The gang reads

Chapter 4

Chapter Four

A/N: I do not own the Outsiders.

"Okay, Chapter three." Two-Bit said, opening up the book.

"After the movie was over, it suddenly came to us that Cherry and Marcia didn't have a way to get home."

"How convenient, the boy with the steel safe memory forgot about the two hot babes sitting next to him." Soda said, smirking.

"You're talking about Two-Bit, right dear brother?" Pony said, glaring at Soda.

"Hurry Two-Bit, before I get knocked over by the two daredevils again." Tim said, and motioned for Two-Bit to continue.

"Two-Bit gallantly offered to walk them home—the west side of town was only about twenty miles away—but they wanted to call their parents and have them come and get them. Two-Bit finally talked them into letting us drive them home in his car."

"Who did you have to bribe to fix your brakes?" Steve asked, with a smirk on his face.

"The brakes were fine. It was out of gas."

"I think they were still half-scared of us. They were getting over it, though, as we walked to Two-Bit's house to pick up the car. It seemed funny to me that Socs—if these girls were any example—were just like us."

A long silence ensued after that.

"They liked the Beatles and thought Elvis Presley was out, and we thought the Beatles were rank and that Elvis was tuff, but that seemed the only difference to me. Of course greasey girls would have acted a lot tougher, but there was a basic sameness. I thought maybe it was money that separated us. "No," Cherry said slowly when I said this. "It's not just money. Part of it is, but not all. You greasers have a different set of values. You're more emotional. We're sophisticated—cool to the point of not feeling anything. Nothing is real with us. You know, sometimes I'll catch myself talking to a girl-friend, and realize I don't mean half of what I'm saying. I don't really think a beer blast on the river bottom is super-cool, but I'll rave about one to a girl-friend just to be saying something. I think you're the first person I've ever really gotten through to." She was coming through to me all right, probably because I was a greaser, and younger, she didn't have to keep her guard up with me."

"Feeling very sure of yourself, eh Pony?"

Instead of a pillow or growl, Pony just muttered "Shut it."

""Rat race is a perfect name for it," she said. "We're always going and going, and never asking where. Did you ever hear of having more than you wanted? So that you couldn't want anything else and then started looking for something else to want? It seems like we're always searching for something else to satisfy us, and never finding it. Maybe if we could loose our cool we could.""

"What do they call jumping us, then?" Tim snarled.

"I really don't know. Now let Two-Bit read before he wets himself." Steve said, smirking at Two-Bit and ducking a pillow.

"That was the truth. Socs were always behind a wall of aloofness, careful not to let their real selves show through. I had seen a social-club rumble once. The Socs even fought coldly and practically and impersonally. "That's why we're separated," I said. "It's not money, it's feeling—you don't feel anything and we feel to violently." "And"—she was trying to hide a smile—"that's probably why we take turns getting ours names in the paper.""

"Are you trying to impress her?" Soda turned to his little brother. The one greaser who (in his opinion) was the least girl crazy of the bunch was proving him wrong.

"Maybe I am, maybe I'm not."

"Two-Bit ad Marcia weren't even listening to us. They were engaged in some wild conversation that made no sense to anyone but themselves. I have quite a rep for being quiet, almost as quiet as Johnny. Two-Bit always said he wondered why Johnny and I were such good buddies."

"How were you such good buddies?"

Pony just smirked and motioned for Two-Bit to continue reading. That he did, but not before he lodged a pillow at Pony's head.

""You must make some interstin' conversation," he'd say, cocking one eyebrow, " you keepin' your mouth shut and Johnny not saying anything." But Johnny and I understood each other with out saying anything. Nobody but Soda could really get me talking."

"Unless a teacher calls on you in class. Then you never shut up." Steve smirked.

"Oh, shut up Steve. At least I don't go around drooling over the Spanish teacher." Pony shot back.

"You swore you'd never tell!" Steve was now performing his own tomato impersonation.

"I forgot."

"Till I met Cherry Valance. I don't' know why I could talk to her; maybe for the same reason she could talk to me."

"The kid clams up around us, but can hold a conversation with a Soc?" Steve muttered into Soda's ear.

"A girl, at that."

"The first thing I knew I was telling her about Mickey Mouse, Soda's horse. I had never told anyone about Soda's horse. It was personal. Soda had this buckskin horse, only it wasn't his. It belonged to a guy who kept it at the stables where Soda used to work. Mickey Mouse was Soda's horse, though. The first day Soda saw him he said, "There's my horse," and I never doubted it. I was about ten then. Sodapop is horsecrazy, I mean it. He's always hanging around stables and rodeos, hopping on a horse every time he gets a chance. When I was ten, I thought that Mickey Mouse and Soda looked alike and were alike. Mickey Mouse was a dark-gold buckskin, sassy and ornery, not much more than a colt. He'd come when Soda called him. He wouldn't come for anyone else. That horse loved Soda. He'd stand there and chew on Soda's sleeve or collar. Gosh, but Soda was crazy about that horse. He went down to see him every day. Mickey Mouse was a mean horse. He kicked other horses and was always getting into trouble."

"My god, Ponyboy," Darry said, his eyes widened in shock. "Do you remember everything?" He was also a little pissed at himself for forgetting about Soda's horse. He was the older brother. He should be the one to remember these things, not the boy who was barely a teen when this was written.

Pony just shrugged.

""I've got me a ornery pony," Soda'd tell him, rubbing his neck. "How come you're so mean, Mickey Mouse?" Mickey Mouse would just chew on his sleeve, and sometimes nip him. But not hard. He may have belonged to another guy, but he was Soda's horse. "Does Soda still have him?" Cherry asked. "He got sold." I said. "they came and got him one day and took him off. He was a real valuable horse. Pure quarter.""

"That's it!" Steve cried. "The kid knows EVERYTHING!"

"Shut it, Steve." Pony said, flinging a pillow into Steve's face.

"Ummm? Pony? " Darry said. "Even I didn't know what type of horse Mickey was."

Two-Bit, who had been paying little to no attention to the conversation, chimed in, "Hey! Mickey's not a horse! He's a mouse."

Needless to say, the gang grabbed their pillows and threw them at Two-Bit. He ducked and continued to read.

"She didn't say anything else and I was glad. I couldn't tell her that Soda had bawled all night long after they came and got Mickey Mouse. I had cried, too, if you want to know the truth, because Soda never wanted anything except a horse, and he'd lost his, He never let on to Mom and Dad how he felt, though, because we never had enough money and usually we had a hard time making ends meet. When you're thirteen in our neighborhood you know the score. I kept saving my money for a year, thinking that someday I could by Mickey Mouse back for Soda. You're not so smart at ten."

"That's why you were saving all that money?" Soda asked his younger brother, smiling at him. Pony blushed slightly and nodded. Darry was shocked at how much Pony seemed to care for Soda.

""You read a lot, don't you, Ponyboy?" Cherry asked."

"What gave it away?" Steve asked.

"Shut it, Steve."

"I was startled. "Yeah. Why?" She kind of shrugged. "I could just tell. I'll bet you watch sunsets, too." She was quiet for a minute after I nodded. "I used to watch them too, before I got so busy…""

"She scared me right then," Pony muttered. "I thought she was stalking me."

"Don't get your hopes up kid." Two-Bit told him. Pony jumped; he didn't know that someone heard him.

"I pictured that, or tried to. Maybe Cherry stood still and watched the sun set while she was supposed to be taking the garbage out. Stood there and watched and forgot everything else until her big brother screamed at her to hurry up."

Darry winced. He'd no idea how Pony had seen him two years ago. The only reason they'd stopped fighting was because Soda had asked them to.

"I shook my head, It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset."

"Okay, Pony." Soda said. "Stop being so deep. It's giving me a headache."

"Oh, be quiet."

"Marcia suddenly gasped."

"Why? What happened?" Soda asked, worried. He didn't know what had happened before Pony got home that night, but he didn't want any thing to happen to him.

"If you'd let me read, you'd find out." Two-Bit growled.

""Cherry, look what's coming." We all looked and saw a blue Mustang coming down the street. Johnny made a small noise in his throat and when I looked at him he was white. Marcia was shifting nervously. "What are we going to do?" Cherry bit a fingernail. "Stand here," she said. "There's not much else we can do." "What is it?" Two-Bit asked. "The F.B.I?" "No." Cherry said bleakly. "It's Randy and Bob." "And." Two-Bit added grimly. "a few other of the social elite checkered-shirt set.""

"Oh, just Socs." Steve let out a sigh in relief.

"Just Socs?" Darry asked him, glaring at Steve.

"I just meant that Two-Bit was there to help out." Steve said, trying to not get pummeled by Darry. "It's not like Pony and Johnny are on their own out there."

""Your boyfriends?" Johnny voice was steady, but standing as close to him as I was, I could see he was trembling. I wondered why—Johnny was a nervous wreck, but he was never that jumpy. Cherry started walking down the street. "Maybe they won't see us. Act normal." "Who's acting?" Two-Bit grinned. "I'm a natural normal." "Wish it was the other way around," I muttered,"

"Watch it Pony," Two-Bit growled at his laughing friend. "I still haven't gotten you back for that yet."

"and Two-Bit said, "Don't get mouthy, Ponyboy." The Mustang passed us slowly and went right on by. Marcia sighed in relief. "That was close." Cherry turned to me. "Tell me about your oldest brother. You don't talk much about him." I tried to think of something to say about Darry, and shrugged."

"Please skip this, please drop it." Pony muttered under his breath. It was bad enough that Darry was apologizing for things he did over two years ago, but this was just incredible.

"Oh, awkward." Steve said. Darry wasn't looking forward to this anymore than Pony was, so he just motioned for Two-Bit to continue to read.

""What's to talk about? He's big and handsome and likes to play football." "I mean, what's he like? I feel like I know Soda from the way you talk about him; tell me about Darry." And when I was silent she urged me on. "Is he wild and reckless like Soda? Dreamy, like you?""

"Umm? Pon?" Soda asked his little brother. "You okay?"

"Of course Soda." Pony replied. The response was muffled because his face was jammed into a pillow. "Two-Bit, Steve, and Tim are busy laughing right now, so I'd just stick my head here and avoid humiliating myself further."

"Oh. Okay."

"My face got hot as I bit my lip. Darry… what was Darry like? "He's…" I started to say he was a good ol' guy but I couldn't. I burst out bitterly: "He's not like Sodapop at all and he sure ain't like me. He's hard as rock and about as human. He's got eyes exactly like frozen ice. He thinks I'm a pain in the neck. He likes Soda—everybody likes Soda—but he can't stand me. I bet he wishes he could stick me in a home somewhere, and he'd do it, too, if Soda'd let him.""

Ponyboy looked at Darry with wide eyes, his pillow forgotten for the moment. He hadn't forgotten that he'd said some rude things about his eldest brother, but he'd forgotten that he'd said that. Darry had winced at every insult Pony had laid out about him. His eyes were watering, waiting to spill over. He had no idea how low Pony had actually thought of him.

"Darry, this was two years ago, remember," Soda said, seeing how hurt Darry was. He ignored Soda and linked eyes with Ponyboy. Pony's face was full of apology and Darry's was full of torment.

"You...don't still feel that way, do you Pony?" Darry had to ask. Even though they'd stopped fighting, the feelings that had been revealed in the book might still be there. Darry didn't know what he'd do if his youngest brother still hated him.

"'Course not," Pony answered truthfully and gave his eldest brother a half smile. Darry returned the gesture and felt relief wash over him. He knew that Ponyboy was telling the truth. Ponyboy moved over toward Darry.

Steve seemed to be frozen with shock along with Tim. They'd never guess that the Curtis brothers, who in their eyes seemed to be the tightest family around, felt this was about each other. Steve was a little surprised that Pony's feelings about Darry were worse than Pony's feelings about him.

"Two-Bit and Johnny were staring at me now. "No…" Two-Bit said, dumfounded. "No, Ponyboy, that ain't right…you got it wrong…" "Gee," Johnny said softly, "I thought you and Darry and Soda got along real well…""

"Same here." Tim muttered.

""Well, we don't," I snapped, feeling silly. I knew my ears were red by the way they were burning, and I was thankful for the darkness. I felt stupid. Compared to Johnny's home, mine was heaven. At least Darry didn't get drunk and beat me up or run me out of the house, and I had Sodapop to talk things over with. That made me mad, I mean making a fool of myself in front of everyone. ""And you can shut your trap, Johnny Cade, cause we all know you ain't wanted at home, either. And you can't blame them.""

"Glory, Ponyboy! I didn't know you to be like that," Tim said in complete disbelief.

"I ain't!" Ponyboy snapped. His voice was muffled because his face was jammed back into the pillow.

"I'm surprised Two-Bit didn't flatten you then and there," Soda said quietly.

"I kinda wanted to," Two-Bit admitted.

"Johnny's eyes went round and he winced as thought I'd belted him. Two-bit slapped me a good one across the side of the head, and hard. "Shut your mouth, kid. If you wasn't Soda's kid brother I'd beat the tar out of you. You know better than to talk to Johnny like that." He put his hand on Johnny's shoulder. "He didn't mean it, Johnny.""

Pony, who still hadn't brought his face up from his pillow haven, sighed. "I didn't mean it. Johnny was my buddy, I was mad at myself for being a bit ridiculous and overreacting that I took it out on the closest person. If Two-Bit had said that, I would have bitten his head off too."

The rest of the gang took about five minutes to translate that from pillow-ese, and then nodded their heads.

""I'm sorry," I said miserably. Johnny was my buddy. " I was just mad." "it's the truth." Johnny said with a bleak grin. "I don't care." "Shut up talkin' like that," Two-Bit said fiercely, messing up Johnny's hair. "We couldn't get along without you, so you can just shut up!""

"Wow, Two-Bit. That was impressive." Steve said. As Two-Bit began to puff out his chest, Steve continued. "Were you drunk?"

Two-Bit deflated and glared at the rest of the gang, who were laughing their asses off at his discomfort.

""It ain't fair!" I cried passionately. "It ain't fair that we have all the rough breaks!" I didn't know exactly what I meant, but I was thinking about Johnny's father being a drunk and his mother a selfish slob, and Two-Bit's mother being a barmaid to support him and his kid sister after their father ran out on them, and Dally—wild, cunning Dally—turning into a hoodlum because he'd die if he didn't, and Steve—his hatred for his father coming out in his soft, bitter voice and the violence of his temper. Sodapop…a dropout so he could get a job and keep me in school, and Darry, getting old before his time trying to run a family and hold on to two jobs and never having any fun—while the Socs had so much spare time and money that they jumped us and each other for kicks, had beer blasts and river-bottom parties because they didn't know what else to do. Things were rough all over, all right. All over the East side. It just didn't seem right to me."

Everyone looked at Pony, who was still attempting to imitate an ostrich by hiding his head into the pillow. Two-Bit knew how Pony felt—hell, he'd been there when Pony finally said the words every greaser had thought since the dawn of time. Steve never knew how much the kid noticed, even though he shouldn't have been so surprised. As they read the book, it revealed much about Pony that even his brothers didn't know.

""I know," Two-Bit said with a good-natured grin, "the chips are always down when it's our turn, but that's the way things are. Like it or lump it." Cherry and Marcia didn't say anything. I guess they didn't know what to say. We had forgotten they were there."

"Did Two-Bit say something wise?" Steve asked, Soda rolling on the floor laughing.

"Hey, I can be wise when I want to be."

"Which isn't often." Tim said, which started Soda off again.

"What is this, Pick on Two-Bit day?"

"Yes, yes it is." Darry and Steve said at the exact same time.

"Then the blue Mustang was coming up the street again, more slowly. "Well," Cherry said resignedly, "they've spotted us." The Mustang came to a halt beside us, and the two boys in the front seat got out. They were Socs all right. One had on a white shirt and a madras ski jacket and the other a light-yellow shirt and a wine-colored sweater."

"Okay. The kid notices everything." Steve said, with the air of finality in the tone of his voice. "That's just creepy."

"Shut it, Steve."

"Tell that to my face, kid."

Soda could now see what Steve was doing. By challenging Pony, Pony would have to lift his head off of the pillow and rejoin the group.

"Steve, I'm warning you…"

"Ohh. I'm so scared of someone who's hiding his face in a pillow."

"That's it!"

Steve was then attacked by a sixteen-year-old greaser. The wrestling match gave Soda the time to take the pillow away from Pony's location on the sofa, and lessened the tension that was in the air.

"I looked at their clothes and realized for the first time that evening that all I had was a pair of jeans and Soda's old navy sweat shirt with the sleeves cut short. I swallowed. Two-Bit started to tuck in his shirttail, but stopped himself in time; he just flipped up the collar of his black leather jacket and lit a cigarette. The Socs didn't even seem to see us."

"Didn't I tell you to wear a jacket?" Darry asked. He wasn't nagging; he just was curious why Pony was jacketless.

"No."

"Oh."

"Two-Bit, were you trying to impress the Socs?" Tim asked, drawing the attention away from the Curtis brothers.

"Shut up and let me read."

""Cherry, Marcia, listen to us…" the handsome black-haired Soc with the dark sweater began. Johnny was breathing heavily and I noticed he was staring at the Soc's hand. He was wearing three heaving rings. I looked quickly at Johnny, an idea dawning on me. I remembered that it was a blue mustang that had pulled up beside the vacant lot and that Johnny's face had been cut up by someone wearing rings…"

"Can we go and pound in the heads of the other Socs?" Soda growled.

"Pepsi-Cola/Soda, give it a rest!" Pony and Darry shouted at the same time.

"No."

Pony groaned and Darry slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. His brother could be very stubborn.

"The Soc's voice broke into my thoughts: "…just because we got a little drunk last time…" Cherry looked mad. "A little? You call reeling and passing out in the streets 'a little'? Bob, I told you I'm never going out with you while you're drinking, and I mean it. Too many things could happen while you're drunk. It's me or the booze.""

"Whoa. Two-Bit doesn't even go that far." Steve said, shock evident on his face. Pony began to get worried. Bob and the others were drunk when they jumped him and Johnny. Pony just hoped he'd make it through without having to search for sanctuary in a pillow again.

"The other Soc, a tall guy with a semi-Beatle haircut, turned to Marcia. "Baby, you know we don't get drunk vey often…" When she only gave him a cold stare he got angry. "And even if you are mad at us, that's no reason to go walking the streets with these bums." Two-Bit took a long drag on his cigarette, Johnny slouched his shoulders and hooked his thumbs in his pockets, and I stiffened. We can look meaner than anything when we want to-looking tough comes in handy. Two-Bit put his elbow on Johnny's shoulder. "Who you callin' bums?""

"You, Two-Bit." Soda said, punching his buddy in the arm.

Two-Bit ignored him, but sent him a glare, and kept reading.

""Listen, greasers, we got four more of us in the back seat…" "Then pity the back seat," Two-Bit said to the sky. "If you're looking for a fight…" Two-Bit cocked and eyebrow, but it only made him look more cool. "You mean if I'm looking for a good jumping, you outnumber us, so you'll give it to us? Well…" He snatched up an empty bottle, busted of the end, and gave it to me, then reached in his back pocket and flipped out his switchblade. "Try it pal."

"See, I'm so tuff." Two-Bit grinned with pride.

Smacking with pillows was appropriate.

""No!"Cherry cried. "Stop it!" She looked at Bob. "We'll ride home with you. Just wait a minute." "Why?" Two-Bit demanded. "We ain't scared of them." Cherry shuddered "I can't stand fights… I can't stand them…""

"Sounds like somethin' a Soc broad would say." Tim said.

"Well, I wish she was around later that night." Ponyboy muttered to himself more than the gang.

"What do ya mean kid?" Steve asked, while Soda and Darry looked at their brother inquisitively.

"You'll see. Just keep reading Two-Bit." Pony replied.

"I pulled her to one side. "I couldn't use this," I said, dropping the pop bottle. "I couldn't ever cut anyone…" I had to tell her that, because I'd seen her eyes when Two-Bit flicked out his switch."

"Aw…" Two-Bit teased.

Pony just glared murderously at him.

""I know," she said quietly, "but we'd better go with them. Ponyboy… I mean… if I see you in the hall at school or someplace and don't say hi, well, it's not personal or anything, but…" "I know," I said. "We couldn't let out parents see us with you all. You're a nice boy and everything…" "It's okay," I said, wishing I was dead and buried somewhere. Or at least that I had on a decent shirt. "We aren't in the same class. Just don't forget that some of us watch the sunset too.""

"Well, that sucks." Steve summed up.

"Yeah, just wait. It gets worse." Ponyboy grumbled.

"There's other chicks Pone." Soda said, trying to console his little brother.

"Yeah, I know, I'm over her." Pony retorted.

"She looked at me quickly. "I could fall in love with Dallas Winston," she said. "I hope I never see him again, or I will." She left me standing there with my mouth dropped open, and the blue Mustang vroomed off."

"Told you it got worse." Ponyboy said.

"Wow, Dallas managed to score a Soc broad, too bad he ain't here. Bet he'd get a laugh outa that." Tim remarked.

"We walked on home, mostly in silence. I wanted to ask Johnny if those were the same Socs that had beaten him up, but I didn't mention it. Johnny never talked about it and we never said anything. "Well, those were two good-lookin' girls if I ever saw any." Two-Bit yawned as we sat down on the curb at the vacant lot. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and tore it up. "What was that?" "Marcia's number. Probably a phony one, too. I must have been outa my mind to ask for it. I think I'm a little soused.""

"Oooo…" Steve teased Two-Bit.

"Shut up, Randle." Two-Bit said, while glaring.

"So he had been drinking. Two-Bit was smart. He knew the score. "Ya'll goin' home?" he asked. "Not right now," I said. I wanted to have another smoke ad to watch the stars. I had to be in by twelve, but I thought I had plenty of time. "I don't know why I handed you that busted bottle," Two-Bit said, getting to his feet. "You'd never use it." "Maybe I would have," I said. "Where you headed?""

"I like these two chapters; I've been complimented a lot. I like it, thanks kid." Two-Bit remarked, grinning at Ponyboy.

"No problem Two-Bit." Pony replied, shaking his head and smirking at the older greaser.

""Gonna go play a little snooker and hunt up a poker game. Maybe get rip-roarin' drunk. I dunno. See ya'll tomorrow." Johnny and I stretched out on our backs and looked at the stars. It was freezing-it was a cold night and all I had was that sweat shirt, but I could watch stars in sub-zero weather. I saw Johnny's cigarette glowing in the dark and wondered vaguely what it was like inside a burning ember…"

"There ya go again kid, thinking and thinking…" Steve droned on.

"Well, at least I find something useful to do in my spare time. Unlike SOME people." Ponyboy retorted angrily.

"Guys, stop okay, please. Just let Two-Bit read." Soda smiled, trying to make peace.

"Alright, alright." Pony and Steve both said.

""It was because we're greasers," Johnny said, and I know he was talking about Cherry. "We could have hurt her reputation." "I reckon," I said, wondering if I ought to tell Johnny what she had said about Dallas. "Man, that was a tuff car. Mustangs are tuff." "Big-time Socs, all right," I said, a nervous bitterness growing inside me. It wasn't fair for the Socs to have everything. We were as good as they were; it wasn't out fault we were greasers. I couldn't just take it or leave it, like Two-Bit, or ignore it and love life anyway, like Sodapop, or harden myself beyond caring, like Dally, or actually enjoy it, like Tim Shepard. I felt the tension growing inside of me and I knew something had to happen or I would explode."

"Good Lord, do you like observe us all, how do you know this?" Soda said.

"It's official the kid knows absolutely everything, but yet he's still a smartass." Steve commented.

""I can't take much more." Johnny spoke my own feelings. "I'll kill myself or something.""

The room was silent; none of the gang had known that Johnny felt that way except Ponyboy.

""Don't," I said, sitting up in alarm. "You can't kill yourself, Johnny."

"Well, I won't. But I gotta do something. It seems like there's gotta be someplace without greasers or Socs, with just people. Plain ordinary people." "Out if the big towns," I said, lying back down. "In the country…""

"Jeez, no wonder you two got along, you both think too much when you actually talk." Two-Bit remarked.

"Yeah, we just got each other." Ponyboy said looking down at the ground.

Soda put his arm around Pony's shoulders, along with Darry.

"In the country… I loved the country. I wanted to be out of towns and away from excitement. I only wanted to lie on my back under a tree and read a book or draw a picture, and not worry about being jumped or carrying a blade or ending up married to some scatterbrained broad with no sense. The country would be like that, I thought dreamily. I would have a yeller cur dog, like I used to , and Sodapop could get Mickey Mouse back and ride in all the rodeos he wanted to , and Darry would lose that cold, hard look and be like he used to be, eight months ago, before Mom and Dad were killed. Since I was dreaming I brought Mom and Dad back to life… Mom could bake some more chocolate cakes and Dad would drive the pickup out early to feed the cattle. He would slap Darry on the back and tell him he was getting to be a man, a regular chip off the block, and they would be as close as they used to be. Maybe Johnny could come and live with us, and the gang could come out on weekends, and maybe Dallas would see that there was some good in the world after all, and Mom would talk to him and make him grin in spite of himself. "You've got quite a mom," Dally used to say. "She knows the score." She could talk to Dallas and kept him from getting into a lot of trouble. My mother was golden and beautiful…"

The gang sat in silence, each member imagining what Pony had described would be like.

"Wow, Pone." Soda breathed out.

"It'd be great wouldn't it?" Ponyboy asked, wistfully.

"Yeah, Little Colt, it would." Darry said, tightening his grip on his youngest brothers' shoulders.

""Ponyboy"-Johnny was shaking me-"Hey, Pony, wake up." I sat up, shivering. The stars had moved. "Glory, what time is it?" "I don't know. I went to sleep, too, listening to you rattle on and on. You'd better get home. I think I'll stay all night out here." Johnny's parents didn't care of he came home or not."

"You sure we can't beat Johnny's parents up?" Soda asked, while Steve and Tim nodded encouragingly.

Darry and Pony sent the three a look.

"Okay, okay, just wondering." Soda said, holding his hands up in surrender.

""Okay." I yawned. Gosh, but it was cold. "If you get cold or something come on over to our house." "Okay."

"I swear I told you to bring a jacket." Darry remarked.

"I ran home, trembling at the thought of facing Darry."

"Yeah, maybe Darry will ground you, it was long time coming kid." Steve said.

The three Curtis brothers looked at each other, not saying anything. That night was permanently engrained in their head.

"The porch light was on. Maybe they were asleep and I could sneak in, I thought. I peeked in the window. Sodapop was stretched out on the sofa, sound asleep, but Darry was in the armchair under the lamp, reading the newspaper. I gulped, and opened the door softly. Darry looked up from his paper. He was on his feet in a second. I stood there, chewing on my fingernail."

"You ever stop that habit kid?" Two-Bit said, trying to lighten the tension that had settled around the room.

Ponyboy shrugged his shoulders.

""Where the heck have you been? Do you know what time it is?" He was madder than I'd seen him in a long time. I shook my head wordlessly. "Well, it's two in the morning, kiddo. Another hour and I would have had the police our after you. Where were you, Ponyboy?"- his voice was rising- "Where in the almighty universe were you?" I sounded dumb, even to me, when I stammered, "I… I went to sleep in the lot…""

"Hey, at least the kid recognized it was dumb." Steve said.

"Contrary to popular belief, I'm not totally oblivious." Pony defended quietly, while the comment was meant to be sarcastic it came out as defending and maybe remorseful.

Soda ruffled Pony's hair noticing the remorse in his voice.

""You what?" He was shouting, and Sodapop sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Hey, Ponyboy," he said sleepily, "where ya been?""

Steve, Tim, and Two-Bit snorted.

"Nice ice-breaker, Soda." Two-Bit said.

Soda just smiled hesitantly.

` ""I didn't mean to." I pleaded with Darry. "I was talking to Johnny and we both dropped off…" "I reckon it never occurred to you that your brothers might be worrying their heads off and afraid to call the police because something like that could get you two thrown in a boys' home so quick it'd make you head spin. And you were asleep in the lot? Ponyboy, what on earth is the matter with you? Can't you use your head? You haven't even got a coat on." I felt hot tears of anger and frustration rising. "I said I didn't mean to…""

The anxiety from the book and the three brothers was spreading in the room, so no one bothered to try and ease it.

""I didn't mean to!" Darry shouted, and I almost shook. "I didn't think! I forgot! That's all I ever hear out of you! Can't you think of anything?" "Darry…" Sodapop began, but Darry turned on him. "You keep your trap shut! I'm sick and tired of hearin' you stick up for him.""

"Jeez Superman, don't have to get all mad at Soda. Obviously it was the kid's fault." Steve said, feeling a need to protect his best friend.

"Steve, don't." Soda said.

Steve looked confused at Soda, but dropped the subject.

"He should never yell at Soda. Nobody should ever holler at my brother. I exploded. "You don't yell at him!" I shouted. Darry wheeled around and slapped me so hard that it knocked me against the door."

The whole room fell silent.

Darry was staring at the same hand that had hit Ponyboy two years ago.

Ponyboy looked at Darry worriedly, wondering if Darry was going to stay to listen to the rest of the story.

All eyes in the room fell on Darry.

Darry only met Ponyboy's gaze. Pony's expression wasn't anger, resentment, or even pity (which is what everyone else's expressions were full of, pity), but more of worry for Darry. Pony had forgiven Darry a long time ago, but Darry had never quiet gotten over that night.

Two-Bit looked back at the book and kept reading.

"Suddenly it was deathly quiet. We had all frozen. Nobody in my family had ever hit me. Nobody. Soda was wide-eyed. Darry looked at the palm of his had where it had turned red and then looked back at me. His eyes were huge. "Ponyboy…" I turned and ran out the door and down the street as fast as I could. Darry screamed, "Pony, I didn't mean to!" but I was at the lot by then and pretended I couldn't hear. I was running away. It was plain to me that Darry didn't want me around. And I wouldn't stay of he did. He wasn't ever going to hit me again."

"I was so afraid that you'd never come back home," Darry and Soda said to Ponyboy at the same time.

They smiled at each other halfheartedly, Soda more than Darry.

Ponyboy smiled at Darry, hoping to cheer him up a little.

Ponyboy, Soda, and Darry unconsciously moved closer to each other.

Two-Bit smiled ever so slightly at the loving brother moment, along with Steve.

Tim stared at his shoe, missing his younger brother who got jailed again.

""Johnny?" I called, and started when he rolled over and jumped up almost under my feet. "Come on Johnny, we're running away." Johnny asked no questions. We ran for several blocks until we were out of breath. Then we walked. I was crying by then. I finally just sat down on the curb and cried, burying my face in my arms. Johnny sat down beside me, one hand on my shoulder. "Easy, Ponyboy," he said softly, "we'll be okay." I finally calmed down and wiped my eyes on my bare arm. My breath was coming in quivering sobs. "Gotta cigarette?" He handed me one and struck a match. "Johnny, I'm scared." "Well, don't be. You're scarin' me. What happened? I never seen you bawl like that.""

"I should have been there for you." Soda and Darry, once again, said at the same time.

"It's okay guys, I probably wouldn't have listened anyways. It's okay, it's over and done with." Pony assured them.

""I don't very often. It was Darry. He hit me. I don't know what happened, but I couldn't take him hollering at me and hitting me too. I don't know… sometimes we get along okay, then all of a sudden he blows up on me or else is naggin' at me all the time. He didn't use to be like that… we used to get along okay… before Mom and Dad died. Now he just can't stand me.""

"I was just trying to do the right thing and… I don't know it's hard sometimes." Darry said.

"I know Dar, you shouldn't have to be a parent at your age, life's not fair, but I don't feel that way anymore. I was young and angry, I'm sorry. I never think of you like that… I love you." Pony declared, his voice soft, but still strong with confidence.

"I love you too Pony." Darry told his younger brother, giving him a sideways hug.

Soda smiled brightly at them, and joined the hug.

Two-Bit smiled and continued reading.

""I think I like it better when the old man's hittin' me." Johnny sighed. "At least then I know he knows who I am. I walk in that house, and nobody says anything. I walk out, and nobody notices. At least you got Soda. I ain't got nobody." "Shoot," I said, startled out of my misery, "you got the whole gang. Dally didn't slug you tonight 'cause you're the pet. I mean, golly, Johnny, you got the whole gang." "It ain't the same as having you own folks care about you," Johnny said simply. "It just ain't the same.""

"Now, I see why you two were such good buddies." Two-Bit said, thoughtfully.

"Were…" Pony muttered quietly.

Soda and Darry heard him, but they were the only ones, and they subtly squeezed his shoulders reassuringly.

"I was beginning to relax and wonder if running away was such a great idea. I was sleepy and freezing to death and I wanted to be home in bed, safe and warm under the covers with Soda's arm across me. I decided I would go home and just not speak to Darry. It was my house as much as Darry's, and if he wanted to pretend I wasn't alive, that was just fine with me. He couldn't stop me from living in my own house."

"I'm sorry." Darry said.

"Stop apologizing Darry, it happened. I forgave you a long time ago. Can you forgive yourself enough to move on?" Pony asked.

Darry thought and then nodded.

"When did you get so wise little brother?" Darry and Soda asked.

"Would you guys stop that! It's creepy…" Two-Bit complained.

They all laughed the tension and stress the chapter caused slowly evaporating.

""Let's walk to the park and back. Then maybe I'll be cooled off enough to go home." "Okay," Johnny said easily. "Okay." Things gotta get better, I figured. They couldn't get worse. I was wrong."

"Yay!" Two-Bit cheered. "

Yay? Things are gonna get worse according to the ending, and you're cheering?" Steve teased, as he hit Two-Bit with a pillow.

"Who's gonna read next?" Darry asked after he broke up the wrestling match between Steve and Two-Bit.

"How about we let the author read the next chapter?" Two-Bit suggested.

"No," Ponyboy said flatly. He knew what was in the next chapter. Steve, Soda, and Two-Bit all exchanged glances before breaking into a chant.

"Pone-eey! Pone-eey!" The chanted, before they were met with flying pillows from both Darry and Ponyboy.

"Fine! I'll read if y'all will just shut your traps!"

Lupelovell345: Hey! Sorry guys for the long update, we both have been busy with summer activities and school starting Hopefully we will update sooner for the next chapter! Thank you to all the amazing reviewers, which are our inspiration to write the chapters. A special thank you to Today-Only-Happens-Once for their suggestions! Again remember to review!

Ginnyrules27: Wow! 71 reviews! I'm impressed that so many people like this story. Don't worry. We'll try to not take so long with the next chapter. Again, thanks to Today-Only-Happens-Once for supplying us with comment ideas. We'd never make it through without them.

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