Chapter Twenty-Three: Conclusion

Four months flew by. Darry finished his first year of college successfully, barely managing to pass Calculus but finishing with flying colors in every other subject.

Ms. Hart married her fiancée over the summer, a tiny wedding with only the parson and two witnesses—her parents—present. Darry managed to get over her, though, when he met Jennifer, Ms. Hart's sister. He broke up with her two weeks later when he realized that she was like Mini in the way that there was no substance under the surface.

Mini broke up with Jay and started dating, of all people, Pepsi. Jay dropped out of college when he was discovered and recruited by the Chicago Bulls.

Soda met and started dating A.J.'s comedian cousin, Tanuja. Ponyboy and A.J. went together for all of two days, but decided that they were better off as just friends.

Then, in the midst of getting on with their lives, they all learned that Lucky was coming back, and their lives were turned upside down again.

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A.J. had been a nervous wreck all day. Just that morning, she had completely lost it at Skate over some minor thing and flung her Coke at him, narrowly missing his head but managing to splatter him with most of the sticky liquid.

Now, she and the rest of the gang were at the train station, waiting for Lucky. Gnawing at her cuticles anxiously, A.J. wondered if he would be his same old self, the Lucky she had fallen in love with. If he was changed, could she love the new him as much as she did the old?

The train was pulling in. Darry smacked A.J.'s hand. "Quit biting your nails," he commanded. A.J. made a face at his turned back.

The train pulled in at the station. A.J., Darry, Pepsi, Skate, and Mini all craned their necks looking for Lucky.

A.J. spotted him first. "LUCKY!" she shrieked, running towards him. He looked different—his eyes had a cold, hard look in them, his hair was cropped short and he was leaner than ever—but it was definitely him.

Lucky turned almost dazedly at the sound of his name, and was nearly knocked over by A.J. throwing herself at him. He hugged her back stiffly, like he wasn't used to it.

"Hi, A.J.," he said. Even his voice sounded different, raspier and quiet, without a trace of his old humor or sarcasm in it.

He had changed, A.J. realized with a sinking heart as she pulled away to examine him critically.

He had the look of a caged panther, eyes narrowed with general anger at the world, every muscle suggesting coiled rage.

He smiled suddenly, humorlessly. It scared A.J. to look at it. "I guess you think I'm a freak or something, don'tcha," he said, his voice dry and bitter. He went on before A.J. could open her mouth. "Don't blame you. Woulda been the same myself, to tell the truth. But reform…it's hard. Try being a smartass there, you'll get yourself killed." He looked at A.J. "You don't think much of me, do you?"

A.J. shook her head vigorously, eyes sparkling with tears. "No," she said thickly. "It's just so hard seeing you so different than I remember."

Awkwardly, Lucky pulled her into another hug. Looking at the changed Lucky now, A.J. realized that she had been wrong to doubt her love for him. He was Lucky, and nothing could ever change that. As long as his heart, which she now listened to as she leaned her head on his chest, was still beating, and she could be comforted by its steady, never-ending rhythm, she would be all right.

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"Aw, isn't that sweet," Pepsi said. Skate smacked him upside the head. "Ow!" Pepsi whined, "What was that for?"

"You just know how to ruin every perfect moment, don'tcha?" Skate scolded.

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Looking at Lucky, Darry was reminded strongly of a certain towhead he had once known. Everything about him suggested smoldering anger beneath the surface, yet although hardened by jail—or reform—he had found warmth in the midst of all that ice for one person who cared for him despite his coldness.

Come to think of it, A.J. even looked a little bit like Johnny, with her tan skin, big dark eyes and black hair.

Lucky caught Darry's eye and gave him a sharp nod of acknowledgement. Darry nodded back. It was strange seeing someone after so long, and so different.

Looking at A.J. and Lucky now, Darry knew that whatever Lucky had been, he was no longer. He looked…lost, almost. A.J. had certainly been lost while he had been gone. Together, they completed each other. If they were lost, they could always find the other.

Darry remembered suddenly the last time his family had been to the seaside, before his parents had died. He, Soda and Ponyboy plunged into the chilly water, hanging on to each other so none of them would fall in the crashing tide. A.J. and Lucky were the same way. They relied on each other, and so to survive the oncoming waves the ocean of life would create for them, they would learn to hold hands.

The End.

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Whaddya think? Do you guys want a sequel or not? Its up to you to decide. I thought the ending centered too much around Lucky and A.J. and was too melodramatic. But that's just me.