greasers don't have real tuff builds or anything. They're mostly lean and kind of panther-looking in a slouchy way. This is partly because they don't eat much and partly because they're slouchy. Darry looked like he could whip anyone there.

"He could!" Four voices called out. They'd all seen Darry in a fight; lets just say the other guy had it worse.

I think most of the guys were worried because of the 'no weapons' rule. I didn't know about the Brumly boys, but I knew that Shepard's gang were used to fighting with anything they could get their hands on—bicycle chains, blades, pop bottles, pieces of pipe, pool sticks or sometimes even heaters. I mean guns. I have a kind of lousy vocabulary, too, even if I am educated. Our gang never went in for weapons. We're just not that rough. The only weapons we ever used were knives, and shoot, we carried them mostly just for looks. Like Two-Bit and his black-handled switch. None of us had ever really hurt anybody, or wanted to. Just Johnny. And he hadn't wanted to.

"I don't know," Two-Bit said with hesitation. "Didn't he say in the first or second chapter that he was never gonna get jumped like he did again?"

"Dying friend, remember? You tend to forget minor details like that." Pony shrugged.

"Hey, Curtis!" Tim yelled. I jumped. "Which one?" I heard Soda yell back. "The big one. Come over here."

"Nice description," Tim chuckled.

"You know you're the one who made it?" Darry asked with a glare. Tim gulped. Darry Curtis was not a guy you wanted mad at you.

The guy from Brumly looked at me. "What did I tell ya?" I watched Darry going over Tim and the leader of the Brumly boys. He shouldn't be here, I thought suddenly. I shouldn't be here and Steve shouldn't be here and Soda shouldn't be here and Two-Bit shouldn't be here. We're greasers, but not hoods, and we don't belong with this bunch of future convicts. We could end up like them, I thought. We could. And the thought didn't help my headache.

"Then don't think about it," Steve said. He was touched that he and Two-Bit were included in the list of people who shouldn't have been at the rumble. "Think about stomping the Socs."

"I think I had another reason," Pony muttered. "Johnny."

That sobered the gang up. If they hadn't been there, they'd all been able to say goodbye to Johnny.

I went back to stand with Soda and Steve and Two-Bit then, because the Socs were arriving. Right on time. They came in four carloads, and filed out silently. I counted twenty-two of them. There were twenty of us, so I figured the odds were as even as we could get them. Darry always liked to take on two at a time anyway. They looked like they were all cut from the same piece of cloth: clean shaven with semi-Beatle haircuts, wearing striped or checkerd shirts with light red or tan colored jackets or madras ski jackets. They could just as easily been going to the movies as to a rumble. That's why people don't ever think to blame the Socs and are always ready to jump on us. We look hoody and they look decent. It could be just the other way around—half the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease, and from what I've heard, a lot of Socs are just cold-blooded mean—but people usually go by looks.

"So that's why Soda gets away with a lot," Steve chuckled. "His looks?"

"Yep."

They lined up silently, facing us, and we lined up facing them. I looked for Randy but didn't see him. I hoped he wasn't there. A guy with a madras shirt stepped up. "Let's get the rules straight—nothing but our fists, and the first to run lose. Right?" Tim flipped away his beer can.

"I thought it was Two-Bit who did that?" Darry asked.

"So I get a detail wrong," Pony shrugged. "It's been two years since I wrote this, and some of the details of that night were hazy at best."

"You savvy real good." There was an uneasy silence. Who was going to start it? Darry solved that problem. He stepped forward under the circle of light made by the street lamp. For a minute, everything looked unreal, like a scene out of a JD movie or something. Then Darry said, "I'll take on anyone." He stood there, tall, broad-shouldered, his muscles taut under his T-shirt and his eyes glittering like ice. For a second it didn't look like there was anyone brave enough to take him on.

"This essay is not good for Darry's ego," Pony whispered to Soda.

"What do you mean?"

"He's developing one."

Then there was a slight stir in the faceless mob of Socs, and a husky blond guy stepped forward. He looked at Darry and said quietly, "Hello, Darrel." Something flickered behind Darry's eyes and then they were ice again. "Hello, Paul."

Soda stiffened, Pony sighed and Darry clenched his fists. Paul, Darry had told them later, was the one Soc he hadn't been expecting to fight.

I heard Soda give a kind of squeak and I realized the blond was Paul Holden. He had been the best halfback on Darry's football team at high school and he and Darry used to buddy it around together all the time.

"We were on the same team," Darry said at Tim's look. "We couldn't be jumping each other."

He must be a junior in college by now, I thought. He was looking at Darry with an expression I couldn't quite place, but disliked. Contempt? Pity? Hate? All three? Why? Because Darry was standing there representing all of us, and maybe Paul felt only contempt and pity and hate for greasers? Darry hadn't moved a muscle or changed expression, but you could see he hated Paul now. It wasn't only jealousy—Darry had a right to be jealous; he was ashamed to be on our side, ashamed to be seen with the Brumly boys, Shepard's gang, maybe even us. Nobody realized it but me and Soda. It didn't matter to anyone but me and Soda.

"Let me clear this up," Darry said. "I was not ashamed. There's nothing I want more than to just hang out with my family and friends, who are greasers.

That's stupid, I thought swiftly, they've both come here to fight and they're both supposed to be smarter than that. What difference does the side make? Then Paul said, "I'll take you," and something like a smile crossed Darry's face. I knew Darry had thought he could take Paul anytime. But that was two or three years ago. What if Paul was better now? I swallowed. Neither one of my brothers had ever been beaten in a fight, but I wasn't exactly itching for someone to break the record.

"Like that could ever happen," Soda and Darry scoffed.

They moved in a circle under the light, counterclockwise, eyeing each other, sizing each other up, maybe remembering old faults and wondering if they were still there. The rest of us watched with mounting tension. I was reminded of Jack London's books—you know, where the wolf pack waits in silence for one of two members to go down in a fight. But it was different here. The moment either one swung a punch, the rumble would be on. The silence grew heavier, and I could ear the harsh heavy breathing of the boys around me. Still Darry and the Soc walked slowly in a circle.

"You knew his name and still called him the Soc?" Darry asked.

"Giving him a name reminded me of your past fights. When you used to be buddies."

Even I could feel their hatred. They used to be buddies, I thought, they used to be friends, and now they hate each other because one has to work for a living and the other comes from the West Side.

Ponyboy looked at Darry, who was deep in thought and memories.

"If only it was that simple," he murmured. Only Sodapop and Ponyboy actually heard him.

They shouldn't hate each other…I don't hate the Soc any more…they shouldn't hate… "Hold up!" a familiar voice yelled. "Hold it!" Darry turned to see who it was, and Paul swung—a hard right to the jaw that would have felled anyone but Darry. The rumble was on. Dallas Winston ran to join us.

"Of course he did," the gang grinned. What else did they expect from the guy?

I couldn't find a Soc my size, so I took the next-best size and jumped on him. Dallas was right beside me, already on top of someone. "I thought you were in the hospital," I yelled as the Soc knocked me to the ground and I rolled to avoid getting kicked. "I was." Dally was having a hard time because his left arm was still in bad shape. "I ain't now." "How?" I managed to ask as the Soc I was fighting leaped on me and we rolled near Dally. "Talked the nurse into it with Two-Bit's switch. Don't you know a rumble ain't a rumble unless I'm in it?"

"Ah, my blade. Being used for such a good purpose." Two-Bit sighed and smiled. Pony scooted closer to Steve.

"Whatever he's on, I don't want it." he muttered. Steve bit back a laugh.

I couldn't answer because the Soc, who was heaver than I took him for, had me pinned and was slugging the sense out of me. I thought dizzily that he was going to knock some of my teeth out or break my nose or something, and I knew I didn't have a chance. But Darry was keeping an eye out for me; he caught that guy by the shoulder and half lifted him up before knocking him three feet with a sledge-hammer blow.

"Thanks Dar," Pony smiled.

"Hey, what are brothers for?" Darry ruffled Pony's hair. Everyone else was making a mental note to not make Darry pissed at them. It might just be the last thing they did.

I decided it would be fair for me to help Dally since he could only use one arm.

"More like safer for you," Soda chuckled.

They were slugging it out, but Dallas was getting the worst of it, so I jumped on his Soc's back, pulling his hair and pounding him. He reached over and caught me by the neck and threw me over his head to the ground. Tim Shepard, who was fighting two at once, accidentially stepped on me, knocking my breath out.

"Sorry kid," Tim shook his head. "Should have watched who was by me."

I was up again as soon as I got my wind, and jumped right back on that Soc, trying my best to strangle him. While he was prying my fingers loose, Dally knocked him backward, so that all three of us rolled on the ground, gasping, cussing and punching. Somebody kicked me hard in the ribs and I yelped in spite of myself. Some Soc had knocked out one of our bunch and was kicking me as hard as he could. But I had both arms wrapped around the other Soc's neck and refused to let go. Dally was slugging him, and I hung on, desperately, althought that other Soc was kicking me and you'd better believe it hurt.

"I had to stop Soda from pounding that Soc into the earth when he saw who he was kicking," Darry shook his head. "He managed to get a few good punches after he left."

"What happened to him?" Pony asked.

"Steve, Soda, and Two-Bit jumped him a few weeks later. He was in the hospital for three weeks."

"Soda!"

"Well, he hurt my brother." Soda crossed his arms.

Finally he kicked me in the head so hard it stunned me, and I lay limp, trying to close my mind and keep from blacking out. I could hear the racket, but only dimly thought the buzzing in my ears. Mumerous bruises along my back and on my face were throubbing, but I felt detached from the pain, as if it wasn't really me feeling it. "They're running!" I heard a voice yell joyfully. "Look at the dirty—run!" It seemed to me that the voice belonged to Two-Bit, but I couldn't be sure.

"It did." Two-Bit smirked. "I remember saying it."

I tried to sit up, and saw that the Socs were getting into their cars and leaving. Tim Shepard was swearing blue and green because his nose was broken again, and the leader of the Brumly boys was working over one of his own men because he had broken the rules and used a piece of pipe in the fighting.

"How did I not notice that?" Darry asked.

"Cause you're not Pony?" Steve smirked.

Steve lay doubled up and groaning about ten feet from me. We found out later that he had three broken ribs.

"Sorry about how I was treating you Steve," Darry grimaced. "I thought you just had bruised ribs."

"What's the difference?" Steve asked.

"Broken ribs have you cursing up a storm."

Sodapop was beside him, talking in a low steady voice. I did a double take when I saw Two-Bit—blood was steaming down one side of his face and one hand was busted wide open, but he was grinning happily because the Socs were running.

"Of course he was." Everyone shook their heads. That was Two-Bit for ya.

"We won," Darry announced in a tired voice. He was going to have a black eye and there was a cut across his forehead. "We beat the Socs." Dally stood beside me quietly for a minute, trying to grasp the fact that we had really beaten the Socs.

"Why was that so hard to believe?" Tim asked.

"Maybe because…"Pony began and then shook his head. "I don't recall. It was two years ago, and I had just been kicked in the head."

Then, grabbing my shirt, he hauled me to my feet. "Come on!" He half dragged me down the street. "We're goin' to see Johny." I stried to run but stumbled, and Dally impatiently shoved me along. "Hurry! He was gettin' worse when I left. He wants to see you." I don't know how Dallas could travel so fast and hard after being knocked around and having his sore arm hurt some more, but I tried to keep up with him.

"Wow," Two-Bit whistled. "I can't do that when I'm not aching in pain from whipping a Soc. You're good kid."

Track wasn't ever like the running I did that night. I was still dizzy and had only a dim realization of where I was going and why. Dally had Buck Merril's T-bird parked in front of our house, and we hopped into it. I sat tight as Dally roared the car down the street. We were on Tenth when a siren came on behind us and I saw the reflection of the red light flashing in the windshidel. "Look sick," Dally commanded. "I'll say I'm taking you to the hospital, which'll be truth enough."

"Dally? Telling the truth?" Steve gasped. "The world has got to be ending!"

"You're still here ain't ya?" Pony smirked.

"Smart ass."

I leaned against the cold glass of the window and tried to look sick, whick wasn't too hard, feeling the way I was feeling. The policeman looked disgusted. "All right buddy, where's the fire?" "The kid"—Dally jerked a thumb toward me—"he fell over on his motercycle and I'm taking him to the hospital." I goaned, and it wasn't all fake-out. I guess I looked pretty bad, too, being cut and bruised like I was. The fuzz changed his tone. "Is he real bad? Do you need an escort?" "How would I know if he's bad or not? I ain't no doc. Yeah, we could use an escort." And as the policeman got back into his car I heard Dally hiss,

"Sucker!" Pony whispered under his breath. He looked up to see Two-Bit staring at him.

"What?"

"Sucker!"

"Don't become like Dally," Steve chuckled.

"I won't. Too much time near Buck and I might strangle him." Pony muttered. Everyone heard though and chuckled.

With the siren ahead of us, we made record time getting to the hospital. All the way over there, Dally kept talking and talking about something, but I was too dizzy to make most of it out.

"Either that or he was cussing," Tim smirked.

"Probably cussing, yeah." Pony shook his head.

"I was crazy, you know that kid? Crazy for wantin' Johnny to stay outa trouble, for not wantin' him to get hard. If he'd been like me he'd never have been in this mess If he'd been smart like me he'd never have run into that church. That's what you get for helpin' people. Editorials in the paper and a lot of trouble…You'd better wise up, Pony…you get tough like me and you don't get hurt. You look out for yourself and nothin' can touch you…"

"What kind of advice was that?" Darry nearly shouted. The last thing he wanted for his kid brother was for him to turn out like Dallas Winston. Ponyboy barely heard him.

But in the end, he still got hurt, Ponyboy thought over and over again.

"Kid? You okay?" Two-Bit asked, looking at Ponyboy. He shook himself loose.

"Yeah. Keep reading."

He said a lot more stuff, but I didn't get it all. I had a stupid feeling that Dally was out of his mind, the way he kept raving on and on, because Dallas never talked like that, but I think now I would have understood if I hadn't been sick at the time. The cop left us at the hospital as Dally pretended to help me out of the car. The minute the cop was gone, dally let go of me so quick I almost fell. "Hurry!" we ran through the lobby and crowed past people into the elevator. Several people yelled at us, I think because we were pretty racked-up looking, but Dally had nothing on his mind except Johnny, and I was too mixed up to know anything but that I had to follow Dally. When we finally got to Johnny's room, the doctor stopped us.

"No!" Soda shouted.

"Soda, you know we got to see him." Pony shook his head. Sometimes his brother was good for a laugh.

"I'm sorry, boys, but he's dying." "We gotta see him," Dally said, and flicked out Two-Bit's switchblade. His voice was shaking.

"I'm sorry, but did you just say Dally's voice was shaking?" Steve asked Two-Bit.

"Yeah." Two-Bit was surprised as well.

"We're going to see him and if you give me any static you'll end up on your own operatin' table." The doctor didn't bat an eye. "You can see him, but it's because you're his friends, not because of that knife." Dally looked at him for a second, then put the knife back in his pocket. We both went into Johnny's room, standing there for a second, getting our breath back in heavy gulps.

"Darn it, he wasn't impressed with my knife," Two-Bit pouted.

"Not the time Two-Bit," Pony muttered. He knew what was coming. He still saw that day in his dreams.

It was awful quiet. It was scary quiet. I looked at Johnny. He was very still, and for a moment I thought in agony: He's dead already. We're too late. Dally swallowed, wiping the sweat off his upper lip. "Johnnycake?" he said in a hoarse voice. "Johnny?" Johnny stirred weakly, then opened his eyes. "Hey," he managed softly.

"Well, that's a good thing. Right? He can still speak." Tim tried to think positively, even though he knew what was going to happen. You'd have to be a Soc not to see what was going to happen.

"We won," Dally panted. "We beat the Socs. We stomped them—chased them outa our territory." Johnny didn't even try to grin at him. "Useless…fighting's no good…" He was awful white. Dally licked his lips nervously. "They're still writing editorials about you in the paper. For being a hero and all." He was talking too fast and too calmly.

"Dally in a calm mood means he's panicking on the inside." Tim muttered, remembering that part of his long dead friend. The part that had been hidden since he was ten.

"Yeah, they're calling you a hero now and heroizin' all the greasers. We're all proud of you buddy." Johnny's eyes glowed. Dally was proud of him. That was all Johnny had ever wanted.

The room was silent. Nobody knew what to say. The only person that had ever known that about Johnny was Ponyboy. Sure, they all knew (even Tim) that the kid never asked for much. But they never realized how much Johnny really looked up to the hood. Tim was the first to break the silence.

"But...Dally was always proud of him," he stuttered.

"Yeah. He just didn't show it." Soda sighed.

"Ponyboy." I barely heard him. I came closer and leaned over to hear what he was going to say. "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold…"

Ponyboy was crying now, silent tears running down his cheeks. He didn't want to. In fact, he felt like such a wimp. But he had never forgotten those words. Five words. It meant so much more than anyone else in the gang would be able to understand. But one thing that was not lost on them was the fact that those five words had a special meaning to Ponyboy. Darry squeezed his shoulder, trying to show his comfort in ways he knew words couldn't. But right now, there was no comforting Ponyboy. Two-Bit looked at him, and he nodded, motioning for him to continue.

The pillow seemed to sink a little, and Johnny died. You read about people looking peacefully asleep when they're dead, but they don't. Johnny just looked dead. Like a candle with the flame gone. I tried to say something, but I couldn't make a sound. Dally swallowed and reached over to push Johnny's hair back. "Never couldkeep that hair back..that's what you get for tryin' to help people, you little punk, that's what you got…" Whirling suddenly, he slammed back against the wall. His face contracted in agony, and sweat streamed down his face.

"I'm not sure that was sweat," Pony muttered. Unless one could sweat from the eyes, then Pony was pretty certain Dally'd been crying.

"Damnit Johnny…" he begged, slamming one fist against the wall, hammering it to make it obey his will. "Oh, damnit , Johnny, don't die, please don't die…" He suddenly bolted through the door and down the hall.

Nobody said a word. Nobody needed to.

"Kid, you up for this?" Two-Bit asked Pony. They all knew what would be coming.

"Yeah, just give me the ruddy thing."

Two-Bit handed the book to Pony, hoping they could get through this next chapter quickly.

A/N: I hated writing this chapter. I cried so many times, I lost count. Today-Only-Happens-Once, thank you again for your comment ideas. I love them and find them useful.

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