The gang reads

Chapter 5

Chapter Five

A/N: I do not own the Outsiders

"Okay." Pony groaned. He still couldn't believe he got roped into doing this. "Chapter Four."

"The park was about two blocks square, with a fountain in the middle and a small swimming pool for the little kids. The pool was empty now in the fall, but the fountain was going merrily."

"Why do I have a feeling that this fountain is going to be important later? I mean, Pony keeps mentioning it." Soda remarked.

"And he says he's dumb," Darry muttered under his breath.

"Tall elm trees made the park shadowy and dark, and it would have been a good hangout, but we preferred our vacant lot and the Shepard outfit liked the alleys down by the tracks, so the park was left to lovers and little kids. Nobody was around at two-thirty in the morning, and it was a good place to relax and cool off. I couldn't have gotten much cooler without turning into a popsicle."

"Okay. I know I told you to put on a jacket. Why didn't you?"

"I don't know. It was two years ago."

"How does Pony know where my gang likes to hang out? I mean, he's never hung out with us."

"Curly is one of my friends."

"Johnny snapped up his jeans jacket and flipped up the collar. "Ain't you about to freeze to death, Pony?" "You ain't a'woofin'," I said, rubbing my bare arms between drags on my cigarette. I started to say something about the film of ice developing on the outer edges of the fountain when a sudden blast from a car horn made us both jump."

The tension in the room grew. Everyone remembered the events from the last chapter, and knew that the Socs would try to get revenge.

"The blue Mustang was circling the park slowly. Johnny swore under his breath, and I muttered, "What do they want? This is our territory. What are Socs doing this far east?" Johnny shook his head. "I don't know. But I bet they're looking for us. We picked up their girls." "Oh, glory," I said with a groan, "this is all I need to top off a perfect night.""

Soda and Darry looked at their little brother. He seemed tense, but was trying to hide it. He failed at that. Soda could just tell by the way his fingers were tightening on the page of the book that something was bothering Pony, something he really didn't want the others to know about.

"I took one last drag on my weed and ground the stub under my heel. "Want to run for it?" "It's too late now," Johnny said. "Here they come." Five Socs were coming straight at us, and from the way they were staggering I figured they were reeling pickled."

"This is where you run, right?" Steve asked. "I mean, if they're drunk, they wouldn't be able to catch you? You are the fastest of the gang, car or no car."

Pony groaned, how could he have forgotten all the times he had to get away from Two-Bit when he was drunk? Everyone else, though, was so nervous that they didn't even notice the fact that Steve paid Pony a compliment that didn't insult him in some way.

"That scared me. A cool deadly buff could sometimes shake them off, but not if they outnumbered you five to one and were drunk. Johnny's hand went to his back pocket and I remembered his switchblade. I wished for that broken bottle. I'd sure show them I could use it if I had to . Johnny was scared to death. I mean it. He was as white as a ghost and his eyes were wild-looking, like the eyes of any animal in a trap."

Darry looked at his youngest brother, and two things came to light. The first thing was he would finally learn what really happened that night after Pony ran off, the second thing was that he found himself not wanting to know. If Pony didn't tell him straight off when he came home, it was either really bad or really embarrassing.

Soda's eyes widened a tad when Pony read the part about how he'd use that broken soda bottle. His baby brother must have been really scared; he'd never attempt to use a weapon otherwise.

"We backed against the fountain and the Socs surrounded us. They smelled so heavily of whiskey and English Leather that I almost choked. I wished desperately that Darry and Soda would come along hunting for me. The four of us could handle them easily."

Soda and Darry locked eyes for a minute, each one thinking the same as the other. 'We should have gone after him.'

"Ummm? You guys okay?" Two-Bit asked. The three Curtis brothers seemed way too tense. Steve glared at him. It seemed that even Tim grasped the severity of what was going on.

"But no one was around, and I knew that Johnny and I were going to have to fight it out alone. Johnny had a blank, tough look on his face—you'd have had to know him to see the panic in his eyes. I stared at the Socs coolly. Maybe they could scare us to death, but we'd never let them have the satisfaction of knowing it."

"Dally'd be proud." Tim muttered. He felt kinda guilty for beating up Dallas, but the idiot did slash his tires.

"It was Randy and Bob and three other Socs, and they recognized us. I knew Johnny recognized them; he was watching the moonlight glint off of Bob's rings with huge eyes."

"Please, please," Soda begged. "Let me go pick a fight with one of those Socs."

"No Soda!"

"You're no fun."

""Hey, whatta ya know?" Bob said a little unsteadily, "here's the greasers that picked up our girls. Hey, greasers." "You're out of your territory," Johnny warned in a low voices. "You'd better watch it." Randy swore at us and they stepped in closer. Bob was eyeing Johnny. "Nup, pal, yer the ones who'd better watch it. Next time you want a broad, pick up yer own kind—dirt." I was getting mad. I was hating them enough to lose my head."

"The NERVE of those little-" Two-Bit shouted, standing up.

"Two-Bit!" Ponyboy barked a warning. Two-Bit sat down reluctantly.

Actual growls could be heard from Steve, Soda and Tim.

"Soda, knock it off." Darry said, slapping his younger brother in the back of the head with a pillow.

""You know what a greaser is?" Bob asked. "White trash with long hair." I felt the blood draining from my face. I've been cussed out and sworn at, but nothin never hit me like that did. Johnnycake made a kind of gasp and his eyes were smoldering. "You know what a Soc is?" I said, my voice shaking with rage. "White trash with Mustangs and madras." And then, because I couldn't think of anything bad enough to call them, I spit at them."

"Whoo!" Two-Bit hollered.

"Go Pony!" Soda screamed.

"Show them who's boss!" Steve talked loudly.

"Bob shook his head, smiling slowly. "You could use a bath, greaser. And a good working over. And we've got all night to do it. Give the kid a bath, David." I ducked and tried to run for it, but the Soc caught my arm and twisted it behind my back, and shoved my face into the fountain."

All the good natured frillolity that was in the room faded. The tension was tangible.

Darry looked at the book with wide eyes. He'd no idea how close he'd been to losing another member of his family, and at that time Pony thought Darry had hated him. Darry didn't know what he'd do if Pony had died that day.

"I fought, but the hand at the back of my neck was strong and I had to hold my breath. I'm dying, I thought, and wondered what was happening to Johnny. I couldn't hold my breath any longer. I fought again desperately but only sucked in water. I'm drowning, I thought, they've gone too far… A red haze filled my mind and I slowly relaxed. The next thing I knew I was lying on the pavement beside the fountain, coughing water and gasping. I lay there weakly, breathing in air and spitting out water. "

Soda moved over and sat next to Pony. He wrapped his arms around his younger brother protectively. Ponyboy squirmed, but Soda held him there. For once, he honestly didn't care if he didn't look tuff. He had just learned that his kid brother nearly died. He didn't care how tuff anyone was, something like that would make someone thankful for what they have.

Darry had his head in his hands, and no one was sure if he was crying or not. Frankly, Darry was too shocked to cry. He couldn't help but blame himself for this, as he reminded himself that it was him who drove him away that night, and ultimately into the Socs' grasp.

Tim was standing there, dumbfounded. He knew Socs could be rough, but not that much. Even most Socs had enough heart not to seriously try to kill a kid.

Two-Bit and Steve both stared at Ponyboy, never having known (for two years) that Ponyboy had been through much more than they ever suspected. More than anyone suspected.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Soda said quietly.

"It wasn't important," Pony mumbled, still trying to squirm free.

"Not important?" Darry asked, looking up. "Pony, you almost died."

"Almost," Ponyboy pointed out. "I didn't."

"You should've have told us," Soda said, releasing Pony. Ponyboy didn't respond. Instead he picked up his paper and kept reading.

"The wind blasted through my soaked sweat shirt and dripping hair. My teeth chattered unceasingly and I couldn't stop them. I finally pushed myself up and leaned back on the fountain, the water dripping down on my face."

"I guess the jacket would have been useless," Darry muttered. He looked at Soda, and what he saw frightened him. The carefree boy seemed, for once, to look all of his nineteen years. Serious, somber and worried. Then Darry remembered that Pony had been found a week later. 'Oh God. What happened?'

"Then I saw Johnny."

"Why? WHAT'S WRONG WITH JOHNNY?"

"Two-Bit, I'm gonna kill you. I'm too young to go deaf." Pony muttered, as Two-Bit had screamed right in his ear. Everyone else, though, seemed ready to murder all the Socs that were there that night, even Darry.

"He was sitting next to me, one elbow on his knee, and staring straight ahead. He was a strange greenish-white, and his eyes were huger than I'd ever seen them. "I killed him," he said slowly. "I killed that boy." Bob, the handsome Soc, was lying there in the moonlight, doubled up and still."

"Wow, so Johnny had been the one to kill him." Tim muttered, in shock. Which could describe everyone besides Pony. They had all doubted that anyone as innocent as Johnny (innocent for a greaser, at least) could take another life. That was like Pony not dreaming or Two-Bit actually passing his classes.

"A dark pool was growing from him, spreading slowly over the blue-white cement. I looked at Johnny's hand. He was clutching his switchblade, and it was dark to the hilt. My stomach gave a violent jump and my blood turned icy. "Johnny," I managed to say, fighting the dizziness, "I think I 'm gonna be sick.""

Steve and Tim were also trying to keep the contents of their lunches inside their stomachs. Two-Bit, who might have been drunk this entire time, ran to the bathroom to retch. Darry closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose to try to keep the welling panic down. Soda, well, he was hugging Pony to death. Again.

"Soda, let our little brother go." Darry said, thankful for the distraction. "He needs air."

"Thanks Dar." Pony said after his (insane) older brother let go of him.

"Go ahead," he said in the same steady voice. "I won't look at you."

"Good friend." Tim said.

"Yeah, he was." Pony said softly, reminding everyone that the loss was still deep for Pony, and stopped commenting. Pony began to read.

"I turned my head and was quietly sick for a minute. Then I leaned back and closed my eyes so I wouldn't see Bob lying there. This can't be happening. This can't be happening. This can't be…"

"But it happened!"

"Two-Bit, have you lost control of your mouth?" Pony snapped. Then before anyone knew what happened, he dropped the book and ran out of the house.

"What just happened?" Tim asked.

"I really don't know." Darry replied, worried. It was still pouring outside and Pony had, once again, forgotten his jacket.

"I'll go get him." Steve offered. At everyone's looks, he shrugged. "Look, he's ready to kill Two-Bit right now. Darry and Soda could bring him back, but he'd just lock himself in his room again, and Tim, well, he just scares anyone he tries to cheer up."

"The man has a point." Tim said, smirking.

"I'll be back."

Steve grabbed his jacket and started looking for Ponyboy. He didn't have to look far. The kid was at the park, attempting to destroy his hands by fighting with a tree.

"Hey, kid." Steve sat down and just watched Pony.

"Hey, Steve." Pony said, once he'd calmed down enough to see that he was using a tree as a punching bag.

"So, why'd you run out on us?" Steve asked. For one thing, the sooner he knew the sooner he could get out of the rain. For another, he really thought Pony was enjoying himself.

"Two-Bit pissed me off."

"You know that's not the reason. If Two-Bit had really pissed you off, you'd just throw a pillow at him and call it a day. Or wrestle with him. What's going on in that head of yours?"

"I'm just—just scared, all right." Pony hated to admit it, to Steve of all people. "This is why I didn't want to read this chapter."

Steve thought about this for a minute. Then he realized that the kid had a point. Why would you want to relive your most traumatic experience with people who had no idea what went on that night? Why would you want to relive the actions that changed not only your life, but the life of your best friend? Steve tried to picture himself without Soda, and couldn't. He couldn't imagine what the kid must be going through.

"Okay, Pony." Steve got up and helped Pony up as well. "Here's our story. Two-Bit pissed you off. Plain and simple."

"Really?"

"Yeah, because admitting we got all emotional out here is not good for our reps."

"Race ya."

"No fair." Steve shouted, as Pony had started before Steve had agreed. He caught up to the speed demon just as they were approaching the Curtis's front porch.

"Put a dry shirt on, Pon." Darry called out just as Pony stepped in the house.

"So, Steve," Two-Bit began, "Why did the kid run out on us?"

"You pissed him off."

Any further comments were prevented by Pony's reemergence into the living room. Steve was relieved to see that he had managed to bandage his hands.

"Shall we continue?"

"You really killed him, huh, Johnny?" "Yeah." His voice quavered slightly. "I had to. They were drowning you, Pony. They might have killed you. And they had a blade… they were going to beat me up…"

"No good, lousy Socs." Soda growled.

"Pepsi, cool it."

"No, I want to go and have it out with the Socs."

"You got your revenge by bashing in the heads of some of the Socs at the rumble." Pony pointed out.

"Still, someone needs to teach the Socs that they can't pick on people smaller than them."

"That's like the Socs not having money. It's never gonna happen." Tim remarked.

""Like…"—I swallowed—"like they did before?" Johnny was quiet for a minute. "Yeah," he said, "like they did before." Johnny told me what had happened. "They ran when I stabbed him. They all ran…" A panic was rising in me as I listened to Johnny's quiet voice go on and on. "Johnny!" I nearly screamed. "What are we gonna do? They put you in the electric chair for killing people!""

"Err, Pon? You might want to speak up." Soda mentioned. "We couldn't hear any of that."

Darry glanced at his youngest brother with concern. Pony was never a shy person, and never minded reading out loud (How do you think he learned to read? Magic?).

"I heard it," Two-Bit said, with a smug grin on his face. It faded when he saw all the eyes on him. "The no-good Socs would have jumped Johnnycake like they did before if Johnny hadn't stabbed the Soc that was holding Pony under the water. Pony here had a little panic attack."

"Oh."

Pony, who didn't want anyone asking him if he was okay, continued to read.

"I was shaking. I want a cigarette. I want a cigarette. I want a cigarette. We had smoked our last pack. "I'm scared, Johnny. What are we gonna do?" Johnny jumped up and dragged me up by my sweatshirt. He shook me. "Calm down, Ponyboy. Get ahold of yourself." I hadn't realized I was screaming."

"Shut it, Two-Bit." Pony growled at his laughing friend.

"Why should I?"

Pony launched himself at the twenty year old, and threw everyone (except Tim) into an extreme case of Déjà-vu. Darry, with the help of Tim, managed to pry the two apart.

"Man, Pony." Two-Bit said, panting and rubbing his arm where Pony had kicked him. "You should go out for wrestling."

"I'll do that when you graduate, Two-Bit."

"Great, now I want a cigarette." Steve said, oblivious to the conversation going on. Everyone else burst out laughing at him.

"I shook loose. "Okay," I said, "I'm okay now." Johnny looked around, slapping his pockets nervously. "We gotta get outa here. Get somewhere. Run away. The police'll be here soon" I was trembling, and it wasn't all from cold. But Johnny, except for the fact that his hands were twitching, looked as cool as Darry ever had."

Steve started cracking up.

"What is so funny?" Pony asked.

"Of all the, now let's be honest here, terrible things you've said about Darry since the beginning of this, you compliment him during a time like this," Steve said.

The gang smiled, and Ponyboy continued reading.

""We'll need money. And maybe a gun. And a plan." Money. Maybe a gun? A plan. Where in the world would we get these things? "Dally," Johnny said with finality. "Dally'll get us outa here." I heaved a sigh. Why hadn't I thought of that? But I never thought of anything. Dallas Winston could do anything. "Where can we find him?" "I think at Buck Merril's place. There's a party over there tonight. Dally said somethin' about it this afternoon." Buck Merril was Dally's rodeo partner. He was the one who'd got Dally the job as a jockey for the Slash J. Buck raised a few quarter horses, and made most of his money on fixed races and a little bootlegging. I was under strict orders from both Darry and Soda not to get caught within ten miles of his place, which was dandy with me."

"And for a good reason, Ponyboy!" Darry and Soda both scolded.

Ponyboy smiled and rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah. Trust me, I ain't ever goin there again," Ponyboy said. Leaving out the fact that he didn't want to be there the first time. He kept reading.

"I didn't like Buck Merril. He was a tall lanky cowboy with blond hair and buckteeth. Or he used to be bucktoothed before he had the front two teeth knocked out in a fight. He was out of it. He dug Hank Williams—how gross can you get?"

The gang couldn't help but laugh despite the seriousness of the situation.

"Buck answered the door when we knocked, and a roar of cheap music came with him. The clinking of glasses, loud, rough laughter and female giggles and Hank Williams. It scraped on my raw nerves like sandpaper."

"Note to self: Avoid Buck's place when panicking." Two-Bit muttered under his breath. Unfortunately for him, Pony heard him. Luckily, Soda also heard him and therefore smacked him over the head before Pony could attack him again.

"A can in one hand, Buck glared down at us. "Whatta ya want?" "Dally!" Johnny gulped, looking back over his shoulder. "We gotta see Dally." "He's busy," Buck snapped, and someone in his living room yelled "A-ha!" and then "Yee-ha", and the sound of it almost made my nerves snap."

"You notice way too much, Pon." Soda said after a few minutes. It had taken him those minutes to get the fact that his little brother was disobeying him and was talking to Buck.

"Yeah, yeah. Get yer jollies." Pony muttered. He was tired of everyone pointing out how much he noticed. 'I mean, we've only read four chapters. How much will we have ta read before they realize I observe a lot?'

""Tell him it's Pony and Johnny," I commanded. I knew Buck, and the only way you could get anything from him was to bully him. I guess that's why Dallas could handle him so easily, although Buck was in his mid-twenties and Dally was seventeen."

"Question." Two-Bit said. "If you're not allowed to go within ten feet of Buck's place, how do you know so much about him?"

"Answer." Pony said, mimicking the elder greaser. "To quote every person in this room, I notice way too much. Also, he was Dally's partner at rodeos. When Soda used to race, I would see him there. Dally or someone else would be bullying him and he'd do what they wanted."

"Oh."

""He'll come." Buck glared at me for a second, then stumbled off. He was pretty well crocked, which made me apprehensive. If Dally was drunk and in a dangerous mood…"

"Dun, dun, dun!" Two-Bit and Steve sang under their breath.

"You're both idiots." Darry flat out stated.

"That hurts, Darry."

"Good."

"If I can continue to read?" Pony injected himself into the conversation. "The sooner I finish, the sooner we can grab some lunch." That got the attention of every greaser and soon the room was silent.

"He appeared in a few minutes, clad only in a pair of low-cut blue jeans, scratching the hair on his chest. He was sober enough, and that surprised me. Maybe he hadn't been there long."

"You wish kid." Tim said with a smirk. "He was there since five."

"You know this how?" Steve asked.

"Where do you think the fight happened?"

"PEOPLE!" Pony shouted. He was really getting annoyed with the constant interruptions.

""Okay, kids, whatta ya need me for?" as Johnny told him the story, I studied Dally, trying to figure out what there was about this tough-looking hood that a girl like Cherry Valance could love."

"Pony, are you jealous?" Soda asked, his face showing his disbelief.

"No."

"I think you are." Steve said, getting in to the game. Seeing as Pony was the last member of the gang to get into girls, the rest of them were permitted in their mocking.

"Prove it."

"Towheaded and shifty-eyed, Dally was anything but handsome."

Pony felt his ears turn the reddest they had ever been. The other members of the room started laughing.

"Looks like we found our proof." Two-Bit said, laughing his head off.

"That proves nothing." Pony stubbornly tried to deny that he had actually been jealous of Dallas Winston.

"Proves everything, little man." Darry said, smirking.

"Yet in his hard face there was character, pride and a savaged defiance of the world. He could never love Cherry Valance back. It would be a miracle if Dally loved anything."

"Stupid, stupid." Pony muttered under his breath.

"The fight for self-preservation had hardened him beyond caring. He didn't bat an eye when Johnny told him what had happened, only grinned and said "Good for you" when Johnny told how he had knifed the Soc. Finally Johnny finished. "We figured you could get us out if anyone could. I'm sorry we got you away from the party.""

"Knowing Dally, he was probably in the bedroom." Steve said, smirking.

""Oh, shoot, kid"—Dally glanced contemptuously over his shoulder—"I was in the bedroom.""

"See."

"Yeah, yeah. You're a genius."

"He suddenly stared at me. "Glory, but your ears can get red, Ponyboy." I was remembering what usually went on in the bedroom at Buck's parties,"

The whole room fell into fits of hysterical laughter, even Darry. Ponyboy blushed beet red and hurried on.

"Then Dally grinned in amused realization. "It wasn't anything like that, kid. I was asleep, or tryin' to be, with all this racked. Hank Williams"—he rolled his eyes and added a few adjectives after 'Hank Williams.'"

"How many times had I told him—"

"Not to curse in front of me, I know." Pony interrupted Darry before he could get into a full rant.

""Me and Shepard had a run-in and I cracked some ribs. I just needed a place to lay over." He rubbed his side ruefully. "Ol' Tim sure can't pack a punch. He won't be able to see outa one eye for a week.""

"Ain't that the truth," Tim grinned. "Dal's got a mean right hook."

"He looked us over and sighed. "Well, wait a sec and I'll see what I can do about this mess." Then he took a good look at me. "Ponyboy, are you wet?" "Y-y-yes-s," I stammered through chattering teeth. "Glory hallelujah!" He opened the screen door and pulled me in, motioning for Johnny to follow. "You'll die of pneumonia 'fore the cops ever get you.""

"He had to say that." Pony muttered before Soda squeezed him again.

"Soda, let the kid go." Steve chuckled, but anyone could see that he was nervous. There was a lot about the kid that he didn't know.

"He half-dragged me into an empty bedroom, swearing at me all the way. "Get that sweat shirt off." He threw a towel at me. "Dry off and wait here. At least Johnny's got his jeans jacket. You out to know better than to run away in just a sweat shirt and a wet one at that. Don't you ever use your head?" He sounded so much like Darry that I stared at him."

"First Johnny, now Dally. Man, who are you going to compare to Darry next?" Soda said, laughing. Steve joined in. Darry just rolled his eyes, and whacked both of them with a pillow.

"Shut up you two."

"He didn't notice, and left us sitting on the bed. Johnny laid back on it. "Wish I had me a weed." My knees were shaking as I finished drying off, sitting there in my jeans. Dally appeared after a minute. He carefully shut the door. "Here"—he handed us a gun and a roll of bills—"the gun's loaded. For Pete's sake, Johnny, don't point the thing at me. Here's fifty bucks. That's all I could get out of Merril tonight. He's blowin' his loot from the last race.""

"If that boy wasn't cold in the ground, I'd—"

"Kill him myself." Soda finished for his elder brother. Here they had been worrying for Pony and Dally knew where he was the whole time.

"You might have thought it was Dally who fixed those races for Buck, being a jockey and all, but it wasn't. The last guy to suggest it lost three teeth. It's the truth. Dally rode the ponies honestly and did his best to win. It was the only thing Dally did honestly. "Pony, do Darry and Sodapop know about this?" I shook my head. Dally sighed. "Boy howdy, I ain't itchin' to be the one to tell Darry and get my head busted.""

"Please, I'd wait until after I had my little brother back home before killing him." Darry said, rolling his eyes.

""Then don't tell him." I said. I hated to worry Sodapop, and would have liked to let him know I had gotten this far okay, but I didn't care if Darry worried himself gray-headed."

Darry got up. He couldn't hear anymore. He didn't want to hear how his youngest brother hated him, and thought that he had hated Ponyboy. He didn't want to hear about his youngest brother almost drowning, or running away because Johnny had saved his life. He stepped outside, on the back porch. He hadn't noticed Soda following him.

"Darry, what are you doing?" he asked. "Are you beating yourself up for something that happened two years ago?"

"If only it were that simple Soda." He murmured.

"Look, Pony should have told us about this, but I'm sure it's just his imagination when he talks about you."

"Really? Then why do I feel so miserable when he says it? How do I know that some of those feelings aren't still there?" Darry asked his little brother. "You don't have to worry about that. I've heard nothing but good things from him about you."

"Darry."

Both of the elder Curtis brothers turned around to see Pony standing there.

"Dar, look. I'm sorry about what I wrote. Come inside and hear the rest. If not for me then because you and Soda are getting soping wet and probably going to catch a cold. Oh, and because Steve and Tim are fighting."

Those were the magic words. Both Soda and Darry ran back inside the house to see that no one had been fighting.

"Pay up, Tim." Steve smirked.

"Smartass."

"I was too tired to tell myself I was being mean and unreasonable. I convinced myself it wouldn't be fair to make Dally tell him. Darry would beat him to death for giving us the money and the gun and getting us out of town."

"You bet I would," Darry mumbled.

"But you didn't." Two-Bit stated.

"I sure as anything wanted to," Darry finished.

"Here!" Dally handed me a shirt about sixty-million sizes too big. "It's Buck's—you and him ain't exactly the same size but it's dry." He handed me his worn brown leather jacket with the yellow sheep's wool lining. "It'll get cold where you're going, but you can't risk being loaded down with blankets." I started buttoning up the shirt. It about swallowed me.

Some chuckles could be heard.

""Hop the three-fifteen freight to Windrixville," Dally instructed. "There's an old abandoned church on top of Jay Mountain. There's a pump in back so don't worry about water. Buy a week's supply of food as soon as you get there—this morning, before the story gets out, and then don't so much as stick your noses out the door. I'll be up there as soon as I think it's clear. Man, I thought New York was the only place I could get mixed up in a murder rap," At the word 'murder,' Johnny made a small noise in the back of his throat and shuddered."

Pony shuddered as he remembered the week in the church. It wasn't the time of his life, if you know what I mean.

"Dally walked us to the back door, turning off the porch light before we stepped out. "Git goin'!" He messed up Johnny's hair "Take care kid," he said softly. "Sure, Dally, thanks." And we ran into darkness. "

"He's so lucky I didn't find out about this." Dally muttered.

"We crouched in the weeds beside the railroad tracks, listening to the whistle grow louder. The train slowed to a screaming halt. "Now," whispered Johnny. We ran and pulled ourselves into an open boxcar. We pressed against the side, trying to hold our breath while we listened to the railroad workers walk up and down outside. One poked his head inside, and we froze."

The tension was palpable in the room.

"But he didn't see us, and the boxcar fatted as the train started up. "The first stop'll be Windrixville," Johnny said, laying the gun down gingerly. He shook his head. "I don't see why he gave me this. I couldn't shoot anybody." Then for the first time, really, I realized what we were in for. Johnny had killed someone. Quiet soft-spoken little Johnny who wouldn't hurt a living thing on purpose had taken a human life. We were really running away, with the police after us for murder and a loaded gun by our side. I wished we'd asked Dally for a pack of cigarettes…"

"Really, Pony?" Soda said, smirking.

"I was nervous."

"I stretched out and used Johnny's legs for a pillow. Curling up, I was thankful for Dally's jacket. It was too big, but it was war,. Not even the rattling of the train could keep me awake and I went to sleep in a hoodlum's jacket, with a gun lying next to my hand. I was hardly awake when Johnny and I leaped off the train into a meadow. Now until I landed in the dew and got a wet shock did I realize what I was doing. Johnny must have woke me up and told me to jump, but I didn't remember it. We lay in the tall weeds and damp grass, breathing heavily."

"Yay! They made it!" Two-Bit cheered, and for the first time there were no pillows being thrown in his direction.

"The dawn was coming. It was lightening the sky in the east and a ray of gold touched the hills. The clouds were pink and meadowlarks were singing. This is the country, I though, half asleep. My dream's come true and I'm in the country."

Soda and Darry looked at their little brother. This book was revealing things that they should have already known. But it seemed there had been more than meet the eye with Pony.

"Maybe sometime we could go up there?" Darry suggested.

"Really?" Pony asked.

"The boss has been yelling at me to take some time off." Darry shrugged. "So, sure."

""Blast it Ponyboy"—Johnny was rubbing his legs—"you must have put my legs to sleep. I can't even stand up. I barely got off that train." "I'm sorry. Why didn't you wake me up?" "That's okay. I didn't want to wake you until I had to." "Now how do we find Jay Mountain?" I asked Johnny. I was still groggy with sleep and wanted to sleep forever right there in the dew and the dawn."

"Should we have warned Johnny that you never were and never will be a morning person?" Soda asked. Pony whacked his elder brother with a pillow.

""Go ask someone. The story won't be in the paper yet. Make like a farm boy taking a walk or something." " I don't look like a farm boy." I said. I suddenly thought of my long hair, combed back, and the slouching stride I used from habit."

"Why do you walk like that Pony?" Soda asked.

"Habit." Pony shrugged.

"I looked at Johnny. He didn't look like any farm boy to me. He still reminded me of a lost puppy who had been kicked too often, but for the first time I saw him as a stranger might see him. He looked hard and tough, because of his black T-shirt and his blue jeans and jacket, and because his hair was heavily greased and so long. I saw how his hair curled behind his ears and I thought: We both need a haircut and some decent clothes."

"Right. And where were you going to get those?" Steve smirked as Pony flushed.

"I looked down at my worn faded blue jeans, my too-big shirt and Dally's worn out jacket. They'll know we were hood the minute they see us, I thought. "I'll have to stay here," Johnny said, rubbing his legs. "You go down the road and ask the first person you see where Jay Mountain is." He winced at the pain in his legs. "Then come back. And for Pete's sake, run a comb through your hair and quit slouching down like a thug." So Johnny had noticed it too. I pulled a comb from my back pocket and combed my hair carefully. "I guess I look okay now, huh Johnny?" He was studying me."

"Was there a test?" Two-Bit asked.

""You know, you look an awful lot like Sodapop, the way you've got your hair and everything. I mean, except your eyes are green." "They ain't green, they're gray." I said, reddening. "And I look about as much like Soda as you do." I got to my feet. "He's good-looking." "Shoot," Johnny said with a grin," you are too.""

"Okay." Steve said. "One thing I have to know. What is the deal with you and green eyes?"

"I don't know. I just don't like them."

Soda leaned over to Darry. "You know our little brother really is good looking. Think we should give him the talk soon?"

"I will. You'll turn it into a wild good time. It has to be awkward." Darry smirked.

I climbed over the barbed wire fence without saying anything else. I could hear Johnny laughing at me, but I didn't care. I went strolling down the red dirt road, hoping my natural color would come back before I met anyone. I thought what Darry and Sodapop are doing now, I thought, yawning. Soda had the whole bed to himself for once. I bet Darry's sorry he ever hit me. He'll really get worried when he finds out Johnny and I killed that Soc. Then, for a moment, I pictured Sodapop's face when he heard about it.

With every word, Darry felt as if he was getting slapped in the face with something heavy. Soda saw the look on his brother's face, and gripped his shoulder.

I wish I were home, I thought absently, I wish I were home and still in bed. Maybe I am. Maybe I'm just dreaming. It was only last night that Dally and I had sat down behind those girls at the Nightly Double. Glory, I thought with a bewildering feeling of being rushed, things are happening too quick. Too fast. I figured I couldn't get into any worse trouble than murder. Johnny and I would be hiding for the rest of our lives. Nobody but Dally would know where we were, and he couldn't tell anyone because he'd get jailed again for giving us that gun. If Johnny got caught, they'd give him the electric chair, and if they caught me, I'd be sent to a reformatory. I'd heard about reformatories from Curly Shepard and I didn't' want to go to one at all. So we'd have to be hermits for the rest of our lives and never see anyone but Dally. Maybe I'd never see Darry or Soda again. Or even Two-Bit or Steve.

"And you'd die without our brillance." Two-Bit cried.

"Actually, I'd probably die of boredom." Pony smirked.

I was in the country, but I knew I wasn't going to enjoy it as much as I thought I would. There are worse things than being a greaser. I met a sunburned farmer driving a tractor down the road. I waved at him and he stopped. "Could you tell me where Jay Mountain is?" I asked as politely as I could. He pointed on down the road. "Follow this road to that big hill over there. That's it. Taking a walk?" "Yessir." I managed to look sheepish. "We're playing army and I'm supposed to report to headquarters there." I can lie so easily that it spooks me sometimes—Soda says it comes from reading so much. But then, Two-Bit lies all the time too, and he never opens a book.

"And proud of it." Two-Bit said, puffing out his chest.

"Of course you are." Pony muttered.

"Boys will be boys," the farmer said with a grin, and I thought dully that he sounded as corn-poney as Hank Williams. He went on and I walked back to where Johnny was waiting. We climbed up the road to the church, although it was a lot farther away than it looked. The road got steeper with every step. I was feeling kind of drunk

Darry raised an eyebrow.

"Be patient." Pony muttered.

I always do when I get too sleepy—and my legs got heavier and heavier. I guess Johnny was sleepier than I was—he had stayed awake on the train to make sure we got off at the right place. It took us about forty five minutes to get there. We climbed in a back window It was a small church, real old and spooky and spiderwebby. It gave me the creeps.

"Sounds lovely." Tim smirked.

"Interesting décor." Steve snorted.

I'd been in church before. I used to go all the time, even after Mom and Dad were gone. Then one Sunday I talked Soda into coming with Johnny and me. He didn't want to come unless Steve did, and Two-Bit decided he might as well come too. Dally was sleeping off a hangover and Darry was working.

"Of course he was." Soda and Steve sighed.

"Someone has too." Darry shot back.

When Johnny and I went, we sat int the back, trying to get something out of the sermon and avoiding the people, because we weren't dressed so sharp most of the time. Nobody seemed to mind, and Johnny and I really liked to go. But that day…well, Soda can't sit still long enough to enjoy a moive, much less a sermon. It wasn't long before he and Steve and Two-Bit were throwing paper wands at each other and clowning, and finally Steve dropped a hymn book with a bang—accidentally of course. Everyone in the place turned to look at us, and Johnny and I nearly crawled under the pews. And then Two-Bit waved at them.

"Way to go, idiots." Darry said jokingly to Two-Bit, Steve, and Sodapop. "Since when've you got an interest in church?" he asked his kid brother.

"I dunno," Pony said with a shrug.

"Well, if you're still interested, I could take ya," Darry offered.

"Thanks, Dar," Pony responded, smiling. He continued reading.

"I hadn't been to church since. But this church gave me a kind of creepy feeling. What do you call it? Premonition? I flopped down on the floor—and immediately decided not to do anymore flopping. That floor was stone and hard. Johnny stretched out beside me, resting his head on his arm. I started to say something to him, but I went to sleep before I could get the words out of my mouth. But Johnny didn't notice. He was asleep too."

"That's it." Pony said, grinning.

"Food!" Two-Bit cried and they made their way into the kitchen for lunch. After they ate, they sat back down in the living room where Pony passed the book to Soda.

"Your turn, big brother." Pony said smirking.

A/N: Don't hate me! I know I haven't updated in a while, but it takes time to write this, time I don't really have at the moment. So once a week updates aren't really going to happen. Review! Oh, and a shout out to Today-Only-Happens-Once for more comment ideas. If anyone has ideas on what the gang should comment on just send them in a PM.

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