The Outsiders © S.E. Hinton. This story is non-profit.
All notes/disclaimers in Chapter 1.
Packing up Julia's apartment was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. At first I had the whole gang in there helping me, but it was too hard to listen to their comments about her things.
"Lookit all these hair ties, yet she never had one with her!"
"Hey Two-Bit, check out this book of stuperstitions."
"Ya think she just read this book and picked which ones to believe?"
"I think she closed her eyes and pointed to a random spot on the page."
And on and on. They talked about her in the past tense. Like she was dead or somethin'. I didn't want them to do that, but I couldn't figure out how to tell them not to. I settled for muttering "shut up" under my breath so many times that eventually Ponyboy heard me. He blinked at me in surprise at first, but then I think he understood. He stood up and hooked his fingers into his belt loops, staging a large sigh.
"I'm ready to head over to the Dingo for a Coke."
Two-Bit and Steve both dropped whatever they were holding into their respective boxes and bounded up. Going out and hunting up some action was much better than packing boxes. Soda sort of hesitated, looking from me to Pony and back again.
"Do ya mind, Dar? We'll come back later and finish up," Pony said.
I don't give that kid enough credit. He understands a lot more than I think.
"Sure buddy," I said, and Soda broke into a grin. It faltered, though, when I didn't get up and head to the door with them.
"You're not coming?"
I tried to look casual. All I really wanted was for them to be outta there so I could wipe the blank look off my face. It's a look I've perfected. Soda calls it my poker face, but I know what it really is. It's the uncanny ability to hide my emotions no matter what's going on. Bland. Expressionless. I know Pony thinks it makes my eyes look like two pieces of ice.
"Nah. I'll keep doing this. You guys go."
Soda seemed a little less enthusiastic about going -- he's a good little brother -- but by the time they were out the door, Two-Bit musta cracked a joke because I heard Soda and Steve's laughter long after the door clicked closed behind them. I dropped my head into my hands and willed the tears to start. Something. Anything to release the feeling of my heart getting squeezed through a vice.
Nothing came. I don't cry easily, and if you think that's a good thing, trust me, it's not.
I cried after mom and dad died, even though Pony thinks I didn't. I cried late at night when I'd go in their room and sit on their bed. I cried a little when we packed up their things and had to decide what to keep and what to sell. We needed money. We had to sell more than we wanted to. I thought about Jules, wondered if she would cry when she packed up her house. Of course she will. She isn't like me. She isn't guarded.
It's a good way to be. Open, like Soda. People call it "wearing your heart on your sleeve" or "being an open book", like it's a bad thing. And sure, breaking down somewhere you don't want to can't be fun, but sometimes I think it's better than the alternative. Feeling, as opposed to teaching yourself not to. Passion, as opposed to hardening yourself beyond caring.
Jules sorta showed me that I still had feeling and passion, two things I honestly thought I'd left behind. Especially after Dally and Johnny died; I mean, I really closed myself off then. Jules showed me that I've always had feeling and passion for my family. She reminded me that me and Pony wouldn't fight so bad if I didn't care so much. I think she even told Pony that if I really didn't love him like Pony sometimes thought, I wouldn't be on his case all the time to do well and stay outta trouble. Pony knows that now, but sometimes he needs reminding.
I figured if I wasn't gonna break down, I was gonna keep working. I started on the bookshelves in the living room, and almost immediately noticed three books with silk ribbons carefully tied around them. There were small cards tucked into each one. I recognized Jules' large, reckless handwriting right away.
The first book had 'PONYBOY' scrawled across the top of the card. It was a brand new hardcover copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Under his name Jules had written: "I saw the copy you have at home. Return it to the library, Atticus!" I had to chuckle. Pony kept taking that book outta the school library, only returning it when old Mrs. Handleman, the librarian that had been there since the school was built, came after him with a broom. He'd take it out again the next day as if the whole thing had never happened.
She'd given Soda a small, pocket-sized book called Card in the Pocket. The card read, "If you're gonna cheat, WIN!! P.S. Say hi to Steve. Hope his car's okay, what with all these clouds." It made no sense, but Soda would laugh and so would Steve.
I was almost afraid to look at the last book. It was called Theories of the Universe. My card read, "One of these theories is bound to be the truth."
When I opened the book up, a piece of paper fell out and landed at my feet. I felt my heart pounding hard in my chest as I picked it up. It was a sketch of me and my brothers; not the best, but you could tell it was us. At the bottom, in the same charcoal pencil she'd used to draw it, Jules wrote: THIS IS REALITY, NOT WISHFUL THINKING. Smaller, underneath that she wrote: Being afraid to say I love you is no excuse.
I looked at it for a long time and tried to remember what my life was like when Jules wasn't in it.
I musta fell asleep on the nearly-empty living room floor, because before I knew it, someone was shaking me awake. Before I opened my eyes, I foolishly said a little prayer that it was Jules, that she'd changed her mind, cancelled the movers in the morning and was coming back. I knew that was not the case before I even looked up and saw Pony staring down at me.
He looked worried.
"You alright, Darry?"
I sat up, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. My first instinct was, and is always, to be okay for Ponyboy. "Yeah, course I am," I said, and I heard the gruffness of my own voice and regretted it.
Pony dropped next to me, stretching his legs out in front of him. He had holes in his jeans. He needed new ones.
"Where's Soda?" I asked, edging a little more softness into my tone. I wasn't mad at him, I was just…
Pony shrugged. "He went back to the house with Steve and Two-Bit. They dropped me off here first. I told em I wanted to come up alone."
I blinked at him. "Oh."
Maybe I don't get Pony all that much, but he sure seems to get me. Not all the time, of course, like he can't understand why I worry about stuff like him forgetting his jacket when the weatherman says it's going to snow or stopping in to see a movie on the spur of the moment and not letting me know he's gonna be two hours late. He's not supposed to understand those things, though. I forget that sometimes. He's fourteen.
"What time is it?" I asked.
He shrugged again. "I think it's around ten. How long are you gonna be here?"
"I gotta get this done. The movers come in the morning." I looked around the place. There wasn't all that much more to be done, but I suspected I was putting it off because I didn't want to lock the place up and know that I was never coming back again. Suddenly, the books Jules had left for my brothers sprang to mind. I reached over and grabbed the copy of To Kill a Mockingbird off the shelf.
"Here. Jules left it for you."
I watched as Pony took the card out and read it, and he cocked a half-grin like he wasn't sure he should be smiling but couldn't help it. He flipped through the pages of the book, all stiff and clean from not being read. I knew he'd fix that real quick. Pony didn't believe in keeping books looking like new. He thought that the more worn, dog-eared and yellowed they were, the more it showed you loved them.
We sat like that, in silence except for Pony's turning of the book's pages. It made a soft 'pop' when he snapped it closed and set it down next to him. He tucked the card into the middle and lifted his knees, resting his arms across them.
"I liked her a whole lot," he said quietly. He didn't look at me, and we both just stared straight ahead, at the plain, white wall in front of us.
He was still talking about her in past tense. It hurt inside. It literally made my chest ache to think about never seeing Jules again.
"My heart hurts," I told Pony. "Like something's squeezing it and won't let up. Do you think that means my heart is breaking?"
Pony looked at me for a long time. I didn't look back, but I could feel his eyes on me. He was probably more shocked at the question than he'd been at anything in a long time. "Yeah," he said finally. "I guess it does."
I didn't really have anything to say after that. We just sat in silence.
"Is she coming back?" he finally asked, and I knew all of the boys had been wanting to ask it ever since I asked them to help me pack up her stuff. Pony was picking at his fingernails. "I mean, why'd she leave like this?"
I didn't know. Hell, I believed Jules didn't know. I half-hoped she was just screwed up and mourning and after the funeral, after her house in California was sold, she'd realize she'd made a big mistake and come back to Tulsa. Get back into school and go on with her life.
And maybe that would happen.
"She had to get the house in California cleaned out and sold," I told Ponyboy as honestly as I could. That was the only reason I knew to give.
She was scared of how she felt, I knew that too, but that was private between the two of us and I was never going to share it. Hell, I was scared too. Terrified, because I didn't know how I'd balance a girlfriend and my brothers and my work and my buddies. But I had been willing to figure it out, and yeah, I was a little sore that she wasn't. But I couldn't think like that. It wasn't fair. Her dad had died.
"Will she come back after that?" Pony asked.
I wished I was fourteen again. "I hope so."
That was the honest to goodness truth. Pony looked at me then, smiled like he was glad I wasn't just giving him a line of bullshit. I smiled back. The kid sure did understand things, just as good as Soda did. I never gave him enough of a chance to find out before.
I reached out and ruffled the back of his head. He groaned and immediately smoothed his hair back into place which made me laugh. Him and his tuff hair.
"I love you, little buddy," I said.
It surprised him. It surprised me, too. But I was glad I'd said it. Jules was right; being afraid was no excuse. I'd make sure I told Sodapop, too. Maybe even Two-Bit, and he could take that list out of his pocket and cross off "Find Darry's Craziness". Boy, that would be something.
I stood up and took stock of the room. Just a few more shelves to be packed and we'd be done. Pony stood up to help me, and we didn't say anything else after that. I didn't think there was anything more that needed to be said.
Final A/N: I like open-ended endings. And regardless of whether or not it ended up how you wanted it to, I truly hope everyone enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. Big thank you to everyone who chimed in at any point in the story, and a special thank you to the people who read and encouraged me with feedback on almost every chapter: Langley, Tessie26, Bandit-Gurl42, miz jif, Julie, Raggedy Anne, Jess, Kaz456, Makado Felton, JPSquire, and Arantxa.
P.S. Isn't it funny that a story about a superstitious girl would end up having 13 parts? ((cue spooky music))