The gang reads

Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven

A/N: I OWN NOTHING!

Pony wiped his tears off on the back of his hand and began to read.

"Chapter ten," he said.

"I walked down the hall in a daze. Dally had taken the car and I started the long walk home in a stupor. Johnny was dead. But he wasn't. That still body back in the hospital wasn't Johnny. Johnny was somewhere else—maybe asleep in the log, or playing the pinball machine in the bowling alley or sitting on the back steps of the church in Windrixville. I'd go home and walk by the lot, and Johnny would be sitting on the curb smoking a cigarette, and maybe we'd lie on our backs and watch the stars. He isn't dead, I said to myself. He isn't dead. And this time my dreaming worked. I convinced myself that he wasn't dead."

Soda looked over at his little brother. He should have been with him that moment.

"I must have wandered around for hours; sometimes even out into the streets, getting honked at and cussed out. I might have stumbled around all night except for a man who asked me if I wanted a ride. "Huh? Oh. Yeah, I guess so," I said. I got in. The man, who was in his mid-twenties, looked at me. "Are you alright, kid? You look like you've been in a fight." "I have been. A rumble. I'm okay." Johnny is not dead, I told myself, and I believed it. "Hate to tell you this, kiddo," the guy said dryly, 'but you're bleedin' all over my car seats." I blinked. "I am?" "Your head." I reached up to scratch the side of my head where it'd been itching for a while, and when I looked at my hand it was smeared with blood. "Gosh mister, I'm sorry," I said dumbfounded. "Don't worry about it. This wreck's been through worse. What's your address? I'm not about to dump a hurt kid out on the streets this time of night."

"Nice guy," Steve said shocked. There weren't many who would drive a greaser home, even someone who lived on their side of town.

I told him. He drove me to my house, and I got out. "Thanks a lot." What was left of our gang was in the living room. Steve was stretched out on the sofa, his shirt unbuttoned and his side bandaged. His eyes were closed but when the door shut behind me he opened them, and I suddenly wondered if my own eyes looked as feverish and bewildered as his.

"They were worse," Steve whispered to Pony.

Soda had a wide up on his lip and a bruise across his cheek. There was a Band-Aid over Darry's forehead and he had a black eye. One side of Two-Bit's face was taped up—I found out later he had four stitches in his cheek and seven in his hand where he had busted his knuckles open over a Soc's head. They were lounging around, reading the paper and smoking. Where's the party? I thought dully. Weren't Soda and Steve planning a party after the rumble?

"Didn't feel like it," Soda shrugged when everyone looked over at him. "None of us wanted to party."

They all looked up when I walked in. Darry leaped to his feat. "Where have you been?" Oh, let's don't start that again, I thought.

Despite the severity of the chapter, Tim snorted. It was slightly funny.

He stopped suddenly. "Ponyboy, what's the matter?" I looked at all of them, a little frightened. "Johnny…he's dead." My voice sounded strange, even to me.

Darry didn't want to remember how his little brother sounded that night. He sounded out of breath yet unable to catch it at the same time. He was scared and Darry had no idea how to comfort him.

But he's not dead, a voice in my head said. "We told him about beatin' the Socs and…I don't know, he just died." He told me to stay gold, I remembered. What was he talking about? There was a stricken silence. I don't think any of us had realized how bad off Johnny really had been. Soda made a funny noise and looked like he was going to start crying.

Soda looked away. He had wanted to cry but knew that he had to stay strong, until Dally got there. Little did he know…

Two-Bit's eyes were closed and his teeth were clenched, and I suddenly remembered Dally…Dally pounding on the wall… "Dallas is gone," I said. "He ran out like the devil was after him. He's gonna blow up. He couldn't take it." How can I take it? I wondered. Dally is tougher than I am. Why can I take it when Dally can't? And then I knew. Johnny was the one thing that Dally loved.

A sudden silence fell over the group. They knew what was coming but they didn't know the reason—except for Pony of course.

And now Johnny was gone. "So he finally broke." Two-Bit spoke everyone's feelings. "So even Dally has a breaking point." I started shaking. Darry said something in a low voice to Soda.

"What did you say to him?" Pony asked Darry.

"I just told him to get you to sit down," he said. "You looked like you were about to faint."

"Ponyboy," Soda said softly, like he was talking to an injured animal, "you look sick. Sit down." I backed up, just like a frightened animal, shaking my head. "I'm okay." I felt sick. I felt as if any minute I was going to fall flat on my face, but I shook my head.

"Stubborn," Darry muttered.

"I don't want to sit down." Darry took a step toward me, but I backed away. "Don't touch me," I said.

"Kiddo, you really had me freaked out," Sodapop commented. He remembered how scared and lost Ponyboy had looked when he came home that night.

"Shoot, you had all of us freaked out," Darry replied.

"Sorry, guys. I was a little...mixed up," Ponyboy said.

"Yeah, yeah. Loving brother moment. Can we let the kid read?" Tim interrupted.

My heart was pounding in slow thumps, throbbing at the side of my head, and I wondered if everyone else could hear it. Maybe that's why they're all looking at me, I thought, they can hear my heart beating…

"No we all were wondering what was wrong with you," Two-Bit said. "You looked like you were in a room full of Socs."

The phone rang, and after a moment's hesitation, Darry turned from me to it. He said "Hello" and then listened. He hung up quickly. "It was Dally. He phoned from a booth. He's just robbed a grocery store and the cops are after him. We gotta hide him. He'll be at the lot in a minute." We all left the house at a dead run, even Steve,

"Of course I would," Steve said. "Dally was my buddy after all. Us greasers have to stick together."

and I wondered vaguely why no one was doing somersaults off the steps this time. Things were sliding in and out of focus and it seemed funny to me that I couldn't run in a straight line.

Darry and Soda stared straight at their little brother. Why hadn't he told them? Was it because he really wanted to seem like the rest of the gang? To fit in? Or was it something else? His health came before anything, heck any of their health was more important that anything.

We reached the vacant lot just as Dally came in, running as hard as he could, from the other direction. The wail of a siren grew louder and then a police car pulled up across the street from the lot. Doors slammed as the policemen leaped out. Dally had reached the circle of light under the street lamp, and skidding to a halt, he turned and jerked a black object from his waistband. I remembered his voice: I been carrying' a heater. It ain't loaded, but it sure does help a bluff.

"WHAT?" Tim yelped. He'd figured out.

"You didn't know?" Steve asked surprised.

"No, all I knew is that Dallas got shot by cops. I didn't know that he prompted it," Tim growled and he almost seemed upset. Dally though had been his buddy too throughout the years. Who else had the right to know how he died besides the Curtis gang?

It was only yesterday that Dally had told Johnny and me that. But yesterday was years ago. A lifetime ago. Dally raised the gun and I thought: You blasted fool.

Two-Bit chuckled under his breath. If only Dally had been here to hear that…

They don't know you're only bluffing. And even as the policemen's guns spit fire into the night I knew that was what Dally wanted. He was jerked half around by the impact of the bullets, then slowly crumpled with a look of grim triumph on his face.

If anyone had passed by the Curtis's house that night, they would have been alarmed at the number of tear tracks that were making their way down every greasers' cheeks.

He was dead before he hit the ground. But I knew that was what he wanted, even as the lot echoed with the cracks of shots, even as I begged silently—Please, not him…not him and Johnny both—I knew he would be dead, because Dally Winston wanted to be dead and he always got what he wanted. Nobody would write editorials praising Dally. Two friends of mine died that night: one a hero, the other a hoodlum. But I remembered Dally pulling Johnny thought the window of the burning church; Dally giving us his gun, although it could mean jail for him. Dally risking his life for us, trying to keep Johnny out of trouble. And now he was just a dead juvenile delinquent and there wouldn't be any editorials in his favor. Dally didn't die a hero. He died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he'd die someday. Just like Tim Shepard and Curly Shepard, and the Burmly boys and the other guys we knew would die someday.

Tim didn't even comment. He knew that was the truth. Boys who lived the way he and his gang did were just destined to die young, violently and desperately.

But Johnny was right. He died gallant.

The room was silent. It felt...different hearing Ponyboy read it than it would if anyone else did. And though they couldn't explain it, each in their own way knew exactly what Ponyboy meant.

Steve stumbled forward with a sob, but Soda caught him by the shoulders. "Easy, buddy, easy," I heard him say softly," there's nothing we can do now." Nothing we can do…not for Dally or Johnny or Tim Shepard or any of us…My stomach gave a violent start and turned into a hunk of ice. The world was spinning around me and blobs of faces and visions of things past were dancing in the red mist that covered the lot. It swirled into a mass of colors and I felt myself swaying on my feet. Someone cried, "Glory, look at the kid!" And the ground rushed up to meet me very suddenly.

"Hey," Ponyboy began. "Who did say that, anyway?"

"I think it was Two-Bit," Soda replied.

"Actually it was me and Steve," Two-Bit said. "Kid, you really scared us when you just passed out like that."

"Sorry about that. But...what happened after I passed out?"

"Soda and Darry nearly had a heart attack when you hit the ground," Steve answered. He had been the first to notice the kid, despite his mourning over Dally. He had even pointed it out to Two-Bit when Pony began swaying like that. It just burst out of him at the same time Two-Bit said it. Sodapop and Darry offered a small smile.

"And then Darry realized you were bleedin' and you had a fever and you looked real pale,"

"And so he told Sodapop to call an ambulance,"

Two-Bit and Steve fired off, picking up whenever the other person stopped to take a breath.

"AND the long story short is that you went to the hospital, the doc said you had to stay there a few days, and then you came home. You were delusional the whole time," Darry interrupted. "Keep readin' Pon."

When I woke up it was light. It was awfully quiet. Too quiet. I mean, our house just isn't naturally quiet. The radio's usually going full blast and the TV is turned up loud and people are wrestling and knocking over lamps and tripping over the coffee table and yelling at each other.

"Like we'd have all that going during that time," Steve said softly. Pony looked down. He felt moronic for not remembering Dally's death or Johnny's.

Something was wrong, but I couldn't quite figure it out. Something had happened…I couldn't remember what. I blinked at Soda bewilderedly. He was sitting on the edge of the bed watching me. "Soda…" –my voice sounded weak and horse

Two-Bit wanted to make a comment about how that would be the perfect voice for a kid named Ponyboy but thought it might have been the wrong time.

—" is somebody sick?" "Yeah." His voice was oddly gentle.

Soda resisted the urge to roll his eyes. His kid brother was sick. It wasn't like he'd be shouting and joyful!

"Go back to sleep now." An idea was slowly dawning on me. "Am I sick?" He stroked my hair. "Yeah, you're sick. Now be quiet." I had one more question. I was still kind of mixed up. "Is Darry sorry I'm sick?" I had a funny feeling that Darry was sad because I was sick.

Steve and Two-Bit cracked up. Ponyboy rolled his eyes and managed to stop the blush that was creeping into his cheeks as he pressed on with the story.

Everything seemed vague and hazy. Soda gave me a funny look. He was quiet for a moment. "Yeah, he's sorry you're sick. Now please shut up, will ya, honey? Go back to sleep." I closed my eyes. I was awful tired. When I woke up next, it was daylight and I was hot under all the blankets on me. I was thirsty and hungry, but my stomach was so uneasy I knew I wouldn't be able to hold anything down. Darry had pulled the armchair into the bedroom and was asleep in it. He would be at work, I thought. Why is he asleep in the armchair?

"Why?" Darry asked, astounded. "Glory, kiddo, because you were sick!"

"Hey, Darry," I said softly, shaking his knee. "Hey, Darry, wake up." He opened his eyes. "Ponyboy, you okay?" "Yeah," I said, "I think so." Something had happened…but I still couldn't remember it, although I was thinking a lot clearer than I was the last time I'd waked up. He sighed in relief and pushed my hair back. "Gosh, kid, you had us scared to death." "What was the matter with me?" He shook his head. "I told you you were in no condition for a rumble. Exhaustion, shock, minor concussion—and Two-Bit came blubberin' over here with some tale about how you were running a fever before the rumble and how it was all his fault you were sick.

Pony's eyes widened and then narrowed at Two-Bit who grinned back hesitantly. He'd forgotten about that part.

He was pretty torn up that night." Darry said. He was quiet for a moment. "We all were." And then I remembered. Dallas and Johnny were dead. Don't think of them, I thought. (Don't remember how Johnny was your buddy, don't remember that he didn't want to die. Don't think of Dally breaking up in the hospital, crumpling under the street light. Try to think that Johnny is better off now, try to remember that Dally would have ended up like that sooner or later. Best of all, don't think. Blank your mind. Don't remember. Don't remember.)

"Pony…" Soda said softly but Pony kept reading. He didn't want to talk about this and knew that was what Soda had in mind.

"Where'd I get a concussion?" I said. My head itched, but I couldn't scratch it for the bandage. "How long have I been asleep?" "You got a concussion from getting kicked in the head—Soda saw it. He landed all over that Soc. I've never seen him so mad. I think he could have whipped anyone in the state he was in. Today's Tuesday and you've been asleep and delirious since Saturday night. Don't you remember?" "No," I said slowly. "Darry, I'm not ever going to be able to make up the school I've missed.

"Only you kid," Steve shook his head. "Only you would worry about school at a time like that."

And I've still got to go to court and talk to the police about Bob getting killed. And now…with Dally…" –I took a deep breath—" Darry do you think they'll split us up? Put me in a home or something?" He was silent.

"What were you thinking Darry?" Pony asked.

"I don't remember," Darry said. That was of course a lie. He was thinking of the phone call he'd gotten before Pony woke up. It'd been from the State actually, calling to inform him that if Pony was charged with anything that he would have been taken from his custody and placed in a boy's home. Soda too.

"I don't know baby. I just don't know." I stared up at the ceiling. What would it be like, I wondered, staring at a different ceiling? What would it be like in a different bed, in a different room? There was a hard painful lump in my throat that I couldn't swallow. "Don't you even remember being in the hospital?" Darry asked. He was trying to change the subject.

"Was I that obvious?" Darry chuckled.

"Only a lot," Pony nodded with a small smile.

I shook my head. "I don't' remember." "You kept asking for me and Soda. Sometimes for Mom and Dad, too. But mostly for Soda." Something in his tone of voice made me look at him. Mostly for Soda. Did I ask for Darry at all, or was he just saying that? "Darry…" I didn't know quite what I wanted to say. But I had a sick feeling that maybe I hadn't called for him while I was delirious, maybe I had only wanted Sodapop to be with me.

Darry looked over at his youngest brother. He would never stop surprising him would he? "You didn't believe me?" he asked. Pony shook his head slightly.

What all had I said while I was sick? I couldn't remember. I didn't want to remember. "Johnny left you his copy of Gone with the Wind. Told the nurse he wanted you to have it." I looked at the paperback lying on the table. I didn't want to finish it. I'd never get past the part where Southern gentlemen go riding into sure death because they are gallant. Southern gentlemen with big black eyes in blue jeans and T-shirts. Southern gentlemen crumpling under streetlights. Don't remember. Don't try to decide which one died gallant. Don't remember.

Pony's voice shook a little as he read the part of the southern gentlemen being gallant. Reading this essay was pulling old memories up that he'd rather stay forgotten. Like the gnawing pain that he felt after Johnny and Dally died. Yeah, he'd rather that stayed forgotten.

"Where's Soda?" I asked, and then I could have kicked myself. Why can't you talk to Darry, you idiot? I said to myself. Why do you feel uncomfortable talking to Darry? "Asleep, I hope.

Soda pouted making everyone chuckle. Two-Bit and him were the only ones that could lighten the mood that was stifling with pessimism.

"Pepsi, you might have hurt yourself if you didn't get some sleep," Darry said.

"Still!" Soda huffed. "Doesn't mean you have to say that you hope I'm asleep around Pony."

"Why?" Pony asked.

"Cause it makes Darry sound cooler!"

I thought he was going to go to sleep shaving this morning and cut his throat. I had to push him to bed, but he was out like a light in a second." Darry's hopes that Soda was asleep were immediately ruined, because he came running in, clad only in a pair of blue jeans. "

Soda's smirk vanished when he was smacked straight in the face with a pillow.

Hey, Ponyboy!" he yelped and leaped for me, but Darry caught him. "No rough stuff, little buddy." So Soda had to content himself with bouncing up and down on the bed and pounding on my shoulder.

Pony rolled his eyes as everyone chuckled at Soda's antics. You couldn't help but love Soda at times.

"Gosh, but you were sick. You feel okay now?" "I'm okay. Just a little hungry." "I should think you would be," Darry said. "You wouldn't eat anything most of the time you were sick. How'd you like some mushroom soup?"

"I'd love some!"

"I wasn't asking you Two-Bit," Pony said making the elder greaser pout.

I suddenly realized just how empty I was. "Man, I'd like that just fine." "I'll go make some. Sodapop, take it easy with him, okay?" Soda looked back at him indignantly. "You'd think I was going to challenge him to a track meet or something right off the bat."

"Did you?"

"No Two-Bit." Pony sighed. Were they ever going to get through this essay before he could throw it under his bed and pretend it didn't exist?

"Oh, no," I groaned. "Track meet. I guess this just about puts me out of every race. I won't be back in condition for the meets. And the coach was counting on me." "Golly, there's always next year." Soda said. Soda never has grasped the importance Darry and I put on athletics.

Soda gaped at the book, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Steve smirked. After all the complements and praises that Soda had gotten throughout the entire essay (Greek God, Doll, Southern Gentleman…the list went on!) he was finally given an insult.

Not that he didn't want Soda to be insulted. He was just getting tired of the endless compliments.

Like he never has understood why we went all-out for studying.

"Cause you don't know how to have fun," Soda muttered under his breath.

"Don't sweat it about some track meet." "Soda," I said suddenly. "What all did I say while I was delirious?" "Oh you thought you were in Windrixville most of the time. Then you kept saying that Johnny didn't mean to kill that Soc. Hey I didn't know you didn't like baloney."

Steve made a face at the mention of the lunch meat, and Two-Bit chuckled.

Soda rolled his eyes at his friend's antics.

I went cold. "I don't like it. I never liked it."

The room felt uncomfortable again. Was this how Pony felt every time someone brought up Johnny or Dally? If so, no wonder it took him a while to fully grieve for them.

Soda just looked at me. "You used to eat it. That's why you wouldn't eat anything while you were sick. You kept saying you didn't like baloney, no matter what it was we were trying to get you to eat."

"And we tried everything," Soda said. "Berries, cake, soup…"

"The list is really endless," Darry nodded.

"I don't like it," I repeated. "Soda, did I ask for Darry while I was sick?" "Yeah, sure," he said looking at me strangely. "You asked for him and me both. Sometimes Mom and Dad. And for Johnny." "Oh. I thought maybe I didn't ask of Darry. It was bugging me." Soda grinned. "Well, you did so don't worry. We stayed with you so much that the doctor told us we were going to end up in the hospital ourselves if we didn't get some sleep.

"Though the fact remains that Soda never gets sick!" Steve griped.

"Should he be the one complaining?" Darry asked. "As you've probably left him alone at the DX?"

"No, because Stevie here is jealous," Two-Bit said and ducked a pillow thrown at him.

But we didn't get any anyway." I took a good look at him. He looked completely worn out; there were circles under his eyes and he had a tense, tired look to him.

"Doesn't hold back does he?" Tim smirked.

Yet his dark eyes were still laughing and carefree and reckless. "You look beat," I said frankly. "I bet you ain't had three hours sleep since Saturday night." He grinned but didn't deny it. "Scoot over." He crawled next to me and flopped down and before Darry came back in with the soup we were both asleep.

"All was right with the world," Darry smiled. "At least at that moment."

"Okay Soda, your turn," Pony said and Soda grimaced. He didn't want to read the essay anymore. But he took the thing from his little brother anyway.

A/N: I am so sorry! This is so late of an update isn't it? Well what happened was that I had the chapter all typed up and everything and then my computer deletes it. So I'm trying to type it back up again and I misplace my copy of The Outsiders! Turns out my English textbook ate it. So I found it and that's why you're finally getting a new chapter.

Thanks again to Today-Only-Happens-Once for her comment ideas. I really love them. Some of you wanted Steve to be the one to say, "Glory look at the kid!" but I love Two-Bit too much. So I had it so they both said it. Never said that Pony heard only once voice, only that someone said it.

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