Title: Not Today
Author: Desert Girl
Summary: He takes care of people. She needs taking care of. Darry meets a girl that will change his outlook on life. Darry POV.
Disclaimer: The Outsiders © S.E. Hinton. This story is non-profit.
Notes: This is set after The Outsiders novel. I figured Darry needed a story, so here he gets one. Hope everyone likes. All feedback is welcome!
Chapter 1: Superstitions and Sandwiches
We were in the middle of a heat wave. Tulsa gets every kind of weather you can imagine, so I was pretty used to anything that was thrown at me. Sometimes I'd even get a day off on account of snow or rain or heavy winds. So a heat wave -- it wasn't anything to blink about except when you're roofing houses, well, you start to think you'll take a thunder storm over the heat.
We were doing a project sorta near my house; an apartment complex that had probably been around since before my dad was born. It was old anyway, and the roof had been in need of repair since I was a kid. The owner of the complex only shelled out the money for it to be done because last week an old lady was knocked into a coma by a shingle that fell right on her head. Two-Bit laughed for days and told 'the sky is falling' jokes to anyone who would listen, but I felt sorta bad for this lady.
Of course now everything was being torn up and replaced, and we're in the middle of a heat wave. I try to get everyone to take plenty of water breaks but it's not real easy to get a bunch of guys to listen to good sense. I know that first hand. But I'm doing my best to force myself to remember at least, and I'm climbing down the ladder when I see her.
Not that a girl is so unusual to see but when you're looking at big, burly roofers all day, you sit up and take notice if a female walks by. I realize the section I'm roofing must be her apartment because she's got a load of groceries in one hand and her keys in the other. She's at the foot of my ladder by the time I get to the ground.
"Hi," she says, no hesitation at all and she slips her keys into her jeans pocket and holds her hand out for me to shake. "I'm Julia, but people call me Jules."
I'm sort of taken off guard by her; she's pretty but not in a Cherry Valance sort of way, who, I had to agree with Pony, was the prettiest girl around who wasn't in a magazine. This girl was a different kind of pretty. Dangerous-like. Her face was kinda thin and drawn but her eyes were big and round. Brilliant green and you couldn't look away. She was pretty cause of those eyes; they looked like they held secrets and made you wanna find out what she was hiding.
I managed to take the hand she offered and shake it. "I'm Darrel Curtis, but everyone calls me Darry."
I still hadn't figured out why we were talking. I was in the middle of work.
"Well Darrel Curtis, that's my apartment right there and your ladder's blocking it."
She had plenty of room to walk under the ladder to get to her door. I made sure of that before I set the ladder there. The owner said minimum disruption to the tenants, and he'd pounded his fist into his hand when he'd said it so we knew he meant business.
"There's plenty of room to get through, ma'am," I said, being as polite as I could.
"I'm not walking under the ladder!" she exclaimed, sounding offended I'd even suggested it. She was blinking at me with those eyes. "And I'm much too young for you to be calling me ma'am."
I wasn't sure whether to be annoyed or amused. "Why can't you walk under the ladder?" I had a feeling I was going to regret asking.
"Bad luck!" Her wide eyes got huge.
Now I really didn't know what to say. I don't believe in superstition at all, not one little bit. It was a complete waste of time…sort of like this conversation with this crazy woman. Girl. Lady. I coulda argued with her, but it wasn't worth it. So I hollered for Jerry, one of the guys who was working near me, and asked him to take hold of the top of the ladder. Roofing ladders are big, see, and you gotta have one guy at the top and one at the bottom if you're gonna shove 'em over a few feet. Jerry looked at me like I was crazy.
"You aren't finished here," he said.
I glanced at Julia -- Jules -- who didn't seem to be paying much attention.
"This woman needs to get into her apartment," I said.
"She's got plenty of room!" Jerry complained. I knew he'd say it, since he was the one who helped me position the ladder in the first place. You don't just need two guys to move them, you need two guys to set them up and take them down too. I tried to give Jerry a look that said 'just do it', but he didn't take the bait.
"Hey lady!" he called down. "Just walk under the ladder! Darry ain't finished with this section yet!"
"S'alright," I called up before Jules could respond. I didn't know if she'd take offense to being called 'lady' either and her confusing the might out of one of us was enough for one day without adding Jerry to the mix. "Just help me move it, wouldja?"
Luckily for me (and maybe for him, judging by the irritated look on Jules' face), Jerry just shrugged and we hauled it over. You could tell he thought the girl was crazy and I sort of thought so too. My stomach rumbled something awful just then and I managed to catch Jerry's attention before he went back over to the other side of the roof.
"I'm takin' my lunch break now."
He didn't bother to answer, just nodded while throwing another peculiar look in Jules' direction. I didn't blame him. I could use a trip to the DX for a sandwich and a few of Soda's crazy stories about the girls who came in to goggle at him so far that day. He'd get a kick out of the girl who wouldn't walk under the ladder, too.
I'd nearly forgotten she was there until long, slender fingers encircled my arm. She pulled me a little toward her apartment.
"I was hopin' you could help me with something," she said. "I need a deadbolt put on my door."
It was no skin off my back to say no. I was roofing the apartment complex, not getting paid to be their handyman. But for some reason, I didn't say no right away. Maybe because she smiled, sorta shy and embarrassed, and she didn't look so dangerous then. My silence mighta worried her because she let go of my arm and shifted the grocery bag like she was nervous.
"I wouldn't ask you except that I live alone and I don't know who else to ask. This isn't the best neighborhood and the landlord says I can only put on another deadbolt if I do it myself. I bought one and everything…"
She trailed off, maybe because I was staring at her. I hadn't meant to, she just looked so normal then, like a kid who was scared and needed help. I wondered how my first impression of her could have been so different than now. It had been five minutes at most. Well, her little speech sealed the deal, there was no chance of me saying no now.
"Sure," I said, hoping' I'd have enough time when I was done to haul down to the lunch truck and buy a sandwich there.
"Thanks, Darry," she said, and sounded genuinely relieved.
The apartment was neat and nicely furnished, and I felt awful dirty and dusty standing in the middle of it. She handed me a dead bolt that was already out of its packaging and a few screws. When I looked at the door I could tell she'd already tried to install it herself, but wasn't strong enough to get the screws through the wood without drilling holes. I keep a drill in my truck but didn't figure I'd need it. I'm pretty strong.
Jules put her groceries away while I installed the bolt. She was standing behind me when I finished. She handed me the key and I tested it and she was smiling when I handed it back to her.
"You're a regular knight in shining armor, Darrel Curtis," she said.
Her nose crinkled up when she smiled and she looked awful young. Maybe Soda's age.
"I couldn't justify asking a guy over to my place just to get some help with a deadbolt," she went on, oblivious to my scrutiny. "I couldn't find any I liked well enough."
The insinuation sailed right over my head then, and I only really understood it later. I was still too busy wondering why she was living alone in the decrepit apartment complex on the corner of Vine and Sutton.
"I hate to tell ya kid, but a deadbolt ain't gonna do you much good if you invite strange men inside," I scolded her. I couldn't help myself. It seemed she needed some watching out. It was a stupid move she'd made, I could be a rapist or murderer for all she knew.
She shrugged me off and walked back into the kitchen, taking two Pepsi's out of the refrigerator. She handed me one along with a plate that had a sandwich sitting on it.
"I know it's your lunch break," she said by way of explanation. "Least I can do is make sure you get to eat."
I felt my stomach rumble again and dug into the sandwich. She was watching me while she drank her Pepsi, I could feel her eyes on me the entire time.
"So first ma'am and now kid," she finally said, and I regretfully looked up from the sandwich. It was nothin' special, ham and cheese on wheat, but it was pretty darn good.
"I prefer Jules," she continued, and the dangerous glint was back in her eyes. It wasn't anger; more like…mischief. Still, it sorta made me nervous. The way you'd get nervous if Dally fixed ya with that look. You knew trouble was coming.
"I'm nineteen," she said after I didn't respond. "How about you?"
"Twenty," I said reluctantly. Sure to follow are always exclamations of disbelief that only would get worse when she found out I take care of my brothers by myself. I started wondering why I was so sure I'd tell her enough to get that far. I honestly hadn't talked to a woman that wasn't a state worker for this long in almost a year.
She didn't seem to react to my answer, only to shrug and say, "You sure look older."
She got up and put her Pepsi bottle on the counter and I realized I was paying close attention to her every move. The way she talked, acted, dressed, it was all different than I was used to, but in a good way. Intriguing, even. I had so many questions for her and I didn't know why I cared so much.
"So are you new in town?" I finally settled on asking. The furniture looked new.
She shrugged. "A few months. I'm going to nursing school."
"Oh." I didn't know what else to say. I had a girlfriend in high school who talked about going to nursing school. Apparently Tulsa had a pretty good one. I wondered if they were classmates now.
"I got a scholarship and my dad agreed to get me an apartment but we can't afford a ton." She held her hand out and looked vaguely disgusted. "Hence, this."
I looked around and shrugged. It really was a nice looking apartment from the inside. The building was old but it wasn't the slums.
"I don't know," I said, trying to sound upbeat. "This apartment is really nice and the neighborhood -- " I almost said it could be worse. "I live around here," I said instead.
Her eyes brightened. Boy she had pretty eyes. "You do?"
"Over on Pine, on the other side of the park," I said. "I even keep my door unlocked and I haven't been robbed yet."
I left out the fact that there are generally dangerous-looking hoods in my house at night which keeps it pretty secure and nothing of value to steal which makes it not much of a target. Jules' eyes were wide and there she went looking young and innocent again.
"I'm having you put an extra deadbolt on my door and you don't even lock yours!"
I chuckled. "To be fair, I live with my two brothers and our friends are bangin' in and out at all hours. You're a young woman living alone. You're right to be cautious."
She seemed to relax after I said this and so did I. I ate the rest of my sandwich while she told me about her life up till then (from California, absent mother, boring childhood, rebellious teenage years, her father would make her come home if he saw her eating lunch with a strange man and installing extra deadbolts on her door). Then she asked about me. I try to condense my story because I don't like talking about it. I especially don't like people feeling sorry for me or asking me to talk about what I gave up (football, college, girlfriends) to take care of my brothers.
After I told her, she was quiet for a long time. Then she said, "Sodapop and Ponyboy. I really like those names."
That was when I knew I was starting to dig her.