***Five years after the deaths of Johnny Cade and Dally Winston***
***Sequel to The Outsiders***
I put down the book in shock, thinking nothing but the fact that I need to meet this man. He practically just wrote my situation in a single novel. Excited, I made my way through the rows and rows of bookshelves of Crestview Library. It was a fairly large library compared to the ones I’ve been to in the past. It was located on the corner of main street in Chicago between the small “Mister Donut” restaurant and “Mr. Poe’s Goods”. I dodged an older woman checking out a cooking book in the crafts section. I hastily made my way towards the front of the library where the computers were, clutching the book to my chest tightly.
When I had finally made it to the front after dodging a group of shouting kids running through the rows of shelves I spotted my only friend, Amanda, seated at a monitor towards the nearest door in case she had to hightail it. She was weird like that. But then again she’s also been an orphan most of her life and has seen some pretty nasty stuff on the streets that has left some distinct scars. Both mental and physical.
I knew Amanda saw me rushing towards her because she jumped up to turn towards the door and her eyes were darting around the room attentatively. Wincing, I slowed my pace. I had forgotten that I wasn’t supposed to walk fast, jog, or especially run towards her when there was nothing wrong, lest she’d bolt. I sheepishly approached her, rubbing the back of my neck, waiting for her to decide that there was no danger.
When she finally relaxed she turned toward me, her icy blue eyes flashing with irritation. “What is it now, Jason? You scared the living frak out of me!” she snapped
I cringed. “I know. I’m sorry, but I found this really good book that’s based on real events that happened to this guy like us.” I hesitated before carrying on. “And I was wondering if we could look him up.” I finished quietly, staring down at my worn out tennis shoes.
After seven beats, I mustered the courage to look up at her. Just like every other time I introduce a new crazy idea Amanda had her arms folded and her right eyebrow cocked like, Seriously? You’re stupid. But instead of immediately dissing the idea, her expression changed from irritation to curiosity.
“What book?” she asked, genuinely intrigued.
I tried to stifle the little sense of pride I had in my chest and presented the book. But I got a different reaction than the two I was expecting. Instead of laughing or agreeing with my idea, Amanda’s eyes widened with shock and recognition-but only for a second. Then she acquired her usual expressionless face when she was hiding something from me. She stared at the cover for a second longer, and then turned away.
“We are not looking for the author, or any of the people in that book.” she said, her voice brittle. I could feel my face fall with disappointment. She started to walk to the doors, her body stiff and determined.
“Why not?” inquired, following her outside onto the sidewalk. This time I was determined to get answers. Amanda had this way of somehow dodging every question I threw at her. She knows everything from my past. The age I was orphaned, my first time robbing a store, the abusive parents I had escaped from, and even the name of a stray dog I had temporarily befriended. But did I know anything about her? Other than the fact that her name is Amanda Jackson, she is an excellent thief, and she carries around two killer knives and knows how to use them- no. I did, however, manage to squeeze out of her that she had a rough childhood. But that took me three, out of the four years I’ve been with her.
“Because there are things you don’t know about that book.” she replied, not stopping or even looking over her shoulder. My pace slowed. This was the first time I had actually gotten a somewhat straightforward answer from Amanda, and I didn’t know exactly what to do.
“Like what?” I challenged. I was pretty sure she had never even read the book, and this was just one of her ways to get me to admit that my idea was stupid.
“For starters, you have no idea what those events were actually like! Secondly, you don’t know what happened after he wrote the book. And lastly, we are not chasing down some guy just because we can somewhat relate to him!” she raged and continued to storm onward through through a group of gawking people, her hands balled at her sides.
I stopped in my tracks and my chest tightened with anxiety. Amanda never yelled at me like this. She yells at me when I do something stupid and almost get both of us either killed or caught, or when I bring up a touchy subject from the past. But even the time I accidentally robbed a grocery store where two cops were in checkout, she never came close to this. Just like I knew she couldn’t stand being in a place where she felt trapped or on the spot, she knew I couldn’t stand being yelled at, or being anywhere near people verbally fighting. It gave me anxiety attacks.
Amanda stopped abruptly and whipped around, her eyes pained and remorseful. She sighed and walked towards me, the rigidness completely gone from her body. Amanda set her hand on my shoulder as I struggled for air. My body had gone completely stiff, my heart racing. After what seemed like forever, my body finally allowed me to take a single wheezy breath and slowly the tension left my muscles and my stomach, leaving me shaky and dizzy.
“I’m sorry, Jason.” Amanda apologized, her voice dripping with sorrow.
“S-S’okay.” I shakily replied.
“No, it’s not.” She sighed.
The sun was starting to set over the city of Chicago as we silently made our trek back to the “safehouse”. The safehouse was an abandoned warehouse we used as a base camp. It was in a rough part of the city, away from the “protection” of the CPD, which was fine by me, since we weren’t exactly popular with that particular group. It had a few broken windows, a loft type area where the rusty control panels to the machinery were located, a catwalk, and great insulation compared to some of the other places we’ve been in. The “safehouse” has probably been the most welcoming place I’ve been to besides the library.
I started the fire as Amanda pulled out a loaf of partially flattened bread and a package of cheese slices that she had stolen from under the store manager’s nose earlier in the week. She was really experienced in stuff like that. Hand to hand combat, thieving, smooth talking police to distract them from whatever I was doing in the background, even some acrobatics-you name it, she can do it. Well, except for anything that required being book smart or skilled with machinery. That was my specialty. Oh-and lockpicking. Lockpicking always came in handy. We wouldn’t be living in this warehouse if it weren’t that skill. When I asked about it, she said some people taught her all of those professions
After our dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches we headed to our own sleeping area and settled into our sleeping bags for the night. Amanda always fell asleep right away but was extremely easy to wake with her “one eye open” habit. I, on the other hand, took forever to fall asleep. But once I was out, I was out.
I reached for the flashlight sitting next to me and pulled out the library book I was reading earlier. I studied its cover. The Outsiders was a very true story, one I could relate to and read over and over again. I turned the cover and began reading again. “When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…” By the time I reached chapter five my desperation to meet this gang grew strong enough for me to decide, after a while, that I needed to go find them.
I might have to leave Amanda, but I’ve wanted to find a family so bad for so long, and she’s better off working by herself, not having to worry about what I’m doing. I laid there in the silence for a short while longer before packing up my sleeping bag, the extra switchblade, and some of the food in one of the cloth bags. I stood in the doorway to the warehouse, glanced back at the corner where Amanda was asleep, and crept out into the black, chilling night.