The gang reads

Chapter 8

Chapter Eight

A/N: I do not own the Outsiders

"Alright." Darry said, taking the book. The cycle had gone full swing and had come back to him. "Chapter seven.

"Now there were three of us sitting in the waiting room waiting to hear how Dally and Johnny were. Then the reporters and the police came. They asked too many questions too fast, and got me mixed up."

"I'd have loved to see your face," Two-Bit chuckled.

"If you want to know the truth, I wasn't feeling real good in the first place. Kind of sick, really. And I'm scared of policemen anyway."

"Who isn't?" Steve muttered.

"Dally." Tim replied.

Darry frowned when he read that Pony hadn't been feeling well. Why hadn't he told them?

"The reporters fired one question after another at me and got me so confused I didn't know what was coming off. Darry finally told them I wasn't in any shape to be yelled at so much and they slowed down a little. Darry's kinda big."

"And that's just stating the obvious," Two-Bit muttered.

"I have a pillow and I'm not afraid to use it," Pony glared.

"Sodapop kept them in stitches. He'd grab one guy's press hat and another's camera and walk around interviewing the nurses and mimicking TV reporters. He tried to lift a policeman's gun and grinned so crazily when he was caught that the policeman had to grin too. Soda can make anyone grin."

Steve twitched at yet another complement that was directed at his buddy. It wasn't Soda's fault that the kid adored him. Steve was just getting annoyed was all.

"I managed to get hold of some hair grease and comb my hair back so that it looked a little better before they got any pictures. I'd die if I got my picture in the paper with my hair looking so lousy. Darry and Sodapop were in the pictures too; Jerry Wood told me that if Sodapop and Darry hadn't been so good looking, they wouldn't have taken so many. That was public appeal, he said."

"And the fact that Darry looks very scary when he hasn't gotten much sleep…" Two-Bit asked.

"Was irrelevant." Pony finished, glaring at Two-Bit.

"Soda was really getting a kick out of all this. I guess he would have enjoyed it more if it hadn't been so serious, but he couldn't resist anything that caused that much excitement. I swear, sometimes he reminds me of a colt. A long legged palomino colt that has to get his nose into everything."

Soda looked up, a grin plastered on his face. Horses were his favorite animal of all time, and to be compared to one by his little brother just made his day.

"Soda?" Pony asked, alarmed as Soda scooped him up in a big hug. "You alright?"

"Just fine, little brother. Just fine," Soda said as he sat back down.

"The reporters stared at him admiringly; I told you he looks like a movie star, and he kind of radiates. Finally, even Sodapop got tired of the reporters—he gets bored with the same old thing after a time—and stretching out on the long bench, he put his head in Darry's lap and went to sleep. I guess both of them were tired—it was late at night and I knew they hadn't slept much during the week. Even while I was answering questions I remembered that it had been only a few hours since I was sleeping off a smoke in the corner of the church. Already it was an unreal dream and yet, at the time I couldn't have imagined any other world. Finally, the reporters started to leave, along with the police."

"Wow. That was the longest we've lasted without an interruption. What's up?" Darry asked.

"Just happy the cops are leaving," Tim said. It was true. Cops bugged him.

"One of them turned and asked, "What would you do right now if you could do anything you wanted?" I looked at him tiredly. "Take a bath." They thought that was pretty funny, but I meant it. I felt lousy. The hospital got real quiet after they left. The only noise was the nurse's soft footsteps and Soda's light breathing. Darry looked down at him and grinned half-heartedly. "He didn't get much sleep this week," he said softly. "He hardly slept at all." "Hhhmmm," Soda said drowsily, "you didn't either.""

"I still can't believe you heard that," Darry muttered under his breath. Soda was the deepest sleeper that he knew; even deeper than Ponyboy.

"The nurses wouldn't tell us anything about Johnny and Dally, so Darry got hold of the doctor. The doctor told us that he would talk only to the family, but Darry finally got it through the guy's head that we were about as much family that Dally and Johnny had."

"So true!" Steve said, and Two-Bit nodded.

"Dally would be okay after two or three days in the hospital, he said. One arm was badly burned and would be scarred for the rest of his life, but he would have full use of it in a couple of weeks. Dally'll be okay, I though. Dallas is always okay. He could take anything."

'Not anything,' Ponyboy thought as he remembered Dally's reaction to Johnny's death.

"It was Johnny I was worried about. He was in critical condition. His back had been broken when that piece of timber fell on him. He was in severe shock and suffering from third-degree burns. They were doing everything they could to ease the pain, although since his back was broken he couldn't even feel the burns below his waste. He kept calling for Dallas and Ponyboy."

"And what are we? Chopped liver?" Two-Bit asked, trying to alleviate the tension.

"You might be."

"If he lived…. If? Please, no, I thought. Please not "if." The blood was draining from my face and Darry put an arm across my shoulder and squeezed it hard…Even if he lived he'd be crippled for the rest of his life. "You wanted it straight and you got it straight," the doctor said. "Now go home and get some rest." I was trembling. A pain was growing in my throat and I wanted to cry, but greasers don't cry in front of strangers."

Darry shook his head at this. His little brother was trying so hard to be like the rest of the gang that he didn't see that it was okay to cry sometimes. Hell, Tim had just read that he'd been crying in the last chapter.

"Great doctor," Tim muttered.

"Some of us never cry at all. Like Dally and Two-Bit and Tim Shepard—they forgot how at an early age."

Two-Bit rolled his eyes. He remembered crying when a Soc's car had almost hit his little sister three years ago. He'd cut school just in time to pull her out of the way.

"Johnny crippled for life? I'm dreaming, I thought in panic. I'm dreaming. I'll wake up at home or in the church and everything'll be like it used to be. But I didn't believe myself. Even if Johnny did live he'd be crippled and never play football or help us out in a rumble again. He'd have to stay in that house, he hated, where he wasn't wanted and things could never be like they used to be. I didn't trust myself to speak. If I said one word, the hard not in my throat would swell and I'd be crying in spit of myself. I took a deep breath and kept my mouth shut. Soda was awake by then, and although he looked stony-faced, as if he hadn't heard a word the doctor had said, his eyes were bleak and stunned. Serious reality had a hard time coming through to Soda, but when it does, it hits him hard. He looked like I felt when I had seen that black-haired Soc lying doubled up and still in the moonlight."

"Hey! I can handle reality!" Soda said.

"Keep telling yourself that Soda," Pony muttered

"Darry was rubbing the back of my head softly. "We'd better go home. We can't do anything here." In our Ford I was suddenly overcome with sleepiness. I leaned back and closed my eyes and we were home before I knew it. Soda was shaking me gently. "Hey, Ponyboy, wake up. You still got to get to the house." "Hmmmmm," I said sleepily, and lay down in the seat. I couldn't have gotten up to save my life. I could hear Soda and Darry, but as if from a great distance."

"I knew it! I knew you could hear us!" Soda yelled and then proceeded to tickle his little brother.

"What was that for?" Pony asked after Soda finished.

"For not waking up. I was tired." Soda pouted.

""Oh, come on, Ponyboy," Soda pleaded, shaking me a little harder, "we're sleepy, too." I guess Darry was tired of fooling around, because he picked me up and carried me in. "He's getting mighty big to be carried." Soda said. I wanted to tell him to shut up and let me sleep but I only yawned."

Tim, Steve, and Two-Bit laughed.

"So that's what you were trying to say," Soda chuckled.

"Yeah." Pony shook his head.

""He's sure lost a lot of weight," Darry said. I thought sleepily that I should at least pull off my shoes, but I didn't. I went to sleep the minute Darry tossed me on the bed. I'd forgotten how soft a bed really was. I was the first one up the next morning. Soda must have pulled off my shoes and shirt off for me; I was still wearing my jeans. He must have been too sleepy to undress himself though; he lay stretched out beside me fully clothed. I wiggled out from under his arm and pulled the blanket up over him, then went to take a shower. Asleep, he looked a lot younger than going on seventeen, but I had noticed that Johnny looked younger when he was asleep too, so I figured everyone did. Maybe people are younger when they are asleep."

"Yep. You do too." Darry muttered into Pony's ear.

"Darry, did you have to state the obvious?" Two-Bit asked about the statement of Pony's weight.

"Well yeah, since you weren't there to do it."

"After my shower, I put on some clean clothes and spent five minutes or so hunting for a hint of beard on my face and mourning over my hair. That bum haircut made my ears stick out. Darry was still asleep when I went into the kitchen to fix breakfast. The first one up has to fix breakfast and the other two do the dishes. That's the rule around our house and usually it's Darry who fixes breakfast and me and Soda who are left with the dishes. I hunted through the icebox and found some eggs. We all like our eggs done differently. I like them hard, Darry likes them in a bacon and tomato sandwich and Sodapop eats his with grape jelly. All of us like chocolate cake for breakfast. Mom had never allowed it with ham and eggs, but Darry lets Soda and me talk him into it. We really didn't have to twist his arm; Darry loves chocolate cake as much as we do. Sodapop always makes sure there's some in the icebox every night and if there isn't he cooks one up real quick. I like Darry's cakes better; Sodapop always puts too much sugar in the icing."

"You got up before me?" Darry turned to his little brother in shock.

"Umm? You already knew this." Pony pointed out.

"Pony, stop making us hungry!" Two-Bit moaned, clutching his stomach.

"You just ate!" Steve said, in shock.

"I'm wounded Pony! I thought you loved me!" Soda cried.

"I do, just not your cakes."

"I don't see how he stands jelly and eggs and chocolate cake all at once, but he seems to like it. Darry drinks black coffee, but Sodapop and I drink chocolate milk. We could have coffee if we wanted it, but we like chocolate milk. All three of us are crazy about chocolate stuff. Soda says if they ever make a chocolate cigarette I'll have it made."

"So true." Tim, Steve, Darry, and Two-Bit muttered under their breath.

""Anybody home?" a familiar voice called through the front screen, and Two-Bit and Steve came in. We always just stick our heads into each other's houses and holler "Hey" and walk in. Our front door is always unlocked in case one of the boys is hacked off at his parents and needs a place to lay over and cool off. We never could tell who we'd find stretched out on the sofa in the morning. It was usually Steve, whose father told him about once a week to get out and never come back. It kind of bugs Steve, even if his old man does give him five or six bucks the next day to make up for it."

Steve clenched his fist. He hated his old man, hated that he controlled Steve with such ease.

"Or it might be Dally, who lived anywhere he could. Once we even found Tim Shepard, leader of the Shepard gang and far from his own turf, reading the morning paper in the armchair. He merely looked up, said "Hi," and strolled out without staying for breakfast. Two-Bit's mother warned us about burglars, but Darry, flexing his muscles so that they bulged like oversized baseballs, drawled that he wasn't afraid of any burglars, and that we didn't really have anything worth taking."

"What were you doing there, Tim?" Steve asked.

"Some Socs were chasing me, I was out of my territory, and your place was closest."

"He'd risk a robbery, he said, if it meant keeping one of the boys from blowing up and robbing a gas station or something. So the door was never locked. "In here!" I yelled, forgetting that Darry and Sodapop were still asleep. "Don't slam the door." They slammed the door, of course, and Two-Bit came running into the kitchen."

"Of course they did." Darry shook his head. He was already up when he heard the door slam.

"They always do." Soda finished.

"He caught me by the upper arms and swung me around, ignoring the fact that I had two uncooked eggs in my hand. "Hey, Ponyboy," he cried gleefully, "long time no see." You would have thought it had been five years instead of five days since I'd seen him last, but I didn't mind. I like ol' Two-Bit; he's a good buddy to have."

"Oh, thanks kid." Two-Bit said with a smile.

"You still owe me breakfast."

"Darn it."

"He spun me into Steve, who gave me a playful slap on my bruised back and shoved me across the room."

"Sorry, Pony." Steve said with a small smile.

"It's okay."

"One of the eggs went flying. It landed on the clock and I tightened my grip on the other one, so that it crushed and ran all over my hand. "Now look what you did," I griped. "There went our breakfast. Can't you two wait until I set the eggs down before you go shovin' me all over the country?" I really was a little mad, because I had just realized how long it had been since I'd eaten anything. The last thing I'd eaten was a hot-fudge sundae at the Dairy Queen in Windrixville, and I was hungry."

Two-Bit and Steve looked at each other, and were thankful that it'd only been a little griping. Pony without food was an grouch.

"Two-Bit was walking in a slow circle around me, and I sighed because I knew what was coming. "Man, did baldy here!" he was staring at my head as he circled me. "I wouldn't have believed it. I thought all the wild Indians in Oklahoma had been tamed. What little squaw's got that tuff-lookin' mop of yours, Ponyboy?" "Aw, lay off." I said. I wasn't feeling too good in the first place, kind of like I was coming down with something."

"We really were lucky." Steve whispered to Two-Bit.

"I think it was because he didn't want to wake up Darry or Soda." Two-Bit whispered back.

"Two-Bit winked at Steve, and Steve said, "Why, he had to get a haircut to get his picture in the paper. They'd never believe a greasy-lookin' mug could be a hero. How do you like bein' a hero, big shot?" "How do I like what?""

"Slow in the morning, Pony?"

"Shut it Soda."

""Being a hero. You know"—he shoved the morning paper at me impatiently—" like a big shot, even." I stared at the newspaper. On the front page of the section was the headline: Juvenile Delinquents turn heroes. "What I like is the 'turn' bit," Two-Bit said, cleaning off the egg up the floor. "Y'all were heroes from the beginning. You didn't just 'turn' all of a sudden." I hardly heard him."

"I'm wounded Pony."

"Good."

"I was reading the paper. That whole page was covered with stories about us—the fight, the murder, the church burning, the Socs being drunk, everything. My picture was there, with Darry and Sodapop. The article told how Johnny and I had risked our lives saving those little kids, and there was a comment from one of the parents, who said that they would have all burned to death if it hadn't been for us. It told the whole story of our fight with the Socs—only they didn't say "Socs," because most grownups don't know about the battles that go on between us. They had interviewed Cherry Valance, and she said Bob had been drunk and that the boys had been looking for a fight when they took her home. Bob had told her he'd fix us for picking up his girl. His buddy Randy Adderson, who had helped up us, also said it was their fault and that we'd only fought back in self-defense. But they were charging Johnny with manslaughter. Then I discovered that I was supposed to appear in juvenile court for running away, and Johnny was too, if he recovered."

"Okay what happened to Two-Bit?" Darry asked. "That's the longest I've gone without getting interrupted."

"He's in the bathroom." Soda answered. Sure enough, the toilet flushed and out walked Two-Bit.

(Not if, I thought again. Why do they keep saying if?)

"To annoy you." Tim said, rolling his eyes.

"It worked."

"For once, there were no charges against Dally, and I knew he'd be mad because the paper made him out a hero for saving Johnny and didn't say much about his police record, which he was kind of proud of. He'd kill those reporters if he got hold of them. There was another column about just Darry and Soda and me: how Darry worked on two jobs at once and made good at both of them, and about his outstanding record at school; it mentioned Sodapop dropping out of school so we could stay together, and that I made the honor roll at school all the time and might be a future track star. (Oh, yeah, I forgot—I'm on the A-squad track team, the youngest one. I'm a good runner.)"

"Better than good!" Two-Bit yelled, as he'd seen one or two of his matches. Pony blushed.

"Then it said we shouldn't be separated after we had worked so hard to stay together. The meaning of that last line finally hit me. "You mean…."—I swallowed hard—"that they're thinking of putting me and Soda in a boy's home or something?" Steve was carefully combing back his hair in complicated swirls. "Somthin' like that." I sat down in a daze. We couldn't get hauled off now. Not after me and Darry finally got through to each other, and now that the big rumble was coming up and we would settle this Soc-greaser thing once and for all. Not now, when Johnny needed us and Dally was still in the hospital and wouldn't be out for the rumble."

"Only you, Pony, only you." Soda shook his head. Only his little brother would put his relationship with Darry on the same level as the rumble.

""No," I said out loud, and Two-Bit, who was scraping the egg off the clock, turned to stare at me. "No what?" "No, they ain't goin' to put us in a boy's home." "Don't worry about it," Steve said, cocksure that he and Sodapop could handle anything that came up. "They don't do things like that to heroes. Where's Soda and Superman?" That was as far as he got, because Darry, shaved and dressed, came in behind Steve and lifted him up off the floor, then dropped him. We all call Darry "Superman" or "Muscles" at one time or another; but one time Steve made the mistake of referring to him as "all brawn and no brain," and Darry almost shattered Steve's jaw."

Steve gulped at Darry's glare and felt his jaw. To this day, he still remembered the punch.

"Steve didn't call him that again, but Darry never forgave him; Darry has never really gotten over not going to college. That was the only time I've ever seen Soda mad at Steve, although Soda attaches no importance to education. School bored Soda. No action."

"Not true!" Soda said.

"You ain't dumb Soda so drop it." Darry said, looking at his little brother.

"Soda came running in."

"Speak of the devil." Steve laughed.

""Where's that blue shirt I washed yesterday?" he took a swig of chocolate milk out of the container. "Hate to tell you, buddy," Steve said, still flat on the floor, "but you have to wear clothes to work. There's a law or something." "Oh, yeah," Soda said. "Where're those wheat jeans, too?" "I ironed. They're in my closet," Darry said. "Hurry up, you're gonna be late." Soda ran back, muttering, "I'm hurryin', I'm hurryin'." Steve followed him and in a second there was the general racket of a pillow fight.

"Of course there was." Tim shook his head. "How is the house still standing?"

"With luck." Darry told him.

"I absent-mindedly watched Darry as he searched the icebox for chocolate cake."

"I could feel your eyes on me. I was wondering what you wanted to talk about." Darry leaned over and ruffled Pony's hair.

""Darry," I said suddenly, "did you know about the juvenile court?" Without turning to look at me he said evenly, "Yeah, the cops told me last night." I knew then that he realized that we might be separated. I didn't want to worry him any more, but I said, "I had one of those dreams last night. The one I can't even remember.""

"What!" Soda shouted. He looked at Darry and Pony. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I forgot." Darry put his hands up to placate his little brother.

"I didn't want to worry you." Pony muttered.

"You two will be the death of me" Soda muttered, rubbing his face.

"Darry spun around to face me, genuine fear on his face. "What?" I had a nightmare the night of Mom and Dad's funeral. I'd had nightmares and wild dreams every once in a while when I was little, but nothing like this one. I woke up screaming bloody murder. And I could never remember what it was that had scared me. It scared Sodapop and Darry almost as bad as it scared me; for night after night, for weeks on end, I would dream this dream and wake up in a cold sweat or screaming. And I could never remember exactly what happened in it. Soda began sleeping with me, and it stopped recurring so often, but it happened enough for Darry to take me to a doctor. The doctor said I had too much imagination."

"That doctor hated us. I was happy after he said that. It meant we didn't have to see him again." Darry sighed.

"He had a simple cure, too: Study harder, read more, draw more, and play football more. After a hard game of football and four or five hours of reading, I was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to dream anything. But Darry never got over it, and every once in a while he would ask me if I ever dreamed any more. "Was it very bad?" Two-Bit questioned. He knew the whole story, and never dreamed about anything but blondes, he was interested."

"Hey!" Two-Bit shouted.

"Nice one kid." Steve laughed along with Tim and Soda.

""No," I lied. I had awakened in a cold sweat and shivering, but Soda was dead to the world. I had just wiggled closer to him and stayed away for a couple of hours, trembling under his arm. That dream scared the heck out of me. Darry started to say something, but before he could begin, Sodapop and Steve came in. "You know what?" Sodapop said to no one in particular. "When we stomp the Socies good, me and Steve here are gonna throw a big party and everybody can get stoned, Then we'll go chase the Socs clear to Mexico.""

"I think you've got the order backwards Soda. If we were stoned, then we wouldn't want to do anything." Pony said. Then he flushed as he felt all eyes drift towards him.

"How do you know this?" Soda and Darry asked at the same time.

"Curly might have told me once or twice."

Tim shook his head. "Keep reading Darry. I doubt the kid did anything illegal."

""Where you gonna get the dough, little man?" Darry had found the cake and started handing out pieces."

"And you're encouraging it." Tim shook his head with amusement. It was nice to know that Darry had a fun lovin' side as well.

""I'll think of somethin'," Sodapop assured him between bites. "You going to take Sandy to the party?" I asked, just to be saying something. Instant silence."

Just like in the room. Darry glanced over at his brother and was glad to see that the reaction wasn't as sever as it was two years ago. He still missed Sandy, but he wasn't as depressed.

"I looked around. "What's the deal?" Sodapop was staring at his feet, but his ears were reddening. "No. She went to live with her grandmother in Florida." "How come?" "Look," Steve said, surprisingly angry, "does he have to draw you a picture? It was either that or get married, and her parents almost hit the roof at the idea of her marryin' a sixteen year old." "Seventeen," Soda said softly. "I'll be seventeen in a couple of weeks.""

Steve winced; maybe he'd been a little too harsh on the kid. He'd just gotten back after all.

"Yeah Steve, get it right." Two-Bit chuckled. Tim threw a pillow into his face.

""Oh," I said, embarrassed. Soda was no innocent; I had been in on bull sessions and his bragging was as loud as anyone's. But never about Sandy. Not ever about Sandy. I remembered how her blue eyes had glowed when she looked at him, and I was sorry for her. There was a heavy silence. Then Darry said, "We'd better get on to work, Pepsi-Cola." Darry rarely called Soda by Dad's pet nickname for him, but he did so then because he knew how miserable Sodapop was about Sandy."

"Thanks Dar." Soda said. He'd missed his old nickname.

"No problem Soda."

""I hate to leave you here by yourself, Ponyboy," Darry said slowly. "Maybe I ought to take the day off." "I've stayed by my lonesome before. You can't afford a day off." "Yeah, but you just got back and I really ought to stay." "I'll baby-sit him," Two-Bit said, ducking as I took a swing at him. "I haven't anything better to do." "Why don't you get a job?" Steve said. "Ever consider working for a living?""

"Good point Steve!" Pony said. "Why don't you work, Two-Bit?"

"Same reason you don't."

Soda though was worried that Pony hadn't wanted to stay with Darry. How was their relationship gonna improve if Pony was avoiding Darry?

""Work?" Two-Bit was aghast. "And ruin my rep? I wouldn't be baby-sittin' the kid here if I knew some good day-nursery open on Saturdays." I pulled his chair over backward and jumped on him, but he had me down in a second. I was kind of short on wind. I've got to cut back on smoking or I won't make track next year."

Darry shot Pony a look.

"Alright, I'll cut back. Sheesh."

"Holler uncle." "Nope," I said, struggling, but I didn't have my usual strength. Darry was pulling on his jacket. "You two do up the dishes. You can go to the movies if you want before you go see dally and Johnny." He paused for a second, watching Two-Bit squash the heck out of me. "Two-Bit, lay off. He ain't lookin' so good. Ponyboy, you take a couple of aspirins and go easy. You smoke more than a pack today and I'll skin you. Understood?"

Darry looked at Pony. "You know I never did find out how much you smoked that day."

"He only smoked one weed, Darry." Two-Bit said, not wanting to getting the kid in trouble.

""Yeah," I said, getting to my feet. "You carry more than one bundle of roofing at a time today and me and Soda'll skin you. Understood?" He grinned one of his rare grins. "Yeah. See y'all this afternoon." "Bye," I said. I heard our Ford's vvrrrrooooom and thought: Soda's driving."

"Hey! I'm not that bad!" Soda protested.

"Yes you are Pepsi Cola. Yes you are." Darry said, through his laughter.

"And they left. "…anyway, I was walking around downtown and started to take this short cut through an alley"—Two-Bit was telling me about one of his many exploits while we did the dishes. I mean, while I did the dishes. He was sitting on the cabinet, sharpening that black-handled switchblade he was so proud of—"…and I ran into three guys. I says 'Howdy' and they just look at each other. Then one says 'We could jump you but since you're as slick as us we figure you don't have nothin' worth takin'.' I says 'Buddy, that's the truth' and went right on. Moral: What's the safest thing to be when one is met by a gang of social outcasts in an alley?""

"Dally?" Steve asked.

"Tim?" Soda asked.

"Darry?" Tim asked.

""A judo expert?" I suggested."

"Another excellent guess." Soda grinned.

""No, another social outcast!" Two-Bit yelped, and nearly fell off the cabinet from laughing so hard. I had to grin, too. He saw things straight and made them into something funny. "We're gonna clean up the house," I said. "The reporters or police or somebody might come by, and anyway, it's time for those guys from the state to come by and check up on us." "This house ain't messy. You oughtta see my house.""

"I thought torture was illegal?" Tim asked.

"It is."

"Then why is Two-Bit offering to torture the kid by inviting him over to his messy house?"

"Dunno."

""I have. And if you had the sense of a billy goat you'd try to help around your place instead of bumming around."

"Nice one kid." Steve gasped out. Everyone else was too busy laughing to speak.

"Shoot, kid, if I ever did that my mom would die of shock." I liked Two-Bit's mother. She had the same good humor and easygoing ways that he did. She wasn't' lazy like him but she let him get away with murder. I don't know, though—it's just about impossible to get mad at him. When we had finished, I pulled on Dally's brown leather jacket—the back was burned black—and we started for Tenth Street. "I would drive us," Two-Bit said as we waked up the street trying to hitch a ride, "but the brakes are out on my car. Almost killed me and Kathy the other night.""

"Because you're too lazy to get them checked regularly and so are surprised when they fail." Steve gripped.

"To get them checked costs money Steve." Two-Bit shot back.

"You know a mechanic who'll do it for free!"

"He flipped the collar of his black leather jacket up to serve as s windbreak while he lit a cigarette. "You oughtta see Kathy's brother. Now there's a hood. He's so greasy he glides when he walks. He goes to the barber for an oil change, not a hair cut." I would have laughed, but I had a terrific headache. We stopped by the tasty Freeze to buy cokes and rest up, and the blue Mustang that had been trailing us for eight blocks pulled in. I almost decided to run, and Two-Bit must have guessed this, for he shook his head ever so slightly and tossed me a cigarette."

"See Dar? Only one!" Pony said at Darry's look of disbelief.

"As I lit up, the Socs who had jumped Johnny and me at the park hopped out of the Mustang. I recognized Randy Adderson, Marcia's boyfriend, and the tall guy that had almost drowned me. I hated them. It was there fault Bob was dead; their fault Johnny was dying; their fault Soda and I might get put in a boy's home. I hated them as bitterly and as contemptuously as Dally Winston hated."

"Is that even possible?" Steve asked.

"I didn't think it was." Soda said in shock.

"Two-Bit put an elbow on my shoulder and leaned against me, dragging on his cigarette. "You know the rules. No jazz before the rumble," he said to the Socs. "We know," Randy said. He looked at me. "Come here. I want to talk to you." I glanced at Two-Bit. He shrugged. I followed Randy over to his car, out of earshot of the rest. We sat there in his car for a second, silent. Golly, that was the tuffest car I've ever been in. "I read about you in the paper," Randy said finally."

"He can read?" Two-Bit asked in shock.

"You let him go into a Soc's car alone?" Soda glared at Two-Bit.

"Just read Darry," Pony motioned for his eldest brother to read.

""How come?" "I don't know. Maybe I felt like playing the hero." "I wouldn't have. I would have let those kids burn to death." "You might not have. You might have done the same thing." Randy pulled out a cigarette and pressed in the car lighter. "I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I would never have believed a greaser could pull something like that." "'Greaser' didn't have anything to do with it."

"You tell him, Pon." Darry smiled. He loved hearing about his youngest brother getting mouthy with Socs. Just not when they were drunk and wanted to kill him.

"My buddy over there wouldn't have don't it. Maybe you would have don't the same thing, maybe a friend of yours wouldn't have. It's the individual.""

"Uncalled for, kid." Two-Bit muttered.

"But oh so true." Steve said grinning.

Soda just smiled at his little brother. Who knew he was so wise?

""I'm not going to show at the rumble tonight," Randy said slowly."

"Does everyone talk slowly in this book?" Tim complained. "Johnny, this Soc…" he trailed off.

"Good point."

"I took a good look at him. He was seventeen or so, but he was already old. Like Dallas was old. Cherry had said her friends were too cool to feel anything, and yet she could remember watching sunsets Randy was supposed to be too cool to feel anything, and yet there was pain in his eyes. "I'm sick of all this. Sick and tired. Bob was a good guy. He was the best buddy a guy ever had. I mean, he was a good fighter and tuff and everything, but he was a real person too. You dig?" I nodded. "He's dead—his mother has had a nervous breakdown."

Everyone exchanged glances. They may have hated Bob but there was no need to hate the parents.

Soda felt sorry for her. He remembered Bob from school. A little annoying, but a relatively good guy for a Soc. Well, until he decided it'd be a good idea to jump Johnny and then Pony.

Darry grimaced, He could easily put himself in the mother's shoes as it might have been him who had the breakdown when his parents died if it hadn't been for his brothers and the gang.

Pony frowned. He didn't remember that part of the conversation.

"They spoiled him rotten. I mean, most parents would be proud of a kid like that—good-lookin' and smart and everything, but they gave in to him all the time. He kept trying to make someone say 'No' and they never did. They never did. That was what he wanted. For someone to tell him 'No.' To have someone lay down the law, set the limits, give him something solid to stand on."

"Well, Pony's like that and we've no problem telling him no," Soda chuckled. It was true. Except for being a Soc, Pony had great grades and certainly was good looking.

"That's what we all want, really. One time…"—Randy tried to grin, but I could tell he was close to tears—"one time he came home drunker than anything. He thought sure they were gonna raise the roof. You know what they did? They thought it was something they'd done. They thought it was their fault—that they'd failed him and driven him to it or something. They took all the blame and didn't do anything to him. If his old man had just belted him—just once, he might still be alive. I don't know why I'm telling you this."

"I still don't know why he decided to tell me that," Pony muttered.

"Man kid, what's with Socs confessing their secrets to you? First Cherry now this guy." Two-Bit shook his head.

"I couldn't tell anyone else. My friends—they'd think I was off my rocker or turning soft. Maybe I am. I just know that I'm sick of this whole mess. That kid—you buddy, the one that got burned—he might die?" "Yeah," I said, trying not to think of Johnny."

"He had to bring that up," Tim growled.

"He wasn't being mean. He was using that as example of how the gang warfare between our two gangs is gonna kill us all." Pony said absentmindedly.

""And tonight…people get hurt in rumbles, maybe killed. I'm sick of it because it doesn't do any good. You can't win, you know that, don't you?" And when I remained silent he went on: "You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you where before—at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn't prove a thing. We'll forget it if win, or if you don't. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think it's the ones in the middle that are really the lucky stiffs…""

"He makes a good point. When you're in the middle class, you don't have to worry about getting jumped. You can enjoy life." Soda said, reluctantly.

"he took a deep breath. "So I'd fight if I thought it would do any good. I think I might leave town. Take my little old Mustang and all the dough I can carry and get out." "Running away won't help." "Oh, hell, I know it," Randy half- sobbed, "but what can I do? I'm marked chicken if I punk out at the rumble, and I'd hate myself if I didn't. I don't know what to do." "I'd help you if I could," I said. I remembered Cherry's voice: Things are rough all over. I knew then what she meant."

Everyone looked at Pony, who started to fidget at the looks.

Darry smiled. It just seemed like his youngest brother to try to help out even his worst enemy.

"He looked at me. "No, you wouldn't. I'm a Soc. You get a little money and the whole world hates you." "No," I said, "you hate the whole world." He just looked at me—from the way he looked he could have been ten years older than he was. I got out of the car."

"Good." Tim nodded his head.

Soda agreed but kept quiet. Though nothing had happened, he was tense and was happy when his brother decided to leave that car.

""You would have saved those kids if you had been there," I said. "You'd have saved them the same as we did." "Thanks, grease," he said, trying to grin. Then he stopped. "I didn't mean that. I meant, thanks, kid.""

Tim mashed his head into a pillow.

"Oh don't mind him." Two-Bit said. "His whole belief system is crashing down is all."

The gang chuckled.

"My name's Ponyboy," I said. "Nice talkin' to you, Randy." I walked over to Two-Bit, and Randy honked for his friends to come and get into the car. "What'd he want?" Two-Bit asked. "What'd Mr. Super-Soc have to say?" "He ain't a Soc," I said, "he's just a guy. He just wanted to talk."

"Yeah Two-Bit," Steve teased. "Can't you tell a Soc from a guy who just wants to chat?"

"Shut it Randle. If you were there you'd probably start the rumble five hours head of time."

"True."

""You want to go see a movie before we go see Johnny and Dallas?" "Nope," I said, lighting up another weed."

"Okay, so I smoked two," Pony said at Darry's look. "It's not like it's gonna kill me."

"Pony not wanting to see a movie? The world must be ending!" Soda exclaimed.

"I still had a headache, but I felt better. Socs were just guys after all. Things were rough all over, but it was better that way. That way you could tell the other guy was human too. "

"That's the end of the chapter." Darry said. "Who wants to read next?"

"Oh just give it here." Steve said. "Continue the pattern and all that crap."

A/N: Whoo! An update!

Sorry it's so late, but I've been busy.

Please review.

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