Darry threw his tool belt in the truck and got in. He was on his way to pick up his brother from the Menses, another family who had offered to watch Soda and Pony wi'll Darry worked that Sunday. He was glad he had found someone to do it too. He knew his brothers would hate having to come with him. When he got there and knocked Mrs. Mence answered and called for the boys. "Sodapop, Ponyboy, your brothers here!" Darry heard loud running footsteps and they both suddenly appeared, speeding towards him.

"Hey, Darry!" They both yelped jumping on him.

"Happy to see me?" Darry grinned.

"How was work?" Soda chirped.

"It was all-right." Darry looked up at Mrs. Mence. "Where they good for you?"

"They always are." She smiled.

"Do we get ice-cream?" Pony asked, eagerly.

"Yeah, do we?" Soda asked.

"Yes, just as soon as we finish shopping. C'mon lets get going guys. Thanks so much for watching them. I really appreciate it, Mrs. Mence."

She smiled again. "It's a pleasure. It's much to quiet around here now that Tommy has gone off to college anyhow." Darry nodded, inwardly wincing at the mention of college.

"What do you say boys?" He prompted.

"Thank you." They chorused.

"You're welcome. Have a good day."

"You too, see you later." Darry said as his brothers pulled him out the door, eager to get their ice-cream as soon as possible.

"Do we gotta go shoppin' for clothes Darry? It's not any fun." Pony griped.

"Well, you guys need some new pants and shirts and I need some new shoes. It won't take that long."

"It's my turn in the front." Soda announced.

"No, it's mine." Pony argued.

"Who had it last?" Darry asked, trying to remember himself. "Pony you had it on the way over here. Soda's right, it's his turn."

"Then I get it on the way home." Pony said.

"Fine." Soda said, hopping in.

"So, did you guys really behave yourselves or was she just saying that because she's so nice?" Darry asked.

"We were good. Sheish, Dar. You always think we're gonna get into trouble." Soda said.

"Well, what'd you do? Did you play in that big backyard she's got?"

"Yeah. We went on the swings. Are you ever gonna fix that tire swing we used to have?" Pony asked.

"Yeah, I just need some new rope."

"What new clothes are we gonna get?" Soda asked.

"You both need some new blue-jeans and t-shirts."

**********

"Pony, Soda, c'mon. Stop fooling around and find something you like." Darry said, searching through the rack of shirts in the store.

"I don't care. Pick anything." Pony said.

"All-right, but when we're all done with shopping don't complain that you don't like what I got you."

"Darry, I want these." Soda said, holding up a pair of jeans.

"Hold onto them and we'll all go to the dressing rooms in a minute so you can both try your clothes on."

"Can I go over there and look at those pants?" Soda asked, pointing over to the other side of the store.

"No, the ones over here are on sale. Those are a whole lot more expensive and they're just the same as the ones over here."

"Fine." Soda sighed, silently disagreeing.

Ponyboy squeezed between the clothing into the middle of one of the shirt racks were he was well hidden. He giggled and made his way into another one where Soda was standing. He poked his head out suddenly making Soda scream and jump back.

"I got you!" Pony laughed.

"Sheish, Pon. You almost made me jump out of my skin." Soda giggled.

"Ponyboy get out of there." Darry demanded

"I'm bored." Pony squeezed back out.

"We'll be done in a minute. We've just got to find a few new things for you guys to wear. Practically everything you guys own has a rip or a hole in it. You've gotta be more careful." Darry found a few more items for Ponyboy and Soda and then led them back to the fitting rooms. "Ponyboy try these on. See if they fit well. Soda, you try these. Did you pick the right sizes in the stuff you found yourself. A child's large in t-shirts and a medium in pants?"

"Yeah I think so."

"All-right go try them on." Finally they were done and everything was paid for. Darry hated the fact that the total had come to nearly thirty but it wasn't that bad considering they'd gotten quiet a few things. His brothers really needed clothes anyways.

"What are we gonna do now?" Soda asked.

"Now I need to get some new shoes for work. Then we'll get ice-cream."

"Darry, I have to go potty." Pony said.

"All-right, I'll take you straight after we go to Payless. It won't be long, Pon." They made their way across the shopping mall and over to the shoe store. Pony waited, impatiently as Darry looked for shoes. He really had to go to the bathroom.

"Darry I gotta go real bad." He whined.

"All-right, hang on. I just have to pay." Darry said getting in the long line. Ponyboy sighed and sat down next to Soda, waiting.

"Oh, look at those." Soda gasped, getting up to look at a pair of shoes.

Pony groaned. "Darry, I really really-"

"Ponyboy, you can wait just a minute. Hang on, little buddy." Darry said.

Ponyboy sighed. He really didn't think he could bear it much longer. He looked over and saw that Soda was busy looking at the pair of shoes. Then he looked back over at Darry and made sure his back was turned. Then he walked out of the store and went to find the bathroom.

*******

Darry got to the front of the line and paid. "All-right, lets go." He said.

"Are we gonna have ice-cream now?" Soda asked, coming over.

"Yeah, where's Ponyboy?" Darry looked around the small room and didn't see his youngest brother.

Soda shrugged. "I dunno."

"Well he was here two seconds ago." Darry said. Soda shrugged again. Darry started to get panicky. "Oh, my gosh I bet he went to the bathroom." Darry said. "C'mon, quick. We've gotta find him." Soda followed closely to his older brother as they headed out of the store.

*******

Ponyboy had relieved himself and walked out of the bathroom and was making his way back to payless. Then it suddenly struck him that he didn't know where payless was. He had forgotten how to get back. There were many different directions in which he could go in. Ponyboy looked around, panicked as he realized just exactly how huge the shopping center was. He bit his fingernails nervously and decided he'd go to the right and hopefully find the shoe store. In a matter of ten minutes Ponyboy found himself even more lost than ever. He had no idea where he was and his fear had escalated to a horrified state. He could feel hot tears running down his cheeks. There were so many people walking all over the place. How was he ever going to find Darry and Soda?

*******

Twenty minutes had now passed and Darry decided it was serious now. Ponyboy hadn't been in the bathroom and he hadn't been anywhere else for that matter. He led Soda over to security and pleaded his case. Soda saw how Darry managed to remain calm but he could see the worry in his big brothers eyes. He hoped his little brother was ok. Soda new Ponyboy was probably real scared by now. He never had done to well in big crowds of people.

*******

Ponyboy's small chin trembled and he fought to keep the sobs in. Gosh, but he was scared. He wanted his brothers so bad. He knew he should have never ventured off to the bathroom by himself. Finally he gave up on searching and dropped besides a book store and buried his head in his knees and cried.

"Are you all-right, sweetie?" He heard a voice say. He looked up surprised. He saw a women with a blue uniform on, kind of like police officers but with a different symbol. "Are you lost?" She asked. He nodded, slowly. "What's your name?"

"I'm not sposed to talk to strangers." He said softly.

She smiled kindly. "Don't worry. I work here. I'll help you find you parents. Let's go."

He looked up at her skeptically. She seemed nice enough. He got up and went with her. She led him to the security desk and explained the problem. He was surprised to find that they knew exactly who he was and within minutes his brothers could be seen running over to him.

Darry sighed relieved as he saw his little brother. He put down the shopping bags, ran over and scooped him up into a big hug and held him close. Pony squeezed his big brother around the neck and cried. "Shhh." Darry comforted. "I got you baby." He kissed his forehead and held him close for a few moments until he calmed. He set him on the ground, bending down to his eye level, anger overcoming him. "Where did you go?!" Darry demanded, angrily as he gripped his little brothers shoulders.

Pony's chin trembled again at his brothers angry tone. "I-I'm sorry."

"You've had me scared out of my wits worrying about where you were. One second you where there and the next you were gone."

"I had to go to the bathroom real bad. I thought I could go by myself." He sniffed.

"By yourself, Pony? To the bathroom? In the middle of the mall? And leaving me without any idea of where you were going? Ponyboy Michael Curtis you know not to wander off like that. Especially in a place as big as this. Something could've happened to you!"

"I'm sorry." Pony said again, staring at his feet.

"You ok, Pony?" Soda asked softly, putting a hand on his brothers back.

"Yeah, I guess." Pony nodded, still crying. Darry picked him up again and brought him into another embrace. Pony dug his head into his eldest brothers shoulder.

"You really scared me, kiddo. You shouldn't have left like that. It's real dangerous." He said then looked up at the two security officers. "Thank you."

"Not a problem." The man said. The woman just nodded.

"C'mon, lets go." Darry said. He shifted Pony over to his right hip and used his other arm to carry one of the bags. "Soda get the other one please and stay real close. I don't want anyone getting lost again."

"Are you mad, Darry?" Ponyboy asked softly as they went out to the parking lot.

"Yes, I was almost positive someone had kidnapped you. Don't you ever do that again."

"Well, you shoulda taken me to go potty. I told yah I had to go. It's half your fault." Pony snapped, switching to his rare back-talking mode.

"Excuse you?" Darry said, a bit taken off guard. He looked his youngest brother in the eyes. "You watch your tone."

"But it's not fair." Pony sniffed, tears dripping down his cheeks again.

Darry put the bag down momentarily so he could wipe away the little boys tears. "All-right. I should've taken you to the bathroom and you shouldn't have gone off by yourself. We were both in the wrong and I'm sorry I didn't take you the first time you told me you needed to go. OK, kiddo?"

"Okay." Pony said, resting his head back on his brothers shoulder.

"Are we almost to the car, Darry?" Soda asked.

"Yeah, it's right there." Darry said. They got to it momentarily and Darry loaded up the trunk with their bags while his two brothers got in.

"Are we still gonna go get ice-cream?" Soda asked.

"I guess so, if Pony promises to stay right next to me."

"I promise." Ponyboy said.

********

"What are you two watching?" Darry asked, looking up from the paper to see what was on TV. "What is this?" Darry asked.

"It's about a killer ghost." Soda said, staring at the screen, mesmerized.

Darry glanced over at Pony who was in the corner of the couch hugging a pillow. "Turn it off." Darry said. "I don't want you guys watching that. You'll get nightmares."

"But we like it." Soda said.

"Yeah, it's good, Darry." Pony said.

"Switch it." Darry said firmly as he watched Pony's eyes grow huge and Soda grip at the side of the couch as the scary music got louder and a figure of something crept closer on the TV screen.

"Man." Soda groaned, getting up and flipping the channels around. Darry looked back at his paper.

"Darry?" Pony asked.

"Yeah?"

"Where do babies come from?"

Darry's eyes widened and he tried to think of the best way to answer the question. "From God." He said.

"Well yeah. I know that but how do they get in a mommy's tummy." Pony asked.

Darry finally looked up and saw both boys staring at him, waiting expectantly for an answer. He sighed. "I- well- they-" He sighed again. "I'll tell you when you're older."

"Well, why won't you tell us now?" Soda asked.

"Just because." Darry said, turning the page on the newspaper.

"That ain't a reason." Pony said, crossing his little arms over his chest.

"Listen, would you two quit asking questions and watch some cartoons or something? I'm reading." Darry said harsher than he met too but he desperately wanted this conversation to end.

"We've already seen all these episodes a hundred times." Soda complained. "I wanna go play outside."

"You're not aloud outside. You're grounded."

"Then how come I got to go to the mall earlier today?"

"That was an errand. You hate shopping."

"So, it was still going out. Why can't I just go play outside?"

"Soda, don't argue with me about this. You should be glad that I'm letting you watch TV."

Soda sat back down and pouted. Ponyboy was busily looking for his crayons so he could draw a picture. "Can I have some chocolate cake?" Soda asked.

"No, it's almost dinnertime."

"You won't let me do anything." Soda said, sulkily.

"I'll let you have a time-out if you don't knock of that whining." Darry warned. Soda let out an exasperated sigh and searched for something else to watch on TV. Darry was surprised when Ponyboy ducked under his newspaper and climbed onto his lap. "Hey munchkin." Darry said, as Pony made himself comfortable. "You ok?" Darry felt a slight nod against his chest. He put the paper down and wrapped an arm around the little boy. Pony absently played with Darry's fingers. "Are you still a little scared from this afternoon?" Pony nodded again. "Well we both know that won't happen again, now, don't we?" Darry asked, tickling his rib cage until Pony shrieked with laughter. He smiled at the adorable sound and gave him an affectionate squeeze. "Tell yah what you little monkey. Why don't I read you a story-book?" Pony nodded vigorously. "All-right go pick one out."

"Can I pick two?" Pony asked.

"Sure." Darry smiled. Pony ran off excitedly to pick out some books. Darry looked over at his other brother. Maybe he was being a little to harsh with him. "All-right, Soda. Go play outside but don't go any farther than the lot. And remember what I said. If you're gonna ride your skateboard only on the sidewalk, not the street."

Soda smiled and jumped up, running out the door. "Thanks Darry!" He yelled over his shoulder.